Monthly Archives: October 2021

The Glass Castle Book Review

Flannery O’Connor once said the following about writing:

“Anyone who survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his life.”

If one were to judge writer Jeannette Walls by that quote, they would be able to say that she has enough stories for a lifetime of writing. Her 2006 memoir, The Glass Castle, is the story of her deeply unconventional and sometimes troubling childhood. Her father deeply loved his children. When he was sober, Rex Walls was dedicated to expanding the education of his offspring beyond the classroom and encouraging them to life live to the fullest. But he also had a penchant for drinking too much, often becoming destructive and abusive. Her mother, Rose Mary, was artistic and free-thinking. She was also not exactly the most maternal of mothers, forcing Jeannette and her siblings to basically raise themselves.

One by one, each of the Walls kids eventually made their way to New York City. Though Rex and Rose Mary followed their youngsters to the Big Apple, they continued in their chosen way of life and became homeless. Choosing a more conventional way of living, the second generation of the Walls family thrived.

It would have been easy for Walls to either be extremely judgemental of her parents or spend years in therapy due to a childhood that had the potential to be psychologically damaging. But she chooses to present them on the page as she knew them and let the reader decide how they feel.

I admire the author for having chutzpah. Pulling herself up by her bootstraps, she did what had to do, which included getting away if she wanted a better life in adulthood than she had in her younger years. My problem is that the book was not as compelling as I thought it would be.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Mental Health, New York City, Writing

There’s Something About Darcy: The curious appeal of Jane Austen’s bewitching hero Book Review

There are certain cultural shorthands that we all know, even if we are unaware of the deeper context of the specific reference. When we talk about Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, he is symbolic of a romantic ideal that many aspire to, even if that aspiration is far from reality.

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There’s Something About Darcy: The curious appeal of Jane Austen’s bewitching hero, by Gabrielle Malcolm, was published last year. In the book, Malcolm examines the origins of Austen‘s most famous leading man, how he has inspired other romantic male leads, and how he has evolved over time. Creating the connection between the characters in her time, Dr. Malcolm explains how later male characters such as Mr. Rochester, Heathcliff, and even Dracula can trace their origins to Fitzwilliam Darcy. She then looks into how Jane Austen fanfiction has taken the character in new directions and new narratives that her creator could not have even imagined.

I loved this book. The author creates a nice balance of academic authority and adoring fandom without veering too heavily in either direction. It was a fascinating deep dive into this man who has become both a romantic icon and a character type for many a romantic male lead since 1813.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, Fanfiction, Jane Austen, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights

Much Ado About Nothing Character Review: Don John

*The schedule for the Character Review posts will be changing to Friday (or Saturday at the latest from now on).

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the William Shakespeare play Much Ado About Nothing. Read at your own risk if you have not seen the movie. There is something to be said about a well-written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations. No one sees themselves as a villain. In their minds, they are the hero. But that does not mean that others have the same opinion.

In Much Ado About Nothing, the audience is introduced to Don John, the younger and supposedly illegitimate brother of Don Pedro. When the play opens, we are told that John was the perpetrator of some act that did not go over well. Though we are not given the details, the impression is that John has been pardoned and is once more welcomed into his brother’s circle. Taciturn and sullen, he prefers the company of his friends over the rest of the group.

The appearance of reformation is just that. John still holds a grudge against Don Pedro and resents that Claudio has become a surrogate younger brother. He knows that they cannot directly go after his brother, he must use subterfuge to reach his goals. Knowing that Claudio is both in love with Hero and open to persuasion, John and his people try to convince Claudio that his brother wants Hero for himself.

When that plan goes awry, John and his friends change tactics. Knowing that Hero’s ladies maid Margaret has a thing for Borachio, one of John’s lieutenant’s. They use her to convince both Don Pedro and Claudio that Hero is unfaithful to her fiance the night before the nuptials. The wedding, as he hopes, turns into a shit show and he nearly gets away. But when the truth is revealed, Don John is caught and brought to justice.

