Aug 31

Confession Friday: It's About To Get Mushy

Children's Fiction, Personal, Young Adult Fiction 18

Hello, Bookworms! Today I thought we’d branch out a little bit and discuss the man I married. Why? Well, he keeps pointing out clever and odd things that he does, which is a not-so-subtle hint that he wants to be famous on my blog. I tried to tell him that he probably doesn’t want the entire internet to know about his terrible jokes and made up songs, but he refused to listen. Plus, it’s still about reading, so it’s totally appropriate.

Jim is a pretty good sport about the amount I read- most of the time. Every once in a while he’ll claim “husband neglect.” This usually occurs after he’s FINALLY put down his iPad and exhausted his amusement at playing with the security cameras he hooked up. (He’s a part MacGyver, part crazy paranoid guy, and 100% nerd.) It’s at this point I lovingly tell him to “bite me.”

This was our engagement photo. Highly functional relationship!

Jim is NOT a bookworm. He doesn’t understand the allure of spending hours reading literature when one can go to Wikipedia and almost immediately know the major characters and the ending. I know, it’s tragic. However, he’s not entirely opposed to having ME read things that he would theoretically LIKE to read and having me explain them to him. Case in point, Slaughterhouse Five. He seriously tried to get me to read every book that Sawyer was reading during LOST because it might provide him with clues. I refused any more of his suggestions after the Vonnegut incident. (Click here for more on THAT debacle.)

Books have always been a weird sort of background character in our relationship. I met Jim in college. He was my audio lab monitor, and I was (still am, really) technologically challenged. After a few months of putting up with me stalking him (most CHARMINGLY, I assure you), he asked me out on a date. After a few months of dating, he graduated and moved back to his hometown- 70 miles from where I was. I know, I know, that’s hardly a “long distance” relationship, but if you can’t see one another daily, it’s a long enough a distance to completely suck.

He hates having his picture taken. He either makes weird faces or tries to attack a camera with a camera of his own. It matters not, because I make these antlers look awesome.

Luckily, by this point in time we both had cell phones (It was 2003, okay? They weren’t completely ubiquitous yet!) and had free night and weekend minutes. But, let’s face it. There’s only so much you can tell someone you talk to every day. So… (This is where it gets schmoopy, fair warning.)

Ladies, in case you were wondering, THIS is how you know a guy is butt-crazy in love with you:

1. He agrees to listen to you read Harry Potter aloud. (The whole series available at the time, 5 books.)

2. Over the phone.

3. Using weird voices for different characters and a terrible British accent. (My Umbridge is LEGENDARY.)

4. Just so you can spend more time “together.”

And they lived happily ever after. Once they got over the shock of having married such weirdos.

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Aug 30

Badass & Biblical: The Red Tent

Historical Fiction, Religion, Women's Studies 25

Yesterday I wrote about Pope Joan, and I’m feeling theme-y, so let’s continue with the historical fiction/women in religion vein, shall we? The Red Tent by Anita Diamant tells the story of Dinah. Who is Dinah? Yes, that is the name of Alice in Wonderland’s cat, but more importantly, Dinah was in the Bible. I grew up Catholic, so it’s with great shame that I admit that the bulk of my knowledge about Dinah’s family history I learned from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. “It’s all there in chapter 39 of Geeeenesis”… (We saw it in Chicago with Donnie Osmond playing Joseph when I was like 11. Then my mom played the soundtrack in the car constantly until the cassette was eaten. Andrew Lloyd Webber is a genius, yo.)

The woman on the cover reminds me of the Statue of Liberty for some reason. I have issues.

Striking a chord yet? Jacob is the patriarch of a ginormous family that includes 2 wives, 2 handmaidens (women who bear children when the wives cannot), 12 sons, and one daughter. Dinah is that daughter. The Red Tent is told from Dinah’s point of view. We get to experience the cameraderie of the “red tent” (literally where all the women in the compound hang out to menstruate) and learn of the women’s relationships in the polygamist family. Since Dinah is the only female child, she’s allowed to spend time in the red tent long before she’s “of age” and is adored by her various mothers.

