Tine Belcher, a hero for all
I spent a lot of time thinking about women. How we look, our place in society, the constant critique and exposure that comes from existing. I originally picked up Women in Clothes a few months ago but ran out of time and had to return it to the library before I started it. Cracking it open this week has been a revelation. Freed from the frivolity of women’s magazines, here (finally!) is a serious, approachable conversation about how we think about and what we decide to wear. I love my clothes but I am not my clothes. The book is structured around a survey that digs to the emotional core of dressing. As a baby feminist I occasionally struggled with my evolving principles and worldview and deep love of the pretty. A well curated department store is just gorgeous. It’s pure pleasure, woefully lacking in every day life. I’ve reconciled those feelings (the heart wants what the heart wants) but couldn’t help but feel bolstered to read a thoughtful, insightful discussion of self-presentation in a world that has so much to say about what we look like.
“Unicorns will die, skies will fall, and parents’ basements will be resettled.” Chloe at 40. Sylvan Esso annotated. In case you needed a reason to burn it all down in a glorious feminist fire, the hard working folks at the Wall Street Journal reviewed traits men value in their wives vs their daughters. Reconciling with the formally single self. A primer on Seattle’s new district election system. Dashboard nostalgia.
Clear eyes, full hearts, don’t rape. Julia Child remixed.
Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color (Have I obsessed to you about this album yet? IT’S AMAZING. Easily my current lead contender for Favorite Album of the Year)
Wet – Wet (an EP that left me wanting more)
Men Explain Things To Me by Rebecca Solnit
Men Explain Things To Me, Rebecca Solnit
I got mansplained while reading this book on the bus. I wish I were kidding. That is a real life thing that happened to me. He probably thought he was being friendly (don’t they all?) but he really didn’t like the title and thought it was too aggressive. “It’s a book of essays about feminism.” “Yeah, but why the title?” “Because sometimes men explain things to women that they don’t need explained to them.” The irony of our conversation, my contributions pushed through my teeth, was lost on him completely.
This book is excellent. This book is necessary. This book is a slim pamphlet of empowerment. It is a collection of essays dissecting violence against women, marriage equality, Virginia Woolf’s embrace of the unknowable, and that distinct and entitled power imbalance that leads to mansplaining. It feels like a challenge to read it in public. Nothing about sticking your nose in this book is shy or unassuming. You should do it anyway.
Just this week I found myself in that particularly modern predicament of arguing political ideas with a stranger over the internet. I have yet to recommend the experience but can’t seem to stay away. A stridently stubborn man had made some half-baked comments about street harassment to which I replied along with a treasure trove of smart, articulate, insightful women. Rather than concede the point, or even grant us the benefit of experience, he dug in deeper. If we, as feminists, can’t change everyone’s hearts and minds at least we can relish in the perverse joy of allowing someone to demonstrate exactly what kind of person they are.
Reading through a downpour in Mexico City
The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt
Lizzie Rating: A-
The Goldfinch has been all the buzz in the book world. Stephen King, in his NYT review of the book, compared it to “the best of Dickens”. The staff reviews at my local bookstore were overflowing. Everyone is reading this book. And who am I to turn down being part of the In Crowd?
Theo Decker is a teenager living in New York City with a mother he adores. One morning, en route to a “conference” with the school administration, Theo and his mother are caught in the Metropolitian Museum of Art when it is struck by a terrorist attack. Theo survives. His mother does not. In a haze, Theo escapes with a painting. The novel follows Theo’s next ten years as moves between Fifth Avenue, the forgotten suburbs of Las Vegas, and a weather worn furniture shop in the West Village. He struggles with keeping his mistakes a secret while his mother is never far from his mind.
The scale of the novel is remarkable: ten years, multiple countries, dozens of characters. Tartt does an impressive job of making the characters robust and compelling. Their motivations are real, even the points where you just want to shake them. I found the plot slow in parts. A long novel like this will have ups and downs as the story lines weave, come together, and part again. I found Theo and Pippa’s relationship to suffer acutely from this problem. Other sections, especially the stretch in Las Vegas, were similarly slow. And yet, I would recommend this book. It is a story worth having an opinion about.
