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Consuming Culture: Where was Betsy-Tacy during my childhood? Part 3

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Where was Betsy-Tacy during my childhood? Part 3


Moving right along in my little Betsy-Tacy project—I just finished the next two in the series, Betsy Was a Junior and Betsy and Joe (books 7 and 8, if you’re keeping track!).

So…are Betsy-Tacy fans everywhere going to shun me if I say I didn’t absolutely love these?

Now let me explain! These books cover Betsy’s (and Tacy’s and Tib’s) junior and senior years of high school. When I look back at my own late years of high school, I remember having fun but I also absolutely shudder at my level of immaturity—in terms of how I related to my peers and how I presented myself. And I thought I was soooo mature, so far above every other 17-year-old. I mean, I read books for fun! And I listened to jazz and I liked old movies! So as I read these two, particularly Betsy Was a Junior, I just cringed as I thought about my own experiences.

Betsy said throughout Betsy Was a Junior that she was “growing up,” and I get the impression that is not something Betsy wants to do. Well, we’re exactly alike in that regard (I could make a very long list of ways I’m still a 12-year-old at heart)! Julia’s left home for University, and Betsy is determined to fill that void  by being as mature as Julia is—filling the Ray house with music, acting mature and mysterious around boys, presenting herself as sophisticated. But Betsy is still Betsy and despite her school year resolutions, she gets caught up in frivolous fun with the Crowd. The girls start a sorority, emulating Julia’s college experiences, but they lack an understanding of how exclusive their group seems to their peers and, in turn, earn a poor reputation. Between incidents at school and at home, Betsy realizes that all of her unsettled feelings stem from disappointment with herself! And this disappointment is what finally leads her on the path to growing up. Betsy always gains self-awareness when she actually has the time to reflect…so we hope this time it will stick!

And then next up is Betsy and Joe which, honestly, I found a little…dare I say…tedious? I just felt like nothing happened until the end! Julia was out exploring the Great World in Europe; Betsy’s crowd had mostly given up childish parties and games, so everything felt routine; and about three chapters were devoted to a single football game, which didn’t seem to have much of an overarching point! The real fun and tension lay, of course, in Betsy’s relationship with Joe, which is always either swell or on the rocks (yes, I said swell!). The point I think was made in this one was that hey, Betsy’s not trying to grow up; Betsy has grown up. She’s a 1910 high school graduate planning to attend the U in the fall. We’ve followed Betsy as she’s expanded her world to beyond the Big Hill and now (eventually) beyond Deep Valley and, more notably, her childhood.

A discussion with my neighborhood friendly Betsy-Tacy enthusiast informed me that many B-T fans find Betsy Was a Junior pretty hard to read. I’m wondering if junior year is just universally a tough year for everyone, because it was by far the worst in my adolescence. It definitely was the year of growing up, for both me and Betsy, as you have to start thinking for the first time of what’s next, of life beyond what you know. And that can be very scary. So while I say I didn’t enjoy these two titles as much as previous ones, maybe it’s just because they remind me of that horrible unsettling feeling that comes with maturing!

On a final note, there were a couple great lines that caught my eye:

“Miss Cobb struck a note and said, as she had in previous years to Julia and Betsy, ‘This is middle C.’ Betsy liked that. She always liked things to go on as they had before.”

“People were always saying to Margaret, ‘Well, Julia sings and Betsy writes. Now what is little Margaret going to do?’ Margaret would smile politely, for she was very polite, but privately she stormed to Betsy with flashing eyes, ‘I’m not going to do anything. I want to just live. Can’t people just live?”

…and the great final line of Betsy and Joe. But I’ll save that for next time so as not to spoil the ending for you!

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The Five Borough Book Review: April 2013

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Book Tour: The Mermaid of Brooklyn

If I was planning on having children anytime in the near future (disclaimer: I am not), Amy Shearn’s The Mermaid of Brooklyn would make me seriously rethink that decision. And, actually, is making me reconsider having children ever.

