Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Today Will Be Different: If everyone were so gung-ho on reality, there'd be no art

Have I made my love of Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette? clear? Have I? If not, let me shout from the rooftops that I love this book and even just thinking about it makes me think I should probably re-read it again, despite a growing TBR list of all NEW things I could be experiencing.

So when I heard Semple had a new book out, Today Will Be Different, I said "YES PLEASE." Like, immediately, out loud to myself. Then I sort of forgot about it for a while because I am easily distracted. But I found an ecopy for sale and so decided to not only read it myself, but foist it on a bunch of other people by suggesting it for book club. And my book was chosen (at random from a bunch of pieces of paper in a hat) so the pressure is on.

...This was no Where'd You Go, Bernadette?.

Today Will Be Different follows around Eleanor Flood through her day, where she repeats the titular mantra. Listen, you don't have to repeat stuff like that if everything is awesome. But hey maybe today will be different. She'll do stuff like shower and get dressed. She'll only wear yoga clothes at yoga, which she will attend. She'll initiate sex with her husband. Today will be different.

But, her young son, who is having some trouble at school, decides to fake sick. This on the same day she discovers her husband, a well-known surgeon who treats famous athletes, has told his office that he's on vacation while telling his family he's at the office. And there's also the matter of her graphic novel, The Flood Girls, a memoir about her and her sister that is years overdue.

The present day bits all take place on this one day where Eleanor is trying to hold it together and figure out just what is going on. There are the flashbacks, some to her and her sister Ivy growing up, others involving her sister and an incident involving New Orleans high society.

The flashback bits were the most successful for me. They were the parts that reminded me of Bernadette that focused on the ridiculous. They were also the parts where the narrative made the most sense. Or maybe it was just he parts I could follow.

Because the thing is, the whole book has Semple's humor which can be biting a cruel at times, but is still pretty great. This quote is long but whatever, it's a good one and a good example of her writing
My point is: for ten years I haven't been able to shake her. She's the friend I don't like, the friend I don't know what she does for a living because I was too stultified to ask the first time and it would be rude to ask now (because I am not rude), the friend I can't be mean enough to so she gets the message (because I'm not mean), the friend to whom I keep saying no, no, no, yet she still chases me. She's like Parkinson's, you can't cure her, you can just manage the symptoms. For today, the lunch bell tolls. Please know that I'm aware lunch with a boring person is a boutique problem.
There were pieces and scenes and conversations I enjoyed but overall it didn't come together as a cohesive story. Part of me wonders what my thoughts would have been like had Bernadette not been a thing because it set up some high expectations.

But seriously, read Where'd You Go, Bernadette?

Gif rating:
Title quote from page 46

Semple, Maria. Today Will Be Different. Little Brown and Company, 2016.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Wilkie-Along Post IV: The back view is the loveliest view

Here we are, the final epochs in the SENSATIONAL life of Wilkie Collins. Thank you, Alice, for finding this book and then hosting this readalong, cos our readalongs are the best readalongs. #fact
In these final chapters and Wilkie's final years, he travels around the US on a less-than-successful tour, stages a few more plays, can't really match the success of his early work, continues to fight for copyright laws, has a few grandkids and then dies. You'd think this would be where the book ends but no, we get another chapter that, in the same vein as the rest of the book, talks about a bunch of people that are not Wilkie. I do not care if his ex-son-in-law had to file for bankruptcy.

Anyway, let's just get to a bunch of bullet points

  • Wilkie does a reading tour around the US and things aren't so great. Only partially filled venues with a consistent criticism that Wilkie isn't the most engaging reader. Which is weird because he was an actor so you'd think this wouldn't be that big of a stretch. Or maybe he was a terrible actor the whole time and Lycett didn't make that clear. One review says: "We should counsel Mr Wilkie Collins to adopt the tone and method of a lecturer, which anyone can acquire, rather than attempt those of an actor which lie beyond his reach."
  • Also we get this amazing line: "He has many fine qualities but he has an unusual amount of conceit and self-satisfaction - and I do not think any one can think Wilkie Collins a greater man than Wilkie Collins thinks himself." I never really got this sense at any other point in the book and I don't know if that is because the woman who said this is alone in this belief or that Lycett has been glossing over this behavior. 
  • Wilkie becomes friends with a guy due to a shared "interest in mildly pornographic pictures of women". Of course.
  • The book says Wilkie visited "Oneida, a community in Connecticut." Except Oneida is in New York. NOW this community, which practiced their own communal sex beliefs and rituals that Wilkie was down with (including pantagamy), had a few off-shoots, including a group in Wallingford, Connecticut. This is where it seems that Wilkie actually went. So yeah, minor error, BUT STILL.*
  • Wilkie makes the hero in one of his short stories a Roman Catholic, prompting Lycett to declare that it "shows that Wilkie was not always prejudiced in matters of religion." Which, let's be honest, is pretty much the equivalent of someone saying they're not racist cos they have a black friend. 
  • Throughout his life Wilkie talks about how much he HAAAAATES the institution of marriage and will not consider it at all and wants to live his bachelor life while having his two mistresses. Then he apparently starts calling some little girl "Mrs Collins" and looks forward to a "conjugal embrace" with the girl. And WTF?? Lycett says my reaction is me just taking this the wrong way and there was nothing weird about this and the girl's mother was included in the exchanges (which, does that mean there was a Victorian version of CC-ing someone?).
  • Wilkie says he thinks "the back view of a finely-formed woman the loveliest view...The line of beauty in those quarters enchants me, when it is not overladen by fat." Thanks for that "no fatties" line thrown in at the end, Wilks. 
  • Oscar Wilde had a brother named Willie. Willie Wilde. This makes me smile each time I say that name. I realize this has nothing to do with Wilkie but it comes up in the book and I didn't know this fact before so there you go.
And there we go. Wilkie's life and the lives of a lot of people around him (and around them...) I do now want to read a LOT more Wilkie so there will be many more readalongs in the future. 

