Sunday, August 13, 2017

Too Fat Too Slutty Too Loud by Anne Helen Peterson

I've always bee interested in gender studies. When I was in college, the study of gender was called women's studies and I'm happy that the name was changed to gender studies, because really, it's a study of both men's and women's roles and everything in between.  So when I saw this book, I was intrigued.

Anne Helen Peterson is a cultural critic at Buzzfeed and in this book, she creates a catalog of sorts of women who are "unmangeable" in the sense that they do not act in accord with the rules that society has placed on their gender. For instance, she looks at women who have been classified as too strong, too slutty, too shrill, too gross. She has everyone from Serena Williams to Lena Dunham and in each chapter, she dissects why these women have drawn sometimes negative attention, even though they've stayed close enough to the mainstream to be highly successful.

Each chapter starts out the same way - short statement of the problem and then a pretty in depth analysis of the societal norms that they defy. She doesn't push as far as she can, however and in some ways, that's disappointing to me.  At the same time, she can't really be blamed because perhaps she's trying to make her points to as many people as she can and change as many minds as she can. This can't be done if she's considered to be outside the pale.

This is an understated and brilliant book that should be added to your collection.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

I now can see why everyone says that Hemingway was inspired to write this novel after serving in World War I.  The unabashed drawing on the author's own life makes the parallels so obvious that a blind man could see it.  Hemingway, like his protagonist, was an ambulance driver for the American Red Cross on the Italian front, was likewise injured and likewise fell in love with the nurse who cared for him while he was convalescing.

We are introduced to his main character, Lt. Henry, just as things are coming to an end in World War I.  Lt. Henry has seen lots of very bad things but wants to continue fighting because that is the only way the ugly badness that he has seen will be eradicated. Other characters feel very much opposed to the war and so the spare dialog that ensues captures the very strong, complicated emotions felt by all sides and conveys them in a style that Hemingway was notorious for and popularized immensely.

I loved how Hemingway glorified the brotherhood and bonds that the soldiers on the battlefield had among each other. The shared experiences of these men drew them together in ways that Hemingway portrayed amazingly well. The affection of these "war brothers" is so palpable you can feel the affection coming off the pages. Lt. Henry meanwhile can never seem to catch a break.  He endures so much hardship in such a short period of time. It's a tremendous book.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Most people have heard of the serialization of 13 Reasons Why by Netflix, which became a huge hit this past spring. And I admit, I binged watched the series before reading the book because, until the end of the series, I was woefully ignorant of the fact that this was a book, originally published in 2009. It was a debut novel by Jay Asher about teen suicide and was a stealthy hit.

The book, much like the series, is made up of the transcripts of the tapes left behind by Hannah Baker, who we know right away has killed herself.  The transcripts are interspersed with the thoughts of Clay Jensen, the most recent recipient of the series of tapes. Each tape has an anecdote or two about another classmate, essentially creating Hannah's narrative as to why she felt it essential to take her own life. It's a fascinating look at the backbiting and sexual coercion that we adults often forget (still) occurs in high school. And this is also why I think that the book appeals to the young adult audience as well.

There was much to like about this novel - it addresses a tremendously personal and important subject in a sensitive way.  Teenage suicide is often not discussed because it is taboo in many ways - the parents or guardians of a child that has taken their own life often won't discuss it openly for fear of judgment being heaped upon them.  Good parents would have seen the signs and done something right?  Schools won't discuss it presumably because of liability reasons - what if we give the idea to someone and they do it?  What if we could have done something to prevent it and we didn't and then we go about talking about it - will that be used to establish our negligence in a court of law?  And if adults struggle talking about such an intensely personal and intense subject, I can't imagine what a teen/adolescent goes through in trying to figure out how they feel let along whether or not they can actually or want to talk about it with someone.  So the fact that Jay Asher wrote this novel and then got Netflix to do a series was awesome - it gets people talking.

I enjoyed the pacing of the novel. It is one of those books that goes very quickly and I would have sat with if until two in the morning reading it if I didn't have other things that I had to do as an adult.  It was just that good. I thought it was creative to have the main protagonist embodied literally first person in the other main character of the book - Hannah is with us through Clay. It serves as a reminder of the complete and utter BS that bullying can be and the impact that it can have on people - what someone may think is no big deal - for others might be the straw that broke the camel's back.

I truly hope that all read this book and that for those with children entering the appropriate age groups that you read this with them because this is just so important and necessary.  

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

This novel is my favorite novel and is written by my favorite author of all time. And the fact that it was written in 1985 just blows my mind. It's set in a dystopian American society sometime in the near future. The government has been overrun by the conservative religious zealotry. The Constitution is gone and women have no rights. The main character in the novel is our narrator - Offred - who is a handmaid to a powerful government official. Her only job is to bear children for this man. During the course of her days, we are given insights into the lives of the other women in society and glimpses of how the country got to be the way that it was. There were many, many poignant moments in this book that absolutely struck me beyond belief but the one that struck me the most was when Offred went to use her debit card in the time before she became a handmaid and learned that her account had been frozen and all of her assets transferred to her husband's account literally overnight.

This was an incredibly relevant novel when it was published and it is still highly relevant. In the 80's there was much concern about backlash made for women's rights during the 60's and 70s. Today, there is concern in some parts of American society about women's rights being slowly and steadily eroded.  I also really like the pieces of sardonic humor that are well placed in this novel. They appealed to my own sense of humor. The author's extrapolations are very very carefully drawn from the trends of the time. I'm glad that she used Offred to tell the story - the POV made the novel.  Offred was so matter of fact in telling her story that you couldn't help but believe that everything that she said was true.

