Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Revelation of Louisa May—Michaela MacColl

This was a lovely, quick read that I received via LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program. (I'm still a book behind in this free program, making my way through the biography of Nelson Rockefeller, but it's pretty dense, so it'll probably take me a while...) I initially requested The Revelation of Louisa May because I'm fascinated by this particular point in time and space, when so many of the great literary and philosophical thinkers were in one place: Emerson, Thoreau, Alcott, Hawthorne. There are a couple of instances like this throughout history, and it always makes me profoundly jealous. And also curious about what people in the future might say about the thinkers of my generation, and their interactions.

I digress.

In this book, we get a snapshot of Louisa May Alcott's life when she is a teenager in Concord. Louisa's father, Bronson, refuses to work for money, so Louisa's mother ("Marmee") has just announced that she is going to work for a hotel that is 150 miles away in order to help financially support the family. This leaves Louisa alone to care for her father, her younger sister Beth, and herself. Even bigger than that, Marmee is leaving Louisa to care for the runaway slaves who move through their home as a stop on the Underground Railroad. A lot of responsibility for a sixteen year old. The story spans only a few days, but we see Louisa's view of the philosophical giants around her shift, her family threatened, a slave hunter menace to the community.

I generally enjoy what one might call "slice of life" narratives, that don't necessarily have particular suspense or purpose, but merely give you insight into a particular person's life. I would say that's what this book is, but it didn't quite grab me as I was hoping that it would. There are some great historical references; for example, all of the background, with Louisa's mother going to work for the family, and her father's personality, and the Underground Railroad connection. All of those snippets are true pieces of Alcott's life.

Perhaps it was the fabricated murder mystery—the completely fictional aspect—that turned me off.

Regardless, it was a quick and mostly entertaining read.

(This review is based on an uncorrected ARC obtained through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.)

50 Shades of Grey—E.L. James

I went into this expecting to hate it, to be disgusted by the unhealthy relationship, to be completely turned off.

And guess what happened?

It was SO much worse than I could have ever anticipated! Although, honestly, a big part of that was the absolutely abysmal writing. I can find something redeeming in almost any book that I read, even if it's the tiniest thing. And to be fair, I've never published a book, so I feel slightly bad being so critical. But only slightly.

Instead of doing an actual review, I thought I'd just go through the notes that I made while reading through on my Kindle, with some omissions, because nobody has time for all of my thoughts. (Warning: Ahead be shouty capitals.) Here goes.

Page 4: Interstate 5? Nobody calls it that. If you're going to write a particularly regional book, maybe get the vernacular correct.

5: Four references to "sandstone" already.

7: "Double crap"?

8: "I feel an odd exhilarating shiver run through me." BAHAHAHA.

10: "If I were to decide I was no longer interested in the telecommunications business and sell, twenty thousand people would struggle to make their mortgage payments after a month or so." "My mouth drops open. I am staggered by his lack of humility." Lack of humility? Sounds like awareness, common sense, and thoughtfulness to me.

11: "But if you work so hard, what do you do to chill out?" She's an English major and this is how she talks?

13: Highlight squirm, search. 22 results in the book.

15: "Strange muscles deep in my belly clench suddenly." Your belly? Be a grown-up maybe.

16: "He really is very, very good-looking." Is this Zoolander? Can't think of any word other than very?

19: "Kate clamps a hand to her mouth." Clamps? Really? Also, her motivated, overachiever journalist roommate didn't think to have a bio for her?

21: "I work on my essay on Tess of the d'Urbervilles." A senior English major has an essay on Tess? Maybe James meant her thesis?

24: He just showed up where she worked! She never told him where she worked! STALKER ALERT! Would she have been quite so charmed if he wasn't "handsome"?

26: "...underused part of my brain—probably located at the base of my medulla oblongata near where my subconscious dwells—" WHAT?! WHY DID YOU PUT THIS IN HERE?

