Book Broads • Shrill


by Angie Eakley

My first exposure to Lindy West was years ago, when she was doing recaps of the show "Glee" for Vulture. When the writer is funny, smart, and engaged (positively or negatively) with the material, I start looking forward to the recap as much as the show (especially when, as with a lot of long-running shows, it loses its way and becomes a ridiculous shell of what it was), and I start imagining how the recapper will react to something especially funny, or ludicrous, or problematic. It's basically talking about tv with friends, but, you know, the internet.

And then she wasn't writing them any more, and I missed her voice, but not enough to do any actual follow up. I'd see her articles here and there, and I heard her on the episode of This American Life where she confronts her troll. I've always liked Lindy West, but in a lazy sort of way.

When her book Shrill came out, I had a feeling I'd like that too. Not having read much of her work at the Stranger or Jezebel, most of what I read was new, and I was excited about how much she had to say. It was smart, engaging, and funny, but after each essay I felt a little down.

Lindy West is a feminist. She is smart, she is funny, she is strong. She is also a woman. She is also overweight. The majority of her public writing deals with all of these things. She rails against misogyny and body shaming, even though she knows it makes her a bigger target for the people who attack her in the first place. She stands up for the people who don't have her platform, even after a man created a twitter account in the name of her dead father for the sole purpose of trolling her.

I guess this is the place where I talk about my privilege. I'm a white girl from a middle class suburb with a college education. I also have probably an overabundance of empathy. It makes me feel so angry, and so impotent, to learn about the kinds of struggles people face every day for things that are completely outside of their control, and on top of that to realize that so little of that has ever happened to me. And then I feel silly for even typing that, because how much of a self-important, out of touch asshole do I sound like by saying "I can't believe all of this awful shit has been happening and I didn't even know. I'm just over here complaining about a student loan payment from the comfort of the apartment that I can afford because of the job that I have and if I ever get into trouble financially or physically or mentally I have a strong network of friends, family, and community around me and also just going to the fucking bathroom has never been an issue for me because I am also cisgendered and heterosexual and so I don't get accused of being a potential child molester because of they way I look or dress and I'm not pretty enough to be objectified and underestimated based on my looks but I'm not ugly enough to be targeted for that and basically I live in a world that was designed for the male version of me and no, I'm not afraid that my family will get sent back to a dangerous country that isn't their home because I signed up for a program to allow me to go to school and work in the only home I've ever known and the people who use bits and pieces of an old book of stories to justify their hatred and ignorance and superiority complexes happen to technically be of the same religion that I grew up in, so no, I haven't been denied a job or housing or a loan because of the way my name is spelled, thanks for asking.”

The thing is, we shouldn't need Lindy West (or Roxane Gay or Ta-Nehisi Coates or Bryan Stevenson or Matthew Desmond) to live the lives and write the books that they do. Not now. It's 2017, and Lindy West is still writing about how being fat still makes you a person, how being a woman with a brain isn't a threatening abomination, how maybe if you need to spew violence and hate at someone anonymously over the internet, you should probably spend less time looking at a screen and more time looking at a mirror, because the problem is you.

2017.

"As a human being, I am as worthy and capable and entitled to my life as you are," "other women identify with and gain strength from my outspokenness because they also receive hate and violence and rape threats just for existing," "sure I'll go on your talk show and try to explain to a comedian why it isn't funny to joke about raping anyone, not matter what the people on reddit think" should not be revolutionary statements. We should be able to laugh at the quaintness and reactionary quality of those statements, not gathering in support of a woman who died because a bunch of Nazis felt bad about a statue coming down (just kidding, the cultural and political climate created a powder keg of hatred that was going to explode around anything, and god damn it there are no FINE PEOPLE in a group of chanting, torch wielding bigots, but that's another fight for another day).

What if Roxane Gay wasn't defined by her appearance, or her skin color? What if Bryan Stevenson didn't have a job because poor minorities weren't targeted and incarcerated at alarming rates? What would Matthew Desmond study if people weren't forced to live like discarded non-entities in a degrading cycle of unemployment and eviction? What would Ta-Nehisi Coates have to say to his son?

Can you imagine what someone like Lindy West would write about if she didn't have justify her very existence every time she has something to say?

Book Broads • The Difficulties of Being a Fast Reader


by Portia Turner

I’ve always prided myself on being a fast reader. I love that I can get through crazy amounts of books (even though it still stresses me out that I can’t get through more) and I am well aware that it is a skill that people are jealous of.

That said, I recently went to a family reunion and decided to tackle a “book written before 1900” for my reading challenge with my roommates. I brought Middlemarch with me because I have been wanting to read it for ages and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Reading this book, though, has made me realize that I have developed very little patience when it comes to reading and my attention span for books has, unfortunately, decreased. I’m not used to spending more than a week reading a book and, as I approached week 3 with this tome, I found myself thinking, why aren’t you reading this faster? It’s thoughts like these that kept me reading and honestly, have probably pushed me through passages too quickly so I found myself not even sure what has just happened. And then I would go to work and realize that books are coming out that I meant to have read and I started to resent that I was still reading Middlemarch even though I was really enjoying the book and really did want to finish it.

