Queer diasporas

My uni library is sadly lacking in literature I need, so I’m always quite surprised when my catalogue searches do come up with results. I know it’s an academic read, but it’s fun and well-written and does give you critical tools for looking at literature and film in a fresh light. Separating academic from prose works is boring and I know you all can take it!

queer diasporas

Definitely read this one if you are interested in diasporas, queer theory, nationalism and lesbian subjectivity. In that case also check out M.F. Manalansan’s works.

I’m gonna curl up with Gopinath’s book and a pot of tea, intellectual posturing be damned.

What are you currently reading? Academic works, blogs or news articles, what reads do you leave out of your book blogs?

5 on my tbr

It’s been a while – again. I’m swamped with work at the moment, but then today I remembered the no-pressure-blogging resolution for this year. So, how about a quick post with five books that are currently on my tbr (it’s what I call my shoe box full of post-it notes with scrawls of titles and authors a.k.a. the ton of books I wish I had lying around). Have some pretty pics of pretty books:

Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route (Saidiya Hartman)

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Though I’ve read quite a bit about the Black Atlantic, Hartman’s work is still on my tbr. I’ve recently finished Cvetkovich’s Depression (which is amazing!) and she references and makes use of Lose Your Mother in her arguments. I really want to read this one now.

Die Tapetentür (Marlen Haushofer)

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My wonderful friend Vishy gave me Haushofer’s The Wall and I absolutely loved it (and I will review that one soon). So I thought I’d check out her other works and this one sounded great plus my library actually has a copy. The main character in this one is a librarian! and I hope Haushofer’s portrayal of women will be as great here.

Life after Life (Kate Atkinson)

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Absolutely love Atkinson’s crime fiction and most of all her biting sense of humor and nastiness of character descriptions. Time to try her novels and this one is recent and I’ve been seeing a lot of it on the blogosphere etc. Though it usually takes me ages to get to new books.

The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy (Nikki Loftin)

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A kind of Hänsel & Gretel revisited for middle-graders, it sounds like huge fun and some reviewers made daring Roald Dahl comparisons (careful with such comparisons please!!). This can only lead to disappointed expectations, but I want to give it a try anyway since I’m also a sucker for the cover art.

Brown Skin, White Masks (Hamid Dabashi)

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To make up for my shallow cover art comment, here’s an academic tbr (see I have depth) ;P I read more of those nowadays it seems, but I only recently discovered Dabashi’s work even existed. The Fanon book was amazing and this one basically connects it with Orientalism and our era and discusses the problems of intellectual migrants and informing on one’s home country. Will have to see about the quality of the arguments, but if it does what it advertises then I really want to include it in all future discussions of colonialism and Orientalism.

Have you read these books? Do you want to?

Also, self-conscious blogger question: Are posts like this of interest to you or do you prefer in-depth reviews?

Resolutions?

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image via

 

Happy 2014 everyone! Hope you all had a wonderful start into the new year and I wish you an amazing new year!

I don’t usually have resolutions ready for the new year, but it’s come up so often in conversations and on facebook this week, so I started thinking about how I wanted to get back into blogging (which coincided with the end of the year so…resolution?) and bookish resolutions are more fun anyway. So here I am giving it a shot:

1.) Read 1 book per week

I’ve always read a decent amount of books, but it’s been harder last year to find reading time or concentrate when I did take the time for reading. And most books I read were textbooks, so this brings me to resolution number…

2.) Make at least half of these books non-fiction and unrelated to academic work

This used to be easy, but I’m hopeful that this is simply a case of getting back in the saddle. And I do love lists (obviously), which is why I already had a fun morning choosing possible reads for this month, while everyone else was sleeping off the hangover heh.

3.) And as for blogging, I want to try to post at least one post per week.

Because I’ve quite missed it and all you wonderful bookish people! But I want to try to keep it fun and not a chore, so it’s probably going to be a lot of short reviews and thoughts more often than in-depth reviews, because I spent most of my day analyzing stuff and trying to sound smart.

See, this post will likely set the tone for my blogging style this year. But there’s no book cover yet (sacrilege!), so here’s what I just started reading:

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What are your resolutions for 2014 if you have any, and what is your first read of the year?