*Also, fun fact, this sex commune is also the group that is responsible for the Oneida silverware. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Infographic Time: Q2 2017



Not the best but not terrible. There were some excellent books in there (what up, Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud) but I could have done better on resolution stats.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Wilkie-Along Post III: Bringing the sensation novel into the home

Summer Wilkie Readalong, post the third! And can I say thank you to Alice (aka Reading Rambo aka Readalong Queen) for keeping this week's section short cos the holiday weekend was eating into my reading time. But there was important stuff to do, like watch The Muppets Take Manhattan in the park.
#important
This epoch dealt with Wilkie not so much falling out with Caroline but sort of drifting away and picking up a new mistress, Martha. There's also a lot about Victorian publishing rules which is now added to the list of things I sort of skimmed over. There's less talk of venereal diseases, more issues with gout and rheumatism (which, I mean, could have been more STIs cos medical science at that point had only come so far) and the deaths of both Wilkie's mother and BFF (although there had been some drama there) Dickens. Oh also Wilkie and Martha have two daughters together but Wilkie basically doesn't talk about them. So. Father of the year, over there.

Alright, let's list out some stuff that happened

  • The section starts with Wilkie's meeting of Martha, which Lycett describes as "a buxom wench" and really Lycett? What are you doing? 
  • In this description we also get "she was as near as Wilkie could reasonably get to his ideal of the broad-buttocked Italian woman". I don't know if any of this is coming from Wilkie's writing or just Lycett's feelings on the lady. I mean, if Wilkie specifically talked about her butt whyyyyyy aren't we getting those direct quotes, because they would probably be hilarious. Anyway, call back to the first epoch and Wilkie losing his virginity to the "voluptuous Roman lady".
  • There's a paragraph about how Victorian men were sexually aroused by women in inferior positions and this is apparently what Wilkie saw in Martha? Lycett seems to have a problem with her.
  • In addition to commenting on women's hats and crinolines (earlier epochs), he's now giving footwear advice. He advised a woman, Nina Lehmann, "not to be afraid to wear thick boots. It was wrong to think that women could not look attractive in such footwear, he declared with an air of authority, adding that men understood such matters." I would love to see this from Nina's pov where she is just rolling her eyes at him. Or who knows, maybe he can speak with authority on the topic of women's fashion. Then I'm sort of wishing we could have some time traveling and get him to be a judge on Project Runway.
Wilkie does
  • One day Wilkie is working with the window opened and a kitten wanders in and drapes itself on Wilkie. This makes it difficult to write but no one can resist an adorable kitten.
  • Caroline gets married to a twenty-three year old and Lycett seems VERY JUDGY about this. "She was thirty-seven and quite what she saw in the mere stripling was hard to determine." I'm sorry she decided she wanted to find someone and get married and didn't want to wait around for gouty, opium addicted Wilkie. 
  • Dickens, continuing to be a dick to Caroline, wrote to a friend saying that Caroline's wedding was probably a sham affair and an attempt to trick Wilkie into marrying her via emotional blackmail. 
  • Publishers make Wilkie remove the word "damn" from his work and Wilkie does it but is annoyed. In his words "Readers who object to expletives in books are - as to my experience - readers who object to a great many other things in books, which they are too stupid to understand." 
  • Later more "inappropriate language" is cut from his work and Wilkie is VERY unhappy, claiming he does not look to young people as the court of appeal and maybe his work isn't meant for children.   
So there we go. Until next week!

