Thursday, December 31, 2015

Kelly's TBP 2.15: Prom

Dear Jenny,
I finished this book back in February and I procrastinated on publishing this. Then the artist passed away in May and I thought, "I should just write this thing up!" And then... more time passed. But it's been sitting in our Drafts folder for 10 months, so hey -- let's finish it.

I cannot remember where I first read about this book, but I basically saw a review and did not hesitate to order it straight from Amazon. I have no idea why I was so immediately drawn to it, but I sure was.

Here's the book description:
Using a Polaroid 20x24 Land camera, photographer Mary Ellen Mark traveled across the US from 2006-2009, photographing prom-goers at thirteen schools from New York City to Charlottesville, Virginia, to Houston to Los Angeles. Mark’s husband, Martin Bell, collaborated with her on the project to produce and direct a film, also called Prom, featuring interviews with the students about their lives, dreams, and hopes for the future. A DVD of the film is packaged with the book.
I did go to prom, but I really don't remember it being a "huge deal" -- in fact, one year I wore a Hawaiian print dress that I had gotten on sale the previous year for $20. So, you know... it wasn't like my "big dream." But... I do really like to see kids dressed up for prom. I don't know why, but it's a thing I enjoy.
So... about this book. Well, the photographs are terrific. A really broad range of kids from all walks of life. And that Polaroid 20x24 Land camera produces some amazing quality photos. 

So that's great. But then... I had some problems with the actual structure of this book that took away from my reading experience.

Basically, every page features a photo and I found myself really wanting to know more about these kids. A few of them had quotes interspersed with the photos, but not all of them. So I wanted more of that. But then, I realized that there were more quotes... in the back of the book. Weird. So I had the uncomfortable experience of flipping back and forth between the photographs and the back of the book to see what the quotes were. Not so great.

And then sometimes, that was just a waste of time because... not all of the kids had quotes! So I'd flip to the back of the book to find just their names, the school, and the year, which was already on the page itself. I honestly have no idea why the author (editor? publisher? Not sure how much power the artist/author has in this kind of book) decided to lay this book out like this. It was like flipping back and forth for footnotes with a giant, unwieldy book (only to discover most of the time that... there was no footnote there!) Sooo... not fun.

I went online to look the artist up and I found... that this entire book is available at her website. And if you go to the "Plate List," you will see a list of all of the quotes, next to the photographs that they match. So, you know... a better reading experience for free on her website. I mean, I know that the paper reproduction of the photos are better than what is on her site, but still -- it just seems so strange to me that she is offering the same thing I paid for on her site for free.

However, I will say this -- what you don't get on the site is some of the really great juxtapositions that the author put together in the physical book...

Similar poses for dramatically different couples:
 Same couple/two poses:

And just look at these cutie patooties:

There was also a DVD included that was a sort of "behind the scenes" on the book itself. Like the book, you can also watch it online in its entirety. The film was fun -- I liked seeing some of the outfits in color and the kids interacting with one another was pretty adorable. Probably the highlight is this one kid from a family of dentists that they keep going back to -- he's got some hilarious lines about not wanting to be a dentist and the impact that the "family business" has had on him.

If you're interested in seeing all of the photos for yourself, head over here. I'd start with the Plate List, because that's got all of the quotes with the thumbnails. You have to click on the thumbnails to see the larger photo and then go back to read the quotes... Hey! It does sort of mimic the difficult-to-navigate experience of reading the book itself!

Final update on this post: I just scrolled through that Plate List page and remember a lot of the feelings I had when perusing this book. The kids' quotes are all over the map: funny, real, childish, and heartbreaking. It makes me wish (again) that the quotes were better incorporated into the book itself (and that every couple had a quote -- I'm wildly curious about the ones who did not say anything!)

This one girl has stuck with me, as she had this heart-breaking thing to say:  "Me, I'm not going to college. I'm going to the military. It was just something I wanted to do since I was like a little girl, and also it's just to get away, you know what I'm saying? Have fun, travel, see the world." Man... that is not what I think of when I think of going into the military.

I guess this seems like a negative review, and that's why I've been sitting on it for so long. I read something earlier this year that said that John Irving never writes a negative review. If he didn't like the book, he just... returns it. I kind of like that. But... this review wasn't meant to be all negative. I really did enjoy this work -- it just could have been better. That's all.

Now -- go look at kids in their Prom attire. It's some good shit.


That Supposedly Fun Thing We'll Never Do Again


It's always a bit shocking when your low expectations are correct, right? I'll take the hit for picking this one. I guess I should learn to trust my instincts -- we knew all along that he wasn't for us. The only upside that I can think of: now, when I sneer derisively at DFW, I'll have earned it.

