15 Feminist Halloween Costumes!

Amelia-in-costume-flyingHalloween is just three days away and once again I am without a costume. Not to fear! There are plenty of places for a gal to purchase the necessary items for a last-minute Halloween costume. I stopped by the Value Village on my lunch break and found more than enough choices. I could be a sexy nurse, a sexy witch, a sexy cat, mouse or rabbit, or a sexy Goth chick… as if that’s even possible. I ended up with some cat ears and a tail. I’m just going to wear everything I own with a cat on it and be “The Crazy Cat Lady”. So not sexy.

For a DIY gal like myself, Halloween is the perfect time for me to put together something cool and original. But for those ladies who are not so inclined, Halloween can be a cruel reminder that being sexy is the most important thing in life. Store bought costumes for such mundane professions as “Cop” or “Nurse” all come with a pair of thigh-highs, booty shorts, and stiletto boots. Because everyone knows that it is way easier to catch bad guys, or help the sick while wearing high heels and no pants.

I’ve put together a list of costume ideas that are still cool and sexy, but hopefully have more creativity and imagination than your average store-bought variety. And your ass won’t get cold. Each choice comes with ideas on how to make this happen on the cheap.

  1. Amelia Earhart – All you need for this is a pair of tan slacks, brown boots, a white blouse and some goggles. A white scarf, wig and other accessories will help sell it, but they are not necessities. Those of you who want to go all out can use a cardboard box to make an airplane!
  2. Morticia Adams - 71a64d2c8146fe32d43468c3177623faBefore there was such a thing as “Goth” there was the Addams. Of course Morticia is just a TV version of the great Vampira,but she isn’t so well-known so if you dress as Vampira, prepare to be called Morticia or Elvira all night. Morticia is a great choice though, and if you are going with a group you can do the whole creepy family. All you need is a long black dress (with sleeves) and a long black wig. Accessories such as a severed hand, a rose, long cigarette holder or a family member will help sell this look.
  3.  Ghost Buster, or Janine Melnitz – If you want to be a Ghost Buster all you need is a tan jump suit. You should be able to find one at a secondhand store. Next fashion a Proton Pack, and, since my boyfriend insists, you need a ghost trap. tumblr_mw2otrYszz1qmp5efo1_500To make these you can use a backpack, or paint a piece of cardboard and add some hoses. It just needs to give people an idea. It’s Halloween, not Cosplay. Now, if you want to be awesome, you go as Janine Melnitz from Ghost Busters. She was played by Annie Potts and is going to get you crazy point for creativity and originality. Get a red wig and cut it into a bob. Next, get a leopard print coat, some big plastic beads and a pair of glasses. It would help to walk around with the Ghost Busters.
  4. Ms. Marvel - 531dd786ecf4bNo, not the hypersexy Ms. Marvel of the past, but the new Ms. Marvel. She’s been updated and she’s super hip, super cool, super…super, and sexy without being a gross stereotype. Kamala Khan is “a teenage Pakistani American from New Jersey with shapeshifting abilities, who discovers that she has Inhuman genes in the aftermath of the “Inhumanity” storyline and assumes the codename Ms. Marvel from her idol Carol Danvers.” (Wikipedia) All you need for this outfit is a black mask, (or old t-shirt cut into a mask)red tights or leggings, and a blue jersey knit dress. You can sew on a lightning bolt and add a red scarf and you are ready to save the world.
  5. Lydia Deetz (from Beetlejuice) – 9e420f480b2b9611674756888cd6afd9This one is sure to get you points for originality. All you need is a big black sun hat, a black blazer, and a long black dress. A stellar copy of The Handbook for the Recently Deceased would help. then do pale make up with dark eyes and some spiky bangs. If you are more ambitious, and have more money, go for the big red wedding dress. This is a popular idea in the Cosplay world, so you can actually find patterns for the red wedding dress and for the cover of the iconic handbook.
  6. The ladies of Mad Men – This is the perfect costume idea for a group of ladies going to a party together. Carrie, Charlotte and the gang are played out. These ladies are just as fashionable and more fun. Alone, these looks would just read as “60’s chick”. But together they spell out the whole story. Betty Draper, Joan Holloway, and even mousey Peggy and the glamorous 1a36799636c13dbb_ff178663-a8a8-298b-fbcd-867d4aa84525_Mad_Men_Stairs_Jon_Jessica_Elisabeth_January_Kiernan_Christina_1153_1182_V1.xxxlarge_2xMegan Draper are easy looks to achieve with the right accessories. Betty just needs an Aline dress and some pearls. Joan, a form-fitting dress, tight hair-do and heels. Peggy Olsen is conservative and should have on loafers. And that depends on what era you want to use. You can do 50’s, 60’s and even the 70’s! Have fun with it. 