In the bible, Dinah only gets a couple of lines of recognition. Her lines go something like this.. She marries (or is forcibly taken as a wife- the Biblical text is unclear) Prince Shechem who does not worship the God of Abraham and her family (as you may predict) FLIPS OUT.

Shechem tries to make amends by offering Dinah’s family a bride price fit for royalty (isn’t it wonderful to see women bought and sold like chattel? Of course, her brothers DID sell Joseph into slavery out of jealousy, so…) Shechem also agrees to be circumcised (and volunteers his men for the same treatment.) Unfortunately, this isn’t enough  to placate her brothers, so while all the men of Hamor are distracted by the pain of their newly shorn genitals, Dinah’s brothers show up and slaughter all the men in town. How civilized of them!

In this version of her story, she falls madly in love with Shechem and is absolutely devastated by her brothers’ murderous rampage. We follow her through the aftermath, and the trials that follow. She leads a heck of a life!

This book is wonderful. Historical fiction at its best. Is there a woman out there who hasn’t wished during an especially bad bought of cramps that she could just retire from society for a few days? Who wouldn’t want a metaphorical Red Tent? The one in this book had a lot of wine in it! So my worms, take a chance and read Dinah’s story. You won’t be sorry!

Have you ever felt like a footnote in your family? Did your brother have a famous musical written about him that you weren’t even IN?! Let’s talk about it!

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Aug 29

Pope Joan: More Than Myth?

Historical Fiction, Religion, Women's Studies 13

I was a women’s studies minor in college, and as our final project, we had to write a research paper on… anything to do with being a woman. Pretty broad topic, right? I had just finished reading The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown and I was completely obsessed with the idea that women may have been written out of important roles in the Bible. I set about writing my research paper on the subject. My results were inconclusive and random. It’s a fascinating subject-but it’s unbelievably frustrating to try and research anything to do with the Bible. I don’t even know how old the Old Testament is-several thousand years? There is no way to corroborate facts or compare accounts or even find reliable primary resources from that long ago. My grand dreams of unearthing some previously overlooked tidbit to piece together the absolute truth of religion and humanity ended with a wimper.

There’s a silver lining, though! My women’s studies professor, Dr. Stacey Robertson (who is awesome and writes books and can be found here) presented each graduating senior with a book. Because I had been so enthused about my research project, despite turning up no spectacular insights, she presented me with Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross.

Pope Joan! Joan of Arc! If you want your daughter to be noted in the annals of Christian history, you’d better name her Joan!

Pope Joan is based on a legend widely accepted during the middle ages that a woman disguised as a man somehow rose through the religious ranks and became Pope. You are taken on Joan’s journey from her poverty stricken childhood to the halls of Rome. At a young age she demonstrates a particular aptitude for learning and is taken under the wing of a rogue tutor in spite of the commonly held belief that girls should not be educated. We follow Joan through school, through a Viking battle (seriously- marauding Vikings!), through her stay in a monastery, and all the way to her work as a priest/physician in Rome.

Joan is eventually elected as Pope, and is only exposed as a woman when she gives birth during a procession through the streets. You read that correctly. She takes a lover, gets pregnant, and OOPS gives birth in the middle of the street. The birth also kills her (so ladies, don’t get any ideas.) It makes for enthralling historical fiction, but could it be true?

The middle ages are nearly as bad as biblical times for digging up reliable resources, so historians mostly dismiss the story of Pope Joan as a legend. What historians agree on, however, is that for centuries the Vatican and much of the population BELIEVED the story to be true. Supposedly, there was even a special chair used during medieval papal coronation proceedings with a keyhole shape in the seat used to check the newly elected Pope’s genitalia. (Lest they suffer another embarrassing birthing episode mid-parade.) If you watch The Borgias on Showtime, you’ll have seen this chair in action. You’ll also have heard Jeremy Irons bellow “LECHERY” a lot, which is awesome.

Personally, I think it would have been entirely possible for a woman to have lived as a man in a monastery. People in the dark ages didn’t exactly bathe often, and bulky brown robes don’t accentuate one’s figure. I think a woman who wanted to learn may have seen a life as a monk as her only option. Convents at this time were hit or miss on allowing the education of their sisters, so taking the male route through religious education would have been a more secure plan. While I have no doubt that there were women who did fly under the radar and join monasteries and the like, I don’t think there ever was ACTUALLY a female Pope. The giving birth during a public procession bit smacks of “cautionary tale.”

