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 

Monday, July 14, 2014

How to Build a Girl, Part the Second: "Without explaining why, I break into a very impassioned impression of Scooby-Doo."

The How to Build a Girl readalong is hosted by Emily at As the Crowe Flies (and Reads) and you can pre-order the book at this place right here.

Okay, so I was unsure how this novel was going to go, and I just want to say

CAITLIN MORAN'S NEW BOOK IS SO GOOD OMG BUY IT WHEN IT COMES OUT I'M NOT EVEN KIDDING I WILL HARASS YOU IF YOU DO NOT



I started it Thursday while sitting in my friend Katie-Anne's cubicle, and the fifth time I laughed out loud she wheeled around and said "You are being SUPER-IRRITATING." But there was no stopping, because "When I start kissing, the world is going to know about it. My kissing is going to change everything. I'm going to be the Beatles of kissing."


Spending time with Johanna is completely delightful, mostly because she's so unabashed when talking about her life.

This feels like a Johanna sentiment

So our 14-year-old heroine comes from a large poor family that she's trying to help, lives in the north of England, writes, and masturbates a LOT. This last subject is very important to me and this is going to be a time of sharing sorry Mom and Dad.


Without getting into a big unwanted-by-all-but-the-pervier-of-you history lesson, lemme just tell you that masturbation was something I started doing early. And then at 13 I became a perhaps (definitely) overly zealous Christian and it was NOT OKAY TO DO THAT AT ALL ANYMORE, but I still did it. And then felt awful, terrible, guilt-wracked self-loathing. It was the worst. That and worrying about being gay were my teenage hell, because I didn't feel like I could talk about either to anyone. Getting to a "whatever" point with both of them was such a huge thing for my mental health, I cannot even tell you.


reflection of my inner self now

So to have Caitlin Moran making her character discuss this — from a GIRL'S perspective, which you so rarely get, as opposed to the ubiquitous Portnoy's Complaint situation — is just...it makes me very happy that she's making it Not a Big Deal.


Johanna's so weird and alone and it's so wonderful. I used to do things when I was sixteen years old like have Charlotte Brontë as an imaginary friend (I was pretty sure I had a special kinship with CB that other 16-year-old girls lacked) and having a novel where maybe that wouldn't seem so odd makes it more okay for girls to be weird and alone and maybe show a dead Victorian author around their family's bathroom and ask about their sex life.

I'm so glad this book is going to be published and available to current teens. Let's all get rid of our hangups about things that aren't actually bad, yes? Especially about masturbation. Not a big deal, world. Let's stop making kids cry about it. I'm pretty sure Caitlin Moran would say that is bullshit.

Her or Adele.

Friday, July 11, 2014

First 50 Pages, Installment Maybe the Third

I am yet again reading a stupid number of books because I have no focus or willpower and while starting books is my favorite, getting through the middle part usually blows. Let's make a fun thing out of it and talk about the First 50 Pages!

   
The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer. Yep. Still in 'The Knight's Tale.' And Palamon and Arcite are being RIDICULOUS. I thought the Tales would be people talking about their own lives, but so far the knight's like "GATHER ROUND, WHILE I TELL YOU A TALE OF ANCIENT GREECE" and then he's all "Here are some knights, because they totally had those in Ancient Greece." Both the knights act in an extremely silly manner. I have not yet found out what happens to them. I kind of hope they joust each other to death.

 


 
No One Else Can Have You, Kathleen Hale. The cover for this is delightful. And I like Kathleen Hale's online presence so much, there was almost no way I wasn't going to like her book. Basically: teenage girl gets murdered in a small Wisconsin town and narrator Kippy (her best friend) decides to solve it. Oh, I do enjoy small towns with dark secrets. MORE OF THOSE PLEASE. *writing community obliges in spades*

 


Bellman & Black, Diane Setterfield. No one seems to just LIKE The Thirteenth Tale; there's always a "but" when they talk about it. WELL GUESS WHAT I REALLY LIKED IT THE END. So this is Setterfield's second, and considering a lot of it takes place at a textile mill, it's really keeping my interest. Rooks (the bird, not the chess piece) also figure in pretty heavily. Something about them and death. Not sure what's going on yet. Pretty sure it all ties back to William Bellman killing a rook when he was a little kid, though, and then rooks haunt him the rest of his life. That doesn't seem very fair, does it? (no, because rooks are birds)

 

California, Edan Lepucki. I just got this from Little, Brown because I love the cover so much and it said something about post-apocalyptic AND a small community with dark secrets. Omg sign me up. So far, there's a main girl and the main guy and she's pregnant and they live by themselves in the forest because somethinggggg happened to Earth. Also there used to be people who lived near them and now those people are gone and I want to know WHY they are gone.

