Once Upon a Rose (CBR9 #55)

Image result for once upon a rose florand

One sometimes needs a palate cleanser. If that one is me, that is almost always a Romance novel. I am one of the millions of people who read, enjoy, and think about the genre, its tropes, and look forward to the reliability of a happy ending. (With the exception of a few descriptors I am amazingly average Romance reader.)

The world around us is falling apart quicker than we can patch the cracks. Sometimes we need to refuel with a guarantee.

I finished this book almost a week ago and have sat on the review. Why? Well, as I was finishing it up the New York Times, the paper of record, decided that the best idea it had was to let an octogenarian – who has a real strange way of showing “appreciation” for the genre – do a roundup of the Season’s Romance offerings. Emmalita has already covered much of that debacle (as did Book Riot’s Amanda Diehl in a piece you should read), and bless her for it, because I was tempted to nope right out of the article when I realized the first book he mentioned, Julia Quinn’s The Duke and I, was published in 2000. Yes you read that right, a book published 17 years ago lead off the seasonal roundup (look, I really liked that book even with THE ISSUE, but you have got to be kidding me with this).

But I did keep reading, and becoming more and more infuriated by the second class citizen nature of Gottlieb’s article, which showed his great misunderstanding of the state of the genre, and diminished the phenomenal work done by so many. I thought I would have a few things to say to Mr. Gottlieb in my review of the perfectly adequate but not earth shattering Once Upon a Rose by Laura Florand, and then move on. BUT THEN I SAW THAT THE NEW YORK TIMES DOUBLED DOWN ON GOTTLIEB’S ARTICLE WITH THEIR RESPONSE FROM THE BOOKS DESK. This time Radhika Jones gets to be dismissive to the Romance reader, pointing out quite clearly for us that a critic has a different role than a fan. Well, color me shocked that the expectation of and reaction to complaints about the choices made by Gottlieb, who Jones calls “a voracious reader of contemporary romance”, as he time after time diminished the agency of women and suppressed the writing of modern authors by instead flaunting half arsed praise on authors a half century dead.  A truly voracious reader of contemporary romance would be familiar with the feminist writing happening, of the brilliance of Courtney Milan, and dare not step to tell me that E.L. James is “no better or worse a writer than most of her compeers”. Are you kidding me? Salman Rushdie and I apparently agree, and I want Mr. Gottlieb to bow at the altar of Lisa Kleypas and say that with a straight fucking face. Hell, one of my most enjoyable reading experiences of the year was a duology written specifically to prove that the idea James was after could actually be well written.

What does all of this have to do with Florand’s book other than the happenstance of being read by me at the same time? Everything. Florand is one of a pack of contemporary Romance writers who is playing with tropes, deconstructing classic story structure, and not being afraid to be light and frothy. She is also doing this while writing well crafted and fully fleshed out characters in evocative settings with more emotional landscape than sexytimes (by the way Mr. Gottlieb, I may prefer to read my smut, but that’s not the reason why I’m reading this genre).

I’ve rated this book 3.5 stars because it does commit one of my least favorite Romancelandia crimes: instalove (seriously, it’s about 30 hours and it read as too fast. All I’m asking for is a few days here, c’mon), but I will be returning to the land of Florand very soon: if only for the pun of giving the rose growing family the last name of Rosier.

 

 

Advertisements

A Room of One’s Own (CBR9 #54)

Image result for a room of one's own virginia woolf juliet stevenson

I think I keep doing Book Riot’s Read Harder challenges because they do force me to look through my epic list of books to read and get out of my own comfort zone and read with more variety. I have many startling gaps in my reading history, and Virginia Woolf’s entire oeuvre is one.

I have seen or read exactly one of Woolf’s works before reading A Room of One’s Own (Orlando at the Yale School of Drama about 8 years ago while a friend was there). Other than her ties to the Bloomsbury Group and the Dreadnought Hoax and that one play I knew very little. Along came the Read Harder challenge, which included a task to read a book published between 1900 and 1950 and I finally had my excuse to push the audiobook I already owned up the proverbial list.

A Room of One’s Own is a short work: its measurements range from 114 pages, to 40,000 words, to about 4 hours of audio recording by Juliet Stevenson. Nevertheless, it should not be judged by its slight measures, Woolf packs an appraisal on the patriarchal systems that have systematically held women down and back throughout history. I had an “oh shit” moment about half way through as I realized that Woolf has in essence kept the receipts on 300 years of patriarchy and was slamming it all on the table in front of packed auditoriums.

Suffice it to say, I was 100% more invested than I had previously been.

Structurally, Woolf made incredible use of the nature of speech making. Throughout the first sections she is consistently coming back to words and phrases, meant to allow the reader (or in my case, listener) to track her train of thought and build meaning. So many authors attempt to use the stream of consciousness mechanics, which Woolf demonstrates so facilely here but they miss this component – a reader will “hear” your words as if your characters were speaking. If your stream of consciousness does not conform to the rules of speech making the reader will have difficulty with it, as I so often do.

