Humble & Swollen | The Round House

Ache.

The Round House — Louise Erdrich

Ache is the only word I can use to describe this book.  From the moment a violent act is committed in the first thirteen pages, to the revenge act at the gone-sour end, I was completely involved with these characters in the bow string of their own ache.  A prepubescent boy, Joe Coutts, records the tale of a horrific crime that directly affects his family and the reservation where they live.  Every character is present, accountable, and important to the story, including a priest that’s the victim of war wounds and ex-girlfirends, a womanized convenience store attendant, and an old man of the tribe that tells secrets and stories in his sleep.

Objiwe Syllabics @ Wikipedia Commons

Not only are these characters a vibrant truth to this world, but Erdrich paints such a clear picture of the injustice of laws as they pertain to reservation land and crimes that occur against Native Americans by tribe outsiders.  Bazil Coutts is a judge in the Reservation court system, when his wife, Geraldine, is brutally beaten and raped down by the local lake.  While Geraldine resurfaces rarely over the next several months, she spends most of her time stuffed under bedcovers and closed off in darkness.  Joe knows his mother through the uneaten plates left on the dresser or outside of the door.  They get a dog for protection.  His father makes him help with a garden that he claims Geraldine will eventually be interested in,  and Joe and his father just wait it out.  Geraldine is reluctant to share any information on the crime, and I don’t think it’s ever clear why she keeps these details so close.

I’m sure every other blog on the entire internet land space already wrote the plot of they books, so let me tell you less about the storyline and more about the ache.

Desertification @ Wikipedia (Creative Commons)

Chinua Achebe brought us Things Fall Apart as the premier novel for the voice of Africa.  While The Round House isn’t the premier novel about the plight of Native Americans, it is definitely one that seems more humbled, but is actually punching you in the throat as you read.  There have been plenty of contemporary Native American authors that write about injustice’s faced by Native Americans and usually they’re quite amazing (Sherman Alexie comes to mind), but Louise Erdrich has done something different with this novel.  Like Ta-Nehisi Coutes in his feature in The Atlantic, “The Case for Reperations,” Erdrich does not have to shout in order to be heard.  She tells the winks of unfairness still causing punishment to Native American tribes.  The specific case mentioned in the novel dictates which laws are allowed to be tried on Native American Reservation soil, leaving little control to the actual reservations. The law is ancient, but still used today as a way to hinder progress.  The best part about this discovery for me while I was reading was that it was so subtle. It’s the underlying tone of the story.

Boy String of Ache @ Open Clipart (Creative Commons)

In between the history lesson, we spend the book in the intimacy of Joe’s story. He shows the reader how he and his friends seek revenge through treasure hunting, finding a plastic doll that helps solve the case.  His friends, Cappy, Angus and Zach have mini-storylines that expose the sincerity of the summers just before puberty, just before teenagehood, and just before anything else matters other than your family, whoever you call such.  Cappy falls in love and is ready to tattoo her name across his bicep with an arrow shot through, Angus and Zach reveal things about their families in the sanctuary of their small circle of voices.  Using the trust of his family, his Aunt’s home-cooking, his grandfathers sleep stories, and his Uncle’s convenience store getaways, Joe is able to find his peace only after thrumming his own tune of guilt.  This story is brilliantly weaved, made of whispers, and teaches you something without getting lost in the education, but instead getting lost in the place, the boys, the tiny cracks in a world we’ve never thought was perfect.

 


Back To School // Make You Drool

I’ve done a lot of Bookish Gift Guides over the years, but I’m going to mix it up today.  I keep getting a million Labor Day sale emails.  I can’t resist when they ask for your email for coupons, even though a few days ago I went through and unsubscribed from everything that never gets opened.  I decided that a lot of my students were graduating and learning how to function in a cubicle/closet of a dorm.  Plus, isn’t it just fun to buy school supplies? Or home office supples? Or just organization cubbies because they usually have all kinds of funky patterns and matchy-matchy themes?

So, here it is: THE BACK TO SCHOOL // MAKE YOU DROOL Gift Guide

  • SIGNAGE

Dorm rooms, home offices, and students should be surrounded by inspiration.  Inspiration these days comes from quotes, and signs on Pinterest, Etsy, and Tumblr.  When I was in high school, I printed Tumblr quotes and taped them to my mirror so I could be surrounded by goodness (or what I thought were deep quotes about people not understanding who I am). Now, scotch tape isn’t needed, nails and hammers are.

Signage from Etsy

Signage from Etsy

My favorite use of signage is this photo from Birch & Bird Vintage Home Interiors.  It’s bright and a tad Southern with the monogram M flower wheel.  And it includes my next must have – Inspiration Boards.

Birch & Bird Home Interiors

  • INSPIRATION BOARDS: 

Inspiration boards are like tangible versions of Pinterest.  Anything you find that inspires you in a magazine, a book (I’ve been known to rip pages, I know, I’m awful), postcards, receipts from movies or dinner where deep conversations were had, or just trinkets.  My inspiration board in my childhood bedroom used to have a Nazar (to ward off evil) just because I thought it was a good totem.  It can truly be anything that breathes inspiration into you.

Some of these inspiration board options are pretty expensive.  My advice is to find a flea market, a shop of stalls filled with wood pieces, a store of vintage finds, a Habitat for Humanity Resource Center, and just find something to DIY.

Inspiration Boards on Etsy

Inspiration Boards on Etsy

I have a few favorite offices with inspiration boards.  The first is from Tumblr (La-Belle-Vie).  I wish I could give credit to the actual person who owns this quaint office space, but here’s the beautiful image. This office is ALL about the inspiration board.  It makes the room, and shows that inspiration boards done right, don’t need to have expensive, luxury furniture.

Tumblr Image @ La-Belle-Vie

The next one is all about color.  It actually looks like a kitchen to me. Maybe it was a kitchen, or those spices just have something going on.  I have a shed in my backyard that I inherited from the last owner.  I would LOVE to make it into a home office, but my fear of snakes and my disgust at scratching mosquito bites until they bleed keeps me out of there.  A girl can dream though.   I think this one is all about organization and paint.

Decobiz Inspiration Office

Then, there’s “decorative clutter” on Pinterest. Wish I knew who had that adorable bench, but again, Pinterest doesn’t really cater to copyright.

