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2020 Classics Challenge: The House of Mirth

I didn’t realize when I read it what an outlier Ethan Frome is compared to the rest of Wharton’s work.

Well, I haven’t read all her work, so maybe that statement is uneducated and overblown, but imagine reading that bleak depiction of a hard-scrabble rural life and then popping over to The House of Mirth, where we follow New York City socialite Lily Bart about the drawing rooms, ballrooms, and restaurants of upper-class New York during the Gilded Age.

It’s a real jump.

Here’s the Goodreads synopsis of The House of Mirth, which will give you the gist if you haven’t read it:

First published in 1905, The House of Mirth shocked the New York society it so deftly chronicles, portraying the moral, social and economic restraints on a woman who dared to claim the privileges of marriage without assuming the responsibilities.

Lily Bart, beautiful, witty and sophisticated, is accepted by ‘old money’ and courted by the growing tribe of nouveaux riches. But as she nears thirty, her foothold becomes precarious; a poor girl with expensive tastes, she needs a husband to preserve her social standing, and to maintain her in the luxury she has come to expect. Whilst many have sought her, something – fastidiousness or integrity- prevents her from making a ‘suitable’ match.

I found Lily Bart to be as compelling a character as she is infuriating. Her decisions, based wholly on making herself into the woman her social set expects her to be, are maddening at times.

Her problem is one we can understand from a contemporary perspective. Lily is beautiful but she is getting older. She has refused a number of potential rich husbands having no real desire to be married to them.

As a contemporary woman, I get that. But I also have better choices than Lily had in her time. Even women of poorer classes during that time needed to marry well to cement or improve their social standing–or at least an acceptable standard of living.

But Lily’s story shows us what happens when a woman is raised to believe that her beauty is her chief social currency, and maintaining it her chief purpose, and that no other striving is necessary to land her the life she has been promised. As a woman in the 21st century, I have no problem relating to the themes within this struggle.

Lily doesn’t seem to want to marry any of the men who seek her out. Instead, she relies on an aging aunt to fund her increasingly expensive lifestyle.

But, Lily’s obsession with keeping up appearances and her set’s penchant for gambling lead her into some “dirty” business with Gus Trenor, husband of her friend Judy.

Gus, a known flirt/philanderer, wants too much in return for the favor he does for Lily and, in an unfortunate turns of events, the deal between them is revealed and Lily is cast out from her former friends’ circle.

From the outside, we see her lose more and more dignity as she seeks to preserve her social standing armed with only her beauty and wit.

And then we see the choices she is left with when they fail her.

She does have one true friend in Lawrence Seldon, who tends to see her for who she really is outside of her social machinations. Their interactions allow for points of hope throughout the novel in a sort of will-they-won’t-they dance that carries through to the end.

I won’t give away the ending. It is apt and terribly sad.

I also have failed to capture all the wonderful themes in this novel. It is a beast in that regard, so many threads to pull out and examine. I have no doubt I’ll reread it before long.

Do read it if you have any inclination.


This is my selection for category 3. Classic by a Woman Author for the 2020 Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Karen of Books and Chocolate.

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2020 Classics Challenge, Fiction, What Shannon Read

2020 Classics Challenge: The Spring and Summer of Edith Wharton

What happens when a girl is raised to be nothing more in life than ornamental? When the outer and inner life of a woman must center on a man? When the substance of a human being is trained toward one goal and one goal only: to marry well and serve her husband and children until death?

These, to me, seem the essential questions asked by Edith Wharton throughout her entire extensive body of work.

And you can bet they are answered in the most disatrous of ways.

This spring and summer I have so far read:

Ethan Frome (read in January, actually)

The House of Mirth

The Age of Innocence

The Custom of the Country

The Buccaneers

The Reef

…and there’s nary a happy ending among them.

Because what happens when a woman is raised to believe her existence is purely ornamental–that is, the point of her being alive is to appear prettily on the arm of a man–is that she becomes a wholly social creature, existing only for others with a vacuousness of heart and mind in place of an actual personality, her needs and desires replaced (or suppressed) by her own constant social striving.

And that’s when she survives at all.

