Humor: “Hyperbole and a Half” by Allie Brosh

HyperboleYou guys, today’s a great day. We are exactly one month away from my birthday; I managed to prove someone wrong literally by quoting their own words back to them; and I spent my tax refunds and purchased a new laptop, whom I promptly named Dana.

I do still have Sydney, my Dell that I’ve had since 2008 — or was it 2007? I can’t remember. It’s been a while, I know that much. Sydney’s screen went dark in 2011, and has been hooked up to a monitor ever since. So instead of a laptop, she’s more like a very thin desktop. I also haven’t updated iTunes on Sydney since probably the same time, but that was out of pure cussedness than anything else. Sydney’s still running iTunes 10, and I’m pretty sure iTunes was sentient enough to be pissed off about it, because the “Do you want to download the latest version of iTunes?” message was getting darker and more pointed the more I ignored it.

(Downloading iTunes 12 onto Dana was really weird – like, where are my playlists? They’re on a tab? They’re not on the side anymore? What the hell?)

[Alaina finally copies her iTunes library from her portable hard drive into Dana the New Laptop and opens iTunes for the first time]

ALL MY PLAYLISTS ARE GONE WHAT THE FUCK

I HAVE TO START FROM SCRATCH?!

FUCK YOU, ITUNES — FUCK. YOU.

But I’m not shutting Sydney down or anything; she may still be running XP, but I’ve had a lot of great times with her. [Ed. AND ALSO NOW I HAVE TO TRANSCRIBE MY GYM PLAYLIST ALL FUCKING OVER AGAIN.] I mean, I rewatched all of the Strong Bad emails on her a couple of years ago; watching all of Breaking Bad crouched in my desk chair because, again, she had Netflix and this was pre-Blu-Ray-Player-With-Streaming-Capabilities; I think I read all of Cleolinda’s Secret Life of Dolls on Sydney, back when I was in my LiveJournal days.

And then one blog I’d occasionally stumble over to was Hyperbole and a Half. You may be wondering what the heck Hyperbole and a Half is; well, if you’ve seen this image–

misc-clean-all-the-things

— then you’ve also seen a portion of Hyperbole and a Half.

Allie Brosh began blogging in 2009, and her claim to fame were illustrations of events made in MS Paint (or similar). The pictures were on the crudely-drawn side, but only due to the limits of technology. But those drawings perfectly encapsulated the energy underneath Ms. Brosh’s stories.

You may have read some of her stories yourself; This is Why I’ll Never Be An Adult, for instance, resonates with me to this day (it’s also the story where the above image comes from). Or The God of Cake, which speaks to me on a level that is pure diabetes. My favorite story that was not included with the book is Seven Games You Can Play With a Brick. Tell me you wouldn’t want to gather a bunch of your enemies around for a rousing game of “Duck, Duck, Brick.” Look me in the eye and tell me that that doesn’t sound fun to you.

Oh, and The Alot! I almost forgot about that one!

So yes, in 2011, Ms. Brosh was commissioned to turn her blog into a book. She was going to take some of her most widely-read stories, create some new ones, and put them all onto paper. But between 2011 and 2013, Ms. Brosh went through a terrible depressive period; I do not know whether Ms. Brosh suffered from depression all her life and it was those years that were the worst, or if it was a sudden-onset-type thing. While I have had depressive moments in my life, I have never been diagnosed with depression or any other type of mental disease, and so a) I can empathize, but I cannot say I’ve had similar experiences as Ms. Brosh or anyone else who suffers from depression, and b) I don’t know the correct words to use, so if “mental disease” is incorrect, please let me know, I want to remain an ally for this community.

So anyway, Ms. Brosh’s depression took over her life for a couple of years. And the standout pieces on both her blog and in the book are Depression: Parts 1 and 2. She tells her story of how depression affects her, how far she had to suffer, but also, the turning point. For someone who hasn’t had a lot of first-hand experience with depression, this really helped me to understand what depression does; it doesn’t just make you feel bad, it makes you feel nothing. It controls your brain so that you do not feel anything. And in spite of all the heavy feelings and discussion on what depression is, she still brings her humor into it, and her amazing illustrations. They’re really an excellent read on their own.

Depression: Parts 1 and 2 were republished in the book, along with The God of Cake, This is Why I’ll Never Be an Adult, and The Party. The majority of the book is new stories, and oh my god, they remain as funny as everything else. I think the one that made me cry tears of laughter on my lunch break was the first story, “Warning Signs,” wherein she finds a letter she had written to her 25-year-old self when she was 10. At the end of the letter, her 10-year-old self and written, “write back.” This opens up a discussion as to how a ten-year-old may understand time travel, and also, the adult Ms. Brosh takes a moment to write letters to herself at various ages.

I finished the book in two days. If anyone (local) wants to borrow it, let me know. I loved this book. And between reading this, Strong Bad Emails coming back, and They Fight Crime! coming back online, it was a sweet hint of nostalgia for me as well.

Grade for Hyperbole and a Half: 6 stars

 

And that concludes 2015! A recap post should go up shortly, but I’m also compiling my Oscar!Watch recap and predictions over on Movies Alaina’s Never Seen, so … who knows. But at least I can write and watch TV at the same time, thanks to the new mobility Dana can provide?

Who am I kidding, y’all don’t care about my schedule. Shit will be up when it’s up. Probably right after I find out WHAT THE FUCK WHY DIDN’T ALL OF MY MUSIC TRANSFER OVER GODDAMMIT

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Fiction: “Red Dragon” by Thomas Harris

red dragonOkay, I’m going out of order on this blog – technically, I have two other books to review before I should be getting into this particular book again, but IMPORTANT THINGS HAVE HAPPENED THAT I NEED TO TALK TO SOME WINE AND THE INTERNET ABOUT

Here, you want my review of Red Dragon? Here it is:

OF COURSE I READ IT AGAIN

HANNIBAL THIS SEASON IS GOING TO TACKLE THE RED DRAGON STORYLINE

IF YOU THOUGHT I WASN’T GOING TO REREAD THIS (and underline in pencil all the lines and scenes lifted directly from this book into the series, FOR POSTERITY AND ALSO AWESOMENESS), then CLEARLY YOU DO NOT KNOW ME

THERE

REVIEW COMPLETE

NOW TO THE TALKING PLUS OH SO MUCH WINE

STRAIGHT FROM THE BOTTLE BECAUSE THAT’S HOW I’M ROLLING TONIGHT

I DON’T GOT TIME FOR GLASSES

AIN’T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT

Before we begin tonight’s tale of woe, I find I must relate another, longer tale of — well not woe, exactly, but weirdness.

