White Space Needed

As a general rule on this blog, I don’t really review self-help books, recipe collections, and now I will no longer review Do-It-Yourself books.  (I will, however, continue to follow excellent Do-It-Yourself blogs).  What this book should really be called is Zines for Dummies, (but only if you want to zine mostly like the author of the book).   It’s called Stolen Sharpie Revolution and this might not be a fair review because I’ve never before reviewed an instruction manual, but because I have an obligation to keep my word, I’m going to do my best here.

Stolen Sharpie Revolution by Alex Wrekk

Stolen Sharpie Revolution is “A DIY resource for zines and zine culture,” and I think that short summary on the front gives the reader the exact truth of what’s in the book.  Stolen Sharpie Revolution is a factual based “zine-like” do it yourself manual on how to build a zine, where to find a zine (distros), binding ideas, the zine community, how to manage the USPS, zines and incarceration, zine events, and templates.   With all this information, this book would be a great resource for someone who wanted immediate involvement in zine culture or just wanted a wiki-page of stratagem to create zines or find them if interested.

Juniper Girls Zine @ Etsy (from AnkeWeckmann). Click the photo for details.

I really enjoyed Alex Wrekk’s take on why she began creating zines and what their function is in society.  I don’t know much about the creation of zines, and I think a lot of people believe zines died when the blogging world came along, but I think zines are the perfect private space between blogging, and art journaling.  Except, Wrekk brought to my attention that zines are not just private things, they are made within a community of people that are cutting and pasting, creating, innovating, and using resources and recyclables to tell others their thoughts and beliefs.  I love the cut and paste aspect of zine culture, the tangible way someone can tell their feelings through artistic means even if they aren’t a superb painter, or a poetic writer, or a person who can draw more than a stick figure.  It’s a form of expression, a form of resistance, and a form of rebellion. My favorite line, “It is about taking control back from the corporate consumer influences, telling your own story, and creating things on your own terms.”

Recycled Air Zine on Etsy @ Lucky Scissors (Click picture for link).

In this way, I would love to see people use this book as the beginning to some free expression that they can’t spray paint into a tunnel, write into a private journal, or just a trickle of something they want to convey in a community of people.  The problems I had with this book go beyond the influences it has, but instead deals with the things it could have done (or my expectations for what it could have been).

This book was remarkably wordy for a DIY book, and with very few example pages of actual zines.  Instead, the writer stuck to stark black and white, copy and paste, zine design.  I realize that zines are not a lucrative project and that this may be the case with the creation of this book, but in an undertaking of writing about zine culture, one way to get people interested (in more than just blogging) might be to include zine pages that are particularly moving or inventive, and show evidence of more zines, and zine creators.  It might be nice to show more voices from the community or get other perspectives.  This book is past its fourth edition (which is the last I could see on Goodreads) and if this is the case, why does it not have the perspectives and pages of other zine authors who want to share their art in a book that actually reaches out to potential future zine creators? I’m not sure.

Obsessed with this zine “The Elder” by Esther McManus. This is more the zine that I would want to buy because it’s just freaking beautiful. On sale, if you click the photo.

I think this book is perfect for a teenager who needs an outlet and that’s the reason that I will put it in my classroom for my students to use in imagining their next creative pursuit that doesn’t need to necessarily have a technological spin, they can use good ol’ glue and scissors to create magic.  I was a little surprised at how copy machine heavy this book is (Wrekk seems to rely on the copy machine for a lot of her zine creation) because copy machines are curmudgeons, they only sometimes work, they have to be constantly unjammed, and they have all these secret compartments that cannot be discovered unless you’ve worked in a public school for 47 years and it’s time for you to retire, but no young teachers will let you because you know all the nooks and crannies of a copy machine.  Having to rely on a copy machine is not something I want to experience.  Pages 31 to 42 in the book are dedicated to solely the use of a copy machine and the next chapter after that, how to afford one.  I hated both of these chapters. I think my loathing of the copy machine is a little bit impartial in this review.

Mini Zine on Etsy @ Thimblewinder. Click the picture for details.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I didn’t necessarily love this book.  I thought it was good for the goal (of creating zines in the same stream of Wrekk’s zines — which from Goodreads reviews are zines that started becoming popular in the late 1990s), but I think it lacks a lot of other perspectives, and just general aspects of other styles in zine culture.  Wrekk is very bias towards her own style and that kind of turned me off from her perspective because I wanted more than a literal how-to (down to how to mail and produce zines) and more of an inspiration booklet that made me want to join in on zine culture.

This book doesn’t do much inspiring, it imagines that the reader is already leaning towards zine culture, rather than beginning in the culture without any real idea of what a zine looks like (like me).  I was also displeased aesthetically because the book is all black and white, way too many small words on a small page (on most pages) and the patterns on the back of the pages can sometimes seem overwhelming.  I once had a Barnes and Noble employee tell me the best sellers are the books with a lot of white space, I believe Wrekk could take a hint from this customer service representative.

Plant Feelings Zine @ Etsy by Sarah Mcneil. Click Picture for details.

All in all, it wasn’t that I hated this book, or really loved this book, it’s just that I don’t think it did justice to its mighty goal – to get other people to join the zine community.  I read instruction manuals if I want to know how to put together my television, not to get inspiration on how to build one.

Girlhood is a glass vase.

