“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Let Down Your Hair”

Imagine this. Well, just do this. Imagine this is a step-by-step list for reading Michael Cunningham’s new book, A Wild Swan.

Watch this standup video of Iliza Shlesinger “The Grabbing Hand”

Then, listen to this song by Sara Bareilles, “Faiytale.”

Sing along if you want to.  No one’s actually watching you at home, reading this blog, opening new tabs to watch music videos only to find yourself in the rabbit hole of Youtube karaoke and singing show videos.  However, all is not lost. “Cinderella’s on the bedroom floor, she’s got a … crush on the guy … at the liquor store.”

Anne Sexton, Transformations

Anne Sexton, Transformations

Anyway, both of these are great openers to Michael Cunningham’s new book of remixed fairytales.  As we all know, this isn’t quite a new idea, but Cunningham has been appointed (by the white canon, cough cough) as the king of remixing.  His crown is a bit tilted, but hey, Julianne Moore was a star in the movie made for his book The Hours so the man is basically royalty.  I still stand firmly in the fact that Anne Sexton did it best. However, I quite enjoyed the sarcasm and modernism of A Wild Swan.

Jet.com mind blowing purple haze (que Prince)

Jet.com mind blowing purple haze (que Prince)

My favorite stories in this book were actually the shorter ones, but I really loved the ending of “The Beast” and because Belle has always been my favorite Disney princess, the twist that Cunningham put on her, as believing she’s fabulous due to her own virtuosity was a win for me.  He says, “Beauty wanted, didn’t she, to be the pure and faultless one.  She was subject to the arrogance of nuns.”  It’s always special to me when an author can twist something that I’ve known and loved into something so obnoxiously true that my mind does that purple haze in the Jet.com commercial.

Illustrations by Yuko Shimizu

Illustrations by Yuko Shimizu, in Michael Cunningham’s book A Wild Swan

In “Monkey’s Paw,” Cunningham’s rendition, it was perfect for all the sickos out there.  A son gets mangled, a monkey paw finds a shelf of its very own.  That kind of thing. “Crazy Old Lady” with the witch in Hansel and Gretel tells the revived story of the witch as a Cougar trying to lure budding children, let’s be honest, teenage boys of simple mind, to her candy coated house.  The best part of this story was the (break the fourth wall) part where Cunningham describes the upkeep that has to go into gluing and polishing a house made of candy canes and lollipops.

A Wild Swan Cover

A Wild Swan Cover

Then there were a solid section of stories kind of about how women’s lives sucked in fairytales.  “Steadfast; Tin” is about a couple who find themselves interested in each other, marrying each other in fact, solely because of their broken pieces.  “The Beast” has Beauty finding her prince charming, unzipping his beastly exterior like a wardrobe accessory and he has the sparkly, too keen grin, of a beast.  Terrifying, really. In “Little Man” the princess marries the man who has threatened to kill her before she spins the straw into gold because every girl wants to marry the man who will tie a rope around her neck instead of gold and diamonds.  And in “Her Hair” Rapunzel manages to keep scraps of her hair like your mom kept in the keepsake scrapbook taped to page of miscellaneous data about your upbringing.  The prince, blind from the thorns, pets the hair, unattached from the head every evening thinking that his wife still dons the luxury locks.

Illustrations by Yuko Shimizu

Illustrations by Yuko Shimizu

“Ever/After” is obviously my favorite story in the collection.  It’s the only true happy story.  A good looking boy marries a plump linebacking princess.  They stay connected forever…and after, and their family continues to prosper in a kingdom of normal reality where there are robberies and wineries just like most towns in Southern America.  However, it’s a story of hope.  A reminder to every girl. ever. that fairytales aren’t actually what the world is made of.  Small disasters, and little trickeries happen, but as long as you have people who love you, for you, around you, then you will be handled with care and welcomed into goodness. Maybe that was even too fairytale for what this story says.  In my mind, it just made me feel lucky that I have a man that there’s no doubt in my mind would stand by me at any stage of life. I will be senile. He will be senile. We will be full of sentiment.

I really can make every book about me, can’t I?

Anyway, I definitely recommend this book if you like your fairytales with a pinch of salt on the rim. See: Margarita, See: If books had parental advisory, this one would say “sexual content/nudity.” Snow White’s prince even has a sleeping princess encased in glass fetish.   The read was quick, a car ride from the mountains, and it’s fun. I found myself wondering how Cunningham came up with all the “behind the scenes” thoughts in the book like Rumpelstiltskin’s aged aunt, Beauty’s confidence in her own goodness, Cougar witches, the after of the prince with still one swan wing.  The book isn’t all what happens after, but sometimes what happens during, or what happened before.  If Star Wars gets sequels and prequels, so shall the fairies.

PS. The illustrations are at the very least, worth a skim when you find this on the shelves of the library.  I would buy the book just to hang the illustrations on my wall.  Yuko Shimizu is a genius.

Life Was Easier When All I Had To Take Care of Was a Tamagotchi

Because every author I love should make lists like this one…(Thanks, Tim Manley).

This time around I will be supporting hipsters and their cult following.  I swear, that’s the snarkiest thing I will say about hipsters all blog.  If you haven’t heard about Tumblr by now, it’s pretty much the place that all internet memes, gifs, fangirls, people who take photos and then filter in “vignette,” girls in combat boots, Ryan Gosling “Hey Girls”, or Feminist Ryan Goslings, naked selfies sans face, and lots of sad grammar issues, go to die.  It’s the land of everything great and awful about the inter webs, and there is definitely something for everyone.

Chicken Little from Alice in Tumblr-land by Tim Manley

In fact, recently a lot of publishers have been looking to popular Tumblr sites to find first time authors.  My favorite one of these is 40 Days of Dating where two friends, and designers, chose to date for 40 days and write about the entire thing.  I won’t ruin it for you before you’ve checked it out, but you can read it from the beginning, or from the end and it’s still the same amount of broken at top or bottom.  I’m really looking forward to the pub date on that one, Abrams is supposed to publish it in the fall.

