Thursday, November 30, 2023

Not That Bad: Dispatches From Rape Culture edited by Roxane Gay

Not That Bad: Dispatches From Rape Culture
edited by Roxane Gay
Read by various authors
8 hours, 41 minutes
Published May 2018 by HarperCollins Publishers

Publisher's Summary: 
In this valuable and revealing anthology, cultural critic and bestselling author Roxane Gay collects original and previously published pieces that address what it means to live in a world where women have to measure the harassment, violence, and aggression they face, and where they are “routinely second-guessed, blown off, discredited, denigrated, besmirched, belittled, patronized, mocked, shamed, gaslit, insulted, bullied” for speaking out. Contributions include essays from established and up-and-coming writers, performers, and critics, including actors Ally Sheedy and Gabrielle Union and writers Amy Jo Burns, Lyz Lenz, and Claire Schwartz. Covering a wide range of topics and experiences, from an exploration of the rape epidemic embedded in the refugee crisis to first-person accounts of child molestation, this collection is often deeply personal and is always unflinchingly honest. Like Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me, Not That Bad will resonate with every reader, saying “something in totality that we cannot say alone.” 

Searing and heartbreakingly candid, this provocative collection both reflects the world we live in and offers a call to arms insisting that “not that bad” must no longer be good enough.

My Thoughts: 
When she was 12 years old, Roxane Gay was gang raped. In order to mentally survive that, she had to convince herself that it was "not that bad" and that other women had it worse. Read that again. Gay did not allow herself to fully comprehend the horrific thing that had been done to her, and at such a young age. 

Women have been brainwashed for so long that we all begin to believe that things are "not that bad." Even when they truly are that bad. And we live in a world where we are constantly comparing what has happened to us against what has happened to other people. We're prone to convincing ourselves that what happens to us really isn't that bad. The reality is that most women have a certain amount of fear at all times. We are less likely to go out after dark. When we do, we are (and have been raised to be) constantly vigilant of our surroundings. We carry our keys webbed through our fingers as weapons. We double and triple checks locks before we go to bed. We have been catcalled, touched in ways we haven't allowed, followed. We are blamed for the terrible things that happen to us. I live in a very safe suburban neighborhood and it makes me uncomfortable to be in my own backyard after dark if my husband is not at home because I have lived so long in fear that someone is lurking in the shadows, ready to harm me. But it is not just women who suffer in our rape culture. 

This collection of twenty-nine essays is one of the most difficult books I've ever read. Listening to it, I believe, made it that much more difficult, emphasizing, as it did through all of the different voices, the size of the problem. As with any collection, some stories were more compelling for me, more relatable. Told from a wide variety of perspectives, this collection speaks to how widespread rape culture is and how many different lives it touches. I meant to write down the names of the essays that most impacted me and the reasons why; but I put off writing about the book because it was just so damn hard to think about and now those titles are gone from my mind, I'm sorry to say. 

As hard as it is to read, I'm hoping that more people will read this book and understand that no matter how rape culture has impacted your life, it is that bad. None of us should have to live in fear, no one should be blamed for the terrible things that others do to them, all of our sons (because the culture is primarily the result of male behavior) should be taught how to behave and how to speak, and all of us deserve to be heard and believed. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder by David Grann

The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder 
by David Grann
Read by Dion Graham
8 hours, 28 minutes
Published April 2023 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary: 
On January 28, 1742, a ramshackle vessel of patched-together wood and cloth washed up on the coast of Brazil. Inside were thirty emaciated men, barely alive, and they had an extraordinary tale to tell. They were survivors of His Majesty’s Ship the Wager, a British vessel that had left England in 1740 on a secret mission during an imperial war with Spain. While the Wager had been chasing a Spanish treasure-filled galleon known as “the prize of all the oceans,” it had wrecked on a desolate island off the coast of Patagonia. The men, after being marooned for months and facing starvation, built the flimsy craft and sailed for more than a hundred days, traversing nearly 3,000 miles of storm-wracked seas. They were greeted as heroes. 

