mini-review · stuff I read · translation

Käsebier Takes Berlin by Gabriele Tergit, translated by Sophie Duvernoy

38911927._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
In Berlin, 1930, the name Käsebier is on everyone’s lips. A literal combination of the German words for “cheese” and “beer,” it’s an unglamorous name for an unglamorous man—a small-time crooner who performs nightly on a shabby stage for laborers, secretaries, and shopkeepers. Until the press shows up.

In the blink of an eye, this everyman is made a star: a star who can sing songs for a troubled time. Margot Weissmann, the arts patron, hosts champagne breakfasts for Käsebier; Muschler the banker builds a theater in his honor; Willi Frächter, a parvenu writer, makes a mint off Käsebier-themed business ventures and books. All the while, the journalists who catapulted Käsebier to fame watch the monstrous media machine churn in amazement—and are aghast at the demons they have unleashed.

In Käsebier Takes Berlin, the journalist Gabriele Tergit penned a searing satire of the excesses and follies of the Weimar Republic. Chronicling a country on the brink of fascism and a press on the edge of collapse, Tergit’s novel caused a sensation when it was published in 1931. As witty as Kurt Tucholsky and as trenchant as Karl Kraus, Tergit portrays a world too entranced by fireworks to notice its smoldering edges.

Käsebier Takes Berlin jumped out at me when I was looking through the New York Review Books Classics catalog. “Cheese beer” is the literal translation of “Käsebier” – what is that name? This is the first English translation of a satirical novel from 1931 Germany, whose author fled the rise of Nazism in 1933, eventually ending up in London. OK. I’m in.

Käsebier Takes Berlin shows us a “year-in-the-life” of what happens when a mediocre Jewish Everyman (Käsebier) becomes an overnight cabaret sensation (look, it was a slow news day). He becomes a media darling, despite singing lukewarm 1930s dancehall music, and lends his name to everything from shoes to rubber dolls to the construction of a luxury apartment building by a shady speculator. Then it all falls apart. T

This is the driest satirical look at the Berlin intelligentsia and upper class of 1930. Gabriele Tergit spares no one, not even Käsebier. Tergit skewers the capitalist drive to make as much money as possible off the hot shit for the moment – a drive that still exists in ever-increasing amounts of media tie-in rubbish and branding in the 21st century. She also gives part of the narrative to Miss Kohler, also referred to as Dr. Kohler, a woman with a doctorate who is severely under-employed at a middling newspaper and is repeatedly strung along by an old boyfriend. It’s an interesting look at a woman stuck at the crossroads between the modern and the traditional roles for women just as Germany the country is about to start on the long road to atrocity. An interesting book for me to read and contrast with the Germany of Fritz Lang’s M (a favorite movie) and Isherwood’s Berlin Stories.

Käsebier Takes Berlin is out on Tuesday, July 30!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

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mini-review · stuff I read

The Vexations by Caitlin Horrocks

42283234Summary from Goodreads:
A kaleidoscopic debut novel about love, family, genius, and the madness of art, circling the life of eccentric composer Erik Satie and La Belle Époque Paris, from a writer who is “wildly entertaining” (San Francisco Chronicle), “startlingly ingenious” (Boston Globe), and “impressively sharp” (New York Times Book Review).

Erik Satie begins life with every possible advantage. But after the dual blows of his mother’s early death and his father’s breakdown upend his childhood, Erik and his younger siblings — Louise and Conrad — are scattered. Later, as an ambitious young composer, Erik flings himself into the Parisian art scene, aiming for greatness but achieving only notoriety.
As the years, then decades, pass, he alienates those in his circle as often as he inspires them, lashing out at friends and lovers like Claude Debussy and Suzanne Valadon. Only Louise and Conrad are steadfast allies. Together they strive to maintain their faith in their brother’s talent and hold fast the badly frayed threads of family. But in a journey that will take her from Normandy to Paris to Argentina, Louise is rocked by a severe loss that ultimately forces her into a reckoning with how Erik — obsessed with his art and hungry for fame — will never be the brother she’s wished for.
With her buoyant, vivid reimagination of an iconic artist’s eventful life, Caitlin Horrocks has written a captivating and ceaselessly entertaining novel about the tenacious bonds of family and the costs of greatness, both to ourselves and to those we love.

