Sunday, November 12, 2017

(My Second Time Around) Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

(My Second Time Around) Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell 

          The first time I read this novel was three years ago, in 2014, when my reading theme was evaluating banned books. I loved this novel. In my original review I commented about how “amazing, innovative, funny, well developed and brilliantly written” this novel was. I abhorred Scarlett, as I still do, as being “beautiful, self-centered, harsh, spiteful, bullheaded, strong.” I wrote about the relationships portrayed between owners and slaves. “In Gone With the Wind the loyalty of the slaves to many of the white families is evident and a source of pride for those slaves. It was interesting at the very least to read this depiction of life in the south after the Civil War.” I ended my review by stating that “there is no hiding the struggles that occurred, the language that was used, the maltreatment that people suffered, the change that happened because of that time in our history. At least with this novel, we are getting a frankly honest depiction of what life may have seemed like for Confederates.” Mitchell crafted a beautiful novel, there is no denying that. But there is so much more to this novel than I realized and in this second review I plan on dissecting more into exactly what it was I felt this time. 
Was Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind supposed to be a glorification of the south? Or was it meant to expose the south for what it truly was. Early on in the novel it becomes very obvious that Scarlett took pride in her low education and found pride in those around her that had little to no education. The one family in the novel that appreciated education and the arts was seen as “queer” by people in the county. Gambling was preferred by many of the characters in this book compared to being educated. Classism runs rampant throughout as well, with even the slaves of the rich plantation owners looking down at those who had less, even thoough the slaves had less still by their bondage. The pride before the fall of the confederacy is seen early on in the novel as well. No one believed the war would last long and those who digressed were shot down, belittled and ignored. As the story went on and defeat was imminent was when the hate truly began to show through, especially later on in the novel when the Reconstruction era began. The Yankees were taking over and those they referred to as the “Old Guard,” those families seen as Southern Aristocracy, were hard pressed to allow it to happen. And then rose the Ku Klux Klan and the stern belief that the “darkies” could never be as good as them and damn the Yankees for making them believe that they could be. Killings ensued as history will tell us but one statement plays out in my mind over and over and it’s said by the most beloved character in the book, Melanie. She was the one who would take vagrants in her home, always had a kind were, and loved Scarlett vehemently. She said “I won’t forget… I’ll teach my grandchildren to hate them people- and my grandchildren’s grandchildren if God lets me live that long!” I read those words and it was like a bell went off. Because many haven’t forgotten and they’ve spread that hate through the generations. 
Everything became clear to me after reading that one quote from Melanie. Sweet, poor, sickly Melanie who ran the social world of the Old Guard simply because she was so pure of heart. And yet here she was, spewing hate. I laughed myself stupid the first time I read this novel. I found every single snide comment Mitchell made about the uneducated confederates. I devoured her account of the life in the south before, during and after the Civil War. I know the history of the Civil War so none of that came as shock. I was more shocked the first time around that Mitchell would add so much detail to the novel, to show the depths of despair to which the confederacy had fallen! But this time around well aware of the plot and the low levels to which Scarlett would sink, I was able to comb through the intricate detail towards the attitude of the south and now this novel feels like its main purpose was to expose the south. Expose the core of southern beliefs and what Melanie said has shown itself to me to be that core.    
Many won’t agree and that’s fine, but we can’t deny that hatred, bigotry and racism are taught. Melanie’s moment of truth when she states that she will teach that hate in the hopes that her descendants never forget is damning of this entire novel. If Mitchell wanted this to be a novel to glorify the south, then in my eyes she failed. Too early on she laid a foundation that exposed why the south was damned from the beginning. Throughout the novel she showed the pride that kept the south steeped in hate for so long, never truly acknowledging the fact that in war there are losses on both side and only briefly engaging in the horror that was truly slavery. This is all-out exposure and by having Melanie, the pride of the south, state such a hateful truth, she put the nail in the coffin. This is a damn good book and I appreciate it for its honesty. I’m glad I took the time to reread it. Took years away from it and came back to it. Got lost in the pages and the story of the horrendous Scarlett O’hara and the ruthless Rhett Bartlett that saw through her. But more than anything I’m grateful for Melanie and the calm and cool fashion in which she exposes herself to the hate that has lasted generations in the United States. She said it more eloquently than any man screaming “its heritage not hate” ever could. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas


                You may not be ready for this book. I thought I was ready and yet I still got punched in the gut. I heard all of the rave around THUG before it came out. I've had it for months and couldn't bring myself to read it. Now that I have I must recommend it to you. Before you read it though let me say that this is about as real as it gets. You may not want to read the words written on this page. They may make you feel some kind of way about race and privilege and police brutality. It may make you extremely uncomfortable. But it comes from a place that resonates with an experience many people go through. I know because I've gone through these emotions. The anger, the loss, the fear. I've felt the way this main character felt. I could have been the main character. And so could half of the people I've grown up with. Now it’s time for the review.
                Starr is from Garden Heights. She knows about gangs and living in the ghetto. She goes to a private school almost an hour away where she can’t be the same Starr she is in Garden Heights. She can’t be "the ghetto black girl" because in her school she is one of the only black girls. One of the only girls to step foot in a ghetto. Her life changes the night her best friend dies. The night they get pulled over after leaving a party and she sees three bullets from a police officer exit his body. They label him a thug, a drug dealer, a banger. And now as the only witness she has to defend her friend from the crime of trying to get her home safely. Her voice becomes her weapon and as the only witness she must speak in defense of herself and defense of her friend.
                I feel wholly inadequate writing that blurb. It doesn’t touch on the complexity of this novel at all. It's more than a story about a police shooting. It's more than a story of a teenager losing his life. It's about a young girl coming to grips with the reality of who she is and how her life is valued. Starr is one of the most well written characters I have ever come across. She has so much depth. She is hilarious and yet very introspective. Her view of the world changes after this lived experience and seeing her develop and come to grips with reality is beautiful. Her family and friends reflect the differences in Starr's reality and each of them having varying levels of depth that are shown throughout the book.
                Thomas made a really smart decision when she chose not to place this book in real world location. These events could take place anywhere! Her world building is a reflection of society and all its many facets. She didn’t need to name an actual place. If you lived anywhere like this you automatically recognize it. If you haven't lived in a place reminiscent of Garden Heights, her world building is so powerful that it doesn't matter. You are transported there with her detailed descriptions and Starr's narrative.
               The reality of this book stings, like opening up an old wound. And as funny as this book is, as real as these characters are, the reality of this situations hurt. Thomas was able to create a book that in fiction reveals the truth of what is happening and what has been happening for decades. Reading this book brings so much home. I devoured her words. I have to give this book 5 out of 5 stars. The Hate U Gives reveals the reality we cannot hide from.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality by Julie Sondra Decker

The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality by Julie Sondra Decker




                This book is an introduction to asexuality as a sexual orientation. It discusses not only what asexuality is but what is isn’t and goes to great lengths to help people understand the validity of asexuality as a sexual orientation and a way for people to identify themselves. So what is asexuality? Asexuality is an orientation describing people who don’t feel sexually attracted to anyone. It's possible to be heterosexual and asexual, homosexual and asexual, queer and asexual, trans and asexual, in a romantic relationship and asexual. Have questions about any of that? Pick up this book and educate yourself.
                I found this book to be extremely informative. Written by Decker who identifies as asexual and is able to rely not only on her own experiences but the available research lends an authenticity to this book that you wouldn't find from an outsider looking in. I loved her candid and straightforward writing style. Her passion for educating people on asexuality is apparent throughout the book. The separation into 6 different parts allowed Decker to focus on specific topics and reference others throughout the book as necessary. She also made sure to explain asexuality and how it relates to other sexual orientations. Decker discusses the range of those that identify as asexual and how everyones experience differs from each other. What’s most important is understanding asexuality in order to understand how people identify.
                I knew next to nothing about asexuality before reading this book. I feel really well informed after reading this book, but nowhere near an expert. There are parts for everyone, even those that are non-asexual like myself that want to gain understanding. This book is really well done. I think Decker did a really amazing job with this book. But it did get repetitive at times. And there is a lot of information that you may need time to process while reading. Overall, this is a recommendable read with great insight into asexuality. I give this 4 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin

The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin


                Here you are. Time has passed and you have stayed in this place you have begun to consider home. Alabaster is with you, but he is dying and he has one final lesson to teach you, so you can understand why he brought on the fifth season. To understand why he is ending the world. Your daughter, Nassun, is alive and it’s been months since you've seen her. She is with Jija. He has not killed her but he hates that she is a rogga. His search for her cure brings him to the person that brought you to the Fulcrum and taught you what it means to fear someone you love.
                Well damn. If you loved The Fifth Season (which I unabashedly did) then you will absolutely love The Obelisk Gate. It is a perfect sequel. It takes up where The Fifth Season ended with little passage of time. But it starts with the past and the death of Uche at the hands of his father. This book fills in some of the gaps. You learn much more about Nassun and what has happened since the beginning of The Fifth Season. You also learn more of Alabaster and how he found himself in his current state.
                All of the things I thoroughly enjoyed in The Fifth Season are replicated within this novel. Jemisin's characters are beautifully detailed and developed. The world building is done to perfection. And this novel is intense. The world is ending and people are dying left and right. The will to survive is strong in the comm that Essun is now a part of.
                I started this one a few months after reading The Fifth Season and honestly it feels like I never left. I fell right back into the story, right back into the season, right back into this crazy world. Jemisin is fantastic. I love that she kept the interchanging narratives, with Essun's still being in second person. I love that we were able to get a better look at the Stone Eaters and everyday life. I'm really excited about the last book which is coming out soon. I give this 5 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Beneath A Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan

Beneath A Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan


                One thing I love about people knowing I am an avid reader is that they always think of me when they are reading and they suggest books to me. One of my coworkers had mentioned this book to me stating “It’s about this guy who was helping Jews escape from Italy during World War II and he ends up joining the German army, becoming a driver for this General and then becoming an Ally spy.” I was sold. She brought me her copy of the book before she even had a chance to read the whole thing. I began reading the book and was immediately captivated by the story of a man I had never heard of before. Pino Lella was only seventeen years old when he began helping Jews escape into Switzerland. It was days before he turned eighteen that he joined the German army, at the urging of his parents who feared for his safety. After being injured, he had a chance encounter with General Leyers and became his driver. He then began relaying information to his uncle who was an active part of the resistance. His story isn’t one that many knew, but the information he provided was vital to the movement of the Allies.
                This isn’t a biography of Lella. Sullivan made multiple trips to visit and interview Lella, researched extensively about the sequence of events that happened during this story from 1943-1945, but he takes artistic license with this story. It is a historical fiction novel about Lella’s life and is extremely engrossing. It’s easy to get a sense of the life Lella lived. The bravery he had to have in order to risk his young life for a cause he adamantly believed in is inspiring. The ridicule he experienced while wearing a swastika armband even though he was working as a spy relaying information to the allies, was almost too much for him to endure. Many people, including his own brother, considered him a traitor. But for his brothers and his family’s safety he refused to reveal the truth, taking the judgement and the criticism, knowing he was fighting on the right side of history. The horrors he saw and endured for months on end would haunt him for the rest of his life.
               Sullivan’s telling of this story was incredible. He brought this history to life and honored Lella with his depiction. Every character in this story felt real and every atrocity was horrifying. We live in a world where these things happened and confronting that history is the only way to honestly remember those who fought and put their lives at risk. Lella’s story needed to be shared. The story of the war in Italy isn’t one that I’m familiar with so learning of the actions that took place during that time was enlightening and disturbing. I gave this novel 5 out of 5 stars. Lella’s legacy is honored and recognized within these pages. 

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (Revisited)

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
(Revisited)


