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

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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.

 

Nonfiction · review · Review Copy · writing

Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction by Benjamin Percy

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Paperback, 173 pages
Expected publication: October 18th 2016 by Graywolf Press
Source: Raincoast Books

I have been, recently, reading a spate of books on writing by authors because I learn better through example rather than instruction. So in a partnership with Graywolf, over the next few months, I will bring to you guys my reviews of some of “The Art Of…..” series by Graywolf Press as well as the odd book about writing (not necessarily from Graywolf).

The first of these reviews is from Benjamin Percy who I was not at all familiar with and whose fiction I still haven’t read mostly because he writes horror and I don’t read horror. What? I happen to like sleeping.

Let’s have the details before we continue.

Thrill Me begins with a essay about Percy’s own life, a glimpse of the things that inspired him and made him the person and writer he is. One thing I know for sure, he was a terrible big brother. As a younger sister with two older brothers as well, I fully empathize with his younger sister.

The chapters following the first are less essays on fiction and more an explorations about the techniques that make for a good novel. Let’s be clear that we are talking genre fiction here and not the so-called literary fiction.

The second chapter deals with suspense and discusses the times required to create suspense in a novel so the reader is compelled to continue reading. Percy lays down clear rules that lead to good fiction, for example, creating urgency and deadlines to give tension to the plot.

The third chapter discusses set pieces; the pieces in a work of fiction imbued with particular (if not logical) importance. These can be anything from an orange that appears just before anything important happens in a book or something benign like a smile on a particular character’s face. Sort of like a cue or a low-level foreshadowing. I didn’t know this technique at all and can’t wait to try it out in my next project.

The fourth chapter which talks about the importance of being judicious in your portrayal of violence lest you make your reader insensitive to it has been very helpful to me. I was stuck on this scene where someone has to die a particularly gruesome death but I didn’t think I wanted to describe it but felt I had to. Percy’s chapter helped me write my way through the scene and I feel particularly happy about the result.

Thrill Me tackles a whole lot of writing techniques like designing suspense, fictional journeys, flashback scenes, and modulation. While I do not agree with all his advice (styles differ and what works for one writer may not work for another), I appreciated all of it. It is the first time someone has so clearly articulated answers to my questions in book form. The look at how another writer writes is fascinating. His close reading of many other texts plus the discussion that follows his readings is also a treasure trove for both writers and literature students.

If you are a writer or are interesting in honing your craft, you should definitely pick up a copy of Thrill Me. You won’t regret it. I know I don’t.

 

Nonfiction · review · Review Copy

Aziz Ansari and the Modern Romance

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Hardcover, 277 pages
Published June 16th 2015 by Penguin Press
Source: Publisher

I had heard a lot about this volume before I acquired a copy. I had also read Mindy Kaling’s latest memoir (which incidentally I talked about here somewhere) so I had all these expectations before I actually read even a page of Modern Romance.

I should have known that the book wasn’t targeted towards me but I expected something that would be funny and illuminating but it wasn’t–and I truly realize that I am in the minority feeling this way but feel this way I do.

I thought the book was…okay. It didn’t impress me but maybe it will people for whom the things he mentions in the book this book could possibly be revolutionary. Or not. I don’t know. I feel very ill-equipped to actually write this review.

See, this book is basically an exploration of the modern romance.  It strips the courtship off the actual (flower/fluttering/feelings) romance and presents it as a way a couple (strictly hetero but Ansari states that it is and sets the limits to his research etc. which I appreciated) meets and finds love in the modern age.

Here are two things I got from this book:
– people have lots of choices.
– people are kinda horrible with their choices.

In the age of Tinder (I had no idea what that app even was), modern humans being spoiled for choice find it difficult to settle for one person and instead just go on serial dating sprees. Sometimes some people find other people they like and want to be with, and other times they don’t so they continue looking. Ansari peppers the narrative with his irreverent commentary, pseudo-science. There is a lot of repetition.

There are some anecdotes that Ansari shares particularly about his experience as a slyly single man mingling in different crowds on two different coasts. He goes to Tokyo and Brazil and Paris and tries to tap into the dating scenes there. He finds differing attitudes towards cheating in Europe and North America and somehow suggests that maybe people should be more understanding to those who cannot control their carnal appetites.

He was sometimes funny, mostly not. For me, that is. I was expecting a sharp commentary on modern dating, not a guide to modern dating which is basically (when stripped off everything else) what this book reluctantly becomes.

Ansari’s takeaway:

  • Don’t judge too quickly.
  • Give people more than the first date to make an expression (treat them like people and not Japanese hosts).

I mean, hardly groundbreaking things?

I don’t know, you guys. This book didn’t do anything for me. Read it or don’t.

 

Adult · Contemporary · review · Review Copy

Review: The Little Paris Bookshop – Nina George

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Hardcover, 392 pages
Published June 23rd 2015 by Crown
Source: Publisher

This is going to be a short one because despite the fact that this book establishes itself as a book about books by its title alone, the book is not about books. In fact, to me strictly, it read as an overwrought melodrama that finds its premise in something supremely, dare I say it, ridiculous–at least to my sensibilities.

Perhaps I should preface this review by saying that I am very particular about the romance in my books. I enjoy a good romance–who doesn’t? But the protagonist in this book does not in any way deserve my particular sympathies.

Monsieur Perdu was having an affair with a woman who disappeared on him one day and he allows this disappearance to dictate his years after she leaves. He doesn’t read the letter she sends him after she disappears and chooses, instead, to cling to whatever he believes about her rather than trying to find out the truth of the matter. He even knows where she lives but isn’t moved to go and find her and demand an explanation. Instead he wallows.

Oh how he wallows.

Incidentally, he has a tugboat that he has renovated into a bookshop. Customers to the shop are given high-ended advice about the books they should read and how these books will help them in their lives. Blah blah blah.

I wasn’t impressed with this book. At all. I’m sure it has charm and early on, I even enjoyed Perdu’s wry observations about human nature but then Perdu turned out to be this special snowflake with all these feelings and I could barely suppress the gorge that rose at every iteration of his loneliness and hurtfeelingness.

The woman he loves so very much was actually already married and well engaging in a free love despite not being explicitly clear whether her husband really objected or said he didn’t mind simply so he could keep whatever little he had of her.

Not my kind of book. Not my kind of romance. Not recommended. At all.

I mean, I could probably go into more detail about the novel but at this point I don’t even want to. It’s sentimental, it’s as I said overwrought and it left me cold. Read at your own risk.