22 September, 2015

On Borrowing

I have spent just about a year (since 11/9/2014 if you trust my Goodreads) pulling myself through John Lewis Gaddis' tome on the life of George Frost Kennan (George F. Kennan: An American Life). I can genuinely state that this biography is one of the most engaging biographies I have ever read. The question then remains: why has it taken me about a year to finish it? I could say it is both dense and lengthy (and it is), but that would be misleading. The truth is, it's a borrowed book.

Now "borrowed" book is a bit of a misnomer in my case because I always try as hard as possible to avoid the borrowing. I love books, don't get me wrong, but part of my love of books is loving the books that I most want to love at the moment when I want to love them. Borrowing is not conducive to this sentiment.

Books are often somewhat foisted upon me for numerous reasons. In the case of the book above, my lovely grandfather thought it would be an important read as I was beginning a Master's degree in Political Science. That's quite valid. It has also been a good way for us to bond, and I've enjoyed the biography a lot. On the other hand, I currently have two books foisted upon me by my manager. Although a kind thought and possibly a good way for us to connect, I've relegated said books to a pile with other books that have been lent to me and I don't know when I'll get around to them. In a similar vein, a colleague has lent me 4 different graphic novels and I am excited to read all of them, but he regularly asks me about my progress and I am starting to feel pressured by the fact that he has lent them to me.

I guess my issue is this: in what other context in life does someone give you a project, expect you to complete said project for fun (quickly) and report back to them, and then look to give you another project? It's a bit ridiculous, and I begin to wonder if it stems from a couple things.

1) People who read are considered intelligent.

2) More is expected of intelligent people.

3) People who read and people who do not read consider themselves intelligent and (obviously) are attracted to certain types of information and certain ideas.

4) If you're attracted to a certain idea you may wish to share this idea, but not everyone may be open to hearing that idea. A reader in your midst is someone who clearly has fun with other people's ideas and is, therefore, a good choice of person to hand your ideas to in book form.

What do others think? Am I overthinking this issue, or is there something major that I am missing here? Please share thoughts below!

13 September, 2015

I found this randomly, and think it is fantastic. What would you add to the #BeAGoodHuman list?

Here are a few of my additions:

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
Candide by Voltaire
Baldwin: Collected Essays by James Baldwin
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward
Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
The Unapologetic Fat Girl's Guide to Exercise: And Other Incendiary Acts by Hanne Blank

21 July, 2015

Abandoning Books

For many book lovers, it seems to be a guilty and saddening task to give up on a book. Turning pages wistfully, dragging yourself to the next chapter, only to find that you still aren't engaged or excited. That's one type of book guilt. Alternately, you could find yourself just hating the points the author is making or the ways in which they're making them. With some books, there are portions you dislike, but the rest of the book is strong enough to pull you through. With others, you just feel strongly opposed to the author's outlook. This is especially frustrating when you're dealing with an author you've - at one time - enjoyed.

This past week I borrowed The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson because it was (sadly) the only audiobook of his available from my local libraries. I have very much enjoyed Thompson in the past. I love the sardonic, freakish tone of his observations. I adore his ability to portray the mundane as truly horrifying in ways that are also an essential depiction of reality. There were certainly aspects of this formidable skill in The Rum Diary. To be fair to the guy, he probably didn't get to hand-pick his narrator for this reading. But not only was the narration gratuitous, sounding like a Johnny Depp impersonator pretending to be Ron from Parks and Rec, pretending to be Hunter S. Thompson, but Thompson's sole female character was a travesty. This character, whose name I couldn't even be impressed upon to remember, is purely a testosterone-fueled humanization of tits and ass. Thompson takes some formidable digs at the Beats, but simultaneously fails to have the imagination to create a "real girl." Even a manic pixie dream girl would be a bit of an improvement upon Ms. Daisy Dukes whose sole purpose seems to be following male writers around in little clothing.

*Rant Over* I gave up. About two hours into the audiobook, I just couldn't take it. It makes me nervous to re-read or read some of Thompson's other works, in fear that I might see this stark chauvinism in a new light. The last time I'd read something by Thompson was when I was still in high school, and perhaps a bit more anaesthetized to lackluster depictions of female characters.

What books have you abandoned? Did you feel it was deserved, or were you frustrated that you weren't in the right frame of mind to finish them?

13 July, 2015

The Book Riot 2015 Read Harder Challenge (update)

 I decided that I would undertake this challenge, but without a specific plan on its completion (e.g. I am randomly reading what interests me, and hoping to knock out a bunch of the categories). So far, I have actually knocked out a few! Join me, and track your progress on Goodreads or in the comments section. I have completed 11/24 challenges, and would also love feedback or recommendations for the other slots.

