Saturday, May 30, 2009

Stephen King's Summer Reading Suggestions

Looking for something good to read this summer? Here are Stephen King’s suggestions:

Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens (King says this novel “explains the whole Bernard Madoff mess”)

Shatter, Michael Robotham (suspense)

Quicksilver, Neal Stephenson (pirates!)

The Tourist, Olen Steinhauer (spies)

Drood, Dan Simmons (tangentially related to Dickens and very, very long)

Dog On It, Spencer Quinn ("canine noir," explains King)

Handle With Care, Jodi Picoult (legal/medical thriller)

I don't know. I'm pretty sure I'll read the Picoult. She's already got me hooked. And I love Dickens but have never read Little Dorrit. King's Madoff claim has made me curious, so I'll probably read it, too.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Not My Fault!

I saw this t-shirt for sale on The Onion's website. In case you can't read the small print on the image, it says: "I wish somebody would do something about how fat I am." Isn't it just the perfect motto for today's American? The shirt's hilarious because it's so true.

According to the American Heart Association’s Statistical Fact Sheet:

Among children ages 2–19, 23.4 million are overweight and obese

Of these, 12 million are obese

Among Americans age 20 and older, 145.0 million are overweight or obese

Of these, 74.1 million are obese

This means that over 65% of adult Americans are overweight. Nearly a third of adult Americans are obese. Less than half of us are at a healthy weight.

But, of course, it's not our fault. It's McDonald's fault, and Coca-Cola's, and Frito-Lay's, and Nabisco's . . .

It's Philip Morris's fault if we get cancer from smoking and Anheuser Busch's if we can't stop popping tops.

It's Mastercard's fault if we can't make our minimum payments and the bank's if we're in trouble because we bought a bigger house than we can ever hope to pay for.

It's the boss's fault if we get fired and the teacher's fault if we don't pass.

Somebody should do something! (But certainly not me. It's not my fault.)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Attention P&P Lovers!

I finally got to start reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and I cannot stop laughing. Out loud.

It's really that funny--especially if you're familiar enough with the novel to recognize Austen's original lines. And not only does author Seth Grahame-Smith weave the zombie plot into the original storyline of P&P, he also changes some of the characters' polite reactions and interactions into ones more along the lines of what they were probably thinking but couldn't express in genteel company. And he matches Austen's high diction while doing it.

Here are some passages to whet your appetite:

"'She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me; I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men.'

As Mr. Darcy walked off, Elizabeth felt her blood run cold. She had never in her life been so insulted. The warrior code demanded she avenge her honour. Elizabeth reached down to her ankle, taking care not to draw attention. There, her hand met the dagger concealed beneath her dress. She meant to follow this proud Mr. Darcy outside and open his throat."


"'Pride,' observed Mary, who piqued herself upon the solidity of her reflections, 'is a very common failing I believe. By all that I have ever read, I am convinced that it is very common indeed.'

Elizabeth could not help but roll her eyes as Mary continued."


And the author bio on the back of the book?

"JANE AUSTEN is the author of Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, Mansfield Park, and other masterpieces of English literature. SETH GRAHAME-SMITH once took a class in English literature. He lives in Los Angeles."

It's just too much fun. You gotta read it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Overwhelmed. Again.

I'm a slow learner, I guess. Last Monday, after receiving suggestions from my dissertation director, I sat down to begin the process of revising my dissertation. I was pumped, and I worked hard all day long--until my brain refused to cooperate and informed me the work day was over.

Tuesday morning, though, I started thinking of all those pages of work ahead of me, and I simply could not force myself to sit down in front of the computer and start. I exercised, cleaned the kitchen, read the paper, made up the bed, checked Facebook, dusted the living room, read some blogs, did laundry, all the time promising myself I'd get to work on that pesky dissertation just as soon as I finished __________. My procrastination went on all day.

That night I decided that, if I ever hoped to finish this thing, I had to have a plan. I divided my dissertation up into a very manageable number of pages per day. Then, all that I had to ask of myself each day was to revise those pages. If it took an hour, I had the rest of the day to do whatever I wanted. No guilt. If it took all day, well, then at least I'd know that every day wouldn't be that bad. I'd be making measurable progress but still be able to have a life along the way. For the last week or so, my plan's worked. (Although I haven't had a day yet where I finished my work in one hour. I couldn't be that lucky.)

Sure seems like I've been here and done this before.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


I was having my nails done the other day and overheard another great conversation.

Woman #1: Wow. You really got the works, didn't you?

