Category: Pretentious

Jul 23

Words for Worms Rewind: I Just Don’t Get It. Keep it Copasetic.

Humor, Idiosyncratic Lit List, Pretentious 15

Hi Ho Bookworms!

Today I’m turning back the clock again, because I’ve still got some posts that were devoured by the internet’s gaping maw during my blog transfer to self-hosting many moons ago. I’ve been peppering them in here and there so my genius isn’t lost. That, and I’ve been extremely lazy lately and these posts are ALREADY WRITTEN and basically nobody ever read them. So. Welcome to my brain of three years ago. You’re welcome, and I’m sorry.

I try to be well rounded in my reading. I like to sample different genres and authors. I like to mix in some literary broccoli with my steady diet of word nachos. I’ll watch smart movies or TV shows and when witty characters reference a book, I’ll often make it a point to check it out. (Most recently I sampled The Phantom Tollbooth because they were talking about it on New Girl, but Gilmore Girls holds the record for most book recommendations. Rory Gilmore was SO GOOD for teen literacy!)

Sometimes though, when I’m reading something specifically so I can get pop culture references, I end up really confused, a little annoyed, and certain I missed something. The following outlines some of these gems that I Just. Don’t. Get. (If you have “Bound for the Floor” by Local H stuck in your head right now, thanks to the title of this post, you are awesome.)

aconfederacyofduncesA Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole tops my list. I just finished reading this, and it was a trial. At first, I was amused. Ignatius’s dialogue sounded JUST LIKE Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons in my head. Ignatius was over-the-top-ridiculous, but all the characters kept doing stupid crap. That SHOULD be really funny, but I just wasn’t that into it. I kept falling asleep (which reminds me of a post I intend to do one day on the greatest sleep aids ever disguised as books *UPDATE: that post can be found here*). I was so sure I missed something that I hit up Wikipedia. The internet was remarkably unhelpful here- all it did was offer me an AWESOME cast list of people who were slated to be in the movie version of this book that was never made. I don’t understand it. Why would everyone flock to this project? Why is this book famous? What am I missing? Maybe I’m just not smart enough to get it. (Unfortunately, Toole doesn’t get a second chance to win my favor. He committed suicide and A Confederacy of Dunces was published posthumously, which is really sad and I feel like a jerk for hating his book. Hopefully his ghost doesn’t show up to haunt me, or pelt me with Paradise hot dogs…)

Let’s talk about Kurt Vonnegut. I read Slaughterhouse-Five because Hubs was obsessed with Lost and was constantly reading spoilers online. He said that Slaughterhouse-Five contained clues to the mystery behind the island. The book was based on a guy who time traveled and was abducted by aliens and was kept in a zoo with a movie star. (I hope you’re all making the “question mark face” right now.) I suppose this relates to Lost because Desmond did some back and forth time travel and then half the cast ended up in the 70s… But considering Lost didn’t answer a lot of other questions, I’m probably expecting too much out of literary parallels. Overall though, Slaughterhouse-Five really wasn’t my cup of tea.

I never intended to read more Vonnegut, but then Amazon (that saucy minx) had a sale on breakfastofchampionsBreakfast of Champions. A Kindle book at a discount? How could I be expected to resist? I am easily swayed by marketing tactics! I was treated to yet another bizarre romp through weird people doing weird things. Some guy snaps and starts shooting up a hotel convention. Now, I appreciate quirky, but murderous rampages don’t really fry my bacon.Please excuse me while I go on a tangent, BUT- does anyone remember that 80s flick where Rodney Dangerfield goes to college? Vonnegut does a cameo in which he’s hired to write Dangerfield’s English paper about his own book and it only gets a ‘B.’ I seriously think people ascribe meaning to things authors never intended. I mean, how could anyone write ANYTHING while consciously thinking “yeeeeees I’ll make the flower on this bush RED to symbolize Hester Prynne’s punishment…” the whole time? Moving on…

Hunter S. Thompson. Holy crap on a cracker, was Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas insane. I suppose it should have been, since I don’t know that Thompson was ever sober. I live a pretty clean lifestyle, I’m not like a saint or anything, but the only recreational drugs I indulge in usually come to the table with an umbrella garnish (ie, fruity cocktails.) I was totally unprepared for the onslaught of drugs they were doing. I don’t even know what mescaline is! (For reals, y’all, I had to google it.) As if acid and weed and cocaine weren’t enough, there was nitrous oxide in the trunk of the car. You know, laughing gas from the dentist’s office? This book was predictably random, full of hallucinations and close encounters with the cops. Now I get to feel like a terrible human being for disliking not one, but TWO suicidal authors.

