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Last Year I Read Books!

June 6, 2013

Last year I read a number of books which I didn’t discuss at all here. I’ve been rather offline (due to personal and professional reasons) for quite some time, and I likely won’t get caught up again with reviewing all of these books. Instead, I thought I’d list out the titles for you and ask – are there any of these that you would especially love to hear a little bit more about? Let me know in a comment!

  • Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada by Lawrence Hill – this book explores life in Canada as for Hill, a multiracial man. He discusses stereotypes, racism, and changes in society over the years. Really interesting and recommended for Canadians especially.
  • Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore – the third book in Cashore’s Graceling series, a young adult trilogy about fierce heroines who live by their own rules. This is my favourite and most recommended young adult series.
  • Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco – part novel, part graphic novel, this book deals with the slow decline of life in a number of American towns and cities, and the reasons behind this decline.  Very interesting and well done.
  • Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip – Confessions of a Cynical Waiter by Steve Dublanica – I listened to this one on audio, a memoir from a memoir that originated via a blog, originally. It wasn’t a favourite, but was interesting and with some humourous moments.
  • The Immortal Life of Henriette Lacks by Rebecca Skloot – a favourite that’s done a tour of many blogs I read, I enjoyed this discussion of the cells harvested from Lacks and used to enrich many – but not her descendants.
  • Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu – a young adult / middle grade book read as part of Aarti’s More Diverse Universe challenge. I always love Okorafor’s works as they contain remarkably diverse characters and settings, and her story lines are always fantastic and fun.
  • Ender’s Game by Scott Orson Card – a very non-diverse and non-accepting science fiction read… that I could have done without. Wince.
  • The Survival League by Gordan Nuhanovic, translated by Julienne Eden Busic – a collection of short stories by a Croatian author. While some where interesting, I wasn’t enthralled.
  • Hijas Americanas: Beauty, Body Image, and Growing up Latina by Rosie Molinary – mentioned by Eva I then picked this one up on sale. It’s an interesting look at life as a Latina in the USA. Probably even more interesting for a Latina, but does highlight racism and unique differences for a group of citizens, so a worthwhile read for anyone.
  • Live Through This: On Creativity and Self-Destruction edited by Sabrina Chap – a fantastic collection of essays, art, music, photographs, and fiction exploring the link between creativity and self-destruction by female artists. Published by one of my favourites, Seven Stories Press.
  • Swoon by Caledonia Curry (Swoon) – a street artist I learned about in Live Through This and fell in love with because of her amazing work, such as this one. This is a coffee table book about her life and her projects.
  • Judging a Book by Its Lover: A Field Guide to the Hearts and Minds of Readers Everywhere by Lauren Leto – “funny” work on what it means to like certain books, caricatures based on what people like or are on their shelves, how to “fake” having read certain classics. I found the humour didn’t match my own, but I did agree that we should change to the term bookcat rather than bookworm.
  • Rape: A Love Story by Joyce Carol Oates – completely crushing and heart-wrenching yet incredibly powerful and engaging read about the aftermath of a rape in a small town. Very well written.
  • The Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly – this was kind of a work assignment. It was rather dull and… well… obvious. Not terrible though.
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson – interesting and strange. Fairly well written and multi-faceted female character for an early white male science fiction book. (Is it bad that this surprises me?)
  • Why Have Kids?  by Jessica Valenti – I wonder this myself so… seriously though, this book was an interesting look at the reasons that people have kids, and an honest look at life after kids. She talks about things parents should probably know and discuss prior to the baby.
  •  Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity edited by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore – this had a varied list of authors discussing passing in its many different forms, examining culture and gender and conformity and power. Very awesome. I may have to read it again soon.
  • The first few books of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series – yawn, but with the last book coming out, I wanted to re-read and finally complete the entire series.

So there you have it. Some reading, few reviews, and, for some titles, little memory.

