Saturday, July 23, 2016

24in48: I am not good at focusing

Let me amend the title – I am good at focusing in short bursts on things I'm obsessed with. But otherwise? Hahahaha no. But let's do this anyway! Sounds fun. And I haven't done a readathon in a while and I have so many books. So many.

Let's get on to book selection! Which was done hastily 10 minutes ago before I leave to cat-sit and then do a Chicago Pokemon meetup because #priorities.

I Hate Fairyland by Skottie Young. Something I love about Image (ONE OF MANY THINGS) is that they tend to price their volume ones at $9.99, which is an easy entry price. Then when you're hooked, bam! $15.99. But they're a business, guys. Gotta try to make some money. But yes, anyway, so I appreciate the initial low price thing. And also the technicolor insanity of this particular comic that I'm very much looking forward to checking out.

Without a Doubt by Marcia Clark. O.J. Simpson. So hot right now. Who saw this coming? Whatever, it's been extremely helpful. The trial happened when I was 10 years old, and as I've learned more and more about what was going on at the time, I've realized how very little I knew and how very much my knowledge depended on the National Enquirers my mother would buy and leave around the house. Ex: I thought Kato Kaelin played a HUGE part in the case. Due to my at-the-time dog obsession, I have also forever linked him with an Akita.

I am just saying.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles. I got an email blast for book requests, requested this, and promptly forgot about it. It's basically True Grit with a retired Army captain and a little girl who was kidnapped by an American Indian tribe who he has to return to her relatives. Reserved stoic people in the West are my literary JAM and the cover is so pretty. Totally on board with this book.

The Subjection of Women by John Stuart Mill. John Stuart Mill is a total feminist badass, but he's also a little dry, so his 100-page book has taken me a WHILE. If I can get through it, I'll be thrilled. He basically reasons through why it's a dumb-dumb move to limit the ways women can move through the world and how it damages society's progress. What a great guy. Much like.

Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The lady who wrote The Yellow Wallpaper wrote another book! "The book describes an isolated society composed entirely of women, who reproduce via parthenogenesis." What is parthenogenesis? Glad you asked. I had no idea, but you can bet the internet did.  

"Parthenogenesis is a natural form of asexual reproduction in which growth and development of embryos occur without fertilization."

I'll add to this post throughout the weekend so WATCH OUT FOR THAT and stay safe out there, kids.

4:35 PM Saturday
  1. Where in the world are you reading from this weekend?
    CHICAGO and it's very muggy here. I was out at Lincoln Park Zoo for a couple hours, catching Pokemon, and I returned a sweat-soaked wreck of a person.
  2. Have you done the 24in48 readathon before?
  3. Where did you hear about the readathon, if it is your first?
    Imma say on Twitter from Liberty, because that seems most likely of all possibilities.
  4. What book are you most excited about reading this weekend?
    Probs I Hate Fairyland, because it seems the most likely to be finished this weekend. Also because of the above-mentioned technicolor insanity.
  5. Tell us something about yourself.
    I'm a copywriter/opera singer/aspiring cryptozoologist, and I'm never leaving Chicago except maybe when I'm old and can't walk on ice anymore.
  6. Remind us where to find you online this weekend.
    HERE and also itsalicetime on Twitter and timetraveldanceparty on Instagram.

WELP. So, I finished I Hate Fairyland (obvs), read about the first 50 pages of Herland, and the first 100 of Marcia Clark's Without a Doubt. Which I am FAIRLY proud of, as the weekend was insanely busy. I'm gonna read the next volume of Fairyland when it comes out, because whiiiile it's kind of overly violent for me, it's this really really creative world that the artist + writer have planned out, and it's really fun seeing what's going to be drawn next.

Herland is this amazing feminist utopia thing where this band of 3 men find an ancient settlement of just women who are confused about things like why they drink cow milk and why they bury their dead people in the ground instead of cremating them. It's not like, the most compelling plot ever, but as feminist essays go, it's interesting, esp. being from 1915 and by Yellow Wallpaper Lady.

I love Without a Doubt. Love it. It's compelling and great.

GOOD FIRST 24 in 48, PEOPLE. Hopefully in the future I'll be able to make some actual attempt at the 24 part.  

(oh and I found out why I equated an Akita with Kato Kaelin, it's because Nicole Brown owned an Akita named Kato; that case is crazy) 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Queen of Hearts by Colleen Oakes: So...people're just normal in Wonderland then.

I got a lot of confusing feelings about this book. Like, hey, it's cool that you're doing a backstory on the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. I am INTO it. But are we going to make her.

