‘Pretty Deadly: Volume One’ by Kelly Sue Deconnick

pretty-deadlyI feel like I never have much to say about graphic novels. I like them or I don’t (mostly I do) and then I find it impossible to write a post about them.

I recently spent a wintry evening reading Pretty Deadly: Volume One by Kelly Sue Deconnick. Narrated by a rabbit skeleton (less gross than you’d think) telling a tale to his friend, a butterfly, Pretty Deadly is a mythological genre-mash set in the Old West. I’m not even sure how to describe the plot in broad strokes, but suffice it to say Pretty Deadly covers almost every base in myth: Death appears as a major character; love is gained, lost, and squandered; redemption is sought; a young girl discovers her deeper purpose. (And more!) (more…)

December 11, 2014 at 6:03 am Leave a comment

‘Travels with Charley’ by John Steinbeck

For reasons I shall blame on my secondary school education, John Steinbeck has always belonged in my readerly mind to a category otherwise populated by Melville, Hemingway, and Faulkner. I would dub this category something along the lines of “White Male Authors Who Write About White Male Problems (Sometimes Historically).”

I think I classed these guys this way because that’s the way they were taught in school—all at once and of a kind. I can’t imagine a cohort more profoundly blah to a 14-year-old young woman, even one of a bookish bent, than this one.

So for many years I ignored the fact that, hey, I had actually enjoyed Of Mice and Men (certainly more than Billy Budd, The Old Man and the Sea, or The Bear, anyway) and went along my merry reader’s way regarding Steinbeck with as much distaste as I did Melville, Hemingway, and Faulkner.

It’s funny what an impression authors make on a young reading mind. Everything is so set and firm and there’s simply no room for reconsidering.

This attitude, as I came to realize some years later in the natural course of “growing up,” is no way to go through life. Readers change, even if the books and authors themselves don’t, and it is almost ridiculous how worthwhile revisiting books are at different moments in your life.

travelswithcharley

So when I read Benoit Denizet-Lewis’ Travels with Casey over the summer and learned that John Steinbeck wrote a travel narrative about his cross-country journey in the company of his poodle, I knew it was time to revisit Steinbeck and what category I had shoved him into. (more…)

December 9, 2014 at 6:12 am 2 comments

‘A Homemade Life’ by Molly Wizenberg

DSC_0020Originally posted on Almond Butter Binge, here.

I like the way Molly Wizenberg eats. I’ve been depressed for the past few weeks because I couldn’t think of a single vegetable I want to eat when it’s 18 degrees out. No one should try to eat lettuce for lunch in winter.

But guess what? Not only is Molly the charming genius behind Orangette and therefore a role model in all things, she happens to be married to a vegetarian. Who is also apparently a cooking genius. So she’s managed to produce this wonderful book, A Homemade Life, that is just filled with vegetable-based recipes that you actually want to gobble down, like, right now.

For example: there is a red cabbage salad I have been thinking about for days. Apparently you can shred cabbage and dress it with lemon juice, black pepper and parmesan cheese and have it taste fantastic. My whole mind is blown.

Another example? Radish slivers and butter on a baguette, shown above. I have been walking past beautiful bunches of radishes in my grocery store for weeks now, wishing I could think of something to do with them. And now I do.

If the whole book was comprised of those two recipes, the one for perfect chocolate cake and maybe the one for French toast, I would consider it well worth it. But there’s more. Shortbread cookies with cherry frosting, squash soup with vanilla bean, pickled carrots, oven roasted tomatoes…everything you didn’t know you wanted to eat.

And, of course, each recipe is prefaced by a poignant, humorous and utterly delightful essay about the place this recipe holds in Molly’s life and the people who brought it to her. Molly’s writing style is so conversational, so frank and open while being perfectly lovely, that I can’t bring myself to refer to her as “Wizenberg,” as one should when one is reviewing an author’s work.

Molly’s writing is exactly like her recipes — simple, unfussy and eminently satisfying. I just want to call her up and invite her over for coffee and chocolate cake, over which we’d brag about our husbands’ cooking skills and talk about how sometimes, our recipes go horribly wrong. My dog can even play with her baby. It would be great. But until that very unlikely day, I’m just going to have to be content with cooking from this book again and again and again.

December 8, 2014 at 12:43 am Leave a comment

‘What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding’ by Kristin Newman

while-breedingWhile on a trip with her husband, Kate picked up (appropriately or ironically, whichever you prefer), What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding, a single girl’s travel memoir by sitcom writer Kristin Newman. She subsequently recommended the book to Corey, who legitimately is a single-girl traveller, and the rest is history!

Kate: Apart from the sex, I feel like this book actually has a few good lessons about travel. Do the thing you’re supposed to do in the place you’re supposed to do it is amazing travel advice, in my opinion, and her list of what to do in order to be a good travel companion is spot-on (if a little nit-picky). Though I didn’t love her characterization of her travel companions, especially the one who left her dog with a sitter, I found myself looking to Kristin as almost a travel role model.

Corey: That is great travel advice. If only our heroine didn’t seem to apply it exclusively to doing the person you’re supposed to do in the place you’re supposed to do him. To give Kristin the benefit of the doubt, I like to think she did lots of other things in various places she was supposed to do them than are discussed in this book. I like to think her travels were an amazing cornucopia of localized experiences, which would live up to the “do the thing you’re supposed to do in the place you’re supposed to do it” mantra she spouts throughout the book.

