perjantai 28. lokakuuta 2011

How am I doing?

I haven't written in this blog fow months and haven't really thought about the reading challenges in months. That doesn't mean that I haven't read anything and the lists should now be up to date, as I added some thirty books in one go. Approximately 5/6 of this year is past us, and I want to see how I am doing with my challenges.

Take A Chance Challenge
I haven't read any of the 10 books, so looks like I have to abandon this challenge. I'll pick it up next year, it still sounds very fun.

To Be Read Challenge
I have read six of twelve books, so it's 50% completed. The problem is that most of the books I have on my list are hard to come by, the libraries in my area don't have these books. And I really can't afford to buy any books now. I might be able to complete this challenge if I put much energy into it, but right now I don't have that kind of energy. Next year I'm planning on taking one or two (not more) books from my To Be Read list, one anthology of either British or Irish literature and a history of LGBT people in the world, and read as much of them as I can.

GLBT Challenge
This one looks okay, I have read 12 of 15 books. Only three more to go, and I have recently received one book by Baldwin and borrowed a book by Genet, so that's two more to the list soon. Also, I have been a bit more strict about the books than the people who wrote the guidelines for this challenge. I haven't accepted books by (known) GLBT authors if the books don't somehow handle GLBT themes. That why I, for example, haven't included all Stephen Fry's novels. But I feel confident that I can finish this challenge!

Ireland Reading Challenge
I really thought I would be reading more Irish literature this year. This far I have read two books by an Irish author, and I should read six by the end of the year. I can manage this if I read Donoghue's "Room", two Oscar Wilde's plays and... some fourth Irish book I can get my hands on. Perhaps the Pocket History of Ireland I have would count...

Back to the Classics Challenge
I'm doing bad in this challenge, too, I have only read 4 of 8 books. It seems that I took part in too many challenges, I can't remember them all let alone focus on them all. But this challenge encouraged me to read Dostojevski, for which I am grateful! It seems that I'll have to choose between this and the Ireland Reading Challenge.

British Books Challenge
Done! I was supposed to read 12 books, but have already read 17.

A Year of Feminist Classics
I abandoned this during the first month. It seems that I just don't have time for these kinds of challenges. It's a pity, but I am studying Gender Studies in university at the moment, so perhaps this would be good for some other time in my life.

A to Ö Challenge
I have read 17 of 29 books, not so very good. I'm missing common letters C, I, J and M, and harder ones like Q, U, X, Y, Z, Å, Ä and Ö. I don't think I'll make it, I'm missing 12 books. This also might not be the ideal challenge for me, as I have noticed during the year, I really like to choose the books I read mostly based on the content, not the author. But it was nice to try this out.

100+ Reading Challenge
This is the one I really want to finish. I have read 79 of 101 books. That's still 23 to read and I only have two months left. If I read two books before Tuesday then it is ten books per month, which is 2,5 per week. That doesn't sound impossible at all, especially since I can read one or two comic books and/or childrens' books.

Gender Identity & Expression Challenge
I have only read three of five books. There is a biography of Chris Owen in the library in my city, so that one I can read, but the erotica or romance book is a harder one. I have to surf the net and look for recommendations and see if I can find any of those books from te libraries near me. I'd really really like to finish this challenge.

So, all in all, I have read, but perhaps not "right books" for these challenges.

A possible reading list for the next two months:
-Emma Donoghue's Room
-Oscar Wilde's play x2
-any Irish book
-Chris Owen's biography
-a romance or erotica book for gender expression&identity challenge
-one other book for GLTB challenge
(- Orwell's Homage to Catalonia)
(-Caroll's Alice)
(-Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet)
-22 books altogether

sunnuntai 24. heinäkuuta 2011

Julie Anne Peters: Luna

Julie Anne Peters: Luna

Luna is a beautiful and quite dark novel for young adults. Luna is the name the main character Regan's transgender sister has chosen for herself, "Appropriate, wouldn't you say? A girl who can only be seen by moonlight?".

