Sunday Sum-Up

I am pleased to report that I did not melt this week after dealing with heat indexes approaching 108°F (42°C), and actual temperatures that didn’t drop below 90°F until after 10:00pm. I felt like I swam to work yesterday morning through 90% humidity. But thanks to several coffee shops and bookstores with their wonderful air conditioning, I survived the heat wave. This morning is much cooler, and without my window unit rattling away, I’ve been able to properly listen to my podcasts, in particular, LeVar Burton Reads. The newest episode is, ‘Graham Greene’ by Percival Everett. It’s an intriguing story set in Wyoming, about a man contacted by a 102 year-old woman who wants him to find her son.

6260576It felt like I didn’t read very much this week, and part of that is due to the heat and the humidity frying my brain and making it difficult to sleep. I started and finished Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s My Soul To Take, which was fine. I didn’t find it to be particularly creepy, as the reviews say it is. But then, my reaction to creepy stuff has always been rather blase. I doubt I’ll read any more of this particular series. I didn’t object to the writing, translation, or the pacing, but the MC, Thora, just didn’t interest me very much.

After getting excited upon hearing that they were going to be releasing a series of comics based on the Showtime series, Penny Dreadful, I sort of forgot about it until something reminded me of it the other day. I did a quick search through my Hoopla app, and there they were! Volume 1 is a prequel to the series and does a good job of fleshing out certain questions I had regarding the first season, namely, ‘What happened to Jonathan Harker and the others who were in Dracula?’ and ‘What brought Malcom and Sembene together?’ and ‘Why is Malcolm not phased by this supernatural lunacy going on around him?’ The art is fine, though it doesn’t approach the brilliance of Sana Takeda’s work in the Monstress series.

The second set of comics deals with the aftermath of the series. While the show ended they way I always thought it would, it felt a bit abrupt. So it’s good to see that they’re continuing the story (and not pulling any punches). Once again, the art is fine, and while the dialogue is true to the Victorian nature of the show, the pacing leaves out much of the poetry and the quiet scenes many of the characters shared. I’ll be curious to see if future issues flesh out those quiet moments more than the current ones have.

 

Because Danielle over at Books, Vertigo & Tea and I have been planning to do a buddy read of Sarah J. Maas’s second Throne of Glass book, Crown of Midnight, I bought a digital copy, since I didn’t want to have to wait for a library hold to come through. I’ve written before about how disappointed I was in the first book in the series, so I’m hoping that the second book takes a big leap forward quality-wise, as I have yet to see why so many people say that Maas is ‘one of the best fantasy writers out there’.

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I had to go downtown on my day off to run some errands. I don’t know what I would have done if I couldn’t have made some pit stops at the two independent book stores there. They offered me free iced tea when I walked in the door at Francie & Finch, and Indigo Bridge Books has always had a great little cafe with both hot and cold drinks. I bought an iced coffee and spent about an hour wandering around looking at all the books. I picked a book at each shop- Ann Patchett’s The Magician’s Assistant and volume 2 of Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s graphic novel series, Monstress. They go along with the copy of Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man I bought at Barnes and Noble the night before. The heat may make it hard to sleep, but at least I have some new books to read while I’m lying awake at night!

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I intended to do a lot of things when I got home last night, but it was so hot and gross, and I was so tired after a week of lousy sleep that I ended up not doing much of anything. What I mainly did was discover that the entire current season of The Great British Baking Show is available through Nebraska’s PBS streaming service. I have an NPR membership, which gives me free access to the service (yay NPR!) I had been watching an episode every Friday night, thinking that they were premiering on the streaming service when the episodes were playing on TV. But they weren’t! The whole season was available right from the start! So I binge-watched the remaining few last night, and was thrilled to see that my favorite baker won the whole thing!

I have not caught up on TNT’s Will. I meant to last week, but it didn’t happen. I blame the heat and general fatigue for that. It’s hard to get excited about anything when, outside of work, you feel like you’re trying to breathe soup. This week? A little cooler! I might have some energy!

