Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2012, pt.22: Kristin King

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2012
 by Kristin King

This year's "Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening" slips backward and forward in time from the beginning of Western civilization to a dystopic future we are rapidly approaching. I'd give most of them a score of ten out of ten, except that the whole concept of scoring makes me uneasy, somehow . . .

Girl of Time (Toki o Kakeru Shōjo)

This is the 1983 live-action movie version of the Japanese novel titled The Girl Who Leapt through Time. Who could resist a movie with a name like that? Not me.

After an accident with lavender in her school's chemistry lab, schoolgirl Kazuko Yoshiyama finds herself shifting forward and backward in time. She has to figure out what is happening while also managing a love triangle with two boys, saving people from a fire she experienced a day early, and grappling with discrepancies with her childhood memories. Most of the time shifts are beyond her control -- until she makes the decision to learn the truth about her time shifts, whatever the cost. Then she is dealt a warning: "Don't be a vagabond of time." This is a beautiful and thought-provoking movie about love, loss, remembering, and forgetting.

Inanna by Kim Echlin

This gorgeously illustrated book tells the stories of the ancient Sumerian goddess Inanna, who is wild and reckless and cunning and unabashedly at home in her own sexuality. She brought the gifts of civilization to mankind by winning them from the god Enki in a drinking game.

 Echlin first learned about Inanna when looking for myths to tell her daughters. She loved Inanna for being resourceful and fearless, but all the translations she found were too scholarly, so she made her own. Here is a short excerpt:

"Inanna sailed away on the Boat of Heaven.
She stole the holy powers.
She had truth.
The marriage bed was not wide enough for her.
Heaven and earth were not wide enough for her.
Inanna wanted to go to the underworld."

Oh, and I may have forgotten to mention - the Sumerian myths are sexually explicit. And Echlin didn't euphemize that out.

The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character by Samuel Noah Kramer (

I enjoyed Inanna and hope to share it with my daughter when she's old enough, but I see it as a teaser for a bigger story. There is a pantheon of Sumerian gods and a socio-political-economic context for the worship of those gods. There is a civilization that lasted for thousands of years. And there is the birth of writing.

Where can you go to learn that story? Samuel Noah Kramer is a pretty good start. He was a Sumerian scholar involved in the recovery and translation of thousands of cuneiform tablets, containing stories and temple hymns and daily minutia. In this book, he sums up what he learned for an audience of laypeople. It is a fascinating window into a culture that is both alien and foundational to mine. Kramer covers not only priest-kings and empires and gods, but also the details of everyday life, from the parent-child relationship to the experience of a schoolboy getting in trouble for being late to school. Even better, he includes excerpts from the Sumerian texts themselves.

I must warn you, however: this is a male scholar writing in 1963, and his translation does use euphemisms.

Scored by Lauren McLaughlin

This YA novel is the dystopia for our time. What happens when you put together No Child Left Behind high-stakes standardized testing with surveillance measures like spy-cams and GPS monitoring of cell phones, and then introduce a company whose product is a single score for every child, which colleges and corporations will then use to sort people?

That is the reality for Imani LeMonde, a high school student whose scores put her on track for a college scholarship -- something that is otherwise out of reach for all but the very rich. The scores are supposed to establish a meritocracy to replace our system of inequalities, but something else is going on. Scores update minute-to-minute, and they depend not only on school performance but also day-to-day activities and peer group associations.

Imani's troubles begin when her score drops precipitously because her friend Cady is kicked out of her house and moves in with a boy. This takes her off the college track, and if her scores drop farther, her only options will be welfare or the military. She has a choice to make -- but it's not the simple moral dilemma of whether or not to denounce Cady to regain her score, because that option is not open to her. Instead, she has to look deeply into the scoring system to understand how it works -- and what matters to her.

The society pictured here is not far off the mark. Our teens and children will be subject to more surveillance than we ever imagined. Case in point: school records are kept in "longitudinal databases" where they can be tracked over long periods of time and across school district and state lines. And by school records I mean test scores, tardies, absences, ethnicity, dental records - you name it. (For a sneak peek of the hundreds of items that can be collected, visit Ten years from now, could a prospective employer check the database for information about my children? I bet. Could they get a score? I bet.

Kristin King (  is a writer, parent, and activist who lives in Seattle. Her work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Calyx, The Pushcart Prize XXII (1998), and other places. Two of her stories will be appearing  in an Aqueduct Press anthology, Missing Links and Secret Histories: A Selection of Wikipedia Entries Lost, Suppressed, or Misplaced in Time, forthcoming in 2013.

1 comment:

Christina said...

The "Inanna" book sounds wonderful. Thank you for mentioning it! It's now on my to-read list.