Definitely a must read and a must add to your library.

Monday, May 29, 2017

True Crime Addict by James Renner

Lately, I've been way into true crime cases and missing persons cases - I guess it's a throwback to my life before what I'm doing now. And I stumbled upon the Maura Murray case because a co - worker told me about a podcast they were listening to. In that podcast, the hosts refer to and even speak with James Renner, who as it turns out wrote a book focused on the case called True Crime Addict. And when I found out that Maura was around my age and disappeared from an area near where I started my job and for which I hold great fondness, I was hooked. So I got the book from the library.

i will be honest. I got this book out because I wanted to learn more about Maura's case, but I was sorely disappointed.  The book merely used Maura's case to provide Renner with a vehicle for telling stories about his own life beginning when he was about eleven and fell for a missing girl, who was around his age. While I was really interested to hear about Renner's experiences growing up and why he became involved in the Maura Murray case, I was very disappointed that I didn't get any additional insight into the case.

AS far as the writing goes, it was passable and quick. The chapters were split up into very small snippets - none more than 5 or 6 pages- which could be consumed in quick little bites.  In some ways, this was effective because it left you wanting a bit more. On the other hand, that craving wasn't always satisfied.  This was a bit of a let down for me personally, but if you're into the whole true crime genre, it's right up your alley and not bad at all.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Settle For More by Megyn Kelly

I'm not quite sure why I waited so long to read something by Megyn Kelly.  I think what prompted me to read something now, quite frankly, is her defection to NBC and what she had to say about it. She was also kind of an unlikely feminist hero, who disavowed the title, when she stood up so publicly to Donald Trump's attempted shaming of her. So, for these reasons, I picked up her memoir.

I learned some things about Megyn Kelly that I didn't know before I read this:

  • She, like I, went to Syracuse University - she for her undergrad and me for my Juris Doctor (she went to Albany Law!);
  • She firmly believes in being apolitical, which is a tremendous help in her journalistic career;
  • And she has a badass mother!
What I also really enjoyed about this book - salacious commentary about Fox and Trump aside - was that Kelly wanted to tell more than a story that was gossipy and salacious.  The book was almost more of a self help book in some ways and strove to empower the people that read it and in some ways, for me at least, it did.  For crying out loud, she still keeps a handwritten journal - which is AWESOME and which inspired me to continue to keep one of my own. She's not much older than me and wise in many ways - she's weathered more than I have and is inspiring because she rose to it and above it through sheer grit and determination. What I didn't particularly like is her writing style - while it was interesting to read about her and what she had to say, I could only really take it in small doses.  It's way to sweet and watered down in some places and starts off really slowly.  

This is a book I'd get from the library because it's worth the read but isn't a book I would add to my library.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

Liane Moriarty has been all over the pop culture blogosphere and news lately with the success of the first season of Pretty Little Liars, based upon her book of the same name. I honestly didn't want that to be my first book by her so I went through her titles and found this one, which looked interesting. They're not my usual selections - I tend to associate them with chicklit even if they aren't technically that and chicklit isn't my most favorite type of book to read (although it serves a purpose - more on that in another post!).

This is at heart, an amnesia story plotline. Alice, our main character, is at the gym, falls off her bike at spin class and hits her head pretty good. When she regains consciousness, she believes that she is 29, pregnant and happily married to Nick. When Alice discovers that it's ten years later (and she's nearly 40), has three children and is involved in a nasty divorce that involves Nick, she's shocked out of her pants. She struggles to reconcile her life now and the life that she remembers from ten years previously.

The story started off really strongly - amnesia and head injuries are a fantastic way of creating sense and mystery without really asking the reader to suspend their disbelief at all.  However, I wasn't thrilled with the rest - it kinda faded.

Moriarty's writing style doesn't lend itself well to the introspection and emotional upheaval that her main character is experiencing.  Her style is brief, chatty, flighty and, in a way, Valley Girl-ish. While I would totally appreciate this sort of tone and style in a book that was less serious or a true mystery, in a book that deals with the sorts of issues that this book does, I expected something more meaty and substantive, with a bit more insight. There isn't much of a story either - this is all about Alice being confused and trying to figure stuff out.  I still am not quite sure why, medically, she lost ten years of her life as opposed to one year or one day or some other random number. I feel like the whole book was about Moriarty trying to keep me there reading by spoon feeding me bits and pieces of information in an effort to extend the book for as long as possible and not necessarily to move any plotline forward at all.

I will also be quite frank: Moriarty has a class and race issue. This book deals with the rich, white mom world in Australia.  It's not very diverse and that, to me, makes it really not interesting at all. There were so many issues that she could have tackled with substance in this book - marital issues and divorce, friendships, adoption/surrogacy/infertility - that she let fly by the wayside and didn't even scratch the surface on. This disappointed me to no end. At the end of the day, if you don't expect too much, I guess it's ok, but I wouldn't otherwise bother unless you're SO desperate for something to read that you can't find anything else.

Too Fat Too Slutty Too Loud by Anne Helen Peterson

I've always bee interested in gender studies. When I was in college, the study of gender was called women's studies and I'm hap...