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

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.

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.

The Top Three Worst and Best Women of Fiction

In the last fifty years or so, we ladies have focused a great deal on female empowerment. I don’t want to call it feminism, because that term seems to mean so many different things to different people. No, the idea to which I refer is something much simpler: women matter and their choices are their own. So, throughout the years, numerous efforts have been made to depict strong women in media. Some of these have been Rant of Rage abhorrent, while others have become the product of my obsessive fangirling: i.e. the only reason Gail could ever tell you who Buffy and Angel were… and Nathan and Haley… and Jamie and Claire…

That girl stuck by my side even after I made her play the Buffy the Vampire Slayer video game… and described in detail my plans for who would be together in my Sims game. There were charts. To be fair, though, she did talk about politics an awful lot for a fifteen-year-old girl. I cannot unhear those National Youth Rights Association tangents.


Pictured: not us

So, not only is it a librarian job requirement to be able to name strong female leads (or pathetic attempts at them), but it’s also a side effect of my media tunnel vision. I present to you, the worst and best women of fiction.

*** Spoiler alert if you’re unfamiliar with any of the titles… duh. ***

THE WORST

Carrie Bradshaw – Sex and the City


She’s horrified that someone doesn’t love her as much as she loves herself.

I graduated in 2006, from a Southern suburban high school. Like any misfit in overalls, a turtleneck, and ribbon-laced combat boots, I found common misfit ground with the three gay guys in my graduating class. At the time, this pretty much required me to have seen every single episode of Sex and the City; therefore, I am fully informed in my loathing of Carrie Bradshaw. Now, don’t misunderstand me, here. I am not anti-Carrie because of her sexual freedoms. In fact, Samantha was probably my favorite of the four characters. No, my issue with Carrie was her absolutely unforgivable selfishness.

Gail and Malik have always defended Carrie in this argument, insisting that her impossible self-absorption was the point. I get it. Real women are flawed. Miranda is a workaholic. Samantha is emotionally unavailable. Charlotte is painfully idealistic. None of these compare, however, with the utterly horrifying extremity of Carrie’s self-absorption. For example, there was the time she…

1. … cheated on her boyfriend, ultimately breaking up with him on her friend’s wedding day.
2. … got angry with her boyfriend for insisting she stop seeing the man with whom she cheated.
3. … threw a tantrum when one of her best friends wouldn’t loan her money after she’d spent years proving she was bad with money.
4. … knowingly slept with a married man, then confronted his now ex-wife for telling people about it, after causing her to fall down the stairs and break a tooth.
5. … became so focused on the materialism and fame of her wedding that she completely ignored the groom’s vocalized discomfort over both.
6. … blamed one of her best friends for her having been left at the alter, despite having ignored the groom’s vocalized discomfort.

These are just the plot points I remember from ten years ago, but they certainly qualify as evidence that Carrie Bradshaw was an absolutely disgusting and offensive portrayal of a woman who chose to forgo the suburban soccer mom path.

Andrea – The Walking Dead


This gif is just so watchable, because she’s tied up and gagged.

One of the best things about the current apocalypse craze is the chance to see some badass heroines. I mean, what woman wouldn’t want her daughter to look up to the brave and selfless Katniss Everdeen? That gal had moxie, y’all. Sadly, however, some of the efforts toward a strong female lead have fallen far short… as with Andrea.

When I first started watching The Walking Dead, I knew little about the fan preferences, such as the fact that the audience violently hated both Lori and Andrea. Just a few episodes in, however, I was confused. Why was everyone so sympathetic to Andrea over her loss? For realz, yo, it’s the zombie apocalypse. Every person in this camp has lost everyone they’ve ever loved in the last thirty days. Rub some sand in your vagina and get on with life.

As the show progressed, it was painfully obvious that the writers wanted Andrea to become the fan favorite she was in the comics… and failed. Instead of holding her own with the men, as guardian of the camp, she accidentally shot a member of her own team, got left behind after the zombie attack, and ended up solely dependent on Michonne for protection, putting her and everyone in their makeshift family in grave danger, because of Andrea’s idiotic decision-making skills. By this point, I can only assume the writers had given up hope on “Team Andrea” t-shirt sales, because they killed her off, despite the fact that her comic book character is currently alive and well. Personally, I don’t think she went painfully enough. I wanted her eaten from the feet up for being such a weak and selfish representation of a woman in crisis.

Robin Scherbatsky – How I Met Your Mother


Stab her. Please stab her now.

Robin, Ted’s obsession in How I Met Your Mother, was originally driven, confident, straight-forward, and disinclined to pursue a traditional family life. She was initially a decent portrayal of a woman who didn’t know exactly what she wanted, but knew exactly what she didn’t want. As the series moved along, however, she quickly became overly brash and masculine, calling to mind the 1990’s ball-busting career woman stereotype, in an ugly gray power suit. You can’t be successful and feminine. You have to burp in public and eat ribs in your sleep.

Despite everything she claimed to want, Robin ended up repeatedly dating Ted, a man who clearly specified that he had completely different goals in life. She met a few men along the way, always ending things for horribly insulting reasons, and eventually ended up dating and even marrying/divorcing one of Ted’s best friends. For realz? You’re breaking up the band, Yoko! In addition to mistreating the people closest to her, we even got to see Robin’s outright abuse of a friend, as she treated her like a hated slave for comic relief.

Ultimately, in a show with only two leading female characters, one of whom was an artistic, sweet, kindergarten teacher, who married her college sweetheart, it was just insulting to women to see the only portrayal of a career-minded single gal as a flighty, self-absorbed, butch, bitch. I won’t even mention the fact that The Mother was just a stand-in for her, making the entire series a complete waste of time, as Ted does eventually end up with her.

THE BEST

Endora – Bewitched


She doesn’t need a man to make her drink.

