FIVE CAUGHT IN A TREACHEROUS PLOT by Enid Blyton

May 29th, 2015

I saved Five Caught in a Treacherous Plot by Enid Blyton from my childhood. I remembered loving it, and wanted to read it to my boys.

It was a fun read aloud, and enjoyable to translate some of the archaic English bits for my boys, but ultimately it was rather a lame mystery, simplistic, with stereotypical gender roles. I actually think my boys, at 9 and 11 years old, were too old for it.

It’s a bummer when I revisit something I remember loving, and find the Suck Fairy got into it.

“Clutter Free with Kids”

May 29th, 2015

I checked Clutterfree with Kids by Joshua Becker out from the library, hoping to get some insight into decluttering in an American family home, since one of my new favorite books, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, is written more for single people.

But Becker’s book is long on platitudes, and short on strategy, plus his strategies tend to be more in the kind that Kondo helpfully debunks, like doing a little bit, or one little thing, at a time.

Skip the Becker. Buy the Kondo.

“Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life” by Emily Nagoski

May 29th, 2015

comeasyouare

I will be very clear. I think everyone should read Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski. This is a great book about female sexuality, and even if you have a good sex life, this book can and probably will make it better. It did for me.

The subtitle makes me abashed to admit reading this, because things were good in that department of the marriage. BUT, now they’re even better.

This book is a myth-busting extravaganza about all the dumb, wrong things we think about human sexuality, especially women’s sexuality. As Nagoski emphasizes, we all have the same parts, just differently organized. This book is like talking to a super smart funny friend who knows all about sex. I thought I knew about sex. Then I read this book and was embarrassed to find out all the things I thought that were wrong, or that I just hadn’t considered before.

I found out about it because my husband G. Grod read about it online. He read it first, then said I should. I started it, then went out and bought it, both so I could have our own copy (there are worksheets inside) and so the next person in the library queue could get it faster.

Four Graphic Novels, None of Which I Loved

May 29th, 2015

Thus, I might as well smush them into one post.

First, Wonder Woman: Flesh, which is volume five in the recent reboot written by Brian Azarello and illustrated awesomely by Cliff Chiang. Alas, Chiang was notably absent from most of the issues in this story, and without him it wasn’t as good. Also, one of the great things about Wonder Woman has been her feminist amazingness, which has been somewhat undermined in this storyline by making her just another of Zeus’ children.

Next, Fables: Happily Ever After, volume 21 and the penultimate one in this series. I feel at this point that it’s repeating itself, and has gone longer than it should have. Further, two of the short stories ended with characters’ fantasies of skinny hot women serving them. That’s just unacceptable, sexist, and wrong. If not for the basassery of Snow White, I would have ditched this series long ago. I will go through to the end, though, with fingers crossed for a strong finish.

Speaking of undermined basassery, I am very sad for the changes in character Jessica Jones as shone in the Marvel collection Jessica Jones: The Pulse. Jessica was a fierce heroine in her own series, Alias, but now she’s pregnant and Luke Cage’s girlfriend, and these seem to be her defining and limiting traits. The art in the first story arc was so bad I alternately wanted to laugh and cry. It improved for the final story, with them getting the original Alias band back together, but overall, this was a miss.

And finally, Phonogram: Rue Britannia by Gillen/McKelvie, which I picked up because I was enjoying their current series, The Wicked and the Divine. My appreciation of the latter has waned though. I find the art too static, and the story too reliant on magic and not enough on character development. That was true for Phonogram, and I liked it even less because rather than focusing on a pantheon of gods, as WicDiv does, it was about 90’s Britpop, which I don’t much care for. So, another miss, and a good reminder that I should probably check graphic novels out of the library rather than buying them.

So, four disappointing graphic novels in a row. I’m hoping for better things from the final collection of The Unwritten, which is on my bedside table.

THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir

May 29th, 2015

I read The Martian by Andy Weir for one of my book groups, the Twin Cities’ Books and Bars. It was on a lost of best-of lists last year, but I’d heard some grumblings from other people who’d read it that it was more math and science than an actual sci-fi book. I found it a thumping good read, with one big caveat.

I found the science in this book of fiction to be a big strength. Many sci-fi books are vague on details. Weir is obviously a giant geek, and he loads them on, going into such detail that I was convinced of his science bona fides, and unsurprised to learn he was a programmer prodigy as well as a space nerd. That said, I actually skimmed many of the detailed science sections–I trusted him to get the details, while I just read ahead to see if and how his protagonist, the immature but mostly winning smart-ass protagonist Mark Watney, would survive when he was left for dead on the surface of Mars.

