Books Are Pretty

Friday, March 31, 2006

Manstealing for Fat Girls.

Let's talk, at long last, about rainbow parties.

In 2004, while giving a presentation at a sex toy party for a women's group in a tony northern suburb, the attendees grilled me pretty hard on what the young ladies are doing these days. Are they, like Oprah says, tossing salads in study hall and running cherry red lipstick over their puckers before lining up to give blowjobs in the bathroom?

My answer then, as now, is no. In contrast to the media presentation of teen girls turning tricks for spending money or servicing the football team as an eager doormat, the reality is that most teenage girls are busily balancing their self-respect with self-exploration, just like they've always been doing. Teenage girls are just as likely to recieve oral sex as to give it, and the majority of teens are delaying vaginal intercourse, citing fears of pregnancy and STDs. Of course, every high school in the nation nowadays has students that threw a rainbow party, just like every high school in past generations had a female student that had to be "rushed to the hospital" with a broken-off hot dog that got stuck in her vagina.

What's different about kids today is they live in a world with high speed internet access and 24-hour cable news networks that hysterically grasp and claw for a story, any story, that they can spash across the television screen and rake in high ratings and higher advertising dollars by rumormongering and salacious slut-bashing with bits of gossip best left, like the hotdog girl, on the playground.

To be sure, there's considerably more pressure on teenage girls to behave a certain way - with the abstinence-only crowd on one side feeding them false information or no information about normal sexual development, STD prevention, and birth control options, and the internet on the other side, ready to show them the darkest, most miserable side of sexuality before they've have a chance to engage in more wholesome, egalitarian sexual pursuits.

Most teenagers are good kids, and unless a girl is raised with the expectation that she's to become a total whore, most girls have a pretty solid line they will refuse to cross. It's insulting to young women to suggest that they are so mindless they will, for popularity's sake, publicly fellate any boy who asks. However, the constant media attention given to rainbow parties and girls going wild can give the average teenager, who obviously are not comfortable talking about such explicit sexual practices with their parents, doubts about what's really going on and what's expected of them.

A teenage reviewer of the now-notorious Rainbow Party writes on Amazon:

No girl--not one that's out of her mind drunk(and NONE who are otherwise stoned) would "service" various guys to the extent that they'll leave bright rainbow rings around the base of...just NO. Stupid and demeaning and presents the libido of girls as whorish. Nice stuff for pre-teens, hmmm? No.

To this young reader I would strongly recommend picking up a copy of Michelle Embree's debut novel Manstealing for Fat Girls instead. With the notable exeption of racial issues, the dilemmas teenage girls face - sex, drugs, peer pressure, appearance, class issues, homophobia, bullying, and gender relations are all represented, but in a more realistic, less sensationalized manner, and with no cheap moralizing and overly-simplistic solutions.

Sixteen-year-old Angie, nicknamed "Lezzylard" by her abusive classmates, her best friend Shelby, who is the school's only out lesbian, and their friend Heather, whose right breast didn't develop properly, must navigate the cruelties of high school and the unpleasantness of their unsettled homelives in a blue collar suburb of St. Louis, Missouri. Angie spends the fall semester of her sophomore year having an epiphany of sorts - the kind that results when you get tired of being tired. Bullied and insulted in the school bathroom by popular girl Mindy Overton, Angie fights back, asking Mindy, "Why don't you just throw up your fucking breakfast and eat a bag of shit already?"

Now that the gauntlet has been thrown down, a war breaks out between the working class kids and the wealthy, popular kids, with enough characters floating back and forth between the two groups just enough to mix things up. Angie, with her worries about her mother's sub-standard boyfriend, her weight, her schoolwork, boys, and her friends jockying for priority in her mind, gives the reader the familiar feeling that she's lived Angie's life on at least some level.

Where Embree really shines, however, is with her depiction of Robyn, Shelby's violent and unstable older sister. Robyn, whose personality is akin to a live minefield, spends most of the novel terroring the younger kids. Then, without deviating an inch from her unpredictable rabid wombat persona, she shines so powerfully and brightly with such a dead-on portrayal of big sister heroism that she alone makes reading the book worthwhile.

While it is doubtful that Manstealing for Fat Girls is a book that mothers will buy for their daughters in the hopes of teaching them a valuable lesson, (the lessons of morality, sexual self esteem, and drug avoidance are there, but not broad or hamfisted enough to be an afterschool special) it is definitely a book that girls will find on their own and pass around in their circle of friends.