When I was little, I watched an unhealthy amount of television, particularly during the Nick at Nite Block Party Summer event. I am pretty sure that I was the only eight-year-old who not only watched every single episode of Bewitched, but considered it an absolute favorite. In hindsight, however, I will say that I couldn’t have chosen a better woman to look up to than Endora.

By today’s standards, Endora was independent, diabolical, and unafraid to speak her mind. The fact that her character existed in the 1960’s however, makes her an even more impressive heroine. She was all of the above and she was powerful in a way no other character was, male or female. She was more powerful than Samantha, Aunt Clara, Uncle Arthur, Cousin Serena and even able to go head to head with her own husband. Furthermore, despite the understanding of the time, that a woman essentially becomes her husband’s property, Endora never let go of her insistence that Darren was attempting to quell a natural part of her daughter. She was willing to concede to her daughter’s wishes (mostly), but at no point did she back down and tell Darren that it was acceptable to stifle Samantha. She was relentlessly mischievous and meddlesome, often stealing the show in a time when women weren’t usually able to do so.

Hermione Granger – Harry Potter Series


I’d have totally practiced those spells, in secret.

As a librarian, there are a lot of reasons I despise most of the reading programs implemented in American schools. One of the primary reasons, though, is that I was assigned a 9th-12th grade reading level in the 6th grade and was only allowed to receive credit for books at an 8th grade level and higher. Translation: I could read Harry Potter with the other kids, but I couldn’t get any credit like the other kids. Well, Hermione Granger is absolute proof that there’s more to be had from reading than an improved vocabulary.

I desperately wish I’d read the Harry Potter series in middle school, reading points be damned. Not only was I obsessed with magic, even then, but I’d have benefited a great deal from knowing Hermione Granger. School always came effortlessly to me, pretty much until graduate school and I’ll tell you right now, that doesn’t make you the most popular girl in the 6th grade… especially if you’re willing to announce it to the room in true Hermione Granger style. I have never been willing to deny my intelligence and will, to this day, quote Professor Snape and admit that I am “an insufferable know-it-all.” I mean, it’s pretty much a job requirement now. Not only was Hermione smart, she was also loyal, brave, more than capable of overcoming That Awkward Stage, and she could throw a decent punch. More than anything, though, I needed someone to tell me that it was cool to be smart, as opposed to punishing me for it by not allowing me to read Harry Potter for credit.

Buffy Summers – Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Gaia Moore – Fearless)


If I try this, I will accidentally stab myself and die.

I was actually pretty torn on this one. I wanted to say Gaia Moore, from Francine Pascal’s Fearless series. She was a seventeen-year-old badass with no fear and an inability to relate to her peers and coupling my inability to relate to my peers with no fear would have been the shit. You, my readers, likely have no idea who that is, though. Instead, I’ve chosen a heroine that was both similarly and equally significant to me: Buffy Summers.

At fifteen, I climbed on the Buffy Bandwagon pretty late in the game, just as the series ended. It started with watching a few episodes before school and quickly morphed into saving my pennies to buy all of the seasons on DVD and constantly quoting it to Gail as she read The Communist Manifesto in our Pre-AP English class.

“Does this sweater make me look fat?”
“No. The fact that you’re fat makes you look fat. That sweater just makes you look purple.”

Buffy Summers was the perfect representation of a woman who could be both feminine and strong. She was a babbler who said the wrong thing a lot, hung out with the misfits, and just really wanted to be normal, despite having a pretty rocky home life. At fifteen, I related to that in a huge way. Not only that, but Buffy never pretended to be less than she was. Not once did that gal hand over a pickle jar that she could damned well open herself. Buffy taught girls to be proud of what they bring to the table and to own it, even if the boys quail. She was also an endlessly selfless character, giving up all hope for a normal life to save people. Furthermore, she was just a generally good friend, daughter, and whatever the hell she was to Giles. Sure, she was kind of a shitty girlfriend, but even that was a lesson that sometimes, love doesn’t go the way you want and life goes on… because Joss Whedon is kind of an asshole.

quote-q-so-why-do-you-write-these-strong-female-characters-a-because-you-re-still-asking-me-that-joss-whedon-277715

Five Ways You Offend Women by Insulting Fifty Shades of Grey

Provocative title, isn’t it? Anyone who reads my blog is familiar with my love-to-hate affection for the Fifty Shades of Grey series. After all, I’ve captioned it here, here, here, and in my last entry I showed you my homemade Pin the Penis on Christian Grey game. There are many things wrong with this series, but quite frankly, that’s a topic that’s been exhausted as of late, by individuals willing to take it a lot more seriously than I. In fact, while researching for this blog post, I found this one, which makes a lot of great points and this one, which makes me giggle.

Reba: “Everything makes you giggle, Belle.”


I do have a pretty low threshold.

So, don’t misunderstand my point here. I am not defending the series, as a whole. It’s just that in reading all of the thought-provoking and giggle-inducing critiques, I’ve come across a few criticisms that insult women all on their own. For instance:

Women who read Fifty Shades of Grey are unintelligent.

Zetus lapetus, is this book badly written. The characters are abhorrent, the dialogue is beyond a reasonable suspension of disbelief, and it is just so redundant. I don’t care that Anastasia says “double crap.” I just said “zetus lapetus.” I care that she says it 88 fucking times. It’s just… unreadable, but you know what? That’s just me. I read books about pushy special ops alpha males and werewolf love stories and that one about the sexy alien king. One of the most well-read women I know has a soft spot for hobbit slash fanfiction. Does that make either of us any less intelligent? If your answer is yes, kiss my ass, because I’m also reading The Teenage Brain, by Frances E. Jensen; and I devour at least 10 articles a day on everything from current events to the issues facing prison libraries.

If your argument against Fifty Shades of Grey is that intelligent women can’t read poorly written smut, you are one of the reasons reading is not a more popular hobby. Some people don’t watch American Idol or Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Some people just Googled “most popular reality show” to make that point. That doesn’t mean they don’t need to turn down their brain to relax. Not everyone considers reading a chore all the time. There are two kinds of librarians: literature snobs and those who hate literature snobs. I am the latter. I am intelligent. Sometimes I read smut.

