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My Body by Emily Ratajkowski
Jan25

My Body by Emily Ratajkowski

If you have read My Body, please message me and let’s set up a Zoom conversation, because this is a book I really feel like I need to talk through with other women.  But in the absence of that conversation, for the moment, I’m going to try to muddle through some of the ideas Emily Ratajkowski brings up (I’m going to refer to her below as EmRata, which is what she goes by on Instagram). In this collection of essays about women’s bodies with a focus on her own body, EmRata explains that her mother was a beautiful woman who taught her that what is important, above all, is being beautiful. And EmRata is beautiful, with a small, slender, sexy body. As one fashion industry person says to her: “you’re like Kate Moss, but with big boobs.” Even though she is short for a fashion model (5’5”), EmRata has become a very successful model, a position she worked hard to attain. And this is, of course, a profession that is all about how you look. Cue Billy Crystal saying “it’s not how you feel, it’s how you look,” and, in this case, it’s completely true. What is a world like in which women are judged by their looks? What it is like to be a woman who chooses a life in which she will be judged by her looks? And what does it mean that the world, in large part, judges women by how they look, and that the prevalent and all-powerful male gaze represents the panel of judges? This book addresses all of those questions. I’m not a fashion model, but I identified with many of the cirrcumstances described by Emrata. My mother didn’t tout beauty as the all-important quality, but it’s not like she de-emphasized it. I was frequently subjected to her once-over before going out, and was sometimes the recipient of the comment “you’re going out in that?” or “why don’t you put on a little lipstick?” In her world, and hence in mine, it matters how you look. Because of that, I, like EmRata, care, and have always cared, how I look and not just that, but I care about what people, even complete strangers, think of how I look. When I describe it that way, it almost sounds like some sort of disease. Perhaps it is. (Let’s give it a name. How about insecurity?) How I look is a crucial element of the impression I make, and I want to have a say in that impression. Who am I going to see today, I’ll think while getting dressed, and what sort of impression do...

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Update: I’ve been reading!
Jan19

Update: I’ve been reading!

Here are some books I’ve read recently, just in case you were wondering! Virgil Wander by Leif Enger I pulled this book off the shelf after it sat there neglected for several years, and loved it so much. Such a quirky, thoughtful, multi-layered book. Our hero (what a great name Virgil Wander is!) doesn’t really wander anywhere, in the physical sense, but his experiences in the hard luck Minnesota town of Greenstone, located on the shore of Lake Superior (should be called a sea, not a lake, one fisherman said) are charming and insightful. And also weird and strange and with the magical quality of a fable. A friend told me today about her visit to Crete and when she went to the beach by the place in the sea where Icarus fell to his death. That has the same sense to me — a magical place where myths come to life. I could imagine myself standing by those waters and shouting: Icarus, why didn’t you listen to your father? And I could easily imagine myself in Greenstone watching an old movie at Virgil’s theater, or flying a kite with Rune, or surfing with Bjorn… Visit with Virgil Wander (Virgil, our Greek guide through the story) and enjoy the journey. This book was Enger’s first novel in ten years, after his bestselling book Peace Like a River. Here We Are by Graham Swift Swift is a wonderful British writer. His book Last Orders won the Booker Prize. I read a book of his called Mothering Sunday, which I adored and which tells the story of a woman’s life and how she came to be a writer because of something that happened to her on a day long ago. Here We Are has much the same shape as Mothering Sunday in that it is a brief book that meanders around in time. It tells the stories of three main characters and how their lives came together and, in one case, apart. It goes back in time to their beginnings in another era, but is placed in the present where one of the characters is recollecting all of this. Read it and determine for yourself whose story it is. Is it about Ronnie the magician and why he disappeared, or about Evie his assistant and how she made a life for herself, our about Jack, who brought them all together and made the show happen? In my opinion, this is very much Evie’s story. One beautiful scene has Evie walking into a garden and, when the light shines just so, it illuminates the cobwebs connecting everything. So it is with magic,...

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Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt
Jun30

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

Several years ago I was in Salt Lake City for a publishing conference, and was lucky enough to visit the wonderful indie bookstore The King’s English. At the top of what seemed like a very steep hill (I walked there), it’s in a house, and you wend your way through a warren of rooms, each with different categories of books. What a great bookstore! My visit was enjoyable in many ways – the friendly staff, the colorful and appealing children’s department, the great dinner recommendation I got – but mostly I want to mention one of the books I bought there. I was seeking a book to discuss at a workshop I would be leading at Kripalu Yoga Center, and the knowledable booksellers steered me toward The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery. In this book I learned to be interested in and care about a creature about whom I previously knew very little. It started with discovering that in multiple they are octopuses, not octopi, and went on to teach me about their habits and abilities, including how intelligent they are and how they can fit their bodies through tiny spaces. This all came back to me recently when I read the new novel Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt. Really, it’s a story about a bunch of people who are lost in their lives for one reason or another, and we follow them through their struggles until they all wind up… well, I’m not a plot spoiler. But what makes the book different is not that it is narrated from different points of view, but that one of those viewpoints happens to belong to Marcellus, who is an octopus, a giant Pacific octopus, to be specific. Marcellus resides in a tank in an aquarium in Puget Sound, and he, like his species, is very intelligent. And like the octopus whom Sy Montgomery befriended in the Boston Aquarium in her book, this octopus also knows how to make friends, to convey thoughts and feelings, and to figure things out. He’s the most charming octopus I’ve ever met, and he makes this book into a more compelling story. Kudos to Van Pelt for creating this charming and loveable character, along with the rest of the cast in Remarkably Bright Creatures. Put this on your summer reading...

