The cover of The Vixen Diaries features a grainy photo of a dead-looking Karrine Steffans throttling herself with a long phone cord. She is clearly at...moreThe cover of The Vixen Diaries features a grainy photo of a dead-looking Karrine Steffans throttling herself with a long phone cord. She is clearly attempting to seduce the camera, but it all feels off; her lips are pale and pasty, her eyes are blackened into oblivion. There is some level of glamour that she is striving for that never really existed, except in her own mind.
I read Steffans' first book, Confessions of a Video Vixen, purely for the juicy gossip. The gossip was indeed juicy, but I felt dirty reading it. I wanted Steffans to be a powerful, independent woman in command of her sexuality. What I got was a woman who sees all other women as competition, who has no problem airing other people's dirty laundry in order to make a buck.
If Confessions was a one-star book, The Vixen Diaries is a zero-star book. The difference in general level of atrocity is glaring. The first book had good gossip going for it, period. In The Vixen Diaries it is very clear that Steffans ran out of stories, panicked, then slapped this together. It's all about her life, and man, is her life boring. If I wanted to read about someone going out to dinner or freaking out about what to wear for their Oprah appearance, I'd make a point of reading about someone who I have even the vaguest interest in/positive feelings for. I have no interest in reading about the errands of a woman who despises all other women and thinks that Hollywood life is what everyone should aspire to. "Oh, you joined Myspace? Cool story, bro. Way to write a whole chapter about joining Myspace." (Every chapter is like this.)
There are plenty of low points in this book- her provisions of inspiration to Arkansas college students (for what?) during a speech, her incoherent ramblings about her relationship with Bill Maher (that, of course, is a baffling match), her weird dalliances with Bobby Brown, who apparently crashed in her house for months at a time (but they weren't having sex, she swears!)- but I'd have to say, the absolute low point is the chapter where she mocks Teddy Pendergrass for being old, wheelchair-bound (she calls it "incapacitated," how awful), and thinking he has a shot with her. She calls him washed up, and apparently finds it hilarious that a man like him would think he'd have a shot with a girl like her, which is extra sad considering we now know that he was on his deathbed during this time. This chapter really pulls the book together for me: a nasty, spiteful woman whose "career" will be over the second her ass starts sagging and crow's feet come in around her eyes thinks she's better than one of the greatest soul singers of all time. Good to know, Karrine. (less)
I have had this book sitting on my bedside table for literally three years. It took me that long to read it. This is not because I don't believe what...moreI have had this book sitting on my bedside table for literally three years. It took me that long to read it. This is not because I don't believe what Jess and Jess's friends and co-workers went through is true; to the contrary, I am quite certain it is. It's also not because it was too depressing or too sad or too much of a downer. I'm not that kind of a reader/person. My problem with Stone Butch Blues is that it is not very well written. I dunno. Maybe a nicer way to explain it is that the writing doesn't appeal to me.
Really, it's not that I am out of touch with the realities of queer life and labor atrocities (to me, as a working class queer person, this book is as much for the working class as it is for queers- that aspect of the book is glossed over a LOT in discussions!). I'm from a region of the country that's a good 10 or 20 years behind everyone else. I don't just believe this book, I KNOW this book. I dunno, maybe that's why I felt comfortable critiquing the writing? I wasn't stunned by Stone Butch Blues, so I could dig a little deeper than I would've been able to if it were about something that isn't so familiar to me.
One star for the writing itself. Five stars for relevance and importance as documentation of intersecting struggles. Three stars average.
