Joe Gould’s Teeth by Jill Lepore

Joe Gould's TeethJoe Gould’s Teeth by Jill Lepore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jill Lepore, historian and author of The Secret History of Wonder Woman, tackles a difficult subject in this book: a thoroughly unlikeable man – racist, abusive, anti-Semitic, harasser of women – and his unfindable manuscript, simultaneously hailed as potentially one of the greatest works of history and dismissed as being unevenly written, where it was written at all. The book is being marketed as Lepore’s search for the manuscript, but it’s more about her can’t-look-away curiosity for the man. She does an excellent job, I think, of treating Gould like a human being, while also not sugarcoating that he was a pretty shitty one.

I really appreciated Lepore’s presence in the book. It helped me to understand what it is like to try to reconstruct a life from, mainly, what the subject wrote. In devoting a large portion of the book to Augusta Savage – an influential Harlem Renaissance sculptor who Gould obsessed over, stalked, and harassed for years – we see a contrast between this sort of project when a subject is an insatiable writer (Gould) and when they are so invested in their privacy that they destroy their own papers & work (Savage). “It has taken me a very long time, my whole life, to learn that the asymmetry of the historical record isn’t always a consequence of people being silenced against their will. Some people don’t want to be remembered, or heard, or saved. They want to be left alone.”

I did feel, however, like there were times that Lepore filled in gaps by telling us what she thinks happened, without always providing us with concrete evidence or even her own reasoning. Mostly I felt like I understood why she made those decisions and that she marked those places so that we readers know when she’s doing it, but there were times when I wanted more from her. Here’s Lepore at her best, explaining why she thinks what she thinks and, at the same time, illuminating for us another of the pitfalls of biographical research: “I think Savage left New York to get away from Joe Gould. But – and here’s the trouble – from the moment I first learned about her, I knew that my likeliest error would be in thinking I understood Augusta Savage, as if she were me, when, really, I hardly know her at all.”

To sum up, it’s good, and if it sounds interesting to you, go on and pick it up. I’ve shared two of my favorite quotes from the book, so let me share the third, which I have apparently turned into a poem. It comes after a story Savage told Gould, about a Baptist preacher who tries to baptize a (possibly unwilling) woman.
At the end, he says, “Tell these people what you believe,”
and she answers, “I do believe this man’s trying to drown me.”
Lepore follows,
“I began to consider this a story that Savage told not only to Gould,
but also about him,
and about how she was wise to him,
wise, even,
to what white modernist
writers and artists
were doing to the
writers and artists
of the Harlem Renaissance.
He said he was trying to save her,
but really he was trying to drown her.”

Joe Gould’s Teeth is out today, May 17th, 2016. I won it in a Goodreads giveaway. This review is cross-posted from Goodreads. See my other reviews and/or friend me here.

P.S. I don’t think it’s coincidental that my three favorite quotes were all about Savage. I wonder if Lepore feels the same way. I would love to see her take on Savage, but in the case it never happens, it’s time for me to do some research of my own.

Euphoria by Lily King

EuphoriaEuphoria by Lily King
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Gah, this book. It was probably 4.5 stars for me going into the ending. There were so many things to appreciate about it, and just a few things that bothered me*. On a stylistic level, I thought King’s writing was strong – emotional and evocative. Thematically and politically, King’s portrayal of the start of modern anthropological ethnography was nuanced and balanced – Nell Stone (aka Margaret Mead) and her compatriots were among the first to think about bias and objectivity and global white supremacy, and they were all part of changing anthropology into what we see today. I thought King’s portrayal of the native peoples’ Stone lived with and studied in New Guinea was equally nuanced. She shows that what we know of this people has come through the lens of white anthropologists, who themselves knew that they weren’t getting or understanding everything. She wrote the indigenous characters as people, which ideally wouldn’t be a positive thing to note. (Ideally it would just be a thing that everybody does, but instead here I am, thankful that she treated human beings like human beings.) King engages with the complicated harm that white people brought to the rest of the world, especially in the return of an indigenous man who had gone off to work in a mine and came back changed.

