Category Archives: books

[ink]m train by patti smith


I am drawn to stories about grief. As the years go by and I learn to live with mine, I find it comforting to wrap myself in the grief of others, fictional or otherwise. It’s a way to lessen the isolation that grief strands us in.

How is it that we never completely comprehend our love for someone until they’re gone?

With M Train, Patti Smith explores the themes of love, loss and grief in her life. Mainly the loss of her husband, Fred Sonic Smith at the age of 45. It’s a book presented as a series of dreams, memories, travels and the hazy area in between them all. Smith is a consummate poet and her memoirs always read as an extension of that, ephemeral and enigmatic.

It’s not so easy writing about nothing.

Like Just Kids before it, M Train’s text is juxtaposed with personal photographs of Smith’s. These are more powerful for the fact they are frequently not of people, but of inanimate objects that belong to artists and writers that inspire her. They create a subtle set dressing that tells us more about Smith than her words alone could.

Nothing can be truly replicated. Not a love, not a jewel, not a single line.

This is one of those books that should not be talked about too much in hard and concrete terms. It strips it of some of it’s magic. It’s often heart wrenching, but more often hopeful. I’m sure I will wrap myself in it’s words more than once. Perhaps it will not be all at once. Perhaps I will choose a chapter here and passage there, but there is too much beauty here to not be revisited.

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[Ink]Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children Trilogy


I was initially wary of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children. A large chunk of the appeal for people lay in what seemed more than a bit gimmicky. Books that depend on gimmicks (with a few brilliant exceptions) tend to leave a bad taste in my mouth. Add to that my hit and miss experiences with young adult fiction and it’s no surprise I wasn’t interested in this series from the get go.

However, fellow readers whose opinions I respect seemed to love it. Describing anything as peculiar will always sway me a little bit. So I gave it a shot. There were aspects I loved, aspects I hated and aspects I was completely indifferent to. So let’s delve in to my time spent with Miss Peregrine’s charges, their friends and one American boy who starts off thinking he’s average in every possible way.

(Maybe this goes without saying, but from this point forward there be spoilers aplenty. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

“I had just come to accept my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen.”
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar
Children

The first line: I love a first line that grabs you and gives you a decent idea of what’s coming. I don’t think it’s always necessary, but when I find one I get giddy. The first line of this is delicious. It’s the very first step in Jacob Portman’s journey from boring, ordinary boy from Florida to so much more.

The photos: The appeal of this book hinged on the fact it was a story told in tandem with genuine old photographs. It starts off in the first book working very well. It’s obvious that the story was crafted around the photos. They contributed to what is a somewhat spooky feel that permeates the entire first book. Unfortunately in the second and third books, they more and more felt like they were forced in. It’s obvious when some of them have been doctored to fit the story instead of the other way around. By the end, I wouldn’t say they were distracting, but they were mostly just there.

“Strange, I thought, how you can be living your dreams and your nightmares at the very same time.”
Hollow City

The story itself: The first volume of this trilogy was excellent. It kind of tells like a ghost story at parts, but instead of being haunted by spirits, it’s haunted by monsters and children. Jacob is trying to discover the secrets of his recently deceased grandfather’s past and the out there stories he would tell. Thinking he will find perhaps some clues to the past, instead he finds the past is alive and well just how his grandfather left it by means of a time loop. Time loops are places created by ymbrynes that occupy the space of a day and provide safety and immortality to the peculiars inside of them.
Unfortunately, where Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children created an atmosphere of mystery and the unknown, Hollow City just creates an atmosphere of drudgery. I honestly can’t even tell you how much I remember of this book except there was a lot of walking and complaining. The idea being that Miss Peregrine has been kidnapped and the children have set out to find her. In the process they find some other interesting peculiars, but for the most part they meander. Meandering is totally something they have in common with the plot. It ends with a twist that instead of being completely shocking just makes the meandering leading up to it that much more pointless and annoying.
If Library of Souls was a season of Supernatural, it would be Season 8. Season 8 was the season everyone said Supernatural was good again. In reality Season 8 on is just not as awful as seasons 6 and 7, but nowhere near as brilliant as the first five seasons. All of which is a long rambling way to say that it’s much better than Hollow City, but not even close to as good as Home for Peculiar Children. They find where everyone’s been taken. Hoorah. They spend a lot of time figuring out how to get in only to kind of blunder into every single thing they need at exactly the right time. (I have a love/hate relationship with this plot device. In a way it’s probably how things would play out in real life, but in another way I don’t read fiction about monsters and peculiar children for realism.) It’s all tied up with a nice (and completely unconvincing) happy package.

