Friday, November 27, 2015

Mommy Wars are all about who can out-mom their neighbor

Hope all those that celebrate had a good Thanksgiving and have lots of leftovers. Even those who don't celebrate, I hope you ate lots of good food because food is delicious.
Anyway, onto the review. I picked up People I Want To Punch In The Throat because, hello, that title is amazing and there are many people I would like to punch in the throat as well. Plus is on sale and I love sales. I didn't realize this was originally a mommy blog that was bad into a book. I mean, I knew it was a blog but didn't realize the mommy part of it. Which is FINE and just that I was expecting other people she wants to punch in the face, but I will take annoying judgy suburban moms, even if that's it. Mostly because they are one of my fears of ever having kids myself.*

Much of the time when I read a book based on a blog I think "I could have just read this for free online" and I still sort of think that with this book. But since this wasn't a blog I followed prior to picking this up (and not one I've started following, but more because I have enough trouble keeping up with the blogs I follow now and don't need to add more to that list unless they're AMAZING) I didn't feel like I spent money to read a bunch of posts I've already read. It felt like reading a blog, in that each of the essays were related (in that they involved the same people) but were each free-standing stories about some aspect of dealing with obnoxious people.

The book is funny. I like Mann's sense of humor so even if she is writing about something that isn't necessarily all that unique, at least it's entertaining. And it's not ALL about parenting. A few parts are about when she and her husband first got together (they met online in the early days of the internet when everyone was still dial-up) but yeah, the majority is about Mann failing to live up to the standards of other suburban moms in terms of keeping the house clean, signing the kids up for the "right" extracurricular activities, etc.

Would you like some quotes from the book, to get an idea of her style? (Or, I guess you could just go to her blog, but that doesn't give me much to talk about here.)
On setting up a cleaning chart for her and her husband: He argued that he didn't have much "experience" cleaning toilets or mopping floors (as if I'd put myself through college working as a janitor or something) and didn't think he'd do a very good job...As you might imagine, that conversation didn't go very well. I think it ended with me saying to the love of my life something along the lines of: Go fuck yourself, Hubs. I'm sorry you're such a delicate flower, but I'm not built for domesticity any more than you are."
On finding after school activities for her daughter: Cheerleading was not a hit: "What am I doing here, Mommy? I'm freezing cold and I'm cheering for a bunch of boys to win a game! Who cheers for me? (Exactly, Adolpha. Exactly.)
On dealing with pain in the ass people: I always say "excuse me" even though I heard perfectly well what the person said. I feel that by saying "excuse me," I'm giving them a chance to realize they're being an asshole, and they can change their attitude for the second attempt. 
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*I understand how selfish that fear is but that's the type of selfish I get to be cos I don't have kids. SO MANY FEARS

Title from page 170, location 2306

Mann, Jen. People I Want To Punch In The Throat. Ballantine Books, 2014. Kindle

Friday, November 20, 2015

Bookshelf tour!

Now that we're all moved in and settled, you guys want a bookshelf tour?* Of course you do. Or if you don't, whatever, my blog. Here we go, bottom up

 I'm not going to say we bought the house because of the built ins because that would be ridiculous. We also bought it for the fireplace.

But seriously, look at this thing. I can fit in it.

Anyway bookshelves. These built ins are in the basement and can you tell which side is mine? We agreed to split the shelves so Tom gets all his sports stuff down here and I get a selection of some of my favs.
Moving upstairs, we actually do have some more built ins on this floor, but so far they have not been taken over by books. Well, except for Calvin and Hobbes but otherwise, it's pictures and mementos and Mets bobble heads and a brick** and Nightmare Before Christmas music boxes. As you do.
But back to the books.
This is where the bulk of the books live. They are marginally organized. Shakespeare is mostly together. Horror (minus the Stephen King and a few other picks) are together. Vonnegut and Morrison are together and I don't really know why they always end up next to one another but they do. The rest of it might get organized at some point. Maybe.
This table behind the couch is not technically a bookshelf but yeah, it's only a matter of time before it fills up.

Our bookshelves/night tables. Tom's side (on the right) is random books that didn't end up somewhere else. His sports books all made their way downstairs, hence the lack of theme here. Oh also and there are random DVDs that ended up upstairs instead of with all of the other movies.

My shelf (left) includes my favs: Fforde, Bryson, Moore and then a few other key books.

There's shelf in the spare room and right now it's spillover. Which is sort of what the room itself is though we're working on cleaning that up. I don't have a picture of it cos I forgot to take one when I was upstairs and now I'm downstairs and, well, I think you see the problem.

