Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Cut Me Loose by Leah Vincent: Ho boy, let's talk about this one



Leah Vincent's memoir Cut Me Loose, a copy of which was provided to me by Penguin, is the story of her growing up in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish household and her subsequent separation from that life. I've got a lot of feelings about it.

First of all, I'm gonna say that if you read this, which you should if you are interested in a perspective that is not your own and sometimes quite challenging, read the new paperback edition with the afterword. I would've had way more questions without it, and it gives much more of a sense of finality to the story than the original ending.


So. This story. I tend to read memoirs by women who have left conservative religions, because that was my self-imposed deal. My parents aren't hardcore Christians, but I decided at 13 that most of what I liked was sinful and I was always failing and a pretty terrible person. I'm not saying this is what Christianity teaches AT ALL -- I'm still a Christian, albeit a much more liberal one -- but it was the message I absorbed from my school. I didn't leave this way of thinking until about 24, and it's been a hard road of questioning and reconfiguring and trying to maintain a belief system while not believing what I used to.


Leah's story is hard because after her rejection by her family, she goes down a pretty bad path. She explains in the afterword that she tried to write what was happening from her perspective at the time, which was helpful to know, because when I read it, she didn't seem too upset by some very, very dangerous decisions she was making. Which is actually maybe an unfair opinion because those decisions sent her to a mental hospital for a bit.


Her lack of education about the secular world coupled with her extreme insecurities lead to behavior that makes you want to grab her and shake her, yelling "WHAT ARE YOU DOING, THESE ARE ALL TERRIBLE CHOICES." But the greater point she's making is that people, especially women, in the culture in which she was raised, are not prepared at all for life outside their community. Vincent wrote a pretty great article where she talks about how much she relates to Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt'Kimmy Schmidt' Is My Ex-Orthodox Life.

If you would like to read this! Penguin is providing me with a giveaway copy.


So if you wanna be entered, DO mention so below. It's US only, so, sorry for keeping up our WWI isolationist policy solely in the area of book giveaways, but we like to keep American books in America, y'know?*


*note: not true at all; I am so sorry, my Canadian brothers and sisters

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Minithon Saturday and All the Wonders It Holds

IT IS MINITHON DAY. I have felt like writing lately (meaning this past week) Not At All, but who am I to reject a perfectly good minithon. They are the best. This one is coinciding with being at my parents' and going to see Pitch Perfect 2, BUT I have been reading despite this.

awwwww yeah
For those worried that Ernest Cline's second book would suck, DO NOT WORRY, for it is engaging and great. But my middle brother stole it, so I am now working on:


Got a lotta feelings about this book. Which have been switching around a lot.

To get to my parents', I woke up at 6:15 AM to get to a train. This is too early for normal humans, but how else was I supposed to both have time to see Pitch Perfect 2 / Mad Max at my parents' AND see the Goodman's production of The Little Foxes last night? By teleporting? I would if I could, but I can't, and I honestly think that expectation is unreasonable. 

Despite an extreme lack of planning, I got a small (MINI) coffee at a bakery, and ate like half of a baguette. So...a mini amount. Of bread. Only not really, because those baguettes are huge, but let's ignore that fact.

I LOVE YOU ALL.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Elizabeth Cady Stanton's "The Woman's Bible": Genesis

In 1895, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, then 80 years old, published the first part of a project she and the other women working on it called The Woman's Bible. One of its main purposes was to argue against the idea that women should be subservient to men, and to trample upon the notion that it was God's will they be so.



This book is startling, shocking, astonishing. It reads like an essay by 1960s radical feminists (except when Stanton uses words like "tergiversation"). It seems that when they can, they use the Julia Smith translation, which I'd never heard of, for reasons explained in that Wikipedia article. Side note, but I'd like to point out that that translation apparently retails for appx $20,000 because there are basically no copies of it.


