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.

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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.
20160423_073909[1]
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.

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]

September Reading

I, Claudius Robot Jessica, have an off-again-on-again tradition of not posting anything to this blog for most of the year, feeling guilty, making one post before Dewey’s Biannual Brilliant and Amazing and So, So Fun 24-Hour Readathon, and then neglecting it again. Well, we’re on again!

Here’s what I read in September. I read more than normal because I had too many books due at the library (with renewals maxed out already) and two books that I got ARCs of from Goodreads that I thought I should read and review before they came out. Anyway:


Medea! This is an ancient Greek play about a woman who is so angry at her husband that she needs some serious revenge. Give this to a guy who thinks women are irrationally angry all the time and see if he can spot why Medea is so angry cause, from where I’m sitting, she has Good Reasons. It’s pretty amazing to read something that is literally thousands of years old but still so nuanced and, sometimes, quite modern-feeling. For how short it is, Euripedes has your sympathies shifting over and over. Read this after Gone Girl.

My strongest impression upon finishing: Wow, that was really short.


The Walking Dead: Compendium One collects volumes 1-8 of the comic. One of the most popular zombie, post-apocalyptic stories out there, largely thanks to the TV show. While I’m not the biggest fan of the show, I liked it a lot better than the comic, unfortunately. I think the pacing in the show is much better – the first volume in particular moves way too quickly – but I also think the show is more nuanced, or at least believable, in its characters (which are the same as the comic, but you know, not quite the same). The comic has a troubling tendency to have people go “crazy” without seeming to understand what that would actually look like. I also wasn’t a fan of the art. I doubt I will continue on with the series.


You’ve probably heard of Station Eleven. It’s been one of the buzziest books around since last year. Like the Walking Dead, this is post- (and pre- and during) apocalypse, but there are no zombies and I liked it a whole lot better. Still, I’m glad I waited until the buzz wasn’t quite so loud because this wasn’t quite what I wanted. It’s a lovely book and totally worth reading, but post-apocalypse is a setting I really like and have yet to find my perfect story. This one rates near the top, though, and I think you should read it if it sounds at all up your alley. My IRL book club just picked this for November – what good timing!


Goodreads book #1! Count me as one of the ones who liked Gilbert’s smash hit Eat, Pray Love. I found her honest and vulnerable and incredibly privileged. I loved her TED talk(s?) on creativity and creative genius even more, so I was excited to dig into Big Magic which builds on that TED talk. Largely, I quite enjoyed it. As someone who struggles to produce things – creative or otherwise – I was pretty inspired just by reading someone else’s thoughts and engaging with someone else’s ideas, both when they matched my own and when they didn’t. Here’s a link to my Goodreads review if you want to know what I thought in (much) more detail.

On the same day I finished Big Magic, I also finished Things Fall Apart. This is a classic novel that I never read in high school, about Nigeria and colonization. It was less about colonization than I thought it would be – only in the last third does even a missionary (often the first step in colonization) show up. I don’t know what to say about this book. The protagonist is difficult to sympathize with until the colonizers come, from a modern perspective. Neither the traditional protagonist nor the colonizers are idealized, which is clearly Achebe’s purpose, but idk. It left me with some neutral feelings. I left my star rating blank on Goodreads – not because I hated it, but because what I feel about it doesn’t translate into a rating, if that makes any sense.  Things Fall Apart is definitely a classic for a reason, and if you’ve never read it, go on and pick it up! A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid would be an interesting companion.

Goodreads book #2! Applegate is the author of the Animorphs series, which I totally loved SO MUCH as a kid. I was very excited to read this – look at that giant cat on the cover! Unfortunately, that giant cat is imaginary and even more unfortunately, he isn’t in the book all that much? I liked the book well-enough outside of that, with themes like being poor, struggling with housing, and parents who make mistakes, but I’m not sure how much Crenshaw added, outside of one scene that made me tear up. (Crenshaw tells his boy that imaginary friends all hang out in a lounge together when their humans don’t need them and then he tells him about his dad’s imaginary friend! Ahhh, so sweet.) Here’s a happy ending, though: I put my ARC into the Little Free Library on my block, which has a lot of kids, and last I looked, it’s been picked up! My main takeaway: I might need to revisit the Animorphs sooner rather than later. A friend has sent me the first three books. Oh, yes. I’m feelin’ it.

