I hope Tom Wolfe has gotten so laid because of this book. I hope women have put down this book, thrown on some lingerie, and walked over to his apartm...moreI hope Tom Wolfe has gotten so laid because of this book. I hope women have put down this book, thrown on some lingerie, and walked over to his apartment – unless Wolfe is gay, in which case, I hope men have done the lingerie thing. I hope women (or men) invented a time machine to travel back in time and lay young Tom Wolfe because of this book. I hope Tom Wolfe has gotten anybody he’s ever wanted – x-ray, lemon tart, girls with any shade of lipstick imaginable, men with impressive sternocleidomastoid muscles. Anybody! Not that I’m recommending everyone start stalking him. Consent first, of course. But, I wish on Tom Wolfe a lifetime supply of sex and ice cream because of this book. I’m pretty sure he’s gotten it, but just in case, my wish is out there. The idea of writing such a beautiful book kills me. How does it happen? How does someone put something this perfect together? And I don’t even want to know. I just want to read it over and over again, mystery intact.
This book made me scream and gasp and stop, sit, and stare. This is one of the audios I listened to while I walked to work, so the neighborhoods of Eugene had the dubious privilege of waking to my shrieks and hysterical cackling for many mornings in April because of Tom Wolfe. Towards the end, I had to listen in private, so that my sobbing wouldn’t embarrass the neighbors or lead to a meltdown at work. Mixed results.
Wikipedia told me that Wolfe modeled his writing after Thackeray and Dickens. It seems so obvious after you say it, but rather than realizing that, I just kept thinking, I've never read anything like this before. It was something entirely new to me. And it is because it is a book that feels so current and urban, while it clearly has classical structure and the involved plotting of Dickens and Thackeray. When I started, I thought it would probably be too dick-lit for me because it was clearly shaping up to be so hardboiled and because I think of Wolfe being in a whole gaggle of male authors who want to talk about how tough it is to have a penis and be so emotionally unavailable. Boo hoo. I have very little attention for that type of thing. But, this, this. This was wonderful. And it was dick-lit, but it was not in the least self-indulgent. It was even cruel, it looked so hard, and so carefully, at masculinity and cowardice. But, the structure of the plot was like a machine, just in the way that the plots of Thackeray and Dickens are. I could feel the sweat and grease of the writing process on the page, or, rather, hear it in the audio track. This book lives in the foundries of humanity; it is crafted from the fires and steel of the human heart.
For the most part, this book looks at three horrible men and how their egos and senses of puffed-up worthlessness control and destroy their lives. There are a few brilliant recurring themes in the book that I could not love more – the white whale, the Masters of the Universe. This book actually uses He-Man as a recurring metaphor to this beautiful moment where a character, steeped in his own awesomeness yells out in his head, “I have the power!!” So, so, so, so, so, so, so wonderful.
And the courtroom scenes!! Oh, the courtroom scenes. Devastating swoon over those. They made all the hairs on my body stand on end. How can a person describe what happens in a courtroom? Like THIS! This book is what happens in courtrooms. This book is what happens in criminal justice. It got everything just right. The belts and shoelaces, the defendants demanding rights, the defense attorneys running in late because they were in another courtroom, the hot jurors, the underpaid DA. And oh my god, Kramer’s sternocleidomastoid muscles! Remember that?? It made me die laughing every time that came up. I swear to god there is a DA like that in Lane County.
And the part where Martin and Goldberg have to give Sherman his rights. Oh my god. So wonderful.
So, I have nothing insightful to say about this book because . . . just read it. Practically the minute I started reading it, it made me think of a dear friend of mine because of its urban steel and fire, so I will say something about that association because I can clearly only swoon and sigh and flail about when it comes to the book itself. Like the men in this book, there is something strikingly normal about my friend when you first meet him. He is white office shirts, a neat haircut, and clean hands. He is success: a house in the suburbs, two blond children, and a wife who, with a stern hand, makes the family take annual pictures in matching clothes. And then you talk to my friend and find out that he is an evil genius, who has an opinion about everything and a hilarious story about everyone he’s ever met. But, you also know that the suburban thing, the normalcy, is true, too. The layers of his personality include fire and steel, and also funfetti cake, white office shirts, and Kraft singles. I think this book captures something of that kind of layered humanity in Sherman’s office decorum, American aristocratic habits, and bloody knuckles. It shows Kramer’s powerful sternocleidomastoid muscles with his shopping bag and running shoes, Peter’s head in an egg and landing of the white whale, Reverend Bacon’s noble speeches and greedy maneuverings.
I think what I’m trying to say is that it struck me recently, probably at least partly because of this book, that the characteristics we show the world are us, and are not us all the same. None of us are inherently suburban or aristocratic, but our choices to appear those ways reveal something about who we actually are, who we are in the caves and recesses of our souls. Sherman is equally the shallow, self-involved Master of the Universe and the jungle fighter, but he is neither of those. My friend is urban fire and steel, and he is suburban success, and he is neither of those. Wolfe writes the show of humanity in a way that hilariously stages the show, and then digs and hammers into the caves and fiery core of who people are beyond it. Are we the dog trained to fight or the social x-ray in a party hive? The little girl sculpting a rabbit or the little boy commanding an office? Yes and no to all of that. Who we are is something different entirely, but always there, underneath the show - the force behind it. And the way Wolfe builds it all and then tears it all apart - I would never ask so much of a writer, but I am so glad this exists.(less)
It has been previously mentioned once or twice that Olivia is my favorite. It is true. Olivia rules.
In this one, my particularly favorite part, other...moreIt has been previously mentioned once or twice that Olivia is my favorite. It is true. Olivia rules.
In this one, my particularly favorite part, other than the end, which is awesome, is the Martha Graham page. Also, good use of the words "corporate malfeasance." And Ian Falconer's drawings are, as always, amazing.
1. Olivia And The Missing Toy. It has the fold out page, including the surprise, and that is difficult to beat. Plus, it has a premise that is compelling to for all ages. Or, maybe just me because I lose stuff all the time.
2. Olivia. A classic. Especially the parts where she moves the cat.
3. Olivia and the Fairy Princesses. This is ranking at a high third! Congrats, fairy princesses! Again, a compelling struggle, use of outstanding extra-textual art, and good vocab! Also, the use of additional characters as Olivia's audience is always really genius. Like, at the beginning, when Olivia is depressed, the way the cat and dog are watching her, concerned, really creates the sense of depression I think Olivia is looking for.
This is where I get a little fuzzy. I think my next rankings are:
"saves the circus" and "forms a band" are mixed up in my head right now, though, so I am having trouble remembering what happens in them. Christmas is a good one, and I think there's another page in the middle that folds out, which is always a win with me. "Goes to Venice" didn't have the pathos of the others, in my view.
Olivia is the best. ________________________ I received a free copy of this in exchange for nothing. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah, me!(less)
Oh, Kristin Cashore, I would trust you with my life. This series breaks my heart and patches it all back together again. This book was so different fr...moreOh, Kristin Cashore, I would trust you with my life. This series breaks my heart and patches it all back together again. This book was so different from the first two in pace, but somehow, and I say this almost reluctantly, that made the end more meaningful to me. I am all about editing in stories, and for the first half of this book, the redundancies seemed unnecessary and boring. But, I don’t actually think they are now. I think they had some purpose, though I don’t know that I could articulate it for you. I was wrong in what I thought this ending would be, and I’m glad I was wrong. It was so much more brutal than I expected, but more meaningful in that way. Are there more of these? Are you going to write more books for me, Kristin Cashore? I love your people, the evil and the good, the sins of our fathers and frailty of our mothers. I love them.
This story picks up with little Bitterblue, now the queen of her empire. If Graceling borrows somewhat in spirit from Aliens, Katsa is our Ripley and Bitterblue is Newt. And now Newt comes into her own with the responsibility for a nation that was totally fucked by her father, by the lies he told and his control and manipulation. She doesn’t even know how fucked her nation is because after you’ve lived in lies for so long, how does anyone know what the truth is? And is the truth more dangerous that willful ignorance if what you’re ignoring is an abomination? Ugh. Beautiful, awful choices. And forgiveness! And stories! Oh man, beautiful. Just the idea of figuring out how to repair a nation from violence and lies is beautiful.
But, anyway, and Katsa/Ripley has taught Bitterblue/Newt how to fight and protect herself, and where Graceling pointedly tells the story of a woman fighter, a survivor, Bitterblue makes no point of Bitterblue’s completely human, normal ability to defend herself. She just can kick an ass if she needs to, and other times she can’t. Her strength is not a super power, it’s just human power.
This book, in contrast to the first two, felt more high-fantasy to me. It uses the conventions of alternate languages, involved descriptions of coded communication, and a lot of walking (which, to be fair, the walking is in the other two as well. Fantasy, man – bring your Nikes). It is not actually high fantasy, I’m sure, so don’t get all excited if that’s your thing. It is not my thing, but the incorporation of those conventions seemed fun to me, not annoying. It kept enough of a super-hero feel that I tracked.
