Review: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

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photo: penguin.com.au

I didn’t want to harm the man. I thought he was a very nice gentleman. Soft-spoken. I thought so right up to the moment I cut his throat.

On the outskirts of Kansas is an area called Holcomb, a sleepy town “other Kansans call ‘out there’”, where an unlocked front door is customary and residents consider each other friends rather than neighbors. In mid-November of 1959, members of the particularly well-liked Clutter family; husband and wife Herbert and Bonnie, and teenaged siblings Nancy and Kenyon, have not shown up to church. A highly abnormal occurrence for the devout Methodist family. When two friends of young Nancy visit the River Valley Farm to find out what has happened they find the family car is still parked in the garage. The house is too quiet, on the kitchen floor is Nancy’s overturned purse. At the top of the stairs is the door to Nancy’s room, when her friends open it they find her in bed with the back of her skull ripped through by a bullet. Walking through subsequent rooms, the police quickly discover that the entire Clutter family has been massacred; each killed by a shotgun held inches from their faces.

In Cold Blood was first published in 1966, seven years after the murder of the Clutter family, and although there have been some before it, it is considered the first non-fiction novel. Non-fiction novels depict real people and events while utilizing artistic license to weave facts with fiction. Capote’s use of fictitious conversations and storytelling techniques typically seen in fiction turn this novel into a unique reading experience with palpable, sympathetic characters (good and bad), tension, and exquisite prose from an unbiased narrator. A pillar of the true crime genre, until this day In Cold Blood has only been outsold by one novel, Helter Skelter Vincent Bugliosi’s 1974 book about the Manson murders.

Capote capitalizes on tension by splitting the novel into four parts: The Last to See Them Alive, Persons Unknown, Answer, and The Corner. Although Holcomb residents are sure the crime has been committed by one of their own, the reader knows the true criminals to be Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, two recently released convicts with numerous prior arrests. The pair have similarly disturbing childhoods and mentality of being jilted by the world, but vastly differing personalities that probably would not have coincided had it not been for the prison walls they were both behind. Hickock is a tall, harsh, smooth talking leader with a skewed face, while half-Indian Smith is stocky, emotional, creative, and superstitious. Capote’s ability to remain mostly unbiased (during interviews with Smith and Hickock it is clear he sees Smith as the more sensitive of the two and portrays him as such) is what drives the novel’s authoritative voice. His impartial writing style ensures that all sides of the story are told, which is why he succeeds in turning seemingly cold blooded murderers into sympathetic characters.

Going into the story readers know the Clutter family has been killed in their rural home. We already know the murderers are caught, tried, and hanged as a result. What the reader learns from this book is why, the fine details behind murder, and through six years of writing and 8000 pages of research, Capote does a wonderful job of delivering. As a result of dubious research, interviews with people who knew both Clutter family and their murderers, Capote writes with certainty and authority, delivering a story that reads like a beautifully written police report. Although readers go in with relative knowledge of the murders, Capote instills even more mystery with details peppered throughout the story, for example, the circumstances that brought the deadly pair to the Clutter household.

As a boy he’d [Hickock] so envied the son of a neighbor who had gone to the Gulf Coast on holiday and returned with a box of shells-so hated him- that he’d stolen the shells and one by one crushed them with a hammer. Envy was constantly with him; the Enemy was anyone who was someone he wanted to be or who had anything he wanted to have.

There are multiple narratives throughout the book connecting accounts of neighboring families and workers that cared for the Clutter farm up until the day of the murders, dovetailed with Smith and Hickock’s travels through Mexico after the murders. While inhabitants of Holcomb and detectives believe the crimes to be perpetrated by calculated crooks, the reader knows Hickock and Smith to be messy and stuck in a cycle of poor choices – a far cry from whom most are expecting. Capote pays special attention to Hickock and Smith’s complex love-hate relationship during and after the murders, and the dependency and strain that weighs heavily on them when funds dwindle and a paper trail of bad checks piles up behind them.

Towards the end of the book a character poses the question; “How can a person as sane as this man seems to be commit an act as crazy as the one he was convicted of?” Studying the psychology and backgrounds of Hickock and Smith as well as others convicted of crimes as heinous as the one they committed, Capote references Dr Joseph Satten’s Murder Without Apparent Motive – A Study in Personality Disorganization and draws the attention of the novel to the trial itself. Up until this point it is easy to get lost in Capote’s writing style and forget the events in the book are real, the trial brings everything back to reality. This moment is where the story soars, leaving the reader feeling emotional and conflicted about the slaying of the Clutter family and all that comes undone following it; Holcomb, the minds of those residing there, and the lives of Hickock and Smith.

