Monday, October 24, 2016

MasterAndMargareadalong Post IV: Is that vodka?

It's Monday which means another MasterAndMargareadalong post! Thank you, Alice, for hosting this fever dream of a readalong. Now let's jump right into Devil Dance Party
Woland is having a ball and Margarita has to play hostess, as we learned in the last section. She has to wear a picture of a poodle around her neck because sure. That's what I think of when I think of Devil night wear.

Guests start popping out of coffins that are falling out of the fireplace and it's very exhausting to stand there and wave to people and her arm and leg get super tired. Also there's some racist shit happening here, with a jazz band turning into gorillas and other apes and
Anyway, it's a few hours of this and finally Woland shows up but he's dressed all in rags, which really, everyone else dressed up. Mikhail's (tram death guy from the first section) head is brought out on a platter and while talking over it they kill some guy that was eavesdropping on the party and drink his blood out of the head (or the head becomes a cup. I'm a little confused here). Woland's clothes now turn into something suited for a ball but it's also pretty much time for the ball to end. Also Margarita drinks some of this blood and this should be coming back up, right? I would assume so but who knows with this book.
Me at all times with this book
All of the guests (save for the guy who ended up murdered) had all done terrible things so I guess they're all in Hell but you get to go to fancy parties so seems like an odd version of Hell. Unless they were all really shy people and this is their version of Hell. One of the women attending, Frieda(?), had smothered her child with a handkerchief which yes, very not good but Margarita points out the man that abandoned them should also share part of the blame. Frieda also seems to be the only one tormented for what she did, as a handkerchief follows her around, which seems more like what you'd expect Hell to be like. But I don't know why she's the only one that seems to be punished. Maybe cos she's upset about it? The others seem pretty happy with all the murders they committed so I guess the lesson here is own your terribleness?
Oh hey, also why did all of the women have to be naked but the dudes were all dressed up fancy?

After the party the gang is hanging out in Woland's room and at this point Margarita is expecting her wish to be granted, since that was the deal. But no one seems to be paying attention and Azazello and Behemoth have a shooting contest. Finally they ask Margarita what she wants and instead of asking for the Master she asks that Frieda be forgiven. Which is sweet and is granted but is also sort of anticlimactic. I mean, we saw Frieda for like 2 seconds and there isn't a lot of drama around the idea that Margarita is using her one request not for herself.

Not that it matters cos then Woland brings back the Master anyway and disappears the guy that had moved into their basement apartment so they can live there. He then starts granting a bunch of wishes like giving the Master back his burned manuscript, letting Natasha stay a witch (good choice, Tash), giving the pig-man (who is back to a regular man) a certificate saying where he was last night ( that a thing?), and turns the vampire guy back into people. Woland even gives Margarita a gold and diamond horseshoe and then sends she and the Master back to their apartment, instead of Margarita deciding to stay with Natasha.

Margarita briefly loses the horseshoe, which is found by the lady that spilled the sunflower oil that caused Mikhail's death, but Azazello gets it back and again, it doesn't seem like much happens in this scene and I don't know why we needed it. But I'm sure it's a biting satire about...something important.
The Margarita starts reading the now-unburned manuscript which means we get some more chapters from it and uuugh. Well, we learn that Pilate's dog is named Banga, so that's fun. Otherwise Pilate orders that Judah should be protected but actually means that he should be killed and then he is killed and Jesus is sad.

You guys, I don't even anymore. I have no idea what happened in the ball or why it happened; I don't know why the devil is granting all these requests; I don't understand the shooting contest or the bit with the gold horseshoe. I have no idea anymore and this section, which lacked a flying Margarita was far less interesting than last week's read. And I have no idea what's going to happen in the end. Maybe Margarita will finish reading Master's book and decide the critics were right? Maybe she'll get sent back to the devil cos of the witch-being and blood-drinking? What about the people back in the hospital?

One section left and perhaps all of our questions will be answered!

Title quote from page 276

Bulgakov, Mikhail. trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. The Master and Margarita. Penguin Classics, 1997. Originally published 1966.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Those who know the human gut intimately see beauty

I thought I was doing a good job keeping up with reviews. I know I'm a bit behind but I thought I was getting into the swing of things. Then I checked my list to see what's up next for review and realized it's a book I finished back in July. In that time I've done some book shelf rearranging which means naturally I don't even know where the book is and man. Two steps forward, one step back over here.

In my defense, part of this is because I started doing NetGalley and I try to review those as soon as I finish them rather than going in order of when I've finished reading the books, so that pushes the books I'm reading on my own back.

