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review 2017-09-11 18:11
Good 101 text but not quite what I was looking for.
Transgender History - Susan Stryker

Saw this recently as a recommendation for a good foundation text of the history of transgender people and their history in the United States and as it was also a "quick" read it seemed like it would be a good text to add as a "general" book for knowledge.

 

And that's what it is. Stryker provides an overview of various people, groups, organizations, etc. in the history of transgender people in the US. Some of it was quite fascinating: the laws that were actually enacted that prevented people from dressing "inappropriately" (cross-dressing) to remembering various individuals and the role of certain events (the effects of wars, the Stonewall Riots, AIDS, etc.) and how it affected the transgender community.

 

While the information was useful, some of the criticisms are on target. It's a relatively short book so I felt it was more of a list of people and organizations and groups but I found it difficult to grasp the big picture. It is focused on a relatively narrow subject (transgender people in the US). Some reviewers found it very "basic" (as it is also from 2008 I also couldn't help but agree it already feels a bit dated). As someone else wrote, perhaps this is a subject that I as a reader would personally find it more helpful if I read biographies (I liked Janet Mock's 'Redefining Realness' a lot) rather than a general history.

 

But I'm glad it was available at the library for me to borrow. I think this is a case where this is more of a primer text and it would be helpful to have other sources to supplement this one. So I'd recommend Mock's book as stated above and also thought '"You're in the Wrong Bathroom!": And 20 Other Myths and Misconceptions About Transgender and Gender-Nonconforming People' was also quite helpful too.

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review 2017-08-22 21:23
A kaleidoscopic novel about India, gender, politics, class, society, and humanity, demanding of its readers but rewarding in the same measure
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness: A novel - Arundhati Roy

Thanks to NetGalley and Hamish Hamilton (and imprint of Penguin Random House, UK) for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

This is not an easy novel to review. So far I’ve found that with all the novels longlisted for the Man Booker Prize that I’ve read so far. They all seem to defy easy categorisation.

I know the author’s first novel has many admirers and I always felt curious when I saw it (be it at the bookshop or the library) but as it was also a long novel I kept leaving it until I had more time. That was one of the reasons why I picked up this novel when I saw it on NetGalley. I thought it would be a good chance to read one of the author’s works (and I know she’s published more non-fiction than fiction), and I must admit I loved the title and the cover too.

As a starting point, I thought I’d share some of the fragments I highlighted as I read. Some because of the ideas expressed (that made me pause and think), some because of the author’s powers of description, some because they were funny, some beautiful…

I’m not Anjum, I’m Anjuman. I’m a mehfil, I’m a gathering. Of everybody and nobody, of everything and nothing. Is there anyone else you would like to invite? Everybody is invited. (This one I added at the end, when I reread the first chapter, that had intrigued me but at the time wasn’t sure exactly of who was narrating the story, or even if it was a who, a what, a ghost, a tree…)

And she learned from experience that Need was a warehouse that could accommodate a considerable amount of cruelty.

Then came Partition. God’s carotid burst open on the new border between India and Pakistan and a million people died of hatred.

Saddam had a quick smile and eyelashes that looked as though they had worked out in a gym.

He spoke like a marionette. Only his lower jaw moved. Nothing else did. His bushy white eyebrows looked as though they were attached to his spectacles and not his face.

…a mustache as broad as the wingspan of a baby albatross…

When the sun grew hot, they returned indoors where they continued to float through their lives like a pair of astronauts, defying gravity, limited only by the outer walls of their fuchsia spaceship with its pale pistachio door.

Normality in our part of the world is a bit like a boiled egg: its humdrum surface conceals at its heart a yolk of egregious violence.

She walked through miles of city waste, a bright landfill of compacted plastic bags with an army of ragged children picking through it. The sky was a dark swirl of ravens and kites competing with the children, pigs and packs of dogs for the spoils.

These days in Kashmir, you can be killed for surviving.

In Kashmir when we wake up and say ‘Good Morning’ what we really mean is ‘Good Mourning’.