But hey- this is historical fiction! That’s what makes it so much fun- taking history and making it pop! I love this book- I feel like it writes women back into a religious tradition that has largely written them out. I know this review sounds kind of controversial, but seriously give this book a chance. You won’t be sorry! What about you, bookworms? Do you think it’s possible that there was ever a female pope? I’m open to theories!

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Aug 28

My Mom: A Bookworm with a Bad Memory and a Credit Card

Personal 17

My mom is a bookworm. A bookworm with a bad memory. And a credit card.

I obtained at least a third of my book collection by “shopping” in my mom’s bookshelves. She an I had an agreement. If I was able to find multiples of any given title, I got to keep the spare. It doesn’t sound like this sort of thing would happen very often, but I would routinely leave my parents’ house with a shopping bag full of extraneous books- the spoils of my mother’s overzealous bargain hunting.

My mom has been a reader for as long as I can remember. She’s on a first name basis with the librarians and always has a long list of titles she’s waiting to check out. It got to the point where they would call her if there was a new release out they thought she’d like.

As the years went by, our little Chicago suburb grew from a motley patchwork of strip malls amongst fields and farmland to a size where it could support a large bookstore. This gave my mom the flexibility to buy books as well as borrow them, all within a mile of her house. She’s also a sucker for a bargain. Remember Borders? I think my mom bought every bestseller in their 3 for the price of 2 section for years. She bought so frequently that she’d forget which ones she already had and would buy them again. This is how I came to possess such a large swath of Oprah’s Book Club selections. (I have never personally purchased anything written by Anita Shreve, though I’ve read a decent chunk of her catalog.)

I stacked the “doubles” from my mom until the pile threatened to topple. This is NOT all of them, unless my dad is reading this. Dad, this is all of them, plus a couple I threw in just to make my blog more dramatic, K?

I’m not sure my dad ever knew the extent of my mom’s dual purchasing, but he sure as heck noticed the stacks and stacks of books piled on the floor when nothing else would fit into the overstuffed bookshelves. Christmas of 2010 when my parents purchased a Kindle for me, my dad stealthily ordered a second one for my mom. This hasn’t stopped her library habit, but now she buys her books online (much to the relief of the overworked bookshelves.)

I was having a conversation with my mom the other day about how I’d started a blog. It went something like this:

ME: Yeah I started a blog about books and it’s been fun so far.

MOM: I’ve been reading it and I’m so impressed a the number of books we’ve both read! We must have similar taste!

ME: Mom. Seriously?

MOM: What?

ME: You know why right?

MOM: What are you talking about?

ME: Do you have any idea how many books I got from you because you’d purchased multiple copies of the same thing?!

MOM: Hahahahahhaahahahaha

ME: I’m not even kidding.

MOM: Well I guess it’s a good thing I have a Kindle now. They don’t let you buy the same book twice. A warning pops up saying that you’ve already downloaded that book.

ME: Sigh. You know this from more than one experience, don’t you?

MOM: Hahahahahaa! Yes!

Ladies and Gentlemen, my mom. Responsible for my love of reading, though luckily, NOT my memory.

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Aug 27

Zombie Apocalypse

Dystopian 25

Dystopian fiction is one of my favorite genres. Nothing makes me feel better about my life than reading about some completely jacked up alternate future. What better way to celebrate my dedication to the dark side than to turn the spotlight on the apocalypse scenario of the moment: ZOMBIES!

Full disclosure- I generally don’t like horror movies, books, or television shows. Psycho killers, demons, and ghosts frighten me more than zombies. I suppose I can just look at a zombie apocalypse as a far fetched scenario. I mean, even the crazy people on the Doomsday Preppers show never admit to be prepping for a zombie apocalypse. It’s always something more urbane, like a financial collapse or nuclear war. Plus, psycho killers are REAL. And demons MIGHT be real. And ghosts are PROBABLY real in some form or another. I don’t like the idea of dead people, demons, or interloping psycho killers watching me shower, so I try to avoid reading about them.

