Tuesday, November 29, 2011

BlogHer Blast! Motherhood Changes Reading

After my recent post, "Motherhood Changes Reading," I received an e-mail from the lovely peeps at BlogHer asking to syndicate my content!

"Motherhood Changes Reading" is now syndicated at BlogHer and available from today's main page. You can also reach the post by direct link HERE.

Thanks again to everyone who posted here and discussed with me in the comments area of this particular blog entry. I enjoyed sharing my thoughts very much and reading yours in return.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Review: You Know When the Men Are Gone

Good morning, bloggers! It was a good holiday weekend around here. Though, my usual birthday head cold has moved to Thanksgiving weekend. I was feeling bad enough yesterday that I went ahead and requested a day off today and here I sit with my cup of coffee, computer, and a day of leisure (and sinus meds) ahead of me.

I didn't sign up to take part in any of the fun goings-on this weekend, like the Thankfully Reading Weekend, but thankfully I did spend some time reading! Thursday evening I wrapped up the fantabulagorgeous, You Know When the Men Are Gone, by Siobhan Fallon, and I'm gonna gush. Just get ready.

First off, an embarrassing admission: I can't say that I've ever read a book about military families or military service in general! I have no idea how I've gone this long without reading one, but there it is. I suppose this is one of very few books I could've picked up from my stacks that lands squarely outside my "norm". For that reason, I had a bit of doubt going into this book, but  I could not be happier that I picked it up.

You Know When the Men Are Gone is a collection of interrelated short stories about military families and the struggles that come along with service and deployment. Set in Killeen, TX (a few hours from where I live in Texas), the stories explore multiple facets of the military life. Some of the stories deal with the soldiers' feelings in combat, their longing for a normal life at home, and the struggles their wives and families experience stateside, waiting. Other stories tackle the problems soldiers encounter accepting a civilian life and a return to "normal." There's fidelity and infidelity, heartbreak, disappointment, triumph -- and inevitably -- death.

One of my favorite stories in the book is "The Last Stand." Specialist Kit Murphy arrives back in the United States with a group of 12 other injured soldiers. He's saved from a roadside explosion when the body of his Sergeant shields him from the flames and debris, but his foot is severely injured, and he undergoes a series of surgeries overseas. Kit and his wife, Helena, are in their early twenties, high school sweethearts turned man and wife. Kit isn't sure Helena will even know he's arriving home, as he's had a hard time getting hold of her on the phone, and he's known the distance between them is growing. Through the course of the story, the reader discovers Helena suffered a miscarriage while Kit was deployed, and that heartbreak, compounded with his physical absence, have driven them irrevocably apart. Like so many of the brokenhearted, Kit calls up some of his fellow soliders and spends a night drinking and further angering his injured foot.

It's a frustrating, realistic story. Anyone who's ever been heartbroken can relate, but the tragedy of it is turned up to a different level because of the characters' distance from each other, their lack of emotional maturity, and their real need for each other. I got the feeling that if the circumstances had been just slightly different for one or both, they would've been fine. I felt the same way about a number of the stories. So many dealt with near misses, bad timing, and small lies. For many these characters, situations and wrongs would've been redeemed with just a slight twist of fate.

Don't get me wrong, not all of the stories are sad. In several, the husbands and wives are able to find some common ground in small moments and simple things, and they discover a way to carry on amidst all the worry and chaos of wartime.

While I loved this book, some of the stories were less successful than others. The title story, and the first one in the collection, was probably one of my least favorite. Meg Brady lives next door to Natalya Torres in base apartment housing and becomes unusually entangled in her neighbor's life. Natalya is a bit of a spectacle and a source of gossip for the base wives. She walks an obnoxious dog in an evening coat, barely speaks English, and breaks some of the unspoken rules of the base, like asking her fellow wives for money. She also goes out a couple times a week, leaving her two young children home alone until all hours of the night. Is Natalya cheating on her husband? Is she a fit mother? What the heck is her problem? All questions Meg Brady finds herself listening for through the wall, until the night Natalya asks Meg to babysit and everything takes a turn.

