I'm still struggling through a reading rut. I've started and/or completed a few things, but not like "usual" for me. This wouldn't be a big deal except honestly I really, really need to find something that really sucks me in, because the more time I spend in the real world, the more I hate it. I'm full of anger about so many things and reading usually helps keep that under control. The Stanford case, the dude-bro responses to reasonable complaints about the Apocalypse poster, politics, high-profile abuse cases, someone straight up telling me that women and men have achieved equality and that 3rd wave feminists are "destroying everything the earlier feminists did for us"... The real world sucks, I don't like people, and I really, really need books to save me.
Top Ten Tuesday May 10: Ten Websites I Waste Time on That (mostly) Aren't About Books
(Concept, topic, and logo all from The Broke and the Bookish)
Tor: I know the guidelines are for sites not about books, but I actually don’t really use the Tor site for book stuff. Rather, it is one of my go-to places for TV recaps and reviews. I also love when they do re-watches and re-reads of older work and see how it holds up (a hobby of mine I would like to have time to indulge more).
Flavorwire: A culture site devoted to books, art, television, film, current events, etc. I respect their writers and their occasionally contrarian reviews of popular media.
The Sartorialist: I love street style, and The Sartorialist is the premiere place to see amazing style all over the world and on people of all genders and ages (a rarity for street style blogs).
Io9: There is a definite pattern emerging, as this is another place I go to frequently for pop culture updates and television recaps.
Kotaku: More pop culture, usually focused on video games but sometimes just random Japanese trends.
Refinery29: Fashion, makeup, beauty. All that good "girly" stuff plus articles on sex, relationships, etc.
Buzzfeed: Who doesn’t waste the occasional block of time on Buzzfeed listicles? They also do pretty good long form journalism.
Vulture: A go-to place for what's going on in all the TV shows I don't watch but am inexplicably interested in.
The Daily Beast: Like Vulture, but often a little more insightful and with more space given to current events as well as entertainment. I’m always looking for more pieces like Arthur Chu’s “Your Princess is in Another Castle.”
Pinterest: This is the only social media I’m including, since it’s really the only social media I spend huge swathes of time on, mostly for closet inspiration and to find really amazing costume ideas and cosplay.
Ten Child/Young Adult Characters You’d Love to Revisit as Adults
Attempting to put this list together has shown me how very few books I’ve read with child or young adult protagonists whose adult lives I never see. Or whose adult lives I would care much about, honestly. I don’t think I’ll make it to ten, but here goes:
Junior, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. I would really like to know if everything Junior went through turned out OK. Did his education off the res give him the leg-up he was hoping for? Did his dad ever deal with his drinking problem? Did his family ever catch a break?
Romeo and Juliet, Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. For the sake of this list, I would like to imagine they didn’t die. How long would it have taken them to realize they made a terrible mistake and that declaring undying love for someone and tying yourself to them for life before you’ve even finished puberty (or known them longer than a week) is really, really dumb?
Matilda Wormwood, Matilda by Roald Dahl. You just know Matilda grew up to do amazing things. Did she keep her powers? Did she outgrow them? Did she grow up to be the world’s coolest librarian or did she start writing her own books? Personally, I’d like to think she grew up to be much like Mara Wilson, the actress that played her in the film.
Sophronia from the Finishing School series by Gail Carriger. Thanks to the series being part of the Parasol Protectorate universe, we do see a couple of the girls all grown up. But what about Sophronia? A whole series of her adventures as a badass secret agent would be so much fun, and I would love to see her meet other characters from the Parasol events (besides the ones she went to school with).
Eleanor and Park from the eponymous novel by Rainbow Rowell. JUST TELL ME IT WORKS OUT. Theirs is perhaps the only adolescent romance I’ve ever rooted for in the long term.
Well, I think that’s the best I can do. It’s a bit of a conundrum: if an author creates a really compelling character, it’s natural to want to see more of them. And yet, if they tell the story right, they rarely leave me feeling like I need more. Sometimes a great character is great specifically because their story arc fits perfectly, and I simply don’t need anything else.
(Original Top Ten Tuesday concept, topic, and logo via The Broke and the Bookish)
Not a perfect list (since there is no such thing) but not bad either.