But then ... six months later, another, even more decrepit craft landed on the coast of Chile. This boat contained just three castaways, and they told a very different story. The thirty sailors who landed in Brazil were not heroes – they were mutineers. The first group responded with countercharges of their own, of a tyrannical and murderous senior officer and his henchmen. It became clear that while stranded on the island the crew had fallen into anarchy, with warring factions fighting for dominion over the barren wilderness. As accusations of treachery and murder flew, the Admiralty convened a court martial to determine who was telling the truth. The stakes were life-and-death—for whomever the court found guilty could hang.

My Thoughts: 
I hadn't really considered that it's, in the blogging world, Nonfiction November. But I've managed to read a couple of nonfiction books this month, one of which is David Grann's latest, The Wager, which is being widely touted as one of the best books of 2023. I actually started it almost six weeks ago, when the Big Guy and I were on a road trip; I knew it was the kind of thing that would appeal to both of us. But this was another one of those books that BG found hard to listening because he found it so troubling. So we didn't actually listen to more than about three hours of it on that trip; while waiting for another opportunity for the two of us to listen to it, my loan expired and it took weeks for me to get it back. 

We hadn't even gotten to the worst of it. In any review of this book that you'll read, they will inevitably start at the point where life was hard on the journey around Cape Horn but the trials of tribulations of the crew aboard The Wager, and the other ships with which it set sail, began long before then. 

We're accustomed to thinking of the British navy as one of the greatest military forces in history. What we don't read about it how difficult it was to maintain a wooden ship of that size, how prone they were to rot and hard it was to find sufficient crew to man such enormous vessels. It was, in fact, so difficult that many of the 2000 men in the squadron of ships that included The Wager, were impressed and either in poor health, elderly, or had no sailing or military experience. Before the squadron had even left the coast of Europe, typhus began to reduce their numbers. Life on the ships was miserable, especially if you were a regular seaman, and not an officer and the journey dragged on much longer than expected. Rations were already running low when The Wager became separated from the squadron as it was rounding Cape Horn so that when The Wager ran aground, the men were already feeling the effects of it. The island they landed on made it difficult to fish and offered little in the way of edible vegetation or animals. Almost as soon as the ship wrecked, there were men who began to defy the officer who had become captain when the original captain died at sea. 

Yes, things just kept getting worse and worse. Men went off hunting and died. Men died of starvation and disease. One man died when the captain shot him. And when help, in the form of natives of the area who were experts in finding food, arrived, the men managed to frighten them off. Finally, the remaining group decided that they must make an effort to leave the island and the divide in loyalties reached a mutinous level. Some stayed with the captain, others left with a sailor who, it seemed, had a much safer plan, one more likely to get the men home. Most of both parties perished before they were finally able to return to England and face what had happened on the island. 

It was, to say the least, a big deal, at the time. Which makes the fact that none of us have really heard of The Wager before surprising. Grann tells readers up front that The Wager will be shipwrecked, that there will be a mutiny, and that some of the sailors will return home, telling very different stories. We know all of that and it it still shocking to read about what happened to these men and how terribly they suffered. It's truly amazing that any of them survived at all. For my money, that isn't the most stunning part of the book. The highlight for me is in learning why The Wager is not a story any of us have heard before and it ties in so well with what we know about how the military, the press, and governments work today. 

It's a tough read. BG wasn't wrong in his assessment that it was hard to listen to too much at once. Any book about human suffering is difficult to read, particularly one where the suffering was so unnecessary. But it's certainly a book that readers will sink into and not be able to pull themselves out of until you find out what happened to these men. 

Monday, November 27, 2023

Life: It Goes On - November 27

Happy Monday! Hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving, however you celebrated it. Miss H was not even joking when she told a friend that she'd be perfectly happy having a day at home to herself without anything she had to do - this mama was happy that she was convinced to go out to dinner with this wonderful friend who treated her to a fabulous multi-course dinner. We ended up with just 13, which still required almost all of the table space we could muster without putting up another table. It was such a good day - so much good food, so much fun, so much healing laughter and conversation. 

When Saturday hit, and our family had all headed off to spend time with their other families, I put my feet up for a bit and then took all of Thanksgiving down and put it away. Thought I would start putting Christmas up on Sunday but life had other plans. Christmas decorating will have to wait a little longer. 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: I finished Darling Girl. I had several others all come up at the same time; but with a long weekend, I actually have less time to listen, so I've returned them all and put new holds on them. 