These are just a few of the fantasies you can have on tumblr.  However, there’s also a deeply seeded life of romance on Tumblr.  There are tons of sites with couples and fairytale pictures from weddings, and just people kissing each other square on the mouth.  And who are the queens of romance? That’s right; Belle, Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Jasmine, and Little Mermaid.  Yes, I’m aware, that these girls have relationships equivalent to Romeo and Juliet, they were most likely teenagers who fell in love in a single night, hinged on a single moment that usually involved stars brilliant over a rising horizon, but I think it would be safe to say that the majority of girls look for this kind of blind spot in romance.

He also provides Christmas comics for the LOLers.

The newest version of these teen dramas comes in the form of a tiny and illustrated book called Alice in Tumblr-Land.  Tim Manley, a cog in the wheel of tumblr created Fairy Tales for 20 Somethings and it become this 90’s baby’s dream.

I read this book in one sitting and was hooked as soon as Manley mentioned Dunkaroos, a staple of my childhood packed lunches.  He has so many references to my childhood and teenagehood that I couldn’t help but laugh in glee.  All of your favorite Disney stars and even just some children’s book stars like Ugly Duckling are popped into modern times and expected to cope.  Peter Pan desperately wants his blog to be a hit and so he creates a viral meme (where was Wendy when he needed some guidance because we all know Tiger Lily would not put up with any of that SHIZZ).  Sleeping Beauty has self-esteem and self-expression problems, we all saw that one coming.  I mean for heaven’s sakes, the girl was raised with three babbling crazy aunts.  Usually, we only have one of those in every family, but she had a mighty and strong three.  I’m truly surprised the Ugly Duckling wasn’t mildly obsessed with the Aflack duck, but she did go to a high school reunion and take plenty of selfies.

Tamagotchi, YES.

Let’s be honest, I grew up in the original selfie generation.  First, we created juice packets that you had to stab in order to sip.  Then, we had the misfortune of letting acid washed jeans come back.  We led the boy band movement and wallpapered our rooms in Nick Carter’s face (okay, that one was just me). We can all sing the F.R.I.E.N.D.S theme song and when I have children, they will definitely yell “Smelly Cat” into the faces of Fromage and Jasper.  We kept small creatures alive on Tomagotchi.  Now that was a cool aspect of the 90s, proven by Sheldon on “Big Bang Theory” still carrying his Tomagotchi around on his keychain.  Tomagotchi was the last straw before AIM.  I believe my aim name was OompaLumpa76.  It changed frequently, but that was the beginning from dial-up to “dtf,” and here we are.

Memory lane can be so good to me sometimes.  Manley captures all of this in Alice in Tumblr-Land.  The Fairy-godmothers provide service through twitter.  The little beauties have self-esteem and jealousy issues because of this social media world of “only the happy” that we live in.  Listen, your ex boyfriend is on vacation, that doesn’t mean every moment of his life is a cheerleading session starring him.  Just because your frenemie is living in New York and making it work doesn’t mean that he isn’t, like you, drinking coffee at four am just to keep up with the amount of work he has.  We all wear socks with holes in them, we all cry sometimes in the privacy of a very small closet and if we’re lucky, in front of people.  And we all get let down, multiple times in a row.  I understand the power of social media, especially as it pertains to my students, heaven forbid a boyfriend forget to “Woman Crush Wednesday” his current girlfriend every. single. Wednesday.  Can’t we just go back to the camel, guys?

Snow White just….gets me.

Either way, this internet based fake reality has caused a lot of problems in our society (and a lot of gifts) and I think Manley covers these aspects really well in his new vignette collection with illustrations.  The illustrations are hilarious, the characters are stock and unlike everyone who follows us on instagram, we actually have a good handle of who they are, even if in this collection they’re not at all sure of themselves.  Would mermaids be mammals or fish?

Each moment in this collection is a conversation.  I posted snapshots as I read on Instagram (because I, too, live in this dry abyss of “likes”).   I found The Tortoise and the Hair to be the most accurate of our fast-paced and ever changing lifestyles.  Both animals really have to learn to love themselves before they can even promote the other.  Then again, were they ever really friends?  I ask myself that a lot about people I haven’t talked to since high school that I follow on Instagram.  It has to be some minor version of stalking, as in, I want to know you, I just don’t want to know you well enough to call you.

Author Autographs

Let’s get to the best part of why you should read this book; it’s perfect for your coffee table.  No not really.  He’s a high school teacher.  Bless the high school teachers of the world and promote and support this book.  It’s literal magic,  both with characters and the way that Manley analyzes the silent social aspects of our technological world.  It’s a book for the lonely and the aggravated.  When you’re alone in your apartment and you can choose pinterest, ex-boyfriend googling, or Alice in Tumblr-land, always choose the stories that give you the ability to laugh.  At least, enjoy the Little Red Riding Hood section because the poor girl just keeps meeting wolves, and none of your ex-boyfriends could possibly be that hairy.

Other cool things you can find on Tumblr:

  • Lol My Thesis: Maybe one of my favorite tumblr sites.  I laugh my juicy girl butt off when I read this one.  I will hold hostage a few for you on this blog to share in my glee.

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  • Facts and Chicks: Basically half-naked “chicks” with facts attached that have almost nothing (or usually nothing) to do with them.  However, the facts are usually crazy interesting and some of them come for actually reputable sources, not like Wikipedia.


  • Writing Prompts: Some super awesome English teacher aligning writing to common core one prompt at a time.  AND THEY’RE AWESOME.
  • The Typologist: A site of collections, leftover as they may be.
  • Literary Tattoos: Self-explained
  • Shit Rough Drafts: Just the best way to make yourself feel good about your writing.

