Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Month In The Life: November 2016

It's the last day of November, so that means it's time for my monthly wrap-up!

In Books: I had a cross-country trip this month, so lots of airplane time (4.5 hours each way with a one hour connecting flight on each end!), which means lots of dedicated reading time. I read more than usual this month...
  • The Confessions of Saint Augustine: From what I knew of the man, he lived a pretty party-hearty life before finding religion, so I was interested in seeing what spurred his conversion. Turns out it was mostly his mom. I had an abridged version, which I was glad of because theological pondering is not my reading sweet spot. 
  • The Queen of the Night (ARC): I finally gave myself permission to skip some of my e-galleys that I'm less excited about and read the ones that I'm actually really intrigued by. This book had gotten a lot of buzz early in the year and it was totally bonkers and I LOVED it. 
  • What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours: I've been wanting to join a real-life book club for a while and now I have, at local indie bookstore Sundance Books. This was the first selection for the club, and immediately pushed me out of my comfort zone because I don't read short stories almost ever. It was an interesting, if not really especially enjoyable, read: I don't usually go for short stories because I like immersing myself in a book and I feel like I'd appreciate the intricate magical realism of Oyeyemi's writing in a long form better.
  • Invisible Man: This I started reading almost immediately after the election, and the reports of racist activity that followed, and although it was coincidence this was a very timely read. Ellison's chronicle of his nameless narrator realizing that he's effectively invisible because of the color of his skin is searing and rich and powerful and a must-read.
  • The Paper Magician: This was a pleasant enough, fluffy little read. The characterizations were pretty thin, but the magic system at the heart of it is intriguing, and the central plot device of being a journey through a heart and what it holds was novel. It was neither great nor terrible, but after the previous book it was nice to read something less substantial.
  • Eleanor of Aquitaine: Alison Weir is a favorite historian of mine, and her account of the incredible life of Eleanor of Aquitaine is, as always, lively and interesting.
  • The Emigrants: This is really more a collection of four short stories on a similar theme than it is a novel. W. G. Sebald spins achingly poignant tales of four different emigrants and the loneliness and dislocation that results from their moves, whether or not they were voluntary in the first place.
  • The Girls (ARC): Emma Cline's book was pretty buzzy this summer, but I didn't get to it until now. Its inspiration in the Manson murders has tended to be what people mention about it the most, but I found that part of the story to really be secondary to the focus on what it means to be a young teenage girl and wanting desperately to be wanted.

In Life:
  • Election Day happened: Apart from my own feelings about politics on the national level (I've outed myself as a Democrat before, so you can assume my disappointment with the outcome), this also influences my professional life since my work concerns the state legislature. Nevada's Assembly swung back to blue from red, and the state Senate did the same. We've got some new faces coming in, so I'm looking forward to meeting and working with them! No really, I like people and relationship-building, so I actually do like getting to know the new legislators. 
  • BFF2K16: My annual girls trip with my best friends since the time I was a kid! This year's destination was The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, so we took a long weekend down to the state where we saw more than one person drive in reverse on the highway. It was super fun, we did one day of theme park and one day on the beach (coming from the other side of the country, I had a full day of travel on each end) and mostly hung around and chatted and talked about our changing lives. This is the weekend I look forward to the most every year and I'm already excited for next year!
  • First book club meeting: For all that I'm a die-hard reader, I've never actually been in a real live book club. Like I mentioned above, this one is hosted by our local indie bookstore, Sundance Books, and has a facilitator and everything. It's a good mix of people, and our discussion around What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours was interesting and brought new things to light. Can't wait to discuss The Wonder next month!
  • Family Thanksgiving: As usual, we (me, the husband, and the pug) spent Thanksgiving with my in-laws and their usual holiday crew. Along with the usual things to be thankful for, I'm thankful that the group is mostly aligned along similar political lines, so the most controversial thing was how much food the dog got snuck under the table. No one can resist spoiling him!
One Thing:
  • What's the one thing that I've been particularly into lately? It actually doesn't show in my reading here (yet) as much as it does in my bookshelves, but I am a royalty junkie, and I am loving Netflix's The Crown! Queen Elizabeth has been queen for the vast majority of her adult life, and the look at the human who wears that headpiece and has those duties is well-done and really fun to watch! I already can't wait for next season!
Gratuitous Pug Picture:

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Holiday Gift Guide

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The BookishThis week's prompt is to create a holiday gift guide. As my gift guide, I'm going to tell you about ten books that I've reviewed on this blog over the last year, and who they would make a good choice for this holiday season!

