What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

These are the things that got me reading and thinking this week.  Without further ado:

No Country for Young Women (Incisive.nu)

Erin Kissane wrote an essay that basically sums up my feelings about stories about men lately, and it is excellent:

I didn’t set out to stop reading fiction written by men, or to stop watching movies and TV with male protagonists, I just got tired.

Even though she and I don’t necessarily agree completely on the things we like to watch, the end result feels the same:

If a piece of fiction is made by and emotionally centered on men, chances are, it defaults to the belief that women are nothing but fuel. Doesn’t matter if I’m catching every reference and gleefully staying ahead of every jump. It will eventually declare that it’s not meant for me. Sometimes the women are missing, or just vacant; sometimes there’s a string of bloody bodies that look like mine. The point comes across.

At any rate, this is super excellent and thoughtful and well worth your time.

How Helpful Are Those Rape Tips? (Dame Magazine)

Super awesome person and feminist Kate Harding has a new book out about rape culture (I’m still on the waiting list at the library but will probably buy a copy, too), and this is an excerpt of that book, posted at Dame Magazine.  It’s awesome:

A bunch of those recommendations are manifestly useless, but they are all in my brain, a full catalog of two and a half decades’ worth of “helpful tips.” Even the ones that are based in some sort of recognizable reality still ultimately send the same message: As a woman, you must live in fear and behave impeccably. If you fail at either charge, you will most likely be raped—maybe even murdered—and it will be at least partly your fault.

God, I can’t wait to read Harding’s book.

Slenderman is Watching (NY Mag)

A really thoughtful, chilling account of the girls who attempted to murder their friend in an apparent ritual to bring forth the mythological “Slender Man” of internet memes.  It’s an upsetting read, but it’s excellently researched and super well done.

It’s…haunting:

Anissa is also a mess. She seems unable to retrace her steps and fully understand how she got to this place. In July of last year, after threatening self-harm, Anissa was put on suicide watch and given a straitjacket. She occasionally complains of stomachaches, enough to keep her out of classes in jail. Last March, she fell to pieces after a bunch of girls started taunting her, calling her a “monster” and a “fucking bitch” for what she’d done. She started to cry and refused to leave her room, according to a jail administrator, saying, “That’s what I am, exactly what they had called me.”

Whew.  What got you reading and thinking this week?

Book Review: From Where I Watch You by Shannon Grogan

Kara McKinley is committed to becoming a professional baker.  Her cookies are already at the professional level, and she uses her mom’s restaurant kitchen to practice her craft.  There’s a national competition that seems to be her way out of Seattle, but in order to get there, Kara needs her mom’s permission, something she is not willing to give since Kara’s older sister died in a drowning accident away from home at college.  Kara’s whole life has changed since Kellan’s death, and baking is her only escape.  But her life holds a lot of secrets, one of the darkest of which is that she’s being stalked.  As the mysterious notes escalate in their frequency and threats, Kara grapples with the fact that her life might be over before she even really gets a chance to let it begin.

Shannon Grogan’s debut is a tense, beautifully written thriller that is guaranteed to hook readers from the start and not let them go until the book’s breathless, suspenseful conclusion.  In this thriller, Grogan successfully captures the fast-paced necessity of “whodunnit” while also writing prose that is resonant, characters that are realistic, and a heroine who is authentic, a little broken, and someone readers will root for.

Told from Kara’s perspective, the book shifts back and forth in time to help readers get a sense of who Kara was as a child, as well as what her relationship was with her dead sister, Kellan.  Spoiler alert: like most relationships between sisters, it was a thorny, complicated one.  Allowing readers access to Kellan through Kara’s eyes as a child helps illustrate Kara’s complex feelings about Kellan’s death, and the slow reveal of the thing that finally divided the two of them is very well done.

The escalating threats of the notes from Kara’s stalker are the thing that helps propel the story forward, but Grogan also uses Kara’s desperation to escape Seattle–and the fact that Kara has pinned all her hopes and dreams on winning a cookie contest–to build even more tension.  The plotting is tight and the pacing is pitch-perfect.  There isn’t a flabby moment to this book, and the narrative succeeds all the more because of it.

This is a must-have on library shelves, and it’s perfect for readers who like their YA fiction dark and mysterious.  This is a standout of a debut, and Grogan is an author to watch.  Highly recommended.

