Sunday, December 30, 2012

Gone Girl: Maybe I should have read a book about a puppy tea party

This is a hard one for me to write about just now, due to personal things in my personal life. I should also note that my copy of the book is at the bottom of a box right now, so I shan't be providing you any excerpts. But you don't need details anyway. In fact, a hex on details . . . because the less you know the better with this one.

But let's first address the depressed elephant in the room---sans details, of course. Some of you may have noticed that I've been sad on Twitter lately, which is the equivalent of standing in a crowd of cheerful, clever people and sighing dramatically until someone offers you a cookie and politely asks you to run along and refill the chip bowl. So I'm sorry about all that dramatic sighing. Also, I can't promise there won't be more. Also, we're out of barbecue chips.

But about Gone Girl. As I'm sure you've gathered, it's a cheerful romp through the wondrous institution of marriage. In a nutshell.

So Nick and Amy are the marrieds, and they've been having run-of-the-mill married-people trouble following a few unpleasant life changes (i.e., losing their jobs, moving from a big city to a small town, dealing with illness and death in the family, and so on and so forth). But then Amy goes MISSING. And an ottoman has been overturned, suggesting FOUL PLAY.

But that's clearly not the end of the story. And said story unfolds within a narrative that switches back and forth between Nick's and Amy's perspectives, showing just how very little two people can know about each other when they think they know everything about each other. It's every bit as delicious as everyone says . . . even though I can't look at the cover without sighing dramatically.

Is it next year yet?

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel . . . it has pictures


It only took me a month. And it was a graphic novel . . . adaptation . . . of a children's book.

Moving on.

A Wrinkle in Time seems to have played a prominent role in my generation's collective childhood. I, personally, was convinced that I WAS Meg Murray. I had mousy brownish/blondish hair. I wore glasses (more accurately, I was prescribed glasses that my mom purchased and that I promptly stored in a junk drawer). I was grievously misunderstood by my peers. MY NAME WAS MEG.

In short, this book resonated with me when I was an overachieving member of the school orchestra whose favorite clothing item was a Mr. Bubble T-shirt and whose go-to hairstyle was Princess Leia buns. (WHY wasn't I more popular in middle school?)

But NOW? If this graphic novel adaptation is any indication of how my grown-up self connects with A Wrinkle in Time . . . not so much. And that's a giant bummer.

I already sort of talked about how I was disappointed that this adaptation wasn't designed to appeal to a more mature audience. That's not really a thing. I mean, it's a thing, but it's not a thing. Because I can definitely see what Hope Larson was going for by keeping the adaptation of a kids' classic in the realm of . . .  well, kids.

No, my REAL problem with this is that I kiiiind of hated Meg.


Could this whiny, stubborn, impatient, childish girl really have been one of my most prominent literary role models? I know a lot of her faults were part of the character and part of the story---the overarching message being, "Embrace your faults because they are what make you a special snowflake who will one day save the world."

But Adult Me is not buying that malarkey. And maybe that's because I know Things about The World now.

Thanks a LOT, World. You jerk.

Something that DID remain exactly as I remembered? Calvin O'Keefe.

Total. Dreamboat.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Exactly 1 year ago today . . .

. . . I wrote my VERY FIRST blog post.

In honor of this momentous day, I present to you "Timeline of a Book Blog on the Occasion of Its 1st Birthday." [Suggested musical pairing: Shania Twain's "You're Still the One"]

November 1*Stumbled (drunkenly? Probably.) into a Goodreads discussion about To Kill a Mockingbird (Someone actually asked if she should read it or if it "sucked." I KNOW. I can't even.)

November 1Sought out and started reading Amanda's blog because of HI-larious things she said in above-mentioned Goodreads discussion

November 15Started reading Alice's blog because Amanda exhorted her followers to do so (Sheeeeeep. Every one of us.)