Woman #2: Yeah, well, we're leaving tomorrow on a cruise. We're going to get married on an island.

Woman #1: Oh! A destination wedding!! Is the whole family going?

Woman #2: No. We've both been married before, so we're going to get married there, just the two of us, and have a big reception for the families when we get back.

Woman #1: Yeah. That's what I'd rather do. But every time I get married, the guy's never been married before, and I have to keep doing the whole big wedding thing over and over again. (Sigh.)

No. I did not make this up.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Booking It--Like the Very First Time

What book would you love to be able to read again for the first time?

What a great question! The problem is, I want to answer "Every book I've ever read and really loved." I'm definitely a re-reader. Great literature is so rich, so deep, so layered, that there's no way I can fully appreciate it with only one reading. But no matter how many times I re-read a great book, I never again get to experience the same wonderful sense of discovery that I felt during the first reading. I'm never again shocked by a plot twist, breathless at a new revelation, or blown away by an ending I never saw coming.

I think Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible is one. And Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. And Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White. And Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. And Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper. And Anita Shreve's The Weight of Water. And . . . You see the problem.

I can think of a lot of movies I'd love to see again for the first time, too.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

No Gleanings from Twilight

I know I said I was through with Twilight, but I just can't help myself. If you remember, I've done a recurring post called "Gleanings from My Readings" with beautiful or profound or funny or interesting quotes from whatever I've read lately--magazines, poetry, newspapers, novels, whatever. (At least, I've done it when I haven't been so immersed in writing that my reading life is nonexistent.) But I just spent almost two weeks reading Meyer's four novels, and although I almost always read with a pencil in hand to underline great sentences or make marginal notes, it didn't take long to find out I didn't need one for the Twilight saga--around 2000 pages without one passage begging me to underline it. Pretty sad. Well, I was tempted to underline for repetitive word use and make nasty comments in the margin, but that was just the editor in me coming out.

So, in honor of my tradition, here are some *great* lines from Twilight. Please feel free to guffaw loudly.

And, no, I didn't waste my time gathering these quotes myself. You can find them and more at Twilight Quotes. Ready? Here you go:

Edward's Best Lines:

Bella: You were right. Edward: I usually am, but about what in particular this time?

Perhaps something more private?

Do I dazzle you?

Your number was up the first time I met you.

I don't want to hear that you feel that way. It's wrong. It's not safe. I'm dangerous, Bella - please, grasp that.

You were right - I'm definitely fighting fate trying to keep you alive.

Do you really believe that you care more for me than I do for you?

Darkness is so predictable, don't you think?

I can be patient - if I make a great effort.

I'm the world's best predator, aren't I? Everything about me invites you in - my voice, my face, even my smell. As if I need any of that! As if you could outrun me. As if you could fight me off.

Don't be afraid. I promise ... I swear not to hurt you.

So where were we, before I behaved so rudely?

You are exactly my brand of heroin.

You are the most important thing to me now. The most important thing to me ever.

Edward: And so the lion fell in love with the lamb ... Bella: Stupid lamb. Edward: Sick, masochistic lion.

As you are not addicted to any illegal substances, you probably can't empathize completely.

Are you still faint from the run? Or was it my kissing expertise?

Edward: Bella, I've already expended a great deal of personal effort at this point to keep you alive. I'm not about to let you behind the wheel of a vehicle when you can't even walk straight. Besides, friends don't let friends drive drunk. Bella: Drunk? Edward: You're intoxicated by my very presence.

Just because I'm resisting the wine doesn't mean I can't appreciate the bouquet.

I may not be a human, but I am a man.

Your hair looks like a haystack ... but I like it.

I could hardly leave in the clothes I came in - what would the neighbors think?

Bella: I love you. Edward: You are my life now.

What am I going to do with you? Yesterday I kiss you, and you attack me! Today you pass out on me!

You're worried, not because you're headed to meet a houseful of vampires, but because you think those vampires won't approve of you, correct?

It seems I'm going to have to tamper with your memory.

If you let anything happen to yourself - anything at all - I'm holding you personally responsible.

They gave you a few transfusions. I didn't like it - it made you smell all wrong for a while.

Bella: You stole a car? Edward: It was a good car, very fast.

Bella: Edward I honestly can't dance! Edward: Don't worry silly. I can.

Twilight, again. Another ending. No matter how perfect the day is, it always has to end.

Bella's Best Lines:

Stupid, shiny Volvo owner.

I thought you were supposed to be pretending I don't exist, not irritating me to death.

And how long have you been seventeen?

