Dreamcasting: The Secret History

I could talk for hours about how much I loved my AP English class. I read so many great books for the first time in that class, including one of my all-time favorites: The Secret History. Donna Tartt's novel about a small group of private college students studying the ancient world trying to keep an awful secret has incredible characters and a twisty story that I think would make for a great movie. So who would I cast?

Richard Papen: Logan Lerman

Papen is a working-class Californian who finds himself in the middle of a circle of Classics scholars at an elite liberal arts school in the Northeast...in other words, our obvious audience-insert character. He's kind of bland, and Lerman played a role as a passive, kind of quiet character in The Perks of Being a Wallflower very well, so I think he'd fit right in here.

Bunny Corcoran: Paul Dano

He's a smidge older than I'd like, but Bunny is an important character in the drama so he needs to be done right. Dano is a really talented actor and I think could do really great work as the outwardly glad-handling, inwardly scheming Bunny.

Camilla Macaulay: Dakota Johnson

Camilla is the only girl in the group, and the object of fantasy for several of the boys. Dakota Johnson is beautiful, but in an approachable, college girl kind of way that I think works for Camilla. In 50 Shades, she created an interesting character out of a completely ridiculous idiot on the page, so I'd love to see her bring her charm to this role.

Charles Macaulay: Miles Teller

Charles is Camilla's fraternal twin, and has the kind of dark, moody intensity that I think of when I think about Charles.

Francis Abernathy: Ezra Miller

Francis is a dramatic spirit, and Ezra Miller has played a role with a similar vibe alongside Logan Lerman before, in Perks. Miller has become one of my favorite young actors because of his incredible screen presence and he could really be a scene-stealer as Francis.

Henry Winter: Matthew Lewis

The tall genius is really the main character of the book, and I had a really hard time trying to figure out who could pull it off. He needs to be big, attractive but not a stereotypical dreamboat type, intense. I have no idea if the erstwhile Neville Longbottom could pull off an American accent, but he's the closest I could come in the right age range that I feel like meets the picture in my head.

Julian Morrow: Dominic West

The professor at the center of the very tightly knit group, Julian needs to be European and charismatic and morally questionable. Kind of like McNulty in The Wire, except a polished and without the need for the (patchy) accent work. 

Judy Poovey: Jennifer Lawrence

Judy is the ditzy party girl that serves as the comic relief in this otherwise dark novel, and even though this role is so small that it's definitely beneath her stature, I'd love to see Jennifer Lawrence do the few scenes it would require because she'd be hilarious.

Book 73: Behave

"The most difficult part, you would think, is realizing that the person you idealized, whom you regarded as infallible, was imperfect all along. Instead, the hardest part is stopping to wonder what was so imperfect or unfinished within oneself as to impede comprehension of the obvious."

Read: July 25-29, 2016

Rating: 5/10
Anyone who's taken so much as an Introduction to Psychology course has probably heard about the Little Albert experiment. Very young children often don't display fear responses to things that adults do, like rats, and Albert was no different in that respect. Albert was taught/conditioned to fear a white rat by pairing the appearance of the rat with a loud crash, which scared him. With repetition, Albert grew to be afraid of all fluffy white things, including dogs and even a Santa Claus beard. Before Albert could be deconditioned from this fear, the experiment ended.

The researcher conducting that experiment (which could never be conducted today) was John Watson, a prominent behaviorist, with his assistant Rosalie Rayner. Andromeda Romano-Lax's Behave is a fictional account of Rosalie's life, beginning just before she graduates from Vassar with a degree in psychology and continuing through her time as a research assistant in Watson's lab and her relationship with John, first as his paramour and then as his wife and mother of their children. Children who are expected, of course, to be raised according to their father's behaviorist principles. Before she could actually finish raising those children, though, Rosalie died of dysentery in her mid-thirties.

Rosalie's story is an interesting one to tackle, because she was both a serious scientist at a time when it was possible but difficult to be a female scientist and a subject of tabloid gossip when she was named as a co-respondent in John's divorce from his first wife. The affair led to John's firing from Johns Hopkins, where Rosalie had been working with him while she pursued a graduate degree in psychology. The notoriety caused a hitch in his professional life, but completely destroyed hers. Even as their lives move away from professional psychology, though, the specter of Little Albert haunts them.  Behave reminded me a little of The Group...not just because it's also set in part at Vassar (about 15 years earlier), but because they both deal with the struggles of intelligent, educated women to be all they want to be in a society that's not really comfortable with working ladies. Rosalie is just as smart and driven as her husband, but her gender and her eventual motherhood conspire to keep her in the home, with doing drafting and editing work for John's books as her only real intellectual outlet.

