Friday, July 24, 2009

It's Not That I'm Bitter

or How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Visible Panty Lines and Conquered the World
by Gina Barreca

Yes it is. You're just trying to be amusingly sarcastic or to convince yourself otherwise. Stop. You aren't a cartoon character; you don't need a catch-phrase.

Meh. I don't feel strongly one way or another about this book. Maybe I can't connect to it because I'm a twenty-something and think worrying about a sagging elbow is beyond ridiculous. This book was slightly depressing in that sense. It's like, all I have to look forward to, as I age, is worrying about wrinkles and sagging and obsessing over all the wrinkles and sagging. That's exhausting! How do women manage to get anything done? I'm self conscious, sure. There are parts of my body I would like to change, and most women feel that way. But I can't spend my day obsessing over it. That would drive me crazy! And probably drive me to gin or Xanax, or both.

The chapter "Why Do They Call It a Glass Ceiling When It's Really just a Thick Layer of Men," about the GWDLTWW (Guys We Don't Like To Work With), I found hilarious, though she may be stating the obvious. Barreca points out the terrible qualities in those guys who talk louder and faster when they have no idea what they're talking about. We all know one of these people. But to see all their terrible qualities, put so concisely in print, is hugely funny.

I do very much like one of her idioms:
"Next point: 'Grow where you are planted.' This applies only to vegetable matter. What are you, an endive? Get out of your little patch of dirt and do something."
And I also agree with "Where's Carrie Fisher When You Need Her?" Princess Leia kicked ass. Padme is pathetic. We need to see more Princess Leia's in current movies.

About "Crazy Astronaut Lady": I may have had relationships that made me crazy, but I cannot relate Lisa Nowak. Although, maybe I just haven't had a relationship to drive me to that extreme, cockroach crazy. But, you know, I think I'd rather not experience that kind of crazy. Even if it would make me less snotty.

Barreca poses a lot of questions without offering a lot of answers. Which gets frustrating. How can I get much from that? Voicing the questions women constantly ask themselves isn't necessarily helpful.

The conversational nature of the book is nice, I will say. But there is a lack of flow and transitions. It feels very random, which, however, is the nature of conversation and thought. I just think I need a bit more of a road map through Barreca's mind.

There were some glaring grammar mistakes, which really bothered me:
"Why do holiday preparations remains[...]"
"This is not always happy thing."
Who edited this book? It's not as though it's thousands of pages long in Scottish dialect! 218 pages of conversational American English is too much for a thorough editing? Please.

There is no doubt that Gina Barreca is an intelligent woman. And I'm not saying this only because she mentions how she dresses like the stereotypical eccentric teacher everyone had at one time or another in school. Her writing is smart. And makes me feel...not smart. Her vocabulary is much more extensive than mine and makes me realize that if I hope to become anyone in the literary world, I need to bone up. She's a quick, strong minded woman, though, she does obsess about clothes and female stereotypes and sagging.

"It's Not That I'm Bitter" is catalogued in 155: philosophy, recommended by the Library of Congress. I guess that fits. I can't say I gained much from this "philosophy." It's mostly random opinions and observational humor. But, then, there is no dewy decimal for "opinion." However, there is one for "attitudes," which is pretty much the same thing. So much for a snippy ending to my post.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Me of Little Faith

by Lewis Black

My name is Liz, and I have a problem: I try to read too many books at once.

The other day, at work, I was putting away some of our new arrivals and stumbled across Lewis Black's second book "Me of Little Faith." I am a huge Lewis Black fan - I've seen him perform live twice, I read his book "Nothing's Sacred", I even met him when he was in Boston working for The Daily Show's Indecision 2004 - so I had to pick it up. And I enjoyed this book tremendously. Maybe even more than his first.

I began reading his book while I was at work (it was a slow day), and I quickly found that to be a bad idea. It is mildly embarrassing to be literally laughing out loud while in a nearly silent public library, and usually calls for explanation. I actually snorted. I couldn't control myself. That's when I decided I had to read this book in private. His chapter "notes from the land of dreidles and hamantaschen" put me over the top. It's hilarious. I love his comparisons between Christmas and Chanukah (or "Hanuuukaaah" or "Cha-Noo-Kah"). This chapter (among others) actually made me wish I were Jewish so I could have a deeper appreciation for his jokes (and maybe feel slightly less guilty for laughing so hard).