And lastly, The Cuckoo’s Calling by You-Know-Who (hahaha, Harry Potter jokes, am I right?). JKR’s second adult novel, but first mystery, first in a series, first pen name. I like mysteries and I love Harry Potter so I was going to pick this up eventually. I have thoughts and feelings about this, but I’m struggling a little bit to find my words. I’m not sure about her use of dialect, and some of the descriptions of people put me off in their harshness. This book isn’t in tight third person perspective, so it felt a little to me like the author rather than the character being harsh, which put me off even more. That said, I really did like it, especially our two detectives: Cormoran Strike (what a JKR name, right?!) who is rough-around-the-edges and experienced, and Robin, his temp secretary who harbors secret, long-held fantasies of detection which, combined with her intense competence, make her super useful.  Yup, I’ll be seeing those two again in a few months, I’m sure of it!

And that’s it! My September reading. I also read a selection of Philip K. Dick’s short stories for my RL book club but I’ve been getting ranty whenever I talk about those, so I thought I’d leave it for another post (maybe). I’d like to promise more regular posts in the future, whether they are reviews or wrap-ups like this, but I don’t want to make a promise I don’t know if I’ll keep, so I’ll just say: guten nacht, and see you in a few days for the ‘thon!

The Next Morning

Jessica:

  1. Which hour was most daunting for you? Hour 20. I had to stay up until hour 21 for our mini-challenge, but I was super fading. I got a second wind after picking our two winners and lasted until sometime during hour 22!
  2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? Nothing in particular is coming to mind. I’d love it, as always, if we could switch up the start time to literally anything else, for the sake of all the world’s people not in the Eastern half of the US. Maybe you could have a list of mini-challenge ideas that would help to make sure the mini-challenges are short, fun, and easy?
  4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? Wow! So many people!
  5. How many books did you read? I finished 4 (all shorties), read 3/5 of a manga, and read 20-50 pages of four others.
  6. What were the names of the books you read? Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix, Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, The Unfolding of Language by Guy Deutscher, Nimona by Noelle Stevenson, The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Through the Woods by Emily Carroll, Rapunzel’s Revenge by the Three Hales, and Kimi wa Petto by Yayoi Ogawa.
  7. Which book did you enjoy most? Hmm, that’s tough! Newt’s Emerald was charming, Housekeeping was lovely, Nimona was good all through but had a truly excellent ending, Through the Woods was creepy in the best way, and Kimi wa Petto was a return to characters I love but hadn’t read about it in a while! I think I might go with Through the Woods, though. I love Emily Carroll so much!
  8. Which did you enjoy least? That’s also tough. I found the Unfolding of Language kind of annoying (more details later possibly), I didn’t connect much with The Mostrumologist (though I’ll read some more of it before giving it up for good), and Rapunzel’s Revenge didn’t have the magic I expect from Shannon Hale – not to be a demanding reader, it’s just that she is one of my favorite YA authors whose work I usually find magical. I found the tone and pacing of RR to be off, though I really appreciated the diversity of characters!
  9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders? N/A
  10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? I’m sure we’ll be back, barring trips or other big commitments like in April! We’ll read and probably host mad libs again, and I’ve been thinking about signing up to cheer for a short amount of time

Mia:

  1. Which hour was most daunting for you? The end of however long I stayed up, definitely. At that point counting is too hard so I’m never sure how many hours are left. This time, I just read a giant anthology of horror comics and then went to sleep.
  2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? I didn’t read it for this ‘thon, but Alice+Freda Forever by Alexis Coe is very readable, interesting nonfiction. Also, Jessica and I were discussing doing an all-Princess  Diaries Read-a-thon sometime. Those books are so easy to whiz through and I love Mia Thermopolis forever.
  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? Starting time change up! I know that’s probably not gonna happen, but I’m saying it anyway.
  4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? The prize page was really well-organized, I thought, and made it easy for me to check out what I might like when I won a door prize (!).
  5. How many books did you read? Five–finished four and read select stories from one.
  6. What were the names of the books you read? I finished: Scandals of Classic Hollywood, by Anne Helen Peterson; Prairie Ostrich, by Tamai Kobayashi; Through the Woods, by Emily Carroll; and The Sleep of Reason, ed. C. Spike Trotman. I also read a handful of stories from The Home Girls, by Olga Masters.
  7. Which book did you enjoy most? I liked them all for different reasons! Scandals of Classic Hollywood is a great nonfiction book and I’ve already loved AHP’s column at The Hairpin for a long time, Prairie Ostrich is lovely and full of empathy and a little sad, Through the Woods and The Sleep of Reason are both full of creepy-good short horror comics, and the bits I read of The Home Girls made me want to read more Australian fiction.
  8. Which did you enjoy least? None, this time! I had a pretty good stack. I did read some temporary tattoo instructions that were a little dry, though.
  9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders? n/a 
  10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? I’d love to keep doing our Mad Libs mini-challenge as long as they let us! And like Jessica said, I think joining in the cheerleading might be a good new thing to do.

It’s been real, guys! Can I go back to sleep now?