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

It’s probably sad how attached I am to this book.  I wanted to simultaneously fall down a rabbit hole and climb into a dark hole while reading it.  Lena Dunham in Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells What She’s “Learned” is so spot on with her pseudo-memoir that I was practically highlighting the entire book.  I thought that she found the voice between psycho-tire-stabber and romantically-involved-with-herself girlhood.  I used to think Taylor Swift was my ultimate girl crush, but Lena Dunham has now taken the number one spot.  If I could have a moment with Dunham like she had with Nellie sans-vomit, I would drink the red wine, and curl up on a vintage french rug and tell her all my secrets with our bodies, knees together, and spines curved, into a heart shape (totally platonic).

Joana Avillez’ Art for Lena Dunham’s book @ SVA.Edu

At some point during my reading, I started coloring all the tiny pictures.  I think this was in an effort for the book not to end, but that makes me even more of a guppy so pretend I didn’t admit this.   Like Dunham’s memoir, it’s clear that I can’t go linear through it. I will do my best though.

Dunham starts with relationships.  I needed to read this so I could not choose the devil on my shoulder that said I could just artificially inseminate myself at 37 and choose the man on paper who would father that child.  (It’s still a serious thought though.  I talk about it over Mexican food to my best friends).  I’ve never written “Amen” in the sidelines of a book, but in this relationships section, I did too many times.  My personal favorite “Here’s who it’s not okay to share a bed with: Anyone who makes you feel like you’re invading their space.  Anyone who tells you that they ‘just can’t be alone right now.’ Anyone who doesn’t make you feel like sharing a bed is the coziest and most sensual activity they could possibly be undertaking (unless of course, it is one of the aforementioned relatives; in that case, they should act lovingly but also reserved/slightly annoyed) Now, look over at the person beside you. Do they meet these criteria? If not, remove them or remove yourself. You’re better off alone.”

Still of Lena Dunham’s Vimeo Video with illustrations by Joana Avillez

Art by Joana Avillez for Lena Dunham’s book.

I think that quote highlights the very essence of this book.  Everything she was saying I had either experienced, or knew was inherently bad/good for me, but sometimes, I need to be told literally in print to stop dating jerks because “When someone shows you how little you mean to them, and you keep coming back for more, before you know it you start to mean less to yourself.”

This rang so true for my high school first boyfriend (who was a total douchebag who I thought was so hot because he would start fights with boys that just looked at me over their shoulder) and rang true for a few boyfriends after that who treated me like I was good enough as their back-up dancer.  In this relationship section, I learned how okay I really am.  I highlighted many parts on self-respect, and continuing on your personal journey regardless of the man who either thinks he is on rungs higher than you, or doesn’t appreciate your oddness.

The amazing inside of Lena Dunham’s book by Joana Avillez.

The body section was a little weird, but still important to the general idea of being a woman and being told you’re not good enough in any shape unless you’re a Victoria Secret model (and even they’re told they’re too skinny).  We apply creams, sprays, dyes, lenses, glosses, surgeries to ourselves to look like someone we don’t even know, or someone’s ideal that we haven’t even really thought out for its purpose (Hello, obese women were the most popular in England for hundred of years before any Barbie ever came out — not that I recommend obesity for it’s general health problems, but still, the point).  This is the section people really have problems with on Goodreads. One girl actually counted the calories Dunham put for each item to find the errors.  I wasn’t looking for problems with Dunham while I was reading, I was just enjoying the kindred spirit affect of this book.

Maybe this makes me narcissistic.



I am, probably.  I enjoy a selfie-a-day.  I pout my lips in the mirror after I pop my lips together just following glossing them.  My Mom told me I was pretty (probably more than the average girl, but I wouldn’t know if this is true or not) and honestly, I believe it. And I think that’s important.  I feel pretty and I feel happy and I wear purple lipstick when I want and I still think I’m chic. So, BAM.

This was the other negative about Dunham’s book.  People thought like Joan Didion (pressing her riches into her memoir), Dunham is only famous due to her acclaimed parents and her “rich-girl” upbringing.  I beg to differ.  The girl who wrote this book is sensual, worldly, expecting, honest, experienced, and still learning.  I don’t care what the “haters” say at this point, this is someone’s life and it’s a story that’s worth telling like every life story is worth telling.  She even outlines her troubles in the industry and how she was treated not as a threat to her male counterparts, but as a sponge for ideas to steal.  She went to college and earned a degree in creative writing (even if she was the girl that everyone hates in workshop who tears their pieces apart and then has no merit in their own writing).  Girl got goods, she’s doing big things and I think at some point people need to learn to not be jealous of the way someone got to their light, but that they got there and they’re spreading it.

Image @ Blissfullvida@wordpress.com

Let the girl shine.

Dunham even writes about this jealousy, “And I decided then that I will never be jealous.  I will never be vengeful.  I won’t be threatened by the old, or by the new.  I’ll open wide like a daisy every morning.  I will make my work.”  If nothing else, this is advice to live by.  If everyone just tried to “do them” and better themselves and encourage others to continue to raise the tide, we would all be creating waves together.

Lena Dunham at the Globes 2010 (I think).

