General Non-Fiction

Review: Jane Austen and Shelley in the Garden

Jane Austen and Shelley in the GardenTitle: Jane Austen and Shelley in the Garden
Author: Janet Todd
Page Count: 304
Publication: September 2021

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews: Washington Post, The Scotland Herald)

Academics should not write fiction. Well, not all academics but most should not even attempt to write fiction even if it is a topic they know and love. (Umberto Eco is a fine example. He was a leading academic and his fiction is superb.)

In this case, Todd, an expert on Austen and a fan of Shelley, made a book, dare I say, snoozeable.

I was sorely disappointed by this book. I was so desperate to love it for I too love Austen and Shelley and the idea of Austen whispering in the ear of the main character and finding Shelley later on seemed beyond delightful. Any reimagined Austen is catnip to my brain.

But alas, despite the glowing review in WaPo and the weeks long hold at my local library, I found this book to be dull and rambling. After the perfunctory “It’s a truth universally acknowledged…” a few paragraphs later finds us the following:Intro to Jane Austen and Shelley

I read that numerous times after I read the first chapter to see how it tied into the book. It doesn’t, not really. I still don’t get it.

The writing is extraneous and someone needed a new editor. The story meandered and seemed to hold at some points, confused on where to go next. The pictures looked like they were taken by an amateur (and who thought this was a good idea in the first place?) and were particularly fuzzy on my Kindle.

Books can be anything and everything. They can make you think, cry, love, and travel. Difficult topics do not have to be written obtusely nor should fiction. I often think of Salman Rushdie’s quip when he was told that some people find his books difficult to read. His response was that perhaps the person doing the reading wasn’t smart enough to understand his work. I call bullshit on this. I often find that when hoity toity authors come out with works that are deemed difficult what they really are are meditations on their own intelligence bookended by their over extensive vocabulary.

I meander.

Todd’s other works have been praised by people like Hilary Mantel, Emma Donoghue, and Phillipa Gregory so she’s got to be doing something right. But was is it that she’s doing?

This book is more like a 2 stars over 1 as I was so disappointed and confused by what I was reading but somewhere out there people are going to love it. So as long as it is them, and not me.

(P.S. Todd wrote about Aphra Behn, the seventeenth ­century writer of erotic, poetry, and plays; political propagandist, and spy. I desperately want to read that book but I’m afeared that I will come away disappointed.)

Biography and Memoirs · General Non-Fiction

Review: Stranger Here

Stranger HereTitle: Stranger Here
Author: Jen Larsen
Page Count: 267
Publication: February 2013

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews: Kirkus)

When I started thinking about getting weight loss surgery (WLS), I went to a close friend of mine who had it a few years prior. She was more than happy to answer my questions and recommended I read Stranger Here, Jen Larsen’s memoir on her experiences before, during, and after getting the surgery, to get a perspective and help guide me towards a a decision.

After reading The Big Reveal (which I LOVED), also by Larsen, I was torn. On one hand I wanted to be like Addie: Confident and inspirational. A person who loves their body and accepts themselves for themselves.

But I’m not Addie and while she’s everything every girl should be, it’s a struggle to accept myself and I’m old enough to be Addie’s mom. If an 18 year old can do it, why can’t I?

Reading Stranger Here was like reading my very own private diary that I had no idea that I had written or needed to read. Larsen writes a very poignant story about being fat is more than just weight. Spurned on by society and lack of doctor’s willing to use evidence medicine, it tortures our self-perception of ourselves, nearly destroying in the end and how we play into it all.

Near the end of the book, Larsen writes that she does not regret getting WLS but she regrets the years of her life she wasted on not loving herself. The comment is a mere few paragraphs, and Larsen doesn’t really expound on it much – the ending and the wrap up of the book was quite quick from Larsen’s rhythm, so I wonder how she got there and what she meant.

What does it mean to love yourself? Is it merely a trend about boundaries, self-care, being a spoonie, and self-love? What does it all mean? Why do so many seem to figure it out while people like Larsen and I tend to flounder and wobble as we find ourselves? Are we somehow figuring things out how society has wrecked us not only for our body shape but also for our own mental and emotional health? While trend seems to be a big word to use here, maybe it’s time we’re taking back control.

Maybe control is the answer. Maybe taking control of our own lives is what begins the self-love healing and acceptance with ourselves. We make choices and live by those choices but being fat is more than about eating too much as so much goes into it like genetics, medicines, and existing conditions. Being fat is not a choice no matter what society tells us.

As I navigate the process of getting WLS from reading studies, other perspectives, and the many dear friends who have had success at it, Larsen’s book sticks with me the most. It’s a comfort to know I’m not alone and also a comfort to know maybe things are going to be okay. And maybe, just maybe, as I discover more about my own needs and wants, I’ll find that I love myself after all no matter what I weigh.

General Non-Fiction

Review: Resistance: How Women Saved Democracy from Donald Trump

Title: Resistance: How Women Saved Democracy from Donald Trump
AuthorJennifer Rubin
Page Count: 416
Publication: September 2021

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews: Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly)

Reviewed by Natalie

Washington Post columnist Rubin covers the elections from 2016 to 2020. This is a really interesting book on the surge of women getting politically involved due to the election of Donald Trump. She mainly covers women running for state or national seats. Organizations that were involved or created during this time to assist these women are also mentioned. Filled with facts, but not boring, this kept my attention throughout the entire book. The last few chapters are a bit repetitive, but the rest of the book is a fascinating read into politics and activism.
Though Rubin is a well-known Conservative writer, she gives credit where it’s due to women in both parties. She admits that while she may not agree with some of their beliefs, she admires the women who broke through glass ceilings and became the first woman to win their election. This book is definitely geared to readers who are not fans of the former President, so avoid it if you’re a fan.
General Non-Fiction · History

Review: How Iceland Changed the World

Title: How Iceland Changed the World
Author:Egill Bjarnason
Page Count: 288
Publication: May 2021

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews: New York Times, Publisher’s Weekly)

My partner and I drive about 10 hours one way to go to our cabin in Northern Michigan. On the trip, instead of Spotify playlist and podcasts, we started listening to audiobooks to while away the time. This last trip, we choose How Iceland Changed the World.

