In a manner more eloquent than I could ever manage, this book expresses everything I feel about modern feminism and why it's still very much a necessi...moreIn a manner more eloquent than I could ever manage, this book expresses everything I feel about modern feminism and why it's still very much a necessity.
Heartbreaking. Beautiful. Consuming. These are only a small portion of words that can begin to describe Unless by Carol Shields. Reta Winters' daughter is so overwhelmed by her desire to experience every success and beauty the world has to offer, but her realization that she can never have everything as a woman is too much to bear. As a result, she shuts down: she lives her life on a street corner in Toronto, begging for money and wearing a sign that simply says "Goodness."
"Goodness not greatness." Yes, women can choose whether or not to stay home with their children or have careers. Yes, they have the potential and opportunities to become world leaders, business moguls, successful human beings. But are we completely, truly, utterly equal in that we have every opportunity for actual greatness, not just goodness, that a man does? Unless explores this question in a way that is genuine and sincere, acknowledging our feminine past as well as what still needs to be done for our future.
I cried while I read this book, and when I mulled it over afterward. I feel like it extracted my core and shook it up a bit.(less)
**spoiler alert** What a page-turner! Waters is a talented "mixer" of Victorian and contemporary language, of historical reference and relevant social...more**spoiler alert** What a page-turner! Waters is a talented "mixer" of Victorian and contemporary language, of historical reference and relevant social issues, of interesting plot and sensual description. This book was absolutely luscious.
I'll be the first to admit that I don't read much historical fiction--on which, to me, Tipping the Velvet only borders--but I am amazed at Waters' ability to write in a sort of nineteenth-century prose and make it sound genuine. She's been compared to Dickens, and I can understand why. But amidst a very Victorianesque, almost bashful way of describing things lies a blatant sensuousness that I can't see being touched by any Victorian-age writer. Waters cunningly uses words like "queer" and "gay" in the traditional sense, yet I could almost hear her chuckle at the double-entendres as she wrote them. Not to mention the symbolism behind the oyster, a hermaphroditic creature of the sea.
I've heard some say that the book is formulaic and predictable and, perhaps in and of itself, it is. Outside of that, however, the story is fresh and important amongst other stories of love and struggle. I enjoyed watching Nancy go from one extreme to the next--from the shamed, homophobic Kitty to the blatantly shameless Diana, and then finally to an "out and proud" Flo. Kitty causes Nan to step into the world for which she is meant, while Diana's extremely open desires force Nan to be just as open, thus ensuring her place in her rightful community. Then Flo swoops in and teaches her the meaning of it all, and it comes full circle as Nan is able to let go of Kitty and her shame because of Flo. Formulaic it may sound, but did it make for a beautiful story? I think so.
The only thing I could have done without has to do with a portion of the ending. In what world would Nan's only four lovers ALL gather at the socialist rally? I understand the meaning behind her final conversation with Kitty and would have thought the plot naked without it--but was it really necessary that she tie up loose ends with Zena and see Diana again? It was all a little too deux ex machina for me.
Despite some eye-rolling moments at the end, however, I would highly recommend this book. Now I'm off to research the history of lesbianism in nineteenth-century England...(less)
When it comes to Atwood, I should just learn to be patient and trust that I will feel satisfied by the end of the book. While A Handmaid's Tale instan...moreWhen it comes to Atwood, I should just learn to be patient and trust that I will feel satisfied by the end of the book. While A Handmaid's Tale instantly hooked me, The Blind Assassin took some time -- but I'm glad I stuck it through. After 350 pages, I couldn't put it down.
But a horrible thing happened to me while reading this book. I looked it up on Wikipedia, just to find out about awards, reviews, etc. And there it was, right in the middle of the page no less, the revealed ENDING of the book. I was not impressed, as I was only 400 pages through and, as those who have read it know, barely getting my feet wet. I won't spoil the ending here, but just a word of caution: DO NOT look this book up on Wikipedia before you're finished! (Seriously, Wikipedia entries don't usually give away the ending like the one did.)
