Monday, January 30, 2017

Danse Macabre: Why do people want to be horrified?

I've had this sort of on my radar for awhile. Cos I like King's writing, even when it's non-fiction. I was hoping this would be sort of like King's nonfiction On Writing, which is excellent. I'm a fan of horror fiction. Obviously. Even the history and study of. One of my fav classes in college was "Horror Fiction" (fittingly enough). So I figured this would be right up my alley.

Maybe it could have been if it wasn't published in the early '80s, with a focus on horror fiction over the last 30 years. Or maybe if I read this when it was first published and was familiar with all of the movies and TV shows he talked about. When I knew the movie or the book, things were good. When I didn't, (and this was often) it was boring. It started to feel like a slog and I thought about stopping a few times but by then I was so far through it I was pretty much like "Dammit, my stats aren't taking a hit cos of this."

If you are a big fan of horror movies and TV shows and books from the '50s through the '80s this might be just the thing for you. And he talks about some of the more classic writers in the horror and suspense genre (with Wilkie Collins getting a shout-out). I liked those parts, when he's discussing Frankenstein and the like. Or when he was talking about horror fiction in a more general sense, instead of discussing a specific piece of media. But so much of the time I just didn't care.

I guess I could talk more about what he wrote about, how he split up the book, but honestly, I don't want to. I don't remember a lot of the book. As I already said, if you're a big fan of horror movies especially (I feel like we spent a lot of time there) you'd probably like this. Of course if you're that big of a fan of horror stuff from this time period, it's also likely you already know about this. He provides lots of recommendations (included 100 books and 100 movies listed out in a couple appendixes) and there's a little of everything there. The book shows its age a bit, not just in the focus, but in comments that are...less than enlightened and things I would hope King doesn't think any more.

Or if you want King nonfiction, maybe just read On Writing again, because that's a really great book.

Gif rating:
King, Stephen. Danse Macabre. Pocket Books, 2011. Kindle. Originally published 1987.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Reading Guilt

I posted back in December about social justice reads because the world is terrifying and I want to learn all that I can. And that is still a goal and still something I want to focus on. But I also realized I need to make sure I don't burn myself out.
Burn out and become this cat
The other day I finished It's Up to the Women and was looking for the next book to read, going through my list of books I already own and I thought I'd start a book that is just for entertainment, John Dies at the End by David Wong. And then I started to feel guilty that I was reading something that didn't address notions of racism or sexism or classism*. It's not a social justice read, is what I'm saying and can I afford to just ignore this and put my head in the sand? Is that what I'm doing here?

Then I say to myself "shut up". I mean, I say it with love, but still. Reading a book for entertainment is fine and beating myself up over it is stupid and if I get too frustrated I'll end up not doing anything.

For whatever reason, I didn't feel this same guilt when it came to rereading (or in my case, relistening) to Harry Potter. Maybe because I listened to the first book with my mom during a car ride, so then it wasn't my choice. (Or I mean, it was, kinda. We chose it together when we were deciding what to listen to during the trip.) Of course, then I listened to the next book. And then started the third, and haven't felt any guilt over those. Maybe cos I'm listening instead of reading (audiobooks ftw!)? Or maybe because it's Harry Potter and it's about fighting their own battles? Or maybe because it's Harry Potter and I'm never going to feel guilty about rereading those? (Plus relistening to the Oh Witch Please episodes, of course).

So I'm going to continue to read social justice books. Obviously. And I'm going to read books that are just for entertainment. Especially if they are books that are already sitting on my shelves.
I realize I sort of answered my own concerns in this post. But writing this helped, if only to remind myself to calm down and not worry so much if I'm doing the right kind of reading.

How's your reading going so far?

*I should say that's not the overt purpose of the story, at least not from what I can see. Perhaps the concepts will be there in a more subtle form.

Monday, January 23, 2017

It's Up to the Women: The spirit requires cultivation

I received a copy of It's Up to the Women from NetGalley in exchange for a review, which was pretty swell.

And the timing of this review is mostly coincidental, but doesn't stop it from being a nice follow up to the INCREDIBLE, INSANE, INSPIRING turnout from the Women's Marches around the world.

It's Up to the Women is a collection of essays by Eleanor Roosevelt originally published in 1933 when the US was in the midst of the Great Depression. It's advice for what women can do to make things better for everyone.