Monday, July 3, 2017

June Reading Wrap-Up

June was a pretty good month. I got to spend time with Alice and Emily and fellow book bloggers are THE BEST. Let's plan more time for everyone to get together, yes? Good.

Tom and I also spent some time down at Disney and Universal, and even the ran could not bring down our spirits (cos OH MAN, there was so much rain while we were down there). Though walking around in a downpour for like 45 min was NOTHING compared to how wet we got on Splash Mountain and I KNOW, it's in the name so it should be assumed. But I've ridden it a zillion times and never gotten that wet before. We should have just jumped in the water. 

And of course I dragged Tom around (1/2) of Harry Potter world* and it was really well done. I don't know why that surprised me but they managed to make Diagon Alley in such a way that the rest of the park disappears. (Also, it took us a while to find it. I didn't know they would hide it.)

But anyway, that was June, and things were fun but lets focus on the books. So specifically, onto the stats.

Number of books read
5
Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell (THANK YOU, Emily!)
White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg
I'm Judging You: The Do-Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi
Sex Object: A Memoir by Jessica Valenti
Atlanta Burns by Chuck Wendig

Number of pages read
1,220

Fiction
40%

Female authors
80%
POC authors
20%

US authors
80%

Book formats
ebook: 40%
hardback: 20%
paperback: 40%

Where'd I get the book
Chain bookstore: 20%
Gift: 20%
Indie bookstore: 20%
Kindle/Audible: 40%

Blogger reco
60%

Books by decade
2010s: 100%

Books by genre
Essays: 20%
History: 20%
Memoir: 20%
Thriller: 20%
YA: 20%

Resolution books
Not 0% but could be way better
20%
I'm Judging You is both by a POC author and a non-US author (originally from Nigeria, though she moved to the States when she was young).

*You gotta pay for 2 parks to see all of HP and dude, this trip was already expensive, I can't do that. Not now. At some point, I'm sure I will. But I was bitter to learn to see all HP you had to pay for 2 separate parks.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Wilkie-Along Post II: Wilkie's Unduly Assertive Women

Are you ready for some more Wilkie? Because it's post II of our Wilkie Summer Readalong, hosted by Alice aka Reading Rambo.
So this week we read Epochs 2 and 3, Wilkie starts making money from his writing and also is basically common law married to a woman but DEFINITELY not freal married cos he does not approve of said institution.

I actually took a bunch of notes for this section. And by a bunch of notes I mean I wrote down a page number and then key phrases like "daisy hat" or "pretentious breezes". Stuff that was ridiculous and made me laugh. So I am pretty much going to bullet things out, just like I did last time around. #AintBroke #DontFix

But before I do that, I need to confess that whenever Lycett wandered away from talking about Wilkie or Dickens, I faded. Not even a guy named Egg could keep me interested. That's not to say these little tangents couldn't be interesting and I kept thinking how I would rather someone like Bryson was tackling those parts cos his books are like 46% tangents and I love them.

Anyway, let's list out ridiculous things that happened in these sections

  • "But here, to confuse matters, were to apparent opposites that Wilkie regarded as very similar. As he stated in his letter...he believed 'that the Novel and the Play are twin-sisters in the family of Fiction, that the one is drama narrated, as the other is drama acted.'" I reread this section like five times because...yeah, that seems like a pretty good working description of the difference between a play and a novel. Why are these apparently opposites? Is the opposite of a play a novel? Or vice versa? I tried Googling to see if that is a thing and Google has no idea what I'm talking about (it gave me a definition for "novel" the adjective and told me "work" is the opposite of play). Basically, Wilkie thinks these two similar things are indeed similar. 
  • Dickens and Wilkie (and Egg) go on vacation together and get on each others' nerves. Actually it seems like Wilkie mostly got on Dickens nerve by being stingy and cos he would whistle opera hits off-tune.
  • We also learned from this section that Dickens referred to himself as "Inimitable" in letters. As in, that is the name he gives to himself. "Inimitable bringing up the rear". So not only does he refer to himself in the third person but he gave himself a nickname. 
  • Wilkie had a cat named Snooks. That is all.
  • Wilkie hates the giant hats he sees women wearing when he's in Kent. Just real judgey about these women and their hats, which he does say are "as wide as umbrellas" so he may have a point BUT he also talks about how ugly the women are that are wearing said hats so shut up, Fivehead.
  • Dickens and Wilkie attended a production of Paradise Lost where the draw was that Eve would be naked. Just Eve apparently. Except the producers were unable to find a woman with "to her knees" to play that part. Dickens was duly disappointed.
Dickens, basically
  • Wilkie starts seeing a woman named Caroline who is below his station and also has a daughter (her husband died). He tells people that Caroline had been held prisoner by a name who controlled her through mesmerism (hypnotism) but she managed to escape when he threatened to kill her. Even Lycett is like "So this story is pretty much just bullshit."
  • Also, Wilkie Collins believes in mesmerism and when someone explains cold readings to him, he is INSULTED at the idea that this isn't real. I do sort of like the idea of Wilkie writing a book inspired by the Long Island Medium.
The Woman in White that could have been
  • Hans Christian Andersen "annoyed Wilkie by surreptitiously attaching some daisies to his hat and allowing him to walk thus into the village."
  • Wilkie continues to be annoyed at women's fashion, writing "his protestations about the proliferation of crinolines." Perhaps concern yourself less with judging women's clothing choices. (BTW, I would totally have read this lifestyle piece he wrote. I am a hypocrite.)
  • Wilkie had a temporary maid who kept busting in on him while he was in the bathroom. He wrote to Ward telling him "I have reason to believe...[she] must have seen My Person!"
  • Wilkie decides to hang out in London instead of going to the beach and talks about how the air in London is "so much healthier than those pretentious humbugs the seaside breezes" and WAS the air in London really ever healthier than pretty much anywhere else in the country? Also HOW are the breezes pretentious? 
Alright, this was pretty long, so sorry about that. But there was a LOT of important stuff to get through. So until next week!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Feminist Fight Club: We fight patriarchy, not one another

