On Carrying The Things They Carried

War books are generally not something I seek out on my own–well, outside of dystopian or fantasy war. They are generally something that comes recommended (like Code Name Verity, god I love that book) or assigned (like The Orphan Master’s Son).

The Things They Carried falls under the latter: assigned to read for March Books & Bars. From a literary standpoint, I appreciated Tim O’Brien’s book that plays jumprope with the fiction/nonfiction line. His writing is beautiful and does an excellent job of engaging the reader.

The first section, the eponymous The Things They Carried, is fascinating. I appreciated the repetition of “the things they carried” (2) and the insight into the odd fascinations of the characters (for instance, Lietenant Jimmy Cross’s obsession with Martha’s virginity or lack thereof).

I also enjoyed the tool of storytelling–how it is used to give continued life to people after they pass on, and how it is told to unite the past with the present. Notably, this section:

Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story. (36)

The section of the book I most enjoyed, “On the Rainy River,” tells of narrator Tim’s almost evasion of the draft to Canada. It made the book more real to me to see a student of a liberal arts college (Macalester) grappling with the idea of going to war when he does not believe in it.

That said, The Things They Carried was not my cup of tea, but I don’t feel like I’m in a place to criticize. It was very man-heavy, but that was the way things were in the time of the Vietnam War. Between that, my own nonmilitary status, and my lack of family who went to Vietnam, I didn’t connect. This is a book I can appreciate, admire even. But I do not see myself carrying the stories of The Things They Carried far into the future, because they will be lost to the stories that I do connect to.

Work Cited

O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. 1990. New York, NY: Mariner, 2009.

On Where I Diverged in the Divergent Series

A friend and I decided that, with the Divergent movie out this spring and being fans of dystopian YA like The Hunger Games, it was high time we read the series.

I tore through Divergent, the first one in the series, in an afternoon.  Immediately upon finishing, I had to dash to the nearest Barnes & Noble to buy the remaining two books: Insurgent and Allegiant.

The world was absorbing. Five factions: Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite. You can only belong to one, and you must choose at 16 to stay in the faction you were born into or leave it. Being factionless was undesirable. Fascinating–and definitely set up for trouble.

Enter Tris, our heroine, born in Abnegation and about to decide where she belongs. The problem? The test that reveals what faction one has an aptitude for is inconclusive for Tris: she is Divergent. (Dun Dun Dun!)

The first book follows what happens when Tris leaves Abnegation–and her family–for Dauntless, and she must learn how to be Dauntless: how to jump on moving trains, how to fight, how to conquer fears. It’s absolutely a challenge, but Tris grows and strengthens and succeeds. Yes, she has help and a love interest in Four, but for the most part, Divergent is about Tris.

Even when Four scolds and treats Tris disdainfully, she maintains a clear, smart lady attitude:

That is all I need: to remember who I am. And I am someone who does not let inconsequential things like boys and near-death experiences stop her. (346)

Beautiful.

If only the series had maintained this trend. If you haven’t read the series and don’t want to know what happens, don’t continue reading.

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

Okay, you had your chance.

Tris and Four’s relationship is utterly unhealthy and annoying through the next two books. Tris knowingly walks into what should be her death and then realizes “Oops, I don’t want to die.” They lie to each other and don’t share their plans. They are not kind to one another.

When I began reading the last book, and there was immediately a chapter by Tobias, it made me wonder, “Hmmm… why is there suddenly a dual narrator.”

If you’re reading this, you already know or don’t care about being spoiled that Tris dies, which is the primary reason for a dual narration. Now, I don’t have a problem with a main character dying. But, when first two books in a series are narrated by one character, and third is narrated by two, it’s obvious what’s going to happen. And that is the part I don’t like.

If Veronica Roth’s intent was always for Tris to die, all three books should have had dual narration. Divergent was fabulous, so I only would have wanted Four in a few chapters, but his narration could have increased over the course of Insurgent so that Allegiant wouldn’t have been so startling.

In between the unhealthy relationship and the handling of Allegiants narration, the series lost me. It took me days to get through Insurgent and Allegiant, respectively. And this I believe to be the fault of Veronica Roth being on a book a year publishing schedule. Good writing takes time. Look at Harry Potter, look at Game of Thrones. With more time and attention, I think Insurgent and Allegiant could have gone above and beyond the greatness of Divergent.

