Fiction, What Shannon Read

Bad Marie

Bad MarieI finished Bad Marie by Marcy Dermansky over the weekend. It was delightful, I must say. I was engaged from the very start because the novel begins with the line, “Sometimes, Marie got a little drunk at work.”

I love an anti-hero who drinks. And Marie is one of those anti-heroes I can get behind in general.

Here’s the plot synopsis from Goodreads:

Bad Marie is the story of Marie, tall, voluptuous, beautiful, thirty years old, and fresh from six years in prison for being an accessory to murder and armed robbery. The only job Marie can get on the outside is as a nanny for her childhood friend Ellen Kendall, an upwardly mobile Manhattan executive whose mother employed Marie’s mother as a housekeeper. After Marie moves in with Ellen, Ellen’s angelic baby Caitlin, and Ellen’s husband, a very attractive French novelist named Benoit Doniel, things get complicated, and almost before she knows what she’s doing, Marie has absconded to Paris with both Caitlin and Benoit Doniel. On the run and out of her depth, Marie will travel to distant shores and experience the highs and lows of foreign culture, lawless living, and motherhood as she figures out how to be an adult; how deeply she can love; and what it truly means to be “bad.”

Oh, the irony

Image result for being bad memeI don’t know if, as a reader, I discovered what it truly means to be bad. There are more epic stories that explore that question much more thoroughly (ahem). But Marie is certainly not a great person as a whole. She’s selfish and self-absorbed and she views her interactions with other people always with an eye toward what they can do (or have done) for her. Or what they’ve done to her in the past, e.g., her mother promising to pick her up from jail and then not showing up.

There is great irony in her discovery that the object of her affection, Benoit Doniel, is kind of a clueless asshole. And that’s what makes the story for me. I liked watching Marie do bad things, like seduce her employer/friend’s husband, and then become indignant when said husband sleeps with another woman on her watch.

There’s a delicious moment when she realizes she has less respect for him, not only because he’s betrayed her, but because he slept with her in the first place:

Marie felt herself swell with love looking at him. Even after the French actress. She loved him. A little bit. Though she also understood that Benoît Doniel was rotten. And it was not just for sleeping with the French actress, but also because he had slept with her, Marie, the babysitter.

Parenthood isn’t for everyone

Image result for lord of the rings: the makingAnother instance of irony develops when Marie finds herself in charge of Caitlin, Ellen and Benoit Doniel’s little girl, with whom the runaway lovers absconded to Paris. As a baby-sitter, Marie always felt that Caitlin was in charge of her, reminding Marie when to feed her or put her down for a nap, telling Marie she needed a bath (baths are big in this book).

In Paris and Mexico, little Caitlin is no longer on home turf, unable to tell Marie how to take care of her. And eventually, Marie finds that aspects of real parenthood, like calming a toddler who’s having a tantrum and changing a blowout in a McDonald’s restroom, oppress her. She wants to be in for the penny, not for the pound, and is daunted by the full-time care of a small child.

How bad is bad?

Marie isn’t all bad, of course, and I think that’s Marcy Dermansky’s point (one of them, at least). Marie’s relationship with Caitlin is the thread that gives us a home base throughout the book. To remind us of that, they often have a sweet, touch base conversation that goes like this:

“Hi Caitlin,” Marie said.
“Hi Marie,” Caitlin said.
“Hi Kit Kat,” Marie said.
“Hi Marie,” Caitlin said.

Later, a famous actor they’ve hooked up with on a train to Nice tries to join in the conversation by saying hello:

“Hi,” the movie star said, amused, “hello,” but really he had nothing worth contributing to the conversation.

Lol.

I admire Marcy Dermansky’s ability to play out some major ironies in such a short novel and with somewhat plain prose. It makes me want to read her other books.

That said, the ending felt unresolved to me. It reached an emotional climax but I thought it lacked a final confrontation between Marie and Ellen. Ellen is an ever looming threat as Marie runs off with Benoit Doniel and Caitlin. In the end, I suppose we are to assume that Marie continues on her wayward path as long as she is able and eventually Ellen finds her in the end, and takes Caitlin home, and Marie goes back to jail.

