On the Radar: 10 Exciting New Titles of Fall/Spring ’17-18

Ten books we should all be antsy in our pantsies to read.

From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty

In the second publication since her first title, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, about her time working in a crematory, death advocate Doughty explores death rituals from around the world.

Hot Mess Kitchen: Recipes for Your Delicious and Disastrous Life by Gabi Moskowitz and Miranda Berman

This is a cookbook you buy and can bring home to mama, unlike that last tragedy of a significant other.  It’s a completely delightful and at many times hilarious cookbook with such whimsical entries as Deliver Us From Delivery, I Want to Punch You in the Face Pasta and My Ex is Engaged Enchiladas.

Logical Family: a Memoir by Armistead Maupin

Author of the before its time series, Tales of the City, continually writes with ingenuity and heart and his memoir is sure to reflect that beautiful spirit that shines through each book.

Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America ed. by Samantha Mukhopadhyay, Kate Harding and various authors

This anthology of essays addresses various issues in America after Trump (ugh) including Trump’s “misogyny army,” talking to your children about fascism, Ivanka and faux feminism, et al. Each essay is eloquently written by such powerhouses Samantha Irby and Rebecca Solnit, among many other outstanding women including Chicago’s own Women and Children First co-owner Sarah Michael Hollenbeck!

The Twilight Pariah by Jeffrey Ford

The author of one of my most favorite scary short story collections, A Natural History of Hell has written a novel consistent with his last, exercising (exorcising?) his unbelievably innate talent for that which is both fantastic and horrific.  Ford’s book also has probably one of the best cover reviews to date, “Richard Linklater meets Stephen King…”

Sleeping Beauties by Stephen and Owen King

In this first collaboration between Stephen King and son Owen, the two weave together an incredibly descriptive, solid and addicting piece of fiction about a sleeping sickness that takes over all of the world’s women, covering them with silky, web-like coating.  I highly recommend the audio; the narrator’s southern accents are terrific.

Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites by Deb Perelman

The first Smitten Kitchen is a gem of a cookbook, including recipes that are a little off the beaten path, including a cookie recipe with popped popcorn and stuffed lemony ricotta shells.  The prospect of an “everyday” cookbook is exciting, one can assume it will include recipes with commonly found ingredients because when a girl needs a diy cookie, she needs it stat.

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

Ijeoma Oluo!  If you haven’t heard of her, look her up.  If you’re on Facebook, follow her.  Her compassion and wit make her irresistible and as readers and learners we should all be excited to get a deeper glimpse into her thoughts on race, class, gender and our world at large today.

Strange Weather: Four Short Novels by Joe Hill

Joe Hill, author of Horns, Heart Shaped Box (my personal favorite), and numerous short stories (which I believe to be his strong point) has written a novel consisting of four shorter, creepy and inventive stories.  If you didn’t know, Hill is one of Stephen King’s sons and has earned his place in the horror fiction hall of fame of his own accord.

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

Oh Hillz, if only it could have been you, we wouldn’t be on the doorstep of war with North Korea and somehow Puerto Rico now?  The word is that she gets deep into the details, much like that of a Real Housewives memoir, recalling the tiny bits that we all want to know, including what she did the day after the election and what she had for dinner.  Only unlike Teresa Giudice of The Real Housewives of New Jersey’s prison memoir, she didn’t hear women having sex in the bunk next to her.  Or maybe she did, I’m only on chapter one.

 

Update: Standing Strong by Teresa Giudice, previously included, was subtracted from the list after an entire chapter on her love and admiration of Donald Trump.  Bitch, please.

 

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Feminist Short Stories: Horror & Sci-Fi (Part 2)

Spotlight on Five Feminist-Minded Short Stories with Elements of Horror & Sci-Fi

Joyce Carol Oates once so perfectly wrote, “One criterion for horror fiction is that we are compelled to read it swiftly, with a rising sense of dread, and so total a suspension of ordinary skepticism, we inhabit the material without question and virtually as its protagonist: we can see no way out except to go forward.”  This quote perfectly encapsulates why so many love the horror genre; it transports its reader to another world where one can observe, and be an entirely new entity, whether person, monster, witch, or troll.  When you combine horror with the feminist short story, you enter a whole new realm that’s even more terrifying than any Pinhead from Hellraiser or Damien from the Omen.  The horror delves into reality, where much can be hidden beneath the facade of such vanities as a life of wealth, the perfect marriage, or an idyllic community.