“Wait What” – Shitty Rough Drafts

Resolution Recap @ Coloring for Grown-Ups

Newsday Tuesday


***Due to vacations, this post will be a three week catch-up post. YAY!***

Favorite Tweets:

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Favorite Search Terms: 

  • i was at the supermarket and say you hey what are you doing here you know just hunting for elephants:  I think this is an internet joke that you can find on pinterest, but it’s written like my students essays…scary.
  • a blonde with wedding party: Usually I get some sick fetish search terms and after reading this one I tried to think of all the weird things that would make you search this.  It wasn’t pretty.
  • vintage petticoat punishment in a mother’s: Here is one of those weird, fetish search terms.  How very Alice of you, anonymous.
  • is it etiquette to use guest bathroom for bowel movement: And then there are hilarious bowel movement search terms.  This is my favorite in a WHILE.  Which other bathroom would you use?  Would you walk into my bedroom’s bathroom to make sure the smell is far enough away from the living room.  I’m just not sure.  Where’s Dear Alice when you need her, or Abby, or just Cheryl Strayed.  I bet Cheryl would have a magnificent answer.

Book News:

Is Intensity the Same as Love?

I think it’s almost funny how unmoved I was by this book, like a stone woman.

Reading a book in one sitting is usually best for me.  I cried over Of Mice and Men after a strong afternoon of migrant workers and big-pawed Lennie.  I tend to spend tea time with Alice Monroe on my porch and drink up the sun, the words, the seep.  Then there is, of course, Hunger Games in a weekend where I ate only strawberries.  Gasped through New Moon at a disney resort where the poolside bartender gave us drinks without seeing our IDs, “all you need girls, is your room key.”  I usually have favorable outcomes with books that I spend a day with.  It’s almost like a day trip, we’ve driven this far, my feet are making toe prints on the windshield glass and the air in the pine trees make the words whisper.

The Book in Question

And then the New York Times reviewed the book.  Elissa Schappell wrote the review in the Times that makes me feel like I no can longer wear the stiff garter of the feminist.  She discusses the metaphor of “Soviet women as the human workhouses they were.”  I suppose I was wrong when I thought they lived in castles.  The things I know about Russia can be counted on two hands: ballet, ice skating, mail-order brides, no more American adoptions, Chernobyl, WWII, winter, Russian sables, and the ideal of blondeness.  Forgive me, any Russian readers, I desperately need an education.  It’s as if they leave the wholeness of the country out of our school books, as Americans.  At first, I thought this was the very reason that I didn’t really “get” the book.  I thought I was lost because my Russian history wasn’t fine-tuned.  I’ve never even traveled to Europe, never worn fur in the winters, I barely wear gloves.

The closest I came to Russia was when my high school best friend taught me to say I love you by squeezing my hand before we went to bed.  She would squeeze three times to say she loved me, and I would squeeze back four, tight compact squeezes where the lines in our palms pressed together and made our wrinkles into latitude and longitude.  She was taught to do this by a Russian girl that stayed with her family over the summer.  They would each have their eyelashes closed to their cheek, be secretly under the covers in matching pajamas and twin pillow cases and find each other’s hands.  I learned to say “I love you” silently from a little Russian girl.

“Father Frost and stepdaughter” by Ivan Bilibin

Schappell told me that Petrushevskaya’s American break out is a form of “scary fairy tales” and my only references to this are Grimm and Sexton.  Schappell mentions the Russian greats and compares Petrushevskaya to Chekov which I missed entirely in the reading of her book.   My favorite line from the Times Review though is, “For these women, telling their stories is as necessary as having someone to care for. They tell stories, while waiting in endless lines for bread and trains and promotions that will never come, to feel less lonely. As Joan Didion said, ‘We tell ourselves stories in order to live.'”

This is the exact reason why I didn’t adore this book.  I gave it 2 stars.  I couldn’t even write a review of the book on this blog until I spoke to the women I admire about what they thought on goodreads:

Alena gave it 2.5 stars, a sister to my 2 stars.  You can visit Alena’s fabulous book (and other interesting things) blog here.  I trust very few people to give me book recommendations and she is ALWAYS a go-to gal.

Alena's goodreads review.

Alena’s goodreads review.

And then Claire gave voice to the women smoking in the cafe telling these stories.  You can read Claire’s amazing blog here.  I highly recommend her book blog because she always says just the right thing to make you really analyze a book, or think about what you’ve just read in a new way.  I adore her blog and get the email updates every time she posts.  I will admit though, I am a poor commenter.

The discussion between Claire and I.

The discussion between Claire and I.

More discussing.

More discussing.

Claire's perfectly poignant comments.

Claire’s perfectly poignant comments.

Darkness & love

With all that said, do what you must with this book.  This is the wonderful thing about books, they cause you to explain yourself and they give different gifts to each reader.  I wonder sometimes if loving a book depends on the time you come to a book, or when the book finds you.  This book may have rooted if I was a different age, lived in a different time or place, found myself on a train in Japan half-reading and half watching the silent woman with untied boots three seats away.

Either way, somewhere in an off-write bedroom a women is in love with her sister’s husband and every time, every single time, of the twenty-seven times that they’ve encountered each other’s bodies, he silently removes his wedding ring while she adjusts her eyes to the dark.

“Cinderelly, Cinderelly, Got No Time to Dilly-Dally.”

Lunar Chronicles 0.5 - Illustration by Goni Montes

Who knew?  Who knew I would be this deliciously into cyborgs and hover crafts?  The girl doesn’t even have a glass slipper, but instead a robotic foot, six years too small and yet, she’s just as Cinderella as the next gal waving from the Disney Castle.  I was literally number 179 on the request list for this book at the library.  Cinder is the story of Cinderella, in the future, when girls can have grease stained foreheads and lay under the hot bed of a truck mixing wires and nug luts in their tool boxes (that’s right, I know what a lug nut is).

It makes me laugh whenever a girlfriend brags about her boyfriend, or husband, being able to change her tie, or her oil.  How the grease stains on the boy’s hands stay all day and don’t wash off even after scrubbing with that expensive brand name soap that smells like Cucumber Melon.  How manly those grease stains seem to be.  How to spot a husband: look for the dirt under his fingernails, the dregs in his palm’s love line.

