I wanted to read this for two reasons: 1) I'd heard a lot about theme of androgyny in this novel, and how the protagonist is never identified as male...moreI wanted to read this for two reasons: 1) I'd heard a lot about theme of androgyny in this novel, and how the protagonist is never identified as male or female, gay or straight, and that really intrigued me; and 2) It's set in Brooklyn. You guys know I'm a sucker for local geography.
It definitely delivered on both of those counts, but I don't know how much more I got out of it. If the main character had a less unique or ambiguous identity, or the setting lacked those familiar landmarks, this would just have been an average YA novel. (less)
Beth Ditto has been an inspiration to me for the better part of a decade. As a teenager I loved her band The Gossip, her positive body image, and her...moreBeth Ditto has been an inspiration to me for the better part of a decade. As a teenager I loved her band The Gossip, her positive body image, and her "fuck you if you don't like it" attitude. I never really knew much about her personal life and history, though, so I was super excited when I heard she was coming out with a memoir.
Beth has definitely had an interesting life and rise to fame. From growing up dirt poor in the middle of the Bible Belt, shuffled back and forth between various abusive relatives, to discovering punk music in high school and starting a band with friends just to kill some time, to touring with The Gossip, putting out major label records, and becoming an international celebrity.
This memoir is pretty short and doesn't go into the depth it could--for instance, Beth continually talks about how she comes from a huge family and has dozens of relatives, but we're only introduced to a few of them. Years of her life are glossed over at a time. Everything Beth wrote about I loved reading, but I just wish there was more!
Trigger warning for cutting/self-injury and rape.(less)
So this is one of the few YA books out there with a trans character and it naturally piqued my interest. I enjoyed it, but it's not without flaws. I f...moreSo this is one of the few YA books out there with a trans character and it naturally piqued my interest. I enjoyed it, but it's not without flaws. I found both Regan and Luna to be incredibly selfish at times and none of the characters were very likable, probably owing to the lack of development. Luna didn't seem authentic to me, either. She was written more as a caricature or stereotype, the author's impression of how transgendered women should be. Similarly, Regan's narrative voice rang false to me. I understand why Peters decided to tell the story from her POV: she's like the everyman character, who can learn about transitioning along with the reader... she questions Luna's trans terminology ("What's S.R.S.?") and teases out explanations for her feelings and actions. It was just a little too transparent for me.
The story itself follows a very predictable path and there's nothing that unique about it, though I did like the use of flashbacks.
The very simple writing style and educational aspects would make me push this to the younger side of YA, maybe even Middle Grade. While I didn't personally love it that much, I would definitely recommend this and hope it reaches a wide audience. There have been more and more novels in the past 10 years or so featuring LGBTQ youth as protagonists, and that is a Good Thing. This may not be the best one, but it's still important.
This was a bit more dry and academic than I expected, but I still enjoyed it. I thought it would be more of a history of swearing, or a sociological s...moreThis was a bit more dry and academic than I expected, but I still enjoyed it. I thought it would be more of a history of swearing, or a sociological study of the way different groups curse. There's definitely some of that but most of the focus is on linguistics, which I really don't know much about.
In addition to the "dirty dozen" in English--fuck, cunt, shit, piss, bastard, bitch, ass, damn, hell, fart, crap, and dick, according to Wajnryb--this book also explores swearing in different languages and countries, and how various cultural taboos affect what words are considered bad or insulting. Those were the sections I found most interesting. The author also studies language from a feminist perspective, and devotes several chapters to exploring how swearing is gendered. For example, there are many more nasty names to call women than there are men, and most of these insults reflect society's misogyny. "Slut" and "whore" are obviously indicative of a fear of women's sexuality, and other terms are often meant to insult women's appearances. Meanwhile, even the many of the insulting words used commonly against men, such as "bastard" and "motherfucker", are jabs at women as much as the men they're directed at.