But that is all left up to the reader’s imagination and I felt slightly cheated at the end.

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Fun Bookish Links

Fun Bookish Links 1/19/18

Heeyyy, it’s Friday!

And now on to the freakin’ weekend!

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That Reading Life

How do you organize your TBR?

I have several methods for organizing the To Be Read list/pile. The fact that I say “list/pile” should give you a hint about where I’m going with this.

My TBR Shelf

Shelfie photo

But first I’ll take a shelfie

My most basic method for keeping track of my TBR is this shelf. It’s in my bedroom. It contains a collection of books I’ve received as gifts or of which I have otherwise obtained physical copies. It looks very organized here, but that’s only because I gussied it up for this photo. It’s usually in some state of disarray as is the rest of my life.

The TBR Pile

Some of those books have migrated to the pile below. Some are in other piles. I am a fan of piles.

The Wish Lists

The Amazon Wish Lists are my life. That is where I keep track of every book I’ve heard of that I want to read. The wish lists are all private and are divided as follows:

Pile

What I’m going to read next? Maybe?

Shannon’s to-read list (fiction, memoir, children’s)
Nonfiction to read
YA to read
Series to try
Audiobooks
Nature/outdoors/animals
Poetry
Work-related

Clearly, I like keeping track of shit.

The Library List

If I see a book I must absolutely read no matter what, I add it to a google doc titled “Libes.” That means that I will either put those books on hold or pick them up next time I’m at the library.

I do buy books, but not with the fervor of Past Shannon. I have a stocked home library, plus the aforementioned shelves and piles, so I am not necessarily in the business of amassing books at the moment. (Trust me, it won’t last long.)

Plus, I’m a diehard library patron. DID YOU KNOW THEY HAVE FREE BOOKS?

In Conclusion…

Essentially, I like to be surrounded by books at all times and my hobbies include, but are not limited to: talking about books, reading about new books, making lists of books, sorting books into piles, openly admiring a library shelf for the many varied volumes it contains, and, you know, actually reading books. Luckily, I’ve found other people on the internet who have the same issues hobbies, so I don’t feel like a kook.

So, how do you keep track of the books you want to read? Or do you rely entirely on serendipity?*

*I’ve found some of my favorite books by browsing the library shelves with no agenda.

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Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

My guilty pleasure reading: Cathy Glass

Where I recuperated with my faithful companion

When I wrote the recap of my 2017 reading, I failed to mention my guilty pleasure reading. In October, I had a hysterectomy. That required three weeks off of work and lots of reading and Netflix. Honestly, despite the pain and immobility, it was a glorious boost to my reading productivity.

Years ago, I became fascinated with the idea of fostering children and with how we, individually as parents and guardians and as a society, deal with neglected children or children with special needs.

I think it had something to do with being the mother of a young child and feeling like it was really, really hard. And wanting to know how in the hell people deal with kids who have serious problems when I felt, at times, so inept in parenting my own perfectly healthy and generally well-care-for kid.

Another Place at the TableI came across Another Place at the Table, Kathy Harrison’s memoir of fostering and the many kids who share her home. It’s an honest, sometimes wrenching book that talks frankly about these kids and how caring for them affected all involved: the foster kids, Cathy, and Cathy’s own biological children. In my opinion, it sets the bar for the genre (the fostering/working with “tough” kids memoir genre, if that can be considered a thing).

It’s a great read for anyone who appreciates a smart narrator and a strong voice, and who also shares my voyeuristic interest in tragic childhoods. I chalk that propensity up to a desire for an adult perspective on the abuse memoir.*

From Cathy Harrison, I went on to Torey Hayden, who wrote slightly more sensationalist, but no less smart, memoirs about being a special needs teacher who works with some very neglected children.

Ghost GirlAll that is to say that I have an interest in books like this, but it’s been a number of years since I’ve found a smart writer with a good body of work about fostering/teaching “tough” kids.

Enter my surgery and my library’s responsiveness to patron interest. It was there I stumbled upon Nobody’s Son by Cathy Glass. I read it in one day and quickly worked my way through nine more of Glass’ books.