The Vexations is a very intimate novel about the life of Erik Satie and his sister, brother, and two friends who knew him well. The writing is beautiful, particularly in those chapters from Satie’s perspective talking about “touch” or music, and Horrocks described the Montmartre that Satie inhabited so well. The chapters from his sister Louise’s perspective are interesting. These chapters are the only ones told using a first-person narrator; all others, including Satie’s chapters, are told using a close third person perspective. I think I figured out why the author made that choice – Louise outlives every else involved in Satie’s life – but I don’t quite think it was needed. I would also argue that while Satie is the focus of the novel, as a man writing music that needed the world to catch up to him, Louise is as important a character. She brings to life a woman who was a talented pianist, who may have blossomed given the instruction and encouragement that Erik is given (that he rejects), but is instead relegated to the roles of mother, widow, and then branded an unfit mother by the French legal system and a greedy brother-in-law.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

Read My Own Damn Books · stuff I read

Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg

36470806._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
Set in the eighteenth century London underworld, this bawdy, genre-bending novel reimagines the life of thief and jailbreaker Jack Sheppard to tell a profound story about gender, love, and liberation.

Recently jilted and increasingly unhinged, Dr. Voth throws himself into his work, obsessively researching the life of Jack Sheppard, a legendary eighteenth century thief. No one knows Jack’s true story—his confessions have never been found. That is, until Dr. Voth discovers a mysterious stack of papers titled Confessions of the Fox.

Dated 1724, the manuscript tells the story of an orphan named P. Sold into servitude at twelve, P struggles for years with her desire to live as “Jack.” When P falls dizzyingly in love with Bess, a sex worker looking for freedom of her own, P begins to imagine a different life. Bess brings P into the London underworld where scamps and rogues clash with London’s newly established police force, queer subcultures thrive, and ominous threats of an oncoming plague abound. At last, P becomes Jack Sheppard, one of the most notorious—and most wanted—thieves in history.

Back in the present, Dr. Voth works feverishly day and night to authenticate the manuscript. But he’s not the only one who wants Jack’s story—and some people will do whatever it takes to get it. As both Jack and Voth are drawn into corruption and conspiracy, it becomes clear that their fates are intertwined—and only a miracle will save them both.

An imaginative retelling of Brecht’s Threepenny Opera, Confessions of the Fox blends high-spirited adventure, subversive history, and provocative wit to animate forgotten histories and the extraordinary characters hidden within.

Confessions of the Fox snagged my attention in catalogs last year and I started trying to read it as a digital galley. However, the structure of Confessions of the Fox is such that it makes digital reading very hard – there are MANY footnotes – so I waited to pick up a hardcover to try and read it. And then I realized that it required some involved reading time given the nature of how the story is told. So I started this book several times before I finally parked my butt on the couch during 24 in 48 and read the entire thing in one sitting.

This. Book. Is. Wild. 

The book opens with Dr. Voth, ostensibly telling the reader that the manuscript we are about to read was discovered as the university he works for emptied the stacks to make way for fancy administrative offices and that it is a ground-breaking work. The manuscript is purported to be the memoirs of one Jack Sheppard, a legendary outlaw in eighteenth-century London who serves as the inspiration for The Threepenny Opera and Mack the Knife. As “Jack” tells his story, the details of his life twist away from known sources. In this source Jack is a transman and his girlfriend Bess refers to herself as “lascar,” making her a woman of South Asian descent. As the narrative shifts and twists it seems to grow beyond the page…but is it real? Is Jack a narrator we can trust? Or Bess?

In between Jack’s story we get two sets of footnotes: 1) the annotations made by Dr. Voth noting deviations in the text from known facts about Jack Sheppard and explanations of seventeenth-century slang and 2) Dr. Voth begins to narrate the absurd twists his life takes after his discovery of the manuscript. As a transman, Dr. Voth is deeply invested in a manuscript that, if authenticated, would bring a significant contribution to trans and queer literature and history. And it is this emotional connection to the manuscript that opens Dr. Voth to manipulation by less-than-savory sources. It creates a second narrative within a frame around the Jack Sheppard narrative.