While this wasn't exactly what I was looking for, I did find some pleasantly interesting surprises like those sections I referenced above. I'm still looking for more of a pop culture type of nonfiction related to language though, rather than dense academia like this.(less)
I was hoping for an explicitly feminist young adult dystopia here, maybe an updated The Handmaid's Tale for the younger crowd. Something empowering, t...moreI was hoping for an explicitly feminist young adult dystopia here, maybe an updated The Handmaid's Tale for the younger crowd. Something empowering, that assured teen girls that yes, sexuality is sometimes complicated, and exploring it is okay if you want to, and waiting is just fine too. Instead, what I got was some wishy-washy future-lite with a trite love story thrown in. Ugh.
Can I just say? I am so fucking sick of love triangles. Or complex polygons, as might be more appropriate here. Maybe I'm getting too old for silly high school drama. I did appreciate the absence of a "love at first sight" storyline. It does, however, feature the "love interest is a creepy stalker (but his dedication is endearing!)" trope.
So anyway, in Julia Karr's dystopian vision, all girls are tattooed with the Roman numerals "XVI" on their wrists upon reaching the age of sixteen. This lets any leering men nearby know they're fair game for sex and violence and whatever other recreational perviness they can imagine. The government and media advertise this as a rite-of-passage all girls should aspire to, and lots of girls embrace being "sex-teens". But not our protagonist, Nina, because she is an innocent, virginal girl we should all emulate! Excuse me while I gag on all the self-righteousness.
Of course, since this is a dystopia, the government and media are responsible for lots of other vaguely sinister things, but I honestly feel like "dystopia" should be in scare quotes because the world-building is so lazy. Cliches abound. Surveillance everywhere? Check. Hovercars? Check. Future-slang and unnecessary acronyms? Check, check. High-tech communication gadgets that sound exactly like cell phones? Check. (Seriously, this was written last year -- you can't even extrapolate from modern technology?) Other than a few such futuristic acoutrements, we're given no information on how society has changed in the intervening decades between the present day and the 2170s, when this novel is supposed to be set. One could almost guess this was a contemporary novel. The rape culture represented here is certainly very similar to what women today live with.
Which brings me to my biggest issue with this book. For what is apparently supposed to be a feminist novel, there is a ridiculous amount of slut-shaming here. Every interaction Nina has with her best friend, Sandy, is a classic example of the virgin-whore dichotomy at work. What's more, the author seems completely oblivious to this. I'll spoiler-alert this, but it should come as no surprise to people who are familiar with how sexual female characters are portrayed in mainstream entertainment: (view spoiler)[Sandy, who is boy-crazy and described as dressing revealingly in the text, gets killed, while our Madonna protagonist decides not to have sex with her boyfriend (despite almost losing control to those eeeeeevil hormones) and lives. Pro-tip: Your dystopia isn't horrifying enough? Just have one of the female characters raped, killed, and thrown in a ditch! She dressed like a hooker, so she had it coming, right? (hide spoiler)]
I wish these awful stereotypes and terrible messages to send to teenage girls could have been at least partially offset by good writing, but that is sadly not the case. The first third of the book largely consists of clunky infodumps in the form of "As you know..." dialogue, the foreshadowing is over-the-top obvious, and all the twists can be seen coming from a mile away. The characters are all pretty one-dimensional and I'm shocked the villain didn't have a mustache to twirl, because he was a walking cliche in every other way. The whole thing was just extremely heavy-handed stylistically.
You know what? This started off as a two-star review, because I really liked the concept and it was a quick, easy read, but now I'm pissed. One star. Goddamnit.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I've been somewhat familiar with Kate Bornstein's life and work since studying sections of Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us in a colleg...moreI've been somewhat familiar with Kate Bornstein's life and work since studying sections of Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us in a college Queer Theory class, so I was really eager to read her new memoir as soon as I heard about it. This definitely didn't disappoint, but it wasn't entirely what I expected. Though Bornstein struggled with gender identity since childhood, she transitioned fairly late in life, so relatively little of her memoir has to do with living as a transperson. That's okay, though, cause Bornstein has had a unique life even aside from her gender transformation.