New Acquisition

If it wasn’t so hot out, I wouldn’t be spending my evenings in bookstores. I don’t buy very much, but I’m still there. Looking. Adding to my TBR.

I haven’t read Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man, so I picked up a copy of it last night.

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I would have preferred to get Something Wicked This Way Comes, but they only had one copy, and the cover art was not nearly as good as this. It seems like all of Bradbury’s books have gotten a great redesign, except my favorite one. The search continues..

In other news, I bought a new lighting setup! Well, I’m still using my lamp, but I bought a light tent to better diffuse the light so I get less glare and shadow. Aesthetic backgrounds will come later. Probably.

Also, I’m doing the bookstagram thing on Instagram now at traveling.gladly. Follow me there so we can see each other’s book photos!

Jane Austen and the Women Who Look at Men

“I do not think I ever opened a book in my life which had not something to say upon woman’s inconstancy. Songs and proverbs, all talk of woman’s fickleness. But perhaps you will say, these were all written by men.”

“Perhaps I shall. Yes, yes, if you please, no reference to examples in books. Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.”
– Jane Austen, Persuasion

Until Jane Austen came along, the Western Novel was rather clueless about what to do with this creature called “woman”. Authors were quite certain that a woman needed to be pretty and charming to be a heroine, but they didn’t know what else a woman could do if she was the heroine, because even when she was the heroine she either needed rescuing (in which case, she’s not much of a heroine), or was swooning in a dramatic fashion. Heroically swooning, you might say.

Then, in the midst of a spate of Gothic novels, stories that sent their (male) heroes off to bizarre lands, and medieval adventures that proceeded to drone on and on, along came a young woman named Jane Austen who, in seven novels, rather upended the idea of what the Western Novel should be. Her heroines didn’t wander through faraway castles or turn into madwomen. They didn’t need rescuing from hopeless situations, . They were normal, middle-class young women who were looking for someone to fall in love with.

Revolutionary, right?

There was a recent New York Times article that talked about principal components analysis, a branch of data analysis, and how it shows that, because Austen used a lot of words about emotions and time, that this is the reason Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, and the rest of Austen’s novels have survived. Which, I suppose, is true in the way that the sun a thing that gives off light. Sure, a novel is a collection of words and which words an author uses is important to the story. Stephanie Meyer used words when she wrote Twilight— in fact, she used a lot of the same words that Jane Austen used– and yet it’s hard to imagine Bella and Edward having the same staying power as Lizzie Bennet and Mr. Darcy.

After that, I found another article about Jane Austen, this one in The Atlantic, written by Megan Garber. In it, Garber discusses a vastly different topic than dry data analysis, and I would argue that it is far more on point regarding the staying power of Austen and her novels, and it has everything to do with the fact that Austen wrote from the point of view of women, those pesky creatures the Western Novel was so puzzled by.

Austen’s books are often described as being naturalistic, with careful observations of everyday life. The reader is expected to be concerned about card games and how Lizzie’s dress is ‘six inches deep in mud’. Save for Catherine Morland’s fanciful imaginings in Northanger Abbey, none of Austen’s heroines are at risk from demented potential fathers-in-law. They’re not expected to die for– or of— love; the closest calls are a couple of colds suffered after characters unwisely journey out into the rain, but they recover and all is well again. Austen’s England is full of bright women who are observing the world around them.

And they’re looking at the men.

Therein lies the revolutionary aspect. It’s quiet, to be sure. Pride and Prejudice doesn’t exactly scream “feminist manifesto”. But it does, in its clever way, introduce us to witty women looking at the men around them, judging them, and finding them attractive or not. Because we’re seeing the story from Lizzie’s point of view, we are forced to understand the world from her perspective– to see her concerns, her desires, and her opinions. We’re not looking at Lizzie from a man’s perspective, we’re looking at the men from Lizzie’s point of view. As Gruber states in the article, “Lizzie is the subject; Darcy is the object”.  It is, as I understand, difficult for men to see themselves as a secondary figure in a story. But that is what they are in Austen’s novels. True, her stories are about finding love and getting married but they are, first and foremost, women’s stories.

