A Fine Whine

On Saturday I, like so many others, joined the Women’s March in my home state. It was inspiring and exhilarating to be with 100,000 other people who see the world as I do. In a world that has seemed to turn upside down, where the press secretary claims the current president had “the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period” despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, it was nice to feel like I hadn’t lost my sanity. Moreover, the people around me were just as committed to forging a future we can be proud of.

It was uplifting. We chanted “Love, not hate, makes America great” and “Show me what democracy looks like – this is what democracy looks like!” I was proud to be part of such a positive movement.

Until later on that day when the backlash began. Facebook posts and cable talking heads dismissed the historic protest movement as “whining.”

At first, it infuriated me.

Then I realized they wouldn’t need to trivialize the movement unless it had struck a nerve. And there is a long history of trying to delegitimize anything which threatens the status quo.

But, let’s face it. Our country was built on protest. Freedom of speech is enshrined in our constitution, despite what Mr. “ban social media” seems to think.

We have only changed the world when we demanded it.

Without protests, we wouldn’t have had the civil rights movement, and blacks and whites would still be prohibited from using the same drinking fountains.

But they were just whining, right? Why couldn’t they just be happy they had drinking fountains at all?

Without protests, we might still be entrenched in Vietnam, killing innocents because we disagree with their political system.

But they were just whining, right? Who doesn’t love the smell of napalm in the morning?

It has only been a few days, and already at every turn our thin-skinned leader is trying to strip protections, rewrite reality, and smother dissent. I have a feeling we’re going to need many more protests before this is all over.

If you want to call it whining, fine. But I would argue that we only built this country by speaking up.

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Opting out of the zombie apocalypse

Let’s just say that in the event of a zombie or post-election apocalypse, I’m not the gal you want by your side.

As the brutality of Walking Dead amps up each season, I am more inclined to think the lucky ones were those who were killed early on. The ones who survived not only had to fight ever-increasing hordes of zombies, but they were ultimately forced to realize that the most horrific monsters were other humans. Is it better to have cruelly lost dozens of people you loved, sometimes by your own hand, or to have just given up early on, to let the zombies win? They get a meal, you get out of the horrific fight for survival; it’s a win-win.

I’ve felt the same devastation followed by resignation after this election. I am trying not to be melodramatic, though if any election inspired melodrama, it was this one. I am still stunned that a candidate who is on tape mocking a person with disabilities and bragging about sexually assaulting women was even allowed on the national stage, much less actually elected to be president. With each cabinet pick, I am further disappointed and anxious, as it’s clear this most divisive candidate has no intention of bridging any gaps, but instead intends to make sure his buddies are in the castle, then pull up the drawbridge, leaving America across the moat. Those of us who railed against Trump’s nationalistic hatred of the “other,” his overt sexualization of women and girls (including his own daughter), and his “Make America Hate Again” agenda take little comfort in knowing that the popular vote was handily won by a competent woman who wanted all of America to succeed, not just the white males. It feels like a murder trial where the accused gets off on a technicality — we know he did it, but he wasn’t read his rights, so the confession is out.

I’m not saying the world is ending and apocalypse is nigh. At least not yet. I’m not even saying that Trump is a zombie. For one thing, zombies have a clarity of focus Trump lacks. They need to eat. That is their singular mission. No grabbing the genitals of other zombies because you have a celebrity free-pass, no inappropriate sexual comments about one’s daughter in zombieland. But I am nervous. Someone with such a large ego and thin skin should not have access to nuclear weapons. It’s what we’ve been saying about North Korea for years, and it’s no less true now.

But as we’ve seen, the zombies are not the real threat in a zombie apocalypse. The real threat is the brutality of other men. Men whose true nature is shown when a power vacuum allows for atrocities to be carried out on a massive scale, unchecked. The sadist Negan does not worry about the Hague. Civilization in a zombie apocalypse is not organized enough to put one on trial for war crimes. I wish I could say that post-apocalyptic world seems far from ours, but alas, we live in a world where admittedly fake news is accepted and defended despite contradictory evidence (such as the author admitting he made it all up). Climate change data (you know, that crazy conspiracy we call “science“) is responded to with a petulant “nuh-uh.” White supremacy groups cheered this election; hate group activity has spiked upon what bigots see as a tacit approval of their ideology by the electoral process. I am not free from cynicism about politicians, but I still believe that, on the whole, most public servants are at least trying to do just that — serve the public — even if I don’t always agree with the policies they hold. Trump’s cabinet picks, on the other hand, seem more akin to Yosemite Sam, gunslinging prospectors more intent on tracking down pesky rabbits (read: anyone who is not a white man) rather than competently confronting the assigned job.