Have you read In Cold Blood? What did you think of it? Is it on your TBR list? Do you enjoy reading about sympathetic bad characters? Let me know in the comments!

*Book two out of 10 Books of Summer

10 Books of Summer Reading Challenge

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Photo: 746 Books

I’m already three books behind in my Goodreads Reading Challenge, where I set a goal of reading 35 books in 2016, but hopefully this challenge will help catch me up. After finding a post over at 746 Books, the blog hosting this summer long challenge, I felt compelled to join in at least to make my growing pile of unread books a little bit smaller.

If you’d like to join in it’s simple; read 10, 15, or 20 books between June 1st and September 5th and let your fellow bloggers know how you’re doing along the way. In keeping with my idea that low expectations=success, I’ve aimed for the lowest amount possible. Even so, being a notoriously slow reader, this may be out of my reach but it’s definitely worth the effort. Here’s the pile I’ll be tackling this summer, click their titles for detailed summaries on Goodreads.

1.Euphoria by Lily King

I just bought a used but good as new copy from my beloved Friends of the Library book sale for $1. Euphoria has been on my ‘to read’ list for a while after seeing it on The Millions list of most anticipated books in 2015. I gave myself a head start and started reading this book yesterday evening. The story is about three young anthropologists in the 1930s, caught in a love triangle. I have yet to get to the parts on illicit love, but so far the book is clever, funny, and well written.

2. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

I’m finally ready for the Atwood Experience. The Handmaid’s Tale is a classic, but the topic has never drawn me in. I’m a stickler for great first lines and The Blind Assassin has plenty that demand attention; the first line of the book is “Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.” so I was hooked to find out more. At over 500 pages The Blind Assassin may be the most challenging of the list to get through, but one can dream, right?

3. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

It’s not often that I read books with murder or mystery as a large portion of the plot, but this book has been collecting dust on my shelf for as long as I can remember, and reading this among more cheerful plots balances out my list. This chilling story is Capote’s reconstruction of the real life murder, investigation, and eventual capture, trial, and execution of the killers while conveying great empathy for them. Writing that makes you care about fictional bad characters are great; writing that makes you care about real life murderers are exceptional.

4. Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

From the author of acclaimed novel Mr. FoxBoy, Snow, Bird puts a twist on childhood fairy tales. I’ve never read anything of that sort before, but after hearing praise for Oyeyemi’s writing I picked up a discounted copy at Barnes and Nobles. I’m excited to start this one.

5. How to Breathe Underwater by Julie Orringer

This book of short stories was given to me during my creative writing class and apparently is a must read for short story lovers and writers alike. Published in 2003, How to Breathe Underwater features nine stories that speak on the endless tragedies of youth. I have been on a short story binge lately so thought this would be a welcome break from all of the long fiction in this list.

6. Rock Springs by Richard Ford

Another short story collection. This is my cheat book, I started reading Rock Springs a while ago but never got around to finishing so want to pick up where I left off. Don’t take my not finishing to mean I did not enjoy the stories; this book is American literature gold.

7. Spheres of Disturbance by Amy Schutzer

Over a year ago after a tour of Red Hen Press, me and a group I was with were given the opportunity to take any book of our choosing – I picked up Spheres of Disturbance but have yet to read it. This book is published under Red Hen Press’ imprint, Artkoi Books, which publishes fiction by lesbian writers.

8. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

After reading Bad Feminist, I was over the moon to find Roxane Gay was writing a memoir. Gay uses her personal struggles with food and body image to explore “our shared anxieties over pleasure, consumption, appearance, and health.” I especially want to find out how her past, and the traumatic events within it, formed the woman whose work we’re reading today. Unfortunately, Hunger will not be in bookstores until June 14th, but I’ve already pre-ordered my copy – a little nonfiction to break up my reading.

9. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Another book I got overly excited about before realizing it had not been released yet. There is a lot of buzz around this debut novel about two half sisters in eighteenth-century Ghana. Their lives veer off on two very different paths, one sold into slavery while the other marries an Englishman and moves to the Cape Coast. I will be attending the ALOUD Reading series on June 7 where Yaa Ghasi will talk about her book. Here’s hoping I’m able to get my hands on and finish reading the book before then. 

10. Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy

It has been a while since I’ve indulged myself in some Cormac McCarthy and I think I’m well overdue for my fill. I was tempted to give Blood Meridian another read, but still don’t think I’m ready to stomach decapitations and random removal of entrails. Outer Dark may not be any better since the story follows a woman who bears her brother’s child… but I think I’ll be able to stomach it.

Are any of you participating in 20 Books of Summer? What do you think of the books in my list? Are there any that you’ve read and did/didn’t enjoy? Any books that I should just cross of my list?

Review: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

betweentheworldandmeAnd for so long I have wanted to escape into the Dream, to fold my country over my head like a blanket. But this has never been an option because the Dream rests on our backs, the bedding made from our bodies.

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ second book, Between the World and Me, is a sobering account destined to be assigned as required reading in high schools for years to come. Inspired in part by James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time and news that the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, would not be indicted, Coates wrote this open letter to his fifteen year old son telling him of the world as he sees it, observing the ways someone with black skin must navigate this country lost in a Dream, in a system setup to easily and legally destroy the black body.

Winner of the National Book award for nonfiction (2015) and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction (2016), Between the World and Me is only 149 pages but it’s weight is beyond measure – prepare to highlight every line of this book as it pours poetic prose from a scared father with an urgent message for his son. Coates reflects on his childhood in Baltimore; dodging between education and the streets (both of which could claim his body); years spent studying at Howard University (his personal Mecca); the death of his friend and fellow Howard alumni, a well off, handsome, and educated man who was mistakenly followed and shot by an undercover police officer.

Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body—it is heritage… The soul was the body that fed the tobacco, and the spirit was the blood that watered the cotton, and these created the first fruits of the American garden.

One theme throughout Between the World and Me is the constant fear of losing one’s black body whether it be to street violence, police violence,  failed school and justice systems, or the ghetto. Another theme is that of the Dream. This refers to a fantasy for and enabled by [those who believe themselves to be] white, and are mostly ignorant to their benefit and privilege as “to become conscious of their gains from slavery, segregation, and voter suppression would shatter that Dream”. This book is not an attempt to explain race issues to white people. It does not go out of the way to sugar coat, diminish, or make facts easier to swallow – it is a blunt account of an alternate reality that exists for black people as a result of the pursuit of this Dream. A dream that Americans strive for at the expense of others, and on an even greater, more terrifying scale than before as technology has freed the Dreamers “to plunder not just the bodies of humans but the body of the Earth itself.”

By the end of the book it seems that Coates has no faith in eventual justice for all of this industrialized racism, so he offers no solutions to pacify the problem. Some might argue any solution he could pose would be a waste, since those with privilege and the means to enact change are unaware they possess it, and those who are aware are unwilling to relinquish it – overall his view of the future is bleak but realistic. Coates writes that as a child his parents pushed him to seek out and research answers on his own instead of taking “secondhand answers-even the answers they themselves believed.” Between the World and Me offers no solace to the questions it puts forth and, like Coates’ parents, pushes the reader to search for their own conclusions after the last page is turned.

Have you read Between the World and Me, or plan to? Let me know what your thoughts are in the comments section!

Used Book Sale Finds

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These have been really productive days for me, I think I’m running on the high of getting back to writing-whatever it is I hope it hangs around awhile longer. Since posting Better Writing Habits for 2016 I’ve been able to stick to my writing goals and have had a nice enough work schedule where I can write first thing in the morning, which I found out helps tremendously. I love getting up with a fresh mind, grabbing a quick drink then heading off to my desired writing spot. I’ve even been able to go to the Writer’s Group on Saturday mornings. Writing early, consistently, and with other writers has helped produce a few blog posts and an eight page short story I’m on the tail end of editing. I come home from work; I write. I go to lunch and set myself up to eat my sandwich in one hand while I write, balancing my notebook on my lap.

Yesterday I got to leave work early and was left with loads of time on a day too nice to spend indoors, so got some writing done before going to a Friends of the Library book sale. I’ve been to one before and I’m certain it’s the best used book sale in Los Angeles that I’ve come across. Volunteers run these sales out of Silver Lake Branch and John C. Fremont library as well as a few other, with donated books (good books) that are sold for as little as 75 cents to $2 a book. This place built my Cormac McCarthy collection for about $4 and he’s brilliant!