Manstealing for Fat Girls
by Michelle Embree
Soft Skull Press
published in 2005
Soft cover
256 pages

| StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

Public Service Announcements.

Ginger Mayerson, my editor at the Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society has worked her editorial magic on a book. And They Cook Too is a compilation of recipes from bloggers, who, it goes without saying, should not be argued with on the subject of food. The book is a fundraiser for Doctors Without Borders, an organization so noble and great I wish I'd been smart enough to go to medical school and work for them. Copies are $15 bucks, and you not only get dozens of tasty recipes, but the good feeling you get knowing your money isn't going into the pocket of Dick Cheney's well-tailored suit, but is instead providing much needed medical care to impoverished and desperate people the world over.

If you prefer doing something that assists the disadvantaged in Chicago (Books Are Pretty's HQ), commenter Julie Martin told me about her organization Bread for the Head, who provides new books to low-income children in Cook County. According to the web site, most of the children assisted through this program have never owned a new book.

| StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


Gaining the ability to immerse myself in Mircea Cărtărescu's densely poetic novel was almost identical to overcoming writer's block. I would stare at the pages like I sometimes do the computer screen, eyes jerking haphazardly downward until I reached the bottom, where I would realize as I was lifting them to begin the top of the second page that I had no retention of the first. After that, my optic nerves bounced weakly between the book and my brain, holding the jumble of words upside down and backwards, but not translating what they'd seen into anything meaningful. I knew the book wasn't terrible, like, say, Battlefield Earth, or impenetrably dense, like a contract law textbook. But I still struggled with it. Finally, what helped me with reading was what helped me with writing: I took a step back and asked myself what I wanted to get out of the experience. With writing, it helps sometimes if I decide what it is that I want to say, then say it as simply as I can, one word at a time, until they either begin to flow more rapidly or they don't and I take a longer break. With reading, I asked myself the same question: why am I reading this book? Is it for pleasure? If so, then why am I not enjoying it? If it isn't badly written, then why am I struggling? Finally, I realized that I was reading Nostalgia in the worst possible way. I was trying to rush through it like it was The Devil Wears Prada. Where Lauren Weisberger would describe a scene were she enters a parking garage by writing, "I pulled the car into the garage," Cărtărescu would spend two and a half pages describing the car, the parking garage, a sad-eyed peasant woman outside the garage eating a wormy apple, the worm, the worm's feelings on having its home ingested, the number of oil stains on the garage floor and their shapes, the weather, the weather forecast for the next five days, and so on.

My choice was either to read each page as if it were a complete story unto itself (what a sad story about a homeless worm! O, the plight of the invertebrate!) or I could give up. I made the same choice with David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, and it worked out extremely well. Once I quit dictating to the novel how I wanted to read it and let it decide how it wanted to be read, I was able to slip inside the dense, poetic prose and enjoy it.

Nostalgia is Cărtărescu's first novel translated into English. First published in 1989 in Romania, Nostalgia was one of the better books written during the post-modern underground movement in Bucharest that began at the end of the 70's. The movement's group of writers, known as the "Blue-Jeans Generation" due to the influence of western writers, were officially condemned by Romania's communist regime due to the independence of thought and expression from communist ideology.

Rather than giving a nod to the party line, Cărtărescu envelopes the streets of Bucharest in a Daliesque dream. Even though the book seems to be broken up into five unrelated short stories, Cărtărescu calls Nostalgia a novel, insisting that "it could be said that what we're dealing with here is a Book, in the old and precious sence of the word. The stories connect subterraneously, caught in the web of the same magical and symbolist thought, of the same stylistic calligraphy. This is a fractalic and holographic novel, in which each part reflects all the others."

The first and last stories, "The Roulette Player" and the "The Architect," are fairly straightforward, plot-driven slightly creepy narratives, similar to contemporary Western fiction. "The Roulette Player" tells the story of a man who defies all odds playing Russian Roulette, while the "The Architect" is a mild-mannered man who becomes utterly consumed with an obsession with sound, that has dramatic implications for the world at large.