Ana is only 22.

I’ve seen multiple criticisms of Fifty Shades of Grey fixate on the age of the heroine. For one, they get it wrong. Ana turned 22 in the third book, Fifty Shades Freed, so actually, the character in the movie is supposed to be 21, until otherwise specified. If you’re gonna bitch about something, do it accurately.

fiftydollars

When I was 21 years old, I lost my baby to a nearly second trimester miscarriage. Six months after that, I helped my best friend bury her infant daughter. That year, I accepted over $20,000 in student loans, graduated college, made the decision to enter graduate school, and chose to leave my ex-husband. Perhaps it wasn’t the typical middle-class American 22-year-old experience, but I was unequivocally an adult. By 22 I had bought a car, moved several times, paid my bills, taken out more in student loans than I could possibly earn in a year, and made major decisions about my future career path. That is typical. So, how dare you tell me that I wouldn’t have been of sound mind to enter into a sexual relationship of my choosing? If a woman old enough to vote, marry, drink, be tried as an adult, and sign binding contracts wants to sign a pretend contract before consensual sex, it doesn’t matter how much she giggles or how “mousey” she appears. I was 23 when I learned to apply eyeliner from a YouTube video and actually style my damned hair. That’s not what made me an adult. Being both responsible and accountable for my own choices was. Regardless of where things go in the books (spoiler alert: it ain’t good), Anastasia Steele was both of these when she met Christian Grey. Her age had absolutely no bearing on the situation and it’s disrespectful to young adult women to imply that they are not capable of making their own choices.

Ana is still a virgin.

This article is not the first one to take issue with the fact that Anastasia Steele has never had a sexual experience until she meets Christian Grey. The writer actually suggests that, because Ana has had no genuine interest in a man and doesn’t masturbate, it’s more likely the character is asexual. For one, the lead character in a romance isn’t asexual. That’s not how the genre works. Two, we learn later that Ana has had encounters with the opposite sex and they just haven’t gone anywhere. In regards to masturbation, I do know women who just aren’t interested. A lot of women have trouble reaching orgasm, both by themselves and with a partner. Their bodies just work a bit differently and without an emotional connection, physical stimulation may lack appeal… and that’s okay.

My biggest problem with focusing on this criticism of the series, however, is the assumption that a woman who is not sexually active is asexual or somehow abnormal. I am 27 years old and I have not had sex in five years. Furthermore, I’ve only kissed five people, ever. I am not asexual. I’m just not interested in sharing my body with someone with whom I see no future. I once let a man in a bar kiss me, with tongue, when I’d just met him that night. It makes me uncomfortable even remembering that, because physicality without an emotional connection just doesn’t do it for me. Different women have different needs and it’s just as offensive to shame a woman for not being sexually active as it is to call another a slut.

Fifty Shades of Grey is only popular, because the hero is rich.

While Christian Grey sure isn’t my dreamboat, I can tell you that in the current dating pool of grown men with flat-billed caps and job titles as specific as “n/a,” it’s not so far-fetched to think that, perhaps, it would be easier to repair deep-seated emotional scarring than to motivate a man to get his shit together. Regardless, I’m not convinced that the ability to “buy all the planes” is what appeals to the Fifty Shades of Grey target audience, particularly the over 30 bracket. This article actually suggests a somewhat circular logic: women are reading Fifty Shades of Grey, because women are reading Fifty Shades of Grey. Finally, a woman with traditional goals (marriage, children, an optional career) can come out and say…

No longer is it only Carrie Bradshaw that gets to talk dirty, but housewives too!

As a librarian, part of my job is analyzing literary trends. This is why I am particularly aware of the rise of the billionaire romance novel. Along with Christian Grey, in the last few years we’ve been introduced to Gideon Cross, Gabriel Emerson, Jesse Ward, and many other laughably wealthy and emotionally damaged heroes. However, long before well-worn copies of Fifty Shades of Grey hit nightstands all over the world, we met the heroes in these series: Rock Chick, KGI, Black Dagger Brotherhood, Psy-Changelings, Immortals After Dark, and The Sookie Stackhouse Novels. Every title listed stars leading men who are borderline abusive and financially set. That describes most contemporary, paranormal, and historical romance. This shit ain’t new. Not only does the insistence that this book simply broke new ground with an abusive megabajillionaire give the title far too much credit, it also implies that all women who enjoy romance are gold digging whores. That’s just not nice.

Note: I have been known to declare that I’d let a man string me from the ceiling and whip me if he’d pay off my student loans, but I am hardly the standard by which all women should be measured.

Fifty Shades of Grey is responsible for sex injuries.

This article and many, many more suggest that the rise in bedroom play injuries is the fault of Fifty Shades of Grey. Maybe it’s the researcher in me, but…. I call bullshit. You are an adult. You likely have a smartphone on you at all times, meaning you literally have endless information at your fingertips. If you are stupid enough to purchase a spreader bar and use a trashy novel for a user manual, you are the only one to blame for the broken spine. Have some faith that the majority of women are intelligent enough to manage a Google search, y’all.

I can say a lot of bad things about Fifty Shades of Grey. A lot of writers can. I mean, two twenty-somethings e-mailing each other? What is this, Amish country? Between Ana’s “inner goddess” and Christian’s “laters baby” this librarian actually fell out of love with reading for a few days. I love when women ask me to suggest titles “like Fifty Shades of Grey,” because it gives me the opportunity to introduce them to much better written erotica. Perhaps I can get them started on Kristen Ashley’s special-ops-saves girl books. Maybe I can send them back in time with one of Karen Marie Moning’s sexy highlanders. I can even show them more plot-light erotica, but with with steamier scenes that don’t read like a child reporting her molestation – “Then he touched me… down there!” You know what I won’t do, though? Insult them.