I fall down a lot when I run.

I do have some trouble with incoherency when I'm around him.

Sometimes it seems like you're trying to say goodbye when you're saying something else.

I'm absolutely ordinary - well, except for bad things like near-death experiences and being so clumsy that I'm almost disabled.

His eyes did that unfair smoldering thing again.

Did they know that I knew? Was I supposed to know that they knew that I knew, or not?

My decision was made, made before I'd ever consciously chosen, and I was committed to seeing it through. Because there was nothing more terrifying to me, more excruciating, than the thought of turning away from him.

Edward: I was thinking, while I was running ... Bella: About not hitting trees, I hope.

It's an off day when I don't get somebody telling me how edible I smell.

I need another human minute.

Vampires like baseball?

Edward: Now, what exactly are you worrying about? Bella: Well, um, hitting a tree - and dying. And then getting sick.

It would be nice if I could find just one thing you didn't do better than everyone else on the planet.

Don't I taste as good as I smell?

I was not finished kissing you. Don't make me come over there.

Are you tired of having to save me all the time?

A man and woman have to be somewhat equal ... as in, one of them can't always be swooping in and saving the other one. They have to save each other equally.

You are my life. You're the only thing it would hurt me to lose.

I'm not coming over anymore if Alice is going to treat me like Guinea Pig Barbie when I do.

In what strange parallel dimension would I ever have gone to prom of my own free will?

Other Best Lines:

Jake: You wouldn't happen to know where I could get my hands on a master cylinder for a 1986 Volkswagen Rabbit?

Mike: He looks at you like ... like you're something to eat.

Alice: It sounded like you were having Bella for lunch, and we came to see if you would share.

Renee: Try to be more careful when you walk, honey, I don't want to lose you.

Now, aren't you just dying to read this literary treasure?

Friday, May 22, 2009

A Great Birthday Card

I know that a lot of people really like sentimental cards, but I've always been partial to the funny ones, myself. There's just nothing better than a big belly laugh.

Well, the other day I got one of the best birthday cards ever. (I know--my birthday is in April, but it's a long story.)

Outside of Card:

"Happy 29th Birthday . . ."

Inside of Card:

" . . . from your 110 pound friend!"

I know that I just wrote posts about both ageism and body image, but you've gotta admit. That's a great card.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Nose Back to the Grindstone

For once, I had impeccable timing. On Saturday, I read the last page of Breaking Dawn, then walked out to get my mail, only to discover a packet from my dissertation director with revision suggestions. I knew it was coming. I'd just been trying to push the thought to the back of my mind while I enjoyed a couple of weeks of recreational reading.

Of course, I would have loved to have opened it up and read the words, "It's perfect! You're done!" but I'm not that naive. Actually, it wasn't that bad. He gave me two choices. He said that my committee would accept it with minor cosmetic revisions, BUT he thought it had the possibility of being an exceptional dissertation if I'd make the revisions he suggested in a seven page letter and detailed marginal comments. The question is, he said, "How good do you want to make it?"

Aaaaaarrrrgggghhhh. Having a Type A personality costs you.

A friend whom I really respect and who has already been through this process told me early in my doctoral studies to remember that I don't have to write the perfect dissertation; I just have to get four signatures and the diploma. And he's right. I have no illusions of being able to write the perfect dissertation and I'm really ready to get that diploma. But I don't want to finish by doing the least amount of work possible. I want four signatures, the diploma, and the satisfaction of a job well done.

So now I'm looking at about a month of revision, and every day as I sit down to work I can think of about a million things I'd rather be doing. My self discipline is wearing thin.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Trouble with Twilight--Part VI:Twisted Appeal

So, what's really going on with Twilight? Why are so many girls and women such fanatical fans?

I've been thinking about this since I began the series, and although there are probably several reasons, I think the main one is that Meyer has somehow tapped into a mass sense of insecurity and provided a heady, addictive antidote.

There's no way that young girls and/or women can live up to the ideal they're shown every day, over and over, on billboards, in magazines or movies or TV shows--everywhere, all the time. They, like Bella, just can't match the perfection of the immortals. Of course, in our world the immortals are created by camera angles, air brushing, and starvation diets rather than by a vampire's bite, but the effect is the same--a major loss of self esteem. So, Meyer takes an average young woman and makes her the object of someone's obsession. And not a creepy someone. A handsome, god-like, powerful, rich, sexy young man who could have anyone but who wants only her.