Further Thoughts: Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

May 11, 2013

Tender Morsels coverTitle: Tender Morsels
Author: Lanagan, Margo
Length: 436 pages
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher / Year: Knopf / 2008
Source: BookDepository
Rating: 5/5
Why I Read It: I had heard too much about it, and too many bloggers I love and trust recommended it.
Date Read: 21/11/12

I’ve already reviewed this book in detail here, and I do recommend you check out that review if you haven’t already. I really loved this book and think it is an incredibly important addition to the shelves of young adult literature. We need books like this that deal with sensitive topics with which teens deal. Desperately need.

What I want to do here is discuss a specific aspect / string of events of the book that I’ve been mulling over. If you’ve not ready the book, you may want to skip the thoughts below. If you’ve read it, I would love to know your thoughts.

I’ve been considering this morning the bears in the novel.

Through the course of the novel, as the boundaries between the two worlds begins to grow holes, a couple of boys end up accidentally in the world of the girls as bears. They are said to be among the best men in their communities as they were chosen for the event during which they accidentally jump through and end up in the wrong place. While there, however, the bears act quite differently.

I’m thinking of this as a critique of the “boys will be boys” type mentality. Lanagan shows vividly that while boys and men may end up in very similar circumstances, they can (and do) act in very different ways. Despite being thrown into the same scary and different world, and being stuck in the skin of a bear, the boys in fact have completely different mentality because of how they were raised and what was taught to them.

We are taught in our culture that the correct responses to rape are to question the survivor and her actions / clothing / life, and the idea that what a girl wears should have any bearing on the validity of her story. Many feminists are constantly pointing out that questioning a girl’s appearance or setting rules on what girls should wear is in effect claiming that men can’t control themselves. That rather than being sentient human beings in control of their decisions and actions, they actually are simply animals acting on instincts they can’t control. Lanagan here shows through the actions of the bears the idea that men aren’t one monolithic group who can’t control themselves. She shows that instead there are a range of responses by men and boys on a continuum from terrible to fantastic – and that these responses are a choice.

One is respectful and kind, another tries to take advantage of one of the girls against her will. Clearly not all boys or men are terrible, and this is a beginning of Liga’s learning process and a part of their safety structure when back in the real world – they’ve already learned that some bears (and thus some men) are good and know how to be respectful, and this helps them to deal with those who aren’t. The difference is very much nurture over nature in the way these men behaved in the ‘safe world’ of Liga and her girls.

Thoughts?

Review: Savage Pastimes by Harold Schechter

April 10, 2013

Savage Pastimes coverTitle: Savage Times: A Cultural History of Violent Entertainment
Author: Schechter, Harold
Length: 192 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction, History
Publisher / Year: St. Martin’s Press / 2005
Source: Amazon
Rating: 3/5
Why I Read It: It was mentioned in a really interesting Bitch! magazine article on our fascination with true crime shows.
Date Read: 05/04/13

A somewhat repetitive and self-serving – but still interesting – look at violence in popular entertainment throughout history.

Schechter is a professor of literature and an author of true crime and serial killer non-fiction. In this book he takes on the critics who argue that our present day popular culture offerings are exceptionally violent and polluting to the mind, and that the movies and video games, for example, have a negative influence on the minds of those who enjoy them. He argues throughout that our popular media now is actually much less violent than it has been in the past, and goes through historical documents and studies to prove this.

By showing the exceptional levels of violence not only in printed works, but in the torture and public entertainment in Europe, the UK and America, Schechter is able to point to the fact that entertainment in the past is enough to turn our stomachs now. One easy example that he uses is that of public executions, which were seen as almost festival like activities at one point with children being brought to witness the torture and death.

That we react with such horrified incredulity to the mere description of the victim’s suffering is significant in itself, suggesting that – for all our exposure to virtual violence – we are actually quite sheltered from the real thing and have a very limited tolerance for it. (page 91)

Schechter also shows that the same arguments are used again and again through time, on each occasion of a new form of entertainment (novels, comic books, radio, television, movies, and now video games). Throughout history, he shows, the morality crusaders often published the same sensationalized violence but simply added a moral lesson to the end. Through the lens of ‘moral instruction’ this violence becomes acceptable.

