So the place where I work sells furniture. And I didn’t realize this, but all of the people whose furniture we sell apparently send gift baskets to their reps every year–like big, huge, chocolatey gift baskets, and the reps share them with their whole floor. So over the last three days or so, I have consumed at least:
I don’t even know if you guys can read that, but I don’t caaaare because I’m kind of tweaking on the lemonheads that I got to supplement the work candy because my body has gotten used to a certain sustained level of sugar. I also ate peppermint bark at one christmas party, fudge and a molasses cookie at another, and also drank sweet mulled wine that made my teeth feel gross for hours.
I’d say that of all of the holiday type things I’ve consumed so far, none of it has really knocked my socks off. Gotta hate eating disappointing truffles. But you do need to eat at least three, because what if the next one is the good one?? You’ll never know if you don’t try!
So I’ve been reading one of my all-time favorite books from high school, Don DeLillo’s White Noise, and I am gratified that it remains one of my all-times. But I’m reading my sister’s copy of the book, complete with her (utterly unreadable) high school notes in the margins, and I stumbled across a gorgeous piece of ABBY HOWARD ORIGINAL ART that I had to SHARE WITH YOU ALL:
(Do you remember the Nanerpus commercial? Google it. It had a formative effect on Abby during her teen years.)
This is my second time through the New York Times bestselling Ready Player One, a fun and kind of terrifying vision of the not-so-distant cyber-future, in which a nerdy teenager has to overcome all kinds of virtual obstacles to win a lot of money. And there is a girl.
The obstacles come almost entirely in the form of 80s trivia puzzles leading to a prize at the center of a labyrinthine virtual world built to replace the dying, flailing real world. (This book didn’t do anything for my fixation on the doom of the earth, about which you can read more below in my post about fish.)
I can definitely picture the moment that this book was born. Someone in Ernest Cline’s life–perhaps a parent, perhaps a significant other?–must have said, “What can you possibly ever use your encyclopedic knowledge of 80s pop culture for? In what scenario, outside of a game show, would that ever actually be helpful in real life?”
So he came up with one.
This book has Harry Potter syndrome, a term I just coined to mean that the narrative structure is compelling enough to make up for somewhat hamfisted storytelling.* Cline absolutely tells way more than he shows, but the things that he tells are fun, so whatever.
But there is one element of this book that makes me a little uneasy. And it’s hard to explain exactly why without sounding like an asshole. Also, spoilers ahead, but for real, this book came out two years ago, you’ve probably read it by now if you were going to.
The female character is only physically revealed to us at the very end of the book. She’s been hiding behind her avatar pretty much the whole time, and there’s clearly something she doesn’t want our hero to see. AND AT LAST when she is revealed it turns out that she has a BIRTHMARK! On her FACE! And I mean it’s a big one, but I was expecting….a paraplegic? A burn victim? I don’t know. Anyway, the main character looks past the birthmark like it isn’t even a big deal (which…uh…it isn’t), and the female character is overcome with gratitude at his acceptance and is learning to love herself and blah blah and I guess they bone, we don’t see that part.
I don’t love this.
The first time that I read this book it was in a group of guys as part of a science fiction book club, and they thought my analysis of this was too close. And also sinister. Because I kind of think this shit is sinister. Let’s look together:
So this is supposed to be an ‘I love you just the way you are’ moment. He’s supposed to be this great guy who can look past her deformity (which, let’s be reminded, is not really any kind of deformity at all) and she has never had anyone look truly inside of her before and see her inner beauty. So A) not the strongest female character ever. But I am willing to accept that sometimes men also have fears like this–I am thinking specifically of Ron Perlman as Beast in Beauty and the Beast, or maybe Liam Neeson in Darkman, but that dude didn’t even have skin, that was a bit more difficult to get over than a port wine stain. She has skin. (And Frances McDormand would totally have banged him anyway. As would I, fits of laboratory-smashing rage and all.)
But here’s the thing. Other than the birthmark, she is totally normalsauce. And being able to ‘look past’ it is really not that difficult. It’s basically the best case scenario for why she wouldn’t want to show her face. So minimum difficulty for him, but with maximum reward, because his ability to look past the birthmark has made her undyingly grateful, meaning that he has control over her.
I have known a lot of nerds, and I have dated a few. Guys go after girls with low self esteem because they feel powerful, like holding a baby bird that thinks you’re its mother cupped in the palm of your hand. The bird has no agency in that situation, and a person who has suffered abuse and feels bad about their physical appearance will cling to you for emotional support in much the same way. You might be good to the bird, and feed it and raise it and whatever, but it will always be your pet and it will never be a wild animal again.
Even if they do have a relationship and he actually is a good guy to her, there’s no way that that relationship will be healthy. What she needs is fucking counseling, not a boyfriend. The idea that he’s supposed to be noble or whatever because he is big enough to like her despite her obvious flaws sounds really fucking familiar. He sounds like a nice guy, if you know what I mean. Sounds like he maybe owns a fedora. The idea that his love is all she needs to cure her of her pain is weird and dangerous and will not make her a healthy independent human being.
