Discussion · memoir · Nonfiction · review · Review Copy

My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul

My Life With Bob

Hardcover, 256 pages
Published June 13th 2017 by Henry Holt and Co.
Source: Raincoast Books

When I was ten years old, my mother handed me an empty notebook and told me to write down the titles of all the books I read. Twenty three years later, I have moved to tracking my reading on Goodreads but I have two or three notebooks filled with simply the titles of the books I read when I was younger.

Pamela Paul’s Bob, her Book of Books is a similar thing only she was much smarter than me and noted down not just the titles but the authors and perhaps what she felt about the books she read. Now as she looks at the titles she has recorded in her Bob and the notes accompanying it, she can construct for herself the time she spent reading this book, what she going through while reading this book, and what she got out of this book. For instance, she remembers her travels in Southeast Asia by remembering the books she read while there. Sometimes she constructed her entire experience of a place by the book she was reading at the time which is certainly problematic but at the same time, understandable.

Her memoir will appeal to all bibliophiles who are in constant search for their people. You know, people who look forward to book release days, who cannot pass a bookstore without going in and browsing, who talk about books they are currently reading and plan to read. Those kinds of people.

Paul’s writing is sympathetic and I could relate to her intense love for books.  However, I must point out that unlike Paul asserts in her book that “every girl who aspired to become a writer fancied herself as strong and independent Jo,” I never did. In fact, The Little Women rang a bit too saccharine for my tastes.

I was also amused by the almost sheepish way in which Paul confesses in one of the latter chapters that kidlit was a source of great pleasure for her. As someone who specializes in children’s lit, both academically and creatively, I am entertained when people who have spent their lives reading literary fiction discover the wonder of it and feel guilty for liking it.

Anyway, My Life with Bob was fun reading. Like any bibliophile worth her salt will know, going into other people’s houses is only wonderful for the peeks you can take at their bookshelves, reading Pamela Paul’s memoir was like taking an extended look at someone’s personal bookshelf. She should read more diverse kidlit though.

I do recommend the memoir, especially for other bibliophiles who will take pleasure in reading a book about books.

Discussion · Nonfiction · review · Review Copy

Trust No Aunty by Maria Qamar

Trust No Aunty

Hardcover, 176 pages
Expected publication: August 1st 2017 by Touchstone Books
Source: Publisher

This might possibly be one of those books that bring about a jolt of recognition in some people and utter bafflement in others. Luckily I belong to the former group which means the Aunties in this book are more than familiar to me.

I first got to know about Maria Qamar on Instagram where she is known as Hate Copy (@hatecopy). Her comics are out of this world funny especially if you are familiar with old Bollywood/current Bollywood style and the melodrama associated with it.

When I found out that she has a book coming out, I was quite excited because it meant owning these comics in physical form and I can never have enough of that (stay tuned for some sample images) but the book is more than a collection of comics. It is also a how to…hm, it is sort of an elaborated advice column with a lot of humour, art, and ghee in it.

Now an Aunty is not solely a desi phenomenon because I’m sure my Asian friends will find the one aunt/lady you might be related to but not always familiar in their own families. And don’t get this book wrong, it’s making fun of these aunties but there’s no malice in it. Aunties are a loved part of our culture.

Qamar shares her experiences and gives tips on how to avoid or handle the more insufferable aunts and shares recipes that have tided her over the more lean periods of her life. More importantly, Qamar talks about some more important things like cultural appropriation and forging out a less-walked path on your own.

And of course, there are the hilarious comics:

HC1

HC2

HC3

HC4

And my fave:

HC5

Discussion · Nonfiction · review · Review Copy

I’m Judging You: The Do Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi

Judging

Paperback, 241 pages
Published November 17th 2016 by Henry Holt & Company Inc
Source: Raincoast Books

I’m thankful to Janani who is quickly becoming my source for interesting book titles. She reads wonderful books and leads me to fantastic ones. Aah, okay.

This book though, you guys. It says everything that’s in my heart and more. I hadn’t heard of Luvvie before I read this book and now I’m following her everywhere because she speaks the truth.