Flower Power

Anyway this isn’t about husband hunting, it’s about machinery, and women of power.  I loved this book as a young adult selection for many reasons.  The first is that it can be read and enjoyed by both young adult males and young adult females.  You’d think a refigured fairytale would turn boys off.  On the contrary, the machinary takes on the element of another character in this book. It’s just as important as the over all story telling as the characters are.   While the adventure, technology, and machinery is there for the typical boy this also gives teenage girls the ability to fantasize.  Today we clap-on girls who get stuck on the side of a highway and can change their own tire without having to flag down a conspicuous male or call their daddy, and Cinder is a mechanic.  She makes it acceptable for girls to lie under a truck on one of those sliding boards and pluck at the wires, configure the engine, change the oil.

Disney should take a lesson.  Not all girls have to get crowns, and floating dresses.  Not all girls have to get glass slippers in the end to make it worth it, or live happily ever after.  Some girls are perfectly happy being at the top of fantasy leagues, having happy ever after be a coffee and a good book, or the 53rd Superbowl Game between the Patriots and the Panthers rather than a man and a soft bed.

I love books that make these things okay, makes girls guts speak.  As in, sometimes we all get stuck into the crowd, afraid to be unique, afraid to like sports, or wake up and go to school with last nights mascara under our eyes, or no mascara because we’re naked badasses.  We’ll it is okay, we can be badass, naked, never own nail polish, or “healthy glow” blush.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer (unrelated to Stephanie)

I think all this is honky dory for young adult book clubs.  The only problem I had with this as a young adult read was that it was entirely predictable, and there were too many foreshadows to not grasp what was coming.  This may come as a rant to you, but I hate predictable or easy young adult fiction.  Young adults are apt, insightful, and they’re all miniature spies.  If I can tell from page twenty what the plot twist is, every teen in the teen center can tell on page twenty what the plot twist is.  I hate when authors think that young adults are less savvy than their adult counterparts or that they won’t figure it out.  Just because you’ll be published under the “young adult” umbrella doesn’t mean that your book shouldn’t have the equivalent intelligent level of an “adult” read.

You find this with teachers sometimes, that their expectations are lower than what young adults can actually produce and due to that students are less likely to offer their high quality imaginations or insights.  We need to enter the world where we realize what young adults are capable of, and that our expectations for them as readers have turned into sick love triangles, and make-out sessions.  Young adults don’t need that in a book (as you’ll find with Cinder which is impeccable without one awkward tongue make-out scene).  What they need is books that light up the world around them.

While I am disappointed by the Hunger Games love triangle because it’s so predictable, it did tell young adults about politics, about American freedom, or their own countries power, their own governments power.  I was lucky enough to be born in America, but just this morning on BBC News Hour I heard that Pussy Riot (a band) was arrested and has been in jail for six weeks because they wrote a song to Mary asking to take Putin away.  They sang it in a famous religious space, yes, but in the US you could write a song about nearly anything and be safe in your home that very night.

In Hunger Games, teens are brought into a world where no one is safe, no life is one of freedom whether you’re in a rich district or a poor district.  It serves the same purpose as Animal Farm, showing young adults the world of politics, and current events.

Honky Dory isn’t the word I want to use for young adult fiction, I want to use words we use to describe adult fiction: gripping, captivating, enlightening, riveting, intelligent, emotional, “it changed my life.”  All of these words should be the same words we use for all sorts of fiction, every genre.  We don’t want to raise girls who only go from Sweet Valley High to the pink chick-lit section of a bookstore.  Nothing against chick-lit, I love the stuff when I’m sitting in a beach chair and letting the wind whiff my hair.  However, girls need to experience more than romance and dating as young adults and adults.  Boys need to experience more than war novels, adventure novels, and mystery novels.  It would do them some good to read Virginia Woolf, and Jane Austen. It would do girls some good to read Cormac McCarthy, and Mark Twain.

We need to raise a new generation that crosses stigmas, boundaries, and barriers.  We can only do this by promoting books that do this.  Bertolt Brecht says, “Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.”  Literature has a duty to not only match the minds of young adults, but go beyond their high school lives, their lockers.  It’s duty is to take them to a new culture, experience, a new government, less freedom, less electricity, more life outside of the confines of their own existence.

Sherman Alexie said it best, “The world, even the smallest parts of it, is filled with things you don’t know.”  Regardless if you’re a kid from a broken home, if you lived under a Seattle railway system because your mother was hooked on crank, if you were brought up with your car insurance paid and your college money in a savings.  Whether you have white picket fences, or chain linked fences, literature should shape your view of the world as something greater than these things.  It should empower you, change you, expand you as a human being.

Cinder does this in ways, and fails in others.  By fail, I mean fail my high expectations of what SOLID young adult books should do.  It’s a sweet read.  Read it if you need a break from the literary, or the mystery.  Read it if you need to go back to sixteen and breathe in the heat of hair straighteners, or the smell of soggy cafeteria hotdogs.  Let your young adults read it because it has less love story, and gives power to the unique.  Don’t expect it to tell you about the world, just expect it to be.  Read Sonya Hartnett, Markus Zusak, and Sherman Alexie to chisel your world.

“Do not struggle when the hook of a word pulls you into the air of truth and you cannot breathe.” ― Louise Murphy

I want you to know that I’m unsure of everything I’ve written here, but it had to be done.

Putting tree books aside (The Giving Tree, The Lorax, Pocahontas) the best stories of childhood are myths and fairytales.  Most little girls grow up with dreams of princess crowns gleaming in the castle of their backyard and most little boys carry swords and special powers in their holsters.  I wish I could pinpoint exactly where it began for me.  Was I in a crib when I realized I had golden locks, or pondered the word “happy.”