The tales below are a sampling of five feminist short stories that do indeed leave us with a “rising sense of dread” because sometimes, the horror is too personal.

tananarivedueghostsummerThe Lake
Tananarive Due

The Lake is the introductory story in novel and non-fiction writer Tananarive Due’s first collection of short stories.  After reading a positive write-up in a library review journal, I immediately purchased Ghost Summer for the library in which I work.  After reading The Lake, I promptly returned the book and requested that my local feminist bookstore carry it and order a copy for me.  The entirety of the book is so excitingly engrossing that it’s a burden to have to choose one as “best,” but being the first story that I read by her, it hooked me.

The story opens with Abbie, a 36 year-old Bostonian who has opted for a fresh start by moving to a small town in Florida to begin teaching at a preparatory school following her divorce.  We are introduced to her bit by bit as she ruminates on her past and explores the new experiences of a life in Gracetown, making you both root for her and question her sometimes disconcerting internal monologue.  She is alone in a new town with her own 3,000 square foot colonial and private lake, though her solitude is anything but lonely as she opens herself to swimming, something foreign in her previous life.  Each time she wades through the water, the reader can identify with her burgeoning sense of freedom and tranquility, though we quickly become confounded.  As she begins teaching, you begin to ponder her motivations as she mentally dissects and analyzes her male students, whittling them down to find the exact specimen that will suit her needs.  Ostensibly, we are to believe those needs are to fix a home that has fallen into disrepair due to Florida humidity.  Yet as Abbie’s swims in the natural lake increase over the summer, she begins to undergo a physical metamorphosis prompted by the advice she hasn’t heeded: “…one must never, ever go swimming in Gracetown’s lakes during the summer.”  Her human calculations of the fresh young male student physique mirrors her growing appetite for raw flesh as she transforms into something of an aquatic predator.

Abbie is a compellingly tricky character because you don’t know whether you want to be her, or to steer clear while passing in the street once you know what goes on inside her head (but isn’t that true for all of us?).  The allure of transforming into a creature that can navigate other worlds,  the ability to leave a life of sameness and broken relationships and start anew would be tempting at the very least.  On the other hand, what comes with the freedom of anonymity and  solitude for some may be too tempting when one’s vices are able to flourish without scrutiny.

Pop Art20th Century Ghosts
Joe Hill

When I first read the short story Pop Art from the collection, 20th Century Ghosts, I was flooded by an intense feeling of sorrow, leaving me in complete awe that such a short story could completely knock my socks off.  Reading it again years later in June of 2016, I found myself sobbing on my lunch break, gazing up at a vast blue sky in the middle of a prickly field, which was eerily and beautifully appropriate given the ending of the story.

The plot is a seemingly common one that graces the pages of so much teen-centered fiction; new kid in school gets relentlessly pummeled because he’s different than the vast majority of the student body, new kid makes a friend.  In Hill’s design, the narrator saves Arthur (Art) from bullies who are literally kicking his ass, but into the air because Art is actually inflatable.  Throughout the story, Hill creates a simple yet so on-point description of the jungle that is a teen’s life in high school: abusive, mentally ill or deceased parents; disability; religion; forging friendships; bullies; and dealing with death before our minds can grasp it.  The boys, through the bond of their outsider status, explore these matters that are thrust upon by chance, strengthening the alliance to one another, especially as the narrator continually attempts to keep Art from being popped.  Much like the film Lars and the Real Girl, the storytellers create a world that transcends the one as we know it, enabling us to empathize by accessing those tricky, basic human emotions like love, empathy and loss that seem to so easily reel so many of us in.  Like Art’s best friend, we are also suspended in a state of flux–we delight in his insight, dread his future and mourn his fragility.

Though Pop Art may lean into the science fiction genre, Hill relates horrors of the mind–the unknown, loss, endings, and the mere terror of living on this planet without someone who understands you.  I don’t know about you, but I’d argue it’s enough to keep you up at night.

