Image Slider

Boy, Snow, Bird

| On
Thursday, April 17, 2014
my library copy the day I had to take it back

Helen Oyeyemi is not a straight-ahead writer. She deals in the things that happen out of the corner of the eye - stuff you subconsciously know is there (or fear is there), but can’t quite see - she understands the strange obliqueness of fairy tales. It’s so frustrating to read reviews of this book on Goodreads that are upset because the blurb (UGH BLURBS) promised a retelling of Snow White and this is not that. I enjoy retellings, but I especially enjoy when a writer can take the spirit of a thing and fashion it into something new, wholly itself. It’s not Snow White just like it’s not Cinderella - the fairy tale similarities are in the telling and the relationships, not the exact logistics of the tale. Oyeyemi gets better than most the weird dark strangeness of a fairy tale, which is also the weird dark strangeness of life. Mirrors lie, small magics seem possible, curses are real, things appear to be what they are not and are not what they appear to be. But in all of the Oyeyemi books I’ve read (3 of 5), it’s possible for characters to become aware of their narrative in a way Snow White never could. It’s not about Prince Charming, it’s not about being good and pure of heart - it’s so much more complicated.

Boy is our heroine’s name. Her skin is white as milk, her hair so blonde it’s almost white. Her father, referred to only as ‘the Rat Catcher,'  has long soft hands, a penchant for poison and is one of the creepiest characters I’ve read in a long time. Boy grows up, runs away from the Rat Catcher, builds a new life and becomes stepmother to Snow (a beautiful child with a dead mother) and mother to Bird (also a beautiful child). COMPLICATIONS ENSUE. The jacket gives away what could be a spoiler, or could be someone’s point of entry into this book, so I’ll mention it: Bird is born with dark skin and thereby reveals her father’s family secret - they are light skinned African Americans (or ‘colored’ in this book since it’s set in the 50s-60s) and have been passing as white for years.

The book is primarily about women and relationships between women, which is another thing that makes it interesting and unusual in today’s literary landscape. Here’s Oyeyemi in a Guardian interview where she gets to the meat of the story:
"For me Boy, Snow, Bird is is very much a wicked stepmother story. Every wicked stepmother story is to do with the way women disappoint each other, and encourage each other, across generations. A lot of terrible things can come out of that disappointment. I also wanted to explore the feminine gaze, and how women handle beauty without it being to do with men, per se. The women all want approval from each other, and are trying to read each other. I also wanted to look at the aesthetics of beauty – who gets to be deemed the fairest of them all. And in Snow White that is very explicitly connected with whiteness. It had to be an American story because "passing" is an American phenomenon."
The book is divided into three sections (I think! I had to return it to the library so I don’t have it right here in front of me). The first is from Boy’s POV, then from Bird and Snow, and then back to Boy. I really enjoyed this book - its still sending out little ripples in my brain a week later and I expect it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. RECOMMENDED!

Oh, wait! here's one more quote from the book - this is from the Bird section and doesn't really have much to do with anything discussed above, except how Bird is an excellent narrator: 
The note read BARBARA THOMAS IS FAST and inquiring minds wanted to know whether this was true, and what Barbara Thomas was going to do to try and prove her innocence. Louis looked as if he was feeling sorry for her, especially when I pointed out that the only way she could prove she wasn’t fast was by never kissing another boy until the day she died. But I couldn’t think of a better person for such a thing to happen to, so I laughed. Going to middle school in the same building as the high school students makes you see the reality. School is one long illness with symptoms that switch every five minutes so you think it’s getting better or worse. But really it’s the same thing for years and years. (p. 202)

Boy, Snow, Bird (moon, drunk)

| On
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
As I am getting this post ready to go, the moon is busy being eclipsed by the earth and I can see it right out of my window which is pretty damn cool. Although all I can think of (of all the moon songs out there) is The Killing Moon, which sounds like it might be a bummer, but it is excellent and as moon songs go it is appropriately dramatic for a TOTAL LUNAR ECLIPSE.  (If you didn't know what was going on, a lunar eclipse would be terrifying.)