A book written by someone when they were under the age of 25 - Yet to be completed!

A book written by someone when they were over the age of 65 - Yet to be completed!
A collection of short stories (either by one person or an anthology by many people) - Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace by Ann Lamott

A book published by an indie press - Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli (Pantheon = indie imprint of Knopf.

A book by or about someone that identifies as LGBTQ - Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

A book by a person whose gender is different from your own - The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap by Matt Taibi

A book that takes place in Asia  - currently working on The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

A book by an author from Africa - Yet to be completed!

A book that is by or about someone from an indigenous culture (Native Americans, Aboriginals, etc.) - Yet to be completed!

A microhistory - Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

A YA novel - Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce

A sci-fi novel - Yet to be completed!

A romance novel - Yet to be completed!

A National Book Award, Man Booker Prize or Pulitzer Prize winner from the last decade - Yet to be completed!

A book that is a retelling of a classic story (fairytale, Shakespearian play, classic novel, etc.) - Yet to be completed!

An audiobook - The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb

A collection of poetry - Yet to be completed!

A book that someone else has recommended to you - Wild by Cheryl Strayed

A book that was originally published in another language - Yet to be completed!

A graphic novel, a graphic memoir or a collection of comics of any kind (Hi, have you met Panels?)
 - Ms. Marvel, Vol. 2: Generation Why? by G. Willow Wilson

A book that you would consider a guilty pleasure (Read, and then realize that good entertainment is nothing to feel guilty over) - The Last Summer (of You and Me) by Ann Brashares

A book published before 1850 - Yet to be completed!

A book published this year - Yet to be completed!

A self-improvement book (can be traditionally or non-traditionally considered “self-improvement”) - Yet to be completed!

16 June, 2015

The fantasy continues...

It may be something in the air or water, but I've just had an interest in female-focused fantasy stories this year. After writing my last post I realized that I have read a lot of books lately that take female representation to a social-norms challenging level.

Here's my short list for the first half of this year:

The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb: Recommended by George R.R. Martin, I ate up this series via audio book (they get pretty lengthy for those readers who have a HUGE pile and little free reading time). These books revolve around a male main character -- FitzChivalry Farseer -- but the women in the story are amazing! There's a strong, witty candle maker; an aging sorceress; a mountain queen; a former wife to the future king who just kills with spirit and sass; a bard with sexual liberation on the mind...I could go on. For anyone who was ever disappointed that the Lord of the Rings series had like two ladies who said a couple lines ever, this is a great series.

Alanna: The First Adventure (Book 1 - Song of the Lioness)by Tamora Pierce: I am re-reading these after a long break. I first discovered them in the children's section at my local library, and probably didn't quite appreciate them for what they were. They spin around one of the main elements of Shakespeare: deceptive gender-bending. The first book (highlighted here) also has probably the best incorporation of sex education into fiction writing that I have ever read. The menstrual cycle is explained! Not shamefully! The older woman states that women enjoy sex! Not shamefully! It's great, and certainly something I'll want on my shelf if I ever have any young ones of my own.

The Modern Faerie Tales by Holly Black: These books are dark, and I ate them up. They're certainly horror-fantasy hybrids, and not the sort of sweet and boring fairy stories you may have found when you were young. To be fair, despite the modern settings of these books, the disturbing tricks and traps of the fairies described therein are quite classic (anyone heard of a bloodcap, or changeling?). I am excited to see fairy lore brought back to its darker roots, and even more excited to find alternative, angry teenage girls in protagonist roles. Yes, the angry girl type can go a bit far (not quite manic pixie dream girl far, but far nonetheless). Not all teenagers are brooding mounds of adolescent rage. What Black does that's so refreshing is give these girls something to truly be angry about! Their lives are pretty fucked up, and she's not afraid to have them say that. [Note: I am currently in the midst of book two, and I haven't read the conclusion yet, but I imagine from the extensive praise the books have received that Black keeps up the good work.]

