Archive for the 'Weird Things That Bother Me' Category

On New Translations

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

I recently finished reading the newest translation of Madame Bovary. A Julian Barnes article on translation made me wonder at the recent hype, and this piece on translated works at articulated the question that had been nagging at me:

We have been imbibing “Bovary,’’ “Zhivago,’’ “War and Peace,’’ and a host of other classics quite peaceably for decades. Is it possible that the lust for lucre, rather than the luster of literary merit, drives this rush to push new/old product onto the shelves?

Certainly the “new!” aspect of it makes it seem more desirable, and gets more press. But I’m now suspicious, and wondering if I haven’t been duped. Link from Blog of a Bookslut.

Another (Mis)Adventure at the Home Spa

Friday, November 12th, 2010

Spa treatments–lovely, but costly and time consuming. Just not possible, lately. I’ve often attempted to duplicate services at home, with varying results. I do a pretty good mani/pedi. However there was that time I added baking soda to my shampoo, and somehow got ammonia. There was the time I tried a salt scrub, but the salt was too coarse and wouldn’t dissolve and hurt to step on in the shower. Or the time I mixed brown sugar and olive oil to make a body scrub and the shower was so slippery I nearly fell and had to immediately wash it. Or when I tried Sally Hansen’s Airbrush Legs and turned the shower orange and immediately had to wash it.

Upon consideration, my misses outnumber my hits.

In spite of that, I keep trying. Last week’s experiment was a scalp scrub combining brown sugar and heavy cream. It felt great and I was smug, till my hair dried and I wondered what that bad smell was–my hair smelled like soured cream. Then Guppy got sick and barfed everywhere and I had a hard time distinguishing between the smell of barf and the smell of my hair. I tried to wash it out. Once didn’t do it; I think the smell was embedded in my scalp. I did a double shampoo this morning, (normally verboten on the Curly Girl care regimen, but desperate times, and all. Plus, I got the idea for the heavy cream from Curly Girl! Fail! Fail!) and I’m still not convinced it’s gone.

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

“Dragonflight” by Anne McCaffrey

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Yes, I just re-read Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey, one of my favorite books from girlhood. But I had a good reason. Really.

Books and Bars is reading Lev Grossman’s The Magicians for July. (And he’s reading at Barnes & Noble Har Mar tomorrow night.) It’s about a guy who still re-reads and loves a Narnia-like fantasy series from his childhood, so a woman who’d read it already suggested going back to a book we’d loved and wished were real when we were young. I chose Dragonflight, because it was the one I wished most fervently was real, and the one whose heroine I envied.

I used to own most of the Pern books, but have gotten rid of all but this one, since the last time I re-read them was probably in my early 20’s, or two decades ago. I was worried about revisiting a book I had such a strong affection for, and that made such a huge impression on me at the time (pun not intended)–it was a gateway book into sci-fi and fantasy for me. When I started reading, my affection was right where I’d left it. For better or worse, though, I could not silence my consciousness, far more critical and discerning that that of my younger self.

The back-of-book description is utter rubbish, so I’ll do a broad-strokes summary, though I imagine more than one of you is geeky enough to have read the Pern books, too. Pern is a colonized but abandoned world, with a largely medieval/agrarian culture. Lessa is a former noble who went into hiding as a girl when her family was slaughtered by an invader. She bides her time waiting for revenge and to claim her birthright, and thinks the time has come when a group of dragonmen come on “Search.” The old queen dragon has laid a golden, queen egg, and the men, led by bronze rider F’lar, are looking for intelligent, powerful women candidates to “impress” the new queen. Impression is a psychic link made between person and dragon at the time of hatching that lasts till one of them dies. Lessa, rather than regaining her birthright, goes back with the dragonfolk and *gasp* impresses the new queen, who is the great hope of the dragonriders to revitalize the dragons, who protect the planet from a rain of deadly spores (”threads”) that takes place every two hundred years or so. Few believe the threads are real. F’lar and Lessa do, though. Will the threads reappear? Will Lessa and F’lar triumph over them?

This was heady stuff for me as a teen. Lessa had telepathic powers, plus a psychic dragon. She also got handsome F’lar. The book was sort of the next progression from horse books for me (dragons being just bigger, psychic creatures than horses), plus with “romance” (not really that romantic, as I discovered this time around) and sex. (When the dragons go into heat, so do their humans.) I very much wanted to be Lessa, with psychic powers, a dragon and a tall, dark, handsome man.

With all due respect for its age (same as mine–1968),there was a lot of disturbing, disappointing stuff in there. Lessa is supposed to be a strong female heroine, yet she is both a virgin and unknowing when her dragon goes into heat, and she ends up having sex for the first time with a dragonrider. Further, that dragonrider was having sex with others, won’t share his affection for her, only his frustration, often shakes her physically, and notes that without the dragons involved, their sharing a bed “might as well be rape.” Well, if the shoe fits, and all, then maybe it is.

During the book, Lessa has only one conversation with another woman (unless you count her dragon, and I don’t), and it’s about home economics, so hardly forward-thinking stuff. Women play a subordinate, domestic role in society, and the men are portrayed as polygamous. And while Lessa and F’lar are perhaps almost three dimensional, none of the other characters are. The women are either matrons or sluts, and the men are either loyal or stupid.

Re-reading this book was a curious mix of old joy and current discomfort. I loved this book when I was a geeky, hormonal teen, but find it problematic today. I probably would not recommend it to anyone, much less a young girl, who deserves a book with a strong female character who is friends with other strong female characters, and not subject to the physical and psychological manipulation of men.

I’m having a hard time thinking of a YA or YA fantasy book that has this, though. Even ones that are better about the psycho-sexual relations between the sexes (or within one) usually have the young girl as a loner, and not friends with anyone with whom she talks about things other than boys. What books am I forgetting here, readers?

8 of 15: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer: v. 6 Retreat”

Saturday, April 24th, 2010

For those reading along in the 15/15/15 project, the 8th book means we’re more than halfway there! My 8th book was a huge disappointment. It’s the 6th graphic novel collection, Retreat, of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic book series, which has been written sometimes, and overseen always, by Joss Whedon, who referred to it as season 8.