It is disturbing to me that my attention span for reading has decreased and it is even more upsetting because, working at a bookstore, my hunger for books and my TBR list has grown insanely huge amounts. My want to experience as many stories as possible is making it hard for me to experience some of these books in the moment. Sure, there are the books that immediately pull me in and that I can’t put down and love from page one (I’m looking at you, Spoonbenders) but for most books, I find myself speeding through, not always giving myself a chance to fully relax and enjoy the book for what it is. This year I have found myself feeling so-so about more books than any other year.

This isn’t going to slow me down. I still have overwhelming piles of books around my room and I am still constantly bringing home new ones. But hopefully this realization will make me think harder about each book. Because books and reading are so important to me. And I need them to mean more than just a number at the end of the year.

Book Broads • Summer of Truman


by Angie Eakley

I'm not sure when my fascination with Truman Capote began. I read In Cold Blood years ago, not for any class but because it was one of those books you're supposed to read. I also don't remember being blown away by it, but then again, I was young. It would be years later, probably after passing it on display at the book store many times, that I would read Deborah Davis' Party of the Century, and my interest in him would be renewed.

It's not even his obvious, famous attributes that are so interesting to me. It may be because those things - the strange, high voice; the tiny stature; the extravagant style of dress - are dwarfed by the slurred speech and ravaged, puffy appearance that dominates recordings of him from the last part of his life. It seems the real Truman, the one he crafted his entire life, is the Truman of the 50s & 60s: famous author, darling of society, "pet" of the richest and most glamorous women of the time.

It's this man and those relationships that are explored in Melanie Benjamin's historical fiction novel The Swans of Fifth Avenue, a book that's long been on my reading list but that I only recently tackled. These women are the real housewives of the past, although I wonder how much their behavior would mimic that of the current Bravo stars if they had cameras and contracts rooting them on. These women lived by a very strict set of rules, with rule number one being to maintain appearances at all times. Slim Keith never threw shade about her friends to the cameras. Babe Paley never flipped a table.

I think it may be the duality of Truman's life that is so beguiling to me. From the time he could talk he told everyone who would listen that he was going to be a famous writer, and almost through sheer force of will he made it happen. In every way he seemed most himself on the arm of one of his beautiful swans, at the best table at the best restaurant, sipping champagne and trading gossip, making up for their husbands' neglect and their friends' duplicity, and giving them a credibility beyond "enviable beauty with rich husband," with the most talked about novelist of the time at their side. Although he embellished his youthful literary accomplishments, Truman never betrayed his dream. His writing life and his social life were separate, and when he was writing he was diligent and serious. He spent years in Kansas researching In Cold Blood, and even he didn't need to exaggerate the impact his "non-fiction novel" had on crime writing in general and on his notoriety as a public figure. It may be this aspect of him that makes the motivations behind his short story La Cote Basque, 1965, so curious. Its publication sets off the events in Benjamin's novel and in real life marked the beginning of Capote's own downfall. His social life became his writing life, and everything fell apart.

To some degree, we've probably all been betrayed by someone we considered a friend. Imagine if your life revolved around maintaining appearances, your every move documented by paparazzi and written about on Page 6. Even your closest friends don't know all your secrets, but the ones they do know are kept to themselves, because you know their secrets too. People like to imagine they know what your life is like, that behind all the glamor and the expensive clothes and the carefully curated magazine spreads and the seemingly effortless beauty and the older, handsome, wealthy husband, that something has be rotten beneath the surface because if not then life is simply not fair. So they talk. They talk about how your husband can't even be discrete about his affairs, how your "natural" beauty is the result of very good plastic surgery, how you must be miserable and all the money in the world can't make you happy.

Now imagine at least some of that is true, and after a lifetime of training to be a society wife, you find a soulmate in the most curious form of a tiny dandy with a very high voice and a very serious literary talent. And this friend accompanies you to the best restaurants, the fanciest boutiques, even on vacation at your second home and on your yacht. He makes you feel like you're more than a pretty face on the arm of an Important Man. Sure, he gossips about your friends, but you two have a real connection, and you know he would never betray you. Until he does.

Until it's 1975 and you open the new issue of Esquire. Your friend, the man who happily touted the publication of anything he wrote, who got you advanced copies and bragged about how this new thing would be better than all the old things, he hadn't even mentioned it. And you read it and there, laid bare, or hidden under the thinnest of guises, are all your secrets. And all your friends' secrets. And you have been played a fool. You have been unmasked, and your whole life at this point has succeeded because you were the best at wearing that mask. No matter what anyone said about you, you were the woman with the beautiful face and the rich husband and the mansions and vacation homes and the latest fashions and the best jewelry and the most fabulous friends.

And afterword, through the press because you have stopped taking his calls, what does this man have to say about it? That you should have expected it; that he is a writer. That he did it for you - to free you of the miseries in your life that you kept secret. But what does that make you? A fool for befriending him? Stupid for telling him anything about your life? A pawn he used for money and fame and material treasures while he catalogued every detail of your life for public ridicule? Because that story isn't a thoughtful meditation on the empty life of a glamorous public figure. Or about the face we show the public no matter what's going on in our private lives. It is a catty takedown, the flailing of a once great writer who took the easy route. A great work of self-destruction.