Iceland, the tiny island country with a population (371K) less than my hometown of Grand Rapids, MI (500K for the urban area, 1.1M for the metro). I have a thing for Vikings and you really can’t get more Vikingesque than Iceland.

Iceland also has it’s own stars: they are one of the most literate population on earth and the number of authors as well as musicians such as Björk, John Grant (transplant from the US), as well as some of the best entries for Eurovision including a punk-rock children’s band is nearly 2:1. Plus, one of my favorite TV series, Trapped, is based in Iceland.

But Iceland is more than just music and literature and cool TV shows. It has given us much in the world such as:

  • Longest running (over 900 years) of legislative assembly
  • Sagas
  • First woman president in the world who was democratically elected
  • One of the first women prime ministers
  • One of the first countries to almost close the gap of equal pay for men and women
  • Runs almost completely on renewable energy
  • It was used to simulate the moon landing in the ’60s
  • It was instrumental in the foundation of Israel
  • Tolkien’s muse was a nanny from Iceland
  • It has no standing army
  • Instrumental in WW2 with it’s position in the north Atlantic with occupation of Brits and the Yanks.

And a lot more.

How Iceland Changed the World is a trip through a 1,200 year odyssey that breathes fire into this icey land. We learned so much there was a lot of “ahas!” and “holy shit, really?” as the narrator went on. Who knew that Iceland’s terrain was perfect to simulate the moon landing and when it tried to ban alcohol, its’ hand was forced when Spain only promised to buy cod from Iceland if Iceland took on Spanish red wine. ALSO! Beer, but not wine or hard alcohol, was illegal in the country until the early ’00s.

Crazy, right?

I would highly recommend this as an audiobook over print since the narrator gives it a nice Icelandic flair with names and the deprecation of the author about the history of this tiny giant of country.

General Non-Fiction

Review: A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear

A libertarian Walks into a Bear
Title: A Libertarian Walks into a Bear
Author: Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling
Page Count: 288
Publication: September 2020

[Amazon | Indie Bound | BN | Find it at your local library]

I hate libertarians.

When I say “hate,” I mean I want to throat punch their selfish asses. 90% of libertarians I have met or come across tend to cling onto the Ayn Rand (a hack), The Federalist Papers (if they are “academic” libertarians who like writing by dead white guys whose concerns rejected the notion of equality for anyone not white or male), and the 1st and 2nd Amendments. The premise of libertarianism seems a bit, not much but a bit, sane enough: limited interference by the government with self-rule at the helm, images of Orwell’s salient 1984 dancing like sugar plums in their heads to keep them on the straight and narrow. Socialism, democracy, republicanism, and every other ism is a pox upon humanity. Man, as Rand was known to wank, is only so much free as the property they own and living by their own moral aptitude or as we know it, capitalism.

So we find ourselves in Grafton, NH, a free hold for libertarians of all kinds who come to live in the near wild state of New Hampshire with the promise of limited government. Townies, I think at first a bit amused and then horrified, find their town and its services gutted after motion after motion by the now majority libertarian council and town folk reject proposal after proposal. Potholes are not filled, water sanitation becomes sketchy, schools are severely underfunded, and let us talk about the fire department. Oh, yes, they even gutted the fire department BECAUSE TAXES with the ideology that someone, anyone, will step up and buy the truck, train or hire the fighters, because that is what life is like in Grafton: Being selfless is for wussies, bring on the selfish!

I’ve spent nearly 300 words raging against the movement and not so much the book itself, which I would decry, is very good. A Libertarian Walks into a Bear was recommended to me by Brendan who sent me to read The Town That Went Feral, a review of the book over at The New Republic (which, tbh, reads more as a long form article then a review but who am I to judge?). Intrigued, I libraried the book and here we are.

Hongoltz-Hetling takes you through the foundation of Grafton as a freehold, it’s more colorful characters, and then there are the bears! We’re introduced into a brief history of bear activity in New England, specifically into NH, and how with management by the DNR, black bears have started to grow and flourish once more and they love Grafton. Especially the Doughnut Lady who started out leaving donuts for the bears and then it turned into feeding frenzy of bears waiting, docile even, for her daily feedings, but with grains now and doughnuts on top. Bears, at the most, were known to stay away from human life but with people in the area actively feeding the bears, the bears have grown bolder to stealing farm and domestic animals, even while the humans are still standing there.

There was even a bear attack on a human, which is thought to have been rare, but now is no longer.

The freeholders in Grafton dove tails nicely with the story of the overrunning bears as each runs on a parallel path towards the same goal: destruction of a once quirky town where there hellbent on living free, doing what they like, and who gives a fuck at the outcome?

Well, we should give a fuck even if the freeholders do not.

A Libertarian Walks into a Bear is a wonderfully constructed tale of a two utopias gone absurdly wrong and a larger parable of what happens when we stop caring.