Okay, back to business. (There's just a sliver of white moon showing - soon it will be EVIL RED and my plans will come to fruition in accordance with the prophecy! Mwahahahaha!) (just kidding - I have no lunar agenda, but I am wearing a full cape/cloak and a diadem made from the bones of my enemies.) (okay, not really.)

**drunk update courtesy tavern patron who has apparently sloshed outside and has raised his eyes to the heavens* and I quote: "That's what I'm WAITING for!"  while I wonder if it's overkill to listen to The Killing Moon for the manyth more time. Answer: nope.)

FATE up against your will. 

** drunk update: "COME ON, BABY"  He sounds like he's really mad at the moon for making him wait so long, which makes me want the moon to take EVEN LONGER although there's something rather poignant about this intoxicated dude raving at the sky like it's doing something to make him angry on purpose.  The sky doesn't care, man. 


you guys, I really want to hear that song again and then I will put the rest of this post up. You know, the part about the book, which I really loved.

*** drunk update: "Oh, RIGHT ON. Baby!" (followed by inarticulate yipping sound. Maybe the drunk astronomer is actually part coyote and the full moon covering itself is a very confusing time for him. I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt, but that desire will evaporate if he keeps at this throughout the entire lengthy total lunar eclipse process.) 

Ooh, the moon's gone all black now! EXCITING TIMES. I was going to post a book review tonight, but now I feel like maybe I should do it in the morning so it's not all gunked up with my total lunar eclipse overshares. The book is Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi, and the pictures in this post are (I guess, now) just teasers. The cover is really beautiful.

Now I'm worried about drunk guy because he has fallen silent. And I can't find the moon at all - did it move behind the tree? Is it dark forever? are the clouds coming in and salting this show? I think it's a combination of all of the above. I turned off all my lights (and turned down the brightness of my laptop): if I turn my head just right I can see the faint moon through the spooky clouds and leaves. I may go outside to assess directly.

report: the fog came in like a proper horror movie. I could still make out the eclipsing parts, but it's all blurry, like I'm looking at it through wax paper.

ha ha! I have made myself think of another song!! It was an accident, and I'm not really happy about it, so don't say I didn't warn you: Total Lunar Eclipse of the Heart  Turn around Bright Eyes

okay, now there is all fog and no moon so I am going to go to bed. Book post (for real) tomorrow!
There's nothing I can do, total eclipse of the mooooon.

PSA Pap Rap

| On
Tuesday, April 08, 2014

I saw this on twitter shortly after I got back from the gynecologist:TIMELY. The puppet Mary Wollstonecraft hype men made me laugh and I'm totally going to wear a skirt next time - brilliant idea!

Best in-video summary of the pap smear experience: "it ain't a thrill, but it's fine. Honestly, it's fine."

I would add  DITTO for Mammograms.  My advice for making it easier, (which is also stated in the video) is to remember that the people doing these up close and personal exams are professionals who have SEEN IT ALL a thousand times. Don't even worry for a minute.

here's some info on The ACA and women's health. It's important for people to talk about!

Back to book week(s) shortly!

do not recommend

| On
Wednesday, April 02, 2014
At work we have a staff picks shelf and it's very popular -  I love putting books that I've enjoyed on the shelf and passively introducing them to new readers. Some of us have been joking that we should have an Anti-picks shelf, or a Do Not Read shelf, but of course that would never work because one person's pick is another person's poison and so on. However, if there was one, I'd put Ripper by Isabel Allende face out on the middle shelf so everyone would know in one easy glance that this is one to skip.

I didn't start off thinking this way, of course. I haven't read all of Isabel Allende's books, but I've read at least three (Eva Luna, Daughter of Fortune, and Zorro) - enough to know she's  good and to make me excited to read something outside of her usual area. I was so looking forward to it, which only makes me feel silly now - but I'm trying to set aside that feeling and use my knowledge to warn others.


On the surface, what could go wrong? The marvelous Ms. Allende writing a thriller set in San Francisco? Sign me up! Alas, it was not meant to be between me and this book - we had an extreme lack of book/reader chemistry. Let me compile a partial list:

1. The main character's name is Indiana Jackson, she is a 'white witch' healer/ reiki massage therapist, aromatherapy expert, etc. All of that is fine, but Indiana Jackson for a name is not. I was waiting the whole book for her father (also a character) to say "we named the DOG Indiana" but it never happened.  She is patient, kind, and true of heart with messy blonde hair and a big butt, because of course. I read something that suggested Allende did this to offer a counterpoint to the usual tough crime lady, but this was just as cliche in its own way.