While the premise of this particular story was fine, and it was enough to draw me in, Fallon's writerly voice seemed a little muddled in this one compared to other stories. I had a hard time believing Meg and her relationships with the other wives, her fascination with Natalya. If any of you decide to read this book and find yourself feeling the way I did about this story, PRESS ON! It's worth it.

Another part of this book I really enjoyed was the small crossovers between stories. A character who makes a cameo in one story may be the star of the next. Such was the case with "The Last Stand" I mentioned above. In another story late in the collection, we learn more about the Sergeant whose body saved Kit Murphy from the explosion. The story is called "Gold Star" and introduces Sergeant Schaeffer's wife, Josie, and the emotional fallout from her husband's untimely death. Kit also makes another appearance in this story to tell Josie about the circumstances of her husband's passing.

The crossovers in You Know When the Men Are Gone would likely appeal to those readers who favor novels. The repeated characters lend a continuity to the book that made it feel more connected than most short story collections. The characters and the strong thematic ties all make this book very cohesive and involving. Don't poo-poo the short stories, people!

Last, but most certainly not least, Fallon is a killer with words. She really does have a knack for choosing analogies that are a punch in the gut. In "Remission" a mother is looking for her daughter and son -- both gone missing when they were supposed to have been in school. As she searches, she thinks of the changes in her daughter:
She kept looking for a long blond ponytail and then having to remind herself that Delia was no longer blond. She had come home last month with her long blond hair shorn and dyed black. It still shocked Ellen every time she looked at Delia; it still made her think, That is not my daughter. The blond child had never wanted to miss school, even when she was seven and dappled with chicken pox. Now Ellen was searching for someone else, someone sullen and unpredictable. A makeshift roadside explosive device just waiting to go off. 
Fallon's is straightforward, concise writing, and it works with the emotional tones in these stories.

I should probably also mention that Fallon herself is a member of a military family. If you'd like an introduction, you should most definitely check out her blog. Her family currently resides in the Jordan with plans to return to the U.S. in January.

You Know When the Men Are Gone is one of the most affecting books I've read this year, and it was a wonderful surprise. If you have the opportunity to read it, do!

Snuggle -- Skewer

Pub. Date: January 2011
Publisher: Amy Einhorn Books
Format: Hardcover
ISBN-10: 0399157204
Source: Purchased by yours truly.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Belated Thanksgiving Wishes

I had best intentions of posting every day this week, but I also chose a bad week given the Thanksgiving holiday! Thanksgiving day itself was pretty uneventful around here. My mom and I shopped for Thanksgiving groceries in a near-deserted Wal-Mart. Halfway home on the interstate, I looked at my dear mother and said, "Do you know what we forgot?"

"What?" she asked.


We went shopping and forgot our Thanksgiving ham. Turned right around and went back to get it.

Today was the Thanksgiving lunch for my mom's branch of the family, and I can safely say that Greyson is down for the count. He ran around with cousins, was passed from one to the other, and even played a little basketball out in the driveway.

It's always good to see the family whether it's actually on Thanksgiving day or not. As for Black Friday, typically I can do without it. Today I actually stopped by Barnes and Noble for 50% off a learning toy for Greyson's Christmas stash. I also made a stop by World Market for another gift -- also 50% off. Any other shopping I do will be online, and I have my doubts about even that!

In bookish news, I finished You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon, so expect a review of that one coming up soon. I'm starting The Sisters Brothers, a buddy read with Jill. Hopefully we have MUCH better luck than our last attempt -- Freedom by Jonathan Franzen.

I hope all my American friends had a wonderful holiday. And to my international buddies, I hope you've had a great week!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Toddler Gift Guide, Christmas 2011!

Early on in Greyson's life (maybe even shortly before he was born!) I was reading through one of my favorite blogs, Mama the Reader, written by the lovely Katie. I believe it was nearing her son Jude's first birthday and Katie mentioned that she'd rather not have a lot of cheap plastic toys in the house, so she was requesting that gift givers bring books instead!

