Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Wilkie-Along Post II: Wilkie's Unduly Assertive Women

Are you ready for some more Wilkie? Because it's post II of our Wilkie Summer Readalong, hosted by Alice aka Reading Rambo.
So this week we read Epochs 2 and 3, Wilkie starts making money from his writing and also is basically common law married to a woman but DEFINITELY not freal married cos he does not approve of said institution.

I actually took a bunch of notes for this section. And by a bunch of notes I mean I wrote down a page number and then key phrases like "daisy hat" or "pretentious breezes". Stuff that was ridiculous and made me laugh. So I am pretty much going to bullet things out, just like I did last time around. #AintBroke #DontFix

But before I do that, I need to confess that whenever Lycett wandered away from talking about Wilkie or Dickens, I faded. Not even a guy named Egg could keep me interested. That's not to say these little tangents couldn't be interesting and I kept thinking how I would rather someone like Bryson was tackling those parts cos his books are like 46% tangents and I love them.

Anyway, let's list out ridiculous things that happened in these sections

  • "But here, to confuse matters, were to apparent opposites that Wilkie regarded as very similar. As he stated in his letter...he believed 'that the Novel and the Play are twin-sisters in the family of Fiction, that the one is drama narrated, as the other is drama acted.'" I reread this section like five times because...yeah, that seems like a pretty good working description of the difference between a play and a novel. Why are these apparently opposites? Is the opposite of a play a novel? Or vice versa? I tried Googling to see if that is a thing and Google has no idea what I'm talking about (it gave me a definition for "novel" the adjective and told me "work" is the opposite of play). Basically, Wilkie thinks these two similar things are indeed similar. 
  • Dickens and Wilkie (and Egg) go on vacation together and get on each others' nerves. Actually it seems like Wilkie mostly got on Dickens nerve by being stingy and cos he would whistle opera hits off-tune.
  • We also learned from this section that Dickens referred to himself as "Inimitable" in letters. As in, that is the name he gives to himself. "Inimitable bringing up the rear". So not only does he refer to himself in the third person but he gave himself a nickname. 
  • Wilkie had a cat named Snooks. That is all.
  • Wilkie hates the giant hats he sees women wearing when he's in Kent. Just real judgey about these women and their hats, which he does say are "as wide as umbrellas" so he may have a point BUT he also talks about how ugly the women are that are wearing said hats so shut up, Fivehead.
  • Dickens and Wilkie attended a production of Paradise Lost where the draw was that Eve would be naked. Just Eve apparently. Except the producers were unable to find a woman with "to her knees" to play that part. Dickens was duly disappointed.
Dickens, basically
  • Wilkie starts seeing a woman named Caroline who is below his station and also has a daughter (her husband died). He tells people that Caroline had been held prisoner by a name who controlled her through mesmerism (hypnotism) but she managed to escape when he threatened to kill her. Even Lycett is like "So this story is pretty much just bullshit."
  • Also, Wilkie Collins believes in mesmerism and when someone explains cold readings to him, he is INSULTED at the idea that this isn't real. I do sort of like the idea of Wilkie writing a book inspired by the Long Island Medium.
The Woman in White that could have been
  • Hans Christian Andersen "annoyed Wilkie by surreptitiously attaching some daisies to his hat and allowing him to walk thus into the village."
  • Wilkie continues to be annoyed at women's fashion, writing "his protestations about the proliferation of crinolines." Perhaps concern yourself less with judging women's clothing choices. (BTW, I would totally have read this lifestyle piece he wrote. I am a hypocrite.)
  • Wilkie had a temporary maid who kept busting in on him while he was in the bathroom. He wrote to Ward telling him "I have reason to believe...[she] must have seen My Person!"
  • Wilkie decides to hang out in London instead of going to the beach and talks about how the air in London is "so much healthier than those pretentious humbugs the seaside breezes" and WAS the air in London really ever healthier than pretty much anywhere else in the country? Also HOW are the breezes pretentious? 
Alright, this was pretty long, so sorry about that. But there was a LOT of important stuff to get through. So until next week!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Feminist Fight Club: We fight patriarchy, not one another

I am not typically one for self-help books, but when I saw a copy of Feminist Fight Club: An Office Survival Manual (for a Sexist Workplace) by Jessica Bennett on sale I decided exceptions could be made.
The book opens by telling you there is no right way to read this book. Indeed chapters can be stand alone, with each section focusing on a single issue (Enemies at work, making yourself heard, getting paid) containing a number of chapters going into more detail ("The Enemy: The Bropropriator", "Verbal Tripwire: Hedging", "F You, Pay Me: Stop Making Excuses"). So if there's a particular issue you're facing and need some advice on, no need to read the whole thing to get the information. Or so says the intro. I read this front to back, so I suppose YMMV with the whole jumping around thing.