I've been grappling with exactly WHY I liked this book in the end, and also why I hated its beginning. Did I simply give up on hating the book because it's Atwood? Do I feel like a traitor to Canadian literature if I even DARE to hate Atwood? After much thought, I don't think my vacillating like/dislike of the book has anything to do with Atwood herself, rather my own frustration at not knowing everything up front, which is actually quite ridiculous because a writer who knows how to reveal things at just the right time is usually brilliant. Because then, when things are finally revealed, I am so much more satisfied because these things were kept just out of reach for so long. That's the case with this book.
So, a word of caution: if you're like me, you will hate the first half of this book. You will mistake you're frustration with mere boredom, and you will consider dropping the book entirely. But don't do it. Because Ms. Atwood will not disappoint you.(less)
Inés of my Soul is a fictional account of the true life of Inés Suarez, conquistadora of Chile during the sixteenth century. Allende is "making up" fo...moreInés of my Soul is a fictional account of the true life of Inés Suarez, conquistadora of Chile during the sixteenth century. Allende is "making up" for the fact that no true historical account of Suarez's experiences in establishing Chile currently exists.
I loved many things about this book. I very much enjoyed learning about the history of Chile and South America in general, things I knew nothing about before reading this book. It inspired me to research the Spanish occupation of South America and their relations with the aboriginal tribes in the area. Now I also find myself wanting to read those few historical documents that depict the true Inés Suarez, an icon that history hasn't seemed to do justice. I can see why Allende would be attracted to writing about such a powerful woman, seeing as how she played a major role in establishing the first Chilean colony while also ensuring the safety of its people during countless wars. In my opinion (albeit currently somewhat ignorant), Allende did a wonderful job of shaping the voice of Inés Suarez; she transformed Suarez from the almost anonymous historical figure she is into a passionate, admirable woman whose words and actions matter in the grand scheme of things.
The reason I give this book three stars instead of four is that I felt the book could have ended about fifty pages before it did; it seemed Allende grew tired of her own subject but felt the need to explain a few more events in order to achieve a tidy ending. The result, however, is an ending that lacks lustre and poetry, and simply leaves the reader feeling a bit beaten over the head. I'd still recommend the book because of its great balance between education and entertainment, but be warned that the last part of the book is tedious.(less)
Cunt provokes. Cunt is hard to swallow. Cunt requires an open mind.
The marketing language is true: if you have a cunt, you should read it. I’ve read some scathing reviews of the book, and I’d be interested in getting a better sense of how it was initially received when it was released. This is the type of book you need to sit with for a while rather than pounce on, because Muscio’s positions are not easy to digest. She ignorantly claims that women should avoid all western medicine because most of it was invented by men. She advocates for the public humiliation of all men who have been accused of rape, sometimes based on hearsay alone. For me, the forehead-smacking climax happened when Muscio describes her self-induced abortion using pennyroyal, blue cohosh root, and a lot of meditation — without mentioning that the pennyroyal dose required for an abortion can be fatal or cause kidney and liver damage. True story.
So it may come as a surprise when I say I loved the book. But I didn’t enjoy it because I agree with all of Muscio’s views. I liked it because it provides me with language to express my own feminist beliefs, which are in a state of perpetual development. Radical feminism may have a bad reputation, but I’m a strong believer in its important role in advancing gender equality. And oh my, does it ever rub my cunt the wrong way when people, women especially, tell me there is no longer a place in society for radical feminism. Yes, there is.
Where Cunt succeeds is in its core message: women should re-focus on forming a united front. Prior to women having as many rights as we do now, first and second waves of feminism demanded a rock-solid bond among large female groups to succeed in gaining equality. (Not saying all camps were united, but still.) Now, among a new generation of women who have more basic human rights, the term “feminism” has somehow been tainted; I think links between women have been fractured as a result. This is why I’m happy to see initiatives like Duke University’s Who Needs Feminism? project, which strives to correct misconceptions that modern-day feminism is somehow unnecessary or negative.