The story’s main character, Jenny Lipkin, is one of those Park Slope stereotypes that most of New York City usually speaks of with disdain. (That’s my characterization, because that is how it is in real life.) She was a successful magazine editor who just decided to give up her career to have kids and stay home and raise them. Thus she becomes part of the Park Slope Bubble, spending days within a 5 block radius of home, where neighborhood politics gain a little too much importance—it’s almost like high school again, stuck in this small insular community where the smallest gossip inevitably gets blown out of proportion because there is nothing better to do and this small world becomes your ENTIRE LIFE and you think everything else in the neighborhood, in the CITY, revolves around you.

Ok, so now do you understand the type of world Jenny’s living in?

On top of that, her husband went out for cigarettes one night and just never came back. So now Jenny’s stuck with two small children, her only support system being in-laws that she’s never felt completely welcome around and her best mom-friend in the neighborhood. Jenny also appears to have a history with post-partum depression, though it’s never overtly identified or explored. When Jenny’s driven to the edge, she does the unthinkable and jumps off the Brooklyn Bridge.

Except she survives. And when floating there under the waters of the East River (gross), her body becomes inhabited by a mermaid that brings her back to life, puts her on a train back to Park Slope, and helps Jenny put her life back together. But this mermaid bit isn’t really the main point of the story—don’t worry, it’s not that much fantasy. It’s more about the situation Jenny is faced with and how she copes.

This was an odd book for someone my age and in my situation. I live in NYC and can understand Jenny’s feeling of isolation 100%. I loved how she observed her own community with such a grain of salt, understanding “this place is ridiculous, but somehow I became a part of it and now it is my life.” What I can’t relate to, though, is the isolation that comes with having children. I’m sure it’s one of those things you don’t understand until you experience it, but Jenny frustrated me often because she was just so whiny, woe is me, no one understands my pain, self-absorbed. She focused on surviving but in the most noxious way possible, with a mentality of “I don’t deserve this” rather than “I can get through this.” For that, I failed to garner too much sympathy for her.

The pacing of this is slow as you become absorbed in Jenny’s small little world. And as you read, you’re left questioning the validity of much of the story. Did things happen? Is this all metaphorical? Does it even matter? Shearn has chosen an interesting way to tell a story that will connect with many readers—many mothers—who have probably felt very close to the edge one time or another. And so because I haven’t felt that, I’m not totally sure what to take away from the end, if anything. Maybe someone who has been there, done that would finish the last page and say, “YES.” But I was just sorta left with, “Okaaaaay….”

This would be a great book for a book club of ladies who can relate, because it has many discussion points. No issue is too obvious; they are presented subtly or somewhat hidden beneath layers. It would be a good one to explore with a group.

This post is a stop on The Mermaid of Brooklyn‘s TLC Book Tour! There will be many more fabulous bloggers posting their opinions in the next two weeks; the tour runs through May 3rd—visit the tour page to see the schedule and follow the discussion.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Fiction | Finding Freedom on the Open Road

Usually, as one deeply committed to the literary realm, I am disinclined to admit that I judge books by their cover. But this one I totally did. I absolutely fell in love with this cover, and that was my sole reason for picking it up.

Luckily, the actual story in Nina LaCour’s The Disenchantments did not disappoint.

Colby and his best friend Bev have had a plan since they started high school. Upon graduation, they were putting college on hold and packing up to backpack through Europe instead. But not before their final farewell—a week-long tour with Bev’s band, The Disenchanments, from San Francisco up the coast to Portland. The tour doesn’t start so well, though, when Bev reveals to Colby that she’s abandoning their plans to start college in the fall.

It’s not so much Bev’s abandonment of their plans, though Colby is mega-disappointed he won’t be traipsing around Europe with his best friend. It’s that he knows she has been lying to him for so long—long enough to apply, long enough to get accepted, and long enough to make plans—all while going on as if they’re really heading to Europe after the tour.

