book club: parable of the sower and bitch planet

This week, my friend Anthony and I held another meeting (online) of our Best Friends International Book Club! I have so much fun reading and discussing books with him. Anthony put it sweetly in a comment on my Instagram:

You encourage me to think deeper and wider with each selection, and I love how this keeps us connected‚ÄĒwith each other and the world around us! ūüė欆[link]

That’s how I feel about him and our club!¬†It means a lot to me to stay connected to my beloved Kansas City family. And although we’re in different countries and drinking different beverages when we have our book club Skype dates, we actually¬†do stay on topic! Mostly!¬†We keep it loose as far as timing our meetings go; we chat when we’re both done with the books and when we’re available.

First, we read Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler. It was the first Butler book for either of us. In 2025, society is descending into a chaotic collapse. Headstrong teenager Lauren’s family is killed and her home is destroyed, so she and a few neighbors journey north to a rumored safe haven. Along the way they encounter dangers and new people, and Lauren reveals her plans for a new religion. Lauren also has a condition called “hyperempathy,” which allows her to physically feel the pain of others. I was struck by how prescient and insightful Butler was in her description of this near-future America: privatization, climate change, gender and race issues, religion, the opioid crisis, and more. It’s an important addition to the science fiction genre for these reasons, plus being written by a woman of color. Unfortunately, the book didn’t entirely live up to the hype and rave reviews for me. The religion aspect turned me off, as did the hyperempathy. I always have trouble with epistolary novels, too‚ÄĒSower is basically Lauren’s diary. I’d rather be¬†shown the action than be told about it after the fact. I think this may actually be a YA book, too, which are usually hard for me to get into. I was interested in the¬†The Road-like journey the crew takes north, though. I wonder if I would have liked¬†Sower better if the religion and hyperempathy had been cut? These parts bothered Anthony less, but overall he felt the same. We decided this first book in Butler’s Earthseed series was enough for us. But! I’m not writing off Butler entirely; I’m looking forward to reading¬†Kindred one day.¬†[Read ebook in May 2017.]

Bitch Planet, Book One¬†by DeConnick and De Landro was our second pick for this discussion. In another near-future dystopia, if women don’t comply with the behavioral and beauty expectations placed upon them by the patriarchal leadership, they are arrested and sent away from Earth to a prison planet. The plot (so far) involves the “non-compliant” women being forced to compete in an all-male game called Megaton in order to “spice up” the event, and there’s corruption in the government and prison, etc. I love how in-your-face this graphic novel is, and how the women are non-apologetic and kick-ass. I’m really interested in seeing where this is going. I do wish there was more backstory, and I felt it drag when the focus shifted to men on Earth just talking about Bitch Planet. Otherwise, I think Bitch Planet has a great premise and is an excellent, creative way to get readers thinking and talking about intersectional feminism,¬†the prison industrial complex, sexism, societal expectations of women, and more. Anthony felt the same way, so we chose Bitch Planet, Book Two for our next discussion. He also mentioned the best part: the hilarious fake ads at the end of each issue!¬†[Read in May 2017.]

Our next choices for BFIBC are¬†Bitch Planet, Book Two,¬†Michelle Alexander’s¬†The New Jim Crow, and Chris Hayes’s¬†A Colony in a Nation. I’m excited!

mini-reviews: underground girls, thousand splendid suns

Catching up on posting book reviews from what I read last year has been a lot of fun so far! Next on my list was The Underground Girls of Kabul, which I realized is a great companion piece to a book I just recently finished, A Thousand Splendid Suns. I learned a lot from both of these excellent books.

