From the Archives: How to Layer Like a Minnesotan

December 2nd, 2014

Winter has hit early and hard this year. NB: I am not complaining. That would be stupid to complain, as I choose to live here in the frozen tundra. And so, I will once again share my accumulated wisdom after many winters here.

Preparing to Go Outside: The Order of Operations

First, determine the outside temperature. This system of layering will be too warm for above 20F, but below that should stand you in good stead.

Next, remember what your mother said: use the toilet.

If you wear eyeglasses, consider contacts, as they don’t steam up. I’m heading steadily into bifocal territory, though, so I rarely wear my contacts anymore. Steamed lenses are better than loss of close vision.

Apply moisturizer to face, neck and lips. Heck, everywhere. During the winter, I forego sunscreen to maximize what little vitamin D I can get from the sun.

In order, don:

1. Underwear (underpants, and bra if you wear one)
2. Undershirt (thermal or silk, longer length is best)
3. Long johns (thermal or silk). Pull waistband over bottom of undershirt. This will keep your lower back (or overbutt, as my 7yo calls it) from unwanted exposure.
4. Socks, long and thick. Pull tops over bottoms of long johns.
5. Shirt(s)
6. Pants, over bottom of shirt. Do NOT tuck overshirt into long johns.
7. Sweater
8. Snowpants
9. Boots, hat and scarf
10. Gloves/mittens. Gloves inside mittens is the warmest, but diminishes dexterity.
11. Coat. The lower the temp, the puffier and longer it should be, covering at least your butt and the top of your thighs.

This order of operations has you always pulling something over a previous layer, rather than tucking in a subsequent layer, which makes for a smoother line and means you don’t have to double back, for example if you accidentally put boots on before snow pants.

Stay warm. And remember, it’s only six months till spring.

Start Your Engines: Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman” Readalong

December 1st, 2014


My friend Jeff K, who leads Twin Cities’ Books and Bars, the folks of Beer + Comix at Wild Rumpus, and I are doing a readalong of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman comic-book series. (Original post was here.)

(This is in addition to my Odyssey readalong, because I’m a glutton for punishment.)

The original series was 75 issues plus some specials. They’re most commonly collected in 10 graphic novels. Full-price retail is about $20 each though they can be gotten for less at 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.

I’ll have 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 @BooksandBars and I’m @kjboldon. We’ll use the hashtag #SandMN for our discussions.

We’re reading over December 2014 and January 2015. The dark of winter will be a great time to read or re-read this intricate, atmospheric work.

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

Blog post and tweets go live on 12/8/14 about Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes v1, #1-8 (8 issues)

Blog post and tweets go live on 12/15/14 for Sandman: A Doll’s House v2, #9-16 (8 issues)

Blog post and tweets go live on 12/22/14 for Sandman: Dream Country v3 #17-20 and Sandman: Season of Mists v4 #21-28 (12 issues)

BREAK for holidays and to catch up

Blog post and tweets go live on 1/5/15 for Sandman: A Game of You v5 #32-37 and Sandman: Fables and Reflections v6 #29-31, 38-40, 50, Special #1 (14 issues)

Blog post and tweets go live on 1/12/15 for Sandman: Brief Lives v7 #41-49 and Sandman: World’s End v8 #51-56 (15 issues)

Blog post and tweets go live on 1/19/15 for Sandman: The Kindly Ones v9 #57-69 (13 issues)

Blog post and tweets go live on 1/26/15 for Sandman: The Wake v10 #70-75 (6 issues)

Meet up! We’ll meet in person on Monday January 26, 2015 at 6pm at Wild Rumpus bookstore in Minneapolis to discuss the series and celebrate.

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. I hope you will join in!

Odyssey Readalong!

December 1st, 2014


I know you all have LOTS of time over December, right?

Me too (HA!) so to fill my idle time, I’m doing not one but TWO readalongs! Both will take place over December and January. One is for Neil Gaiman’s comic-book series The Sandman.

The other is Homer’s Odyssey, which I’m reading in preparation for a group readalong of Joyce’s Ulysses in 2015 that will take place from February to Bloomsday June 16, 2015.