I bought twelve books yesterday (two not pictured) that fall into many genres-science fiction, classic reads, and contemporary literature. Here are synopsis’ of the books and some reason why I bought them.

Obligatory Reading

usedbookstorefinds1Animal Farm by George Orwell

I read 1984 for the first time a few months ago and fell in love with George Orwell’s satirical style and writing. I love a good dystopian future.

From the book cover: A farm is taken over by its overworked, mistreated animals. With flaming idealism and stirring slogans, they set out to create a paradise of progress, justice, and equality. Thus the stage is set for one of the most telling satric fables ever penned- a razor-edged fairy tale for grown-ups that record the evolution from revolution against tyranny to a totalitarianism just as terrible.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

We all got assigned to read this in high school, but it’s rare to appreciate the ‘classics’ first time around – at least for me. This used copy was obviously owned by a student who took great care in note taking and highlighting important plot points, so maybe I’ll learn something.

From the book cover: At the dawn of the next world war, a plane crashes on an uncharted island, stranding a group of schoolboys. At first, with no adult supervision, their freedom is something to celebrate. This far from civilization they can do anything they want. Anything. But as order collapses, as strange howls echo in the night, as terror begins its reign, the hope of adventure seems as far removed from reality as the hope of being rescued…

Cheap ‘n Cheerful

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None of these books are cheerful, but for only $2, this was the cheapest I’d seen these book so thought Why not?

The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

I know she wrote the Goldfinch. I know she wrote The Secret History. I’m just unapologetically cheap and can’t bring myself to invest $26 in long literature I might never finish. A volunteer mentioned that Donna Tartt’s other books are more popular, but the story of this one appealed to me the most.

From the book cover: In a small Mississippi town, Harriet Cleve Dufresnes grows up in the shadow of her brother, who-when she was only a baby-was found hanging dead from a black-tupelo tree in their yard. His killer was never identified, nor has his family, in the years since, recovered from the tragedy. For Harriet, who has grown up largely unsupervised, in a world of her own imagination, her brother is a link to a glorious past she has only heard stories about or glimpsed in photograph albums. Fiercely determined, precocious far beyond her twelve years, and steeped in the adventurous literature of Stevenson, Kipling, and Conan Doyle, she resolves, one summer, to solve the murder and exact her revenge. Harriet’s sole ally in this quest, her friend Hely, is devoted to her, but what they soon encounter has nothing to do with child’s play: it is dark, adult, and all too menacing.

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

From the book cover: Fight Club’s estranged narrator leaves his lackluster job when he comes under the thrall of Tyler Durden, an enigmatic young man who holds secret after-hours boxing matches in the basement of bars. There two men fight “as long as they have to”. A gloriously original work that exposes what is at the core of our modern world.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon

From the book cover: Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. And he detests the color yellow. The improbable story of Christopher’s quest to investigate the suspicious death of a neighborhood dog makes for one of the most captivating, unusual, and widely heralded novels in recent years.

Reading for Writers

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The Most Beautiful Woman in Town & other stories by Charles Bukowski

When I showed my finds to my husband he laughed and said he has a biased against Bukowski because it’s common for people in Brazil (where he’s from) to quote him when they want to appear smart. Well, I want to seem smart too, I said.

Flipping through the contents page some titles I saw were “The Fuck Machine”, “My Big-Assed Mother” and one simply with a swastika symbol, and I realized I had no idea what I just bought.

From the book cover: These mad immortal stories, now surfaced from the literary underground, have addicted legions of American readers, even though the high literary establishment continues to ignore them. In Europe, however (particularly in Germany, Italy, and France where he is published by the great publishing houses), he is critically recognized as one of America’s greatest living realist writers.

Not much detail other than how understated and great Bukowsky is, but I’ll bite based on the story titles alone.

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

My love affair with Cormac McCarthy’s writing continues.

From the book cover: All the Pretty Horses tells of a young John Grady Cole, the last of a long line of Texas ranchers. Across the border Maxion beckons-beautiful and desolate, rugged and cruelly civilized. With two companions, he sets off on an idyllic, sometimes comic adventure, to a place where dreams are paid for in blood.

The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford

I got my first doses of Richard Ford when my teacher was handing out free books and I ended up with a copy Ford’s short story collection Rock Springs, and heard an excerpt of Canada during class, loving the tone and simplicity of his work. He takes the average American life and makes it interesting, so I’m glad I was able to pick up some of his longer work.

