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review 2017-05-19 02:04
Reading Lolita in Tehran
Reading Lolita in Tehran - Azar Nafisi

This is one of those books that comes along and turns everything you thought you knew upside down. I loved every minute of it and can't wait to read more from Nafisi.

She manages to do so much in this book. It just amazes me. She makes me want to read everything over again (except Lolita which I read for the first time in tandem with this and am so grateful that I did. Here's the review for Lolita), and to teach literature, and to have my own group where we can dive into all these books together. Unfortunately, all these things are incredibly difficult to come by or create and I can't imagine how she managed to do it in Tehran, of all places.

Okay, to be fair, I don't have to imagine, she details it in the book. Other than Pride and Prejudice, I wasn't a fan of any of the books they so loved in their courses and most I had already read for my own English degree, again the exception is Lolita. That said, I really have to go back and reread them and appreciate all these things that I didn't see on the first pass. I absolutely loved the Gatsby trial because it also made clear for me the things that are amazing about the book and made sense of it all. A problem that I have had with classics like that one and Great Expectations was that the women were so unreal to me. I had never met nor knew of a woman in real life like any of them. It had not occurred to me that these are only the impressions of the male protagonist of what these women were like. Even when it was once pointed out to me, I was horrified and couldn't bring myself to really believe it. Surely, men don't actually view women the way that Pip viewed Estella, but I was assured that many do. This did not help me like that particular novel, but it helped me understand Daisy in The Great Gatsby when that same thought process was pointed out here.

I think the difference is the timing and the impression that was left. Like with Madame Bovary, I remembered the highlights of the The Great Gatsby and the feel of the book but not an excess of details. I could remember that Daisy was always seen as the embodiment of everything desirable and wonderful by Gatsby but not why. It helped my impression of her that she loved him, though it left me confused when she chose to leave him at the end. Nafisi does help clarify this when she supports the idea that Daisy in the book isn't always interpreted adequately by Nick, the narrator, which is why her actions can be confusing. The same would have been true for Lolita, who is seen entirely through the eyes of HH, had I not read the section about Lolita here prior to getting into the meat of the audiobook. I could see through HH's interpretation and make my own interpretations of the same actions, something I couldn't manage with Daisy or Estella. I mentioned in the Lolita review that it really makes me want to do a reread of both and I'd throw Daisy Miller into the mix now that I've read her section in this book as well.

Madame Bovary I had already learned to appreciate shortly after starting this blog because it prompted me to think a little more about the context than the story and that she is such an unlikeable character for me. Once I got over the idea of judging her for her actions, I remembered to appreciate that she is a fully developed character, written like a real woman with reasoning for her actions that I can understand and even empathize with while disagreeing with them and that she was written by a man over a hundred years ago. She was written in a way that see beyond all the delicacy that we are attributed into the people that women are and that we can have our own ambitions and desires. She's a precursor to all the amazing women in Game of Thrones who finally got me to like fantasy because there were real women going through stuff and messing everything up and making mistakes and getting it done. Because of this, I could just nod and agree on Madame Bovary though I didn't think she was discussed quite as much as some of the others.

I knew going in that this was a book about other books and that it took place in Iran, but I had managed to ignore when this class took place. Thus, I was not prepared for how much the book was going to be about the war between Iraq and Iran. The amazing interpretations that this time and place give to the interpretations of these books are reason alone to read this, and probably the primary reason to do so, but Nafisi also does the reverse and interprets the world through the books, adding a depth to her memoir that I hadn't expected. The timing of the class gives Nafisi and her students certain insights into these books but the books also give them other insights into their time and place.

Each book made them see something different in their world the same way their world made them see things in the book that I overlooked. Something as simple as Daisy Miller and her actions are taken entirely differently when one also lives the heavier restrictions that are placed upon women in some parts of the world. It's easy as a reader in the US now to just see Daisy as being a little slutty and forget that she is lashing out at society. I certainly missed it. I also missed how such simple actions work to begin the breakdown of societal restraints on our lives and free us just a little more. It's girls like Daisy that get us from where she was to where I am and I never paid enough attention to appreciate that about her.

So I've gone a really long way to say that this book revolutionized the way I think of the books mentioned and, in certain respects, the way to even read a book. That said, it is a wonderful memoir of a woman who lived through a historical period in Iran that absolutely needed documented from a woman's perspective. I am grateful to her for that as well. It is a look into the lives of women in a time and place that we often overlook women and their experiences. We fall into a mindset that women aren't doing anything because they aren't the people on the screens and given the higher priority bylines. The more I make an effort to read about women, the more I'm a believer in the hidden history of women getting it done and then having credit taken from them or their contributions covered up. We absolutely must make a better effort to know our own herstories and make them louder, make them as inescapable as the men in history are.

