Kindergarten Lessons Are Hard to Learn

Have you guys heard of this Dessen controversy? It’s kind of crazy! And also, the degree of contention expressed over who was “right” and who was “totally out of line” is vastly out of proportion to something that, frankly, boils down to something you’ve probably been hearing since you were a little kid: Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right.

For those who have been blissfully unaware of what’s going on, some pretentious alum from Northern State University dissed Dessen’s book Saint Anything, dismissing it as a work for “teens,” not real people. (I’m paraphrasing, but that’s still pretty much what she said.) Because, you know, officially graduating from college and beginning to chip away at crippling student debt while working a soul-sucking job makes you more of a person than you were as a carefree high school student who still had the luxury of being excited and caring about shit.

And then, Dessen complained on Twitter, because the casually cruel words of some chick vainly posturing in an attempt to seem smart hurt her feelings. And Dessen’s girlfriends let her know that yes, she was a person who had put herself out there by allowing her precious, fragile book into the world, and the casually cruel chick definitely didn’t need to be such a dick about it if she didn’t like her writing.

I mean, calling her a “fucking bitch” in the public eye is a bit much, but I get it. Give me a few margaritas and I’ll be giving you a side hug and calling anyone who has deigned to look at you funny a fucking bitch, too. And no, I don’t really need margaritas to do that, at all, but I like tequila, and most people aren’t as honest as me.

What I love is that the girl who got called out for saying something shitty, is all like, “But I study online bullying! And while I think that trash is below the standard, because we all know I went to school with people far less intellectually superior than I am, #smartpeopleprobs, I recommended the winner, and vouched for other books that include diversity. So basically, you can’t call me a bad person, and you have to love me. And love means never having to say you’re sorry.” (I’m paraphrasing, but that’s still pretty much what she said.)

If you stand by what you said, cool. But you’re still dissing the author who spent time and energy creating this book that you deem “not good enough” (I’m paraphrasing, but that’s still pretty much what she said). And you’re also dissing the people who read that book, and to whom it spoke, and who thought the meaning and beauty that they derived was not isolated to just them. When you say: “She’s fine for teen girls… But definitely not up to the level of Common Read,” (that one actually is a direct quote) you are stating your opinion in a fairly mean way. And frankly, I think less of your intelligence, because you seem to be pushing so hard to flaunt that you’re not one of “those girls” who read Dessen. And to follow up with – “My quote was taken out of context; I also argued for three books [that] are beautifully written and push readers to stand against the racial inequality that the judicial system perpetuates, to consider the heritability and influence of tradition and trauma, and to contemplate what brings meaning to one’s life,” your argument doesn’t hold water. Because you didn’t explain how your quote was taken out of context. You just explained how you’re super awesome because you’re well-read and wanted to make sure everyone in your alma mater read a book that you liked, after denigrating a book that other people thought everyone should maybe read. So stop underestimating other people’s intelligence, and if you feel that strongly that Sarah Dessen is a shitty writer, then stick by it when her legion of followers decide to harass you on Twitter. Or maybe just, like, stop using Twitter or something. Don’t you have more books to read to make sure that college students everywhere aren’t reading shit you don’t deem good enough?

But Nelson isn’t the only one who messed up. Dessen’s reaction to reading Nelson’s words (however she found out about it; this is the age of the Internet, so not quite sure why the Washington Post finds this so weird) is completely understandable. And wanting to vent to her friends, and then get sympathy from her friends – also completely understandable.

Except that Dessen’s “friends” on social media consist of quite a large population of people. Like, if you wanted to audit the number of people following Dessen on Twitter are real people, you would be looking at quite a large sample size. So Sarah Dessen should have thought a little bit more about whether or not she really wanted to post. Having personally followed Dessen (#bias), I kind of feel like she’s honestly just a super sweet person who posts unfiltered content on her Twitter, Instagram, what-have-you. So this word vomit simply poured forth from her fingers, akin to everything else she posted. That is just a guess, however; I have met the author (twice) in person, but I don’t really know her. Maybe her feelings got hurt and she intentionally and maliciously posted a fairly innocuous post about how she had worked hard on her novel and the comment’s venomous slant had hit her hard knowing that fans would see it and instantly swarm to her defense. Maybe she wanted this person to really understand the power that words hold. Perhaps her post, which doesn’t even sound that bad to me, was carefully crafted to appeal to the unwise, sociopathic, and/or bitchy members of her fan base.

Or maybe she posted something without really thinking through the potential consequences, and then when she realized how the other person was being unfairly attacked, took her post down and issued a public apology. I don’t know. I’m not a mind reader.

