Saturday, November 28, 2015

Completed: Fugitives and Refugees

Dear Jenny,

Well, we're into No [Wo]man's Land here, as this is a book that I did not preview. I mentioned it in my "Oh, crap -- what do I need to finish in 2015?!" post, but no full preview. I'm kind of glad I didn't, because I'd probably be mad to look back and see how excited I was to read this book.

Eh, who am I kidding? I'm still mad.

So... this book is written by one of my favorite authors about one of my favorite cities. Its subtitle is: a walk in Portland, Oregon. I love to walk! Especially in Portland! Sounds great, right? Until... it's not. Here's the book's description:
Want to know where Chuck Palahniuk's tonsils currently reside?
Been looking for a naked mannequin to hide in your kitchen cabinets?
Curious about Chuck's debut in an MTV music video?
What goes on at the Scum Center?
How do you get to the Apocalypse Café?
In the closest thing he may ever write to an autobiography, Chuck Palahniuk provides answers to all these questions and more as he takes you through the streets, sewers, and local haunts of Portland, Oregon.

According to Katherine Dunn, author of the cult classic Geek Love, Portland is the home of America's "fugitives and refugees." Get to know these folks, the "most cracked of the crackpots," as Palahniuk calls them, and come along with him on an adventure through the parts of Portland you might not otherwise believe actually exist. No other travel guide will give you this kind of access to "a little history, a little legend, and a lot of friendly, sincere, fascinating people who maybe should've kept their mouths shut."
What it also could have said was "a poorly written, pretentious, non-nearly-as-helpful-as-a-Lonely-Planet-guide to Portland, interspersed with ridiculous personal tales." That would have also been accurate.

Let me start with the very first line of the book:
"Everyone in Portland is living a minimum of three lives," says Katherine Dunn, the author of Geek Love. She says, "Everyone has at least three identities." [13]
So may I just begin this review by calling "bullshit" on this pretentious statement? Cause everyone I know is living a minimum of three lives. Granted, they might not seem as "glamorous" as those she names for example: "grocery store checker, archaeologist, biker guy" and "poet, drag queen, bookstore clerk." But good lord, most people I know are at the very least a spouse, parent, [worker], [hobbyist]. I'm a wife, manager, crafter, and reader (for a start). Bill is a husband, programmer, brewer, and hockey player (again -- plus more!) Get a grip on yourself, Portlander -- everyone everywhere is wearing a lot of hats.

Sooo... that's the opener. I started this book with a BAD taste in my mouth and, really, it never got better.

After that BS is a little "glossary of local terms," which is fine. I think it's also a little pretentious, but it's okay. There's some funny stuff like the statue Portlandia that is apparently nicknamed "Pull My Finger" because the figure is extending her index finger. I'm always a little skeptical about lists like these, but whatever.

And then we get... the first of a series of "postcards" from the author's life and wild times in Portland. Basically, little vignettes describing brief "true" stories that happened to him. I guess I'm supposed to be all, "Wow -- these stories are so crazy and even crazier cause they're true!" but really I'm thinking, "Bullshit. Bullshit. Didn't happen. Embellished. Made up. Bullshit." And maybe they aren't. Maybe the author has just lead a far more drug- and sexcapade-fueled life than I have and therefore, I cannot imagine these crazy things actually happening but... if all of this crap has really has happened to him, he should be dead.

For example, here is a summary of his first "postcard":

He's 19, he takes LSD and goes to the planetarium with friends. He grinds his teeth so hard that his back teeth are hot and he has that "burned metal taste you get having a cavity drilled." [27] His friend tells him to put something in his mouth to save his teeth (we're so high we're literally grinding our teeth off, but still stable enough to describe a solution that will rectify the problem? Sure.)  He puts what he thinks is his scarf in his mouth, but it turns out to be the sleeve of his neighbor's fur coat. And then... he proceeds to eat the sleeve, right up to the elbow. Yup. He just ate half of a sleeve of a stranger's fur coat without her noticing. Then they huff a cleaning solvent-soaked bandanna and run out laughing as the lights come up, before the woman notices.