29: "I try to dismiss the unwelcome image of him without jeans." I feel like this encourages the idea that women should feel ashamed or feel like it's unnatural to be attracted to and/or fantasize about someone. Totally natural. Plus, not that we should always do something because other people are doing it, but men undress us with their eyes constantly.

31: "'Anastasia has it covered, Mr. Clayton. She's been very attentive.' His expression is impassive, but his's like he's saying something else entirely. It's baffling." Oh my goodness! Subtext! You would think a senior English major would recognize that. You want to talk about your medulla oblongata, but you don't understand subtext?

34: "Ana, one of these days you'll say yes." Why are all of the men in her life super creepy?

37: "Grey's expression changes, too, as he appraises Jose." Is it not a huge flashing warning sign that he's already super possessive of you?

39: "Please, can you drive the photographer, his assistant, and Miss Kavanagh back home?" What an awkward, unnatural way of speaking.

42: "...small, round birch-veneer table..." I feel like James includes details like this because someone once told her good authors use adjectives. (Additional note, having finished the book: This kind of random detailing occurs throughout the remainder of the book. It's distracting and unnecessary, whereas some things that actually need some fleshing out are left bare bones...)

43: "You're a mystery, Miss Steele." She's really not.

44: "He is a control freak, there's no other explanation, and part of me is thinking maybe it would have been better if Kate had interviewed him. Two control freaks together. Plus, of course, she's almost blond—well, strawberry blond—like all the women in his office. And she's beautiful, my subconscious reminds me. I don't like the idea of Christian and Kate." More cutting down of fellow women, even her best friend. Somebody has some major self esteem issues.

47: "It's the home of Shakespeare, Austen, the Bronte sisters, Thomas Hardy. I'd like to see the places that inspired those people to write such wonderful books." Sounds like the most stereotypical, textbook English major ever. That's fine, I guess, but doesn't really make Anastasia a very nuanced person.

49: "Anastasia, you should steer clear of me. I'm not the man for you." If you thought that, why did you stalk her?

61: "Do you make a habit of this kind of behavior?" It's actually none of your business.

62: "...tracked your cell phone, Anastasia."  THE FUCK?!

65: "...for a moment I'm tranquil and serene, enjoying the strange, unfamiliar surroundings. I have no idea where I am." Nobody has ever reacted this way to waking up in an unfamiliar place.

67: "And third, if I hadn't come to get you, you'd probably be waking up in the photographer's bed, and from what I can remember, you weren't overly enthused about him pressing his suit." In other words, good thing I'm a creepy stalker or you probably would've been date raped last night. A million thank yous, good sir knight!

72: "His tone is castigating." Was that your word-of-the-day on your calendar?

76: "What in heaven's name does that mean? He's never slept with anyone? He's a virgin? Somehow I doubt that." She's the biggest idiot.

80: "...outburst of passion that exploded in the elevator." The outburst exploded?

95: "My subconscious is staring at me in awe." And how is your subconscious doing anything? I think you need to check your dictionary for the definition of subconscious again.

105: "The Submissive will obey any instructions given by the Dominant immediately without hesitation or reservation and in an expeditious manner. The Submissive will agree to any sexual activity deemed fit and pleasurable by the Dominant excepting those activities that are outlines in hard limits." SHUT IT DOWN.

109: "...somnambulant..." Another word-of-the-day.

116: "His finger slips through the fine lace and slowly circles around me—there." Once again, be a grown up.

117: "'Aargh!' I cry as I feel a weird pinching sensation deep inside me as he rips through my virginity." Sexy.

148: "Internet! I don't have access to a computer, only Kate's laptop, and I couldn't use the one at Clayton's, not for this sort of 'research' surely." She's made it all the way through undergrad without having access to a computer? Granted, probably not the kind of research that you'd want to do in the school library, but I'm flabbergasted that she doesn't have a laptop of her own.

159: "Flush." 112 RESULTS.

