30 April 2011


Cranford is a little town, a quiet village (I've been re-watching Disney's Beauty and the Beast lately) filled with quiet middle-aged ladies.

Although the ladies only appear quiet.  They are in fact very busy, visiting one another, writing letters, worrying over the proper way to address a visiting, recently-widowed Scottish baronet's wife and whether it would be proper for more middle-class ladies to visit her.

Cranford is a series of reminisces from a young lady's visits to Cranford thinly disguised as a novel.  Gaskell gives us a very good picture of the lives of upper-middle class/slightly shabby due to lack of money women in an era when gentlewomen frowned on work of any kind.  It's a household novel, full of domestic details you won't find in an Austen, although still a novel of manners in many ways.  Very sweet and a great introduction to Victorian literature.

29 April 2011

Gratuitous Cat Picture Friday (3)

It's so nice that my babies are buddies:

They even intertwine their tails while asleep.

(Apologies for fuzziness, I had to stealth this one in the dark with my EVO instead of the good camera)

Congrats, Will and Kate!

No, I did not get up at some obscene hour of the morning to watch the wedding in full.  Are you nuts?

That's what the Internet is for, picture and video recap.  The only thing I was really curious about was Kate's dress because she has a good eye for design and a very clean, simple style in her everyday wear; I was a little worried that people would get carried away and froth her up so I was pleased to see the Alexander McQueen gown...beautiful.  The Fug Girls (http://www.gofugyourself.com/) have live-blogs and re-caps for all the wedding finery, particularly the hats, and they do a much better job than I.

So congrats, Will and Kate, may you be very, very happy, although I think we're supposed to call you HRH the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge now.  But I'm older than you, so you're still Will and Kate.  Ha!

(Also, to that daft idiot who is already wondering what Kate will be called when she's queen...that's nasty, dude, Prince Charles is in excellent health and there's no reason why he wouldn't succeed his mother and then William succeed him; Kate's title and style as Queen Consort is a very, very long way down the road)

28 April 2011

Topsy-Turvy/The King's Speech

An extreme amount of hopping up-and-down occured last Saturday - the mailman brought me a package with movie goodness inside!!!

Mike Leigh's Topsy-Turvy was released on Blu-ray last month and I could hardly wait to get my hands on it.  I love Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, particularly The Mikado so I loved the movie when it originally released (although, once again, being in Iowa, I had to wait until it was released on cable to see it).  It's a fun biopic, in a way, since every character in the film was a real person, right down to the chorus of the D'Oyly Carte.  The costumes and sets are amazing, well-worth the Oscars earned, and very detailed.  All the actors do their own singing, something I really like and you can really hear the women pushing against their corsets to breathe.  Bonus points: Kevin McKidd, who many people know as Lucius Vorenus on Rome, plays Mr. Lely who has a great scene where he whines about needing his corset to sing.

And then I glued myself to the TV screen to watch the always-brilliant-and-handsome Colin Firth in his Oscar-winning role as King George VI and The King's Speech.  Love, love, love, love, love.  Everything about this movie is well-done.  The casting, even of parts with minimal screen time like the Archbishop of Canterbury (Sir Derek Jacobi), was thoughtful and note-perfect.  The accents were spot-on (the King's and Winston Churchill's (Timothy Spall) especially).  Helena Bonham-Carter and Geoffrey Rush were great.  I also loved very small details like Firth choosing to be noticeably pigeon-toed (watch when he sits in chairs) because the King had knock-knees as a child.  To wrap up my drool-fest, I do have to say I loved the use of music during the film especially the Beethoven Symphony no. 7 in A major, it conveyed both the gravity and the drama of the first wartime speech perfectly (although, an odd choice for a British King at the start of World War II since Beethoven was a German, maybe I'll just ignore that).  What really makes the movie compelling is the insistence of Logue that Bertie's stutter wasn't solely a mechanical problem, but also a problem of the mind; getting Bertie to admit that he was terribly abused by one of his nannies and that his own family teased him for his stutter did seem to be half the battle.  The funniest scene, though, was the let's-surprise-Mrs. Logue-by-having-HRH the King and Queen-for-tea-and-not-tell-her-ahead-of-time.