Hi, I’m Katie, the worst person EVER. Don’t come too close or I’ll pinch you and kick your dog! (That’s an exaggeration showing how awful I feel. I do not, in fact, kick dogs. I do, however, eat bacon. Don’t call PETA on me, please.)

I swear, 2012 me was so pithy, wasn’t she? I still feel the same about all these books. I seriously don’t get them at all, but hey. Not every book is for every reader, yadda yadda yadda. Now it’s your turn to dish, Bookworms. What’s a book that you felt like you ought to read that you just didn’t quite get?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Jun 28

Hey! I've Read That! (A Confession Friday Game)

Blogging, Classics, Confession Friday, Contemporary Fiction, Dystopian, Pretentious 89

Howdy Bookworms!

So the other day I was skulking around the blogosphere as I am wont to do. I came across a list on Book Riot (HERE is the post by Jeff O’Neal) of 100 books that would make you “well read.” He had a set of criteria including cultural significance, familiarity with the classics of western literature, etc.  There was a big blow up in the comment section about what constitutes being well-read; what was included, what wasn’t, and so on and so forth. Then a bunch of people started FLIPPING OUT because 50 Shades of Gray was on the list. Say what you will about 50 Shades (and I had PLENTY to say… HERE if you’re interested) but it got a lot of people to read a book who wouldn’t ordinarily read a book. Would it be better if those people had picked up something with fewer grammatical errors? Probably. But if people choose a book, ANY BOOK, over another form of entertainment for even a little while? I consider that a win.

Sarah over at Sarah Says Read talked a little bit more about this (and inspired me to rip off her post… I mean… Borrow her idea and credit her properly.) Jen at The Relentless Reader and Rory from Fourth Street Review weighed in as well! (Can I go off topic and mention how much I love having a bookworm blog pal named Rory? My inner Gilmore Girls enthusiast is beyond thrilled by this.) Now, I’m not going to dissect the Book Riot criteria because I’m kind of lazy. Book Riot has a big old comment section, so if you’re interested, I suggest you check out the spirited discussion there. In my happy little corner of the internet, in lieu of  potential over analyzation, we play, “Hey, I’ve Read That!” One of my favorite things to do in a bookstore is to peruse and mentally point out stuff I’ve read (or point it out to whomever I’ve conned into shopping with me…) So. I’m going to gauge my “well read” status according to the Book Riot 100. Ready???

This is my smug face. I was making it because I made my "nephew" Jack fall asleep when he was being a crankypants.

This is my smug face. I was making it because I made my “nephew” Jack fall asleep when he was being a crankypants. He’s wearing a Sonic Youth onesie because he’s badass.

So here’s the list, in alphabetical order: (Stuff that’s marked out like so? That means I’ve read it!)

