What I Read This Month: July 2014

  • Dirty Wings, Sarah McCarry. GREAT READING MONTH, GANG. First, the sequel to the dreamy, gorgeous All Our Pretty Songs. I found this one even dreamier and gorgeous-er! If you like Greek myths, girl friendship, witches, music, Seattle, and EVIL, you must read these. I won the ARC on Twitter by naming my favorite pop culture vampire (it’s Harmony!), but I would like to endorse it with my dollars. I will buy a copy for the first person to send me a Tumblr message that says “GIMME THAT BOOK.” quintessentiallyquirky is gettin’ this book.
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling. Just discovered this underhyped gem. Have you guys heard of it? (You can follow along with my re-read, specifically the parts I’m crying at, here.)
  • The Women’s Room, Marilyn French. I found a slightly waterlogged 1978 paperback edition of this ("For every man who ever thought he knew a woman! For every woman who ever thought she knew herself!") on the free book stand at my parents’ beach club in New Jersey while visiting a few weeks ago. It’s dated now but if I’d read it then I would have for sure dropped out of my life and moved to a lesbian separatist commune.
  • Short stories: “Helen,” Claire Spaulding. “The Pink House,” Rebecca Curtis. “It Could Never Happen Here,” Martin Wilson. “Apple Cake,” Allegra Goodman. Loved them all, especially the Curtis, which is a ghost story. Not sure if you’ve picked up on this yet, but my whole literary aesthetic is “ghosts or GTFO.”
  • White Girls, Hilton Als. I didn’t get it.
  • California, Edan Lepucki. Read it slightly too slowly to participate in Reblog Book Club, but only because I wanted to savor it and the state of heightened anxiety it put me in. Loved Frida, loved the sentences, loved loved loved the last chapter. Made me hungry for bread. Made me want to hoard food. Started to build an earthquake survival kit. Seriously—a mountain of boxes sits in my bedroom now, filled with Cliff Bars and water and batteries. You should read it, but you should also practice breathing exercises so you don’t panic to death.
Does Hermione Granger prove that a witch really can have it all? (No—look at her hair.)
J.K. Rowling wrote a new Harry Potter story from the POV of Rita Skeeter on Pottermore and I am dying.

Never 4get that Hagrid let two eleven-year-olds take the fall for his illegal dragon-keeping after they stepped in to protect him and his wooden house from his own folly. Dude never even apologizes. 

'Its tone, language, and story belong in children’s literature,' wrote critic James Wood, in The New Yorker…Days after [Donna Tartt] was awarded the Pulitzer, Wood told Vanity Fair, 'I think that the rapture with which [The Goldfinch] has been received is further proof of the infantilization of our literary culture: a world in which adults go around reading Harry Potter.'

It’s Tartt—But Is It Art?, Evgenia Perez

I’m not really interested in the question of whether or not professional Literary Critics like James Wood (Not James Woods) consider Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch to be High Literature. I guess they’re the people who make that decision, but it’s a decision that is largely inconsequential to me and my reading habits and the reading habits of most people. This weekend I was at Fisherman’s Wharf and I saw a youngish woman, a tourist, carrying a copy of The Goldfinch around like a baby. It was a hot day and that book is heavy, but she was reading it so hard she was lugging it around everywhere, even to buy an $8 milkshake at a burger place on the bay.

am interested in this quote, though. In the implicit horror of “a world in which adults go around reading Harry Potter.” I don’t know if James Wood wears pearls, but can’t you just picture him clutching them? It’s a funny quote to me, because if anything, what enraged me about The Goldfinch—a book I didn’t really like—was that I felt like it was nowhere near infantile enough. I agree that it seemed a bit like children’s literature, but like children’s literature in which you are required to bring your own sense of joy, wonder, and warmth (BYOJW&W?). The reason adults go around reading Harry Potter is that a lot of High Literature lacks joy, wonder, and warmth. But the world itself doesn’t. And so any story that strives to lack it tends to feel like something other that real life.