No one is going to convince me to get up 15 minutes earlier to do ANYTHING-- even read-- but I think I'm going to try at least a few of these.
Fabulous Five Friday: Comic Book Adaptations
I’m sticking with a movie theme for some reason this month. These aren’t necessarily the absolute Top Five adaptations, but they are five that I’ve enjoyed immensely and I think do great service to their source material.
The Netflix take on the MCU: Jessica Jones and Daredevil (2015-ongoing)
I’m putting these both together to 1) make room for another title I really want to include, and 2) because they’re successful for similar reasons. “Dark and gritty” is quickly getting worn out in the world of comic book adaptations, but these titles get it right. Both titles give us imperfect, complicated heroes and two of the most terrifying villains on screen to date. They’re similar in that they’re both different kinds of crime shows, and yet different enough that one doesn’t feel like a rip-off of the other.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
I mentioned the dark and gritty problem above, and this is one adaptation that completely bypasses it for humor and even goofiness without sacrificing character or emotion. The characters and the story are just so much fun, and yet there are moments that made me tear up. Bonus points for making Guardians a top-tier franchise after playing on the B-lists for so long.
Another one that is just plain fun. Dirty, filthy, meta fun. Ryan Reynolds was born to be the merc with the mouth and I’m so glad he fought for as long and hard as he did to get it made. There have been a lot of arguments as to whether it was really “necessary” to go R-rated; I think it’s a refreshing way to expand comic adaptations out of the paint-by-numbers PG-13 place they’ve ended up lately.
The Dark Knight (2008)
You can’t talk about recent adaptations without talking about Dark Knight, and specifically Heath Ledger’s Joker. I have watched this film probably a dozen times and he blows me away. Every. Single. Time. It’s the rare sequel film that “overstuffs” with two villain plotlines and does it well, surpassing the first film by leaps and bounds.
The non-superhero black sheep of the list. The original graphic novel memoir by Marjane Satrapi is translated almost exactly to the screen—the animation mimics the art, and very little gets cut or moved around. It’s an absolutely beautiful book that makes for an excellent film.
Any good ones I missed?
(Warning: this review is super long)
I received an ARC of this title from the publisher via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. It is scheduled to be published for wide release May 3, 2016.
The title We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement sounds like a pretty straightforward condemnation of the sea change that has taken place in American culture regarding feminism. But as with all political movements, nothing is ever simple.
Feminism has become a buzzword. It garners clicks for celebrity interviews and can sell anything from building blocks to underwear. How has a word so long associated in the mainstream consciousness with angry, unattractive malcontents become a marketer’s dream? This is the convoluted journey Andi Zeisler tackles in We Were Feminists Once. There are many paths to trace in the search for the shifting meaning of a political movement, but one thing is for sure: they almost always lead to money.
Zeisler, former riot grrrl and one of the founders of Bitch magazine, turns a harsh lens on the many industries that have coopted a political movement about equality in order to strip it for parts and make a profit: the fashion industry, Hollywood, the Internet and social media, even food and soap brands. When once it was a real challenge to find almost any female role models in the realm of popular culture, it’s now all too easy to choose among Strong Female Characters in various bland, marketable flavors. Food companies that once appealed “family values” now peddle female empowerment in a jar. Celebrities who have distanced themselves from feminism and its “anti-men” clichés now clamor to endorse it and adopt it into their personal brand. The pendulum swings from one extreme to the other; the middle ground passed through only to get from point A to point B.
We are seeing a rise in interest in gender parity and diversity in film, television, advertising, politics, and other public arenas, but are we seeing any genuine gains in this inclusion? With marketing smoke and mirrors it is really hard to say. If you go to Buzzfeed and type “feminist” into the search box, it will return with dozens of lists and articles with titles like “40 Things Only Internet Feminists Will Understand” and “15 Reasons Taylor Swift is Secretly a Feminist.” But, you may ask, isn’t this visibility a good thing? This is where it gets the most complicated, as the answer is both yes and no. The increasing visibility of feminism makes it feel open to more people and a wider discourse, but at what cost? Usually, as Zeisler makes increasingly clear, the cost is substance and legitimate political engagement.
