#actuallyOCD

Someone I love was recently diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, aka OCD. This is a specific kind of anxiety disorder, less about being neat and tidy, and more about not-so-fun things like sometimes disturbing thoughts randomly popping into your head and being convinced something bad is going to happen if you don’t do x. Whatever x happens to be, and it’s specific to the person.

John Green has OCD. (This is a lovely podcast where he talks about it.) Turtles All the Way Down is about a teenaged girl with OCD. So I read this book not from an enjoyment standpoint, but from a help-me-learn-what-it-feels-like-to-have-this standpoint.

For me it did a good job, especially showing Aza’s deterioration because of her refusal to regularly take her medication. (Seriously: TAKE YOUR MEDS, KID. Love, a mom) It’s all handled with a deft and loving touch and explains so, so much.

Turtles All the Way Down helped me, the story was enjoyable, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about what living with OCD is actually like.

Too many facts, not enough information

I wanted so badly to like The Witches. Stacy Schiff has a lovely storytelling writing style, and the history of witches is interesting! (Ok, that’s a link to a specific story about witches in Norway, but I loved it and wanted to take this opportunity to share it.)

But her storytelling style of first-this, then-that was ultimately confusing. There are too many people in this book without enough context, both in terms of relationships between people and historically. I did get a good idea of why some of the suspicion existed between neighbors, a sense the isolation of New England in the late 1600s, and the weird city-country dynamics that affected how the situation played out.

But ultimately, I was done in by the fact that there was so much detail about each individual, who was accusing whom, and what specifically was going on, that I lost the forest for the trees. I ended up putting The Witches down when I didn’t want to. But the reading was so hard (and my to-read pile so big) that I felt like I had to. Maybe I will pick this up again at a later date when I have more time and brainpower.

The Girl Before is terrible and misogynistic

I read The Girl Before for book club, and I can safely say that I hated it. I don’t often despise books, but this one deserves it. Why?

  1. It’s written by a dude (and he’s not a man, he’s a dude) from the perspective of two different women. He has very little idea of what a woman’s inner life is actually like or how women work.
  2. The brilliant male architect who may or may not have committed the murder ultimately is given the most robust characterization and is arguably the main character of the novel, despite it theoretically being about women.
  3. Said architect and his talent are completely fetishized.
  4. There’s another, not brilliant, man in the book who is dehumanized because he is NOT the brilliant architect.

I am done with books about brilliant men making art and saving the world, despite their flaws. ESPECIALLY when women are used as the vehicle for both the motivation AND the storytelling but don’t actually get to be robust characters.

Seriously, fuck this book.

Modern romance stories are better than you think

The Proposal was a super-sweet, very swoony modern romance set in Los Angeles. The actual wedding proposal takes place at the beginning of the book: a public proposal on the big screen at a Dodgers game that was definitely not discussed ahead of time. Nikole is rescued from her upset now-ex-boyfriend and an angry crowd by Carlos and his sister. Nikole and Carlos go on to have a very enjoyable romance.

Recommended, especially if you need a pick-me-up.

An aside, not just about this book: one of the things I like about most modern romance stories is how they deal with issues of diversity, living in a social media filled world, consent, sexism, and generally what it’s like to be a woman navigating the current world. These are books written largely by and for women, and they are sometimes written at an amazing clip, which means they can react to the issues of the day faster than other genres. And it’s all wrapped up in a happy package, a thing that can feel radical in and of itself.

So consider a good romance novel the next time you’re looking for a book.

Adventure with philosophy. Or philosophy with adventure. Your choice.

I always feel uncertain writing about classics like Voltaire’s Candide. I mean, this was a book that was cited during the French Revolution in the 1790’s, and its influence is vast. Lots of thought has gone into Candide and its philosophy.

