Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Clash of Kings: OH HOW THE KINGS HAVE CLASHED

This post is not very spoilery at all.

So I'm really far behind everyone else in the Game of Thrones series (I KNOW IT'S CALLED A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE BUT THAT'S TOO LONG), and I just finished book 2, Clash of Kings. IS IT STILL GOOD? Yes. Yes, it is. And there are new characters! New characters that I like muchly. I ignored these books for a long time, partially because I assumed GRRM was gross and wanted to write about young girls having sex and being all medievaly submissive.

I mean, look at that guy

But NO. I am shocked -- SHOCKED -- by how generally badass his ladies are. But not in a "I'm a liberated woman character" sort of way, which is annoying in its own right. These books pass the Bechdel test with flying colors, despite having a ton of dudes (since it's basically medieval England and who runs the world? -- white dudes).

In this book, you meet Brienne of Tarth, Asha Gryejoy, and Meera Reed. Also Maege Mormont peripherally, who some people ship with Robb Stark, but as far as I've seen, she's only referred to? But when she's referred to, it's like "Lady Mormont just stole a whole bunch of cattle" and people are like "Damn, bro" and it's like "Yeah. 'Cause she's awesome." You might say "psh, cows," but HOW DO ARMIES EAT I ASK YOU. Through Lady Mormont and her cow-stealing, that's how.


There's also this thoughtful exchange between Brienne the knight and Catelyn, Lord Stark's wife:

"When you’re armored it’s hard for anyone to hurt you.” 
“Knights die in battle,” Catelyn reminded her. 
Brienne looked at her with those blue and beautiful eyes. “As ladies die in childbed. No one sings songs about them.”

Let's also not forget that GRRM can be funny sometimes, but because it's rare, it takes you off-guard. For example:

At Winterfell they had called her “Arya Horseface” and she’d thought nothing could be worse , but that was before the orphan boy Lommy Greenhands had named her “Lumpyhead.”

I was looking through my highlights of CoK, and most of what's highlighted is descriptions of food. I wish to pay someone to come over and make Game of Thrones food. And then someone will sing while playing a lute. But no for reals, look at this:
 There were great joints of aurochs roasted with leeks, venison pies chunky with carrots, bacon, and mushrooms, mutton chops sauced in honey and cloves, savory duck, peppered boar, goose, skewers of pigeon and capon, beef-and-barley stew[...]There was black bread and honeycakes and oaten biscuits ; there were turnips and pease and beets, beans and squash and huge red onions; there were baked apples and berry tarts and pears poached in strongwine. Wheels of white cheese were set at every table, above and below the salt, and flagons of hot spice wine and chilled autumn ale.



 I have a problem I really pompously thought I wouldn't have, which is keeping people straight. Years of Dickensian novels made me think I would be totally set in this area. "I WILL REMEMBER ALL THE PEOPLE," I thought. But when you have at least a hundred lords and they keep switching allegiances and some of their children fight for one king and some for another, NOPE. Not gonna happen. I have no idea whose side anyone is on. Except for Robb Stark. Pretty sure he's on the side of the Starks.

The relationship between Sansa and the Hound INTRIGUES me, but my friend Katie-Anne has pretty much quashed any thoughts of that becoming an interesting thing. Their dialogue of "You're awful" and "I'm honest. It's the world that's awful" had me going "Oooooooooh" because yeah, it's a little emo teenage boy, but it also informs Sansa she needs to stop thinking people who say the truth instead of just polite things are bad people.

I'm worried about Rickon. 

I want to marry Asha Greyjoy but visit Katie-Anne in the Stormlands all the time, where she shall be married to Beric Dondarrion, because FUCK living on the Iron Islands. But Asha Greyjoy, hello.

hey girl hey

I have been instructed I have to read the other three IMMEDIATELY (by Katie-Anne), but I feel like burnout is extremely possible? So while I've started Storm of Swords, I don't expect to zoom through, because finishing one of these books is like running a marathon (....I would assume) and I need to breathe for a while and maybe read some completely-un-fantasy-like bookage.