I think the biggest problem I have with people who hate this book is that they obviously were oblivious to the feelings of those around them in childhood and college.  Dunham opens doors to our most secret selves that we hide behind masked personalities.  She talks about her college sexual encounters and drug use (that ring true for so many college woman), and discusses her constant need for a therapist due to her anxiety about life’s bigger problems.  So many of the truly wonderful women, one of my very best friends especially, have trouble with anxiety and paranoia.  This is a true account of a society that either shuts its doors to people like this or just chooses not to recognize their struggle.  Regardless of how much money your parents make, your inner self can still struggle with so many things that are beyond financial.

Overall, this book gave me so many feelings.  I dried out a pen underlining and I couldn’t stop reading.  I wanted to keep knowing Dunham.  She had something to teach me even when she sounded just like me, because sometimes you need to hold up a mirror to yourself in order to understand.  Don’t believe the haters.  I know the girl can’t pick a Globes dress … ever, but she can write a damn memoir, and every girl should read it.

*I’ve never watched Girls so this review is totally based on Dunham’s memoir and short interviews at award’s shows (and the fact she’s best friends with Taylor Swift).

A book to turn on your weird feels.

SomeEcards are not so funny, but so true.

I, too, believe the theory that all people are ruined by their first love, even if they do end up marrying and toting the title of “high school sweetheart” or “kissed on the playground at six.”  While I watched, Cody from Sister Wives talk to his daughter about how kissing leads to attachments that should be kept separate for a future husband, I was scoffing, no less. And then I thought about it and kissing is terrible for the human psyche, at least if you’re playing those “adult” games.

I used to be really good at these when I was young and wild.  I think it came from being a good liar as a child, I could work a chess board of dating emotions with the best of them.  I was a black widow of dating, per Iggy.  It could also be the obscene amount of Brandy and Monica I listened to, but really, we can’t blame them, they were playing a game of their own.

SomeEcards are always SO on point.

I try not to play those games anymore because I got burned from my own sick game which taught me a valuable lesson about honesty.  And now, I’m probably too honest, to the point of the negative connotation of it, “blunt.”

It’s these games that cause us, as American dating millennials, so much trouble.  We picture our future marriages to a guy who just smiled at us, we window shop in online dating and swipe left every time he has an out of place freckle, and we madly text almost-love messages and then get bored four weeks later.  It’s actually a disgusting way to date, I like to call it the “date and discard.”  I find this is the case with a lot of my single friends (now that I’m in that category and I’m restudying my kind).  One of my best friends would rather call the dating scene for late twenties-early thirties, “dick pic and discard.”  (Thanks, Tinder).

Thanks, Tinder. You do so much for the community.

And if we get an emotional response (wait, we still have those nerves) we quickly find a reason to self-sabotage and chalk the whole thing up to another Taylor Swift downfall.  Heaven forbid, we set ourselves up for that “marriage” thing that all our other friends who are no longer cool on a Saturday night have.  Every single girl knows, she jumps up and down at the engagement of a friend and then goes home to paint her nails alone and thinks “man down.”

Another Bad Man by Miranda July

This isn’t the Sex & the City.  We’ve cloned thousands of Samantha’s and their walking around attached to cell phones and pretending to read books and all dressing like their from Portland.  This is actually a long way to set-up the review for Another Bad Man by Miranda July out from Scribner on January 13th.  A fitting date for this strange pursuit at a novel.

I should preface this with, I’m obsessed with Miranda July.  She’s like the coolest version of Zoey Deschanel, except she’s actually artsy, and she pulls off an Annie wig hairstyle, and she has the eyes of an anime character.  She’s got that “dark and mysterious” thing going on that my cousin claims is the only thing a girl needs to hook him.  (Another disgusting thing about millennials is that we don’t actually want to know each other, we just want our significant other to look good on paper…and on the face).  Jamie Veron had all this right in his article for Thought Catalog.

I say all this, longwindedly, to say that I think this idea of adult dating as sick game play is at the heart of Miranda July’s newest novel.    A forty year old woman is searching for her own life through ideas she believes from her past lives.  For example, she must date Philip because they were a cave family together, and she looks in the faces of babies to see if they are really her soul-children.  I know this all sounds strange right now, but it all ended up being for good by the end.  I’ll admit, a little bit into it, when she started going to the therapist for this imaginary globus stuck in her neck, I was a little worried that July was way off base.

Miranda July // Creative Commons

A quick summary: Cheryl (the forty year old) takes on a fresh-out-of-teenagehood house guest and they begin an adult game of their own which alters Cheryl’s life forever, and quakes the lives around her own (though she did have few friends).

It’s really a story of love and strength at any age, but it has some strange romances, or blips of romance because that’s the only way us millennials can date.  I think Cheryl is a woman stuck in between this idea of a lifetime marriage, and a blip of dating/cougarhood.  And it takes the entirety of the novel for her to figure out where her soul fits in this mess called life.

“None of them had been pursued.  I had not flown to Japan by myself to see what it was like there.  I had not gone to nightclubs and said Tell me everything about yourself to strangers.  I had not even gone to the movies by myself.  I had been quiet when there was no reason to be quiet and consistent when consistency didn’t matter.  For the last twenty years I had lived as if I was taking care of a newborn baby” – Cheryl in The First Bad Man by Miranda July.

A Miranda July Art Project from a few years ago.