Or, more to the point, how UN-INSANE are we going to make her? Are we going to make Wonderland a place where anything makes sense? Wonderland is where the Jabberwocky lives, and therefore where the author lives who wrote 'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves/Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:/All mimsy were the borogroves,/And the mome raths outgrabe.

But yeah, all those people are just noooormal.

So...the deal here is that the princess of Wonderland is named Dinah (sure), and her father rules Wonderland, but he's a bloodthirsty tyrant who hates her (and maybe thinks her mom banged another dude? unclear). He brings in some girl he says is his bastard daughter (suspicious) and she's super pretty, so immediately you're like "oh, no way is Dinah taking the throne. And that captain of the guard/Card warrior boy she's in love with? Totally going to be married off to Super Pretty Bastard Daughter." These don't get solved in this book, because it's YA, so why make it one book when you could make it three, but I'm like 98% sure that's how it's going to play out. Half for the angst and half because we know what happens to the Queen of Hearts's love life.

Speaking of which, my brother and I made a startling discovery.


So...Lea DeLaria is the Queen of Hearts is basically what I'm saying.

So anyway, there's a reference made to Card warrior boy wanting to become the Knave of Hearts and also he really loves tarts? If you will remember, there's a poem in Alice in Wonderland about the Knave of Hearts stealing tarts and I'm PRETTY sure this will now gain some very angsty love trio related significance in future books, because if I were writing it that's 100% how it would play out.

Colleen Oakes does some really kickass worldbuilding here, which I always appreciate. Her descriptions of features of Wonderland are frequently gorgeous and if she created a Wonderland encyclopedia, I would be all over it. As far as actual storytelling, it's really hard to get past 

1) Things making sense in Wonderland
2) The (presumably future) Queen of Hearts being so very very very rational and normal.

If you're looking for other Alice in Wonderland retellings, there are SO MANY. I read and liked (more so in retrospect) The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor, and Marissa Meyer of Cinder fame has one coming out this fall, I think, ALSO about the Queen of Hearts (called -- can you guess it? -- HEARTLESS).

...I'm probably gonna read Heartless.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Cloud by K.I. Zachopoulos: This book does not deserve this art

My friend and I were walking the halls of Book Expo America when we ran across a booth for graphic novels. Great! So exciting. We're fans. One stuck out in particular – The Cloud by K.I. Zachopoulos, with art by Vincenzo Balzano. The cover art was striking and it was gorgeously presented in hardcover with a little ribbon that matched the binding.

Great, right?

It was the last day of BEA, and publishers wanted to get rid of stuff so they didn't have to bring it back with them, so the guy manning the booth just gave it to us. Wow, so exciting, much happiness, look at this beautiful book.

You guys the writing in it is so garbagey.

At first I thought it was me. 'You just don't like exclamation points and they're used...a lot in this,' I told myself. But when I read a pirate saying "Say yar prayers, scallywag!" I was like

But the thing is – THE THING IS – the art in this book is so. damn. good. It's like a cognitive dissonance where you're seeing these soul-enriching illustrations so you think 'ooh, so great' and then you read this piece of shit writing on top of it and it is JARRING. I legit just stopped reading the text after a while. Every now and then I'd check in, but nope, still garbage, so I'd go back to the illustrations. 

It's like...a boy? Who's searching for a wish. I think. And some girl steals it, but then pirates steal it from her and then the boy gets it back maybe and there's some old man who says "hee hee!" and the girl who's obviously also a love interest because why else are girls there says stuff like "You know, when I first spied on you, you looked like a selfish boy but there is much more under your skin." 


I felt like 5% bad at the end, because I saw the writer's from Greece and now lives in Germany, so it's like, maybe it was a terrible translation? But NO TRANSLATOR IS MENTIONED. I'd be willing to say "Okay, so he's never lived in a country where English is the first language," but I hold the publisher at fault here because someone must be held accountable. They decided "No, this is good enough that we will get this amazing illustrator to do the art and GET THIS PUBLISHED BY HOOK OR BY CROOK."

You deserve better, Vincenzo Balzano. Your pictures are so pretty.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

How We're Closer to the 14th Century Than We Think

I didn't think while reading a book about the Black Death in 1348, I'd find something that resonated so strongly with me in 2016.