  7. Suffragette - If you really want to go as a feminist this Halloween, then this is the look for you. Go to your local Goodwill or Value Village and find a high collared old timey dress. Or night-gown. If you sew, you can add details to help, if not there are places to find a costume dress that looks 19th century. Then all you need is a banner across your chest or a picket sign. And a hat. Those ladies loved hats.
  8. img_1910Frida Kahlo - First of all, yes you must do the eyebrows and the mustache. That is a deal breaker. There is nothing worse than a really pretty girl trying to be Frida Kahlo. The real Frida embraced her unique qualities and lived with them. So it needs to be part of your costume. And honestly, the eyebrows sell the look. Aside from that you need your hair slicked back, or in braids. You need flowers in your hair, a shawl, and about 40 necklaces, braclette and a big skirt. Done.
  9. Buffy the Vampire Slayer - This one is all about props and accessories. Any Buffy fan will tell you she didn’t go anywhere without Mr. Pointy, her favorite stake. So you’ll need to make one of those. Next, you’ll want to try for an iconic Buffy look: Leather jacket, black slacks, jeans or red leather pants, tank top and hair back with bangs. You’ll need black boots and a cross around your neck. full_30102010218_1298118365You could also do a big pink prom dress, but you’ll need to make sure Mr. Pointy is always in hand.
  10. The Bride AKA Beatrix Kiddo, (Kill Bill) – This is easy. Get yourself a yellow track suit and a plastic samurai sword. You’ll need some yellow running shoes as well. If you are not blond you’ll need a long blond wig with straight bangs, Then spatter yourself with blood. Or soak yourself. It’s Tarantino and Halloween. Go crazy with the blood. The more the better. Soak it up.
  11. Agent Scully - 86442-b1a60045dc8ced2a443097c43aad5192The hottest FBI Agent this side of Agent Mulder. Dana Scully is all about the black skirt suit and pumps. Add to that a red wig ( a must!) and make yourself a FBI badge. Extra accessories can include a flashlight, an outdated cell phone, trench coat and a gun.
  12. Pussy Riot - This is the easiest, the most timely, the most feminist and the most badass choice you can make. Extra points if you dress your daughter like this. grid-cell-28985-1413567743-5Gold star if your daughter asks to go as one of The Pussy Riot girls. These chicks define what it means to be a badass, and what it means to walk the walk. First you’ll need a stocking cap that covers your face. Now cut holes for eyes if there are none. It doesn’t have to be pretty. Next get some bright-colored tights and a (different) bright-colored jersey dress. Write some stuff on your arms in black marker and you are good to go.
  13. Xena Warrior Princess - 2This one is a little harder to make at home, but there are plenty of places to buy a full Xena costume or accessories. What I would do is buy a brown corset and fashion a breast plate out of something. trial and error would have to come into play. Foil? Fabric? Who knows. For the skirt I would probably find a spartan skirt at a costume store and use that. Then add boots and make a Chakram by cutting a frisbee and painting it. I’d need a black wig and better abs, but that would ba a pretty convincing Xena Warrior Princess costume if you ask me.
  14. Princess Leia – So the trick here is to go with Leai from the first movie. That is “A New Hope”. You know, white dress, laser gun, cinnamon bun hair do. I was Princess Leia when I was a little kid and my brother was Darth Vader. My mom made the costumes. She made the Vader helment with a pair if sunglasses, an army helment and card stock. That’s how you do Halloween. Don’t go for the Gold Bikini look. 5959268c0bb885a28894d64af0bf0e12It’s played out, and the Cosplay chicks who do it, do it really well. So instead go for an easier, more comfortable and more iconic look. You’ll need a long white dress with a turtle neck. If you can’t do that, a long white dress with long white sleeves. Or a white bathrobe. White boots. A thick silver belt. you can make one of these if necessary. It’s a recognisable part of the look, so it should be there. And now, the hair. It’s a must. If you have long hair, you can actually do this with your hair. If not, the options are endless. Actual cinnamon buns. Ear muffs dyed and styled. Knit caps that have buns on the sides. Panty hose fashioned into a Leia’s Hair hat. Store bought Leia hair buns. They all exist. I promise.
  15. Mary Poppins - Who is more iconic than Mary Poppins? Nobody. If you get this look right nobody at the party will ask, “Who are you supposed to be?” keikolynnThey’ll know right away. The outfit is fairly simple. You’ll need a shin length black skirt and a button down white blouse. You’ll need white gloves, a scarf, and black boxy shoes or booties. Now for the accessories. These are important. Of course you’ll need an umbrella. A black umbrella. Next a black hat with daisies and flowers on it. You’ll need a big carpet bag and a little red bow-tie. Boom. Mary Poppins.