Bennett isn't taking on sexual harassment of the Mad Men style. Really, the book has a narrow focus of middle-class white collar women, mostly in their early-twenties through late-thirties, dealing with things like being interrupted at work, or assuming you will always be the one to take notes in the meeting. It's dealing with a subtle world of workplace sexism, something that Bennett was pretty up front with so I'm mostly OK with the narrow focus. My biggest complaint with the focus, even if you're going to stick with a certain economic class, is there is basically nothing for WOC or LGBTQ+ women.

With a title like Feminist Fight Club, you can probably tell that this is not going to be a serious and dry meditation on the issue of sexism in the workplace. It's instead an attempt to break things down into bit-sized pieces, making them funny and accessible to women just starting their careers. Per this, there are a lot of puns and portmanteaus ("womanifesto", "menstruhater", "slackluster", "herfectionist", I can go on cos there are so many) which, yeah, those can get tiring after a while. Bennett works for Sheryl Sandberg (of Lean In) fame and I think it's fair to say this is like Lean In filtered through Buzzfeed.

Overall, good for what it is, but it would have been nice if it was more.

Gif rating:
Title quote from location 1342

Bennett, Jessica. Feminist Fight Club: An Office Survival Manual (for a Sexist Workplace). Harper Wave, 2016. Kindle

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Wilkie-along Post I: Sympathetic treatment of strong, independent women

Right, we're going with "Wilkiealong" for this, cos all readalongs must have some sort of nickname?
Anyway, post the first (cos the other one was the intro and thus does not count) in this Wilkie Collins biography A Life of Sensation readalong, hosted by Alice, our fearless leader. Which, now that I'm thinking about the title, doesn't necessarily mean a "sensational life" so much as a life where things are sensed. Or at least that's another way to read it. You know, like smell or touch. Which is basically how all of us do this life thing. Wilkie included. And now I've said the word "sensation" so much to myself that it's lost meaning.

This is off to a great start.
Our biography of Wilkie Collins begins with his dad, and how William Collins was a painter. Not like, a super famous painter. Not even a particularly interesting one with crazy stories. Definitely not, like, the rock star of painters. More like...the accountant of painters.

Anyway, there's a good amount of boring stuff about his dad and I skimmed a lot of this because really, let's get to the Wilkie. Also there are multiple Williams and Wilkies (there's a David Wilkie and then Wilkie Wilkie whose name is actually William and was sometimes called that or Willie and staaahp) and Harriets in this early section and, past-people, could you PLEASE come up with some additional names? Variety is the spice of life.

Anyway, let's focus on Wilkie stuff:

  • Wilkie's head looks like that, likely cos of some issues during birth where some old-timey forceps were used. 
  • Wilkie's mom lacked an outlet for her creative spirit and suffered from "nerves". Wilkie would later "write sympathetically about women with anxiety disorders" so good on him.
  • The Collins family travelled to Italy for art, but then spent almost no time in Florence cos it was Christmas/New Years and stuff wasn't open and also it snowed a lot. You guys probably could have planned that better.
  • Wilkie may or may not have lost his virginity around age twelve to a "voluptuous Roman lady". Will this lead into his tastes later? 
  • While at school Wilkie is told that he can "tell a lie beautifully" and he seems to take this as a compliment, which does not appear to be how it was meant. But Wilkie is an optimist / hears what he wants to hear.
  • Wilkie was small for his age and the boys at school bullied him by making him tell them stories. I feel like some crucial detail is lost here, or bullying was very different back then.
  • Wilkie gets a job doing something with tea but the job is boring and leaves him time to write so good for us.
  • Wilkie travels around Europe a bit getting stuck in France twice and needing his mom to send him money so he can get home. Come on, Wilks
  • Wilkie decides he "does not take much interest in Matrimony". I mean, not that anyone was asking him to get married, but still. He takes a stance and he sticks with it.
  • Wilkie helps his 31 year-old friend elope with a 15 year-old (ewww). But DON'T WORRY, they weren't rushing into anything cos the "passion for each other had been clear for four years". You know, when he was 27 and she was 11. EW EW EW EW EW
  • Wilkie doesn't give out his books for free, not even to friends. In fact, when his publisher gave out a few free copies to Wilkie's friends, Wilkie said nuh uh, you gotta pay for those. No word if they actually did pony up or just gave him the book back.
Alright, there have been some treats here but I'm hoping for some more sensation in the next section. UNTIL NEXT WEEK!

