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.



P.D. James and the Fickle Sun

The mud-grey sea heaved sluggishly under a sky the colour of thin milk, faintly luminous at the horizon as if the fickle sun were about once more to break through.

–P.D. James, Children of Men

Oh, Those Fickle, Fickle Women: Part II

Now with fat jokes…

Nevertheless, in extremely confidential moments, he had sometimes been heard to avow, that at one stage of his career his very life had seemed to depend upon the smiles of a certain Emily. She had been fickle and false, however; still, he had survived her ill-treatment of him, and if injured in heart, had thrived and fattened in regard to other portions of his anatomy.

–“An Engaged Man,” Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Arts,

Saturday August 6, 1870

Oh, Those Fickle, Fickle Women

The young Uchiha, once again, glowered at the object in his palms and threw the frame. This time, it fell under his bed. He chose to leave it there, for that is where it belonged. Out of sight. Sasuke had come to the conclusion that women simply use you, toy with you, and then toss you away. His father betrayed his mother because of a woman. Sasuke is in so much pain because of a woman that betrayed his trust.

Love is a fickle and foolish thing,

There is no such thing as love,

Only hate, only solitude, only pain…

–from Love Is a Fickle ThingChapter 1

Shakespeare Is Everywhere: The Bard vs The Beach

This comes from a book Little Fickle has been reading: Mr. Sunny Is Funny!, by Dan Gutman. Note how Shakespeare is defined as the antithesis of everything fun about summer vacation:

That Shakespeare guy made no sense at all. The question isn’t to be or not to be. I’ll tell you what the question is. Do you want ice cream or cake? That is the question. Trick biking or skateboarding? That is the question. TV or video games? That is the question. Would it be better if a piano or an elephant fell on Andrea’s head? That is the question.

Andrea lined up her dumb books on a shelf in ABC order.

“Hey, maybe we can read together on the beach, Arlo!” Andrea said. “What did you bring for summer reading?”

Summer reading?! What is her problem? “Summer” and “reading” are two words that should never be put together in the same sentence. The only reading I brought was a comic book that I finished in the car. It was about a superhero named Mold Man who can turn his body into any shape. He’s cool. I bet Mold Man would kick Shakespeare’s butt.

Paule Marshall: The Center of Life

I managed to find that other passage I typed out and taped to my wall in college. I’ll include a bit more of the book for context, and because I might have quoted more had I known more about life back then. From Brown Girl, Brownstones:

Faces hung like portraits in her mind as she walked down Fulton Street: Suggie and her violated body, Miss Mary living posthumously amid her soiled sheets, Miss Thompson bearing the life-sore and enduring, Clive and his benign despair, her father beguiled by dreams even as he drowned in them, the mother hacking a way through life like a man lost in the bush.

Those faces, those voices, those lives touching hers had ruined her, yet, she sensed–letting her gown trail on the sidewalk–they had bequeathed her a small strength. She had only this to sustain her all the years. And it did not seem enough. It might be quickly spent and she might fall, broken before her time and still far from the center of life. For that was the quest. And a question flickered in her mind like a reflection of the lights flickering along the street: What was at the center?–the neon drake over the White Drake Bar floated, glittered, and went out–Peace, perhaps, as fleeting as that was, and the things that shaped it: love, a clearer vision, a place…

–Paule Marshall

Harper Lee Publishes a Second Novel, and the Literary World Explodes

Like me, perhaps, you woke up this morning to discover that 55 years after she published To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee is coming out with a second novel. Like me, you may also have been leaping out of your chair and thinking what a miracle it is that an 88-year-old woman finally decided to give fiction a second try. Eighty-eight years old! Harper Lee, you rock my world, I thought to myself after the chair hit the floor.

Well, the real story isn’t quite as awesome as that second-blooming-late-in-life tale that I made up for myself. But it is, indeed, worth everyone’s amazement at how sometimes without warning, the God of Stories delivers a treasure to the world. As you may or may not know, Lee only ever wrote one novel. This soon-to-be-published new work, Go Set a Watchman, is actually an old work: it was her first attempt at a novel, and it was about a woman named Jean Louise Finch going back to her hometown to visit her father. Apparently, the editor liked the flashback material so much, he (and I’m assuming it was a he–maybe not, though) encouraged Lee to base a different novel on Jean Louise’s childhood. That story became To Kill a Mockingbird; Jean Louise Finch became Scout, and her father became Atticus Finch, the attorney who defends a black man accused of raping a white woman.

It’s hard to say whether or not Go Set a Watchman will be as good as To Kill a Mockingbird. In fact, what the hell am I saying? Chances are infintesimal that anyone on the planet will believe that this new work–the actual first novel written by Harper Lee–will even approach the greatness of the novel that made it to publication. The Internet will give birth to a bunch of naysayers and reputation-chewers who will whine and complain about why anyone bothered to publish this book in the first place. (Or so I predict, as anyone else might predict given the nature of the Internet.) I’m hoping, though, that the Internet opinion-setters in particular will accept this book for what it is: an experiment, as all novels are; a first shot at creating a story; a chance to see how a brilliant author’s mind works as that mind was captured mid-process.

And who knows? This second novel might tell a good story in its own right. But it doesn’t have to. The mythos that we’ve collectively created around To Kill a Mockingbird, and the way that the book changed our culture, has already made the book valuable to us, no matter how it turns out. So, I guess what I’m saying is, screw you, future Internet trolls! Whatever problems Go Set a Watchman  may have (and I’m not saying it won’t, and I’m not saying it’s bad to bring up valid criticisms if and when they’re found), this book will still be important and Harper Lee will still be one of my all-time literary heroes.