Secret Life, With Cats
Audrey Niffenegger

catsniffennegerTaking place in South Evanston (Illinois) and its closest bordering Chicago neighborhood, Rogers Park, we are introduced to Beatrice with her life of newly acquired wealth, her realtor husband and his metaphorical baby, their ever-evolving house.  Out of an antsy-ness springing from a void that’s bigger than the beautiful house she lives in, she volunteers at a local cat shelter where she meets Ruth, an older, no nonsense volunteer with whom she forms an instant, deep sisterly bond.

As the story unfolds, a subtle but palpable sense of loneliness lingers between the lines, only erased as Ruth and Beatrice’s friendship blossoms over cards and cats.  Author Niffenegger enables the reader to relate to Beatrice’s feelings of estrangement from others because of the universal plight of any of us humans–the rare occurrence of a true connection with another person during our adult lives.  The author may also be tapping into a fairly accepted universal truth, that people with a love of cats can typically be introverts, thereby making it difficult to forge friendships, and that lovers of cats are to be trusted.  Let’s be real, it takes a special person to understand their oftentimes aloof personalities, as seen in Joy Carol Oates’ short horror story, The White Cat.  While Beatrice ultimately receives spiritual fulfillment from her bond with Ruth, Ruth’s ultimate bond is to cats and connects in a mutually supernatural, or psychic fashion.  As the friendship between the two women deepens as time progresses, it morphs into one that defies life or death, with cats as the conduit.

In the preface to the story in the above collection, Niffenegger describes the impetus for the story, a sense of loss from that of a cat and a friend.  Feelings of loss, abandonment, “aloneness and loneliness” in marriage and relationships is felt felt from start to finish as expressed through these two disparate women’s lives and their relationships to each other, themselves, and bonds to animals.  First published in the Chicago Tribune in 2006 with its occasional reference to Northwestern University, this story will also nestle nicely in the heart of any northside Chicagoian with a fondness for the furry types.

*Illustration by Audrey Niffenegger

You Have Never Been HereMemoir of a Deer Woman
Mary Rickert

In one of the most heart-wrenching stories of the list, we glimpse into to a short period of time in the life of “she/her” and her husband from a third person point of view.  From the get-go, she has begun her physical transformation from woman into a deer, beginning with the protrusion of antlers, followed by hoofs, to full embodiment, though she says later in the story that she had always been wild.  Coinciding with her metamorphosis is her diagnosis of stage three cancer, though there is some allusion to her previously having some form of it, and knowing that it had returned in an extreme iteration.

Both she and her husband’s handling of her cancer diagnosis are explored; she in a state of acceptance, or maybe shocked coping, and he in denial and panic, though the process of grief remains fluid between the cancer and her animal transformation.  The imaginative ways in which Rickert likens of the experience of cancer to transforming into an amazing animal, including growing antlers to losing her hair; the loss of control over one’s body as it becomes something that works against you (Gilda Radner discusses this in her biography, It’s Always Something); the loneliness of experiencing something that you can’t explain to another, is a heartbreaking and ingenious comparison.  As her transformation comes to completion, a deer cannot live with a man, despite her husband’s agonized protests, she joins the animal kingdom.

The manner in which Rickert constructs the story closely mirrors the mood; set during winter in the woods, the writing is mournful, to the point, and resists flowery language.  Much like Tananarive Due’s book, every story is a powerful declaration and as a whole, creates a powerful collection that is hauntingly original.

The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planetvandana
Vandana Singh

The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet enables us to glimpse into the less than idyllic household politics of wife and mother Kamala Mishra, and much like in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland, her plight is revealed through the eyes of a man, in this instance, her husband. Though the story is told from his perspective, we can suppose much of what her life has been like through his rigid and self-serving diatribes, leaving little to ponder as to the reasoning of why Kamala begins her transformation into a host body.