I’ve tried hard to like it, and to find the good things about this series, because I have a huge affection for the Buffy television series, even if I thought seasons 6 and 7 were poorly executed (barring “Once More with Feeling”, the notable exception).

The comic-book series posits that there is now an army of slayers, spread around the world, training in unison against the forces of darkness. There’s also a big bad, named Twilight, who’s gunning for Buffy and her army of slayers. In “Retreat” the Twilight army keeps getting closer because they can track magic and power. Buffy and the Scooby gang head to Tibet to look up an old friend who might have something to say about using less magic and less power.

Penned by Jane Espenson, a Buffy scribe from the later seasons, this story was a mess. The humor was infrequent and unfunny. The art was hard to read; I often couldn’t tell which character was which, and if it wasn’t a close-up, the details were, literally, sketchy. The threats weren’t threatening, the relationships didn’t have depth, and while it ended on a mysterious cliff hanger, the bottom of the page had the audacity to read “The End”. I don’t care to find out what happens next. I’ll leave the character of Buffy in mid air (really) and be done with this series.

Costs of Faking It

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Via The Morning News, two articles about the dangers of faking it.

One, purchasing knockoff brands increases lying.

Two, Botox interferes with facial expressions, and can make a person slower to empathize, thus alienating others. (Hello, Oprah. Isn’t your empire founded on empathy?)

“The Help” by Kathryn Stockett

Friday, March 12th, 2010

Kathryn Stockett’s The Help is one of those word-of-mouth bestsellers, that women friends recommend to their friends, then all the book groups are reading it, when it’s still in hardcover, no less. Doing so well, in fact, that the publisher is delaying the paperback. Other books that have had similar trajectories are Sarah Gruen’s Water for Elephants, and The Guernsey Literary and Potato-Peel Pie Society (which I quite enjoyed).

Don’t consult the cover if you want to know what it’s about; for that, see the UK version, deemed too controversial for American audiences. Set in Jackson, Mississippi during the early 60’s, chapters alternate first-person point of view between two domestic servants of white families, Aibileen and Minnie, and Skeeter, a white-woman friend of their employers. Reading this book made me profoundly uncomfortable. Not only does Stockett, a white woman raised by a domestic in the South, write from the first person, but she chooses to write in dialect for the black characters, but not for the white ones.

Mae Mobley was born on a early Sunday morning in August, 1960. A church baby we like to call it. Taking care a white babies, that’s what I do, along with all the cooking and the cleaning. I done raised seventeen kids in my lifetime. I know how to get them babies to sleep, stop crying, and go in the toilet bowl before they mamas even get out a bed in the morning.

Stockett faces the same dilemma as her fictional counterpart, Skeeter, who interviews the maids in her town to detail the many injustices and cruelties of institutional racism in a southern US city. Stockett’s intention is good; she’s trying to conscientiously give voice to those who didn’t have it, and at the same time educate readers on the countless horrifying particulars of life during the time of Jim Crow laws. Her book is good. It’s a readable tale of a group of women who love and support one another, and who fight for justice in a violent and vicious environment.

In the end, though, there were few, if any, surprises for me. The plots unfolded predictably. Several of the mysteries, like Minnie’s “Terrible Awful,” the fate of Skeeter’s caregiver Constantine, and the secret of Minnie’s new boss, Miss Celia, were easy to guess, and were strung out so long they lost their power to shock, as they were meant to. Most of the characters were caricatures of ones I’ve seen too many times. Aibileen is the loving mammy. Minnie is the sassy maid. Her husband is the drunk wife beater. Miss Celia is the white-trash hottie who married up and whom all the other women envy. Skeeter is the conscience of the town. Her childhood friend, Hilly, is the villain.

Stockett does a decent job of making her white characters, like Hilly and Aibileen’s boss, Elizabeth, complex. Hilly is racist, yet she loves her children. Elizabeth neglects her daughter, yet lives in fear of Hilly and is in turn neglected by her husband. But the black characters for the most part are two-dimensional–all good, all hard working, all persecuted by their white employers.

I wish Stockett would have constructed her book and conveyed the truths within in a way that didn’t trespass so blatantly on the lesser social status of her subjects by trying to speak in their voices. In the book, Skeeter edits the maids’ stories, she doesn’t write them. Perhaps if the entire book had been in third person, or if the maids’ sections had been, that might have troubled me less. Especially since Stockett chose to put one central chapter in the third person, without dialect, and it worked well.

This is a complicated book to talk about. It’s a good story, capably written, with many sympathetic characters. But it’s also manipulative, simplistic, and perhaps enacts vestiges of the racism the author purports to expose. I know many people loved it, but I definitely didn’t. I doubt I’d even recommend it.

See this discussion at Amazon for more from people who have problems with this book.

2010 Tournament of Books is here!

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

At The Morning News, they’ve published the short list of 16 novels for the literary March Madness Tournament of books.

The Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood
The Anthologist, by Nicholson Baker
Fever Chart, by Bill Cotter
Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth, by Apostolos Doxiadis
The Book of Night Women, by Marlon James
The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver
Big Machine, by Victor Lavalle
Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann
Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
A Gate at the Stairs, by Lorrie Moore
Miles from Nowhere, by Nami Mun
That Old Cape Magic, by Richard Russo
Burnt Shadows, by Kamila Shamsie
The Help, by Kathryn Stockett
Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, by Wells Tower
Lowboy, by John Wray

The long list had some puzzling exclusions, like Jeff in Venice; Death in Vanasi, and In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, both of which were on my to-read list from last year. The jump from long to short has me puzzled as well. I’m disappointed these didn’t make the cut: Await Your Reply, Dan Chaon, Trouble, Kate Christensen, The Believers, Zoe Heller, Chronic City, Jonathan Lethem, The City & The City, China Mieville, Lark and Termite, Jayne Anne Phillips, This Is Where I Leave You, Jonathan Tropper, and The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters. All these sounded promising to me when they came out last year.

Further, I’m stymied by the inclusion of these: Fever Chart, Bill Cotter, The Book of Night Women, Marlon James, Miles from Nowhere, Nami Mun, and Burnt Shadows, Kamila Shamsie. These, over the ones in the previous paragraph?