The writing style makes this quite a light, entertaining read -- it's a bit chatty and rambling, with lots of jokes and tangents thrown in. Her likeable personality really shines through. Sometimes Bornstein will highly embellish an event and then 3 pages later will confess that the entire incident was all a lie. About the important stuff, though, she writes candidly -- even when telling the truth makes her look like less than a spectacular person.
So, I suppose a brief summary is in order. Bornstein was born (then Albert) into a fairly average, upper-middle class Jewish family on the Jersey Shore. His father was a super-macho doctor, and Al could never be masculine enough to please him. As a teenage hippie traveling the country, Al stumbles upon Scientology, where the concept of genderless "thetans" holds a unique appeal to the boy who has been hiding the belief that he's a girl for most of his life. He joins up, enlists in their Sea Org, and serves for a decade on a ship right alongside L. Ron Hubbard, until he's summarily kicked out (for reasons that are too convoluted to go into here, so read the damn book). Along the way, he marries three different women in an attempt to "pray the trans away", and has a daughter, Jessica, who he last saw when she was around five years old. He also struggles with depression, alcohol and drug addiction, anorexia, and self-injury. Eventually he sobers up, gets into therapy, starts living as a woman, gets genital reassignment surgery, and discovers she is a lesbian.
There's obviously a whole lot more to it than that, but it's a hell of a life story. There are some really hard parts to read, though. Bornstein's whole reason for writing the book is to reach out to her now-adult daughter in hopes that they will one day reconnect. It's heartbreaking. Additionally, this book should really come with a trigger warning for eating disorders and cutting/SI. I wish someone had warned me, and I'm not usually that sensitive to triggers. Finally, there's a section in the last third of the book that gets pretty heavily into BDSM, and is quite graphic. Just so's you guys know.(less)
Wow. What a fantastic, unique novel. There's a blurb on the back of my library copy that recommends Annabel to "fans of Jeffrey Eugenides's Middlesex"...moreWow. What a fantastic, unique novel. There's a blurb on the back of my library copy that recommends Annabel to "fans of Jeffrey Eugenides's Middlesex", and while the comparison is apt, this is a wholly different novel that stands on its own.
The story takes place in a small hunting town in Labrador, Newfoundland. It's a harsh society with rigid gender roles, where the men spend six months of the year living in isolated hunting cabins on the traplines and women give birth in their bathtubs at home and go right back to their duties the next day. In one of these bathtubs, an intersex child is born. The baby born to Treadway and Jacinta Blake is a "true hermaphrodite", possessing both male and female genitalia: one ovary, one testicle, a vagina, either a small penis or large clitoris, just the right size so as to be ambiguous. Faced with this unexpected dilemma, the family makes the difficult decision to raise the baby as a boy and arrange for a doctor to perform "normalizing" surgery. Baby Wayne gets his vagina sewn up and everyone hopes the whole affair is behind them. But it's pretty hard for a secret like that to stay hushed up, especially in such a small town. Puberty is hard enough for those whose bodies change according to typical biology, and it's something else entirely for those who don't conform to gender norms, as Kathleen Winter explores.
This was beautifully written and an absolute pleasure to read, which is surprising given the subject matter. There are definitely difficult, uncomfortable parts, and I cried more than once. I also had slight suspension of disbelief issues about one plot point: (view spoiler)[that whole auto-fertilization thing. Even with the anatomy Wayne is described as having in the book, it seems extremely far-fetched to me. (hide spoiler)] For that, I think I would need to revisit Anne Fausto-Sterling's fantastic nonfiction, Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality.
There's a strange innocence in this book, in the way it breaks your heart and then warms it again. The characters are real, flawed yet completely sympathetic. Even Treadway, steadfast in his role as the harsh father figure, punishing Wayne for things he does that may be seen as too "feminine"... you can tell he does this out of love and because he knows that the world will be even harsher to someone who doesn't fit into its view of normality. His growth as a character is amazing to watch and was one of my favorite elements of the story.