I can remember at twelve thinking goosebumps were a sign that my grandfather was with me.  This is more of me being a superstitious child, but when did I realize that souls come back?  This was all the least of my worries though…

Let’s run through my list:

  • Can’t hang any body parts over the bed because they will be licked (As told in Scary Stories & also found here).
  • Can’t sleep if I think Jafar is hiding in the hallway because he would be shorter than my bed (I nightmare over old Jafar from the beginning of Aladdin).
  • The black crack of my closet where someone can peak out.
  • The dark, more importantly small, dark places like pantries.

My night lamp from the street.

I’ve had these fears for as far back as I can remember.  I must have tortured myself laying awake in the dark and staring into the bathroom mirror across the hall just waiting for something ominous.  At thirteen, you wouldn’t be able to find me in the bed sheets.  I would cocoon myself, head and all, under the spread.  It got to where my mother would be so nervous I’d stop breathing, that she’d remove the covers from my face after I fell asleep.  She’d also have to tell me that no robbers would attack our house because they would be caught far more easily with the street light shining through my bedroom window.

Fairytales, horror stories, myths, urban legends, oral traditions, epics; all of these have been in our history for centuries.  I might dare to say that everything told resonates from these voices, these campfire treasures, these men in sturdy boots carrying brides to the clutches of witches.  It’s like the thirteen year olds who think everything they know about love comes from Disney. I assumed entering high school that finding my sweetheart would be simple.  I didn’t understand the notion that men could be less than their hero tradition. We grow up with these morals and these pro/con lists of what’s good, and what’s bad without ever really realizing they’re incorrect until the moment of mistake.

The True Story of Hansel and Gretel by Louise Murphy is the story when those pro/con lists don’t work.  It’s the story of the forgotten and lost.  We all say, “that would never happen,” and yet today we have candidates for president who want to take away public education.  DEAR LORD.

The True Story of Hansel and Gretel by Louise Murphy

The True Story of Hansel and Gretel is the story of Nazi Germany.  In my mind it should replace Anne Frank for high school reading lists.  At this point, I’m not sure my generation even realizes the horror of the one before us.  This morning my father was reading the news and said, “40% of women in the US have never been married” and I immediately thought, this is the baby boom – lovers died in wars and the women waiting on them stayed alone for the rest of their lives.  My generation (I hate speaking in generalizations but I think I’m just going to do it) has forgotten that people who thought they were getting into the bath, finally drowning their lice, were gassed naked in chambers.  We forget that a whole population of Jewish children were wiped out in camps, by bullets to the head, and the idea that they were a subculture, less than human.

I think, if anything, The True Story of Hansel and Gretel awakened in me the notion that things happen that are beyond our control, yes, but more things happen that we choose not to control because we’re weak, or we’re scared, or we’re alone in our ideas, or we watch the man without listening to his words.  Hitler’s greatest power was language and he used it point perfectly to discard whole worlds of people. And finally, FINALLY, Louise Murphy has written a book that puts the real in front of us.

I grew up thinking Jews died, it was the holocaust, and some survived living in attics.  I didn’t grow up thinking people were hanged for stealing food after living on one potato a day for a whole family, or that pre-pubescent girls could be penetrated in the cold woods of their backyards.  I didn’t think a wheelchair meant death, or singing too loud in public meant beatings.  However, in Nazi Germany it did.

And I know, I know this book is a work of fiction.  But sometimes fiction tells us more about ourselves, and our reality than the world is willing to tell.

I want you to read this book because I don’t want you to forget what happened.  I also want you to read this book because it’s a damn good book and the writing is beautiful.

Louise Murphy writes about Nazi Germany using the classic fairytale Hansel and Gretel.  Hansel and Gretel is the story of two children left in the woods by an evil stepmother.  They happen on a witch’s house made of candy where she takes them in and feeds them until actually trying to eat them without success.  That’s the shortest synopsis I think I could have written.  In Murphy’s fairytale, Hansel and Gretel are forced into the woods for being Jews and taken in by the village “witch,” Magda, who winds up being my favorite character in the entire tale.  While Murphy uses the fairytale in such a seamless way that it isn’t over done, it still has the classic elements like the bread crumbs, and the oven.  Honestly, while reading, I didn’t even realize at what points the fairytale motifs were shining through and what points the tale was just alive on its own accord.

This tale is dark, and compelling.  While you’re horrified at the behaviors of grown men and women, you’re also horrified by the culture, and the unexplainable moments.  For instance, rather than raping a character, a Nazi guard takes blood transfers from her starving body to make him feel more refreshed.   It’s these tidbits that are almost more dark than the ones meant to be devastating.  The constant humming of a character who has been traumatized is more haunting than the actual traumatizing moment.  It’s the left over resonance that really makes Murphy’s story unbelievable.  I feel the residue leaking through as I type this because I’m almost unsure of what to say, where I’m going, how I’m going to fight for this book to be read by everyone I know.

I love fiction because it makes you look at your world differently.  It makes you closer to those around you; you’re survivors, you’re living, you breathe air out of the same atmosphere, and yet you’re more alone than ever while reading.   I love fiction that let’s you do both, that let’s you share its story with others and I want to do this with all of you.  I want to know how you feel when the woods become dark, and Gretel’s legs are turning blue from their bareness against an iced log.   I want to know how the Brown Sister’s fantasies make you seize up in your chest and lungs.  I want to see where you break, and the words become everything and nothing.  I want you to know that in a way love and survival are the same idea.

I’m still scared of everything, but I’m comforted by the fact that love is the only idea worth keeping.

1955 film by Lotte Reiniger of Hansel and Gretel

I’m a Disney Princess

I'm this chick with cheeks, on the right.

In case you don’t know me very well, there is something you should know: I was a Disney Princess in high school.  And no, I wasn’t the Little Mermaid unfortunately.  Really, let’s be honest, I painted my face silver and stood on the platform stairs behind the girl who played Belle as a lovely, dainty, tea-twirling spoon.  (I was also a villager, but the outfit wasn’t as sparkly so I tend to omit that part).  My mother has pictures if you’re really interested, and they almost all contain my “high school sweetheart” who is now happily dating the behind-the-scenes girl with the beautiful face.

