Archive for the 'Weird Things That Bother Me' Category

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

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

Bloom's Guide Beloved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seeing Spots

Monday, September 10th, 2012

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

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

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

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

“My Sweet Audrina” by V.C. Andrews

Friday, August 17th, 2012


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



From the back cover:

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

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

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

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

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

My friend Amy felt similarly about Flowers in the Attic.

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


Thursday, August 16th, 2012

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

“Shelf Discovery” Technical Difficulties; Please Stand By

Monday, July 30th, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Telegraph Avenue” by Michael Chabon

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

Also, from the inside description:

a NorCal Middlemarch

Really? Really?!

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

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

“Go Ask Alice” by Beatrice Sparks et al.

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012


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

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

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

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

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

9/7 Last night was the bitter end

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few notes:

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

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

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

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

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

“The Best American Comics 2011″ ed. Bechdel

Friday, March 9th, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the end:

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

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

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

“Yendi” by Steven Brust

Saturday, December 24th, 2011

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

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

Brief Comics Commentary

Saturday, October 22nd, 2011

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

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

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

On Not Feeling the Love

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

A friend recently admitted to me that she doesn’t like yoga. She tried. She knew many others, including me, loved it. But she didn’t even like it, though felt a great relief at admitting it.

Herewith, a short list of things I don’t love. Guilty displeasures, perhaps? (and there are exceptions of course. But they are few.)

The Help
Life of Pi
Valet parking
Live theater
Navy blue

What things do others love that you don’t, and perhaps feel guilty about?

“Donnie Darko” (2003) and “Inside Job” (2010)

Monday, August 15th, 2011

Can you tell I’m not managing my library dvd queue well? That’s how the I’ve-never-seen-this-cult-classic Donnie Darko and Inside Job, the recent documentary on the banking collapse came in at the same time. (Along with two others, and then two others. Why do they all come in at once? I don’t think I reserved them all at once, but maybe I did. Sigh.)

Donnie Darko is the teen-angst movie of the early 00’s, reminding me strongly of Heathers. I could see falling madly in love with this film if I were younger and more disaffected. As it was, I liked Jake Gyllenhaal’s weird guy with hallucinations of a creepy guy dressed as a bunny named Frank.

I was not disaffected, that is, until after I watched Inside Job. My husband G. Grod declined to watch it, saying he knew it would anger and depress him. “But it’s supposed to be so good!” I protested, pointing out the gazillion encomiums on the cover, all from reputable sources, not dodgy ones. Matt Damon narrates this explanation of the collapse of the housing bubble and banking industry in 2008. As far as I can tell, everyone is evil, and what are viewers supposed to think if Elliott Spitzer and Dominique Strauss-Kahn are on the side of ethics? I guess this is why Dante imagined levels of hell. Faugh. Made me sick to my stomach.

While I watched it, G. went out with a friend to see Green Lantern at the cheap theater with the really good popcorn topped with real butter. He didn’t think the movie was much good, but enjoyed the popcorn, hanging out with his friend and some of the movie. Draw your own conclusion.

“Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” and “The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul” by Douglas Adams

Saturday, August 13th, 2011

Back in the 80’s, I was a fan of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy (you know, the one with four books in it?) and eagerly snapped up Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, his follow-up novel, which I enjoyed and has sat on many shelves in many domiciles over the past twenty three years. I was put reminded of Dirk when I recently re-read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, and my husband said, “Isn’t the plot of that awfully similar to that [of the Dirk Gently sequel], The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul?” And thus two more books leaped onto my to read list. I thought to myself, no big deal, they’ll be fast, run reads, I’ll enjoy them and move on.

But I didn’t enjoy them a great deal. I enjoyed them some. I laughed sometimes. But not nearly as much as I remember doing the first time I read these. And both finished up in a whirl of action just past the climax really, with no denouement and incomplete story lines.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency has chapters that alternate between a man who is murdered, another who gets blamed for it, an Electric Monk whose job is to believe things, the sister of the murdered man, and a strange, possessive entity. This is in addition to a sofa stuck in a stairway. Dirk enters the picture to figure out what’s going on, and he does, kind of, eventually. See? It sounds funny. And it was, rather. But it took me several days to work through it, and it was fine, good perhaps, but I can’t grant it much more than that.

