Daily Archives: April 2, 2017

#CBR9 Review #52

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

It feels deeply appropriate to Cannonball with a book that I read for the first time four years ago, a book that set off my dissertation in motion and is now in process of becoming my (hopefully) next published article. Cheers!

I first read this book in Spring of 2013 and was horrified/piqued by the content. I was so piqued that I wrote my first dissertation chapter on it. I’ve spent the last year and a half trying to get an article published, and the new focus I’m taking meant a re-read with fresh eyes.

Holy shitsnacks. This book is so relevant 26 years later. It’s like Bret Easton Ellis saw a fragile thread of masculinity, tied up in consumerism, racism, misogyny, and violence, and explored it to its logical end. He sets up the pathological character of Patrick Bateman, explores his darkest homicidal psychopathic tendencies, and then implies that he is interchangeable with every other kind of yuppie like him.

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Oh. Guys, I think he has a point.

It’s a dark commentary on humanity, and one that I did not fully understand until 2016.

And now I do.

The spectre of Donald Trump hangs over the text, and I firmly believe that this is no accident. When I first read the text, I skimmed over his name, because it was 2013, and he was just the mercurial and overly tanned old man on The Apprentice. Much has changed between that first reading and this one, and this is where I hope to mine my article. I must give enormous credit to a student in my Fall 2016 Comp 1 class, because she read American Psycho for her book project and mentioned Trump’s presence in the novel. X, I thank you for reigniting my scholarly curiosity. Now it’s off to write the article!

*I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a warning for those of you who need it. This book is *graphic.* It’s a violent glimpse at white male anger against women, minorities, the homeless, LGBT individuals, animals, and the disabled. If you’re not in a space to read it, I wouldn’t. There are some absolutely gruesome murders that I fully believe Ellis intended to be gruesome to make a point. But that doesn’t make the reading of it easier or less painful. This time around, reading about the killing of the homeless was a gut-punch to me. I had forgotten how utterly cruel Bateman and his cronies were to the homeless individuals pan-handling on the streets.

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#CBR9 Review #51

Jane Austen’s Good to Good Manners: Compliments, Charades & Horrible Blunders by Josephine Ross and Henrietta Webb

A Jane Austen knockoff or associated book is always a gamble. I’ve read collections of her witty quotes, which are fine, if nothing special or new. Or I’ve read fanfiction-style “sequels,” most of which are terrible. My oldest childhood friend M, also an Austenite, bequeathed me this volume of good manners, according to Regency era. It is truly a delight and a gorgeous book to have in a personal collection.

In Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners, Josephine Ross walks you through customs of the day and where we see them at play and being violated in Jane Austen’s novels. I never knew, for example, that Ms. Austen had to write to her publisher to call upon her when she had business with him! It was considered gauche of a woman to call upon a man, as it led to speculations that they were having an affair. There are many codes of conduct that Ross unfolds, whether in calling upon people (still something of a mystery to me until now), why and how you converse during a dance, and how you appropriately conduct courtship and engagements. Each chapter is witty and merry in its execution, and it’s a great insight into a time long since passed in history.

This volume is a wonderful book to own, because Henrietta Web’s watercolor illustrations are truly gorgeous. It makes the book really interesting and visually pleasing to take in. I don’t need art with everything I read, but it sure helps make the process more enjoyable. If you’re a Jane Austen fan, give this a read. It’s a lot of fun, and you’re sure to find something new!

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#CBR9 Review #50

Trump: The Art of the Deal by Donald J. Trump and Tony Schwartz

I’ve had a library copy of Trump: The Art of the Deal sitting on my coffee table for what feels like forever (like this Administration, am I right?), because I’ve decided that my latest article needs to look at Donald Trump as the prototypical yuppie, before this archetype hit it big in the 1980s and reached its literary apotheosis in Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho (which I reviewed for CBR5 and will be re-reviewing it for CBR9—so excited, you guys, and I don’t mean this ironically). I won’t say much more than that, because I’d like to keep my article as private as possible before it finds a home in an academic journal. But suffice it to say that it meant me having to read the words of Donald Trump 30 years before he spray-tanned us with his “winningness” that would leave Charlie Sheen keeled over in ubermasculine envy.

How do you review a book that was authored by a vainglorious cheat of a man who fooled just over 25% of the United States to vote for him as President of the United States? How do you review a book so dull and poorly written that you desperately wish for Christian Grey to lock you in his playroom and coerce you into poorly-conceived S&M with flatly-written dialogue?

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You don’t.

Instead, let me assure you that reading Trump: The Art of the Deal is a farce and a waste of time. Trump in 1987 puts on a show of being a “family man” and a “great businessman,” when fast-forwarding 30 years shows us the house of cards he has built both professionally and personally, and is now sweeping our entire nation into his self-destructive wake. In the book, he either positions himself as this amazing deals guy or a victim of others’ cheating ways. In no way does he accept the blame for his poor business choices (USFL, anyone?) or the lives he holds accountable, including the low-income tenants whose very security relies upon housing he owns. In short: we have elected an emperor who is gaslighting us into admiring his beautiful clothes when we need instead to hang a calfskin upon his recreant limbs (to borrow from Shakespeare’s King John).

Instead of reading this book, please call your congressional representatives to support affordable healthcare and women’s reproductive rights. Ask your representatives to demand Trump’s tax returns and transparency in his campaign’s dealings with Russia. And resist. Always resist.