This is heady stuff. Suddenly, a young woman who's always felt that she's not good enough can be vicariously powerful. She has a secret hope. If Bella can get a man like that, so can I. I, too, can be the center of someone's universe. I can be his special brand of heroin. Meyer is providing an illusion of female strength and, in a sick way, boosting weak self-esteem.

Jonathan mentioned in an earlier comment that he was interested in what Meyer has done with the tropes of the romance novel, and I am too. These tropes--which are probably ingrained in the collective female psyche--have actually grown and changed as opportunities for women have expanded. They've morphed from the basic helpless woman/rescue motif into various patterns of heroes being forced to accept a woman as she is and learning to respect her as an individual and allow her personal freedom before he can win her heart and form a partnership based on equality. Darcy and Elizabeth are an early example of this evolving trope. I'm not a big reader of bodice rippers today, but I know that Stephanie Laurens' historical romances are big on the independent woman/equality theme. Meyer does draw on the tropes of earlier romance novels, but it seems she takes all the female insecurities (ignoring the heroines' strengths) and pairs them with extreme versions of the heroes' characteristics. To use Jonathan's earlier list and expand on it, Edward has Darcy's good looks, pride, and money, Rochester's moodiness, Heathcliff's obsession, Jesus's ability to save, and the "Christian romance"-bodice-ripper heroes' super-human restraint (I didn't know there was such a genre as the Christian romance bodice ripper, but it's an interesting concept). This, of course, makes for a very unequal partnership. Yet, rather than being angry over Meyer's portrayal of women, fans seem to feed on the idea of a really weak woman being able to mesmerize the ultimate-alpha-macho man.

I know that Twilight fans will argue that Bella becomes a strong woman. And they're right, in the final novel she does. But they need to look a little closer. She doesn't become a strong woman because of personal growth or a reliance on her own abilities. It takes a man to make her that way, and she still has to look like a supermodel.

Meyer may have tapped into a great social malady, but the antidote she provides is just a placebo. It seems to address the symptoms, and you feel better for a little while, but the illness is still festering underneath it all.

Now I'm done with Twilight. In the words of Forrest Gump: That's all I have to say about that.

Anything to add?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Trouble with Twilight--Part V: Weak Women

Feminist critic Joanna Russ argues that, in a patriarchal culture, everything is seen from the male point of view. Women have a place within a patriarchal culture, but it is a minor place; there is a women’s culture, but it is a sub-culture, and it does not represent all that is possible of human experience. This is why, she continues, almost all of western civilization’s masterplots feature heroes rather than heroines. Women appear in these stories, but usually in supporting roles—loving wife, old crone, dear sister, temptress, loose woman, evil witch, etc.—all stereotypes. Yet there is one masterplot in which women are allowed the role of heroine—The Love Story.

Why? Because, even though she’s the “star” of the story, she’s still in a weak position. She is the one lacking power, the one who must be rescued or saved or pursued. A hero uses his strength, talent, or wit to overcome obstacles and prove his worth (or lack of it)—in a myriad of ways, thus the many plots available for heroes. A heroine just needs to find a man. That’s why she only needs one plot, right?

The first female novelists struggled for acceptance as authors, and unlike male novelists such as Fielding, Sterne, and Smollett who could pen suggestive scenes and still be respected, women writers were often deemed immoral for even daring to put their names on their tamest literary creations. They were also pretty much limited to producing novels of manners in which young women learned their “proper” roles in society.

But even with these restrictions, thinking, intelligent women found ways to fight back, ways that were often subversive. They might have been limited to the love story plot, but they could show their heroines’ pain. They highlighted society’s double standards. They showed the desperation many females felt in the face of economic insecurity. They painted pictures of feminine despair at having talents society allowed them no place to exercise. They depicted women of dignity, who refused to prostitute themselves for financial security and held out for husbands who respected them and whom they could respect. And, finally, after hundreds of years, things changed. Women authors gained greater freedom. They could depict strong women with dignity and choices and varying life paths.

And along comes Stephenie Meyer, who seems to try, in the Twilight novels at least, to undo all the progress of the last two hundred years. This may be a vampire story, but it’s the Love Story plot. Bella simply has to have a man. She cannot exist without one. Edward (although he repeatedly derides her and talks to her as if she’s a child) completes her and is necessary for her very survival. And when he leaves, what happens? She latches on to Jacob (who basically treats her the same way Edward does, but not quite as badly). Like I said, she’s gotta have a man. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against love and marriage—but I’m for relationships built on both self- and mutual respect.

