This zine is an excellent resource and I'm frequently recommending it to people. It discusses past and present antisemitism, from a left-wing, pro-PalThis zine is an excellent resource and I'm frequently recommending it to people. It discusses past and present antisemitism, from a left-wing, pro-Palestine perspective, and covers issues like Islamophobia, class and white privilege as well. It's also got a handy guide to legit, misinformed, and full-on antisemitic criticisms of Israel....more
I finished this and immediately started reading it again. It teaches me about places and histories I didn't know enough (or really anything) about befI finished this and immediately started reading it again. It teaches me about places and histories I didn't know enough (or really anything) about before, like the titular soccer war in Central America, and various conflicts in Africa, but it's not all wedged firmly enough in my mind yet so I'm giving it another go. I also kind of really related to something that crept up in a few of Kapuscinski's essays, in which he encounters people who in turn know nothing or next to nothing about his own country. There was something very poignant about reducing Poland to themes such as snow and pretty women, while the German occupation was just too huge to convey. Sometimes, maybe, I experience a smaller version of all that: the place I'm from is known for greenery and alcohol, and somehow everyone seems to have forgotten about all the bombs. That is, if they ever knew....more
An autobiographical account of a childhood in upstate New York, We The Animals tells the story of three m[Originally reviewed for The Skinny magazine]
An autobiographical account of a childhood in upstate New York, We The Animals tells the story of three mixed-race brothers born to very young parents, growing up in a volatile household with little money and less stability. Torres' words sear through the pages, bringing to life the crunch of boots through snow, the tension that envelopes every member of the family when a parent is stressed, the narrator's private fears about his own difference, and the giddiness to be found in moments when the boys hit back at their unfair surroundings. The most significant moments of the young storyteller's life are anchored by a switch from first to third person and from past to present tense, as if they continue to be replayed on film somewhere, having happened to someone else. The reader, like the narrator, can never tell when somebody will snap, when an account of carefree playing will turn into violence, and yet the boys come back up for air time and time again, fighting each other and fighting to survive. This is a devastating, heartbreaking, beautifully written debut, one that somehow, through its painful vignettes, still manages to shine with love....more
I read this during my stay in Sri Lanka and initially figured it would be fairly disposable fluff, but it's not. It's a quick read and could really haI read this during my stay in Sri Lanka and initially figured it would be fairly disposable fluff, but it's not. It's a quick read and could really have benefited from a proofreader, but it has an interesting plot with numerous twists. As well as dealing with universal topics like love and grief, its characters come from different backgrounds and religions and the novel deals in part with Sri Lanka's civil war and the 2004 tsunami. My favourite parts addressed themes of religion, exotification, and the issue of western aid, but I also found myself invested to some degree in the family problems experienced by the characters. In the end, maybe not a whole lot is resolved, but that's like life....more
I would probably file this book alongside stuff like Boyracers by Alan Bissett and Graffiti My Soul by Niven Govinden, but ultimately it doesn't workI would probably file this book alongside stuff like Boyracers by Alan Bissett and Graffiti My Soul by Niven Govinden, but ultimately it doesn't work as well. I mostly liked it, but soon realised it was something to pass the time rather than something I could get invested in, plus once in a while I was kind of like, okay, this bit is going on too long and is a bit teen-angsty. But then at the very end this nugget of information was revealed that changes the whole damn thing, and there was nothing there to even hint at it beforehand and it's something that every single character in the novel is aware of, so it's just, like, oh, this was intentionally kept from the reader and I found it annoying rather than clever. I mean, I guess maybe it would be interesting to read the book a second time now knowing this bit, except I didn't feel like it so I left it on an Air Sweden flight from Erbil to Stockholm and maybe someone else will pick it up and appreciate it more than I ultimately did....more
This is a pretty nice book! The focus is very much on physical sensation, with only the most basic background info; I like that it doesn't stray far oThis is a pretty nice book! The focus is very much on physical sensation, with only the most basic background info; I like that it doesn't stray far off-topic. There are a whole lot of different things in here, like being bitten by a shark, having OCD, being in solitary confinement, being in a coma, being very tall or very short, transitioning, and so on. Really interesting, and allowing people to describe their experiences in their own words means there isn't a sensationalist tone. Also, nice design....more
The thing is, I wanted this book so goddamn badly. I loved A Complicated Kindness so much and I wanted more by Miriam Toews. I moved to Berlin with onThe thing is, I wanted this book so goddamn badly. I loved A Complicated Kindness so much and I wanted more by Miriam Toews. I moved to Berlin with only three books, and I don't know when I last bought one: they're a luxury that's off-limits these days. So, given that I don't have a whole lot of reading material available to me here, I was extra excited when Summer Of My Amazing Luck showed up on Bookmooch. The first person wouldn't send to Germany but then someone in Texas listed it and was good enough to post it my way. Never have I been more thrilled to get a book.
