Books: A Year in Reading 2014

bandits-book-art

This poster is from Anagram Bookshop in Prague, where I used to work. It was a great little shop.

I am a book stacker. When I die I expect my body to be found under a pile of books. I stockpile. There could be some sort of book shortage, or even worse, Book Zombies! I’ll only have access to what is in my home! I’ll need variety. But seriously folks, I never know what I’ll want to read next. I choose what book to read based purely on my mood. When I finish a book like Lawrence Wright’s AMAZING Going Clear, which EVERYONE SHOULD READ, I like to follow it up with something a little lighter, like Stephen King or Joe Hill. I like variety so I read everything. Reading only one type of book is like listening to only one type of music – boring. We read to have new experiences and learn new things. And we can’t do much of either if we read the same kinds of stories over and over. That would be the equivalent of wearing the same outfit every day for the rest of your life. And nobody wants to be that guy.

I started out 2014 on a road trip from Texas to California with a Stephen King book tucked in my bag. Today I type this from a tiny studio in Seattle’s Capitol Hill, while Ray Bradbury’s lovely Dandelion Wine sits next to me patiently awaiting completion. I looked at the books I read this year and couldn’t find a common theme. Some books were about solitude and loneliness, and others about love seeking robots. There were flesh-eating zombies and murderous humans. There was even a mansion in a trash heap. I learned everything I need to know about Scientology and cheese, and reminisced about London with the incomparable Zadie Smith. I read historical fiction set in Texas and the Appalachian Mountains. I read a somewhat funny book about a not so jewish dentist, and an even funnier book about a whiskey drinking’ duck named Fup.

My reading list was all over the map, just like I was.

Since people are always asking me to give them book suggestions, I have put together a doozie for ya. Here is the best of what I read this year. In no particular order. I divided them into helpful categories because I work in a bookstore, and that’s what we do. I left out the few clunkers I read so you don’t have to suffer needlessly. You’ll have to look them up for yourself, or go to your local bookstore and take a look. Just write down the title and author before you go. We thank you in advance.

FICTION

  1. N-W, by Zadie Smith
  2. Serena, by Ron Rash
  3. The Wilds, by Julia Elliott
  4. The Book of Lost Things, by John Connolly
  5. Hold the Dark, by William Giraldi
  6. Fup, by Jim Dodge
  7. The Leftovers, by Tom Perrotta
  8. Mildred Pierce, by James M. Caine
  9. You Must Remember This, by Joyce Carol Oates
  10. My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales, ed Kate Bernheimer
  11. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
  12. The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami
  13. The Children Act by Ian McEwan
  14. To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris (Be warned. This book has an almost intolerable narrator. A good book, but man. Paragraphs go on for PAGES with no interruption.)
  15. Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

NON-FICTION

  1. Going Clear, by Lawrence Wright
  2. The Telling Room, by Michael Paterniti
  3. Tibetan Peach Pie, by Tom Robbins

HORROR/THRILLER

  1. Bag of Bones, by Stephen King
  2. Pontypool Changes Everything, by Tony Burgess
  3. Horns, by Joe Hill
  4. *The Quick by Lauren Owen
  5. Summer House With Swimming Pool by Herman Koch
  6. Her by Harriet Lane
  7. Crooked River by Valerie Geary

*This title is in horror only due to subject matter and style. It isn’t horror like Stephen King. It is literary like Dracula, or Haunting of Hill House. 

KIDS

  1. Heap House (Iremonger, #1) by Edward Carey
  2. The Apothecary by Maile Meloy

The Most Detestable Ladies of Literature

urlI just finished reading Serena by Ron Rash and it rocked my world. The title character is a Scarlet O’Hara type, obsessed with land and willing to do anything to get it. She gets what she wants by any means necessary. I loved the book so much it lead me to think about all the other lecherous yet awesome females of literature, and how they are far more memorable than any princess will ever be.

In honor of Serena, here is my list of the most detestable ladies of literature. PS – This may include spoilers. No endings are given away, but I do let you know some of the more colorful aspects to these characters. 