My one concern with the book was a blithe disregard (ignorance?) about race and sex. The character uses the word “rape” casually, and another time insults people by saying their mothers and sisters are prostitutes.

“Lighten up,” some people at the book discussion tweeted at me when I brought this up. But no, I will not. Rape is not a casual word, and joking about prostitutes is not OK. Further, Watney is CLEARLY a Mary-Sue character, meaning a projection of the author himself, so I can’t help but read this as Weir’s own take. It perpetuates bad attitudes in the same way that Jeremy Renner’s jokes about Black Widow being a whore do. These cheap jokes marred an otherwise good book. Rape and prostitutes are not joking matters. Period. The end.

ULYSSES readalong Ch 16: Eumaeus

May 25th, 2015

eumaeus

Welcome back, Ulysses friends; we’re in the home stretch! And we’re rewarded this week with a relatively straightforward chapter mostly about Bloom and Stephen hanging out in the wake of the bizarre events, real and imagined, of chapter 15, Circe.

Any thoughts on what this chapter’s song should be?

Bloom picks up Stephen, who says he’s thirsty, and they go to a cabman’s shelter since the bars are closed; it’s 1 a.m.

In the Odyssey, Eumaeus is the faithful swineherd of Odysseus’, and Odysseus and Telemachus meet up in this tent. Their loose analogs are Bloom and Stephen and there is no direct analog to the swineherd.

The style of the writing is loose and loopy–think of a student staying up too late to write a paper. It’s not the crisp intellectual prose of chapter 1.

Bloom, on how the stories are always about the husband coming home, never the wife on a journey:

Never about the runaway wife coming back, however much devoted to the absentee. The face at the window! (Vintageg 624)

Stephen, in a rare moment of empathy, and in one of his several points of departure from Bloom, who is nagging him about prostitutes:

Fear not them that sell the body but have not power to buy the soul. She is a bad merchant. She buys dear and sells cheap.

The Irish hero Parnell is mentioned throughout. His political career was wrecked after his affair with a married woman was made public. The questions of who is a hero and cuckoldry continue.

I enjoyed many of the sentences in this chapter, like this one about bad coffee:

Over his untasteable apology for a cup of coffee…

followed by:

Stephen…shoved aside his mug of coffee, or whatever you like to call it.

The chapter ends with Bloom inviting Stephen to his home. He’s thought variously of exploiting Stephen, first for his writing, and at the end for his good tenor singing voice. This is one of their points of disagreement. Bloom is thinking like an agent, Stephen like an artist. Still, though, they have more in common than not, and walk off looking like a married couple, sharing stories.

What did everyone else think of Eumaeus?

We only have two chapters, but 3 weeks to go! I propose we take next Monday off, and “meet” up again in two weeks to discuss 17, Ithaca, in full. That will give those who are behind time to catch up.

Schedule and past posts:

6/1/15 week off to catch up and read section 17
6/8/15 read then discuss and tweet section 17
6/15/15 discuss and tweet section 18 and the whole thing!
6/16/15 Bloomsday!

Past posts:

Week 1: books 1 and 2
Week 2: books 3 and 4
Week 3: books 5, 6
Week 4: book 7
Week 5: book 8
Week 6: book 9
Week 7: book 10
Week 8: book 11
Week 9: book 12
Week 10: book 13
Week 11: book 14
Week 12: book 15 part 1/3
Week 13: book 15 part 2/3
Week 14: book 15 part 3/3

BECAUSE OF MR. TERUPT by Rob Buyea

May 20th, 2015

I read Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea for a parent/kid book group I attend. My 5th grader had already read the book in class, but enjoyed hearing it again. My boys enjoyed it more than I did. There are several students who narrate the book, about a school year with a new, enthusiastic, and sometimes unorthodox teacher. We know a tragedy happens, and the book circles around it for a long time before we find out what happened. I didn’t feel a drive to find out though, and I was very much bothered by the book’s implication that tragedies happen for a reason we don’t understand, but that if good things come out of them, then that’s why they happened.

Ahem. Bad things happen. Good things happen. Roll with the former. Celebrate the latter.