Which was probably foreshadowing, because it was just okay. I wish I could say it was better than that. It had nice moments and was generally interesting but somehow it just didn't work out for me. I've already sent it to its next owner, so I can't dip into it to back up my comments here, but I felt like something in it just didn't work. Like, it's about single mothers living in low-income housing, and it makes really good points about poverty and gender and navigating the bureaucracy of the benefits system. But one of the main characters is so quirky and bohemian that it just doesn't feel real - I mean not because of how quirky and bohemian she is, as such, but of how it fits in to the narrative, like her quirky bohemianness sort of steps in now and then to punctuate it. There are a lot of other characters living in the housing complex, and they all have interesting stories, but somehow it doesn't feel like it's enough. Maybe I want more emotions. That feels like a weird thing to say about a book in which the narrator is dealing with bereavement and the quirky bohemian character is pining for the father of her twins, but I feel like the story moves along too fast to sufficiently capture the hopelessness and the sorrow that they will surely experience at times. It's there, but it doesn't reach out and grab me. It's not there in glorious technicolor detail. Which means that ultimately, unlike my copy of A Complicated Kindness which is still waiting for me back in Edinburgh, I found it easy to let go of this one....more
I read this when I was about, I don't know, eleven or twelve? Something like that. And I found it again a while ago so I've just re-read it. It's abouI read this when I was about, I don't know, eleven or twelve? Something like that. And I found it again a while ago so I've just re-read it. It's about a wealthy Jewish Canadian teenager called Lesley whose parents decide they're all moving to a kibbutz in Israel. It really draws you in; it's interesting and enjoyable throughout. Initially, Lesley is furious and sad at being uprooted, but gradually comes to enjoy her new life. Her parents have their own struggles and the narration is perfect in conveying what's going on, while introducing the reader to potentially new concepts (I probably didn't even know what socialism was when I first read this).
Palestine doesn't get a single mention (or, okay, maybe one single mention not far from the end; but maybe I dreamt it. I went back and looked for it and couldn't find it), which I found a little odd, but ... well, I remember how it always used to drive me crazy that everything written about Northern Ireland had to mention the Troubles™. So, I don't know. But this novel does cover the Six Day War of 1967, and its tackling of the issues is appropriate to the age group it's aimed at. It succeeds in conveying the complicated relationship Israel has with its neighbours, and although sometimes characters make negative generalisations about Arabs, these are challenged. The kibbutz is right across the river from Jordan, and Lesley develops an interest in a Jordanian boy with whom she has a little contact. The end of the story is both beautiful and heartbreaking, leaving both teenage and adult readers with plenty to think about....more
**spoiler alert** I bought this while I was taking a short-lived Irish night class (it turns out Polish is actually easier, which ... isn't something**spoiler alert** I bought this while I was taking a short-lived Irish night class (it turns out Polish is actually easier, which ... isn't something I ever thought I would say). Plus in general I'm keen to learn more about Ireland, especially experiences of it that I haven't had. This novel brings things together nicely because it's about girls from Dublin and Derry meeting at the Gaeltacht in Donegal in 1972. They're at an awkward age, they've got issues to do with fickle teenage friendships, class, puberty, and, in some cases, the Troubles™. Ni Dhuibhne's writing style is clever and enjoyable, and the story moves along at a decent pace. I liked the use of foreshadowing with no real subsequent danger - that's how life works, sometimes....more
Do you see what they did there? Despite the wordy title, the editors have managed to steer clear of the t(Originally published in The Skinny magazine)
Do you see what they did there? Despite the wordy title, the editors have managed to steer clear of the terms ‘sex workers’ and ‘prostitutes’, both of which invariably piss somebody off. This tactic is noteworthy, because here we have an anthology bringing together the broadest range of contributors with experience of the sex industry: from the big screen to the street, phone sex to stripping, and incalls to escorting. Between them, they’ve experienced sex work as an empowered choice, as a living hell, as a drug-fuelled necessity. They cover migration, burnout, criminalisation, violence, keeping secrets, coming out to family, and interactions with clients and colleagues. As it happens, some of the brief contributions from well-known names seem least worthy of inclusion, having a whole lot of pride but not a lot of substance; the bulk of the book, however, is made up of personal pieces that delve deep and illustrate the complexities of the writers’ experiences. Alternately eye-opening, funny, moving, and devastating, this book should be required reading for those who still think any kind of sex worker is ‘representative’....more
(A slightly edited version of this review appears at The Rumpus.)
I started reading A Complicated Kindness on my last day in Barcelona. I ran away to B(A slightly edited version of this review appears at The Rumpus.)