Beloved: Someone interested in the ways that slavery's pernicious evil continues to reverberate. Toni Morrison's classic makes the horrors of slavery, which can almost seem abstract in their scope, personal and real.

All The King's Men: Anyone who is interested in what can be hiding behind a populist veneer. President-Elect Trump is not the first politician to rise to power behind a populist message. There are some definite parallels to Robert Penn Warren's Willie Stark in our incoming administration.

The Creation of Anne Boleyn: Budding feminists. Most of us have heard of and are at least somewhat familiar with Anne Boleyn. Susan Bordo's examination of the myths that have sprung up around her and how they've changed over time is a great primer on variable views of women over time.

The Serpent King: Anyone who has ever felt like they don't belong. Which is kind of everyone, right? Jeff Zenter's story about three high school misfits in their senior year brings that aching longing of adolescence rushing right back in the best possible way.

The Namesake: Someone with a complicated relationship with their parents. In Jhumpa Lahiri's justly lauded novel, Gogol's angst over his given name mirrors the tension he feels with his immigrant parents and their culture as he grows up in America. 

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn: Anyone who's loved someone unreliable. Little Francie Nolan worships her ne'er-do-well father in Betty Smith's coming-of-age classic. The pain that he causes both Francie and her mother, Katie, without really "meaning" to will be instantly recognizable to anyone who has tried to count on someone that they shouldn't.

The Big Rewind: Nostalgic older millennials. Remember mixtapes? If the actual creation of a putting songs on a cassette before your time, Libby Cudmore's witty, entertaining debut probably won't resonate with you very hard. But for the rest of us, it's a treat!

American Gods: Mythology buffs. Neil Gaiman is an incredible writer, and this is one of his most popular works for a reason. It posits a world in which the gods of classical mythology (along with more modern subjects of worship) are actual, corporeal beings...a great mind-stretcher for people who love myths!

The Group: Young women who've just graduated from college. When you graduate, you feel like the whole world is in front of you. And it is! But the struggles that exist out there in the real world: relationships, work, motherhood are the same ones that we've been dealing with for nearly a hundred years. It's comforting to realize we've all been through it before.

Enchanted Islands: Anyone who feels like the later stages of their life are fated to be boring. After a difficult but not particularly exciting life, the heroine of Allison Amend's novel experiences real adventure for the first time in her late 40s, in a way that continues to play out through the rest of her days. Life's adventures never really end.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Book 52: I Am Livia

 "When I was a girl, I imagined love was a kind of prize for virtuous behavior. That was how the philosophers described it. Love was a tribute that flowed naturally only to those with undivided spirits and pure hearts. It occurred to me now that it was something else, wilder and less comprehensible."

Dates read: May 11-14, 2016

Rating: 7/10

As I'm writing this (in mid-May), Hillary Clinton is on pace to secure the Democratic presidential nomination. However you feel about her (I personally support her, but understand there are plenty of completely valid reasons not to), there's no denying she's raised an issue that a lot of people, including myself, have unexplored feelings about: female power. A woman's rule gives a lot of people pause, and has throughout history. Think about it: how many books and movies have you read and/or seen where a woman with power is a sinister and malevolent force?

Phyllis Smith's I Am Livia is a fictionalized account of a very powerful woman who has been regarded suspiciously by history: Livia Drusilla, wife of the Roman emperor Augustus (born Octavius). I'd actually never heard of her before I read this book, but it was a Kindle First title and I'm into historical fiction, so I picked it up and I'm glad I actually got the chance to read about Livia and her life. And a lady who gets her first husband to give her away to her second husband just days after she gave birth to the first husband's child (true story!) is someone I'm interested in learning about.

Livia was the older of two daughters of a Roman senator, and Smith kicks off her story just as Livia's father is throwing his support behind the assassins of Julius Caesar. Like many historical fiction heroines, Livia is a smart and strong-willed young woman, educated by her father about government and politics. Despite having had a chance meeting with young Octavius in which the two become besotted with each other, Livia's marriage to her older cousin, Tiberius Nero, is arranged for political purposes. Smith doesn't take the easy way out and make Tiberius cruel to Livia to get readers to root against him and their marriage: he's not a bad man or even a bad husband, Livia simply doesn't love him. She tries to be a good wife to him anyways, bearing him two sons and trying to advise him on how to best navigate the complicated world of Roman politics in the era of the Triumvirates. But when Livia and Octavius re-encounter each other years after her marriage (and when she's heavily pregnant with her second of those sons she had with Tiberius), their connection can no longer be denied and Tiberius is persuaded to bow out as graciously as any person possibly could, really, with the whole giving-her-away bit I mentioned above.