Alas, it is what it is. Divergent was wonderful, but I diverged after DivergentInsurgent and Allegiant did not live up to my hopes and expectations. It was definitely not my favorite series.

Works Cited

Roth, Veronica. Divergent. New York, NY: Katherine Tegen Books, 2011.

— Insurgent. New York, NY: Katherine Tegen Books, 2012.

— Allegiant. New York, NY: Katherine Tegen Books, 2013.

A Look at the Ladies of Life After Life

As you all probably know all too well, I love books that challenge and sculpt traditional notions of womanhood–particularly, those relating to marriage and spinsterhood. It should be no surprise that what I loved most about Life After Life is how Kate Atkinson both took inspiration from and renovated the notions of womanhood created by Jane Austen.

(Before I go into further detail, Life After Life refers to Ursula’s living and reliving and reliving her life with different endings and different sidebars.)

Of course there are other elements of the story that are highly intriguing. For instance, the repetition of “Darkness fell” in some variation at the end of each section/each of Ursula’s lives (4). But the intrigue of this repetition pales in comparison to the roles of women.

Let’s start with Izzie, Ursula’s aunt and the character who I consider to be the greatest inspiration to Ursula. Izzie is almost always a spinster in Ursula’s lives–and a kickass spinster at that. I could read a whole book about Izzie.

Seriously. Kate Atkinson, get on that.

Here’s why: Izzie writes “a weekly column for a newspaper–Adventures of a Modern Spinster the column was called–on the subject of being  a ‘singleton’” (149); “bobbed her hair” (150); and talks of “the freedom that a single woman could obtain from ownership of ‘a little car’” (171).

Beautiful. A spinster as Jane Austen would have written it–if she had been writing even a century later.

And the perfect setting for what I take to be the conclusion of the novel: Ursula is at her best when she is unmarried.

Married Ursula meets unhappy ends. First with Derek who sucks anything fun, anything hers, out of Ursula’s life. In another life with her German husband, she dies alongside her daughter, impoverished during the war. Marriage for Ursula is harmful–and a distraction from her lifelong mission: keeping her brother Teddy alive, and sometimes killing Hitler.

This is what is beautiful about Life After Life: woman as rescuer. After all, the family connection between Teddy and Ursula is stronger than any marriage could be.

For Jane Austen’s writing, each book found a happy ending in marriage; for Jane herself, she remained a spinster. Life After Life finds itself somewhere in between. Marriages are in the middle of the mix and not exactly happy. Women have a mission beyond marriage.

And, as Ursula points out: “The unmarried daughter … It was good enough for Jane Austen” herself (295).

Work Cited

Atkinson, Kate. Life After Life. New York, NY: Back Bay Books, 2013.

A Collection of Bookgasms

When a book references another book–or the concept of reading in general–it makes me have an oh-so-happy bookgasmic moment. Over the past few months, I’ve noticed that quite a few of the books I read do this–perhaps because authors are literary junkies just like me: mentions of favorite books or the act of reading makes us ridiculously happy.

On Reading

I can’t imagine a life where reading is not a cornerstone of my daily activity. It’s entertainment as well as intellectual and emotional development all at once.

Every time I read a book that refers to the act of reading, it makes me doubly happy that I am currently using my time to be engrossed in this book.

Late last fall, I read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, a dystopian imagining of the world where, among other things, people are not encouraged to read.

You can’t consume much if you sit still and read books. (Huxley 50)

Oh, how wrong that statement is: reading books = consuming everything.

As one of the characters of The Winter Sea notes, reading allows the reader to experience things not previously thought imaginable: “…as though by reading he could give his mind at least a taste of liberty” (Kearsley 192).

Early in The Winter Sea, Carrie, a writer and avid reader, is engaged in the following conversation:

“When on earth do you have time to read?”

“There’s always time to read.” (Kearsley 9)

Carrie’s sentiment is one that Cheryl Strayed would certainly agree with. As recounted in her memoir Wild, even while hiking the strenuous Pacific Crest Trail, Strayed still found time to read, going through several books on her journey.

