Facing Your Demons:  Thoughts on Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life

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In Gilmore Girls:  A Year in the Life, we find each Gilmore girl is facing her worst fear.

The matriarch, Emily, has lost her husband, Richard.  In a couple episodes in the original series, Richard experiences life-threatening health issues.  These are the only times in the whole series when anything truly shakes Emily.  She’s calculating and controlling, with a vulnerable streak where her family is concerned, but you get the impression that Emily can manage anything, and it is a trait she passes down to her daughter, Lorelei.  But her husband’s health and mortality is the exception.  When we first see Emily, the worst has already occurred, and we get to see what happens next.

I did like that they started the series a few months after the funeral.  To begin in the thick of family grief would have been a bleak starting point for the reunion.  But as it begins, the mourning is still there and strong, but life is beginning to move on for everyone but Emily.  I loved seeing Emily’s transition, and my favorite parts were Emily’s KonMari phase and when she decides to be aggressively honest during a DAR interview of a new member candidate.

Like her mother, Lorelei struggles with loss.  In some ways, she’s already achieved what she wants.  She’s opened a successful inn with her best friend, she’s raised her daughter to be independent, and she has a long term relationship with Luke.  She has what she referred to in the original series as “the whole package.”

In spite of her success, she is lonely.  Her daughter is so busy, they rarely see each other.  Her best friend has left the inn to live in some culinary commune.  She’s alienated her mother shortly after her father’s funeral, and things are not quite right with Luke. She’s also turning into her  mother.  While Lorelei once could not understand her mother’s inability to keep a maid, she now cannot keep a cook at her inn, The Dragonfly. It’s played as a joke, with Lorelei firing the likes of Rachael Ray and other celebrity cooks in each episode. Like Emily’s journey, Lorelei’s had  great deal of emotion. It was raw and depressing at points, but ultimately, Lorelei ends up exactly where she needs to be

Rory, career woman, has lost her direction, and her identity has been wrapped up in her career for years.  As the reunion begins, she has begun an experiment of organized homelessness.  Her constant travel has meant she spends very little time in her Brooklyn apartment, and her sources of income are drying up, so she has spread her belongings among friends and family she often stays with.  She has a story published in The New Yorker, but she has no idea where her underwear is.  Basically, she is always looking for something:  a new job, her lucky outfit, a coveted meeting, her undergarments, etc. Each quest is generally a failure.

Rory’s journey was probably the least interesting of the three women’s. Didn’t we go down this same road in season six, with less homelessness and searching for random pieces of clothing?  I also did not like that Rory was cheating on her current boyfriend with her college boyfriend who was engaged to another woman.  Aside from being soap opera-y, it just made her unlikable. I find Rory of seasons 1-7 to be very charming, but I wouldn’t want to be friends with grown up Rory.  She lost her down-to-earth quality that kept her likable throughout the series, becoming a transient, selfish creature.

A Year in the Life does have the whimsical joy that makes Gilmore Girls what it is.  We get to see a second film by Kirk and a Stars Hollow musical from Taylor.   Also entertaining are Kirk and his pig, Taylor’s random crusades, Kirk at Friday night dinner, anything involving Paris, Emily and Lorelei in therapy, Luke’s fake wi-fi passwords, and Emily’s hiring of a maid whose language no one could understand. Michel was fabulous in every scene, and I think his role might have been even better in than it was in the original series. There are some misses (the decoy Tristan and Rory’s weird and un-Rory-like tap dancing phase), but on the whole, the new season is charming.

Things I missed:  Edward Herrmann as Richard Gilmore was obviously a lack, but nothing could be done for that.  Richard’s dry humor was always the best, and he complemented Emily perfectly.  I missed the crazy Lorelei/Sookie dialogue, and the inn seemed a bit sad without Sookie in the kitchen.  I would have liked more Friday night dinners.