  1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  2. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
  3. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton My Thoughts
  4. All Quiet on the Western Front by Eric Maria Remarque
  5. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Klay  by Michael Chabon
  6. American Pastoral by Philip Roth
  7. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  8. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  9. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
  10. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  11. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  12. Beowulf
  13. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak My Thoughts
  14. Brave New World by Alduos Huxley My Thoughts
  15. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz My Thoughts
  16. The Call of the Wild  by Jack London
  17. Candide by Voltaire
  18. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
  19. Casino Royale by Ian Fleming (Got this for Christmas. Currently residing on Shelf of Shame)
  20. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  21. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  22. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  23. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
  24. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
  25. The Complete Stories of Edgar Allan Poe
  26. The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor 
  27. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
  28. Crime & Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  29. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
  30. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
  31. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
  32. Dream of Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin
  33. Dune by Frank Herbert
  34. Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
  35. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  36. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green My Thoughts
  37. Faust by Goethe
  38. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  39. Game of Thrones by George RR Martin
  40. The Golden Bowl by Henry James
  41. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
  42. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn My Thoughts
  43. The Gospels (I’m familiar with the Gospels, but I’ve never read them as like, literature, so I’m not counting it!)
  44. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  45. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  46. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  47. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  48. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood My Thoughts
  49. Harry Potter & The Sorceror’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
  50. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (Hanging out on the Shelf of Shame)
  51. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  52. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  53. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien My Thoughts
  54. House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday
  55. Howl by Allen Ginsberg
  56. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  57. if on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino
  58. The Iliad by Homer
  59. The Inferno by Dante
  60. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
  61. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  62. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
  63. The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  64. The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  65. The Little Prince by Antoine  de Saint-Exepury
  66. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov My Thoughts
  67. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  68. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (Started this. Failed. Lives on the Shelf of Shame. In good company.)
  69. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
  70. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
  71. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  72. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
  73. The Odyssey by Homer
  74. Oedipus, King by Sophocles
  75. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  76. A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
  77. The Pentateuch
  78. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
  79. Rabbit, Run by John Updike
  80. The Road by Cormac McCarthy My Thoughts
  81. Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare
  82. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  83. Slaughterhouse-5 by Kurt Vonnegut
  84. The Sound and The Fury by William Faulkner
  85. The Stand by Stephen King My Thoughts
  86. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
  87. Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust
  88. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  89. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  90. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
  91. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  92. Ulysses by James Joyce
  93. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
  94. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
  95. Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee
  96. Watchmen by Alan Moore
  97. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
  98. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte My Thoughts
  99. 1984 by George Orwell
  100. 50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James My Thoughts

My total? 49 books. I’d like to give myself extra credit for completing several of the series where only the first book was mentioned. I’d also like points for having read something by one of these authors, just not the title listed (Steinbeck, Woolf, Rushdie, Joyce, James, Rand- I’m looking at you!) Unfortunately, as I stated earlier, I have no desire to rewrite these rules, I just wanted to play the game. So. How’d you do, Bookworms? I’m feeling a little blue for clocking in at less than half of these titles. Anyone there with me?

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Feb 04

Mo Money, Mo Problems: The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

Asia, Classics, Family, Historical Fiction, Pretentious, Women's Studies 36

Happy Monday, Bookworms!

This weekend I took a trip to China… Sort of. Remember way back when I started this blog I read a novel loosely based on the life of Pearl S. Buck? No? Allow me to refresh your memory. After reading Pearl of China by Anchee Min, I was inspired to read me some Pearl S. Buck.

The Good Earth (in conjunction with some of Buck’s other work) won a friggin Nobel Prize, so there must be something to it, right? I must admit, I’m not always a huge fan of full on high brow literary fiction, and the fact that this had won a Nobel Prize made me a wee bit nervous. It frustrates me when a novel has spectacular language but lacks the umph of killer storytelling. I like a good story. If I only wanted pretty language, I’d read more poetry. I am every literary critic’s nightmare. And yet I continue blathering all over the internet. Muahahahahaha!

the good earth

Back to the book. Wang Lung is a poor peasant farmer whose only option for marriage is a slave from an opulent household. Chinese culture is beautiful in many ways, but it’s downright hideous when it comes to the treatment women. I’ve discussed foot binding a bit in the past, when I reviewed Snow Flower and the Secret Fanand it plays into this book as well. Wang Lung’s bride, the slave girl O-Lan does NOT have her feet bound. Why would she? She wasn’t a lady of means and leisure, she was a woman required to work long, hard hours. Hard to spend a day on your feet when your feet have been broken and are weird little 3 inch stumps, yo.

Fortunately, O-Lan is a sturdy woman used to hard work. She helps Wang Lung with the farm work and does all her wifely chores. She also produces SONS. That’s a HUGE deal because the sons in China stayed with their families. Girls, once they’re married, are taken into their husbands’ families. The prevailing opinion at this time in China was that girls are an expensive burden. If a family found itself in abject poverty, sometimes they’d sell off a daughter to get by. Full on slavery.  That’s how O-Lan ended up in her position. Moral of the story #1: It blows HARD to be a lady in China.