And part of me wants to give up. To just check out for four (it has to be only four, my mind is not ready to contemplate eight) years. Put me in a coma, and wake me up when it’s over. Hopefully by then, the pendulum will swing back, and racism and sexism will once again be considered pejorative terms, not hate-rallying battle cries.

But here’s the problem: there is too much to fight for. If in the case of a real zombie apocalypse, I just let the zombies eat me, then that’s the end of my story. No more suffering but also no chance to help someone else. If I at least go down fighting, who knows what other lives I could affect or save just by joining the cause and not going gentle into that good night. If you won’t fight for yourself, fight for those who are threatened by their proposed legislation: those who may lose affordable healthcare, or residency, or those who just don’t want to be drowned by the swiftly melting ice caps. The other side is willing to fight — willing to put their fingers and ignore facts which don’t support their agenda, willing to ravage the earth’s resources just so they can pocket more money. We have to be willing to fight back.

I’m not sure of the specifics yet. I don’t know the best way to unite a revolution against an orange man with tiny little hands tweeting his fury when someone dares to criticize him. Yes, support your congresspeople who are willing to stand up to him. Yes, protest. Yes, tweet, if only because it may be the only way he stays current since he’s skipping security briefings. We will find our ways to fight back, and we must. Just give me a few more weeks of denial with my head under the covers.

 

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Identity and Work

I posted once in 2015. Once. This year, I determined to be more consistent. Julia Sweeney, one of my favorite celebrities (her performance Letting Go of God was a life-changing listen for me) posted in January that she would try to post once a month in 2016. That seemed a reasonable goal. Except it’s already February. So, I will try to post more often (weekly, perhaps?) with the understanding that one of my faults is that I have unrealistic expectations of my ability to get things done especially in relation to time goals. We shall see. No matter what, this year has to be better than last year.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it. 2015 was not my year. It started off hit-the-ground-running busy, with a trial in January and another in February. We lost the first trial completely and only half-lost the second. In March, I was told I would be laid off and I had a couple of months to look for a job. I found a contract job pretty quickly and was excited about the change. In June, I walked into work and all of my stuff was piled on the floor. “Your journey at this firm ends here,” I was told. “Did I do something wrong?” I sputtered. I had never lost a job before, besides the layoff (which had been kind of expected as the partners were aging and looking at retirement). “No you didn’t do anything wrong,” he answered. “This was just a probationary period to see if we would gel, and it just didn’t work out.”

I packed up my car in a daze. As I did, I realized everything I thought about myself was in question.

I had always thought that if I worked hard, I would always be valued and, well, employed. Besides working hard, I pick up things quickly because I’m interested in the law and its applications. I had always thought I was a good paralegal and would be seen by the world as such. Now, I had lost two jobs in a few months, and I wasn’t sure about anything anymore.

Looking back, I can see I was being melodramatic. I was given two weeks’ severance, and by the end of the two weeks, I was starting another job. So, I didn’t even have a chance to file for unemployment before I was back at work, which I am thankful for. Still, I couldn’t deny I was shaken. If I was wrong about who I was as an employee, was I wrong about other things as well?

I know many people who don’t derive their identity from their jobs. A job is just a job, after all, a way to pay the bills and do the things you really want to do, like spend time with friends and family. But, perhaps since I don’t have children of my own, or perhaps simply because I was built this way, I have always felt my work has partially defined me. I take personal pride in what I do, and how I am perceived by those I work with. My job is not just a job, but part of who I am. That’s kind of embarrassing as well, since I am “merely” a paralegal. Everyone I work with (for) went to law school and passed the bar. I got a Masters in English Literature. I thought I was going to teach, but that never really happened. They fulfill CLE requirements to keep their good standing with the Court. I don’t even have a paralegal certificate (although I have heard they’re not very useful, and not required in Colorado), and some of the attorneys still refer to me as their “assistant,” which for some reason rankles. It’s not as bad as “secretary” but gets pretty close.

Even so, I like what I do. I think I do it well. This is not to say this is the only thing I could do, or that I wouldn’t be happy with a different career, but in the end, once you get set down a certain path and want to get paid a certain amount of money, you’re kind of stuck. All of my experience is in one area, and I don’t want to start from scratch. And in the end, a job is just a job. I do it to pay the bills and do the things I really want to do. It is not just that, of course, but I need to remember that I am more than just a job title, that I do have wonderful friends and family that love me no matter what my career is. Because, in the end, it’s just a part of the story.