The Black Death, a plague that swept across Europe in the late 1340s and killed approximately 1/3 of the population, changed the course of human history so thoroughly that it's impossible to trace back all the "what might have been" threads that were snipped by it. A princess who might have united England and Spain died. An archbishop who could have ushered in a golden age of scientific discovery never got that chance. And who of the countless peasants, gentry, and noblemen who were taken by it would have made their mark if they had been allowed to. Which snuffed out families could have had descendants who changed the world 100, 200, 700 years in the future?

But the Black Death carried with it something that is shatteringly familiar to us. Something that should absolutely not be left out of its history. In that time of fear and confusion, the people of Europe turned their anger in a very specific direction.

When the plague began hitting cities, towns, and villages across Europe in the late 1340s, the Jewish population began to be targeted as the source. People claimed that Jews were poisoning wells, and the populace reacted to this. They arrested some, they tortured them, they validated their own suspicions by coercing confessions from them, and they began burning entire Jewish populations.

Let me say that again: they began burning entire Jewish populations. 

What I absolutely did not expect in the face of this heart-rending fact were the contemporary attempts to protect the Jewish community. There can be a tendency to paint medieval Europe with the same bigoted brush, but the courage of many of its citizens made me cry over something that happened well over 600 years ago. The pope in Avignon protected the Jews in his city, and attempted to do so further out. In Regensburg, in what is now Germany, 237 of its leading citizens formed a band to guarantee the protection of its Jewish population. 

Other towns weren't so lucky. The leader of another city "opened the gates" to the enraged mob. In another, the Jewish residents locked themselves in their synagogue and set it on fire, rather than die at the hands of their neighbors.

We hear about the Black Death and we go "oh yeah, Ring Around the Rosy, a third of Europe died, I know." No one had ever told me reprisals were taken against the continent's Jewish population. No one had ever said "This is what can happen when you let fear and panic overwhelm you. This is what can happen when you forget that love is love is love and you just want someone to hurt so you can feel safer." It's easy to look back on the medieval age and see ourselves as Too Enlightened to relate to their mentality, but that human trait of transferring fear into action has never ever left us. It's dangerous and however enlightened we might think we are, the possibility of it is always one fear-mongering demagogue away.

Today we have mounting xenophobic rhetoric both overseas and in our own country. It's because people are scared. People are scared so they're looking for a smaller group they can take it out on.  But in the midst of all this, what I find so incredibly heartening is the image of that band of people in the 14th century, who despite a frightening time, despite the fact that their friends and family were dying all around them, despite false confessions being waved in their faces as "proof," still stood up and protected those the mob wanted to harm. 

Our actions have an echo. By standing up now, we will not only be fighting against a voice that is solely motivated by hatred and fear, but beating that voice back into the shadows. We will be leaving people of the future a view of our time that surprises them. They will expect ignorance and social injustice, and they will find it in abundance, but they will also find love and camaraderie across lines of faith and race. They will find that people stood up and protected those who deserved that protection, because that protection is deserved by everyone. History repeats itself. Let's make sure it repeats the good.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Aunt Dimity and the Buried Treasure: An innocuous mystery with a ghost from that universe Ghostwriter came from

You know sometimes...sometimes life is just hard and you need a book where nothing really bad can happen. Which is what the Aunt Dimity series is. Oh, there're issues, like how will the village populace get the glass display case from the bossy pub proprietress for their museum, and what if Sally who runs the tea room gets upset about the main character liking someone else's pastries more, but real problems? Nah.

Jumping in on the 21st book in a series is rather nice, because it discusses events that no doubt took entire books to unfold, but now that they're done with they're referred to glancingly, you say "oh how nice" and move onto the current mystery. Which is about a bracelet.

Since reading Murder By Candlelight: The Gruesome Crimes Behind Our Romance With the Macabre i've felt more and more guilty about murder mysteries. It essentially says we read them for fun (true), that they trivialize death (also true), and make it just one part of a logic puzzle (true a third time). I tend to think of non-murder-mysteries as boring, but the incredibly perfect life Lori Shepherd leads is fun escapism of a different kind.

The entire series revolves around Lori, her family life, and the ghost of her dead mother's best friend who lives in a journal and communicates by writing in it. Yes. 

This particular book involves a bracelet found by Lori in the attic, which when she mentions it to the ghost of Aunt Dimity (by talking to the journal, obvs), Aunt Dimity gets VERY FLUSTERED FOR A GHOST and needs some time to calm down. She later explains to Lori the history of the bracelet in her former lifetime, and makes a request of Lori that I would have 100% said no to, but apparently Lori just loves people more than I do.