The middle, longer pieces are where Cărtărescu, also Romania's premiere poet, really unleashes the full force of his descriptive, surrealistic writing. All three feature young children or adolescents as narrators. "Mentardy" is a short story about a wild gang of little boys in the slums, with a penchant for animal cruelty, who are momentarily tamed by a preternaturally possessed child with a hypnotic story telling ability. The second, "The Twins," is a Kafka-like novella about the entertwined lives of teenagers Andrei and Gina who switch bodies (Andrei + Gina = Androgyny. Julian Semilian, you clever translator, you!), and the last, "REM," my favorite, was about seven little girls and their quest to find the Creator, for good or ill.

Each of the stories is, as Cărtărescu said, loosely connected by a central theme of obsession; in particular, the artist being consumed by his/her own art.

When taken separately, line by line, word by word, Nostalgia is a series of fantastic images. When layered over, image on top of image like the clear plastic anatomy pictures in encyclopedias, a skeleton covered by muscles covered by blood vessels, when the last layer is added, a fully formed complex creation is at last in place.
by Mircea Cărtărescu
translated by Julian Semilian
New Directions Publishing
Soft Cover
316 pages
This edition published in November, 2005

This review originally appeared at TARGET="_blank">J LHLS.

| StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Innocents #1.

Innocents #1 is the third release from the Ignatz series, a small imprint featuring an international group of comic artists.
Edited and produced by cartoonist Igort, the collection seeks to bridge the gap between American style funnybooks and high brow European graphic novels. I am fully in favor of this, as I love the thick paper stock the series is printed on, love the two-toned color scheme, love the sexy book jackets. I even love the saddle stitching right down the center.

The Innocents was written and illustrated by Italian artist Gipi (born Gian Alfonso Pacinotti) an illustrator for the Italian paper La Repubblica. In my research about the author, I managed to find his blog. If you read Italian, you're in luck, and all his secrets are yours, to be quietly treasured with just Gipi, you, and the millions of other Italian-speaking people across the globe. However, if, like me, you don't, you'll just have to be content with this little self-portrait I found when I was visiting of the artist trapped in an airplane.

The airplane doodle is somewhat similiar to some of the illustrations in the book, actually. The story opens with two passengers in a car, brooming (the noise the car makes) down the road to an as yet unknown destination. Gil, the driver, is travelling with his young nephew Andrea. Although Gil, a reformed juvenile delinquent, had planned on taking the boy to "Funfair" that day, a phone call from one of his old gang abruptly waylays their plans, and their destination changes to an isolated beach to meet his old friend Valerio. To pass the time, Gil tells Andrea the story of his and Valerio's friendship, and how it was cruelly destroyed by two rogue police officers taking out their aggressions by abusing Gil's once-gentle friend. When the pair are finally reunited after a nearly two-decades-long separation, things suddenly begin to spiral dangerously out of Gil's control.

The present day scenes are drawn in a dreamy, pleasant, semi-realistic form, looking lush and rich even for the black and white ink. When Gil begins to tell the story of his youth, the illustrations begin to become crudely drawn, representing the fading, uncertain lines of memory.

The Innocents seems to be a fairly straightforward tale of love, friendship, and revenge, but is so far well-told and beautifully illustrated, with pointed attention paid to the relationships between the characters, accenting perfectly the points of affection and tension between the three.

If you're developing an interest in comic books and graphic novels, you can't ask for a better starting point than the books in the Ignatz series. The beautiful packaging and the highly talented writers and illustrators in the collective are perfect for comic book afficionados and newbies alike.
Cross-posted at The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society.
The Innocents #1
written and illustrated by Gipi
Fantagraphics Books
published in 2005

| StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Monster at the End of This Book.

Hello, everybodeee! Is there a U.S. citizen born after 1970 that hasn't at one point thought this book was the funniest thing ever written? Even Steve from Blue's Clues named this book (written by Grover himself, and I don't care what the book cover says) as his childhood favorite.

Our copy had been damaged, so Alex and I went to the bookstore to buy Christopher another copy. When I asked the clerk if they had any copies in stock, his eyes got very wide and a big smile stretched across his face.

"Oh! I loved that book when I was little! I was about four, and I made my mother read it over and over. I thought it was the funniest thing I'd ever heard!"

"Me, too!" I said, "and now my three year old loves it, too!"

And we both shared this warm, furry, blue-felt moment of happiness and comeraderie, all thanks to the spirit of the American Muppet.