It doesn’t usually end as happily ever after for the spoon.

I was reminded of this today because sometimes I like to listen to nothing in the car.  (Don’t worry I’m getting there).  When it’s been a bad, or hectic day the only tinge of something I can handle is silence.  On really inspiring days I pump Britney Spears and do little fist jiggles, throwing my hair around because that’s sexy, right?  (I whip my hair back and forth).  Other days, I’m staunch and growing a serious mustache, so I listen to NPR.

Then, days like today come when I’m overwhelmed by sound: trains squealing to a stop, jazz at the RR, coffee machines spurting, teenagers talking themselves into pants and out of trouble (it’s a long story), and then a three hour memoir workshop.  Silence usually happens to me on Thursdays when I have all of these things going on.  At about 845 on Thursday night I tend to even hate the sound of reading a text message inside of my own head.  I’m just sound-exhausted.

On special, magical days, I start singing to myself in the silence.  Usually, I hit the Whitney like all other car American Idols, but today I started with some humming and it quickly became, “Little town…it’s a quiet village…”  Next thing you know, I’m hitting all the high notes in my best Disney Princess voice; virginesque, sexy, shining, petal dainty, a bit of wildflower and cinnamon dashed in.  It hits me here, here comes the epiphany: I’m Belle. I’m still a Disney Princess.  Believe me by this point I’ve rounded out all the manly “Bonjour’s” and the scream of the fat lady, “I need … six eggs!”

I should really read audio books for a living.

I suppose I should prove this to you, so let the lyrics speak:

[Group Of Men]
Look there she goes that girl is so peculiar. I wonder if she’s feeling well.

[Group Of Women]
With a dreamy far off look.

[Group Of Men]
And her nose stuck in a book.

What a puzzle to the rest of us, is Belle.

Ohhhhhh….isn’t this amazing?
It’s my favorite part because….you’ll see
Here’s where she meets Prince Charming
but she won’t discover that it’s him
till chapter three.

If I’m being honest with myself, and you’re being honest with yourself, I’m Belle.

Which leads me to my next point, how in the world did I become a Disney Princess overnight?  I didn’t sleep with a cucumber mask or a pea under my eight mattresses last night.   Pimple scars are still cropping red on my chin.   I didn’t put on a blue almost-petticoat (very freakishly similar to Alice).  There are no white ribbons in my sea weed locks.   I didn’t part my lips and sigh at the crack of a book (okay, yes I did).  But, I most definitely did not fly to Disney World and walk around the cobble stone streets with my basket containing only library books and one baguette.  There were no birds flocking to my car window mirrors and mice suddenly stopping in the middle of their garbage bin wrestle to hear my princess voice.  Of course, no black steed with a man-boy prince resting a toned buttox atop the leather saddle.  And even if he did somehow pop up from the suburbia landscape on my drive home, his hair wasn’t finely combed over with that one small curl winding at the center of his forehead.  He was probably sitting on his good friend’s couch playing video games.  (I actually know this for a fact).

Modern Day Belle

To further prove my point, I would put up the video of me singing Belle in the car because I did record it for your hearing pleasure, but now, I’m just feeling silly and blushy about it.   For my cop out, I’m going to post a picture of what I wore today instead.  What a modern day Belle would wear.

Please try to keep in mind that I took this before I realized that I’m Belle and that I deserve a crown for being such a fabulous Disney Princess, and literature snob.  Plus, now everyone knows I’m the girl who takes photo booth pictures almost everyday of my existence.  Thanks macbook, for making me even more narcissistic.

Also, I’m angry that my library does not have sliding ladders for me to rest against while I reach the top shelves where the books smell the most antique because they have been collecting dust for ages.  This inevitably means they’re probably poetry books.  And they should have an old fashioned yellow library card stuck between their pages.

I believe this image to your left shows already the over-analyzation of my coordinating Belle-like look for today.  Some may say I look like Miss Pillsbury from Glee without the sanitizer and latex gloves.  Really though, if Belle grew up and became a teen center counselor and a literary magazine lady, which she inevitably would —  she would be this girl, posing to your left.  I think the line, “Awkward & bookish” says it all here.

What was I thinking doing that deep of a head cock, I will never know.

Just for kicks and giggles, here are a few of my favorite princess videos.  If you have one that isn’t up here, send it to me.  I love retellings of fairytales where girls rule and boys drool.

At least watch this one ^ because it’s hilarious.  My good friend Gabs came in to town this week from Australia and she showed this to me and it made my night.  I am now learning all of the words so one day, I can be a not-Disney Princess.

I should point out that I live in fear of negative comments and this. is. a. joke. Thank you, and a have a good day.


It’s day 2 of the New Year and I already had to give myself a pep talk.  That means by the end of the year, I’ll be throwing a pep rally in order to get myself moving (with fully functioning cheerleaders).  This morning I started my training for a half-marathon and while I’m not a Biggest Loser contestant, I’m unfortunately stuck screaming inside my own head while I run.  What is it that Cassie says to herself as motivation, you ask?  Well, let’s see, here’s a few one-liners.

  • “Come on, Cass, run for all the women who couldn’t vote in America…”  Ah, using my history minor well, I see.
  • “Just make it to the stop sign, Cass.  (Tag the stop sign, like a high five).  It’s like your running a relay race…but alone.” Wow, I’m totally encouraging.  If only I had a baton to pass to my other hand.

There were others, but they most likely used expletives and so I’m going to avoid using them on my blog, even though my mother personally pointed out that she prefers *ucking to its original version.

And that’s how Day 2 of half-marathon training is going.  For all of you runners out there, with your fancy shoes and your hot pink Under Armor gear that makes your butt look perfectly polite, you win.


