Monday, April 16, 2012

Bedside Reading

My last book review was for The Fault in our Stars, and yet I feel like I've been reading a tonne since then, but can't remember anything.  It doesn't help that Academic Book Club is starting to go buck.  For our next meeting, we're reading: Judy Blume's Forever, an Erica Jong selection from the New York Times OR the entirety of Fear of Flying, a contemporary YA about teen sexuality, and they just threw in this literary erotica thing by Tamara Faith Berger (former sex columnist for Vice Magazine, back when you picked up a copy of Vice on your way to buy Geek Boutique phat pants - those who know, know!) called Maidenhead.  UMMMMM...REALLY?!?  I was like, "can you guys hop off my jock, because I would really love some non-book club related reading on my roster."  It took me forever just to catch up with the last reading (first time I'd ever attended a meeting without finishing the book!  I was deeply ashamed, actually, because I'm a total brown nose nerd).   Anyway, this is what I've been thumbing through of late:

This was Academic Book Club's last pick.  This is a loose continuation of Boyden's Governor General's Award-nominated novel, Three Day Road, which I read for work book club (review here).  This book is told in alternating chapters narrated by Will, an alcoholic, former-bush pilot uncle, lying in a coma in a Moosonee hospital, and his niece, Annie, a hunter and trapper who gets seduced by the life of modelling in New York City on the search for her sister, Suzanne.  The book jacket talks about "history, the secret that binds the two together" and all sorts of other, intriguing things, but the actual reality of the novel is that it's a bit of a plod.  The story is soap operaic and clumsy, the chapters narrated by Annie implausible (she's instantly taken up in the modelling world! She starts being seduced by the big city's drugs and glamour!) and amateurish.  While the character of Will is quite endearing and has a charming voice and a sad back story, I just couldn't get into this book.  It seemed to self-consciously an attempt to be "literary" and the menace of small town life in Northern Ontario veered too much into cariacture.  Actually, if I was to outline my problems with this book as a whole, it's that it too often devolved into cariacture and well-trod stereotypes.

So.  This book is kind of exciting because I was charged by Academic Book Club in my unofficial capacity as knower-of-all-things-YA (I would expand that to include "all things young and pop culture") to drum up a contemporary take on teen sexuality as a companion to Blume's Forever, which is a kind of after-school-special take on a girl pressured to have sex for the first time with the boyfriend she loves, only to find out after they do the deed that high school love isn't forever.  So I took to Twitter and asked E. Lockhart (author of the Ruby Oliver series and a personal hero of mine) and SHE RESPONDED!  DIRECT ACCESS TO ONE OF MY HERO AUTHORS!  The internet is a wonderful thing.  Anyway, she suggested Mlynowski's book, which is about a sixteen year old girl, April, whose parents got divorced after an infidelity.  She's living with her dad and his new wife, but when her dad decides to move (her mom and little brother moved to France with her mom's new beau), upset at the thought of leaving behind her life in Connecticut (and her boyfriend, Noel), she tricks her dad into letting her stay in her friend Vi's basement apartment.  Her dad thinks that Vi's mom is around when in actuality, Vi's mom is on tour.  What happens is a story told in the form of the 10 things that happened, and we follow April through her junior year as she lives on her own, deals with managing money and responsibility, and loses her virginity to her boyfriend.  This was an entertaining enough yarn, but pretty forgettable.  It wasn't DEEP YA, the way John Green is.  It wasn't gripping YA, the way fantasy stuff like Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Graceling are, and it wasn't super-squee teen love YA, the way Sarah Dessen is.  But, it did yield this line, which I thought was pretty sage advice:

"I guessed you had to forgive when you could, move on when you couldn’t, and love your family and friends for who they were instead of punishing them for who they weren’t." 

^^^ Right there.  Words to live by.  I need to do more of that in my life, fo' sho.

I had a brief dalliance with R. Crumb's illustrated Book of Genesis, but because Crumb does SUCH a phenomenal job of staying faithful to the source material (with language lifted from the Book of Genesis direct)...it's kind of borez0rz.  Yeah, crazy shiz happens in the Book of Genesis, but it's also hella boring with much begatting of so and so and more begatting and so and so living 800 years and begatting blah blah blah.  I feel like Bible stories are way more scandalous when they're retold and paraphrased.  This book does give Crumb the opportunity to revel in his (obvious) love for drawing round, bulbous people with tonnes of hair and semi-grotesque features.  That's kind of his thing.  

