What I’m Reading and Thinking About this Week

These are the articles that got me thinking this week.

White Fragility: Why it’s so Hard to Talk to White People About Race (Ravishly)

Hat tip to Caroline for sending me this one this week.  It’s a good, thoughtful read, and I encourage everyone to check it out.  It’s a great primer on white privilege, racial inequalities, and the state of race relations in America today, so it’s good for background information in that regard.  But it also talks about how hard it is to talk about this stuff with us white people:

Not often encountering these challenges, we withdraw, defend, cry, argue, minimize, ignore, and in other ways push back to regain our racial position and equilibrium. I term that pushback white fragility…It became clear over time that white people have extremely low thresholds for enduring any discomfort associated with challenges to our racial worldviews.

The post also lays out why we have such a hard time with these topics.  It’s a great, accessible read.

Jon Ronson is Getting Publicly Shamed Over a Line Cut From His Book (Buzzfeed)

So Jon Ronson is the dude who wrote the book about people who have gotten publicly shamed for doing dumb, insensitive, racist things on the internet and suffered real-life consequences.  There was a piece in the NYT a while back about this, and it caused a ripple on the Twittersphere, and now I guess there are advanced reading copies of his book out there, and some people took issue with a line in his book in which he compared a woman’s fear of getting raped to a man’s fear of being fired.

The line has since been taken out of the final draft of the book, but some early readers Tweeted about the line, and Ronson flipped out like any mature grown up should.  He went on a Twitter rant about how people aren’t supposed to quote from ARCs, etc etc.  He basically acted like a giant diaper baby.

Twitter would have none of it.  My favorite part of the article is when they link to an interview Ronson did with The Frisky a while back, explaining the whole thing with the line about rape:

“Somebody wrote me a very long e-mail that said, ‘Does he not realize that there’s a line in this book that would get him publicly shamed?’” he said. “And people I really respect said I was wrong to have that line in there, so I have to assume that they’re right.”

You go right on ahead “assuming” that they’re right, Ronson, and I’ll go on ahead assuming you’re a piece of garbage.

Finally a Summer Movie Season for Women (Vulture)

I mean, there isn’t a lot of new stuff here:

If you want to hear numbers about women in Hollywood, they’re still terrible: Females comprised 12 percent of protagonists in the 100 top-grossing films of 2014, according to a study by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at SDSU.

But it does offer a list of female-driven movies that will be hitting theaters this summer, which always makes me marginally more happy.

What got you reading and thinking this week?

Book Review: Find Me by Laura van den Berg

Joy works the night shift at a convenience store outside of Boston and spends her time tripping on cough syrup.  Then a sickness hits the country, causing people to lose their memories and eventually die.  Joy is immune to the disease and ends up as a study subject in a hospital trying to find a cure.  In Kansas, locked in the hospital, she spends much of her time wandering the corridors and looking out the windows.  After the order of the hospital breaks down, Joy escapes and ends up on a trip to Florida to find her birth mother.

Laura van den Berg’s quiet, powerful novel about a sad girl in dying world hits multiple targets dead-on.  She manages to blend literary fiction with genre fiction seamlessly, drawing readers into this post-apocalyptic world while keeping it firmly grounded in realism.  Beautiful prose, vivid characters, and a strong plot make this a standout novel.

Joy is a compelling narrator, at times so fragile that it seems she might literally break in half.  And yet, she perseveres.  She’s alone in the world and knows it, and she’s unafraid to look that loneliness right in the face.  But she lives and remembers while most of the world forgets and dies.

The first half of the novel focuses on life in the hospital, and the second feels like more of a road trip story, but the two halves make the whole very successful.  There’s plenty for readers to unpack here and think about.  It will make a good novel for rich discussions, and it’s likely to stay with readers long after they finish the last page.  Recommended.

Find Me by Laura van den Berg. Farrar, Straus, & Giroux: 2015. Library copy.

Waiting on Wednesday: A Sense of the Infinite by Hilary T. Smith

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:

A Sense of the Infinite by Hilary T. Smith

Expected Release Date: May 19, 2015

It’s senior year of high school, and Annabeth is ready—ready for everything she and her best friend, Noe, have been planning and dreaming. But there are some things Annabeth isn’t prepared for, like the constant presence of Noe’s new boyfriend. Like how her relationship with her mom is wearing and fraying. And like the way the secret she’s been keeping hidden deep inside her for years has started clawing at her insides, making it harder to eat or even breathe.

But most especially, she isn’t prepared to lose Noe.

For years, Noe has anchored Annabeth and set their joint path. Now Noe is drifting in another direction, making new plans and dreams that don’t involve Annabeth. Without Noe’s constant companionship, Annabeth’s world begins to crumble. But as a chain of events pulls Annabeth further and further away from Noe, she finds herself closer and closer to discovering who she’s really meant to be—with her best friend or without.

(summary via Goodreads)

This one is getting good buzz, and it happens to be about the complexities of female friendship, which I am always down for.  It looks like it’s going to be a hard read, but probably pretty emotionally satisfying.  I love stories about girls and friendships and trying to navigate that in a world that isn’t always kind to friendship.  Anyway, I can’t wait.

What are you waiting on this week?