The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul
is about Norse gods roaming the earth among us. This story alternates among Kate, who gets injured when the Norway desk at the airport blows up because the large, not-too-bright man (guess who!) loses his temper; Dirk, who’s locked in a struggle with his housekeeper over who will open the refrigerator first; and Mr. Odwin, an old man who’s enjoying a pretty cushy lifestyle at a luxe retirement home. Again, it’s funny. Again, Dirk kinda sorta figures out what’s going on, but not before some poor schlub loses his head (literally) and the ending ties up too quickly and not entirely satisfactorily. I am glad I read it, though, as Mr. Gaiman owes more than a little of the premise of American Gods to this.

(Noted by a writer on Tor, here by Nicholas Whyte, and here at The Labyrinth Library.

In all, the Dirk Gently books and I have grown apart. Is it me? Did the suck fairy get into them? Don’t know. But I can’t heartily recommend them.

Whitewashing History

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

In the current issue of Entertainment Weekly, the one that gives the film The Help an A-, there’s an opinion piece by Martha Southgate, “The Truth about the Civil Rights Era,” that summed up how I felt about the book in just a few words: “fast-paced but highly problematic” then went on to explain exactly why the book and its popularity and the imminent success of the movie bothers me so much:

The architects, visionaries, prime movers, and most of the on-the-ground laborers of the civil rights movement were African-American. Many white Americans stood beside them, and some even died beside them, but it was not their fight – and more important, it was not their idea.

Implicit in The Help and a number of other popular works that deal with the civil rights era is the notion that a white character is somehow crucial or even necessary to tell this particular tale of black liberation. What’s more, to imply that what the maids Aibileen and Minny are working against is simply a refusal on everyone’s part to believe that ”we’re all the same underneath” is to simplify the horrors of Jim Crow to a truly damaging degree.

I can’t help but notice that the people who claim that books like The Help and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks are about humanity and not about racism are not people of color. I feel if you’re not disturbed by these books, then you’re not paying attention. I also feel that the sappy happy ending of The Help allows readers to leave the story feeling that racism has been defeated and that by liking the black characters the readers are themselves above racism. As Southgate said: highly problematic.

Ta-Nehisi Coates had similar things to say in “You Left Out the Part About…” after taking his child to see X-Men: First Class. While the original X-Men comic series hinged pivotally on the racial tensions of the Civil Rights Era, the new film focuses on Nazis, not racists:

But as “First Class” roars to its final climactic scene, it appeals to an insidious suspension of disbelief; the heroic mutants of America, bravely opposing bigotry and fear, are revealed as not so much a spectrum of humankind, but as Eagle Scouts from Mayfield. Thus, “First Class” proves itself not merely an incredible film, but an incredible work of American historical fiction. Here is a period piece for our postracial times – in the era of Ella Baker and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the most powerful adversaries of spectacular apartheid are a team of enlightened white dudes.

I remember how surprised I was when I learned how the myth of Rosa Parks had been perpetuated in such a way that it diminished the Civil Rights fighters (again, nearly all of whom were African American, and were directly affected by the Jim Crow laws) in favor of reductively elevating one person’s story. We all know that Rosa was a tired seamstress at the end of the day asked to move out of the white section. Yes, she was a seamstress, and maybe she was tired, but she was in actuality asked to move from the “colored” seats for a white man. She let herself get arrested for not doing so because she and other members of the Civil Rights movement had been waiting for an opportunity to spark a major event, which was not her arrest, but rather the more-than-a-year long bus boycott by the African Americans, who surely experienced great hardship in doing so.

I’m not going to see The Help. I’m going to continue to say I don’t care for the book and why. And I’ll continue to wonder why people think we’re living in a post-racial society when smugness, ignorance and cruelty continue, whether we acknowledge them or not.