(Also, in case you can’t tell, I’ve been drinking. So BUCKLE UP)

So, YEARS AGO, when I worked at L.L. Bean, I started hearing the Pearl Jam hit “betterman” like, all the time. There were days when I’d hear it on each leg of my commute. And if “betterman” wasn’t playing, it was another Pearl Jam song. Or “Hunger Strike,” by Temple of the Dog. Or those songs Eddie Vedder did from the Into the Wild soundtrack. I mean, it was ALL THE FUCKING TIME. There was this one time, where I had put it on a mix CD for a wedding I was going to because I thought I was hilarious, and I didn’t realize I had loaded it onto my iPod, and I was working on a spreadsheet or something at work with my earbuds in and the FUCKING FIRE ALARM GOES OFF, for like, the first time in FIFTY YEARS, and so I run out and help everyone evacuate and it’s not until I get back into the store when I realize that — YOU GUESSED IT — “betterman” was the song playing on the iPod when the alarms started shrieking.

When my dear friend Not-Uncle Jean was transferred to Customer Service from Men’s, I was hearing “betterman” on the radio while I was donating blood at the same time as the decision was being made. I heard “Evenflow” the morning of the Worst Physical Inventory In All Of Human History (18 hours! 18 hours of inventory! I was there for all of them! It was hell) “betterman” was the song playing on my radio when my alarm went off on my 25th birthday, setting the stage for a really shitty year, to be honest.

I started calling it The Curse of Eddie Vedder. My Dear Friend Amelia, who is a die-hard Pearl Jam fan, bee tee dubs, started looking at me like I was crazy – which, admittedly, I am, BUT NOT ABOUT THIS. I mean, we even tried to go see Pearl Jam: 20 at the Nick when it came out a few years ago but it was oversold. You know what song I had heard on the radio that day? YOU GUESSED IT. Apparently, Eddie didn’t even want me to TRY and break the curse by sitting captive in a movie starring him for two hours.

Eventually, as all curses do (even the Cubbies – GUYS, IT’S 2015, THEY’RE GONNA WIN THIS YEAR, IT HAS BEEN WRITTEN), the power of Eddie Vedder fades and now it’s just a delightful anecdote that makes me laugh on occasion.

So now let’s change gears and watch Alaina coming out of the Hannaford this evening, a book of stamps in hand, ready for mailing some late graduation cards, and other sundries. She gets into her car and pulls her phone out of her purse and realizes that she has a voicemail, a Facebook notification, and a Twitter notification.

Alaina’s Dear Friend Sarah has thoughtfully tagged her on both Facebook and Twitter in an unthinkable piece of news:

HANNIBAL. HAS BEEN. CANCELLED.

alana 1No.

No, that’s not true.

alana 2

That — that can’t be true.

will crying 2 don't lieno.  no no no. noooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

DON’T MAKE ME CRY IN THE HANNAFORD PARKING LOT GUYS

alaina 3.5

oh god.

oh god no.

I felt like I’d been gutted.

will crying HANNIBALAnd then, in between the tears and the anguished yelling, I remembered that I had a voicemail.

Maybe it was my mother who thoughtfully left me a message. Mom knows how I feel about this show, and even though she doesn’t understand my undying love for it, I’m sure she loves me enough to want to call me and comfort me in my time of need. AND I WAS VERY NEEDY, RIGHT THERE, IN THE HANNAFORD PARKING LOT

Maybe it was Dear Friend Sarah, who shares the same Fannibal love that I do.

Maybe it was … I don’t know, Bryan Fuller himself, telling me to hold on hope that maybe, just maybe, some other network or streaming site would pick up where NBC left off, and my wonderful, bloody, gory, amazing show could continue – much like Arrested Development was rescued from its nadir of cancellation by the wonder that is Netflix.

It could also, realistically, be a voicemail from my union, reminding me to support our legislature in all of the budget shit that’s going down. Honestly, my money was on the union.

So, the weird thing about this voicemail, is that there was no record of who had called.

You know how normally, the phone says, “Oh, you have a missed call, it was MOM & DAD”? NOT THIS TIME. There was NOTHING. Just the Voicemail icon. No record of anyone leaving me call. I even checked “Recent Calls” in my call log, and there was NO RECORD OF ANYONE CALLING ME. And yet I HAD A VOICEMAIL.

heh .. this is the part were I was going to screenshot my Missed Call page on my phone? But then I realized that a lot of people’s personal numbers would be published on the internet, and I realized OH SHIT THAT’S SUCH A BAD IDEA so I didn’t. Yay restraint!

So anyway, nothing. And my voicemail doesn’t even say, “Message from: two-zero-seven- etc.” So … I had no idea who called.

I push play.

And guys, I really wish I could somehow embed the audio of that voicemail into this post, but that type of transfer from my phone to my laptop is beyond my ken even when I’m sober, and I’m almost done with an entire bottle of wine at this point. (DON’T WORRY MOM I’VE BEEN DRINKING SINCE 7 SO I SHOULD BE FINE EXCEPT I DIDN’T HAVE DINNER BUT STILL ONE BOTTLE OVER 2.5 HOURS IS WAY BETTER THAN AN EPISODE OF HANNIBAL)

I mean guys, I seriously just spent ten minutes searching my office for my plug-in microphone so I could record it for all posterity, but you’ll just have to borrow my imagination. (sob!)

So, picture it –

You hear a little bit of static.

It almost sounds like someone butt-dialed you. Like, there’s a conversation going, but you’re only hearing one side of the story. Someone might be laughing a bit; you’re not sure.

You’re almost leaning into your phone, trying to decipher the voice – because yes, even through the static, it sounds slightly familiar, and you can’t wait to call whoever this is and tell them that somehow, their butt-dial bypassed your caller ID, and you have to admit it: you’re slightly proud.

But then, the message starts to have a rather … musical quality. You still don’t know exactly what’s being said, but maybe it’s not a conversation…

and then

you begin to decipher some of the words

and a chill runs up your spine

will crying 1because

now you can clearly hear someone singing

and you know the words

and it’s

eddie fucking vedder

singing

she lies and says she’s in love with him
can’t find a better man

will crying DEAD

WHAT THE FUCK

WHO WOULD LEAVE ME A VOICEMAIL THAT CONSISTS SOLELY OF THE CHORUS TO “BETTERMAN”

WHO WOULD DO THAT

ON TODAY OF ALL DAYS

WHO WOULD BE SO –

goddammit.

you fucking jackass.

jesus christ.

alana dead

ANYWAY.

THAT, my friends, is the story of How Alaina Learned That Hannibal Was Cancelled.

Fiction: “Lamb” by Christopher Moore

lambBefore I get into this, I just want to say: Lamb: the Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal is the 200th book I have reviewed for this site. This is what I’ve been planning on since about oh, this time last year. One night, I got curious as to how many books I’ve read since the inception of That’s What She Read, and spent about an hour counting and going through my records (because yes, I’ve said this before and I’m sure I’ll say it again before the year’s out, I have records), and then figured out how many I had to go until I hit an important-sounding number, and then planned the books I was going to read (allowing for some flexibility) until I hit the big 200, because I wanted that review to be for a very special book.

But before I get into that very special book, let me just say this: when I started this thing about five years ago, I never – never – thought I’d stick with it this long. I get distracted very easily, and the idea of keeping myself to some sort of schedule is kind of panic-inducing (and clearly I’ve done so well with that aspect of it, seeing as how I finished reading this in March), but ANYWAY (drink!) –

I just wanted to say thank you. I don’t know who you are, dear readers – I’m sure I know some of you; I’m sure one of you is probably my mom. But even to those who come to this site by Googling rare search terms like, “bill bryson williamsburg admission“, “russell edgington vs emperor palpatine,” or “picasso enjoying the fine weather in the south of france“, I really appreciate your visits.

