Archive for the 'Weird Things That Bother Me' Category

“Siddhartha” by Hermann Hesse

Saturday, July 27th, 2013

sidd

1986. I’m in a class called “The Problem of God” at a Jesuit university taught by an atheist who’d been raised Catholic. One of the required books is Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, and the paper we were required to write on it was in response to the question: “Is it possible to be in the world and not of it?”

I am abashed, because it’s a cliche, to say that this book and some of the others like it jolted me out of the mostly complacent beliefs I’d been raised with in the Episcopal church. I didn’t run out and say I was a Buddhist or get a bumper sticker, but I started saying that I was raised Christian rather than that I was a Christian. Interestingly (or not) nearly 3 decades later, I’m not much more defined in my beliefs. I still wander and wonder, unsettled.

Siddhartha
is a fairy tale, based on the life of Gotama Buddha, written by Hesse, a German Protestant. Most Buddhists agree this isn’t a good book about Buddha or Buddhism, but interesting perhaps as a German Protestant’s understanding of Buddhism. Like Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet, it’s become a beloved book that perhaps belongs better in pop culture or self help than in religious studies.

Siddhartha and his friend Govinda go out from his wealthy home and become ascetics, then part ways when Govinda decides to follow Gotama Buddha and Siddhartha says he much go his own way, a response in harmony with the Buddha’s teaching that there is no one truth, no one teacher and each person’s answers lie within. Siddhartha wanders, then becomes enmeshed in life when he takes up with a courtesan (an interesting woman, yet the book is obsessed with her lips that look like a ripe fig, and isn’t she really just a variation on the Hooker with a Heart of Gold? and on the sexy older woman who teaches the young man The Ways of Love.) Siddhartha becomes nauseated and suicidal, but listens to the river and reaches a form of enlightenment not unlike the Buddha’s.

This is a lovely little story, stereotypes of women aside. It’s accessible. But I think too often it’s taken as Buddhism, rather than a little sliver of a story about Buddhism written by a white man who wasn’t a Buddhist. And the inaction that is ultimately validated seems antithetic to a world of increased justice and peace.

Some other reviews I found interesting included Keely’s on Goodreads, and one at The Open Critic.

“Buddha” by Karen Armstrong

Saturday, July 27th, 2013

buddha

I have a confession to make. Buddha was the first book by Karen Armstrong I’ve read. I minored in religion as an undergrad, and went on to get an MA in religious studies. People have been telling me to read Karen Armstrong ever since A History of God came out. Armstrong is a former Catholic nun, a self-described “freelance monotheist” and well-known as an author of books of world religions. And now, I’m feeling kind of vindicated and no longer that guilty about not reading her books. Because I was not that impressed by her Buddha. It was, to me, “unskilled” in many ways, to use a phrase she deploys in the book.

At the beginning, she sets out the challenge of how to do a biography of a person for whom there is so little historical record. The idea of taking the myths and stories and trying to tease out the commonalities into something approaching fact is an interesting one. Alas, the book was more focused on historical details of The Axial Age on one hand, and some oddly specific psychologizing of its subject, such as what he felt and why he left his wife and child. And Armstrong’s no-comment, no-sympathy treatment of the abandoned wife and child curiously dispassionate to me.

Armstrong started to lose me about page 50, though, when she referred to “yoga” in a way that didn’t make it clear that it is a complex system, not the series of exercise poses that many people know it as. She then goes on at page 56, to describe the “yoga” of the Buddha using negative, restrictive terms such as: “force, bludgeon, denial, cut, refusal, exclude, radical denial, invulnerable, control, impervious, suppress” to decribe “yoga”. Additionally, she uses only the male pronoun, unqualified, to describe any practitioner of yoga. Her source, in the notes, is simply Yoga by Eliade, and all her quotes are from the same source. This is in the paperback edition, so I can fairly criticize BOTH author and editors for such a slack-ass citation. The full citation should have included the full title:
Yoga: Immortality and Freedom by Mircea Eliade and have indicated that it was first published in 1936. Why does Armstrong use a scores-old source written by a white man when she might have used modern critical scholarship by practitioners? Yes, Eliade is one of the most famous figures in religious study. He’s best known for his writing on the sacred/profane, and origin myths. But along with Joseph Campbell, who Armstrong also references in her notes, I think of him as the type of superficial, outsider scholar that is included in most first-year college religion overviews, or on PBS specials, or in pop-culture. I wanted a better source, and to know whose translations of the ancient texts she was using, and why.

Edited to add: I also wondered at Armstrong’s uncritical take on the caste system, presented simply as “this is what it was” rather than as the colonially constructed system posited by Nicholas Dirks in his Castes of Mind.

