I never thought this would happen to me, but while I was reading this book, I actually had a sense of nostalgia for Harold Bloom.
A woman I work withI never thought this would happen to me, but while I was reading this book, I actually had a sense of nostalgia for Harold Bloom.
A woman I work with forced this book on me with the guarantee that I would adore it. I later found out that she "hates music like the Velvet Underground." It's always people like that who are forcing book recommendations. Not that there are "people like that" who hate the Velvet Underground. I have a lot of faith that she is an isolated case.
This book pretty much hit on every single thing I ever hate about books. I know other people have said the writing was engaging, but I have to disagree. One sentence was just a list of the types of businesses that existed in London in the late 16th century. The businesses were grouped together in a way that let the author use some semi-colons, and it seemed pretty clear to me that the whole purpose of the sentence was so that he could show he knew how to use semi-colons. If that is not the case, and the editors had to put those semi-colons in, well . . . god help us all.
I think this book should be classified as historical fiction because every sentence is about how "maybe this happened" or "if . . . then Shakespeare could have thought." There is a whole chapter devoted to speculating about whether Shakespeare had a happy marriage based on the marriages in his plays. !!!! That makes me so mad!!
Here's what I would read: a book that compiles the documentary history related to Shakespeare and has a short explanation of what the document is. I would be fine with that. Speculation is so infuriating.
I was dating this guy recently, and he only used the word "film" for "movie," which drives me crazy. And then one day, he asked me if I wanted to go have a "romp in the sack," so I decided we should not go out anymore. This is the book version of the phrase "romp in the sack."
I am judging the soul of both this book and anyone who is passionate about it. As to people who feel pretty neutral about it, you are okay, I will just assume the History of Elizabethan England class you took in college was only a survey....more
It’s been a weird year, you guys. I bleached my hair blonde again, and if I haven’t mentioned it before, people say the most ridiculous stuff to blondIt’s been a weird year, you guys. I bleached my hair blonde again, and if I haven’t mentioned it before, people say the most ridiculous stuff to blondes. It’s crazy. It’s like people are standing in line to make idiots out of themselves if you have blonde hair. Blondes, you guys have to dye your hair brown for a while. Just do it to see what life is like on the other side. It’s real different. You can go places and not have people be asses to you. Samples of some of the weird things people have said (and these are not even close to the worst):
1. I was walking down a hall and a security officer in his fifties or sixties was walking towards me. I realized that I needed something back at my desk, so I turned around. As I was walking away, the security officer said, “Are you ticklish?”
I turned around, and thinking I must have misheard him, said, incredulously, “What?!”
“Are you ticklish?” He repeated.
“Huh,” I said, and walked away. Then I spent the next week trying to figure out if there is another, totally normal meaning to that question. People have not been able to tell me one, so if you know of anything, pass it along.
2. I was judging oral arguments at the law school last spring. I was wearing a judge’s robe and sitting on the bench in the school’s classroom that is set up like a courtroom. There were two other judges in robes, and the professor of the class was there. To provide context, when I was in school, oral arguments were the most terrifying thing I did.
The topic of the oral arguments was an allegedly illegal seizure, and one of the issues was whether the discovery of a warrant against the defendant, in the words of the Supreme Court, “purged the taint of the illegality of the initial search.” So, we had questions written out for us as suggestions of what to ask the students. I had to ask this one question about the warrant issue, and I was trying to say it in my own words, but I was stumbling. The student interrupted me, said he knew what I was trying to ask, and answered the question.
Then, as he was leaving the room, after his argument was done, he said in a low voice, but still TO A JUDGE IN A ROBE AND IN FRONT OF HIS TERRIFYING PROFESSOR, either, “Gotta purge that taint, huh?” or “I’ll help you purge that taint.” And he didn’t do it in so much of a come-on way, as much as he did it in this way like that was why I had stumbled over the question and we were sharing an inside joke.
We were so not sharing that joke.