Regan as a characters seems to work only as a way of telling the story of a transgender person without going too close, without using their point of view. I think the narrative decision works quite well, specially since this is a novel meant for young adults. Luna's feelings are almost too dark and strong for a YA book even when they are narrated through another character. I don't know if I'm being too protective, but I wouldn't recommend this book to my children until they were 17 or 18 years old, Luna's suicidal thoughts and the pressure a young transgender girl faces in everyday life come through so strongly. I'm not saying young people don't know about pain or that the pain transgender people feel should somehow specially be kept away from the eyes of children. I'm saying that this book left me, a 23-year-old slightly genderqueer person with aloving and supporting family, feeling that the world is such a bad place it is wonder more people don't commit suicide. And that's not a feeling I want to pass on to (my future, possible) children. Of course books like this are very important for suicidal teens who find comfort in knowing other (if fictional) characters feel the way they do.

The novel itself is very good. It is well written, the characters feel real and they change during the story. Regan was left wuite flat, but this book was about Luna, who is portrayed as mysterious and complex. The feelings of the characters, their hopelessness seem real, the reader can feel them. I haven't read any YA books handling gende identity before, so I can't compare this to those, but it is definitely a good YA book. I think it is also a good novel, and that adult readers should read it, too.

GLBT Challenge, Gender Identity and Expression Challenge.

Jo Walton: Farthing, Ha'penny, Half a crown

Jo Walton: Farthing, Ha'penny, Half a crown

This trilogy of thrillers is set in an alternative history where the Great Britain made peace with Nazi Germany. I'm not a big fan of thrillers, but these books really made me see the fascination of the genre. They are cleverly written, following a pattern but one so well designed it didn't bother me at all. Each of the novels has two narrators, a middle aged gentleman (who rises from Inspector to Watch Commander during the series) and a female character, different one for each book. The plots are all about solving a political murder, but the politics of Walton's world makes them interesting.

The setting of the novel is the 1960s London. Hitler is in power in the continent, and the Brittish government turns more and more fascist during the course of the books. I'm certainly not a historian, but this alternative history gripped me and didnt let go, it felt real and possible. The ones resisting the fascist goverment live in constant fear of being discovered but they want to continue their struggle because they believe in their cause. Some of the choices people make in this environment look horrible at first, but it becomes easy to understand their reasoning when the world becomes more familiar to the reader.

I enjoyed reading these novels. They are perfect for summer, not too heavy in regard of the language or the plot, but they give you much to think about, truly transfer you to another world. I'm certainly going to look for Walton's other novels, and perhaps her work encourges me to try other thrillers as well.

British Book Challenge: The books are set in an alternative history London, and I feel that the writer must have known much about Britain's history and culture to be able to create such a believable alternative history.
GLBT challenge: The central character of the series, Inspector/Watch Commander Peter Carmichael is gay and the threat that something would happen to his partner is a motivation for him to do things for the government he doesn't feel are right. Half a crown, th elast book of the series, specially handles the relationship of Carmichael and his life-partner (with quite a cliché ending).

torstai 26. toukokuuta 2011

Stephen Fry: Making History

Stephen Fry: Making History

This is one of those books I feel I can tell nothing about to someone who hasn't read it. It was marvellous. I enjoyed every moment of it. I still miss the feeling of not yet knowing what will happen in the last pages of the book. And I will definitely buy this book so that I can return to it whenever I want to (and I expect that will be quite often).

But I can't tell you anything about the plot. And almost nothing about the characters. It is a scifi-novel, but so very connected to our world I secretly think it could be true. It is set in two universtities, and the two main characters are Michael Young, a student of history about to return his thesis, and Leo Zuckermann, an older physicist.

I realize I have been writing short sentences about what I won't tell about the book, but it is seriously so good that just thinking about it makes me incapable of expressing anything. The last two fictional books of Stephen Fry's I have read have been good, but not amazing. This one is amazing. I truly feel how limiting my English is right now, I would like to praise this book with wonderful, exciting words, but I don't know any. Believe me, it is worth reading again and again.

GLBT Challenge: I don't want to spoil the ending by telling why this book is fit for this challenge. In my book it is, anyway.
British Book Challenge: Part of this novel is set in a British university, which is the very top of academic institutions for me. And since to me Stephen Fry is the very embodiment of Britishness, I can't imagine how this book could not be British.