I am not typically one for self-help books, but when I saw a copy of Feminist Fight Club: An Office Survival Manual (for a Sexist Workplace) by Jessica Bennett on sale I decided exceptions could be made.
The book opens by telling you there is no right way to read this book. Indeed chapters can be stand alone, with each section focusing on a single issue (Enemies at work, making yourself heard, getting paid) containing a number of chapters going into more detail ("The Enemy: The Bropropriator", "Verbal Tripwire: Hedging", "F You, Pay Me: Stop Making Excuses"). So if there's a particular issue you're facing and need some advice on, no need to read the whole thing to get the information. Or so says the intro. I read this front to back, so I suppose YMMV with the whole jumping around thing.

Bennett isn't taking on sexual harassment of the Mad Men style. Really, the book has a narrow focus of middle-class white collar women, mostly in their early-twenties through late-thirties, dealing with things like being interrupted at work, or assuming you will always be the one to take notes in the meeting. It's dealing with a subtle world of workplace sexism, something that Bennett was pretty up front with so I'm mostly OK with the narrow focus. My biggest complaint with the focus, even if you're going to stick with a certain economic class, is there is basically nothing for WOC or LGBTQ+ women.

With a title like Feminist Fight Club, you can probably tell that this is not going to be a serious and dry meditation on the issue of sexism in the workplace. It's instead an attempt to break things down into bit-sized pieces, making them funny and accessible to women just starting their careers. Per this, there are a lot of puns and portmanteaus ("womanifesto", "menstruhater", "slackluster", "herfectionist", I can go on cos there are so many) which, yeah, those can get tiring after a while. Bennett works for Sheryl Sandberg (of Lean In) fame and I think it's fair to say this is like Lean In filtered through Buzzfeed.

Overall, good for what it is, but it would have been nice if it was more.

Gif rating:
Title quote from location 1342

Bennett, Jessica. Feminist Fight Club: An Office Survival Manual (for a Sexist Workplace). Harper Wave, 2016. Kindle

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Wilkie-along Post I: Sympathetic treatment of strong, independent women

Right, we're going with "Wilkiealong" for this, cos all readalongs must have some sort of nickname?
Anyway, post the first (cos the other one was the intro and thus does not count) in this Wilkie Collins biography A Life of Sensation readalong, hosted by Alice, our fearless leader. Which, now that I'm thinking about the title, doesn't necessarily mean a "sensational life" so much as a life where things are sensed. Or at least that's another way to read it. You know, like smell or touch. Which is basically how all of us do this life thing. Wilkie included. And now I've said the word "sensation" so much to myself that it's lost meaning.

This is off to a great start.
Our biography of Wilkie Collins begins with his dad, and how William Collins was a painter. Not like, a super famous painter. Not even a particularly interesting one with crazy stories. Definitely not, like, the rock star of painters. More like...the accountant of painters.

Anyway, there's a good amount of boring stuff about his dad and I skimmed a lot of this because really, let's get to the Wilkie. Also there are multiple Williams and Wilkies (there's a David Wilkie and then Wilkie Wilkie whose name is actually William and was sometimes called that or Willie and staaahp) and Harriets in this early section and, past-people, could you PLEASE come up with some additional names? Variety is the spice of life.