This book is comprised of seven different essays. I'll just leave brief notes and quotes from our conversation under each title.

Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley
The conversation started with our agreement that DFW's writing is "pretentious, overwrought, douchebaggery." We agreed we really were not the target audience for this guy. We observed that if WMFuNs are their own genre, then DFW is their king. But then we felt sort of bad since things ended so badly for him personally.

As for the essay itself, we weren't that impressed. We don't like tennis and didn't find all that much there to like. He's coy with some details and deliberately obtuse with others. What had the potential to be most interesting story --being carried away by a tornado and slammed into a fence?!?-- fails to be convincing as either truth or metaphor.

We wondered if we were giving him a fair shot but, ultimately, we didn't care. We ended with a small hope in our hearts that things would get better with later essays. After all, this was probably one of the first things he'd ever published. It's going to get better, right?

E Unibus Pluram: Television in U.S. Fiction

We did some texting back and forth while reading this one.
You started off our texting extravaganza with this observation.
We knew we were in trouble.

A threat he carries out for what, 50 pages?
I checked this out from overdrive because I had to know: 17.
He says *seventeen times* that Americans watch six hours of TV a day.
If reading shit like this is the alternative, who wouldn't watch TV?!
It's a problem.
As we were discussing, we both said at the same time, "What was the point?" So many words. So many words.

Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All
We were both pleasantly surprised by this one. In it, DFW visits and reports from the Illinois state fair. His whole shtick seems to be "I'm a non-reporter doing reporter-y things!" But both of enjoyed this, even to the point where we laughed out loud. What a relief to find some redeeming qualities.

This is the first time a female character of any kind really shows up, his friend that he takes along with him, and he refers to her as his Native Companion (also "Native C," "N. Companion," "NC," etc.) For the most part, she's the only character we really related to, as we both wished we could have been around to tell him to shut up and stop taking everything so seriously.

However, we still had our issues. The continuance of his irritating regionalism. (We thought maybe we were especially tuned into this because of the book you recently read where the gross generalization is made that everyone in Portland "lives a minimum of three lives" -- as if they don't everywhere else.) We appreciated that DFW owned up to being a pretentious douche about his own East Coast snobbery. But as you said, "Once you recognize it, stop doing that thing." Alas. He kept doing it.

Greatly Exaggerated
The best thing we could say about Greatly Exaggerated is that it was 6 six pages long. Again, you said it best, "This pretentious douchebag just wrote a pretentious douchebag review of a pretentious douchebag PhD thesis." This essay made us actually think back to the tennis story fondly, which we basically ripped to shreds!

We had a long discussion about what makes something readable or unreadable? Why is the State Fair one so readable, and Greatly Exaggerated is so NOT readable? We had a lot of ideas: the language he uses is not the language we use. You pointed out that it feels like Victorian literature. We couldn't quite figure out what we had missed: who decided that this qualifies as "good writing?" We also spent a lot of time talking about the fact that this guy has an audience (white guys, maybe younger than us) and since we aren't that audience, maybe that's why it just didn't work for us.

We agreed that it was a good thing we only had 3 essays left. We were not happy to see how long they were. We agreed that we must solider on.

David Lynch Keeps His Head
The beginning was interesting and we both liked the vivid descriptions of David Lynch, but then it ran into the DFW problem: Why is this going on so long? You felt like this essay was the longest by far. In an episode of Gilmore Girls, Rory tells an author to cut her article by 400 words because she can't have the paper being "as long as a David Foster Wallace novel." And we couldn't agree more, he just goes on and on. What was the take away from this one? That David Lynch pees on trees. We think that might be all we remember.

If these essays are arguments, what is the argument? I thought maybe it was just a think where his whole strategy for winning the argument by talking the other person to death. I also shared a metaphor. I said that reading DFW is like being stuck on an airplane next to a person who just loves the sound of his own voice.

Some super long bullshit, bullshit title
Even though this is the douchiest title, this was one we both enjoyed. The story of almost tennis pro Michael Joyce was interesting and DFW described the pro-circuit well.

This is really where we started to have a lot of questions.

Why is DFW as awkward as fuck with women? Every time he describes women, it's a little weird, stalker-y, or just plain bizarre. For example, both of us noticed that he described something as "menstrual pink." Wait. What?

Why does he use all those silly abbreviations (for instance "w/r/t") but then go on and on with all the fifty cent words?

Why did no one edit the hell out of him? I noticed that this essay was originally published in Esquire with the title "The Score." We wondered if the book we're reading is the equivalent of the Director's Cut. It seemed like we could cross check the book against the essay online. But, really, who has energy for that?