(Sidenote: Quite a few of you want to know if Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter was fiction or non-fiction, which worries me, to be honest. But not as much as the large multitude of people who are trying to read Decadent online for free. GUYS. YOU DON’T WANT TO READ DECADENT, I PROMISE YOU THAT. (Unless you’ve been dared by one of your best friends because she thinks it’s funny when you read/watch bad things, which yes, it is, BUT STILL IF YOU HAVEN’T READ DECADENT PLEASE DO NOT START NOW) I guess what I’m saying is, guys: vampires don’t really exist. Even I know that, and I can recite “Bad Blood.”)

So thank you. Thank you for being here since the beginning, or by finding me randomly on the internet.  And if you’ve returned a couple of times, thanks for that too.

One more thing before I get into the book. With the addendum of “Christ’s Childhood Pal,” I would hope one would realize this book is probably going to tell a story about Jesus Christ. One would be right if one assumes that. Now look, I am not religious whatsoever. In fact, all of my biblical knowledge comes from this book, my own personal Rifftrax editions of The Ten Commandments, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. If it’s not in those three movies, chances are I don’t know anything about it. So just my loving this book doesn’t mean I’m going to become all religious all of a sudden. Also, I’m going to refer to Jesus Christ as Biff does in the book – as Joshua.

And now – Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal.

Basically, what Lamb does, is take the missing section of Joshua’s life and gives it substance. The Bible discusses the birth of Christ, and then skips ahead to the teachings of and persecution of Christ. But from birth to thirty is completely glossed over. Stuff had to happen! Even Christ had to go through an awkward teenage-dom; everyone does.

So Christopher Moore gave Joshua a best pal – Levi who is called Biff, which

… comes from our slang word for a smack upside the head, something that my mother said I required at least daily from an early age. [p. 9]

The book is written in a sort of framed way; Raziel, the Stupidest Angel (which I will read eventually), resurrects Biff to get him to write his own gospel.

“A Gospel, after all this time? Who?”

“Levi who is called Biff.”

Raziel dropped his rag and stood. “This has to be a mistake.”

“It comes directly from the Son.”

“There’s a reason Biff isn’t mentioned in the other books, you know? He’s a total –”

“Don’t say it.”

“But he’s such an asshole.” [p. 2]

Biff’s Gospel tells us how the two of them grew up together in Nazareth. Biff and Josh apprenticed together with Biff’s father, and Josh experimented with his powers. Josh grew up knowing he was the Son of God, because his mother Mary would tell him so. Josh’s specialty was bringing lizards back to life after his little brother would squish them. One day, Josh is feeling particularly despondent about not knowing exactly what his purpose in life is, when Raziel the angel visits them – thirteen years too late. Raziel tells Josh to seek out the Three Wise Men, for they will guide him on his journey to enlightenment.

Biff tells Josh he’s going with him, basically because Josh is unable to lie to keep himself safe:

“If a stranger comes up to you on the road to Antioch and asks you how much money you are carrying, what do you tell him?”

“That will depend on how much I am carrying.”

“No it won’t. You haven’t enough for a crust of bread. You are a poor beggar.”

“But that’s not true.”

“Exactly.” [p. 100]

So Josh and Biff go to meet Balthasar, the first wise man. Balthasar teaches Josh tenets of Buddhism and also what happens when you keep a demon tied to your soul in exchange for immortality. After a few years, they then travel to Mongolia and learn about Taoism from Gaspar and a yeti. Finally, they travel to India to learn about the Divine Spark — or, as Biff calls it at one point, “Sparky the Wonder Spirit” — from Melchior, who also teaches them about Hinduism.

Basically, Lamb shows how the religion of Christianity can be traced to have roots in three older Eastern religions while building on some tenets of Judaism. As someone who doesn’t even pretend to be a scholar (No, Indy, I never did in fact go to Sunday School), I appreciated the journey.

But the best part about this book? It’s fucking hilarious.

I mean, there are all the parts where Biff misquotes the Bible:

“Well, it is written, two out of three ain’t bad.”

“Where is that written?”

“Dalmatians 9:7, I think.” [p. 36]

“Yes, Josh, for it is written: ‘Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, but teach a man to be a fish and his friends eat for a week.'”

“That is not written. Where is that written?”

“Amphibians five-seven.”

“There’s no friggin’ Amphibians in the Bible.”

“Plague of frogs. Ha! Gotcha!” [p. 293]

There’s the fact that Biff is my hero in that he invented sarcasm:

“It’s from the Greek, sarkasmos. To bite the lips. It means that you aren’t really saying what you mean, but people will get your point. I invented it, Bartholomew named it.”

“Well, if the village idiot named it, I’m sure it’s a good thing.”

“There you go, you got it.”

“Got what?”

“Sarcasm.”

“No, I meant it.”

“Sure you did.”

“Is that sarcasm?”

“Irony, I think.”

“What’s the difference?”

“I haven’t the slightest idea.”

“So you’re being ironic now, right?”

“No, I really don’t know.”

“Maybe you should ask the idiot.”

“Now you’ve got it.” [p. 50-51]

That leads directly into a scene in Kabul where Josh, Biff, and their concubine friend Joy are searching for a blinded guard:

Once in Kabul, Joy led the search for the blinded guard by asking every blind beggar that we passed in the marketplace. “Have you seen a blind bowman who arrived by camel caravan a little more than a week ago?”

[…] Joshua had wanted to point out the flaw in Joy’s method, while I, on the other hand, wanted to savor her doofuscosity as passive revenge for having been poisoned. […]

“You see,” I explained to Joshua, “what Joy is doing is ironic, yet that’s not her intent. That’s the difference between irony and sarcasm. Irony can be spontaneous, while sarcasm requires volition. You have to create sarcasm.” [p. 163-164]

As adolescents for the majority of the novel, the boys are in turns infatuated and astounded by the fairer sex. As Josh must abstain from knowing a woman’s touch, he lives vicariously through Biff’s … misadventures.

“[Sex isn’t] an abomination if it’s with a woman,” Josh added.

“It’s not?”

“Nope. Sheep, goats, pretty much any animal – it’s an abomination. But with a woman, it’s something totally different.”

“What about a woman and a goat, what’s that?” asked John.

“That’s five shekels in Damascus,” I said. “Six if you want to help.” [p. 91]

Josh’s curiousity is so strong, he … well, forces is entirely too strong a word … not even encourages … basically, he gives Biff permission to have sex with prostitutes before going to see the wise men, just so Josh can observe through a curtain the goings-on to try and understand human nature.

The other harlots let loose with an exaltation of ululation as we led my harlot away. (You know ululation as the sound an ambulance makes. That I get an erection every time one passes the hotel would seem morbid if you didn’t know this story of how Biff Hires a Harlot.) [p. 114]

And when Josh and Biff meet the Yeti:

“It’s a yeti,” said Gaspar from behind me, obviously having been roused from his trance. “An abominable snowman.”