My Scottish Highlander Time Travel Adventure Romance Satire: Why I Don’t Write Fiction

I think the thing that makes me such a great blogger is my dependability. I never just randomly disappear for weeks on end. Oh, wait…

Chiefly, my reason is that I desperately need a new computer. Every time I start to write a blog, this one spits popups at me and growls. Also, I got really into this book series… hashtag librarian woes, y’all.

Speaking of which… while Gail and I align on many levels, our literary tastes are not one of them.

As you can tell, this doesn’t stop me from making references she wishes she didn’t understand. After all, fair’s fair and if I have to read her NPR transcript, via text message, she’s gonna know the outline of my latest novel. This month, I’m stuck on the Outlander series.

Yeah… that about sums it up.

Kidding. There’s actually a lot more plot to this one than my typical werewolf porn. I mean, they had to have some basis for the Starz series. Essentially, though, it was the first in what became a slightly obscure genre (Amish romance is a thing y’all) of Scottish highlander time travel adventure romance novels. I kid you not. There are many, many knockoffs of this series and they usually focus much more heavily on the romance (sex) than the rest. This one, however, has sparked a great deal of conversation between Gail and I, for two reasons…

1. Deep down, I’m still the 12-year-old who not only knew all of the shippers for Roswellian fandom, but also the rules of chat room role play games. I will talk Gaily’s ear off about a new obsession.
2. Even the fandom I adore gets over-analyzed and mocked by me, because everything in this world is funny.

While neither Gail nor I have grown up in any true luxury, we both came to adulthood in Shetland, a middle income Southern suburb. We graduated high school in 2006, with dial up internet connections, cell phones, and three-minute microwavable pasta. So, in my chatter over my latest series, Gail the Mailman and I, Belle the Librarian, have been discussing just how very poorly we’d do in 18th century Scotland.

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Naturally, this has led to plans to pen a Scottish highlander time travel adventure romance satire… because we bring the party. It’s actually been great fun trading ideas back and forth.

dancing

 

Braxley Engel’s Unsexy and Disappointing First Person Narrative of a Venture Through Time, by Belle Roquemore and Gail Frederickson. I think a catchy title is key.

Chapter 1: How I almost died of exposure.
For realz yo, it was 65 degrees out today… in mid-November. I feel confident stating that 18th century Scottish winter wear does not have the word “PINK” emblazoned on the butt in rhinestones. 

Chapter 2: Why doesn’t anyone speak English?!?!
There actually is no universally accepted criteria for differentiating between dialects and languages. However, over 30% of Scotland speaks Scots today and no one can quite decide if it’s a language or a dialect.* It’s pretty reasonable to assume that if 2014 Braxley woke up in 1743 Scotland, she would be fucked.

Chapter 3: Wait… what the hell is my backstory?!?!
If the destruction of the personalized keychain industry wasn’t enough to make you reconsider that ridiculous damned baby name with all of its x’s and apostrophes, perhaps this will! All silly first names that aren’t actually names aside, most Americans know very little about their origins. Sure, Braxley knows that Engel is German, but does she know that Germany was Prussia? Furthermore, can she speak the language? Also, that accent doesn’t exist yet.

Chapter 4: Why is my warrior so hideous?!?!
Folks, we dose our water with fluoride for a reason. We also lose a lot fewer limbs these days. Aside from such trivial matters as teeth and arms, though, the average height of a Scottish male in the 18th century was 5’3″.* That’s like, ignore his eHarmony message short. That’s like, stand on my feet while we slow dance, short. That’s like… hope I don’t have any 5’3″ male readers, short. Not to mention, while I lack a Wikipedia article on it, I’m pretty sure 18th century warriors weren’t shy about farting and scratching their asses.

Chapter 5: Where’s the soap?
What’s toothpaste? Who’s Tampon? You guys, you’re out of toilet paper! Where are the razors? Oh my stars, what is that smell?!?! What’s 18th century for “dick cheese”? I need to buy some nail clippers. Oh, look. Pubic lice. 

Chapter 6: Why am I wearing an entire winter wardrobe?!?!
18h-century-dress-Lacma-2
Imagine traveling in the heat… or rain. Also, that tickle in your throat? It’s a rib. 

Chapter 7: Um… I bring nothing to the table.
How dare they treat me this way!?! I have a Master’s in Library and Informat… um… FINE! I also have an in-depth knowledge of 20th century liter… oh.

Chapter 8: Everything is just so… hard.
The other night, I got home from both jobs (where I sit a lot, in air conditioning) and was too tired to cook, so I went to bed without eating. EASY MAC EXISTS, y’all. Poor Braxley and her expectation of only wearing an outfit once before having it clean and dry in about two hours, while she watches TV. 

Chapter 9: I have some nutritional concerns.
Where are the bananas? How do I make bread out of flower, water, and this rock? Why is the water green? Should we really be eating cat? Do maggots count as protein?

Chapter 10: All my pets are food.
Why is the dog on a spit?!?! 

Chapter 11: He won me in a card game?!?!
What dowry? Of course I have no dowry. I don’t need a man to arrange a marriage for me! What do you mean middle-aged?!? I’m only 27!

Chapter 12: Wait… how do I fake virginity?
Fish bladder full of blood. Google it. It was a thing. Just don’t overdo it. The scene from The Shining is going to look awfully suspicious. 

Chapter 13: Marital rape… and punishment.
1993. That’s when it was illegal for a man to rape his wife in all 50 states.* Furthermore, there are still some mighty creepy corners of the internet using the phrase “Domestic Christian Discipline”. I shudder to think what 200 years ago felt like. 

Chapter 14: Woot. Scurvy.
What’s an orange? You know what else sounds fun? Smallpox… and plague.

Chapter 15: At least I won’t live past 40.
It’ll probably be due to the rampant STD’s, but at least Braxley won’t have to look at that scabby, pussing torture device again. Ooh! It could be because the baby tries to come out sideways. That’s always fun. This is all, of course, only if she can keep her mouth shut about time travel and they don’t burn her for a witch. 

Who wouldn’t buy this book?!?!

