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Blueprints for Building Better Girls: Fiction Hardcover – September 6, 2011


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Blueprints for Building Better Girls: Fiction + Use Me: Fiction
Price for both: $32.86

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (September 6, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743276701
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743276702
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #769,005 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“A hilarious, poignant achievement. . . . Schappell has an exceptional gift for bringing a vibrant, irresistible group of characters to life, making Blueprints a positively addictive read.” —Meredith Maran, People (4 stars)

“The women in Elissa Schappell's new story collection ought to come with a warning label. Danger: Contents under pressure. Emotionally sensitive compounds may be present. Toxic sentiments could be released if disturbed or shaken. . . . Keep hands out of reach at all times, because also: These women bite. . . . Schappell’s stories acutely evoke the disorientation induced in women by our culture’s barrage of mixed messages . . . . [Schappell] is a diva of the encapsulating phrase, capable of conveying a Pandora’s box of feeling in a single line.” —Jennifer B. McDonald, The New York Times Book Review

“Darkly funny. . . As distinctive and tart as the cherry on its cover, the stories have a comedic touch and ironic edge, softened by moments of memorable tenderness.” —Elizabeth Taylor, "Editor's Choice", Chicago Tribune

“Electrifyingly alive, funny, and thrillingly honest. You know these women, right down to the way they like their coffee. Schappell is an effortless stylist." —Caroline Leavitt, The Boston Globe

“Memorable . . . seductive . . . Schappell’s commanding, honest prose taps into a deeper sense of story that promises to resonate with many readers.” —S. Kirk Walsh, San Francisco Chronicle

“Schappell’s stories read like snapshots—capturing precise moments from a woman’s life from a distinct perspective. Considered together, Blueprints for Building Better Girls is a treasured photo album.” Bookpage

“Despite the talent for arch comedy that Schappell and her characters share, the tragic dimension of each story sears the heart." Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“Schappell…creates wise, sexy, funny, and fathoms-deep tales of dire miscommunication.” Booklist

“This is brave stuff. I learned things reading this book. Hilarious and heartbreaking at the very same time, these mothers, daughters, wives are all struggling to be honest with themselves—and we get the gift of Schappell being honest with us. These characters are poignant, searing, memorable.” —Elizabeth Strout, author of Olive Kitteridge

"Like many American women, Elissa Schappell’s characters live in that zone where toughness and vulnerability overlap. In this remarkable, deeply engaging collection of stories, Schappell introduces us to a wide variety of female characters, from reckless teenagers to rueful middle-aged moms, and asks us to ponder the mystery of how those girls became these women.” —Tom Perrotta, author of Little Children

“Elissa Schappell writes earthquakes into existence—these stories will make you laugh until you’re hoarse and sob, too, often within one perfectly rendered, unforgettable scene. Schappell reminds us that we don't have to look far afield for exotic, complex, hilarious and tragic stories—her rendering of women's inner lives is fresh and necessary. Her humor is the flashlight she shines into the deepest, darkest, truest aspects of her character’s experiences.” —Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia!

“This is a wise, tough, and slyly funny book by a writer with a beautiful sense of detail and character. Schappell is a marvel when she gets in close with her people and brings them to moments of horrible, glorious revelation.” —Sam Lipsyte, author of The Ask

“Elissa Schappell's voice is so lively, smart, and honest—reading these stories is like sitting on a bench with a great friend and talking for hours about what's really going on; Schappell's such an incisive observer but she sees what she sees with big generosity and humor and warmth—what a pleasure to read these bursts of life!” —Aimee Bender, author of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

“Schappell has the ability—and the guts—to cut straight through the ‘girls gone wild’ images that inevitably throb to mind (ouch) and show us the tender and often hopeful human beings that live inside these women-to-be.” (Oprah.com)

About the Author

Elissa Schappell is the author of Blueprints for Building Better Girls and Use Me. She is a contributing editor and the Hot Type book columnist at Vanity Fair, a former senior editor of The Paris Review, and co-founder and now editor-at-large of Tin House magazine. She lives in Brooklyn with her family.

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Customer Reviews

I tried and found it to be trite and poorly written.
Jane D. Anderson
This book is completely made for girls/women and all that they endure through life.
BookWorm
I pushed through to the end, but it never really got my attention.
Jo

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
What Elissa Schappell calls the blueprints of girls might also be called anatomies or inner workings. This collection of eight stories delves into teenhood, womanhood, wifehood and motherhood, from the late '70s into today, in order to understand the condition of being female and Gen X. Loosely linked through characters and circumstance, each story takes as its subject a woman in a different stage of life, whether it's college discoveries of self or a mother who still needs to coddle her grown daughter.