I listened to Jenny Nordberg’s¬†The Underground Girls of Kabul on¬†audio about a year ago on a road trip and found it riveting. Like many Americans, I’m sure, I had no idea about the practice of¬†bacha posh, disguising¬†daughters as¬†sons because boys are more valued,¬†in Afghanistan. Honestly I didn’t know much about Afghanistan culture in general before encountering¬†this book. Nordberg profiles a handful of bacha posh¬†women and girls, and how it has shaped their lives both personally and professionally. It is a fascinating account of gender norms as they relate to culture and society, as well as perceptions of temperament and opportunities (or lack thereof) in Afghanistan.¬†The book also examines the complexities of¬†gender identity and its value in global and historical contexts. It was a really worthwhile read I wholly recommend.¬†[Listened to audiobook¬†in March¬†2016.]

A Thousand Splendid Suns¬†by Khaled Hosseini¬†had been on my TBR for about five years! Splendid Suns is the story of two women, Miriam and Laila, whose lives intertwine when they become married to the same man‚ÄĒMiriam first and Laila, fifteen years younger than Miriam, a couple decades later.¬†Hosseini’s writing positively aches; I felt so deeply for these women and the hardships they endured throughout their lives. Much like Underground Girls,¬†Splendid Suns bring¬†readers inside daily lives of women¬†living in Afghanistan with its political unrest and societal rules. I wish the characters had been more fully realized (three-dimensional), and some of the “history lessons” peppered throughout were somewhat clunky, but overall it’s a heartrending story that deserves its enduring popularity.¬†[Listened to audiobook¬†in April¬†2017.]

the argonauts

After a year-long hiatus from regularly posting, I’m picking up where I left off on my little book reviews, starting with The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson!¬†From Goodreads:

Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts is a genre-bending memoir, a work of “autotheory” offering fresh, fierce, and timely thinking about desire, identity, and the limitations and possibilities of love and language. At its center is a romance: the story of the author’s relationship with the artist Harry Dodge. This story, which includes Nelson’s account of falling in love with Dodge, who is fluidly gendered, as well as her journey to and through a pregnancy, offers a firsthand account of the complexities and joys of (queer) family-making.

The Argonauts was my introduction to queer theory and identity politics. I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting, and I don’t think I can say those sections of the book are easily accessible for everyone. She relentlessly delves into the topics of sexuality, gender, individuality, parenthood,¬†and partnership. I appreciated this depth and how Nelson relates the words of famous theorists¬†to her own personal story. I listened on audio, read by the author, and I think I liked it much better this way than I would have reading on paper. The book has a stream-of-consciousness feel, with no clear chapter breaks nor chronological order. However, what really stood out to me was Nelson’s relationship with Dodge and her experience with pregnancy and motherhood. The way she drew parallels between¬†the birth of her child with Dodge’s¬†mother’s death was heartrending, as well as comparing Dodge’s top surgery to a woman recovering from a mastectomy due to¬†breast cancer.

I admit, writing this 13 months after reading it, my memory is fuzzy on many details, especially her commentary on theory. But this book was fundamentally a love story, and an “unconventional” one, so to speak, and¬†this¬†relationship at the center in all its complicated rawness and vulnerability makes¬†The Argonauts memorable and worthy of discussion.

Listened to audiobook in March 2016.

reading recap: october 2016

I had a great month of reading in October! As you can see, I was mostly consumed by Halloween-appropriate books, with a few library holds that just happened to come through:

october-reading

  • The Fire This Time (ebook)¬†…¬†Jesmyn Ward, et al
  • House of Leaves¬†…¬†Mark Z. Danielewski
  • The Troop¬†…¬†Nick Cutter
  • Men Explain Things to Me¬†(ebook) …¬†Rebecca Solnit
  • Dead Mountain¬†…¬†Donnie Eichar
  • Black Earth (audio) … Timothy Snyder, read by Mark Bramhall
  • Stories from Night Shift¬†(audio) …¬†Stephen King, read by John Glover
  • ‘Salem’s Lot … Stephen King

I have to say, as someone who is generally chunksters-averse, I’m pretty proud of myself for getting through three (!) this month:¬†House of Leaves (709 pages),¬†The Troop (507), and¬†‘Salem’s Lot (653).¬†Black Earth is pretty much a chunkster too, but since it was on audio it felt less daunting. Something about¬†seeing the bulk of it intimidates me, so it usually takes a lot of pep talk to get myself to read anything longer than about 350 pages.