Finally, I’m not thrilled to see either Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs or Russo’s That Old Cape Magic. Neither are supposed to be the writer at the top of her/his game, so I can’t get excited to read them.

That said, I AM excited to try and read as many as I can of these, all of which I’ve heard good things about: The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker, Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis, The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, Big Machine by Victor Lavalle, Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (also a selection of Books and Bars), Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (which lit friends Amy R and Kate F both liked), The Help by Kathryn Stockett, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower, and Lowboy by John Wray.

I’m off to put some books in my queue at the library. Who’s going to be joining the fray?

“The Muppet Movie” (1979)

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

I feel like a heretic writing this, but the original Muppet Movie kinda creeped me out on a recent re-watching with my kids. “Rainbow Connection!” “Movin’ Right Along!” What could go wrong?

For starters, the villain of the film is Charles Durning’s Doc Hopper, who owns a chain of frog-leg restaurants. When he fails to convince Kermit to shill for him, Doc Hopper goes on a cross-country chase, hiring goons with guns and even a frog assassin with a deadly trident. An additional overlong scene with Mel Brooks as an evil Nazi-ish scientist trying to melt Kermit’s brain was similarly disturbing.

Add in the annoying, feminist’s nightmare of Miss Piggy, along with Gonzo’s good-time chicken Camilla, a host of celebrity cameos that weren’t funny, and WAY too many awkward scenes of Muppets walking, and that’s it for me, even with a gargantuan closing scene featuring all the Muppets, ever. (According to IMDB’s trivia, both Tim Burton and John Landis were in that crowd.) This was the first Muppet project to take place in the real world, and it didn’t work. I won’t watch it again, though I’m happy to view the collections of The Muppet Show and read the excellent new comic by Boom Studios with my kids, 6 and 3yo.

“Daredevil: Return of the King” by Ed Brubaker

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

I’d nearly given up on the Daredevil series a while back, thoroughly fed up with many things, but especially the character of Milla, who the creators seemed to think was an interesting, compelling story element, rather than a whiny, clingy, bore. I was tempted back, though, by the latest collection Return of the King as it’s the last that the creative team of Brubaker, Lark and Aja are doing.

I always enjoy Lark’s art, and Brubaker is one of my favorite writers in comics these days with his work on Criminal. Still, there were a lot of elements I felt I’d been through too many times before: the Kingpin is back! Is he good or bad? Evil ninjas! Foggy and Daredevil’s girl in danger! And finally, something that’s become kind of an unfortunate hallmark of Brubaker’s run on the series: Matt Murdoch acts like a complete and utter a-hole!

The familiar story elements made me appreciate how DC has turned the Batman franchise on its head, with Bruce Wayne out of the picture, Richard Grayson in the batsuit and Wayne’s illegitimate son as Robin. These series are so old, that everything HAD been done before, and the only way to really take a new direction is to do it radically and not by halves. Brubaker’s run did have some solid elements, like Murdoch’s stay in Ryker’s. But the obsessive focus on the drippy Milla along with Murdoch’s nasty side made it hard for me to like.

Return of the King, though, was pretty good. It has the familiar elements, but it nicely ties up a lot of characters and themes from Brubaker’s run, like the Owl and Milla. And it leaves Murdoch in a very interesting place for the next team to start from. It’s not a good place to start the series (for that go back to Frank Miller’s Born Again) but for any fans who’d left during the run, it’s a good reminder that series ebb and flow, and that Daredevil, the character or the series, isn’t a lost cause.

“League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier”

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

Earlier this year when League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: 1910 came out, I realized I’d missed The Black Dossier. After reading it, I can’t discount that I may have skipped it on purpose. Alan Moore’s fore story, illustrated in lavish detail by Kevin O’Neill, is nearly swamped by the profusion of back story. All have merit, and some of this is wildly enjoyable, but still, it was a bumpy read.

Mina Murray (fka Mina Harker, of Dracula) and Allan Quatermain (he of King Solomon’s Mines, not Port Charles), former secret agents of the crown, are back in Britain after a protracted stay in the Americas, in which they avoided the Big Brother regime back home. As before, Moore plays fast (but not loose) with British historical fiction and pop culture, and references in this one include James Bond, The Avengers, Woolf’s Orlando, Orwell’s 1984, Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster series, and more. Murray and Quatermain seek the black dossier of the title, which fills them (and the reader) in on what they and their colleagues like Fanny Hill and Orlando, have been up to for literally ages.

In what I found an unfortunate choice, the dossier is included in its entirety, albeit in chunks that alternate with Murray and her beau getting chased, beat up and shot at all over England and its environs. The dossier material is often in single spaced small type and while illustrated, it’s not really in comic-book format as is the main story. I found the frequent switches in narrative disruptive, distracting, and worse, unnecessary. I didn’t need six pages of the adventures of Fanny Hill, eighteen on Orlando, three by Bertie Wooster, or five by a Kerouac-ian beat poet. I wished many times that Moore and his editors had chosen instead to excerpt the dossier. Small doses of the fictional history would have worked as well, or even better. Then the book could have had a “director’s cut” that included all of Moore’s back matter for those, unlike me, who want it. Shorter excerpts would have gotten the same info across, still been as clever, given the reader more credit, plus not exhausted, annoyed and sometimes bored this one.

Page count total is about even. 98 pages of fore-story, and 93 pages of back. Given the density of the back matter, it felt far longer than what it was purported to support. Plus, much of it had been alluded to or flat out recorded already in the extensive back matter in LoEG v. 2.

As with the other LoEG books, Jess Nevins has done extensive footnoting of Moore’s nigh-endless references. Unfortunately, the notes for Black Dossier are no longerat his site, but at Comic Book Resources, and in a book called Impossible Territories. Trouble is, for me, these are interesting, but like adding insult to injury. Part of the fun of Moore’s work is getting the references I can and knowing I’m missing some but not worrying over it. Really, though, what I’d prefer would be a “Previously on” segment that covers the basics, rather than pages of single spaced small type that makes me hunt for things like why Mina is not aging and Allan is young again (they bathed in the same pool of immortality in Africa that Orlando had done). Some details are listed at Wikipedia. Others are at this review at Comics Bulletin.