I started reading A Complicated Kindness on my last day in Barcelona. I ran away to Barcelona because of a girl. Also I’d been grumpy and mopey for the previous month or so, due to the whole uncertain future thing, so really the whole disappointment with the girl just kind of tipped me over the edge. I figured I could fritter my money away while moping in Edinburgh, or I could fritter it away travelling.
I’d never really bothered to read any blurb about the book because I knew John K Samson liked it and that was enough for me. It turned out that it was nothing like whatever I assumed from the title or the cover.
It’s about Nomi, a sixteen-year-old in a Mennonite community in rural Canada. She lives with her father, who’s one of the nicest fictional fathers I’ve ever encountered. Her mother and sister left three years ago and haven’t been heard from since. Nomi and her father are both kind of struggling along and both doing kind of weird things, which seems like a reasonable reaction to a fucked up situation in a place where God is more important than family. Nomi isn’t a believer any more and she drinks and takes drugs and hangs out with her boyfriend and gets into trouble at school. She has insomnia and frequently wanders the town at night and does unpredictable things.
I always love teen angst. This book really kind of brings it home, because it’s not just ordinary teen angst, you know, my-life-is-so-hard-why-won’t-he-notice-me, it captures the despair and the frustration of not having any control, especially when you’re in a place where American tourists come to gawp at how quaint you all are. It’s no wonder Nomi is so cynical.
Then there’s the religion stuff. When her sister left, Nomi was inconsolable, believing her sister would go to hell. I remember that kind of worry from my own Christian indoctrination. It was really tough to get your head around, that people you loved were going to hell, no matter how nice they were, if they didn’t accept Jesus as their personal saviour.
And I love all the bits where Nomi is just wandering aimlessly and examining the thoughts in her own head. Sometimes she invents games to play to keep herself occupied, like: today I’m going to say goodbye to everyone I see, and pretend I’m leaving town.
At the moment I am really relating to all her restlessness, because I feel like I can’t stay in Edinburgh for more than two days without getting twitchy, and I’m not sure what’s up with that. I try being restless in different locations like the bath or the futon, but that’s not very exciting, and it’s too goddamn cold to wander the streets. I talked to Alice two days ago. She was like: I just can’t be bothered meeting new people these days, you know?
And I was like: yeah, I know. I mean, pretty much every time I walk down the street I check people out, right? But these days I just think, oh, you look cool, but you’re probably actually really pretentious or boring or vacant or obnoxious or immature or whatever. So there isn’t even any point in looking at people any more.
So that’s kind of where I’m at and why I liked this book right now and if you relate to any of that maybe it will work for you too....more
I went to see Andrew Mueller reading from this book last summer. I'd never heard of him before. There were about eight people in the audience, maybe,I went to see Andrew Mueller reading from this book last summer. I'd never heard of him before. There were about eight people in the audience, maybe, which in retrospect seems to fit in nicely with his generally self-deprecating humour (in the book's afterword, he refers to "my own sensationally ill-attended book signings at the Sydney Writers' Festival"). I've now read the book twice, frequently read out bits to travel companions in between guffawing, and given a copy to Rupert for his birthday, which I hope he appreciated (... never mind that my last birthday was almost a year ago and Rupert gave me a Jack Kerouac book that I haven't touched yet).
So. The basic premise of this book is that Andrew Mueller goes to conflict zones, contested territories and the like, and tries to make sense of what the hell is going on. He does this very well. I particularly like how it zips back and forth in time (2000-2006, not counting the foreword and afterword), each chapter ending with some clever segue to the next port of call.
I love so many things about this book. I love when he talks to amazing students from the Balkans about how they risked everything for regime change. I love when he describes being followed around by comically inept people. I love when he rants about being hampered by mystifying bureaucratic restraints. I love when he tries a different tack and asks Gerry Adams why he never joined the IRA. I love when he gets arrested in Cameroon. I also love when he goes off on a tangent and wryly details getting his heart broken ("This book was, substantially, typed with one hand while I tried to corral my marbles back into one sock with the other").
There are also, by the way, parts of this book that move me to tears, which is only right given the heavy subject matter. He's done a fantastic job of finding a balance between humour and the sadness and horror of what people do to each other. It's a long book, which is just as well, because I can't get enough of it....more
(This review - or whatever it should be called - was originally written for The Skinny magazine in Scotland)
Stephen Elliott is hooked on Adderall. It’(This review - or whatever it should be called - was originally written for The Skinny magazine in Scotland)
Stephen Elliott is hooked on Adderall. It’s basically speed in a capsule, prescribed by his psychiatrist. He takes too much; sometimes he opens up the capsules and snorts the powder. Sometimes he feels suicidal. He lives in San Francisco and has a string of often undefined, blurry relationships with women. Sometimes they tie him up, beat him, cut him.