A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again
This was the best one, you thought. I agreed, but definitely had the "Oh God make it stop" feeling when he started listing what he did by the hour.  I definitely thought this one was the longest and admitted to doing some prodigious skimming in the last 35 pages.

We discussed the role of the essayist here, since he makes the statement that "an essay's fundamental obligations are supposed to be to the reader." [288] I thought he did a shitty job of holding to this, instead always making it all about him. You pointed out that maybe the reader is a person just like him. And since that's not us, we're always going to feel annoyed by him, regardless of the moments of interest, humor, or insight.

Basically, this one was the most funny and entertaining of the bunch. A good way to end, and we are just glad it's over.

As a wrap-up, we noticed that all of our "shared" books this year were disappointing! How did we end up choosing a bunch of WMFuNs?! We vowed to do better next year.

And with that, we're calling it a wrap on 2015.

Completed: From Girls to Grrrlz : A History of Women's Comics from Teens to Zines

Dear Jenny,

For the most part, this was a fun read. It's not really about women in comics, as much as "women's comics" (which it does say right in the subtitle) -- that is, comics written specifically for women (or girls). So it was more positive that I was concerned it would be (a book about women in comics would be... sort of depressing, right?)

It was divided into four general sections, so I'll just walk on through 'em here.

Girls' Comics 1941-1957

So we start in the 1940s with "Girls'" comics (aka "Teen" comics) which began with Archie comics being a sort of  "everyman" answer to Superman. And while Betty and Veronica's worlds mostly revolved around Archie's (although they also had their own books later), there were several other titles during those years that featured girls as the primary characters, mostly along the same "teen" lines.

The depressing part is that women in comics in 1945 were dealing with the Same. Damned. Issues. that we are dealing with today, 70 (!) years later:

(The girls that Patsy has gotten to join her turn on her and eventually Patsy admits defeat and puts her skirt back on. Sigh.)

Women's Comics 1947-1977

I think this section could have been subdivided -- 30 years is a lot of time to lump together under the title "Women's Comics," especially when a large portion of these comics were along the line of Josie and the Pussy Cats and Sabrina the Teen-age Witch, which were the natural evolution of the Archie-style teens and, while they had a bit of a more independent edge, the primary audience was still teenagers.

Some of the other comics in this section were directed at an older audience, but, like Harlequin Romances, I'm sure there were a fair number of teens who got their hands on these. There was this whole "True Romance" genre -- basically soap operas in comic form (imagine the backs of many hands applied to many foreheads and you've got it).

In the later part of this long-spanning era, we also get some "career" gals -- nurses, flight attendants (at that time... stewardesses), reporters (remember Brenda Starr?), etc. Check out Linda Carter, Student Nurse, over there (pre-dating the Lynda Carter we now associate with another comic book character!)

And the 70s brought... flower children. (Check MODniks: "A drop-out digs where it's smart to be in -- school!")

Honestly, I think calling these "women's" comics might be a stretch... depending on how you refer to teenagers. I guess the idea here is that the topics and the characters are more "grown up" than the girls in Archie's time, but I would also argue that each generation's teenagers are more grown up that the last.

Womyn's Comix: 1970-1989

Even though ol' Patsy up there was trying to "liberate all womankind" back in 1945, the 70s were a time when this concept became more mainstream and women's (or "Womyn's") comics reflected that. Robbins herself became active in writing comics during the 70s, so she's got a lot of opinions about this time period.

I wrote some more here but could not wrap it up succinctly, so I deleted it and I will share my personal experience with one of the "comix" mentioned in this section...

One of the first comics I got completely hooked on was Dykes to Watch Out For. I checked out every single anthology -- and bought the ones that were not available at the library -- and burned through those books over the course of several weeks in the fall of 2001. Alison Bechtel is hilarious and made me cry laughing -- look at this still! (Everything is hilarious about this -- even the CAT is funny!)

It's worth noting here that  Betty and Veronica were also still going strong in the 1980s, but there were also quite a few other actual real "women's" comics being written during that time (that is, comics for adult women) and many more comics being written by women than at any previous time.

Grrrrlz Comix: The 1990s

I  also remember reading a lot of these comics in the early 2000s. One of my all-time favorites, Strangers is Paradise, gets a shout-out in this section, as well as Art Babe by genius Jessica Abel.

I'm not sure I have a lot to add here -- you can kind of guess the trajectory of the comics, as they followed the rest of the culture at that time -- grunge, "riot grrrls," etc. (I'm sorry -- I'm flaming out here with this "review"-- laugh at this comic and pretend that this post is not a trainwreck...)
(Click to see it bigger.)

In conclusion (dare I even say that?)