I will be posting about the Odyssey chapters as I go, and tweeting about them as well with the hashtag #TCOdyssey. Posts for each new section will go up on Wednesdays.

The Odyssey is divided into 24 sections. I’ll read 3 sections a week, which in one of my translations is between 40-50 pages a week.

I have not committed to a translation yet, but own both the Fitzgerald and Lattimore, and am considering buying the Fagles. Go with whichever edition is easiest for you to lay hands on. Here is the link at Project Gutenberg, which contains the condescending introduction:

rendered into English
prose for the use of
those who cannot
read the original

12/1 or later: start reading Homer’s Odyssey sections 1-3

Blog post and tweets go live 12/10/2014 on sections 1-3
Blog post and tweets go live 12/17/2014 on sections 4-6

break for holidays/catch up

Blog post and tweets go live 1/7/2015 on sections 7-9
Blog post and tweets go live 1/14/2015 on sections 10-12
Blog post and tweets go live 1/21/2015 on sections 13-15
Blog post and tweets go live 1/28/2015 on sections 16-18
Blog post and tweets go live 2/4/2015 on sections 19-21
Blog post and tweets go live 2/11/2015 on sections 22-24
Odyssey done, woo hoo!

Please let me know: does this schedule make sense of what to read for what date? I often thinking I’m being clear and am not. As David and Nigel say:

David St. Hubbins: It’s such a fine line between stupid, and uh…

Nigel Tufnel: Clever.

David St. Hubbins: Yeah, and clever.

Upshot: start reading now, read sections one, two and three by next Wednesday, then visit her where I will write about it, you can comment, and you can also comment on Twitter at #TCUlysses.

“Wuthering Heights” (1939) Oberon/Olivier

November 24th, 2014


Because I am an obsessive nerd, I am preparing for my book discussion of Wuthering Heights by watching as many of its film/tv adaptations as I’m able. Also because I’m an obsessive nerd, I’m trying to watch them in order, guessing that later adapters were influenced by earlier ones.

I began with what is the earliest widely available, and perhaps best known, adaptation, Wuthering Heights (1939) directed by William Wyler, with Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff, and Merle Oberon as Cathy 1. The film doesn’t include the second generation, though “Mrs. Heathcliff” does appear in the opening scenes, sitting sullenly by the fire when Lockwood foists himself on Wuthering Heights.

Tagline: A servant in the house of Wuthering Heights tells a traveler the unfortunate tale of lovers Cathy and Heathcliff.

This adaptation has the same problem as many subsequent ones. The book shows the characters at three major stages: childhood, early teens, and late teens. Heathcliff and Cathy are approximately the same age. Cathy dies giving birth to little Cathy when she is only 19. Yet Olivier was 32 and Oberon 28 when the film was released, and they play Cathy and Heathcliff for the early/late teen parts. The iconic photo of them on the moors shows two adults, rather then the two approximately 15 year olds. The introduction to the Oxford World’s Classic edition of WH I read says that the scene it depicts isn’t in the book. I differ and argue that it does depict from the book, only with actors so much older that it skews the effect.

Here’s what didn’t work for me, things that tend to coincide with things that depart from the book. The actors in general were older than in the book, especially Lockwood (who is supposed to be a young city dandy) and Nellie (supposed to be the same age as Hindley). The movie retreats from the gruesome, violent image of Lockwood dragging the ghost’s wrist over broken glass, which I think helps set up the story as a ghost and horror tale as well as a love story. Heathcliff before he runs away is handsome and well-spoken, barely scruffed up.

What did work: I liked that they used the framing device of Lockwood and Nellie, and don’t mind that they omitted the second generation. Though it’s necessary to the book, a movie two hours or less has sacrifices to make, and if you’re only going to tell the story of Cathy and Heathcliff, then do it and do it well. To contrast, I felt the 1992 Kosminky adaptation with Binoche and Fiennes tried to cram too much in.