This philosophy stuck in my head, and it kind of lodged itself there. While I don't limit my shopping to books, I do try to buy toddler items deliberately. We certainly have our share of plastic toys floating around, but I'm proud to say we don't have rooms full. In fact, we don't have more than a large diaper box full of toys!  It's pretty manageable at this point. When I'm readying myself for Christmas, I do try to buy more hardy wooden toys than plastic. And I always throw in some cool stocking stuffers, and certainly books.

I also try to remember that Greyson doesn't play with his toys as much as he plays with wacky household items. This will likely change at some point, but right now his favorite things are a small kitchen broom, a 4th of July pinwheel my colleagues in Student Services gifted to him last week, and he loves scribbling with crayons.

My first purchase for my kiddo this year is a handmade crayon roll from madebylisah (also the awesome author of Books, Lists, Life). One surefire way to keep G busy at a restaurant is with crayons, so this handy crayon roll is super cool for carrying in a diaper bag or purse. Lisa asked if I'd like something a little more manly for my tike, and while I'm not opposed to orange and pink in a boy's wardrobe, we went with pirates or dinosaurs (it's shipping now!).

I'm also a big fan of Montessori toys. For Greyson's first Christmas, I ordered a set of beautiful handmade toys like the ones pictured above. While they were a little pricey, he really enjoyed them. They were sanded beautifully and not painted, so they were fine for him to put in his mouth (no small pieces he could chew off). They were also a good size for him to maneuver at 8 months old. While he doesn't play with them so much now -- mostly because the dog chewed one up (!!!) and I put them away -- they're also a nice keepsake for when he's older.

If you're interested in more toys in this vein, try Natural Kids and Toys over at Etsy.

When I feel like physically walking through a selection of toddler toys, I've discovered that Barnes and Noble is a great place to do it! They have a decent-sized section of learning toys grouped by age. I went in to browse during some down time a couple of weeks ago and took some iPhone pics of toys I'm thinking of buying for Christmas this year. They run the gamut from musical toys to pull toys to racing toys!

A dancing alligator, because he loves pulling things around.
A giraffe xylophone -- colorful and sturdy.
Mayyybee this percussion table IF I feel like torturing the neighborhood.
And I like this ramp racer because it's an Earth-friendly company and I think he'd love the fast car action!
I had my doubts about pricing at B&N at first, but I've seen these toys at other establishments for the same price, or sometimes even more! I'm perfectly happy browsing for toys at the bookstore, and if a new Nook falls into my basket, I can't be blamed. :)

There are tooooons of toddler buying options out there from books and toys to homemade items and clothing. This is just what I'm looking at for Christmas this year, and I'd love to know any other ideas you all might have.

In the meantime, if you're interested in decorating ideas, toys, or other toddler ideas, follow my board over on Pinterest.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Stuff Week: Food Choices and a Rant!

From Medical News Today:
A voluntary recall of 5,379 cases of bagged salad products has been announced by both Ready Pac Foods Inc. and the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) - the recall refers specifically to products that contain Romaine lettuce with a November 18th, 2011 use-by-date. The company says these products could be tainted with E. coli O157:H7, a bacterium that can cause diarrhea and bloody stools.
Monday, on my commute in to work, I heard the aforementioned salad recall on the radio. Upon hearing this news, I was immediately inflamed over yet another food recall. In the past few years, I've made it my business to read up and watch just about everything I could get my hands on about the American food industry. Right off the top of my head, the most influential of those books and documentaries are: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (always, LOVE), Why Animals Matter: The Case For Animal Protection by Erin Williams and Margo Demello, and the very popular documentary, Food, Inc. There are certainly others worth mentioning, but these pieces planted the seeds and got me reading more up-to-date news articles and following food issues more closely.

In light of what I've learned over the past few years, I've even "themed" some of my writing and research courses on food. My Comp II class is research-focused, and they are required to complete a lengthy proposal including an annotated bibliography and a 10-page research paper. A number of them look at me like I was a NUT CASE when I announced that our class would be all about food. However, I'm proud to say that by the end of the class they were as interested in issues of food as I am. We learned a lot together reading over their unique topics.