Book Review: Not That Kind of Girl

9780812994995_custom-d00451b98fad719e7e291d37e9048eeba78c5d71-s99-c85The title of Lena Dunham’s new book, Not That Kind of Girl is a reference to Helen Gurley Brown’s 1983 book, Having it All. It seems Ms. Dunham found the book at a second-hand store, read it, got inspired and wrote her book as an answer. Unfortunately the answer is coming from Lena Dunham. The absolute last person I would want to take advice from. About anything. When Helen Gurley Brown wrote her book it was groundbreaking. It was a big deal in 1982 for a woman to be married, a business woman, not a mother, and in charge of her body and sexuality. She is a hero to the feminist movement for being the CEO of a company and running a women’s magazine. Sure, a lot of what Ms. Brown wrote is outdated, but she was a ground breaker. Lena Dunham is a cheap knockoff.

Since the premiere of her show Girls Lena Dunham has been popular. She’s been loved and hated equally in the press. Lena Dunham is a polarizing personality. She’s been hailed as a rebel and a representative of her generation. And she’s been criticised as selfish, out of touch, child-like, and spoiled. Which she is. I mean, I don’t understand how any woman can watch Girls and think, “Gee. I’d like to be friends with them.” Women in Lena Dunham’s universe are stereotypes. And they’re mean! She herself grew up in New York, as the daughter of two artists and attended an all girls school. Then went to Oberlin. And Summered in Connecticut. There’s just something about her that’s un-relatable. Taking advice from Lena Dunham is like taking advice from Jay Gatsby.

having-it-allAnd now the 28-year-old has a book of essays and advice from her years of experience. Basically, the book is full of sex and shtick. And it isn’t very funny. Here is an example from the book. “Not to sound like a total hippie, but I cured my HPV with acupuncture”. Hilarious. In a book that is supposed to be full of advice, or at least things the author has “learned”, the reader is left with… not so much soul baring by the author, but navel gazing. There isn’t much “honest” or “real” in this collection. And I guess that’s the major problem.

Lena Dunham already “has it all”. She was born having it all. The idea that a 28-year-old girl born with a silver spoon in her mouth has written her “memoirs” or an “advice book” is absurd. She is just too young and too privileged to write this type of book. It’s filled with the quirky stories we’ve come to expect from Dunham (trips to the gynaecologist, losing her virginity, finding a therapist, summer camp, and of course, filming a television show. We all know how that can be.) The problem is the stories are repetitive and often boring, lacking the humor and style of better writers like Nora Ephron, Tina Fey or Mindy Kaling.

Maybe I’ve judged her book unfairly, maybe this book is for her “fans” and the rest of us should steer clear. But a good book is a good book. No matter what the target demographic happens to be. For my time and money I can think of at least ten female celebrity memoirs that I would recommend before this one. Ms. Dunham’s stories can best be described as “occasionally entertaining”. If that’s enough for you – enjoy! If not, try Tina Fey’s Bossypants, Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck, or Happy Accidents by Jane Lynch.

Banned Books Week

draft1“If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” – Noam Chomsky

Yesterday marked the beginning of Banned Books Week – A celebration of American Censorship. Okay, that’s not the real tagline, but it might as well be. America has been banning books as long as America has been America. The idea is to “protect” people (Mostly children. Ugh.) from difficult ideas or subversive information. Often bans (or “challenges” to a book) come as a result of a parent, or group of parents using their kids as an excuse for censorship. Because children need protection from sex and language in books. But not in cartoons, video games, movies or… life in general.

