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.


Notes on Old Postcards: From Salina, Kansas

[Addressed to Mrs. K.A. Roome, 192 Claremont Ave, Montclair, New Jersey]


Aug. 18, 1929

Sunday 8:30 PM

Dearest Folks,

Here we are at this hotel. [Warren Hotel, on reverse.] Very comfortable and all O.K. Had a long ride of 260 miles today over prairie land & it was hot & dusty but it is cool now & I’m sure we’ll sleep well & be ready for another ride tomorrow. We surely are seeing a lot of interesting things & I’ll tell you all about them. Love from all, George & Lillian

[Picture to come when I figure out how to work my scanner.]

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.

Favorite Poems for a Crappy Day: “The World Is Too Much With Us” (William Wordsworth, 1806)

All through my sophomore year in college, I had a typed version of this poem taped to my dorm room wall, along with a passage from Paule Marshall’s Brown Girl, Brownstones. Not sure why I stopped taping poems to walls. Maybe it’s because I don’t own a working typewriter anymore.

THE world is too much with us; late and soon,
          Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
          Little we see in Nature that is ours;
          We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
          The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
          The winds that will be howling at all hours,
          And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
          For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
          It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be
          A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;                         10
          So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
          Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
          Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
          Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

Yet Another Non-Update on Jan Hooks

So my little blog has been experiencing yet another spike of interest from the outside world. I’m guessing it’s because of the big SNL reunion show, which earned super-high ratings for NBC, despite the station’s usual status as the lovable loser of broadcast TV. People (apparently) are checking in to see if anyone’s posted any newsworthy tidbits about the late comedienne. And once again, I’m hear to tell ya: there’s nothing. No further comments from the family, no intrepid young journalists publishing a big exposé about Hooks’s final years. I wonder if someone out there is trying to dig up some more information. Honestly, I can’t imagine why there wouldn’t be interest. An incredibly talented TV star who fades early and dies young–that seems like a story to me, even though I’m not a journalist and, in fact, am just basing this opinion on what I like to read. There’s always been something compelling to me about life lived in the margins.

I realize that calling Hooks’s life “marginal” is probably a misuse of the term. There are, in fact, people out there who are not actors or comediennes, people who are forced to the edges of society (whether because of their bodies, their beliefs, their gender, or their lack of resources) and people whose entire cultures thrive on the “margins” of the world (even if those so-called margins take up entire continents’ worth of land). I’m not trying to devalue any of these people–I’d love it if we had more input from everywhere, especially our planet’s many overlooked spaces, where so much living and dying happen. I’m also not trying to redefine marginality as worthy of note only if you’re lucky enough to exist right outside the shadow of greatness–in the Brooklyn beside Manhattan’s promised land. Absolutely not. But I also opened this can of worms on my blog, and Hooks does still fascinate me as a woman of SNL (a major marginal space at least in the demographic landscape of this particular TV show) and as someone who worked hard to get something only to have it mysteriously evaporate at the end of her life. I’m a born-and-bred meritocrat, educated in the Cinderella story of the American middle class, and when a person gets her due and then loses it, I want to know what happened.

I know, too, that the story I’ve outlined here (the pull-up-your-bootstraps rise to prominence and tragic fall from grace) may not be Hooks’s story. I may be projecting. I do that a lot. But I can’t say if I’m right or wrong because there’s nothing out there to be found. Gaps in the record fascinate me, too. Derrida’s aporia, the lacunae in memory–holes in the knowledge base, especially in the age of Google, don’t seem like they should exist.

Since I’m a sickly middle-aged wife and mother and not a budding journalist, I’m not going to search out the story of Jan Hooks. I’m going to sit here in my little wifi-connected bubble and wait for someone else (probably a milennial) to do that. But I will leave all you Fickle Readers out there with a few items to temporarily patch up those knowledge gaps until the youngsters come along: one, a tribute to Hooks published by Sarah Larson in The New Yorker, which has some nice analysis and links to sketches; two, this New York Magazine article (found by an intrepid anonymous tipster!) that mentions Hooks and her smoking habit; three, this interview with early 90s SNL alum Melanie Hutsell, which doesn’t have much to do with Hooks but does discuss Hutsell’s iconic Jan Brady impersonation and her fans in the gay community. Enjoy!

New Fickleness for a New Year!

Hey, all you Fickle Readers out there! Happy New…er…February! A couple of days early!

I know you’ve all been waiting with bated breath to see what new features my blog has to offer for 2015. Or maybe you were waiting to see if I was going to do anything coherent at all, besides posting random crap about Shakespeare, writing, current events, web stuff, and seemingly anything else that passes before my eyes.

Well, wait no longer! I, Miss Fickle Reader, am proud to announce that I have officially changed the name of my blog! Yes, indeed–careful readers will now note that the title is no longer the eponymous “Miss Fickle Reader” but the more descriptive “Miss Fickle Reader’s Commonplace Blog.” This new moniker is not a concession to anyone who things my blog is ordinary, dull, or easy to overlook (although it may be all three of those things). In fact, what I’m referencing here is the idea of the Renaissance commonplace book, a blank book in which literate men and women (mostly men) would jot down a collection of ideas, quotes, and information in one big jumble that they could take with them and share with friends. Sort of like Pinterest on paper. For a while now, I’ve been wondering how I could re-shape this blog into something a wee bit more focused. Finally, I realized the problem was with concept and not content. I love gathering ideas in jumbles. I love finding associations in things I wouldn’t have guessed were related. Hence the new name and new freedom to jot down things on instinct rather than to a plan. (That rarely works for me. I’m an absolute adolescent when it comes to doing stuff I feel like have to do.)

In a related note, I’m going to try to write smaller, more meditative posts on a more regular basis. I’m determined to do this because my good friend and fellow poet and essay writer (also former poetry editor of Mid-American Review) Karen Craigo has a new blog, Better View of the Moon, on which she posts every day, despite anything else that’s going on in her life. Her work is gorgeous, and the project inspiring. I want to try to be as dedicated–not to mention as flat-out great–as Karen. So I’m going to try harder to overcome my short attention span and wordlessness (those moments when I don’t have the energy or the focus to put words together) to get more out on the page.

The third thing–and, yes, this has been a slight distraction in my life recently–is that I’ve started doing book reviews! I now officially have a Goodreads page as well as a new, experimental site I like to call Miss Fickle Reader’s Roster of Unfinished Books.  In accordance with the Precious Seconds Rule (which, in case you need a refresher, is discussed here and here), I intend to write accounts of what happened that made me stop reading a book. These are NOT meant as reasons not to read the book (at least not necessarily). Much of the impulse to keep reading or stop reading has to do with the reader herself. The idea behind the roster is, instead, to see what takes readers out of a story, what sorts of issues trigger reader stoppage, etc. The whole thing may turn out only to be a tool for writers who are revising longer works. Hopefully, it won’t turn into a vehicle for raining author anger on my head.

So that’s the news from here in Fickleland. Now I have to go tend to Little Fickle, who came home sick from school. (He’s not terribly sick–naturally, he has enough energy to watch TV and play video games.) Cheers for now!