What is “Normal?”

I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of Finding Normal: Sex, Love, and Taboo in Our Hyperconnected World by Alexa Tsoulis-Reay. This non-fiction book analyzes the concept of “Normal,” and how the Internet has helped people with stigmatized desires find community and get answers to their questions without the judgment that others in society often inherently have.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It was a thoughtful analysis of the concept of normal and bias and what it means to have a supportive community. This analysis included positive and negative results of finding support for non-“normative” concepts. Having a concept of “normal” can sometimes result in people being closed-minded about things they simply do not understand, things that are not hurting other people, such as the first concept that Reay goes into great detail about: people who have open relationships and/or swingers. Reay looks at how people who needed such relationships prior to the internet struggled to find other people who understood them, and how the internet has helped all of them to find a community and engage in the relationship they need. I try to be an open-minded person, but of course, have my own biases, and not having had those particular desires myself, it was very interesting to read about their perspectives and felt a bit fairy-tale esque to read about how they were able to find acceptance through the internet.

However, sometimes, people engage in activity that is not considered “normal” for ethical reasons. Another taboo behavior that is discussed in the book is incest, which, if you are reading my blog, I will assume you agree from a biological and psychological perspective is just not okay. Reay writes about the concept of incestuous desires from a place of curiosity, but ultimately, the fact that there are parents who will act on these desires turns the community that such like-minded individuals have formed a bit darker. How, when you are looking at a parent-child relationship, can there not be a power dynamic at play? Children often want to please their parents, regardless of age, and this desire can be taken advantage of, even if the child sincerely believes he or she is a consenting adult.

There are also some grey areas, such as large age-gap relationships. There is the indisputable statutory rape age difference, for example, which is legally not allowed, since children cannot consent to sexual relationships with adults. But what about a 10-year age difference between a person in his/her/their sixties and his/her/their fifties? What about a 20-year age difference between a person in his/her/their sixties and his/her/their forties?

This blog post is providing just a taste of the thoughtful writing that Reay provides in this book, which includes multiple examples/interviews for each type of non-“normal” activity. If you are interested in the concept, and can read the information with an open mind, I strongly recommend picking up a copy.

My only gripe with this book is that the more taboo concepts are not as fully developed, and it feels like there is more room for analysis. Still, I am not certain that I could have written, or even read, more on those subjects. It is hard to spend time with concepts that are taboo and should remain that way. So this gripe is tiny, and purely from an analytical/editorial viewpoint in which I am trying to remain unbiased. Which basically means I was reading this book correctly, I think, since a lot of the point is to recognize that you have biases, and they may not all be fair, so once you recognize a bias, re-evaluate and figure out if you need to change your stance. I have this crazy theory that, like, if people were more intellectual and empathetic, and thought through how their behavior impacted other people, and tried to be more thoughtful and cool about what they went crazy about, the world might be a better place. As an American citizen, however, it is difficult for me ever seeing that happening, either, so… maybe just read the book and pretend?

What the f –

The premise of fboy island seems like manna dropped from the heavens by the reality-star TV gods: 3 women supposedly looking for love interact with various men, trying to discern the “nice guys” from the “f boys” while sipping wine and catching rays in summer clothing that manages to be flimsier than the show’s premise. From the show’s stupid name to the hostess who is probably being paid more than a year’s rent in the Bay Area for fame that seems to have culminated in Dancing with the Stars, this show sounds like a trashpile that could be the ultimate guilty pleasure.

And it fails to deliver on pretty much every level imaginable.

The foundation of the show is inherently flawed in that it is predicated on the male contestants self-identifying as “nice guys” or “f boys.” Make it to the grand finale, and a guy has a chance to split the $100k prize with his “lucky” lady love… or choose to keep it all for himself if he’s truly an “f boy” through-and-through. (Here is the urban dictionary link, for those, like me, who don’t use this slang term because it’s ridiculous.) As anyone who has made it past the age of 12 is aware, males who self-identify as “nice guys” rarely are, in fact, very nice. So there’s that. Since self-identification is meaningless without a decent amount of honesty and self-awareness, this beginning is an immediate flaw that stuck with me like a piece of corn between the teeth.

The contestants somehow manage to talk too much and be too boring for any non-brain dead viewer to credit anyone on the show other than the hostess with much intelligence. This idea is merely corroborated as the show continues, and self-identified “f boys” are relegated to a weird wooden jail that shows they’re either desperate to be on TV (probably true) or too dumb to read a contract they’re signing.

The women are too serious about everything, including taking weird ethical stances about not being put on a pedestal, because gosh darnit, their men don’t want to be treated like pieces of meat, and want to be in a decent relationship where they are “treated like equals.”

The producers don’t seem to be very good at their job, given that the dude who whipped a poem out of his ass at the first vote-off was, in fact, voted off.

And then, if you get to the end of the show (which I didn’t – I got too bored and traipsed off to bed and my husband, who also agrees the show was terrible but had to know how it ended told me about it), the entire thing is meaningless.