I think the first quotation (and one I mention later on), in some way, sum up the method of the novel. Yes, it is the story of Anjum, a transgender (well, actually intersex) Muslim woman from India who, from a very young age, decides to live her life her own way. She joins a group of transgender women (who’ve come from different places, some who’ve undergone operations and some not, some Christian, some Hindus, some Muslim, some young and some old…) but at some point life there becomes impossible for her and she takes her things and ends up living in a cemetery. Although she starts by sleeping between the tombs, eventually, with a little help from her friends, ends up building up a semblance of a house (that incorporates a grave or two in each room), where she offers room and boarding to people who also feel they don’t belong anywhere else. Her business expands to include offering burials to people rejected by the official church. But the story (yes, I know it sounds weird enough with what I’ve said) is not only Anjum’s story, the story of her childhood, her struggles, her desire to be a mother at any price, but also the story of many others. People from different casts, religions, regions, with different political alliances, professions, interests, beliefs… The story, told in the third person, also incorporates poems, articles, entries from a peculiar dictionary, songs, slogans, pamphlets, in English, Urdu, Kashmiri… The telling of the story is fragmented and to add to the confusion of characters, whose connection to the story is not clear at first, some of them take on different identities and are called by different names (and many difficult to differentiate if one is not conversant with the names typical of the different regions of India and Pakistan). Although most of the entries in other languages are translated into English, not all of them are (I must clarify I read an ARC copy, so it is possible that there have been some minor changes in the definite version, although from the reviews I’ve read they do not seem to be major if any at all), and I clearly understand why some people would find the reading experience frustrating. All of the fragments of stories were interesting in their own right, although at times I felt as if the novel was a patchwork quilt whose design hid a secret message I was missing because I did not have the necessary key to interpret the patterns.

The settings are brought to life by a mixture of lyricism, precise description, and an eye and an ear for the rhythms and the ebbs and flows of the seasons, the towns, and the populations; the characters are believable in their uniqueness, and also representative of all humanity, observed in minute detail, and somewhat easy to relate to, even though many of them might have very little to do with us and our everyday lives. But their love of taking action and of telling stories is universal.

There is a lot of content that is highly political about the situation in Kashmir, religious confrontations in India, conflicts in different regions, violence, corruption, class and caste issues, gender issues, much of it that seem to  present the same arguments from different angles (all of the people who end up sharing Anjum’s peculiar abode are victims of the situation, be it due to their gender, their caste, their religion, their political opinions, and sometimes because of a combination of several of them) and I read quite a few reviews that suggested the novel  would benefit from tougher editing. I am sure the novel would be much easier to read if it was thinned down, although I suspect that’s not what the author had in mind when she wrote it.

This is a challenging and ambitious novel that creates a kaleidoscopic image of India, an India made up of marginal characters, but perhaps truer than the “edited” versions we see in mass media.  I have no expertise in the history or politics of the region so I cannot comment on how accurate it is, but the superficially chaotic feeling of the novel brings to mind the massive contrasts between rich and poor in the country and the pure mass of people that make up such a complex region. Although stylistically it is reminiscent of postmodern texts (made up of fragments of other things), rather than creating a surface devoid of meaning to challenge meaning’s own existence, if anything, this novel’s contents and its meaning exceed its bounds. The method of the novel is, perhaps, encapsulated in this sentence, towards the end of the book, supposedly a poem written by one of the characters: How to tell a shattered story? By slowing becoming everybody. No. By slowly becoming everything.

As I’ve written many times in my reviews, this is another book that I would not recommend to everybody. Yes, there are plenty of stories, some that even have an end, but it is not a book easy to classify, nor a genre book. There is romance, there are plenty of stories, there is poetry, there is politics, history, war, violence, prejudice, friendship, family relationships, but those are only aspects of the total. And, beautiful as the book is, it is not an easy read, with different languages, complex names, unfamiliar words, different styles and a fragmented structure. As I have not read Roy’s previous novel, I don’t dare to recommend it to readers who enjoyed her first novel, The God of Small Things. From the reviews I’ve read, some people who liked the first one have also enjoyed this one, but many readers have been very disappointed and have given up without reading the whole book. I’d say this is a book for people who like a challenge, who are interested in India from an insider’s perspective, don’t mind large doses of politics in their novels, and have the patience to read novels that are not page-turners full of twist and turns only intent on grabbing the readers’ attention at whatever cost. Check the book sample, read other reviews too and see if you’re up to the challenge. I know this is a novel that will stay with me for a very long time.

 

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review 2017-02-16 19:56
Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings
Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen - Jazz Jennings

I don't often read nonfiction. Not because I don't like reading it. It's just something I don't naturally gravitate towards. I tend to reach for more fantastical worlds as a way to relax from the ever polluting realities of our own world. However, this year I want to do something a little bit different. This year I want to read more nonfiction. I want to educate myself about different cultures and experiences. I've always been a very diverse reader, but I want to do that with my nonfiction reading as well. So when my partner and I saw Jazz Jennings memoir at the library, we both decided we HAD to read it.