The biggest surprise for me was that I moved from being Team Logan to being Team Jess.  I despised Jess in seasons two and three when he was Rory’s love interest and later her boyfriend.  I was pleasantly surprised to like him in his guest appearances during Rory’s college years when he had matured from the precocious brat he had once been.  In A Year in the Life, Jess definitely seems to be the clear leading man.  Logan, who I had previously loved for his ability to bring carefree joy into Rory’s life, seemed like he hasn’t matured since his college days.  In adulthood, his rich boy entitlement overpowered his good nature, and he became the kind of charming cad that Hugh Grant would have played in a nineties rom-com.  (Well, actually, now that I write it out like that, he and Rory seem to have aged exactly the same.  Maybe they are soulmates.) I was glad that Dean’s part was small, as Rory/Dean is one of those things best not revisited.

This is where the spoilers begin.  If you haven’t watched it yet (but plan to do so), stop here.

Almost everyone online seems to hate the ending.  I loved the ending, except one thing, and my one thing isn’t the thing to which everyone else seems to object.

The Luke and Lorelei night-time wedding is magical, whimsical, and everything worthy of a Gilmore.  It is probably worth watching all four episodes just to see this wedding.  It was perfect, except one detail: Emily wasn’t there.  She should have been there, adjusting flowers or something.

Everyone else is objecting to the final dialogue, which is what Amy Sherman-Palladino intended from the very first episode.

“Mom?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m pregnant.”

I’ve seen all sorts of outrage about how Lorelei didn’t spend seven seasons sacrificing everything for her daughter’s future, only to have Rory end up a single mom like her.  I disagree.  The ending, while not hopeful, is brilliant.  In a sense, it brought the series full-circle, but Rory’s circumstances are much more positive than Lorelei’s had been.

Rory’s pregnancy is not like Lorelei’s.  Lorelei was sixteen, still in high school, and lacked a positive support system.  Rory is in her early thirties, possibly even the same age Lorelei was in the pilot episode, and Ivy-League educated.  She’s traveled the world, had many career successes, and has great relationships with friends and family.  She has benefited from Lorelei’s sacrifices and her child will too. Also, Rory is under no obligation to give birth. From what we see of Rory’s political beliefs throughout the series, it seems likely that she is pro-choice. The ending gives the impression that she will both have and keep her baby, and if she does, it will be because it is her choice to do so.

Motherhood is not the opposite of feminism.  Motherhood will not destroy Rory’s career, but it will transition it, and it was already in a state of transition.  Rory already had everything she wanted as a teen, career-wise, and she burned out.  She spent four episodes behaving like a hamster in its wheel, unable to see any other type of existence than the busy, overworked one she had lived over the last decade.  Parenthood might give her an opportunity to evaluate whether the life she wanted at 22 is the life she wants at 32, or if she and her goals have both evolved.

I love that Rory begins writing a memoir at the end of the series, and it seems like a great career change for her, and one that could complement motherhood. In writing about her life with her mother while she becomes a mother herself, she could actually write a better book than she would otherwise.

Throughout the series, Rory has been the nurturer and the peacekeeper.  In all likelihood, she would make a good mother.  Like Lorelei.

Now, I want a new show when Rory’s kid is sixteen, and Lorelei is the one demanding Friday night dinners.

May Book Review Club:  Exit West by Moshin Hamid

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Saeed is the only son of a retired schoolteacher and a semi-retired professor.  Like his parents, he is educated, gentle, and full of faith.  He loves the night sky and dreams of traveling the world. Nadia is a young professional who lives alone in a city that is distrustful of women who live alone.  She is independent, secular, and estranged from her religious family. She wears stern robes as self protection, but the modest robes are contradicted by the motorcycle she rides around the city.