“Reading’s my reward at the end of the day” (Strayed 149)

After all, isn’t reading the perfect way to end a day?

On Book References

While reading Code Name Verity, I felt a kinmanship with the aforementioned Verity based on the literary references she continuously made: all of which were books I had read and loved at some point in my life.

I’m going to let Verity’s words speak for me this time, and I’m not going to say much about each of these quotes. I think you’ll understand by the end why I love Verity and Code Name Verity so freaking much.

For instance, my favorite Shakespeare play featuring a strong lady:

“…the mental wolfishness of Lady Macbeth.” (Wein 15)

Or A Tale of Two Cities, a Dickens work I have twice-read.

“Jacques is what the French citizens all call each other in A Tale of Two Cities, and it seems appropriate.” (Wein 24)

Or  A Little Princess, a staple in my childhood reading:

“I thought about Sara Crewe in A Little Princes, pretending she is a prisoner in the Bastille to make her work as a scullery maid more bearable.” (Wein 85)

Of course, Peter Pan, a book I did not actually read until I was 20 and in a gender studies/lit class.

“This young fellow–let’s call him Michael (after the youngest of the Darling children in Peter Pan…” (Wein 154)

And last but not least, a very famous Scottish poet who both represented Verity’s heritage and my attachment to Scotland:

“I can’t keep it up forever, but I know an awful lot of Robert Burns by heart.” (167)

My books are my favorite possessions, and reading is my favorite pastime. It should be no surprise that a book referencing other books or the act of reading has such a special place in my heart. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must be off to read some more.

Work Cited

Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. 1932. New York, NY: HarperPerennial, 2006.

Kearsley, Susanna. The Winter Sea. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Landmark, 2008.

Strayed, Cheryl. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. New York, NY: Vintage, 2012.

Wein, Elizabeth. Code Name Verity. 2012. New York, NY: Hyperion, 2013.

#TCMoby: The Summer of Moby-Dick Approaches

photo 1-2

Hello friends.

Summer 2014 is looming and a number of us Twin Cities Twitterers are doing a Moby-Dick Or, The Whale read-along. If you’ve always wanted to read Moby-Dick (or if you want to make the occasional “dick” pun), you’re welcome to join us–regardless of location. We’ll be Tweeting with the hashtag #TCMoby (I’m @bethbabbles).

If you’d like, you can also simultaneously read A Whaler’s Dictionary by Dan Beachy-Quick. I’ve made a schedule to read it chronologically along with Moby-Dick, but feel free to use it as if it were a dictionary instead. (Note: I haven’t read it yet, so I can’t attest to how helpful it will be.)

From May 1 through August 28, we will be reading and discussing Moby-Dick via Twitter and this blog. A blog post on each week’s section will go up each Thursday. Comments are welcome.

You have over a month to acquire the book (or both books). I’d recommend your favorite indie bookstore (hem, Magers & Quinn) or nearest Barnes & Noble (let’s support bookstores, guys).

Click here to go to #TCMoby page and access the schedule.

Good luck.

Works Cited

Beachy-Quick, Dan. A Whaler’s Dictionary. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed, 2008.

Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick Or, The Whale. 1851. New York, NY: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2003.

#beachreads part four: Mystic River

When I left for Mexico, I left with the goal of having a conversation with a stranger based on what I was reading. Mystic River turned out to be that book. Unfortunately, the conversation happened on the plane, where I read the bulk of the book, with the stewardess rather than on the beach where I read the first chapter.

#beachreads (sort of)

Mystic River was an excellent book to read all at once. Breaks likely would have made me lose interest in this very man-heavy book (especially boo after reading Code Name Verity). Instead, by reading it all at once, I satisfied my curiosity to find out what happened and enabled myself to promptly store it in the back of my head with books I have “eh” feelings about (sorry, Dennis Lehane; also sorry to the stewardess who said the book was great).

The book follows Sean, Jimmy, and Dave, childhood friends whose lives are forever changed when a creepy dude kidnaps and rapes Dave. Over the years, they drift apart and are only brought back together when Jimmy’s daughter Katie is murdered, Sean is the cop investigating, and Dave was in the bar where Katie was last seen alive.