My main frustration with the food industry is its carelessness and a general disregard for the people eating the food. It's a business. Just a business. You can read all about it yourself -- you certainly don't need me to try to summarize the issues with factory farming (of meat and veggies) or the pervasiveness of preservatives and artificial sweeteners, dyes, etc. IT'S JUST BAD. It makes me sick to my stomach to know that it's all fixable but will likely never be fixed. Small changes and differences occur -- more organically grown produce and free range meat moves into chain supermarkets -- because people want them. At the same time, those buzz words become marketing tools. Savvy consumers have to read, research, and know more to stay ahead of companies and their advertising to know what's legit and what's advertising lingo.

I think it's a shame that I have to monitor any fast-food hamburgers my son eats because they might kill him if they're undercooked. That I can't, in good faith, give him a bagged salad for the same reasons. Compounding the problem are the high prices of the good food. Organics, free range, and other, healthier foods are hard for me to afford sometimes. It's easier to be unhealthy in America than it is to be healthy.

The key word there is easier. It's not impossible to healthy options, but it does require a due diligence from consumers and a lot of digging for information -- and a community of people who are bound and determined to make it happen. 

In the last few weeks I've been hooked on 100 Days of Real Food, a blog written by Lisa Leake and focused on how her family cut processed food out of their diets. Lemme tell you, my  first reaction: WHOA! Lisa's blog is endlessly helpful and insightful offering everything from "real food" recipes, to kids' school lunch menus, and advice for shopping at big box and chain grocery stores for "real food." I've found a lot of great tips and recipes at this site and get excited every time Lisa posts something new.

If you have the time, take a few minutes to read Lisa's "About" page, as it's a lot of good background. Her "Recipes & Resources" page is also excellent.

This is such a huge deal to me for so many reasons. Ever since Greyson has been in daycare I've been grappling with the fact that they feed him junk. French toast sticks for breakfast, heat and serve quesadillas for lunch, boxed crackers for a snack in the afternoon. It varies day by day, but you get the gist. Those things are easy to fall back on at home when I don't have time to cook or he's having an especially picky toddler appetite day. But does that make me OK with it? No. And I'm trying not to settle.

When I was pregnant and came into the office for a checkup one day, I had remarkably high blood pressure. I'd also just had a fight with a family member that sent it through the roof. I knew that,  but my doctor freaked out and made me go no-sodium/low-sodium for three days. I ate home-cooked food, no salt added canned veggies and frozen choices, and I drank water.

And I lost 9 pounds in three days. 

That alone was a huge wake up call for me and something that lit a fire under me to start making healthier choices. While I wasn't eating what I considered overtly "bad" food while pregnant, I obviously was not eating anything good either. Or too little of it, anyway.  It has not been an easy road, and I can't say I make good food choices all, or even most, of the time. But I am determined to make more good choices and to make more of a difference in the way my child experiences food. Hopefully it will impact his long-term health and wellness, and that's the best reason of all to keep chugging along on this path.

Monday, November 21, 2011

"Stuff Week" at Estella's Revenge

I spend some time each day -- even if it's just a little -- trolling through the gazillion posts in my Google Reader. On my most recent romp over the weekend, I came across Ash's post over at English Major's Narrative (formerly English Major's Junk Food) about changing the focus of her blog. You should definitely read the whole post, but the basic idea is that Ash's life has changed a great deal since she started writing her blog, the focus of her life is no longer so heavily weighted toward books, and she wants to write about other interests.

I find myself thinking about this very issue quite often. Let's face it, folks, I don't read as quickly as I used to. I find myself consumed mostly by my professional life and motherhood! I also feel a growing interest in sustainability, cooking, fashion, DIY/crafts, health, and current events. This week I feel an especially strong pull to "go off" about something other than books. I'm nearly finished with Siobhan Fallon's You Know When the Men Are Gone, and I'm itching to review it, but it'll be a few days. Therefore, I'm christening this week at Estella's Revenge "Stuff Week." I'll be writing about stuff I'm passionate about or generally interested in...other than books!