Seriously, Jim Henson's muppets are as good as it gets for children's television, and as much as I generally hate book tie-ins to children's television shows, old school Sesame Street rocks in any medium. The Monster at the End of This Book should be handed out to new mothers in hospitals, along with those diaper coupons and the alcohol pads for the umbilical cord stump.

The plot, for those of you who, for whatever reason, have been deprived of this book in your childhoods, centers around Grover's fear that there is a monster at the end of the book, and everything will be all right as long as you do not turn the page. Which of course, you do, and Grover screams "Nooooooooo! I said noooooooooo! Do not turn the page!" And of course you turn another, and Grover tries everything he can think of to stop you from turning pages, from nailing the pages shut to bricking up the pages, but of course, his efforts are no match for your mighty toddler strength. As Grover becomes increasingly hysterical, the three-year-old you've got on your lap also becomes increasingly hysterical, until the last page is finally here, and ultimately the dramatic confrontation with whatever is at the end of the book.

This is not, by any means, a bedtime story, but it is, by any means, a book your children need in their library.

The Monster at the End of This Book
by Jon Stone Grover!
illustrated by Michael Smollin
Random House for Young Readers
Board Book
24 pages
Age Appropriate for 2-5 years.

| StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Grenuord #1

After reading Grenuord #1, the first comic in a series of six by Italian comic book goddess Francesca Ghermandi, I felt like I needed to tilt my head all the way over to one side and vigorously shake all the pent-up surrealism out, like a swimmer does who's trapped water in her ear. Film clips from Brazil, where Robert DeNiro shows up as a bizarrely menacing repairman, and The Wall where Pink cringes irritatingly around for an hour and a half, whining that all the women in his life are out to get him, a droopy black and white pencil illustrated leading man that looks like Munsch's The Scream, and the old standby of the futuristic world mired in fascism-lite and fealty to the Corporate Overlords - it was all there. The only thing missing were melting clocks, but again, this was only the first issue. We don't want to use it all up at once.

Francesca Ghermandi is quite the hot ticket in her native Italy. She made her debut in 1985, writing comic strips for The Reporter, and became known in the U.S. through her works published in American anthologies such as Zero Zero, one of the top comic book anthologies published in the late 90's. Known for her surreal city landscapes, Ghermandi went on to be published in newspapers across Europe, and published several serial books; Pop 666, Helter Skelter, Indiana Joe, and her most acclaimed comic, Pastil, the silent Alice-in-Wonderlandish girl with an aspirin for a head.

With Grenuord #1, Ghermandi has added a sort of hard-boiled layer over the top of the surrealism, spinning out the story of George Henderson, a down-on-his-luck factory worker/kept man who flees an abusive relationship and runs to Grenuord, a country who, due to terrorist attacks, has turned into a police state. Like institutionalized paranoiacs who don't fare well living in a place where they really are being monitored all the time, Henderson's own growing paranoia only deepens in a country where everyone seems to have a slightly menacing, unstated agenda. His downstairs neighbor, (from the illustrations, I can only conclude the part of the neighbor is being played by the Michelin Man - so nice to see him doing other work!) plucks, and makes off with, a toxic crumb from Henderson's basement, and a mysterious, hallucinatory young hitchhiker demands to be dropped off by the side of the road so she can float away into a cemetery.

If you are a surrealism superfan, you'll adore Grenuord #1. If you've never had much exposure to it, you might find there's a lot here to discover. If you're somewhere in between points A and B, you may find few surprises here.

Cross-posted at the Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society.

Grenuord #1
by Francesca Ghermandi
published by Fantagraphics Books
May 2005
32 pp

| StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Insomnia #1.

My husband often accuses me of being a sucker for marketing, and I have reluctantly come to believe this is true. Nothing else explains my secret desire - revealed on this web site for the very first time! - for a Hello, Kitty! toaster. So cute! So pink! Toast with little cat faces on them! Squeal!


Hey, you know what? Forget I said that.

Let me just say, for whatever reason, I find it delightful when something is as lovely on the inside as it is on the outside, and this applies very nicely to Matt Broersma’s Insomnia #1. The first in an ongoing series, Insomnia is one of the first releases from the Ignatz series, a collection of internationally produced comics that seek to bridge the divide between what most Americans think of as comics - the thin, mass-produced pamphlets á la Archie and Jughead - and the more critically accepted graphic novels such as Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus or David B’s Epileptic.

