Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner: A Book That's STOLEN MY HEART (ahahaha not really)

I think it was Elizabeth Fama (I want her book covers as posters) who told me to read The Thief. AND I TRIED TO TAKE THIS ADVICE. But the library kept not having it. Then it finally had it, I checked it out and -- oh it's in first person.

You know when you go into something expecting one thing, and because it's NOT that thing, you're like "I CANNOT DO THIS." Even if the thing is really good? Yes, so I had to put The Thief down for a couple months, and only the other week when I was noodling around Oyster did I pick it up again.

It's a YA/middle grade book about a thief (ah-ha!) who's basically in Ancient Greece, but it's a place called Sounis, which is right by the kingdoms of Eddis and Attolia. Said thief ("Gen") is in prison. For STEALING something (surprise!) and is basically just languishing away in misery and filth when the king's adviser comes and gets him! "I need you to steal something for me" is essentially how it goes, and off they and three other people go! To steal a precious precious item.

NO not that one; go back to Middle-earth

Most of the book is their trip to go steal The Thing, and I got real into it a few chapters in (but it did take a few chapters, just to make that clear). The dynamics between the characters are really good, but apparently the main reason to read this book is, according to Goodreads but also Jenny who I talk to way more than Goodreads, to read the following books in the series, which are "way better."

I was into the Greek parallels. I was into the character relationships. I was into the queens of Attolia and Eddis, who are badasses in different ways. There are also SO MANY SCHEMES AND MACHINATIONS. So if you are into those sorts of things, this is probably a series for you. Also it's REALLY short and can be knocked out quickly for something like Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon, which is this Saturday if memory serves.

"Do you think," he stammered, "there's some...body in the maze with you?"
I wished he hadn't so obviously substituted "somebody" for "something." Not that I thought ghouls and ghosts were real, but they were easier to believe in when standing in a cold, dark, wet hole in the ground.

Oh right, there's a maze! And a figuring out of the maze! Friendships are forged, creation stories that Megan Whalen Turner invented are told (I LOVE mythologies created for specific books), and while this book most emphatically does not pass the Bechdel test, you've gotta expect that in a basically-set-in-Greece book where almost the entire story revolves around a thief, a magus, his two apprentices, and a soldier.

And now I am off to read The Queen of Attolia, which again, is supposed to be way better than this one, even though this one was thoroughly entertaining.

I hope the Queen of Attolia looks like this because SHE

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

P.D. James's Cover Her Face: More like Cover Your Eyes, amirite? 'Cause it's not good? Yeah.

GUESS WHAT I HAVEN'T BEEN DOING? Reading. Ahahahahaha.

Ok but seriously I've started again, but I started with the WORST thing because I decided to finish P.D. James's first book, Cover Her Face.

all of the covers for this book are terrible

HERE'S THE THING about Cover Her Face. Actually multiple things:

1) The title is weird.

2) It's probably not P.D. James's fault, but this book is set in the '60s and I kept thinking it was the '30s because it's all about a murder happening to the servant of a wealthy English family and they act like it's the '30s all the time.

"Ugh, exertion."

3) I was going to say maybe this is because P.D. James is rich as balls, only Wikipedia assures me she was not at this time of her life (even though her current title is "Baroness James of Holland Park"). 

4) This book cannot decide on a POV, and it's one thing when you're like "I'm gonna alternate viewpoints in a clear way!" and it's another when you're like "Doop dee der, how about now we suddenly have access to THIS person's head for two pages and no more ever." Summaries of this book are all like "This introduces Inspector Adam Dalgliesh!" and it's like "Ok, that sounds like Dog Leash the way I'm saying it in my head, but also he seemed super-peripheral so I do not understand your enthusiasm for the character."

5) The ending was not surprising and that is literally all you really need to do in a detective story what are you doing Young P.D. James I refuse to read more of your books this one was such a letdown.

There's this wealthy (although actually not that wealthy anymore SO THEY SAY but they still have a huge ancient house and are on the board of things and run the local fair on their grounds, so. Whatever, 'we're-not-wealthy') English family and they have a maid living with them who has a baby because they have recruited her from one of those Homes for Single Mothers that apparently were everywhere back in the day. And she acts very deferential, but she is SUSPECTED of harboring rebelliousness

Bloody peasant.

There's the dying, comatose father, the noble mother, the son who's a surgeon, the daughter who's bored all the time, the nurse who's a friend of the family and in love with the son, and probably some other people. 

