YELLOW: I’m blinded by yellow and can’t read this links round-up.

Okay, okay, I know I’m on my hibiscus right now, but I have these links and I’ve been rounding them up all fortnight. I don’t want to deprive you. Just enjoy these links, and then be off with you, for my hibiscus continues.

This is a fabulous slide show, compiled by the incomparable Linda Holmes of NPR, of the costumes in the Miss Universe costume show. I like the yellow one that is yellow because I love yellow.

The Daily Dot wants us to figure out how to write about transgender people, already.

Trevor Noah! More Trevor Noah, right? He starts off with a hilariously sad subversion of one of my mother’s favorite dad jokes. More Trevor Noah, and more educating of Americans about Africa! I am psyched for everyone to know more stuff about Africa so they can talk to me about Africa. In future America, when I tell people that Namibia is my second-favorite African nation, that will be a controversial position that will inspire argument.

Here’s Lindy West on This American Life, talking to the meanest troll that ever trolled her. It is interesting.

DAVID TENNANT NEWS. I swear everything that comes out about this Jessica Jones series makes me more and more and more excited to watch it. And I didn’t even care about it to start with.

A heartwarming response to Islamophobic ads on San Francisco buses. Spoiler alert: It involves comics.

Science supports what I’ve been saying all along, re: expectations and how they can harm you.

Jenny Diski is, at last, writing about Doris Lessing. Am I awful for how curious I am about this? It truly is mostly because I love Jenny Diski’s writing. She writes about herself with self-deprecating humor. I dig it.

Is the NFL’s commitment to preventing domestic violence sincere? The answer may surprise you. (No it won’t.)

This past Wednesday was emotionally draining, y’all. In the AM, it was announced that Harper Lee is releasing a second novel, as if that’s a thing we ever even thought to wish for. Mid-day there appeared in my Comixology account the new Saga and the penultimate Hawkeye. And in the PM, Maggie Stiefvater announced the title and release date for the last book in the Raven Cycle. It was a lot. The geeky nerd-girl enthusiast side of me ended Wednesday slumped in a heap on the floor.

A small blogging hibiscus!

Hi everyone! This is a quick notification that I’ll be doing adventures in the month of February, which will keep me away(ish) from blogging this month. The podcast should still be coming out on schedule, and I’ll still be visiting your blogs as often as I can, but generally it’ll be quiet around here. Get at me on Twitter or by email (readingtheend AT gmail DOT com) if something particularly amazing happens that requires my attention. Like if the fourth Raven Cycle book gets a title other than Raven Cycle IV: Children with Large Bank Accounts Finally Get What’s Coming to Them.

FAQS:

Q: What kind of adventures?
A: Not the kind that require a secret identity or your own theme song. I am not cut out for that sort of thing. I go to bed at ten o’clock every night and cross-stitch for fun.

Q: What will you be reading while you are away?
A: Many things, I hope; definitely Frances Hardinge’s Cuckoo Song, and maybe this one book about the Congo. Feel free to drop a line about good books for me to read while doing adventures.

Q: Don’t you mean hiatus?
A: Nobody likes a smarty-pants.

Q: Do you have a new and worrying idea about what’s going to happen in Children with Large Bank Accounts Finally Get What’s Coming to Them?
A: Why yes I do. I am newly concerned that why Gansey goes to the principal’s office in Blue Lily Lily Blue (you know? that time you didn’t really register because you were having a small heart attack about Ronan taking Adam on a secret private mission?) is that he Knows and is Putting His Affairs in Order. Sometimes when I am driving on the interstate for more than twenty minutes, my brain has time to think of unpleasant possibilities.

Q: Is Legend of the Seeker a silly and enjoyable show that I should watch since the first season is streaming for free on Hulu?
A: Yes. See below for further information, or apply to Alice of Reading Rambo for the hard sell.

The protagonist does this sort of thing.

Review: Faith + Feminism, edited by B. Diane Lipsett and Phyllis Trible

I read more academic nonfiction than I tell y’all about. If you happen to be in my conversational line of fire as I am reading a thing, you will hear about it (sorry, family! sorry, friends! but not sorry enough to stop!), but the blog usually does not. Except sometimes my utterly favorite feminist scholar has a new collection of essays and I can’t resist asking the publisher for it, and then you get to hear about it after all. You lucky ducks.

So, disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for review consideration.

One time I read Phyllis Trible’s book Texts of Terror, a work of feminist criticism and close textual readings of the Bible, and it blew my tiny mind out of the back of my skull. This being my first encounter with reexamination of Biblical texts through a feminist lens, I suppose that was to be expected. In any case, it left me with a lasting devotion to feminist scholar Phyllis Trible, one of the editors of this collection.