2. her 17 year old daughter is a beautiful (but doesn't know it) computer genius who is running an online game called Ripper. She and various characters from around the world solve crimes related to the game, until she decides to start solving crimes closer to home. How does she do this? ...

3. Her father (Indiana's high school boyfriend who knocked her up when she was 15) just so happens to be a police inspector. A police inspector who has no problem talking about current investigations and sharing crime scene photos with his teenaged daughter. (and apparently doesn't mind if she shares this info with her online gaming group.)

4. SO MUCH BACKSTORY. In historical novels, I get it. In a thriller, it kneecaps the momentum if every time any character tries to cross the page, first they have to unload their entire life story, work history, and opinion of the white witch (if they have one) before they are permitted to perform their plot related duties.

5. The book was almost 500 pages, and I don't think the plot really started moving at all until after page 300.

6. Most characters are paper thin, the cliches run the gamut from borderline offensive to straight up offensive.

7. When the plot finally started creaking into motion I thought "Oh my god, the killer better not be XYZ because it is way too obvious"

8. Guess who the killer was!

9. There's a former Navy Seal who is also romantically interested in/obsessed with Indiana (like every other man in the book), he's also a computer expert and CIA/NSA freelancer (of course), who performs constant acts of physical endurance like swimming in the bay in winter and riding his mountain bike to Mars. But it's not enough that he's a Navy Seal, he's not just from an elite unit, he's from Seal Team Six!! He's got a prosthetic leg and a retired active duty dog named Attila, who has metal teeth. (Attila should have his own book and get himself as far away as possible from the rest of this mess.)

10. Did I forget to mention Indiana's rich, much older winery-owning playboy boyfriend? Because she has one. He takes her to art galleries and the opera where she makes him feel young and virile again  because he gets to explain things to her like the droning docent boyfriend every woman wishes she had - he loves the contrast of his cerebral culture blah blah to her earthy white witch blah blah so much and this works so well for him he doesn't have to take pills for his erectile disfunction. (!!! ) (my eyes will never be the same after reading the limp/tumescent history of the playboy boyfriend.)

11. I was explaining the plot to a friend who had expressed interest in the book, and he said it sounded like a Jackie Collins novel from the 80s. I have yet to hear a more perfect encapsulation.

12. There is a plot device kitten in this book and she is saddled with the name Save-the-Tuna. Kitten, you should get your own book with Attila and the first thing you should do is ride your motorcycle to the animal courthouse and change your name. I bet the two of you would be better crime solvers, all things considered.

13. I'm not even listing some of the most egregious plot devices because I don't want to spoil anything if for whatever reason this does sound good to someone. But trust me - it's not so bad that it's good, it's just a long slog to the point where the book has finally run out of pages. I would have quit it much sooner if it hadn't been Allende.

book week

| On
Tuesday, April 01, 2014

I went digging around through my flickr pictures for some appropriate general book pictures and found this one - I pinched its cheeks and cropped out the pile of sneakers that used to be at the bottom; now you can just see the top of ONE sneaker and I'm unreasonably pleased with myself.

SO, right - I have decided that if last week was pictures of plants week, this week could be book week! It's my blog and I'll do what I want.

What are you reading? What are you excited to read? Any duds lately? I have my answers to these questions AND MORE.

Let's start off the week with an easy one - what are you reading? (I almost started off the week with only the above, but my goal is to quit being so squirrelly about writing about books.) As I was saying...

I just started reading Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi. I loved both Mr. Fox and White is for Witching, but find myself not really in the mood to read this one, but read it I must because I checked it out from the library and it's due soon and a bunch of Johnny Come Latelys have put it on hold in the meantime. Why not in the mood? I don't know. I think I just want to read mysteries right now, which is weird because I went years without them.

But I started it and I'm loving it so far even though I know it's going to make me work.  More on this after I've finished it. Isn't the cover beautiful?