October in Books

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October was a great reading month for me, I managed 10 books (counting 5 Lumberjanes issues as one book). Mostly this success is due to the readathon, my first one and which was a lot of fun.  Sadly, with the end of October also comes the end of two reading events: Diversiverse and R.I.P. X.

For Diversiverse, I read Attica Locke’s The Cutting Season and Also by Mail by Olumide Popoola. But I read more works by authors of color: The Good House by Tananarive Due, Binti by Nnedi Okorafor, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. Of course I won’t stop reading non-white authors now that the event is over and luckily there are tons of amazing recommendations to be found in the #Diversiverse tab on Aarti’s blog, take a look at this wonderful growing archive!

For me the creepy reading season basically goes till February, so I’m sad that R.I.P. X is over already. But I’ll continue with the suspenseful, eerie, creepy and terrifying…mwuahaha 😀 My creepy R.I.P. X reads in October were The Cutting Season (overlap with Diversiverse) and The Good House by Tananarive Due, and also the first Zombillenium comic. And I guess my Halloween reads The Walls Around Us and Halloween Party count as well. I’m only sad I didn’t manage to write up all the reviews, but hopefully that’ll get done in the next few weeks.

Looking at my list of books read, I just cannot pick a favorite. I enjoyed them all, and loved quite a lot of them. I knew I would love The Cutting Season and Also by Mail, but Aristotle and Dante really surprised me. Turns out I can do YA romance after all when it’s amazingly written LGBTIQ+ of color and about friendship. I also fell hard for Lumberjanes.

I don’t really have grand reading plans for November. I’m still pacing myself with The Fifth Season, which I fell for at the dedication page already. And then my birthday is on Sunday, so maybe there’ll be some new books for me to enjoy 🙂

Hope everyone had a great October! Any reading plans for November?

5 on my TBR

Although I don’t quite manage to read as much as I used to, this has in no way influenced my tbr list. So I thought I might make the “5 on my TBR” posts a regular thing (is there a meme for this? I’ve been out of the game too long). That way we all get to look at pretty book covers and book lists! 🙂 Here we go:

 1) Emma Pérez: The Decolonial Imaginary

perez

Emma Perez discusses the historical methodology which has created Chicano history and argues that the historical narrative has often omitted gender. She poses a theory which rejects the colonizer’s methodological assumptions and examines new tools for uncovering the hidden voices of Chicanas who have been relegated to silence. (goodreads)

Absolute must-read for anyone interested in Chicana history, the borderlands and the intersection of queer theory and decoloniality. I’ve read bits and pieces as you do with secondary lit, but read the intro if you read nothing else.

2) Haruki Murakami: The Strange Library

murakami

A boy’s routine day at the public library becomes a trip down the rabbit hole in Murakami’s short novel. The boy meets a demanding old man, who forces him to read the books he’s requested in a hidden reading room in the basement. After following the labyrinthine corridors, the boy is led by the old man into a cell, where he must memorize the history of tax collection in the Ottoman Empire. In the bowels of the library, the boy meets a beautiful, mute girl who brings him meals, as well as a subservient sheepman who fixes the boy crispy doughnuts and clues him in to the old man’s sadistic plans.

(publishersweekly)

Murakami, I’ve been meaning read more of your works. This seemed like a pretty amazing one to try, bookish Japanese wonderland-esque. Please, someone tell me the “beautiful, mute girl” part is better than it sounds.

3) Jewelle L. Gomez: The Gilda Stories

gilda

Escaping from slavery in the 1850s Gilda’s longing for kinship and community grows over two hundred years. Her induction into a family of benevolent vampires takes her on an adventurous and dangerous journey full of loud laughter and subtle terror.

(goodreads)

Black lesbian vampire saga ftw! Gomez and Buffy are pretty much the only ones who don’t make me run at the mere mention of vampire these days. Now, if only my library could get a copy.

4) E. Lockhart: We Were Liars

We-Were-Liars

A beautiful and distinguished family.