Livia uses her status as wife of the First Citizen of Rome to assume some power of her own: she handles his correspondence, gets him to allow her the legal right to make her own decisions about her own property under the guise of giving the same right to his popularly-beloved sister Julia, helps him see the advantages of making sure the citizens of Rome are taken care of and not just focusing on war and conquest. The use of one of my least favorite literary tropes, love at first sight, bothered me like it always does, but I appreciated that Smith drew Livia and Tavius (a pet name for Octavius) as a complicated couple. Besides their ultimately unsuccessful struggle to have a child of their own and the strain that situation places on their relationship, they're both hard-headed and stubborn and there's a point at which their marriage is very near breaking down because of miscommunication and pride. And while Livia loves her husband, she's not so crazy about him that she can't see advantages to their separation, which takes some of the saccharine out of the tired "we've been in love since we first laid eyes on each other" sweetness that underlies their relationship.

Smith does a good job of neither making Livia a paragon of virtue nor a tyrant greedy for ever-more authority as she acquires and uses power over the course of her life. It lets us ask ourselves why we're uncomfortable with the idea that a woman would want the power to make her own decisions even if her husband would never deny her the opportunity to do what she wanted. Livia's mother was content to be in the traditional female "power behind the throne" role, why does Livia want more active power? If she plants ideas with her husband after they've slept together, is it her using her body to get what she wants or simply taking advantage of the time they're most relaxed and are actually alone together to discuss the things that are important to both her individually and them as a couple? The questions the book raises and the strong characterization of Livia overrides some underdeveloped side characters and a workmanlike prose style to create a work that's definitely worth a read, especially if you're interested in Roman history and/or feminism.

Tell me, blog friends...can you imagine a modern-day husband ever giving away his ex-wife less than a week after she had his child?

One year ago, I was reading: Oriental Mythology

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Things I Am Thankful For

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The BookishThis week's topic is gratitude, and I have a lot to be thankful for. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite's about food, and family, and really taking time to take stock of your life and realize how much is good, even if there's also stuff that's less good. This Thursday, we'll be heading over to my in-laws house and celebrating with them and their extended group of friends...the wine flows freely and it's good people, so we always have a lot of fun! Things I'm thankful for this year:

My husband: Getting the cheesy stuff out of the way first. I'm grateful for him in my life because he's the actual best, and also that he's officially my husband and that means the wedding is over, because planning that was one of the most stressful experiences I've ever had (I'd happily take another bar exam before planning another wedding).

Our family: Between my wonderful in-laws and my own adored and missed mom, dad, sister and brother-in-law, I'm fortunate to have so many great people in my life that I love and love me.

My besties: Kailey and Crystal are the best friends a girl could ask for...the kinds of friends that have been there for you since elementary school are the kind you cherish. Our trips are the weekend I look forward to the most every year!

Stanley: Getting our little pugling almost a year ago now was the best thing. He is just a constant source of delight and love.

My health: Apart from a recent unpleasant seasonal flu and my hormonal migraines, I haven't had a major health issue since my gallbladder removal in 2014. I am very, very fortunate that this is the case, many others aren't so lucky.

Having a good job: I have work that I find fulfilling, and my coworkers are all people I enjoy and respect. That hasn't always been the case for me and I'm so glad that it is now.

Reproductive freedom: The development of birth control options means that women can take ownership of our lives and careers without having to constantly worry that we might become pregnant before we want to (if indeed, we want to at all). This is no small feat, when you look at the course of human history, and recent political realities have reminded me how lucky I am that this is the case.

The ability to vote: Speaking of recent political realities...I can feel however I want about the outcome of this year's election (spoiler alert: I do not feel good), but the fact remains that I was able to go to the ballot box and have my say. This wasn't always the case for lady people, so I am grateful to the suffragettes for their work securing the vote for women.

Books: Cliche, I know, but I am constantly grateful that my mother instilled a love of reading and appreciation for the power of the written word in me when I was little. Through books, I get to explore the past, the future, and the incredible variety of experiences that constitute being human.