Olivier when he returns as Heathcliff is mesmerizing and handsome and compelling. I liked Oberon’s haughty spirit and ferocity as Cathy. This may have been because she despised Olivier. According to the IMDB trivia:

Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier apparently detested each other. Legend has it that when William Wyler yelled “Cut!” after a particularly romantic scene, Oberon shouted back to her director about her co-star “Tell him to stop spitting at me!”

I also liked Niven as Edgar Linton. I thought he was both effete yet handsome and strong enough of an actor to carry off what is often a thankless role.

The more adaptations I watch, the more I like this one. It’s not perfect, none of them are, but it’s reasonably faithful to part of the book especially the wild spirit of it, the acting is strong, the look is distinct, and in general it’s a enjoyable and well-made film to watch.

For more Wuthering Heights goodness, including a good compare/contrast of many of the adaptations, visit The Readers Guide to Wuthering Heights UK.

And for all the Bronte news you can shake a stick at, visit Bronte Blog.

The 2014 “Wuthering Heights” Film Binge

November 24th, 2014

My book group Gods & Monsters is discussing Wuthering Heights this Sunday. In preparation for it, I’ve re-read the book and gathered all the adaptations that I can get, streaming or from the library. Last year I did the same for Jane Eyre, and finally blogged about the seven adaptations I watched.

Wuthering Heights, a more complex narrative, has even more adaptations! There have been eleven major ones, of which I’m hoping to watch nine, because two are proving problematic.

The 1953 film, Abismos de Pasion directed by Luis Bunuel, is not available on DVD in my library system or my usual streaming options. Two of Six sections of it are available on Youtube, but in Spanish without subtitles. Given how well I know the book, watching probably wouldn’t be a problem, but for now, given there are nine other adaptations easier to watch, that feels like a bridge too far. At least one writer/reviewer out there favors the Bunuel, but I wonder if that’s affectation and/or knowing that others can’t quibble because it’s so hard to find.

The 1978 miniseries with Ken Hutchinson as Heathcliff and Kay Adshead as Cathy 1, was hard to find, but I used some of my librarian connections to procure a copy of the DVD from Chicago instead of buying it from amazon. When I went to watch it last night, it’s not coded for the US, so I may not be able to watch it. Given that it’s over 4 hours, I can’t say I’m devastated, but still.

I’ll try to post one by one about each movie, labeling them with year and Cathy/Heathcliff actors and then do a gathering post at the end.

“Brooklyn Burning” by Steve Brezenoff

November 15th, 2014

I know Steve, so I’m biased, but as I did with Carrie Mesrobian’s Sex and Violence (the books are both published by Carolrhoda Lab), I very much liked and admired his book Brooklyn Burning.

Our narrator is Kid, who hops back and forth between last summer and this one. Kid, whose gender is never spelled out as is true for some other characters in the book, had a crush last year on Felix, and something bad happened. Earlier in the present year, a fire destroyed a warehouse, and the police suspect Kid did it. As Kid meets Scout, the two summers intertwine as we learn why Kid began living on the street and what really happened to Felix, and with the fire.

Then I looked up. I didn’t notice that your ears stick out, just a little, so you look like a pixie sometimes, or an elf. I didn’t notice that the corners of you mouth always seem like they’re trying to smile, while the rest of your mouth wants to pout. I didn’t notice the little bump on your nose, near the bridge but slightly to the right-the bump I’d trace with my finger over and over, not soon enough. I didn’t notice your long hands and rough finger-tips, or the dozens-is it hundreds?-of bracelets on your left wrist, made of busted guitar strings.

I noticed your eyes, because they looked wet; maybe it was a trick of the light-the fluorescent and neon lights falling over your face from the bodega next door. But I didn’t think about love, and I didn’t see right down to your heart. But I must have stared-did I?-because there was your spirit, right there before me, and when you found my eyes I knew I’d pulled that spirit back from someplace amazing, not Greenpoint, not the summer sidewalk in front of Fish’s bar, smelling of old alcohol and piss.

But it must have been a trick of the light, because when you stood up, you were smiling, and your bright eyes looked alive and right there, with me, on Franklin Avenue in Brooklyn, New York, Earth.