Overall, the writing in this book was decent and well-researched -- Robbins has a lot of opinions and they certainly show through, but since I generally agreed with her, that was fine with me (and sometimes made me laugh out loud).

There was a strange typographical choice where all comic titles were larger font that the rest of the writing and, as Robbins got more opinionated, she started using a different larger font for CAPITAL LETTER emphasis and that was kind of jarring. I guess my issue with the opinions and the typographic choices is that they help relegate this book to a "fun" read when it could have taken an opportunity to shine a more serious light on the topic. But... it's okay. They're comics, right?

Aaaand... done!
(Yes, yes... skidding into the very end of the year... per usual!)


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Completed: White Girls


Being somewhat pressed for time, I didn't write a preview post of this one. But I got this book as a gift from my friend Jannah when it came out a few years ago.

I'm also totally tired and probably not going to do this book much justice, which is too bad. Here's the thing that's especially ironic about me saving this one for last: it's a book of essays, weaving together a look at how the individual life of the author (he's the theater critic for the New Yorker) is shaped and informed by pop culture.

In other words, it's impossible for me not to read this as a companion to our current David Foster Wallace situation. In fact, White Girls  was blurbed by John Jeremiah Sullivan, who I mentioned the first time we talked about DFW. I said that JJS was an example of an essayist I really enjoyed, a guy who was genuinely interested in his work rather than just a smug East Coast asshole. In his blurb, he says that Als is working in the genre of "culture-crit-as-autobiography" and that is exactly right. Als is gathering up his observations about film, theater, books and thinking about how it intersects with his life; DFW is arguably doing the same thing.

But here's the thing: Als' book is better in every. single. fucking. way.

It's clear and incisive without being overwritten. It's arguments are cogent and fierce instead of meandering and boring. It's interesting and smart without with smarmy and self-satisfied. It looks at people of all kinds-- gay, straight, men, women, people of color, old, young, urban, rural North, South---instead of just focusing on the insular view of a particular kind of smug white man. In fact, Als' personal lens is consciously and explicitly that of the outsider: gay and black in America. Like Ta-Nehisi Coates, he's not interested in sugar-coating his writing for a white audience. But I do love how he constantly shifts his lens as he examines the world around him: gay, black, male, New Yorker, younger, older, critic, fan. He's one of those writers who just thinks about the world in an interesting, dynamic way. He strikes me as the kind of person I would want to be my friend--and the fact that he has such a generous, curious spirit would totally make up for the fact that he's way smarter than I am. Like, I know he'd be slumming it a little with me, but it'd be worth it to hang out with someone that funny and smart. I'd totally be his Native Companion, know what I mean?

The essays themselves cover a variety of topics, and even if I don't know much about the topics, Als writing makes me more interested in the topic, not less. There are essays here about Truman Capote, Flannery O'Conner, and Eminem; there are essays about his life-long best friend and about his inability to write about his own mother. I would fiercely agree with him on one page, be amazed at his ability to capture something true about life I'd never noticed on another, and sort of pissed off and thinking he's totally wrong on yet another. In other words, his arguments are actually argumentative! Even more astounding, his arguments and ideas are easily followed and clearly laid out. WHAT A CONCEPT!

My one real regret is that I wish I wasn't reading it this way. I'm just sort of burning through it all, wanting to hit my deadline. And I also wish I wasn't doing Als the disservice of comparing him to that jackass DFW.

All I can do, really is quote some Eminem lyrics that Als quotes when talking about Eminem's self-awareness of his own status as a white rapper:

Look at these eyes, baby blue, baby just like yourself, if they were brown, Shady lose, Shade sits on the shelf, but Shady's cute, Shady knew, Shady's dimples would help, make ladies swoon baby, ooh, baby, look at my sales, let's do the math, if I was black, I would have sold half. 

One thing that this has made me pledge: to no longer skip his stuff in the New Yorker. I don't usually read his pieces because it's weird for me to read reviews of stuff I haven't seen or can't see---Although this is silly, because I read book reviews of books I haven't read all the time. Either way, now I realize I've been missing a great thinker and am going to try to do better.

To Hilton Als! An essayist that doesn't drive me to drink!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Completed: Their Eyes Were Watching God


I'm weeks behind schedule, and I had really been hoping to finish this on Thanksgiving. However, something about finishing this does give me hope that I might be able to get through this year.

I ended up listening to about 2/3 of the book on audio while reading along, and then read the last part on my own. Mostly because I felt like I was so close to the end and knew I could finish. Also, by that time, I was pretty sure I could understand it on my own without the narrator. Even though I loved her narration, I also wanted to see if I could do it on my own!

