The Nitty Gritty: A Remotely Intellectual Review of Dark Places (by Gillian Flynn)

I was simultaneously repelled and sucked in. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And I hid from my family to read it over Thanksgiving vacation. So, yeah, it was a pretty good read.

Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn (of Gone Girl fame), scared the ever-loving shit out of me.

And there you have it.

The story both sucked me in and repelled me. I wanted to know more, to solve the puzzle, to KNOW what happened. Simultaneously, I just wanted to get it out of my head.

It’s grizzly y’all. The scene that plays over and over again is horrific. It gave me nightmares. And I couldn’t shake it, couldn’t stop it from running on a loop in the back of my mind.

But what’s really compelling about the book is that there are no heroes. Everyone (save perhaps one character) is multi-faceted, complex, and far from perfect. The points of view vary, which adds a texture that builds suspense and draws out the mystery. And it relies on the one principle that shoots abject fear through my heart: everything can rest on one decision. One decision can end life as you know it.

But can it really?

Or is there something bigger at play, beneath the surface, in our subconscious, in events that other people set in motion?

I’m not sure this book will answer that question. But it sure as hell will make you ponder it. And isn’t that what horror is supposed to do: make us wrangle with the light & darkness within ourselves and question what really separates the good from evil?

And maybe that line is much thinner than we think.

 

 

The Nitty Gritty: A Remotely Intellectual Review of Asimov’s I, Robot

I, Robot. It’s about adverbs & adjectives. I mean, it’s about robots. It’s sci-fi with interesting ethical dilemmas. After you get through the adjectives.

Recently, a friendly stranger proffered boxes of sci-fi and fantasy books to fuel my used bookstore dreams. I know enough to admit what I don’t know. And I don’t, at all, know sci-fi. I told my super-rad benefactor this. “No experience with sci-fi at all?” he asked, quizzically. “Well, I did love Battlestar Gallactica… the TV series,” I offered sheepishly. “Oh,” he responded with relief. “You’ll be fine then. Start with Asimov.”

So I did.

I picked I, Robot for the most basic of reasons: it sounded familiar. My copy (a 1983 edition) features a little girl & a pretty dang benign looking robot on the cover. Cool. I’m fascinated by the concept of robots actually developing feelings—evolving into them. Because can they be feelings, if they’re programmed “experiences”? And how the hell is the robot supposed to know what’s up?

I’m sure there are technical, sci-fi-y ways to describe this conundrum. Of course, I don’t know them.

But I do knowthat I could barely FIND the robots in the book for all the adjectives and adverbs Asimov through at me continuously. So many, many words to describe, well, not too much.

The book took me weeks to complete. Weeeeeeeks. But I learned the 3 Laws of Robotics, which tie the stories about nanny robots, mind reading robots, self-righteous robots, playful & clever robots, and machines together. And, ultimately, I was left with some weighty ethical & philosophical questions about free-will versus the greater good.

But it took so very many adjectives to get there.

Book Nerd (to the 43rd power)

The pieces of me–my love for writing and running, my need to sing off key at every song on the radio, my penchant for remembering lines to movies and bits of songs I haven’t heard in years–make me who I am. I honor myself by making time to do things I love, so that my daughter sees the woman who shapes her world as a whole person.

I grew up in a household where motherhood meant absolute sacrifice. My mom gave her all, every day, to care for me and my sister. As much as I scrounge around in the bits and fragments of childhood memories, I don’t remember my mom ever doing something just for herself. Not once.

I wish my mom had known that the whole maternal sacrifice thing… well, it’s kind of bullshit.*

I give my daughter access to all that I am. But the pieces of me–my love for writing and running, my need to sing off key at every song on the radio, my penchant for remembering lines to movies and bits of songs I haven’t heard in years–make me who I am. I honor myself by making time to do things I love, so that my daughter sees the woman who shapes her world as a whole person. Because I am. A full, glorious, flawed, incredibly enthusiastic person.

The one place where that ability to create space for the things I love hasn’t translated is reading. That’s right. Reading. I love to read. More than I love to do almost anything. Consequently, I feel guilty when I do it. There’s this subconscious voice that kicks in that tells me to stop screwing around, to do something productive. There’s something deep down in my soul that believes I don’t deserve that kind of unadulterated pleasure.

So this year, my 43rd year, I am laying down that reading guilt. I’m going to set it free because it does not serve me. And I am going to fully embrace my love of reading. So much so that I am going to read 43 books this year.

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That’s right. Go big or go home, baby.

I’m already reading 3 different books. At one time. So my very first step is, well, you know, to finish one of those. And, yes, they count even if I started reading them before I turned 43… because I am the decider.

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Here’s where you get to play along. Got a book recommendation? Drop it in the comments. I love to explore new authors, new genres… and I’m willing to try almost anything you think is good.

Here’s to uncovering all my book nerd glory in year 43.

 

 

*And by that, I mean it’s unnecessary to being a good mother. My mom’s sacrifice for us was real. It’s one she feels even now. And while I love and appreciate her, I needed to find another way for myself.

Photo by Nicole Honeywill on Unsplash

How Reading Fuels the Resistance

The Temple of My Familiar is my favorite Alice Walker novel. I’ve read it several times. I’ll read it several more, as you do with the pieces that really speak to your soul. I find a bit more of myself every time I pick up that novel. The discovery is never painless, by the way. Just like it isn’t painless for her characters. But the work is worth the truth & liberation it offers.

Last night, Alice Walker and I hung out. Okay, so there were some other folks there, too–approximately 300 of them. But, unsurprisingly, Alice Walker made me feel as though she was speaking directly to me. So, like I said, Alice Walker and I hung out last night. She talked. I listened.