There is so much about this book that I love. His writing is great. He is unapologetic and intelligent, as well as surprisingly open-minded. The key, when it comes to religion, which Black puts so perfectly, is a necessary level of respect: "I may not believe, but I believe if you are in the presence of believers, you should show a little respect for their beliefs." And that is one of the most prominent problems when it comes to talking about religion. Everyone is entitled to their opinions; that doesn't negate respect. Plus, if you respect other's beliefs, it's ok to voice your opinions/jokes/rants, because, below the surface, you still respect those who believe.

I also learned a lot from this book. For one, the origin of ridiculous. I can't believe people can be so committed to such a ridiculous story. (Granted, Catholicism has some ridiculous beginnings and stories, as well as a LONG list of missteps, but it's been around longer and feels way more legit than Joseph Smith.) And televangelists are a breed all their own. The hate they spew in the name of God is appalling. Again, I can't understand how people can honestly buy into what they say. But I'll stop here.

His ranting about athletes constantly thanking God for their victories, is spot on. As if God wouldn't have anything more important to deal with than helping some rapist win his basketball game.

Another thing I love about the book is the preface - or the warning. I do think people tend to take religion far too seriously, and it is important to look at it in a different light, at least every once and a while. But the last paragraph is a nice, and fitting, touch:
"So if religion has taken over your life and you don't want to think about it or laugh about it because it will upset you, DON'T READ THE GODDAMN BOOK.

My one complaint, is that I do not like the play included in the book. I didn't like the book Black included in his first book either. Maybe I just don't care of his plays in general. His stand-up and his books are outstanding. So, I'm actually surprised I don't care for his plays. Go figure.

"Me of Little Faith" is a truly stand-out book. It's wickedly hilarious, witty, intelligent, and makes for good comic release. The best thing about the book is the anecdotes. Black has had some truly unique and compelling experiences, and is a great storyteller. He has seen so much and has gone out of his way to see other people's lives and points of view; it's impressive and admirable.

I highly recommend reading this book, unless of course, you are a person who the preface/warning was designed to discourage.

And so, I'll leave you with a few gems:
"Death is the abiding mystery that is the root of all religions, except Scientology, which doesn't count because I refuse to to consider seriously anything that Tom Cruise believes in."

"How does someone have a bar mitzvah for a dog and not end up committed?"

And my personal favorite:
"Each of us is full of shit in our own special way. We are all shitty little snowflakes dancing in the universe."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Book Discussion

Last night was the July book discussion at the Warehouse Point Library, led by B.J. Smith. There was a great turnout (more than I anticipated) and a lot of participation, which doesn't always happen.

I've only been to two book discussions led by B.J. Smith: the one last night, and one last July. It's an interesting set up. It's more of a class than a discussion. B.J. steers the conversation so we don't wide up completely off track, which is necessary. Otherwise we would end up like the women in "The Reading Group" (the book we discussed) and talk about everything but the book. But, in my opinion, the discussion is too much of a class. I love my literature courses at school, don't get me wrong, but B.J. has a different style compared to my professors. She's a little closed-minded for a teacher. Which she is entitled to; it's a discussion. But if she's going to run it like a literature class, she needs to be more open to other people's observations and opinions. I'm not only saying this because we disagree on some points. At times, she shuts down potential discussion by putting forth her opinions as fact. It's a bit of a turn off, to be honest.

However, my eyes were open to how much I miss as a reader. I am so willing to get wrapped up in characters, that I'm easily blinded to theme. B.J. pointed out that the book is very clear on certain topics: abortion is bad. mothers are mothers through and through and would gladly become martyrs and sacrifice anything and everything for their children. there is a big difference between romantic love and comfortable love. infidelity is a big no-no. Now, it's not that I missed these things, I just didn't pay too much attention to them. I focused on the characters, and not so much their function as a vehicle for the author's ideas. I forget that authors write because they have messages to convey. There is always something bubbling below the surface (although, "The Reading Group" doesn't bother to delve very deep). I have to remember to look for all those things, otherwise, there's just too much I'm missing.

We got off on a small tangent at the end of the discussion. We started talking about "Twilight." And, again, there's so much I've missed. All the Mormon ideas Stephenie Meyer is conveying, subtle as they are. The anti-Catholic feelings (the Italian "Volturi").  I never picked up on these things, without being probed. Bella's self-deprecating nature annoys me to no end, and I didn't realize it had anything to do with any bigger ideas, let alone Mormonism. Young adult literature has become very clever.

I guess what all this means is that I need to pay more attention to what I read. When I'm out of school and just reading for pleasure, I forget about all those things like theme and authorial intent. They're easy to pick out when having a discussion, but those are things I don't always look for on my own. I guess I'll have to read the next book more carefully.