The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley AND Deerskin by Robin McKinley AND Sunshine by Robin McKinley (oh hell, anything by Robin McKinley): Despite the concussive hoopla on children' and young adults reading lists, I didn't get through a Robin McKinley book until I was almost in college. I read Sunshine as an antidote to feelings of frustration when finishing Twilight. I couldn't get through any more than the first book in that painful series, but Sunshine was a gorgeously-wrought vampire romance with a main character who enjoyed/embraced her sexuality and saved the day to boot. A few years later I was recommended Deerskin, a novel that is entirely too difficult to find in libraries given its incredibly important subject matter. This is a book that deals with paternal rape, something that occurs rather early in the story, then shows the heroine healing and (again) saving the world. As I keep up to date on Ms. McKinley's life by reading her blog, I found myself thinking it was high time to jump back into her books. This weekend I devoured The Hero and the Crown (a prequel to The Blue Sword). These two books are some of McKinley's older books, and are written in a stylized manner (one reviewer said "sword and sorcery" and I tend to agree), but engaging like the very best Princess Leia scenes in Star Wars (despite what some might say - not the Jabba the hut chain dress scenes). Outside of her feminist bent, I adore the relationships she builds between characters and their animals in her books. Call me a McKinley fan. I am consistently surprised, tantalized, and engaged by what she can do with genre.

26 May, 2015

Feminist Fantasy

A recent scandal surrounding some *hrm hrm possible TV spoiler* Game of Thrones story choices has caused me to think about the extensive, diverse, relatable, and touching feminism of the original George R.R. Martin books. It's not new to see the problems of our world brought to life in stark color and contrast through fantasy and science fiction, and it's even common to see difficult issues of race, sex/gender, and privilege explored. But alongside the ghastly (Joffrey, Ramsay, etc.), A Song of Ice and Fire brought to life the complicated ways in which women within the universe must consistently reckon with their existence within a patriarchy, assuming power in various ways that allow them to maintain some control over their own lives. The diversity of the female characters; the variety with which they attack this constant problem, absorbing the impact and renegotiating their lives to fit within the world: it's powerful and challenging.

This diversity seems unfortunately difficult for HBO to recreate with their stilted concept of the violence enacted upon women within the Game of Thrones universe. To be quite honest, I've always thought the exposition of the show paled in comparison to the depth of character and world-building within the novels. Without operating in the first person with the thoughts of each character available to explore, it is far easier for viewers to cast lots with characters who seem more clearly good and cast out characters whose actions appear clearly bad. In the books, the characters of Cersei and Jaime circle each other in an interplay of power, hubris, love, deceit, and growth. **SPOILER** Yes, when they throw Bran off the tower, you hate them, but in later books you grow to empathize and recognize them as full, human characters.** In the show, their relationship is consistently boiled down to incest and money. Without access to the depth of thoughts each character has about their situation, the show latches onto symbols, and the symbols are often a weak substitute for the internal debate and dialogue.

So if you're looking for compelling feminist fantasy, you can look to Game of Thrones. But I'd stick to the old adage: read the book first!

01 January, 2015

2015 Marks Ten Years Blogging (in some form, or other)

It's been a full decade since I started (at fifteen) to write music reviews that were intended to challenge the music reporting that I saw around me. I was the kid for a semester of high school who walked around in a Led Zeppelin sweatshirt and wrote "newspaper" articles recommending Pink Floyd alongside Ciara alongside Le Tigre. So when I "dropped out" of high school, I made my own "newspaper" here on Blogspot. That turned into a Tumblr where I wrote about Australia, Feminism, and politics - and recently collected book recommendations and photos for my dream apartment. Simultaneously I kept an on and off Twitter page where I did more sharing than anything, and attempted my own brand of Amanda Palmer-style community collaboration. But I haven't done much of the long-form blogging I started with since 2010 (when I lived in Australia and wrote about that for six months on my Tumblr page). I miss the long-form blog post, and I miss keeping up my own online "newspaper" of sorts. I ultimately miss creating something, as opposed to passively sharing (I was always into sharing, but not originally passively). After all, a mixtape is a creation, albeit made of pieces that someone else created before you. It's like writing. It's like quilting. It's like knitting and collage-ing.

Without further ado, here is my last mix of 2014 to ring in the New Year!

"Closer" by Tegan and Sara
"I'm Writing a Novel" by Father John Misty
"I Want a House" by Twin Sister
"Double Bubble Trouble" by M.I.A.
"Rather Be" by Clean Bandit ft. Jess Glynne
"Rock City" by Kings of Leon
"Hannah Hunt" by Vampire Weekend
"Denial Thing" by Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra
"Changes" by Tupac
"Just In Time" by Nina Simone
"Digital Witness" by St. Vincent
"Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!" by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
"This Year" by The Mountain Goats
"I Wanna Get Better" by Bleachers

BONUS: "Shotgun Wedding" by Shira E