Miss Fickle Critic: On Goodreads and in Hippocampus Magazine

Hey, Fickle Readers! It’s time for some blatant self-promotion! Those of you not among my personal cadre (and therefore not privy to my various lunatic rantings and blatherings) may not realize that I’m not only a creative writer, I’m also (surprise!) a budding book critic. I’ve just signed up for another year of reviewing at Hippocampus Magazine, an excellent all-creative nonfiction online journal. I’m also determined to write up more of my glorious opinions on Goodreads, because I really really want to keep getting free books to review. Really.

So here’s the latest on my fickle reading adventures:

One book you should definitely read, especially if you’re into creative nonfiction of the most intense, transformative kind, is Cynthia Barnett’s Rain: A Natural and Cultural History.

This is what the cover looks like. Go read this book immediately.

This is a book that steals into your life with a simple premise that, you soon realize, has gigantic, perspective-changing implications. Also, the title was long-listed for the National Book Award in Creative Nonfiction. Tragically, it didn’t move on in the process, even though I wish it had. (Admittedly, the field was probably more competitive than usual this year. Hard to beat Ta-Nehisi Coates.)

Despite the awards game, though, this is book is worth every minute you spend with it. Go forth and read.

I wish I could say the same for Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time. Vintage Books has commissioned a whole bunch of high-profile authors to write novel adaptations of Shakespeare plays (it’s called the Hogarth Shakespeare Initiative, in case you’re interested). When I heard about the project, I was so thoroughly excited I signed right up to get an actual physical review copy of the book and I GOT ONE, sent to my actual real-life address. I felt so validated I just sat around appreciating the cover for a while.

And, yeah, it’s a pretty cool cover.

Much to my dismay, the book itself isn’t all that great. Granted, you may have to take my opinion with a grain of salt, since I have sunk a lot of time and energy into studying The Winter’s Tale, on which Winterson based her novel. And granted, it would probably give someone with little to no familiarity with the play a pretty solid introduction to the original. The problem is, if that uninitiated person ever got to read or see The Winter’s Tale, he or she would probably be ready to set the bear on Leontes right from the beginning. Because Winterson’s Leo is just that awful. He’s vicious, self-centered, and whiny and deserves none of Shakespeare’s (or anyone’s) much-vaunted forgiveness, which the original play is also known for. If you’re curious, I’d say get this book out of the library. Otherwise, wait for Margaret Atwood to write her adaptation of The Tempest.


Thank You, Mike Thomas –and, Once Again, Godspeed Jan Hooks

Howdy, Fickle Readers!

Unfortunately (or, as Little Fickle would say, unfortunarily), I don’t have time to give this piece the thorough analysis it deserves. But I did want to let everyone who’s been following my modest Jan Hooks coverage know that Mike Thomas, the journalist who published a biography of Phil Hartman in 2014, has just published a lovely retrospective article in Grantland on Hooks’s life and death. In the piece, he fully discloses the details of Hooks’s struggles with anxiety, isolation, and illness, as well as her rocky relationship with her own fame and talent. It’s an eye-opening piece. In this day and age, when fame is one of the be-all, end-all life goals for many, when someone invented not only the selfie but the selfie stick (hopefully someday God will forgive us for that monstrosity), Hooks seemed to be searching for a middle ground–one that would let her be herself and pursue her creative interests without having to get entangled with the demanding, draining constraints that showbiz puts on its actors. I’m not sure that she ever found it, but she did seem to find some peace being able to control the work that she took on and (maybe) being able to be herself when no one was all that interested in her quirky take on life.

I don’t know. I’m trying to glean a positive spin on her largely sad ending. Thomas works very hard to show that Hooks lived and died on her own terms. Many in modern Western society might deem those terms tragic–an early death in a remote location, far from the eyes of critics and fans alike–but Thomas insists that she made all her own decisions, and one of those decisions was that the limelight wasn’t for her. One wonders if the reason why she disliked the entertainment world so much was because there was no place for an original voice like hers.

I hope that Thomas or others will continue the discussion on Hooks. I hope this article means that there may be a new biography coming out. Hooks deserves her own space, despite the fact that she decided to abandon the very thing that placed her in the public eye. In an age when Julia Roberts is the gold standard for the ambitious actress, it behooves us to examine what fame means to women who are not the ideal and, moreover, don’t want to be.

Dreaming of Cars: Driving from the Backseat

Last night, I dreamed I was driving to a friend’s house. The roads were hard to navigate and hard to see. When I was about to make a turn, I realized I was in the back seat. So I pulled over–I’d wound up in this situation before–and carefully climbed into the front. Only after that did I discover I’d already reached my destination.

[UPDATED]The One Year Anniversary of Jan Hooks’s Death: She’s Still Funny

UPDATE: Astute reader Elizabeth points out that Kevin Nealon confirmed that Hooks had cancer in a December 2014 Howard Stern interview (see the link in the comment below). Nealon and Stern also discuss how Hooks moved out of the city after 9/11, and how Hooks had recently gotten a laptop before her death (Stern sort of fishes around, asking whether Hooks was “off the grid” in her final years.) All information I’ve never heard before, and all “tantalizing,” as Nealon might say. (He uses the word over and over in reference to his friendship with Hooks that turned into a relationship and then back into a friendship. I’m not quite sure what Nealon meant by it. Either he was trying to put off Stern’s more probing questions or he kind of doesn’t know what “tantalizing” means. You readers can have a listen and see what you think.)

Thanks for the heads up, Elizabeth!