The result is beautiful. Insomnia is printed on thicker, higher quality paper, and at 8 ½“ x 11” is larger than comic book size, and has a fancy book jacket with a gorgeously moody illustration of a passenger train traveling over a bridge at night. Unlike a graphic novel, it is saddle-stitched and serialized. Even the price, 7.95, falls carefully in between comic pamphlet and book.

All that set things off on the right foot with me, and I was pleased to find that the world Broersma created inside that nifty dust jacket really knocked me out.

It opens with an introductory story, “Four Kings,” animated skeletons sitting at a table in what looks like a large supply closet, playing poker and swapping stories. The skeletons look very much like the corpses that are used during Mexico’s Day of the Dead holiday, and the “Four Kings” story itself, with its creepy bon vivants gently celebrating the human joys of games and friendship, beautifully captured the spirit of this unique Indo-Hispanic holiday. It was a perfect open-ended introduction to the main story, “Eldorado,” which follows the story of Marco Clay, a bartender/con man living in Mexico to avoid arrest for a crime he committed in the United States. The storyline, as well as the dialogue, have a very 40’s noir-ish feel to them, and the two-toned illustrations in shades of cream and blue, assist with the hypnotic atmosphere.

As big a fan as I am of wordy comics, I found the stillness of “Eldorado” - pages 7 through 15 have very few panels with any dialogue at all - to be absolutely essential at capturing so many things; a long journey down American’s interstates through Texas and into Mexico, a rain storm, and the overarching loneliness of the protagonist were powerfully conveyed. Even his marital problems spoke volumes just through showing the reader an unanswered phone call.

There’s so much more in Insomnia #1 that I want to go on and on about. It really fit that little space inside my head that seemed to be reserved for loving things that blend surrealism, goth, film noir, and neat-o packaging. So far Insomnia #1 is the only thing in there, but I hope soon I’ll be able to store Insomnia #2 there as well.

Crossposted at Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society.
Insomnia #1
By Matt Broersma
Fantagraphics Books
26 pp
Date published - 2005

| StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

Monday, March 06, 2006

Raisin Pie #4.

I feel like I came in a bit late to the party to review Rick Altergott and Ariel Bordeaux's indie comic Raisin Pie #4, but even being plopped down in the middle of a couple of plotlines, I found the stories engaging enough to make me interested in reading the first three.

The fourth issue of Raisin Pie contains three stories each from the husband and wife team, Bordeaux leading the way with the first two, "The Pentecostal Pyro" and "The Wrong Love," and Altergott finishing things up with the more visually complex "Blessed Be," and two one page panels, "Young Doofus," and super surreal "The Garden Weasel" on the back cover, an odd little tale that reads like a Kids in the Hall sketch gone horribly awry.

Bordeaux, illustrating with a style heavily influenced by Ghost World author Daniel Clowes, somehow manages, despite the sparcity of both prose and picture, to pack an incredibly complex punch with "The Pentecostal Pyro." The narrator, fire inspector Les Gibbons, investigates the burning of the public library. Strong circumstantial evidence points to Elizabeth Blount, an elderly widow notorious for religious extremism who had vociferously complained about the library's stocking of a fictional novel that glorified child rape. While the first half of the story sets up Blount as a First Amendment opponent, the second half of the tale, structured as a jailhouse interview of Blount in the "Modern Martyr Gazette," softens the reader's initial view of Blount, revealing that her sister was a victim of a brutal child rape and offering a more sympathetic reason for Blount's highly vocal complaints against the novel. In a few short pages, Bordeaux delves past the surface issues of religious mania and censorship, and dips a toe into the deeper waters of radical feminism, obliquely suggesting that what is distressing Blount is actually her growing sense that the public glorification of rape leads to a dangerous rape culture. Oh, and she has a crazy dream about swords, snakes, and her naked sister.

"The Wrong Love," the first chapter in a tale of a teenage girl whose passive attempts to maneuver the boys around her in the name of love backfire somewhat, was definitely lighter fare. Bordeaux still manages to accurately nail down the wriggling schemes and general discontent of lovestruck teenage girls who are trying to figure out how to play by the societal rules that dictate that boys do the asking, and direct their energies into convincing that special boy into thinking that asking her out was his own idea.

