The Decade: Catchphrases, Books

I had never heard of “the ask” prior to reading the first item below; now, I’ve heard “the ask” on POTUS six times today. Take a look at Rosenbaum’s criticisms and word play; digest and mull over some of the newest clichés; he gives us his opinion on what’s stale versus still salable. The second item is a list of lists; you need not surf any further in search of book lists.

Recently Seen and Heard

Guilty as charged: terribly remiss in my blogging. What have I been doing? Cool projects like this one:

It is amazing how breaking crayons and organizing the colors into various patterns can occupy a four-year-old for days. 200 degrees, six to eight minutes, and you’re all good. Additionally, I’ve been grading many essays and working on the NOVEL. And then, for some reason, I’ve gotten all hyped up again my non-fiction project, the proposal for which I had shelved close to a year ago.

To get my feet wet again, I thought I’d review some recent goods. 

The Chieftains were awesome. Thanks to some fabulous folks, we also had incredible second row seats at the Fox.

The Pogues show was great, but a show at the Tabernacle following on the heels of a show at the Fox got me a little down about the acoustics at the Tabernacle.

Itty Bitty Titty Committee = worst movie ever. Maybe it was written and directed by eighth grade drama students?

Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten is an impressive documentary. I must get me some Clash.

I read Katherine Anne Porter’s Old Mortality, the first of three tiny novels in Pale Horse, Pale Rider. I enjoyed it, and I admire the size: plenty of impact compressed, generations tied into a little bundle.

Letters to the Weekend

Flight of the Conchords: You rock my world. Where have you been? Oh, I love you Netflix, for your spot on recommendation. And, Stephanie and Adam, if you are reading this, I know you recommended these dudes too!–but I failed to make the connection until Matt told me so. But now I know. Everyone: rent season one.

Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay: You were a waste of time, I’m afraid. I was disappointed in you. You could have done better.

El Tesoro: You have such a nice little location in that old house where the Decatur Jake’s Ice Cream used to be, next to Twain’s. I was going to eat at Twain’s, but then I saw you. Your tomatillo salsa is delicious. Your tacos are wonderful, especially the three mushroom kind. Your vegan chipotle tacos are impressive by their mere existence.

Taj Majal Imports: I finally came to you, after recommendations by friends years ago. You have the best deal on authentic nag champa in the whole city. I bought the last 12 pack box you had. I will be coming back.

White Oleander: You are the best juicy escapist novel I’ve read in a while. I know a good friend gave you to me, probably years ago, and you sat on a shelf with all the other unread orphans. BUT, I love you now that I know you, now that I finally took the time. Dear reader, if you gave me this wonderful book, do speak up.

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister

Initially, I was turned off by Gregory Maguire’s Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister because of its appearance. Everything about it’s design—the image on the die-cut cover, the thickness of the pages, the large size of the font, the illustrated decals in the corners of the pages, the illustrated page opening each chapter—makes it look like a children’s chapter book, like something a fifth-grade girl would hold precious.

However, it is only one of two Adult Fiction Cinderella adaptations I have on my list to read; the rest of the books are YA. After immersing myself in YA for the past few days, I wanted to dive into Maguire’s book to see if I could see any glaring differences between the two genres, especially given the books are working with similar characters, tales, and tropes. Maguire, having authored several books for adults and children, seems to have found his niche.

Althought the font is pretty huge, Confessions comes in at 368 pages. It took a few chapters to get into, but after that it became quite fun. I’ve thought about what makes this story fun. There’s certainly comparable treachery and poverty to what is in Bound, which I wrote about before. But even being YA, Bound was a serious historical novel. Confessions is a historical novel set in seventeenth-century Holland, but serious it is not. It’s campy. That’s the best word I can think of—campy. Once I settled into the campiness of the story—the characters, the scenes, the dialogue—it was a nice ride. What it reminds me of, really, is the most campy of all day-time soaps: Passions. Remember the town witch, Tabitha, and her dwarf doll-boy? I suppose if you like yourself some Passions, you might like some Gregory Maguire.