Because we see the men through the women’s eyes, we empathize with the women. We understand their heartache and their joy. We laugh with them, and we fall in love (or out of it) with the men in the stories at the same time as the women. It shouldn’t be a difficult concept to imagine, but the idea that the Female Gaze is a thing is oddly new to twenty-first century minds. In Jane Austen’s time it was positively revolutionary. Fortunately for us, Austen wrapped her revolution up with such wit and charm that she forever inspired devotion in succeeding generations of readers.

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Triangle Square and the Trolls from Under the Bridge

Once upon a time, there was a book publisher called Triangle Square that featured an imprint of kids’ books about diversity and other ‘works of radical imagination’ by such authors as Octavia Butler, Ralph Nader, and Howard Zinn. Then one day, a troll showed up and inspired her fellow trolls to say mean, nasty things about Triangle Square in the hopes that the mean things would hurt their feelings so much that Triangle Square and the authors they published would go away so the trolls could continue to avoid living in the land of Reality.

“What should we do about this?” asked the friendly people of Triangle Square. “We don’t want to stoop to their level and say mean things back.” So they thought about it for a while and decided that they would call all their friends and ask them to say nice things about Triangle Square. This worked so well that the trolls’ awful messages were soon covered up by messages of love and support from Triangle Square’s friends, both old and brand new.

Homophobes come for a progressive kids’ imprint, and legions of sweetie-pies rally to their defense

I saw this article this morning and immediately went over to Triangle Square’s Facebook page and gave them a five-star rating, because anyone who promotes reading, books, and diversity is five-star worthy in my book. And then I told my friends– especially the school librarian– about Triangle Square and the books they promote. I don’t have any kids of my own, but there are kids in my life. And they love to read. Come Christmastime, I plan to track down some of these titles for those book-devouring nieces and nephews of mine.

Goodreads Monday- Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens

Goodreads Monday is a weekly meme where you randomly select a book from To Be Read list and show it off. It’s hosted by Lauren’s Page Turners. To participate, just pick a book, tell us about it, and don’t forget to link back to Lauren’s page so we can share our literary finds.


24612045Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens
by Eddie Izzard
400 pages
published June 13, 2017

From Goodreads: Critically acclaimed, award-winning British comedian and actor Eddie Izzard details his childhood, his first performances on the streets of London, his ascent to worldwide success on stage and screen, and his comedy shows which have won over audiences around the world.

Over the course of a thirty-year career, Eddie Izzard has proven himself to be a creative chameleon, inhabiting the stage and film and television screen with an unbelievable fervor. Born in Yemen, and raised in Ireland, Wales and post-war England, he lost his mother at the age of six. In his teens, he dropped out of university and took to the streets of London as part of a two-man escape act; when his partner went on vacation, Izzard kept busy by inventing a one-man act, and thus a career was ignited. As a stand-up comedian, Izzard has captivated audiences with his surreal, stream-of-consciousness comedy–lines such as “Cake or Death?” “Death Star Canteen,” and “Do You Have a Flag?” have the status of great rock lyrics. As a self-proclaimed “Executive Transvestite,” Izzard broke the mold performing in full make-up and heels, and has become as famous for his advocacy for LGBT rights as he has for his art. In Believe Me, he recounts the dizzying rise he made from street busking to London’s West End, to Wembley Stadium and New York’s Madison Square Garden.

Still performing more than 100 shows a year–thus far in a record-breaking twenty-eight countries worldwide–Izzard is arguably one of today’s top Kings of Comedy. With his brand of keenly intelligent humor, that ranges from world history to pop culture, politics and philosophy, he has built an extraordinary fan base that transcends age, gender, and race. Writing with the same candor and razor-sharp insight evident in his comedy, he reflects on a childhood marked by unutterable loss, sexuality and coming out, as well as a life in show business, politics, and philanthropy. Honest and generous, Izzard’s Believe Me is an inspired account of a very singular life thus far.


