Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Stepford Wives: Stepford is out of step

I finally read The Stepford Wives after finding a copy for sale during one of my I'll-just-stop-in-to-browse-but-I-don't-actually-need-anything trips to the Strand.

You know what's frightening? How relevant the book is today. I don't know why, but I wasn't really expecting that to be the case (despite knowing the story and existing in the present day).

For the few of you who don't know the story (from the book, or the '75 movie , or even the 2004 movie) here's a quick synopsis: Joanna and Walter Eberhart (both very interested in the Women's Liberation movement), and their two children, move from NYC to the Connecticut suburbs, landing in the town of Stepford where the homes are beautiful, and everyone seems so welcoming and...well, perfect.

All of the wives in the town seem happy to clean their homes and cook and tend to their husbands. The husbands have their own men's only club, which Walter assures Joanna is just a throw back being held up by a few of the older members, but many of the younger husbands talk about allowing women to join. But really, nothing interesting is happening up there.

But something is off. It's hard for Joanna to put her finger on exactly what it is. Maybe these women just prefer keeping house to the (long disbanded) women's club. Maybe priorities shift when you're in the suburbs and all of this is just normal.

Levin is a master at building tension and making you question what's really going on (even if you already KNOW what's going on). Joanna second-guesses her self, questions what's in front of her eyes. And the children in town seem to like their new moms, who prefer to dote on them instead of following their own pursuits. The men, too, go from perhaps a little odd and old fashioned, preferring their wives stay at home, to quietly menacing and it's difficult to pinpoint exactly when the change happens.

Who knew one of my favorite reads of the year would be a story I thought I knew already?

Gif rating:
and also some of this
Levin, Ira. The Stepford Wives. Corsair, 2011. Originally published 1972

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Today Will Be Different: If everyone were so gung-ho on reality, there'd be no art

Have I made my love of Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette? clear? Have I? If not, let me shout from the rooftops that I love this book and even just thinking about it makes me think I should probably re-read it again, despite a growing TBR list of all NEW things I could be experiencing.

So when I heard Semple had a new book out, Today Will Be Different, I said "YES PLEASE." Like, immediately, out loud to myself. Then I sort of forgot about it for a while because I am easily distracted. But I found an ecopy for sale and so decided to not only read it myself, but foist it on a bunch of other people by suggesting it for book club. And my book was chosen (at random from a bunch of pieces of paper in a hat) so the pressure is on.

...This was no Where'd You Go, Bernadette?.

Today Will Be Different follows around Eleanor Flood through her day, where she repeats the titular mantra. Listen, you don't have to repeat stuff like that if everything is awesome. But hey maybe today will be different. She'll do stuff like shower and get dressed. She'll only wear yoga clothes at yoga, which she will attend. She'll initiate sex with her husband. Today will be different.

But, her young son, who is having some trouble at school, decides to fake sick. This on the same day she discovers her husband, a well-known surgeon who treats famous athletes, has told his office that he's on vacation while telling his family he's at the office. And there's also the matter of her graphic novel, The Flood Girls, a memoir about her and her sister that is years overdue.

The present day bits all take place on this one day where Eleanor is trying to hold it together and figure out just what is going on. There are the flashbacks, some to her and her sister Ivy growing up, others involving her sister and an incident involving New Orleans high society.

The flashback bits were the most successful for me. They were the parts that reminded me of Bernadette that focused on the ridiculous. They were also the parts where the narrative made the most sense. Or maybe it was just he parts I could follow.

Because the thing is, the whole book has Semple's humor which can be biting a cruel at times, but is still pretty great. This quote is long but whatever, it's a good one and a good example of her writing
My point is: for ten years I haven't been able to shake her. She's the friend I don't like, the friend I don't know what she does for a living because I was too stultified to ask the first time and it would be rude to ask now (because I am not rude), the friend I can't be mean enough to so she gets the message (because I'm not mean), the friend to whom I keep saying no, no, no, yet she still chases me. She's like Parkinson's, you can't cure her, you can just manage the symptoms. For today, the lunch bell tolls. Please know that I'm aware lunch with a boring person is a boutique problem.
There were pieces and scenes and conversations I enjoyed but overall it didn't come together as a cohesive story. Part of me wonders what my thoughts would have been like had Bernadette not been a thing because it set up some high expectations.

But seriously, read Where'd You Go, Bernadette?