ONWARD. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Caitlin Moran's How to Build a Girl Remains An Excellent Book That Should be Read By Probably Everyone

I remain a huge fan of this book. You should probably pre-order it. Maybe here since Amazon is the devil and independent bookstores are the future YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST (no you didn't).

Johanna's obsession with dudes remains nigh-incomprehensible to me, although it did make me flash back to age 12 when I was desperately in love with my brother's best friend (he looked like a teddy bear and gave me half a cookie once, which I was pretty sure meant we were definitely going to happen) and in what I deemed a subtle but cunning gesture, one day sat him down in my oldest brother's room (it had the only stereo in the house), put on the Hello Dolly new Broadway cast recording, and made him listen to me sing along to Irene Molloy's part of Dancing, which goes thusly:  


When there's someone you hardly know
And wish you were closer to
Remember that he can be near to you
While you're dancing
Though you've only just said hello
He's suddenly someone who can
Make all your daydreams appear to you
While you're dancing.


HE'LL NEVER FIGURE THAT ONE OUT, 12-YEAR-OLD SELF.


Basically exactly that

I'm completely over girls falling in love with boys who listen to The Smiths and quote Pablo Neruda and have crooked smiles, and I am DONE with them going on quirky escapades, and I love what Caitlin Moran does with Johanna and John Kite. Because sometimes you have nights like that. Where you meet someone who instantly gets you and you don't have to worry about being seen as weird and it's the most relaxing, wonderful thing in the world. And here you know that person for Johanna is the one who says "Broadly speaking, I never met a tree I didn't like — save the lime, which is an irredeemable cunt." 



 I love John Kite and want the fact that Johanna is 16 to be okay. She has a job! Like an adult person! She...yeah, I don't know how to make this right.

Moran also provided me with my first laugh of the day on Saturday. I'm a firm believer in laughing every day, only not in a "I should get this stitched on a pillow like a lame-o" kind of way. But I do believe it is important for your soul and for you not being a dick. Sometimes I forget how awesome laughing out loud is, and then I read something like this and remember:
The world below us has turned into a map. A real map! The woods look like the WOODLAND: DECIDUOUS markings of Ordnance Survey. It is just as they drew it! Who knew! Who knew you could put the whole world on paper, after all! The artists were right! This is so reassuring!
 I have split my one playlist into two, because one felt like it should be more samplery, and the other is more "These are the albums Dolly listened to to become who she wanted to be." So this is How to Build a Girl Complete Albums, and this is The Dolly Wilde Experience, which I have added to and it's more awesome now.

Not finishing this book in one fell stroke is really hard, but I am NOT DOING IT because readalong respect. Also I love Emily, who is hosting. So there's that to take into consideration as well.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

I'm reading through the Bible and there's a lot of stabbing going on

I've been trying to read through the Bible in its entirety for forever, mainly because as a Christian I am EMBARRASSED that I cannot check it off those Books I've Read lists. No. Forget that noise.

Over the years, I've made it up to 2 Samuel, which is the tenth book of the Old Testament. NOT IMPRESSIVE, YOU SAY? Try reading the parts of Exodus that're like "Wait, let me give you exact sewing instructions; these are important for your spiritual growth."




You have to be interactive with the text, or it's impossible to get through. I posted here years ago about a bit in Exodus where Moses's brother Aaron's sons are killed by God because they "offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to his command," and when Moses basically says "Yeah, well, they should've been not doing that," Aaron says nothing. The text specifically points out he says nothing. Because yeah, God's justice, etc, and maybe Aaron's sons were tools, but we're still humans and we still love our families.

What I have to report about Joshua through 2 Samuel is there is SO MUCH ASSASSINATING. I'm totally going to do a post about Judges because it is probably the best book of the entire Bible and people need to know this (and it has the best assassination stories), but even in 2 Samuel, the commander of King David's army (who of course is Joab; who doesn't know Joab?) is all "Oh hey, I'm just talking to you in a normal way and being super-normal" to this other guy David had put in charge of his army and then Joab's all "STAB STAB" and "his intestines spilled out on the ground."



