Why Are You Showing Me This?

If you took a look at my Netflix account, you would discover that I watch a lot of horror movies, documentaries and… Colombo. I’ve discovered that documentaries have a surprising amount of similarities with horror movies: they keep me awake at night, they allow me to confront situations that I’d otherwise ignore, they are often censored by a people who worry they’ll corrupt their children, and, sometimes, they’re utter bullshit. A good documentary can be just as scary as a good horror movie.

I turn to horror films for the same reason I turn to documentaries—to face my fear. But my love of horror and documentary seems, on the surface, at odds with my utter distaste for found footage horror films. The makers of found footage films claim they’re  creating a more realistic film experience, as the found footage makes it seem like it’s happening in our world. Yet as someone who watches a ton of documentaries, I’m often left wondering how this footage was found, why there are no narrators, why there are no interviews with friends and families, why there are no officials statements on the events, and why we are being shown this in the first place? In documentaries, the director usually has a clear purpose. Even if he or she is leaving it up to the audience to make their own decisions, the director at least has a reason for why this information should be known.  This lack of framing is one of the big reason I don’t enjoy most found footage films, yet there are a few that are quite good. Below are my three favorite.

The Last Broadcast

Often when someone claims that “You have to give The Blair Witch Project credit for having a new idea,” someone else will respond with “The Last Broadcast did found footage a year before The Blair Witch Project.” Ignoring the fact that Cannibal Holocaust and Man Bite Dog were found footage films made long before those two, I rather enjoyed The Last Broadcast. In it three men are in the woods looking for the Jersey Devil—two die and the third is convicted of their murder. While there is footage of this event, the story is framed by interviews with locals on the Jersey Devil and with law enforcement on the crime. In the movie, some of the film from the night of the murder has been damaged, so dramatic tension is created as the filmmaker and the audience wait for the film to be restored. This film does not have an adrenaline rush, but rather it creates a slow sense of dread as we wonder what we will see in that piece of film when it’s restored. Unfortunately, the reveal did fall a bit short of the build up.

The Bay

If Jaws and Cabin Fever had found footage baby it would be The Bay. In The Bay we see a small tourist coastal town succumb to a mysterious illness. What makes this movie stand out is rather than following a small group dealing with the outbreak, we see a multitude of people deal with it. While this means that we never really get to know any of the characters, it does create sense that this is a big event.  It also allows characters who would normally drop the camera and run to do so. The story is framed by one of the survivors of the incident, and she is a reporter. Apparently after the outbreak there was a government cover up, and she is now leaking the information, so we can know what really happened. While there are a few moments of characters doing really stupid things and few silly jump scares, this film is rather fun and scary—especially if you just had some sushi.

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

Behind the Mask takes place in a world were famous slashers, such as Michael, Jason and Freddy, weren’t supernatural killers but simply mundane serial killers who used stage craft to create their legends. A documentary crew is following Leslie Vernon, an aspiring slasher about to make his first big kill. One thing that makes this film interesting is it is not technically a found footage film—there are moments where we see what is happening from a traditional point of view. Another way to view Behind the Mask is as a traditional slasher film, but, because some of main characters are a documentary film crew, we just happen to see the footage they shot for the majority of the film. Of the three films that I’ve talked about here, this one is the best. It is fun seeing the tricks that allow a slasher to seem supernatural to his victims, and it is terrifying to see charming Leslie suddenly start murdering people without remorse.

Ultimately, what I think these three films show is how framing makes all the difference. One of the many things that annoyed me with the Paranormal Activity films is that if we accept the conceit that this is found footage, why would any one show it. The moment someone claims that a camera was there to capture those events, I can’t help but wonder “who found the camera and why do they want me to see it the footage?” True, this is a common complaint, but I still think it is a valid one.

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Stories about Stories

Before I get into my car, I check to see that no one is in my backseat. Other than revealing the sad state of the world where that is not a uncommon habit for a woman, it also reveals the hold that stories have over me. I check the backseat not because of the countless bits of advice that I’ve been given when I’m reminded that it’s my responsibility to not be targeted by a sociopath, but because I heard an urban legend at a slumber party.

You’ve probably heard this story too. A girl drives home late at night and notices that she is being followed by a car that turns its high beams on at odd intervals. Regardless of which turns she suddenly takes or if she runs a red light that strange car follows. Finally, she can’t stand it any more and drives home, where she makes a run for her front door. The other driver gets out and starts screaming that there was someone in her car with her. She goes back and sees an ax laying across the backseat. Whenever the ax-murder raised the weapon, the driver behind her would turn on his high beams to keep the murder from killing her.  Late at night when I get into my car, I inevitably think of this story and look into my back seat.

