Bookworming, Randomosity

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Fun Home

I’m catching up on some comics I managed not to read so far, like

er-funhomeFun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

Category: Comics

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:
Alison Bechdel (yes, of the Bechdel Test) tells an autobiographical story of growing up with her distant, closeted father and of his suicide. She also describes how she discovered her own homosexuality.

How I found it:
Very deliberately: I went through an NPR list of best comics to find something interesting I hadn’t known and came up with a really long list of stuff to read.

Summary judgment:
It’s a worthy addition to any list of good comics.

Best things about it:
This is one of those graphic novels that prove the medium goes beyond silly pictures and is a true literary genre (if anyone still needs a proof in this day, I mean). It tells a complete, sombre, unflashy story, using the medium to its fullest capability, creating a collage of words, drawings, quotes and childhood memorabilia.
The honesty of the narrative (or its pretense, but it amounts to the same thing here) makes the story memorable and moving. I feel that the value of each autobiography will always be measured by how much other people can find of their own stories in the author’s one. I’m sure this one resonated with many people and even I, who had mostly very different experience of growing up, found things that felt so close to my childhood.

Worst things about it:
Honestly, I don’t think there’s something I would consider “worst.” I certainly missed some perspective on how the father’s transgressions affected Bechdel’s brothers but then I understand she respected their privacy, keeping them in the background of the narrative.

Other pluses:
✤ I like Bechdel’s art, even when it doesn’t leave me stunned with awe. Its directness and simplicity serves the story well and remains clear. The watercolory shading adds a nostalgic feel to the narrative.
✤ I also liked the use of literary classics as leitmotifs for each chapter, including the scholarly analysis. I enjoy when books are treated seriously.

Other minuses:
People talk about the humor of the story. Personally I didn’t find it particularly funny – but I didn’t really need the humor either.

How it enriched my life:
Like many things it made me want to draw more.

Fun (?) fact:
So there were two things I felt particularly close to in Bechdel’s story: one was her various obsessive behaviors as a kid, which I did have too, to a much milder extent. Another fact was her last serious talk with her father, not long before he died. It so happened that not too long before my father’s death I also had a serious, personal talk with him about his life choices and life story, unlike any we had before, and I’m forever grateful that we managed to do that.

Follow-up:
I might check out Dykes to Look Out for, Bechdel’s most famous comic, though it’s not necessarily my favorite genre. Also, this NPR list is still full of things I’m going to read.

Recommended for:
People who like slice of life stories and coming-out stories.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Love, Simon

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: An Invisible Sign of My Own

er-aninvisiblesignofmyownAn Invisible Sign of My Own by Aimee Bender

Category: Books

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:
A fairly short novel about Mona Grey, whose father one day develops a mysterious sickness (a sort of anxiety disorder or depression, probably, but it’s never specified). The novel focuses on how this makes Mona slowly withdraw from life and from the things she enjoyed. Even though it chooses a lighthearted tone, the story actually touches upon very profound and unsolvable questions: the fear of loss and death and the difficulty in communication.

How I found it:
No idea. I did like the description I found somewhere: it sounded like just the right kind of gloomy (it’s not really gloomy though).

Summary judgment:
I liked the book well enough but I feel it had potential to engage me more.

Best things about it:
I like how it tackles the dark theme of the fear we all have to learn to live around. I like the weirdness of Mona and how all her quirks (and, frankly, neuroses) don’t completely incapacitate her or her potential for developing relations with people. I was quite impressed by the casualness of the story.

Worst things about it:
I feel like the book would benefit from a more experimental, sophisticated approach to language. I kept wondering how Lady Oracle-Atwood (rather than the new dystopian Atwood I don’t read) would approach this story and make it both more alive and more chilling with her linguistic games.

Other pluses:
✤ The author has a good ear for children. The scenes in the elementary school are the most lively in the entire book.
✤ I liked the composition of parts of the book, where we are given a series of surreal facts about Mona (for instance, she eats soap not to have sex) and only later learn how this started.