190: "Murmur" 197 RESULTS.

190: "I'm all deer/headlights, moth/flame, bird/snake." WHAT? WHAT DOES THIS EVEN MEAN?!

202: "...I feel a familiar stab of envy. Kate has found herself a normal man, and she looks so happy." How can you possibly be so unendingly jealous of a girl who you claim is your best friend? I guess your life is just one unhealthy relationship after another.

238: "There are more than four hundred to be given out, and it takes over an hour before I hear my name." Really? 400 degrees to give out, and it only takes an hour to get to the S's?

242: "Christian holds his hand out to me. 'Ana, baby,' he murmurs, and I nearly expire at the endearment." UGH.

256: "'I'll agree to the fisting, but I'd really like to claim your ass, Anastasia. But we'll wait for that. Besides, it's not something we can dive into.' He smirks at me. 'Your ass will need training.'" Charming.

269: "Because I'm fifty shades of fucked up, Anastasia." BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

284: An email exchange between Ana and Grey: "Dear Mr. Grey, I'm not sure I like you anyway, especially at the moment." "Why don't you like me?" ARE YOU 12?!

287: "'I don't want to change you. I'd like you to be courteous and to follow the set of rules I've given you and not defy me. Simple." THAT IS CHANGING HER!

288: "Priapic." Word-of-the-day number 47!

292: "Grin." 142 RESULTS.

305: "He'd probably like to beat seven shades of shit out of me." Poetic.

307: "Kate's dad has done us proud. The apartment is not large, but it's big enough, three bedrooms, and a large living space that looks out onto Pike Place Market itself. It's all solid wood floors and red brick, and the kitchen tops are smooth concrete, very utilitarian, very now. We both love that we will be in the heart of the city." #entitled
On a more real note, I live in the Seattle area and have looked extensively at apartments in the city and 1) a three bedroom apartment is pretty big, especially for two people, 2) an apartment that size that "looks out onto Pike Place Market" is going to run you pretty close to $4,000 a month. SO MUCH entitlement in this paragraph.

321: "Frown." 131 RESULTS.

354: Intense. 38 RESULTS.

367: "The woman who brought me into this world was a crack whore, Anastasia." That's how we want to phrase that?

372: "Pushing me higher, higher to the castle in the air." Kill me now.

375: "Have you bought your air ticket?" Air ticket?

384: "Dear Miss Steele, Everything you do interests me. You are the most fascinating woman I know." IN WHAT WAY?!

398: "Men aren't really complicated, Ana, honey. They are very simple, literal creatures." Not reductive at all.

398: "She is on her fourth marriage. Maybe she does know something about men after all." I feel like that's the opposite of what this means...

459: "He knows it already, stalker that he is." Aren't his stalker tendencies adorable?!

481: "'Anastasia, I wouldn't dream of interfering in your career, unless you ask me to, of course.' He looks wounded." Gee, I wonder why she would even think that.

484: "It's what he wants—and after the last few days...after all he's done, I have to man up and take whatever he decides he wants, whatever he thinks he needs." SO FUCKED UP!!

I wanted to be able to talk in an informed manner about my hatred for this book, because I felt like a hypocrite for railing so strongly against it without having actually read the words. Now that I have, I can truly say that this is one of the most disturbing books that I have ever read, and the BDSM aspect of it is the least of it. (To be fair, I am also pretty sure that this is not an accurate representation of a BDSM relationship.)

The intensely unhealthy relationship and viewpoints, exemplified by the quote from page 484, are injurious to have in our popular culture, because regardless of whether we want it to or not, popular culture informs our society. While I hope that there are not young people, especially young women reading this and taking their cues from it, I also think it's impossible for it not to pervade in some way. And since we as a society are not openly talking about sex to make sure that the realities and safeties are known, for some there will be nothing to counterbalance the only information they can get: from "romance" novels like this one.

End rant.

