Posted on May 13, 2019 under Reviews
I take a laissez-faire approach to shaving my legs. I don’t feel all that much social pressure to remove my relatively sparse hair, which I acknowledge is largely a privilege born of whiteness. Particularly during the winter, I can happily go weeks without shaving. However, due to my keratosis pilaris I do enjoy the feeling of smoothness, or as close to smoothness as I can get. There is nothing more satisfying when you have KP than taking the time to shave, exfoliate, and moisturize and just sitting there rubbing your legs together. This must be how normal people feel all the time!!!
However, the mainstream shaving industry is pretty underwhelming. Nothing is made to last, the prices are ridiculous, and the pink tax makes me see red. If you don’t want to be stuck using cheap disposable razors forever (bad quality! terrible for the environment!), you are looking at spending $35 or more on a pack of replacement blades, at least here in Canada. That is just not cost-effective and not something I want to spend the rest of my life doing. That’s not even mentioning the fact that most readily-available razors, even the non-disposable ones, are made of plastic and in my experience still feel relatively flimsy.
So I started looking into alternatives, and after doing extensive research (read: watching a lot of comparison videos on YouTube), I settled on Dollar Shave Club as the best-quality and most cost-effective solution.
I went for Dollar Shave Club’s “Executive” package, which includes a metal handle and and four six-blade (!) cartridges for $9.50 Canadian. Oh, and did I mention shipping is free? I mean… considering how much cartridges cost at the drugstore, I really felt like I was getting away with murder.
Dollar Shave Club operates on a subscription box model, meaning they ship you four new cartridges a month. You get the handle for free your first month – so, my cartridges, which are the most expensive, cost $10 a month. (Looks like the price just went up by $0.50, but for what you get compared to other brands I’m hardly complaining…) You could be paying as little as $4 monthly for a pack of five twin-blade cartridges. You can also have the replacement cartridges shipped every other month and skip shipments whenever you want, with no penalty. I like this, because I’m not a daily shaver and I don’t have that much to remove, so I don’t need to switch out my cartridges every week. (I mean, does anyone actually do that? I feel like this is another “rule” like throwing your mascara out every three months that no real humans are actually sticking to.)
As for the razor itself, I absolutely love it. The handle is solid and heavy and makes guiding the blade a piece of cake. I’m not totally sure if a six-blade razor is a gimmick or if it actually makes a difference, but I definitely get the smoothest, closest shave I’ve ever had with this razor. It glides over my skin absolutely effortlessly, even when I have several weeks of regrowth. Plus, I’ve yet to experience any of the knicks that are practically unavoidable with cheap disposable razors. I actually get a tiny thrill when I shave my legs and feel how smoothly the razor slides across my skin – it’s the little things, you know?
The fancy razor market seems to be expanding lately, with brands like Harry’s and Billie offering similar products. I obviously can’t speak to how the quality of Dollar Shave Club compares to them, but in the two months I’ve been using my Executive razor I’ve been really impressed with the quality of the product and the price point. I’m more than happy to remain a Dollar Shave Club customer and I’m really happy with this change.
Posted on May 02, 2019 under Books
I was convinced that my reading had slowed significantly in April, but I ended up reading 10 books for a total of 39 this year. If I could read 11 in May for an even 50 by the end of the month, I’d be really happy.
Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
In a world ravaged by environmental disaster, Lauren Olamina lives in relative affluence with her family within a walled community. But when she loses her family, she is forced to leave home. Lauren, whose father is a preacher, has long since rejected the religion she was raised in, in favour of one of her own making. As she journeys north in search of safety and stability, she finds recruits for Earthseed, her religion. There are a lot of interesting political implications in this novel (environmentalism, anti-capitalism), and I really enjoy that the narrator is a young Black woman. Dystopian fiction tends to be very overwhelmingly white, and racism is explicitly addressed in the narrative. However, this definitely felt like the first book in the series, with a bare-bones plot that leaves a lot of loose ends. I think I’ve probably exhausted my teenage interest in dystopian fiction, but this would be a great read for someone who’s really into the genre.