Jordy Rosenberg has given us a novel that is at once a purported eighteenth-century memoir and a narrative that morphs into a rallying cry against the commoditization of bodies, of prison abolition, of anti-colonialism, of anti-racism, of trans self-determination. Surrounding this is a framing narrative in footnotes of the professor annotating this tale and his fight against a university increasingly beholden to shady corporate and pharmaceutical interests, veering from Sterne-ean to Vonnegut-like levels of absurdity. Confessions of the Fox is a very complex book but well-worth the read.

I will give a trigger warning for this book. There are several instances where cis characters express an intrusive (and in one instance, gross) interest in a transman’s genitalia. There is also a scene of a surgery that is very appropriate to the historical setting in its details. Given that Rosenberg is a professor of queer and gender theory as well as eighteenth-century literature, I think the subject matter and situations in this book were handled very well. 

Dear FTC: I started reading a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss but wound up having to buy a copy because of the formatting.

Austenesque · mini-review · stuff I read

Austentatious: The Evolving World of Jane Austen Fans by Holly Luetkenhaus and Zoe Weinstein

cfacdfe7-e9a7-45da-a4ee-119630f54791Summary from Goodreads:
The amount of fan-generated content about Jane Austen and her novels has long surpassed the author’s original canon. Adaptations like Clueless, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Jane Austen’s Fight Club, and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries have given Austen fans priceless opportunities to enjoy the classic texts anew, and continue to bring new and younger fans into the fold. Now, through online culture, the amount and type of fan-created works has exponentially multiplied in recent years. Fans write stories, create art, make videos, and craft memes, all in homage to one of the most celebrated authors of all time.

This book explores online fan spaces in search of “Janeites” all over the world to discover what fans are making, how fans are sharing their work, and why it matters that so many women and nonbinary individuals find a haven not only in Jane Austen, but also in Jane Austen fandom. In relatable chapters based on firsthand experience, the authors explore how Austen fandom has and continues to build communities around women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community. Whether Janeites are shrewdly picking up on the latent sexual tension between women in Emma or casting people of color in leading roles, Luetkenhaus and Weinstein argue that Austen fans are particularly adept at marrying fantasy and feminism.

New book about Jane Austen and fan culture? Where and when? *grin* This is very much my jam.

Austentatious is a fun yet academic examination of Austen fan culture, from fanon, online communities, and shipping to book-to-screen adaptations and queer representation. I really appreciated Chapter 2 about the adaptation of Austen’s Emma into the movie Clueless (total Betty!), which probably shows my age. There are good chapters near the end about Austen and LGBTQ+ themes/ships which provided some interesting perspectives about how the canon novels can be interpreted and how they are adapted via shipping. The book is a little short, with only nine chapters, so I would have liked a few more chapters poking into more crevices.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

Readathon · stuff I read

24in48 Readathon July 2019: Wrapping up!

Heyo! 24in48 is over for another six months (womp womp) but it was a great Readathon for me. I didn’t read for 24 hours due to schedule (and sleep, rats) but I did read for just over 18 hours, finished five books, and read 1294 pages. Whee!

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The next 24in48 Readathon is scheduled for January 18-19, 2020! Follow their page for details and signups! Much love to unicorn-hosts Rachel, Kerry, and Kristen and their social media good fairies Sarah and Amanda!

stuff I read

Get ready, get set…24in48 Readathon July 20-21!

It’s July and that means the 24in48 Readathon is underway!

Whee!!!!!!!

My nerdy, bookish corner of the Internet spends the 48 hours of the weekend trying to read for 24 hours collectively, starting at 12am EST on July 20. So basically, starting right now!

I threw together a stack of half-read books that I needed to finish.