Gif rating:
Title quote from page 46

Semple, Maria. Today Will Be Different. Little Brown and Company, 2016.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Wilkie-Along Post IV: The back view is the loveliest view

Here we are, the final epochs in the SENSATIONAL life of Wilkie Collins. Thank you, Alice, for finding this book and then hosting this readalong, cos our readalongs are the best readalongs. #fact
In these final chapters and Wilkie's final years, he travels around the US on a less-than-successful tour, stages a few more plays, can't really match the success of his early work, continues to fight for copyright laws, has a few grandkids and then dies. You'd think this would be where the book ends but no, we get another chapter that, in the same vein as the rest of the book, talks about a bunch of people that are not Wilkie. I do not care if his ex-son-in-law had to file for bankruptcy.

Anyway, let's just get to a bunch of bullet points

  • Wilkie does a reading tour around the US and things aren't so great. Only partially filled venues with a consistent criticism that Wilkie isn't the most engaging reader. Which is weird because he was an actor so you'd think this wouldn't be that big of a stretch. Or maybe he was a terrible actor the whole time and Lycett didn't make that clear. One review says: "We should counsel Mr Wilkie Collins to adopt the tone and method of a lecturer, which anyone can acquire, rather than attempt those of an actor which lie beyond his reach."
  • Also we get this amazing line: "He has many fine qualities but he has an unusual amount of conceit and self-satisfaction - and I do not think any one can think Wilkie Collins a greater man than Wilkie Collins thinks himself." I never really got this sense at any other point in the book and I don't know if that is because the woman who said this is alone in this belief or that Lycett has been glossing over this behavior. 
  • Wilkie becomes friends with a guy due to a shared "interest in mildly pornographic pictures of women". Of course.
  • The book says Wilkie visited "Oneida, a community in Connecticut." Except Oneida is in New York. NOW this community, which practiced their own communal sex beliefs and rituals that Wilkie was down with (including pantagamy), had a few off-shoots, including a group in Wallingford, Connecticut. This is where it seems that Wilkie actually went. So yeah, minor error, BUT STILL.*
  • Wilkie makes the hero in one of his short stories a Roman Catholic, prompting Lycett to declare that it "shows that Wilkie was not always prejudiced in matters of religion." Which, let's be honest, is pretty much the equivalent of someone saying they're not racist cos they have a black friend. 
  • Throughout his life Wilkie talks about how much he HAAAAATES the institution of marriage and will not consider it at all and wants to live his bachelor life while having his two mistresses. Then he apparently starts calling some little girl "Mrs Collins" and looks forward to a "conjugal embrace" with the girl. And WTF?? Lycett says my reaction is me just taking this the wrong way and there was nothing weird about this and the girl's mother was included in the exchanges (which, does that mean there was a Victorian version of CC-ing someone?).
  • Wilkie says he thinks "the back view of a finely-formed woman the loveliest view...The line of beauty in those quarters enchants me, when it is not overladen by fat." Thanks for that "no fatties" line thrown in at the end, Wilks. 
  • Oscar Wilde had a brother named Willie. Willie Wilde. This makes me smile each time I say that name. I realize this has nothing to do with Wilkie but it comes up in the book and I didn't know this fact before so there you go.
And there we go. Wilkie's life and the lives of a lot of people around him (and around them...) I do now want to read a LOT more Wilkie so there will be many more readalongs in the future. 

*Also, fun fact, this sex commune is also the group that is responsible for the Oneida silverware. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Infographic Time: Q2 2017

Not the best but not terrible. There were some excellent books in there (what up, Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud) but I could have done better on resolution stats.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Wilkie-Along Post III: Bringing the sensation novel into the home

Summer Wilkie Readalong, post the third! And can I say thank you to Alice (aka Reading Rambo aka Readalong Queen) for keeping this week's section short cos the holiday weekend was eating into my reading time. But there was important stuff to do, like watch The Muppets Take Manhattan in the park.
This epoch dealt with Wilkie not so much falling out with Caroline but sort of drifting away and picking up a new mistress, Martha. There's also a lot about Victorian publishing rules which is now added to the list of things I sort of skimmed over. There's less talk of venereal diseases, more issues with gout and rheumatism (which, I mean, could have been more STIs cos medical science at that point had only come so far) and the deaths of both Wilkie's mother and BFF (although there had been some drama there) Dickens. Oh also Wilkie and Martha have two daughters together but Wilkie basically doesn't talk about them. So. Father of the year, over there.