Finally, I found Armstrong’s book dull and slow, surprising for such a short book about such a fascinating person with such a vast store of myths and legends. Frustrated and disappointed, I pulled out my freshman college copy of Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha to compare and contrast, which I’ll write about in another post.

For a more compassionate take on the book that still raises concerns, see this review at Tricycle.

Whither the Female in Post-Apoca-Fic?: “A Canticle for Leibowitz” and “Oryx and Crake”

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

Post-apoca-fic (PAF) is most recognized as a sub-genre of science fiction, but end-time narratives are at least as old as the Epic of Gilgamesh and the story of Noah’s ark. Modern PAF is marked as beginning with Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, written by a woman by featuring a male protagonist.

canticle

I recently re-read the PAF classic A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller, Jr. Published in book form in 1959, it collected 3 sections that had previously appeared in a sci-fi magazine. It centers on a monastery in post-nuclear Utah. There the monks seek canonization of the sacred Leibowitz of the title. A man of science instrumental in the nuclear holocaust of the mid 20th century, Leibowitz converted to Catholicism and advocated peace and learning. The book’s first section is set in the mid 21st century:

Brother Francis Gerard of Utah might never have discovered the blessed documents, had it not been for the pilgrim with girded loins who appeared during that young novice’s Lenten fast in the desert.

The subsequent sections jump ahead hundreds of years, though there are through lines for characters and artifacts that are fun and satisfying to recognize. I found the first section with Brother Francis, the most engaging. It’s the most funny, and Francis was my favorite of the many characters in the book. As the novel progresses, though, it shifts from being speculative to more preachy and explicative. The only females are in the third section, and this book fails The Bechdel Test, which identifies gender bias in fiction, in that no female has a conversation with another female.

Since the book is set in a monastery, it could be argued that it wasn’t within the scope. Yet after I read this book, I longed for a female perspective, something like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Since I hadn’t read her most recent post-apocalypse novels, I decided to check out Oryx and Crake, the first of the MaddAddam trilogy, which was followed by The Year of the Flood and completed with MaddAddam, to be published this September.

oryx

The events in Oryx and Crake are typical of PAF: a genetically engineered plague has wiped out probably all humans except one man, our narrator:

Snowman wakes before dawn. He lies unmoving, listening to the tide coming in, wave after wve sloshing over the various barricades, wish-wash, wish-wash, the rhythm of heartbeat. He would so like to believe he is still asleep. ..

Out of habit he looks at his watch–stainless steel case, burnished aluminum band, still shiny although it no longer works. He wears it now as his only talisman. A blank face is what it shows him: zero hour. It causes a jolt of terror to run through him, this absence of official time. Nobody nowhere knows what time it is.

Snowman is not alone; he is surrounded by a variety of genetically spliced creatures. The series proceeds ahead then flashes back. Typical Atwood, she breaks every rule of how to write fiction, yet the story unspools seamlessly into a compulsively readable narrative. Although devourable, the book left a bitter aftertaste. The central characters are a love triangle: two men and one woman, who embodies several cliches, and meets a clicheed end. She never converses with another woman, so this book too fails the Bechdel test. And, for anyone expecting closure, remember: you’re reading Atwood.

I continue to puzzle over this book. What does it add to the PAF genre other than a ripping yarn typically devoid of females? Is there a deeper layer of irony that I’m missing? Is Atwood saying a fully realized female is impossible in PAF? Is this an extension of the female-suppressing world of Handmaid? Does the apocalypse somehow preclude women? Certainly, it’s provoking, though what it has provoked is perplexity and anger and disappointment at Atwood, not my usual admiration.

I found a possibly parallel question in Vanessa Veselka’s essay in The American Reader, “Green Screen: The Lack of Female Road Narratives and Why It Matters“:

Siddhartha wants liberation, Dante wants Beatrice, Frodo wants to get to Mount Doom—we all want something. Quest is elemental to the human experience. All road narratives are to some extent built on quest. If you’re a woman, though, this fundamental possibility of quest is denied. You can’t go anywhere if you can’t step out onto a road.

Left to my own devices, I’d go down a rabbit hole and explore PAF with female protagonists. Maureen McHugh has done some excellent stories and her novel Mission Child is one of the few I can think of. Octavia Butler? Sheri Tepper’s Gate to Women’s Country? Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time? YA PAF often has female protagonists, e.g., Katniss Everdeen, only to shackle and domesticate them in the end.

Alas, being part of 3 book groups, one of which I lead (hence Canticle, which sent me down this “road”) means my dance card is limited, so I’m unlikely to read up on these questions soon. If any of you kind readers have any insight, please, please, start a thread in the comments section.

