Literary Baby Names

Every year a list of the most popular baby names is published.  Some names are always on the list, or have been for the past twenty years like John and Andrew.  Throughout history names have been chosen from different sources. Some common inspiration for names are nature, religious, historical, and literary.  Art has influenced names throughout history.

Historical names are taken from all different types of historical sources.  The most popular example is a family name. Even though family names generally do not descend from a specific historical figure, a lot of names go back generations and they are historical when considering timelines.  Other historical names are from famous historical figures. Some possible potential historical names for females are: Jane Austen, Susan B. Anthony, Amelia Earhart. Some male historical names are: George Washington, Martin Luther King, and Marlon Brando.  Historical male names could also include all past presidents. While most historical names only use the person’s first name, if a parent wanted there to be a stronger connection then they could use the first and middle name to have a stronger significance.

Literary names have also been prevalent throughout history.  The most common literary names are Biblical names. These names have been prevalent since the Common Era has started.  Some other old literary names come from Greek Mythology. Some very common names are: Achilles, Caesar, Aphrodite, and Artemis.  Similar to historical names there are more male names to choose from than female names. Names from Greek Mythology are not as common now as they used to be.  Greek names are now seen as more formal names and are not common at all in America.

Other literary names are more modern.  One of the most modern examples of this is Harry Potter.  Harry Potter names are slowly becoming more common as people who read the books as a child are having children.  The names Harry, and Hermione are becoming more popular and will only continue to become more popular for the next 10 years or so because of the popularity of the books and the movies.  Other modern literary names come from childhood books that children attached to and remembered. Some examples would be Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web, Ramona from Ramona and Beezus, and Matilda from Matilda.

Literary names have always been common, and they change throughout the generations as new books come out and capture a generation.  Some names have always been popular and will continue to be due to the significance the names have.

The Humanity of AI

Recently I read the book The Clockwork Dynasty by Daniel Wilson, which follows a girl named June, a post-grad specialist of ancient machinery, and Peter, the automaton who sweeps her up in his quest to stop another automaton who is bent on consuming all the anima, the spirit that keeps the automatons alive.

Though the book was mediocre, it had some very interesting thematic content, pondering over how we discover our purposes in life and what our life is worth if we don’t know how to pursue that purpose. However, there was a much subtler theme which I found more interesting: are robots who think and act exactly like humans, just as good as humans–and if so, are they better?

If automatons, robots, artificial intelligence, whatever name we give them, gain the same footing as humans in terms of perception, cognition, and whatever else that would make them more “human,”  would that make our two species interchangeable? If they can’t feel physical pain, does that make them better than us? What about emotional responses–if they can feel love and loss, does that make them our equals? If they can’t, are they our inferiors or superiors? Even some humans are incapable of feeling physical pain or experiencing emotions, so are these categories absolutely necessary when comparing humans and artificial intelligence? How do we place a value on things that make us human?

How do we decide what makes us human? When we can artificially craft those characteristics, does that make crafted being a human? If we can make working robotic ears, limbs, brains, where is the distinction between those and fully organic bodies? Can a being be 50% human, 50% robot? 25-75%? 1-99%? Is the 1-99% being still deserving of the dignity and respect we should give to all humans? Or is it a robot about which we need not feel remorse when we throw it out because its iOS is outdated? 

With our rapidly improving technology, we are racing closer toward perfecting AI each day. As our robots become more like us and we them, I wish I could say I had these answers. I wish I could say The Clockwork Dynasty helped me come up with a better solution. All I can do now is ask you these questions, spark discussion, and hope that we become more conscious of our humanity and how we value it as it comes time to be challenged.

When the Movie Is Better Than the Book

Let’s be honest: the book is always better than the movie. Directors never get it quite how we pictured it in our heads, or they go completely off-book altogether and we walk out of the theatre thinking, “How was that based on the book I read?” In twenty years of reading books and seeing the movie adaptations of as many of them as come to theatres, I’ve recently found only the second movie I prefer to the book: the third part of The Maze Runner trilogy, The Death Cure.

Needless to say, spoilers below!

I expected the movie to at least keep some semblance of the book, which revolved around a counter-revolution, asking readers: in a dystopian world facing a ruthless force that hoards all the resources, how much resistance is too much resistance?

There was none of that in the movie.

The counter-resistance was brushed over. A contrived cliffhanger from the previous installment drove most of the plot. A lot of logic (and lack thereof) in the zombie-infested, plague-stricken, uncivilized world was taken for granted. It was a mash of all the things that make us think books are better than their movie adaptations. But amidst the action for the sake of action, there was a shining light: Teresa.

