Friday, 13 December 2019

Friday Friyay: 'Milkman' by Anna Burns

MilkmanIt seems that all I have been able to do the past 2 or 3 weeks is write this post and read. I was able to upload a few reviews last week, but this week just flew by and I haven't been able to do anything else. I have a few days off next week, so hopefully I'll be able to write and read a little bit more then. But for now, it's time for our Friday post with Book Beginnings at Rose City Reader, hosted by Gilion Dumas, and Friday 56 at Freda's Voice, hosted by Freda. Today I'm sharing excerpts from Milkman by Anna Burns. I heard loads about this book last year but didn't get around to reading it. And then, surprise, surprise, I found it in an independent bookstore here in Germany!
In this unnamed city, to be interesting is dangerous. Middle sister, our protagonist, is busy attempting to keep her mother from discovering her maybe-boyfriend and to keep everyone in the dark about her encounter with Milkman. But when first brother-in-law sniffs out her struggle, and rumours start to swell, middle sister becomes 'interesting'. The last thing she ever wanted to be. To be interesting is to be noticed and to be noticed is dangerous.
Milkman is a tale of gossip and hearsay, silence and deliberate deafness. It is the story of inaction with enormous consequences.
I love the cover and I love the description. I'll be reading this one on my journey to the Netherlands tomorrow and I'm very interested to see what parallels Burns draws to her own native Ireland.

BB
:

'The day Somebody McSomebody put a gun to my breast and called me a cat and threatened to shoot me was the same day the milkman died. He had been shot by one of the state hit squads and I did not care about the shooting of this man.' p1
I love the anonymity of this opening line. We know nothing, really, and yet such a vivid picture has been drawn of a violent city, a dangerous environment.


F56:
'Wee sisters giggled again, this time at 'wife' though now there was a nervousness to the giggling.' p56
I'm not entirely sure what is happening here as I haven't started the novel yet, but from the page it seems like there are some serious family conversations happening. I don't know if the 'Wee' is a type (I doubt it), if means 'small' or if it's a name, but it gives the sentence and scene a bit of a familial tone.

And as always, there is the gem that is Book Blogger Hop, hosted over at Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer.


Is there a specific genre you like to read during the Winter? - Billy @ Coffee Addicted Writer

I don't think there is a specific genre I like to read during any specific season. I'm quite hopscotch when it comes to choosing my reads anyway. If I've read something rather intense and suspenseful, I'll probably switch to something lighter, or more fantasy-focused after. I also like to switch up my Fiction with my Non-Fiction. Occasionally winter is the perfect time to curl of with a good Fantasy book though. I did it last year with The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden and it was perfect. Me, the cat, blankets and a wintery, magical word of wonder between the pages.

One thing I do like to do at the end of the year is try and finish off all the books I only got halfway through during the year. So in a weird way I do my own kind of yearly round-up of genres that way.

Monday, 9 December 2019

Review: 'Ten Caesars' by Barry Strauss

I adore history! Looking back into history reveals so much about humanity, whether it's our ingenuity, cruelty or our ability to love and change. Roman history is one of my favourites because it includes all of the above and more. Loyalty, betrayal, extravagance, torture, religious freedom, religious oppression, expansion, invasion. All of it is right there and all of it is also in Ten Caesars. Thanks to Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 3/5/2019
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Bestselling classical historian Barry Strauss delivers “an exceptionally accessible history of the Roman Empire…much of Ten Caesars reads like a script for Game of Thrones” (The Wall Street Journal)—a summation of three and a half centuries of the Roman Empire as seen through the lives of ten of the most important emperors, from Augustus to Constantine.
In this essential and “enlightening” (The New York Times Book Review) work, Barry Strauss tells the story of the Roman Empire from rise to reinvention, from Augustus, who founded the empire, to Constantine, who made it Christian and moved the capital east to Constantinople.
During these centuries Rome gained in splendor and territory, then lost both. By the fourth century, the time of Constantine, the Roman Empire had changed so dramatically in geography, ethnicity, religion, and culture that it would have been virtually unrecognizable to Augustus. Rome’s legacy remains today in so many ways, from language, law, and architecture to the seat of the Roman Catholic Church. Strauss examines this enduring heritage through the lives of the men who shaped it: Augustus, Tiberius, Nero, Vespasian, Trajan, Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius, Septimius Severus, Diocletian and Constantine. Over the ages, they learned to maintain the family business—the government of an empire—by adapting when necessary and always persevering no matter the cost.
Ten Caesars is a “captivating narrative that breathes new life into a host of transformative figures” (Publishers Weekly). This “superb summation of four centuries of Roman history, a masterpiece of compression, confirms Barry Strauss as the foremost academic classicist writing for the general reader today” (The Wall Street Journal).
Ten Caesars discusses almost the whole of Roman imperial history, from Augustus to Constantine, which means Barry Strauss has to cover about 350 or so years in his book. He doesn't write about all the emperors that came between the two above, but has chosen the 10 "most important" ones. The book starts with a discussion of Julius Caesar, the origin of it all. From there we cover Augustus, Tiberius, Nero, Vespasian, Trajan, Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius, Septimius Severus, Diocletian and Constantine. Each of these made undeniable contributions to the Roman empire and its reputation. Hadrian's Wall still stretches across the UK. Istanbul is still a key city. Christianity is still a major religion. Rome is filled with triumphal arches celebrating battles and victories. So how do you cover all of that in around 400 pages?

Strauss' genius in Ten Caesars lies in covering both minute details that make the emperors seem more personable and also the grand scale consequences of their actions. None of the emperors get away entirely clean. Ten Caesars feels like sitting down for a fascinating conversation with someone incredibly knowledgeable and also funny. It doesn't feel like Strauss is talking down to his reader, which is very much appreciated from a history book. He never undercut the horror of the time period, the warfare, religious intolerance and murder, but he also celebrates some of the good things that occurred. One thing he actively tracks, for example, is how the Roman Empire slowly integrated the people it conquered into its ruling class, which I found fascinating. Strauss also payed attention the the people around the emperors, such as the mothers, wives, daughters, best friends and mentors who shaped the emperors and their policy. It added an extra layer of interest, for me, to Roman history.

Ten Caesars is  not a deeply academic book. It is a very good guide to the ten emperors who made, perhaps, the most difference to the Roman Empire. This is an introduction to the chronology of the Roman Empire for those who don't have a definite understanding of it yet. I myself am somewhat aware, which means I had heard most of the names before but couldn't connect each of them to the right century or achievement. Ten Caesars gave me that grasp and also gave me plenty of jumping of points to do further research into. I enjoyed Strauss' writing a lot and he found a good balance between sharing historical information and writing an interesting book. Although it took me a little longer to finish than expected that had more to do with my schedule than with Strauss. As I said above, for those already well-versed in Roman history, Ten Caesars may not be the best read, but for anyone with an initial interest, Strauss' book is great.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

I adored Ten Caesars! This is the perfect book for those who want to know more about Roman history before digging straight into the hard academia. Strauss is a great teacher and I will definitely be looking for his other books on Roman history.

