What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

This week’s theme is “absolute distraction.”  Without further ado:

Why Being Solo and Poly Has Made Me a Happiness Evangelist (The Toast)

I’ve been thinking a lot about monogamy and polyamory lately, so this article came at the right time.  This is a really interesting, personal account of how the author sort of fell into polyamory:

I still know far more poly women than men, which clouds my anecdotal reporting on how men versus women react when hearing I’m non-monogamous. However, I do get the most straight-up judgement from mono-normative women who assume that being a tiny minority of a tiny minority of a relationship style must be the best, because I sound like what our culture tells men they’re supposed to want: a strong, independent woman who doesn’t demand monogamy.

Why Men Don’t Like Funny Women (The Atlantic)

I sent this to my best friend this week, because this is something we talk about all the time.  She is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met, and I’m no slouch myself.  We both agree that we are funnier than 99% of the dudes we meet and interact with, and yet are flummoxed by the fact that dudes so often are put off by our humor.  This article talks about all that, and much more, in very depressing, very insightful ways:

The way men and women laugh and joke has been so different for so long that it’s hardened into a stark, oppressive social norm. Norm violators get punished, and often, that means funny women are punished, too.

Mental Illness and the Male Gaze (Guerrilla Feminism)

Go read this right now.  Go:

The Sexy Tragic Muse can be found in music, film, literature and pretty much every other form of media. She’s not dissimilar from the Manic Pixie Dream Girl – in fact, I would argue that there is some crossover between the two tropes – but she is also very much her own distinct type.  She is usually young, and nearly always white.  She’s often portrayed as being hyper-sexual – she’s the type that 30 Rock’s Jack Donaghy was referring to when he said “Emotionally unstable women are fantastic in the sack.” She’s damaged, often as a result of sexual assault or other abuse by men. Her life carries with it some kind of Deep Lesson, usually a lesson that a male protagonist needs to learn.

What got you reading and thinking this week?

Book Review: Kissing in America by Margo Rabb

Eva is obsessed with romance novels.  She’s read over a hundred of them in the years since her father passed away.  They help her escape the pains of her reality.  Swept up in romantic fantasies, she’s thrilled when she meets Will, a boy who not only seems interested in her but also seems to understand her.  Just as she’s falling for him, Will announces that he’s moving across the country to California.  Unwilling to accept losing him, Eva and her best friend Annie embark on a journey that takes them across the country to see Will and do a little growing up of their own.

Margo Rabb’s novel is part-coming-of-age, part road-trip-saga.  It is wholly excellent, with smart, nuanced characters and a generous dollop of emotional authenticity.  Rabb nails how grief works and how people process it.  It’s a story with an excellent investigation of love in all its various forms, offering readers poignancy but no pat answers or hollow platitudes.

What also works exceptionally well here is the gentle exploration of the relationship between mothers and daughters.  Eva’s mother seems to have completely moved on from the loss of Eva’s father, but Eva is still fresh in her grief.  As Eva becomes more obsessed with the world of romance novels, Eva’s mother becomes increasingly enmeshed in her work as a women’s studies professor.  The two don’t see eye to eye and barely communicate, causing them both even more pain.  All of this is done well, with realism and subtlety.  It’s clear that these two characters love each other.

The same can be said for Eva’s realistic, flawed friendship with her best friend Annie Kim.  The two girls are inseparable and have genuine love for each other, but they also have their own issues to deal with.  There’s so much here that readers both teen and adult will relate to when it comes to complications within friendships.  All of it is so well done.

This is a strong piece of fiction, and it’s one that teens will eat up.  It’s smart, insightful, and full of hope.  Chock-full of multidimensional characters, this is a must-buy for any collection.  Recommended.

Kissing in America by Margo Rabb. Harper: 2015. Library copy.


Waiting on Wednesday: Other Broken Things by Christa Desir

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:

Other Broken Things by Christa Desir

Expected Release Date: January 12, 2015

Nat’s not an alcoholic. She doesn’t have a problem. Everybody parties, everybody does stupid things, like get in their car when they can barely see. Still, with six months of court-ordered AA meetings required, her days of vodka-filled water bottles are over.