This is a love letter to Brooklyn while also being a gender-open love story. I really enjoyed meeting Kid’s family of choice over the book, too.

“Sex and Violence” by Carrie Mesrobian

November 15th, 2014

I know the author, so I’m biased, but I really did both like and admire Carrie Mesrobian’s first novel, Sex and Violence.

Evan is 17 and something of a pick-up artist as he moves around the country with his professor dad. At a boarding school in the south, he starts fooling around with a girl on the sly. When some of the guys find out about it, they beat him badly, making him question his former coping methods.

… I believe strongly in condoms. They avert babies and disease. They make you seem responsible, not slutty. They make the girl relax too, because you’re taking care of the risky part. Like you’re a professional. Roll it on, squeeze the tip, turn back to her, ready, set go. Like I’d just done a little disappearing act on myself and became something confident and wonderful. You can’t see through my latex disguise! You will love this so let’s get down! You don’t want to know how many times this worked in my favor.

God I feel like a fucking asshole sometimes. All the time, really.

His dad moves them both up to a lakeside community in Minnesota, and Evan has to figure out something new: how to make friends.

The book centers on Evan’s trauma, but includes many other aspects like work, figuring out his father, family history, and living in a small community. Together, these make for a satisfyingly complex read as Evan tries to get his act together. The book itself is also a lovely object, a good size for reading, with the cover image of water repeated on certain pages inside, as is a tiled pattern, a reference to Evan’s first attack.

Jane Eyre: ALL the Adaptations!

November 10th, 2014

I CANNOT believe I didn’t blog about all the Jane Eyre adaptations I watched a year ago when I read Jane Eyre for my book group Gods & Monsters. I wrote about all the Jane-related book reading I did here and thought I wrote about the movies. In fact, I so don’t believe it I need to go check again…

OMG what kind of blogger am I that I watched seven (7!) adaptations of Jane Eyre last year and never wrote to tell you about them? Well, I better get started. Alas, the binge watching of seven adaptations and the passage of a year haven’t left me with sparkling details but I’ll do my best. If I had it to do again, I’d make notes as I went comparing things like the falling-off-the-horse scene, the burning bed scene, the attic scene, Pilot the dog, the relative ages and attractiveness of the characters (Joan Fontaine and Susannah York were ridiculous as Jane, both too pretty and too old). I wish I could remember which Jane was whiny, which pouty, which weepy, etc. This really does beg for a spreadsheet. Or is that TOO much nerdish obsessing? Reader, with Jane Eyre, is there such a thing?

1944jane 1943: screenplay by John Houseman and Aldous Huxley, starring Orson Welles (Mr. Rochester), Joan Fontaine (Jane), Agnes Moorehead (Mrs. Reed), and a VERY FAMOUS ACTRESS in her first, uncredited role. This one is entertaining to see Welles chew scenery and barely fall from his horse at all, but Fontaine is a disappointingly wimpy Jane.

1970jane 1970: starring George C. Scott and Susannah York. Music by John Williams, which was painful to listen to. Guess he needed those next 7 years to become awesome for Star Wars. York way too old and glam to play Jane, but George C was surprisingly decent, probably the least conventionally handsome of all the Rochesters. If I remember correctly, he was also the most physically scarred at the end–I think he was missing a hand. Some Rochesters barely looked any different.

1983jane 1983: 6 hours! with Zelah Clarke and Timothy Dalton. Zelah had the right look, but was too old for the part, and she was on the wimpy side. My favorite part was the scene after the almost wedding where she leaves her bedroom and Rochester is in the doorway. This adaptation was long and unthrilling in other ways, but that particular scene was outstandingly hot. Again, sorry, can’t recall, but if any of them had Rochester cross dressing as the gypsy, it was this one. Not sure it did, though.

1996jane 1996: directed by Franco Zeffirelli, starring William Hurt (Mr. Rochester), Charlotte Gainsbourg (Jane). I liked Gainsbourg as Jane, but detested Hurt as Rochester; he’s blond and American and just wrong.