This was really a fascinating study of the fluidity of gender. From the research I've done, it seems that intersex conditions may occur in up to 1% of births, depending on what studies you cite and what definition of "intersex" you use, since there's quite a spectrum of anomalies falling under that umbrella. For what is obviously not such a rare condition, it's surprising to me that there aren't more books out there dealing with this subject. While Annabel does it well, it's also just a great coming of age story.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I've been meaning to read this book for ages. I first heard about it in my early teenage years, probably in a biography of Courtney Love or something...moreI've been meaning to read this book for ages. I first heard about it in my early teenage years, probably in a biography of Courtney Love or something like that. Well, it's taken me nearly a decade but I finally got around to it, and I really wish I hadn't waited.
Centering around the lives of three girls in the late 1940's through early 60's, Valley of the Dolls explores the word of celebrity and glamour in mid-century New York and Hollywood. Parts of each character are modeled on Jacqueline Susann's own life -- there's Anne, the naive suburban girl who comes to the big city as a secretary looking for true love and accidentally ends up as a spokesmodel; Neely, small-time Vaudeville kid turned huge movie star with an attitude (and drug addiction) to match; and Jennifer, who is absolutely gorgeous and loved around the world for her body, but is totally empty inside. Each of them find success and rise to the top... but that just makes it a harder fall to rock bottom.
There's as much sex, drugs, and scandal as you would expect. It's also incredibly depressing at times -- I teared up more than once. Sure, it's a little bit trashy, but that just makes it more delicious. I can definitely see why this is considered a cult classic, and it's a new favorite of mine as well.(less)
I wanted to love this, especially after really enjoying the author's sex work memoir, Indecent: How I Make It and Fake It as a Girl for Hire, but it w...moreI wanted to love this, especially after really enjoying the author's sex work memoir, Indecent: How I Make It and Fake It as a Girl for Hire, but it was ultimately a little disappointing. Sarah Katherine Lewis's writing is so shameless and in-your-face that I expected this to be a manifesto, something that I would find myself reading passages aloud from, nodding and excited that someone GETS IT, but it just turned out to be a collection of lukewarm essays about, well, food and sex. Some were better than others, certainly: Earl Grey Tea, a "love story" of sorts about hooking up with a butch lesbian in a new city; Britney, in which the author espouses her love for the pop princess and why she considers Ms. Spears a feminist icon; Baby Ruth Man and Agapae, tales similar to those in her previous book about delightfully kinky clients. I loved the simplicity of The Bacon Quotient, because really, who hasn't been there? And I appreciated the body-love messages of Thin and Fat. The last section about heartbreak really began to grate on me, though. There's only so much wallowing in self-pity and cartons of ice cream as I can stand, and we've all been there, so she's not really saying anything original. (less)
I don't read historical fiction very often anymore, but I really enjoyed this. I'm sure it helps that it was written by Margaret Atwood, who I love de...moreI don't read historical fiction very often anymore, but I really enjoyed this. I'm sure it helps that it was written by Margaret Atwood, who I love despite not having read that many of her books yet.
Alias Grace is inspired by the true story of Grace Marks, one of Canada's most notorious murderesses in the mid-19th century. Grace was a servant who was convicted of helping the stable boy, James McDermott, murder their master and his housekeeper. While both were sentenced to death, Grace's lawyer later had her sentence commuted to life imprisonment while McDermott hung, pleading her young age (sixteen at the time of the murders) and implying that she was either insane or an idiot. It's clear that Grace is neither, though, when Atwood writes in her voice. Her fictionalized version is extremely astute, making wise observations on the nature of gender and class in society. The majority of the novel is written from her point-of-view, while maybe a third of the chapters are from the perspective of Dr. Simon Jordan, a psychiatrist interviewing her as part of his studies of amnesia, who is dealing with his own inner struggle and fall from polite society. The text is also interspersed with actual quotes from the period taken from journalists, scholars, and poets, which show how the public's view of Grace may have differed significantly from reality. (Or reality as Atwood imagines it, at least.)