2013 vs. blogging

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What happened to 2013? As the year comes to an end and I look back, one of the things I finally noticed was how blogging has more or less disappeared from my life. So, what happened? I really focused on my studies this year (basically spent 90% of the year at my desk) and on all those extra things that should be on theCV, internships, great job experiences etc, I didn’t really take a vacation and finally, I am no longer doing literary studies. All those things together led to me reading less (less fiction that is, I read plenty articles and textbooks or textbook excerpts) and to let blogging slide. But reading and talking about books has always been a constant in my life and I find that I’m missing this a lot. I’m surrounded by incredibly smart people and we have amazing discussions, but mostly they are not for-fun-readers and this was once the reason I turned to blogging in the first place.

Usually in December, I look back at what I’ve read, but this time I have to admit I read so much less than all the other years and also, for the first time in years, I’ve not really kept track of my reads. I’ve actually had a couple of days of holidays for Christmas now and have read more in the last three days than I did the last three months, I hung out on goodreads, read a few book posts and am also trying to decide which books to get with my Amazon voucher. I’m thinking of my poor abandoned blog without feeling stressed and missing everyone’s amazing reviews and general enthusiasm for all things bookish, and I’m wondering whether I might be ready to return to blogging. So this is my incredibly awkward possibly returning to blogging end of the year blog!

Now I’ve just read JoV’s post about cutting back, I’m wondering about everyone elses experiences. Do you ever get tired of blogging or feel stressed or that it’s one more chore? How do you deal with it?

In any case, I hope you’re all having a wonderful Christmas and relaxing holidays with your loved ones and a ton of exciting books!

Thoughts: Vera

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I finally made use of my kindle again, for the disconcerting reason of not having any unread novels at my place. This has never happened to me before, and frankly, I’m still a bit shocked. But since I only moved to my current place for the first semester and am moving again (at least in the same city) soon, I only packed one small box of books. And then I found out I was out of unread books at night on a weekend…well I’m so happy there are great free e-books and that I own a kindle. Deciding on one book wasn’t easy, but I finally started Vera by Elizabeth von Arnim. I had this vague notion of having read a short story by her about Germans and a pension- and then realized that was Katherine Mansfield! And then after googling von Arnim I remembered why I had never tried her works, it’s the plants. I like flowers in my home, but other than that gardens and plants and such are not really my thing. Luckily, Vera is a plant-lite book. So, Vera is my first von Arnim experience and I have to say I absolutely loved her writing and characterization and want to try another one soon (Any recommendations? I thought of trying Fräulein Schmidt next).

Vera is about Lucy Entwistle, who is vacationing with her father, when he suddenly dies. Then, she meets Everard Wemyss, who has just lost his wife under tragic circumstances, and they bond, fall in love and get married. That sounds all very romantic complete with a happy ending, but that’s actually only the first part of the novel. It gets very much darker, and quite sad after that. I’m horrible with spoiler warnings, simply forget about them when I want to discuss a book, but even if I won’t reveal the ending, if you don’t want to know more about what happens and why the tone gets darker, better stop reading, I guess.

When Lucy and Wemyss get married, she comes to learn that her husband is controlling, has a temper and sulks like a child. She is still very much in love with him, but his character makes it nearly impossible to hold onto those feelings. Having only recently lost a father who protected Lucy, she is very much an innocent, and in part relishes Wemyss’ protectiveness. But he infantilizes her, calls her his “little one” and his “baby” (part of what first attracted him to Lucy was her girlish hairstyle and that she looked so young, much younger than her 22 years) and will not allow her any time to herself or make any decisions.

As Lucy mostly fell in love, because she understood Wemyss to be as bereaved as she was, she is horrified that he takes her to the house where his first wife died and never even thought of changing anything and later flatly refuses to. Thus, Vera, named after the first wife, is somewhat of a forerunner to DuMaurier’s Rebecca. The books are completely different, and yet like in Rebecca, Vera’s presence seems to linger. Thus, Lucy has to eat under the watchful gaze of the life-sized portrait of Wemyss’ first wife and her room is now Lucy’s. However, there is no Mrs. Danvers and as her husband turns out to be a completely different person and the love is difficult to hold onto, Lucy rather takes comfort in Vera’s lingering presence (for Vera was married to Wemyss for 15 years).

I really enjoyed the way Lucy was only first portrayed as somewhat simple, the intellectual circle of her father and their discussions were something she never felt part of and freely admits to finding their arguments too difficult to comprehend and too exhausting to follow. But, Wemyss, whom she first considers so wonderful, because he likes to keep things simple and has a clear-cut black and white view of the world, completely resistant to change, begins to feel strange to her and Lucy comes to realize the importance of ideas and discussions for herself. I really liked that she wasn’t simple, but instead grew when she finally experienced life outside of her father’s influence, even if her marriage is hell. Wemyss in contrast is basically a bully and the baby he always calls his wife.