The First Amendment protects us from idiot Parent Groups (and other people) trying to censor what you are allowed to read. It says that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because “society” finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable. Basically, if someone wants to write a book about a tribe of naked ladies who assassinate trolls while riding on horse sized house-cats, they can. And you can’t stop them. If the idea of a tribe of nude women upsets your delicate sensibilities, or you are morally outraged at the idea of “troll assassination”, then DON’T READ THE BOOK. You are not allowed to dictate what the rest of us can read. I’m a big girl. I understand complex ideas, and I kind of dig the idea of naked ladies riding on huge house-cats.

I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid if you told me that a book was banned it would just make the book that much more appealing. This week marks the 32nd year in which we celebrate books that someone told us not to read. In a time when people can read anything from The Story of O, to Fifty Shades of Grey, (in public!) it seems rather backwards that the US should be in the business of banning books.
NairiApkarian_InfographicYet we are. Even now in 2014. Schools across the country pull books from their libraries because of fearful parents. Kids shouldn’t need a note from home to read a book. Parents shouldn’t be dictating policy in schools, much less what children are allowed to read. If you think your kid shouldn’t be reading Charlotte’s Web because, “showing lower life forms with human abilities is sacrilegious and an insult of God”, then great. Limit your child. Cool. Cool. Cool. But don’t take away a great piece of literature from EVERYONE just because you are too simple, scared, or backwards thinking to understand a talking pig. 
 
Banning a book because it’s “values” don’t line up with yours isn’t okay. This may come as a shock to some of you, but not every person in the US is a “christian”. Using “christian values” as a way to demonize a book just doesn’t work. If I don’t share your views on sexuality, religion or violence, then how can you decide what is appropriate for me? You can’t.
 
And that’s what it comes down to, or should. Freedom of choice. An writer should be able to express herself without the fear of censorship. And readers should be given every opportunity to explore different types of writing, different types of stories, and different types of books. Sex, profanity and racism are often the primary complaints against books, but those are also the things that make a book worth reading. What would Huck Finn or Anne Frank be like without the language used? What would Beloved be like without the horrid abuse and rape? Sometimes the issues that are hardest to take are exactly the ones we should be reading about. For how else do we learn?

A Map of My Life

SN859272Every month I am honored to be a contributor over at gumshoeblog.org - It’s a fun place. “Gumshoe features a collection of writers who are full of curiosity and are armed with an adventurous spirit. A gumshoe is a cultural curator who is looking for what is unexpected, beautiful, frustrating, and inspiring. A gumshoe digs deeper to attempt to understand how art and culture live and interact in our world. Gumshoes love the act of discovery and sharing.” Rad, huh?

So, this month we writers were tasked to make a map… of anything. I was a little dumfounded at the idea because I never like to put effort into anything that I believe will end up being ordinary. If I make a map I want it to be spectacular! So after ditching a few maps to fantasy realms, I decided to make a “map” of my life… with drawings.

The idea here is to show where I have lived over the past couple of decades. I travelled a lot over the years, but this little map shows where I have lived. Where I have planted myself. Where I have earned a living, paid taxes, etc. I’ve moved around a lot and I don’t regret it.

SN859274I started in So. Cal and then moved to San Francisco. From there I moved to Oakland, and then back to L.A. for a few months before moving to Prague. I stayed in Prague for about three years before moving to Mexico where it was ridiculously hot and I got paid very little. So… back to Prague for another four years. When I got tired of the Czech lifestyle, I moved with my partner to Texas, his home. We lived in Houston and Austin, but mostly Austin. I did not care for Texas. We left Texas in January of this year and packed our little car with everything we own. What didn’t fit didn’t come. (Now that’s a minimalist lifestyle!) We drove to Ratna Ling Buddhist Retreat Center. (I wrote a series of pieces about my time there. This was the last one) It was supposed to be a six month commitment, but they asked me to leave after one month. From there we drove back to Berkeley where we stayed with an awesome couple, their one year old and three legged dog. They were kind enough to let us stay and recoup before we repacked the car and headed to Seattle. And that’s where I am now.