As you may know, Wharton famously writes of New York City socialites during the Gilded Age. She and her family were players in this scene and she writes from an insider perspective, even including characters which may remind you of real life socialites you’ve heard of: Nan St. George, protagonist in The Buccaneers, was modeled on Consuelo Vanderbilt, who married the British Duke of Marlborough, representing a trend–rich American marries cash-poor English gentry–made familiar to contemporary audiences by by Downton Abbey.  

To me, Wharton’s genius is demonstrated in her depiction of social climbers.

In each of her major novels the world of upper-class New York is laid bare, its players representing each “type” in that world. For example, the Custom of the Country features the Spraggs, midwesterners who made it big in their hometown but struggle in New York–they represent the “new money” crowd.

I won’t go into detail on each book here because I’m separating them out so that Karen of Books and Chocolate, host of the classics challenge, has an easier time tallying my books.

But I wanted to write an overall sort of intro. first.

Spending so much time in Wharton’s New York (and Western Europe) has been so pleasurable and interesting. I see myself rereading these novels for the rest of my life, partly because the characters and writing are so engaging and partly because, well, I just love to see what rich people get up to.

p.s. Do you know of a good Edith Wharton biography? I hear the Hermione Lee bio is the place to start, but I’m open to suggestions.

p.p.s. Has anyone figured out how to insert special characters into their text? I’d really like to find the em dashes in this block editor! Clue me in if you know. 🙂

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Fiction, What Shannon Read

The Hearth and Eagle

I discovered Anya Seton last year via her novel The Winthrop Woman, which was displayed in the shop at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, and I am so glad I did.

Her historical novels were impeccably researched and she is an ace storyteller with a knack for writing female protagonists in historic settings.

Plus, Mariner Books has released them in recent years with these incredibly lovely patterned covers and I’m hoping to collect them all.

I chose The Hearth and Eagle as my next Seton novel because it centers on the very same colonial American town of Marblehead, Massachusetts, in which The Winthrop Woman is set.

Seton discovered the town when researching her own family history. Apparently she found an ancestor that had lived there and became captivated by the “sea-girdled town of rocks and winding lanes and clustered old houses.”

Sounds idyllic, no?

The protagonist of this story is Hesper Honeywell. She is the descendant of Phebe Honeywell who came over from England in 1630. After introducing a very young Hesper, the story flashes back to Phebe’s time, describing her arrival in the colonies and her early life there.

From the first, I found Phebe’s story much more interesting than Hesper’s. There was adventure from the beginning as Phebe struggles through a long ocean journey and then nearly starves to death in the New World. But, alas, we stayed just long enough with her to give a sense of place to Hesper, who lives in Civil War era Marblehead.

Not to worry. Hesper’s family life is rather interesting as Hesper lives with her mother, a tired and resentful woman who has spent her life running the inn, The Hearth and Eagle, with little help from Hesper’s father, an absent-minded professor type obsessed with researching his family’s history.

Hesper helps her mother run the inn but, of course, longs for something more. Love, fulfillment, adventure, something beyond Marblehead. And into her longings wanders artist and avowed Bohemian Evan Redlake.

Thus begins an arduous saga of love and loss and Hesper’s search for meaning in a society that gives women few choices in deciding their own fates.

I’ll leave you with that grand statement. I ended up loving the novel, as I’d hoped I would. And, if you enjoy well-written historical fiction, you will too.

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What We Read: Monthly Recap

What We Read: April/May 2020

Well, hi!

We’re still over here reading. It’s just been a helluva spring, as I know it has for everyone…everyone on the planet, really.

My work picks up the pace in the spring and this year our efforts were especially dependent on those assigned to digital projects. Who knew a writer could be so gainfully employed? 😉

So I had my hands and brain full. Too full for blogging.

I found relief in the yard, planning my garden, starting a gardening log…

…and sourcing plants and rocks for a rockery, which I’m determined to have, but to create at no cost.

Rockery area “before”:

And during:

It took around 2 hours to get this far, hacking away at the tree roots and fighting the 90-degree heat before it claimed me.

Much progress was made in other areas.

Bed on south side of house “before,” clogged with myrtle (bah!), hostas past their prime, and baby maple trees (no bueno):

The same areas after…

Hydrangeas and baby pink muhly grass presided over by Ernesto the Gnome:

I feel like that side of the house can breathe again.

In my other life as a collagist, I am once again part of #the100dayproject, completing collages and sharing them on Instagram.