“Decorative Clutter” (If this is your image, email me)

I mean, come on, guys, there’s a J.Crew bag up there. Inspiration can come from anything, anywhere, anytime.

  • DESK ORGANIZATION:

I believe desks are where writers, readers, and business professionals can really be themselves.  My creative writing teacher in high school had a taxidermy crocodile head on his desk and we never got the story behind it, but I remember that head being a reason why I really liked him as a teacher.  My dad has clay-wrinkled sculptures that I made in elementary school art and expensive pen holders from his time in management.  My desk at school has two plants: Laverne (philodendron) and Shirley (cactus wearing red flower bow).  It also has a draw-it-yourself frame so my students can let of steam by drawing when they need to.  Desks are for momentos, trinkets, and thingamabobs (thanks, Little Mermaid). If you need a little inspiration, here’s some fun.

Desk Accessories

Desk Accessories

My favorites around the internet are as follows:

This is from OCM BLOG

I just really like the hour glass (PINK HOUR GLASS YES) and the mason jar of paperclips, and the adorable white frames.  It’s just an eclectic mix of colors and pictures.

This is from DIY Enthusiasts

A lamp goes a LONG way and so do fresh flowers.  Who needs a significant other to buy them flowers, Walmart has a bin right by the door – GET YOU SOME, GIRL.

This is from Lovable Lockets

Sometimes the best place to be “girly” isn’t your closet, it’s your desk.  I love this desk design from Lovable Lockets.  It makes me feel feminine, fresh, and modern.

Now I have to go off and stare at my “study” and try to figure out how I can new & improve it into an eclectic, whimsy, genius center.  I’ll take pictures and share when I think I’ve got it where I want it.


Bringing the World to My Classroom

In Medias Res:

Last year, I covered a whole wall in salmon roll paper. And then I took white roll paper and crumpled it up as a trim.  It was cute for approximately 9 days.  (And then someone told me it looked like toilet paper).

Salmon:

Cassie in various seasons of salmon.

Cassie in various seasons of salmon.

It just didn’t feel right.

As I look to this new year and a whole new class (World Literature), I thought I would spice it up (literally, my students should be introduced to both Mexican food and Asian fusion, maybe even sushi).  Which is why I was compiling pictures from Instagram’s around the world at 2 am. I scrolled through @humansofny and their current 10-country trip through most of the Middle East and parts of THE CONTINENT of Africa.  There are so many people, ya’ll.  There are “humans of” in a lot of countries, cities, and places of interest.  I found quotes from people that mapped worlds in their ideas.  With world literature on the horizon, a grade level up, and a first-time EOC (not a common exam), I needed a way to immediately introduce the world to my students. And that’s what this classroom is.  It’s the world into focus:

My desk area.

My desk area.

Party in the front AND the back.

The class motto this year is, “A tiger does not lose sleep over the opinions of sheep.” My students are always worried about the haters, but in this class, AIN’T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT. The only plant I’ve ever been able to grow indoors is on that desk.  As you can see, she’s Rapunzeling.  Her name is Laverne.  Shirley is the cactus with the flower bow in her hair.

Guys…I made these bulletin boards with dollar tablecloths from Walmart and Duct tape.  Because no one ever said you had to spend a million dollars to make your classroom cute.  Use what you have, and believe it can be pretty.

Good People

Good People

On my desk, I keep an assortment of unwashed mugs, dried out dry erase markers, a math standards lesson manual (because I like the way she puts emphasis on standards), a recommendation mug from my coworker, a hand-colored mug from said coworker’s child, and there are probably at least four dried-yogurt-remnant spoons in my desk that I still need to bring home.  Pictures of my parents are on my filing cabinet, not taped to my desk folder holder.

Weekly Jotter

Weekly Jotter

Because I get really overwhelmed, really quickly, I only jot things down by the week.  If I do anything more than that I will be the train, the tracks, and the person trying to be smashed at the station.

image 4

My favorite thing about my classroom update is my HUMANS OF THE WORLD WALL. I stole this idea straight from @humansony and found pictures of real people from all over the world and real things that they said.  I want my students to know that other people are struggling, or other people are shining and just because you’re in a place, doesn’t mean you have to be that place.

image 5

My mom made the HUMANS OF THE WORLD wall. She’s quite blurry, but my Mom has told me from diapers that the most important thing a person can carry is kindness.

image 3 image 2

 

A bit of a detailed look at the mapping and the taping, and the pinning.

WORLD WALL

WORLD WALL

Anne Frank made the wall along with a few other famous people, Mark Twain, Aung San Suu Kyi, Martin Luther King Jr., Bob Marley, and Nelson Mandela.  I still need a few people from South America if anyone can point me in the direction of a wonderful story/quote/phrase and the person behind that profoundness.

image 10

This used to be the poetry corner, until it became the corner where my students stuck all their notes to me. And what can I say, I love them and I love the love. It also has a great poem by Dorianne Laux called “Savages.”  I got that chair at Habitat for Humanity and it has always been a winner, winner, chicken dinner in my classroom.

image 12

Bookshelf Number 1 (Other not pictured, but huge).

I hoard all the tissue paper quotes that I could possibly find.  This one says, “Look closely at the present you are constructing.  It should look like the future you are dreaming.” Alice Walker said that because she’s a child of hard work.  The map next to the tissue paper poster is the literary map of North Carolina.

That is my classroom this year.  I hope it breeds an understanding of the world, and in it breathes children who try to understand and try to cultivate a personhood where they don’t look down on other people for their cultures, their belongings, or their patch of land. I know, officially, that I will be reading The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (YES YES YES) and Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.  Send good vibes our way.


“Single women and men should be able to float toward each other on the waves of lust and goodwill!”

Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel by Anya Ulinich

The number of post-it notes I used on this book alone could cover a small dog house. Can I say this is the best adult graphic novel ever without having read every other adult graphic novel? Do I sound like my mother after she praised that really bad eighth grade haircut and told me that we would just “run to Target and get some cute clips.”  Thanks for the alliteration, Mom, but it was disastrous, for both my seventh grade high-status at the lunch table and my personal beliefs in my own self-esteem.

My choice of reading space.

My choice of reading space.