Psh. Nothing’s too trivial for citations.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scots_language
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_height
https://www.rainn.org/public-policy/sexual-assault-issues/marital-rape
http://www.nber.org/bah/spring06/w11963.html

Shelving the Stereotypes: When I say I’m a librarian…

When Gail and I go to a bar, there’s always this great moment where she says she’s a Mail Carrier and I say I’m a Librarian. We are both fully aware that we sound like we’re making up sexy alter egos and she’s just really bad at it. I’ve had high school acquaintances, dates, and even attendants in high-end shops assume I am joking when I say I’m a librarian. They aren’t being rude. I’m just 26 and they’re visibly waiting for the punchline. 

However, when I say I’m a librarian…

… no, I’m not kidding.

librarian stereotype

Everyone pictures one of two people when they hear “librarian” and the frumpy gal with the bun is generally the first. I’ll get to the second in a minute. In actuality, about 50% of the librarians I know are in their 20’s and early 30’s. We’re also not typically ultra conservative. On the contrary, it is a hugely liberal profession and includes tattoos, pink hair, and piercings, depending on the library. Massachusetts even has its own Tattooed Librarians Calendar. While I have more conservative political beliefs than my coworkers, even in the Midwest, the Librarians for Obama bumper sticker is quite common. My point, though, is that most of us actually look a lot more like this

zooey d new girl
… if Zooey Deschanel had Harry Potter tattoos up and down her arms.


… I’m not wearing nipple clamps.

sexy librarian stereotype
… and we rarely look like this.

This is the second most common image conjured. I’m sure most librarians like sex. In fact, if I could remember what it was, I’d probably like it, too. It is a biological drive. That does not mean that we do strip teases with ladders on rollers. Do you have any idea how many germs are in a library?!?! I think this fantasy actually developed as the result of the aforementioned “ultra conservative librarian” stereotype. We’re so prim and repressed, if properly triggered, we must go absolutely wild. On the contrary, librarians are in public service and just like cops and poison control operators, we have some of the most bizarre encounters. We’re all about free information, therefore, our calling is to give information freely; that means without judgement or surprise, regardless of whether it’s a 10-year-old’s request for Fifty Shades of Grey or a man’s desire for books on rape. We do not get to voice an opinion. If you ask your local librarian for books on sexual positions and STD treatment and she even bats an eye, she’s not doing her job very well. So, hearing the phrase “demure ladies in the streets, but utter freaks in the sheets”, in regards to my profession is neither going to scar my virginal soul, nor is it going to cause me to rip my tweed pantsuit from my swollen breasts. It’s a career path… a wonderful one. It does not, however, come with any sexual requirements. In fact, the beauty of being in such a liberal field means that heterosexuals, homosexuals, transexuals, transgenders, and swingers would really all be welcome. 

… no, Kindle is not putting me out of a job.

It used to really stress my out to hear these kinds of comments, as they were usually accompanied by the implication that I would never get to be a librarian. If you’ve been reading my blog for any period of time, you know how that usually went.

Today, I find the people who make the above suggestions have not usually been in a library in the last ten years. They aren’t library people, because they don’t know what libraries offer. In addition to programs, classes, access to technology, and on-site IT assistance, we do offer e-media… for free. Go ahead and spend $11.99 on J.K. Rowling’s new book for Kindle. That’s a bit redundant, though, because you probably already bought it with your tax dollars. The state of e-media in libraries is up in the air, right now, as publisher’s decide how it affects their profits, but a few facts remain the same. Someone has to decide how many copies to order in e-book versus hardback. Someone has to choose a vendor. Someone has to teach people to actually use the Kindle/Nook/Nabi/iPad. Furthermore, people freaking love books. I am a traitor librarian, because I prefer my Kindle. I’m sporadic in my reading and I love carrying 40 different titles at a time, but I’m a minority. Most people I talk to prefer to hold the book and feel the pages, without worrying about pdf/Kindle/adobe format compatibility. As there is a place for both radio and television, there will be a place for both hard copy and e-media, because not only does not everyone want to use an e-reader, but not everyone can afford to use an e-reader.

… no, Google is not putting me out of a job, either.

“So… no offense or anything… I’m actually curious… why do you need a master’s degree to be a librarian? What do you actually do?”

I need a master’s degree, because we’re rendering bachelor’s degrees redundant in this country, by sending confused kids to college to major in general studies so that they can graduate and work in food service. That’s another rant, though. Ahem… I need a master’s degree, because I spent 44 graduate level hours studying program development, advocacy, public relations, grant writing, evaluations, books and materials for children, books and materials for young adults, the effect of technology and social networking on society, collection development and maintenance, cataloging, the very concept of free information, the organization of information, and the information seeking habits of individuals. They didn’t teach me that when I was getting my required bachelor’s degree. That’s why I needed a master’s degree.

What do I actually do? I plan community programs that people may actually attend. I figure out which books aren’t being circulated and pack them for the annual book sale so I can make space on the shelf. I find the appraised value of a customer’s neighbor’s house. I find books at a sixth grade reading level that will interest a second grade child. I spend 30 minutes on the phone helping an elderly woman download an e-book. I look for poetry to read during an infant’s funeral. On an average day, I take on the roles of social worker, researcher, saleswoman, IT specialist, teacher, and babysitter. Some days, it’s Realtor, historian, scientist, and job coach. I wear many, many different hats and the most important one is the customer service hat. I do not get to talk down to anyone and I must always have a smile on my face. It’s exhausting… and wonderful. 

zooey d hats

I am an Information Professional. As technology takes root in our society, we have more and more information to sort through and the average person isn’t as well trained to do that as they think. Google, for instance, is a keyword search. There is no accounting for author, date, full text, pdf, peer reviewed, or content. You get to pick one, maybe two, of those parameters and hope for the best. Librarians are trained to use search terms and tax funded databases to narrow the results. For example…

My grandmother died in 1991. In the 50’s or 60’s, there was a newspaper that published an article on her influence as a teacher. I think she taught third grade. I want to find the article and don’t know what newspaper.