These creative endeavors have contributed much sanity as the world has erupted around us with disease (bad) and protests (much needed). We have been quarantined and working from home like the rest of the world. And, like others who understand the evils of the legacy of slavery, we have gone out to support the Black Lives Matter movement in our community.

A protest and march that met up at our courthouse:

In the meantime, and this is what you came for, Ben and I are reading.

On to the books!

Past Recaps Here:
January
February
March

What Shannon read in April/May:

Shannon’s Notes:

I haven’t reviewed a single one of these, but I intend to review some in individual posts.

Notably:

  • It was the spring of Edith Wharton and looks like it will be the summer of Edith Wharton as well.
  • I re-read The Secret Garden as I am wont to do in spring.
  • I continue listening to audiobook thrillers as a means of escape…blessed escape…

What Ben read in April/May:

Ben’s Notes:

Wrath of Empire by Brian McClellan

After the first book (Sins of Empire) I was interested in the series but not 100% sure if I was going to commit to it. But Wrath of Empire won me over, leaving all the preliminaries behind and cranking up the pace of action and intrigue from “brisk” to “rocket.” Six hundred and thirty nine pages with hardly a dull moment. I’m excited for book three.

The Man in the High Castle by Phillip K. Dick

Slow at first compared to the show, but picked up a bit as it went along. Ending is a bit enigmatic, calling the nature of reality into question. There are many references to the I Ching, and if I were more familiar with it I bet there would be some additional insights to be gleaned.

Side Glances Volume 1 by Peter Egan

Nostalgic look back at one of the great automotive monthly columns. Starts before I started reading it, and runs up a few years past when I first began.

Side Glances Volume 3 by Peter Egan

What happened to Volume 2? I’ll have to ask Chase (who lent them) next time I talk to him. This volume picks up toward the end of my tenure as a Road and Track subscriber, though I continued reading his column (courtesy of free Tire Rack promotional copies of R&T) until he stopped writing it in 2013. Egan remains an occasional contributor as an “editor at large” and is generally considered to be one of America’s all-time great automotive journalists.

Magic Kingdom for Sale by Terry Brooks

A throwback reread of a fun, fairly light fantasy novel from one of the big names in the genre. I was amused to note that I happened to pick it back up at the same age as the protagonist, 39. It was fun to revisit, I may re-read the rest of the series if the spirit moves me.

Trouble is What I Do by Walter Mosely

This one was a little short but packed a punch. Mosley seldom disappoints. And in the middle of a fairly self-contained story he dropped a major twist into the life of Leonid McGill, the main character in his 21st century noir series.


If you’ve read this far, thank you! And thanks for stopping by. I aim to be a more regular blogger (famous last words) and if we’ve connected in the past, please comment or like and let me know you’re here–I’d love to reconnect. If you’re new to this blog, welcome!

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What We Read: Monthly Recap

What We Read: March 2020

This month has pretty much been about escape for me. Anyone else?

I am in high anxiety mode about COVID and my job, which means I need lots of breaks from both.

That’s where thrillers come in. I find that I crave them lately. Escape escape escape.

Also time outside and good sleep.

Ben and I went for a hike over the weekend and came across this stream. The sound was so soothing with the gentle rain that I stopped to record it.

 

Anyway, on to our March reads!

Past recaps if you’re interested: 

January
February

What Shannon read in March:

Shannon’s notes:

Even split between audiobooks and hard copy this month.

Really enjoyed Mama’s Last Hug and An Unconventional Family, so those reviews are coming soon.

What Ben read in March:

Burn the Ice: The American Culinary Revolution and Its End by Kevin Alexander

Despite some complaints about the style and organization, it was a fun read. Tied together some of my other reading about American culinary trends and the recent cocktail renaissance. And it showcased both the brutal grind of the restaurant industry and how rewarding it can be.

Guitar Zero: The Science of Becoming Musical at Any Age by Gary F. Marcus

Since guitar practice was soaking up some of my potential reading time, I figured I should look for possible synergy and read some guitar books. This one was very relevant, based on the author’s experience as a non-musical person (by his report even worse than me) trying to become a competent guitarist in his late 30s. As an educational psychologist by trade, he took a particular interest in questions of how people learn music and what factors are important in this pursuit.

A few of the notable takeaways:

Music is not inherent or hard-wired, but some elements of musicality are instinctive.