“This is what happens when you fuck a sheep?!” I exclaimed. [p. 242]

While Josh is learning about the Divine Spark in India, Biff takes up with a prostitute and learns about the Kama Sutra. The friends spend their evenings reading from the Bhagavad Gita and Kama Sutra, respectively.

Here’s my favorite passage from the Kama Sutra, as told by Biff:

The Kama Sutra sayeth:

When a man applies wax from the carnuba bean to a woman’s yoni and buffs it with a lint-free cloth or a papyrus towel until a mirror shine is achieved, then it is called “Readying the Mongoose for a Trade-in.” [p. 294]

Josh has his moments as well. Are you having a bad day? Imagine a young Jesus, experiencing his first caffeine high following his first cappuccino, practically slapping the sickness out of poor in Jerusalem:

“Healed that guy. Healed her. Stopped her suffering. Healed him. Comforted him. Ooo, that guy was just stinky. Healed her. Whoops, missed. Healed. Healed. Comforted. Calmed.” [p. 127]

And let’s not forget Josh’s protest of the Hindu caste system:

And a hundred scrawny Untouchables stood there, eyes as big as saucers, just staring at me while Joshua moved among them, healing their wounds, sicknesses, and insanities, without any of them suspecting what was happening. […] He’d also taken to poking one of them in the arm with his finger anytime anyone said the word “Untouchable.” Later he told me that he just hated passing up the opportunity for palpable irony. [p. 271]

And even when Josh returns home to Nazareth, the fun doesn’t stop there. I mean, the fun will stop there, but eventually. He has to find his apostles first. And some of the apostles, boy … they are dumb.

“Master, you’re walking on the water,” said Peter.

“I just ate,” Joshua said. “You can’t go into the water for an hour after you eat. You could get a cramp. What, none of you guys have mothers?” [p. 390]

Josh tells Peter it’s not a miracle, that anyone can do it, and convinces Peter to attempt to walk on water.

“Trust your faith, Peter,” I yelled. “If you doubt you won’t be able to do it.”

Then Peter stepped with both feet onto the surface of the water, and for a split second he stood there. And we were all amazed. “Hey, I’m –” Then he sank like a stone. He came up sputtering. We were all doubled over giggling, and even Joshua had sunk up to his ankles, he was laughing so hard.

“I can’t believe you fell for that,” said Joshua. He ran across the water and helped us pull Peter into the boat. “Peter, you’re as dumb as a box of rocks. But what amazing faith you have. I’m going to build my church on this box of rocks.” [p. 391]

My most favoritest part in this entire book — look, I could quote it for you, but I’d be here all night, and I want you to experience it for yourself. Go find a copy of Lamb, and flip to around page 372 (I’m not sure if the page numbers translate between editions), and you have to read the first draft of the Sermon on the Mount. You have to. It is required reading. Look, you probably have a Books-A-Million or a Barnes and Noble somewhere near you; bring a friend to distract the clerks so they won’t hassle you for reading a book in the bookstore without paying for it first. It will be worth it. If I die, I want two people to act out the Sermon on the Mount speech at my funeral, because I want to go out like the weasels in Who Framed Roger Rabbit – laughing.

In his deepest crises of faith, Joshua turns to his father. And while we never hear the words of God except through Josh’s mouth, I’d like to think that this god also has a sense of humor:

“All men are evil, that’s what I was talking to my father about.”

“What did he say?”

“Fuck ’em.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“At least he answered you.”

“I got the feeling that he thinks it’s my problem now.”

“Makes you wonder why he didn’t burn that on one of the tablets. “HERE, MOSES, HERE’S THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, AND HERE’S AN EXTRA ONE THAT SAYS FUCK ‘EM.”

“He doesn’t sound like that.”

“FOR EMERGENCIES.” [p. 254-255]

Look, you guys, I could read this book aloud to anyone who wanted to listen to me. It is my absolute favoritest book, and in my opinion, you do not have to be religious or anything to enjoy this story. It’s the story of two bros – AND YOU ALL KNOW HOW I FEEL ABOUT BROS – who go on an epic journey, and one turns out to be the Son of God.

Oh, spoiler alert – don’t go into this hoping for a different outcome. Crucifixion and betrayal still happens in the end, and after getting to know the human side of Christ, it makes it all the more heartwrenching. But there is a happy ending (of sorts) for Biff, at least.

OH SHIT I FORGOT TO TALK ABOUT MARY MAGDELENE Oh well.

Read the book if you want to find out, what do I look like, a library?

Grade for Lamb, the Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal: 6 stars

Fiction: “Rebecca” by Daphne Du Maurier

rebecca-daphne-du-maurier-book-cover-artI was planning on going on a major rant about how much I suck, seeing as how I finished this book back in effing January and here it is nearly St. Paddy’s Day, and I was going to vow that I was going to get better at this, but we all know I’m lying (mostly to myself), so let’s just skip all of that and go right into the review with much less preamble than I’m used to, because this is one of my favorite books and I really think everyone I know should read it if they haven’t already.

Before I can get into the thick of the book, however, I do need to discuss one thing: a major choice in the narrative structure. Ugh. Now I know why I’ve procrastinated this review so much – I really have no idea where to begin with it.

Rebecca is the tale of Mr. and Mrs. Maximilian de Winter, and it takes place in 1930s Britain. Maxim (to his friends) is the landed inheritor of the family estate, Manderley, and it is extremely famous. (I guess, for an American equivalent, it would be like Monticello, but without the historical prestige. It’s a fancy house and everyone knows about it.) The estate is so famous that the Future Mrs. de Winter purchased a postcard of Manderley as a girl and dreamed of visiting it.

She remembers her postcard when she first meets Maxim in Monte Carlo, as she’s working as a hired companion to the American tourist Mrs. Van Hopper. Mrs. Van Hopper introduces herself to Maxim, who clearly wants nothing to do with her. As he politely takes his leave of Mrs. Van Hopper and her companion (who also happens to be our narrator), Mrs. Van Hopper tells the girl (and I’m gonna paraphrase, because the book is in the kitchen and I’m, as we should all know by now, lazy) that Maxim must be devastated after the loss of his wife last year; it must be why he left Manderley.

A couple of days after this incident, Mrs. Van Hopper comes down with the flu or something, and her companion goes to have lunch, where she promptly spills her water glass all over her — she’s very awkward, young, nervous, and klutzy at times. Maxim is dining near her and he immediately insists that she have lunch with him, and lunch turns into spending the afternoon driving around Monte Carlo, and that turns into spending every afternoon together in friendship. Mrs. Van Hopper gets better, and when she learns her daughter is getting married in New York, she and her companion pack up for America. The girl manages to get away long enough to say goodbye to Maxim, but instead of exchanging mailing addresses for postcard-sending, Maxim proposes marriage to her instead. Stunned, and not entirely understanding (but enough to know she didn’t want to go to America), she agrees. Mrs. Van Hopper doesn’t wish her well, instead telling her that she’s making a huge mistake, and that Maxim’s only marrying her because he can’t stand living alone after the death of Rebecca.