While I enjoyed¬†House of Leaves overall, I may have bailed/DNF if I didn’t have so much free time at the moment‚ÄĒgetting through this one is a real time commitment, and you have to pay close attention with all the different tangents and footnotes. It had a great premise and some genuinely creepy moments, but generally didn’t quite live up to the mythical hype for me.¬†The Troop and¬†‘Salem’s Lot were perfect to get me in the Halloween mood‚ÄĒbetween the contagious gore in¬†Troop and vampire mischief in¬†Lot, I felt the spirit here in Singapore despite the hot, sunny weather. The audio for¬†Stories from Night Shift was an impulse borrow from the library, to finish out the last few hours of Dewey’s 24 Hour Readthon, the first time I’ve been able to participate! Next time, if I can join again, I’ll¬†plan ahead more (joining this time was also on last-minute impulse).

Men Explain Things to Me and¬†Black Earth were my library holds that came in. Both were excellent, but very real and heavy material. Neither was quite what I was expecting, but I learned a lot from them and both were thought-provoking. I’m glad I was able to finally get these two books.

My favorite books of the month were¬†The Fire This Time and¬†Dead Mountain. EVERYONE should read¬†The Fire This Time. This anthology¬†is full of powerful, moving essays by several writers in a variety of styles, all different perspectives on the experience of being black in America. I will read anything Jesmyn Ward touches.¬†Dead Mountain¬†interested me because I’ve had a fascinating with this case for a while, ever since I saw the movie it inspired,¬†Devil’s Pass. What exactly happened to these nine young hikers in a remote area of Siberia, resulting in their mysterious deaths?? Donnie Eichar has a compelling investigation here.

I’m thinking I might try to go back and do full reviews of the books I’ve read since my last real review post, all the way back in March! Or maybe I’ll just continue the monthly posts. We’ll see.¬†Otherwise… I think I’ll be able to meet my 50 book goal for 2016, with only 16 books left to go. And now that it’s November, I’m going to focus on non-fiction to hopefully jump in on some Non-Fiction November fun.

What were the best books you read in October?
monthly recap image

missoula

As a big fan of his work, I’ve been waiting for¬†Missoula by Jon Krakauer to come up available through my local library’s Overdrive on audio since it was released this past April, and finally got to it last week.¬†Edited from Goodreads:

Missoula, Montana, is a typical college town, with a highly regarded state university, bucolic surroundings, a lively social scene, and an excellent football team with a rabid fan base.

The Department of Justice investigated 350 sexual assaults reported to the Missoula police between January 2008 and May 2012. Few of these assaults were properly handled by either the university or local authorities. In this, Missoula is also typical.

A DOJ report released in December of 2014 estimates 110,000 women between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four are raped each year. Krakauer’s devastating narrative of what happened in Missoula makes clear why rape is so prevalent on American campuses, and why rape victims are so reluctant to report assault. Acquaintance rape is the most underreported crime in America. In addition to physical trauma, its victims often suffer devastating psychological damage that leads to feelings of shame, emotional paralysis, and stigmatization. PTSD rates for rape victims are estimated to be 50 percent, higher than for soldiers returning from war.

In Missoula, Krakauer chronicles the searing experiences of several women in Missoula‚ÄĒthe nights when they were raped; their fear and self-doubt in the aftermath; the way they were treated by the police, prosecutors, defense attorneys; the public vilification and private anguish; their bravery in pushing forward and what it cost them.

As you can imagine,¬†Missoula is a difficult book to get through. Krakauer is a relentless, dutiful researcher, and his work on¬†Missoula is no exception. The subject matter is intense, very real, and a very real problem¬†everywhere‚ÄĒKrakauer¬†uses the single example of Missoula to illustrate the epidemic crisis that rape/sexual assault has become across the country.