I know you mentioned that you read Their Eyes Were Watching God in college, but I'll give a brief summary. The novel starts with Janie, a black woman in rural Florida in the 20s or 30s who has buried her husband, Joe (she calls him Jody) Starks. He was the big man in town, both the mayor and owner of the local store. Eventually, Janie falls in love with a much younger man, Tea Cake. The townspeople are convinced he is only using her for her money, but she is convinced that he is her true love and takes a chance on him.

I guess I'm still just soaking it all in, but I don't feel like I have anything all that dazzling insightful to say about this book, except for a few observations.

More than anything else, I loved the language in the book, which I noticed both with Ruby Dee's narration, but also when reading on my own. There's something about Hurston's ability to capture in only a sentence the most heartbreaking inner workings of a woman's mind. Especially in the beginning of the book, as we watch Janie's transformation from a young woman brimming with life to a quiet, watchful silence as the years pass with Joe. Hurston describes her like this, "The years took all the fight out of Janie's face. For a while she thought it was gone from her soul. No matter what Jody did, she said nothing. She had learned how to talk some and leave some. She was a rut in the road. Plenty of life beneath the surface but it was kept beaten down by the wheels...She didn't read books so she didn't know she was the world and the heavens boiled down to a drop" (72). Time and time again, I noticed these passages and marked them. It was just a pleasure to read.

The novel itself is beautifully constructed, and some of it I only noticed when I went back through it. Janie both starts and ends the book burying a husband, the major difference being that Tea Cake, the man she buries at the end is the one man she truly loved. The book ends when a hurricane sweeps through and Tea Cake is bitten by a rabid dog. Before he completely loses his mind due to rabies, they have a conversation about the one thing that had always bothered Janie about their relationship, which was that he was at least 15 years younger than she was. (I'm going to quote at length here but click here to listen to Ruby Dee's narration so you can see how brilliant it is!)

     Tea Cake began to cry and Janie hovered him in her arms like a child. She sat on the side of the bed and sort of rocked him back to peace.
     "Tea Cake, 'tain't no use in you bein' jealous us me. In de first place Ah couldn't love nobody but yuh. And in de second place, Ah jus' uh ole woman dat nobody don't want but you."
     "Naw, you ain't neither. You only sound ole when you tell folks when you wuz born, but wid de eye you'se young enough tuh suit most any man. Dat ain't no lie. Ah knows plenty mo' men would take yuh and work hard for de privilege. Ah done heard 'em talk."
     "Maybe do, Tea Cake, Ah ain't never tried tuh find out. Ah just know dat God snatched me out de fire through you. And Ah loves you and feel glad."
    "Thank yuh, ma'am, but don't say you'se ole. You'se uh lil girl baby all de time. God made it so you spent yo' ole age first wid somebody else, and saved up yo' young girl days to spend wid me" (172). 

Isn't that beautiful? He's the love of her life, and she's going to lose him. And it's tragic! He is so ill and delusional that he tries to shoot her and she has to shoot him to save herself. The only thing that seemed like a weird misstep was that she's then jailed, and there's a trial which lasts maybe for 3 pages before she's found not guilty.

We then have made it full circle. The book started with Joe's funeral, and now we see her plan and prepare for Tea Cake's funeral. Janie prepares a grand and beautiful ceremony for Tea Cake, but the last line of the chapter is devastating: "No expensive veils and robes for Janie this time. She went on in her overalls. She was too busy feeling grief to dress like grief" (180). Isn't that lovely and so heartbreakingly sad?

There's so much I didn't talk about with this book, but my initial impressions are all about Janie and her journey as a character. I'm so happy I read this. I have a feeling I will be sitting with this one for a long time.


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Joint Book #4: A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again


In college, one of my favorite professors was a guy named Evan Radcliffe. I ended being able to drop some dumb freshman comp class because of my AP English score and landed in Dr. Radcliffe's Survey of Western Lit class. This is the guy who said, "You're my ninth Jennifer this semester!" I took at least a few more classes with him, and now that I think about it, most of my super memorable moments in college were in his classes. I did a teaching practicum with him my senior year. This makes him, along with Eli Goldblatt, one of the first people to explicitly teach me about being a teacher.  HE WAS THE FIRST PERSON I EVER SAW USING THE INTERNET! He taught me about comma splices, the Romantics, and how to annotate. And, also memorably, he told a story about how he used to sit around with other English professors and grad school friends and talk about what books they'd never read. He knew someone who'd never read Hamlet. I remember him saying something like, "And now she never will. It's too late now and too good of a story to not have read it." [I'm sure he said this much more elegantly.]