 

I really enjoyed reading Jazz Jennings's memoir. She writes in a very conversational tone. Almost as if she is in the room with you, just chatting about her day. It was a very relaxing way of conveying her story and message. I enjoyed reading about all the advocacy work she does and I especially loved learning about how loving and supportive her family was. I am fully aware that for some transgender teens and adults, that's not always the case, but I am so happy that Jazz Jennings has a family that loves, supports, and protects her so she can be herself. To be happy. I thought that was beautiful.

 

That's not to say that her life wasn't without struggle. Being transgender, she encountered difficulties when it came to using the girls' restroom in school or being prohibited from being on any female teams when playing sports. Her family fought long and hard so that Jazz could be treated fairly and equally just like other girls. And in the end, it paid off! What makes this an amazing accomplishment is that they paved the way for other transgender kids to have these same rights without having to go to court and fight for them. (Although, I know that no matter what, there will always be struggles for anyone who is transgender or who is considered "different" in our society. But this is why I believe educating yourself and having an open mind could help us better understand one another, so that there's less hatred and violence. Please treat each other kindly.)

 

All in all, I really liked this book. I think if you know a teen who is transitioning or is thinking about transitioning, this is a great book to introduce them to the idea. Or if you know any adults who has a child or teen that is transitioning, they should read this book so that way they can learn to be understanding of their child and their needs. To support their child in any way they can. Parents, more than anybody else, need to try and understand that their child is their child. No matter what. And parents should love their child unconditionally. Whether their child is male, female, trans, intersex, non-binary, etc., remember to always love your child. The world is cruel enough as it is. Do not add to the hatred by discriminating against your own child. 

 

So I do recommend this book for people to learn from. The only downside to this book is that Jazz Jennings writes from a very privileged perspective and she knows that. She points out throughout the book multiple times that she is fully aware she's lucky to have been blessed with understanding parents and the financial needs to transition. So, a lot of the treatments and experiences she talks about in her book are not something everyone will be able to afford or experience themselves. Nevertheless, I still think there are things in this book everyone can benefit from by reading it. Please give this book a read if you come by it. A little bit of education goes a long way.

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text 2016-12-21 10:58
Reading progress update: I've read 40%.
Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen - Jazz Jennings,Jazz Jennings
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review 2016-12-07 14:48
Hold Me (Cyclone #2) by Courtney Milan Review
Hold Me (Cyclone) (Volume 2) - Courtney Milan

Jay na Thalang is a demanding, driven genius. He doesn’t know how to stop or even slow down. The instant he lays eyes on Maria Lopez, he knows that she is a sexy distraction he can’t afford. He’s done his best to keep her at arm’s length, and he’s succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.

Maria has always been cautious. Now that her once-tiny, apocalypse-centered blog is hitting the mainstream, she’s even more careful about preserving her online anonymity. She hasn’t sent so much as a picture to the commenter she’s interacted with for eighteen months—not even after emails, hour-long chats, and a friendship that is slowly turning into more. Maybe one day, they’ll meet and see what happens.

But unbeknownst to them both, Jay is Maria’s commenter. They’ve already met. They already hate each other. And two determined enemies are about to discover that they’ve been secretly falling in love…

 

Review

 

I adore the complexity of the characters, the Shop Around the Corner Theme, the nerd joy, and the shoes.

 

I don't tend to love enemies to lovers tales and because of the level of animosity between the hero and the heroine at first this element is here. Also, the plot takes a long time getting them together and then they are apart a lot still so I was not happy with the level of couple time, falling in love, and romance I got here.

 

I loved the first book in this series and snapped Maria's story up as soon as it came out. I wish for a softer look at the cast of characters for the series but enjoyed going deeper into this world.

 

There has been a great deal of thoughtful discussion on this book and the balance between the leads being themselves and the intersections of their various identities. I felt what was here was good but I wanted more. I wanted the relationship to move beyond where it rested so that the characters could reckon with more of their own intersection. Couples, especially couples as relatively young as there two, spend a great deal of time sharing who they are and who they are becoming and the most vulnerable parts of themselves past and present and future. We get some of that but I am greedy and think the book would have been more richer if this tenderness would have been explored.

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