bookish

Reading More Women Accidentally on Purpose

This year is almost halfway over, and yet I’ve only read one (!!!) book by a male writer: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid.  Of course, this doesn’t count the assigned reading for my British literature class this past semester, which represented the sexist literary canon of the nineteenth century.  I did buy some books by men, but I haven’t picked up any of them because a book by a female author always piqued my interest more!  Even all of the advanced copies I’ve requested have been written by women, with two exceptions: A Terrible Country by Keith Gessen and Ohio by Stephen Markley.  But the best part is the fact that it’s purely accidental; I didn’t plan on focusing on reading women writers this year, it just happened!

It’s difficult to capture why my reading has changed this way.  In high school, I adored young adult writers like Sarah Dessen, Morgan Matson, Stephanie Perkins, Jennifer E. Smith, etc., but I enjoyed John Green just the same.  My tastes definitely catered to the women writers but never intentionally.  (I think the majority of authors in the young adult genre are women, but that’s a story for a different day.)  As I matured into reading fiction and literary fiction, I started with Celeste Ng, Donna Tartt, and Hanya Yanagihara (some of the heaviest hitters, I know).  I also read Anthony Doerr and Nathan Hill, but my excitement for new books was mostly for those written by women.  I picked up Michael Chabon, George Saunders, and others for the immense praise and recognition their novels received, but I’m not sure I would’ve been that excited for them had they not been so revered by my bookish friends.  And I certainly wasn’t excited before their releases, like the dozen or so early copies I’ve requested by women writers so far this year.

Of course, it’s important to mention I have absolutely nothing against male writers, or any kind of writer in that case.  I’m currently reading The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne and I’m absolutely loving it.  To me, the writing and the story are the most important aspects of a book.  However, I also think it’s time to support every type of writer imaginable, no matter the gender, race, religion, sexuality, etc.  Because wouldn’t it be boring if every book we read was by a straight white man?  If we don’t support diverse authors, then we’ve got multiple problems on our hands: (1) that literature is valued by how white a person is, (2) that not every reader will be able to identify with a book, and (3) that writers will see only white men succeeding in the book world, and they’ll stop writing if they don’t fit that description.

All of this brings to mind the #ReadMoreWomen campaign by Electric Lit, which aims to diversify our reading lists and start a conversation on our white-male ideals on literature.  It mentions the sexism behind The New York Times’ “By the Book” column, which, if you aren’t familiar, is basically a series of mini interviews with writers.  Most of the writers featured are men, but lately they’ve been trying to up their game and include more women (which is something you really shouldn’t have to work that hard to do…).  Recently, I read Lauren Groff’s By the Book, and I think her thoughts perfectly sum up the importance behind reading both male and female writers.  Groff says,

“When male writers list books they love or have been influenced by- as in this very column, week after week- why does it almost always seem as though they have only read one or two women in their lives?  It can’t be because men are inherently better writers than their female counterparts . . . And it isn’t because male writers are bad people.  We know they’re not bad people.  In fact, we love them.  We love them because we have read them.  Something invisible and pernicious seems to be preventing even good literary men from either reaching for books with women’s names on the spines, or from summoning women’s books to mind when asked to list their influences.  I wonder what such a thing could possibly be.”

I’ll leave it at that.

What books have you read by women lately?  Have you noticed any changes to your reading tastes?  Let’s chat!

xx,
Hannah

The Female Persuasion // Meg Wolitzer

After Meg Wolitzer’s 2013 novel The Interestings became one of my favorite books of last year (I was a little late to the game), I was eager to pick up her newest, The Female Persuasion, when it released last month.  Inspiring and compulsively-readable, The Female Persuasion is truly a book for its time, showcasing life as a woman in the modern world and exploring the many facets of feminism that exist today.


“I sometimes think that the most effective people in the world are introverts who taught themselves to be extroverts.”

