#CBR6 Review #49: One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak

I never really got into audiobooks (unless they were the Harry Potter books read by Jim Dale), but my sister recommended B.J. Novak’s One More Thing specifically for the audiobook. I gave it a try, and it’s been a delight.

I’ll be separating this review into the content and then the medium of audiobook, because there are separate things to say about each of them. First, the stories themselves: it’s a mixed bag of genuinely interesting, too-clever, and mediocre. Novak is a very talented writer, and I’m interested to see what work he can come up with, or what a novel of his would be like. He can turn a phrase well or convey a scenario. The stories are so wildly eclectic, though, that it’s sometimes hard to know what to think about them. There’s one that features a roast of Nelson Mandela that I genuinely did not get, and some pithy one-liners that are intentionally meant to be clever. I’m not always a fan of those.

On the other hand, there are some real gems. “The Something by John Grisham” is easily one of the best of the lot. It skewers what I call “airport fiction” quite cleverly, and it’s very funny. I also greatly appreciated “The Ghost of Mark Twain,” since I am developing an American Literature course for undergrads, and this would be an interesting addition to the scholarship surrounding censorship of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. And then there’s “Sophia,” the first sex robot capable of falling in love. It’s a diverse collection, and it features an array of interesting ideas that I would like Novak to further develop in another collection.

So, let’s talk about the audiobook. IT’S SO GOOD YOU GUYS. If you are at all a fan of The Office, you will have so much fun imagining everyone goofing off and reading it loud. One of my favorites in that respect was “Julie and the Warlord,” read by Jenna Fischer and Rainn Wilson. All I could think of was this:

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Mindy Kaling’s readings are invigorating, too. But I have to say, Emma Thompson’s reading of “The Literalist’s Love Poem” is wryly hilarious. There are several other voices–Julianne Moore, Katy Perry, Lena Dunham, Carey Mulligan, and Jason Schwartzmann–that makes this a better-than-average audiobook.

In short: One More Thing is worth the read, but do it through audiobook. You’ll be highly entertained. And, in the words of my esteemed sister, you’ll probably sing “Ryan Started the Fire” at least once while reading it.

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#CBR6 Review #48: The Joys of Love by Madeleine L’Engle

About two weeks ago, The Chancellor and I went book hunting at a thrift store–those and used book stores can be the *best* place to find great or out-of-print books for very teacher-friendly prices. While The Chancellor snapped up a bunch of the Redwall series, I found two books in Madeleine L’Engle’s series that take place after the Time quartet (or quintet, if you count An Acceptable Time, which the publishers of the books I own clearly do). That sent me on a Wikipedia hunt to see which of the L’Engle books I have read, and which I still need to read. And that led me to this little gem, unpublished till after Ms. L’Engle’s death: The Joys of Love.

The Joys of Love takes place in a summer in the 1940s, after the war, on an East coast seaside (I think New Jersey?) where a theater company is running. Elizabeth Jerrold is a young hopeful theater actress, but is working as an intern for contact with companies and the stars that coincide with the theater company. She is also trying to navigate her individual identity apart from her stern and rigid Aunt Harriet, the seductive whispers of her maybe-boyfriend Kurt, and the loyal hopefulness of playful Ben. The novel is set in four acts, over a weekend. How it all comes together is a joy indeed.

The language, particularly the vernacular words used, is quaint. But that does not detract from the yearning and idealism of the story itself, especially with its echoes of Ms. L’Engle’s own life as a theater actress before she met her husband and later turned to writing. If you are a fan of Madeleine L’Engle’s work, then you need to pick this book up NOW and read it. It’s tender and delightful in the best possible ways.

And with that, I think this summer may need to end with a re-read of the Time Quartet and a read-through of the other series, too…

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#CBR6 Review #47: The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

Back in the late 2000s, vampires were all.the.rage. I’m glad that tide has turned, even if The Hunger Games has spawned a lot of dystopic fiction that depresses you and makes you feel that the earth’s doom is imminent. I’ve read Divergent, hated Insurgent, and never finished Allegiant. So I am curious to see how Joelle Charbonneau’s trilogy will stack up overall.

As a first book in a trilogy, The Testing is fairly engaging. Cia Vale has graduated from her formal high school education in the Five Lakes Colony, and is about to find out if she qualifies for The Testing, a series of tests in the capitol of Tosu City to find out if she qualifies for a university education (There’s a lot of finding out in this series). Of course, once she finds out she qualifies for The Testing, she begins to understand the dark side of The Testing. Her father had a university degree and realized that out of the hundred or so who entered, only twenty went to university–and no one knew what happened to the rest. So he tells her to trust no one, and so begins the cat-and-mouse game that is (for me) the most intriguing part of the book.