Unfortunately her old friends want the party girl or nothing. Even her up-for-anything ex seems more interested in rehashing the past than actually helping Nat.

But then a recovering alcoholic named Joe inserts himself into Nat’s life and things start looking up. Joe is funny, smart, and calls her out in a way no one ever has.

He’s also older. A lot older.

Nat’s connection to Joe is overwhelming but so are her attempts to fit back into her old world, all while battling the constant urge to crack a bottle and blur that one thing she’s been desperate to forget.

Now in order to make a different kind of life, Natalie must pull together her broken parts and learn to fight for herself.

(summary via Goodreads)

This one hits all my sweet spots.  Not only does Christa Desir seem like an awesome person in general (she is one of the rare authors I follow on Twitter), she’s smart and writes incisive fiction about tough stuff.  It feels weird to say that a book that sounds this dark hits my sweet spots, but it totally does: addiction, Bad For You Friends, older dudes…I can’t wait to see what Desir does with all this.

What are you waiting on this week?

What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

These are the things I’ve been reading and thinking about this week.  Without further ado:

Why Harvey Danger’s 90’s Alt-Rock Hit “Flagpole Sitta” Endures (A.V. Club)

I owned (and loved) Harvey Danger’s album featuring this song, and it’s still a song that resonates for me today.  Call it nostalgia or whatever, but it’s a catchy as hell song.  This piece over at the A.V. Club offers a really insightful, in-depth look at how the song still exists today, complete with interviews with the band:

This perseverance likely has something to do with the song’s unique timbres and unorthodox approach, Nelson theorizes. “I think it jumps off the radio. The fact that the distorted bass is a lead guitar element is really unusual. That shuffle beat is incredibly captivating and fun. It sounds noisy and chaotic and raucous, but then the melody is very catchy. And almost every line is sort of a memorable aphoristic slogan, which is by design, in a way. It’s also really snotty. There’s a snideness about it that is in keeping with the experience and the inner life of being a certain kind of teenager.

Aziz Ansari on Race, Acting, and Hollywood (NYT)

This op-ed, written by Aziz Ansari, is relatively short and wholly awesome.  Ansari tackles all kinds of things in it, and they’re all worth your time and consideration.  If you haven’t watched his new Netflix show Master of None yet, please do so.  It’s one of my very favorite things to come out of 2015.  This part stuck out to me:

Here’s a game to play: When you look at posters for movies or TV shows, see if it makes sense to switch the title to “What’s Gonna Happen to This White Guy?” (“Forrest Gump,” “The Martian,” “Black Mass”) or if there’s a woman in the poster, too, “Are These White People Gonna Have Sex With Each Other?” (“Casablanca,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “The Notebook”).

Jagged Little Pill: An Essay (Medium)

Jagged Little Pill wasn’t my first album, but it was my first favorite album.  It’s one I still love (I just belted out all the words to “Head Over Feet” while making oreo truffles in the kitchen a few weeks ago, much to J.’s chagrin) and I revisit it fairly often, for something that is 20 years old.  This essay by Morissette is super excellent:

There was a cultural wave swelling…a readiness, perhaps, for people to hear about the underbelly, the true experience of being a young, sensitive, and brave person in a patriarchal world. This wave was moving through culture with or without me, and I happened to grab my glittery surfboard and rode that wave like a feisty androgyne on the back of a megalodon.

What got you reading and thinking this week?

Book Review: This Side of Home by Renee Watson

Maya and Nikki are identical twins about to start their senior years of high school.  Their plan has always been to graduate and go to a historically black college together with their best friend.  But as they adjust to changes in their neighborhood (gentrification threatens to uproot their friends and neighbors), they also struggle to adjust to changes within each other.  As they work to reconcile who they are as young adults, they also deal with who they are as individuals and not just twins.