The story begins with patriarch Ramnath Mishra’s annoyance as his wife disrupts just one of his plethora of rituals, coffee on the veranda while reading his newspaper.  What he had envisioned as a relaxing future in his new retirement from government is soon “inconvenienced” by his wife’s seemingly mental breakdown as she tells him that she, amidst a lifetime of a shaky identity, is a planet.  As his wife begins to exhibit more unwieldy, unpredictable behaviors that baffle him, including trying to take off her sari (in their home), buying balloons for poor children (“…you are spoiling these good-for-nothings!”) , and welcoming a colony of small beings into her body (though not the most pressing of his concerns), Ramnath panics.  We learn that he is a rigid man, finding comfort in a life consisting of sterility, routine and a strong adherence to social honor codes that would prevent any modicum of disgrace upon him in the eyes of the community. As Kamala begins to shed concern of judgement, including addressing her husband by his first name, to him it is a threat to his value system, causing him to reveal through internal dialogue his self-absorption as he ruminates over the constant “irritations” his wife has thrust upon him, further exemplified by such further recitations: “What did I do to deserve this?”  “His day was completely ruined.” “Ramnath felt a surge of anger and self-pity.” When the issue of Kamala’s emotional well-being is seriously considered by her husband, it is in relation to how it inconveniences him.  His extreme rigidity can further be seen as he chides himself for becoming slightly aroused when seeing his wife naked after having ghettoized her to the role of strictly mother and housemate.

Kamala’s life of marital expectation and servitude can further be glimpsed as Ramnath reflects on their past, suggesting that she visit her ancestral village, commenting that he had “not permitted” her to visit her mother in over five years because of obligations he had put upon her, “the marriage of their sons, his retirement…somebody had to run the house and supervise the servants.”  The irony is that Kamala interprets his suggestion as kindness, but in actuality, being rid of her is preferable to any sort of personal growth on her part, even to the extent of murder, of which he easily justifies.

Singh’s writing is a profound examination into the couple’s intimate relationship, expressed through the inner thoughts of a truly selfish man.  Though his wife’s body begins to morph into not only uncharted territory, but also a home for otherworldly beings, Ramnath is unabashed, and has always been, about the extreme control he exerts over his wife and how they interact. It’s difficult as a reader to remain objective, identifying with Kamala’s urge to break free both mentally and physically from the constraints role as obedient wife.  Luckily for her, us, and the creatures which inhabit her, she does.

Part 1 can be viewed here.

Exploring Feminisms’ Top 10 Books of 2013

It may seem unusual that not every book on Exploring Feminisms’ top 10 list of 2013 was published in 2013, but some are just so timelessly fantastic that they deserve to be kept on our socially conscious radar.

1. Rubyfruit JungleRubyfruit Jungle
Rita Mae Brown (1973)

2013 is Rubyfruit Jungle’s 30 year publishing anniversary and because it’s just so damn good, it makes #1.  While reading Rubyfruit Jungle, I couldn’t help but think of the 19th century novel The Awakening by Kate Chopin: down to earth, subversive-by-nature female lead characters who challenge social norms in times where women received the short end of the stick (even more than now, one could argue).  RJ details the life of Molly Bolt as a child in the south through young adulthood as she moves to New York, and we follow her journey as a blossoming lesbian.  She is a rough and tumble character, and the book is filled with hilarious and brutally honest thoughts on womanhood, the life of a wife, and lesbian stereotypes.  Completely entertaining and thought-provoking.

2. The Dude and the Zen MasterDudeandtheZenMaster
Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman (2013)

The true testament to any great piece of art is its permeability and stickiness-does it get it and stay in?  Having read The Dude and the Zen Master in June of 2013 and even in the swirling catalog of my own brain, I still often think back to the novel-long conversation between actor Jeff Bridges and Jewish Zen Master, Bernie Glassman, where they discuss the art of living a more meaningful life. There are times when I feel Sartre’s timeless words, “hell is other people,” were written just to describe my plight in life, and it is especially during those times that I can easily manifest the Dude’s Zen teachings.  The manner in which the authors communicate coping mechanisms has saturated so thoroughly that I often find myself imagining my many enemies in clown noses, leaving the often imagined assaults on my character disarmed.

3. No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing ParenthoodNo Kidding
ed. Henriette Mantel (2013)

It takes a lot of gumption for a woman to make the conscious choice to not have children, especially in a world where childless women continue to be looked upon with suspicion.  The writers in this collection consist of a group of women with diverse life experiences, all of which have shaped their views on “bypassing” biological motherhood.  They share their varied stories as to why they chose, or life chose for them, not to have children.   Because of the plethora of viewpoints, the reader really gets the full gamut of opinions, thereby neither damning nor exalting child rearing.  This book wouldn’t be called food for thought, but rather feast  for the heart.  No Kidding is filled with comedy, tragedy, wit and even some schadenfreude to keep you on your toes.