God made my mom sorta-Catholic so she could lay down the guilt via lectures, missed phone calls, and sweetness (yes, even her sweetness is guilty).  I can ONLY imagine if she was a Jewish Russian Immigrant mother from the U.S.S.R like Lena Finkle’s mother in Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel by Anya Ulinich.  The world would literally be quaking. Literally. Literally. Literally. Isn’t it annoying when people say that when you know they meant it literal to begin with and it’s not a hyperbole at all? Ask yourself that. Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel  is like the story of womanhood as it pertains to the male sex, and girlhood in general.  It begs several questions: *How many friends do you have that disappear as soon as they get boyfriends? *How many of those friends become the stuck-up dark, unknown regions of their boyfriend’s body as soon as they begin dating? *How many times have you been unhappy, and unable to be yourself because you’re trying to keep the peace between you and the obnoxious invaluable boy you’re dating? *How many times has a guy smiled at you and BAM you’ve planned your 3.7892 children?

Miracles.

Miracles.

*(Longest sentence ever) How many times have you let one small miracle of a man blast your entire view of manhood and your princess experience into this other-worldly category that no one will ever be able to compete with because he was too good at ________ and all others will miserably fail in comparison and forever be the “frogs” you have to kiss because OH MY SWEET LORD, HE WALKED ME HOME IN THE RAIN AND MADE FACES AT ME IN ENGLISH 101 which I, unfortunately, got a C in because I was too busy MAKING FACES AT A BOY who would ruin my whole ideal of what it is to fall slowly.  There is no slow with these miracle men who tell you fascinating things about yourself and then become chain-smoking losers. Yep. You know who I’m talking about. *How many times have you said, “Well, it isn’t really about how he looks?” Girl, please. It is 120% about how he looks in the first moment you meet. And you have already judged the scar next to his mouth and the way one of his eyes looks a little bit smaller than the other.  And you’ve already texted your equivalent to a Seth (my best guy friend) to tell him all about him…in the bathroom.

When Anya Ulinich originally illustrated in color. From her Tumblr BLOG

*How many times have you let your past experiences with men like all of the above dictate what kind of dater you are now? *How many times have you wished for a magic barrel? And no, I don’t mean online dating here. (Even though she does that in the story on OK Cupid…which reminded me to never, ever, ever online date, ever. “Vampire of Bensonhurst,” that’s all I have to say about that one). Well, ladies, all of your (desperate, berating, disgusting, upsetting, I-dont-want-to-be-this-girl-but-I-am-this-girl, when-did-I-become-this-girl) questions have been answered by Anya Ulinich and the story of Lena Finkle. Lena Finkle is an immigrant girl living in Arizona/New York.  During the story we learn about her childhood, a very disgusting happening in an elevator, and then her teenage love, Alik, who she continues to fantasize about …until she’s 36.  She has some bad habits; sleeping around on the first date, sleeping with married men in foreign countries, being too blunt with her friends when they don’t have the same feelings towards her month-long flings as she does, but she’s SO likable.  There were moments in this book when I had to remind myself that Ulinich wasn’t telling my life story. After reading it, I progressed to have a conversation with my best friend (Seth) about which countries we were because of the following images: image 3   I wonder if everyone has dated the “tourist.”  The guy that comes and goes without giving even a half-nod towards closure.  Which makes the girl stay up until 2 a.m. because she can’t quite figure out what she did wrong.  Turns out, it’s him. But she won’t know that for 7.2 years when she forgives herself for being “that girl,” and finally moves on. image 4 Seth said, “Cassie. you are Sweden. // but we both can’t be Sweden // I’ll be Norway. boys are more exotic there.” And then he said, “You are Santorini // white pale and stunning // and surrounded by beautiful men.” And that folks, is why you keep best friends since 6th grade.

Real Conversations. Between Real Best Friends

Real Conversations. Between Real Best Friends

By the way, he’s the following: “You are Alaska where they have 37 words for snow and only one word for love because when you feel it like that it doesn’t need 700 words.” ———————————- Anyway, enough about me. This book is wonderful.  It made me feel like I wasn’t alone in this endless pool of Mr. Right/Soul Mate/Marriage business.  I don’t know why there’s so much pressure on women anyway to put on that white dress and take another last name.  Lena Finkle made me feel like that was okay.  Although, she was a little desperate, a little quick, and a little uncanny at times, so am I.  I had a 30 minute conversation today about how blunt one should be with their friends.  In case you’re wondering, I’m the blunt, bitchy friend in my circle of friends so usually people only come to me with a problem when they want the truth as I see it.  (That was all about me, sorry). The graphics in this book are stunning. Most of the time I just wanted to laugh out loud at the illustrations to the side of all the words.  I think that’s what makes this graphic novel so perfect, Ulinich found the perfect genre to tell a tale of sadness, pity, and redemption because there were laughable moments due to the comic nature of the graphic novel.  (I guess they can be dark and brooding as well).  When words got too dark on the page, I could count on an illustration that made it just that little bit better.  The hope was in the hand drawn panels, faces, and bittersweet graphics.

One of my favorite pages.

Penguin had the right customer when they sent me an ARC of this one.  It’s just beautiful in all ways.  I think every woman should have to read this book just to think a little different about their friend’s experiences.  Yes, we all get annoyed with that friend who’s constantly talking about a guy that is SO NOT RIGHT for her, but that’s what friends are for, because they’re forever.  Yvonne and Eloise lift Lena up to be a better woman.  She may not always listen to their advice, and they might not even follow their advice, but they give her that little nudge she may need to see things differently.  Not only are they gem friends in this novel, but Lena’s subconscious acts as another character as well.  At one point, Lena is obsessed with a man who already broke her heart, and she becomes the graphic image of a duck.  Her subconscious picks at her, tells her inner thoughts and her “what ifs” just like that small inner voice that we all carry that whispers “stuff” when we just don’t want to hear it. Mine always says, “Told ya so,” A LOT.

Lena as Duck

Her subconscious is an integral part of the illustrations (she’s small, the same size as the duck Lena becomes), but she’s also witty and forward.  She’s what we want to say to ourselves when we should put our foot in our mouth.  I really liked that real-life aspect of this novel because it’s true.  Our inner self screams everything we would never say aloud (unless we’re the blunt friend). In a world where no one is sure of themselves, this novel could make women feel just that little bit more accessible to one another.  And that, is golden. AND AH – ANYA ULINICH HAS A TUMBLR. GO HERE NOW. 