Now I’m going to talk about where this series really resonates with me. I always think, you know, women are raised that a man on a white horse will come, swoop us up, marry us, and that marriage will magically solve all of our problems. When that doesn’t actually happen, we think, Oh, it’s because if we have children, that will actually solve all of our problems. When having children doesn’t solve all of our problems, we think, Oh, if we run off to an exotic island and have a romantic Eat Pray Love affair, that will solve all of our problems.
I think men are in basically the same position – if he finds the right girl and marries her, she will decorate his house, and always be there with a smile, a hug, and a plate of cookies, and that will solve the problems. Then, when that doesn’t work, it’s basically the same with the children and the affair. But, in the end, we are always left with ourselves. Marriage and children and lovers don’t take us away from ourselves and fix us the way the stories promised.
I love the way the Twilight saga exaggerates those promises to the point of absolute absurdity, but I love even more the way this series exists entirely outside of those promises. This series doesn’t try to deus ex machina our guilts, doubts, and shame away, but it presents characters working through them, living with grief, and learning about their power.
I think it is a second-wave feminism phrase to say a woman is empowered or disempowered, and I’ve been thinking about the use of that word lately because someone I’ve been around a lot routinely uses it. I kind of don’t like the word “empowerment,” I think. It seems somewhat inaccurate to me, even along the lines of the promise that our problems can be magically solved by some kind of social convention. “Marriage didn’t magically solve your problems? Well, then, empowerment will magically solve them.” I don’t think everyone means that when they use the word “empowerment,” just like I don’t think everyone who gets married or has kids thinks that will magically solve their problems, but I think both avenues can lead to that expectation. The idea of empowerment or disempowerment just sounds to me like somehow you can subscribe to something outside of yourself that will magically take away your problems. It indicates that the power wasn't there all along, but if you follow the treasure map right, you'll find the magic problem-solving solution.
But, along those lines, I love the message in this book, like in The Hunger Games series, that we need to discover our own power - that it was there all along, and that life was never about finding a magic that lets us take the easy way out. In Mockingjay, everyone around Katniss reminds her of her power until she recognizes it. Here, similarly, this story is a journey of Bitterblue realizing her power. It is beautiful. It is the work that we all face that is bigger than marriage or children or politics or career. It’s the self that we are left with when the world is on our shoulders and we have no shoulder to lean on ourselves. This story is full of so much hope and so many dreams. I love it. (less)
Kristin Cashore has this way of taking a rough stereotype of a woman and still talking about her in a full, human, contradictory way that such a stere...moreKristin Cashore has this way of taking a rough stereotype of a woman and still talking about her in a full, human, contradictory way that such a stereotype would feel if you lived in it. She simplifies the telling and complexifies heroine. In Graceling, she tells the story of a badass warrior woman, a survivor, an Ellen Ripley. In Fire, she tells the story of a beautiful trophy girlfriend, an aspiring homemaker, a super model who loves babies, a monster combination of Joan Harris and vampire Bella Swan. Our girl, Fire, is from a race of what the story cleverly calls “monsters,” and I like that both Fire and her society adopt that word as accurate. Her body is exactly what I would think of as a monster. I approve.
Briefly, for if you don't already know, in this story, our people live in a land where monsters are these sort of magical predators who crave blood and flesh, but are so beautiful and colorful that they mesmerize normal humans and animals just by their looks. They have mind-control powers, and when they are in human form, the mind control powers are stronger because, you know, humans are brainy. Fire got her name because she is a ginger, but a monster ginger, so her hair looks like fire, and she has to wrap it up because when dudes see it, they basically try to rape her and when animals monsters see it, they try to eat her. Hair is such a problem.
Now I am going to talk about my ruminations on the conflict between what our bodies are and what our essences, or souls, or whatever, are. Sometimes, I sit around and think about how disconnected I feel as a person from the way my body looks, regardless of the specifics of how I look at that particular moment – fat or thin; white, red, brown, black, or purple hair; strong or weak. Or maybe I feel disconnected from the way people react to my body; it is difficult to say for sure. It makes me think that before we are born, we are floating in the sky as some kind of disembodied essence, and we choose our bodies through a series of escalating dares. I wonder what made me choose this one.
Say, before you were born, your essence had these cards laid out on the poker table of body choices: you could be a gorgeous black woman in the 1950s in the South; the youngest, scrawniest brother in a family full of white coal miners; a rich, white sorority girl; or the son of the first Korean-American President of the United States. You know, say, that you, your essence, is a light, delicate thing, something that hates conflict and loves hot cocoa and hearth fires. Do you go with the safe bet or give yourself a challenge? Does that obnoxious other soul in the corner antagonize you into choosing the black woman in the 1950s just because it doesn’t think you could take it? Or do you go with the possibly safer, but more depressing, sorority girl? Could your delicacy and conflict-aversion handle living inside a man’s body in a society that shames delicate men?
Whatever you decide, you’re all, “CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!” and you fly off into the horrors and joys of the body you chose. But, the rules are that once you’re there, you can’t remember how you got there in the first place. You have to fight that battle blind because otherwise the battle isn’t testing your instincts and you’re not as invested in the game.
Or maybe there’s some bureaucrat in the sky with a giant spreadsheet. I don’t know.
Fire made me think about who we are in essence and the way our bodies shape us because I think Cashore articulately describes the powerlessness of beauty and how, while we might aspire to that, it might not be something we really want. Fire's horrifying monster beauty and her horrifying X-Woman skill of mind control, and the shame she felt over those parts of herself were interesting. On the one hand, there is a little bit of a poor-little-rich-girl about the story that I think Graceling also had to some extent, but it doesn’t really dwell in it. There’s so much straight action and Fire is so heroic that it only nudges against the border of maudlin. I don’t think it really crosses over, or at least not often. But, I think that it illustrates how having a body, whether it is the body of a monster or not, is hard. Dealing with social reactions to a body is hard. But, it is worth it.
I think girls often have a sort of out-of-body experience of someone assuming a lot about our personalities from our appearances. Probably men experience that, too, though I wonder how similar the experiences are. I have dimples, so people often don’t expect me to be as much of an asshole as I am and feel extra betrayed by my bitchiness. Fire is kind of like that, too, in that her personality is not what the stories told people to expect from that body. Regardless of what the false expectation is, because it is probably different for us all, there is still that sense of being out of place in a body. I think it is an identifiable female sentiment, and maybe identifiable because there is so much media propaganda about female bodies being wrong. But, at the same time, I have this instinctual sense that I am lucky to have a body at all, and that I should take care of it, and I get the feeling that most people have at least a sliver of that same instinct.
Anyway, I found this beautiful. I liked these people and animals. I liked Fire and I also liked the use of fire as imagery and its association with mourning and cleansing. At times, I found the light use of somewhat courtly language awkward, but that’s not a big deal when action is going down. I’m bumping this up to a five-star rating because I think it is ballsy to write a sequel that is only loosely connected to the first, and I thought that was a well-executed ballsy move. Addressing the stereotype of a beautiful, affectionate woman was smart after having told the story of a survivor in the first book.
I want to be Kristin Cashore’s friend. She is a bold woman.(less)
Oh my god, I love this book!! I love histories of women that make me freak out, and this one does that. This gives me goose bump...moreOH MY GOD!
oh my god.
Oh my god, I love this book!! I love histories of women that make me freak out, and this one does that. This gives me goose bumps. The descriptions of the conflict these women felt between wanting to be good girls and realizing that being a good girl means becoming a shell and disappearing are so beautiful and told so well. Povich is brilliant, and it’s clear that she has so much compassion and understanding for women who reacted very differently to the discrimination they all felt.
And look at that cover! That cover alone makes me freak out. AAAAAAAAAHHHHH. I am reduced to inarticulate babbling because of my love for this book. I love you, book! I love you and miss you! Don’t be over, book! I neeeeeed. I think this book is going to have to take out a stalking order against me.
Rather than only inarticulately freaking out, I will tell you something of what this book is about, I guess. It tells the story of the women who worked at Newsweek in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s filing class action lawsuits under the recently passed (1964) Civil Rights Act (Title VII). Mostly, though, it draws out all of this intense humanity from the internal and external conflict surrounding the women’s decision to sue and the reactions from the magazine.
It gets the sentiments from both sides so right, and it is compassionate, while still being direct. Povich starts the story with a few girls working at Newsweek in 2009 and waking up to the discrimination they were experiencing, and then it tracks back to the parallel story of the women in the ‘60s. You never want to hear a story like this told in a way that villainizes one group or another – the women or men or the advocates for racial equality, etc. – and this one so gracefully conveys nuance in the reactions from all sides. Oh my god, how is this story not well-known American folklore???