-Meg Wolitzer, The Female Persuasion


From the jacket:

Greer Kadetsky is a college freshman when she meets the woman who will change her life.  Faith Frank, dazzingly persuassive and elegant at sixty-three, has been a pillar of the women’s movement for decades, a figure who inspires others.  Hearing Faith speak for the first time, in a crowded campus chapel, Greer feels her inner world light up.  She and Cory, her high school boyfriend, have both been hardworking and ambitious, jokingly referred to as “twin rocket ships,” headed up and up and up.  Yet for so long Greer has been full of longing, in search of a purpose she can’t quite name.  And then, astonishingly, Faith invites her to make something out of her new sense of awakening.  Over time, Faith leads Greer along the most exciting and rewarding path of her life, as it wings toward and away from her meant-to-be love story with Cory, and the future she’d always imagined.  As Cory’s path, too, is altered in ways that feel beyond his control, both of them are asked to reckon with what they really want.  What does it mean to be powerful?  How do people measure their impact upon the world, and upon one another?  Does all of this look different for men than it does for women?

With humor, wisdom, and profound intelligence, Meg Wolitzer weaves insights about power and influence, ego and loyalty, womanhood and ambition into a moving story that looks at the romantic ideals we pursue deep into adulthood: ideals relating not just to whom we want to be with, but who we want to be.  At its heart, The Female Persuasion is about the select figures and experiences that shape our lives.  It’s about the people who guide and the people who follow- and how those roles evolve over time.  And it acknowledges the flame we all want to believe is flickering inside of us, waiting to be seen and fanned by the right person at the right time.


In the vein of The Interestings, the book follows a handful of characters: Greer Kadetsky, a shy college student who blossoms into a young feminist role model; Zee Eisenstat, longtime activist, lesbian, and Greer’s college best friend, who has long been betrayed by the women in her life; Cory Pinto, Greer’s high school sweetheart who takes over his mother’s roles as caretaker and housekeeper after the tragic dispensation of his family; and finally Faith Frank, the famous feminist who offers Greer a job straight out of college and mentors her into becoming the woman she is through their work at Faith’s women’s foundation.

Though the novel tells the story of these four characters, there is a heavy focus on Greer, and she is, in a sense, the main character, especially in the beginning of the novel.  She was by far my favorite character, simply because we share so many qualities.  Like me, Greer is quiet and introspective, but as she progresses through college she becomes bolder and less afraid to share her opinion.  I haven’t read many college-age narratives so I enjoyed reading about Greer’s life as a college freshman particularly because I just finished my freshman year!  Furthermore, Greer moves to New York after college, and that’s exactly what I want to do!  Recognizing myself in the main character definitely made this novel a page-turner for me.


“If the twenty-first century taught you anything, it was that your words belonged to everyone, even if they actually didn’t.”

-Meg Wolitzer, The Female Persuasion


The Female Persuasion is the perfect book to lose yourself in.  It’s an easy read, not necessarily a beach read but more like a book club read, in which there’s plenty to discuss and most readers will find something they like.  It’s dialogue-heavy with simple readable prose, but the insights Wolitzer provides are what makes it such a powerful read.  The Female Persuasion will definitely stay with me for a long time.

You can find this book on Goodreads and Amazon.

Junot Díaz: April 20, 2018

On Friday, April 20th, I had the amazing opportunity to attend a discussion and book signing for Junot Díaz!  The event was put together by the Just Buffalo Literary Center as part of their BABEL series, in which they bring world-renowned and award-winning writers to Buffalo.  Past seasons have included Isabel Allende, Salman Rushdie, Zadie Smith, Amy Tan, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Marlon James, and Toni Morrison.  Not many writers come to Buffalo, so I was especially excited to attend my first BABEL event.

Díaz began by speaking about immigration, specifically the many traumas an immigrant in the United States faces.  He continued with a discussion on gratitude while addressing his frustration with the, “If you don’t like it, go back to your own country” trope.  Díaz shared that Americans expect immigrants to be grateful, but it is really the Americans who need to be grateful because they are the ones who benefit from an immigrant’s hardships.

