This is a short yet somewhat dense novel set in an elite Rwandan girls' boarding school in the 1970s: set well before the genocide but written after,This is a short yet somewhat dense novel set in an elite Rwandan girls' boarding school in the 1970s: set well before the genocide but written after, it focuses primarily on the laying of the groundwork for ethnic cleansing. As a novel, though, it didn't do anything for me: the structure is more a series of vignettes than a plot; there is no protagonist, and almost all of the girls seem either interchangeable or too distant to inspire any sense of connection in readers. The most vivid personality is Gloriosa, who leads the persecution of her Tutsi classmates, but she's too caricatured and two-dimensional to be interesting, let alone sympathetic. And for all that in real life the teenage years are a time of intense emotion, the girls' interactions and relationships are almost entirely driven by politicking and almost devoid of any real human connection or friendship. Sure, teens are selfish, but could an entire schoolful of them be quite this calculating? I don't know, but this book didn't delve deeply enough into anyone's psychologies to convince me. Or at any rate, something was lost in translation.
The mountaintop setting sounds beautiful, though, and the glimpses into Rwandan culture are well-done....more
A saccharine, yet strangely readable, children's book about a little Swiss girl who transforms the lives of nearly everyone she meets. I'd read this oA saccharine, yet strangely readable, children's book about a little Swiss girl who transforms the lives of nearly everyone she meets. I'd read this one as a kid but remembered too little to count it for my world books challenge without a re-read. The beauty of the mountain and Heidi's love for it are vividly depicted. Spyri doesn't talk down to her child readers, and I wouldn't have guessed this to be a translation without being told (though there are some ways of writing that passed in the 19th century but wouldn't today: "'That would be all very well if he were like other people,' asseverated stout Barbel warmly"). It continues to surprise me that so many favorite children's books are so old, and yet children have no trouble with them, while adult classics are more difficult and less widely read. This one is probably best enjoyed by readers of an age to readily identify with Heidi, but despite some idealization and religious messaging it was a pleasant enough read as an adult too....more
I chose to read this book after hearing a radio interview with the author, in which she was absolutely amazing. So my expectations were high. Too highI chose to read this book after hearing a radio interview with the author, in which she was absolutely amazing. So my expectations were high. Too high, because while I agree with almost everything Gay says, I wasn't as impressed as anticipated.
This book contains essays on a wide range of topics; only a few are about being a feminist, though plenty of others discuss subjects of interest to feminists, such as the representation of women in the media (books, movies, music, the news media), portrayals of sexual violence, and the state of reproductive freedom in the U.S. Many are also about race - mostly on portrayals of African-Americans in the news media and in fiction. Then there are a few miscellaneous topics: happy endings, global tragedies, Scrabble tournaments. Some of the essays have a personal focus, but the majority concentrate on cultural commentary.
So the essays do feel a bit scattered, as if they were thrown together from a blog archive. Some are very relevant, such as the essays on how to deal with privilege or the insistence on "likeable" female characters. Others are less so. Some arrive at no conclusions: for instance, the essay on trigger warnings that boils down to "I find them kind of counterproductive and condescending, but if other people want them, well, okay." Others date themselves with their focus on cultural moments with little lasting relevance: what do we care, now, about Todd Akin or Jerry Sandusky?
The essays about representation in the media also underwhelmed me, perhaps because I read many articles and reviews on these topics online. When Gay turns her attention to well-known works, her analysis adds little to what many others have said before: yes, Fifty Shades romanticizes abuse; yes, The Help turns the lives of black maids into feel-good stories for white people. When she focuses on works with which I'm unfamiliar (and outside of my areas of interest I pretty much live under a rock. I haven't seen Django, or anything by Tyler Perry. I've never heard of Diana Spechler's Skinny. I don't know who Daniel Tosh is), she lost me. Like most academic criticism, her analysis tends to focus on the specifics of the work in question, with the assumption that readers are already familiar with it; and since most of these essays are about problematic works, you probably won't come away with a reading list either.
In the end, my favorite essays were the personal ones, while the others were a mixed bag. This is a worthwhile read, perhaps especially so for those who are immersed in pop culture but haven't given much thought to it; the writing is accessible without being simplistic. And I think Roxane Gay is a great person and am glad other people are reading this and loving it. Unfortunately, very high expectations made it a disappointment for me....more
This is a well-written story of a single mother (Isabelle) and her teenage daughter (Amy), set in 1970's Maine. Unlike most books of this type, this iThis is a well-written story of a single mother (Isabelle) and her teenage daughter (Amy), set in 1970's Maine. Unlike most books of this type, this is a literary rather than a sentimental novel, though the subject matter is familiar: Isabelle's frustration with the limitations of her life, Amy's burgeoning sexuality and relationship with a teacher who skillfully seduces her, and the fraught relationship between mother and daughter.
Strout's writing is strong and the characters three-dimensional and believable. I appreciated the subtle development of the characters' relationships and the author's eye for deeper meanings in everyday interactions. For me, though, by the second half of the novel, the pace had become too slow, with too many digressions into the weather and the lives of random townspeople with little to no impact on the main story. This is anything but a plot-driven novel, but worth checking out if you enjoy character studies....more
I remember being ridiculously depressed by this book at 14. I'm tempted to re-read it just to see whether what I think of as "depressing" has changed,I remember being ridiculously depressed by this book at 14. I'm tempted to re-read it just to see whether what I think of as "depressing" has changed, and how much....more