[…] the perennial crusades against popular culture are, as much as anything else, an expression of nostalgia for an imaginary past that always seems simpler and more “childlike” than the harsh and complex reality of the here-and-now. (page 132)

Despite the interesting history, well written arguments, and excerpts from historical documents, the book wasn’t a favourite. It was quite repetitive with the same arguments being reiterated again and again. Additionally, each chapter contained at least one excerpt that lasted for a page or two in a separate boxed section. These sections really just restated the points already made, but sometimes with different examples. The result read almost as if the book had been written twice, with the shorter book simply inserted instead of having the materials be integrated.

The other thing that bothered me in the book was the gendered language. Boys play violently, boys play video games, boys played with fake guns, and etc. And the conclusion had a comment that serial killers these days mostly “preyed on hookers” leaving the average middle-class person “who probably worries most about crossing paths with a serial killer” with less to fear (page 161). Needless to say, these types of statements didn’t sit too well.

In the end, an interesting read, though not one I would highly recommend. If you are interested in media studies or violence in popular culture give it a read, but else it’s one that can be skipped.

Review: The Hanging of Angelique by Afua Cooper

April 3, 2013

The Hanging of Angelique coverTitle: The Hanging of Angelique: The Untold Story of Canadian Slavery and the Burning of Montreal
Author: Cooper, Afua
Length: 309 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction, History
Publisher / Year: Harper Perennial / 2006
Source: Chapters Indigo
Rating: 4.5/5
Why I Read It: I heard about this book from Marilyn of Me, You, and Books who has a great review on her site.
Date Read: ?/12/12

An examination of slavery and race in Canada via the historical documentation of the trial of a slave woman in early Montreal, accused of setting a fire which burned much of the city in 1734. The book provides an important voice for early slaves, as the trial was during a time before any currently acknowledged written slave narratives.

The main focus of the book is the life, what little is known of it, of Marie-Joseph Angelique. Through various historical records Cooper was able to pull bits and pieces together, though the main of the details come from the trial transcripts. Through these documents she is able to pull together an engaging story not only about the life of one woman, but about the status of slaves in the early colonies, and the running of the early colonies themselves. The story of Angelique is interesting, but doesn’t provide enough in itself for the entire book. Instead Cooper has used it as a narrative frame around the larger historical issues that the story brings to light.

While race isn’t often a focus of public conversation and study here in Canada, that doesn’t mean that we have achieved any kind of ‘post-racial’ society. As well, just because we like to argue that slavery was ‘better’ or ‘easier’ in Canada does not erase the fact that slavery did exist, and that it was as brutal as it was elsewhere on the continent. Throughout this work Cooper examines the documentation around slavery in Canada, lays out the laws governing slavery, and the misery of those who suffered under them. The fact that slavery isn’t a part of the narrative of Canada is one that Cooper seeks to redress.

For example, in talking about the ways in which Angelique’s story is told in present day by historians she talks about how the silence around race issues causes a distortion of the facts:

“Trudel and his cohorts are all modern Quebec historians, and they may have been influenced by the fact that today one does not examine (publicly) the race question in Quebec unless one is talking about the French and English. These historians refuse to see that Angelique was an enraged woman who wished to run away from enslavement not because of Thibault [romance], but because of slavery itself.” (Page 289)

Through quotes like this, it also a critical examination of what we have previously read or what we encounter written on race relations in Canada. We have to consider – is what we are writing accurate to the historical documents? Could it be clouded by our current perceptions of the past? And so on. Cooper has made a very important contribution to our history shelves.

Highly recommended to all Canadians, and anyone interested in the history of slavery.