And what’s the deal with “genetic dead ends”? Traditionally, women’s worth in a patriarchal society is based on their childbearing capacity. Therefore youth is prized, and women decrease in value as they age because they lose this ability (see my ageism post). Young women who did not or could not bear children were deemed “surplus” women—essentially a burden on society. This is another view of women that female authors have fought against, and what do we find in the Twilight saga? Rosalie and Leah, two young women who feel worthless because they are unable to bear children— they are, using Leah’s term, “genetic dead ends”—and Bella, who’s willing to sacrifice her own life for her unborn child, against the wishes of Edward, Jacob, and Carlisle—all the men who care about her (and should care about the child). Again, I’m not discounting the value of children—or of self-sacrifice. I’m a mother, and my children are very important to me. I’m also willing to sacrifice for them, and so is my husband. And so are most mothers and fathers I know. What I’m saying here is that this is a very sexist presentation of parenting. A woman’s worth is not based on whether or not she can bear children, just as a man’s worth is not based on whether or not he can or has fathered children. And women are not the only ones willing to sacrifice for the welfare of their children.

Meyer seems to be trying to depict Bella as a strong heroine, but she goes about it in all the wrong ways. Bella rejects parental authority yet “parents” her own parents. She doesn’t care about clothes or what kind of car she drives. She doesn’t care about going to the prom. Bella is “above” all the typical teenage-girl things, and I guess Meyer thinks that this makes her seem mature and independent. Another weird thing that I guess is supposed to make Bella a feminist is that she’s ready for sex and for Edward to “transform” her, but she’s not ready to marry him at eighteen. It’s just too low-class-white trash—people will talk about her! But it’s hard to think of Bella as strong when she has no individual sense of self-esteem/identity and is constantly putting herself in positions that she knows will force Edward or Jacob to rescue her.

Many of the other females in these novels fit these same patterns. Renee is needy and flighty and must be shielded and taken care of. Leah is the stereotypically bitter scorned woman and is only grudgingly accepted in the pack. The celebrated third wife is “strong” only because she kills herself to save her men. The “imprinted” women have no choice but to belong to the male wolves that imprint on them for life—a relationship much like a knight and his fair lady. All in all, Meyer’s fictional world is pretty degrading for women.

So why are so many girls and women identifying with these books?

To be continued . . .

Monday, May 18, 2009

Booking It--Gluttony

Book Gluttony! Are your eyes bigger than your book belly? Do you have a habit of buying up books far quicker than you could possibly read them? Have you had to curb your book buying habits until you can catch up with yourself? Or are you a controlled buyer, only purchasing books when you have run out of things to read?

Well, of course I’m a book glutton. I’ve got so many unread books on my nightstand that I could go on a book-buying fast for quite a while and still survive. (Just so you get the picture, my nightstand is actually one of those ladder bookshelves, so besides a lamp and an alarm clock, it can hold a lot of books.) But just because I could refrain from buying books, doesn’t mean I will. You see, I never really know what I’ll want to read next, when it comes to my pleasure reading. My mood can change rather quickly. And I do eventually get around to reading all the books I buy; they just don’t always get read in the order I purchased them. There’s something really comforting about being able to just walk into my bedroom, go through the stacks, and pick up just the book I am ready to read. There are enough areas of my life in which I have to be self-controlled. I refuse to regulate my pleasure reading.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


This past week I've been battling a sinus infection. I tried, as usual, to tough it out at first, but by Wednesday I knew I had to seek medical attention. While sitting in the room waiting on the doctor, I could hear one woman talking to another in the hallway outside my room. I have no idea who they were, but here's what the woman said:

"I know we met in a club, and I know that he doesn't go to church, but if I'd known that he didn't believe in God, I'd have never married him. After finding that out last night, I don't think this marriage is going to work."

This would be hilarious if it weren't so sad. I mean, did they talk AT ALL before they ran to the JP?

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Trouble with Twilight--Part IV: Suicidal Themes

How do you prove that you really, really love someone? Why, you try do to away with yourself if you can't have him or her, of course. You get yourself lost in the woods while you're in a near-catatonic state, or ride motorcycles recklessly, or jump off cliffs. You fly all the way to Italy and provoke powerful ancients to off you in the middle of a town full of tourists. Or maybe, like the third wife in the Quileute Indian legends (which were a fairly interesting part of the story, I have to admit), you stab yourself in the heart in the ultimate self-sacrifice. How else can you prove the depth of your love?