That’s the good stuff out of the way. My niggling negatives pre-ending included a discomfort with how unclear it is what is Margaret Mead & compatriots and what is fictionalized. King changes enough, including making Stone more passive than Mead and her husband both emotionally and physically abusive when afaik there isn’t evidence of that, that I would have appreciated more notes in the back, separating truth from fiction. I also felt uncomfortable with King’s POV choices – why does Bankson get this close, personal 1st person perspective, while Stone gets either a limited-3rd or diary entries? Ultimately, King’s POVs show her focus: this is really Bankson’s story, about how Stone saved him and his career, and it seems insulting to me, to take one of the most famous & fascinating women in history and write a book about how she changed one man’s life. Judging harshly, I’m going to say that King turned Mead into a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, with a little less manic pixie, but plenty of “amazing, crazy, unique girl comes into a man’s life and inspire/save him.” Ughughgughgughg.

And worse than that, worse than that, and here’s where we get to my deep anger at the ending(view spoiler)

I will say that it is rare for me to downgrade a book more than half a star based on its ending (I only had one last year – Meg Wolitzer’s Belzhar), so for me to go down 2 full stars is a big deal. I rounded up to 3 stars out of respect for the nuance and care King showed during most of the book.

*Thank you, Mia, for helping me to, rather than fall into to a rage cycle, think through my post-reading anger and to acknowledge all of the things I appreciated about the book.

(Cross-posted from Goodreads. See my other reviews and/or friend me here.)

Read-a-thon Intro Meme!

Well, helloooooo, you precious lovely humans! Mia and I are back again for our biannual Readathon blog-resurrection, though we aren’t in our usual set-up (see more below).

Jessica:

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today? My house in the sunny but chilly Bay Area.
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? I have lots of good stuff, but I’ve been obsessed with Astro City over the last few months, so probably that.
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3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? I have my Poland box from Universal Yums, full of Polish snacks and treats.
4) Tell us a little something about yourself! I am in a choir and our Spring concert was last Sunday. I’m so glad it wasn’t this Sunday!
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to? Well, for the first time in a long time, maybe ever, Mia and I are readathoning separated (*looks longingly to the north*), which will change up the sleepover feel we usually have going  on.

Mia:

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today? My new home in the Pacific Northwest!
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? That’s a tough one! I’ve heard so many good things about Sex Criminals that I’m hoping it lives up to all the promise.

 

 

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? I’m actually woefully underprepared this year and don’t have a ton of snacks handy, so I might take myself to the fancy grocery store for some cheese this afternoon. I do have congee and genmaicha ready for breakfast, though!
4) Tell us a little something about yourself! I have an annoying cat who will be keeping me company and begging for treats all day.
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to? Like Jessica said, it’s weird to be apart! We’ll have to do our bonding over gchat and through this blog instead of in person.

Read-a-Thon Fall 2015 Closing Survey

Wow, okay! Mia here again. It’s five or six hours after the Read-a-Thon ended and I have a little bit of a reading hangover. (Time for some hair of the dog, maybe?) I petered out near the end, as is traditional, but overall this fall’s reading felt pretty solid! Let’s do the closing survey.

Which hour was most daunting for you?

It’s all kind of a blur, honestly, but around 9:00pm here we were getting close to the end of reading our New Kids on the Block novel out loud and I was definitely struggling, voice-wise and otherwise.

Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?

I think Zilpha Keatley Snyder is always a good choice–her books move along with great pacing and her characters all feel extremely human. She writes with such humor and compassion.

Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?

Nothing really comes to mind at the moment. I know how to improve my own experience, but this part was 100% on me. See, I didn’t participate in any mini-challenges this year because I wanted to make up for the lost reading time I accrued when I took a four-hour break for another activity early on, and I think in retrospect I would’ve enjoyed doing at least one or two. I got a fair amount of reading done but didn’t let myself enjoy the social media aspects of the event!

What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?

Things seemed to go pretty smoothly. Again, I didn’t engage with the Read-a-thon itself as much this time as in the past, but I’m sure everyone did a great job. They always work so hard.

How many books did you read?

Six? Six. Most of them were very short.

What were the names of the books you read?

In order of reading: The Headless Cupid, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder; The Gecko and the Three Grave Robbers, a short comic by Cheez Hayama; New Kids on the Block: The Novels: Backstage Surprise, by Seth McEvoy and Laure Smith; Suicide Forest, a short horror comic by Dave Baker and Nicole Goux; Carrie, by Stephen King; and Goosebumps #9: Welcome to Camp Nightmare, by R.L. Stine.

Which book did you enjoy most?

