Friday, March 27, 2015

The Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters: 1800s Egyptian Archaeology, Romance, and Mystery!

I was very hesitant to begin the Amelia Peabody series. So hesitant that after I acquired the first two books, I let them sit on my shelves for at least the same number of years. Now, while this is not unusual for books I own, what IS unusual is that I was consciously avoiding them. You see, when you grow up reading a lot of historical lady novels, you cannot help but encounter the Anachronistic Feminist, and UGH. Ugh I say! The anachronistic feminist is a salient part of an unfortunate number of historical novels. Historical novelists! Your characters must be informed by their times! Stop investing them with contemporary-to-yourself values!

It's like THIS. Except this is actually really cool, so...nevermind, not like this.

So when I finally began Crocodile on the Sandbank, the first in the Amelia Peabody series, I assumed I would hate it. IMAGINE MY SURPRISE when no! She is conscious of improprieties! She is shocked by things people would be shocked by back then! Sometimes she throws cultural norms to the wind, but that is because it is Egyptian wind and they have more pressing concerns to deal with.

Amelia Peabody is an English lady in her early 30s who has recently become an English lady of independent means, as her father died and left her all his many monies. She decides to go abroad! Because that sounds fun. She looks for a companion, because that makes abroad-ing even MORE fun, and she meets an unfortunate young lady who has fallen on hard times but is otherwise perfect (this is Evelyn), and the two go to Egypt. Where they run into a mummy! Or do they! I don't know! (yes I do) You have to read the book!

It could be exactly like this! Or maybe not!

I like Amelia. She has a temper and makes observations like:

Watching his beaming face, hearing his jovial tones, I could understand why Mr. Dickens' Scrooge found his jolly nephew so irritating.

You can guess almost everything that's going to happen in this book, but that doesn't make it any less fun. I'd classify it under "tasteful but thoughtless reading." So people will somehow give you credit for reading it, but it requires 5% of your attention. Also Amelia meets a gentleman who is very rude, so you can guess what happens there.

Or the Victorian archaeologist equivalent

Quick, easy, but not judged like a Nicholas Sparks novel. This is some gooood relaxation readin'.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

New York City: So many people. None of whom thought of alleys.

Why did you not put alleys between your buildings, New York? Did you just need to smush up against each other THAT much? Evidently yes, because you're willing to tolerate your trash sitting out on the sidewalk like it's the damn 14th century. 

Anyway. Let's get started.

I arrived in NYC late Thursday night, as is my wont so I can get that sweet sweet morning time in on Friday. Said morning time was spent watching Broad City with my brother Carl until I had to meet Jeff from Other Press for lunch. We went to a place called Smorgas. They had Scandinavian food. I classified this as "adventurous."


I got the gravlaks sandwich. I am still unsure what gravlaks is/are, but we also got herring, so now I feel like I can see The Girl King and feel like I am THERE. Also, hey, Scandinavia, lingonberries taste of nothing. You are all fooling yourselves.

Gravlaks with salad thing + potatoes

It wet-snowed all day Friday, which is why I had the voluminous hat seen in the first picture, which I stole from my brother-in-law Mike. I will not use an umbrella in the snow. It is unnatural and a crime against basic human awesomeness. This did, however, mean I showed up with frozen hair to meet my friend Meghan at Hachette.

Hachette's offices are so new and shiny! And they have a signed letter by J.D. Salinger just hanging out in a tiny room with other things! And Meghan gave me some books I am veritably thrilled about. (Jeff also gave me books, but Jeff's press is for Lacanian philosophers who like reading works in translation and I WILL TRY READING THEM, JEFF)

I'm actually really psyched about the
Montaigne from Other Press

The upper left is photographer Sally Mann's memoir, and it's ridiculously good already. So exciting. Much yay.

I went to dinner with Carl, Mike, and some friends of theirs at a place in Astoria called Bear. It's Russian and I ordered meatballs. Don't get meatballs. Get dumplings. Mmm. Dumplings. While at this restaurant, I had a fantastic conversation with a video game reviewer about how ethics in gaming journalism is bullshit, and a not-fantastic conversation with a photographer who asked me if all lesbians have bad taste in music, which happened after someone mentioned I super-love Meghan Trainor and think she is made of rainbows (or words to that effect). 