“DO WHAT SCARES YOU. BRING A SCARF.”

Before I say anything, I want you to know that I loved Marie Helene-Bertino’s short story collection, Safe as Houses.  Evidence here. 

2 A. M. at The Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helen Bertino

Some authors should stick to short stories.  I can’t say yet that this is the case with Helene-Bertino because she’s only now written one novel.  However, it really was a novel of a bunch of stories titled 2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas.  This novel is about lost and lonely people in Philadelphia.  It’s specifically about three characters; Madeline, Sarina, and Lorca.  Madeleine is a young elementary school girl who’s mother has passed and father is a bodily ghost that spends everyone else’s waking hours in his bed next to his record player and open bottle.  Sarina is Madeleine’s teacher who is divorced and not really looking for much, but an end of evening ice cream and a little compassion.  Lorca owns the legendary “Cat’s Pajamas” jazz club where he and a posse live until a new cop takes over their street and issues a citation that could put them out of business.  Although the main plot points are about these three characters, there are full “chapters” dedicated to the thoughts of people who bump them on the street, see them in a coffee shop, or have memories deeply embedded with these characters.

“Gathers him in his name – Jack Francis Lorca. We carry our ancestors in our names and sometimes we carry our ancestors through the sliding doors of emergency rooms and either way they are heavy, man, either way we can’t escape.”

Caramel Apple for Madeline @ Joy (Creative Commons)

It’s both uplifting and upsetting.  The minor character chapters seek to show that these three main characters shouldn’t be so lonely, just drifting. They have people that care, or have cared for a very long time. These characters are all exhausted, and people in their lives are dropping, not quite like flies, more like pins, silently and with too much meaning.   The “chapters” were also interesting because they went by time.  I was expecting it to end at 2 A.M., it didn’t, but it was nice to go through one full day with these characters, watching them move, almost literally, through time.

“BUT THEN, her class will be making caramel apples. Madeleine has never had a caramel apple and she wants to taste one more than she wants God’s love.”

Electric Guitar @ Wikipedia Commons

I was really interested in Madeleine’s story because she was the youngest bitter book character that I’ve ever read.  She had no friends, girls were scared of her baditude, and all she wanted to do was sing a solo in the church service.  The reader gets the full brunt of a woman’s death through this small girl.  It’s actually quite a feat because I felt like her grief was real grief.  She was angry, had obsessions, and only wanted few sweet things, but was never given them without a battle.  Her principle has no empathy and her teacher worries without speaking.

“Madeleine has no friends: Not because she contains a tender grace that fifth graders detect and loathe.  Not because she has a natural ability that points her star ward, though she does.  Madeleine has no friends because she is a jerk.”

Sarina, her teacher, is just a simple woman who has returned home after the death of her mother.  The reader finds out the story of her missing father later in the book, and a poor prom experience.  This really is most of her story until a man enters the novel.  Lorca owns the jazz club and takes care of the men within the main band of the club, the Cubanistas.  His girlfriend is practically done with him, and his son is sullen, wild, but a gifted guitar player.

“They are sixteen and skinny.  Their collarbones vault in upsetting directions.”

John Coltrane @ Jason Hickey cdcovers/john coltrane/crescent.jpg (Creative Commons)

This is it, really.  The book had Helene-Bertino’s signature language.  Funky and beautiful, like a good John Coltrane song.  If you read for inventive and lovely language, then read everything she’s written.  As far as a story goes, this whole thing just saddened me.  I finished left with the question, “So what?”  I wasn’t concerned that the people were out of hope, I was just more concerned at the reason that I read the book.  I know these people in my everyday life.  They may not be from Philadelphia, but they are finding themselves, living through it, silent when the world needs them to talk, and open when the world asks them to be closed.  If this story was meant to introduce me to grief, or introduce me to sadness, or acknowledge that everyone is fighting a hard battle, then it did its job, but I’m not sure that was enough.  The big finale, was just odd, honestly.  When I got to the end, I knew the big finish was coming, but it was some weird want-to-be magical realism.  People almost became who they always wanted to be, or what they hated inside themselves came out.  It was all really strange.  It might be worth the read just for that clutter.

“Who cares which way is faster? You can’t say you know a city unless you know three ways to everywhere.  Madeleine swings her legs over the edge of the roof.  I sang on a stage.  She is close enough to high-five Saint Anthony but doesn’t because no matter what kind of thrilling night you’ve had, you do not bother saints this way.”

For a reader who waited for her next book, I was disappointed.  I’m not saying this is a bad book, but it didn’t have the closure I needed and it didn’t say anything new.  Like another reader on Goodreads, I think this novel could get a cult-following. I don’t think it’s introducing a new style to literature, or that it’s fresh or modern, but it’s a catchy song, and it’s beauty in the sadness.   I think a good multi-character book makes you want to read each character, not look towards a mouthy girl who walks a dog, eats breakfast at the local cafe, and tries not to take on second mothers in all the outstretched hands.

“Pedro is an open-air pooch, not prone to evenings at home.  His joints are nimble and his snout superb. He spent the previous night following the scent of a bitch, pink notes and hydrangea and dung.”


Feminism: Getting Sticky With It.

I’m sitting here eating a handful of mini-oreos because last week my best friend and I had a sleepover and made sundaes. Leftovers are the best.

Clearly, I am not concerned about the potential poundage that could be added on from the mini-oreos, even if I did check the calorie count and how many I could eat per serving to meet the endless food intake quota that women everywhere are trying to live up to.

Is this a quality of my feminism? No.

Is this a quality of societies expectations for women? Maybe.

Does it matter if these Oreo pieces are damn good? No.

Rosie the Riveter @ Wikipedia Commons

Feminism is a touchy word these days.  Well, let’s be honest, since we got the vote, feminism has been all the rage on both sides.  I think part of the problem with the entire feminist movement is the word that we came up with to introduce ourselves. The very root “fem” became a slang word for women in 1936.  Just by opening the word with that root we’ve already eliminated the likelihood that men will feel comfortable in calling themselves by this name (That’s not the point though is it, however, men can be feminists. I’m here to break your stereotypes).  The rest of it “femini” is basically the word “feminine,” just two letters short.