“Bring Up the Bodies” by Hilary Mantel

Saturday, April 6th, 2013

bodies

I am one of the few people who didn’t love Wolf Hall. I found the story boring and the use of ambiguous ‘he’ pronouns annoying. Does this reaction make me a philistine? Perhaps. So I was understandably reluctant to approach the sequel, Bring Up the Bodies. Trusted friends like Amy and Kate assured me it was better than the original. Nonetheless, I put it off over all the other Tournament of Books contenders that I wanted to read. Left it for dead last.

I liked the opening. There’s some gorgeous writing. Henry the VIII’s court should be fascinating. Yet I found this book far too easy to put down. I told myself I’d give it 50 pages, yet when I got to 45, I couldn’t even see the point of forcing down those last five pages. It was non-compelling for me, and still with deliberately awkward use of ‘he.’ I read so many ToB books this year that I just loved and raced through; this one left me cold. I returned it unread, and am on to the next book. Life’s too short.

In Search Of…

Friday, April 5th, 2013

I’m 45. I wondered recently if because my Granny is almost 99, if this didn’t make me less than middle aged. Alas, it was a joke, and I’m recently butting up against trying to dress my aging self. I’m thinking wistfully of the time my yoga instructor said to me, “Your abs look aMAzing!”

To which I responded, “Not for long, I’m 6 weeks pregnant.” And that was the last we saw of my flat belly, though I suppose I should take some consolation that it went out at the top of its game.

Now, though, it’s a definite bulge, and my current challenge is that I can’t find a clothing layer that covers both my belly and my boobs. If it’s long enough at the bottom, it’s plunging, often below the edge of my bra at the top. If it covers my (admittedly scanty) cleavage (aka Cleave-land) then it hits about my belly button.

So I’m desperately seeking something–a tank, a camisole–that can meet both needs. I have one Bordeaux top that a friend gave me that does pretty well, though new ones are price-y (or spendy as we say here in MN) at $55. I picked up some Alfani camis (no longer available on their site) from the Macy’s sale rack shopping with my sister last week.

I also ordered a couple things online, and was reminded of the problem with online purchases–easy to buy, hard to return. So I think I’m back to shopping in person. And yet, shopping isn’t exactly the best use of my time. Sigh.

But my prey is elusive, and I suspect this is EXACTLY the kind of silly quest that distracts me from things I really should be doing, like writing, some volunteer work at the boys’ school, exercising, and cleaning house. I do so love silly quests.

Book Advice?

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

I’m obsessing nerdishly over what books from the Tournament of Books to read and which to skip. Here are the ones I haven’t read but am interested in:

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
May We Be Forgiven
Bring Up the Bodies
Beautiful Ruins

Might read sometime but not now: Dear Life, Building Stories,

Probably (or in the case of the Heti, mos. def.) not: Yellow Birds, Fobbit, How Should a Person Be, Ivyland

So, what should I read next? I was leaning to Beautiful Ruins, but it’s hard to lay hands on, and Bring Up the Bodies just came in for me, but I didn’t really care for Wolf Hall. And Billy Lynn just got eliminated, and doesn’t sound like a zombie contender.

So, what next: Bring Up Bodies, Beautiful Ruins or May We Be Forgiven?

Any on the maybe or no list that I should reconsider?

Cuss You, Spam

Friday, March 8th, 2013

So I have a head cold, and am resting, and back to blogging about books, movies, food, and family, and what happens? I get slammed by spam. 75+ just this morning. Compliments, insults, randomness, vagaries.

I heard this morning that the unemployment rate was down. Apparently, a lot of people are now working in spam.

Kitchenaid: Your Products and Customer Service STINK

Monday, February 18th, 2013

An Open Letter to Kitchenaid Customer Service:

Interestingly and frustratingly, but sadly not surprisingly, I have visited your website and am unable to complete the customer feedback because I cannot access the columns–you have a faulty website with a limited Flash program that doesn’t accept input from our browser.

Also, you don’t list an address so I can send a physical letter.

And when I called to get an address, I was told by the electronic voice that I’d have to wait over ten minutes to talk to a real person. Also, I wasn’t given an option of customer feedback, just service or parts.

APPARENTLY, YOU DON’T WANT TO RECEIVE CUSTOMER FEEDBACK. I HAVE NO DOUBT WHY. KITCHENAID, YOUR CUSTOMER SERVICE, LIKE YOUR PRODUCTS, STINKS.