As in any collection of essays — particularly any collection based, as this one is, on a lecture series — there are stronger and weaker links. I was intrigued but not fully convinced by Wilma Ann Bailey’s essay on the development of Leah as a character in Genesis, and Hisako Kinukawa’s essay on Asian feminisms and the Syrophoenician woman who talks back to Jesus was not everything I wanted from an essay on my favorite lady in maybe the whole Bible.

But others of the essays were superb. Gail R. O’Day’s “Sacraments of Friendship” places a renewed emphasis on the embodying of Jesus in the Gospel of John, and the ways in which Jesus physically embodies the value of love-in-friendship, as when he humbles himself physically before his disciples to wash their feet. As y’all know if you’ve been around here for a while, I love reading about the importance of friend relationships.

Another essay, Hibba Abugideiri’s “Speaking from Behind the Veil,” explores the history of Western concern-trolling of Muslim women as a justification for invading Muslim countries, and the ways this history has often prevented Muslim women from taking on the label of “feminist.” She discusses the historical exclusion of women from textual interpretations of the Qu’ran, which in turn led to often sexist and oftener exclusionary readings.

Rosemary Radford Ruether’s “Why Do Men Need the Goddess?” was an all-too-brief examination of the construction of symbols of the feminine divine and the purposes they have served for male thinkers in the history of Christianity. Much more of that, please, with comparative examples from other religions!

Now you know what kind of nerdery I get up to when I’m not reading killer fiction. The university press kind, y’all. I am a slave to the university press catalogs. Truth.

Reading the End Bookcast, Ep.34: Best and Worst of 2014 and Elena Ferrante’s “My Brilliant Friend”

This week, we’re doing a round-up of some superlatives from 2014 and reviewing the first book in Elena Ferrante’s famed Neapolitan series (mm, can’t see that name without thinking of ice cream). You can listen to the podcast in the embedded player below or download the file directly here to take with you on the go.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Or if you wish, you can find us on iTunes (and if you enjoy the podcast, give us a good rating! We appreciate it very very much).

Credits
Producer: Captain Hammer
Photo credit: The Illustrious Annalee
Song is by Jeff MacDougall and comes from here.

In which I am too pensive to write a real review of Kekla Magoon’s How It Went Down

I had to read How It Went Down in sections. It’s about a black teenager who is shot by a white man, and all the different characters — the witnesses, the families, friends — tell their perspectives of what happened on the day of Tariq’s death and in the aftermath of it. If any other author in the world had written this book, I wouldn’t have read it. But I trust Kekla Magoon from her wonderful, wrenching The Rock and the River, which is about teenage brothers and their participation (or lack of it) in the Black Panther Party.

I read the first third in December, and then the grand jury decision came down in Ferguson, and then the one for Eric Garner, and I didn’t want to read the fictional sad version of the real-life sad events, so I took a break. Then I picked it up and read the remaining two-thirds in one evening.

Magoon does something that I think is tremendously clever, which is that she makes her characters want the same things her readers want, i.e., Meaning. Everyone in this book wants to know why Tariq died, and the answer can’t be — because it would be unbearable — that there was no reason.

The day after I finished How It Went Down, I learned that a college friend of mine died last year. We were flatmates the year I lived in England. We didn’t stay in touch after I left. I hadn’t even known he was ill. When I thought of him, I imagined he was still playing drums and making dead-baby jokes, like he did when we were twenty and stupid. Forever probably, I thought. Except I was wrong about that. He was having cancer (and presumably also playing drums and making dead-baby jokes), and in October, he died, and I didn’t know.

These are some things about him: He made jokes always, at everyone’s expense, but if one of them hurt your feelings, he was swiftly and utterly sorry and would buy you a box of biscuits next time he went to Tesco, to make up for it. When I was too tipsy to do my own head counts, he was the one I asked “Where’s Ed?” and “Where’s Flick?” and he always knew where they were, which I realize now was because he was keeping track of everyone. He played drums and bought rounds of drinks when it wasn’t his turn to buy them. He made sad stories impossibly funny. It is pointless and unfair for him to be dead.

When I heard this news, I thought: Spooky. I had just finished reading that book about death and what it means. I had just been talking to Alice about how nobody in my life had died for a while. That same day.

You will most likely notice that neither of those two things is, in fact, spooky. They would barely be spooky even if you accepted their implicit premise that my college friend was a supporting character in my life, rather than the lead character in his own. But this is how people behave, when something inexplicable has happened. We cluster together everything that has happened surrounding the inexplicable thing, and we try to find the magical ways that it actually isn’t inexplicable at all. Actually it makes a weird sort of sense. Actually it makes so much sense that you should have known it was coming, because the universe was telegraphing it to you all along, if you had just bothered to listen.

