Archive for the '2014 Books' Category

What ELSE I’ve Been Reading

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015


I know what I’ll do this morning, I told myself. I’ll catch up on my book blogging. I’ve been all about the Sandman and the Odyssey, but I’m reading other things too. I’ll do a few book reviews.

HOLY CATS. I haven’t blogged about other books since December. Waitaminute… Nope. November. CRAP. Well, don’t I have a lot of catching up to do? In order, then, what I’ve finished since November:

Wuthering Heights
by Emily Bronte. Re-read, for Gods & Monsters book group. Great, dark, weird, and tight as a drum. My husband G calls it a super villain origin story. I love how difficult it is to categorize, and discuss. What is Bronte criticizing, what is she valorizing? Can a novel be great when we hate most of the characters in it, and those characters were clearly written as unlikeable?

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. For Books and Bars. Tore through it, and it changed how I think about humans as animals, and made me really uncomfortable watching Speed Racer and the chimpanzee.

Relish by Lucy Knisley. For Beer + Comics book group. Loved this comic-book memoir about food and growing up.

The Bronte Myth by Lucasta Miller. Re-read, this year with the focus on Emily. Fascinating deconstruction of how the poor little sick sisters have been mythologized while too often downplaying that they were righteous geniuses.

Lila by Marilynne Robinson. Beautiful. Like a poem, or a prayer.

Violent Cases and Black Orchid by Nail Gaiman and Dave McKean. Related reading for the #SandMN readalong.

Saga of the Swamp Thing and Swamp Thing: Love and Death by Alan Moore. Related reading for #SandMN. Also, amazing.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I borrowed this from the library after a friend made fun of it, then I read it and ran out and bought my own copy plus two others as gifts. Bizarre, and while sometimes I would laugh at it, I think reading this book has actually changed my life. Or, at least my sock drawer.

Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming. Fascinating, heartbreaking story about Cumming’s tormented relationship with his father.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O’Brien. Read aloud to the boys. This book would never be published today–it’s all backstory!

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. Smart, funny, heartbreaking essays by Gay, who writes in a way that makes her fun and interesting to hang out with. I’m glad I read this before her novel, An Untamed State, it gave me good context for that one.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. Read aloud to the kids. Interesting to read it as an adult, when making fun of poor kids whose parents run off doesn’t seem so funny. Still, some lovely and some hilarious parts.

A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. One of my favorite holidays re-alouds. The words are delicious in my mouth, and I just love Hyman’s illustrations.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. For The Morning News Tournament of Books. I tore through it, and was reminded of both Steven King’s The Stand and James Kunstler’s World Made by Hand series. Felt it spend far too much time on the male characters, and on female characters with the male ones. Would have preferred more of the women.

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay. A book full of violence with unlikeable main characters is not an easy one to recommend. But this is full of hard truths, and a moving trauma and recovery tale. Mind opening.

Ms. Marvel volume 1. A Muslim teen girl becomes a superhero. Smart, funny, engaging, and passes the Bechdel test. Can’t wait for more!

So, friends, what have you all been reading? What have you loved, loathed, or put down out of indifference?

Sandman Readalong Week 3: “Dream Country” & “Season of Mists”

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

dream_country1 season_mists

I was toodling along last week after finishing Sandman v3: Dream Country, getting my holiday cards addressed and sent out, reading Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming which I got from the library and had to return soon, when I consulted the Sandman readalong schedule, you know, the one _I_ made, and realized with a jolt that I had scheduled TWO of the Sandman graphic novels to discuss today. So I had to get cracking. I finished the Cumming book and returned it to the library, and finished Sandman v4: Season of Mists as well as reading the chapter on it in Hy Bender’s Sandman Companion and the relevant covers in Dustcovers.

I know reading both these books in one week is a lot; we are cramming 75+ issues/10 graphic novels into a 2 month period with a week off for busy time. How is the reading process going for everyone? Too fast, or are the stories devour-able enough to keep to this hectic pace?

To the books, then. Dream Country is four short stories. Gaiman says that while he’s writing the longer story arcs, he has ideas for these shorts, that he “holds” and writes them in between times.

