Author Shannon Hale just posted a great piece on her tumblr. She writes about how at a recent school visit to promote her new book Princess Academy: The Forgotten Sisters, the school administration had only given permission for the female students to leave class for her talk.

Let’s be clear: I do not talk about “girl” stuff. I do not talk about body parts. I do not do  a “Your Menstrual Cycle and You!” presentation. I talk about books and writing, reading, rejections and moving through them, how to come up with story ideas. But because I’m a woman, because some of my books have pictures of girls on the cover, because some of my books have “princess” in the title, I’m stamped as “for girls only.” However, the male writers who have boys on their covers speak to the entire school.

Hale says that this is not the first time that this has ever happened. And I’m willing to bet that other female authors have had similarly bizarre experiences.

She also comments on how this tendency to gender books can be damaging, but I want to weigh in.

This situation is ridiculous. Anyone presented with it can see it is ridiculous. And yet so often people try to classify something as a “girl book” or “boy book.”

Studies have shown that it’s harder to get boys to read after a certain age, which may account for some of the targeted marketing, but does not account for all of the discrepancies. People don’t give boys enough credit — they think that if the protagonist of a book is a girl (or the author is female — ask Joanne why she published as JK), then boys won’t be able to relate and won’t want to read the book. Those factors didn’t seem to stop girls from enjoying Harry Potter (or any number of “classic” works of fiction with male protagonists) or boys from enjoying The Hunger Games or His Dark Materials.

By labeling books as “boy” and “girl” books, we’re signaling to kids that certain books aren’t for them. There will be the outliers who will read them anyway, but so many will hold back out of fear or embarrassment, while others simply won’t have those books on their radar.

Reading is important because we see ourselves, but we also see others. We relate to characters and learn how other people see and experience the world. This is why we need diverse books and why we need to read diversely. It’s why boys should be allowed to read “girl” books (and attend assemblies about them).

The Secret History of Wonder Woman is a book that I actually pre-ordered because I was so intrigued by the story Jill Lepore was telling and it holds up. The book is incredibly interesting. It was great to see how the character of Wonder Woman in many ways grew from the women’s suffrage and women’s liberation movements.

My main complaint is that this book felt like three stories in one. All of the stories are connected and I understand Lepore’s motivation in spending time introducing the readers to Sanger and Byrne and their struggles wight he beginnings of the birth control movement, as well as Marston’s early research, but at a certain point it feels like that’s not what I was really promised and not what I started reading the book to learn about (especially all the stuff about Marston’s research. I get that it’s kind of his “origin story,” but…yeah).

I’m still getting my feet wet with comics and so I learned a lot about the early days of comics and Wonder Woman from this book. It wasn’t quite the scandalous history I’d been hoping for (and maybe lead to believe) — I think Marston comes off more as delusional and mercenary than truly forward-thinking — but it was certainly an interesting read.

If I’m being picky, I would have liked to see a bit more of a discussion of what a resurgence of interest in comic books and Wonder Woman means, especially for her place as a feminist icon. The book is kind of front-loaded; we get a lot of examination of the groundwork the came before Marston created Wonder Woman, then it seems like we trot right through most of her hey-day and positively speed through the decades after Marston’s death and Wonder Woman’s weakening and revival. But really, as a whole, I enjoyed this book. It was interesting and informative and I now know way more about Wonder Woman and early comic books than I ever expected.

If you’ve been on social media in the last 24 hours then you’re probably aware that Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird and famous for staying out of the spotlight has a new book coming out in July.

Bookish circles have long wondered why Harper Lee never wrote another novel (a question never satisfactorily answered, despite hints, in the contested memoir The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills), and now we have a sequel. Go Set a Watchman is a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird (though it was written first) and takes place when Scout is a young woman returning to Maycomb.

There is so much excitement about this book that I’m worried it might be drowning out some important questions. Lee’s sister Alice was in many ways Harper’s protecter. She shielded her from people who tried to get too close and take advantage of her or gain power over her estate after her stroke. Alice died last year and Lee’s lawyer seems to be the main line of defense now. From what I gather, it seems the lawyer is also the person who found the manuscript of Go Set a Watchman.

So I’m worried. I’m worried that the release of this book is not necessarily what a Harper Lee with her full capacities wanted.

At the same time, I desperately want to read that book. The publisher is planning a print run of two million copies (that’s a ton, trust me) and I’ve already pre-ordered my copy (fun-fact: as of now, Go Set a Watchman is ranked #1 on Amazon. The AP broke the news at 7:05 this morning.)

For more info, check out Book Riot, Jezebel, and the NYT.

Broken Monsters — Review

January 26, 2015

There are a lot of communities in Detroit and Lauren Beukes’s Broken Monsters shows the interconnected stories of members of these communities who find themselves caught up in the horror of a reality-busting crime.

In the first part of the book, an unusual body is found — the upper half of a young boy is fused with the lower half of a deer. The investigation of this crime is the undercurrent that runs throughout this book. Bits of magical realism and the fantastic start to creep in as the book progresses, which adds layers of unpredictability to the narrative.