The peculiars (and animals and ymbrynes): Riggs does an excellent job of developing their pecularities to be convincing and real. He spends a little less time on the characters themselves. Everyone ends up feeling very one dimensional as the story progresses. Everyone has one defining character trait and that’s all they ever really show. It’s seriously bad enough that when one of the children die in the second novel, I didn’t even really care. She was also one of my favorites. Part of this is the offhand way it’s told to the reader and part of it is that one dimensional characters don’t tend to evoke much sympathy.

The monsters: The monsters are super well developed and go from creepy (wights) to terrifying (hollowgast). The hollowgast in particular are some of the most compelling monsters created in any fiction, let along young adult fiction. I absolutely think they were one of the best parts.

“And then those awful teeth came unlocked, its mouth reeling open to admit three wiry tongues into the air, each as think as my wrist. They unspooled across half the room’s length, ten feet or more, and then hung there, wriggling, the creature breathing raggedly through a pair of leprous holes in its face…”
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

The love story: There’s a love story. It’s there. It genuinely doesn’t contribute a single thing to the story. There are points where it’s so much a square peg forced into a round hole that it’s distracting. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again, but love stories are not necessary. Sometimes boys and girls go off and adventure together and are just friends. That’s okay. I promise.

Summary: There’s some brilliant moments here. Overall I don’t regret reading it through to the end. (After all, I wouldn’t have gotten to read the bridge heads in Monty Python voices if I hadn’t. That was a glorious reading moment for me. And really, didn’t they seem like a Monty Python sketch?) In general though, what started out as being super promising and interesting turned into something that was only one step above average.

Postscript: I forgot that this series gets a major thumbs up for book design. The books are beautiful and the pages are thick. They’re solid volumes to hold in your hands. So really, really well done in that aspect.

So if you made it this far, tell me what you thought of this review or of the trilogy in the comments.

[ink: bad feminist: essays]

Bad Feminist: EssaysBad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: This started as a review. I’m not sure it ended as one. Apologies for that.

Feminism. I don’t know if there are many words that are as wrought with conflicting definitions and reactions as this word. At heart, it’s the belief that men and women are equal and, as such, deserve equal rights. Rarely is anything as simple as it is on paper. Feminism is often perceived as the fight to prove that women are better than men and feminists as hating all men. There are certainly those feminists that seem to fit this stereotype. They seem to be the most vocal at times unfortunately.
Here’s the thing though, there is no one way to be a feminist. As much as it’s become a dirty word, feminism is at heart something that will only benefit everyone. Often I feel alone in the ways that I sometimes laugh at inappropriate jokes, wear lipstick and currently depend on my husband to carry pretty much all of the financial responsibility. I also haven’t read all the major feminist literature out there, because frankly most of it just isn’t all that interesting.
Enter Roxane Gay and Bad Feminist, her collection of essays.

Gay turns the lens on politics, pop culture and society at large on matter of race and gender. She does so in a way that doesn’t demand you agree with every word she writes. There is a tone more of “this is my story, this is my voice, stop and listen for a moment”. She talks about modern feminisms in all it’s strengths and shortcomings (mostly when it comes to race, but also when it comes to rigidity). This is a message that needs to be put out there. If it makes someone uncomfortable, well maybe they should look at why that is.

Some personal thoughts on a few specific essays that happened to be my favorites:
“Peculiar Benefits”: Ah, privilege. One of those lovely words that gets thrown around too much and starts to lose meaning (something Gay herself points out in this essay). The issue with privilege is that it’s insidious and often times people don’t realize they’re benefiting from it. Living in a first world country, we all benefit from some form of it. I am a Caucasian, straight perceived woman. I benefit from a lot of privilege. There was a point in my life when I had more than a bit of a shoplifting habit. I don’t think I would have managed to carry on for as long and on the scale I did without being white. Maybe to you this isn’t the best example. In a society that increasingly declares anyone who isn’t white deserving of whatever fate the police dole out to them, because they broke any law, it seems like a perfect example to me. So, really, just acknowledge your privilege. Gay makes the excellent point that no one is asking you to apologize for it, just acknowledge that, yes, indeed it is there.
“What We Hunger For”: This was the gut punch essay for me. I am not exactly a fan of the Hunger Games like Gay is, but I understand that catharsis it is for her. The story told here is one that I get far too well. The careless actions of boys who probably don’t even think of me even though I think of them often to this day. The careless words thrown around by other kids that were salt continually rubbed into the open wound of emotional destruction. Slut, whore, easy. Words I hope my own children never use, because of one side of a story when the other side is sullenly and suspiciously silent. (Words I hope they never use for any reason.)