“Calliope.” I went down a rabbit hole by starting to re-read the comments from a readalong NPR’s Monkey See blog did a few years ago. Then I realized I’d never get done. I enjoy this story, while it also disturbs me. It’s more graphic than I’d like, especially the rape and naked stuff. There’s always the question of: is it a critique, or does it automatically implicitly condone nakedness/rape by showing it at all. Yes, Madoc is a tool, and Fry was before him. Not just a tool, but a rapist, kidnapper, and all around horrible person. But there’s this thing that happens with Gaiman fans where they worship him and say he’s such a feminist writer, (ditto for Joss Whedon, who gets called a feminist when he wrote a space prostitute, for heaven’s sake) and I don’t buy that–I think Gaiman is poking fun at himself in this comic, too. I hope he’d acknowledge that there’s some Madoc in him. But, I liked all the Greek myths, and meditations on Rules, and forgiveness, in contrast to how Dream left Burgess in volume 1.

“Dream of a Thousand Cats” is one of the most accessible of Sandman stories, I think, and highlights how Dream shifts radically in appearance depending on who sees him.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” This is Shakespeare Nerd nirvana. LOVE IT. One of my favorite issues. Funny, sad, and beautiful, with Vess’s Arthur Rackham inspired art perfectly suited to the fair folk.

“Facade” Yay, we get to see Death again! Poor Rainey. All those ashtray face masks. A very different artist, Doran, and one who draws a good, real, female anatomy, IMO.

Season of Mists. Holy cats, people, how am I supposed to summarize this? The art in this one is all over the place, perhaps due to its having four different artists and four different inkers, all in different pairings except for Chapters 1 and 2, and even those had different colorists.

Episode 0: Family meeting (awkward!) The 3 ladies, again. Questions: how did Delight become Delirium? Who is The Prodigal (Pet peeve: Prodigal means wasteful, not “s/he who goes away” though that’s how most people use and understand it.) Love how Death calls Dream on his $hit. Also, favorite lines:

Death to Dream: Have a grape.
Dream. I do not want a grape.
Desire: I could MAKE you want one.

Episode 1. Dream prepares
Episode 2. The return to hell. Things don’t go as planned. How about that splash page spread of pages 2 and 3?


Hey, have you watched the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune? Well, you should, as it’s awesome. One of the last things it does is shows how some of the design elements from the film that was never made nonetheless came into being in other creative works. Thus, I was reminded of this by the splash page:


Though the Sandman art could also have been influenced by the HR Giger interpretation that appeared in Alien:


Wow, I am totally never going to finish this post but I am having fun GEEKING OUT.

I enjoy when Luficer asks Mazikeen for her knife, and we think he’s going to cut her, but instead slips her something else, his tongue, on the page turn and has Dream use the knife otherwise.

Episode 3: Lots of Gods! Again with the skinny, nearly naked blond woman. Boo. I love how Kelly Jones draws Dream’s robes, though, as here:


See that shadow over Dream’s shoulder, on the reader’s right? Rumor has it that’s a nod to Dave Sims’ long-running character Cerebus the Aardvark.

[OK, I have to stop here to go home from my satellite office at the coffee shop to my small children, who I left at home while my husband G. Grod works from home. But more, later, because giving this complex storyline short shrift would be sad, no?]

Edited to add on 12/27: Episode 3: Death looks disturbingly like Sean Young on page 12. Silver city looks like it’s made of phalluses p 14. Thor is a drunk asshole! I am amused that the lord of order incarnates as an empty box.

Episode 4: Poor, poor Charles Rowland. This is another horror story, and these really stick with me, alas. Illustrated by Matt Wagner, known to comic geeks for Mage, Grendel, and the Sandman sorta-spinoff Sandman Mystery Theater. Gaiman contends that his portrayal of boarding school is a mix of his own experience and others he’s read. Obviously not Harry Potter-ish. Yikes. Death in exercise gear on p. 21 is amusing. Rowland and Paine go on to have adventures outside of the Sandman series, but as with most of the related material, the quality is up and down, IMO.

[Stopping here. Must go pick up Guppy from karate. Will I ever finish this?]

Edited to add AGAIN.

Episode 5: Starved naked woman again, sigh. Why does Nada look so different from on page chapter 3, page 17, though Kelley Jones is credited as the artist for both? The issues do have different inkers: P Craig Russell on 3, and George Pratt on 5. But, drunk Thor on p13 with champagne bubbles within his word bubbles: hilarious!