November 23Stopped lurking in the broom closet of Alice's blog and actually left a comment, setting in motion what would become a yearlong (and counting, to infinity) relationship

Mutual Hatred of Twilight: Bringing people together since 2006

November 25—Caved to Alice's peer pressure and started my own blog (pretty much immediately . . . I put up no resistance at all)

November 25 to Present—Met (YES you can MEET people on the Internet. Shut up.) an incredible mix of lady-bloggers who officially make up the largest group of female friends I've ever had at one time (AND I LOVE YOU ALL)

Charter members: AliceLauraAlleyRayna
KayleighTikaJulieAmanda, and Nahree

*Most of these dates are toooootally not right. But let's pretend together.

Side Effects of Writing About Books on the Internet:
  • Reading more intentionally
  • Reading outside my comfort zone
  • Just READING more
  • Knowing what books are floating around out there, in a general sort of way
  • Becoming a bookseller (really, I don't think I would have gotten the job without this blog)
  • Going to more book-related things in The Outside World
  • Making friends I never would have met any other way (see above)
  • Writing down random thoughts that would otherwise just bounce around behind my eyes, causing headaches and light bruising to my frontal lobe
And all because of a silly little book blog.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Reading Rut, I am in you.

I've been having that unsettled feeling particular to bloggingthat feeling you get when more than a week has gone by between updates. Let's call it SELF-INFLICTED INNER TURMOIL. Because it is both of those things.

But I can't finish a book right now to save my life. And if I haven't finished a book, what can I possibly say that won't be about Doctor Who or, more specifically, how everyone should find Matt Smith as attractive as I do?

Or THIS, which I could write a POEM about.

I'm in the exact middle of three books right now, and none of them are hitting the spot. So let's talk about THAT.

I was really enjoying this when I started it . . . back in, oh man . . . in September. This rut is even worse than I thought. OK, well, I was ENJOYING it. But then I started the Grapes of Wrath readalong and tucked this away and really didn't care if I ever picked it up again. And there I remain on the subject of the Chicago World's Fair and this particular killer of women whose name I can't even remember because it's been THAT long since I picked up this book.

I haven't read ANY D. Eggs. So I bought this one, because it was $3 and the cover is kind of gorgeous. And there end my reasons for acquiring this book. I had no idea what it was about. I still don't, really. But I WILL tell you this: I was eating things while reading the first 50 pages, and I wouldn't recommend that. A little friendly advice from me to you.

I was kind of hoping that, in translating this into a graphic novel, Hope Larson would ALSO elevate the maturity level. I assumed that the people who would most want to read a graphic novel version of a beloved childhood classic would be the people who were the target audience for the original and are now all grown up and stuff. And, yeah, we like to relive old favorites just as they are, but if you're going to reinterpret something, shouldn't you reinterpret it? This version is still VERY much for children, which kind of just makes it A Wrinkle in Time: Now With Pretty Pictures.

What I'm trying to say here is that all three of these books are perfectly acceptable and maybe even really great . . . but they aren't doing it for me RIGHT NOW.

And for that, they must pay.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

It blows my mind how many activities we can do.

The month of October was not a great blogging month for me, but . . . I've been moving.

Now that I'm sort of settled, I can get back to the business of writing things about books. And I should probably also do some editing? You know, if I have time.

But before I do ANY of that, let's have some pictures of the new place, yeah?

Walkway between the two buildings, one of which may or may not
house Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Or I could just be making that up. You don't know.

The view from the courtyard. I can gaze at the
Hollywood Freeway while the dogs take a poo. Eeeeexcellent.

This side is the "Gaming/Movie Zone for Boys and the Occasional Girl."

And I camp out over there in the "Book Zone for Awesome People Only."

It's the COZIEST.

And there's so much room for activities!
I think we're done here. Off you go.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Grapes of Wrath Week 4: Almost certainly not worth the wait

I'm so embarrassingly behind that I ALMOST didn't even try to write this final post . . . but then a grown man suckled at a teenage girl's bosom. So . . . yeah.