It doesn’t help that (of course) Colby is actually totally in love with Bev, making this situation 1,000 times worse for him.

The Disenchanments covers the week of that road trip, and it’s a pretty delightful, optimistic experience. We experience the story through Colby’s eyes, and he’s clearly feeling a lot. Not just about Bev and the situation at hand; he’s thinking all about friendships, relationships, love, and life—particularly, what exactly he’s going to be doing with his once this road trip is done. All the interesting people they meet along the way—never too “out there” and never “too much” to feel contrived—are like pieces of the puzzle Colby is working on about his life.

The thing I liked most about this book is like what I said about the characters not feeling contrived. It never felt like the author was trying to hard to make a statement about life and uncertainty and the freedom that comes after high school. For example, you’d think that, being on tour and all, The Disenchantments would have a following. But in reality, they kinda suck. And Colby knows it. And everyone who listens to them knows it. And the band members themselves probably know it. But they don’t care. They like to play, so they do. It would’ve felt too phony if, on top of everything else, the band was actually amazing. Instead, I think it provided this amazing message about originality in a tone that didn’t take itself too seriously. It felt authentic.

Overall, it made me want that exhilarating feeling of uncertainty when you have nothing but freedom before you—both on the road and in life.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Nonfiction | Under a Watchful Regime

I recently realized that it’s been a long time since I’ve read any nonfiction, despite having an abundance of nonfiction titles on my to-read list. I’ve been wanting to read Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea after seeing it featured on several bookstores’ shelves and sporadically running across interesting articles and photo series depicting life in the insular North Korea. Demick tells the narrative of life as a North Korean through the eyes of six defectors, covering the county’s history from its split with the rest of the peninsula to the present day.

One of the first things I realized from this book was that Demick’s writing style was going to be very easy to understand. She opens with a history of the Korean War and how, essentially, North Korea is all our fault. It was Americans that chose the dividing line, causing ideologies to flock to each pole—communism in the North, capitalism in the South. Overall, Demick’s quick overview gave me a better understanding of the Korean conflict than AP US History did back in high school.

The second thing I realized from this book was I never knew I could feel so hungry.

Much of the narrative covers the North Korean famine of the 1990s. She went into great anecdotal detail of how her subjects had to scavenge for food, creatively finding ways to fill their stomachs. And how sadly, most of them didn’t even realize that this wasn’t normal. They were part of such a cult of worship, utterly trusting in their government and beloved leaders, that it was never even a consideration to blame the government. Many pages are filled with the day-to-day struggles North Koreans had to endure as they fought to survive even as an incredibly repressive regime watched their every move.

What’s so interesting is how long these rules of society remained, despite the desperation—rules against personal relationships, voiced opinions, and outlawed media; all things that are trivial when you’re literally fighting for your life. It’s as if the government expected people to just not notice the hunger and go one with their daily lives.

There was, of course, a breaking point for many, and this led citizens to begin escaping to neighboring China or South Korea. The stories of these journeys are perhaps the most interesting part of the novel, as you learn the risks, sacrifices, and hardships along the way. What’s even more interesting, though, is that the number of defectors is still an incredibly small portion of the North Korean population. There’s something that is keeping many citizens where they are, and it’s fascinating—and frightening—to think about the strength of this mental influence.

I thought Demick’s narrative style was a compelling, though terrifying, way to tell the story, because you are put in these particular shoes, following their footsteps. I was flabbergasted with the realization that I was alive during this. Not just alive because I was alive when the Berlin Wall fell. But alive as a conscious and aware individual that had the capacity to learn and understand such a situation. It seems so recent for such a terrible atrocity. This was an easy to follow, though sometimes difficult to read, solid piece of nonfiction that illuminates a mind-boggling reality.