“The work you do in the world is your legacy.”
–Alice Walker, Agnes Scott College, April 22, 2018

I occupy a place of privilege, as a white person on the United States. That privilege is one that I didn’t understand until relatively recently. But now, navigating that privilege–and ultimately dismantling it–seems inherently tied to the work I do & the legacy I will leave.

Raised up (well, in college at least) on works by primarily white feminists, I quickly identified my own oppression at the hand of the sexism and misogyny that runs rampant in the United States. But I didn’t grasp the ways in which women of color deal with layers of oppression–sexism, yes… but also racism, sometimes classism. I didn’t understand the ways that white feminism often leaves women of color behind, failing to address their issues–sometimes failing to even include them in the conversation at all.

Enter Alice Walker.

The Temple of My Familiar is my favorite Alice Walker novel. I’ve read it several times. I’ll read it several more, as you do with the pieces that really speak to your soul. I find a bit more of myself every time I pick up that novel. The discovery is never painless, by the way. Just like it isn’t painless for her characters. But the work is worth the truth & liberation it offers.

The very first truth I took from The Temple of My Familiar was that, as a woman, I had to consider all women in the struggle for equality. In fact, that novel pushed me to see that I needed to fight for the liberation of all people (men included).

As one does with truths they aren’t quite ready to reckon with, I filed that knowledge away to be applied later.

Fast forward 20 years…

I do believe that the work that you do in the world is your legacy. 

And I am ready to work.

I didn’t just get ready on my own. I had a push. On a bright, sunny Saturday afternoon in 2016, I sat and listened as Andrew Joseph’s father shared the story of his son’s death at the hands of negligent law enforcement. A black child dead. And no one held accountable.

That afternoon, something shifted for me. Before that, my responsibility–as I understood it–was simply to raise my child to know right from wrong, to be a good and decent person. But, coming face to face with another parent’s pain introduced me to a greater responsibility: to raise my child with an awareness of the joy and pain in the world and to give her tools and a voice to fight injustice and to demand equality–for everyone.

Living in Southeast Atlanta puts me in close proximity to both the beauty and struggle of being black in America. I’ve discovered–through experience–that living in community with people who are not all just like you cultivates empathy and understanding. Creating community takes more than just saying hey as you pass each other on the street. It’s working side by side on community issues. It’s navigating hard conversations. And (if you’re white like I am) it’s knowing when to listen (instead of speak).

I have come to understand how much our liberation is bound up in each other. And that I must fight for an end to systemic racism (and homophobia, and transphobia, and anti-semitism, and islamophobia, and xenophobia, and toxic masculinity), just as I must continue to speak out against the sexism that plagues American culture.

Recently, at a friend’s house for dinner, we heard our kids chanting something from the next room. “Where do they learn to do that?” I wondered. My friend laughed: “It’s all those marches you take your kid to!” Huh. Maybe it is. But, really, it’s Alice Walker’s fault.

Alice Walker’s work, her words, her activism have changed the way I think and move through the world. She challenges me to see the world beyond my own little sphere–to fight for the humanity and dignity of all people. All while celebrating who I am.

Pretty heady stuff. But it’s also the making of a legacy.

Reading Wonder

I’ve long been a fan of Mondays. New beginnings and all. But THIS Monday felt extra-special shiny and new because I got to read this morning. With kids. And we read a super-funny book to boot.

Let me back up a bit:

I recently volunteered to read with two sixth grade students at our neighborhood middle school. I meet them on Monday mornings. They are, in fact, my first appointment of the day. Together, the 3 of us are reading Wonder. And it is hysterical.

I don’t know how this book escaped my attention, given my love for & devotion to middle grades novels. (Well, I kinda know… it seemed like everyone was reading it… so then I wasn’t sure I wanted to… you know how the tired trope goes…womp.womp.) Anyway, the young kings & I made it through the first few chapters today. At one point, during my turn to read, I was laughing so hard that I had to take a minute to collect myself. Which made king #1 crack up. king #2 smiled (which, trust me, was a VERY big win). But, seriously: Mr. Tushman?!? Miss Butt!?! That kind of stuff can get actual laughter out of sixth grade boys. Witnessed it myself today. Surely did.

I know I get all book nerd about reading. But reading changes LIVES. And, when you’re a middle school kid who doesn’t really know where you fit (and, let’s face it–no middle school kid really knows where they fit, regardless of their bravado), books mean that you never have to be alone. You can be in some far flung corner of the world, instead of waiting out the bell in seventh period. Or, even if you don’t have any actual friends at school,  you can find a friend in a character that feels the same way you do–even if your life experiences aren’t even remotely the same.

I’m so enthused about books that I can’t even pretend to hide my book nerdiness, not even for a minute. As soon as king #1 volunteered that he hated Language Arts because his teacher made him write so much he thought his hand was gonna fall off, I immediately sympathized. Because, yeah, my hand totally fell off in sixth grade from the very same affliction. And I told him so.

“You know what I do now?” I asked him.

“No. What?” he replied. He actually looked a tiny bit interested.

“I write. Know why?”

He grinned. I think he knew where this was going. “Why?”

“Because of that Language Arts teacher who put goofy questions up on the board every day and made me write in my journal ’til my hand fell off.”

Look, if you’re going to hang out every week with two young kings, you might as well be up front about who you are. That’s what I think, at least. And I am a wildly unapologetic book nerd. And I think Wonder may be just the book to make them book nerds, too. (Okay. Okay. That may be a reach. But I bet it’ll make them not hate reading anymore. Which is alright by me.)