On the one hand, it shows its age with a strong focus on the domestic sphere and a section of recipes that includes things like hot prune juice and boiling pasta for 25 minutes*.

On the other hand, there's a lot here that made me do a double take. Like I said, there is a focus on the domestic sphere but Roosevelt advocates for it to be looked up as a profession, with the same level of respect. She also doesn't limit women to the home and kitchen, but talks about women being doctors and lawyers and scientists. She talks about how families shouldn't be thrown into financial despair because they have to go to the doctor. She talks about how women may keep working after marriage out of necessity, not just economic necessity but because working may give her a sense of purpose or allows her to express her personality in a way she can't as a wife and mother and that this is a good thing. And she advocates equal pay for equal work. And for regular vacation and working hours

This is a product of the Depression, so naturally there is a lot about how money doesn't bring happiness and the suggestion to look to things that are inexpensive or free, the importance of creating and sticking to a budget.

This is of course not to say that the book is perfect. Class and sexism are very lightly touched on. Race not at all. Institutionalized racism/sexism/classism is basically ignored. She talks at one point about how there are no female politicians not because of sexism but because women haven't been allowed in politics long enough to gain the experience necessary for political office. I suppose this is another way the book shows its age.

But ultimately I enjoyed the book and highlighted a ton of quotes. So why don't I share some of those now?
The price of a garment is not always indicative of its real worth nor is it indicative of whether you are buying something that has been made under sweat shop conditions or not. This is a phase which even the poorest, in planning a clothes budget, should consider, for no matter what we can afford to buy, we cannot afford to buy at the expense of the health and strength of our fellow human beings.
What would have seemed to one generation absolutely immoral will to another generation simply seem a matter of custom and manners and therefore in a changing world we must bear in mind that we cannot be too sure that ideals which have served us in the past are to continue to serve us in the future.
A woman, just like a man, may have a great gift for some particular thing. That does not mean that she must give up the joy of marrying and having a home and children. It simply means, when we set them in opposition to each other, that we haven't as yet grown accustomed to the fact that women's lives must be adjusted and arranged for in just the same way that men's lives are. Women may have to sacrifice certain things at times - so do men.
Fourteen years have now gone by and everywhere people are asking, "What have the women done with the vote?" I often wonder why they don't ask the men the same question, but I realize that it is a high compliment to women that evidently they were expected to bring about some marked change in political conditions.
I enjoyed the book more than I thought I would. It was a lot more relevant than I gave it credit for and I'm very glad I got a chance to read it. It's up to the women, indeed.

Gif rating:
*Though I don't know if that last one is its age or just nonsense, cos I could feel my grandmother rolling in her grave when I read that line, and she lived through the Great Depression. So really, no excuse.

Title quote from location 990

Roosevelt, Eleanor. It's Up to the Women. Nation Books, 2017. Originally published 1933. NetGalley

Thursday, January 19, 2017

China Rich Girlfriend: Anyone can be forgiven. Anything can be forgotten

China Rich Girlfriend was so much fun. It's just more of the same as Crazy Rich Asians, and I mean that as a compliment. It's more people being insanely, stratospherically rich and yet in a way that doesn't actually make me want to stab all the things, or aspire to be them. OK, maybe there was some wishing I could be them, since I finished up the book while flying coach reading about these people that own their own 747s and yeah. OK then it might have been nice to have one of those.

As with CRA, there's a plot. Kinda. I mean, it's there so you can see all of the insane wealth and name dropping. Rachel Chu is about to get married to Nick Young (so, um, spoilers for the first book, I guess) who is willing to give up his craaaaaaaazy inheritance to be with her. But before that can happen they make a trip to Shanghai and we get to see all the crazy richness there.

Astrid is back, which is swell cos I like her a lot. She's still having problems with her husband, who is now a tech billionaire, which he thought would put him on the same level as her family. Astrid continues to be levelheaded without being boring (*cough* Nick and Rachel *cough*) and have excellent fashion sense.

There are some new characters, Carlton, who loves expensive fancy cars and his kinda-sorta girlfriend Colette, a social media celebrity, who is constantly stalked by the paparazzi.

But really, my favorite part was the woman who takes the nouveau riche of China My-Fair-Lady's them into the right kind of rich. I would have been pretty happy if the whole book had turned out to be this because the bit of it we get with Kitty Pong was super fun.

Plus Kwan includes lots of fourth-wall-breaking footnotes to explain Chinese slang, or certain dishes, or other cultural details.