Nadia and Saeed live in an unnamed city in an unnamed country.  They meet and fall in love in a night class just as their city is about to fall to militants.  As the civil war shuts down the city, taking their jobs, their electricity, and their freedom, Saeed and Nadia hear of doors that will take people away.  No one knows where the doors came from, but one day a door to your closet could become a gateway to a beach town or a shop in another country. Once they find people who can lead them to a door for a fee, Nadia and Saeed travel to Greece, then the U.K., eventually ending up in the U.S.

I thought this was a creative story about refugees and emigration. When I bought this book, I didn’t realize there was a magical element to it, that there were doors that could sweep people from one side of the world to another.  It reminded me a bit of the wardrobe to Narnia, only the locations are places in the known world.  Some doors take people to places that are safer than others, but they are all the same in that each place is experiencing a struggle between migrants and natives.  While most of the novel is about Nadia and Saeed, there are short passages woven throughout that introduce people in transition.  Many of these minor characters are door travelers like Nadia and Saeed, and others are simply in conflict with a changing world.

Hamid’s writing style is compelling.  Originally, it struck me as being minimalistic until I realized how long some of the sentences are, forcing me to re-evaluate.  I suppose it would be best described as controlled, with shorter sentences effectively making their point and longer sentences sweeping you away.  Some passages I enjoyed:

“Location, location, location, the realtors say.  Geography is destiny, respond the historians.”

“.  .   so by making the promise he demanded she make she was in a sense killing him, but that is the way of things, for when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.”

“. . . prayer for him became about being a man, being one of the men, a ritual that connected him to adulthood and to the notion of being a particular sort of man, a gentleman, a gentle man, a man who stood for community and faith and kindness and decency, a man, in other words, like his father.”

I liked Exit West, enjoying the writing style, the characters, and the originality. However, I didn’t love it, as I felt the first half was stronger than the second half.  Still I would recommend this novel, mostly to readers of literary fiction.

FCC Notice:  I bought my own copy.

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@Barrie Summy

In Defense of Escapist Reading

StockSnap_NegativeSpace_EscapistReading Image credit: Negative Space via Stocksnap

“Everything we read should challenge us,” said a perky blond millennial behind me.

I was at Brit Bennett’s Ann Arbor book signing for The Mothers, and I was mentally disagreeing with the woman I had eavesdropped on. Had she said, “We should all read books that challenge us,” I would have been in full agreement, but to say all our reading material should be challenging was annoying to me. It was elitist and sad. A reader who doesn’t know the sheer pleasure of escapist reading doesn’t understand joy.

I’m a huge fan of escapist re-reading. When I have had a difficult day, I like to crack open a book I’ve read a dozen times over and it has to be something that doesn’t challenge me at all. It’s familiar and comforting, like going home or getting a pint of a favorite ice cream flavor. Plus it lacks the negative health effects of eating too much ice cream or drinking too much wine, making it a cheap and effective form of therapy.

Benjamin Franklin is famously (and incorrectly) credited with saying, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” I would argue that one can substitute “books are” for “beer is” in that statement, and it will be equally correct.

Reading can be many things. You can read to be challenged, to learn, to escape, or as an act of resistance. Human beings are faceted creatures. You can be smart, you can be sexy, you can be serious yet not take yourself too seriously, you can be extremely knowledgeable in certain areas and less educated in others, you can be thoughtful in some ways and a bit of a brat in others. You are many things, so your bookshelf should be too.

But, if I’m being totally honest, I’ve been the confident, annoying woman in the bookstore too. I edit my favorite book lists to make myself seem more intellectual, more well-read.

Sometimes, these little dishonesties pop up out of sheer panic over the possibility of being judged. In my senior year of college, I was in one of my lit classes when my professor asked us to go around the room and name our favorite book in childhood. I panicked. There was no way I was going to say, “Anything Sweet Valley Twins. May the Unicorn Club live long and prosper.” Eventually, I settled on a half-truth: Anne of Green Gables, which I loved as a girl and love still as an adult. But I read Anne first in 7th grade, not elementary school, making it more of an adolescent favorite than a childhood favorite.