Alright, let's list out some stuff that happened

  • The section starts with Wilkie's meeting of Martha, which Lycett describes as "a buxom wench" and really Lycett? What are you doing? 
  • In this description we also get "she was as near as Wilkie could reasonably get to his ideal of the broad-buttocked Italian woman". I don't know if any of this is coming from Wilkie's writing or just Lycett's feelings on the lady. I mean, if Wilkie specifically talked about her butt whyyyyyy aren't we getting those direct quotes, because they would probably be hilarious. Anyway, call back to the first epoch and Wilkie losing his virginity to the "voluptuous Roman lady".
  • There's a paragraph about how Victorian men were sexually aroused by women in inferior positions and this is apparently what Wilkie saw in Martha? Lycett seems to have a problem with her.
  • In addition to commenting on women's hats and crinolines (earlier epochs), he's now giving footwear advice. He advised a woman, Nina Lehmann, "not to be afraid to wear thick boots. It was wrong to think that women could not look attractive in such footwear, he declared with an air of authority, adding that men understood such matters." I would love to see this from Nina's pov where she is just rolling her eyes at him. Or who knows, maybe he can speak with authority on the topic of women's fashion. Then I'm sort of wishing we could have some time traveling and get him to be a judge on Project Runway.
Wilkie does
  • One day Wilkie is working with the window opened and a kitten wanders in and drapes itself on Wilkie. This makes it difficult to write but no one can resist an adorable kitten.
  • Caroline gets married to a twenty-three year old and Lycett seems VERY JUDGY about this. "She was thirty-seven and quite what she saw in the mere stripling was hard to determine." I'm sorry she decided she wanted to find someone and get married and didn't want to wait around for gouty, opium addicted Wilkie. 
  • Dickens, continuing to be a dick to Caroline, wrote to a friend saying that Caroline's wedding was probably a sham affair and an attempt to trick Wilkie into marrying her via emotional blackmail. 
  • Publishers make Wilkie remove the word "damn" from his work and Wilkie does it but is annoyed. In his words "Readers who object to expletives in books are - as to my experience - readers who object to a great many other things in books, which they are too stupid to understand." 
  • Later more "inappropriate language" is cut from his work and Wilkie is VERY unhappy, claiming he does not look to young people as the court of appeal and maybe his work isn't meant for children.   
So there we go. Until next week!

Monday, July 3, 2017

June Reading Wrap-Up

June was a pretty good month. I got to spend time with Alice and Emily and fellow book bloggers are THE BEST. Let's plan more time for everyone to get together, yes? Good.

Tom and I also spent some time down at Disney and Universal, and even the ran could not bring down our spirits (cos OH MAN, there was so much rain while we were down there). Though walking around in a downpour for like 45 min was NOTHING compared to how wet we got on Splash Mountain and I KNOW, it's in the name so it should be assumed. But I've ridden it a zillion times and never gotten that wet before. We should have just jumped in the water. 

And of course I dragged Tom around (1/2) of Harry Potter world* and it was really well done. I don't know why that surprised me but they managed to make Diagon Alley in such a way that the rest of the park disappears. (Also, it took us a while to find it. I didn't know they would hide it.)

But anyway, that was June, and things were fun but lets focus on the books. So specifically, onto the stats.

Number of books read
Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell (THANK YOU, Emily!)
White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg
I'm Judging You: The Do-Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi
Sex Object: A Memoir by Jessica Valenti
Atlanta Burns by Chuck Wendig

Number of pages read


Female authors
POC authors

US authors

Book formats
ebook: 40%
hardback: 20%
paperback: 40%

Where'd I get the book
Chain bookstore: 20%
Gift: 20%
Indie bookstore: 20%
Kindle/Audible: 40%

Blogger reco

Books by decade
2010s: 100%

Books by genre
Essays: 20%
History: 20%
Memoir: 20%
Thriller: 20%
YA: 20%

Resolution books
Not 0% but could be way better
I'm Judging You is both by a POC author and a non-US author (originally from Nigeria, though she moved to the States when she was young).

*You gotta pay for 2 parks to see all of HP and dude, this trip was already expensive, I can't do that. Not now. At some point, I'm sure I will. But I was bitter to learn to see all HP you had to pay for 2 separate parks.