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Elizabeth is Missing

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elizabeth Maud is confused about many things, but there is one thing she’s sure of: Elizabeth is missing.

A fitting book to mark my return to blogging, it would seem, since I have pretty much dropped off the face of the earth, internetally speaking. What can I say? It’s been a tough year. I’m on my third job this year. For some this doesn’t seem strange, but in the dozen years before 2015, I had only had two total jobs, so you can see it’s been a big year.

“But wait,” you say. “You stopped writing in June of last year, long before any job transitions were on the horizon.”

And to you I say, “thanks for being a fan, even if an overly particular, contradictory one who clearly wants to belittle me in front of the entire internet.” And then I say, “what’s over there?” while pointing, because cartoons have taught me the infallibility of this particular distraction method.

“Oh ho,” another well-intentioned reader might point out, “maybe she’s a little too delicate for the world wide web.” To whom I say, “shall we get onto the book review, please?”

Seriously, though, it hasn’t been anything dramatic. Life gets in the way, that’s all. But I loved this book and wanted to talk about it, so here I am.

So here’s the premise: the novel is told from the point of view of Maud, an eighty-two year old woman with dementia. The book never clarifies whether Maud suffers from Alzheimer’s or just plain old dementia (although I’m not sure whether that’s even important), although Maud’s daughter Helen nods a coy reference to the former when she curses herself for constantly forgetting to bring her reusable bags to the grocery store.   “Early onset, you think?” she asks her mom, who misses the reference. The reader doesn’t however, which is a common theme in this book. Maud, after all, forgets everything, which could have turned her into a tiresome narrator. Healey’s deft touch, however, avoids this obstacle, although at times I identified with Helen’s exasperation with her mother’s repetitive questions, such as “Where are we going?” and then, moments later, “Where are we going?”

Maud writes herself notes as reminders. Many of her notes mention Elizabeth, as well as the fact Maud hasn’t seen her for some time, though exactly how long, of course, she doesn’t remember. Between her searches for her friend, Maud relates memories of her childhood. Her sister Sukey had also gone missing when Maud was a child, and the family’s search for answers parallels Maud’s own fractured piecing together of reality in the present. The two mysteries intertwine as  snippets of Maud’s lucid thoughts provide clues without context. The reader, for some time, is just as confused as Maud. This effect, rather than irritating me, actually made me sympathize with Maud as she struggles to remind herself, again and again, of what’s true, what’s real.

I listened to this book in audiobook format, and Davina Porter’s narration added to the delight of this book. Maud is understandably volatile — one moment she’s angry, the next she’s scared, or tearful, or laughing hysterically. Porter does a great job of switching from mood to mood and character to character.

I have often been stricken by the vulnerability of identity. In fact, a sentence in a recent Deborah Crombie book (Mourn Not Your Dead) has stayed with me, a simple aside that struck me as profound:

I’ve learned from experience that it’s a great emotional risk to ground one’s identity entirely in one’s work. Life is entirely too tumultuous for that — you can lose a job or a career tomorrow, and then where are you? The same is true of marriage and motherhood. You have to rely on something deeper than that, something inviolate.

As I read this book, I began to realize how much our senses of self are bound up in our memories. As Maud forgets who her children are and where she is, a question haunted me: who are we without our memories?

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The F-Word: Feminism

We_Can_Do_It!If I asked you if you believed women should have equal rights, that men and women should have the same opportunities regardless of sex, that one’s value should not be associated with one’s gender, you would likely agree (unless you’re an asshole). But what if I asked if you’re a feminist?

Feminism has become the ultimate dirty word, so much so that even people who agree with its values would not go so far as to associate with the term itself. Shailene Woodley, the up-and-coming star of The Fault in Our Stars (read my review of the book here) and the woman-power-celebration movie Divergent, when asked whether she was a feminist, demurred:

“No because I love men, and I think the idea of ‘raise women to power, take the men away from the power’ is never going to work out because you need balance.”

Since when was that contrary to feminist doctrine? A simple scan of the dictionary definition rebuts her assumptions:

fem·i·nist

[femuh-nist] 

adjective Sometimes, fem·i·nis·tic.