Watched: A sad weekend for my beloved Huskers. The football team lost in the last seconds, the previously undefeated volleyball team was swept, and the soccer team was knocked out of the tournament in the Elite Eight. 

Read: I'm still reading The Fairytale Life of Dorothy Gale; and, surprisingly for me, considering that it is, in addition to being a Wizard of Oz spinoff, a romance novel, enjoying it. 

Made: Cranberries, pumpkin spice breakfast cake, stuffing, brined turkey, glazed ham. And then I didn't have to cook again the rest of the four day weekend, what with leftovers and takeout pizza. 

Enjoyed: Spending so much time with my family. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: Late Saturday, my dad fell and was taken to the hospital for assessment. While there, it was discovered that he has blood clots in his lungs and leg. Needless to say, all plans have now shifted to getting him the care that he needs as he recovers from this. 

Thinking About: Saturday night, as we were sitting in the emergency room, a doctor left the room and closed the door firmly. Immediately, it slowly reopened. My sister and I joked that it was our mom's spirit coming to be with us. At that point they had not discovered my dad's clots and the doctor was about to send him home. Then a nurse spoke up and convinced him to looked into something more closely. We know that it was our mom giving that nurse the nudge to speak up and point out what the doctor had missed. We felt her with us so strongly all weekend. 

Feeling: Guys, I'm tired. Glad that my dad is getting better and getting such good care. Sad that this means he'll need to move to assisted living and leave his beloved apartment. So many feelings. 

Looking forward to: Saturday we're going to see the touring company of My Fair Lady, my favorite musical (well, at least my favorite old school musical). 

Question of the week: Do you believe that the spirits of those we love stay with us? 

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Happy Thanksgiving!

Not my usual traditional, vintage post but I saw this and decided we could probably all do with a little levity today! Hope you are all enjoying your Thanksgiving, however you are spending it.


Monday, November 20, 2023

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich

The Sentence
by Louise Erdrich
400 pages
Read by Louise Erdrich - 709 minutes
Published November 2021 by HarperCollins Publishers

Publisher's Summary: 
Louise Erdrich's latest novel, The Sentence, asks what we owe to the living, the dead, to the reader and to the book. A small independent bookstore in Minneapolis is haunted from November 2019 to November 2020 by the store's most annoying customer. Flora dies on All Souls' Day, but she simply won't leave the store. Tookie, who has landed a job selling books after years of incarceration that she survived by reading "with murderous attention," must solve the mystery of this haunting while at the same time trying to understand all that occurs in Minneapolis during a year of grief, astonishment, isolation, and furious reckoning. 

The Sentence begins on All Souls' Day 2019 and ends on All Souls' Day 2020. Its mystery and proliferating ghost stories during this one year propel a narrative as rich, emotional, and profound as anything Louise Erdrich has written.

My Thoughts: 
I was gifted this book last year at my book club's annual Christmas party and thought it would make a great choice for my book club for this year. I mean, Louise Erdrich always gives you a lot to think about and talk about, right? Hmmm, not so much for my book club; no one else was all that thrilled with this one. Which made me the odd man out, because I really enjoyed it, despite what I perceived to be its flaws. 

I'd be interested to find out when Erdrich began writing this book because it feels a bit like she might have started it in 2019, intending it to be one book, and then 2020 arrived and the book went an entirely different way. There are, in fact, a lot of different kinds of book within this one. It begins with a kind of tragicomic crime escapade that results in Tookie being incarcerated, sentenced to 60 years. Which, of course, made me immediately think this book had veered into a completely different direction. It did, just not the direction I expected. It's a story of redemption, it's a ghost story, there's a supernatural element, it's an homage to books and reading, it's a love story, and, for a time, there's an element of nonfiction. In lesser hands, this could have been a disastrous mess. Even as skilled as Erdrich is, it sometimes felt a bit disjointed. But I was willing to forgive Erdrich that because I was so invested in these characters. 

As always, Erdrich explores native culture and the Indigerati (her term for urban, intellectual Native Americans). To that end, she talks about the foods (including the commodity foods that the government handed out), traditions, solidarity with black people, and white appropriation (there are two characters who seem unable to understand the boundaries). 