Other minuses:
Maybe the ending did feel too easy and you can wince at the fact that a guy is a catalyst for change but personally I didn’t mind.

How it enriched my life:
I enjoy psychological narratives and stories about children. It also reinforced my already strong belief that I could never teach children.

Fun fact:
There is a movie adaptation of this story with Jessica Alba, of all people, and it appears from the trailer to have turned the story into a cutesy rom-com mush. I’ll steer clear despite Chris Messina’s presence.

Cover notes:
The cover doesn’t excite me and I wish it found a smart way to use numbers (though alternative covers I saw underline the fact it would have to be smart; overall, I prefer the unpretentiousness of this one). But, unlike the movie adaptation, it emphasizes the subtlety of the story, the composition is evocative and they managed to find a convincing model.

Follow-up:
Definitely not the movie, and I don’t necessarily see a direct follow-up.

Recommended for:
People who are not discouraged by introvert stories about slightly broken characters (but with an overall optimistic sense).

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Dietland (the show)

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Landline

I will often watch a smaller dramedy with a bit of an indie whiff, enticed by a trailer and a premise. I will most often also end up disappointed.

er-landlineLandline

Category: Movies

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A 2017 dramedy about a family in some crisis (a cheating crisis). It takes place in 1995 and Jenny Slate stars, which was all I needed to know to watch it.

How I found it:
The classic way: an IMDb trailer.

Summary judgment:
It’s painless (which I’m not sure it was supposed to be).

Best things about it:
As expected, Jenny Slate. I fell in love with her as Mona Lisa on Parks and Recreation and I watched her in Obvious Child (which I’m still not sure what I think of). She’s irresistibly likable, no matter what a silly or even repulsive role she plays, with impeccable comedic timing. But I liked most of the other actors, with a particular shout-out to Edie Falco as the mother, who does very little but keeps it human and likable.

Worst things about it:
It feels like a very lightweight story. Sometimes I felt unsure why I was watching it (which, admittedly, is my frequent reaction to indie comedies).

Other pluses:
✤ I liked the music, particularly the Angel Olsen song. It would be my instinct to choose around-1995 songs but – side fact – not long ago I had to create a 1997-themed playlist and most of that music really sucked. So I get it.
✤ As always, I’m a sucker for depictions of family love.

Other minuses:
✤ I’m not sure why the movie is taking place in 1995 at all. That might be some local color I don’t get but nothing (except for the landline phones) marks it as a particularly 1990s movie and it would work among a more hipsterish family.
✤ I didn’t connect with Ali. Her rambling rebellion irritated me.

How it enriched my life:
I enjoyed it well enough. That’s about it.

Fun fact:
I completely didn’t recognize Jay Duplass as Ben. Weird, after all the Mindy Project episodes I saw him in. I didn’t even have that I’m-sure-I-know-this-actor-from-somewhere feeling.

Follow-up:
I’ll be there for Jenny Slate.

Recommended for:
People who like low-key, slice-of-life family stories, especially involving a strong sisterly bond and some wacky moments.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Three Princes

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Glass Castle

Memoirs are not among my favorite genres but I read one every now and then. Like

er-theglasscastleThe Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Category: Books

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:
A memoir about growing up in a dysfunctional but exciting family. Jeannette and her three siblings are carted around by their extravagant parents: an artistic mother who refuses to make sacrifices and a charismatic drunken father. They live in several states, fiercely independent, but often with nothing to eat and nowhere to wash.

How I found it:
I saw a trailer for the movie adaptation and then heard a casual reference to the book somewhere and it was enough to get me interested.

Summary judgment:
I admire the tone of the book and it reads really well.