I have recently received two solicitations for an extended service plan for our Kitchenaid dishwasher, purchased at Warner Stellian in February 2006. The dishwasher is the worst appliance we have ever had the misfortune to own, and your brazen solicitations for us to pour good money after bad on the dishwasher in general, and Kitchenaid in particular, only add insult to the considerable injury we have endured over the years as we’ve muddled through with this substandard, poorly made machine waiting for it to die.

The machine broke down for the first time in February 2007. We thought we’d be covered by the warranty and were surprised and upset to find the warranty had been for a mere six months, which hardly shows company confidence in your products. The door mechanism had failed, and the chopper was clogged. The technician fixed both problems, and told me the door was an ongoing issue. I did my own research and found significant online evidence (just 2 examples: here and here) that the door attachment was weak and faulty. A more conscientious company would have notified all customers and replaced its shoddy work for free. Instead, we like many others, had to pay about $300 soon after we bought the machine to fix something that wasn’t made right in the first place.

A few months later, our control panel froze again. We called a technician, who came, told us the clogged chopper was an ongoing problem with the Kitchenaids, and showed me how to reset the panel and take the machine apart so I wouldn’t have to call for service everytime. He did not have to do this, and I am still grateful that he had the decency and good customer sense to do this. It is only this that has allowed us to trudge on over the years with the dishwasher, as the machine clogs at least once a month and I have to take it entirely apart to clear it out. This is yet another ongoing problem with the machine that could have been avoided by better engineering early on, but then at least mitigated later on by including how to reset the panel and take apart the machine in the user manual, rather than trying to hide that information with technicians who charge about $200 a visit.

This second visit meant we’d paid over $500 on top of the original price, all within 18 months of purchase. I determined that if another service call was ever warranted, that we’d buy a new, non-Kitchenaid dishwasher, one from a company with a good performance and excellent customer service record.

And while the door has not detached from the machine again, it has not performed well, either. It frequently pops open during a cycle, an unpleasant surprise to discover in the morning, and a waste of water as the cycle runs again. We’ve learned to hack this by wedging it shut with a chair and our cast-iron pan to weight it down. It seems to me this is an extreme solution to something so basic as KEEPING THE DOOR CLOSED.

The front basket accessory unravelled at the bottom, but we chose not to spend more money on the dishwasher. Ditto one of the brackets on the top shelf.

In order to keep the chopper clear, we had to scrupulously rinse dishes of food particles, plus carefully arrange dishes in the machine. This machine was extremely fussy and require a great deal of practice and attention in order to function. Even so, it often didn’t clean dishes thoroughly.

I contacted Kitchenaid customer service to detail the bad experiences we’d had with our machine. I was told it was out of warranty, and that they’d be happy to arrange another service call for me that I could pay for.

There is plentiful documentation online that many others had similar troubles. For me and for others, your company had NOT responded to repeated requests to stand by their malfunctioning product by fixing or replacing shoddy items.

The guts of the Kitchenaid DW. You need to remove them ALL to get to the clog.

The guts of the Kitchenaid DW. You need to remove them ALL to get to the clog.

For better or worse, I’ve been able to keep the machine going for almost 7 years since I learned to reset and clean it out myself. But the clogs have been getting more and more frequent, so I think the machine is near the time when I’ll kick it to the curb and tell it not to let the door hit it in the rear on its way out. I don’t appreciate spending hundreds more dollars on replacing an appliance I’d hoped would last for many years, not limping through seven. But I very much look forward to a non-Kitchenaid dishwasher.

Interestingly, and not coincidentally, over these years I’ve accumulated what I call the Kitchenaid Graveyard of other Kitchenaid kitchen implements that have failed. I will attach a photo, and will attach the photo to this letter that I’ll post online to my website, to Facebook. I will additionally follow up to review these items accordingly on major retailing sites so that other consumers might avoid the expense of these readily breaking down items:

The Kitchenaid graveyard of broken items. Cheese slicer and grater not shown.

The Kitchenaid graveyard of broken items. Cheese slicer and grater not shown.

Blender 1: glass container cracked, lid had faulty liner
Blender 2: plastic container cracked
ice cream scoop: squeeze mechanism broke, and scoop wouldn’t release without it
basting brush: filaments bent and would no longer evenly distribute sauce
cheese slicer (not pictured): wire broke immediately
Cheese grater: rubber ring base ripped; plastic casing and base both cracked

It took some years, but I finally learned my lesson and stopped buying Kitchenaid. I had a false sense of a reliable brand given my ONE good experience, which was with the mixer I bought at Bloomingdale’s at King of Prussia mall in the early 90’s. It still works well over twenty years later, even though it’s the lower end 4.5 quart size. But if it ever does break, I doubt I’d replace it with a modern Kitchenaid, given the subsequent product debacles I’ve endured over the years.