Beyond that, there's just some poor writing, you know? "Murmur" 197 times in a 500 page book? "Grin" 142 times? Do you not have access to a thesaurus, at the very least?

One thing that was brought home to me while reading this—and specifically while reading a bit of it out loud to a friend to lull her to sleep while I was visiting in New York—read your shit out loud! It's easier to catch awkward and unnatural phrasing, it's easier to hear how absolutely ridiculous it sounds. Do it. Preferably before publishing and becoming a best seller for some inexplicable reason. (Although maybe it became a best seller because everybody is hate-reading it like me. I choose to believe that's the case.)

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Howard the Duck #1—Zdarsky & Quinones & Renzi

This is one of the times I have made an exception for a comic that has a lot of backstory in the Marvel universe. However, this one starts at a point where it's a new storyline, correlative with the cinematic use of Howard the Duck, so I made an exception. Also, I had a crush on a kid in elementary school who was called Howard, prompting my parents to never not call him Howard the Duck, so I have a bit of an unreasonable attachment to him.

Marvel decided to revive Howard the Duck after his "popularity" at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy. (Side note: Can we just acknowledge how smart it was of Marvel to start putting teasers and extra bits at the VERY END of their movies?)

This first issue in the new Howard the Duck was HILARIOUS. I feel like that word is used too often these days, but in this case it applies. Here's one set of panels that made me laugh out loud, and still does every time I look at it:

Howard is sardonic and weird and everything I wanted him to be. He starts out on Earth, and by the end has been captured by a mercenary for the Collector, where he encounters a familiar face who is sure that they can break out of their captivity. We get some cameos from some Marvel favourites, and also get to experience a training montage. And who doesn't love a good training montage?

I'm looking forward to following along with this one and seeing where it ends up. I'm also stoked that I was able to start from the "beginning" of a Marvel series, and it actually makes sense even not having read any previous escapades featuring Howard the Duck. (I find that this has been true for the new Thor series as well, which I also started at the beginning.)

Somewhat unrelated, but also on the subject of Marvel, I went to the Stan Lee panel at my first ever Emerald City Comicon last weekend and he was just as funny and charming and perspicacious as I'd always hoped. Crush solidified. Also, an attendee asked him what his favourite cameo has been, and he said he can't say, but that we shouldn't miss the new Avengers movie. Stan! I already couldn't wait for it's release, then you have to tease me like that!

Giant Days—Allison & Treiman & Cogan

Boom! Studios is one of my favourite comic studios at the moment. I am a new comic collector, and I wanted to start out with comics that I could begin at the beginning. (Unfortunately, this means leaving behind a lot of the much-beloved Marvel universe, because almost nothing they do starts out at the beginning anymore. With a couple of exceptions.)

One of my first and favourite comics was Lumberjanes, which is released by Boom!. (This series not only features almost exclusively female characters, it also explores a lesbian relationship between two campers.) They also produce Hexed, which is another great series that I would categorize as paranormal/supernatural, reminiscent of Buffy, and features a lady protagonist. This is something I really appreciate about the studio in general: they are actively seeking and promoting not only comics featuring women, but also artistically led by women.

Giant Days is about three university students—Susan, Esther, and Daisy—who became fast friends after being assigned as neighbors in their dorm.

It's rare when Goodreads has a consensus on a particular book, but this issue has an average star rating of 4.48 out of 5, so that gives you an idea of how universally this first issue resonated with its readers.

I LOVED this first issue. I fell in love with the characters in the 22 pages we get with them, and that's saying something! They're witty and fun and moody and just real. They remind me a lot of how I was at university. It's funny, because not a whole lot of actual plot development happens in this first issue—although there's a lot of setup for future plot points—but I still can't wait to see where it goes.