If I feel up to it, I might compile my own. I need to rest up a bit before I do so, though. Here are a few notes: Jimmy is James Bond, recently returned from Jamaica where he confronted Dr. No. Emma Night will become Emma Peel. Her godfather, Hugo Drummond, was a character in a series of English noir novels. Familiarity with 1984 and The Tempest would be helpful.

ETA: one of the reviewers remarked that Moore’s use of alternate formats to tell the story/stories is very like what he did in Watchmen. It is, yet I found it much less effective here. That was a masterwork, and one with far reaching implications both in story and in the political context of the time in which it was published. The LoEG series, to me, is supposed to be a lark–adventure stories like the ones it’s drawn from. The at-times ponderous alternate material doesn’t suit the type of story, IMO.

No More Book-Buy Bemoaning

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

Regular readers know, I have a LOT of unread books. I write about them often. I read them less often. I fret and make vows, then break them, and fret some more after the book-buy buzz has worn off. I don’t think I’m alone. A reader suggested recently that I made a from-the-shelves challenge. I got inspired, so here are two related shelf challenges for the new year.

Who’s with me? Ideas? Suggestions? If you think these sound good, spread the word to the book-blogging community, and I’ll firm up details to launch at the new year.

2010 Balance the Books Challenge

I buy and borrow new books more often than I read books on my shelf. Often, the newly purchased books gather dust, and become old books. Next year, in 2010, I want to balance my reading. For the year, I’d like to read a third new books, a third borrowed books, and a third books from my shelf, whether first or re-reads.

I hope to get a color chart to track the progress with red/yellow/blue for each category. My ideal is to read as many shelf books as I borrow or buy new. I’ll do a post on or about the end of each month so readers can post progress reports.

Clear The Shelves Challenge (2010 and Beyond!)

In an effort to chip away at the nearly 200 books I own but haven’t read (and want to!), I challenge other readers to read at least 25 books a year that have been on your shelf for over a year. I’ll do quarterly posts for readers to post progress reports. At the end of the year, we could chip in for a gift certificate for the reader with the most shelf books read.

Oo-oo, That Smell

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

This weekend, my husband G. Grod took 6yo Drake and 3yo Guppy on a trip to Byerly’s, a local upscale grocery store. Inside, Drake complained it smelled bad and his stomach hurt. On the drive home, G. looked in the rear-view mirror. Drake turned pale, then threw up his breakfast.

Once home, a parental debate ensued. Was it a virus? His reaction to low blood sugar after mostly skipping supper the night before? The smell of the store? G. wasn’t sure about the third theory, but I think it might have been a combination of the latter two. I too have a sensitive schnoz, and Drake seems to have inherited it. Here are a things that make me feel as if I might lose my breakfast:

1. Scented laundry detergent, which I can smell as I walk by a house from their vent.
2. The smell of fried scrapple, which G. found at Byerly’s and cooked this morning for brekkie.
3. Most scented candles.
4. The smell of a Subway sandwich shop.
5. The smell of whatever onion dish they were making in my grocery coop’s deli last weekend.

Confronted with these, I breathe through my mouth. Perhaps that’s why I lose my breakfast less often than Drake does.

Weddings as Warnings in “Jennifer Johnson is Sick of Being Single”

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Once upon a time, I dated a smart, dark-haired computer guy. We got engaged, set a date. I bought a dress and planned a ceremony and reception. As the wedding date approached, the relationship got worse. He said if I didn’t convert to Judaism, he wouldn’t go through with it. If I didn’t agree to having a kid right away, it was a deal breaker. He asked me to lie to my employer and say I wasn’t leaving after I was accepted to grad school. We fought. We said mean things. We cried and yelled a lot. Things got so bad he moved out and we postponed the wedding. Then, a surprising thing happened.

People kept asking us when we were moving back in. People kept asking if we’d set a new date. Not one person asked how we were doing, or if we needed help, or if canceling the date had maybe been a sign. Everyone knew things had been rocky, though not the extent or the details. The only person who didn’t encourage us to move ahead with the wedding was my psychotherapist, who waited patiently for me to figure things out on my own. It took me a few months, but I did. The relationship was over, only no one wanted to acknowledge it. Not him, not me, not family or friends. Instead of noticing the disintegrating relationship, everyone obsessed about the wedding.

I thought about my “postponed” wedding a lot last week as I read Heather McElhatton’s clever and surprising Jennifer Johnson is Sick of Being Single. Jennifer is single and miserable. Her sister and her ex are getting married, both on Valentine’s Day, to twist the knife a little deeper. She’s in an unfulfilling cubicle job, and the only dates she gets are so bad they’re almost surreal. Then she meets Brad–handsome, rich Brad, who asks her out. And keeps asking her out. As their relationship unfolds, it’s not great, but not entirely terrible, either. But the hope of a pretty, shiny wedding is very alluring to Jennifer, as well as to her family, Brad’s family and co-workers. The pressure for their relationship to succeed is tremendous. As many couples would, Jennifer and Brad begin to buckle beneath the weight of all those expectations.

McElhatton does an exceptional job of skewering the soap bubble that is the wedding dream. She unveils the process for what it is: a machine-like industry, meant for couples to go in, get bounced about and homogenized, then sent out into marriage with nary a clue. The book wonders, again and again, what happens when people get what they think they want. Weddings are just one example of how characters in the book distract themselves from the realities and unpleasantries of everyday life.

The book recalled my fumbled first wedding attempt all those years ago (more than fourteen, now.) I was in a flawed relationship; planning the wedding created more pressure than it could bear. The wedding, its details and particularly its fripperies, were like anesthesia. They were distractions from the relationship, rather than accessories to celebrate it. Once I realized that, I was done. I broke the engagement and ended the relationship. He moved out and away, and I moved on.

A few months later, I met a cute, smart, dark-haired guy into computers. We dated. We got engaged. We got married. We moved to Minnesota. Several years after that, when I combined our comic book collections, he said he finally felt like maybe he wasn’t just the rebound guy. (NB: I organized the comics AFTER we had our first child.) My second engagement, and the second wedding I planned, were very different from the first time around. This time, I knew to focus on the relationship, not the wedding. McElhatton, in Jennifer Johnson is Sick of Being Single, advocates the same thing. In an interview with The Onion AV Club, she said:

This book is a sleeper cell. I know it’s going to end up on the chick lit tables. I know it’s going to be packaged that way. I’m slipping one in there. I’m really hoping this breaks up some weddings.

