“Saga v1″ by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

October 29th, 2014

The Saga comic-book series has quickly developed a rabid fan base. Vaughan is a popular writer, but I had problems with his former series Y the Last Man (too static art), and Ex Machina (hated the ending). Saga, though, reminded me of his earlier work on Runaways, which I enjoyed a lot more. Saga volume 1 collects the beginning of the series.

Vaughan describes it as “Star Wars for perverts” and that’s not inaccurate. It’s not for the weak of stomach, and has graphic violence, horror, and sex. It also has a great sense of humor, a winning cast featuring star-crossed lovers Alana and Marko, a ghost babysitter, a sidekick cat who can tell who is lying, a living tree spaceship, and more, more, more. And Fiona Staples’ art is entertaining as all get out.

“The Shadow Hero” by Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Liew

October 29th, 2014

I liked Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew’s The Shadow Hero as I read it, then even more when I read the back matter detailing the admittedly sketchy history of the actual Golden Age comics hero The Green Turtle.

Yang (American Born Chinese, Boxers, and Saints) writes and Liew illustrates, and it’s a good partnership. Like American Born Chinese, this mixes myth and the struggle of Chinese Americans. The main character is Hank, a young man who works in his father’s Chinatown grocery. The balance of realism, superhero tropes and Chinese myths drew me in quickly. This is a fun read with serious undertones, historical echoes, plus, perhaps my favorite part: Turtle God!

“Rat Queens v1: Sass and Sorcery”

October 29th, 2014

A friend recommended Rat Queens volume 1: Sass and Sorcery by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch. The premise had promise: “Buffy meets Tank Girl in a Lord of the Rings world on crack!” Plus, the back cover was plastered with promising blurbs.

Alas, it came off to me more as male wish fulfillment: women are boozy and foul mouthed and want sex with women, men and orcs!

Hey, I’m all for boozy, cussin’, sexy strong chicks. But Rat Queens just didn’t ring true for this girl geek. I did laugh at the bluebirds in the healers’ beard, though.

“The Gate to Women’s Country” by Sheri Tepper

October 22nd, 2014

womens_country1

Yet another of the books my husband G has recommended that I’ve put off for a long time is The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri Tepper. What moved it off the shelf was reading Patricia Weaver Francisco’s excellent Telling, a memoir of Rape and Recovery, which got me thinking about rape, and rape culture, and how fed up I am with Violence Against Women as a staple of media entertainment.

I freely admit, G. was right. This was a terrific book, a compelling read with strong women characters, interesting philosophy, good men, bad men, and a nice plot twist at the end which I didn’t see coming but made perfect sense when it did.

Women’s Country is a gated community. Warrior men live outside and protect the gates. They’re let in twice a year to drink and have sex at carnival. Any boy children that result are taken to the garrison at 5, but allowed to return to Women’s Country at when they’re older if they choose. Most don’t. Outside of the women’s cities there are swaths of wasteland, and a creepy religious community.

What I loved about this book was the main character Stavia and her mother, and the details of what a post-nuclear world and establishment of matriarchy would look like. The creation of this admittedly reductive, sexist future world highlights the ongoing sexist struggle that’s shown in the repetitive representation in popular media of violence against women, as well as its continuing reality.

Less successful for me was the interspersing of a community drama of ghosts after the Trojan war, which is supposed to be satire, but doesn’t always read as such, some of which is the point, but other parts of which didn’t jive for me.

(ghost of)ACHILLES: How can I force obedience on this? In other times I’ve used the fear of death to make a woman bow herself to me. If not the fear of her own death, then fear for someone else, a husband or a child. How can I bend this woman to my will?
(ghost of)POLYXENA: I think I will not bend.
IPHIGENIA: You see, it’s as we’ve tried to tell you, Great Achilles. Women are no good to you dead.

What didn’t work, and was especially troubling to me, was the quick dismissal of homosexuality as simply genetic, and something to be “corrected” in vitro. Yikes. Everyone was male or female and supposed to be heterosexual. Reducing these complex realities, and dismissing the complex people they represent from the real world, is a major disappointment in an otherwise stirring work, and dates it.

“The Sandman” Winter Readalong

October 20th, 2014
Image from Wikipedia

Image from Wikipedia

My friend Jeff K, who leads Twin Cities’ Books and Bars, and I have talked about doing a readalong of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman for a while now.

