Spectacles (CBR9 #23)

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I have a lady crush on Sue Perkins. I do not feel that this is an unheard of situation. I was introduced to her via my friend Ale, who was watching the series Supersizers Go from the BBC all about food history. We LOVE food history. This lead to my comfort television becoming watching Sue and Giles drink their way through terrible food.

The next great epoch in my Sue fandom was a late to the game discovery of the Great British Bake Off and Sue’s cohosting with her comedy partner Mel Giedroyc. I no longer watch many foodie television programs as I struggle with my weight and overeating and have learned over the years that watching someone cook/eat will inevitably lead to me cooking and eating an extra meal or an extra quantity of food that I do not need. Due to those reasons, I had initially avoided this incredibly popular juggernaut. And then someone sold it really hard, promised that it was more soothing than food porn and I gave in.

Just in time to get addicted before the hammer fell, as Sue and Mel announced they would not be following the series to its new home.

In solidarity with Sue, I tracked down her book and purchased it. Her standing up for what she believed in meant that I would absolutely throw a few dollars her way.

And then Ale read it first. Because I’m a slacker.

So, we’ve gotten over 200 words into this review and I haven’t said much about the book. Its really good friends, in the way that well written and thought out memoirs can be. I don’t know if its very Sue-ness would come across to the uninitiated, but if you are a Sue fan and are looking for more stories of her growing up in Croydon, or attending Cambridge, or breaking into the comedy/television presenter world then this is your book. She’s insightful and honest about her own strengths and weaknesses and you will absolutely fall in love with her parents. She uses her wit and comedic skills to unpack the world around her, and the way she sees it, and asks you to do the same with the world around you. Or just think of some really great double entendres.

Sue is very candid, and her emotions are allowed to shine through which I feel is the strength of the memoir genre. I nearly cried at the end of one of the chapters about her relationship with Mel. “But mainly we leave it alone, leave it all unsaid and carry on regardless in a thoroughly British fashion. What I do know is that this kinship will always remain. It is constant. It is a love that cannot be weathered, not by time, not by circumstance. Nothing can alter it.”

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, write about it, and raise money to support the American Cancer Society in the name of our fallen friend, Alabama Pink. 

Everything I Never Told You (CBR9 #22)

I don’t know how I feel about this book.

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There is so much that this book does well, starting with its beautiful prose. It’s loosely a mystery, but more in the ethereal way that mysteries exist in our lives when tragedy strikes. There are some questions that we will simply never know the answers. This book unravels the ambiguities of familial relationships and societal pressures which shaped its characters and leaves us with enough unresolved to feel real, and true.

Each character in this family is fully formed and three-dimensional, and our central character, the now deceased Lydia, carries the burden of the expectations of those other characters. Her parents, like far too many parents, place the pressure on her to be what they wished they had been. It is enough to choke whatever she would have wanted out of the realm of possibility.

Lydia’s death is not a spoiler; the book opens with its acknowledgement. The greater mystery of the work is how she could have died in the manner she did without anyone truly knowing what happened. No one in her family saw past Lydia’s serene façade.  Her parents viewed her through their own expectations and the show she put on, and her siblings knew her better, they knew of anger, they knew  she could be scheming but also deeply lonely. However, did anyone really know her?

I don’t know that I’ve ever read something that does such a good job of capturing the complicated web of family dynamics, and that may be the reason that I was in some ways turned off from the novel. It all rang perhaps a little too true, a little too close to home for me to sink into this work of fiction. For that perhaps I should rank it highly? But what about my overall ambivalence to the work, and coaxing myself to read it? Should that not rank it lowly? Instead, I will demure, and leave it unrated.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (CBR9 #21)

Friends, I finally remembered what initially began the itch to reread Harry Potter. Cannonball Read’s very own narfna, along with some friends, did a Medicinal Re-Read and I remember following along (thanks, Goodreads)! It’s been since 2013! Okay, as you were, let’s get to the actual reviewing.

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I have always thought book four, Goblet of Fire was my least favorite Potter, and that may still be true for the book versions (we’ll have to see when I get there in a few weeks), but I was resoundingly underwhelmed this go-round with The Chamber of Secrets and the movie left much to be desired.

Chamber of Secrets follows the same basic trajectory of its predecessor. First, Harry has trouble with the Dursleys, then he gets to school with some trouble (much bigger trouble this time), something strange is happening at Hogwarts (blood on the walls and petrified people and ghosts), Harry along with Ron and Hermione are in a unique position to solve the strange happening, Quidditch, House Cup.

Tada!

This is not the book’s weakness, really. It is how these pieces come together and how Rowling uses Ginny Weasley as a blank slate that bothered me. I forgot how little of her own character Ginny gets in these first two books and how very little in this book considering she has such a major role in the work of the big bad. I am looking forward to badass Ginny who gets here in later books.