  1. Serena (Serena by Ron Rash)- This lady makes Scarlet O’Hara look more like Melanie Wilkes. Serena is a take no shit woman who gets what she wants. No matter what the price. Oh and she also has a trained eagle she keeps with her. Like a boss. Jennifer Lawrence will be playing the role on the big screen (against Bradley Cooper, of course) in February, so you heard it here first. Read the book! I promise it won’t disappoint. Ron Rash is a fantastic writer and the Appalachian mountains come alive with his lovely style and prose. Oh, and guys! this is NOT some chick lit romance, so don’t let the cover fool you. It’s about timber loggers in the 1930’s and it has lots of death and killing and intrigue. You’ll dig it, I promise.
  2. gone-with-the-windScarlet O’Hara (Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell) – While Scarlet brings to mind thoughts of romance and swelling music, Scarlet O’Hara is not a nice person. She is admirable on one hand, doing what needs to be done, but on the other hand completely loathsome. I mean, Ashley Wilkes is a simple dullard so he almost deserves the treatment Scarlet forces him to endure. But she is horrid. She deliberately steals her sisters man. She deliberately hires convicts to work in her factory in order to save money. And she beats them. She is selfish and spoiled, rude and entitled. Yet we all love her for her spunk and tenacity. For me her drive and determination make all the rest seem okay. It’s not her fault she’s smarter and prettier than her sister.
  3. Beatrice Lacey (Wideacre by Philippa Gregory) – 61I7PIe1MLL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Like the two ladies on this list ahead of her, Beatrice Lacey is obsessed with her land and will stop at nothing to keep it. Adultery and murder are all in a days work for Beatrice Lacey. The things that Beatrice does in this book will make you slam it closed in horror only to open it again just as quick to see what happens next. It is so much fun! But be warned, this book is not for the faint of heart. Incest and bondage are just a few things to look forward to in this crazy book. The first in a trilogy that will have you hooked from beginning to end. If you can endure the crazy, that is.
  4. 230-MThe White Witch (The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis) This bitch killed Christmas. It doesn’t get much worse than that. She banished all sense of happiness and hope, and She turns her enemies into stone. That’s wicked cool. Pun totally intended. Whats more, she isn’t a nice person. She’s cold and dispassionate, cruel and mean. She uses her magic to terrorize anyone who crosses her. She’s alluring, proud, and cruel – a deadly combination when you take into account her army of demons and dark monsters. Seriously. She had dwarfs and giants working side by side with wraiths and minotaurs. MINOTAURS! It’s always winter and never Christmas, and you won’t be getting any gifts this year. I’m Tilda. Bitch.
  5. Annie Wilkes (Misery by Stephen King) – dreams-as-inspiration-stephen-king-185x300I’m a big fan of Stephen King, but I would never kidnap him and force him to write stories for my approval. Or would I? Come to think of it, that sounds kind of awesome. I mean I wouldn’t torture him or anything, just make him watch Thinner and Maximum Overdrive on replay until he makes up a better ending to Under the Dome. I think that is a just punishment. Anyway, Annie Wilkes subjects poor Paul Sheldon to psychological and physical torture for a really long time. And she kills people. Oh, and then we find out that she’s an infamous serial killer. She stabs a state trooper with a wooden cross and runs him over with a lawnmower, after having chopped Sheldon’s foot off with an axe, setting it alight with a blowtorch. See, I’m nice compared to Annie Wilkes.
  6. Rebecca-Baylay-CoverMrs. Danvers (Rebecca by Daphne de Maurier) – Mrs. Danvers is pretty much the scariest person I can imagine sharing time with in a creepy gothic mansion. She’s tall and gaunt and pointy looking. In the novel she is often described as having a white skull face. See? Creepy. She wears all black and she’s mean as they come. She’s like a vampire, all death and decay. She’s always creeping around some dark hallway, spying on someone with her ear to the door, or her eye to the key hole. She’s a sneaky manipulative bully and downright nasty. I won’t divulge any more because she’s a pretty fun part of the book, but just steer clear of any open windows when she’s around.
