We Should All Be Feminists (CBR8 #78)

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Raise your hand if you have been called a feminist as a derisive term.

Raise your hand if you have ever had to explain to someone that feminism is, in fact, not the hatred of men or the wishing to take something away from them but rather believing in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.

Raise both your hands if you’ve experienced that from someone younger than you.

My hands are raised.

I am, on the best of days, probably a lazy feminist. It has taken me a long time to reckon with the idea that the idea of equality, and not pressuring any gender into socialized expectations, is apparently radical. I just didn’t fully understand that I had to be out proselytizing the good word about feminism. That’s where my privilege shows.

Ms. Adichie, in her 50 page book-let, lays out for her audience (and it is a rather specific one, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t extrapolate out to a larger one) what this crazy feminism thing is, and how it’s for everyone. It’s both as simple and as beautiful as that. The patriarchy harms everyone, and feminism aims to heal through equality of options and choice.

Following the election results here in the United States I have realized that I need to be better educated about the causes I believe in, and willing to put some skin into the game. In that goal, there will be a lot more books in my CBR9 reviews about issues of social justice and feminism. Ms. Adichie’s book is a great place to start in order to give your brain some food. The Read Harder Challenge task I used this book to complete is “read a book aloud to someone” so I now have a recording of it in my own voice, to go along with her TEDxEuston talk.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. Registration for Cannonball Read 9 is open through January 13, 2017. You can sign up to read and review 13, 26, or 52 books for the year. Think of it as a personal challenge with the philanthropic side effect of saying “Fuck Cancer!”

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (CBR8 #52 – Cannonball!)

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Normally I have my Cannonball book picked out in advance. I know what my goal book is for the big reviews. 2016 hasn’t really worked out that way, so as I was packing my bags for a quick 48-hour trip to visit my family I had just finished book 51 and knew the next one would be *the* cannonball book. I of course grabbed Cannonball Book Club’s pick, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.

Can I just say that you all rocked this choice? It was great.

It’s my policy to do pretty vague/non-spoiler reviews of book club choices. Know that I really loved this book and it made my nearly 5-hour flight delay bearable (I probably finished this book in three hours).  Junior is great, Alexie writes him with such clarity, honesty, and truth. And in turn, Junior is able to relate a year in the life to us in precise, genuine, and emotional ways that suck you in. Also, it includes one of my favorite things… a list of favorite books (even if I worry about Junior’s taste).

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Here’s a summary for those of you still on the fence: Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from one life and replace it with another.

The discussion topics and reminder post will go up later this week and we’ll meet over at Cannonball Read on September 1 to chat about the book.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Transparent: Love, Family, and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers (CBR7 #52!)

In conversation with some friends a couple months ago it occurred to me that I don’t know anyone who is transgender. Or, I might, but I don’t know for sure. I also realized that I know very little about the issues facing the Transgender community outside of the coverage of said issues in the media over the past few years. In was fortuitous then that as part of the Read Harder Challenge task number five is reading a book either about or by someone who identifies as LBGTQ. Transparent: Love, Family, and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers fulfills both sides of that challenge.

Cris Beam writes about her experiences with the transgender community in Los Angeles between 1997 and 2005, but more specifically about a handful of transgirls she developed relationships with. Transparent is both a general information text about what being transgendered means, an account of the various social injustices that befalls these women – especially the under aged ones who are kicked out by their families, or choose to run. It is also a very personal story of Beam’s fostering of one of the girls and what that experience gave her.

While this book talks about an important topic, and generally handles it with grace it is not a perfect book. The front half of the book dragged, and was at times confusing. As many of these girls (which is the predominant group Beam interacted with) begin living full and even part time as women they often change their names several times, which means one person in the book is often referred to by 3 or 4 different names in the course of the beginning of the book which is purely confusing. I wish Beam had just chosen to refer to each woman by the name she used last, and of course making references to their birth names when appropriate.

The other criticism that can be laid against this book is that it at times can read as a white woman rescuing a person of color. There are lots of a book that fit that description, but in Transparent Beam is also working through her own issues of abandonment by a parent because she is a lesbian, which gives her a place to make correlations. I never felt a sense of a personal crusade, I saw someone chronicling how one choice to volunteer their time led to several years of decisions that made someone unexpected a part of their family. This is an experience that I can relate to.

This book is my cannonball book, and I’m happy that it was this one – a book you should read if the topic is of interest to you.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Landline (CBR6 #52) (Cannonball!)

As we approach Thanksgiving here in the U.S. I’m reminded of the things I’m thankful for, and in the last several years Cannonball Read is one of the things I am extremely thankful for. It’s helped reignite my love of reading, its introduced me to a group of people who also love to be bookish readers and talk about what they’re reading and why it’s affecting them the way it is. And its helped pull me outside of myself in my real life as whole new conversations are starting with coworkers and friends about what we’re reading, and what they think I should read next, and just how scathing or bonkers a particular review of mine has gone.

But perhaps most importantly it’s exposed me to authors and books I may have otherwise missed. The prime example of that are Rainbow Rowell and her four books (so far!). I have loved them each individually and I love them as a group. I have bought copies for family, will begin pushing them on friends immediately, and generally sing their praises. Not every book or author is for everyone, but Rainbow Rowell and her books are for me.