On Tuesdays, if you’re new to my blog, I usually do a Newsday Tuesday where I tell you all about the book news for the week.  It’s a nice little session with me as Brian Williams (eyes-a-gleamin’) and you as couch potato.  This is also my mother’s favorite part of my blog (it’s becoming a trend, and no I don’t live in my mother’s basement…I know you guys were thinking it…)  Here goes:

  • Michigan Notable Books (for those of you, who like me, are doing the Where Are You Reading Challenge).
  • NPR Top 3 Poems of 2011  Unfortunately, I haven’t read any of these poems so I can’t really say if they’re full of wonder and brilliance.  I usually trust NPR though, probably shouldn’t, but I do (especially the BBC News Hour, I love listening to their accents even if I’m not really listening at all).
  • Three books with “Hell-Raising Heroines.”  I just like the idea that instead of doing a list of Rom-Coms where women faint, and place the back of their hand gently on their forehead and sigh, they’re doing the list of “hell-raisin’ heroines.”  It’s like a list that would fit perfectly in a biker bar, or the middle of an all woman moonshine outfit.
  • NPR Best American Poetry (not to be confused with the three best poems of the year).  Again, I haven’t read any of these books even though I usually have by the end of the year (shucks) so I can’t agree or disagree.  You’ll just have to take their word for it, those democrat lovin’ book critics.
  • Alan Heathcock writes about how a poem a day has created a peacefulness to his world.  I could have told you that, but he does it so eloquently, I’ll let him.  Have you ever had that moment where you’re like, “damn, I could have written this and been published, and famous, and in love with some wonderful poet who doesn’t drink, even though it’s common in the poet circle, and also doesn’t whine, or thrive in the contemporary drama…and yet, there you are, in your bed…not writing, but reading this work of brilliance.  I have, I do it all the time.  Except as Annie Dillard says, “At its best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace.  It is handed to you, but only if you look for it.  You search, you break your heart, your back, your brain, and then–and only then–it is handed to you.” (The Writing Life, Annie Dillard, p. 75).  I guess I haven’t been heart broken enough to pick at the skin of a novel until it tears open.  It’s important to remember, for me at least, that when you write something, you’re the only person in the world who could have written that piece of undying words. (Romantic, eh)
  • On the Space of the Fairytale.  While I still haven’t forgiven Kate Bernheimer for letting famous writer’s write unpublishable pieces for her last collection of fairytales called My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, I still think this small article on Rapunzel is pretty cool.  And by cool, I mean leather jacket, cigarette out of the chapped corner of your mouth, cool.
  • One of my favorite writers Tiffanie DeBartolo happens to have a twitter…which in turn means, I happen to tweet at her obsessively from time to time and wish *wishwishwish* that she would come out with a new book soon.  So, if you’re reading this, I’m hungering over a new book from you, Tiffanie D.  (She has written God Shaped Hole and How to Kill a Rockstar if anyone is interested.  God Shaped Hole is probably my favorite book of all time).   Anyway, she had this to say on the tweet yesterday, “Hiked 8 miles with friends and lover, had a lovely lunch, took a romantic bath, had sex, now reading a great book. So far, so good 2012.” —–> And thus, why I love her.  Follow her @TiffanieD.
  • The Best of Condescending Literary Pun Dog (need I say more?)


And that’s it for Newsday Tuesday. I’m sure I’ll blog more about books later this week, probably. Definitely.  I’m about to embark on Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children so we’ll see how this goes since everyone else in the blogosphere has read, and blogged, about this book.  Don’t worry, I haven’t read any spoilers.  (Although, I have read some sudden nonsense about a sequel…can it be turned into another book as well?  Those of you who have read it please let me know so I’m not disappointed by the ending).  It’s like when my friend Gabby bought Harry Potter the day before me in Australia and didn’t pee or eat all night until she finished it, and then knew the ending before me because she was in the future…ugh. So, no, I didn’t ruin it for myself.

My Father He Ate Me (And then the shiny red apple…)

This book….took me three months, a collection of my hair in different colors and curling states, and has left me with forehead wrinkles and cracked teeth.   I kid you not.  Probably the toughest book I’ve ever had to get through in my life and I promised myself three days ago that I would finish it by the end of October or give up entirely.  It does seem fitting that I finished it on Halloween night and gave rise to the headless horseman, and the men who stroke their blue beards and inhale deep cigar smoke.

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, or you just know me personally, then you know it’s very rare I attempt anything close to a happy ending.  My tone in poetry elicits my brother’s music: suicide doom music.  For having magical golden locks on my head, I tend to confer more with the dead in my poems (my dead grandmothers most importantly) and I tend to kill off various characters, some of whom don’t even get actual names.  If you are a Brothers Grimm fan then you have experienced the kind of fairy tale that has very few fairies, and more things that go bump in the night.  I’m really unsure of whether their last name gave us the word “grim” in today’s societal meanings, but it should have.  If there was a book about cannibalism, they would have written it.

What I’m saying is, Disney has created this idea of fairytales, that they all end in happiness.  And yet sometimes they (the masters of wonder) can’t even get away with it.  Examples: Dumbo, Lion King (I refuse to believe that’s a happy ending…so he marries the hot female lion…so what), Bambi, and Fox & the Hound.  All of these movies have some cross fire with death at some point, or sadness, or loneliness, all of the things allied with the lowly, the forlorn, the alone, the stranger.

I was expecting the fairytales in this book to be just as menacing, leave me jittering under the covers, unable to turn the flash light off because things are peering at me from the closet crack.

I was sorely disappointed.

First off, don’t make me read a 542 page book filled with “famous” authors who think it’s good enough to have their name on a piece of work, rather than their name on a piece of “good” work.  Joyce Carol Oates, I’m most disappointed in you.  Not only was that a to-do list of Bluebeard but it was a sad two-page rendition of which I’ve seen much better.  You’ve written better sentences than that sad and already told a thousand times tale.  You’ve probably made up better single words.  Ugh, Joyce.  What’s most disappointing is these authors know who I am.  They know I’m that sparrow of a girl, wispy and delighted to get my hands on a mint green fairytale book, waiting to crack the spine (and spill something on it so it’s officially mine, don’t tell any of the books I plan on buying later that they may get second degree burns from their reader)..they know that I see their names on the cover and think, “this has got to be some sort of treasured jewel, I’m so lucky to have found this.”  Just because you’ve risen to the throne of having your name on the cover of the book, doesn’t mean the work inside merits that name hyped in fancy lettering.  The only woman deserving of their name on this cover is Francine Prose because once again, she knocked it out of the park.