I guess my general reaction to this book was something like, "WTF? LOL." Let's be honest, The Lion King forever ruined the concept of personified anim...moreI guess my general reaction to this book was something like, "WTF? LOL." Let's be honest, The Lion King forever ruined the concept of personified animated lions. I kept waiting for Timon and Pumbaa to show up and regale the Baghdad lions with a song and dance number. Try as it did, this story couldn't rise above the hilarious notion of lions telling a story meant for adult audiences. I could say something about how I was disturbed by the lion-on-lion gang rape and the fact that a giraffe's head was blown off right as it was praising the gods for releasing it from the zoo, but then you would laugh at me. Sorry, but there are no hands talented and capable enough to handle a concept as "WTF?" as this one. My assumption is that part of the reason why this book was so popular is that people can't fully fathom the atrocities of war unless the victims are cute, cuddly baby animals. The whole thing was weird to me, and I never fully suspended my disbelief enough. I guess the execution was a decent enough shot and all, but... WTF? LOL!(less)
It troubles me that this book is being given such an overall low rating. It's intended for adults who read at very entry-level reading levels, so to s...moreIt troubles me that this book is being given such an overall low rating. It's intended for adults who read at very entry-level reading levels, so to speak; the average Goodreads reader is likely to be bored by it, to some extent. Newsflash to adults at an average-to-high reading level: THIS BOOK IS NOT FOR YOU! If you're a Whittall fan and you're thinking of picking this up because you liked her books about queer twentysomething-dom, skip this one. If you're expecting that here, you will be disappointed.
I read an interview with the author where she stated that she was saddened by the fact that adult readers with low literacy were usually stuck reading books for children and teenagers. Whittall intentionally set out to write a mature book for readers of that subset, which is a pretty interesting, thoughtful thing for her to have done. I haven't heard of any other successful novelists who've done that; in fact, I think a lot of writers would look at writing a beginning-level adult novel as a step backwards, something that is below them. It's refreshing to know that there are established writers out there who understand the value of reading for readers of all levels.
This was a quick, easy read for me, but as a tutor of reluctant adult readers (both ESL and readers who speak English as a first language), I feel as though I could read it through their eyes, so to speak. I will definitely be saving my copy of The Middle Ground to donate to my tutoring center next semester. The plot is a bit unbelievable and unrealistic, but Whittall does the best that she can with it, considering the reading comprehension restrictions she has placed on her work here. There is good plot and character development throughout the story; it's a great way to discuss how the two tend to dovetail. Also, it's an enjoyable plot. By and large, readers will be engaged with the story; even if they don't agree with the choices that the narrator makes, they will definitely have an opinion about her. All of this, of course, will lead to more comprehension of and excitement about reading, which means that the book has done its job.
As I stated before, I would only recommend this book for low-literacy English adult readers. I think the book is wholly accessible for ESL readers; the cultural references aren't too out there (a few alternative bands mentioned here and there). My only major beef with the book is that Whittall often chooses to write in incomplete sentences. This is always a valid stylistic choice, but as a tutor I wish she had made the choice to employ grammatically correct sentence structure. That said, I am aware that there are a myriad of accessibility-related issues that would back up her stylistic usage of incomplete sentences; I am just a stickler about it in cases like these because I'm trained to be. In my world, these stylistic choices tend to confuse readers.
My reading of The Middle Ground has made me specifically pick up on something that I guess I've always known, but haven't ever put a lot of thought behind- the idea that theme is something that is accessible based upon developmental level and age, rather than reading level. We ask high school students to read books like The Grapes Of Wrath and The Great Gatsby knowing that they may be able to comprehend the words, but that they won't fully understand the complications in theme until they're a few years older. If one could create books like these on a less advanced reading level, both teens and beginner-level adult readers could fully understand what's going on in them, pick apart the various elements of the book, and understand the theme.
There's apparently an entire series of these books, called Rapid Reads. I'm dying to pick up a few more of them. I really think they're onto something here. (less)
All Souls was a real eye-opener for me. I decided to read it because of Whitey Bulger's recent arrest, but I took much more from it than I expected to...moreAll Souls was a real eye-opener for me. I decided to read it because of Whitey Bulger's recent arrest, but I took much more from it than I expected to. I'm a somewhat new resident of Boston; I've been here for about six years. This book reminds me that you can live in a city for a long time- forever, maybe- and not genuinely know it. I'm not super familiar with Southie; I've been there a handful of times. I'm not even sure if the Southie described in this book still exists. Even the parts of All Souls that were set a block away from my home in Jamaica Plain seem completely foreign to me, which is evidence of how quickly a city's culture can shift.