The popular “10,000 hours to mastery” trope is misleading. Quality of practice is just as important as quantity, and natural talent is not to be discounted. Jimi Hendrix was a better guitarist after 2,000 hours of practice than you will be after 20,000 hours.

But there is hope for everyone. With practice, even a person with zero natural talent can become a competent musician.

The Unholy Consult: The Aspect-Emperor: Book Four by R. Scott Bakker

This one was daunting to pick up, but I’ve come a long way with this saga and was determined to see the end. Unfortunately, it’s not really the end. It looks like we’re going to see yet another series before the story of the Second Apocalypse is complete.

I have a 75% love 25% hate relationship with this series. It’s original, imaginative, majestic, intense, exciting, unpredictable, philosophical, and truly an impressive feat of world-building. On the other hand it often puts stylistic pretensions ahead of clearly conveyed descriptions, it’s ponderous, abhorrently disgusting in parts, and populated with a cast of generally unsympathetic characters.

But the good outweighs the bad. I will read every single book that he writes until the Second Apocalypse reaches whatever resolution is in store. And when Bakker is on top of his game he comes up with some really epic quotes.

“Fool! You appeal to reason where there is none! You would put my hatred upon balance with my desire–show me the mad wages of my design! But my hatred is my desire. My ribs are teeth, my heart a gut without bottom. I am fury incarnate, outrage become stalking sinew and flesh! My shadow cracks the earth, falls upon hell itself!”

And damn if that ain’t the truth sometimes… 😉

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick

The book that inspired Blade Runner. It was interesting to compare the two. The movie kept a lot of the same elements, but there are definitely some major differences. The book kind of builds up some sympathy for the androids, and then reveals them to be cold and lacking in empathy. The movie kinda goes the other way and gives the replicants (as they’re called in the movie) more empathetic treatment at the end.

Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby

A portrait of sports fanaticism, coming of age story, and self-deprecatingly humorous memoir, it was a fun read. While the review blurb on the back called it “tears running down your face funny, read bits out loud to complete strangers funny” I found it more, “snort quietly to yourself funny, read bits out loud to your wife funny.” But yeah, certainly funny. Read more like a bunch of sequential anecdotes than a continuous narrative, though there certainly was continuity of themes and characters.


Have you read any of these? Would love to hear your thoughts!

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Fiction, What Shannon Read

The Bookshop

319388I saw the movie adaptation of Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop before I read the book.

I found them to be equally lovely, but one, to me, was more depressing than the other.

Here’s the Goodreads blurb:

“In 1959 Florence Green, a kindhearted widow with a small inheritance, risks everything to open a bookshop – the only bookshop – in the seaside town of Hardborough. By making a success of a business so impractical, she invites the hostility of the town’s less prosperous shopkeepers. By daring to enlarge her neighbors’ lives, she crosses Mrs. Gamart, the local arts doyenne. Florence’s warehouse leaks, her cellar seeps, and the shop is apparently haunted. Only too late does she begin to suspect the truth: a town that lacks a bookshop isn’t always a town that wants one.”

The post-war English seaside is the setting for this short, tightly-focused novel. Even though it’s 1959, references to WWII are made throughout and you get the sense that Hardborough hasn’t really recovered from the war.

The book has many of the quirks often found in stories set in insular British communities—like children (scouts of some sort) turning up to do Florence’s handyman work; a domineering and well-connected older lady menacing the townspeople in order to assert her importance; old, damp buildings prized for their history but lacking in function; a wealthy recluse who abhors village politics; and a shop assistant, Christine, who is12 years old and, quite acerbic and, of course, wise for her years.

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Florence, played by Emily Mortimer, reading at the seaside in The Bookshop (2017)

Sadly, Florence’s dream of running a bookshop is supported only by a few and the end of the story has her beset by financial troubles thanks to the subterfuge of Mrs. Gamart.

It is a very depressing ending. If you’ve seen the movie, you know that at least in that there is a small, dramatic triumph at the end. But that must’ve been the screenwriter’s urge to leave the audience with some hope. I’m afraid the book leaves you without it.

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Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over

37774050Really mixed reviews on Goodreads for Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over by Nell Irvin Painter

But I quite enjoyed it.

This is Painter’s memoir of going to art school to get a BA and then a BFA after a long and successful career as a historian and academic. Seriously, she has honorary doctorates from Yale and company.

