Book Review: Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley

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Ted is a lonely writer in his early 40s, and his longtime companion is his dachshund named Lily.  The two spend much of their time together, playing board games, talking about which boys they think are cute (Ted likes Ryan Gosling; Lily likes Ryan Reynolds), and watching movies.  One day, Ted notices an octopus on the side of Lily’s head, and the two embark on an adventure to try to defeat the sinister eight-legged creature.

The octopus, of course, is really a tumor, and the book is really about love, loss, grief, and all the stuff in between.  Rowley’s debut novel is funny, smart, weird, and blisteringly sad at times (this reviewer ugly cried through much of it), but it’s also a celebration of the unique bond between human and canine, and it’s ultimately a very beautiful tribute to dogs everywhere.

Some readers are going to struggle with one of the novel’s central issues: the “octopus,” which Ted refuses to call by any other name, and the willingness of those around him to also refer to the tumor as an octopus.  There are moments where this becomes a little grating, but the novel’s venture into magical realism helps sell it. Even if it didn’t, the book’s strengths far outweigh this sometimes irritating affectation.

Far and away the book’s strongest moments are the ones in which Rowley creates a fully-realized character in that of Lily, a dog who loves her owner as much as he loves her. She’s a lazy little snuggler, a lover of ice cream and turkey (TOFURKEY!), and she’s stubborn, too, in the best ways that dogs can be.  She talks to Ted, and she sounds exactly as one would expect a dog to talk.

Rowley is a gifted writer, and this is a strong debut. He’s one to watch, and this excellent novel is one to stay up late reading (and crying). Recommended.

Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowely. Simon & Schuster: 2016. Library copy.

 

Five Things I’m Into Right Now

A long time ago, I used to do this thing where I’d post a list of things I was into at the moment.  I’m trying to do that again, right now.  I have no idea how often I might post a list like this, but I can promise you it won’t be more than every other week, mostly because I don’t like very many things.  Seriously, this list would be easier for me to post if it was “Five Things I Actively Hate,” but I’m all about the positivity, guys.

1. The Good Wifegoodwife

I wrote about this a little bit in my January recap, but I am legitimately obsessed with The Good Wife.  I don’t remember the last time I was this excited about anything I was watching, really.  Normally not a huge procedural fan, but this show is so smart and is so well-cast that I can’t help but find it completely compelling.  I don’t know what I’m going to do when I’m all caught up and have to wait for episodes to air.

If you haven’t given this one a chance, I suggest you do.

2. Ice Cream with Sprinkles and Marshmallows

This is my dessert of choice lately, and I’m completely aware that it’s diabetes in a bowl.  I don’t care.  There’s something about how the marshmallows freeze and the sprinkles crunch that makes me so happy.  Whatever, guys.  I eat pretty healthy the majority of the time, but I’m fundamentally a dessert person, and this is my jam right now.  I’m sure I’ll get sick of it soon, but in the meantime, this is my favorite treat.

tongue3. Zoey, the Love of My Life

It’s no secret that J. and I are pretty in love with our brilliant, frustrating dog, Zoey.  She’s one of the sweetest, friendliest dogs you’ll ever meet.  Full of raw enthusiasm and unbridled curiosity, she amazes us every day.  I guess this is how some people feel about their kids?  I wouldn’t know.

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But I do know that I look forward to going home to this crazy puppy every day, and I love getting to spend time with her, whether we’re going for a walk and finding things to smell or hanging out on the couch, cuddling.

How could you not love this dog?  Seriously, how?

4. Ask Polly

My best friend and I regularly read and dissect the Ask Polly advice column, and it’s always a good time.  I think Heather Havrilevsky, who writes the column, gives amazing, thoughtful, and truthful advice.  I often identify with the letter writers as well as “Polly’s” response.  Full of good advice and often very funny insights, this is required reading, every week.

We even have a saying: “WWPS,” which of course means, “What would Polly say?”

5. “Magazine” by Caroline Smith

I had the chance to see Caroline Smith at First Ave recently, and she didn’t disappoint.  She’s one of my favorite artists right now, and this song is so catchy and thought-provoking and fun.  I dare you to listen to it and not get it stuck in your head.  I love it–and this video.

Book Review: Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

Allie Brosh started a blog called Hyperbole and  a Half, and she illustrated her stories.  The result was a wildly popular website and legions of fans.  In this full-color book-version, Brosh brings her trademark wit and unique illustrations to a new set of readers.  Combining new essays with fan favorites, Brosh tackles all sorts of topics, ranging from the hilarious (her dogs) to the hard (suffering from crippling depression).

This graphic-novel-hybrid is sure to attract Brosh’s established fans as well as new ones.  With an authentic, unique voice and one-of-a-kind illustrations, Brosh’s hilarious, frank observations about her life are not to be missed.  This is a laugh-out-loud, nod-your-head-in-agreement kind of book, and it’s got massive appeal for readers young and old.

