The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters by Laura Thompson

Ladies and gentlemen...I give you...my first bail of 2017!!! 🎉🎈🎊 I tried to finish "The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters." I really did. I'd vaguely heard of the aristocratic family but all I knew was the sisters were socialites who saw more drama than anyone on "Downton Abbey. Turns out, that's an understatement: one sister was a novelist, one married her cousin, one was a Communist and two were friends with Hitler PLUS one of THOSE sisters attempted suicide (sidebar: that chick's name was Unity Valkyrie and she was born in Swastika, Canada SO WHAT DID 
PEOPLE THINK WOULD HAPPEN?!) So that all sounds dramatic and tawdry, right? A home run? Wrong 😡

This was maybe one of the most disorganized books I ever read. There was no structure, and I got whiplash from how much it jumped around (she was born here....after ww2 she said this...there was a man near here that had a horse named horsey but he died...did I say where she was born yet?) I trudged through about 100 pages and still barely knew what was happening. Finally I gave up on the book and just read the Wikipedia article on the sisters. Maybe do that instead 
#lifestooshort #lategram #goodreads #currentlyreading #instalike #instadaily #instagood #instalove #instafollow #instabook #instaread #igbooks #igreads #bookstagram #blog #blogger #bookblogger #booknerd #bookworm #bookish #bookaddict #booklove #booklover #mitfordsisters #macmillian #historybuff #checkerboard

I hate quitting on books. Hate. It. Because I’m a fast reader, I can usually convince myself to stick with my read. But I white-knuckled my way through about 100 pages of “The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters” before I finally tossed it and moved on. Life’s too short.

I’d never heard of the Mitford Sisters before but I guess they’re pretty famous. They were socialites who managed to deliver more drama than the Kardashians. Beautiful, witty, articulate and unpredictable, they were at the forefront of a changing Europe. There was Nancy (the writer), Pamela (the boring one), Diana (the fascist), Unity (the Nazi), Jessica (the runaway Communist), and Deborah (the duchess).

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The sisters (along with their brother Tom) enjoyed a aristocratic but eccentric upbringing. Although the Mitford family came from money, their father had bad luck/terrible business sense and as a result the girls lacked a formal upbringing. Left mostly to their own devices, they created their own private world, complete with their own invented language and affectionate nicknames.

But the ideological warfare sweeping through 20th century Europe created equally irreparable damage within the Mitford family. The parents split up (“Farv” was conservative, but “Muv” was supportive of her fascist daughters). Jessica moved to the U.S. Diana married the leader of the British Union of Fascists and went to jail for three years. Unity, despondent when her beloved England and beloved Germany declared war upon each other, shot herself in the head. She somehow messed that up and it took her eight years to die from complications. The political rifts between some of the sisters left them estranged until their deaths.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get any of this information from the book. Instead, I had to rely on Wikipedia. Laura Thompson appears to have written the book with the understanding that anyone who read it already knew everything about these sisters. The timeline was nonexistent, as she jumped wildly from subject to subject in any given paragraph (in a few short sentences, we could go from their grandfather’s history, to Unity’s death, to this neighbor near them that had a horse once). She talked about the sisters and their friends interchangeably, something that was (a) confusing; and (b) impossible to care about. She quoted from Nancy Mitford’s writing as if I already knew it; no, author! I expected you to introduce her to me. How silly of me.

If you’re a fan of the Mitford sisters, I think you’d maybe like this book. And if you’re intrigued about these women, I’m sure there are many other books that do them justice. I should have known from the plodding, meandering, and confusing introduction that this book wouldn’t be for me. Unfortunately my innate Irish stubbornness won out and now there’s two hours of my life I’ll never get back.

Verdict: RUN AWAY

 

Goodbye to our Reader-In-Chief

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We could spend millions of words discussing the differences between Trump and Obama, but I just wanted to take a minute today to discuss one that jumps out to me: books.

Obama is famously a book lover. Whether he’s ducking out of the Oval Office to visit a book store, or releasing a vacation reading list, he’s always made it clear that books matter. Earlier this week, he talked to the New York Times about how much he valued the written word.

“At a time when events move so quickly and so much information is transmitted, the ability to slow down and get perspective, along with the ability to get in somebody else’s shoes – those two things have been invaluable to me…Whether they’ve made me a better president, I can’t say. But what I can say is that they have allowed me to sort of maintain my balance during the course of eight years.”