Review: Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

January 9, 2013

Tender Morsels coverTitle: Tender Morsels
Author: Lanagan, Margo
Length: 436 pages
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher / Year: Knopf / 2008
Source: BookDepository.
Rating: 5/5
Why I Read It: I had heard too much about it, and too many bloggers I love and trust recommended it.
Date Read: 21/11/12

Rape, abuse, incest, and other traumas – these are things that young adults deal with, but they are also topics that we rarely discuss with them. Think of the statistics: 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted, 44% will be under 18, and of those, 93% knew their attacker. In reading, we all want to see ourselves and learn about life, about ourselves, and about how to cope. Sexual assault is a huge area around which we are largely silent, especially in our literature for teens. In this book, Lanagan has taken on these topics and explored themes surrounding sexual assault, helping to fill an important gap.

Liga, like many young victims, doesn’t understand what is happening to her, and only later comes to realize what exactly her father was doing and what it means. Her understanding grows, and along with it, her knowledge that she will also bear the shame and disgust of the villagers. The second assault examines the way that others often respond to and treat victims of abuse. When she tries to end her life, she instead has a magical encounter that allows her to escape. The result of this is two young children, Branza and Urdda, and, we come to find, a safe place.

For many who are assaulted (most?) there are stages that must be worked through. At various times, there are dreams of revenge, at others, the only thought possible is to escape. Using fantasy, Lanagan has explored these ideas. The dream of escape comes first. Rather than ending her life, Liga is taken to a magical world where she is safe. The villagers are kind and caring rather than harsh and judgemental, her children are safe, and she can slowly learn to cope with what has happened to her.

Through this ‘safe space’ fantasy, Lanagan is able to show Liga’s slow healing, and how slow it actually is. It gives a way to work through the escape desire and show the benefits as well as the flaws. Liga is safe, but she is also lonely. And despite being safe, she still has the memories and associated triggers affecting her that keep her on edge. The impossibility of true escape and safety is highlighted, as well as the myriad dangers surrounding isolation and a lack of knowledge of how to act and the needs of protection.

With the eventual return, Liga eventually tells Urda, the younger daughter, some of the events of her life. This leads to the revenge fantasy. In this part, Lanagan uses the fantastical element of the story line to have cut out men assault Liga’s assaulters, getting ‘revenge’ for their original acts. Here we see how empty revenge truly is. Neither Urdda nor Ligga get anything from this, they are still in the same position they were before, with the same feelings, though now Urdda also feels some measure of guilt.

The language that Lanagan uses was just off in dialect, which forced extra concentration and closer reading, ensuring that each point was delivered. The book was truly fantastic, and it tore me apart reading it. The Feminist Texican summed it up best when she called it “emotionally exhausting, but awesome”. For anyone looking for a different and interesting fantasy read, one that explores difficult and emotional topics, this is a book you won’t be sad you read.

November 2012 Reading Wrap-Up

December 12, 2012

Books Read: 5
Pages Read: 1364
Hours Listened To: 0

Books read:

  • Rape: A Love Story by Joyce Carol Oates
  • Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan
  • The Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson
  • Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Expores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness by Jessica Valenti

Bloggers (and other online friends) visited: Alix
Places visited through reading: USA, Canada, Australia
Places visited irl:
 Missouri, Florida, Alberta, Ontario

Book Purchases: Me? Buy books?  What a silly thought.

Thoughts and ramblings: Oh, another month gone and still no reviews? I’m working on that I promise! This past month I was in Missouri for two weeks – including for the US election, which was interesting. I also had VACATION. It was wonderful, and it definitely helped restore me to semi-normal sleep and energy levels. I spent a fantastic Thanksgiving holiday with Alix, and then spent a few days with my family in Calgary celebrating my Opa’s 88th birthday.

Fingers are crossed that one of these days, very soon, I’ll write a review. I’ve read a few really interesting books, so I definitely have lots to talk about – I just need the time to write it down for you!

What DID happen at the end of November was #graffitireviews. The Literary Omnivore has a full post that I highly recommend, outlining how the entire thing started. But the short version is that there was a silly article, Cass made a few comments on Facebook that I found so hilarious I recommended she share on Twitter, it grew into a thing, and now we’re doing it for real! Reviews are going viral! Check out the Tumblr, and then do a few of your own!

Happy December all.