The Chamber of Secrets, for all of my vague disgruntledness, is a story about abilities versus choices, which Dumbledore makes clear in the end. This is an important lesson for all of us. I think the movie adaptation misses the point (and I am glad that we are done with Christopher Columbus adaptations after this) by focusing on the violence of the basilisk. Book Harry is more concerned with the possibility that he should have been Slytherin, and that he could go bad. We are with him through these mental gymnastics and there are few among us who haven’t looked back and thought did I make the wrong choice? Did I use my influence (asking the sorting hat to make us Gryffindor) in the wrong way? Is it all doomed to come apart? Harry is nervous, and scared, when Ron points out that it’s not good even in the wizarding world to hear voices (which is a line that the movies gave to Hermione… just grrr. Ron deserves his moments of ability.)

However, layered onto that is a moral lesson in how we interact with others. I prefer the book’s version of the Weasley/ Malfoy feud, since not only is more fleshed out but it informs the larger story in a more concrete way. While the diary plot plays out in the movie as it does in the book, we get much less of the tension between these two wizarding families, and that is a shame. Rowling is setting up her larger theme with them; on one side, we have the Weasleys who are an open, loving, and inquisitive bunch. Highly loyal and believe in fairness. On the other side are the Malfoys, who are not those things.   As this is a children’s book, Rowling takes the themes that she would explore in any book (and certainly does later in her other adult novels) and breaks them into pieces her younger readers can understand.

In order to do that, she introduces the ways these characters treat people who are not exactly like them. Draco Malfoy’s use of the Mudblood epithet and Ron Weasley’s reaction to it, so much stronger in the book, are perhaps the linchpin between these two worldviews. It also informs the danger of the Chamber of Secrets and the Heir of Slytherin, and shows its readers that every little bit of prejudice can support a larger evil.  This is not to say that Rowling makes the Weasleys perfect. Fred and George join in on the teasing of Harry about being the Heir of Slytherin even though it hurts him, and could support others views of him as a possible suspect. Don’t get me wrong, I love the twins, and was very sad to see so much of their arc hit the cutting room floor in the adaptation, but it is another important lesson to the reader: even those we trust and love the most can hurt and betray us and if that is you, it is important to make it right and apologize.

Once again knowledge, and asking for help when you need it, are crucial to solving the great dilemma. I was struck by the way Gilderoy Lockhart is framed as a know nothing, and how he is the weakest of the wizards present because he does not invest in actually knowing what to do. Through these methods Rowling creates the third of our baddies, in addition to Tom Riddle and Lucius Malfoy. When I read this book the first time I was finishing up a grueling program, and headed off to college. I was affected then as I am now that knowledge can be your best armor against the forces of darkness.

This book is full of future world building, from Hagrid’s trip to Azkaban (sob!) and the introduction of Cornelius Fudge. The work Rowling put in shows. I’ll be embarking on The Prisoner of Azkaban shortly.

“But why’s she got to go to the library?”
“Because that’s what Hermione does,” said Ron, shrugging. “When in doubt, go to the library.”

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

The Geek Feminist Revolution (CBR9 #20)

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Kameron Hurley’s collection of essays is incredibly prescient to the world around us, as women continue to suffer an unheralded epidemic of violence. In The Geek Feminist Revolution Hurley isn’t just focused on that, but she brings around the idea that the type, quality, and diversity of pop culture we consume and produce is directly affected by the cultural norms which lead to the erasure of women in public spaces, and the violence experienced by this group and others who are erased.

I wish I hadn’t returned this book to the library already. This book clocks in at less than 300 pages, but it is broken up into four sections, and each of those sections contains probably a dozen essays. Hurley writes sci-fi/fantasy novels, is a copywriter for a Marketing firm as her day job, and is a consistent blogger who writes 1500 – 3000 words a day. What that translates to for this work is that there are far more essays than I can recall to tell you about (that, and a fair amount of awe.)

Instead, I’ll talk about the themes these four sections bring together. The first section, Level Up includes essays about improving the craft of writing and the importance of persistence. It was very good, but not necessarily, what I had signed up for with this book and took a bit of time to get through. The Geek section discuss various media and conversations around them. The essay Wives, Warlords, and Refugees: The People Economy of Mad Max particularly spoke to me (so much so that I took a photo of the opening page) and the next chapter about True Detective season one and the monsters as men narrative it tells had me nodding my head in agreement, even though I never watched that show. These chapters break open important discussions about what behaviors are normalized in society.

Let’s Get Personal is exactly what it says, stories about Hurley’s life to this point and the personal struggles and victories that got her to now. Probably my least favorite section because by this point it felt very repetitive.  The last section, Revolution deals with fandom’s recent dust-ups and a call for revolution, for change, in how fans and creators alike deal with reckoning with their privilege.  This last section includes Hurley’s Hugo Award winning piece for Best Related Work in 2014, We Have Always Fought which discusses the ways in which tropes do the erasing of lived experience.