4. If It’s Not One Thing, It’s Your MotherIf It's Not One Thing
Julia Sweeney (2013)

Being a parent only to two cats and not an actual human baby, there was some hesitation to pick up this book.  Reading a lecture about how wonderful parenting is and those adorable trials and tribulations of raising a child and how those without children couldn’t possibly even begin to understand…it just didn’t seem appealing.

Luckily, this book isn’t about any of that.  What this book is about is insight and the threads that connect us all by inevitable shared life experiences. We all have families who actually annoy us; we date, we break up; we knit actual and proverbial sweaters as proof of our love; we face stereotypes, either our own or others; we eat cupcakes or candy bars and then feel eater’s remorse, thus perpetuating the cycle of how no one will ever love us because we are fat and ugly, et al.  Sweeney, by describing what is probably a sprinkling of her major life moments, has an amazing gift to pull out the teensiest emotion or observation and tease it out into something that we can all recognize as being personal in our own lives.  I often found myself stopping and thinking, “That’s how I feel!  How come I’ve never thought about that?”  Plus, the appeal of this book could be attractive to many audiences.  Have a kid?  Bam!  This book is for you.  Have a mother?  Bam!  This book is for you.  Are you a sentient being?  Bam!  This book is for you.

5. GulpGulp
Mary Roach (2013)

Gulp is about the digestive system, from start (mouth) to finish (guts, and then you can guess).  Why would you want to read about the digestive system, you may ask?  Because she goes in deep: smelling and tasting what we cringe to even read about and relates it back with humor and tact.  In essence, she skins herself for us, the reader, by diving into the world of cat food sampling, Elvis’ mega colon and a thoroughly gripping description of the nose/tongue connection. Roach chooses a topic, researches it, and pulls out the most interesting parts; in essence, she does the dirty work for us, while keeping the gross-out factor completely classy.

6. Jacob’s FollyRebeccaMiller
Rebecca Miller (2013)

The premise of Rebecca Miller’s third book is truly original: a Hasidic Jew, born in the 1700s, is reincarnated as a fly in current day America who has the power to control the minds of humans.  The story see-saws between his current day observations in the U.S. as a winged insect and his life as an 18th century Parisian.  Miller, who has in the past done a magnificent job of writing and directing from varied female perspectives, takes a stab at writing from the male perspective.  Her observations from the masculine gender’s point of view are entertaining, tawdry, and scintillating, thereby ever-changing your feelings towards the narrator.  While reading, I was sometimes appalled by the hyper-sexualized inner-workings of the main character, and as many of my male friends have informed me, her insight in the male psyche is not so far off, which is both engaging and gross.

In all, JF is a fun book with an amusing storyline that paints some interesting portraits of Hasidic communities, 18th century Europe, and of what many men are usually thinking.  Excuse me as I reach for a full body condom.

7. It’s Not Really About the Hair: The Honest Truth About Life, Love and the Business of BeautyTabatha Coffey
Tabatha Coffey (2011)

I really don’t like to accept advice from those who haven’t been through some shit in life, and Tabatha Coffey, she’s been through some shit. She grew up in Australian strip clubs worked by transgender dancers, her father left her and her mother in the most heinous manner, she was an overweight child who endured the torture that only other children can deal out, and like many of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, had to endure a little piece of hell while coming out to her family.  Given all of this, she’s surfaced on the other end as a successful business woman who has a firm grasp on what she wants and who she is.  Much like Julia Sweeney’s book, Coffey has taken a fine tooth comb to her life and has given us a guide on how to empower ourselves so that we can live a more authentic life.

8. Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger StoryWoman Rebel
Peter Bagge (2013)

With my formal Women’s and Gender Studies lessons years behind, I find it necessary to take additional strides to keep feminist fundamentals close at hand, especially if my work or home environment may be somewhat lacking from time to time.  Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story is an amusing graphic novel that highlights the more monumental and even titillating details of the life of the Planned Parenthood founder.  Thanks to writer and illustrator Peter Bagge, Sanger is presented to us as a real person, though in graphic novel form, by illustrating (pun intended) such enumerations as her famous sexual escapades, to her more unflattering personality prejudices.  In turn, we are reminded that extraordinary people who accomplish extraordinary feats often embody a sliver of the ordinary, sometimes making our own extraordinary feats seem tangible after all.

