[Untitled] – Because Titles Make Posts Fat

For a novel that provides stark detail on the realities of eating disorders, The Girls at 17 Swann Street is a rather lovely book. I was lucky enough to receive an ARC, which I forgot about, then had a pleasant surprise in February that that new book I wanted to read and kept seeing in communications and bookstores was literally on my bookshelf.

#lucky

At first glance of the cover and/or synopsis, the subject matter can seem a bit too easy. We all know that ballerinas and eating disorders go together like chocolate and peanut butter, which is ironic, since both of these edibles are items that a ballerina is likely never going to eat. Yet this novel really only involves one, particular, ballerina – protagonist Anna, who is a ballerina no longer. And ballet is not the only reason Anna has become obsessive about becoming thin. Like most women, there are a plethora of reasons that Anna has begun to believe the world as it shouted the message to her that thin is the new worthwhile.

#tooloud

To get the preliminaries out of the way – this novel is well done, and I recommend it if the cover, title, subject matter, fiction, etc., is at all interesting to you.

#necessitiesdone

To get to what I am really interested in, could not help noticing as I read, and have found my mind drawn to long after having finished the last page, let’s talk about this book’s broader subject matter. As a woman, I have found myself torn between my desire to consume delicious food and my desire to be thin, but overall, thought I had a pretty healthy relationship with food. This novel caused me to re-evaluate and really think through my motivations when making food choices.

Because Anna doesn’t just stop eating. She’s just not eating enough. But limiting herself primarily to fruit and popcorn? Definitely things I have done, when I want a snack, and tell myself I need to eat more healthy. And exercising without having eaten enough? Also something I have done, generally telling myself I can eat after I have exercised (except I do, because in addition to wanting to be thin, I really, really like food). So while I am not in pain due to extreme fragility if I take a simple ride on a roller coaster, I found myself questioning the reasons why I wanted to eat more/less, what I wanted to eat, and realizing that, often, the motivations behind my eating are not ideal.

I am a compulsive eater, I love food, and I am a former dancer who has difficulty ascertaining of what a healthy weight consists for me and aspiring to be thinner than I currently am. I have to work to try to have and maintain a healthy relationship with food every day, and quite frankly, I don’t know that I have found it. While dancing, wearing a formfitting leotard in a room with a wall comprised of mirrors around other girls who due to genetics, not having hit puberty yet, or eating disorders, did not have any curves, certainly did not help me with my self-image, I would not say it caused my issues, either. If I had not danced, I would still be inundated with images clearly identifying thin as pretty, I would still notice the girls at school who were blessed with genetics or whose struggles were not apparent and who visually appeared to fit society’s mould of “pretty and thin,” and I would have still likely felt “not enough.” Not thin enough. Not pretty enough. Not confident enough to just rock what I was born with, and always comparing myself to those who are what I aspire to be, even when it is completely unrealistic.

One of the tricky things about eating disorders is that those who suffer from them cannot just quit their problem. If you have a drinking problem, and you survive withdrawal, you can subsequently abstain from drinking. It is not easy, but it is a clear and rational response to the problem. With anorexia and bulemia, abstaining from food is the problem. The thing that sufferers struggle with, that the sight of causes them to break out in sweat, is a thing that they also physically need in order to survive. This problem is a point that The Girls at 17 Swann Street drives home very well. And another point? Similar to those who suffer from addiction or mental illness, a person does not simply get better. Anna makes clear progress in the novel, but she could backslide into her old habits at any time.

I don’t think that I have an eating disorder. I think I am a pretty normal woman. Which brings me to the stark and unsettling conclusion that that means that I also think that every woman struggles with eating and body image.

What about you, dear reader? Do you agree? Disagree? I would love to read your thoughts. & although I am human and love agreement/validation, I would also love to be wrong about this conclusion I have drawn.

TBR Treasure Hunt: Truly, Devious

Novel #2 from my TBR list: Maureen Johnson’s Truly, Devious.

This novel, while classified as a mystery, is in reality a pure escapist fantasy that hardly solves anything. Having said that, I liked it.