Which brings me to my complaint on this novel. Women exist primarily as plot devices and seldom are shown to be action characters or exhibit intelligence. Instead, they exist as sources of comfort and creatures to be used to spur the plot along. Boo!

The men, of course, all act in ways to ruin and create discord in their own lives. SPOILER ALERT. Sean’s behavior causes his wife to live him. Dave destroys trust in his marriage when he comes home covered in someone’s blood the same night Katie is murdered. Jimmy destroys friendships when he murders Dave, wrongfully assuming that Dave killed Katie. Good job, guys. Way to act before you think.

The men in this book are best summed up by Brendan, former boyfriend of Katie, repeating his mother’s words:

“Men.” He shrugged. “How if you give ‘em half a chance, they’ll fuck you over just to prove they can.”

And that is exactly what all the men in this book do. When Celeste, Dave’s wife, does what seems to be the right thing, and the closest to action any of the women get, she gets screwed over. Confessing to Jimmy that Dave may have killed Katie leads to Dave’s death. Again, even this action of doing what’s right is entirely focused on the men.

Mystic River is suspenseful, but it is also layered in sexism. It’s interesting to find out what happens, but I honestly was so annoyed with the weakness of the women that I was glad to finally reach the end of this book.

Work Cited

Lehane, Dennis. Mystic River. New York, NY: Harper, 2001.

#beachreads part three: Code Name Verity

When I told my coworker I was going to read Code Name Verity on the beach, she said “As long as you’re okay with crying on the beach.” 

Crying on a beach in Mexico where very few people know me/will see me again… why not?

#beachreads

Code Name Verity: an unlikely #beachread
Code Name Verity: an unlikely #beachread

I’m going to do my best not to spoil this book for anyone who hasn’t read it, because it is beautiful and everyone should read it. However, since it’s in the brief back cover copy, it’s not a spoiler to tell you that Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein is about two girls who are best friends working in the British military at the time of World War II, and “just one of the girls has  chance at survival.”

Not so much of a surprise that the book would be sad in terms of its plot: Wein’s accomplishment is making the reader feel so damn much and hurt so damn badly by the end.

The sadness aside, if I was to narrow all the reasons to read this book (it won a Printz Award, it has a host of starred reviews, the very real historical nature, the compelling voice of Verity as she writes in her journal and so on) to just one reason, it would have to be this:

The beautiful friendship and ardent feminism of “Verity” and Maddie

From both Verity’s (no, I will not be telling you her real name) and Maddie’s accounts,  it is clear that they are doing their best to kick ass in a time where women’s roles in the workforce and the military were severely limited.

Maddie joins the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force to take a chance on her dreams to fly.

A girl flying an airplane! (13)

Verity’s role as a spy for the WAAF is not exactly her passion, but it is equally important. As she puts her  and Maddie’s roles in perspective, she notes:

And I envied that [Maddie] had chosen her work herself and was doing what she wanted to do. I don’t suppose I had any idea what I “wanted” and so I was chosen, not choosing. There’s glory and honor in being chosen. But not much room for free will.

Of course Verity and Maddie can’t talk much about their respective duties in WAAF: “Careless talk costs lives.” (71). Instead they share stories from their lives, they share their fears, they grow close and build a strong friendship.

And the most compelling aspect of Code Name Verity is the strength and importance of this friendship and working relationship. All Maddie and Verity really, truly have is their work and each other–and it’s beautiful:

It’s like being in love, discovering your best friend. (68)

When Verity the spy is captured and Maddie is also stuck in Germany trying to rescue her, it is up in the air as to which one has the shot at survival. But it is clear that they are just as dedicated to each other as they are to doing their jobs and doing the right thing in the time of war.

As the reader engages with Verity and Maddie and learns more and more and more about their lives and their closeness, it naturally leads the reader who knows that “just one of the girls has a shot at survival” (back cover copy) down this sad sad path wondering which girl will die and how it will happen and how it will impact the one who lives, and god, please Elizabeth Wein, can they both just live?