9. The Last Girlfriend on Earththe-last-girlfriend-on-earth-by-simon-rich
Simon Rich (2013)

It’s so rare that one comes across a book that can only be described as truly original, and after reading a plethora of books over the past year, The Last Girlfriend on Earth remains steadfast as one of the most original books that I’ve read.  It’s short stories are sweet, simple, surprising, and don’t take themselves too seriously, which is especially refreshing in a world where many authors neglect to relate any sort of elasticity and fun.  I mean really, what other books have you read lately that make you sympathize with a sad condom?

10. Ocean at the End of the Lane
Neil Gaiman (2013)

Ocean at the End of the LaneNeil Gaiman is a man who communicates his respect for women through his stories, and in this case, by dreaming up a cosmically strong lineage of three women (grandmother, mother and daughter) whose bond with each other spans time and space.  The three woman, along with a little English boy, fight an evil witch-woman in a small English town.  This book is beautifully written, a quick read and a great primer for any Gaiman novices.

The Last Five Books

Gulp
Mary Roach (2013)

I first read Mary Roach’s work when I came across her first book, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.  Since then, she’s written a number of non-fiction, research based books and Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal continues to live up to her tried and true style of putting herself out there, essentially skinning herself for us, the reader, and relating it back with humor and tact.  Let me explain.

Gulp

Gulp is about the digestive system, from start (mouth) to finish (guts, and then you can guess).  She goes in deep, smelling and tasting what we cringe to even read about, such as cat food in its many flavors, to interviewing Elvis’ doctor and an examination of his little known “mega colon.”

Roach chooses a topic, researches it, and pulls out the most interesting parts; in essence, she does the dirty work for us, while keeping the gross-out factor classy.

Every House is Haunted
Ian Rogers (2012)

Pun not necessarily intended, each story leaves you feeling haunted.  At the end of each tale, Rogers leaves you in want of each one to be a full novel because the characters and stories are so intriguing. He takes the essence out of a full length novel and gives you just the exciting parts through the short story format. Highly recommended to anyone who likes quirky short stories with a bit of an edge, and fans of Neil Gaiman.

Boy Eating

The Last Girlfriend on Earth
Simon Rich (2013)

Saturday Night Live writer and son of New York Times columnist Frank Rich, Simon Rich writes witty, extremely amusing and poignant stories.  I’ve never read a story where someone can make the life from the point of view of a condom seem poetic.

the-last-girlfriend-on-earth-by-simon-rich

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (1990)

I am a huge fan of reading a book, watching the movie, and comparing the two.  I find that when people ask, which is better, the film or the novel, it is an impossibility to offer a straight forward answer because they are two completely different mediums.  One is visual, and the other is cognitive.  You can’t watch a movie and know a character’s internal monologue, nor can you recreate the soundtrack of a film that gives a movie its energy.

Jurassic Park as a book, when compared to the film, makes more sense, and the characters possess a lot more integrity.  Though as far as comparison goes, you can compare the lightness of the content; the book is a beach read as much as the movie is an entertaining film without any real depth.

JurassicParkBook

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill (2013)

Joe Hill’s (son of Stephen King-hey, I’m sure it’ll help sell more books) fourth book and third novel has proven him to be one of the contemporary horror writing greats.  Though not in a strict Bram Stoker sense, NOS4A2 is about a Nosferatu of sorts who drives a bad-ass car and loves Christmas.

Joe Hill (compared to the likes of Steve Martin) writes surprisingly well from a female point of view and resists the all too popular urge to write about sex from a woman’s point of view though really coming from a supposing man’s point of view.

NOS4A2

2011: Explore My Literary Feminisms!

At the beginning of 2011, I set a goal to read 24 books before the year was through in the attempt to trump my 17 from 2010.  If I didn’t reach it, no biggie, the point is quality, not quantity.  I did feel though, that a good amount of my time was melting into endless nights of watching the uber-dramatic and the really important issues of wives from Beverly Hills and the Mob.  Maybe a portion of my time would be better spent on what I sometimes forget that I really love?

My choices were not preplanned at the beginning of the year and I tried to tackle a range of books resulting in some feminist, most not, and a surprising few dabbled in Library Science, which I saw as more bang for my buck in the end.