Living in a post-paper map world: This last one is a little flippant, I know, but I am actually constantly, consciously glad that I live in a world where my awfulness with directions doesn't keep me from getting where I'm going without getting horribly lost all the time.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Dreamcasting: The Great Gatsby

As I've talked about before, I'm super into movies. I've seen more movies (over 1500) than I've read books (definitely less than that), although recently the balance has started to tip in favor of the latter rather than the former. After I finish a good book, I start to toss it around in my head a little...who would I cast in these roles for the movie adaptation? I thought it might be fun to do a little recurring Dreamcasting series here every so often just for something different but still bookish.

I actually loathed The Great Gatsby when I first read it as a high school junior. Gatsby was a moron, Daisy a twit, Nick a fool. But when I was bored a few years later during a summer home in college, I found myself devouring it and relishing the experience. I've continued to re-read it and been grateful that I picked it back up again...while the reading level of the prose is suitable to a high school student, I feel like it's hard to understand before you've loved and lost, before you've drowned in the feeling of wanting another chance, wanting to start over and try again because you messed it all up and you'll do it better the next time, you swear.

And yes, I know, Baz Luhrmann JUST made a new version of this a few years ago. But it wasn't as magnificent as I'd hoped it would be when I first heard about it. Part of it was the casting: Leonardo DiCaprio was too old and had no chemistry with Carey Mulligan, who was competent but not as luminous as I was hoping as Daisy. Tobey Maguire would have been amazing casting as Nick Carraway...except being, again, too old. Here's how I would cast the main roles if I was making it today:

Jay Gatsby: Leonardo would have been amazing casting...if he'd been a decade younger. Gatsby has to be charming, with a willpower that can make you believe he'd make almost anyone believe in him. The one actor that I think could just knock it out of the park? Michael B. Jordan. He's been amazing since The Wire when he was just a teenager...just effortlessly electric onscreen. 

Daisy Buchanan: I think this is one of the hardest roles to dreamcast, honestly. She has to be so beautiful and compelling that you can believe that a man would go to the lengths Gatsby has gone for her, grounded but also floating with deliberate ignorance past the ruins she leaves in her wake. She's the on-the-cusp It Girl of the moment, so how about lovely Haley Bennett? She's actually got kind of a 20s look working for her.

Nick Carraway: For the wide-eyed and relatively innocent Nick, I like Michael Cera. Nick is a reactive character, the events of the novel happen to/around him, and for me he needs to be kind of bland-but-good-hearted-seeming in a way that I think Cera satisfies.

Tom Buchanan: He needs to be attractive but callous, the kind of man that would conduct his affairs openly in front of his well-bred wife and pick up a white trash social climber married to a poor man for his mistress. Jonathan Rhys Meyers has that kind of almost cruel look that I think Tom needs.

Myrtle Wilson: This is kind of a throwaway role, the aforementioned white trash mistress. Someone lovely but with a kind of hardness underneath, sexy but in an almost artificial way. She's as blue-blooded as they come in real life, and a little too young, but once I started thinking about Cara Delavigne in the role, I can't shake the idea...

Jordan Baker: I actually thought Elizabeth Debicki was a perfect Jordan in the Luhrmann version, but if we're recasting, we're recasting. It's a minor role, she really needs to be energetic and charming but capable of casual thoughtlessness. I'm going to go with Nina Dobrev, whose work on The Vampire Diaries had her playing a charismatic sociopath very convincingly.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Book 51: The Witches of Eastwick

"There was so much dirt in life, so many eraser crumbs and stray coffee grounds and dead wasps trapped inside the storm windows, that it seemed all of a person's time- all of a woman's time, at any rate- was spent in reallocation, taking things from one place to another, dirt being as her mother had said simply matter in the wrong place."

Dates read: May 8-11, 2016

Rating: 3/10

Lists/awards: NY Times Bestseller

Sometimes I feel like a fake "serious reader". Which is the most ridiculous first world problem, I know. But there are so many of the classics, so many high-profile novelists, that I haven't read: Murakami, The Count of Monte Cristo, Faulkner, Catch-22. And until now, John Updike. But a secondhand copy of The Witches of Eastwick, which I'd seen the very cheesy 80s movie version of quite some time ago and enjoyed watching, came into my path and I decided it was time to cross that one off my list.

And this is one of those instances where (at least for my money), the movie was better than the book. They both have a similar setup: three socially outcast women living in a small town in Rhode Island become involved with a mysterious stranger, Daryl Van Horn, who comes to town and chaos ensues. In the movie, the women become witches under Daryl's satanic influence, and band together to turn against him when he causes harm. But that's not where the book goes. The book is much darker, and it suffers for it. When you're dealing with heavy stuff like magic and death and the devil, you need a little levity to keep it from dragging.

