Disgruntled, Asali Solomon

Let’s begin by double-checking that everybody knows about the MOVE bombing in the 1980s. Because I didn’t know about it until Code Switch mentioned it a while ago, and then right after that, in yet-further proof of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, I encountered it in Asali Solomon’s debut novel Disgruntled.

Basically there was this militant group called MOVE that lived in a Philadelphia apartment and their kids ran around naked and they composted their own stuff, which drew roaches. Also various members were under indictment for various things. So the Philly cops came to their house, and the members of MOVE and the cops exchanged fire, and then the cops bombed the building, killing a handful of people (including several children) and igniting a fire that destroyed over 60 nearby houses. This was in 1985. Now you know.

Oh, something else, too: Disgruntled isn’t the negative of gruntled, so you can stop making that joke. It actually means something closer to thoroughly gruntled. The prefix “dis” can mean that sometimes, as in disseminate.

Disgruntled, by Asali Solomon (now that we’ve gotten that important background information taken care of), is about a girl called Kenya growing up in 1980s Philadephia. (Ah, yes, the connection becomes clear.) It’s a classic coming-of-age story, the best kind, where the central character is perpetually finding herself in new variations of her former situation (different parental figures, different schools, etc.) and having to reassess what she has formerly understood about the world.

Solomon is particularly gifted at growing up Kenya’s voice in a way that feels organic and realistic. When she’s a little girl, she thinks like a little girl. As a teenager, she thinks like a teenager — more grown up than before, more discerning about where she places her trust, but also prone to throwing the kind of teenager temper tantrums where she screams cruel things at the adults around her, with little thought (until afterward) for the collateral damage.

Thanks much to the lovely Shannon of River City Reading for recommending this book, and a stern scowl at my library for shelving it in a totally non-intuitive display location so I had to look for it on three separate library trips before I found it.

(It wasn’t that non-intuitive.)

(Not perfect, but I could probably have found it on the first trip if I’d been persistent.)

Friends: Are there important historical moments you didn’t learn about until way later than you think is reasonable? (Oh, Jonestown! That’s another one! Never heard of Jonestown until I was in college & my college boyfriend mentioned it!)

Binny in Secret, Hilary McKay

Note: I received a copy of Binny in Secret from the publisher for review consideration.

Oh frabjous day when Hilary McKay has a new book! Hilary McKay — in case you have not heard me sing her praises in the past — is a British children’s writer who should be much more famous than she is. She writes the kind of old-fashioned children-doing-adventures books you loved as a kid, like Elizabeth Enright’s Melendy Quartet or, more recently, Jeanne Birdsall’s Penderwicks books; but with more carefully-drawn family dynamics than the former and more humor than the latter.

Binny in Secret, by Hilary McKay

Binny in Secret, the follow-up to Binny for Short, sees twelve-year-old Binny once again displaced from house and home. She and her mother, her teenage sister Clem, and her wriggly, personable little brother James, are forced out of their home by a massive storm. The new home is far from everything familiar, and Binny inadvertently becomes the enemy of the landlady’s daughter, and what is more, there are Creatures.

Where the Cassons are completely tangled up in each other, each Cornwallis is more of a discrete unit. Binny is especially solitary: Separated from her ?best?friend Gareth, and unexpectedly the enemy of one of the most popular girls in her new school, she spends a lot of her time alone. This limits what Hilary McKay is best with, family relations.

LUCKILY: To fill the tragic lack of family relations in Binny’s storyline, alternating chapters include the story of the family who lived in Binny’s house in the 1910s, three cousins and the museum of natural history they’re constructing. These chapters are a madly poignant counterpoint to the humor of Binny’s hunt for [redacted because it’s an incredibly charming spoiler].

Seriously: Hilary McKay. Look into it. She does not get the love she deserves and would that I could singlehandedly correct this problem. Let’s make Hilary McKay as famous as she deserves to be, people! Together we can!

(I really love Hilary McKay.)

The best thing that happened in Marvel’s Civil War event

…was this: Clint Barton sees Kate Bishop for the first time (click to embiggen).

I mean, look at her.
I mean, look at her.
She’s perfect.

Basically Clint sees Kate and is like this:

Plus, Matt Fraction — who wrote for the Civil War event, though not that particular issue up there — calls it back in the second issue of Hawkeye, the one where we meet Kate.

picking up tricks from awesome Kate Bishop

Overall, however, Civil War was…kind of a downer. Perhaps if Kate and Clint had hung out more?