Anyway, let's focus on Wilkie stuff:

  • Wilkie's head looks like that, likely cos of some issues during birth where some old-timey forceps were used. 
  • Wilkie's mom lacked an outlet for her creative spirit and suffered from "nerves". Wilkie would later "write sympathetically about women with anxiety disorders" so good on him.
  • The Collins family travelled to Italy for art, but then spent almost no time in Florence cos it was Christmas/New Years and stuff wasn't open and also it snowed a lot. You guys probably could have planned that better.
  • Wilkie may or may not have lost his virginity around age twelve to a "voluptuous Roman lady". Will this lead into his tastes later? 
  • While at school Wilkie is told that he can "tell a lie beautifully" and he seems to take this as a compliment, which does not appear to be how it was meant. But Wilkie is an optimist / hears what he wants to hear.
  • Wilkie was small for his age and the boys at school bullied him by making him tell them stories. I feel like some crucial detail is lost here, or bullying was very different back then.
  • Wilkie gets a job doing something with tea but the job is boring and leaves him time to write so good for us.
  • Wilkie travels around Europe a bit getting stuck in France twice and needing his mom to send him money so he can get home. Come on, Wilks
  • Wilkie decides he "does not take much interest in Matrimony". I mean, not that anyone was asking him to get married, but still. He takes a stance and he sticks with it.
  • Wilkie helps his 31 year-old friend elope with a 15 year-old (ewww). But DON'T WORRY, they weren't rushing into anything cos the "passion for each other had been clear for four years". You know, when he was 27 and she was 11. EW EW EW EW EW
  • Wilkie doesn't give out his books for free, not even to friends. In fact, when his publisher gave out a few free copies to Wilkie's friends, Wilkie said nuh uh, you gotta pay for those. No word if they actually did pony up or just gave him the book back.
Alright, there have been some treats here but I'm hoping for some more sensation in the next section. UNTIL NEXT WEEK!

Title quote from page 62

Lycett, Andrew. Wilkie Collins: A Life of Sensation. Windmill, 2013.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: She navigates the world with the swagger of a mediocre white man

I didn't know much/anything about Anne Helen Petersen or her book when I was scanning through Netgalley, but when I saw the title Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of Unruly Women I said YES this sounds like a book that is right my wheelhouse. So I was pretty excited when I was approved for a copy in exchange for a review.
Petersen looks at the boxes contemporary women are put into and looks at women in pop culture who are decidedly outside these boxes, in at least one category. From this central theme, Petersen gives us a collection of essays on celebrity women who are "too much". Serena Williams who is too strong, Nicki Minaj who is too slutty, Melissa McCarthy who is too fat, Jennifer Weiner who is too loud, and so on. These are women who have operated outside the rules for the appropriate way they should behave and have been able to transcend these limitations and remain (or even become) as popular as they are.

As I said before, I didn't know anything about Petersen and I was a little worried when in the intro she mentions that she works at BuzzFeed. Whether accurate or not, I think of BuzzFeed as the place to take a quiz about which type of grilled cheese I would eat if I went to Hogwarts (smoked cheddar with fig jam on country white bread for Ravenclaw, obviously*) or a gif reaction list about some '90s nostalgia. While these things are entertaining they did not set super high expectations that I would get something insightful in this collection. I'm happy to report that I was so, so wrong.

NOT that credentials or a graduate degree mean you're going to be able to write something worth reading, I will say that Petersen has a Ph.D. in Media Studies, and the essays have a far more academic bent than I was expecting. Which, for me, was GREAT and made this book exactly what I wanted. From her intro
Each chapter starts with the thesis of a particular woman's unruliness...and unravels the way this behavior has been historically framed as an affliction at odds with proper femininity. The more you analyze what makes these behaviors transgressive, the easier it is to see what they're threatening
And so we get an analysis of 10 women who refuse to sit down and shut up. This doesn't mean the essays are gushing praises of these women. There is criticism to be had (looking your way, Caitlyn Jenner) but most of the focus is on their transgressions and the reactions to it, from the media from the population.

Ultimately the book is hopeful, because for the most part the woman succeeded in breaking through these boundaries without crashing and burning. Petersen says the book is a celebration, but also cautions that it should be a warning, a reminder to remain supportive of women, in the media and your everyday life, when they are breaking the rules for how women are supposed to act in order to properly perform femininity and hopefully "the only rules a woman will have to abide by are those she sets for herself."

Gif rating:
and
*It probably goes without saying, but Imma say it anyway that I have no idea if said quiz currently exists but if not, could it please?