Go ahead. Google that.

In addition to the increase in information, for better or worse, this country is becoming more socialist, not less. Libraries are one of the only institutions that serves both the engineer and that man on the street corner that he just loudly suggested should get a job. It takes Internet access to apply for that job. It takes knowledge of technology to use the Internet.

Go ahead. Google that.

… no, I have not read that book.

When I was in the sixth grade, I was assigned a 9-12 grade reading level. I was not allowed to read anything below an 8th grade level for credit. That meant no Harry Potter, no Babysitter’s Club, and no Ramona for credit, no matter how much I read. I made one C in K-12 and it was the year I refused to read on my level.

I was an advanced placement student in high school. I read The Inferno and The Bell Jar for fun, but spent more time looking up Sparksnotes summaries than it would’ve taken to actually read the damned book, when we covered The Great Gatsby. I don’t regret that. Daisy was a horrible heroine… like written by Nicholas Sparks horrible.

My bachelor’s degree is in family and consumer science education… home-ec. I was not required to read any of the classics for that. During my MLIS, I took Books and Materials for Young Adults, Books and Materials for Children, and Children’s Literature. It was in these classes that I did the last of the required novel reading I will ever do. So, when I read a librarian’s blog and she talked about all the varied reading of popular materials we all do, just to keep up with the interests of customers, I thought…

It’s not that I’m a lazy librarian. It’s that there are an assload of books out there. You can’t read them all. You can’t even read just the New York Time’s Bestsellers. I know. I type up the Bestsellers list every week and they’re listed by fiction, nonfiction, children’s picture books, middle grade, and young adult. That’s not even counting the e-books. I cannot read them all, so I read what I like.

“Have you read…?”

Unless the rest of that question is “that one where the hot guy morphs into a dragon to save his mate, only to find out she’s a unicorn?” then the answer is likely no. I primarily read paranormal romance, romantic suspense, memoirs, blogs, and articles on current events and information theory. Every now and then I’ll read something deeper or more popular, because I want to do soMost librarians just read what they like, be that inspirational fiction, Amish romance (it is so a thing), or historical accounts. News articles may increase awareness, but romance novels increase vocabulary, graphic novels increase comprehension, and themes are universal. It all has value, so I’m not reading something just because the New York Times tells me, especially when it’s just as pretend as my werewolf porn. If you want a recommendation, I can recommend within my preferred genres, or I can suggest some awesome resources that cater to your own tastes like LibraryThing or Novelist. I’d rather see the occasional customer leave psyched about the three paranormal romance series I suggested than never please anyone, because I only read the most popular items in their genres, which they have likely already read.

dragon bound
Fo sho.

Women in Fiction, I’d Like A Word With You

I’ve been going through a romance phase for a while now: paranormal, suspense, mystery, the ocassional erotica (a word I just recently had to define for my Gramma). I’d still rather sit through a rectal exam than watch most chick flicks, because the acting is never up to par or I just fucking hate the heroine. Really Ally? Noah should have let you get hit by a car when you were lying in the street. Don’t even get me started on Rose and Jack… again. Maybe I just need to get laid, but I love my romance novels. I can put whatever inflection I want in the dialogue to make it less dramatic and the lead male is never unnattractive… and almost always Alcide Herveaux.

alcide
Sigh. Wouldn’t you just love to bathe him with your tongue like a mama cat?

When the circumstances are right, I love me some alpha males in my fiction and even in reality, I’m a traditional gal. The boy asks, opens doors, pays. That’s what works for me and I don’t mind one bit that it’s not what works for some, like my sisterfriend Rosie the Fucking Riveter. I cannot help that some of her feminazi crap bleeds over, though. On that note, fiction, what the hell is up with:

Putting Necklaces on Your Lady

This seems to be a recurring event in movies and television. From Stefan Salvator to Don Draper, it’s a gallant man who puts on his gal’s necklace. To be fair, I made a post bitching about this on Facebook one day and literally the next day had to ask my Gramma for help putting on a necklace. However, I think that was the one time I’ve had to do so. In all my years of marriage, I never asked my ex-husband to put on a necklace for me. Get a job, don’t kill our pets, quit stealing from me, yes. Help me put on this necklace, no. Wanna know why? Because it’s not held on by a damned Rubix Cube. I know the clasp is behind me, where I can’t see it, but are we women really so uncoordinated and inept that we can’t work a clasp without looking? If we’re going with gender stereotypes, am I not the one with the dainty lady fingers that have the dexterity to embroider pillowcases, sew on buttons, and work diaper pins? Wouldn’t these fingers more likely have nails to catch the lever on said clasp? Bracelets, I understand. I only have one hand free. But I have both hands for this necklace endeavor, unless it’s a really complicated piece of jewlery. Maybe nipple clamps and shackles are involved? I don’t know.

putting on necklace 4  putting on necklace 1

putting on necklace 2putting on necklace 3
Elena is having a particularly difficult time with that necklace.

I get the the appeal of the damsel in distress thing in books and movies. Even Samantha Jones once went on a crying jag about how she just wished a man were there to care for her when she was sick. Lorelei Gilmore once wept because she’d ocassionally like for someone to wait for the cable guy. It’s not even a sexist thing. Everyone likes the idea of having someone take care of them when they need it, or even when they don’t, just to be sweet. I might even place the necklace bit in the last category if it were an action that I ever even think about. But I don’t. Because it’s just a stupid necklace. Asking and waiting for assistance is going to take more time and effort than just doing it myself. If I’m going to ask him to put on my necklace, why not ask him to tie my left shoe, blow on my soup, or squeeze the toothpaste for me? It’s weird that this is even a thing. Wanna do something sweet? I’ve got the necklace. You go change my oil.

necklace
Mkay. I think I’m gonna need some help with this one.