“The Red Tent” by Anita Diamant

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

I always figured, given my love for religion and literature, that I would have to read The Red Tent. I didn’t, though, because too many people I trusted told me it was a good story, but not well written. After I recently read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, a friend urged me to read this, saying there were so many similar themes and ideas that it would be worth it. And she wasn’t wrong.

The Red Tent is narrated by Dinah (DEE nah), the youngest child and only daughter of Jacob, brother of Esau, by Leah, one of his four wives. Purportedly speaking out of an oral tradition of her mothers, who told her everything, Dinah relates the history of her family from long before she was born, as well as a story from all their perspectives over time. I wondered more than once at the validity of her all-knowingness in spite of the rich oral tradition she came from; far too often she knew a lot too much.

Diamant, a journalist and scholar of Judaism, has done something here that is normally the province of sages and rabbis. She’s created a midrash, or backstory, to explain gaps in the stories of Genesis, such as why Jacob had nine children by Leah if he felt cheated in marrying her, what happened to Dinah after the tragedy described in Genesis 34, and how Joseph and his coat of many colors might fit into these histories. She richly imagines what might have been, and has crafted a popular story based on aspects of Biblical history that many aren’t familiar with, such as the polygamy and polytheism of the time, as well as the deep divisions between the sexes in societal and functional roles. Best of all, for me, was the portrayal of a women’s culture in which the feminine aspect of God had not yet been so cruelly excised from the practice of the nascent religion that Christianity would later claim as its heritage. (NB, this doesn’t necessarily work the other way. Not all practitioners of Judaism believe that Christianity was the next step in development, i.e. what Judaism would become when it “grew up.” Hence the problematic assumptions made with the widespread use of the term Judeo-Christian, used unquestioningly by Christians, and hardly ever by Jews.)

The many and detailed passages about the feminine face of God were worth the time I spent with this book. Among those named were Isis, Astarte, Asherah, the Queen of Heaven (later a name given to Mary the mother of Jesus), Taweret, Gula, Innanna and more.

What didn’t work for me, in addition to the Point of View problem I described above, is that both the writing and story were too similar to a conventional romance or bodice ripper. Numerous passages detailed a romanticized physical appearance of the characters:

Rachel’s beauty was rare and arresting. Her brown hair shaded to bronze, and her skin was golden, honeyed, perfect. In that amber setting, her eyes were surprisingly dark, not merely dark brown but black as polished obsidian or the depth of a well. Although she was small-boned and, even when she was with child, small-breasted, she had muscular hands and a husky voice that seemed to belong to a much larger woman. (8, 9)

[Leah] was not only tall but shapely and strong. She was blessed with full, high breasts and muscular calves that showed to good advantage in robes that somehow never stayed closed at the hem. She had forearms like a young man’s but her walk with that of a woman with promising hips. (12)

I turned to Judah and realized that my brother’s body had begun to take the shape of a man, his arms well muscled, his legs showing hair. He was the handsomest of all my brothers. This teeth were perfect, white and small (114)

or descriptions of their love making, which I will spare you. So, as I suspected, the book was a mixed bag. I know it’s beloved by many, so my ambivalence about it will not endear me to them, but it did illuminate aspects of the society in Handmaid’s Tale, as well as the history of the feminine aspect of god. For those at least, I’m glad I read it.

My Neil Gaiman Story

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

or, How Neil Gaiman Depedestalized Himself. I find it hard believe I haven’t written this story before. If I have, I can’t find it, so here it is.

Neil Gaiman’s Sandman was one of my gateway comics, way back in 1990. A boyfriend urged it on me along with some of the usuals, like The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen. But Sandman–with its literary references, magic, horror and mystery–was really what hooked me. I started reading during the Season of Mists story line, which is still one of my favorites. I became a geek girl, devouring old series (Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing and V for Vendetta, Baron and Rude’s Nexus, Morrison’s Animal Man and Doom Patrol), showing up at my comic shop on Wednesdays for new comics, and appreciating the attention I received there as a not unattractive female of the species.