To the content of her speeches and later book, Woolf argues that women can never accomplish anything of their own, or of ‘value’ without the stability and space that “five hundred a year and a room of one’s own” provide. She then traces how very rare, and very recent such a thing was. Travelling mentally between the lack of reason for women to attempt to accumulate wealth before they were allowed to own it outright, the lesser education of girls compared to boys, the denial of access to halls of learning (of herself being turned away at the university library door) and you suddenly see both the world surrounding Woolf in 1928 and the world surrounding ourselves now.

How many of us would gnaw off our own left arm to be able to have space and security to follow our desires, to be able to create? That is the heart of this work.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it as we see fit (with a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

Bad Feminist (CBR9 #51)

Image result for bad feminist by roxane gay

I have read many reviews of Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist over the past few years, and I still don’t know if I really understood what I was getting myself into. But that isn’t a bad thing.

At its core, this is a book about Gay coming into herself, and owning exactly who she is, without reservation. She walks the reader through her outlook, her struggles as a woman in the world to live up to being a feminist, or not wanting to be associated with people who create a negative perception for the rest of us. As she puts it, consider her already knocked off the pedestal. But that is only the first (and last) sections of her book. It is many things at once; it is simultaneously chaotic, complex, empathetic, and rational.

The rest of this book, is a series of essays (some previously published), which unpack the racist, misogynistic, and otherwise flawed world we live in which requires people of all genders to find their inner feminist, whether it be a “bad” one or a “good” one. Gay is walking herself and her reader through the various complexities of life in the early 2010s (the book is already a smidge dated, only being published in August of 2014) and asking us, won’t we all allow humanity and complexity to coexist?

Gay uses our common cultural language, pop culture, to illustrate her points. This is not new ground in the world of a thousand think pieces a day on media, but that doesn’t mean it is without value. I was knocked down by the essay which begins with her thoughts on the Hunger Games books and movies, and turns it into a testament to personal suffering and its place in our broken society. I found myself nodding along with her takedowns of Tyler Perry’s oeuvre and The Help – yes, I see those things too.

The main thrust of the book the book is that people are different, messy, and human with essays focused around gender, race, and privilege make it as clear as could be. Some might find it reductive, but I found it embracing to see the world from someone’s perspective that is like mine, but not mine. It was like reading a memoir that was also a course of finding yourself and your rhythm in your 30s.

As with any book you read, it isn’t perfect.  Like anyone else Roxane Gay has things which I do not agree with her about, or do not completely understand her point of view on (no one is turning me around on Gone Girl) but if you haven’t already dived into the world of Roxane Gay, I say come on in, the water is fine.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (with a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud (CBR9 #45)

Image result for too fat, too slutty, too loud

We are entering the period of time where the cultural upheaval that Hillary Clinton losing the White House will have on our literary intake. Out early is Anne Helen Petersen formerly of The Hairpin and currently of Buzzfeed, who is known for her incisive long reads on culture, celebrity, and feminism. This book literally grows out of her election night response article “This is How Much America Hates Women” where she began grappling with what last year’s election reaffirmed about American society.

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud is the spiritual successor to Trainwreck by Sady Doyle which I reviewed earlier this year.  Doyle’s writing works to make you angry at how we treat women, and how we always have. But the tone of the book isn’t “look at all these terrible things that others have done to women” it is instead, “look at how our societies have been built to bring down women”. It is this distinction, which changes that book from what could have been an angry rant into a well-paced, well-spoken examining of culture. Petersen’s does nearly the same thing, even highlighting the historical relevancy of the type of women she is setting out to discuss and how actions like there’s can be found any time in history that women are pushing against what constitutes “feminine behavior”.   Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud focuses itself on current examples through the frame of unruliness. Unruly women are the type who question, interrogate, and challenge the staus quo.

Petersen highlights ten women from various arenas of public life, and investigates their own personal unruliness. Ranging from Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer (Too Gross), to Madonna (Too Old), and Kim Kardashian (Too Pregnant) Petersen’s trademark incisive cultural commentary is on display from page one. My only true drawback, which is why I have rated this four stars, is that in some ways we don’t have the necessary distance to truly examine some of the phenomena that Petersen is discussing, and at times this book feels rushed – as though the editing process was sacrificed to get it on the shelves so quickly.