Cunt‘s chapter on rape is especially enlightening. I’m paraphrasing here, but some of the most poignant lines in the book describe how a man can rape a woman and sacrifice a coffee break, yet when a woman is raped, several generations of women are affected. If a mother is raped, she raises her child in an environment where that has happened. There is something very, very wrong about that distribution of power, and I see that imbalance spilling over into other areas of women’s lives. Whether severely damaging or relatively benign, I don’t think it’s far-fetched to state that every woman has at one point felt powerless at the hands of a man/men, whether it be in the workplace, walking down the street, in a marriage, or as mothers relying on expensive daycare so they can work outside the home. When I think of all the ways women still struggle for equality, I can’t argue against Cunt‘s solid position on essential feminist reading lists.
If you have a cunt, read this book. If you don’t have a cunt, read this book to gain a better understanding of your friends, relatives, and lovers who have cunts. I look forward to reading Muscio’s latest, Rose: Love in Violent Times, which was released last year. In it, Muscio explores how rape and the destruction of the earth are interconnected, a basic principle of the ecofeminist movement. I’m a total newbie to this theory, and I look forward to Muscio’s work ushering me into the sphere. Expect a review later in the year.(less)
What can be said of Jane Eyre that hasn't already been said? I picked it up for several reasons, the first being that I thought it a disgrace that I h...moreWhat can be said of Jane Eyre that hasn't already been said? I picked it up for several reasons, the first being that I thought it a disgrace that I hadn't read it yet, the second being that Wuthering Heights is one of my all-time favourites and I wanted to compare the two.
I thought it was pretty damn sad that Emily Bronte died before she got the chance to write another novel, but now that I've read Jane and loved it so much, I feel better knowing that I can mine Charlotte's titles whenever I crave me some Bronte. Above and beyond the incredible and assertive story that is Jane Eyre lies the rich backstory of its publication under the name "Currer Bell", speculation about the author after its release, etc.
Not only did I read Jane Eyre and walk away with a sense of satisfaction and amazement that such a title could be written in 1847, but I also walked away with a massive curiosity about its author and her family. (less)
It takes a lot of moxie for a man to try writing from the point of view of a woman. Perhaps before beginning to write he sees the women in his life a...moreIt takes a lot of moxie for a man to try writing from the point of view of a woman. Perhaps before beginning to write he sees the women in his life a little differently. Maybe he starts to pay more attention to the inflection in his wife's voice, his sister's tired eyes, the way his mother absentmindedly puts a hand on his shoulder. Maybe he pushes past the conventions of daily conversation to gain access to the last time they felt intruded upon by a man, whether relatively benign or beyond painful. And now he is listening with a new ear, one that craves authenticity yet also gains understanding by remaining so open.
Richard B. Wright has a lot of moxie. Not only does he write from the perspective of one woman, but several. Clara, the eccentric small-town teacher; Nora, the adventurous New York radio starlet; Evelyn, the lesbian alcoholic writer who moves to Hollywood. It's 1930s Canada and the US, and these women are clearly expected to behave a certain way. Yet they all break social convention in their own way while trying to fit into the roles created for them by men, enduring the consequences of their choices and, sometimes, involuntary events. Wright captures the voices of these women in such a convincing way that I would have sworn this book was written by a woman had I not seen the author's name on the book's cover.
The story is linear and not linear in several ways. A lot happens in this 415-page book, and there are many rises and falls throughout the narrative. This does create some tedious bits to get through, but they're broken up quite nicely by surprises. Did I ever want to slap Clara sometimes! But hey, poor girl comes from a small town where she can't fart without someone talking about it, so I guess I can't blame her.