Sometime in the early 90’s, Gaiman scheduled a signing at my then comic shop, Fat Jack’s Comicrypt on 19th Street in Philadelphia. I planned carefully for the event. I picked out my favorite outfit, and selected my three items to have signed. I wanted to convey that I was better than the average fan, so I didn’t want to only take recent stuff. After nerdishly obsessing for far too long, I selected the first graphic novel collection of Sandman, Preludes and Nocturnes; issue 19, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream“, which I liked so much I’d bought the individual issue even though I had it collected in Dream Country; and Black Orchid, an obscure DC universe character he’d resurrected in a beautifully painted story by Dave McKean.

I pondered the questions I would ask him. They had to be things I was really curious about, plus that would display how cool I was. The fantasy scenario in my mind was pretty clear. My cuteness, smart questions and interesting signing picks would single me out of the crowd. Neil (of course I was thinking of him on a first-name basis) would ask me to join him and his team for dinner that night. And the obvious would happen: we would become friends. Interestingly, this was strictly a platonic fantasy. He seemed much too old for me, more like a young uncle than a potential love interest. Anyway, he was married and I had a boyfriend, and it just wasn’t on my mind.

The day arrived; I left work early. I found a parking spot on the street just a few blocks from the store. I loaded the meter with quarters, and prepared to meet my destiny. (Sandman pun not intended.) The line, when I arrived, was nearly out the door. I thought I was lucky to be inside, but soon realized the tradeoff. It was a warm summer day outside, and positively stifling inside. Many in line were not conscientious about personal hygiene. The line moved slowly. The grey cat atop the back issue boxes surveyed us all with disdain. Sweat trickled down my back and from under my arms. My hair expanded to a gigantic frizzy triangle. The books I clutched had damp handprints on them. Gaiman and his assistant took a break near the end of the hour I’d thought would be more than sufficient on my meter, and the time approached for the class I had that night. I was not near the front of the line. I asked the guys in front of and behind me in line if they’d save my space, overcoming a flash of grade-school embarrassment. The guy behind me looked annoyed and merely nodded. I had to wade through the crowd to the register to get more quarters. Once outside, I breathed in the relatively fresh air. If you’ve ever been on a street in summer in downtown Philly, you know the steaming, fug-spewing grates on most corners. Still, it compared favorably to the inside of the comic shop. I ran the blocks to my car, plugged the expired meter, and raced back. The line had barely moved. The guy who’d been behind me glared, and didn’t make room for me in line. I glared back, put my shoulder down, and wedged my way back in. Time passed. Gaiman chatted equably with those at the head of the line. The rest of us shuffled forward. The additional hour on my meter ticked down. My class was about to begin. Finally, oh, finally, I reached the head of the line.

“Let’s take a break, get a sandwich, shall we?” said Gaiman’s assistant.

“No!” I cried, desperate and without shame.

Gaiman, his assistant, and the comic-shop guy looked at me as if I’d sprouted a head.

“Please,” I added in what I hoped was a more reasonable tone of voice. “My meter’s about to expire and I have a class I have to get to. Can you please sign these before your break?” In other words, I begged.

Gaiman shrugged and held out his hands for the books; the assistant rolled her eyes and asked him what he’d like to eat. He scribbled a signature in my book without looking to see what it was. I waited for him to answer her so I could ask my questions.

“Are we going to find out how Delight became Delirium?” I said.

He didn’t look up from the book he was signing. “Someone else is going to do that.”

Daunted but determined, I forged ahead, “Is the next issue of Miracleman coming soon?”

“Dunno,” he shrugged, sweeping his Sharpie across the inside of my last book. He pushed the books across the table without looking at me, then stood and walked away. Crushed and disappointed, I slunk out of the store.

My fangirl dreams died that day. Most likely a good thing. Neil Gaiman was a man, not a god like Dream, even though he _was_ English.