Am I an old lady here, Jenny? Does this story not smack of straight-up BS? I just... why? Who is this story for? He was 41 when this book was published -- the same age that I am right now. So maybe that means it is all true and that's why the BS meter didn't go off for him when he jotted this down? Cause mine is red-hot and flashing. It sounds like a story that a 19-year-old would make up to impress other 19-year-olds.

Okay... maybe that's why he's calling them "postcards" -- like, they're written in the voice of his 19 year old self? Ugh. That's just embarrassing. Burn that stuff. Also... I just checked out the one from 2000. So he would have been 38 at that time and that story is also ridiculous and juvenile. So... nope. Just BS.

Interspersed with these unbelievable stories are unevenly written descriptions of things to do and see around Portland. From the book description above, would you think this is going to be a basic travel guide? Cause that's what it ends up being, except that it's not good.

I've got a problem with a print travel guide today anyway. This book was published in 2003, so I guess I can forgive it that buuut... if you're going to produce a print travel guide, how about some consistency with information about the sights? I mean, at least make that part of it useful.

Let me give you an example of the inconsistency -- there's a section about "strange museums not to miss." The first one is the Kidd Toy Museum. Sounds interesting -- gets a nearly three page writeup detailing the history of the place, how it got started, even some quotes from the founder. Great. Perfect travel guide stuff.

Second entry is this (in its entirety):
2. Stark's Vacuum Cleaner Museum
A few blocks north of the Kidd Toy Museum, don't miss the Vacuum Cleaner Museum. Kill a rainy afternoon here at 107 NE Grand Avenue, but don't forget to wipe your damn feet. [87]
Really? I mean, I guess that the feet wiping thing is funny, but I just read almost 3 pages of information on the first museum mentioned and this one... could really be a description for any museum on the planet ("Kill a rainy afternoon here"). What the heck is going on at this place? What will we see? I mean, I'm guessing it's vacuums, but after the detailed description of the first place, a bit more info would be nice (and expected).

Also, there is inconsistent inclusion throughout of basic info like addresses, hours open, contact info, cost, etc. It's ridiculous -- you put that crap at the beginning or the end of every entry and you include as much of it as you can. Come on, editor. This is basic stuff. This is a nit, I realize, but at this point, I'm fed up.

Aaand... there is no index. So even the few things that I thought, "Oh, that might be interesting to see next time I'm in Portland..." are basically lost in the mess.

The reason that the author thinks that Portland great is -- and he wants you to KNOW and UNDERSTAND this, Jenny --  that it's full of weirdos, doing weird things (pssst -- those are tasseled pasties on the front cover of the book -- oh my! How salacious!) Whatever. Plenty of people and places are doing that. That's not actually what makes Portland great.

Here's what I love about Portland: It's walkable (oh yeah -- I have no idea why the subtitle referred to "a walk" cause this book is not a walk at all), it's crafty/creative, and it's got the best damned bookstore in the world (which is only mentioned in passing as a haunted location). Other people also appreciate the natural beauty (it's very green and there's a river running through it) and the temperate climate.

Fine, there are weirdos. But if you have to keep saying, "Look at us! We're so weird and cool and kooky!" I mean... just... BE weird. I'll figure it out on my own. Don't keep telling me how damned weird you are and expect me to be impressed.

And if you do have to do that, well... Portlandia does it better anyway.


Kelly's Book 11.15: From Girls to Grrrlz: A History of Female Comics from Teens to Zines

Dear Jenny,

I bought this book at a panel discussion in 2001, when I was just getting into reading comics/graphic novels -- the author is a total firecracker, a great speaker, and she signed my book! (See pic.)

This book was published in 1999, so like all history books, it's going to be dated where it stops. There has not been an updated release and I have a feeling more has happened in this area in the last 15 years, but hey -- it's a start.

At least...  I hope more has happened in this area in the last 15 years... you and I had some problems with Sandman being sooooo male-dominated, but those books were written in the 1990s. Of course, back on that discussion, you linked to this article, indicating that yeah... girls in comics... still got a long way to go.