The different kids’ voices, stories and personalities were the book’s strength. Mr. Terupt himself, though, was left a deliberate cipher, with no family and little background. Apparently the follow up book/s explain this, but it was a significant, weird void in the first book that made me speculate that he’s in witness protection and the FBI got tired of him interrupting them, so they made his new name Terupt. But I don’t care enough to read the sequel, or even read reviews of them to find out what the deal is. Not my cuppa.

RECONSTRUCTING AMELIA by Kimberly McCreight

May 20th, 2015

After reading Citizen, and alongside reading Ulysses, I needed something enjoyable, and so finally got around to picking up Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight. A friend lent it to me some time ago, and I was reminded of it during my recent adventures in KonMari clearing. So I read the book, enjoyed it, and returned it to my friend. Voila, one fewer thing in my house. Yay!

This is a murder mystery where a teen girl dies, apparently of suicide, but probably not, since that’s the mystery. It’s told in alternating bits that switch time between the single lawyer mom, and the dead Amelia. This was a fast entertaining read. I thought early on that it was obvious what would happen, and I was very wrong, so the book did surprise me. What I liked best was the complex and creepy subculture of mean rich kids in NYC. What I liked least was the mother going on about her guilt over working in a career she clearly loved and was good at. This was a fast, engaging read with little to no subtext but well plotted and strongly finished.

ULYSSES readalong ch 15: Circe 3/3

May 17th, 2015

circe_stephen

Stephen, prone, breathes to the stars. (Vintage 607)

The above illustration is by Jun-Pierre Shiozawa, who read Ulysses last year and started a project to illustrate it.

Welcome back, fellow friends and masochists, who continue to blaze and slog through Ulysses. Congratulations on making it this far! In my Vintage edition, we are over 3/4 of the way through, and this chapter, 15, Circe, was nearly a quarter of the book, pages-wise at least.

The song for this week is “Start Me Up”, by the Rolling Stones, which has a lyric that matches a passage I’ll quote below.

After the full-on masochistic fantasy of last week, I thought I’d reached my limit of being shocked by this book. But no, Joyce had further provocations in mind, as he brings us back to the erection of a hanged man, earlier referred to in the Cyclops chapter:

—There’s one thing it hasn’t a deterrent effect on, says Alf.

—What’s that? says Joe.

—The poor bugger’s tool that’s being hanged, says Alf.

—That so? says Joe.

—God’s truth, says Alf. I heard that from the head warder that was in

Kilmainham when they hanged Joe Brady, the invincible. He told me when they cut him down after the drop it was standing up in their faces like a poker.

—Ruling passion strong in death, says Joe, as someone said.

—That can be explained by science, says Bloom. It’s only a natural phenomenon, don’t you see, because on account of the…

And then he starts with his jawbreakers about phenomenon and science and this phenomenon and the other phenomenon. (Vintage, 304)

Lo and behold, in the final third of the very long chapter 15, Circe, look what pops up again when The Croppy Boy is hanged. Forgive me for the naughty pun, but I don’t think Joyce would disapprove. Also, if I didn’t do it, reader Vince probably would.

He gives up the ghost. A violent erection of the hanged sends gouts
of sperm spouting through his deathclothes on to the cobblestones.
Mrs Bellingham, Mrs Yelverton Barry and the Honourable Mrs
Mervyn Talboys rush forward with their handkerchiefs to sop it
up.)

I must say, that’s an image I’d prefer to not have encountered.

And the other eyebrow-r

aising passage for me was:

Bloom, holding [Stephen’s} hat and ashplant, stands erect. A dog barks in the
distance. Bloom tightens and loosens his grip on the ashplant. (Vintage 609)

If you, as I am, read Stephen’s ashplant as an extension of his phallus, then that is pretty explicit, and not necessarily the kind, fatherly figure of the rest of the passage.

As for the rest, we zip in and out of Bloom’s and Stephen’s brains. Stephen has an encounter with his dead mother, reminding me of the ghost scene in Gertrude’s closet from Hamlet.

The reality of this last segment was clearer to me, though, than in the earlier parts of the chapter, as Bloom pays for and looks out for Stephen, who ends the chapter drunk and passed out, but not beaten or in jail or robbed. The paternal care is emphasized by the appearance of Leopold’s dead son Rudy, as he might’ve looked if he’d lived.

What did everyone else think?