And so my fascination with Truman Capote continues. I'll end with a confession of my own (and the only way that his swans and I are at all similar): outside of In Cold Blood and "La Cote Basque, 1965," I don't believe I've actually read anything else that Truman wrote. I've read much more about him than by him, which for some reason I think he'd appreciate. 1960s, top of the social world Truman would, at least. The strange, athletic child from Monroeville, Alabama; the earnest writer embedded in Holcolmb, Kansas working on his genre-breaking masterpiece; or the sad outcast, drunk and on pills, stalking the dance floor at Studio 54? Him, I'm not so sure.

f-words

If you're reading this, I'm sorry the blog looks like shit right now. I just was coming to look at it and the website where all my site stuff is hosted has changed its third party hosting policies so I will have to look for another way to host my repeatedly used images. Please standby as I do realize this looks like trash.

Book Broads • Books That Have Surprised Me


by Portia Turner

Independent bookstores received advanced readers copies of books all the time. Some of them are amazing (shout out to you, new David Sedaris) and some are just terrible. And then there are the books that surprise you. We recently received a copy of Odd Birds by Ian Harding. My coworker and I are big fans of the show Pretty Little Liars (though we will probably deny it if you ask us) and so we got great entertainment over the fact that good old Ezra Fitz himself had written a memoir. I mean, he’s 30! What does he have to talk about? The book became a joke between the two of us (that none of our coworkers understood because they are clearly not as cultured as we are) and we decided that we would book club it.

Katie took it first. I kept asking her for updates and she just kept saying, “It’s way better than it has any right to be! His writing is actually really funny.” When she handed it off to me, she said, “I actually really liked it. I gave it four stars.”

I love Katie but I wasn’t sure that I could trust her opinion of the book. I mean, this was a book we joked about for so long! It can’t actually turn out to be that good! And then I sat down and read the whole thing in less than 24 hours. It was great. Katie had been right. It had been really funny! And his writing is great!

This experience got me thinking about how nice it is to be surprised by books. And so I decided to share a few books that have surprised me with you all. There have been plenty of great surprises but I decided to focus on a few things when choosing these three. First of all, they had to be books that are already out cause I know that you will all want to run out and get them after reading this. Secondly, I wanted them to be books that all surprised me in completely different ways.

First up is My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows (aka the Lady Janies). This one was a classic case of misjudging a book by its cover. The description on the back of the book described it as a comedy version of the tragic story of Lady Jane Grey so I took it because I love that stuff. The cover, though, is terrible and so it didn’t motivate me to read it. I kept moving back further and further on my TBR list. That all changed one day when I was reading Publishers Weekly only to discover that it had received a starred review. I decided that I needed to get past my opinion of the cover and give the book a chance. And holy crap, I am so glad I did! This book is amazing! It’s hilarious, filled with Princess Bride and Holy Grail References. It is incredibly witty and cleaver. It has one of the best narrators I have read in a long time. I passed it around my friends and everyone who read it loved it. I was not expecting this book to become so beloved! I’ve recommended it so many times and feel happy anytime I see someone buying it because I know that they are in for a fun ride.

The second book on this list takes me back to my very first week working at The Book Cellar. My coworkers showed me where all the free books are kept and I grabbed one because I just happened to like the cover. My experience with advanced readers copies at Barnes & Noble had been terrible and so a part of me thought that publishers just sent books that they were having a hard time selling. I wasn’t expecting anything but thought, hey, at least this one is pretty. It may not be any good but it will look great on my bookshelf. That book was Eleanor by Jason Gurley and it turned out to be one of the best books I have ever read. Everything about it was completely unique. The writing is great and his unique concepts are so interesting and cool. I sent it to my mom and she loved it as well. This book taught me an important lesson about reading in advance though. I read it in September and it didn’t come out until January and those months of waiting before I could recommend it to anyone absolutely killed me.

Finally, I’m going to talk about a book that surprised me because of the subject matter. I’m not a big sci-fi reader and I really have a hard time with time travel. I find myself being far too focused on how messed up things would be if time travel actually happened and can’t focus on what is actually happening in the book. Our Penguin rep kept coming by and talking about this book called All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai and describing it as a time travel book and so I kept thinking, this book is probably great for someone working here but not me. But then I went to Heartland Fall Forum, a book conference for Midwestern booksellers, and had the pleasure of meeting Elan in person. He was absolutely fantastic so I decided that I needed to give his book a chance. And holy crap! It is completely amazing! Sure, it is a time travel book but it’s also so much more! It is more a story about people and what it means to be a functional person in the world. Elan is a screenwriter and his background is incredibly clear. I was able to so easily visualize the whole book as I was reading it. And I have sold a lot of copies to people by describing it as a time travel book that isn’t about time travel. I can’t explain how great this book is.

So I guess that this is all to say that good can come from reading something that you don’t usually read. Pick up something that you wouldn't usually. You could be pleasantly surprised.