My reading plan for this year not only differed from last year in goal (from 17 to 25), but also price.  Besides one or two that were bought for me, I checked all of the books out from the library.  Like many library types, a good amount of us buy our books.  Shocking, I know.  A lot of us are collectors of books and pride ourselves on showing off our giant libraries.  Think of it as battle scars.  However, being on a fairly strict budget for much of 2011, I decided to put my money, or rather, no money, where my mouth is (I think this also had a direct impact on my increased number of books).  Once I remembered that I had free access to an endless amount of books, I found it difficult not to fill my arms with mass amounts of fiction and non-fiction with the  voracious appetite of a brain eating zombie who had just encountered fresh prey!

Top 10

The Night Eternal
by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan (2011)

The third and final book in the Strain Trilogy about vampires taking over the earth.  The trilogy was amazing and each book led me on an emotional roller coaster.  Needless to say, I cried when I closed the last book.

With GDT himself and yes, I am holding the first book of the Strain Trilogy

Neverwhere
by Neil Gaiman (1996)

This year I discovered Gaiman, as you will see as you read further.  I read most of his adult fiction this year, and Neverwhere was my favorite Gaiman novel, and second favorite overall this year.  It had a happy ending, a very likable protagonist, and it sucked me in within the first few pages.  I also recommend this on audiobook because Gaiman himself reads the text and because of this, the audiobook expresses exactly what the writer was thinking when he was writing it.

Gunn’s Golden Rules
by Tim Gunn (2007)

This book is my Bible, or the closest thing I’ve ever read to a guide on how I want to live my life.  Gunn gives practical advice on how to act like a normal human being, encompassing good manners, the importance of treating yourself with respect and of course, making everything work.  I will definitely be reading this on a yearly basis and I recommend buying this one.

An Object of Beauty
by Steve Martin (2010)

If you like artwork, New York, fashion, Steve Martin, coming of age stories, color pictures in books or any combination thereof, then this book is for you.

Herland
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1915)

Three men crash land into an all-female utopia where the women actually function just fine!  Go figure!  Plus, it’s a classic by a classic woman.  If you haven’t read CPG yet, I recommend starting with her short story the Yellow Wallpaper.

American Gods
by Neil Gaiman (2001)

Gods living on earth in human forms.  What more could you want?  This piece of fiction is epic and like Neverwhere, grabs you right away.  At times, this book tackles some tough life and death issues but not so much that you feel like you’re reading a Russian novel.

Bossypants
by Tina Fey (2011)

Fey is a feminist and Fey is funny.  And I also want her to be my best friend.  Recommended for women and men who aren’t scared of childbirth, rotten breath or pubic hair that resembles vermicelli noodles.

The Fellowship of the Ring
by J.R.R. Tolkien (1954)

This year I thought that I’d take on the book since I love the movies so much.  It really reinforced that books and film are two totally different mediums and therefore are difficult to compare.  The book fills in gaps in the movie that I didn’t even know there were.  Plus, I was surprised by what an easy read it ended up being.

Based Upon Availability
by Alix Strauss (2010)

Short stories about women who are interconnected by their association with the Four Seasons Hotel.  Like her last fiction novel, Joy of Funerals, Strauss is really great at writing from varied female points of view.

Men Are Stupid and They Like Big Boobs
by Joan Rivers (2008)

What can I say?  It’s Joan Rivers and she rocks.  She’s a bipartisan powerhouse with a voice and an opinion.

Runners Up

The Anansai Brothers
by Neil Gaiman (2005)

The story of two reunited brothers who are the sons of an African God.  Very Gaimanesque: death; life; Gods; whimsy; a somewhat awkward central character who comes into his own; and as always, he presents us with magic and superstitions and makes it so easy to want to be part of that world.

Oh No She Didn’t: The Top 100 Style Mistakes Women Make and How to Avoid Them
by Clinton Kelly (2010)

Kelly’s guide makes you reflect on  your own wardrobe, laugh out loud on the bus and then look around to judge everyone near you.  However, I think his critique on eyebrows is totally incorrect.

Locke and Key
by Joe Hill (2008)

I am going to say it, Stephen King can’t hold a candle to his son’s writing.  Having never been a real graphic novel fan (besides being made to read Maus and Persepolis in undergrad), Hill’s graphic novel has prompted me to want to read the next three in the series.  A little bloody, a little disturbing and totally enthralling.  (May I also recommend Hill’s fiction: Heart Shaped Box and Horns.)