Join us next Monday 5/25 (yes, I know, it’s Memorial Day) for chapter 16, Eumaeus (the poor but loyal pig keeper of the Odyssey.) Just over 4 weeks till Bloomsday!

Past and future:

Schedule and past posts:

5/25/15 discuss and tweet section 16
(extra week to read the longer section 17)
6/8/15 read then discuss and tweet section 17
6/15/15 discuss and tweet section 18
6/16/15 Bloomsday!

Past posts:

Week 1: books 1 and 2
Week 2: books 3 and 4
Week 3: books 5, 6
Week 4: book 7
Week 5: book 8
Week 6: book 9
Week 7: book 10
Week 8: book 11
Week 9: book 12
Week 10: book 13
Week 11: book 14
Week 12: book 15 part 1/3
Week 13: book 15 part 2/3

Jung’s Letter to James Joyce on ULYSSES

May 17th, 2015

After reading chapter 15 of Joyce’s Ulysses for our pre-Bloomsday readalong, I noticed again some interesting sex and gender blending and switching in the text. It reminded me of Jung’s theory of anima/animus.

From Freud, Jung, and Joyce: conscious connections (via the Ulysses page on www.planetbookgroupie.com):

Although, Joyce vehemently denied being influenced by the ideas of Freud and Jung, referring to them derisively as Tweedledum and Tweedledee, his writings indicate that not only was he very familiar with the substance of their ideas and theories but that he could also apply them when exploring the minds of his characters.

I also found (in what Jung refers to below as one of the zillion ‘peregrinations’ that reading Ulysses prompts), found this on Open Culture about Jung’s review of the book, his letter to Joyce himself after the review was published, and a little about their ongoing relationship after that (Jung treated Joyce’s daughter Lucia for schizophrenia.

Ulysses proved to be an exceedingly hard nut and it has forced my mind not only to most unusual efforts, but also to rather extravagant peregrinations (speaking from the standpoint of a scientist). Your book as a whole has given me no end of trouble and I was brooding over it for about three years until I succeeded to put myself into it. But I must tell you that I’m profoundly grateful to yourself as well as to your gigantic opus, because I learned a great deal from it. I shall probably never be quite sure whether I did enjoy it, because it meant too much grinding of nerves and of grey matter.

Over the course of reading and reading about this challenging (the MOST challenging) novel, I empathize with Jung’s struggle. That Jung would find it difficult and boring, but ultimately not only worthwhile but also deserving of singular praise, bolsters my spirits, and makes me look forward even more to the final chapter, Molly’s, which Jung says is “a string of veritable psychological peaches.”

CITIZEN by Claudia Rankine

May 15th, 2015

When I saw Citizen by Claudia Rankine on several best-of and award lists for 2014, then found it was published by local treasure Graywolf Press, I knew I wanted to check it out. Her poems and essays on race are necessary, if painful, reading in these fraught times where racism is so ugly and present in American life.

Hey you —

All our fevered history won’t instill insight,
won’t turn a body conscious,
won’t make that look
in the eyes say yes, though there is nothing

to solve

even as each moment is an answer.

Rankine is sometimes intimidatingly intelligent. Her prose is so erudite and her vocabulary so complicated, that it demands slow, careful reading, which is perfectly suited to the difficult, eye and soul-opening race problems she documents. This small book is big and important. While it was a finalist for the National Book Award, and won the National Book Critics Circle Award, it was snubbed for consideration by the Pulitzer, an egregious oversight.

GOBLIN SECRETS by Will Alexander

May 15th, 2015

Goblin Secrets by Will Alexander had been on my kids’ shelf for a while. My 11yo, Drake, had started but abandoned it, and my 9yo Guppy was not interested, so I knew if we were going to read it I’d have to do it aloud, and by the end of the book everyone was fully engaged, and we finished in a big push one night because the boys needed to know how it ended.

This is a dark fantasy, set in a world called Zombay, with clockwork creatures, and goblin performers who are misunderstood and feared.

Our selves are rough and unrehearsed tales we tell the world.

Young Rownie, an orphan, runs away from his foster grandmother Graba to search for his older brother Rowan. He is taken in by a goblin acting troupe, but his defection causes more trouble than he’d expected.

Alexander has created a rich, complicated world. We were enthralled by it and Rownie’s adventure. An excellent read-aloud book for kids that’s satisfying for all ages.