Where the movie almost completely pushed aside the “how much resistance is too much resistance” theme, it replaced it with making Teresa a real person. Movie Teresa is a much deeper, more interesting character than Book Teresa. Movie Teresa is intelligent, clever, and wants to do what’s right, and she recognizes that sometimes, she doesn’t know how. Movie Teresa knows her limits, what she will and won’t do, what she will and won’t tolerate. Movie Teresa is motivated by logic, and it was refreshing to watch after Book Teresa (and the previous two Movie Teresas) seemed to be motivated by taking it on herself to screw up the plot for any reason, even if there seemed to be no reason for her, as a “fully-developed character,” to do so.

It wasn’t until seeing Wonder Woman last July that I realized how flat and one-dimensional our movie heroines are, and now, it’s all I can notice. The Maze Runner as a franchize didn’t have a lot going for it in terms of being likely to give a decent amount of characterization to its female characters. It’s made up of action movies, a genre that by its nature relies on plot over character, and is typically regarded as a “manly” genre. A huge majority of its characters were men, so the odds that if only one–or even half–of the characters was/were fleshed out, it wouldn’t be the two women, three if you include the main antagonist. So for what it did, especially in an area of art where strong female characters of any kind are desperately needed, I give it major points.

Normally, I’m a purist about sticking to the book. But when the book drops the ball on writing badass female characters who make themselves the subject of the story instead of an object of the plot, the movie can throw the plot off an exploding skyscraper for all I care if it can pick up the slack. So sure, Teresa was only one character out of a dozen in a wholly plot-driven narrative, but to me, the sacrifice was worth it.

Personalize Your Holiday Gift Giving

When people hear the word “art” they think of paintings, photographs, sculptures, music, or maybe movies.  But not paper.  People commonly think of paper as a mode to transport art, or a medium that art is displayed through, but they don’t think of the paper itself as art.  Cards a common form of a present to loved ones, whether they are store bought or handmade.  This holiday season make cards extra special by creating the whole thing by hand,  even the paper.

The kerrytown bookfest in Ann Arbor teaches people that paper itself is creative and can be a form of art.  There were stands that were dedicated to making paper.  The paper that these stands were selling looked vintage, like the paper you would see a medieval letter written on.  Each piece was different and they all varied in colors, size, and even texture.  The texture, thickness, and color of the paper depends on what it is made out of.  Paper can be made out of different materials; the easiest material to make paper out of is other paper.  But it can also be made out of leaves, grass, flowers, or even a wasps nest.  Keep this in mind while making a card, and use the materials and colors that the recipient will love.  This uniqueness will translate well into a nice holiday card for a loved one, because they will see all of the effort and love put into it and appreciate it even more.

The people who worked at the Kerrytown bookfest were so passionate about there craft of making paper, they wanted to show and teach every person that worked by how to do what they did so that they could share in their happiness with this overlooked artform.  These people were more enthusiastic about their craft than most other professionals are about there job, and that is because they make paper because they loved it, and it is something they are truly passionate about.  It is no longer a necessity to make paper from scratch, it is much easier and less time consuming to go to the store and buy whatever size and color paper you want than to make it yourself.  But the paper we all buy at the store lacks the uniqueness of the paper that the people at the kerrytown bookfest put into their paper.  This passion and compassion will come through a handmade Christmas card, the loved one it’s made for will love the gift made with love.

Link to learn how to make paper:

Reader’s Choice

Do you solemnly swear that this was your choice and your choice alone to read the content of this post that hereby follows? The author claims absolutely no responsibility for your choice to continue to let your eyeballs fall on the letters she put on this page. She would like to say that she did not write this with you in particular in mind. 

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I’m joking, obviously! Of course, I wrote this with an audience in mind – you, the readers of Arts at Michigan! But, in no way, have my words hypnotized you to read them (that would be amazing if they could!), and in no way, am I forcing you to agree with what I’m writing. You can exit the page at any time.

Still there? Good. 

This idea of “warning” your readers about bawdy content and reminding them of their choice to read it is centuries old. For example, Chaucer famously does so in the prologue to The Miller’s Tale – undoubtedly, the raunchiest story in The Canterbury Tales. (Let’s just say there are a few exposed rears that make appearances throughout the tale).

The narrator of the Canterbury Tales, generally named as “Geoffrey,” writes in the prologue,

 And therefore I beg every gentle creature, for the love of God, not to judge that I tell it thus out of evil intent, but only because I must truly repeat all their tales, whether they are better or worse, or else tell some of my matter falsely. And therefore whoever wishes not to hear it, let them turn the leaf over and choose another tale; for they shall find plenty of historical matters, great and small, concerning noble deeds, and morality and holiness as well. Do not blame me if you choose incorrectly. The Miller is a churl, you know well, and so was the Reeve, and the two of them spoke of ribaldry. Think well, and do not blame me, and people should not take a game seriously as well.

Chaucer himself reminds his readers that they have the choice to read the tale or flip the page to a new tale or perhaps to close the book altogether. He renounces all responsibility for the reader’s choice. While some might call this a sell-out, his attempt to build a safety net for himself is commendable. Once the publication circulates into the public, the author himself has no control over who reads his work and what their specific taste in literature is like. It’s actually one of the smartest things that an author can do!