The Graveyard Book
by Neil Gaiman (2008)

The story of a baby who is adopted by ghosts in a graveyard after his parents are murdered.  Though technically a teen novel, I thoroughly enjoyed this coming of age story.

Carrion Comfort
by Dan Simmons (1989)

If you liked the Strain Trilogy, I’d recommend this novel as well.  Vampires living on earth unbeknownst to humans, a group of rag-tags on the hunt and characters that you fall in love with.  The end gets a little murky and I wouldn’t hold it against you if you speed read the last 1/4 of the book.

Tim Gunn’s Guide to Quality, Taste and Style
by Tim Gunn (2007)

Like Joan Rivers, I like everything that Gunn writes so naturally he’d make it to my runners up group.  Though not one that I’d stress that you buy, he does give good, solid advice on fashion and style, though through a somewhat more conservative lens.  Maybe it’s a New York high fashion thing.

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter
by Seth Graham-Smith (2010)

Sometimes we need something to read where we don’t have to think, right?  Well this is it.  Lincoln was actually a vampire hunter and guess what, slave owners were usually vampires.  It’s real!  Seriously!

Wigfield
by Paul Dinello, Amy Sedaris and Stephen Colbert (2003)

Yet another book where you can just laugh and not have to think much, though be prepared to accept the utter silliness and absurdity of the whole piece.  I’d recommend this on audiobook because Paul Dinello, Stephen Colbert and Amy Sedaris perform the voices for several of the characters.

Mister B. Gone
by Clive Barker (2007)

The concept for this book is really unique–a first person, or rather demon, point of view.  Demon Jakabok Botch is trapped within the pages of the book that you are reading, at that very moment, and he warns and implores you throughout the book to stop reading or else be damned!

The Vegetarian Low-Carb Diet
by Rose Elliot (2006)

Okay, so I am listing this as a runner up because I lost ten pounds in two months.  I was a vegetarian already but the low-carb thing really works.  I wouldn’t take this book as word, but it’s easy to use it as a general guide and make it your own.

Summer of Night
by Dan Simmons (1991)

This book is a prequel to another Simmons book, Winter Haunting and describes a group of boys over the course of one summer.  It entails possession, ghosts, baseball and creepy teachers.  It’s an easy, mindless read and I would recommend it if you have nothing better to read.

The Terror
by Dan Simmons (2007)

I keep reading Simmons because I feel like a lot of the time he almost gets there, but not quite.  This book falls in the typical Simmons style, much like Carrion Comfort.  Most of this book is great–the story of an arctic expedition, Eskimos with special powers, and a large killer spirit who kills off a ship of 19th century English explorers.  The first 3/4 of this book keeps your interest piqued, and then the last 1/4 goes a little off course.  If you can stretch your imagination and suspend belief for a few dozen pages, then you’ll be fine.

Eh.

Holidays on Ice
by David Sedaris (1997)

I realize that by saying this I may be pegged with eggs on the street by strangers, but this book is not great.  The stories are disjointed and the book doesn’t seem to have much focus.  I think it could have been a lot better it if were just stories about his normal [holiday] anecdotes, but it pulls in some strange tales, such as a young Asian girl moving in with an American family and the mother killing her grandchild.  While this story is totally acceptable and somewhat entertaining, it seemed like it would be better in another book.

Salem’s Lot
by Stephen King (1975)

The more I read Stephen King, the more disappointed I am, and the more I read.  Stephen King is known as the king (pun intended) of horror, but I think that his novels are just okay.  I’m not drawn in, scared or excited by his stories and this novel was no exception.  There were a lot of gaps in the story and I was missing the meat of a great vampire tale.  The idea behind it was great, a vampire comes to a small town, but it lacked the follow-through.

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
by Steven King (1999)

A little girl gets lost in the woods and is accompanied by a battery operated radio with the voice of commentators reporting on baseball player Tom Gordon.  I did like how King describes being perpetually wet and stung by mosquitoes, because we can all relate to this.  However, I felt myself becoming bored at times because like Salem’s Lot, I felt like the meat of the story was lacking.