A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

(goodreads)

Because, intrigue, twists and unreliable narrators! Also, Ana’s review.

5) Rokhaya Diallo: Pari(s) d’Amies

diallo

“a story about a diverse group of friends in Paris and the joys, pains, heartbreak, and racism, that they encounter. Created by activist Rokhaya Diallo (co-founder of Les Indivisibles), and with illustrations by Kim Consigny, the series centers on lead character Cassandre who returns to Paris after two years spent in the US; and with a comedic tone, this comic book is giving representation to minorities too often ignored in France”

(afropunk)

Diallo is an amazing activist, so I can’t wait to see how her anti-racist, social justice work is reflected in the comic. Perhaps also interesting for US-Americans, to get an idea of race relations and racism in Europe. Follow the link to get a preview.

Have you read any of these works? And what have you added to your tbr list recently?

Thoughts: Marzi

marzi

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:

 marzi1-2

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!

Review: The Ladies Paradise

The Ladies’ Paradise (Au Bonheur des Dames) is my first ever Zola, but since I wrote a paper on women and consumption, it seemed like a good time to give him a chance. And I am so happy I did, Zola perfectly captures the dramatic changes in consumer culture in the 19th century, most importantly the department store. If you are even a bit interested in that, read this book, and even though it’s a bit of a chunkster (to me at least), it’s a page-turner.

The Ladies’ Paradise is the eleventh novel in Zola’s Rougon-Macquart series and was first published as a novel in 1883. Though the representation of the consumer revolution is what makes this novel so fantastic, don’t worry, there is also a love story at its center. Orphaned Denise Baudu arrives in Paris with her two younger brothers, hoping to find a home at her uncle’s shop. The uncle however is not faring too well since the first department store in the area, Mouret’s Ladies’s Paradise is looming over all the other shops, including uncle Baudu’s. Finding work as a shopgirl in the Ladies’ Paradise, Denise is caught between the her uncle and the shopkeeper movement, and modern mass consumption embodied by Octave Mouret.

Mouret spends all his time thinking of new strategies to lure women into his store and spends his time outside the store surrounded by women as well. The only woman who resists him is Denise and you can imagine how that bothers him. He is distracted with chasing her but does not notice how this changes him, blabla. Honestly, I wasn’t very interested in this aspect of the novel. Denise is just such a good person (e.g. she’s the only one not having sex and is always sacrificing herself for her brothers), and her goodness seems to be infectious. Much more interesting is that through her character we get to learn something of the situation of the shopgirl in the 19th century, the clash of class and gender ideology. Shopgirls were obviously from the lower classes but contact with the upper and middle class required their manners and looks to change, yet they should not adapt too much as they were essentially servants. Also, the shopgirls were often regarded as something akin to prostitutes. They were working and handling money, but only if they successfully served and charmed customers. Zola gives a vivid account of the hard work and living and working conditions of the sales personnel, but he also looks at the figure of the consuming (upper and middle class) woman. These shopping women of the 19th century have often been constructed as complete victims of the rising consumer culture, which completely disregards women’s place in society and denies them all agency. Zola’s novel is a work of its time and has to be read that way, but I was pleased that while he described fanatic crowds, he also presented different types of shopping women. There is the lady who only buys certain goods at the department store, has a look around and has the rest of her clothing special-made, the middle-class woman who puts her family in debt because she cannot resist temptation, the mother who only takes advantage of the sales, but remains level-headed, and the shoplifter. So yes, there are clichés and stereotypes but I like to think that Zola’s look at 19th century consumer culture is not that simple and if you are at all interested in the intersection of gender and consumption, this novel will be worth your while!

Zola based the department store in his novel, the ladies’ paradise on the Bon Marché, and if you want to dive into non-fiction about the rise of the department store, let me recommend Miller’s The Bon Marché and Cathedrals of Consumption (edited by Jaumain and Crossick), both excellent works and very accessible.