From Where I Watch You by Shannon Grogan.  Soho Teen: 2015. Library copy.

Waiting on Wednesday: The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

Newbery Medalist Laura Amy Schlitz brings her delicious wit and keen eye to early twentieth-century America in a moving yet comedic tour de force.

Fourteen-year-old Joan Skraggs, just like the heroines in her beloved novels, yearns for real life and true love. But what hope is there for adventure, beauty, or art on a hardscrabble farm in Pennsylvania where the work never ends? Over the summer of 1911, Joan pours her heart out into her diary as she seeks a new, better life for herself—because maybe, just maybe, a hired girl cleaning and cooking for six dollars a week can become what a farm girl could only dream of—a woman with a future. Newbery Medalist Laura Amy Schlitz relates Joan’s journey from the muck of the chicken coop to the comforts of a society household in Baltimore (Electricity! Carpet sweepers! Sending out the laundry!), taking readers on an exploration of feminism and housework; religion and literature; love and loyalty; cats, hats, and bunions.

(summary via Goodreads)

I don’t read a ton of historical fiction (despite having majored in history in undergrad), and so this is outside of the norm for me.  But early buzz is super good, and it looks interesting.  I’m very interested in trying something slightly outside my comfort zone.  Plus, feminism.  Duh.

What are you waiting on this week?

Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

Mark Watney’s crew is working on Mars when a dust storm hits and separates him from the rest of the group.  The storm nearly kills him, and his team leaves the planet, assuming he’s dead.  But he’s not, and now he’s stranded on the planet.  Using every skill he has, including his botany background and engineering capabilities, Watney works hard to not only get in contact with NASA to let them know he’s alive, but also tries to figure out how he’ll survive in the hostile environment–and not starve to death on a planet where no food grows.

Weir’s novel has been a breakout success and owes a great deal of this popularity to the fact that the novel approaches things like physics, astronomy, and other sciences in an accessible way for the average reader.  The novel is also unique in its structure and often very funny.  This is a fast-paced read that most readers will devour in a sitting or two.

Because of the book’s highly technical situation, it would be easy to completely alienate readers.  But Weir takes pains to make sure that most of the stuff Watney does throughout the novel is explained in a way that is not only accessible but also not overly-didactic.  Weir has been outspoken about the fact that this isn’t a plot-driven novel so much as it was a way for him to play around with theoretical “what-if” situations, and so readers looking for a ton of character development or literary meaning should look elsewhere.  But if they’re looking for a fun space romp, this is the book for them.

Tightly written and wholly compelling.  This is an entirely believable story about a man in an unbelievable predicament.  The movie, due out not long from now, should also be fun.  Although this is an adult novel, there’s a lot of appeal here for teens who like their science fiction heavy on the science.

The Martian by Andy Weir. Crown: 2014. Library copy.

My Weekend in Pop Culture

Here are the noteworthy pop culture items I consumed this weekend:

The Heartbreakers by Ali Novak: I went into this one knowing that it was going to be a super easy read, and it was.  Novak’s book is about a normal teenage girl who ends up falling for a dude in a super popular boy band (like, One Direction level of fame), and though it reads as wish-fulfillment fan fiction at times (I’m pretty sure the Heartbreakers ARE an idealized version of 1D), it’s also compulsively readable and teens will eat it up.  Novak started the novel as serialized stories on Wattpad, and there are definitely times where this feels very much the case still, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun anyway.

Fear the Walking Dead: J. and I definitely tuned into this new show, a ftwdspin-off of The Walking Dead, last night.  It’s pretty rare that I watch anything live these days, but this was appointment TV for us.  I’m not sure about it yet, but pilots are notoriously hard to make good, so I’m willing to stick with the series.  I’m totally into the idea of starting from the beginning of the outbreak instead of how TWD started, so here’s hoping it’s a lot of fun.  I had nightmares last night, so the show succeeded on that level.

What pop culture did you consume this weekend?

What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

These are the things that got me thinking this week.

‘Things Will Never Be the Same’ The Oral History of a New Civil Rights Movement (The Guardian)

It’s been a year since Michael Brown was murdered in broad daylight by police officer Darren Wilson, and not a lot has changed.  People are still being murdered by police in America every day.  They are still walking away without criminal charges.  America is still a country in which white supremacy reigns.  This piece at The Guardian is excellent and should be required reading.  It runs down the events on that August day a year ago, and moves forward from there, all while providing the details in the voices who lived it:

The gassing was almost surreal, because it felt like we were at war but that doesn’t make any sense. It felt like I had just been attacked by a group of people that are supposed to serve and protect me in my community, which is where I was.