I think the quote above establishes my favorite part of this novel because it sets everything that we believe on ice and forces us to realize that life is going to happen, whether we join in, whether we’re playing some game, or whether we actually win.  Dating will happen, or it won’t. Saturday nights alone will happen, or they won’t.  Therapists will give good advice and then immediately follow it with terrible advice that we always follow, friends do this too.  I once told my best friend to stand outside of a grocery store in her pajamas to beg for a boy to talk to her.  Not sure what dating cycle I was in at that point in my life, but it obviously was not a good one.

The characters in the novel all work at a self-defense agency making videos that women can use to get exercise, but also use as tools to fight off attackers.  They come together when Phil (one of the board members) presents a secret to Cheryl and Cheryl takes on her not-so-teenage houseguest, Clee.  Clee causes Cheryl to unwind and live a life that isn’t so plain jane, but she also rocks her world with unanswerable questions and even more unanswerable life situations.  These are the three main characters, I would argue, but others pop in with advice, rich characterization, and just overall weirdness.  I’m still a little unsure about the weirdness in this novel.  It took about halfway for me to invest enough in it to ignore all that.

Miranda July family videos // Creative Commons

This is why I’m going to not recommend this to the masses.  I think it’s more for a pocket of people that will understand that we all make really strange decisions, (and sometimes those are closet sexual decisions) in order to just get by.  If you can’t face that main Google fact, then I’m not sure this is really a book you should pick up.  It’s like watching really bad dancing (like doing the 1990s worm with a stomach bulge), and hoping it will get better, but then it doesn’t get better in the way that you think it will, instead it gets better in this odd new way.

I feel like I’m not making sense.  This is a really hard book to review in any sort of adequate way because it’s so….its own. It’s original and quirky and a little brilliant.  Just don’t blame me, if you feel weird while reading during parts of it.  I guess this is basically a dare. I dare you to read this one and try not to be completely weirded out. Let’s get strange!


Newsday Tuesday


Favorite Tweets:

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Favorite Search Terms:

  • anne sexton legs: For the record, she was cheeky in daisy dukes sometimes.
  • prometheus vagina: I do not, and hope to ever understand this reference.  It’s actually terrifying, both in a sci-fi way and a greek myth way.
  • short 24 line rhyming poem: I wonder how many there are.
  • emily croy barker book 2: HOLLA! I’ve been waiting too.

Book News:

These are our stories written down.

Picture of a swamp area near my parent's house - taken by me.

Picture of a swamp area near my parent’s house – taken by me.

Listening to Megan Mayhew Bergman read from this story collection at North Carolina State prompted me to call my parents crying and tell them I’m going to write a novel.  At that point in my writing life, I was manically writing in my journal (a la Sylvia), but I was in no shape to write a novel.   Two sisters have been floating around my head from a swamp area in North Carolina where they have to wear rain slickers and don’t often comb their hair.  A lot of baby powder dusts the floor just below their vanity.  They have yet to become a novel, or a short story, but they’re there constantly.

Poet, Ruth Stone @ Wikipedia Commons

My poetry professor in college loved the poet, Ruth Stone.  They were friends outside of academia and she told us the story once of how Ruth Stone, as a young girl, in what I imagine is a cotton shift dress, paisley, would hear poems like tornados.  She would be peeling the green ear of a corn, or popping grapes into her mouth, the blue drain of them coating her bare feet, and she would hear it, off in the distance like a swift train.  From the field, she would have to run into the house, across floor boards, upstairs, to a page of white paper to get the poem before the storm ceased.  If she was too late, the poem rested somewhere out of reach.  Too early, and the poem jumbled.  She had to find the perfect quotient of time in order to get the poem on paper.

Like relationships, I think writing has a timing.  Sometimes when people ask me why I haven’t written a book, I answer that I have been unable to read the amount of stories I must have in my metaphorical library to put on paper what I need to say.  There is a story in me, it’s just not ready to be shaken out.

This is probably just fear.

Megan Mayhew Bergman, Published at Ploughshares in a column titled “Writers and Their Pets”

With writers like Megan Mayhew Bergman, who is from a relatively small town in my home state of North Carolina, I look to her for inspiration. I sit with my journal open as I read her story collections and write down all the quotes that either shift my soul to a new position, or make me want to write down an image, a smell, a moment on the page.  I have highlighted and written in her books, analyzed how she works sentences, when she believes the image is pushed far enough, how she makes the small moments seem like hours, or ones life in a time capsule.  Bergman is brilliant, and every time I read her stories, I’m inspired to finally write something down.  I don’t know if it’s that I want to be her when I grow up (even though I’m pretty much here and grown) of if it’s that she’s been able to do something with a life that is so similar to mine (other than the adorable husband, and toddlers).

Almost Famous Women, Megan Mayhew Bergman (Available Jan 5, 2014 from Scribner).

Her newest collection, Almost Famous Women, was the perfect book to study first in 2015.  I feel that not reading this story collection would have neglected something from my life.  Each woman has her own strength, even if it’s built through various wounds, drugs, historical racism, shell-shock, or grandeur.   I began reading this book eating alone in a Bob Evans.  I ordered big because that’s all one can do in a breakfast place. I instagrammed the moment (because I too can be a useless millennial at times) and talked about the power I feel sometimes from eating alone in a restaurant.  This same power comes to me from reading a collection of stories about women who were on the cusp of greatness and maybe didn’t reach it, but through books, letters and passed down myth have now reached new heights in Bergman’s stories.

