Women of Words: A Celebration (aka as My Fantasy Book Discussion Panel)

Not too long ago, the lovely people from Eventbrite burned up some cyberspace and contacted me on writing about my ideal book panel discussion featuring my favorite authors and/or characters. I Googled Eventbrite to see if it was legit or not. Looking pretty darn legit, I quickly contacted them and said I’d love to do it, just give me some time to figure out what authors and/or characters I’d like to have on my panel.

Saying yes to this project was the easy part…coming up with authors and characters was quite another. There are so many authors and characters I adore and nearly worship. I would need a round table as large as Lambeau Field to house them all. What authors and characters do I pick? There are times when just picking out what earrings to wear on a particular day is a monumental task.

First I decided to pick authors only. And then I decided the authors would all be women. This is no slap at the male authors I adore or men in general. It’s just four authors popped into my lady brain and they just happened to be women.

Dorothy Parker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Judy Blume
Caitlin Moran
Roxane Gay

What else does a panel discussion need? Well, moderators, of course! We can’t let this discussion run amok, right? Now who would I choose to moderate (well, besides me, of course). I immediately thought of my favorite journalist, Bill Moyers, a lovely gentleman whose curious, thoughtful and empathetic interviewing style would be perfect for this panel and our sure to be scintillating discussion.

Afterward the panel discussion I’d host a post-discussion casual meet and greet for the authors and the audience. I’ll even bring snacks.

Following are the principle players in the Book Self’s First Women of Words: A Celebration (and Potluck).

Writers: Judy Blume, Roxane Gay, Caitlin Moran and Dorothy Parker

Moderators: Bill Moyers-see pic (and me, of course)

Audience: Men and women who love to read (and maybe even write).  I’d pretty much invite fellow bookworms who have a mad love of the written word.

Special VIPs: My mom who got me to read in the first place and introduced me to the wonders of libraries and book stores. My friends, both in my off-line universe, and those I adore via the Internet. They include long-time friends Nora and Elaine Takagi, Jen Locke, Rosie Blythe, Cobalt Stargazer and Tari. I chose these ladies because they are talented writers who have written guest reviews at both my blogs, have blogs themselves and are just incredibly talented writers as a whole.

As for the potluck I’m providing post-discussion and during the meet and greet? Well, I’d offer various types of cookies and brownies, including my treasured sugar mint cookies and dark chocolate brownies with a sea salt caramel glaze, chocolate chip cake, zesty pretzels, various chips and dips including my goat cheese dip, veggie with dill dip, guacamole, hummus and salsa, fruit and veggie platters, a tasty cheese plate with homemade crackers, and various liquid refreshments including my mom’s Brandy Smash.

As I mentioned, I selected four distinct ladies of letters-Judy Blume, Dorothy Parker, Roxane Gay and  Caitlin Moran. The following are reasons why I want them on my panel:

How could I not have my discussion and not feature Judy Blume? When I was a mere lass feeling like a 4th grade nothing, battered by bullying, confused by puberty, and vowing to never name my future male offspring Ralph, Judy was the Man…I mean Woman!!! Whereas other writers wrote about tweens and teens in a way that were both saccharine and unrealistic, Judy wrote about the adolescent experience in realistic ways, which never sugarcoated the issues we faced whether it was getting our periods, sex and masturbation, schoolyard bullying, family strife, religion and social issues. She knew these distinct moments in our lives were of monumental importance and treated the topics and her readers with so much respect.

No panel discussion of mine would be complete with the ghost of Dorothy Parker, whose poetry continues to inspire me. However, I must admit I was initially not a fan of Parker’s. I first heard of Parker when, as an insecure, bespectacled pre-teen, I read her line saying, “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.” Stomping in my Nike sneakers, I thought to myself, “What a mean lady!” But it wasn’t long before I realized the Divine Dorothy was just being snarky and probably pitying those men who didn’t quite get the erotic allure of a girl in glasses. I’m now a huge fan of Parker’s and I consider her to be the patron saint of all witty women too smart for their damn good. How could I not invite her to Women of Words.? You know she’d have plenty to say, and she’d love the Brandy Smash!