I’ve loved Eddie Izzard’s brand of comedy for years now and can think of a quote for almost every occasion. When I’m having a lousy day, I’ll pop in one of my old DVDs from one of his tours (Dressed to Kill is my favorite), and the day is suddenly better. I was happy to see his memoir show up in bookstores, as he has led an extraordinary life with so many ups and downs it’s hard to keep track of them. I decided I’d try out the audiobook version, so I’m on the waiting list at my local library. I can’t wait to listen to it!

Sunday Sum-Up

This was an eventful week, in which I found myself renting cars in foreign countries, accidentally attending a big band concert, finally getting my hair cut after letting it grow for a year, and running in circles at work, all while trying not to melt while I read a new favorite and re-read an old favorite, then ended the week with some amazing Indian food.

As it was hot again all week, I spent my evenings away from my muggy apartment until the sun went down. The hottest day was Monday, with a heat index of 105°F in the afternoon. It had dropped all the way down to 101°F by the time I left work at 7:30 pm, so I decided to go to a cafe downtown where they have great food and a quiet atmosphere. I wanted to keep reading Mark Lawrence’s Red Sister, and do it somewhere cool. Little did I know that there was a big band concert going on. I didn’t want to look stupid walking in and then walking back out again (and I really wanted their specialty mac&cheese), so I stayed. I have to say, reading Red Sister while listening to 1940s swing classics is a bit strange.

After procrastinating for four months, since I bought my plane tickets back in March, I reserved a rental car so that I can go see Iceland’s gorgeous sites at my own pace and on my own schedule. So far, I’m planning to visit the little down of Vik, with its black sand beaches and weird rock formations (also the filming location for the Iron Islands sequences in Game of Thrones), Snæfellsjökull National Park, and Gollfoss Falls. I also fully intend to check out the bookstore scene in Reykjavik. If I’m being honest about the trip, I’m a little weirded out by the thought of driving in Iceland since I’ve never driven in a foreign country before (I’ve gone places by trains, buses,  on foot, and via horse and buggy, but I’ve never driven), but I figure that if my friend who had never been out of the country until she went to Ireland last year could handle the left-hand driving on narrow Irish roads without getting too lost, then I can make my way through Iceland.

But if I suddenly disappear in mid-August, you’ll know I either got completely lost and decided to put down stakes in the Icelandic wilderness, or I went off to join the elves.

I read two books this week- Mark Lawrence’s Red Sister and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. It felt like a case of literary whiplash going from one to the other, but I don’t regret reading one right after the other. Pride and Prejudice was a breath of fresh air after the darkness of Red Sister.

 

 

What’s next? Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s My Soul to Take, for sure. It’s a mystery set in Iceland, so it appeals on two fronts: the first, because I’m going to Iceland in less than a month, and two, Iceland is much cooler than Nebraska temperature-wise and it will be nice to read about a place that isn’t hot and humid. The next one might be Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves. A librarian-friend of mine gave it five stars on Goodreads, and when I read the synopsis, I was definitely intrigued.

Or I might read something else altogether. Who knows?

On the television front, I’m planning to watch the next episode of TNT’s Shakespeare show, Will before the new one premiers on Monday. And by the by, I tend to put literary quotes in my bullet journal to briefly sum up my day, and after watching the first episode I decided to include a Shakespearean quote. While I was browsing Goodreads’ quotes, I came across this:

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That tag, though… I do not think that word means what you think it means.

And…

GAME OF THRONES!!!!!

Can I begin to describe how much I’m looking forward to seeing this woman finally get to Westeros?

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My hopes for the new season? To see the Starks get back together and fully take back the North, to see Sansa get the better of Petyr Baelish and become the political master I’ve been hoping she’ll become, to see Arya continue to kick ass, and to see Cersei get taken down, preferably by Tyrion, just because she’s always been so horrid to him. I’d also like to see Gendry again. Hopefully he didn’t float out to sea in that little rowboat way back when.. I think it’s a safe bet that I’ll be commenting at length after watching each episode.