There’s been this uptick in book snobbery lately. There was that literal nonsense at Slate, which I think I’ve already made my feelings pretty clear about, and now this. It’s probably too simplistic to note that the things that unnerve literary people are the things that make money—in one case, a book written by a woman; in another, a whole subset read most voraciously by girls. I feel like I stand at a weird juncture in my literary community, with my MFA and my YA novels. On my Twitter timeline, the YA readers/writers cheer for books and readers no matter what or who they are, and the Literary readers/writers agree seem more inclined to agree with the thinkpieces. There’s an undertone of “It’s true! Most readers are stupid, and that’s why my books aren’t selling.” It’s not very difficult to choose a side when one side is so unashamed of their own snobbery. 

I was a snob once, too. When I first started writing short stories in college, I was determined to read only the best, and so I focused on the Western canon, on Hemingway and Faulkner and Jonathan Franzen; I took a small step away from my beloved Harry Potter, understanding it to be different and lesser. It went on that way for a long time, until the summer after my first year in grad school, when I picked up Kelly Link’s Pretty Monsters in the teen section of the Carnegie Library and something shifted in my brain. It was like the curtains had been parted and I suddenly saw that my whole conception of value had been formed and shaped by people who looked exactly the same (people who looked like Hemingway and Faulkner and Franzen), that the world was much bigger than that, much more interesting, and so much more fun it made me want to scream. This is the thing I can’t get over in these conversations—we talk about Literary like it’s not in itself a genre. We talk about books as if it’s just understood that there’s a Universal Good and a Universal Bad, and we act like the Universal Good is not overpopulated with white males, and we act like readers of the Universal Bad don’t know any better.  

But look: I can read and understand and appreciate High Literature, and usually I don’t. And that’s because as we should all well know, it’s our choices that show who we truly are, far more than our abilities. And what I want to be is happy.


Harry Potter Tribute Exhibition [x]

Getting lovely Mary Blair vibes from all this. Also, weeping.

(via quitelikearthurdent)


(Source: weaselette, via brightlywound)

Hermione + Ron = <3

From a feminist standpoint, I agree that Hermione was a smarter, better, more together person than either Harry or Ron, neither of whom treated her particularly well over the course of the books, and I worry about the fact that they all got married immediately following their extremely stressful adolescence, without taking any time to, like, “play the field” or “get professional help” or “be an unmarried 19-year-old.” I worry that Hermione will spend her whole life helping Ron do things, and that that would be a very frustrating, belittling existence for her.

From an authorial standpoint, I respect J.K. Rowling’s right to regret or not regret anything she put into those seven (SEVEN) books, which at the time felt like they were taking so long to reach my hands but which actually took nine (NINE) years to write, which if you’ve written a book you know is basically nothing. A lot of people can’t write one affecting book in nine years, and that lady wrote seven. And she wrote them kind of quickly, and you can change your mind about things you write, you can worry that you should have written it differently.

HOWEVER AS A HUMAN BEING WITH A HEART, I will ship Hermione and Ron until the day I die. I will never forget being thirteen, and Hermione screaming at Ron that if he wanted to take her to the Yule Ball, he should have asked, and realizing with a soaring heart that my OTP was canon. As a human being with a heart, I will forever look upon their love story as a story about two different people who make each other better—Hermione makes Ron gentler, kinder, more sensitive to the needs of house elves; Ron makes Hermione looser, funnier, less inclined to beat herself up. As a human being with a heart, I will go down with this ship. Romione is canon, people. ROMIONE IS CANON.

Good morning, I am a 27-year-old woman.