It's that last part that is sort of the most relevant to where I'm heading here. Because is there anything more weird than missing a cultural phenomenon in your favorite form of media? Imagine meeting someone who loves female superheroes who'd never seen Buffy. Or someone who loves YA never having read Harry Potter. There are some things that just become cultural touchstones---it seems like EVERYONE knows about it, is talking about it, has done it, is planning to do it, or wonders how you haven't done it yet.

Enter David Foster Wallace.

This is the one that got away...for both of us. How in the hell did this happen?

Obviously, some of it is timing. Infinite Jest came out in 1996. It was right when you and I entered adult life. The rise and tragic fall of David Foster Wallace overlaps with a time in my life where I was completely unplugged from literature-with-a-capital-L. By the time I started paying attention and talking about books again, I was completely befuddled by the whole thing. Who is this guy, why is everyone talking about him, and why should I care?

Famously, my only real claim to fame with David Foster Wallace was my suggestion at the Tournament of Books 2012 that invoking his name was a modern day drinking game waiting to happen.

Turns out I'm not the only one who can think of literary themed drinking games. Check this out. 

Well, I guess we're about to tear off the DFW band-aid with our agreement to read this book, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. I'm a little afraid that we will both hate this book. How could he possibly live up to the hype?

Here's our proposed schedule. I'm loving what we did with The Night Manager when we skyped when we were talking about it. Looking forward to doing that again. Also, since I've decided to be done with graduate school this week, if it's better to read the first two stories for the 13th, let me know.

Dec 13: first story 
Dec 20: next 3 stories 
Dec 27: final 3

Any thoughts and feelings as we embark upon our own personal DFW drinking odyssey?

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 2002, 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!


Saturday, October 31, 2015

Oh, Kelly.


I spent a lot of time this week following a rather bizarre and screwed up situation in the land of children's picture books.

Want to read some crazy shit? Buckle in. And in order to get the full story, you'll have to read all these links.

My friend Elisa is a librarian and she blogged about this children's book called A Fine Dessert here. The book itself has a cute premise: follow the making of the same dessert over 4 centuries of American history, starting in 1710 and ending in 2010. However, Elisa points out the real problems with the 1810 section, which is set on a plantation and features a slave mother and her daughter preparing the food for their masters and then hiding in a closet in order to lick the bowl clean.

Honestly, the whole thing is so fucked up, I can hardly believe it got published. In particular, there's an insistence from the illustrator that she did all this research about the cooking implements, the plantation, etc. But there's almost no thought to the child of today who might be reading it. I mean, the words "beat beat beat" appear over each child as they whip the cream, but when it's over the head of a child slave? And then she smiles, and the illustrator says it's to show pride in her work---and I'm just thinking to myself: does no one understand that "pride in your work" is an incredibly fucking problematic way to frame slavery? I mean, come on! You've heard me go on before about how hard it is to find books with black kids in them. This happy slave shit really makes me angry. Not to mention the somewhat obvious fact that the only black people in America in 400 years weren't slaves. CLUE PHONE: NOT EVEN ALL THE BLACK FOLKS AROUND IN 1810 WERE SLAVES.

We've talked about this before---kids know almost nothing about slavery, but they know all the things about the Holocaust. We know a lot about how to teach kids hard things, but when it comes to's just like, "oh no! too upsetting!"

This book is seen as a serious contender for the Caldecott Award, which is best picture book of the year. The Horn Book site collects reviews and commentary about the books here. Go ahead and read the comments. You'll see me there. make a long story short, this story really blew up this week and there was a ton of discussion about this book on twitter, starting with this tweet from a woman I follow named FanGirlJeanne. You can read lots of the comments, replies, and subtweets. NPR's Code Switch blog posted an article about it, too.

In a way, I guess it all comes full circle. Remember I started out the year talking about how we suppress women's writing? Turns out the same tricks can be used to devalue the voices of readers that are people of color. You would not believe---maybe you would--the invective leveled at people who don't think this is just a delightful little story about a dessert.

Almost always, it's the same rhetorical moves. I'm *SURE* that any person of color could rattle off what I'm listing below with no problem since they're on the receiving end of them all the time. Maybe it's best thought of as a list for white people: Hey, if you find yourself using these moves when you are in a conversation with someone? STOP IT.

1) You didn't read it closely or thoughtfully enough, so you don't understand. (Flat out stating that POC are too stupid to read a fucking 40 page picture book. However, if white folks admit that they didn't read it, no one says boo about it.)

2) Why would all these publishers and reviewers give it all this press and good reviews? (Completely ignoring the fact that the publishing world is completely dominated by white people at every level.) Related to this is another thing I keep seeing, which is: You can't blame one book for not including everything. While this is true, it also completely ignores the monolith of publishing that primarily produces books about white kids.