Often we think of stories as something that we grow out of. One person may say that he or she is too old to believe in fairy tales but still expect their romantic life to follow the lines set by the Disney films. How many us who don’t believe in ghosts will still stay away from those famed haunted houses? Even though many will still turn up their nose at superstition, they’ll still hold their breath when driving past a graveyard, knock on wood when they talk of possible tragic outcome, or remain silent on their wishes after blowing out the candles of a birthday cake. I know a few skeptics who were able to rid themselves of these habits entirely, and I envy them at times. But even though I know that nothing will change the chance of the universe, I still throw split salt over my shoulder. Just because I know, without a doubt, ghosts don’t exist, doesn’t mean I’m not turning all the lights on after hearing a particularly good story.

Perhaps that is why I enjoy magical realism so much. It is just realism where spilling salt is serious business, where breathing in the graveyard air is dangerous, and where folklore isn’t hidden away but a living, breathing presence. Perhaps this is why I write so many stories and poems that deal with fairy tales and myth, because I can’t explore my poor body image without thinking of Cinderella’s two ugly step sisters, I can’t think of aging without thinking about the queen in Snow White, and, when a strange man asks me for the time and stands a little bit too close, I can’t help but think of Little Red Riding Hood. Gods, monsters, princesses, and witches make up a large part of the fabric through which I emotionally view this world.

One book, which I recently read, that does a wonderful job illustrating how stories color our view of the world is The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht. The book follows Natalia, a young doctor whose Balkan country has been divided by a civil war. She is crossing the new border to give vaccinations to people who view her, in general, as an ancestral enemy. On top of this she discover that her grandfather has died after also crossing the border for unknown reasons. There is a constant tension as Natalia, a lone woman, wanders this angry territory. Obreht does a wonderful job of showing how the threat of violence, while not necessarily overt, is always there. Natalia is reminded that she shouldn’t go to certain places alone—though she doesn’t always take the advice.

When describing The Tiger’s Wife to friends I’ve called it magical realism, but that category doesn’t do the book justice. As Natalia describes her current actions and remembers the times spent with her grandfather, she doesn’t witness anything that couldn’t happen in our mundane world. There are moments that seem magical, like the time she saw an Elephant walk through the city under curfew in the dead of night. It is a beautiful moment, but it’s not literally magical. Even the story that she reconstructs of her grandfather’s boyhood involving the tiger and the tiger’s wife can be logically explained—though there are many moments that seem to come straight out of a fairy tale. In fact throughout most of the story everything exists in our logical mundane world, it’s tension coming from us wondering if she will come across some of that magic she has only heard of in stories. Whether she does or not, I won’t spoil for you. For most of the book, it is only in the stories that Natalia remembers her grandfather telling about his encounters with the deathless man where we see something literally magical happen. Of course, we are hearing Natalia recalling stories her grandfather told her. There is a good deal of distance between us and what may have actually happened—like all good folk tales and urban legends.

Yet for all of this world’s reality and logic, it is still defined by these old folk stories and beliefs. Natalia’s grandmother doesn’t want to move her grandfather’s things for forty days after his death lest his spirit becomes lost.  People leave coins for the dead. We see a group refuse to get their children medical care, as they dig up a vineyard looking for a corpse of a relative, who they believe has cursed them for not giving him a proper burial. Many of these people know those old stories are just “fairy tales,” yet their actions are still dictated by them

In the United States, we tend to pretend that we have moved beyond these stories. Yet, they still color how we approach death, birth, love, and myriad of other actions. To ignore these stories in the name of logic is dangerous, because these stories are still coloring our actions. If we put the folk tales, the fairy tales, and the urban legends, where we reasonable adults can’t see them, we can’t analyze how they are affecting our views.

I suspect that you can go anywhere in the world, point to a bit of geography and ask the locals “What’s that place’s story?”, and they will have one to tell you. Landscapes that are the bodies of giants, the result of a hero’s triumph, the scars of a god’s wrath, or echo with the body-less voices of miner’s buried alive. Even as children, my friends and I tried to create stories for our neighborhood. A small swell in the earth in an empty field became the haunted grave where a murdered baby was buried. The grove of cottonwoods where we rode our bikes was filled with century old ghosts that you might catch a glimpse of if you were alone, and a house that was falling apart belonged to a witch. When someone asks me what I’ll do when I’m done with my fairy tale poems, I stare confounded. I’ll never be done with them.