This past year, I read Lumberjanes, Ms. Marvel got a lot of press (it's on my TBR pile right now) and Thor is now a woman. So those seem like forward strides. Of course... let's not get started on the situation with Black Widow (perfectly summed up in this awesome photo) and there are surely countless other BS situations where girls and women are marginalized in comics.

Sooo... back to the book...

I think the reason I've never read it is because I always think, "I'd rather actually read a comic than  read about the history of them..." but hey. Here it is, sitting on my TBR shelf for all these years, so... time to read it. (Even though I desperately want to read Ms. Marvel now after mentioning it above.)


Friday, November 27, 2015

Completed: The Fourth Hand

Dear Jenny,

Whoa! This has got to be some kind of record. I wrote the Preview post for this book on Tuesday. Today is Friday and... I'm done!

My fears were unfounded -- this was typical John Irving so-wacky-it's-delightful and I ate it up. In trying to describe this book to Bill, I said, "It's kind of like a dream... and you wake up and say things like, 'Well, we were at work, but it wasn't really work because it was also someone's house and you were there, but it wasn't quite you...'" You know how that goes? It all make sense in the dream, but when you try to describe it later, it's all "Wait... what the hell?!"

So I'm not really going to try to describe it. Kooky story lines, unlikely relationships, and well-drawn characters (especially the women -- Irving does a good job of creating female characters who are both difficult-to-understand and yet draw a lot of empathy) and basically un-put-downable (obviously). If you like Irving, I'd recommend this book.

That means I only have one book to go before we tackle the DFW in December! I'm assuming we won't get into that thing until your break, correct? I also have the week before and after Christmas off, so it seems like that would be a good time for us to tackle that puppy.


PS -- Opinion question for you: while reading this book, I dropped it into a tub full of water (I may have fallen asleep while reading in the bath...) Soo... it's still technically readable, but it's a puffy mess from the water-logging. Do I... donate it anyway with the thought, "Well, someone might not care?" or is that rude and so I should just recycle it now?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Kelly's Book 10.15: The Fourth Hand

Dear Jenny,

Yes, this is a preview for my book #10. I've finished 9 so far -- I still need to complete my write up for Fugitives and Refugees, but it is currently so filled with vitriol that I am sitting on it for a bit while I cool off.

As I mentioned before, 2015 has been a pretty disappointing reading year for me. So I'm dreading this one, as I like John Irving and I'm going to be bummed if this sucks.

The World According to Garp was one of my favorite books when I read it (despite being the ultimate WMFuN -- I should re-read it and see how I feel about it today), I know we both love A Prayer for Owen Meany and I have also enjoyed/appreciated Hotel New Hampshire, Until I Find You, and Last Night in Crooked River. 

I was unable to get through the graphic parts of Cider House Rules and A Widow for One Year was too much emotion to take, but I don't think this is going to be as hard-hitting as either of those. I'm hoping for the typical weirdo Irving, although I know very little about it -- I picked it up for $1 a few years ago at my library (which has a dangerous and heavily rotated books-for-sale section).

All I know is that the guy loses his hand in a freak accident (a lion eats it!) and he gets a replacement hand. Plenty of horror movies start this way, but I don't think this book is going to go the way of the possessed hand.

It's a decent size (316 pages) sooo... I need to stop writing this preview post and get to reading that book!

How are you doing? The last few months have been crazy -- ready to tackle that DFW with me in December?! <insert nervous-looking/slightly sick emoji here...>


Completed: The Turn of the Screw and Daisy Miller

Dear Jenny,

Yeah -- I'm doing it! Here's a book I previewed back in October. This book is actually two "famous short novels" (according to the cover) that... could not be more different. I have no idea why these two would be packaged together.

Not only are they completely disparate in topic (one is a spooky, melodramatic ghost story. The other is a bit of fluff about a girl with a "bad reputation" traveling in Europe) they are also so VERY different in writing styles: I had to resort to slogging through a very well-narrated aBook to get through TotS but I burned through DM in less than an hour (granted, it is half the length, but it was also super readable). 