Julia Serano: Whipping Girl

Julia Serano: Whipping Girl - A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity

Serano's book is an excellent comment on modern-day feminism. It is defined as a manifesto and who am I to argue that it isn't. Her experience is that of a trans woman and she discusses for example male priviledge, trans-misogyny, and the sexualization of trans women. Before going into detail, I have to apologize for not writing a review good enough to complement her book, but it has been several weeks since I read it and much has passed through my head since (perhaps some of it has even stayed there, who knows....).

To me, two important new terms I learned from this book were traditional sexism and oppositional sexism. Simplifying a bit, traditional sexism describes the view that feminine things and women are worth less than masculine things and men, while oppositional sexism means that women and men are thought to be two totally different groups, "complementing each other" and that once you are born in to one of the two categories, you stay there regardless of your identity. This view of sexisim might not be new, but it is new to me, and I enjoy how it makes my thinking clearer.

Serano also tells the reader about her own transition, how her feelings and her view of the world changed because of it. She traces some of these changes to the hormones and some to being perceived as a woman. She doesn't agree with the statement that gender is a social construction. In her opinion, the existance of transsexual people proves this; if gender were something that society forces upon us, how do MAAB-people [male assigned at birth] become to identify as women (or the other way around), since society's message to them is that they should identify as men. Serano takes the old gender-sex distinction further and argues that there are three significant parts that form a person's gender/sex and/or affect it. These are subconscious sex, gender identity and gender expression. I have to say I can't remember if she includes physical sex in this model. It is of importance to her, and she argues that at least hormones do affect a person and their experience of their sex/gender. All I can say is please read the book, this model is explained very well although it at first glance can seem a bit confusing.

Personally, the part I identified with perhpas the most, was Serano's discussion on how at first she didn't identify with the word 'woman'.

"Hell, at the time, I didn't even dare call myself a woman. That word, like the word 'man', seemed to have way too much baggage associated with it. At the time, I preferred the word 'girl', which seemed more playful and open to interpretation. [...] But I completely avoided the word 'woman' bacause it seemed to be too weighed down with other people's expectations - expectations that I wasn't sure I was interested in, or capable of, meeting." (Serano, 2007, 217)

That is exactly how I feel about the word 'woman'. I'm female bodied, my gender expression is feminine and I like to identify as a lesbian, but still, 'woman' feels somehow limiting. Strange for a feminist, but I feel that if I identified as a woman, I would put myself out there for anyone to judge whether I'm being womanly enough.

Later, Serano's views change, and she becomes to identify as a woman.

"I used to fear that embracing that identity [a woman's identity] would be tantamount to cramming myself into some predetermined box, restricting my possibilities and potential. But I now realize that no matter how I act or what I do or say, I remain a woman - both in the eyes of the world and, more importantly, in the way that I experience myself. While I used to view the word 'woman' as limiting, I now find it both empowering and limitless." (Serano, 2007, 224)

I'm not sure if the answer for me is to identify as genderqueer or to see the identity of a woman in a different light, but it feels good to know others have felt the same.

The one thing I haven't discussed in this review, but which played an important role in the book, was the role of femininity in feminism. One of the titles of the chapters is "Putting the Feminine Back into Feminism". Serano feels that feminist theory has not embraced femininity, but made it seem artificial, fake. While she definitely does not argue that all women should be feminine, she hopes that more feminists would recognize the empowering power of femininity, and not exclude feminine women from feminist circles.

All in all, I enjoyed the book very much. The only thing I didn't like was a chapter on art, especially literature. Serano seems to have a similar view of art as Kate Millett, and I disagree with turning art only into a way of making politics. That aside, Serano is extreamly intelligent and has justifiable arguments  behind her theories and views on things. The book was coherent while addressing many different issues and themes, and when reading it, I had the personal feeling that someone was talking to me, explaining her views to me, even though at some points the book was quite heavy on theory. It was enjoyable to read and it certainly changed my way of thinking.

