I announced to my family via phone last night: I’m having another baby! He or she is due in late March. I’m 16 weeks along and we’re both healthy. Cogan doesn’t really understand what’s happening, but if I ask him, “What’s in my belly?” he says, “A baby!” And he looks really cute in a “Most Awesome Big Brother” shirt.
I know it’s going to be a challenge to work full time while parenting two kids. I hope to continue to post good reviews and write about my life in other ways and other places as well. I’ll do my best; that’s all I can ever do.
Tomorrow I’ll write in a little more detail about the changes I expect in the next year, and how I think it will be different from being a first-time mom.
Dramarama by E. Lockhart
This YA novel is about a friendship between two teens who are obsessed with musical theater. Sadye and Demi feel out of place in their boring Ohio town–Demi more than Sadye because he is black and gay–so they escape to a seven-week summer drama camp called Wildwood. Some chapters are pure dialog, transcripts of audio recordings that Sadye and Demi make to remember their time at Wildwood.
I was particularly impressed by a conversation between Demi and Sadye in which he tries to explain the limits of colorblindness, and why it’s not enough to allow close friendship between people of different races. That issue wasn’t necessarily resolved between them, but I was thrilled just to see that idea in print in a YA book.
One main lesson is about overcoming petty jealousy. Sadye feels greatly outclassed by her friends at Wildwood, some of whom have already appeared on Broadway, but by the end is able to see them as flawed humans with their own struggles. Sadye has conflicts with the directors of her shows, and really raises some good questions about the way the philosophy and structure of the theater facilitate the authoritarian tendencies of directors. I concluded that Sadye would do better as a director herself than an actor.
The ending is not traditionally happy, and involves a sacrifice on Sadye’s part. I appreciated the complexity of this ending and didn’t need it to be neat and tidy. I don’t think this book is quite as good as The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, another YA novel by Lockhart I’ve read, but it’s still a fun read.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence
I picked this up because it’s considered a classic and because it’s one of the most censored books of all time. I can certainly see why: it is very explicit. It’s pure erotica, with musings on class and industrialization in 1920’s England interspersed. The Romantic- and Marxist-influenced ideas were persuasive, and the natural scenes were sometimes very lovely. I found some of the sex scenes genuinely hot, and some other parts I thought were just silly and strange. I wonder if this book is where the ridiculous practice of naming genitalia came from. Lawrence’s language is usually very pretty, but sometimes he falls victim to (or originates?) the eternal problem of purple prose: sexual feelings are really hard to describe, and often require words that are overly clinical, or awkward metaphors. For example, he says a lot that the characters feel their attraction to each other in their bowels, which seemed an odd place for it to me.
I didn’t expect the book to be progressive, so I wasn’t really shocked at the depiction of female sexuality as essentially passive. However, I do think it’s possible that a lot of misconceptions and myths about sex can be traced back to this book. The entire plot really glorifies the simultaneous orgasm as the pinnacle of sexual experience, which is unrealistic for most people. At least two male characters express frustration that their partners take too long to finish, which reflects a misunderstanding of women’s anatomy, but is presented in the text as a legitimate complaint. Mellars’s wife is depicted as a vicious harridan. Overall, the book is so obviously anti-feminist that it’s not really even worth railing against. I enjoyed parts of it, but considered reading it more about education and familiarizing myself with Lawrence than about enjoyment.
The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two by Catherynne M. Valente
This children’s fantasy book continues the adventures of September in Fairyland. This time she goes to the moon. Soft and gentle tone, sweetly empathetic narrator, The action is both nonsensical and logical in its own strange way. Valente makes it easy to suspend your disbelief and get swept up in the story and the big existential questions it raises, often explicitly. The musings of Valente’s characters feel wise with the wisdom of both children and adults. This book is concerned with time, fate, and memory. September learns about the yeti’s paw that fairies used to manipulate time into meaninglessness. September is wondering about growing up and what that means, about what her future can hold, (which, to a girl born in the 1930’s, is a question that’s both closed and newly open). In her most bad-ass move yet, September meets her fate and smashes it. Many of the images seem strangely and wonderfully 2D, like the paper circus, and the photographs into which September and her friends enter. I wonder what Pixar or another brilliant animation studio would do with those moments. There’s a cliffhanger ending, which makes it seem as if this adventure in fairyland will carry into the next book, rather than returning September to our world, and for the first time, her earthly absence will have consequences. There are two more books in the series, one focusing on September’s friend Saturday, and the other on her last adventure in Fairyland.
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
This psychological thriller is about an alcoholic woman who involves herself in a murder investigation. Rachel can’t remember what she saw the night the victim went missing, and the constant question is whether she herself is the murderer. She’s kind of a sad-sack case, but also pretty sympathetic. The title comes from Rachel’s daily train commutes, during which she sees something from the window that starts her down this rabbit hole investigation. Rachel dominates the story, but occasionally alternates narration with the victim and her ex-husband’s wife.