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#CBR9 Review #49

The World According to Mister Rogers by Fred Rogers

I was a PBS kid growing up, because my mom was not a fan of violent cartoons. Therefore, my childhood was peppered with Arthur, Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? Sesame Street, Reading Rainbow, (later, my favorite) Wishbone, and, of course, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I remember being a tot in the late 1980s singing along to “Won’t you be my neighbor?” As I told my friend F, I have been disappointed by every single adult in my life at least once (which is to be expected). I was devastated by the fall of Bill Cosby, to be honest. There has only ever been one human who never let me down, and that person was Mister Rogers.

The World According to Mister Rogers is a collection of sayings, poetry, and songs in which Fred Rogers reflects and thinks about the world around him. He discusses love, friendship, growing up, many themes with which we are all acquainted. He wants the world to be a kinder and more curious place. The section that got to me and broke me was his segment, “We Are All Neighbors.” I remember his PSA after 9/11 when he talked about finding where the helpers were. I can’t even imagine how devastating he would find the state of our nation today. I just know that he would sing to all the kids on TV about helping and loving each other—and that is what is helping me to carry on today.

This book is short but special. I think there are a few phrases I need to hang up on my office wall to remind me to have courage and to treat others well. Perhaps there are a few people in this world who could benefit from Mister Rogers’ wisdom, as well. Ultimately: this is why we need PBS.

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#CBR9 Review #48

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

I have read one of Beedle the Bard’s now-famous Tales, “The Tale of the Three Brothers,” because it plays such an integral role in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It’s such an exquisite, simple tale, that I wondered how the rest of the tales would fit in to make a volume. As it turns out, Rowling does her best when she is telling stories within stories. I highly recommend this particular collection.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard is an anthology of folksy tales, ostensibly told by magical folk to their children, who then pass it down to their children. They read something like Aesop, something like Grimms’ fairy tales, and something like the wise proverbs you might find in a C.S. Lewis text—I am positive that Ms. Rowling, a classics major in college, drew on these influences and many more. Anyway, they’re all good (although “The Hairy Heart” is fairly gruesome and is definitely written with Edgar Allan Poe in mind) and worth perusing through. My personal favorite is “Babbity Rabbity and her Cackling Stump,” because it employs the mischievous aspect of magic that we’ve come to expect from fairy tales, as well as the clever-outsmarting trope that we often see from people who are placed in positions of servitude or oppression. There are also some truly delightful notes from Albus Dumbledore and J.K. Rowling, which add to the fun of reading the stories.

This is truly the best of the three books. It’s original and innovative, all while borrowing from the fairytale tradition that is established and popular in the Western world. I highly recommend this as enjoyable and entertaining pleasure reading.

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#CBR9 Review #47

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J.K. Rowling

Last fall, The Chancellor and I saw the first Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them film in the new series, and we were underwhelmed. As much as I enjoyed the beasties, I didn’t find the story to be all that great or exciting. Plus, there were some troubling aspects that I thought were too mature for young kids and also possibly sneakily homophobic? Also, major ugh to Johnny Depp? On the bright side, Colin Farrell is positively a silver fox now, so enjoying that renaissance (I’m an early 2000s girl, sue me). And it’s delightful to know that my beloved Alison Sudol of A Fine Frenzy (seriously, her music is great—start with One Cell in the Sea) can act so well! That said, I was curious to see how Rowling had drawn from the source material of her original “textbook.” I was surprised by the bestiary that I got to read.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has a brief history of magical creatures, including the taxonomy. It was of great interest to learn that merpeople and centaurs wanted to be considered beasts, not humans, and that ghosts were concerned about being properly represented. It was also interesting to learn about Muggle-beast interaction, as you’d wonder if the species would collide in a way that would be harmful to Muggles. Most importantly, we get an A-Z list of “fantastic” beasts and how they engage with wizard and human species.

This book was a delight. I always enjoy fictional bestiaries (I believe my dad has a Star Wars universe book and a Tolkien book, if memory serves), and this one further fleshes out the magical word that Rowling created in her famous series. I would not be opposed to adventures of Newt Scamander in print form, though I won’t be following the film series.

 

 

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#CBR9 Review #46

Quidditch through the Ages by J.K. Rowling

A few years back, when I had just defended my dissertation, Barnes and Noble was running several sales which I fell for. One was a three-pack of Quidditch through the Ages, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and Tales of Beedle the Bard. As a Harry Potter fan, I thought, “These sound fun! Let’s buy them!” plus, you know, post-dissertation glee made me really spendy. I finally sat down and read all three this year, so I will place them each in the order I read them. Let’s start with a game of Quidditch!

Quidditch through the Ages is an all-too-brief glimpse at the game of Quidditch, which fascinated me the first time I read through the Harry Potter books. This book explains the origins and history of the game, the variations and team histories for each of the major continental players, and some basic fundamentals of the game. The part about the golden snidge/golden snitch is the most enjoyable, though I don’t know what it is about cute, chick-like birds that get me every.single.time.

This book was fun, but it was also really underwhelming. When I had to take a swimming class in college, my textbook was a comprehensive examination at all the strokes, and there were tons of diagrams. I fully expected Quidditch to have many comprehensive diagrams and charts, which it did not have. I realize that this was a for-fun book, but it just seemed way too vague and underwritten to have *really* been a textbook utilized by Hogwarts, Beauxbatons, or Durmstrang kids. Maybe J.K. Rowling will do an encyclopedia someday? (I’d totally read that).

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