Title quote from location 861

Petersen, Anne Helen. Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of Unruly Women. Plume, 2017. NetGalley

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Wilkie Collins: The Man, The Myth, The Forehead

Hey


Hey, you. Do you know about Wilkie Collins?
You know, it's OK. I'd judge you except I had no idea who he was prior to our amazing Woman in White readalong

He was a writer (obviously), friend of Charles Dickens, opium addict, creator of the first modern English detective novel (so sayeth Wikipedia), lover of big butts, impressive forehead-and-facial-hair haver. 
Take it all in

But really, how much do we know about the guy? Not enough, I say. Or really Alice aka Reading Rambo says, because she is hosting a readalong of a (the? are there others?) Wilkie Collins biography Wilkie Collins: A Life of Sensation

This is our introduction post so Hi, I am Alley. Or Red. Or What Red Read. Or WhatRedRead if you say it real fast. I also have a confession. I do not yet have the book.
I know. I KNOW. I am bad at planning and assumed I could get an ecopy and that everything is immediately available to me at the push of a button at all times. And then I learned that was NOT the case with this book and I'd have to get an actual physical copy. 

But I paid for for expedited shipping, as an act of penitence so hopefully I will have it soon. I mean, it shipped today, so that's a good sign. Right? 

Though really, this lack of planning made up for by an abundance of gifs is a good indication of how the rest of my posts for this readalong will be. Just excuses and nonsense and gifs.

It's gonna be so much fun
Visual representation of readalong

Monday, June 5, 2017

Between the World and Me: Soft or hard, love was an act of heroism

It's been a while since I read this so I know my memories aren't as sharp and my thoughts aren't going to be as coherent as if I had just reviewed this right away, so apologies in advance that whatever I'm about to say is totally not going to live up to what this book deserves.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates has been one of those books that had been on my periphery since it came out. It's won awards and Toni Morrison said it's required reading and it's usually a good idea to listen to her. Lately there'd been a copy sitting on my co-worker's desk. And since I've been working on expanding my reading horizons and meeting my resolution goals*, I asked him if I could borrow it. Of course I asked him JUST has he had lent it to someone else, but one of my other co-workers had a copy (see, it's everywhere) and she lent it to me. And here we are.

For those who don't know, the book is a letter from Coates to his son in the wake of the rash of murders of black boys at the hands of the police. The book is part autobiographical, telling the story of his difficult childhood in a world that forced you to be tough to survive. He discusses the legacy, the heritage of racism that pervades the country. How the destruction can be swift (Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin) or it could be a death by a thousand cuts as need to always be on guard takes its toll on a person.

He talks about a friend of his, Prince Jones, who was killed by an undercover police officer, who was not charged for the crime, a narrative that is all-too-familiar. And how Jones's murder was just one more case, the type of thing that keeps black parents up at night worried about their children and wondering if there is anything that can be done to keep them safe.
[My mother] knew that the galaxy itself could kill me, that all of me could be shattered and all of her legacy spilled upon the curb like bum wine. And no one would be brought to account for this destruction, because my death would not be the fault of any human, but the fault of some unfortunate but immutable fact of "race," imposed upon an innocent country by the inscrutable judgement of invisible gods. The earthquake cannot be subpoenaed. The typhoon will not bend under indictment. They sent the killer of Prince Jones back to his work, because he was not a killer at all. He was a force of nature, helpless agent of our world's physical laws. 
The book is not particularly hopeful, but it doesn't advocate giving up.

I urge you to struggle. Struggle for the memory of your ancestors. Struggle for wisdom. Struggle for the warmth of The Mecca. Struggle for your grandmother and grandfather, for your name. But do not struggle for the Dreamers. Hope for them. Pray for them, if you are so moved. But do not pin your struggle on their conversion. 

It's not an easy read by any stretch, but it is an important one. And one I'm happy to have read.

Gif rating:
*Read more books by POC authors, non-US authors, translations, and/or books published before 2000. Oddly enough it's that last goal that has been the hardest to meet, but also the one I put the least effort into.

Title quote from page 61

Coates, Ta-Nehisi. Between the World and Me. Spiegal & Grau. 2015.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

May Reading Wrap Up

Thank you, May, for being better than April. I mean, it was a low bar, sure, but thank you. This month I got to go to D.C. and see My Favorite Murder, go to Boston (area) and see a couple friends get married and hang out with a few other friends, and a friend from Ireland is in town (for said wedding) so we've been hanging out. All swell stuff.

I know I've been bad at the weekend updates (because of the above stuff which is taking up weekends) but JUST KNOW I have continued to reach out to local reps and continued my monthly donations. This month went to Planned Parenthood because they were doubling donations for a period of time so why not?

Let's look at the stats

Total books read
4
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
We Are Never Meeting In Real Life by Samantha Irby
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Women by Anne Helen Petersen

Total pages read
1,237
Lowest number so far, but I've also spent a lot of time making my way through White Trash which is good but NOT THE FASTEST read. So.