The Satisfaction of an Ending

A week or two ago, some friends started to tell me and my husband about the recent developments in Supernatural, a show that my husband and I had introduced them to. I immediately responded with, “Stop talking! I don’t want to know!” This reaction was not because I was trying to avoid spoilers, but because the show had what I considered a perfect ending in the last episode of season five, what would have been the last season if it hadn’t suddenly grown popular. Now it wasn’t a happy ending by any means, but it was satisfying and cathartic. I tried to watch the sixth season, but eventually I had to stop. I wanted that perfect ending more than to continue spending time with the characters I loved.

I’ve run into this problem before. I use to devour the  Star Wars expanded universe novels, but I eventually got tired of how they just kept going and going. This is the same reason that I never really got into superhero comics. I love the stand alone stories, but if I always know there is going to be another week, I just can’t do. I love endings.

Maybe it’s an age thing. When I was teenager, I loved returning to adventures with familiar characters. I thought anything was possible for these characters, because I thought anything was possible for me. In high school, I would sit with my best friend, and we would talk about the many and varied adventures that we’d have after graduation. We’d travel, get rich and famous, move into houses that were right next to each other. When I looked to the future, I saw me and my friend, and the only really change was in the setting. I viewed my relationships with fictional characters in a similar light. I was always going to explore a strange galaxy with Han, Leia and Chewbacca, and none us of were ever going to change.

Yes, these books taught me about the dehumanizing horrors of war.

After graduation, my friendship dramatically imploded with a finality I could not have foreseen. I needed endings to help me understand the endings that were happening in my own life. Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway taught me that people die and life is still worth living. Beckett’s Waiting for Godot taught how there is not necessarily a great meaning to all this suffering. Austen’s Persuasion taught me that sometimes there are second chances. Sartre’s The Flies showed me how sometimes you have to leave behind your own faith or be destroyed by it. Hell, even a series of young adult books, Animorphs, which had started when I was in Elementary school and ended a year before I graduated, gave me a cathartic conclusion that I wept over. In that series, where kids fight aliens by shape shifting, I saw characters lose their innocence, die, and suffer from both survivors guilt and post traumatic stress disorder. A series of adventure books for kids became something more, at least to me, because it had an ending.

I think endings often are the most satisfying part of the book, but that satisfaction is hard to describe.  I can’t describe the rage that I felt at the end of All Quiet on the Western Front when the army report for the day that Paul died says nothing more than those titular words, “All quiet on the Western Front.” I can’t describe the sense of satisfaction when, in Mary McCarthy’s The Group, Lakey leaves her dead friend’s abusive husband on the side of the road to hitchhike as the rest of the funeral party drives past. Hell, in describing that ending to you, you probably think that it’s a very different book then it is.  I cannot convey my feelings of hope being crushed in The Plague when Camus writes:

as he listened to the cries of joy rising from the town, Rieux remembered that such joy is always imperiled. He knew as those jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned from books: the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen-chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane  and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.

When I closed the covers of these books, I couldn’t simply move on to the next distraction. I had to sit and think about them for days. I now want that catharsis from all the stories I read and watch.

Perhaps, it may seem unfair to demand such endings of my genre TV, comics, and books, but I don’t think so. The truth is the sun sets, people change, and people die, and I need some acknowledgement of that in my fiction. The idea of the world continuing without change is almost to terrible to bear.

An Incongruity in Taste

I’ve recently recognized an incongruity in my tastes with regards to movies and books. I love retellings of fairy tales and classic literature, but rather despise the current remake culture of TV and film.

Now fairy tales and folklore already lend themselves to retellings, since they originated in an oral tradition and had to, by its very nature, go through different transformations as the story passed from teller to teller. Angela Carter, Tanith Lee, and Neil Gaiman may, at the outset, appear to be radically changing the stories they’re retelling, but on closer inspection they’re doing what storytellers in the oral tradition have always done: changing the story to fit the needs of the audience. These writers, among many more, look to older stories for possibilities. They ask “what if this had happened instead,” “what if we saw the story from another point of view,” or “what other things may have been going on behind the scenes?” Even films like Snow White: A Tale of Terror and the guilty pleasure Hansel and Gretel  Witch Hunters similarly explore the older material.