Once the reins get passed over to Altergott, the tone of the comic shifts considerably. Unlike Bordeaux's lean presentations, Altergott's illustrations are richly complex with a heavy R. Crumb flavor - all the women have deep curves stuffed into clothing a size too small, and all the men give the impression they're wearing dirty underpants, even when they're fully dressed. The story line revolves around a young girl and her constantly erect nipples, who come from a good family but are involved with a disreputable boy who doesn't make an appearance in this issue. Acid-dropping Satanists hanging out in the woods also factor in somehow, and possibly everything is connected in someway that I'm not clear on.

Both Bordeaux and Altergott have a lock on middle class vignettes - the strongest part of this installment of "Blessed Be" was the delving into the relationship between the girl and her slightly desperate depressed mother whose rambles about cell phone roaming charges thinly hide her fears for the growing gulf between her and her husband, and the neatly displayed comparison of a mother and daughter who are so caught up in their own personal dramas they can't fathom that others may have dramas of their own.

Raisin Pie #4 is published by Fantagraphics, who consistently produce compelling indie comics from their 400 pound gorilla Daniel Clowes to the brilliant Jessica Abel, whose La Perdida series is a must-read for any indie comic aficionado.

cross-posted at the Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society.

Raisin Pie #4
By: Rick Altergott / Ariel Bordeaux
Publisher: Fantagraphics Books
Page Count: 32pp
Date Published: 2005

| StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

Friday, March 03, 2006

Vanity Fair.

It seems I got stuck inside an endless book again. The last book, Jung Chang's Mao, ate up all of September and a considerable amount of October, too. After I'd finally read the last page, I closed the book, and put it back on the shelf, and then spent the next week staring at it suspiciously, like it was going to leap out of its jacket, open itself and glom onto my face, shrieking, "I'm not finished yet! Only 4000 more pages to go!" This Winter belonged to Thackeray's satirical classic Vanity Fair, and I can see it right now in the corner of my eye. I can't prove it, but I think it may be inching its way toward me.

I never used to have this kind of problem with books, but then again, I never used to have kids and a husband, either. I blame them entirely. It's their fault, theirs, and maybe the dogged determination I've developed to finish a complex book that might be better appreciated by someone who has concentration skills that are better developed, or a quieter, less demanding family.

I mean, I finished the book today, reading the last few pages while, and I am not making this up, literally fighting off my children, who were taking turns leaping on me and using me as a human trampoline.

Forgive me if I may not have fully absorbed all the nuances of Thackeray's masterpiece, but at least I got the basic plotline down.

The sad thing is, when I had a chance to sneak away and read a chapter upstairs, locked in my bedroom, the book was brilliant. It was brilliant, but the way things were going I was only reading one page every three days. And you know, it was almost a 700 page book. Clearly this would not do, so I had to sacrifice a certain amount of comprehension in order to finish it.

The story follows two girls, the cunning Becky Sharp and the personality-free Amelia Sedley around the turn of the 19th century. Becky, the daughter of an artist and a French actress, met the middle-class Amelia at a girls' school where Amelia was a regular student and Becky a charity pupil. For the entirety of the book, we watch the artful and witty Becky use every weapon in her arsenal to claw her way to the top, employing traditional feminine wiles, fraud, illegal gambling, and possibly murder to get there. Amelia, on the other hand, was identical to a glass of warm water. Sometimes the water was in an impoverished home, sometimes it was in a mansion, sometimes it was riding in a carriage, it made no difference because the glass of water never, ever changed or noticed anything around it. Amelia drove both Becky and me crazy; Becky because she actually had to interact with her to get what she wanted, me because I don't want to read 400 pages about a glass of water.

Because my powers of concentration were drained by small, often obnoxious children, I can't really tell what Thackeray was really thinking about either of his young creations. On one hand it seemed that he kept mentioning how much men loved Amelia, and women who disliked her were just jealous, crap we've heard a million times and never, ever stops being stupid, but on the other hand it seemed possible that he was mocking the idea. I don't know! I couldn't tell! Somewhere toward the middle of the book I gave up trying to figure it out.

Given that Vanity Fair is a satire on 19th century attitudes, and made a lot of critics angry with its bleak presentation of humanity - and come to think of it, every single character was riddled with flaws that were never resolved - it seems entirely plausible that Thackeray was contrasting Becky and Amelia to show the unfairness of condemning a woman for getting by on her wit and praising another woman for being a totally mindless, suffering doormat.