Kate: Do you think it’s just that sex sells? There was so much mention  of sex on the back and front covers that I was actually a little weirded out that I hadn’t noticed it when I first picked up the book. I really just thought it was going to be a “single girl travels” book, not a “exotic men and the sex I had with them” book. But you get hints throughout the book that she actually did learn something about herself in there somewhere.

Corey: One can only hope she did! However, since there isn’t much focus on non-amorous activities (except on her sexless New Zealand journey—where sex evidently didn’t happen because a) all the handsome guys were taken and b) Kiwi genetic history precluded any native sons from being hot enough to tempt Kristin), I found myself rather uninspired.

If we’ve come so far that an intelligent, successful, single woman can travel the globe alone (three cheers!), why haven’t we come far enough that she can’t write a book about those travels without focusing on her singleness and love life? Is that still the only thing that makes a woman interesting and discussable? (more…)

December 4, 2014 at 6:24 am 2 comments

‘The Rise and Fall of Great Powers’ by Tom Rachman

riseandfallI would sum up my experience reading Tom Rachman’s The Rise and Fall of Great Powers as being not what I expected. Recommendations to read this book led me to believe the book would be about a bookseller in a remote corner of Wales and the kookiness/drama/general goings-on encountered at the bookshop. Rachman’s previous (and masterful) exploration of the kookiness/drama/general goings-on at an international newspaper (in The Imperfectionists) only solidified my expectations about his latest book and I looked forward to it immensely.

Instead, The Rise and Fall of Great Powers is a sprawling interpersonal epic that skips back and forth through time to tell the convoluted story of one woman named Tooly. (Tooly is the Welsh bookseller I was promised, although her profession is largely, and regrettably, incidental to the plot.) A mysterious phone call from an ex leads Tooly to delve into her past and try to figure out what happened to her in the last three decades of psychological manipulation, neglect, and assorted travels. Of course, what she discovers is in almost direct opposition to what she thought happened. (See also: the aforementioned psychological manipulation.) (more…)

December 1, 2014 at 6:17 am 1 comment

Nonfiction: The Book Club Killer

nonfiction
When my Nantucket book club chose a nonfiction book as its October read, I was interested to see what would happen. I’d never read nonfiction for a book club before nor had I had anything other than academic discussion of nonfiction books.

On the face of it, I think there is simply less to discuss and debate with nonfiction. Usually I found that when casually talking about nonfiction, the conversation was limited to a short summary of the book’s main argument, a brief recognition of if the book was enjoyable or not, and whether or not my conversational partner should read it. Beyond that, discussion of nonfiction seemed to flag.

So I was particularly interested to see what would happen in the confines of a book club. Would new avenues of discussion blossom? Would we find we had nothing much to say other than liking or disliking it? Would comparisons to other nonfiction arise? Would we pull in examples of novels about a similar topic to look at how differently they treated the subject?

I’m sorry to say I never got to find out the answers to any of these questions because, as it turns out, nonfiction is a book club killer. At this point, three months after the book was chosen and a date set, this book club has yet to meet and half the club hasn’t finished the book.

Furthermore, the club has disintegrated into conflicting perspectives on how to move forward, with half wanting to wait until everyone finishes to we can talk about the book and the other half just wanted to get the hell out of Dodge, pick a new book, and pretend this whole episode never happened. (more…)

November 27, 2014 at 6:55 am Leave a comment

Ticker by Lisa Mantchev

Ticker-Cover-FinalDid you ever read a book and suddenly realize it sounds like something you would have written in high school? At first there’s an appeal — ooh, this book sounds right up my alley! Then, confusion — wait, what is going on? Then, embarrassment — oh dear. I’ve written something like this and thought it was really, really good.

That’s what Ticker was like for me. The premise is fantastic — a girl with a clockwork heart living in a steampunk version of London is torn when the man who enabled her to live despite a heart defect is imprisoned for experimenting on human subjects. The man promises he can fix her heart by upgrading the equipment…but he’s also kidnapped her parents. Strife!

Meanwhile, this 16-year-old girl is doing some kind of romantic dance with the 19-year-old head of the city’s giant private military. The second he arrives in her house in about the first chapter, the reader is subjected to this awkward teenage hormone-fuelled “will they won’t they”  tension characterized by the typical YA tropes — the Handsome Young Man, the Near Death Experience, the Hospital Visit (complete with flowers) and the Homo Ex Machina Rescue. The only thing more awkward than this romance is how unawkward it’s meant to seem.

There’s a lot of death, a lot of feels, if you will, exacerbated by several gratuitous scenes where our Handsome Young Man takes an Orphaned Waif under his wing and allows us to see what a fantastic father he’d be. The heroine literally dies no fewer than three times. There’s a lot of focus on clothing and logistics and what everyone is eating, as well as several scenes where our Handsome Young Man and I’m-Not-Frail Heroine must pretend to be married — for the sake of disguise! To save her family! To interrogate photographers!

It’s bizarre. Add in a steampunk-style Morse code text messager, and you have a novel that could have delved much more deeply into questions of life, prolonging life by artificial means, the dangers of a private military, and the ethics of medical testing. Instead, you have a novel with exciting promise that is marred by excessive sentiment, fashion and an odd obsession with lemon cake.

November 26, 2014 at 7:05 am Leave a comment

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