#gofigure

Johnson’s writing is funny, inclusive, and intelligent, while writing about things that are, at their core, both interesting (if you’re into mysteries and/or true-crime documentaries/podcasts) and dark. In general, I consider this novel a portion of the treasure – more akin to gold doubloons stolen from the pirate’s corpse than discovery of the actual chestful buried beneath a large, red “X.”

#doubloon

It has all of the elements of a mystery novel, except for the solution. It is the most interesting book entirely comprised of exposition I have read. Yet at the end of the day, this book is entirely comprised of set-up for, at the least, a second novel, and more likely, an entire series. And the mystery set-up throughout this book is not solved. So I am currently queued up for the second book in the series (The Vanishing Stair) through my library.

#welldoneMsJohnson

Have you read this book? If so, what did you think?

(Hyperlinks are to Amazon links from which I earn from qualifying purchases; please consider using these links if you are already planning to purchase the identified items via Amazon, anyway.)

TBR Treasure Hunt: The Bloody Chamber (& Other Stories)

The first novel I crossed off my TBR list is Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber (& Other Stories), a collection of fairy tale re-tellings that lingers on the more dark/scary/sexy than the “here’s a story you would feel comfortable telling your kids. Right before they go to sleep.”

#youvebeenwarned

Carter is said to have been a woman ahead of her time – to have pretty much brought about the fairy tale retelling oeuvre that is well known and liked today. She is cited as having influenced Gaiman and Niffeneger, amongst others. How could I go wrong?

The 10 stories in this collection are good, particularly given that Carter was pioneering a writing style rather than continuing in an established style that had already proven it had an audience. I am certainly not sorry to have read these tales. Having said that, I did not care enough for them to now want to procure my own copy.

#sorrynotsorry

Of course, some stories were better than others. I enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek humor of Puss-in-Boots; probably one of the lighter stories. The language in the Erl-King was like a smorgasbord of showing off a well-developed vocabulary. There is less murder than I was expecting, there is a lot of sex and virginity, and many tales featuring a male “beast” character which seems designed to showcase how very much bestiality is inherent in those stories you read over and over again as a kid (short answer: a lot). My favorite tale is probably the one whence the collection derives its’ name.

#predictable

All in all, a fairly good start to my TBR challenge. Having said that, I’m still searching for some treasure. How is your search going?

(Hyperlinks are to Amazon links from which I earn from qualifying purchases; please consider using these links if you are already planning to purchase the identified items via Amazon, anyway.)

TBR Treasure Hunt

Hello, my lovely readers! Thanks for stopping by the blog. Today, we’re going to talk about the quest on which I have embarked, and on which I further encourage you to join me.

#quest #treasurehunt #joinmeplease

Letz Bee Real – if you are an avid reader, you have an endless, seemingly insurmountable To-Be-Read (“TBR”) pile of books. As the days pass, it grows ever larger, and thank the powers-that-be that Goodreads is around, or you would never be able to keep track of it. Hidden within this list are books you will treasure, and books you thought you would like that are complete shit; it’s a bit of roulette. And you may never find those treasures, etc., if you don’t make a commitment to get started on that TBR.

This, dear readers, is where the quest comes into play. I solemnly pledge that I will do my very best to read at least one book off of my TBR list (currently sitting at 60 books) each month.

After reading, I will review the book on this blog, and for funzies, I will judge myself at the end of the year and figure out whether my TBR list seems decent or if I don’t appear to know my own tastes at all.

As a reminder, most of us aren’t rich, and given the gambling nature of this exercise, the library is your friend. I plan to obtain most of my TBR books from the library, because I can always purchase a copy later if I love it.

So – will you join me? If so, please let me know in the comments below, so I can follow you and see how your reading journey goes.