Consuming Culture: MAY Book Events: New York

Saturday, May 1, 2010

MAY Book Events: New York


5/3, Monday
  • “Island Beneath the Sea” Isabel Allende, B&N Union Square, 7:00 pm
  • “Alone With You” Marisa Silver, McNally Jackson, 7:00 pm
  • “She Ain’t Heavy, She’s My Mother” Bryan Batt, B&N Lincoln Triangle, 7:30 pm
5/4, Tuesday
  • “Dead in the Family” Charlaine Harris, B&N Union Square, 7:00 pm
  • “I’ll Mature When I’m Dead” Dave Barry, B&N Lincoln Triangle, 7:00 pm
  • Launch Party for “The Singer’s Gun” Emily St. John Mandel, WORD Brooklyn, 7:30 pm
5/5, Wednesday
  • “Private Life” Jane Smiley, B&N 86th & Lex, 7:00 pm
  • “My Empire of Dirt” Manny Howard, McNally Jackson, 7:00 pm
  • “Innocent” Scott Turow, B&N Lincoln Triangle, 7:30 pm
5/6, Thursday
  • “American Subversive” David Goodwillie, McNally Jackson, 7:00 pm
  • Launch Party for “And the Heart Says Whatever” Emily Gould, WORD Brooklyn, 7:00 pm
5/7, Friday
  • “Hank Zipzer: The Brand New Me!” Henry Winkler, B&N Lincoln Triangle, 4:30 pm
  • “Glorious” Bernice L. McFadden, B&N Tribeca, 7:00 pm
5/11, Tuesday
  • “The Cardturner” Louis Sachar, B&N 86th & Lex, 1:00 pm
  • “No Wonder My Parents Drank” Jay Mohr, B&N Tribeca, 7:00 pm
  • “The Singer’s Gun” Emily St. John Mandel, McNally Jackson, 7:00 pm
  • “War” Sebastian Junger, B&N Union Square, 7:30 pm
5/12, Wednesday
  • “Hand of Fate” Lis Wiehl, B&N Tribeca, 7:00 pm
  • “Heart of the Matter” Emily Giffin, B&N 86th & Lex, 7:00 pm
  • “Orion You Came and You Took All My Marbles” Kira Henehan, McNally Jackson, 7:00 pm
  • “Special Agent Pendergast: Fever Dream” Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child, B&N Lincoln Triangle, 7:30 pm
5/13, Thursday
  • “It’s Not Summer Without You” Jenny Han, B&N Lincoln Triangle, 4:30 pm
  • “Ruby’s Spoon” Anna Lawrence Pietroni, McNally Jackson, 7:00 pm
  • Launch Party for “Falling is Like This” Kate Rockland, WORD Brooklyn, 7:30 pm
  • “The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of Little Bighorn” Nathaniel Philbrick, B&N Lincoln Triangle, 7:30 pm
5/14, Friday
  • Debut Novelist Night Heidi S. Durrow, Michelle Young-Stone, WORD Brooklyn, 7:30 pm
5/17, Monday
  • “I Loved, I Lost, and I Made Spaghetti” Giulia Melucci, McNally Jackson, 7:00 pm
  • “The Last Ember” Daniel Levin, B&N Park Slope, 7:30 pm
5/18, Tuesday
  • “The Seven Year Bitch” Jennifer Belle, B&N Tribeca, 7:00 pm
  • “Slow Love” Dominique Browning, McNally Jackson, 7:00 pm
  • “61 Hours” Lee Child, B&N Lincoln Triangle, 7:30 pm
5/19, Wednesday
  • “My Fair Lazy” Jen Lancaster, B&N Union Square, 7:00 pm
  • “My Name is Mary Sutter” Robin Oliveira, B&N 86th & Lex, 7:00 pm
  • “Talk Softly” Cynthea O’Neil, McNally Jackson, 7:00 pm
5/26, Wednesday
  • “Falling Is Like This” Kate Rockland, B&N Tribeca, 7:00 pm
  • “Peep Show” Joshua Braff, B&N 82nd & Broadway, 7:00 pm
5/27, Thursday
  • “Vanishing Point” Ander Monson, McNally Jackson, 7:00 pm
5/28, Friday
  • “The Beautiful Between” Alyssa Sheinmel, B&N 86th & Lex, 7:00 pm
  • “For the Win” Cory Doctorow, McNally Jackson, 7:00 pm