The Woman's Bible was published in two parts, in 1895 and 1898, and looks at the women in the Bible, as well as verses that have been used for centuries to justify their subjugation. As Clara Bewick Colby points out, in an observation that rings disturbingly true even today,

The trouble is too often instead of searching the Bible to see what is right, we form our belief, and then search for Bible texts to sustain us, and are satisfied with isolated texts without regard to context, and ask no questions as to the circumstances that may have existed then but do not now.

damnit.

This has, of course, been expanded in our era of easy access to information to include most ideologies, and has greatly increased the Echo Chamber issue

So the writers of The Woman's Bible start with Genesis. Which is a pretty good place to start. I don't now how familiar non-practicing people are with it, but Genesis actually contains two Creation myths, one right after the other. The first has God creating the heavens and the earth -- trees, rocks, squirrels, water buffalo -- and then it says:

God said, "Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. 
So God created mankind in his own image,in the image of God he created them;male and female he created them.

The second is the story of Adam and Eve, which has Adam being created, then Eve being made out of Adam's rib, etc etc. The Woman's Bible is having none of the second story. 80-year-old Stanton, who I'm pretty sure was one of those amazing people every generation is blessed with, and who was maintaining her "up with this I shall not put" attitude well into the time most others are content to sit and watch reruns of Wheel of Fortune (I include future 80-year-old me in that category), said:

The first account dignifies woman as an important factor in the creation, equal in power and glory with man. The second makes her a mere afterthought. The world in good running order without her. The only reason for her advent being the solitude of man.

She also makes the point that, if we're looking for echoes of the Old Testament in the New, Paul says in his letter to the Galatians that "[t]here is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Which is much more in keeping with the idea that men and women were created in the image of God than that man was created and then woman was made to keep him from being a sad-sack.

Adam before Eve

What's especially bananas about all this is that this past century was so overwhelmed with "the Bible is the literal Word of God" doxa that when you have a group of late 19th century women saying "Well, obviously the second Creation story was just tacked on," and the woman who co-organized the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 saying 
I do not believe that any man ever saw or talked with God, I do not believe that God inspired the Mosaic code, or told the historians what they say he did about woman, for all the religions on the face of the earth degrade her, and so long as woman accepts the position that they assign her, her emancipation is impossible.

I mean, it's astounding! What is even happening! We (or rather, I) do not know the 19th century! Stanton also addresses the oddness of how God is written about in the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament) compared to what our current idea of Him is, with:

With our ideal of the great first cause, a God of justice, wisdom and truth, the Jewish Lord, guiding and directing that people in all their devious ways, and sanctioning their petty immoralities seems strangely out of place; a very contradictory character, unworthy our love and admiration. The ancient Jewish ideal of Jehovah was not an exalted one.
This is immensely surprising especially if you grew up in a more conservative environment when, sure, God's actions in the Old Testament do not always make sense, but you told yourself, "I just can't understand it." Here, Stanton outright says that what the Israelites said was God was not God. 

The killing of the Amalekites? She doesn't address it since it does not deal with specific OT women, but I am 100% sure she would say that was not God. Which is such a liberating feeling to be able to say, because no, it is not. The God we have glimpses of in the Old Testament, who does say "love your neighbor as yourself," would not say "Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants." Would man say that? Yes. And has. Many times.

But even regarding the above, who's to say who's right? 

In making a God after their own image, who approved of whatever they did, the Jews did not differ much from ourselves; the men of our day talk too as if they reflected the opinions of Jehovah on the vital questions of the hour. In our late civil war both armies carried the Bible in their knapsacks, and both alike prayed to the same God for victory, as if he could be in favor of slavery and against it at the same time. 
Like the women, too, who are working and praying for woman suffrage, both in the state legislature and in their closets, and others against it, to the same God and legislative assembly. One must accept the conclusion that their acquaintance with the Lord was quite as limited as our own in this century, and that they were governed by their own desires and judgment, whether for good or evil, just as we are; their plans by day and their dreams by night having no deeper significance than our own.

I am bowled over by this book. It is an amazing text.