Or at least, that’s how I felt as I read the book. It may have been an unlikely #beachread, but Code Name Verity on the beach–even though it made me cry–may just have been the perfect setting and the perfect time to read this novel. That is, short of reading it in Verity’s native Scotland.

Work Cited

Wein, Elizabeth. Code Name Verity. 2012. New York, NY: Hyperion, 2013.

#beachreads part two: The Duke and I

On my recent vacation, I made my first foray into the Romance genre. And what setting could be more perfect to read a Romance novel than a beach in Mexico? 

#beachreads

The beach... where it was warm... and sunny... and cheerful...
The beach… where it was warm… and sunny… and cheerful…

Around the holidays, one of my coworkers decided to be the “Romance Fairy” and gift another coworker and I with new romance novels. Both of my coworkers have been into the romance genre for quite some time and had been gradually convincing me that I should take a dip into Romance.

Not that I was opposed: I long have enjoyed other families of genre fiction. Why wouldn’t I enjoy Romance as well? Especially when my gift from the Romance Fairy was described as “Jane Austen with sex.” Win-win.

When my jaunt to Mexico approached, The Duke and I seemed to be a natural choice for my reading material. Fresh off the beast (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle), The Duke and I was light, fast, and easy. And pretty enjoyable.

The Duke and unsurprisingly follows the I, Daphne, and the Duke, Simon, as they progress from strangers to friends to something more, with a host of complications along the way. It’s not so much about what happens as how it happens.

I’ll start with the parts of the book I was less than pleased with. Admittedly, part of it is the product of the limiting time in which Julia Quinn set the Bridgertons.

The Ugh/Ew Moments

Aside from my general disdain of traditional marriage and the pursuit thereof, there were few moments of “ugh” and “ew.” And since my bitching about traditional marriage has been done repeatedly throughout this blog’s life, I’ll hone in on one other thing that caused me to go “ugh” while reading The Duke and I–and that would be Daphne’s belittling her own self-worth.

Through much of the book, Daphne is spot-on, sassy, and super feminist ahead of her time. However, when she meets Simon, she almost instantly sighs that nothing would happen,

“Maybe it was because she knew a man like him would never be interested in a woman like her.” (47)

Ugh.

Daphne, with her wit and understanding, is so much better than Simon, who is the occasional mix of brat and dick. Speaking of…

Society-Defying Daphne

Much of the time, Daphne is not only smart and kind, but she is insistent and decisive  in her choice of suitors. She isn’t afraid to object to a suitor (rejecting at least four) even though her mother, Violet, desperately wants her to get married.

Daphne also isn’t afraid to hint at her own feelings on the lack of gender equality. For instance, when Violet laments her sons’ performances in school, Daphne is quick to offer:

“I’m sure I would take a first if Oxford would only see fit to admit women.” (20)

And she probably would, but the best part of this inclusion is that it shows she, unlike some other women depicted in that time (looking at you, Charles Dickens), has developed brains enough to realize that she could grow even more if she had a chance at education. Alas, it was not to be. Fingers crossed her (spoiler alert) daughters get a shot at university.

Smart as she is, Daphne is also quick to realize stereotypes of women–and quick to lament when she finds herself playing that role:

“She hated that men thought that women were fickle, changeable creatures, and she hated even more that she was living up to that image right then.” (64)

I know Daphne is the productive of the time she is placed in, so I’ll refrain from lamenting how much more kickass she could have been in a later century. Instead, in the context of the time Quinn set her characters, Daphne is pretty far ahead of her time, and I can be satisfied with that.

Lady Whistledown’s Society Papers

Lady Whistledown is a snarky lady, which is why I oh-so enjoyed her Society Papers. Also, starting each chapter with an excerpt from them? Well done, Julia Quinn.

Most of the time, the reader learns what is going on with the Bridgertons, or the Featheringtons or another local family, but sometimes Lady Whistledown offers up some all-around, spot-on insight:

“To say that men can be bullheaded would be insulting to the bull.” (291)

I NEED TO KNOW WHO LADY WHISTLEDOWN IS and how she knows so much about the Bridgertons. I’m really hoping for a sassy spinster. *fingers crossed*

So, Barnes & Noble, watch out. I’ll probably be hitting you up for the rest of the Bridgertons. In the summer. When my TBR shelf has shrunk. And when it’s warm and sunny and I can once again enjoy some #beachreads.