Y'know what, nope. All lesbians do not have bad taste in music. But my favorite reply to this (which I would never say, because Jesus and so forth) is "I don't know. Are all straight girls bitches?"

Which I believe was said by Meghan (of Hachette, not Trainor) the next day. God bless friends.

By the way, every night in this tale, Carl and Mike and I watched Property Brothers and the CW show The 100. So just weave that in and out, because it was always happening.

Saturday! A quick trot around FAO Schwartz and then a walk through St Thomas Episcopal with Blair from Quirk books, because Consuelo Vanderbilt was unhappily married in that church, you see. And we were looking at Consuelo Vanderbilt things. 

You're a way beautiful church, St Thomas

Then we ran up to the Museum of the City of New York, where there was a Gilded Age exhibit with some seriously bangin' jewelry. I'm not usually that impressed by shiny stones but damn. Also there was a Worth gown and I don't remember how I know that's a Thing, but it's a Thing.

We went by Emma Goldman's apartment BECAUSE I NEEDED TO and then ran through the Strand and then went our separate ways. Blair is very tall and ridic fun to hang out with. Oh! She also knows where to find tacos. Very good tacos. 

Enjoying myself in a socially acceptable way at the Strand

THEN I met up with Meghan at a vegetarian Indian establishment, where she rendered me NIGH SPEECHLESS with her academic breakdown of Beyoncé's career. Shit's impressive. You should probably hang out with Meghan. 

Sunday! Was Hang-Out-With-Alley-and-Her-Husband day. I love both of them. We always eat, and the Apple store is usually somehow involved, but THIS time they let me whirl around the Met gift shop and get excited about opera things, so, I thank both of you for that. 

We ended up going to a diner where I got:

1) a blue cheese burger 
2) cheese fries 
3) Nutella milkshake. 

Yeah. This is why I usually just eat hummus at home. If I'm allowed out, I make poor life decisions. 

We also! Also! Stopped at a bookstore on the Upper West Side called Book Culture that I really really liked because they had a RIDICULOUS number of books I wanted to buy. Alley's job was to tell me "No, Alice, you cannot buy that giant book, as you have no room in your suitcase." She did this very well, but allowed me to buy the comic Sex Criminals because it was paperback and bendy, and Meghan had told me the previous night that it is great

I did add The Language of Paradise by Barbara Klein Moss, American Queen: The Rise and Fall of Kate Chase Sprague by John Oller, and The Match Girl and the Heiress by Seth Koven to my TBR list on Goodreads because I want to read ALL of them.

I then literally saw a sign for the New York Historical Society and ran away from Alley and Alley's Husband (Alley, I don't know if I'm allowed to talk names or not help meee). There were quick hugs. I wasn't completely rude. But off! Off I went! Where I discovered that despite the top floor (i.e. the awesome one) being closed for renovations for over a year, admission was $19. Ahhh. So much money already spent on Nutella milkshakes.

So I had this conversation:

"If I'm a student and left my wallet at home, can I still get the student discount?"
"What school do you attend?"
"Normally no, but I'm feeling nice today. And NYU students get in free, so in you go."

Ahhhhhhh. I WANTED TO PAY YOU $12, HISTORICAL SOCIETY. I AM SORRY. But I spent 13 in their gift shop, so....that...evens out kinda, right? Kinda. Point being, I felt bad, but also the coolest thing they had was this road marker, and that's not THAT cool.

That night, Carl and Mike gave me whiskey and I recited about 70% of the X-Files episode 'Bad Blood' in tandem with Netflix. Then I passed out, woke up, and got on a plane home. And it snowed in Chicago because how about one last hurrah, y'know?

I'll keep visiting you, New York. There're a couple of museums I haven't seen yet. And Alley and I have to hit more burger places. And you just have so damn much stuff.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Villette: "Swallowing tears as if they had been wine" and other goth lyrics by Charlotte Bronte

Behold! Almost 2/3 done. Next week is Chapters 27 through 33. This week, Lucy Snowe continues to be weird, and Graham keeps saying unsettling things to his mother that make me think those two need to make some other friends. Or maybe have Lucy move in. You guys are making everyone uncomfortable with your Titania/Bottom talk and your "Mother, you are better to me than ten wives yet." That wouldn't fly in 2015, sir. Please, CB, be aware of norms in future eras and adapt your books accordingly.

