Current Distractions, August 2016 Edition

I must say, I'm pretty sad to see August go. I've been more exhausted by this summer than anything, and fall is my second favourite season (after spring), but it's still bittersweet to see the summer pass by. Hopefully I'll have more to write about at the end of next month, but when I haven't been doing productive things or completely unproductive things, what I've mostly spent my time on is watching stuff.


How to Get Away With Murder season 2
I finished watching the first season of this with my friends quite a few months ago now, and what with summer stuff going on, we didn't manage to get back together to watch the next season until this month. I'd forgotten how batshit it gets and how insane the cliffhangers are at the end of every episode. This show is such trashy fun and I would encourage anyone who likes that sort of thing to watch it.

Stranger Things
Everyone else has already talked about this show. I liked it a lot!!

Star Trek TNG
Oh. My. God. Rewatching this for the first time in almost a decade has been so much fun. I'd forgotten how good it was, after watching several first season episodes that are incredibly lacklustre. I'm now partway through the second season and it's so good. I've said before and I'll say again: Deep Space Nine is probably a somewhat better show objectively than TNG, but it's certainly not more prominent in my heart.

Shaka Zulu
This giant 80s miniseries is on Netflix and I'm watching it with my mom, who supposedly first watched it while dealing with a colicky baby who may or may not share my name/initials/DNA. It's weird but I also kind of love it.

Next month I hope to be writing about The Knick, because I just picked up the first season from the library and I'm very excited to get into it although it may or may not scar me forever. Woo!

The Year of Reading Women In Review

One year ago tomorrow, I announced my Year of Reading Women. The goal was to read books by twelve female authors whose books I'd never read before. And I did it! I read 12 books by 12 different female authors, and then I read three more. (If you're wondering how my numbering works below, I counted books that were written by one man and one woman as half a book. If you're wondering why I haven't linked to my thoughts on a book, it's because I ended up writing a full review of the book that hasn't been posted on the blog yet.)

1.0 - Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
1.5 - Dragon Wing by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
2.5 - Alice by Christina Henry
3.0 - Saga Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
4.0 - Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
5.0 - The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman
6.0 - Bad Houses by Sara Ryan and Carla Speed McNeil
7.0 - Vindication: A Life of Mary Wollstonecraft by Lyndall Gordon
8.0 - Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
9.0 - A Natural History of the Romance Novel by Pamela Regis
10.0 - We Band of Angels by Elizabeth M. Norman
11.0 - The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
12.0 - Beyond Heaving Bosoms by Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan

13.0 - Live Alone and Like It by Marjorie Hillis
14.0 - This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein
15.0 - Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin

So I'm really happy that I did this. I had a great time with it, and it really forced me to pay attention to what I was reading and how rarely I tend to reach for women's work. I didn't love everything that I read by any means, but I read some great stuff, too. I learned some things, added some more books to my reading list both for the blog and just in general, and I ended up reading half a dozen other books by women whose work I'd read previously, too. I've read more books by women in the last year than I have in a very long time, and that's really exciting!

I won't be formally repeating the experiment again this year, though, only because I have lots of reading to catch up on for this blog so that I can finish it someday soonish. Still, I'm trying to concentrate as much as I can on female authors for the Random part of the project, if only to offset how many men are on The List.

Wish me luck.

And wish a happy 219th birthday to Mary Shelley tomorrow :)

What I'm Reading: This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein

This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein | Two Hectobooks
Here is a horror story.

Forgive me for getting a bit more political than usual.

I have to admit that I took a while to move from denial to acceptance when it comes to climate change. This has been part of a larger shift from gut feelings to deferring to experts and lived experience when it comes to my opinions in general. Of course there's guesswork involved when it comes to climate science (the fact that the guesswork seems to repeatedly lead to worse outcomes than predicted is particularly cruel).

In any case, I now find myself in a different kind of denial, where I avoid reading about climate change because it's just too scary. I faced my fears to read This Changes Everything, which unfortunately didn't do much to assuage them.

