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Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
Brené Brown, Karen White
Blue Lily, Lily Blue
Maggie Stiefvater
Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography
Neil Patrick Harris
Last of the Curlews
Fred Bodsworth, T.M. Shortt
Recovering for Psychological Injuries 2nd Edition 0941916510
William A. Barton Arnett J. Holloway
Garner on Language & Writing
Bryan A. Garner
The Bonfire of the Vanities - Tom Wolfe, Joe Barrett I hope Tom Wolfe has gotten so laid because of this book. I hope women have put down this book, thrown on some lingerie, and walked over to his apartment – unless Wolfe is gay, in which case, I hope men have done the lingerie thing. I hope women (or men) invented a time machine to travel back in time and lay young Tom Wolfe because of this book. I hope Tom Wolfe has gotten anybody he’s ever wanted – x-ray, lemon tart, girls with any shade of lipstick imaginable, men with impressive sternocleidomastoid muscles. Anybody! Not that I’m recommending everyone start stalking him. Consent first, of course. But, I wish on Tom Wolfe a lifetime supply of sex and ice cream because of this book. I’m pretty sure he’s gotten it, but just in case, my wish is out there. The idea of writing such a beautiful book kills me. How does it happen? How does someone put something this perfect together? And I don’t even want to know. I just want to read it over and over again, mystery intact.

This book made me scream and gasp and stop, sit, and stare. This is one of the audios I listened to while I walked to work, so the neighborhoods of Eugene had the dubious privilege of waking to my shrieks and hysterical cackling for many mornings in April because of Tom Wolfe. Towards the end, I had to listen in private, so that my sobbing wouldn’t embarrass the neighbors or lead to a meltdown at work. Mixed results.

Wikipedia told me that Wolfe modeled his writing after Thackeray and Dickens. It seems so obvious after you say it, but rather than realizing that, I just kept thinking, I've never read anything like this before. It was something entirely new to me. And it is because it is a book that feels so current and urban, while it clearly has classical structure and the involved plotting of Dickens and Thackeray. When I started, I thought it would probably be too dick-lit for me because it was clearly shaping up to be so hardboiled and because I think of Wolfe being in a whole gaggle of male authors who want to talk about how tough it is to have a penis and be so emotionally unavailable. Boo hoo. I have very little attention for that type of thing. But, this, this. This was wonderful. And it was dick-lit, but it was not in the least self-indulgent. It was even cruel, it looked so hard, and so carefully, at masculinity and cowardice. But, the structure of the plot was like a machine, just in the way that the plots of Thackeray and Dickens are. I could feel the sweat and grease of the writing process on the page, or, rather, hear it in the audio track. This book lives in the foundries of humanity; it is crafted from the fires and steel of the human heart.

For the most part, this book looks at three horrible men and how their egos and senses of puffed-up worthlessness control and destroy their lives. There are a few brilliant recurring themes in the book that I could not love more – the white whale, the Masters of the Universe. This book actually uses He-Man as a recurring metaphor to this beautiful moment where a character, steeped in his own awesomeness yells out in his head, “I have the power!!” So, so, so, so, so, so, so wonderful.

And the courtroom scenes!! Oh, the courtroom scenes. Devastating swoon over those. They made all the hairs on my body stand on end. How can a person describe what happens in a courtroom? Like THIS! This book is what happens in courtrooms. This book is what happens in criminal justice. It got everything just right. The belts and shoelaces, the defendants demanding rights, the defense attorneys running in late because they were in another courtroom, the hot jurors, the underpaid DA. And oh my god, Kramer’s sternocleidomastoid muscles! Remember that?? It made me die laughing every time that came up. I swear to god there is a DA like that in Lane County.

And the part where Martin and Goldberg have to give Sherman his rights. Oh my god. So wonderful.

And Judy.

So, I have nothing insightful to say about this book because . . . just read it. Practically the minute I started reading it, it made me think of a dear friend of mine because of its urban steel and fire, so I will say something about that association because I can clearly only swoon and sigh and flail about when it comes to the book itself. Like the men in this book, there is something strikingly normal about my friend when you first meet him. He is white office shirts, a neat haircut, and clean hands. He is success: a house in the suburbs, two blond children, and a wife who, with a stern hand, makes the family take annual pictures in matching clothes. And then you talk to my friend and find out that he is an evil genius, who has an opinion about everything and a hilarious story about everyone he’s ever met. But, you also know that the suburban thing, the normalcy, is true, too. The layers of his personality include fire and steel, and also funfetti cake, white office shirts, and Kraft singles. I think this book captures something of that kind of layered humanity in Sherman’s office decorum, American aristocratic habits, and bloody knuckles. It shows Kramer’s powerful sternocleidomastoid muscles with his shopping bag and running shoes, Peter’s head in an egg and landing of the white whale, Reverend Bacon’s noble speeches and greedy maneuverings.

I think what I’m trying to say is that it struck me recently, probably at least partly because of this book, that the characteristics we show the world are us, and are not us all the same. None of us are inherently suburban or aristocratic, but our choices to appear those ways reveal something about who we actually are, who we are in the caves and recesses of our souls. Sherman is equally the shallow, self-involved Master of the Universe and the jungle fighter, but he is neither of those. My friend is urban fire and steel, and he is suburban success, and he is neither of those. Wolfe writes the show of humanity in a way that hilariously stages the show, and then digs and hammers into the caves and fiery core of who people are beyond it. Are we the dog trained to fight or the social x-ray in a party hive? The little girl sculpting a rabbit or the little boy commanding an office? Yes and no to all of that. Who we are is something different entirely, but always there, underneath the show - the force behind it. And the way Wolfe builds it all and then tears it all apart - I would never ask so much of a writer, but I am so glad this exists.

Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest - David Foster Wallace I had a dream the other night that there was a word a person could say that would end the whole world. I have a great awe of the power of words and the power of dreams, and here they converged. And, after all of the violence of wars, injustice, prejudice, resentment, and misplaced passions, I turned to a friend and said, “Now is the time. Say it.” She said the word, and the earth was engulfed in pale yellow mushroom clouds. And then I woke up.

I know what that dream was about, and it is really nothing to do with this book, other than the resonance of the idea that there could be this single deadly beauty or murderous pleasure, unbearable to humanity. In my wondering about a word or a dream that could change the world, I think there is something similar to that idea as it is in Infinite Jest of the deadly power of pleasure, the video or the scientific stimulation that kills.

Otherwise, I think if my father were to have written a book, or if we were to go back and compile the group emails he sends out, they would look something like this. You would have to substitute some kind of seminary for the tennis academy, but otherwise you could have pretty much left things the same and you’d have the stories of my childhood. That did not endear this book to me.

Rather, that part in [b:To the Lighthouse|59716|To the Lighthouse|Virginia Woolf|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1346239665s/59716.jpg|1323448] where Mrs. Ramsey reads The Fisherman’s Wife to James kept running through my head: “Nothing would make Mr. Ramsay move on. There he stood, demanding sympathy.” There he stood, demanding sympathy: sympathy for the evils of commercialism, the evils of addiction, the evils of entertainment, the evils of having and not having pleasure.

I have heard from many people that drug court is the most successful program in the Oregon court system. Defendants sentenced to drug court have to regularly check in with the courts and describe their progress, go through treatment, and attend meetings. Apparently, it is far more successful in actually treating addiction than incarceration has ever been. I have observed drug court a couple of times, and the judges who conduct it are very sympathetic a la Mrs. Ramsey. They congratulate the defendants for a morning clean, for not using in front of their kids, for merely being honest when they used that morning in front of their kids. They remind defendants how valuable they are as people, and how staying clean helps everybody around them. Defendants spend a couple of nights in jail when they can’t manage to stay clean, and they can be revoked from drug court, but mostly the program is about rehabilitation and sympathy. I can’t handle it. I’ve threatened a worker’s comp claim for the carpal tunnel to my eyes from listening to defendants whine about every possible thing a person can whine about. If you have read this book, you can imagine the type of thing I’m talking about, but I listened to one woman cry and cry about something to do with having bought a horse and the amount of time she did or didn’t have to ride the horse at the stables her mom was paying to care for the horse. I absolutely see the value of drug court, and I even more clearly see the value of my bad attitude staying far away from it.

