Thursday, March 29, 2012

Feminine Mystique

Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan

The first installment for April's 2012 reading project is Friedan's seminal work. Credited for starting the second wave of feminism it is often sited as the book that all women must read before they leave college. It should be noted that I have read and watched many media figures cite Friedan's book either with bile or with glee when having discussions about women.

 Friedan's book is  product of the 1960.  She had me for the first few chapters. The problem with no name is something that everyone had felt. It is that chilling question we ask ourselves when we get up in the morning, "Is this all?"

Then she starts to harp on Freud. Look, I understand that the difference between Psychiatry in 1960 and 2012 is similar to comparing the original Super Mario Brothers to Skyrim, but it gets tedious. Also, her mother bashing and homophobia are off putting. Again, I realize I am looking at this book with a 2012 filter, but it is hard not to have the reaction.

Even with those criticisms of the book there are moments where Feminine Mystique is ground breaking. The criticism of media and advertising are still reverberating today. The way women view themselves is often shaped by what we see. So much so, it made me seek out more episodes of  Target Women With Sarah Haskins. Haskins has a modern satirical look at how women portrayed. It is hysterical, take some time and watch a few episodes.

All in all, I found this book lacking. It doesn't seem to call for the radical change that is attributed to it. I would recommend for people to pick it up and give it a go, but my concern is that most won't make it though. It is a really dense read. Walking away from it, I feel that it is a let down. It isn't the book that I thought it was. Friedan doesn't call for intense radical change, she is simply a critic of her environment.

Next up is Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky. I'll say this Alinsky's voice is commanding. I'm only 20 pages in, and he speaks with a great sense of authority.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


I am going to be gradually abandoning the blogger platform and will be moving to Tumblr. You can follow me there at:

Friday, March 23, 2012


Uglies by Scott Westerfield

Uglies is the kind of book that has all the makings of a good Young Adult novel, but then it never really delivers. Set up as a dystopia, Westerfield creates a world where everyone under the age of 16 is ugly. Then, after a surgical intervention, they are made pretty. The catch is being made pretty also comes along with minor (but reversible) brain damage that makes one docile. However, the catch to the minor yet reversible brain damage is that you get to live in a big city, party every night, and have as much sex as you want with little to no repercussions.  Did I mention that the brain damage was reversible? I guess my point is when making a dystopia make the mysterious evil government actually mysterious and evil. The fact that this dystopic society gives out free dental care is not something to be taken lightly. It makes me wonder, "Well, HOW much brain damage are we talking? Also, when you say it is reversible what is the time frame on that?"

Look, I understand that Westerfield is trying to make a point about body image, beauty, and how we think of ourselves. These are deep and meaningful questions that all young people should be asking. The book will open the door to change some minds. It is doing something important. However, I think it is a YA Book that truly is YA. It doesn't transfer up to an adult because we have either moved pasted it, or are too focused on getting plastic surgery that we would miss the point.

My next book is Chronicles of Ancient Darkness #1: Wolf Brother. I am thrilled to be reading it because two of my nephews will be in town next week. I hope to buy them some books as gifts. Also, after I am done wit this I am going to read a bunch of non-fiction.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Summer Reading List

Yes I realize it's March. Yes, I realize that the first day of Spring was a few days ago. Yes, I am still going to give my readers a Summer reading list. It is good to plan ahead.

1. The Night Circus A love story for people who hate love stories. This book makes a great beach read. I have a feeling that this book will be optioned for a movie, so buy it now before you have to put up with the movie tie in cover.

2. Gingerbread Girl A deceptively short comic that is not what it seems. It starts off a shy as an Archie Comic, and ends with.. well... just read it.

3. Old Man's War A great Science Fiction romp. Not enough people have read this, so I am out to champion it.

4. The Hobbit If you've never read it now is the time. If you read it a long time ago it's time to reread it.

5. The Great Gatsby A new movie version of this classic will be out in theaters this Christmas. You may want to get familiar with the  source material.

6. East of Eden One of the most beautiful American novels ever written. It is epic, sweeping, beautiful, and deserves the heaps of praise.

7. How to Be Black Part comedic novel part biography this book teaches though humor. It will end up being a time capsule book that is reflective of this period in history.

