Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube by Blair Braverman

I found Blair Braverman on Twitter, of all places. She and her husband constantly post photos and videos of their pack of adorable sled dogs, so it was probably only a matter of time until my husky-obsessed self stumbled on her account. And once I found out she had a book, I needed to order it.

I had expected a Winterdance-type story, with lots of quirky dog personalities and feats of strength  (as Braverman informs us, four sled dogs can pull a truck out of a ditch). What I wasn’t expecting was Braverman’s gripping, deeply personal journey from being a scared teenager feeling at the mercy of the men in her life to a tough, scarred, but ultimately at peace, musher. The dogs are incidental to this story; it’s really about Braverman becoming herself.

It starts like this: Braverman lives in Norway for about a year as a child, then returns to study abroad as a teenager. While staying with her host family, she is sexually harassed, but not in a way she can convincingly report. It’s a feeling of being unsafe, a feeling that she is in danger, a vulnerability that, when she tries to explain it to others, is brushed off as a misunderstanding or homesickness. Though she’s ultimately not raped by her host father, this feeling pursues Braverman over the next decade or so and drives her desire to become a “tough girl.”  (more…)

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October 30, 2017 at 12:48 am Leave a comment

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Look. I like John Green. Teenagers seem to respond to him, he is an excellent writer, a charismatic person, and has been quoted on Tumblr and in his vlog as saying many feminist things (most notably, telling a girl to break up with a boy who told her she was too smart for him). He’s great.

Looking for Alaska is his debut novel. It was published in 2005, won a prestigious award in 2006, and was still on the New York Times’ list of YA paperback bestsellers 10 years later. Teenagers are still obsessed with John Green, though less so with Looking for Alaska, which is the only book I could find on the shelves of my local library.

All of this is to set up the fact that, while I enjoyed reading this book, and I would have loved it as a teenager, as an adult, I found it hard not to place it into a broader context of literary tradition. Green has since evolved on many of the issues I talk about here, most notably in Paper Towns, where Margo gets to speak for herself and make the points I wish Alaska had been able to.

But this is the book that rocketed Green to success, and there’s inherent value in it because it’s been so popular. But it’s because it’s so popular that we need to look at it closer, and what I found bothered me.

SPOILERS AHEAD (more…)

October 25, 2017 at 3:20 pm Leave a comment

Re Jane by Patricia Park

Rare is the retelling that manages to be an enhancement, rather than a shadow, of the original. Patricia Park’s Re Jane is that retelling. The conceit is simple: Half-Korean Jane Eyre, with Brooklyn, Queens and Seoul standing in for Gateshead, Thornfield and Morton. A modern retelling.

But it’s actually so much more. The book opens with Jane toiling away in her uncle’s grocery market, delightfully called “Food.” Jane, we discover, has a degree in finance but is unable to find a job after one she thought was set fell through. She is uncomfortable in her own family due to the fact that her mother was apparently impregnated, then abandoned, by an American G.I. — something her relatives obviously disapproved of, and which they don’t hesitate to bring up whenever Jane is acting less than perfectly. (more…)

October 23, 2017 at 3:20 pm 2 comments

The Pros and Cons of Commute Audiobooks

In preparation for a short roadtrip, I recently went to the library and got Amy Poehler’s Yes Please on CD. The day before the roadtrip was a bad news day and I didn’t want to be bombarded with it on NPR, so I popped the CD in and started the first of many days’ commutes with Amy Poehler.

For some reason, listening to audiobooks on my car ride to work has become addictive. It’s a nice way to start the day — a chapter here, a section there — and it is the closest I’ve come to replicating my former (and much-missed) practice of reading on the subway to work when I lived in New York.

But I’ve already realized there are pros and cons to this habit. The biggest and most obvious con is that I’m significantly less well-informed about the news of the day.

Unlike in New York, I pass no newsstands or AMNY hawkers on my drive or bike ride to work. Unlike in New York, I don’t see any news tickers wrapped around buildings and I am not faced with my fellow citizens reading a newspaper two inches from my face in a crowded subway car.

Without these reminders and without my morning NPR fix, I can spend an entire day oblivious to what’s happened anywhere outside of my office. And after only a few days of audiobooks on my commute, I already feel weirdly disconnected from the world around me. (more…)

April 25, 2017 at 12:17 pm Leave a comment

‘Eligible’ by Curtis Sittenfeld: A Discussion

Kate: Okay, as sick as I am of Pride and Prejudice being rewritten, and as sick as I am of Regency/Victorian reboots in general, I unabashedly loved Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible. More a reimagining than a retelling, this novel updates the original by making all of the sisters older and moving the entire thing to Cincinnati (among other things). So, Corey, first question to you: Do you think Sittenfeld’s work is successful in terms of capturing the spirit of the original?

Corey: Yes! I haven’t actually read any other retellings, but this book makes me want to. There is something so fundamentally charming, entertaining, and satisfying about this story that it feels almost like a fable or a myth. You can shift it around and change the time or the place (or both!) and it still retains its spirit. What do you think that ineffable “tale as old as time”-ness of it all is? Why do we need to keep reading and retelling and reimagining this particular tale?

Kate: Well, it’s Beauty and the Beast. Elizabeth Bennet, beauty — Fitzwilliam Darcy, beast. I suppose readers like to think that the attractive brooding asshole really does have a heart of gold, deep inside, that he’s waiting to reveal to that one special person. Which is the main heroine, a stand-in for the reader. Right? I mean, Twilight is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice, supposedly. It’s all the same story.

Corey: I guess that’s my question: what is so compelling about this trope? Is it just the hope that every jerk has a heart of gold waiting to be revealed?

(more…)

April 12, 2017 at 1:57 pm Leave a comment

Companion Reads: ‘The Monuments Men’ and ‘Agent Zigzag’


I’m not entirely sure why, but I often find myself reading about World War II when I travel. It isn’t a topic I usually find myself gravitating to, but for some reason when you put me on a plane destined for far-off shores, I turn to WWII.

For my most recent holiday, I ended up reading The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History (by Bret Witter and Robert M. Edsel) and Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal (by Ben Macintyre) within a few days of each other. Unsurprisingly for two books about various intrepid “good guys” triumphing over various forms of Nazi horribleness, they pair together quite well.

Both books are what might be categorized as “popular history,” i.e. lighter historical fare intended for the general public. In addition to presenting big stories in a more digestible form, these books are liberally sprinkled with factoids and usually insert dialogue throughout to make the overall book feel a lot like an adventure novel. Accordingly, they’re easy, interesting, comulsively readable books. I devoured two in three days! (more…)

March 17, 2017 at 6:41 am Leave a comment

A Hundred Pieces of Me by Lucy Dillon

I know what you’re thinking. Cute dog on the cover, sort of cutesy title, a font that screams, “Hey, I’m a book for women, but not one of those books for women.” But A Hundred Pieces of Me by Lucy Dillon is a damn good book.

It starts with our hero, Gina Bellamy, who discovers her husband is having an affair. Not only is he having an affair, it’s Christmas, her first Christmas in the perfect house they have renovated together, and she’s wondering what will be the next big project to bring them together. Nothing, apparently, as he is sleeping with a younger blonde.

Flash forward, and Gina is in her new apartment, boxes and boxes of stuff from her old life crowding her new one. Overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of things, she decides that she’s going to only keep 100 crucial things. She also nails a sweet new job restoring her dream home, which happens to be inhabited by a very handsome (though married) photographer. And yeah, there’s a dog.

But this book is more than the sum of its parts. (more…)

March 15, 2017 at 6:33 pm 2 comments

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