Gender Expression and Identity Challenge and GLBT Challenge: This book discusses what gender is, how it shapes the way we see the world, how we are treated differently because of our gender and what does it feel like (or felt like for one person) to transition from male to female. It also addresses sexism, cissexism, transphobia and trans-misogyny, as well as introduces the writer's own theory on sex and gender. I think I couldn's ask for more of a book belonging to these two challenges.

perjantai 29. huhtikuuta 2011

Day 02 – A book that you’ve read more than 3 times

I have been reading, but my flat is a mess and I'll wait to update the challenges until I have a pile of all the books I have read recently. Meanwhile, the book meme.

Day 02 – A book that you’ve read more than 3 times
Donna Tartt: The Secret History. Of course there are many books I have read more than three times (all the Harry Potter books...), but this is one of my favourite books. I really like books that are set in schools, preferably schools where the students also live in the campus, e.g. English public schools and many American colleges. Something about the community of young, knowledge-hungry people makes these books interesting.
For me, The Secret History is about the human character, control and losing it, the ancient cultures and knowledge. Someone would say it is a crime novel about a murder, but that is less relevant to me. I understand the motives of the characters, I sympathise with them, I understand how someone becomes a murderer. It is terrifying but fits my view of the world.
I also enjoy very much that the characters study Latin, Ancient Greek and their cultures. I have a soft spot for elitism like that, and I very much admire people who are aware of the cultural history of our society. This book always makes me want to study Latin and I have decided to read it next Christmas before my second Latin course.

keskiviikko 6. huhtikuuta 2011

Best Book I Read Last Year

I think I will start filling out a 30 day book meme I have seen around lately. I won't update every day, so it will take me more than one month, but that's not the point. The point is to remember books I have read, introduce them to the possible someone, who might read this blog, and perhaps even lure in some new readers.

Day 01 – Best book you read last year

I think Emma Donoghue's Slammerkin was the best book I read last year. My decision might be affected by the fact that I have a short memory and I read Slammerkin in the very last days of the year 2010, but I can assure you that it was very good. A historic novel of a young girl, who becomes a prostitute to support herself. Unique, wonderful characters and a lively 18th century London.

The plot is marvellous, but the reason I'm so fond of this book are the characters. The main character, Mary, is a working-class girl with a craving for luxorious things. When she is thrown out of her home, she becomes a prostitute. Her new best friend teaches her the trade, they live together and share their worries and joys. The minor characters, Mary's parents, the nuns that help former prostitutes, later in the novel the habitants of a small village Mary works in, all have a personality, a view of the world, a sense of what they think is right or wrong. I'm amazed at the detail in which Donoghue must have planned her characters.

This is an excellent novel, probably most loved by people who like historical novels or are interested in women's position in different times in the past or those who like Donoghue's other novels.

Day 02 – A book that you’ve read more than 3 times
Day 03 – Your favourite series
Day 04 – Favourite book of your favourite series
Day 05 – A book that makes you happy
Day 06 – A book that makes you sad
Day 07 – Most underrated book
Day 08 – Most overrated book
Day 09 – A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving
Day 10 – Favourite classic book
Day 11 – A book you hated
Day 12 – A book you used to love but don’t anymore
Day 13 – Your favourite writer
Day 14 – Favourite book of your favourite writer
Day 15 – Favourite male character
Day 16 – Favourite female character
Day 17 – Favourite quote from your favourite book
Day 18 – A book that disappointed you
Day 19 – Favourite book turned into a movie
Day 20 – Favourite romance book
Day 21 – Favourite book from your childhood
Day 22 – Favourite book you own
Day 23 – A book you wanted to read for a long time but still haven’t
Day 24 – A book that you wish more people would’ve read
Day 25 – A character who you can relate to the most
Day 26 – A book that changed your opinion about something
Day 27 – The most surprising plot twist or ending
Day 28 – Favourite title
Day 29 – A book everyone hated but you liked
Day 30 – Your favourite book of all time

sunnuntai 3. huhtikuuta 2011

Jackie Kay: Trumpet

Jackie Kay: Trumpet

This is the first novel I have read by Kay, but after this, I'm definitely going to search all the nearby libraries for more. A touching, powerful novel, it's no wonder it has won the Guardian Fiction Prize. Kay is a Scottish author, who has herself been adopted and has lived as a coloured person in the UK. Well, she still does, but what I meant to say is that she seems to have taken many of the themes of this book from her own life.