Later, when I gained a little perspective, I was able to muster some empathy for him. If the store was miserable for me, at least I could stand quietly in line; he had to be nice to everyone. And I heard he was there for hours after I left in that cramped, airless store. While he was distracted and dismissive at my questions, he was also in the midst of a legal battle over Miracleman, and was likely pretty peeved over the whole affair. It’s easy to imagine that the signing was at least as miserable for him as it was for me. From then on, I could be what I imagined a normal fan. I think of him by his last, not his first, name. I’m appreciative of what I like, disappointed in what I don’t, and interested to see what came next.

I think I’ve been to two readings he’s given since then. At neither did I bother with the line.

“One Day” by David Nicholls

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

I didn’t feel the love for One Day that critics did. It’s covered with amatory blurbs. I read it for one of my book groups, Books and Bars, and probably would have put it down.

The conceit is descriptions of only one day per year of the two main characters, Emma and Dexter, whom we meet in bed the morning after they finish university. Emma is a brainy feminist idealist. Dexter is a handsome lazy guy from a wealthy family who develops a drinking problem. Since the book starts with them in bed, it ostensibly avoids some of the “will they or won’t they,” yet it doesn’t. That tension underlies most of the book, and I didn’t find it that compelling, mostly because I didn’t care for the main characters. I am fine with unlikeable characters, but only if they are complex. Emma and Dexter were unlikeable because they were uninteresting to me, each a pastiche of unsurprising stock traits.

There is a major twist toward the end, and I feel the book picked up a bit after that, if only because there was finally some character development, but it was too little, too late for me. I leaked a few grudging tears at the end, so wasn’t unmoved, but became annoyed with it again as I tried to find illustrative quotes, and have given up. Not for me, but it did inspire a good book discussion, even if many of us left without figuring out why others loved the book.

Next up: Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold (aka Mr. Alice Sebold.)

Against Small Talk and Platitudes

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Oh, first-time parents. I don’t know whether to ruefully smile at your naivete, or smack you upside the head. This morning I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation of a first-time mom and a friend of hers. They were sitting next to me at the coffee shop, conversing at normal, overhearable volume. It took a considerable amount of self control for me not to interrupt them. Their topics were the kind of ignorant platitiudes that drive me up the wall. (Hence this rant.)

1. Kids are going to get sick sometime, so even if they’re babies, they’re just building up immunity.

Why this is ignorant: while technically true, it fails to take into account that babies are smaller and more vulnerable physically than bigger kids. Their lungs are smaller, and ear tubes shorter. The older a kids are when they get sick, the better their bodies will handle it, barring extenuating circumstances. I.e., if a baby and an older kid who get sick at the same time, all other things being equal, the baby will get sicker, and for longer. For example, if a baby gets a cold, it often leads to an ear infection that won’t clear up on its own. A bigger kid might just get the cold, no complications. Also, if your baby gets a cold now, its immune system is depressed, and less able to fight off additional exposure to viruses in the short term. This situation is exacerbated in winter by more exposure to people and less exposure to sunshine (vitamin D) and fresh, copious amounts of air.

My interpretation: no need to be paranoid, but take reasonable precautions to prevent your baby from getting sick. Don’t let a sick person hold them, or at least without washing hands. Don’t take your baby around other kids who are drippy and sneezy. And for all kids, respect guidelines like keeping kids home 24 hours after fevers or vomiting.

2. “You know where your baby is in the bed.” I’ve found this vague defense of bed sharing is ALWAYS voiced in the second person, and followed by a variation on “the only cases where kids are rolled on is when someone is obese, drunk, or both.