Travel: Bainbridge Island

Seattle skyline from ferry

Seattle skyline from ferry

So here is the truth. I tend to mole. (MOLE: When you hide in your flat, shades drawn, nose in a book, binge watching every episode of The Amazing Race Canada because you convince yourself it’s pretty much field work now that you live so close to Canada and you know actual Canadians – and thus don’t set foot outside of your flat until you are forced out due to work.) I like being a mole. Sometimes. It’s a constant struggle that is going on inside me. On the one hand, I have the mole – content to read, sip coffee, watch old movies and just relax. That’s what days off are for! And on the other hand I have the adventurer – wanting to explore new places, taste new food, and see new things. In order to appease the Adventurer in me I try to allocate a few days off a month to do something new. Yesterday my fella and I traveled by ferry to Bainbridge Island.

SN859211It’s part of the Puget Sound, and was voted the second best place to live IN AMERICA, back in 2005. It is just a short 35 minute ferry ride, and the views are incredible.From the ferry you can see the awesome Seattle skyline, including the Space Needle. Once the ferry docks it is a short walk uphill to the main street, Winslow Way. The Island has that quaint New England vibe to it, and we even saw a couple of drunk old timers hollering in the streets. It felt authentic.

There is plenty to see and do on the Island. We spent a good amount of time walking the nature trails that weaved in and out of the shoreline. We found a cute little footbridge and a hidden basketball court. Out on the main drag there are a variety of stores and restaurants, wine tasting rooms and bakeries, and even a little independent bookstore called Eagle Harbor Books. We ate lunch at a sandwich deli and then wandered the streets some more. Ice cream at Mora was pretty awesome after all of that walking.

Jenny Anderson

Jenny Anderson

The highlight of the day was the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art. It is a small, modern museum that is dedicated to local art and artists. And it is free, as ALL museums should be. I found a new artist to become obsessed with: Jenny Anderson. She is a native of Seattle and does work in pottery, sculpture, wood and raku. My favorite works of hers were these whimsical wood and ceramic pieces – forest creatures in robes carrying small, detailed faces in their hands and packs. My mind went into overdrive thinking of stories for these detailed, lifelike creatures. I couldn’t get enough. The museum also showed a short movie about her, the huge dragon of a kiln she uses, and how she makes her art. It was pretty inspiring.

SN859230I also very much enjoyed the collection of stuff which artist Max Grover put together. He uses his own collection of things (Hula girls, Luchadors, wedding cake toppers) as inspirations for his paintings and collages. I’ll admit that I found the actual paintings to be a little childlike and easy. But I absolutely adored looking at the collections of things he had. It was kind of cool for me to look at a collection of snow globes and think to myself, I used to have a collection of snow globes twice this size. I gave the collection away when I decided to move abroad. I don’t miss it. Even a little bit. It’s fun to look at someones elses collection of old junk knowing that I don’t have to live with it, house it, dust it, or make room for it. Feels like freedom.

SN859214If you live in Seattle or take a holiday here, Bainbridge Island is definitely worth the short trip. And it wasn’t expensive. We used Orca Cards to get to the island ($8 roundtrip) and we shared lunch and ice cream. All in all it was an affordable fun day for a little Mole like me. The Adventurer inside of me felt like she had a full day – riding the ferry, hiking the island, taking pictures and swinging on the swings. And I’m glad she got her fill. Because when the Mole comes back asking to relax and just chill, I won’t feel bad saying yes.

Books: 13 Badass Babes From Literature

normanrockwell-4When I decided to make a list of kick-ass female characters from literature, I wanted to use only characters from adult fiction. This proved to be more difficult than I thought. It’s fairly easy to find awesome female characters aimed at making young girls believe they can grow up to do or be anything. Katniss, Hermione, Violet Baudelaire – all of them are awesome and smart and feisty. But they are also all teenagers. Every list I found of “The Best Female Characters in Books” was full of YA or children’s characters. Aren’t there any cool female characters who are all grown up? Answering that question proved a little harder than I hoped. It made me angry that every literary female cited was under twenty.

Unfortunately the adult world of literature favors men. MEN have adventures. MEN fight dragons. MEN go to war. And MEN live full lives. Perhaps it’s because girls are encouraged to be active, seek adventure, and be daring. Women are encouraged to make babies and seek a husband. How dull. How sad. But I managed to put together a list of thirteen of the most badass ladies in literature despite the stereotypes. The only criteria: 1. It must be a book that I have read. Personally. 2. Must be a book aimed at adults.