Willy Wonka picture obtained from IMDB (text added)

The Writer’s Journey

I recently borrowed a copy of Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers from the library. The title appealed to me, as someone with aspirations to potentially becoming a published novelist at some point in the future who also has a background in Classics. There are a lot of writing aids out there, some better, some worse. Based on the Vogler’s own words, this particular guide is his interpretation of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. However, as someone who has actually not read Campbell’s famed work, I found Vogler’s work meaningful, particularly because he uses examples from famous books and movies to help explain the concepts that he is recommending to help structure any (longer) work – novel, screenplay, etc.

Because this was a library book, and I could not mark the book up with highlights, handwriting, etc. (yes, I am one of those people who marks up her books), I am including the quotes, tables, summaries, etc., that struck me on this initial reading below. You definitely are not expected nor recommended to read the remainder of this post; this is literally posting so that I don’t lose the info that struck me as interesting/poignant from a reference book, but if you are currently struggling with the plot of this novel, I think this particular reference book could be a good resource.

Okay, now I’m going to post my notes, and shit’s going to get boring. #youwerewarned

At heart, despite its infinite variety, the hero’s story is always a journey.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “A Practical Guide”

Archetypes:

Ultimately, a Hero is one who is able to transcend the bounds and illusions of the ego, but at first, Heros are all ego: the I, the one, that personal identity which thinks it is separate from the rest of the group.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “Hero”

People commonly think of Heroes as strong or brave, but these qualities are secondary to sacrifice – the true mark of a Hero.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “Hero”

Ideally, every well-rounded character should manifest a touch of every archetype, because the archetypes are expressions of the parts that make up a complete personality.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “Hero”

Interesting flaws humanize a character.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “Hero”

Gift-giving, the donor function of the Mentor, has an important role in mythology.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “Mentor”

Testing of the hero is the primary dramatic function of the Threshold Guardian.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “Mentor

The energy of the Threshold Guardian may not be embodied as a character, but may be found as a prop, architectural feature, animal, or force of nature that blocks and tests the hero.


Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “Threshold Guardian”

The Shapeshifter serves teh dramatic function of bringing doubt and suspense into a story…

Shapeshifters appears with great frequency and variety in the film noir and thriller genres.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “Shapeshifter”

The negative face of the Shadow in stories is projected onto characters called villains, antagonists, or enemies. Villains and enemies are usually dedicated to the death, destruction, or defeat of the hero. Antagonists may not be quites o hostile – they may be Allies who are after the same goal but who disagree with the hero’s tactics. Antagonists and heroes in conflict are like horses in a team pulling in different directions, while villains and heroes are like trains on a head-on collision course.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “Shadow”

In secret societies, a old rule of initiation is: Disorientation leads to suggestibility.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “The Ordinary World”

Every good story poses a series of questions about the hero.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “The Ordinary World”

Fairy tale heroes have a common denominator, a quality that unites them across boundaries of culture, geography, and time. They are lacking something, or something is taken away from them.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “The Ordinary World”

Scripts often fail because the stakes simply aren’t high enough.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “The Ordinary World”

In a good story, everything is related somehow to the theme…”

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “The Ordinary World”

A string of accidents or coincidences may be the message that calls a hero to adventure. This is the mysterious force of synchronicity

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “The Call to Adventure”

An important lesson of martial arts is Finish your opponent.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “The Road Back”

The central crisis or Supreme Ordeal is like a midterm exam; the Resurrection is the final exam. Heroes must be tested one last time to see if they retained the learning from the Supreme Ordeal of Act Two.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “The Resurrection”

Resurrection often calls for a sacrifice by the hero. Something must be surrendered, such as an old habit or belief. Something must be given back, like the libation the Greeks used to pour to the gods before drinking.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “The Resurrection”

There are two branches to the end of the Hero’s Journey. The more conventional way of ending a story, greatly preferred in Western culture and American movies in particular, is the circular form in which there is a sense of closure and completion. The other way, more popular in Asia and in Australian and European movies, is the open-ended approach in which there is a sense of unanswered questions, ambiguities, and unresolved conflicts. Heroes may have grown in awareness in both forms, but in the open-ended form their problems may not be tied up so neatly.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “Return with the Elixir”