Feminism is not the only buzzword that is rapidly losing meaning as its use increases. Another casualty Zeisler chalks up to the linguistics of marketing is the word “empower.” Once a signifier of self-sufficiency in the under-served and underprivileged, it can now be tacked on to anything woman-related. Have you ever been empowered by lipstick or deodorant? Well, now you can be. In 2003, The Onion announced “Women Now Empowered by Everything a Woman Does,” and the marketing chant of empowerment continues to ring in our ears more than a decade later. As Zeisler points out, “[advertisers] use the term as an all-purpose adjective, Mad Libs-style; pop it anywhere in that sentence, it’ll make sense.” And the overuse of the word isn’t the most troubling aspect of its saturation; rather, the gendered way it allows people to talk about women and power without using the actual word power is the really frightening bit.
The market’s embrace of feminism is riddled with cynical strategy. One of many of Zeisler’s examples: in order to be seen as a company that cares about women’s issues, CoverGirl cosmetics donates (loudly and visibly) to breast cancer research, while making no effort to ensure their products are free from known carcinogens. This is where the façade breaks down and feminism becomes just another tool. Are there companies that legitimately care about women’s issues? Sure, but the sheer volume of the market drowns them all together into white noise and leaves us to dig for the truth among the competing and contradictory sounds.
The capitalist marketplace adoption of feminism and the systematic devaluation of it as a movement are both tied to a very particular permutation of commercial feminist values: the idea of “choice feminism” (also known as white feminism). The market is all about choice (or at least the illusion of it) and feminism, in its mainstream-embraced version, has followed suit. It seems that every choice, Zeisler highlights, can be considered feminist if made by a (self-proclaimed) feminist. There is no wrong way to be a feminist! You want to be a stay at home mom? Feminist! You want to work? Feminist! You don’t have an option because you’re poor? Uh…feminist? Choice is a privilege that comes from having options—a privilege bought by feminist organizing and activism—that now negates that activity by reframing it as choice. Choice feminism mirrors capitalism in a disturbing way: trickle down theory fails in both arenas, and yet we keep treating it like it works.
To say there is only one way to be a feminist is categorically wrong. But to say that there is no wrong way to be a feminist is equally misleading. As Zeisler notes “[m]arketplace feminism is seductive. But marketplace feminism is not equality.” And ours is not the first generation to “market” feminism with an eye to the mainstream. Near the end of the book, she breaks it down with harsh truth:
“The feminist movements we’re all most familiar with are ones that were able to be easily understood by outsiders with a minimum of difficulty. Optics mattered: First-wave feminists didn’t want the presence of women of color to put the kibosh on getting suffrage; second-wave feminists didn’t want lesbian and transgender women “tainting” the movement with fringe identities. Both movements were selling a branded image to wary buyers.”
This buyer’s-market sensibility creates an environment of exclusion that has continued to plague feminism from its beginnings to the present day. People of color and LGBTQ individuals still find themselves often on the outside of mainstream feminism, despite the attempts made to bring intersectional feminism forward, and marketplace feminism entrenches the problem further by forever appealing to a mass audience of mostly white buyers with disposable income. In other words, using feminism as a commodity makes it more palatable for the masses but ineffective for those who need it most.
So should we throw away our “This Is What a Feminist Looks Like” t-shirts? Despite her unflinching dissection of the problems inherent in using feminism as a marketing tool, Zeisler is not immune to the charms of seeing feminism portrayed positively in the media; representation matters, after all. Hers is not an all or nothing argument, but rather a call to do what good consumers and activists should always do: look for the truth behind the ad copy and don’t buy everything the media tries to sell you. If “[f]eminism these days really does look brighter and funnier, cooler and easier than ever before” you must also remember that
[t]he problem is—the problem has always been—that feminism is not fun. It’s not supposed to be fun. It’s complex and hard and it pisses people off. It’s serious because it is about people demanding that their humanity be recognized as valuable. The root issues feminism confronts—wage inequality, gendered divisions of labor, institutional racism and sexism, structural violence and, of course, bodily autonomy—are deeply unsexy.
