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.)

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?

Mid-Event Survey Time!

From Jessica:

1. What are you reading right now? I just finished Nimona, which was a lot of fun. Not sure what I’m going to pick up next.
2. How many books have you read so far? I’ve finished two (Nimona by Noelle Stevenson and Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix) and made progress in two more (25ish pages in Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson and the introduction to the Unfolding of Language by Guy Deutscher).
3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? I want to get to page 50 in Housekeeping, since it’s for a book club. I’m really looking forward to Through the Woods by Emily Carroll, which I will be stealing from Mia.
4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? Not any external or unexpected interruptions. There have been little food breaks and checking the computer breaks, but nothing major.
5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far? Hmmm. Like I said before, we’re getting to be old hats at this ‘thon thing, so I’m struggling to come up with anything surprising.

From Mia:

1. What are you reading right now? I’m more than halfway through Prairie Ostrich by Tamai Kobayashi and I’m really enjoying it.
2. How many books have you read so far? I finished Anne Helen Peterson’s Scandals of Classic Hollywood, and Prairie Ostrich will be my second. It feels like I’m reading more slowly than usual, although I think part of that is just that I take longer with nonfiction books, even when they’re engagingly written. I’m whipping through Prairie Ostrich much faster.
3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? The comics and maybe some of the stories in Olga Masters’ The Home Girls, which was given to me by an Australian friend!
4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? I occasionally let myself get a little distracted by Twitter or Vine (or bothering Jessica’s cats), but mostly it’s been smooth sailing.
5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far? I’ve been doing more straight reading and fewer mini-challenges/less social media participation. I don’t think there’s any particular reason, just the whims of my brain. Probably when I’m punchy and sleepy later I’ll want to take more breaks and use the challenges as an excuse, haha.

From Brian:

1. What are you reading right now? Still working on some guys with guns Three Musketeers. 100 pages left!
2. How many books have you read so far?  Just the one – and I haven’t finished it, but that’s ok, it’s long, and soon, soon.
3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? I’m gonna read at least a story or two from Invisible Cities post Musketeers, but then I really want to sit down with Tombs of Atuan – short, sweet, and Ursula le Guin!
4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? I’ve been doing ok, I think – I’ve definitely got distracted/less focused for at least a couple of hours – so fair I’ve been changing up venue when I start flagging, but now that it’s late that’s gonna get harder.
5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?  I’ve been really conscious of hanging around various public spaces with a book – that’s not totally weird for me, but it’s entered my thoughts a lot as I’ve bounced around the coffee shop, the park, and most recently waiting for take-out at the amaaaaaazing Thai restaurant right by where I live. I think just reading allll day has made for a kinda interesting mindset! Also, some guy yelled at me to get a job when I was at the park! But then, I also kinda look like a hippy.

Read-a-Thon Intro Meme!

readathon tbr

Here is my (Jessica!) TBR for this Read-a-thon. A couple of comics for when I’m burning out, a couple of things I need to read for other people, and a few things that have been on my list for a while! And, of course, my Kindle at the very tippy top.

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today? My house in the Yay Area of California!
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? I’m pretty excited about all of them, but I’m starting with Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix (on my Kindle) and am super enjoying it so far.
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? Mia asked for these cookies she remembered from her childhood – creme sandwich cookies with a thumbprint of jam! I’ve never had them before, but they look scrumptious!
4) Tell us a little something about yourself! I am a math tutor, but no math for me today! :D
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? This is our sixth or seventh ‘thon and I feel like we’ve got it pretty down, to be honest! I did buy plenty of easy snacks and meals to prepare, more than usual!

Okay, Mia here and ready to rumble! Gaze upon my book stack, ye mortals, and despair:

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That doesn’t count the legion of ebooks I also have at my disposal, of course. Oh, Kindle, you’re always there for me.

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today? Jessica’s awesome home in the East Bay, which is full of hilarious cats and comfortable blankets.
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? Prairie Ostrich by Tamai Kobayashi comes to me highly recommended by a Canadian friend whose taste I deeply admire. Also, Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods and anthology The Sleep of Reason, because it’s almost Halloween and horror comics are gonna be a great way to keep myself awake into the wee hours of the morning.
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? I too am looking forward to the sandwich cookies–I haven’t had them in an age–but we’re also going to experiment with queso and chips, which sounds like the exact kind of junk food I could go for today.
4) Tell us a little something about yourself! I spent yesterday working registration at the biggest alumni event of the year at my local university and place of employment. I was a little nervous, but alums who are in town for fun and nostalgia are wonderfully patient and accommodating.
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? I told Jessica that she should say she was going to read while standing on her head today, but she demurred, so I’ll have to take up the torch on that one.

Update (A new challenge appears)
Hiya! This is Brian here tagging along w/ my sister and Mia for my first ever readathon!

Sadly I didn’t really prepare a variety of books for the readathon since I wasn’t expecting to do it, but luckly I just went to the library!
1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today? It’s a cool and bright Autumn day in Denver! My roommate is off camping so it’s just me and two big old hounds (who aren’t big readers).
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? I’m hoping to get into a bit of Invisible Cities since the Sister has been harassing me about it for… 5 years (more like 8! – Jessica)? Someday I’ll read it I swear! I’m looking forward to trying out Griffith’s Ammonite though, as it’s been highly recommended to me and is a differenty sort of SF.
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? I did not plan well for my long term survival today =(. That said, I have a goodly amount of chocolate, as well as chips, cheese, and homemade salsa!
4) Tell us a little something about yourself! I’m a grad student in Denver, where I study cities and sustainability! If you look close, you can, ah, see that I’ve got a work book in that reading pile for the day ~cough~ >.>
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? This is my first readathon! I don’t know how well I’ll do, really – I’m a pretty good focused reader so my hope is that that’ll work in my favor!