In other pop culture news, the internet has exploded recently with hype surrounding Lena Dunham's new, Judd Apatow-backed series, Girls, on HBO.  The talk around this has been kind of crazy, really.  It's like the whole Noah Baumbach-led crowd in NYC has taken over every intelligentsia media outlet and everyone is weighing in.  When you think about it, the Noah Baumbach-led crowd is actually a very, very small subset of society (same with the people who actually watched Dunham's feature-length debut, Tiny Furniture) - infinitesimally small, really.  I watched the first episode, which is available in its entirety on Youtube, and I dunno...it's aight.  She's been likened to Louis C.K., but I find her a lot less funny and the show has way less heart.  Louis C.K. is way more self-aware and class-conscious than Dunham's character/fictional proxy is.  Louis C.K. seems to have way more important things to say about stuff that matters - parenting, being a schlub, being depressed, race, class, the military, than Dunham's crew of disaffected, entitled, privileged mid-twenties crew.  It's basically people who are super-elite (daughters of artists, professors, etc.) with liberal arts degrees that aren't getting them anywhere, doing internships, having gross early 20s tattooed sex with losers, and then thinking about their lives too much without enough hilariousness happening (like, with NO hilariousness happening).  And characters you can't root for.  Not a winning combo, IMO.  

It keeps getting compared to Sex and the City, which I believe the media has turned more into a cultural phenomena than it actually was for anyone who wasn't a woman living in New York City at the time.  I watched Sex and the City as a semi-engaging soap opera that didn't really super-duper hold my attention.  The media would have you believe that it was THE defining show for a generation of women.  If it is, then that's super, extremely, really, really, really sad.  I can't even handle it.  

Thank goodness we have Jennifer Lawrence in this world.  Seriously, this girl is the bomb.  I'm obsessed with her.  From an interview she gave recently in Hello Magazine: 

"You know what made me fall in love with Katniss?  It was that, for once, this is a woman in a movie who is focused on something other than who her boyfriend is.  She's forced into an arena to fight for survival - she's thrown into a way and becomes a political figure without even realizing it - and that is far more interesting than her romantic life.  Look.  I loved working with both Josh and Liam.  But as far as Katniss is concerned, I think that with all she has going on, the very bottom of her priorities list is the question of who her next boyfriend is going to be."  

Then there was the series of charming talk-show interviews she did in the run-up to the Hunger Games, where her loveable, self-deprecating, adorable self really shone through and made me love her more.  This bit about feeling like an idiot flying first class, is but one example why:


Talking about an intense Harry Potter-related conversation?!  Quit it!  She's a doll.  Love that girl to bits.

I dunno...I feel like I'm either too old and conservative and too young and immature to be into Girls.  I like Mindy Kaling and the Hunger Games and Louis C.K. and my new favorite show, Downton Abbey.  Which I read as "DownTOWN Abbey" for the longest time and then had a conversation with my colleague about it (before I started watching) in the fall where I kept calling it "DownTOWN Abbey" and she corrected me in a polite way by saying it properly like, half a dozen times and I still didn't clue in.  LOL!  Anyway, this show is a very pleasant soap opera.  I'm a little conflicted because I obviously have problems with the British gentry and the class system and the show has a way of making it seem like the quiet nobility of the staff is the awesomest thing ever or at least, humanizing and normalizing the inequities of the economic social strata.  Let me be clear here: the British fixation with breeding and class is a horrible, horrible thing.  But the show is a delightful diversion.  It makes me laugh because they'll show "scenes from next week's episode" and it'll be someone sitting on a gorgeous settee with a knitted brow saying something like, "there are rumours that you are NOT a virtuous woman!" and me and the Dotytron are sitting there, mouths agape, going, "OH NO YOU DI'N'T!"  The anachronisms are part of what makes it so hilarious.  

Sigh.  Downton and Game of Thrones are making me so happy right now.  Anything that's miles away from the headspace of sad-sack entitled, lily-white a-holes in NYC, please!

Fin.


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