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review 2018-05-06 20:52
A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns
A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns - Archie Bongiovanni,Tristan Jimerson

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

This is a very short book in the shape of a graphic novel/comics, so there’s no excuse not to read it. ;)

While I’m not particularly vocal about it when I write book reviews, and while the name I use is ‘feminine’, I don’t identify as a woman—my sex is female, but my gender is non-binary (more specifically, agender). So, it’s always mildly annoying at best when people keep referring to me as ‘she’. Sometimes they just don’t know, and of course, if I don’t tell them, they won’t know… therefore I tell them. Sometimes, too, other people just don’t care, or it forces them to reevaluate their paradigm, and, well, things don’t go so well in such cases.

Therefore I truly appreciate such books as this one—short and to the point, again: no excuse—that explain what it’s all about, and why it matters. Because being called ‘she’ is as much incomfortable for me as it is for a man who identifies as a man to be called ‘she’, for instance. (Also, for the grammar purists who say that ‘there’s only he and she pronouns, and they as a singular isn’t right’: singular they has been in use since the 14th century or so. Just saying.)

To be honest, I’m not entirely fan of the graphic style here; however, it is cute, with fun moments, and the art IMHO isn’t what matters the most in this book.

Except for a couple of things I wasn’t too sure about, mostly the two characters (Archie and Tristan) run you through a quick explanation of non-binary vs. cisgender (‘quick’, because the whole thing detailed would take a book of its own), situations about how to use they/them pronouns, and examples of misgendering and how to react to it tastefully, whether you’re the one being misgendered or an ally. Among such situations, when loved ones misgender you, but you know they’re supportive in plenty of other ways, ranting is not useful. But sometimes, too, when people deliberately refuse to acknowledge you (binary or non-binary, this is part of your identity, after all), and make fun of you and/or are deliberately hurtful, it’s also good to be reminded that it’s OK to let go of what is, all in all, abusive. It’s not easy to accept… but it’s true.

This book is a good introduction to the matter, easy to follow and understand, and one that you can also apply to other pronouns like ze/hir (yes, there are more than just the few mentioned here). Even though it’s not exhaustive, it paves the way for further reading for anyone who’s interested.

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review 2018-04-04 05:59
Middlesex -- So much better than I had imagined
Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides

Edit: I've been thinking about this since, and I've come to the conclusion this book couldn't be written today (in 2018) while it seemed daring and real just a few years ago. There's more to that conversation, but I'm still judging this based on the time in which it was written. And I'm still very glad it was written and I got to read it.

 

Back to your previously scheduled program:

 

I was rather shocked at how good this is. I couldn't wrap my head about the blurbs. The idea of a book about an intersexual person sounded like it would be a political or medical diatribe, or possibly a whiny "poor me" tale falsely disguised as fiction. I realized Jeffrey Eugenides was not writing his personal story, but I did have the idea that this was still somehow a disguised bit of biography -- perhaps it is. If I was a real book reviewer, I'd have to look that up, but I'm not. No matter its origins, it doesn't read like any of these usually disguised things, and it's really very good.

Funny as could be, almost every line is quotable. This is more of an historical novel than just one person's story. It's a family story that is more vital to the man telling it than most. Cal née Calliope Stephanides is proof of a family secret in his very being. It will take a trip across the ocean at the end of the Greco-Turkish War and the accidents of love in the close-knit Detroit community for the secret to reveal itself through three generations of Stephanides. Even then Calliope is a child and hasn't been educated to the multitudinous ways genetics and gender (nevermind sexuality) can play out. So this is a very original coming-of-age story, a medical history, the story of forbidden love and much more in just over 500 pages of stunning prose.

Marvelously detailed, interesting and well-researched, with decent and realistic portrayals of all genders, from the roaring twenties through the twenty-first century, love and marriage, Detroit, and America/Americans broadly, Eugenides is a smart writer with a warm, welcoming voice. The word most likely to describe it would be "charming." While occasionally I got sniffy about some of the ease with which Cal seemed to make his decisions, it would have turned into a fake memoir if we went through every painstaking detail. He seemed a bit naive at times, then Eugenides would have him say something about his upbringing or family to remind me that he, in fact, was naive. Kids were much more naive in pre-internet days, or if not naive, often just plain confused or wrong. Cal is clearly not the type who would pour out his feelings anyway. When I know a character well enough to know why she does or doesn't do things, it's usually a good sign the writer has gotten his story and his characters under my skin.

I can see why Oprah picked Middlesex for her book club years ago. The voices are all supremely individual and Cal is a charming narrator, but Cal - while being the main character - is almost incidental to the overall story in some ways. I wish I'd read this with a group, because the discussion could go on forever. This is one of those books I knew I "should" read, and I didn't really have much interest. It didn't sound appealing, but I passed it on a shelf at the library last week and obviously picked it up. A different copy will find itself in my home soon, because I will certainly want to read it again and urge others to do the same. So, hey you - if you've not read it, take the leap. It's so much better than it sounds.

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review 2018-04-01 18:31
SING, UNBURIED, SING -- a graceful trip through harrowing territory
Sing, Unburied, Sing: A Novel - Jesmyn Ward

A realistic book where ride-hopping ghosts feel as natural as a toddler vomiting on a long trip is a feat of nature. It simply should not be possible, but Jesmyn Ward achieves it with ease in SING, UNBURIED, SING.