Landline, my 52nd book this year, is definitely a book for me even though I’m not married, I don’t have kids, and I certainly don’t have a magic phone that lets me talk to the love of my life 15 years ago. But, these characters jumped off the page, dug down into my soul and meditated there for a while letting me I think about the big idea. The plot (minus the magic phone, seriously don’t worry about the phone, accept the timey wimey-ness and move on) is relatively standard in adult fiction. What happens to your life when you take for granted those you love and who love you and you make not good decisions? What is the consequence? How do you make it right? Can you make it right? Should you make it right?

Georgie McCool, our protagonist, ruminates on just those points for the majority of the 300 pages of this book. She seemingly has made one poor decision too many, she sees herself as the nexus of her husband’s unhappy life. So when the opportunity to speak to Neal in the days leading up to his proposal 15 years ago happens, she must decide whether she’s trying to make it happen, or trying to spare him the pain that binding his life to hers will cause.

I was able to relate to the self-doubt Georgie feels, and also the perceived lack of career trajectory that she sees in Neal. Georgie has a problem I think a lot of super career driven people have – they don’t see that for many people their job isn’t what gives their life meaning. In my reading of this book it comes across that family and kids are what give Neal’s life meaning, and therefore it doesn’t matter to him that he left a relatively dead end science job to stay home and be a dad, a position he tells Georgie is absolutely necessary when they are first married, when she thinks they’re optional because she was raised without hers. But it’s this perceived slight, that Neal gave something up so that Georgie could do the thing that drives her (being a comedy script writer for television) causes Georgie nearly as much strife as the possibility of Neal walking away from their marriage.

This isn’t necessarily a happy read, even at the end, but the language and word choice keep you on your toes and enjoying the read. Rainbow’s characters sound like real people. Rainbow’s writing isn’t the big sweeping bold word choice that generally accompanies the classics of American literature, but its so precise, and rings so true that it just sits with you. She plays with form and function, and in Landline parenthetical phrases are used to clarify Georgie’s inner dialogue and if you’re a reader of my reviews, you know I love a parenthetical phrase. (I really, really do). Rainbow’s used other things in each of her books, and they each add a layer of meaning, a layer of depth, to the proceedings. They are the icing on a superbly baked cake.

You may ask yourself if I am so obviously in love with the book, its author, and its sibling books why am I not rating it 5 stars. The answer is simply that while I know Georgie at the end of this book, and I’m pretty sure I’ve got Neal nailed down, I don’t really know the other characters. This one doesn’t have the beautifully fleshed out supporting cast of characters that other Rowell books have. That slides this one firmly into 4.5 stars for me. But, I’ll let you know that if you saw my meltdown at half-cannonball time about wanting more, more, more at the end of Fangirl that I loved the Easter egg in Landline and it gave me enough closure to go ahead and rerate that a 5 star book, since I was being silly abut withholding it in the first place.

Read this book, and everyone in the pool, I made my cannonball goal!

Now off to book 53…

This review is part of the Cannonball Read.

An Abundance of Katherines (CBR6 #13)

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I finished this book last weekend, and keep meaning to write the review but I think the fact that it escaped me for nearly 5 days says a lot about my reading experience. But let’s start at the beginning.

Back for the CBR4 I read The Fault in Our Stars and like most of the other Cannonballers, I loved it. So, I decided to see what else this John Green fellow had written. Being me I needed to start back at the beginning so last year I read Looking for Alaska and while it was quite enjoyable, it was no TFiOS. But that’s to be expected from an author’s first novel. That’s why I started at the beginning of Green’s oeuvre, to give myself proper expectations by reading the author’s works in order; I would hopefully be able to trace his writing trajectory.

So, when I went into this year’s John Green read, An Abundance of Katherines I was expecting another quite to very good book. And, honestly, it was just okay. I gave it a three star rating over on Goodreads, but really its closer to a 2.5, and it only gets the extra 0.5 because of Hassan. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

An Abundance of Katherines is the story of Colin Singleton and the 19* girls named Katherine he has dated in his short 18 years. But it isn’t. It’s the story of his breakup with K19 and the emotional aftereffects of said breakup. But it isn’t that either. It’s the story of Colin coming to terms with being a child prodigy who isn’t going to be a genius. But it’s not entirely that either.  It’s the story of the road trip that he and his best (and only) friend Hassan take to help get Colin over the break-up/prodigy problem and Hassan’s untethered lifestyle in the post high school pre-college place he finds himself.  And it’s a little this, but the road trip doesn’t last very long. What we find the story to be about is Colin getting over himself and perhaps finally falling for a girl not named Katherine.

