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!