So there you go. My bookshelves.

*Also I want to post something that isn't a review and this is what I came up with. Technically I wrote a draft post where the only thing in the post was "Bookshelf tour!" Thanks, past me, for the idea.
**If you are curious, the brick says "Trapped in a brick factory get help" and is a replica of the one at CitiField when they built the new stadium because every once in awhile I give great gifts.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Grief is as much about regret for what you've never had as sadness for what you've lost

I picked up Us by David Nicholls as part of a book club with a few other friends. I've never read anything of his before but he's sort of been on my periphery and One Day is still something I think I'd like to pick up. I feel like that "still" suggests that I didn't like this book and that's not quite true. It's not a favorite, sure, but I think I'd like his writing applied to a different premise.

It's not even that the premise here is bad. It just falls into my "middle aged white guy problems" shelf, which is far too crowded as is and something that I'm just less interested in at this point. But let's back up and get into what this book is about.

Douglas, the aforementioned middle-aged white guy, is at a bit of a turning point in his life. His teenage son is just about ready to graduate and he and his wife have planned a monthlong tour through Europe to visit various art museums and other cultural touchstones and things seem to be going swell until Doug's wife Connie tells him she's thinking they should get divorced. But she still wants to go through with the trip. Obviously. Be silly to cancel it now. Douglas is devastated by the thought of divorce but thinks perhaps love can be rekindled during this vacation.

Spoiler: things don't go well for Douglas. Sometimes it's funny, a lot of the time it's embarrassing and several times I wanted to hit the characters. This book kept making me think, what if the guy actually marries the manic-pixie dream girl? Well, to start with, they have a kid, who grows up to be an asshole. And then everyone is miserable. Not because of the kid. Well not just because of the kid. Mostly cos they're all sort of assholes.

At this start of this, when Connie tells Douglas in the middle of the night she's thinking of leaving him, I spent the time hoping that he'd be able to convince her that they should stay together, they're better together.

Then they went on this trip across Europe (her idea) and I saw the whole family actually interacting with each other, and I thought "You know what? I know you're all family and everything but you should probably spend as much time away from each other as possible. Cos you're all TERRIBLE together. You all, and this includes you kid, seem like you'd be far happier if you just didn't spend time together. Ever. Maybe just around the holidays."

Some of the son's problem is that he's a teenager and in general, they are just the worst. Some of it is also that he's inconsiderate and an asshole, beyond normal teenager bounds. He has his father don't get along, it seems mostly because the son is suuuuch a brooding artist, and the dad is a know-it-all scientist type. The mom is also the artistic type and is fully on board with her son's behavior, including when they're all staying in France and said teenage son brings a bunch of people back to his adjoining hotel room to play loud music and then have (loud) sex with this girl he just met right on the other side of the wall his parents are staying at and STOP THAT NOW.

No matter how much Douglas wants to be the perfect family and to patch things up, nothing is going his way and again, I was sort of rooting for everyone to realize they'd all be better off if they just wandered off and maybe just called once in awhile to let everyone know they were fine. And I think cos I was hoping that would be the case, the book didn't quite work for me. There were funny parts and even a few poignant moments but overall I just wanted everyone to go their own way cos getting along seemed impossible.

Gif rating:
Title quote from page 264-265

Nicholls, David. Us. Harper, 2014.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Brave and anal: the ideal space explorer

When I found out The Martian movie was going to be released this fall I got super excited and immediately started re-reading the book because of course I did. It's great. Then I decided I needed another themed book to prepare me for the movie and what's this? Mary Roach's Packing for Mars is for sale? SIGN ME UP.

Mary Roach is great. I love her.

As with Bonk and Stiff, Roach approaches a topic, this time space travel, with curiosity and humor. I'm sure it's no surprise that sending things and people into space is a lot of work, but I don't think I quite appreciated all of the details. There's a delicate balance of making sure things actually work in zero gravity, but also don't kill the astronauts. Surprise, it is not all that easy to keep people alive up in space. Roach opens with:
To the rocket scientist, you are a problem. You are the most irritating piece of machinery he or she will ever have to deal with. You and your fluctuating metabolism, your puny memory, your frame that comes in a million different configurations. You are unpredictable. You're inconsistent. You take weeks to fix.
Ugh, humans. Space travel would be so easy without you but you insist on going up there. Pain the ass.