And that’s how this book was:  a swing and a miss.  People on goodreads.com were saying, “depending on the day I was reading was whether I loved or hated this book.”  No, it’s nothing like that.  It’s that the quality of writing is so low, and so unexpected that you think, is it just me or does this story suck?  Is it just me or does this story make absolutely no sense and the author has flung in a few spanish lines to make it even more indecipherable without a personal translator (thank you, google).  And then there’s the high expectations that deflate like a deathly air balloon when you dive into a story by Oates, or Cunningham, or Addonizio (her’s wasn’t as bad as the others) and you know they’re your heros and then all of a sudden they’ve dropped to high school poetry class writer status.  It’s disheartening.  It’s sad because there are GOOD writers out there, who would have probably deeply deserved to be in this volume of tales (all 542 FUCKING pages) and yet, just because your last name is Bender, you get in.  Because you’ve published something in The New York Times, or in Poetry.  Fuck that pretentious bullshit.  If the writing isn’t there, it just isn’t there, I don’t care if you’re Mark freakin’ Twain.  (I love you, Mark Twain…you’re worth it everytime, even in my nephew’s children’s book rendition of Huckleberry Finn).

I think it’s a crime against the literary world, a crime against the printing press, a crime against the forest of trees you had to kill (all those acorns the squirrels could have felt nourished on, filled their cheeks with), a crime against the written word to publish a story based solely on a name.  Sometimes writers don’t ripen with age, sometimes they do.  Sometimes you can’t write at all in the beginning and then you find your voice, or your story, or in my case your stiff plot. But to publish something because it has a famous name on it and expect people like me to actually accept these stories as something valuable to keep hidden away in my chamber of chambers, my fairytale heart…no, you don’t deserve that.  I will forever protect my little bleeding speck of a heart from anything with that sort of damage.

It’s book abuse.  That’s what it is.  It’s abusive, as an editor, to publish this bullshit, and it’s abusive to your reader who has worked her pointer-finger and thumb, through the licking of page turning, and the smudges of various food products through your five-hundred and forty-two pages of complete and utter nonsense.

There are four, max, four stories in here that I could actually recommend voraciously.  FOUR.  Out of forty.  Either Kate had a deadline or Kate wanted the big names, or Kate didn’t take the little guy writer seriously who was writing in his non-heated apartment in the suburbs of Minnesota hoping to just get this one magical story published so that he could tuck his little writing hands away in his coat pockets and be something else, be something that isn’t a writer – anything.  But Kate didn’t.  She took the easy way out, she published names instead of stories.  It’s like teaching a subject rather than students.

It makes me sick.

Other factual information you may need to know:

  • The contributors each chose their own fairytale to work with, some were expected, some were not.  A few were translated, and a few brought out diverse cultural differences in fairytales, or just diverse fairytales in general.  This especially evident in “Coyote” which comes at the end of the book and is almost a cultural commentary on immigration (illegal or not).  Again, with Oates (since I’m especially outraged with her), she chose Bluebeard, which is classic Oates as she is always the woman who is standing up for the women collective.
  • One of the more interesting aspects of the book is that after each story, the contributor has a chance to explain themselves.  One of my favorite of these was Francesca Lia Block (Author of Weetzy Bat among others)  who explained after writing her fairytale, she lost partial eyesight and how this real life event was reflected in her work.  Art and life coming together, ahhhhh!  Another one that interested me was The White Cat by Marjorie Sandor because she discusses the near-death of her husband at the time of writing and how her fairytale went from story, to plea, to prayer.  It’s amazing sometimes how life re-imagines art for us.
  • A few of my favorite tales were:
    • My Brother Gary Made a Movie – Sabrina Orah Mark
    • The White Cat – Marjorie Sandor
    • A Case Study of Emergency Room Procedure and Risk Management by Hospital Staff Members in the Urban Facility – Stacey Richter
    • Hansel and Gretal – Francine Prose
    • A Day in the Life of Half of Rumpelstiltskin – Kevin Brockmeier
    • The Swan Brothers – Shelley Jackson
    • The Warm Mouth – Joelle McSweeney
    • Dapplegrim – Brian Evanson
    • The Mermaid in the Tree – Timothy Schaffert
Let me say lastly, that I would have really appreciated if this book was set up differently.  I don’t like how the same stories are set together, or the same cultures are set together, or the same locations are set together (i.e. these are all Italian fairytales).  I think that ruins a bit of the mystery.  I don’t want to know that the next four stories are Japanese, I don’t want that told to me from a books point of view, I want to discover the culture in the writing without being poked with it by the numerical pages of the book.  I think short story collections are always so interesting based solely on this point.  You really have to think about how that book was analyzed cover to cover, how it was put together, why one story goes next to another, why two stories share a bed, maybe even a page.  Why two characters across one-hundred pages are joined together in two totally different stories, with a mix of life in-between.  It’s subconscious while we’re reading to think about this, we take it in without actually realizing we’re doing it, but it’s such a powerful thing between reader and author.  I think Bernheimer has ruined a bit of this sweet, secret whispering between writer and reader, this allure.

That being said…here are some links that may have a different opinion, and/or where you can investigate for further reading:

  • Fairytale has an online issue on their website.  I have not read it so I can’t be sure I’m not feeding you complete and utter shit, like the at least four-hundred pages of brown ass hole mush I just read, but here is the link to that.  I’m hoping this can resuscitate my fairytale heart once I take a stab at reading it.
  • A less hateful review, dare I say…happy review of this book from Art & Literature at Wordpress.
  • Blog Critics Review
  • Pank Magazine Review