This book touches on so many themes: racism, Erdrich uses the ghost to explore hauntings in all of its forms (personal pasts, colonial haunting and how it has played out): 
"Think how white people believe their houses...are haunted by Indians, when it's really the opposite. We're haunted by settlers and their descendants. We're haunted by the Army Medical Museum and countless natural history museums and small-town museums who still have unclaimed bones in their collections." 
The Sentence is not just the title of this book; it is a running theme. We start with Tookie's sentence to prison ("This light word lay so heavily on me.") then the sentence in language, many of which play an important part in the book. There is the sentence in a book that Tookie believes killed Flora, the sentence that Tookie believes will cause Flora to pass on, the sentence that actually does cause Flora to leave the book store, the sentence that Pollux waits years to hear Tookie say, and the final sentences of the book, "The door is open. Go." Finally, there is the death sentence given to George Floyd and the hundreds of thousands who died of Covid. 

I loved that books saved Tookie in prison, that they became so important during 2020 that bookstores were considered essential, that a book plays such an important role in this novel, and that the book store is a central fixture of the novel. The books in the novel forge relationships, unveil history, bring hope. 

An interesting bit in this book is that the bookstore Tookie works in is Birchbark Books, owned by a woman named Louise. Yes indeed, Erdrich owns a bookstore of that name in Minneapolis. This was a listen/read combo for me and I don't think you could go wrong either way. If you listen, try to find the book list that Erdrich includes at the end of the book. My to-be-read list exploded! 

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Life: It Goes On - November 19

Happy Sunday before the chaos! Show of hands - who actually brings the turkey to the table to carve it? And if you do, how the heck do you keep it from making a mess of the entire table? 

Who else is hosting the family this week? We'll have 14 with us Thursday and 5 people staying for the weekend. Needless to say, this week has been busy with planning and preparing. Fortunately, everyone who's coming is arriving with some of the meal, making that part much easier for me. I know where everyone will sit for the meal...not sure where everyone will sit while they're waiting, or, more importantly, where they'll stretch out to nap afterward!

Last Week I: 

Listened To: Darling Girl by Liz Michalski, a modern spin off of Peter Pan, which I'm enjoying. 

Watched: Mini-him's cat for the week while he traveled to California for work. 

Read: The Fairy Tale Life of Dorothy Gale by Virginia Kantra, a spin off of, of course, The Wizard of Oz. This is one of those times when my reading has an unexpected commonality. 

Made: Prepping for this coming week, I've made cranberries and a pumpkin/spice breakfast cake. 

 Brunch with my Tier Ones and their spouses. Always so good for my heart to be with these people! 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: See above. It just occurred to me today (how it didn't occur to me sooner, I don't know) that I need to have a meal plan for the whole weekend so I'm starting that plan. 

Thinking About: The Big Guy and I did a lot of work putting our basement back together again this week. There's a lot to be done down there yet. Now that we have Miss H settled, we can get rid of the things that we no longer need to save for "some day." Now we can start thinking about what we want to do with that space, now that it's no longer a kid zone. 

Feeling: Like taking a day off this week would have been a good idea. 

Looking forward to: The chaos that will be my house from Wednesday late afternoon until sometime next Sunday. 

Question of the week: Are you a Thanksgiving traditionalist or do you like to experiment with new takes on old favorites? 

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy - Guest Review

The Kafka Studies Department
by Francis Levy
Illustrations by Hallie Cohen
112 pages
Published September 2023 by Heliotrope Books

Publisher's Summary:
From Francis Levy, author of Seven Days in Rio, which The New York Times called “a fever dream of a novel,” comes The Kafka Studies Department, a highly original collection of short, parable-like stories infused with dark humor, intellect, and insight about the human condition. While the book’s style is deceptively simple and aphoristic, it carries a hallucinatory moral message. A prism of interconnected and intertwined tales, inspired by Kafka, the stories examine feckless central characters who are far from likable, but always recognizable and wildly human.

My Thoughts - Well, Actually, The Big Guy's Thoughts: 
This book arrived in my house a couple of weeks ago and The Big Guy immediately picked it up - I think the cover intrigued him initially. Always thinking that another point of view is a good idea to break things up, I figured I'd let him read this one and share his thoughts. Without further ado, I give you The Big 
Guy's Thoughts: 
This little Diddy is a short 109 pages of short stories.  At first they appear fairly divergent, but later they come together, especially with the main character of Spector.  

