Review: The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen and Lola Rogers (Translator)

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Paperback, 352 pages
Published November 21st 2013 by PUSHKIN PRESS
Source: Publisher

A shout out to Lola M. Rogers who translated this book from Finnish and made it possible for it to be read in English.

I love reading translated fiction as it gives me a chance to peek into cultures totally different from mine. Reading translated books lets me catch glimpses of the different kinds of people and societies populating this world. There’s something deliciously foreign and yet familiar about translated books. At least I thought so. With that introduction, let’s move on to the review of this strange and wonderful book.

The Rabbit Back Literature Society focuses on Ella Milana who is a teacher at a high school when we first meet her. Her life hasn’t exactly spun out as she had hope it would. First, the doctor had told her that her ovaries were defective which meant she couldn’t ever have children, and then she and her fiance split due to the aforementioned ovaries. At least, Ella Milana consoles herself, she does have really beautiful lips that curve just so.

Rabbit Back is Ella’s hometown where her parents still live. When in class she comes across a book, Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and finds out that the plot is distinctly changed, she takes herself off to the town’s library. There, she meets Ingrid Katz, a librarian, an author, and a member of the prestigious Rabbit Back Literature Society. This society has nine members who are all authors of varying fame. There one spot remaining empty in the society which is mentored by the world famous Laura White who has written Creatureville, a book series that is famous worldwide. Things happen, Ella’s short story gets printed in the local newspaper and comes to Laura White’s attention who, taken with Ella’s story, invites her to be the tenth and last member of the literature society. But before Ella can be formally introduced to Laura, there is an incident and Laura disappears leaving Ella with questions and the newfound mystery of the previous tenth member.

This book is remarkably easy to read. Pages stretch into chapters until you have read a hundred pages in one sitting. I was charmed by the cadence of the language, the flow of it. Being both an aspiring writing and an academic, I found this novel to have a wealth of bits and things to ponder and analyze. First, I must applaud a male author for writing a woman who feels real and not a collection and embodiment of someone else’s fantasies. This is rarer than it seems so bear with me.

Ella’s grief about not being able to have children is not explicit but as a reader, I was able to appreciate the small moments scattered here and there when she’d console herself for the superior curve of her lips or the colour of nipples that some lover had long admired. Interesting,too, how the book has different discussions about motherhood interspersed in a seemingly careless way throughout the narrative.

However, the book, at its heart, delves into the art of writing and maintains how savage the entire venture is. Writing is laying yourself bare (sometimes literally) to the world and your readers. It is an excavation into the deepest parts of your soul just so you can get new material. Writing is borrowing, begging and sometimes boldly stealing new material from people you know and from others you don’t. It is a constant struggle with debilitating insecurity. It is giving too much of yourself to a character and then realizing you have an unstable identity.

Ella’s interactions with the other nine members of the Rabbit Back Literature Society is illuminating. Her efforts to gather information about the previous tenth member creates a mystery that needs to be solved but Ella warns the reader that being a detective is not appealing to her at all.

Jaaskelainen weaves elements of fantasy while keeping a strong hold on reality and asks questions about human nature and the art of storytelling. The book makes surprising twists and turns and the ending is that last bit of hard candy that lingers for a while in your mouth getting sweeter every time you swallow until it is finally gone.

I enjoyed The Rabbit Back Literature Society immensely and recommend it to everyone who enjoys good literature.

The Reading Forecast

Ah, what a reading week. I really like myself (hur) for reading so widely. Now that I’m out of school and the only obligations where reading is concerned are the review copies that need to be read by a certain date (and even those, I can work around), I can truly read at my own pace. That’s exhilarating. Anyway, last week, I read:

  1. The Glasswright’s Journeyman – Mindy Klasky
    I will probably do a wrap up of this series once I’m done with it. Suffice it to say that I’m enjoying this.
  2. Seraphina – Rachel Hartman (reread)
    This was as fantastic as I remembered.
  3. Shadow Scale – Rachel Hartman
    I didn’t love this as much as I had wished to but I still enjoyed it a whole lot. Review will be up on The Book Wars soon.
  4. The Humming Room – Ellen Potter (reread)
    Just as fantastic the second time around if not more.
  5. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie
    This was really really really good. I enjoyed it quite a bit.
  6. Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence
    This was actually quite fantasy. Smutty but fantastic. Literary porn at its best? Haha. But there is actually relevant discussion about social hierarchies, the body vs. the mind, gender.

Currently Reading:

  1. Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier
    I’m actually enjoying this quite a bit. I don’t know how I feel about it at the moment but I dare say I will like it. Unless something terrible happens.
  2. Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole
    I’m 50 pages in and I’m finding it very dry. It’s not the writing as much as the subject.