Death isn’t actually like that. Stories are like that. If a character mentions a knife in a red leather sheath, you expect that knife to come around again and be significant. Every part of the story is important. Every part of the story has Meaning. The characters in How It Went Down expect that they will, at some point, find the answers that will explain Tariq’s death; we readers know that they are missing crucial puzzle pieces. But Magoon doesn’t end her book with any grand revelations or moral lessons. There is no final missing piece that can explain everything to the characters, or to the reader. Tariq’s death doesn’t matter differently if he was in a story of racism or a story of gang violence or a story of stupid misunderstandings. The fundamental thing is the tragedy that a person is gone who was loved. Sometimes that’s all there is.

We’re just here for the husbands: A links round-up

I like to read articles about the moral problem with football. But this one from Bill Morris at The Millions rubbed me the wrong way. He says a number of things that are super true and are real problems with football that need to be fixed; but he starts out with a thing about Penn State that seems to imply that football fans are uniquely terrible about accepting that prominent people in their field are capable of wrongdoing. Which, like, no. That is everywhere. People do not handle cognitive dissonance well. Moreover, the passage about Southern girls is the most minimizing, insulting bullshit. I’m so very fucking delighted that you enjoyed our blonde hair and taut bodies, Bill Morris, as that really is all there is to us Southern girls. I’m confident that black Southern football fans were thrilled to be judged “every bit as luscious” as their white counterparts in husband-hunting.

This is your annual reminder that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the best. You may forget about this important issue from time to time, but I will always be here to remind you.

Ship Your Enemies Glitter. There’s really nothing further that needs to be said about this.

Alexandra Petri has some theories about Mike Huckabee’s sudden obsession with Beyonce.

It all started one afternoon in 2008. “Mike, c’mon,” Rick Santorum yelled, disgruntled, after flawlessly executing the entire choreography for “Single Ladies” while Huckabee struggled and flailed behind him. “It’s step step kick seven eight, stepping left on first and four, and you need to keep your head down. Look, Newt has it.”

 

“I have it,” Newt Gingrich added. “It’s simple, yet elegant. Like a moon base.”

Social justice-themed speculative fiction: A list from the B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy blog.

An art and feminism Wikipedia edit-a-thon created Wikipedia pages for dozens of female artists not previously included in the online encyclopedia. Hooray!

Here is a baby turtle eating a strawberry. Thanks, Mother Jones.

Has it been a while since you took in some of Anne Helen Peterson’s wonderfully cogent and feminist pop culture criticism? It has for me! Here she is on the trouble with “It Girls.”

Book Riot’s FAQs about reading diversely have been terrific so far, and I’m excited for future installments. Here’s Part 1 and Part 2.

Happy Martin Luther King Day

This is your annual (I should make it annual for real!) reminder that some states commemorate Martin Luther King’s birthday and Robert E. Lee’s birthday on the same day. And some states used to do this but then split it into two holidays because it was weird to commemorate a civil rights leader and a Confederate general on the same day. Arguably it is just weird to celebrate a Confederate general but I guess this is why I do not hold public office.

Anyway, this year I’m celebrating the fact that although the states north and east of mine do this, my state does not. Hooray! Which frees me from having to complain to my senators (they are tired of me anyway) and lets me spend this day pointing and laughing at states I already dislike for football reasons (and, like, narcissism of small differences reasons, but let’s not worry too much about that).

 

I hope you are enjoying your day off if you get today off! I will be visiting a friend of mine, playing with a baby, and hopefully eating some strawberry cream cheese king cake. MARDI GRAS.

Review: Being Mortal, Atul Gawande

This has been the persistent pattern of how modern society has dealt with old age. The systems we’ve devised were almost always designed to solve some other problem. As one scholar put it, describing the history of nursing homes from the perspective of the elderly “is like describing the opening of the American West from the perspective of the mules; they were certainly there, and epochal events were certainly critical to the mules, but hardly anyone was paying very much attention to them at the time.”

The excerpt I read from Being Mortal in the New Yorker dealt with the astonishing rarity and efficacy of conversations about end-of-life care, about which more in a minute. But the book ranges far more widely than just the choices you make when there are no choices left. Gawande explores the history of elder care in America, from home care to nursing homes to assisted living. As the quotation above indicates, much of this history is about adapting to impossible circumstances in ways that were never intended to become permanent, but then they did anyway.

As is typical from what I’ve read of Gawande, he doesn’t place blame anywhere in particular. He himself has been on several sides of this issue: As the son of an aging father, he experienced for himself the difficulty of initiating a conversation about the circumstances under which his father wanted to be kept alive or not kept alive. And as a doctor, he has found himself confronted with patients and families who sacrifice realism for hope, always chasing after the next treatment, no matter how dangerous, because of the slim chance of a cure.