I just finished Donna Jo Napoli’s YA spin on Cinderella: Bound. I’d recommend Bound to any YA reader. In addition to simply being a good story with interesting characters, Bound could be used in the classroom to discuss adaptations and the recurrence of tales across cultures and times. My only criticism is that the ending unravels very quickly; perhaps I just wanted more. Bound is listed as a Kirkus Reviews Editor’s Choice and a Booklist Top 10 Historical Fiction for Youth.

Set in a cave in ancient China, Xing Xing is subservient to Stepmother and Wei Ping, her step-sister with bound feet. Xing Xing is good at poetry and calligraphy, and she’s a dreamer. Guided by the spirits of her dead mother and father, Xing Xing works to escape the consequences of Stepmother’s greed. Napoli works with classic motifs of the older Cinderella stories, including reincarnation of human spirit into an animal and the power of the animal’s bones to help the one in need. Xing Xing is exceptionally clever and resourceful, as well as compassionate.

Top Ten Graphic Novels

From Guardian Books, Top Ten Graphic Novels by Danny Fingeroth. What are Fingeroth’s criteria?

“Here are my subjectively chosen top 10 graphic novels. But why these? The very nature of a guide is premised on the idea that, a) here are the things that someone with a reasonable amount of experience reading and thinking about comics feels are the coolest things out there, and b) here are some things that, like them or not, the author of said guide thinks are essential for anyone conversant in the medium to be familiar with.

“But for my top 10, I decided to take the crème de la crème, the graphic novels that I most enjoyed. These are graphic novels, some famous, some less well-known, that do what all great literature does, in that they give you such a pleasurable experience while reading that you’re simultaneously eager to uncover the ending, yet also dreading it, knowing that the experience will then be over.”

I like this list. If anyone would like to buy or send me any of these top tens, I will try not to object. It will be hard on my psyche to not reject such overly-lavish and fantasitic gifts, but by the grace of god I will work to do it. Test me.

Found: Adorable

Stephanie over at Natural/Artificial has previously made me laugh out loud with lists of gross things found used as bookmarks inside books, and strange things found in the book drop at the library. Ah, the life of a librarian. I stole the below image from Stephanie. It’s a photocopy of a letter found in the back of Mythology.


Dear Poseidon,

I really like you. Can you please show your self to fairview north carolina?


Housekeeping, the book

Marilynne Robinson’s 1980 novel Housekeeping won the Pen / Hemingway award and continues to receive critical acclaim. Housekeeping is the story of Ruth and Lucille. Ruth, the older of the two sisters, narrates the history of the family as well as the history of the various caregivers they have growing up in Fingerbone, a small town with a glacial lake and a harsh climate.

I’ll admit that I began the novel several times before actually finishing it. From talking to folks, it seems that most readers either love Housekeeping, or despise it. My ending repsonse was a luke-warm memory of the depressing, somehow whitewashed, atmosphere of the narrative. I was left unsatisfied (character is almost absent here; at least, interiority, reaction, and analysis (until the very end) are lacking) yet intrigued by the artifice, the form. The narrative here is a beautiful and shiny, even with the desolation  and harsh elements portrayed.

Why is this narrative in the first person? The narrative lacks interiority, so why? I think Robinson neglects interiority here as a narrative technique, somehow as an element of minimalism. However, there’s the danger of not having enough from the first person narrator to give momentum to the story. There is a frame of stock situations to the story, situations which seem to have objective truths: grandfather dies in tragic train accident, mother of two young girls commits suicide, house floods, too much snow falls….and I think somehow the artful surfacy narrative is supposed to ultimately bring the reader to a place of not judging the end of the story (Ruth’s fate) by convincing the reader to reject what might seem to be the objective truth. The problem here, for me, is that I’m still not sure if the end of the novel is an actual decision Ruth makes, or if she is a completely passive character who simply gets swept away. (I’m trying not to spoil the end here, in case you haven’t read it.) The bigger problem is that I don’t care all that much about Ruth.

Housekeeping is pretty, artful, and atmospheric. At times it seems Robinson is performing a minimalist exercise, trying to keep the narrator from exhibiting agency, keeping her blended in with everything else, all the physical artifacts and the harsh weather. All of these elements and pieces blend into one and have equal value. But maybe that is what transience is about: all elements of life holding equal value. Maybe that’s how Ruth and Sylvie see the world. In that case, the metaphor is huge.

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