60 Books In 2019 #45: It By Stephen King

Bill Denbrough is a gunslinger. I thought quietly as the Loser’s Club came together in two timelines throughout the first 500 pages of the epic It. Maybe Beverly Marsh and Mike Hanlon too. Maybe all of them, but definitely, definitely Bill. 

It is a funny book. Even for King, it rambles and fails to cohere in places. It’s brilliant and beautiful and odd and unfathomably strange. It’s  both obsessed with sex and chaste as a nun. It’s about memory and childhood and forgetting and magic and fear, and somehow, not very scary at all?

I can tell you one thing, as all things serve the beam (which gets a shout out as King describes one of the Losers Club’s better summer afternoons), I hate that fucking Turtle a whole lot.

What a godamned useless cosmic entity it is. Spitting up universes with terrible monsters, that infect small Maine towns and eat children my manifesting evil murder clowns and giant birds and what not.

But I love Bill Denbrough. I’ve fallen in love with one character in each of King’s stories that I’ve hit, that I never wanted to let go of, and for It, it’s Bill. (One would think Richie, given my allegiance to second Bananas, but no.) What a great kid! And grownup. And leader. Seriously. I love this character.

The book’s playing with memory is outstanding writing and It, and Pennywise The Dancing Clown are scary monsters. (Though, having read it practically back to back with The Shining, I find the Overlook’s ghosts much creepier.) The Losers Club are a tight band of heroes, a ka-tet worthy of the name.

But man, fuck that fucking Turtle.

Up next is Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett.

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60 Books In 2019 #43: The Shining By Stephen King

If you’ve hung around this blog for the past two years, you know how deeply I regret not letting myself be scared and falling into the work of Stephen King years ago. But as I read The Shining last weekend,and stunned a beach house full of graduated Georgia Tech Sorority girls by explaining I’d never read it before. (Well, the ones that had known me for years were stunned. The ones I’d never met before barely cared, which is fair.) I realized even with my pediatrician mandated, mother sleep needing rules against horror in my adolescence, I probably wouldn’t have been reading King anyway.

If there was one thing in the world that I craved as a teenager it was acceptance. I’ve often described myself as feeling like a guest star with my various groups of friends. (This caused one therapist, one of my favorites, who I had to part ways with because of changing insurance, to remind me that “life is not narrative.” Mr. King would probably disagree, Ma’am!) I hid my nerdy obsessions from my friends, where they didn’t fit. With my theater friends, I was all about Sondheim and Schwartz, with my hometown friends I loved indie rock and sitcoms and old movies, with my school friends (who had some theatrical crossover) it was punk rock and YA novels and blockbuster movies. (This allowed the X-Men and Batman to creep in occasionally.)

If I’d gotten into Stephen King then, and started talking about Danny Torrance’s Shine in relation to Jake Chamber’s Touch I don’t know that I could have survived the baffled looks.

This preamble is all to say that talking about The Shining, Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant but very different from this book much to the chagrin of it’s author, film would have been acceptable conversation among all my friends, the book was anathema to them.

Anyway, The Shining, which rules. Just definitively, it’s amazing, and I’m glad I didn’t read it while I was still high on the tower but saved it for when I knew I was going to need a kick start back into his style, with several big deal adaptions on their way.

The book itself is a masterful haunted house story, with The Overlook Hotel taking on a monstrous personality, and it’s mysterious “manager.” (I believe I said outloud as Grady, the long dead caretaker discussed management with Jack Torrance, “The Crimson King?”) Because I began my constant reading journey with The Dark Tower I know I am doomed to feel the pull of the beam whenever I pick up a King book, ya dig? But I was eventually able to see past my own tower induced blinders to the horror and scares at The Shining’s heart, the horrors of addiction and rage and toxic masculinity. The things that consume Jack Torrance as his wife Wendy tries to shelter Danny from them.

And let’s talk about Wendy, shall we? Man, if I’d read this book when it came out and then watched that movie I’d have been PISSED AS HELL about Wendy, who is nothing but a tower of strength and patience balancing on a frayed nerve from her first moments. Granted, King has a tendency to do this with his women, he writes soft hearted survivor ladies, who come out of the crucible of male cruelty saintly and strong. It’s a problem on it’s own but it’s a hell of a sight better than the screaming, whining, snivelling performance given by Shelly Duvall in the movie.

Danny Torrance is a great character, maybe a little young for his role, King hadn’t yet hit his sweet spot of tween hero boys yet, so five year old Danny feels over precocious. (If Danny were 10 he’d be perfect. Then again, if Danny were 10 he’d be Jake Chambers…so there’s that.) (Look, we all know this is ending with me reading The Dark Tower again, I mean, not yet, but it’s going to happen.)

Anyway, I really enjoyed this book. Up next is With The Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo. Let’s get our YA on y’all!

60 Books In 2019 #41: City Of Girls By Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert was there for me when I needed her. That’s the only way I can describe what happened when I read Eat, Pray, Love, which I think people greatly misjudge. It’s about a moment and getting out of that moment. I read Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project around the same time, for the same reasons. I was in a rut.