My advice to you:

Reduce advertising and spend that money and attention on engineering and customer service, which are severely lacking in products both large and small.

Extend your warranty yourself–make it two years, and when an issue like the dishwasher door becomes evident, replace the items at no cost to the consumer. Stand by your products, and not by sending out extended warranty solicitations way after the fact like you’re doing us some favor.

And, if you’d really like to stand up for your products, replace our Kitchenaid Dishwasher model KUDS01FLWH7 which has been a constant disappointment with a new one, and if it holds up, I’ll write positive reviews.

But until and unless you make a definitive statement like replacing our limping dishwasher, I will keep this letter posted on the web, and post detailed, negative reviews of your faulty products based on my experiences.

I am your sincerely disappointed, irritated and now aggravated by your recent solicitations,

Unhappy Kitchenaid Dupe

Further Misadventures with Home Spa

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

In November of 2010, I tried a DIY spa treatment at home. I made a brown sugar/heavy cream scrub for my scalp, which exfoliated and moisturized well, but smelled terrible. I wrote:

This should put me off any more home spa attempts for a while. Until I forget, and then I’ll be all, “I don’t know if this is a good idea, but I’m going to do it anyway.” Story of my life, I swear.

Two years and 17 days, people, is how long it took me to forget. Yesterday I consulted Curly Girl for a natural, shampoo-free solution for itchy scalp. I’d tried the brown sugar and conditioner before, and it worked OK. The newer edition of the book recommended quinoa plus conditioner. Directions: 1 tablespoon raw quinoa in 3 tablespoons conditioner. Scrub scalp and rinse. Hey, I thought, if I use it in my hair then we don’t have to eat it! (Not a fan of quinoa, or of how much 9yo Drake bitches and moans when we make it.) Plus it’s bigger, so it should scrub better than brown sugar.

It actually felt very nice and scrubbly, but as with past home-spa disasters, things started well but ended badly. Quinoa, unlike brown sugar, does not dissolve in water. And it’s a fast cooking grain. So by the time I finished scrubbing, rinsing, conditioning and showering, the walls, floor, shower curtain and my feet were covered with partially cooked grain. How had 1 Tablespoon produced so much? The hair trap was full, the water was backing up. The grains were no longer hard, but soft and more difficult to clean up.

So, here I was again, cleaning up another home spa mess. On the bright side, the scrub worked great and my scalp is in great shape.

“A Wrinkle in Time” graphic novel

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

I really, really wanted to love the graphic-novel version of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, adapted and illustrated by Hope Larson. So I was surprised and disappointed to find I didn’t even much like it. And I feel terribly, terribly guilty about this. I love the novel–it was one of my first favorites as a kid. I love Larson’s work. In Gray Horses, Chiggers, Mercury, she’s a great artist and storyteller. But for me, this adaptation didn’t work.

The aspect that gave me the most trouble were the character depictions. I’ve held this book so close, for so long, that I have my own pictures in my head of what the characters look like, even the minor ones, and many of Larson’s clashed with the ones in my head. Obviously, someone coming to the book for the first time via this adaptation wouldn’t have the same issue.

Related to that, though, was the trouble I had with the character of Meg. When I’ve read the book, which I did last summer, I’ve related to gawky, socially inept Meg. When I read this book, I was irritated by her. Seeing her on the page made me less able to identify with her.

I am torn as I write about the book. I wanted to like it. I don’t want others to skip it. But it didn’t work for me. Here’s hoping it works better for you.

“Bloom’s Guides: Toni Morrison’s ‘Beloved’”

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

Bloom's Guide Beloved

This book has cemented my low opinion of Harold Bloom, with this sentence from his intro:

Beloved divides many of my acquaintances who possess critical discernment; for some of them it is a masterwork, for others it is supermarket literature. I myself am divided: not character in the novel persuades me, and yet much of the writing has authentic literary force. (emphasis mine)

He goes on, but I will spare you. Bloom’s name is on the book, as it is on two other books I read as I researched Beloved, so he is making money with this book that contains what I see as a low blow. Bloom may not regard Beloved as a masterpiece. But, as he notes, many people of critical discernment do, including those at the New York Times who, in 2006, named it the best book of American fiction of the past 25 years.

To use the term “supermarket literature” (deliberate deployment of damning oxymoron), in the preface to a scholarly collection of essays on that work, even while passively saying that it’s not him but others of his acquaintance, is insulting, not just to Morrison and the authors of the essays, but to me as a reader. Why should I read a book about a book that someone of critical discernment thinks is supermarket literature?