It might sound mean spirited, but speaking from experience, I think she’s onto something. Had I gone through with the first wedding, I doubt the marriage would have lasted very long. This weekend, my husband and I will celebrate 11 years of being married. I’m glad I got it right the second time.

The Occult in “Andromeda Klein”

Friday, September 25th, 2009

Frank Portman, author of Andromeda Klein (which I reviewed here) in an interview at Gothamist:

I just found out today that one of my school visits here (in Portland) was canceled because of parental worries about the occult elements in Andromeda Klein. It’s the first time I’ve ever been banned, and they’re worried about the occult.

I knew as I read Andromeda Klein that the centrality of the occult tradition to the book and its importance to the main character would be a problem for a lot of parents. Andromeda reads tarot cards, studies mysticism, tattoos herself with symbols, and performs rituals for privacy and other things. Andromeda’s interest and knowledge of the occult are thorough, and the depiction is presented realistically; some of the rituals produce results, and Andromeda has conversations in her head and in her dreams that are too relevant to be random. I’m not surprised this has ruffled some parental feathers. On the surface, at least, it comes across as pretty subversive.

I’d argue otherwise, though. Andromeda is an outsider–a skinny, clumsy girl with bad hair and worse hearing. It’s natural she’d gravitate to something off the beaten track, and something she could immerse herself in the study and practice of while on her own. While there are mentions of demons and Satan in the book, these are details of the historical tradition. Andromeda doesn’t worship or pursue demons or Satan. Instead, she uses the occult tradition to try to figure out and make sense of the world, especially because her outcast status means it’s senseless and cruel a lot of the time: she’s trying to come to terms with a friend’s death and an ex-boyfriend, while trying to deal with a crazy friend, a boy who admires her occult acumen, a clueless depressed dad and an intrusive insensitive mom. For Andromeda, the occult is a tradition of knowledge and ritual. She studies and practices to learn and grow. Other kids do the same with more mainstream things, like religion, sports, or academia. If Andromeda were interested in one of those, I doubt the book would set off any alarms.

I’m likely preaching to the converted and singing to the choir, here, but just in case: Andromeda’s interest in the occult might put off some readers, but I’d encourage them to actually READ the book, and consider how the occult tradition, as it’s practiced and studied by Andromeda, compares and contrasts to other traditions. Andromeda tattoos herself? I saw more than one teen swim teacher at the pool this summer sporting a Christian tattoo. Andromeda burns incense and asks questions, then “hears” advice in her head or in her dreams. Religious practitioners call this prayer and meditation. Andromeda reads a variety of books, many of which she disagrees with and all of which she tries to learn from. All traditions have some sort of sanctioned and recommended reading, as well as heretical texts that can help one “know thine enemy.”

Andromeda Klein is an interesting, thoughtful book with a wonderful, complex main character. It would be a shame if it were banned and people missed it based on prejudice. Tolerance of difference is a theme of the book, but it can also be applied TO the book.

BBC Imports: “Wallender” and “State of Play”

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

In an unfortunate bit of timing, I had two miniseries come into the library at once. Both were BBC productions. Wallender has three 90 minute movies and stars Kenneth Branagh. I’s based on the mystery novel series by Swedish writer Henning Mankell. State of Play had six hour-long episodes and was the basis for the US film starring Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck that was released this week on DVD. Try as we might, we weren’t able to finish 450 minutes of BBC miniseries in a week that also included Mad Men, Project Runway and Top Chef. But with the long weekend, we managed and the library late fees aren’t too bad.

Branagh’s Wallender is a weary Swedish detective whose wife has left him because he was too involved with work. His daughter tries to get him out of his shell, but he’s confronted by such horror in his work that it’s understandably hard for him to heed advice to rest, stay home, relax and see other people. In “Sidetracked,” Wallender tries to help a scared young woman who then burns herself alive before his eyes. In “Firewall” a young girl commits a grisly murder, seemingly at random, while an apparently healthy man drops dead. And in “One Step Behind” he is so plagued by lack of sleep he doesn’t listen to a colleague who desperately needs his help.

Both “Sidetracked” and “Firewall” were good, if not great. The moody acting and the Swedish scenery are impressive, the mysteries less so. Branagh is utterly engaging as the harrowed and talented detective. “One Step Behind,” though, is a dud. Not only does it have Wallender acting stupid and insensitive because of lack of sleep, it has a horrible cliche of a villain–a jealous, vindictive, murderous transvestite. It’s a nasty sexist portrayal that further brings down this already weak entry in the series. I recommend the other two episodes, though, and will seek this series out if it comes back to PBS. The strengths outweigh the problems.

State of Play also had a serious flaw for me. The first five hours of it were absolutely riveting. David Morrissey shines especially, as the English Parliament member whose affair with an aide is exposed after she dies in an apparent accident. Polly Walker as his estranged wife also does great work. Their reporter friend, Cal McCaffrey, is trying to help them while also unravel the mystery that gets more complex with each episode and unfolds into a brain-twisting mass of government and big-business conspiracy and espionage. The ending of the final hour, though, undoes much of what was good about the episodes that went before. It may be an attempt at a surprise ending. The problem with these, though, is that they tend to negate all that went before. This audience member was left feeling cheated. This was fun to watch, and well done until the last episode. The US movie was not well reviewed, and I can’t imagine how they must have dumbed it down to fit into 2 hours. I recommend this miniseries, but with reservations about the ending.

In light of these, I’m reminded of a few film and literature cliches that need to be retired, including the evil transvestite and the surprise twist ending. I’d add to those the mystical person of color, who teaches an ignorant white person the deeper meaning of life, and the sacrificial mentally retarded character, whose death teaches others tolerance. Enough, already. Quit with the gimmicks, especially those that perpetuate stereotypes about those with already challenging lives.


Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

You know that experience when you read something, and it’s like the author peeked into your head? I had that today.

From “Neurodiversity and Fandom” by Jason Henninger at (Link via The Morning News.)