Episode 6: In which Dream gives the key to someone who doesn’t want it. Ha! Also, Azazel foolishly refuses hospitality, and Dream shows Choronzon a mercy he wouldn’t have previously in the series.

Epilogue: (slightly confusing, as shown as Episode infinity sign, which could be seen as a double entendre of 8, but it’s 7. Sigh.) Loki and Cluracan pull some tricks. (Giving a female as property. We already knew Cluracan was an ass, but Titania pimping out one of her own troubles me.) Nada is reborn as an Asian boy, and Lucifer makes a friend and enjoys the sunset. And Remiel seems to take a little too much enjoyment out of his new role in hell. Season of Mists closes with a fictional excerpt from Lucien’s Library of Dreams, by G. K. Chesterton, the author who was the model for Gilbert, Fiddler’s Green in The Doll’s House.

AND, that’s all I have. What did everybody else think? Remember, you can comment here, or tweet with the hashtag #SandMN.

Previous posts:

Sandman Readalong week two: link

Sandman Readalong week one: link

Sandman Readalong schedule: link

Sandman Read Wk 2: THE DOLL’S HOUSE

Sunday, December 14th, 2014


It is 9:30 on Sunday night, and I’m staring at this page, and it’s staring back to me, and I wonder, how on earth can I do justice to the sprawl of flaming crazy awesomeness that is volume 2 of The Sandman, The Doll’s House?

If you’re on twitter, join us with the hashtag #SandMN. If you’re not, then follow along here on Mondays. The reading schedule is here.

This collection opens with #9 “Tales in the Sand”, an African “folk tale” made up entirely by Gaiman, and refers to other tales, which he also made up.

(You really have to watch out for Gaiman. In American Gods, he made up some Slavic goddess, Zorja Polunochnaya, and depending on how you look her up online it’s really easy to believe that she was an actual goddess, and not something Neil just pulled out of his…head.)

We get the story of Nada, the woman we briefly met in #4, A Hope in Hell, who had been imprisoned there after rejecting Dream, or Kai’ kul, the incarnation of her people. If this is the men’s version, how much more scathing must the women’s version of it be? We got some indication of this before, but Dream can be a real jerk. Also in this story, we get images of hearts, as well as the difference between men’s and women’s stories, both of which will be themes throughout the series.

#10, “The Doll’s House” in which we meet the twins, Desire and Despair, as well as Rose Walker, who learns she is the granddaughter of Unity Kinkaid, who was impregnated and had a baby while she slept in issue #1. When Rose dreams, the page goes sideways. We get to see one of my favorite recurring characters, Goldie the gargoyle, who adorably says “meep” and “aarkle”. We get yet another appearance of the three witches, one of Gaiman’s favorite myths that he deploys throughout his work. And we meet the Corinthian, an escaped dream, and a very bad man.

#11 “Moving In.” Rose moves into a house in Florida so she can track down her younger brother Jed. She’s watched by Matthew, Dream’s talking raven, who used to be Matthew Cable in the series Swamp Thing. Jed is in a very bad place, and is having odd dreams that are homages to Windsor McKay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland.

#12 “Playing House” we meet Lyta and Hector Hall who have been playing Sandman under the tutelage of two escaped dreams. Hector is really a ghost, but Lyta has been in a suspended pregnancy. Dream, being a jerk again: “The child you have carried so long in dreams. That child is mine. Take good care of it. One day I will come for it.” And then he lets Jed get away and fall into the hand of the Corinthian.

#13 “Men of Good Fortune” seems plopped in there, but it’s the prior engagement Dream mentions when he runs off after telling Lyta he’ll be back for the child. We meet a guy named Hob, but even better we meet some hack playwrite named Will. Dream talks to them both, and interesting things happen. This is one of my favorite issues (all the ones with Shakespeare are.)

#14 “Collectors.” That’s Neil Gaiman modeling for the Corinthian on the cover. If you didn’t like the horror in issue 6, 24 Hours, this one is pretty horrific too. But Dream unmakes the Corinthian, so while he may be a jerk, he’s pretty badass. Plus Gilbert comes back with Jed, yay!

#15 “Into the Night.” Barbie has the coolest dreams, doesn’t she?