I think my problem is that I don’t have a sense of pity. My theory is that in order to be a whole person, you should have a sense of selfishness, empathy, sympathy, and pity, and I am lacking in the pity. I used it up when I was too young, listening to these stories at my father’s knee. And, from me, it would not be sympathy, but pity, that the book is asking. I have my own problems and fuck up in my own ways, but the cartoonish quality of the troubles in this book don’t inspire the sense of identification that exists in sympathy. I imagine that very few people lose their parents to microwave and snake-in-a-can deaths, so while I have lost my parents, this book is asking me to look at its clownish loss, alien from mine, and say, “You poor thing. What suffering. Can you even imagine?” Or, it is asking me to somehow laugh at these Yoricks as sad clowns, and I don't really have the schadenfreude that is the other side of the pity coin, either. So, this book stood there for the two and a half years it took me to read it, and it demanded pity, a thing I do not have to give.

But, in that two and a half years, I will say that some of these stories weirdly and vividly imprinted themselves on my brain. Last year, one day, I was talking to my friend in the halls at school about some liability issue, and I said, "Oh that reminds me of that case we read in Torts. Do you remember it? It was about the kids who would go down to the railroad tracks and compete to see who could jump across the tracks closes to the trains. But, then, a lot of them lost their legs through the game and they became a sort of gang in wheelchairs." My friend looked at me like I was crazy because of the absurdity of that story and said he didn't think that was a case we read in Torts. It took me the entire day to remember that I was thinking of Les Assassins des Fauteuil Rollents.

As a matter of just the writing itself, I would say this experience felt to me like having Vince Vaughn yell the thesaurus at me. I like Vince Vaughn, but this was a little much, Vince Vaughn yelling the thesaurus at me, demanding pity.

Probably, though, if there were a word that could end the world, it would be here in this book, and I did not find it, so that is a mercy.
The Host - Stephenie Meyer After a couple of nightmare slogs, it's time for some comfort food.


2010 Review

My brother is moving to New York in a couple of weeks, and it breaks my heart more than a little. I totally love that guy, and New York will be lucky to have him. It’s really far away, though. I went to pick him up in Bend a few weeks back so that he could use my car for a weekend, and I got the audio version of this book at the library on my way there. I picked it up because I totally freaking love this book, even though none of the book makes that much sense if you think about it for, like, two seconds. I have even loved this audio experience, though it is just about the worst audio in the whole wide world, and the reader does maybe every single thing that bugs me. Anyway, there are some books I could read whenever: [b:Wuthering Heights|6185|Wuthering Heights|Emily Brontë|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348940572s/6185.jpg|1565818], [b:Our Mutual Friend|31244|Our Mutual Friend|Charles Dickens|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320488035s/31244.jpg|2888469]. I can’t defend myself about this, but I think The Host is in that group.

Meyer’s people all live in some kind of graphic novel, with their gaping, grimacing, hissing, eye bulging, and clenching of teeth. I know, no one hisses, do they? And then there is the problem about the first person narrator always being able, somehow, to see the nuances of people’s emotions through their eyes, no matter how far away the person is standing, or how little blocking sense that actually makes in a given room or tunnel or cave. And we won’t even talk about how awful the names are. I know about that, too. Whatever, haters, I don’t care. I totally freaking love this book.

The audio book is, and I’m not kidding, 23.5 hours long. I’m not even done with it. I’m actually still listening to it right now, but I know how it ends because I've read it before, so don't get up in my grill tautologically about the inherent worth in the work itself and my duties as an audience. Anyway, the reader of the audio book really savors every word. Very dramatic, you know. She totally kills me. I missed a lot of the first half because my brother listened to it over the weekend when he had the car. He came back gaping, grimacing, hissing, and generally making fun of it. His eyes really bulged and glinted with mirth, and all that. We listened to it together, driving back to Bend, and there was a lot more clenching of teeth from his side of the car.

I don’t know. We’ve all talked to death the problems with the Meyer writing and the Meyer love story and the Meyer world building. I realized, though, that in all honesty Meyer does write something that really touches me: families. I think her families are so comforting, even in their conscious mish-mashiness. True, her heroines want to kill themselves so you’ll be happy, and that’s weird. But in this book, for example, the heroine’s (heroines’?) love of her brother and her adopted family is something genuine and something that I totally dig.

I mean, obviously, this book is awesome because it has sweet, cuddly body snatchers, and that allows for a love triangle with only two bodies and then, later, a love quadrangle with only three bodies. No funny business, though. All PG here, gang. And, the love geometry stays pretty polite the whole time; no obnoxious LOST stuff going on. The other kind of cool thing about this book is that it passes the Bechtel test because there are, like, two girls stuck in one body and they chat about things. They’re not Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton hatching women’s suffrage, or anything, but I’m not too demanding.

Anyway, family. Don’t tell my brother, but I’m a little torn up about him moving away. Very excited for him, but a little torn up. It’s been nice to listen to all the descriptions of how much this girl loves her brother and her adopted family in these extreme situations, where she has to run through the desert and battle renegade cave-dwellers for them. Don't get me wrong, it's ultimately pretty tame, but it's extreme in a sentimental, hearth-and-home way. I don’t know; it’s comforting. I don’t really care that it’s ridiculous in so many ways or that it’s broken up with tedious descriptions of food and every other little thing. Sue me. I think this book is probably Meyer’s best so far, just in a technical sense. It stands alone, which is a relief, and none of the characters are supposed to be perfect. The main character is a little annoying, in a doormat kind of way, but I’m still okay with her.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not telling you to read it. You’d probably freaking hate it. I was just getting sentimental about family, and so was Stephenie Meyer, so I thought I’d come here and tell you about it.
The Awakening - Kate Chopin In a hearing I observed once, the husband testified that he had tried to have his wife served with his petition for divorce in the Costco parking lot. The wife went running across the parking lot to avoid service, and her eight- and ten-year-old kids ran after her, dodging traffic and jumping into the wife’s car as it screeched out of the parking spot. The husband filmed them on his iPhone, shouting, “You’ve been served! You’ve been served!”

The judge commented that it was troubling to watch a video of the kids running through a dangerous parking lot and asked the woman why she ran. The woman replied, “I don’t believe in divorce, your honor.”

The judge said, “Well, ma’am, it’s not like the Easter Bunny: it exists.”

There is that point in a woman’s life when she wakes up suspecting that the fairy tales she grew up with were not telling the whole story, that there is life beyond the sunset at the end of the movie and that life is not easier than life before the sunset. And, there are any number of stories in which that anvil falls on a character’s head. Tolstoy writes the cautionary morality-tale version in [b:Anna Karenina|15823480|Anna Karenina|Leo Tolstoy|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1352422904s/15823480.jpg|2507928], Flaubert writes the pastoral tragedy version in [b:Madame Bovary|2175|Madame Bovary|Gustave Flaubert|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1335676143s/2175.jpg|2766347], and Elizabeth Gilbert writes the self-involved douche version in [b:Eat Pray Love|19501|Eat, Pray, Love|Elizabeth Gilbert|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1294023455s/19501.jpg|3352398], to name a few. But, then, The Awakening. This one is my favorite. This is the beautiful one.

For example, there is this:

"Do you know Mademoiselle Reisz?" she asked irrelevantly.