Women were there, women were contributing, women need to be remembered for it all.

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review 2017-04-11 01:47
Just Listen
Just Listen - Sarah Dessen

This was a much better book than I expected. The way it handled serious issues was careful and deliberate.

Trigger warnings for rape and sexual assault.

Given the description on the book page, I wasn't really prepared for what I found in this book. As mentioned above, the issues were handled with great care. While rape was at the center of the story, it also has mention of and dealings with eating disorders but never blames the victim. Owen is important, but I felt like this description inflates his importance. I expected a bit of a rom-com type story where Annabel's life isn't perfect but her problems aren't quite being the victim of a violent crime, you know what I mean?

Yes, her life wasn't perfect before the rape either and that's obvious from it's first mention, but that's not the point either. Owen is also not an "Edward" like figure as the description also led me to believe. Maybe it's just my own misguided interpretation but I feel like "intense" is one of the words used in yound adult stories to denote a boy who turns your life upside down and then is borderline abusive in some way. Owen is absolutely wonderful and his version of intensity is more the insistence of honesty and his level of comfort in his own skin than the way he broods or tries to control her life, neither of which are things he does.

I loved absolutely every character, except one, of course. They all worked well to propel Annabel's character growth. It was well paced and I enjoyed both the family drama and the school drama, especially the work they worked together to prompt Annabel to act. I thought it presented a great narrative for how such events come into being and how people respond to them.

I borrowed the audiobook from the library, which is read by Jennifer Ikeda. She's a fantastic narrator, having won a few awards for it already.

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review 2017-03-27 22:20
Hidden Figures
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race - Margot Lee Shetterly

I am so glad that I read this after seeing the movie. I loved the movie, but it's a drop in the bucket compared to the lifetime of achievement of the women featured in the movie plus there are more women mentioned in the book whose accomplishments aren't evident in the film. It's an amazing story and Shetterly relays it beautifully.

I loved every minute of reading this book and it needs to be in all school libraries. I get that schools don't have the time to devote to each historical topic, but having something like this (there is a Young Readers version available here) for them to read would be great. I wish I had spent more time in the non-fiction section back when I was in school but I'm trying to make up for it now. I love the stories of women throughout history, seeing that we've been contributing to the world in more than 2 ways, and promoting those stories when I see them. Fortunately, this one doesn't exactly need my help. It's been great to see all the notoriety this story has gotten, it's well deserved.

Shetterly goes a long way to giving the reader an understanding of not only the important nature of these women's work, but the sacrifices they made to do the work and the pressures they were under from several sources. The difference in the way they were treated at work and at home, by coworkers and by passersby on the sidewalk, is well delineated and it paints a good picture of what it must have meant to be there, to be breaking down barriers and to be given credit for their incredible intelligence. I appreciate that they all say they were just doing their jobs, which I'm sure is true, but there's always more to it than that. I've known people who "just" do their jobs and there's a difference between them and people who love the work. It's this difference that breaks down the barriers that these women took on, purposefully or not.

I appreciated Shetterly's inclusion of the timeline with the Civil Rights movement. I am familiar with the events from school and other reading, but it helped me out to have it overlaid on the timeline of the events at NACA and NASA, to understand the shifting sands the women found themselves on. She did a great job too of delineating the cultural and workplaces differences with being African American, a woman, or an African American and a woman. The African American men got to come in as engineers and the women had to fight for that too. White women were also given advantages over African American women, which caused the women featured here to deal with twice the problems the others had.

This is a book that everyone should read, but especially if you watched the movie, which really only covers half. The book carries the story of the three central women all the way to the moon landing, while the movie stops at John Glenn's orbit. Shetterly's writing style is impeccable and the story itself is astounding.

 

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review 2017-03-08 23:08
Map: Collected and Last Poems - Wisława Szymborska,Clare Cavanagh,Stanisław Barańczak

This is one of my Reading Nobel Women books, a complete collection of Wislawa Szymborska's work, and it was amazing.

As with all collections, there are favorites and then there are those that weren't enough or just not your thing. The book starts off with those poems that, while good, weren't quite what I expected to be Nobel Laureate worthy. I quickly realized why. They were early works and this is a complete collection. Like all of it. The book is a whopping 400 pages of poetry that started out a little lackluster and grew to absolutely brilliant. By the end, it was completely obvious why she was chosen.

