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review 2018-03-14 01:00
This is a DENSE book, ya'll
The Portable Nineteenth-Century African American Women Writers (Penguin Classics) - Hollis Robbins,Hollis Robbins,Henry Louis Gates Jr.,Henry Louis Gates Jr.,Various

If you're looking for a book that you can dip in and out of over the course of several days (or weeks if you're me) then I recommend you check out The Portable Nineteenth-Century African American Women Writers. Organized by theme, this book features many writers of different genres. There are poets, essayists, lecturers, novelists, ministers, and teachers to name just a few. The common theme (besides their gender and race) is that they are advocates for equality of the races and sexes. I found that this book was an excellent conversation starter especially if you want to talk about tough topics like economic and social equality coupled with the history of the Americas. It's also an excellent way to discover writers that you may have never heard of as many of them are quite niche. As you might surmise, the topics covered in this collection are quite deep and therefore as a whole it's an emotionally and mentally exhausting enterprise. It's well worth the effort though. It's astonishing to me just how many of these women I had never heard of but when they were originally writing their voices were strong, no-holds-barred, and topical (most are relevant even today). The truths spoken are hard to accept because the topics are still so ingrained and fresh in the memory of our country. It's another reminder that we should continually be expanding our minds and looking beyond what we already 'know'. Embrace learning about new things! 9/10 and only lost that point because by 1/2 way through I was having to hype myself up to pick it back up again.


What's Up Next: Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang


What I'm Currently Reading: Fly on the Wall: How One Girl Saw Everything by E. Lockhart

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2018-03-11 12:11
I should have read the Crown Princess's actual memoirs instead.
The Red Queen - Margaret Drabble

Pretentious and self-centered.  Forget the book blurbs -- this actually isn't about the Lady Hyegyōng but about Margaret Drabble and the "connection" she allegedly feels with this 18th century Korean princess.


In fact, only the first half of the book even focuses on the Lady Hyegyōng's story at all -- and even that part is (1) almost all telling instead of showing and (2) clearly NOT told from a Korean (even if only a contemporary Korean) perspective but from the Western contemporary author's own perspective.  Then we get to the second part, where we're being presented with a Western POV stand-in character for Ms. Drabble, who (for reasons never satisfactorily explained) feels compelled to research and "keep alive" the Lady Hyegyōng's story after having mysteriously been sent a recent translation of her memoirs -- until, that is, during the Seoul conference forming the majority of the second part's backdrop, she embarks on a fling with the conference's star speaker / scientist / participant (or rather, throws herself at him with jet propulsion force).  And ultimately, Drabble doesn't even shy away from explicitly inserting herself into the book, as (you guessed it) the autor eventually tasked with telling both the Crown Princess's and the Western POV Drabble-stand-in character's stories.


If I hadn't been planning on using this book for the Kill Your Darlings game, I'd have DNF'd it -- at the very latest when the second part's supremely annoying Western POV character started throwing herself full-forcce at that star scientist (while at the same time being equally supremely rude to a Korean doctor who'd saved her skin on more than one occasion and who had even taken out time from his own busy schedule to show her Seoul's historic sites).


So, one star for the faraway glimpes at the Lady Hyegyōng provided in the book's first part, and half a star for inspiring me to seek out her actual story ... and her own point of view.


But if this is supposed to be one of Margaret Drabble's most celebrated books, I'm afraid I'm now going to need a truly huge incentive to go near her writing again any time soon.

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review 2018-03-06 15:17
The Buddha in the Attic - Tight & Smart, until it's not
The Buddha in the Attic - Julie Otsuka

This is one of those novels you know the critics will adore. It's written in a different way, there is no main character, it's almost a book of linked sentences (though all books are that. I have no idea how to describe the writing.) Everything is a statement. Every sentence is structured the same way *for most of the book.* And that's where I dropped a star.


The group of Japanese women who narrate in a third-person "god's eye" sort of way for most of the book are the main characters of this book. They are young and naive when the book opens, all on the lower decks of a ship bringing them to America - these "picture brides." Idealistic, if conflicted, they believe their lives will be better in the US, despite their fears and concerns about loud, giant, hairy, smelly Americans. They're on the way to live with the Japanese men who have built the American dream in San Francisco early in the 20th century. When they get here, those men aren't all they represented themselves to be.


The women go from young brides to farm laborers to house maids to mothers, and then the tone shifts and we no longer hear the story from the group of Japanese women. Instead a nameless white woman (or women?) takes up their tale. She explains that they've disappeared, and for a while they think about these Japanese workers who were just here, until they don't anymore.


When the women become mothers, the structure starts to change. Sentences get longer and there are no more statement followed by statement lists. By the time the white women start to tell the story, it's no longer that tight, rigid and entrancing structure. Instead it becomes more like regular prose. I didn't like that change. And with our main "character" gone, I felt like a door had been slammed.