Reminds me of Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther, where the young hero shoots himself because he cannot have the woman he loves. This romantic novel had such an impact that young men all over Europe began to dress like Werther, in a blue coat and yellow breeches. But, more seriously, the novel also spawned the first noted cases of copycat suicides, causing the book to be banned in some parts of Europe. Psychologists now call this phenomenon the "Werther effect."

Stories have power. Think there'll be any kind of "Twilight effect"?

Next week, I'll talk about the role of heroine and hero.

To be continued . . .

[I just started the last novel.]

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Trouble with Twilight--Part III: Ageism

Not only is Bella too average-looking, she's also too old. Talk about horrors! An eighteenth birthday is an event a girl just wants to ignore. And she might as well be dead as twenty-five. I know, I know, it's just a story. Bella will age because she's human, but Edward (a vampire) and Jacob (a werewolf) won't. But Meyer's choices illustrate (and promote) an attitude of ageism that hits women hardest. Aging women and aging men are not perceived equally in our society. Gray hair on a man is distinguished; gray hair on a woman looks old (Why doesn't she dye her hair?). A man's wrinkles give him character; a woman's wrinkles make her look old (Why doesn't she get a facelift?). He's a good catch--a bachelor with a good job, a big house, a great car, plenty of money, etc.; she's a spinster or a "Cougar"--and either way often the butt of jokes. Sigh.

To be continued . . .

[Oh, I'm about 2/3 through Eclipse now.]

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Trouble with Twilight--Part II: Body Image

Thanks a lot, Stephenie Meyer. Not only do teenage girls feel they have to struggle for a look that only about 5% or less of the population can actually achieve, now the ideal is set by immortals.

Over and over Meyer describes the Cullens family as runway models, perfect, beautiful, dazzling, sculpted. And poor Bella? Why she's simply an average human who doesn't deserve to be with such perfection. How could gorgeous, hunky Edward ever love someone so beneath him?

I guess Dove has wasted its money on their Real Beauty campaign. And Meyer didn't even give the guys a break on this one. How can any regular boy like Mike Newton stand a chance against Edward's "god-like" beauty or Jacob's brawny, oversized masculinity?

To be continued . . .

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Trouble with Twilight--Part I: Toxic Love

It's hard to know where to start. I just finished the first book in the Twilight series, and I have to admit, I didn't feel pulled along by the plot at all until almost the end, when the new crew of vampires show up and hunt Bella. Finally! Something more to read about than an in-depth, drawn-out, microscopic study of a co-dependent relationship. I just started New Moon, and I'm bothered about so many things in this series already.

First, and most obviously, is the above-mentioned codependent relationship. Millions of young girls (and, sadly, women who ought to know better) see in these novels a "perfect" relationship pattern (So romantic! He loves her so much!). Yet, it's almost a textbook depiction of a dysfunctional relationship.

Compare these descriptions of "Toxic Love" (compiled by psychologists and therapists) to Edward and Bella's relationship :

1. Obsession with relationship.

2. Security, comfort in sameness; intensity of need seen as proof of love (may really be fear, insecurity, loneliness)

3. Total involvement; limited social life; neglect old friends, interests.

4. Preoccupation with other's behavior; fear of other changing.

5. Jealousy; possessiveness; fear of competition; protects "supply."

6. Power plays for control; blaming; passive or aggressive manipulation.

7. Trying to change other to own image.

8. Relationship is based on delusion and avoidance of the unpleasant.

9. Expectation that one partner will fix and rescue the other.

10. Fusion (being obsessed with each other's problems and feelings.)

11. Pressure around sex due to insecurity, fear & need for immediate gratification.

12. Unable to endure separation; clinging.

13. Cycle of pain and despair.

It's almost a perfect fit. Now that's scary.

And it's hard not to notice that Edward begins the relationship by stalking Bella. He sneaks into her room at night to watch her sleep. He shows up unasked to take her to and from school before they've actually even started to have a relationship on any kind of level. He's even frustrated that he can't monitor her thoughts, so he does it through the minds of others.

Is this really "what a girl wants"?

(To be continued . . .)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Booking It--Graphic Novels

- Do you read graphic novels/comics? Why do/don’t you enjoy them?

- How would you describe the difference between “graphic novel” and “comic”? Is there a difference at all?

- Say you have a friend who’s never encountered graphic novels. Recommend some titles you consider "landmark/canonical.”

No, I don’t read graphic novels. And I don’t have some elitist reason for not reading them. It’s just that there are too many traditional novels I haven’t gotten around to reading yet, and they’re my first choice.