Then there are two of my favorite writers I have recently grown to appreciate who are not only fabulous writers, but who are also very proud to claim the word feminist. These women are Roxane Gay and Caitlin Moran. Both of these women write about the female experience, with clarity, wisdom and richness fully capturing the beauty and ugliness of what it means to be a female in the 21st century. Both Bay and Caitlin have written non-fiction and fictional books that are near and dear to my heart. Both Gay’s collection of short stories in Difficult Women and Moran’s novel How to Build a Girl received rave reviews by the Book Self. And their individual collection of essays, Bad Feminist and Moranifesto are two feminist-minded must-reads.

This discussion could also be a way for Gay to promote her memoir Hunger, which chronicles her experience as a survivor of a gang rape and how it led her to using food as an escape, comfort and shield. Interestingly enough, in Moranifesto Moran tells men two things they need to know about women one is we fear them, that they will hurt us physically, sexually, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. This topic alone could make for a very intriguing and mind-blowing discussion.

However, I want this to be so much more! So even though I want this to be a free floating discussion of writing, I also have some questions Moyers and I could throw out to the panel. They are as follows:

  1. What did they read when they were little girls and why?
  2. When did they start to write and why? What did they write? Who are their favorite authors and books from their girlhood to today? Who are these authors and books and authors their favorites?
  3. When did they realize writing was their vocation?
  4. What inspires them to write?
  5. Describe their version of writer’s block. How do they cope with writer’s block?
  6. Describe the good, bad and the ugly of being writers, especially women writers.
  7. Describe what it is like to write non-fiction, fiction, poetry, journalistic features, and so on, both the similarities and the differences.
  8. What is the one book they wish they wrote?
  9. Discuss their future plans.
  10. Advice for writers.

After the panel discussion we’d have a Q & A session where the audience gets to ask the panel their own questions.

Later, we’d sum up the occasion with a casual meet and greet/potluck. However, we’d have to tell Dorothy Parker she has to smoke outside and keep her from bogarting the Brandy Smash.

I must admit I had fun writing this and I’m so happy Eventbrite asked me to be a part of this. I also realized there is so much I want to discuss with these ladies that it might take up more than one session. We could make this a week-end event!

Eventbrite offers great book-related events all over. If you ‘d like to find a book event near you check out this registration online tool.

Shelf Discovery-The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading by Lizzie Skurnick

shelf discovery“We Must, We Must, We Must Increase Our Bust”

In her “Fine Lines” column on the website Jezebel, Lizzie Skurnick re-read many of the novels she loved as a young girl, looking at them through the eyes of an adult. Now many of these (somewhat altered) essays are in book form in Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading. Ms. Skurnick is no stranger to young adult books. Not only is she a reader but she’s also a writer of some of the Sweet Valley High books. She also brings along writers like Meg Cabot, Jennifer Weiner and Cecily von Ziegesar for the ride down memory lane.

Shelf Discovery does not cover the books we had to read for school, books by Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Eyre and Austen. No, this book covers the books that weren’t on any teacher-approved reading list. These are the books that kept us up long after our bed time or the books we hid behind our text books during social studies. These are the books we loaned to our friends only to get them back with tattered covers and dog-eared pages. Well, at least this happened to me when I loaned my copy of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by uber-goddess Judy Blume to all my friends in Miss Wilson’s fifth grade class.

Not surprisingly, Judy Blume’s books are reviewed in Shelf Discovery as are the Little House books. Skurnick also takes a look back at books like A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene, The Cat Ate My Gym Suit by Paula Danziger and I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier. Shelf Discovery covers books that were considered too old for us but we read them anyway like Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear and VC Andrew’s My Sweet Audrina. And books that I thought only I had read like To All My Fans With Love, From Sylvie by Ellen Conford and To Take a Dare by Paul Zindel and Crescent Dragonwagon are also covered.

These essays are thoughtful, reflective and funny, and brought back a lot of memories. Not only of reading these books, but also how they made me feel and how they inspired talk among my gaggle of girlfriends. I loved reading the Little House books, feeling some cheesehead pride because Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in Wisconsin. And I was quite comforted to know I wasn’t only the one who found Laura’s sister Mary an insufferable prissy-pants though I never went as far as to call her a “fucking bitch” like Skurnick does.