It seems like zombies are everywhere these days, and I am not immune to their festering charms! The Walking Dead on AMC is absolutely addictive. Sadly, the show runs in short seasons- what’s a girl to do when the zombie show goes on hiatus? Read zombie novels, of course! (I have not read the graphic novels the Walking Dead TV series is based on. I haven’t taken the leap into graphic novels… Yet.)

Zombie Katie! Zombieme.com allows you to upload your face and zombie it up. I suck at photoshop type things, so this is what I made. Why am I still undead? I have a head wound!

World War Z by Max Brooks was my first foray into the zombie-lore in book form and it was infectious! The book is presented as a series of articles written by a journalist after the worst of the zombie attacks are over. The stories are poignant, concise, and super creepy! They begin with the first reports of zombies, and continue through the entire “war.”

We see the military’s failures, the learning curve that comes with fighting an unknown threat. The way the public reacts is very realistic. At first people are disbelieving- I mean who would believe the dead have risen and are trying to devour humanity? Then they panic, because, HOLY CRAP! THE DEAD HAVE RISEN AND ARE TRYING TO DEVOUR HUMANITY!

Luckily, Max Brooks’s zombies have some weaknesses. They can’t climb, for one thing. Also, they freeze solid in the winter. The military eventually develops body armor that can protect against bites, and if you’re a good enough shot and have  a ton of ammo, you can climb a tree and pick them off, brain by zombiefied brain.

World War Z added so many scenarios I hadn’t thought of. It explored the psychological implications of surviving such an event. Some people would actually go all catatonic, THINK they were zombies, and join the hoard. Post apocalyptic depression can be pretty crippling, too. How does one come to terms with having to see their loved ones eaten alive? Or having to exterminate the zombie versions of their families? It was a great, well rounded look at a topic that can be super campy and cheesy.

A lot of zombie movies end with the island scenario. The rag tag band of survivors go in search of an island where the zombies won’t be able to reach them. This book blew a hole in that theory. Think about it. If zombies are dead, the don’t need to breathe. What’s to keep them from shuffling their way across the bottom of the ocean to eat the survivors on the islands? Do you feel claustrophobic yet? There is nowhere to hide!

This monkey terrified me as a child, and it now lives on my bookcase. You can’t hide from him either! And he looks sort of like a Zombie cymbal monkey. So it’s appropriate!

For the truly insatiable, check out this post on real life Zombie Apocalypse scenarios. I will warn you that the images are not for the faint of heart, but it’s definitely a cool piece. (*Sponsored by Qwer.com*)

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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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Aug 23

Funny Females and the Readers Who Love Them

Humor, Memoirs 15

Life can be a hot mess sometimes. Whenever possible, I think it’s important to find the funny, and laugh until your tummy hurts. I’ve recently read the life stories of three fabulous and funny ladies, so let’s review them, shall we?

Even the cover is funny. Tina Fey with man hands!

Tina Fey! She’s smart and funny! She wears spectacles! She looks kind of like Sarah Palin and did one of the funniest political impressions SNL has ever seen during the 2008 presidential campaign! She is the creative genius behind 30 Rock! And she wrote a book! I think the exclamation points will speak for me here, but I was really excited to read Tina Fey’s book, Bossypants. It takes you through her humorously quirky childhood up through the present. She pokes fun at the difficulty of being a woman working in a male dominated field. She discusses the pressures of comedy writing, as well as the unorthodox behavior of her male counterparts (there’s a pee jar. Yes. I just said that.) She does a brilliant job of showing the challenges of motherhood while not condemning anyone’s position on mothering. I suppose she might come across as offensive to someone who’s really really dedicated to a particular way of doing things… But if you’re not at least a little offensive, you’re not funny. So. If you like Tina Fey (which you SHOULD because she’s funny and smart and wears spectacles) you should read Bossypants. 

Have we not ALL wondered that from time to time?