So, those are just a couple of the less-lawsuit-material, less-totally-dehumanizing experiences I’ve had with this blonde hair business. I bet, at this point, you are seriously wondering how I am going to wrap this idea around to relate to the book. Here’s how: I think having blonde hair makes people associate me as a child, so they feel more free to say inappropriate things and show terrible judgment. And Jeannette Walls is so amazing at telling stories of what assholes people are to kids. She is a genius at telling these gut-wrenching stories without being maudlin. And lord knows I can’t handle the maudlin. So, like the people in Byler, I am left thinking that if some skinny kids can stand up for themselves in this way, I can. It was, you know, inspirational, without being sickly heartwarming.
The Silver Star is the story of two sisters who just experience life kicking the shit out of them, like ya do, and respond by being these brilliant, scrappy heroes. This story is not accusatory, and it is unflinching, and it’s not exploitative of the victimization of children, but it touches on just about every hideous topic possible. I guess something I love about Walls is that she isn’t writing for middle-class comfort, and to me that makes her stories more true and less manipulative than most. And this book touched on almost every hot-button issue: civil rights, Vietnam, corporatization, child neglect, and sexual assault, so it was rife with opportunities for me to get mad about exploitation and privilege comfort. But, Walls knows how to tell that stuff.
It seems like, at least on some level, this book is a response to The Help. Maybe Walls had this crisis of conscience and thought, “Eeeesh, someone needs to show this unfortunate Stockett woman how to write with a little humility about experiencing the South in the Civil Rights Era.” And this is how you do it. You know your own perspective, and you recognize that not everyone admired you. Not that this book is even really about racism, other than in a peripheral way, but that is what seems appropriate to me. Walls isn’t black, so she can only give the perspective of a white girl and her black friends, to the extent they tell her their perspective. But, Bean’s friend Vanessa had more dignity, in her small appearances in this book, than the whole of the black maids in The Help. And, good lord, these kids made some excellent points about To Kill a Mockingbird.
This was a lovely novel, and I appreciated all of its purposefulness and structure. This was how you should tell a Social Topics story. I would say I did not enjoy this, in a page-turning way, as much as I enjoyed The Glass Castle, but I did enjoy it, and the end really paid off. I know Walls is not for everyone because, where I experience beauty the most as overcoming and conquering evil, some people experience beauty as finding peace or reinforcing principles, or you name it. But, to me, these were wonderful, human characters. I’ll also say that a lot of things in here were weirdly reminiscent of my college days – from the baby left on the top of the car to the word-playing, to the emus. Just weirdly striking associations that make me look behind me to see if Walls is watching. Hopefully, instead, she is just breaking a path for me because I want to be her when I grow up....more
It is a joke of a cliché to talk about the indefinable nature of love, but it is also obviously one of those things that is cliché for a reason. It isIt is a joke of a cliché to talk about the indefinable nature of love, but it is also obviously one of those things that is cliché for a reason. It is so mysterious how love can suddenly appear in our lives and then, just as suddenly, disappear. I am a big believer in accurately and honestly defining relationships according to what they are, not what we wish they would be, and so I might be even more baffled than the average person by the relationships around me. How do some people cultivate and maintain long-term love in their lives without even seeming to try? How do others live with people whom they hate and who hate them? How do people use the words of love to describe what looks like contempt or addiction to me? Language isn’t enough.
I have a friend playing the part of Emma in The Language Archive in Seattle, and she suggested a couple of us read it and talk about it, so I read it. And I really loved it. For me, it is about the indefinable nature of love, and, maybe obviously, about language – how language is too broad, and not broad enough, to describe what love is. Maybe it is more centrally about how love is always about communication. George communicates through the study of languages, but struggles to actually express any emotion. Mary communicates through bread. Alta and Resten save English for their fights and speak in their native language when talking of love. Emma struggles to communicate at all.