The original series was 75ish issues. They’re most commonly collected in 10 graphic novels; full-price retail is about $20 each though they can be gotten for less at Powells.com and other retailers including your local, independent comic shop. Digital copies are available for $12.99 each at Comixology. Most libraries have the ten volumes as well as some of the other collections (Absolute, Annotated, and Omnibus). They are also fairly easy to find used.

We’ve decided to do the readalong online, with weekly posts here at Girl Detective on Mondays, plus both Jeff and I will be tweeting about each week’s issues starting Monday, too.

On Twitter, Jeff is @jefe23 and I’m @kjboldon. We’ll use the hashtag #SandMN for our discussions.

We’re reading over December 2014 and January 2014. The dark of winter will be a great time to read or re-read this intricate, atmospheric work.

You can start reading anytime, or wait till the beginning of December. The first post and tweets will be on Monday 12/8/14 to discuss Preludes and Nocturnes (volume 1), which is issues 1-8.

Below I’ve listed the “Read by” dates, and the volume and issue numbers.

Are you interested in reading along? Do you have questions, or need advice? Email me at girldetective (at) girldetective (dot) com, or ask in the comments, or tweet at me.

My first piece of advice if you’re thinking about this: read through issue 8. Sandman is often categorized as fantasy, but it spans many genres. The early issues tend more toward horror than fantasy. Some people start and think it’s not their thing, but like any series, it took some time (only a little) to find its way. Issue 8, in my opinion, is where things really started to cook. So stick around till then. If you’re new to comics, or not so much into horror, perhaps don’t invest in the whole series right away. Start with volume 1, and go from there.

Without further blather, the schedule, which takes a week off over the end of December. I hope you will join us. The Sandman was my gateway comic into geekdom almost 25 years ago. I’ve re-read it several times, but never in a group, and I’m very much looking forward to this.

12/1/14 start reading Preludes and Nocturnes v. 1 (issues 1-8)

12/8/14 Preludes and Nocturnes v1, #1-8 (8 issues)

12/15/14 A Doll’s House v2, #9-16 (8 issues)

12/22/14 Dream Country v3 #17-20 and Season of Mists v4 #21-28 (12 issues)

BREAK for holidays and to catch up

1/5/15 A Game of You v5 #32-37 and Fables and Reflections v6 #29-31, 38-40, 50, Special #1 (14 issues)

1/12/15 Brief Lives v7 #41-49 and World’s End v8 #51-56 (15 issues)

1/19/15 The Kindly Ones v9 #57-69 (13 issues)

1/26/15 The Wake v10 #70-75 (6 issues)

“It All Began with ‘Jane Eyre’ or The Secret Life of Franny Dillman” by Sheila Greenwald

October 18th, 2014

When I was searching for books from my childhood to recommend to my 8yo, after I found The Mariah Delany Lending Library Disaster by Sheila Greenwald, I saw she had another book entitled It All Began with Jane Eyre or The Secret Life of Franny Dillman. Since Jane Eyre is one of my favorites, I checked this out from the library too.

Oh my goodness, what a bizarre, clever, and entertaining relic of a book this is! Published in 1980, its mindset is definitely 70’s New York and the era of Ms. magazine.

Franny is chastised by her parents on two counts. One for hiding in her closet reading and eating potato chips. The other is that she took her favorite book to such an extreme that she began to see echoes of Jane Eyre in real life, going so far to believe the headmaster at her school had a mad wife at home. When one of her friends ratted on Franny, everyone thought she was beyond weird, since the wife of headmaster wasn’t mad and in the attic, only getting her masters at Columbia.

Franny’s mother gets her a new set of books, all about so-called real life, including divorce, abortion, affairs, and diabetes. Franny is urged by teachers and her family to journal about real life, not about Jane Eyre. But Franny starts to read rather too much into the people around her. Is her father having an affair, is her sister’s friend pregnant?

Franny is funny, and smart, and I especially loved her single-minded passion for Jane Eyre:

How she hated the idea of Authors and Authoresses. She could hardly bring herself to look at their photographs on the backs of books. She didn’t like the thought of them meddling in what she believed to be Real Life.

and

don’t talk to me about Bronte again. I read Jane Eyre, not Bronte.

I was utterly charmed by Franny, and could relate so much to her attempts to lose herself in literature, and I liked the satire of the 70’s young-adult problem novels.

But I didn’t urge this one on either of my sons. Satire and 70’s NYC and the Equal Rights Amendment were a fun fascinating read for me but I’d be hard put to explain it to them.