But the honest answers sometimes get the best responses. Say Sweet Valley (any part of the franchise) or Baby-Sitters’ Club online, and you always get a response. These were literary Sweet Tarts, pastel, sweetly tart, and compellingly artificial.

Now as an adult, my reading tastes are varied. I like literary fiction and classics (as does any English major), but I also like mysteries, gothics, early 2000s chick lit, YA fiction, humorous memoirs, the Harry Potter series, and fluffy love stories. There are echoes of my childhood favorites in my current reading. Sweet Valley and Baby-Sitter’s Club gave me an interest in girl power stories. I enjoy a well-plotted mystery likely because I read so much Nancy Drew in elementary school and Agatha Christie in middle school. I gained a taste for the gothic from my high school preferences for VC Andrews, Anne Rice, and LJ Smith.

Literary choices can be like culinary choices. I’m a person who likes kale salads, and I will eat any vegetable except celeriac; I’m also a person likes cookies made with lots of butter, who doesn’t always heed a reasonable serving size. I don’t have to choose between being a kale person or a cookie person. I’m allowed to find joy in both. Likewise, I can read a book that challenges me and makes me think, and then throw a mystery novel in my weekend bag. Because sometimes you need to escape and sometimes you need uncomplicated joy. Guilty pleasures are a gift, just as enjoying a serious work of art is a gift.

Life is short. Read what you like. Comic books, prize-winning fiction, romance novels, series classics, cozy mysteries, YA, sci-fi, fantasies with intricate worlds, history, science, and current events. If it makes you happy and piques your imagination, it’s yours. I avoid sci-fi and true crime, but if that’s your thing, go for it, and don’t let anyone tell you what type of reader you ought to be. No one will steal your adult card or your feminist card or your library card if your bookshelves do not meet some arbitrary level of seriousness. Roxane Gay writes of her Sweet Valley love in Bad Feminist, and Brit Bennett has written about American Girls dolls and books for The Paris Review, and these are both serious and talented writers. If they can do it, so can you.

Book Review:  The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (YA)

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Starr Carter has two lives.  She lives one with her family in Garden Heights, a mostly black neighborhood where neighbors take care of each other, small locally owned businesses provide hope, and gang violence affects everyone’s lives no matter how hard they try to avoid it.  She lives the other in her mostly white school, Williamson Prep, where she is careful to keep her speech slang-free and never gets emotional because she doesn’t want to be known as “the angry black girl.”  She has friends in each world, but they never mix, and she prefers to keep it that way.

Over spring break, Starr attends a Garden Heights party at the insistence of her friend, Kenya.  She feels out of place, a girl in a hoodie and ponytail surrounded by girls dressed in their sexiest outfits, until she sees her childhood friend Khalil.  Once best friends, Starr and Khalil had not even crossed paths in months, but they catch up quickly.  When gunshots go off at the party, Starr and Khalil leave in a hurry, taking his car home. On the way home, Khalil is pulled over for a broken taillight.  Pulled out of the car by an aggressive cop, Khalil is treated like a criminal, and when he opens the door to ask Starr if she is all right, the cop assumes Khalil is reaching for a gun and shoots him in the back, killing him.

After Khalil’s murder, Starr tries to keep a low profile, not wanting to known as the witness in her community or in her school, and she does not know how to speak about the murder to her own friends in either world. She cooperates with the police in the investigation, but quickly realizes they are not interested in investigating the cop but in investigating Khalil and Starr and finding out if Khalil had a criminal history and if either teen had been drinking that night.  Soon, Starr is no longer able to keep quiet, learning that she can only honor Khalil’s life by becoming his voice.