Reading Forecast:

  1. The Rabbit Back Literature Society – Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen
    I really need to read this. It has been on my reading list too many times. I just need to do it.
  2. The Princess in the Opal Mask – Jane Lindquist
  3. The Somnambulist – Essie Fox

On the Culture of Silence and Silencing

When I was a child growing up in Fiji, my mother often used to tell me “muuh nai chalao” which is a way to say “don’t talk back.” However, literally it means “don’t move your mouth” which basically means “don’t speak.” I remember asking, precocious as I was at 9 or 10, “how am I supposed to talk if I don’t move my mouth?”

My mother is an amazing woman and I love her dearly but she is not one to challenge the status quo. She’ll maintain the peace by maintaining her silence and she tried, bless her she did, she tried to teach me silence but that was one lesson I refused to learn. Growing up in a culture where women are, I’m not going to lie, often expected to be quiet and accept the man’s dictates did not sit well with me. I fought and I spoke and often that was construed as bad behaviour and disrespect because speaking out and making my opinions known was somehow impinging upon the patriarchal rule.

The silencing is less explicit here but oh it is so very pervasive. In the book world, in the uneasy medium inhabited by authors, readers, reviewers, bloggers and publishing industry insiders, a rabid culture of silence and silencing exists–often disguised as the “be nice” faction.

Be nice. Say nice things. Even if inside you disagree wholly, on the surface, be nice. Be kind.

Feh.

Earlier on Twitter I talked about how much I loathe this “be nice” trend that those in power feed to those not in power. This trend implies that all criticism is borne of malice. It trivializes legitimate issues, detracts from what could become involved discussions about relevant issues, transforms what could be relevant dialectical interactions into trite and maudlin periods of brown nosing. This “be nice/kind” trend becomes a lot more sinister when you consider the power, privilege and gender of the people who are behind this trend. It doesn’t take much to understand that this trend is an implicit way of silencing the masses.

I call to your attention the brouhaha that arose after the last Divergent novel was released and the fangirls threw a giant tantrum to effectively illustrate their displeasure of the ending. John Green told them they were “wrong” to feel that way. Yes, a lot of the fangirls went beyond what was acceptable but the majority of the fans didn’t. They simply spoke out their dissatisfaction and they were told not to, they were told they were wrong to feel the way they did.

Many bloggers have felt the heat when miffed authors gripe about negative reviews and mumble about reviewers not being kind. I call you attention to the stop good reads reviewers blah blah group whose whole raison de etre is to silence women who have something to say. Because “they are mean.”

Right.

We live in the 21st century and I live in a culture which is vastly different in some ways to my little village in Fiji. But hey, some things never change.

The Andrew Smith drama brings that point home rather superbly. Where people in power tell those who don’t have power or privilege to shut up. To be understanding. To be kind. Never mind that the majority of people weren’t being unkind. They were, as other bloggers have said before, simply having discussions about what he revealed through his interviews. That’s what literary people do, you know. We talk, we discuss, we analyze and deconstruct. We work with words, whether they are considered to have meaning and weight or not.

The culture of silence and silencing is deeply entrenched in everyday actions and interactions–it is often normalized or disguised as insidious but more accepted movements (be nice).

I’m not going to be silenced though. I’m through with being quiet. Aren’t you?

 

Currently Watching #2

Okay, this is more like “recently watched” than currently watching. I’m talking about Healer.

Healer poster

I’m Healer. You don’t need to know my name. What do I do? Well… I’m a night errand man. My skills are the best in the field. Was this my dream job? Seriously, what kind of a question is this…? To be honest, I was going to do it until I could buy an uninhabited island in the South Pacific. There’s a particular island I want. Last time I checked, it was still available. At any rate, then one day, I met a girl.

My line of work is really simple, you know. I take a job, I do it, then come home and open a can of beer, like this, and that’s it. So there isn’t anything much to say about that. What was the most challenging job I have ever done? It was about finding a girl. The first time I met her was on a bus. I don’t really remember her face from our first encounter. I wasn’t really interested back then. But this girl chased me back. She was so fearless.

Basically, the drama is fantastic and too convoluted for me to do it any justice in a review. It has a perfect balance of romance/drama/plot. The drama itself roots its themes in the fallibility of the media and how “truth” (or people’s perceptions of it) is for sale. The writing is superlative; the acting wonderful and if you have said, 20 hours of life free to spend as you will, spending it watching this drama would be a good thing to do.

I need to mention that the genius hacker (the title that is usually given to skinny guys with dubious fashion) is a middle aged woman, an Ajumma, who kicks ass and is probably one of the most awesome drama characters I’ve had the pleasure to watch.

