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Thursday, July 30, 2015

This Is Not the Shaggy-Dog Story We Thought It Was

 You think you know someone...

dog in the car riding safely in harness The 3 Rs Blog

When we first brought our dog home in November 2014, he came with a story:
"Chester is an adorable 3-year-old petite Golden mix who loves to receive cuddles and attention, and gives plenty of kisses in return. Chester’s favorite pastimes are chasing tennis balls and making a game of giving the ball back to his people, playing with his knotted rope, and getting walks – there is so much to sniff along the way! Although Chester is fine being left alone in the house, he is definitely a 'people person,' and always wants to be with his family no matter what they are doing – homework, watching television, hiking, whatever. Chester was surrendered to Forever Friends Golden Retriever Rescue when his family had to leave the country for an extended period. Chester does not get along well with cats, although other dogs are ok. He knows his basic commands and is a fast learner – especially when treats are provided as incentive!"
Within a day, we'd decided that "Chester" was short for "Winchester," officially changed his name in homage to our favorite pair of Supernatural TV brothers. and were speculating as to what was mixed with his Golden. The folks with the rescue group believed it might be Cocker Spaniel, but his resemblance to Teddy, a Golden/Corgi mix, made us suspect that combination. Golden Retriever seemed obvious; his size made "Golden Retriever and something smaller" a good answer when people asked "What kind of dog is he?"

dog lying on floor in front of bookcase The 3 Rs Blog
Winchester: official mascot of The 3 R's Blog since November 2014
But we wanted more of an answer. There are temperaments, traits, and predispositions that are specific to every breed of dog, and the mix may amplify some and moderate others. That information can help you train and take better care of your dog, in addition to providing a literal answer to the question "Where does that behavior come from?" When we brought Winchester to the vet for his annual checkup and vaccinations this spring, we had them take a blood sample for a Wisdom Panel DNA/Genetic Health Analysis test.

In addition to analyzing for ancestry markers, this test identified genetic markers that could indicate potential health problems. When the results came in, we learned that Winchester is missing a blood-clotting factor, which means he could bleed heavily if he is injured or undergoes surgery. It may never be an issue. Hopefully, now that we're aware of it and can be watchful, we may be able to keep it from being an issue. It's a very good thing for us, and our vet, to know this about him.

dog sitting on chair looking thoughtful The 3 Rs Blog

The GHA traced Winchester's ancestry back three generations and found indicators for about eight different breeds, five of which were listed in the report as "statistically likely" but not specifically identified with any ancestor. Three breeds were predominant in the mix, and one breed came from both sides; one grandparent was a purebred.

The "something smaller" in Winchester's mix is apparently two somethings, one on each side. One parent was part Maltese, and the other was part Pekingese. Given that Paul and I are usually pretty dismissive of most dog breeds in the toy group, it never even occurred to us that there might be two of them in Winchester's mix, and this was a real surprise! However, we've definitely seen the Maltese attributes of intelligence, playfulness, and gentleness in Winchester, as well as the Pekingese tendencies to occasional stubbornness and defensiveness with larger dogs.

dog playing with three toy balls and a rope The 3 Rs Blog

Aside from those little issues--which we and the trainers at his daycare are working on--Winchester is usually even-tempered and cheerful. He loves to ride in the car and play in the water. He loves to chase balls and bring them back, although he has to be prompted to actually give them to you. In behavior as well as in appearance, he is a retriever--and the GHA results made that official!

The purebred grandparent was a Labrador Retriever. On both sides, Winchester is genetically a Labrador Retriever mix. This is perfectly fine with us. Labradors have been America's most popular breed for over twenty years, They're Paul's favorite of all dog breeds. And if Labs are the most popular breed, why shouldn't we expect Lab to show up very frequently in mixed breeds as well?

Winchester is a medium-sized dog in both height and weight, which does make him "petite" by retriever standards (and huge for a Maltese). His coat is soft, fluffy, and a gorgeous golden color...and yet, not one of the eight breeds identified in his genetic makeup is Golden Retriever. The dog we adopted from a Golden Retriever rescue group was merely passing as a Golden, and he had everyone--including his original owners, apparently--fooled.