I enjoy when classic literature is similarly explored. Jean Rhys in Wide Sargasso Sea does a wonderful job of exploring the back-story of the mad wife that Rochester kept locked in his attic in Jane Eyre. Alan Moore in his graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (not to be confused with the abomination of the movie adaptation) does a wonderful job exploring the possibility of a world where all our favorite Victorian science fiction and horror stories simultaneously exist. I love Fred Saberhagen’s The Dracula Tape, a novel that retells Bram Stoker’s Dracula from the point of view of the titular character.

If you’ve read some of my poems, you’ll probably notice that I also retell older stories. For instance, my two poem, “Lucy’s Plea” and “Lucy’s Reunion with an Ex,” which have recently been published by the awesome Versus Literary Journal (didn’t I work that self-advertisement in smoothly), deal with Lucy Westenra’s point of view on the events of Dracula. As the more sexual woman who is quickly killed off, she is the character who is most often overlooked or written out of the story. I thought it would be fun to explore her thoughts, even if I had to change some things from the story for her to speak.

Considering how much I love these retellings, you wouldn’t think I’d be completely filled with rage at the NBC’s upcoming Dracula television series, but I am. Maybe I being a bit unfair, since I’ve yet to see the actual show and my opinion is  based on the below ad.

This show seems to be expanding the Dracula universe in a “what if” direction, not something I normally oppose. Mainly what bothers me is if I didn’t recognize the names Renfield, Jonathan Harker, and Mina Murray, I would have never connected it to Dracula beyond “Oh it has vampires and takes place in Victorian England too.” What otherwise would have appeared to be an original story, now has the brand recognition of Dracula.

On the other hand, if we looked at The Dracula Tape, we see Saberhagen’s obvious love for the source material. While reading, and probably rereading, Dracula, Saberhagen noticed that a narrative structured as the characters’ letters and journals naturally has questionable reliability. He also noticed that blood transfusions before blood typing could be a little deadly, which makes how Dr. Van Helsing was treating Lucy not just questionable but possibly fatal. Saberhagen had to sit with the events of novel and wonder in what other ways they could be interpreted. He is asking us to read the original material more deeply.

Whereas this new Dracula TV show doesn’t ask us to look back at the source material, it doesn’t ask us to think critically about it and maybe realize that there are some problematic issues with it, and it doesn’t ask us to find patterns in the story that could connect it to a completely different tale. We just have sexy vampires, secret societies, and the same old conflicted love story involving a possibly reincarnated lover who looks exactly the same (that’s not how reincarnation works). It may be fun, but I can’t help feel it is trying to manipulate me by calling itself Dracula.

In some ways, this TV show seems to be doing the same thing that the all too infamous Catwoman movie did. Give the product a name that audiences will recognize, throw together a lot of plot elements that seem to sell well regardless of the original story, and look surprised when the already existing fan base doesn’t give you their money.

Ahem…

 

It is all right when an artist radically changes the story. Take Carter’s “Lady in a the House of Love,” where she turns Sleeping Beauty into a vampire. Carter seemed intrigued by the idea of how Sleeping Beauty is an unchanging figure in ever-changing time. She makes the natural connection from the fairy tale to vampires. She explores what happens when this figure is awakened to the changes of time by a young man on bicycle soon to serve in World War I (he is the very figure of the twentieth century). Carter takes an image of the perfect always youthful girl waiting in the tower and changes the story to explore new themes.  Yet, we can still find the seeds of the older fairy tale.

Hell, I even have good will towards the Jane Austen monster mash-up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. While I have yet to read the book (I will be so angry if it’s bad), the excerpts I have read suggest that the Seth Grahame-Smith loves both Austen’s fiction and movie monsters. One is the epitome of high culture, while the other the epitome of low. In trying to bring them together, Grahame-Smith, I hope, was trying to find a common ground for these two disparate things. Let the Austen fans have a little fun with zombies, and let the zombies fans have any entry point for a rather intimidating piece of fiction. However, I doubt the author could have pulled the book off, if he didn’t love both Austen and brain-eating corpses.

What I hate most about this remake culture is that just how cynical it is. So many of these movies are being made not because the director has something new to say about the story, but because of brand recognition. I don’t mind hearing story retold as long as each new storyteller wants to explore the parts that keep him or her up late at night wondering “what if.”

A Pattern in My Reading

On Christmas morning, I opened a gift from my husband and found Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus.  Later, I opened another package from my grandparents’ that contained The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer.  Earlier this year I read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.  As you can probably see, a pattern is emerging— I’ve apparently developed a taste for medical literature.