The Hate U Give (or THUG) is a heavily hyped book right now, and with any book that is receiving an unusual amount of attention, the first question is always, “Is it worth the hype?”  The answer for this is a definite yes. The first 100 pages don’t move as quickly as the rest, but once you are a quarter into the book, it is very difficult to put down. For me, the primary appeal was that I fell in love with the characters.  Not only has Ms. Thomas created well developed main characters, but even the supporting characters are worth rooting for, from Starr’s neighborhood friend, Kenya, to the grumpy barbershop owner, Mr. Lewis.  My favorite character may have been Starr’s father, Maverick, a wonderfully complicated man.

Another thing I appreciated about this book is that it feels universal, or at least national. We are never told exactly where Starr lives, but I think this could take place anywhere in the U.S.  The images in my head were that of my hometown of Saginaw, a heavily segregated Michigan city that is quite similar to Flint or Detroit.  I highly doubt that Ms. Thomas, a Mississippi resident, had Saginaw, Michigan in her mind when she wrote this, but it’s to her credit that you can take this story and move it into your own world and it will feel true.

THUG does not simplify the issue of police violence in black neighborhoods.  Starr’s uncle is a police officer and a colleague of the officer who killed Khalil, and Uncle Carlos is definitely a positive part of Starr’s life.  Also, Khalil has a past.  If he had been presented as 4.0 student who never got into trouble a day in this life, this novel might have been didactic with a simple message. But with Khalil presented as a good person who has not always been on the right side of the law, there are more questions that a reader has to work through.  Questions about the assumptions we make about victims of police violence, wanting to make angels or demons of them, and questions about whether a white teen with the exact same history as Khalil could have ever found himself in the same situation.

I do strongly recommend The Hate U Give, and I am going to pass this onto my stepdaughters because that is what I do with the YA novels that I love.

FCC Notice:  I bought my own copy.

Cat and Dog Join Forces to Ban Easter Bunny from Home

StockSnap_bunnyImage credit: Mike Birdy via Stocksnap

Tim Gunn the two-year-old Siamese mix and Columbo the one-year-old Saint Bernard have joined forces for the first time in their lives. While their owners have hoped the two pets would live in suburban peace together, it was violent intent that brought the two together. For weeks, Columbo’s large heavily jowled head has been seen bent towards Tim’s small silvery head, as they have plotted how to destroy a mutual enemy: the Easter Bunny.

“If he hops his fluffy tail in here, I will eat him,” said Columbo.

“It is a well-documented fact that rabbits are unsanitary,” Tim added. “They don’t have the decency to use a litter box like a cat or the consideration to do their business outdoors like a dog. Also, they have fleas, which they then pass on to well-groomed domestic animals.”

“I bet he tastes like chicken,” Columbo continued.

“And he not only imports fleas, but brings in unhealthy foods that have been scientifically proven to cause both obesity and cavities in humans. Any cat can tell you that a fat, cavity-ridden human cannot fill a feline’s food bowl as quickly as a healthy human can,” the cat concluded.

Their research has consisted of watching Home Alone on repeat and analyzing which booby traps seem most reproducible. They have managed to collect materials for five booby traps thus far.

If booby traps fail, the cat has a second plan. Tim Gunn has been spotted pulling out Mastering the Art of French Cooking and leaving it open to rabbit recipes. It seems he would most like to see the Easter Bunny in a pâté.

The Easter Bunny was not available for comment.

April Book Review Club:  Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi (memoir)

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I have been thinking a lot about reading these days: reading as escape, reading for information, reading as an act of resistance. It’s my interest in reading as resistance that led me to this book. I have picked this book up in bookstores at least a dozen times over the last decade, only to put it back down.  Which I am now grateful that I did because I needed to read this book –and read it as a first time reader– right now.

Reading Lolita in Tehran is the story of Professor Azar Nafisi’s book club, where she invited seven of her female former university students to join a weekly reading group at her house where they would discuss forbidden works of Western literature.  There are four sections to this memoir:  Lolita, Gatsby, James, and Austen.  Lolita and Austen serve as bookends and tell the story of the book club, while the Gatsby and James sections go into Nafisi’s academic career and how her students responded to Western literature in different political climates. Reading Lolita in Tehran praises how literature teaches empathy, which the author would likely say has more value than any moral lessons embedded in the text, and emphasizes the importance of imagination.