Title quote from page 62

Lycett, Andrew. Wilkie Collins: A Life of Sensation. Windmill, 2013.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: She navigates the world with the swagger of a mediocre white man

I didn't know much/anything about Anne Helen Petersen or her book when I was scanning through Netgalley, but when I saw the title Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of Unruly Women I said YES this sounds like a book that is right my wheelhouse. So I was pretty excited when I was approved for a copy in exchange for a review.
Petersen looks at the boxes contemporary women are put into and looks at women in pop culture who are decidedly outside these boxes, in at least one category. From this central theme, Petersen gives us a collection of essays on celebrity women who are "too much". Serena Williams who is too strong, Nicki Minaj who is too slutty, Melissa McCarthy who is too fat, Jennifer Weiner who is too loud, and so on. These are women who have operated outside the rules for the appropriate way they should behave and have been able to transcend these limitations and remain (or even become) as popular as they are.

As I said before, I didn't know anything about Petersen and I was a little worried when in the intro she mentions that she works at BuzzFeed. Whether accurate or not, I think of BuzzFeed as the place to take a quiz about which type of grilled cheese I would eat if I went to Hogwarts (smoked cheddar with fig jam on country white bread for Ravenclaw, obviously*) or a gif reaction list about some '90s nostalgia. While these things are entertaining they did not set super high expectations that I would get something insightful in this collection. I'm happy to report that I was so, so wrong.

NOT that credentials or a graduate degree mean you're going to be able to write something worth reading, I will say that Petersen has a Ph.D. in Media Studies, and the essays have a far more academic bent than I was expecting. Which, for me, was GREAT and made this book exactly what I wanted. From her intro
Each chapter starts with the thesis of a particular woman's unruliness...and unravels the way this behavior has been historically framed as an affliction at odds with proper femininity. The more you analyze what makes these behaviors transgressive, the easier it is to see what they're threatening
And so we get an analysis of 10 women who refuse to sit down and shut up. This doesn't mean the essays are gushing praises of these women. There is criticism to be had (looking your way, Caitlyn Jenner) but most of the focus is on their transgressions and the reactions to it, from the media from the population.

Ultimately the book is hopeful, because for the most part the woman succeeded in breaking through these boundaries without crashing and burning. Petersen says the book is a celebration, but also cautions that it should be a warning, a reminder to remain supportive of women, in the media and your everyday life, when they are breaking the rules for how women are supposed to act in order to properly perform femininity and hopefully "the only rules a woman will have to abide by are those she sets for herself."

Gif rating:
*It probably goes without saying, but Imma say it anyway that I have no idea if said quiz currently exists but if not, could it please?

Title quote from location 861

Petersen, Anne Helen. Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of Unruly Women. Plume, 2017. NetGalley

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Wilkie Collins: The Man, The Myth, The Forehead


Hey, you. Do you know about Wilkie Collins?
You know, it's OK. I'd judge you except I had no idea who he was prior to our amazing Woman in White readalong

He was a writer (obviously), friend of Charles Dickens, opium addict, creator of the first modern English detective novel (so sayeth Wikipedia), lover of big butts, impressive forehead-and-facial-hair haver. 
Take it all in

But really, how much do we know about the guy? Not enough, I say. Or really Alice aka Reading Rambo says, because she is hosting a readalong of a (the? are there others?) Wilkie Collins biography Wilkie Collins: A Life of Sensation

This is our introduction post so Hi, I am Alley. Or Red. Or What Red Read. Or WhatRedRead if you say it real fast. I also have a confession. I do not yet have the book.
I know. I KNOW. I am bad at planning and assumed I could get an ecopy and that everything is immediately available to me at the push of a button at all times. And then I learned that was NOT the case with this book and I'd have to get an actual physical copy. 