8. The Princess Bride Because you know every single word of the movie, and you've never read the book.

9. Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America Most non-fiction of this scope ends up being a slog, but Perlstein makes history alive. You'll email him with accusations of owning a TARDIS, and he'll write you back. He is an author that loves his fans.

10. Pulphead: Essays I want to stand on street corners and shout the praises of this book. My only complaint is that it is too short.

11. Let the Great World Spin I lost a Sunday to this book. Be careful reading it, you may end up cancelling plans.

12. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War Yes really! Max Brooks was called "The Studs Terkel of zombie journalism" I can't believe how well written this book is. It will end up being a Science Fiction/Horror classic.

13. Kafka on the Shore Murakami is one of the best authors in the world. Kafka is a book that will seep into your day and suddenly become part of you.

14. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Junot Diaz needs to write another damn book. This one was fantastic.

15. Going Bovine Bray rewrites Don Quixote. That's all you need to know.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Hunger Games/ Battle Royale

The Hunger Games and Battle Royale*

The country has caught Hunger Games fervor. Pre-sale tickets are though the roof, everyone is excited about Cinna’s gold eye liner, and I know more than one person who’s going to the first midnight showing. However, there’s been an issue dogging Collins’ work an argument that The Hunger Games is not authentically hers. Whispers that she had plagiarized a little known Japanese author named Koushun Takami who wrote an underground classic called Battle Royale. As a bookish person I decided to investigate this. It would involve rereading two books that I enjoyed and seeing two movies.

First things first, a summary. To move forward I need to summarize the subject material. Also, it’s important that everyone who reads this is on the same page. I will spoil both books, so if that kind of thing bothers you, skip this entry. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

Anyway, Battle Royale was originally published in 1999. Takami’s novel was kicked out of a literary competition due to its violent and sexual content. Once fully published it was a runaway best seller. Under the guise of a school trip 42 students are shipped to a small island, told they are to battle one another to the death, and then turned loose with weapons. All of this happens under the name The Program. The winner is announced on state television. The book also says that high level officials bet on the winner, but The Program itself is not televised.  It is run by a happy go lucky misfit named Sakamochi who is happily murdered at the end of the novel. The weapons given to the students range from a fork to a machine gun. There is nearly a murder a chapter. And, I love the author for doing this, the reader is able to keep track of all of this because he numbered the students. Each time one of the lucky (or unlucky) students is introduced it goes like this, Shuya Nanahara (Boy # 15). The students are also forced to wear collars that will explode if tampered with, and they are also told that if they are caught in a forbidden zone the collars will explode killing the poor dear immediately. Five hundred some odd pages later two students survive and are running away as fast as they can from the fictional Republic of Greater East Asia. The book is not traditional  Science Fiction as it lands firmly in the camp of Alternative History.

Next up, The Hunger Games was originally published in 2008. Suzanne Collins found herself with a surprising best seller on her hands seeing as the novel is a distopia where 24 children are forced to battle to the death in an arena. Under the directions of the Treaty of Treason two children are selected from 12 Districts by lottery. The first half of the book is staging for The Hunger Games. Tributes, as Collins calls them, are shuttled  from their poor districts to a wondrous  Capital. They are given food, drink, and beautiful costumes. They are interviewed in hopes of obtaining NASCAR like sponsors for when they enter the games. The second half of the book describes the game. Children are put into an arena and told to battle to the death. Let me be very clear about this,  it is violent and it is completely unnerving. The second half of the book plays as a sadistic mashup of reality television and a true blood sport. There are moments when the narrator states in simple terms that she knows that the cameras are on her, and she will act a specific way to please her sponsors. There is no hint of irony and no dry moment of sarcasm to redeem the moment.  The book gives the feel that absolutely everyone is forced to watch these games, and in some very strange ways they have become entertainment. Collin’s novel is pure Science Fiction. There are genetically modified animals, vastly superior medical science, and a hover car thrown in for good measure.