Naomi Klein's basic premise here is that action on climate change and capitalism are fundamentally incompatible. I mostly agree with her. For the most part, she supports this point well, showing how oil and gas companies have, continue to, and will continue to exploit the resource in reprehensible ways, encouraged/enabled by globalization and free trade. On the other hand, there were just enough eyebrow raising points (pro-naturopathy and anti-GMOs) that I found myself doubting her a bit. Her point of view and a lot of what's on the page are clearly biased to support her arguments (which, since it's her book, is her prerogative of course). I haven't fully delved into the opposing opinions out there yet, but I've started here.

Anyway, this is just one perspective on the encroaching doom that is climate change, and I'm planning to explore others when I can work up the courage to do so. Klein proposes solutions and points at growing grassroots movements to stop oil and gas exploitation, and those movements are certain to continue to grow.

Here's hoping.

R42. Flowers in the Attic by V. C. Andrews

Year Published: 1979
Pages: 411

First Sentence: It is so appropriate to color hope yellow, like that sun we seldom saw.

Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews | Two Hectobooks

Very long time readers may remember that time that I read Apache Nights and sincerely enjoyed it. I’m going to say right off the bat that I felt the same way about Flowers in the Attic, except that Flowers in the Attic is also, by far, the trashiest book I have ever read or am ever likely to read.

Of course I knew this book by reputation, with my first introduction to it via a high school teacher, who I think saw one of the girls in one of my classes reading a different V.C. Andrews book. By the early twenty aughts, of course, the book had less notoriety than it did in the 80s, but many many people still know what it is now, fifteen years later.

In case you’re one of the few who doesn’t, the basic premise is that the Dollanganger family (Chris, Corrine, and their kids Christopher, Cathy, Cory, and Carrie) are all super happy until Chris is killed in a car accident. Christopher is in his early teens, Cathy is just approaching puberty, and the two younger kids, twins, are around five years old when this happens. It turns out that their parents were deeply in debt, so Corrine takes her family to live with her own extremely wealthy parents in order to try to wheedle her way back into her father’s good graces, and inherit his money. He is supposedly on the brink of death. When they arrive at Foxworth Hall or whatever it’s called, Corrine reveals that her children will have to stay locked up in a room that leads to the mansion’s attic for a “short while” until she can reveal them to her father, because it turns out that Chris, their dead father, was Corrine’s half-uncle, and they were married and had children very much in opposition to Corrine’s parents’ wishes, plus had been living under an assumed name.

I’m sure you can see what’s coming.

Basically, the kids stay locked up for years, increasingly neglected by their mother, and under the watchful and cruel eye of their grandmother. The two older ones, Christopher and Cathy, are also increasingly aware of each other’s burgeoning sexuality and developing bodies.

I was inspired to finally pick up this book after watching the strangely compelling trailer to the new Lifetime adaptation of the book, and got a disturbingly battered copy from the library (pictured above), with SPOILER ALERT FOR THIS AND BEYOND the sex/rape scene between Christopher and Cathy slightly dogeared. I zoomed through the book in a matter of days.

So like I said, this is trash, but it was so entertaining. The prose is a very rich purple, and Andrews does a good job of livening up a pretty boring setting, when you really stop to think about it. At one point, she just skips over a year. Like “winter came, then spring and summer, and we had been in the attic for two years,” or something like that (it’s not a direct quotation). The whole thing is just so absurd and taken so seriously but also not at all.

The thing is, though, what is the deal with the incest? Why are people so into this? All the stuff about being in the attic and terrorized by an evil old woman, waiting for an old guy to die, general misery and rage is great, but I found the brother/sister stuff reeeally off-putting. I suppose it could happen under these circumstances (and has happened under others), but, like, that isn’t ok. I actually read the Wikipedia summaries of the whole series before I read this book, and was surprised to discover that Christopher rapes Cathy, which I didn’t think anyone was under the illusion of finding romantic or even titillating. I thought that maybe he rapes her in the sense that any incest could be considered rape. (Nope, he straight up rapes her too.) There are people who might find this romantic because of the desperation between the two siblings or something but like... these people can’t possibly have brothers, can they?