Hey, Fickle Readers! A year ago today, the great Jan Hooks passed away at the age of 57. A year ago tomorrow is the one year anniversary of the post I wrote about the loss of this wonderful yet underrated actress. To this day, there’s still no official word on what she died of. The only article online that mentions her cause of death is from the Daily Mail, and they got their information from random neighbors and the head of the co-op building where she lived. No go-getting milennial journalists have gone out and tracked down Hooks’s story. As far as I can tell, no one has even done a retrospective of her life, although a few of us, like blogger Little Kicks Dance and Austin (who contributed a guest post to my site), have been cobbling together what pieces we can find online and elsewhere. Mostly, you can find stories about her in interviews and biographies of fellow actors and friends. It’s kind of a shame, though. She really ought to have her own corner in the pantheon of modern actresses and comedians. We shouldn’t have to go scrounging and filling in the gaps to know who she was.

One thing we know for sure: she was really damn funny. Today, I found yet another SNL sketch–one I don’t think I ever saw before–of her performing as Bette Davis’s living will. Not only is this a nicely preserved portion of the late 20th century (Phil Hartman, who plays Davis’s son, acts shocked when he hears he’s going to “see” his mother speaking to them), it’s another fine example of Hooks’s over-the-top kookiness. She never stops with one or two gags–she always pushes herself to come up with something new. Also, it seems like she does the fast-forward noises on the VCR herself. Really goofy fun.

Above is a picture of Hooks as Davis. The link to the video is here. Enjoy!


[UPDATED] Gun Violence Today: This Is What You Get When You Let the Kids Run the Candy Store

UPDATE: In case anyone’s interested, the Washington Post now has an article on the Michigan Home Depot shooter, who has yet to be charged. Officials haven’t disclosed her identity, either. (Twenty bucks says she’s white. If she isn’t–if she has brown skin or is of any ethnicity other than Caucasian–I want to be the first on record to applaud the Auburn Hills PD for their restraint. In some places here in the U.S., had a brown-skinned woman opened fire in a public area, she’d probably have a bashed-in face from being forced to the pavement, whether or not she was “cooperating fully with the investigation.” In some places here in the U.S., such a shooter would be dead.)

For what it’s worth, I’ve had a really hard time talking about the latest shootings in Oregon. I feel like at this point, half my life would be taken up with writing about the latest gun-related deaths, and how needless they all were, and how fueled by entitlement, paranoia, and madness. Hell, I’m starting to feel like I don’t even need to post links to any specific articles anymore. We all know this shit is wrong. We all know our country has a problem, even though some of us aren’t willing to admit it.

But this story out of Auburn Hills, Michigan, really takes the cake. It seems that a 47-year-old woman, who HAS a permit to carry concealed weapons, decided she’d help out a Home Depot by shooting at a pair of fleeing shoplifters in the parking lot. Yes, you read that right. No this wasn’t some late-night fiasco. This happened in broad daylight, in the afternoon, while there were many other shoppers in the area.

Scott Eric Kaufman gets props–if he really wants them–for titling his article for Salon.com : “Good woman with a gun shoots up Home Depot parking lot trying to take down suspected shoplifters.”

And the SERIOUSLY depressing thing about this whole story is not that U.S. citizens seem to think it’s okay to treat all public places in the country as Wild West shoot-em-up zones. Nor is it the fact that someone actually thought it was acceptable to use deadly force to bring down a suspect or two in a space where many innocent bystanders could have been killed.

No, the truly upsetting little detail about this story is that the local authorities DON’T KNOW IF THEY’RE GOING TO CHARGE THE SHOOTER WITH ANYTHING. Because, you see, the woman didn’t hit anyone. She took out one of the tires on the fleeing car. The shoplifters still got away, but she maybe seemed like she knew what she was doing, maybe? She didn’t cause any injury, so the police are going to give her her own deputy star?

Do I really have to say this? Okay, but I’m not going to say it in giant capital letters…

What the fuck, America?

More to the point, what the fuck, Michigan? Do you really want random individuals with concealed weapons and law-and-order fantasies to pull out their pistols when the situation merely suggests that something dangerous is going on? Or have you been so beaten down by the NRA that you’re afraid to make one little peep that might be construed as a knock against the sanctity of guns?

Does it make a difference that this woman doesn’t seem to have had the slightest fucking CLUE about how GENUINE law enforcement officials judge whether or not they can get a clear shot? Does this woman understand that she could have KILLED SOMEONE JUST SO SHE COULD BE THE GOOD GUY WITH A GUN?

Yeah, I lied. I did use capital letters after all. But all of these situations, where masses of people are getting shot at on a daily basis, is so blatantly unacceptable that I personally don’t know how I can discuss the matter without letting out some of the inchoate rage that I feel about the subject.

Let me be Mother Fickle for a moment. Guns are not toys. Guns are not fashion accessories. Nor are they acceptable conveyances for expressing your own private outrage of the moment.

The “good guy with a gun” image is just that–an image. As in, exists in people’s imaginations. Good guys with guns don’t stop crimes in real life. And some people even start out as good guys with guns (ie, gun enthusiasts, men and women who legally purchase weapons) and wind up as bad guys with guns (murderers or murder-suicide perpetrators).

Seriously, folks. This isn’t about denying anyone’s theoretical rights, or quashing anyone’s ego, or attacking anyone personally. This is about safety and common sense.

We need to stop screaming at each other and start getting things done. Start talking to each other like adults. Start acting like parents and not children.

Seriously. Didn’t parents use to be in charge of the country back in the day?