Requiring Tiny Feet

When I was five, I used to sit in the bathtub and turn my feet to just the right angle so they’d look smaller and daintier, because women have tiny feet dammit!!!!

Fine. I was a weird kid. Regardless, go watch Cinderella. When you get to the part where the king’s men try the glass slipper on her step-sisters’ feet, what happens? They’re so gargantuan that the shoe barely covers the ball of her foot. When they try to force it, the slipper is flung across the room and shatters. Think about it. It’s a shoe. What are the odds that no one else in the kingdom had the same shoe size as Cinderella? Sure, they were made of glass and that didn’t leave a whole lot of room for give, but it’s not like they’d have been comfortable anyway. So her feet just had to be freakishly sexily small.

glass slipper step

Meanwhile…

glass slipper

Horseshit. I’m not buying it.

foot binding

That’s what her foot really looks like.

As an adult, I’m less self-conscious of my shoe size. I’m only 5’5″, but wear a 10. No one else does, so the cute boots on sale come in my size. Score. However, lately, I’ve read a ton of books where the women’s feet are quoted at size 5 and size 6 over and over again. Even Anastasia Steele was a 5. The average shoe size of American women, however, is an 8*. You wanna tell me I have big feet compared to a size 8, I’m cool with that. I’m only 2 sizes above normal. You wanna tell me I’m double the normal size? Go fuck yourself, fiction. Go fuck yourself.

Carrying Her Everywhere

Okay, this one is sort of an all-encompassing issue regarding weight and the idea that women are only sexy if they’re tiny and vulnerable looking. Bella Swan was quoted at 110 pounds and 5’4″, which I’d like to mention is just above underweight and really not very healthy, despite having been described as being “soft somehow.” Maybe this is an evolutionary issue where we women want the largest and strongest caveman, so we want to at least feel teeny, but throughout all genres and formats of media, from my paranormal romances to the latest chick flick, women are light as pretty pink feathers. Once again, however, I’m able to defend paranormal romance, because The Black Dagger Brotherhood and Eric Northman had fucking superpowers. That was the whole point. It still doesn’t explain why they carried their gals everywhere. There’s no real rationalization for the other occurrences, either, because I’m pretty sure even sexy women have weight, y’all. Maybe we harbor totally unreasonable expectations of it in this country, such as when Gail’s ex-fella announced “She was huge. She must’ve weighed like 150 pounds or something”, but that doesn’t change the reality of hoisting another human being into your arms. When I go to my Gramma’s and my niece is over there, without fail she screams “AUNT BELLE!” and I pick her up and spin her around. Then I put her down, because she’s fucking heavy… at four.

I remember the first time I noticed this weird trend. I was a teenager and absolutely obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, because I was awesome, and everyone just carries Buffy around any time she’s hurt. Sure, Angel and Spike have superpowers and Riley is a soldier, but high school Xander and Giles? The former was portrayed as awkward and gangly and the latter was in his mid-sixties. Ron carries Hermione after she’s tortured, but was the guy really known for his brawn?  Charlie Swan is an aging man carrying around his 18 year old daughter, because she’s sad over a breakup. While Edward Cullen was reasonably able to throw Bella on his back and scamper up a mountain, Robert Pattinson pulled a hamstring doing it, because WOMEN HAVE WEIGHT, Y’ALL.

carry bella 2 carrying bella 1

carrying bella 3 carrying bella 4
Seriously? Can the girl not walk? I thought her spine healed.

Rationalizing Child Molestation

When Desperate Housewives first aired, Jesse Metcalfe was 25. His character, however, was 17. I’m not shaming the women of America for looking at a 25-year-old in a 17-year-old costume and thinking he’s attractive. I’m shaming the writers of this show for assuming that I would relate to Gabrielle Solis when she commits statutory rape, because he was just so yummy that it made it okay. Maybe I find this offensive because I work with teenagers, but when I first watched this show at 24, I looked at Jesse Metcalfe’s character and I saw a child. A 17-year-old boy thinks like a kid and reasons like a kid and processes emotion like a kid, because that’s what he damn well is. Gabrielle Solis committed rape and just because she did so with a vagina, rather than a penis, does not suddenly make it sexy rape, because that’s not a fucking thing. Implying that the women of America are gonna be all “YOU GO GIRL!” over baby rape is just as disgusting and offensive as suggesting that all men are going to be rooting for the sex traffickers in Taken.

sex trafficking
Chicka chicka yeah…

Apocalyptic Menstruation

One of the few chick flicks I truly enjoyed and actually own (bought used) is No Strings Attached. I enjoy it, however, despite one of the most obnoxious scenes in the history of film, in which Natalie Portman and all of her roommates are lying around the apartment groaning in misery. Is it cholera? Ebola? The Zombie apocalypse? No. It’s the horrors of WOMANHOOD! These women are all supposed to be in their medical residency, but none of them can take care of a few cramps and all of them have the time to hole up like wounded animals and whine about it? Let’s not forget the whopping cliché of them acting like bitches and fighting over junk food, because all women love chocolate. I probably eat 10 Reese’s a week and I gave up chocolate for Lent, because it would be a legitimate effort and sacrifice for me… because I like chocolate… not because my vagina does. Also, I don’t know about other women, but when I’m on my period, I… you know… work. For a day or so, I feel miserable and don’t want to eat at all and have the inconvenience of a gunshot wound between my legs, but I still get my ass out of bed, pop some ibuprofen and earn that puppy food. I’m a grown ass woman, no one else is going to take care of the bills, and this happens every month. Honestly, though, the most offensive part of this is the suggestion that a woman gets a free pass on treating people like shit because her body does stuff. Maybe I’m a little more irritable around my period, but other people still exist and have feelings. I don’t get to snap at them and tell them to fuck off because my uterus is leaking. Implying that I can’t control the urge to do so is seriously underestimating a gender famous for unhinging their pelvis to crank out a human being every now and then.

snake eating egg
It’s like that, but backwards.