MAN AT THE HELM by Nina Stibbe

May 15th, 2015

I loved Nina Stibbe’s debut, Love, Nina, and my husband said her first novel Man at the Helm, while much darker, had some of the same irreverent humor. Since he had it from the library, I decided to have a go.

It’s narrated by an adult woman recounting her childhood, but the point of view is sometimes too childish for an adult, and vice versa. A well-off family splinters with the father has an affair and the parents divorce.

My sister and I and our little brother were born (in that order) into a very good situation and apart from the odd new thing life was humdrum and comfortable until an evening in 1970 when my mother listened in to my father’s phone call and ended up blowing her nose on a tea towel - a thing she’d only have done in an absolute emergency.

The mother moves to an insular village, and struggles to raise her three children. The eldest daughter decides the family won’t be taken seriously without the titular man at the helm, so she enlists her younger sister, the narrator, to help find a new dad. Alas, the pickings are slim in the village, and much disaster ensues before we arrive at a happy-ish ending.

While much is laugh-out-loud funny, as was Stibbe’s previous book, much of this is terribly sad. The tone veers so wildly that it felt more accidentally unever to me than deliberately complex. Good, but…

THE PENELOPIAD by Margaret Atwood

May 15th, 2015

Margaret Atwood’s entry into the Canongate Myth series, The Penelopiad, seemed like an obvious addition to my reading list given my recent reading of Homer’s Odyssey and current reading of Joyce’s Ulysses.

From the book jacket:

In Homer’s account in The Odyssey, Penelope – wife of Odysseus and cousin of the beautiful Helen of Troy — is portrayed as the quintessential faithful wife, her story a salutary lesson through the ages. Left alone for twenty years when Odysseus goes off to fight in the Trojan war after the abduction of Helen, Penelope manages, in the face of scandalous rumours, to maintain the kingdom of Ithaca, bring up her wayward son, and keep over a hundred suitors at bay, simultaneously. When Odysseus finally comes home after enduring hardships, overcoming monsters and sleeping with goddesses, he kills her suitors and — curiously — twelve of her maids.

In a splendid contemporary twist to the ancient story, Margaret Atwood has chosen to give the telling of it to Penelope and to her twelve hanged Maids, asking: ‘What led to the hanging of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to?’.

Before I read Atwood’s book, I was curious about her contention that they killing of the maids was mysterious. It is clearly stated in the Odyssey that the maids who are killed were sleeping with the enemy, and possibly spies.

What Atwood does is simple, but brilliant: she gives a background and history to the maids, gives backstory and motivation for Penelope, and fills in the “she said” of a historical story taken for granted. It hadn’t occurred to me, I’m abashed to admit, that the supposedly treacherous maids who were sleeping with suitors might have been doing so without consent. Odysseus treated them like property, not people. Atwood, giving voice to these women, is a sort of posthumous, fictional justice.

I also appreciated the voice Atwood gives to Penelope. While Penelope appears as a strong, vocal presence in The Odyssey, she is given even more agency, even more power, in Atwood’s take.

Cleverness is a quality a man likes to have in his wife as long as she is some distance away from him. Up close, he’ll take kindness any day of the week, if there’s nothing more alluring to be had.

This is a short but powerful complement to The Odyssey.

Things I’ve Learned about Books from KonMari

May 14th, 2015

Perhaps you are as sick of hearing about Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up as my 9yo son Guppy is. He has been a less-than-enthusiastic participant in our recent attempts to clear stuff from our house. But even his resistance is a lesson, one to have less stuff to organize, and just enough that one can enjoy it but not be burdened by the having of it. Her method is called KonMari, and I’ve used it thus far to clear out clothing and books from our house. She recommends starting with clothes, then doing books, then “stuff”, then papers, then mementos, because this tends to be in order from least to most attachment issues.

Her books exhort the reader to keep the things that “spark joy” and give or move out those that don’t. What I found as I went through my books, though, were many books I didn’t want to give away for a variety of reasons: I knew the author, they’d been inscribed to me, I’d spent money on them, I’d received them as gifts. Many sparked guilt, or regret, rather than joy.

I noted that one bad habit of book buying I’d got into over the years was going to an author reading, buying books of theirs and having them inscribed to me, sometimes with a personal note. This is great if I loved the book and read it, but a burden if I never feel moved to read the book, or don’t like it. My solution was to either rip out the signed page, or black out my name and give away the book in the hope that someone else would be excited to find it.