I didn't know that I thought Romano-Lax quite nailed Rosalie's characterization...I feel like I was supposed to read her as spunky and ambitious but her actions, particularly within her relationship, didn't fit with that. She wants a job both before and after she has children, but makes only token efforts toward employment. She's frustrated with her husband's continuous womanizing, but only confronts him about it once. Reading about her life story, you can surmise that the scandal caused by her and John's relationship put her in a position where it would have been difficult for her to leave him, but that's never articulated in so many words. And John himself...Rosalie is constantly referring to his handsomeness and charm, but we don't ever really see him be charming. We just see his poor behavior. If we're meant to buy into the central love story that propels the narrative, it doesn't quite work. The prose is solid and Rosalie Rayner is someone I didn't know about, so I'm glad I was introduced to her story, but this just didn't quite deliver for me.

Tell me, blog friends...did you take any psychology classes in college?

One year ago, I was reading: Dune

Top Ten Tuesday: Things That Instantly Make Me Want To Read A Book

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The BookishThis week's topic: things that make me instantly want to read a book. Not in the sense of "long committee meetings" or "when my husband pops in a sports video game", but more like things about the book itself that make me want to pick it up. I try to read a pretty broad spectrum of books, but here are ten things that I get a little extra excited about when I see in a book I'm thinking about picking up.

Royalty: Not even going to lie, this is probably the top one. Both fiction and non. I love me some royalty books. Give me queens and kings and princes and princesses.

A Michigan connection: As a native Michigander, I'm always a sucker for books about my homeland.

Female friendships: Some of the deepest and most meaningful relationships in my life have been with the women that are my friends. I love reading about the platonic-but-no-less-profound-for-being-so bonds that form between women and comparing and contrasting them to my own friendships

Dysfunctional families: It's like Tolstoy said...every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Really getting into the dynamics between people that might not have picked each other, if given the chance, but are tied together by blood and love anyways is a favorite reading experience of mine.

Coming of age: The experience of growing up is a universal one, and one that I don't feel quite "done" with yet, even at 31. So stories that draw on that experience are, to me, just incredibly compelling.

Post-apocalyptic: I used to be more interested in dystopias until it seemed like they were everywhere (but not always very well done). I'm finding myself more drawn these days to books that think about the world we live in and what might happen after a catastrophic event.

Character-driven: At the end of the day, I'm happy with a book that might not have much in the way of exciting storylines as long as it creates memorable and vivid characters.

True crime: Ever since I was a kid, I've been fascinated with stories about awful crimes and the detectives that solved them. It's a weird morbid streak that's not something I think most people I know would think that I have.

Neurology: Oliver Sacks did it best, but I love reading about our brains and how the ways they get it right and wrong impact human lives.

Retelling: Folklore and fairy tales, those first stories that we ever know and become ingrained in us, are all the more interesting to take apart and see from another angle.

Book 72: The Fugitives

 "He asked her about her background and education, her hopes and dreams, and she was, like everyone else, a sucker for the hypnotic draw of her own hopes and dreams, and she was, like anyone who's benefited from a certain amount of luck and apparent self-knowledge, a sucker for the opportunity to appear unregretful about the ones she'd given up on." 

Dates read: July 23-25, 2016

Rating: 7/10 

It's easy to romanticize small-town life. The close-knit community, the cute little houses and shops, the feeling that bad things don't happen here. Even when you grow up in a small town and can't wait to get out into the world (*raises hand*), you can find yourself falling into that pattern of thinking. Speaking from my own experience, it's kind of two-sided: when you live in a city, you want the imagined coziness and comfort of a small town; when you live in a small town, you want the imagined opportunity and anonymity of the city. When you're unhappy with your life where you are, the allure of the opposite is even stronger.

The idea that you'd be an entirely different person if you just lived somewhere else is one that has a lot of instinctive appeal. And trying to run from who you are by changing your location is what drives the characters of Christopher Sorrentino's The Fugitives. Sandy Mulligan leaves Brooklyn in the wake of a nasty divorce and sets up shop in Cherry City, Michigan (a very thinly disguised Traverse City) to recover and finish his long-awaited next novel. But he's got a bad case of writer's block and his most literary activity is going to the library to watch a man called John Salteau tell Native American folktales. Salteau is also what brings Chicagoan reporter Kat Danhoff back to the area she grew up in...her long-lost best friend who never left home thinks Salteau might be a mobster in disguise and Kat can't resist a juicy story that might break her out of a boring professional beat. But eventually both Sandy and Kat find out what anyone who's ever moved knows: you can't escape your problems that way, because you're still yourself wherever you go.