The son OUT OF NOWHERE proposes to the possibly upstart maid, and then that night she gets murdered. OH NO WHO DID IT I don't really care because you have not developed any of these people and also I didn't like that maid. Nor do you give me reason to later, P.D. James. In the end, you're basically like "Well, if she hadn't been such an asshole, she probably wouldn't have gotten murdered."

So yes. I cared about no one, the word 'voluble' was used WAY TOO MANY TIMES, and I heavily skimmed the last two chapters just so I could find out who did it, and when I found out, it was not a surprise, and the writing is passable but you could also be reading Archie Comics and they'd probably be more enjoyable and this book is not good do not read it.

Edit: P.D. James herself apparently said  "I would be tempted to say the first one is now my least favorite, because I think the others are so much better. But then it's unkind to say that, because it's like a first child, it got me started as a writer. But I suppose if I was told that one book had to disappear without a trace, it would probably be the first." 

So maybe -- MAYBE -- if she herself acknowledges the shittiness of this book, one can read her other books. Or try them.

Maybe. (but I probably won't)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

2014 Reading Thus Far

We are 3/4 through the year! That's a little exciting. And through the magic of Goodreads, I know what I've read (oh, thank you, Goodreads, for no longer making me keep a bedraggled piece of paper in my book journal as my tallying sheet). SO. How's it going, 2014.

So far I've read 48 books this year. Last year was 61, so...ON TRACK TO BEAT THAT. I am competing with myself. It is fine.

I have one 1-star book (you'll never encounter it, so don't worry about it), two 2-star books, and a MILLION 3-star books, because that is my "I liked this just fine" rating. Maybe I even SUPER-liked parts of it! But it is probably not going to stay with me in any lasting sort of way.

Then 13 4-star reviews, and y'know what, I think I stand by them. That means I reeally liked them, but would I read them again? Probs not. Are they important to my overall life? Mayyybe not. But I very much enjoyed reading them. I mean, how many people are going to say Behind the Candelabra, Liberace's boyfriend's tell-all book changed their life? Maybe that person is out there, but they are not me. But it was still a super-fun book. Virgin by Hanne Blank was GREAT but it also took me for-ever because despite being short, it feels dense and I kept worrying I was missing something if I didn't super-concentrate on it.


5 star reviews so far include World War Z (WHY ARE WE NOT RE-READING THAT ALL THE TIME), Old Mr. Flood (review here), Ella Enchanted, Adam by Ariel Schrag (review forthcoming, people), and:

Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin
Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
Bleak House, Dickens
Meaty, Samantha Irby
The Time Tutor, Bee Ridgway (can we PLEASE have the River of No Return sequel)
How to Build a Girl, Caitlin Moran

All my 5-star books

Also, 33/48 of those books are by women. And...five are by women of color. That part's probably not great. Especially because only one of the 15 male authors I read was a POC. And his book sucked (SORRY SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL BUT YOU DID). 

People talk about the contemporary trend of everyone being in their own echo chamber because you can so carefully tailor your news, etc, but this has probably been done more or less throughout time. You pick which books you feel like reading and read them, which is why school is important, despite the fact people usually hate books they're forced to read OMG HOW TO GET AROUND THIS PROBLEM. We should most definitely make ourselves read books we're pretty sure we'll disagree with or at the least which are outside of our own realm of experience. I read so many books by white ladies.

2015, you are going to be the year I read some out of the box shit. Someone start suggesting things.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Frances Willard Weekend in Evanston, Illinois

Some of you might just possibly be aware that I have a passing interest in 19th century feminist and reform leader Frances Willard. And by "passing" I mean I volunteer with her house museum and archives and do some of their social media and spent eight hours this weekend at events for her. Because it was her BIRTHDAY! 175 years old and still no one outside her own century really has any idea who she is, BECAUSE -- because she is linked to the temperance movement, and people think the temperance movement is a buzzkill.

I mean, as they probably should, since the point was to stop people from drinking. But what people now do not care to think about is the fact that this wasn't just a group of hundreds of thousands of women who suddenly decided alcohol was evil and people should stop having fun. Men were drinking three times as much as they do now. They were usually the sole providers for their families. Domestic abuse, poverty, starvation, all these could be linked back in many cases to an alcoholic husband.

