stuff I read

The White Man’s Guide to White Male Writers of the Western Canon by Dana Schwartz, illustrated by Jason Adam Katzenstein

43884181._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
Narrated by the voice of a once-in-a-generation Twitter account @GuyInYourMFA: a handbook for the wannabe literary elite and those who laugh at them—all illustrated by a New Yorker cartoonist.

Who better than that unjustifiably overconfident guy in your MFA to mansplain the most important (aka white male) writers of western literature? You can’t miss him: riding the L, writing furiously in his Moleskine notebook, or defying the wind by hand-rolling a cigarette outside a Williamsburg coffeeshop. He’s read Infinite Jest 9 1/2 times—have you?

From Shakespeare’s greatest mystery (how could a working-class man without access to an MFA program be so prolific?) to the true meaning of Kafkaesque (you know you’ve made it when you have an adjective named for you) to an appropriately minimalist dissertation on Raymond Carver that segues effortlessly into a devastating critique of a New Yorker rejection letter (”serious believability issues”), this guide is at once profound and practical.

Use a Venn diagram to test your knowledge of which Jonathan—Franzen, Lethem, or Safran Foer—hates Twitter and lives in Brooklyn. (Trick question: all 3!) Practice slyly responding to an invitation to discuss Bartleby the Scrivener with “I would prefer not to.” Sneer at chick-lit and drink Mojitos like Hemingway (not like middle-aged divorcées!). And as did Nabokov (originator of the emoticon), find the Pale Fire within.

So instead of politely nodding next time you encounter said person at a housewarming party in Brooklyn, you can hand them this book and tell them to roll up their sleeves and cigarettes, and get to writing the next great American novel.

Much parody, very satire. (Y’all, if you don’t understand what the @guyinmyMFA twitter account is about you won’t understand this book.)

If you’re looking for a funny, dry, keeps-nothing-precious snark-guide for a booklover, this is it. The illustrations are a hoot, too.

The White Man’s Guide to White Male Writers of the Western Canon is out today, November 5.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss during 24in48 in July.

mini-review · stuff I read

Bibliostyle: How We Live at Home with Books by Nina Freudenberger and Sadie Stein, photographs by Shade Degges

44641671Summary from Goodreads:
A visual delight and an inspiration for every bibliophile with a growing home library, this dream-and-drool design book features some of the most jaw-dropping book collections of homeowners around the world.

Interior designer Nina Freudenberger, New Yorker writer Sadie Stein, and Architectural Digest photographer Shade Degges give readers a peek at the private libraries and bookshelves of passionate readers all over the world, including Larry McMurtry, Silvia Whitman of Shakespeare and Co., Gay and Nan Talese, and Emma Straub. Throughout, gorgeous photographs of rooms with rare collections, floor-to-ceiling shelves, and stacks upon stacks of books inspire readers to live better with their own collections.

Bibliostyle is a gorgeously assembled and edited book of drool-worthy pictures of personal libraries of artists, writers, and editors (the only photographs I did not like were the ones of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s multiple, overflowing cups/ashtrays of cigarette butts, yeccchhh, gag-inducing). Aspirational book collecting at its best since each of these collections are working collections: books that are read and shared rather than shelved solely as objects or decoration. Shout-out to all those books stacked everywhere other than shelves. Your owners are my people.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Girl Who Reads on the Métro by Christine Féret-Fleury

43263671Summary from Goodreads:
In the vein of Amelie and The Little Paris Bookshop, a modern fairytale about a French woman whose life is turned upside down when she meets a reclusive bookseller and his young daughter.

Juliette leads a perfectly ordinary life in Paris, working a slow office job, dating a string of not-quite-right men, and fighting off melancholy. The only bright spots in her day are her metro rides across the city and the stories she dreams up about the strangers reading books across from her: the old lady, the math student, the amateur ornithologist, the woman in love, the girl who always tears up at page 247.

One morning, avoiding the office for as long as she can, Juliette finds herself on a new block, in front of a rusty gate wedged open with a book. Unable to resist, Juliette walks through, into the bizarre and enchanting lives of Soliman and his young daughter, Zaide. Before she realizes entirely what is happening, Juliette agrees to become a passeur, Soliman’s name for the booksellers he hires to take stacks of used books out of his store and into the world, using their imagination and intuition to match books with readers. Suddenly, Juliette’s daydreaming becomes her reality, and when Soliman asks her to move in to their store to take care of Zaide while he goes away, she has to decide if she is ready to throw herself headfirst into this new life.