But none of this explains why I’d read each book until way past my bedtime, forcing myself to slow down as I approached the last fifty pages so I could savor every syllable. Or why I’ve spent so much time over the last fifteen years analyzing my favorite passages with everyone I know, until long after the eyes of my friends and my family and strangers on the bus go glassy with disinterest. It doesn’t explain why to this day, nothing quite compares to Harry for me. I read voraciously, across all genres, trying each time to recapture that feeling I had when I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the sensation of two doors opening inside my head—one leading into the outside world, huge and new and endlessly interesting; the other leading inward to myself, whole reserves of memory and emotion and sensation that I did not yet know about or understand. I’ve loved many books in the years since I first read Harry Potter, but I’ve never again had that curious, enveloping feeling, the feeling that the book loves me back.
Booktrust sought to find the favorite children’s book in the UK, and what they found happens to be my favorite book, so here I am talking about loving it
I was twelve when I first met Hermione, and as a reader of books and a lover of telling people when they’re wrong, I related to her immediately. Over the course of the series, Hermione only got better: more brilliant, more stubborn, more compassionate. She is the brightest witch of her age, an outspoken advocate for the rights of house elves, a casual time-traveler, and—perhaps most importantly—the only person in the whole of the Harry Potter universe who has ever bothered to read Hogwarts: A History. I love how Hermione stands by Harry to the bitter end, risking her life for the people she loves and a cause she believes in. Even now, fourteen years after first making her acquaintance, when faced with a challenge of any caliber, I look to her. ‘What would Hermione do?’ I ask myself, and then I try my best to do it.
Hot Key Books let me talk about my favorite topic—Girls Doing Stuff—over at their blog today in connection with my novel, Vivian Versus the Apocalypse. Read it! Do it for Hermione!

What I Read This Month: May

  • The Portable Dorothy Parker. This lady was one stone cold bitch.
  • Artifice Magazine, Vol. 4. My friend Steev Gillies has a story in this issue called “Skybeard,” and it is really good! Here is the opening: “Throughout all of history there have been many heroes blessed with the power of flight. Apollo. Superman. Hawkman. Angel. Countless heroes. So many heroes they could never be indexed, cataloged, or even remembered. But this one. This one has a beard.”
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz. I would maybe not have given this book a Pulitzer, but I would definitely have given it an enthusiastic high-five.
  • "A Brief Encounter with the Enemy," Saïd Sayrafiezadeh. On the How Excruciatingly Boring Was This New Yorker Story scale, I thought this one rated relatively low. Congratulations to everyone involved. I read this outside Carnegie Mellon University on a windy day.
  • The Wheel of Love and Other Stories, Joyce Carol Oates. This is Joyce’s third story collection, originally published in 1970, so you will certainly see the word “Negro” bandied about more than you would like. I can’t make up my mind about J.C.O.—like, she wrote “Where Have You Going, Where Have You Been,” which is a BOSS short story if you haven’t already read it, but she also dedicated it to Bob Dylan? Who does that? 
  • "Hilarious, in the Wrong Way," Stephen Ornes. This was good!
  • The Tales of Beedle the Bard, J.K. Rowling. Kevin bought me this book for Christmas the first year we were together and would have you know that he’s given many more impressive and original gifts since then, but the thing is I couldn’t bring myself to read it because once I did, where would I direct all my anticipatory Harry Potter energy, but now we’ve got Pottermore, and I don’t care what anyone says about Pottermore, I really love it, I think it’s pretty to look at and I’ve won many points dueling 13-year-olds from the Philippines, I don’t want to tell you how many points, actually, because it’s kind of a lot, and that’s embarrassing, anyway, all you need to know is what you probably already knew, which is that this slim volume made me laugh and cry, prodigiously.
  • "Labyrinth," Roberto Bolaño. Did not fare as well on the How Excruciatingly Boring Was This New Yorker Story scale.
  • The Best American Comics 2010, edited by Neil Gaiman. Let’s read more comics, self!
  • "The World to Come," Jim Shepard. I felt that this short story about two nineteenth-century farmers’ wives falling in love was very good; I also felt a little bit like I was reading a lost entry from the Dear America series.