If anybody more knowledgeable on this subject would like to weigh in and give suggestions, feel free.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Twilight ≠ Pride & Prejudice

I got my latest issue of JASNA News, the newsletter of the Jane Austen Society of North America, the other day. It has news and notes about all things Austen--conferences, calls for papers, new publications dealing with Austen, reviews of theatrical releases based on Austen's works--you get the picture. There's also a section where members can send in book reviews (usually of scholarly works or of continuations based on Austen's novels), and one in particular caught my eye: "Jane Austen, with a Twist: Twilight."


Here are some claims made in the book review (written by two sisters, a high-school senior and a freshman):

"In 2005, a novel was published that follows the Pride and Prejudice plot closely but gives quite a different twist to the romantic tension." (I'll say.)

"On the surface, the novel seems to have nothing to do with Jane Austen; however, when one looks carefully, many similarities emerge." (Kinda sounds like a thesis for a ninth-grade English essay, doesn't it?)

"At Bella's new high school, the boys find her irresistible. Elizabeth Bennet and her sister Jane have always been talked of as the prettiest girls in their small town."

"Bella's mother, like Mrs. Bennet, is slightly neurotic and childish. And neither Elizabeth's nor Bella's parents are in love with each other any more. While Elizabeth is very close to her father and finds comfort in him, Bella has never had the experience of living with her dad."

"The male protagonists in both novels, Edward and Mr. Darcy, are exceptionally rich, handsome, and intelligent, but also unattainable."

"The evil Mr. Wickham character does not play a large role in Twilight but is important in the third book in the series." (Got to find him . . . got to find him . . . ah! there he is!)

"One reason for the heroes' attraction to the heroines is that Bella and Elizabeth are much smarter than the other girls around them."

"The main themes of both novels deal with men and women finding each other, finding themselves, and overcoming the problems imposed on them by their families and society."

Give me a break! As much as some people may enjoy Meyer's novels, she's definitely no Jane Austen. It really makes me wonder who decided to publish that review and why.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Twilight--Initial Reaction

I'm trying to keep an open mind here, but so far I'm not impressed.

I'm a big fan of Young Adult fiction. Some of the best books I've read fit in this genre. But Twilight, at least so far (I'm about half-way through the first book), seems like a junior-high schooler's attempt at writing YAF. If I weren't aware of the Twilight phenomenon, I'm not sure I'd have kept reading after the first chapter or so. The sentence structure is simplistic, the dialogue often seems stilted (don't get me started about Bella's e-mails to Mom), and although I usually have no problem willingly suspending my disbelief, some of the situations are simply unbelievable--and I'm not even talking about vampires or mind-reading. Edward and his family can just not come to school on sunny days and it's okay because the family goes camping a lot? He's allowed to sit in his car and listen to CDs instead of going to Biology class? Reminds me of Saved by the Bell, when students pretty much did whatever they wanted and got away with it. And what's the deal with Bella falling down all the time and Edward's repeated smirking?

But like I said, I'm trying to keep an open mind. I know a lot of people who absolutely love the series, so I'm going to keep reading. And Twilight lovers: feel free to disagree with me.

We'll talk feminist issues later.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Tradition and Tolerance

You know how something can be such a part of the collective cultural conscience that you feel familiar with it although you've never actually experienced it? You've heard the songs all your life, you know snippets of the plot, but you've never seen actually seen it? That's how it was with me and Fiddler on the Roof. Who hasn't heard "Sunrise, Sunset" or "Eeef I were a rich man . . . "?

Well, Tuesday night we went to the Orpheum in Memphis and saw Topol in the role of Tevye, and he and the whole cast were wonderful. His voice. I just can't describe the richness of it and the character in it.

But I left the show thinking mostly about Tradition. Several times in the play, Tevye, who's been raised in a world strongly tied to tradition, is faced with the choice of following blind tradition or promoting the happiness of someone he loves. He does his "on one hand . . . on the other hand" soliloquies, and each time decides that if there is no logical or biblical basis for the tradition, he will choose the person's happiness. But the last time in the play he is forced to make this choice, he must choose between his faith and his family. After much struggle, he chooses his faith. Yet it is not with haughtiness or superiority, but with so much pain that you can't be a witness to it and not hurt with him. And even then, he cannot refrain from pronouncing a blessing on this daughter as they part.

I couldn't help but think how much better off we'd all be if we had the spirit of Tevye.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


Whoduzzn't love a good mystery? I know I do! This genre probably tops my list for preferred recreational reading.