So, the women at Newsweek ultimately filed two class actions with the EEOC. Their attorneys, a pregnant Eleanor Holmes Norton, and, later, a pregnant Harriet Rabb, kicked negotiation ass. It is so painful to read men saying, “Well, we are trying to not be racist anymore. Isn’t that enough for you?” as though the main consideration of anti-discrimination efforts is to make white men better people. And it is painful to read women disappearing to accommodate society, but Povich tells both of those points of view smartly and compassionately. Of course, though, she includes Eleanor Holmes Norton responding to the men by saying, “The fact that you have two problems [race and sex discrimination] isn’t my concern.” And she also tells of the women she knew advocating for each other’s skills and abilities and truly creating a sense of sisterhood and comradery, once they dropped their mutual suspicion, that is true to my experience of women working together.
Povich is also really interesting about the interplay of race and gender for the black women working at Newsweek. Ultimately, the entire group of black women opted out of the class action because of the tension between advocacy for racial equality and gender equality. As I understand it, there has always been that pressure on black women to be loyal to race above gender, as though they are mutually exclusive. And the sense that white women are complaining about a gilded cage, while the black women experienced a dank, rat-infested torture chamber, overwhelmed any sense of identification with the white women who first thought of the lawsuit. Povich, also, though, very articulately describes Eleanor Holmes Norton’s take on race and gender advocacy, and that was absolutely brilliant to read. Oh my god, read this book.
When I first started law school, I was really surprised by a few of my women professors who were very competitive with women students in my class. I had just come from a male-dominated law firm in which women were relegated to a secretary ghetto, but most of the women in that ghetto were very supportive of each other. The more I thought about it, though, the more the competitiveness made sense to me. These women, becoming professionals in the ‘60s and ‘70s, fought tooth and nail to be where they are today. One of the professors who has been most competitive with me tells this story of how she was first in her class at law school, editor in chief of the law review, got the highest score on her bar exam, and she couldn’t find a job after she graduated because she is a woman. Women are not welcome in society. So disgusting. So, it totally makes sense to me that when society sets it up that there is room for one token woman in a company, you would turn against other women. And it is impossible for me to feel angry at a woman who experienced that kind of discrimination and successfully retained a professional status. That is incredible, and even if it has, at times, resulted in a bad experience for me, it is the discrimination, not the women, that I blame.
Every time I talk to a woman, I hear stories like those in this book. Every woman has these stories, and they are incredible. I love them. I do not, of course, love the way discrimination dehumanizes women, but I do love when it turns us into warriors and when it makes us think of the women who will come after us and hope for a better life for them.
Thank you! Thank you, Lynn Povich, for writing this book! Thank you, women, for living bold lives. Thank you for being good girls, but thank you, also, for giving up that idea for those of us who would come after you. It makes us more willing to give that idea up, too, and stop lying to ourselves about who we are and what we want. Seeing you advocate for yourselves and each other makes me feel like, I, too, can be a real human with a life and a passion. Oh, gush gush. Read this freaking book, women, if you want to hear stories of people like you! Read this freaking book, men, if you want to know about women. People, read this book!
____________ I got a copy of this book from netgalley.(less)
This made me think of everything. Every single sweet and sad thing that ever happened. Still, it stayed its own, and I loved these kids like crazy. So...moreThis made me think of everything. Every single sweet and sad thing that ever happened. Still, it stayed its own, and I loved these kids like crazy. So stupid. This stupid book made me cry from the Donkey Waltz all the way till the end. But, it wasn’t a mean book that was setting out just to make me cry – it wasn’t about that at all. It was about how when you are in ninth grade, you see everything sad, and it is probably your fault, or you don’t see any of the sad things, and later, when you realize your blindness, it kills you. It was about how you are wrong, even when you were probably right. I love these sweet kids.
Anything I say sounds so dumb, and I just picture Dinah and Skint reading it, like overhearing your mom tell a neighbor you’re just going through a phase. No dudes, it’s not a phase. Things are just fucked up and it is your fault sometimes, or it is not your fault, but it still is your responsibility, other times. And sometimes none of it is your fault or your responsibility, and that is the worst.
I have this little notebook I started keeping in college, and at the front of it, I wrote, “Things to Remember,” and then I wrote a list of life lessons underneath. I’ll write something there when I think it’s important, though, admittedly, some of them seem dumb now, and some of them are so vague that I actually don’t know what they mean. But, one of the first ones I wrote was “Elizabeth Vogler,” so that I would remember the part in Persona when Elizabeth Vogler watches the monks light themselves on fire. This book made me think of Elizabeth Vogler watching the monks burn. It made me think of Giulietta Masina in La Strada, of Holden Caulfield waking up to loneliness. It made me think of watching my own parents and grandparents die. It made me think of being a kid and never knowing what it was that I did wrong, but always knowing it was something.
I get so hollowed out and cold when I see stories that use rape and death and violence against powerless people to further shallow plotlines about some idiot getting a girlfriend or a simplistic moral lesson about “Doesn’t that suck for me when other people get raped and killed?” This was the opposite of that. This was perfect. It was funny where it should have been funny. I might even say it was hilarious at some parts. It was crushing where life is crushing. It was interstitially crushing in the unspoken and unrecognized. It was ironically crushing in the things that Dinah didn’t see. It was perfect. It made me laugh and then cry, and then laugh and cry at the same time and generally lose control of emotional reaction. Ultimate FoE, but it was both fantastic and excruciating all at once.
I don’t think it is a good idea for everyone to read this book any time, all the time, because there are some trigger issues – the death of a beloved grandma before the book begins, child and elder abuse and neglect. It is all done so delicately, beautifully, respectfully, that I love it all, but those are not issues everyone needs to see at all times in their life, so judge for yourselves about where you are. If it won’t feel too hurtful to you in opening old wounds, it is so beautiful and so worth it.
I am going to do punching at assholes who say this beautiful, beautiful voice should have sounded less unique and more like, I don’t know, the Wall Street Journal, or something. I am going to do Mockingjay-style punching. Dinah and Skint remind me of everybody beautiful, and they also remind me of ninth-grade me. But, they are themselves, too, and so full and vivid as characters that I know I will come back to them like friends tucked into the beautiful, warm coat of this book. I love this stupid beautiful book. Thank you for writing it for me, N. Griffin. Better than a parcel of treats.
___________________________ I received an ARC of this book from a friend at a bookstore, and I did not exchange anything for it.(less)
This was the most gorgeous audio book I’ve listened to yet. I am wavering a little in saying that because it is up against Flo Gibson’s reading of Wut...moreThis was the most gorgeous audio book I’ve listened to yet. I am wavering a little in saying that because it is up against Flo Gibson’s reading of Wuthering Heights, Mia Farrow’s reading of What Falls Away, and Stephen Fry’s reading of The Hitchhiker s Guide to the Galaxy. But, this audio was outstanding. Let’s not compare them all to each other because they are all outrageously excellent, and I don’t want them to fight. But, oh, this book. So beautiful. So, so beautiful. Listen to the audio of this book.
I had pretty low expectations for this if we’re honest. Shiver was abysmally boring, and I listened to that on audio as well. Not even good readers could make up for how lame that was. But, you could tell Stiefvater could write a sentence from that one, so I decided to give her another chance, and, boy, am I glad I did. My only complaint is that, errrg, at the end of the audio is this recording of Stiefvater telling you her life’s story as it relates to the book, and apparently she wrote the awkward folk music that plays at the beginning and end of the story. . . . Stick to the sentences, Stiefvater! I tried to decide if those things ruined the audio at all, and even though they left a bad taste in my mouth, I decided they did not. Because this audio was absolutely beautiful.
This is one of those stories that has the Firefly curse, where you can’t describe what it’s about. Cowboys + space? No, thank you. But Firefly is the best show ever, amiright? This has similar issues. It is a retelling of traditional fairy tales about evil fairy horses from the sea. But, Stiefvater makes it her own in this painfully beautiful way.
[inarticulate noises of excitement!!!] This is the story of this wonderful orphan girl and her beautiful horse. It is the story of this wonderful orphan boy and his beautiful, evil fairy waterhorse. And both of them have to run this horrible race, the Scorpio Race, in order to earn their freedom from various entanglements. It all takes place on the island of Thisbe, which, how pretty is that? Oh, but it is about so much more. It is about grief, and what a battle life is. It is about loyalty and bloodlust. Every part of this book is beautiful (except the aforementioned awkward moments that really have nothing to do with the book.)
In the awkward author’s recording at the end, she mentioned that how there is so little making out in this book compared to the Shiver series (thank god!), and she said that because of the island she was writing, she realized this would be more of an Elizabeth Bennett/Mr. Darcy love story than a Shiver love story. And YES! That is what it is. These beautiful kids have that strength of Elizabeth Bennett and Darcy. They develop that slow, lovely understanding.