That’s right, friends – our narrator is not Rebecca. Rebecca is Maxim’s first wife, who died in a boating accident. Our narrator is only known as Mrs. de Winter, and as “she’s” telling the story, “she” feels no need to introduce herself. In addition, all the other characters she comes in contact with either call her “Mrs. De Winter” or “dear” or some other derivative. I’ll get more into that in a minute.

Their honeymoon is wonderful – full of happiness and light, though we never see these weeks directly. We only hear about them after the fact, once the happy couple have returned to Manderley. And as soon as they drive through the gates, a change comes over Maxim. In public, in front of the servants, he is reserved. In private, he is adoring of Mrs. de Winter – unless something put him into a mood before the scene.

Her introduction to the house includes the servants: Frith the butler, and Mrs. Danvers, the head housekeeper. Mrs. Danvers does not take to Mrs. de Winter, and the latter feels as if the housekeeper is constantly looking down her nose at her.

Her first day as mistress of the house doesn’t go the smoothest. Mrs. de Winter has breakfast with Maxim before he goes to the estate office, but then she doesn’t know what to do. She heads to the library (one of the rooms she knows how to get to), and is trying to start a fire because it’s chilly when Frith asks if he can be of service.

“I felt rather cool in the library, I suppose the weather seems chilly to me, after being abroad, and I thought perhaps I would just put a match to the fire.”

“The fire in the library is not usually lit until the afternoon, Madam,” he said. “Mrs. de Winter always used the morning-room. There is a good fire in there. Of course if you should wish to have the fire in the library as well I will give orders for it to be lit.”

“Oh, no,” I said, “I would not dream of it. I will go to the morning-room.” [p. 80]

(Yeah, I went and got the book out of the kitchen.)

When Mrs. de Winter goes into the morning-room, everything has Rebecca’s touch over it. The stationary, the furniture, the accents, the decorations. The feeling of being a stranger in someone else’s house begins to overwhelm her, and when Mrs. Danvers calls her on the house telephone (oh, the 1930s), she gets frightfully mixed up:

And when the telephone rang, suddenly, alarmingly, on the desk in front of me, my heart leapt and I stared up in terror, thinking I had been discovered. I took the receiver off with trembling hands, and “Who is it?” I said, “who do you want?” There was a strange buzzing at the end of the line, and then a voice came, low and rather harsh, whether that of a woman or a man I could not tell, and “Mrs. de Winter?” it said, “Mrs. de Winter?”

“I’m afraid you have made a mistake,” I said, “Mrs. de Winter has been dead for over a year.” [p. 83]

And it keeps getting worse. She learns that Rebecca and Maxim used to have their rooms in the west wing, which overlooks the ocean, but when they returned from their honeymoon Maxim put them in the east wing. Mrs. de Winter bows down to Ms. Danvers constantly, not making any changes or even attempting to assert herself. And throughout everything, she believes that she has been chosen as a replacement for Rebecca just so Maxim doesn’t have to be alone; she truly believes that he doesn’t love her at all, and that he is still in love with Rebecca.

And then, there’s the fancy dress ball. The villagers (most of them are rather wealthy, so don’t think they’re serfs or anything) want Maxim to reinstate the fancy dress ball, and Maxim eventually caves in. Now, I have read this book at least four times, and I’ve seen the movie at least twenty times (oh SHIT guys, don’t let me forget to talk about the movie), so I know how this is going to go. Every time I read this book or watch the movie, I blow through the first two hundred pages, but when I get to the fancy dress ball? I slow my reading down, because what happens is so awful that I just want to reach into the book, grab Mrs. de Winter’s shoulders and yell, “WHY ARE LISTENING TO MRS. DANVERS??!”

The night after the fancy dress ball, Mrs. de Winter has a confrontation with Mrs. Danvers, and just when it looks as if Mrs. Danvers is going to finally strike the death blow on Mrs. de Winter — a ship runs aground in the harbor. Their confrontation forgotten, Mrs. de Winter runs out to find the constable, and she learns the horrible truth — The ship ran aground on Rebecca’s boat.

And the diver found a second body in it.

Okay, I can’t comfortably speak about any of the rest of the plot, because from here on in, we’re in Major Spoiler Country. And while I’m okay ruining some things – especially when I feel like the time limit has run out (Rosebud was the name of the sled, Gwyneth Paltrow’s head’s in the box, and Norman Bates dressed up like his mother to kill people) — but I refuse to spoil this book, because if you don’t know what happens, it makes the book so much better.

(As perfect evidence, I recently lent Gone Girl to my mother:

“Mom, I know you’re like me — I know you want to know what happens, and you’ll want to read ahead to find out what happens. I am telling you – RESIST THAT URGE. Do not — DO NOT — skip ahead in this book. If you do, you will regret it.

She didn’t skip, even though she was tempted, and she really … I wouldn’t say “enjoyed” the book, because it’s not an easy book to “enjoy,” but the experience of reading the book was better.)

Here’s why it’s so important that Mrs. de Winter doesn’t have a first name – you can substitute yourself into the role of the narrator much easier. When everything is I feel, I thought, I wondered, but you don’t have another name to attach to that, you can almost find yourself feeling those same feelings. So then, when you put yourself into this nameless narrator, and all she’s seeing are memories of her husband’s first wife – in the few notes that are still hanging around in frontispieces of books, in the stationary, the monogrammed handkerchief she finds in an old raincoat – and she deeply believes that her husband doesn’t actually love her, that he’s still in love with his first wife – that first wife almost becomes a physical presence.

It’s a claustrophobic feeling – it’s a heart in a death grip, and you’re also not strong enough to be your own voice. It’s terrifying.

Ugh, this is really hard to explain. The best thing about this book is the atmosphere. It’s Gothic, it’s Romantic, it’s oppressive. There’s nowhere to escape. You’re stuck in Manderley just as badly as Mrs. de Winter, and you’re not sure if you even have allies, because it seems that everyone can’t stop talking about Rebecca.

“He doesn’t love me, he loves Rebecca,” I said. “He’s never forgotten her, he thinks about her still, night and day. He’s never loved me, Frank. It’s always Rebecca, Rebecca, Rebecca.” [p. 225]

It’s heartbreaking.

Now, the movie – it was directed by Alfred HItchcock, first of all. It starred Laurence Olivier as Maxim de Winter, Joan Fontaine as (Oscar-nominated) Mrs. de Winter, and my all-time favorite, George Sanders, as Rebecca’s cousin Max Favell. George Sanders, for those who may not know, voiced Shere Khan in Disney’s The Jungle Book, but most importantly, played my Role Model For Life in All About Eve – theatre critic Addison de Witt. The movie continues the atmosphere found in the book, and Judith Anderson’s Mrs. Danvers is the epitome of creepy, evil housekeepers.

Quick note: the death of Rebecca has a different outcome in the movie than in the book. I am able to separate the two and I can’t say which version I like better. But be aware that, if you read the book first, it’s different in the movie, and vice versa.