It is not a long play. Mary and George are married; Emma works with George at the Lanugage Archive. Alta and Resten are a couple that has been married for years, and they come in to the Language Archive to record their native language, which is dying. Mary leaves George, and Emma struggles to tell George she is in love with him.
The rest of what I’m going to talk about is a spoiler, but I’m not going to hide it because, even though it tells you some of how the play turns out, I don’t really think that ruins the play. I think the play stands alone, regardless of whether you know the ending.
So, Mary leaves George, which devastates him, but which the play makes pretty clear is a good choice. They have this conversation at one point where George says to Mary that her leaving means that their whole language is dead. He says that sometimes one of them could say, “Did you take the garbage out?” or something like that, and it could mean many different things from, “I’m really angry that you never do housework” to “I couldn’t live without you” and those types of varied meanings created their language. And he asks her if she knows what he means. She responds that she doesn’t and that she’s never known what he’s meant. She says, “Here, have this bread and you’ll understand,” and the bread is meaningless to him. I think it is a simple, but beautiful, way of showing that they’re wrong for each other, that they could never understand each other.
And then, Emma and George communicate perfectly, but Emma tells the audience in the end that George never falls in love with her. So, that is something I keep coming back to. What does it mean that George and Emma communicate perfectly and work together for years, but that he never loves her? How does she know that? Does he know that? Was he actually in love with Mary, as he says he is, when he couldn’t understand or communicate with her? How is that love? It would be simple if you could say, well, he wanted to have sex with Mary and not with Emma, ergo . . . but that obviously makes no sense for defining love either. So, I keep wondering, over and over, and thinking about the relationships of these couples and the non-fictional couples I know.
It seems to me that every relationship exists outside of the naming of it, even though naming it can cause the relationship to change. People can be committed to each other in some sort of eternal way without calling it marriage, and people can be married without any kind of love or commitment. People can love each other without ever naming it, and people can hate each other and call it love. Even though the naming of it interacts with the experience of the relationship, I don’t think it creates the relationship. But, I don’t know what creates or maintains a relationship, and the way the naming of it molds and bends the relationship itself is a mystery to me, too. I have known so many couples where the woman told the man they were in love, and he believed her, and so their love existed. That is a mystery to me.
Because Emma tells us that George never loves her, and she tells us believably, I do believe her, but I don’t understand. If he had said he loved her, would that have made it so? Because he said he loved Mary, did that make it so, even though he never really saw her? I can’t wrap my mind around those ideas.
There is that monologue Nick Cage delivers so beautifully in Moonstruck, here. The play put it into my head, and it is something I understand about the play and about love, and it is something I love about love. It is something about love that you can sink your teeth into. It goes like this:
“Loretta, I love you. Not like they told you love is, and I didn't know this either, but love don't make things nice - it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren't here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die. The storybooks are bullshit. Now I want you to come upstairs with me and get in my bed!”
Maybe George just needed to hear a speech like that, and he would have snapped out of it. Maybe not, though; I have no idea....more
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 apartmI 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....more
I find this entire series very unenjoyable, but I appreciated what I felt were academic analyses of consent and power in the first two books. BecauseI find this entire series very unenjoyable, but I appreciated what I felt were academic analyses of consent and power in the first two books. Because this third installment failed to present any academic point, there was really nothing for me here. The attempt was clearly to say something about how, traditionally, women have actually fought in wars, not stayed on the sidelines fainting and tending to wounds like, I don't know, some people expect, but really the story was more about how cool women want to be BFFs with Blomkvist and have sex with him. I didn’t really get anything out of the interjections about the Amazons, which appeared at different intervals throughout this book. And I don’t happen to care about who wants to have sex with Blomkvist – I find Blomkvist abominable – so this was terrible. I know that all of the books have been about how the chicks dig Blomkvist, but they also offered something smart and academic that this one lacked.
The other thing up in this ol’ book was that just about every five pages this conversation would happen:
“Remember how awesome book 2 was?”