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Consuming Culture: Fiction | The Quietest Most Eventful Summer

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Fiction | The Quietest Most Eventful Summer


Gail Godwin’s Flora is a quiet book. There’s no climactic plot line, no gut-wrenching relationships, nor any other real dramatic element. However, this is a book filled with tension simmering to the brim, told eloquently by our precocious 10-year-old narrator, Helen.

Helen is going through one of the rougher patches of her short life—her grandmother and main caregiver Nonie has just passed away and her dad is spending the summer in Oak Ridge doing important war work as WWII draws to a close. While he’s gone, he’s left Helen in the charge of her long-deceased mother’s cousin, Flora. And the personality differences between these two could not be greater.

Describing Helen simply as “precocious” is not nearly descriptive enough. She’s incredibly smart but also intuitive and confident and possesses a haughty attitude more typical of a smart-aleck 16-year-old than of someone her age. She’s mirrored Nonie’s perspectives and attitudes and experiences the world with a more mature level of cynicism, as if she already knows how it all works; she’s realistic and reads people for (what she believes) they are rather than how they appear. Flora, on the other hand, is bubbly and outgoing, but her personality is usually just a mask for her lack of self-confidence. She’s constantly questioning her own thoughts and actions and desperately needs someone to guide her through young adulthood. Channeling a Nonie-level of knowledge and life experience, Helen immediately considers herself superior to the anxious and inexperienced Flora.

With our two conflicting protagonists isolated in Helen’s crumbling old house, Flora explores these clashes of personality between two characters who are each at a poignant moment in their adolescent development and who each desperately need the guidance that Nonie once provided.

I describe this as a “quiet” book, because in this long and uneventful summer is where the meat of the story lies; as the reader, we are constantly assessing and re-assessing the interactions between Helen and Flora with consideration to each’s perspective. Helen is remarkably astute for her age, but we as the reader are able to see that the world according to Helen is still skewed with an immature misunderstanding. These are brilliantly crafted characters that allow a lot to be read between the lines. It doesn’t feel particularly complex as you read, but the story has depth; these characters—their differences, their misunderstandings, their flaws—will stick with you.

1 comment:

Aarti said…

I have never read Pilcher before though I have seen her around. Will give her a shot if she writes such great, sweeping sagas 🙂

The Five Borough Book Review: February 2011

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What is the internet??

The February pick for the Idlewild bookclub was Tom Rachman’s best-seller, The Imperfectionists—a welcome change of pace from last month’s philosophical textbook.

This was an interesting book club choice. At first, I didn’t think there would be much to discuss, but it turned out to be a good one. The story is about an English-language newspaper in Rome that, after fifty years of publication, is struggling to stay afloat in the changing landscape of news media. While this is the overarching plot, this book is really a collection of vignettes, each focusing on a different employee of the newspaper, in which their personal lives and work lives are interwoven.

The thing about the characters is…none of them are likable and each is flawed. (The one exception, in my opinion, is the lady who collected the newspapers, the one character not an employee.) I felt sympathy for some characters, was disgusted by others, but each of them were journalists, or exhibited what we decided could be described as typical “journalistic behavior”—somewhat cold, ambitious to the point of conniving. The women all seemed horrible, and I’m fully convinced Rachman has some serious woman issues that he was projecting. Despite disliking most of the characters, I was hungry to read each story, and they each deserved to be dissected. However, Rachman has this tendency to write an interesting character study and then slam a sentence onto the very end to indicate complete hopelessness for these characters. I found this trait very obvious, but I’m not sure anyone else at book club found it to be as poignant as I did!