When Updike opens his novel, the three women (Alexandra, Jane, and Sukie) are already witches. A widow and two divorcees in a small town in the early 1960s, they are outside the conservative social order and each others' only real friends. They aren't especially nice people: they frequently behave spitefully, none of them are at all involved in their children's lives, and are all sleeping with married men. When Daryl Van Horn, the devil hisownself, arrives in town, he doesn't imbue them with power as much as heighten their ambition (and start having orgies with them, of course, because that's apparently what the devil does). While all of the women have romantic designs on Daryl on some level, they share him relatively peacefully until a younger woman, Jenny, joins their group and eventually succeeds in becoming Mrs. Van Horn. The witches are jealous and band together to use their magic to kill her. Van Horn then skips town with Jenny's younger brother and the women each, eventually, conjure up a good man and themselves depart Eastwick.

Like I said earlier, it's a lot of pretty heavy material without much to lighten it up. The women have some small moments of sympathy, but are largely negative people that aren't very enjoyable to read about. You would think that the literal devil would be a compelling character, at least. He's supposed to be interesting, right? Not as Updike writes him. Daryl is never written as even particularly physically attractive, much less the charismatic wily schemer you would expect the Prince of Darkness to be. There was no one to care about, much less identify with or root for. Updike's writing is good (if you're into the flowery-language-and-run-on-sentences kind of writing, which I tend to be), but the story falls completely flat.

Because I didn't like the book, I spent much less time thinking about it and its plot as a story and more time wondering if I thought this was, as it is usually considered, a feminist work. On the one hand, you have women who are close friends, who have discovered and own their power, who have the sex lives they want to have, who are not defined by their motherhood, and who are unapologetic for any of this. While we're often presented with narratives about men who behave in an antisocial manner and asked to consider them the heroes of the story, The Witches of Eastwick is a rare example of this phenomenon for female characters. On the other hand, they aren't given many redeeming features, either: they aren't funny or really all that interesting, they're petty, and they're driven to a murderous jealous rage over...a man. Their "happy endings" only come when they've each found themselves...a man. I think on the balance, it's more feminist than not, but I will qualify that by saying that Updike writes terribly about the experience of being a woman. When he writes about sex or menses, it's cringeworthy. And even if it's mostly feminist, that doesn't mean I have to like it. I didn't, and I wouldn't recommend it. It's just not fun to read.

Tell me, blog friends...what major works or authors haven't you read yet?

One year ago, I was reading: Oriental Mythology

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Movies

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! This week's topic takes us out of the book zone for a hot second into one of my other fondest hobbies: movies! I'm on a never-ending quest to watch every movie that's ever won the "major" Oscars, as I see them (Picture, Director, all four Acting, Documentary, and Foreign Film). I've actually made it through many of them and let me not recommend it to anyone else, as I've seen some real duds. Also, I worked at Blockbuster in college and I watched a bunch of movies that way, too. Here are ten of my all-time favorites.

City of God: My all-time, hands-down favorite, this movie is definitely worth turning on the subtitles for. Sent in the favelas outside Rio, this movie parallels two stories of growing up: that of Rocket, who is mild-mannered and keen-eyed and looks to journalism to escape, and that of Lil' Ze, a drug lord whose criminal life begins early. It's just incredible film-making and so compelling.

American Beauty: This was the movie that got me thinking about movies as film, as artistic statements rather than just simple entertainment. Looking back, it's less deep or cutting than I gave it credit for initially (suburban dysfunction isn't exactly brand new territory), but it's still powerful, mostly because of really wonderful performances.

Clueless: A witty take on Emma that I think Jane Austen would have approved of, this is a pop culture delight that's aged beautifully despite the dated cellphones. Alicia Silverstone is so perfect as oblivious but good-intentioned Cher Horowitz and it's so fun and vibrant. It's really hard to do breezy comedy well but this is right on the money.

Shattered Glass: Hayden Christiansen might have gotten some well-deserved blowback for his take on Anakin Skywalker, but his kind of whiny, obsequious quality works great for his role as disgraced news magazine editor Stephen Glass. Watching him desperately try to fend off the skepticism of his new boss, Peter Sarsgaard's brilliant portrayal of Chuck Lane, as the walls collapse in around him is just incredible. It's also a triumph of's quite short and there's not a wasted moment in it.