And where would we be without Judy Blume? Sure, some people want to ban her books, but to most of us, we loved Judy Blume because she introduced us to characters we could actually relate to. These were characters who experienced divorce or the death of a parent. They dealt with sexism, favored siblings and peer pressue. They questioned religion. They also dealt with the difficulties of growing up, physically, mentally and emotionally. Blume did not hesitate to make her main characters somewhat unlikable such as the protagonist in Blubber, Jill, who bullies Linda for being fat. And then there was Tony from Then Again, Maybe I Won’t who spied on his friend’s hot sister with his binoculars. What a perv!!!

Long before Gossip Girl, the books covered in Shelf Discovery introduced us to the world of S.E.X! Forever proved a girl could have sex and not get pregnant the first time or become a raving lunatic. It also kept generations of women from naming their male offspring Ralph. Wifey totally had a dirty mind. Flowers in the Attic introduced us the idea of brother/sister sex long before the Jerry Springer Show. And Katy Perry may have thought she was so lesbian chic when she sang, “I Kissed a Girl” but Jaret and Peggy were getting it on thirty years earlier in Sandra Scoppetone’s Happy Endings Are All Alike.

I’m not familiar with all of the books featured in Shelf-Discovery, but many of you might be. And I’m also not a fan of some of the books I did read. I wanted to fling Go Ask Alice across my teen-age bedroom. Even back then I knew it was a load of shite, and Go Ask Alice, which was allegedly based on the real diary of a teen girl messed up on drugs, was debunked several years ago.

I was also amazed to find out that many of the books we enjoyed as kids are now being enjoyed by today’s kids. Sure, kids have their Harry Potter and their Twilight books, but Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret also resonates with them. While visiting Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, Meg Cabot sheepishly tells the girls she is re-reading the Judy Blume classic. She expected blank stares from the students, but instead she got thunderous applause and cheers. Even though these girls live half a world away from suburban New Jersey, they totally adore Margaret. I still adore Margaret.

Reading Shelf Discovery reminded me why books always meant so much to me growing up (and still do). How fun was Sally J Freedman? And was I the only one who though Rosemary from Sister of the Bride was way too young to get married? But at least my mom and dad never sent me off to boarding school to die like the awful parents in The Grounding of Group 6. If you’re looking for a literary walk down memory lane and more than “seven minutes in heaven” you can’t go wrong with Shelf Discovery.

Book Marks

bookmarks obamaFifteen books to read this fall written by some pretty fierce femmes. I know I can’t wait to read Gloria Steinem’s latest.

And the winner of the Man Booker Prize is Jamaican novelist, Marlon James.

Coloring books based on the TV shows “Game of Thrones” and “Outlander.”

Actor Jesse “The Social Network” Eisenberg to visit Milwaukee’s very own Boswell Book Company.

If a lady is reading a book in public maybe you shouldn’t bother her.

Being a total introvert and a writer I can’t help but love this blogger’s post

Common writing mistakes copyeditors notice the most.

Have your next date at a library.

From reading to reels these young adult novels are on their way to the silver screen.

Book Marks

bookmarks obamaLovely tributes to Alison Parker, reporter and Adam Ward, photojournalist.

Author Joseph Stiglitz discusses growing income inequality issues.

Yes, please do this. Oh, wait. Don’t.

Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Wrote a Book. Hmm, Morrissey is writing a novel.

Just what is JK Rowling’s favorite Harry Potter fan theory? She’s happy to tell us!

Male writers hide their gender to gain female readers.

Beyond the standard book shelf. Really cool and unique ways to store your books!

Toronto Libraries lets patrons check-out humans as well as books. I love this idea, so clever!

Words of wisdom from Judy Blume.

Librarians on bicycles are bringing books to under-served children.

Book Review: The Vinyl Princess by Yvonne Prinz

the vinyl princessMusic sales are lagging. Record stores are becoming extinct. And the music in MTV has been replaced by various reality TV shows. The state of music is quite uncertain, which leads me to wonder: Do today’s teenagers obsess over music the ways teenagers did in the past?

Allie, the teenage protagonist of Yvonne Prinz’s young adult novel The Vinyl Princess does. She works at Bob & Bob Records in Berkeley, one of the last hold-outs of independent record stores.While her peers fill their iPods with the latest releases, Allie prefers the romance of putting a needle on the record’s groove and cherishes her massive vinyl collection.