I can’t imagine how humbling it must’ve been to start over at the bachelor level.

And her age—she’s in her 60s—is a main theme in the book, as you might expect.

Things I loved:

  • Her quirky style. She refers to professors as Teacher, like, “Teacher Irma told me…” I found it weird at first, but honestly, it’s handy.
  • Her explorations of what, exactly, is considered art. And the economic machinations that determine which artists get shown in galleries and, therefore, museums. Fascinating insight into a world I know nothing about.
  • Her explorations of race in the art world. These are plentiful. Highly recommend you read this if that topic interests you.
  • Painter is also a seasoned writer and it shows. Her knack for setting a scene is delightful throughout. Newark, where Painter is from, plays a big role and she really gives you a sense of what the city is like.

I was going to do a Things I Didn’t Love section, but really, there aren’t any. So, I leave you with an example of my last point from the book:

“Sitting in front of me on Newark light rail one afternoon were a couple of kids—early twenties or so—listening to music, bumping around in their seats, and talking loud, just exuberant. She was beautiful and spirited, he kind of ordinary to look at. He had the music, but he shared an earbud with her, two heads on one iPod. As she danced in her seat, he did something amazing. He played the subway car partition like a conga drum:

DeepDEEP slap stop DeepDEEP slap stop DeepDEEP slap Deep DEEP slap stop DeepDEEP slap stop DeepDEEP slap stop DeepDEEP slap stop DeepDEEP slap stop
DeepDEEP slap stop DeepDEEP slap stop DeepDEEP slap stop
DeepDEEP slap stop DeepDEEP slap stop DeepDEEP slap stop
DeepDEEP slap stop DeepDEEP slap stop DeepDEEP slap stop
DeepDEEP slap stop

He pulsated a salsa rhythm on a vertical plastic divider. Totally awesome! I was ready for all of us passengers to jump up and boogie down the aisle. I wouldn’t have led off dancing, but I definitely would have joined in. What joy in our white and black metal tube of light rail beside Branch Brook Park, a carnival parade on a workday, an outbreak of brotherly love to a salsa beat. Strangers waving their arms and shaking their booties to the music, grinning and singing and looking straight in the eyes of their comrades in commute. But when the pretty girl started clapping her hands to the music, he of the beat shushed her. No dancing in the Newark light rail that afternoon.”

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That Reading Life

Escape is important right now

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Greetings from quarantine!

How is everyone doing? Hanging in there?

It’s a wild fucking time to be alive.

Ben and I were talking the other day about panic buying and whether that had been a phenomenon at any other time in our lives. We thought about Y2K, but we were so young then that we didn’t do our families’ shopping. And we weren’t particularly worried because one, we were young and young people don’t worry as much about stuff like that, and two, we grew up with computers and were pretty sure the world wouldn’t end because of them at that point.

Ben mentioned last year’s snow-pocalypse and we definitely caught wind of panic about that, but our stores weren’t running out of TP.

Snowpocalypse

Me (left) and friend Karen during Snow-pocalypse 2018 – The students built the snowman. We just took pictures with it.

All that is to say, here we are living through a pandemic and it’s unnerving for absolutely everyone. It’s new. It’s scary.

It’s more unnerving for those whose wallets will suffer, which is a nice euphemism for desperation.

Ben and I are working from home and getting paid. Jacob is not working from home, but the library is still paying him, which is awesome and the right thing to do.

And I worry about the workers who aren’t getting paid and can’t afford to lose a paycheck. That’s who’s really suffering, the folks who can least afford to. The people with the shittiest health coverage and the smallest paychecks.

I have no idea what to do about that. I’d pray, but I don’t believe in god anymore. So, I’ll try to help where I can. Try to patronize local businesses as best I can and tip extra hard when I can. Maybe we’ll all get Trump Bucks, but that’s a stopgap measure for people who can’t afford to eat.

Meanwhile, I can’t read.

37774050The slump I knew would come is here. I’m absolutely waddling through Old in Art School and I can’t find another audiobook thriller to listen to and my brain is just so full of work to-dos (which have ramped up) and anxiety.

But I know that my brain really really really needs a break. I can’t go on like this, with only to-dos in front of me.

I happened upon this article: “Why ‘getting lost in a book’ is so good for you, according to science” and I know from experience that it’s points are all true.