September and October 2012 Reading Wrap-Up

November 25, 2012

September:

Books Read: 10
Pages Read: 2798
Hours Listened To: 9

October:

Books Read: 2
Pages Read: 461
Hours Listened To: 0

Books read:

  • Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip – Confessions of a Cynical Waiter by Steve Dublanica
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  • Zarhar the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu
  • Ender’s Game by Scott Orson Card
  • In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
  • Wild Seed by Octavia Butler
  • The  Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N K Jemisin
  • The Survival League by Gordan Nuhanovic
  • Hijas Americanas: Beauty, Body Image, and Growing up Latina by Rosie Molinary
  • Live Through This: On Creativity and Self-Desctruction
  • Swoon by Caledonia Curry (Swoon)
  • Judging a Book by Its Lover: A Field Guide to the Hearts and Minds of Readers Everywhere by Lauren Leto

Bloggers (and other online friends) visited: Rhiannon, Carin, Eva, Colleen, Kelly, Cait
Places visited through reading: USA, Nigeria, Croatia, Dominican Republic
Places visited irl:
 Toronto, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, California (Sacramento, Lake Tahoe), and Albuquerque, NM

Book Purchases: I refuse to admit anything 😉 In September I made a purchase from the Book Depository for some really great books, as well as picking up a few sequels to titles I had read earlier in the month (Octavia Butler and NK Jemisin). I also bought some great titles on Amazon when I found them on sale (This Bridge Called my Back, for example). In all, too many to list, and slightly embarrassing given that I hardly read for half of the period we’re discussing.

ChileFestival

Carin, Kelly and I at the Chile Festival in Los Lunas.

Thoughts and ramblings: This has been an incredibly busy and roller-coaster fall for me. As you can see from my reading, things have changed quite a bit in my life. To begin with, September was a month of travel. If you recall, I ended August with a mini-cross-Canada road trip to a wedding in New Brunswick. I began September with the long drive back home to Toronto, only to fly out the very next morning for work. Between the two busy weeks of work, I was incredibly lucky to fit in the highlight of my month: finally meeting Carin in person! We did a chile festival, ate great food, and did some hiking in the mountains.

After the work trip, I flew back to visit my parents in PEI. Here I foolishly agreed to do some biking with my mother and aunt… and biked halfway across the island before my knees gave out. I then travelled with Colleen to Halifax for their first book launch with Fierce Ink Press, which was a fun party. I spent a few days there and then it was back to Toronto again.

Trail

Part of the trail Carin and I hiked.

Back in Toronto… I crashed. It’s hard for me to admit how much being back in PEI is still a struggle for me, but it just drains me completely and leaves me nervous, terrified, and hyper-vigilant. I came back home to stress around work and not knowing if my new position was going to start in less than a week or not, and that combined with the fact that I was already drained meant a couple of weeks of basic survival until I got myself back to normal (well, close enough, still working on that). I am very thankful that I don’t need to go back any time soon, as my parents have agreed to visit me for the Christmas holidays, saving me a trip there.

The first of October for me meant the start of a new position at work. I was really excited for this as it is allowing me to try out a few new skills and utilize the ones I’ve already learned in my time with my company. Unfortunately it also means a daily commute of anywhere between one to one and a half hours, and work days stretching to ten or twelve hours. This fully explains the fact that in October I managed to read only two books – my lowest since university when I was reading only textbooks.

Oleary

My Aunt and I at the Potato Museum.

October was a great month still though, for two reasons. The first was that I got to cat sit for Rhiannon. You may remember her cats from her Feline Friday posts, and now you can be jealous that I got to hang out with them for a few days. They are the cutest cats, and if I could, I’d have tried to sneak them out to keep them. The second great event of the months was a visit from Eva! It is always so great meeting online friends in person, and I was extra excited to finally being the one hosting.

So that has been my past couple of months. I am on vacation now, which is why I’m finding time to write this post. I am hoping, though, that work will settle down, giving me more time to read and to review. I hope that everyone else is enjoying their fall, and that everyone has had a great Thanksgiving. I miss you all!