Lord of the Rings: I'm cheating and counting it as all one movie, because I love the whole series and they really are all one story. There's not a bad casting decision in the bunch, and the real chemistry of the actors shines through.

Election: This is a deliciously dark satire about politics, seen through the frame of a high school election. The ways that power and desire and ambition twist behavior are all front and center, and I still think this is Reese Witherspoon's best work.

Annie Hall: As a general rule, romantic comedies are not for me. I just don't find them entertaining. However you might feel about its maker, Annie Hall's merits speak for themselves. Dazzlingly clever and honest and just so good.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: Marilyn Monroe tends to be thought of as a bombshell alone, but she's actually a very talented comedic actress. And nowhere are her gifts of timing and charisma more on display than this frothy, fun musical. She and Jane Russell are just a hoot together.

Y Tu Mama Tambien: Before Alfonso Cuaron directed the third Harry Potter, he directed this odd, delicate blend of teen sex comedy and exploration of life and friendship and politics. It works, because like this movie, life is not just one thing at a time.

Can't Hardly Wait: A sentimental choice, this is a movie my friends and I have watched and loved and developed drinking games for since high school. It's not great cinema by any stretch, it's just silly and easy to watch.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Book 50: Vinegar Girl

"At such moments, Kate felt like an imposter. Who was she to order a child to take a nap? She completely lacked authority, and all the children knew it; they seemed to view her as just an extra-tall, more obstreperous four-year-old." 

Dates read: May 7-8, 2016

Rating: 4/10

When I was a teenager, "classic literature modernized" movie adaptations were all the rage: Emma became Clueless, Pygmalion became She's All That, and (one of my personal favorites) The Taming of the Shrew became 10 Things I Hate About You. The charm of a very-new-to-Hollywood Heath Ledger, the great quibbling sister dynamic established by Julia Stiles and Larisa Oleynik...and Julia Stiles' totally badass interpretation of Shakespeare's Katherina. I had a pretty big chip on my shoulder when I was that age (I realize this hardly makes me unique among teenagers), so I very much identified with Stiles' Kat and the devil-may-care persona she crafted to fit over her vulnerabilities.

My fond memories of that movie, I suppose, makes me predisposed to be fond of adaptations of The Taming of the Shrew. Anne Tyler's Vinegar Girl is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series, re-writings/modernizations of Shakespeare's principal plays by prominent authors. Tyler tells us the story of Kate Battista, a blunt and off-putting young woman who cares for her flaky little sister Bunny and maintains the household for her father, a researcher of autoimmune diseases. She's plenty smart, but has dropped out of college after a confrontation with a professor and works as a teacher's assistant at a day care. Her father's research has taken a turn for the promising when he's about to lose his gifted young assistant, Pyotr, to an expired Dr. Battista asks Kate to marry the fellow so he can stick around.

As much as I'm excited about some of the upcoming Hogarth Shakespeare entries (Gillian Flynn taking on Hamlet is going to be awesome), I'll be honest: I didn't like this one. Perhaps it was the 250 page length, but it didn't feel developed enough. I never bought the family dynamics, or really understood Kate as a character: to me, she seemed almost written as though she's on the spectrum: she's very literal and disinclined to seek out social connection. But I don't know that I think it was Tyler's intention to invite that interpretation. I didn't get her relationship with her father or sister, neither of which seemed very warm or rich. A deep bond with them might explain why an intelligent 29 year old would have been content to work a dead-end job for years on end to take care of them, but that wasn't ever even really hinted at, much less shown. Speaking of unearned feelings that are never actually drawn and apparently just supposed to be inferred, Kate and Pyotr's growing affection for each other after she has agreed to the immigration fraud plan never rings true either. They have a handful of awkward encounters that Kate professes to find discomfiting...and then we're supposed to be on board when she apparently really wants to marry him after all. Skip this and watch 10 Things I Hate About You and swoon over a baby Heath Ledger singing Stevie Wonder instead.

Tell me, blog friends...what's your favorite Shakespeare play or adaptation?

One year ago, I was reading: Kramer v Kramer

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books I've Added To My TBR Lately

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The BookishThis week's topic: ten books I've added to my TBR lately. If you take a look at my Goodreads account, my TBR is gigantic. And I already have physical or digital copies of many, many, of these books. I try to keep it from getting any bigger, but my TBR has taken on kind of a life of its own at this point. Here are ten books that I'm excited to read know, after I read the literal hundreds of books I already own.