From the book cover: A sportswriter and a real estate agent, husband and father- Frank Bascombe has been many things to many people. His uncertain youth behind him, we follow him through three days during the autumn of 2000, when his trade as a Realtor on the Jersey Shore is thriving. But as a presidential election hangs in the balance, and a postnuclear-family Thanksgiving looms before him, Frank discovers that what he terms the “Permanent Period” is fraught with unforeseen perils.

Closet science lover

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Billions & Billions

Because Carl Sagan, and I like non-fiction that blows my mind.

From the book cover: Sagan applies what we know about science, mathematics, and space to everyday life as well as to the exploration of many essential questions concerning the environment and our future. Ranging far and wide in subject matter, he takes his readers on a soaring journey, from the invention of chess to the possibility of life on Mars, from Monday Night Football to the relationship between the United States and Russia, from global warming to the abortion debate. And, on a more intimate note, we are given a rare glimpse of the author himself as he movingly describes his valiant fight for his life, his love for his family, and his personal beliefs about death and God.

Science Fiction: The Very Best of 2005

That’s the very best so obviously I had to get it. I’ve been avoiding science fiction so I could read different genres, but I miss it a lot. Some short stories are just what I need to bring me out of my funk.

From the book cover: A herd of dinosaurs wander the fields of rural Vermont; a young girl discovers what happens when you’re no longer a goddess in a near-future India; Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics are put to the test as a family is split apart and then redefined; the last man in the universe, stranded on Mars, searches for meaning with a pop song; and an artificially intelligent turtle questions Intelligent Design and evolution. These are just some of the fourteen award-nominated stories that acclaimed anthologist Jonathan Strahan has assembled in his third annual survey of the best new science fiction stories of the year.

What are some good books you’ve found at a used book sale/store? Are any of these on your TBR list? Have you read any of these titles already, what did you think?

Learning Curve

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Neon lights in the desert. Joshua Tree, California.

My mum stood in the kitchen like she often did and asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up. Being from a second generation Nigerian and Congolese household I knew this was a loaded question. Feet barely touching the ground, my seven year old self sat in a chair with a mouth lacking teeth but full of cheerios, my hair struggling to stay bound in a pony tail. “A farmer!” I said, the idea had been brewing in my mind for some time now and the words were enough to make me beam a toothless smile. But “farmer” was not the correct answer – who knew that when it came to choosing a career profit is more desirable than happiness. “Farmers have to clean up animal poop all day – think of something else.” she said. These harmlessly destructive words left me questioning what that “something else” might be.

I have been in school for years trying to find this out, and finally I have learned that my happiness does not look like large pay checks coupled with even larger student loans. It looks like pen to paper, writer to reader, joint to mouth.

That day in the kitchen was the last time I made a choice based purely out of love; all I knew was animals were great and that was enough. Today I make that choice again, to do what I love despite doubt and overwhelming fear.
So now when I’m asked what I want to be when I grow up I respond, this time with a mouth full of smoke, whatever the fuck I want to be.

Review: An Imperfect Fight From a Bad Feminist

badfeministI started reading the Bad Feminist essays on a whim, trying to fluff up my reading with more literature by women after watching one inspired Chimamanda Adichie interview after another. My bookshelves lack of good female authors is a sad situation. Bad Feminist was eagerly thrust down my throat by book lovers and young women who felt they had found the promise land- the bible to being a feminist, albeit an imperfect one.

Many of these essays were originally published on Roxane’s blog with overwhelming response from followers and hashtaggers, this is where she started calling herself a “bad feminist”. The term started off as tongue in cheek but took on new meaning to define the people that have a passion for feminism but can not overcome the inexplicable urge to bop their heads to songs like the Ying Yang Twins Salt Shaker. Songs with lyrics like Bitch you gotta shake it till your camel hurt, that we all know are terribly degrading to women but are also so damn catchy.

Roxane Gay claims she is a bad feminist because she is human therefore flawed and messy, completely unfit to be put on the proverbial pedestal people with the biggest platforms and the loudest, most provocative voice” are forced onto only to be knocked off when they displease the media masses. Though it can be argued that this is the position she occupies now despite her arguments to avoid it. But before becoming the Queen of Bad Feminists, in her teens and twenties Roxane disavowed feminism

because when I was called a feminist, the label felt like an insult. In fact, it was generally intended as such. When I was called a feminist, during those days, my first thought was, But I willingly give blow jobs.