I do know that both parties did something wrong, and both should apologize (one already has). But given that these women are no longer under the sway of a kindergarten teacher, if they haven’t already done so, it’s doubtful they will do so, now.

What are your thoughts on this current event? Do you take a side? Not care? Are you a mind reader, and do you actually know the intentions behind what either of the involved persons did?

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Um… Okay

Have you seen it yet? That commercial that Macy’s pretends is to be uplifting and “in the holiday spirit” that’s actually just… very odd, and probably trying to outdo the now-defunct Montgomery Ward’s red-nosed reindeer?

It begins with a girl who has a dream. You know how girls are – always wanting to be fucking Santa Claus. Because children don’t all, in their heart of hearts, really want to be amongst the recipients of presents. Because children aren’t, deep down, pretty much the psychopathic toddlers that used their parents as teether toys, shellacked with a thin veneer of propriety and good manners, using their wits and charm to get what they want.

And we’re supposed to feel sorry for her, because her peer group laughs at her. How dare they not support her dream of becoming a portly older gentleman who breaks into the home of strangers unannounced to leave them evidence of the type of person he deems them to be? Like, who doesn’t want to be observed by an unknown, unseen person and then receive gifts from them? It always seems to work out so well for celebrities, right? Just because this girl wants to become your stalker, and comes to school with a padded faux-pregnancy belly, and you’re a hormonal asshole of a middle schooler, you think it’s okay to mock her? Shame on you, middle school kids. This isn’t a sitcom, this is a fucking heartwarming commercial, and YOU ARE RUINING IT.

But, like, it’s okay. Luckily, this girl’s parents are rich and/or racking up credit card debt. They wrap their gas-guzzling truck with a myriad of tiny colored lights, and enable their daughter’s social ineptitude by playing along and asking “Santa” to hop in and bribe her classmates into pretending she’s not super weird. She gets a nod from a kid who can deign to be polite since none of his friends are around, and probably feels like she’s being a good person, when really, she should probably be in therapy.

Like… wtf, Macy’s?

Witches Burn

“I think I see what you’re going for, but you’re a bit too shabby to be chic, darlin’.” Her mouth was covered in icy pink glimmer, her Southern drawl just noticeable enough to be adorable. If you didn’t know how much evil lurked beneath. Sarah Jane and her gaggle of sorority sisters turned on their heels and sashayed towards the union. Sure, a lot of them would be date raped and enter into soulless marriages, but at the end of the day, most of them were going to graduate with a diamond on the left hand guaranteeing financial security. Their certainty that this was the case lifted their chins with the posture of a superior being.

Meanwhile, Melody was stuck with her thrift store finds, pretending she preferred a more quirky look when the reality was that she couldn’t afford nice, new clothes. Her fists involuntarily clenched at her sides, nails digging small crescents into the palms of her hands until she felt wetness in addition to pain – the unfairness of it all, “it all” being her “life,” had drawn blood.

She wandered to the library – unlike Sarah Jane and her minions, she was likely going to have to forge her own way in the cold, unfair world, which meant that she should probably keep up her grades. Scholarships tended to care whether or not a student was passing her classes.

Melody stared at the same paragraph in the Malleus Maleficarum for about 20 minutes before she gave up. Why had she wanted to take a class on the Middle Ages, anyway? The people were ridiculous, the primary sources were dry when not poorly written, and what did a primarily uneducated populace who decided to make women their scapegoats for everything that went wrong in their shitty, short lives have to do with her future career? Was she going to bring it up in a job interview to show she was well-rounded? Was she going to draw parallels to the world around her that were pointless, anyway, because Americans will steadfastly ignore all proof that history is repeating itself?

She decided that she was too tired for studying to do much good, anyway, and began walking home. As she trudged in her thin sneakers, soaked through from the wet piles of dead leaves littering all sidewalks, she heard a false laugh, and the clomp of thick, designer leather boots coming towards her. She closed her eyes tight, hoping that would make her invisible – but, of course, it didn’t.

“Why hello, Mel-oh-dee,” Sarah Jane’s voice crooned. “Didn’t your momma ever tell you not to squinch your eyes like that? It’s gonna give you wrinkles. And we all know you can’t afford the Botox.”

With a sigh, she opened her eyes, and resumed walking.

If there was such a thing as karma, the wind would have picked up, blowing Sarah Jane’s skirt up towards her shoulders and revealing a pair of laughably large granny panties. Or she would have slipped on the wet leaves, falling on her face like an actress in an old comedy movie. But Melody was very aware that karma does not exist. So of course it was her own feet that betrayed her, slipping on a cracked sidewalk hidden by the plethora of fall foliage. Her hands and chin were scraped by the unforgiving asphalt, and she would find that the unfortuitous action had cracked her laptop screen.

