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.

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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’

60 Books In 2019 #27: Always And Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han

So it’s time to say good bye to Lara Jean and Peter and their adorable dorky notes based love story.

It’s the end of senior year, and Lara Jean and Peter are doing well. They’re planning on going to UVA together in the fall, Lara Jean’s dad is getting remarried and everything is hunky dory and totally sweet and covered in vintage lace and flowers.

Until Lara Jean gets rejected from UVA and their plans skid out. What folllows is a quick and agnsty journey down the rabbit whole of insecurity and possibly. John Ambrose McLaren returns (briefly) as does Geneveive, but luckily neither poses a threat at this point. Rather than relive old drama the problems are new and a bit more grown up.

Second half of senior year landmarks make for good YA. College acceptances, prom, graduation, senior trips, it’s all prime set up from drama. And Always And Forever delivers. There’s a few fights, an aborted attempt at virginity loss, and a sweet as the perfect chocolate chip cookies that Lara Jean is trying to bake throughout the book.

I’m glad I picked up this series. Really. And thanks to Maggie and Ali for pushing it on me. (Also congrats on your wedding Maggie! So happy for you!)

Up next is Geekerella by Ashley Poston. YA Romance set at a Comic Con. YES PLEASE!

60 Books In 2019 #14: A Wizard Of Earthsea By Ursula K. LeGuin

Last year when I read Dune I noted that one of the things that I loved about reading it was seeing where it’s DNA had landed in other stories that I loves. Turned out, it was you know, everywhere. 

A Wizard Of Earthsea was very much the same. I knew that the creators of Avatar: The Last Airbender had credited it with the inspiration for their magic system (which is one of my favorite magic systems, btw), and I saw a lot of that here, but there were so many small moments that made me giggle, as I’ve seen them pop up other places. Ged’s admission to the tower to learn magic mirrored Quentin’s in The Magicians, (A book I don’t like very much, but has moments I really love, and that’s one of them!) his journey matching countless growing up and aways I’ve read and watched before. His begrudging love of his mysterious mentor also feels, you know familiar.

But where LeGuin’s work shines, to me isn’t in the world building and characters, although they’re pretty good. It’s that this story feels old. The chapters and episodes feel pulled out of Mort D’Arthur or Idylls Of The King. They’re straightforward and poetic, and lyrical and dreamy. A Wizard Of Earthsea feels like it’s always been with us, which is I think kind of what she was trying to do?

I’m glad to be back on track with my reading, and since I’ve had trouble connecting with my reading material lately, it felt really comforting to find this book, which, truly felt like something I’d read before, but new at the same time. Not rereading is a bit of a challenge for me, I usually check in with my favorites over the course of a year, and losing that comfort is, you know, tricky sometimes. It’s good, because I’m pushing into the new, and finding new books to love and cherish. This is one such book. I’ll be back in Earthsea, I think, again, it’s a series, and also it’s YA, which means the reading isn’t hard.

Up next is The Vampire Armand by Anne Rice.

YAAAASSSS, my favorite vampire’s story being told at long last!

60 Books In 2019 #13: The Killing Moon By N. K. Jemisin

The Killing Moon is rich, interesting, compulsively readable, and full of the kind of things I love about fantasy fiction.

It has an interesting magic system, a Prince who is really a monster, wise and interesting women and a couple of queer dudes. I really couldn’t ask for more except that I’m so tired of new fantasy worlds right now that it took far too long to read this wonderful book.

Jemisin is a fabulous writer, even as I only had patience for ten pages here and there, I was in awe of her prose, over how propulsive and engrossing the plot was, how intriguing the main characters and mystery.

This is the first book in a series and of the three I’ve started this year, it’s the one that I’m most eager to pick up the second part of, which is saying a lot, as I also really enjoyed Throne Of Glass, as you’ll recall.

This is a short review, because the book didn’t blow me away and I took too long to read it, so I don’t have a lot of through line thoughts on it, but it’s a well written piece of fiction and I’m eager to learn more. So…yay?

Up next I take on YET ANOTHER new fantasy world, when I dive into A Wizard Of Earthsea.