I guess because these two books were "popular" James books? But The Portrait of a Lady (which I have not read) is generally considered to be his most well-known work (and matches far more closely in topic to Daisy Miller -- maybe too much?) I don't know. This book has a split personality. So lemme talk about these two totally random stories!

As I planned in that original post, I got through the difficulty of The Turn of the Screw by listening to the aBook:

(That image from a previous post just made me LOL so I am including it -- that is the exact opposite experience of listening to Turn of the Screw but it's killing me right now.)

The narrator was excellent, and I still found myself rewinding frequently when I missed key points. (See my powering through up there? Hahahaha.)

Also, it's only been a couple of months and I just had to look to remind myself how it ended. So you know, not much lasting impact (although, re-reading the conclusion, I now remember saying "No way!" out loud while listening -- it ends abruptly and dramatically.)  At my book group last month, I spoke to someone who read it in college and said that his whole class really struggled to get through it, which makes me feel better.

Basic story: Governess in a remote location taking care of two orphaned children: a sister and a brother. They start seeing ghosts -- one is the previous nanny and the other is a former groundskeeper. Those two apparently had a relationship and the governess now thinks they are trying to reach out to the children to enact some sort of nefarious plan (which we never really understand).  The governess sends the girl away which makes the lady ghost kind of fade away.

Then the governess battles the dude ghost. As she banishes him (or whatever), the little boy dies in her arms in the final paragraph of the book. What the... ?

There are also some rather dark and vague sexual references throughout that may relate to the children and I feel like it's better not to dig too deep into that business. Aaaand... there's a weird framing device that goes on way too long in the beginning that gets abandoned once we get into the governess's story. So... not terrific.

And to give you an example of what I meant when I called this writing "impenetrable" -- I just opened to a random page and here is the first paragraph I spotted:
"Laws!" said my friend under her breath. The exclamation was homely, but it revealed a real acceptance of my further proof of what, in the bad time -- for there had been a worse even than this! -- must have occurred. There could have been no such justification for me as the plain assent of her experience to whatever depth of depravity I found credible in our brace of scoundrels. It was in obvious submission of memory that she brought out after a moment: "They were rascals! But what can they do now?" she pursued. [72]

By contrast, we have Daisy Miller. Here's a random paragraph from that book:
"Gracious!" exclaimed Daisy. She looked again at Mr. Giovanelli, then she turned to Winterbourne. There was a little pink flush in her cheek; she was tremendously pretty. "Does Mr. Winterbourne think," she asked slowly, smiling, throwing back her head and glancing at him from head to foot, "that, to save my reputation, I ought to get into the carriage?" [169]
I mean, it's a little flowery, but you got the gist, right? Yes, DM was written almost 20 years before TotS, so that explains the difference in writing style, but... how the heck did these two books end up getting packaged together?!

Anywho... let's check out Daisy Miller. Daisy is a flirtatious girl who's been banished to travel in Europe with her mother and brother (no details given about what trouble she'd stirred up in the US before getting shipped off, but you get the idea it was racy). Her mother is sick, so Daisy is given free reign to hang out with any men she feels like hanging out with, which she does... thereby ruining her reputation abroad, as well.

As soon as I started this book, I said, "This won't end well for Daisy." Yup. While spending time in the moonlight at the ruins in Rome with a handsome Italian man (Givanelli, mentioned in the quote above),  she catches "Roman Fever" and a few days later? She's dead. Like a good little flirt should be. </sarcasm>

So that book was basically crap. Slut-shaming at its finest.

There have probably been many studies done about the morality/judgment themes presented in both of these books that I could look into and cite here, but I'm not too interested in spending any more time with them. They were... fine. But that sweet cover is probably the thing I liked best about this whole experience.

And with that... moving on! (To a book I liked even less than these two. Come on, 2015!)


Monday, November 23, 2015

Completed: The Roald Dahl Omnibus

Dear Jenny,

Goodness! I wrote the Preview post for this book back in June. Whoa. The second half of this year has flown by. As I predicted in that post, the book was "dark [...] and a little kooky." And, as we have discussed before re: short story collections... uneven. I liked a few of these but most passed along unremarkably.