That's for you, book

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Meghan Trainor Is Still Great

I know you all might think my Meghan Trainor enthusiasm has waned, but REST ASSURED IT BURNS BRIGHT AS THE PLANET VENUS.

There has unfortunately not been much new material from her, as she is on tour overseas, but there is a duet coming out with One Direction's Harry Styles someday maybe, which is of course called..."Someday Maybe."

don't judge me, Meghan

Now that I have indeed been listening to Meghan Trainor's music for MONTHS upon months, what are her best songs? Well. Here are my current top 5, excluding All About That Bass because you all know it, damnit:

1. Lips Are Movin. It's still great. Not sick of it. Do I know some of the dance because I watched a choreography video YES OF COURSE. What I'm saying is, it's immensely catchy and even though I avoided the music video for ages due to the sequined cat shirt I saw her wearing in it, it is in fact adorable.

don't tell me that's not adorable I will disown you

2. Dear Future Husband. Ugh. The thinkpieces written on this song. My automatic reaction is "y'all can go fuck yourselves," but I get it. When my friend and I were first listening to the album, our conversation was basically "hahahaha oh my, THIS is a little problematic, but whatever." Then everyone decided to tell a 21-year-old who grew up in Nantucket and never went to college that she's an anti-feminist idiot rather than say "Hey, uh, it seems like maybe you're not super-up on what feminism is? But hahaha we're all idiots when we're 21, maybe let me show you Emma Watson's speech."

As Tumblr said, "The answer here isn’t to shame women who reject feminism because they don’t understand it. The answer is to spread awareness and education so that more women will gain a better understanding of feminism."

DFH is basically a rehashing of Runaround Sue by Dion, aka one of the greatest songs of all time, and while the music video makes it look about as progressive as Leave It to Beaver, people ignore lyrics like "You got that 9 to 5/But baby, so do I." Also, costumes:

So there's that.


3. Like I'm Gonna Lose You. This is her duet with John Legend, and y'know what? It's just a really good song. It's also her parents' favorite and I know that because of reasons.

 I'm hoping it gets big and then people can STFU about Dear Future Husband, because here, the only thesis is that you need to love people tons because we just don't know how much time we have, man. Also she does a riff on the word 'goodbye' in it that makes me happy every time.

4. Mr. Almost. AGH so catchy. Now that I'm down to these last two slots, I'm panicking because I have at least four more songs I want to list. I HAVE BROUGHT THIS UPON MYSELF. No one enforces these rules but me.

5. Bang Dem Sticks. Yes. That is the title. And it's an ode to drummers and she raps in the middle. Because she is a self-actualized person and decided she wanted to, damnit.

One thing I appreciate about Meghan Trainor is how much she loves music. She's really into its creation, she really loves collaborating, and she does things like writing a song about how great drummers are.

She's so great. Look at her in her little captain's hat.

I honestly love all the songs on her album except "Close Your Eyes," which is trying too much to be an anthem for loving yourself (which...I guess is ok as a message), but I will say that when she performed it live, I was totally into it. More specifically, meaning the tracks I argued with myself about in terms of being in the top 5 or not, are "Credit," "My Selfish Heart," "Title," and "3am." And I guess "Walkashame." So I pretty much mean all of them.

Her single with Charlie Puth, "Marvin Gaye," is also adorable, and she covers "Can't Help Falling in Love" in her Spotify Sessions.

Why do I like Meghan Trainor so much? It started when I watched some live performances of hers on YouTube and realized she wasn't just a studio-created singer, but an actually invested musician. She's ridiculously confident in interviews, which is bananas to me because until a year ago, she thought she'd just be a songwriter for forever. She's confident almost to a naive degree, where she'll play part of a new song she's written on a radio show, then go "Isn't that great??" Like she's just really excited about how good she knows it is, and doesn't even get that it's mayybe seen as egotistical to do that.

Nope.