So the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) got these hundreds of thousands of women together, organized them, and made them try to fix the reasons men were drinking. So they worked on labor reform, they advocated for an eight hour workday, they wanted America's prisons fixed, they wanted the age of consent raised from seven years old to 16, they wanted public drinking fountains so people would be able to get clean water easily, they wanted clothing for women that wouldn't pinch and suffocate them so they could actually get things done in life, and they wanted the vote.

Wanting the vote was still seen as radical and unwomanly, and Frances Willard was a genius and framed it as something she called Home Protection. You don't want to vote? Hm. But do you want to protect your home? Do you want to have a voice in issues that affect your family? Then you need to vote. By voting you can save your family. It would be unwomanly of you not to want to vote.

Saturday was a five hour session on Frances Willard, which consisted of two lectures and then three discussions. I met basically all the women who have had anything to do with FW for the past three decades, INCLUDING Carolyn De Swarte Gifford, who transcribed all her journals, thereby enabling them to be available online. She is amazing. We talked for probably too long in the back room of Frances's house, eventually joined by the woman who co-edited the book of Frances's speeches, Let Something Good Be Said. No biggie. It's all ok. I freaked out only slightly.

My friend Cate and I also selfied with Frances. It's totally fine.

The discussions were about domestic & substance abuse, and closing the gender pay gap. I never go to events like this, and it was strangely empowering sitting there and talking about what we can do to fix these problems. We talked about Twitter's #WhyILeft and #WhyIStayed and why it's so important to get something like domestic abuse talked about and not seen as a silent issue. The director of the Evanston YWCA said since the Ray Rice tape came out, calls to their emergency hotline have tripled.

Sunday was a 9:15 AM lecture in Evanston (sooo far away, but we had coffee) and then the unveiling at her home of a new SIGN (very exciting) and more talk with Frances scholars and eventually cake (see beginning of post). 


I've talked before about how amazing it is walking around Frances's home in Evanston. They made it a museum RIGHT after she died, so things that are in photographs in 1898? They're still right there. It's not "Oh, this is a museum reproduction." No. It's the same thing that's in the photo. She wrote a book called A Wheel Within a Wheel: How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle, because she had to learn how to ride a bike in her 50s as a way to exercise. She had a bicycle named Gladys, she refers to it all the time in the book, and Gladys is RIGHT THERE in the museum.

This is the thing that terrified her for ages

If anything can be accomplished regarding Frances Willard, I want it known that she was not some sanctimonious, cranky woman who wanted to take away people's happiness. She was a brilliant woman who headed an international organization, she helped everyone she came across, ALL she did was try to make life better for people. That was at the bottom of her work. How can we all come together and live in a way that will give everyone their best chance. She described herself as a Christian socialist, and we should give her nothing but respect.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Mississippi is Huge and Maybe Books Should Make One Travel

I went to Iowa this past weekend, and while my girlfriend drove (...the entire way), I fell asleep, because that is our division of labor. BUT! She is very nice and woke me up when we crossed the Mississippi, because MISSISSIPPI. I very much like lakes and rivers. Ohh so very much. And I never see the Mississippi even though it forms the western boundary of Illinois because I go west Approximately Never.

BUT IT IS SO BIG. The Mississippi is massive and awesome and MARK TWAIN I still do not like you very much, but I understand your weirdo fascination with it. If someone had then said "Hey, I have this raft made out of slightly unstable logs; would you like to go down this giant river on it?" I would say "YES YES I WOULD" because with the current state of water traffic it looks extremely possible to float down this wide wide river unmolested by barges and other large watercraft.


I wonder if there are other literary places where when you see them, you get it. I want to see George Eliot's countryside, even though it will be extremely extremely different from when she lived there. But it's still the reason so many of her novels are pastoral (despite her brother laughing at reporters and saying she never did jack shit around the farm). The moors around the Bronte parsonage are probably pretty badass, and maybe they'd make me dislike Wuthering Heights less.

(I'd be better at naming American lit places if I read American lit)

Oh! Georgia. Let's all go to Georgia and look at the red hills and be all like "I get you, Scarlett O'Hara. Ok, well, not really, because you did some messed-up stuff, but I get that this is pretty." I've spent so much time in Illinois that it's really easy to not realize how different the scenery can be in other places, especially since the main place I vacation is New York, and it's just flat flat NYC and concrete everywhere, so like a bigger Chicago with more bagels.