I had some issues with the story, mostly in how Green decided to lay out the storytelling. The present we are spending with Colin is interspersed with his remembrances of the Katherines and his obsession with figuring out a mathematical equation that will allow him to predict the outcome of any romantic relationship. It cuts in and out and is generally unsatisfactory because instead of easily flowing from present experience into past recollection it instead is a rough cut nearly every time.  Colin is also a tough character to root for and his incessant anagramming and various other prodigy ticks got in the way of connecting to the character. But perhaps my biggest gripe is that we don’t ‘meet’ the legion of Katherines until near the very end and it’s such a stretch to get 19* in that I feel the book would’ve been better if there had been only 9 or 10 Katherines. That’s still abundance, I promise.

Okay, let’s talk about what I liked. Hassan. And Lindsey. And the Oldsters in Gutshot. What Green always has going for him is that he can craft great characters. Colin is a well-rounded character even if he’s not a great protagonist, but the supporting cast in An Abundance of Katherines is what kept me moving through the book and not ignoring it for other titles. Hassan’s busting of Colin, as only a true friend would do, were some of my favorite parts. Those and the footnotes.

Yes, I said footnotes. Since we are dealing with a protagonist who is a prodigy there are things he knows that the common reader won’t. So we get footnotes to explain the conversations happening in other languages and the math. And the history factoids, etc. And those I LOVED. I’ve seen some reviews saying they couldn’t be bothered with the math bits, and to me that’s just lazy. The footnotes explain the math the way a non-math person would need them explained and it gave insight into how it fit into the book. You don’t need to be able to solve the equation that Colin eventually writes, but the Appendix explains how it was written and how it works and it was just plain interesting.

To recap – I’d say read this first in your John Green reading and not quickly after reading his other books.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

*the 19 Katherines thing really annoyed me because there were only 18. He dated one twice. AND Colin was counting girls who he’d had relationships with which lasted mere hours. Now, I understand that middle school and high school kids tend to do this kind of thing, but it felt like such a stretch to get to the magical K-19 which I swear Green was basing off the story of the Russian submarine that it felt unnecessary and distracting. Really Colin of the no friends and bad rapport with your peers, you’ve had 19 girlfriends by age 18? Really? It just didn’t line up with who the character is in the rest of the book. End rant.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane (CBR5 #27)

I’ve started and stopped this review several times. I wanted to pull The Ocean at the End of the Lane apart and put it back together again, because to a certain extent that’s what the book felt like it did to my brain. And I wanted to be able to express that to you – what the moving around of the landscape in my mind to make room for the story of a boy fighting his boyhood foes, and his adulthood ones too, felt like.

I want to talk about how an unnamed narrator can feel like he has a name, and that it’s right on the tip of your tongue, and if you just go back to the book and look it up surely it will be there. And how the world in the novel is so very like the one we’re existing in, with a few fantastical and mythological quirks added in, and what that means to a reader who is not generally a fantasy reader.

Or how you found yourself debating back and forth with yourself whether the Hempstocks were the mother, the maiden and the crone, or if they were the three fates, or if they were simply creatures from another time who were sent to protect our young world, and by default our young protagonist when he finds himself in trouble.

Or perhaps we can talk about the overarching themes of the death of a parent or what it means to become an adult, and if we do. Or if we are simply walking around in adult suits and in some ways forever remain the children we once were.

Or maybe you’d rather have a chat about memory, and what that means. And how we are doomed to forget the things we’d most like to remember. And that we are likely to be haunted by the things we cannot forget, and wish that we could.

Or I could share with you my favorite quote from the book (“You were her way here, and it’s a dangerous thing to be a door.”), and we could discuss how it relates to Neverwhere and have a discussion about how the transitions in our lives can define us more than the times in between, because that’s when we’re under stress and who we really are comes to the surface.

Or not.

If you want a summary of the plot, you can head over to Goodreads, and if you want some more in depth analysis you can visit The Faintest Inklings post on Pajiba, but I think for now, I’m done wrestling with how to talk to you about this book.

Just go read it, won’t you?

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

The Search (CBR4 #22)

The Search

So I’m back to Nora Roberts. She’s my weakness, like ice cream and caramel. But I’ve decided to pursue the full cannonball since I’m doing pretty well on the half-cannonball. And Roberts books help keep the pace.

The Search is the story of Fiona Bristow. Fiona lives on Orcas Island off the coast of Washington state and runs a dog training facility from her home. She has a quiet life filled with her three dogs, her stepmother, friends, and her Search and Rescue group. All in all things are looking pretty good, but there isn’t a man in her life and she’d like for there to be.

Enter Simon Doyle, a reasonably well known wood artist who has just relocated to Orcas from Seattle following the dissolution of a relationship which was covered in the gossip papers. Simon is also the owner of a brand new puppy who he has aptly named Jaws. This leads to the meet cute between Fiona and Simon, when he brings Jaws in for puppy training class. The relationship starts as friendship with a little bit of heat and then grows into a no strings attached but physical relationship.

Well, until Fiona’s past rears its ugly head. Nine years ago Fiona was the sole survivor of the Red Scarf Killer, who as retribution kills Fiona’s fiancé and his search and rescue dog. This murder and Fiona’s testimony put the original killer in jail, now there is a new killer who is copycatting and has made threats against Fiona. This ups the stakes in all aspects of Fiona’s relationships.

This was a good thriller, which Roberts has shown considerable skill at. A good summer read.