3) Kids are too sensitive to read books about the real way slavery worked! We have to work our way up to it. You wouldn't talk to a child about such complicated things!

4) The opposite of #3 is also used, which is kids are smart enough to just *figure out* for themselves the way it works. And you as an adult are overthinking it!

5) But what about the feelings of the poor illustrator! I mean, she's *crushed*. She worked so hard! (Conveniently forgetting that the child as reader is who we ought to be worried about.)

6) Some POC don't think it's a problem, and therefore it isn't a problem. Or, why bother asking because they'll never agree.  (Because POC are a fucking monolith?)

7) I don't think it's a problem, and therefore the voices of many POC who find it offensive must be wrong. I tried my hardest, so what's the problem? (plain, old-fashioned white privilege.)

8) Tone policing: the way your opinions were stated was *rude* and you used swear words, so I don't have to listen. (This is actual reason the illustrator used to *delete* comments from readers on her blog. Real live people came and commented, and she claimed that she only deleted the comments with swear words. Since I saw the comments before she deleted them, I'll tell you right now, that's not true.) And this is so pernicious, and, of course, as women we're familiar with this kind of business.

9) What's wrong with portraying moments of happiness in oppressed people? Surely you don't want to just show people whipped and bleeding? This is another one that just kills me. First of all (and as I said in one of my comments somewhere), can we imagine for a hot second that someone would show smiling people in a concentration camp? Of course not! It's inconceivable. Even though we realize there must have been moments of tenderness or togetherness, to show only those moments is to lie about what must have been the overwhelming state of despair. So why are we so quick to accept or embrace this narrative about American slaves? Who is made to feel better when we focus on this? (As an aside, the thing that is most important to teach children about oppressed people is not that they had moments of happiness, but that they had moments of resistance.)

10) Making gross jokes and puns about the subject, which reduces those who object to being the butt of your joke. I mean, why is everyone taking this so seriously?

11) Flat out ridiculous and hyperbolic interpretations of any objections. So now you're not defending what you actually said, you're defending what you didn't say or even imply.

12) Changing the subject from the thing you're talking about to some other problem. After all, your concerns are not legitimate if you aren't also worried about/angry about/tweeting about/yelling about this other injustice.

13) Any adult critiquing a kid's book has a secret agenda, and they are using this as a soap box to just make themselves heard, to advance their own careers. or to further their own reputations.

14 ) Any critique of a book is a "challenge" or is "ripping it to shreds." Any critique of the book must also be a call for the book to be censored or removed from shelves. (I've seen a lot of people say they wouldn't read this or buy it for their kids, but no one that I've seen has suggested it be pulled from the shelves or banned.)

15) White people shouldn't talk about race. (And this is a tricky one. We should listen more than we say, but if we don't speak out when we see something that's wrong, aren't we part of the problem. As my co-worker Brandon says, "Own your own bias with the kids.")

This one comment manages to do pretty much EVERY ONE on this list at once! Wow!

One thing I've noticed that is fascinating is the difference in responses between the author and the illustrator. The illustrator, who openly blogged about how important it was to find the right plantation and get the trees right, has completely doubled down, while the author has pledged the fee she got for writing it to the We Need Diverse Books campaign. (I'm really fucking grateful this is true, because it turns out the author Emily Jenkins is also E. Lockhart, author of YA books I really love and recommend to my students all the time.)

Honestly, it's been a disheartening thing to watch. And then this happened yesterday, the editor of Horn Books published this little screed, which makes me wonder why the hell he's in this job anyway. I mean, GOD FORBID kids want to see themselves in the books they read? (This came to my attention when an editor from Book Riot that I follow on twitter posted a tweet calling it a garbage fire. Seriously.) Although honestly, even I'm forced to admit he makes some good points, but they're buried in the snark.

Luckily, I've discovered some amazing new voices this week. This woman, Debbie Reese, is basically a social justice warrior who blogs about how Native American kids are portrayed (or not) in fiction. Lots of folks called out the bullshit and kept insisting that their voices be heard.

And then today, a guy on Twitter wrote a bunch starting here about the fact that we should want kids to read and think critically!

Mostly, fellow white people of the world, I wonder why it's so hard for us to just LISTEN to experiences that are different than our own? Why must we insist that we are right, that it's just being "PC", that people can't read, don't get it, and are just being bullies when what we should do is just stop and fucking LISTEN and absorb the fact that perhaps the dominant cultural narrative we are always selling might be harmful, offensive, or ill-conceived?

Sheesh. As Mike Jung said: "How can anyone seriously propose the idea that certain questions should be off-limits to kids who read? Fuck that. The HELL with that."