But chances are good you probably haven’t read it. So a quick summary: this is a short adventure novel with a lot of action and a basic debate between optimism and pessimism. Should Candide be an optimist or a pessimist? But that makes it sound boring and it’s not. Like I said, there’s a lot of adventure and hi-jinks and you can read it as a straight adventure story that’s only about 100 pages long. You can choose to engage in it at your preferred level. And I liked that.

I read it mostly as an adventure story – Candide does travel all over the world after all – but with some light philosophizing. Is it better to be a pessimist and never be let down? Or does optimism drive you to be better and do more? It’s not proscriptive; you get to decide for yourself.

Recommended, because there’s not enough thinking about optimism in culture today.

A simpler tale

Of the three Lady Sherlock books I’ve read, The Hollow of Fear is the best. You get the characters, you get what seems to be romantical progress but might not actually be, and most importantly, the mystery that’s being solved has been significantly simplified.

The earlier books seemed to delight in making the problem to be solved as complex as possible so the reader didn’t figure it out ahead of time. This book still has timeline trickery for maximum confusion, but at least you’re not figuring out how three different mysteries fit together. So that’s a win.

Recommended.

Shirley Jackson is funny

I continue to adore Shirley Jackson’s essays/nonfiction chapters about raising her four kids in a possibly haunted house in small town Vermont in the late 1940s-early 1950s. Life Among the Savages lived up to all my expectations about the essays’ hilariousness and strangeness.

To wit: I was giggling audibly while reading them on the sofa next to my husband. He asked me what was so funny, so I read him the paragraph that ends with her daughters’ singing “Baby ate a spider, baby ate a spider.” Then he started laughing.

Him: Who wrote this?
Me: Shirley Jackson, you know the woman who wrote The Lottery? [You know, that story you read in high school about the woman who ends up getting stoned to death? aka NOT FUNNY РKate]

I wasn’t expecting the first set of her essays to be so entertaining, but these lived up to every expectation I had. Definitely recommended.

Now I want to read all of the Shirley Jackson

Let Me Tell You is a compilation of essays and short stories by Shirley Jackson, who you may know best as the author of “The Lottery”, a story about a stoning that takes place in what otherwise seems to be contemporary America. (In one of the essays, she talks about the genesis of that story. She’d been reading a book about human sacrifice, and, whilst walking her kids to school, started thinking about how such a thing would work in the small town in which she lived.)

It was deeply entertaining – some of the stories were better than the others – but the best part of a good book were her essays. One of the best was when she was describing the old house she and her family lived in, and its ghosts which were sometimes friendly and sometimes not, but by and large seemed to approve of them living there. The whole book was smart and entertaining.

Highly recommended.

More about the characters than the mysteries

The Lady Sherlock series is… fine? I recently read the first two books; they’re fun without being spectacular. I’m not sure I could tell you any of the intricacies of the actual mysteries, which always seem to be entirely too convoluted. One of Agatha Christie’s rules of mystery writing is that the motive should be something simple and everyday. These books do not follow that rule.

However, I’m not here for the mysteries. I’m here for the characterization of women in Victorian London figuring out how to be transgressive and get away with it. Charlotte Holmes losing her virginity and making sure it gets out so her father can’t marry her off; Mrs Watson coming from the stage; Charlotte’s sister starting to make her own living by writing down “Sherlock”‘s mysteries. Sherlock is a total fabrication created so that people will bring their issues to Charlotte.

The books are a mixed bag, and I still have the third one on hold at the library, so I’m enjoying them enough to keep going on the series.

Talking to ghosts, part 1

City of Ghosts is a middle grade ghost story that I read in the run-up to Halloween. Cassidy Blake almost died this one time; now she sees ghosts. Her parents are ghost hunters – which doesn’t work as well as you might think. They get an opportunity to go to Edinburgh, and Cassidy gets drawn into a drama in a city FULL of ghosts. Most of which, according to the author who is a sometimes-resident of Edinburgh, are local legends.

It was entertaining, and, since the framing is that Cassidy’s parents got a TV contract to look for ghosts in a number of different cities, this is only book one of many. I’m looking forward to the next one.