Follow the @24in48 Instagram or Twitter and the #24in48 and #24in48readathon hashtags if you want to join in the fun. (To participate in the challenges you’ll need to be registered at 24in48.com.(

Happy readathon!!!

black cloud · cats · personal crisis · prayer · thanks

The second goodbye was the hardest – farewell my Chaucer and welcome Murder Mittens

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img_0187After Dante died last year, Chaucer became an only-kitty. I briefly entertained the idea of adopting another cat or two so he would have a friend…but he seemed to expand to fill up all the spaces in the house that were empty. He was already a champion reading buddy and upped his game by plastering himself down my front whenever I sat down to read. He kept up a vigorous schedule of garnering people food, doing his tricks for treats, and napping.

He napped a lot.

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In April, I came home from work and found Chaucer behind the bed. He was asleep. And  wouldn’t come out when I refilled his food bowl (strangely, he hadn’t eaten anything). He would purr, if I reached behind the bed to pet him, but he wouldn’t come out. It was Good Friday.

Saturday morning, he was still behind the bed. He wouldn’t come out to eat, or eat a treat, or cheese, or bit of tuna fish I put down there with him. When I finally dragged him out and blocked up behind the headboard Chaucer just sat and cried and cried and cried until I let him get back behind the bed. He was still there when I came back from work. His food hadn’t been touched and he hadn’t used the litter box.

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I called the emergency vet in tears and they told me to bring him in immediately. He peed in the carrier in the car – a very foul-smelling urine. On examination, the vet found a significant heart murmur, where Chaucer had never had one before, and a mass in his belly.

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I knew, when I called the vet, that it was unlikely that I would be able to keep my Chaucer any longer. He was clearly in pain and trying to tell me it was time. This was it. The veterinary service at Bright Eyes and Bushy Tails was once again the absolute best I could wish for. They let me sit with Chaucer until I was ready for them to start the infusion, then it only took seconds for my Chaucer to be gone. The vet and his assistant sat with me while I held his little body, and his woobie, and let me tell them about the night I brought Chaucer and Dante home. Where Chaucer got his name, from a secondary character’s horrible cat in Elizabeth Bevarly’s The Wedding. That he had to have abdominal surgery to remove a blockage when he was 18 months old because he’d eaten a thread and many other things (including the spare wire for the cheese slicer – that’s radiopaque, luckily) and then got a wound infection because he wouldn’t take his antibiotics. That he would sit in the bedroom window of our old condo and watch for me to come home and if the window img_1905was open I could hear him meow down at me as I walked from the car. That he was the chattiest cat and would “talk” to you or at you. That he would pat the pantry door and meow when I asked him where the treats lived then do a trick to get his treats. That he thought the treat dispenser was the meanest trick of ever. That he would loudly haunt the kitchen while I cooked. That he thought he was a people and liked to sit at the table during mealtimes. That he ate Golden Grahams like they were going out of style. That he was obsessed with Clean Sheet day. That he had a love affair with my desk lamp. That one of his main objectives was to sneak into the closet and hide in the laundry hamper. That he hid whenever I had handymen into do work in the house while Dante would try and make friends with them, the reverse of what happened with friends. That he made excellent blanket nests. That he was the loudest barfer on earth. That he was an absolute stoner on catnip. That he was the best snuggler. That he was the best cat I could have ever wished for. They were so kind.

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It was very early on Easter Sunday when I paid the bill and drove home to a house that was miserably empty. It was too quiet – not the quiet of “the cat is sleeping” or “the cat is silently getting into trouble.” This was a quiet that was stark and empty and eerily silent. I hated it. Nobody yelled at me to feed him when I opened the door. Nobody talked shit to the birds and squirrels in the backyard. Nobody yowled at the top of his lungs while dragging his woobie around the house (his woobie was a ratty blue puffball on a spring that he liberated from a toy when he was a kitten). Nobody tried to drink out of my coffee mug at breakfast (or water glass or wine glass or beer, etc etc etc).

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c75f7a9c-1694-45d3-bec2-d2587216c9e8And I couldn’t write about it. Every time I opened this draft I would start sobbing and have to stop. It has taken months to get it all written down, to give Chaucer a tribute that he deserves because he really was the best cat. A snuggly weirdo who photographed well in the social media era. I loved how much he made people smile. I have thousands of pictures of my silly goofball. The outpouring of good wishes carried me through the first weeks. And I felt guilty, that grieving Chaucer was almost paralyzing. It hurt more than grieving Dante and that didn’t seem fair. It just…sucked…on a spiritual level, that I only got to have my Chaucer Stinky-pants for fifteen and a half years, that I couldn’t keep him forever.