It was a fun story. Sure, there isn't much substance there but that's not really a problem. Sometimes you just want a simple, light, fluffy story that let's you see the stupid crazy rich. And this hits the spot.

Gif rating:
Title quote from page 122

Kwan, Kevin. China Rich Girlfriend. Anchor Books, 2015.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The DUFF: I decided that there were a lot of benefits to being the Duff

A friend lent me this book and I was looking for something that would be a quick and easy read, something light, and this came at the perfect time.

I only knew about the book cos of the movie starring Mae Whitman (aka Ann aka Egg)
I thought the plot of The DUFF (designated ugly fat friend) was going to be that the mean girls keep this girl around purpose of making themselves look better and didn't actually like her. What I learned is I need to stop guessing plots like this because I am TERRIBLE at it. Instead it is not that at all and instead it's a girl, Bianca, who is not traditionally hot as her friends are but you know what? They're her actual friends. They like her. They like being around her. They care about her. Female friendships ftw.

The plot is really main character Bianca is out with her friends at some teen club when the school's player-in-residence starts a conversation with Bianca so her hot friends will see he's giving their friend attention and thus, want to have sex with him. Wesley informs Bianca of her position as a DUFF, Bianca throws a drink at him, and here we have the opening.

But the fact is, while her friends are actually her friends and treat her as such, Bianca can't get Wesley's words out of her mind. Couple this with Bianca's absent mother and on-the-brink-of-relapse alcoholic father, Bianca is hurt and looking for escape. Which she finds in boning Wesley cos why not screw (one of) the thing(s) making you upset?

The book is surprisingly non-judgemental about all the sex. I mean, the character are at times pretty judgemental, though there is growth, learning about slut shaming and how maybe that's a terrible thing and knock that off.

There are teens making mistakes, as teens are wont to do. There are hurt feelings and drama, though overall the book is very funny. Of course Bianca, being the DUFF and therefore opposite of her hot friends, is super smart and sarcastic. There are realizations and growth and moments that were surprisingly touching.

As I said in the beginning, the book was light and fun and a quick read and the right thing at the right time.

Gif rating:
Title quote from page 57

Keplinger, Kody. The DUFF. Poppy, 2010.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Everything I Never Told You: There is no where to go but on

Oh man, this was good.

I have this problem where I hear about these books that are supposed to be great. People say they're great and they're favorites and they recommend these books that sound like they will be great but also make you work a little. Not a huge amount. They are not necessarily requiring me to understand the ins and outs of say Russian real estate (what up, Master and Margarita). But they still intimidate me, so I think "You know, I'll get to that later. For now, let me read [other book, that is usually a lady comic memoir, that are ALSO great in their own way, but maybe don't require the same work]." But then I do put in the work (which ALWAYS ends up being less work than I thought) and I find a book I loooove. A book that is moving and wonderful, that makes me think while I'm reading "This is it. This is worth it."

This is one of those.

It's all about family and secrets and all the things we don't say to each other and the distances that can create. It's a mystery about the death of the favorite daughter of the Lee family. Except it's not really a mystery in the sense that finding out what happened seems secondary to how the family is coping with the loss.

The story takes place in the late '70s in small town Ohio. The Lee family stands out. Father James is second generation Chinese, growing up always aware that he was "other". The mother Marilyn is white and it was made clear to her that should she marry James that her family, her eventual children will never be accepted. The Lees have three children, but James and Marilyn pour their secret hopes and dreams into Lydia.

James wishes to be seen as American. He wishes he could have had the all-American childhood, to be popular, to fit in. Marilyn's ambition had been to become a doctor, something that certainly made her stand out in the '60s when women just didn't do that. Of course, Marilyn didn't achieve her dreams either.

The story is made up of the family dealing with the loss in the present as well as flashbacks to how everyone (including Lydia) got to the point they're currently at. The characters feel like actual people, they do things that are frustrating and dumb and you know, like people who are dumb and frustrating and insecure. But the characters weren't necessarily unlikable (not that that alone is a bad thing and blah blah blah).

Read this. It's excellent and it's touching and it's relatable and it's so so good. And there are multiple narrators. Do you know how I feel about that? (I AM FOR IT!) Dysfunctional families and the secrets we keep.

Gif rating:
Title quote from page 284

Ng, Celeste. Everything I Never Told You. Penguin, 2014.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Virgin Envy: How, exactly, does one 'lose' something that technically is a lack in the first place?