I know some people have been concerned about how women are portrayed in this book, but . . . I'm more inclined to believe that the men get the short end of the gender-role stick in this one. The men are kind of powerless in this economic environment. They aren't even the sole providers anymore, now that women and children are taking to the fields to help bring in the pennies. And, at least in the Joad family, Ma is quite publicly running the show.
"'You get your stick, Pa,' she said. 'Times when they's food an' a place to set, then maybe you can use your stick an' keep your skin whole. But you ain't a-doin' your job, either a-thinkin' or a-workin'.'" (p. 388)
I would prefer that use of a stick not be acceptable in ANY situation, but we'll take what we can get here.

What Pa DOES get to do is say all the things I'm thinking.
"Uncle John shook his head over his plate. 'Don't look like we're a-gonna get shet of this here. I bet it's my sin.'
'Oh, shut up!' Pa cried. 'We ain't got time for your sin now.'" (p. 433)
"Ma said softly, 'Pa, I got to talk to you. Ruthie tol' some kids how Tom's a-hidin'.
'She tol'. Got in a fight an' tol'.'
'Why, the little bitch!'" (p. 456)
God bless you, Pa.

On a more serious note (because the REST of GoW is such a hoot), I kind of think Tom drowned? Because he was living in a bush . . . and then there was a lot of rain. Someone should probably look into that.

"Tom looked over at the wide-eyed children. They seldom blinked their eyes. It was as though they were afraid something might happen in the split second of darkness." (p. 441)

OK . . . so the breast feeding. I GET what Steinbeck is going for here. Desperate times, desperate measures. People have to help each other. And it's kind of nice that Rose of Sharon gets a chance to redeem herself for being generally the most selfish person ever for the vast portion of this book.

But when I read this:
"Her fingers moved gently in his hair. She looked up and across the barn, and her lips came together and smiled mysteriously" (p. 502)
all I can pictures is this:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Grapes of Wrath Week 3: Bullet points are for AWESOME people

**DISCLAIMER: This post contains spoilers and more GIFs than words.**

THINGS are happening. TOO MANY things. So I'm busting out the emergency bullet points.
  • Hungry children watch Ma cook stew . . . and then make the Joads reallllllly uncomfortable while they're trying to eat.

  • Casy gets taken to jail after kicking a deputy in the THROAT.
  • Connie gets to California and promptly runs away after realizing he won't be able to own an ice box.

  • Uncle John is the MOODIEST.
  • The Joads settle in at a government camp (aka UTOPIA) and set themselves up for more heartbreak I'M SURE.
  • Ruthie and Winfield have an adorable sibling moment involving a newfangled toilet contraption.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Grapes of Wrath Week 2: It's not Tuesday?

**DISCLAIMER: Readalong post, spoilers . . . you know the drill.**

Since I'm still not QUITE finished with this week's reading and it is, in fact, Wednesday right now, I'm a'gonna blurt out some thoughts so I can do what I really want to do, which is read what everyone else wrote look at everyone's GIFs.

Chapter 12: Someone (I think Laura?) said something smart about the book being full of biblical references, and here one is!
"66 is the path of a people in flight, refugees from dust and shrinking land, from the thunder of tractors and shrinking ownership, from the desert's slow northward invasion, from the twisting winds that howl up out of Texas, from the floods that bring no richness to the land and steal what little richness is there." (p. 128)
Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is most probably an "exodus from Egypt" comparison. And THEN there's that whole tedious paragraph about all the cities 66 runs through, and that reminded me of biblical genealogies (this guy begat this guy who begat that guy).