Candy: This story about drug addiction in modern-day China was banned in China. I'm a sucker for a banned book.

Sweet Lamb of Heaven: I'm not a big horror reader, but I enjoy psychological horror, especially in a domestic drama kind of context. When you add in political campaign elements, I'm intrigued!

Unmentionable: I've always been a nonfiction lover, and this book about what it was actually like to be a Victorian-era lady seems like the kind of thing I'd enjoy!

Girls of Riyadh: It sucks, in many ways, to be a woman anywhere. But especially in Saudi Arabia, where women are oppressed on a level that is mind-boggling to consider. A perspective on Saudi womanhood is something I'd really enjoy reading.

Goldenhand: Although I have a copy of the fourth book in the Abhorsen series, Clariel, I haven't managed to read it yet. But that doesn't mean I don't want to read the recently-released fifth book already!

My Own Words: Ruth Bader Ginsburg is one of my total heroes, and her recent writing collection is something I'm dying to read!

On Such A Full Sea: I've always, since I was a teenager, been interested in post-apocolyptic stories. This one was highlighted by a few of my favorite readers, so I added it my own list.

Brown Girl Dreaming: I'm not a particularly big fan of poetry, and so verse novels make me skittish. But I've heard enough good things from enough people that I'm going to give it a go.

The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: I've actually not read a lot about the Gilded Age (except The Great Gatsby, of course), and this nonfiction about a young woman who inherited a massive fortune and became a recluse seems like it would be interesting and informative reading.

Death With Interruptions: What if one day, people just stopped dying? I loved Saramago's Blindness, and this novel that personifies death seems like it would hit my sweet spot for books that make me think.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Book 49: The Curious Case of Kiryas Joel

"What a wonderful tribute to the US Constitution that a minority subculture with traditions, habits, beliefs, and practices that are so different from the prevailing culture can flourish and live their lives as they wish, unfettered by the majority."

Dates read: May 5-7, 2016

Rating: 6/10

Before I went to law school, one of the reasons I wanted to go was because I loved reading about and studying the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. I've already outed myself as a big giant nerd, so there's more fuel for the fire, eh? Growing up in a small, conservative town, I felt like an outsider because I didn't go to church on a regular basis (I was raised Catholic but stopped attending mass during middle school, and by the time I hit high school, I identified as agnostic). I studied everything I could about the separation of church and state, especially in schools, and dreamed about arguing the issue in court one day. It didn't work out that way, obviously, but I've retained a real interest in the topic.

Louis Grumet's The Curious Case of Kiryas Joel tells the inside story of one of the Supreme Court's Establishment Clause cases: Board of Education of Kiryas Joel Village School District v. Grumet. That's the same Grumet in both places: he was the president of the New York State School Boards Association at the time a law was passed in the New York State Legislature creating a school district for a small village in upstate New York that was home exclusively to the Satmar, a sect of strict Hasidic Jews. The Satmar, a community that previously lived in Brooklyn but found the modern world to be too intrusive in the middle of New York City, bought up large chunks of land outside a town called Monroe and founded a village that they called Kiryas Joel after their leader, a rabbi who had survived the Holocaust. They shunned contact with the outside, established their own private yeshivas to educate their children, and caused a lot of strife within the larger Monroe community by doing things like blatantly ignoring building codes with impunity, crying anti-Semitism anytime they were challenged. The issue arose because, like any small group that intermarries extensively, there came to be many children with genetic disorders and resultant learning disabilities. The Satmar were not equipped to educate these children, so they sought to take advantage of the legal obligation of the Monroe school district to provide appropriate education to the local children and sent their kids to public school. It did not go well: the children, who already had special needs, struggled in a radically different environment and the district made several problematic blunders. The Satmar kids were pulled out of the district, and an idea was hatched: to give the village its own district, which would be able to take in and spend public money for the education of these children.

That's a problem under the Establishment Clause, because the law was designed to benefit and was exclusive to one particular religious group. So why would this bill have even been drafted? And then passed? And then signed? The answer: politics! The Satmar are a relatively small group, but they're powerful: they vote as a bloc the way their rabbi tells them to...and they don't have an ideological purity test to pass. They support whoever helps steer money and services to them. Politicians like winning elections, and so they're willing to do what they can to lock down those votes. Grumet was there as it all was happening, and guides the reader through the process: fleshing out the details of who the Satmar are, how they came to settle at Kiryas Joel, their conflicts with the local population, why sending their kids to public school failed, and how the bill came to be conceived and passed.