                This is my second reading of The Handmaid's Tale and it's been almost four years since the first time around. I felt a need to return to this book and this story. Maybe because of the current politics. Maybe because I needed to realize what real-life horror could be. Maybe the furor around the TV adaptation influenced me. I'm not sure exactly why but I needed to reread this book. And so I did. This story was just as powerful and unsettling the second time around.
                This is the story of Offred. But it isn't just her story. It's the story of all the women in the Republic of Gilead who have no rights, no jobs, no money and a life completely determined by the men around them. Offred is a Handmaid. She has been sent to the Commander with only one purpose: to bear a child. In the time before she was married, had a child, had a job and her own bank account. But all of these things have been taken from her. All of the women must now serve a purpose to men and to society. There are the Wives who wear Blue, The Marthas who wear green and do service work around the house and the Aunts who train the Handmaids. Women are not allowed to read. The stores that women frequent have pictures so as not to tempt the women to read. This is the world Offred knows now. She remembers the time before but is helpless to make any change or to escape. Offred, the Commander, his wife and the Republic of Gilead with its wall where bodies hang and secret rebel organization exist is the shadows.
Spoilers are coming.
                This is the kind of story that can send chills up and down your spine. Because it is both a world you fear and a world that you can easily envision. Offred could be anyone. Her day to day life before could be reminiscent of anyone's life. And yet here she is now with nothing. Her body used as a ritual to further the means of those who hold her captive. This society is representative of male dominance and women subservience in every since of the world. It has a very biblical undertone that is used as means of control. There is a sense of defiance but the hope in it is fleeting. There is no proof of success, only its undercurrent. And here we have a story of a world that has passed and what has come after. A world where your identity is stripped and you can't even speak your real name.
                If you ever want to know what I am afraid of, read this book. This type of story is exactly what terrifies me. Women unable to control their own destiny. I imagine that this kind of world could indeed happen and in many ways it would feel like Atwood was simply seeing into the future. I credit her world building. She was able to define a world all too black and white, defined by its restrictions. By making the readers well aware of the few things women were allowed to do she made it all to clear all of things women were not allowed. Offred was a character whose mind drifted between then and now, as if trying to hold on to the world she couldn't leave behind. Images of her daughter haunted her while fear for husband permeated her thoughts. Nothing was settled in her mind and the drifting back in forth, the stark realization of the now, was terrfying.
               Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale leaves you with a feeling of discontent. We are unsure of Offred's fate, unsure of what happened in the Republic of Gilead, left to ponder its very existence. I love Atwood's writing in this. It is both descriptive and disconcerting. I kept hoping for a moment of relief and was left wanting. I see those around me who would be complicit to these changes, who would let the world fall around them if it wouldn't affect them directly. And I see those around me who would fight and rage against this horrifying society. This identifying and categorizing of people around me makes it feel real. I give this 5 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Harry, A History by Melissa Anelli

Harry, A History by Melissa Anelli


                It wasn’t until fairly recently that I noticed Harry, A History and I wasn’t at all interested. To be completely honest with you I just wasn’t sold on the idea of reading someone else’s experience as a Harry Potter fan. I had my own history with the books, one that I cherish and speak about to people shocked that a thirty year old woman still rereads the series every year. I just didn’t have the patience to indulge and I have so many books I want to read. Then one weekend I was visiting my in-laws and saw a copy of the book. My mother in law, who is also a huge Harry Potter fan, had ordered the copy months ago and had yet to read it. Sitting idly on the couch, I began reading the forward by J.K. Rowling. I must admit that my interest was piqued after seeing both her name and the fact that the author of this book was the webmistress of The Leaky Cauldron, a site I had frequented often for Potter news. Before I knew it I was chapter in and hooked. Just like that I had fallen into the history of the Potter Fandom.
                Now would be the appropriate to dive into my history with Harry Potter. I picked up the first book in the fall of 1998 at 12. I almost book snobbed it, stating pretty proudly that I didn’t read fantasy when a friend suggested I read it. My obsession with the series began right when the books were being published in the U.S. so I got a first-hand view of the tide as the Harry Potter wave began to rise. I got my hands on a British edition of the second book at a local book store, before the book was released in the U.S. and then promptly bought a U.S. copy as soon as it was released. I reread the books constantly, something I had never done before. I loved the series and was a dedicated fan. The waiting between books sucked, but I returned to the books often. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to count the amount of times I’ve read these books but I still do even to this day.
                Melissa Anelli has a different story. She came across the books while in college in 2000, after a few of the books had already been released and the fandom was increasing exponentially. Her journalism career took her down a different path. She would begin perusing fanfiction sites, indulging in these stories, while also researching articles and sending them to The Leaky Cauldron. Overtime she would become a leading force in providing news regarding the series. She began writing this book moments before the last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, came out. It was in honor of the fandom that she wrote the book and that’s the reason why I loved the experience of reading Harry, A History. It is funny, intriguing and informative. I was never a part of the some of the fan experiences that she describes and it was interesting to learn about all of the events taking place, the rivalries, the discussions, the extensive fanfiction, the conventions. But what I loved most was reading about another fan falling head over heels in love with this series. Reading about someone else and the connection they share with a book series that I am so dedicated to and love brought back all of the memories I associated with Harry Potter. This is a book for Harry Potter fans. People who loved these books and were both sad and happy at the fact that it had to end. The story isn’t going anywhere. I have multiple copies of the series and plan to reread them every January for the foreseeable future. Anelli’s journey was different but we are connected through this story of young boy wizard who continued to fight until the battle was won. I give this 5 out of 5 stars.