  7. Daisy Buchanan (The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald) – philipp-dornbierer-1Let me start by stating up front that I am not a huge fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his books about rich people problems. That being said, I rather liked The Great Gatsby. And I liked it largely in part to Daisy Buchanan. Although every single character in this novel deserves a punch in the face, Daisy deserves just a few extra ones for being such a coked-up, self-absorbed brat. Is there a more insufferable character in all of literature? Maybe, but I wouldn’t want to hang out with Daisy Buchanan any time soon. Sure she may not be as repugnant as her husband Tom, but if that is the best thing we can say about her, then there is an issue. Daisy embodies all of the garish shallowness of the 1920’s and flaunts it with pride and ease. I mean come on, anyone who says this deserves a punch in the face. “I hope she’ll be a fool. That’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”
  8. Gone-Girl-by-Gillian-Flynn-gone-girl-37441442-1181-1810Amy Dunne (Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn) – This is the only book on the list which I have not actually read. I did however see the movie and was told it stays pretty faithful. That being said, Amy Dunne is a bad, bad woman. She goes well beyond bitch, tackles bat shit crazy and goes for the title of all out psychopath. On the surface Amy Dunne is the quintessential, all American “Girl Next Door”. She’s beautiful, funny, smart, and people want to be around her. Some people. She was the inspiration for a (fictional) children’s book series Amazing Amy. She’s famous. But underneath the Amazing Amy exterior is a crumbling marriage hiding a multitude of secrets. While we might understand why Amy is a total head case, it doesn’t excuse the absolute cold manor in which she manipulates everyone around her. The most dangerous thing about Amy is that she will do absolutely anything- lie, cheat, steal, kill – to get her way.
  9. Veda Pierce (Mildred Piece by James M. Cain) – fee16efd06a6dc540df9d81dc27267c6If there is a worse child in all of literature than Veda Peirce, then I’d like to see them in a death match. And my money would be on Veda. Veda is annoying for starters. She wants to hang out with the cool, rich kids in Pasadena, but they live crappy, crappy Glendale. Thanks a lot, mom! (Having grown up in Pasadena, this part of the plot had me in stitches.) Veda blames her poor, workhorse of a mother for everything bad that happens in her life, then manipulates her with emotional blackmail. And that’s just for starters. Mildred tried to give her daughter everything; voice lessons, piano lessons, a piano, new clothes, but nothing was ever good enough for Veda. Her insatiable appetite was only matched by the pleasure she took in torturing her mother. Which is hard to endure as a reader. You just want to shake Mildred until she wakes up and sees Veda for what she is: a total nightmare. But Mildred is always forgiving, and that is exactly what Veda counts on. For Mildred, what other choice is there but to just get stinko?
  10. Little-WomenAmy March (Little Women by Louisa May Alcott) – Okay, this might be a little unconventional, but I stand by my choice. First off, Amy is the youngest child which makes her annoying by default. She is a beautiful little girl who grows into a beautiful young woman and she knows it. A blond-haired, blue-eyed beauty who is a little obsessed with her own good looks. Except for her nose. She would totally have a nose job if she were living today (#nosejob) Amy uses her feminine charms to her advantage, a stark contrast to her much cooler and more homely sister, Jo. She is also obsessed with all things upper crust. She is keen to move up in the world and marry well. (Yawn). As a young girl she gets in trouble at school and vows never to return. And doesn’t! She gets home schooled, which is exactly what she wants. Later, her sisters don’t invite her to play with them, so as revenge, she burns Jo’s manuscript! Burns it! No computer back ups. All hand written. Seriously, if you burn my manuscript I might just let you drown in that frozen pond. Brat. I’d like to see Amy, and Daisy and Veda living in a house together Real World style. I would totally watch that show.