These are two of my favorite pictures of Chaucer, both printed and framed on the mantel.

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When I came back from vacation at the end of May, I started looking at the kittens and young cats available for adoption in various rescues and shelters. No one really stood out to me (plus it was hard to tell from the sites which cats could be adopted as pairs, since I wanted two cats again). Then I heard from a mutual friend that a former co-worker had a family member with kittens just ready to adopt. So I DM’d Lily, and we texted back and forth a bit, and yes, there were still three kittens in that litter who needed a home. I chose two of the kittens based on the pictures she sent – a fluffy beige tabby and a mottled gray fuzzball without a tail who looked to be a budding tortie. I was originally going to pick them up on Memorial Day, but it turned out they weren’t weaned, yet, so we decided to wait a few more weeks. Another gal who was also adopting two kittens from the litter offered to pick mine up as well in mid-June.

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1b411e95-e7f1-4d5f-95ff-df8e1d5f9d96And so, on June 10 – a day when I miraculously didn’t get scheduled to work at the store – I drove over to her apartment and met my not-quite-seven-weeks-old babies. I indeed had a beige tabby – a boy – and a gorgeous gray-and-cream tortie girl, without a tail so someone has some Manx or something in her. They are both gloriously fluffy, so I get to try my hand with long-haired cats. The boy had (unfortunately) just finished a bath when I got there bc one of the kittens had done an oopsie in the carrier and he got into it. My girl had not (atta girl). So my new boy got to ride home wrapped in a towel and tucked down the front of my hoodie – he shivered for a while, but by the time we pulled into the garage he was purring and making biscuits. The girl napped for a bit then made peeping noises the rest of the way home. They were both a little apprehensive when I let them loose in the basement but after a visit to the litter box and a full belly of kitten chow they both passed out.

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I had been musing on names for a few days, not sure if I had boys or girls or one of each. I went back to a back-up name I had when I adopted Chaucer and Dante, in case one of them had turned out female. One of the first women to write for the English stage – and make a career out of it – was Aphra Behn in the seventeenth century, author of The Rover and Oroonoko (and also probably a spy for Charles II). So my tortie girl, with her tiny torti-tude and pugnacious off-center chin patch, would be Aphra. What name would match her? I thought about other Restoration playwrights – Etheredge, Dryden, Congreve, Farquhar (yikes) – but kept coming back to the most famous playwright of all, a little earlier in the century, William Shakespeare. Strangely, it seemed to fit. So Aphra and Shakespeare came to stay (I had planned to nickname him Bard, since Shakespeare seemed like a mouthful, but that didn’t stick.)

3523cb4e-1916-4968-9df6-7cb4f035d598My house is filled with purring and squeaking again. Aphra and Shakespeare turn three months old today, July 19. I had forgotten how curious and stubborn kittens are. They jail-broke out of the downstairs bathroom about 24 hours after they arrived home, forcing me to find a better solution than the baby gate I borrowed from a neighbor (I bought a 6’x3′ sheet of plexiglass that I could put across the bathroom doorway or move back to barricade the hallway and let them have the run of the basement). I had to put no-chew spray on the electrical cords and no-pee spray in a few corners (Shakespeare had an incident of stress-peeing in inappropriate places after a few too many visitors one day). When they sit still long enough, they are the softest kittens I’ve ever petted; Shakespeare especially feels like you’re petting a fluffy cloud. They purr the loudest, rumbliest purrs for two-pound kittens. Shakespeare is a loud-mouthed goofball who gets hyper-stoned on catnip and likes to comfort-nurse on my shirt when he’s tired. Aphra is an independent little mite with the tiniest meow, freckled toe beans, and her funny little puff-ball bunny butt (she turned out to be a “stumpy” not a “rumpy”) who likes to sit on the headrest behind me and “groom” my hair. They quickly caught onto the routine of human comes home and feeds them, goes up and changes clothes, then comes back down to sit on the couch and read or watch a movie with the foot-rest up (they love lounging on the foot-rest between my knees). They come by for scratchies in between rounds of Kitten Wrestlemania, Zoomies, and naps and have been finding toys (and years-old containers of basil) Chaucer and Dante had hidden under the furniture.

