Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Stuff You Missed in History Class Should Not Be Missed. Or Something Like That.

I've been caroling pretty much nonstop, as is the usual case with my Decembers, and listening to a LOT of episodes of Stuff You Missed in History Class, which is a podcast recommended by my excellent friend Kathleen. It is the bee's knees. I started as far back as my phone would let me, which is 2012, and I think we should all harass Deblina Chakraborty and Sarah Dowdey into hanging out with us. They are super-nerds and I don't want to leave 2012 because I want them to host the show forever.

The main website for the show lets you go back to the beginning when it was stupid and had episodes like "How the Berlin Wall Worked" and one of the hosts says the only news resource she reads is "the Times of New York."

Unlike now, when they do episodes about Queen Nzinga and Beryl Markham and George Arents. All fascinating people! None of whom I knew about! I have some basic details on Belle Starr now and Bessie Coleman and Evliya Çelebi and damnit, I am not ready to let Deblina and Sarah go. They are the best.

But I haven't really been reading, which might be slightly integral to a book blog. But whatever, I've written about Reign on here (which CONTINUES to be fantastic, btdubs). Mmm. Reign

Anyway, December seems to make me not want to read, which is probably because of frantic running about looking for presents/trying to find wrapping paper at Target to cover said presents, but then Target basically has NO wrapping paper and what! Why! Is it in some secret section? Wouldn't you have tons and tons of wrapping paper if your main purpose was to sell things people can wrap? I'm not saying that places like Pottery Barn should have wrapping paper, but Target? Yes. Although I am not averse to the idea that the entire downtown Chicago population bought the wrapping paper before I got there. There are a lot of us. And Christmas is eight days away.

I've had to sing the 12 Days of Christmas multiple times in the past few days

I'm hoping to finish Feast for Crows before the new year, along with Gilead, Queen Lucia, and Bad Feminist. I have Things to Say about Bad Feminist, but I'm not even halfway through and it was due at the library on Monday, so I am currently illegally hoarding it to the tune of TWENTY CENTS A DAY. There is an actual price to my laziness. And it is shockingly cheap.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Barbara Stanwyck, i.e. Old Hollywood Had Actresses Besides Katharine Hepburn and Ingrid Bergman

I'm in one of those moods lately where I'm falling in love with EVERYTHING, including things I used to be in love with. So maybe this is some weird subconscious wriggling in of the Christmas spirit. Maybe? Or maybe I don't know how Christmas works.

I mostly want to watch a bunch of Barbara Stanwyck movies.

LET ME TELL YOU A TALE. When I was 17, it was Easter morning. I did not want to go to church (I actually rarely go that day, despite being totes into God and stuff; it is a blatantly hipster move of that being the day EVERYBODY goes). I climbed into my parents' bed while they got ready and put on Turner Classic Movies, where The Strange Love of Martha Ivers was playing.

And hello to you too.

'That woman looks like Celeste Holm, I'll bet it is totally Celeste Holm,' I said, full of HUBRIS about my classic movie knowledge. But upon pressing the info button I learned no! It was not Celeste Holm at all! It was someone named Barbara Stanwyck, and she was playing a total nutbar in this movie.

Albeit a nutbar with some good lines. Lizabeth Scott, you are a poor man's Lauren Bacall and Martha and I do not like you.

My senior year of high school was composed of two things: Frasier & Lilith on Cheers, and Barbara Stanwyck. I wrote Frasier/Lilith fanfiction in Physics and spent a lot of time thinking about how to make my waist as tiny as Barbara Stanwyck's in all my other classes (note: you cannot. it's impossible). I wrote one of my college essays about how Double Indemnity, her classic film noir with the guy from My Three Sons, was my favorite movie, which was a blatant LIE because the only reason I like that movie is that she's super-hot in it. In a bad-blonde-wig kind of way. But my brain wasn't self-aware enough to acknowledge that, and colleges didn't want to hear it (or maybe they did, pervs).

Phyllis, you think you are good at incognito,
but you are not. This is a grocery store.

Barbara Stanwyck was super-tough, super-pretty, and was willing to take roles other actresses were scared of. She was hilarious and terrifying and awesome. The Lady Eve, where she plays a con artist who falls in love with a wealthy but constantly befuddled snake expert? Fantastic. Ball of Fire, where she's a nightclub performer who has to hide out in a house full of professors who are writing an encyclopedia? Good lord. Does she teach them the rumba? Yes, she does. IS one of the professors the voice of the Caterpillar in Disney's Alice in Wonderland? ALSO YES.

Ball of Fire. So good.

There's also Clash by Night and Christmas in Connecticut and the aforementioned Strange Love of Martha Ivers and Double Indemnity and SO MANY OTHERS. Like The Bitter Tea of General Yen, which you only watch if you're 17 and trying to get through her whole filmography and ahahaha it is not good.


If you're gonna go one level deeper into classic films, you need to know Barbara Stanwyck. You get zero points for people like Katharine Hepburn, Lauren Bacall, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. But people like Stanwyck, Irene Dunne, Ann Sheridan, Norma Shearer, and Myrna Loy? Now you sound like you haven't just been looking at the covers of Barnes & Noble's Portraits of Classic Hollywood coffee table books.