School is starting up soon. My son used to attend a preschool/kindergarten for special-needs kids and their siblings, and now he’s going on to a public school, though still in the special education program. He’s cool with it, but I am a little freaked. It has brought up a whole childhood can of worms regarding my less-than-lovely educational experience, and makes me reflect on issues of social acceptance for neurologically atypical people overall.

Apart from the bit about a preschool for special-needs kids, I could have written this paragraph, because I’ve certainly been thinking and feeling it. My son, 6yo Drake, was given an education label last year of autism spectrum disorder. He’d been having some trouble at preschool, like not participating in music, which prompted us to get an evaluation. The public-school team was quick to note this didn’t mean he “had” autism–that would be a medical diagnosis, and is a different evaluation path–just that he had some behaviors that would be helped by autism-related therapies or classes. Drake attended a communication class once a week, and had an occupational therapist and special ed teacher visit him in preschool. And over the next several months, his behavior and communication bloomed.

This year, he’s going to kindergarten. Only one school in our neighborhood is part of the citywide autism program, and it’s where we’ve been encouraged by his educational team to send him. Given our positive experience already, I’ve taken their advice. I’ll meet with that team tomorrow, when Drake and I go to visit the autism classroom, his kindergarten classroom, and meet his teachers. And on Thursday, he’ll get on the bus (the big one, not a short one like last year) and go to school.

My own public school experience was not good. I was a bored and frustrated student, and I struggled socially. (I suspect there are aspects of ADD and ASD in my own neurological makeup.) So I’m nervous about sending my kid to school, that he’ll feel as bad about it as I did. I feel guilty, too, at the relief I feel because he’s going to be at school all day, which will make my day less challenging.

But Henninger’s essay offers me a little hope. There’s a greater awareness of difference, and a greater understanding and acceptance of it. It’s not to say that the prejudice toward kids who are “a little different” won’t exist; it will. But it helps to be reminded that a lot of these kids are getting kinds of help that didn’t exist thirty-five years ago when I started kindergarten. Plus, Drake is not me. Similar, yes, but not the same.

I can only do what I have done already: make the best guess I can as to what’s best for Drake, give it a try, and make a new plan if it doesn’t work. Now, we wait and see. Involve ourselves as we can in his education. And hope.

Two Weeks of Summer Salads and Such

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

This summer is the first I’ve done a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share from a local farm, Foxtail Farm. Two thirds of the way through summer and I’m feeling burnt out on veg. Some of this is circumstantial: my 3 and 5yo boys will eat little of what arrives in our weekly box except carrots. Some of it is seasonal: summer is high growing season, so there’s a use-it-or-lose-it aspect for the increasing volume of fresh produce. Finally, though, it hits me in my week spots of anxiety and compulsion–I feel anxious about having to use up the veg, and compelled to use them in creative ways, which generally involved a lot of cooking or prep.

I’m not sure what the solution is. No CSA next year? Go down to a quarter share from a half weekly, or alternate weekly half shares with another family? Stop trying to be creative and just steam things in great batches? I love cooking in season with fresh local produce, supporting local farmers, and to a point I love the challenge of cooking what shows up, but I need to find a way that’s less exhausting to me. Fortunately, though, the prep pays off; most of what we make is quite tasty.

A trio of salads from last week, looking pale and rather yucky, hence the small photo. Trust me, they were delicious, and beautiful to look at when fresh:

salad trio

The red salad top left is from Mark Bittman’s 101 Salads for the Season, salad #1 tomato and watermelon with feta in a

Basil Vinaigrette from Cook’s Country:

3/4 cup olive oil
2 cups chopped fresh basil
1 shallot , peeled
1 clove garlic clove , peeled
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1. Heat 1/4 cup oil with 1 cup basil in medium saucepan over medium heat until basil turns bright green and small bubbles appear, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn off heat and steep 5 minutes.

2. Process shallot, garlic, vinegar, water, salt, pepper, and mustard in blender until garlic and shallot are finely chopped, about 15 seconds. With blender running, slowly add remaining oil and steeped basil oil and continue to process until dressing is smooth and emulsified, about 15 seconds. Pack remaining basil into blender and process until dressing is smooth, about 15 seconds. (Dressing can be refrigerated in airtight container for up to 3 days.)

At bottom is salad #39, corn, Yucatan-style sauteed in a skillet, then tossed with lime juice, feta, quartered cherry tomatoes, and cayenne.

On the right is corn again, this time with quinoa (the recipe calls for farro, I’ve also used pearled barley to good effect) with goat cheese and green beans. This recipe, from Epicurious, is delicious. My friend LH made it for our book group, and I’ve made it twice since.

Chicken, Green Bean, Corn, and Farro Salad
with Goat Cheese Bon Appétit | August 2009

Farro is a nutty-flavored grain that’s popular in Tuscany. It’s not as heavy as some other whole grains, but it’s still packed with protein, fiber, magnesium, and vitamins A, B, C, and E. Here, it’s the base for a satisfying summer salad. Yield: Makes 4 servings

1/2 cup semi-pearled farro* or spelt berries

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
8 ounces skinless boneless chicken breast halves
12 ounces green beans, trimmed, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups fresh yellow corn kernels (cut from 2 to 3 ears of corn)
3 green onions, thinly sliced (about 3/4 cup)
1 tablespoon minced fresh marjoram
1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons minced shallot
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
4 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled (about 1 1/4 cups)

Cook farro in medium saucepan of boiling salted water until just tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain; cool.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in heavy medium skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Add chicken to skillet; cook until golden brown and cooked through, about 8 minutes per side. Cool, then cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch cubes. Cook green beans in large saucepan of boiling salted water until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Drain. Rinse under cold water to cool; drain. Transfer beans to kitchen towel; pat dry.

Mix farro, chicken, and green beans in large bowl; add corn and green onions.

Combine remaining 2 tablespoons oil, marjoram, and 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt in small bowl. Press with back of spoon to release flavor. Whisk in vinegar, shallot, and mustard. Pour over salad in bowl; toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. DO AHEAD: Salad can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

Divide chilled or room-temperature salad among plates. Sprinkle with goat cheese.

* Available at specialty foods stores, natural foods stores, and Italian markets.