ANYWAY, the good news is that I found the book and it's Mary Roach's Gulp so even though this isn't going to be the most well-thought-review* it's Roach and she's great. So, here we go.
First things first, I love Roach. I am all about science books by non-science but very curious people and thus far she hasn't steered me wrong.** So on a trip to Boston when I saw Gulp I had to get it. Obviously. And once again, Roach manages to be hilarious and make me feel like I learned something.

This time Roach takes the reader through the alimentary canal, starting at the top and working her way down. There's the normal stuff you'd expect from a book on the digestive system, such as the role smell plays in taste, how the teeth and stomach do their thing to turn the food you eat into the calories you need. But then there's the off-the-beaten-path stuff that makes her so much fun. There are chapters such as: "Big Gulp: How to survive being swallowed alive", "The Longest Meal: Can thorough chewing lower the national debt", and "Up Theirs: The alimentary canal as criminal accomplice". Truly something for everyone.

And of course a big thing in Roach's work is talking to the scientists that are obsessed with their particular line of study. No one can wax poetic about the benefits of salvia quite like Erika Silletti, or can tell you ALL the nuances to chewing like Andries van der Bilt or the dozens of other scientists that make it their business to understand all their is to know about the taste buds, the stomach, the colon, etc.

She delves into some of the scientific history of how we know what we know about digestion, which includes some disturbing relationships, such as that of William Beaumont and Alexis St. Martin and involves one man dropping food into the other man's stomach via a hole in his side (think of it as fishing) to see how stomach acid does its thing.

Depending on your squick factor, there can be some stuff here's that's too gross. I don't think she goes overboard or dwells on anything for too long, and some of the stuff can be gross, but she seems to delight in this grossness which makes it a lot easier to swallow.
Her footnotes are hilarious. Sometimes they shine additional light on whatever the topic is and other points you get things like this:
Also join Litsy
So yeah. Roach is super fun and I highly recommend you check her out.

Gif rating:
*In addition to being behind on reviews I also apparently forgot to take notes after reading this so starting from scratch here. AND I didn't even write down any page numbers with quotes I like. Past me is such an ass.
**Other titles of hers I've liked: Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and SexGrunt: The Curious Science of Humans at WarPacking for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, and Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Title quote from page 326

Roach, Mary. Gulp: Adventures On The Alimentary Canal. W.W. Norton & Company, 2013.

Monday, October 17, 2016

MasterAndMargareadalong Post III: Don't dream of any apartments in Moscow

It's Monday so it's another #MasterAndMargareadalong post (chapters 17-22), wherein we try to make sense of this fever dream. Or at least use a lot of gifs. Thank you, Alice, because there is no way I could have got through this without readalong support.
We are now more than 60% through this book. And are things making any more sense?
But I do believe this is a truly biting satire for anyone with an understanding of Soviet Moscow during this time. Really, housing sounds terrible and I understand the pain of trying to get an apartment in a city.

All of the money that the devil & co. rained from the sky during the magic show keeps turning into scraps of paper, which is causing chaos in the wider city as all these cab drivers and other merchants are getting paid in what appears to be money, but turns out to be trash. The only guy left running the theater is the bookkeeper* cos everyone else has been disappeared in one way or another. He's trying to report what happened to someone important, so he goes to visit Petrovich except instead of it being a guy, it's just his suit. Sitting at his desk, conducting business as usual.
Not wanting to file his complaint with a sentient suit, Vasily (bookkeeper) goes to another office but everyone there keeps bursting into song. In between verses they try to explain to Vasily that they can't help themselves and the choirmaster has done this to them. Everyone is taken to Homeless's hospital because I do seriously think everyone will end up there. And then Vasily is arrested cos his money from the theater show turns into foreign money and of course. Everyone is either arrested or ends up in the hospital. Or Yalta.

Berlioz's (guy who got his head cut off) uncle gets a telegram from Berlioz announcing his own funeral. Which is odd but his uncle is ALL ABOUT getting his hands on a sweet Moscow apartment and I get it, but man, we are beating a dead horse over this Moscow housing thing. He doesn't get the apartment, however, because instead one of the devil's cronies beats him with a roast chicken.
Part of me wants to know what the satirical significance of that is and another part of me wants to never find out a deeper meaning and just enjoy the Boston Market Beatdown for what it is.

Another guy, the bartender from the theater, is at the apartment to ask Woland what is up with the fake money. The devil is instead concerned with the fact that the bartender was serving rotten food during the show and hey, fair point. Feta cheese should NOT be green. So then the giant cat beats him up, sans-poultry.

We then FINALLY meet Margarita. I mean, we somewhat met her before, in the Master's stupid story, though we never technically got her name. But now we know and she is far better than the Master made her out to be. She's still super in love with him and sad that he's gone and makes a pact with the devil (or really, one of the devil's friends, the one who administers chicken beatings), to rub this mysterious cream all over her body. She knows she's walking into something dangerous but doesn't care.