Edna St. Vincent Millay Published by The American Reader in 07/2013.

This is the kind of book that leads to research.  It’s filled with small details that prompt the google machine start up.  The power of this story collection is in those details. The fact that Edna St. Vincent Millay is called Vincent in the story, and for a few pages, the reader assumes, because she’s the only one who gets letters from publishers in her family, that she is the male heir.  It’s a great twist to the reader’s psyche, even though the true heroine to that story is her sister Norma, who is my second favorite woman brought up and put out wet in this collection.  My generation thinks of Millay as this feminist heroine who could give strength to flower petals, but it is her sister that stars in this story:

 “Norma knows when they wake up they’ll be alone in the dim kitchen, smearing day-old bread with measured dollops of blueberry jam, warmed on the stove. They’ll do the washing until their fingers are numb with cold, sing songs their mother taught them, tell stories in bed about imaginary lovers–what does a lover do as much as kiss?–while the modest fire becomes nothing but smoldering coals.   They’re a houseful of skinny girls, dirt-poor ingenues singing arias from a cabin in the swampy part of town near the mill, a place the shipbuilders have fled.  The young forest is beginning to grow again, but lately it’s bare enough to see the lean deer moving through” (Norma Millay’s Film Noir Period, Act 1, Bergman).

The Queen of Whale Cay by Kate Summerscale

Most of the stories in this collection made tiny dents in my ideas about womanhood, femininity and the ideals that are both given to us, and we set upon ourselves.  How do the women of war face post traumatic stress disorder in a time when not even men were allowed to feel that quake. In “The Siege at Whale Cay” M.B. “Joe” Carstairs rocks and sobs in the closed rectangle of a closet when she remembers her war experiences.  In “Romaine Remains” a famous artist is used and discarded by her own unthinkable past.  These women are shipwrecks, but still beautiful in the way that they were on the tip of having it all and either the world was too much, too swollen, or they made a choice to remain just girls in the throw of it.

Lucia Joyce, Creative Commons @ Wikipedia (also the photo printed into Bergman’s book)

My favorite story in the collection is “Expression Theory” about Lucia Joyce a dancer in Paris.  She was a bit mad, but she was mad in the way that I believe all creative people must be.  She was working over her craft, too busy for the normalcies of a world that just didn’t get her and the writing in this story just particularly took hold of me.  Possibly my favorite description in the collection is as follows:

“They give nighttime shows, the flicker of oil lamps on their damp skin.  Her muscles were firmer then. She spoke three languages.  She was on the verge of something.  Her thoughts were the color of moss and her head was teeming with them.  The ideas were crawling all over her body like the fat worms she used to feed the rouser after a rain, the lonely one who crowed in the city streets at dawn, the one who sought shelter behind a fetid wastebin” (Expression Theory, Bergman).

I think the most powerful, and the most hard to craft aspect of Bergman’s writing is her small details.  Reading her work, I know she’s smart because her word choice is so perfect, and so delicate, it causes a reader to want to start at A and read the dictionary, learning the sounds of words as much as their meanings.  Her details, her senses, her moments of just beautiful writing made me want to take up a flag to these stories.

Lipstick @ creative commons

I will always be a fan of Bergman and read anything that she feels comfortable paperbacking for the world, however, this story collection should be read by and for women everywhere.  These are the things in which we live, these are the ways that we carry ourselves without ever recognizing the bundles on our backs.  I carry a picnic knapsack of sadness on a burned stick that I can’t let go of, and someone carries their father’s old socks, and another girl must only carry the lipstick she stole from her mother’s purse at age eleven just before she slipped into the night.  These are our stories written down.

All The Books I Never Finished,

And never regretted it.

Let’s start at the beginning. God did it apparently, so it’s good enough for us.

  • I’ve been reading Swamplandia for approximately two years and seventy-three days.  I borrowed it from my cousin’s girlfriend who is just as much of a book nerd as me, so I feel kind of bad that I’m that person who doesn’t return books.

Hi, I’m Cassie and I don’t always return borrowed books.

I also have two of the three Colleen Hoover books in a series (Slammed and Point of Retreat) on my shelf from her that I have yet to read. I really should have gotten her a “Return to” label for her personal library books.

Quick flashback: This poor girl, Rachel Dennis, who must have gotten married because I can find her nowhere on social media, gave me the book The Princess Bride.  She even came to my house, before having a driver’s license, to try to get that book back.  To this day (I read it this year), it’s in my personal library with her name scrolled in high school bubble handwriting.  I feel less bad today because the book comes with its own small history, but still.

Hi, I’m Cassie and I have a long history of not returning borrowed books unless their from the library and people are going to charge me a fine.

Back to Swamplandia. How did anyone finish this book?  It was slow, and completely, unrealistically weird.  A brother who works at a hell theme park. A sister who wants to wrestle albino alligators like her mother in a bay watch suit.   A sister who believes she’s dating a dead boy who’s stuck on a tug boat.  I got through the first round of hell and doom, but as soon as the narrator met the bird man and went after her sister who could have just watched Ghost to live vicariously through, I couldn’t.  I keep the bookmark in it just in case I can finish those last hundred pages, I’m not one to give up. But…it’s been a few years.  Maybe 2015 is the year of Swamplandia.