I was browsing NetGalley for some new titles when I stumbled on this book Virgin Envy: The Cultural (In)Significance of the Hymen. And yes, I am there for that. Luckily I was approved and now here we are.

What are your feelings on academic essays about the cultural significance of the hymen? Because if your response is anything other than...
[find enthusiastic gif]
...then this probably isn't for you.

I was thinking this would be less academic and more pop sciency. Think Jessica Valenti style. And it's fine that it wasn't since I am down with the academic stuff (though I realize how little academic stuff I've actually read since my academic days). But fair warning for those that may think otherwise.
Virginity loss is regularly figured in popular discourse as something deeply transformative for the woman, but the instability of the hymen is a reflection of the instability of this idea. 
The book is a collection of essays looking at the history and cultural meaning of virginity, from medieval poetry, to romance novels, to Bollywood films, to queer theater. It's a nice slice across a number of areas though they do acknowledge the lack of research on lesbian virginity. (Or as they say: It is surprising that, though virginity studies is a field dominated by the idea that virginity is female, lesbian experiences of virginity are unaccounted for in the scholarship.)

Anytime I'm trying to review a collection (essays, short stories) I'm never really sure the best way to go about it. Especially when it's a collection by different authors. Since there are so few essays here, why don't I include a quick thought on each.

Before we get into this,
just had to share this and a link to the episode of Adam Ruins Everything, which is relevant to the topic at hand.

"I Will Cut Myself and Smear Blood on the Sheet: Testing Virginity in Medieval and Modern Orientalist Romance" by Amy Burge
Yet, despite the diversity, there are some aspects of common to all virginity tests. For a start, they are unreliable. For as long as there have been virginity tests, there have been ways to cheat them.
Burge looks at the ways virginity tests (blood on a sheet on the wedding night or how loud she pees or if they can drink out of a magical horn without spilling or other ridiculous tests) have been used, both in the past and in a subgenre of romance where "foreign" (here means basically not-white/not-Western) hero is from a culture that still focuses on a woman's virginity and thus there is a hymen-breaking scene or some other sort of proof of the heroine's virginity.

"Between Pleasure and Pain: The Textual Politics of the Hymen" by Jodi McAlister
Though virginity as a notion was somewhat demedicalized, the hymen remained a subject of "profound interest".
This chapter opens with a discussion of Derrida, so YOU KNOW you're in for a good time. But skipping over this, there is some discussion about how historical people don't have a clue where the hymen is. Sort of like the wandering uterus. But eventually people settled on a location for the hymen and then the focus is all about poetry with guys busting through it and the pain it caused the woman. Pain, but it could also cure disease (oh those humors) and turned women into nymphomaniacs. A whole genre popped up around this called "defloration mania" some of which was subtle and some of which was...not.

"The Politics of Virginity and Abstinence in the Twilight Saga" by Jonathan Allan and Cristina Santos
Virginity fascinates the imagination in numerous ways, probably because it has been turned into a myth
This essay obviously focuses on virginity and Twilight, if not clear from the title, but they look at the interesting fact that it's not just Bella who is the virgin, but Edward as well. So much of the conversation is focused on female virginity, and the few times male virginity is discussed it's to make the person less masculine and used for comedic value (think The 40-Year-Old Virgin). The essay does discuss how the traditional script is reversed a bit, with Edward being the one "protecting the virginity" and Bella wanted to get her some.

"Lady of Perpetual Virginity: Jessica's Presence in True Blood" by Janice Zehentbauer and Cristina Santos
How does one approach the construction of Jessica's perpetual virginity in conjunction with her hypersexualized state as a vampire?
I haven't watched True Blood which I think could have helped me follow this a bit more. But the idea is around the position of Jessica before and after turning, especially the fact that she is turned while she's still a virgin and apparently part of the vampireness means you heal, ala Wolverine. Which means that when she, while a vampire, has sexy times, the hymen keeps getting busted and keeps growing back.

"The Queer Saint: Male Virginity in Derek Jarman's Sebastiane" by Kevin McGuiness
Death and sexual intercourse are bound together...serving to illustrate the analogous notion of orgasm as the petite mort.
McGuiness tackles a film from the '70s about St. Sebastian, "a chaste religious zealot within the hedonistic world of the ancient Roman Empire who sublimates his sexual desires and redirects them toward God." There is a bunch about the saints homosexuality and apparently ends with a metaphorical gang rape.