President Obama also talked about some of the books that mattered most to him:

brb adding more books to my list

 

But no worries, book lovers! Because Trump also loves books! The best books! All the books! In fact, (*gestures broadly*)  look at all these books! #bigly

By the way, that CNN is about his favorite subject-himself.

As we all gear up for President Books-Boy-I-Don’t-Know, let’s all just pause for a moment and be grateful for what we had.

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Read on, dudes. And then get to work.

 

You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein

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In this fractured, fearful and uncertain climate, one woman is challenging the status quo, speaking truth to power, and asking the questions the system doesn’t want you to ask. That woman is Jessi Klein. Her question: “Seriously, did Richard Gere shove a gerbil up his butt? Like all the way up there? Whatever, I’m just going to believe it’s true.”
Now, I’m not going to pretend the occupancy status of  American Treasure Mr. Richard Gere’s backdoor is the central thesis of Klein’s “You’ll Grow Out of It” buuuutttt…it does show up. That’s all I’m saying. “To Kill a Mockingbird” doesn’t provide that kind of experience.
I’m a really sucker for books written by funny ladies, but this is the first time I repeatedly read excerpts of this book to friends, saying “Seriously, did I write a book? Is this me?”
As a child, Klein was a tomboy who never got the memo that she should grow out of it. Instead she became, as she called it, a tom man.

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Pictured: Peak Tom Man

She was one of those perpetually dirty kids who always had rats nests in her hair. Similarly, I was the kid whose mother finally tastefully suggested that maybe I should consider shaving my armpits. This conversation occurred after a basketball game, where I had apparently been shoving my hairy Irish pits into the face of some poor girl from St. Agnes parish (We won that game. I’d like to think my armpits of mass destruction played some small role in this victory).
She was in her late twenties before someone told her grownups ditch their ratty backpacks and invest in purses. Around the same time, her loser boyfriend du jour was saying dickish things like “So you just don’t paint your toenails…ever?” Klein realized she still had some learning to do.
This whole book isn’t about her awkward growing pains. In fact, despite the book’s title, Klein does grow out of it, although maybe she never grows out of the “where am I going in life stage” and, well, who does? The rest of the book covers her relationships, her path into comedy, and her unrelenting commitment to fuck the guy dressed as Dale the Chipmunk at a Disney World wedding.

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I mean, who wouldn’t? Amiright?

The main crux of the book focuses on being a woman, that pull between femininity and practicality, and the impossibility of living up to those ideals. In one essay, she talks about going to the Emmys and realizing it wasn’t the life-changing, euphoric experience she assumed it would be. In another essay she divides women into two categories: Poodles (women who exist effortlessly within their femininity and shop at Anthropologie) and Wolves (those who don’t). Poodles laugh a lot; wolves sweat a lot. Poodles lost their virginity in high school; wolves are early to everything and “have to fake a conversation on their cell phones so they look like they know other human beings.” Angelina Jolie is a poodle. Jennifer Aniston is a wolf.

I thought this book was delightful. Some of her essays were silly and unsubstantial (bar classes: a bargain at 5 classes for $180!) but as you get to know her, she’ll reveal more and more. Her stories about her early ambivalence of motherhood, to her infertility struggles, to her eventual pregnancy cut deep, while still managing to be funny. So go pick it up. And wolves! Assemble!