#16 “Lost Hearts.” That’s Neil Gaiman again on the cover. Does it bug anyone else that he is his own Mary Sue/model for the King of Dreams?

Gilbert turns out to be a place, Fiddler’s Green, and while he can’t stand in for the death of Rose, Unity can. I love this exchange:

Dream: I don’t understand–

Unity: Of course you don’t. You’re obviously not very bright, but I wouldn’t let it bother you.

And we learn that the whole thing has been a long game played by Desire to bring down Dream, and he threatens Desire, whose house is a doll.

I love this, too:

Dream: We of the endless are servants of the living–we are NOT their masters. WE exist because they know, deep in their hearts, that we exist. When the last living thing has left this universe, then our task will be done. And we do not manipulate them. If anything they manipulate us. We are their toys. Their dolls, if you will.

So, what did everyone else think?

The Odyssey Readalong Wk 1 Bks 1-3

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014


Welcome to The Odyssey Readalong!

Who’s with me?

My husband G. Grod is supposed to be but he can’t seem to finish reading Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Girl, but once he does he says he’s going to start The Odyssey, because he’s gung ho to read Ulysses next year.

As you may know by now, we’re weird like that in our family.

But, since I’m the moderator, I not only read the first 3 sections already, but also did a smidgen of research on them. This epic was written sometime between 600 and 800 BCE (that’s Before Common Era, because, especially since we’re talking about the Greeks it makes more sense to use this non-Christian descriptor even though Jesus was so important, whether he was the savior or not, that BCE and BC are the same.) That means it’s had longer than most works to be studied and debated. There is so much to know that I’ve decided I’m going to try and keep things simple, on a need-to-know basis for helpfulness in the upcoming Ulysses readalong.

About The Odyssey in general: it may or may not have been written by a poet named Homer, who may or may not have been the same one who wrote The Iliad, which was about the 10-year Trojan War, where The Odyssey is about Odysseus’ 10-year journey home from the war. There’s lots of argument for and against. One theory has it that The Iliad was by Homer, and the Odyssey by a child (Homer Jr.?) or apprentice. There are many translations, I’m reading the one by Lattimore since we had it in our house.

Book 1 opens with an invocation to Athene, goddess of wisdom.

Tell me, Muse, of the man of many ways, who was driven
far journeys, after he had sacked Troy’s sacred citadel.
Many were they whose cities he saw, whose minds he learned of,
many the pains he suffered in his spirit on the wide sea,
struggling for his own life and the homecoming of his companions.
Even so he could not save his companions, hard though
he strove to,; they were destroyed by their own wild recklessness,
fools, who devoured the oxen of Helios, the Sun God,
And he took away the day of their homecoming. Fom some point
here, goddess, daughter of Zeus, speak, and begin our story.

Book 1 is part of the first four books about Odysseus’ son, Telemachos. There is quite a lot here about a murder of Aigisthos, but I want to focus on the big O, who is being held as a sex captive by Kalypso on her hard-to-pronounce island Ogygia. Poseidon the powerful and moody sea god is angry with Odysseus and is impeding his trip home. We learn later it’s because O killed Polyphemus, a cyclopes and child of Poseidon.

Athene wants to move things along, so she goes to Ithaka, disguised as a guy named Mentes. Telemachos shows him/her hospitality, and she favors him and learns first hand how annoying all the suitors are who want to marry Odysseus’ wife Penelope and become king, because he’s been gone so long (20 years now ) they assume he’s dead. The suitors are eating all the food and partying and generally not being good guests. Athene hints to T that he should go find out for himself.

Book 2: Telemachos calls a meeting to complain about the suitor situation. The suitors complain because Penelope had tried to put them off by weaving a funeral cloak for Laertes, Odysseus’ father (who wasn’t even dead yet!) and every night she unraveled her work till a maid ratted her out to the suitors. Zeus sends eagles as a sign, but the crowd won’t agree on the meaning. A man named Mentor speaks up against the suitors (this is where we get that word from!) but the crowd is unmoved. Athene disguises herself as Mentor, tells T to get ready for a journey then disguises herself as T and goes about the town, recruiting for the ship, then T and Athene/Mentor and the new crew leave Ithaka.