I really like Francis Levy's writing style, like I am told, Kafka wrote about many bizarre situations with many strange characters and this assortment is evidently similar.  I have always liked fictional tales with a different perspective with somewhat eccentric characters doing strange things, so I am in my element.  

There are many bad things happening to many of the main characters, many who deserve it and some situations that even if not happily ever after are neutral in calamity.  But for some reason, I don't feel bad for the characters either because they are a-holes or you just don't feel much for them either way.  

The writing style is dark comedy like a Cohen Brothers show or movie, so even if there is death and destruction in many of the stories they have a light and airy feel to them. His stories have a late 1960s early1970s feel to them like Richard Braughtigan or Kurt Vonnegut.

An easy quick read you can knock you in a couple of hours, but I catch myself wanting to reread it again right away as in any good short story there is a lot packed into few pages.  Not much in the way of violence except for violent thoughts, but certainly quite a few sexual references and probably best for readers over 18.  

I catch myself wanting to read some Kafka now. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Short Story Advent Calendar

You should head over to my Instagram account, where I'm featuring the Short Story Advent calendar today! Wouldn't it have been nice if I'd had a lovely Christmas-y background in this pic - still decorated for fall since I'll be hosting 17 for Thanksgiving dinner and we might be sitting in every room in the house to eat! 

I was talking to Trish, at TLC Book Tours, a bit ago about a book that I'll be reviewing tomorrow when she asked me if I'd ever heard of the Short Story Advent Calendar. I hadn't; but, always one who thinks she needs to read more short stories, I agreed to do an Instagram feature. 

This is such a fun idea and anyone can find time to read one of these little books a day; each is only around 20 pages. The Big Guy thought he'd start reading them but I slapped his hand and reminded him that advent calendars are meant to be started on December 1. We won't tell him that I've already been doing a little reading. A girl's gotta be prepared to discuss, right?

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Life: It Goes On - November 7

Happy Tuesday! Golly, not only am I late posting this week, but I never got any reviews posted last week! It's been a busy week only broken up by evenings that I'm too mentally exhausted to get much done and I've given myself permission to give in to that. 

This is probably the last week for this Life: It Goes On pic - the leaves are almost all gone and we are entering the season of bare trees and dark evenings. I know so many of you love when we leave daylight saving time but this girl hates it. It's dark when I wake up, it was dark well before I got home from work; it's depressing, for me, to be waking into work when it's light, knowing that may well be the only light I get for the day. On the plus side, it was warm enough for us to eat dinner on the patio tonight!

Last Week I: 

Listened To: The Sentence by Louise Erdrich. My loan expired this morning before I was able to finish; but, luckily, I happen to also have it in print to finish it up. 

Watched: The Nebraska volleyball team come from 2 sets down to win. These girls seem to always find a way to win - they're very fun to watch. 

Read: Day by Michael Cunningham. Hope to finish that this week. Who knows - maybe one day I'll actually get a review written! 

Made: Raspberry banana bread because I had both bananas and raspberries that needed to be used and not enough time to make two different kinds of bread. It was delicious! 

The cedar chest I refinished and the end table that I painted, with 
it's new lighting. 
 As exhausting as it was and as sore and tired as we were when we left, we enjoyed helping Miss H move into her apartment this weekend. We couldn't stay long enough to get her completely settled, but left her in good shape. So excited for her - it's very cozy and very much her. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: Have to finish putting the yard and gardens to sleep for the season and put the basement back in order now that all of Miss H's things are gone. 

Thinking About: I'll admit it - I'm starting to think of decorating for Christmas. I never, and I mean never, start before Thanksgiving but it's so much work and I want to be very deliberate about it this year. It will actually take more thinking as I try to scale it all back some. 

Feeling: Like I should have been cleaning tonight but instead I watched The Voice and scrolled Instagram. 

Looking forward to: The Big Guy's brother is coming to town so that the two of them can go to a concert and his wife and I are going to have a movie night here with take out. 

Question of the week: Are you team "decorate right after Halloween" or team "wait until after Thanksgiving?"