Friday, 6 December 2019

Friday Friyay: Samanta Schweblin's 'Fever Dream'

Fever DreamIt's my first Friday back in Europe for an extended work/vacation trip and I think I've just about gotten used to the time difference and the fact that it's still so dark here every morning! I'd just about forgotten that since it feels like it's always light at 6am in Shanghai. Anyway, let's get this Friday show on the road with Book Beginnings at Rose City Reader, hosted by Gilion Dumas, and Friday 56 at Freda's Voice, hosted by Freda. Today I'm featuring Samanta Schweblin's Fever Dream. I adored her short story collection, Mouthful of Birds, it was one of my favourites this year, so I jumped on this book the moment I found it. 
A young woman named Amanda lies dying in a rural hospital clinic. A boy named David sits beside her. She’s not his mother. He’s not her child. Together, they tell a haunting story of broken souls, toxins, and the power and desperation of family.
Fever Dream is a nightmare come to life, a ghost story for the real world, a love story and a cautionary tale. One of the freshest new voices to come out of the Spanish language and translated into English for the first time, Samanta Schweblin creates an aura of strange psychological menace and otherworldly reality in this absorbing, unsettling, taut novel.
Perfect Christmas read, no?



BB:

'They're like worms.
What kind of worms?
Like worms, all over.
It's the boy who's talking, murmuring into my ear. I am the one asking questions.
Worms in the body?
Yes, in the body.
Earthworms?
No, another kind of worms.' 1%

Usually I make the whole quote italic and indented, but this is how it was in the novel and I wanted to keep the format. I like the interplay between the voices, how we initially don't know who is who until she clarifies for us. It's also already addressed one of my least  favourite things ever, the feeling that something is crawling on or, even worse, in you.

F56:
'Your mother tells me that the dog made it to the stairs of your house, and sat there for almost a whole afternoon. She says she asked you about the dog several times, and each time you replied that the dog wasn't the important thing.' 56%
I didn't include the rest of the paragraph because it felt slightly spoiler-y and sad. I haven't reached this far into the book yet, but I'm curious what this section is about. I'm thinking this will be a metaphor for something she has left behind, perhaps a certain loyalty or trust. Or maybe it's just a really sad moment in which she ignores her dog.


And as always, there is the gem that is Book Blogger Hop, hosted over at Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer.

           
Book Blogger Hop
Do you keep your TBR book stack on a separate shelf from your already read books or are they mixed? - Elizabeth @ Silver Reviews 

Since I mostly read on my Kindle these days, my TBR stack is a digital one. I do have a separate collection for my TBR NetGalley reads, and I move them to a "read" collection once I'm done. But everything else is just in thematic folders and all mixed up. I enjoy trawling through books to find the one I want to/have to read. 

When it comes to the physical books, my apartment unfortunately doesn't have a proper bookshelf, so they are all jumbled together on different window sills, tables and even on boxes made to look like furniture. I kind of love the scattered aesthetic though, I can find a book at any random moment and get lost in it. And that's how I like it!

Thursday, 5 December 2019

Short Review: 'Dungeons & Drawings: An Illustrated Compendium of Creatures' by Blanca Martínez de Rituerto; Joe Sparrow

Dungeons & Dragons is having a major revival this decade, in large part thanks to Stranger Things and shows like Critical Role. I'm a not so secret Fantasy-lover, so D&D has always been on my radar even if I haven't actively played it in years. In their Dungeons & Drawings de Riuerri and Sparrow re-imagine creatures from folklore old and new. Thanks to Andrews McMeel Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 11/12/2019
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing

Who hasn’t been fascinated by monsters? This book collects some of the best creatures from Dungeons & Dragons, setting them out in an informative illustrated bestiary for beginners and enthusiasts alike.
Whether they’re beasts, spirits, demons, or even aliens, most fantasy worlds are filled with monsters. Some are harmless—many more are deadly. Luckily for the discerning adventurer, this book is here to help distinguish between the two. As a popular series sold at conventions and on Etsy, animators Blanca Martinez de Riuerro and Joe Sparrow have compiled three volumes into one deluxe edition. Each creature comes with a full-color illustration, a set of simplified statistics, a description, and a history section indicating its folkloric history and the scientific phenomena that may have influenced its creation. With creatures like the Archdevil, Dryad, Fire Bat, Gold Dragon, Smoke Devil, Bomb Plant, Ettin, and Spirit Fox, any tabletop player will find the perfect creature for their next campaign.
Martínez de Rituerto and Sparrow started off posting drawings online after discovering they shared a passion for tabletop RPGs and Dungeons & Drawings is very much a best-of collection. Each creature, be it spirit, monster or alien, gets a brilliant drawing that draws (ha!) both on the folklore and legends around it as well as on more modern visuals. The drawings are very easy on the eye and somehow very recognizable, yet that belies how intricate they are as well. Martínez de Rituerto and Sparrow didn't go for the easy get with their drawings, often highlighting features of the creature that have been overlooked before. Dungeons & Drawings walks the line between nerdy excitement and artistic venture. It's as much about the art as about the creatures, which means that those looking for an in-depth bestiary or for a Dungeons & Dragons starter guide, will probably be disappointed.

Dungeons & Drawings covers the world, with creatures from Japan, Mexico, Ireland and everywhere in between. Each creature's illustration is prefaced by a short introduction that rates it, according to different, partly Dungeons & Drawings-related categories. How dangerous are they, are they smart or can you outwit them? The introductions give you an idea of how they might be defeated and what their powers are. It also digs into the the history of the creatures' names, the different regions from which it hails and the different forms in which it can be found. I loved those sections  the best, as a lot of creatures actually have a fascinating background story.

I give this compendium...

3 Universes!

Dungeons & Drawings is a beautiful compendium of mythological creatures with modern but layered illustrations. It's perfect for those looking for a stunning book to lead through to gather some inspiration for their own RPG games.

