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keep feeling like a baby chicken

maura @ 9:26 pm

So before you’re all “OMG two posts in one day” I should probably mention that I wrote that last post last night, though wasn’t able to post it until this morning because we didn’t have internet at the neighbors’ apartment where we were staying. This year we’re having a mostly home-based holiday season — though we did travel to exchange gifts with some of my family before xmas, it was a quick trip of only 42 hours duration. Now we have family visiting and took advantage of our neighbors’ generosity to use their place as an extra sleeping space while they’re out of town. It’s nice to travel at xmas though it’s nice to be home, too, with a tree and the kitties.

I recently read two novels in a row about twins, each told from the perspective of one of the twins, which when added to the season has me thinking much more about family than usual. The books were great. First was Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, about twin girls in Nebraska who write Harry Potter-esque fan fiction and the events of their first year away at college. It was a fun read: the characters were both super likable and since I spend lots of my research and scholarly time thinking about the academic culture of college students it was also interesting from an ethnographic perspective. (Is there a term for ethnographic fiction? Is all fiction ethnographic?)

I was particularly entranced by one scene in which the main character is accused of plagiarism by her English prof when she submits a fic for a creative writing assignment. I scanned those few pages from the book and plan to ask my students to read the excerpt when I next teach our library’s research and documentation course. Which is nerdily exciting — we talk a lot about plagiarism and remix culture and intellectual property, and I’ll be interested to see what the students make of the reading. Plus it’s only 4 pages which is absolutely fair use, so I can post the PDF of the scan on our course website.

Next (and completely accidentally re: the twin theme) I read Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld. I’ve never read any of her books before — the cover of Prep, her first novel, completely turned me off and she fell off my radar after that. But reading Jenna’s review of Sisterland piqued my interest, and since it was available as an ebook and I didn’t have any other ebooks checked out it seemed like a good call (I like to have an ebook on my phone if possible, just in case I ever get stuck someplace with nothing to read). And it was! Like Jenna, I found the main characters unsympathetic, but the story was well-paced and interesting.

These twins are adult women who are both somewhat psychic, though one has suppressed her ability. The narrative of the book is framed by an event that happens early on, when the more-psychic sister predicts that an earthquake will strike St. Louis, where the book takes place. The bulk of the book (which is told by the less-psychic sister) recounts the story of what happens with the sisters and their lives and families between the time of the prediction and the date on which the earthquake is predicted to happen. There’s lots of flashbacks to the twins’ childhood and early adult years, and lots of discussion of their ESP and the circumstances under which they’ve used it. What I liked best is that even though the psychic powers lend the book a vaguely magical tone, most of the issues with which the characters grapple are pretty much just normal, everyday problems.

In both books the twin sisters are identical yet surprisingly different, with a relationship at least as complex as that between non-twin siblings. And I guess that’s what made me start thinking about my family. I love my family, though I’m often quite baffled when I think of us. While my nuclear family members — my parents and my younger sister and brother — are (of course!) related and have much in common, we are also each very different. And we all continue to change as we age, which along with partnering and childrearing adds other wrinkles (ha!). My parents are long divorced and we all mostly live far apart, and I wish we saw everyone more often. But I sometimes find myself torn: I don’t want to leave New York to live in one of the places they live, but living here makes it difficult for folks to visit us because NYC apts aren’t great for hosting sleepover visitors. And I wonder: are we all so different because we live in different places? Or do we live in different places because we are all so different?

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