Trumpet is mostly set in London in 1997. It has several narrators, and they all think about their relationship with Joss Moody, a jazz trumpeter. Moody has been living all his adul life as a man, but was born as a girl in Scotland. His parents (as Kay's in real life) were a black man and a white woman, and he identifies as a Scott, but seems to also have passed on to his son a certain feeling of non-belonging because of their colour of skin. The novel handles the "race" issue mainly through the narration of Moody's son, Colman. He is adopted, but apparently his biological parents were also a black person and a white person. For Colman, the prejudiges of people seem to act as a reason to be angry at the world.

Gender and gender identity are the main themes of the book. The novel starts when Joss Moody has died, and his body is discovered to be female by a doctor and an undertaker. Moody has been a popular musician, so the issue becomes widely discussed in the media. There is a book being written, too many reporters for Moody's wife to stay at home, and visits to old school friends who knew Moody as a girl.

The characters each take their own view of Moody, his life and his gender. His wife, Millie Moody, mostly tells the story of their past; how they met, fell in love, lived their lives together. To her, Joss Moody just had a body that was in some ways different from other men's bodies. Perhaps the only thing I would critizise about the novel is the way Millie and Joss's relationship is portrayed as perfect. On the other hand, the novel handles so much negative emotions, that the happines of their relationship is needed to balance it out. Millie's narration is beautiful and her saddness feels very real.

Millie and Joss's son, Coleman doesn't know about his father's sex before the funeral director tells him. Colmans narration is full of memories, but usually they appear to him in a different light than before his father's death. He has (as many boys, I believe) partly constructed his masculinity, manliness, on the image of his father as a man, and the revelation that he was born as a girl, isn't an easy one to handle. Colman is in dialogue with himself, his memories, a reporter, and the image of his father, and tries to find his place as a black man, son of Joss Moody, in the society.

An interesting thing to a foreign reader was how the use of pronouns could betray so much of how people thought. When speaking about Joss, Millie and Colman say "he", but the reporter (who is portrayed as the "evil person" in the novel) says "she". This would be very hard to translate into Finnish, because we only have one pronoun for all humans, it is not gender specific. The repetition of words "man" and "woman" would seem comical, it would make the text very pointing and stiff.

I loved this novel. It was beautiful, came close to the reader emotionally and introduced several characters whose thoughts I really wanted to read, and could.

British Book Challenge: The novel was set in Britain, London and Scotland mostly. I think the society it described was more Western than only British, the attitudes towards sex and gender seem to me similar to those in the Finnish society in the late 1990s.

GLBT Challenge: Gender was definitely a major theme in this novel. In the Wikipedia article of Trumpet the writer suggests that "Joss Moody's trumpet serves as an equalizer of identity. The character Joss Moody is not a man or a woman, or a husband or a father. He is a trumpet player. The title of the novel gives his identity the opportunity to be that simple." (So sorry for refering to Wikipedia, but that caught my eye.) I disagree with the writer, and because we are talking about a fictional character, I feel I can, as a reader, make interpretations of his gender identity. Joss Moody definitely wanted to "pass" as a man. Nothing in the book suggests that he questioned his identity as a man, or that he practiced gender fuck/blending/bending/call-it-what-you-will. It might be due to the society he lived in, but in the novel his wife states that he never did anything feminine expect comb her hair. (I will find the excact quote if someone insists.) Although femininity and masculinity do not equal to woman and man, Joss Moody lived his life as a man, and because of that I disagree with the honourable Wikipedia writer and call Joss Moody a man.

torstai 24. maaliskuuta 2011

Jeffrey Eugenides: Middlesex

Jeffrey Eugenides: Middlesex

Middlesex tells the family and personal history of an intersexual man, Cal. His grandparents moved from Bursa (situated in modern-day Turkey) to the USA, and he has been raised as a Greek-American. The story has different time levels, the level of Cal in Europe, dating a pretty girl, and the story he tells about his grandparents, his parents and himself. The novel has one, first person narrator, Cal, but when he acts as a narrator he seems to either take liberties on imagining things or he has some of the powers of an all-knowing narrator. He describes the feelings and thoughts of many other people, and there is no "realistic" explanation on how he would know these things.