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling is another hilarious new memoir. You know Kelly Kapoor from The Office? That’s Mindy Kaling, and she also writes for the show. At least she did until recently, because this fall she has a new sitcom on Fox called, appropriately, The Mindy Project. I have not seen it, but since I love The Office and her book, I’m going to go out on a limb and tell you to watch it. Mindy had me busting a gut several times throughout her book. Her voice is smart, but in a way that sounds a little vapid-the effect of which is hysterical. Mindy discusses her oddball childhood, her early obsession with comedy, and the way she accidentally found fame… By pretending with a friend to be Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. She’s from an Indian family, so you get an element of culture disparity between her and her parents, which is wonderful. Read it, yo!

The cover image is Hamlet Von Schnitzel… He’s a taxidermy mouse. Giving a soliloquy. What?

Have you heard of The Bloggess? Her name is Jenny Lawson, and she’s one of the internet’s funniest bloggers. She wrote a book called Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir. If you like her blog, you’ll love her book. It’s bitingly funny while telling sometimes painful stories of her life. She discusses her unorthodox childhood, her struggles with mental illness, and her love of ethically taxidermied animals in human clothes. She’s nerdy and quirky and wonderful. Check out her blog if you don’t believe me. If you don’t squirt water out your nose at least once, I’ll give you a dollar. Not true. Not everyone is as prone to snarfling beverages as my friend Chrissy, and I just can’t afford to take that chance. But seriously, she’s one of the best blogger-turned-authors ever. Support weirdos! Read her book!

Who are your favorite funny females, bookworms?

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Aug 22

Gone Girl: A Twisty Dark Road of Insanity

Mystery 19

I’ve explained that I listen to NPR in the car because I find it keeps me alert and focused on the drive. I’m much less likely to get into an accident if I’m thinking about Syrian rebels than if I’m head-banging to Queen’s immortal classic, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” And I DO head-bang. Every time. One of the best aspects of NPR is that they give me book recommendations. I tend to trust NPR slightly more than I trust Amazon for recommendations, because NPR has never attempted to sell me Mormon scripture. (That’s a true story- apparently downloading the Anne of Green Gables box set now carries a religious connotation. Nothing against Mormons, I’m just not one, so it was pretty weird to get that recommendation.)
NPR told me that I should read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I stored that nugget in the back of my mind. Then my Mother-In-Law told me she’d downloaded Gone Girl and she wanted to know how I felt about it. So she lent me her Kindle. THE WHOLE KINDLE. God bless her for living without it while I read. (For anyone who doesn’t know, some of the books you purchase on Kindle are available to “loan” to other users, but that’s subject to the publisher’s whims and they are rarely loan friendly.) A recommendation from two places was reason enough for me. I dove in.
This book is excellent. It is also a study in absolute insanity.

The story starts out with a missing woman, Amy Dunne. Her husband Nick is immediately suspected in her disappearance and we see her diary entries during the first part of the book that incriminate him. We also learn some unsavory details about Nick. The only thing we know for sure? Nick doesn’t have a flipping clue what happened to his wife. The plot follows the investigation in their small town and follows Nick’s personal investigation of Amy’s disappearance. Then about a third of the way through the book…

EVERYTHING CHANGES. You’re left wondering what kind of crazy mind games are occurring through the next portion of the book. You find out what happened to Amy and learn more about her history. The discoveries are disturbing, but some of the insights Amy has are fascinating. I particularly enjoy her description of modern dating and how everyone is trying to be a certain type of person, but trying to keep up the charade is exhausting. Even if you may or may not be a psychopathic narcissist. I’m not diagnosing.

And then when you think you’ve got things just about figured out… They twist AGAIN into the most bizarre ending scenario I could imagine. In fact, I COULDN’T imagine it. It was that nuts.

I’m not usually a big fan of mysteries, but I really liked Gone Girl. It’s smart where a lot of mysteries get formulaic. It paints a pretty realistic picture of the media circus surrounding a disappearance. And it gets inside the heads of some craaaaaaazy characters. Bonus? It’s probably the talk of swanky cocktail parties I’ve never attended. If you attend such parties, you should definitely read this to bone up on your conversational skills. If you don’t attend such parties, enjoy this book in your pajamas and have a beer. Then you won’t be embarrassed to admit that you got so riled up you YELLED at the inanimate book characters because you got so frustrated with their actions. I’m projecting again, aren’t I?