Big-hearted, funny, and gloriously zany, The Girl Who Reads on the Metro is a delayed coming-of-age story about a young woman who dares to change her life, and a celebration of the power of books to unite us all.

I was reading along, enjoying the plotless-finding-yourself-through-books storyline of The Girl Who Reads on the Métro AND THEN there was an Epilogue….with a POINT OF VIEW CHANGE. For some reason, totally unearned and unnecessary, the POV switched from a close third to a first person and UGH. I hates it Precious. Three stars.

(Also, this is translated from the French, but I can’t figure out the translator is so I guess it’s the author. The translation is fine.)

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

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.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas

42129087Summary from Goodreads:
Stories provide portals into other worlds, both real and imagined. The promise of escape draws people from all backgrounds to speculative fiction, but when people of color seek passageways into the fantastic, the doors are often barred. This problem lies not only with children’s publishing, but also with the television and film executives tasked with adapting these stories into a visual world. When characters of color do appear, they are often marginalized or subjected to violence, reinforcing for audiences that not all lives matter.

The Dark Fantastic is an engaging and provocative exploration of race in popular youth and young adult speculative fiction. Grounded in her experiences as YA novelist, fanfiction writer, and scholar of education, Thomas considers four black girl protagonists from some of the most popular stories of the early 21st century: Bonnie Bennett from the CW’s The Vampire Diaries, Rue from Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, Gwen from the BBC’s Merlin, and Angelina Johnson from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. Analyzing their narratives and audience reactions to them reveals how these characters mirror the violence against black and brown people in our own world.

In response, Thomas uncovers and builds upon a tradition of fantasy and radical imagination in Black feminism and Afrofuturism to reveal new possibilities. Through fanfiction and other modes of counter-storytelling, young people of color have reinvisioned fantastic worlds that reflect their own experiences, their own lives. As Thomas powerfully asserts, “we dark girls deserve more, because we are more.”

The Dark Fantastic is a very thought-provoking examination of race in media and young adult speculative fiction through the lens of the “Dark Fantastic” (spectacle, hesitation, violence, haunting, and emancipation). Thomas uses four key Black characters – Rue from The Hunger Games, Gwen from BBC’s Merlin, Bonnie from CW’s The Vampire Diaries, and Angelina Johnson from Harry Potter – to explore this cycle and how fan-fiction and counter-storytelling are changing these characters in the fandom. This monograph sits between popular lit-crit and academic theory so be ready for a more formal argument.

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

mini-review · stuff I read

Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative by Jane Alison

41735103Summary from Goodreads:
Novelist and writing teacher Jane Alison illuminates the many shapes other than the usual wavelike “narrative arc” that can move fiction forward. The stories she loves most follow other organic patterns found in nature―spirals, meanders, and explosions, among others. Alison’s manifesto for new modes of narrative will appeal to serious readers and writers alike.

As Jane Alison writes in the introduction to her insightful and appealing book about the craft of writing: “For centuries there’s been one path through fiction we’re most likely to travel―one we’re actually told to follow―and that’s the dramatic arc: a situation arises, grows tense, reaches a peak, subsides. . . . But: something that swells and tautens until climax, then collapses? Bit masculo-sexual, no? So many other patterns run through nature, tracing other deep motions in life. Why not draw on them, too?”

W. G. Sebald’s The Emigrants was the first novel to show Alison how forward momentum can be created by way of pattern, rather than the traditional arc―or, in nature, wave. Other writers of nonlinear prose considered in her “museum of specimens” include Nicholson Baker, Anne Carson, Marguerite Duras, Jamaica Kincaid, Clarice Lispector, Gabriel García Márquez, Susan Minot, David Mitchell, Caryl Phillips, and Mary Robison.

Meander, Spiral, Explode is a singular and brilliant elucidation of literary strategies that also brings high spirits and wit to its original conclusions. It is a liberating manifesto that says, Let’s leave the outdated modes behind and, in thinking of new modes, bring feeling back to experimentation. It will appeal to serious readers and writers alike.