  1. Jo March (Little Women) – Smart, impulsive, argumentative, tomboyish, and hot-tempered. Jo March loves life and wants to participate. Much like the author Louisa May Alcott, Jo was a rebel. She is forced to live a life that doesn’t suit her and soon yearns for more. She is a writer, and her main focus is writing. Not romantic love. Although she does have romance in her life, it isn’t what defines her. I love Jo. My good fellow. 
  2. Jane Eyre9780143106159She’s my favorite character of the Brontë universe. Throughout the novel Jane possesses a sense of self-worth and dignity.  She’s only a mouse, but underneath she is a tiger. Her integrity is tested over the course of the novel, and Jane must learn to balance the frequently conflicting aspects of herself. She’s self-reliant and never expects to be “rescued” from her circumstances. Jane Eyre has always been a hero of mine. A woman trying to find balance between her need for freedom and her yearning for love, and often voicing radical opinions on sex, gender, religion and social class. Bad. Ass.
  3. Elphaba Thropp (Wicked) – Even before this book became a hit musical with songs that annoy karaoke participants to this very day, I was singing its praises. Long before TV and movies got on board with the “new twist on classic tales” idea, Gregory Maguire had it nailed. He created a Wicked Witch of the West that was vulnerable, kind and funny. A true hero. She’s tough, smart, sassy and green. And like the song says, it’s not easy being green.
  4. Marian McAlpin (The Edible Woman) – Margaret Atwood tells the story of a young single woman who works for a market research company. Unable to foresee a fulfilling career, she begins to worry about her future and about what she might become. She soon realizes that her relationship with her boyfriend Peter is more serious than she would like. Yet when Peter proposes marriage, Marian accepts. A story I whole heartedly related to when I read it. Marian has an affair and develops one of the best eating disorders I’ve ever seen in print. A woman, like Emma Bovary in some ways, has to determine her own worth and her place in her own life.
  5. Miss Jane Marple – She’s not what you think of when you think of detective, but she’s one of the best. Long before Jessica Fletcher was out solving crimes, Miss Jane Marple was doing it better. A shrewd observer and a natural genius, Miss Marple proves herself a match for every murder she meets. Sure, I’m more of a Poirot fan, but even I have to give props to Agatha Christie’s tour de force, Miss Marple. A cheerful person who always expects the worst. How can you not love her?
  6. Scarlet O’Hara – A dark-haired, green-eyed, spoiled brat of a beauty takes center stage in this novel of the south. screen-shot-2013-06-29-at-4-32-01-pmShe’s not nice. And that is exactly what I like about her. Scarlet gets shit done. And if you are in her way, good luck to you. She proved to be strong, smart, and even a shrewd business woman who always gets what she wants. She embodies the old and new south, and struggles with those ideas internally. She adapts to what life throws at her and doesn’t just survive. She thrives.
  7. Mildred Pierce - At first glance, Mildred Pierce is a dumb woman who lets people manipulate her. But that’s not all Mildred Pierce is. The story takes place right after the depression in Southern California, and Mildred finds herself needing to work for the first time ever. Her spoiled daughter is embarrassed of her. Her best friend tells her to use her femininity to her advantage, use men for what she can get out of them. But Mildred instead chooses to start her own business, earn her own money and take control of her own life. Bad. Ass.