I love the weird accent she's adopted, which makes no sense given that she grew up in Nantucket. I love that despite her huge song being All About That Bass, she has only recently stopped wearing a-line skirts, because she still has body image issues, and that is Real, man. I love that she is WAY too knowledgeable about how to take selfies. You watch her on the TODAY Show and after her interview, people are handing her their phones to take pictures and she is a machine with that. Click, boom, next photo.

I get why people don't like her. The amount of vitriol aimed at her is disturbing, though. At the end of the day, she's a young singer, recently in the public eye, who's still learning. And being just adorable while doing it. (do I have to show the captain's hat gif again? I do? ok):


Monday, May 4, 2015

9 things I read in April

Look at that clickbait-format title! Moving up in the world! And by moving up, I mean slowly becoming a Buzzfeed article.

But April did indeed blow the Reading Slump That Is 2015 out of the water, mostly due to graphic novels and middle grade fiction.


Here's what I read:

1. Aquarium by David Vann. REMEMBER HOW MUCH I LOVED THIS BOOK because it was a lot. A girl and her single mom and how much she loves fish. So much srsness and it's so great.

2. Villette by Charlotte Bronte. Man. That was a long ride. What a very emotionally complicated novel.

My feelings about a lot of Villette

3. For Queen and Country by Margaret Drabble. Ah-ha! This is a brief overview of Victorian England and talks about important artists, inventors, social reformers, etc. Did you know that the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury was really, really into fixing the lunacy laws and advocated for child labor reform and safe factory conditions and was just all-around an apparently great guy? Yes.

4. Sex Criminals, Vol. 1 by Matt Fraction. So....I get why people would like this. It was not so much my jam. The weird thing that stuck out to me as annoying was the main girl going "This guy. This fucking guy" about the guy she's in love with OVER AND OVER AGAIN and it's like "yes, we get it, you are saying a lot with a little, but do it one more time and I rip the page you're on in half."

5. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. This book is killer. Read it/re-read it now. Or wait until December if you're one of those "seasonal" people.

I'm just sayin' it might be too much during actual Christmas

6. Fables, Vol. 1 by Bill Willingham. I like Fables! I'm looking forward to more of it. I'm in love with Snow White and kind of wish she had a less cliched love interest than the grizzled detective, but I'm trusting the actual stories in the successive volumes will be good.

7. Sandman, Vol. 1 by Neil Gaiman. Man. I don't know where my line between "This is just dark enough and I really really love it" and "This is too dark and I hate it" is, but it's somewhere between Sandman and Batman Begins. Because Batman Begins can suck it with its emo angst and darkness for darkness's sake, but Sandman is damn great. I reeeally liked the scenes in Hell, and Doctor Destiny's whole thing in the diner and fight with Morpheus. The Scarecrow shows up in his storyline and I liked him enough to look up other things about him, but Wikipedia essentially said "The Scarecrow in Neil Gaiman's story is much different than he usually is," so I guess I'm abandoning that quest. I will read more Sandman!

Ooh, so neat.

8. Locke & Key, Vol. 1 by Joe Hill. I...like Locke & Key. I'm not sure what's going on with it. But I'm on Volume 2 and I'm gonna see where this is going. For those unaware, there're some murders and a family has to move into a big, creepy old house and it has ghosts and random keys that unlock doors BUT THEY ALSO UNLOCK OTHER THINGS.

9. Half Upon a Time by James Riley. I'm gonna review this one with the other two in the series, because I immediately started the second when I finished the first. It's middle grade fiction, but it's funny, and it has Jack, whose father is of beanstalk fame, and Prince Philip, and a girl named May, and they go on quests and oh, I love it very much.

And now we're in May! The month when I turn what is seemingly a terrifying age, meet Megs, and generally indulge my love of the movie Vertigo. GONNA BE A GOOD MONTH.

Friday, May 1, 2015

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens: A Timely Post

A Christmas Carol by Dickens is ridiculously famous, has seeped into our collective cultural consciousness, and is one in a list of things that keeps us emotionally tied to England (along with Hugh Grant and the Spice Girls). It's also CRAZY GOOD.