We can’t always be “on.” That’s why overwhelmed healthcare workers (and supermarket staff and bus drivers and Amazon Prime delivery people) are struggling right now. Our brains and bodies are truly not capable of constant, high-level performance. Anyone who’s worked long hours knows that. Important things, inevitably slip through the cracks.

So, I’m going to keep trying, in my off hours, to give my brain the rest it is craving.

Some things that have helped:

  • Baths—I make a point of taking a bath every night. I know it’s an overused recommendation, but I’ve only just come to love baths, so I’m recommending them. but if you’re sick of hearing that, I get it, and here’s a good post for you.

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    Bath, candles, Captain Morgan – a winning combo

  • Journal—You don’t have to write if you hate writing. You can record yourself talking to your phone, then delete it if you want to. Figure out a way to get your feelings “physically” out of your mind. At the very least, this will at least help you acknowledge them. And sometimes that’s all it takes to feel better. At the most, you may discover you were feeling something you didn’t know about and may be able to sort that out…which will make you feel better.
  • Set boundaries—Little known self-care practice that introverts have been performing for years. Because we need time away from other people to feel like ourselves, setting boundaries may come more naturally to us.

    But even extroverts who are dying for human contact right now can set boundaries with people who are a drain on their psyche. YOU DON’T OWE ANYONE YOUR SANITY. And if you set a boundary with someone and they have feelings about that, that is none of your business. Their feelings are their responsibility. Just like taking care of yourself is yours.

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    This is not about being unkind. It is about being honest with yourself about your needs and limitations, then being responsible enough to meet your own needs. (If you struggle with this like I usually do, Boundaries by Anne Katherine is a great book to read.)

    p.s. This includes time away from your children. If they don’t need you watching them every moment, let them see you take time out for yourself. That will teach them that all people have needs, including them, and that it is necessary for grown-ups to be responsible for meeting their own needs. And you want them to grow up capable of meeting their own needs, right?
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  • Stop news-hounding—Stop it. Time away from your phone or Facebook or TV or whatever is brining word of the current crisis into your life will not kill you. In fact, society will go on being terrible and wonderful and you knowing about every development immediately as it happens is not going to change that.
    n
    You can create peace for yourself in this moment by removing yourself from the fray. You can come back to it any time and it will still be there. But mind and body are physically deteriorated by stress. So, you choose: news as it happens or your actual health.
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  • Music—Listen to whatever you’re into right now and watch your mood change. Bonus if you share via message with friends.
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  • Memes—The meme generation is hard at work making us laugh right now. Find some funny memes and enjoy! (Good ones about working from home with your spouse.)
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  • Take advantage of online everything—My Facebook feed is filled with resources from museums and libraries. Catch up on your favorite blog even—just make sure their latest posts have nothing to do with the pandemic. I love Frock Flicks and Man Repeller.
    FrockFlicksn
  • Board games/puzzles/video games—The tried and true are tried and true for a reason.
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  • Binge-watching—Do it for your health.
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  • Arts/crafts—Take a break from the virtual in favor of the tactile. Art therapy and occupational therapy are entire fields that prove the importance of making.

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Ok, that was a lot and I got real preachy, sorry.

Really, this is a list for me. I just have a lot of things running through my brain right now, as does everyone, so I wanted to get them out of my head and maybe even help other people.

If this helps you too, I’m so happy.

Whatever you do, just remember that escape is not frivolous. It’s a matter of survival. Especially during the tough times.

Finally, comment or send me your thriller recommendations, please! I’m desperate!

Specifically, I love well-written domestic thrillers with women protagonists à la Natalie Barelli and Greer Hendricks. I can’t get into Sophie Hannah, Tana French, Gillian Flynn, Paula Hawkins, or Ruth Ware—so you see why I’m struggling…

One last meme for the road.

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2020 When Are You Reading? Challenge, Fiction, What Shannon Read

When Are You Reading Challenge? Convenience Store Woman

This year, I’m participating in the When Are You Reading? Challenge hosted by Sam of Taking on a World of Words.

This book is my selection for the years 2000-Present.


36739755._SX318_I sped through Convenience Store Woman by  Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori.

It’s a quick read at 163 pages and has a nice, tight focus on a loveable and quirky character, Keiko Furukura.