The Mystery Writers of America recently announced the Edgar Awards for 2009, honoring the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction, television and film published or produced in 2008. And the Edgar goes to . . .


Blue Heaven by C.J. Box (St. Martin’s Minotaur)


The Foreigner by Francie Lin (Picador)


China Lake by Meg Gardiner (New American Library - Obsidian Mysteries)

BEST FACT CRIME American Lightning: Terror, Mystery, the Birth of Hollywood, and the Crime of the Century by Howard Blum (Crown Publishers)


Edgar Allan Poe: An Illustrated Companion to His Tell-Tale Stories by Dr. Harry Lee Poe (Metro Books)


“Skinhead Central” - The Blue Religion by T. Jefferson Parker (Hachette Book Group - Little, Brown and Company)


The Postcard by Tony Abbott (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)


Paper Towns by John Green (Penguin Young Readers Group - Dutton Children’s Books)


The Ballad of Emmett Till by Ifa Bayeza (Goodman Theatre, Chicago, IL)


“Prayer of the Bone” - Wire in the Blood, Teleplay by Patrick Harbinson (BBC America)


In Bruges, Screenplay by Martin McDonagh (Focus Features)


“Buckner’s Error” - Queens Noir by Joseph Guglielmelli (Akashic Books)


James Lee Burke

Sue Grafton


Edgar Allan Poe Society, Baltimore, Maryland

Poe House, Baltimore, Maryland


The Killer’s Wife by Bill Floyd (St. Martin’s Minotaur)

Any of your favorites on the list?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Twilight Time

I said in an earlier post that I'd give Twilight a shot once I got to a break in my studies. After two really good novels by Jodi Picoult--My Sister's Keeper and Plain Truth--it's time.

I'll let you know what I think.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Booking It--Which is Worse?

Which is worse?

Finding a book you love and then hating everything else you try by that author, or reading a completely disappointing book by an author that you love?

I think it’s the latter. Once I find authors I love, I anticipate their next book. I feel like it’s a promise. I can’t wait for it to be released (or for me to find and purchase it, if it’s an author who’s been writing a while but I’ve just discovered them). I have such high expectations. I can’t wait to leave my world behind and enter the one they’ve created, knowing I’ll be completely lost in it for a while. But then, if it’s disappointing, the let-down is so much greater than it is when I just pick up a book I know nothing about and discover it’s not worth reading.

I have had authors I love disappoint me in the middle of a series, only to redeem themselves later, but a little of the trust is gone. With every new release I wonder, will it be worth it?

Of course, all of this is unfair. Who can be at the top of their game all the time? And who’s to say it’s not my taste that’s off rather than the author’s skill?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

So, What Did I Read First?

I know I said that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies would be my next read, but it hasn't arrived from yet, so, after getting that draft off my hands I had to read something, right? Preferably not from the eighteenth-century, and not something I had to analyze and take notes on. I wanted a novel I could lose myself in.

Well, this is it. And what a great story. I highly recommend this novel. Well, let me clarify that. If you like nice, neat, up-dated versions of fairy tales, this novel is not for you. If you like to think about the issues and explore the ambiguities of life, you'll love it. Here's a short synopsis:

Anna is not sick, but she might as well be. By age thirteen, she has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions, and shots so that her older sister, Kate, can somehow fight the leukemia that has plagued her since childhood. The product of preimplantation genetic diagnosis, Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for Kate - a life and a role that she has never questioned… until now. Like most teenagers, Anna is beginning to question who she truly is. But unlike most teenagers, she has always been defined in terms of her sister - and so Anna makes a decision that for most would be unthinkable… a decision that will tear her family apart and have perhaps fatal consequences for the sister she loves. My Sister's Keeper examines what it means to be a good parent, a good sister, a good person. Is it morally correct to do whatever it takes to save a child's life… even if that means infringing upon the rights of another? Is it worth trying to discover who you really are, if that quest makes you like yourself less?

Friday, May 1, 2009

Not There Yet

OK. I know I'm not finished. I have to wait for feedback from my committee, make the necessary revisions, and the defend the final version.

But, man, it sure feels good to have a little bit of time without any doctoral work hanging over my head. As soon as classes were over last spring, I began preparing for written comps. As soon as written comps were over, I began preparing for oral comps. After passing them, I began working on the dissertation prospectus. As soon as it was successfully defended, I began work on the actual dissertation. Sure, I've taken a few days off here and there, but not without that guilty feeling that I really should be working.

This is the first time in a year that I simply can't do anything. At least not until I hear back from them. Ahhhhh.