Talking about looks:

“Society has failed people to the point where they feel they cannot like themselves in the skin they were born in.”

SO TRUE.

And you know those people who claim they are blind to colour? Huh. For them:

“I want people to see my colour and my culture written all over me, because I’m proud of the skin I’m in. It is an important of my identity. What I don’t want them to do is mistreat me because of it.”

There’s a poignant piece where she talks about how she ended up using Luvvie as a name because people mispronounced (deliberately lazy?) her beautiful name. This is particularly relatable to me as during my first class in Canada, the teacher looked at my name and said “Napizza” like “Nafiza” is somehow difficult to pronounce or he cannot read like wtf even?

I’m STILL SALTY about this, kay? I’m Judging You has no problem calling out the people in Luvvie’s own community for their problematic ways even as it calls out the white people for their problematic ways.

I particularly loved this sharp clear observation on rape culture:

“Rape culture is the prevailing attitude that women exist primarily to please men, and therefore are not equal human beings with agency of their own bodies.”

Heck, I could quote the entire essay because that’s how much it spoke to me. I adored this book. I return to it every time I am angry and annoyed by people because chances are, Luvvie has judged them already and I can share in the not-so-silent side-eyeing. If you want to read something sharply funny, keen and piercing observations on culture and the faulty way we have constructed our societies, you should read this book.

It is brilliant. I don’t say that lightly.

Discussion · Feminism · Nonfiction · review · Review Copy

You Can’t Touch My Hair and Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson

hair

Paperback, 320 pages
Published October 4th 2016 by Plume Books
Source: Publisher

I wasn’t familiar with Phoebe Robinson until after I read this book so I went into it without any idea of who she is and what she does.

You Can’t Touch My Hair provides a fascinating insight into a black woman’s life and the obstacles she has to navigate daily. The meaning of hair and how hair culture is very much a thing that one cannot understand unless one is part of the community.

Robinson talks about the politics of race and gender which informs every person’s daily experiences whether positively or negatively. I most remember her anecdote of being on a reality TV show as a female comedian and the disparate and discriminatory ways in which she was treated–she is not just a woman but she is a black woman which changes things quite substantially.

What also struck me was Robinson’s experience with her previous agent who treated her badly but Robinson, due to the conditioning she has received all her life as a black woman, was unable to speak out until the person went too far.

I enjoyed this book and yes, sometimes the humour read a bit too American for my tastes but on the whole, the book gives an interesting and valuable narrative on gender and race in contemporary America.

Discussion · Nonfiction · review · Review Copy

The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley: Thoughts

I have a cold and am medicated. God, it feels like I’ve been saying this all the time recently but I have become really susceptible to colds and the like this winter. Uninteresting introduction done with, let’s get on with the, well, I wouldn’t say review. Let’s say thoughts.

줄발!

geek

Hardcover, 272 pages
Published May 31st 2016 by Tor Books
Source: Raincoast Books

Before I begin this, let me just say that I am not really familiar with  Kameron Hurley’s fiction so I waded into this book with very little knowledge about the author and her style. As an aspiring author, I was interested in what Ms. Hurley has to say about the craft and the business and let me tell you guys, it’s ALL SO BLEAK.

In the first part of the book, “Level Up,” Hurley talks about the business of writing, about the struggles of being a fledgling writer, of failing and succeeding and how even the successes are relative. You always know that the publishing business is difficult but the truth of it comes across most when relayed by someone who has been navigating the business for a while.

Hurley talks about her own life and how her experiences have shaped her and her writing. I like that she’s so upfront and accepting of the fact that she has privilege. She is very aware that her privilege has afforded her a life that may be impossible for a POC.

I most appreciated Hurley’s thoughts on being a woman in a virtual space. She has experienced a lot of abuse online and has persevered so her thoughts resonate.

“There are many ways to silence a woman and not all of them involve getting her to stop speaking. Sometimes it’s enough to simply ensure all she speaks about is you.”