Also worth mentioning was the incredible casting of “young” people vs. same people when they were old. They used different actors for the same characters but dang, they were on point.

As usual, here are some gifs.

 

Reading Update!

Folks, I have decided. 2015 is the Year of Endings and the Year of Trying New Authors (awkward title but work with me here). I am quite pleased with what I have been reading this year.

When I said endings, I meant that I am going to try my darnedest to finish all those trilogies whatnot that I have read everything of except for the concluding novel. I don’t know why I do that. Perhaps because I hate it when stories end? I don’t know. Either ways, I have been finishing some (a very few) series and they are:

  1. Newsoul trilogy by Jodi Meadows
    This was good but ultimately did not win me over. I mean, it just feel a bit too juvenile for me maybe because I have been reading more complex fantasy novels. For those who like lite fantasy/sff this ought to be good. Details are scarce though and the ending is hideously happy (hah).
  2. The Hollows series by Kim Harrison
    The concluding book was good but I really disliked the time jump at the end. Dare I say, things became a bit too maudlin and sentimental for my tastes. I would have preferred to leave Rachel and her coterie in a somewhat more ambiguous place than the whole ever after realized. Still, it was a good ride and Jenks remained my favourite character.

And um, that’s it. I’ve only finished two. I did say it was a few and I rhymed! Haha.

I am working on some others though:

  1. The Mad Man’s Daughter
    I’m currently reading the final volume in this trilogy and it’s too early to say how I like it but I have high hopes.
  2. Glasswright series by Mindy Klasky
    There are five books in this series and I’ve just finished the third one. I like it well enough though not to sing accolades of it. I will finish this other two books probably before the end of next month.
  3. Crown of Stars by Kate Elliott
    This series has seven whole volumes and each of them are very, very thick. I am determined to finish the series this year though it may take me the entire year to do it. The world is dense and requires careful reading at times but the payoff is great.

These are the ones I’m going to pick up this year no matter what:

  1. Dreamblood by N. K. Jemisin
    I have to read the second one in this duology to complete it.
  2. Seven Realms quartet by Cinda Williams Chima
    I’m going to make it happen! I’ve been waffling over this one way too long.
  3. The Lynburn Legacy by Sarah Rees Brennan
    Yep. I have all three now. I can read the trilogy gleefully.
  4. Light by Laura Whitcomb
    The second one in this duology needs to be read so I shall read it.
  5. The Goblin Wars by Kersten Hamilton
    I have to hunt down book #3, purchase it, and then reread the first two. I enjoyed them though, quite a lot, so rereading is not going to be a pain. In fact, I’m looking forward to it.
  6. The Whatnot by Stefan Bachmann
    This is a companion novel to The Peculiars and though  not a direct sequel, I do believe it answers some questions leftover from the first novel. I own this so no reason for me to not read it.
  7. The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken
    I have to finish this one. I can’t read Bracken’s new book until I finish it.
  8. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
    I have no excuses. None at all.
  9. The Archived – Victoria Schwab
    I’ve decided I can’t read any more V. Schwab until I’ve read this one.
  10. The Ascendance Trilogy by Jennifer Nielsen
    Yep.
  11. Partials Sequence by Dan Wells
    Just that last book.
  12. The Agency by Y. S. Lee
    I’m excited for this one!
  13. Ironskin by Tina Connolly
  14. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
  15. The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater
    (The Raven King!!! *hyperventilates*)
  16. The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
    Okay, so, my love for this series has largely flagged but I am so looking forward to completing it.

Whew.

I seem to be talking a lot about series lately. I just want to finish them all is what I’m saying. Sadly I’m probably going to be starting more series this year than I finish. But EH. I refuse to let that get me down. Standalones are so awesome but I understand why they’re not as popular. As a writer, I understand why you’d want to linger over the world but as a reader…I don’t understand. Heh.

However, this is also the year of trying out new authors/books that I want to. So far, I have read:

  1. George Orwell
    I read 1984 and hated it. Gah, I hated it so much. I read The Animal Farm when I was in Fiji and living on a farm and I remember it gave me the heebie jeebies. I should have learned my lesson then. Orwell, folks, is not for me.
  2. Kate Chopin
    I read The Awakening and some other short fiction by her. Loved them all though the short stories become to run into each other for very long. All stories felt like they were one.
  3. Jose Saramago
    I read The Elephant’s Journey and liked it A LOT. I mean, it’s not the most exciting book but it has so much charm and wit, I couldn’t help liking it.
  4. Ali Smith
    I read Hotel World and liked it. The prose is a bit overwhelming but I would like to try another book by her before I announce my verdict.