She rubs the cream on her as instructed and it turns her into a 20 year old and also gives her the power of flight and makes her invisible. So that's neat. Before she becomes invisible her housekeeper(?) Natasha sees her and is pretty impressed that she looks so good and also I think a little cos she's naked and OH MAN,
this is already a way better relationship than between the Master and Margarita.

Margarita flies off on a broom and decides to go fuck things up for one of the critics that was mean to the Masters (terrible, terrible) book. He's not home, since he's at Berlioz's funeral, so she smashes her way in through one of the windows, destroys everything with a hammer and then floods not only his apartments but the ones below too.

After she's done with her destruction who shows up but Natasha, also naked and flying on a pig who was actually some guy who really would rather be a person and not a flying pig. Natasha and Margarita have a good laugh and think how awesome it is that they're witches now and then Natasha flies off while Margarita follows Azazello's instructions. She lands and then is picked up by a rook driving a car and is driven to a party.

Back at that Moscow apartment everyone wants their hands on, the devil is having a little get together and needs a female hostess, hence Margarita's transformation. The cat is cheating at a game of chess, while the vampire woman Hella rubs some sort of fire and brimstone salve on the devil's knee. He's looking at a globe which is actually the real globe and Margarita is intrigued because let's face it, that's pretty neat. Then Natasha and her flying pig show up, and please, let's just have Natasha and Margarita get together, hmmm?
So yeah, Margarita is pretty cool and not the subservient wilting flower Master described. I guess that's the cream's doing but I'd like to think it was there all along. At the same time, she is sort of a dick, destroying that guy's apartment cos he, a critic, criticized the Master's book. But still, she's at least interesting to read now, especially that I've given up trying to make heads or tales of things. A bird driving a car while a witch flies a pig? Of course!

I can't begin to predict what will happen next week since I hardly know what's happened up to this point. I'm sure it will be bonkers.

*FUN FACT totally unrelated to this book at all, but every time I see the word "bookkeeper" it reminds me of an Encyclopedia Brown story where they had to come up with a word that had 3 double letters in a row and they came up with this one and somehow that blew the case wide open. That is all. Back to the Russian fever dream.

Title quote from page 200

Bulgakov, Mikhail. trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. The Master and Margarita. Penguin Classics, 1997. Originally published 1966.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Don't make me undone by loving you

I received a copy of Difficult Women from NetGalley in exchange for a review and after reading her collection of essays Bad Feminist I was pretty excited for this one. Where Bad Feminist had a mixture of tackling tough issues and more light-hearted fare, this one was a punch in the gut. But in a good way.

Difficult Women is aptly named as it gives vignettes about a bunch of difficult women. Either women put in difficult situations, or complicated women, or a mix of both. There are few what I would consider stories, but it's more a glimpse into the lives of many different women. There are a few themes throughout the work. There's a lot of sex (I think in every story). Many of the stories deal with rape and there are a few stories about child abuse (so quick warnings to people who may want to pick this up. Nothing is too explicit and it doesn't feel gratuitous but it is rough). There are unhealthy relationships. A number of the stories take place in Michigan. There's a few about professors. Siblings and especially twins come up a few times.

There's not much in the way of plot in any of the stories. Nothing necessarily happens. Mostly it's a quick look at the lives these women lead. My favorite story, "Difficult Women", is even more a collection of vignettes of different types of women. Loose Women and Frigid Women and Crazy Women, what they do and how they act and why they are.

I loved "Florida" too, which followed "Difficult Women" and again, gives us vignettes about a number of different people although instead of female archetypes its different people in and around a gated community in Florida. Some are the wealthy women who have lived within the community for years, others are newcomers trying to figure out where or if they fit in here, and others are women who interact with the women of this community but are on the outside. This also included one of my favorite parts in the collection
"Por favor, Caridad," they said, "no mas." The ladies in her classes loved to speak to Caridad in broken Spanish, to show her they were comfortable with her ethnicity despite the paleness of their skin and the wealth of their husbands. Each morning before work, Caridad stared at her reflection in the mirror and practiced not rolling her eyes so she could smile politely at the ladies in her classes.
The story "North Country" is probably the most like an actual full short story. A woman has recently gotten a position at an engineering college in the Upper Peninsula and she's trying to find her place both in this new landscape as well as in a department where she is not only the sole woman but the only black person (everyone assumes she's from Detroit). She meets a lumberjack but has trouble opening herself up to a relationship, sabotaging things at every possible step.

There are a few stories that are on the stranger side of things, like the woman who is married to a man who is an identical twin and the men switch places every once in awhile. There's another story of a woman married to a sweet man who loves her but she also has a boyfriend (that the husband knows about) who physically abuses her. Someone she stays with because she feels she deserves the punishment.