1.

advocating social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men.
noun

2.

an advocate of such rights.
Equal. It’s right there in the definition. Not superior, not matriarchy in disguise. Feminists are not seeking to rid the world of men, nor are they seeking to rule over them. They simply support women having the same opportunities as men.
Woodley’s comment is akin to Denzel Washington saying that we don’t need more black actors in Hollywood because “I love white people, and there has to be balance.” There is already a disproportionate lack of balance, which is what any equality movement is trying to correct.
Yet, when people are looking to upend power structures, those wielding the power feel threatened. The Civil Rights Movement spawned a resurgence of the KKK, as white men clung desperately to their vanishing domination of society. In the same way, men who feel threatened by gender equality are quick to go on the offensive. Pat Robertson, in his lifelong quest to be more controversial and absurd, employs the slippery slope fallacy:
“The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”
Rush Limbaugh termed the ever-so-helpful term “feminazi.” I know men who have flippantly used this term who wouldn’t usually be caught dead using a Rushism, but it has become an ingrained part of the culture, an accepted parody, that feminists are man-haters. I wonder how they would feel bandying about the term if they heard Rush’s own definition of it:
“A feminazi is a woman, a feminist, to whom the most important thing in her life is seeing to it that all abortions possible take place.”
Really?
The feminist movement itself may be partly to blame. For one, we stopped fighting the battle assuming the war had been won. As women have gained ground in society, we traded in our vigilance for ennui. Again, we can take guidance from those fighting for racial equality:

Struggle is a never ending process. Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation.

Coretta Scott King
Our generation did not have to fight for women’s suffrage. Economic necessity helped previous generations shoulder their way into the workplace. Accordingly, there is a false notion that there is already equality between men and women. Even though it is undisputed there is STILL a wage gap between the sexes, it took the high-profile ousting of a female editor to bring the issue to the media’s attention. It is unclear whether Jill Abramson was fired because she pushed for equal pay (her publisher vehemently denies the claim), but what is clear is that there is still a glass ceiling, and not just in the corporate world. Women make up half of the U.S. population but only 1/5 of Congress. It’s no wonder male lawmakers feel free to legislate women’s medical decisions, since there are so few female members of Congress to protest. And while Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In movement has publicized the subtle sexism pervading the language itself, it will take a massive shift in the culture to eradicate these same effects in everyday usage.
There is also a feeling of exclusion on the other side of the gender divide. When asked whether he was a feminist, musician Pharrell responded:
I don’t think it’s possible for me to be that…I’m a man.

The comment, while just as frustrating as Woodley’s, seems at least partly understandable. After all, he follows that up with:

I do support feminists. I do think there’s injustices. There are inequalities that need to be addressed.
As a white, straight woman, I can support the causes of racial and LGBT equality while still feeling somewhat outside of the causes themselves, as if I don’t have the right to assert equality for others, only myself. Logically, it doesn’t make sense, but I understand the inclination.
Obviously, it is an oversimplification to lump more than a century’s worth of women’s rights movements into a single term, and I have likely glossed over several complex issues that deserve their own debate. But that’s just it. People think the debate is over.
I may have wanted to believe it myself, until seeing public figures like Woodley and Pharrell espouse feminist ideologies then shirk from being associated with the word itself. Luckily, there are just as many public figures who aren’t afraid of the word or its connotations.
Lena Dunham sums up the situation beautifully:
“Women saying ‘I’m not a feminist’ is my greatest pet peeve. Do you believe that women should be paid the same for doing the same jobs? Do you believe that women should be allowed to leave the house? Do you think that women and men both deserve equal rights? Great, then you’re a feminist. People think there is something taboo about speaking up for feminism. I know for a long time that I was embarrassed to call out misogyny because I was then going to be that complaining girl who can’t let it go. But the fact is, we can’t let it go – not until we feel like we have been heard.”
It looks likely that the next presidential cycle in the United States may have the first viable female contenders (long after Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey, and Bangladesh elected female leaders, by the way), and this issue will come to the forefront. While the media is likely to continue its subtle sexism (Pantsuits! Hairstyles! Makeup! Oh My!), if a woman is to snag the seat, we need to become a lot more comfortable with the F-word. (And if that last sentence had you envisioning women “sleeping their way to the top,” you know we have a lot of work to do.)

 

 

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Why Have Kids?

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why-have-kids-hc-c_new-subtitle-198x300For those immediately offended by the title of this book, calm down. It was written by a mother, and she’s not bashing the institution of parenthood. She’s just bringing it down to earth.