With growing horror, I realized I’d been foisting this bad habit off on family and friends, too, buying personalized books as gifts that they might feel obligated to read, or reluctant to give away because of the inscription. I foolishly thought I was doing something cool by getting them signed; it didn’t occur to me I was sending something that could be a burden.

I make many book vows, as regular readers of this blog know. I’ve written before about the burden of books as gifts, but I didn’t take it to heart till I saw evidence of this on my own shelves, and witnessed my own guilt over gift and inscribed books.

I fervently hope I have finally learned the lesson to buy a gift with the recipient in mind, not an agenda or a ’should’ factor, and to make it as free of burdens as possible, with gift receipts, no inscriptions, and the assurance that it is freely given, for the person to do with it what they will.

Also, in future I hope I’ll attend author events simply to hear the author, and not feel compelled to buy the book, especially if it’s not one I plan to read next. And I don’t want to have it inscribed. I want to feel free to do with it what I will.

So please, if I’ve ever given you a book that doesn’t spark joy, I apologize, and do whatever you want with it. I’ll not be getting inscribed books for you again.

I did keep the small collection of books by people I know who might visit my house. Most of these do actually spark joy–the happiness I feel for friends who have published books.

What I found after I’d weeded out the non-joy-sparking books that had been inscribed or given to me, was that I had much lighter shelves, which allowed me to see better which books I really want to read soon. I’ve read, enjoyed, and returned one book a friend lent me last year. I read immediately one another friend lent me. And of the books I’ve bought in the past few months, I’ve read most immediately.

In fact, I think the only books I’ve bought since we’ve done the purge was one for 9yo Guppy, since he started it in the bookstore and wanted to finish, and my own copy of Emily Nagoski’s Come As You Are, which I wanted to have my own copy of to refer to and read again.

I’ll be interested to see if I gradually return to my old, book-acquisitive ways. But one of the benefits of the Kondo book and KonMari process are the changes in perception about buying and having stuff, and these changes feel like they’re takign place on a deeper, more permanent level than my many years of “book vows.”

ANNIHILATION by Jeff Van Dermeer

May 13th, 2015

annihilation

I read Annihilation by Jeff Van Dermeer for The Morning News Tournament of Books. I’d heard good things from friends about this first book in the Southern Reach trilogy, but less good things about the trilogy overall. It was short, though, and sounded cool:

Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.

This is the twelfth expedition.

The twelfth expedition is also all women, so this book was automatically going to pass the Bechdel test, a sort of lowest-common-denominator of a book or movie, in which the work contains two women who are named that have a conversation that is not about men.

I loved having a smart, scientist woman narrator, and the world the author describes is mysterious and fascinating.

I leaned in closer, like a fool, like someone who had not had months of survival training or ever studied biology. Someone tricked into thinking that words should be read.

The book does a great job setting up whether our narrator is reliable, how reliable, what is going on, and is it “real” or paranormal. But it didn’t sustain the momentum to the end, which was more a whimper than a bang for me. I’m writing this less than two months after I read it, and I cannot remember much about the ending, so it did not stick with me. I will not be reading 2 and 3 in the trilogy.

YES PLEASE by Amy Poehler

May 13th, 2015

yes_please

I listened to Yes Please by Amy Poehler via Audible.com, and I recommend listening to it. Not only does the charming and funny Poehler narrate, she has great guest stars like Patrick Stewart, Kathleen Turner as her dark side, her parents, and Seth Myers.

I was expecting a light, smart, funny book with bite like Tina Fey’s Bossypants, and Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? Yes Please is bigger than those, though, both in size and scope. It covers Poehler’s life, from childhood outside Boston to the present, including her divorce from Will Arnett and the last season of Parks & Recreation, one of the best, sweetest shows I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch. (But start with either the gay penguins episode, or season 3; it took a while to get its groove.)

It’s called Yes Please because it is the constant struggle and often the right answer. Can we figure out what we want, ask for it, and stop talking? Yes please. Is being vulnerable a power position? Yes please. Am I allowed to take up space? Yes please. Would you like to be left alone? Yes please. I love saying “yes” and I love saying “please.” Saying “yes” doesn’t mean I don’t know how to say no, and saying “please” doesn’t mean I am waiting for permission. “Yes please” sounds powerful and concise. It’s a response and a request. It is not about being a good girl; it is about being a real woman. It’s also a title I can tell my kids. I like when they say “Yes please” because most people are rude and nice manners are the secret keys to the universe.