Our shaggy dog is not the dog we thought he was, but we're excited to know what makes him the dog he actually is, and he's still our golden boy no matter what.

dog in Star Trek bed from thinkgeek.com The 3 Rs Blog
Gold is the "command" color in Starfleet, so why shouldn't this golden boy have his own captain's chair?

Have you ever thought about having a pet DNA tested? If you've done it, what did you learn, and did it surprise you?
(This is not a sponsored post. We paid for the Wisdom Panel/GHA test we ordered through our veterinarian, and I wanted to share the process and the results.)

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Book (Purge) Report

I declared my intention to do it over a month ago. It's been nagging at me for far longer, but as it approached, I became ever more excited about undertaking it. I took last week off from work to get it done. The Big Book Purge of 2015 is now history, and so are nearly 400 books that have left both my house and my LibraryThing catalog.

books on the shelves to be boxed and donated book purge The 3 Rs Blog

That's a good-guesstimate number--I didn't do a physical count. The discards included a sizable number of for-review-consideration ARCs that I didn't consider, and therefore never cataloged in LT, and the LT deletions included well over 100 books I'd previously discarded but hadn't removed from the catalog--I'm setting those two items off against one another to approximate the total.

I started with the easy stuff. I don't keep many books after I finish reading them, and I had stacked a good number of "done" books with the unconsidered galleys on a couple of shelves in the garage. Those were the first to go, on Tuesday afternoon--after I'd moved all the books that were cataloged into a new LT collection I named "Purge," I loaded them into the car and dropped them off in an American Book Drive donation bin.

Next on the degree-of-difficulty scale were the bookshelves holding nonfiction and the ARCs I call "expired"--the ones I never got around to reading when they really were "advance" copies. (Some have been around so long they've probably been through hardcover, paperback, and remainders by now.) My nonfiction reading tends to be subject-driven, so in most cases I kept the book if I was still interested in the subject. I asked myself two questions about any book I wasn't certain about:
  • "Why was I interested in this?" and
  • "Am I still interested in this?"
The answer "I don't know" to the first question and "No" to the second landed the book in the discard stacks. The same process worked for the expired ARCs, both nonfiction and fiction.

books stacked on the table book purge The 3 Rs Blog

I saved the fiction shelves for the second day of the project, because I knew they'd be more work. I didn't take every book off the nonfiction shelves and handle it before making a decision about it--this was not a full-blown KonMari process--but on the fiction side, I had to.  I asked myself the same questions as I had for nonfiction, and then some. I read plot descriptions, reevaluated authors I once read habitually but no longer do, and reconsidered writers whose books I seemed to collect rather than read.

book stacks on the table book purge The 3 Rs Blog

My reason for tackling this project was to make an honest and realistic assessment of my TBR, which is most of what was on these shelves. I think I've long since overcome my fear of running out of books to read, but I am increasingly apprehensive about running out of time to read them. That focus meant I didn't spend much time on the relatively small number of books I have kept after reading. I've long since made my decisions about most of those...but I did reconsider just a few of them this time around, and they're not here any more.

midlife readers running out of time The 3 Rs Blog


I've excluded signed books from previous purges, but I decided not to do that this time around. Books that were signed, but not personalized, went. A few that were personalized, but which I haven't read and which didn't generate affirmative answers to my questions about whether I might still want to, also went.

One outcome of sorting the signed books was that I kept almost no hardcover fiction that wasn't personally inscribed to me by the author...because, honestly, hardcover is my least favorite way to read anything. Here are a few other observations and outcomes:
  • It was a bit demoralizing to note how many purge victims were acquired during my three trips to Book Expo (2011, 2012, and 2014). Although I came back with fewer books every year, it's hard not to succumb to the buzz.
  • It just made me sad to pick up so many of the novels and be able to picture them on the tables at Borders, where I first found them. I still miss Borders. 
  • I discarded unread books that came to California with me when I moved here from Memphis...thirteen years ago. I bought some of those at Borders in Memphis, so they've been with me even longer than that. After over a decade of TBR neglect, it was well past time to cut my losses, and I don't feel terribly guilty about it.
  • On a related note, I feel NO guilt at finally admitting I do not intend to read The Corrections--goodbye to Jonathan Franzen! He left with almost all of the Joyce Carol Oates books. Getting rid of those may have been the real goal of this entire project, to be honest.
books and boxes loaded in the car book purge The 3 Rs Blog