As a thirty-something woman who has chosen not to have kids, I have to admit the title of the book actually drew me to it. What I found was a refreshingly honest take on modern parenthood that both parents and non-parents alike can find meaningful.

For example, Valenti attacks the current martyrdom of motherhood. The internet has only increased this phenomenon, so that mommy blogs are full of mothers judging each other for not breastfeeding long enough (or at all, even if physically impossible for the mother), not stimulating a child’s mind enough, and so on. Each mother is competitively claiming she has given the most for her child, she has sacrificed who she is more than the other mothers, and her child is the shining example of that sacrifice.

This is a female phenomenon, by the way. There is very little in the way of competitive daddy blogs, of dads comparing how much TV their children watch or what languages their toddlers are learning. Even equality-centered households (such as that of Valenti, a prominent feminist) can not seem to shake the skewed balance of parenting: mothers almost always do more, if not most, of the parenting.

On the other hand, those who choose not to have children are constantly asked to defend their decision. No one asks a parent to defend their decision to have children, but if you don’t want to parent, the assumption is that there’s something wrong with you. Also, Valenti points out, parents often gloss over the not-so-glamorous parts of parenting (diapers and runny noses and temper tantrums, etc.) to focus solely on the rewards of parenthood. Of course, there are rewards to parenting only parents can know; there are also frustrations only parents can know. Valenti is just asking for an honest appraisal of parenthood, good and bad.

Valenti also brings up the interesting question of class in the midst of the discussion of motherhood. While well-to-do, and even middle-class, women are extolled for putting their careers on hold in order to stay at home and raise their children, women on welfare are criticized if they do the same. Indeed, many mothers in poverty do not have the luxury of getting involved in the “best mommy” contests that pervade the web; they are too busy finding child care while they work multiple jobs to be overly concerned about how long they should breastfeed their child.

Ultimately, Valenti is happy as a mother, but she concedes it is not the utopia she had expected. That in itself is shocking for a woman to say, but the honesty is helpful. The problem with mothers trying to reach this idealized idea of the “perfect mother,” is that perfection is always out of reach, and she will always feel she could have done more for her child. This ideal does no one any good. A frank discussion of the deification of motherhood is long overdue.

I read this book on my Kindle (one of the few non-audiobooks I have finished lately) and have never highlighted a book so often. There is scholarly research to back up Valenti’s assertions, but it is supremely readable, and even entertaining. I appreciated the new take on the cult of parenthood and hope this signals a shift in the culture.

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Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

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books1This is a book for book lovers, and for those interested in technological advances. These would seem to be contradictory desires, but Robin Sloan seamlessly weaves the reverence for beautifully-bound tomes with the excitement of Google and programming and code-breaking and all it may have to offer. There’s a secret society and a cute techie girlfriend, a wise old bookstore owner and a young roommate artist who creates worlds out of nothing. The old and the young, the new and the established, are constantly at odds in this novel, although the protagonist Clay Jannon is clearly in love with both worlds and finds a way to reconcile both.

This was an enjoyable read, interesting even if I don’t understand the technology behind it (and which of it is possible and which of it is fabricated). I cared about the characters and the ideas felt fresh and exciting. I got swept up into the mystery, and I learned more about fonts than I ever thought I would care to know. Overall, it was a “guilty pleasure” read that I don’t feel guilty about at all, proving worthy novels don’t have to be slow, plodding things.

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The Philadelphia Story (1940)

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As many of you know, I have been slogging cheerfully making my way through the

1001 Books tophiladelphia story Read Before You Die.  As a companion to this list, there is a 1001 Movies to See Before You Die, which I am also keeping tabs on. As a bonus, I can cross items off my list much more quickly. No more 30 hours of Crime and Punishment — I watch a 2-hour movie and feel accomplished. Plus, I’m watching all those movies I know I should have seen, that have been swirling around me in the zeitgeist, and I can finally understand all the references I’ve missed over the years.

The other day I decided to watch The Philadelphia Story, which has been on my “movies to watch” list for quite some time. It looked funny and lighthearted– it was — and I was in the mood for just that type of movie. Of course, what interested me most were the women’s issues of the film. I am sure there is a wealth of scholarship on the subject, since the source material is so rich.

The movie, made in 1940, breaks many social conventions. The socialite Tracy (Hepburn) is a strong, opinionated woman who is preparing to marry for the second time. Her mother is also having marital issues, as her father is having an affair with a dancer. The contrast of class is apparent as Tracy is engaged to a self-made man while her social circle is made almost entirely of “old money.”