What I Miss?

bill_cosby_1978025Sorry folks, a lot of life happened to me in November, but I’m back! And after a succesful NaNoWriMo to boot! That’s right, I won for the third time! (out of ten times trying.) NaNoWriMo takes up a lot of time and energy, plus I had my job to worry about, so I just couldn’t blog. But I came out of November with a whole novel! So I can’t complain. I did it! Thanksgiving, a broken tooth, a sprained hand, and some sort of stomach virus are not going to stop me. 

But so much has happened! If these stories had surfaced at any other time, I would have had a lot to say. But as it was, my words were otherwise engaged. So I thought I’d give my two cents on the big stories I missed in the last thirty days. I’m a little rusty,so be kind. It feels good to be back.

  1. Bill Cosby – Ever since women began coming forward accusing The Cos of sexual assault and rape, I have been wondering where his supporters are. Usually when there is some sort of scandal involving a beloved celebrity (Mel Gibson, Tiger Woods) that celebrity has his famous friends coming out of the woodwork to support them. Not so much with Bill Cosby. Raven-Symone has said to please “leave her out of it.” Whoopie Goldberg said on the view she found some of the stories “questionable”, and singer Jill Scott defended him on Twitter. Most stars have tried to dodge the story by saying things like, “How sad if this is true”. Sad? More like infuriating. These women deserve to at least be heard. If these allegations are true, and dollars to donuts they are, then it is infuriating that this man preyed on women for over thirty years and nobody did anything to stop him. He drugged women and then had sex with them, or touched them. Power and privilege can sometimes make a man into a monster. He shouldn’t get special treatment just because he was a great TV dad and comedian. He is an awful person and should be put away. It’s called serial rape. But famous men often get away with brutality and we end up blaming the victim. I think a full investigation should be made, and if Bill Cosby wants to remain relevant and free, then he should start talking. But his silence is so loud that the only option is to believe the 20+ women and their claims of abuse. Sometimes you have to kill your heroes.
  2. Philae’s Wild Comet Landing - Yep, scientists managed to put a lander on a comet. A comet! The thing used harpoons and everything! I half expected to see Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck emerging from it to help save the earth. Okay, so the mission wasn’t to save the earth, but it was pretty freaking dramatic. It touched down thrice and drifted for nearly two hours before resting on the comet. Now the thing is recharging its batteries and hibernating until it gets closer to the sun. I don’t know what it all means, but I do know that it is wicked cool.

  3. Charles Manson getting married – Who the fuck cares.

  4. Fergusondemonstrators-defy-curfew-fergusonUnfortunately when the news came that there would be no indictment I wasn’t the least bit shocked. I lived in LA during the OJ trial and the riots that followed. This doesn’t feel a bit different. Except that OJ was a famous sports and film figure at the time and used those things to help him legally get away with murder. In Ferguson we have a police officer who shot and killed an unarmed kid and got away with it. It should have been cut and dry. I don’t care what the legal evidence was, the police officer should be behind bars, at least for some period of time. There was no question that he did it. Only a question of self-defence. A murder, even if it was an accident or self-defence, should be punished. The fact the officer is a free man today has sparked nationwide riots. Yes, the facts matter. And no, I was not in the courtroom to hear the facts. But, I do believe some sort of punishment was necessary. And we must also take into account that this wasn’t the first time an unarmed black man has been shot for no good reason. And recently! The the powers that be don’t do something fast, a full revolution is on the horizon.

    But I don’t think taking to the streets and reeking havoc is the right answer. It doesn’t solve anything. I’m all for revolution, but looting, robbing and arson are juvenile. Nobody will take you or your cause seriously if you are damaging property. It’s hard to have sympathy for someone when they are setting fire to a pizzeria. I say, take that anger and turn it into something useful. Take action, but in a civil way. Hell, find a lawyer and sue the city of Ferguson for hate crimes. Now that would be something. If we learned anything at all from Do the Right Thing, it is that letting people get really frustrated about unfair treatment never ends well. Espically for the pizzerias in the neighborhood.

And that’s all I got for now. I promise to be a better blogger until November comes a knockin’ again next year. But until then you can always stop by and say hello. I’ll be here.

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.