The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin
Another world suffering from environmental disasters – specifically, frequent earthquakes which regularly wipe out small towns. A small group of people with special powers, Orogenes, can affect seismic activity, and for decades Orogene children have been raised in a special military facility in order to control and harness their powers. This is an interesting fantasy world that avoids a lot of the tropes the male-dominated, white-dominated fantasy canon often indulges in. Jemisin normalizes same-sex relationships, trans people, and non-normative family structures and offers a cast of well-developed Black characters. The themes of oppression, discrimination, and self-determination are well-rendered. This is a complex world, and it took me a while to get my bearings; there was a lot of (necessary) exposition used to set the tone for the action to come later in the series, which made it a promising but not entirely interesting standalone novel. Fantasy isn’t really my genre, so I probably won’t continue on with this series, but I think fantasy fans (especially those who are tired of the same old) will enjoy this.
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante
This ended up being my favourite book in the Neapolitan series; the political commentary is absolutely searing, and it feels like the first two novels were truly building to this point. Ferrante exposes the hypocrisy of the educated upper middle class’s socialist activism excluding and even harming those they claim to liberate. As Elena struggles to live up to the hype of her first book in the wake of motherhood and domestic duty, she develops a true political awareness not based on regurgitating others’ opinions; meanwhile, Lila is bursting with true class consciousness, though it is almost impossible for her to act on this. This series has always brilliantly explored how women’s minds are so often wasted, nowhere more explicitly than in this novel. There were so many lines that just stopped me in my tracks, brimming with acidic clarity. For example, on the subject of male domination of academic and creative spaces: The solitude of women’s minds is regrettable, I said to myself, it’s a waste to be separated from each other, without procedures, without tradition.
The Woman Who Died A Lot by Jasper Fforde
The most recent novel in Fforde’s expansive Thursday Next universe, our heroine Thursday has taken a new job and uncovered a new conspiracy meant to further the interests of the evil Goliath corporation. The alternate early 2000s Britain is as clever, quirky, and endearing as ever, though I do miss Thursday’s adventures inside the Bookworld. That said, when you’re looking for something light, you really can’t go wrong with a book involving time travel, clones, and a pet dodo. I’m happily anticipating the next book in the series!
The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz
The first novel in the reboot of the late Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series is pretty obviously a cash-grab. The writing in the original trilogy was not exactly an exemplar of the craft, but there was a venom and compulsive readability that made the descriptions of every food item Lisbeth ingested worth it. The plot of the first book especially was clever and twist-y. This book just fell flat. There was very little tension; the plot was simplistic; the book lacked the original series’ focus on misogyny. (The Swedish series is literally called “Men Who Hate Women”!) This novel is more to the point than Larsson’s often meandering prose, but it’s just not as interesting.
The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante
The conclusion of Ferrante’s ambitious, sweeping Neopolitan novels is every bit as angry and depressing as the previous book. Lila and Elena continue to grow together and apart as they settle into middle age. There is hardly ever any relief offered in the accounts of our protagonists’ lives in their working class Naples neighbourhood, and the writing is simply unrelenting in its precision. I found the first two books in the series a bit hard to get into, but the last two were utterly compelling. I get the hype now – there’s something uncanny, jarring, unforgettable about this story.
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
The body of Ada, a baby born in Nigeria, houses several spirits born of a snake god. She moves to the US for university and, when she experiences sexual trauma, the spirits begin to emerge. It’s never clear if this a metaphysical novel – that the spirits truly do exist – or if this is a metaphorical exploration of mental illness. Perhaps it’s both. I just couldn’t help but feel that this novel was a perfect example of style over substance. I found the prose a bit too much and the depth of the story a bit too little. It’s strange to say that, because there’s a lot going on: fractured families, diaspora, sexual assault, self-harm – I just never fully felt anything about any of it. There was very little in the way of character development, which is bizarre in what you might imagine would have to be a character-driven novel. (This is a story about multiple consciousnesses inhabiting one body!) This didn’t feel plot-driven (because there isn’t much plot), or character-driven, or literary. It was just, like, some themes that weren’t particularly thoroughly explored.