The central conflict here is whether Puck Connelly (our girl) can ride in the races traditionally reserved for men on waterhorses. And there is so much that is unstated there but painfully and articulately drawn, like it was drawn out of someone’s vein, in the association of Puck and her horse, Dove, as feminine, and the contrasting association of Sean Kendrick (our boy), and his waterhorse, Corr, as masculine. Puck and Dove live peacefully away from the sea and are somehow domestic, but not in a trapped way, in a warm way like tea and apple cake. Shawn and Corr are wild, like the ocean and magic. There is just something old-school feminine and masculine about those images, but not stuck and ugly. And Puck suffers all of the ridicule and violence of a girl running in a traditionally man’s race. And it is just beautiful. I hate even to say that, but there is something cathartic in this book about the violence of life and the way men and women experience that, and I love it.
Also, there is this rad, American character, and his last name is Holly, and holly berries are a magical tool to calm the waterhorses! Eeeep! (disclosure: Holley is my last name.)
I am appalled at how fewer people have read this than Shiver, even though I was one of them until now. I loved almost every second of this book, the sentences were so achingly beautiful, and I want you to listen to it if you are cool. (less)
Yay!!! This was just what I wanted. This was like a cone of shaved ice on a hot day by the pool listening to a mix of one hit wonders. Yay!! I feel li...moreYay!!! This was just what I wanted. This was like a cone of shaved ice on a hot day by the pool listening to a mix of one hit wonders. Yay!! I feel like I didn’t realize it, but one of my goals for vacation was to stay up till three in the morning with a fun adventure, and this was just the thing. 3 a.m. read: check!
There is such a deluge of young, energetic girl writers, writing women who struggle with their stoicism and strength and have supportive, emotional male counterparts, and I absolutely love it. It is like we hit this stride of girls saying, “Hey, sure, I could write a book and tell you how I see the world and what I want from it. Why not?!” And then publishers are publishing them! Wahoo! And, I know you are as little shocked by this as I am, but it turns out that girls do not always see ourselves as emotionally irrational, sensitive weaklings and men as muscly douchebags. And I really like the simple, somewhat symbolic way it looks at the complexity of emotional control and physical violence. I could not be more pleased. Goodbye stupid, boring old propaganda, and hello new, fun counter-propaganda!
Huh, now that I've read a couple of other reviews of this, I have to say that I'm surprised by people's criticisms. It seems like many people have taken issue with the fact that Katsa doesn't like dresses and see that as some kind of condemnation of girls who do like dresses. I have to disagree. I love seeing awesome girls like Buffy and Elle Woods, and the girls in Snooki's book, who love shopping and pink and are also smart and capable. But, I don't think it is condemning of girls to show a girl who does not love shopping. While I have to say that Katsa's take on marriage is almost word for word how I see marriage, I don't really feel like Katsa, or any female protagonist, needs to be the definitive image of what all women should be. Some women think marriage sounds awesome, and others don't, and I don't feel like Katsa being wary of marriage because of her resistance to control is a judgment on any of the women in this book or in real life who are in favor of marriage.
It kind of weirds me out to see the big reaction to that. I think it weirds me out because I do not care for shopping and marriage sounds awful to me, but most of my friends love shopping and/or are married, and I don't like to think me having a different opinion somehow undermines them. Anyway, I love seeing stories where girls are fun and strong and love shopping and marriage, and stories where they don't, because girls are not all the same about those things. It kind of bums me out to see this book criticized for ideas I feel represent my thoughts and preferences.
On the down side, this story is admittedly somewhat derivative, but not in the creepy way that Cassandra Clare is derivative, mostly in a fun way. There is a definite X-Men feel to me about the premise of the story, I kept accidentally reading the heroine’s name as Katniss, the trip over the mountains seemed so Aliens, and the ending is Jane Eyre. But, what awesome stories to borrow from!! Such a great mix.
Also, this book knocks the Bechdel test out of the park. Out of the park! Katsa’s interactions with all of the women were so beautiful and humble and natural. I loved them. I had a little bit of Bechdel concern early on because of Helda, but ultimately I think she is a great character, too. It feels natural for me for Katsa to face a lot of pressure to get married and have babies, even from really wonderful friends, because let’s face it, you do. And including the character of Helda gave Katsa such a graceful opportunity to define her own life instead of listening to even someone she loved.
When I was in seventh grade, I would read books with a couple of friends of mine and say, “It was sooooooo romaaaaaaantic!” And then we would laugh for like fifteen minutes, the way you do in seventh grade. I can’t really explain it now, but we thought it was hilarious to say that. Or, I did at least. Anyway, this book definitely would have made it on my soooooo romaaaaantic train, but it still presented a really healthy model, in my evaluation, of loyalty and love without control and ownership. Definite swoon. Plus, a guy with tattoos: how can I resist?
Also, I loooooooved that Raffin was Katsa’s sassy gay friend! Because girl needed one, and he was so great at it! And he totally was her sassy gay friend; don’t tell me otherwise. But, what a subtle, wonderful way to show a loving, sweet gay couple without sort of exploiting them for PC points. I think, anyway. I mean, I know the book didn’t dive fully into what it would mean for Raffin to have to get married, and it would have been great to be more explicit about it, but I still think it showed them really sweetly.
While I have to say that I love Blood Red Road more than this, and I think this is somewhat comparable to that, I did still love this. I just think the writing in BRR is brilliant and Saba’s voice is so unique. This was more straightforward, and probably an easier read for people who struggled with the dialect in BRR. But, mostly, YAY for all of the messages about women and girls defending ourselves and not bowing to control and emotional manipulation! So smart. I think this book could be to a seventh-grade girl audience what Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is to an adult male audience in terms of messages about confronting hatred of women. And I say again, YAAAAAY!!!! _________________________ I received a free copy of this book from the library. In return I promised to pay my late fees.(less)
My mother died the day before my first law school final. Hope Edelman says, in this book, that partway through college she had a weird urge to walk up...moreMy mother died the day before my first law school final. Hope Edelman says, in this book, that partway through college she had a weird urge to walk up to strangers and tell them, “My mother died when I was seventeen,” because she recognized that this fact about herself, this fact that alienated her from the people around her, had become totally definitive about who she was. A girl can’t tell people that her mother died because it brings only fear and pity, it doesn’t solve anything to talk about it. But, at the same time, no one knows you without knowing that you don’t, that you didn’t, have a mother. For the past few months I have had this weird compulsion, too, to walk up to people and just say, “My mother died the day before my first law school final.”
But, what do I mean by that? It sounds like I want to be pathetic or impressive, and I don’t mean either of those things. It sounds like I conquered life that day, or like I lost all hope of being a woman. It is ambivalent and loaded. I know that even talking about reading and reviewing a book that is “self-help,” even if it is about grieving, is loaded, too. It has a pastel cover and a sentimental name, but I kind of appreciate that about the book. It looks like only the fierce of heart, those who can handle reading sentiment without shame, should attempt this book, and I think that’s good. I think I benefited from waiting to read it until I felt like I could really listen to a sentimentally titled book without sneering.
At the same time, I don’t think emotions mature themselves, so I always remind myself that I’m probably not going to get very far sitting back and waiting for mine to suddenly do so. It would be like waiting for myself to spontaneously become a stellar lawyer without ever actually going to law school or reading any books about law. Or, it would be like waiting for myself to spontaneously become a marathon runner. Not all self-help books have anything worthwhile about emotional growth to say, but neither do all legal scholars have anything worthwhile to say about the law or all personal trainers about marathons. I don’t think the gaining-skills-by-doing-nothing strategy works with almost anything, so I’m pretty enthusiastic about smart books about emotions and spirituality. I’m pretty enthusiastic about counseling, too – it’s like getting a massage for the soul.
I’m being really long winded about saying that, while I don’t think every time is the right time to read this book, I do think probably everyone would benefit from reading this book at some point. I wish I had been prepared to read it sooner. The book is directed to women, obviously, but Edelman makes the point that we, women or men, mourn rejection (in whatever form, whether death or emotional or physical abandonment) from our same-sex parent differently than we mourn rejection from our opposite-sex parent, and the book is mostly about that. Even if you have not experienced rejection from a same-sex parent, I think it would still give you perspective on what you gain from that parent that you might not even be aware of. It also might give you perspective on why (at least some of us) women who have lost our mothers act the way we do when we have not known how to mourn.
The book is arguably as sentimental as its title, even just because it is about death and emotions, but it is so smart. Edelman surveys over a hundred women who lost their mothers at various ages, and she tells their stories in an organized, clear layout. She also talks about many famous women, including Virginia Woolf, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Madonna, and how they have reacted to the deaths of their mothers. In addition to hearing and recounting all of these stories, Edelman obviously did some pretty serious research into other studies about women and grief, and about family relationships in general.
For me, much of this book was practically a miracle. If you don’t mind my spoiling what the biggest revelation of the book was for me, I will tell you about it right now. I will not say it as clearly as Edelman, though, so you should still get her take on it, and it’s probably only a small part of the book, even though it was life changing to me. It is that when a mother rejects a daughter, whether she does it intentionally or unintentionally, such as through illness and death, the daughter starts to look for the mother relationship in all of her relationships. One woman in the book described it as a “cocoon,” another described it as “that family feeling,” which is something I have said, at least in my head, a lot. The daughter starts to think that any successful relationship ultimately has that particular form of intimacy – that the intimacy from a mother is successful intimacy.