1997jane 1997: Ciarán Hinds and Samantha Morton. The age difference, and Hinds not being conventionally handsome, and Morton as young and plain all worked in this one but I remember little of it. Hinds might have been the most bi-polar of the Rochesters.

2006jane1 2006: 4 hour BBC miniseries of Ruth Wilson (currently in The Affair) and Toby Stephens (son of Maggie Smith!). A solid production, but the most memorable part of it for me was the ending: there was a huge family picture, with a miniature painting of St. John added like they do in reunion photos, plus Grace Poole was shown holding the baby. They redeemed surly drunk Grace Poole!

2011jane2011: directed by Cary Fukunaga, starring Mia Wasikowska (Jane Eyre), Michael Fassbender (Rochester) and Judi Dench as (Mrs. Fairfax). This was my favorite. Fassbender might be too handsome for Rochester, but he got the crazy just right. Wasikowska was pale and slight and young and very like Jane: strong willed and impressive. This was perhaps the only one that didn’t open with Jane as a girl, but rather with her wandering the moors, then jumps around in time. I didn’t care for Jamie Bell as St. John–not handsome enough, and very easy to resist in this version.

So that was the second part of last year’s Vast Eyre-Bender (pun courtesy of friend Vince). 7 adaptations and about 20 hours.

This year, the book group is reading Wuthering Heights for November. And I’ve been nerdishly obsessing about adaptations. Guess how many are possible to lay hands on? ELEVEN.

The list goes to ELEVEN.

Not sure I’ve got that kind of stamina. The discussion’s on 11/30/14. We’ll see.

“Wonder Woman: War” and “Finder: Third World” GNs

November 6th, 2014

The 4th volume of the current Wonder Woman series, War, continues strongly. It’s full of gods and monsters, and sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which. This volume spans worlds and mythologies jumping from Olympus to Earth to New Genesis. There’s a series of faceoffs with the Big Bad, the Firstborn, and an impressive ending that makes me eager for the next set of stories. Good story, good art, one of my favorite comics right now, and one of the few superhero books I read (along with Marvel’s Hawkeye.) If you want to know where to start, go to Volume 1 of the current run: Blood.

Finder: Third World by Carla Speed McNeil is in full color, and it’s BEAUTIFUL. I love this series, and will soon have been reading it for decades. This one’s a series of connected short stories about Jaeger, and we get more tantalizing bits about his past. Want to know where to start? Talisman is a great place.

“Ulysses” Group Read 2015!

November 4th, 2014


The Ulysses group readalong is happening! Read and tweet from February to Bloomsday (June 16) 2015, and I’ll be blogging about it here.

We’ll tweet with the hashtag #TCUlysses

Twin Cities readers can celebrate when we’re done with a meetup at Anchor Fish and Chips. (I wouldn’t be opposed to weekly meetings there, either, though my cholesterol might.)

2/9/15 Start Ulysses which has 18 parts of various lengths

2/16/15 discuss and tweet sections 1, 2= 32 pp
2/23/15 discuss and tweet sections 3, 4=29 pp
3/2/15 discuss and tweet sections 5, 6=40 pp
3/9/15 discuss and tweet section 7=29pp
3/16/15 discuss and tweet section 8=28pp
3/23/15 discuss and tweet 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

5/4-5/18/15 read, then discuss and tweet section 15 (150 pages in my ed.)

5/25/15 discuss and tweet section 16=44pp

6/1-6/8/15 read then discuss and tweet section 17 (65 pp in my edition)

6/15/15 discuss and tweet section 18=37pp

6/16/15 Bloomsday!

Group meetup and celebration to follow at the Anchor Fish & Chips in NE Minneapolis.

I’ve never even attempted this behemoth–too intimidating. But I’m raring to give it a go, and looking forward to the support of a group while reading!

“Why Did I Ever” by Mary Robison

November 3rd, 2014


A writing friend recommended Mary Robison’s Why Did I Ever to me after she read something I’d written that was in the same style.