A Mind Spread Out On the Ground by Alicia Elliott
Haudenosaunee writer Alicia Elliott’s insightful, compassionate essays primarily focus on the lingering effects of her childhood: raised in poverty on the Six Nations reservation by an abusive father and bipolar mother. She explores contemporary Indigeneity and the intersections between mental illness, poverty, nutrition, family dysfunction, racism, colonialism, and more. At times I wished the writing itself had been pushed just a little bit further; there are parts that feel a bit social justice academia jargon-y, which tends to give the impression of an underdeveloped and unoriginal style. However, the ideas presented in these essays are thought-provoking and necessary.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
In 2000 in New York, a privileged, mid-twenties narrator decides to spend a year sleeping. Her cold, unloving parents died in quick succession when she was in college, and her only “assets” in life are a clingy, status-obsessed friend, a much-older on/off boyfriend who truly sucks, and a poorly-paid job at an art gallery. The worst psychiatrist in the world prescribes her an endless supply of sleeping pills, and she spends months doing nothing but sleeping, watching movies, and hating every second she spends with her friend Reva. Seriously, that is what makes up the bulk of this novel. I really like the idea of a female narrator who is gross and shallow and unlikeable and a complete nonentity emotionally, and I found it interesting how disinterested the narrator is in her own life. But it was so difficult to connect with anybody that I never fully found myself absorbed in the narrative, which, as I said, is very repetitive. The writing is deadpan and funny, but not quite as sharp as I’d hoped for. I think a novel like this which lacks much in the way of both narrative and character needs brilliant, precise writing, and this fell short of that for me. I think Moshfegh is talented, but I won’t exaggerate and say that she’s amazing. She’s a good writer, better than many. But I wanted this to affect me emotionally, to make me think. I wanted to love it or at least to find something to sink my teeth into, but it ended up just being an easy read with an ending that managed to be both cheap and predictable.
My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Damn, I love this dustjacket.
Korede, a straight-laced nurse, and Ayoola, who is selfish, impulsive, and beautiful, are sisters living in Lagos. Their relationship is strained, which is not helped by the fact that Ayoola has a habit of killing her boyfriends. She claims she has only killed in self-defense, but Korede isn’t sure – yet she is always there to clean up after Ayoola (literally). This is a great concept with a somewhat lacklustre execution. I found it really exciting to see this novel set in Nigeria, since popular genre novels seem to revolve around the Western world. There’s more going on this novel than the title implies; it’s actually not very violent, nor is it a thriller. It’s fast-paced, but the story and ending are something different and surprising, and it’s primarily about interpersonal relationships. The bond between the sisters is fraught: their personalities are very different, but they are loyal to each other due to their shared abusive childhood.
I wish the characters had been more developed. Korede is a jealous, bitter wet blanket whose main personality trait is that she cleans a lot. Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration: she’s the more interesting of the sisters because she’s very self-righteous but such an enabler. Ayoola, on the other hand, feels underdeveloped, and forget about any depth in the auxiliary characters.
I did enjoy the fast pace: it made for a breezy read (this could easily be read in one sitting), and I think it was perfect for the tone and plot. However, it does feel a bit disjointed and sometimes lacked flow between its very short chapters. There was an interesting backstory that I wish had been expanded on more, but maybe that would have bogged down the pace.
I think this book is well worth a read if the premise interests you, but it’s not exactly a literary masterpiece.
My favourites this month were definitely the last two books in the Neopolitan series as well as A Mind Spread Out on the Ground. Otherwise a pretty middling pack, once again.