I was surprised on how much the story is about the previous generations, Desdemona and Lefty especially. They are sister and brother, who have to move to the USA because of the Turkish invasion of their home area. Their relationship is from the beginning of the book described as erotic; they try to suppress their feelings, but when they have to start life all over, it gives them the chance to become a couple and marry. This is crucial for the story of Cal, because the gene that makes him intersexual only lives on because of the incest. The story of Lefty and Desdemona is a story of immigration, religion, the depression and the life of one minority in the US.

The first part of the story left a strong feeling that silkworm eggs are a motif in the story. They represent the old life for Desdemona, a life where she was valued, but they might also be interpreted to represent the old and new life of Cal; he is brought up as a girl, but after discovering his intersexuality he wants to live as a boy and a man. He is much more valued in his new life, by himself and by others.

After telling the story of his grandparents, Cal moves fast through the story of his parents, and then to his own childhood. This part of the novel felt much less like a fairy tale, it was clearly personal and situated in the 20th century. This was the part of the book I enjoyed the most; reading about the personal experiences of the narrator, about the process of growing up and the role of gender and gender identity in his life.

All in all, the novel was very enjoyable, easy to read, easy to get lost in. I'm not sure how I feel about the decision to tell the stories of two different generations in the same novel; on one hand it gives Cal's character depth any other narrative solution might not have given, on the other it leaves the reader to deal with the obvious contrast of the two worlds.

GLBT Challenge: The novel is the first one I have read in which the protagonist is intersexual. The book dealt more with the history of his family than how he discovered his gender identity, but it still managed to tell his personal story well.

torstai 24. helmikuuta 2011

Gender Identity & Expression Challenge

Gender Identity & Expression Reading Challenge

What: "The definition of 'Gender Identity & Expression' is intentionally a broad one. It can include MtF or FtM transsexuals; transvestites or cross-dressers; intersex or hermaphrodites; futanari or newhalf (crude terms, but common in erotica/manga); alternative gender models (including third genders and neuter genders); ambiguity or androgyny; or just gender role reveral. There are really no limits here, other than that there be something positive in how the subject is dealt with."
When: Year 2011.
Why: I know I have already signed up for the GLBT-reading challenge (and that I have enough challenges to start with), but I just couldn't resist this one. Gender is a fascinating subject and to be honest I haven't read that many book that focus on gender identity. Plus, now I have a good reason to browse through Sally's GoodReads and Bibrary to find more interesting books on gender and sexuality. I think that without this challenge, my GLBT-reading would be somehow limited to the L-part.
My Goal: I chose the Pink Level, so I'm aiming to read five books on five different categories. The categories are Biography/Memoir, Genre Fiction (Sci-fi, Fantasy, or Horror), Young Adult (YA) Fiction, Romance, Erotica, Non-fiction and Anime/Manga.
Reviews: I think I have started to enjoy blogging. Using English somehow slightly distances from myself the things I write, so I don't feel so vulnerable writing about my reactions to books, which I think is a very personal and intimate thing to share. I won't promise anything, but I think there will be more reviews here than I originally planned, and this applies to all the challenges. Also, the books I will read for this challenge will probably mostly be written in English or translated into English (let's face it: there is almost no genderqueer Finnish literature) and that usually encourages me to write reviews in English.
Prize: If I finish this challenge, I can buy My Gender Workbook. It is expensive, but I can save some money if I get a job for the summer. Also, the entry for the challenge promised that there will be prizes, so if there is a drawing of some sort, I will probably enter.
List: No list yet, much depends on what books I can find in the public libraries of Tampere and Helsinki.
1. Non-fiction. Julia Serano: Whipping Girl (~6.5.)
2. Young Adult Fiction: Julie Anne Peters: Luna (~30.7.)
3. Genre Fiction: Ursula Le Guin: Pimeyden vasen käsi (The Left Hand of Darkness)
4. Biography: Cris Owen: Valheellinen elämäni
5. Erotica: Giselle Renarde:  Future Histories. Transgendered Sci-fi erotica

torstai 17. helmikuuta 2011

George Orwell: Animal Farm

George Orwell: Animal Farm - A Fairy Story

George Orwell was a British author, who lived from 1903 till 1950. Animal Farm was published in 1945, and it is famous for its slogan "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others". Orwell himself has said the book to be "contre Stalin", and in the introduction by Christopher Hitchens (in the 2010 edition), he links Old Major with Karl Marx, Farmer Jones with the Czar, Napoleon with Stalin, Snowball with Trotsky, Boxer with the working class and Moses the raven with the Russian Orthodox Church.