Monday, December 8, 2014

How Am I Supposed to Read With All These Episodes of Modern Family to Watch? (and also there's Christmas)

The end of December approaches and I've got to get serious about books I want to finish this year. Feast for Crows? In the bag. And since I was warned I might not like it, I had low low expectations, and I DO like it. Not as much as the others, but you can't have slashy slashy conquery things happening 24/7. What you CAN do though is talk about crows all the time. LIKE IN THE TITLE. Crows eat dead things. Did you know? George R.R. Martin certainly does.


True to recent years, it doesn't feel like Christmas AT ALL yet, even though it's only 17 days away. Maybe because I'm 29 and Christmas has gone from me making paper chains that count down the days until my brothers and I wake up at 4 AM and shake my parents to me feverishly shopping online to make sure I get something for people on my list that they MAYBE won't hate but ahhhh who knows. 

So why not add this reading stress on top of that? I'm not even reading anything Christmasy. Game of Thrones has ZERO AMOUNTS OF CHRISTMAS. A lot of people are getting hanged and eaten by crows. Again, like in the title. Also did you know that people are like crows? The book says so. Also like in the title. Also Cersei needs to get hers. She needs to get hers soon.


Ugh Cersei sucks. But anyway, I've passed my reading goal for this year, which I never officially wrote down on Goodreads because it would stress me the hell out to complete it, but my goal is always basically to read more than the previous year, which thanks to four Game of Thrones books, has been achieved via number of books AND page numbers. Also the Bleak House readalong was this year, can you believe it? What a longass book THAT is.

Are you all ready for Christmas/whatever you do at the end of the year? Do you decorate? (we don't, but I wouldn't say no to some white lights in the living room, roomie) Is your shopping done, because mine basically is and I super-want to brag about it. Unless you're one of those people who was done a month ago, in which case I don't want to talk to you, thank you very much.


Remember this.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?: I am now emotionally attached to Mindy Kaling's book for now and evermore

Thanksgiving is over, where my cousins and I categorically aged ourselves by having an earnest discussion about how superior Clueless is to Mean Girls, and scorning the youth of today and their choices.


I spent my time before sleep on Thanksgiving Day curled up in my married cousin's former room, reading Mindy Kaling's Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?. I ended up reading past 1 AM, always thinking 'one more chapter,' and finally identifying that I was having such a great time with the book because it felt like I was chatting with a friend. I UNDERSTAND that that is the worst and immensely cliché, so it should mean more that I felt compelled to say it anyway. I love this book.

As a huge fan of the comic essay collection (that genre! so hot right now! lucky us), I've read...a lot of them. I wasn't that into Bossypants. I preferred Samantha Bee's I Know I Am, But What Are You and Sara Benincasa's Agorafabulous. It's hard when relating tales from your life to keep them from just darting all over the place and end up seeming like an incohesive mess. Or at least it seems that way since so many essay collections end up being exactly that.

I pre-ordered Mindy Kaling's book when it was announced (in 2011) and it has literally been sitting at the foot of my bed ever since. With a signed bookplate for us go-getters who were going to read it right away! Since, post-reading this, she and I are clearly now best friends, I apologize most deeply for letting it languish for so long next to the hoodie I don't want to pick up and that stuffed bear I don't have fond feelings for. It deserved better than that.

Well, I apologize again

Regarding the actual book, it wisely follows a fairly chronological path through her life, the details of which I knew nothing going in. I didn't even know she and her friend were responsible for the two-person show Matt & Ben (about Matt Damon and Ben Affleck). What's especially wonderful is you're reading about and being entertained by her life, and then suddenly, hey, a chapter about The Office! I forgot that's why I originally wanted to read this! It's like when you're really enjoying all the trailers before a movie and then the actual movie starts and you go Oh yeah, I forgot I came here to see this. Now I'm psyched again!

Mindy is probably one of the most relatable comic essayists I've read, an obvious example of why being her imagined version of how she and Kristen Wiig would become friends while they shared an office at SNL for two weeks and listened to Joni Mitchell's Blue:

KRISTEN: God, I love this album.

ME: Me too. Doesn't it make you wish we'd been alive during Woodstock?

KRISTEN: Yes! I always think that when I listen to this!

ME: That's hilarious. Hey, do you want to go get some lunch and then hit Crabtree & Evelyn?

KRISTEN (as though I'm an idiot): Uhhh yeah. I mean if we can even fit out the door of this tiny office.

ME: You're so bad.

(We laugh and laugh)

KRISTEN: Seriously, I wish we could've gone to Woodstock together.
 She takes the reader through her nerdy grade school years, what it's like when you're in a girl clique, what proper karaoke etiquette is, how much she loves Irish exits at parties, and which photos on her BlackBerry are the most narcissistic. Among other things. This is why you feel like you're chatting with a friend the whole time. It's refreshingly casual without feeling purposely so, and it also manages to be well-structured. 