Bashing Men

When Gail and I get together, much of the conversation does revolve around men, though not nearly as much as modern media might have you think. Sure, we giggle about and mock The Musician and his drug-induced flirting or that guy who bought me a drink and started massaging my shoulders, but neither one of us is in a relationship with these people. When Gail mentions A, she might lovingly joke about the vehicles I’ve nicknamed The General Lee, but it’s nothing he hasn’t already heard. Just like I would expect my beau to speak respectfully of me, I wouldn’t say things to Gail that I wouldn’t want him to hear… unless I were on my eighth LIT at Hudson’s and weeping about my abusive husband, in which case… Happy Thanksgiving! Pretty much every episode of Sex and the City involves the girls sitting around a table complaining about how much their men suck. Newsflash, ladies: you don’t have to be with these guys. Way to portray powerful and self-sufficient women, by having them fret over men all of the time. Samantha could’ve left Richard; Miranda could’ve ditched Steve; and Charlotte could’ve told Trey to fuck off. Carrie was far too in love with herself to notice anyone else in her life, of course. I’m waiting for a Sex and the City/Cloverfield crossover event, where Carrie gets eaten. That’s the third movie.

carrie bradshaw
I loved this guy. Remember when he accidentally hit her? He was the best.

Of course, there’s always the romantic (and in this case comedic) fiction where women are just as horrible to men in person as they are in private, such as in Knocked Up. I love Seth Rogan and adore this movie, don’t get me wrong, but the scene where Katherine Heigl’s sister yells at Paul Rudd for not being able to Wizard away child molesters is a horrible representation of women… along with the one where she’s insulting Rogan for being overweight, rather than expressing any legitimate concerns about his use of illegal drugs or lack of a job… aaaaand the scene where she screams at her husband for playing fantasy football. Pretty much all of the scenes with Heigl’s sister in them imply that women have a right to abuse men. So does the one where Heigl, herself, screams at her baby daddy for disagreeing with her before leaving him on the side of the road. Heigl has pretty much zero incentive to be with Rogan in this movie. He’s funny and… um… that’s kind of it. I wouldn’t have even told the guy I was pregnant. That, however, is not a valid excuse to leave him in the street. It’s a valid reason to break up with him. Paul Rudd was like the dream husband and father, but it was supposed to be funny when his wife treats him like crap? Is that the same way it was funny when Archie Bunker humiliated and belittled Edith? Or is it the same kind of funny as when Sally Fields had to sneak out of Iran with her daughter? Oh, wait… it’s not abuse unless it’s committed by a man. Gotcha.

*http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/10/16/size-8-is-the-new-7-why-our-feet-are-getting-bigger/

Get your porn off my smut!

As I’ve previously declared, paranormal romance is my guilty pleasure. I don’t really watch T.V., so I read book after book after book of what I affectionately and privately call Werewolf Porn or Warlock Smut.

In the last week, I have read 6 books, or 1,800 pages (give or take a few) of my very favorite genre. The thing is, my  title of Werewolf Porn is meant to be ironic, because these books often aren’t even that adult. Don’t get me wrong. They’re dubbed paranormal romance for a reason. I wouldn’t read them to my 9th graders. But LibraryThing, which is far superior to Good Reads, doesn’t even tag many of the series as erotica. On average, I’d declare them a medium on the number of sex scenes. The plots are always incredibly invovled, with an in-depth backstory in addition to the main storyline, which does involve a shapeshifter falling in love with an empath. What can I say? I loved Halloweentown when I was eight and never grew out of that.

Example:

There are three species that control the world: The Changelings, the Psy, and humans. Changelings are shapeshifters. The Psy are beings connected by a neural Internet (not quite a hivemind) and have mental powers, such as telekinesis. They can’t break free of the Net or they die. The Psy shut off all emotions around 100 years ago becaue violence was ripping apart their species. They’re cold and powerful and want to keep it that way by destroying any Psy who are showing a tendency toward power because they can feel. The DarkRiver and SnowDancer Changelings, however, are encouraging the rebellion and a war is a brewin’.

See? That’s no less complex than the latest Janet Evonovich book. It’s more complex than any Nicholas Sparks novel I’ve read. It’s sure as hell more complex than 50 Shades of Grey. Those are still fine options, though, because reading is entertainment. I’m not saying my Warlock Smut is great reading, just that it is reading and it’s pretty much equal to any contemporary literature. So the problem?

slave to sensation

The problem is that that’s the cover of the first in the Psy-Changeling series. The problem is that I’ve been careful not to have that picture show as I’m typing this, because I’m on my computer at work. The problem is that it’s a huge pain in the butt to read about the battle of the Lore, or all supernatural species, while I’m substitute teaching, because I have to make sure that none of my kids get a glimpse of:

no rest for the wicked

There were several sex scenes in that book and they weren’t exactly fade-to-black moments either. But they’re no worse than many contemporary fiction novels. There’s plenty of plot, because I can’t read just plain old erotica without getting bored. I read Bared to You, by Sylvia Day, because I’d read that it was like if 50 Shades of Grey had been written with any level of skill. It was an enjoyable read, for erotica, but I haven’t read any since then, because there’s just not enough going on outside the relationship. I love paranormal storylines and always have, so paranormal romance is great. Sometimes, it is just erotica with claws, and in that case, I stop reading, because it’s dull.

Personally, I often find the covers more offensive than what’s beneath them, because actual pornography is a bigger moral issue for me than literature. As I’ve said before, it’s pretend when you’re reading it. No one is being pushed around (a big theme in most romance) or degraded, because they aren’t real. That naked lady on the screen, though? She had a 3rd birthday party. There was likely a princess cake. That freaks me out.

So, in short:

Get your porn off my smut, because it’s not even kind of subtle to read something with a peice of paper taped to the front. E.L. James can put a classy cover on “I had no idea giving pleasure could be such a turn-on, watching him writhe subtly with carnal longing. My inner goddess is doing the merengue with some salsa moves.”

50 cover

Surely we can get something classier on my Warlock Smut.