Monday, March 24, 2008

Skinny, by Ibi Kaslik

When I was but a teenager, I hate to tell you how many books I read about girls with eating disorders. A lot of these books followed the same formula - an ever so slightly chubby adolescent from an upstanding family has a few pressures and eventually almost dies from anorexia or bulimia. What's interesting is that a lot of these books literally work as How-To books for eating disorders, describing in detail how to get your own! I know I certainly picked up a few bad habits myself from those books.

Skinny is a new book by Canadian Ibi Kaslik, who, not surprisingly, had an eating disorder herself. The main characters in the book are Gizelle and her sister Holly. Gizelle's had to drop out of medical school due to her illness, and Holly, in contrast, is an athlete. Chapters switch the between the perspectives of each girl, with Gizelle's beginning with snippets from a medical text, giving an eerie, dry tone to the emotional story.

Skinny differs from those "anorexic books" of my youth in that, instead of focusing on the obsessive behaviors of the anorexic, Kaslik writes about the obsessive thoughts of her main character. In fact, there is only one scene in the book that describes (briefly) how Gizelle throws up her dinner. Seriously, if you've read any of these books (why can't I remember a single title?) I'm sure you'll agree that this is quite unusual. As I recall, so many of them go into absolutely pornographic detail in how to starve yourself and/or how to most efficiently become a bulimic - as well, of course, of how to hide it from your parents.

Skinny feels much less like a book from the Eating Disorder Genre and more like a really great book about a girl who has an eating disorder. Kaslik's writing is poetic and I think she really challenges the YA description. It's a book that would hold appeal for a wide range of readers. I couldn't put it down.

I am Legend

I was surprised to find out that the Will Smith movie, I am Legend, was based on a 1953 novel by Richard Matheson. According to Wikipedia, the book was highly influential to the now-popular "zombie genre" as well as Stephen King, who said, "without Richard Matheson I wouldn’t be around."

Just to get a few things out of the way, the movie and the book share little in common, besides leaving the world occupied by vampire/zombie-types while the only unaffected person is Robert Neville. Aside from that, it doesn't take place in New York, Neville is (specifically) white, and not a former military dude/brilliant scientist. The zombie-types are actually quite functional, retain their speech and come to taunt him by night and call out his name. The "infection" does not spread in the same way, and perhaps most shockingly, Neville does not have as his soul companion a wonderful dog named Sam.

What it does hold in common is what I found most interesting about the movie (and others like Cast Away): how a person operates day to day in absolute isolation, and, with everyone they loved dead and gone, why they should continue living.

There were a few racial identifiers in the book that I found quite strange (maybe because I had a clear view in my mind of Smith as the main character). The writing is not great (it's a little Stephen King-y, or vice verse) but it's a very interesting story and a quick, fun, read.

The title, by the way, is neatly explained in the book - I'll leave that for you to discover!

Monday, March 10, 2008


Twilight (2005) is a YA book by Stephanie Meyer, about a young girl (16?) who moves to Fork, Washington, and before long meets a family of vampires at her high school. I don't think I'm ruining it by telling you that she falls in love with one of them. I found Twilight ridiculously addictive, and I read the approx. 500 pages in a matter of days and am fairly thrilled that there are 3 more for me to read.

Like the vampire tales that came before, Meyer borrows some vampire rules (blood drinking), explains away others, and invents her own (turns out they can go in the sun!). It's difficult not to compare this book to the Buffy the Vampire series, in which a human girl also falls in love with a vampire. A better metaphor for dating the ultimate bad-boy, I can't imagine. The beloved vampires in both Twilight and Buffy (Edward & Angel) are "good" vampires, meaning they don't kill humans for food, which doesn't mean that they don't LONG for blood. As a result, the table is turned on the classic teenage conflict to control their "urges" - rather than trying hard not to have sex, the vampire has to try really hard not to suck the blood of his human girlfriend. It leads to some highly confused snuggling.

I'm simultaneously reading this book called The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory (don't laugh, it's really amazing!) by Carol J Adams (1999). Adams makes a compelling case that the patriarchy and meat eating are closely tied, and that women and animals that are eaten are both objectified and denied their humanity (or acknowledgment as sentient beings) and that's why our society is so violent (especially toward women). She calls this the "absent referent", because the being (woman or animal) is objectified to the point beyond which they're acknowledged as beings (ie., we refer to "meat", not say, "a cow", or even "a piece of ass" instead of "a woman".) Much more on this later after I finish it - anywho, Twilight is practically chapter two of Adams book, where the woman is someone who is treated "like a piece of meat" and the vampire (insert teenage bad-boy) literally wants to eat her. Huh.

One frustrating thing about Twilight is that, as it reads as a very old fashioned romance novel (think du Maurier or Brontë), the characters also fit into these very old-fashioned gender roles. I found this mildly disturbing for a contemporary YA book obviously targeted toward young women, and I hope that as the story progresses, the lead character breaks out of her victimized state and becomes more powerful. I think it's a lot more fun to see the classic tales subverted, and instead of waiting for her knight to come and save her, the young woman takes care of business herself.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Brief History of the Dead

I read The Brief History of the Dead to participate in the first meeting of my sister's book club while I'm visiting her. The book appears to have begun as a short story which was published in the New Yorker in 2003.

The Book Club met last night and largely everyone disliked the book, finding many parts quite tedious and waiting for explanations that never came. The whole thing uses as a jumping off point and a set of rules, an African proverb. It reads that there are three kind of people: living people, living-dead people, who are dead but remembered by the living, and then a third type of person who is dead and not remembered by anyone living.

The book is of the post-apocolyptic variety, and everyone is dying quickly of an air-born virus. It's told from the perspective of the living-dead, as it were, who are in an after-life world. One character survives the virus only because she is living in isolation in Antarctica. Those sections were really weak, as if the author had simply watched March of the Penguins and felt himself expert enough to write about that part of the world. I think he made some disastrous POV choices which caused me to feel completely uninterested in nearly every character. Also his writing style is so uninspired. I'm more interested in great writing than anything else.

But, it was fun having a conversation about a book and I'm going to start my own club when I get home. I never would have chosen this book on my own, and even though I didn't enjoy it, it's good to try something new every once in a while, right? I think these gals are going to have fun with their next book - The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, which is excellent, and, because I'm really bossy, I talked them into reading The World to Come, by Dara Horn, as their third book.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Wig My Father Wore

I picked up The Wig My Father Wore because I was so moved by Anne Enright's The Gathering about a month ago. The Wig surprised me because it's a kind of absurd novel - it's about a woman who's experiencing some emotional problems, and an angel moves in with her. A real angel. He does odd things like paint her entire house, inside the walls and out, and touches her body and removes her nipple and she's very attracted to him.

I wasn't really into the story, which is, as I said, literally absurd, but Enright's writing is so amazing, she could be writing about cleaning up dog shit and I'd be in. In fact, a description of her mother cutting an avocado brought me to my knees. Not only does she make me stop and read some pages over and over again, but I frequently had to put the book down and do a little literary analysis about whether she's more of a post modernist or a deconstructionist (Derrida was never my area). She creates a tempo that carries the whole book, and it rises like a crescendo at the end. I'm going to carry on and read everything she's ever written!