Sort of disgusted by all this. We're supposed to be doing better.

PS. A lot of conversations sparked my list above, so I can't claim noticing them all on my own.
PPS. I was really on the fence about these screenshots, but everything above was posted openly on social media.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Kelly's Book 8.15: The Turn of the Screw and Daisy Miller

Dear Jenny,

This is a joint preview/in-progress post.

First, the preview part...

I cannot remember when or where I got this book, but the cover is great. The copyright is 1954 and that's pretty clear from this design. Also...  35¢!

Of course, the content was actually written in the late 19th century, so this was a "super modern" treatment when it was published.

I think this was probably passed on to me by someone who said, "You've never read Henry James?! How can that be?! You were a lit major!" Which, as a general sentiment, bugs me. Because we were lit majors, we're supposed to have ready every single major author in the world? Whatever.

But these stories seemed genuinely interesting to me -- at  least a the time I was given the book. The Turn of the Screw is supposed to be spooky. I really don't know anything about Daisy Miller except for the back-of-the-book description. (But I do have some concerns about how things are going to end for Daisy, given the time period.)

Now, the in-progress part...

Oh my GOD I am struggling to get through The Turn of the Screw! I want to bail except that I need to keep to my schedule and the book is short. But the writing is... impenetrable. Seriously difficult to get through. I am 50 pages in and things just got a bit easier (dialog -- yay!) but OOF this thing is a rough one. I keep wondering, "Is it faster to read this 200 page book slowly or just switch to the 525 page book that I cut in my last post?" Time will tell.

It was written at the same time as Tess and my struggles now remind me of my struggles then... but... in the end, I was genuinely glad that I struggled through that one -- the story of Tess has really stuck with me. So I kind of have hope that this one will also be worth it...? (fingers crossed)

It was also written at the same time as The Sea-Wolf and I have often thought that I could not have gotten through that book except that I listened to the aBook and the narrator was fantastic... wait a minute... a-ha!... while I was writing this post, I went over to Audible, listened to a few samples and boom! Found a narrator that is making this book manageable. (That was some legit live-blogging action right there.)

Also, while writing this post, I have Gilmore Girls on and the current episode is... "Say Goodbye to Daisy Miller" -- Weird, right? (Is that a message?!) (It's the episode where Rory impulsively leaves for Europe with her grandma after doing the deed with Dean, so that's the Daisy Miller reference -- that she gets "shipped off to Europe when she's been 'bad.'")

All right. Tomorrow, I will begin listening to The Turn of the Screw on my morning walk. I'll let you know how it goes.


PS -- I did finish my 6.15 -- the Roald Dahl book -- but I didn't have it in me tonight to write it up. Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

It's October. Time to count pages. (AKA Kelly's Status Report)

Dear Jenny,

After a strong start this year... I fell behind. In fact, I'm shocked to realize that my last real post was in May! (It was the preview post for book #6 -- Roald Dahl -- I was still on track then!) This week, I finally posted the Night Manager for my #7 (even though it almost killered me.) (Ha.)

I finished reading the Dahl awhile back (need to write it up) (if I can remember it -- thank goodness I took a few notes!) and I've begun Turn of the Screw/Daisy Miller.

So, as I have done every year after our first year of this blog, I will now drop the two longest books left in my pile, count the pages left in the rest, and math out my page-per-day push for the rest of the year. Here's what's left (excluding the Henry James, as that's already underway):
That puts me at a little over 15 pages/day to complete by the end of the year. Except... you and I are reading the DFW together in December. So I really should finish the other books before Dec 1.

Re-math bumps me up to almost 18p/day through the end of November. Still doable. Just need to... get on it.

(I have been reading. Just not my TBR books. Heh.)

For kicks and giggles (and to procrastinate on getting my 18 pages of Henry James in today -- but I'll save that problem for a separate dedicated post), I looked to see what I had posted previously with my "final countdown" posts:
  • 2012 : I started worrying in late September.  (Click that link -- I had a really giant intimating stack!) At that point, I had 20pp/day to read. 
  • 2013 : Late October and the stack was far more manageable looking. And it was: only 17pp/day to get to my goal. 
  • 2014 : Early October (What? No picture of the stack?!) and my big issue was not number of pages per day to get through (a paltry 15) but the fact that I had not written up most of my books (at that point, I had only posted about *3* of them!)
Sooo... I'm doing better than most years, I guess. 18/day + behind by only one write up. Of course, the rest of the year will speed by and I predict I will be scrambling during those final few weeks to get everything written up. Maybe not. But... probably. (Who am I kidding?)

Up next: the Dahl re-cap and the James preview.