Review: 'Mothers: Stories' by Chris Power

Short stories are beautiful. They are also very hard to write well. You have to encapsulate all the feeling and all the necessary plot in a few pages, rather than in hundreds of them. Writers such as Chris Power use short stories to give a reader a window into a character's life, building moment upon moment to gently drive home a message. It doesn't always work, but in this case, it does. Thanks to Farrar, Strauss & Giroux and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 15/02/2019
Publisher: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux
An “extraordinary” (The Sunday Times) debut of unnerving beauty, Chris Power’s short story collection Mothers evokes the magic and despair of the essential human longing for purpose. 
Chris Power’s stories are peopled by men and women who find themselves at crossroads or dead ends—characters who search without knowing what they seek. Their paths lead them to thresholds, bridges, rivers, and sites of mysterious, irresistible connection to the past. A woman uses her mother’s old travel guide, aged years beyond relevance, to navigate on a journey to nowhere; a stand-up comic with writer’s block performs a fateful gig at a cocaine-fueled bachelor party; on holiday in Greece, a father must confront the limits to which he can keep his daughters safe. Braided throughout is the story of Eva, a daughter, wife, and mother, whose search for a self and place of belonging tracks a devastating path through generations. 
Ranging from remote English moors to an ancient Swedish burial ground to a hedonistic Mexican wedding, the stories in Mothers lay bare the emotional and psychic damage of life, love, and abandonment. Suffused with yearning, Power’s transcendent prose expresses a profound ache for vanished pasts and uncertain futures.
I need to once again start a review with a confession. There was some time between me receiving this collection and me starting it, which means that by the time I began reading the first story I thought this whole collection was about ... you guessed it, mothers. There are a lot of mothers in Mothers, but they aren't about mothers, per se. The collection is grounded by three stories that make up the beginning, middle and end: 'Mother 1: Summer 1976', 'Mother 2: Innsbruck' and 'Mother 3: Eva'. I once again have to confess I wasn't sure they were all related until I saw it confirmed in other reviews. I saw how the stories were connected but didn't trust myself enough to truly make these connections. Perhaps that is the point, however. Not all stories, or novels, are meant to give you a clear moral or a straightforward line of events. In Mothers Power sets out not to explain why we have difficult relationships or why we are unhappy. Rather, his stories shows us how his characters are in these difficult moments, how they are unhappy, each in their own way, and then leaves the reader carrying the stories with them.

In Mothers Chris Power shows the reader a set of characters who are all at a crossroad. They are drifting or stuck, searching without quite realizing it, about to be lost for good. The stories in Mothers aren't uplifting. Some of them are actually very bleak. In 'The Crossing' Ann and Jim are hiking and while the outer landscape is beautiful, something ugly is growing inside. There is a dissatisfaction there, a desire for something, anything, to happen. In 'The Colossus of Rhodes' the something ugly that grows is long overdue after having been repressed. In all the other stories, much like the triptych of Mother stories, are about remembrance and about being alone. 'The Haväng Dolmen' was one of my favourites as it combines the bleakness of the other stories with a terrifying undercurrent of horror. I think the lack of resolution in the stories, either story-wise or emotionally, means that reading Mothers leaves the reader with nowhere to go, nowhere to place the stories and therefore no way to let go off the bleakness.

It took me some time to get used to Chris Power's style in Mothers. Many of the narrators in this collected are very reserved, which means many of the stories are without high emotions. Each of the stories occur at a crossroads, where important and life changing things happen, but those moments seem to pass by, noticed but hardly commented upon. These things simply happen and there is only so much we can do about it. The stories are very calm and therefore may not be for everyone. The internal voices of the narrators are everything, which means that Powers manages to convey the claustrophobic feeling of being stuck in your own brain, of being somehow immobilized. There is some absolutely stunning moments of imagery and true realization in Mothers, which did make it a rewarding read despite occasionally struggling with some of the stories.

I give this collection...

3 Universes!

Mothers was a very interesting collection of stories, all related in theme and mood, but also vastly different. Many of these stories will fill you with unease, but Powers brings in beauty just often enough to reward perseverance.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Review: 'Lock Me In' by Kate Simants

I love me a good thriller, especially one in which our protagonist begins to question their own sanity. We all have moments where we doubt the things we see or hear, and I love exploring that emotion in fiction. Lock Me In first grabbed my attention with its cover and blurb, but there is a lot more to Simants' debut than meets the eye. Thanks to Harper Impulse, One More Chapter and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 10/3/2019
Publisher: Harper Impulse and Killer Reads; One More Chapter

Whatever you do, don’t open the door… By day, Ellie Power has a normal life. She has a stable home, a loving boyfriend, a future. But at night, she suffers from a sleep disorder. She becomes angry, unpredictable, violent. Her mother locks Ellie in her bedroom every night, to keep them both safe. Then one morning, Ellie wakes up, horrified to find the lock on her bedroom door smashed from the inside. She is covered in injuries, unable to remember anything about the night before. And her boyfriend Matt is nowhere to be found…
Lock Me In is a novel about hidden trauma and repressed memory. Ellie has no recollection of her fugues, the nights she loses to her sleep disorder, but she can feel they must be horrible, shameful even. This topic of fear and repression, of perhaps being your own worst nightmare and not being able to trust yourself, is a brilliant take by Simants. As a debut author she really managed to find a theme that will somehow strike a chord with every reader. Every person, family, culture and country has some underlying trauma that we tell ourselves stories about, that we lie about, things we lock away until they become too big to face.Towards the end of the novel, Simants explores this theme on a much bigger level, which surprised and intrigued me. Without spoiling anything, it was a great way of connecting the narrative to the real world. It's a surprisingly emotional topic for a psychological thriller, but one that will definitely engage the reader.

The narrative of Lock Me In is split between two different narrators. Ellie Powers narrates her own experiences in the first person, giving us an insight into her psyche as she begins to lose confidence in herself and everything she's been told. She has been locked in, by herself, by her mother, and by her own experiences. The second string of the narrative is told by DS Ben Kwon Mae who is investigating the disappearance of Ellie's boyfriend. Ellie and Ben have a history, which allows for the two of them to build up quite an interesting relationship. In Ben's case, it is a little harder to initially see how his own personal story plays into the theme of trauma and repression. It's worth waiting for though, because once Simants begins to unravel more of his background it definitely pays off. There is a twist towards the end of the novel, of course, which you will anticipate slightly if you have experience with the genre. The ending and some of the reveals feel a little too neat at times, but this can be forgiven with it being a debut. It also helps that Lock Me In is utterly gripping nonetheless.

This is Simants' debut novel, but there is a confidence to her writing that is envy-inducing. She ramps us the suspense slowly but surely and you find yourself caring more and more about both narrators. At times Ellie falls a little bit flat as a narrator, but this makes some sense considering her entire life has seen her locked in. Lock Me In feels like only part of the story, and this is a good thing! There is clearly a past to both Ellie and Ben that Simants makes real to the reader. As mentioned above, the past and what it means is the major theme in Lock Me In and Simants employs it very well. She avoids falling into certain thriller/suspense traps, like vilifying mental illness or making it a convenient excuse, which I really appreciated. Lock Me In made me really excited for Kate Simants future work.

