Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Island of Dr Moreau: Well. I was not expecting that.

What could it mean? A locked enclosure on a lonely island, a notorious vivisector, and these crippled and distorted men?...

H.G. Wells's The Island of Dr Moreau has been relegated to campy film status like The Invisible Man, but Wells was about so much more than that. What I did not know going in were the themes he deals with -- I just knew "something about an island with messed-up animals."

even more messed-up than the platypus

What actually happens is there's a guy in a shipwreck who gets picked up by a boat with weeeeird passengers that look almost -- ALMOST -- inhuman. And there's another guy on the boat named Montgomery who's all cagey about where he and his weirdo passenger friends -- and also a llama, puma, and a bunch of rabbits -- are going. But the drunk captain of the boat HATES Montgomery and his weirdo friends, and makes him AND the shipwrecked guy get off at Mysterious Island, where an older dude with white hair meets them. GUESS WHO THAT GUY IS (hint: he's a doctor).

So Shipwrecked Guy slowly figures out what's going on, and what's going on (SPOILERS AHEAD) is that Dr Moreau is super into vivisection, which was the gene splicing of the 19th century I guess, and he got kicked out of Doctoring because of things he was doing to cats, so he went to this island and makes PEOPLE OUT OF ANIMALS. By vivisection. Which means he just kinda cuts things up and moves things around.

these action figures are pretty spot-on, actually

As with most H.G. Wells stuff, he's got A Point to make about humanity. 

Before they had been beasts, their instincts fitly adapted to their surroundings, and happy as living things may be. Now they stumbled in the shackles of humanity, lived in a fear that never died, fretted by a law they could not understand; their mock-human existence began in an agony, was one long internal struggle, one long dread of Moreau.

As the afterword says, "Does he mean me? is a question we often ask when reading Wells." Because he is talking about animals made to look like men, BUT HE ALSO MAYBE MEANS US (he definitely means us). Wells occupies this time in Victorian England when all the shit everyone took for granted was changing. He uses the word sexuality in his book. In 1896! I was shocked! But England had started hearing about evolution and Freud and the main character goes to see a "mental specialist." Can you imagine that happening in Dickens? No! It is weird and modern! Moreau is supposed to be God in this strange microcosm of the world where there are Leopard Men, and Wells is here to talk to us about how our conception of God is maybe a little enslaving. 

Wells and Conrad and Stevenson marked both a change from didactic Victorian morality and a turn towards the modern era. And it's jarring. People started questioning religion and ethics and man's place in the universe in a way they had not before, and when you read books from this period it feels like the Victorian safety net has been removed and you no longer know what you can depend on. 

where is the reliance on social mores! where!

I disagree with Wells's conclusions in Dr Moreau (which he later called "an exercise in youthful blasphemy"), but I'm extremely glad he wrote it. It's one of those makes-you-pondery books. If you believe in God, it makes you sit down and think about why and if you can satisfy that belief beyond being afraid like Moreau's creations are. If you don't, it makes you think about the human condition and how removed we are from other animals and why. 

The afterword mentions Wells's "attack on smugness in general--rather than simply on the smugness of the Church," meaning the particularly Victorian emphasis on man being lord of creation and placed at the top of the ladder by God. Were we? Have we just decided that on our own? Has evolution really tended towards the best possible thing rather than just kind of made us and here we are, we're not the best but we exist? I was not expecting these thoughts to come out of this Monsters on an Island book.

It's a fast read. I'm going to read more H.G. Wells now. Bring on The Invisible Man.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Why did we forget about John Grisham so quickly?

Remember how on Thursday, John Grisham defended his friend who was in prison for looking at child pornography and said the sentencing for that was too harsh, and also that prisons were full of 60-year-old white men? Remember how that horrible statement happened by a bestselling, internationally-known author?

So two days after that, The Guardian posts Kathleen Hale's piece about internet stalking and then visiting the house of someone who negatively reviewed her book, whom she suspected was not who they claimed to be, and who was also some kind of Goodreads bully (according to her).

Guess what everyone completely forgot about.

And WHY. Why are we all continuing to talk about Hale and getting SO MAD ABOUT IT and Grisham apparently gets a free pass? I mean, I could go into how women are easier targets, but I think it's more related to the idea that her transgression more directly strikes book bloggers/reviewers. "This could happen to ME; I shall be infuriated by it," as opposed to "John Grisham is a powerful author whose opinions will be used by idiots to defend the idea that prison sentences for child pornography are too harsh and that older white men are definitely the most oppressed demographic in American society." Grisham's statement doesn't CLEARLY impact us, so it just kind of fell to the wayside, and no.

I like Kathleen Hale's book fine. I think she's a little nutty. She did something that was wrong. But she doesn't have articles in TIME defending her position, because she is a young author with one book out that not a ton of people have read. I think her article should be talked about, yes, but I am angered that Grisham's disgusting comments have gotten swept under the rug. His publicist is probably rejoicing that Hale's piece came out when it did.

These are both people dealing with privileged attitudes that negatively affect society, only one is much broader and capable of greater harm (yes, it's the one dealing with child exploitation and white men being persecuted). That should have spun off into pieces about male privilege and how is it not being acknowledged more widely than it is, and what kind of responsibility do well-known authors have, and should they keep these sorts of opinions to themselves, and does it ruin their books, but instead it's just Kathleen Hale. And I am irritated about that.

John Grisham said some really douchy things. And we should not forget them.

Monday, October 20, 2014

TV over the Weekend and Can We Please Do Another Minithon?

There are weekends when there is a 24 hour readathon and you make a valiant effort (I have never succeeded in this) and then there are weekends when you read for 20 minutes and then decide to watch four episodes of the CW show Reign (I have always instead done this).

Well, not that show in particular, but its basic equivalent and OH HOW MUCH I LOVE REIGN NOW and it will get its own post later and you should all probably start watching it because season 1 is on Netflix and then we can discuss the intrigue and also whether we think Kenna is bright and ambitious or just a skank.

dunno about you, Kenna

I'm close to being done with Horrorstor, The Boundless, and....probably some others. But those two for SURE. 

The problem with reading Horrorstor is I cannot comfortably fit it in my purse, but it's scary to read at night, so I have like a 20 minute window after work before it gets dark, so it's been slow-going. I know it takes place in basically an IKEA and that I do not live in an IKEA, but I'm also fully aware that H.H. Holmes has been dead for over 100 years and cannot get me but that did not stop me from calling my friend and making her stay on the phone with me while I made sure he was not hiding in my closet after I watched a documentary about him.

I would have made ALL these ducks come with me

You know what this online book blogging community needs. Another minithon TIKA I AM LOOKING AT YOU. Eight hours is about what we can handle. And then I can make minithon tacos, which are the same as normal time tacos, but I am eating them during a minithon.

We should do minithon challenges this time, though. Like "How artistically can you photographically capture your snack choices for the day?" and "Whose reading pile is the most overly ambitious?" (it will be mine)

If we have it soon, though, I'm pretty sure I'm gonna blow off reading the entire time and watch episode after episode of Reign (there are 22 of them!!). So let's maybe plan for not-October. Yes.

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.