“The Mariah Delany Lending Library Disaster” by Sheila Greenwald

October 18th, 2014

As part of the recent attempt to get my kids reading novels, my 8yo son Guppy discovered and devoured several of my husband’s old McGurk mysteries by E. W. Hildick. This got me poking around, trying to remember some of my favorites from when I was his age and one of the books and titles that stuck with me all these decades later was Sheila Greenwald’s The Mariah Delany Lending Library Disaster.

This book was a delight to revisit. Mariah is the odd one out in a family of bookish nerds. She’s an entrepreneur, constantly being told to quit her scheming and read a book. In a lovely a ha moment, she realized she can combine both those things: her schemes and her family’s love of books:

Mariah tripped on a stack of unshelved volumes. She flopped on the sofa and picked up one of the tumbled books and looked around her at the piles and piles and shelves and shelves of them. She was surrounded. And then it hit her. The best idea she had ever had in her life…

ThiS new idea had everything. It filled a crying need…It involved practically no investment. She had the market and she had the goods. (13-14)

Mariah is a smart and funny main character, and I winced at the affectionate swipes at bookish families with piles of books around. Our house resembles that, and given Guppy’s resistance to reading novels, it was very timely.

Alas, Guppy wants nothing to do with this book. It has a girl in the title, a girl on the cover, and I suggested it to him too many times. It was a lovely flashback for me, though, plus it led me to another, very interesting and surprising book, which I’ll write about next, It All Began with Jane Eyre, or The Secret Life of Franny Dillman, also by Sheila Greenwald.

“Telling: A Memoir of Rape and Recovery” by Patricia Weaver Francisco

October 18th, 2014

A friend in the MFA program at Hamline knows I’m writing some non-fiction-y memoir stuff and strongly recommended I read Lit by Mary Karr and Telling: A Memoir of Rape and Recovery by Patricia Weaver Francisco who teaches at Hamline.

Telling
impressed and moved me. In it, the author braids several strands together: an account of her rape and the aftermath, information on rape and trauma and assault, modern scenes with her young son to who she is reading Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”, and her continually accruing insights and aha moments from the ten-plus years after the assault.

Francisco gets into nooks and crannies of meaning and emotion that surprised me, jarred me, and kept me thinking and feeling long after I finished this book. It’s an extraordinary book.

The Path to Publication

October 14th, 2014
Beginning-of-summer draft

Beginning-of-summer draft

And so it begins. Or rather, has begun. I could throw a lot of words at this, but it’s better to simplify, I think.

November 2002, while pregnant with first kid, participated in NaNoWriMo and wrote 50K young adult novel draft about a teen girl with synesthesia. This draft had no plot and no conflict. Sometime after that took 2 novel writing courses at the Loft, found a critique group, and was told it was ready to send out.

I sent it out to 2 editors, plus used it to apply to several writing contests.

*crickets chirping*

I inferred that it actually wasn’t ready to send out.

Around then I had a second child followed by an extendo-dance-mix version of post-partum depression. Things got really jumbled for a while. I started another non-fiction-y memoir thing, I participated in another NaNoWriMo with what seemed like the sequel to the first book. I put both the YA and non-fictiony thing down when Guppy was 1.5 because it was just too much, already.

When he started kindergarten I picked up the YA book again and realized that the first NaNoWriMo combined with the second, the supposed sequel, could actually be one book with a plot and conflict. I took 2 years to merge the two ideas and write my way to an ending I liked.

I took one more year to get a 120,000K word sloppy messy draft to make the beginning and middle match the ending.

I took a summer to edit the 120K behemoth (see photo above. I had it printed out to read and edit in hard copy) down to a svelte 72K word less sucky draft, had 3 beta readers read it to assure me it didn’t suck and was really truly close to sendable.

I made some MORE changes based on their feedback (honestly, I can’t count the drafts) and now it’s at 73K words.

The next step now that I’ve written the best manuscript I am capable of writing is to seek an agent. Back in the day, Young Adult authors could often skip the agent step. Not very often, now.

The order of operations is:

1. Get an agent who then 2. Tries to sell your book.

Last month, I pitched an agent at a conference. She asked for the first 50 pages which I sent, and I haven’t heard from her, but she notes on her site that she takes up to six weeks to read partials, so we’re still in that window.

Last Friday I sent my first cold query to an agent. Yesterday I sent my second.

Every single step of the this new venture makes me feel slow and slightly nauseated. I can’t figure out how to get formatted text into email (apparently, I need Word, which my husband is philosophically and morally opposed to), and was wrestling with the Query Tracker website this morning.