I give this book...

4 Universes!

Lock Me In is a gripping read that will have you thinking and wondering whenever you're not reading it. It's a great debut by Simants and the perfect read for anyone looking for a more suspenseful book over Christmas.

Review: 'Grandmothers' by Salley Vickers

I first heard about this novel when it was listed somewhere as a must-read. Admittedly, that is how I find many of my reads, but Grandmothers is a novel I potentially wouldn't have picked up otherwise. I'm veyr glad I was inspired to, however, as Grandmothers was a surprisingly heartwarming read. Thanks to Penguin Books, Vintage and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 11/7/2019
Publisher: Penguin Books; Vintage
The new novel from Salley Vickers, Sunday Times bestselling author of The Librarian 
Grandmothers is the story of three very different women and their relationship with the younger generation: fiercely independent Nan, who leads a secret life as an award-winning poet when she is not teaching her grandson Billy how to lie; glamorous Blanche, deprived of the company of her beloved granddaughter Kitty by her hostile daughter-in-law, who finds solace in rebelliously taking to drink and shop lifting; and shy, bookish Minna who in the safety of shepherd's hut shares with her surrogate granddaughter Rose her passion for reading. The outlook of all three women subtly alters when through their encounters with each other they discover that the past is always with us and that we go on learning and changing until the very end. 
Grandmothers is a beautifully observed, sometimes subversive, often tender and elegiac novel from the Sunday Times bestselling author of The Librarian. 
Grandmothers don't get half as much attention in fiction as they deserve. Fairy tales are full of dead mothers, evil step-mothers and kind godmothers, but grandmothers are rather sparse on the ground. I struggled to think of a novel I'd read where grandmothers, or grandparents for that matter, played a major role. One of the things I've enjoyed about living in China is seeing how interconnected the different generations of Chinese families are. Grandparents are very involved in the lives of their grandchildren, perhaps more so than where I grew up and I can definitely see the benefits of that. Of course there are downsides to that as well, as the very reason that grandparents are so involved is because the parents themselves have to work a lot and can therefore not be as present themselves. I also have extremely fond memories of my own grandparents and it is undeniable they played a large role in making me who I am. I find myself remembering things about my grandmothers on an almost daily basis, which both adds to my missing them but also soothes the ache of it.

In Grandmothers Vickers introduces us to three different "grandmothers". While only two of them are technically related to the children they care for, each of them is infused with the stubborn love and dedication that I remember from my own grandmothers. The strongest personality of the three is Nan, a secret poet with a tragic past who is perhaps unconventional in the lessons she teaches her grandson. Blanche is losing her way when the novel first starts, but as she retraces part of her history she connects more fully with herself once again. Finally, there's Minna, who provides a safe haven for her surrogate granddaughter and consistently tries her very hardest. Grandmothers is a beautiful insight into the life of women we don't often hear about. At times Grandmothers does veer into the unbelievable. The grandmothers don't know each other at the beginning of the novel, yet become connected through the oddest of circumstances. It gives the novel an almost fairy tale-like feeling which disconnects it slightly from reality. There is also a sense of, perhaps, entitlement to Vickers' grandmothers that I can imagine will rankle parental readers.

Grandmothers is very readable, largely because Vickers' writing is very uncomplicated. Although the feelings she discusses run deep, her protagonists are children and the elderly, which seems to have led her to a rather calm and simple reading style. There are some very imaginative moments in this novel which were beautifully described and were definite highlights for me. I read Grandmothers in a single day, settled down with a cup of tea and stormy weather outside and it made the perfect, cozy read. It is easy to agree with the grandmothers' sentiment that they are undervalued, even if upon a second look some fo their behavior is rather questionable. Nan, Blanche and Minna aren't always likeable or right and although this adds some depth to the story, it isn't enough to make it a novel whose ideas linger on after the last page.

I give this novel...

3 Universes!

Vickers' story kept me hooked, even if I didn't feel entirely engaged by it. Part of the novel's attraction is a sense of nostalgia, as many of us have grandparents we fondly remember. Grandmothers, however, did leave me wondering as to what it's message was.

Friday, 15 November 2019

Friday Friyay: Susannah Cahalan's 'The Great Pretender'

I didn't manage to actually hop around much at all last week, which is a shame, but I promise to do better this week.

Let's get started with Book Beginnings at Rose City Reader, hosted by Gilion Dumas, and Friday 56 at Freda's Voice, hosted by Freda. This week I'm featuring the amazing The Great Pretender by Susannah Cahalan. My review for it went up earlier, it's an amazing deep dive into psychiatry and very well written. 

From "one of America's most courageous young journalists" (NPR) comes a propulsive narrative history investigating the 50-year-old mystery behind a dramatic experiment that changed the course of modern medicine.
For centuries, doctors have struggled to define mental illness-how do you diagnose it, how do you treat it, how do you even know what it is? In search of an answer, in the 1970s a Stanford psychologist named David Rosenhan and seven other people -- sane, normal, well-adjusted members of society -- went undercover into asylums around America to test the legitimacy of psychiatry's labels. Forced to remain inside until they'd "proven" themselves sane, all eight emerged with alarming diagnoses and even more troubling stories of their treatment. Rosenhan's watershed study broke open the field of psychiatry, closing down institutions and changing mental health diagnosis forever.
But, as Cahalan's explosive new research shows, very little in this saga is exactly as it seems. What really happened behind those closed asylum doors, and what does it mean for our understanding of mental illness today?
I decided to skip the preface and share the beginning of Chapter 1, 'Mirror Image'. 



BB:
'Psychiatry, as a distinct branch of medicine, has come far in its short life span. The field has rejected the shameful practices of the recent past - the lobotomies, forced sterilizations, human warehousing. Today psychiatrists boast a varied arsenal of effective drugs and have largely dropped the unscientific trappings of psychoanalytic psychobabble, the "schizophrenogenic" or "refrigerator" mother of yesteryear who had been blamed for triggering insanity in their offspring. Two decades into the twenty-firs century, psychiatry now recognizes that serious mental illnesses are legitimate brain disorders.' 1%
I know that's quite a lot, but I wanted to share the whole paragraph with you as it kind of sums up a lot of what The Great Pretender discusses, namely how psychiatry has changed, just what was done before, and how the change came about. What this opening doesn't quite show is just how readable Cahalan's writing is.