Lucy was mainly obsessed with letters in this section. Letters from Graham. Also tiny Paulina showed up again as we all knew she would because oh, isn't it nice dramatically to have her come around again. Also -- CHARLOTTE. Why has everyone from your character's past moved to the same Belgian town. WHY. I have suspended my disbelief for your book, but there are limits. 

Definite limits.
I am unsure about other people's dealings with waited-for letters/emails/whatever, but I thought the section dealing with Lucy's letters to and from Graham was relatable as shit. 

When I was about 21, doin' my Comparative Lit thing in college, I would write my profs/TAs these long, longass emails filled with questions, and then I'd be so happy knowing I might get a reply. More often than not, because they were People With Lives, and not an undergrad student who did homework in her apartment and watched The X-Files (the end), the response would be something fairly concise. But SOMETIMES, oh sometimes they would answer all my questions, and I'd get to go do more research and it was the best. I am positive that for some of these replies, I pulled a Lucy and would wait to read them. This was probably (coincidentally!) the loneliest year of my life. Which is why I was writing super-long emails to TAs.

MY POINT IS loneliness is the worst and you know Charlotte Bronte's talking about the letters she wrote to M. Heger, the man she knew from the school in Brussels. When she moved back to England, she originally wrote him every two weeks, but then that got purposely scaled back to every six months. Her description of Lucy's feelings surrounding the letters are way, way too specific and there's just no way she didn't go through it.

Charlotte Bronte all the time

Hey, remember that whole section where she argues with Reason?

"Talk for you is good discipline. You converse imperfectly. While you speak, there can be no oblivion of inferiority— no encouragement to delusion: pain, privation, penury stamp your language…."

"But," I again broke in, "where the bodily presence is weak and the speech contemptible, surely there cannot be error in making written language the medium of better utterance than faltering lips can achieve?"

It's so weird feeling like you're getting to know CB through this book, BUT, do I believe she was way better at writing than talking? Helllll yes. Where did she grow up? In the middle of damn nowhere next to a graveyard! There's no learning casual chitchat up there! That's why Emily's books are full of ghosts and assholes!

Every character in Wuthering Heights

But back to M. Heger. Based on one single thing I read on a webpage, it looks like he was mayybe a little encouragey, or at least didn't shut things down right away, regarding her adoration of him. And he was married with tiny children. And Charlotte -- ok, we don't know her, but honestly -- would not have written him things like "I love French for your sake with all my heart and soul" without feeling like it would have been received potentially in a positive way.

See, this is why she had Lucy write one insane letter to Graham, and then one super-rational one. Because in her own situation, she did not make that decision. Instead she said, "I find it difficult to be cheerful so long as I think I shall never see you more." GIRL. That man is married. And his wife reads your letters. What're you doin'.

In the rest of this section, she addresses mental illness ("Long may it be generally thought that physical privations alone merit compassion, and that the rest is a figment."); defends Ginevra Fanshawe of the Great Name, because if you're going to criticize, be JUST about it; and then comes up with kind of a bitchy plan to make Ginevra look bad, even though she could just tell Paulina, "Oh, no, Graham's totally not into her at all anymore." But that is not Lucy's way.

All of Lucy's life decisions

Thursday, March 19, 2015

What, do YOU finish books?

Oh my, what's been happening. Well. I have been acting as a reader of all books, finisher of none, which comes as a surprise to precisely nobody.

I wrote a thing for Book Riot! And I'm going to NYC again, where I shall visit the delightful Jeff from Other Press, first mentioned in that post where I questioned Donna Tartt; Meghan from Little, Brown, whom I met at BEA last year and then talked with into the wee smalls; Blair from Quirk, whom I also met at BEA and have since closed down a Chicago bar with; and Alley, whom you all know and love and her blog is right here.