She is also a walking encyclopedia of musical knowledge. Name a Beatles’ song, and she knows exactly what album it’s on. Allie puts her knowledge to good use (and not to mention, her access to all the great music at Bob & Bob), and starts her own music blog and hard copy zine, aptly titled The Vinyl Princess.

She blogs about vintage LPs and the tangibility of records. “I love the look of vinyl, the smell of it, the tiny crackles you hear before a song starts.” And others agree with her – before long her fan base grows, wanting her opinion on everything from David Bowie to the perfect music mixes.

Meanwhile, beleaguered store owner Bob (there is only one Bob) claims he’s going to shut down because people prefer to download music. Plus, a string of neighborhood robberies has him worried that Bob & Bob will be next.

Allie’s personal life also hangs in the balance. Her parents are divorced. Her dad’s new wife (barely older than Allie) is pregnant, and her mom is dipping her toes into the world of online dating. Allie has boy troubles of her own — she has serious thing for the mysterious Joel who often visits the store, but whose intentions may or may not be sinister in nature. Then there is Zach, who brings Allie homemade music mixes, and tries to fill her brain with new musical facts. Guess which boy she likes better?

As summer unfolds, Allie realizes she’s going to have to embrace some pretty huge changes, both personally and at work. But will hard-won maturity come at the end?

While reading The Vinyl Princess, I kept forgetting that it was a young adult novel. Prinz never talks down to her audience, respecting them no matter what generation they got slid into. Being into music makes Allie a cool girl — her love and knowledge of music was infectious, and her real-life problems rang very true.

The depiction of Allie’s blog was a bit unbelievable. It became hugely successful overnight, and within a couple of months a business wants to buy it. To anyone with a blog, this is quite unrealistic. It takes a very long time to get an audience in the blogospshere, and some of the best out there get ignored for absolute dreck.

Still, my complaints are minor. Allie is the kind of teenage girl character that needs to be represented more in pop culture: smart, relatable and interesting. The Vinyl Princess’s crown may be a bit tarnished, but it still royally rocks.

Book Marks

big bookslSome grammar mistakes are okay to make, so chill!

Netflix is has optioned the Lemony Snicket books for its TV show streaming series.

Thirteen places to put you in the mood for reading (yea, like most of us have to be put in the mood for reading).

If I had a daughter, I’d hope she’d be cool as Tavi Gevinson. And I really like her term “Feminist-Creative.”

Could we possibly have the chance to read a “new” book by the late John Steinbeck ? We just might!

As a child I was besotted with the “Little House” books, but as an adult, I learned the books were not all they seemed. Now the true story of Laura Ingalls and her family has been released.

Just wrote a book? Ask yourself these three questions before you write a book proposal.

Erotic books that don’t suck like Fifty Shades of Grey.

Hmm, as if I don’t have enough books to read. Wait. I could never have enough books to read.

Can you take another link about Amy Poehler? Well, you’re going to have to. Fifteen awesome quotes from Amy’s book Yes, Please.

Retro Reviews: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume **UPDATED**

AreYouThereGodWhere would generations of women be without Judy Blume? Sure, some people wanted to ban her books, but I loved Judy Blume because she wrote about characters I could actually relate to. Blume’s characters dealt with divorce, death, family strife, religion, sex, bullying and peer pressure. But most of all Blume’s characters dealt with the difficulties of growing up: physically, emotionally and mentally. Blume didn’t sugar-coat these difficulties nor did she patronize the reader. And that’s why one of my favorite books is her 1970 classic Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

Margaret Simon is the title character. She’s 12 years old and just moved to suburban New Jersey. She’s worried about starting a new school, making friends and other assorted growing pains. She soon befriends three girls: Nancy, Gretchen and Janie. Together they gossip, talk about boys, wonder when they’ll get their periods and practice breast development exercises, chanting, “We must, we must, we must increase our bust.”

Margaret has other important things on her mind beyond growing out of a training bra and needing a box of Kotex. Margaret has questions about religion, questions that can’t easily be answered. Her mother is Christian and her father is Jewish. But what is Margaret? According to her friends, she has to pick one of the other so she can join either the YMCA or the Jewish Community Center.