Atwood handles the raw material of the case with an admirable amount of care. None of her fictionalization outright contradicts the historical facts, it merely fills in what might have been where we don't know. Grace's guilt or innocence is immaterial, and the novel really isn't about the murders itself, or whether she committed them. It has so much more to say about how awful life was for poor women in the 1800's, and about the beginnings of psychology, and sex, life, and love. Highly recommended.(less)
My opinion of this book changed a few times as I was reading it. I absolutely loved the first half, but started to get...moreUgh, I hate cliffhanger endings.
My opinion of this book changed a few times as I was reading it. I absolutely loved the first half, but started to get annoyed with the main character midway through. He was just SO. DENSE. Plus, all the twists seemed over-the-top and so far-fetched as to be ridiculous (Seriously, how many mortal injuries does the villain have to sustain in order to actually die?? I was literally groaning - out loud, on the subway - every time this dude showed up again). And then that ending? Gahhhhh!!!!
On the other hand, this is a really unique novel. The premise is extremely original and well thought through, the characters are developed nicely, and the backstory is gradually teased out as you go along, without any clunky infodumps. The writing itself is actually very good, especially compared to the buttload of YA dystopias out there right now. In addition, the story has a lot to say about gender and how it relates to society, which I didn't know at all going in but pleasantly surprised me.
This one is worth a look and recommended, but be aware going in that the ending is a cliffhanger and there isn't any kind of resolution, since I know that pisses a lot of people off (myself included). I will probably pick up the sequels, but may wait a while just out of spite.
(This book does, however, have the distinction of being the first thing I read on my new Kindle Fire - thanks Overdrive! So I guess that's something.)(less)
I actually enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would. Levin's prose is very simple and the book is quite short (...moreThe suburbs are creepy, man.
I actually enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would. Levin's prose is very simple and the book is quite short (more a novella, really), making it an easy and quick read. There is still a lot of substance, though, and themes that stand up well -- it barely feels dated at all. Supremely suspenseful (even though I knew the basic plotline), and a surprisingly feminist tale.(less)
I really wanted to love this book, but it just wasn’t happening. This has been on my to-read list for ages, and from the description sounded right up...moreI really wanted to love this book, but it just wasn’t happening. This has been on my to-read list for ages, and from the description sounded right up my alley. There may be a couple mild spoilers in here, but nothing you couldn't guess from just reading the blurb on the back cover. This book is fairly predictable.
In the future world Ninni Holmqvist has created, those considered “dispensable” –- women over 50 and men over 60 who have not partnered and had children, or hold productive jobs (doctors, teachers, and media personalities, apparently) –- are locked away in the Second Reserve Bank Unit for Biological Material. There they live out their remaining few years in the height of comfort and luxury, while participating in medical experiments and donating their organs one by one. This isn’t the secret-evil-underbelly present in most dystopias: all citizens have full knowledge of what goes on at the Unit and when their time comes, they go voluntarily. Even those inside the Unit never seem to consider resistance or escape. I thought the concept was really interesting, and the fact that it touches on issues of sexism, ageism, and what it means to be a productive member of society appealed to me.
There are some serious holes in the execution, though. We are given very little information about what the state of the outside world is like, and instead given totally superfluous details about mundane things that have only a passing relevance to the story –- nearly a full page is devoted to the type of mocktails served at what is essentially a retirement home party. I wish I were kidding. Plenty of parts just don’t make sense. Apparently in Future Sweden, homosexuality is totally accepted, which is great and all, but artists and writers are considered useless drains on society. Um, okay. People aren’t allowed to drink inside the Unit because it will damage their organs, but they can be given lethal doses of radiation until their brain has atrophied for an experiment that is never explained? If you say so. The novel is filled with amateur psychology and philosophizing, and the writing is kind of bizarre –- most of it is very choppy, but then there are also some beautifully-constructed sentences sprinkled in here and there. I’m inclined to give the author the benefit of the doubt and chalk it up to being an imperfect translation, but it did distract me from the story. The couple of sex scenes are particularly heinous examples of this -– they’re just bad.