My mind is so blown by this book that I don't know exactly what to say about it. I think that for anyone who's from a largely impoverished community, particularly an urban one where crime and neighborhood solidarity become almost inextricably woven together, it's easy to identify with and understand this book. All Souls absolutely shows us how crime is an epidemic, rather than a part of people's inherent nature, and how battling crime means attacking it from about a hundred different angles, rather than blaming race or immigrant status or Satan or whatever scapegoat is popular at the time. It also shows how racial minorities and poor whites are constantly pitted against each other and exploited: how poor whites with zero power are made out to be racist villains, even though they often turn to racism as a result of being unwillingly thrown into social experiments that upper and middle-class whites refuse to be a part of (here: school busing in the 1970's). As a Southerner, I've observed and been a part of that dynamic time and time again. It's interesting to read this book and feel as though there's some universality in it.
The corruption in and directed towards Southie, along with the terrible treatment the neighborhood received from the police, Boston politicians and the FBI, is absolutely shocking to me, even though I am a pretty jaded and cynical person. There's one section in the book where the author runs down a long list of people who visited his sister in the hospital when she was in a coma that few expected her to recover from. Each of the people he remembers dies in some awful way- suicide or a drug shooting or a gang murder. It is absolutely staggering thing to read- just when you think you can't take anymore, he describes more death, more corruption, and more desperation. It is truly unbelievable at times. How the fuck did this happen? How did the city idly stand by while so many children were dying in the streets on Boston's collective watch? Most importantly, how do we honor the dead and survivors, as well as stopping the current bloodshed?
The best part of All Souls for me is the author's writing style. He doesn't have a journalistic style, and he's not all florid and poetic. He writes exactly how I presume he talks. He has an affable, down-to-earth way of telling a story. It got me through the literal horrors described here- his perpetual optimism in the face of utter dispair, his ability to extricate the best pieces from the worst circumstances, and the deep love he feels for the home that took so much from him. I understand that feeling very well.
Everyone should read this book. Black or white, Bostonian or not, gentrifier or displaced by gentrification, city kid or country bumpkin, Southie kid or Newton yuppie, cop or criminal- everybody can find something to learn and think about in All Souls. (less)
I've been plodding through this book for a month, because I'm the type of person who's determined to finish a book unless it's completely terrible or...moreI've been plodding through this book for a month, because I'm the type of person who's determined to finish a book unless it's completely terrible or boring or both. I finally finished it today. This book was challenging for me. I was disappointed to be so bored by/frustrated with a book with such a promising premise. Basically, the author sees trees as a sort of hybrid of witnesses, guideposts, and inspirational figures in our lives. He is moved by the memories of his own special trees from childhood, and believes that the trees that stood alongside our most celebrated authors as they grew up must have figured prominently into their writing. Therefore, he decides to travel around the country, harvesting seeds from those trees and nurturing them into saplings and eventually trees.
I was hooked by the premise, but the book didn't live up to what I expected. For one thing, the book is more about the author than it is about the trees he encounters and the writers who he believes owe so much to them. The chapter about his second visit to Rowan Oak is less about Faulkner and more about the author's flat tire. Similarly, the chapter about Thomas Wolfe barely mentions the writer; it's mostly about Horan's own adventures around Asheville (Wolfe's hometown) with his friends. I don't know a lot about Wolfe; this chapter could have been a great introduction for me. Unfortunately, I am left having learned mostly that Thomas Wolfe had a home in Asheville. Hrm.