One solution to this is for families to have serious conversations with their aging loved ones about what they want. Gawande tells the story of Susan Block, whose father says that he is willing to stay alive as long as he’s able to sit in his chair and watch football on TV. Gawande’s own father wants more, including some level of self-sufficiency over his bodily functions and the strength to see and visit with his friends and relations.

More broadly, Gawande recommends that aging (or fatally ill) patients receive access to specialists in elder care, who can discuss their wishes with them in a specific and caring way. Though it’s a higher upfront cost, access to such specialists cuts way back on emergency room visits and medical expenses, and patients who receive it live 25% longer than the control group.

The main argument here is that the American separation from death and severe illness has left us in a place where we’re unwilling to have the hard conversations about mortality. And according to Gawande, the emotional and financial costs of our reluctance are substantial.

Recommended! But, extremely sad. Gawande is perfectly right that I do not want to think about these matters in relation to my own very beloved family members.

Review: Beautiful Darkness, Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët

Beautiful Darkness (Drawn and Quarterly) opens as a girl called Aurora has tea with a boy she has a crush on. (They met at the ball the other night.) Then — in seconds — they find themselves struggling to survive in the woods. They are all very wee, and the woods are normal-sized. They also appear to have emerged from the decomposing corpse of a little girl. Possibly — the book isn’t explicit about this — all of the tiny people are aspects of the dead girl’s personality, now set free to roam freely and tinily around the woods.

If that synopsis seems unwarrantedly weird, don’t blame me. Apply to Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët. Beautiful Darkness as a title possesses the same search-engine-optimized simplistic accuracy as Snakes on a Plane. This is a book that is beautiful, and a book that is dark.

Teamwork! Later on this same page, someone slurps maggots out of the corpse’s ears.

The drawings have the beautiful, sunlit look of a fairy tale, but the things that are going on are just about as gruesome as you can imagine. In one scene, a tiny person climbs into a bird nest and opens its mouth wide to be fed, only to have its throat and torso perforated by the sharp beak of the mother bird as she attempts to feed it. That is not the most alarming thing that happens in this book.

I think I would have loved this book better if it had confined itself to being thematically dark. The thematic stuff was excellent. Though Aurora starts out wanting nothing more than to keep everyone together, we quickly see that many of the tiny people are completely without conscience, pulling legs off beetles or leaving each other to die with no qualms at all. By the time she begins to feel disillusioned with her comrades, the reader has been shuddering at them for ages. And the book’s ending is excellent. Exactly the kind of inevitable doominess that I adore!

But see also above re: as gruesome as you can imagine. I don’t do well with grossness, and there is a lot of grossness. Some of it relates to the main few characters, and some of it doesn’t; it feels slapped in at random, as the writer and artists thought of yucky things that might befall tiny people, or that tiny conscienceless people might inflict on each other and their surroundings. And plus, you know. Maggots. My tolerance is low.

They read it too: Book Lust, As Usual I Need More Bookshelves. Tell me if I missed yours!

Review: Lock In, John Scalzi

Every new year I intend to read more science fiction, and every year I don’t do it. (This year though! This year could be the year!) The type of science fiction that gets me every time is the near-future type: With these differences from our current situation, and advancing just a few years into the future, what adaptations would we have made? With these crucial additions or subtractions, what would being human look like?

Lock In is a book like this, though it’s also a murder mystery. Agent Chris Shane, FBI, is the scion of a wealthy activist family and a survivor of a flu that left a small percentage of its victims (including Chris) “locked in” to their bodies — fully aware of their surroundings, but unable to move or communicate. This is called Haden’s syndrome, and elaborate robotic bodies, controlled by the minds of the Haden’s sufferers, have been developed to permit the locked-in population to live something like a regular life.

Scalzi obviously has so many ideas about what this world (ours, but with robots) is like. He touches on issues of disability, identity politics, government funding, bodily integrity, and a ton of other things, some of which necessarily get short shrift. But you get the idea that you could pull pretty hard on any of the many threads without making the story unravel. If the characters aren’t particularly well-developed, the ideas are more than enough to carry the story along.

The author’s also doing something rather cool with the identity of the protagonist, which I don’t know that I’ve ever seen an author try before. The book doesn’t draw attention to it, which saves it from gimmickry, and it’s clear from the reviews that many readers made it through the whole book without noticing that they lack certain information about Chris Shane. If it hadn’t been mentioned to me before I started reading, I can’t swear that I’d have noticed myself. It won’t make the difference to whether you love the book or hate it. It is just interesting.

Either way — notice or don’t notice — Lock In remains a tightly plotted mystery with only one really serious coincidence and lots of very cool ideas about the world of Twenty Minutes into the Future. And it made me want to hunt down Redshirts.

Other readers, did you notice the thing? Did it make you feel weirdly fond of John Scalzi, or did you think it was a weird and pointless exercise like the time that guy wrote that whole book without the letter E? Or both?

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