Next, Díaz answered some questions from the audience.  On the subject of writing, Díaz claimed, “I don’t seek answers, I seek the next question,” and when asked if he considered The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao to be magical realism, Díaz said no, it was not his intention, and, perhaps in a nod to Gabriel García Márquez, said people only think that because of the “z” in his name!

When asked what it is like to teach creative writing at M.I.T., a highly technical school, Díaz responded, rather bluntly, “It’s like being an artist in America.”  He continued by saying that M.I.T., like the majority of America, values making money over making art.  This thought certainly got a chuckle from the audience members, who ranged from young, beanie-clad hipsters to classy older folks seeking literary enlightenment.

All of these wonderful thoughts aside, the sentiment that will perhaps stay with me the most is when Díaz was asked about the use of Spanish/Spanglish in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which some readers found frustrating.  He said, “We only understand fifteen percent of what we hear, and that’s in our own f***ing language…”  He expressed that it’s alright if you don’t understand everything in his book, because some parts will go over your head but other parts will resonate with you.  As a reader, it can be upsetting when I don’t fully comprehend an idea an author presents in their work, so Díaz’s statement was well-said and comforting.

Later, after the lecture and discussion, I waited in line (for more than an hour!) to meet Díaz and get my book signed.  In person, he was kind and down-to-earth, not to mention hilarious.  He said our handwriting as similar, because our H’s look like K’s, and he said my parents must be so proud of me for being in school.

It was my first time meeting an author and having a book signed, and I loved every minute of it!  I am especially excited for next season, when Mohsin Hamid, Jesmyn Ward, Min Jin Lee, and George Saunders will each have their own night!

xx,
Hannah

 

 

Exit West // Mohsin Hamid

One word continues to come to mind when trying to describe Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West, and that word is quiet.  Silent.  Subdued.  Subtle.  Its storytelling is understated, but I also found it to be very underwhelming.  I could not have received more recommendations for Exit West, and I enjoyed it, but it didn’t quite live up to the hype.  While I read this book, I kept hearing a voice in the back of my head saying, “You should be loving this… why aren’t you loving this?” and while trying to summarize my thoughts, I definitely struggled with not writing a rave review.  Maybe I shouldn’t have waited so long to read it, or maybe I’m going through a reading slump, but Exit West just didn’t do much for me.


From the jacket:

In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet- sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed.  They embark on a furtive love affair, and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city.  When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors- doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price.  As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice.  Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through…

Exit West follows these remarkable characters as they emerge into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past, to the very sense of who they are.  Profoundly intimate and powerfully inventive, it tells an unforgettable story of love, loyalty, and courage that is both completely of our time and for all time.


“We are all migrants through time.”

-Mohsin Hamid, Exit West


Exit West is not a “flowery” book by any means, but that’s because it doesn’t need to be.  The story is enough in and of itself.  Hamid writes long, sprawling sentences full of clear, simple language, and there’s beauty in that simplicity.  I picked up Exit West amidst my study of Romantic poetry for class, so Hamid’s style was a breath of fresh air compared to Wordsworth and Coleridge!

The biggest part of Exit West was the magical realism.  I absolutely loved the concept of the doors… but I was not too keen on the execution.  I think Hamid didn’t fully commit to the magic doors concept like he needed to; it seemed like it was an idea he quickly introduced and threw around a little bit without really utilizing it.  (Also, not going to lie, the doors reminded me a bit too much of Monsters, Inc., and I was glad to see Barry thought so too, yet his opinion on it was a bit more extreme than mine!)


“To love is to enter into the inevitability of one day not being able to protect what is most valuable to you.”

-Mohsin Hamid, Exit West


Overall, I have mixed feelings on Exit West.  It was underwhelming to say the least.  I enjoyed it; I didn’t love it but certainly didn’t hate it, and I’m sure that I’ll pick it up again at some point when I feel clear of any hype or pressure surrounding it.