 

Will

Shakespeare nerd that I am, I was intrigued by the idea of the new TNT show, Will, when I saw the first commercials for it a few weeks ago. My interest grew after I listened to the Folger Shakespeare Library’s podcast, Shakespeare Unlimited’s most recent episode, Creating TNT’s ‘Will“, which features an interview with Will showrunners Craig Pearce and Shekhar Kapur. The interview delves into, among other things, the inspiration for their very colorful version of Elizabethan London– the streets of Mumbai and London’s disco and punk eras.

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A bit more punk rock than the Elizabethan age we’re used to.

I’m glad I listened to the interview before watching the pilot. Because I was armed with the knowledge that punk rock was an inspiration for their version of London in 1589 and that twenty-something Shakespeare left Stratford-on-Avon to essentially become a rock star, the show’s stylization  didn’t throw me off like it might have. The atmosphere feels like a Baz Lurhman production, not surprisingly because Pearce worked on Moulin Rouge while Kapur grew up with Bollywood films. He says that people have called his work “Bollywood-like” to insult it, but that doesn’t seem to have phased him at all. Personally, I like Kapur’s two movies about Elizabeth I (Elizabeth, and Elizabeth: The Golden Age). The make-up and costuming of Will feel garish and blatantly historically inaccurate at first, but after about ten minutes I got over that and enjoyed the show.

Laurie Davidson plays Will, a charismatic and gifted young writer who suffers from being middle class and from nowhere in particular. His first day in London is disastrous, as a pickpocket steals his money and a letter meant for a Catholic dissident that Queen Elizabeth’s spies are looking for. He is nearly rejected by the theater company he’s come all this way to join, and it’s only because James Burbage (played by Colm Meaney), the theater’s manager, is so desperate for a play he’s willing to take whatever he can get- in this case, an unknown upstart named Will Shakespeare.  With twenty-four hours to write a play successful enough to keep the company’s patrons interested, Will has his work cut out for him, but still finds the time to engage in Elizabethan rap battles and drunkenly evade the city’s night watch after a night on the town with new friends.


Among the historical figures you’ll come across is one who is made up entirely, James Burbage’s fictional daughter, Alice- “that most useless creature, an educated woman”. She has a quick with to go along with her beautiful face and isn’t above mocking her brother Richard (played by Mattias Inwood), who is one of the company’s star actors. In the interview Pearce and Kapur state that Alice is an amalgamation of the amazing women you’ll find in Shakespeare’s plays. Sparks have already flown between Will and Alice in the pilot, and things will undoubtedly continue to heat up between them despite Will’s marriage to Anne Hathaway.

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Jamie Campbell Bowers co-stars as the playwright Christopher Marlow, Shakespeare’s sometimes-rival who is also a spy for Queen Elizabeth and searches for Catholic dissidents while most assuredly not writing plays. While he struggles with his own writing, he’s able to recognize it in others, including a glove-maker’s son from Stratford, who he keeps calling ‘William Shakeshaft’. While I associate Jamie Campbell Bower with his somewhat naive Antony from Sweeney Todd, his laconic Marlowe practically drips with genius and danger, making himself into Will’s perilous ally.

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These days, Shakespeare’s works are often spouted from ivory towers by snobby professors with their noses in the air. But Pearce and Kapur point out that, to keep the theater open, and full, Shakespeare had to write for the masses. While the language he employed is thought of as old-fashioned and academic these days, in the Elizabethan era, that was how people spoke. Shakespeare wrote for the masses, unwashed and unlettered though they might be, and so his plays have ribald jokes, clown figures, and talk of sex all throughout them. By infusing Will with a punk rock and rap vibe, Pearce and Kapur seek to show younger generations that Shakespeare’s plays are sexy, cool and, above all, meant for the average person.

The first two episodes, ‘The Play’s the Thing’ and ‘Cowards Die Many Times’ both aired last Monday, July 10th. I’ve only seen the first one, but if the rest of the season is as fun and engaging as the pilot, I’ll be watching all ten episodes and beyond.