Margaret’s paternal grandmother calls her granddaughter “My Jewish girl” and takes Margaret to synagogue. Margaret’s estranged maternal grandparents are convinced Margaret is Christian. Margaret even tries to go to confession at a Catholic church. But all this leaves Margaret confused, and she gets angry with God. Eventually she begins to accept the messy realities of growing up, though Blume refuses to tie up Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret in a tidy little bow.

My mother gave me a copy of the book when I was ten. I was the only girl in my fifth grade class to get my hands on a copy and soon my classmates asked to borrow it. By the time I got it back, the book was pretty much in tatters, widely read and hugely loved.

It’s been ages since I read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret but it still resonates with me. To this day I can remember Gretchen was the first of Margaret’s girl tribe to get her period, and all the girls want to mack on Philip Leroy during “7 Minutes in Heaven.” And before “Sex and the City” gave me the term “frenemy” I knew Nancy was kind of a bitch even though she was supposed to be Margaret’s friend. And poor Gretchen (spoiler alert); she was the last of Margaret’s coterie to get her period. The horror!

As for, those breast enhancing exercises where you chant, “We must, we must, we must increase our bust.” Well, they don’t work. You know I tried, okay!

I hope today’s girls like Margaret like I did. Sure, girls have Hermione Granger and Katniss Everdeen these days, but I also hope they have a Margaret Simon. Her appeal is enduring and universal, no matter what generation you got slid into.

Are you there, Judy? It’s me, Bookish Jen. Thank you.

**Carole Besharah is a fellow book blogger. In her essay, Playboys, and Periods, and Bras, Oh My!, Carole shares her love of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” with her daughter Teagan.**

 

Book Marks

bookmarkIf I had a kid who was not obsessed with books, I hope I’d be as opened-minded as this mom.

“Gilmore Girls” inspires reading challenge. After reading this feature, I’m kicking myself for not watching “Gilmore Girls.” Rory sounds like such a cool character. I must binge watch the DVDs.

BJ Novak, yep, Ryan the Temp from The Office, hopes his children’s book, The Book With No Pictures, gets kids hooked on literature.

John Oliver of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” wonders why Ayn Rand is still a “thing.” Hmm, I’ve been pondering the same thing.

The film adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s hugely successful novel Gone Girl is tops at the box office.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

bad-feminist1True story. As a child, I began to call myself a feminist because Gloria Steinem was much cooler than Phyllis Schlafly. Gloria was so pretty with her long, streaked hair, aviator glasses, and stylish outfits. Phyllis Schlafly had that stupid beehive and dressed like a frump. Plus, she looked really, really mean! Gloria was the beautiful, sweet princess, and Phyllis was the evil witch who would probably cast horrific spells on naughty girls like me. My mom taught me I shouldn’t judge people on their looks, but I just couldn’t help it.

Yes, girl child Bookish Jen, a fledgling woman’s libber, was a “bad feminist.”

And thank goodness, I’m not alone because Roxane Gay is also a bad feminist. And she writes about it in her collection of essays called Bad Feminist. Bad Feminist not only focuses on feminism, but also focuses race, sexuality, media, politics, and at times—Gay, herself. Bad Feminist is both heartbreaking and hilarious, and often made me think in whole new ways. And with Gay’s wise and witty writing style you almost feel like you’re talking with a dear friend.

Gay is a professor, writer and novelist. In Bad Feminist’s introduction, she proudly calls herself a feminist, but perhaps not the type of feminist she thinks she should be according the an ever-shifting “concept” of feminism. She loves the color pink, is nostalgic for the “Sweet Valley High” books, has teenage-like crushes on famous dudes, watches cheesy reality television shows, and can’t help but groove out to catchy hip hop songs despite their often misogynistic lyrics.

Gay is bad feminist, and she’s bad enough to realize feminism has its flaws. Feminism is often seen as “middle class white lady” thing. Sometimes feminism is viewed as overtly academic or only for those strivers aiming for the executive boardroom. Feminism has often been accused of ignoring women of color, lesbians, working class women and the poor. However, feminism is better than nothing and is constantly evolving and changing, hopefully, to be more inclusive. And if Gay is a so-called bad feminist it is because she’s a flawed human and sometimes she messes up. Hey, don’t we all?

And lots not forget that a lot of misguided people construe feminists as man hating shrews. The term “feminazi,” anyone?