F56:
'When the promises of community care - first championed by JFK - never materialized, thousands of people were turned out from hospitals (where some had spent most of their lives) and had nowhere to go. When Rosenhan conducted his study, 5 percent of people in jail fit the criteria for serious mental illness - now it's 20 percent, or even higher.' 56%

Again, not the most cheerful quote but then this isn't an exactly cheerful topic. Realizing how bad the situation is for many is one of the hard truths of the book, but there is also a lot of hope and faith. 

And finally there is the gem that is Book Blogger Hop, hosted over at Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer.

           
Book Blogger Hop
Do you think that overall work morale would be improved by having a "Book lunch", sponsored by the company at least once a month, or perhaps once a week? (Participation would be voluntary) - Maria @ A Night's Dream of Books

This is such an awesome question! The Women's Society at my company started a Book club about a year ago, which I know isn't quite the same thing as a book lunch, but I still love it. It's not a big group, but we meet once a month and it's lovely connecting with other people at work over something I enjoy so much. (One and the other women in the group and I have actually split off into a second little group called 'Book Snobs' where we discuss books and articles we've read on a more frequent basis.) It has definitely added to my relationship with some of my coworkers, especially when I got my whole team hooked on one of the books we read.

I think it could definitely add as long as it is voluntary and there is no unspoken pressure either. We have a lot of other "social" things at our company like lunches etc. and they can be really fun but can also feel forced.

Review: 'The Great Pretender' by Susannah Cahalan

According to NAMI, 1 in 25 American adults experience serious mental illness each year. That's an enormous number and it's even more shocking when you consider the state of mental health treatment. I haven't done a lot of reading around this topic as it makes me sad, but I found that The Great Pretender was a great starter. I also once again owe thanks to LitHub for a great excerpt from and article about this book which brought it to my attention.
Thanks to Grand Central Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 11/5/29019
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

From "one of America's most courageous young journalists" (NPR) comes a propulsive narrative history investigating the 50-year-old mystery behind a dramatic experiment that changed the course of modern medicine.
For centuries, doctors have struggled to define mental illness-how do you diagnose it, how do you treat it, how do you even know what it is? In search of an answer, in the 1970s a Stanford psychologist named David Rosenhan and seven other people -- sane, normal, well-adjusted members of society -- went undercover into asylums around America to test the legitimacy of psychiatry's labels. Forced to remain inside until they'd "proven" themselves sane, all eight emerged with alarming diagnoses and even more troubling stories of their treatment. Rosenhan's watershed study broke open the field of psychiatry, closing down institutions and changing mental health diagnosis forever.
But, as Cahalan's explosive new research shows, very little in this saga is exactly as it seems. What really happened behind those closed asylum doors, and what does it mean for our understanding of mental illness today?
Over the past few years the conversation around mental health has changed drastically. Amongst my friends and peers, seeing a therapist is no longer something you need to hide or be ashamed off. Suffering from anxiety or depression is not just accepted, it is something friends will try to support you in as well. However, there is still a very long way to go when it comes to enough support and treatment being available. It means people are suffering with no recourse, especially in countries where healthcare doesn't receive enough funding. Books such as The Great Pretender, which dig into the history of psychiatry, the different forms it has taken and the studies that have shaken it up, is a great start to educate more people, while also sharing the deeply personal stories of those suffering from mental health stories.

Cahalan prefaces this book with her own story of hospitalization for encephalitis (She wrote her first book, Brain on Fire, about her experiences) and how the drastically the treatment she received changed once her diagnosis became physical rather than mental. She begins her research into why mental health issues are treated so differently from other physical ailments by looking into asylums and those, like Nellie Bly, who tried to expose them for their treatment in the 19th century. From there she discovers Rosenhan's study 'On Being Sane in Insane Places', a study that shook psychiatry and contirbuted to American institutions being closed and psychiatric diagnosis becoming more rigid and impersonal. As she digs in deeper and deeper, Cahalan frequently makes segues to explain more of the history of psychiatry in the USA. The story of Rosemary Kennedy absolutely broke my heart and the knowledge that what happened to her happened to countless of other people against their will is chilling. It is what makes the end of The Great Pretender very important. Towards the end, as she uncovers more and more oddities about Rosehan's study, Cahalan addresses both the revolutionary discoveries being made and the skepticism towards scientific studies that has grown more prevalent. She doesn't take the easy road and solely blame scientists, not at the end or at any point in the book. Rather, Cahalan uses her own experience and that of others to show how necessary medicine and good care is, while not shying away to show the darker spots where greed and complacency have wrecked lives. The Great Pretender is a read that packs a punch and that has had me thinking for a while now.

Susannah Cahalan is a great writer and her experience in journalism shines through in The Great Pretender. She ties all her research, her data and her conversations into a personal odyssey to find out everything she can about the study that had an enormous impact on her as well as the field of psychiatry. Cahalan manages to make this journey exciting, frustrating, eye-opening and truly emotional, which means that the 400-odd pages of The Great Pretender flew by for me. It's meticulously researched but written almost like a thriller novel. Cahalan's own frustration and pain is very clear, but so is her hope and trust in the improvement of the industry. I will definitely be reading Brain on Fire next and keep an eye out for furthering writing by Cahalan.

I give this book...

5 Universes!

The Great Pretender was a great read and one that has resulted in a big list of further reading. Cahalan's writing is engaging and her research detailed. I'd recommend this to anyone with an interest in psychiatry or looking for a good non-fiction read.

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Review: 'Humiliation: Stories' by Paulina Flores, trans. Megan McDowell

I've been overjoyed the past few years with all of the amazing short story collections being released, especially those released my young, female first-time authors. I think part of it is the thrill of discovering your own emotions and experiences in fiction, perhaps not for the first time but definitely in a way that feels truer than ever before. Thanks to Oneworld Publications and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 11/7/2019
Publisher: Oneworld Publications
An uncompromisingly honest collection of short stories, examining with unique perspicacity the missteps, mistakes and misunderstanding that define our lives. 
A father walks the streets of Santiago with his two daughters in tow. Jobless, ashamed, and blind to his older child's adoration, he unwittingly leads them to the scene of the greatest humiliation of his life. 
A woman catches the eye of a young man outside a library. The pair exchange a cigarette and a few brief words, but what should have been nothing more than a brief flirtation soon takes a darker turn. 
Throughout the nine tales that make up this astounding debut, Paulina Flores narrates with astonishing clarity the moment in which her characters stumble from an age of innocence to the harsh reality of disillusionment. 
Written with uncompromising honesty, tenderness, and a Carver-esque attention to detail, Humiliation establishes Paulina Flores as one of the most exciting new voices in Latin America today.
In Humiliation women of all ages abound. Girls who love their fathers, girls who lie, mothers who leave their sons, women that love, women that despair, women that question, women that give selflessly, women that crave, women that learn. Although the collection isn't solely about women, I was fascinated by the wide variety of female experiences shown in Humiliation. The same is true for the stories with male narrators. Each is forced to reckon with a moment where, seemingly, everything changes and they have to become aware of the real world. There is a cruelty to how Flores unveils to her characters what the "real world" is like, with its disappointment, consequences and loneliness. This may sound to some like Millennial complaining about why the world is so hard, but what Flores shows is that universal moment in which, as the blurb suggests, innocence is lost. Almost all of the stories focus on young children on the verge of adulthood, experiencing their first real taste of both excitement and desperation, caught in a moment that might forever define them or turn out to mean nothing. Flores masterfully captions the importance children attribute to small things, while missing the larger picture.