There’s something to be said about someone who has achieved fame on the internet and attempts to write a book.  No easy feat by any means, it’s also something that has been met with a bit of mixed success.  Luckily, Brosh is a good writer, although this only illustrates how much stronger some of her essays are than others.  Apart from a few cohesion issues, this is a solid collection of essays, and it’s impossible not to enjoy how funny and self-aware Brosh is.

Brosh mixes personal stories with her colorful illustrations, and she tackles subjects ranging from how crazy her dogs are to her fears about life and her crippling depression.  The mix of new and old material should hook her new fans as well as keep the old ones satisfied.  There’s appeal here for fans of other cartoon-based blogs like The Oatmeal.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things that Happened by Allie Brosh. Touchstone: 2013. Library copy.

What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

After a couple of weeks off, it’s time to talk about the articles I’ve been reading and thinking about this week.

Feminism Isn’t Ruining Your Love Life (Salon)

This is a great think piece that flies in the face of everything the media tries to tell us about smart, independent women and marriage.  It’s kind of perfect in every way:

Actually, women with college degrees are more likely to marry than their less-educated peers—and less likely to divorce. Graduate degrees and high salaries also don’t hinder a woman’s chance of walking down the aisle. Sociologist Christine Whelan found that women aged thirty to forty-four earning more than one hundred thousand dollars per year are—once again—morelikely to be married than their lower-earning cohorts.

Women are often advised that the best strategy for ensuring lifelong happiness is to snare a man while they’re in school and marry shortly after graduation. But this den-mother wisdom flies in the face of marriage and divorce statistics. The reality is, the older the bride, the stronger the marriage.

What I so appreciate about an article like this is that it reassures us that being a feminist doesn’t mean that you’re destined to be alone forever (um, duh), and that you don’t have to be married right out of school.  This is something I talk about with my friends all the time, and it’s nice to see it reflected in the journalism we consume.

7 Movies That Changed Your Political Views, According to Science (Mother Jones)

Kind of an interesting rundown of a recent study that indicates certain movies are making us more liberal, or at least changing our viewpoints on certain issues.  If you know me in real life or have read my Twitter (or, um, this blog, sometimes), you know I’m about as left-wing as you can get, but it’s still interesting to check myself against the movies cited in this article and study.

How do you stack up?

Big Data’s Next Frontier: Crowd-Testing Fiction (Salon)

People all over are clutching their pearls over the future of reading in the digital age, and it has largely to do with the fact that book subscription sites like Scribd and Oyster can track their subscribers’ reading habits.  This doesn’t seem that alarming until you really break down what that means: these sites can track how many readers actually finish a book or at what point (or percentage) they abandon a book.  Why does that matter?  Because authors want that data.

E-book retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble have been collecting information like this for a while now, but they keep it to themselves. Oyster and Scribd — no doubt aware that these days there’s much more money to be made from people’s fantasies of becoming successful authors than there is from actually selling books to readers — have said they are willing to share the data they gather, presumably for a fee. And authors, especially self-published authors, are very interested.

Probably a lot of the hand-wringing over this is about how books will start to be tailor-made for the consumers, but, dudes, this has been going on for decades already.  Just because the masses like certain things doesn’t mean that literary authors are going to change their writing to meet the criteria.  But popular fiction has always been malleable, and when it comes to money, all bets are off:

But a sizable sector of publishing doesn’t put a premium on originality, and not coincidentally, this is the same part of the book market that has been most transformed by the e-book self-publishing explosion. In genres like young adult fiction, romance, urban fantasy, thrillers, mysteries, spy novels and various fusions thereof, many readers prefer the familiar and the formulaic.

I don’t have answers to this one, but I do think it’s amusing to watch people lose their shit over stuff like this.  Sites like Oyster don’t even offer many literary novels (those don’t sell the way erotica does these days), so it’s not like it’s the right clientele anyway.  At any rate, it’ll be interesting to watch this evolve as ebooks become more prevalent.

Lucy’s Conquests (The Hairpin)

Since J. and I became puppy parents, I’ve been particularly dog-crazy.  I’ve always been moved by stories about animals, and often am more affected by an animal getting injured or killed in a movie or book than by human characters (we can talk about that later).  Just this past week, I read one of the Alice books by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor and lost it when her cat dies.  Poor J. didn’t know what to do about it.

This isn’t so much a sad story as it is a sort of sweet anecdote about the writer’s dog and her proclivity to meet people wherever they go.  We also have an incredibly friendly dog who is so excited to meet other people and dogs it can be overwhelming.  There’s something about the joy of a dog that is contagious, and there’s certainly a universality about loving and owning a dog.  I don’t know.  This piece stuck with me this week.

21 Films to Look Forward to in 2014 (The Atlantic)

I mean, you know this list was going to make my radar with its inclusion of Veronica Mars.  There are a lot of movies coming out in 2014 that I’m excited to see, but this is by far the one I’m most nervous/excited for.

But if Veronica Mars isn’t your thing (which probably means we can’t be friends), there are tons of other great movies on this list to get excited about, including a lot of book adaptations, including Gone Girl, The Fault in Our Stars, The Giver, and Divergent.