Book Review: Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

Mabel Dagmar is on scholarship at an East Coast college and feels very ordinary in the shadow of her rich, beautiful roommate Genevra Winslow.  When Ev invites Mabel to spend the summer at her cottage, named Bittersweet, Mabel can’t believe her luck.  But Mabel soon realizes that Ev’s family holds dark secrets and maintains tenuous relationships with one another.  The deeper Mabel plunges into the world of the rich, the worse it looks.

There are plenty of hooks in Miranda Beverly-Whittemore’s novel about an outsider gaining access to a wealthy family.  Readers who want a juicy insider-look at how the 1% live will find plenty of that here.  Readers looking for a twisty and completely improbable mystery will also find that here.  There’s a touch of the gothic here, as well as more than a little bit of an homage to books like The Great Gatsby.  Beverly-Whittemore’s novel is certainly very deliberate in how it approaches the characters and plot within its pages.  The problem is that it’s sometimes a bitter pill to swallow.

Although Beverly-Whittemore makes an effort to provide a cast of characters that are richly drawn and stereotype-busting in their behaviors, she only partially succeeds.  Ev comes off as a beautiful rich girl whose mercurial emotions and impetuous decisions make her hard to like (not a prerequisite in fiction, but it would certainly help to see what in the ever-loving-hell Mabel finds so fascinating about her).  Mabel herself is flat, boring, and weirdly self-righteous.  Again, this feels intentional, but it doesn’t make for a wholly engrossing read.

It’s very possible this book just wasn’t right for me as a reader.  I found it unevenly paced and full of characters who were cartoonish at best and so hilariously selfishly motivated it was hardly a surprise when the novel’s mystery twists were revealed.  It veers off into the totally bizarre near the end, but it does make for a good beach read, especially for readers who don’t mind hating every single person on the page.

Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore.  Crown: 2014. Library copy.

My Weekend in Pop Culture

These are the pop culture items I consumed this weekend.

ocThe O.C., Season 2: I’ve been re-watching the series as I pack up our house.  It’s the perfect background noise as I shove things into boxes and try to maintain a sense of order.  The first season still remains one of my favorite seasons of TV ever, but it declines in quality each succeeding year.  It’s interesting and kind of fun to watch, though.  A lot of it makes no sense.

Scandals of Classic Hollywood by Anne Helen
: I’ve been making my way through this excellent book and having a total blast with it.  It’s the perfect blend of the academic with the dishy gossip, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

What pop culture did you consume this weekend?


Book Review: I Was Here by Gayle Forman

Cody is shocked and completely undone when her best friend Meg commits suicide by drinking a bottle of cleaner in a lonely motel room.  She and Meg were so inseparable that it seems literally unbelievable that she would do something like this without Cody having an inkling of a feeling it were possible.  When Cody goes to Meg’s college to pack up her room, she realizes that she and Meg weren’t as close as she thought.

Forman’s latest offering had a good deal of early buzz because Forman is, on the whole, a good writer and has connected with teens the world over.  But upon its release, this one started to get mixed reviews.  Unfortunately this novel doesn’t live up to the hype and actually is a disconcerting let down of a novel.  A troubling portrayal of mental health issues gets swallowed up by an ill-placed romance, and the result is a muddled, potentially damaging mess.

Part of the problem is that Forman frames Meg’s suicide as the book’s central mystery.  While it’s understandable that Cody might have trouble coming to terms with the fact that Meg took her own life, the way the reveal happens (and the fact that there’s a “reveal” at all when it comes to Meg’s death) feels like a bizarre way to talk about mental illness and depression.  It feels cheap to use Meg’s depression as a sort of plot twist, and it only adds to the stigma that surrounds depression in today’s society.

Another issue is that Cody’s burgeoning relationship with Ben, a dude she meets on her journey to figure out what happened to Meg.  The romance ends up taking over a large portion of the narrative, which feels out of place in a novel purporting to be about the process of healing after a trauma.  Also worth noting is that the romance never fully gels on the page, making it feel even more shoehorned in than it would otherwise.  There’s nothing natural here.

Forman has proven before that she’s a talented writer, and there are certainly teens who will pick this one up and enjoy it.  If they’re there for the romance, they might be fairly satiated.  If a reader is looking for a nuanced exploration of grief, loss, and the impacts of suicide and depression, they’re likely to be disappointed (if not deeply unsettled).  There are better books out there.  Disappointing.

I Was Here by Gayle Forman. Viking Juvenile: 2015. Library copy.

Waiting on Wednesday: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

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:

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Expected release date: May 19, 2015

Nemeses! Dragons! Science! Symbolism! All these and more await in this brilliantly subversive, sharply irreverent epic from Noelle Stevenson. Featuring an exclusive epilogue not seen in the web comic, along with bonus conceptual sketches and revised pages throughout, this gorgeous full-color graphic novel is perfect for the legions of fans of the web comic and is sure to win Noelle many new ones.

Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren’t the heroes everyone thinks they are.

But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that Nimona’s powers are as murky and mysterious as her past. And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.

(summary via Goodreads)

I first found Noelle Stevenson’s smart, funny comics on Tumblr.  Then she did the cover art for Fangirl, and I started following her on Twitter, where she writes funny, smart, feminist-y things.  So I’m stoked that her continuing epic is being turned into a graphic novel.  I can’t wait to read the entire thing and enjoy Stevenson’s unique drawings and genuinely funny take on the fantasy epic.

What are you waiting on this week?