Some favorites were:

  • Teenager
  • Reality Demands
  • Hatred
  • The End and the Beginning
  • Funeral (II)
  • Children of Our Age
  • The Century's Decline
  • Hitler's First Photograph
  • Archeaology
  • Lot's Wife
  • Map

I actually had a lot that might be labeled as favorites but I'll stop there. These were the poems that really made me think about things a little differently. I probably could have done without some of the others, the more lighthearted poems because I've learned that I have a special love for poetry that tears my heart out. These did that in one way or another. They revealed things, but they weren't the only poems to do that in this collection.

This small sampling did things like reminded me that Hitler was once someone's little bundle of joy and that's a scary way to think of him. It reminded me that one of the luxuries that Americans have when it comes to war is that we just leave when we deem it over. We aren't left to rebuild the communities fragmented by it. It reminded me that Lot's Wife, so vilified for looking back at a town burning could have just been victim of an errant "Did I leave the stove on?" moment. It's worth reading the entire collection for moment like these, especially when one never knows what will come from reading poetry. New things can be revealed in every reading. These may simply be the poems that hit me this time and others will do similar things to other people.

As mentioned above, this is one of the books I chose to read in this year that I'm Reading Nobel Women but it's also my Letter M for the Litsy A to Z challenge. It would also fit nicely into Read Harder's Task 23 as it is a collection of poetry in translations on a theme other than love. There were several themes covered here and rarely was love in the mix.

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review 2017-01-19 18:49
You Can't Touch My Hair and Other Things I Still Have to Explain
You Can't Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain - Phoebe Robinson,Jessica Williams

I might have fallen in love with Robinson a little bit while listening to her read this amazing audiobook. I'm sure reading it for myself would have been fun but the audio was SO GOOD. It's definitely the way to go.

I also recommend reading Between the World and Me first, if you plan on reading both and haven't read that one already. Not only does she reference it at least once, but the information is complimentary without being identical and Coates's work was much more serious and gave a lot of history to both his topics and hers. That said, if you were not already going to read Between the World and Me, it is not essential to understanding this book whatsoever. Reading it first is just a recommendation from me. I read them in that order and feel like reading the funny first would have led me to not enjoy the serious as much.

I had decided that I absolutely had to read this one from the second I read the title. I have had issues with people touching my hair, though for different reasons. I get the irritation that comes with having to explain to people not to touch you. Since she is a comic by trade, I'm sure you expect this work to be funny, so I won't go on and on about how hilariously the book handled each topic. I will say that it did very much remind me of the way it has been pointed out in All the Rebel Women that it is a big part of this fourth wave of feminism that women are increasingly using humor to make our points and that the stand-up comic arena has become a feminist platform that is making headway.

I would normally tell you which essay was my favorite, but it's hard to choose. There's a moment or two in each that really makes it hard to pick a favorite. I think the one that I really need to remember the most, though, is the Angry Black Woman. I've never accused a black woman of being angry, but Robinson's issue makes perfect sense. Personally, it sounds like the dumbest thing to do because I feel like it makes a not angry person upset to call them angry but I get that it's a tactic to try to shut black women down and done for exactly this reason. I've had similar issues with other words associated with bitchy. My internal response is either "Oh, you want a bitch, you'll get one" or "WTF, that wasn't bitchy at all" and then feeling bad that something could have been offensive. I'm working on it, though, because that's a ridiculous response to someone who is also just trying to shut me down, but I didn't know that for a long time.

I'm also pretty familiar with the black friend dynamic. I've had done that to people (not proud to say I've done that to friends but it's true) and I've had people try to make me the Hispanic/Latin friend. The joke was always on them, though, because all the things people want a Latin friend for I can't do or am horrible at, like cooking Latin foods, dancing, speaking Spanish. It's become it's own source of entertainment for me. The essay on the usage of uppity was also different while being familiar. I've heard people say it before, but I'd never put it together that way and it makes so much more sense and feels like it should be obvious. As a girl who is also mixed, I particularly appreciated her letter to Olivia about being mixed and appreciating both heritages and both cultures. That was not something that I was taught growing up and I had to gradually come to appreciate my Hispanic side. It wasn't anyone's fault, just the way the insecurities of multiple people around me played out.

It's a little cute when she calls herself old because I've felt that way at work too. I'm a smidge older than her, but it's been happening since around her age at the time of her writing. Being that we are fairly contemporary, I got almost all the pop culture references. I had really started to think that I was the last person on the planet that remembered the show the West Wing, so her references to that show and C.J. Craig were especially fun for me.

I had a little bit of a book hangover when I was done and YouTubed some of her shorter video's for a while as I was trying to concentrate on writing this review. I look forward to watching/reading whatever else she does in the future and checking out her podcast 2 Dope Queens soon.

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