"The pianist? I know her by sight. I've heard her play."

"She says queer things sometimes in a bantering way that you don't notice at the time and you find yourself thinking about afterward."

"For instance?"

"Well, for instance, when I left her to-day, she put her arms around me and felt my shoulder blades, to see if my wings were strong, she said. `The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings. It is a sad spectacle to see the weaklings bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth.'”

All the women in this book are birds: clucking hens, sheltering their brood; decorative birds in cages; and Edna growing wings and trying to fly away. I love the image of women as birds because I think it is so vivid in showing a woman’s disconnect with society. Just the image of a bird in a cage is something out of place, confined where it should be free. It is unwelcome and unnatural out of the cage, but unable to leave. The movie Moulin Rouge uses the image, too. Where Ewan McGreggor’s character is the traditional Orpheus, whose gift is his song, Nicole Kidman’s is the woman as a bird. “Oh, we will,” she says to her own pet bird, “We will fly, fly away from here!” I don’t know where this metaphor originated (sirens?) or how it became what it is in these stories, but I think it is poignant.

And it is poignant that, clearly, the only end for a bird escaped from the cage is death. A woman defying tradition and prejudice, as Mademoiselle Riesz says, is unwelcome and must have particularly strong wings to fly away. But, all of these stories that imagine something beyond tradition have Thelma and Louise endings. Women who wake up and realize that they are unwelcome in society as they are, who realize they can’t pretend to be what society wants anymore, can only conceive of suicide as the alternative. And, in The Awakening, at least, Edna’s death is not cautionary or punishment. It is just the only conceivable alternative in a society that offers nothing for women but marriage. Interestingly, [b:Eat Pray Love|19501|Eat, Pray, Love|Elizabeth Gilbert|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1294023455s/19501.jpg|3352398] is the only story I can think of on this topic that doesn’t end in the woman’s death, so that is perversely hopeful.

I care about people’s relationships a lot. Probably too much at times. Relationships seem like these delicate, mysterious aliens to me, and we should whisper around them so we don’t scare them away. That is one of the main reasons I hate weddings – because so often you have this new, fragile relationship, and what do people decide to do to it? Smash it with the sledgehammer of planning a giant event that symbolizes the most bitter and painful emotional vulnerabilities of everyone in the general vicinity. The relationship might be beautiful and strong going into a wedding, but after getting piled with the emotional baggage of the families and friends involved, it is something else entirely. It is just off the rack, but threadbare already from wear and strain.

And a marriage, a wedding, is not a relationship. A marriage is a contract. A wedding is an event. A divorce is a dissolution of a contract. A relationship is something else. A relationship exists or doesn’t exist outside of any events or licensing. Sometimes a wedding is too heavy for a relationship to bear, and sometimes a marriage is too heavy for it. It often looks to me, when people get engaged, like they are trying to subscribe to a certain type of relationship and the engagement is the subscription form. But, as far as I can tell, relationships are wild and can’t be subscribed. And, nobody knows how strong they are but the people in the relationship, and sometimes not even them.

But, also, if you are Edna, if you are living your life, going along, and then you suddenly realize that you are not living your life, but that you are in some kind of costume and acting in a play: devastation. None of your relationships exist, but the people around you have relationships with the character you played. And there is no going back. You've already betrayed them, and you didn't even know it, and they've already betrayed you by not realizing you weren't you. When you start realizing who you are, there is too much momentum to turn around. You are already out of the cage and flying away, whether your wings are strong or weak, whether the wind is for you or against you.

In Kate Chopin’s world, I think, divorce was like the Easter Bunny, like the sunset that a woman could swim towards but not see beyond. The end of this story, to me, is a rejection of that world, which held nothing for Edna. It is a demand for something else. It is sad, yes, because it is appalling that there was nothing for her, but it is not wrong or unfair, I think. While I do not think the story is cautionary to women, I do think it is cautionary to the world. It says, what you hold for us, with your rigid, gendered propriety and your cages, is not enough. We are more, so the world needs to be more.

And I think it has become more. I think, as a woman, that while I was funneled toward Edna’s sad, empty life, I have been able to reject it, strong wings or not, and decide to be a real girl with real relationships, not just the meaningless façade of engagement and marriage and divorce. There are other options now because of books like this. It is not easy or perfect, but it is something real, something that exists.
The Selected Letters of Willa Cather - Willa Cather OMG publication two days after my birthday! The universe knows what's up.
People of the Book - Geraldine Brooks, Edwina Wren I think an alternative title for this book could have been something like Women and Love or What Women Mean When They Talk About Love. Something like that. It was so beautiful in this delicate, fine-art way, and I was so surprised at this book’s beauty, that I feel totally inadequate in trying to describe my reaction to it. It is that type of beauty I feel when I think about the improbability of our bodies being alive or of Michelangelo’s ceiling in the Sistine Chapel or of microscopic images of snowflakes. There is no way the universe could conspire so delicately for those things to work in such a way that their beauty is not so improbable as to be obscenely contrived, but somehow it does work. It is beautiful.

And now that I’ve compared this book to the Sistine Chapel, there is no way anyone could go into it liking it. It’s like that time this douchey guy told me that Bright Eyes is the new Bob Dylan. I mean, Bright Eyes is not great anyway – talk about being in love with your own mysterious allure – but, compared to Bob Dylan, Mr. Eyes is just embarrassing. So, here I am ruining this book for you like that.

At the same time, after reading this, I understood a lot more why someone would write a book like [b:Olive Kitteridge|1736739|Olive Kitteridge|Elizabeth Strout|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320430655s/1736739.jpg|3263906], using multiple, somewhat unrelated, perspectives strung together by a common theme. While that one just seemed ridiculous, this one soared for me, and I can see how, as an author, you could want to aim for this kind of delicacy in weaving together stories.

I listened to this on audio, and it was like hearing someone describe every way a woman’s love can be beautiful and painful, harsh and delicate. Some books will make me cry, but this book brought me to tears, which is the same thing but more elegant because of this story’s elegance. The reader’s voice was lovely, and the only fault with listening to this on audio was that there was so much I wanted to hear and follow that I know I missed a lot. I usually choose audio books based on the idea that it won’t matter if I space out during the book (because I space out a lot while I’m walking to work and listening to them), so I normally choose a book that I’ve read before or something I don’t think I’ll love that much. I was surprised at how much I loved this one and how much I felt I missed by listening to the audio. It is not a difficult book, but it definitely contains subtlety and passages that I would probably have read over again if I were reading it on the page.

This is not a very exciting review, I think, because it doesn’t contain an exciting story. I have the most wonderful job in the world right now, at which the most amazing things happen, but I can’t talk about it on the internet. And, no, my job is not Fight Club. If I could, I would tell you about how this has probably been the best year of my life so far, and about all of its beauty and fullness, and about how pain is as much a part of the beauty as comfort or wonder are. And I would tell you about the women I have seen and the ways they are with the love in their lives. But, instead, I will just be vague, and say that this book resonated with me both in the year I have had and in the life I have had. It talked about the right things and in the right way.

And, of course, it was about a book, which I imagine is the universal symbol of love.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (Millennium Trilogy) - Stieg Larsson I find this entire series very unenjoyable, but I appreciated what I felt were academic analyses of consent and power in the first two books. Because this third installment failed to present any academic point, there was really nothing for me here. The attempt was clearly to say something about how, traditionally, women have actually fought in wars, not stayed on the sidelines fainting and tending to wounds like, I don't know, some people expect, but really the story was more about how cool women want to be BFFs with Blomkvist and have sex with him. I didn’t really get anything out of the interjections about the Amazons, which appeared at different intervals throughout this book. And I don’t happen to care about who wants to have sex with Blomkvist – I find Blomkvist abominable – so this was terrible. I know that all of the books have been about how the chicks dig Blomkvist, but they also offered something smart and academic that this one lacked.