Sarah Jane and her cronies cackled, and Melody understood how a group of people could be mad enough at certain women to use any excuse possible, according to the widely accepted belief system of the day, to burn the bitches to death. But even if Sarah and gang were witches, it would be as pale imitations of the devious women thought to have naked orgies with the devil beneath the moonlight. Just some candle-burning, and “blessed be” Wiccan bullshit. Nothing criminal enough that their daddies, real, sugar, or otherwise, couldn’t get them out of.

Still. It wouldn’t be the worst thing if she and her bitches were taken down a peg. Or twelve.

The annual Hallowe’en bash was full of drama, as usual. Sarah Jane caught her boyfriend Ethan in flagrante delicto with sorority sister Mary Sue, which should have been almost boring at this point, but still resulted in tears and racoon-eyes, because Sarah Jane had unwisely foregone her waterproof mascara. Tiffany was discovered passed out in the bathroom, and unceremoniously dumped off at the hospital because no one wanted a ticket for drunk driving. One of Ethan’s frat brothers tried to show-off for a comely partygoer, and accidentally set the living room curtains on fire; the comely partygoer made the situation worse by pouring alcohol on the curtains to try to put the fire out. And one of the attendees snuck into the coat closet and relieved everyone of the cash in their coat pockets, wallets, and purses, as well as several sorority sisters of their credit cards.

The next time that Melody encountered Sarah Jane, her toes were warm and snug in the pair of Sorel boots she had recently acquired. Her neck was covered with a warm Burberry scarf, which peeped out of her dark blue pea coat. Sarah Jane, complaining to her “friends” about yet another instance of cheating by her boyfriend which one of them would likely soon partake in as well, did not see her through her bitterness and watery, irritated eyes. She walked right past, not even purposefully “accidentally” bumping into Melody, who was pleased to not be seen. Melody continued to the library, where she purchased a large flavored latte that probably contained all the calories she would need that day, before heading up to her spot on the fifth floor. The fifth floor contained the Regency period books, both those published during that time as well as more recent historical analyses. Even the most steadfast Jane Austen fan had a difficult time caring about these books, and save for the occasional odd student bravely trying to perform research that he or she would soon give up on, Melody generally had the floor to herself.

Melody walked to the fourth study carrel off the entrance and to the left, pulling the door closed, and laying her books on the shelves thoughtfully provided just above the desk. She removed her laptop, and logged in on the unblemished screen of the MacBook pro Sarah Jane’s father had unwittingly purchased.

Life was not fair, and karma isn’t real, although the ridiculous fire incident on Halloween night came close to making her think otherwise. She had witnessed the false and drunken bravado from the fringes, dressed as a slutty beetle (the only costume at the 11th hour with a full-face mask) as she snuck into the coat room and obtained her own justice. Her rich peers were almost asking to be robbed, having a ridiculous amount of cash in an unsupervised room, so she didn’t feel very guilty about removing their readily-available, liquid resources. Nor did she feel very guilty about sneaking through the quilted beige handbag with Sarah Jane’s name stitched across the front. In fact, she was not even sure if Sarah Jane had realized her Visa had been removed; Melody was still using the card to purchase food and drink because it had yet to be canceled.

As Melody took a sip of her creamy, sweet drink, she thought to herself that the witches on campus may still be alive, but she had burnt them, whether they realized it or not, where it hurt the most.

Written in response to one of M’s October Writing Prompts.

NaNo No Mo’

The air, at least in Michigan, is starting to chill. The leaves are turning shades of yellow, orange, and red before drifting to the ground as beautiful corpses that litter our lawns, and then get wet and gross and present rake-breaking eyesores. It is, in short, October. Beautiful, fall-is-here October. Which means next month is November. And as most of those who like to write are aware, November is supposed to be a push to get a (probably shitty) 50k word draft of a novel drafted by partaking in NaNoWriMo.

There’s no hard and fast rule saying you have to participate in NaNoWriMo. But as someone who feels like there is at least one decent novel hidden somewhere in her sleep-deprived brain and shriveled, cynical heart, it is an event which I have attempted a few times, and always feel I should consider.

But not this month. Fuck November! My November is going to be awful. I’m going to be up to my eyeballs in work, struggling valiantly to meet nearly-impossible deadlines while sitting in a cube and feeling my ass grow wider each day because exercise is for people without kids and soul-crushing jobs.