I moved all of the soon-to-depart books to my "purge" collection in LibraryThing. Then I used LT's new "take inventory" feature to identify any books in my "to read" collection which I hadn't handled in the last couple of days; I marked those as "absent" and moved them to the "purge" collection, too. I exported the "purge" collection to an Excel file so I'd have a record of what I was losing, and then I deleted all of those books from LT. If I want any of them again at some point in the future, there's always ebook or audio (and my brand-new library card!).

Finally, the books left the house--some to the book-drive bin, and the rest to be donated to the library. And now I get to bask in the new spaces on my bookshelves...till they get filled up again, of course. I doubt this is the last time I'll ever have to do this.

bookshelves with space for more books book purge The 3 Rs Blog

Have you ever done a big book purge? Do you need to? How do you find new homes for your books?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Reader's Journal: DIETLAND by Sarai Walker (audiobook read by Tara Sands)

I was a tiny child, small and thin. Pregnancy at the age of nineteen changed the “thin” for good—I never got any taller, but I did gradually get bigger. At several inches under five feet tall, I don’t have a lot of wiggle room on the BMI scale, and I’ve spent most of the last twenty years or so entrenched in the “overweight” bracket, occasionally tipping over into “obese”. I worked at achieving Lifetime Member status in Weight Watchers, and then watched the weight return. I’ve adjusted and readjusted eating habits. I’ve been prescribed medications to manage my blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. But if I were carrying the same number of pounds dispersed over just six more inches of height (which would make me 5’2”), my weight would probably cause me very little trouble at all.


With all that as preamble, I doubt I would have read Sarai Walker’s Dietland if it weren’t for the bloggers. I’d already pre-judged it much as Leah did before she cracked it open:
”Based on the cover and title of Dietland, I was expecting something fluffy and shallow. I mean, an overweight woman working for a NYC magazine? How many times has that been done in chick lit?”
But Jeanne whetted my interest by revealing just how much this was not a book to be judged by its cover:
’How could I resist a satiric novel about dieting titled Dietland and featuring a picture of a hand-grenade cupcake with sprinkles and a cherry on its cover? This new novel by Sarai Walker is delightful reading for anyone who has ever tried a reducing diet, and practically required for anyone who, like me, has tried lots of them including one with terrible-tasting pre-packaged food like the ‘Baptist diet’ in the novel.”
And then April featured it in a “Fabulous Feminist Friday” review:
Dietland takes on all the issues. Gender inequality, fat shaming being one of the last acceptable prejudices, beauty culture. The writing is good, there are some characters that seem a little underdeveloped, but I almost wonder if this was intentional – if these characters are less characters and more caricatures. For me that worked with the satire and social commentary that Walker was creating.”
And in one of those odd coincidences of life and art, I was in the middle of reading the audiobook when I got together with a long-time friend who recently had the weight-loss surgery that Dietland’s protagonist, Alicia “Plum” Kettle, is preparing for when the novel opens.

At thirty years old, Plum has been obese since childhood and is a veteran of nearly every weight-loss plan in existence. Convinced there’s a thin woman trying to get out of the body she refuses to describe as “fat,” she’s sure that weight-loss surgery is the only way to make that happen; she’s biding her time and saving her money until her “real,” thin-person life can start. And if this were all there was to Dietland, I could have stopped at my pre-judging.

As Plum’s ideas about who she is, and who she’s meant to be, are challenged by the members of a feminist collective, the country is riveted by a series of attacks on men linked to various sex-related offenses. It’s not a spoiler to note that these threads will come together eventually, as the activities of the activist (terrorist?) known only as “Jennifer” serve as reaction to and commentary on the objectification, subjugation, and depersonalization of modern women, while Plum’s personal experiences embody them.

That summary makes Dietland sound pretty serious…and it is. And yet it isn’t. It has serious points to make, but Sarai Walker makes them with intelligence and humor; the humor occasionally goes a bit over the top, but that’s not out of step with the novel’s satirical nature. Provocative and sometimes discomforting, particularly in its depictions of pornography, Dietland didn’t exactly defy my expectations—my blogger friends had given me a very good idea of what expectations to have—but it was a deeper, more satisfying read than its cover alone would have led me to expect.