Okay, I’ve been writing this for two hours and it’s nearly midnight, so I’m going to wrap this up by saying: seriously, read this book. Watch the movie. I don’t even care which order you pick. But after you’ve done one or the other, let’s talk about it, because I love both of them.

Grade for Rebecca: 6 stars

Fiction: “The Empire Striketh Back” by Ian Doescher

If the theme song isn't stuck in your head, I don't know what you're even doing.

I’m writing this in the midst of playing an epic game of “Sophie’s Choice” with my TiVo and FXX over the Every Simpsons Ever marathon. Basically, my percentage has been hovering at 99% for the past 24 hours, and — hold up, is Thelma and Louise on my list of Movies Alaina’s Never Seen? Anyway, basically, I’ve been watching as many episodes as I can, both live and recorded, because all that I ever wanted is a big ol’ kick to the nostalgia feels.

YES I TAPED THE TRAMAMPOLINE – TRAMBOPOLINE EPISODE WOO HOO!

Holy shit, I never put Thelma and Louise on my list.  (Must be because the only people who ever teased me about never seeing movies were dudes.)

empire doth strike

ANYWAY, the other night Erica and I did our Tweetversation for The Empire Striketh Back, and now I’m trying to write the review while perfecting my Homer Simpson impersonation. What I’m saying is, if a lot of Simpsons references make it into this review, then I apologize for nothing.

So let’s start off with the things I really liked about this version, and then I’ll get into the fight we had.

I’m actually going to start with the afterword, because as I was reading it, I honestly thought I was being Punk’d. Back when we read Verily, a New Hope, I had three critiques: 1) I felt that Mr. Doescher over-used the Chorus; 2) he used the word sans too much to make the lines scan properly; and while 3) wasn’t really a criticism, I did mention the fact that everyone in Verily, a New Hope spoke in iambic pentameter and no one spoke in prose.

God bless Mr. Doescher, but he tackled all three. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who discussed the Chorus, and in this book, he used the Chorus very smartly, and instead made the characters let the audience know what just happened (as an example, he reminded us of how Gertrude informed Hamlet of Ophelia’s drowning).

Erica and I both agreed that his iambic pentameter flowed better in this book – not that it didn’t flow in the first book, but I didn’t see any use of sans in this volume.

And in this book, Boba Fett speaks in prose:

Shakespeare often used prose to separate the lower classes from the elite – kings spoke in iambic pentameter while porters and gravediggers spoke in prose. In writing William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, I did not want to be accused of being lazy about writing iambic pentameter, but with this book it was time to introduce some prose. Who better to speak in base prose than the basest of bounty hunters? [p. 167]

Seems legit.

So if Boba Fett speaks in prose, and everyone else speaks in iambic pentameter … how does Yoda speak?

DUDES. YODA SPEAKS IN HAIKU. AND IT IS GLORIOUS.

O, great warrior!
A great warrior you seek!
Wars not make one great.
[II.vii.78-80]

And my favorite line, in all the world:

Nay, nay! Try thou not.
But do thou or do thou not,
For there is no “try.”
[III.vii.29-31]

The other thing I absolutely loved wholeheartedly was the following line, after the Wampa runs off with Luke:

Alas, is this th’adventure I am due,
To die upon a vicious monster’s whim?
I am attackèd by this awful beast!
O fate most wretched — shall I be his feast?
[Exit, pursued by a wampa.]
[I.i.48-51]

EXIT, PURSUED BY A WAMPA. OH MY GOD. First of all, one of the most famous stage directions in Shakespearean history is “Exeunt, pursued by a bear.” To bring that into Star Wars was brilliant. But then there’s the added bonus that the original line was from The Winter’s Tale.  THE WINTER’S TALE, CARL! BECAUSE THIS SCENE TAKES PLACE ON HOTH! OH MY GOD, this line was just perfect on all levels.

My last favorite line also leads me into the fight Erica and I had on twitter. I was very very pleased that there were no extra words added to Han Solo’ classic line, “I know.” This lead to this:

I just scanned through some of Leia’s speeches, and I do not know how that impression came from either the text or the movie. In her conversations with Han, she is trying to declare that she doesn’t have feelings for him because he’s beneath her, or a scruffy nerf herder, or that she’d rather kiss a Wookiee. In her monologues, she admits that she has feelings for him, but she can’t voice her feelings aloud because they’re in the middle of fighting a war and she can’t take the time to focus on her love life because it’s not the appropriate time to do so.

Leia is not a damsel. In fact, the damsel that needed rescuing from the big monster villain on Hoth was Luke from the Wampa. In this book/episode, Leia and the entire rebel army have to escape Hoth after being attacked by the Empire. When they get to Cloud City, they get captured by Darth Vader and Han gets carbon-frozen for Boba Fett, but Leia rescues herself with the help of Lando Calrissian. But it’s not like Lando has to break her out of a prison cell or something.

(And if you want to talk about Episode IV: A New Hope, I would like to remind you that Leia was the character that took over the half-assed rescue mission and actually got them out of Vader’s starship.)

As I said on twitter, it may look like Leia’s being wishy-washy in her emotions, but that is a trope of Shakespearean romances, not Leia’s character. If you go back to the classic Benedick and Beatrice, they will have moments of fighting and banter, and then as soon as they split up, they have to have those monologues and soliloquies where they explain to the audience that their feelings are conflicted. Remember, Shakespearean actors were playing to the balcony, and facial expressions didn’t carry to the balcony, so words had to do the job.

So when it comes to The Jedi Doth Return, please, I ask you: please re-watch the original trilogy first.  I feel that many of the disagreements we’ve had over these books have stemmed from the fact that you have watched them, but a very long time ago, and the things Mr. Doescher is adding to the characters and the plot overall enhance the original, but can confuse someone who may be unfamiliar with the plot. I’m not asking you to change your opinion of Leia and Han, but I think you may find that in the original movie, the romance is used smartly and not “injected where it shouldn’t be.” Even if you feel that the romance isn’t necessary to the plot, at least you’ll see that Leia is not, nor ever will be, a damsel in distress.

Okay. In the writing of this review, I have watched at least six episodes of The Simpsons, and my percentage is down to 97%. I have some errands to run, but I’ll leave everyone with this: I really enjoyed The Empire Striketh Back, and I felt that Mr. Doescher’s interpretation of the text and application of Shakespearean tropes was excellent. I can’t wait to finish this series.

Grade for The Empire Striketh Back6 stars

 

Fiction: “Bridget Jones’s Diary” by Helen Fielding

Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen FieldingDear Lord, I love this book.

I think this makes it the sixth time I’ve read it? I first read it … either in high school or freshman year of college. I want to say before college, because I definitely used an excerpt from Bridget Jones for a speech tournament at Franklin Pierce (British accent and everything! I believe I came in fourth. Hurrah!). For a while I was reading it every January, as a kind of kick-off of the year. But going back through my records (because yes, I am completely the crazy, paranoid, anal-retentive individual that keeps records of when she reads books, by month and year, and whether she’s read them before or not. IT’S ONLY A PROBLEM IF YOU THINK IT’S A PROBLEM), the last time I read it was 2007.