What comes after our current climate of marketplace feminism? “Postfeminism” as a concept came to the fore in the 80s, to suggest that feminism was over and we had “won,” since we had a few token females in the major fields and more empowerment than we knew what to do with. If we can’t actually be post-feminist—and we certainly can’t anytime soon-- Zeisler hopes we can instead embrace post-marketplace feminism. To sum up, she gives us this:
I want idealism to be more than a passing fad. I want feminism to be meaningful long after no one is singing about it, or name-checking it on red carpets, or printing it on granny panties…. A post-marketplace-feminism world may not be as headline worthy, but it will be a world that benefits more than a commercially empowered few.
I’ve always considered myself fairly knowledgeable about feminism and how easily the media warps women’s issues for it’s own purposes, but We Were Feminists Once uncovered facets of the current state of things that I have been blind to and articulated sentiments I have not been able to put my finger on. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a sucker for all that clickbait about feminist comebacks and however many times feminists did something on Tumblr. These things don’t necessarily need to go away—most are simply for laughs and internet solidarity. But while we’re laughing and patting celebrities on the back for making feminist statements, we also need to be legitimately engaging with equality (and the lack thereof) in the real world.
We were feminists once. So let’s be feminists again.
I'm in a reading slump. I can't seem to get into anything right now. I need to finish A Doubter's Almanac for my book club meeting on Friday, but I'm only about 20% through (it's over 500 pages) and can't seem to latch onto the story, even though I think it's interesting enough. Le sigh.
April 26: Top Ten Bookworm Delights
(Original Top Ten Tuesday concept and topic thanks to The Broke and the Bookish)
Spending hours in the used book store
The used book store is my “me” place. Every chance I get I like to slip away from work, kids, bills, and non-book things and just browse for unexpected treasures.
Rediscovering a book I loved years ago and finding that it’s still just as good
I reread a lot, which means some disappointment but also some great surprises.
Finding something new in a book I’ve read before
Books that are truly great reward you every time you read them again.
Making infographics and charts of reading data
I like compiling data and seeing it in all of its visualized glory.
A freshly organized library (physical and/or digital)
The feeling of having everything in its place and knowing exactly where to find something: priceless.
A paperback of the perfect size and weight
There’s just something about the way certain books feel in your hands.
Books with worn leather covers
I own an old copy of Henry Esmond by William Makepeace Thackery. Will I ever read it? Probably not. But it is a tiny little quarto sized volume with onionskin pages and the butteriest, softest old leather cover, so I have to keep it, if only just to hold it occasionally and have it look very sophisticated on my shelf.
Having a whole day to do nothing but read
I have a toddler. In other words, spending the whole day reading is not usually an option. When it does happen though, it’s like heaven.
The feeling of responsibility fulfilled when I pay my library fines
I’m terrible about dealing with due dates. I should be more responsible, but frankly the money is going to a great place and that fresh feeling of paying off a tiny debt is kind of nice.
Swapping books with someone who appreciates your taste and vice versa
For me, this is particular to comic books. I have a friend who is forever looking for new indie comic titles, and since he doesn’t have kids, he usually gets his hands on expensive or really new stuff that I can borrow in exchange for a few of my lesser-known titles. The best part is we can then have awesome conversations about comics.
Most film adaptations are disappointing in some way or another. Some are mostly minor clips and snips (Harry Potter) while others are egregious (I'm looking at you, Practical Magic). Here are a few I think are not only good, but are arguably as good as or better than the books and stories they sprang from.
That's right, you heard me.
The original short story is spare and bleak, capturing the voice of the tough cowboy ethos that shapes it. The film captures much of that same tone while making the emotional impact of the story about a thousand times more visceral and gut-wrenching. Heath Ledger was so amazing.
The Shawshank Redemption
Stephen King is a great storyteller. That being said, the film is on a completely different level from the source material. Some of this is due to strong direction, but most of it, I think, is thanks to the cast and their incredible portrayals of the characters.
The Neverending Story
Michael Ende hates the film version of his book. Sorry, but he’s wrong. It takes a different direction from his work, but it uses the perfect amount of source material and originality to make a movie I still watch again and again, even if the effects don’t really hold up.
The Princess Bride
Like Shawshank, the film is actually better than the book. Rob Reiner is a genius and no one will ever be able to replicate the miracle that is The Princess Bride.