While I'm sad not to see Amanda from Book Riot and Emily from As the Crowe Flies (and Reads), BEA will be in Chicago next year! And I live in Chicago! That is THE most convenient. Unlike this year, when it's in NYC again and I am going to California instead because I am turning THIRTY, and while age 25, aka Golden Birthday, was spent seeing the home of my high school beard, John Adams, age 30 is going to be me seeing the filming sites of Vertigo, aka one of the best movies of all time ever.

But for serious, I love John Adams

Among the books I've not been finishing are Thérèse Raquin and Crocodile on the Sandbank, which is the first Amelia Peabody book, and I am enjoying it muchly. Obviously Villette is thrown in there, and then one of my book groups is reading How Jesus Became God, which involved THE BEST discussion last night, as I got tipsy off a smidgen of wine and became fairly belligerent. "EXPLAIN YOUR FEELINGS ON THE TRINITY, SIR."

Oh, and I of course bought tickets for Meghan Trainor's second tour in July and I am MEETING HER so let's all assume I'm passing out as soon as she walks up.

The video for her new single's out, and it's rather more horrifying than the song, which I love despite everything. It's basically a rehash of Runaround Sue, and it's so, so, so catchy. Yes it's very heteronormative and we can talk about that but at least she's trying to say "Look, I have certain standards by which I expect to be treated," and that's better than talking about how you can't live without someone, or how you want to live in a state of enmeshment with them, which is what a lot of popular music is putting out there.

Also she looks really pretty I'm just saying ok the end.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Villette Is the Best, Week 3

Villette is damn astounding. People try to "write fiction" and end up giving us something fake and mechanized, and while it can occasionally be entertaining, it is not humanity written down on paper.

VILLETTE. You're such a weird mix of overly-fanciful prose and Charlotte Bronte's obvious angst spilling into her book. Everyone in her life had died except her father, and who knows about that relationship. She'd started out with four sisters and a brother and in 1853 she was alone. At 37 years old. Lucy Snowe just pours her damn self into this book and doesn't care if you like it or not. CB's struggles with depression and attempts to continue life after her family was gone are just there on the page. I mean, good LORD:

She may have gone upward, and come in sight of her eternal home, hoping for leave to rest now, and deeming that her painful union with matter was at last dissolved. While she so deemed, an angel may have warned her away from heaven's threshold, and, guiding her weeping down, have bound her, once more, all shuddering and unwilling, to that poor frame, cold and wasted, of whose companionship she was grown more than weary.

Who writes like that? A done-with-everything Charlotte Bronte, that's who. And when she runs into past friends and prays later that night that she won't ruin the friendship by trying to be too close to them and then sobs herself to sleep? WHAT. Think about Victorian female characters. This is something so much more honest and out there than SO MANY of them; I'm constantly staggered by this book.

Speaking of Lucy Snowe not caring if you like it, let's remember that this is in the book:

Herald, come quickly! Thousands lie round the pool, weeping and despairing, to see it, through slow years, stagnant. Long are the "times" of Heaven: the orbits of angel messengers seem wide to mortal vision; they may enring ages: the cycle of one departure and return may clasp unnumbered generations ; and dust, kindling to brief suffering life, and through pain, passing back to dust, may meanwhile perish out of memory again, and yet again. To how many maimed and mourning millions is the first and sole angel visitant, him easterns call Azrael!

That is insane. And I'm so glad she kept it in. No cookie cutter, Dickensian, carefully controlled situations in Villette! NO. Easterns call him Azrael, damnit.

CB also throws in just good observations on life. I mean, check this out:

There are people from whom we secretly shrink, whom we would personally avoid, though reason confesses that they are good people: there are others with faults of temper, &c., evident enough, beside whom we live content, as if the air about them did us good.

I mean...yeah! Yeah, CB! TOTES correct. You are doin' swell. Occasionally you overwrite and go off on these flights of Romantic fancy, but those're forgiven, because you wrote such a totally unlikable, real person who talks about angels enringing things.