What I didn’t know about Poehler is how much she’s done to train up young talent. Additionally, while I was expecting, and enjoyed, the SNL and celebrity anecdotes, I much more appreciated her honesty about things like the difficulty and sadness of divorce, and the frequent forays into empowered feminism in practice. That should not have been a surprise coming from one of the founders of Smart Girls and A Mighty Girl.

Some friends have commented they were disappointed that it wasn’t as funny as Bossypants, but I really enjoyed it, and appreciated how much more it had to offer. My especial favorite was her metaphor for wanting an award: wanting the pudding, and her stories about learning to not want the pudding.

Poehler is an honest, funny person, and listening to the book was like spending time with a smart, funny friend.

“The Quirks: Circus Quirkus” and “The Quirkalicious Birthday” by Erin Soderberg

May 13th, 2015

I read all 3 of the Quirks series with my boys, 9 and 11, for a parent/kid book group we’re in, which the author, Erin Soderberg, leads. As I wrote about with the first book, Welcome to Normal, the Quirks are an odd family. Most members have a quirk, or a secret ability except for twin Molly, who is immune to the others’ quirks. the books are fast and fun to read with sweet and funny illustrations.

In Circus Quirkus, the kids are being taught circus skills in phys ed at school.

NB: here in Minnesota where I live, people say Phy Ed but I thinks that’s weird. I’m from OH, where we said PhysEd, and the z sound of the s provides a nice connector, so I’m sticking with that. Another weird fact about MN: they don’t play Duck, Duck, Goose here. They play Duck, Duck, Grey Duck.

Penelope, the Quirk twin whose imagination can come to life, continues to struggle with keeping her quirk a secret, while the whole family is worried that their nosy neighbor is seeing too much through a hole in then fence.

9yo Guppy wondered, reasonably I think, why they didn’t just patch over the hole in the fence, but hey, suspension of disbelief.

In The Quirkalicious Birthday, the twins are going to have their first ever birthday party, and tension builds as the twins argue over who to invite and what to do at the party. They also have to solve a series of clues in a scavenger hunt over the week before their birthday, each clue coming with a little gift. Both my boys found a week-long birthday celebration to be over the top, and figured out the clues long before the kids did. While this was not our favorite of the three, it did have some great stuff about sibling rivalry and individualism, and the importance of family.

Talking about the three books with the author and kids there when our group met resulted in the most animated discussion I’d seen, with the kids more interested and involved. Soderberg is a sweet and funny author, and the kids engaged with her more than they have with previous authors.

The series is better suited to younger kids depending on their reading level. They were probably too young for 11yo Drake, but he still enjoyed them. 8 and 9 is probably about the perfect age.

ULYSSES readalong: Bk 15 part 2, “Circe”

May 12th, 2015

Circe by Waterhouse

Welcome back, you few, you happy few, who are still brave enough to continue with Joyce’s oh-so-challenging Ulysses. This week finds us in the mucky middle of book 15, Circe. Oh, what a long, strange trip it is.

I picked the section that begins with Zoe saying “Talk away till you’re black in the face,” which is an interesting twist on the “blue” we’re more accustomed to. Blue indicates lack of oxygen, while black points to death. Bloom has a short interlude of lucidity with Zoe, but he goes in and out of fantasy. I could tell what was fantasy and what not mostly but not always by when the “real” people in the room spoke, rather than the objects, such as Lynch’s cap, Zoe’s buckles and Bella’s fan; or imaginary people, such as Virag (Bloom’s grandfather), and others.

An extended and jaw-dropping (and likely censor-enraging) dream sequence begins when the madame, Bella Cohen enters and says “My word, I’m all of a mucksweat.” Everything from there till when she asks “Which of you was playing the dead march from Saul?” is Bloom’s imagination, his subconscious and secret thoughts dragged out of the dark and brought to life.

To briefly summarize, Bloom and Bella switch roles. She becomes a man named Bello, he a woman referred to still as Bloom but with feminine pronouns. Bello, like Circe did to Odysseus’ men, makes Bloom piglike and alludes to many porcine things. In an inversion of the play Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, many of the things Bello as a man does to Bloom as a woman echo those that Wanda does to Severin. I was fortunate to see a modern retelling, Venus in Fur, a few years ago, so I recognize the references.