  8. Catherine Earnshaw (Wuthering Heights) – All that we know of Catherine is second-hand, filtered through diaries and memories. 2c0ad9efeee96800985915d822546939She is a literal ghost at the opening of the novel. She is a woman torn between two loves and two worlds – Edgar and Heathcliff. Her choice of husband is the turning point of the novel, and when the nastiness begins. She manages to become a “lady” – a snobby brat who gets her way – but underneath is still that strong, wild woman who wants love and freedom. She’s a ghost for the majority of the novel. That says something about the strength of her character.
  9. Hester Prynne (The Scarlet Letter) – A is for Adultery. The heroine of The Scarlet Letter is ostracised in 17th-century Boston for giving birth to a daughter out-of-wedlock. This story shines a bright light into the world of suffocating American puritanism that still exists today.  Hester endures shame and scorn for a situation she could hardly control, and a situation she was not alone in. It takes two to tango, ya know. Hester was forced to marry an old man and while waiting for him in to come to Massachusetts, she meets a charismatic minister and has an affair with him. I wonder who gets punished for that one? I’ll give you a hint, it ain’t the minister. Hester is an independent woman, and a free-thinker in a time when none of that was okay to do. If you were a woman.
  10. Becky Sharp (Vanity Fair) – A poor orphan of low birth, Becky Sharp is a born hustler and social climber who manages to raise herself to the upper limits of high society and wealth. Evil doer or misunderstood woman ahead of her time? 20111017071648-vanity_fair_coverThackeray never actually reveals whether she is guilty or innocent of the crimes that cause her reputation’s crash. Sure, she is constantly stealing from her creditors, allowing Rowden’s gambling to disrupt her friendships, and pulling con jobs, but somehow the narrator makes these sound comical rather than evil. I feel like Becky only committed crimes of circumstance or survival. Any woman in her place would do the same thing. Okay, she’s not the best mom in the world, but not every woman wants a child. And I don’t think Becky wanted to be a mother.
  11. Claire Fraser (Outlander series) – She’s a no-nonsense nurse and all around badass. Oh, and she also time travels. Cool, right? I read the Outlander series back in 1992, and I’ve been recommending them ever since. See, she’s married to a guy in the 20th century, but meets an even hotter guy when she is transported back to the 18th century. Claire has a quick tongue, a hot temper and she’s smart. Sure she gets into trouble, but watching her get out of trouble is half the fun. It was the first time I had read a book where a woman was having the adventure, time traveling, and making decisions that changed the course of the story. And history.
  12. Lisbeth Salander (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) – Okay, she might be a sociopath, but given the circumstances of the novel, I feel alright with that. She’s a feisty, world-class computer hacker with a photographic memory, and she’s also the survivor of an abusive childhood. That’s why she’s anti-social. And why she has just a teeny, tiny violent streak. If you fuck with Lisbeth Salander, you better be a fast runner.
  13. Auntie Mame (Auntie Mame) – This is the story of a ten year-old boy who is sent to live with his zany aunt. And before I go any further, I want to state that I think the world needs more zany aunts. 1549471_10152037290632496_1516082930_nAuntie Mame is a worldly, hilarious, irrepressible, adoring, easily distracted, and all around awesome guardian of her little nephew Patrick. Mame’s life is filled with parties, travel, bathtub gin, caviar, Broadway stars and Indian mystics. The perfect environment for raising a well-rounded kid. No. Seriously. Mame believes in trying things, thumbing your nose at convention, taking roads less traveled because they’re bound to be more interesting, and being yourself no matter what the assholes of the world think of you. These are valuable lessons to learn at any age. My life motto is from this book: “Life is a banquet” she says, “and most poor suckers are starving to death.” (The picture here is my vey own first edition of “Around the World with Auntie Mame”)