26 April 2011

How Shakespeare Changed Everything

Shakespeare is commonplace these days.  Any number of common phrases - "to be or not to be", "a rose by any other name", "now is the winter of our discontent" - are quoted and misquoted frequently.  Modern adaptations of the plays are performed or the plots used as the basis of a movie.  Regardless of whether you think Shakespeare was a real person who wrote the plays himself or you believe he was the front man for any of a number of Elizabethan men, English language and literature changed after Shakespeare's plays hit the boards.

Stephen Marche's new book, How Shakespeare Changed Everything, provides a short history of the Bard's influence on language, thought, sex, politics, and racism, to name only a few realms of influence.  Nazi Germany tried to claim Shakespeare as a Germanic writer (except for the whole Merchant of Venice "Hath not a Jew eyes?" thing), John Wilkes Booth was part of a trio of accomplished Shakespearean actor-brothers known for a famous one-off performance of Julius Ceasar, and Othello broke color lines in the twentieth-century when a director cast the reknown Paul Robeson as the Moor, just to name a few.  Shakespeare was a bawdy, raunchy dude - euphemisms for sex abound.  Book titles overtly (Brave New World) or obliquely (Infinite Jest) reference the plays.

This was a fun and quick read.  The chapters are organized by topic - sex, politics, race, etc - rather than by play so I wouldn't recommend this for those who haven't read or seen the more popular plays (Hamlet, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream); most of the quotes are presented without context so some familiarity with Shakespeare is needed to enjoy this book.  I've read all the plays, seen most of them, so I got oddball references to Titus Andronicus and Measure for Measure.  Those looking for a Shakespeare study aid would do better to look at something like Shakespeare Alive!; Marche's book is for pleasure reading.  I really liked this book - I like the Trivial Pursuit nature of the short chapters, random facts are things I love.  I never knew that about starlings (if you have to ask, then you need to read the book).

How Shakespeare Changed Everything drops on May 10!

*Dear FTC: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

24 April 2011

In the Basement of the Ivory Tower

In the Basement of the Ivory Tower speaks to the murky underbelly of the college system, those students who will mostly likely not go on to be doctors, CEOs, or professors and the adjuncts who teach them.  Professor X is an adjunct professor, teaching evening courses in college English and writing at a small college and local community college.  His students are taking his class because it's required for their course of study; some of them are non-traditional students, some (according to Professor X) are woefully underprepared for college work.  Professor X wonders, are we selling these students a lemon, an expensive college education that they are neither prepared for, can afford, nor need?

This book is hazy with anonymity; we can't compare Professor X's students with other schools' students because he won't tell us for fear of recrimination. I wish that Professor X could have written this book without the anonymity, although I do agree, based on the criticism he received from the initial magazine article, that it is necessary. There seems to be a lot of heads-in-sand about his stance: commenters imply that he is maligning his students by failing them, that he's not actually teaching or helping them adequately, that he doesn't care.  However, if Professor X didn't care about his students, he wouldn't have bothered to write In the Basement of the Ivory Tower. If anyone is in doubt as to the poor learning skills of Professor X's students and his almost paralyzing decision to pass or fail them, just look at any Internet forum and you can see a basic lack of reading and writing skills. In my persona as a moderator of an online bookclub I am swimming in poorly written prose - both original compositions posted in the writing room and posts as part of book discussions. God forbid I should actually tell someone that his or her post is unintelligible and makes no sense (an issue completely divorced from the issue of atrocious grammar and spelling); it is apparently "mean" to criticize. There are some who probably view Professor X as "mean" because he does attempt to hew to the standards of college-level work; he doesn't just pass them because he wants to be "nice".