I think I would have loved this book if, say, I were on a beach in Hawaii ALL ALONE. I would have come back from my monthlong vacation very tanned, rested, and capable of stunningly intelligent insights on 19th-century satire.

But that didn't happen, damn it, so I have no choice but to leave you with this oratorical blowjob from Charlotte Brontë:

The more I read of Thackeray's works - the more certain I am that he stands alone; alone in his sagacity, alone in his truth, alone in his feeling (his feeling, though he makes no noise about it, is about the most genuine that ever lived in a printed page) alone in his power, alone in his simplicity, alone in his self-control. Thackeray is a Titan.

...and some auto-fellatio from Thackeray himself:

There is no use denying the matter or blinking it now. I am become a sort of great man in my way - all but at the top of the tree: indeed there if the truth were known and having a great fight up there with Dickens.

Vanity Fair
by William Makepeace Thackeray
Barnes & Noble Classics
Originally serialized in monthly parts between January 1847 and July 1848
Published in volume form in 1848.
This hardcover edition printed in 2005.
680 pages

| StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Bottle Fairies, Volume II

I'm not sure how this happened, but I managed to make it to the age of 36 relatively anime-free. This era recently ended with the viewing of the last 6 episodes of the Japanese children's television show Bottle Fairies. It seems the Bottle Fairies are four female fairies, sent to Earth in bottles with a small white winged cat to spend a year studying humanity, in some sort of human/fairy exchange student program. Their host family consists of the somewhat anonymous Sensai-san, a college student with sexy shaggy hair and an aw-shucks demeanor. Sensai-san, presumably, is to guide them toward humanity, teaching them about traditional and modern Japanese customs, and introducing them to different seasonal holidays and festivals. Most of their information, unfortunately for them, is actually given by Sensai-san's next door neighbor, Tamachan, whose certainty is persuasive, if sometimes misguided, and, typical of the first-grader she is, she takes great delight in issuing them humanizing tasks before getting distracted and wandering off to play video games.

Each episode is broken up into different months, from October and ending with their graduation into humanity in March. Each month is devoted to learning about what is special about each month, ("A typhoon is exceptional! A typhoon is an unbelievable superpower!") and preparation for the month's holiday.

The show, specifically geared toward Japanese girls between the ages of 4-8, is very soft and gentle, with an emphasis on traditional femininity, with the exception of grey-haired, red-eyed bottle fairy Sarara, who gives a shout out to the tomboys with her love of sports, ninjas, and martial arts. However, the show occasionally gives Japanese parents something to be amused by, with the bottle fairies often darting off into small pop culture parodies of Japanese soap operas and a disdainful reference to "obligatory chocolates" that Japanese women are required to buy men on Valentine's Day.

As an adult anime virgin, the overly formal, slightly stilted English translations sounded a bit jarring and sometimes, unintentionally hilarious, such as this conversation between Sensai-san, the bottle fairies, and Tama:

Sensai-san: Hey. I didn't know all of you were over here.

Tamachan: Well, hello there, Mister Next Door Neighbor! To what do we owe this visit?

Sensai-san:Well, I just purchased some autumn treats, and I'd like to share them with you.

Tamachan: Ah! That is the true taste of autumn, and it will never fail to capture the heart of a lady!

Bottle Fairies: Sweet Potatoes!

So not what I expected, although now that I think about it, my husband did once court me all those years ago with exactly that - a big steaming bag of sweet potatoes. That, and the weird white winged cat that inexplicably floated across the screen at random moments, and I was mostly too tripped out over the constant surrealism to fully appreciate it.

Not so for my children. My sons, ages three and six, reacted to the DVD like it was a big snort of brown heroin. They nodded out in front of it for literally hours, eyes growing gradually more and more anime-like, until they began walking around the house, giggling into their hands, saying stuff like, "Oh! I am feeling shy today, Sensai-san!"

This caused my husband to freak out and banish it from the house. He didn't care when our six year old twisted his ankle running around the house in my high-heeled shoes, but evidently he draws the line at a DVD that turns them into giggling Japanese schoolgirls. Go figure.

(Cross-posted at the Lincoln Heights Literary Society)
DVD Release November, 2005
Distributed by Geneon
Appropriate for Ages 4-7

| StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!