Computer Engineer Barbie @ Eric Steuer (Flickr)

This brings us to a whole new argument about societal expectations of gender.  Why is the girl aisle covered in pink and the boy aisle covered in blue?  Why is Barbie so skinny (which is just a sad argument for women all together because do you know that Barbie is one of the few female toys that has offered careers for girls in male dominated areas.  Barbie went to space, people, Barbie worked for NASA.  Think about it).  With all of these already bias, already argued about, already heated ideas attached to the beginning of the word, how will it ever reign tall?

While my definition of feminism is just a person who believes in equal rights for all genders (I’m looking at you, LGBTQ), I think other people look to stereotypes for their definition.  So let’s knock a few of those out before I give this review, shall we?

Have I ever burned a bra? Nah, brah, those things are expensive.

Do I hate men? No, I have a lovely boyfriend and have had many lovely and not so lovely boyfriends.  I try not to hate anyone, but sometimes the fact that getting higher up in a company means fighting your way through an “old boys club” is not very likable.  And the people that continue to follow that system of hiring, firing, giving raises and promotions, might be on a list of people that I don’t particularly want to work for or be friends with.

What I might hate is people like this:

Yahoo screen grab

Yahoo screen grab

I would like to think that in four years, he’s had some new experiences and learned not to write the word “b*tch,” even with a star, in a feminist conversation.  However, he did make up the word “vaginamony” so I should give him credit for enhancing the English language, right? Just for your information, and his, I suppose, I believe that the best thing a woman can have is her “shit together” and I will raise my daughter with this in mind.  She can get hers, before she relies on any man to get it for her. However, if once she’s followed her dreams and she’s found a man that respects both her and her dreams, she can by all means trust and rely on him.

Hair @ Wikipedia Commons

Do I whine more than the average man? Actually, I’m on a no complaining campaign so I’m trying to rule out all forms of whining in my life.

I do shave my legs. That’s not even a question.  Sometimes I miss a spot, go ahead and judge me.  And I swam in high school, so I might grow longer than the average woman, but I still shave those suckers.

Do I respect stay-at-home moms? Being a Mom or Dad is a full time job.  If either parent wants to stay home and raise-up babies to be wonderful, open-minded, movers and shakers in society, go on with your bad self.  One of my best friends hasn’t had more than four hours of sleep since her child was born (13 months ago), please believe if I lived in that state of exhaustion, everyone would see my diva side.

“We Should All Be Feminists” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

These issues were all brought to you by We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  Adichie grew up in Nigeria. Readers may be familiar with her book Americanah. She gave a TEDxEuston talk called “We Should All Be Feminists” on her brother’s insistence.  She says in the introduction that she “hoped to start a necessary conversation.”

Talk below:

Vintage Short turned this talk into a short essay and here we are.  It also happens to be featured on Beyonce’s self-titled album, which Adichie told Vogue that she’s sick of hearing about.

She begins the book talking about her best friend, the first person to call her a feminist which she knew immediately wasn’t a compliment.  From then on, she began attaching other things to feminism to make herself seem less radical, because with the word feminism, comes the extremism. She attached things like “Happy Feminist,” then “African Feminist,” and finally, “Happy African Feminist Who Does Not Hate Men and Who Likes To Wear Lip Gloss and High Heels for Herself and Not For Men.”

This begs the question: why can’t a girl just wear high heels? I feel that Carrie Bradshaw would have something to say about this.

In the talk’s essay, she tells stories from throughout her life when she was considered less than to her male counterparts.  There was the classroom monitor choosing, which led her to this amazing statement:

“If we do something over and over, it becomes normal.  If we see the same thing over and over, it becomes normal.  If only boys are made class monitor, then at some point we will all think, even if unconsciously, that the class monitor has to be a boy.  If we keep seeing only men as heads of corporations, it starts to seem ‘natural’ that only men should be heads of corporations”

Beast & Princesses @ Wikipedia Commons

This is also where I really started to believe in Adichie’s argument.  Her argument wasn’t about women getting paid less than men for the same job, or women hitting a glass ceiling in major corporations, but more about the subtle inequalities.  In Nigeria, even though she paid a valet, the man she was with received the “thank you” (as she says, because of course, if she has money, it must come from the man).  When at a restaurant, the “tab” is always given to the man at the table, and usually the oldest man.  This is a huge societal factor in the ways that we see men and women.  TLC makes so much money catering to a population of women who grow up in the hopes that they will one day marry a Prince Charming.  Disney teaches girls to be damsels in distress (until recently), and the aisles in Target teach girls to like dolls so they can grow up and be mommies.  I’m not saying any of this is a problem, but these things in our society are also the things that can be used against feminism, turned against women, turned into something that they might not be.

Adichie discusses history in the best sense.  She says that when men ruled the world before, it was a world based on physical strength. Now, the world is “vastly different.”  It is based on “more intelligent, more knowledgable, more creative, more innovative” capabilities and not just physical strength.  She says, and I love this, “We have evolved.”

Math Club Image @ PBS Math Club (Creative Commons)

This is the strongest point in her argument.  I think we’ve evolved when it comes to feminism as well, but have we evolved as much as the world has evolved, I don’t know.  I’ll give a personal example. In high school, I was incredible at math.  I placed into the second calculus in college and I hadn’t even taken pre-cal or calculus in high school.  I just generally didn’t like math.  Did I not like math because no women in my family, and no women in my school, and no women in my community had ever been representations of what a women can do in science? I’m not sure.  I didn’t major in STEM, I majored in English, but I probably could have majored in something heavy in math because I was good at it.  I’m not saying that my school, or community did anything wrong, but I never saw a woman engineer until I was in college.  I never really had the knowledge that a world like that existed for me.

Suffrage Parade, NYC. 1912. @ Wikipedia Commons

I’m not angry about it.  I do get angry when I feel that women are being treated unfairly because their women.  Or women are not being valued because their women.  I won’t harp on this one, but guys, Ray Rice got a two game penalty for beating and then dragging his wife out of a hotel room, and a man that says racial slurs is expelled from the NBA and any ownership of teams (not that I disagree with that at all, because I don’t, I think he got what he deserved). The worst part, Rice’s wife…she apologized. Why do we live in a world where this is acceptable?