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Lots of Books! (my recent reading)
Apr28

Lots of Books! (my recent reading)

It’s time for a  bit of a blogfest, because I have a lot of books to catch up with you on. Birds of California by Katie Cotugno The author has written seven young adult novels – which means she knows how to write a book, how to shape a plot – but this is her first adult novel. She also co-authored a book called Rules for Being a Girl with Candace Bushnell (of Sex and the City fame, which is to say that Katie knows how to write good sex). This is one of those allegedly predictable romances that actually didn’t go where I thought it would, and one of those alleged “light reads” that dealt with some heavy stuff and whose characters I missed much more than I thought I would after I finished the book. Meet Fiona St. James, hugely successful child actor who crashed and burned very publicly and has since dropped out of sight. Meet Sam Fox, studly TV star who once played Fiona’s big bro on their TV show (Birds of California), now struggling in his own career. A reboot of the old show is proposed. Roll that plot! Birds of California will be published in June; this is your beach read for sure. Hell of a Book by Jason Mott Oh my, oh my. Dare I say? It’s a hell of a book. Winner of the 2021 National Book Award for Fiction, Mott’s novel has a clever conceit: it’s about an author’s dissolute book tour, touring the country for a book with bestseller potential, a book about… well, he doesn’t remember. Nor does he recall, apparently, that he’s a black man. But meanwhile, he’s having odd encounters along with way, including with a young black boy whom he calls The Kid who may or may not exist. And this is all interspersed with the story of another young black boy nicknamed Soot in a small southern town, who encounters the perils of small town racism. This also happens to be the town that the author is from. What’s the book really about? It’s about being a black man in America. This painful and necessary story is told in a powerfully original literary style. So, so good. Brilliant, even. The Anomaly by Hervé Le Tellier The recent winner of the prestigious French Prix Goncourt begins in gruesome fashion with a chapter about a day in the life of a contract killer. Don’t let that put you off. (Or perhaps you like that?) Then it proceeds, each subsequent chapter about another different character. Where are we going? I wondered. Why are we hearing all these...

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The Last Confessions of Sylvia P. by Lee Kravetz
Apr07

The Last Confessions of Sylvia P. by Lee Kravetz

Author Lee Kravetz has created what I call a literary thriller that draws heavily on real events in the life of Sylvia Plath: her hospitalization at McLean Hospital after a suicide attempt, her involvement in Robert Lowell’s poetry workshop at Boston University and the confessional poets movement, her marriage to Ted Hughes, and her writing of the now famous novel The Bell Jar. I’ve chosen this old cover design of the book because this is the version I read as a girl. The story alternates between three points of view. There is Dr. Ruth Barnhouse, who really was Plath’s psychiatrist at McLean and with whom she maintained a relationship after leaving the hospital. There is Boston Rhodes, a fictionalized version of the poet Anne Sexton, and there’s Estee, a contemporary character who is an archivist at a Boston auction house. The story kicks off there when two property developers bring Estee something they’ve found in an old attic: a lock box that contains three notebooks that appear to be a handwritten version of The Bell Jar, i.e., an early draft that no one knew existed (and which, to all knowledge, does not, IRL, exist). The story is well-told, with some surprising and engaging revelations (although, boy did Boston Rhodes make my skin crawl!), and what I think is an extremely controversial ending. Email me after you’ve read it and we’ll discuss that! Next step should be to go back to the source and reread The Bell Jar. See my video review of this book HERE. Follow me on Instagram at @lynnreadsabook for more...

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The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Dec01

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

The novel The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett explores the phenomenon of “passing,” which is when a light-skinned black person “passes” for white. The novel begins by introducing us to a small town in Louisiana called Mallard whose inhabitants are all light-skinned blacks who pride themselves on being fair-skinned. They intermarry so as to keep their skin light. Nonetheless, the world still considers them to be black and, in mid-twentieth century America, they are subject to racism, restrictions, and much worse. The novel focuses on a pair of twins, Desiree and Stella, descendants of the town’s founder. The book opens in 1968 when Desiree is spotted returning to Mallard after a long absence and we learn that 14 years prior, when they were 16, the twins disappeared from Mallard. We learn that they ran away to New Orleans and that, sometime into their stay there, Stella left, and Desiree has not seen or heard from her since. Upon her return to Mallard in 1968, the townspeople note that Desiree has a child with her, a very dark-skinned child, and this is almost more notable than her return in a town where being light skinned is so valued. This child’s dark skin is the topic of much gossip, and will be a factor in how the town treats her. I had a conversation with a friend recently about how, in today’s world, people are able to choose their gender (I’m not saying this is easy or without struggle) and he commented: what if people could also choose their race? In this book, that is the central issue. Can a light-skinned black person choose to “pass over” and live their life as white? And, if they do, what are the consequences? And what are the consequences of the racism endemic to our society that would cause a person to want to live their life in a lie? This book looks deeply at those issues, and examines them from different sides, because we see how the light-skinned blacks are treated when they venture out of Mallard, and how the dark-skinned girl is treated in Mallard by the rest of the community. Bias runs deep. We also look at the impact of these choices on family bonds. Years ago I taught Bennett’s first book, The Mothers, in my Hot Off the Press class, and it’s an excellent book. If you read and like The Vanishing Half, I recommend you read her first book, too. And if you discover The Vanishing Half the way so many readers are finding it these days, because it’s popular and highly recommended on BookTok/TikTok, then good for you...

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