The story was engrossing and exciting, with a good twist and a satisfying happy ending. It’s been compared to Gone Girl, It’s not quite as disturbing or far-reaching in its implications as Gone Girl, but it has the same can’t-put-it-down quality. Like Gone Girl, it will be adapted into a movie
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
I picked this book up because I liked Aziz Ansari in Parks and Recreation, and enjoy his stand-up. This is different from most books by comedians, though. It’s not just a bunch of humorous essays and personal stories. Actual research went into this. Ansari (with the help of NYU sociologist Eric Klingenberg) conducted focus groups on four continents to put this book together.
The result is a combination of sociology and self-help. The book is as fun to read as a nonfiction book can be, with jokes from Ansari and a fascinating topic. A generous number of pages focus on text message etiquette and the psychological games we play with our phones. One of the main concerns of the book is the paradox of excessive choice, the way that having too many options paralyzes us from making decisions and commitments. I tended to agree with Ansari’s advice and evaluations of the current dating scene.
My main takeaway from the book was that I’m really, really, REALLY glad I got off the dating market a long time ago, and dear God I hope I never have to re-enter it. And Aziz Ansari is pretty amusing. The audiobook has him doing funny voices and unscripted asides, so it may be preferable to the book, although it has graphs and charts and funny pictures. But you’ll have to listen to Ansari calling you lazy for picking the audiobook.
The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory, and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School by Alexandra Robbins
As the title makes clear, this book offers a hopeful message to anyone who struggles socially in middle and high school. Quirk theory says that the things that make people stand out as weirdos in school are exactly the things that make people successful as adults. And that’s not just because of the tech industry. It’s because following a passion, knowing yourself, and having the courage to be different are rewarded in adult life even more than they’re punished in school. I thought the most valuable part of the book was the explanations for how and why middle-and high-schoolers form groups and cohere the way they do. Developmentally, they’re wired for conformity and enforcing narrow social rules. The parts of the book that felt more like sociological research were broadly relevant and important. It helped me to understand and empathize with my younger self and the people I went to school with. The recommendations for students, parent, and teachers at the end of the book seemed right on.
There are in depth profiles of several students from different types of cliques from different parts of the country, following them through a year of their high school career. The scenes from these teenagers’ lives felt like excerpts from YA novels sometimes. Each of the teens was given a challenge to grow and expand their social circle. I thought some of this info got repetitive and might have been cut. It was valuable to get to know a few particular students and see how the popularity game affected them all, but fewer pages would have been needed to accomplish this goal.
My one biggest complaint about the book is that part of the book felt like a bait-and-switch when it was revealed that one of the people profiled was actually a teacher, not a student. The point is that adults experience bullying and social exclusion as well, and that when this happens among adults in a school, there is a trickle-down effect on the students. That’s a point worth making, certainly, but I don’t feel the surprise technique was necessary, and it felt dishonest. Some of the stories of teacher favoritism and bullying felt a bit exaggerated to me, but I guess I can’t say that never happens.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
This is one of the most fun and most feminist YA books I’ve read in a while. It’s about an unequal relationship between a senior boy and a sophomore girl in a ritzy New England boarding school. The protagonist, Frankie, the sophomore girl, discovers the secret society her boyfriend is leading and bends it to her own ends, issuing shadow commands to the organization to pull off impressive, subversive pranks. Throughout the book, she chafes at the fact that everyone seems to underestimate her because she’s small, female, and good-looking. In the beginning, the book seems like a traditional romance, a Cinderella story in which the geeky girl is elevated in social status by a popular boy, but Frankie isn’t content to play such a passive role. She’s intrigued by the confidence her boyfriend and his friends have, which comes from living easy lives of privilege, and wants that for herself even more than she wants the guy. Her pranks are witty and smart, and all the more impressive because she masterminds them in a completely hands-off way. I was really impressed by the book, which incorporated college-level intellectual ideas like the Panopticon and noblesse oblige. It was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Printz Award, and I think it merits these honors.
The Ranger’s Apprentice Book 1: The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan
This is the first of a YA fantasy series. It’s about Will, an orphaned ward of the baron who is apprenticed to a ranger, which is kind of like a spy. His wardmate Horace, a warrior-in-training, provides a subplot about bullying. The climax shows Will and his master taking down ape-like assassin monsters. The entire kingdom will soon be engulfed in a war when the evil Morgarath attacks.
The book did not capture my interest. It seemed bland and cliched. Nothing was even slightly surprising about it. It seemed more appropriate for the juvenile stacks than YA. It was only 249 pages, but seemed too long. I’m passing on the later books in the series.