Why is “blaming the victim” of a rape even a concept?

I believe in raising girls that know what’s appropriate, but since when is it okay to “feel a girl up” because her skirt is short or her belly is showing.  Why is it the girl’s fault that we haven’t raised men with morals and deep respect for women?

These are things that I’m still working through. These are the things that make me angry. And Adichie told me that’s okay.

The first SlutWalk in Toronto, Ontario, April 3, 2011 @ Wikipedia Commons

“Not long ago, I wrote an article about being young and female in Lagos.  And an acquaintance told me that it was an angry article, and I should not have made it so angry.  But I was unapologetic.  Of course it was angry.  Gender as it functions today is a grave injustice.  I am angry. We should all be angry.  Anger has a long history of bringing about social change.  In addition to anger, I am also hopeful, because I believe deeply in the ability of human beings to remake themselves for the better.”

Like her, I am both hopeful and angry.  I am hopeful that I can live in a world where it’s okay to be feminine and a feminist.  I can live in a world where yoga pants do mean cat calls.  I can live in a world where the glass ceiling is broken and we are “movin’ on up,” like George Jefferson.  And I am hopeful that the world will not make this about another issue that isn’t relevant to equality.  And I’m really hopeful that I won’t feel the need to censor myself on my own personal blog to cater to the beliefs of other people.

On a final note: I feel less compelled to fight for feminism in my own country when teenage girls are being shot, tortured and killed just because they want to attend school or get an education for themselves.  By fighting for feminism in our country, we can hope that our voices ring true and pure to other countries, other populations, and other outlooks, where women may have so few rights that they are categorized as “property.”

Links on feminism education:

Here are some tweets from the #WomenAgainstFeminism hashtag.  Tweets are both for and against feminism as the feminists went viral using the same hashtag.

Screen Shot 2014-08-03 at 8.58.18 PM Screen Shot 2014-08-03 at 8.50.44 PM Screen Shot 2014-08-03 at 8.50.25 PM Screen Shot 2014-08-03 at 8.57.55 PM Screen Shot 2014-08-03 at 9.00.00 PM Screen Shot 2014-08-03 at 8.58.53 PM Screen Shot 2014-08-03 at 8.59.02 PM Screen Shot 2014-08-03 at 8.59.14 PM Screen Shot 2014-08-03 at 8.59.46 PM Screen Shot 2014-08-03 at 8.58.26 PM Screen Shot 2014-08-03 at 8.51.16 PM Screen Shot 2014-08-03 at 8.51.53 PM Screen Shot 2014-08-03 at 8.52.50 PM Screen Shot 2014-08-03 at 8.59.53 PM Screen Shot 2014-08-03 at 9.00.06 PM Screen Shot 2014-08-03 at 9.00.14 PM Screen Shot 2014-08-03 at 9.00.22 PM

 


Saudade.

Words and Their Meaning by Kate Bassett (Flux Publishing)

This book had perfect timing.

This book was too overwhelming to read in a day.

This book was too tender to feel all at once.

And yet, it wasn’t bleak, it was fervent.

It’s hard sometimes to be pushed by a book.  You don’t want to believe the heat of your own nerves.  But this book is unfathomable.  I was moved more than any book I’ve read this year and I think this book is categorized YA.  However, it’s one of those books that will sit in every section of the bookstore.  It actually aches to know that because this book was published by Flux Publishing (quickly becoming one of my new favorite publishers) it may not get a chance at large retail stores.  So, before we get into anything, here is the link to preorder this book.  Which, you must, you must. I will become fervent, the word of this review.

Grief by Edgar Bertram Mackennal (Wikipedia Creative Commons)

Okay, I know right now that everyone is obsessed with the okay? okay. of The Fault In Our Stars. However, grief has other angles.  Grief isn’t a box, it has too many sides, and can’t be constructed together with engineering, or math.  It has several smells, several letters, and there is no google search that will tell you how many words for “sad” that any language has.  (If you find one, link to it). Wikipedia hasn’t even tried to tackle the “sad” arena.  The best way I can describe the characters of this book is by using the word: saudade. I wrote it on my very first pair of pink converses from 9th grade.  It’s a Portuguese word for “melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing may never return” (Wikipedia).

COMMISSION: Coffin Set 1 by CiLiNDr0 @ Deviant Art (Google Image Creative Commons)

Anna is a girl consumed so much with grief that she practices coffin yoga.  The art of making yourself so still that death is close, breathing on your cheek.  It means holding your breath, it means stillness, it means the calmness that comes from within the closed coffin.  She thinks of the coffin as her secret keeper, where all the thoughts she doesn’t want to think can go and die.   Her grief, like everyone’s grief, is not rational.  Her family life has fallen apart.  Her sister, Bea, tracks her grief by hiding for hours in areas like the oven (Holy shit is right).  Which leads to Anna’s references to literature (Hey, Sylvia, I’m lookin’ at you girl).

“The shrinks all want to talk about coffin yoga.  They can’t fathom the way some people have no rhyme or reason to their mourning.  How maybe there are more ways to grieve than the stupid five steps outlined in their colorful pamphlets.  Next time I see my new doc, I’ll probably tell her I’m adding a no-thinking rule into coffin yoga.  She’ll ask what it might symbolize.  And I’ll glare at her ridiculous red-rimmed glasses and flowing tunic.  I’ll speak slow and clear, so she might understand there’s nothing representative about this.  My mind just needs the break.  Because: That crack in the ceiling looks like a vein” (Words and Their Meanings).

Notegraphy-Made Quote from Words and Their Meanings

Notegraphy-Made Quote from Words and Their Meanings

Anna’s grief is real.  It will break you as you read.  It would be especially hard to be her best friend, Nat, because I can’t imagine trying to build a bridge to reach her.  She’s so inside the tunnel of herself that nothing exists outside of that shadow.  She’s in the darkness so often, it’s impossible to even reach under into the “coffin” and pull on her arm.  While Anna is the main character, the other character’s are just as strong.  Nat, the best friend, has her own story of love and loss.  Gramps is a maker of machines, a fixer, an upper, (separately and together), and he folds creases into cranes with his grandchildren.  Joe is the cause of the grief, he is Anna’s Bruncle.  They share roof and cloud philosophy and then they begin to separate.  They try to hurt one another in order to save one another.  It’s a difficult relationship, and it’s even more difficult for the reader because Joe never has a voice in the novel, he is built by the characters around him that are crumbling.  The family is beautiful and broken and the best part is that you never hate one of these characters.  They are consumed with otherness and yet, they are still lovely.  It just proves, love the broken things; don’t throw the mug away without the handle, don’t laugh at the girl with the scars, hug the people who were built on a foundation of cracks.