Every essay here is excellent, but these are the two that stood out for me. There were times I laughed with Gay, there were times I cried. More than anything I feel like this is the kind of collection of essays that I feel expanded my world a bit. I saw the world for a moment from the perspective of someone who has had to look through a different lens than I have. There are similarities though. Even if some of those similarities are painful, that is where the hope is. Yes, we are all different and we are all unique due to skin color, sexuality, gender, a million things. We are also all similar in ways that communication across those lines shines a light on.

I am an intersectionalist feminist. I am a bad feminist. I am flawed. We are all flawed, but we are trying to do better. That is the biggest take away from this collection.

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[ink: girl in a band]

Girl in a BandGirl in a Band by Kim Gordon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First, a couple of disclaimers to explain how I came into the experience of reading Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon’s memoir Girl in a Band:
Disclaimer 1: I am not now, nor have I ever been a rock star so I am perhaps not qualified to judge how a rock star writes her memoir.
Disclaimer 2: I despise the term girl crush, but at one point in time that is the only term that could describe how I felt about Kim Gordon. I imagined that I wanted to have sleep overs with her where we ate ice cream and talked about all the important things like how hard it is to be female in male dominated fields. (This was back when I was convinced I was going to be a hard boiled, hard as nails war correspondent.) This strongly influenced how I felt starting this book even if I’ve perhaps matured just a bit past this feeling.

Kim Gordon is a bass player, artist, clothing designer, feminist icon and over all cool female archetype. She’s also now a memoirist. Memoirs always seem like tricky things with a high degree of hit or miss possibility. There’s a balancing act in the best ones of honesty and entertainment. The stakes are especially high when you’re someone with a following like Gordon’s I would imagine.
I honestly found myself a little disappointed. It was interesting for a quick read, but I don’t feel like I walked out of this knowing Gordon herself much better than when I started. I know about her projects and the hows and whys of them, but she spends a large amount of time holding back who she herself is. The juxtaposition of it starting and ending with the end of her marriage and band (something inherently emotional and personal) makes it feel a little disjointed.

The best points of this memoir are when she talks about her relationship with her mentally ill brother and how she doesn’t feel like she always fits with the world she’s in. It’s entirely possible that both of these things are due to over identification. I’m not going to preclude the possibility. I also was raised in a household with mental illness. I also struggle with feeling like a constant outsider no matter where I am or who I’m with. I think it also has to do with this feels like when she’s the most emotionally naked and vulnerable. Selfishly, this is what I want in a memoir and these are the moments she comes closest to giving it to me.
It’s also interesting learning about all her reasoning behind her artistic and musical pursuits. I’m eternally interested in how pieces come together to make art and music. This was definitely the main focus of the book. It felt like her comfort zone.

There were parts I felt were overdone and detracted from the story. There are points where it feels like a grocery list of name dropping. I do genuinely understand that Gordon has been a major player in the music and art scene for over three decades now. She’s bound to know many people that the average person does not. If they had a real impact and they’re brought up that isn’t name dropping to me. There’s territory here where it feels like people who had minimal impact are mentioned just because of who they are. Maybe it was something that was lost in editing.
Also, if you didn’t know it before, you will know by the time you are done with Girl in a Band that Kim Gordon really does not like Courtney Love. It’s okay to not like someone. I don’t think there is an obligation to show absolute solidarity with someone just because you are both women in music. I do think it might be a bit much to devote as much time in a story about her life focusing on Courtney Love and talking about how much of a train wreck she actually is.

All in all, it’s a decent memoir. It’s not going to change anyone’s life and Gordon is characteristically holding back, almost exactly like she does on stage. She’s not ever going to be a transparent person. That is at the end of the day what makes her the paradigm of coolness and perhaps it’s better that it wasn’t taken away here.

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