Why did I fall in love with Bridget Jones back then? She was funny, self-assured, thought she had a “weight problem” (come to me when your weight problem is an additional sixty pounds on you, Bridge), delightfully alcoholic and addicted to cigarettes, went through phases of trying to be a better person, and single in her thirties. Her character was someone I could connect with, even as a young adult.

I took the book back out of my bookcase this time because as I write this, there is one more week to go until I turn thirty. And apparently I’ve been all over Twitter with this, but nowhere else. Short story is: I’m not handling it. It’s not the age thing – I don’t feel thirty (not that I know what thirty feels like); when I get together with my friends I still feel young and we still want to do young things. I just thought that I’d be more … advanced in some parts of my life that I’m not. Do you know I’ve never colored my hair a wacky color? In high school, when everyone else was putting blue streaks and pink streaks in their hair (or dying their entire head a different color), I never touched the stuff. When I did highlight my hair, it was in subtle tones of red. Two days ago, Hot Topic was having a sale and I bought some colored chalk and I’ll use it, at some point, but a thirty-year-old with blue streaks just seems weird, right?

I’ve never sung karaoke. I don’t have a tattoo. I haven’t finished writing any of my stories. I’ve never been to a Hooter’s. And I’ve been single for a very long time. And let me tell you, Little Corner of the Internet For Whom I Write: I’m starting to feel lonely.

Anyway. Uh, sorry if you just read those paragraphs. Those were clearly meant for an analyst, not my book blog. Apologies.

But it’s also why I turned to Bridget Jones. I could read this from a thirty-year-old Singleton’s perspective — a perspective I’ve never had before. I always assumed I’d have found someone by now, so to be in pretty much the same position as Bridget would hopefully make me feel better.

Good news – she did. I mean, look! She experiences the same angst as me!:

Humph. Have woken up v. fed up. On top of everything, only two weeks to go until birthday, when will have to face up to the fact that another entire year has gone by, during which everyone else except me has mutated into Smug Married, having children plop, plop, plop, left right and center and making hundreds of thousands of pounds and inroads into very hub of establishment, while I career rudderless and boyfriendless through dysfunctional relationships and professional stagnation. [67-68]

If you’ve never read Bridget Jones’s Diary, it is written as a fictionalized diary. Meaning, it doesn’t sound like those blogs I used to write in college – she actually includes dialogue and elements of storytelling that a person wouldn’t necessarily employ when writing a diary. But that’s why it’s fiction. The book starts in January of a year (not necessary to the plot) and goes through December. Bridget works in publishing (I want to work in publishing!) and has a crush on her boss, Daniel Cleaver (I have never had a crush on any of my bosses! But I imagine that’s a thing). She visits her parents over Christmas (which is a thing that I also do!), and at an annual party, her mother and her mother’s friend Una try and set her up with Mark Darcy, a divorced barrister who Bridget used to play with as a child (none of those things ever happen to me, because the only childhood boy friend I had is gay! And lovely, and his boyfriend is lovely, but — I wasn’t friends with boys as a child… hm. Maybe that explains a lot.)

As the months go on, Bridget does have an affair with Daniel, but throughout she maintains her sense of self and character. At the first date, as he’s reaching for her skirt, he — well:

As he started to undo the zip he whispered, “This is just a bit of fun, OK? I don’t think we should start getting involved.” Then, caveat in place, he carried on with the zip. Had it not been for Sharon and the fuckwittage and the fact I’d just drunk the best part of a bottle of wine, I think I would have sunk powerless into his arms. As it was, I leaped to my feet, pulling up my skirt.

“That is just such crap,” I slurred. “How dare you be so fraudulently flirtatious, cowardly and dysfunctional? I am not interested in emotional fuckwittage. Good-bye.” [29]

She knows what she wants and what she doesn’t, and she waits for Daniel to commit to her before going out with him again. (It’s not her fault he cheats on her – he’s a fuckwit.)

Meanwhile, in another part of the plot that (luckily) does not echo anything going on in my real life, Bridget’s mother is going through an end-of-life crisis, in which she leaves her husband and becomes a reporter for a morning show doing a report called “Suddenly Single,” which consists of her thrusting a microphone under the nose of a single woman and asking them, “Have you had suicidal thoughts?” Bridget’s mother is a caricature, almost, but in the end of the book she gets her comeuppance and returns to her husband after taking a lover (Julio) that turns out to be a con artist.

And then there’s Mark Darcy. I should have mentioned at the top that this book is also a very loose reimagining of Pride and Prejudice, with Bridget playing the part of Elizabeth Bennet, Daniel Cleaver becoming George Wickham, and Mark Darcy obviously playing the great role of Fitzwilliam Darcy. (So now you know why I find Bridget’s mother so bloody annoying — I *detest* Mrs. Bennet.) If you’ve read P&P, you know that at the end of the novel, Darcy is going to help Bridget with a family problem, thereby winning her over completely – this after he’s steadily had her warm to him over the course of a couple of months. For instance:

“Last Christmas,” Mark went hurriedly, “I thought if my mother said the words ‘Bridget Jones’ just once more I would go to the Sunday People and accuse her of abusing me as a child with a bicycle pump. Then when I met you … and I was wearing that ridiculous diamond-patterned sweater that Una had bought for me Christmas … Bridget, all the other girls I know are so lacquered over.” [207]

And then he asks her out for dinner.  swoon

AND THEN, after he goes and gets Julio captured and Bridget’s mother is back at home with her husband, Mark whisks Bridget away from her family and craziness on Christmas to decompress, rents a suite at a local hotel and then orders room service. He’s telling her the story of how he basically Sam Spade-ed Julio out of Portugal, when:

“I simply told him that she was spending Christmas with your dad, and, I’m afraid, that they’d be sleeping in the same bed. I just had a feeling he was crazy enough, and stupid enough, to attempt to, er, undermine those plans.”

“How did you know?”

“A hunch. It kind of goes with the job.” God, he’s cool.

“But it was so kind of you, taking time off work and everything. Why did you bother doing all this?”

“Bridget,” he said. “Isn’t it rather obvious?”

Oh my God. [266]

GUH. Because no, it’s not always obvious! And maybe that’s coming from a woman who is completely oblivious. I admit: I do not recognize when someone flirts with me, mainly because it happens only all the never time. So when someone starts being nice – and nicer than normal – for instance, friends that do not usually have physical contact beyond a fistbump or high-five, all of a sudden they start giving gentlemanly shoulder slaps of “Good job!,” and also saying that they have a plan for a birthday, when normally booze is exchanged and that’s it? Is that flirting, or is it the new normal? I DON’T KNOW, I ACTUALLY CAN’T READ SIGNS.

I’m telling you, guys — my mind is one big ball of crazy. But at least I don’t keep track of how many calories I ingest on any given day?

In the end, this book is one I will continuously return to. The narrator is smart, funny — I will say, also exceptionally British. There are some jokes that I have to look up to get the reference, but luckily, they’re not the important jokes. And overall, Bridget is relate-able. She resonated with me when I was in high school, as someone to look up to. Now, I find her a comrade-in-Singleton-arms. And I look forward to the day when I can revisit her and say, “Oh, that used to be me.”