I literally thought this. I had no idea that, ultimately, all intimacy, all sense of family, isn’t necessarily that feeling of a little daughter with her mother. I had always thought that because my relationships, whether friendships or romances, are not like that, it was like “people, iz doin it rong,” and that once I figured out how to do it right, my relationships would feel like that. I have been jealous of my friends, men or women, who have families (read: friends who have mothers) and their ability to do relationships right, shown just by the fact that they have a mother. And this intensity has created a completely unfair expectation for all of my relationships because then every time I experience rejection, it is the loss of my mom, the loss of my family, all over again. It means that friends living their own lives, not focused on me one hundred percent of the time, translated to rejection, and not just rejection, but also the death of my relationship with my mother all over again. It was basically a miracle to hear that I could treat the loss of that nurturing, cocoon relationship, that mother-child relationship, as a total loss, and not let that loss pile on to every other lost relationship I ever have. It sounds weird, but it is a relief to know it is not failure that no friend ever turns out to be my mom.
*facepalm* I totally love this book.
So, that concludes the review portion of your time, and the rest of this shall be a story with no real reviewing purposes in mind. It is more my experience of being a motherless daughter than a critique of the book. Even though my personal story, like anyone's personal story, is not the same as most other people's, it was really incredible to hear how similar my reaction to losing my mother is to the reactions of other women who lost theirs.
My mom died of Lou Gehrig’s disease, but as far as I am concerned, I lost my mom about twenty years before she actually died. I was six when my family first started listening to meditation tapes from the Foundation of Human Understanding, and when I was eight, we moved to Selma, Oregon, to join what we would later refer to as “The Cult.” Really, most of the diets or clubs or churches my parents joined ended up taking on a cultish quality once my parents got mixed up with them. First, that diet/club/church was the only thing that could save us from certain doom; later, it was evil. The Foundation is basically a Judeo-Christian group that teaches men how to stand up to the domineering women around them. It teaches them how to take the world back from the invidious control of women, and it teaches women how to overcome their natural tendencies toward evil (ya know, Eve, and all that).
This is my recollection of The Cult. If you look on the website, it mostly looks like stuff you’d get out of The Secret, but if you read through the call show questions, there is some stuff about bullying women that is more what I remember. I can’t find it now, but there was this cartoon in their magazine once, which to me symbolized the teachings. The first panel was a tiny woman and a big, strong man. As the panels (maybe six or eight panels) went along, the woman got bigger and stronger, and the man got smaller, until, at the end it was a huge, ugly woman sitting next to a coffin. Anyway, my mom and dad realized that my mom was the source of all evil in our family, and that if my brother and I were to grow up right, we would have to overcome the feminine influences in our lives.
My mom wasn’t allowed to touch us any more around the time that I turned seven. My brother had been nursing, and my mom cut him off from nursing without any weaning process. If I ran to my parents’ room because I had a nightmare, my mom had to put a pillow between herself and me so that she wouldn’t transmit her evil. I was a daddy’s little girl, so I understood that as long as I stayed that way, didn’t touch my mom, married young (it was understood that this would probably be to the cult leader’s grandson), and devoted my life to my children, I would avoid the pit of feminine evil to which I was otherwise susceptible. Years later, when a friend of mine went home early from a sleepover weekend because, she said, my parents never hugged us, my parents realized that still none of us touched each other ever, but it is difficult to change habits.
I am extra-sensitive to anti-feminist propaganda, I know, because of this upbringing. My mom continued to believe for the rest of her life that it was her job to repress any part of her personality that might conflict with my dad, the head of our household. But, I continued to look to my mom for the relationship I had with her when I was very young. I always hoped she would wake up and come back to me, until I realized a few years before she died, during her eight-year-long dying process, that she never would. I set some boundaries about what I could contribute to our relationship, and because my mom couldn’t contribute anything, we lost the façade that our relationship had been. At that time, a friend reprimanded me, saying that she cherished that special mother-child bond with her own kids, and I would regret not maintaining that before my mom died. I thought a lot about that later, and my inability to maintain that connection with my mom haunted me, even though I can’t say I regretted setting the boundaries I did.
From the time I was little and my mom emotionally vacated the family, I got so used to looking for that relationship from her that I also started looking to everyone for it. I thought it was intimacy. Motherless Daughters talks about how people often call motherless women “adoptable,” and this has been true for me. Many families have adopted me, and I love all of them, but I have always thought that I haven’t been able to re-create that specific form of intimacy because of my own emptiness and awkwardness. I knew I loved these people, but I thought it was not the right kind of connection. And, then, when they had to do normal things for their normal lives, which I completely want them to do, it was a betrayal to me that was its own, plus the loss of my mom. When friends would move away, or start a new relationship and get busy, it was a betrayal with emotional intensity far beyond what I actually expected from the relationship. This was true for both friends and romances, both women and men in my life.
So, I’m not totally sure how this mourning thing works, but Edelman says that for her it is like a companion – not in a morbid sense, but in the sense that she continues to be without her mother. I think it’s reassuring to know that when I feel disproportionately intense about some kind of failure or rejection, it could be part of mourning: I could need to step back and re-adjust myself to the losses I’ve had so they don’t get confused with the relationships I am having. I could need to recognize that not every action a dear friend takes for him or herself is a sign that I am a burden to that person and they secretly wish they could reject me. I’m not sure why, but recognizing this about my relationship with my mom makes it easier to accept that people I really care about could care about me, too, even if they are not devastated when I am gone, and that when life pulls us apart, they could feel the loss of me as I feel the loss of them. Each new love does not have to be the sum of all previous loves and rejections. No new love is what I lost from my mother.(less)
I’m nearly caught up on all of the important law books I need to tell you about from this year. I’ve been saving this one because I love it so much, b...moreI’m nearly caught up on all of the important law books I need to tell you about from this year. I’ve been saving this one because I love it so much, but now I’m in the summer. I’ve got my beach books, I’ve got my beer, and I’ve got my Bachelorette. I’m ready to tell you about constitutional law casebooks. It’s kind of like Jane Austen, where you have to give the ubiquitous hierarchy of favorites, so here it is:
Have I mentioned how lame the Sullivan/Gunther is? It’s really lame. The edits are the most mangled, choppy atrocities you’ve ever seen. They pulled out fingernails just because they didn’t like the nail polish. It’s the City of Bones of constitutional law.
This one, on the other hand, is like poetry. It’s beautiful. The edits are clean and powerful. I am glad I read the Braveman first because it has far fewer edits, so you have to work for the information you’re getting, but the Stone is like reading Hemingway on the Constitution. It’s lovely.
I read this one for the constitutional law class I was tutoring, and I loved every minute of it. Tutoring was fun, too, in the end. I don’t love teaching, but I love reading and debating constitutional law. The kids in my class are geniuses. About a third of them were political science majors in college, and they were all amazing. The guy I sat next to in the class looked like Marty McFly’s dad. Like, when you look at him, things turn black and white, and you transport into the 1950s. He wears a trench coat and a suit every day, and he carries a brief case, in which he has a tin where he keeps brownies that his mom made. And then he started bringing me coffee almost every class, so that was one reason it was awesome to be the tutor.
I’ve already told you tons about constitutional law, so I won’t go over it all again. Judicial review, separation of powers, federalism, commerce clause, the fourteenth amendment, etc. In this class, the professor, Dreamy McDreamerson, introduced § 5 of the fourteenth amendment before talking about due process, so that was confusing. Don’t do that.
And then there was the mistake about INS v. Chadha. That case is about the legislative veto. The legislative veto is where Congress passes a law that requires implementation by the executive branch, but then Congress gets to review the executive implementation. So, like, they said, in this case, that certain people have to be kicked out of the U.S. Then, the INS let this one guy stay. Then, the House of Representatives said, no, that’s not what we wanted, and decided to kick the guy out. Then, the Supreme Court said that the House of Representatives isn’t the boss of how the executive branch executes the law, and so the legislative veto is unconstitutional. But, Justice White pointed out that the decision is pretty wrong, and I agree. I won’t go into it now, but trust me. He’s not right about the whole thing, but he’s right.
Professor McDreamerson agreed with the Powell concurrence, though. That’s pretty legit. It’s a really well-reasoned concurrence. There’s this apocryphal story about it that I’ll tell you now, too. So, Justice Burger wrote the majority opinion (made me hungry every time we talked about it). And Justice Burger was totally pissed that Justice Powell didn’t sign on to the majority opinion and wrote his own concurrence instead. So, years later, Justice Powell was writing a pretty important opinion (I forget which one), and Justice Burger dissented from it. Justice Powell really wanted the whole court to agree, but he couldn’t get Justice Burger to sign on. After they issued the opinion, Justice Powell went to Justice Burger’s chambers and was talking to him. He asked if there was anything he could have done to persuade Justice Burger to sign on to the opinion.