I trust you all will comment on the actual events of these chapters. I'm just gonna sit over here and be happy about everything else. Next week is chapters 21-26

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Bachelor and a Bachelor-Themed Book: The Bacheloriest Post Ever

The Bachelor seems like a terrible show, right? It's the 21st century and we're throwing 30 women at a man so he can evaluate them based on the everyday dating situations of going to Bali or having to write a country song and then perform it in front of him and the six other women he's also currently dating.

As a lesbian/feminist/whatever, I should be appalled, and I sort of am, AND YET. And yet, I watched the entire season this year and then requested previous Bachelor contestant Courtney Robertson's book I Didn't Come Here to Make Friends: Confessions of a Reality Show Villain from HarperCollins. They obliged and now please consider this post a double-review.

First, the show. I am the only one of my friends who thinks Bachelor Chris Soules is attractive. Maybe because I don't picture myself being with him ever ever ever, but he's got a kind of former high school quarterback look to him that's just cute, and he also looks like a very SOLID sort of person. Physically. I don't know anything about his mental/emotional capabilities, nor do I want to. This is mostly because Chris's interiority either goes two inches deep or is buried beneath SUCH DEPTHS of pop culture superficiality and an unfortunate lack eloquence that you would require much more of an investment in him than I have to discover it.

but aw

Going in, I wasn't sure how The Bachelor works, but essentially, there is one man and the aforementioned 30 women. On the first night, they come out of limos one by one to greet him, and their main task during this is to be as memorable as possible without seeming insane (a fine line) because he cuts something like 10 women the first night. From there it gets whittled down and down each week over about ten episodes. They have this gimmick where if you impress him enough on a date, you get a rose and are therefore safe from elimination that week. SAFE FROM ELIMINATION. In a situation where in the end, you are engaged to this man. My theme is going to be that The Bachelor is seriously fucked up, but also really entertaining, sooo here I am with this not overly negative review.

The best part about this damn show is talking about it with other people. As with anything involving many characters, Bachelor conversations can take up some time. Because who will be in the final three! Who will be the next Bachelorette? Is Kelsey crazier than Ashley, and WHY can no one in the house see that Carly's only looking out for Carly! She's not your friend, Britt!!

It's a problematic show. OBviously. But it's reality TV, and most of the women are on it so they can later get jobs hosting on E!, so. It shouldn't be taken too seriously. And ON THAT NOTE.

Oh this book. Oh man, this book. So, I didn't watch Courtney's season, but it involved a man named Ben who runs a winery. Courtney "won" by getting proposed to at the end, but as with most Bachelor relationships, it didn't pan out. And also she and Ben have nothing in common and she's kind of a terrible person. But! As with most things terrible, her book made for fantastic reading.

They're good-looking kids even if Ben looks
weirdly like Josh Groban

This is one of the most obviously ghostwritten things I've ever read, but thank God, because I am incredibly grateful for Deb Baer and her thoughtful use of semicolons. I also assume she managed to retain something of Courtney's original voice, which lent itself to such gems as: "But our steamy love affair was blown to shit at Track and Field Day at school" and

[I]n a confessional, I did say, "I hope I'm a sight for sore eyes because after the date with Elyse, his eyes are pretty sore!" I actually liked Elyse a lot. She was one of the few who wasn't that mean to me, and she was always giving me great workout tips to make the most of our thirty-minute Yard Time. So I do feel bad about saying that.

It feels like she spends most of the book trying to convince people she's actually really nice and a victim, but then she says things like the above that a person with more self-awareness would realize were not...exactly....on message. The essence of this book, and my favorite line is:

You're such a fake bitch, with your fake hair and fake boobs," she whispered menacingly.

Emily had fake boobs, too.


Every now and then though, she tosses out these startling bits of relatability. She's only a couple years older than I am, so the music/movies she references line up, and who DIDN'T ever turn on their Discman and play Vanessa Carlton's 'A Thousand Miles' over and over again until they drifted off to sleep? In more serious, human terms, she offers up that "I was so lonely when I first moved to L.A. that I'd wander around the Grove mall by myself and bump up against strangers just to have human contact."

I have LEGIT been happy when strangers have bumped into me on the El. So thanks for making that seem like less of a weirdo thing, Courtney Robertson. 