However, theoretically, my December should be calmer. In fact, I’m taking at least two weeks off. So I am setting myself a goal in December, instead – 2k words per day for 2 weeks on whatever. Maybe a novel, maybe some short stories. But I want to write consistently, in addition to keeping my house clean, and keeping my kids fairly happy and well taken care-of.

What about you? Are you torturing yourself in November? Or is November a no-go? If the latter, do you want to push yourself in December, like me?

Furies & Furieser

Hallowe’en is right around the corner, and in honor of this upcoming night of mischief, costumes, and sugar, I am going to recap three ARCs that I read this year that I haven’t gotten around to reviewing yet, which you may be considering purchasing.

The Furies by Katie Lowe

Release Date: 10/8/2019

This tale is told by Violet, as an older woman, about a time as a girl when she lost her father, enrolled into an elite school, and was befriended by a group of girls who were mistreated and demanded vengeance. Starting with an odd, terrible death that confused the community and remains unsolved, the narrator tells her version of events leading up to and including the mysterious event.

Most of this novel is gritty and real. You can feel for these girls who are confused and not always treated well, retreating into the idea that they can take care of themselves because they have innate supernatural abilities, but then again, not entirely believing that they have innate supernatural abilities. You will be horrified by many of the acts perpetuated in this book. And you will have to figure out for yourself what you think really happened that night, when a beautiful young girl died.

Overall, I liked this book. It is not light and fluffy. Bad shit happens. And it drags slightly in the third fourth of the book. Overall, though, it is spooky and interesting, and I do recommend reading it.

Toil and Trouble by Augusten Burroughs

Release Date: 10/1/19

Augusten Burroughs is a witch.

Or, at the very least, he thinks he is one.

Is this belief based on the questionable words of his mother, who went insane and terribly neglected him, as detailed in Running with Scissors? Well, yes.

Does he provide clear and undeniable proof that he is a witch, with better understanding of, and ability to manipulate, the world around him? Well, no.

Is this book entertaining, regardless of whether or not you believe him? Hell, yes.

Burroughs’ writing style is simple and clear. I’m not sure that I buy that he’s a witch, but I did enjoy every second of this book, which I read in just a couple days (quite fast for me, with two kids frequently hanging on or being held by me). Recommend!

The Babysitters Coven by Kate M. Williams

Release Date: 9/17/19

This books is being marketed as The Babysitter’s Club meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If you, similar to me, are thinking “Huh, that sounds interesting. Also, what does that look like, given that TBC is a middle-grade read and Buffy is high-school age age and above?” let me help you. It looks underwhelming.

The storyline has many similarities to both of these identified predecessors; however, this book, intended to be the first of a series, is comprised of exposition that is not even exceedingly interesting to read. Although the protagonist is 17, she reads as pretty young.

So the tagline would probably be more accurate if it read: “What if the babysitters from The Babysitter’s Club were really mundane witches who had watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer?” Or maybe “Buffy the Vampire Slayer… without the biting wit, with all of the supernatural shit watered down.”

If you’re in the mood for a middle-grade read, it might be fine. Personally, I was hoping for more than what this book is, and did not like it.

TBR Treasure Hunt: The Girl Who Knew Too Much

Full disclosure: I read this book in May and am only now getting around to writing about it. I have been procrastinating, because I did not much like it.

The problem with a series written by an already popular author under a pseudonym is you expect something amazing. If you bothered to take the time to write this, and get it published under a different name even though people will readily purchase anything that has your already known name on it, then it should be fucking amazing. Or maybe a total disaster that your publishers forced you to write, at gunpoint, barely legible, because the sweat was rolling into your eyes as you typed on the keyboard, and the fear froze your mind so you barely knew what was pouring forth from your fingers.

This book is neither. It’s a mediocre story, with a lot of unrealized potential – the largest affront an established author could put forth into the world.

Amanda Quick, for those who don’t know, is Jayne Ann Krentz. And The Girl Who Knew Too Much is the first of the “Burning Cove” series, a fictional town near Hollywood that offers escape to those burdened stars who never get any privacy and have to cry into their 1000-thread count Egyptian cotton covered pillows, wiping the snot away with their millions of dollars. This book was supposed to be glamorous and fun and interesting – instead, it was boring and predictable. I knew who the murderer was almost immediately. And I’m a reader who is somehow surprised, every time, when I read an Agatha Christie novel (unless I’ve read it before, because… I’m not brain-dead. Just bad at solving mysteries).

The author knows how to put together her nouns and verbs to form sentences appropriately – it’s just that those sentences aren’t worth reading.

I’m sure it’s a shocker, but I am not recommending this book to anyone. If you must read it, I recommend seeing if you can get it cheap on your e-reader (not from Amazon, though, ’cause, like, the tech giant sucks) or from the library.