The stories in Humiliation are incredibly acute, almost painfully so. The first story, the eponymous 'Humiliation' perfectly encapsulates the pure adoration children have for their parents, as well as the constant fear of disappointment that surrounds that adoration. As the first story, it sets the perfect tone for the rest of the collection.  In multiple stories Flores shows the quiet desperation of the adults in the background. Frequently it is unemployment, an unequal share of the work at home, or poverty. It grounds the stories in a harsh but recognizable reality. 'Forgetting Freddy' is one of the most fear-inducing stories I have read recently, as we see a woman trying to get over the end of her relationship. The final story of the collection is perhaps the strongest, and longest, one. 'Lucky Me' tracks two seemingly separate narratives, one that follows the hesitant friendship between two school girls from different backgrounds, and one that follows a lonely young woman who spies on her neighbours' having sex and feels, quite simply, lost.

This is Paulina Flores' first short story collection and it was first released in Chile in 2015. Her writing is somehow both restrained and deeply emotional. There are no bells and whistles here, Flores doesn't over-exaggerate and doesn't get lost in detail. And yet the world she writes about is easily recognized, as are her characters. There are moments of dark humour, of affection, of dread, but hardly any moment of release. The sense that it all keeps going, that there is no escaping what is happening, suffuses these stories to me and makes it, at times, quite difficult to read. Megan McDowell does a brilliant job at translating the tranquil and sparse prose and I can't wait to read more of Flores' writing in the future.

I give this collection...

5 Universes!

Humiliation is a brilliant short story collection that captures disillusionment, hope, seduction, fear and everything in between. Truly human and yet somehow above it, I would recommend this short story collection to everyone.

Friday, 8 November 2019

Friday Friyay: Paulina Flores' 'Humiliation'

It's finally Friday. This week has felt like a year for some reason. Work really has been a lot for the past few weeks so I'm really looking forward to a weekend of nothing. Well, not nothing! Hopefully there'll be plenty of reading and blogging. So let's start the weekend off right with some blog-hopping fun!

Let's get started with Book Beginnings at Rose City Reader, hosted by Gilion Dumas, and Friday 56 at Freda's Voice, hosted by Freda. Today I'm featuring my latest read: Humiliation: Stories by Pauline Flores, which was actually released yesterday! My review is coming tomorrow.
An uncompromisingly honest collection of short stories, examining with unique perspicacity the missteps, mistakes and misunderstanding that define our lives. 
A father walks the streets of Santiago with his two daughters in tow. Jobless, ashamed, and blind to his older child's adoration, he unwittingly leads them to the scene of the greatest humiliation of his life. 
A woman catches the eye of a young man outside a library. The pair exchange a cigarette and a few brief words, but what should have been nothing more than a brief flirtation soon takes a darker turn. 
Throughout the nine tales that make up this astounding debut, Paulina Flores narrates with astonishing clarity the moment in which her characters stumble from an age of innocence to the harsh reality of disillusionment. 
Written with uncompromising honesty, tenderness, and a Carver-esque attention to detail, Humiliation establishes Paulina Flores as one of the most exciting new voices in Latin America today.
BB:
Humiliation: '"Are we almost there?" moaned Pia. "I'm tired." Simona watched her younger sister panting and dragging her feet. "Shhhh," she said, "quit whining."' 1%
This is from the collection's first tale, 'Humiliation'. I found its representation of the relationship between two sisters incredibly poignant but was also blown away by how artfully Flores' crafted the bonds between the different family members. It is the kind of story that your mind continues to ponder over after you read it and my thoughts on it have only gotten more complex.


F56:
Laika: 'What I'm going to relate here happened the last summer of my childhood, or what I understand to be my childhood, a sort of instinctive or unconscious state that came before my life changed and took on a definitive direction.' 56%
This is the opening line of the story 'Laika' and it's a great start. I think we all have a moment like this, that we look back on as the moment where childhood ended. It is usually a very ambiguous moment, one that brings both good and bad memories back with it. Reading this story, Flores beautifully showed that moment of awareness we all have at some point, that we are now at a crossroads and that things, that we, will be different.

I've also rediscovered the gem that is Book Blogger Hop, hosted over at Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer.

           
Book Blogger Hop

Can you stop reading before the end of a chapter? (submitted by Elizabeth @ Silver's Reviews)

Ooh that's a hard question! It reeeaalllyy depends! Usually, the answer is no. The ending of a chapter is the perfect point at which to take a break from a narrative. However, in some genres the end of a chapter is often a cliffhanger, which means that it's even harder to stop. That is how I find myself reading until 4am! 

The only time I stop midway through is if, for example, a paragraph ends on a particularly poignant note or carries some weight. Sometimes I end on a particularly squeal-worthy moment or on the very brink of a moment of action. I usually read during my lunch breaks and just before bed, so the excitement of ending on the cusp of something then carries me through the rest of the day or night.

Do you finish end of chapter-only? Or do you change it up sometimes? And let me know what you think of the quotes from Humiliation!

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Review: 'Written in History: Letters that Changed the World' by Simon Sebag Montefiore

When I was a kid, I always felt like we had tons of "coffee table books". Those books that you don't read in one go but that you peek into when you've sat down with a cup of coffee and when you're looking for 10 minutes of quiet. Anything can be a coffee table book. A book on art, a puzzle book, maybe a comic strip or even a collection of letters. As such, I felt right at home in Written in History. Thanks to Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Vintage and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for a review.