Her relationship with Ben takes up a good amount of the book. She makes it seem like he sucks, but then, SHE seems to suck, so either they were going to be perfect for each other or not work at all. Most of the times she talks about their relationship working, it's because they had sex. The rest of the time, she talks about how mean he was to her.

Ben was in a horrible mood, and would switch between ignoring me and being overtly nasty. When I said that we should be cowboys and Indians for Halloween that year, he got overly pissed off and barked, "That's a dumb idea!"

To be fair, that IS a dumb idea, Courtney.

This whole book was amazing. When else will you get to see into the mind of a reality show contestant/model who's really really positive pretty much everyone else is the problem. I mean, to be fair, another one of those people might have written a book. But they probably didn't use the phrase "blown to shit" in their first 20 pages. And that makes them all the poorer.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Villette, Week 2. Charlotte Bronte is a weirdo and does not give a fuuuck if you know it.

You guys, you guys, when you were reading about Lucy, Ginevra and Dr John, did you...maybe...possibly....think of EXACTLY THIS SONG?


Slam dunk song choice, Alice. 

Lucy Snowe circa 2009

I am liking this book. Charlotte Bronte's grown up a bit.  I feel like Jane Eyre's romance is stripped away and CB's saying "You wanna know how life is? I'll fucking tell you how life is." You know what it isn't? Brooding gentlemen in isolated mansions who fall for the silent but fiery governess. Instead it's teaching at a boarding school and locking children in closets because they suck. Omg I love this Charlotte so much. She's SO MEAN AND JUDGEY. Jane was how she saw herself early on; Lucy Snowe is how she really was. That is my uninformed opinion. And I LOVE Lucy Snowe.

I could, in English, have rolled out readily phrases stigmatizing their proceedings as such proceedings deserved to be stigmatized; and then with some sarcasm, flavoured with contemptuous bitterness for the ringleaders, and relieved with easy banter for the weaker but less knavish followers.

YOU THROW SO MUCH SHADE, LUCY SNOWE. Oh man. She was so quiet at the beginning and just watched and now she's just judgin' up on everyone and ripping up snotty girls' essays like a badass.

What happened in this section? 

Lucy arrives in Villette. Through  DIVINE PROVIDENCE ITSELF, she ends up at this boarding school and immediately gets a job there. Because she's got moxie, damnit. Then she becomes a teacher and basically falls in love with Dr John, because "his chin was full, cleft, Grecian, and perfect." I mean, there're other reasons, but that's the best one. But he's in love with Ginevra Fanshawe (who has a great name) because he's an idiot.

We knew this was going to happen, because when Lucy and Dr John first meet and she doesn't know who he is, she "would have followed that frank tread, through continual night, to the world's end."

I mean, look at that. The CB that I fell in love with at age 16 is clearly still here. Because she's writing shit like that. And right after saying "Independently of romantic rubbish," she talks about staying outdoors "to keep tryst with the rising moon, or taste one kiss of evening." Ahahahahahaha.

She's also SO WEIRD. I just....Charlotte Bronte, I want to kiss your face in a just-friends way. Look at your Wuthering Heights tribute, girl:

I could not go in: too resistless was the delight of staying with the wild hour, black and full of thunder, pealing out such an ode as language never delivered to man— too terribly glorious, the spectacle of clouds, split and pierced by white and blinding bolts.

I mean, whattttttt. This is the Victorian era! Victorian, Charlotte! I am OVERWHELMED by how great this is. Look at her writing a tooootal asshole of a character who loves standing in thunderstorms and telling people they're dickheads (paraphrasing). 

Then she goes on to make a Jael/Sisera analogy regarding her brainthoughts and talks about "driving a nail through their temples" but "they were but transiently stunned, and at intervals would turn on the nail with a rebellious wrench: then did the temples bleed, and the brain thrill to its core."

This is a woman who gives NO fucks. If one of my friends wrote that today I'd be like "Girl, do we need to talk," so you know someone like Elizabeth Gaskell was like "Hey Ceeb, what''s it going?" But did she delete that passage? NOPE. Kept it. Woman is a baller. 

I'm so ridiculously excited to see what's going to happen in this weirdo book. Next week is Chapters 16-20 as an apology for assigning way too much this week.