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?

Fangirling Across State Lines

We all have at least one book that we turn to, when we’re having a really bad time. The one that always makes the crinkles around our eyes show up in a genuine smile, that despite being infinitely familiar, is still a genuine pleasure to read no matter how many times we re-read it. For me, when I am in a reading slump, or having a personal bad time, there are two authors I turn to, again and again: Jane Austen and Sarah Dessen.

These authors are very different, but I think that draws me to them, again and again, are the realistic portrait each author wrote of her world and time period, as well as the sparks of wit and humanity that illuminate their books. Austen is a bit more cheeky, Dessen is a bit more romantic, but both authors remind me of the good that makes life worthwhile. Of course, Mrs. Dessen has an advantage over Austen, which is that she is still living, and her novels are still being written and published. Austen’s novels will forever be capped at 6 (7, if you include Lady Susan), whereas Dessen’s oeuvre is currently at 14, and, I believe, will likely continue.

Readers who are not Dessen fangirls or YA reading fiends may not be aware that on June 4, 2019, her latest novel The Rest of the Story was released. Of course, I added it to my TBR list as soon as I became aware of it, and looked up her book tour, which surprisingly included Ann Arbor (now that Borders is gone, the tours almost never include Ann Arbor).

It was fate, right?

Kismet.

I was obviously fated to see the author, to get my copy of her latest novel signed.

I pre-ordered her novel on Amazon (which is kind of evil, I know, but I had a gift card, and am not rich, so this was a cost-effective way for me to obtain the novel while still allowing my family to, you know, eat).

Is there any feeling quite as nice as seeing a package on your doorstep that you know contains a book?

#nerd

Possibly opening that package, smelling the paper and possibility of a new novel. And then reading it, if the novel lives up to its’ possibility. Which, in my opinion, The Rest of the Story did.

#ILikedIt

I arranged to leave work early, and to pick my very imaginative older son up so that he could hear from someone who makes a living doing creative work. And I allowed myself to get excited.

… a toned-down version of how I was feeling

And then, day of, it was a particularly horrible day at work, and I got caught up just a few extra minutes. There was more traffic than usual on the freeway, including some catastrophe that caused the Ann Arbor-Saline exit to close entirely and severely slowed down I-94, in general. What would ordinarily be minor inconveniences aggregated to the degree that by the time I picked my son up, drove to the library, and snuck into one of the very few spaces still left in the underground parking lot adjacent to that building, it was shortly after 7, when the event was supposed to start.

I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach, but pressed on, to discover, much to my disappointment (but not surprise) that the room in which the author was speaking was full (according to arbitrary fire-code regulation).

Disappointed, like Anna Cuspinian

It was the cherry on top of a particularly bad time period.

And then, I realized that my family’s vacation in the last week of June to Virginia would put us fairly close to North Carolina… and Dessen was going to be speaking at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh on the 26th.

I did not allow myself to get excited. I allowed myself a glimmer of hope, stuck my book in with my things as I packed, and brought it up when we got onto the freeway.

My husband may have rolled his eyes; I wouldn’t know, since I was driving, and had to keep my eyes on the road.

But…

Yes, dear reader, I both met Sarah Dessen (for the second time, actually, although I doubt she recognized me) and she signed my book. Which may make me slightly (or very) ridiculous, but also made me very, very happy.

What have you done over your summer and/or vacation?

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?

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