I’m trying/going to attempt:

  1. Dai Sijie
    Okay, I’ve already read one of his books so his work is not exactly new for me. However, it has been quite some time since I read the first book. I ‘m currently reading Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress and it’s amazing.
  2. Teju Cole
    I read a New York Times piece by him and fell headfirst madly in love. I was lucky enough to get a book by him for review and it shall be the first one of his works that I read. The book in question is Every Day is for the Thief.
  3. Toni Morrison
    I have been meaning to read her books for a long time. I’m starting with Beloved I think.
  4. Amy Tan
    Joy Luck Club is finally going to be read.
  5. Mia Yun
  6. Patti Kim
  7. Soseki Natsume

Probably more but I’m afraid I’m being a bit too ambitious. I should probably do other things with my life than just read. Right? Right. Anyway, are any of these authors/books familiar to you? Have you read any of them? Thoughts? Arguments?

Review: The Sculptor by Scott McCloud

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Hardcover, 496 pages
Published February 3rd 2015 by First Second
Source: Raincoast Books

How much would you give up for your art? Or perhaps that question should be: what will you give up for your art?

David Smith is a sculptor who just can’t seem to get a break. After being dumped by his affluent and influential sponsor, David cannot find any gallery (except one) interested in carrying any of his art pieces. On his 26th birthday, with only pennies to his name, he is approached by his Uncle Harry–only Uncle Harry has been dead for more than a decade and the being wearing his Uncle Harry’s face is the grim reaper himself. Uncle Harry nee Death offers David a deal. 200 days for the power to create art or he could just walk away and have a mediocre life by sacrificing the dream.

We all know what David chooses. Only the 200 days unfold in ways that he isn’t expecting. When the deadline approaches, David realizes that he doesn’t want to die. However, a dead is a dead is a deal.

The graphic novel is drawn in shades of blue and white and sometimes I wished the art style would have changed colour as this would have given more focus to the art within the art. A different shade to perhaps spotlight it. I wasn’t the greatest fan of that but I was definitely invested in the story. In fact, it hit a bit too close to home. There is one scene in which David has a dream where he is surrounded by failed artists who all want to create art whether in words, movements or however art is created. And he is repeatedly struggles with the idea of life alongside the process of dying and the graphic novel tackles the thought that both life and dying are art unto itself. Which you know is as profound as it sounds because so many people have already thought that. What makes The Sculptor so brilliant is the inherent sincerity in David. His promises to himself that he never ever breaks, his desperation to immortalize himself in some way so that he is never forgotten. The person he is was created by a staggering amount of loss: he loses his entire family and by the end of the novel, he even loses his only friend. Can he create something when he is so empty inside?

Is it still art when you are doing it for money? Shouldn’t art be created without the corruptive influence of profit? The ending was not unexpected but still packed quite a punch. I am not sure whether I really love this graphic novel but I do know that it brings up really interesting questions and provokes thoughts about what art is and how much of ourselves we pour into it without knowing if we’ll get anything in return.

Definitely worth a read.

The Reading Forecast

Time for another reading forecast. Last week was good reading though I did read books I hadn’t planned on reading but as I have said before, I am a mood reader (which could totally mean something different now that I think about it, heh). Anyway, here are the books I read last week:

  1. Gretel and the Dark by Eliza Granville
    I really liked this one. I gave it five stars.
  2. The Sculptor – Scott McCloud
    I liked this one but I wasn’t as in love with it as I thought I would be. Review up later this week.
  3. Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith
    Really liked it. Review up on The Book Wars.
  4. The Elephant’s Journey by Jose Saramago
    My first Saramago ensured that it won’t be my last.
  5. Of Scars and Stardust by Andrea Hannah
    Chilling. I quite liked this.
  6. The Glasswright’s Progress by Mindy Klasky
    It was slow but picked up quite nicely by the end.
  7. Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates
    Worrying and illuminating. All women should read this book.
  8. Infinite by Jodi Meadows
    Mmmeh. I didn’t enjoy this as much as I had hoped to. It wasn’t bad though. I just didn’t care much anymore. A little bit too much of a Mary Sue thing going on.
  9. Soulprint by Megan Miranda
    I enjoyed this a whole lot. A LOT.

I’m currently reading:

  1. Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence
    I’m only 31 pages in but I’m enjoying it.
  2. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie
    I’m 45 pages in this one and really enjoying it.
  3. The Glasswright’s Journeyman – Mindy Klasky
    I just started this.

To Read in the Upcoming Week:

  1. A Cold Legacy by Megan Shepherd
    Must read this before the library demands it back.
  2. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
    This will be a reread because I want to read Shadow Scale soon. In the next week perhaps.
  3. The Humming Room by Ellen Potter
    I want to talk about this next week on The Book Wars so I must reread it.
  4. The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen
    This one has languished on my TBR pile for long enough.