music video running wolves wild ones bahari

The Woman Who Would Be King by Kara Cooney

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I think all of us went through an Egypt phase in school. It was right after our paleontologist phase and right before we became too cool for phases. We devoured any National Geographic with the pyramids on the cover, became a little too knowledgeable about the macabre process of mummification, and spouted off as many facts about the “cool” pharaohs that our patient parents would listen to. There was the trifecta of the most badass pharaohs to ever pharaoh-Nefertiti, King Tut and Cleopatra. Well, with due respect to the Big Three, Hatshepsut might leave them in the dust.
Kara Cooney’s “The Woman who Would be King” shines a light on this forgotten figure. Hatshepsut was the daughter of a general who usurped Egypt’s throne. Married to her brother, the short-lived Thutmose II, she was expected to bear the sons who would legitimize the reign of her father’s family. When that didn’t work out, she was expected to act as regent for her infant stepbrother Thutmose III. Instead, she crowned herself king and co-ruled with him until her death.
And she was pretty damn good at it. Her 22-year reign was marked by peace and prosperity for Egypt’s people (less so for Egypt’s neighbors). Her time in power saw such an incredible proliferation of art, architecture and statues that the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art has an entire room devoted just to her. She was the master of her own PR, and even constructed a 10-story-tall stone obelisk that displayed her official history-portraying herself as divinely conceived and the rightful ruler appointed by the gods. In other words, “This is mine. I’m the rightful king. Come at me, bitches.”
So why don’t we know about her? Partially due to the sustained campaign by her successors to erase her from history. Partially because it took historians to realize this king was actually a woman. And partially, according to Cooney, due to sexism. She argues that because Hatshepsut didn’t fit into our patriarchal paradigm of a powerful woman ruler. We like our lady rulers messy and prone to scandal (looking at you, Cleopatra). If they ruin things for their people, even better. Hatshepsut did well, hence the mystery.
I don’t know how right she is, but I do know that her theorizing was my least favorite part of this book. She engages in so much speculation about what people were thinking and saying and feeling that I’m not even sure if this book can be classified as nonfiction. I get there’s not a ton of source material that’s survived since 1500 B.C. As a result, there are plenty of times when words like “most likely” or “seems to have been” or speculative terms are used in place of hard facts backed up by documentation. We spend a lot of time inferring what Hatshepsut “must have” felt and thought.  This also affects the prose; many passages are quite repetitive, and reading it became a slog towards the end.
If you have a genuine interest in modern Egypt of historical woman, I’d absolutely recommend this book. But if not, I’d say to give “The Woman who Would be King” a miss. While the subject was interesting, the writing was scattershot and unengaging.

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

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It’s the kind of story that keeps parents up at night. After Anne and Marco Conti’s babysitter cancels at the last minute, the couple argues about what to do. Anne wants to cancel their dinner date next door. Her neighbor Cynthia has made it very clear their six-month old daughter Cora is not welcome. Marco convinces Anne to go anyway. They’ll bring the baby monitor. They’ll check on their daughter every thirty minutes. She’ll be fine.
Annie, wine-drunk, struggling with postnatal depression and watching her husband flirt with her hot-ass neighbor wants to leave after a few hours. It was a mistake to leave Cora. It keeps churning around in her head: What kind of mother would leave her child? She finally convinces Marco to leave and they come home to a slightly ajar door. Marco suggests she forgot to lock it. “After all” he points out (dickishly) “you have been drinking.” Of course, she didn’t leave the door open. They get to the nursery and the crib is empty. Cora is missing.
All of this happens in the first chapter. Detectives come pouring in, discovering unidentified tire tracks in the garage and a disabled motion detector. They can’t find any evidence anyone else was in the house and the Conti’s soon find themselves under suspicion. Throw in some weird neighbors, Romney-rich in-laws and of course…SECRETS. Gotta have your secrets.
The book was captivating for awhile, but eventually became unbearably boilerplate. In my boredom, I started playing Thriller Bingo, looking for all of the tropes on display. Missing child? Check. A police force that couldn’t investigate its way out of an Encyclopedia Brown book? Check.The couple that seems to have it all? Check (also, can we put that tired concept to rest? No one has it all, and if your book’s synopsis starts with that sentence, I reserve the right to hide your book in the arts and craft section of my local library). Mousy woman struggling with basic human tasks? Check. Dumbass husband in over his head? Checkaroo…oh Marco, you bad boy.
But my biggest problem with “The Couple Next Door” wasn’t that it was derivative. Rather, this book deteriorated as it went on, culminating in a ludicrous finale that comes out of nowhere. No spoilers, but the last chapter simply makes no fucking sense.
To sum up: “The Couple Next Door” was trashy but not the fun kind of trashy. The characters were unlikable but not the fun kind of unlikable. The twist endings were fucking nuts but definitely not the fun kind of fucking nuts. This book is like if Lifetime took itself seriously. And no one wants that.

I know, I KNOW! I’m the worst.

Hey guys! HEEEEEEEEEEEEYYY GUYZZZZ
We had a good run there for a minute. Remember back when I was posting book reviews on the daily? And y’all would comment and we would have meaningful discussions about the state of literature and also how we can tie almost everything back to Game of Thrones? And I would tweet links to my reviews and I would get up to three (!) retweets? And once Felicia Day liked my review and I thought I had made it? Good times, fam.
So where did we go wrong? I’ll be real, it’s all on me. I done goofed. Don’t blame yourselves.