Justice Burger said, “No, you were completely in the right. I agreed with you. I was just getting you back for the Chadha opinion.”
Or so they say.
Anyway, that’s not from the book. I just heard the story from an unnamed source this year and thought it was a good one. Oh, those silly Justices! I love ‘em. The lesson from all of this, though, is that if you read a constitutional law casebook on your own, in your spare time, read this one.(less)
!!!!! This book kicks my ass. Moira Young has gotta be the Beatrix Kiddo of y/a writers. She comes in here, probably blindfolded or some such, turns t...more!!!!! This book kicks my ass. Moira Young has gotta be the Beatrix Kiddo of y/a writers. She comes in here, probably blindfolded or some such, turns the conventional rescue story on its head, and then writes it all out in solid, beautiful dialect because that’s just how badass she is. The effortlessness alone is enough to make me think we’ve arrived in some new country of storytelling. Suddenly, we’re in the middle of it, and I didn’t even realize the tour bus could go there.
I don’t even want to talk about all of the incredible women in this book because the telling of it is so nonchalant and so free from politics that it seems a shame to freak out about it. Even though it does make me freak out. We should have been talking about women like this the whole time. These girls are so legit. They talk to each other like girls talk. They kick ass the way girls kick ass. They are smart, but they’re not trying to throw it in your face. They’re just incidentally as cool as actual girls.
I won’t tell you much about this book because I don’t want to spoil all the transitions from one kind of beauty to another. I don’t want to spoil the easy absence of agenda, the genuine relationships, or the well-timed action.
As I said before, this book kicked my ass, so I’m still in the fetal position, spitting blood and reflecting on the wussiness of my life and writing. However, I will pull myself together enough to reflect that, aside from being a post-apocalyptic story about how to be a sister and how to be a woman, this book is incidentally also about power and slavery.
Don’t get me wrong, though. This story is not allegorical in the way the Hunger Games is. (I really don’t want to compare the two books, though, even though they are somewhat similar. The comparison really annoys me because I feel like it comes down to the scarcity of books with truly badass female characters. Comparing the writing would be like comparing Zora Neale Hurston and Willa Cather. Why would you? Both are wonderful and wonderfully different. It seems vulgar to compare authors only because they talk about women living in similar settings.) I am reading in a message about slavery here because, while this book contains slavery, it is ultimately about adventure, not about slavery or morality or politics.
I am studying slavery in Zanzibar right now, though, so I’m going to comment on it. Estimates say that there are about 30 million slaves in the world right now – more than all of the slaves in the 19th century trans-Atlantic slave trade. Most of them are women and children. They process our sugar and coffee and chocolate. They work in fields and in brothels and in homes. They live all around us. The Oregon State Bar estimated that in 2006, slave traffickers made more money than Nike, Starbucks, and Microsoft combined. Slavery doesn’t just exist in post-apocalyptic dystopias. And, as this book gracefully illustrates, it is perpetuated by both men and women. Young does a lovely job of showing the grotesqueness of feeding off violence and humiliation. She also shows the beauty of revolution.
My only complaint about this book is that I think the second half loses steam. Spoiler alert? There are many excellent parts still, but it doesn’t have the magic of the first half. It felt like the plot got heavy, and she sacrificed some of the story-telling to a checklist of what characters needed to die to fulfill y/a requirements. It didn’t feel as careful as the first half. I think I would have preferred to leave more unanswered questions than to tie the plot up so neatly and formulaically. **End possible spoiler alert**
I’m not sure I’m even complaining about that, though, as I still enjoyed it. If I had loved the second half as much as the first, I think this would have become my favorite book of all time. As it is, this book is still probably in my top 10.
_______ (I read this as an ARC on my Kindle that a friend gave me before I went to Zanzibar. Thank you, friend!!!)(less)
I totally fucking love this book. I’m not even lying to you because I’m trying to schmooze you into buying it or anything. People never want to read t...moreI totally fucking love this book. I’m not even lying to you because I’m trying to schmooze you into buying it or anything. People never want to read the books I like, anyway. They always want to read the ones I hate and then tell me to read them again. It’s the cross I bear. So, I pretty much consider this, my choice to give The Egg a rave, the kind of ironic curse that I can only liken to a shadowed figure crouched in the hallway of this book’s apartment building, waiting to take its head off with a shovel. It’s circular and self-destructive like that. It’s a meta, testosterone-powered, masochistic bloodbath with a lot of thought-provoking insight into manhood and womanhood. Mostly manhood. Oh, I mean the book. This review? It’s nothing the book couldn’t take if it heard it sneaking up from behind.
This book is written by The O’Malley. It must be read.
Obligatory digression: I met this girl who is in my law school class. I really want to tell you her name, but I feel like I could get needlessly racist against redheaded people and strippers by doing that, so I’ll leave it off. She was the girl who first heard about the Zanzibar program that I’m going on over winter break, so I automatically liked her because of that. I have come to think that perhaps she is suffering from something like a girl version of the affliction suffered by the character in The Egg, so I’m going to call her Womanny (Caris, if you hate that I’m doing that because you are way subtle and I’m being way not subtle or totally misunderstanding you, tell me, and I’ll come up with something else). I invited her out to a movie with a bunch of girls and me in the summer, and she couldn’t keep her mouth shut during the entire show, so that should have been a sign, but I was giving her a benefit of the doubt.
I ended up at a restaurant with her later because we were supposed to be saying goodbye to a friend who was moving away the next day, only apparently Womanny hadn’t told him we were coming by, or something. I’m not totally clear on what happened, all I know is that it was very important to her for me to come say goodbye to this guy, and I ended up at a restaurant with this girl and a stranger 1L. So, Womanny starts going on about how she is an anti-feminist, and how she is in love with the sexist Mormon guy and is best friends with the pantsless Santa guy in my class. All horrors I had not previously imagined. The stranger 1L and I explained to Womanny that these things were impossible and do not exist.
A few nights later, Womanny sent me a text. “u awake?” she asked. “Yep, what’s up?” I responded. So, she called me.
In a reluctant and mumbley manner she said, “I just wanted you to know I didn’t mean to call you a hen.”
Because that is such a spectacularly awesome thing to say to a person, I started giggling a little bit. I figured that she was calling to tell me she didn’t call me a hen in order to let me know that she did call me a hen. So, I was already digging this conversation. “What? When did you call me a hen?” I asked.
“Well, earlier, when I said that thing on facebook, I just wanted you to know it wasn’t about you.”
I thought back and realized that I had clicked “like” on a post from [Betty White] to Womanny, saying that she had been accepted into the Zanzibar program. I had been out all day after that, and, though I got about twenty updates from that post, I don’t think I got the one Womanny was referring to, or at least I hadn’t seen it. So, I asked, “What are you talking about?”
She explained about the post and how a lot of girls had responded and said they wanted to come on the trip, and Womanny didn’t want to go with one girl because she complains too much and didn’t want to go with another because her porridge was too cold, or something. Finally, she responded to the entire thread, “I was going to Zanzibar to get away from all of you hens!” (I’m imagining that post was in all caps and that that she actually followed the sentence with a good ol’ “!!1/1!!?!g!!”)
I asked, “Why don’t you want [Betty White] to go on the Zanzibar trip?”
“Well,” explained Womanny, “[Betty White] and I were friends until she tried to destroy all of my happiness.”
So, I started laughing again at that. I was at the knee-slapping stage at this point. “How did she try to destroy all of your happiness?” I asked.
“I liked a 3L boy,” Womanny told me, “And [Betty White] told me that he was hitting on all of the red-headed girls.”
I paused, waiting for the rest of the story. When it was clear that she wasn’t planning to continue, I asked if anything else had happened and if [Betty White] possibly could have had motivations for saying that other than simply destroying Womanny’s happiness.
“No,” she said, “She knew I was happy, so she wanted to destroy my happiness.”
Since then, Womanny decided Zanzibar wasn’t for her (for logistical reasons, of course). [Betty White] and I are still going, and I remain pumped.
I partly tell this story because I wanted to, and partly I think it does relate to The O’Malley’s novella. There’s this whole wonderful criticism that Caris does here, I think, about how masculine self-loathing turns a dude in on himself. Maybe I’m reading too much into the story, but that’s what I took from it. I think the same can be true of women. With stereotypes of men, the shape self-loathing takes is physical violence, and with stereotypes of women, the shape it takes is cattiness and interpersonal paranoia. Are any of us really that? Do our parents make us that? Does society and ignorance? Does this review contain conceptual spoilers? This book will tell you the answers. No, just kidding. But you should still read it.(less)
This was probably my favorite book I read in 2011. My friend gave it to me last year or the year before, and I always take a while to get to books tha...moreThis was probably my favorite book I read in 2011. My friend gave it to me last year or the year before, and I always take a while to get to books that people have given me. I have to warm up to the concept of the book and get used to the cover and think about what mood would be the best for a read. I’m glad I waited so long to read it because the time/place for the read was perfect. I just enjoyed the hell out of this story. A lot of elements of the story hit my favorite things, and I loved its brightness and ease.