I bet my writer friends can relate to when you read something by someone really good, realize you’ll never be that good, and resist the urge to crawl into bed and never write again. That’s kind of the feeling I had while reading Robison’s book, which has subtitles, and beautiful writing, and is disjointed but works as a whole, and is overall damn impressive and damn humbling.

Our unreliable narrator is Money, a Hollywood screenwriter who has several exes, a boyfriend named Dix who lives in New Orleans, two adult children who have significant troubles, and much, much more. Money is on the hook to write a script about Bigfoot, and things aren’t going well, at work or at home.

You Can Fly But Your Body Can’t

My first seat was in first class between Penny and Belinda. Before I poured Rémy Martin down my throat and had to come see what the folks back here think of things.


‘Cool out, you know, I didn’t mean it, I don’t really hate you,’ I hear someone say.
While, over the intercom, the pilot jabbers. He’s explaining that some dysfunction, once we’re on the ground, can be easily fixed with a pin. I don’t know, at that point, how much any of us will care. Maybe I’m drunk, but seems like they could give the plane to the Arabs once we’ve all made our connecting flights.


The beer nuts just served to me in a cello packet are the most delicious food I’ve ever tasted in my life. Back at Dallas-Fort Worth I put an Otis Redding CD into my player and I doubt I’ll ever have a reason to take it out. Through the window, trigonometry, under a silky pink sky.

This is a book I never would have found without a friend’s recommendation, and I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, but most definitely to writer friends and short-story fans.

“Flora and Ulysses” by Kate DiCamillo

November 3rd, 2014


And because I don’t have enough book groups, HA!, I am going to another one tonight with my elder, 11yo Drake to discuss Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo.

(Let’s see: Books and Bars, my women’s book group, Gods & Monsters, Beer and Comics, Book Scouts (a twitter group, we’ll be reading Ulysses and Infinite Jest next year), Sandman readalong that starts next month and this new one, which is parent/child. Yep, 7 reading groups. INSANE.)

Flora and Ulysses is Kate DiCamillo’s the author’s second Newbery Award winning book; the first was The Tale of Despereaux. The subtitle is “The Illuminated Adventures” and points to the nostalgic, timeless era the book is set in. It’s a mix of chapters, illustrations, and comic-book storytelling. A squirrel encounters a voracious all-terrain vacuum cleaner, and is unexpectedly changed. Flora, who loves comic books, names the squirrel Ulysses and hopes he will fight villains. Instead, the squirrel’s superpowers are less showy: he writes poetry. Oh, all right, he can also fly.

Flora is a self-proclaimed cynic but Ulysses’ transformation begins to turn that around. She is a fan of a fictional comic book Incandesto!, and often quotes from it:

Holy unanticipated occurrences!

which is a lovely call back to Golden Age comics. In many ways, this reminded me of a middle-grade version of Michael Chabon’s love letter to that era, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

Flora and Ulysses often made me laugh, but like Kate’s other books, it is also consistently sad. Flora’s parents are divorced, her mother is a romance writer who discourages Flora from reading comic books, her father is lonely, sad, and socially inept, a boy she meets is temporarily blind and has been banished from his home, Flora’s mother wants to literally kill Ulysses.

There are many reviews on Good Reads that complain about these aspects of the book, that they’re negative, not realistic, don’t send the right message, or aren’t clear enough in their story.

DiCamillo’s books for older readers have always contained sad truths about the relationship between children and adults. She is open in her author talks about how she includes this in her books so as not to pretend to children that ugliness and difficulty don’t exist.

What I appreciated about Flora and Ulysses, in addition to how it made me laugh, was how it was about difficult ideas, like how villains aren’t as obvious as they are in real life, how people we love can act villainous sometimes, and what a risk it is to love others. The book contains difficult ideas that are true, but also wondrous and lovely things that are true, all wrapped in a story with clever phrases and repetition to remind the reader that we’re in a story, not real life. There is a mythic, fairy-tale element to the story that I think the people who criticize it for not being realistic are, perhaps, missing.