Everyone has their own sacrosanct version of A Christmas Carol. My family is not about Muppets at all (sure. yell at me in comments. because no one eeeever has before), so we watched Mickey's Christmas Carol. It is SO GREAT, although Goofy as Jacob Marley is legit terrifying, do not even second guess me on this, my siblings will bear me out.


WHAT IF YOUR DOORKNOB TURNED INTO GOOFY'S FACE

In my quest to read all of Dickens's works, I thought I better have another look at Christmas Carol, as the latest I would've read it, if I ever DID, was 1999. And that was awhile ago.

This awhile ago. (x)

Dickens in a shortened form is maybe Dickens at his best. I hesitate because there's a certain reward in sticking with his longer books, as you get attached to characters more and more, and then have an emotional pay-off. But with distilled Dickens, you get all his best bits of writing in a brief space. I wish he'd done more short stories, but they probably weren't as reliable an income source, so here we are.

Everyone knows the story of A Christmas Carol. It's maybe one of the most famous stories in our culture. If you don't know it, that is okay do not feel left out, just go to YouTube and search it. So many good adaptations. So many. (but again, Mickey's is absolutely the best and everyone else's favorite is wrong) 

What're some of the more famous lines that Dickens just dashed down one day?

"[E]very idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart." 
"If they would rather die," said Scrooge, "they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population." 
"A poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every twenty-fifth of December!" 
"I wear the chain I forged in life," replied the Ghost. "I made it link by link, and yard by yard" 
"God bless us every one!" 
"I see a vacant seat," replied the Ghost, "in the poor chimney-corner, and a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved." 
"Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?" 
"What's to-day, my fine fellow?" said Scrooge.
"To-day!" replied the boy. "Why, Christmas Day."
"It's Christmas Day!" said Scrooge to himself. "I haven't missed it." 
He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew

So there's all that. Mostly dialogue, obviously, because that's what we get in stage productions. But the actual story, no matter how many times you've seen it acted out in whichever form you fancy, is completely worth reading. Dickens's sense of humor shines, and you get to yell at him whenever he gets too male-gaze about ladies. (my Kindle notes for whenever that happens always quote the second GIF:)




But! Aside from the times Dickens is all "I should have dearly liked, I own, to have touched her lips" and "Altogether she was what you would have called provoking, you know; but satisfactory, too. Oh, perfectly satisfactory," which he says WHILE SPEAKING AS THE NARRATOR, he also writes awesome, hilarious things. 

The very beginning! When he says Marley was dead as a door-nail, he goes on this fanciful romp of an aside:
Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.
Look at you, Dickens! 



What other author would describe someone as "solitary as an oyster"? I mean, good lord. That man's brilliant, brilliant, sexist, male-gazey brain. 

He then made bold to inquire what business brought him there.
“Your welfare!” said the Ghost.
Scrooge expressed himself much obliged, but could not help thinking that a night of unbroken rest would have been more conducive to that end.
A Christmas Carol is probably the most culturally influential novella ever. Probably? What're we thinking about Candide? I feel like that one can't compete at all. 

You should read it. Or re-read it. And if you read it in May, you will still totally (maybe) cry about Tiny Tim, even though you know it's manipulative and Victorian levels of sentimental. 

Dickens. So sexist. But so good.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

C2E2: Chicago's Nerd Power on Display

What went down on Saturday? C2E2 went down.



C2E2 is one of Chicago's larger comic cons. It's at McCormick Place, which is a giant convention center south of downtown, and nerds from far and wide gather to get things signed, walk around in costume, and go to panels about Lady Representation in Comics (note: not actual panel name).

My friend Doug and I went as Dr Sattler and Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park. IT WAS MY FIRST TIME COSPLAYING so everyone can just reserve judgment for next year when I am awesome at it. Doug put a dinosaur head on a sawed-off rake and dipped a mop-head in fake blood and carried that around all day, and I tied a can of Barbasol to my backpack and carried around a plastic cup of water. It was a loving tribute.