Wright is up there on my list of great Canadian writers, of which there are so many. I read his latest (?) October a couple years ago and could sense I was in the company of some awesome talent, so I'll definitely keep reading him. I'd love to one day meet the man who can invoke a woman's voice better than some women writers can. (less)
I feel a little badly giving this book only two stars because it accomplished what it sought out to do, but I also feel there were several glaring omi...moreI feel a little badly giving this book only two stars because it accomplished what it sought out to do, but I also feel there were several glaring omissions in content that I can't seem to ignore. The author is clear in the beginning that she is seeking to provide a complete social history of lesbianism, beginning with ancient society and ending in the present day, but I was expecting at least some insight regarding the genetic research of same-sex predisposition. The author comes close to discussing this when revealing the study of hermaphrodites as it related to women loving women, but anything beyond that is ignored.
Sapphistries does a wonderful job in relaying the history of female masculinity and that of conventional butch-femme relationships in different cultures, but I can't help thinking the book ignores the depiction of lesbian relationships that don't necessarily fall into these categories. This may not be the author's fault as she is working with very limited material, especially when touching on eras in which women were scarcely able to provide written accounts of their personal lives. I may also be a little biased as someone who is considered a "lipstick lesbian" within the gay community. Still, it seemed the author is seduced by labels created by the very society that repressed (and still continues to repress) homosexuals.
What exactly is a "lesbian"? Is a sexual relationship with a woman essential in defining oneself as such, or can one remain celibate while still considering herself homosexual? Also, what defines "sex" between two women? The author attempts to answer these questions in the beginning, stating that for the purpose of the text she will only be examining those who have acted upon their sexual desires for women. While this is fine for what is basically a regurgitation of female same-sex evidence throughout history, I would have liked to have gained some insight on the complexities of human sexuality on an instinctual level. Perhaps the author could have explored how a more open-minded society became more and more amenable to the study of lesbianism not as a mental affliction but as a genetic predisposition having nothing to do with psychological illness. Not that I believe lesbianism is 100% biological. But that's the thing--this book could have helped add to my knowledge of the nature vs. nurture debate as it relates to homosexuality, and it just didn't.
I would still recommend this book for any lesbian looking to learn about Sapphic history, but I would also warn them not to expect much in terms of knowing what makes us tick on the inside. And expect to do a lot of re-reading--this book is chock-full of run-on sentences that tend to make things that much more convoluted.(less)
Lemon wins my unofficial award for Most Surprising Turnaround. At first I was outraged that I had bothered to pick it up, as I was greeted by yet anot...moreLemon wins my unofficial award for Most Surprising Turnaround. At first I was outraged that I had bothered to pick it up, as I was greeted by yet another angsty and cynical adolescent voice that reminded me of that whiny asshole in Catcher in the Rye, which I thought was overrated and annoying. But after the first 75 pages I could see Lemon had distinct value, and that this whiny adolescent really did have something important to express. I warmed to her voice quickly after my initial judgment of it, and I was pleasantly surprised by what she had to say.
Lemon is one of the world's youngest misanthropes, and understandably so: her biological mother gave her up for adoption, after which she was taken in by a womanizing creep and a bipolar lunatic. Her adoptive parents get divorced, and she's then shuffled between her father's second wife's house and her mental case mother, who tries to convince Lemon to kill herself with her. Then her father's second wife is stabbed by one of her students, her father leaves said second wife for another woman, and her adoptive mother ends up in a mental institution for the third time. It all seems like a bit much at first, but then it's topped off even further by one of the most disturbing rape scenes I've ever read. Where's my cherry?
But we can forgive the melodrama because Lemon always seems to emerge as a heroine. She wears her anger as armor, and despite her age, I found her to be one of the strongest female main characters I've ever come across in literature. Strube has mastered the art of character arcing through first-person narrative, and it's obvious she's a playwright in addition to a novelist. The maturation of Lemon's voice is beautifully subtle, and the vulnerability that emerges in the climax of the book is completely satisfying. Strube made it easy to cheer for Lemon.
Definitely read this if you're a feminist, or just a fan of really strong first-person voice. Coach House Books did well in nabbing this one.(less)