The other character of importance is Lucy’s aunt, a spinster, who wants the best for Lucy, but also feels that as an old spinster, she cannot decide for her young niece who is so in love. While the smart, spinster aunt is a stereotypical figure, I really appreciated how von Arnim’ characterization of her was complex, even if she provides readers with something of a heroine character, who we can cheer for and sympathize with. Because that is not really possible with Lucy, who is trapped in a marriage, and not really the person to take a stand and be decisive. Lucy’s portrayal is great exactly because of that, but I still appreciated Miss Entwistle.

One other thing I loved, von Arnim knows how books should be treated! Absolutely loved this passage:

“She was accustomed to the most careless familiarity in intercourse with books, to books loose everywhere, books overflowing out of their shelves, books in every room, instantly accessible, friendly books, books used to being read aloud, with their hospitable pages falling open at a touch.”

(The context: Wemyss has a library of books he doesn’t read, what matters is that they are the best and most expensive editions and he keeps them behind glass doors, which he keeps locked with only him having the key.)

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!)

Thoughts: An Instance of the Fingerpost

Iain Pears’ novel has been sitting on my tbr pile for quite a while, but this month I gave myself a push, motivated by Anna and Iris’ “long-awaited-reads month”. Long awaited it was indeed, but I am so happy to have finally read the book.

 An Instance of the Fingerpost is a historical, scholarly (according to the blurbs) mystery set in 17th century England, mostly Oxford. Charles II is only just back on the throne, the country is still reeling from the civil war and everyone with at least a passing interest in power and politics is still scheming. The book consists of four narratives: The Venetian Marco da Cola, the student Jack Prescott, the cryptographer Dr. John Wallis and the archivist Anthony Wood. All write down their version of the events surrounding the murder of the Oxford don Grove, years after it happened, each contradicting the others’ narrative.

At the heart of the story, however, is Sarah Blundy, a young woman, who is caught up in the events and intrigues spun around her. She is from the lower classes, something of a herbalist, educated and holds progressive views on gender equality. As a result, she is alternately taken for a witch, a whore and a prophetess. The way she is treated is abysmal, but of course many of the attitudes regarding women are only articulated differently today. She was by far the most interesting character, but the prophetess thing threw me I have to admit. But then I couldn’t relate to the religious aspects at all.

What I was most excited about was the history of medicine, I always get a kick out of that. This is the time during which the Royal Society is beginning to emerge and Robert Boyle figures in this novel, too. It was fascinating to read a fictional account about how blood transfusion could have been first attempted and it is during the 17th century that methods are beginning to change from the humours approach and the set of the stars etc, to more “modern” approaches. In fact, the characters hold very different opinions on what is legitimate medicinal treatment and constantly argue in Aristotelian fashion.

 I don’t think this worked for me as a mystery, but I really enjoyed its other aspects so I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. The first 100 pages were a bit hard going, but after I had oriented myself so to speak, I got really into it. I was scrambling to remember classes on English history, but in the end a bit of googling helped me picture the time and the connections between the historical characters better. Perhaps the blurbs are a bit misleading, this is not a page-turner, but this is one well-researched historical novel, nt some crap put together after glancing at a Wikipedia page and if you’re interested in 17th century politics, gender relations, religion and the history of medicine, I doubt that the amount of pages without instant gratification will bother you. Oh and it’s extremely well-written, too!

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link.

Thoughts: Marzi

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The graphic memoir Marzi (yes another one of those!) is the result of the collaboration between Marzena Sowa, writer, and her partner Sylvain Savoia, artist. It tells Sowa’s story of her childhood in communist Poland, between 1984 and 1987, in a series of vignettes.

 A child narrator sharing her experience of growing up during a time of political upheaval that sounds familiar! Comparisons with Satrapi’s Persepolis can be made. Marzi, too, uses the idea of the universal child to draw in readers and remind that they were still people trying to live a normal life, going to school and running errands. The strength of this memoir lies in the child perspective, which I think is very convincingly done.  Marzi’s voice rings true not only when she tries to make sense of the adult world, but also while playing with her friends and going to school. Making the seemingly banal, everyday convincing seems to me to be a much more difficult job than extraordinary moments. But for all the similarities, Marzi is quite another thing altogether.