Books: 2014 Reading Challenge (So Far)

Paterniti_TheTellingRoom-200x300I challenged myself to read 50 books last year and I came up short. Life and travel and television got in the way. But I don’t make excuses. I just set better goals. This year my challenge was to read twenty-five books and I’m already finished with nineteen of them. I think working in a bookstore helps.

So here are the nineteen books I’ve started and completed this year. In the order I read them. I gave each book a “star rating” and a brief review.

  1. Bag of Bones by Stephen King (736 pages) – **** I devoured this book. This is a ghost story and it’s scary. A writer must face his own demons, and maybe some actual demons in a small Maine town. Of course. Fans of King will enjoy this book, and non fans will see what all of the fuss is about.
  2. N-W by Zadie Smith (296 pages) – ***** SO GOOD! Zadie Smith writes about London in a way only a true Londoner could. She uses slang, style and prose to make this book come alive. It’s the story of four adult Londoners who tragically and comically adapt to life as grown-ups. Smith is a master of style, tone and prose. Lovely.
  3. My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales (576 pages) *** – I only gave this three stars because there are a few (very few) stories in here that didn’t make the grade. All in all though, this book was a lot of fun. Great retellings of classic fairy tales and written by some great writers like Michael Cunningham and Joyce Carol Oates.
  4. The Apothecary by Malie Meloy (384 pages) *** – This was a fun adventure for kids. It follows a young girl and her family as they flee from the Red Scare and Blacklisting that is going on in America. Full of history, magic potions and adventure, this book will make you smile. The first in a series aimed at intermediate readers.
  5. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (258 pages) – *** As a bookseller I felt I had to read this. It was a cute little book filled with inside jokes for avid readers. Nothing complex here in language, style or theme, but a good little book.
  6. Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto (240 pages) *** The story of a family living together in a small Bombay apartment. Mom is slipping deeper and deeper into maddness and dad (The Big Hoom) is just trying to keep going. A surprisingly funny book that was tender and heart felt at the same time.
  7. Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff (304 pages) ** – Eh. Another book for middle readers, but it was just alright. I would pick a dozen books over this one for kids, but at the same time the message was a good one: It’s okay to be different. But there are plenty of better books out there with the same message.
  8. Monday, Monday by Elizabeth Crook (352 pages) – * I was SO disappointed in this book. It tells the story of a group of people all brought together by the tragic shooting at U of T in the sixties. It was overwrought and completely predictable. If you want a family saga that spans decades, read Joyce Carol Oates instead. Skip this book.
  9. You Must Remember This by Joyce Carol Oates (436 pages) – **** Oates is a master of epic family drama. This book tells the story of one family and their struggle to make it in America in the 50’s. It captures the decade perfectly. The story follows one family in up state NY and delves into each of their lives. Of course there are sexual taboos, violence and even boxing. What else would you expect from JCO?
  10. The Skin Collector by Jeffery Deaver (448 pages) – ** Bored. I’d never read Deaver before and I doubt I will again. It’s not that it wasn’t good, it was just basic. This book didn’t challenge my intellect and it was fairly predictable. There are better detective mysteries out there.
  11. Tibetan Peach Pie by Tom Robbins (384 pages) – ***** Yes. Just, yes.
  12. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami (386 pages) – ***** I read this a few months before it’s US release and I predicted that people would be disappointed and a little pissed at this book. Why? Because Murakami has somewhat of a cult following and this book isn’t really what the fans are expecting. There is no other world. No cats. No deep wells. It is a minimalist book in style and content. Almost stark and cold. Now that being said, I loved it.
  13. Summer House With Swimming Pool by Herman Koch (387 pages) – *** I’ve reviewed this a couple of times here on my blog, but here you go. This book was full of unlikable people doing very nasty things. Like in  The Dinner, Koch uses friendship as the foundation for the moral questions that arise. This book is fast paced, well written and pretty gross. I enjoyed it.
  14. The Quick by Lauren Owen (544 pages) **** – Gothic, dark, and paced like a gothic novel, The Quick is a slow study in horror. I enjoyed the different POV’s throughout, and I enjoyed the world that was created here. Fans of Penny Dreadful should check this out.
  15. To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris (352 pages) *** – Ugh. I guess I went though a phase of reading books about unlikable people. This was one of them. A dentist gets his entire life hacked. Someone creates a FB page for him, his business and uses it as a platform to make some pretty ugly remarks about Jewish people. He struggles with getting people to believe that it wasn’t him. But you almost don’t care. There are page long paragraphs about inane things – like a woman putting her hair in a pony tale. Seriously. It got to be a little much. The idea was good, but it was a struggle near the end.
  16. The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta – **** I had to read this before the show started. (The show is incredible. If you are not watching it you are missing out) Perrotta is the master of writing suburbia (Election, Little Children) and he doesn’t disappoint here. What would you do if people suddenly disappeared? Perrotta looks at life after and it is often comical and uncomfortable. A great read.
  17. The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese by Michael Paterniti (368 pages) ***** – Perhaps my favorite book of the year. It’s a delightful and funny read that will make you want to travel and eat cheese. A memoir of sorts, it tells the tale of one man (the writer) and his quest to discover the secrets of the world’s greatest piece of cheese. Just read it. You won’t be sorry.
  18. Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain (298 pages) – ***** I loved this book! It’s been a film favorite of mine for years, but I never got around to reading the book til now. I followed it up with the HBO miniseries starring Kate Winslet and it was pretty much word for word. This is a feminist story about a strong woman who trusts the wrong people. Super fun and super fast read. AND, it takes place in Pasadena, where I grew up.
  19. Crooked River by Valerie Geary (320 pages) – **** This was a coming of age story wrapped up in a murder mystery. I read it pretty fast and enjoyed the characters. The book is told from the POV of two sisters. Their mother has just died and now they are living in a meadow with their bee keeping dad, Bear. It’s was exciting, fun and kind of a page turner. I figured out “who dun it” by page thirty, but it didn’t ruin the trip for me.