The other thing up in this ol’ book was that just about every five pages this conversation would happen:

“Remember how awesome book 2 was?”

“Yeah, that was so cool. We were so badass. Remember how you were all Aaaaaack, and I was like neeeeeeer, and then it was like whoooooaaaa, and bang bang?”

“Yeah, then my favorite part was like hacking computers and taking down the system.”

“Totally. And it was like, mystery guys and punching and guns and stuff.”

“Do you think the prime minister knows how cool book 2 was?”

“We should definitely tell him. And we should tell like chiefs of police and ambassadors and other important people.”

And then everyone goes off to describe book 2 to important people, and they all have that conversation OVER AND OVER. Like, whoa, dudes. You are so cool. But mostly Blomkvist is cool because badass warrior chicks want to have sex with him and it doesn’t even bother him that they are stronger and smarter than him. Yeah, what a man. Big pat on the back from this corner that you’re not offended that women are cool. His fucking humility is really why he’s so fucking cool.

What a douche.

And Lisbeth Salander is hanging out in bed this entire book.

And then, in the end, there’s a “trial,” where they re-tell book 2 for the eleventy millionth time, and there is ONE hearsay objection, which happens basically the ONLY time a statement isn’t hearsay throughout the entire “trial.” And after the objection, no one reacts, the judge doesn’t rule on it, and the questioning just continues like nothing happened. I object to that.

Here’s the thing about the crappy trial: I know that Larsson has the capacity to do research and not be a total moron about technical matters, so there’s really no excuse for what goes down there. And it was so out of control that it was painful to read. Not that ALL OF THE REST OF THIS SERIES wasn’t, also, COMPLETELY PAINFUL to read, but at least most of it wasn’t stupid. This was stupid.

My Cousin Vinny and Legally Blonde do a better job at adhering to trial practice rules, AND are more entertaining.

Ugh, and then there’s this tacked on ending-ending where Lisbeth goes to Blomkvist’s house to make up and be BFFs again (or he goes to her house, I can’t even remember). And they make up, awwwwww. Whew, too, because that was what I was really worried about in this book about slavery, rape, and oppression. I was REALLY fucking worried that one of these women wouldn’t want to be Blomkvist’s friend. Because that’s what rape and slavery stories are mostly about: douchey guys getting the hugs they deserve.

This sucked. I hate all of these idiot people. I’m so glad it’s over.
Lauren Bacall by Myself - Lauren Bacall smoking and drinking tea

One of my friends made fun of me for a little while yesterday because he saw me walking down the street laughing to myself. Fittingly, I was laughing to myself about the smartass comments I was planning to make to him about how rude it was that he didn’t offer to give me a ride. This book makes me think of that because of how easily I can entertain myself by thinking about a better comeback, a funnier joke, or a snappier ending to a story I already told. Reading this was sort of like reading everything Lauren Bacall wished she’d said to people her entire life.

It is not as entertaining to hear someone else’s would-have-saids as it is to hear my own.

The other issue I have with this book is that it falls into this ditch of crappy storytelling wherein she recounts the overall events that happened throughout entire years, but without any actual story. “Then we went to Paris, then we stayed at a hotel, then a lot of people got malaria, then my mom said something wise, then somebody went to the doctor.” I think every other sentence should have been edited out, and the remaining elaborated into actual stories with dialogue and descriptions. This was maybe the longest short book I've ever read. Mostly a slog.

I am giving this three stars, though, because there were two parts that I thought were really interesting, beautiful, and well told. The first was the courtship between her and Bogart, and the second was his death. I actually really loved the way she talked about Bogie’s death. It was incredibly sad and very beautiful, and at that point it seemed to unfold that the whole book had been leading up to that moment in her life. In a lot of ways, it seemed like her life became somewhat defined by mourning him.

I have had a few friends who strongly identify with Lauren Bacall, or at least her movie persona, and I have never felt that. The same with Audrey Hepburn. It seems nice, to me, for a girl to identify with women who are so elegant and graceful, but still with humor, but I am not one of them. Lena Dunham is definitely my girl. I guess I thought going into this memoir that despite her outward dissimilarity to me, there would be some kind of sympathy of spirit between Lauren Bacall and me. Whether that reflects well or badly on me, that was not the case.

The disconnect for me happened in that Bacall seemed really focused on affirming traditional values of finding a man to take care of her and devoting herself to her children, but also her career was obviously intensely important to her identity. While she was married to Bogie, according to Bacall, he was pretty clear that work should be second and he should be the priority. She was happy to agree to that. And after he died, she talked a lot about still having hope that she would find a man to take care of her. But, then, there were these times when someone would be dying, her kids would be failing at school, and she’d decide to go to Paris for a month to hang out. That kind of freaks me out because I feel like if you are really skilled as a caregiver and want to devote yourself to caring for kids and dudes, fine. But, if you aren’t, and you are skilled as an actress, don’t pretend you’re something else just to try to fit in. That bugs me. Play to your strengths.

I’m not questioning her love for her kids or husbands or lovers at all. I’m just saying I felt like my sense of who she was got all fogged up by this agenda she had to prove that she was somehow a nurturing person. And the fact that she was rarely there when something important happened to her family sort of belied the idea that she was devoted to nurturing. I have zero problem with her being skilled at other things than nurturing, and I think a person’s nurturing skills have very little to do with how much they love their family, but I got the sense that she had a problem with her skills lying elsewhere and wanted to sell herself as a nurturer. That was where I couldn’t identify with her.

It did seem like there were a couple of times where she could have been there for her family, but was at a party or in another country, or something. I couldn’t really get a good sense of it, though, because a lot of that seemed like she might have been too hard on herself and feeling some kind of survivor guilt for not being there every second of every family member’s life. Ultimately, I think it is a flaw in the book that I am distracted by not having a sense of whether she was there for her family or mostly at parties. It made me kind of curious what they would have said. What I mean is that I appreciate it when people are accurate about their own skills. I don't mean complaining, like, "I'm ugly" or "Everybody hates me" because those are not possible, and are only feelings, not accurate descriptions. I mean, like, "I am good at cooking and bad at gardening." I feel like those things build who a character is, even if the character is as complex as a real human, and I didn't get a solid sense of Bacall as a character.

I guess, Bacall's appearance and presentation is harsh and independent, but she describes herself as being soft and dependent. I am the opposite of that. I look like a helpless child, but really more of a jerk.

But, she did fall in love with a lot of married men, and I can identify with that. People are always getting married.
The Second Life of Abigail Walker - Frances O'Roark Dowell There are many facets to the experience of reading a book beloved by a friend. There are probably others that these, but the ones I can think of right now are the friend, the friendship, society, the book itself, and the reader. The experience of reading seems tied up in all of those parts, but also, I think they are all individual experiences. I read this book because it is beloved by a friend, and I love the way it lets me know that friend better and what it says about our friendship that she would want me to read it. So, when I talk about this book, and how I did not enjoy it, I’m really only focusing on my experience with the book itself. I felt like I needed to make that clear before I start tearing up the dance floor.

This left me with a feeling of . . . huh. It was partly magical, partly sad, and above all else very, very troubling. Reading this book reminded me of this time when I lived in New York, and one of my roommates said to me, “Is everyone in Oregon like you, or are you weird there, too?” It was very alienating and, again, troubling. This book tells the story of a girl who, most of all, more than anything else, struggles with her weight because the people around her are obsessed with her weighing five pounds more than the normal weight for her age. There is also a fox in here, and maybe the fox has PTSD. I found it . . . really odd and, again, troubling. There is a 95% chance that I didn’t get it.