All this aside, you know what I actually found most unrealistic and jarring about the book? Cathy aspires to be a ballerina. It’s like her number one goal and she practices in the attic throughout the book, even going so far as to cut the tops off her leotards when they don’t fit anymore and letting everything hang out I guess. But she also aspires to be curvy and soft and sexy. Anyone with even a slight familiarity with ballet should know that curves are anathema to ballerinas. So unrealistic!

Anyway, this is basically the literary equivalent of the so-bad-it’s-good movie (a much harder balance to strike in books, from my experience), so if you like those, you’ll probably enjoy this.

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I stared up at the sky. It seemed to me like an inverted deep bowl of navy-blue velvet, sparkled all over with crystallized snowflakes instead of stars—or were they tears of ice that I was going to cry in the future? Why did they seem to be looking down at me with pity, making me feel ant-sized, overwhelmed, completely insignificant? It was too big, that close sky, too beautiful, and it filled me with a strange sense of foreboding. Still I knew that under other circumstances, I could love a countryside like this.
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Five Years Ago This Month: August 2011

Five years ago this month...

...I DIDN'T POST ANYTHING. For shame, past M.R.

Vanilla Dip Donut | Two Hectobooks
I had this donut as a farewell to Canada snack on the way to my first visit to the United States of America in over two decades, though. Seriously I got nothin' when it comes to August 2011.

59. Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm

Year Published: 1911
Pages: 350
First Sentence: That old bell, presage of a train, had just sounded through Oxford station; and the undergraduates who were waiting there, gay figures in tweed or flannel, moved to the margin of the platform and gazed idly up the line.
Rating: 2/3 (meh)

Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm | Two Hectobooks


After several days of alternately procrastinating and then forgetting to write this review, the first thing I have to say is that Zuleika Dobson was easily one of the more baffling of the List books that I've read so far.

Max Beerbohm's only novel is about a young lady conjurer who visits her grandfather at Oxford, and inspires all of the undergraduates to commit suicide as tribute to her. There isn't a lot more to the plot than that. The young lady in question is the one whose name appears in the title (Zu-lee-ka, by the way, not Zu-ly-ka or Zu-lay-ka), and her main suitor is the Duke of Dorset, dandiest of dandies, who is the first to decide that the grandest gesture he can make for Zuleika is to give up his life for her. The two of them argue about whether they love each other, and also there is a weird thing about how her pearl earrings and his pearl cufflinks change colour to match the way they feel about one another.

The novel is undeniably satirical, but the fact is that for the most part I didn't get the joke. It felt very, very broad sometimes, and mostly I just couldn't figure out what exactly Beerbohm was making fun of. Also, I read this as an ebook from Project Gutenberg, and I had to look up an absurd number of the words. I always wonder how people end up with these kinds of vocabularies. Beerbohm name drops himself in the novel at one point, and also his narrator takes on some interesting characteristics, and here's why I'm struggling to come up with literally anything whatsoever to say about this book: it wasn't for me.

This is a book for people who know a lot about Literature, and also a lot about Oxford, and probably also a lot about early 20th century Oxford before so many of the undergraduates who absurdly commit suicide in this book ended up dying much more tragically in a much more real conflict. As such, this strikes me as more of an absurdity than a great book.

- - - - -
"...But I had no definite scheme. I wanted to be with you and I came to you. It seems years ago, now! How my heart beat as I waited on the doorstep! 'Is his Grace at home?' 'I don't know. I'll inquire. What name shall I say?' I saw in the girl's eyes that she, too, loved you. Have YOU seen that?"
     "I have never looked at her," said the Duke.
     "No wonder, then, that she loves you," sighed Zuleika. "She read my secret at a glance. Women who love the same man have a kind of bitter freemasonry. We resented each other. She envied me my beauty, my dress. I envied the little fool her privilege of being always near to you."
- - - - -
The Duke was not one of those Englishmen who fling, or care to hear flung, cheap sneers at America. Whenever any one in his presence said that America was not large in area, he would firmly maintain that is was. He held, too, in his enlightened way, that Americans have a perfect right to exist. But he did often find himself wishing Mr. Rhodes had not enabled them to exercise that right at Oxford.
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Strange that this time yesterday she had been wildly in love with him! Strange, too, that this time to-morrow he would be dead!
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