According to all available info, I have years ahead of me of rejection, and am perfectly likely to have this book (on which I’ve worked for nearly 12 years, gah) be rejected and either self published (which is a fine option, though very work intensive) or put away so I can work on the next thing.

As with many moments, I have to remind myself there are really only 2 choices: give up, or keep trying. So for now, I’m going with trying. In spite of the stupid feeling and nausea.

“The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains” by Neil Gaiman

October 10th, 2014

FYI to those who find this book in the comic shop, this is not an all-ages tale.

Longtime readers know I have a complicated reader relationship with Neil Gaiman. I like most of his stuff, love some of it, and don’t care for some of it. These on their own would be fine, but what bugs me is how he is well nigh deified by geek people who embrace all he creates uncritically. I have some criticism of this book.

The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains is a fantasy tale set in Scotland, invented by Gaiman from a myth about a cave, and illustrated by Eddie Campbell. It began as a live show, and morphed into this book over time. The narrator is an unnamed man, a little person, who hires another man to take him to the mythic misty isle where there is allegedly a cave of gold.

The story of the two men, and their journey and its end, overall, is a good one, and Campbell’s illustrations, both paint and pen, are great at conveying the story, which is sometimes an illustrated text, sometimes a comic. There are secrets and lies and surprises.

The problem is with the female characters. One is beaten and raped by her husband while the other men listen and do not act. Another is killed which sets the story of one of the men in motion. A third is an old fortune teller. They fit too easily into one of Gaiman’s favorite tropes, mother/maiden/crone.

While reading reviews of this book, I learned a term called “women in refrigerators” coined back in ‘99 by comic-book writer Gail Simone about how minor and under-characterized women were so often brutalized and murdered so that a man’s story may then unfold. This is not only a common trope in comics, but in books, movies and tv.

One character’s sole purpose is to set the two men’s stories in motion. She is not characterized though she is given a name (unlike the poor raped and beaten wife, who is not).

Women are objects of violence in this story, and while that happens in real life, and isn’t something that should be silenced, I feel it’s a poor, poor thing to use violence against women as a plot point to further a male character’s story.

So while the male characters stories are interesting, and the art is arresting, the whole of it left a nasty taste in my brain. Female characters should be more than tropes.

If you’re going to include violence against women in your work, make your character complex, and don’t use her as an object of horror, or the catalyst for some guy.

Laundry Advice

October 8th, 2014

I am working on edits to my young-adult manuscript in progress, and letting myself take laundry breaks but other than that, trying to focus.

Which, as you can see, I’m not doing very well. But, writing is writing, right?

So anyway, a brief housewifely post.

My advice on laundry: When you don’t want to do laundry or are hopelessly behind, do two loads a day. Eventually you’ll catch up but not burn out.

My friend Becky’s advice: When you don’t want to do laundry, do a load of pants. They’re easy to fold.

This guy named Steve I used to know’s advice: When you’re in a bad mood, do a load of laundry. It probably won’t make you feel better, but you will have a load of laundry done.

My current nemesis is that my boys have dark patches on their shirts that I can no longer ignore, because they get greasy hands then use their shirts as napkins. Gah. Need to find a non-toxic solution to get rid of them. Tried Dawn; too stinky floral. Tried Motsenbocker’s; too stinky industrial. Tried Dr. Bronner’s peppermint; cussing useless. Wondering if I’m doomed to having to treat every single stain on every single shirt.

Odyssey, Ulysses, anyone?

October 2nd, 2014

ulysses

I’m nerdishly obsessing over reading Odyssey and Ulysses with some friends, and have roughed out an outline. Any readers out there interested in joining us? This is for December 2014 through June 2015.

The copy of Odyssey at hand is the Harper edited by Lattimore, and 374 pages total, trade paperback, includes glossary and intro, actual work is pages 27-359.

The Ulysses copy I have to hand is the Gabler Vintage trade paperback edition, and is 650 pp plus an 6 pg preface and 4 page afterword. a 17 week read is 30ish pages a week.

Here are page breakdowns for an 8 week Odyssey read, about 45 pp a week:

12/1 start reading

12/8 1-3 41pp
12/15 4-6 48pp
12-22 7-9 44pp

break for holidays/catch up

1/12 10-12 49pp
1/19 13-15 45pp
1/26 16-18 45pp
2/2 19-21 42pp

2/9 22-24 53pp Odyssey done woo hoo!