In addition to being about literature and personal liberty, Reading Lolita in Tehran is about the lives of women and about female friendships.  The young women in the class range in age from the late teens to early thirties. Some are liberal, while others are more religious and traditional.  Some have had multiple marriages while others have never had a boyfriend.  Some of them have been imprisoned.  All of them are well-educated, and each is independent in her own way.  They are alike in their love of literature and in that all of them are restricted by the laws and culture of Iran.

As I read this, I kept thinking of current events.  On some level, this is not quite fair to what the people of Iran went through in the eighties and nineties.  Nafisi had friends and family who were executed during this time, and she kept a nightly vigil outside her small children’s bedrooms while bombs fell on Tehran.  Nafisi had to make choices between her career and her personal liberty.  Meanwhile I am irritated by the people who are currently in power and concerned about what will happen to the rights of women and minorities over the next few years.  So I am not suggesting the two situations are the same, especially on the level of severity, but I think lessons can be learned from Iran in how political climates can change so dramatically and how everyday people both contribute to this and are victimized by it.

I hope that in ten years time, I will look back at my current blog posts lamenting certain current events and find my posts to be melodramatic and ridiculous.  I hope the current national environment is nothing more than a normal step backyard that will soon be remedied by moving two steps forward.  I hope the checks and balances are more effective than I think and the American people less apathetic.  But it may not be.  Reading Lolita in Tehran does show that progressive changes can be reversed.  Nafisi writes of being young in a progressive environment, only to have her daughter be born into an environment where women’s rights had moved back to what they had been in her grandmother’s youth when girls could be brides at age nine and courts ruled in favor of domestic abusers.

It could have been a depressing book, but it is not.  It is a celebration of life, love, friendship, and literature.  This book left me grateful to be a reader and grateful to Professor Nafisi for sharing her stories and her life with us readers.  I wanted to be part of her book club, eating oranges and pastries and drinking tea out of beautiful glassware, while talking about literature and life with these women.  And I am left with an urge to read and/or re-read the books mentioned in this memoir, looking at them with a new perspective.

FCC Notice:  I read a library copy.

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Dog Learns It is Bad Manners To Film Action Movie in Dog-Sitter’s House*

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When Columbo’s dog-sitter got home from a routine shopping trip at Target, she thought her house had been robbed.  A sofa was flipped over, and a large puddle in the hallways indicated that one or both dogs had an accident.  In the next ten minutes, she checked locks on all windows or doors and opened all closets to search for intruders before concluding that no burglary had taken place.

One Hour Earlier:

Columbo, the one-year-old Saint Bernard, was convinced he was the canine Chuck Norris and his big break in “the biz” was just around the corner.

“I was telling Lilley,” he said, referring to the dog at whose home he was staying at, “a dog just can’t wait for the right opportunity. He has to make his opportunity.  Which is why I thought of a YouTube channel.”

Lille y knew exactly where to find a videocamera in the home, so as soon as her owner went to the store, they set up the camera and began filming.

“Our story was to be told in several installments.  It’s about a dog –that would be me– with superpowers.  He’s just an ordinary dog, you see, until the makes the discovery that humans hide all the foods that would allow dogs to access their superpowers.  You know, the chocolate, the grapes, the onions, the stuff they claim is ‘poisonous,’ so we won’t become more powerful than them.”

When asked if his story was inspired by the Garden of Eden, he denied any connection, claiming he was inspired by age-old dog mythology.

The two dogs were taping their most action-packed scene –where Super Columbo realizes he has powers and zooms around the house– when they heard the sound of the car in the driveway, just as the sofa tipped over after Columbo enthusiastically launched off the sofa back.

“It wasn’t supposed to end like this.  We were supposed to wrap up filming and clean up any messes that had been created on the set.”