Standards are at the core of the book, that students who barely function at a level appropriate to high school, or lower, grade-levels are pushed to attend college with no thought as to the actual preparation of the students. These students need remedial course work, but receive no credit for it in their degree paths so, therefore, don't bother nor does the college enforce this, and the connection between their career path and the college writing/literature work is tenuous at best. Adjuncts are not paid for office hours, have no place to meet with students, and often don't have time allotted by the school to give the level of personal instruction that academically disadvantaged students need. Professor X worries, how are students with rudimentary communication skills being served by this drive to send everyone and their neighbors' dog to college? It's a valid worry.

In the Basement of the Ivory Tower raises many issues and we, as a country, should seriously take a look at student debt and college requirements for job placement, at the educational system as a whole from preschool through college. Where I think this book falls down is in a lack of proposed solutions, beyond revamping the American notion of success-through-college-is-the-only-way-to-go, and in the tone of the author. What is Professor X's solution for underprepared students, beyond not forcing them to take college English? He doesn't tell us.  I really was not interested in Professor X's anxiety about his house or his fights with his wife; those chapters detracted from his arguments about the college system. I also felt that the quibbling over grading - do students get the "F" that is deserved under the college standards or do they get bumped up to a "D" or "C" because of improvement/situation - could have done without the tone of smarmy self-assurance implied in the many chapters. There are issues barely touched on - such as the rise of blantant plagiarism and students' seeming indifference to getting caught or the out-of-touch anthologies he is required to use as textbooks - that need more expansion. Faults aside, this book is a "whistleblower"; we need more whistleblowers and fewer heads-in-the-sand.

19 April 2011

The Anti-Romantic Child

Two brilliant scholars (one Wordsworthian, one American literature) have a child - he is precocious, reads and speaks early, shows remarkable musical ability.  But the mother has some doubts, the child is not as affectionate as she would expect, he is remarkably set in his routines....a specialist diagnoses a range of sensory-processing delays and hyperlexia...and so shatters the Romantic idyll of the perfect childhood.  This is Priscilla Gilman's story, sprinkled with Wordsworth's poems about childhood and life.

This is surprisingly engrossing - I wanted to read The Anti-Romantic Child because of the author's background in Wordsworthian poetry but never thought I would get so emotionally invested in Gilman's story (note: I don't have children). When she gets hotly irritated by the psychologist at the special needs elementary school (where her elder son is enrolled) because the psychologist complains that the child is "difficult", I got irritated, too; I couldn't help it, by that point in the book I was invested in the little boy's outcome and the psychologist was attempting to write-off a brilliant but differently-wired child when she ought to be his champion. I teared up in places because the joy Gilman expresses at the small milestones her son makes is palpable.

Gilman is an excellent writer, opening her childhood history to the reader, disclosing how much joy she has found reading Wordsworth, how his notions of Romantic children informed her view of children and child-rearing. This is not a book about why early-intervention therapy is necessary for a special-needs child or why it was impossible for Gilman to send her special-needs child to NY Public School (between the lines, you can tell that there is lingering disappointment that the mother and father had to fight so hard for the child with little or no initial help from the system). This is book written by a mother who has protected the parts of her child that give her joy - his musicality, precocity with reading and math, his thirst for knowledge - and used them to understand him and help him understand the world he lives in.

*Dear FTC: I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

17 April 2011

The Postmistress

I received an ARC of The Postmistress by Sarah Blake a few years back as part of the First Look group at BNBC.  I couldn't get into it - I kept reading the first chapter because I couldn't figure out how all the characters fit together.  I recently decided to read/finish that sucker, by hook or by crook, because I made a little pile of all the books that I needed to read-and-get-rid-of because they were cluttering up my office (and I felt bad that I had an ARC that I never finished).

I think what I must say about The Postmistress is that the book and I are not friends.  I didn't find any of the central female characters - Iris, Emma, and Frankie - compelling, like I did Juliet and Elizabeth of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and the male characters were lacking in direction.  The timeline seemed very disjointed.  I didn't like the ending; it was unsatisfying and made me grumpy. 

What I did like about the book came from the long, central section about Frankie's trip through Europe as Germany sent the last of the refueee trains out of its possessions.  The heartbreaking stories she recorded, people who most probably didn't survive the war, children separated from their parents.  Blake highlighted the extreme difficulty Jewish refugees had in escaping Nazi persecution due to immigration laws of other countries, particularly that of the US.  That central section of the book came alive for me unlike the beginning and ending.

16 April 2011

The Gospel of Anarchy

Justin Taylor popped up on my horizon with the publication of The Word Made Flesh, co-edited/authored with Eva Talmadge, which I thought was interesting in concept.  I was recently pitched Taylor's first novel The Gospel of Anarchy by HarperPerennial marketing manager-extraordinaire Erica Barmash.  I really didn't want to pass on the opportunity; the book sounded interesting.

The Gospel of Anarchy has a unique structure, rooted in Taylor's experience with the short story but mixed with poetry, sermon, and stream-of-consciousness.  The fine narrative thread running through the changing form of the book concerns David, a dissatisfied college dropout, Katy, a hippie/anarchic acolyte, and the absent Parker, a hobo/prophet and the object of Katy's reverence.  David has grown disillusioned with his life - he broke up with his girlfriend, dropped out of college, and now supplements his dead-end, cube-farm job with binges of Internet porn.  Wandering the streets of Gainesville one evening, he runs into an old friend from high school (Thomas), also a college-dropout and now a dumpster-diver living in an anarchists' collective, the Fishgut.  Having nothing better to do, David follows Thomas (and fellow-dumpster-diver Liz) back to the Fishgut where he meets Katy; through Katy, David learns of Parker's cryptic "anarchristianity" and he just...stays....

The Fishgut is an interesting collection of humanity - hippies, anarchists, off-the-grid dropouts, college students, and so on.  Some are there for the free crashpad, some for the drugs, some for the sex (indiscriminate), and some for the pleasure of "sticking it to the man".  When Katy has a vision - revealing the location of Parker's prophetic notebook - the collective starts to change from an anti-corporate, anti-establishment stance to one with pseudo-religious underpinnings.  Not a cult, per se, Katy doesn't brainwash people into believing in the second coming of Parker, but Katy's fervor forces the Fishgut residents to make a choice - follow her/Parker (David) or leave (Thomas and Liz).

The changing form and narrator of The Gospel of Anarchy can get confusing; every narrator (even the "omniscient" one) tells the story "slant" (which may be intentional).  What kept me reading was the odd notion of "ecstasy" - religious ecstasy, sexual ecstasy, an endorphin high, a drug high - and how this state of mind borders on insanity, how characters battled against or gave into this loss of mental control.  If you give into that loss of control, how long do you last until you fail to tell fiction from reality?   

*Dear FTC, I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

12 April 2011

Jane Eyre (on screen...at last)

*Quick note: I'm going to assume that the plot of Jane Eyre is widely known so beware because I'm going to talk about spoilers.  You're forewarned.

I was seriously ready to drive 100 miles to see the new feature-length adaptation of Jane Eyre.  Not joking.  For over a month, the only movie theatre near me listed as showing Jane Eyre was in Des Moines.  But all of a sudden...Focus Features and Marcus Theatres updated their websites to show more theatres in Iowa showing the movie starting April 8 including one in town.  Finally, but I would have liked to have the information farther in advance of the opening than April 6.

I loved it.  Jane Eyre in Cary Fukunaga's hands is a beautiful period film.  The composition of each shot is sublime regardless of long or close, interior or exterior, and the natural beauty of Derbyshire is used to great effect.  Occasionally the editing feels a little long, like the camera can't take it's lens off a beautiful scene.  Although the takes are fabulous, perhaps a few seconds less on the exterior location shots, tighter editing, would allow for more interaction among the characters without taking away from the setting.  On the other hand, the film does nod toward the Gothic elements of the novel through the editing without getting pulled into the supernatural.  Good example: Jane telling Adele a spooky story then scares herself - and the audience - on the way to Millcote when a bird is startled out of a bush; the audience gets a good jump.

My friend (Jessica, thanks for coming to see the film with me!) noticed a an interesting interplay on the themes of imprisonment and freedom in the composition of the shots.  Many shots include bars or items that look like cages (the lead holding the window panes, the windows in Adele's dollhouse, Jane's corset laces as she frantically tries to get out of her wedding dress); these contrast with shots of birds or characters looking out of windows.  Jane frequently notes that she is a freeborn creature, contrasting with Bertha's imprisonment on the upper story of Thornfield.

The novel adaptation is quite good.  Moira Buffini keeps the important events in the novel but reorders the story to give a fresh aspect.  We start by watching Jane flee Thornfield and fortuitously wind up on the Rivers' front step.  Jane's story is told in flashback, without voiceovers (thank you), keeping the adaptation unique while hewing to the novel.  Buffini does compress the novel so I did miss a few things because I didn't get a good sense of time passing.  Bronte gives fantastic verbal interplay to Jane and Rochester in the novel but the movie focused less on this and more on visuals; the composition and editing of the movie coveys much of the same feeling but you don't get as much intellectual depth to Jane and Rochester's courtship.  Now, I heard some people muttering on the way out of the theatre that it was "boring"...did you expect an action movie?  Did you never read the book?  The book is good because a) the plot to get Jane and Rochester together, then apart, then together and b) Jane's inner monologue because she thinks a lot.  Aside from a few moments of high drama, the book is quiet (I do have to thank Buffini for reordering the movie because we lose the very long section with the Rivers family and get back to Rochester much quicker).

The casting for Jane Eyre is excellent.  Mia Wasikowska plays Jane with gravity and she also handles the period costume well (she does look plain but fascinating in her gaze, which the point because Jane isn't ugly, she's just not drop dead gorgeous).  Judi Dench plays a wonderful Mrs. Fairfax, the sensible widowed housekeeper (who also gets the good asides).  And my new favorite actor to watch (easy on the eyes and very talented) Michael Fassbender is a great Rochester; he plays Rochester as a frustrated man - doomed by his fate thus making him gruff, stand-offish, and changeable - and I think this allows him to show more emotion (when he introduces Bertha to Jane after the aborted wedding Fassbender chooses to be tender with Bertha, something that is handled differently than other interpretations I've seen).  Additionally, I think Fassbender is the right age for Rochester, rather than too young; I've never thought of Rochester being close to fifty (if you assume he married Bertha when he was young and stupid, i.e. before twenty-five, he'd be no more than forty when he meets Jane) so the casting of Fassbender (in his mid-thirties) with Wasikowska (only about twenty during shooting) makes sense.

Now that I finally got a chance to see Jane Eyre I don't know what I'm going to look forward to seeing in theatres now.  Anonymous (a thriller about the true identity of Shakespeare) opens in September with a great cast, the new Three Musketeers (which looks very over-the-top, I really hope so) comes out in November, the next Sherlock Holmes opens in December, the X-Men reboot is this summer along with the final Harry Potter movie, I think A Dangerous Method is slated to release this year (it's in post but I couldn't find a solid release date), and there is a new Wuthering Heights opening in the UK in September but I don't know if it has a US distributor.

Now, previews (there may have been another but we got there in the middle of a preview since we arrived a little later than planned):
1.  The Greatest Movie Ever Sold: documentary by the guy from Super Size Me; seems too much of a gimmick to me but could be interesting
2.  Beginners:  looks very interesting, a people story about a man whose father comes out to him after his mother dies; great cast (Ewan McGregor, Melanie Laurent, and Christopher Plummer)
3.  Hoodwinked 2: I am not even kidding; WHY did this trailer show before Jane Eyre? Completely different audiences; the problem of simply being a terrible movie aside, it didn't even look funny

11 April 2011

Passion, pianos, and Alice in Wonderland

Netflix and I have been good friends this week.

First, the mail brought me the DVD for Passion, Steven Sondheim's musical based on the movie Passione d'Amore (which is turn is based on the novel Fosca).  Plot: Italian soldier Giorgio is posted to a backwater town, leaving his beautiful (married) lover Clara in fancy Milan; he is kind to the ill-and-not-pretty-at-all sister (Fosca) of his commander (the commander later relates she was married to a con man who ruined both her health and fortune); she develops a wicked crush/obsession for Georgio; he rejects Fosca/visits Clara in Milan and Fosca almost dies; he is nice to Fosca again (at the behest of the doctor) and she gets better, the obsession gets worse; Fosca follows him around, causing gossip and more problems; the commander finds out, thinks Giorgio is leading Fosca on and challenges him to a duel; Giorgio realizes he doesn't love Clara anymore, he loves Fosca; Giorgio and Fosca have one night together, then he shoots her brother in the duel, and he winds up in the looney bin; Fosca dies.  It's very Italian, no?  With a beautiful Sondheim score.  I've had the cast recording with the amazing Donna Murphy as Fosca for some time but never saw the musical until now.  Love it.

I watched the Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland (yes, finally).  It was OK.  I did like some of the characterizations and the idea that Alice thinks that her first trip to Wonderland was a dream since she's now a "grown-up" and childhood adventures are very far behind.  I thought Anne Hathaway's "vaporous" White Queen was hilarious, a good contrast to Helena Bonham Carter's crazy Red Queen.  Voice casting was excellent (Stephen Fry as the Cheshire Cat = very appropriate).  But the movie was too "Tim Burton" if you know what I mean.  Nice, but I felt like I'd seen the scenic elements before.

And then I watched Note by Note - a documentary about the making of a nine-foot, Steinway concert grand piano.  I loved it.  I watched it twice (it's on Netflix Instant right now, I don't remember what combination of watching/rating/liking got it to come up as a recommended title, but I'm really happy about it).  Steinway pianos are one of the few things in this world still made in almost the exact same way as they were 150 years ago - by hand.  The craftspeople who make them are amazing, skilled and dedicated.  It takes an entire year to build a concert grand piano and even the tiniest deviation can have a serious effect on how the piano sounds and plays.  Hats off to them.  The documentary also interviewed a number of classical and jazz pianists (Harry Connick, Jr., Helene Grimaud, Hank Jones, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, and Lang Lang, to name a few and they all play a little bit, too, so it's like a bonus piano concert) about how pianos can affect performance, something I'd never seriously thought about; when I was playing I just got whatever piano I got at a performance venue, I do remember complaining occasionally about how "stiff" a piano was but non-superstars can't be choosers (I did get to play ONCE on a nine-foot concert grand...it was AMAZING).  There is only one thing this documentary needed: better explanation about the steps in construction (like, what was all the clamping for in the middle of the process after the sound board had been put in?).  However, I've been fantasizing about how much I want a piano* since I watched this so any and all people who like pianos/piano playing/piano music should watch this.

*and I do want a piano; it's one thing I haven't yet acquired that I really miss.  I hated playing scales/practicing but I loved to just sit down and PLAY.  There's a reason I own a lot of Chopin sheet music even though I can't hardly play half of it.

10 April 2011

On Chesil Beach

This is probably one of the shortest reviews I've ever done for a book I finished.

My friend Kat had an old ARC of On Chesil Beach she had read and didn't want any more.  I had read middling reviews but liked Ian McEwan's style so I said I'd take it.  This is a short book.  Not much happens.  An early 1960s pair of British newlyweds have some serious teenage-level misunderstandings on their wedding night.  They say some nasty things to one another after attempting (unsuccessfully) to have sex.  They Have An Argument (capitals intended).  Leading up to the Argument, we get flashbacks as each thinks back over growing up, meeting each other, and courting. 

The writing is nice and I like McEwan's way of putting words together (I loved Atonement, kept me up on Christmas night to finish).  But, I don't get the story in On Chesil Beach (maybe I don't get the characters).  Is there a story?

06 April 2011


85A is a book I might not have read.  The synopsis - angry, abused 1980s Chicago gay teenage main character fantasizes about moving to London - is interesting but not something I usually gravitate toward.  The author, Kyle Thomas Smith, pitched the book to me via email and I thought I would take him up on the offer to send me a copy.  I had intended to get to 85A around November...and then I packed everything (trust me, moving has a lot of fall-out when you pack up half your books and move them to your parents' basement then get pissed at yourself because you can't find the book you need and only labelled the boxes by genre; I'm just now catching back up on review obligations from pre-Christmas/January).  Apologies to Kyle.

The main character of 85A is Seamus, a kid of Irish parentage who idolizes all things British (especially Johnny Rotten) and has been abused by his bigoted father and neighbors since he was in grade school.  Any time something good has happened to Seamus - swimming, leads in school plays, books he liked to read, friends who value him - it was swiftly taken away because Seamus doesn't conform to normal, Catholic, Irish, conservative stereotypes.  Seamus relates his history as he waits for the 85A bus (always late, but he can't complain because the driver has kicked him off for complaining before) on a fateful day, the day he finally decides he can't take it anymore.

Seamus is an angry, depressed kid.  I mean angry (if you don't like f-bombs, too bad - he's a pissed off teenager and if he didn't swear every third word I would be surprised).  He doesn't do well in school because very little of it interests him.  He has rejected his parents' (read: his father's) values - middle-class conservative American snobbery - because they have rejected his.  He would like to go to art school, acting school, but he is forced to attend a private Catholic school.  His only friend, an intelligent mixed-race girl, sees the sweet side in Seamus and gives him books to read, books that appeal to the rebel side of his nature (Henry Miller, Sylvia Plath), books that are rejected by his upbringing (Seamus's father dismisses the girl with any number of racial slurs).  Seamus really has no group to belong to; rejected by his family, he is regarded as a poseur by the artist/punk community he gravitates toward.  Kids this angry and rejected are the ones likely to bring weapons to school and use them; in Seamus's case, he takes that rage and fantasizes about running away to London (I kept thinking that, for all the punk bravado Seamus wears like a shield, he is actually a gentle soul because he really never looks for confrontation; he fights only when physically threatened).

I think people with a background in GLBTQ literature would appreciate 85A.  It is hard to read at times - Seamus needs people to believe in him as he is and the lack of that by adult characters is apalling - but it is an accurate depiction of the inner monologue from a teen who is just beginning to understand his sexuality and identity.  The abuse he suffers because he is doesn't adhere to heterosexual American male stereotypes...no teenager should be treated this way, real or fictional, 1980s or 2010s.  I really liked the book, with all the digressions and side-trips Seamus's mind takes over the course of the day, but there is one aspect that struck me as unnessecary.  The (somewhat-implied) physical relationship with Dr. Strykeroth, Seamus's psychologist, struck me as too much fantasy.  It could have been a creation of Seamus's imagination - since he is the narrator - but it was really distracting in the reality of Seamus's life.

I'm quite glad Kyle sent me his book.  I wish him luck and look forward to seeing what he does in the future.

*Dear FTC, I received a review copy of this book from the author.

01 April 2011

April 2011 at Literature by Women

We'll be starting Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell on Monday, April 4!

This is a Gaskell I've never read and I'm excited to watch the recent mini-series (with Judi Dench!) since I put off watching it until I had read the book.