***

2/9 Start Ulysses which has 18 parts of various lengths

2/16 sections 1, 2= 32 pp
2/23 sections 3, 4=29 pp
3/2 sections 5, 6=40 pp
3/9 section 7=29pp
3/16 section 8=28pp
3/23 section 9=30pp
3/30 section 10=31 pp
4/6 section 11=31pp
4/13 section 12=45pp
4/20 section 13=31pp
4/27 section 14=37pp

5/4, 5/11, 5/18–section 15 (150 pages in my ed.)

5/25 section 16=44pp

6/1, 6/8 section 17 (65 pp in my edition)

6/15 section 18=37pp

6/16 Bloomsday!

“Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief” by Lawrence Wright

September 18th, 2014

blackgoingclear

Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief began as a long article in The New Yorker, and was expanded to book form. Sometimes, this type of expansion works, e.g., Bradley Udall’s The Lonely Polygamist, though I know some wouldn’t agree with me on that. Sometimes it doesn’t, as in Joshua Foer’s Moonwalking with Einstein, which seemed stretched thin at book length.

Going Clear, though a densely formatted 372 pages with many endnotes and a lengthy bibliography, was a thumping good read I found hard to put down.

Starting with the biography of founder L. Ron Hubbard, Wright carefully relates details and background that make it possible to see how the magnetism and energy of a charismatic man was able to draw people in, first to Dianetics, and later to Scientology. Hubbard began his writing career, though, as a writer of science fiction for pulp magazines, and became skilled at creating a lot of content in a little time, which he did until the end of his life.

Science fiction invites the writer to grandly explore alternative worlds and pose questions about meaning and destiny.

One interesting question Wright poses is that if Hubbard didn’t believe, and only wanted to make money, why would he continue to work until his death to shape the religion he’d begun?

An easy, facile way to read this book is to dismiss Hubbard and Scientologists as “crazy” and to marvel at some of the astonishing details and anecdotes.

But more interesting, I found, was to ruminate on legitimacy questions of new religions versus older ones, messiah and prophet figures, those who start religions and those to carry it on, and why Scientology has been so alternately demonized as a cult and embraced by followers. (I am reminded of the band Coldplay here, irreverently). Someone in the book comments at one point that the Scientologists seem like such decent people.

What made Wright’s book an entertaining read for me was the history and anecdotes. He structures it around the difficult separation from Scientology of writer/director Paul Haggis. In this area, though, I think the book sometimes falters. Some of the anecdotes are told out of sequence, and some transitions are jarring. Plus, it’s clear from the endnotes that so much of Haggis’ and others’ testimony is he said/she said. The people speaking against the church would be psychologically more likely to exaggerate negatives after departure in order to internally support a difficult decision.

I highly recommend the book as a way to learning more about a controversial subject. It’s impressively detailed and researched, and makes me continue to think about who and why and when certain individuals would be drawn to Scientology, or psychiatry (which Scientology disputes), or any religion.

Best Intentions: Kid Readalong

September 17th, 2014

Making this post even more pathetic is how late it is.

At the beginning of the summer, I was all full of vim and vigor and determined to be a good summer parent. “We are going to have a family reading project!” I announced.

The enthusiasm was not infectious.

The idea was that my two boys, 8yo Guppy and nearly 11yo at the time Drake would read a book then write its title, author and a sentence about it in a notebook. I would read the same books, and we’d talk about them.

Great idea, right? Except that they both devoured all five Percy Jackson books in a week, not possible for me to follow suit given that I’m in three books groups AND FLIRTING WITH TWO OTHERS, WTH?

So I managed to re-read both Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn Dixie and Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game.

All three of us liked them, we even dragged my husband G. Grod in, but the idea of all four of us reading the same books over the summer was ______

Like Mad Libs, let’s fill in the adjectives: bat$shit crazy? Crazytown bananapants? Well intentioned? Misguided? Delusional? Dumb? Silly?

And that just addresses the “all read the same book” premise. I surprisingly didn’t get much pushback on “let’s all read novels so you put down those stupid Garfield and Foxtrot collections” aspect. What I did receive floods of complaints on was the writing three things in a notebook. A couple samples:

img_20140917_113135_000

This is Drake’s. He obviously NEEDS practice on his handwriting. Translated:

The Westing Game. Ellen Raskin. Well, Westing/McSouthers/Eastman/Northrup was right; I would not buy something called Windkloppel toilet tissues!