Pub. Date: 10/15/2019
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing; Vintage
Written in History: Letters that Changed the World celebrates the great letters of world history, and cultural and personal life. Bestselling, prizewinning historian Simon Sebag Montefiore selects letters that have changed the course of global events or touched a timeless emotion—whether passion, rage, humor—from ancient times to the twenty-first century. Some are noble and inspiring, some despicable and unsettling, some are exquisite works of literature, others brutal, coarse, and frankly outrageous, many are erotic, others heartbreaking. It is a surprising and eclectic selection, from the four corners of the world, filled with extraordinary women and men, from ancient times to now.
Truly a choice of letters for our own times encompassing love letters to calls for liberation to declarations of war to reflections on life and death. The writers vary from Elizabeth I and Catherine the Great to Mandela, Stalin and Picasso, Fanny Burney and Emily Pankhurst to Ada Lovelace and Rosa Parks, Oscar Wilde, Chekhov and Pushkin to Balzac, Mozart and Michelangelo, Hitler, Rameses the Great and Alexander Hamilton to Augustus and Churchill, Lincoln, Donald Trump and Suleiman the Magnificent.
In a book that is a perfect gift, here is a window on astonishing characters, seminal events, and unforgettable words. In the colorful, accessible style of a master storyteller, Montefiore shows why these letters are essential reading and how they can unveil and enlighten the past—and enrich the way we live now.
Sebag Montefiore isn't the first to recognize the power of personal letters. Alongside many published diaries, you can find the published letters of countless of authors and important figures in bookstores. Reading Written in History I was reminded of how much I loved writing letters and postcard when I was younger. Writing emails doesn't have quite the same feel to it since it somehow, and illogically, feels more ... impermanent.  As such, Written in History is something of an ode to letter writing, celebrating what some call a dying art. This collection shows how much of ourselves we show in our letters and how our writing can be the start and end of something. This is also why it feels like a "coffee table book", because Written in History lets you dip into all kinds of feelings, whether it's excitement, sadness or nostalgia. It doesn't require a lot of attention and focus, but it is the perfect starting point for quiet contemplation or exciting conversation.

The only thing to really complain about with Written in History is that it's subtitle is a little dramatic and misleading. In their own way, many of those who wrote the letters in this collection did change the world, but these letters themselves often didn't. Most of the letters in this collection are fascinating. Although not all readers will find each letter equally fascinating, there is something for everyone here. Written in History is divided into different sections, such as 'Love', 'Family' and even 'Goodbye'. It's a nice way to group together letters from across the ages. We get a sassy response from a Pharaoh, a frankly disgusting if hilarious letter from Mozart, Churchill's lovely farewell letter to his wife, and even Trump's letter to Kim Jong-Il. Some of the letters showed me a whole new side of these people, usually for the better but occasionally also for the worse. Sebag Montefiore prefaces each letter with a short introduction, relaying some of the context of the letter and background to those that wrote it. His writing style is very pleasant and this made me curious to seek out his other books.

I give this collection...

3 Universes!

Written in History is a lovely collection of letters from across the ages. There will be something for everyone here and some letters are truly touching.

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Review: 'Best Critical Writing' ed. by Nora Rawn & John Grafton

One of the things I enjoyed most about studying English Literature was reading literature criticism. I know that sounds a bit dry, but there's nothing as fun as reading what writers have to say both about their own craft and the writing of others. Dover Publications has been my go-to for a lot of critical writing and compendiums of writing, so I was very excited to read Best Critical Writing. Thanks to Dover Publications and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 7/17/2019
Publisher: Dover Publications
In "The Critic as Artist," Oscar Wilde declares that the critic's artistic capabilities are as important as those of the artist. Wilde's passionate defense of the aesthetics of art criticism is among the wide-ranging and thought-provoking essays of this original collection, in which noted writers discuss the role of criticism in English and American literature. 
Contents include Edgar Allan Poe's "The Philosophy of Composition," in which the author draws upon his most famous poem, "The Raven," to illustrate his theories on writing; Matthew Arnold's "The Study of Poetry"; and commentaries on Shakespeare's plays by Samuel Johnson and Wordsworth's poetry by William Hazlitt. Walter Pater, whose work was highly influential on the writers of the Aesthetic Movement, is represented by an essay on style. Other selections include Mark Twain's satirical "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offences" and the "Preface to Leaves of Grass" by Walt Whitman. Brief introductory notes accompany each essay.
The first thing that drew me to this book was the cover. I loved the image of the pen turning into a sword, dripping not ink but blood. A lot of critical writing can be beautifully vicious, which is something many people forget about. No one is quite as dramatic or gifted than a writer with something, or someone, to criticize. Careers are both forged and tanked this way, which is why it is such a joy to read. However, critical essays aren't just about grandstanding between authors. Rawn and Grafton preface each essay with a short, very short, introduction which is definitely helpful for those not familiar with everyone in this collection.

This collection starts with Edgar Allan Poe's essay 'The Philosophy of Composition', in which he lays bare his own method of crafting his famous poem 'The Raven'. It is a miracle that he not only makes poetry composition seem easy, but that he also makes reading about it fun. Oscar Wilde's 'The Critic As Artist' is typical of all his writing, and that is meant as a compliment. It overflows with beautiful phrases while seriously discussing the role and skill of the critic and why they're important in the creation of art. I also found Mark Twain's 'Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offences' a hilarious read It is a more typical example of an author using a pen as a sword, but it also gives some insight into Twain's own ideas on writing. Walt Whitman's 'Preface to Leaves of Grass' is beautifully written, if at times a little hard to follow. It is more of a doctrine than a critical essay, but it brilliantly reveals the role of poets in society. Not every essay in this collection will be equally, or consistently, interesting to every reader. I found Samuel Johnson's commentary on Shakespeare mostly interesting, for example, while Walter Pater's essay on style wasn't quite my cup of tea. But in general, Best Critical Writing is a great collection of brilliant writing that will enrich anyone's understanding of the tradition of literary criticism.

I give this collection...