The book is a classic, but I have to admit that this is the first time I have read it. I had heard much good about Animal Farm, and it all seems to be true. The book is easy to understand, but has many levels. It could be read as a children's story if one isn't at all aware of the world history, but it would make an oddly depressing and violent fairy tale. An adult, educated (and I mean educated as "knowing something about communism, the USSR and Stalin") reader knows from the very first chapter that all the brilliant, ethical ideas will be turned into something evil and oppressing, and it makes the story haunting. I don't have that much knowledge in history, but still it was easy to connect the turns of the plot to historical events. Hitchens' introduction was helpful, although a little part of me wishes that I would have read the book itself before the introduction, and see how well I could have made the connections to history without Hitchens' help.

Nevertheless, the reading experience was wonderful, I felt joy, anxiety, sadness and the pull of the stoy took me with it. The humour is of course fantastic, but as I don't know too much about satire, I won't to discuss it further. I'll just say that I laughed at the irony and felt sorry for the characters at the same time. Animal Farm is a very short book for a classic (I'm thinking about "War and Peace" and "Ulysses") so if you feel like you want to educated yourself a little bit, this is a good place to start. It is also hilarious, clever and frightening. A book I could recommend to many different audiences.

British Book Challenge: I don't know how British anti-communist satire is. I would guess it forms a greater part of the British literary tradition than it does of the Finnish, as we had to be very careful not to anger our neighbourg. As the book reflects a communist society and Britain has never been communist, I don't really link this book to Great Britain. I find it an universal fairy tale.

Back to the Classics Challenge: Animal Farm is my "Banned book" for this challenge. Orwell had trouble finding a publisher for Animal Farm, beacause of the alliance of Great Britain, the USA and the USSR. After its publication American military authorities in Europe "rounded up all the copies of Animal Farm they could find and turned them over to the Red Army to be burned" (Hitchens in the introduction).  The book was banned in the USSR for obvious reasons. Hitchens also writes: "[i]n the Islamic world, many countrues continue to ban Animal Farm" and states that it is not because the book has pig-characters, but because of the message of the book.

Emma Donoghue: The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits

Emma Donoghue: The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits

In the Foreword for this collection of short stories, Donoghue writes: "Over the last ten years, I have often stumbled over a scrap of history so fascinating that I had to stop whatever I was doing and write a story about it. My sources are the flotsam and jetsam of the last seven hundred years of British and Irish life: surgical case-notes; trial records; a plague ballad; theological pamphlets; a painting of two girls in a garden; an articulated skeleton."

I have read some amateur texts written with the same method, picking an existing, non-fiction text, usually a piece of news and then writing a short story about the event. However, Donoghue's short stories differ from the stories I have previously read because they are based on extraordinary facts and they are written exceptionally well.

My favourite of the stories was probably "Dido", whose protagonist is based on the historical figure of Dido Bell, born in England, a daughter of an African slave woman. In the story the position of a free black person in 18th century Britain becomes clear when Dido leaves her home to go to the town amd faces people's reactions. "Words for Things", telling about young Mary Wollstonecraft, and "A Short Story", which tells the story ofa ver small person, Caroline Crachami, were also brilliant.

Ireland Reading Challenge: Some of the stories were set in Ireland, but I have to admit, I can't remember which. The lives of Brits and Irish people in 18th and early 19th century seemed very similar to a Finn. If someone can point out some clearly Irish features of the book, I'd be glad to hear them!

lauantai 5. helmikuuta 2011

Stephen Fry: The Stars' Tennis Balls

Stephen Fry: The Stars' Tennis Balls

Stephen Fry is a British comedien, actor, author and much more. I have watched some of his tv programmes, my favourite being QI, and listened to his podgrammes. I admire Fry very much, but I was actually a bit disappointed in the first fiction book of his I read, The Liar. But I think the problem was I expected something very different that what the book was.