Ronia is a wild harpy of a little girl who runs through the forest, tames wild horses, and lives in a cave when she has a fight with her father. Her mother sings the wolf song at bedtime and Ronia teaches herself not to be afraid. But, sometimes she still is afraid.
I don’t have anything deep to say about this book, but for me it had just the right combination of reality and fantasy, sadness and hope. It didn’t shy away from harshness, but it wasn’t trying to beat me over the head with life. Maybe in another mood I would have been bothered by the fairy-tale quality of it, but I really loved that in this particular mood. It is also difficult to say how I would have felt about this as a kid, but I like to think I would have loved it. It has an unselfconscious wild girlness that I hope I’ve always loved.(less)
It is difficult for me to say why I found I Capture the Castle so personally meaningful, which may mean that I will be falling all over myself in this...moreIt is difficult for me to say why I found I Capture the Castle so personally meaningful, which may mean that I will be falling all over myself in this review. When I first started reading I was bored and feared that the poverty of the characters would become dirty and depressing for its own sake, as in Angela's Ashes. Instead, it's more like a lovely BBC movie where people are always chewing with their mouth open, but somehow it is only charming. At first I resisted liking anything about it, including Cassandra's repeated use of the word "capture", but now I find myself thinking about how to describe this or that and involuntarily using the word "capture" in my thoughts. The story is at times screwball and at times elegant but always delightful and completely won me over.
Perhaps part of the reason I resisted this book is that I came to it thinking it would be romance (because of the movie poster cover of the book, which says something like, "A well-loved classic that has become the most romantic movie of the year" - hate those movie poster covers), but it is actually, more than anything, a coming of age story. I say this because I think that whether you prefer coming-of-age or romance, it helps to know what you're getting into when you start a book. In my experience, romantic novels solve the problems of life by bringing characters together in true love. I Capture the Castle is written through Cassandra's eyes, so it does not rely on romantic satisfaction to tell the story, as, perhaps, it would have if it were told by another character in the same book. Rather, like any good coming of age story, develops through revelations of the unreliability of people around Cassandra and her discovery her own independence and capabilities.
I must confess that what first hooked me on this book was Simon's beard. I have said that I am a sucker for a good fish story, and it turns out that I think I am a sucker for a good beard story, too. I thought the girls' fascination and horror over his beard were both hilarious and correct. I wonder why I don't see beards in stories more often. Really, when anyone I have known has a beard, it comes up in conversation almost any time the person is mentioned - and rightly so. I once asked a friend of mine, who had a bushy beard before he met his fiance, why he would have chosen to grow it out like that. He said that the reason any man who can grow a big bushy beard should is that the bigger your beard, the more authority you have over people in general and specifically over other men. He said there is something almost magical about having a big bushy beard that makes other people have to do whatever you want. I told him that was absolutely silly. Then, about a week later I was at the grocery store deciding which line to go through, and one of the checkers, who was otherwise very ordinary looking, had an enormous, bushy beard. I instinctively went to his line, and then a second later was shocked to realized that I had only done that because of the beard. I don't know if that proves my friend's point, but it has to mean something. I wonder if the castle girls weren't experiencing something like this beard-hypnosis in the beginning of the novel.
To go ahead and beat this beard point to death: I also thought it was lovely how Dodie Smith developed the beard's story. I always see authors showing the physical changes love supposedly brings to women, but not men. The women are pale and thin until they fall in love, when suddenly they become healthy looking. In I Capture the Castle Simon looks suspiciously like Satan, until he falls in love and shaves the beard. Brilliant! Also, it has the self-serving overtones of Elizabeth Bennet's visit to Pemberly in Pride and Prejudice, when the mansion shows Mr. Darcy's manners in a different light. Beardless Simon makes even his actions when bearded much less sinister. Love it.
You may not believe me, if you have read this far, when I say that Simon's beard was not what was personally meaningful to me about this story. Not surprisingly, I think it was Cassandra herself who seemed so profound. In many ways I did not identify with her, but I loved her. I found myself crying at times, not necessarily because her growing pains revealed my own, but only in sympathy for this new friend I found, who I love so much. I loved how wise and kind and scrappy she was. I actually loved every character in this novel, though, as they all had some kind of magical and hilarious individuality. It is tempting to copy some of the most beautiful moments here, but instead I think you should just read the book. On the one hand, I am sad that I did not read this in high school, when I think it may have been a more cathartic experience, but I wonder if its honesty might have hurt my feelings then. As it is, I found it both refreshing and comforting.(less)
The covers of the Underland Chronicles do them no end of disservice. Since my policy is to judge a book by its cover, it took reading The Hunger Games...moreThe covers of the Underland Chronicles do them no end of disservice. Since my policy is to judge a book by its cover, it took reading The Hunger Games to convince me to pick them up. I had always assumed they would be machine generated chapter books with mythical creatures protecting or seeking some ring or sword, or who knows what, that has some symbolic meaning - or doesn't. Suzanne Collins, however, is in no way machine-generated. She is Dostoyevski for the young-reader crowd. While she uses the quest trope in each of the Underland stories, her reflections of politics and international history are both gentle and unflinchingly horrifying. Kids have to learn about genocide somehow . . . I guess.
In comparison to other popular child-soldier (or children-save-the-world) stories, the Underland Chronicles are not comforting in the way Harry Potter and Twilight are, nor are they as morally-outraged and uncomfortable as Ender's Game, but I found them more honest than all of those. Collins never seems overcome by her own power as an author, self-indulgent in her story-telling, or worried that her audience won't understand her overall message. That may be the mark of a good editing team, and if so, A+ to them. Her writing is not as lyrically beautiful as Kate DiCamillo's (whose is, for that matter?), but, like Dostoyevski's, it is very effective in reflecting doubts about human nature and, at times, touching. It makes me wish, once again, that Dostoyevski was able to edit well. (less)
At my college graduation, the speaker was a gruff professor. He was one of those older men whom people somewhat patronizingly describe as a teddy bear...moreAt my college graduation, the speaker was a gruff professor. He was one of those older men whom people somewhat patronizingly describe as a teddy bear to convey the idea that while he looks like Santa Claus, they wouldn’t be surprised to see him arraigned on assault charges at the local courthouse. I liked this professor in general, and his graduation speech was a grand: warm congratulations on a crisp early-summer day. He decided to inform us, however, that anyone who had not read The Iliad and The Odyssey should not be graduating from college. I was one of those lucky (lucky?) folks, like an illiterate kid graduating from high school.
I decided to rectify the situation as soon as possible, and I spent an indefinite number of hours in the next few, sunny weeks laying in a hammock on my porch, the boy I loved commiserating with me about this wonderful book. It is a warm, sharp memory. That was mumble mumble years ago, and this summer, I thought that since I just graduated again, I would read it again. It was a good choice. Warm, summer days in the hammock with limb-chopping, flashing helms, and mountain goats rushing down the hillside.
I can’t find this quote I’m thinking of, but I’m pretty sure it’s from Beowulf, and it goes something like, “Brave men should seek fame in foreign lands.” Google does not think that quote exists, so maybe I dreamed it, which is really neither here nor there, but kind of weird. Something about that quote, about this book, and about the way this book reminds me of that quote, makes my blood beat close to my skin. I get this feeling that my heart grows too big for my ribs, and my eyeballs get tight, as though I’m going to cry. But, my heart doesn’t pound, and no tears come.
That is how this book feels to me.
This story is about what Homer doesn’t describe as much as what he does, and reading it evokes some kind of mirroring response from my body. The Iliad is the almost-death of Achilles, the almost-destruction of Troy, and reading it is an almost-panic-attack, an almost-sob. It is the absent top step in a flight of stairs. But, oh man, that flight of stairs. How do you even make that?
It’s not possible to spoil this story because Homer is always one step ahead, tripping you up about what story he’s telling. So, just because I think it’s fun (and, also because it seems kind of absurd to write a “review” of The Iliad, so I’m wandering in the dark here), I’m going to give a brief summary:
This story is about a bunch of guys fighting over some women fleshlights and jewelry. Mostly the women fleshlights. Everyone’s been at this war for nine years (sidebar: weirdly, when I read that it was nine years, I thought, “NINE YEARS? WHO WOULD FIGHT A WAR FOR THAT LONG? Oh, wait . . . .”). As you probably know, the war initially started because Paris, a Trojan, stole Helen, who was the iPhone 5 of fleshlights, from Menelaus, an Argive. The Argives are at their ships; the Trojans are in Ilium, behind the city walls. There’s lots of blood and guts and pillaging throughout.