Recommendation: Read Lauren Groff’s story “At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners” to get your fix of Everglade reptiles and sadness without all the kitschy things that make a book seem “unique” and “original” even though it’s just a mass production of a weird best-seller.  Groff’s story is one of the only magnificent stories in the Best American Series 2014.

  • We, The Drowned – Carsten Jensen

    I will finish We, the Drowned. It’s just massive.  It’s a steel block of book, but it will get done. I always remember the plot when I come back to it, even after months, which is a true sign of a good story.  Plus, the cover’s too beautiful not to know it when someone comes into my library and spots it and asks.  It has a 4.18 score on Goodreads which might be because so few people have actually finished it and they all loved it, or it’s just a stellar book. One won’t know until 2015.

  • Tiger Lily ruined Alias Hook for me.  If Peter Pan wasn’t such a young adult chauvinist pig in Tiger Lily and Tiger Lily wasn’t such a desperate teen heart then maybe I could have read another Peter Pan remake in the same year. However, Tiger Lily was so terrible – the best part was the dedication: For the girls with messy hair and thirsty hearts. 
  • All The Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doeer

    At this point I’m the only person that didn’t like and didn’t finish All The Light We Cannot See. It was on the bestseller list in our newspaper this morning even.  I just couldn’t finish it. After all the WWII books, to be infinite, authors have to write something that breaks the heart open.  This just didn’t.  I only read until the boy was at the training camp for a few months and his weak friend was bullied (and I think died).  I was really interested in the blind girl’s story and the architecture her father built into her veins as a home, but the author stayed so long on the boy and sister that I gave up.  Anyone have any reasons to push through on this one?

  • There’s no reason I shouldn’t have finished A Tale for the Time Being.  It was bad timing. I might start over.  Especially because Alena told me how much she loved it, and she’s one of my most precious recommenders.  Half the feelings we have towards books (and boys – significant others) is timing, I think.
  • Diego Draws @ Tumblr (A Rose for Emily)

    Other than Faulkner’s Emily, Miss Havisham may be my favorite character in literary history. Unfortunately, she was dragged through the ash of the Industrial Age by Ronald Frame.  I couldn’t even do it.

Why do white girls go to the bathroom in groups of odd numbers? We just can’t even.

I just can’t even.

  • I work with a literature prude.  He teaches British Lit which is perfect for him. He might be the most well-read person that I know, actually. I always return his books partly because I live in fear of his reaction if I don’t.  Plus, we have this long standing feud over who is the better Fitzgerald, Zelda or F. Scott. (It’s Zelda). He recommended Special Topics in Calamity Physics which is a book that just makes me feel like an idiot and I’m not even sure if the author researched her own research.  People on Goodreads claim it has “literary allusions” but they must be philosophical geniuses because this book is too hoity-toity for the average American girl who reads.
  • I’m a girl who loves a girl named Francine. (It’s like Madeline, I can just imagine the perfect etiquette and the way she dabs her lips gently with a cloth embroidered napkin). And her last name is Prose, which if you’re going to be a writer, your last name cannot get any more perfect than Prose. However, the remake of Bigfoot Dreams. WHY. I wouldn’t let anyone reprint a book that was terrible in the first place.  You want to reprint my book, choose one that’s good.  How about Blue Angel or Golden Grove, but Big Foot Dreams.  Open Road Integrated Media, I deplore you.  Remake books that matter, not books that are fillers for authors to keep their publishing contract with the big names. (This is also a publishing world problem).

Cormac McCarthy

I think every year readers have books that they just can’t finish.  This year was especially bad for me.  Most years, I push through the bad and just finish as many as I can, but this year I made a resolution to refuse to read bad books.  So this year, I would read a few pages and then put the book down forever.  Even Cormac McCarthy had to suffer through this with two of his books on this list.  I started a lot of books.  I probably read more pages of starters than I did finishers.  I’m not sure if this was just me being stressed with teaching and less time to really hook my claws into “good” books, or if this is a publishing epidemic.  Are they (American publishing houses) publishing less NEED and more WANT? I can’t answer that question without an insider view really, but lately I’ve felt that no books have moved me so far as to write a brilliant review since probably, The Tiger’s Wife. I want a book I can faint inside.  Did you read any books like that this year? RECOMMEND please.  I might even start one of those cute little TBR mason jars.

A Timeline is Not a Novel

I know for sure that I don’t hate this novel.  If anything, it made me wish I was able to interview my grandmother for a seventh grade historical genealogy assignment.  Every year, I have my students write about and research their name, like Sandra Cisneros did in one of her vignettes for A House on Mango Street.  Some teachers of the Holocaust have their students find and interview survivors or people who are related to those who suffered.

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

Unlike either of those projects, this was a fictional novel of an interview between a granddaughter and her grandmother.  You never hear from the granddaughter in The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant, but the grandmother Addie Baum tells the timeline of her life in the interview from her beginnings in 1900 to 1985 when she is doing the interview.  Addie weaves the historical remnants of prohibition, speakeasies, women who are just being allowed to be professionals, Rockport Lodge for girls, and the artistic culture, with her life as a Jewish girl in Boston growing up between her mother’s yiddish, her sister’s bobbed hair, and her own voice.  Her story was a retelling of a life which I found fascinating because it was true to an oral history of a woman of 85 that has not lost even one marble.  She’s full of fairy wisdom, and never strays from the pain in her life which makes it seem true to a real woman’s history.