“Enjoy” is a complicated word. I think I straight-up enjoyed The Headless Cupid the most, for the reasons listed above about how ZKS is a wonderful treasure–I’m sad she’s moved on from this world but I’m glad she left such a legacy of books behind. Jessica and I certainly bonded over NKOTB: TN: BS, which we read aloud to each other in its entirety. Please note that at 133 pages, reading the whole book aloud still took approximately three hours. (Then again, we had to keep stopping to laugh or dispute some highly unlikely plot points.)

Which did you enjoy least?

I didn’t get as much of a laugh out of the Goosebumps book as I thought I would! I mean, it was weird and goofy, but it was hard to top that NKOTB book. I mean, DANNY WOOD JUMPED ONTO A MOVING ROLLER COASTER AND CLIMBED ALONG THE OUTSIDE AS IF THIS WERE A TRAIN CAPER. I can’t.

If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?

Not applicable, but we got some good cheering from Jessica’s brother! I think letting Cheerleaders strategically target people who wanted/needed cheering was a good idea–was that a thing before?

How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?

Oh, you know I’m there. I think Jessica and I would like to host the Mad Libs mini-challenge until Earth’s orbit decays and the sun burns out.

Jessica’s turn, if she’s so inclined!

Which hour was most daunting for you? I think I’ll agree with Mia about the hour near the end of the NKotB book. There were still really hilarious moments, but it just took a long time and, in particular, some of the scenes were Too Long. I also really struggled around Hours 21-22, pretty close to when I went to bed. Just plain ol’ tiredness!
Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? I always say that graphic novels are great! I especially recommend Astro City for people who like superhero comics AND people who don’t.
Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? As always, I do think there would be value in shifting the starting times.
What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? Everything seemed to run pretty smoothly!
How many books did you read? I finished four and read parts of 4 others.
What were the names of the books you read? I finished: New Kids on the Block: Backstage Surprise, Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Lost Adventures, Ms Marvel Volume 3: Crushed, Astro City. I did not finish: Shutter, The Invention of Murder, What Matters in Jane Austen, Frankenstein.
Which book did you enjoy most? Hmmm, that’s a good question. As Mia said, we bonded, with MUCH laughter and incredulity, over the NKotB book. I reread Astro City, which has long been one of my favorite comics and that was like returning to an old friend. Shutter was fun and action-y.
Which did you enjoy least? I honestly liked everything, but only got maybe 10% of the way into Frankenstein and haven’t quite gotten into the story yet.
If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders? N/A
How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? Like Mia said, I’m in. As a reader and mad libs host!

Thanks for the great read-a-thon, guys! We love it. We love you. <3

Mad libs! Hour 18 Mini-Challenge!

read-a-thon2

Hellooooo, everybody! Welcome to the Hour 16 Mini-Challenge! We–Mia and Jessica–are super excited to host you as we continue on our collective reading journey!  We know it’s getting rough out there for a lot of you (and us too), so how about some Read-a-Thon style mad libs to keep our brains awake?

Here’s what you’re gonna do:
1) pick a paragraph (not too long) from the book you’re reading
2) remove some of the nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, and either
3a) get a friend (in person, over the phone, over the internet–whatever!) to fill in the words for you mad-libs style or
3b) fill them in yourself from the spoiler-texted word list below
4) post your hilarious paragraph on your blog and link us to it or leave it in a comment here!

Easy, right? Here’s an example. I (Jessica) started with this paragraph from about-to-be-published The Hours Count by Jillian Cantor:

“Oh, no,” Ethel laughed. “I’m making a recording for my John so he’ll have my voice to listen to when I’m in the hospital for the new baby.”

“Oh,” I said. “How lovely.” She smiled and touched her free hand to her hat shyly, in a way that made me think someone else had told her this was not such a lovely idea. I wondered about her husband and if he was like Ed when it came to money. I guessed not. Studio time sounded expensive.

I asked Mia for the name of a famous woman, a verb, a place, a body part, an adjective, another name another noun, and another adjective. After plugging everything in, I got:

“Oh, no,” Jessica Fletcher laughed. “I’m making a recording for my John so he’ll have my voice to joust to when I’m in Area 51 for the new baby.”

“Oh,” I said. “How lovely.” She smiled and touched her free ankle to her hat shyly, in a way that made me think someone else had told her this was not such a simple idea. I wondered about her husband and if he was like Tom Selleck when it came to bunk beds. I guessed not. Studio time sounded florid.