I wasn’t super fond of the romantic lead, Tomas, but there’s an interesting plot twist that I won’t spoil for you and that I hope gets fleshed out in the second book. Tomas is, obviously, handsome and mysterious and Cia trusts him (of course). I admit, after the unconventional Peeta, Tomas is a bit bland and cliche. So we’ll see how he unfolds in the second book.

If you like dystopic YA fiction, you’ll most likely be engaged in this novel. I have no idea how the trilogy will play out, but I hope it turns out better than the Divergent trilogy. No, I didn’t finish, but The Chancellor did–the nice thing about marriage is that you can make your partner spoil a book you don’t want to read for you. :)

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Why I need feminism (and why you do too)

Tonight, my brother posted the following link to a friend’s feed and asked for her opinion. I post it here now, simply because I want you to understand why I am bursting into flames as we speak:

http://www.ijreview.com/2014/07/156463-15-women-share-reasons-dont-need-empowered-feminist-movement/

Wait, what? SERIOUSLY? These are the reasons not to be a feminist? You aren’t a victim, therefore you aren’t a feminist? You don’t believe in the evils of patriarchy, therefore you don’t need feminism? Susan B. Anthony just rolled over in her grave. Not to mention Eleanor Roosevelt.

Cleopatra or Eleanor

Nothing against these (I’m sure) lovely young women, but they have a grave misunderstanding of what feminism is, and what it does for us all.

I’m not going to bore you with definitions of feminism or direct rebuttals, but I’m going to get personal. Here’s why I need feminism:

*Feminism is what gives me the right to be recognized by my society as an equal to a man. My gender does not make me lesser, but an equal.

*Feminism has granted me the right to vote, the right to a driver’s license, a contract to rent, a bank account, a job, and access to quality medical attention.

*On that note, feminism has fought for my body to be seen as an instrument of my own making–not a baby machine. Because feminism fought for my right to access birth control, I don’t have to worry about getting married and getting pregnant with baby after baby after baby until I die or wear out with a brood of 12 children in 12 years–unless I want to, that is. And then, I *get* to make that choice–it’s not my fate.

*Because of feminism, I don’t have to contort my body into a girdle, hoopskirts, corsets, footbindings, or other equally painful “beauty” devices to be seen as more desirable to a man.

*Feminism has fought for laws that protect me as a person from domestic abuse or unwanted sexual attention. I am a person, not a man’s property, plaything, or object. Feminism treats rape victims like people, not children, and not sluts.

*Feminism allows me to be educated at a university and to pursue postgraduate degrees. My only degree does not have to be M.R.S.

The beauty of feminism is…you, as a woman, don’t have to “choose” it or “believe” in it, because there are enough women willing to fight for other women to be recognized as equals (I’m only being slightly sarcastic here).

I realize that I’m (a) generalizing a bit; (b) idealizing A LOT (equal pay? not being career-penalized for maternity leave [in the guise of another excuse]? Yeah, I am looking forward to that day); and (c) not being super eloquent (but my dissertation is to blame for that one). But there are just some things that feminism has historically stood for and currently fights for. And they’re basic human rights, not even the “politicizing” of gender that is apparently happening to women everywhere (because a man telling me to put an Aspirin between my knees is *not* getting political? Whatever. I don’t reason with madness).

In more anecdotal news, last Christmas I was at church, when a parent at The Chancellor’s school stopped to talk to us. I had never met this woman before, and I am always pleased to meet parents. I reached out to shake her hand, but she brushed mine away, grabbed my stomach–we’re at church, mind you–and then asked, “No baby yet?”

Kids, I’m 29.

29.

No baby. At 29. I can just feel my ovaries drying up. There are women being raped and kidnapped and poorly educated the world over and the REAL tragedy is that a white, educated, 29-year-old woman has chosen not to have a baby yet.

And this is why I need feminism. The End.

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#CBR6 Review #46: O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

All the past we leave behind;

We debouch upon a newer, mightier world, varied world,

Fresh and strong the world we seize, world of labor and the march, Pioneers! O pioneers!

~Walt Whitman, “Pioneers, O Pioneers!”

I just finished O Pioneers! and it was one of the most inspiring, stirring books I’ve read in a long time. The words of the poem, when paired with the novel, illustrate a brave and confident group of people who took chances and paid prices for their dreams.

Alexandra Bergson is a dreamer; she inherits her father’s vision to farm the prairie land in which they live and turn from debt to profit. The novel spans about 30 years as it moves from her young adulthood into her 40s as strives to build a better life for her family after her father’s death. She especially sets stock in her youngest brother Emil, sending him off to college so that he does not have to be shackled to the land. But in trying to create a life, Alexandra doesn’t realize that she sometimes can be blind in matters of the heart.