Roach goes into the history of sending people up into the void and all of the issues that have come with that, tackling issues such as toilets and hygiene (fact, people were stinky) and even gets to take a ride in the vomit comet, which sounds equal parts terrifying and super fun. She talks about space programs in the US, Russia, and Japan. Fun fact, Japan uses forensic origami as part of their astronaut training/interview process. "Deterioration [in origami crane folding, as they have to fold 1,000 cranes] in accuracy shows impatience under stress."

Overall this was super fun, as are all of her books, so not too much of a surprise. If you wanted to know way-too-much about bodily functions in space, this is most definitely a book to check out.

Gif rating:

Title quote from location 2866

Roach, Mary. Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void. W.W. Norton & Company, 2011. Kindle

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Imagine how much happier we would be...if we didn't have the weight of gender expectations

"We Should All Be Feminists" is an essay version of Chimanda Ngozi Adichie's TEDx and it is great. It's also super short (about 60 pages) so there really isn't much of an excuse for people to not read this.

It is, as the title suggests, her reasons why everyone should be a feminist and how gendered expectations can hurt both men and women and wouldn't it be swell if things were actually equal? And of course it's done with Adichie's skill.

I'm not particularly concerned if feminist writing is a bit angry towards dudes, but I understand that being nice is a far better strategy and Adichie takes the route of not blaming people or an entire gender but focusing on the way society has set up the divide. She calls herself the "Happy Feminist" after a journalist told her she should "never call [herself] a feminist since feminists are women who are unhappy because they cannot find husbands." This was later expanded to "Happy African Feminist Who Does Not Hate Men and Who Likes to Wear Lipgloss and High Heels for Herself and Not For Men" which is a mouthful but maybe if people did have such (stupid) notions on what a feminist needs, it wouldn't be needed.

She illustrates her points with stories from her life, such as the time in school she had the highest score on a test, which was supposed to come with an award of class monitor. Except the teacher decided that the class monitor had to be a boy and so the person with the second-highest score was put in charge.
If we do something over and over, it becomes normal. If we see the same thing over and over, it becomes normal. If only boys are made class monitoring, then at some point we will all think, even if unconsciously, that the class monitor has to be a boy.
I should point out that while this essay does not come off as angry, this does not mean that Adichie is not angry or that being angry about injustice is a bad thing. She does talk about how women expressing anger is typically seen as a bad thing and how women are conditioned to be so concerned with being "likeable" that they're punished when they're angry or aggressive, or other traits that boys are praised for. Of course, expectations on boys to be tough and strong and that weakness and vulnerability are the worst possible things are hurting them as well.

She makes the argument about why "human rights" or "equalist" or whatever other term people have come up with to avoid "feminist" is ridiculous.
Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general - but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women. The problem was not about being human, but specifically about being a female human. For centuries, the world divided human beings into two groups and then proceeded to exclude and oppress one group. It is only fair that the solution to the problem acknowledge that.
 Take that.

This is wonderful and a quick read so everyone, get on that.

Gif rating:
Title quote from location 202

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. "We Should All Be Feminists." Vintage, 2014.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Chronological living is a kind of lie. That's why I don't do it anymore

I was wandering around The Strand one day, failing to talk myself into a few graphic novels, but one one of the many themed tables (which PS I loooooooove) I found this book How to Life Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu. It's the first book in awhile that I've picked up without really knowing anything about it other than what the back of the book told me. But it seemed interesting enough so I went with it.

The book features protagonist Charles Yu (yes, same as the author) living in the future as a time machine mechanic. Sort of like AAA for time machines. He also lives in his time machine with his dog-that-doesn't-exist Ed and the machine's onboard depressed computer TAMMY. Between assignments, he visits his mother, who's retired to a time loop, reliving the same hour forever, and searches for his father who invented the time machine and then disappeared.

One day he gets stuck in a time loop himself. He rushes back to headquarters to pick up his machine, which was being serviced, when he sees his future self stepping out of a machine. He shoots his future self and as he's dying, future self gives present self a book telling him the book is the key. Present self jumps in the machine and now is doomed where he'll eventually have to travel back in time to get shot so he can give future self the book.

Wendig talks about mistakes new writers make and one of those struck a nerve when it came to this book. Get to the Fucking Story Already. I appreciate there's world building but I got to page 80 and the story hadn't really begun yet. Foundations were still being laid and I was losing interest. And then I started to zone out while reading and this book is so meta, you need to pay attention. By the end I couldn't really remember anything about the book, just that I was so bored while reading it.

Maybe at some point I'll revisit it. I feel like there's an interesting story hidden in here. Maybe I just need to be in a different frame of mind for it.

Gif rating:

Title quote from page 22

Yu, Charles. How to Life Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. Vintage, 2010.