After Discovery:

When video camera was confiscated and the house put back in order, the dogs were put in the backyard, each of them insisting the other was guilty of creating the puddle in the hallway.

“I am not sorry we had big dreams and began filming.  I suppose it was a poor choice to do so in someone else’s home, without written consent.  In retrospect, I should have convinced my owners’ children to film and direct the film instead.”

*Sadly based off of true events.

March Book Review Club: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

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When Caesar first invites Cora to run away from the Randall plantation, she says no. She is cautious, like her grandmother, Ajarry, who learned caution through her own tragedies. The second time he asks, she says yes, because she is also independent, like her mother Mabel, who was the only slave to successfully run away from the Randalls. Caesar and Cora join the underground railroad, which is a literal underground train in this novel. Cora knows little about the country, and she finds each state to be a completely different world. Her birth state of Georgia is a land of misery and evil landowners. South Carolina wears a progressive face, as Cora learns to read and live as a free woman there, but it has secrets. North Carolina is a nightmare police state, where runaway slaves are routinely hanged in the hanging tree in the town square along with those who aid them, and children turn in their parents to the gallows and neighbors turn on neighbors. Tennessee is a cursed land, ravaged by wildfires and yellow fever. Indiana is a haven, where Cora can farm the land and read books.

While Cora is on the run throughout the country, the infamous slave catcher, Ridgeway is chasing her. Ridgeway never got over his inability to capture Mabel, Cora’s mother, so he pursues Cora with all of his energy, even after Cora’s former owner dies, eliminating the possibility of a cash award. Ridgeway has a diabolical sense of irony. He purchased exactly one slave in his life, Homer, who he immediately freed and taught to read and capture runaway slaves. He is also a firm believer in Manifest Destiny. He understands the Trail of Tears and slavery to be injustices, but he simply doesn’t care, as both are in line with his vision for the country.

I did enjoy The Underground Railroad, and I do recommend it. It was creative and well-written. It is primarily written from Cora’s point of view in a close third person narration, but short chapters scattered throughout the novel portray the POV of other characters, so we also get stories of Ridgeway, of Caesar, of corrupt doctors, and of wannabe missionaries. The characters are all well-developed. Some are kind; others are monstrous; and all of them are part of a world where there are no good choices, only difficult and dangerous ones.  While this is a good read, it is a difficult one, as there is no justice for many of the characters.

Although it may be a dark book about a terrible time in our nation’s history, The Underground Railroad is a good reminder that Americans are creative and resourceful in the face of injustice. We may not have runaway slaves being rounded up in our current age, but a hunt for undocumented immigrants is on, as civil rights and women’s rights both move backwards and religious freedoms are under attack, making both creativity and sacrifice as necessary as they were in the nineteenth century.

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FCC Notice: I bought my own copy.

Cat Forms Goal to Nap on Every Book in House

timgunnMichigan housecat, Tim Gunn, has declared his goal to sleep on every single book in his suburban home.

“It’s hardly the Library of Congress, but it will do,” said the two-year-old Siamese mix.

The cat enjoys sleeping on different types of books because he has a unique experience with each one. “Yesterday, I slept on a leather-bound copy of The Three Musketeers, and oh my Simba, it was heavenly. It smelled like an English lord’s library, and I dreamt of swordfights, castles full of secrets, and ladies in silk dresses. That’s the kind of book I prefer on a weekend when I’m feeling a little extravagant.”

Tim does not require that all of his books be leather-bound or even hardcover. “On Tuesday, I napped on a secondhand copy of The World According to Garp, and it was surprisingly enjoyable. It was the stuff of lazy afternoons with mugs of cocoa and the humans walking quietly around the house in fuzzy socks as snow falls outside.”