“Yeah, that was so cool. We were so badass. Remember how you were all Aaaaaack, and I was like neeeeeeer, and then it was like whoooooaaaa, and bang bang?”
“Yeah, then my favorite part was like hacking computers and taking down the system.”
“Totally. And it was like, mystery guys and punching and guns and stuff.”
“Do you think the prime minister knows how cool book 2 was?”
“We should definitely tell him. And we should tell like chiefs of police and ambassadors and other important people.”
And then everyone goes off to describe book 2 to important people, and they all have that conversation OVER AND OVER. Like, whoa, dudes. You are so cool. But mostly Blomkvist is cool because badass warrior chicks want to have sex with him and it doesn’t even bother him that they are stronger and smarter than him. Yeah, what a man. Big pat on the back from this corner that you’re not offended that women are cool. His fucking humility is really why he’s so fucking cool.
What a douche.
And Lisbeth Salander is hanging out in bed this entire book.
And then, in the end, there’s a “trial,” where they re-tell book 2 for the eleventy millionth time, and there is ONE hearsay objection, which happens basically the ONLY time a statement isn’t hearsay throughout the entire “trial.” And after the objection, no one reacts, the judge doesn’t rule on it, and the questioning just continues like nothing happened. I object to that.
Here’s the thing about the crappy trial: I know that Larsson has the capacity to do research and not be a total moron about technical matters, so there’s really no excuse for what goes down there. And it was so out of control that it was painful to read. Not that ALL OF THE REST OF THIS SERIES wasn’t, also, COMPLETELY PAINFUL to read, but at least most of it wasn’t stupid. This was stupid.
My Cousin Vinny and Legally Blonde do a better job at adhering to trial practice rules, AND are more entertaining.
Ugh, and then there’s this tacked on ending-ending where Lisbeth goes to Blomkvist’s house to make up and be BFFs again (or he goes to her house, I can’t even remember). And they make up, awwwwww. Whew, too, because that was what I was really worried about in this book about slavery, rape, and oppression. I was REALLY fucking worried that one of these women wouldn’t want to be Blomkvist’s friend. Because that’s what rape and slavery stories are mostly about: douchey guys getting the hugs they deserve.
This sucked. I hate all of these idiot people. I’m so glad it’s over....more
I think an alternative title for this book could have been something like Women and Love or What Women Mean When They Talk About Love. Something likeI think an alternative title for this book could have been something like Women and Love or What Women Mean When They Talk About Love. Something like that. It was so beautiful in this delicate, fine-art way, and I was so surprised at this book’s beauty, that I feel totally inadequate in trying to describe my reaction to it. It is that type of beauty I feel when I think about the improbability of our bodies being alive or of Michelangelo’s ceiling in the Sistine Chapel or of microscopic images of snowflakes. There is no way the universe could conspire so delicately for those things to work in such a way that their beauty is not so improbable as to be obscenely contrived, but somehow it does work. It is beautiful.
And now that I’ve compared this book to the Sistine Chapel, there is no way anyone could go into it liking it. It’s like that time this douchey guy told me that Bright Eyes is the new Bob Dylan. I mean, Bright Eyes is not great anyway – talk about being in love with your own mysterious allure – but, compared to Bob Dylan, Mr. Eyes is just embarrassing. So, here I am ruining this book for you like that.
At the same time, after reading this, I understood a lot more why someone would write a book like Olive Kitteridge, using multiple, somewhat unrelated, perspectives strung together by a common theme. While that one just seemed ridiculous, this one soared for me, and I can see how, as an author, you could want to aim for this kind of delicacy in weaving together stories.
I listened to this on audio, and it was like hearing someone describe every way a woman’s love can be beautiful and painful, harsh and delicate. Some books will make me cry, but this book brought me to tears, which is the same thing but more elegant because of this story’s elegance. The reader’s voice was lovely, and the only fault with listening to this on audio was that there was so much I wanted to hear and follow that I know I missed a lot. I usually choose audio books based on the idea that it won’t matter if I space out during the book (because I space out a lot while I’m walking to work and listening to them), so I normally choose a book that I’ve read before or something I don’t think I’ll love that much. I was surprised at how much I loved this one and how much I felt I missed by listening to the audio. It is not a difficult book, but it definitely contains subtlety and passages that I would probably have read over again if I were reading it on the page.