A lot of the political behind-the-scenes stuff was familiar and understandable to me as someone who does this kind of thing for a living, but if that's not you, Grumet lays it out in a way that's logical and easy to follow. I think a lot of people don't quite understand how the sausage is made (I know I didn't before I started doing what I do), and the way Grumet tells the story helps shed light on the process. He also helps illuminate what it actually means to take a case to the Supreme Court: it starts small, with a lawsuit in district court, and goes up from there. The court portion of the book is actually the weakest mostly copies and pastes sections of transcripts to show the arguments made and the decisions reached. 

At the end of the day, this book is almost certain to only be interesting to those already inclined to enjoy the subject matter. Some broader context is provided, but the story is almost entirely about this situation and case and doesn't go out of its way to make it easy to understand the legal issues if you're a layperson. It's not especially well-written, and suffers for Grumet's insistence on telling his own story as much as the case's story. It's not a bad book per se, but it isn't one I'd recommend to anyone but people with some already existing background and interest in the subject matter.

Tell me, blog there a Supreme Court case you'd be interested in reading a history of?

One year ago, I was reading: Primitive Mythology

**I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, Chicago Review Press, through Edelweiss in exchange for a fair and honest review**

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Books To Read If Your Book Club Likes Love Stories

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! This week's prompt was to choose ten books for a book club based around our choice of topic. I don't read a lot of romance as a genre. But love and relationships are a huge part of our lives, and have proved a steady source of inspiration to writers. If your book club likes books where romantic relationships are a key part of the narrative, here are ten books about love, five of which are a little less conventional and five of which are a little more so.

High Fidelity: Anyone who has gone through a rough breakup knows how it can send you spiraling. Record-store owner Rob uses his latest breakup as inspiration to go back through his life and puzzle out what went wrong in his previous relationships and where his exes ended up. It's funny and unexpectedly touching.

The Remains of the Day: I never shut up about this book, but that's because it's brilliant and I love it. Anyways, this book, about the regrets you can't even admit to yourself, has as a major plot point a story of two people who might have loved each other and it will rip your heart out in a really lovely way.

Stardust: Catching a fallen star for your beloved seems really romantic, doesn't it? It's this fairy-tale-esque conceit that sets off the action in this sparkling Neil Gaiman story and it turns into an adventure story with some romance on the side. 

Jitterbug Perfume: I love Tom Robbins, first of all. Second of all, your book club is going to need to be ready for some unabashedly adult talk. But if Alobar and Kudra can make it through hundreds of years together, there's hope for the rest of us, right?

Lolita: Sometimes the line between love and obsession is pretty shaky, like this literary classic about the "love" a grown man has for a preteen girl, Delores. He thinks he loves her, but does he or does he just want to possess her? It is definitely creepy, but it's just an incredible book. 

Persuasion: Many of us have read the "major" Austen works: P&P, S&S, Emma. But this, her last completed novel, is a less straightforward love story. Anne Eliot listened to her family instead of her heart when she broke an engagement in her youth and never found herself another fiance. But when her ex comes back into her life unexpectedly, after she's all but given up hope of marriage, will the two find their way back to each other? 

Bridget Jones's Diary: Speaking of Austen, there are some definite shout-outs to Pride &Prejudice in this hysterically funny book. That they made a great rom com out of it isn't surprising, but it loses the little touches like the notes Bridget keeps for herself about her weight and smoking so it's worth reading the original if you haven't yet!

The Rosie Project: I wasn't really expecting to enjoy this, I bought it because it went on sale for the Kindle and figured it would be worth a few bucks. But it's not as cliche as I thought it would be, and while it's not great literature, it's sweet and funny and a light, quick read. This could prompt a really interesting discussion about dating and mental health!

The Time Traveler's Wife: This is an off-kilter love story about a man, who experiences time jumps throughout his entire life, and the woman he loves, who doesn't. It sounds like something just dying to be considered "quirky", but it doesn't lose sight of the very real pain that could be created by this kind of thing. Very worth a read! 

Dead Until Dark: Even readers who would consider paranormal romance outside their wheelhouse (like me, for example) should give the first book in this series, the basis for the True Blood TV show, a try. The first season of the show hews pretty close to the source material (this happens less and less as time went on), so there's already an introduction into this world out there. And if you like them, there's a whole series!