Rating: Book, 3.75 of 5; Audio, 4 of 5

Dietland
Sarai Walker (Twitter) (Facebook)
Audiobook read by Tara Sands
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (May 2015), Hardcover (ISBN 054437343X / 9780544373433)
Fiction, 320 pages
Source: Purchased audiobook (Highbridge Audio, May 2015; ISBN 9781622316137)

Book description, from the publisher’s website
Plum Kettle does her best not to be noticed, because when you’re fat, to be noticed is to be judged. Or mocked. Or worse. With her job answering fan mail for a popular teen girls’ magazine, she is biding her time until her weight-loss surgery. Only then can her true life as a thin person finally begin. 

But when Plum notices she’s being followed by a mysterious woman in colorful tights and combat boots, she finds herself falling down a rabbit hole into the world of Calliope House, a community of women who live life on their own terms. Reluctant but intrigued, Plum agrees to a series of challenges that force her to deal with the real costs of becoming “beautiful.” At the same time, a dangerous guerilla group begins to terrorize a world that mistreats women, and as Plum grapples with her own personal struggles, she becomes entangled in a sinister plot. The consequences are explosive. 
Part coming-of-age story, part revenge fantasy, Dietland, is a bold, original, and funny debut novel that takes on the beauty industry, gender inequality, and our weight loss obsession—from the inside out, and with fists flying.
Opening lines:

"It was late in the spring when I noticed that a girl was following me, nearly the end of May, a month that means perhaps or might be. She crept into the edges of my consciousness like something blurry coming into focus. She was an odd girl, tramping around in black boots with the laces undone, her legs covered in bright fruit-hued tights, like the colors in a roll of Life Savers. I didn’t know why she was following me. People stared at me wherever I went, but this was different. To the girl I was not an object of ridicule but a creature of interest. She would observe me and then write things in her red spiral-bound notebook.

"The first time I noticed the girl in a conscious way was at the café. On most days I did my work there, sitting at a table in the back with my laptop, answering messages from teenage girls. Dear Kitty, I have stretch marks on my boobs, please help. There was never any end to the messages and I usually sat at my table for hours, sipping cups of coffee and peppermint tea as I gave out the advice I wasn’t qualified to give. For three years the café had been my world. I couldn’t face working at home, trapped in my apartment all day with nothing to distract me from the drumbeat of Dear Kitty,Dear Kitty, please help me.

“One afternoon I looked up from a message I was typing and saw the girl sitting at a table nearby, restlessly tapping her lime green leg, her canvas bag slouched in the chair across from her. I realized that I’d seen her before. She’d been sitting on the stoop of my building that morning. She had long dark hair and I remembered how she turned to look at me. Our eyes met and it was this look that I would remember in the weeks and months to come, when her face was in the newspapers and on TV — the glance over the shoulder, the eyes peeking out from the thick black liner that framed them.”

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Book Talk: A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY, by Lauren Grodstein

A Friend of the Family
Lauren Grodstein
Algonquin Books (2010), Paperback (ISBN 1616200170 / 9781616200176)
Fiction, 304 pages
Source: Purchased print edition


A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY Lauren Grodstein book review The 3 Rs Blog

While planning for our vacation to Seattle, I pulled some books from my shelves to consider bringing along. That stack fueled my thoughts about a “free range reading summer.” A Friend of the Family was one that came along for the trip. According to LibraryThing, I’ve had this novel on my shelves for about five years. I’m pretty sure I bought this copy at Borders, so it’s clearly been a while, and given the number of LT friends who also have it in their libraries, it’s also clearly one of those “books I bought because of other book bloggers.” (I wasn’t as wise to imprints then as I am now, but if I had been, the fact that this book came from Algonquin would have been one more point in its favor.)