There was this one super tiny blonde girl who was absolutely infatuated with a guy who self-identified as f-boy (I don’t remember names, but, like, does it really matter? Let’s just call them Tiny Blonde and Sunburn). Like, she was just really into him. There were multiple instances where his “f boy” status was blatantly thrown in her face, from other contestants to finding out about his girlfriend, which she initially got really thrown by, but she just kept going back to him and giving him “another chance.” So finally, Tiny Blonde gets the D near the end of the series, and of course, she picks him at the end and identifies him as a “Nice guy.” And Sunburn’s all, “Nah, thanks for the memories, but like, don’t really care. Gimme my $100k.” And the show refuses and gives his money to charity or something.

So Tiny Blonde is devastated and Sunburn is devastated and the viewer, if he/she/they are paying attention better also be devastated because what was the point of everything just watched if the stakes laid out at the beginning of the show were always fictitious? The show did not deliver on its’ premise and should be ashamed of itself. It took an amazing fun idea and f’d it up while also managing to make a show that is not worth anyone’s time because it’s so boring. I actually ended up feeling sorry for Sunburn, because he put in a lot of time and effort and vilified himself on reality TV, and did not receive his promised monetary compensation. He may have gotten it in other ways, but there was no point in anything that had just been shown on the show, because there was no way anyone self-identifying as an “f-boy” was going to get the money they were supposedly allowed to “choose.”

Reality TV shouldn’t get to take morality stances or pass judgment, especially not in a show like this. The whole point of the show is that people kind of suck, but who wins in a battle of “nice guys” and “f boys?” The answer is, neither. All of those people were stuck in a purgatory of boring conversations that the show producers ultimately made meaningless by taking all stakes away at the end because they didn’t get the answer they wanted. (I get that they tried to send a plethora of hints to Tiny Blonde, who actually just didn’t care, but still… live with it.)

Oh, also, there’s going to be an fboy island season 2. Hopefully no one bothers to watch that one, since it’s only worth your time if you’re awaiting execution and trying to deaden your brain cells before departing from this earth forevermore.

My Reading Year in 2021

Courtesy of Goodreads

In 2021, I read 76 books and 23,564 pages, or an average of 310 pages per book. In comparison to 2020, my reading increased by 9 books and 1,078 pages, but the average number of pages per book decreased by 25 pages per book.

The shortest book I read in 2021 is Hannah Lee Kidder’s short story collection Starlight. I did not much care for the collection, which I rated 3 stars and found a bit of a mixed bag. Here is my review:

The longest book I read was Tana French’s The Witch Elm, which had interesting ideas but which I did not much care for. Here is my review:

In comparison to 2020, the short story collection Starlight is 35 pages longer than Gillian Flynn’s short story The Stranger, and The Witch Elm is 95 pages shorter than Plain Bad Heroines.

The most popular novel I read is another Jane Austen (what can I say? Austen’s one of my comfort reads) – this time, Sense & Sensibility. The lease popular novel I read does not have a cover, and Goodreads would not let me upload one, but it is The Fetish Murders by Avon Curry. The Fetish Murders is a pulp fiction thriller from the 1970s that is not very good, but is very fun if you like pulp fiction and are okay with the concept of reading fiction with very outdated cultural norms. The very purpose of The Fetish Murders is to shock and titillate by bringing up the idea of cross-dressing and homosexuality, which a lot of people (myself included) have absolutely no problem with anymore… So if you’re cool with reading it as a sort of historical/anthropological study of Americana, it’s kind of interesting. If you’re looking for legitimately good literature, or something that current educated cultural norms would not consider offensive… I would recommend steering clear.

Here’s the book – please ignore my fat thumb and the silhouette of my jeans.

My average rating for 2021 is 3.3 stars. A bit higher than average, but… not great. Much lower than 2020’s average rating of 3.8.

The first book I reviewed on Goodreads in 2021 was for the ARC Why She Wrote. I also wrote a blog post about this one, so won’t bore you by going into further detail here other than to say that for what it is, I thought it was pretty good.

I have a fascination and enjoyment with reading pulp fiction. At the end of the day, the books are generally all middle-of-the-road, average 3-star reads. But they’re fun and so much occurs in these novels and I derive a sort of comfort from them. I will continue reading them, and giving uninformative, likely one-sentence reviews on Goodreads.

Overall, I had a pretty disappointing reading year in 2021. How about you? Any great reads? I think I desperately need a better year in 2022, so would greatly appreciate any and all recommendations!

Fuck It: Let’s Try Again

November was a sucky month. Everyone in my house got sick, and I did an abysmal job at NaNo. I did initially start writing more frequently, but that petered out as everyone got more feverish and crabby in my house and I was stuck on bed for the most part, when not working.

SO, I have decided I will just start over this month, but also amend my goal. Realistically, 1.7k words a day is not going to happen. But I can try to write every day.

So that’s my DecWriMo goal.

Wanna join me?