It made us both giggle a whole heck of a lot (what is Jessica Fletcher doing in Area 51 and what is her *non* free ankle doing and are those two thing related? And, from Mia, “Are you like Tom Selleck when it comes to bunk beds?”), and we hope it’ll do the same for you!

Here’s the promised list of words if you don’t want to or can’t bother someone (please adapt as necessary, e.g. making nouns plural or changing verb tense):

Adjectives
1. adult
2. bookish
3. cursed
4. weary
5. rowdy
6. beefy
7. edible
8. clammyAdverbs
1. tragically
2. furiously
3. freshly
4. defiantly
5. otherworldly

6. permanently
7. suspiciously
8. locally

Nouns
1. intrigue
2. toad
3. Communism
4. haunted house
5. poison
6. teeth
7. abomination
8. incense

Verbs
1. space out
2. peeve
3. claw
4. niggle
5. separate
6. loathe
7. quake
8. grow

We’ll run the challenge until hour 19 and two winners will receive a book of their choice (worth up to $15) from the Book Depository. Go ahead and get libbing!

Some mini-challenges

I got a late start this morning, so I’m about two and a half hours into my ‘thon. Time to check up on the mini-challenges!

First up, Audra’s Cover Escape challenge. She asked us to find a cover we’d like to escape into and I chose The Magicians by Lev Grossman.

It’s a little somber/creepy maybe, but I love trees and I love rain and there are trees and it looks like it rained recently, so I’d take it!

And over on a Goodreads historical romance reading group (woop woop! That’s my favorite genre of romance!), they asked us to talk about how a book has made us fall in love with it. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson was a book that I read slowly, got to know slowly, and fell in love with slowly. It’s a quiet book and I fell in love with that quiet in my loud world. <3
Ellen is hosting a Halloween read mini-challenge and what do you know? My current read is a spooky one! Shutter by Courtney Alameda follows the descendants of Van Helsing and Bram Stoker as they fight ghosts and other undead things!

20151018_003538[1]Here’s my Shelfie! I’m sorry it’s so dark – I don’t have great lighting in here. This is my mantle and ~80% of it is the books I’ve bought this year, mostly from Book Outlet and library sales.

And here is my current read + beverage! The wonderful comic, Astro City, and cinnamon tea. I had actually finished both of these before taking this picture, but I don’t have anything new yet!20151018_012505[1]

Read-a-Thon Fall 2015 Introductory Meme

Yes, friends, it’s that time again: that time when Nisaba Be Praised clutters up your feed reader with a marathon of blog posts about reading and reading-related activities. I know–I, Mia, am excited too. I’ll go first for the intro meme.

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

As is traditional, I’m reading from Jessica’s house in the East Bay. It just might rain here today, which is very thrilling for we dehydrated Californians.

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

Please admire said stack. It is very beautiful.

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I might be most jazzed about New Kids on the Block: Backstage Surprise, if only because I’ve already read part of it, and it is exactly as good as you would expect. I think we’re going to have a wild time reading it out loud to one another.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

Oh man, we stocked up on so many good snacks yesterday! Sweet potato tortilla chips and bean dip, those South-African-spiced chips that TJ’s has, crackers and cranberry goat cheese. Jessica also has a subscription box of snacks from around the world, and this month’s was from the Netherlands; in particular, there are these little wafer cookies that, instead of being strawberry or vanilla or whatever, are gouda-flavored. They sound really weird but I LOVE THEM. Come to me, gouda wafers.

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

I am Mia; my feet are cold; and I have never, ever heard a NKOTB song.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

One difference between this year and previous readathons is that I’ll be taking a break in a couple hours to go have brunch and do a clothing swap with some other friends. Events just kind of snowballed this weekend so I’m doing my best to have my cake and eat it too. Or, in this case, my quiche.

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1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?  My house in the grand ol’ area of the Bay.
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? Hmm, I think I have a pretty great stack up there, but I might most be looking forward to Frankenstein, which is living on my Kindle.
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? Cranberry goat cheese and crackers! I always look forward to that coming back to Trader Joe’s.
4) Tell us a little something about yourself! I am a big soccer fan (go Quakes!) and went to a game yesterday!
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to? I’m not planning on doing much differently, but I do have more comics in my stack than usual and I think that’s a good thing!