Since then I’ve dipped in and out of Gilbert’s work. I love her non fiction but City Of Girls is the first of her novels I’ve read. It’s a wonderful work of historical fiction, witty, a little silly and fabulous.

In the summer of 1940 Vivian Morris is expelled from Vassar College and moves to New York City to live with her Aunt Peg, who owns and runs a theater in Time’s Square, The Lily. The Lily puts on trashy, half assed entertainments and Vivian falls in love with life there.

She also, sort of, falls in love with a showgirl named Celia Ray and the two spend the summer running around New York partying. When a legitimate actress and old friend of Peg’s shows up, The Lily goes legit, and Vivian finds herself caught up in a scandal that brings her frivolous world crashing down around her.

It’s a hard plot to sum up because not a lot happens, it’s a feeling book, made up largely of how Vivian relates to the people, and especially the women around her. It’s about those times in our lives that make us who we are and why they’re important. And I like that in a novel, especially a historical fiction novel. I also like that about Gilbert’s writing so I think that this fits.

It’s a worthwhile book, not a game changer, but lovely, smart, and an interesting picture of a place and time. Gilbert’s writing tics are present, and the Vivian’s voice sometimes feels a bit too contemporary to my ears, but otherwise, it’s worth reading.

Up Next: The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory, it’s time for some romance and silliness. YAY!

60 Books In 2019 #40: Hemingway’s Girl by Erika Robuck

If I could pick anywhere at any time to go on vacation, it would be Paris, 1925-ish, get to hang out with the Lost Generation, and drink champagne and eat in cafes and where fabulous linen dresses.

I have no illusions about who those men actually were, assholes at best and monsters at worst, which is why I wouldn’t want to live among them, just go on vacation.

Hemingway’s Girl takes place after that glittering era, about ten years later, when a nineteen year old girl named Mariella Bennett gets a job working as a maid in Ernest Hemingway’s house in Key West. Mariella becomes smitten with the author, despite his marriage and a growing relationship with a far more appropriate veteran working for the EPA just north of the island.

I have a soft spot for historical fiction about the women near the “great men.” There’s a silliness to it, but a great deal of fun too, and that’s what I had with Hemingway’s Girl, Mariella is a delightful heroine, strong and willful and a little bit out of her depth. Robuck’s picture of Hemingway is bright and fun and intoxicating. It also got me looking at Air BnB’s in Key West for the winter, so we’ll see how that goes.

This wasn’t a great book, by any means, but did get me thinking I should give Ernest another shot. (I hated him in highschool, and even though I got it a lot more in college, still would rather read Fitzgerald for my bare bones prose of that era.)

Up next is City Of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert which I have been waiting all stinking summer to read and I am so so excited. (It just came in from the library last week!) 20 Books left in my challenge which I feel pretty good about at the moment.

60 Books in 2019 #33: I Like To Watch: Arguing My Way Through The TV Revolution by Emily Nussbaum

I feel deeply priviledged to have come of age the same time as an art form. Television began hitting it’s brilliant artistic stride as I entered my teens, and since I was raised in a TV house I was able to witness much of it. (Not all, my mother’s strictures against the “inappropriate” barred much material until I got to college) My dad once smiled wryly at my siblings and I, “You all feel about your shows how we felt about our bands.”

I only made the connection this weekend as I read Emily Nussbaum’s essay collection I Like To Watch that of course we do. We came of age with TV as my parents did with Rock and Roll. We’re defensive of the things we like. (Mary jokes that I “get yelly” when people try to claim Lost as the beginning of something. It was the breakthrough but Buffy and Alias did the hard work.) (Also X-Files) Like TV: The Book last year, I couldn’t wait to get this one in my hand. I was less familiar with Nussbaum’s work than Sepinwall and Zoeler-Seitz, (Both name checked here) because she writes for the hoity toity New Yorker, rather than the rabbly Vulture and AV Club where I go for my TV coverage, but I still know her work. She’s also not a recapper, which is what I knew the guys from.

Her defense of Sex And The City is actually my favorite piece of criticism ever, so there’s that. (It’s included in the book and was rapturously wonderful to read again.) I’m also just trying, with the limited dollars and time that I have to support the idea of TV criticism as valid. I love television. I love that it’s being taken as seriously as film now. (I love movies too, but not like I love TV.) Nussbaum’s essays are stunning in their clarity and research. I disagree with her on several points, she’s far too dismissive of Amy Sherman-Palladino and Aaron Sorkin for me, and thinks that the changes in Weeds post season 3 were “bold” and “reinvigorating,” rather than “absurd” and “ultimately fruitless.” (my preferred adjectives.)

I knew I’d be engrossed in the book though when she opened it with a spirited discussion of getting hooked on Buffy through the largely execrable season 1 episode “The Pack.” (It is a truly odious one, some of the worst, “High School Is Hell” pandering of the first few seasons. You know how I hate those WB genre puberty metaphors.) But the main section could have been expanded to a book on it’s own.