Some More from CLOUD ATLAS, plus a bit on the film

October 30th, 2014

Do you have that thing, writers, where you keep something you want to write about nearby as a reminder, and then it lurks, and lurks, and eventually you forget what you wanted to write about?

I’m pretty sure I was so full of geek joy when I finished Cloud Atlas that I wanted to share ALL the quotes that I’d flagged. We’ll see if they still resonate months later.

But first, my husband G Grod and I watched the 2012 film Cloud Atlas, though it was generally trounced by critics. It was a collaboration among the Wachowski sibs and Tom Twyker (Run, Lola, Run) so even if was bad, we knew it would bad in interesting ways. But it wasn’t bad. It was ambitious, missed the mark a couple times, and was super long as you would expect a compression of 6 novellas would be. But I enjoyed it nonetheless, in spite of putting some actors in Asian face, some over-tidy re-interpretations, and the worst, IMO, casting adult Tom Hanks in the role of boy Zachry.

Two things that might have improved the watching: 1. splitting it over two nights. 2. Possibly watching the extras in front of, or instead of, the movie. They were many but the interviews with directors and cast plus clips was at least as fascinating as the movie, and made me like it more.

Now, some quotes:

Implausible truth can serve one better than plausible fiction.


A half-read book is a half-finished love affair.


And I marked a few others, but those were my favorites I think. And now I will shelve Cloud Atlas, which enters the home library as one we like well enough to have his n hers copies.

“Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness” by Susannah Cahalan

October 30th, 2014

This was recommended both in Entertainment Weekly and by a friend, plus I’m on a memoir tear lately, so thought Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan would be a good fit.

Cahalan was a young, successful newspaper reporter when she started having mental and physical problems. She was tested, hospitalized and declining until a team of doctors worked to test a diagnosis for something new.

Cahalan has carefully reconstructed details of her decline and hospitalization both from tapes, patient records, interviews and more. She herself remembers little to none of the worst month of her illness.

Her story was intriguing, and soundly written, but by the end I didn’t fully engage with it. There was something about it that lacked a depth of insight, or humility, or some element that would make this resonate with me on a deeper level.

“Through the Woods” by Emily Carroll

October 30th, 2014


For my most recent, fifth book group, Beer + Comix held at Wild Rumpus bookstore in the Twin Cities, I read Through the Woods by Emily Carroll a graphic novel collection of short story/fable-type things.

Carroll’s work reminded me strongly of Angela Carter’s reimagined, feminist retelling of old fairy tales. They felt hauntingly familiar even though they are Carroll’s own work. The art and interplay with text were lovely to read.

The collection has four stories with young women as main characters. The central story is “His Face All Red” which is available online. The stories made for a good discussion, as they are open to interpretation, and all the spookier for it.


October 30th, 2014

I visited Salem, MA earlier this year, and was excited when I saw that Shirley Jackson, author of the famous short story “The Lottery” and the recently re-read and loved Haunting of Hill House, had written The Witchcraft of Salem Village as part of a history series. It was well reviewed, so I was disappointed not to find it in the historical center’s gift shop, but later thrilled to find it for $1 at a used bookstore. And then disappointed again when I found it a slightly stylized but straightforward accounting of the trials, which might have engaged me as a child, but made me question its use of quotes and details in this creative account.

Each time I read about the witch trials, it seems largely explained by a mean-girl syndrome combined with rebelling against their parents and the repressive town in general. I find it weirdly timely, but depressing.

Not nearly as depressing as the memorial to the victims of the trials, though. It is a narrow path with seats on either side, each inscribed with the names of the hanged, who weren’t accorded proper graves. Thus, Salem is apologizing to these victims by inscribing their names on something for people to put their butts on.

Shameful. Disgusting.


Behind on Book Reviews

October 30th, 2014

Am I behind on blogging, or do I just READ TOO MUCH?

“The Haunting of Hill House” and “The Haunting” (1963)

October 30th, 2014


October’s book for the book group I lead, Gods and Monsters was Shirley Jackson’s classic psychological haunted house story, The Haunting of Hill House.