Things I Liked

Everything happens from Cathy’s perspective. She’s articulate and clearly has a knack for parenting and for fostering. She also gives a bird’s eye view of each fostering experience, sometimes noting her own foibles, which I appreciate. It makes her seem like a reliable narrator.

Mummy Told Me Not to Tell

Jesus.

I always enjoy meeting the kids and learning their stories. These are always riddled with drug-addicted parents and the like, but that, of course, appeals to the SVU fan in me.

Also, if you read enough of these, you’ll learn that Cathy’s husband leaves her for another woman and she zings him in, like, every other book. It’s kind of great.

Things I Didn’t Like

Cathy has been fostering a long time and writing these memoirs for a long time. Her books are formulaic and the titles—talk about sensationalist. Here’s a taste: The Saddest Girl in the World; Daddy’s Little Princess (ewww); Damaged: The Heartbreaking True Story of a Forgotten Child. 

Oh lordy.

Why I’m Kind of Embarrassed

The Girl in the MirrorThis is total guilty pleasure reading. These books are not literature with a capital “L.” I read them for the same reason I imagine some people read romance novels or any other deep genre fiction.

Also, the subjects of the stories are real people (most of the children are grown up now) who’ve suffered real tragedies. I guess the reassuring thing is that, from Glass’ house each kid moves on to a better situation. Either they go home to rehabilitated parents or move on to be adopted or to a facility that provides the mental health care they need. Glass is a compassionate stepping stone on their way to better lives.

So, guilty pleasure? Absolutely. But there’s some meat in there too.

*Somewhat related to the “Pelzer” effect, based on books written by David Pelzer about his childhood with a terribly abusive mother. When I worked at a public library, patrons requested these all the time. And abuse memoirs are super popular. I even indulge myself sometimes.

 

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Fiction, What Shannon Read

My January reading project: The Lord of the Rings

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Re-reading LOTR and downing mugs of tea

I’ve spent the last two weeks with some old friends. Namely, Frodo, Sam, Aragorn, and the rest of the The Lord of the Rings characters.

It’s funny, I’d been thinking about re-reading this series, which I hadn’t read since college (when the movies came out). And I don’t think I even made it through Return of the King.

I remember that I had the flu and spent a couple of days in bed feeling crummy but comforted by the Fellowship as I worked my way through the first book, then went on to the second.

Weirdly enough, I had the flu the first week of January this year (we had to cancel our New Orleans-themed New Year’s Eve party because of it—boo) and, between coughing and moaning and downing Tylenol with Codiene* left over from my recent surgery, I felt absolutely compelled to re-read The Lord of the Rings.

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The only member of our household who didn’t get the flu

I downloaded the first book on my Kindle and, once again, it was a great source of comfort while I languished in crapulence. That probably says something meaningful about the power of stories or literature or something, but I can’t be bothered to figure out what.

I don’t have anything monumental to say about re-reading the series, I’m afraid. But I’ll share some random-thoughts-I-had-while-reading.

Also, *spoiler alert*: If you haven’t read the books or seen the movies, there’s a spoiler below.

The Fellowship of the Ring

The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings, #1)

Don’t hate on the movie covers – they sell books.

I had fun noting things that were different from the movie, though I felt the movie was pretty true to the book overall. (Here’s a breakdown if you want to geek out.) All the Peter Jackson movies are burned into my brain as I’ve seen them countless times. I’d estimate almost once a year since they came out.

I thought I’d most enjoy the journey from Rivendell with the entire Company. Turns out, I really liked the part where the hobbits leave the Shire and journey with Aragorn from Bree. Also, Aragorn smiles more in the book. I liked that.**

 

The Two Towers (The Lord of the Rings, #2)The Two Towers

Not much stood out to me in this re-read. I didn’t recall that Elves had super powers of sight and Legolas uses that a lot. The time spent with the hobbits is super depressing, though Gollum livens things up a bit with his kooky-ness.

 

 

The Return of the King (The Lord of the Rings, #3)The Return of the King

I definitely hadn’t read this one before. I realized that as I got deeper into the war and then the denouement when I had no memory of any of it.