Is this a case of plagiarism? In the simplest terms, no. The two have similar moments and kill off characters in the same way, but these two books are criticising two very different things. Battle Royale is a dark comedy that is about living though high school. It took me reading the book twice and seeing the movie for me to realize this. Takami is showing the raw emotional years of high school. It is a wonder why this never took off in the post-Columbine post-9/11 America. It is more comparable to Mean Girls (2004) than The Hunger Games. Also, this book clearly criticizes authoritarian rule. I mean, when your neighbors are China and North Korea feeling a bit peeve about authoritarian rulers only makes sense.

Which leads me to The Hunger Games. It is obvious that Collins did not rip off her story. She tells a chilling tale of a dystopian society that entertains itself by watching children killing other children. Sure, there are minor elements of this in Battle Royale when highly placed party members place bets, but Collin’s way of having the games broadcast live into every home is far more insidious. In Battle Royale the characters openly discuss not playing the game. A few even commit suicide as an act of rebellion. In The Hunger Games every single character is resolute.  The shocking part of The Hunger Games is the characters awareness that what they are doing makes for good television and could possible save their lives.

The next part of this project is comparing both films. I saw Battle Royale last night, and I will see The Hunger Games on Friday. If you get a chance go see Battle Royale in the theater. I had seen in on DVD years ago, but the new release is very well done. Also, there are some sight gags that only play well on the big screen. The movie is rated R, so use judgement if you decide to take a young one. The write up of both films will be posted by the end of next weekend.

*Author’s Note: There are currently TWO versions of Battle Royale on the market. If you want to run out and buy yourself a copy (or get it from the library) please make sure you are getting the one that was published AFTER 2009. Apparently, a new translation was done. However, because I’ve read both versions it simply isn’t just a new translation, it is a lengthening  of the novel. Quite frankly, this pisses me off. I had no idea the first go around I was reading an edited work. Had I known that I would have fired off an angry email to the publisher and translator saying that I am an American, and we do not censor here. Can’t you picture it? I would have included an American Flag Gif and a Midi file that played the Star Spangled Banner.  

Link Round Up

Sorry for the delay in posting. I'm almost done with The Hunger Games, so that series of posts will start soon.

Is An Interactive Ebook Still A Book? I believe we will call it something else, simply because it will have to be categorized differently.

Slate to Begin a Monthly Review of Books A lovely development.

Reading Pathways: Margaret Atwood I adore Atwood. This is a fantastic reference.

The 10 Best Fictional Bookstores in Pop Culture A nice round up of them. If I could pick one to visit it would be Flourish & Blotts.

U.S. Warns Apple, Publishers Price fixing is very very illegal.

Encyclopaedia Britannica Dies Under Its Own Massive, Printed Weight Not all that shocking. It became too expensive and too large.

Recovering Lolita I love this project. The book is simply a masterpiece.

Dystopia Is The New Vampire I am going to address this more in the next series of posts.

Why Finish Books? If I get 100 pages into a novel and it doesn't grab me I set it aside. Any author that can't grab me in that time period needs a better editor.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Last Unicorn

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

This book has been sitting on my TBR shelf since 1999. I've ignored it, shoved it to the end of the line, and given unread copies of it away. Now that I am done I realized I should have read it long ago. The Last Unicorn is a wonderful adventure. I feel like I can now count myself as a fan of fantasy literature. This book is a corner stone. Honestly, I feel like I should have read it with a book club, it lends itself toward conversation. Beagle knows how to develop a story and a character.

The absolute best part of this book was the self awareness of all of the characters that they were part of a fairy tale. Schmendrick, the magician, propels the story forward by knowing the structures of the myths. He has an understanding of how it is going to end. In a sense the end of the story isn't all that surprising. It is the journey that is the best part. It is also worth noting that Beagle creates intelligent female characters. They defy the stereotype in the classic fairy tale.

Walking away from this book, I highly recommend it. It would make a fantastic Spring Break read. The next week or two may be light on posting. I have created a mini-reading project around The Hunger Games premiere. I am going to reread Battle Royale and The Hunger Games. I also plan on watching both films*. My goal is to do a big compare and contrast of the books and the movies. Originally it was going to be one big post, but seeing that Battle Royale is over 500 pages I am going to separate the two.

* Cross your fingers I can get tickets to see Battle Royale on the big screen. The Alamo Draft House has several screenings, but the tickets have yet to go on sale. They tend to sell out quickly.