This is not a very exciting review, I think, because it doesn’t contain an exciting story. I have the most wonderful job in the world right now, at which the most amazing things happen, but I can’t talk about it on the internet. And, no, my job is not Fight Club. If I could, I would tell you about how this has probably been the best year of my life so far, and about all of its beauty and fullness, and about how pain is as much a part of the beauty as comfort or wonder are. And I would tell you about the women I have seen and the ways they are with the love in their lives. But, instead, I will just be vague, and say that this book resonated with me both in the year I have had and in the life I have had. It talked about the right things and in the right way.
And, of course, it was about a book, which I imagine is the universal symbol of love....more
There are many facets to the experience of reading a book beloved by a friend. There are probably others that these, but the ones I can think of rightThere are many facets to the experience of reading a book beloved by a friend. There are probably others that these, but the ones I can think of right now are the friend, the friendship, society, the book itself, and the reader. The experience of reading seems tied up in all of those parts, but also, I think they are all individual experiences. I read this book because it is beloved by a friend, and I love the way it lets me know that friend better and what it says about our friendship that she would want me to read it. So, when I talk about this book, and how I did not enjoy it, I’m really only focusing on my experience with the book itself. I felt like I needed to make that clear before I start tearing up the dance floor.
This left me with a feeling of . . . huh. It was partly magical, partly sad, and above all else very, very troubling. Reading this book reminded me of this time when I lived in New York, and one of my roommates said to me, “Is everyone in Oregon like you, or are you weird there, too?” It was very alienating and, again, troubling. This book tells the story of a girl who, most of all, more than anything else, struggles with her weight because the people around her are obsessed with her weighing five pounds more than the normal weight for her age. There is also a fox in here, and maybe the fox has PTSD. I found it . . . really odd and, again, troubling. There is a 95% chance that I didn’t get it.
The basic plot of this story, like I say, is that everyone around Abigail Walker is really, really mad about how much she weighs, she meets a magical fox with PTSD and a man with PTSD, and then she learns to ride horses, cast off her fears, and be happy. But, there are a lot of things that happen along the way that were (if I haven’t already said this) really, really troubling to me. And there are some other things that were just confusing. I guess I’ll talk about the confusing things first, then the troubling things.
1. These are my awards, Mother. The PTSD man explains to Abigail that he met his ex-wife in Peace Corps, and then he decided to go into Army because he thought it would pay for college. But, you have to have an undergraduate degree to go into Peace Corps, and I’m pretty sure that’s been a requirement for a long time, so that was weird. And it kind of undermined that whole character to me. Why did that guy really go into the army? And why did he say he was in the Peace Corps if he didn’t have an undergrad degree? Suspect.
2. Bread makes you fat??!!. Abigail’s family is emotionally abusive about her weight, which is 105 lbs. and appears, from the internet, to be five pounds over the normal weight for girls her age. FIVE POUNDS! So, we’re not talking unhealthy, even. But, the parents are so creepily fixated on it that her dad doesn’t take pictures of her anymore and stares her down across the dinner table. So, the one time the family eats dinner in the book, Abigail’s mom makes pizza.
(Sidebar: that is another sub-level of confusing for a mom who is a history professor and always lost in her books and detached from the reality of the family, but, whatever, maybe she also loves to cook and isn’t just trying to be more stepford-creepy than she otherwise appears to be, despite being educated and scholarly. I don’t object to the idea of a professor being a Stepford wife, but I kind of wanted more description about how that actually worked. Also, I’m not meaning that cooking is creepy, just that the mom is kind of creepy in, well, A LOT of ways. “Don’t fight, now, kids! Fighting bad.” “You MUST go to the mean girls’ house, Abigail!” “Your father just yells at you about dieting because he loves you!” brrrrr.)