After the introduction, Gay focuses on herself, as black woman, a child of Haitian immigrants, a long-time college student and finally a professional with a good job. I especially liked her essay “Typical First Year Professor,” in which Gay documents the triumphs and tribulations of being a novice professor. Her love for her students (and her frustrations) is touching and at times maddening. To Gay, teaching means more to her than a decent paycheck every month, though she admits she admits she likes earning that paycheck after years of being a broke student.

Gay’s essays on gender and sexuality focus on how entertainment portrays women. She has opinions on everything from Lena Dunham’s HBO show “Girls” to the huge comedy hit “Bridesmaids,” both praising and criticizing these pop culture sensations. Gay also gives a shout-out to the woefully underrated sitcom, “Girlfriends,” which ran for several seasons portraying black women as multi-faceted human beings. Gay also offers her opinions on the Miss America Pageant and the first black Miss America, Vanessa Williams, body issues, Hanna Rosin’s controversial book “The End of Men: And the Rise of Women,” Jerry Sandusky and Penn State, Chris Brown and the girls who still love him, and gay celebrities coming out of the closet. Her dissection of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” series of erotica made me realize I could laugh myself silly while also holding back my vomit (Fifty Shades’ writing is just awful). And Gay’s essay “How to Be Friends with Another Woman” should be read by every female by the time she reaches middle school.

But it’s her essay “What We Hunger For” that nearly broke my heart. In this essay, Gay discusses her love for the “Hunger Games” franchise, and her brutal rape as a young girl. Reading “What We Hunger For” made me want to comfort Gay and take all of her pain away while get revenge on her attackers. I was filled with sorrow and filled with rage. This essay also got to me on a personal level because I was also a victim of a violent crime. I was mugged and beaten years ago. Gay’s essay made me ask, “How women stay strong after being so violated?” Well, we just do. We don’t have a choice.

In Gay’s collection of essays on race and entertainment, she forced me to look at the best-selling book The Help and its Hollywood adaptation with a new mindset. Gay admits her reservations about the critically-acclaimed movies Django Unchained and 12 Years a Slave. And she takes Tyler Perry to task for his portrayals of black women and the working class.

However, it’s her essay “The Last Day of a Young Black Man” that truly got to me and made me think of the issues of race, privilege and prejudice in our so-called “post-racial” society. In this essay Gay discusses the true story of Oscar Grant, a young black man who was killed by the police on New Year’s Day at an Oakland BART station and the outrage and protests that followed. Oscar Grant’s tragically short life was made into a movie called “Fruitvale Station,” which showed not just Grant’s heartbreaking death, but also showed who he truly was as a son, a boyfriend, a father, and a friend. Oddly, enough I read this essay soon after we all learned of the death of another young black man, Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri, at the hands of a police officer and the subsequent cries of outrage and protests, police brutality (often aimed at young black men) and our often misleading 24/7 media.

In another collection of essays Gay calls “Politics, Gender and Race,” Gay discusses the trouble black people have with behaving in the narrow parameters of what black people are supposed to “act.” She discusses Twitter vs. mainstream journalism and how even in 2014 women are still fighting to control their own reproductive rights.

In “A Tale of Two Profiles” Gay dissects the “rock star” treatment of suspected Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and the less-forgiving portrayals of black victims of violence like Trayvon Martin (and now Michael Brown). This mind-blowing essay is more than food for thought; it is a damn buffet!

In the final collection of essays, Gay circles back to herself, feminism and her place in feminism. In Bad Feminist, Gay readily admits feminism gave women privileges our grandmothers couldn’t even dream of—access to furthering our education, professional success, reproductive rights, the right to vote, having our voices heard via various types of media. Even with all her self-perceived flaws, Gay knows she owes a lot to feminism. Or as she so rightly puts it, “I am a bad feminist. I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all.”

I would be remiss if I didn’t give a big shout out to Milwaukee’s very own Boswell Book Company, a wonderful independent book store. On August 8th, Boswell hosted a book discussion and Q & A with Ms. Gay about her book Bad Feminist and it was an amazing evening. I don’t think I would have discovered Ms. Gay and her book if it wasn’t for Boswell. Thank you Boswell Book Company!