A rule of thumb: Subplots should have at least three “beats” or scenes distributed throughout the story, one in each act.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “Return with the Elixir”

Another good rule of thumb for the Return phase is to operate on the KISS system, that is: Keep It Simple. Stupid. Many stories fail because they have too many endings.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “Return with the Elixir”

Shit I Enjoyed Reading in 2018

With 2018 behind us, and resolutions shiny and new and still capable of being fulfilled before the next midnight party, I wanted to highlight the five-star books that I read in 2018. A common resolution is to read more, and in order to reach that goal, you need to set up a Goodreads account if you do not already have one (which has a function to set a reading goal for the year, and tracks the number of books read so long as you remember to input each one), and you need to have some good books to read. To assist with the latter, here are the books that I really liked that I read in 2018:

  1. Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, the Flesh, and L.A.: Tales
    1. Author: Eve Babitz
    2. Genre: Literary Fiction
    3. Deetz: Yes, I admit it. I tried Babitz because Belletrist picked her novel Sex and Rage as one of its’ monthly picks, and I have a bit of a girl-crush on Emma Roberts. Sex and Rage was perpetually checked out of the library, but Slow Days, Fast Company (“SDFC”) was on the shelf one day and I grabbed it. It was love at first read.
    4. Babitz herself is a fascinating personage. A ’60s and ’70s L.A. It-Girl who once took a photo playing chess with Marcel Duchamp in the buff, she became a recluse after being in a car accident in ’97 that resulted in severe burns over a large part of her body. In addition to leading an interesting life, the short stories in SDFC prove that she had the literary talent to make reading her work an exercise that continues to be worthwhile. SDFC takes you to ’70s L.A. It makes you feel the magic and the scumminess and the fun and the craziness that Babitz lived. It made me want to visit L.A., and although I cannot currently afford a ticket to CA, these stories take me there figuratively via glorious, escapist read.
  2. Anna and the French Kiss
    1. Author: Stephanie Perkins
    2. Genre: YA/Romance
    3. Deetz: Young love in Paris… doesn’t it sound wonderful? Well… Perkins writes a realistic novel about privileged, white teen Anna Oliphant, who is devastated to be uprooted from her home in Atlanta, Georgia, her senior year of high school to attend boarding school in Paris, France.
    4. Yes, going to Paris sounds like a dream for a lot of us – but Anna doesn’t speak any French, and was looking forward to one more year with the friends and family with whom she had grown up for one more year before the natural separations of college occurred, anyway. Anna is also a teenager upon whom this school was foisted by her father, a bestselling novelist who is super flaky and who has separated from her mother.
    5. If you are not dead-set against reading YA, and you have not read it yet, you should read this novel — the characters are realistic, the romance is both believable and swoon-worthy, and the setting is fantastic.
  3. The Diviners
    1. Author: Libba Bray
    2. Genre: YA/Mystery
    3. Deetz: The beginning of a series, The Diviners is told from the various viewpoints of young people around New York City with various divination abilities. This first novel primarily follows Evie O’Neill, an adorable aspiring flapper who is exiled to NYC after wreaking havoc at a party in her small hometown through use of her ability to know things about people that have not been verbally disclosed. Since she is supposed to remain on the down-low, she decides to investigate a series of murders the police have requested her uncle’s help on, because fuck safety and common sense, I guess.
    4. Evie’s a bit ridiculous, but she’s also plucky and fun. The serial killer is legitimately terrifying, in that shit-I-better-watch-some-Disney-princess-movies-or-leave-the-lights-on-when-I-sleep way. And in addition to being a good individual read, Bray is obviously setting up a series that could continue to be great (the other books in the series are on my TBR list, but I do plan to continue reading the series, which I rarely do anymore).
  4. Saint Anything
    1. Author: Sarah Dessen
    2. Genre: YA
    3. Deetz: Sydney has always felt invisible, in comparison to her older brother, the charismatic bundle of trouble who goes a little too far one night and irrevocably alters his life and the lives of those who are close to him. Peyton’s incarceration does not lessen this trait; if anything, it enhances it, to the point that Sydney feels unsafe but cannot find a way to express her feelings in a way that will be heard.