Anyway, the mom makes cheese pizza for Abigail and sausage pizza for the rest of the family. And it’s like the part in Silence of the Lambs where he keeps saying to the girl in the pit, “It rubs the lotion on its skinnnnn.” The whole family fixates on her, warning her away from even reaching for a regular salad dressing. It eats the cheese pizza and no other pizza!!
But, that’s weird, right? Because how much healthier is plain cheese pizza than sausage pizza? Answer: not at all healthier, and they have basically equivalent calories. So, chill out, Mom and Dad, you creepy assholes!
3.How am I supposed to get into Harvard if I have no wilderness skills?! After Abigail ditches her creepy friends, who also want to watch it rub the lotion on its skinnn, she makes friends with a nerdy computer girl. There is this confusing subplot about how Abigail needs to research all of the animals Lewis and Clark saw on the Oregon trail for the PTSD man, and the nerdy computer girl helps her. Mostly, the nerdy computer girl helps her because Abigail is incompetent at googling. The nerdy computer girl warns her, however, that she will NEVER GET INTO COLLEGE if Abigail doesn’t learn how to google from said nerdy computer girl.
Okay asshole: again, chill out. You are in SIXTH GRADE!! You might get into Harvard, even if you have no wilderness skills. If not, I’ll take you upstairs, throw you out the window, and if you catch the branch of a tree, I’ll be your witness.
So, those were the things that made me feel like, who are these creepy assholes??? Confusing. Next, I’m going to talk about the things I thought were actually troubling, not just confusing.
I don’t have fancy gifs for this part. This part is just about how the overall premise of the story seems somewhat messed up.
1. Bullying. I remember once, in fourth grade, I didn’t want to be friends with this girl anymore because she would only talk about boys, and because her dad freaked me out. I, being a fourth grader, didn’t deal with it really well, as you might imagine, and at one point the situation culminated in a group of girls sort of making a wall around me and telling my friend that I didn’t have to talk to her if I didn’t want to. I remember feeling both like, “This seems accurate. I shouldn’t have to talk to someone if I don’t want to,” and also like, “This seems really mean and extreme, and I don’t know how to diffuse this situation.” The girl was so upset that her parents talked to the principal about it, and I think my parents ultimately got called into the school because of it. Years later, I would run into her every once in a while, and I always wanted to apologize for that, but, does that make it any better? We were really mean to that girl, even though to us there was some kind of self-preservation aspect to it, but it wasn’t really okay. But, what do you say to apologize and does an apology only make it worse?
I’ve been watching Buffy with my roommate, who is a PhD student in early intervention in special education. When Cordelia first came on the screen, my roommate commented that it’s so funny how TV always shows characters like Cordelia, when, in real life those situations don’t ever really happen. Like, people who have as little social inhibition as Cordelia probably have Asperger’s, and probably don’t have a lot of social power. But, in Buffy, Cordelia is such a great character because she is a shorthand for a mean girl, but also she is a caricature, so her mean-girl power is completely undermined. I think that creates a really great social message because, yes, it sucks to have someone be an asshole, but assholes only have as much power over our lives as we give them, and the Buffy gang doesn’t give Cordelia any power.
So, partly I think it makes sense to simplify an experience of bullying, but that was not what I felt was going on here. (I have to admit, though, that I read A Monster Calls right before I read this one, and I thought the way that discussed bullying was so beautiful it made my brain self-destruct, and I am making an unfair comparison between the two books, my own experience, and Buffy.) Nevertheless, in Abigail Walker, it felt like the mean girls were some kind of physical manifestation of a person’s own self-loathing thoughts. All the lurking and skulking around Abigail’s house, and then the weird plan to videotape Abigail eating candy. It was so weird and pathetic that I’m struggling to really wrap my brain around anyone being scary who was stupid enough to want to do that. I mean, the girls are creepy little assholes, but all of the threats seemed like things that would be scary when you thought them in your head, but if you actually said them out loud (or wrote them down) you’d realize how stupid and not scary they were and how uninterested everyone ever would be in watching a video of a girl eating candy.