Chapter 13: There are ladyfolk sitting in the front seat now. I don't understand why that's suddenly allowed, but I'll TAKE it. Also, Steinbeck killed a dog and Grampa in the same chapter, but neither of those things hit me as hard as this:
"On her mattress, away from the fire, Granma whimpered softly like a puppy. The heads of all turned in her direction.
Ma said, 'Rosasharn, like a good girl go lay down with Granma. She needs somebody now. She's knowin', now.'
Rose of Sharon got to her feet and walked to the mattress and lay beside the old woman, and the murmur of their soft voices drifted to the fire. Rose of Sharon and Granma whispered together on the mattress." (p. 159)
Chapter 14: "For the quality of owning freezes you forever into 'I,' and cuts you off forever from the 'we'" (p. 166). Careful, Steinbeck. Your Communist is showing.

Chapter 15: "Mae really smiles with all her might at truck drivers. She bridles a little, fixes her back hair so that her breasts will lift with her raised arms, passes the time of day and indicates great things, great times, great jokes" (p. 167). You lost me at "back hair."

Chapter 16: Someone mentions splitting up the group, and Ma brandishes a jack handle and sasses the men into submission. You NEVER split the party, and you never mess with a woman wielding a metal rod. Some truths are universal.

Chapters 17 and 18

Sunday, October 14, 2012

This Is How You Lose Her: A rare appearance by my Serious Face

I just put the book down, and my thoughts are all in a jumble. This is probably the point where most people  say, "Junot, my friend, you've done it again." But I can't say that, because this is my first encounter with Señor Díaz. So instead I'm just sort of sitting here, staring into middle distance.

I don't even have a cigarette for ambiance.

Basically, this book is 213 pages of heartbreak. It's not end-of-the-world-as-you-know-it heartbreak; it's worse. Because you can't distance yourself from this kind of heartbreak. You've felt it before, and you'll relive it on every page: 213 reminders of all the times when you loved unwisely or were unwisely loved.

But before you take this as solid advice never to make direct eye contact with this book, let me try to explain why you should probably find a copy immediately and challenge it to a staring contest. (Not you, Mom . . . you would undoubtedly hate this book. Run away, fast as you can.)

The narrative thread carries through nine short stories. Most are told from the perspective of Yunior, a young Dominican transplant to the States with some mixed-up ideas about love. I guess he sums himself up pretty well on the first page.
"I'm not a bad guy. I know how that soundsdefensive, unscrupulousbut it's true. I'm like everybody else: weak, full of mistakes, but basically good." (p. 3)

I know, I know. This is what terrible-awful people say. This is what serial abusers say. But this declaration is the key to everything. Because Yunior is not always good at loving, either romantically or as a son and brother; in fact, he's really bad at it. But in a lot of ways, his experiences are universal. And the reason we should read books like this, even though they aren't pretty and even though they break our hearts, is that we really need to remember this about ourselves: We are weak, full of mistakes, but basically good. And as broken as we are, we can still love.

If that isn't reason enough for you, read the book for passages like this:
"Instead of lowering your head and copping to it like a man, you pick up the journal as one might hold a baby's beshatted diaper. . . . You glance at the offending passages. Then you look at her and smile a smile your dissembling face will remember until the day you die. Baby, you say, baby, this is part of my novel.
This is how you lose her." (p. 48)
SOURCE: Díaz, Junot. (2012). This Is How You Lose Her. New York: Riverhead Books.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Grapes of Wrath Week 1: Gender roles and other thinky stuff

**Disclaimer: This is part of a group readalong, which means if you've never read Grapes of Wrath, this post might resemble hearing only one side of a phone conversation. But maybe you're into that sort of thing? So proceed as you will.**

Steinbeck is doing some pretty fascinating things with gender roles. Right away, he described how the women look to their men to assess how severe a situation is. "Women and children knew deep in themselves that no misfortune was too great to bear if their men were whole" (p. 4). Depression-era women and children depended on their menfolk. This is not news.

Boom . . . serious picture.

