{emotional stitches}

As I alluded to in my last entry, recent weeks have been un peu roof. Coming down from the high of an August move and a September promotion, I dove headfirst into October moodiness and November homesickness in much the same manner as my father once dove headfirst into a concrete wading pool and came out with a forehead full of stitches. Oh, California: You seduced me early on with your promises of glistening beaches, eternal sunshine, and seasonal fluidity (and gainful employment). How was I to know that SAD apparently also applies in reverse? Is there the opposite of a sun lamp on the market? Preferably, a device emitting a constant light mist and scattered raindrops, accompanied by damp orange leaves and a brisk autumn chill? Luckily, the combination of a week’s vacay in my hometown and The Heroine’s Bookshelf were just the emotional stitches I needed.

In THB, Erin Blakemore explores the literary heroines that she (and I) grew up with and their continued relevance to adult life. Each chapter is dedicated to a single heroine and a trait that she most embodies—Jane Eyre is “Steadfastness,” Scout Finch is “Compassion,” etc., etc. For me, the 12 chapters ranged from books I have literally memorized (Gone With the WindLittle Women) to one-time acquaintances (A Tree Grows in BrooklynThe Color Purple), with only one that I have never read (Colette’s Claudine at School). Each chapter contained biographical authoress information, a summary of the literary heroine’s journey and eponymous trait, and usually a personal anecdote from Blakemore herself.

While I see how some may find this type of thing a bit nauseating, I value this book for several reasons. Blakemore did an excellent job of channeling the nerdy little girl who read books during birthday parties and sleepovers, and who grew up to be the awkward young woman who overanalyzes everything and writes in a slightly cheeky, but more treacly, prose. As I say repeatedly, I was never a “real” English major, drawn in by theory and rhetoric; my favorite and most reread books continue to be exactly the ones that Blakemore uses.

They accompanied me to my first kiss and my first breakup, through college and into the weird uncharted territory of quarterlife crisis and grown womanhood. . . This wasn’t so much about becoming a cliché or a walking ad for libraries as it was about getting through my life. And it still is . . .

The one minor hiccup was that each of these author’s biographies is as rife with divorce, addiction, and chronic disease as any Housewife franchise, Real or Desperate. Sure, these women wrote the canons of heroine literary that would inspire generations to come, but their real lives were much more failure than success, a fact that I find moderately depressing. Still, they are facts—you can’t blame the biographer.

As luck would have it, the combination of THB and a visit home did more than provide emotional stitches—it’s the perfect timing for me to pack up and haul out my own heroine’s bookshelf.

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{comedy of errors}

“No one writes books like this any more!” said my friend who recommended Michael Frayn’s Skios. “It’s awesome!”

I’ll agree that I haven’t read many books like Skios. Considered by reviewers a farce, a romp, a comedy of errors, it reads more like a play than a book (a logical jump, since Frayn is perhaps better known for plays, such as Noises Off). It’s reminiscent of some of Shakespeare’s best comedies: mistaken identities, crossed paths, jumping to illogical conclusions.

Yet for whatever reason, I found it to be almost a constant anxiety attack. I quite literally could not read more than five or six pages in one sitting without getting incredibly frustrated and stressed out. I found the writing almost excessively glib, but I could’ve looked past that if it hadn’t been for the fact that every single character refused to act rationally. I spent the entire book wanting just one person to ask the right question and avoid all of the nonsense that occurred when that never, ever happened.

I can see why people find this book funny. As a play, I’m actually pretty sure I would’ve enjoyed it (I do enjoy Twelfth Night and other stage farces). But in a play, there’s more of a suspension of disbelief in plots such as this, when actors ham up their parts in the best ways. In a book version, however, I found none of the characters—a professor, a confidence man, a foundation director—to be comedic in their own right. They were just normal people who, when thrust into a ridiculous situation, went along with that situation in a manner that I found more frustrating than funny.

But to each their own, am I right? It’s also entirely possible that, awaiting my first vacation/return to my hometown/visit with my family in almost a year, I’m excessively temperamental and stressed out even sans outside influences. THANKSGIVING, HERE I COME!

{not an easy choice, but the right one}

A friend of mine says her favorite Harry Potter movie is the first one, since it’s the only one that truly matches her own perception of Hogwarts and the surrounding grounds. Another friend got very upset during the seventh movie with the fake Harry and Hermione come out of the locket Horcrux and nakedly make out. “They’re sexualizing my childhood!”

If you agree with either of my two friends, you might not want to read JKR’s A Casual Vacancy. If you’re like me, though, and truly love all the Harry Potter books an obscene but also compartmentalized amount, you should read TCV, because I really thought it was quite, quite good.

The story, obviously, is completely different from HP. First of all, this is definitely a book for adults, and is a realistic story of a small English town—no magic, no dragons, no boarding schools for precocious wizard children. JKR’s writing style, however, is so familiar that I was immediately drawn into the book; while I had no idea what was going to happen plot-wise, I felt from the first page that I would enjoy it because I so associate her particular writing style with reading pleasure.

TCV continued to impress as I read. One of JKR’s greatest talents as a writer, I think, is character building, and this is shown off in full force in TCV. These characters are real; they’re raw and emotional and occasionally awful. I loved her character development in HP (obvi), but in a YA adventure-fantasy book, personalities are romanticized. Harry may have the occasional angsty outburst, but he’s still very much the hero. We may feel a little sympathy toward Voldemort about his wretched childhood, but he is still definitely evil.

The characters in TCV—and, classic JKR, there are many of them—aren’t wholly protagonists or antagonists. The narrative perspective changes so frequently (sometimes from paragraph to paragraph) so that the reader is constantly getting multiple views of a single event. While I certainly liked some characters more than others, there wasn’t a single one I could point to as being the main protagonist. It was a little eerie, but also very compelling, to find myself agreeing with and empathizing with each character in turn, even when they were petty, malicious, and manipulative. As my friend commented, “We’re all protagonists in our own story.”

That’s what JKR does here—she takes multiple stories and puts them into one, without losing any of the individualized emotional power along the way. Say what you will about preserving the sanctity of HP/your childhood/all reading experiences, but I truly believe TCV is just one more example of JKR at the top of her game.