Thanks to constant anxiety overload due to coronavirus frenzy at work (and, let’s face, on social media, which I’ve been hounding :/ ), my brain is not focused enough to provide my own blurb for you today.

So here’s part of the Goodreads summary:

“Keiko Furukura had always been considered a strange child, and her parents always worried how she would get on in the real world, so when she takes on a job in a convenience store while at university, they are delighted for her. For her part, in the convenience store she finds a predictable world mandated by the store manual, which dictates how the workers should act and what they should say, and she copies her coworkers’ style of dress and speech patterns so she can play the part of a normal person. However, eighteen years later, at age 36, she is still in the same job, has never had a boyfriend, and has only few friends. She feels comfortable in her life but is aware that she is not living up to society’s expectations and causing her family to worry about her. When a similarly alienated but cynical and bitter young man comes to work in the store, he will upset Keiko’s contented stasis—but will it be for the better?”

Weirdly, that bitter young man moves in with Keiko and kind of gets her family off her back because they think, “Oh, Keiko has a boyfriend; maybe she’s finally going to be normal now.” (Not a quote from the book, just ad-libbing). But he’s clearly taking advantage of her.

The saddest part of this book, to me, is that Keiko’s family want her to be “cured.” They see her as having something wrong with her that needs to be fixed. And because she’s unable to judge their treatment of her, she just believes them. It’s likely that Keiko has some form of autism and just hasn’t been diagnosed. And she certainly has not been treated or given any kind of care relevant to her condition. This is never resolved in the story.

When her boyfriend convinces her to quit her job at the convenience store, Keiko stops taking care of herself. She loses the thing that gives her life structure and her sense of purpose.

Keiko reclaims that sense of purpose when she finally realizes she needs to be a convenience store worker despite what others’ think of her. She sees this position as something she was made to do. So she shrugs off the faux boyfriend, goes back to working in a convenience store and, we are to assume, lives contentedly to the end of her days.

The ending is weird to me. If there were a moral of this story, it would be something like, “do what makes you feel most like yourself.” For Keiko, there is an intrinsic and indisputable identity to which one must conform in order to be happy with one’s life.

But, for me, that didn’t actually resolve all the issues in the book. What about Keiko’s family’s expectations? What about the fact that she can’t seem to function without the convenience store? What about the fact that she’s vulnerable to predators like the faux boyfriend and rather than seeing that she needed help to get out from under him, people were excited that she actually had a boyfriend?

I need answers, people.

Instead, the ending seemed to say, well, this particular woman is probably going to be OK, and you’ll have to be satisfied with that. I wasn’t really. But I’m not sad I read it either.

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Friday Fives

Friday Fives: March 13, 2020

Aaannnnnd I’m exhausted.

This work week has felt so long, despite my only having been at work for three days. My brother and his lovely fiance got married last weekend in Orlando and it was a wonderful celebration, as well as a break from the cold. Hard to come back for sure.

Plus, I’ve been a bit out of sorts as work is now largely focused on dealing with coronavirus-related issues, but lo there, a weekend appears on the horizon, and I am looking forward to reading and going for walks and working on the bathroom.

That was a run-on sentence. I am an ace writer today. How are you doing?

Friday Fives

MV5BZDc0MDE3NWEtYWM1Mi00ZDVjLTk5YzUtNWQzNmNiOTA5NTlmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDg4NjY5OTQ@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,888_AL_Watching:
Last weekend, my family stayed in an Airbnb together (it was WILD—there were a horse and a wolf-like dog wandering the property and we had a blast).

Anyway, one night we watched Always Be My Maybe starring Ali Wong and Randall Park. It was the second time I’d seen it and I was reminded how delightful it is! Great characters, music, fashion, and funny to boot.

 

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Jacob feeding Hidalgo carrots at our Airbnb

 

BooksReading:
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over by Nell Irvin Painter

Both wonderful. Hoping to finish them this weekend.

34189556Listening to:
The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks, narrated by Julia Whelan

Still on my thrillers kick.

 

 

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Making:
Still working on the bathroom. Added this Sea Monster Shower Curtain by Calamityware and it looks amazing.

 

Loving:
Just the luxurious amount of time I got to spend over the weekend with some of the people I love most in the world.

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Wedding

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At Cocoa Beach, FL

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