The basic plot of this story, like I say, is that everyone around Abigail Walker is really, really mad about how much she weighs, she meets a magical fox with PTSD and a man with PTSD, and then she learns to ride horses, cast off her fears, and be happy. But, there are a lot of things that happen along the way that were (if I haven’t already said this) really, really troubling to me. And there are some other things that were just confusing. I guess I’ll talk about the confusing things first, then the troubling things.

Confusing things:

1. These are my awards, Mother. The PTSD man explains to Abigail that he met his ex-wife in Peace Corps, and then he decided to go into Army because he thought it would pay for college. But, you have to have an undergraduate degree to go into Peace Corps, and I’m pretty sure that’s been a requirement for a long time, so that was weird. And it kind of undermined that whole character to me. Why did that guy really go into the army? And why did he say he was in the Peace Corps if he didn’t have an undergrad degree? Suspect.

Buster Bluth saying, ‘These are my awards, Mother, from army’

2. Bread makes you fat??!!. Abigail’s family is emotionally abusive about her weight, which is 105 lbs. and appears, from the internet, to be five pounds over the normal weight for girls her age. FIVE POUNDS! So, we’re not talking unhealthy, even. But, the parents are so creepily fixated on it that her dad doesn’t take pictures of her anymore and stares her down across the dinner table. So, the one time the family eats dinner in the book, Abigail’s mom makes pizza.

(Sidebar: that is another sub-level of confusing for a mom who is a history professor and always lost in her books and detached from the reality of the family, but, whatever, maybe she also loves to cook and isn’t just trying to be more stepford-creepy than she otherwise appears to be, despite being educated and scholarly. I don’t object to the idea of a professor being a Stepford wife, but I kind of wanted more description about how that actually worked. Also, I’m not meaning that cooking is creepy, just that the mom is kind of creepy in, well, A LOT of ways. “Don’t fight, now, kids! Fighting bad.” “You MUST go to the mean girls’ house, Abigail!” “Your father just yells at you about dieting because he loves you!” brrrrr.)

Anyway, the mom makes cheese pizza for Abigail and sausage pizza for the rest of the family. And it’s like the part in Silence of the Lambs where he keeps saying to the girl in the pit, “It rubs the lotion on its skinnnnn.” The whole family fixates on her, warning her away from even reaching for a regular salad dressing. It eats the cheese pizza and no other pizza!!

But, that’s weird, right? Because how much healthier is plain cheese pizza than sausage pizza? Answer: not at all healthier, and they have basically equivalent calories. So, chill out, Mom and Dad, you creepy assholes!

Scott Pilgrim saying, ‘Bread makes you fat?!’

3.How am I supposed to get into Harvard if I have no wilderness skills?! After Abigail ditches her creepy friends, who also want to watch it rub the lotion on its skinnn, she makes friends with a nerdy computer girl. There is this confusing subplot about how Abigail needs to research all of the animals Lewis and Clark saw on the Oregon trail for the PTSD man, and the nerdy computer girl helps her. Mostly, the nerdy computer girl helps her because Abigail is incompetent at googling. The nerdy computer girl warns her, however, that she will NEVER GET INTO COLLEGE if Abigail doesn’t learn how to google from said nerdy computer girl.

Okay asshole: again, chill out. You are in SIXTH GRADE!! You might get into Harvard, even if you have no wilderness skills. If not, I’ll take you upstairs, throw you out the window, and if you catch the branch of a tree, I’ll be your witness.

So, those were the things that made me feel like, who are these creepy assholes??? Confusing. Next, I’m going to talk about the things I thought were actually troubling, not just confusing.

Troubling things:

I don’t have fancy gifs for this part. This part is just about how the overall premise of the story seems somewhat messed up.

1. Bullying. I remember once, in fourth grade, I didn’t want to be friends with this girl anymore because she would only talk about boys, and because her dad freaked me out. I, being a fourth grader, didn’t deal with it really well, as you might imagine, and at one point the situation culminated in a group of girls sort of making a wall around me and telling my friend that I didn’t have to talk to her if I didn’t want to. I remember feeling both like, “This seems accurate. I shouldn’t have to talk to someone if I don’t want to,” and also like, “This seems really mean and extreme, and I don’t know how to diffuse this situation.” The girl was so upset that her parents talked to the principal about it, and I think my parents ultimately got called into the school because of it. Years later, I would run into her every once in a while, and I always wanted to apologize for that, but, does that make it any better? We were really mean to that girl, even though to us there was some kind of self-preservation aspect to it, but it wasn’t really okay. But, what do you say to apologize and does an apology only make it worse?

I’ve been watching Buffy with my roommate, who is a PhD student in early intervention in special education. When Cordelia first came on the screen, my roommate commented that it’s so funny how TV always shows characters like Cordelia, when, in real life those situations don’t ever really happen. Like, people who have as little social inhibition as Cordelia probably have Asperger’s, and probably don’t have a lot of social power. But, in Buffy, Cordelia is such a great character because she is a shorthand for a mean girl, but also she is a caricature, so her mean-girl power is completely undermined. I think that creates a really great social message because, yes, it sucks to have someone be an asshole, but assholes only have as much power over our lives as we give them, and the Buffy gang doesn’t give Cordelia any power.

So, partly I think it makes sense to simplify an experience of bullying, but that was not what I felt was going on here. (I have to admit, though, that I read [b:A Monster Calls|8621462|A Monster Calls|Patrick Ness|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1356015593s/8621462.jpg|13492114] right before I read this one, and I thought the way that discussed bullying was so beautiful it made my brain self-destruct, and I am making an unfair comparison between the two books, my own experience, and Buffy.) Nevertheless, in Abigail Walker, it felt like the mean girls were some kind of physical manifestation of a person’s own self-loathing thoughts. All the lurking and skulking around Abigail’s house, and then the weird plan to videotape Abigail eating candy. It was so weird and pathetic that I’m struggling to really wrap my brain around anyone being scary who was stupid enough to want to do that. I mean, the girls are creepy little assholes, but all of the threats seemed like things that would be scary when you thought them in your head, but if you actually said them out loud (or wrote them down) you’d realize how stupid and not scary they were and how uninterested everyone ever would be in watching a video of a girl eating candy.

My point is that I don’t get these bullies. They don’t seem like characters to me, and to the extent they are physical manifestations of somebody’s personal demons, I really don’t like the idea of giving them so much voice in this story. I mean, everyone has to fight their own monsters in their own way, but giving your monster the dominant social voice in your book seems like a way to nurture your monster, not fight it.

2. Being Normal. Probably the dominant theme of this book is that it’s okay to not be normal, which is a wonderful theme. The way it was executed, though, was another troubling thing to me. Abigail feels like she is not normal because she is five pounds over the normal weight for her age. So, that in itself is tainted with all the creepy assholes around her and seems super creepy in itself. She makes friends with the PTSD man’s son, who also feels not normal. The boy feels not normal because his dad keeps him on this farm and won’t let him leave the boundaries of the farm for any reason because he might get hurt. He is homeschooled by participating in the great Lewis and Clark study.

At one point, the son compares his situation to Abigail’s. He says that Abigail's mom is wrong for saying she’s not normal because she’s too fat. And then he comments that maybe his own mother is similarly wrong for wanting him to be in a school instead of being homeschooled in the country with his mentally ill father. Sooooo . . . . That raises a lot of issues for me. Like, this kid’s mother was a Peace Corps volunteer, and somehow in a custody battle her mentally ill husband got custody of their son? What is up with that? And, like, really? It’s the same to be five pounds overweight as to be trapped in the country acting as a caretaker for a mentally ill person??? This is kind of outrageous to me.

I realize it is a kid who makes this statement in the book, but the kid has a pretty strong voice within the story and is sort of built up to be wise. When he says maybe he and Abigail are actually both okay even though they are not normal, you can tell that statement is supposed to carry the weight of wisdom. I just have a big problem with both the comparison and the idea that it is okay for this kid to be trapped on a farm caring for his father. Very stressful.