Naturally our discussion led to technology and media and how the newspaper is nearly obsolete. How many people under the age of 30 currently subscribe to the daily print version of a newspaper? Not very many. I’m a lover of print, but realistically, technology allows a faster, easier look at the news. It’s not difficult to see where the newspaper world is heading, but it’s fascinating to see where it and technology have gone in just the past ten years.

To illustrate my point, watch the video below from 1994.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Why Libraries Kick Ass

Have I told you about my history in the library? Well, if not, here it is. In the fourth grade, my mom caught me organizing books on the shelves of Barnes & Noble and told me I needed to be a librarian. In high school, I worked in the public library as a Page and found it to be the best job ever (still is). I had so much fun, I was even determined to make a documentary called “The Secret Lives of Librarians” because my coworkers were so fun and interesting and so not your stereotypical librarian.

Now I have a big-girl job and I work in publishing, and I love it (except for the sitting in front of a computer 8 hours a day thing—my eyes, my eyes!). But I also just started Graduate school to earn my M.L.S. Yes, that means I will be a MASTER of Library Science. I hope to one day have a business card with the title “Super Librarian” or “Librarian Extraordinaire” or something to that effect.

Anyway, I read a brief blurb about this book in the NYTimes Book Review last week and…I NEED IT! I’ve put it on hold to pick up at a semi-local branch of the Brooklyn Public Library that is actually open on weekends (because no, MY local branch is neither open on the weekends nor past 6pm on weeknights…SOOOO easily accessible, thanks NYC). Greenpoint, here I come!

I have a strong belief that the public library as an institution will never disappear. Technology will change, methods of finding and using information will change, but the library can and will adapt as it has in the past. Libraries aren’t just places to find books; they are information centers—community centers—constantly changing depending on how society searches for, finds, and uses information. Libraries are necessary to serve a need within a community, support underserved or overlooked populations, provide its users with the easiest and most useful access to the information requested. As much as I want to support publishers by buying their books, I think I’m a bigger proponent of the public library. Libraries inspire, and I don’t think they will ever be irrelevant.

Book blurb:

Buried in info? Cross-eyed over technology? From the bottom of a pile of paper and discs, books, e-books, and scattered thumb drives comes a cry of hope: Make way for the librarians! They want to help. They’re not selling a thing. And librarians know best how to beat a path through the googolplex sources of information available to us, writes Marilyn Johnson, whose previous book, The Dead Beat, breathed merry life into the obituary-writing profession.

This Book Is Overdue! is a romp through the ranks of information professionals and a revelation for readers burned out on the clichÉs and stereotyping of librarians. Blunt and obscenely funny bloggers spill their stories in these pages, as do a tattooed, hard-partying children’s librarian; a fresh-scrubbed Catholic couple who teach missionaries to use computers; a blue-haired radical who uses her smartphone to help guide street protestors; a plethora of voluptuous avatars and cybrarians; the quiet, law-abiding librarians gagged by the FBI; and a boxing archivist. These are just a few of the visionaries Johnson captures here, pragmatic idealists who fuse the tools of the digital age with their love for the written word and the enduring values of free speech, open access, and scout-badge-quality assistance to anyone in need.