    4. Also, there’s pizza and romance sprinkled in.
    5. Dessen has a way of writing realistic teenagers that is thoroughly enjoyable, and this novel is one of her best (or at least one of my favorites).
  5. Misery
    1. Author: Stephen King
    2. Genre: Horror
    3. Deetz: Stephen King gets a lot of shit, and a lot of people seem to think liking his work is akin to eating toenails — but I think those people are wrong. Whether you like his work or not, King knows how to write. His plots are sometimes absolutely fucking crazy (a car that comes to life?!), but surprisingly, the stories manage to work. His characters are so real, you have to double check that the chill running down your spine isn’t because they have sprung out of the book and are breathing down the back of your neck. But the best part are the small details that are embedded in his writing, that really drive home the setting. For example, I realized that the 21-year-old drinking age was relatively new from reading The Dead Zone. I generally like King’s work, and Misery is one of my favorites.
    4. Bestselling author Paul Sheldon has just completed his best novel yet, and is returning from his self-imposed isolation in Colorado in a snow-storm while drinking champagne straight from the bottle. When this ill-advised celebratory behavior results in a horrific car accident, Mr. Sheldon finds himself waking in the bed of his #1 fan, who has saved his life. For now, at least…
    5. If you have not read this novel yet, I think you should.
  6. My Lovely Wife
    1. Author: Samantha Downing
    2. Genre: Thriller
    3. Deetz: A marriage begins with young love and the belief, or at least, the hope, that this love is strong enough to keep the two birds together for the long haul. However, time passes, and routines emerge, along with the possibility that those beautiful feelings will begin to fade and potentially even disappear.
    4. How do you keep the spark alive?
    5. For this couple, the answer is murder. Told from the point of view of the husband, this novel is full of some fairly predictable twists and turns (although there was one twist I expected that never materialized…), but still manages to be a helluva ride. Who cares if the ending is predictable when it’s so much fun getting there?
  7. The Circle
    1. Author: Dave Eggers
    2. Genre: Horror/Satire
    3. Deetz: Imagine you got your dream job… only to realize that your dream job may be stripping everyone, including you, of your fundamental rights? This novel grapples with ye olde internet, and the transparency that social media allows, and sometimes enforces. I really enjoyed this novel, which is one of the crrepier ones I read this year.
    4. *cough cough* Also, don’t judge it by the atrocity of a movie they adapted from it featuring Emma Watson. *cough cough*
  8. Beginnings, Middles, and Ends
    1. Author: Nancy Kress
    2. Genre: Non-fiction/Writing
    3. Deetz: This book is not for everyone. But if you are a writer, and ever get stuck while writing or editing a story, this book is a great reference. Broken out into three sections, this book delves into what makes a good beginning, middle, and end. It also, perhaps more importantly, suggests concrete approaches to take to make these sections work better. I read this book cover-to-cover, as more of an educational exercise, but the sections are broken out in an easy format that would allow a writer to double check a specific section or attack a specific issue with ease.
  9. Breakfast of Champions
    1. Author: Kurt Vonnegut
    2. Genre: Literary Fiction
    3. Deetz: My first Vonnegut, this book cleverly satirizes American culture. I devoured this novel, like a tasty piece of pizza after a particularly fun bout of drinking. The writing is clever, yet simple. Vonnegut even includes illustrations. The book seems designed to appear easy – it is easy to read, and appears that it must have flown from Vonnegut’s pen effortlessly. The reality is that it takes a lot of talent and finesse to create something that appears to effortless. But regardless of whether or not you want to take the time to appreciate Vonnegut’s talent, it is a great read that you will enjoy either way.

Do you have a great read that is not listed above that can be kept in mind for those of us looking for what to read next?

(Most of the hyperlinks are to Amazon links from which I earn from qualifying purchases; please consider using these links if you are already planning to purchase the identified items via Amazon, anyway.)