I would have liked to learn more about the trees and the American figures he chose to write about. I would have liked to find out which of the seedlings survived to become trees in their own right, and where they ended up (there's a bafflingly short two pages at the end that explain that they may be on their way to a greenhouse preservation project, but we never find out exactly what happens). Instead, I learned that Horan and his daughters watched an HBO sitcom in the car outside of Monticello, that he and his buddies apparently really like to take road trips, and that he loves to compare himself to the authors he's writing about (Faulkner wrote all over his walls? SO DID HORAN! Welty cried when reading one of her own stories aloud to an audience? SO DID HORAN!).
I finished the book feeling less like Horan sees himself as a small part of a big, magical world, and more like Horan felt like he was doing the world a gigantic favor by undertaking this project. It's a shame, because the idea is a literary gold mine. It's pretty frustrating to see someone come up with such a genius idea for a project and fail at it. (less)
This book was way more boring than I remember it being, except for some intense lesbian subtext.
The BSC goes on a cruise with the Pikes and the Brewe...moreThis book was way more boring than I remember it being, except for some intense lesbian subtext.
The BSC goes on a cruise with the Pikes and the Brewer-Thomases. Dawn gets dragged around by an overly pushy dude, and nobody finds anything wrong with it. Claudia has a stalker, and it's So Romantic (ugh). Kristy spends the whole cruise hanging around an old man, which makes me wonder where her parents were throughout this trip.
But the subtext, man. I admit that I was a naive kid. I didn't know where babies came from until a slumber party in fifth grade, where a much-more-sophisticated friend asked me if I knew, gave me a withering look when she heard my response, and handed me a medical textbook of some sort. Therefore, upon my first reading of Baby-sitters on Board! I completely missed Mary Anne's cruise ship crush on one Alexandra Carmody. From her first chapter:
"Yeah," I replied vaguely. I was looking at a girl who was standing at the appointment desk, apparently waiting for someone to help her. She had masses of dark, wavy hair that cascaded over her shoulders and partway down her back, and she was wearing one of the skimpiest bikinis I'd ever seen. Even though she looked just a little older than me, she had a figure that filled out the top of her bikini nicely.
"Wow," I said softly. I was highly impressed.
The girl turned around then, and I blushed. I hoped she hadn't overheard me. That would have been too, too embarrassing.
Mary Anne has some intense drama with this girl. Mary Anne immediately becomes friends with her, but ignores Alexandra when she finds out she's been lying about some things. Alexandra spends an entire day following Mary Anne around Disney World, trying to make amends instead of riding the rides like a normal twelve year-old. Mary Anne ignores her, and her entire day revolves around making a big point out of this. The subplot culminates with the two reconciling, but Mary Anne feels that she doesn't want to keep in touch with Alexandra. She decides this even though it turns out that Stoneybrook is only a few towns over from Alexandra's. I like to imagine that once they finally get off the Lost island and stop repeating eighth grade in a torturous loop, Alexandra and Mary Anne re-meet at a football game, eventually go to prom together (much to Kristy's chagrin, of course), and cause much lesbi-gossip throughout the Stoneybrook community.
I know there are loud rumblings that Ann M. Martin is a lesbian, and she's said numerous times that she patterned Mary Anne mostly after herself, but MY GOD. This was like, :O . It's easy to find lesbian subtext when one wants to, particularly in an all-girl preteen novel series that's written by a lesbian, but this is ridiculously obvious. Somehow it evaded the Scholastic publishers way back in 1988. Good going there, Ann!(less)
I finally got around to rereading Kristy's Great Idea. It felt like forever since I'd read it, but of course, this is likely technically my fiftieth r...moreI finally got around to rereading Kristy's Great Idea. It felt like forever since I'd read it, but of course, this is likely technically my fiftieth read of the book. It's my first Kristy-narrated reread in about eight years. Interesting. I guess there's not a lot to say about Kristy's Great Idea that isn't already out there in a billion forms on the internet. But it's true. The Baby-Sitters Club was truly Kristy's Great Idea.(less)