Then, to add further insult, the book is full of typos (could they not hire a competent copyeditor?) and the final essay has several outright factual errors, e.g. the rooster is misidentified as Brother, not Mister and thus Morrison’s careful strategies of naming characters are undermined.

Poorly done, Bloom, poorly done. It’s not enough to condescendingly admit that you think Song of Solomon is a masterpiece. You’ve outed yourself as an intellectual bully. After reading Beloved and the two other books with your name on it about Morrison, I would much rather live in a world that had Morrison’s literature than Bloom’s if I had to choose. But then, perhaps he’d think I don’t have critical discernment, and thus my opinion would not matter.

It’s too bad that Bloom’s churlish, petty comments in the introduction soured me at the start, because there are several very good essays in this book on Beloved that highlight interesting interpretations. If they had been treated to a good copyeditor, and not capped by a less-good essay, they might have been done justice.

Seeing Spots

Monday, September 10th, 2012

I have a gigantic blemish on my face. I’m not paranoid; it’s obvious. It started out as one of those deep, cystic ones. It throbbed so badly I thought it was going to spout a face and start talking to me. In the end, it was the same thing: a huge, unsightly whitehead.

Back in the day, I used to have persistent cystic acne that seemed irritated by hormonal shifts. I went to an old-school dermatologist named Myron, who would give me shots of cortisone in each cyst, and prescribe a lotion and cream that never worked well enough that I could stop going in and getting those painful shots, though they did shrink the cussers.

Eventually another dermatologist convinced me to try Accutane, which was a tough drug while I was on it, but did dramatically improve my skin. Now, though, as I approach menopause and the hormones get uppity, I’ve got cysts rearing their ugly (white)heads again. Sigh.

It seems unjust that I’m 44, and facing the same acne issues as at 14. I know not to pop it, and that covering it makes it worse AND highlights it. There’s little to do but abide and wait for it to subside. I have a cold compress on it now (the Mr. Happy cold pack that is supposedly for the kids.) Small problem, I know. But still, pretty gross.

“My Sweet Audrina” by V.C. Andrews

Friday, August 17th, 2012

audrina_teen

I re-read My Sweet Audrina by V.C. Andrews for the last chapter of the Shelf Discovery Readalong, Chapter 10: Panty Lines: I Can’t Believe They Let Us Read This. I found a copy in the Teen section at Half-Price Books, and the edition is published by Simon Pulse, a teen imprint, so between my teenhood and now things have changed. The V.C. Andrews books have been uncovered for what they are: racy reads for pre-teens. And the book even has a picture of a pretty pink peony on the front, so it doesn’t look dirty AT ALL. Not like the peekaboo cover and inside flap of the cover I read back when:

audrina11

audrina

From the back cover:

Audrina Adare wanted to be as good as her sister. But she knew her father could not love her as he loved her sister. Her sister was so special, so perfect…and dead.

Now Audrina with come fact to face with the dangerous, terrifying secret that everyone knows. Everyone except…Audrina.

I am abashed to admit that I had a good time re-reading this gothic potboiler from my youth. Audrina is a pretty seven-year old who lives in a weird house with a weird family. The father and her cousin are particularly creepy. I fully remembered the “secret” and wondered if I guessed the ending when I read this as a girl about thirty (!) years ago. The writing is terrible, the secret hardly dangerous, and given the book’s 400 pages, and its covering of thirteen year, I really think it could’ve been shorter to ramp up the tension. And yet, up till the end, I still enjoyed it, purple prose and all:

On shimmering hot waves of smoldering desire to do it all over again, out here in the storm when the world could end any second and no sin would matter, I drifted back to being me.

The end, though, when the “secret” is finally revealed and consequences sorta happen, was like having a nasty dessert to a tasty junk food meal. Or perhaps like the moment when you’re eating junk food and everything’s fine and then bam, a line is crossed and it can’t be tasty again. Perhaps the ugliness and awkwardness of the ending put a spotlight on the garish over-the-top-ness of the book. The ending made the guilt over time spent overwhelm any fleeting pleasure. Eminently skippable. Unless you start it, then you might not be able to stop.

My friend Amy felt similarly about Flowers in the Attic.

I’m going to read something with some nutritive value, now.

Comments

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

Friends, if you’re reading, PLEASE comment. As of late, I’m fielding over a hundred spams a day (screw you, Lista de email, et al) and can’t tell you what joy I experience when I find a real comment in all that crap.