You can find this book on Goodreads and Amazon.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Being a Minimalist Bookworm

The term “minimalist bookworm” sounds contradictory, I know.  Book lovers these days seem to be defined by the content of their bookcases- the more books we see, the more well-read we assume a person is.  I struggle with this, because as much as I dream about having a library of my own someday, I personally feel overwhelmed by too much stuff, so having a huge collection of novels isn’t exactly my ideal.  I think that’s why I was initially drawn to a more minimalist lifestyle (also because I adore tiny houses!).  The Minimalism Movement has been on trend for a few years now, and I’ve been striving to be more minimalist, so I thought I’d share some things I’ve learned on my way.

DO keep books you’ll reread.

It’s only natural that you’ll want to revisit some of the books you’ve already read, and it’s hard to justify getting rid of something you’ll eventually come back to.  Keep your favorite books, the ones that interest you, the ones you’ll want to return to someday.

DON’T hang on to books you’ve owned for years but still haven’t read.

If you’ve owned A Game of Thrones since the first season premiered but you still haven’t gotten around to it, I think it’s safe to say you won’t be reading it any time soon!  We all read at different paces, but consider setting an amount of time, anywhere from eight months to five years, after which you will get rid of books you haven’t read yet.

DO save books that have meaning to you.

Still own that battered copy of Charlotte’s Web that your mom used to read to you as a child?  Did you purchase a book as a souvenir of your trip abroad?  These are the ones you might want to save, and that’s okay.  I actually regret donating some of my favorite childhood books, so hang on to sentimental books unless you’re positive you no longer want them.

DON’T own more than one edition of the same book

Of course, there are some exceptions to this one; for example, I own a paperback copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and I also own the illustrated edition.  I can’t imagine getting rid of one or the other.  However, I think having ten editions of Pride and Prejudice might be a bit extensive (#sorrynotsorry).  You just have to determine what’s right for you.

DO utilize the library.

One of my favorite things about the library is there’s no pressure to like every book you read.  Often, when I buy a book, I feel the need to enjoy it because I’ve spent my hard-earned money on it, but at the library, I’ll pick up just about anything, and if I don’t like I’ll return it, no guilt necessary.  The library is a great resource for quick readers especially, and (bonus!) it’s free, so you really can’t go wrong!

DON’T purchase books just because they’re popular or trendy.

It’s okay, we’ve all done it, but buying a book, especially one you don’t think you’ll like, just because it’s all over Instagram, is probably not the best idea.  Eventually the popularity will fade and you’ll be stuck with a book you don’t actually want to read!  And if you’re not sure whether or not you want to read it, try waiting a few months after the hype has died down and see how you feel about it then.

DO try ebooks and/or audiobooks.

Ebooks and audiobooks are great for saving physical shelf space, and (bonus!) they’re often cheaper than paperbacks or hardcovers.  However, if you don’t like reading in either format, don’t force it: reading should be an enjoyable experience, not a frustrating one.

DON’T buy books without reading an excerpt.

For me, the writing style is one of the most important qualities of a book; if I don’t like the writing, chances are I won’t enjoy the story or the characters.  That’s why I always like to read an excerpt or chapter sample of a novel before I purchase it.

DO try a book-buying ban.

Set yourself a period of time in which you refrain from buying any books, and see how it goes.  Not only are bans great for stopping the intake of new books, but they also allow you to get around to the books you own but haven’t read yet.  It’s a win-win!

DON’T let yourself feel stressed or discouraged.

You might notice it’s difficult to strip your shelves at first, and that’s okay!  It’s not for everybody, but don’t let your feelings keep you from making the change.  It’s definitely easiest to do a little bit each day rather than all at once.  Personally, I’ve found that making the strides to be a minimalist bookworm has been challenging but absolutely worth it!

If you’re interested in reading more on minimalism and books, I’d recommend checking out Why I Love to (and Will Always) Buy Books by Cait Flanders, who went through a two-year shopping ban while paying off debt, or 12 Helpful, Practical Steps to Unclutter Your Book Collection by Joshua Becker, a longtime minimalist of ten years (and counting).