But this is the thing. This is the thing about conventions. People are there because they are EXCITED. They're real damn jazzed about everything that's going on, and you can wear whatever the hell you want, and someone will stop you and be so happy you're dressed as that thing, because they love that thing and you have 1) reminded them of it, 2) cared about it enough to invest some real energy into it.




Yeah, there's probably some sexist crap that goes down, but you can avoid the booths that sell that kind of art, and of course, I personally was not harassed, no matter how pleated my shorts were.

So we mainly just walked around the floor for six hours. We went to no panels, because why would we do that, but we did have some nice sittin' time where I drank iced coffee and took selfies while Doug napped. It's the Gen X/Millennial divide.

Authors! Did I meet any authors? Yes, yes, I did. Thank GOD I started reading comics before this convention, because Mike del Mundo, who does the art for the new Elektra was there, and look at this damn stuff:

such a fan.

So he signed my volume 1, which I'm still waiting to finish, because I started it then realized there's a ton of Elektra backstory and THEN I found out she was introduced in Frank Miller's Daredevil, so now I've got the Daredevil omnibus on hold at the library and basically I'm gonna know a lot about Elektra when this is all over.

Bill Willingham was also there, signing Fables and whatever else he's done. He seems pretty prolific. He seemed very nice, but he made me think about signing etiquette. Because IS there signing etiquette? I got there way early and was maybe fourth in line, and I didn't have jack-all to do, so I was fine with people ahead of me taking their time, but there were a LOT of people behind me, and his signing was listed as lasting an hour. The people ahead of me took mayybe ten minutes.

And I mean, one of them was a comic guy, and he wanted to show Willingham his art, and the thing is, Willingham kept asking him questions. So he didn't look put-upon. I don't know. Maybe he had an internal commitment to stay until everyone's stuff was signed, in which case, good job taking time with people, sir. And also for writing one of your favorite words in my copy of volume 1 of Fables:

note: NOT a dastard.

Also! ALSO A THING HAPPENED and that thing is that I stood in line for half an hour to meet Max Brooks, which meant I was the first in line, immeeeediately in front of two nerds whose nerdiness put mine to shame, but that was ok, because C2E2 isn't about judgment. 

Max Brooks, for those who do not know, is the son of Mel Brooks (Blazing Saddles, Spaceballs, Robin Hood: Men in Tights) and Anne Bancroft (The Graduate, The Miracle Worker), and RATHER THAN REST ON THOSE LAURELS, he decided to write one of the greatest books ever, which is World War Z. I do not speak lightly in this case. I've read a damn lot of books. And WWZ is the pants. And Max Brooks is not just the son of immensely talented people, not just one of the best writers I've ever read, but is also a charming sweetie pie of a man.

I mean, lookit that guy

He got to the signing 10 minutes early, and since I was at the front of the line, all of a sudden I was told to go and I WAS NOT READY, so I grabbed my backpack and went "ahh!!" and got my copy of WWZ out. He's just nice, damnit. He's a nice guy. I've been to a lot of author signings and he just radiates non-jerkiness. I told him I majored in 19th century literature and his book is in my top 5 books of all time (TRUFAX) and he was just like "Really?"

I asked him to write one of his favorite words, and unlike some people *cough*DonnaTartt*cough* he looked genuinely happy about it. And then chose dork.

I enjoy that it looks like derk.

When you leave a con and go back to the regular world, it's kind of a letdown. The regular world is full of people who thinks it's off you're wearing khaki pleated shorts and a blonde wig downtown. ConWorld is full of people who will stop and shriek and ask to get a photo with you because they love Jurassic Park so much and saw it in theaters when they were seven and how excited are you about Jurassic World (answer: "hesitantly excited").

People are just so jazzed about things at cons. If you have the opportunity and are AT ALL interested in anything they have a con about, you should go. Plainclothes is fine, people. But I warn you: I did that last year and then immediately decided we had to dress up the next year. And it was even better.

Planning my costume for next year now. Much to think about. C2E2 is the best.