As it turns out, one that I mentioned in the comments is apparently famous. How do I know? I have stumbled across a reference to it not once, but twice this year! It's called Lamb to the Slaughter and features a woman killing her husband with a leg of lamb, then feeding the investigating officers the evidence (which they say "is probably right under our very noses!" [37] Har har.) It was made into an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which probably aided its fame.

Oh -- this is fun! I just found the note to the right in the book. There's some good stuff in here...

That first note says: "took a turn @ 'Claud's Dog' -- straight up weird shit (drugs?)  + gruesome!! (dog torture)"

I am pleased to tell you that this is where "I can't remember books" comes in super handy. I do not remember the dog torture. And guess what? I am not going to look it up. I guess I'll remember NOW that there was some dog torture in this book cause I have now written this very post but... that's good info for recommending that people avoid this story.

The Landlady got a pretty good review over there -- it says "perfectly creepy (taxidermy story)". I just flipped through it -- yeah. It's perfectly creepy. The landlady is a very good taxidermist ("you can check out, but you can never leeeeave...")

In addition to "creepy," I used the word "kah-reepy" twice on the note. One for William and Mary where it says "kah-reepy husband brain" (abusive husband gets sick and decides to "stay alive" with some new procedure that keeps his brain alive with just one eyeball attached. The wife takes a certain amount of vengeful glee at torturing the guy via his eyeball.)

The other kah-reepy one was Royal Jelly which I don't... fully recall and do not actually want to. It was about parents giving their sickly baby royal jelly from bees and... the baby turns into a bee? I can't remember exactly. It's was "kah-reepy".

But I just had to look up what "p. 370 - Bill!" meant in the midst of these disturbing notes. And I am laughing right now. That story opens with, "All her life, Mrs. Foster had had an almost pathological fear of missing a train, a plane, a boat, or even a theatre curtain." [370] Yup. That's Bill all right.

On the back side of that note is another note about a couple of other stories... Hitler's birth origin (Genesis and Catastrophe) and another that I referred to as "Pleasant story/kind of flat." (Champion of the World). I also jotted down a few common themes... husband/wife unpleasantness, revenge, passive aggression. But really, nothing worth getting into in much detail here. The book was fine -- like most short story collections, there were a few "Oh yeah!" moments (that Landlady one... shivers. Good spooky Halloween story, really.) but not worth 700+ pages.

However... it's DONE. So let's move on to my others! (Spoiler alert: 2015 has been a rather disappointing reading year for me. I don't know why exactly, and I have read a couple of truly good books [off the top of my head: Station Eleven, Between the World and Me, I am Malala, and The Martian --- basically, the books that I could have picked up at the front of any airport bookstore this year? Sheesh.] [Oh, and all of the Dresden files -- that was a Lifetime aBook Highlight there, so maybe that good fortune made it so the rest had to stink to counterbalance that?] but mostly bummers. The next couple I'm going to tell you about certainly were.)

That was a long parenthetical ending. And I'm leaving it. Woo-hooo!


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Jenny's Book 10.15: Their Eyes Were Watching God


Have you ever read this book? This is one of those books I added to my list pretty last minute, really wanting to add more female authors to my final list. This for years has been one of those books that "feels like I *must have* read this before",  I was an English major! But I'm pretty sure I haven't, or if I did, I did a piss poor job of reading it.

Not sure what made me pick up a copy, but it moved up the list because it's a pretty short read. However, as you may or may not know,  is is also written in dialect. And it is CHALLENGING. I decided to download the audiobook, which is narrated by Ruby Dee.

However, after listening to a few minutes of it, I decided even just the audiobook by itself wasn't quite working for me. Instead, I've been reading the book along with listening.

I have to tell you, it's an amazing experience. The language is so rich, and Ruby Dee's narration is just fantastic.

Not going to say much about it here, it's a slow process. I'm only on page 30, but I will report back soon. I try to listen to a little every night before I go to bed. Hoping to finish by Thanksgiving!