A Friend of the Family is narrated by Dr. Pete Dizinoff, a man in midlife who is in crisis (not to be confused with “a man in midlife crisis,” but that may also be applicable). He and his wife are semi-separated (he’s living in the apartment above their garage). He is awaiting the verdict on a wrongful-death lawsuit after failing to diagnose a rare disease in a young female patient. And his college-age son, Alec, has shut him out after Pete’s interference drove his girlfriend off to parts unknown. Laura was the oldest daughter of the Dizinoffs’ closest friends, nearly a decade older than Alec, and their New Jersey town still remembers that she was once the teenage girl who secretly gave birth and then murdered the baby.

Early in the novel, it feels like author Lauren Grodstein gives similar weight to the deaths of Pete’s patient and Laura’s baby. This suggested to me that they might somehow be linked, and that stoked the sense of urgency and discomfort I felt throughout my reading of A Friend of the Family. But the emphasis on these events shifts further on into the story, until one wonders if the connection is simply that Pete’s preoccupation with trying to thwart Alec and Laura’s relationship left him inadequately attentive to his work. Ultimately, I may have been trying to make a connection that the author never intended. That left me a little frustrated, but it was less frustrating than the fact that I never felt I had a clear grasp on exactly why Pete was so motivated to interfere with Alec and Laura. Was he attracted to her himself? Did he still hold her teenage crime against her? Did he just not think she was good enough for his son?

Honestly, Pete might have been motivated by all of those reasons, or any of them, or others I can’t easily identify, and that’s actually what sustains A Friend of the Family It has the trappings of a thriller, but the suspense is driven by character rather than by plot. What frustrated me is integral to what makes this novel provocative and worthwhile. I’m not sure I’d call Pete Dizinoff an unreliable narrator, but I do think he’s ultimately an untrustworthy one. He’s both self-absorbed and self-deluded, which leads me to conclude that any lack of clarity in his intentions is fully intentional on Grodstein’s part; this novel is far too well-written to believe otherwise. I didn’t find this novel entirely satisfying, but I did find it difficult to put down or to stop thinking about, and I’d say that makes it a success.

Rating: 3.75 of 5


Book description, from the publisher’s website:
Pete Dizinoff, a skilled and successful New Jersey internist, has a loving and devoted wife, a network of close friends, an impressive house, and, most of all, a son, Alec, now nineteen, on whom he has pinned all his hopes. But Pete hadn’t expected his best friend’s troubled daughter to set her sights on his boy. When Alec falls under her spell, Pete sets out to derail the romance, never foreseeing the devastating consequences. 
In a riveting story of suburban tragedy, Lauren Grodstein charts a father’s fall from grace as he struggles to save his family, his reputation, and himself.
From Chapter Two:

“Looking back, as my circumstances often suggest that I do, I see my thirties and forties as a vast steppe; only occasionally did the landscape bulge or dip. Bert Birch had brought me in because he was heading into his midfifties and his wife had been warning him for twenty years that she’d leave him if he didn’t find a partner and take a vacation with her once a year. In 1982, Bert was fifty-five, an old-fashioned kind of doctor in an old-fashioned kind of office with one nurse, one secretary, and half a day off on Wednesdays. He kept Popular Mechanics in the waiting room; occasionally, quietly, he made house calls. He ran a comfortable, neighborly practice, and although he was based at Round Hill Medical Center, his patients came from the less swanky communities down the valley: Bergentown, Hopwood, Maycrest Village. They were teachers, postal workers, cops, hairdressers. Bert took care of generations of the same family, celebrating their births, mourning their deaths, bringing home, at Christmastime, fruit baskets or homemade sheet cakes or bottles of Lambrusco.”

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Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Survey: Pictures, Prizes, Reading, Linking


The Survey: a weekend update The 3 Rs Blog

It's early afternoon. The windows are open and it's really nice out, but we're not feeling terribly ambitious today. Lately, I've actually remembered that my laptop is portable, and I'm tucked into a corner of the sectional sofa in our living room while Paul and Spencer watch The Bourne Supremacy on DVD. (The Bourne Identity was our Saturday-night viewing, so we could end up doing the whole trilogy this weekend.) I like that we actually have plentiful seating for all of us in one room now...but if we had some patio furniture, I might be out there right now instead.

Reading

I'm hoping to finish Kate Braestrup's memoir, Anchor and Flares, today. I received the ARC via Shelf Awareness, but it publishes this Tuesday, so I'll be too late to review it for them. I'll be writing about it here, though, and that may actually be just as well; I think this is one I'd rather discuss outside of their 250-word review parameter. 