 

The Crimson Petal and the White, Michel Faber. This is kind of amazing? It starts in second person, which can go badly SO EASILY, but Michel Faber is A Writer and makes it work. He's all "You expect to just meet the fancy people immediately, but go check your privilege; you have to start with a prostitute and work your way up." So on board with this book. We meet Sugar pretty early on, and I think that's the main character because I think that's who Romola Garai plays in the miniseries? But it's entirely possible I am totally wrong about all this. 


 



The Truth Is..., Melissa Etheridge. Yeah, I'm reading Melissa Etheridge's book. It's happening. So far, she has left Kansas and is now in Los Angeles where she is being SO GAY and also making music. But people keep trying to manage her sound, man, and Melissa Etheridge's sound cannot be managed. It must break free like a herd of beautiful wild ponies.



There're like four others (Chicago Poisoner, The Witches of East End, Eat Your Heart Out, The Freedom in American Songs), but those can wait. So much to say about Witches of East End, though. Which can be summed up in saying that it is Not That Great, but not terrible. Mmm, standards.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Netflix Adventures Abound in Chicago

I enjoy the 4th of July the same way I enjoy Labor Day. There's no especial pull to go outside or associate with family members, and you're pretty much allowed to celebrate however you want (people give you shit about Halloween, I'm just saying).

True, I ventured outside my apartment on occasion, going on a not-date with a girl and her pregnant friend, seeing Snowpiercer (excellent except for the stupid, stupid ending) and doing up the Renfair with my roommate. HOWEVER. There was also a lot of Netflix.




Documentaries are excellent to have on while cleaning, as they do not require as much attention. I needed to clean my room, so I put on Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony and quickly STOPPED cleaning, because holy shit, Bronies. I cried four times during that documentary. I'm not sure it merited it, but it happened. Fandoms are a weakness of mine (OBVIOUSLY) and I'm easily reduced to a weepy mess when people start talking about the support and joy that happens within them.


EVERYTHING'S FINE DON'T LOOK AT ME

Something the otherwise actually quite excellently-done documentary leaves out is the NEGATIVE side of the fandom. I haven't explored it, because why, but every fandom has a shitty side. I'm sure some Bronies are dicks. I'm sure some Bronies are MRAs. But overall (according to the documentary), it's a group for guys who are remarkably fine being excited about a show that praises friendship and loyalty and that's...that's just really nice. Even if it also causes this:

YOU CANNOT UNSEE IT

So after an hour of my life spent watching a documentary about a show I hadn't seen, I figured I should maybe see the show? So I did. I watched the pilot. And it was cute. 'Cause. Y'know. It's My Little Pony.


I'd probably watch more. Mainly because I LOVE BEING EXCITED ABOUT THINGS and people get so excited about this show. Also, I'm not gonna be the only one who doesn't know who the hell Pinkie Pie is.

SO THEN, I noticed that The Witches of East End was a thing and the cover picture had all ladies and when do I not pay attention to that sort of thing never unless it's something like The Real Housewives of Splarfy Foo so I casually put on the first episode and then IMMEDIATELY started livetexting it to Jenny from Reading the End because she puts up with that sort of thing and also watches some terrible tv shows.



That basically sums up ten hours of my weekend. Aside from the pony thing. That's another three. Witches of East End is awesome (DON'T WORRY I'M READING/REVIEWING THE BOOK) because the mom is Guinevere from First Knight and her sister is Shelley from Twin Peaks and eventually Shelley makes out with Freddie Prinze Jr from She's All That, so basically it's a '90s reunion show that also has some young people, but we ignore them.

NO ONE CARES ABOUT YOUR CLICHED LOVE TRIANGLE

Now please excuse me as I search for the perfect balance of TV watching to no-of-course-I'm-not-wasting-my-life-ness. Might take a while.