Most Protestants don't really...spend a lot of time on the Old Testament because it makes us feel weird and uncomfortable. There's a whole lot of stuff that seems completely contrary to how we're supposed to act, and MOST of it you can be like "Oh, that was the Israelites being dicks; it wasn't sanctioned by God" but then it's like "God commanded Saul to slay the Amalekites EVEN THEIR SHEEP because their sheep were assholes" and you're like


I'm pretty sure there's an explanation here, but that explanation is either buried 3000 years in the past, or that the Israelites said God told them to kill the Amalekites because they just really hated the Amalekites. There's a whole lot in the Old Testament about the importance of land ownership, and as someone who's rented her entire adult life, I'm super-not relating. Maybe it's like with the Puritans where they wanted to just do their Thing and everyone else was like "BOO YOUR THING" so they were like "We'll build our own country! With blackjack! And God."

But to get that country they had to kill a lot of people like we killed Native Americans oh hey look parallels. "Um, excuse me, but we need this land. For GOD. So you can just scoot or you can have this totally safe blanket that is not swarming with disease at all."


LOOK FORWARD TO JUDGES there are people slain with a donkey's jawbone in it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Samantha Irby and Meaty: "Right now I am living in a post-breakup body"

Meaty took me by surprise, and not just because of its awesome chicken cover.

MARVEL AT MY BOOK, FELLOW EL RIDERS

I found out about it through a GoFundMe campaign for its author, Samantha Irby, who needed serious dental work like yesterday. Her blog, bitches gotta eat, led me to her book, which has chapter titles like 'I Want to Write Your Mom's Match.com Profile' and 'The Many Varieties of Hospital Broth' and 'I Should Have a Car With Power Windows By Now.' Also she lives in Chicago and we should do brunch I'm not kidding Samantha.

What surprised me the most about Meaty was not Irby's writing style, which you can easily pick up from her blog, but rather the ease with which she transitions from tragedy to comedy. That shit takes skills.

Like this, but...with writing

One of the first chapters, Awkward First Date, starts with:

Oh, hi. This restaurant you picked intimidates me. I am not wearing the right footwear for a place this goddamned fancy, and I am probably too poor to eat here in real life so I am really hoping that you are a gentleman and that this $15 pasta is on you.

The actual first chapter, At 30, lets you know her current state, which is single, poor, sick, and parentless. But it doesn't say it in an Oliver Twist, let-me-emotionally-manipulate-you way. It's basically "Yep, here's the situation." It made me realize how rarely I read people writing about being actually poor instead of "Ugh, I had to cancel my Netflix subscription and start using my brother's password."

They usually use this gif too

The chapter about her mom hits you hard. 

She grew up with a mom with M.S. and an alcoholic dad who drifted in and out of the picture. When her mom's M.S. got bad, Irby was a teenager and had to take care of her while going to school:

There is no 'opt out' button on adolescence. I would divide myself into two people: the happy, smiling person who needed to make friends and appear to be having a well-adjusted childhood during the day, and my mother's mother and nursemaid and caretaker and friend at night.

I can't imagine dealing with what she's had to deal with. And then still being able to be damn funny. In the chapter The Terror of Love, she talks about some relationships or almost-relationships, and it's my favorite kind of writing: 

A few years ago I was taking classes at community college because I hadn't quite yet given up all hope. There was a tall African dude with a deep, melodious voice in the class, and he was sexy. He carried a briefcase to community college, people: DUDE WAS OBVIOUSLY A WINNER. I spent the entire semester wondering when this asshole was going to ask me out on a goddamned date. Not kidding. Two and a half legit months making sure my hoodies were clean and my flip flops weren't covered in street puke because I just knew that this dude was head over heels in love with me and was going to whisk me off to mid-level management associate degreed paradise.

There are few autobiographical essay books (and I've read a ton at this point) that I keep around because I know I'll want to read them again. Hell, I'm giving Bossypants away. But Meaty is something I'm going to read at least a couple times. And I want her second book like now. You can get her first one here for the low low price of $9.95.