To sum it up: A good antagonist knows his or her place in the narrative. Their job is to make trouble for the protagonist(s) and add tension to the story. Don John is as close to this description as one can get. He knows how to play the game, and undermine the other characters without them knowing it, at least at first. And, like all villains, his true character is revealed and he gets what is coming to him.

Which is why he is a memorable character.

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Filed under Character Review, Feminism, William Shakespeare

Flashback Friday: The Mummy Returns (2001)

The purpose of a sequel is to take the narrative of one IP and then build on it by adding additional characters and stories. While this task may seem simple, the reality is that it is complicated. Especially when its predecessor is well regarded.

The Mummy Returns (2001) takes place after The Mummy (1999) and before The Scorpion King (2002) and. Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser) and Evelyn Carnahan (Rachel Weisz) are now happily married and living in London with their son. They are still in the archeology game and believe that Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo) will never enter their lives again. But when an artifact emerges and Imhotep’s remains arrive in the city, they will again have to send him back to the world of the dead.

I appreciate the addition of a precocious, troublemaking child, Evelyn’s growth as more than a damsel in distress, and the backstory set in ancient Egypt. It adds depth, allowing the audience to see Imhotep as more than just a generic villain. But my main problem is that Evelyn still needs Rick to rescue her, even when she claims to have learned some form of self-defense.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

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Filed under Feminism, Flashback Friday, Movie Review, Movies

American Made: What Happens to People When Work Disappears Book Review

The American economy is built on and fortified by the average worker. It is through our blood, sweat, and tears that this country has thrived in spite of all odds. But that fact is often forgotten when some jobs are shipped out of state, or worse, out of the country so those at the top can save a few bucks.

American Made: What Happens to People When Work Disappears, by Farah Stockman, was published this month. The book follows three different factory employees who were all employed at the Rexnord factory. Shannon is a single Caucasian mother who breaks boundaries by being one of the first women to take on what was an only male position. Wally, an African-American man, dreamed of opening his own barbecue restaurant but paid the bills by working on the factory floor. John, who is also Caucasian, was a machine operator who came from a family whose livelihood was supported by union jobs.

When the jobs leave and an entire community is affected, what are the repercussions? Not just on an economic level, but for the individual who lost both their income and identity? Stockman explores how these decisions create ripple effects that have the potential to forever change the outlook and the future of the employees, their families, and society as a whole.

What I liked about this book is how thorough the author is. By telling the stories of these three individuals, she takes the reader behind the headlines to see the real people whose lives are forever upended when their places of employment are physically moved elsewhere. As someone who works a white-collar job and sits at a desk for seven hours a day, I did not fully appreciate how important and overlooked these professions are.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Feminism

Throwback Thursday: Kitchen Nightmares (2007-2014)

Change is never easy. Sometimes, we have to get knocked down before we can realize that it is necessary if we are to thrive.

Kitchen Nightmares aired between 2007 and 2014. This reality show followed celebrity Chef Gordon Ramsay as he helps failing restaurants become successful. As with Restaurant: Impossible and Bar Rescue, his first introduction never goes well. He then works with the owners and the staff to improve the restaurant while his team does a complete makeover on the building itself. By the end of the episode, it looks like all of the issues have been sorted out and there is nothing but blue skies ahead.

Like all reality television, I have to question if what I m seeing is legit or has been manipulated to keep eyeballs on the screen. But, I will say that Ramsay is a compelling person to watch. He does genuinely care about the people he helps, even when he seems to be at his whits end.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Filed under Television, Throwback Thursday, TV Review

Thoughts on the 3rd Anniversary of the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting

There is a joke about Jewish history: “they tried to kill us, we survived. Let’s eat”. But like any joke, there is a truth behind the laughter. Though we are still here, the collective emotional scar of the losses is still with us, even if it is generations after a specific event.

Today is the 3rd anniversary of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. To even type those words hurts. It could have happened in any synagogue in America. But this person chose to walk into Tree of Life and started shooting. What I remember about that day is the fear as I watched the news. I have not attended services reguarlarly in decades, but I have family who does. My initial fear was that this heinous act had reached my relatives. Thankfully, it didn’t.