Broken Monsters is creepy and unsettling and fascinating. Beukes’s writing grabs you and doesn’t let you go.

The Fever — Review

January 24, 2015

The first book I read in 2015 was The Fever by Megan Abbott.

Deenie Nash, her brother Eli, and her father Tom have settled into a decently stable life after her mom moved away, but that stability is shaken when Deenie’s best friend has an unexplained and terrifying seizure in the middle of class. As hysteria sweeps the school and town, more girls fall ill, and Deenie — who remains fine — seems to be the link.

In some ways, this book went in an unexpected direction, but I could almost see this being an episode of some police procedural like Law & Order: SVU when it came to the motivations and behaviors of some of the characters.

I also really did not like the ending. Generally I am not a reader who needs everything to tie up perfectly, but I felt like The Fever waved away a lot of issues that it raised earlier on in the narrative. It was an engaging read, but the last quarter of the book fell a bit flat for me.

The Last Batch of 2014

January 14, 2015

In my life I am constantly reading and though I try to stay consistent in my reviewing, I am usually a bit behind in that area. Yes, I’ll pause for your gasps of shock and disbelief. It’s a new year and there’s a new crop of books, so I figure why should I bring my backlog with me? So now you’re getting little snapshots of many of the books I read in the latter part of 2014. Some books won’t be mentioned here because I plan to talk about them in a slightly different context. But more on that later.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah follows Nigerian teenagers Ifemelu and Obinze into and out of other countries as they enter adulthood and navigate race, romance, and relationships. Sharp, funny, and fearless, it’s a great read fro pretty much anyone.

 

The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt by Kara Cooney

Hatshepsut was the longest reigning female pharaoh in Ancient Egypt, but her rise to power and the circumstances of her reign are shrouded in secrecy. The language of this book kind of bothered me — the whole thing was necessarily somewhat speculative, but the continuous hedging irked me. I would have preferred a disclaimer at the start that allowed it to be written with clearer, more certain language.

 

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

Boy, Snow, Bird is an enchanting reimagining of a classic tale. This book is masterfully inventive and Oyeyemi’s strong, brilliant, beautiful voice shines through.

 

St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell 

This collection of essays is just as weird as I would expect something from Karen Russell to be. I didn’t like this collection as much as Vampires in the Lemon Grove (which is newer). There is a kind of extra melancholy streak to these stories besides the dark twisty-ness of other stuff of hers that I’ve liked.

 

Anything That Moves: Renegade Chefs, Fearless Eaters, and the Making of a New American Food Culture by Dana Goodyear

Dana Goodyear jumps —tastebuds first— into “foodie” culture and the world of extreme eating, following devotees of ultra-authentic ethnic cuisines, raw food aficionados, and so much more. I would eat maybe two of the things described in this book, but I’m bizarrely fascinated by these people and their lifestyles. Sometimes I wish she would have dug a bit deeper or described a bit more, but this was an enjoyable read.

 

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

A superflu wipes out huge swaths of the population. Fifteen years later, a roving band of actors and musicians travels between communities of survivors performing Shakespeare. The narrative hops between the Traveling Symphony and the decline of civilization immediately after the pandemic. It’s a vivid and utterly transfixing novel.

 

The Martian by Andy Weir

Due to a series of unfortunate events, astronaut Mark Watney is living alone on Mars. And no one knows. With no way to signal Earth, a limited food supply, and a dogged determination to stay alive, Watney puts his skills and smart-assert to the test. I read this in 24 hours. I did not stop. I completely blew off familial obligations while reading this over the holidays. I have no regrets.

 

A Rogue by Any Other Name by Sarah MacLean

This is the first romance novel I’ve read in quite some time, and I really enjoyed it. It’s the first book in the Rules of Scoundrels series which revolves around London’s most exclusive gaming hell. I won’t say much about it, but it’s significantly less ridiculous than a lot of other historical romance tends to be.

 

So now you’re mostly caught up to where I am now with my current reading. As I mentioned before, this isn’t a complete list of everything I’ve read this year, but I think it gives a pretty good picture. There will be a few other things that mention books from 2014, but my 2015 book reviews will start popping up here pretty soon. We’re moving onward!

Those of you who follow me on instagram (and if you don’t you’re missing awesome book pics …and cat pics, but shush) know that I was super excited about Amy Poehler’s Yes Please. I started reading it almost immediately after I finished Not That Kind of Girl. It was so weird going straight from Dunham’s book to this. Lena Dunham is quite the controversial and polarizing individual (perhaps more than she should be and I have loads of opines about that re: the media and public perception of/reaction to a woman being successful and owning her sexuality and poet at a relatively young age). Then there’s Amy Poehler, whom I love and everyone loves and if you don’t I may subject you to a rigorous background check to make sure you’re still a good person because how can you not be pro-Poehler?! But I digress…

Poehler writes about funny things and difficult things and sad things, all with honesty, grace, and humor. The book does occasionally feel a bit gimmickry, but not overwhelmingly so and since she is a comedian, I expect a little schtick.