 I’m quite happy that by reading Marzi I got to discover Poland in the 1980s. I’m not sure what everyone’s experience with Poland and Polish literature is, but this book reminded me how close Poland is and yet how little I still know about it. I have Polish friends, been to Poland a couple of times and I vividly remember one childhood friend who wasn’t allowed to play outside for too long, because her mother was afraid that thanks to Chernobyl it would be too dangerous. We lived in the most Western part of Germany, but still. So it’s always been there, but not there. Perhaps I should try not to forget what’s quite close, when I read Japanese fiction etc.

 So the Chernobyl catastrophe is one of the important political events Marzi experiences during her childhood and I especially love this page, which shows what she as a child remembers of the event:

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What she remembers is closed windows and doors and waiting inside, even though it’s hot outside and yelling adults and having to drink foul-tasting medicine. The third panel shows how Marzi and her father are surrounded by the adults’ angry speculations. The next panel depicts a young boy “who is apparently better informed” telling Marzi that what’s going on (“It’s a smoke that’s very dangerous for people…and mushrooms”). Compared to the yelling adults, the boy really does appear to be the one who is informed and the children have to rely on each other to find out what is going on.

 I also wanted to show you a page from the comic to give you an impression of the drawing style. I can’t really read a comic if I find the style off-putting, no matter how great the story. From the cover of Marzi, and especially the character, I was afraid the style would tend towards manga, but the comic is really quite traditional and detailed. It’s only Marzi, especially her eyes, who stands out. As you can see from the page, the colors are a sort of reddish-brown, the muted, somewhat depressing background contrasts sharply with Marzi’s brightness. You can see what sort of story this is going to be from just this contrast. So that’s really well-done. The strict organization of the panels is never broken and while I prefer artists to play around with the format, I find that it works in Marzi; the structure looks like a photo book to me and thereby mirrors the episodic structure of the story.

 The problem with this vignettes style, and with collecting them in one book, can be the lack of overarching story. I really enjoyed the episodes in themselves, but when it became clear, that a larger story was not going to happen, I changed my reading style. Reading one episode, taking a break, then reading the next worked much better for me than reading it in one sitting. I became less impatient, started to focus more on the vignettes as closed stories and as a result enjoyed the book a whole lot more.

I’ve learned a lot in the last two years about graphic literature, but I was basically convinced of their potential by studying Maus and Persepolis and Fun Home. The bad thing about this is that I now probably have ridiculous expectations. While Marzi has a strong protagonist and fascinating political background and is drawn very well, this is not the kind of comic that makes you spend two hours decoding a single panel.

But then, not every comic has to push the form and use all it has to offer. Marzi is an important book in that it draws attention to the more recent history of Poland under Jaruzelski, Chernobyl and the Solidarnosc union, but also reminds that these were not simply notable points in history, but that actual people were trying to live normal lives. This alternation of the universal and the strange is perhaps Marzi’s best achievement.

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

Thoughts: Twinkle Twinkle

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Twinkle Twinkle by Kaori Ekuni is a short novel (just 170 pages), which follows the story of Shoko and Mutsuki. When we meet them, they are only a short time into their marriage of convenience. Shoko suffers from depression and is an alcoholic, Mitsuki is gay and has been in a relationship with his boyfriend Kon for a long time. Their respective in-laws only know about the “defect” of their own child and are ecstatic that they got their children married.

The novel is told alternately from Shoko’s and Mutsuki’s perspective, a style which worked very well for me, blending and crashing both their perspectives and voices to tell their story. It’s a quirky and somewhat strange book, but the topics at the heart of it are important and dark.

First of all, there is the matter of their “defects”; Shoko’s mental illness and alcoholism are very serious problems, Mustsuki’s sexuality should not be one at all. Because of that they are both not considered ideal marriage partners, but their parents’ are desperate to see them married. Bowing to the constant pressure of their parents and Japanese society is how they end up married to each other.

I think this novel was originally written in the 90s and I have no idea whether things have now changed, but I had no idea the pressure to get married and have children in Japan was this great. There seems to be no place outside traditional gender roles and both characters are constantly told that everything will be alright once they are married and then once they have children. Shoko is completely ignored when she attempts to get help, because apparently marriage will magically fix it all.