But THEN Steinbeck subverts that expected framework (and breaks my heart a little) by throwing Ma Joad into the mix.
"Her hazel eyes seemed to have experienced all possible tragedy and to have mounted pain and suffering like steps into a high calm and a superhuman understanding. She seemed to know, to accept, to welcome her position, the citadel of the family, the strong place that could not be taken. And since old Tom and the children could not know hurt or fear unless she acknowledged hurt and fear, she had practiced denying them in herself. And since, when a joyful thing happened, they looked to see whether joy was on her, it was her habit to build up laughter out of inadequate materials. But better than joy was calm. Imperturbability could be depended upon. And from her great and humble position in the family she had taken dignity and a clean calm beauty. . . . She seemed to know that if she swayed the family shook, and if she ever really deeply wavered or despaired the family would fall, the family will to function would be gone." (pp. 79-80; emphasis mine, and also a good candidate for being tattooed somewhere on my person)
This paragraph WRECKS me, and I think it's because this is a description of MY mom. (Mom, if you're reading this, this is YOU.) It's beautiful, but it's also tragic, because the STRENGTH and self-denial required by such a "great and humble position in the family" . . . I can't even imagine.

And then there's Granma, who damn near took her husband's butt cheek off with a shotgun, and in so doing earned his admiration . . . because he's impressed by that sort of thing.

And Steinbeck made another nod to changing gender roles when the preacher took over salting the pork, despite Ma's protestations that it's "women's work." The preacher replied, "It's all work. . . . They's too much of it to split it up to men's or women's work" (p. 117). Quite right, Casy, and way ahead of your time.

But the Joads do still observe some gender rules of conduct. For example, even pregnant, Rose of Sharon (WHAT is this name? No one wants to say that whole thing every time.) must ride standing up in the back of the truck because the patriarchs of the family get the honor place beside the driver. And that's just how it is, whether anyone likes it or not.

And now some scattered observations:

1. Steinbeck's tangents about soulless tractors, while beautifully written, seem . . . a little overdramatic?


2. "A man didn't get enough crop to plug up an ant's ass" (p. 50). This, my friends, is why Steinbeck is one of the greats. Pure poetry.

3. These people live in a HARSH world. This is how you can tell: Pigs get into the house and eat babies, bulls gore men to death over by the barn, women bludgeon solicitors with live chickens, and a man can get 7 years in prison for killing in self-defense.

4. This description of the oldest Joad boy, Noah: "He lived in a strange silent house and looked out of it through calm eyes. He was a stranger to all the world, but he was not lonely" (p. 85). Whoa.

5. Steinbeck's Tom Joad:
"His eyes were very dark brown and there was a hint of brown pigment in his eyeballs. His cheek bones were high and wide, and strong deep lines cut down his cheeks, in curves beside his mouth. His upper lip was long, and since his teeth protruded, the lips stretched to cover them, for this man kept his lips closed." (p. 5)
Hollywood's Tom Joad:
Eh, close enough

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Grapes of Wrath readalong: Mmmm, wrathy grapes

Ohhhh, Steinbeck. What happened to us? We used to be so close. I was 13. You were . . . never mind that. But, oh! The times we had. First, you made me sad with Of Mice and Men. Then you made me sad with The Red Pony. THEN you made me sad with The Pearl. And then you made me REALLY sad with East of Eden. I don't remember all the details, Steinbeck, but the ANGST . . . you totally got me.

You and I have always been like . . .
I stayed away from all things Steinbeck for a looooong time (basically the entirety of my adult life thus far) . . . because angst. It's exhausting.

But here I am, about to read The Grapes of Wrath for the first time, with some of my favorite people in one of my favorite months. And there will be sad GIFs and angry grapes, and I'm sure also a new-found adult appreciation for Steinbeck that isn't based solely on hormones.

What? I didn't say NO hormones. *swoon*

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Bossypants: As long as we can play possum together

My thoughts on Bossypants: Celebrities! They're just like us! Basically.