Now when left to my own devices—in other words when I’m not reading for a class—my reading selection tends to wander. After reading magical realism for a while I’ll shift to nineteenth century Russian literature, then I’ll devour graphic novels, and finally turn to fairy tales. The fact that I’m reading books dealing with disease should not be surprising. However, before this year science books have been oddly absent from my reading list.

Now this is not because I’m disinterested in science, I love watching documentaries on PBS and reading articles from magazines. The reason I’ve unjustly ignored science books is that I associate them with textbooks. It doesn’t matter how interesting the facts are, when the writing is dull I have a hard time getting through all those pages, and few science books are marketed as having lovely prose or a gripping story arc.

Thankfully, I came across The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks earlier this year. Yes, the book is about the science of cancer, how cells are grown for medical testing and patient rights, all of which doesn’t suggest a gripping tale, but it also about a woman who died of cancer, the family she left behind, and even the author’s own quest to find out who was the person that these HeLa cell were taken from, and that is riveting stuff. While I enjoy finding out about science and history, it was this family’s story and the obstacles that they faced because of poverty and race that really interested me and got me through the book.

I started reading Rabid on Christmas and finished it two days later. While I was interested in the titular subject, I was worried that this book would lose my interest, because there was no one to follow all the way through it. The opening of book reassured me, with the first line “Ours is a domesticated age,” followed by a list of news items about animals, seemingly possessed, attacking people, which ends with “The agent of all these acts of possession is, of course, a virus.” That is damn good writing, and throughout the book the prose is tight and even poetic. In some ways, the rabies virus becomes a character—a mysterious unstoppable force that brings the wilderness into our homes and turns humans into something animals like, which eventually becomes a preventable disease that is rare in wealthy countries and even a tool in science laboratories. While following this disease the authors are able to talk about not just science, but history, myth, language, pop culture and people.

Perhaps the reason I’ve developed such an interest in these books is because they provide a single line to follow through confusing histories. It seems that we talk about history in categories—here is a list of battles and names of generals and kings, here is a list of scientific developments, here is a list of folk beliefs and practices. It does not seem that there is much cross over. Yet these two books allow you to cross through categories and show how they relate. What possible connection could the Iliad, Saint Herbert, Vampires, lap dogs and Louis Pasteur share—a surprisingly terrifying one. The economics of medical laboratories seems to belong to a completely different world than that of a death of one woman and her surviving family, but they are not. It is dangerous to forget how these things connect and rely on each other.

Perhaps this just reveals my own tastes. As much as fact can interest me, what holds my attention are people, stories, and of course a well turned phrase. While I have yet to start The Emperor of All Maladies and can’t really judge it yet, all that I’ve heard about this book has been good. I look forward to seeing what surprising places it takes me and, hopefully, discovering books I would have overlooked otherwise.

Atrocity by Increments

This summer I taught Shirley Jackson’s short story, “The Lottery,” for the first time. The reactions to the story were interesting to say the least. About half the students were shocked by the end, and the other half revealed they had not finished it when they interrupted the class to exclaim “They did what?”  One student flat-out refused to read the story because her son had told her about its grotesque end, and she was still unsettled by “The Cask of Amontillado.”

As we discussed the story, what I found interesting were my student’s assumptions about the setting.  A few of them assumed that it took place in a post-apocalyptic future.  After all, the setting had no overt technology with which to place the story in time, and they couldn’t imagine this happening anytime in recent history.  (I also suspect their reading was colored by Octavia Butler’s “Speech Sounds,” which we had read the week before).  However, my students all agreed that this story was not realistic that it could not happen in our world or at least in our culture.

Jackson seems to be mainly known as a horror author and with good cause.  She has great talent for creating unnerving atmospheres where her reader is waiting for things to go wrong.  In her more famous and one of my favorite books, The Haunting of Hill House, she creates an atmosphere so oppressive and so off kilter that I when I first read the book I was terrified before anything had happened.  And lets not forget her mastery of prose, I could swoon over the first paragraph of that novel.  Without a doubt, Jackson is great horror author.

However, the thing about genre fiction, like horror, is a lot of readers (and those who don’t read the genre but are still very vocal about it) tend to treat this all as pretend, which is true to a certain extent.  After all, we know that we don’t need to worry about vampires or the elder gods. But the assumption that it could not happen in the real world is sometimes applied to more realistic works, like Stephan King’s Cujo. When in reality, it is unlikely but still possible.  This reason seems to be why my students saw “The Lottery” as fantastic.  People just don’t kill their neighbors for the bad luck of drawing a piece of paper with a black spot.