The strength in many of Schappell's stories is that her protagonists are never outwardly apologetic about who they are, even if they might have internal struggles with their identities. As a result, they feel real, not like they're trying too hard to be perfect young women. And yet they acknowledge their unconventionality. In "Monsters of the Deep," Heather is perfectly fine having sex with Ross if that's what he wishes; she would just like the television on in the background, please. Paige and Charlotte, in "Elephant," gravitate towards each other precisely because they know they're not as perfect as the other moms at the playground. And Kate of "A Dog Story" is less than certain about whether she's reacting to her miscarriage in the appropriate way.

Two of the strongest stories in BLUEPRINTS FOR BUILDING BETTER GIRLS are "The Joy of Cooking" and "Aren't You Dead Yet?" The former is first surprising in its protagonist --- the narrator, referred to only as Mommy, is at once sad, regretful and dismissive, and the story is a powerful representation of what happens to familial relationships as children grow older. Beth/Lizzie/B of "Aren't You Dead Yet?" is similarly self-reflective but callous. It's an excellent depiction of how a writer gets her ideas.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Zach Powers on October 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I'm not sure that the girls in Building Blueprints for Better Girls are necessarily better for their experiences, but they are intensely familiar, as if I had studied their blueprints. As you read, it's hard not to think, Oh, I know her. It's not that a character reminds you of someone you already know, but that they are rendered with such consistent attention to personal identity that you feel you should know them. You expect to run into them on the sidewalk.

The book elevates self-examination to art form. The characters never dwell in melodrama, they never spout grand philosophies. The real revelations, the real tragedies, aren't in the big moments; they exist in the smallest actions, especially interactions, of the characters. The grand events are the kinds of things that carry their own weight with them. There's not much a writer can add, and Schappell wisely uses these life milestones as the framework for her stories, not as the driving force behind them. The result is often small, ordinary scenes that branch out into the larger world through memory, and with this device each scene moves beyond its apparent simplicity. It reminds us of the great complexity of mere existence.

To read this book is to enter the characters' heads, not just knowing their thoughts, but understanding, sometimes to an uncomfortable degree, their psychology. And, like most good books do, it makes you reevaluate your own.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Poor Holden Caulfield. In Catcher in the Rye, he muses, "Girls. You never know what they're going to think." How right he was! In Elissa Schappell's new short story collection, the old blueprints for Appropriate Female Behavior -- the name of a vintage etiquette manual, 1963 edition -- have all been tossed away. And now the girls and women are forced to muddle through with the new rules: Be yourself but also be what your boyfriend, parents, and girlfriends want you to be as well.

These women are survivors, some only barely, armed with caustic humor to withstand the toughest stuff that life can throw their way. In "A Dog Story," a couple that has long tried to have a baby discover, in a routine examination, that the technician cannot locate the heartbeat. "My husband asked her to keep looking," the wife says, "as if the baby were playing Marco Polo and had swum behind a kidney."

In another story called "Elephant," two women who mouth all the right clichés about how "motherhood matters," finally get real with each other. "She was crying the way mothers learn to do. Her body betrayed nothing. There was no wiping her eyes, or heaving shoulders, no sound at all."

And then there's "Joy of Cooking" - with all its anti-feminist connotations. An anorexic daughter, who believes she's in love for the first time, calls her mother in a panic, cajoling her to walk her through the steps to roasting a chicken for her boyfriend. The story veers from what, at first, seems like a traditional coming-of-age rite of passage - the passing down of menus from any mother to any daughter -- to a dark tale of manipulation, guilt, lack of gratitude, and hidden angers.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Danielle on January 23, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Last weekend, I went with a group of women to a spa in the Berkshires. It was a lovely few days, full of vinyasa and restoration yoga, steam baths, clean towels, locker combinations, salad bars and hot food fixed by other people. My friend and I went for a walk in the snow one sunny afternoon but mostly we stayed inside. The weekend was a gift from my mother, who understands that mothers periodically need to get out from under. I didn't once put on makeup or wear anything but workout gear and sneakers. Though there were some men at this spa, the vibe is definitely women-friendly, with everyone sitting in the dining room, freely talking about menopause, hot flashes, weight, books, marriage, divorce, the better-looking masseuses, clogs, and salad dressing.

While I was there, I read one of the best books I've read in a long time, Elissa Schappell's Blueprints for Building Better Girls. This is a collection of short stories, peopled by characters who get older and jump around the country. Many of them know each other. The stories revolve around the demands of female friendship, getting a bad reputation in high school, eating disorders (in girls and boys), rape, female promiscuity, the fraught relationship between mothers and daughters and mothers and teenage sons, infertility, infidelity, rescue dogs, and the bliss (or lack thereof) of marriage and child-rearing. This book was fantastic. It was brilliant, brave, and energizing, Some of it was gut-wrenching. In the middle of the story "Aren't You Dead Yet?," the narrator, a playwright, writes about an aspiring artist she's involved with and a play she'd written that he wanted to read. "I'd never written anything like that, nothing expressly female. Nothing that felt true like that. I mean, nobody cared about that stuff.
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