I fully admit I was a bit shocked with the depth and detail of the descriptions of rape and assault‚ÄĒnot for the faint of heart. But it’s completely necessary to the book and respectful to the victims for not sugarcoating what they went through. I was completely incensed¬†at the perpetrators, the justice system for frequently failing these women, and even some citizen bystanders for heartless victim blaming. The cards are so stacked against women in this society that accusing a man of rape‚ÄĒespecially a young man on a popular football team‚ÄĒmore often than not is an exercise in futility. I can’t imagine being doubted, mocked, and shamed for a violent atrocity committed to YOU, and having to recount and relive this traumatic life-altering experience over and over again to police officers and lawyers.

One reason I gravitate to Krakauer’s books is that he maintains a clear-eyed perspective throughout. His tone is fair and without judgement, though you can usually tell which “side” he’s on.¬†Missoula is an important, informative book for our times, and I suspect will go down as one of Krakauer’s more controversial works.

Listened to audiobook from November 17 to 21, 2015.

mini-reviews: feminists, citizen, beard

I had a wonderful week celebrating the holidays in Wisconsin last week! I was able to squeeze in three short books before the end of the year, plus a couple of audiobooks (reviews coming soon for those). Here are my brief thoughts on each:

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the text of her 2013 TED talk, a short essay I read in one 30‚Äď40 minute sitting. Since it it so short, Adichie doesn’t go into extensive details or analysis, just lays out the topic in clear, concise language mostly based on her own personal experiences. This could easily be expanded into several essays, and was a great complement to a couple of the essays in Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist (my review). I appreciated that Adichie doesn’t get angry here, nor does she place blame on any group for the way things are, only urges everyone, women and men alike, to recognize¬†there is a problem and to do all we can as a collective society to fix it. She recognizes there are fundamental, biological differences between men and women, but why the social differences? She gives a great example of cooking historically being a “female” thing, while men are generally off the hook (though feeding oneself is a necessary life skill, no matter your gender). I really enjoyed this, and just got Adichie’s Americanah¬†in the mail and I’m looking forward to reading it in 2015! [Read on December 24, 2014.]

Next, I read¬†Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine. What a powerful, timely collection of prose poetry. Everyone‚ÄĒregardless of race, color, creed, socioeconomic status, etc.‚ÄĒshould take a few hours to read this book soon. Formed in brief vignettes ranging from seemingly innocuous encounters in everyday situations (errands, appointments, job interviews, etc.) to more egregious aggressions on an national or international stage (Serena Williams’s televised tennis matches,¬†for example), Citizen reveals expectations, assumptions, and behaviors that millions of Americans deal with on a daily basis in their lives, things that have very real after-effects on people, body and soul. This books is an accessible expression of the complexity and reality of race issues historically right up to today.¬†[Read from December 27 to 28, 2014.]

My gift to my husband this year for Christmas (in addition to The Lego Movie… best wife ever!) was a copy of¬†Stephen Collins’s¬†The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil. Nick¬†has a beautiful, glorious long red beard which looks fantastic on him, so beards have become quite a¬†topic of conversation in our lives the past year. I thought this would be a fun gift and it was! I read it in one sitting after Nick finished. This strikingly illustrated black-and-white graphic novel is about Dave, a dude who lives on an impossibly tidy island called Here, surrounded by the ominous There (dystopia or utopia?). Several themes exist in¬†Gigantic Beard‚ÄĒexistential crises, general ennui, fear of the unknown and “otherness,” society being evermore connected but evermore alone, fitting in vs. individualism, and so on. This is just begging to be a Pixar feature-length film. Also, I thought it was hilarious that Dave’s iTunes suggested R. Kelly’s Ignition Remix¬†after playing¬†the Bangles’¬†Eternal Flame.¬†[Read on December 29, 2014.]