You can read these in a day. They're fun, they're a bit silly, it's English country life at its MOST innocuous, which has its own charm (ex: Vicar of Dibley). There was a lovely bit about a WWI soldier, and it made me feel like I learned more about London (and also made me google 'cream buns' and now I want one).

Ghosts! Bloomsbury! Aforementioned cream buns! Check it out if you want your brain to chill for a bit.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Shrill by Lindy West: My Path from Devoted West Acolyte to Polite But Distant Fan

I'm terrified of Lindy West, and I think her book is one of the most important to come out this year.

Let's temper that last statement with the fact that, as we all know, my reading tends to consist of comedic memoirs, Victorian literature, academic feminist texts from the 1980s, and Fox Trot. But nevertheless, certain books stick out with the kind of prominence that makes you choose them rather than any of the others on the shelf. Shrill is one of these. It's an essay-based memoir that tackles feminism and internet trolling and fat-shaming. More specifically shaming a fat woman, because you can bet internet culture (and, let's be honest, regular culture) makes that distinction.

When you raise every woman to believe that we are insignificant, that we are broken, that we are sick, that the only cure is starvation and restraint and smallness; when you put women against one another; keep us shackled by shame and hunger, obsessing over our flaws rather than our power and potential; when you leverage all of that to sap our money and our time – that moves the rudder of the world.

Lindy West is one of the most creative and clever writers I've ever read. She's able to meld excellent writing with internetspeak, WHICH I BELIEVE IS AKIN TO DANTE'S ACCOMPLISHMENT. Her review of Titanic is still something I want framed on my wall. Shrill is a quick read, an important read, and its ideas will bounce around in your brain weeks after you've read it. It's already made me check my thoughts numerous times, examine why I thought them, and start to reframe how I view the world.

Are there problems with Lindy West? Of course there are problems.

She – at least up until I unfollowed her on Twitter – sics her followers on anyone she views as badgering her. She answers seemingly well-intentioned questions with sneering insults, and is a terrifying person to try to have a dialogue with online.Which I did precisely once to call out the bullying thing and felt like hiding behind a cushion the entire time. And that's coming from this tweet that my twitter archive says I sent in 2012:

But here's the thing: IF I WERE LINDY WEST I WOULD HAVE CRUMPLED LONG AGO LIKE SO MANY WATER COOLER CUPS. I can't imagine the level of abuse she takes in every. single. day. So it feels dickish to criticize how she deals with it. So instead I don't follow her every word anymore, I don't look up her writing, and when she stood 10 feet from me at Book Con, I purposely avoided her. But she's still a brilliant writer, I still love her book, and you all should read it please go do so

And seriously, read her Titanic review.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Why We Still Need Pride

Pride was always an act of defiance.

Even when I came out in 2011, and things were so much easier than when Chicago held its first Pride Parade (one year after the Stonewall riots) – even then, we still had civil unions instead of marriage equality, the Defense of Marriage Act seemed to have an impossibly secure foothold in America, and the idea of protective bills for LGBT citizens passing was, if not laughable, quixotic. We're still working on that one.

At the parade in 2013, we celebrated United States v. Windsor, and the ability for people to have their marriage recognized at a federal level. In 2014 we were fighting for it to be recognized everywhere, and in 2015, Justice Anthony Kennedy said "Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right."

After last year, I was done being defiant for Pride. I wouldn't go to the parade anymore. Everyone accepts us now, it's over, we can just live our lives. 

Then Orlando happened. We've been beaten, mocked, and murdered in America, but never with that kind of single-minded, calculated, and targeted hatred, and never on that kind of scale.

I hated that I had some reservations about going to Pride this year. I hated that they weren't because I still felt "done," but because I was afraid of what would happen if I attended as a member of my own community. I hated that I heard friends saying they weren't going because of those same fears. 

What I loved were the people who were there. 

My friends who had been planning to go for months, gay and straight, showed up. We stood silently together at the very beginning as the Orlando memorial passed by. We cheered for politicians, gay bars, animal shelters, and the LGBT organizations whose presence was a reminder of all the work they've done over the years to give us the legal rights we have today. We mostly just smiled and hugged and shouted greetings happily at strangers who passed by. 

It was the best Pride yet, and it's because of what is at the center of the LGBT movement, and what was therefore at the center of Pride Sunday: love.

Love is love is love is love, and while the parade must most certainly remain a gesture of defiance, that defiance is saying "We are here, we are visible, and we deserve to be loved and to love others." That is the radical statement of Pride. And we will show up year after year after year until that statement isn't seen as radical anymore. 

Happy Pride.