None of the other reviewers seem to have mentioned the vague anti-abortion subtext present in The Unit, which I find puzzling. At first, this reads like a feminist novel. Dorrit, the protagonist, is a self-reliant woman who mentions that her mother used to give her “a feminist talk”: “Don’t you go having kids before you can stand on your own two feet… Don’t go letting some man support you, not financially, not intellectually, not emotionally. Don’t you get caught in that trap!” Because of this, Dorrit has an abortion when she gets pregnant at a young age, and then never has a chance to marry a man and have a child to save her from the Unit because… men don’t like strong women? I don’t know what other conclusion to draw from this nonsense. But I could even let that go – I’m sure we can all agree that having an abortion is a difficult choice that can change your life -– if it weren’t for what Dorrit says later, when she gets pregnant again:
“If you think I’m going to have an abortion, you’re wrong. I will never kill my child, never!”
And with that, I lost a tremendous amount of respect for this novel. Add to that the book’s emphasis on sexist archetypes -– again, it starts off by portraying Dorrit as a strong yet feminine woman, then talks about how much she appreciates that her lover (she’s the mistress, of course) is so big and manly and can chop wood for her and change the tires on her car. Apparently, “he could have gone to jail over and over again for both the oppression of women and the improper use of male physical strength.” See, that’s another thing about this world. In Holmqvist’s post-misogynist vision, mere flirting (not in the workplace, mind you, but between mutually-interested acquaintances in a social atmosphere) is a punishable crime that women are mandated to report. That ain’t my idea of a feminist ideal, but it’s presented as if it should be.
This book, like many dystopias, desperately wants to be a political statement, but the message is so convoluted that I really wish I knew more about the author’s affiliations so I could figure out if I agree with her. Is The Unit supposed to be a feminist novel? Anti-feminist? Pro-choice or anti-choice? A vindication of child-free women or a criticism? Or is it just what it is? Am I reading too much into it because I’m sensitive to these issues? I honestly can’t figure it out.
I usually love discussing speculative fiction like this, but this novel isn’t even particularly thought-provoking because of the wishy-washy content. I noticed some other reviewers had issues with the pacing -– I didn’t find it very slow, I actually thought it was a pretty quick read –- but I also didn’t find it “horrifying” or “gripping” like most of the positive reviewers did. Mostly I was just confused, then irritated, then “meh” about the whole thing. (less)
Genly Ai, Terran Envoy, is on a mission to the isolated planet of Gethen in hopes of forming an alliance for trade and diplomatic relations. But Gethe...moreGenly Ai, Terran Envoy, is on a mission to the isolated planet of Gethen in hopes of forming an alliance for trade and diplomatic relations. But Gethen is unlike any other planet in the solar system - not only is the climate harsh and unforgiving (previous explorers nicknamed it "Winter"), the people of Gethen are different too - rather than having males and females, there is only one sex with the potential for both. The genderlessness of society is more powerful than you would imagine, and Mr. Ai must overcome his culture shock and learn to understand the Gethenians before he can fulfill his mission.
This is a bit of a tough read. Le Guin writes clearly and beautifully, but the vast differences between our society and Gethen are mindblowing. She has thought of everything in creating this world - language, culture, naming conventions, table manners, the calendar system - and manages to incorporate them into the story to make it seem so real, as if this were actually field notes from an interstellar diplomat rather than fiction. However, it is a double-edged sword, because there is a lot of information to keep track of and all those cultural tidbits and customs inform the story. To add to the confusion, the perspective alternates between characters, and the chapters are also interspersed with Gethenian legends and historical notes.
It pays off though, and The Left Hand of Darkness is worth a read. It is a fascinating speculation of a genderless society and will definitely make you think. Not only is it a classic piece of science fiction, it should also be required reading for anyone interested in women's or gender studies.(less)