Given, this book was really not meant to be looked at at that level. It’s an archetypal thing; girl thinks she is ugly, guy thinks she is not ugly, girl no longer feels ugly. About a page and a half is devoted to the entire process. But I really think it’s time to put this archetype to bed, because it hurts. It makes girls feel like if there are no boys seeing their INNER BEAUTY, they are actually not innerly beautiful or worthwhile as humans. It doesn’t teach people to trust their own judgement and value themselves according to their own scale.
And the friends that I read this book with were like, you’re focusing on this one tiny thing but there is this whole book full of cool shit, and I was like, oh really? Forgive me for caring about the only character in this fucking book who has a fucking vagina just like me.
I should go read some lady books. Mrs. Dalloway and stuff.
*If you want to start a fight about J.K. Rowling, I am ready and feel free to bring it.
guys I’m having a little bit of trouble right now because I can’t stop thinking about how hot David Carradine is as Frankenstein in Death Race 2000. If you haven’t heard of the movie and you just Google image search it, you will be confused.
Luckily, Sam is not threatened by this since Carradine died in some bizarre autoerotic asphyxiation accident (OR WAS IT MURDER??) in 2009. In Hong Kong. Plus he was like a million years old, and that long hair wasn’t doing him any favors.
I totally love this movie, but now that I’m sitting down to write this, I can’t 100% remember the plot. It’s like the Hunger Games a little? There are teams of cars that for one week a year terrorize the countryside and they run over people and get points? And somehow (SPOILERS) Carradine’s character has become one of the most successful racers, but actually is planning to do…something to stop the races from ever happening again…..and he might get elected president in the end? It’s just really not important. It’s the most 70s movie ever and Sylvester Stallone eats cream sauce with his hands and did I mention that Carradine is in a full leather jumpsuit for 90% of the movie?
The reason why Carradine is so hot in the movie (to me) is exactly because he actually is not that hot–he just looks like a regular guy. He gets into steamy bedroom-type (they actually seem to be gettin’ it on in some bizarre carpeted warehouse) situations with Simone Griffeth and he actually kind of looks in the ballpark of the actual naked human male bodies that I have seen in real life.
This move was made in 1975, so I don’t know whether it was just that he was supposed to be good looking at the time, or was just popular, or if people were more in touch with their bodies or what. But the delicious awkward weirdness of the romance in this movie must be one of the closest evocations of real-life physical romance that exists in cinema.
This may actually be because the actors are bad. I mean Carradine’s face barely moves.
Who knows why we like the movies that we like? Or why one particular scene has an impact on us? I can try to objectively explain why the love scenes in Death Race 2000 deserve to be appreciated, but every time I try to do that with someone their face does that thing where it goes totally flat and they stop responding–like any time I try to tell a funny tampon story.
I would also pretty much say that this film boasts the best performance of Sylvester Stallone’s career.
It is snowing like a motherfucker outside right now, and I’m not ashamed to say that my ass has been entirely indoors. I’m pretty sure that little skinny past me, living in North Carolina, would be shocked, SHOCKED to learn that not only have I not made a snowman, but I really have no desire to even walk in falling snow (like a true princess).
Instead, I’ve been sitting in my toasty apartment on my king-sized bed with my boyfriend, my cat, and a hard cider, chowing down on half-priced Christmas candy and watching Chopped. I can pretty much feel myself gaining weight, but I feel awesome. Come join the party, extra pounds! It’s warm and dry in here!
But you know what staying indoors while the storm rageth outside has really put me in the mood for? Mysteries. The supernaturaller the better.
It checks all the boxes, guys. Quirky and interesting teens? Adorable and hilarious Britishisms? Crazy scary monsters? Excellent art? Suspense? There’s a lot of it, too; I’m still working my way back through the ‘cases,’ and I hope they never end. Also, it actually made me feel nostalgic for teenagerhood, which, let’s be real, is just the worst time you can have.
I would highly recommend this webcomic for those days when you’ve already read every Agatha Christie in the house, the snow is thick on the ground, your hot chocolate is steaming and they’d have to drag you out there by your hair.
So a while ago (as in over a year ago) I wrote several blog entries that never saw the light of day, and I thought now might be as appropriate a time as any to dredge them up and slap some makeup on them and parade them around like little bloggy debutantes. The topics are somewhat stale, but in my opinion when cheesy puffs get old they’re actually better.
And wine. Wine also ages well.
Please to enjoy:
So yesterday was a little rainy (kept power, basement a little damp, lots and lots of leftover bottled water if you want any) (this was originally published around the time of Hurricane Sandy), but Saturday in Boston was, like, oh my god you guys. Gorgeous. It was like I walked out of the Back Bay stop holding my dunkin’ donuts coffee in good-times Narnia, with little bluebirds hailing cabs and homeless puppies begging for cigarette butts. It was NICE.