It’s a long piece, but it’s excellent and worth saving to read later.

Five Great Questions I Was Asked as a Reference Librarian (Book Riot)

Kelly Jenson’s list of questions she was asked when she worked as a reference librarian is pretty awesome, but my favorite part is when she talks about working with teens who are described by their parents as “not being readers”:

Like magic, they open up. They’re happy to explain that they don’t like “big books” or that they can’t stand books like The Hunger Games. They then begin to open up other things to me: they love video games. They love books where a boy has an adventure. They loved the time they watched that one movie because it was scary or really funny.

Here’s What’s Missing From Straight Outta Compton: Me and the Other Women Dr. Dre Beat Up (Gawker)

Just last week I had a conversation with my mom about making a point to go see this movie, and then I stumbled across this article.  In it, Dee Barnes, who used to host a popular TV show called Pump it Up!, was beaten by Dre after he became angry about a segment on her show.  Gawker asked her to watch the movie, based on Dre’s life, and reflect on it.  And now, I’m not sure I’m going to go see this movie:

That event isn’t depicted in Straight Outta Compton, but I don’t think it should have been, either. The truth is too ugly for a general audience. I didn’t want to see a depiction of me getting beat up, just like I didn’t want to see a depiction of Dre beating up Michel’le, his one-time girlfriend who recently summed up their relationship this way: “I was just a quiet girlfriend who got beat on and told to sit down and shut up.”

But what should have been addressed is that it occurred. When I was sitting there in the theater, and the movie’s timeline skipped by my attack without a glance, I was like, “Uhhh, what happened?” Like many of the women that knew and worked with N.W.A., I found myself a casualty of Straight Outta Compton’s revisionist history.

This is definitely a piece that is worth reading, whether or not you have any interest in seeing the movie.  It speaks to larger issues within our culture, and the way we revise history (and treat women).  I still think a movie like this is important, but I also think a discussion about why the uglier aspects of life are removed from a biopic is one worth having.

What got you reading and thinking this week?

Book Review: Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by John Krakauer

In Missoula, the Department of Justice investigated 350 sexual assaults reported to the city police between January 2008 and May 2012.  A paltry few of these reports were handled properly by the university or local authorities.  John Krakauer’s book takes a look at this college town’s handling of sexual assault and turns an eye to the larger issue of rape culture and sexual assault in the United States today.

Krakauer’s book is not an easy read, despite being compulsively readable. There are few authors working today who can craft narrative non-fiction like Krakauer, and that is on full display here.  This difficult, disturbing, and ultimately necessary book is a look at rape culture in a wholly in-depth way.  This should be required reading for basically everyone, but especially for teens about to enter the adult world (and college freshman everywhere).

The book is meticulous in its research of the cases it reports on.  Krakauer focuses on several different assault cases with wildly different outcomes and presents the facts in a way that is both authentic and riveting.  This is a page-turner of a book, and readers will have a hard time putting it down as a result.  Krakauer allows the accusers to have a voice in the narrative but also manages to report in a way that seems fair to both sides (the dudes are guilty, though–make no mistake about that).

Also notable is how much research Krakauer has done with regard to acquaintance rape.  Krakauer takes pains to explain what exactly it is while also providing snippets of actual quotes from people within the town of Missoula to help illustrate the broader culture’s views about rape.  It’s disturbing and all too real for anyone who has ever witnessed rape culture firsthand.

Because Krakauer relies so heavily on transcripts from the court trials and university proceedings, there is very little insight into the prosecution side, especially where he couldn’t obtain interviews.  Missoula prosecutor Kirsten Pabst, who quits her post to later defend one of the accused rapists, is never interviewed in the book, making the reader’s interactions with her limited by court transcripts.  Pabst doesn’t come off very well in the book (she’s basically the worst), and this is where skeptics might take issue with Krakauer’s reporting.

On the whole, though, this is an exemplary piece of journalism.  A must-read, standout non-fiction book.  Highly recommended.

Missoula: Rape and Justice in a College Town by John Krakauer. Doubleday: 2015. Library copy.