Monday, July 21, 2014

How to Build a Girl: "I wish these cunts knew about Alexander Woollcott."

Caitlin Moran's debut novel How to Build a Girl continues in this delightful readalong hosted by Emily at As the Crowe Flies (and Reads). You should buy this book. Just fyi. It's the pants. And I have made a Spotify playlist for it: How to Build a Girl: The Dolly Wilde Experience. If you've been paying close attention to the book, you will appreciate the hell out of that list. Just saying.

So our heroine is now 16-years-old and a high school dropout, but whatever because she has an impressive job reviewing music and is already an excellent writer who calls the Smashing Pumpkins "the new Emperors of Mournful Grunge." I think we're all pretty positive this is just Caitlin Moran's life, but none of us care, because it is fantastically written.

Thanks, Caitlin, we know.

I don't think a book about teenagers has ever made me relive as much of that time of my life as How to Build a Girl. Shoving brothers off the chair that's used for the one computer? Oh right. I did that. Feeling an IRRESISTIBLE NEED TO EDUCATE PEOPLE because they are just wandering through life sadly ignorant of the joys that could be theirs if they would only listen/read/watch the thing you are trying to force them to like? Well. I mean. That still happens.

Since my mother ruled the house music-wise, though, I never got to listen to music beyond The King and I, and when I was angry at my parents I had only one album with electric guitars, so I would blast the original cast recording of Bat Boy at them. Take that, Mom and Dad. I hope this surrealist Off-Broadway satire makes you rethink not letting me go to the movies.


So I know basically no bands and have been on a quest since age 16 to not stare blankly when someone mentions...basically anyone.  The only song mentioned so far in How to Build a Girl that I've already known is Sixteen Going on Seventeen from Sound of Music. We didn't even watch Annie in my house. I trust Caitlin Moran in the whole rock music area since she was, of course, a music critic. Like her heroine. Who is her. So this book now becomes a fascinating look at early '90s British rock, as guided by a 16-year-old with a penchant for sexual thoughts about Blackadder's noble Lord Flashheart (something I still don't understand).

Maybe I understand it a little

I continue to recommend this book to people and it continues to be swell. Barring some weird left turn, I am completely behind it as a novel. Caitlin Moran should maybe probably write more right now so we can read it when we're done with this what else are we supposed to DO.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The School for Good and Evil's awesome cover belies the unawesomeness within

When I first saw the cover for Soman Chainani's The School for Good and Evil, I got very excited because 1) I love books for 10 to 12 year olds; they are my jam, and 2) It looks like a Swan Queen high school AU.


For those of you somehow unaware, Swan Queen is the ship I have shipped for MULTIPLE YEARS NOW. It's Emma Swan and the Evil Queen (get it?) from Once Upon a Time. It's the worst and the best thing to ship, mainly because the OUAT writers are experts at queerbaiting, which is....just not ok, guys. But anyway. Swan Queen alternate universe.

(GIF by shipsnthenight)

The reason books for 10 to 12 year olds are my jam is because the most interesting plots usually come out of them. You don't have silly talk about boys, there isn't a need to be Literary that manifests itself in trying too hard ("the dusky ambrosial night swept across the meadow like a swift-wingèd starling"), and the author can just focus on plot and being occasionally funny.

Series that have excelled at this in the past decade or so:

A Series of Unfortunate Events
The Spiderwick Chronicles
Percy Jackson
The Mysterious Benedict Society
The Books of Beginning

I hoped this book would add to the list, as it is most definitely a series (the second book, A World Without Princes, is now out and a third will come after it), but I found myself primarily bewildered and dismayed by it.


It seems like the author wanted to go in about five directions with his characters, but finally said "Whatever" and just turned in the draft as written. "True love will exist between friends!...oh, but I want this one girl to fall in love with the guy." "The evil girl learns about friendship!...oh, until five seconds later when she decides she hates her friend again." Every time something changes, it's immediately reversed again and it ends up being a case of why bother.