One of my favorite things about it is it doesn't fall into the faux-cutesy trap of writing about all the things the author did to put off writing the following chapter. EVERYONE DOES THIS NOW AND I HATE IT. But Mindy Kaling is a professional damn writer and she doesn't need to pull that shit. Read her adorable book. And maybe watch The Mindy Project; I marathoned a season a couple of months ago and do not regret it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi: This Review is Very Spoilery DANGER DANGER

I can't even talk about the rest of the book apart from the ending right now, because what??? What?? I knew the end was going to be weird/discussiony because you all TOLD ME it was, but I didn't realize it was so right off the boat This Would Make Shit Go Down on Tumblr maybe-not-okayish.

Where Social Justice Policing Reaches Asinine Levels™

So if you want a basic rundown of Boy, Snow, Bird with pretty much no spoilers, it's about a young woman who abandons her abusive rat catcher father, escapes to Massachusetts or Connecticut or something, and creates a life for herself in the small town in which she winds up. Her name is Boy. The daughter of the man she marries is named Snow. Her next daughter is Bird.

There is SO MUCH about race in here, but I feel like it's one of those situations where Oyeyemi has buried most of the book ten inches underground, and you have to dig to figure it out, but quite frankly, I don't want to dig. This book would be fantastic to write a college essay about, but I'm 29 and my only school right now is Shit I Click On On Wikipedia. Which doesn't require a lot of papers.

I thought it was going to be a Snow White parallel story but then they only mentioned Cinderella and then there was racism and then ALL OF A SUDDEN something that was basically **(THIS IS WHERE THE SUPER-SPOILERS ARE)** 'a lesbian got raped and then turned into an evil transgender man' and WHAT.

Okay. Okay. Here's the thing, Helen Oyeyemi. I get that maybe transgenderism wasn't your point. And I get that all this could...somehow...have happened. But much like yes, some black people steal things, if you put that in your story, you are contributing to a cultural idea that is slowly getting fixed and you are therefore making it worse rather than helping. Transgender people have been portrayed as evil for YEARS. Are you really adding to that tradition? What's your game here? And I don't even know what to say about the lesbian rape thing. Both things seems harmful and weird and I still like your book because overall it was really good and it made me keep reading, which books rarely do, but still. What.

If anyone has insights into this, I would absolutely appreciate them. I'm still going to read Mr. Fox, because I DO like her writing, but that ending...would need explanation.

A lot of explanation.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Minithon: Nooooooo don't let it be over!

UNLIKE THIS READATHON *cries in a corner*

I actually did weirdly better in this readathon than I have in most others. I'm over halfway done with Boy, Snow, Bird, halfway through Medieval Women, and I read a chapter of 2 Kings, meaning I have two left and then BAM! 1 Chronicles ahoy.

I also ate Chipotle, grilled cheese, mini muffins, hummus, carrots, and copious amounts of Mr Pibb. Oh, and one of the mini pies my girlfriend baked because she is awesome.

it was her first time making pie

So much eaten! A relatively okay amount read! Boy, Snow, Bird is starting to get weird and I was somehow not expecting that. WHAT'S YOUR GAME, OYEYEMI

Medieval Women is fantastic. It's this book of essays published in 1975 and based on lectures by Eileen Power, who had died by then. Our culture's ideas about women are at least partially based on ideas formulated during the medieval period! We cannot understand our present without looking to our past! History is important! Etc!

I love the minithon. I wish we could do it more often, but frankly, we're all too lazy. Which is in the spirit of the minithon, so. Win-win. I guess.

OUR LEADER TIKA IS SO LOVELY FOR HOSTING THIS EVERY TIME. One of the best elements of the minithon, aside from constant snacks, is the blog-visiting and discussion. I love you all and WELCOME, NEW PEOPLE. May our minithon spread to all who need it.


So I woke up 20 minutes late for the minithon (which starts at 10 CST, so NO EXCUSE), but I promptly ate a bag of mini muffins and read the first essay in Eileen Power's STELLAR collection, Medieval Women. I have now read excellent things like:
Just as in the nineteenth century the Romantic movement followed on the 'age of reason' and the Revolution it inspired, so in the Middle Ages the turbulence of the Dark Ages was succeeded by the age of chivalry and of the Virgin.

GOOD STUFF.  I also have an assortment of snack things, because that's why we do this.

LOOK AT HOW HEALTHY THAT SHIT IS (aside from the mini muffins)

Quorn is made out of like, soy and dirt. So healthy. Mm.

I'm probably going to read more of Medieval Women, because I think I took it from the home of one of my grandparents and have been meaning to read it for yeeeears, and also I've just been reading a lot of medieval stuff lately. Anyone been noticing that? I certainly have. And yes, I'm counting Game of Thrones

I also have Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi, and Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. And obvs A Feast for Crows, the fourth in the GoT series and a MILLION BOOKS on my Kindle and my Oyster account. So I'm all set over here. MINI ON.

(edit: It's early [not really]. I'm tired. I FORGOT TO JUSTIFY BOOKS. Ok, Medieval Women is 99 pages long, so that does itself. BSB has a title of three things which are all small unless you're talking about like an ostrich and I really don't think Oyeyemi is. Gilead is one chapter, which is a MINI NUMBER OF CHAPTERS, and GoT features Tyrion, who is a little person. Done.)