Now, all of that could mean that the author did exactly what she meant to do. These people were lost when they were imprisoned during the war. They couldn't speak for themselves, and apparently nobody cared to speak for them, plus white women don't speak like Japanese women in this book, this place or this era. Perhaps the nameless white women taking up the story or lack thereof represented exactly what it was supposed to. I don't know. I just know that it felt abrupt (like the move into the camps itself) and cold (again, like the actual history.) Then it ended, which isn't like history.


I am incredibly impressed with this sad tale. I just wish it had stayed in that format or given me more to hang onto through what was, in many ways, the most crucial point in the book: the end. Why could we no longer hear from the Japanese women? I know they disappeared, but we heard their private thoughts before that. Anyway, it's interesting and very short. Worth a read, if only so you can tell me why I'm wrong.


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text 2018-03-02 22:00
Reading Progress Update: A Cautionary Word on Cats
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - J.K. Rowling,Stephen Fry

(I'm about 35-40% in now, but going back to the very beginning -- I listened to this in the car today:)

"Mr Dursley blinked and stared at the cat.  It stared back.  As Mr Dursley drove around the corner and up the road, he watched the cat in his mirror.  It was now reading the sign that said Privet Drive -- no, looking at the sign; cats couldn't read maps or signs.  Mr Dursley gave himself a little shake and put the cat out of his mind."

So you think cats can't read maps, can they, Uncle Vernon?



(And her name wasn't even Professor McGonagall ... well, not that I was ever aware, at least!)


And yes, that is a map of London, too.

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review 2018-03-02 04:48
The Diary of A Young Girl is exactly that and much more
The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition - Mirjam Pressler,Susan Massotty,Otto Frank,Anne Frank

I reread this for the Catch-up Book Club on Goodreads, and I'm glad I did. The last time I read Anne's diary I was younger than she was while writing it, and again, I'm annoyed at myself for being such a dumb kid. Also, it's changed since my initial read. There's more and we get more background in the newest editions.

I hate using stars to "rate" a journal that itself says how boring, juvenile, tawdry, silly and personal it is repeatedly, but I'm going to if only to keep the rating I gave it earlier and reinforce it.

As an older reader I felt for Anne's parents early in the book. She is oblivious to the many goings-on in preparation to go into hiding. She's living a child's life with her new birthday diary, while her parents have moved the family more than once to avoid Hitler only to get stuck in Holland. Nonetheless, they prepare for hiding by taking things piece by piece to the annex and preparing as much as possible before being forced to flee. I was impressed by her father Otto's ability to allow her as much carefree childhood as he could during what must have been incredibly terrifying days.

Anne's earliest entries show she's a child with a keen understanding that many people only show masks to the rest of us. This observation repeats itself through the journal, and her torment with others being less genuine than she would like is, in itself, heart wrenching. An historical document, a life in hiding with its mundanity and extraordinary qualities equally prevalent, this diary shows both extreme fear and incredible boredom. She goes from child to philosopher repeatedly.

Interested in a huge variety of things, Anne keeps herself busy writing not just in her diary but also short stories, genealogical studies, poetry, etc. She's got thoughts and ideals on feminism, love, God, war and peace, the culpability of regular people, families, self, discrimination, motherhood, pain, poverty, medical science, finance, the war machine, religion... This is not an idle idiot scrawling nonsense. She is very capable of growth, and we see it within the diary. She allows for her own earlier "childish" writing, yet leaves it included with some additional notes. While she was supposedly editing this for after the war, she remarks more than once that this diary is just for her, that it surely won't be worthwhile to anyone else ever. How wrong you were, Anne Frank.

Anne practices multiple languages, learns history and other subjects, reads voraciously and really only stops in to write in her diary occasionally once she and her family are in hiding. She also stays abreast of her schoolwork, always planning and even trying to expect freedom just around the corner. She's up on the war, keeps an eye on the Allied Forces and fully expects them to succeed. She knows she's being optimistic. She says she's doing it purposely. She watches the squabbles around her, getting annoyed at other people's annoyance, and only occasionally allows herself to wish for things she can't have. Instead, she simply plans for "after" the war.

One moment really stood out to me. While discussing the war, Anne notes that despite nationality, she believes that after the war "We can never be just Dutch or just English or whatever, we will be Jews as well." This is, to me, a remarkable statement. While Zionism had already begun, it becomes very clear that Anne - isolated and sheltered from the worst thus far - has figured out something absolutely vital about the world post WWII and about identity when someone is part of a marginalized group in a larger society. Much earlier she had started wrestling between her German identity and her Jewish identity and she will begin to include her Dutch identity too.

The Diary of A Young Girl is exactly that and so much more.

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