Book Review: Tales from the Darkside

In the mood for a spooky read, I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of Tales from the Darkside: The Repeater Book of the Occult, edited by Tariq Goddard and Eugene Thacker.

I really like the concept of this book – an anthology of lesser-known stories featuring the supernatural. Each story is selected and introduced by an author published by Repeater Books. Released in February of this year, October is a fitting month to read through it. Unfortunately, the rambling introduction was a harbinger of the let-down to come. Many of the stories in this collection are very well-known, and an avid reader of horror short stories has probably already read them. In addition, the introductions to the stories, if you have not already read the story, is really an essay for why the particular author selected it, and generally includes spoilers.

Here is my review, on a story-by-story basis:

  • Squire Toby’s Will by Sheridan Le Fanu
    • Decent read. Not amazing, but appropriately spooky. Includes a family of some of the worst men ever and demons.
  • The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
    • I’m just going to assume you have read this. Great story, and one I am always up for re-reading.
  • On Ghosts by Mary Shelley
    • An essay by the authoress of Frankenstein, this essay doesn’t necessarily advocate for ghosts so much as lament the lack of magic in a world that insists on rational explanations. I did enjoy reading it, and would recommend.
  • Par Avion by Marlene Dotard
    • Yuck. This story was… not good. The glowing essay talking about how this weird chick was friends with other authors who are well known and how Marlene was so smart, and insisted on trying to draw relationships between science and belief in the supernatural is better than the story itself. Do yourself a favor, skip this story, which has generally not been well-known for a reason.
  • The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs
    • Also assuming you’ve read this one. It is well-written, and the essay beforehand includes multiple interpretation, which are interesting to read as well.
  • A Haunted House by Virgina Woolf
    • I guess this one was inspired by a stint Virginia and her husband spent in a haunted house, which… of course it is, because wasn’t Virginia always writing about herself? It’s fine. Didn’t love it, didn’t hate it.
  • Green Tea by Sheridan Le Fanu
    • The essay before this one mentions how popular this story is, although I myself hadn’t actually read it. It’s fine. I actually didn’t much like it, but it definitely involves the supernatural.
  • Punch, Brothers, Punch by Mark Twain
    • Short, punchy, funny, and a little spooky. Very good short story, that again – you have probably already read. If you haven’t, ignore the essay and just read the story.
  • Unseen – Unfeared by Francis Stevens
    • A weird detective story that also deals with fear of “other-ness” and indicates that perhaps the monsters are created by us because we are all awful. Not terrible, but don’t know that I would recommend, either.
  • The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe
    • Great story that you have probably already read. In my opinion, the best short story in the collection, but also, like… it’s Poe. Like, of course it’s good… in fact, it feels a bit cliche to include it in this collection.
  • The Willows by Algernon Blackwood
    • This story is one of those naturalist things where the author is like isn’t nature amazing and fearsome? I actually don’t much like naturalist things, so I didn’t finish this one.

In summation, 4 good stories you have probably already read, a short essay by Mary Shelley that is enjoyable and that you can probably also find pretty easily on-line. Unless you want these particularly short stories in a collection, I would not particularly recommend.

What about you – have any spooky reads to recommend this Halloween?

Preptober 2021: Signing Up for NaNoWriMo

I have created my NaNoWriMo 2021 project, which I am determined to create this year. Here is my username, if you are also participating and would like to be my buddy in the site:

In the meantime, I have a ton of plotting and character development to work through, if I have time, before November 1st. I will not have everything figured out, but am hoping to have at least a few scenes planned for each of the 8 plot points per the one-page/small booklet plot I put together earlier.

What are you doing, in the last 1/2 week or so before November 1st? Let me know your plans in the comments below or in the NaNoWriMo site. I look forward to connecting and spurring each other on to ever higher word counts in our novel-writing journeys.

Preptober 2021: Plotting?

Next step in the Preptober journey is probably figuring out what you think you want to write, and if you have had trouble completing projects… putting in some thought about your work, I guess? To be completely frank, I have been slammed with work, so my Preptober has not been as focused as I would have liked. I have, however, listened to the Eva Deverell video on how to plot a novel on one page, and put together a teeny tiny little booklet to help guide me through the process. I think it will need to be expanded, and feel like I will start putting together some flash cards to help guide me through the plot as I work through it, separated by the 8 plot pieces I have in my booklet.

Seriously… how cool is this?

What are you doing to prep for NaNoWriMo? Any good videos/tips/tricks to recommend to me?

Preptober 2021: Supplies

The next step in my Preptober journey: pick up some inspirational writing supplies.

This could be a bullet journal, some of your favorite pens, sticky notes, stickers, a literal writer’s block, some amazing blueberry or coconut flavored coffee, etc. Just whatever will motivate and inspire you. For me, I have picked up a brown bullet journal:

Which includes using some of the stickers I had already lying around to try to inspire a steady writing habit:

My decoration has also included some more direct inspiration:

I will also, of course, be consuming coffee, and ransacking my children’s Halloween spoils.

What about you? What inspirational writing supplies are you planning to use for November?