A couple other quotes I highlighted
We were young once and then we weren't. 
She tries to walk not too fast and not too slow. She doesn't want to attract any attention. She pretends she doesn't hear the whistles and catcalls and lewd comments. Sometimes she forgets and leaves her house in a skirt or a tank top because its a warm day and she wants to feel warm air on her bare skin. Before long, she remembers. 
Parker stared at his plate, cleared his throat softly, wondered when he became the kind of man who looked down instead of standing up.
This is not necessarily a collection I will find myself returning too. The stories have a beauty to them and writing is wonderful, but they can also be difficult to face.

Gif rating:
Also totally unrelated to the book, but if you do not follow Roxane Gay on Twitter, especially when she's live tweeting House Hunters, you are missing out.

Title quote from location 2430

Gay, Roxane. Difficult Women. Grove Press, 2017. NetGalley.

Monday, October 10, 2016

MasterAndMargareadalong Post II: Congrats, citizens, you done lied!

Another Monday, so another #MasterAndMargareadalong post! Thank you, Alice, for making us read this book we've all been holding on to.
This week covers chapters 9-16 so we're almost 50% through this book and I still have only the vaguest sense of what's going on. But according to my friend who lent me the book, that's pretty much exactly how you should be going through a first reading of the book so WELL DONE, US! So, let's see if we can make heads or tales of things.
When last we posted, the devil and his cronies had disappeared this guy Styopa to Yalta, which is quite far from Moscow, so they could take over his apartment. I wonder what the devil wants with this crappy apartment. But he wants it. Except now the landlord is asking questions so they frame him for insider trading or something so another problem disappeared. I dunno, I thought the devil would be more creative but I guess making people suddenly disappear is sort of a Soviet thing.

Styopa tries to get in touch with some colleagues to tell them where he is but since they had just talked to him that morning before the disappearing thing, they are skeptical, despite being sent a ton of telegrams (why not just one, sir?) saying where he is. The devil breaks from his normal way of dealing with people he wants to silence (predicting a gruesome death or disappearing them far away) to just straight jumping the guy, and again, this seems like way below the devil. This is not the poetically ironic punishment I have come to expect from the devil, nor is it the ridiculously over-the-top torture I thought demons would dole out.
Then we go to the theater where Woland and his buddies actually do perform some magic, which I had assumed was just some lie they were telling to take Styopa's apartment. They do some card tricks, rain money down, and then give a bunch of clothes away. At this point, they're basically the show from Now You See Me. The MC for the event keeps explaining the tricks (kind of) which is kind of a dick move and everyone is getting annoyed at him. So annoyed that someone in the crowd yells "Off with his head" and Behemoth the cat takes it literally and, well, takes off his head. Don't worry though, when the audience freaks out at this he puts it back and apparently the guy is fine.

Back at the hospital with the Poet/Ivan/Homeless we finally meet someone that I think is the titular "Master" though who knows really. This guy stole some keys off of one of the nurses but instead of using the doors he goes through the balcony and the hospital rooms have balconies? That's fancy. He tells some story about falling in love with a lady with yellow flowers (and apparently carrying ugly yellow flowers is a sign for him to follow her?)
and how they're secretly married except she's already married and I dunno. He was writing some novel about Pilate but it's terrible and a bunch of negative criticism drives him insane, hence why he's now at the hospital.

Lots of people end up at this hospital, like Nikanor, the guy framed by the devil. At some point, you'd think enough people at the hospital are going to have stories about run-ins with the same guys and someone is going to put two and two together. 

We then get another Waynes World flashback to Jesus days, where we see Jesus being hanged on the cross. Matthew Levi had tried to kill Jesus before he could suffer but didn't manage that. Instead one of the guards watching the prisoners gives them each some water and then stabs them in the heart to end things quicker. I don't have much to say here except at one point the book says "the back of his white shirt dark with sweat" and all I could think is white clothes get transparent with sweat and that was a stupid moment to pull me out of the story, but given I still have only the vaguest idea of what is happening or who anyone is, I guess it's not too surprising.

What will happen next week? Legit no idea. Maybe a few other people will end up at the hospital? A few more people will get disappeared to far away locations? The cat will rip off a few other heads and limbs? WHO KNOWS! Not me.

Title quote from page 123

Bulgakov, Mikhail. trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. The Master and Margarita. Penguin Classics, 1997. Originally published 1966.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Q3 Infographic Time!

Another quarter has closed so it's time for another fancy infographic to see how things are shaping up.

Past infographics
Q2 2016 Reading Stats
Q1 2016 Reading Stats
2015 Reading Stats