PS – the movie is good too. Doesn’t follow the book’s plot 100%, but who can resist Colin Firth playing Mark Darcy? Hmm… maybe that’s how I’ll spend the rest of this snow day…

Grade for Bridget Jones’s Diary: 6 stars

Fiction: “The Beekeeper’s Apprentice” by Laurie R. King

Okay, this is literally the THIRD TIME I have tried to write this review. I am writing this on Caroline the Netbook, and this just proves once and for all why I cannot write on Caroline the Netbook. Because if the cursor happens to be outside of the writing box and I accidentally hit ‘backspace,’ the internets move to the last page I was on. And when I hit ‘forward’ after cursing heavily, the ‘saved draft’ is a blank window, because Caroline hates me. However, if I keep the cursor inside the writing box, I will be halfway through a paragraph, accidentally hit the touch pad with my thumb as I move to the space bar, and before I know it, I’m writing in the middle of the wrong paragraph or, worse, the paragraph I was writing disappears and I swear copiously again.

Some people would say, “Well, serves you right for naming your netbook after a flighty-yet-determined yearling vampire from The Vampire Diaries.” To which I say, SHUT UP.

And here’s why it’s so important that I actually write this review — because if this were for any other book, I’d be all, ‘fuck this shit, I have Fringe to watch and Futurama to record, lemme just throw a grade on this and be done with it.” But no — it is so important for me to write a real review, so I’m being very careful with my thumbs and hopefully the third time will be the charm.

Because here’s the situation: this is a first for That’s What She Read. This is the first time in the (short) history of the blog that I will have re-read a book that I’ve already reviewed. There were definitely books that I’ve reviewed that I’ve read before — some multiple times, even — but the reviews and the stories behind the books were always, for lack of a better phrase, “New to You.”

I had hinted during the Harry Potter re-read that I had wanted to re-read the Mary Russell series (by which I meant, ‘re-read The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and Monstrous Regiment of Women so I can actually read the next book, which I think is A Letter of Mary“), and I had looked back at my original review, and realized that there is no way that anyone could tell what that book was about from my review.

So. Let’s try this again, and let’s hope that Caroline doesn’t fuck me over (like she did Matt, but that’s a whole ‘nother story for a whole ‘nother blog).

Mary Russell is a precocious young orphan, who one day literally trips over the great Sherlock Holmes while reading a book during a walk on the Sussex Downs. After exchanging sarcastic insults, without being asked, Russell illustrates her sense of deduction:

“I said, if you want a new hive you’ll have to follow the blue spots, because the reds are sure to be Tom Warner’s.”

“I am not hard of hearing, although I am short of credulity. How do you come to know my interests?”

“I should have thought it obvious,” I said impatiently, though even at that age I was aware that such things were not obvious to the majority of people. “I see paint on your pocket-handkerchief, and traces on your fingers where you wiped it away. The only reason to mark bees that I can think of is to enable one to follow them to their hive. You are either interested in gathering honey or in the bees themselves, and it is not the time of year to harvest honey. Three months ago we had an unusual cold spell that killed many hives. Therefore I assume that you are tracking these in order to replenish your own stock.”

The face that looked down at me was no longer fishlike. In fact, it resembled amazingly a captive eagle I had once seen, perched in aloof splendour looking down the ridge of his nose at this lesser creature, cold disdain staring out from his hooded grey eyes.

“My God,” he said in a voice of mock wonder, “it can think.” [8]

After their initial interaction, Holmes takes Russell back to his Sussex cottage, which is still being taken care of by Mrs. Hudson. Holmes and Russell become friends, and until Russell goes off to Oxford, she stops by frequently and becomes Holmes’s apprentice, learning the arts of detection.

There are a couple of small cases they work on together: a neighbor fears her husband is partaking in espionage (it turns out, in a rare case of stereotyping, it actually was the butler who did it that time), and an inn owner has some hams stolen.

One summer, the young daughter of a visiting American senator is kidnapped. As a move of last resort, the kidnapped daughter’s mother asks for Sherlock Holmes’s involvement, despite his retirement. Russell, in essence, bullies Holmes into bringing her along. He didn’t want her to come, but eventually recognizes her worth in the partnership. Russell’s deductions and her quick thinking actually leads her to rescue the daughter from her kidnappers.

Russell goes off to Oxford, and then the true mystery appears. Holmes randomly appears in her rooms, and she learns of a plot to kill Holmes, herself, and dear “Uncle John” Watson using a series of bombs. Holmes and Russell evade the bomber for a couple of days, then come perilously close to the receiving end of a bomb in their cab. Holmes then decides, with his brother Mycroft’s help, to escape the “heat” of London for a short time, in order to take some time to regroup and look at the evidence from afar. A theology scholar, Russell asks Holmes to take a case in Jerusalem. This case is later discussed in O Jerusalem, but I haven’t read that book yet.

When they return to London, they have enacted a plot to draw their villain into a trap: they will act as if they have separated and demonstrate outright aggression towards each other. Hopefully, believing Holmes to be declining without his dear friend Russell, the villain will make a move.

The case will end with a relation to the great Moriarty (and for more about my bitching about the canon!Moriarty, see here), and with a reconciliation between Russell and Holmes, as well as another appearance from the kidnapped daughter Russell rescued.

As I said in my previous entry, the language is rich and meaty. And I realized while reading it this time, that returning to this title is like curling up in bed on a cold afternoon in February under a cozy blanket with a warm cup of tea. It’s warm and welcoming and homey and cozy and home.

And now, the references I’m too much of an asshole to ignore:

In the rescue scene, Russell gives us this advice:

I unwound the rope from my waist (Always carry a length of rope; it’s the most useful thing in the world.) and tossed it at a branch that faced away from the house. [125]

I, of course, immediately went to these key scenes from one of my favorite movies [warning: mucho violence and profusive language]

Secondly, upon their return from Jerusalem, Russell and Holmes were already deep into their hatred of each other, and this is how Russell greets Mycroft and Watson:

“There he is, gentlemen, the great Mr. Sherlock Holmes. Savior of nations, the mind of the century, God’s gift to humanity. Gentlemen, I leave you to him.” [277]

So in a nice circle of events, this line made me snort out loud, because it brought to mind season one of Lost, where poor Shannon was telling someone about her brother Boone, and described him as “God’s friggin’ gift to humanity.” Now, if you’ve been following along with some other things I love, the actor who played Boone on Lost is now playing Damon on the new show of my heart, The Vampire Diaries. Which is another thing that just feels like home.

There’s not a lot of discussion around the friendship between Russell and Holmes — for many people (Watson, Mycroft, Lestrade Jr.), they take it as writ that they are apprentice and master, or later, partners. Russell does raise some questions around the propriety of her being an apprentice to a man who’s nearly forty years older than her, but the necessity of their partnership pushes any pesky gender considerations to the background. (Although the age and gender discussion does pop up again in the next title.)

Grade for The Beekeeper’s Apprentice: Still 6 stars