Reading the End Bookcast, Ep.42: Fictional Fathers, Anna Freeman’s The Fair Fight, and a Slang Game

Happy (belated) Father’s Day to the fathers among you! This week, we welcome special guest star Ashley (we are so sorry about the crackly mic) to talk about fictional fathers, The Fair Fight (about lady boxers in the 1800s), play a game, and answer some listener mail. 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.

Here’s Ashley’s movie column on Fiction Advocate, if you’re interested (and you should be)!

Get at me on Twitter, email the podcast, and friend me (Gin Jenny) and Whiskey Jenny on Goodreads. 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).

Producer: Captain Hammer
Photo credit: The Illustrious Annalee
Song is by Jeff MacDougall.

Over at Lady Business!

I’ll have the podcast up later today, but I wanted to first mention that the wonderful site Lady Business is running a Women in Authority week (or as I described it to myself in order to make my choice of topic plausible, Ladies in Business), and they asked me for a guest post! Behold a quick post about one of my favorite books ever, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.

I FEEL GLUM: A links round-up

Jerry Seinfeld is weirdly on a tear about the PC police being the death of comedy. Here are Emily Nussbaum of the New Yorker and Linda Holmes of NPR making me happy on Twitter with their rebuttals.

Stacia Brown on the racial prism, saying some super true truths about New Haven, CT, where I lived for a few months.

On teaching diverse literature.

A round-up of reactions to the utter madness of Rachel Dolezal, of which my favorite is the Guardian article by Meredith Talusan. Plus one more from Jamilah Lemieux.

For real, though, authors: Don’t respond to negative reviews of your book. It’s entertaining for me but very very embarrassing for you. Think of Anne Rice.

There was this whole thing where the Mary Sue posted an idiotic article about romance novels, and all the romance authors got cross and it was magical. Subsequently.

Billy Crudup is starring in a forthcoming movie about the Stanford Prison Experiment. I am fascinated by that experiment, but not sure I can tolerate watching it unfold on screen, despite my well-documented love for Billy Crudup(‘s work). Anyway, The New Yorker talks about what the Stanford experiment really means.

In response to those folks who think Tim Hunt has been feminist witchhunted.

Interesting: An analysis of what sales numbers mean for indie comics (which includes all of Image’s titles) (wonderful Image!).

“The Year I Couldn’t Even Steal a Goddamn Snowglobe”: the Harry Potter books from Voldemort’s perspective.

I don’t have a link for this, but just wanted to add at the end here that I am so saddened and angry about the murders in Charleston this week. I’d like to think that this tragedy would lead to real conversations across partisan lines about the social patterns of racism in America that this event fits into. But I know that won’t happen. I just wish that it could. I wish that in moments of tragedy, it were possible to set aside the urge to dog-whistle the shittiest constituencies, and instead talk seriously about the complex issues in play here and how we can make them better.

And since I don’t want to end on a really sad note, even though this has been a really sad week, here is a puppy in a boot. It will not fix America’s problems around racism and sexism and violence, but hopefully it will make you smile.

The Goddess of Buttercups and Daisies, Martin Millar

Note: I received a copy of The Goddess of Buttercups and Daisies from the publisher, Soft Skull Press, for review consideration.

Martin Millar writes books like classic British sitcoms, where there is a central organizing event (or several) around which the action is oriented, and the characters all have their separate and incompatible visions for what is to happen at this event, and everything goes magnificently to hell, and then in the end it all turns out okay, or doesn’t. Whether or not this works for you as a structure will most likely be the determining factor in whether you enjoy any Martin Millar book, ever — including his most recent novel, The Goddess of Buttercups and Daisies.

The Goddess of Buttercups and Daisies is set in ancient Athens, about midway through the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. Athens and Sparta are holding a peace conference, and the city is preparing for the Dionysian festival at which new plays will be presented to the city. Demigods and immortals descend on the city to watch these events unfold (or sabotage them). Aristophanes struggles to get his pro-peace play Peace sorted out, and common-born Luxos does his best to jump-start his career as a poet.

Describing a Martin Millar novel — and this is a very good one — is tricky because all of the adjectives that come to mind come loaded with unwanted connotations. I always say sweet, or charming, and The Goddess of Buttercups and Daisies is both sweet and charming, but that undersells its cleverness. Clever implies that there isn’t any heart, and there is because it is impossible not to fall for the sincerity of Millar’s characters (and the super simplicity of their motivations). Sincere misses how funny it is.