I need to pace the reading of my August ARCs better if I want to get any reviews submitted to the Shelf for next month, so I plan to be starting on one of those by tomorrow.

I've been doing a pretty good job of keeping up with blog reading this week, and since I caught up on a review-writing last weekend, I was able to start on a new audiobook: it's another memoir, Leaving Before the Rains Come by Alexandra Fuller.

#MidlifeReadingCrisis
When you probably have more reading years behind you than ahead, life's too short for book slogs. (And that's one more reason I'm anxious to get going on my Big Book Purge!)

Sharing

The Socratic Salon discusses re-reading--something which, for me, has been another casualty of "so many books, so little time."

"...(O)ur brains are certainly capable of the kind of concentration that audiobooks require, but many of us may never have developed these neural pathways. But they are there for the using, and many devoted audiobook fans report that building up this particular muscle is relatively painless and worth the effort as they are rewarded with an intimate performance that is like no other. 
And that brings me to the final suggestion: listen to the best narrators."
Jenna makes some excellent arguments against policing the technology consumption of kids and families that I think are pretty much applicable to people, generally:
"I liked to be outside, but often carried a book with me to the nearest tree. Do you know if that girl over there is playing “one of those darn video games” or reading a book? You don’t...I’ve watched my kids choose outside time over technology. I’ve also watched my kids use their technology time on the weekend to research things to do offline, requesting books from the library, using an app to find a star in the sky, to figure out what bug is crawling over their foot, to share a picture of their chickens. That last one is the most important one to me, as these kids are learning to forge connections already."
And if you're policing your own tech consumption and dialing it back a bit for the season, BlogHer.com offers 15 Useful Tips for the Summer Blogging Slump.

I won a giveaway a couple of weeks ago--my prizes arrived this week.

"This is a Penguin Drop Caps edition of JANE EYRE, and a tote made from a different edition of JANE EYRE. Thanks @readitforward and @litographs!"

Litographs JANE EYRE tote & Penguin Drop Caps JANE EYRE

I don't know that I'll actually (re-)read this, but I do know that when the Big Book Purge comes, this book isn't going anywhere!

What are you reading and watching--off-line or on--this week? Share!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

A Reader's Journal: DOMESTIC ARRANGEMENTS by Norma Klein

If you want to irritate me, state that YA fiction “didn’t exist” until about seven years ago. State, when referring to the 1970s and 80s, that “there was no YA then.” My personal reading experience from those years, the years when I was in middle and high school, says you’re wrong. Granted, this wasn’t YA the way we know it now. It was usually published in small, cheap paperbacks that fit easily into a purse or school bag, and it was rarely reviewed, read, or even noticed much outside its intended audience unless it was especially controversial or shocking (or turned into a TV movie). YA was mostly under the radar unless you were a “YA” yourself.

A Reader's Journal: DOMESTIC ARRANGEMENTS Norma Klein classic YA The 3 Rs Blog

Shelf Discovery, a collection of essays on “classic” YA edited by Lizzie Skurnick, documents those formative years of YA and serves as an excellent introduction:
"Shelf Discovery is a thoroughly enjoyable trip back through the books you may have grown up with—and the ones that helped you grow up—especially if you were growing up during the 1970’s and ’80’s. The book is divided into ten genre/thematic sections, including tearjerkers, thrillers, romances, ‘issues’ literature, and the adult, ‘dirty’ books that we really were too young for; the essays themselves are called ‘book reports’ or, for less-remembered titles, ‘extra credit.’
In 2013, Skurnick spun her “shelf discoveries” into a publishing imprint:
Lizzie Skurnick Books, an imprint of Ig Publishing, is devoted to reissuing the very best in young adult literature, from the classics of the 1930s and 1940s to the social novels of the 1970s and 1980s. By putting these amazing classics back into print, Lizzie Skurnick Books gives lifelong fans the chance to re-stock their libraries with the beloved books of their childhoods, as well as introducing these amazing stories to a new generation of readers.
I’ve subscribed to Lizzie Skurnick Books since they rolled out their first series. It’s those “social novels” that are my YA, and that I’m most excited to re-encounter so many years later.