I can’t decide where this movie lands on the women’s rights issues. There are some appalling scenes — the movie opens with Tracy’s first husband hitting her, an act which is tacitly approved when she (SPOILER) ends up remarrying him at the end of the movie. The domestic violence as fodder for humor is certainly less acceptable today, thankfully. There is also a scene where Tracy is discussing her father’s infidelities with him he remarks with some blase:

What most wives fail to realize is that their husbands’ philandering has nothing whatever to do with them.

Oh, well then. I guess there is nothing to worry about. He even implies the affair is his daughter’s fault, classy man that he is. On the other hand, Tracy clearly rejects conventional gender roles. When she refers to her ex-husband as her “lord and master,” her fiance refutes the notion. She is her own woman and that’s why he loves her.

Though a comedy, this movie delves head first into social and gender issues, and while it sticks to the conventional marriage plot structure, it is nice to see a headstrong woman protagonist. And the cast is incredible: Katherine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant – you can’t ask for anything more. Also, it’s funny and lighthearted and everything you want in a comedy, with the added bonus of a little substance you can think about later.

 

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Casino Royale

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I know very little about James Bond. When I was a kid, we used to watch a cartoon about James Bond, Jr. (his son, I presume?), and all I can recall is him saying “My name is Bond. James Bond. Junior.” So now, every time I hear Bond revealing his name to someone, I always want to add “Junior” afterward.

Other than that, my knowledge is minimal. I may have watched a full Bond movie — I know I’ve watched snippets — and I know which actors have played Bond, but as to the character himself, I only know the gist: dashing spy with cool gadgets does cool spy things and gets the girl. So, I never expected a whole lot of equality for the women in this novel, but the sexism and sometimes, outright misogyny, of this novel surprised me.

Don’t get me wrong. The book is entertaining. Fleming knows how to attract and keep a reader’s interest. But I could not help being disgusted by the sexist Bond.

Casino Royale coverNow, I haven’t seen the movie. I’m hoping they altered it somewhat for modern audiences. Rants like this do not endear our protagonist to the reader: “These blithering women who thought they could do a man’s work. Why couldn’t they stay at home and mind their pots and pans and stick to their frocks and gossip and leave men’s work to me?”

Later, when Bond is falling for the female spy Vesper, he imagines that conquering her would always carry the “sweet tang of rape.” I just threw up a little bit in my mouth.

Some scholars see Fleming’s work as feminist and the Bond Girls as liberated women. I think I would have to read more of the books to see whether I buy that theory. Bond’s misogyny does seem to be “over the top,” perhaps to make a point. He is, after all, hoodwinked by the girl he assumed was incompetent.

That being said, I thought there were some interesting ruminations about the nature of good and evil, of patriotism and treason. Who determines who the “good guy” is, after all? Unfortunately, these anxieties get thrown by the wayside as Bond gets swept back into nationalistic fervor. This is, after all, a spy novel, and one can’t have a spy novel with philosophies about right and wrong. So, back to the formula: dashing spy with cool gadgets does cool spy things and gets the (simultaneously hyper-emotional and deceptive) girl.

 

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Nicholas Nickleby

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200px-Nickleby_serialcoverFor a man who wrote A Tale of Two Cities, the expansive exploration of Paris and London during wartime, and Great Expectations, with the highly memorable Miss Havisham, the brooding spinster still in her unused wedding dress, this tale seems a bit…empty for Dickens. It’s like a Jane Austen novel without the joy of an Austen novel. At the risk of losing all my feminist credentials, Austen just does the domestic novel better.

The book is long enough, to be sure. Nearly 1000 pages and over 30 hours in audiobook format, the novel took some slogging to get through. Dickens can’t seem to decide what his novel is about, although money is definitely a central character. Nicholas’s uncle, Ralph, is a prefigured Ebenezer Scrooge without the redemption, and the characters and plot lines are neat and tidy: good characters are universally good and will reap the benefits of their goodness, bad characters are universally evil and will reap the consequences of same.

I wanted to read this novel to have one more Dickens under my belt before tackling Claire Tomalin’s recent biography, but I think I’ll wait to read more of his novels until I read that book, to see which of them are worth my time. Of course, this book is on my 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list, so I would have read it anyway just to cross it off the list, but I can tell there are certainly other Dickens novels I will be skipping.

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