It was also the day of the fourth annual Boston Book Festival (which I missed the Pumpkin Ale Festival to go to, so you know I’m serious about all this literature and whatever). The BBF basically boiled down to two main events for me, which goes to show that I’m not the best reporter ever but I know what I like. At 11 am, Lemony Snicket was making an appearance at the Old South Church, and then at 2:30 in the same venue Gabrielle Bell, Chip Kidd, Charles Burns, and (oh my gooooodddddd I’m still excited) Chris Ware were sharing the stage to talk about something graphic novel oriented.
I got in line for LS at 10 a.m., right in front of a father and his two kids, who were somewhere around 11 and 5. The crowd was about half teenagers with ill-chosen steampunky outfits (I’m talking about you, green duct tape top hat with goggles girl, you are going to feel really stupid about that in two years) and elementary-school-age kids with their parents. The little girl behind me said to her dad that she liked the eleventh book the best, and someone else in line asked her what that book was called. She said she didn’t remember. I said she should try naming all of them in order and then maybe she would remember, and she looked at me with the sort of half smile you would give a total stranger who had just asked you to do an impossible thing and you weren’t sure whether they were serious.
Should I mention I was alone? The boyfriend had work and I don’t know anyone here yet (at least no one who would be willing to get up at 9 am to go see a mysterious and elusive children’s book writer slash indie musician). I am now accepting friend applications.
The view when they let us through the door was this:
Everything about this was fantastic. Lemony Snicket himself couldn’t make it (WINKY WINK DO YOU GET IT) (DO YOU) but luckily Daniel Handler was there, and guys, he made eye contact with me for like thirty seconds, I swear to God, people were there, they saw it. People were looking back at me like ‘do you know him’ and I was like NO BUT AT THE SAME TIME YES.
He began to read us the entirety of his (OH WHOOPS I MEAN SNICKET’S) new book, Who Could That Be At This Hour?, but then stopped, saying that if he were to read us the whole thing we would surely snatch ourselves bald with grief and the synagogue would be covered in hair (that’s when he made the eye contact).
I came out of the event more satisfied than I’ve felt about anything in a long time. There was a signing, but I couldn’t exactly afford the new book, and for Lemony Snicket, I was more willing to step back and let the little kids have the signing. When I sniff the possibility of Chris Ware sitting at a table, though, it’s Katie-bar-the-door.*
So I was about third in line for the Ware-Bell-Burns-Kidd talk, and I dragged my boyfriend’s dad and sister along, apologizing the whole time with a sheen of sweat on my forehead for wanting to really just get in line, I know it’s not for an hour but haha, maybe we should get in line though.
We were in the third row, close enough to see the yellow piping on Chip Kidd’s just really adorable blazer. They started late by seventeen minutes, and by the time the lights went down I had identified all of the panelists just sort of milling around, like normal people, by the side of the stage. I could find Charles Burns based on his drawings of himself, minus gross weird inappropriate sweat or hideous growths. I really just can’t tell you how excited I was, you just have to trust me that I was very, very excited.
But this did not start auspiciously. The first panelist to speak was Gabrielle Bell, and from the moment, the very first moment, that she took the podium I remembered who these people really were. They were cartoonists. She was so nervous at first that she didn’t even speak. Her thin hands were shaking, and when she did talk her voice was just all over the place, and what with her enormous (gorgeous, French) eyes she seemed just about to burst into tears. She didn’t say anything about herself, no introduction or explanation of what she was about to do, and started to read a comic about polar bears that was displayed on a big screen for us to follow along.
All cartoonists that I have seen speak (and I’ve seen a few) have claimed to be like this, but none of them have really been this way. They all make a big show out of being crowd-hating introverts, but on a stage in front of people who love them, they glow. Bell was not like this. I could feel everyone in the audience’s heart go out to her–we loved her! We really loved her and wanted her to do well! And by the end of her two-comic reading, she did seem to be doing a little bit better, after a few big laughs (including one very clear snort from an amplified Chris Ware, which made everyone’s day, I imagine especially Bell’s).
Chip Kidd spoke very briefly and charmingly about Batman: Death By Design. He showed slides of the blue pencil drawings for one of the main spreads, then showed every stage between the very first sketches and the final product, which was fantastic. Charles Burns got up after him and said some very strange things about TinTin that I didn’t really follow, plus showed us a little bit of full frontal male nudity, which I guess was a bit of a surprise for the lady who brought her eight year old son sitting in front of me, but really what do you expect if you go to an event where Charles Burns has access to a projector?
And then, then, then. Then. Chris Ware. he talked about Building Stories, one of the most intense and exciting and genre-breaking projects ever conceived in comics. I cried twice.
Let’s talk for a moment about Chris Ware’s self-deprecation. Because can we agree that he needs to quit it? The BBF brochure called him “brilliant,” everyone is frothy with love for him, even I like him and I don’t like things that are sad. Everything he’s ever written is this special brand of sad that just has no bottom and no sides and feels like falling down a hole forever, but I STILL LOVE HIM. But he insists on being the embodiment of zero self-esteem. Why? What’s going on?
He signed my book, and he was so nice that I almost cried again. Maybe I have him on a pedestal.
*Sam claims that I have made this phrase up, but I assure you that it is real.