The book has some giggles and a few Alec Baldwin anecdotes (although not nearly enough), and I HIGHLY enjoyed the chapter on magazine photo shoots. Mainly, I appreciated learning all the ways this smart, beautiful, successful woman is frequently an insecure train wreck.
"(My ability to turn good news into anxiety is rivaled only by my ability to turn anxiety into chin acne.)" (p. 170)
"'Blorft' is an adjective I just made up that means 'Completely overwhelmed but proceeding as if everything is fine and reacting to stress with the torpor of a possum.' I have been blorft every day for the past seven years." (p. 173)

Possums: Generally lacking in torpor

I myself spent a lot of time in the middle-school bathroom adjusting the bobby pins in my Princess Leia buns and wiping that one mean boy's saliva off my violin case, and I was constantly looking forward to the time when I would be a grown-up lady with the confidence born of kicking ass at life. But I'm turning 27 next month, and I still haven't transformed into a lady, grown-up or otherwise. And it's becoming more and more clear with every passing year that I will never transcend the human condition (i.e., being painfully awkward as a general rule). But if Tina EFFING Fey still doubts herself, then maybe I can be content with my self-doubt? And possibly even do something awesome with my life? Yeah. That.

SOURCE: Fey, Tina. (2011). Bossypants. New York: Little, Brown.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Life of Pi: A boy and a tiger pleasantly surprise me

The author's note that opens this book sets the story up as a true account. And . . . I MAY have briefly fallen for this ruse, as evidenced in my notes, where the first thing I wrote was, "True story?"

Now that I've gotten THAT embarrassment out of the way, we can proceed with the business at hand. The story (THE FICTIONAL STORY, LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES) is SO much more than I expected it to be.

As I'm sure you've gathered by now (from the movie trailer or the book cover or the title of this blog post), there is a boy and there is also a tiger. If you're anything like me, you just pictured the following:

If you pictured Calvin & Hobbes instead, I approve.

As it turns out, THIS is not what happens when people and Bengal tigers get together. (Another childhood dream shattered. NOW who will comfort me while I weep in my harem pants?) But what DOES happen on the boat is pretty engaging and . . . dare I say? Realistic?

Boy/tiger interactions aren't ALL you have to look forward to. There's also a wealth of non-tiger-related zoological information (Pi's father owns a zoo, and Pi double majors in zoology and religious studies . . . as you do). My personal favorite zoo talk was the lesson on sloths.
"If you come upon a sleeping three-toed sloth in the wild, two or three nudges should suffice to awaken it; it will then look sleepily in every direction but yours. Why it should look about is uncertain since the sloth sees everything in a Magoo-like blur." (p. 4)

And then if the animal stuff isn't enough, you can have a side of deeeeeep religious exploration. But not in an annoying way . . . unless you refuse to entertain the possibility that at least SOME questions of religion can't be answered definitively (in which case, you're annoying me go away).

After a discussion with his atheist teacher about how science and medicine are the only gods mankind needs:
"The tone was rightloving and bravebut the details seemed bleak. I said nothing. It wasn't for fear of angering Mr. Kumar. I was more afraid that in a few words thrown out he might destroy something that I loved. What if his words had the effect of polio on me? What a terrible disease that must be if it could kill God in a man. . . .
He became my favourite teacher. . . . I felt a kinship with him. It was my first clue that atheists are my brothers and sisters of a different faith, and every word they speak speaks of faith. Like me, they go as far as the legs of reason will carry themand then they leap." (p. 28)
Oh, and at one point, Pi declares to his mother that he wants to be baptized and would also like his very own prayer rug. She doesn't know what to tell him (pursuit of multiple religions not being widely encouraged in India), so she gives him Robinson Crusoe. ROBINSON CRUSOE. A few of you will find this as hilarious as I did . . . and the rest of you are still looking at the sloth GIF. Carry on.

SOURCE: Martel, Yann. (2001). Life of Pi. Orlando, FL: Harcourt.