This story, Homer clearly tells us, is about Paris and Helen’s betrayal of Menelaus, and it is about the death of Achilles. The story opens with Agamemnon, the king of the Argives, having stolen a fancy new fleshlight from Achilles, who is a child of a water nymph. Achilles refuses to continue fighting if Agamemnon is going to take his fleshlight. Then, Achilles has this beautiful, beautiful moment where he questions the very nature of fighting over fleshlights. We are all pawns in the petty squabbles of the gods.
The gods are easily my favorite parts of this story, though it is not really about them in a certain way. It is not really about them in the way that any discussion of a god is not really about the god. On the one hand, it is about how our lives are just pawns in this squabbling, incestuous, eternal Thanksgiving dinner in the sky. On the other hand, it is still about the pawns. The gods are compelling on their own, but my heart tries to escape my chest not because of their story, but because, yes, humans do live and die by some kind of petty lottery run by a rapist married to his sister. Yes. And maybe there is someone bold and wonderful in the sky, like the grey-eyed Athena, but we still live and die by the thunder of a maniacal drunk uncle. Yes, that seems true.
So, in the midst of the chopping of limbs, the shatteringly beautiful similes, death after death, and the machinations of the dysfunctional immortal family, this story is about the betrayal of Menelaus and the death of Achilles. The thing that is absolutely, hands-down the most insane about this story to me is that those two events are deeply vivid in my mind in connection to this book, but neither of them actually happens here. How is that possible?! How do you plant enough seeds about an event in a reader’s mind that when she closes a book, those seeds grow into whole, robust images about the event? My blood does that thing where it tries to get out of my skin just from thinking about that. I can picture Achilles's death so vividly, picture lying in that hammock and reading it after I graduated from college, but that never happened. Homer just planted the seeds of his death in my brain, and they grew from my constant pondering over them. Helen and Paris sailing away grew in my mind through Helen’s beautiful regrets.
This is a story that I could think about for days: Helen’s mourning, like the women I’ve seen apologize for causing their husbands’ abuse (no, you didn’t cause this); war, and the futility of killing each other, as though we are controlled by the Kardashians of the sky. What causes violence? We say women cause violence because they push our buttons, so we’re driven to maim and kill because of the betrayals and button pushing. We say that something eternal, God or the gods, cause violence because they control our fate, they appear to us as birds and as wisdom and lead us on our night-blind path of life, but they lead us erratically: drunk, hysterical drivers and us with no seat belt, so we grasp for mere survival. Homer describes those motivations for violence so beautifully.
But, ultimately I think that is all bullshit, and I think the bullshitness of it is there in this story, too. It is there in Achilles challenging Agamemnon. It is there in Achilles mourning Patroclus. Oh, Patroclus, about whom I haven’t even freaked in this review. What a shame. Anyway, though, people are not violent because we were betrayed or because of supernatural trickery. Our violence is ours; it is our choice and our responsibility. Life is barbarous and cruel around us, but that is its nature, and we can only shape ourselves through and around it. When we expect life to be gentle and obedient, we are usually doing nothing more than justifying our own cruelty. I don’t think there is an answer to any of this in The Iliad, but it is beautifully told in both the positive and negative space. It is blood-poundingly, eye-achingly told. As my professor said, everyone should read this, and if you can read it in the sun, lying in a hammock after your graduation, all the better.(less)
A couple of years ago I thought (as a gesture to God saying something like, “Hey, we don’t disagree about everything and anyway what do I know about l...moreA couple of years ago I thought (as a gesture to God saying something like, “Hey, we don’t disagree about everything and anyway what do I know about life?”) that I would start going to a certain church where the pastor was an ex-football star. When I say it now it doesn’t sound like a very good idea, but I did a lot of things at that time that sound stupid now. Sometimes it’s better to go with what you know, even if it’s very little. I say all of this because the ultimate falling-out I had with the pastor of that church reflects the central conflict of the great and wonderful mystery story, Gaudy Night, so I’m going to use this review as a venue to air my grievances, which will hopefully be entertaining enough that you can bear with me. In fact, this book brings up a couple of stories I have about churches, so I should probably say as a disclaimer that Gaudy Night is not religious at all in its topic, but deals mostly with the role of women in society. That just happens to be something about which I tend to get pissed off at churches.
Rather than preaching topically, this football pastor had decided that the entire church (which may not be fully of mega-church size, but is by no means small) would read through the Bible together in a year, like you do, and he would pull the sermons from our reading assignments. On Mother’s Day, we had just finished the book of Esther, so I was hopeful. There are a lot of troubling things about Esther, but also some really fascinating things. Also, it’s about a woman, so there are many good ways you can go with that. Nope. I should have known he would skip Esther entirely only to pick a random section from Judges to illustrate his spiritual message, which, as far as I could tell, was that he really liked when his mom would scratch his back before bedtime when he was in high school, so women shouldn’t work because they’re silly and it takes away time they could devote to scratching their family’s backs. As the sermon went on, I felt sure there would be some kind of uprising in the congregation. I was ready to get out my stash of pitchforks and torches and burn something down, but I didn’t want to leave because I might miss the end of his message where I hoped he would reveal that he was faking us all out to prove some point or another. His passion about the message culminated when he pulled out a quote from Some Woman, who is reputed to have said, “If all women CEOs quit their jobs, men could feed their families.” I looked around, hoping to see the scores of other women in the audience who would be equally shocked and appalled rushing for the door, when suddenly there was cheering and a woman in the back of the church yelled, “AMEN!” I don’t think I’ve ever felt so betrayed in my life.
The redemptive “Psych!” never came, so I drove home in a rage, pulled my copy of Backlash off its shelf, wrote a letter of complaint to the pastor in its inside cover, drove back to the church, and slammed it on the desk in his empty office. He never acknowledged the incident.
I wish, at this point, I had read the book The Madwoman in the Attic, so that I could give more scholarly opinions about Gaudy Night. From what I know of that line of analysis, Dorothy Sayers’s villain in this novel, the “poisen-pen” haunting the women of Oxford, is along the lines of the 19th century Madwoman (think Jane Eyre). She characterizes female sexuality, but also a loathing of female sexuality as castrating and destructive, so she is this horrifying repressed monster (Grendel’s Mother, maybe?). In Gaudy Night this character terrorizes the cloistered professors in the women’s college at Oxford. It really makes for a delightful read! Sayers presents the varied personalities of the dons and students of the university with a lot of color and flair. The fun and thoughtful discussion Dorothy Sayers presents in Gaudy Night on the topic of women being intelligent humans in their own right was vindicating and cathartic for me to read. She illustrates both the freedom and the shame that successful women feel, and does it in this funny, charming, British way that I adore. Harriet Vane is wonderful! Sayers doesn’t pretend that all women are in favor of having rights, nor does she pretend that we are all a bunch of catty bitches. Some characters do become savage in their hatred of independent women, and those independent women become shrill in their suspicion of one another’s virginity or sexuality. Sayers shows these aspects as momentary weaknesses, however, which are secondary to the overall trust and regard that the women show each other. They are not caricatures, but have their own flaws and charms. I’m making this sound like the whole story is purposeful critical analysis, which it may be, but it definitely comes off as natural within the overall mystery story. I don't even usually like mysteries, and I don't have a sense of suspense, so it is surprising how much I love this book, but that's probably why the social aspect was more striking to me.
I’m not fully with her in her use of classical quotations, which I take as an Oxford thing. Lord Peter Whimsey makes his appearance to be useful, charming, and supplicating. He doesn’t appear to be an overly realistic character (maybe too determinedly glad that Harriet is as smart as she is?), but I am in favor of wonderful authors writing people as they wish them to be, if not as they are – especially in the area of gender relations. Also, I love the way Sayers explores how women think of themselves. It would have been an unnecessary distraction to go into what men think of us. It was much more devastating to hear the woman shout “Amen!” at the back of that church, than to hear the male pastor go on about how women are good at scratching backs - and only that. Anyway, I think I’ve decided that maybe the use of classical quotations has to do with the battle of wits between Whimsey and Harriet, showing the equality of their intelligence and education. I like that, even though it was frustrating for my more pedestrian brain. I think I needed the Norton edition.
I was given this book at a “housewarming shower”, held for me by a really wonderful woman, who is the pastor of a subsequent church I attended. “Shower” because I am over 25 and unmarried, and it is presumed that I would be sad that I haven’t had any wedding/baby showers. Men were uninvited to the event, and the (humorous?) theme of the “shower” was to give me books I would hate. This made my friends who came a little stressed out because they know how much I love books, so they felt all this pressure (contrary to the theme) to get me books I would love that I hadn’t read yet. Also, to me, shower=bad. Other than stuff on my cat, I think this was the most successful book from that evening, and it actually makes all of the uncomfortable female judgment worth it. I kind of love that this book was given to me in this really awkward event that only women were allowed to come to. Even though the evening was pretty fun, and I really do love most of the women who came, the concept of the shower said so much about my “failure” in being an independent, educated woman. This book has so much to say to the contrary. I love irony.(less)