 

And can we just talk about that title? Everything about this book is pitch perfect. I rarely read anything that doesn't stop me at some point to notice that I'm reading. It's one of the horrors of growing up. I used to read everything by just diving in and living in that world for the length of the book. Nowadays, I notice far too often that this is a book. It's either overly clever or overly wordy or overly cute or overly bad or something along the way. That didn't happen here. I didn't notice anything but a story I got sucked into and read voraciously from the first page to the end.

 

There are plenty of great reviews by people who know better than me why this is a good book. I am not going to pretend to know. I just know this is a book I felt intensely and lived inside while I read it.

 

Every scene is impeccable like a well-preserved antique: not in a bright shiny way - just in a refined way, sort of soft and easy, no matter the subject matter. (Maybe this is what "lyrical" means.) Given the subject matter of parental drug use, a son who has taken the world on his shoulders, race relations, the worst prison in the country, family dynamics, poverty, cancer... Those things are not usually written with agility. They are often "important," but not usually graceful. SING, UNBURIED, SING is. There's a light but purposeful touch.

 

This is a book -- and they seem to come along only rarely -- that reminds me exactly why it is so vital, life-affirming and essential to read.

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review 2018-04-01 17:37
Small Great Things -- My Unpopular Opinion & Female Mansplaining
Small Great Things - Jodi Picoult

Though this has the qualities I associate with fiction, it felt a lot like being forced to listen to a room full of college kids who just read Nietzsche for the first time and come home to perform that knowledge for hours *at* me - without asking 1) if I already know this, 2) if I care to listen to all of their newfound knowledge, and 3) if I agree with their strong opinions.

 

That's how I felt for much of the second two sections of this book (and I won't even go near the author's note that follows -- beyond saying that it's the best example of mansplaining a woman could hope to portray.) I have no problem with a white writer writing a person of color. I do have a problem with a fiction that is only thinly disguised "racial sensitivity 101" built on a cadre of stereotypical "types." I felt like Jodi Picoult took a class (and I was right - she did!), saw the light, feels woke, got serious, and set out to explain it all to all of us, without asking us to join in the conversation - or what we could hope to bring to it - much like an author who assumes you don't know any of the big words she uses. It was the long passages of internal dialogue that killed this book dead for me. The "aha" moments that took up pages and pages and then more pages repeatedly were so awfully serious and so awfully lecture-like, they could have been lifted from racial sensitivity 101 -- which made them completely unbelievable because as we teach in those classes, changing one's racial mindset takes a long time and is an internal process that cannot be done through thoughts alone. Practice will help, awareness is key, but no change like this happens overnight. I've taught those classes, and they sound just like this book, with the caveat I just made about changing (even when you start out as a stereotype, like every single character in this book.) Nonfiction exists for a reason. I thought this was a story - not a lecture, but I was wrong. Jodi Picoult doesn't realize that she's become the white savior that Kennedy is supposed to portray.

 

The book felt extremely condescending to the reader. Picoult should now wait while I go take a class on writing, interview a few writers, then I will type my long, heartfelt, dissertation length "aha" moments in a story and she should be FORCED to read my new feelings about writing. Because that's just about how ridiculous the inner dialogue of her characters sounded to me.

Two books I can recommend to Picoult or anyone else who actually cares about race and all the feelings white people are now having that I've read this year that cover similar topics: So You Want to Talk about Race  and Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race. If you want to go deeper, there are so many better books, both fiction and nonfiction.

 

The story's basic foundation could have held up a lovely tale. Picoult got indulgent with her newfound awareness and had her characters thinking and behaving in unrealistic ways to cram more of that knowledge into their heads, then she polished it off with an ending torn from a Disney Princess's wishbook. It all became very trite and downright silly by the end.

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review 2018-03-30 19:27
A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo - lovely children's book for charity
A Day In The Life Of Marlon Bundo - Marlon Bundo,Jill Twiss,Richard Parsons

I now own three copies: one hardcover, one kindle and one audio - which is completely lovely and well worth the donation (ALL PROCEEDS GO TO CHARITY!) After reading and listening to the audio, I've ordered 5 more copies for children I know. It's a very appropriate children's book. 

 

Common Sense Media, an independent non-profit organization helping parents make media choices for their children, gave the book a four star rating and considers it appropriate for children of four years and older, giving it its highest marks for "positive messages" and "positive role models and representations."

 

Written by Jill Twiss (with an assist from Marlon Bundo) and illustrated by EG Keller (aka Gerald Kelley) about, well... a in the life of Marlon Bundo, the real-life rabbit of the Pence family. You might know the Pence family because their dad is Mike: Vice President of the United States.

 

The pictures are really adorable and it's actually just a very lovely story about everyone being different and that's awesome. Also, it's nice to hop together rather than alone. And animals make a perfect bridal party -- I learned a lot!

 

In the audio version Jim Parsons plays Marlon Bundo, John Lithgow plays the evil stinkbug (not too scary for kids, but scary enough) and tons of other lovely voice acting in this short children's book from the likes of Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Jeff Garlin, Ellie Kemper, Jack McBrayer, and RuPaul!

 

More info on just the book, if you want it: https://youtu.be/rs2RlZQVXBU?t=14m7s

 

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