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They are collectively known as the Murder Mittens! Kittens are very spiky – razor-sharp baby claws and sharp, sharp, sharp baby teeth – and at one point I tried to say “you’re such murdery kittens!” but it came out “You are murder mittens!” And it stuck. Apparently, “murder mittens” is a thing – there’s a hashtag on Instagram for cats’ paws – I didn’t invent it but it’s so apt!

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I hadn’t realized how sad I was after Chaucer died (I knew I was sad but this was a new level of sad, bordering a bit on depression). Once the kittens arrived I started feeling lighter and less alone and more relaxed. Even if I traded my snoozy snuggle-bug for two anarchists who are bent on setting the house on fire. There’s a lot of “Aphra, no!” and “Shakespeare, stop that!” but I love it.

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I miss my boys. They were my first pets and solely in my care from the time they were eight weeks old. I turned into an adult with them – I started my job, bought my condo, adopted my boys, and graduated with my Master’s degree all between August and December of 2003. I will always miss my kitty-boys but now I think the jagged edges of that missing feeling are starting to smooth over. In a strange cosmic sense of balance, the Murder Mittens were born as my Chaucer was leaving this world. It feels like fate that they came to me.

Chaucer – mama loves you and misses you like crazy every day. Thank you for being my Chaucer-kitteh for so many years. Be at peace, my very best boy. Dante is waiting for you.

In memoriam, Chaucer Ward, September 1 (?), 2003 – April 20, 2019

mini-review · stuff I read

Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner

46265702._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
From Jennifer Weiner, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Who Do You Love and In Her Shoes, comes a smart, thoughtful, and timely exploration of two sisters’ lives from the 1950s to the present as they struggle to find their places—and be true to themselves—in a rapidly evolving world. Mrs. Everything is an ambitious, richly textured journey through history—and herstory—as these two sisters navigate a changing America over the course of their lives.

Do we change or does the world change us?

Jo and Bethie Kaufman were born into a world full of promise.

Growing up in 1950s Detroit, they live in a perfect “Dick and Jane” house, where their roles in the family are clearly defined. Jo is the tomboy, the bookish rebel with a passion to make the world more fair; Bethie is the pretty, feminine good girl, a would-be star who enjoys the power her beauty confers and dreams of a traditional life.

But the truth ends up looking different from what the girls imagined. Jo and Bethie survive traumas and tragedies. As their lives unfold against the background of free love and Vietnam, Woodstock and women’s lib, Bethie becomes an adventure-loving wild child who dives headlong into the counterculture and is up for anything (except settling down). Meanwhile, Jo becomes a proper young mother in Connecticut, a witness to the changing world instead of a participant. Neither woman inhabits the world she dreams of, nor has a life that feels authentic or brings her joy. Is it too late for the women to finally stake a claim on happily ever after?

In her most ambitious novel yet, Jennifer Weiner tells a story of two sisters who, with their different dreams and different paths, offer answers to the question: How should a woman be in the world?

I liked Mrs. Everything, especially the relationship between Jo and Bethie and how women’s roles have changed (or not changed, see also: #metoo) over the latter half of the 20th century. But it felt very draggy to me, with some parts rendered so beautifully early in the book and then others very slapdash later. She could have used some balance in the narrative pacing.

It’s definitely an ambitious book, based on events in her mother’s life. The author’s note in the back of the Barnes and Noble Book Club edition was very informative. I haven’t read any of Weiner’s previous books so I don’t know how this compares to Good in Bed or In Her Shoes.

Read for BN Book Club. A trigger warning for a brief description of sexual assault and abortion on the page and several depictions of unwanted groping.

Dear FTC: I read a paper galley of this book provided by the publisher to the Book Club leader.