New Year

Hello, friends. Happy New Year!

Firstly, I’d like to, as always, make some reading goals for the year. I don’t even remember if I did it on the blog last year, and if I did, I’m pretty sure I failed them. So, for this year:

1) Read at least 25 books. This one makes me kind of sad because there was a time, a few years ago, that I was reading about 50 a year and I miss having books be that much of my life, but life changes and people change and hey, 25 is still way more than the average person. :P
2) Keep track of every single book I read. Goodreads just doesn’t do it for me. It doesn’t track my rereads, for one thing (or if it does I don’t know how), and I plain don’t keep up with it even for new reads. I am going to get a paper planner for work within the next week and I think I will devote a couple of pages in the back to a list, Anastasia Krupnik style.
3) Write on this blog at least three more times during non-Readathon times. I don’t mind that this is a fairly quiet blog, but I do miss writing and thinking about books. I’m not going to prescribe what types of posts they should be, and I don’t promise that they will be long or insightful. I might write them right before or after the Readathon when I remember that the blog exists. But I will write SOMETHING.

Secondly, a link which I was just going to send to Mia but then I thought that I was planning on writing this blog post anyway so why not make it a public sharing (like a public flogging but way nicer): Autostraddle’s list of the top ten queer feminist books of 2013. Disclaimer that I haven’t read any of the books on the list, but I was happy to see books by/about trans women and WOC and seems to have a nice mix of fiction and nonfiction. I thought Mia and our readers might find it useful!

Lastly, an apology: I’m so sorry to the lovely blogs who have followed us over the past couple of years. Mia doesn’t get emails for this blog, so she doesn’t even know when a new blog follows us. And I have not been keeping up with blogging or even reading blogs (curse the demise of Google Reader! I know there are other clients, but I was loyal and therefore distraught when it died) and so any of the blogs who have followed us didn’t get a follow in return. I didn’t even look at your blog and, for that, I am sorry. I will better this year.

Belated Read-a-Thon End of Event Meme!

Whoa, everybody. Whoa. Jessica and I bugged out for about the last five hours, but now that the Read-a-Thon is over (womp-womp), we’re here to fill out the end of event meme! Mia first!

  1. Which hour was most daunting for you? Definitely hour 20 or so, which was right before Jessica and I crashed out. Soooo sleeeeepyyyyy, plus Jessica’s cat Nousha was cuddling with me, and I really wanted to follow her lead and just curl up for a nap.
  2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? Well, for us Anastasia Krupnik was a sure-fire winner–really, any MG or YA book that you have fond memories of from childhood would be a great light read that sucks you in and keeps you entertained.
  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? I thought everything went really smoothly this year, other than the hiccups with Canadians who weren’t able to participate as much due to the Thanksgiving holiday.
  4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? I thought the spread of mini-challenges was pretty good, and we got some really positive, thoughtful cheerleaders.
  5. How many books did you read? I finished two, read most of a third, and started a fourth.
  6. What were the names of the books you read? I finished Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry and A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin; I read most of Look For Me By Moonlight by Mary Downing Hahn; and I got a few stories into Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond, edited by Bill Campbell and Edward Austin Hall.
  7. Which book did you enjoy most? Anastasia Krupnik was a real delight, especially since I’d never read it before. A Wizard of Earthsea was also wonderfully written and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.
  8. Which did you enjoy least? Well, I WAS enjoying Look For Me By Moonlight when I thought it was just a cheesy/hilarious vampire-boyfriend story, but then it turned into a sexual abuse allegory, which, while a perfectly legitimate critique of the genre, wasn’t at all funny and was in fact pretty depressing. I’m still trying to figure out the target audience for that book.
  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 will definitely participate in April’s Read-a-thon, unless something prevents me from doing so! Jessica and I might like to run another mini-challenge next time, since this one is always so fun.

Jessica next, second, and last!

  1. Which hour was most daunting for you? I’d say hour 10, maybe? I had a headache.
  2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? Yeah, I’ll go with Mia. Anastatia Krupnik was short and super fun – perfect for the Read-a-Thon. I’m also fond of romance novels and mystery novels. Things with quick pacing are easier to keep reading for hours.
  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? Wellll, I always say this, but I wish we could vary the start time.
  4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? Everything seemed to go smoothly!
  5. How many books did you read? I finished two books and read from three more.
  6. What were the names of the books you read? I read the entirety of Anastasia Krupnik, finished The Bridegroom Wore Plaid, started Across the Universe, read a little from American Pastoral, and started A is for Alibi.
  7. Which book did you enjoy most? I loooooved Anastatia Krupnik as a kid and it was really, really fun to revisit her and her parents.
  8. Which did you enjoy least? American Pastoral. I’m reading it for a book club and, while the writing itself is decent, I am not fond of the pace or the narrator or ugh. I just don’t like it much at all.
  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? Definitely! Mia and I have such fun running the mad libs challenge and I think we’ll probably do it as long as you let us. :)