Below are two of my favourite panels/pages from this issue:

Fool—Christopher Moore

"Ha! Yes, once. But now, cousin, blue blood runs in my veins. In fact, I've a mind to start a war and shag some relatives, which I believe are the prime pastimes of royalty."
"Nonsense. And don't call me cousin."
"Shag the country and kill some relatives, then? I've been noble less than a week, I don't have all the protocol memorized yet. Oh, and we are cousins, kitten. Our fathers were brothers." (270)

I've been on a Moore kick lately. I've read several other books by him, and most of them are laugh out loud funny. He's so clever and quick. Probably my favourite of the ones I've read this far was Lamb, but I just finished Bloodsucking Fiends-You Suck-Bite Me and that series was fun. Also, A Dirty Job was a great stand-alone, that had some character cameos in the vampire trilogy as well.

This book is based on King Lear, from the point of view of the fool. (As you may have gleaned from the title.) I've never actually read King Lear, so all of this was new to me, other than the basic characters and plotline of it. The Fool—or Pocket, as he's called—tells us about his life, including how it began when he was abandoned at an abbey. He makes a friend of an anchoress who is walled up with only very small windows at the abbey, and she teaches him about oh so many ways. When they are discovered in the middle of a...conversation, the anchoress's windows are walled up and Pocket is meant to be hanged, but the abbess helps him to escape. He comes to be the King's fool. He amuses Lear's eldest two daughters—in every sense of the word—but also realizes that they're calculating and bloodthirsty. Not so the youngest, Cordelia. Pocket loves her, and despairs when she is disowned by the rapidly degenerating Lear and sent away to France. As Pocket aims to get Cordelia back, get the two oldest daughters their real due, thwart the plot of a bastard of an Earl, and help Kent, Lear's former best friend, escape banishment, hijinks ensue. And of course, there's a ghost. Because there's always a bloody ghost.

I didn't find this one as laugh out loud funny as I have some of his other works, particularly the ones I mentioned earlier. Of course that may be because I've never read the original work upon which this material was based.

There was a reveal towards the end when we find out that the fool Pocket is actually the illegitimate nephew of King Lear, because Lear encouraged his brother to rape Pocket's mother, who then killed herself after no one believed that her child was a bastard royal. As a rule, I tend to be pretty sensitive—admittedly maybe oversensitive sometimes—about the use of rape as a plot point. I think it was entirely unnecessary in this case. This effect could have just as easily been accomplished by Lear's brother having a clandestine relationship with Pocket's mother, deceiving her into thinking that they were in love, and then abandoned her. It wouldn't have shown as much of Lear's brutality, but that also could have been done in a different way.

Other than that, I enjoyed the story but not as much as some of Moore's other works.

This reveal also changed slightly my feelings about Pocket's love for Cordelia, which I found endearing, and then not so much when we find out they are in fact cousins. Not that they would be the first cousin couple in the royal line, as Pocket points out in the quote above.

Here are some of my favourite quotes or interactions that I noted while reading.

"I'd give a month's wages to be behind the blade that slays that bastard Edmund."At the mention of his son, Gloucester started wailing again. "Drown me! I will suffer no more! Give me your sword that I may run upon it and end my shame and misery!""Sorry," I said to Curan. "He's been a bit of a weepy little Nancy to be around since they ripped his eyes out."..."Let me end this suffering," wailed Gloucester. "I can no longer endure the slings and arrows--""My lord Gloucester, would you please, by the fire-charred balls of St. George, shut the fuck up!""Bit harsh, innit?" said Curan."What, I said 'please.'""Still.""Sorry, Gloucester, old chap. Most excellent hat.""He's not wearing a hat," said Curan."Well, he's blind, isn't he? If you hadn't said anything he might have enjoyed his bloody hat, mightn't he?" (231)

From the Author's Note:If you work with the English language, particularly if you work with it as dog-fuckingly long as I have, you are going to run across Will's work at nearly every turn. No matter what you have to say, it turns out that Will said it more elegantly, more succinctly, and more lyrically--and he probably did it in iambic pentameter--four hundred years ago. (305)