Wang Lung and O-lan have some good times on the farm. It’s prosperous and they have sons. What more could they want? You know what more they could want? Food. A year of terrible weather renders growing food impossible. The whole village starves. Some sell their daughters. Some raid their neighbors’ food stores. Some resort to cannibalism. Some just wither away and die. Wang Lung’s family is little more than skin and bones when they decide to leave their beloved land and head south. Moral of the story #2: Famine is a bitch.

When they reach the south, the family finds a charity kitchen that will feed them, so their most pressing problem is solved. Eventually, Wang Lung gets a hankering to get back to his land, but since they’ve been making their living by begging and pulling a rickshaw, they’re not in a position to buy train fare. Thank goodness for political unrest. When the city they’re squatting in gives over to riot, Wang Lung and O-lan get lucky in a mob raid. Wang Lung manages to frighten a rich man into giving him a purse full of gold, and O-lan absconds with a sack of jewels.

image courtesy of Wikipedia

image courtesy of Wikipedia

Moral of the story #3: “Mo Money, Mo Problems.” (Yep. I just referenced the Notorious B.I.G. in a post about Nobel Prize winning literature. I am just that awesome.) Wang Lung and O-Lan were at the mercy of the elements as farmers, it’s true. But add some money to the mix and life gets awfully complicated. Not much is expected of peasant farmers, but there’s a whole different set of rules for wealthy landowners. The remainder of the book follows the family’s journey through the complex world of Chinese social climbing.

As I said earlier, I dug this book. It’s said that Buck’s fiction was among the first to resonate with both Chinese and western audiences because although Buck was an American, she lived in China for much of her early life. She wrote about Chinese society in a way that no western writer ever had, because she understood the Chinese way of life from a native’s perspective. I’ve read a lot of historical fiction about China and Chinese immigrants to the US, but this felt super authentic. Like… Taco Bell vs. authentic Mexican food. I love me some nachos supreme, but I know what’s authentic and what isn’t, you know? Even the language in which its written is very matter of fact. It’s not flowery. It doesn’t go into detail about feelings, but you feel them anyway. That’s probably part of the reason Buck’s work has stood the test of time. Awesomeness, honesty, and authenticity. Let’s give Pearl a little slow clap, shall we?

So, Bookworms. Some food for thought. If you won the lottery tomorrow, how do you think your life would change?

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Jan 21

"Where'd You Go, Bernadette" by Maria Semple. (Why Did Nobody Mention the PENGUINS?!)

Book Club, Humor, Pretentious 33

Hello my Bookworms,

I’m hosting this month’s neighborhood book club meeting, which means, among other things, that I got to choose the book. I decided on Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple, because I’d seen that a lot of my favorite book bloggers really enjoyed it. Everybody who reviewed this book mentioned its humor, of which there was plenty, but NOBODY mentioned the PENGUINS.

I’m sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. This book is comprised of a series of emails and other correspondence between characters that are loosely woven together with narration by the novel’s 15 year old protagonist. The book is set among Seattle’s elite against the backdrop of private school drama. Bernadette is not your typical private school parent. While the other mothers volunteer for decoration and recruitment committees, Bernadette emails her personal assistant in India to make dinner reservations. Bernadette’s antics do nothing to endear her to the other mothers, particularly her neighbor Audrey Griffin. While Bernadette is eccentric and not interested in joining in, her daughter thrives and is an outstanding student.

bernadette

Who doesn’t enjoy a snarky, quirky fish-out-of-water story? Granted, you have to get into the right frame of mind to enjoy this book, there is plenty to be enjoyed. If you’re familiar at all with the show Weeds (which is about a suburban mom turned drug dealer), I can tell you that Audrey’s character reminded me a TON of Celia Hodes. For whatever that reference is worth. I don’t know if you all share my penchant for premium channel dramedies.

Anyway, the bulk of the narrative takes place through passive aggressive emails. It’s a good time. The very best part of this book, for me though, was the trip to Antarctica. When Bee comes home with another perfect report card, she reminds her parents of a promise they’d made her to take a family trip to Antarctica as her reward f0r good grades. I know what you’re thinking… “I didn’t get JACK for my good grades.” Aside from the occasional Book-It personal pan pizza, I didn’t either. But, you know. Rich people do weird things.