Which isn't to say that anyone ever stops trying it. The themes of identity and the futility of trying to run away from it are strong and immediate: Sandy is a writer who can't write, and Kat is a Native American who does her best to avoid talking about her heritage. Sorrentino presents them both at first as flawed but relatable people: Sandy had an affair, but went back to his wife and went to couple's counseling to try to put it back together even if it ultimately failed, Kat cut ties with her formative years and the people in them to escape poverty and aimlessness. But as the book progresses, the layers are pulled back and the truth is uglier than it might seem: Sandy left his wife for his mistress for a time, he's deeply unconcerned about his ex-wife and their children, he blames his former mistress's husband for their affair as much as anyone. Kat married early to an older man and treated him with cruelty, she's emotionally withholding to her current husband, she's a serial adulterer herself. It fits with the way we get to know people in real life: we're presented with the story they like to tell about themselves, but over time the deeper stuff comes to the fore. For most people the deeper stuff isn't quite that dark, but it's the same kind of idea.

It's an intriguing literary device and makes us only slowly question the reliability of our narrators. Well, narrator, because only Sandy is written in the first person, but Kat's perspective isn't written much differently despite being in the third person. We're also invited to question their reliability when Sorrentino goes back and tells a story of their interaction from the perspective of the other (which is occasionally a little confusing but you get used to pretty quick).  Who's telling us the "real" version? Are either of them? The novel has a lot of merit, but it's ultimately frustrating because it felt like with more vigorous editing it could have been great. I'm generally unbothered by prose that tends toward the purple, but even I was raising my eyebrows at how often there were overwritten run-on sentences. But overall, it's an engaging character-driven read...if you enjoy books about bad people, anyways.

Tell me, blog friends...have you found it easy to "start over" if you've moved?

One year ago, I was reading: Dead Wake

Top Ten Tuesday: Most Original Books I've Read

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! This week's topic is original books. When I think of books that are original, I think of books that are kind of the first of their kind or kicked off a trend. I don't tend to read a lot of books that fall into any sort of avant-garde category, so there are the books I've read that I think changed up the landscape for what came after them (and some that are just kind of offbeat).

Lord of the Rings: Forget just books, I think most high fantasy movies and video games owe a significant debt to J.R.R. Tolkien's masterwork. My husband loves playing the Elder Scrolls video games, and I couldn't believe he hadn't seen the LOTR movies beforehand because they have so much in common.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo: While the book itself is certainly an enjoyable twisty mystery, it's really here for the amazing character of Lisbeth Salander. Usually a slight female is the victim, but she turns all that on its head and is a brutal force to be reckoned with in her own right.

Gone Girl: Besides some genuinely shocking twists and a depiction of a compelling female sociopath (a rare creature indeed), this book propelled a boom in domestic thrillers. How many times have you seen something labeled "the next Gone Girl"? Exactly.

Life of Pi: I can't think of another book that tells a story quite like this one: a teenage boy trapped on a lifeboat with a variety of zoo animals, including a Bengal tiger, floating in the Pacific Ocean. Or was he trapped with any animals at all?

In Cold Blood: Truman Capote's incredible work basically created new genre: the non-fiction novel. Pretty darn original.

Bridget Jones' Diary: This hysterically funny book kicked off a boom in "chick lit" with flawed, quirky heroines. None of them were quite as much fun to spend time with as Bridget.

Moby-Dick: When I read this a few years ago on a classics binge, I was expecting something boring. But it's actually very modern, interspersing its revenge saga with details about whales and whaling that made it surprisingly enjoyable.

American Gods: Gaiman's incredible book manages to juggle multiple threads and characters along with an incredible main story about a clash between the gods people brought to the US from "the Old World" and the ones they've raised in the New. There's nothing quite like it that I've read.

A Wrinkle In Time: Maybe it's not nearly as special as I remember it, but to this day I don't know that I've ever come across as defiantly prickly a character as Meg Murray in a YA book...when I was a prickly girl myself, discovering Meg felt like a revelation.

Flowers for Algernon: I don't think I've ever read another book quite like this one, with its trajectory of genius found and lost. It's a heart-ripper.

Book 71: The White Queen

 "A modest woman looks down in this world, keeps her eyes on her slippers; a supplicant bows low and stretches out a pleading hand. But I stand tall, I am aghast at myself, staring like an ignorant peasant, and find I cannot take my eyes from his, from his smiling mouth, from his gaze, which is burning on my face."

Dates read: July 19-23, 2016

Rating: 5/10

Can we really ever understand anything without context? I've been big into Tudor-era England for years, reading plenty of fiction as well as nonfiction historical accounts centered around Henry the Eighth (and his wives) and Queen Elizabeth I. But until now, I'd read almost nothing about the period immediately preceding it: the Wars of the Roses, with two houses of royal lineage, Lancaster and York, squaring off against each other and fighting for the crown. Philippa Gregory's Cousin's War series begins with The White Queen, an account of the life of Elizabeth Woodville, wife of King Edward III.