Work Cited

Quinn, Julia. The Duke and I. New York, NY: Avon, 2000.

#beachreads, part one: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

In January, I had a beautiful respite from Minnesota winter on the beach in Mexico. With each book I read, I noticed how the setting impacted my interpretation of the book. Thus, a mini-series of blog posts is born.

#beachreads

A few weeks before my book club met in January, I read an article on Huffington Post about the best books to read during different stages of life. One of them was during unemployment: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. Is it the length of the book or is it the fact the protagonist is unemployed? I would vote both.

I read the beast that is The Wind-Up Bird on the beach in Mexico–and I have to say, on vacation is an excellent time to read Murakami. There are a whole host of features of the book that intrigued me: the unreliable narrator, the portrayals of women, the job-hunt, the dissolving marriage, the way-too-many dream blowjobs, the well…

But I’m going to focus on the parts that especially caught my attention in this unlikely #beachread.

Toru’s Existential Crisis

Toru Okada doesn’t know what he’s doing with his life, which is perhaps the reason this has been dubbed a great book to read while unemployed.

One of my fears is I’ll reach my late twenties and be distinctly dissatisfied with my decisions of my early twenties: Did I live in the right city? Did I pick the right job? What if I had done something differently?

And while I hope to have a very meditative acceptance of my choices, that fear still exists. And, it is a fear amplified by reading about Toru’s existential crisis:

Objectively speaking, I had done nothing meaningful in these six years… (210)

Despite the fear this instills in me, it is nevertheless validating. I mean, six years hence I can’t possibly have done worse than Toru. That, at least, is an encouraging thought.

A Lost Sense of Reality

Perhaps the biggest reason that The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle makes for an excellent #beachread is that there is a blurred sense of reality, much like what exists when one is on vacation. In my instance, removing myself from the work environment and joining up with warm beach time in January, accompanied by adult beverages, likely blurred my sense of reality.

When Toru loses his sense of reality (i.e. spending time in the well, the spot on his face), instead of raising an eyebrow, I rolled with it. Note the following passage:

I mean, reality is kind of made up of these different layers. … It depends on which reality you take and which reality I take. (518)

The Cat

If you follow me on Twitter and Instagram, you know I’m kindofsortof obsessed with my dear cat Arya (who, coincidentally, reviews books). So any book that talks about cats wins me over, although this one made me sad I was on vacation and Arya was all alone in the apartment (being checked on by a superkittysitter of course).

I digress.

There is a cat whose presence in the book is largely as a missing cat, a cat that Toru, aka Mr. Wind-Up Bird, tries to find for his wife.

But cats have their own way of living. They’re not stupid. If a cat stopped living where you happened to be, that meant it had decided to go somewhere else. (9)

Overall conclusion: For me, vacation + cat + lost sense of reality + existential crisis = a stellar read. Maybe this book works for you, maybe it doesn’t. But, my conclusion after reading this beast, was that you need to be in the proper mindset to appreciate it. I found mine, and I highly recommend you find yours.

Work Cited

Murakami, Haruki. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. New York, NY: Knopf, 1997.

A Bookish Throwback to the 1998 Winter Olympics

In general, I don’t like sports. It seems silly to get so worked up over an event that has little to no impact on your life. It’s just boring, you know? Why would you want to watch something like the Super Bowl when you could be buried in a  novel that enriches your mind?

But, there is one exception: figure skating. And an exception likely because, in addition to being a challenging sport, it is also a beautiful performance–much akin to watching dance or going to the theatre.

Now, I’m long past the days where I gobbled up every single broadcast of a figure skating event. In light of the Olympics, however, I’m reflecting back on the days when I cared deeply about figure skating and idolized my favorite (and, in my opinion, the best) figure skater of all time: Michelle Kwan.

Back in the ’90s, when I was a child and had not yet encountered Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings, I had a different obsession: ladies figure skating. Every winter, my mom and I would put on events like Skate America, the U.S. Nationals, and the Worlds championships. Naturally, Michelle Kwan was our favorite since ’95. And naturally, we disliked Tara Lipinski (fun fact: my brother referred to her as “Terrible Isn’t She”).

