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July backwib

August 30, 2013

So close.

Yet so far.

I’d been wanting to read Stephanie Coontz’s book Marriage: A History since I saw her speak all those years ago at Princeton and I am SO GLAD I finally did and am a little ashamed I didn’t before.  This is required reading for everyone, ever.  Taking a historical view of marriage to see how it applies to current views just seems like the intelligent thing to do, especially after you’ve done it.  Whether or not you agree with Coontz (unsurprisingly, I do, but who knows if that will always be true?), your eyes should be a bit more open, although the rare Goodreads reviews disagree with this, which I can’t even begin to fathom.  How can you look at what’s come before and say “No, everything is and should be the same”?  Especially when you’re talking about MARRIAGE, which, hi, used to be about women as property.  Women as PROPERTY.  They didn’t choose their spouses.  They were ages where they weren’t a part of the marriage dialogue at all, and you’re saying things haven’t changed, ever, and should always be the same?

One of Coontz’s arguments is that we see “always” as the picturesque (and false) Leave It To Beaver 50s-style marriage, a construct after the war that’s a nice lie, if you can believe in it.  Unfortunately, not many did, or else couldn’t live up to the expectation, and thus came a very turbulent decade-plus afterward.  Coontz has written other books specifically on the myth of the nuclear family, but in this book, it’s just another in a series of over two thousand years of changes.

This is important to know, to understand.  I really think that even if you’re not inclined to read the whole thing, you should at least be reading the introduction and perhaps the conclusion as well.  There are definitely gaps in Coontz’s research, and a general hand-waving over places where there maybe aren’t as many statistics (say, with POC, the lower class, etc), but even with those flaws, this book is incredibly important.  For everyone who chooses marriage, for everyone who doesn’t, for everyone who has an opinion on gay marriage (and that’s another place where Coontz didn’t see how fast things would change), for everyone who says “traditional marriage”–this book should be placed into their hands.  I suppose, like the reviewers on Goodreads, you’ll see a lot of people unwilling to see because looking is scary, seeing that your world isn’t quite what you think it is can knock your feet from you.  This book is not an attack on Christianity, or Christian morals, although it contains a discussion on certain periods of time and certain Christian organizations in those times who made the rules.  That’s neither her goal nor, I believe, much of her area of interest.  It’s more about the idea that we look back about X amount of time and say “Well, that’s how it is because that’s how it’s always been.”

It’s why people are always surprised when I point out that pink used to be for boys, and blue for girls.  But…”always!!!!”

No.  “Always” is a lie.

History: we need to learn it.  Otherwise…well, you know how that goes.

Eloisa James’s strong point is not the short story, and it shows in her two-“novella” collections, As You Wish.  The story “Seduced by a Pirate” is the story of Griffin, that guy from The Ugly Duchess, and what happens when he goes back to the wife he left on their wedding night.  Then it’s the story of the kids from both, “As You Wish,” and how they act stupid until they get it together.  It’s not that James isn’t a good writer; she’s pretty good–entertaining, at least.  But she tries to take novel-sized ideas and shrink them down in “Seduced by a Pirate,” and the end result is far too rushed.  “As You Wish” is better, I think, because it is what it’s meant to be, but it’s still rushed at the end.

So then I read her Once Upon a Tower Fairy Tale book, a full novel, and that was very entertaining and what I was expecting from her.  The Fairy Tale books are very good, when they’re not fan fic, or maybe even when they are?  The couple is great and you’re rooting for them the whole time.  Eloisa James is my go-to romance author lately because I can trust that I won’t want to beat my head against a wall when she writes–well, except the fan fiction–and by “lately” I mean “the last several years.”  Still, I want more than she can give me, and I feel bad about that, because I really like her.  I wish I could articulate what “more” I want, but I have no idea.  Maybe one day I’ll figure it out.  Until then, I’ll keep reading and enjoying and then promptly forgetting her books.  (PS Romance not your style?  Her memoir Paris in Love is absolutely wonderful.)

I also got her promo book A Fairy Tale Sampler, which has the beginnings of the Fairy Tale books and some commentary, as well as a new short story, which again, not her strong suit.  But it was interesting to read the commentary, at least.

Also, I met her again at BEA, just as in Princeton (with Jennifer Crusie and Stephanie Coontz).

IMG_0879

Okay, not the best picture, sorry.  But she’s lovely.