I enjoyed this collection of essays that offered an insight into the SFF world and in esoteric spaces that most people wouldn’t know about. The writing is accessible and though there were times when I wished Hurley would engage with a topic in far more depth, ultimately I appreciated the brevity of the essays as it allowed me read at a faster pace than I usually would.

I recommend this!

Nonfiction · review · Review Copy

Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners by Therese Oneill

unmentionable

Hardcover, 307 pages
Published October 25th 2016 by Little, Brown and Company
Source: Publisher

Have you ever wished you could live in an earlier, more romantic era?

Ladies, welcome to the 19th century, where there’s arsenic in your face cream, a pot of cold pee sits under your bed, and all of your underwear is crotchless. (Why? Shush, dear. A lady doesn’t question.)

UNMENTIONABLE is your hilarious, illustrated, scandalously honest (yet never crass) guide to the secrets of Victorian womanhood, giving you detailed advice on:

~ What to wear
~ Where to relieve yourself
~ How to conceal your loathsome addiction to menstruating
~ What to expect on your wedding night
~ How to be the perfect Victorian wife
~ Why masturbating will kill you
~ And more

Irresistibly charming, laugh-out-loud funny, and featuring nearly 200 images from Victorian publications, UNMENTIONABLE will inspire a whole new level of respect for Elizabeth Bennett, Scarlet O’Hara, Jane Eyre, and all of our great, great grandmothers.

(And it just might leave you feeling ecstatically grateful to live in an age of pants, super absorbency tampons, epidurals, anti-depressants, and not-dying-of-the-syphilis-your-husband-brought-home.)

Unmentionable brings to light all the things you may have wanted to know about the Victorian age but didn’t know who to ask or where to find your information from. I mean, Google is helpful but only to a certain extent.

As the back copy so explicitly points out, Unmentionable is a fount of information about things like keeping clean in a time when cleanliness is not really prized. A time when everyone stinks so you may as well too. I mean, I ‘m saying.

Frankly, it’s all horrifying and I am supremely happy I was born in the this time especially because imagine the discrimination I’d face in Victorian England….maybe a little more than I’d face now? Heh. Anyway, the book as wit and charm. The author obviously did her work and researched the heck out of the period as the works cited page will reveal.

One thing I do have to mention though is the use of the word “squaw” on page 132 of the ARC version of the book. I should think that all the research done for this novel would reveal that the term is derogatory and should not be used. I don’t know if the finished copy contains the word–I hope not.

As reference material, this book should be helpful–especially to those who are writing Victorian settings focusing on women.

Nonfiction · review · Review Copy · writing

The Art of Perspective by Christopher Castellani

25664557

Paperback, 160 pages
Published January 5th 2016 by Graywolf Press
Source: Raincoast Books

I am so extremely glad that I chose to read The Art of Perspective by Christopher Castellani as my introduction to The Art of series. Since then I have read 1.5 more and I am afraid any other book would have either intimidated me or turned me off for its snobbery.

In The Art of Perspective, Castellani asks who it is that tells a particular story. That is, whose perspective is the audience following, whose glasses colour our vision, and what biases does the audience knowingly or unknowingly have or through which view the events unfolding the narrative.

Castellani does close readings of many texts and teases out active (and sometimes distanced) narrators to show how and why it matters who tells the story. He talks about how some of the story is evident simply from what the narrator chooses to say and how he says it.

Another observation of his I found fascinating is the way modern writers take pains to ensure there is no overt narrator in the stories they write. The story and perspective always rests with one of the characters in the book and not some omniscient narrator who is everywhere and sees everything. I rather think modern writers are wary about the big brother aspect of such omniscient narrators but this is an interesting observation anyway.

Castellani writes in an extremely accessible way and while volumes of critical work on literature is not everyone’s cup of tea, Castellani’s tone is often not one of a superior talking down to the ignorant masses but as someone who is talking, maybe over a cup of tea, on the vagaries of literature and the way we tell stories. It was an extremely interesting read and made me want to read every single book in The Art of Series because I figured if they all read even a little like this one, I was going to love them.

But of course that is another story. If you like literature and would like to read more critical work (not exactly theory) on it, you should definitely start with this one.