I’ll go with funny in the end, and also self-aware: Millar clearly recognizes a level of absurdity in writing a comic novel set in ancient Greece, and his book lets the audience in on the joke without getting too winky. The story has simple stakes, but Millar knows that the historical background was far from simple, and this also shows.

Martin Millar is one of my favorite authors in the sense that you know what one of his books is going to be, and it always is most satisfyingly that. The Goddess of Buttercups and Daisies is as solid an introduction to his particular brand of madcap scheme-making story as any he’s written in the past.

Really important question tho: Do you like Athens or Sparta better? (The correct answer is “Athens, but”.)

Fic, Anne Jamison

By a stroke of good fortune, I happened to read Joanna Russ’s feminist classic How to Suppress Women’s Writing just prior to reading Anne Jamison’s Fic (Smart Pop Books), which made for an interesting pairing. On one hand, Russ’s book feels depressingly current: You need only spend a few minutes on Twitter to witness all of the tactics for suppressing women’s writing that Russ details. But on the other hand, even with all of these tactics being leveled at the (mostly female) writers of fanfiction (especially the “poor author too pathetic and forlorn to get a man” trope), here we are talking about it in a sustained and serious way. Progress!


Fic is not — as I was imagining when I picked it up — an academic text. As Jamison explains in this excellent interview at Critical Margins, she wanted to reflect the complicated relationship to authordom that you find in the world of fanfic, rather than producing a more traditional monograph. Accordingly, she includes interviews and short essays from writers of fanfiction, offering their views on fanfic communities, diversity (lack of), the ethics of monetizing, etc.

This is all very good, and I appreciate the inclusion of these voices on a theoretical level (some of them had really interesting things to say, and some not so much, sorry Amber Benson), and I wouldn’t have minded if Anne Jamison’s chapters had been twice as long in each case and if there had been twice as many as them. An academic who teaches classes in fanfiction and a writer of fic herself, Jamison’s writing style is friendly and approachable and also nicely authoritative. Like where it is extremely readable, and you also feel you are in good hands.

Because Jamison’s particular area of study is Twilight fanfiction, this book leans heavily on the Twilight end of things. Her most in-depth case studies of modern fanfic area centered in the Twilight fandom, and she has a whole section about E. L. James and the fandom’s conflicted relationship to fanfic-for-profit. If that sounds like a complaint it’s only a complaint in the sense that this book was fascinating, and I wanted it to go on being fascinating for maybe infinity chapters while offering a basis for comparative studies of different fandoms and norms and community standards.

My main criticism of the book, in brief, is that there isn’t more of it. If there were infinite books dealing with the workings of all the different online communities, I would curl up in my reading nook with all of them stacked around me and never come out again. And I certainly look forward to any scholarship Anne Jamison plans to produce on this topic in the future.

Assist me please: In the comments, if you have favorite works of fanfiction, kindly recommend them to me. I never know where to start with fanfic — there’s so much of it — so would appreciate some guidance.

Hiding in Plain Sight, Nuruddin Farah

Sometimes when you impulse-pick up the newest book by a famous author you have never tried before, it turns out to be a mistake because their latest book is not their best book, but you don’t know that, so what you think is, I don’t like this author. When maybe what you’ve just done is write off J. R. R. Tolkien because you didn’t like The Silmarillion.

I wasn’t, in short, wild about Hiding in Plain Sight. It’s about a woman named Bella who suddenly becomes guardian to her niece and nephew after their father, her beloved older brother Aar, is killed in a terrorist attack. She is fine with taking on this responsibility. The nephew and niece are also fine with it. For a while it seems like their irritating and irresponsible mother Valerie will not be fine with it, but in the end — spoiler alert — it turns out she is fine with it.

I have said this more snidely than the book deserves, as there’s something really nice about reading a book where everyone is trying their best. But when everyone is trying their best, you do also run the risk of being a bit boring, because conflict is the engine that drives a story. Hiding in Plain Sight can be a bit boring.

Oh, and here is why I am also an awful person for not liking this book: While Nuruddin Farah was in the process of writing it, his own sister was killed in a suicide bombing. This is the kind of life-reflecting-art that Diana Wynne Jones always talked about, magnified to the most hideous degree.

Assistance please! I feel very guilty for not liking Nuruddin Farah’s book more, and I would like you to tell me which book of his is the best book. I think this is like when my friend tried to read Shame without having read anything else by Salman Rushdie. Just a bad idea.