Author Archive

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

‘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

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

The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley

81jorxit7slIt’s hard to review Kameron Hurley for a few reasons, not the least of which is that she’s bound to read that review at some point. Criticizing books is easy when you feel like the author won’t ever read what you’re writing, let alone care about some woman shrieking into the abyss of the internet. Hurley, as she points out, has been that shrieking woman, and so the odds of her hearing your wailing are markedly increased.

Pulling punches is not what this blog is about, however. And I genuinely enjoyed The Geek Feminist Revolution, Hurley’s manifesto (or so it’s described) about feminism in fantasy and sci-fi. Hurley is a prolific sci-fi writer with a day job who also happens to be a woman, which means she’s forced to defend herself on a daily basis from the legions of Sad Puppies who think that women shouldn’t write sci-fi. She must be exhausted. Seriously.

Sometimes, I thought she was being a little whiney or self-congratulatory. Why did she have to talk about how hard she works? I wondered. Why go on and on, and then brag about how much she writes and how great her characters are?

Prompted by Hurley’s book itself, I began thinking about how much differently I had just treated On Writing by Stephen King. The books’ goals are disparate: King’s work is half memoir, half instruction manual, while Hurley’s is meant to raise a little hell and push women to action. But both of the authors talk about their personal history of writing and how they came to be where they are. Both worked incredibly hard–both racking up debt, King as he tried to support a family and Hurley as she tried to escape abusive relationships, come to terms with her sexuality, and deal with a chronic illness.

Did I find King’s work a little self-indulgent at times? Sure. Did I ever think of it as whiney or self-congratulatory? No, not even when he’s talking about how he never plots stories out and just “lets the characters take him there.” (God, that’s annoying.)

And that’s where my own flaw in thinking comes in. Because even as I found Hurley’s tone off-putting, I realized that I found it off-putting because 1) I’m not used to hearing a woman express how proud she is of something she created, and 2) I didn’t like hearing that a woman has to work so hard to be successful. (more…)

February 27, 2017 at 1:34 pm Leave a comment

Creepypasta: Nightmares we’re all dreaming

The first time I stumbled on a piece of creepypasta, I had no idea what it was. A friend had posted a link to it on Facebook, and since this particular friend always posts interesting things, I clicked through and read it.

I can’t even remember what it was about, now. Maybe a dead girlfriend haunting a teenager. It definitely involved doctored photos, and it was written in an unusual style that contributed to my confusion. I’m pretty sure it was on r/No Sleep, a sub Reddit forum where people tell creepy stories and other readers engage actively with the poster. The story evolved over a series of posts, after which the original poster suddenly disappeared, causing an interesting tension with the readers.

Then there was the time I discovered Slenderman. If you’re not familiar, I believe the general understanding is that Slenderman is a made-up character based on a series of doctored photos that show a preternaturally tall, gangly figure in the shadows, luring children into his clutches. The thing is, though Slenderman isn’t real, he is in the minds of at least two teenagers, who said they were inspired by him to perform real-life murders.

These are only two examples of creepypasta, a viral fiction form that lives on the Internet and is inseparable from it. I know this doesn’t sound literary, but hear me out. (more…)

September 1, 2016 at 12:25 am Leave a comment

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