As I mentioned, these four sections are linked by Hurley’s main thesis: that all we have to better ourselves in this world is persistence, hard work, self-awareness and perspective. She is not wrong, and while this book is far from perfect, it is a good and healthy addition to your reading diet.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

The Graveyard Book (CBR9 #19)

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I’m slowly working my way through Neil Gaiman’s works. I’ve tackled Neverwhere, American Gods, The Ocean at the End of the Lane (favorite), and his short story collections The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains, and M is for Magic. Each has been its own experience, and all generally favorable.

As I go on, I find that the full cast audios are my favorite way to experience Gaiman’s world. I listened to American Gods, and later went back and read Neverwhere after listening to the BBC Radio Drama version (which I preferred). I’ve also listened as opposed to reading the short story collections. Therefore, when I had the audible credit just lying around collecting dust I splurged on another full cast version – The Graveyard Book.

I was familiar with the concept of the book, a chapter of this book appeared in M is for Magic, and crystalclear had already read it (she has read a lot of Gaiman), and the best part about getting your friends to Cannonball is that you get built in suggestions. With no other preparation I jumped into the story of Nobody Owens, the boy who is adopted by ghosts after his family is murdered and raised in a graveyard.

Initially, it felt as though Gaiman was just playing with a storytelling idea: what would happen to a child raised in the quiet and solemnity of a graveyard? Why would a child end up there (the need for the Big Bad)? As the chapters progress we check in with Bod every few years and Gaiman layers in and introduces his signature playing on words (jack of all trades), and builds out Bod’s world, his family, how life progresses, and growing from young lad to young man set out into the world. This journey carried me along and never overstayed its welcome, but left me a tad bittersweet when it all came to an end.

I’d like to see more of Silas, Bod’s guardian, and learn his tale. Or the lady on the grey. Maybe someday Gaiman will come back to those threads and unspool them a bit more. For now, I am satisfied. And supremely happy that the Hempstead witch in this book is related to the Hempstead of Ocean at the End of the Lane.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

The Hangman (CBR9 #18)

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A moment of fair warning: I did not enjoy this Gamache short story very much. However, I have come to find out that it was written for a good cause, and I feel a bit of an asshat for not enjoying it. Louise Penny wrote the book for an initiative put on by ABC Life Literacy Canada, which aims to increase life literacy skills. The Good Reads program specifically aims to have inexpensive and short books anyone learning English or English speakers learning to read later in life. For more information, Louise Penny has you covered.

So this book wasn’t for me, and if I had done a little more research I would have known that before diving in, but I have an Armand Gamache problem, so I probably would have read this anyway. I love him. I’m also a completest. C’est la vie.

This novella sees Gamache and Beauvoir back in Three Pines following the events of Bury Your Dead. There’s been a man found hanging from a tree. The man was a guest at the Gilbert’s Inn and in quick order the medical examiner and Gamache agree that this man did not commit suicide, but was instead murdered. Gamache and Beauvoir gather the evidence to determine who killed this man, and why.

While I was reading, I had the distinct impression that this story was not fully formed. It was, it has all the requisite pieces and plot points, but it felt underdone to use a baking metaphor. It makes sense looking back as to why this would be, but I have to say I prefer my Gamache books to be a fully cooked and prepared banquet.

On to book number 7, A Trick of the Light. Soonish.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Men Explain Things to Me (CBR9 #17)

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I do not really do New Year’s resolutions, but my informal one this year was to read more about topics I should be more informed about, and specifically more feminist reads. As with most of the good things I read these days, Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit was already on my radar. I was familiar with the eponymous essay’s conceit: that Solnit was treated to an older gentleman explaining her book to her without realizing that she had written it, or that it had in fact been written by a woman. But, I hadn’t taken the time to find the essay or this collection. It was time to remedy this.

The best compliment I can give Ms. Solnit is that she has a definitive voice to her writing. I watched an interview that she gave (about climate change and other things), and in it her voice sounded exactly as I had expected it to, based on reading her writing.

This book (a quick 150+ pages) is a collection of essays, nine in total in this updated version, and the first was great. But perhaps the ones that hit closest to my heart were the ones where Solnit talks about the staggering statistics of violence perpetrated against women by men. We aren’t discussing an epidemic. A public health crisis which seemingly never ends in the United States, due in no small part to the fact that we won’t name the beast. The silencing of women is at the core of this book, the concept linking the essays. We are silenced in personal, professional, political, and cultural spaces, and this book gives some discernment into this shared experience. Of course I suggest this book to everyone, but it should absolutely be read by all the men, even the good guys. We need them calling out the “nice guys” and general asshats.

Read it.

And his name is Voldemort, you might as well use it. He’s going to try and kill you either way”. – Minerva McGonagall, Deathly Hallows part 2

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.