Smithsonian Magazine Photo from The Boston Globe

Where I had a problem was that this book is incredibly boring. It has very little narrative drive.  This is an 85 year old woman that has very little spunk, all of her friends claim throughout her life that she’s so smart and well-read, but her speaking language never comes off any sort of beautiful.  (I don’t think most people’s speaking language is particularly beautiful. My writing language can hold a leather glove to my speaking language.  This is my first argument against BookTube).  The Boston Girl is almost an exact timeline of a woman’s life.  The expected happens. Life happens.  The scary and turbulent happens (as shit storms come through with their dust rolls and sticking webs in most lives).  I left this book wondering what exactly the point was.  Was it to tell the history of Boston women as a gaggle from 1900-1985, or Jewish immigrant women during this time? That’s the problem with plot.

Gym full of victims of the 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak. Source: Dartmouth Medicine Magazine

It ends (for me) at Addie’s marriage which I think was a smart ending.  For the entire novel, Addie finds herself rubbing against the ideals for women during the early 1900s (particularly prohibition, the Great Depression, Spanish Influenza and not so much the World Wars).  I think when she gets married, her life as a girl “coming of age” is no longer driving the novel forward, and that is the justifiable end.  Plus, the soon-to-be-husband is easy for the reader to like, as is expected if we’re going to come to a happy ending.

Rockport Lodge featured in Designing Women

I wonder if the novel was severely lacking because I had very little emotional response.  There was almost no need to because I could predict what was coming.  I know history and so I knew someone in her family would be graved by the Spanish Influenza and as a woman she would face the beginning of woman’s fight for rights.   Maybe I didn’t feel so much for it because an 85 year old woman would not remember these details of her life so specifically, the big ones, yes, but all the little touches – I just don’t know.  Maybe I didn’t like it because the writing was so plain, there was very little beauty in the wisdom and I didn’t feel as if 85 year old Addie was talking to me, but instead she was a younger version of herself.  Throughout the novel she tracks her many key friendships; Filomena who faced a bleach abortion, and moved to Arizona to pursue her art practice, Betty, Addie’s her independent sister, Celia, her fragile sister, Rose, who she attended Rockport Lodge with and Irene, Rose’s sister.  All these women were women I, too, have shared a life with in some way or another, but that’s just what this was, a life.  A life spoken down.

Have any of you read this one? It has a pretty high 5-point score of 3.81 on Goodreads.  Maybe I’m a Debbie Downer? Send your feedback below.

And What Exactly is the Melody of Love?

Lullabies by Lang Leav

This book was like a road trip with a friend that you should only really see for a lunch occasion, with another friend as a buffer. It was a mess of hurt to slosh through. Word to the wise, don’t read a poetry collection of love and heartache when you still have to listen to Mariah Carey’s “Shake It Off” on repeat for the occasional evening.

I haven’t read any other of Lang Leav’s books, but I saw Lullabies all over #bookstagram, and who doesn’t love a lullaby?  I like listening to the rain when I sleep because there’s something about the whisper of a raindrop skimming a closed window.  This book, though, is a rocket taking off in your chest.  It makes you weep on pg. 3 and then you can’t get yourself together until pg. 37.  The very first poem, “Her Words” is written to every girl out there that ever wanted a boy to love the nerdy way she wrote his name in cursive in her notebook, circled in a collection of different sized hearts.

“Love a girl who writes
and live her many lives;
you have yet to find her,
beneath her words of guise.”

This is a poetry collection that gives meaning to Salinger’s famous quote, “She wasn’t doing a thing that I could see, except standing there leaning on the balcony railing, holding the universe together.”  Lang Leav has constructed a collection for all the broken-hearted women, the story-tellers, and the girls who lunch gossips, the book clubs, and the girls who wish someone would ask them out in the produce section, the ones that the girl’s remember, and every single one they want to forget even though they can look at just something like windshield wipers and want to cry.  It’s a book, at the core, about love and the many ways we hold it, carry it or worship it.  Leav is clear in her mantra of love, but shows the ways too, that it can decay and sour.  I would argue that this book is best read just after falling in love, or just after leaving, which is all of us, all the time.

“Signposts” by Lang Leav

Post-breakup, I especially loved the poem “Signposts.” There was also the following line from “Thoughts of You:”

“There were times when I was with him and it was too much.  Does that make sense? When someone stirs a world of emotion in you and it’s so intense you can barely stand to be with him.”

A portrait of Woolf by Roger Fry c. 1917 (Creative Commons Wikipedia)

Other than feeling really loved throughout this text, I didn’t really pay attention to the structure of the book. I don’t really understand the sectioning and I think that’s okay.  I think the sections are more a symbol of Leav’s love life, and less something for the reader to hold onto as they read. I was very interested in her words and how she constructs the images, but less so with her rhythms and word choice.  She has constant images of the sea which I found cliche, even when she used them in a new way (love and the sea has been done before, and no one can compete with it more than Hemingway’s Old Man, Captain Ahab, and poor Virginia Woolf with her rock-filled petticoat pockets).  Her man should have just bought her a nice, straight robe.