He correctly used a semicolon, but cannot capitalize correctly.

img_20140917_113208_680

This was from 8yo Guppy. Translation:

The Sea of Monsters. Rick Riordan. Percy sails over a a title (sea of monsters).

While using the title as a noun is clever, this is merely restating the picture on the cover. Nice try, Guppy. It was better than this one, though.

img_20140917_113148_1891

A Wrinkle in Time graphic novel. Madeleine L’engle. It is science fiction. There are people.

And that was what eventually got me to give up. At which point they stopped reading novels.

So, thanks to me, the road to hell has yet another brick.

I won’t give up, though. I’m biding my time, gathering my strength, like that titan in Percy Jackson does (I just started #4). Novels, and loving them, are just too important to give up on.

And, Drake’s handwriting still needs work. As does Guppy’s smartassery.

“Moby Dick” by Herman Melville

September 16th, 2014

tumblr_muv9jz2vif1r61x1mo9_400

A book is a depth that presents itself as a surface.

Yes, I re-read Moby Dick. On purpose. I’d like to say it was a complete success, and that I’m glad I did. What I will says is that it was culturally useful, intermittently entertaining, and I don’t regret it. Am I damning it with faint praise? Hard to say. Then again, who am I to say about such a monolith of culture. It’s a classic for many reasons, and I can agree on lots of them, like the beauty of the prose, the slippery narration of Ishmael, the devilish character of Ahab, and more.

Whales were seen and four were slain; and one of them by Ahab.

A group of Twin Cities reader friends and I read about 35 pages a week over several months, then blogged or tweeted about them afterward. It was a reasonable pace, mostly easy to fit into life. Like I did with Bleak House and David Copperfield before it (both of which I read with some of the same people), I usually set aside Sunday to read the pages. While I found that a treat with Bleak House, it was something less of a treat for David Copperfield (which I half-joke didn’t really pick up until about page 485) and Moby Dick.

warmest climes but nurse the cruellest fangs

I’m going to put forth an idea that many will find heretical and offensive: I might have enjoyed and appreciated Moby Dick better as an abridged book. I felt similarly when I read Les Miserables and The Grapes of Wrath. All three books interrupt the narrative with informational chapters. They were the opposite of today’s writing mantra of “show don’t tell,” and instead very deliberately showed AND told.

the bread contained the only fresh fare they had. But the forecastle was not very light, and it was very easy to step over into a dark corner when you ate it.

Perhaps this makes me an immature and inexperienced reader, a cretin or philistine, but I love to learn things via story. The herky-jerky nature of these particular books, in which the authors insert information dumps along the way, isn’t conducive to reading pleasure or learning for me. I want what Ahab does in the chapter “Leg and Arm”: “Spin me the yarn” already!

In Noah’s flood, he despised Noah’s Ark; and if ever the world is to be again flooded, like the Netherlands, to kill off its rats, then the eternal whale will still survive, and rearing upon the topmost crest of the equatorial flood, spout his frothed defiance to the skies.

But the story, a smattering of the pastiche style, and the prose among other stellar attributes, drew me through, as did the accountability of reading in a group. Am I glad I did? Yes, mostly. Would I do it again, knowing what I know now? Maybe. There are so many books. Another classic might have suited me just as well or better.

Better to sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunk Christian.

I feel bad about being so ambivalent, but to be otherwise would be dishonest. To counter my concerns, though, I’m including some of my favorite quotes, and as you can see, there are many. One thing most people don’t mention is that Moby Dick can be a very funny book at times.

Top-heavy was the ship as a dinnerless student with all Aristotle in his head.

As I read the book, I mentally chastised myself for my immature mental snickering at phallic or homo-erotic passages. That’s right, I’m a 46-year-old woman who considers myself a decent human being, and I kept feeling like I was laughing at penis jokes.

Then when I went to the Introduction after I finished (which I was so glad about–since it gave away the ending, and the ending doesn’t happen till the very end. No such thing as denouement for Melville.) Tony Tanner wrote that the homo-eroticism and phallic imagery was intended, and even meant as humor:

the sense or the suspicion of homosexuality, or at least of homo-eroticism, is unavoidable….Erotic feellings are engendered toa point which reads like a mixture of orgasmic ecstasy and comic exaggeration….in his ludic, hyperbolic way Meliville is inscribing a reminder of how the erotic imppulse is crucial in gnerating insticncts and impulses towards inter-connectedness, inter-subjectivity–indeed, inter-penetration. No man is an island….