When Norma Klein’s Domestic Arrangements was originally published, my YA-reading years were essentially over. I’d read her novels It’s OK If You Don’t Love Me and Love Is One of the Choices during high school, and thought they were even more frank and progressive than Judy Blume’s…but I graduated from high school in 1982, and this one slipped right past me at the time.

The novel shares its title with a movie featuring its lead character/narrator, fourteen-year-old Tatiana “Rusty” Engelberger, and opens with Rusty’s father catching her and her sixteen-year-old boyfriend having sex in the bathroom—there’s your trademark 1970s “social novel” frankness, right off the bat, brandishing the flags of the pre-AIDS sexual revolution. That said, I wouldn’t call Domestic Arrangements particularly “sexy.” Sex in this novel is presented for discussion rather than titillation, and honestly, some of that discussion feels a little too frank to be convincing…although maybe I’ve just never known any fourteen-year-old girls and their fathers who felt comfortable discussing orgasms with each other. That said, I did appreciate that Rusty’s parents were significant to the story—parents are so often marginalized in YA—and that Klein’s teens were responsible and empowered about their sexuality, which I recalled as a hallmark of her other novels as well. I found Rusty’s narrative voice authentically adolescent—mercurial, sometimes wise, often impulsive—and I liked her; despite her sometimes overly adult behavior, she never struck me as being older than her years.

I don’t want to debate whether the YA fiction I grew up reading is “better” or “worse” than modern YA, and I cheerfully acknowledge that modern YA can be more ambitious, varied, and literary than “my” socially-oriented YA. But “my” YA did many things well in its time and place, and I want it to get the credit it deserves as an influence and a document of that time and place.

Domestic Arrangements
Norma Klein
Lizzie Skurnick Books (2014), Edition: Reissue, Paperback (ISBN 1939601193 / 9781939601193); original publication date 1982
Fiction (YA), 300 pages
Source: purchased

Book description, from the publisher’s website
Domestic Arrangements is the story of fourteen-year-old Tatiana (nicknamed Rusty, for her long red hair), an unintentional ingénue who becomes notorious for filming a nude scene in a major movie. Rusty’s increasing fame—which climaxes with an appearance on the cover of People magazine—dovetails with her increasingly adult personal life, which includes a budding sexual relationship with her boyfriend, an older sister jealous of her looks, and her parents’ troubled marriage. Ultimately, Rusty must decide if fame—and sex—are all they’re cracked up to be. 
A stunning example of Norma Klein’s fearless take on the complexities of adolescence, the new edition of this sexually frank novel features a brand new introduction by Norma’s longtime friend, renowned children’s author Judy Blume.
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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

(Audio)Book Talk: MY SALINGER YEAR by Joanna Rakoff (read by the author)

Audiobook read by the author
Knopf (June 2014), Hardcover (ISBN 0307958000 / 9780307958006)
Nonfiction: memoir, 272 pages
Source: Purchased audiobook (Audible Studios, June 2014, ASIN B00KAGAMTI)

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MY SALINGER YEAR by Joanna Rakoff: audiobook discussion The 3 Rs Blog

When Joanna Rakoff left graduate school in London and returned home to New York City, she was rather at loose ends. As an aspiring poet, a job somewhere in the publishing industry seemed like a good idea for the time being, and following a friend’s referral, she wound up hired as an assistant at a very traditional literary agency—so traditional that it doesn’t possess a single computer, despite this being well into the 1990s. Rakoff’s primary job requirement was handling large amounts of correspondence…on a large, rather intimidating IBM Selectric typewriter.

The old-fashioned office wasn’t the only intimidating thing Rakoff encountered, and mastering the typewriter proved far easier than getting a handle on her boss, let alone the agency’s best-known client, the famously reclusive J.D. Salinger. Joanna managed to obtain a master’s degree in English without ever reading any of this stories, but she soon learned one of her primary tasks in this job would be to respond to the deluge of mail from Salinger’s fans, which he had a long tradition of refusing to read or personally acknowledge. The agency had several form-letter templates for this purpose, but as Joanna became caught up in reading the letters and discovering how these correspondents felt about Salinger she found herself increasingly tempted to go off-script and make personal connections with them.