I rolled my eyes pretty heavily when The White Queen kicked off with the hoary romance trope of instalove. But it redeemed itself from that sin by not dragging out an endless will-they-or-won't-they in which we're supposed to believe that two adults with serious responsibilities (he as the king, she as a widowed mother to two small sons) would pine after each other for years based on one encounter. Instead we're supposed to believe that these same two adults would almost immediately fall in love and decide to marry...according to Gregory's author's note, because that's what they did. That they married in secret while Edward's advisors were trying to negotiate a marriage to a foreign princess for alliance purposes is a matter of historical fact. But to her credit, Gregory wraps up their "courtship" in a relatively short period of time and their actual marriage (and Elizabeth's life after his death) make up the bulk of the book.

Although Edward was a prolific adulterer, Gregory doesn't mine their relationship for drama. Elizabeth is not totally immune from jealousy, but she accepts that her husband is who he is and his philandering is only a minor plot point. The drama comes organically from the situation in which Elizabeth and Edward find themselves: the leaders of a tenuous dynasty, constantly threatened. Elizabeth even gives birth to her first son, also named Edward, in sanctuary (literally spending months living inside the walls of a church) because her husband has been temporarily foisted from the throne. With a background situation like that, she doesn't need to create problems in their marital relationship for intrigue.

Getting into War of the Roses material does help the Tudor era issues make more sense. Henry's desperation for a male heir is understandable when you realize that it was only with the marriage of Henry's father (a Lancaster) to his mother (a York) that there was any sort of sustainable-seeming peace in England after a generation of civil war. Henry was only the second Tudor king and there were men in England with equally persuasive claims to the throne. It wasn't just his personal desire for a son, it was a very real matter of societal security.

When I read The Creation of Anne Boleyn a while back, one of Bordo's beefs with Philippa Gregory was that she'd alluded to Anne's guilt on some of the charges...specifically, that she might have slept with her brother in a desperate attempt to conceive an heir for Henry and save her own head. But it's not only to Anne that Gregory does this: her Katherine of Aragon is guilty of the charges that she'd consumated her marriage to Henry's brother Arthur, and in this book, Elizabeth Woodville and her mother are guilty of charges of witchcraft that are levied against them. I almost wonder if this is Gregory's way of pushing her audience out of their comfort zone a little. It makes us ask ourselves if they'd have "deserved" what they got, even if it were true. Did Anne deserve to die? Did Katherine deserve the cruelty she suffered at the end of her life? Did Elizabeth Woodville deserve to have her crown taken and her sons disinherited (and disappeared)? Even if it were true?

Tell me, blog friends...what period do you wish you had more context about?

One year ago, I was reading: Suspicious Minds

Top Ten Tuesday: BtVS Items I Wish I Owned

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The BookishThis week's topic is fandom. There are only a few fandoms that I'd remotely consider myself a part of, but the longest-standing one is probably Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I own all the DVDs and I've obviously rewatched the series more than once...I've even watched the commentary track version of all the episodes that have one! I do already have the Buffy POP!, but here are ten other Buffy items I need to acquire!

Orb of Thesulah: Look at this! It's something I'd totally keep around as a paperweight for only the very nerdy to really understand the double meaning behind. But that would be an extremely pretty penny for a deep inside joke...

Sunnydale Library Scented Candle: We are a candle-loving household, and I am a Buffy-loving person. Perfect match, eh?

Sunnydale High Hoodie: Go Razorbacks!

I'm A Slayer, Ask Me How Button: This was a toss-off line in a Season 1 episode that I've always gotten a chuckle out of.

Once More, With Feeling Poster: A musical episode was such a dicey proposition, but it was executed amazingly and is one of my five favorite episodes of the series.

Buffy Will Patrol Tonight Mug: Another of my favorite episodes? Hush. This mug (my husband is already rolling his eyes, despairing over my coffee mug habit) commemorates one of the most enjoyable sequences of this Season 4 highlight.

Buffy Character Tank: I enjoy a good ironic workout tank (if I have to sweat, I might as well feel like I look cute), so this tank top would be a fantastic addition to my gym clothes rotation.

Battle Axe Earrings: These earrings in the shape of Buffy's finale axe weapon are super pretty!

Don't You Have An Elsewhere To Be Cross Stitch: I'm pretty sure I've actually used this line at some point. Buffy was very formative on my speech patterns.

Buffy Coloring Book: I keep meaning to get into coloring...it's supposed to be calming, and goodness knows I need some calming (I'm an anxious person). This might be the perfect way to take up that habit!