A group of women window shopping in Toronto, Canada in 1937. via Creative Commons Wikipedia

Leav’s rhythm was often unexpected, but in an off sort of way.  You can’t set up the reader’s expectations with a set rhythm and then the last line throws that rhythm completely off.  Writers can do that when the line is meant to jar the reader with word choice, meaning, or conclusions, but just to have an off-set rhythm isn’t fair to the reader’s flow.  This is almost my only negative critique of Leav and I think that’s more because her content speaks to every high school heart that grows into a woman of boundaries, or window-shopping, of loose loving and rolled-up sleeves, or one of loneliness.  It’s hard to get a grasp on what kind of love you can give in all its forms and stages, but I think Leav’s volume, Lullabies, captures that unknowing.

http://www.wikihow.com670 × 503Search by image Be a Tomboy and Girly Girl Step 1.jpg via Creative Commons Wiki

The best thing I can say is that this book is that spirit of love.  There’s a poem for every single one of my ex-boyfriends, my dating trajectory and series of unfortunate events.  Down to the use of “thigh” in a poem, Leav read me like a stanza.   I immediately remembered one of my favorite ex-boyfriends (we had the best stories) who was stabbed and ended up with a lightning bolt scar on his thigh.  I constantly tell my students that it’s the specifics that make a poem, a reader doesn’t clutch at the general, but the small moment specifics that are so true to the speaker that they become true for the reader. Leav does this, and in many ways captures the loving feelings of a generation of girls that in all their willpower refuse to collapse in a world where we still have conversations about men being dominant.  Clearly, if we continue to write this poetry of the heart, our tomboyish flutters will win us a good conquer.



Newsday Tuesday


Favorite Tweets:

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Favorite Search Terms:

  • gif cat writing blackboard fast: It’s like this person knows the inner me.
  • christmas baking poems with figurative language: Some hot Mom is going to recite poetry in only her apron this Christmas. OR some teacher is baking figurative language into cookies.
  • marry the beast and get that library: I’m trying.
  • stress free quotes tumblr: There’s lotion for this at Bath & Body Works.

Book News:

“I always remember my favorite things, and then I don’t feel so bad.”

My Favorite Things by Maira Kalman @ Smithsonian Press

Everyone has favorite things.

Julie Andrews sang a whole song about hers as she floated around mountain landscapes and swung around light poles.

I think it’s important to have favorite things, and even more, it’s important to have unusual things that don’t make sense to anyone but you because you’ve added some sort of sentimentality to the object itself.  I keep my grandmother’s strainer under the sink, not because it still works, but because sometimes I bring it out just to filter my kitchen light.  It’s got a star design of holes and it reminds me of a Christmas luminary.  Every so often, I need that speckled sunshine on my kitchen floors.

Used Chairs. Maira Kalman @ The Smithsonian

Maira Kalman wrote another fabulous illustrated memoir about some of her favorite things. Things she found in museums, in the muse of her childhood, on the side of old neighborhood streets, in fancy living rooms, books, embroideries.  In every Maria Kalman book I’ve ever read (even illustrations in current YA novels), she gives me some philosophy about life that opens the doors of my soul so I can hear the singing.  This one is no different.  My Favorite Things is built like a small gift, fabric binding, smooth hardcover, and vintage decorated inside cover and endpaper.

Teacup @ Smithsonian Press by Maira Kalman

I just think she’s so unusually creative.  She has an eye for quirky elegance like listing both Alice in Wonderland and Winnie the Pooh pages in her favorite things, as well as a collection of obtuse hats.  From a man lying in the park with a pug to Abraham Lincoln memorabilia, Kalman is looking at the world through the holes of a flower petal and the telescope of history.   This book originally began as a way to showcase the new Cooper Hewitt collection for the Smithsonian Design Museum.  However, it becomes this interweaving of life story, and how life story impacts the baggage we bring with us into a museum.  I might carry a large purse, but I find art compelling when it tells me something about myself, or my world.  It’s hard for me to connect to art when it doesn’t seem to deal inherently with me.  I’m sure that’s totally egocentric, but I think I match a typical American.  Art inspires because it smoothes and then oils the gears within us.

Embroideries by Maira Kalman after her mother’s death @ The Smithsonian

I think this is something Kalman has conquered with her favorite things, and her other books.  I am always inspired, I found myself turning the page just to see if we could share a story.  This is the best part of the book, it’s both memoir and trinket collection.  She tells the story of embroidery she stitched after her mother’s death, my favorite being, “my rigid heart is tenderly unmanned.” In another moment, she photographs a spoon with engraved initials, it says, “Before there were forks, there were spoons.  The spoon can be used by a baby, by a person eating soup.  Watching a person eat soup can break your heart.”

Hats by Maira Kalman @ Smithsonian Press

She even jokes about fringes being added to Lincoln’s pall that covered his coffin.  It’s both a story about the life of a woman, and the story about history as told through the eyes of the viewer, even the late-comer who views history much after it’s happened.  She is the eyes of the museum-goer, the photographer, the backpack traveler, the person who wants to reach out and touch the gold pot on the mantle in the Biltmore House, but resists just in case it trembles.  I adore Maira Kalman and I even almost used this book as a diary.  I wanted to write on the pages that she colored.  I’ve held back to keep it pristine, but I hope someone gets that close to this book.  It’s never a blush to get intimate with a good read.


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