What’s the coolest thing about Antarctica?! Penguins live in Antarctica! (If this is your first visit to Words for Worms, you may require some background information on my penguin problem. Check out that link and then come back. Back? Okay good. Now check this one.) Through this book, I learned all about what taking a trip to Antarctica actually entails. It’s fascinating! Do I ever want to go? Not really. It’s super expensive and it’s really really cold. (They do, however, have a Penguin encounter at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, I’m wondering if I can get the husband to take me to celebrate the big 3-0? Nothing says “I’m only kind of an adult” like spending a milestone birthday meeting and greeting penguins. Am I right?!)

I don’t want to ruin the book for you (you can tell I really like something if I’m not willing to post spoilers.) I will tell you that I’m EXTREMELY excited to host Book Club with this as my topic. Now I just need to create a cocktail to mimic “The Pink Penguin” that they serve aboard the Antarctic cruise ship. Anybody have ideas on recipes they want to send my way?!

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Aug 24

The Greatest Sleep Aids Disguised as Books

Classics, Pretentious 20

Confession Friday: I fell asleep reading Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. A lot. The thing is, this is a REALLY good book. It’s just that Tolstoy gets caught up in long diatribes about Russian politics. Okay, it’s not JUST that. The prose is very challenging (even in an English translation, because Lord knows I am pathetically monolingual). I read somewhere that when your brain gets tired of processing complex thoughts, you get sleepy. Apparently I am incapable of processing complex thoughts about Russian politics.

Even the woman on the cover looks like she needs a nap…

Luckily for Tolstoy, he had a phenomenal premise to his book. Anna is stuck in an unhappy marriage, has an affair, gets pregnant as a result of this affair, hides out with her lover and traipses around Europe for a while, but pines away for the son she left in Russia. Her story has a tragic end, and it’s a great critique of the lack of options women had during that period (1870’s approximately). Eventually I did make it through the whole thing, but I sure as heck struggled to keep my eyes open sometimes.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest instead of popping that Ambien, keep a Tolstoy novel on the nightstand. You’ll be cured of insomnia, and you might learn something before you crash. Just a suggestion.

Oh, you’ve already read Anna Karenina and still can’t sleep? Why don’t you try The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera? I think this is one of those books people claim to love because it makes them sound smart, but nobody actually likes it. I have an excellent memory for plots and I just had to google this to even remember what it was about. It was about a man who was in love with one woman but also kept a mistress, and it’s incredibly philosophically poignant… According to the internet. All I remember is that they named their dog after Anna Karenina (coincidence?) and suffered hardships at the hands of the government. Or something. You’ll have to forgive me, because I was trying so hard not to fall asleep. It’s not even a long book! It’s just like “oooh philosophical stuff, let’s make you feel stupid, Katie.” And I was like, “Yeah? Well, I’m going to finish you, you awful book, just to spite you!” And then I fell asleep.

Never judge a book by its cover! Sometimes awful books have floating hats on them!

You’re STILL AWAKE? You have got to be kidding me. Alright. Time to bust out the great white whale. Yes, I’m talking about Moby Dick by Herman Melville. I was required to read this in high school. I know it’s a classic. I’m sure part of my disdain for this novel comes from the fact that I was forced to read it. However, I think this was my first experience with falling asleep while reading. You know what part was cool? The part where they talked about Queequeg being an awesomely tattooed cannibal harpoonist. You know what part wasn’t cool? Everything else! I love to read, but I’m glad I no longer have to write papers dissecting the symbolism of every passage, especially when said passages made me soporific. Maybe it’s the description of the rhythmic rocking of the waves that lulls one to slumber. Maybe it’s the challenging nature of the prose. Maybe I’m a cretin who bashes classic literature because I’m too dumb to get it. Who knows?

The only book I ever used Cliffs Notes on… Because I kept falling asleep.

If you can stay awake through all of these, you’re either a super genius or you REALLY need that Ambien. Go ahead. Take it. I promise to keep an eye on you so you don’t sleep drive yourself to Vegas and blow all your money on roulette while wearing one shoe and a feathered tiara. I’m concerned about your well being, see?

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