The main character in The Stars' Tennis Balls is Ned Maddstone, a young, confident/selfish, handsome and popular son of an MP. He is madly in love with his girlfriend, who is madly in love with him, he has been to the most expensive schools in Britain, and he is perfect in many ways. The novel is very much about the plot, so I'm not sure what more I can say about it. The plot grabs you from the very first chapter, so revealing anything might take away part of the reading experience.

The themes I think I found in the book were the evil in human beings and revenge. Is it right to revenge for great injustices? How far can you go? Should people pay for things they did when they were young? If not, how can the person the injustices has concerned move on with his/her life?

The British Book Challenge: If I was asked to name the most British person alive I knew, I think I would say Stephen Fry. He is intelligent, has high education, is the master of the British humour, and I would be shocked to find out he doesn't drink tea. The Star's Tennis Balls is set mostly in Britain, and tells about the British upper class. The observations of it are told through Ashley Barson-Garland, a boy who is from a lower class and tries to blend in among the public school boys. I certainly think there is something very British about this novel.

sunnuntai 30. tammikuuta 2011

Emma Donoghue: Life Mask

Emma Donoghue: Life Mask

Donoghue is an Irish writer and historian. She currently lives in Canada, but most of her books (at least all that I have read) take place in the British Isles. I have enjoyed enormously all her books I have read so far and had high expectations when I started reading Life Mask.

The novel is set in the 1780s and 1790s London. The main characters, who also act as narrators, are based on historical characters. Anne Damer was a sculptor, Eliza Farren an actress and Edward Smith-Stanley was an Earl who affected in politics. This is historical fiction as its best; Donoghue has taken historical characters and events and blown life into them. She writes from the point of view of all her main characters and each one of them starts feeling like a friend after a few hundred pages. The historical events, especially the French Revolution, affect the character's lives and set the tone for the book. The time of liberation, human rights and democracy is coming and the book is set at the brief space between the old and the new. I have little knowledge of English politics in the 18th or 19th century, so as for many British or Irish readers part of the fascination of the book must be knowing what comes next, how the world will develop and who will be in charge in ten years, to me the novel actually taught more than I had known before.

The characters are lively, charming and philosophical. Anne Damer stole my heart; her struggle to first realise her sexuality and then learn not to think of it as a vice, opens up a little the struggle many homosexual women have had to go through during the history of our civilization. Eliza Farren is proud and independent and her struggle has more to do with class than sexuality. She is an actress from a poor family, but at the beginning of the book we see her entering "the World", the social circles of the rich aristocrats of London. Edward Smith-Stanley is rich and an Earl, but he has chosen to be in the political opposition. He is fiercely loyal to the leader of his party and the idea of freedom. I don't know if it is his gender or aristocracy, but Edward Smith-Stanley didn't make an impression to me the same way Anne Damer and Eliza Farren did. His role in the book is important, but he seems to have less internal conflicts than the woman characters.

All in all, the book was wonderful, I wasn't the least disappointed although I had high expectations for it. The characters start to live with you, I found myself missing them a few days after I finished the book. The world is realistic for a non-historian, but trusting Donoghue to be as good a historian as she is a writer, I believe it to be accurate, too. The issues addressed - homosexuality, class, politics, importance of what others think about you - were interesting and handled with time and thought. I would recommend this to anyone interested in the history of Britain or the history of homosexuality, or just anyone who enjoys reading good novels.

Ireland Reading Challenge: Well, the author is Irish. Ireland, or Dublin, were mentioned a few times, Eliza Farren toured there, but not described or commented. I would be interested to read about Donoghue's Ireland, historical or contemporary, but this book had little to do with Ireland.

GLBT Challenge: Homosexuality was one of the topics of the book and for a lesbian reader it seemed to be the most important topic. There is romance, but it isn't romance as literary tradition usually describes it. The realisation of the feelings towards another woman takes up most of the book, and the relationships of the women are mostly described when they themselves think they are "only" friends. There is a little bit of sex and there is a happy ending for the couple (although it might not be what you learn to expect).