Here’s some of my favorite quotes from the book:

Serena Williamson: Too Strong

“Whatever the intent, it was the opposite of what mot of America – and the sporting world in particular – had come to expect as the norm for dealing with issues of race and racism, which is to say, not to deal with it at all.” (6)

Melissa McCarthy: Too Fat

“it’s no coincidence that several of her roles were originally written for men, or mapped onto traditionally “male” genres, lie he buddy cop film, the spy movie, or the ghost-busting narrative – McCarthy’s characters have the confidence and shamelessness of a pompous white male.” (39)

Nicki Minaj: Too Slutty

“… it was also about a celebrity seeing the publicity game for what it is – calling out Grigoriadis’s questions not because they were aggressive, but because the assumptions behind them were reductive, sexist, and purposely incendiary.” (93)

Hillary Clinton: Too Shrill

“Postfeminism was in full and powerful effect: Why think about the overarching significance of sexist attacks on the First Lady, if you’ve been told te goals of feminism have already been achieved? Clinton’s image, like so many signifiers of second-wave feminism, felt like a real drag.” (143)

Jennifer Weiner: Too Loud

“As Weiner’s experience makes clear, part of the difficult, essential work of unruliness is shaking the status quo so thoroughly, so persistently, so loudly, that everyone – even the very women behind the agitation, many of whom have internalized the understandings they fight so tirelessly against – can see their value within it.” (209)

This book is read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it however we want (with a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society.

Unmentionable (CBR9 #37)

Image result for unmentionable the victorian lady's guide

One of the questions I receive most often at my job as a educator at historic sites is “wouldn’t you love to live back then?” For reference, that encompasses a period of time roughly 1820-1920 and the answer is a resounding no. I am all about indoor plumbing, air conditioners, and not being considered property. This book, Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners by Therese Oneill lays out all the ways life was downright terrible for women life was during that same approximate period.

For most people this would not be considered a beach read. For me it absolutely is. Lumenatrix coined the style of this type of book as “accessible non-fiction”, which I completely agree with and am now stealing. I’ve always thought of it as “non-fiction with a sense of humor” like Mary Roach’s books. Therese Oneill is wonderfully sarcastic and direct in her prose, and the structure of the book is well thought out and easily followed. Oneill moves naturally from one aspect of daily life to the next laying out all the differences for life of women in the firmly upper middle class then to life today.

For me, the best part of this book is the way in which Oneill weaves in primary resources, both visual and print into her narrative. While I already knew much of what Oneill discussed, having access to her resources was a bonus to me. So much so, that I immediately passed it along to Ale since she is researching Victorian ladies and their unmentionables for an upcoming project.

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

Wonder Woman and Break from the Usual

Mostly this blog space is dominated by my work for Cannonball Read. Over the years more and more of my free time and energy has been placed in that wonderful community and our goals.

Over there, many are comics aficionados. It was never something that worked for me as a reader. I did not grow up going to the comic book shop, I never read the stories of the legions of heroes.

I also spent my cartoon years in a Disney rabbit hole. Gummie Bears. The Rescuers. Darkwing Duck. What can I say, I’m a child of the early 80s. Batman: the Animated Series was just not on my radar even though by rights it should have been.

But as an adult I have found and crafted an interest in the mechanics of pop culture. I am endlessly fascinated with actor’s processes, the production web, black listed scripts, Hollywood history, media representation, and the comings and goings of each year’s movie offerings by major studios. I have probably consumed 6 hours of podcasts and many articles on Alien: Covenant and I have never watched a single Alien movie. But the process, the lore, and the production decisions interest me. I’m the gal having an in depth discussion about sequels v universe stories with friends and colleagues, regardless of whether I’ve watched the product in question. The theory is enough.

It also means that over the past decade (thanks Marvel Cinematic Universe) that I have educated myself in the worlds of comic characters. I am by no means a scholar on the subject, but I am conversant. My experience as an MCU fan though, has taught me that sometimes the theory isn’t always enough.

Marvel has its fair share of powerful female characters. Sometimes we even get to see them on screen. But in its 25 years of existence Marvel Studios (formerly Marvel Films) has never produced a female led property. Reasons are given, excuses are made, media forecasters have their opinions and we are left without even this much in representation.

I admit to being late to fully understanding the disparity in representation and its cornerstone in modern feminist movements. As a young person I had Leia. She already was. Many of the books I read as a young person (after being a late reader to begin with) were female focused and driven. My movie and television intake was relatively limited, but in all honesty the “token girl” in movies and television shows didn’t feel weird to me because I was so often the only girl hanging out with the boys in my neighborhood.

Then we moved and I went through puberty and I started to see the world through slightly different eyes. But in my immediate life I was more concerned with racial issues with my best friend being of a different race than me, and dealing with constant blow back in some cultural arenas (that friend and I – over the course of 26 years – have rarely NOT been separated in a crowd. People assume we aren’t together).

But now my focus has been brought to seeing women as we are, and as heroes. Jessica Chastain in the closing ceremonies at Cannes just railed against the way women are portrayed, still, in media. 

So I will be going to see Wonder Woman. Even though I have never seen the 1970s series or read a single word over her many stories.

It might feel small, like a pebble tossed into the ocean, and in some ways it is. But, it is also me using my limited consumer dollars to support something I believe in. The MCU has done its fans a disservice, and for that I will take my money to the competitor for the first time since the current model DC Cinematic Universe has been underway. I was going either way, but I am ecstatic that the reviews are so glowing. It will make those dollars even more sweetly used.

Image result for wonder woman dancing gif

The Geek Feminist Revolution (CBR9 #20)

Image result for reviews the geek feminist revolution

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.