Have any of my bookworms out there read Gone Girl yet? What did you think?!

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Aug 21

Childhood: Be Grateful Yours Wasn't Like These

Coming of Age, Memoirs 19

“Childhood is what you spend the rest of your life trying to overcome.” That poignant quote is brought to you by the classic Sandra Bullock movie, Hope Floats (don’t judge me!) Personally, I think spending 70 years of one’s life obsessing over what occurred during the first 18 is counterproductive, but I didn’t spend my childhood like any of the following characters. If I had, I’m sure I’d be singing a different tune. To my psychiatrist. Whom I’d see 5 times a week, in addition to group sessions and a heavy medication load. In fact, I’m not sure how some of these people/characters survived- even bodily.

I was shamed into reading Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by a coworker. It’s not the first occasion I’ve been ashamed to admit some of the things I haven’t gotten around to reading, despite my dedication to the pastime. If you’re like me and have not read this book, it’s fiction and  centers on a poor girl named Francie Nolan as she grows up in Brooklyn. The family is poverty stricken, and saddled with an alcoholic, albeit well-meaning father figure. I’m partial to coming-of-age stories as a general rule, but this book has the added benefit for me of being set in the early 1900s. Historical perspective on child labor laws, tenement housing, and lack of creature comforts aside, I related to Francie. She was a bookworm, like I am, and she was bound and determined to finish school. (I still have frequent nightmares about missing classes and failing exams. I have issues.) The moral of this synopsis is: read this. You won’t be sorry. It’s not a classic people just pretend to like, they actually enjoy it. Thanks for the public ridicule, Erin!

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls is another coming of age tale I read recently. Unlike Francie Nolan, Jeanette Walls is a real person, and she really lived through one of the most insane childhoods I’ve ever read about. I loved this book. Walls’ writing style was clear and easy to follow. She didn’t get overly sentimental or overly dramatic, which is quite impressive considering the subject matter. Her father was an abusive alcoholic, her mother was (armchair Freud here) mentally ill, and it’s an absolute marvel that they were never caught  by DCFS for child neglect and endangerment. Egads. Still, there are some funny moments out of the tragedy, and I like that Walls takes a well rounded approach to her parents. She’s not simply angry and ashamed of them, but she examines their faults and the life lessons they taught her in spite of themselves. It’s refreshing to hear the perspective of someone who lived a legitimately crappy childhood who managed to turn into a productive human being.

Speaking of crazy true life stories, I feel the need to mention Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs. I may have been hyperbolic in describing The Glass Castle as the most effed up true life childhood story on record. That award might go to Augusten Burroughs for living though his own personal crazy town. First, I’ll say I didn’t like this book as much as I wanted to. It was touted as a David Sedaris-esque jaunt through a quirky life story, but it was much darker. (David Sedaris, you get your own post one of these days, because I adore you.) Burroughs is taken in by his therapist and god only knows how the therapist managed to keep his license for so long, because YIKES. Dilapidated housing, statutory rape, lack of formal schooling… All par for the course. The problem was that I had a hard time finding the humor in it. Memoirs can be hysterical or they can stray into bitter territory. I’m not sure I’d even call this one “bitter” per se, it’s just bizarre to the point where you can’t believe that it’s real. And yet, it is. Or at least, to my knowledge, Augusten Burroughs hasn’t suffered a James Frey style scandal of over dramatizing his memoir for the sake of sales, sensationalism, and manipulating Oprah. Oprah has done more for reading than… Well most celebrities. So shame on you James Frey! A Million Little Pieceisn’t nearly as shocking if you KNOW that scene about getting massive dental work done without painkillers is false. (Mom is a dental hygienist, she knew he was a fraud before Oprah did.)

So, I guess if you’re into childhood trauma, check these out? That sounds awful. How about this: “If you’re struggling with your own personal demons and unresolved issues, read these books! They’ll make you really grateful for your comparatively normal childhood! Also, for running water!” Seriously though, if you had a legitimately jacked up childhood, maybe skip these and avoid opening old wounds, k?