I whole-heartedly recommend this book. It was a quick, fun, and funny read and it made me think about a few things — like how you should say “yes please” to anything that life throws at you. And for that I thank Amy Poehler. I may have read this in 2014, but it’s 2015 now, and having a “yes please” attitude going into the new year seems like a good idea.

Well, the New Year is upon us and with it comes every possible promise of personal betterment. I’e never been particularly keen on New Year’s resolutions, perhaps because I fear both commitment and failure, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is: the kind of resolutions I can get enthusiastic about are, unsurprisingly, reading-related.

I was 9 books shy of my 100-book goal for 2014, so I’m shooting for it once again in 2015. Additionally, I want to further diversify my reading. I read a good amount of women writers and writers of color as it is, but I want to make a more conscious effort to do so. I also want to read more in translation, as that is an area in which I am lacking.

For a very brief moment I entertained the idea of echoing my friend Elizabeth’s resolution to not buy any books. Yes. Any. With the idea that it forces one to read the tons of books already in one’s possession. But I’m all about attainable goals and, besides, it runs somewhat counter to my other goals for 2015, so instead I’m just going to try to read more of the books I already own. That’s a compromise, right?

I’m also going to continue tracking my reading and I hope to better organize my bookshelves. Those might not be reading goals, but they’re book related and reading-adjacent, so I’m including them.

So these are my 2015 resolutions. They are resolutions I believe I could keep, and that’s the beauty of it.

Do you have reading resolutions? Regular resolutions? Tell me all about ‘em!

 

In the past, whenever people would hate on Lena Dunham for somewhat non-specific reasons  (if you have real reasons, that’s fine, and if your reasons are in the how-dare-she-show-her-not-so-perfect-body vein, eff you), I would point out that lena Dunham is not Hannah Horvath (her character on Girls). I figured you could find Hannah completely insufferable and still like Dunham. After reading Not That Kind of Girl, I’m less sure.

This book reads like the “rejected” pile from the Girls writers’ room. Narratives that would fit right in thematically, but are maybe a bit too disjointed or murky to work as a TV show, pop up here. Instead of being self-aware, it kind of feels hyper-aware and self-conscious, like Dunham is baring all and pointing out the weird before anyone else can. It just feels disingenuous and like she’s trying too hard.

Not That Kind of Girl was s quick read and by turns interesting and baffling. If you’re a fan of her work then you might enjoy it, but I wouldn’t put it on any “must read” lists.

Over the past month or so I’ve sped through Marilynne Robinson’s trilogy of books set in Gilead, Iowa (I’m calling it a trilogy here because there are three of them and they are connected. This is not a trilogy in the standard sense though).

Robinson won the Pulitzer (2005) for Gilead (as well as a bunch of other awards) and it’s not at all hard to see why. It takes the form of a journal or letter that John Ames, an aging minister in Gilead, is writing to his young son. Ames recounts stories from his life, stories about his family, and of growing up in a family of ministers, and weaves them together with pieces of wisdom — trying to leave some semblance of information and guiding faith for his son after he is gone.

Now I am not a religious person. And, were I religious, I would be the “wrong” religion for this book. And yet I still felt that it spoke to me on a deep and personal level. Gilead is a book of quiet contemplation. Faith is an important part, but it felt like less of a faith in a Christian God (though there are passages from the Bible) and more of a belief in being and doing good.

Home is the second of the Gilead books and it focuses of the happenings at the Boughton (Ames’s lifelong friend — a Presbyterian pastor) household. At age 30, Glory Boughton has returned to her childhood home to take care of her ailing father. Her brother, Jack — the prodigal son, absent for 20 years — returns to the old house as well and both try to make peace with painful pasts.

This book is, again; fantastic. The minutia of the characters’ interactions (and how the information gained adds to what the reader knows from Gilead) is superb.

While Gilead and Home take place (mostly) simultaneously, much of Lila takes place much earlier. This book exposes the motivations and inner thoughts of Lila — Ames’s younger wife.

I must confess that I liked this book the least of the three — though it’s possible that this is due in part to the fact that the voice is incredibly different (almost jarringly so). Lila lives a rough life before she meets and marries Ames — a fact that is hinted at, but never fully revealed in earlier books. Gilead and Home are quiet and internal. Lila focuses a great deal on trust — both her trust of others and their trust of her. There are more characters who feature in this book and influence Lila’s life in various ways. It’s not that she doesn’t have agency — she takes control often enough — but she doesn’t seem to recognize her own role in things.

As previously mentioned, I read these in pretty quick succession, so I’ll be interested to see if my feelings change about Lila if/when I read it with more distance from the other narratives.

I can see how Robinson’s style might not be for everyone. These books are pretty much entirely character-driven, so for those who with little patience for stories where “nothing happens,” you might want to skip these. Her prose is amazing though, and though this isn’t fantasy or scifi, it almost feels like world-building in a weird way in that readers get such a nuanced look into the lives of these characters.

Lila came out in October, and you can really start with any of these since it isn’t a trilogy/series in the traditional sense. I tend to think that reading them in the order they were released (Gilead, then Home, then Lila) reveals and builds on information in a fascinating way, but it’s really personal preference. Honestly, whichever one you can get your hands on is the one you should start with.

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