3. Weight. I guess I kind of want to talk more about weight, but I’ve probably talked long enough. Maybe all I will say is that I think this book perpetuates the idea that being fat or thin is based on a mindset or emotional change. Abigail walks up the hill to the PTSD man's house the first time, and she huffs and puffs. The second time, though, she is less sad and self-condemning, so she can just run up the hill with no problem. I feel like that is a really negative message to perpetuate. I think that taking care of our bodies is like taking care of anything else and involves responsibility and eating enough food for our bodies, not just eating less food. I feel like the idea is not rare that if you have a healthy sense of self, being athletic and thin will become easy. That really bothers me both because it's clearly false, and because I think it creates this idea that good people are thin and bad people are fat, which is a very troublingly false idea, as well. Also, I've been using the website myfitnesspal.com to lose the weight I gained in school, and I've come to believe that with people who perpetually gain weight, overall it's probably not so much that they eat to much food, but probably more that they eat too little, sending their bodies into storage mode for when they eat too much. That has at least turned out to be true for me. The way the entire world in this book only wanted Abigail to eat less, not for her to be healthy, was really troubling.

I think those are all of my issues. I found this story very distressing to read. While Abigail seemed to have a somewhat strong sense of self despite the creepy monsters around her, I couldn’t really get where that sense of self was coming from. She clearly had no adult or peer support, so when she would make some kind of self-possessed statement, it always felt shaky because how does a sixth grader resist wanting to punish her body when everyone around her clearly does? A lot of this seemed like the written manifestation of imaginary monsters, and that freaked me out not a little. I don’t generally enjoy an author exorcising demons through writing, and doing so in a children’s book, in a way that felt more like nurturing than exporcising, makes me feel even more uncomfortable. This one was not for me.

The publisher provided me a copy of this book, but I did nothing in return.
Little Dog, Lost - Marion Dane Bauer I want a puppy so bad!!! But, I think if I had to go through all the drama of this book in order to get a puppy, that might not be worth it to me.


boxer puppy climbing rock

Sad puppy wants its own girl:

sad boxer puppy

Like Mark, I can’t have a puppy right now. Unlike Mark, I do not spend every waking hour researching puppies. I don’t think I have the devotion or sense of responsibility that Mark seems to have, but maybe when I grow up, I will, and then my mom HOA will let me have a puppy.

This story is in verse, and it is very sweet, and (SPOILER ALERT) it has a happy ending. It seems like it would be a fun book for a new reader who also has a new puppy. Probably not a good book to get a kid if you don’t want to buy said kid a puppy. There’s that Shel Silverstein poem about Little Abigail and the Beautiful Pony, where Abigail says she’ll die if she doesn’t get a pony, and then she doesn’t get a pony and she does die. I think this could be a similar experience, where if you’re a kid and don’t have a puppy, you might die after reading this book. Just a warning for concerned parents.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for nothing.
The House of the Scorpion - Nancy Farmer I do not love being in the desert, but I think I do love reading about other people being in the desert. Is that schadenfreude? I guess I kind of like reading anyone who really has the feel of a setting, and I think Nancy Farmer has that here. This was desolate and full of desert flowers, and just enough mystery and elusive environmental contamination to set the scene for a lovely dystopian world. This was a wonderful, scary, heartwarming, chilling, inspiring story.

While I was reading this, I kept wondering if maybe I was experiencing some of the pleasure other people get from [b:Wither|8525590|Wither (The Chemical Garden, #1)|Lauren DeStefano|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1341532430s/8525590.jpg|13392566]. Like Wither, this one had that genetic-manipulation future, with redesigned geography, and some gadgets, but still a mostly familiar setting. But, this one wasn’t stupid; it was really smart and amazing. It questions science, religion, politics, the nature of friendship, the nature of power.

This book follows the main character, Matt, a clone, through his childhood, as he experiences isolation, torture, rejection, lavish gifts and education, friendship, mentoring, and daring adventures. A lot of books feel like the author thinks her audience is an idiot, so she slooooows the character’s perception of the world down and throws in neon arrows with every reveal. This didn’t feel like that, and it was refreshing to read. Matt was smart, and he caught on to what went on around him quickly, or if he didn’t, it was because he was purposefully, and justifiably ignoring it for emotional preservation. Even if he wouldn’t acknowledge what was happening, Farmer still expected the reader to be in the know. And we were. Most of the time.

Although I have to admit that a couple of times I was like, Wait WHAT??? Ohhhhhh!!!! But, that only made it more fun.

I only have two complaints, having to do with the reductionist political messages I think are here in two places. First, there is a part where the eeeeeevil drug lord, El Patron, takes the brains of clone babies and Science inserts them into his brain to help him live longer. That felt like a cheap dig at stem-cell research, to me. The book doesn’t dwell on it or make it a big point, but I feel like that is a complex issue, and it was a simplistic way to address it.

My second complaint is somewhat similar. Many people have complained that the last section of the book feels like an odd tack-on to the rest of the story. I agree to some extent, and I think it could have just as easily been its own book and worked better (like, if House of the Scorpion ended at Tam Lin taking Matt out, and the next book started with him at the oasis). But, I don’t really have a problem with it because, even though it was slower, I still really enjoyed it and all of the characters and the friendships with the boys. The thing I didn’t care for was the reductionist eeeeeevil of the socialist Keepers. That seemed a little easy and silly.

With both of those complaints, I feel like the topics are serious enough that they deserve a more complex characterization. Like, if you characterize your enemy as a moron, doesn’t that in some way reduce you to your enemy’s level and make you a moron, too, just for arguing with a moron? But, especially with new scientific and political problems, I think it benefits both sides of an argument to see the value, or at least the complexity, in an issue.

Anyway, those things didn’t really bother me that much, they were just minor issues. Overall, the story and characters were just wonderful. Cecelia and her bedtime stories, Tam Lin’s spelling, Maria’s Saint Francis, Chacho’s sympathy, Ton-ton’s slow reasoning. I loved them all. This was a really brilliant story. Straight, edge-of-my-seat fun.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for nothing.
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore - William Joyce, Joe Bluhm I was reading [b:Within a Budding Grove|16300455|Within a Budding Grove (Remembrance of Things Past, #2)|Marcel Proust|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1355102687s/16300455.jpg|17046445] recently, and the copy I have is an older one, the dust jacket worn and ripped in places. I like to read hardcovers of books the best, so I can use the dust jacket as a bookmark, and so I feel like the book is solid and less likely to get creased and broken by my reading. But, this copy was delicate, and every time I touched it, I could feel it crumbling in my fingers. The book itself was a beautiful, delicate thing, like the writing and ideas on its page, like the vulnerability of its narrator. My touch was too rough and solid.

I went out and bought supplies, and made a cover for the jacket, and pasted it all back together again, so that the book would be protected from my awkward pawings.


I loaned a hardcover to a friend once, a cheap hardcover of [b:New Moon|49041|New Moon (Twilight, #2)|Stephenie Meyer|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1308815097s/49041.jpg|3203964], even, which I had bought at Target for maybe $6. The friend forgot it was mine, and by the time I discovered it in her house again, the dust jacket was lost and the pages dog-eared. I couldn’t help but feel my friend had beaten up someone I loved. And, clearly, it was an inexpensive copy of a book that is ¾ abysmally boring, but it’s not about which book it is. It is a book. If you can’t be trusted with a book, what can you be trusted with?

Books are a dream of fireplaces and hot chocolate on a snowy day. They are a vision of seeing people as they really are, of understanding what the world is and who we are in it. They are family and love and friendship. Books are small packages that contain all the possibility in the universe. Books are my favorite. And I love the pages and binding and covers as the presence of magic in the physical world.

