Kurt Vonnegut’s Fates Worse Than Death

20160831_1908183.5 Stars

The picture quality is terrible for this review, but fitting for the way I read the book.  Most of the book was consumed in a poorly lit bar.  I read until words became blurry, consuming most of the novel in that sitting.  Fates Worse Than Death is the third in a series of what Vonnegut called autobiographical collages, a collection of writings that were a blend of essays and personal anecdotes all done in that undeniable Vonnegut voice.

For me I’ll always prefer Vonnegut novels although there is something to be said about his short stories as well. With that said, this collection was highly enjoyable and quite thought-provoking. Vonnegut covers such a wide range of topics but the collection spends a lot of time around the topic of death.  The suicides of various family members and friends come across time and again, as does his own attempt.  His time in WWII, especially behind a prisoner at Dresden during the unfortunate bombing is another reoccurring throughout.  Although anyone familiar with Vonnegut shouldn’t be surprised about that.

It’s tough to summarize Kurt Vonnegut, the man had a mind and a voice that was familiar while at the same time like no one else you’ve ever read. That comes through loudly in Fates Worse Than Death as it does in all his works. A lot of what is contained in the book had been published elsewhere as he uses lengthy bits of pieces he’s had published in various papers and magazines along with speeches he’s given to address his points. At times, the essays run on too long because of it and honestly, in the middle, they blur together.  I think that unless you are looking to be a Vonnegut completest this is one that can be skipped. I gave it 3.5 stars but truthfully it gained a star because of how much I love Vonnegut and possibly because of the setting where I started the book as well.

I’m pairing this with Hop God from Nebraska Brewing Company and it pairs pretty perfectly with this Vonnegut collection since it is a collage of styles with a unique flavor.  Hop God is a Belgian IPA that was aged in a Chardonnay barrel.  A Belgian IPA in itself is an interesting look at the traditional IPA but factor in the aging process in the Chardonnay barrel and it is something completely different just like Vonnegut.  Even the bottle, a 22-ounce beer bottle is a blend of a beer and wine bottle.  On a slightly morbid note that I think Kurt Vonnegut would appreciate, he has one other big thing in common with the beer, both are discontinued.  

Favorite Quotes:

“It is tough to make unhappy people happier unless they need something easily prescribed, such as food or shelter.”

“You cannot be a good writer of serious fiction if you are not depressed.”

“Liberty is only now being born in the United States.  It wasn’t born in 1776.  Slavery was legal.  Even white women were powerless, essentially the property of their father or husband or closest male relative, or maybe a judge or lawyer.”

“Am I too pessimistic about life a hundred years from now?  Maybe I have spent too much time with scientists and not enough time with speechwriters for politicians.”

“We probably could have saved ourselves, but were too damned lazy to try very hard”

Format: Trade Paperback.

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Joani Blank’s Femalia

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3.5 Stars

I came across Femalia by Joani Blank while reading CUNT by Musico. Feminists have been advocating this book for men and women for years to help shape people’s perspectives about their own bodies and the bodies of their partners. Femalia consists of 50 photographs of the female vulva. The purpose of this book is to show males and females that the vulva comes in many different variations and they are each perfectly formed. Sadly, some women are uncomfortable with their ladybits and worry that it doesn’t “look right.” But where do we get our expectations of what a vulva should look like? Porn? Male-dominated conversations and opinions? Women body-shaming each other? I’m sure there’s another book out there that discusses these points. However, Femalia‘s only goal lies in the photographs. There is no denying that each woman is unique and it is the hope of Blank that when men and women view these photographs they will be more comfortable with their own bodies and the bodies of their partners.

I decided to purchase this book solely on the recommendations I came across while reading feminist texts. Truthfully, the only vulva I’m intimately acquainted with is my own. There are also depictions in pornography, but we know some of those women get labiaplasty surgery to make their vulva more “acceptable.” Hearing all of this is disconcerting, especially when (as far as being a straight woman is concerned) I consider my own to be “normal” but it’s also all I know. Taking that into consideration, I decided to purchase this book and I have to agree with my fellow feminists and concur that all women should know the many different shapes and colors and variations of other women’s bodies. This way, when we hear people shaming or criticizing their own bodies or the bodies of others, we can present them with the facts. After all, if all female bodies have it, how can it be “unfeminine,” or “ugly,” or “not right looking.” We live in a society where a mom tweets a picture of sandwiches to compare her daughters “vaginas” to that of Taylor Swift. Someone never told that woman that vaginas (and by vaginas, I mean vulvas) don’t work that way. Hopefully, someone will inform her daughters. (Check out the tweet HERE and read the comments for a good laugh.)

If this review teaches you anything, it’s that the outside ladybits is the vulva; and the inside is the vagina. I never cared enough to make the distinction since “vagina” is our society’s default word for lady parts, but Blank’s book has made me change my mind, and I hope to change all of your minds! If we cannot correctly name and label our bodies, how do we protect and love ourselves, thus teaching our partners to do the same? Language holds power over us. It gives us agency and allows us to empower ourselves. Let’s not take for granted that empowered women empower women.

I’m pairing this book with Good JuJu by Left Hand Brewery because all vulvas are good juju. This beer has a crisp, fresh hint of ginger that is refreshing and light.

Format: Paperback.

Nick Hornby’s Funny Girl

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3.5 Stars

Few if any authors capture obsessive and hapless male characters as well as Nick Hornby, so I was hesitant to start Funny Girl after picking up my copy because Hornby tries to capture female characters as well but often falls a little flat.  It was a wonderful surprise for me at how wonderful Hornby’s titular funny girl, Sophie Straw, really is.  Born Barbara Parker, the character is funny, charismatic, and sublimely well rounded.  After winning the Miss Liverpool title in the first few pages of the book, Barbara realizes that isn’t the life she wants. She relinquishes the title and runs to London where she wants to be the next Lucille Ball.

Barbara, now going by the stage name Sophie Shaw goes to read for a BBC comedy and the writers fall in love with her presence and rewrite the script around her.  At this point Hornby takes his only misstep, a pretty large one, he shifts the story from not just Sophie but to the two writers Tony and Bill, the producer Dennis and even her costar Clive.  It’s sad because Sophie is such a wonderful character but also understandable as Hornby starts to tackle a lot more than just a quirky sitcom star.

The setting is 1960s London where homosexuality is a crime, a woman is just meant to look good and find a man, and comedy is viewed as an inferior form of  entertainment. Hornby uses Sophie’s small town upbringing as a contrast with the views of the optimistic and worldly Dennis and the jaded Clive.  The big reason for the shift is we see this world through the eyes of Tony a bisexual who has opted to be happy in the marriage to his wife June while Bill struggles with both his homosexuality, as well as his desire to create something society deems as real art.

Hornby manages to discuss a lot of serious issues such as sexuality, sexism, repression, elitism, and so much more all while still giving a fun, enjoyable read.  Even with all their faults and failures, he loves these characters that he has created but none more than Sophie. “She wasn’t the sort of catch one could take home and show off to people; she was the sort of catch that drags the angler off the end of the pier and pulls him out to sea before tearing him to pieces as he’s drowning. He shouldn’t have been fishing at all, not when he was so ill-equipped.” That line wasn’t just about a potential male suitor, but all the guys that encounter her as she is the catalyst for where their lives go from here.

I decided to pair this book with Passion Fruit Kicker by Green Flash Brewery.  I don’t usually drink wheat or fruit beers, so it felt appropriate for such an ambitious novel from Hornby.  It helps that this new experience in both beer and novel came from consistent favorites in Green Flash and Nick Hornby.

Format: Trade Paperback