TBR Treasure Hunt: Winter is Here

… or rather, The Winters.

I know! It’s not even topical anymore. Yet I couldn’t resist.

The Winters claims to have been “inspired” by Daphne du Maurier’s haunting, lovely Rebecca, but at first, my impression was that it’s pretty much a modern re-telling. And initially, my instinct from reading this novel was that it was a pretty good read that pales in comparison to du Maurier’s gothic novel. And then, I re-read Rebecca. And realized maybe the book is not as lovely as I had thought. And maybe I hadn’t been reading the novel critically enough to understand what was going on.

To provide some context, I read Rebecca for the first time in high school. I was a very dramatic teenager, with a love for reading, and Rebecca was an instant favorite. As an adult, however, although I still have a penchant for drama, I also realize in a way I did not when younger, how unreliable and ridiculous the unnamed narrator is.

In the start, she seems fine. She jumps into being “in love” with Maxim de Winter and agreeing to spend the rest of her life with him awfully fast. But, she’s also living a drab life, with her job consisting of working for a woman she doesn’t much like, and Maxim de Winter, as an older man who seems to enjoy her for her legitimate company, offers a safe respite from this life by offering security due to his money. She says that she’s in love with him, and she probably really thinks that she is. I was immediately skeptical, however, (on this re-read, not when I was a high-school aged idiot), given that she’s very young, and he’s much older.

Yet as the book progresses, it is clear to the reader that she doesn’t really care to be around him. She likes her alone time. She doesn’t really want to socialize – claims she’s worried she’s going to mess something up, but really, she’s a young woman who doesn’t want to hang out with Maxim’s older friends making boring conversation. Totally fair. Oh, and she doesn’t really mind if her husband’s around, either. Although she’s young and they just got married. …yep, sounds like a young person who’s truly smitten to me.

It is difficult to tell, as the book progresses, if you can believe anything she says. She sounds reasonable and logical, until she doesn’t. She’s so timid around Mrs. Danvers, for instance, that you can understand why the older woman can’t help but long for her previous female employer. Not because Rebecca was beautiful and charming, because she was decisive. Rebecca could make a fucking decision. Mrs. Danvers asks this narrator what her preference is, and she’s so worried about making the wrong decision that she does, every time, by saying – “Oh, whatever you prefer.” Or “Whatever Rebecca would have done.” And attempting to ameliorate her waffle-ness by adding “I’m not picky.” It’s literally your job to keep the house, now. And you have money now. Either start reading books to learn the etiquette, or decide you don’t give a fuck, and you do you, bitch. Be like: “I’m tired of pickles” and don’t order them for 3 weeks. Drink red wine with fish. The way to make a wrong decision is to care too much about what others think of your choices.

So our potentially agoraphobic narrator with hermitic tendencies is married to a rich, older guy she tries to convince herself she loves, and abstaining from housekeeping, supposedly because she’s terrified of the housekeeper, but really because she’s paralyzed by the idea of making the wrong choice. And she has convinced herself that she is correct in being terrified of the housekeeper, although the latter seems to be acting in a totally reasonable matter. I don’t buy that Danvers is a bitch, actually. I kind of like her. More than the narrator, if we’re being honest.

This is starkly in contrast to my read of the book when younger. When younger, I took everything the narrator said at face value. Now, I’m 100% convinced this younger reading was incorrect.

So, initially, The Winters was a 4-star read for me, because “Mm, it’s okay. But Rebecca is better. Just re-read Rebecca.” [Editor’s Note 1: This is not a direct quote.]

[Editor’s Note 2: Yes, I edit my blog myself.]

[Editor’s Note 3: So I am, in fact, the editor. Leaving editor’s notes on my own writing.]

And then I re-read Rebecca. And I realized that Lisa Gabriele’s The Winters bears many similarities to Rebecca. Was obviously written with the same-ish characters in mind. But it deviates in important ways to tell a story that shows, at the least, a critical reading of Rebecca that is worth considering.

I still think it’s a 4-star read for me, because although I really enjoy its’ analysis of its’ famous inspiration, I do not want to own it. The writing is fine, if a bit simple. Worth a read, but maybe get if from the library, if interested.

… like I did!

Have you read The Winters? What did you think? Do you want me to leave editor’s notes on your blog? I’m good at them, and can make up content as needed. I’m fairly good at it – not, like, John Hodgman good, but we can’t all be John Hodgman, so… you know… what was I saying? [Editor’s Note: It is not recommended to lose your train of thought mid-sentence. Consider re-wording.]