Something else the boys wouldn’t eat was zucchini bread, recipe from Cook’s Country:

zuke bread

Zucchini Bread

Cut large zucchini in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a spoon before shredding.

Makes one 9-inch loaf or 4 mini loaves
1 pound zucchini
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon lemon juice
6 tablespoons unsalted butter , melted and cooled

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Generously coat 9 by 5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray.

2. Shred zucchini on large holes of box grater, then place in clean dish towel and squeeze out as much moisture as you’re able. Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, allspice, and salt in large bowl. Whisk sugar, yogurt, eggs, lemon juice, and butter in bowl until combined.

3. Gently fold yogurt mixture and zucchini into flour mixture using spatula until just combined. Transfer batter to prepared pan.

4. Bake until golden brown and skewer inserted in center comes out with a few crumbs attached, 45 to 55 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes, then turn out onto wire rack to cool at least 1 hour. (Bread can be wrapped in plastic and stored at room temperature for 3 days.)

To sweeten the deal for the boys (and me) I made

Zesty Apricot Cream Cheese Spread

8 ounces cream cheese , at room temperature
1/3 cup apricot jam
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

With rubber spatula, combine cream cheese, apricot jam, confectioners’ sugar, and lemon zest in bowl until smooth.

The spatula left things unattractively lumpy, though it still tasted great. I’d use a food processor next time. And still, the boys refused this.

I used the rest of the basil vinaigrette with potatoes and a pickling cucumber, the latter was a great addition to the salad:

potato salad with basic vinaigrette and cuke

And then this is about a quarter share (I gave half of my half to a friend) from last Thursday, which felt much more manageable:

quarter share CSA

Corn, dill, zuke, onion, chard, carrots, green beans, cukes (hiding) and potatoes.

With it I made the corn and green bean salad from above, a chard frittata with dill, cucumbers in a dill yogurt sauce (that I served alongside poached Alaskan salmon), and one of my all time favorite potato recipes:

Roasted Potato Slices with Lime and Chili

Can be prepared in 45 minutes or less.
Yield: Serves 2
two 1/2-pound russet (baking) potatoes
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon chili powder

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Peel potatoes and halve lengthwise. Cut potatoes crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices and on a baking sheet toss with oil and salt and pepper to taste. Bake potatoes in one layer in middle of oven, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes, or until golden.

In a bowl stir together mayonnaise, lime juice, and chili powder. Add warm potatoes and combine well.

I recommend dividing the potatoes up before eating. Serious struggles have occurred when my husband G. Grod and I have tried to share the bowl. And we’re always disappointed at the end, in spite of having just devoured a whole pound of potatoes between us.

What the Kids Won’t Eat

Monday, August 17th, 2009

(OK readers, this should have bigger, more detailed photos. They’re from facebook, though, so they won’t get past a work firewall; sorry!)

Sometimes, I wonder why I try. G Grod mentioned he’d like to make pizza. I found a recipe in Cook’s Country, used it as an excuse to finally buy myself a set of 9″ pie pans, and we made this:

Pepperoni Pan Pizza

Drake loved it and ate three pieces. Guppy wouldn’t eat it at all. I may try again without pepperoni, but making yeast pizza dough from scratch is an undertaking.

Pepperoni Pan Pizza from Cook’s Country
Makes two 9-inch pizzas serving 4 to 6

1/2 cup olive oil
3/4 cup skim milk plus 2 additional tablespoons, warmed to 110 degrees
2 teaspoons sugar
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour , plus extra for counter
1 package instant yeast
1/2 teaspoon table salt

1 (3.5-ounce) package sliced pepperoni
1 1/3 cups tomato sauce (see related recipe, “Basic Pizza Sauce”)
3 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

1. To make the dough: Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 200 degrees. When oven reaches 200 degrees, turn it off. Lightly grease large bowl with cooking spray. Coat each of two 9-inch cake pans with 3 tablespoons oil.

2. Mix milk, sugar, and remaining 2 tablespoons oil in measuring cup. Mix flour, yeast, and salt in standing mixer fitted with dough hook. Turn machine to low and slowly add milk mixture. After dough comes together, increase speed to medium-low and mix until dough is shiny and smooth, about 5 minutes. Turn dough onto lightly floured counter, gently shape into ball, and place in greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and place in warm oven until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.

3. To shape and top the dough: Transfer dough to lightly floured counter, divide in half, and lightly roll each half into ball. Working with 1 dough ball at a time, roll and shape dough into 9 1/2-inch round and press into oiled pan. Cover with plastic wrap and set in warm spot (not in oven) until puffy and slightly risen, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, heat oven to 400 degrees.

4. While dough rises, put half of pepperoni in single layer on microwave-safe plate lined with 2 paper towels. Cover with 2 more paper towels and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Discard towels and set pepperoni aside; repeat with new paper towels and remaining pepperoni.

5. Remove plastic wrap from dough. Ladle 2/3 cup sauce on each round, leaving 1/2-inch border around edges. Sprinkle each with 1 1/2 cups cheese and top with pepperoni. Bake until cheese is melted and pepperoni is browning around edges, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven; let pizzas rest in pans for 1 minute. Using spatula, transfer pizzas to cutting board and cut each into 8 wedges. Serve.

Our box from our Community Supported Agriculture share had yellow squash and beets. It’s was nearing the end of the week, so I steamed the former, roasted the latter, then pureed

steamed and pureed yellow squash

to make the Yellow Cake with Raspberry Swirl from Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious.

Yellow (squash) cake with raspberry (beet) swirl

I added cream cheese frosting and fresh berries.

Yellow (squash) cake with raspberry (beet) swirl, lemon cream cheese frosting and fresh raspberries.

The kids were not fooled. The raspberry puree, while lovely, did not disguise the flavor of the beets enough. It got more pronounced after baking. So the boys wouldn’t eat this. Note to self: beets are not disguise-able. If I’d just made the yellow cake with squash I think that would’ve worked.

Then I found myself with leftover lemon cream cheese frosting. What to do; what to do?

graham cracker frosting sandwiches

And since the boys didn’t eat the cake, I didn’t bother to offer them these.

Mine. All mine.