While I was on a trip to my husband’s friend’s wedding, I knocked out most of If You Lived Here, You’d Be Perfect By Now: The Unofficial Guide to Sweet Valley High by Robin Hardwick.  This is a collection of her blog posts at The Dairi Burger, and covers all of the books I remember and then some.  She also starts off but gives up on Sweet Valley Confidential, and writes about The Sweet Life as well.  I stopped reading at The Sweet Life in order to read the book, but COULD NOT get more than about 50 pages into it.  It was awful. I mean so, so poorly written.  And just…crappy.  So I went back and read Hardwick’s commentary instead, which is what I should’ve done before I spent that four bucks.  Hardwick is consistently funny, although the ebook is choppy as it is in chronological order of the books, not the blog entries, and there are at times when I just want to pull out my hair from all the typos.  I’ve found this is common in all of Hardwick’s articles, and I just want to edit her, is that so wrong?  Let her do her work and let someone else look for the typos, because when you type something sometimes you just don’t see it.  But everyone knows that editors have been the first to go in the recession.  Sigh.

I read Johanna Lindsey’s Man of My Dreams, which is a crappy title, but I’ve heard that’s an issue with older romances (and today too).  The main character made me want to scream, but the story itself is entertaining and funny and has that anachronistic feel that so many ’80s/90s romances do.  I don’t think I’ll ever read it again, but it was fun to pass the time.

I reread Deadeye Dick, one of my least favorite Vonneguts for reasons I can’t begin to articulate this long after reading it (which is one of the reasons why I’m trying so hard to get caught up).  It’s a good book, but I felt like the second half dragged and…I don’t know.  I can’t remember.  I can’t remember VONNEGUT.  Maybe that’s it in itself.

I reread the entirety of the Sandman series when my daughter got it out of the library to reread herself, oh, and also The Dream Hunters graphic novels and Endless Nights.  Aww.  It was a rereading as a family, passing from one family member (who’d already read it) to the next.  God, Dream is like 20x the jackass I remember him being.  And it’s far, far more about stories and storytelling.  And it’s not as repetitive as I once accused it of being.  And Delirium isn’t nearly as entertaining–although that could be an age thing; my daughter says Del is her favorite character–although Death remains amazing.  My husband was disappointed with the ending.  I feel it could’ve stopped with the Ren Faire.  It shows its age only a little, and I think it would’ve done better to have just one artist the whole time, but I don’t think that was as much of a thing, then.  The covers don’t really affect me anymore.  I only teared up a little at Thessaly’s, um, speech, when I expected to be a weeping mess, but I remembered it so well.  Ugh, Thessaly.  But also I love her.

Still felt like the DCU was shoehorned in there, but we all knew that.

Oh, and one last thing: FUCK YOU, QUITELY, FOR ACTUALLY BEING ABLE TO DRAW PEOPLE.  I never would’ve known from your ugly, ugly X-Men stuff where every woman looked the same.  I thought you were talentless, but it turned out you just went with sloppy and ugly for that run, I suppose.

So then, for realsies, I got locked out of the house into the garage and I could open and close the garage door and that was that, so I read On the Fringe, a YA book of short stories about alienation.  From gender confusion to bullying to, um, rapping at school events, many of these stories, I think, miss the point, and they’re all so very dated.  Like, I went to high school before this was published, and the names seemed super old to me.  Have you ever noticed that people who write things cannot stop thinking that babies will be named Sally in the future even though I haven’t met a Sally younger than my mother’s generation?  But some of the stories were very powerful, including a post-Columbine look at school shootings that made my stomach hurt.  Good job…I believe it was Chris Cutcher.  I keep being asked if I’ve read his stuff, and now I can say yes but it still doesn’t get me to Whale Talk.  Good for the time, too dated now on the whole, but specific stories could be pulled and taught.

I was meant to read Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things for my book club, and I just could not.  Too much of a culture shock, too many bad things happening to kids.  I think I made it 50-100 pages in, and just set it down.  I’m a little guilty, but sort of proud of myself for saying “No thank you.”  I’ve read too many bad books, and I don’t think this is one of them, but it wasn’t for me.

Finally, I read Alice Hoffman’s Second Nature, about a guy who is raised in the woods by wolves and the woman who takes him in.  It was pretty good, but nowhere near her best.  The end was highly telegraphed–or is that just human nature?  The lead woman grows more and more difficult to understand as the book goes on, and I really wish Hoffman hadn’t pulled away from her like that.  Still, it’s an interesting book with interesting characters.  I love how Hoffman never forgets that teenagers are complex.

Whew!  That was July!  Next up: more romance authors I didn’t hate, a Stephen King reread, The Perks of Being a Wallflower (finally), the next big thing for fans of Harry Dresden, the new Cynthia Voigt, why “New Adult” is both stupid and clever, why The Secret Garden reminds me of Connecticut, and my feelings on the “new” Spider-Man, Miles Morales.

And more, actually.  So maybe August will be split into two posts…

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