Fiction
50%

Female authors
100%
POC authors
25%

US authors
100%

Book formats
ebook: 50%
paperback: 50%

Where'd I get the book
Chain bookstore: 25%
Gift: 25%
NetGalley: 50%

Review book
50%

Bookclub/Readalong
25%

Books by decade
2010s: 100%

Books by genre
Humor: 25%
Lit Fic: 50%
Sociology: 25%

Resolution books
25%
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life is by a POC author
Only one, but hey, not none!
To next month being even better? Sure, why not.

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl: Being an introvert in a world that glorifies cool isn't easy

I am so behind on reviews. I finished this book back in February. February 24th to be exact, at least according to Goodreads*. I think if I point out how behind I am it will shame me into catching up. Instead it seems to make me go "Eh, I told people. That's good enough" and then let things slide further back. We'll see if I'm able to get things reviewed at least within a month of reading them.
With confession time out the way, let's get to the book shall we?

I was at the Strand, but shopping not for myself! I was looking for a book for Tom's birthday, so I had good and noble intentions. Except they didn't carry the book he wanted (something about marketing and sports championships) so what am I going to do, NOT get any books? That's ridiculous. So I picked up a couple books, including The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae.
I apparently cannot get enough of awesome comedy ladies writing hilarious collections of essays. So this book had been on my radar for a while. But like, on the periphery. Over in the corner, waiting for me to get it together and pick it up. And I did and it was awesome.

Rae looks at her own awkward life, such as her attempt to give herself a nickname (Sloppy Jo) in grade school, her inability to dance and her lack of fashion sense. She talks about spending summers in Senegal with her family and about moving cross country to LA and really wanting to be one of the "cool" kids. She has a few chapters for her ABG (Awkward Black Girl) Guide titled things like "Connecting with Other Blacks," "The Hair Advantage," and "When Co-workers Attack". She talks about the importance of representation and family difficulties. There is a SPECTRUM of topics, is what I'm saying. And through all of them, there is a tone and wit and a lot of self-deprecating humor.
If I could go back in time and slap all of the idiocy out of my mouth, I would be a busy time traveler.
Same, Issa Rae. Same.

The book was lots of fun and short (just over 200 pages) so a quick read if you're looking for something light and funny.

Gif rating:
*Which, hey, PS, why does Goodreads now email you when you mark a book as completed to tell you that you finished reading a book? I am aware, Goodreads. I told you. And then you're just linking me back to stuff on your site, where I just came from, to tell you I finished reading it.

Rae, Issa. The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. 37 Ink/Atria, 2016.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Hidden Figures: Once you took the first step, anything was possible

By now, you've heard of Hidden Figures. Because I'm getting around to writing this way after the book came out and the movie came out.

If you've not heard of it then I commend you for the rock you've been under. It's terrifying up here and might there be space for one more?

Anyway, back to the book, which focuses on the black, female mathematicians and engineers that are responsible for so much, not just helping put people on the moon (but there is that, and it's pretty impressive) but the smaller projects are all manner of flight. As Shetterly says
What I wanted was [for these women] to have the grand, sweeping narrative that they deserved, the kind of American history that belongs to the Wright Brothers and the astronauts, to Alexander Hamilton and Martin Luther King Jr. Not told as a separate history, but as part of the story we all know. Not at the margins, but at the very center, the protagonists of the drama. And not just because they are black, or because they are women, but because they are part of the American epic.
And this she does, setting the stage for Langley from the '40s through the Apollo missions and highlighting the work the women did, and the struggles they faced.

The book focuses on more than just the three women in the movie, though they have the largest parts. There's less drama than the movie (no one violently smashes the sign above the bathroom that says "colored") and a lot more math, which I found to not be an issue because I just skimmed over it. I'm sure an engineer would be THRILLED to go over the specifics of whatever air displacement problem or I-can't-think-of-another-sciencey-sounding-example they had to tackle, but I chose to trust the math was correct and move on.

Because the book can be a little slow at times. There's not really a story arc here (it is non-fiction after all) but at times just seems like it is listing out the events that happened or what was going on. I had some trouble keeping the different women straight and I mentioned all the math above. But overall, these didn't really bother me. I didn't pick this up assuming it was going to have a straight narrative like the movie (which I saw after reading it) and I don't have an issue skimming when we seem to be getting in the weeds.

One thing that may have helped keep me engaged is the fact that my grandfather worked at Langley on-and-off throughout the time period this book covers, though not working in the same areas. At least not to the best of my knowledge and sadly he passed long before this movie came out, so I can't ask him about it, although I would have loved to be able to.

Not a perfect book and yeah, I liked the movie better from a story perspective, but still an interesting read about an important topic that shouldn't be overlooked.