Meander, Spiral, Explode is a thoughtful, unique literature studies book about different types of narrative patterns (waves, cells, fractals, meanders, spirals, explosions, etc) rather than the standard arc or linear plot. This was a really fun way to challenge how we look at these non-linear plots although a number of the examples she cites were pieces I had not read. Alison also had an emphasis on shorter works (short stories, novellas, short novels) with the longest book cited (Cloud Atlas) being used only once as an example of tsunami.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

mini-review · stuff I read

Murder by the Book: The Crime That Shocked Dickens’s London by Claire Harman

40909430Summary from Goodreads:
From the acclaimed biographer–the fascinating, little-known story of a Victorian-era murder that rocked literary London, leading Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, and Queen Victoria herself to wonder: Can a novel kill?

In May 1840, Lord William Russell, well known in London’s highest social circles, was found with his throat cut. The brutal murder had the whole city talking. The police suspected Russell’s valet, Courvoisier, but the evidence was weak. The missing clue, it turned out, lay in the unlikeliest place: what Courvoisier had been reading. In the years just before the murder, new printing methods had made books cheap and abundant, the novel form was on the rise, and suddenly everyone was reading. The best-selling titles were the most sensational true-crime stories. Even Dickens and Thackeray, both at the beginning of their careers, fell under the spell of these tales–Dickens publicly admiring them, Thackeray rejecting them. One such phenomenon was William Harrison Ainsworth’s Jack Sheppard, the story of an unrepentant criminal who escaped the gallows time and again. When Lord William’s murderer finally confessed his guilt, he would cite this novel in his defense. Murder By the Book combines this thrilling true-crime story with an illuminating account of the rise of the novel form and the battle for its early soul among the most famous writers of the time. It is superbly researched, vividly written, and captivating from first to last.

I enjoyed Claire Harman’s biography of Charlotte Brontë so I was tickled to see Murder by the Book come up in the catalogs. It is a delightful mashup of true crime and my favorite genre, books about books. Harman gets at the class worries of upper class early-Victorian London with the grisly murder of a harmless old man (in the ways of British aristocracy, Lord William Russell was pretty innocuous) by his valet (GASP). In among the description of the crime and investigation is a discussion of the unbelievably popular Newgate novels romanticizing criminals’ exploits, particularly that of Jack Sheppard, which has many echoes today in the fraught discussion of the effect of violent and/or radicalized media on consumers. Harman perhaps should have left off the “I shall try to suss out what really happened” epilogue since it’s pretty thin and doesn’t add much to the book.

Murder by the Book is out today in the US.

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

stuff I read

The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction by Meghan Cox Gurdon

39893600Summary from Goodreads:
A Wall Street Journal writer’s conversation-changing look at how reading aloud makes adults and children smarter, happier, healthier, more successful and more closely attached, even as technology pulls in the other direction.

A miraculous alchemy occurs when one person reads to another, transforming the simple stuff of a book, a voice, and a bit of time into complex and powerful fuel for the heart, brain, and imagination. Grounded in the latest neuroscience and behavioral research, and drawing widely from literature, The Enchanted Hour explains the dazzling cognitive and social-emotional benefits that await children, whatever their class, nationality or family background. But it’s not just about bedtime stories for little kids: Reading aloud consoles, uplifts and invigorates at every age, deepening the intellectual lives and emotional well-being of teenagers and adults, too.

Meghan Cox Gurdon argues that this ancient practice is a fast-working antidote to the fractured attention spans, atomized families and unfulfilling ephemera of the tech era, helping to replenish what our devices are leaching away. For everyone, reading aloud engages the mind in complex narratives; for children, it’s an irreplaceable gift that builds vocabulary, fosters imagination, and kindles a lifelong appreciation of language, stories and pictures.

Bringing together the latest scientific research, practical tips, and reading recommendations, The Enchanted Hour will both charm and galvanize, inspiring readers to share this invaluable, life-altering tradition with the people they love most.

The Enchanted Hour is a very accessible book that makes the case for reading aloud to children (mostly children, but a few later chapters do talk about reading to adults) as both a way to give children a boost in school and to provide “together” time for a family. It is much less The Sky Is Falling!/hand-wringy than other recent books about the tech vs paper book divide. Gurdon brings together a lot of research and in person interviews (and some cute family anecdotes). Some of the recommendations do seem like they apply mainly to families with two caregivers and stable incomes. She also briefly discusses reading aloud to and among adults.

The Enchanted Hour is out tomorrow wherever books are sold.

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