"Troping Boyishness, Effeminacy, and Masculine Queer Virginity: Abedllah Taia and Eyet-Chekib Djaziri" by Gibson Ncube
There is a cavernous gap in the research on male virginity
Ncube examines the work of two openly gay Moroccan writers who play with the idea of queer virginity. I bet there's a lot of good stuff in this chapter, except there are long passages from the authors, which are untranslated from their original French, which I can sort-of-but-not-really read and ended skimming a lot of this.

"Bollywood Virgins: Diachronic Flirtations with Indian Womanhood" by Asma Sayed
After marriage, women are expected to become sacrificial mothers and dedicated wives who abdicate their own desires and needs for the good of their families, particularly their husbands, and the nation.
A look at the tropes in Bollywood romance where a good and proper woman was expected to remain a virgin and dedicate her life to her husband and country. Sayed examines the evolution of the genre, though really things don't change so much in terms of the woman has to be a virgin, or at least only have ever slept with one guy. Makes me wish I knew more about Bollywood movies.

"The Policing of Viragos and Other 'Fuckable' Bodies: Virginity as Performance in Latin America" by Tracy Crowe Morey and Adriana Spahr
[Viragos] create a space centered not on virginity or the lack of it but on the capacity to perform as 'male' in the public sphere.
The essay discusses a history of groups of women from various periods in Latin American history (Catalina de Erauso, 1952-1650; female soldiers of the Mexican Revolution 1910-1917; and guerrilla women from Argentina and military women from Chile during military dictatorships of 1970s & 1980s), who exhibited traditionally male traits and upended gender roles. They could be pretty great, but also cos history is terrible, they were also often tortured for this transgression.

Gif rating:
Title quote from location 1395

eds. Allan, Jonathan A., Cristina Santos, Adriana Spahr. Virgin Envy. University of Regina Press, 2016. Netgalley.

Friday, January 6, 2017

One last infographic

At least one last infographic in the near future. See, now that I've been tracking my stats for awhile, I thought I'd take a look at that last few years and see how things stacked up.


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

My Fav Reads of 2016

In the spirit of looking back on the past year (and in putting off writing reviews a bit longer), as well as on the suggestion of a friend, I've decided to put together a BEST BOOKS of 2016 post.
These are the best books I read in 2016. I thought about looking through my spreadsheet (NERD!) and thinking long and hard about each of the books I read and what they mean to me at the end of the year and determined what are the best books.

Then I remembered that Goodreads does that for me, and shows me which books I marked as 5 stars and I am lazy so let's look at those! In order of when I read them, here are the 5 star books

1. Hamilton by Ron Chernow
I read this with a group at the beginning of the year when a bunch of us realized we all got it. This is a big book and had the possibility of being a very dry read so we needed the moral support. Luckily, Chernow has written an engaging biography, even if he lets his fanboyness come through a few times.

2. Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
Let's keep the Hamilton good times rolling. Because really, the whole reason I read the first book is because of this show. It shouldn't be too much of a surprise that this book, which is a history of the play, annotated lyrics, and beautiful photos, would also be a favorite.

3. My Best Friend's Exorcism by Grady Hendrix
This book was so much fun. It's campy and scary and ALL ABOUT female friendship. There are high school insecurities and class insecurities and it's all bundled up in a neon '80s package. Thinking about the book makes me smile.

4. Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach
I love me some pop science, especially when it's a topic that maybe we don't think too much about and it's explained by an amateur whose enthusiasm is infectious. If anyone's going to make me want to learn more about spit, it's Roach. I feel like I should give an honorable mention to Grunt her book about military technologies, which I gave 4 stars yet loved as much and should perhaps re-evaluate the rating. This is why I hate rating systems.

5. Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
This book. I was blown away by Gay's take on so many different women, focusing on themes of sex and race and assault and family and love. These were difficult women, because they were complex, because they dealt with difficult situations.

6. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Family and secrets and the things we don't tell each other. It's excellent and you should read it.

7. Moranifesto by Caitlin Moran
This was just a great book for the end of the year. The end of this year. It's a collection of her columns, some light hearted and ridiculous, the sort of thing that is great when you just want to escape. And then others are serious and make you realize some things are shit and you better get off your ass and do something to make it right.
Here's to even more 5 star reads in 2017.

Monday, January 2, 2017