My Salinger Year reflects on Rakoff’s experience of getting a foot in the door of the publishing industry as it enters a time of transition—one some might say it’s still fumbling through. Her old-fashioned employer is losing more clients than it’s signing as Rakoff’s boss resists a changing business model (one of them: Judy Blume, soon to publish her third adult novel), and while she’s well aware that this job is not a career-maker, she comes to appreciate what she gains from it…including, more than six months in, finally reading the complete works of J.D. Salinger. Rakoff never names her boss or “The Agency” where she was employed. In some ways this seems excessively cagey, as the curious can probably find out for themselves with a little help from Google, anyway (“J.D. Salinger’s literary agent” should work). I wasn’t curious enough to do that; ultimately, I didn’t think that degree of specific detail would add much to the story she wanted to tell.

The structure of My Salinger Year resembles a “stunt memoir”—“I’m going to do this thing for this amount of time and write a book about it”—but I really appreciated the fact that it’s not. More than a decade after the fact, Rakoff was able to see the narrative potential in a specific period in her early adulthood. and that’s what she built her memoir around. Rakoff reads the audiobook version herself, and while it’s not the most polished performance, her connection to the material can’t be faulted. This one has obvious appeal to book lovers, but readers who enjoy stories set in the workplace and the early post-college years might enjoy spending some time with My Salinger Year.


Rating: Book and audio, 3.75 of 5

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Poignant, keenly observed, and irresistibly funny: a memoir about literary New York in the late nineties, a pre-digital world on the cusp of vanishing, where a young woman finds herself entangled with one of the last great figures of the century. 
At twenty-three, after leaving graduate school to pursue her dreams of becoming a poet, Joanna Rakoff moves to New York City and takes a job as assistant to the storied literary agent for J. D. Salinger. She spends her days in a plush, wood-paneled office, where Dictaphones and typewriters still reign and old-time agents doze at their desks after martini lunches. At night she goes home to the tiny, threadbare Williamsburg apartment she shares with her socialist boyfriend. Precariously balanced between glamour and poverty, surrounded by titanic personalities, and struggling to trust her own artistic instinct, Rakoff is tasked with answering Salinger’s voluminous fan mail. But as she reads the candid, heart-wrenching letters from his readers around the world, she finds herself unable to type out the agency’s decades-old form response. Instead, drawn inexorably into the emotional world of Salinger’s devotees, she abandons the template and begins writing back. Over the course of the year, she finds her own voice by acting as Salinger’s, on her own dangerous and liberating terms. 
Rakoff paints a vibrant portrait of a bright, hungry young woman navigating a heady and longed-for world, trying to square romantic aspirations with burgeoning self-awareness, the idea of a life with life itself. My Salinger Year is a coming-of-age story and a testament to the universal power of books to shape our lives and awaken our true selves.
Excerpt:

"How many times had I been told that Salinger would not call, would never call, that I would have no contact with him? More than I could count.

"And yet one morning, a Friday, at the beginning of April, I picked up the phone and heard someone shouting at me. ‘HELLO? HELLO?’ Then something incomprehensible. ‘HELLO? HELLO?’ More gibberish. Slowly, as in a dream, the gibberish resolved into language. ‘It’s Jerry,’ the caller was shouting. Oh my God, I thought. It’s him. I began, slightly, to quiver with fear, not because I was talking to—or being shouted at by—the actual J. D. Salinger, but because I so feared doing something wrong and incurring my boss’s wrath. My mind began to sift through all the Salinger-related instructions that had been imparted to me, but they had more to do with keeping others away from him, less to do with the man himself. There was no risk of my asking him to read my stories or gushing about The Catcher in the Rye. I still hadn’t read it. ‘WHO IS THIS?’ he asked, though it took me a few tries to understand. ‘It’s Joanna,’ I told him, nine or ten times, yelling at the top of my lungs by the final three. ‘I’m the new assistant.’

“‘Well, nice to meet you, Suzanne,’ he said, finally, in something akin to a normal voice. ‘I’m calling to speak to your boss.’ I had assumed as much. Why had Pam put him through to me, rather than taking a message?”



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