Renee Watson’s debut YA novel is a breath of fresh air with a singular voice that allows readers to explore complex issues in a way that feels mostly naturalistic.  Maya’s narration is very direct and offers readers insight into how families deal (and communities) with change.  The characters who populate Watson’s story are layered, authentic, and successful.  These are smart teens who still feel like teens, and also noteworthy is the fact that they are surrounded by adults who are not only present but feel just as real.

There’s a lot happening in the book, but Maya’s narrative keeps the story grounded.  As the teens deal with diverging interests, gentrification, and interracial relationships, her voice keeps the story centered on her family and the community.  The book offers readers no easy answers but does provide a bit of hope about the future without slipping into the saccharine.

Because of the larger issues explored in the book, it would be easy for Watson to allow her story to lose focus.  But she manages to keep a hold on her characters while also presenting complex illustrations of what happens to a community when wealth begins to seep in.  This is a nuanced look at an important and often overlooked topic.  Watson is an author to watch.

This Side of Home by Renee Watson. Bloomsbury Childrens: 2015. Library copy.

Waiting on Wednesday: Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

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:

Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

Expected Release Date: January 5, 2016

Seventeen-year-old Mercedes Ayres has an open-door policy when it comes to her bedroom, but only if the guy fulfills a specific criteria: he has to be a virgin. Mercedes lets the boys get their awkward, fumbling first times over with, and all she asks in return is that they give their girlfriends the perfect first time- the kind Mercedes never had herself.

Keeping what goes on in her bedroom a secret has been easy- so far. Her absentee mother isn’t home nearly enough to know about Mercedes’ extracurricular activities, and her uber-religious best friend, Angela, won’t even say the word “sex” until she gets married. But Mercedes doesn’t bank on Angela’s boyfriend finding out about her services and wanting a turn- or on Zach, who likes her for who she is instead of what she can do in bed.

When Mercedes’ perfect system falls apart, she has to find a way to salvage her reputation and figure out where her heart really belongs in the process. Funny, smart, and true-to-life, FIRSTS is a one-of-a-kind young adult novel about growing up.

(summary via Goodreads)

The early buzz on this one is super positive, so I cannot wait to get my hands on it.  It’s supposed to be funny and smart and sex-positive, which are all things I love to see in YA.  I can’t wait for this one! January can’t come soon enough!

What are you waiting on this week?

Book Review: Infandous by Elana K. Arnold

Sephora and her mother live in the seedier part of Venice Beach, California.  Raised by an obscenely beautiful mother, Sephora has always felt like a small character in the fairy tale of her mother’s life, and she’s always felt lucky about that.  Now that Sephora is 16, she’s ready to be the star in her own story.  But sometimes, fairy tales don’t turn out like the Disney stories.  When Sephora meets Felix, things take a turn for the completely unfathomable.

This is a gut-punch of a novel, but readers should know that from the start.  Seph’s narration is matter-of-fact but beautifully written, and she warns readers that things “don’t really turn out the way they do in fairy tales. I’m telling you that right up front, so you’re not disappointed later.”  This is not posturing on her part: Seph is hiding some dark secrets that are causing her a great deal of pain.  As she relates her experiences over the summer, she reflects on a fling she had with an older man and juxtaposes this with the relationship her mother is starting with a much younger one.  Her jealousy over her mother’s relationship with this new person is palpable, and her feelings about not being the center of attention with her mother is authentic.

Interspersed in the story are Seph’s own retellings of famous myths and fairy tales.  She relates these stories in language both raw and rich, and the content of the stories serves as foreshadowing–or at least hints–of what Seph herself is hiding.  These stories blend beautifully with the novel’s overarching narrative, and readers will be riveted by them (as well as disturbed, which is largely the point).

There are strong parallels here to Lolita, and they work so well within the story.  This is a rich, nuanced, and multi-layered portrayal of a family with its share of secrets but also an abundance of love.  It’s an emotional read, and it isn’t for the faint of heart.  Older teens will gobble this one up and want to talk about it afterward.  One of the best books of the year, hands down.

Highly, highly recommended.

Infandous by Elana K. Arnold. Carolrhoda Lab: 2015. Library copy.