I was inspired by my class to read The Lottery and Other Stories.  Taken in the context of the collection, “The Lottery” no longer is as easy to separate from the real world as it was before.  Throughout these stories, Jackson shows people going about their daily lives and the myriad of ways that they are isolated and isolate others. The main source of apprehension I felt reading these stories is the petty cruelties that people visit on each other.  The stories are in our world, but there is still a sense of uncanny about them.  In “Daemon Lover” a young woman tries to track down her fiancé, but we are left wondering if he ever existed in the first place. In “The Renegade” we see a housewife’s growing distress as her neighbors and eventually her own children delight in the fact that her dog, who had killed some chickens, must be put down.  Jackson shows how the city allows people to grow indifferent to each other, and how they can become lost in the crowd.  Jackson also show how the country allows people to form close-knit communities that exclude and shame outsiders.  By the time the reader gets to the titular story, it’s all too clear the “The Lottery” could take place in our world.  The cruelty and inhumanity seen at the end has already been shown in small increments elsewhere.

While I have always read “The Lottery” as being about how tradition allows us or drives us to do some so pretty awful things, Jackson’s short story collection shows the many small ways that pettiness and clannishness leads to atrocity.  When we wonder how groups of people can get together and do terrible things, Jackson answers us in these short stories.  She tells us that the small and petty crimes we commit against each other everyday add up, until we, without a thought, throw stones at neighbors we’ve known our whole lives.

Little Book, You’re Coming Home with Us

I don’t own books; I have relationships with them.  There are the books that I flirt with at the bookstore; they look intriguing but I’m not quite willing—or able—to spend the money necessary to obtain them.  After I leave the bookstore, I will forget some, while others will stay on my mind.  Next time I return, I’ll slip them off their shelves, open their covers and read a little.  This can go on for several visits before I finally give in and buy the book.  Sometimes I see a book and buy it immediately. When I get home, I can’t wait to open it up, or it goes on my shelf and is promptly forgotten.  Some books, I buy out of sense of duty.

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I were having a particularly bad day (in a moment of melodramatic passive aggressiveness I dropped my unabridged Webster’s Dictionary on my fluffy pillow, which is serious stuff).  As we were running errands there was a certain type silence between us—the type of that only comes from two people who are worried about saying something utterly stupid.  We had to stop at a local book store—I needed to order some graphic novels for a class I’m teaching in fall.  As I was waiting, my husband said my name.  I turned around, and he was holding in front of him a hardcover book with a picture of a mouse wearing an Elizabethan cape and ruff while holding a skull.  The title of said book was Let’s Pretend This Never Happened.

“Yes, lets,” I said, as I grabbed the book.  I opened it up and saw that the end sheet had a design showing animals setting up a modeling shoot. One of which was a badger with a camera.  On the inside flap there was an excerpt from a book that mentioned a miniature donkey and a Teddy Roosevelt impersonator in a bar.  As my husband pointed out in the car—the book was coming home with us even before we arrived at the store.

Over the next week as I read it, I would laugh, look at my husband, and he would say “Don’t ruin it! I want to read it too.”  He even looked away when I tried to flash him a chapter title.  The next week when he was able to start reading it, whenever I heard him laugh I’d ran into the room to discover which joke he’d found funny.

Among the humor, what I found interesting about Let’s Pretend this Never Happened, was how much of the book’s form seemed to be influence by blogging.  The author, Jenny Lawson, is The Bloggess after all.  Most memoirs that I’ve read, which I admit has been a relatively small number, tend to try to create a novelistic tone.  There is a story arc to events described.  If the dust jacket didn’t helpfully inform me that Let’s Pretend This Never Happened is “A Mostly True Memoir,” I would have assumed that it was a collection of personal essays that chart how the author has grown as a person, not a memoir.  Each chapter feels self-contained.  Also, the digression and foot notes strike me as something born out of blogging rather than traditional memoir writing.  I’m half tempted to give this book to my creative nonfiction friends and see if their heads would explode, but I suspect that they would point out that Lawson is obviously influenced by so-so who everyone has read.  They would also spontaneously start drinking tea with their little finger extended.

Ultimately, what I’m trying to say is that I really enjoyed Let’s Pretend This Never Happened without ruining any of the jokes.