And then Roxane Gay became my favorite writer. For a moment, she was going to take these long repeated issues and breathe new farcical life into them.

These essays do more than muse about the life of a feminist with questionable taste in music and a knack for acquiring enemies at competitive scrabble tournaments, the topics span race, gender, sexuality, entertainment, and politics. I enjoyed light hearted chapters like “How To Be Friends With Another Woman” that takes a look at the myths and truths of women’s friendships. Roxane voices her opinions on America’s love affair with slave movies (The Help, Django, 12 Years A Slave, The Butler, et cetera) and Tyler Perry, our permissive attitudes towards athletes who abuse women with such consistency you would think that was the sport they are paid millions to play, the involuntary outing of gay men and women and why we think we have the right to know, and of course, Chris Brown and the bevy of women who fall over themselves in the hopes that maybe, if the world is kind, they can spend a moment in his company – even if that moment is little more than a thorough beating.

Bad Feminist also dives into feminism as a whole, analyzing intersectionality and emphasizing that, shockingly, feminism should benefit more than middle or upper class white heterosexual women, but has failed in doing so. Non white, working class, homosexual and transgender women are often omitted from mainstream feminism and issues that are most advocated for do not represent their needs. In an essay entitled “Girls, Girls, Girls” Roxane focuses on the “diversity” we see in recently successful shows like Lena Dunham’s Girls, which is apparently set in a mythical New York sans black and Puerto Rican people. And Orange Is The New Black which only features minorities as a side plot, a clown act, to Piper’s world. This, Roxane Gay enthuses, “is a fine example of someone writing what she knows and the painful limitations of doing so”, an already underrepresented audience is not being reached.

I liked these essays mostly for the voice they undertook, funny and honest, and although most of what I read was hardly new information, it is clear how Roxane’s life experiences have formed her opinions. But in all her positive attempts to bring about change, Roxane’s carving out a place for feminism to have flaws that conflict with mainstream feminism is reflected in annoying contradictions in her writing.

She urges artists to write beyond what they know but cannot fathom a white writer and director being behind The Help or how Skinny, a story about obesity, could possibly be written by Diana Spechler, a skinny and attractive woman. About Caitlin Moran’s memoir, How To Be A Women, Roxane loses all sense of humor and writes

[Moran] blithely writes, “All women love babies — just like all women love Manolo Blahnik shoes and George Clooney. Even the ones who wear nothing but sneakers, or are lesbians, and really hate shoes, and George Clooney.” Again, this is funny, but it is also untrue, and to try to generalize about women for the sake of humor dismisses the diversity of women and what we love.

She misses the joke. Roxane Gay bunches women together in similar jokes to advance her writing yet finds it immoral when another writer does the same. She deems shows like Law and Order: SVU irresponsible and unnecessary, using rape as a plot line, but soon after we find out she has watched every episode religiously. How bad is a bad feminist? After a while a bad feminist does not sound like a feminist at all.

One moment in particular bothered me to my core, it was an opportunity for Roxane Gay to “practice what she preached” and give her essays real solidity- propelling them from bloggy YES GIRL! essays to palpable, real actions, but she did not. In her essay “The Careless Language of Sexual Violence” Roxane talks bluntly about the lackadaisical ways in which rape is approached in this era where “rape culture” is a term. She calls on literature to use appropriate language to convey the ramifications of rape rather than using language to “buffer our sensibilities from the brutality of rape, from the extraordinary nature of the crime.”

Through the essays there is a lingering, Roxane hints to being gang raped early on by mentioning she had “an incident with some boys in the woods” and eventually reaches the moment where she writes about it. This moment comes directly after “The Careless Language of Sexual Violence” essay, so I assumed she would do what she said she would like other writers to do. She did not.

She describes a bike ride with a boy she thought was her boyfriend that takes them to a dirty cabin in the woods. I cringed as I knew what was going to happen next. To her surprise his friends were there when they arrived at the cabin, all “popular” and “handsome”. She asked her not-boyfriend to leave but he would not let her, they pushed her down and took off her clothes. Then Roxane summaries,

They kept me there for hours. It was as bad as you might expect. The repercussions linger.