The theme of this summer's discussion books is "groups." so we started with Elizabeth Noble's "The Reading Group," and next month's book is "Last Orders" by Graham Swift. We started with a group of British women and now we're moving on to a group of British men. I hope to like this book better than the first.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


I made an attempt, feeble as it may have been, to read the book "The Song is You" by Arthur Phillips. Phillips was called "one of the best writers in America" by The Washington Post, but I don't see it. At least, not in this novel. I could only get through 27 pages of this book.

I don't much care for Phillips' style. It's probably premature to make a statement like this, considering I haven't read a complete novel of his, so this is a gut reaction. He interrupts his sentences too much. Now, I'm a fan of stream-of-consciousness writing, but Phillips' style just doesn't flow. I found myself reading sentences over and over trying to remember all he was talking about. And the novel wasn't keeping my attention. I didn't care where the story was going.

I have an issue with people who write about music, but don't seem to understand it, not really. Barbara Hall wrote about music beautifully and accurately in her novel. Phillips, not so much. There's too much talk about ipods and memories connected to music. But it's all superficial. There's no strong emotional connection, just surface-level descriptions. It's very unconvincing. 

Also, I prefer first person narratives, but that's my own prejudice.

So I bailed on "The Song is You" and retreated to "My Antonia." I took my own advice and decided to pick up where I left off.

What I think is fantastic about Willa Cather is her characterizations. I haven't read this book for months, but I can remember who every character is. The people she creates are distinct and vivid, and I care about them. I can't explain why specifically, but I do.

There is something very comfortable and soothing about Cather's style. I can feel myself settle into it. There's a nice flow and cadence to her writing. It's very easy-going and even paced. And her natural descriptions are beautiful (which is what everyone says about her, I know, but it's absolutely true). What I love is that she creates these wonderful descriptions without being overly verbose, which I greatly appreciate.

I am more than happy to curl up with "My Antonia" for as long as it will last me.

Monday, July 13, 2009


I thoroughly enjoyed Stephenie Meyer's "Eclipse." Although, Bella is extremely frustrating. When she becomes a vampire, her super power will be the ability to instantly depress everyone in a ten-mile radius of her. She refuses to ever be happy. What's that Bella? You're getting everything you've ever wanted? Well, sure, who wouldn't be miserable? I frequently censor her reactions to things like the man/vampire of her dreams wanting to marry her and pledge his love to her forever, and insert my own reactions. It makes for a better read, to be honest. Otherwise I get too caught up in thinking Bella is an idiot.
And she's a little slow on the up take too. It's like watching a suspense/detective movie, and you put the pieces together faster than the detective, and you're yelling at the TV because the answers are so obvious to you. That's how I feel about Bella.

Also, I can not stand Jacob Black. He's a manipulative punk. He made me absolutely furious in this book. I would like him to be out of the picture now, at least for a while. I did not enjoy the epilogue from his perspective; I don't need to be inside his head.

As for the writing though, I like Meyer's style. Her books have a good flow. I don't find myself getting tripped up on sentence structure or having to re-read passages to figure out what's going on. However, I do have to pace myself sometimes. When the action starts to get really good, I have to force myself to slow down and make sure I read everything so I don't miss anything. 

One more book in the series to go. I hope it doesn't disappoint.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Mirror Mirror

Since I'm waiting for the books I want to come back to the library, I decided to pick something off of my own shelves. I own a few books I haven't read yet, so I picked one up.

When I was in high school, the musical "Wicked" first came out. I was obsessed with the soundtrack (it doesn't get much better than Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenowith); I couldn't get enough. So my father bought me the novel "Wicked" by Gregory Maguire, which the musical was (loosely) based on, along with Maguire's other novels: "Son of a Witch," "Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister," and "Mirror Mirror." Well, I only read "Wicked," and I didn't particularly enjoy it. It was a very slow read. It's a great story, but Maguire managed to make it drag on and on and on and kill the immediacy and adventure.

So the rest of the books have just been sitting on my shelves, not doing much else but collecting dust. And I don't like the idea of owning books I haven't read. Hence, I'm reading "Mirror Mirror."

I'm barely six pages into this book, and I'm already wanting to put it down. There is something very off-putting about the way Gregory Maguire writes. It's like he's trying too hard. There's something almost archaic about his writing. It doesn't keep my attention. The words get in the way of the story.

Granted, I'm less than six pages in, and I should give it more of a chance, but I don't know how long my attempt will last.

I hope the books I want get back to the library soon.