Since I was also a bookish girl, when the ’98 Olympics in Nagano approached, I bought two books on the skating rivalry between Tara and Michelle, with discussions of their strengths and weaknesses–and ability to win the Olympic gold. Over the recent Christmas holiday, I collected all of my remaining books from my dad’s house, including these two figure skating books. As I unpacked in my apartment, I wondered: Should I keep these? Should I toss them? It’s been 16 years. (God, I’m old.)

photo 1

I ended up deciding to keep them, and in the spirit of the Olympics and the upcoming ladies competition this week, I reread them.

First up, Tara and Michelle: The Road to Gold by Wendy Daly. This book definitely feels targeted to young readers–especially since it opens talking to the reader about doing homework and going to school. And that tone is kept throughout the book, with the inclusion of too many exclamation points (just from an editing standpoint).

Next, Skating for the Gold: Michelle Kwan & Tara Lipinski by Chip Lovitt. This one, while also still being a target to younger readers, is presented more maturely (translation: fewer exclamation marks).

Anyway, both books have a natural focus Michelle’s and Tara’s careers leading up to the ’97-’98 season (especially focusing on Tara unseating Michelle as National and World Champion in ’97). And both show how very different Michelle’s and Tara’s personalities and skating styles are, which is probably why I (along with so many others) love Michelle so much more.

It’s clear throughout the books, that Michelle not only had to work hard and really want it, but that her parents had to make many sacrifices to finance Michelle’s career as she started out. Sure, Tara Lipinski’s parents had to live far apart, but on many occasions it became clear that Tara was a spoiled only child who was lucky to have her parents indulge her every wish–”they would do anything to make her happy” (Daly 55).

Perhaps the funniest thing to me, is how in both books and in the commentary on the ’98 Olympic performances, others talk about how both Michelle and Tara would skate for years to come, which is not true at all. Tara Lipinski promptly retired after winning her Olympic gold–once she won, she was done.

The most telling, is how 17-year-old Michelle Kwan phrased her ambitions over how 15-year-old Tara Lipinski did.

Tara said:

The Olympics are my goal. … My dream has always been to win the Olympics. (Lovitt 113)

Michelle said:

I want to be a legend … I want to leave a little mark. What am I going to do if I don’t win the Olympics? I guess I’d be disappointed. But you have to learn to cope and be happy and enjoy life. A lot of things aren’t going to go your way. (Daly 113)

After my quick trot through these books, I rewatched Tara’s (short & long) and Michelle’s (short & long) Olympic programs. And I stand by the same conclusion I had as an eight-year-old: Michelle Kwan should have won. Tara Lipinski had the jumps, but Michelle had the whole package, especially the artistry–which for me, is what makes figure skating a sport worth watching.

As an eight-year-old, I scrawled in the margins of books, begrudgingly updating the winner of the 1998 Olympics as Tara Lipinski and also pencilling in my prediction that Michelle would win in 2002. Damn you, Sarah Hughes.
As an eight-year-old, I scrawled in the margins of books, begrudgingly updating the winner of the 1998 Olympics as Tara Lipinski and also pencilling in my prediction that Michelle would win in 2002. Damn you, Sarah Hughes.

Undoubtedly, both were talented skaters. But, in the end, Tara Lipinski won one Nationals, one Worlds, and one Olympics. Michelle became the most decorated figure skater of all time with nine National titles, five World titles, and an Olympic silver and bronze. It’s not just an Olympic win that makes a figure skater legendary.

Then of course, there is what both Tara and Michelle have done since retirement from the sport. Off the ice, as Huffington Post recently enlightened me, Tara has not done much–her greatest accomplishment is being a commentator. In contrast: Michelle works for the State Department. The. State. Department. Get it, girl, indeed.

Works Cited

Daly, Wendy. Tara and Michelle: The Road to Gold. New York, NY: Random House, 1997.

Lovitt, Chip. Skating for the Gold: Michelle Kwan & Tara Lipinski. New York, NY: Scholastic, 1997.