I read this three times over to see if I had missed something. Besides describing the scenery at the time she essentially summed up the event in three short sentences. What were the repercussions? What does “as bad as you might expect” even mean? Can that be considered appropriate language to describe the violence behind rape? Roxane scolds writers for not using the right words to demonstrate the violence of rape, yet describes her own as “as bad as you might expect”. Uh huh…

If I could describe Bad Feminist in one or two sentences I would say it is a discussion piece, one woman’s take on feminism that does not necessarily need to be Essential Feminist Lit. It is an attempt to make a change, but sometimes does not follow through with the risks it calls for others to take.

When I read the book I adored it, why would I not when the meaning behind it is aimed at something so positive? But stepping back and looking at it as a critic there are some obvious flaws with it, but I guess that is what we should expect from someone who calls herself a bad feminist.

Currently Reading: Feminist Essays, Moral Narrative, and Peculiar Classics

It has been two weeks since I moved into my new apartment and I’m still hauling books in and discovering ones I forgot I owned. It feels like Christmas all too often! I have two copies of Rendezvous With Rama and I don’t feel bad about it. I have accumulated a ridiculous amount of John Grisham books from used bookstores that they are all too common in. I have only half read one of his books before losing it and not bothering to buy another copy, yet my bookshelf looks like I am his number one fan. Having my fill of legal thrillers I removed him and all other used bookstore staples (Sidney Sheldon, Jodi Picoult, etc) that cluttered my bookshelf and went on a search for new reads. With suggestions from The Millions Most Anticipated 2014 list and a deliciously long list my creative writing professor handed out (my mouth bursts into spontaneous salivation every time I look at it) I searched for books that interested me and decided to get fiction, nonfiction, and classic literature.

I have been on a Chimamanda Adichie binge lately after my mother in law forwarded her Single Story TED Talk. After adding Americanah and Half of a Yellow Sun to my goodreads ‘to read’ list I went on a hunt for more recent feminist literature. There was something curious about the search, nonfiction and female authors are far and few between on my shelf so after coming across Bad Feminist and having an all too real connection with the title I hit “add to cart” and wondered how amazon could expect any reasonable human being to wait 48 hours for such a good book. Then I was prompted by a “start reading now” button…

Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay 

Within the first twenty pages of these essays I had to put the book down and find out more about Roxane Gay- I looked for her blog, twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and interviews. She lives, breathes, and writes too much truth. As a woman. A black woman. A black woman with parents born in a third world country. And, of course, as a writer. She does not strive to fall within societal lines and simply put, she kicks ass because of it. These essays use humor to boldly address topics people sidestep: feminism, privilege (the fact that we all possess some form of it), and politics. She also talks about being an unconventional professor and the awkwardness that ensues when her students come to talk to her about her mostly sexual writing. In these essays Roxane takes an in depth look at how the things we consume greatly effect our culture and the rest of the world. All with a voice of wit and “I’m not entirely sure what I am doing here.”

And she has fiction too!

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita, Lolita, Lolita. This was my pick for a classic read, suggested by my professor and good god was I not ready for it. Most are familiar with the story even if they have never read it: A man named Humbert spends the pages obsessing over twelve year old Lolita, and after he marries her mother to get closer to her he and Lolita become sexually involved.

Yes, almost every page goes by and you think “No… this couldn’t possibly. Is this really what the story is about?“, but it is and you keep on reading. And you read and read and hate yourself for enjoying the book so much despite it’s horrific subject matter and narrator. I love the narrator because he is hilarious and unreliable, I hate him because of everything else. Recently I have been learning that good literature is supposed to make you uncomfortable. So I take that to mean that as a writer I cannot afford to be afraid of feeling discomfort or causing that feeling with my writing, especially when what a lot of us write about are real emotions and people. Sometimes hilariously shitty ones.

The Children Act, Ian McEwan

Named after the Children Act of 1989 this book centers on Fiona Maye, a high court judge who is pulled in to rule on a controversial case. Seventeen year old Adam refuses to get life saving treatment to fight leukemia because of religious reasons and his parents believe the same. Weighed down by a haggard marriage and personal strife Fiona speaks to Adam and makes a choice that will change both of their lives. I had a particular interest in this book because I work in a setting where I often have to deal with requests that border on ridiculous/dangerous because of personal beliefs or preference (or ignorance), so I was curious to read what take this book has on the matter.

Have you ever seen a grown woman run to the mail box first thing on a Tuesday morning, unbathed and ravenously opening a parcel of books from Amazon?

I’m really looking forward to finishing these books, so far I have not been disappointed. Have you read any of these, what did you think?