Éowyn: What a badass. Here she is giving sass to Aragorn:

‘All your words are but to say: you are a woman, and your part is in the house. But when the men have died in battle and honour, you have leave to be burned in the house, for the men will need it no more. But I am of the House of Eorl and not a serving-woman. I can ride and wield blade, and I do not fear either pain or death.’

‘What do you fear, lady?’ he asked.

‘A cage,’ she said. ‘To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.’

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This didn’t happen in the book, but whatevs.

Bad. Ass.

Aragorn: I loved seeing Aragorn come into his own. I know it’s called Return of the King, but I honestly forgot how much he has to step up and take charge. He’s all the time declaring himself and taking things into his own hands and I’m all, you GO girl.

Théoden: I can’t remember the last time a book made me cry. And I read some tough stuff. But yeah, I cried when Théoden died. HE’S SO BRAVE.

Bill: He got back to Bree safely. I COULDN’T BE HAPPIER.

Saruman: Gandalf throwing shade so hard.

‘Well Saruman!’ said Gandalf. ‘Where are you going?’

‘What is that to you?’ he answered. ‘Will you still order my goings, and are you not content with my ruin?’

‘You know the answers,’ said Gandalf: ‘no and no.

Lol.

Also, orc-dragging is a verb now.

‘Well, I like that!’ said Pippin. ‘Thief indeed! What of our claim for waylaying, wounding, and orc-dragging us through Rohan?’

 

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When do we move in?

The Shire: Re-taking the Shire was completely missing from the movie, which I kind of knew, but I didn’t realize what a big part of the end of the book it was. I remember when the movie came out and one of my college professors said, “That movie should have ended four times!” Well, even that extended denouement was leaving out big parts of the book.

 

Also, Sharkey turned out to be Saruman (and Wormtongue)? That seemed silly. I understand that Saruman is bitter and wants to ruin everything, but it’s so petty to go around slapping hobbits when you used to be one of the most powerful wizards in all Middle-earth. I guess that’s just what he was reduced too. Still, it seemed incongruent with his character somehow.

And those are my landmark thoughts. Have you read the series recently? If so, what stuck out to you?

I’m ready to watch the movies.

*Yep, my muscle ache was that bad. The flu is ass.
**As I said, these thoughts are far from groundbreaking, sorry.

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Fiction, What Ben Read

All I Did Was Shoot My Man

Today’s post by Ben: Some thoughts on reading All I Did Was Shoot My Man by Walter Mosley. 

Book cover: All I Did Was Shoot My ManOne of my favorite things about the noir genre is the savagely understated humor from the narrators. Hammett was good at it. Raymond Chandler was a master. Walter Mosley is right in there with them. One of my favorite passages of the book comes early on, when a woman addresses protagonist/narrator Leonid McGill as a “n***** in a cheap suit.”

“I resented her calling my suit cheap. It was sturdy, well crafted, a suit that had three identical blue brothers between my office and bedroom closet. It’s true that it cost less than two hundred dollars, but it was sewn by a professional tailor in Chinatown. The price tag doesn’t necessarily speak to quality — not always.

As far as the other things she said I made allowances for her being from rural Georgia and having just gotten out of prison after eight years. Socially and politically, American prisons are broken down according to race: black, white, Hispanic, and the subdivisions therein — Each one demanding complete identification with one group attended by antipathy toward all others.”

I  had to laugh. First because I saw that I’d been baited. I read straight into Mosley’s hands, expecting the narrator’s reaction to mirror mine. He shocks you with the slur, but then tickles you with the misdirection.

And the other half of the laugh was at the absurdity. Leonid McGill is a man who has seen just about everything, and has done many a dirty deed himself. He’s cynical and tired. He has learned some patience, he has gained some empathy, but he can still be riled. And what’s getting him hot under the collar? Not the brutal epithet, but the disrespect to his eminently practical suit.

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Fun Bookish Links

Fun Bookish Links 1/12/18

Happy Friday! We’ve made it through another week. I have a goal of finishing my re-read of The Two Towers this weekend and that’s about it. I love having no plans. Happy Weekend, everyone!

And now for the bookish links…

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