A book holds the world of a story, but it also holds the world of our reading experiences. For years, I kept the copy of [b:Crime and Punishment|7144|Crime and Punishment |Fyodor Dostoevsky|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1347560919s/7144.jpg|3393917] that my friend gave me, saying, “Here, I know it is good, but I can’t finish it.” It is and old, broken paperback, and I held it in my hands while I jumped at shadows and knew that at any moment a murrrrdererrrr could sneak up behind me and catch me unawares. I kept that copy of the book, even while I had other copies because the book itself absorbed my experience of reading. Last year, I gave the copy to a younger friend who hadn’t read it, a friend who was the same age I was when I read the book. Giving her my copy of the book was, for me, also giving her that experience from my life. Look at the magic these pages contain: they are Raskolnikov disintegrating at the brutality of life, they are me warily eyeing my friends at a coffee shop because they may have been planning to kill me.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is a sweet little picture book about how books are all that matters in life. It is about how these little packages contain something about the essence of who we are and what we experience.

“’Everyone’s story matters,’ said Morris. And all the books agreed.”

This is a lovely book, just as the animated film made from it is lovely. It is the kind of premise I resist, maybe because it sounds too generalized or precious about The Things That Matter, but its execution is really beautiful, and I love it. Books are important. They contain the magic of other worlds and lives and the magic of our experiences living in other worlds and other lives.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for nothing.
Fifty Shades of Grey  - E.L. James This was like reading a jackhammer.

This was like if Hannah Montana tried to write an erotica novel.

The popularity of this book makes me need to move to a different planet. I am making the assumption that it comes from people not actually liking to read, but liking to have their self-destructive cultural values reinforced. Girls don’t like to eat. If you do whatever he says, he’ll turn into a handsome prince. It’s not his fault he’s abusing you, it’s only because mommy was mean. To have good sex, a girl has to start out not wanting it. Women have to teach men how to be human.

If that’s not what it is, then maybe this book is an outline of a fairy tale and the sex scenes are what people are really looking at. Poor girl is asleep; rich prince is an asshole; they kiss and it wakes her up and turns him nice. We’re so used to the story that we don't need to hear any actual story again, but a shorthand is enough to awaken all of the comforting memories of being taught that if we stay with our abuser, he will change. It’s like this Jack Handy Deep Thought: “I remember the first time I ever saw a shooting star I said, ‘What the hell is that?’ But nowadays when I see one I just say, ‘What is that?’ I leave off the ‘hell’ part. Maybe when I'm old I'll just say, ‘Whazzit?’” Fifty Shades of Grey is the “Whazzit?” in a long line of stories about girls learning to be brainless to please their abusers.

So, maybe the Whazzit story has become so common that it is a neutral color and a reader who enjoyed this book would really be focusing on the sex scenes. But, then, is the sex really worth focusing on here? It uses the annoying euphemisms of typical romance novels and still manages to be even more prudish than usual about descriptions. I hate the “apex of my thighs” business, but that’s common enough. But, “he touched me There”??? That is just dumb. Another reader pointed out to me that if you search for the word "cock" in this book, it is never used to refer to a penis, but used about forty times to describe someone "cocking" their heads. It is used so much, and so oddly, that Ana even comments on all the head cocking that goes on. Not a super sexy use of a cock.

Also, the sex scenes are very logistically difficult to follow, which does not make for hotness in my book. I had no idea what happened during the one with the plastic tie. She somehow hooked her wrists on a bed post? Was she suspended away from the bed post? So confused. But, the weirdest one to me was the first bathtub scene. So, they’re in the bathtub, and she gives him the A+ blowjob, wherein we learn that she has no gag reflex. But . . . how much water was in the bathtub? How did this actually happen? Did they just have a couple of inches of water in the tub? That doesn’t sound very relaxing. If they had a normal amount of water, did she have to do an underwater bj? Did he have to float while she gave him the bj? Did he sit on the side of the tub??? If I don’t even know what’s going on, how am I supposed to consider whether it’s hot or not?

Even aside from being confused by the sex scenes, for me, most of this story was strikingly repelling. And I’m talking, like, I think even [b:Pleasuring the Pirate|3347215|Pleasuring the Pirate|Emily Bryan|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1347517461s/3347215.jpg|3385589] was hotter. I imagine this can’t be true, but it’s possible that this book hits every turn off for me:

(1) “Baby.” Don’t ever call me a baby, unless I am actually being a baby. Also, never say “laters” before you say “baby.” The words “laters” and “baby” should never be used individually, and certainly not in the same sentence. Also, never say that like a million times and then discuss how original it is to say it. That makes me puke.

(2) Stick insects. Christian Grey appears to be some sort of stick insect with freakishly long tentacle fingers. I am not attracted to stick insects.

(3) Contracts. Not hot.

(4) Bossiness. I loathe bossiness. Why can’t people just do what they want to do, and also avoid being jerks? Why push everyone around? Unattractive.

(4) Boring snobbery. I just can’t abide it. It makes my skin crawl. If you want to be a snob, be a snob about something interesting, not wine and classical music and cars. Be a snob about stage makeup or teacups, or something. I don't know what. Be a snob about your own thing. Why is it cool to be a snob about boring things and nerdy to be a snob about something different? Wine/opera/cars snobbery is so expected. Plus, wine snobbery is impossible to listen to. I like wine, don’t get me wrong, but when people turn their nose up and start to talk vintages in a fake British accent, it is obnoxiously ridiculous. This didn’t actually do that, I imagine because James might ultimately know very little about wine, but it gestured at it as though she wished she could talk bouquets and oaks and vintages.

Those are the turn offs I can think of now, but I’m sure there are more. Oh, sitting in a bathtub of menstrual blood is, it turns out, a turn off for me. I knew about the tampon scene, and whipping a tampon out to have sex does not freak me out the way it seems to freak some people. One of my friends got totally freaked out by a part where something similar (though more clearly and eloquently, and also maybe a little more creepily, described) happens in [b:The English Patient|11713|The English Patient|Michael Ondaatje|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320527907s/11713.jpg|3009869], and I remember finding it a little haunting and creepy, but sort of beautiful, there. BUT THEN, in Fifty Shades, SHE DOESN’T PUT A TAMPON BACK IN!! And they go and hang out in the bathtub for a little while. So, that’s disgusting and unnecessary. I am not in favor of hanging out in pools of things that come out of my body. Turn off.

Oh, seeing life through the POV of an anorexic – turn off.

Locality annoyance: say, “I-5.” “The Interstate 5”? Please.

I’m not even going to talk about the subconscious and inner goddess because that is just facially crazy talk. And annoying.


Ryan Gosling saying, “Yo, baby.  ‘Enervating’ means ‘causing one to feel drained of energy or vitality.’ Is your excess energy really enervating?  Always start with the Wiktionary

The only good thing about this experience was that it allowed me to vent my anger as above, with my Christian Grey Ryan Gosling tumblr.

Setting aside all of the distracting writing and the way my personal lady parts shrivel up and hide at all the details of this story, it really is the fact the relationship here that is the worst thing. People have talked this to death, but much of the sex and violence Ana experiences are sex and violence she acquiesces to because she’s too scared to lose a boy, not sex and violence she asks for because she wants them. That is very, very annoying to read about. It’s like listening to a nauseatingly long restraining order hearing while knowing the whole time that it won’t be granted. If you want to sacrifice your life with the hope that a man will change, it’s your life. But, don’t whine to me about your stupid choices.

Every single part of this book was terrible.