Melville’s belief [is] that phallus-worship is somewhere at the source of all religions.
(xvi-xvii)

Does all that make it OK that I stifled snickers at the penis jokes?

Probably not.

Passages such as:

Squeeze! Squeeze! Squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me, and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-labourers’ hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules. Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally, as much as to say,—Oh! my dear fellow beings, why should we longer cherish any social acerbities, or know the slightest ill humour or envy! Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.

and

Ahab’s harpoon…remained firmly lashed in its conspicuous crotch…; the sea…had caused the loose leather sheath to drop off; and from the keen steel barb there now came a levelled flame of pale, forked fire…like a serpent’s tongue

Writing this post made me feel like a very poor reader and human being. I’ll keep trying.

“Smile” and “Sisters” by Raina Telgemaier

September 12th, 2014

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I read Raina Telgemaier’s second book, Drama, before I read her first, the comic-book memoir Smile. I liked Drama, but didn’t love, and figured I’d check out Smile at my leisure.

In the comic shop a few weeks ago, they had a box set of Smile plus Telgemaier’s new book, Sisters. I hemmed and hawed about buying them. You know the drill–not supposed to spend money, not supposed to buy more books, not sure I’ll like them, blah, blah, blah. Then, to absolutely no one’s surprise, I bought them.

To MY surprise, however, I was not the first one to read them. 11yo Drake and 8yo Guppy tore into them as soon as we got into the car, then traded, then re-read them. I’d bought them for me, hoping the boys might, maybe, be interested in these books even if they were about girls. Both boys had read both books multiple times by the time I got to them.

And they’re just lovely. Smile is the story of Raina’s childhood accident when she loses her two front permanent teeth, and has to navigate dentral trauma and drama in her early teens. Sisters is another window that focuses on her relationship with her younger sister Amara, and a cross-country car trip in a van.

The art is well done and accessible, the stories and emotions full of stuff to relate to. It was a joy to visit Raina’s childhood both times, even when it was difficult and sad.

A few days later, one of Drake’s friends down the street borrowed the books, then returned them. Apparently his mom and older brother had also read and enjoyed them in the meantime.

I’m not sure I’ve ever bought books that were so loved by so many, so quickly! A definite win.

“Dune” by Frank Herbert

September 11th, 2014

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I feel like I’ve been writing a lot about the banter between my husband G. Grod and me over book recommendations.

Lo and behold, when I went to search my blog whether I’d already written about Dune, I found this post from 2007 about recommended books.

Ha! Seven years ago! That was even before he started bugging me about Cloud Atlas.

I met G. Grod at a bar in 1995. I’m pretty sure that’s how long he’s been recommending Dune to me. We got married in 1998. He joked that he was marrying me even though I hadn’t yet read Dune. Finally in 2014 I got around to reading Dune because I chose it for the book group I lead so I’d have to read it. I tore through it, and had no trouble at all admitting he’d been right, that I’d really liked it.

Dune is the giant science fiction masterpiece about a messiah figure on a desert planet with sand worms. It’s also about dozens of more things. The reason it endures, deservedly I think, as a classic is that it’s got so much going on, including but not limited to religion, philosophy, class structure, and this all on top of it being a ripping yarn.

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Further, it continues to be timely because of its ecological focus, while Herbert cannily got around becoming dated by not putting that much actual science into it. Arrakis is a stand in for Iraq, which is still a point of world contention for its oil, which is allegorized in Dune as the spice that rich people come to depend on.

A few things bugged me a lot about Dune. One, the villain Baron Vlad Harkonnen, is fat and homosexual (and to boot in the Lynch movie, a redhead and with boils). Since no one else is fat or homosexual those become the markers of evil. Unacceptable.

Women’s roles in the world were somewhat troubling, too. One the one hand, characters like Jessica were powerful, and Fremen women fought alongside the men. On the other hand, all female characters were attached in some way to a male character. None of them acted freely without male authority or direction.

Finally, the world shown does not transcend a feudal structure. Yes, Paul becomes the leader and messiah but not only because of his greatness, but also because he’s the duke, and women aren’t shown in positions of power, other than in the Bene Gesserit, where they’d constantly called witches, an implication of fear of their sexual power.

If an author is going to imagine “A World Where…” then s/he can damn well imagine a world where violence against women isn’t accepted, men and women are equal, ancient boundaries of money and class break down, women aren’t called whores, and appearance and sexuality aren’t markers of character.