Posted on April 06, 2019 under Books
I read 12 books this month, which I’m obviously really happy with. I’ve now read 29 books this year. My goal of 50 is a foregone conclusion, and 100 seems doable, though still a stretch. I’d be happy if I hit the 80 mark. So here’s what I read in March…
His Bloody Project: Documents Relating to the Case of Roderick Macrae by Graeme Macrae Burnet
In the mid-19th century, a triple homicide leaves a village in the Scottish highlands reeling. There is no doubt that the murderer is a teenage boy named Roderick Macrae; the central question is rather whether the murders are in any way justifiable. The bulk of the story is Roderick’s (alleged) first-person account of the murders and the climate leading up to them, and there is a rather satisfying use of the unreliable narrator trope. As such, the reader is positioned as the jury, having to decide what to believe based on incomplete, contradictory evidence. There’s a very interesting exploration of poor rural life and the corrupting influence of power; the political climate of the village of Culduie is tense and believable. That said, this book simply isn’t a page turner, and there’s something lacking in the premise. The introduction of the novel positions it at as a work of nonfiction, but how much historical nonfiction simply presents a collection of documents without any sort of authorial mediation? This framing device doesn’t quite work, and it’s not exactly a thrilling novel, but it’s still thought-provoking.
Son by Lois Lowry
This is the last book in Lowry’s The Giver series. It starts by taking us to the community from the original book, where we meet a fourteen-year-old girl named Claire who is chosen to be a “Birthmother”, i.e. an incubator whose child is reassigned to a “perfect” nuclear family. Claire’s medical trauma and her deep attachment to her son are incredibly compelling, but the book moves in a direction that ultimately lost me. A cool premise gives way to what feels like an excuse to tie up all the loose ends of the series. I’m sure this will be a satisfying conclusion for middle grade readers, but as an adult I can’t say it lives up to my memories of The Giver. (I definitely still own my copy of that book!)
We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
Considered one of the earliest dystopian novels, We portrays an orderly, mathematical society where everything is made of glass. The male protagonist meets a woman who opens his eyes to the oppression they face under their totalitarian authority and becomes obsessed with the idea of a different way of life. George Orwell was very much inspired by We, and while the world of 1984 is more robust, Orwell’s Julia is nowhere near as interesting as Zamyatin’s I-330. It’s hard to evaluate this novel from my standpoint, since the dystopian genre has developed so much in the last 95 years, but I can’t help but feel that there’s a lack of urgency given the situation. The narrator gets away with a lot for a very long time without any real sense of consequence. That said, I can see why this is a classic and it’s a great read for those who are into dystopian fiction.
The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood
Three middle-aged women are haunted by their former friend turned traitor, the monstrous Zenia, who stole their husbands, their money, and their happiness. It’s not exactly plot-driven, but I can’t help but find Margaret Atwood’s writing absolutely spellbinding. She writes the ennui and hardship of childhood absolutely brilliantly. (See Cat’s Eye for another example.) This is a retelling of a fairytale, so I think the possibility of the supernatural must be examined. Zenia’s apparent resurrection is an obvious sign that she is something more than human, as is the way she adapts to each women’s vulnerability seamlessly. She’s a shapeshifter, and this makes the novel more compelling than the idea that she is simply motivelessly evil.
When we watched Rosemary’s Baby in a class I took on horror during undergrad, my professor said something that stuck with me: that even if you remove the supernatural and allegorical elements from the film, it’s still terrifying, because it’s about a woman’s complete loss of bodily autonomy. I think the same is true for this book: take Zenia out of the picture, and it’s still bleak and disturbing. It’s a book about women struggling to shed their broken childhoods, whose relationships with men are by and large unhealthy – these things are true regardless of Zenia’s (possibly demonic) influence. This book is certainly a slow burner, but I tend to love Atwood at her wordiest, when she teases apart social and familial relations with terrifying clarity.
Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg
This semi-autobiographical novel tells the story of Jess Goldberg, a butch lesbian who comes of age in the Buffalo of the 1960s. As a teenager, Jess begins going to gay bars before the pride movement takes off and suffers tremendously at the hands of the police and other institutions. The complex interplay between gender and sexuality are fully-realized in Jess’s rich inner life. The writing and narrative style lack sophistication and grace, but the heart and authenticity of the story solidify this book’s place as a classic of lesbian fiction.
The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst
In the 1940s, a group of Oxford students are inexplicably drawn to a young undergraduate named David Sparsholt. The novel unfolds over three generations as Sparsholt and his family maintain their connection with the well-to-do men from the Oxford days. Sparsholt has made a successful career as an engineer, but he is haunted by a scandal which is never fully explained. The bulk of the novel focuses more on his son Jonathan, a hedonistic gay portraitist who struggles to shed the connotations of his name. Hollinghurst writes so well about the British upper class and particularly about interlopers in those circles. There’s a focus on portraiture which implicitly frames the book as a portrait of the potraitist (or perhaps of his disgraced father). There’s also an emphasis on the difficulty of intergenerational communication, or perhaps of communication in general. Yet the social dynamics just didn’t interest me as much as I wanted them to; Hollinghurst’s Man Booker winner The Line of Beauty is simply meatier. (Well, of course, the young gay working class aesthete subsumed into the family of a Conservative MP in the 80s is inherently a more interesting premise.) So much of the action takes place implicitly, yet this book is still 450 pages long. The narrative felt jumpy, and while Hollinghurst’s writing is impeccable, the novel as a whole just wasn’t terribly compelling.
The Friend by Sigrid Nunez
This book plays with a lot of ideas: about grief, about suicide, about writing and the people who do it, about humanity’s bond with animals. It is so rich in ideas that the further I got into it the greater my sense that this was not really a novel at all, or not primarily a novel. Certainly Nunez takes great liberties with the form of the novel; there is little in the way of narrative (or, indeed, character). The interesting parts are almost exclusively our nameless narrator’s musings on various topics, with gratuitous references to great writers and thinkers as well as contemporary films. The writing is precise, compassionate, and insightful, but I couldn’t help but feel that there was something flimsy about this book. The narrator spends so much time thinking about writing and authorial responsibility that of course the novel itself must be read as a commentary on the genre. I think it is a smart book that works through a lot of interesting ideas with refreshing clarity. But it also purports to be a novel about a woman who adopts the dog left behind in the wake of her close friend’s suicide, and it falls flat there. The friend is unlikeable, perhaps deliberately: an archetypal established older male writer who laments the rise of political correctness. There is no real sense of who he is other than a cranky womanizer. Of course a good novel does more than simply tell a story, but I can’t help but feel that the premise of this novel was conceived as an alibi for what makes it actually interesting, which is not contingent on the narrative at all. A potentially interesting narrative is almost completely sacrificed for some higher intellectual purpose. The premise is incredibly compelling, but there’s no follow-through. I would read this as the novel it purports to be and I would read it if the fictional parts were excised and it was left as nonfiction, an exploration of various ideas that could stand on their own without being propped up by a thin “novel”. But as it stands, it isn’t quite hitting the mark for me as either one of those things.
Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut
A little-known Watergate co-conspirator is released from prison and finds himself a high-level executive in a conglomerate that owns nearly every company in the world. From early on in the novel, we know this: then, slowly, the dots are connected. This is one of Vonnegut’s least absurdist works. Instead, it takes a fairly straightforward approach to idea of corporate greed and the importance of labour movements, as well as elucidating Vonnegut’s omnipresent idea that kindness is indispensable. I found the second half of the book incredibly touching, but the first half was a slog in a way Vonnegut’s characteristic style almost precludes. This is one I think I’ll keep returning to in thought, but it’s in the bottom half of my Vonnegut rankings. (And now I only have his last two novels to read!)
Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer
I think a part of me always knew I wouldn’t like this book, and that’s why I avoided reading it right when it came out. I loved Foer’s first two novels, but I had a suspicion that he would one day turn into the type of male writer we all like to make fun of. Here’s the thing: the story of a loving but dysfunctional family falling apart is not inherently interesting. That’s not to say it can’t be made interesting in the right hands, but as it stands this a story of two flawed but ultimately good people who can’t make their marriage work. They are good parents. They love their children. They just aren’t compatible anymore. And it’s not that interesting! So what does Foer do? He adds a complex geopolitical conflict that could potentially result in the end of Israel! Okay. So now we have the obvious parallel between the destruction of Israel and the destruction of an American Jewish family. But then we have this whole other issue of the literal fictional destruction of Israel while the novel avoids taking an actual political stance beyond the implication that younger Jewish Americans feel less connected to Israel, which is… not exactly a hot take. And the writing itself wasn’t even that good! So, no. I knew it, didn’t I?
The Story of Another Name by Elena Ferrante
It took me some time to get into My Brilliant Friend, and I had the same experience with the second book in the series. But once I get sucked in, boy am I sucked in. Here the dynamics between childhood best friends Lila and Elena deepen as they grow apart and back together in their teen years and early twenties. Lila, at sixteen, has married a wealthy merchant, but she is immediately unhappy in her marriage; meanwhile, Elena continues to throw herself into her studies, though she doesn’t believe that she is anywhere near as smart as Lila. Neighbourhood melodrama abounds as the unpredictable, headstrong Lila does whatever the hell she wants and Elena tries to pick up the pieces. Ferrante has such a skill for picking apart absolutely anything with such unnerving skill and insight. Lila is a tragic character, a symbol for all women whose vast potential for creativity has been stifled by patriarchy. I’m definitely going to continue on with this series; I think it’s so well-written. That said, I can’t help but feel that I’m missing something slightly. Perhaps it’s because of the slow pace and standard structure of the novel, but people’s assertions that these books are electrifying, unlike anything else, etc. don’t quite compute for me! They’re very good – but revolutionary? I’m not so sure.
The Age of Sex Crime by Jane Caputi
Written in the 1980s as her PhD dissertation, Caputi’s basic premise is that the rise in serial killings is simply a specialized expression of patriarchy particularly adapted to current social conditions. Positioning Jack the Ripper as the archetypal sex criminal, Caputi argues that these crimes are not aberrations but rather reflections of patriarchal social order. She draws parallels between the current era of sex crime and the witch craze and situates the current climate within technological modernity, paying special attention to nuclear war and the role of still and moving image in proliferating violent misogyny. She also analyses pop culture – books, films, ads – to argue that the cultural obsession with sexually-motivated murder reflects societal norms (rather than that these texts provoke crime). In this way she much more effectively articulates what Alice Bolin skirts around in her 2018 book Dead Girls. (How incredible that Bolin doesn’t even cite Caputi in her shallow, self-indulgent book…) I often find when reading second-wave feminist texts that the conditions they describe are still completely unchanged, which is discouraging to say the least. In fact, the fact that this book is depressing is the only fault I can find in it; it’s sharp, meticulous, and thoroughly convincing.
The Girls by Emma Cline
Maybe a fitting follow-up to Caputi’s book: a fictionalized account of the Manson Family and Tate murders narrated by a lonely fourteen-year-old girl who gets sucked into a cult in late 60s Northern California. The occasional prescient feminist-lite insights are unfortunately bogged down by majorly overworked prose and a lack of immediacy. There is so little tension leading up to the murders, and everything is told rather than shown. The cult leader is apparently charismatic, but I never got that from the text, nor did I feel the escalating tension between the leader and a minor musical celebrity. The worldbuilding is lacking; nothing especially situates this novel in either time or place. Everything feels superficial, an idea that was never fully developed. You’d be better off reading Sharon Tate’s Wikipedia page, honestly.
I’m getting pickier the more I read, so I did feel lukewarm about quite a few in this batch. My favourites were The Robber Bride, The Story of Another Name, and The Age of Sex Crime. I’m slowly pegging away at my to-read list, so maybe there’ll be some gems in there for me to share next month.