My point is that I don’t get these bullies. They don’t seem like characters to me, and to the extent they are physical manifestations of somebody’s personal demons, I really don’t like the idea of giving them so much voice in this story. I mean, everyone has to fight their own monsters in their own way, but giving your monster the dominant social voice in your book seems like a way to nurture your monster, not fight it.
2. Being Normal. Probably the dominant theme of this book is that it’s okay to not be normal, which is a wonderful theme. The way it was executed, though, was another troubling thing to me. Abigail feels like she is not normal because she is five pounds over the normal weight for her age. So, that in itself is tainted with all the creepy assholes around her and seems super creepy in itself. She makes friends with the PTSD man’s son, who also feels not normal. The boy feels not normal because his dad keeps him on this farm and won’t let him leave the boundaries of the farm for any reason because he might get hurt. He is homeschooled by participating in the great Lewis and Clark study.
At one point, the son compares his situation to Abigail’s. He says that Abigail's mom is wrong for saying she’s not normal because she’s too fat. And then he comments that maybe his own mother is similarly wrong for wanting him to be in a school instead of being homeschooled in the country with his mentally ill father. Sooooo . . . . That raises a lot of issues for me. Like, this kid’s mother was a Peace Corps volunteer, and somehow in a custody battle her mentally ill husband got custody of their son? What is up with that? And, like, really? It’s the same to be five pounds overweight as to be trapped in the country acting as a caretaker for a mentally ill person??? This is kind of outrageous to me.
I realize it is a kid who makes this statement in the book, but the kid has a pretty strong voice within the story and is sort of built up to be wise. When he says maybe he and Abigail are actually both okay even though they are not normal, you can tell that statement is supposed to carry the weight of wisdom. I just have a big problem with both the comparison and the idea that it is okay for this kid to be trapped on a farm caring for his father. Very stressful.
3. Weight. I guess I kind of want to talk more about weight, but I’ve probably talked long enough. Maybe all I will say is that I think this book perpetuates the idea that being fat or thin is based on a mindset or emotional change. Abigail walks up the hill to the PTSD man's house the first time, and she huffs and puffs. The second time, though, she is less sad and self-condemning, so she can just run up the hill with no problem. I feel like that is a really negative message to perpetuate. I think that taking care of our bodies is like taking care of anything else and involves responsibility and eating enough food for our bodies, not just eating less food. I feel like the idea is not rare that if you have a healthy sense of self, being athletic and thin will become easy. That really bothers me both because it's clearly false, and because I think it creates this idea that good people are thin and bad people are fat, which is a very troublingly false idea, as well. Also, I've been using the website myfitnesspal.com to lose the weight I gained in school, and I've come to believe that with people who perpetually gain weight, overall it's probably not so much that they eat to much food, but probably more that they eat too little, sending their bodies into storage mode for when they eat too much. That has at least turned out to be true for me. The way the entire world in this book only wanted Abigail to eat less, not for her to be healthy, was really troubling.
I think those are all of my issues. I found this story very distressing to read. While Abigail seemed to have a somewhat strong sense of self despite the creepy monsters around her, I couldn’t really get where that sense of self was coming from. She clearly had no adult or peer support, so when she would make some kind of self-possessed statement, it always felt shaky because how does a sixth grader resist wanting to punish her body when everyone around her clearly does? A lot of this seemed like the written manifestation of imaginary monsters, and that freaked me out not a little. I don’t generally enjoy an author exorcising demons through writing, and doing so in a children’s book, in a way that felt more like nurturing than exporcising, makes me feel even more uncomfortable. This one was not for me.
_________ The publisher provided me a copy of this book, but I did nothing in return....more