Best things about it:
While some facts from Walls’s childhood shock, she manages to recreate a child’s point of view that only slowly grows more judgmental of her parents, replacing perfect trust with disappointment. I read criticism of the dispassionate tone of the book but I actually find it believable and engaging: at some moments you want to shake the parents awake for the children who love them too much to do that.
And even though Walls grows in disillusionment as she matures, the underlying love for her misfit family never disappears, elevating the book from a tearjerker to a head-scratcher: despite everything, there are positive things about the Walls parents values.

Worst things about it:
A few times I found the anecdotal style of the book, with the memories mostly disjoined into separate snippets a bit mechanical. But it’s a minor complaint.

Other pluses:
✤ Walls manages to paint very vivid pictures of the different places where she lived, particularly the desert and Welch. You easily see yourself there.
✤ It bears emphasizing: it would be so easy to presents parents like these as monsters. It’s a testament to a child’s devotion, but also to the strength of human spirit, how Walls never condemns them, even when the reader has, and so makes you see positive things about them: their courage, their optimism, their free spirit.
✤ I found Lori the most interesting of the siblings but all the family members except for the youngest child make such strong characters.

Other minuses:
Of all the places, I found the description of New York least compelling.

How it enriched my life:
Despite everything it’s an enjoyable read and more than that, it makes you wonder about people who choose very different lifestyles.

Fun fact:
I can’t imagine anything less fun than having your grown-up child write a memoir of how you raised them, even if you did your best to strive for perfection. The more do I admire Mrs. Walls for her alleged support for the book.

Follow-up:
I’m interested in Walls’s other book, Half-Broke Horses, about her grandmother.

Recommended for:
People with perfectly (or at least mostly) conventional childhoods curious about different experiences. I have no idea how it might work for people who got traumatized in dysfunctional families themselves.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Back to True Blood

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Joy Luck Club

As the train ride to Berlin takes 6 hours and the return ride takes another 6 hours, it gave me many hours to read a not-too-long book,

er-joyluckclubThe Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

Category: Books

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A 1989 novel about American-born Chinese women and their mothers who left China to come to the US. It tells histories of four women and their four daughters through a series of connected short stories, each showing a different side of the characters and their relations and illuminating partially the other stories as well.

How I found it:
It’s been on my to-read list for a while. I didn’t find it in any particular way, just the summary sounded interesting and I used to really like books about Chinese history (back when I had way less imagination).

Summary judgment:
I quite enjoyed the book, especially its American side as some fragments of the Chinese stories I found a bit too traumatizing.

Best things about it:
It’s well-written and reads well. It also has a lot of empathy for both generations of women and tries to capture the unique mother-daughter relationship in all its beauty and difficulty.

Worst things about it:
It’s embarrassing but I had a hard time keeping track of which story was by which woman and how they followed one another. I think it took me more than a half of the book to remember them properly though I attribute that partly to reading on the train, not the most concentration-inducing environment.

Other pluses:
The structure of the book is unusual and quite well woven together. I got really interested in Waverly’s story ever since her chess-prodigy introduction. It was quite impressive how the mothers are shown through their own words and then their daughers (unjust) views and then the same is done to the daughters. It also makes the reader question their own relations with people they think they know everything about.

Other minuses:
My goodness, that first story about leaving babies on the road was really hard to read. It almost made me give up on the book altogether but its beauty and powerful images made it hard to drop it and switch to a fantasy story I had as an alternative.

How it enriched my life:
It gave me small bits of information about Chinese history that I’m sure to forget soon. It also reminded me not to take for granted my idea about the story of the people important to me. Like my mother.

Fun fact:
Again, not fun, but as I was reading the first story, definitely the most stressful one of all (though there are a few more which are a bit hard to get through), I was sitting across some guy in the train compartment. He had no book nor anything else to kill time on the train and so instead he was staring at me reading and I’m sure my face must have been like a (very boring) movie as I was going through the dramatic developments.

Follow-up:
Actually, now I’m reading that fantasy story for a little emotional reset.

Recommended for:
Mothers and daughters; people interested in Chinese history or the theme of immigration. People with a good memory for names (or a notepad).

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Beauty and the Beast

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