“Shelf Discovery” Technical Difficulties; Please Stand By

Monday, July 30th, 2012

OK, this post is really a placeholder for the Chapter 8 post for the Summer of Shelf Discovery because I can’t find my copy of Shelf Discovery. I think I may have accidentally put it in the library return slot. Oops.

Also, I thought Chapter 8 of Shelf Discovery was the one on Old-Fashioned Girls, but NO! It’s “Him She Loves” about romance. I’m away from my book stack, and brought one from chapter 9 but not any of the several I have from chapter 8.

Also, I misplaced the power cord on my computer, and was barely able to post this.

In other words, I’m kind of a mess, but trying to pull things together. The week 8 post will be later this week, as will a review of a chapter 8 book.

IN THE MEANTIME: if any of you would like, you can send me a book review of any of the chapter 8 books (which were apparently on romance), or a couple paragraphs on teen romances, or the draw of romance books (or lack thereof?) and I will post it here.

Also, please comment, those of you who WERE able to read Chapter 8 and/or a book from chapter 8:

Forever
by Blume, Judy
Fifteen by Cleary, Beverly
To All My Fans, With Love, From Sylvie by Conford, Ellen
The Moon by Night by L’Engle, Madeleine
In Summer Light by Oneal, Zibby
Happy Endings are All Alike by Scoppetone, Sandra
My Darling, My Hamburger by Zindel, Paul

“Telegraph Avenue” by Michael Chabon

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

My friend Amy at New Century Reading is part of a readalong for the upcoming Michael Chabon book, Telegraph Alley. The guy at Micawber’s kindly gave me an advance copy a few weeks ago, so I figured I’d throw my hat in the ring.

Well, after 60+ pages, I’m taking it out.

The writing feels overwrought, and the cast of characters unrealistically hyper-entwined. I love most of Chabon’s work, but not this. Sample sentence that burped me out of the story:

From the lowest limb of a Meyer lemon, a wind chime searched without urgency for a melody to play.

I understand that Chabon is trying to make the prose blues-y and such, but I’d rather return to Toni Morrison’s Jazz. This feels like Chabon is embodying his own character Moby–a trying-too-hard white guy.

Also, from the inside description:

a NorCal Middlemarch

Really? Really?!

Sir, I’ve read Middlemarch. And Telegraph Avenue is no Middlemarch.

So many books. So little time. I’m on, on, on to the next one. (That’s Foo Fighters.)

“Go Ask Alice” by Beatrice Sparks et al.

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

alice

I foolishly bought and re-read the supposedly true diary of a teen drug addict, Go Ask Alice, as part of the Summer of Shelf Discovery reading project. Here’s a representative sample, so you don’t have to read it, too. You’re welcome.

9/16 Yesterday I remember thinking I was the happiest person in the whole earth, in the whole galaxy, in all of God’s creation….Now it’s all smashed down upon my head and I wish I could just melt into the blaaa-ness of the universe and cease to exist

7/10 [after being dosed with LSD] It was fun! It was ecstatic! It was glorious! But I don’t think I’ll ever try it again

8/13 It’s all I can do to keep from crying

8/26 What a wonderful, beautiful, happy day!

9/7 Last night was the bitter end

9/27 Last night…I smoked pot and it was even greater than I expected!

10/18 I can’t believe I’ve sold to eleven and twelve year olds and even nine and ten year olds. What a disgrace I am to myself and my family and to everybody

11/23 one of the men passed me a joint and…I wanted to be ripped, smached, torn up as I had never wnated anything before. This was the scene, these were the swingers and I wanted to be part of it!

12/3 Last night was the worst night of my shitty, rotten, stinky, dreary fucked-up life

[lather, rinse repeat for the next 150ish pages]

Epilogue: The subject of this book died three weeks after her decision not to keep another diary.

My friend Amy at New Century Reading has nicely eviscerated this book, since she read it too for the Summer of Shelf Discovery reading bender. I can’t BELIEVE we were gullible enough to believe it was a true story, which it’s not. Wikipedia entry, Snopes.

A few notes:

1. Notice the word “subject” rather than “author” in the epilogue. Oops, slipped up there, diary fakers.

2. “I’ve been the digger here, but now when I face a girl it’s like facing a boy…Then I get sick and I just wanat anybody and I should be out doing my digging.” “Digging” was a movement in Haight-Ashbury, where she never went, and it was giving away stuff for free. Here it sounds like prostitution or scavenging.

3. The Alice of the title refers to the woman on drugs in the Jefferson Airplane song, as well as a girl the “narrator” meetings in the novel. It’s theorized that the author is “Carla” as from p. 113: ”

Big Ass makes me do it before he gives me the load….Little Jacon is yelling, “Mama, Daddy can’t come now. He’s humping Carla.”