The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos

16068954Meet Harbinger Jones, who goes by the less weighty name of Harry. Harry is in his last year of high school and applying to various colleges. To impress the “Faceless Admissions Professional” (FAP for short), Harry eschews the standard 250 word essay on his application and instead writes over 200 pages about his short but eventful life, which makes up Len Vlahos’ YA novel The Scar Boys.

When Harry was eight years old, the neighborhood bullies tied him to a tree. The tree caught fire when it was struck by lightning. Harry was burned by the fire and is now hideously scarred and disfigured. This doesn’t exactly make him Mr. Popularity, and Harry pretty much believes he’ll face a life devoid of friends.

Then he meets Johnny McKenna when Johnny’s family moves to town. Johnny isn’t put off by Harry’s scars and soon the two boys become best friends. Harry goes from a life of isolation and bullying to one where he feels a bit of hope. If a popular, handsome kid like Johnny likes him, then he can’t be so horrible after all.

While in high school, Harry is rejected by a girl. To comfort Harry, Johnny comes up with a great idea. “Let’s start a band,” claims Johnny. Hmm, a band? Maybe being in a band is what Harry needs. Musicians are cool, right? And it shouldn’t matter that neither Harry nor Johnny know how to play an instrument. They’ll figure something out. So Johnny decides to sing and Harry picks up a guitar and begins lessons. They name the band The Scar Boys and bring on a drummer and a bassist. Now they are ready to rock!

The Scar Boys hone their skills and start performing. It is on stage where Harry truly feels he can shine. He’s no longer a disfigured freak; he’s a rock star! The Scar Boys become more popular and get more local gigs, including one pivotal gig at New York City’s iconic CBGBs. And when The Scar Boys lose their first bass player they replace him with Cheyenne, a beautiful young woman who both Harry and Johnny take a strong liking to.

Soon the Scar Boys go on a summer tour where in-between gigs they face car problems, money woes, in-fighting amongst the band members, petty jealousies, girl trouble, organizational issues and other dilemmas fledgling rock and rollers face.

But most of all, Harry just faces the usual problems of growing up. He seriously crushes on Cheyenne, but of course, she just likes him as a friend. And besides, she and Johnny are hooking up.

And speaking of Johnny, Harry is slowly beginning to realize maybe Johnny isn’t so much of a friend as much as a “frenemy.” Until now, Johnny was the leader to Harry’s follower, but is Johnny worth following? Harry is beginning to question his devotion to Johnny, which pisses Johnny off. Johnny proves to be just as messed up as Harry only his messes are easier to cover up under a handsome visage and boat loads of self-confidence. Will the Scar Boys survive all this turmoil?

The Scar Boys never quite make it to rock and roll glory, but being in a band is a catalyst for Harry. Sure, he’s hideously scarred, his parents don’t always understand him, he can’t get a girl and his best friend is a total dick. But hey, he was in a rock and roll band and he spent one glorious (and yes, very trying summer) touring the country while a lot of his peers toiled at McDonald’s or at the mall. That’s got to impress the FAPs at Harry’s chosen colleges, right?

Well, I hope the FAPs are impressed because I certainly was. No, Harry isn’t perfect. He could be just as irritating as any other teenage boy, and I wasn’t going to cut him any slack just because of his scars. But in the end I couldn’t help but like the kid. I applaud him for taking up an instrument, forming a band and touring the country even if it was for a short time. I also liked how he bypassed the typical 250 college entrance essay (boring) and wrote something actually interesting. Harry is an original, with an engaging voice that kept me captivated. Sure, I wish Cheyenne was a more developed character, but I do understand we are seeing Cheyenne through the lens of Harry’s experiences, not who she really is.

I also loved how The Scar Boys used the title of songs to head each chapter, many that will make any rock and roll lover misty-eyed with musical memories. Including amongst these titles were songs by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, The Violent Femmes, Van Halen, Pat Benatar, Joy Division, REM and The Rolling Stones. I thought it was only fitting several of the chapters were the titles of songs by the Ramones considering I was reading this novel when I found out about the death of the last original Ramone, Tommy Ramone (RIP). And as a rapidly aging Generation X-er, I loved the fact that The Scar Boys takes place in the 1980s. Furthermore, when he was younger, Vlahos was in a band called the Woofie Cookies. He knows what he’s writing about.

Apparently, The Scar Boys is Len Vlahos first novel. I hope it’s not his last.