While I realize some of you won't be terribly interested in my posts this week, I also think I'm willing to risk it! When I wrote my "Motherhood Changes Reading" post last week, I felt...different. It's been a good long while since I wrote a truly impassioned post about books -- largely because of reading slumps and life. It felt good to delve deeply into a topic and just run with it. I also very much enjoyed the comment conversations that grew out of that post.

So what do you have to look forward to this week?

  • Tuesday: A post about food choices: a short rant about recalls and an exploration of the ways I'm changing the food decisions I make for my family
  • Wednesday: A holiday gift guide for toddlers
  • Thursday: A Thanksgiving remembrance (and cooking!)
  • Friday: A post about recycling and how few and far between environmentally friendly options present themselves in the Dallas area
While I'm exercising my writing legs, what are you up to this week? Thanksgiving plans perhaps? A short work week? What are you reading (because you know I still want to know!)?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Motherhood Changes Reading

All mothers know that motherhood changes everything. It's important to note that motherhood brings a little person in your life who you love more than anything else. But you'll also no longer be able to  go to the bathroom alone, you'll do without adequate sleep more often than you'd care to think of, you'll become largely immune to disgust of bodily fluids, and "hobbies" like reading can take a big fat hit. But those aren't the only ways motherhood changes reading. At least, for me.

I knew in the early days of Greyson's life, I wouldn't read much. I was exhausted. Now, on the other side of maternity leave and 19 months into his wonderful life, I still find my reading is slow and spotty. It's largely to do with outside influences: work, home life in general, obligations, and did I mention work? All that is enough to frazzle the hardiest of brains.When I come home at night, I have two hours to spend with my child before bed and roughly two hours of my own time after he goes to sleep. The hours leading up to his bedtime are full of dinner, bath time, play time, and what's become a battle of wills to brush his teeth. We sing songs, we watch cartoons, we look at books, play with blocks, practice words, identify the parts of our faces, attack the dogs (that's mostly his thing). After his bedtime I usually spend some time cleaning up, take a quick shower, and if I'm lucky, I have the grey matter left for a book. Many nights I only have the grey matter for Chopped on the Food Network.

But like I said, these physical tasks aren't all that changes. Motherhood doesn't only impose a time conflict. It imposes conflicts of the heart and brain much bigger than I'd ever imagined before I had Greyson.

I've mentioned before that prior to motherhood I was mother to only one being: my dog. I've always been an animal lover, and cruelty to animals in fiction is one of those things that will send me sprinting away from a book. Admittedly, I was not particularly bothered, in my past life, by issues of child abuse, child neglect, and all those horrible things. Horrible, they are indeed. It might sound ridiculous to say that those issues didn't affect me before, but they certainly did register and resonate the way they do now.

I see the world, to a large extent, through my child and his experiences now and those to come. To read about child abuse or neglect or simply a child's sadness--especially a little boy--can leave me reeling.  When I read Joanna Kavenna's excellent novel, The Birth of Love, I sailed through the dying mothers infected by their doctors, but it was a little boy missing his mother that left me on the floor:
She thinks of Calumn, waking in his little bed, wondering where she is. Crying, "Mamamam." She has only spent a few nights apart from him since his birth. Mostly, and in defiance of the opinions of experts, he spends the night in their bed, nestled between her and Patrick. She wonders if he woke in the night, and if he cried for her and found she had gone. Her mother would have been sleeping in the spare room--she imagines Calumn shuffling along the corridor, opening the door of the main bedroom, finding it empty, not knowing where else to look. Bemused and lonely in the corridor, in his little pajamas. She should have told her mother to sleep in the main bedroom instead. She hadn't been thinking, at the time.
I see Greyson in this passage. I see myself wondering how the hell I forgot to ward off this simple, momentary heartbreak. Women spend much of their lives worrying about others, helping others, being responsible for others. We nurture, we teach, we provide. We worry. We hope. We love, for sure.