I was deeply moved by this novel, because it was a touching and inspiring view of a woman’s dream to make her life better. Alexandra is a visionary, and I appreciated the risks she took, especially against her brothers’ conservative ideas of selling the farm and conforming to the lifestyles around them. Cather creates strong female protagonists, and Alexandra is one that I greatly admire.

Cather also discusses death in a way that is deeply stirring and beautiful, without being too sentimental. I won’t spoil it for you, but I teared up like mad. It’s really quite a beautiful novel.

Now: off to request My Antonia from the library!

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#CBR6 Review #45: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Apparently, this summer will be spent reading All the Things I Never Read in High School. Because this next book fell into the category. And somehow, I missed it again in college. And graduate school. What? How could I have missed out on such a famous book?

Well, gentle bloggers, I picked it up, read it, and have only three letters to add: W.T.F.

Seriously, WTF DID I JUST READ.

Before I delve into my analysis, I’d like to offer a little confessional about myself: I’m obsessed with rabbits. As in, crazy-person, talk-to-the-rabbits, Kristen-Bell-sloth-meltdown obsessed.

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I’ll admit, it’s not the super-healthiest trait I have.

But, whenever I see those big ears, those big, beady, inquisitive eyes, and those fluffy white tails bouncing after them, I get more than a little excited. I can’t help it.

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There was one in our old house that would hang out in the yard, and I’d freak out EVERY TIME I saw him. And so that’s when The Chancellor and I started calling him Lil’ Sebastian.

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As in, I would freak out like Leslie Knope, and The Chancellor would stare in bemusement like Ben Wyatt.

So…when I read about Lennie Small’s obsession with rabbits and petting sweet, furry things, naturally I felt a strange kinship. For those of you who have read this book, you know where this is going. It ain’t somewhere good.

Of Mice and Men is a novella about two men, the quick-thinking and ambitious George, and the cognitively impaired but gentle at heart Lennie. They want to own a ranch together, have enough to live on, and be independent. And Lennie wants to raise rabbits (hence, my kinship with him). Of course, Lennie’s inability to read social cues and his naivete about women get them in major trouble. And that’s where the story turns.

It’s tragic. It broke my heart. And now I wonder how high schoolers round the country have managed to read it without their hearts turning into bleeding shreds.

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#CBR6 Review #44: The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper

I’ve avoided reading James Fenimore Cooper for a long time. I don’t know if it was the subject matter, the age of the texts, or the daunting length of the novels, but until now, I’d never cracked open anything of his.

It took me a few weeks to get through The Last of the Mohicans, but when I finally finished it, only one thought ran through my mind:

WHAT DID I JUST READ.

I actually had to have Wikipedia help me with the plot, because I got SO CONFUSED. I have never read any of the Leatherstocking Tales, but I do know that Natty Bumpo is a central figure. So when the novel kept referring to him as “the scout” or “Hawk-eye,” or (my favorite) “La Longue Carabine,” I wanted to shout, “WHO THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?”

*This might be the time to mention that I’ve never seen the movie, either. So I really had NO IDEA what was going on while I was reading.*

And then things happen suddenly and all at once, and then we’re spending chapters upon chapters wandering through the forest without any seeming aim or purpose or direction, and I kept flipping back and re-reading and losing my place and getting bored, because NOTHING HAPPENS for like 40 pages, and then you have this massacre happening randomly in about 2 or 3 pages total.

The story itself, boiled down and summarized is actually really interesting and tragic: it’s about the wars between the French and the British in 1757, and the Native Americans who get caught up in the guerrilla warfare, most often to their own peril and the demise of their way of life. The Munro sisters are trying to make their way to their father, one of the British generals at Fort William, when several misadventures befall their party, and Natty Bumpo-Hawkeye-etc. tries to keep them safe. There’s also a way less interesting love story between the younger sister Alice and the soldier Duncan Heyward. The older sister Cora is interesting and strong and tragic, but Alice? She’s a bit too sparklepony for my taste.

Like, she cries all.the.time. About everything. If she were Taylor Swift, she would have written a song about all the bad things that happened to her and become a platinum artist.

Taylor Swift

Alas, she just gets kidnapped–through no fault of her own, I admit.

**I should also add that sparklepony is my term for any young person who is perhaps sparkly, emotional, just overflowing with muchness? It’s hard to describe. Mostly, I just refer to Taylor Swift as Taylor Sparklepony.**

Anyway, I won’t spoil the end for you, but there *is* a bit where there’s masquerading as a bear in an attempt to rescue Alice. I can’t decide whether it’s hilarious or ridiculous, but it tickled me, nonetheless.

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Well played, Mr. Cooper. Well played.

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