A nearly 50 page essay about grappling with her love for Woody Allen’s movies and Louis CK’s TV shows in the wake of Me Too, is a staggeringly personal look at separating art from artist, the way art gets inside of you and how to separate it out when it’s revealed as filthy or wrong in retrospect (it felt trenchant for me this weekend having rewatched Gone With The Wind on Friday and being enraptured all over again despite my woker instincts shouting “IT’S BAD! WITH THE SLAVERY! AND THE MARITAL RAPE! AND THE LIONIZING OF THE KLAN!”) is a beautiful piece of writing. She grapples with Cosby as well, but admits he was never inside of her the way Woody and Louis were, so it’s more of a footnote.

The three profiles she includes are also interesting, Kenya Barris (black-ish) Jenji Kohan (Weeds, Orange Is The New Black) and Ryan Murphy (RYAN MURPHY) deep dives into three very different artists using the medium in fabulously different ways. (Can one even compare Dre Johnson to Nancy Botwin to Andrew Cunahan?) For a work about TV by a female critic, I think there’s woefully little talk about Shonda, she covers Scandal in comparison to House of Cards (Hey! I did that) (Twice in fact) and Shonda is mentioned in all three profiles.

I did adore the book though. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of serious conversation about TV. It’s just a deeply unlikely think to happen.

Up next is The Princess And The Fangirl which is the companion book to Geekerella. Back into the YA breach, at least temporarily.

60 Books in 2019 #32: The Bird King By G. Willow Wilson

G. Willow Wilson was one of those amazing women who I found smiling with their arms wide open as I allowed myself to pass through gates of fandom. She and Sana Amanat gave us Kamala Khan, and thank God for it. So when I noticed The Bird King sitting casually in the New Releases section of my library I snatched it quickly off the shelf.

The first hundred or so pages of the book play out as an engrossing bit of historical fiction (with hints at magical realism), Fatima is a concubine in the household of the last Sultan of Grenada, as Queen Isabella’s armies close in on the city. Fatima is beautiful, willful, a bit naive and very sad. She’s friend with Hassan, the royal mapmaker, who’s talents are possibly more than they seem, and who enjoys the company of men.

When Isabella sends diplomats to treat for peace, Fatima and Hassan find themselves in the crosshairs of Baronesa Luz, who’s the representative of The Inquisition. (As a Catholic, the Inquisition always makes me shudder, one of the darkest of the dark chapters of the faith I love so much. And there are a lot of them.) She learns of Hassan and part of the peace treaty is handing him over as a sorcerer, Fatima risks her own life and comfort to get him out of the palace, and on their way out, they encounter Vikram, a jinn, and then the world cracks wide open.

As the pair run for their lives, they remember a legend of a hidden island, where the King Of Birds lives, and make that their destination. Hassan draws the map and their quest begins.

Hidden magical islands are a wonderful dreamy part of mythology that seem to always persist, and as it turns out, Fatima and Hassan’s island is all of them at once. And the legends that surround it are all true, and the ending twist is such a wonder that I can’t give it away here.

I’ve reiterated a hundred times that I love stories about stories, and I love religious discussion about why faith is how it is even more than that. Wilson is a Muslim and everytime I read her writing about devotion it touches my heart. The Bird King often reads like a love letter to God, to the God who I’ve felt wrap me up in warmth and love more times than I can remember. But it’s also about stories and the ways that cultures take the same stories and change them, and the way that truth and fact aren’t always the same.

I really, really liked this book, but it’s a slow starter, be warned. But once it opens up, it’s beautiful.

Up next is I Like To Watch: Arguing My Way Through The TV Revolution by Emily Nussbaum. More television criticism! I’m going to pick up these books whenever I find them. That’s for sure.

60 Books In 2019 #29: Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple

I missed reading, “The Book,” for a few years because after I stopped commuting into Manhattan but before I started writing about my reading here, I didn’t read much except for series that I was already invested in.

Where’d You Go Bernadette was the book in 2012, but it didn’t seem like something that I’d like. (I don’t know, there were no vampires in it, I guess?) I’m sorry for putting this book off because it’s a sheer delight.

Bernadette Fox is the kind of bohemian genius that gets pushed a lot in fiction. She’s utterly brilliant, completely unconventional and as an old friend puts it, due to her mental illness causing her to stop working, “a menace to society.”

Where’d You Go Bernadette? is focused through the eyes of the people around the woman herself, mainly her adoring daughter Bee.

In addition to being a traditional, crazy brilliant artist story, Where’d You Go Bernadette? has a sharp sense of humor about the city of Seattle, the tech industry and social striving. There’s also this whole thing about Antarctica.

I don’t want to talk to much about the plot, which unfolds quickly and is actually important to the impact of the book. I will note that lots of the story comes through emails and notes, which makes this technically! YES! EPISTOLARY! I love epistolary novels! You all know this, I’ve talked about it before.

Anyway, the movie of Bernadette comes out in a few months and I hope it’s good. Because this book made me so very happy. Just deeply joyful for the way writing and stories work.

Up next is Sounds Like Me by Sara Bareilles. I’ve liked Bareiles’s music since the first time I heard “Love Song,” in college. I’ve only grown to admire her more, and you know there’s the Waitress of it all. Where’