But Iowa has hilly cornfields! And different plants! I'm fairly sure now that we all have to travel a lot and gain some kind of knowledge of other people's homes. People loving where they live is one of my favorite things in art ('art' here containing all the arts). When people paint/sing/write about the places they love, it usually is the best and results in humanity being able to appreciate those places in a better way for centuries. So. Well done, artists. I will visit your places.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Their Eyes Were Watching God: Some people could look at a mud-puddle and see an ocean with ships

Their are certain books that seem so weirdly divorced from their authors, no matter how autobiographical they may be, that they appear to exist solely to speak the truth about humanity. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of these. Their Eyes Were Watching God is another.

The narrator is Janie, a woman in her 40s, who comes back home and tells her story to a friend while they sit on the porch. The best description of her life, I believe, is the following. It's one of many examples of Zora Neale Hurston taking words and shaping them into something real and beautiful. It exemplifies why we need poets and authors, despite them being increasingly devalued in our society. Who else is going to carefully articulate how we feel and give us the unified thought of "THAT'S it; I thought it was just me." Writers help bind us and let us understand each other in ways we sometimes cannot through simple conversation.

When God had made The Man, he made him out of stuff that sung all the time and glittered all over. Then after that some angels got jealous and chopped him into millions of pieces, but still he glittered and hummed. So they beat him down to nothing but sparks but each little spark had a shine and a song. So the covered each one over with mud. And the lonesomeness in the sparks made them hunt for one another, but the mud is deaf and dumb. Like all the other tumbling mud-balls, Janie had tried to show her shine.

Even scenes that could be melodramatic to the point of teenager-ish instead ring true. When the man Janie falls in love with disappears for a time, "[s]he plunged into the abyss and descended to the ninth darkness where light has never been." You COULD say that's melodramatic. Or you could just be honest and say "Yes, that's exactly how it feels when someone you really like doesn't call you back after you thought you had a wonderful time together." Saying the person you're in love with is "a glance from God" is...amazing. Yes. A glance. That's exactly it. Zora Neale Hurston, I hereby put you in charge of All the Words.

I believe this is one of those books where it's especially true that you should re-read it throughout your life. One's understanding and view of Janie will shift. I know many people had to read this in high school, but that seems almost a shame, because then you can stick it on the "I've already read that" shelf and feel done with it. I highly encourage you to read it again if you haven't since you were a teenager. Because it will be an entirely different experience.

Their Eyes Were Watching God. Zora Neale Hurston. One of the greatest American writers. Pick this up.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Books for RIP except I don't quite remember what RIP is

I am informally MAYBE participating in RIP. I don't even remember who hosts it. Or if it's hosted anymore. BASICALLY, these're the September/October, kind-of-scary-I-guess books I'm hoping to get through. Because themes are the best and I love them.

NUMBER 1. Is Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix, which I have already begun and it looks like an IKEA catalogue and is an enjoyable experience. I'm 100 pages in and waiting for it to get scary, though. So in that respect it feels like Night Film, and HOPEFULLY THINGS WILL CHANGE.

NUMBER 2. Eat Your Heart Out by Dayna Ingram. Someone posted the back of this book on Tumblr and I said I would read it, because lesbians fighting zombies. It's a novella, and I will finish it by Halloween.

NUMBER 3. No One Else Can Have You by Kathleen Hale. I LOVE KATHLEEN HALE SO HARD. She's super-weird, which I appreciate, and she wrote that defense of YA that was hilarious and wonderful. This is about the murder of a girl in a small town in Wisconsin, but it's...kind of light-hearted? And unsurprisingly, YA.

NUMBER 4. Poisoned by Steve Shukis. "A gripping tale of murder, sorcery, and criminal justice in turn-of-the-century Chicago," and it is NON-fiction, which is the best. Turn of the century Chicago/1880s-1890s Chicago is the best Chicago. Everything happened then. Except the Fire. That happened in 1871. I guess that was kind of important. BUT ANYWAY, basically a whole family dies due to poisoning and it's all "Who did this! Was it this charismatic family doctor? But WHY" and I am muchly enjoying it.

I can't read for-real scary books because then I will be terrified for forever. I can't even watch scary X-Files episodes by myself (i.e. most of them) and X-Files is my JAM. It's a complicated situation. By which I mean I watch for character development, kissing, and the occasional Flukeman because I'm not scared of him.