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Another example comes from Daniel DeFoe, who writing the 1724 book, Roxana, about a mistress who “thinks herself a whore,” prefaced with the disclaimer, “If there are any parts in her story, which being obliged to relate a wicked action, seem to describe it too plainly; all imaginable care has been taken to keep clear of indecencies, and immodest expressions; and ’tis hoped you will find nothing to prompt a vicious mind, but every where much to discourage and expose it. Scenes of crime can scarce be represented in such a manner, but some may make a criminal use of them; but when vice is painted in its low-prized colours, ’tis not to make people in love with it, but to expose it; and if the reader makes a wrong use of the figures, the wickedness is his own.” 

DeFoe here echoes Chaucer’s “do not blame me” stance, and blames the reader for misinterpreting and misjudging the words put before them. Again, if they are offended by what they read, either it is their mind that is in the gutter or their error for not reading close enough to the meaning and psychology lurking between the lines.

But should these authors have to preface their work? Is not life itself often times dirtier, more violent, and more disturbing than anything we could read on paper? All material we read (other than schoolbooks) is consumed because we chose to read it. Maybe a friend recommended it to us. Perhaps it was praised by a critic. Maybe we were just intrigued by its cover. If we come to a part that doesn’t fit our fancy or unnerves us, we the readers are under no obligation to finish it, or indeed, read it ever again.

I’ve been wondering why books of today don’t come with these “trigger warnings” and “disclaimers” that they once used to. As a writer myself, I’m glad that I don’t have to preface my work. I wrote it because I wanted to. I wrote what came out of my head. I shouldn’t have to apologize for that. But then, why do other creative minds out there – inventors of video games and film – why must they label their products as PG or M or Explicit Content?

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Even musical artists must warn their followers of explicit language, while no book I know ever has had to apologize for swearing. What’s so different about books, I wonder? And how did the Chaucer tradition of “don’t blame the author” fall out of style?

What’s your take on the issue? Should authors have to warn readers of their content? 

Romance, Here I Come

So I know I talked about Jane the Virgin a couple of weeks ago, but there was an important fact about the show that I forgot to mention.

Besides the million other things that I love about the show, one fact that I’ve always found comforting is that Jane aspires to be a writer. Though she has a degree in teaching, English specifically, her dream is to be a writer. And she actively pursues that dream, oftentimes over her romantic interests – right now, she’s in a creative writing cohort in graduate school.

But this wasn’t all that impressed me about her. To be honest, stories about writers are dime a dozen. For some reason, writers love to write about writers. Call it vanity, but it’s true. No, it wasn’t the fact that Jane was an inspiring writer. It was the fact that she’s an aspiring romance writer.

And guess what? No one says anything about it. Nothing. Her advisor doesn’t call her writing silly. Her mom doesn’t wonder why she doesn’t write a different genre. None of her romantic interests has ever questioned that maybe romance writing is not actually writing, that it’s not serious writing.

Nope. Nada. Nein. Jane is, and always will be, an unapologetic romance writer. And that shouldn’t actually be surprising. But it totally is.

Although I won’t name names, I will say that one time, I got an interesting critique back on a short story. It was, in a way, a romance, but a fabricated one. It wasn’t about love, it was about obsession, and it was meant as a thoughtful questioning of what is the difference between those two. But, in short, yes, it was about a relationship, this one between a man and a woman. But the critique? I remember words like “not feeling it” and “the vibe is wrong,” though this is probably also partially from my poor memory. But one that I do remember? “I don’t think I’m your intended audience.”  

Intended audience or not, does it really matter? Does it matter that my writing was borderline romance? Does it matter if I talked about love? Does it matter if the center of the story was a relationship?

I remember, even though that story was definitely a tough critique, one of my harder ones, that’s what hurt me the most. This person, whatever gender, didn’t take my story seriously enough because automatically it was categorized as romance. And because of it, I couldn’t get a serious critique about it, and it was harder to see what I could change to make the story better without thinking about the “intended audience” and whether I was pleasing that audience.

I was thinking about this in part because it’s Valentine’s Day this weekend, partially because Jane the Virgin was about her romance this week, and partially because I’ve been bingeing a very explicitly romance series.

But you know what? Despite the fact that it’s Valentine’s Day and I’m technically alone, instead of being lame, I’m going to the poetry reading at Literati on Saturday by Amber Tamblyn and then I’m going to do yoga with my best friends. You know what else I’m gonna do? I’m going to watch my romance movies, my romance TV shows, my romance everything. And I’m going to love it and not be ashamed.

Oh, and you know what else? I’m going to write romance. Unapologetic, unabashed, fantastic, life-changing romance. And you’re going to like it.