3 Universes.

Although definitely intended for a niche market, Best Critical Writing is a great collection, very competently edited by both Nora Rawn and John Grafton. This will make an excellent resource for anyone with an interest in literary criticism.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Review: Faces in the Crowd: 36 Extraordinary Tales of Tianjin' by Feng Jicai , trans. by Olivia Milburn

I've been trying to read more and more Chinese literature while I live in Shanghai and it has really enriched my experience here. Many of them were set in Shanghai, so I decided to branch out when I saw Faces in the Crowd, which has given me a fascinating insight into a city I'm yet to visit: Tianjin. Thanks to Sinoist Books and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 11/2/2019
Publisher: Alain Charles Asia Publishing; Sinoist Books
In a series of beautifully illustrated short stories, author and artist Feng Jicai introduces some weird and wonderful characters from the port city of Tianjin in northeast China where he was born and raised. They include a miracle doctor, a master chicken-thief, an ill-mannered mynah bird, a smooth-talking restaurateur and an educated gangster.
In the gateway city, only the best stories survive
The port of Tianjin is where the ancient Chinese empire met the sea. The turn of the 20th century was a tumultuous time for the city, with the Qing dynasty on its last legs and the Boxers unleashing their ill-fated rebellion against the European trading concessions that had colonised its streets. 
For Tianjin’s inhabitants, daily life carried on. These hardy people were shaped by the bitter earth from which they sprang, and every once in a while, there would emerge someone so remarkable that a new name would be inducted into Tianjin’s hall of fame.From a miracle doctor to an ill-mannered mynah bird, they came from every walk of life and in all shapes and sizes. Together, their stories make up the rich tapestry of a city that the modern world has washed away...
Born in Tianjin in 1942, Feng Jicai is a contemporary author, artist and cultural scholar who rose to prominence as a pioneer of China's Scar Literature movement that emerged after the Cultural Revolution. He has published almost a hundred literary works in China and more than forty internationally. He is proficient in both Chinese and western artistic techniques, and his artwork has been exhibited in China, Japan, the US, Singapore and Austria. He has had a major influence on contemporary Chinese society with his work on the Project to Save Chinese Folk Cultural Heritages and his roles as honorary member of the Literature and Arts Association, honorary president of the China Folk Literature and Art Association and adviser to the State Council, among others. He is also dean, professor and PhD supervisor at the Feng Jicai Institute of Literature and Art, Tianjin University.
Faces in the Crowd presents the reader with 36 short tales, taken from the streets of Tianjin of the 19th and 20th century. This collection of stories feels like walking down the streets of old-school Tianjin, dropping in here or there to pick up a story. It's like sitting down in a restaurant or tea house and just listening to the conversations going on all around you. There are stories about food, business, reputation, disaster, and just stories about good old fun! Part of Feng Jicai's work is in preserving the old stories and traditions of China as it roars its way towards the future, and there's stories are a key part of that. Getting to know an enormous city like Tianjin through its people and its history is fascinating and Jicai's tone throughout makes it feel like a gentle, friendly visit.

My favourite story probably came towards the end and was called 'The Yellow Lotus Divine Matriarch'. It was a story about the Boxer Uprising, and especially about the Red Lanterns, the women's fighting groups, as the village women weren't allowed to join the men's groups. There is something very mythical and powerful about this story, the women and their leader, the titular Yellow Lotus Divine Matriarch'. It is also a story about resistance and the magic these women said to hold. Some of these stories, like 'The Swallow, Li San', felt very fable-like. Most of the stories, except three, are about men which was a little bit of a disappointment. However, there is still plenty to enjoy as Jicai excels at drawing character profiles despite the brevity of the stories. These stories made me curious to read his larger works and explore all he has to offer as both a writer and an artist.

Each story is prefaced by a small drawing, done by Jicai himself. He explains how after writing the stories the characters were still with him and that drawing them was like a final farewell. The drawings are simply but incredibly evocative and I really enjoyed revisiting the drawings after each story and rediscover it all anew. Jicai is unsentimental and direct in his stories, there is no pretense at trying to make anything appear better than it truly is. These stories are humorous and offer a whole new insight into what Tianjin was like in the previous centuries. It is so important to get these kind of insights and this kind of enjoyment into other kind of cultures and countries.

I give this collection...

5 Universes!

Faces in the Crowd is a brilliant collection of short stories, introducing the reader to the Tianjin of yore. Combining his stories with his drawings, Feng Jicai almost recreates this Tianjin for his readers and makes them hungry for more from them.

Friday, 1 November 2019

Friday Friyay: Book Beginnings, Blog Hops Friday 56

The Bluest EyeI am not as consistent at posting on Fridays as I used to be, but here I am, doing my best once again. I actually get so much joy out of visiting new blogs, revisiting old ones and seeing everyone thriving! 

On Fridays we go to Book Beginnings at Rose City Reader, hosted by Gilion Dumas, and Friday 56 at Freda's Voice, hosted by Freda. This week I'm featuring a read for the book club at work: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. She sadly passed away last month and this is my first experience reading her writing.
The Bluest Eye is Toni Morrison's first novel, a book heralded for its richness of language and boldness of vision. Set in the author's girlhood hometown of Lorain, Ohio, it tells the story of black, eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove. Pecola prays for her eyes to turn blue so that she will be as beautiful and beloved as all the blond, blue-eyed children in America. In the autumn of 1941, the year the marigolds in the Breedloves' garden do not bloom. Pecola's life does change- in painful, devastating ways. 
What its vivid evocation of the fear and loneliness at the heart of a child's yearning, and the tragedy of its fulfillment. The Bluest Eye remains one of Tony Morrisons's most powerful, unforgettable novels- and a significant work of American fiction.

Let's get to it! For BB I'm cheating a little and sharing the beginning of the Foreword rather than the novel, since it really stuck with me. 


Book Beginnings:
Foreword - 'There can’t be anyone, I am sure, who doesn’t know what it feels like to be disliked, even rejected, momentarily or for sustained periods of time. Perhaps the feeling is merely indifference, mild annoyance, but it may also be hurt. It may even be that some of us know what it is like to be actually hated— hated for things we have no control over and cannot change.' p.ix
Yes, that'll do it. I think everyone can recognize themselves in the feelings Morrison describes. In the Foreword she continues on speaking about the damage done when that rejection or dislike is internalized and this foreword definitely prepped me for the gravity of what The Bluest Eye describes, even when her tone in the novel seems very kind.

Friday 56:
'Except for Marie’s fabled love for Dewey Prince, these women hated men, all men, without shame, apology, or discrimination. They abused their visitors with a scorn grown mechanical from use.' p.56
This phrase is part of a larger argument, made about prostitutes. I haven't actually gotten this far in the novel yet, so I'm not quite sure what is happening. However, I'm very intrigued by their backstory, their role in the plot and what they might end up doing with their anger. I can't say it's probably not justified.
Have you read The Bluest Eye or any of Toni Morrison's other works? Leave a comment with the link to your Friday post and I'll be happy to drop by!

I've also rediscovered the gem that is Book Blogger Hop, hosted over at Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer.

The question for today is: Do you read classics? If so, what is your favourite?

Isn't this just the most perfect question for me to come back to?! I have a whole page dedicated to the 100 Classics I'm reading/want to read/have read, inspired by the Classics Club. It's really hard to pick a favourite, but below is a small list because I can't pick just one:
There are so many more, but this is a fair start! Can't wait to see what Classic recommendations I'll pick up from this week's hop!