I know many of my gentle readers have finished The Goldfinch, tell me what you thought.
The lovely Lauren is hosting a book discussion on The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates on Better in Real Life today. She has asked me, Kristin of Not Intent on Arriving, and Victoria to chime in with our thoughts. Grab a mug of tea and join us?
And if Lauren’s blog post got you here: welcome! I review books I’m reading fairly regularly but also feel free to poke around the menus up top. It’s ok to be nosy…I am too!
Oryx and Crake with a side of Sun Liquor
Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood
Lizzie rating: 5/5
Snowman may very well be the last human alive. Left behind to care for the partially human (or are they even?) creations of his best friend, Snowman spends his days looking for food and trying to protect his pale skin from the extreme solar radiation of an environmentally altered Earth. He is also alone with his thoughts, unable to share meaningful communication with people without any societal context. Snowman shares his stories with us instead, unraveling his childhood on scientific compounds, smoking weed and watching online news in adolescence, and eventually his disappointing land into adulthood. His friendship with Crake, supportive yet competitive, lingers in the background throughout pushing the reader toward choices that will establish the trilogy.
Margaret Atwood is one of my favorites. I met her a few months ago while she was promoting MaddAdamm, the third book in the series that Oryx and Crake begins. Oryx and Crake is super engaging and Atwood does such an amazing job immersing you in her dystopian future/alternate present. Atwood has consistently shrunk from the label “science fiction” which makes this book all the more interesting to me. The technologies used by Crake and the companies that employ him and not unreasonable. Man-made and corporate-driven climate change only make genetically modified food and deepening class divisions more likely.
Have you read Oryx and Crake? What do you think?
The Marriage Plot by Jeffery Eugenides
The Marriage Plot, Jeffery Eugenides
On the cusp of her graduation from Brown, Madeline Hanna is about to step into adulthood and has no idea what to do next. She got rejected from her graduate programs, broke up with her boyfriend, Leonard, and doesn’t want to rely on her WASP parents. Meanwhile, Mitchell, who has long harbored a crush on Madeline is on an upswing: admired by a notable professor and about to embark on a yearlong round-the-world adventure. Eugenides provides enough road markers for the reader to guess how the plot unwinds for the next 400 pages but the love triangle of Leonard-Madeline-Mitchell is more than first meets the eye.
You’ve got to admire Jeffery Eugenides. Dude releases about one book a decade (1994/2003/2012) and manages to be consistently discussed among Book Folks. I was completely immersed in Middlesex when I read it a few years ago. It’s sweeping coverage of multiple generations across two continents gave it a grandeur that stuck with you. The Marriage Plot is a smaller book, covering just three primary characters over the course of one year or so. And for that simple reason I liked it less. Standing alone, the book is solid. It is commendably approachable for having a plot structured around Ivy League liberal arts grads. The characters are well written and convincing. If you’ve never read Eugenides, I’d start here. If you liked Middlesex, give this one a shot too.
Lizzie rating: B+
On the train to Portland
The Paris Wife, Paula McLain
Lizzie rating: 3/5
Hadley Richardson meets and falls in love with a younger Ernest Hemingway. After a brief, mostly written, courtship they marry and subsequently move to Paris to support Ernest’s writing career. Over their five and a half year marriage Ernest writes several short stories, covers the Greek occupation of Smyrna, and publishes The Sun Also Rises. They are an unusual couple in their circle, Hadley does not aggressively pursue her own artistic projects or a career as many of the other, younger women do. They are truly in love but the partnership is under the constant strain of Ernest’s ego, pride, and the perceived success or failure of his immediate work.