The plot sounds awesome: There are two girls, one blonde and social and fairly selfish but knows what she wants, and the other black-haired, introverted, lives in a house next to a cemetery. Their village is surrounded by a forest, and everyone's scared of it because either every year or every four years (I read this a while ago), this figure comes out from it and takes two children. But where does it take them? TO THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL. And, as we learn, it's the school that trained Jack AND the Giant, Cinderella AND her stepmother, Little Red Riding Hood AND the wolf. 

So the blonde girl and the black-haired girl both get taken, but their schools get SWITCHED, meaning the blonde girl goes to the School for Evil and the dark-haired girl goes to the School for Good (still unclear if this was on purpose), and everyone's all "This has completely upended our way of being" because blonde girls are good and dark-haired girls are bad (and those of us in between get to pick and choose). One of the most frustrating things about this book is this concept could have been done so well. SO WELL. And instead I'm just over here like




This could have consisted of amazing world-building and complex characters, and instead everyone's changing their motivation every two seconds and first someone is good, then they're bad, then they want the boy, then they don't, then Friendship Conquers All, then Maybe Kissing Does -- I cannot do this. I cannot BELIEVE it has 4 out of 5 stars on Amazon or a 3.93 on Goodreads. 

Someone write this book better.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Neanderthals: Y'know, that entire species of human we maybe killed

I really love Neanderthals.

TELL ME MORE, COMPARISON CHART

This has been a slow-growing love, possibly owing its beginning to the Field Museum's exhibit on the cave paintings of Lascaux, which made me realize what a condescending dick I'd been to People of the Past. I was astounded to learn they had needles and thread and candles. This was almost 20,000 years ago. I'd assumed they just walked around grunting and hitting each other with rocks. But no! They had hats. I don't know why hats are a major sign of civilization, but they are.

I've discussed before how frustrating it is that all this took place in our prehistory. We barely know anything. And what we think we know is probably wrong. A book I have on Cro-Magnon man from like two years ago says modern humans and Neanderthals probably never interacted, and then we find out that basically everyone whose ancestors emigrated from Africa has 3-5% Neanderthal DNA, meaning our ancestors totally did it with Neanderthals.


It bugs me that how our civilization came to be this way is COMPLETELY SHROUDED IN MYSTERY and we're not talking about it. Probably because we can't know anything about it due to the shrouded-in-mystery part. Because People of the Past were apparently too lazy to write shit down. THANKS FOR THE BUFFALO DRAWINGS THOUGH THOSE'RE GREAT.

Thanks also for whatever the hell this is

At some point we decided to structure families the way we do now. At some point men suddenly had way, way more power than women. At some point this was decided. Maybe the women were super-pissed. Maybe they were just happy they were going to survive. We don't know and we will never know until we build a time machine come on people make this happen. Ugh, even if we DID build a time machine, we wouldn't be able to talk with them. We'd probably just get stabbed with spears.

Even in Illinois, we have this sort of infuriating thing. Cahokia Mounds in southern Illinois? Oh, just one of the largest cities of the 1200s. No, no one talks about it. Because we know like nothing about them.

Just disappeared

By the way, Cahokia is four and a half hours from Chicago and someone should drive there with me because there is a museum and MIDWEST HISTORY.

But back to Neanderthals. They existed. A whole other species of human. Do you know what kinds of questions that raises. At the very least theologically, because the Bible doesn't talk about other types of humans. Not that it gets that specific when it's talking about something other than the length of an ephod, but where do other species of humans fall in this whole God-made-man thing? Neanderthals had souls, right? THIS IS WHAT I'VE BEEN THINKING ABOUT.

You know what the Bible DOES talk about? Nephilim.

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days--and also afterward--when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.

THIS IS IN THE BOOK I HOLD FAIRLY SACRED. It's basically like "Oh hey, Greek heroes? Now you have an excuse to believe they were real. Also that Cú Chulainn guy. And maybe Paul Bunyan, but only if he lived way longer ago."

Basically I just want to go to the Rock of Gibraltar 30,000 years ago and fish with Neanderthals.

It'd probably look exactly like this