The message that was sent did not need to be spoken. According to the gunman and those who think like him, we do not belong in this country. Our “differences” (which are merely on the surface) mark us for at best being questionable outsiders and at worst, put a target on our backs. I would love to say that in the three years since 11 innocent people were murdered, that this was the turning point away from hate and prejudice. Unfortunately, as we all know, it wasn’t.

May the memories of those killed that day be a blessing. Z”L.

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Filed under History, National News, Thoughts On....

Is Anyone Truly Surprised That the New Voting Legislation was Blocked in Congress?

It’s easy to talk about the importance of voting in a political election. We all know how important this single decision is. But for all of the talk, the action from certain segments of our society does not match the words coming out of their mouths.

Last week, a bill went through Congress which would have allowed for same-day voter registration and designated Election Day as a national holiday. The bill, known as the Freedom to Vote Act, was rejected by Republicans in the Senate. Senator Mitch McConnell stated the following for the party’s reasons as the following:

“It is my hope and anticipation that none of us will vote for this latest iteration of Democratic efforts to take over how every American votes all over the country,”

This is bull shit. Rejecting the bill is not about protecting voting rights. It is ensuring that certain people who vote a certain way will if not outright be prevented from entering the ballot box, will have as many hurdles thrown in front of them as possible. While they give lip service about protecting our rights, it is really about staying in power. Instead of listening to what we, the public, want and need, McConnell and his party are more concerned with their careers and serving their 1% donors.

It’s no wonder that this country is going down the drain.

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Filed under National News, Politics

Children Under Fire: An American Crisis Book Review

There is no doubt that the issue of gun control has created a crisis in this nation. Too many Americans, young and old, have been directly or indirectly affected by the unnecessary loss of life. More often than not, those who have survived have walked away with emotional and physical injuries that will last for the rest of their lives.

John Woodrow Cox‘s new book, Children Under Fire: An American Crisis, was published back in March. Following two young children, Cox talks openly and honestly about the long-lasting damage created by gun violence. The subjects of the book are two young children: Ava and Tyshaun. Ava watched her best friend die when a former student entered her school and started shooting. Tyshaun’s father, who he adored, was killed steps from where his son was receiving his education. He looks into the many attempts of reforming the gun control laws, interviews family members, academics, and politicians, and follows both children as they live with the after-effects of those tragic days.

If I could have hugged both Tyshaun and Ava and found a way to wipe their memories clean of the day their innocence died, I would have. When it comes to events of this kind, the subject of mental health and the perpetrator is inevitably brought up. But we don’t think about the survivors and the lasting consequences that they will be with them for the rest of their days. This book is long and hard to read. But it is one that I believe must be read by every adult and more importantly, even parent. We are failing our children if we do not stop this epidemic. It is possible to respect the 2nd amendment while keeping our kids safe. For foolish reasons, it is just not being done. Which pisses me off to no end.

Do I recommend it? Without a doubt, yes.

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Mental Health, National News

Happy 10th Birthday, Once Upon a Time

Fairy tales are part of our childhood. Stories of heroes and villains, princes and princesses, witches, wizards, dragons, etc. fill our young minds with images of faraway places where magic, true love, and happily ever after are the norm.

Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of Once Upon a Time. The show starts as many narratives of this ilk start. Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) is racing to awaken his beloved, Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) from the sleeping curse placed upon by The Evil Queen (Lana Parilla). As with the traditional tale of Snow White, she is awaked by true love’s kiss. It appears that their life together will be long and happy. But the Queen is not done with her stepdaughter. She places an ever greater curse on the land, taking away their memories and tearing loved ones apart.

But there is a light in the darkness. A savior will arise, break the spell and give the Queen what is coming to her.

The beauty of this series is that it took the basic characters that we have come to expect and flipped them on their heads. Everyone within this world is human, and complicated. The female characters are empowered, capable, and not even close to their damsel-in-distress predecessors. The baddies are not just evil for evils sake. They have made choices, for better or for worse, that have led them to become considered evil by others. The stories we think we know have new layers, jagged edges, and twists created seven seasons of some of the best television I have ever seen.

Happy 10th birthday, Once Upon a Time!

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Filed under Fairy Tales, Feminism, Once Upon A Time, Television