Book 3: T goes to Pylos to get news of O from Nestor, who fought with O in the war. They arrive in a sacrificial dinner to Poseidon which they wisely do not disrupt. Lots of lines about Agamemnon and Menelaos, but I’m going to continue to not pay much attention to them other than that Odysseus waffled between which brother to follow home, and picked wrong because Menelaos and Nestor made it home. Nestor says lots of nice things about O and how T looks like O, and then Athene reveals herself as an eagle, and Nestor promises both a sacrifice of a gold-horned calf to her and horses to T for the road trip to Sparta to find out more about O.

Initial impressions: this is not a hard read, and is about Greek gods and goddesses and heroes, so full of ripping stuff. Interestingly much of the mythology is fresh in my mind from recent readings with my sons of the Percy Jackson series, which is good with some details, as in the Cyclopes being sons of Poseidon.

I’m not sure why it took so long for T to start complaining about the suitors, and why no one had gone to look for O before, but the story had to start somewhere, and 10 years plus 10 years is a nice round number.

What did others think and what questions do you have?


Monday, December 8th, 2014


Welcome readers to the online readalong of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comic-book series! We’re reading one of the 10 main graphic novel collections a week over December and January.

This week we’re discussing Sandman Volume 1: Preludes and Nocturnes, or issues 1-8 of the series. I’ll be posting here, and we’re tweeting under the hashtag #SandMN.

This post will be to start the conversations.

I was hooked by all the literary references and the comic-book ones too, even if I didn’t know who Scott Free and the Martian Manhunter were. (AND, guess what–you don’t need to!) BUT, that said, “24 Hours” is one of the most horrific issues I’ve ever read. I shudder when I remember it, and it’s one that friends have told me stop them from continuing through the series.

It certainly is one of the most overtly horrific issues of the series. Also, it’s the first after artist Sam Kieth (of The Maxx) dropped out. (Makes me wonder if he dropped out because of the script of “24 hours”.)

I advise people to read through issue 8, ‘The Sound of Her Wings’, before bailing. That issue, with its dramatic reveal, is one of my all-time favorites both of the series specifically, and comics in general.

A note about editions: I’m reading from the Absolute Edition Sandman Volume 1 which reprinted the series in large, lovely slip-covered editions, and what sold me on buying something I’d already owned twice (first in single issues and then in the 10 issue of graphic novels.)

Below is a good example of how wonky the color was in the original series and GN reprints. The original of p. 11 in issue 1 is on the left, the recolored version on the right. I’m not a color expert, but looks like an oversaturation of Yellow that made poor Stefan Wasserman’s face green. In the recoloring, it doesn’t look so weird.


Please note that when you send a comment it goes to moderation till I approve it. Otherwise, we’d be slammed with spam, and no one wants that.

What did everyone else think? What version/edition are you reading?

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

Monday, December 1st, 2014


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

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

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

I’ll have weekly posts here at Girl Detective on Mondays, plus both Jeff and I will be tweeting about each week’s issues starting Monday, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

BREAK for holidays and to catch up

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

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

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

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

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

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

Odyssey Readalong!

Monday, December 1st, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

break for holidays/catch up

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

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

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

Nigel Tufnel: Clever.

David St. Hubbins: Yeah, and clever.

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

“Wuthering Heights” (1939) Oberon/Olivier

Monday, November 24th, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Brooklyn Burning” by Steve Brezenoff

Saturday, November 15th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sex and Violence” by Carrie Mesrobian

Saturday, November 15th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 6th, 2014

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

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

“Why Did I Ever” by Mary Robison

Monday, November 3rd, 2014


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

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

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

You Can Fly But Your Body Can’t

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


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


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

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

“Flora and Ulysses” by Kate DiCamillo

Monday, November 3rd, 2014


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

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

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

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

Holy unanticipated occurrences!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

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

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

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

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

Now, some quotes:

Implausible truth can serve one better than plausible fiction.


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


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

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

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

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

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

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

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

“Through the Woods” by Emily Carroll

Thursday, October 30th, 2014


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

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

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


Thursday, October 30th, 2014

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

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

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

Shameful. Disgusting.


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

Thursday, October 30th, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

Both book and 1963 move: HIGHLY RECOMMEND.

“The Orchardist” by Amanda Coplin

Thursday, October 30th, 2014


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

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

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

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

“The Shining Girls” by Lauren Beukes

Thursday, October 30th, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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