Those who predicted the death of libraries forgot to consider that in the automated maze of contemporary life, none of us—neither the experts nor the hopelessly baffled—can get along without human help. And not just any help—we need librarians, who won’t charge us by the question or roll their eyes, no matter what we ask. Who are they? What do they know? And how quickly can they save us from being buried by the digital age?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What I’ve Read Lately

Library school has begun, and I am a busy little bee day-in and day-out. I can barely find time to go to the grocery store, so I certainly haven’t found much time to blog about what I’ve been reading lately (which, actually, has been a lot, thanks to my 2.5 hour total commute to and from class on Mondays and Tuesdays!).  Here’s a quick rundown. I have more to come:

Carolina Moon by Jill McCorkle — It’s been a while, Jill. Colin had me read a story from an F. Scott Fitzgerald collection called “The Ice Palace,” which features a girl from the South. After that, I knew it’d been too long since I’d read some Southern lit, and McCorkle is my go-to. Carolina Moon is about a small town in North Carolina and the eccentric folk whose lives seem to all intersect at a “cigarette rehab” called Quee’s Place. McCorkle is so good at storytelling—weaving the lives and histories of these people together, overlapping yet creating unique stories. Even a murder mystery is thrown in to spice things up a notch. The characters are always the best part of McCorkle books, because they’re so detailed. One section was so beautifully written that I completely teared up. Overall, not as good as Ferris Beach, my McCorkle fave, but still satisfying.

I Heart New York by Lindsey Kelk — I was looking for something lighthearted and sorta mindless before I embarked upon the massive Wolf Hall for my February World Reading choice. This is the story of a Londoner, Angela, who gets jilted by her longtime fiancee at her best friend’s wedding and escapes to the Big Apple to find herself and put her life back together. I do like chick-lit, but I’m a little critical when it’s about New York. Chick-lit always plays up the stereotypes of the city, when I think it should be more realistic. Exhibit A) Angela gets a cab from the airport and asks the driver to take her to “any hotel,” at which point he rudely screams obscenities at her with what was some sort of New York accent. For one, cab drivers are usually on their hands-free device speaking to someone in their native tongue to bother speaking to their passengers. Secondly, in 2000, 84% of cab drivers were foreign-born. The chances of getting a stereotypical guy from Queens as your cab driver are incredibly slim if not completely unrealistic. Exhibit B) Angela goes shopping on Broadway in Soho midday and it’s described as relatively calm. FALSE. Broadway in Soho is hell 24/7. I have strong feelings about that street, which was why I found it necessary to point out.

But anyway, like every chick-lit novel, I totally got sucked in and ended up really enjoying it. I find the whole “New York as mecca to find yourself” theme to be total crap, because this city is pretty rough; nothing happens as easily in real life as it happened for Angela. (Seriously, she didn’t have to do a thing; life came to her.) But, I can understand why people would enjoy it. I was starry-eyed about NYC before I lived here, too. However, I liked Angela. She wasn’t too ridiculous of a human being (except for her obnoxious spending habits. What 26-year-old freelance writer can pay for a week-long stay at an $800/night hotel room and daily shopping sprees that total in the thousands? Yeah right.). And Kelk built the anticipation in the story making me want to know what happens next.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Where was Betsy-Tacy during my childhood? The Conclusion

As I left off with the Betsy-Tacy series back in November, I had just finished Betsy’s high school years and I wasn’t too impressed. I don’t know, Betsy In Spite of Herself and Betsy and Joe just seemed to lack the…imagination…that the earlier titles possessed. It probably had something to do with Betsy growing up and dealing with “serious” matters like school and boys. But I just thought Betsy was kind of a nitwit who tried way too hard.

So luckily, when I picked back up with Betsy and the Great World, Betsy had a couple of post-high school years under her belt and was now a mature 20-something. Thank GOD.

In Betsy and the Great World, our heroine has grown up a bit. Betsy is beyond the childish drama and emotions of high school and is traveling throughout Europe just before WWI breaks out. Betsy and Joe have broken up and Betsy spends time in Germany, Venice, London, and Paris trying to get him out of her head. Of course, she makes quick, close friendships in every place she visits (even on the boat crossing the Atlantic!). This one in the series was so refreshing for three reasons:

  1. Finally, NO MORE HIGH SCHOOL. The previous four books—the high school years—seemed to run together. I was tired of the same old drama.
  2. On the same note, no more frivolous, immature Betsy! I know these high school years were just as necessary for Betsy as they are for everyone else, but I sure was missing the confident, independent gal I’d gotten to know so well. This probably has something to do with my own tendency to shudder a bit and quickly change the subject when I think about my own immature personality in my teen years.
  3. Europe! Betsy had these adventures, the kind that, when you are experiencing them, you just can’t believe you’re actually doing it. Like, I backpacked through Europe after college graduation and frequently stopped and thought, “Wow I am backpacking through Europe.” Nothing seems scary, nothing seems unreasonable, and everything just seems AWESOME. That feeling is fun to read.
One thing I’m always struck by with these books: the descriptions of the clothes and hair and jewelry always sound so elegantly fabulous. Then I see the real-life photos in the back of the book (which I love), and everyone just looks so…Victorian frumpy! Does anyone else suffer from this disconnect??
The final book, Betsy’s Wedding, picks up immediately after Betsy’s European tour with her and Joe’s long-awaited reunion (and, I won’t spoil it, but the way by which they contact each other again is the BEST). Betsy and Joe get married (that’s not a spoiler…you can read that on the back of the book), and suddenly, you KNOW Betsy is grown up. 
This final chapter in the Betsy-Tacy series reminded me a bit of the Betty Smith classic I just read, Joy in the Morning. It’s more about the simple things day-in and day-out in the lives of a young newlywed couple. Betsy’s world traveling adventures seemed to have ended and now she’s focusing on (and excited for!) things like making curtains and having babies. Betsy’s life has gradually been taken over by the Real World; the Great War has begun and things get more serious rather than carefree. It seems like a bittersweet ending, when the unpredictability of youth paves way for adulthood and routine (though one that is loved). But knowing our Betsy, despite reaching the age of husband, babies, and white picket fences, her adventures will never be over.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

World Party: How learning history from a graphic novel made me feel like a bad friend

Iran was the country of choice for the month of January in the World Reading Challenge, and I chose Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, the well-known graphic novel turned movie. It was pretty disgraceful of myself that I had not read it yet, especially considering the graphic novel kick I had last year.

Persepolis is the essentially a memoir of a girl and her relationship with her home country, Iran. Satrapi was a child living in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution that began in 1979. Born with a rebellious nature, Satrapi naturally defies the new rules of clothing and entertainment set by the Islamic Regime. But when her parents see this teenage rebellion could actually land her in jail or, worse, dead, they send her to Vienna to attend high school, avoiding the war that has broken out between Iran and Iraq. She later returned to Iran where she attended university before finally self-exiling from her homeland and moving to France.

Despite having a best friend whose father hails directly from Iran, I knew little about Iranian history and culture. [I am ashamed.] As an American child of the nineties, the middle-east is inextricably linked in my head with war and conservative Islam. So I  was absolutely astounded to see and learn that Iranian culture prior to 1980 looks no different from American culture. Once I did further Google Image searching and found that Iranians in the seventies had mustaches and wore white disco pants just like Americans, my mind was blown. It’s so amazing to think that a country and society I know as dominated by a conservative religion is only a tiny blip in Persian history.

The history of Iran was, without a doubt, my favorite part of Persepolis. In fact, the section in which Satrapi was in Austria during her teen years was way less exciting than hearing first-hand accounts of this huge, society-altering revolution. Satrapi has a powerful voice and she was never afraid to stand up for both herself and what she saw as logic and fairness, despite the constant risk of arbitrarily being thrown in jail. Reading along as grows up and makes sense of what’s going on in her environment felt as rewarding for me as it would’ve been for her as she reflected on her past writing this book.

I know that the mental image I have of Iran—with conservative Islamic veils and beards—is not at all representative of modern Iran, and that a rich, vibrant culture does exist despite years of rule by the traditional Islamic Regime. But this is now a place I am seriously curious to learn more about, and that’s exactly what I’ve hoped to get out of the books I read for the World Reading Challenge.