Bello rides Bloom as a horse, which the other prostitutes clamor to do also. Bello puts out a lit cigar on her ear, and auctions her off to other men, after this: “[Bello] bares his arm and plunges it elbowdeep in Bloom’s vulva.”

For the record, Joyce got his words mixed up. Vulva refers to all of woman’s external genitalia such as the labiae and the clitoris, south of the pubic bone. North of it, with the hair, is the mons. The reproductive canal is the vagina, which is what Bello plunges his arm into up to the elbow. This is not, as schmoop notes in its summary of 15: Circe, the same as “Bello elbows Bloom in the vulva.”

The above terminology, and the importance of using it correctly, is from one of my new favorite books, which I’ve found not surprisingly often relevant to this reading of Ulysses, Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski. The subtitle of the book is probably more for getting attention. I find the website’s description a better one: “An essential exploration of why and how women’s sexuality works—based on groundbreaking research and brain science.” Poldy and Molly could really have used this book. So could Joyce. Here’s Matisse’s take on the anatomy in Chapter 15, Circe:

matisse_circe

Back to Ulysses. Bloom gradually returns to a state of masculinity and Bello to Bella. Reality is again broached when Bella asks about the piano.

You can visit the summary at Schmoop.com and the analysis if that helps. Again, they’re not precise, but I do find them broadly helpful.

Did anyone else see Venus in Fur when it was in Minneapolis? Excerpt video here, and review here.

What did you think of this part of chapter 15?

Let’s meet here next Monday 5/18/15 to discuss the last part of chapter 15, and the chapter as a whole.

Apologies for this week’s late post. I visited my parents this weekend with my sister to help them clear out the house while they’re still alive and well, which I wrote about here. I highly recommend doing this, both getting together with the nuclear family, and going through things before one has to. We’ve all been influenced by one of my other recent favorite books, Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Too see a video where she helps a woman sort her books, go to this link at Boing Boing.

Blogging about it on Monday was perhaps an ambitious goal. I’ll adjust the schedule to Wednesday, I think, when we read David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest this summer.

Future schedule and past posts:

5/18/15 discuss and tweet 3475-end, and all of section 15
5/25/15 discuss and tweet section 16
(extra week to read the longer section 17)
6/8/15 read then discuss and tweet section 17
6/15/15 discuss and tweet section 18
6/16/15 Bloomsday!

Past posts:

Week 1: books 1 and 2
Week 2: books 3 and 4
Week 3: books 5, 6
Week 4: book 7
Week 5: book 8
Week 6: book 9
Week 7: book 10
Week 8: book 11
Week 9: book 12
Week 10: book 13
Week 11: book 14
Week 12: book 15 part 1/3

A Moment of KonMari

May 11th, 2015

My two sisters and I visited my parents to help them clear out decades of stuff. Before you ask: No one died. They’re not moving. This visit was prompted after I got my mom one of my new favorite books, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.

After reading it, my parents started to sort through the basement and attic, but soon realized they’d need to ask each of us if we wanted this or that thing that belonged to this or that relative. Our solution was to go, without partners or kids, to my parents’ house for the weekend, identify what sparked joy, and move out what didn’t.

We spent the weekend going through bags and boxes. We laughed, we cried, we recoiled in horror. And we had the great good fortune to spend a whole weekend with each other, our nuclear family, as adults.

My mother was the most reluctant participant. She has trouble letting things go. When she and had a few hours to tackle her books, we weeded four shelves, plus one cabinet (not pictured). We filled five banker boxes to donate, and by the end she was getting the hang of it.

Before:

before_konmari

What you can’t see is that the four shelves are actually double stacked, with books behind and in front. Both in front and behind, many were stacked horizontally, not vertically, so Mom could pack more in.

After:

After KonMari

There are no longer books hidden behind; all books are visible. Almost all the books are stored upright, with extra space on each shelf.

I think the biggest challenge my mom had was with books she’d bought in the past, fully intended to read, still wanted to, or felt she ’should’, but hadn’t.

I had the same problem when I went through out books. What helped me was to ask, do I feel excited to read this book? Is it something I could read now, if time and too many book groups allowed? Or, is it something I feel I ’should’ read because I bought it, or it was given to me, or I wanted to really read at one point and didn’t get around to. Giving the latter books away was a huge relief to me, and really opened up my shelves to show me the books I really wanted to read.

Have any of the rest of you tried the KonMari method?