“Our relationship still has too many blank spaces, and I’m sick of people I love being defined by stories I haven’t heard first hand” (Words and Their Meanings).

Then, there’s a boy. We all knew that was coming. However, like Frozen, he is not the answer to all of Anna’s problems. And he has his own story.  That’s the best part of this novel, each character has a distinct story that is enough to make them.  He is swoon-worthy though, as expected.  We all would have wanted to meet him in high school.

I loved this book.  I was a mountain while I read, it was that good.  In the end, I had tears in my eyes because of Anna’s own becoming.  She’s a writer, this book is full of art and lies and the dynamics of family that has been torn apart to be put back together.  It’s a story of the flower of grief that can clog our throats and trap our humanness in its roots.  The plot was so new, and so inviting.  It left me.

“I can still taste what it feels like to be sixteen and totally f#$ked up” (Words and Their Meanings). 

Holly Kuchera Leftover Camera: Canon G9 8.21mm – f3.2 – 1/60 sec (@ Flickr – Creative Commons)

It just left me. There’s no way it left me, it just left me. I sat there puzzled and immediately wanted to review it.  I can’t even explain how good this book is, what an amazing story and what an important story for teenagers and people who once were teenagers (cough, cough).  Anna is all of us.  She’s me when I cut all my Barbie’s hair at seven and they all forever wore pixie cuts.   She’s me when I taped sad Tumblr quotes to my mirror about teenagehood when I was sixteen.  She’s me when I stood in a row of bleachers tonight and prayed with over two hundred people for our county quarterback.  Grief is a thing.  It grows, it forms fists, and it listens while people beg for it to leave.  But it’s a silent killer.  And I think this book shows how grief can own someone.

Someone once said, “Be Kind; Everyone You Meet is Fighting a Hard Battle,” and this book is the truth of that statement.  Every single person in this story has an inner self and an outer self and they’re always at odds.  I think we all live that battle a little bit, especially in a social media world where everything is how we present ourselves on the interwebs vs. who we are in real life.

Kindness Quote @ Creative Commons (Flickr – http://www.RepairLabs.com)

“We’re all made of opposites, and they often crucify us” (Words and Their Meanings).

And if we could each get closer to that small spark that makes us who we are in real life then just imagine what kind of things we could conquer.  We could be the Beyonce.  We could be the cornerstone. We could be the flashlight that alights someone stuck in their wood coffin.

This book is out September 8th from Flux Publishing.  It can be preordered now.  Be sure to comment your thoughts below or visit the Books & Bowel Movements instagram @bookishcassie to see my 15-second book review.

 


Don’t Save The Drama FO’ YO’ MOMMA.

Empire State Building (Wikipedia Commons)

This book tried to stand very tall in its own way. It was the Empire State Building of self-sabotage. And the only spot of damage control it had was the fact that Amy Bloom is the author.  Let’s be fair, the characters weren’t all wretched human beings, and it was a soap opera of WWII proportional drama.  Literally, it was set before and during WWII, and figuratively, there was just a whole bunch of she said, he said, drop your kid off on someone’s front porch, become a lesbian, be the only white man drinking whiskey sours at an all African-American jazz club, and death by fire.

No soap opera is complete without death by fire.

Veronica Lake, 1940s noir film star (Wikipedia Commons)

And these characters were anything but subdued.  It opens with Eva who is living a honky-dory lifestyle with her single mother where her father visits to “bounce her on his knee” every Sunday.  His mojo is a classic case of the other family.  Heck, before social media, we could have all had alien brothers and sisters, making the phrase “brotha from anotha motha” so outdated and unfortunately, unable to be used in the literal sense at all anymore.  What happened to the good ol’ days when Cheaters wasn’t on call and messaging was taken by a swirly cord phone in the living room with your stifling father sitting right there.  I tell ya’ folks.

Eva enjoys her blissfully ignorant life until her father’s other family has an unfortunate death and her mother leaves her and her dainty little nine-year-old suitcase on the steps of the front porch.  Eva meets her beautifully disadvantaged, indifferent, unapologetic half-sister, Iris, who does little to coddle, but a lot to teach.  Iris and Eva advance to Hollywood where Iris is THAT much more disadvantaged by her beauty.  People just don’t understand her.

If you’re a heroine, here’s where you throw the kerchief and the back of your soft, pearl hand against your forehead and sigh about luxury and first world problems.

Devastating.

All My Children Cast Members, 1972 (Wikipedia Commons)

Eva and Iris meet a make-up designer to the stars (keep in mind we’re just before WWII at this point) and he picks up the pieces of Iris’ misunderstandings.  The girls return to their hometown with their father where they all live happily ever after, causing no more drama, and eating warm bread from the oven that they have worked on while buffering their nails.

Just kidding.

Creative Commons – Tom Woodward – Flickr

Drama ensues.  More characters are added, including this witty American fellow, mistaken for German, who sweet talks his way into card games with the little sister while his wife….does other things.  This is actually the serious part of the novel where we get a glimpse into America’s missed seams during WWII.  We see this through the character, Gus (also the name of my first and only hamster who died of a mere heart attack, scared to death by the cat).  Gus is …. well, he’s the witty American fellow, who’s wifed up to a dime piece who works in the kitchen of a “new money” family in the suburbs.

At this point you have to be starting to understand the soap opera of it all.

If I could tell you about Iris’s infidelities then this twisted plot would become even more odd, but I can’t.  You must read.

Lucky Us by Amy Bloom (Goodreads Cover Photo)

I will tell you that there’s a pop-up psychic, a woman who brings ham to a funeral that has to be hidden, a young lesbian starlet, short glimpses into WWII paparazzi, two city hair dresses with big attitudes, a Harlem jazz singer, and Edgar (father without a conscience).