What motherhood has given me, in life and in reading, is a ferocious empathy. I've also gained a heightened sense of responsibility. I see people more now than I did before: the grown-ups and certainly children. I want to help more, I want to soothe more. I also want to scissor-kick those in positions of power who squander their opportunities to do the right thing (hello, Penn State scandal).

In recent days I feel my reading slump lightening up a bit, and with a Barnes and Noble gift card burning a hole in my pocket, I've been trying to decide exactly what to purchase. The first book that came to mind was A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. I feel down in my bones that I will love it, but I'm also terrified of this book and what it will do to my heart.
An unflinching, darkly funny, and deeply moving story of a boy, his seriously ill mother, and an unexpected monstrous visitor.
At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn't the monster Conor's been expecting-- he's been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he's had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. The monster in his backyard is different. It's ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth. From the final idea of award-winning author Siobhan Dowd-- whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself-- Patrick Ness has spun a haunting and darkly funny novel of mischief, loss, and monsters both real and imagined.
It's going to lay me out flat, y'all. Seriously. I'm going to cry until my eyeballs roll across the floor. But I think I'm ok with it, because I suspect this one might hit me the way The Book Thief did. In a powerful tidal wave of emotion that leaves me with a sense of catharsis. Or at least I hope so.

Motherhood is, bar none, the hardest thing I've ever taken on, but even in its first moments it was the best thing, too. Do I mind being so drastically changed in body, mind, and heart? Absolutely not. He's the love of my life.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Post-Birthday Wrap-Up and Bookish Miscellany


I survived my birthday and my birthday weekend! My actual birthday was a plethora of work-related frivolity. My boss brought me a Starbucks skinny caramel macchiato in the morning and bought me a Chinese lunch. Our registrar brought me a miniature cake covered in scads of frosting and a surprise birthday balloon. The group (5 Program Chairs and the Librarian), surprised me with another cake AND flowers at our afternoon meeting. Oh, AND they gave me the most wonderful, work-inappropriate card and a $25 Barnes and Noble gift card!

And did I mention we all went out for drinks after work??? There are pics of myself in a handmade paper birthday crown posing with a Scotch egg (boiled egg covered in sausage and deep fried, served with spicy mustard and relish). And the egg had a candle in it. Ahem! Much fun was had by all, and I can't even tell you how much I appreciated their efforts. Talk about feeling wonderful at work!

Thanks to ALL of the wonderful folks who wished me a happy birthday on Facebook or here on the blog. I was most definitely feeling the love!!!

The weekend was low key: some time with Greyson, some time spent with my mom with cake and goodies, some minimal class grading, some reading.

Which leads me to my current books!!! After I finished up Bad Marie, I started Everything is Going to Be Great by Rachel Shukert. While she's a lovely, deranged individual, the book just isn't clicking form me. I'm having much better luck with You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon. More on that one to come!

What are you reading? And would you consume a be-candled Scotch egg? Or a regular one, at that?!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Review: Bad Marie by Marcy Dermansky

How long has it been since I posted a proper review??? For FRACKIN' ever. That's how long. After a miserable slump, I finally chose to jump back into my Tournament of Books Reading Challenge (personal challenge), and I picked Bad Marie, by Marcy Dermansky, from my Nook stash.

Marie went to prison for six years after her boyfriend robbed a bank. She ends up the live-in nanny for a woman she grew up with. They can't quite be classified as "friends" because Ellen doesn't particularly like Marie. Ellen has even less reason to like Marie after she seduces her husband and essentially kidnaps her child.

And that's not spoiling anything.

In the beginning of this novel, Marie is an idiot. She kinda stays that way throughout, but she at least gains some semblance of maturity and selflessness from caring for Caitlyn, the little girl in the book.  While Marie makes stupid decisions that made my head spin, she is an endlessly interesting character. She doesn't really feel malicious, she's just kinda clueless and bored?? Numb??? Until Caitlyn.

There were highs and lows for me in Bad Marie. Marcy Dermansky's writing is most definitely a high. It's matter of fact and concise. There's not a lot of extraneous description or fluff. She tells a tightly-woven story which made me cringe in spots. With the newfound sensitivity to all things child (ever since I had my own), I really felt for Caitlyn during the parts of the book when Marie was just dragging her along for her own selfish, shitty reasons. She wanted this or that thrill, this or that false feeling of accomplishment. By the time the book ended I still wanted to slap Marie, but I felt like she had turned the corner toward doing the right thing. It's a testament to Dermansky's writing that I had such a visceral reaction to Marie's and Caitlyn's plight.

On the lower end, I felt there was a little too much "and it just so happened" in this novel. After Marie was released from prison, she just so happened to get a job with a friend who didn't really like her growing up? And that friend just so happened to be married to the novelist whose book Marie latched onto and re-read compulsively in prison? And Marie just so happened to meet two movie stars on her trek? REALLY?! So yes, I had a problem with that. It made me roll my eyes. Did it change my opinion of the book? Not really. Marie was the real basket case star here, and she was written very well.

My e-book copy of Bad Marie also includes some extra materials in the back: a short interview with Marcy Dermansky, a list of movies and books she's found influential. As it turns out, Dermansky is also a movie critic and highly influenced by French film. I'm certainly no expert, but I found this insight into the author very fresh and likable, and I'd like to know more about the films she finds worthwhile. There goes my Netflix queue, growing all the time. Call me a sucker for intertexuality.

I have to thank Marcy Dermansky and Bad Marie for pulling me out of my reading slump for a bit. This novel was just the thing: crisp writing and a short page count (167). I recommend it whether you're slumping or not, and I think it'd be great for discussion.

Write on, Ms. Dermansky! Right on!

Snuggle -- Skewer

Pub. Date: June 2010
Publisher: HarperCollins
Format: e-book
Source: http://www.barnesandnoble.com

Monday, November 07, 2011

Graphic Novel Chunksters

Yesterday I promised a post on the graphic novels section of my TBR, and I'm here to deliver! As I was looking over my GNTBR (we love an abbreviation 'round here) it's really dominated by three chunky graphic novels:
  • Watchmen
  • From Hell
  • A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories
So this post should probably be titled "The Alan Moore Show and Will Eisner". 

Will Eisner deserves better than that. If you're not familiar, Eisner also wrote The Spirit series and one of my favorite books, Comics and Sequential Art, a big influence on Scott McCloud's (and everyone else's) academic work in comics. 

SO, if you're not already familiar with these big gooey comics goodies, have some blurbs:

A Contract with GodA revolutionary novel, A Contract with God re-creates the neighborhood of Will Eisner's youth through a quartet of four interwoven stories. Expressing the joy, exuberance, tragedy, and drama of life on the mythical Dropsie Avenue of the Bronx, A Contract with God is a monumental achievement, a must in the library of any graphic novel fan.

WatchmenThis Hugo Award-winning graphic novel chronicles the fall from grace of a group of super-heroes plagued by all-too-human failings. Along the way, the concept of the super-hero is dissected as the heroes are stalked by an unknown assassin. One of the most influential graphic novels of all time and a perennial bestseller, WATCHMEN has been studied on college campuses across the nation and is considered a gateway title, leading readers to other graphic novels such as V FOR VENDETTA, BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and THE SANDMAN series.

From HellFROM HELL is the story of Jack the Ripper, perhaps the most infamous man in the annals of murder. Detailing the events leading up to the Whitechapel killings and the cover-up that followed, FROM HELL is a meditation on the mind of a madman whose savagery and violence gave birth to the 20th century. The serialized story, presented in its entirety in this volume, has garnered widespread attention from critics and scholars. Often regarded as one of the most significant graphic novels ever published, FROM HELL combines meticulous research with educated speculation, resulting in a masterpiece of historical fiction both compelling and terrifying. This new edition, which has been completely re-mastered, is certainly the finest edition of the book produced to date.

Two of the three of these were purchased for a class on graphic novels that I never got to take. While it would've been a kickass class, I had something else going on, like writing a thesis or something. Alas, they've lain on my stacks untouched for years, and it's really just not fair! I'm big on comics history, and these three are major players in comics history! I think I'll make it a goal to read them all before the conclusion of 2012. Or maybe that's giving myself too much time to procrastinate. Hmmphf. 

Have you read any of the three? Do you have any graphic novels hanging out on your TBR?

Sunday, November 06, 2011

The Sunday Salon - Le Weird Weekend

An earthquake in Oklahoma? Setting the clocks back in November? My 31st birthday in four days? Overall, just weird. It's been a weird (but good) week and weekend.

Baby G is staying with family and I've had almost 24 hours of time to do whatever I want. We had a freak Internet outage yesterday, so while I'd planned to knock out scads of grading for my online classes, I ended up playing SIMS2 for several hours. Not that playing SIMS isn't wonderful, but it was most certainly not in the productive plan. On the productive side, I did laundry, changed sheets, cleaned (I can almost close my closet door now), and my mom took me shopping for some pre-birthday birthday gifts: two pairs of ballet flats I can wear for work or play (one pewter, one bronze).

On the reading front, I'm still chugging along with Bad Marie, and I'm wondering how bad things are going to get for Marie! She's pretty clueless about life in general and responsibility, but there are also some pretty crazy external happenings working on Marie. It's gonna be a big ole train wreck, I'm sure, I just don't know what the carnage will involve yet.

In my previous post, I asked you lovely bloggy readers what type of books you depend on to bust your slumps. Natasha from 1330V mentioned graphic novels. I used to count graphic novels among my favorite go-to reading, but graphic novel and comics reading has really fallen by the wayside for me in the last few years. I suspect it's a side effect of having devoted SO much time to them in graduate school, but I also expect it's because they don't travel so well.

Many of the graphic novels on my shelves at home are CHUNKsters, fo' sho'. Watch for a post on my graphic novel TBR to post tomorrow. Easily-stuck-in-purse or not, I think I'm going to make more of a concerted effort to tackle my unread graphic novels in coming months (and early next year).

For now, I'm off to let shower water run over my head in hopes of killing this bitchin' headache I woke up with. Is it sinus pressure? Is it tension? Who the heck knows, so I took meds for both. Exciting Sunday, eh?

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Forget Everything I Said

I'm busy, my brain is fried, I'm slumping. FORGET ALL THAT. A magical thing happened last night. I worked a late night (was at work until 8pm and then commuted the hour home). I scarfed down some fast food on the way out to the sticks and when I arrived G was in bed, so I jumped in the shower, skipped my mindless TV viewing, and climbed into bed. I had to get up at 5am today, so I wasn't dallying too much.

When I actually got into bed I couldn't fall asleep (weird) so I opened my Nook app on my iPhone. I found myself in the midst of a little guilt storm that I haven't given ANY attention to my personal Tournament of Books reading challenge lately, so I popped open the first TOB book on my phone: Bad Marie by Marcy Dermansky.

And this is where the magic happened. It clicked! The writing style in this book is very stripped down and straightforward. Marie is bad. She's been in prison, she drinks whiskey while she babysits, she's a mess with absolutely no ambition. And I totally want to read about her! The writing style in the early pages is humorously flippant about Marie's ambitionlessness (ha!). The style mixed with the subject matter is really jivin' for me, so I hope this is the official end to my most recent reading slump.

I'm not far into the book, but it's also very short (167 pages on my phone), and it sort of reminds me of my experience reading Sherry and Narcotics by Nina-Marie Gardner earlier in the year. I was in a bit of a slump at that point too and the alcoholic protagonist in that novel pulled me right on out of my reading funk with her train wreck of a life.Yay! It's a weird thing to "yay" for and an odd topic to de-slump me, but I'll take it.

Have you experienced a slump lately? Is there any "type" of book that usually pulls you out of a slump? Share, folks!
Images by Freepik