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Aug 20

I Speak Fluent Daffodil

Contemporary Fiction 13

Good day, Bookworms! I am over the moon because I recently got a call inviting my house to be included on our neighborhood garden tour. I must credit my husband, for he does the bulk of the watering, but I pick out the plants and play in the dirt and put all the containers together, so it’s a team effort.

That’s really my house!

I’m sure you know me, because strangers don’t ACTUALLY read my blog, but on the off chance you don’t know me, I love flowers. Love might be an understatement. It’s more of an obsession, really. I had the greatest job right after high school and on college breaks working in a flower shop. I used to pester the florists (I mostly swept, answered phones, and washed buckets as I have no artistic skill) to tell me what all the different types of flowers were. I learned there’s a vast difference between garden flowers and professional cut flowers. I learned how to keep house plants alive. I learned that sometimes you get weird calls from people asking for “Pants corsages”.
In honor of my obsession with flowers, I wanted to do a post on The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. This book combined two of my favorite things ever: a good story and flowers. What’s not to love?

Our heroine is an aged-out-of-the-system foster child named Victoria. She is emotionally broken, but during her one encounter with a stable home life, she became entranced by flowers. Her foster mother believed in the Victorian Language of Flowers, which was a way young lovers passed messages during the notoriously stuffy Victorian period. We used to get frustrated at the flower shop when people would ask us about what the meanings of flowers were, but it was nearly impossible to give a definitive answers. Look at 5 different resources and you’ll find 5 different answers. However, Elizabeth, the foster mother in question had a very specific version of her language. She went so far as to say there was only one meaning for each flower, otherwise people would get confused.

Can’t you imagine the confusion though? You’re a Jane Austen-esque heroine pining away in the house doing needlepoint when flowers arrive for you from your beloved. Romeo may have had it in his head that red roses signify passion, whereas your personal dictionary says that red roses signify mourning. Or chastity. Or “I no longer love you, I love your chamber maid.” Or something. It’s really a very problematic system, but I digress.

Flowers are the one constant in Victoria’s tumultuous existence. After she turns 18 and is out on her own, we begin to see her blossom (pun completely intended) through her job at a flower shop. Victoria eventually begins to attract her own clientele who are interested in obtaining floral arrangements for their meaning more than their looks. She begins a relationship and starts to pull her life together… and chaos ensues. I don’t want to reveal too many spoilers, so suffice it to say this book is DEFINITELY worth the read. It’s totally chic lit though, so guys might want to sit this one out. Unless you really dig books on flowers and relationships. Then, by all means!

I thought it would be fun to dissect my wedding bouquet according to Victoria’s flower dictionary to see what sort of good or ill tidings I carried into my marriage.

The florist who made my bouquet described my taste as “gardeny” but that might have been code for “Queen Anne’s Lace is a weed, lady.”

White Lisianthus: Appreciation (That’s pretty good right? Appreciating one another is important in a marriage, no? Also appreciating wine! And appreciating tasteful batman statues…)

White Freesia: Lasting Friendship (Things are looking good for us right now, I’m ready to cut my losses and not look any further…)

Queen Anne’s Lace: Fantasy (Um… I’m not sure how to take that. Either our relationship is so awesome it’s like a fantasy, or we’re in denial and living in a fantasy world. I’m choosing the former.)

Green Hypericum Berries: Superstition. (Hypericum is also known as St. John’s Wort, and I hardly think anti depressants could be BAD for a marriage. But, if you consider paranoia and superstition in the same ballpark, that’s totally us already. We’re neurotic. In the cutest possible way.)

Pittosporum: This is just greenery, it isn’t a flower, and as such isn’t in Victoria’s dictionary. She lists other non flowery things (like friggin pomegranates. Who puts a pomegranate in a floral arrangement? It’s not even an attractive fruit!) , but I guess pittosporum is unpopular amongst the Victorians. I’m going to pretend that pittosporum’s dictionary definition is “I love you in spite of your bizarre habits.” Because, let’s face it, that’s critical to any relationship.

So my bookworms, what sentiments would you want spelled out in your wedding bouquet? Or boutonniere? Or your prom corsage? Flowers, meanings. Talk about it!

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