Interview with the Vampire
Anne Rice wrote the screenplay for the adaptation, which may explain why it is so much more faithful to the book than the execrable Queen of the Damned (which I still regularly hate-watch, don’t judge me). The moodiness of the setting and the miraculous way it is both a "typical" Hollywood movie and yet something much weirder is kind of magical. It's beautiful to watch and holds up pretty well considering it’s over 20 years old. I think some of the casting is a bit odd, but Brad Pitt is great and tiny baby Kirsten Dunst is amazing.
Ten Books That Will Make You Laugh (or at least chuckle)
(Top Ten Tuesday concept and topic thanks to The Broke and the Bookish)
The Hitchhiker’s Guide series by Douglas Adams
The ultimate funny book. If you don’t laugh your way through these, we can’t be friends.
Emma by Jane Austen
All of Austen’s works are essentially comedies. Some are lighter and funnier than others, but Emma wins for the best use of free indirect discourse to make us laugh at Emma’s cluelessness (see what I did there?). It's also the novel that contains both Miss Bates and Mrs. Elton, two of the most ridiculous—yet believable—characters I’ve ever seen in print.
Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg
Ortberg takes literary figures, real and imagined, and creates a series of text conversations that capture each character perfectly. The humor is wry and so sharp you could cut yourself. It gives you the kind of chuckles that come from being in with the inside joke.
Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan
Jim Gaffigan is one of my favorite comedians. Dad is Fat is mostly about adventures in marriage and trying to survive five (six? I forget) children. Cutesy family comedy is not usually my style, but Gaffigan nails it with his delivery.
Adulthood is a Myth by Sarah Andersen
Maybe not laugh out loud funny, but if you’ve ever been young and anxious, Andersen’s cartoons will make you chuckle in recognition.
Moranththology by Caitlin Moran
Caitlin Moran is not “classy” and that’s why I like her. She has a great eye for absurdity and a loud, unapologetic style that makes you laugh while you cringe at the embarrassing things she (constantly) does.
Bitch in a Bonnet by Robert Rodi
Rodi captures all of the meanest, sharpest edges of Jane Austen’s writing and adds plenty of his own snark in this book dedicated to “reclaiming Jane Austen from the stiffs, the snobs, the simps and the saps.”
Rat Queens series of comics by Kurtis J. Wiebe
This series about a fearsome foursome of badass lady mercenaries manages to be hilarious and unapologetically adult without sacrificing character for laughs.
The Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger
It’s touted as steampunk adventure, which is true, but at it’s heart it’s a British comedy of manners that just happens to be populated with vampires, werewolves, and steam-powered whatsits.
The Bertie & Jeeves novels and stories by PG Wodehouse
The Classic of Classics in 20th century British comedy. Just like with Hitchhiker’s Guide, I can’t deal with anyone who doesn’t laugh at Bertie Wooster and his faithful Jeeves.
Fabulous Five Friday: Five Great Essay Collections
Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Joan Didion
There is no denying that Didion is the queen of the essay form. Bethlehem is one of her earliest collections, but it’s still my favorite. Though some might find the essays rooted in the current events of the 1960s a bit dated, her personal essays are timeless. Some of her best known pieces come from this collection, like “On Keeping a Notebook,” “On Self-Respect,” and “On Going Home.”
Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman
Anne Fadiman is a book person after my own heart, only smarter and more articulate. Each essay looks at a personal experience with reading, like learning to love reading by watching her parents, or her family’s obsession with finding errors in their books. Her whole family is bookish and weird and really fun to read about.
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
This collection is not so much a direct analysis of feminism as it is simply a collection of Gay’s pieces from all over the internet. She focuses so much on feminism, directly and indirectly, that the title is still pretty spot-on. The essays cover everything from the day-to-day struggle of being a POC in academia to what it’s like to compete in a Scrabble tournament. Her pop culture criticism is both incisive and highly personal, which something I strive for in my own criticism and she makes for a fantastic teacher.
The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
This collection got a lot of buzz when it came out, and for good reason. Jamison writes highly personal essays on the experience of empathy in a style that seems meandering but always comes together in perfect but surprising ways.
Paris Was Ours: Thirty-Two Writers Reflect on the City of Light edited by Penelope Rowlands
Writers—some famous, some less so—write about visiting or living in modern Paris. The different voices and experiences each capture something unique about the city and about what it’s like to be in a famous place that contains so many contradictions. Like with all anthologies, I found some more interesting than others, but none were disappointing.