Do you have any other tips for anyone seeking to be more minimalist?  Have you tried any of these tips yourself?  Let’s chat in the comments!

xx,
Hannah

Call Me Zebra // Azareen Van der Vilet Oloomi

Thank you to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Netgalley for an early review copy of Call Me Zebra by Azareen Van der Vilet Oloomi, which will publish February 6, 2018.  All thoughts are my own.


From the publisher:

Zebra is the last in a line of anarchists, atheists, and autodidacts.  When war came, her family didn’t fight; they took refuge in books.  Now alone and in exile, Zebra leaves New York for Barcelona, retracing the journey she and her father made from Iran to the United States years ago.

Books are Zebra’s only companions- until she meets Ludo.  Their connection is magnetic; their time together fraught.  Zebra overwhelms him with her complex literary theories, her concern with death, and her obsession with history.  He thinks she’s unhinged; she thinks he’s pedantic.  Neither are wrong; neither can let the other go.  They push and pull their way across the Mediterranean, wondering with each turn if their love, or lust, can free Zebra from her past.
 
An adventure tale, a love story, and a paean to the power of language and literature starring a heroine as quirky as Don Quixote, as introspective as Virginia Woolf, as whip-smart as Miranda July, and as spirited as Frances Ha, Call Me Zebra will establish Van der Vliet Oloomi as an author “on the verge of developing a whole new literature movement” (Bustle)


I tried.  I really, really did.  But I just couldn’t do it.

When I saw Call Me Zebra on The Millions’ Great First-Half of 2018 Book Preview, I thought it sounded amazing.  A romance in a European city with a main character who loves literature?  Check, check, and check.  However, this book ended up being extremely disappointing and I stopped reading around a quarter of the way through, which says a lot because I generally like to stick it out and finish every book I read.

I think the main problem for me was how disconnected I felt from the narrative.  Oloomi’s writing style was enough to give me a headache, simply because I found it so difficult to decipher the complicated language she used.  And the thing is, it wasn’t complicated in a beautiful way, like reading eighteenth century literature, but it was complex in the way that it seemed like she was trying too hard to make it sound introspective and quotable, and it came out disorganized and confusing.

Overall, I don’t have much to say other than Call Me Zebra just wasn’t for me.  It’s categorized as “absurdist fiction” in the likes of Camus, Kafka, Vonnegut, etc., so if you’re interested in works by those authors, I’d suggest picking up Oloomi’s Call Me Zebra.  Perhaps I am just not a fan of the genre.

You can find this book on Goodreads and Amazon.

On My Nightstand: January 2018

So many books, so little time!  Here’s a look at some of my upcoming reads, which are currently sitting on my nightstand, demanding to be devoured.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Hamid’s Exit West was one of the most talked-about books last year, so it’s about time I read it!  I’m currently two chapters in and I’m finding it hard to put this one down.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

Smith’s newest, Swing Time, has been on my radar since it was first announced, though I have to admit I’m a bit skeptical because it’ll be my first Zadie and I’ve heard it’s not her best.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

The Mothers is probably the book I’m most excited about on this list!  Not only is the cover absolutely stunning, but so is Bennett’s prose.

The Girls by Emma Cline

The Girls was the book of the summer in 2016, and for some reason I never got around to it.  I’m still looking forward to this Manson-esque coming-of-age story that Random House reportedly acquired in a seven-figure, multi-book deal (quite a feat for a debut novelist).

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Goon Squad is one that I really don’t know too much about other than it won a Pulitzer, but the publication of Egan’s newest release, Manhattan Beach, has gotten me curious about Goon Squad.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

Kavalier and Clay will be my first Chabon, and it’s an absolute behemoth, but it’s his most popular and I’ve heard it’s a good one to start with.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Groff’s Fates and Furies seems like the quintessential love-it-or-hate-it book, but I’m hoping my own reading experience is the former!

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

Beatty won the 2016 Man Booker Prize with The Sellout, so it’s been on my to-read list for a while.  As with Goon Squad, I know virtually nothing about it, so I’m anxious to pick it up.

Have you read any of these books?  Which one do you think I should read first?  Let’s chat in the comments!

xx,
Hannah