I read it last year for the first time, and liked it even more on re-reading. It actively terrified me at different points, and its main character, Eleanor, is now one of my favorites. Jackson makes me care for her deeply as she develops and reveals her over the course of the novel.

Written and set in the 50’s, the book couldn’t work today–witness the critically reviled 1999 movie remake The Haunting. Cell phones, any phone, really, would ruin it.

What I loved about the book is that it inspired terror in me, but wasn’t graphically horrifying, as in the work of Stephen King (a huge fan of Jackson’s), or The Shining Girls, which I recently read.

Like Henry James’ classic Turn of the Screw, this is a psychological work, putting the interpretation in the mind of the reader. Is the house haunted by a ghost? Is it inherently evil?

I followed the re-reading with the well-reviewed 1963 film The Haunting directed by Robert Wise (West Side Story). It took interesting departures from the text including the re-routing of a love interest that didn’t work well for me in the book but was a good interpretation of the work with excellent acting. It was a genuinely spooky movie, and fun to watch before Halloween this week.

Both book and 1963 move: HIGHLY RECOMMEND.

“The Orchardist” by Amanda Coplin

October 30th, 2014


A selection for what I call my “women’s” book group, The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin seemed like it wanted me to really, really love it. I just couldn’t.

It’s written in lush, slow prose, about an aging man, Talmadge, who owns orchards in Washington state. When two wild, pregnant teen girls wander onto his property, he tries to take them in, and the novel unfolds from there with violence and a great deal of tragedy, but some joy.

As I read it, I was strongly reminded of Kent Haruf’s Plainsong, as well as Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping. Both also had the lovely slow pace, unconventional families and a deep sense of place.

In the end, though, The Orchardist didn’t touch me on a deeper level as those other books did, though it’s an extremely promising first novel from a young writer.

“The Shining Girls” by Lauren Beukes

October 30th, 2014


The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes was the October selection for one of my growing number of book groups (six and counting…), Books and Bars.

How’s this for a hook: A time-traveling serial killer visits Chicago over the decades, targeting strong, smart women. I found it a devourable book, and gulped its 375 pages down in about 24 hours.

The book jumps around in time and perspective, including characters Kirby, “the one who got away”, Harper the killer, Dan the journalist, Harper’s many victims, a very creepy house, a drug addict, and even Chicago itself. Beukes is from South Africa, but the Chicago setting is thoroughly and engagingly done.

What I loved about the book were the portraits of the complex, amazing women, and this made it all the more wrenching when Harper took them down.

By contrast, Beukes chose to make Harper non-complex, and I appreciated her efforts to make the killer non-fascinating and less dimensional than his victims. Mysteries that inadvertently glorify and romanticize serial killers are sadly frequent. In fact, almost all the male characters in the novel (save for an amazing male dog) are pale shadows compared to the female characters.

The violence in the book is extensive and graphic. Whether it was gratuitously graphic was a key point in my group’s discussion of the book. Does graphic violence automatically glorify or fetishize it? The author states in her afterward that she was writing in part as a reaction to the violent death of a woman friend, and so the in-your-face presentation was a deliberate provocation to see the ugly truth that exists in the world.

A protest I had before the discussion was that only two of the women were able to defy Harper and fight back. I wanted ALL the women to have the opportunity. Another woman at the Books and Bars discussion noted that fighting back isn’t always a choice, and isn’t always in the victims best interesting in surviving. I was abashed to need to be reminded of this so soon after finishing Patricia Weaver Francisco’s Telling: A Memoir of Rape and Recovery.

I was ambivalent (i.e. pulled in both directions) about the time travel in the book. Time travel is hard to pull off, fraught with inconsistency, and in this case, depressing in its fated-ness. Beukes had friends of hers make a chart about different types of time travel.

What definitely didn’t work for me was the relationship between Dan and Kirby. It felt creepy and weird in a way that I’m not sure was intended.

Reaction from friends differed widely. Some hated it, some liked, some loved it. I thought it was enjoyable as a reading experience, but not without its troubling aspects.