To date, his favorite book to slumber upon is in The Collected Poems of John Keats (“It’s like falling into a world where everything is intricate perfection”) and his least favorite is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (“No kitten should sleep on Frankenstein before his first birthday. It left me traumatized with a fear of both scientists and stitches.”).

The cat does not want to neglect a single book in his literary nap-a-thon. “I will dream of enchantments and magical creatures while slumbering on Harry Potter; I will dance through many a neighborhood ball while resting on Jane Austen; and feast upon green eggs and ham while dozing on Dr. Seuss.”

And when his goal is complete, will he pack up and move to the Library of Congress? “Why not?” Tim said. “I hear they could use a cat like me.”

Valentine’s Day Reading

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The rom-com:  The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion.

Genetics professor Don Tillman has looks, brains, a successful career, and no social skills.  When Don decides he is ready to get married, in spite of a history of first dates and no second dates, he decides to approach the matter scientifically with a sixteen-page survey to weed out all undesirable women.  As he embarks upon the Wife Project, a meddling colleague and friend asks him to help Rosie, a bartending grad student, find her biological father.  Naturally, the Wife Project and the Father Project are meant to collide.  The Rosie Project is charming and fun and just different enough from your standard romantic comedy.

water_for_chocolate

The culinary love story:  Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel.

This novel tells the story of the de la Garza family, where the youngest daughter is expected to remain unmarried and care for the mother until her last days.  Tita, as the youngest daughter, is forbidden to marry her love, Pedro.  Instead her mother marries off Tita’s older sister to Pedro.  Tita is outwardly obedient to her mother, but her emotions come out through her cooking, resulting in poisoned wedding cakes and aphrodisiac quail recipes. Tita’s recipes provide structure for the novel, with each chapter beginning with a recipe that will be central to the story.

ove

True love lost:  A Man Named Ove by Fredrik Backman.

Fifty-nine-year-old Ove is the curmudgeon next door.  He is the neighbor who will tell you when you haven’t disposed of your trash properly or if he doesn’t care for your car.  But Ove was once a young man who took the train two hours in the wrong direction every day just to spend time with the woman who would become his wife.  And while Sonja was alive, she was all the color he needed.  With Sonja gone and retirement forced upon him, Ove’s life has lost both its joy and its purpose, and he wakes each day resolved to kill himself at last.  Life has other ideas for him in the form of unwanted new neighbors and an unwanted cat.  Soon Ove must once again become the man Sonja always knew him to be: “the strangest superhero.”

(The story of a widower is admittedly a strange choice for a Valentine’s Day reading list, but I found the love story of Ove and Sonja, told in chapters that alternate with the main storyline, to be extraordinary.)

fates-and-furies

The darker Valentine:  Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff.

Because sometimes one is not in the mood for a fluffy Valentine’s Day read.  This novel covers 20 years of marriage between Lotto and Mathilde.  In college, Lotto is a womanizer, and Mathilde is studious and keeps to herself, spending her weekends modeling.  Lotto and Mathilde begin dating just before graduation and impulsively get married.  Told from Lotto’s point of view for the first half and Mathilde’s for the second, Fates and Furies is not an optimistic or idealized view of marriage, but more of a look at loyalty and betrayal in the murkier areas of life.  It’s love story with complications.  And secrets upon secrets.

pride_prejudice

The classic: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

Mistaken first impressions are a common starting point for light-hearted romances, but I doubt it has ever been done quite as well as in Pride and Prejudice.  Miss Elizabeth Bennet initially loathes Mr. Darcy.  He snubs her at a dance and discourages his close friend from proposing to Elizabeth’s shy sister, Jane.  Mr. Wickham, a soldier, confirms Elizabeth’s suspicions with stories of lifelong wrongs from Mr. Darcy.  In time, Elizabeth learns she’s trusted the wrong man and her own incorrect impressions. Like all of Austen’s novels, Pride and Prejudice has perfectly developed characters and understated wit.  However, it has something that the other novels lack.  That “something” is, of course, Mr. Darcy.