Why this is ignorant: _I_ had an experience where I did not know where my baby was in the bed. My elder son was a challenging baby. He cried a lot and slept very little, in spite of swaddling, frequent holding, co-sleeping, and other platitudinal solutions. I was sleep deprived and not recovering properly from the birth. In desperation one night, I took him out of the co-sleeper bassinet, nursed him till he fell asleep on my chest (I was on my back) and fell asleep myself. My husband came in a short while later and woke me. I’d rolled over. My son was no longer on my chest or in the vast expanse of bed in the middle. He was between me and the edge of the bed, face down over the small crevice where the edge of the bed met the co-sleeper. Had the co-sleeper not been there he would have been on the floor. Asleep, _I_ had no idea where my kid was in the bed. I was not obese, or drunk. So taking a baby into bed was not for me, and I didn’t do it again. WARNING. SUPER SAD STORY AHEAD. STOP READING IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW. A former co-worker of mine took a nap with her new baby. Not obese and not drunk. Woke and the baby was dead, either through SIDS or suffocation. The mother killed herself soon after. (Maybe after hearing someone say “oh, you know where your baby is in the bed.”)

My interpretation: Throughout history, lots of people have bed shared with infants with no ill results. But some babies have died from it–parents drunk, obese or not–and not every single person “knows” where a baby is in the bed, especially when sleep deprived with a newborn. Your experience is not someone else’s, and it’s not a thoroughly researched double-blind study with zero casualties. Sharing the bed with my baby wasn’t for me. Maybe it is for you, but use the first person and don’t generalize.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure I’ve said these things. I’m not immune to small talking; I probably still say things like them. BUT. I have learned that just because I can’t imagine something doesn’t mean it isn’t true for others. Rather, it’s a failure of imagination and lack of experience on my part.

Four Graphic Novels

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

I’ll try to briefly wrap up last year’s reading.

Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography
by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon. How could a version of Anne’s story not move me? I was dry eyed at the end of this “graphic biography” with stiff, photo-based art and few new additions to the story, while condensing the rest to a bare personal and historical summary. This might be a good way to introduce a young reader to Anne’s story if they were daunted by her diary, but it is a poor substitute for that great book. I feel like a complete crank for not liking this book, but please seek out Anne’s diary or Francine Prose’s book on it instead.

Richard Stark’s Parker Book Two: The Outfit
by Darwyn Cooke. The shades of black and blue suit the noir tale perfectly. Cooke’s second adapation of Stark’s Parker books is a well-told and illustrated tale. Parker is a definite anti-hero, and though his and the other characters’ attitudes to women are abominably of their time and genre, it’s hard not to root for him. Also, this book is printed on heavy paper, with thick end pages of a mod design. It’s a lovely object.

Ex Machina volumes 9 and 10: Ring out the Old and Term Limits, by Bryan K. Vaughan and Tony Harris. I’ve felt ambivalent about this series for a while, and hoped that the creators could bring it to a satisfying close. They brought it to a close, but one that left me in a bad mood. The series is about Mitchell Hundred, a reluctant superhero who saved many on 9/11, and was subsequently elected mayor. The last two volumes of the series find him deciding not to run again, and attempting to finish out his term while also battling the friends and enemies working against him since the start of the series.

Some questions I had were unanswered, they made a long-suffering character suffer too much, in my opinion, and the meaning of the ending seemed too simple, and not even fitting for the series. Bah. These bridged the end of the year and the new beginning, and I hope 2011 will bring more auspicious reading. If you want a good series that ends with integrity, I highly recommend Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.


Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Yesterday’s blog post was supposed to be about making time to write. You’ll notice that it didn’t appear, as it hasn’t yet been written.

Instead, my husband asked yesterday if I’d make cookies so he could participate in his friends’ cookie swap at work. So I’ve been nerdishly finding recipes, making trips to _3_ different stores (though all were part of 2 combined trips for other things.) And not writing. (This doesn’t count. This is thinking “aloud.”)

Anyone care to wager how many of five recipes I’ll end up making? Here’s the pie-in-the-sky (or rather, cookies-in-the-sky) list: Metropolitan millet muffins (which I wrote about before but am not going back to find the link for; sorry! See–not writing; thinking aloud.) 2 types of cake-mix cookie (to compare, of course), red velvet whoopie pies, buckeyes and mint thumbprints. Also prepping to take a meal to a sick friend for tomorrow.

So, writing? Not so much. Also, please feel free to leave comments, as many of you do. I’m getting SLAMMED with spam lately, so approving (or not) comments has gotten discouraging.