Other thoughts:

A Striped Armchair

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

The French Lit post

Too many reviews, not enough time! But I noticed that I read three French novels last month, and decided to make one post with three short reviews of them. Because, you know, they are all French 😉

Seventeen year old Cécile spends the summer with her father, Raymond, and the latest of his lovers, Elsa, at the French Rivera. They are all enjoying the sun and water during the day and the casinos at night until Anne, the friend of her late mother arrives. Elsa has to step aside for sophisticated and serious Anne, and Cécile finds their lifestyle of pleasure and idleness threatened.

Bonjour Tristesse is Francoise´s Cécile´s coming-of-age story, and perhaps the ultimate one. Cécile is, surprisingly, a likable character. She is bitchy and immature one minute, contemplative and precocious the next. I wonder if it helped that Sagan was very young when she wrote this novel, or does one need to be distanced from that age to better reflect on it? I think Cécile´s conflicting behaviour is well-explained, and I always find it a pleasure to read books with characters who are complex and not straightforward. Cécile schemes and plays the adults around her beautifully, but she doesn´t do it coldly. Besides the worry about Anne changing their hedonistic lifestyle to one that is serious and stuffy, the fear that her close relationship with her father might change, too, always shines through.  As long as Raymond changes lovers often and never becomes attached, Cécile will come first with her father. I enjoyed reading this classic a lot, it´s very atmospheric, I would recommend reading it in summer (so now! 🙂 ). There´s also a lot going on despite the relative shortness of the book, there´s the description of the French Rivera in the 50s/ 60s, existentialism, people´s loneliness and superficial pleasure, drama, and more.

Other thoughts:

Violet at Still Life with Books

Another book, nearly everyone has read and reviewed, so what is there left to say? For those who haven´t read Bord de Mer (engl: Beside the Sea) yet, this is all that should be said about the content: A mother takes her two young sons to see the sea.

I can only agree that this is a darkly atmospheric little book. It quickly becomes obvious that the trip to the sea is not as innocent as one might expect. The fact that they set out at night should be a clue. As readers we are restricted to and nearly imprisoned by the mother´s narrative voice. There is a sense of foreboding from the very beginning and the atmosphere becomes more and more oppressive. Olmi turns expectations of the sea and motherhood upside down. This is a haunting story, and I can see why it got so many glowing reviews. Olmi has written other short novels, but is also very well-known for her plays.

Other thoughts:

Amy at Amy Reads

La Tête en Friche (German title can be translated as The Labyrinth of Words) is narrated by 40-year-old Germain who is not so smart but big and strong. In the park he meets an old lady called Margueritte who is basically his opposite in everything. A tentative friendship grows between them, at first because of their shared interest in counting doves, and then because Margueritte  teaches Germain to think about the world by reading books to him.

This constellation reminded me strongly of The Mighty, physical versus intellectual prowess. I enjoyed reading this book, although I have to say that there are two levels on which you can read it. Strangely enough this coincides a bit with what the two main characters represent. You can read this book the way Germain looks at the world, very matter-of-fact and not aware of the deeper meanings. Then this will be a charming story about unlikely friendships and the power of literature (and this is how I read it, until I started thinking about what to write in my post, and suddenly became aware of a less flattering meaning of this book). This reading has a lot of advantages, I think we all like to believe that books can teach us to understand the world better or to look at it in a new way. And a nice older woman acting as a sort of grandma and mentor in one can be a wonderful and enriching influence.

However, and I hope I´m not overanalysing this, there is another level to this book, and it is one I found slightly disturbing. Margueritte and Germain are so very cliché and representative of  what should be an old-fashioned class system. Germain is a stupid working class man, loud and very physical. But through Margueritte´s (and the intellectual elite´s) influence he is miraculously transformed, and he is happier and a better person because of it. But then, I might be overly critical and this is just a charming and heartwarming story. I wish you´d all read it and let me know what you make of it, but it hasn´t been translated yet, so you have to know French or German (I´m not sure if it´s been translated into any other languages). La Tête en Friche has been adapted to film, here´s the trailer, but again, it´s French.

Have you reviewed any of these books? Let me know and I´ll add the link.