But I paid for for expedited shipping, as an act of penitence so hopefully I will have it soon. I mean, it shipped today, so that's a good sign. Right? 

Though really, this lack of planning made up for by an abundance of gifs is a good indication of how the rest of my posts for this readalong will be. Just excuses and nonsense and gifs.

It's gonna be so much fun
Visual representation of readalong

Monday, June 5, 2017

Between the World and Me: Soft or hard, love was an act of heroism

It's been a while since I read this so I know my memories aren't as sharp and my thoughts aren't going to be as coherent as if I had just reviewed this right away, so apologies in advance that whatever I'm about to say is totally not going to live up to what this book deserves.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates has been one of those books that had been on my periphery since it came out. It's won awards and Toni Morrison said it's required reading and it's usually a good idea to listen to her. Lately there'd been a copy sitting on my co-worker's desk. And since I've been working on expanding my reading horizons and meeting my resolution goals*, I asked him if I could borrow it. Of course I asked him JUST has he had lent it to someone else, but one of my other co-workers had a copy (see, it's everywhere) and she lent it to me. And here we are.

For those who don't know, the book is a letter from Coates to his son in the wake of the rash of murders of black boys at the hands of the police. The book is part autobiographical, telling the story of his difficult childhood in a world that forced you to be tough to survive. He discusses the legacy, the heritage of racism that pervades the country. How the destruction can be swift (Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin) or it could be a death by a thousand cuts as need to always be on guard takes its toll on a person.

He talks about a friend of his, Prince Jones, who was killed by an undercover police officer, who was not charged for the crime, a narrative that is all-too-familiar. And how Jones's murder was just one more case, the type of thing that keeps black parents up at night worried about their children and wondering if there is anything that can be done to keep them safe.
[My mother] knew that the galaxy itself could kill me, that all of me could be shattered and all of her legacy spilled upon the curb like bum wine. And no one would be brought to account for this destruction, because my death would not be the fault of any human, but the fault of some unfortunate but immutable fact of "race," imposed upon an innocent country by the inscrutable judgement of invisible gods. The earthquake cannot be subpoenaed. The typhoon will not bend under indictment. They sent the killer of Prince Jones back to his work, because he was not a killer at all. He was a force of nature, helpless agent of our world's physical laws. 
The book is not particularly hopeful, but it doesn't advocate giving up.

I urge you to struggle. Struggle for the memory of your ancestors. Struggle for wisdom. Struggle for the warmth of The Mecca. Struggle for your grandmother and grandfather, for your name. But do not struggle for the Dreamers. Hope for them. Pray for them, if you are so moved. But do not pin your struggle on their conversion. 

It's not an easy read by any stretch, but it is an important one. And one I'm happy to have read.

Gif rating:
*Read more books by POC authors, non-US authors, translations, and/or books published before 2000. Oddly enough it's that last goal that has been the hardest to meet, but also the one I put the least effort into.

Title quote from page 61

Coates, Ta-Nehisi. Between the World and Me. Spiegal & Grau. 2015.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

May Reading Wrap Up

Thank you, May, for being better than April. I mean, it was a low bar, sure, but thank you. This month I got to go to D.C. and see My Favorite Murder, go to Boston (area) and see a couple friends get married and hang out with a few other friends, and a friend from Ireland is in town (for said wedding) so we've been hanging out. All swell stuff.

I know I've been bad at the weekend updates (because of the above stuff which is taking up weekends) but JUST KNOW I have continued to reach out to local reps and continued my monthly donations. This month went to Planned Parenthood because they were doubling donations for a period of time so why not?

Let's look at the stats

Total books read
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
We Are Never Meeting In Real Life by Samantha Irby
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Women by Anne Helen Petersen

Total pages read
Lowest number so far, but I've also spent a lot of time making my way through White Trash which is good but NOT THE FASTEST read. So.


Female authors
POC authors

US authors

Book formats
ebook: 50%
paperback: 50%

Where'd I get the book
Chain bookstore: 25%
Gift: 25%
NetGalley: 50%

Review book


Books by decade
2010s: 100%

Books by genre
Humor: 25%
Lit Fic: 50%
Sociology: 25%

Resolution books
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life is by a POC author
Only one, but hey, not none!
To next month being even better? Sure, why not.