They do seem to find a bit of comfort and understanding in each other. But with Mutsuki continuing, and Shoko insisting he continue, his relationship with Kon, they end up in a somewhat unconventional love-triangle. Although there is a suggestion that they find a solution that works for them all in the end, I have to say I am a bit unconvinced. It’s no small thing to be living with an alcoholic depressive, who has violent mood swings, and to be bound to someone who loves another person. Supposedly, the problems and moments of tension will be resolved with their solution, but throughout the story and over the couple of months of their marriage I could not really see how Shoko was more stable or drank less. And Mutsuki was mostly incredibly patient and understanding all the time.

This was the biggest problem for me, the characters. The secondary characters were very flat, especially the parents, who kept repeating the traditional, conservative tirade and not much else, they might as well have been walking posters. And Mutsuki, I simply don’t think that anyone can have his patience and tolerance all the time, and so I could seldom believe in him as a person. Shoko is the one character who stood out to me. In the beginning, I was afraid she would be another caricature of the mad woman, but slowly she became more three-dimensional: Trying to get professional help, enjoying being on her own, saying mean things and regretting them.

I did enjoy reading Twinkle Twinkle for its quirkiness, the sarcastic bright cover, its representation of mental illness, and the way it calls attention to gender roles in Japanese society. I read this novel as part of Tony’s January in Japan challenge. It seems that another Ekuni novel, God’s Boat, has been translated into English recently. I know I’ll want to give it a try.

 

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

 

Challenging Challenges in 2013

I’ve decided that if I’ll do my best to be a good blogger this year, I won’t do things by halves. So I’ll try again with the reading challenge thing. But this time, I don’t want to commit to a lot of big challenges that span the year, instead I want to take my time and see what fun everyone comes up with for holidays, themed months etc.

Here’s what my January plans look like:

January in Japan is hosted by Tony. Read his introductory post here. Japanese literature is a favorite of mine, but I’m still trying to read more authors that are not Banana Yoshimoto. This is mostly because I have read all her books except the newest, but still, time to broaden my horizons. I have three Japanese books on the shelf that want to be read and even though the challenge only asks you to read at least one, I’m trying to be an optimist. Here’s my selection:

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Twinkle Twinkle by Kaori Ekuni, The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura, The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

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And Iris and Ana have thought of this most wonderful event of Long-Awaited Reads Month. Everyone has probably a huge (mental) pile of books that have acquired lots of dust even though you have been wanting to read them for a long time. I have thought a while about which books of this long list to choose:

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An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears, which I have already made a dent in and a book that has been gathering dust on the shelf for a good year. And I have been meaning to read it even longer, so an ideal candidate for this event. Then, still trying to be an optimist, I’ve thought of a second book, just in case I have more time to read (there are three long train journeys in January for me, and as everyone knows train rides are there so you can read without being distracted).

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The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West. There are books I’ve thought of reading so often that sometimes it actually feels like I’ve read them. I still haven’t read West’s classic, but it will get done this month (I hope)!

What about you? Do you plan on participating in reading challenges for 2013?

Hi there, still alive! Surprise ;)

Happy new year everyone! Hope you all had a good start into the new year and I wish you all a grand time in 2013!

Usually I would now be doing a recap post of the previous reading year but I kind of stopped counting the books I read and disappeared for 3 months without a word, sorry!!!

Last autumn I moved again (this is becoming a bad habit of mine), decided to go back to uni and somehow couldn’t bring myself to write up reviews. Blogging felt increasingly like a chore, which I hated because I love the book blogging community and missed all your wonderful posts. But I think the break did me good, I’m itching to get back into it and share my reading experiences with enthusiastic readers.

New year, fresh start, right? So these books are on my mind right now:

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An Instance of the Fingerpost by Ian Pears

I have this wonderfully used copy, well-read by very hands-on readers and now and then pages come loose, but I love the feel of the book and it makes reading the book even more cosy. I adore detective stories (probably not a secret at this point ;) ) and have a strange fascination with the history of medicine, so why am I only reading it now? Also, the book comes recommended by Vishy, so it has to be great! I’m about halfway through at the moment.

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Marzi by Sylvain Savoia and Marzena Sowa

This is a comic memoir about life in Poland during communism and was lent to me by a friend. I’m very excited about this one as I feel that I have read little about Poland and the drawing style appeals much more to me than I thought from the cover.

I hope everyone had a great reading year in 2012 and I look forward to hear about everyone’s plans for 2013!

 

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