He thinks back to his youth as a runaway and tries to make sense of his adversarial relationship with his father. And he goes to Oakland every day for months to watch the trial of Hans Reiser, a Linux programmer accused of murdering his estranged wife. The Adderall Diaries was meant to be a true crime book but it turned into a memoir. True crime authors don’t usually let their own lives into the story, do they? But the end result here is truth, it’s honesty. Every writer has a personal reaction to what he or she documents; the difference is that Elliott acknowledges his, and allows it to take centre stage if it needs to. It’s refreshing that he abandons the pretence of keeping his subject matter at arm’s length. Hans Reiser’s story links in with his own story, with his father’s story, with other people’s stories: ex-girlfriends who’ve moved on to more conventional lives, childhood friends who overdosed on heroin or got sent to jail for murder. Hans Reiser may have been the starting point of the book, he may be its unifying thread, but in the end it’s not exactly about him.
I’m on a short trip to York. I stay somewhere different every night. I get abuse for being American, even though I’m not, and a stranger gives me a lift in his car. One day I trek round the city aimlessly for hours, try to sleep on a park bench. I get off with a boy and it’s awkward and he feels weird and I do too, and then it’s too late to know what to say. I act like it isn’t the fourth anniversary of my mother’s death. And I read The Adderall Diaries and Elliott’s voice echoes and I see parts of myself, only parts, because just as there are places where Hans Reiser’s story connects with his, there are those where Elliott’s story connects with mine. One passage in particular remains with me long after reading it. Elliott is trying to have a 'normal' relationship: "reassuringly mundane", he describes it. An ex-lover tells him about a man whose desires are so masochistic he’s had to accept that he will probably never have a real partner; he must get used to being alone. Elliott excuses himself, bursts into tears in a supermarket. His relationship does not last.
I discuss the book with a sex worker. She says, "Some of my clients are into such specific things. If they were queer, they’d have no problem being accepted. They’d find enough people who were okay with their desires. They’re good people and it makes me sad that it’s so hard for them." I think about how statistically so many more people are straight, and yet there’s a better chance of acceptance, broadly speaking, within queer circles. I think about how hard it must be for straight people who don’t have access to a supportive community.
After my encounter in York I feel like I’ve just messed with someone’s boundaries but I’m not entirely sure what I’ve done wrong, or whether I’m imagining it to be worse than it really is. I wonder if it’s cost me what could have been a good friendship. All the conversation flowed so easily and then suddenly it slowed down and became unrecognisable, like a familiar tape being chewed up by a cassette player. Sometimes when that happens it feels like I have to gamble, say something or don’t, and no words I can come up with will fill the space adequately. It’ll always be either too much or too little. I’m not particularly looking for a meaningful relationship, or a future with someone; I’m content with the path I’m already on, which is full of surprises. My stories usually involve undefined relationships, people who are more than friends, and I have learned not to need to name whatever's going on between us. Yet all the same, I can taste Elliott’s despair when he considers that maybe he won’t find someone who’s really compatible with him.
These are the things I think about while I’m in York, and reading The Adderall Diaries amplifies them. Elliott’s writing is raw, confessional, and addictive. It draws you in. He flits between the present and the past, but his timeline is sufficiently clear to avoid confusion. His life has been unorthodox, shall we say, from the start, but he doesn't seek to present himself as special, doesn't romanticise it, though he acknowledges the adolescent bravado that made it tolerable. I think about my own teenage years. I drank, but I didn't get into trouble and I didn't take any real risks. But I was sixteen the first time somebody told me they'd killed someone, when I felt something shift away from my comfortable middle-class upbringing, my drama-free home. I learned to just observe, to not ask awkward questions. If I'd asked those questions, would I still have been safe?
There are many differences between Elliott and I. But I have complications going on too, and it’s a learning process, figuring out what I’m okay with, what it’s safe to express. Sometimes I feel disconnected. I’m looking at an uncertain future and I’m trying to be upbeat about it, to see it all as an exciting adventure. This is where I’m at, drifting, reading a book by someone who’s drifting too....more
I think I maybe lent this to Gareth K Vile, or maybe it's just somewhere under the pile of clutter that passes for my desk, so I can't pick out my favI think I maybe lent this to Gareth K Vile, or maybe it's just somewhere under the pile of clutter that passes for my desk, so I can't pick out my favourite bits for this review and already August feels like a distant memory (what did I do in August?). But I knew I'd love this, because a) I love the general concept of I Saw You ads, Missed Connections, and such, and b) it's an anthology, so any bits I wasn't into (of which there were few) didn't take up the whole book.