If the psychic wasn’t enough to convince you, there’s another psychic who solves murders…. in french.

I’ve certainly won you over at this point. And, I haven’t even told you the name of the book.  Lucky Us by Amy Bloom came out on August 26th, I got a magnificent review copy off of NetGalley and I think I’ll continue to talk like a 42-year-old Elizabeth Taylor for the rest of this week because it’s just too fabulous darling, I can’t live it down.

Just imagine this review was brought to you by the same campaign that brought you ICE YOURSELF by Matthew McConaughey in “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.”

Deck yourself in expensive jewelry, creep around in costume diamonds, sass your way through with sparkle, and come out the other side having read an absurd book, with even more absurd pacing.  Truly, I’m not even going to mention the pacing because I want you to read this one.  It brings a strange new glow into the fiction world.


Mad Woman Wasting

“Don’t waste your love on somebody, who doesn’t value it.” 
— Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet

From The Land of the Moon by Milena Agus @ Goodreads

The question is: who determines what’s wasted?

In one of my new favorite books, From the Land of The Moon, Milena Agus answers this question.  At first, I thought this was just a simple story of a typical (Sardinian) woman.  The only interesting part was that the grandmother thought herself mad.  She had a bit of Alice and a bit of Sexton with a pinch of history.

“And later, when she lost the babies in the first months of pregnancy, she said that she would not have been a good mother because she lacked the principal thing, and her children were not born because they, too, lacked that thing, and so she shut herself up in her world of the moon.”

Early in the grandmother’s life, her entire family was upset with her especially when she chased away suitors writing them love poems like a mad Dickinson (aren’t all Dickinson’s mad)?.  I should probably tell you that this family is Sardinian (a small island in the Mediterranean, don’t feel bad, I had to Google it too).  I find it really interesting that all over Google, it says that Sardinian women are the most beautiful women in the world, and that they age most gracefully and beautifully as well, living longer than most other cultures. This book shows them as so much the opposite of that.

It’s narrated by a granddaughter looking back at her grandmother’s life.  Her grandmother had a very secret life, not because she held a lot of secrets, but because she stayed mostly within her own head.

Sardinia, Italy (Wikipedia Commons)

“In fact she thinks we should be grateful to grandmother, because she took on herself all the disorder that might have touched papa and me. In every family there’s someone who pays the tribute, so that the balance between order and disorder and the world doesn’t come to a halt.”

When she’s already a rotten egg according to the fairytales and her family no longer believes she’s going to be married, a man comes to stay in their house after his whole family is killed in a bombing during WWII.  It might be worth reading the book, just to read the story of the birthday cake.  The family signs her away to this unknown visiter and for the rest of her life, she questions their love.  At first, she’s afraid to bring him his morning tea and just sets it in the floorboards below before he wakes up.  Then, she convinces him to no longer attend the “happy ending” houses in their neighborhood.  I think this is one of the more true love stories of our generation.  There wasn’t ever a complete 180 in acknowledgement that this was a true love, one that stood the test of time, and wasn’t made of superficial conversations, Facebook photos, and no compromise.

This relationship really begins when she is sent away to get well after continually carrying kidney stones instead of children.  Her husbands sends her to a spa escape where she rarely eats, watches men read newspapers on a balcony overlooking the sea, and buries the stones where they can’t block her children from coming any longer.

Friedrich Kellner diary Oct 6, 1939 (Wikipedia Commons)

I wasn’t a believer in this relationship until the very end of this book when I was tearing up.  There’s a parallel love story that I can’t really tell you anything about, which makes it really hard to review this book, but also makes it one of the most complete works of fiction (imagination).  This book examines the truths of diaries.  Even I sometimes wonder whether I should actually write what I’ve written into my diaries.  Or should I sugar coat some of the parts.  As I write, I imagine a future daughter reading it and sometimes I crumple a little bit, lack courage in my actual thoughts.  It displays my real insecurities.  My mom asked me yesterday if I had already asked a friend to burn them after I die like Oprah, but I’m not sure I can.  There’s so much raw truth of myself in those diaries.  I think it would be unfair to that part of myself that leaves nothing unsaid.

And that’s what this book does.  It leaves it all on the page. It leaves letters, truths, disappointments, madness, sexual rebellion, sexual expectation, desires, looming memories, distant travels, and the wants of an everyday woman that are so similar to some of my wants, it’s odd.  Milena Agus knows her women and knows what they hide in the folds of their aprons, and the locked drawers of their desks.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book and it’s a book that I may have wanted to write in the future, but I was lucky enough to be a reader instead.  I’m wondering now which life the grandmother chose to lead, the one of her imagination or the one with a man who would walk through the snow without a scarf, missing his local potato ravioli and porchetto.

coffee

Coffee Binging a few weeks ago.

And which man is more real to the woman feeding them?  You’ll have to read this one.  Short enough to read during afternoon tea at only 108 pages, if you’re in Britain, or if you’re american one of those all day coffee binges like I’m having now.

Binge on books. Binge on coffee.

The Epigraph, one of my favorites.

The Epigraph, one of my favorites. LOVING my electric blue nails.

“…her husband was a lucky man, really, and not, as she said, unfortunate, cursed with a poor madwoman; she wasn’t mad, she was a creature made at a moment when God simply had no wish for the usual mass-produced woman and, being in a poetic vein, had created her.”

What are the truest love stories you have read lately? What love stories may have changed your idea of love? How do we determine what is world literature and what isn’t, or what deserves to be a vintage book? Do you plan on reading this one or did my review not do it justice? Talk below. 


BOOKSTAGRAM

A lovely acquaintance, Mollie, made a bookish instagram for her editing called Molliereads (mohrediting.com).  AND it inspired me to make an instagram for bookishness and blogging and happiness and words and connecting.

Find me on Instagram @ bookishcassie

You can view my bookish life as it unfolds and we can share favorite books, book photos, and book comments together in a smaller platform.

See photos like the following:

BOOKSTAGRAM

BOOKSTAGRAM

YES. LET’S DO IT. If we can get a few followers from the blog maybe I’ll do Project 365 the Bookish Edition. That would actually be incredibly fun.  I’d have to read everyday for sure (not that I don’t, you know you have to get your before bed read on).


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,053 other followers

%d bloggers like this: