I hate HGTV.

Having grown up the fat, frumpy, awkward girl from a dysfunctional home, it has essentially been my life’s goal to be a cliché Basic White Girl. I jest, but sprung from an unstable foundation, I have genuinely always aspired to be an unremarkable suburbanite. At first, I aimed to be the working mom with an ideal career for a family. When life… shifted those plans, my new ideal became the stay-at-home mom and wife, who returns to work as a teacher or librarian, when her children reach school age. I want to spend my thirties and forties sitting in school drop-off lines, chaperoning field trips, having family game nights, hosting fantastic slumber parties, and embarking on family road trips, all without pretense.

While I’m well on my way to this hard-won life, there are a few trends that will forever expose me for the convert I ultimately am. I do love me some printed leggings, Converse shoes, Friends reruns, avocado toast, and romance novels; however I consider Starbucks and iPhones to be for shmucks, bestsellers virtually unreadable, reality television completely unwatchable, social media an utter waste of time, and wine reminiscent of Mass. Most of all, what keeps me on the outside of all Basic White Girl social circles, is my absolute hatred for HGTV.

I’ll enter my disclaimer here. I realize that a love of HGTV is, for most, another medium of the same time wasters and fantasy fuel I myself enjoy. I carry no actual judgement for these people. If you adore HGTV so much that you’ll find my intense judgement of the channel itself upsetting, I wouldn’t recommend further reading.

Aside from a handful of shows about families with over a dozen children, I’ve never been a fan of reality TV – a fact that will forever contribute to my inability to converse with my family at holiday celebrations. It’s not an elitist viewpoint, by any means. I watch plenty of trash television. I just prefer even slightly better acting and production values. While I wouldn’t cite that as a main reason for my HGTV loathing, it is a contributing factor. The disasters are just so telegraphed, the drama so rehearsed, and even a cursory Google search on the experiences of those who’ve actually been on the show will reveal that the “makeovers” are falsified in many ways. This is an issue with all reality TV, though. It’s not unique to HGTV. However…

HGTV largely disparages normalcy.

Does your patio lack acrylic hanging retro bubble chairs? Do you have family photos on your mantle, as opposed to an awkwardly large nautical statement piece? Have you yet to set up a Caffeinated Corner in your living room? Does your home actually have rooms? Well, that’s because you’re normal.

HGTV is fantasy fuel, but these things are fantasies for a reason. Living in spaces as formal, as loud, as stuffed to the brim with furniture would be overwhelming for most people. A couple of statement rooms and pieces, like a green kitchen, a deep blue velvet reading chair, or a plant corner, are enough of a “pop” for the average human, without lowering resale value. Of course, no one wants to watch a show where an average looking home is transformed into a slightly less average home with the addition of a single colorful accent wall, a patterned rug, or some new light fixtures. Unless you’re Pee Wee Herman, though, that’s likely going to be enough for your senses. I just don’t have the suspension of disbelief to look at the after photos of an HGTV room without a headache coming on at the very idea of spending every day there.

On the same topic, a common criticism of HGTV is the careers and corresponding budgets of their chosen contestants. Why does no one have a real job? Why is the budget always $900k?!? Is living in the state with the third lowest cost of living blinding me to real finances? No, actually. I just checked and it’s not. The average cost of a home in the United States is $354,649. The average in my state is $181,574. Jake and I paid $210,000 for a flip from 1980 with 2,300 square feet, counting the converted garage. It sits on 1.13 acres and has no HOA, because we’re not communists. Were we contestants with our budget on House Hunters, we’d be looking for garage apartments in Flint, Michigan.

Everyone’s house looks the same.

Somehow, while simultaneously looking down on average home décor, HGTV also manages to define the concept. When I was a kid, my mother refused to paint any room in the house any color other than white, insisting that it “makes the room smaller.” When I asked how that was possible, she conceded that while the room would still be the same size, colored walls would create the appearance of a smaller space. In hindsight, I understand her reasoning. It was the 90s, after all, and the average person knew very little about decorating and color theory.

In our modern world, this is no longer the case, as anyone who’s ever shopped for curtains or throw pillows can see from the targeted ads directing them to numerous interior design articles Yet, somehow, everyone’s living room is still painted a ridiculous shade of white called “gilded linen,” accented with “minimalist” furniture and light fixtures of wicker, bamboo, and rattan. The entire house is fitted with light colored wood, subway tile, shiplap, or marble, depending on the year it was decorated. The “eye-catching” features comprise a couple of plants, a gold-trimmed mirror, a neutral patterned rug, a wall of crosses and/or a sign declaring this .13 acre dwelling to be a “Farmhouse“. Chip and Joanna Gaines seem like lovely people, really, but my stars have they leached all the color from the world.

While the above accurately describes the varying degrees of Farmhouse Chic in the quintessential suburban/rural home, the trendy urban dwelling is positively bursting with retro 70’s colors and mod style art and furniture. Bonus points are awarded based on the number of thrifted, antique, or locally commissioned finds. Emerald green velvets, tropical patterned wallpaper à la my parents’ prom backdrop, yellow gold light fixtures, and so much wicker positively overwhelms the senses in these homes. One can’t decide if they should look at the vaguely pornographic statuary, the funky red velvet sofa, or the geometrically patterned accent wall.

None of these individual trends are bad things. A white room with light-colored wood can feel airy and light. A thrifted retro chair and brightly colored shelf or desk can draw the eye to a nice reading corner or home office space. The problem arises when normal folks in normal homes attempt to perfectly copy the spaces they see on HGTV shows, forgetting that humans will actually be occupying these showrooms. Perhaps in some cases, this look is truly what these individuals love, and it’s just not to my taste. I know people who detest color and others who abhor what they consider the mundane. If that’s the case, more power to them! I have seen so many variations of both of these extremes, though, from people who’ve visited Waco or the art museum one too many times, that I’d wager in many cases, it has more to do with getting the “right” look than the right look for them, whatever that might be… and I blame HGTV.

The choices are often impractical.

A researcher at heart and once by trade, I have actually taken quite a bit of care to avoid biased searches for this post, keeping my inquiries as general as possible, such as “interior design trends HGTV.” Still, I’ve found numerous examples of recommendations that are just completely and utterly pointless and/or impractical. The pointless ranges from a wall of clocks, to a fake mantel, to mounted decorative wooden doors, to words on the wall, my foremost detested popular décor since the first time I read the words “live, laugh, love.”

While I can ascribe what I see as pointless to a matter of personal taste, I simply cannot forgive the impractical, such as a chalkboard wall anywhere but a children’s space. Who is going to take the time to clear those shelves and counters to etch out cutesy diner drawings and phrases? How quickly is it going to get smudged? How thoroughly is it going to have to be cleaned to avoid that 1980s second grade classroom look? Who is going to dust all those knickknacks on that open shelf? What books are in those decorative stacks? Is that giant fig real? If so, what are the care instructions? If not, does it look fake up close? Why is the fireplace in the middle of the room, taking up so much space? Is it functional? If so, how does the room not fill with smoke when there are no doors? If not, why isn’t this space being occupied by something more useful or, at the very least, less structurally permanent?

Jake and I moved to our almost rural suburb of Cherokee, on the outskirts of the county, five and a half years ago. Do you know how many brick houses were painted white in 2017? Zero, because we live in a state known for it’s wind and red dirt.

What in the actual Hell, y’all? How do people not realize that these homes are going to be pink in five years? No amount of power washing is going to fix that and you can’t unpaint brick.

Why, oh why, would anyone want marble countertops? They’re more costly. They stain and are prone to etching if exposed to acid. They’re not especially heat resistant. They need to be sealed annually. There are arguably better options, but according to my research, right behind painted brick, marble is the trend of 2022, along with subway tiles. Just as with the chevron printed walls of 2010 and the grey on grey of 2015, these fads will also fade, only this time, it’ll be far more expensive to remodel.

Trendiness is expensive.

As you can see, the issues I have with HGTV all fall under the umbrella of their constant promotion of trendiness. I got a few of my examples for this post from an article titled Interior Designers Forecast 2022 Design Trends. It opens with a paragraph on the environmental impact of fleeting interior design choices and the importance of developing a long lasting personal style, before going on to push in vogue furniture, “more marble,” and even tiny homes. Other HGTV articles recommend contemporary furnishings, brightly colored chandeliers, and gold-touched wallpaper. Unless these things specifically appeal to you, they are going to get old fast, as they become just as dated as the Tuscan style décor of the early 2000s. They aren’t going to be cheap to replace, either.

When Jake and I bought our home, open floorplans were all the rage and had been for quite some time. While this is still a prominent layout in new construction, in a post-Covid world, people often find themselves working from home alongside their spouse and children. In time, open floorplans might become less popular… and that’s okay with me. Jake and I love the spacious feel of our great room, just as we love our granite countertops. We’ve no desire to erect walls or install marble to keep up with the times.

If you love your loud dining room wallpaper and furniture as much as I love the papasan chair in my red reading space full of plants, everyone else can go kick rocks. If you’re prying off your shiplap to put up subway tile, because you’ve heard that shiplap is on it’s way out, you need to turn off the TV. While it can be fun to play around with throw pillows, floor lamps, and wall art, as HGTV does encourage, the larger furniture purchases and makeovers really should be built around genuine personal preference. While I’ve seen numerous homeowners pushed to make pricey, fleeting, or impractical decisions, I have never seen personal taste come before modern style on any HGTV show… and as much I detest it, I’ve watched a lot of HGTV these last few years, which brings me to my final point.

HGTV gives me wartime flashbacks.

While all of the above reasons for my HGTV hatred are true, I’ll admit that I do possess a certain level of bias that has thrown that general distaste into flat-out loathing. Folks, I confess that I cannot watch HGTV without having flashbacks to Covid-19 infertility appointments. That chipper over voice plays, those preppy Urban White People costumes flash across the screen, someone says the words “open concept”… and suddenly I’m sitting alone in a waiting room, next to a chair with an ‘X’ taped on it, wearing a medical mask, Googling adoption horror stories to take my mind off the news.

There’s something about HGTV that is just so totally innocuous, that it has apparently been endorsed by the American Medical Association for it’s calming effect on anxious, primarily female, patients… because I rarely see it playing in any gender neutral office, such as the dentist. I get it. There’s simply nothing truly objectionable about the programming, in a broader sense. What could possibly be less threatening than home décor? Most certainly, in a year when every news story was about the number of deaths in various cities, it was the obvious choice. I suppose it worked in my favor, after all, that this experience didn’t ruin something I truly enjoy, like reruns of Friends or Bewitched… because even before it gave me flashbacks to one of the most difficult times in my life, I hated HGTV.

I Read 26 Classics, So You Don’t Have To: Part 4

My new year’s resolution for 2020 was to read a minimum of 52 books, at least half of which I could reference in casual conversation without making people uncomfortable… so, not rereads of poorly written romance novels… sorry Kristen Ashley. Since I’ve never actually read most of the classics I was assigned in high school and, as a teen librarian, my main customers were still being forced to do so, I figured I’d make all 26 classics. I finished them just after my girls were born, with a six month delay due to the headaches caused by infertility medications… and I quite enjoyed myself. In fact, I’ve continued reading classics, though not in such abundance. Those included, I still only violently hated one and generally disliked a second one, as you can see in my review of books 1-7 and 8-13. I’ll also link books 14-19 as I successfully completed not only my goal to read 26 classics, but to review them. After two and a half years, I present my final installment in this series, books 20-26.

20. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury ⭐⭐

I read Something Wicked This Way Comes right around Halloween, as it features a carnival that’s come to the hometown of two young boys, Will and Jim, on October 23rd. Excited by the arrival of such an attraction, the boys quickly realize this is not just any carnival; but one peopled by sinister beings, who operate a mystical carousel, which possesses the ability to age people forward and backward.

Having discovered the truth about the carnival, Will, Jim, and Will’s father, Mr. Halloway, embark on the adventure of their lives, attempting to save themselves and eventually the townspeople from Mr. Dark, or The Illustrated Man. Mr. Dark, the leader of the carnival, is a powerful wizard who comes around every generation to prey on the community with the help of his minions. In a somewhat hokey conclusion, the trio manages to defeat the festival fiends through cheer and laughter and all is well.

Something Wicked This Way Comes was likely the perfect coming of age story for a young teenage boy in the early 1960s. A woman in her thirties in 2022, however, I had some trouble relating to the innocently rambunctious and brave spirits of Will and Jim. That’s not necessarily a fault on the part of Bradbury. It is wonderful to read an empathetic protagonist, regardless of gender, such as Harry Potter or Katniss Everdeen, to remind us that, on some level, we’re all experiencing the same thing. However, the unique realities of growing up male versus female, which Bradbury attempts to portray, are equally valuable perspectives for young readers. The trouble with Something Wicked This Way Comes is in its failure to live up to my standards for a classic novel.

Upon Googling what makes a classic a classic over the years, I’ve found all sorts of pompous, trite, and self-righteous definitions, none of which ever resonated with me. Only after having read nearly 30 of them over the course of a year and a half did I finally decide on one of my own. While there’s something to be said for quality of writing, at it’s most basic level, a classic is a story whose themes transcend time and societal norms. While few can relate to the lifestyle of the Regency period depicted in Pride and Prejudice, we can all all empathize with the feeling of having misjudged someone, to our detriment or theirs. As much as I disliked The Lord of the Flies, I could acknowledge the validity of some of its references to human nature. Something Wicked This Way Comes, however, serves as more of a snapshot in time. I’m not sure how apparent it would be, had I not spent years working directly with its target audience, but it is one that I feel this story fails to accurately represent.

Will and Jim depict a level of youthful innocence that was quite common in the media of the time, but which I’m not sure ever really existed. While this might be a fun story for a child of eight or nine, it’s quite the sanguine portrait of an age most people remember as being quite difficult. Even Mr. Halloway’s longing for his youth fails to consider its trials. While his character does have twenty years on me, at fifty-four, Charles Holloway spends the entirety of this story looking at childhood through rose-colored glasses, fantasizing about taking a few trips around the magical carousel in reverse. In the end, it’s not an understanding or remembrance of the trials of adolescence that even deter him, but an acceptance of the fact that his peers would resent his sudden vitality. As a woman nearing 35, I must say, were I given the ability to be physically 24, while remaining financially, professionally, and emotionally 34, my peers could go kick rocks.

Something Wicked This Way Comes wasn’t a bad read. It was a delightfully spooky children’s adventure, perfect for the Halloween season. I’d share it with my son, when he’s eight to ten, though likely not much later. Even having worked with preteens/young teens and nearing something of a milestone birthday, I found its themes and characters particularly unrelatable. I award two stars, because I can’t say it truly warrants the title of “classic.”

21. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte ⭐⭐⭐⭐

When I was 22, I found myself in an elevator with a couple of classmates discussing which Bronte sister they preferred. The moment I heard the airy words “I’m more of an Emily than a Charlotte,” I vowed to never read a work by either of the Brontes, for fear it would make me as insufferable as these two, who’d repeatedly presented themselves as pretentious snobs in class. It was a petty declaration, sure, but it was also one I stood by for more than ten years and that took dedication. I was, therefore, admittedly hesitant to read Jane Eyre, even though I’d truly enjoyed Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. Now more than ever, I find this to be the greatest deterrent for most readers, when it comes to classic literature. People are terrible at selling their favorites, almost incapable of doing so without condescension and self-importance. Instead of discussing the titles, they emphasize what it means to have read them. Instead of focusing on the storylines and themes, they get stuck on imagery and perceived hidden meaning. Essentially, they ruin the fun. While I wouldn’t exactly call Jane Eyre “fun,” I can honestly say that its title character was one of my favorites in classic literature.

Jane Eyre tells the tale of orphaned Jane, who lives with her cruel and abusive aunt and cousins, until she’s sent away to an arguably harsher boarding school. When her difficult tenure as a student ends, Jane spends the next two years as a teacher, ultimately finding a position as a governess, under the employee of Mr. Edward Rochester at Thornfield Hall. Here, she cares for Adèle, who is eventually revealed as the abandoned daughter of a former French mistress, though Edward does not believe himself to be her father. I won’t ruin the convoluted tale as Jane attempts to stay true to herself while falling for Mr. Rochester, but it was complex and original, particularly for the time. In fact, Jane Eyre serves as the origin point for the cliché “person hiding in the attic/walls” trope we now see so often in thrillers and horror. Who knew?

… probably pretentious English majors, to be fair.

At nearly 600 pages or 19 hours, Jane Eyre is tedious at times. Yet, out of 26 classic novels, I felt only a few female protagonists were developed enough to earn the title of “heroine.” Written at a time when women were primarily Madonnas or whores ::cough:: Anna Karenina ::cough::, Jane was a refreshingly complex lead, as she struggled to find a balance between her own strong-willed personality and what was considered appropriate and respectful for the time. Jane struck me as the possible inspiration for Alcott’s Little Women, attempting to stand up for herself, speak the truth, and also tow the line of propriety. She was independent, intelligent, hardworking, and didn’t expect handouts or a fairytale when women in literature were hopeless romantics, at best. Jane loved Edward for his character, not his wealth, and proved it in more ways than one. For a year and a half, I read stories of damsels, femme fatales, harlots, and just plain old background music for the conversations of Very Important Men. Jane of Jane Eyre ranks with Wilhelmina Harker of Dracula and Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice. They’re the real MVP’s.

22. A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The first year Jake and I were together, I was shocked to discover that his favorite movie of all time was A Muppet’s Christmas Carol. This was an oil man who wore a cowboy hat without irony or falsehood. His duplex consisted of a broken couch, a plywood “coffee table” he and his buddies had cobbled together during his college years, a glass end table, a recliner, and a bed. A deer head, a mirror with an etching of some deer, and a framed photo of a deer comprised his “decor.” That’s it, y’all. He had no table or chairs, just an ancient microwave and coffee pot, in which he used paper towels as filters. Hmm… perhaps there was some merit to his affection for Ebenezer Scrooge.

… and his favorite movie of all time starred Kermit the frog.

It feels superfluous to recount Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, but I’ll proceed. Ebenezer Scrooge stars as a bad-tempered miser who hates Christmas, on a bitter cold London Christmas Eve. Scrooge goes to bed content in his tight-fisted ways, only to wake to the first of three spirits, the Ghost of Christmas Past, who shows him where he’s gone wrong. Next comes the Ghost of Christmas Present, sharing what Scrooge is missing in life as a curmudgeon and the troubles he could ease. Finally, he’s visited by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, who reveals Scrooge’s own funeral with not a single mourner. On Christmas morning, Ebenezer Scrooge awakes, determined to change his ways and immediately sets about doing so.

A Christmas Carol was published in 1843, yet feels as though it’s been told, in some fashion or another, since the beginning of time. It is, perhaps, one of the most relatable classics ever written, since there’s not a soul on earth without regrets, a desire to change in the present, or hope for a better future. While different forms of art have taken liberties with Dickens’s original story, no rendition quite holds up to the original. Considering there have been nearly 200 years to attempt such a feat, that’s quite impressive. In fact, this makes me want to read more Dickens, despite the general modern distaste of his writing from Americans who were forced to read him in high school. Short and simple, a marvelous Christmastime read, I give A Christmas Carol four stars.

23. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood ⭐⭐⭐

Since there seems to be no official consensus on what makes a classic a classic, I chose to include one modern classic, The Handmaid’s Tale. Having read this book in 2020, before the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, it seemed controversial, but not overly so. Still, I was hesitant to choose a politically divisive title, when as a general rule, I tend to avoid politics on this blog.

The Handmaid’s Tale is told entirely through the perspective of a handmaid denied her own name and known only as Offred (Of Fred) in the dystopia of Gilead, the totalitarian society that was once The United States. Amidst a rampant fertility crisis, handmaids have been taken by the wealthy elite and forced to bear their children, through a disturbing monthly “ceremony” of rape. Through Offred’s eyes, we see her life before Gilead, when she had a husband and daughter, neither of whom she knows the whereabouts. Offred longs to escape, as she thinks her friend Moira has done, but doesn’t dare, instead forming an emotional bond with her Commander out of desperation and lack of choice. Offred soon realizes that Moira didn’t exactly flee to the life she’d hoped and her options are even more limited. Forced to conceive, she begins an affair with actual feeling and is not sure if this will lead her to escape or ruin.

Despite current tensions claiming otherwise, The Handmaid’s Tale, simply put, is dystopian fiction. As with Brave New World, 1984, and Alas, Babylon, it was built on modern themes and trepidations of where the world is headed, but unless read with a hyperbolic fear of the current state of politics, The Handmaid’s Tale is just as far-fetched as its predecessors. Of course, there are plenty of people on the extremes of the political wheel who feel all of these titles are coming to fruition in some way or another, comparing Offred’s story with both abortion rights and surrogacy. Not being one of them, I found it disturbingly enjoyable, but your mileage my vary.

One of the primary criticisms I’ve read and heard of The Handmaid’s Tale is that it’s dry. I find this to be a valid assessment of most classics, when compared with the literary hits of present day, because the competition for the attention of the target audience has never been so fierce. Published in 1985, Margaret Atwood’s most famous title seems to start in the middle, requiring several chapters to fully grasp what’s happening. Whereas I might have found that tedious at one time, this project has broadened my outlook, because I rather enjoyed the challenge of trying to put the pieces together, almost as much as the bleak picture they created.

As a character-driven reader, I appreciate tales of complex individuals, who are neither wholly good nor bad. This element does feature in this story, though it could have been more prominent. The Commander is, of course, a rapist by today’s measure, yet shows compassion and even affection for Offred. His wife, Serena, is the devil, but her actions are driven by a desperate yearning for a child, any child. Moira finds a way out of her circumstances, but her ending is hardly desirable. Since we’re never privy to anyone’s thoughts but Offred’s, we never fully understand the motivations of these individuals or how they feel about the world in which they live. Offred herself so longs for the past, while attempting to bear her torturous present, that Atwood never really expands on her immediate feelings. As a writing choice, the mystery makes sense, but as a reader, it did leave me wanting.

While I’m aware this is a series, reading it while struggling with infertility, I wasn’t in the mood to continue Offred’s story at the time. Pregnant, I don’t wish to continue it now. One day, however, I’d like to revisit and see if The Handmaid’s Tale still only warrants three stars.

24. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee ⭐⭐⭐⭐

To Kill a Mockingbird was actually one of my earlier picks, which I seem to have forgotten to review. It was a title chosen at the most ambitious point in my project, because I was truly dreading it. I’m not even sure if To Kill a Mockingbird was assigned to me in school, if I was forced to watch the movie while substitute teaching, or both. All I remembered prior to my 2020 read was that it was mind-numbingly dull and I loathed Scout, because I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: even as a stay-at-home mom who loves her day to day life, I don’t like children... unless required to by some kind of evolutionary or spiritual programming. My introduction to Scout Finch, via the 1962 film, came long before either of these exceptions and I was not looking forward to a second impression.

To Kill a Mockingbird takes place in the years 1933-1935, as a first-person account from six-year-old Jean Louise Finch, known as Scout. The story is something of a coming of age novel, as Scout grows from a mouthy tomboy to a still begrudging young lady, unwilling to adhere to the strict standards of femininity shared by the older female characters demanding she tow the line. While it also explores themes of masculinity, through Scout’s middle-aged father Atticus, older brother Jem, and neighbor friend Dill, To Kill a Mockingbird is primarily known for it’s discussions and plot revolving around race. Told alongside the shenanigans of Scout, Jem, and Dill trying to befriend their reclusive neighbor, Boo Radley, is the story everyone recalls. Atticus, a lawyer, chooses to defend an obviously innocent black man named Tom Robinson, who has been accused of rape, despite the objections of the town and even Atticus’s own family.

Out of all the classics I read, To Kill a Mockingbird is probably the book that surprised me the most. I honestly loved it. While I still have little faith that I could sit through the movie without yelling at young Scout, reading a story from the perspective of a little girl is far more relatable than watching her on screen. In first-person narrative, Scout’s antics went from obnoxious to nostalgic. I could remember thinking the way Scout did. I wasn’t putting up with a stubborn and disobedient child, but recalling what it was like to be one. Similarly, on page, Atticus wasn’t dull and preachy, but stoic and wise. He might not have been the father who played ball in the yard, but he taught his children valuable lessons about living with honor, while still standing against the injustices of a world that doesn’t.

While the court room scenes of To Kill a Mockingbird were indeed a little dry, they held up better in the book than on a black and white screen. The movie is not poorly done. This book just doesn’t translate well to film. While the written work stars dynamic, flawed characters, a compelling narrative relatable to both men and women, and a realistically infuriating ending, without Harper’s narration, all of that falls flat on screen. As a remarkable depiction of youth, societal gender roles, the good and bad of small town living, and racial injustice that will keep you up at night, I give To Kill a Mockingbird four quite unexpected stars.

25. Tess of the D’Urbervilles, by Tom Hardy ⭐⭐⭐

I am a self-aware person with no ability to lie. In fact, I tend to overshare to my detriment and readily admit that while the Twilight movie taught me the correct pronunciation of “irrevocably,” its adult counterpart, Fifty Shades of Grey, taught me of the existence of Tess of the D’Urbervilles. In May of 2021, well past my self-imposed deadline of one year, just weeks out from having my twins, I was beginning to run out of classics. So many of the suggestions were unheard of or notorious for their length. As much as I enjoyed this project, I really wasn’t up for Les Miserables or War and Peace. So, having watched Fifty Shades of Grey numerous times for the cheesy romance (in spite of poor Jamie Dornan clearly reciting the rosary in his head during all of those painfully awkward sex scenes), I decided on Anastasia Steele’s favorite. While I didn’t enjoy the Fifty Shades book series, I was curious about the proposed allegorical reference to Thomas Hardy’s most famous novel, particularly the following quote:

“Why didn’t you tell me there was danger? Why didn’t you warn me? Ladies know what to guard against, because they read novels that tell them of these tricks.”

I supposed this was as good a choice as any. Yes. That is the kind of scholarly process that went into my selections.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles stars Tess Durbeyfield, an innocent and utterly spineless country girl with absolutely wretched parents. After covering for her drunken layabout father one night, Tess feels responsible for the unfortunate death of the family’s only horse and agrees to meet with a potential wealthy ancestor, Mrs. d’Urberville to “claim kin.” Not realizing that the late d’Urberville only claimed the name to cover his own roots, Tess is taken in by Mrs. d’Urberville and her son Alec, who one night rapes her. That is the meaning of the above quote, which Christian sends to Ana with a first edition of Tess of the d’Urbervilles, folks: a warning that she might get raped.

The following summer, Tess has her rapist’s baby, who dies soon after.

For fucking realz, y’all.

A few years later, Tess has fallen in love with a young minister, Angel Clare, while working as a milkmaid where no one knows her past. Ever the Mary Sue, she feels she cannot marry without revealing the truth, yet Angel tells her they can confide in one another after their vows… which he does, admitting that he was once the willing participant in an affair with an older woman. Tess feels that Angel will surely understand and tells him of her own tragedy, only to be discarded for her disgusting part in her own rape. After years of living apart from her husband, a repentant Alec finally convinces Tess that her true love will never return. The two marry, as Tess’s only option to save her miserable family, only for Angel to show up to reclaim his bride. For the very first time in the 600 page novel, Tess stands up for herself and stabs Alec to death in a moment of glorious off-page revenge. After five days of bliss with Angel, she’s arrested and eventually executed, having secured his promise that he’ll marry her younger sister and care for her undeserving family.

There really is no way to summarize this book without blatant spoilers, if the intent is to discuss it. I’m sure it appears as though I hated Tess of the d’Urbervilles, but I quite enjoyed it. As much as I love romance novels, historical has never been my jam, simply because the suspension of disbelief is just too great. Not only am I supposed to believe that the handsome, vaguely wealthy hero is into the relatably plain heroine, I’m also meant to accept that he’s not a hairy, toothless, brute who only bathes a few times a month. It’s easy enough for authors to skip over basic grooming, dental care, and hygiene, of course. While I’m no historian, the Bridgertons are just a wee bit too understanding and respectful of the women of their day for believability. No, real men were often Alec d’Urberville: charming, seductive, classist, rapists. Others were Angel Clare: hypocritical, self-righteous, narrow-minded, cads.

While I’m sure there were men of honor in the late 19th century, I appreciate Thomas Hardy’s snapshot in time. Just as we long for the music and fashion of the 80s, while forgetting the AIDS epidemic and casual racism, sexism, and homophobia, we tend to look at Simpler Times through rose-colored glasses. Austen and Alcott paint a romantic picture of a dreadful time, while Hardy’s chronicle is just deeply disturbing. Tess exists in a world where family is everything, even when it’s not much. She’s beholden to lazy, thoughtless, selfish parents, and the children they carelessly bring forth. She’s the victim of both classism and sexism in her rape, as her standing as a woman of lower class leaves her not only with little credibility, but a societal acceptance that it’s somewhat her fault. Unlike the Bennet sisters or the March girls, Tess’s dedication to purity, goodness, and truth is her Achille’s heel. Were she more selfish or deceitful, these tragedies wouldn’t have befallen her and she’d have had a better life.

Before reading 26 classics in 18 months, I’d often assumed those with a romantic focus to be sappy and predictable. Thomas Hardy utterly debunks that assumption with a gritty image of the world and a bleak, hopeless approach to the fate of a good woman. The Wednesday Addams in me loved it. I give Tess of the D’Urbervilles three stars.

26. Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen ⭐⭐

Having read and loved Pride and Prejudice, I decided on another Austen novel as my final classic in my list of 26. I chose Sense and Sensibility, assuming it would be as light and entertaining as its chronological successor.

Sense and Sensibility tells the tale of Mrs. Dashwood and her three daughters, Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret, after the recent demise of their father. The second wife of Mr. Dashwood, Mrs. Dashwood is ultimately overlooked as his property changes hands, in favor of the son from his first wife and his greedy bride, Fanny. During their brief stay in their former home, Elinor becomes quite smitten with Fanny’s brother, Edward, much to Fanny’s distaste. Soon, the Dashwoods relocate to a cottage owned by a cousin, where they meet 35-year-old bachelor Colonel Brandon, who is taken with Marianne.

Uninterested in a man so much her senior, Marianne becomes swept away in a romance with the charming and ultimately deceitful John Willoughby. Through a complicated series of events, it’s revealed that Willoughby is engaged to another woman and intentionally led Marianne on, as one of many. Heartbroken, she realizes that Elinor’s quiet, slow burn relationship with Edward, which has been progressing in the background, has far more merit to it than one of passion and drama. In time, she begins to see Colonel Brandon for the man he is and each girl gets their happy ending.

Folks, I truly loved Pride and Prejudice. I expected to hate it, after years of hearing book snobs gush over it, but found it to be charming, funny, and starring relatable characters. I expected similar magic from Sense and Sensibility. Sadly, it came up short. While I can appreciate the overall titular themes, they felt preachy without the dynamic characters of Austen’s later work. In fact, Sense and Sensibility often felt like the rough draft of Pride and Prejudice. Elinor Dashwood’s sense came across as a shadow of Jane Bennet’s demureness. Similarly, Marianne’s sensibility could be seen in both Elizabeth and Lydia, as she unfairly judges an honorable man and allows herself to be charmed by a more insidious one.

Not only did the characters themselves pale in comparison to Jane, Elizabeth, Charles, and Darcy, but the story did as well. I found that the supporting storylines of Sense and Sensibility failed to add color and depth, instead creating distraction and confusion. The side characters were one-dimensional and forgettable, at best, while transparently existing only to further the plot, at worst. Having listened to the audio, I caught myself repeatedly rewinding portions to figure out who was talking with and about whom, because none of these people had distinct voices, and I don’t mean that literally. Whereas Pride and Prejudice seemed to tell a tale that transcends time, Sense and Sensibility came across as a one that was cautionary, while also somewhat shallow and forgettable. A part of me wonders if I’d have appreciated it more, had I read it first, but another part of my knows it would have likely been my last attempt at Austen. A fair effort, but certainly not her best work, I give Sense and Sensibility two stars, maybe two and a half.

I did it!

After a year and a half of reading classics and an additional year to write the reviews, I completed my goal to both read and review 26 classics! Once a librarian who never understood the appeal of classics, as you can see, I surprisingly enjoyed most of them. Here’s the breakdown:

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Dracula, by Bram Stoker

Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen 

Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

⭐⭐⭐⭐

In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote

Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck

Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka

The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair

Alas, Babylon, by Pat Frank

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkein

Anthem, by Ayn Rand

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

⭐⭐⭐

We, by Yevgeny Zamyat

The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway

The Pearl, by John Steinbeck

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

1984, by George Orwell

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brone

⭐⭐

Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen

Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy

Why My Favorite 00’s Shows Are Crap

From the time Jake and I started dating, I knew that we would always have some interests we just don’t share. Jake listens to political podcasts throughout the day. I love reading so much that I have an audiobook playing in my earbuds nearly constantly. He likes to work outside. I like to do crafts. He likes playing video games. I like watching the nostalgic TV shows of my youth… which are objectively bad. For example…

Roswell

1999’s Roswell tells the story of Liz, a high school sophomore who works at the alien themed restaurant her parents own in Roswell, New Mexico, alongside her best friend Maria. In episode one, Liz’s and Maria’s lives are forever changed when Liz is shot and healed by Max, a 16-year-old alien played by 26-year-old Jason Behr. Seriously, if y’all thought Riverdale was bad, just check out some of these early 00’s shows.

Everyone complains about unrealistic physical standards for teenage girls, but this was what they told us high school sophomore boys should look like in the year 2000.

I’ll only briefly mention Roswell’s primary lovers, Max and Liz, the16-year-old “soulmates,” when discussing it’s greatest transgressions. Today, media seems to understand that most teenagers are too young to make lifelong commitments to one another, particularly when the basis of their relationship is life-threatening drama. While half of us in the South might still be divorced by 25, the cinematic era of Noah and Ally has mostly passed. However, in the year 2000, it was just beginning and Max and Liz were pretty standard representatives. Also not entirely unique, the level of romance from Max defined unattainable as he literally risked his life for Liz on loop, professed his undying love in flowery, swoon-worthy language, and even refused to accept her rejection of him, because he knew she loved him. What can I say? We all thought low-level stalking was hot in the early 00s.

It was Maria and Michael who fans insisted provided the most realistic depiction of high school dating. If that’s true, millennials all needed massive amounts of therapy. Only recently have I noticed how absolutely horrible this 22-year-old teenage boy is to his romantic interest. Maria repeatedly risks her car, her relationship with her mother, her job, her academic standing, and her heart for Michael and he walks all over her. Nearly every episode features Michael telling Maria that he doesn’t care about her or their relationship, as she begs for his affection and support for the first two seasons. Only in the final season does Michael gain any modicum of decency as a boyfriend and Maria isn’t the only one who thinks it’s too little too late. Of all the criticisms I’ve seen of unhealthy romance in young adult media, I honestly think this one is the worst depictions.

As much as I adore Roswell, despite it’s damaging relationships, I must admit that the real failing is in the terribly inconsistent and indecisive writing. First and foremost, there’s a confusing amount of longingly staring through windows for a show with a “they’re among us” primary plot… as in so much that you’re not really sure if you’re watching a science fiction show at all, sometimes. Additionally, there’s definitely an element of “Where are their parents?!?!”, specifically with Max and Isabel, who play siblings who were adopted by the perfect upper-middle class family and Liz, whose parents own and literally live in the restaurant that serves as their hangout. These teenagers take off for days and even weeks at a time, with little to no explanation, and no one notices. While there is a weak effort to address this by assigning Maria a free-spirited former teen mother who somewhat “gets” her daughter’s behavior and Michael being an emancipated minor, parents in Roswell only really exist to further the storyline. I cannot understand why these shows still star teenage characters. Why not tell the same story starring characters the age of the actors portraying them, in their late teens and early twenties? They’d still be relatable, but the parents that are so lazily written out would no longer be an obstacle.

There’s also the origins and powers of the aliens to address. Historically, the alleged spaceship crash occurred in 1947, which Roswell acknowledges by stating that the four aliens were incubated in a form of cocoon for 42 years before emerging as six-year-olds, who were discovered walking naked and alone in the dessert. It’s quickly noted, though, as a major and recurring plot point, that the aliens don’t have human blood and any sampling of their DNA risks exposure. I’m not a social worker, but I’m pretty sure any child found abandoned in the dessert is undergoing extensive medical testing to verify health and potentially track down parents. Yet Max, Isabel, and Michael have gone ten years without a single blood draw.

As for their powers, it’s explained that the aliens can “manipulate molecular structures.” Well, isn’t that… insanely broad. Despite these seemingly limitless powers, we see the aliens struggle constantly, even declaring that they don’t all have certain abilities, such as healing wounds, which would fall decidedly under manipulating molecular structures. Ultimately, it’s revealed that the aliens are actually alien/human hybrids who have been engineered to use the full capacity of the human brain and that that’s where the powers originate. I’ll ignore the flawed science there and note that later in the show, we find out that with the help of a mysterious structure called the Granolith, the aliens can actually time travel or even return to their home planet where even humans can apparently survive just fine. The scope of these alien powers fluctuates endlessly throughout the show, with some new ones developing while old ones are simultaneously forgotten. For example, two characters rob a store without bothering to change anything about their appearance, which would not only fall under manipulation of molecular structures, but also buying a wig.

Overall, the plots of Roswell are just inconsistent and baffling, with the local police acting as the first enemy, before the sheriff joins the team when the FBI becomes the primary enemy until they… just lose interest? The main villain then shifts to an alien race serving the ruler of the alien’s home planet, who they defeat… with essentially no trouble at all.

A major and unresolved plot point occurs in season two, when Liz finds out from Future Max that she must end her relationship with him before Tess leaves, leading to the destruction of the world in 2014, Liz feigns cheating to turn Max away from her… even though Tess ultimately leaves anyway, pregnant with his child, after she betrays the group and the world is… fine. Perhaps the enemies Tess helped kill so easily were the only real threat and simply took their sweet time attacking over the course of 14 years.

In season three, with other aliens as a whole conveniently a threat of the past, Max searches for a way to retrieve his son and faces a much less impressive variety of villains, such as an old lady who wants him to heal her husband, municipal law enforcement, and eventually the FBI, a seemingly far less threatening force at this point in the show.

Roswell is just generally all over the place, fraught with manufactured and often inconclusive drama, starring actors who are of a completely inappropriate age for the roles they play… and I love it. I have no idea how many times I’ve seen this show, but maintain every confidence that the number will triple over the course of my life. I know it’s crap and I just don’t care. Thirty-four-year old Belle might not obsess over this show as much as 12-year-old Belle did, but it will forever maintain a place in my heart as one of the only real bits of solace I had during middle school.

Gilmore Girls

1999, what a time to be alive. Gilmore Girls also premiered the year I started the sixth grade and quickly became one of my mother’s and my favorite shows. Lorelai Gilmore was the star of this dramedy about a mother who had her 16-year-old daughter, Rory, when she, herself, was 16. As the only child of an upper-middle class family, Lorelai felt stifled and railroaded toward a life she didn’t want. To gain her independence, she ran away to a small, quirky Connecticut village, taking her one-year-old daughter with her, maintaining as little contact as possible with her parents. That is, until the pilot episode, when she needs money for Rory’s tuition to attend a prestigious private school. Antics and tantrums ensue.

This show has a cult-like following and I’m not gonna mince words here… it is toxic as fuck. Not even in my Roswellian obsessed middle school days have I ever been as aggressive in my love of fiction. So, while I once thought it would be fun to participate in this surprisingly active fandom…

… I no longer do.

My inclusion of Gilmore Girls on this list would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge how poorly it’s aged, from the occasionally homophobic and fat-shaming humor to the “Not Like Other Girls” stereotype. While other girls starved themselves to fit into skimpy tops, listened to Avril Levigne, and obsessed over romantic comedies, Lorelai and Rory ate junk food, wore quirky but trendy outfits, listened to The Bangles, and watched classics like The Godfather. While this garners criticism from newer fans, it’s important to consider what it was like to actually be a young woman in the early 2000’s. It sucked. There was a much more particular mold that women were expected to fit. They were supposed to be blonde, overly tanned, scantily clad, adorably stupid, and very hungry. Watching fair-skinned brunettes wear tasteful but fashionable clothing, discuss classic literature alongside obscure pop culture, and eat whatever they wanted actually was progressive in a time when Abercrombie & Fitch literally sold clothing through nudity.

Another modern critique of Gilmore Girls is Rory’s love interests, particularly Dean, her first boyfriend, who is universally loathed by new fans. In the year 1999, though, Dean was the perfect boyfriend, according to the creators of the show. He was handsome in that Classic White Boy way, understood Rory’s humor and intellect, was protective and attentive, and absolutely adored her. Today, Dean doesn’t quite hold up. What was considered protective 20 years ago, now comes across as controlling, while attentive and adoring is easily interpreted as domineering and obsessive. Even Rory’s second boyfriend, Jess, who embodied the Broody Bad Boy stereotype is often seen as abusive, because we just had much lower standards back then. In fact, many fans hate all of Rory’s love interests, including the Old Money Charmer, who I personally still adore, because what’s not to love about money and charm? What can I say? We were all a little broken in the early 00s and had whopping consent issues.

All in all, I think the above criticisms are valid, though often taken far too seriously by newer fans for a twenty-year-old WB dramedy. Gilmore Girls was never intended to be looked at through a 2022 microscope. Emily Gilmore wasn’t written as a thinly veiled version of The Grandmother from Flowers in the Attic. Lorelai wasn’t the star of Netflix’s The Maid. Rory wasn’t Anna Karenina, though it is a bit prophetic that she claims this was her favorite novel. No, this show was simply meant to be cozy fun and that’s how I choose to take it… despite it’s other issues, because aging isn’t the reason I include Gilmore Girls on a list I’ve labeled as “crap.” No, it’s earned this title from me for the glaring writing flaws. While Gilmore Girls has an undeniably cozy and charming aesthetic, it is honestly one of the most inconsistently written shows I have ever watched. From major plot points to characterization, it’s obvious that the writers of this series were just flying by the seat of their pants for the full seven seasons.

I’ll start with money, which most TV shows address poorly. In Gilmore Girls, however, money is central to the plot of the show, as Lorelai has eschewed her parents’ privileged lifestyle to raise her daughter as a single mom… where she owns her own home in a town that would have exorbitant property taxes for all the festivals it holds. Additionally, Lorelai simply doesn’t live her life as a single mom, ordering take-out nightly, taking impromptu road trips, and going on wild shopping sprees. Only when it’s plot-relevant is Lorelai impeded by her finances, such as when she needs tuition for Rory or her house has a termite problem. Throughout the rest of the series, she has plenty of money for All the Things, despite the entire premise of the show being her escape from wealth and her insistence on being a strong, independent, single mom.

I’m not sure if I’d consider characterization inconsistencies a secondary issue, simply because they’re so egregious in Gilmore Girls. In the beginning of the show, we’re introduced to Dean, the smart, witty new boy in town, who understands all of Rory’s obscure references, enjoys her books, and can build a car… who by season three isn’t sure if he can get into junior college. Lorelai’s eventual love interest, Luke, goes from the title of casual acquaintance in season one to Rory’s lifelong father figure by season six. He starts out as a health nut and an avid fisherman, who hates red meat, but eventually claims he’s disgusted by vegan food and has never had lobster. Lorelai opens the show having spent the last 16 years doing everything she could to be a different kind of mother than Emily, but cuts Rory out of her life completely when she decides to take a semester off from college. Luke’s sister and Jess’s mother is described as a neglectful addict in the beginning of the series, but is later portrayed as just a quirky flake who loves her son. Even Sookie begins the show as the klutzy chef, but seems to get her bearings by the end of the first season, because she never struggles with her recurring injuries again.

It’s not just money and character inconsistencies that plague Gilmore Girls, but entire plot points that are just… dropped, such as when Rory joins a sorority at school and it’s never again mentioned. When Lorelai discovers that her boyfriend is suing her father, it’s a big enough deal to end the relationship, but we never hear about it again. An entire episode centers around Jess visiting his dad in California, but after the proposed spinoff is ultimately nixed, we never get a resolution to that incredibly dull storyline we had to endure. Jackson takes on Taylor to become town selectman, wins, and Taylor has the title again after just a few episodes. When Rory takes time off from Yale and is magically able to graduate on time, she demands and receives a writing job at the Stamford-Eagle Gazette and never again mentions it.

Beyond the financial, character, and plot inconsistencies, Gilmore Girls is a cozy story starring some pretty crummy people. Emily gets all the grief from modern fans and she certainly has her flaws, but Lorelai isn’t exactly a better human. Her relationship with Rory is arguably no greater than Emily’s with Lorelai, as she fosters extreme co-dependency and refuses to act as the adult in the relationship. Furthermore, despite constantly complaining about her mother’s controlling and manipulative nature, she spends most of a season refusing to speak to her daughter, even to share her engagement with her, because Rory hasn’t made the exact choices in life Lorelai wanted. Rory, who starts off a little sassy and very driven, goes on to cheat on or with every boyfriend she ever has and ultimately defines entitlement. And yet… I fully intend to start another rewatch this fall, as I cozy up and enjoy the fake fall leaves of Calif-Connecticut. For all its flaws, there’s just something about Gilmore Girls that keeps me coming back, be it the aesthetic or the What Not to Do guide to motherhood.

Smallville

Smallville first aired when I was 14, just one year younger than Clark Kent, high school freshman.

Had anyone working for the WB ever actually met a teenager?

Smallville had a pretty simple premise, as a Superman origin story focusing on Clark Kent’s teenage years. As in all Superman renditions, Clark is written as a gawky, awkward teenage boy, who lives and works on his parents’ Kansas farm. Unique to Smallville, however, Clark is played by a literal construction worker/male model, making this description less than believable. While his co-stars are standard fare for the early 00’s WB, meaning far too attractive and stylish, they’re also more appropriately cast for their roles. Simply put, while his classmates walk the halls of Smallville High looking like Seventeen magazine models, Clark Kent looks more like a substitute teacher or the foreman of a construction crew.

Jake and I have actually been making our way through Smallville since the summer of 2020 and it’s been a fun, if absurd, ride. Even for a superhero show, Smallville, while entertaining, is nonsensical in basically every way, such as overall characterization, the teen romances, Clark maintaining his Secret, and everything about the properties of WB kryptonite.

The characters of Smallville aren’t particularly distinctive for an early 00s teen show, initially comprised of beautiful, stylish teens who are, for some reason, considered unpopular. Clark begins his freshman year alongside friends, Chloe and Pete. Chloe is obviously Smallville’s resident Lois Lane until the creators decide to write in the actual Lois Lane in season four. She’s passionate about journalism to the point that she will destroy every relationship she has to get a story for the high school paper, The Torch, over which she seems to have absolute control. It makes perfect sense that Chloe would be in charge of the school paper, though, because she has a ridiculous number of vague professional connections, including someone at the medical examiner’s office, the mental institution, and multiple sources at the Daily Planet. It helps that she has advanced computer programming skills and can hack into literally any database without getting caught, at the age of 15. For the first three seasons, Chloe is in love with Clark, because that’s why female side characters existed in the early 00s. By far her most annoying trait, however, is her complete inability to speak in normal human sentences. Literally every line she has is such an overblown attempt to sound clever that you wonder if she’s ever actually heard people talk.

  • “Your online horoscope suggests that you try not to flaunt your excitement which I know will be hard since you’ve been waiting for this date since, like your first growth spurt.”
  • “Clark Kent at the keyboard? Have I been downsized in the bureaucratic world of superheroes?”
  • “Canary, you are caught in a virtual cage and you don’t even know it, but I can help you fly the coop.”

This goes on for entire episodes. As for Pete, it’s been 20 years and he did not age well. While Chloe eventually has an entire in-depth backstory, having little to do with Clark, Pete’s character revolves solely around protecting Clark’s secret… even though he sucks at it, taking every chance and excuse he gets to try to out Clark. Regardless, it’s not a good look in 2022 to have such a cliché Token Black Character as Pete Ross. Considering other POC characters, such as Jesse from Roswell, Lane from Gilmore Girls, Skills from One Tree Hill, and Gunn from Angel, it wasn’t a great look for 2001, either.

A Superman origin story would be incomplete without Lex Luthor, of course, and Michael Rosenbaum is still considered by many to have portrayed him best of all. Smallville didn’t only present a young, handsome, successful Lex Luthor, but a sympathetic one. Lex starts out as a something of a local benefactor, befriending Clark, his family, and even his friends out of genuine kindness and interest, despite their continual distrust in him because of his father, the initial villain of the story. At times, it comes off as creepy that he’s 26 and hanging out with a bunch of teenagers, but it wasn’t intended as such when the show was written. Over the seasons, Lex starts to feel hurt, then angry, and even betrayed by Clark for refusing to confide in him and the two have a falling out amidst Lex’s gradual rise to arch-nemesis. If there is any reason to watch this campy show, it is Lex Luthor’s descent into madness and, for a teen show, the WB does not disappoint in how very evil he becomes, from trying to kill Johnathan Kent, to essentially having groomed Lana to be his lover, to committing war crimes.

Finally, there are Clark’s love interests, Lana and then Lois. Lana is Clark’s first love in Smallville and she is absolutely insufferable. I’ll give this show credit for the fact that the majority of the relationships are relatively healthy… except for Clark and Lana who spend far more time having angsty conversations about why they can’t be together than they ever actually spend together. This is primarily because Lana demands that Clark share all of his secrets with her from the very beginning, eventually even teaming up with Lex to investigate him, despite being quite secretive herself. As the show goes on, Lana gets progressively worse, as do the storylines surrounding her, from her sleeping with a teacher, to becoming a witch, to hooking up with Lex. Despite the writers’ insistence that she’s a deep, interesting, sympathetic character, she’s continually proven to be quite the opposite as the show goes on, eventually going toe-to-toe with Lex in corruption.

On the bright side, though Lois definitely fits the Mysterious Gorgeous Bitch trope of the early 00s, when compared to Lana, she’s America’s sweetheart. Lois isn’t a bad character, so much as she’s a bit too abrasive for the iconic role. In the early 00s, strong women were often written as physically beautiful, but closed-off and overtly rude. This is definitely on display in Smallville as Lois repeatedly mocks and insults Clark, despite his and his family’s every kindness. The animosity doesn’t destroy the chemistry between the two, but it’s also never been the case for Lois in any other version of Superman, to be this hateful to Clark, when she just considered Clark to be somewhat dorky, at worst.

Perhaps one of the biggest failings of the writing in Smallville is around Clark’s “secret.” I use quotes, because eventually everyone in Clark’s life knows about his powers, and if they don’t, they should, because he uses them in public constantly. In nearly every episode of this show, there’s a scene where Clark uses his super speed on a public street, yet when his cousin Kara does the same, he throws a tantrum about the importance of subtlety. The only characters kept in the dark for any real length of time are Lana, Lex, and Lois, solely for purposes of plot and overwrought drama. Even guest stars are frequently let in on this secret that isn’t, to the point that there is just no way that it’s not public knowledge by the end of season three.

Finally, the biggest flaw in Smallville: Kryptonite. It’s comic book canon that Kryptonite comes in multiple forms and Clark is impacted in a variety of ways. The problem is that there’s so much Kryptonite in Smallville and it’s affects vary so wildly. For the first several seasons, this show is pretty Monster of the Week with a new kid at school developing miraculous powers that are usually only dangerous because they’re being used in the wrong way. There are two students who can control bugs, one who can turn people into mannequins, another who can freeze people, a young Amy Adams who can suck the fat out of people until they die, several with various forms of telekinesis, a reporter who can turn into water, a few different seductresses… and the list continues. For some reason, however, the Luthors are the only individuals in the world who are interested in studying and experimenting with this magic rock, even though it’s all over town. You’d think that would pose a problem for Clark. Well, sometimes it does… and a lot of times it doesn’t, like when he can’t see it’s in the same room with him yet, while other times, it’s just too hard to roll away from it. Different kinds of Kryptonite require different levels of exposure too, as red Kryptonite appears to be topical, while silver has to be embedded in the skin. The aliens of Roswell have more consistent powers than Clark’s and everyone else’s response to Kryptonite. It’s just a persistent and glaring plot hole in every other episode.

Despite all these issues, Smallville seems to have been the beginning of the the current superhero TV saga and, as consistently ridiculous as it is, there’s something comforting about its camp. Like many shows of the time, it of course ran for far too long, so it may be another two years before Jake and I finish it, but we have both enjoyed it, even if it’s half in mockery.

One Tree Hill

One Tree Hill started my sophomore year of high school and ended my first year of grad school. It told the story of two brothers in their junior year, who shared only a father, Dan. Lucas, was raised by his father’s high school sweetheart, Karen, who he abandoned when he discovered she was pregnant, and his brother Keith. Dan immediately impregnated another woman, Deb, who came from money and could help him become the wealthy businessman he was in the show. Naturally, he married Deb and raised his second son, Nathan while neglecting Lucas. The two grew up as rivals in the town of Tree Hill, only for their relationship to come to a head when they found themselves on the same high school basketball team.

Y’all, the only thing I hated more than sports in high school were the popular kids who bullied me. I have no idea why I enjoyed this show. I think I felt some kinship toward Haley, Luke’s nerdy best friend, though she was far more poised and adorable than I have ever been. Perhaps it was just the depiction of the outcasts becoming accepted that I enjoyed, because in One Tree Hill, even the losers were eventually included to some degree. There was also the romantic element, which received far more screen time than the basketball plot, since everyone slept with everyone in this incestuous little town. I was particularly invested in the love story of Nathan and Haley, who married and had a baby as teenagers, the pinnacle of early 00’s Don’t Try This At Home teenage girl fantasies. Despite my enduring affection for this terrible show, basically every single thing about it is beyond problematic.

I’ve mentioned the relationships of both Roswell and Gilmore Girls, intentionally avoiding the word “toxic,” as I consider it hyperbolic and overused… unless one is describing the Gilmore Girls fandom. That being said, basically every relationship in One Tree Hill, outside of Nathan’s and Haley’s could only be described as toxic. Lucas opens the show utterly obsessed with Peyton, Nathan’s girlfriend and the absolute embodiment of the Mysterious Gorgeous Bitch trope. In Peyton’s case, the mystery for her atrocious personality was the fact that her mother had died while she was young, her father worked out of town, and her boyfriend was absolutely horrible to her. She wasn’t alone in this title, however. Nope. That moniker was shared with Lucas’s other romantic partner, Brooke, Peyton’s best friend.

This is what teenage girls were supposed to look like in 2004.

Throughout several seasons of the show, Lucas plays Peyton and Brooke off of one-another, frequently cheating on Brooke with Peyton, yet never concerned with the fact that he and his brother are wiener buddies twice over… because the teenagers in this town are apparently in the porn industry. Literally every relationship depicted in this show is horribly unhealthy and sets a terrible example for teenage girls. Even Nathan and Haley are only a dim light in the dark when she kisses another guy before going on tour with him. Yes, Haley goes on tour, because aside from the toxic relationships, the plot points in this show are ludicrous.

It’s been awhile since my last rewatch of One Tree Hill, but I do recall that over the course of this show, the following storylines take place:

  • Nathan becomes an emancipated minor to escape his insane parents and marries Haley at 16.
  • Haley leaves Nathan to go on tour with Chris Keller, played by up-and-coming singer Tyler Hilton, who played Elvis in Walk the Line, but otherwise never made it.
  • Bullied teen, Jimmy, from the first few episodes brings a gun to school and holds a classroom full of students hostage, eventually shooting himself alone in a hall with Dan and Keith. Dan takes advantage of the opportunity to shoot his brother and blames Jimmy.
  • Peyton meets the brother she’s never heard of, but discovers he’s really an obsessed stalker who wants to rape her.
  • Nathan gets involved with small town gangsters who are really into betting on high school basketball (is that even a thing?) and gets caught throwing games.
  • Haley gets pregnant and intends to renew her vows with Nathan, but gets in a car accident on the way and nearly dies.
  • A witness comes forward and puts Dan in prison for the murder of Keith.
  • Four years pass and we find Nathan in a wheelchair after getting in a fight at a bar and ruining his chances at playing professional basketball for a team that just signed him.
  • Nathan and Haley’s crazy nanny tries to seduce Nathan and takes Dan hostage, posing as a nurse.

I’ll stop there, even though there are way more ridiculous plot points to note, because I want to mention one of the biggest issues that makes this show complete trash, and that is the insane level of success that every single character reaches after college. While the first four seasons of One Tree Hill tell the story of the characters’ junior and senior year of high school, even writers for the WB/CW seemed to realize that these actors were just getting too old for these roles. So, instead of writing a story where everyone went to college together, they chose to skip ahead four years to age 22, when everyone has their shit together.

I don’t know where you folks were at 22, but I was married to a psychopath and substitute teaching while working at a rec center for minimum wage, driving around with my valuables in my trunk so my ex wouldn’t pawn them. I certainly wasn’t married to an almost professional basketball player, down on his luck but still rolling in it from his sign-on deal, raising an adorable four-year-old, and reaching troubled teens with my love of literature. I knew zero published authors working as a high school basketball coach for their love of the game. I also didn’t have any friends who’d started luxury clothing lines or become successful sportscasters. I certainly didn’t know any 22-year-old record producers/club owners the year I graduated college. I’d buy the plot point that a stoner’s dog ate Dan’s heart before I’d buy that anyone is that successful right out of college…

No really, I’m not making this up.

… and still, I find myself trying to figure out if I can finish Roswell in time to start One Tree Hill with enough time to start Gilmore Girls in the fall, while Jake and I continue to truck along on Smallville, because there’s just something so comforting about the shows I watched as a teenager, no matter how ridiculous. Perhaps it’s the stress of soaring gas prices and inflation and the threat of a world war that leads me to seek solace in pure nostalgia. Perhaps I just take comfort in the fact that Jake will never impregnate my alien rival… I’ll never not know who the father of my baby is… my former best friend won’t attempt to assassinate my father… and a dog will probably never eat my heart… but what can I say? When it comes to 00s shows, I just have terrible taste.

I Read 26 Classics, So You Don’t Have To: Part 3

My new year’s resolution for 2020 was to read a minimum of 52 books, at least half of which I could reference in casual conversation without making people uncomfortable… so, not mobster erotic romance. Since I’ve never actually read most of the classics I was assigned in high school and, as a teen librarian, my main customers were still being forced to do so, I figured I’d make all 26 classics. I finished them just after my girls were born, with a six month delay due to the headaches caused by infertility medications. I only violently hated one and generally disliked a second one, as you can see in my review of books 1-7 and 8-13. So, I present, books 14-19.

14. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I was prepared to hate this book, purely out of spite. After all the praise given to Anna Karenina, I lost some faith in the tastes of the masses and Pride and Prejudice is beloved by women everywhere. So, it was with a begrudging heart that I downloaded the book that has spawned a dozen adaptations and retellings, only to realize within the first few chapters, that I love Jane Austen.

As much as I adore romance, historical has never been my jam, since the genre as a whole takes a pretty liberal suspension of disbelief with its sexy, wealthy, successful heroes and ambiguously curvy, sassy, independent heroines. In this particular subgenre, I nearly always find the men to be laughably attractive and the women to be overly abrasive for the time period, as I will enthusiastically rant about given the briefest mention of the movie Titanic. Without a time travel plot, it’s just too jarring to read about relatably modern characters in a historical setting, so my enjoyment is pretty limited to titles written during said time periods, like Little Women or Pride and Prejudice.

Y’all, I’m aware that I’m peaking as a basic white girl as I type this, but Elizabeth Bennet is likely one of my top five literary heroines across all genres. Written by a woman indisputably familiar with the day, Lizzie Bennett stands up for herself, voices opinions, and pushes just the right number of buttons to make her strong and independent but not completely ignorant the social norms of the era. Similarly, Mr. Darcy is written as the ideal man of the early 19th century, intelligent, proud, and wealthy, but with a level of introversion and stoicism not often found in literary romantic heroes that still adheres to the acceptable norms of the day.

Lizzie was endlessly loyal to her family and friends, standing up to Darcy for his slight against her older sister, despite the riches and comfort a romantic match with him would have ensured. She cried for her younger sister when she’d ruined her own reputation and supported her friend’s unenviable marriage, after overcoming her shock and prejudice. While Mr. Darcy has never been my type, he was a believable romantic hero who somehow made infuriating, yet understandable judgements and endearing apologies. Anyone familiar with the romance genre knows the value of grovel and Fitzwilliam Darcy nailed it when he saved the Bennet name to make up for the harm he had inadvertently caused.

While I understand that the writing style of Jane Austen takes some acclimation, I find that to be true of essentially every classic I’ve read. Pride and Prejudice was full of witty, relatable, fleshed-out characters, right down to all seven members of the Bennet family. The romance was sweet and I found the hero and the heroine to be pretty equally flawed and redeemable. The depiction of the time period was easily visualized, but not overly detailed. As much as a cliché as it makes me, I have to say that Pride and Prejudice is officially one of my favorite books, deserving five stars.

15. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkein ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Growing up, I often felt like an outsider among my family, as we watched Baywatch and Walker Texas Ranger, while I much preferred fantasy. Having been assigned a ridiculously high reading level, because American public schools are horrid at fostering a love of books, I often read solely to satisfy academic requirements that weren’t met by titles that would have actually interested me, like Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. While I tried to watch the movies as a teenager, I found them slow and uninteresting and hadn’t really considered reading the books until I met my husband, who loves them.

I don’t know that it’s necessary to break down the plot of The Lord of the Rings, but I’ll give it a go. The story starts in the Shire, where Bilbo Baggins is celebrating his 111th birthday by telling everyone to kick rocks. Before he leaves, however, he gives his nephew, Frodo, the One Ring, ultimately leading the innocent hobbit on a great adventure to take the ring from the Shire with his three companions, Sam Gamgee, Pippin Took, and Merry Brandybuck. The quartet find themselves pursued by Black Riders, agents of the Dark Lord Sauron, who seeks the return of his Ring of Power. Shenanigans ensue in the form of singing (yet badass) elves, dangerous battles with the Black Riders, and a lot of walking.

I wanted to love this book. Sadly, while I recognize the brilliance behind the work, I’m simply unable to live up to my aspirations of becoming an LotR Fangirl. I have a great deal of respect for the fact that Tolkien literally set the stage for high fantasy. In an age when it would have been impossible to depict such a tale on screen, Tolkien painted a vivid and beautiful picture of Middle Earth and its inhabitants, though some of the latter have been decried for their obvious anti-Semitic stereotypes. Had I been read this story as a child, tucked snugly in bed by a mother who enjoyed fantasy, I’d have surely adored it… but I wasn’t.

I read The Lord of the Rings for the first time at age 33, already familiar with tales such as The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter. While I recognize that, in many ways, The Lord of the Rings is the source material for these stories, knowing that fact doesn’t make it any less redundant to read a painfully detailed description of settings I can easily picture from my prior knowledge of high fantasy. It also doesn’t pick up the pace. It’s not that The Lord of the Rings isn’t a good book. It’s an amazing feat of literature, the literal metric for all epic fantasy to follow. A product of the age it was written, it’s just kind of a slog compared to those followers and so, I give it four stars.

16. 1984, by George Orwell ⭐⭐⭐

2020 was a bad year to read a bunch of politically dystopian classics and 1984 was no exception with its tales of government corruption from censorship to legit brainwashing. 1984 has long been a reference point for both American political parties to warn the public about overreach from the other. Since Orwell modeled his make-believe society after Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany, I personally find both claims to be pretty hyperbolic. Even if it is more representative of China or North Korea than present day U.S., that doesn’t make 1984 any less worthy of a read.

Orwell’s final novel tells the story of Winston Smith’s gradual betrayal of The Party, rulers of a province of what was once Great Britain but is now a totalitarian superstate called Oceania following an ideology called Ingsoc or English Socialism. Winston is an outwardly loyal worker of The Party, altering historical documents so the regime appears to have always been in the right, though he secretly opposes their rule. He begins his gradual betrayal through an affair and illicit meetings with those who claim to be members of the resistance, growing increasingly careless. As one might predict, Winston is discovered by the Thought Police and his story doesn’t end well, serving as a bleak cautionary tale against protest of an all powerful government.

While I wouldn’t recommend reading 1984 (or any of the other politically disturbing classics I’ve reviewed) in an election year, it’s definitely a compelling read. It primarily suffers in its characterization, an entirely forgivable flaw considering the predominant goal of The Party is the quelling of individuality or independent thought. This does, however, make both Winston and his lover, Julia, less sympathetic protagonists. By extension, the grim ending of 1984 doesn’t hit as hard as say, the ending to To Kill a Mockingbird, warranting an overall three stars.

17. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

In my experience, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is one of the most frequently praised classics and horror novels. It seemed an obvious choice for my project, considering how much I loved Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Like Dracula, the story of Frankenstein is woefully misrepresented in every adaptation, as even those who’ve never read it will insist that the title references the creator and not the monster. The monster doesn’t actually have a name, because Victor Frankenstein is an unethical blasphemer who gets what he has coming to him. The deviations go well beyond this, however, overlooking the point of the story entirely.

The tale of Frankenstein starts as a correspondence between an arctic explorer named Captain Walton and his sister, as he passes along the story of an emaciated man he’s rescued, Victor Frankenstein. Victor has succeeded in the unthinkable, bringing forth life from spare parts. Tragically, this scientific marvel has gone horribly awry, ultimately finding Victor chasing his creation through the frozen tundra… and it is all his fault.

After Victor breathes life into his creature, he’s horrified by his achievement and abandons his innocent, if repulsive, creation to wander the countryside alone. While Victor returns to his childhood home in Italy, his monster is left to fend for himself, growing attached to a family he secretly observes in a cottage in the woods. Over time, the Creature teaches himself to speak and read, longing for love and companionship, yet only interacting with a blind old man. When the family discovers the monster they flee in terror, causing him to seek out Victor’s aid. During his travels, the Creature is attacked for trying to help humans and yearns for vengeance against his creator. When the monster finally catches up with Victor and shares his tale, he begs him to create a companion, promising to retreat into the wilderness with his bride. If refused, the monster vows to kill everyone Frankenstein loves.

It’s clear from the start that this story doesn’t end well for Victor or the Creature, but the turns the tale takes are shockingly dark for a classic written by a 19-year-old woman over 200 years ago. While the movie adaptations of Frankenstein focus on the horror of the pieced-together monster, it’s clear that Shelley intended him to be a sympathetic character. In fact, Victor comes off as the true villain, playing God only to shirk his responsibility as a creator and lead his family and friends to pay the price. Frankenstein’s Creature isn’t simply a 19th century serial killer, but an abused and tortured creation seeking only love and affection. Frankenstein is the shockingly complex story of a being heartbroken by society’s complete ostracization. This book easily ranked in my top five and I’m disappointed that no movie has done justice to the intended story, which absolutely earns five stars.

18. Anthem, by Ayn Rand ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I first read Anthem in the 10th grade and loved it. When I say that, I mean I had the email addresses and Xanga tags Liberty-53000 and The Golden One. It wasn’t Pre-AP English kid pretention, either… or rather it wasn’t solely Pre-AP English kid pretention. I genuinely adored the story of one man quietly rebelling against a collective regime that had destroyed all sense of individuality and ultimately finding happiness. Considering 17 years had passed, I felt it was reasonable to count this title in my total classics, despite it technically qualifying as a reread.

Anthem is a novella, written by Ayn Rand while she was taking a break from her research for The Fountainhead. It tells the story of Equality 7-2521 as he records his life and perceived transgressions in a forbidden journal in an underground tunnel. Equality 7-2521 shares details of growing up in a collective society, where individualism is a crime, where there is no I, only We. He writes about the “curse” of intellectual curiosity that plagues him, a streetsweeper, the experiments he does in his tunnel and eventually, of a flaxen-haired girl he’s dubbed The Golden One.

Since Anthem is literally 105 pages long, I won’t give more details, as it’s not my goal to completely spoil these books. I will, however, report that Equality 7-2521’s story ends in a happily ever after. I’m sure that’s partially to credit for why I loved Anthem at 33, just as much as I did at 16. I think this is also due to the fact that, despite Rand’s works having quite the reputation to the contrary, there’s just something so palatable about this book. After having read essentially every weird dystopian science fiction classic for this project, I can say that Anthem is in the minority in both of those, possibly competing with George Orwell’s Animal Farm in the latter. Like We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin, Anthem sprung from the mind of someone who lived in Communist Russia, but lacked the confusing jargon, world building, and translation issues despite having been written only 16 years later. It’s just more readable and I truly enjoyed We.

I only wish Anthem hadn’t been a novella. I’d have loved a more fleshed-out picture of Equality 7-2521’s society and how it came about, of the characters and what made them different, if they even were different or if everyone felt the same way. Of course, that was part of the magic, the not knowing, but it does leave a little something to be desired. With that, I give Anthem four stars.

19. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brone ⭐⭐⭐

I was supposed to despise Wuthering Heights. It was going to be a contender against Anna Karenina for worst classic ever. It’s predominately loathed by readers and according to the judgmental ninnies at r/romancebooks, anyone who enjoys it condones abuse. Maybe my low expectations are actually to credit for why I genuinely enjoyed this book, but aside from the complaints about length, I found many of the criticisms of Wuthering Heights to be unfounded.

This book was a lot of things for me, but romance wasn’t one of them. I think that inaccurate classification might be why it gets so much hate. It’s a pretty universally accepted rule that all romance ends in a Happily Ever After or HEA, which is far from the case for Heathcliff and Catherine’s story. No, Wuthering Heights is more accurately described as a story of vengeance, as Heathcliff sets out to get his retribution for the racism and mistreatment he’s experienced from Catherine’s brother, Hindley Earnshaw, and the neighbor for whom she left him, Edgar Linton. If read with Heathcliff in mind as the protagonist, but not as a romantic lead, Wuthering Heights is an epic tale of revenge as a dish best served cold and I found it delightful.

As with most classics, this one is unforgivably long, but that adds something to the story as the reader experiences the wait for justice right alongside Heathcliff, while the years pass. Essentially no one in this story is even remotely likable, but that made it more fun for me to witness as they all got their comeuppance through Heathcliff’s sociopathic shenanigans amidst the gloomy backdrop of the moors. This story really was the ultimate tale of just desserts and I was pleasantly surprised, though I can understand why others wouldn’t enjoy such a bleak tale, especially one so often billed as romance and therefore award it only three stars. Additionally, I highly recommend the MTV movie adaptation starring Mike Vogel and Erika Christensen as a fabulously terrible trip through time to 2003. It is painfully bad and the best $3 I’ve ever spent on Ebay.

The Worst Witch: Free on YouTube and Worth Every Penny

When I was little, the 1986 film The Worst Witch was one of my favorite Halloween movies. I could never catch it when it was on TV, though, and eventually forgot all about it, replacing it with cinematic classics such as Halloweentown and Twitches, both of which could probably win Oscars when compared with the former. Several years ago, I remembered this old favorite of mine, bought it on DVD, and now watch it a weird number of times throughout the month of October… and sometimes, like… March. My husband must occasionally wonder if he did, in fact, marry an awkward, chubby, 12-year-old, as he comes in the living room to see me singing along to this terrible children’s movie, eating “candy salad” from a ramakin.

While Netflix has recently produced a much more polished version of The Worst Witch, based on the 1970’s book series, in a multi-season TV show, there’s something about Tim Curry passionately singing “Has anyone seen my tambourine?” that can’t be beat. Don’t you worry, though! You don’t have to buy this gem on Amazon. It’s free on YouTube, in its entirety, and it is worth every penny. Here are my thoughts, 25 years after my first magical viewing.

Why does Mildred get all of the blame when she and Maud make the wrong potion? Maud was the one caught trying to sneak her spell book in, so she could cheat. Both girls were equally cavalier about the amount of each ingredient used. Why was Mildred the only one sent to Miss Cackle’s office?

As a kid, I really empathized with Mildred, but as an adult, I realize she’s kind of a mess. She insists that she tries and can’t help the fact that things always go wrong, but she also admits to blatantly ignoring simple instructions, like gathering pondweed at midnight. How hard is it to read a clock, Mildred? These problems are of your own making…

… and yet, nothing excuses an educator speaking to a student like this: “Oh dear, Mildred. Oh Mildred, oh dear. You must be the worst witch in the entire school.”

Seriously?!?! She’s twelve. The conversation even ends with a playful “Was I nasty enough for you?” You mean when you told her that she ranked last in the whole school, because she made a potion incorrectly? How much room for error is allowed? Is not the punishment for failing a test a bad grade? This wasn’t even supposed to be the cruel teacher! Speaking of which…

… when Mildred and Maud are gossiping about Miss Hardbroom and she appears in their room to yell at only Mildred, did she curse her name like Lord Voldemort or is she always watching this child? That’s disturbing and I don’t think she should be allowed within 300 yards of a school.

I understand that the girls are awarded their cats in order of excellence, meaning the lowest performers get their cats last, but they still get cats. I don’t actually think this is a bad system. We coddle weakness too much, today. There’s nothing wrong with rewarding high performers. That being said, who was in charge of procuring the cats and why couldn’t they find enough black ones? Black kittens are literally some of the easiest to find, because they’re the least popular. Even if they couldn’t find a black cat for the lowest performer, why couldn’t they change the color in a world where humans can be turned into animals?

Ethel Hallow is one of the villains of this story. She’s a bully and deserves the criticism she gets for it. That being said, much of Mildred’s distaste for her is voiced in regards to her successes, getting upset at how often she does well in class or is chosen first for games. “Just like her to be the first one to get her kitten to ride.” Well, Mildred, if you actually made the effort you keep claiming you’re making in a high-pitched whine, perhaps you’d be more successful in school, too.

These villains are fabulous. I love that they plot their evil moves in song and dance, while wearing multi-colored robes, that match their hair. Once again, I am Team Villain.

Miss Hardbroom is clearly the Severus Snape of this tale and just like Snape, she never redeems herself.
“Ethel Hallow shows promise, Mildred Hubble, anything but. Mark my words, Mildred Hubble will never graduate as a witch from this academy!”
“That’s very good. Who’s that? Oh. Mildred Hubble. Four.”
What are the professional standards for educators in the wizarding world?!?! What does the interview process look like? Do they require teachers to hold vendettas against their least favorite students? Just as the Dursley’s made me cautious of British CPS, this school needs some serious oversight. Why doesn’t Miss Cackle take this awful woman down a peg and remind her that her role is to support Mildred and build her up? Then again, why didn’t Dumbledore intervene in Snape’s abuse?

How did Mildred think ketchup was blood? She might not be the worst witch, but she also might be the dumbest.

Mildred didn’t just scream in terror at the sight of ketchup, she screamed literally 21 times when Ethel came out of the bathroom wearing a mask. Why do these witches scare more easily than humans?

Why wasn’t Mildred suspicious of Ethel for being so generous as to loan her a broom? I kind of want to put another check in the dumbest witch column, especially with the pointed and sinister comment “It’ll take very good care of you”. It wasn’t just Mildred, though. No one raised a brow to the school bully loaning a costly piece of equipment to the spaz who bested her in front of the whole school. Now that I mention it, are there not school brooms? My schools always had optional communal equipment, even if it wasn’t as high of quality as something you might buy personally. Hogwarts had school brooms and I have a hard time believing that an almost 400 years old international academy for witches wouldn’t. Is there a school-wide conspiracy to humiliate Mildred?

Why do these girls want huge, sexy noses if no one else in their world has them? This seems like an offensive stereotype of witches, when even the young and attractive ones, like Miss Spellbinder and Miss Cackle’s niece, Donna, don’t have them.

What fucking crossroads demon did Tim Curry make a bargain with and how many years are left in his deal? This man is a household name and has starred, almost exclusively, in movies that can only be described as fabulously terrible. You have not lived until you see Tim Curry’s disturbingly sensual music video cutaway from The Worst Witch, as he flies around in a cape singing about how gremlins are going to mess up every cassette from London to Idaho.

“Oh Miss Hardbroom, your girls? … I love it, Miss Hardroom. Let’s get this show on the road.” I want to give the writers the benefit of the doubt, here, and assume they were going for flirty towards Miss Hardbroom, a consenting adult, but the Grand Wizard might be a sex trafficker.

“I was a fool to trust you! You abominable child, Mildred! Get out of my sight!”
“Go to bed without supper and I’ll see you in my office, tomorrow at noon.”
“If these are the witches of the future, I hate to think what the future will bring. What is this generation coming to? I’ve got to split. I’ve got another gig.”

It was a performance put on by children. It’s like a flashback to my years of softball… and basketball… and volleyball… and just gym class.

Why does “turn these witches into snails” turn witches in to snails, but “Ethel Hallow is now a frog” turns Ethel Hallow into a pig? Why does no one believe the former, when they saw the latter? I don’t understand the rules of magic in this world.

Why would Ethel confess to Maud, Mildred’s best friend, that she bewitched her broom, humiliating not just Mildred, but the entire school, in front of their Celebrity Rockstar King? Furthermore, why wasn’t she expelled for this, when Mildred is repeatedly threatened with expulsion for innocuous mistakes? Are there actual guidelines for expulsion or is this just the 80s?

“Once in a purple moon, there is a special young witch, who shines above the rest. Often, she goes unnoticed, because she’s out of step. I have seen this girl trying to fly. Oh, yes, I have. I’ve watched her at play and seen how her friends treated her. The best witch isn’t always the girl who comes out on top of tests. A true witch has witchcraft in her at all times… and this is what you have, Mildred Hubble.”

I… I don’t even know where to begin, folks. First of all, these are bold words from a man who cut his visit short, blowing off a feast that was prepared for him and dismissing an entire generation, because a child made a mistake in what amounted to a school play. Second, on what is he basing his praise of Mildred? He’s never even met her, which brings me to my third point. When was he watching her?!?! The Grand Wizard visits for the first time on Halloween night, but he’s “watched her at play and seen how her friends treat her”? I once had a man show up on my doorstep in a hoodie at 9:00 at night and tell me that he was a Mormon and wanted to come inside and speak to me about Jesus Christ… and I didn’t piece together the fact that that probably wasn’t entirely on the up-and-up for years. Y’all, even I could tell that the Grand Wizard is 100% buying children.

“Now, Mildred, have you made any plans for this unexpected holiday?”
“No, Grand Wizard. I suppose I’d better practice my flying.”
“Would you like to practice with me?”
“With you?!?”
“Oh, absolutely.” ::he said seductively::

The Worst Witch, y’all.12/10… would absolutely recommend.

Concise Reviews of Mostly Dated Shows I Watched or Rewatched During the Pandemic in 250 Words or Less

I, like everyone else, was determined to be productive when Covid-19 hit my country and the lockdown was implemented, in various stages. I was going to do yoga and all sorts of crafts and read all the books and workout and write and, and, and…

I did do some of those things. I walked a lot and on those walks, I listened to audiobooks. I hand-painted a cartoon portrait of my dogs in a bathtub. I painted and decorated the hall bathroom. I… bought a yoga mat and blocks. Mostly… I watched a lot of TV shows, old and new, good and bad. Here are my thoughts, limited to very mild spoilers only.

Lizzie McGuire: I loved this show as a young teen. It was less about relating to Lizzie, herself, and more about wishing I could relate to her very wholesome experiences, at school and at home. As an adult, I realize that this was a pretty sugarcoated version of the middle school years, though, and I’m thrilled that the reboot fell through. Duff wanted an “honest” depiction of life in your 30’s, claiming that the original show portrayed an honest depiction of middle school and I call shenanigans on that. Not once did one of Lizzie’s classmates fear pregnancy, because she swallowed after her first blowie… and that’s a big part of the appeal for me. Even today, I retroactively envy Lizzie’s home life, with her supportive parents and annoying, poorly disciplined little brother. It’s delightful to see that this is one of those shows you can watch as an adult and realize you now relate to the parents just as much as you once did the kids. They weren’t written as clueless or naïve and I’d say this is still a wonderfully hokey watch, that I can’t wait to share with my girls.

The Mandalorian: I’m not gonna lie. I far prefer Star Trek to Star Wars and have picked many a fight with my husband over who would win in a battle, Spock or Obi Wan… because I am cool. The newest installments to the latter have left me cold and viciously hating Rey, because women can be strong and independent, without being ungrateful assholes. So, I had little interest in The Mandalorian, beyond the cuteness of Baby Yoda, but my husband was really excited about it, as were my library teens… and Baby Yoda was still the primary appeal for me. I watched every episode of this series and I couldn’t tell you much about the plot, past “save the child.” One of my teens recently told me that the reason he loves it so much, is that it’s the closest thing to Firefly that isn’t Firefly. I disagree. Sure, the setting is similar, but the heroes aren’t warm or funny or even attractive and the villains are relatively bland. If you’re a diehard Star Wars fan, you’ll likely love The Mandalorian, but if you can take it or leave it, you’re unlikely to feel any differently about this installment. Baby Yoda is adorable, though.

Once Upon a Time: This Disney/ABC family show is objectively terrible, overall. The CGI sets are laughably bad in the first season and the child actor gets progressively worse as his cuteness wears off. The storylines are engaging and clever in the beginning, but quickly become more about participation trophies and honorary mentions, as the writers work to include every Disney character ever throughout the seasons. Honestly, though, it’s still a really fun watch. It’s nice to enjoy a fantasy story that truly appeals to all ages, including fight scenes and love stories in equal measure, with absolutely no penis. Game of Thrones and True Blood have their appeal, but there is definitely a point where I feel like nurses see less dick. Once Upon a Time is not what I’d call good. It’s campy at times and goes on for far too long. I haven’t finished the show, but I’m absolutely certain that it jumps the shark, probably specifically the one from Finding Nemo, if the reviews are any indication. Still, it keeps me engaged, when I want some harmless drama and excitement… and can stomach the heroes repeatedly releasing the villains and being absolutely shocked when they do something evil, once again.

Big Bang Theory: Originally, BBT was a clever sitcom portraying a demographic often ignored… even if some thought the jokes just made dumb people feel smart. The show truly jumped the shark, however, when all of the relationships and female characters became its central focus. Penny was always a plot device, the Xander, a character to whom the audience could relate, as she asked questions on their behalf. She normalized the nerds and acted as the inevitable love interest. She had a purpose. Bernadette was an entertaining representation of how women can be smart and beautiful, though she received little depth as anything beyond Howard’s gal. Then, Amy Farrah Fowler joined the show, lighting the fuse that was its inevitable explosion. Amy was an offensive stereotype of female intellectuals: frumpy, socially clueless, and boring. She had to “fix” Sheldon, who didn’t need fixing as an asexual character, and refused to respect his boundaries… or those of anyone else on the show. While she did get progressively worse, it wasn’t just her. The jokes became formulaic and the focus entirely shifted, as happens to many sitcoms that run too long. What was once a tale of geeky men exploring their post-college years, became a failed attempt at a nerdy Everybody Loves Raymond with jokes about marriage and parenting dominating the predictable dialogue of literally every single character, including the no-longer-asexual Sheldon… because that’s how sexuality works. If I ever rewatch BBT, I’ll stop before the first wedding and recommend the same.

Friends: David Schwimmer carried this show. Whether you like his character or not, the actor was the best at physical comedy and delivery. From the first episode, Schwimmer sold Ross as the awkward, nerdy, doormat. Did everything about his character age well? No, but neither did a lot of things, so I’m willing to look at Ross through the lens of 1999, too. Not only did I enjoy Ross more, I found myself hating Rachel, especially past the “we were on a break” drama. She left a man at the altar and slept with him after he got engaged, slept with an ex after he groped her friend, was always a terrible employee, slept with her assistant, took advantage of her friends, treated Ross like a sweater she neither wanted to wear nor donate by stringing him along for years and sabotaging his every new relationship, and gave the father of her baby no actual say in his daughter’s well-being while simultaneously expecting him to do all of the husbandly things without the title. I shipped Chandler and Monica at one time, with their friends-to-lovers trope and enjoyed their storyline again, but now realize that Phoebe and Mike were the couple to beat. They had an adorable meet-cute with real chemistry. Mike accepted Phoebe for all of her history and annoying quirks, with zero embarrassment. Best of all, their relationship never had time to drag. Schwimmer might have been the comedic lead, but Paul Rudd was the real romantic MVP.

It’s a Sin: I thought this miniseries had six episodes. When I realized it was only five, I was relieved, because it was absolutely heartbreaking. When it comes to movies and TV, I’m basically a robot. Nothing but dead animals and babies makes me cry. The Notebook? Titanic? Schindler’s List? Nope. That being said, I cried during every episode of It’s a Sin and I mean tears streaming down my face. It’s such a compelling tale of a group of mostly gay friends, living in 1980s London, during the AIDS epidemic. The protagonists aren’t caricatures and neither are the villains, really, as the leads each leave home and make their way to London, where they can live their lives freely… until they start to fall ill, one by one. Surprisingly, religion is rarely addressed as the reason for the stigma against homosexuality (and AIDS by extension), which I appreciated, because it’s not necessarily as historically accurate in the 80’s UK as it would be in the US South. This show infuriated me as a librarian, as the main characters struggled to find any information on the mysterious illness killing people they loved. I’ve never been happier for such an amazing show to end. I have read criticism that the one (seemingly straight) character was the Token Straight Friend, but I consider that to be a horrible way to talk about allies. Plenty of straight people lost friends and loved ones to AIDS and this show did a great job portraying that, as well.

7th Heaven: At 10 years old, I wanted to be Mary Camden. All of my friends were slender, athletic, and had parents who made sure they bathed and their clothes fit. I never could seem to master any of those. I realize now, depressingly enough, that my mother wanted to be Annie Camden: wanted by her husband, respected by her community, with children who looked up to her, able to keep all the balls in the air… and she never could master any of those, herself. So, watching this show as an adult was bittersweet for me, as I recognized how far my mother’s life veered from what she wanted. While 7th Heaven might have hit a soft spot for me, though, it has probably aged worse than anything in the history of time. Every negative thing about the 90s is encapsulated in this show, from the most oppressive purity culture to low-key racism thought progressive. The Camdens controlled their children’s sexuality with an iron first, from first kisses to first times. They knew one black family, a most accurate example of Token Black Characters, as nearly every episode featuring them was themed around race… which was also true for all other non-white character mentions. It also went on for way too long. By season 8, all but a handful of the original actors had given up, and so did I. Nostalgia aside, there’s only so much time I can spend with early 00s churchy people, without having flashbacks of my own.  

Roswell: At age 12, I was obsessed with Roswell. I mean that I would be concerned if my child were so fixated on something. I work with teenagers, so that’s saying something. Having reached my adult height by sixth grade and still a few years out from my breast reduction, I remember watching Liz Parker stand in front of her mirror in her matching bra and panties, knowing I could never wear something like that, because the cute stuff didn’t come in my size. If I wanted to be utterly mortified, I could dig up the diaries where I introduced myself with my full name in every entry, just like Liz. Still, I think I’d have preferred to be Isabel, beautiful and in possession of alien powers, with two brother figures who wanted to protect her. Middle school Belle had issues and this show is a lot of what got her through them, so for that reason, Roswell will always have a place in my heart. Objectively speaking, though, it isn’t much different than many early 00s shows, featuring gorgeous actors far too old to play the dramatic and angsty parts assigned. It does, however, lack the clever wit of its more iconic competitors, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and doesn’t measure up in the sci-fi world to shows like Firefly, with a plot riddled with holes. It’s unsurprising that Roswell never made it past three seasons, but I don’t care, because those came at just the right time for me.

Smallville: I never intended for Smallville to be a good rewatch. I just wanted something mindless and campy and Tom Welling’s Clark Kent seemed like a good fit. I’d argue that this show is, overall, one of the worst in the Superman franchise. For starters, if Tom Welling can pass for 15 in season one, I can pass for Betty White now. Clark is supposed to be this gawky and awkward teenager, but no amount of stumbling or sputtering from Welling makes up for his age and build. Any teenage boy who looked like that would be the crush of every girl and invited to every party… once people realized he wasn’t a substitute teacher. It’s not that Welling does a bad job portraying Clark, it’s just that it’s utterly unconvincing at age 25. The mostly Monster of the Week plot doesn’t really redeem Smallville either. While Michael Rosenbaum is my all time favorite Lex Luthor, we barely get to see his dark side for several seasons and the supporting characters leave something to be desired, especially Lana. I don’t remember hating this character. Chloe annoyed me until she got over her Clark crush and started acting like a real friend, but I loathe Lana. She’s self-absorbed and whiney and thinks everyone in her life owes her their every secret. Regardless of its other flaws, Lana is what makes me not want to watch, as an adult. The rest, however, is more or less what I wanted: mindless, campy fun.

Gilmore Girls: Gilmore Girls has been quite the comfort watch for me, over the years. Lorelai always had money for the things she and Rory needed and wanted, despite the insistence that she had to get by on hard work and grit. If ever that wasn’t true, The Bank of Gilmore was happy to write a check, in exchange for company only. The heroines were effortlessly beautiful, universally loved, and were handed the world on a silver platter that they mocked for its pretention. They were best friends and adored by all men and their snowglobe town. It was the ultimate fantasy. I tried to rewatch in 2020, though, and just couldn’t get over how ungrateful these two were for their obscene privilege. Sure, you have a complicated relationship with your parents… so do a lot of people whose parents aren’t willing to write them checks or buy them lavish gifts. The Poor Little Rich Girl plot just didn’t hold up for me after the last year and Lorelai’s insistence on being a friend, rather than a mom, was extremely grating when I work with teens in this situation, was a teen in this situation, and prepare to have daughters of my own. Perhaps Reddit just ruined this one for me by villainizing literally every character, claiming abuse all around and scrutinizing the entire show through a 2020 lens. Maybe I just need to come back in another time of life, but this one was a surprising pandemic no-go for me.

Stranger Things: Oh, Stranger Things, the leading title in shows that didn’t need subsequent seasons. My favorite thing about ST is the hilariously spot-on portrayal of teenagers and the amazing acting that accomplishes it. I love me some teen dramas, but working with the age group has me hyperaware that they are almost never portrayed as a day younger than 19 and always by actors older than that. ST breaks the mold with its nerdy 80s middle schoolers and unique sci-fi plot… in the first season. Unlike many, I never felt that ST needed a second, and definitely not a third, season. I didn’t need to be introduced to Billy and Max, who completely lifted out of the story. I didn’t need the audience-pandering reveal of a Steve who’s scooping ice cream and a Jonathan with a successful career, when the opposite is totally what would have happened, considering Steve’s privilege and charm and Johnathan’s poverty and general creepiness. I didn’t need a love story between the single mom and the drunken, incompetent chief of police. I didn’t need to watch Genius Elle stumble over the English language for three years. I didn’t need to see Mike’s mom become a cheating whore. Mostly, I didn’t need all of the sci-fi plot explained, in detail, ultimately removing any and all mystery from the storyline. Sometimes, less really is more and I don’t care if I’m entirely alone in saying that ST would have been far better as a miniseries with a dark and open ending.

Vampire Diaries: VD started off alright, for teen angst played by beautiful twenty-somethings, a favorite genre of mine. Admittedly, Ian Somerholder carried the show, only slightly aided when the original vampires arrived in season four, but it was still a fun watch… at first. My earliest problem with VD was that all affection for Elena dissipated by season three, seemingly a trope of vampire dramas, as Sookie Stackhouse suffered the same fate. It made for a rough watch when I loathed the main character everyone loved. VD didn’t even have True Blood’s handy backup of engaging support characters, either… just Damon and occasionally Caroline. As with most CW shows, Vampire Diaries’ greatest sin was that it went on far too long. Nina Dobrev (Elena) wasn’t even in the last two seasons and it wasn’t not the saving grace it sounds, because VD was the TV show that most obviously revealed it was never intended to be binged. I’ve never seen anything more redundant. Even reminding myself that the story was supposed to span eight years, I couldn’t get past the fact that every character died multiple times. I’m not exaggerating. A Google search reveals that the only character who didn’t die was Klaus, who left the show for his own spin-off. By season five, character death had zero impact, because supernatural loopholes would just allow for their return. After that, I wished for the ability to watch at double speed. At least True Blood had Alcide Herveaux.

Bewitched: At age nine, as my parents were growing less and less interested in me, TV was my best friend. Nick at Nite’s Block Party Summer was the best thing ever and Bewitched night was my favorite. I suppose I just never grew out of my desire to live in a world with magic and Bewitched painted a picture of a grown-up existence where that was possible. On my rewatch, I realized the magic is still there. I still love the 60s aesthetic, even knowing the absolute hogwash that was the decade’s representation. I still wish Endora were my mother and consider her way ahead of her time. I still adore the shenanigans that came with a magical, meddling family. I just have one complaint: Darrin Stephens. Darrin was, at best, a bully with no redeeming qualities. Not only did he not allow Samantha to use her magic, due to his own insecurities, he insisted she hide who she truly was, because he was ashamed of her… unless he directly benefited. Their marriage was a wonderful representation of the oppression of the mid-century housewife. I’d like to think that someone magical and immortal was only with him as some form of social experiment. In my mind, 2021 Samantha is as young and hot as ever, raising her two magical children, her late husband nearly forgotten. This conclusion makes for a much better watch, because of all the shows I rewatched during the pandemic, I think this is one I’ll never outgrow.

Mad Men: I got Jake to watch the first episode of this one two years ago, only for him to rage quit, insisting Don Draper was a representation of how men can’t be successful and good. Not until recently could I convince him to try again, after explaining that Don isn’t supposed to be a hero and pointing out that if he can cheer for any of the characters in Game of Thrones, he can get off his soap box. So, I purchased the entire show on Vudu and I’m enjoying it more than I did the first time, as is Jake. Mad Men is generally one of those shows that gets better when you know the ending, as you recognize the growth of the characters through the years, in direct correlation to the shifting political and social times. Not only do I see the intention behind Don’s character changing according to what society thinks he’s supposed to be, but his older counterpart, Roger, goes through later stages of the same, even without a secret identity. In contrast, from episode one, we see Peggy’s battle with who she’s supposed to be and who she wants to be, while Betty and Joan cling to roles they were raised to fill… one with success and the other without. We even get to see how these dilemmas impact their children, growing up in such a volatile decade, all with astounding wit and impeccable taste. I’m definitely not sorry to own Mad Men.

The Office: Jake and I watched The Office for the first time, during the summer of 2019. When my manual laborer landed a promotion placing him in an office setting, though, I insisted we rewatch from episode one, so he could experience the business casual shenanigans in a new perspective. I bought the DVDs on Amazon and The Office has been even more enjoyable the second time. Originally, I found Jim to be somewhat spineless, pining for Pam for years without action, while seeing Pam as a bit cruel for stringing along both him and Roy. This time, I was able to better recognize the nuance, knowing how things ended up for the couple. Not only did the two work together, but Pam’s live-in fiancé also worked downstairs. There’s no scenario where she leaves her fiancé and dates her coworker and everyone is happy. I also figured out what exactly I don’t like about Pam and can get past it as a very human flaw: she is an utter doormat. While I could never relate to being that much of a pushover, that trait makes her transgressions a lot more forgivable. As for Michael, while I love Steve Carrell, I find him to be a much more abhorrent person than I first did. I place intentions higher than most and they still don’t carry that much weight. Holly was just as dorky, while being a much better person, and I’m a bit sad that she doesn’t get someone better.

George Bailey: The First Millenial

It’s a Wonderful Life has long been one of my favorite Christmas movies and remains so, as our holiday film selection becomes increasingly over-saturated with emphasis on a depiction of Santa Claus, that no more resembles the historical Saint Nicholas than Disney’s Pocahontas resembles the 17th century twelve-year-old of the Powhatan tribe.*

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This is a 12-year-old.

As a religious person, the overwhelming focus on Santa, by others of the Christian faith, baffles me. I don’t even want to do the Santa thing, anymore, because I feel the emphasis has become so skewed in favor of a cartoon character and materialism over the birth of the Messiah. A couple of years ago, I told my grandmother that I wasn’t playing Dirty Santa, at the family party.

Me: “It’s just not fun for me and it’s expensive.”
Grandma: “Well, that’s what Christmas is about, you know… giving each other gifts.”
Me: “No, it’s not. Christmas is about Jesus and family.”

My 82-year-old grandmother told me Christmas is about things, y’all. That should horrify you, even if you’re not religious. Santa can go jump in a lake.

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So… I’ve really grown to appreciate the old Christmas movies that aren’t afraid to broach faith, family values, and societal responsibility, like Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Carol, and It’s a Wonderful Life. Despite this, every year, as I watch this favorite Christmas classic, I have some… issues… with George Bailey and the fact that he’s… well, kind of a tool… by the standards of his time and mine. I’d even go so far to state that in 2018, George Bailey would fit several of the prevailing stereotypes of Millennials that I’ve been hearing all of my adult life. For example…

He’s selfish.

The opening scene of It’s a Wonderful Life, depicts three stars discussing a man on earth who is dangerously close to taking his own life. Ultimately, Clarence AS2 (Angel Second Class, which doesn’t even make sense as far as acronyms go), is assigned to intervene, as we listen to the prayers of George Bailey’s family and friends, one of which clearly declares that “He never thinks about himself.”

Never thinks about himself?!?!? The only truly selfless thing George Bailey does in this movie is to save his brother when he falls through the ice, ultimately losing his hearing in one ear, an action and a consequence he never again mentions. As wondrous as that behavior is from a teenage boy, it’s also the moment little GB peaked. Just a few weeks later, we see him arrive late to his after school job in a drug store, before providing terrible service to the only customers present.

Violet: “Help me down?”
George: ” Help ya down?!?!”

George: “Make up your mind yet?”
Mary: “I’ll take chocolate.”
George: “With coconuts?”
Mary: “I don’t like coconuts.”
George: “Don’t like coconuts? Say brainless, don’t you know where coconuts come from? [pulls out a National Geographic magazine] Look-it here, from Tahiti, the Fiji Islands, Coral Sea.”
Mary: “A new magazine! I never saw it.”
George: “‘Course you never. This is just for us explorers. It just so happens I’ve been nominated for membership in the National Geographic Society.” ::puts coconut on the ice cream, anyway::

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Spoiler alert: by “explorers”, he means “men.”

Immediately following this scene, we see George approach his boss, Mr. Gower, who’s just lost his son to the flu epidemic of 1919 and is naturally drunk, devastated, and ill-tempered. Realizing that the impaired pharmacist has mistakenly filled some capsules with poison, George risks his ire to correct him, ultimately taking quite the boxing of his sore ear. We’re lead to believe that this is another truly honorable moment; but I think it’s worth considering the fact that this kid just showed up late to work and treated Mr. Gower’s only customers like dirt, prior to pestering him during his grief. While he might not have deserved to be hit, it was a reprimand appropriate to the times. Furthermore, I work with teenagers and I just don’t consider it a stretch to think that any one of them would speak up if they thought someone was about to poison some children, no matter the consequences. I feel like the average American is only impressed by this “heroism”, because they have such devastatingly low expectations of teens.

As the movie continues, we see George grow into a man… an extraordinarily selfish man, who speaks incessantly about what he wants. Even his last words to his father, for which he shows no remorse, are entitled declarations about how he deserves more.

– “Oh, now Pop, I couldn’t. I couldn’t face being cooped up for the rest of my life in a shabby little office…Oh, I’m sorry Pop, I didn’t mean that, but this business of nickels and dimes and spending all your life trying to figure out how to save three cents on a length of pipe…I’d go crazy. I want to do something big and something important.”

After his father dies and the board votes to keep the Bailey Building and Loan open, in response to George’s passionate defense of the community, they only have one condition: George must stay on and take his father’s place.

– “Let’s get this thing straight. I’m leaving! I’m leaving right now! I’m going to school! This is my last chance! Uncle Billy, here, he’s your man!’

That’s right. George’s first consideration when his father’s legacy, his community, is on the line, is what he wants. The next four years apparently offer little growth, as he tells Mary, the night he calls on her:

– “Now, you listen to me. I don’t want any plastics and I don’t want any ground floors and I don’t want to get married ever, to anyone! You understand that? I want to do what I want to do!”

“He never thinks about himself”? That’s the entire premise of the first half of this movie. All George Bailey does is think about himself, about what he wants, what he deserves, because…

He’s entitled.

As a millennial, I literally hear about the entitlement of my generation, weekly… but no matter how many participation trophies I received as a kid (because I certainly didn’t earn any legitimate ones), I have never, in my adult life, compared to the entitlement of George Bailey.

In 1940, only 5.5% of men had completed a college degree, compared to 3.8% of women, not because it was a time of equality, but because a college education was so incredibly rare.* That’s eleven years after George sits at his father’s table, in his very nice middle class home, and tells him he’s better than the Bailey Building and Loan, a year when only 68% of American homes had electricity.* Just weeks later, after his father’s death, George even ridicules the man’s failure to have paid for not just his, but his brother’s education.

– “You are right when you say my father was no business man. I know that. Why he ever started this cheap penny-ante building and loan, I’ll never know. but neither you nor anybody else can say anything against his character, because his whole life was… why in the 25 years since he and Uncle Billy started this thing, he never once thought of himself, isn’t that right Uncle Billy? He didn’t save enough money to send Harry to school, let alone me.”

He does so to a room of men who likely went no further than the 8th grade, themselves, because in 1940 less than 25% of Americans had completed high school.* If you’re wondering why all these stats are about 1940, that’s because prior to that year, the surveys weren’t interested in levels of completed schooling, but literacy. A healthy chunk of the country couldn’t read the day ol’ GB haughtily declared he was turning down the position of executive secretary of his own business to go to college.

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Yeah. I’m entitled.

It’s not just his demand for a college education that made George Bailey insufferably privileged, by the standards of that time and this one, but his general disdain for his hometown. I get it, he wanted to travel the world, in a day when men were lucky to have jobs at all, but the lack of exoticism in Bedford falls certainly didn’t earn the level of contempt George had for it.

– “It’ll keep him out of Bedford Falls, anyway.”

– “Homesick?!? For Bedford Falls?!?

– “… stay around this measly, crummy old town.”

This “crummy old town” has an indoor swimming pool under the high school gym. The only rundown house is eventually transformed to a glorious Victorian mansion by Mary Bailey, herself, with just a little elbow grease. Even George declares the falls are beautiful in the moonlight, when he tries to petition Violet to climb Mount Bedford. The dystopian version still has a successful library.

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The citizens of Bedford Falls aren’t completely without their struggles, of course. George mentions to Sam Wainright that “half the town” was recently put out of business when the tool and machinery works was closed down. Does that stop him from criticizing anyone who works for Mr. Potter, though?

– “In the whole vast configuration of things, I’d say you’re nothing but a scurvy little spider… and that goes for you, too!”

Well, George, not everyone was just handed their father’s business, at 22. Zetus Lapetus, much of this movie took place during The Great Depression! Choosers were literally beggars, which brings me to my final point of our “hero’s” entitlement. George Bailey was 12 in 1919, born in 1907. These years weren’t exactly known for the wealth of choices they provided. Throughout the entirety of It’s a Wonderful Life, however, George is constantly choosing his path. He chose to stay and run the Bailey Building and Loan after his father died. He chose to give his college money to Harry and let him take another job, when he was more than willing to take over. George chose to marry Mary, immediately after stating that it wasn’t what he wanted. He chose not to invest in Sam Wainwright’s business despite the fact that he’d apparently saved two thousand dollars for his travels. That’s thirty thousand dollars, today and ol’ GB chose to forfeit it to keep the Building and Loan open.

In a time of rampant polio and domestic violence and 25% unemployment, George had the luxury to choose his path and each and every time, he was an absolute martyr about it. He didn’t do these things, because he was selfless. He did them because of societal expectation, because of his image, and we know this, by his perpetual bellyaching, because…

He’s ungrateful.

When I went on this rant during my bi-weekly teen book club, because that’s the librarian I am, my kids argued that this was the point of the movie and I’ll give them that. However, in the opening scene it’s heavily implied that George Bailey is only presently forgetting how good he has it, as he faces financial ruin and scandal on Christmas Eve. I mean, who wouldn’t see the brown spots on their lawn, in that light? For our “hero”, though, the grass has perpetually been greener. The entire movie highlights his general unhappiness and lack of appreciation.

George Bailey sits in his father’s home, as he’s served by a maid, and insists he can do better for himself. He somehow begrudgingly both inherits his own business and marries a beautiful women, who’s been in love with him her whole life. He has a respectable excuse to avoid the war and make beautiful babies, yet still finds something to complain about, while other men are dying and losing limbs. All the while, Mary Bailey remodels their home, cares for their children, and runs the USO, without a word of complaint. You the real MVP, Mary Bailey, because if this movie is an accurate indicator of your husband’s daily behavior, I’d have smothered him with a pillow in the first month of marriage. I mean, you could have been a librarian.

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Years go by and George Bailey lives in a beautiful home, in a wealthy little town. He’s a respected member of society, by everyone from the town tramp to the bartender to his arch nemesis’s financial adviser. Still, his days are ruined by such inconsequentials as a loose newal cap on the staircase.*

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Dude, even Zuzu was like, “Paste it, Daddy.”
Is it that much of a surprise, when things really go sideways and he says:

– “…It’s this old house. I don’t know why we all don’t have pneumonia. Drafty old barn! Might as well be living in a refrigerator… Why do we have to live here in the first place, and stay around this measly, crummy old town…”

– “Wrong? Everything’s wrong. You call this a happy family — why do we have to have all these kids?”

– “What kind of a teacher are you, anyway? What do you mean, sending her home like that, half naked? Do you realize she’ll probably end up with pneumonia, on account of you? Is this the sort of thing we pay taxes for, to have teachers… to have teachers like you… stupid, silly, careless people who send our kids home without any clothes on?”

That last little remark earned him a busted lip, and despite the general disagreement of the community of Bedford Falls, I’d say it was quite well-deserved. It’s at this point, however, that we see George Bailey finally begins to realize how good he has it, and yet… the only hope poor Clarence has of convincing him of this, is a glimpse through the most self-centered lense of all time. Looking into the eyes of his loving wife, adoring children, and loyal friends wasn’t enough to convince George that life was worth living. Nope. Ol’ GB could only see value in his life when someone put a gold star next to his every good deed. His existence was only worth the effort, once it was proven that just by being alive, he changed the world. Folks, if that ain’t a participation trophy…

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Pictured: The Original Millennial

Citations

https://www.history.com/topics/native-american-history/pocahontas

https://www.statista.com/statistics/184272/educational-attainment-of-college-diploma-or-higher-by-gender/

Click to access 10_Education.pdf

https://www.diydoctor.org.uk/projects/staircase-parts-and-terminology.htm

I’m Reading 26 Classics, So You Don’t Have To: Part 2

My new year’s resolution for 2020 was to read a minimum of 52 books, half of which were not dragon erotica. Since my library teens still have to read the classics and I never actually read any, myself, I decided those 26 titles would be undoubtedly considered classics. I’ve surprisingly enjoyed most of my choices, as evidenced by my review of the first seven, here. So, I present, books 8-13.

8. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy ⭐

I’ll be blunt. I have never before finished a book I hated as much as Anna Karenina. I am so tired of people who loved this book telling me that I just didn’t understand or read it thoroughly. Classics are almost as bad as politics in that, if someone doesn’t agree with another person, they must be less intelligent or not know all of the facts, because we’re all arrogant assholes, incapable of respecting different opinions. Not only did I read this book, I also read many analyses on this book, to make sure I fully understood it, after these insistences. I did and I still hated it. If you love this book and consider it the greatest work of literature ever, I respect that, but you might not want to read further.

Anna Karenina tells the story of Russian socialite, Anna’s, affair with Vronsky, some dude she saw for four minutes on a train and for whom she decided to throw away all of her social standing and clout, cuz feeeelz, despite knowing the society she lives in and the consequences of an indiscreet affair. Women are stupid that way. s/ As Anna falls deeply in love with Vronksy, her husband, Karenin, essentially demands discretion or divorce. Selfish cow that Anna is, she denies both and nearly dies birthing Vronsky’s child. Karenin forgives Vronksy, which embarrasses him and he tries and fails to kill himself. Ultimately, Anna and Vronsky run away together, with Anna forfeiting her son, because she is a horrible, wretched person and ultimately being shunned by society, no matter where she goes, while growing more and more insecure of Vronsky’s affection. Finally, in the best scene in both the terrible book and the terrible movie, she throws herself under the train and I have a new fandom: the train from Anna Karenina.

Alongside this story, we read the tale of Kitty, Levin, and farming. Kitty, Anna’s young sister-in-law is also infatuated with Vronksy, so certain that he’ll propose to her that she turns down the good and honorable, if provincial, Levin, only to have her heart broken, when she realizes that Vronsky never had any true intentions toward her. Over the next year, she spends time in grief and self-reflection, mourning her mistake, and because she’s a very good girl, Levin comes back and asks her to marry him again. She says yes and they move to the country, where there’s farming and tilling and plowing for entire chapters, in a needlessly drawn out symbolic message of “idleness and city life bad, hard work and rural life good.”  Kitty ends up happy and Anna ends up dead. The end.

This book is 864 pages long, so the above summary is of course oversimplified. I’ve read that the book isn’t supposed to be about likable characters and I get that. I liked The Great Gatsby, because it was beautifully written about awful people. This wasn’t. Anna Karenina is the kind of classic that makes people hate classics, because everyone claims it’s amazing.

Why is Tolstoy above reproach for the writing tropes we mock today? Let’s start with the instalove. There was no explanation for Anna’s affection for Vronsky. I get it, she wasn’t really given the chance to choose her path, but poor women weren’t either, and many of them remained faithful, even after four minutes on a train with another man. Her husband wasn’t abusive or cruel. Despite the ridiculous arguments I had on Reddit about this book, there is zero evidence that Karenin mistreated Anna. He even raised her illegitimate child. He was kind, if distant, and she had literally every thing she wanted. She was doing pretty damned good for 19th century Russia, so when she threw it all away, I needed a reason… besides boredom. If Tolstoy had written a compelling love story between Anna and Vronksy, I could’ve felt a lot more for Anna, torn between her head and her heart. However, she literally throws away everything, including her son, for this man she barely knows and we’re never told why. Even if it was adventure and excitement, which I don’t buy considering her unexplained obsession with Vronsky, she didn’t do anything with Vronsky she couldn’t have done with Karenin. No. It was instalove and vaginal tingles and that’s just as stupid as when modern romance novelists do it.

As for Kitty and Levin… I don’t hate their storyline, but I’m often told that this book was feminist and are you fucking kidding me?!?! There is not a single point, in this book of 732 characters, where Tolstoy introduces a woman who is more than one-dimensional. His lead females are The Madonna and The Whore. Kitty keeps her legs closed and her eyes down and gets the life she wants. Anna follows her passion and ends up under a train. Even the female side characters are vapid and shallow hens. This book is not feminist, no not even for the time period, in part because we get no compelling reason for Anna’s actions. She’s just a bitch in heat, as far as Tolstoy is concerned, a slave to her baser nature. The fact that society treats her differently than her lover doesn’t even garner much feeling, because she was the one who was married. While her brother was treated differently for his affair and that might have had some merit with different telling, the execution of this tale just painted a picture of a horrible woman I was glad to see die, as opposed to a woman caught up in a double standard. If the reason this book was empowering was Kitty’s personal growth and self-improvement, Louisa May Alcott told that story much better, and much more quickly, in Little Women.

Then there was the length. So much of this book is filler, dragging out a poorly told story about awful people, that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to finish it. I’ve read long books. I’ve read books about horrible people. I’ve read long books about horrible people. I’ve mentioned several times that I love Steinbeck, but his filler is interesting or pivotal to the storyline. Tolstoy is just in love with himself and takes full advantage of a lack of more entertaining pastimes to ramble on about nothing for almost 900 pages, because the people of the 19th century couldn’t discreetly download alien erotica for a better time.

So there you have it. I hated everything about this book, aside from the Kitty/Levin plot, which was still simplistic and preachy. I hated the characters, the writing, the oversimplified themes, the Poor Little Rich Girl plot, the length, and my favorite character, by far, was the train. I’m glad I read this title halfway through the year, because this is truly the kind of classic that makes people hate classics. I give Anna Karenina a single begrudging star.

9. The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway ⭐⭐⭐

Yes, I Googled “shortest classics” again. However, I surprisingly enjoyed this audiobook, which was only two hours and some change. It told the depressing story of a fisherman who meets his ultimate opponent, the marlin that will bring him glory, only to hook him but fail to reign him in, as he’s pulled further out to see. Eventually, both the old man and the marlin face defeat, as the man makes it to the shore, his glorious catch mostly devoured by sharks.

That’s pretty much it. There’s not much more to the summary of a two hour book, nor was there a way to avoid that spoiler, but it was well-written and engaging, as it painted a picture of ultimate futility. Honestly, it’s brevity was what I liked most and not just because I wanted to check another book off my total. It made for a more exciting story and a more relatable protagonist. It was a simple tale, told simply, with no forced happy ending. I give The Old Man and the Sea three stars.

10. The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Upton Sinclair’s, The Jungle was assigned to me in my high school AP U.S. History class. If I recall, I read about half of it, before the English teacher everyone hated ruined the ending for me and I quit. I do remember thinking it was boring and depressing and that the names were all very confusing, so I wasn’t really looking forward to reading it, this year. Y’all, this was one of my favorite books. While the Lithuanian names were indeed a bit confusing, I listened to the audio, which substantially mitigated my troubles and I’d highly recommend the same, if you have similar struggles.

The Jungle tells the story of Jurgis Rudkus, who starts off as a brawny, hardworking immigrant, eager to support his family. Despite overcrowding of immigrants wanting a job in the Chicago meat packing district, Jurgis finds work immediately, as a strong and hardy man, as do the other members of his large family. Despite their dreams and willingness to work for them, however, the Rudkus family is doomed from the start, by the sheer number of every day villains, waiting to take advantage. I can say little more about the plot, without ruining the story for you, but I found Jurgis and his family to be compelling portrayals of immigrants done wrong, who can therefore never catch a break. The only criticism I have of this story is that the last chapter reads as Upton Sinclair’s personal Socialist manifesto, which really didn’t fit the tone of the book, regardless of my political opinions.

Speaking of which, I am a Capitalist. I consider our system flawed, of course, but I also think it’s the only political system that will ever work in the United States, agreeing with Theodore Roosevelt that “Radical action must be taken to do away with the efforts of arrogant and selfish greed on the part of the capitalist.” That being said, the political themes of this work didn’t turn me off until the end, when they became overtly preachy. Before that, they were both organic and historically accurate. The turn of the 20th century was a dark time to be alive and anyone who says we haven’t come a long way isn’t paying attention, as The Jungle is largely credited with the creation of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act, due to the deplorable and stomach-churning conditions outlined in this book, despite Sinclair’s intent to call attention to the absues of workers. In time, however, that has clearly improved, as well, since pickle factory workers no longer lose their feet. I give The Jungle four stars and warn the reader that there really is no happy ending.

11. The Pearl, by John Steinbeck  ⭐⭐⭐

For me, John Steinbeck is the author I love, while completely understanding others’ distaste for him, as he’s often overly wordy and descriptive. This was a novella, however, so I got all the bleak joy of Steinbeck in just a couple of hours.

The Pearl tells the story of poor pearl diver, Kino’s, discovery of “The Pearl of the World,” that one pearl that will make him rich beyond his wildest dreams, just when he needs it most. His fortune almost immediately turns sour, however, with the doctor he needs trying to overcharge him, market buyers trying to swindle him, and even blatant thieves coming after him.

As Kino and his wife, Jauna, escape into the night to find somewhere to sell the pearl, tragedy strikes and Imma just give you the #deadbaby trigger warning. Kino and Juana make their way back to their home, realizing that the pearl was never a blessing, but a curse as Kino heartbrokenly flings the pearl back into the ocean, scorning mans greed and inate evil.

Have you ever read those stories about people who win the lottery, only to have it completely destroy their lives? That’s essentially The Pearl, as Kino’s world is torn apart by finally acquiring the riches he’s spent his life seeking. No amount of wealth can overcome the doctor’s racism and avarice. His community and friends turn against him. Strangers chase after him, bringing the ultimate tragedy down on him. It’s not a happy tale and doesn’t have a happy ending, but I enjoyed the bleak symbolism, despite occasionally feeling that the better path would be obvious, even to Kino. I give The Pearl three stars.

12. Alas, Babylon, by Pat Frank ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Not a single person has recognized this title, when cited, but Alas, Babylon is a classic post-apocalyptic novel, set in 1959, during the Cold War. The premise sees the scales tipping, when through a series of unfortunate events, the Soviet Union perceives a first strike and attacks the United States, wiping out all power and communication in fictional Fort Repose, Florida.

Randall Braggs is living an aimless life when his older brother, an Air Force Intelligence officer, warns him that the world is essentially about to end and sends his own family to Florida, in hopes of securing their safety, while he stays behind in Nebraska, knowing he won’t make it, himself. Randy finds himself the keeper of his grieving sister-in-law, nephew, and niece, in addition to a band of townspeople, including the spinster town librarian (fuck you, Pat frank), the Black farmers up the road, his girlfriend and her family, and the local doctor after “The Day,” when the entire state has become a contaminated zone. Throughout the book, the group faces many threats, from lack of food, to illness, to highwaymen, as they try to survive the aftermath the blast.

I won’t lie and tell you that this book necessarily holds up well in 2020. At times, it’s both racist and sexist. Though Randy is considered a “progressive” in his rural township, in the context of Alas, Babylon, that just means that he considers Black people to be humans, ranking slightly above women. I do not have a hard time putting these things into context, for the day they were written, but I could certainly understand if they weren’t someone else’s cup of tea, so consider that a trigger warning of sorts.

Aside from the above, Alas, Babylon is a great read. Where many modern post-apocalyptic media leans too heavily on clichés and tropes of the genre, such as the diabetic and the prepper uncle, this one stars a protagonist who has very little warning of the coming blast and actually regretted some of the preparations he forgets. Since many of the men are recent veterans of the 1950s, their survival instincts are far more organic than that of Rick Grimes. The struggles they face are ones few would consider today, such as a lack of salt and their solutions are clever, without reaching. Jake hates when I read this stuff, because I always want to order bugout bags and that backpack you can put your cat in for travel, but if I could find more titles like Alas, Babylon, I’d devour them. I give Alas, Babylon 4 stars.

13. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley ⭐⭐⭐

I think I mentioned, in my last post of reviews, that 2020 was the wrong year to read a bunch of weird political dystopian novels, but I must say, Brave New World was probably my favorite of the genre, due to it having so many parallels to modern day society, while still managing to be delightfully bizarre.

The book begins with world building, as we see different classes of society being conditioned from birth to appreciate their lot in life, from babies being trained to fear sunshine and flowers to older children learning acceptance and docility through “sleep learning.” These things are a stretch for modern civilization, but Huxley then goes on to describe a society that encourages children to experiment with one another sexually and derides adults who practice any sort of monogamy, including playing favorites with one of their many lovers. The concept of parenthood and pregnancy are ones of shame and disgust, as are aging and religion and it is the societal norm to dose oneself with Soma to rid the mind of all negative thoughts and emotions.

Upon threat of being sent to Iceland for his vocal criticisms of World State, our protagonist Bernard takes a trip with his favorite gal, Lenina, to visit the “savages” on a New Mexico reservation. There, they feel disgust for all they see as these people value religion and actually repair their clothing (shudder). It’s here that Bernard and Lenina discover a woman from their own society, who was abandoned years ago and committed the disgusting and shameful crime of birthing a child. They return to London with her and her now-grown “savage” son in tow and all hell breaks loose.

I read Brave New World in college and it remains my favorite dystopian novel. Both U.S. political parties like to compare the other to 1984, but I find that to be much more far-fetched than the general societal norms of Aldous Huxley’s world of mandatory promiscuity, waste, and assumed drug use. Meanwhile, there are just enough weird quirks, like the engineered classes of Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons to keep this book firmly in science fiction territory, as opposed to relegating it to the more political fiction of Orwell or the symbolic story of We. I give Brave New World three out of five stars.

I’m Reading 26 Classics, So You Don’t Have To: Part 1

At the beginning of this year, I set a lofty new year’s resolution, as I tend to do. Last year’s resolution was to finish 52 books, in an effort to end my habit of beginning seven and maybe finishing two. I accomplished that goal… barely. I literally finished listening to Little Women on New Year’s Eve, at double speed, but I did it. So, this year, I decided to take it up a notch. Not only would I read at least 52 books, half of them would inarguably be titles of substance, meaning not werewolf/mafia/motorcycle club/time travel/alien romance novels. Since my library teens still have to read classics for school and my one and only act of rebellion in high school was to put more effort into not completing assigned reading, than it would have taken to actually read the books themselves, I decided that all 26 books would be classics. It seemed an overly ambitious way to make myself better at my job, of course, but then a pandemic hit, freeing up an awful lot of time for me to read 26 classics, so you don’t have to…

  1. Dracula, by Bram Stoker ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Dracula was my first classic of the year and, if I’m honest, I was dreading my entire project at this point and wasn’t enthusiastic about a book that is essentially a compilation of diary entries and letters. I don’t even like graphic novels, because the writing style takes me out of the story. Fortunately, however, I was able to download the audio for free, from work, and that completely removed the distraction. While I was confused, at times, as to why something was being shared, I did find that all of the pieces ultimately lined up into a genuinely scary tale. Jonathan Harker looking out his window to see Dracula climbing the side of the castle was quite possibly one of the creepiest things I’ve ever read. It was refreshing to experience horror without gore or smut, despite the many trashy movie adaptations, with all their genitalia. I give Dracula five stars and it’s easily one of my favorite books, now.

2. In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I’ve never loved stories told through weird mediums, like court documents or interviews. It’s done in non-fiction for transparency and in fiction, to better resemble non-fiction, but I don’t enjoy either. I find it really difficult to get into a story, if I’m still putting together the puzzle while reading. Maybe I’m just lazy, but I feel like that’s the author’s job, before publication. That being said, it’s ironic that my first titles, of such a lofty goal, were both written in this style.

When I started In Cold Blood, I assumed it would be dry, as was the way of most non-fiction of the time. I had also had dental surgery just a few days before, so I was high as a kite when Jake came home for lunch and found me sitting on the couch, crying.

Jake: “What’s wrong?”
Me: “Nothing.”
Jake: “That’s not true. You’re crying.”
Me: “They were just all so scared! Even the dog was scared and then all of his owners died and it doesn’t even say what happened to him!”

While I wouldn’t recommend reading this one on hydrocodone, I can attest to it being not only engaging, but truly disturbing, as you’re made to empathize with two vicious murderers. In fact, only after I’d finished this title, did I discover that Truman Capote was actually somewhat obsessed with the killer, Perry Smith. Some speculated that he held romantic feelings for him, while others theorized that he saw himself in the man. That’s… even more disturbing, so kudos to Capote for taking it to the next level. Simply for the slow pacing that is unavoidable in most non-ficion, I give In Cold Blood four stars.

3. Lord of the Flies, by William Golding ⭐⭐

Lord of the Flies has always sounded fascinating to me. Just the concept of an utter breakdown of society amongst young boys, who aren’t as strictly indoctrinated into social constructs of acceptable behavior, sounded thrilling and I never understood why all of the teens I worked with hated it. Color me surprised when I, too, was driven far more insane than the main characters, by my complete and utter boredom.

Y’all, nothing happened throughout most of this book. The first 10% of the story revolved around establishing a rudimentary society of gentlemanly norms, while the next 80% depicted the destruction of said norms, and the last 10% revealed the consequences. The beginning of the story was interesting, as young boys scrambled to build a way of life and a hierarchy that closely resembled the only one they knew. About 10% out of the next 80% was engaging, as the carefully constructed society devolved, while the other 70% was largely internal monologue. The final 10% woke me up, with an exciting chase scene and a surprising twist. Despite the rousing ending, however, over 2/3 of this book was simply filler and a failed attempt at suspense. While I enjoyed the concept, the execution left me wanting… three more stars. Two disappointed stars for Lord of the Flies.

4. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck ⭐⭐⭐⭐

If I were hard-pressed to name a favorite author, who doesn’t turn out cozy and predicable romances, it would be John Steinbeck. I understand that people dislike him for being too descriptive, but unlike certain contemporary authors (here’s looking at you Diana Gabaldon and Stephen King), Steinbeck is actually good at it. Like Tolkein, Steinbeck isn’t wordy, because he’s in love with himself, but in love with the world he’s creating, specifically his characters. Can that be tedious, regardless of his motivations? Sure, but I love good characterization so much, I find I don’t mind. Of Mice and Men, however, hit a sweet spot, managing to have deep characters, despite its novella length.

When I told friends that I was reading this story, many of them shared that the ending made them cry. Judging by reviews online, that was Steinbeck’s intent, as he painted a rather dated picture of the plight of Lennie, a man who was likely on the autism spectrum. In 2020, however, I felt little for Lennie and all sympathy went to George, because I know several people on the spectrum… and zero of them are psychotic. I know, I know, he was a big guy, who didn’t realize his own strength, and was misunderstood. That’s the story described by George, anyway, as he recounts all the jobs and plans that haven’t worked out and all the times he had to take Lennie and run, because George is the real MVP. His life could’ve been so much simpler, were he to have Lennie committed to some sort of home, but he was loyal and acted as his protector, through all of his mishaps… until the very end.

I realize that Steinbeck meant for Lennie’s final actions to be an accident, a tragedy beyond his control, but I don’t accept that, with the understanding we have for special needs people, today. I’ve met too many of them, in my line of work, to believe that murder is such a small step, regardless of strength. Lennie had severe anger issues and was truly dangerous. He got what was coming to him. My heart went out only to George, in the final scene, as he bestowed such heartbreaking mercy on his lifelong friend. I give four stars to Of Mice and Men, despite feeling very differently about the characters than basically all of mankind.

5. Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I admit it. There was a month, where I Googled the shortest classics, so I could more easily accomplish my goal and Metamorphosis was one of them. Unlike most of the titles I’ve chosen this year, Metamorphosis is a symbolic, artistic piece and I loathe that stuff. As a teen librarian, I spend all of April, National Poetry Month, ranting about how poetry is stupid. I’ve been known to declare that it’s not art, if I can do it. I’m simply too direct for metaphors and beautiful prose, so I figured an art piece wouldn’t be my jam and researched what it was supposed to be about, before reading. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. Knowing that Kafka intended this novella as an allegory for his relationship with his father, painted a portrait that was both haunting and heartbreaking. Even Kafka’s mother and sister apparently had their limits on their affection for their source of income. He was a meal ticket and when he wasn’t that, he was an insect. Four painful stars.

6. We, by Yevgeny Zamyat ⭐⭐⭐

This might not have been the year to read a bunch of disturbing political classics, now that I sit here in terror, sporting my foil hat, beneath my bare lightbulb; but I’m a sucker for classic dystopian and I’ve always wanted to read the source material on which virtually all of them were based. We tells the story of One State, a supposed utopian society made of steel and glass, removing any and all sense of privacy from a totalitarian state. There are no individuals, only parts of the whole, as is reflected in the one and only pronoun: we. The only delineator for each of these parts is a letter/number combination, as we see in the spacecraft engineer, D-503. Society’s laws and rules are based entirely on mathematic formulas and emotions and dreams are considered a sickness, of which the consequence is death.

Y’all, I think one of the reasons I love these books so much, is that they’re all so very bleak. No one gets a happy ending in a world of government corruption, far surpassing anything we could imagine in our modern society. In this regard, We is no different than the books it inspired and I quite enjoyed the overall plot, as D-503 rebelled against his beloved One State, with the help of a beautiful woman, I-330, in a tale as old as time. Much like Eve, I-330 offered D-503 the curse of knowledge, inducting him into Mephi, an organization plotting to overthrow One State, despite the risk that they could both be destroyed by the Benefactor’s Machine. I won’t ruin the ending for you, since no one has actually heard of this book and I genuinely enjoyed the story, but I can attest to it being a somewhat confusing read.

Perhaps because it was translated from Russian or due to the fact that it’s literally 100 years old, We wasn’t a leisurely read. Much of the story is told in prose and imagery, to the point that the reader is not always entirely sure what’s happening and what’s metaphorical, a disruption only compounded by the use of invented terminology, along with words that have simply fallen out of fashion in the last century. There was some definite rereading required and that made for a tedious experience. I’d ultimately recommend the book, but it’s by no means light. The juice is still worth the squeeze, however and I give We three stars.

7. Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I tried and failed to read this book about 10 years ago, when I was going through my divorce, and that was probably for the best, because this is not a book to read when you’re already depressed. Flowers for Algernon was another title that was told entirely through first person journal entries and medical reports, so I’m thrilled that I spent the last couple of years training my brain to comprehend audiobooks. People often judge the quality of an audiobook by the reader, but unless it’s either really good or really bad, I rarely care. The narrator for Flowers for Algernon, however, was fantastic. As the book progresses and simple-minded Charlie Gordon undergoes the same procedure as test subject mouse, Algernon, the narrator becomes noticeably, but gradually, more articulate. As Charlie surpasses his colleagues, his voice becomes more arrogant, espousing scientific jargon and passing judgement on everyone around him. As he sees Algernon failing and his own mind begins to degrade, he sounds frantic with terror and humiliation. This is a good book, but an excellent audiobook and quite possibly one of the few that left me near tears… at least without a dog dying. Five devastating stars.

George Bailey: The First Millennial

It’s a Wonderful Life has long been one of my favorite Christmas movies and remains so, as our holiday film selection becomes increasingly over-saturated with emphasis on a depiction of Santa Claus, that no more resembles the historical Saint Nicholas than Disney’s Pocahontas resembles the 17th century twelve-year-old of the Powhatan tribe.*

LYVn

This is a 12-year-old.

As a religious person, the overwhelming focus on Santa, by others of the Christian faith, baffles me. I don’t even want to do the Santa thing, anymore, because I feel the emphasis has become so skewed in favor of a cartoon character and materialism over the birth of the Messiah. Just last week, I told my grandmother that I wasn’t playing Dirty Santa, at the family party.

Me: “It’s just not fun for me and it’s expensive.”
Grandma: “Well, that’s what Christmas is about, you know… giving each other gifts.”
Me: “No, it’s not. Christmas is about Jesus and family.”

My 82-year-old grandmother just told me Christmas is about things, y’all. That should horrify you, even if you’re not religious. Fuck Santa.

giphy-2

So… I’ve really grown to appreciate the old Christmas movies that aren’t afraid to broach faith, family values, and societal responsibility, like Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Carol, and It’s a Wonderful Life. Despite this, every year, as I watch this favorite Christmas classic, I have some… issues… with George Bailey and the fact that he’s… well, kind of a tool… by the standards of his time and mine. I’d even go so far to state that in 2018, George Bailey would fit several of the prevailing stereotypes of Millennials that I’ve been hearing all of my adult life. For example…
He’s selfish.

The opening scene of It’s a Wonderful Life, depicts three stars discussing a man on earth who is dangerously close to taking his own life. Ultimately, Clarence AS2 (Angel Second Class), is assigned to intervene, as we listen to the prayers of George Bailey’s family and friends, one of which clearly declares that “He never thinks about himself.”

Never thinks about himself?!?!? The only truly selfless thing George Bailey does in this movie is to save his brother when he falls through the ice, ultimately losing his hearing in one ear, an action and a consequence he never again mentions. As wondrous as that behavior is from a teenage boy, it’s also the moment little GB peaked. Just a few weeks later, we see him arrive late to his after school job in a drug store, before providing terrible service to the only customers present.

Violet: “Help me down?”
George: ” Help ya down?!?!”

George: “Make up your mind yet?”
Mary: “I’ll take chocolate.”
George: “With coconuts?”
Mary: “I don’t like coconuts.”
George: “Don’t like coconuts? Say brainless, don’t you know where coconuts come from? [pulls out a National Geographic magazine] Look-it here, from Tahiti, the Fiji Islands, Coral Sea.”
Mary: “A new magazine! I never saw it.”
George: “‘Course you never. This is just for us explorers. It just so happens I’ve been nominated for membership in the National Geographic Society.”

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Spoiler alert: by “explorers”, he means “men.”

Immediately following this scene, we see George approach his boss, Mr. Gower, who’s just lost his son to the flu epidemic of 1919 and is naturally drunk, devastated, and ill-tempered. Realizing that the impaired pharmacist has mistakenly filled some capsules with poison, George risks his ire to correct him, ultimately taking quite the boxing of his sore ear. We’re lead to believe that this is another truly honorable moment; but I think it’s worth considering the fact that this kid just showed up late to work and treated Mr. Gower’s only customers like dirt, prior to pestering him during his grief. While he might not have deserved to be hit, it was a reprimand appropriate to the times. Furthermore, I work with teenagers and I just don’t consider it a stretch to think that any one of them would speak up if they thought someone was about to poison some children, no matter the consequences. I feel like the average American is only impressed by this “heroism”, because they have such devastatingly low expectations of teens.

As the movie continues, we see George grow into a man… an extraordinarily selfish man, who speaks incessantly about what he wants. Even his last words to his father, for which he shows no remorse, are entitled declarations about how he deserves more.

– “Oh, now Pop, I couldn’t. I couldn’t face being cooped up for the rest of my life in a shabby little office…Oh, I’m sorry Pop, I didn’t mean that, but this business of nickels and dimes and spending all your life trying to figure out how to save three cents on a length of pipe…I’d go crazy. I want to do something big and something important.”

After his father dies and the board votes to keep the Bailey Building and Loan open, in response to George’s passionate defense of the community, they only have one condition: George must stay on and take his father’s place.

– “Let’s get this thing straight. I’m leaving! I’m leaving right now! I’m going to school! This is my last chance! Uncle Billy, here, he’s your man!’

That’s right. George’s first consideration when his father’s legacy, his community, is on the line, is what he wants. The next four years apparently offer little growth, as he tells Mary, the night he calls on her:

– “Now, you listen to me. I don’t want any plastics and I don’t want any ground floors and I don’t want to get married ever, to anyone! You understand that? I want to do what I want to do!”

“He never thinks about himself”? That’s the entire premise of the first half of this movie. All George Bailey does is think about himself, about what he wants, what he deserves, because…
He’s entitled.

As a millennial, I literally hear about the entitlement of my generation, weekly… but no matter how many participation trophies I received as a kid (because I certainly didn’t earn any legitimate ones), I have never, in my adult life, compared to the entitlement of George Bailey.

In 1940, only 5.5% of men had completed a college degree, compared to 3.8% of women, not because it was a time of equality, but because a college education was so incredibly rare.* That’s eleven years after George sits at his father’s table, in his very nice middle class home, and tells him he’s better than the Bailey Building and Loan, a year when only 68% of American homes had electricity.* Just weeks later, after his father’s death, George even ridicules the man’s failure to have paid for not just his, but his brother’s education.

– “You are right when you say my father was no business man. I know that. Why he ever started this cheap penny-ante building and loan, I’ll never know. but neither you nor anybody else can say anything against his character, because his whole life was… why in the 25 years since he and Uncle Billy started this thing, he never once thought of himself, isn’t that right Uncle Billy? He didn’t save enough money to send Harry to school, let alone me.”

He does so to a room of men who likely went no further than the 8th grade, themselves, because in 1940 less than 25% of Americans had completed high school.* If you’re wondering why all these stats are about 1940, that’s because prior to that year, the surveys weren’t interested in levels of completed schooling, but literacy. A healthy chunk of the country couldn’t read the day ol’ GB haughtily declared he was turning down the position of executive secretary of his own business to go to college.

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Yeah. I’m entitled.

It’s not just his demand for a college education that made George Bailey insufferably privileged, by the standards of that time and this one, but his general disdain for his hometown. I get it, he wanted to travel the wold, in a day when men were lucky to have jobs at all, but the lack of exoticism in Bedford falls certainly didn’t earn the level of contempt George had for it.

– “It’ll keep him out of Bedford Falls, anyway.”

– “Homesick?!? For Bedford Falls?!?

– “… stay around this measly, crummy old town.”

This “crummy old town” has an indoor swimming pool under the high school gym. The only rundown house is eventually transformed to a glorious Victorian mansion by Mary Bailey, herself, with just a little elbow grease. Even George declares the falls are beautiful in the moonlight, when he tries to petition Violet to climb Mount Bedford. The dsytopian version still has a successful library.

giphy-4

The citizens of Bedford Falls aren’t completely without their struggles, of course. George mentions to Sam Wainright that “half the town” was recently put out of business when the tool and machinery works was closed down. Does that stop him from criticizing anyone who works for Mr. Potter, though?

– “In the whole vast configuration of things, I’d say you’re nothing but a scurvy little spider… and that goes for you, too!”

Well, George, not everyone was just handed their father’s business, at 22. Zetus Lapetus, much of this movie took place during The Great Depression! Choosers were literally beggars, which brings me to my final point of our “hero’s” entitlement. George Bailey was 12 in 1919, born in 1907. These years weren’t exactly known for the wealth of choices they provided. Throughout the entirety of It’s a Wonderful Life, however, George is constantly choosing his path. He chose to stay and run the Bailey Building and Loan after his father died. He chose to give his college money to Harry and let him take another job, when he was more than willing to take over. George chose to marry Mary, immediately after stating that it wasn’t what he wanted. He chose not to invest in Sam Wainwright’s business despite the fact that he’d apparently saved two thousand dollars for his travels. That’s thirty thousand dollars, today and ol’ GB chose to forfeit it to keep the Building and Loan open.

In a time of rampant polio and domestic violence and 25% unemployment, George had the luxury to choose his path and each and every time, he was a total fucking martyr about it. He didn’t do these things, because he was selfless. He did them because of societal expectation, because of his image, and we know this, by his perpetual bellyaching, because…
He’s ungrateful.

When I went on this rant during my bi-weekly teen book club, because that’s the librarian I am, my kids argued that this was the point of the movie and I’ll give them that. However, in the opening scene it’s heavily implied that George Bailey is only presently forgetting how good he has it, as he faces financial ruin and scandal on Christmas Eve. I mean, who wouldn’t see the brown spots on their lawn, in that light? For GB, though, the grass has perpetually been greener. The entire movie highlights his general unhappiness and lack of appreciation.

George Bailey sits in his father’s home, as he’s served by a maid, and insists he can do better for himself. He somehow begrudgingly both inherits his own business and marries a beautiful women, who’s been in love with him her whole life. He has a respectable excuse to avoid the war and make beautiful babies, yet still finds something to complain about, while other men are dying and losing limbs. All the while, Mary Bailey remodels their home, cares for their children, and runs the USO, without a word of complaint. You the real MVP, Mary Bailey, because if this movie is an accurate indicator of your husband’s daily behavior, I’d have smothered him with a pillow in the first month of marriage. I mean, you could have been a librarian.

5x4w

Years go by and George Bailey lives in a beautiful home, in a wealthy little town. He’s a respected member of society, by everyone from the town tramp to the bartender to his arch nemesis’s financial adviser. Still, his days are ruined by such inconsequentials as a loose newal cap on the staircase.*

24StairKnob

Dude, even Zuzu was like, “Paste it, Daddy.”
Is it that much of a surprise, when things really go sideways and he says:

– “…It’s this old house. I don’t know why we all don’t have pneumonia. Drafty old barn! Might as well be living in a refrigerator… Why do we have to live here in the first place, and stay around this measly, crummy old town…”

– “Wrong? Everything’s wrong. You call this a happy family — why do we have to have all these kids?”

– “What kind of a teacher are you, anyway? What do you mean, sending her home like that, half naked? Do you realize she’ll probably end up with pneumonia, on account of you? Is this the sort of thing we pay taxes for, to have teachers… to have teachers like you… stupid, silly, careless people who send our kids home without any clothes on?”

That last little remark earned him a busted lip, and despite the general disagreement of the community of Bedford Falls, I’d say it was quite well-deserved. It’s at this point, however, that we see George Bailey finally begin to realize how good he has it, and yet… the only hope poor Clarence has of convincing him of this, is a glimpse through the most self-centered lense of all time. Looking into the eyes of his loving wife, adoring children, and loyal friends wasn’t enough to convince George that life was worth living. Nope. Ol’ GB could only see value in his life when someone put a gold star next to his every good deed. His existence was only worth the effort, once it was proven that just by being alive, he changed the world. Folks, if that ain’t a participation trophy…

tenor

Pictured: The First Millennial

Citations

https://www.history.com/topics/native-american-history/pocahontas

https://www.statista.com/statistics/184272/educational-attainment-of-college-diploma-or-higher-by-gender/

Click to access 10_Education.pdf

https://www.diydoctor.org.uk/projects/staircase-parts-and-terminology.htm