Gif rating:
Title quote from page 246

Shetterly, Margot Lee. Hidden Figures: The Untold True Story of Four African-American Women Who Helped Launch Our Nation into Space. Harper Collins, 2016. Kindle

Friday, May 19, 2017

We Are Never Meeting In Real Life: Hopefully lesbian bed death is real

As I have mentioned a zillion times, books by funny ladies are my jaaaaaaaaam. So I was browsing NetGalley and saw this book, We Are Never Meeting in Real Life and, OK, I didn't actually recognize the author Samantha Irby. But the cover has an angry wet cat on it and it says it was by the author of the blog "bitches gotta eat" which was pretty much all I needed to at least give it a try. It was my lucky day, since I was approve for a copy in exchange for a review and here we are.

The book is a collection of essays about Samantha's life. It's not really a memoir, but of course, write what you know.

The first essay, "My Bachelorette Application" is a great start. It sets the tone for Irby's humor, especially if you aren't already familiar with her.
I am squeezed into my push-up bra and sparkly, ill-fitting dress. I've got the requisite sixteen coats of waterproof mascara, black eyeliner, and salmon-colored streaks of hastily applied self-tanner drying down the side of my neck. I'm sucking in my stomach, I've taken thirty-seven Imodium in case my irritable bowels have an adverse reaction to the bag of tacos I hid in my purse and ate in the bathroom while no one was looking, and I have been listening to Katy Perry really loudly in the limo on the way over here. I'm about to crush a beer can on my forehead. LET'S DO THIS, BRO.
I know that was long, but it's gold. And like I said that sets the tone. And really, I could repeat pretty much the whole thing here because it's all hilarious.

She is self-deprecating and vulgar, not the best with money when she has it (I want to be one of those people who feels satisfied when I pay my bills rather than cheated out of whatever frivolity was sacrificed in its place), and while she's never really touching and vulnerable, she doesn't shy away from some of the tougher parts of her life.

She has essays about sex, about her cat Helen Keller that she hates but also loves, about her weight, about growing up poor, about how leaving the house is overrated.

So if any of this sounds like your thing, and it should cos it's pretty great, I recommend. Clearly.

Gif rating
Title quote from location 2946

Irby, Samantha. We Are Never Meeting In Real Life. Vintage, 2017. NetGalley

Thursday, May 11, 2017

John Dies at the End: Um, hi. Do you have any experience with, like, demon...ism?

I'm a fan of Cracked.com and have been for a while now, which based on what I can tell was right around the time the site became the current format that it is. Reading the site over the course of a decade*, I've found certain columnists that I was drawn to. Among those is current Executive Editor David Wong. When I knew he wrote a book and I finally got around to checking it out and...
...I dunno, you guys.

OK before I get into my opinion, a quick synopsis.

David and his friend John fight monsters that no one else can see. They were at a party when they took something called "soy sauce" (no, not like for sushi, that'd be dumb) that expands what you can perceive. In this case, it's that there are inter-dimensional monsters just all over the place. And since David and John can now see these things, even when they'd really rather not, they do what they can to fight them off and keep themselves and their loved ones safe. And sometimes strangers that come to them for help, but they're not like ghostbusters or anything for business.

Things get weirder and weird and the stakes get raised and there's a lot of juvenile humor that sometimes works and sometimes I think I would have enjoyed if I was younger when I read this.

I was scanning through reviews on Goodreads and one person said it felt like that game where someone starts a story and then another person adds to it and so on and so forth and that is a very good description. I mean, it feels like it was a bunch of very similar people playing that game, but the story took a number of turns that made me feel like perhaps this was supposed to be a collection of short, related stories. More than once I thought I was almost at the end of the book (because it felt like we had the full story arc) only to realize I had way more book to go. And that in and of itself isn't a bad thing. If it felt like it was supposed to be like that on purpose. Which this didn't necessarily feel like.

I thought it would be along the lines of the stuff Christopher Moore writes (and I've made it clear that I looooooooooooooooooove his stuff). Maybe like his stuff to like the 5th degree. Absurd and violent and funny and sure, that humor comes from things like dick jokes because sometimes those are really funny. And there were times it was like that but in an inconsistent and sort of blurry way.

There were moments that I liked. There were times that things were funny (sometimes juvenile, sometimes not). There were times that were really insightful and moving. Because he can write, as evidenced by the work he's doing on Cracked that I like so much. But these individual pieces weren't enough for me to like the book as a whole. Which is too bad because I wanted to (perhaps, not high but heightened expectations are to blame?).

So yeah. I know this is def a book for some people. Hell I am friends with some of those people. As in right when I finished I messaged a friend to say that he may have already read this but if not, he should cos it seems like something he'd like. To which he replied he'd already read it and the others in the series. So yes, there is an audience for this book but I don't think I'm in it. At least not any more.

Gif rating:
*Damn, realizing that makes me feel old

Title quote from page 63, location 1277

Wong, David. John Dies at the End. Thomas Dunne Books, 2009. Kindle