I can’t believe I believed this (and Jay’s Journal, and Diary of Kristiane H, etc.) and I can’t believe I was gullible enough to read it again. JUST SAY NO! (to reading this book).

“The Best American Comics 2011″ ed. Bechdel

Friday, March 9th, 2012

Generally, I am not a fan of the Best American Series. While I did enjoy the 2002 Non Required Reading, the 1995 Best American Short Stories collection lives on in my memory like a bad smell. When I worked at a used book store, I can’t remember how many times that particular volume came in and then sat on the shelves till it was clearanced. NOT a keeper.

So I had some trepidation when one of by book group colleagues picked The Best American Comics 2011. Because while I love the medium of comics, I often don’t care for the type of comics I see as often gathered in these anthologies, which I think of–derogatorily, reductively, and unfairly I’ll admit–as the weird ones.

So I prepared myself for some weird stuff. And it was in there–one entry truly repulsed me with its art, a couple others with their subject matter. But I noticed that even in some stories I disliked, there was some element of visual storytelling that impressed me or made me think, as in Kevin Mutch’s “Blue Note”, Gabby Schulz’s “New Year’s Eve 2004″, and Chris Ware’s “Jordan W. Lint to the Age of 65.”

The majority left me cold. Some of the selections were excerpts of larger works, and hard to process because of this. Unlike a short story, they were not meant to stand alone.

More positively, in one case, a comic that I’d previously not loved–Ganges–utterly charmed me. A handful made me interested enough to look into their artists’ other works, like Gabrielle Bell’s “Manifestation”, Peter and Maria Hoey’s “Anatomy of a Pratfall”, Jillian Tamaki’s “Domestic Men of Mystery” (and her lovely wraparound cover), Kate Beaton’s “Great Gatsby”, and Joey Allison Sayers’ “Pet Cat”. Paul Pope and Joe Sacco’s work I’ve admired before, even if I’m not a regular reader.

There was a long list in the back of other notable books that the editor urged readers to seek out, as the book selections were her admittedly subjective choices. One thing my book group noticed was that 9 of 27 included sex of some sort. For what it’s worth, 7 of those were on my dislike list.

In the end:

Liked: 8
Didn’t move me:11
Disliked: 8

So, on balance it was only OK. Borrow this one, don’t buy it.

From the list at the back, some recommendations I echo: The Unwritten, Criminal, Mercury by Hope Larson, Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley, any of the multiple permutations of Gaiman’s The Dream Hunters, and David Small’s Stitches.

“Yendi” by Steven Brust

Saturday, December 24th, 2011

I dove into Steven Brust’s second Vlad Taltos novel, Yendi, and finished the next day, kind of bummed I had other reading to do before tearing into the third book. These are wildly entertaining sword-and-sorcery tales, and Brust can plot like a mothereffer. The world of the books is fascinating and complex. These books hold up marvelously these 20 years later, even if they do conform to a lot of the fantasy tropes that Diana Wynne Jones tweaked in her clever The Tough Guide to Fantasyland.

My only gripe is that there are brothels and the league of witches is called The Bitch Patrol. If we can create a fantasy world, can’t we imagine a world without prostitution, of where sex workers are honored, not exploited? Joss Whedon tried and failed epically to do the latter in Firefly, though Carla Speed McNeil does an interesting take on it in her series Finder.

Brief Comics Commentary

Saturday, October 22nd, 2011

For the most part, I buy comic books when they’re collected into graphic novels–this makes it easier for me to remember what’s going on, is often cheaper than buying individual issues, and means I don’t have to suffer through the eye-searing ads of most monthly books. DC Comics has restarted all its titles (again) so I thought it might be a good time to dip my toe back into superhero books to see if I might want to dive back in.

Nope. I read the first two issues of Action Comics, Animal Man, Batwoman, and Swamp Thing. They felt much like clumsy television pilots, trying to cram a lot of exposition into a small space. And telling with words isn’t what makes the comics medium fun for me. None of these comics made me interested to read further. Instead, I had the urge to go back and read the graphic novel collections of great past arcs of these titles: Animal Man and Swamp Thing by Alan Moore were two of my gateway comics, both Moore and Morrison have done great things with the Superman mythos, and the recent Batwoman collection, Elegy, really engaged me. It’s good I’m not the comic-reading majority, or monthly super books would die, but for now, I’m happy with my status quo, buying a few books in individual issues (iZombie and anything by Ed Brubaker), while getting others as they’re collected (Unwritten and now Sweet Tooth.)

Anyone else out there have any thoughts on DC’s new 52 titles, or individual issues vs. collections?