“Ethan Frome” is not that bad; 7.18.18

Happy Wednesday! Distract yourself from the fact that we have only a little over a month left of summer [seriously, not to be all “how did this HAPPEN??” but…HOW DID THIS HAPPEN???] with some good reads and some time at the movie theater, possibly by yourself. I will always evangelize for the centering power of going to see a movie alone. It’s so GOOD, y’all.

On Friday I went to see Sorry to Bother You by myself and it was AN EXPERIENCE. I knew almost nothing about it before I went, which as I’ve said before I highly recommend, other than that it featured Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, and Armie Hammer. It was so much more interesting and bizarre and funny and dark than I expected and you should see it if that sounds at all up your alley. The only other detail I’ll sprinkle in here is that Steven Yeun plays a union organizer that I absolutely lost my heart to. I will never be satisfied with anyone else, probably. [I didn’t watch the trailer before going, but if you’re into that…here it is.]

In support of the Amazon workers currently on strike, I’m going to link books to Barnes and Noble today, but I wanted to issue another reminder to buy from a local bookstore whenever possible! Or use your library because they’re great too, and getting books from the library is actually helpful to authors because it tells the library that there’s a demand for the book and the author’s work. [Bonus points if you use your library’s rating features to tell other people how much you liked it!]

Ethan Frome – Edith Wharton

Image result for ethan frome book cover
I am grateful to have found an interesting-looking cover for this book, because honestly most of them are quite ugly.

My conclusion from searching the name “Ethan Frome” on Twitter was that…a lot of people hate Ethan Frome. Not just the titular main character [who is, absolutely, trash], but like, the whole book. Which I kind of understand and also I kind of don’t. In my very first post, I had a short paragraph about Wharton’s The House of Mirth, which is the first Wharton I read and also a veryyyy different kind of book, which I mostly liked and still think about a lot.

The thing that’s difficult for me to understand about why people hate this book is that it’s so…short? It seems like people really take issue with the fact that nothing really “happens” in it, which is fair, but it’s also so short — less than 70 Kindle pages — that I don’t really understand the fervor. Like, when I think about ALL OF THE MANY PAGES I HAVE READ in which NOTHING HAPPENS in much longer, less interesting books, this just seems…fine. I certainly don’t think the book is any longer than it has the right to be [I’m looking at you, Cormac McCarthy and James Joyce and William Faulkner], which I really appreciate. Also there were several moments in which I was pulled between “yiiiikes what’s happening here is so messed up” and “BUT THIS IS SUCH INTERESTING IMAGERY WOW THIS IS COOL” so yeah my feelings were conflicted, but I’m okay with it.

Imago – Octavia E. ButlerImage result for imago octavia e. butler book cover

What a time, what a time. I briefly mentioned the first book in Butler’s Xenogenesis/Lilith’s Brood trilogy in my very first post, and some on the second book here. This is the finale, and, like both other books, gave me A LOT to think about the nature of humanity, race, disability, consent, gender, sex, possibility, choice, colonization, toxic masculinity. If that sounds like a lot for one book, or even one series, you’re not wrong, but Butler is so skilled that it doesn’t feel like the books are bogged down or doing too much. It’s just that every facet of the situation she’s created is so fascinating and complex that these things emerge as organically from the plot as they would if they were actually happening.

So the premise of the series is that humans nearly wiped themselves out in a giant, nuclear world war and were saved in the eleventh hour by an alien species called the Oankali, a group genetically motivated by exploration and novelty who are fascinated by humans and compelled by their very nature to save them. They’ve discovered that humans have two driving competing traits that ultimately led to their near-extinction: intelligence and hierarchical behavior. They plan to save humans by mating with them and creating a new people–part human, part Oankali. The humans are…not thrilled about this.

However, this isn’t the stereotypical “gotta defend the planet from these aliens!!” story–and that’s where the complexity comes in. The first book is still my favorite, because I found the narrator most compelling and she’s more in the background in the other two books, but in thinking about the trajectory of the books and their structure as a trilogy, the changing narrators are really fascinating. I have another Butler book from the library right now, a stand-alone called Kindredand I’m excited to keep making my way through her oeuvre. [ew I’m so annoyed with myself for using that word but whatever.]

Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved – Kate BowlerImage result for everything happens for a reason book

This book is challenging and beautiful and heartbreaking and terrifying and gorgeous, just like living, and also, as Bowler explores in this memoir — just like dying. In her early 30s, Bowler is diagnosed with terminal cancer, and this [short] book is a nearly-lyrical portrayal of the swirling mass of fear, hope, doubt, anger, and joy she experienced in the year directly after her diagnosis.

This is not a “cancer/other illness memoir”–Bowler is not interested in detailing the nitty gritty of the various treatments. There are also no answers here; she didn’t write this book to provide a solution, or a way of dealing with death and pain that makes everything better. Instead, she leans into one of the scariest ideas: that sometimes there is nothing to make it better, but acknowledging that can be more freeing than any platitude. The book also wrangles with what it means to suffer when you have a belief in a good God. Bowler is actually a theology professor at Duke Divinity School whose research field is in the prosperity gospel and its promises that not only can God heal you, if you are faithful enough God will. Again, this isn’t a book about answers or figuring it all out, or even “accepting” the contradictions. It’s about how it feels to just live there.

Like Dead Mom’s Club a few months ago, Bowler is also fairly instructive on the many ways not to try to manage your own discomfort with death and suffering, especially in your interactions, with, you know, the dying and suffering: don’t launch into a story about how your great-aunt’s anti-oxidant health plan healed her cancer, don’t make it about you, and don’t ever, ever say “everything happens for a reason.”


Some bonus suggestions:

  • Last night I had a really good conversation on Twitter with a couple of people about how I’m losing patience with Diet/Weight Loss culture and how toxic it is. I’ve always had a really difficult time connecting with my body, partly because of just who I am as a person, but partly because, as the brilliant Jamie Lee Finch puts it: “it’s built on the foundational belief that your body is a problem that needs a permanent, external solution to fix it. That’s not sustainable, accurate, or effective. Also, it’s capitalism.” Anyway, I’ve been doing a lot of internal work lately trying to become friends with my body and unlearn the myths of Diet Culture and was reminded of these books that really shifted the way I started thinking about bodies, fatphobia, and society’s messages about what entails a “good body.” Shrill by Lindy West and Hunger by Roxane Gay are both memoirs that I read sometime late last summer/early fall and they’re both brilliant. Shrill is very funny and Hunger is more intense [TW: sexual assault] and they are both among some of the best books I’ve read in the last year, possibly ever.
  • Yesterday the trailer dropped for Boy Erased, the upcoming movie based on Garrard Conley’s memoir. It’s the story of a southern teenager–the son of a Baptist preacher–sent to “conversion therapy” after coming out as gay. The book is very good–in a harrowing, heartbreaking way–not pulling any punches about the trauma that conversion therapy produces. [TW for conversion therapy itself, and also sexual assault, which is in the book and potentially the movie.] The movie looks beautiful but also very difficult to watch, so make sure you’re taking care of yourself, especially if it reflects your personal experiences. To any cis-het Christians reading that don’t know how harmful conversion therapy is: see this movie. See this movie and do your research and do the work to educate others.

That’s all for today! Remember that if you click that lil old “subscribe” button on the lower right hand side of your screen you can get Book Shoutings in your email inbox right when they come out and before I notice and fix the typos!

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