My husband and I watched the David Lynch film, which we found initially interesting, but eventually boring. We tried to watch the more recent mini series, but couldn’t manage, though we did watch some of the extras, which were worthwhile. If you’re going to read Dune, perhaps a better movie to watch after is Lawrence of Arabia. Paul Atreides shares a lot of similarities with that portrayal.

Belated Blog-a-versary

September 11th, 2014

I forgot to mark my blog-a-versary this year.

In June is was twelve (12!) years since I started writing at Blogspot with Girl Detective, continued with Mama Duck, then merged and came here.

G. Grod and I toss around ideas about making a new site under my real name, of which the Girl Detective blog would be a part, but so far, I’m still here blogging about mostly books, with movies, motherhood, food, and whatever else strikes my fancy. Glad you’re still along for the ride.

Any thoughts, encouragement, discouragement, on the new-blog/real-name idea would be most welcome.

And Now for Something Completely Different: Fiction

September 11th, 2014

This is an excerpt from a piece of fiction I’m working on. The Replacements are playing Midway Stadium in St. Paul this Saturday, and everyone around here is blah, blah, blah, Replacements, so I’m risking posting something I’m not sure is good or not because the timing feels right.

Name That Tune

I think I’ve had sex to this song, Nicole thought, then turned up the volume in the car. It was an old memory, she thought, at least fifteen years ago. Who had it been?

Mary Lucia’s voice followed. She never talked over a song, beginning or end, one of the reasons Nicole liked listening to her. “That was ‘I Will Dare,’ local music from the Replacements, off the album Let It Be from 1987.”

The details emerged from the haze of memory. Not fifteen years–more like twenty. It was Julian, saying the Replacements were a great band to have sex to.

He used to say those kind of things when they’d go out drinking after work. Then, she thought it was because they were buddies, and she hoped he was flirting. He asked what music she liked, then mocked her answers as songs about sex, like Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘Relax’ and INXS’ ‘The One Thing,’ rather than songs that were good to have sex to.

Nicole wilted as his criticism. She’d never heard of the Replacements. They must be on WHFS, the station Julian and his friends listened to, not the classic rock she favored at the time.

Then she rallied, and stood her ground. It wasn’t because the songs were about sex, she said, but that they had strong base lines. She liked music with a back beat.

Julian admitted, somewhat grudgingly, that the Replacements had a good bass line, too. He continued to bring up sex, like how he always slept with girls at their places, so he could be the one to leave. He asked her if she knew what ‘coyote ugly’ meant.

Of course she knew. She’d been friends with guys for years, and knew some of their secrets.

It took a long time to realize Julian was neither being her friend nor flirting with her. He was taunting her. He knew she liked him, knew she wanted to sleep with him. So he went out drinking with her and talked about sex until she felt ready to rip off her clothes. She probably knew Julian wasn’t to be trusted, though, because she never did. Rip off her clothes, that is.

Until that one night. When she finally heard the Replacements.

Cranberry Ice Cream Pie

September 11th, 2014

So, I made a pie

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For an article I was writing elsewhere, I called my mom for the directions to cranberry ice cream pie, a staple of our holiday table when I was growing up. In a strange turn of events, this is a not a recipe posted in a zillion other places. In my usual fashion, I tinkered with it. And that’s what I am posting here.

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Easy-Peasy Cranberry Ice Cream Pie
serves 1 to 8

Ingredients:

Pre-made 9-inch graham-cracker crust (a homemade gingersnap crust* is delightful, but not easy-peasy)
1 15-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (I increased to 1 teaspoon.)
8 ounces cream cheese, softened and cut into 1” cubes
16-ounce can jellied cranberry sauce (can make whole berry cranberry sauce** but I haven’t tested, so can’t guarantee results.)
Optional: Whipped heavy cream for garnish

In food processor or blender, thoroughly combine condensed milk, lemon juice, vanilla and cream cheese. Fold or pulse in cranberry sauce. Pour into crust. Freeze till firm. To serve, let soften for ten minutes at room temperature. Garnish with whipped cream, or not.

*Quick-ish homemade crumb crust: in food processor whiz 6 ounces gingersnaps or graham crackers. Pulse in 2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter. Press crumbs into 9-inch pie plate. Bake at 350F for 10 minutes. Cool pan to room temperature on wire rack, then fill.

**Quickish homemade cranberry sauce: Combine 2/3 cup water with 2/3 cup sugar, bring to boil in medium saucepan till sugar dissolves. Add 8-ounce frozen cranberries, return to boil, lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Let cool to room temperature.