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So a lot of stuff happened over the last few months. I quit my job (and left an awesome goodbye email. Watch this space-I ‘m still proud of it and want to share it with the world), packed up and left Texas, and moved back to Boston (Just in time for football season…sorry Texans fans). I’ve been gone for nearly nine years, so I’m hanging out with my family, trying to get their dog to love me, and having a wonderfully empowering time job-hunting.
vodka-wounds
But for now I’m settled! I unpacked my stuff. I watched some Red Sox with my dad. That ended. Now I guess I’m watching the Cubs with my dad?  I remembered how to use the washing machine. I am ready. to. crush. this.
I am many, many, MANY review behind. Catching up is going to take some time, but I think we can do this. I have a list.

aladdin-list

 

I was originally planning on covering ALL of the books, even the truly mediocre ones- the Whose Who of Who Cares. But then I realized that life is short and I am lazy and did I mention there’s a dog in my life who requires (i.e. kinda tolerates) my constant attention?

So I want to take a minute and apologize to those mediocre books. You weren’t bad…if I hated you, I would totally write about you. Rage reviews give me Hulk strength (example). You just weren’t great. I put you down a lot so I could play Solitaire on my phone or stare into space.

So let’s pour one out to the books I’ve read over the last few months…the Jan Bradys, the Michelles from Destiny’s Child, the Jeb Bushes,  the ones I saw on my list and thought “the shit is that book about?” I’ve provided some music to guide us through this journey.

 

So I’m sorry The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. I’m sorry Carsick. I’m sorry Doomsday Book. I’m sorry A Thousand Acres (this book actually has a Pulitzer so I guess I’m just a dumdum). I’m sorry The Book of SpeculationThe Restraint of Beasts, Red Sorghum, The Eyre Affair (actually, this one might have been pretty okay, but I literally only remember Jane Eyre showing up to save the day. Spoilers), and The Museum of Extraordinary Things. And I’m sorry Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear. You were too good for this world. Stay gold, Ponyboy.

PHEW I feel better!! Now back to business.

 

The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman

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So I have a confession team. I’m seriously behind on my book reviews. Like ridiculously behind. Like my to-review pile has morphed from an achievable goal to a series of personal insults. Even the heading doesn’t respect me.

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Way harsh, Tai

All of this to say, when I realized my next book to review was this book I finished weeks ago, called The Teleportation Accident, I had one reaction.

wtf is that

A quick scramble to Wikipedia gave me this blurb.

 From the author of the acclaimed Boxer, Beetle comes a historical novel that doesn’t know what year it is; a noir novel that turns all the lights on; a romance novel that arrives drunk to dinner; a science fiction novel that can’t remember what ‘isotope’ means; a stunningly inventive, exceptionally funny, dangerously unsteady and (largely) coherent novel about sex, violence, space, time, and how the best way to deal with history is to ignore it.  LET’S HOPE THE PARTY WAS WORTH IT

And then I remembered: I did read this book and it was some hipster nonsense. And worst of all, it proved to be forgettable. Which seems like a difficult thing for a post-postmodern, noir-ish, science fiction comedy to be.

Egon Loeser is the unluckiest man in 1930s Berlin. Well…except for the Jews. And the gays. And the Romani. But he wants to have sex with this girl and she won’t let him! The set designer is too sex-starved, to hungover, and too self-pitying to notice the history unfolding around him. Right before he leaves Berlin to chase a girl named Adele Hitler (no relation) he sees a group of what he thinks are students holding a bonfire outside the library. Thinking it’s some performance art, he joins in burning the works of authors he envies. Loeser’s constant knack for missing the history unfolding in front of him is one of the novel’s bright spots.

In love with little lady Hitler, Loesser follows the woman (unbeknownst to her) to Paris and later Los Angeles. On his travels, he’s convinced to impersonate a “doctor” and pretends to stich monkey glands onto the necks of aging socialites.  He meets asexual avante-guard composers, paranoid scientists, and a tycoon-possibly in possession of a rare pornographic book- has a neurological disorder that renders him incapable of distinguishing things and pictures of things (As his butler calmly reminds him “That is not a pickle, sir, that is only a drawing of a pickle in black ink on a napkin.”).

I could tell that I was supposed to feel joyful abandon while reading The Teleportation Accident, that I was supposed to delight in the author’s clever writing, that I was supposed to embrace the intentional incoherence on the page. But instead I was exhausted. It felt like a poor imitation of Joseph Keller. A lot of people really liked this book, and I get why. But good for them, not for me. I wished I had let my conscience be my guide and bailed on this book early.