I read and learned to love Hemingway while reading For Whom The Bell Tolls in Italy last summer. I was originally intrigued by Hemingway’s first wife after reading Jacqueline’s review of Paris Without End on The Hourglass Files. (Author’s Note: Jacqueline’s blog is fantastic and you should definitely click over and check it out.) The Paris Wife is a more accessible entry point and was a great read for a train trip. The story is told in a first person narrative by Hadley with very occasional insights into Ernest’s thinking. I enjoyed the first two-thirds of the book but was annoyed and distracted by the final section. McLain depicts Hadley as a confused doormat. While Hadley admits to never truly fitting in in Paris, she certainly worked hard to support her husband, was extremely athletic, and made many friends in the ex-pat, artistic circles they frequented. Ernest conducted the affair that ended their marriage in the most horrific way, continually asserting that he was just as pained as Hadley. Puh-lease, you want your cake and eat it too. Spare me your hand wringing.
Ernest Hemingway was a complex man. Obviously, a talented writer but also a man that struggled with person inadequacies that he shuttled between four marriages in an attempt to overcome. McLain had the opportunity to write Hadley as equally complex; motivated by a feeling of service but rooted in a strong sense of self-awareness. Perhaps another author could do better.
Dave Eggers, You Shall Know Our Velocity! and A Heart-Breaking Work of Staggering Genius
Eggers has been quite the literary darling. I’ve heard rave reviews of his work from friends and have relished in delighted at the witty, coastal intellgensia musings of McSweeney’s (particularly the Open Letters which are A1 prime) but I’m admitting defeat in the face of his long form work.
I started with You Shall Know Our Velocity!, a novel about two childhood friends attempt to deal with death and unexpected fortune. Reading the book made my heart incredibly heavy. The narrator is clinically depressed (or as much as you can armchair diagnosis a fictional character) and difficult to read. Eggers is a strong storyteller and the writing is masterful but I struggled to really engage with the book.
Determined to succeed (and because they came into the library at the same time), I picked up A Heart-Breaking Work of Staggering Genius. Jesus, that book is depressing. I associate Eggers with high wit and despite my dry sense of humor there just isn’t anything funny about a man watching his mother die of stage IV stomach cancer. I read 50 pages and returned it to the library.
It seems clear that Dave and I are better in an editor/reader relationship rather than an author/reader one. I’m fine with that. McSweeney’s is a joy and I greatly admire his work with 826 National (Seattlites, check out the Space Travel Supply Co in Greenwood!). I shall absolve myself of any Eggers FOMO.
And now, please enjoy the outtakes of me trying to properly capture my uncertainty.
Get caught reading
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Jamie Ford
Lizzie rating: 4.5/5
Henry Lee has a foot in two houses. At home, he is unable to speak to his parents who demand he speak only English despite the fact that they speak Cantonese to him and each other. At school, he is the only Asian kid in his elementary school. His neighborhood, Seattle’s Chinatown, is, like the rest of the world, perched on the brink of World War II. The war is increasingly creeping into the edges of daily life. Henry is struggling to find his place against the expectations of his parents. A small reprieve is granted when Keiko transfers to his school. As another outsider they quickly form a friendship. However, Keiko and her family are Japanese, a fact unsettling to both Henry’s father and the American government. The story moves between the mid-1940s and 1986, juxtaposing Henry’s childhood observations with his midlife reflections.
Jamie Ford does a masterful job of depicting the changing city and the families caught up in the rippling effects of a country at war. As a native Seattlite, I particularly appreciated the rich description of neighborhoods I’ve spent time in, even if they aren’t my home turf. The story is engrossing and even if you’re familiar with the history you’ll find yourself anxious to see what happens.
Saturday morning reading
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot
Lizzie rating: 5/5!!!
This book should be required reading. Skloot does an incredible job writing accessibly and comprehensively about the life of Henrietta Lacks and her family. Lacks was a poor Black woman treated at Johns Hopkins in the 1950s. A biopsy of her cervical cancer tumor was taken without her knowledge or consent and became the first immortal cell line grown in culture. Her widower and children lived in ignorance of her influence on science until the 1970s.
Working in medicine, this book was particularly interesting to me. Several of my faculty members have worked with the HeLa cell line and had varying levels of awareness of their origin. The book raises important questions around informed consent, the ethics of tissue collection, and access to health care. Skloot artfully weaves the story of the Lacks family with the concurrent developments in science largely driven by Henrietta’s cells.