“Julie & Julia” (2009)

Friday, August 14th, 2009

Years ago, I read Julie Powell’s blog The Julie/Julia Project, about cooking her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It was good and funny, yet I think I dropped out around the time she worked on aspics. Their meaty quiver, the late hours to cook and consume them, plus the cost of ingredients all combined to make my head hurt. When Julie published her book, I thought it was great. And when the book was slated to become Julie & Julia, the movie with Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, even better.

I had a great time at this movie. I laughed a lot, and went ooh over some of the shots of food. I thought that the aural analogy between kissing and eating was heavy handed, but certainly appropriate to the subject matter. Adams was engaging as always, though perhaps not quite believable as an every-girl. Streep and Stanley Tucci all but steal the movie, with their stunning performances of a true power couple in love.

A lot of the reviews gripe that the Julia Child part is so much better than the Julie Powell part that they wish it had been all Streep as Child. They argue that Powell is self-involved and just not that interesting. That’s an opinion, but I’d like to remind them:


Nor would the Julia Child renaissance that the movie, and Streep’s performance particularly, have spurred. Because it was Julie Powell who had an idea for the project to cook her way through a dusty old cookbook. Like Child before her, she brought classic French cooking to a modern American audience. So I think it’s unkind to dismiss Powell’s part in the film. Child inspired Powell, and Powell in turn inspired others to rediscover Child. Child’s teaching and inspiration are key to her legacy, so Powell’s role as disciple in real life and the film are necessary to show that. I was glad to have the two stories, and enjoyed Adams as a young woman struggling to find meaning in spite of a cubicle job and a stalled writing hobby. So go see the movie. It’s good. And if you enjoy it, be grateful to Julie Powell (still blogging, here), even if you like Julia Child more. Julie’s the reason you’re getting to know Julia, whose kitchen wisdom I’ll be thinking of for a long time:

Never apologize! (for food you’ve cooked) No excuses! No explanations!

“Not for Me” not the same as “Not Good”

Saturday, August 1st, 2009

I’m nearly halfway through David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, which I’m reading along with the crowd at Infinite Summer. Along with some incisive commentary, there’s a lot of griping, which I find interesting.

One of the sites “guides”, Avery, recently wrote that she was not enjoying the book:

I resent that I’m having to work this hard, that I feel like I’m indulging the author. I resent having to read enormous blocks of text, with no paragraph breaks, for pages and pages at a time. I resent the endnotes that (more often than not) only serve to either waste my time or confuse me even further. I resent that I’m continually reaching supposed milestones (”just make it to page 100!” “get to 200!” “300 is where you get rewarded for all your effort!”) that don’t actually represent any appreciable change in tone, style or plot.

I feel like my time is being wasted with an overabundance of technical explanations of subjects – tennis, drugs – that are largely irrelevant. DFW is explaining the wrong stuff.

Many commenters suggested she put it down, but she said she’d continue, if only because she’d agreed to as one of the site’s guide. For clarification, Avery was invited as a guide to represent younger, i.e. twenty-something readers. Her opinion is not atypical; many commenters voice some of the same complaints: the text is long, uninteresting, deliberately irritating, rambling, unfocused.

These comments usually are met with other readers, often those who have read the book before, telling them to Hang In and Keep Coming Back, advice that’s echoed from the text’s AA segments. There are frequent exhortations to trust the author and assurances that he had a plan, and many of the disparate themes will come together. Even so, it’s easy to see where the criticisms are coming from. The text is a challenging one. For example:

Last spring’s airless and B-redolent section of Thode’s psycho-political offering ‘The Toothless Predator: Breast-Feeding as Sexual Assault,’ had been one of the most disorientingly fascinating experiences of Ted Schacht’s intellectual life so far, outside of the dentist’s chair, whereas this fall’s focus on pathologic double-bind-type quandaries was turning out to be not quite as compelling, but weirdly–almost intuitively–easy. (307)

I’m reminded of when I taught first-year composition a few years ago. The course was structured around non-fiction essays and one book, The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass. Some of my classes were for “remedial” students, though a more PC term was used. Many of theses students spoke English as a second language, and most were the first of their families to attend university. Some of them boasted they’d never read an entire book. The course progressed, and the students struggled with the assigned essays and reading. A frequent theme in their papers was complaint–they didn’t like the author, they didn’t think the author did a good job.

On one hand, this was a good thing. They were actually reading it, engaging with it, and forming their own opinions. Further, they were voicing a contrary opinion, something I could see took courage for many of them. Dissent was often discouraged in their secondary schools, they told me.

On the other hand, their criticism was not supported by their experience as readers. They were not experienced readers, and while that didn’t make their emotional reaction to the texts less true, it did fail to support a reasoned, academic analysis of them. They contended that because they didn’t like an essay, or because they didn’t understand it, that it wasn’t well-written. It was my job to try to bring them beyond an emotional reaction to the text to a critical one. That I sometimes succeeded was tremendously rewarding, for both me and the student, I believe.

And but so, I see a strong similarity between my former first-year students and those who are struggling with and rejecting Infinite Jest. It’s a challenging, at times deliberately provoking text. It’s also extremely smart, funny, and the further I read in it, the more intricate, layered and connected it becomes. My husband and I are reading together; we’ll frequently share connections we find to some other, at the time seemingly throwaway, bits earlier in the book. These ties bespeak planning; the careful layering of information withheld then shared bespeaks great care and precision. I’ve been puzzled by some readers’ claims of carelessness and inaccuracy.

For example, there was a discussion about a character described as weighing 200kg. Many commenters criticized this for impossibility, or criticized the author for sloppy writing. Few noted that it was a good deployment of hyperbole. Fewer, if any noted that this exaggerated figured appeared multiple times later, drawing connection through the text.

I’m enjoying the puzzle nature of the book, but I can understand why it’s postmodern puzzley-ness alienates and even offends some readers. I wish, though, that some didn’t take their dislike as equal to IJ not being a good book. Liking a book is not an index of its quality. Ditto for “getting it”. For example, a lot of DFW’s math commentary flies over my head. I don’t, though, claim he’s inaccurate or untalented to include it. I go with it. I Hang In. I Keep Coming Back. And for that, this book rewards me.