Ryan Gosling saying, ‘Hello, Miss Girl.  Hopefully our readers don’t have a gag reflex either’

Within a Budding Grove

Within a Budding Grove - Marcel Proust,  C.K. Scott Moncrieff If a reading experience could turn you into a butterfly, that would be the magic in this book. And would any of us be surprised by Proust having that kind of conjuring power, the wizardry to misremember us into flying, floating little bugs? No. There is surely magic in these pages, in its remembering and misremembering, in shaping and re-shaping: magic to move beauty marks all around faces, to remember dresses into petals and monocles to wings. In the end, Proust remembers us all into flowers and butterflies lounging in the shade near water, wrapped up and mummified by the golden sun of his memory.

These memories are my own, too, of friendships with boys and girls. They are the magic of wondering about and judging people before knowing them, finding out you are were wrong, and then, maybe, learning you were actually right. They are memories of the vulnerability of imagining another person’s life and then becoming a part of that imagined world. This book is the birds and the bees, only here, it is the butterflies and the flowers. It is more delicate, and it is about the show of courtship among all people (friends, family, lovers, etc.), not the mechanics of sex.

My friend who reminds me so much of Proust keeps including in his emails to me lately the qualifier, “I am telling you that to make myself ridiculous so you will laugh. Are you laughing?” We were talking about that, and he said, “That’s why Rosamond and I still talk. I make fun of myself, and she laughs. It is a pretty simple relationship. I can say just about anything to Rosamond to make her laugh. And I think I make cheap insults of myself that might kinda hurt, but I’d rather see someone laugh, cause then maybe I can be happy later.” I think that is a nice sentiment, which is brave in a certain way, and also rather specific. And with Proust, I do laugh. I laugh at his purposeful avoidance of Gilberte that he so deliberately expresses by hanging out at Gilberte’s house with her mom. I laugh at his falling in love with the big girl on the train, his love affair with Saint Loup, his social anxiety over procedures at the Grand Hotel. I laugh at his passage about throwing himself in front of a bullet out of the selfish wish to prove he would throw himself in front of a bullet. He is very funny.

When I am laughing at those things, it is partly because of their simple ridiculousness, but also because it is a ridiculousness I see in myself. Ludicrous daydreams and misunderstanding social cues. And even though there is a lot that is gendered in here, at the same time, I think at its base, it is more about difference, and not so rigidly gendered. Part II is a boy wondering about a group of girls, but it could just as easily be me wondering about boys. The details might be different, but the wondering is similar, I think. When Marcel imagines who Saint-Loup will be to him, he knows the answer; but, when he encounters the girls, it is all confusion and misunderstandings. And the divide of gender, whether created by nature or nurture, is so ridiculous like that. Does she want to kiss me or laugh at me? Does he want to hold my hand or beat me up? We must consult our research guides and use magnifying glasses to seek the answer. And most of us, like Marcel, are very ridiculous in the process.

I don’t think this book is so much about, “wimmin folks ain’t like men folks.” I think it is, rather, about how awkward we are in bridging those differences. I want to say, “how awkward we are in adolescence,” but I am still awkward in that, and no longer adolescent, so it still applies at least to me. With Marcel, though, it is so pretty how much he loves all of these people, how generous he is to them, while still making fun of his own self-interest.

And the stories about why, above all else, you must not be gay are such kicks in the gut and so knifingly told.

Like I say, I think there is a certain bravery mixed with the odd self-interest in Proust making himself ridiculous and vulnerable in the way he does in these books. Maybe I am wrong about this, but it seems like there is a tendency in the Proust readership to think that somehow reflects well, or reflects at all, on the reader. I kind of don’t get that. It seems to me like when someone makes himself ridiculous or vulnerable for our entertainment, a reader can react with a myriad of feelings, among which are, of course, sympathy; alienation; eye-rolling; distancing laughter; or self-importance, as though Proust’s vulnerability, artistry, and ridiculousness says something about our merits. As if our identification with him says something about us, rather than everything about him. We all react according to our own experiences, but I have been very surprised at how dissimilar my feeling about these books is to how I anticipated feeling.

Maybe part of this book’s magic is in being a different shady, watery place with different flowers and butterflies for every reader.
Olivia and the Fairy Princesses - Ian Falconer It has been previously mentioned once or twice that Olivia is my favorite. It is true. Olivia rules.

In this one, my particularly favorite part, other than the end, which is awesome, is the Martha Graham page. Also, good use of the words "corporate malfeasance." And Ian Falconer's drawings are, as always, amazing.


1. [b:Olivia And The Missing Toy|123860|Olivia And The Missing Toy|Ian Falconer|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348675049s/123860.jpg|654938]. It has the fold out page, including the surprise, and that is difficult to beat. Plus, it has a premise that is compelling to for all ages. Or, maybe just me because I lose stuff all the time.

2. [b:Olivia|770051|Olivia|Ian Falconer|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1349034348s/770051.jpg|2484218]. A classic. Especially the parts where she moves the cat.

3. [b:Olivia and the Fairy Princesses|13546400|Olivia and the Fairy Princesses (Olivia)|Ian Falconer|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1340327711s/13546400.jpg|19111518]. This is ranking at a high third! Congrats, fairy princesses! Again, a compelling struggle, use of outstanding extra-textual art, and good vocab! Also, the use of additional characters as Olivia's audience is always really genius. Like, at the beginning, when Olivia is depressed, the way the cat and dog are watching her, concerned, really creates the sense of depression I think Olivia is looking for.

This is where I get a little fuzzy. I think my next rankings are:

4. [b:Olivia Helps with Christmas|306808|Olivia Helps with Christmas|Ian Falconer|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348755216s/306808.jpg|2263710],

5. [b:Olivia Saves the Circus|634187|Olivia Saves the Circus|Ian Falconer|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1349035427s/634187.jpg|3259015],

6. [b:Olivia Forms A Band|466881|Olivia Forms A Band|Ian Falconer|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348676437s/466881.jpg|654939], and

7. [b:Olivia Goes to Venice|7382303|Olivia Goes to Venice|Ian Falconer|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348579796s/7382303.jpg|9227944].

"saves the circus" and "forms a band" are mixed up in my head right now, though, so I am having trouble remembering what happens in them. Christmas is a good one, and I think there's another page in the middle that folds out, which is always a win with me. "Goes to Venice" didn't have the pathos of the others, in my view.

Olivia is the best.
I received a free copy of this in exchange for nothing. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah, me!
Knitting With Balls: A Hands-On Guide to Knitting for the Modern Man - Del Vecchio,  Michael Har har, puns! Although the phallic image on this cover has to be the male equivalent of vagina dentata. Brrrr.

I feel two ways about this book. First, it's a good idea, and there are some cool patterns in here that are more masculine than you see in your typical knitting book. Most pattern books clearly live in active fear that you will fall into that tired sit-com stereotype and knit something awkward for your boyfriend. Look at these patterns, they say, they are 1920s themed or have kittens! Do not show them to a man, for their eyeballs will melt.

Anyway, this has some decent ideas. I really like the beer cozy idea, though I haven't made it yet:

ribbed beer cozy

I also like the Not-So-Rugged Scarf, but you will have to look at this book to see pictures of those because I can't find an open copy on the internets. Most of these patterns assume that any man who would use this book is more than 50% gay. And, fair. I made this manly scarf for my office-mate who is approximately 83% gay:

navy blue and grey blocked scarf

My only real issue with this book, other than the vests, is that the directions are not immensely clear, especially if you are a new knitter. They use a lot of abbreviations that did not seem to be well indexed in the back, and some stitches that were not explained in the front of the book. That seems like a bummer if this is supposed to be, as it is billed, "a hands-on guide." At least youtube can basically translate really clearly and easily any stitch you are confused about, but I did have to reference youtube a couple of times while making that scarf. Sometimes, I sadly wonder if knitting books are a little obsolete and blogs or knitpicks.com aren't really the way to go for patterns. Merry Christmas, my 83% gay office mate!