The hours we spend becoming ourselves.

Hope_Gangloff_the_girlsEmma Cline’s debut novel got a seven figure book deal. Seven figures, you guys! But after reading The Girls, I have to say, she earned it. Based on the Charles Manson murders, The Girls is the story of a young girl named Evie who falls into a cult. But she’s not drawn in by the charismatic leader (who is, of course, a man). Instead, Evie is seduced by a bad, beautiful, dirty, black-haired vixen named Suzanne.

Unlike most Manson-based fiction, the novel really isn’t about Russel, the angry hippy with poor guitar-playing skills whose grudges incite murders. Cline’s book is less about the sensationalist violence and more about girlhood and all its complications, pains, and joys. It’s a compelling story (an all-nighter page-turner) but the best part of The Girls is how Cline captures the obsessive insecurity of teenage femininity. Like take this passage:

Every day after school, we’d click seamlessly into the familiar track of the afternoons. Waste the hours at some industrious task: following Vidal Sassoon’s suggestions for raw egg smoothies to strengthen hair or picking at blackheads with the tip of a sterilized sewing needle. The constant project of our girl selves seeming to require odd and precise attentions… Back then, I was so attuned to attention. I dressed to provoke love, tugging my neckline lower, settling a wistful stare on my face whenever I went out in public that implied many deep and promising thoughts, should anyone happen to glance over… I waited to be told what was good about me. I wondered later if this was why there were so many men at the ranch. All that time I had spent readying myself, the articles that taught me life was really just a waiting room until someone noticed you—the boys had spent that time becoming themselves.

Daaaaaamn. I wish I had read that at age 15. I wish I had known how little difference those ritualistic pluckings and preenings would make, how much energy I was wasting on thankless tasks that always made me feel worse, never better.

I wish I could say I’m beyond vanity now, but that would be a hilariously transparent lie. I’m so vain! I probably think this song is about me! But I’m also less inclined to spend time or money on my vanity. Because at the end of the day, I’d rather spend those hours becoming more and more myself.

Image by Hope Gangloff, whose work I’ve written about before and admire so goshdarn much. 

Three good books not for bedtime.

station-eleven_612x380_31I’m binge eating disaster lately. I mean, in my reading habits (but probably elsewhere, too). The past three books I’ve read have been about the apocalypse and I enjoyed them all. But not all horrors are not created equal, so in order:

  1. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel // I cry frequently when reading. It’s kind of embarrassing. But I think a good book is one that makes me laugh, loud and rude. A good book is one that makes me choke a little on myself, happy to be so sad. Station Eleven did both. It’s the story of a traveling theater troupe performing Shakespeare for rustic villagers twentysome years after the world has ended from a nasty avian flu. This may be the nerdiest book I’ve ever read. The performers motto is from Star Trek: “Survival is insufficient” and the entire book traces mad circles around King Lear (my favorite) and falcons cannot hear the falconers and every other sentence contains a reference and somehow, it all works brilliantly.
  2. The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Cary // Sometimes, I have a hard time parsing how good or whatever a book is because I just read it too fast. That’s the case here. I read The Girl With All The Gifts today and I freaking loved every moment. Set in dystopian future England, it’s the story of a zombie girl genius who has no idea she’s a “hungry,” as they call it. The book’s title is a translation of the name Pandora and flesh-starved Melanie is the metaphoric gifted girl, whose real gift I can’t say because of spoiler alerts. I can’t decide if this should have been the first one on the list or if I’m still living in it a little, but damn, was it good.
  3. Odds Against Tomorrow by Nathaniel Rich // A recommendation from a friend brought me this strange book and once I started it, I couldn’t put it down. This should be the lynchpin in this list, the one that solidifies the trend: literary, obsessively referential, cynical and politically-affected post-apocalyptic tales published in the last year. Odds Against Tomorrow is about a finance jackass who’s a little less jackass-y than his coworkers but far more brilliant. He is also clearly suffering from very, very bad anxiety (which I suppose is supposed to be his tragic flaw?). But I ended up just really, really wanting him to get a therapist. Lame way to end a novel, but still.

What a lazy, biased series of quasi-reviews of really great books. Whatever, I’m not a critic. Five stars for all.