Wednesday, May 22, 2013

15-16: The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest - Stieg Larsson

"Salander was the woman who hated men who hate women" 

The first time I heard about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was on NPR in a comparison between Lisbeth Salander and Bella Swan (really, the article is here). It intrigued me, especially because I was reading the Hunger Games when I heard it and I really wanted to think about the role that women (especially young women) were playing in popular contemporary books. I promptly thought "I should read that some day" and added it to my mental list of millions of books.

Then my parents went on a vacation. They like to fly to a place, rent a car, and drive around for a week or so looking at things, taking fotos, and listening to books on tape. They had gotten GWTDT from the library for some reason and were totally bored, but had nothing else left. Then, as my mom tells it, they hit that glorious moment in an audiobook where all of a sudden you don't care what you're doing as long as you're driving. Upon their return they devoured the sequels and told me I must read them immediately. I promptly thought "I should really read that some day" and added it to my mental list of millions of books minus the ones I head already read since the last time I looked at the list. 

In 2012 I finally allowed myself to read GWTDT over spring break. It was juicy, I didn't sleep, I was hooked, and I knew I could not allow myself to read anymore or risk dropping out of grad school and/or quitting my job, so I set aside and ignored the sequels until I finished my Master's. 

My major issue with GWTDT was the epic rape scene which was incredibly difficult for me to read and I couldn't see how SL could justify it. I posted on my Facebook page to ask for advice on whether or not to continue. At what point does detailing something horrible cross the line from important-to-the-plot/informational/eye-opening to exploiting-tragic-experiences/rapertainment? I almost never pull the Rape Victim Card, but if the whole book was going to be rapertainment I was ready to pull the card and spit on everyone who loved this series. Fortunately, Facebook told me to persevere, and ultimately as the novels wrapped up the epic rape scene was necessary enough to the plot that I will refrain from spitting on SL. 

Rape victim revenge, secret government conspiracy theories, crazy serial killers, organized crime, journalism, writers, secrets, revenge violence, poverty to luxury with pretensions, hot lesbian sex, hot straight sex, a tiny punked out pierced and tattooed girl, a buff muscular chick, a chubby dyke who loves leather - I mean seriously? What more could you want out of a book? (I was about to say hot gay sex but that's totally in there too!)

It is an incredibly satisfying page turner if you like suspenseful thrillers. Writing isn't brilliant, but I am always a fan of texts that have multiple POVS and incorporate a variety of genre within the story. The plot ended at just the right time as well - while I can see where there was space for the SL to continue the books into a longer series, and I would have read them all, I think it would have become a thing where I read them just because I can't let the characters go and not because I think I'll be getting more out of the books (I'm looking at you Orson Scott Card). 

What probably made my reading experience more terrible and real was the fact that Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight were rescued and I read some terrible articles on Geoffrey Portway a man who could be straight from a SL novel (made a secret basement with cutting table, cage, coffin, and fridge, was trying to get people to kidnap kids for him, had tons of child porn that also featured dead, tortured, and mutilated children). 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

14: The Hollow Kingdom - Clare B. Dunkle

"Imagine as she stood by the bonfire tonight, she saw outlandish and otherworldly sights, and when I cam toward her to lift her on this this horse here, she knew - she just knew - that if she let me put her onto this horse, she'd be galloped away beyond the world we know into some strange, shadowy underworld." - Goblin King

"Why would I remember that? Do I guard Kings? I do not worry about the minor details of King's lives. I only remember what is important." - the snake that guards the King's Wife

This young adult book was handed to me by an AP student before winter break with the hopes that I would read it before my next semester began. Instead, I spent the break recovering from a kind-of-cracked-heart and did not read it which of course lead to this semester, also known as the semester-where-I-read-nothing-light-or-fun-ever. 

Fortunately, my last paper is written and I am one presentation away from being finished with grad school. Unfortunately, I have pink eye and need to take the next few days off of work so I am actually a little excited to read some things that are light and fun.

My first thought when starting the book is that it is very different from the literary masterpieces I've been reading. It is a Young Adult fantasy novel targeted towards kids in grades 5-9, and I don't think anyone is picking it up expecting to discover the next Marquez which is totally okay.

Plot has pretty typical motifs that we're seeing in a lot of YA work recently: orphaned children, supernatural creatures, surprising superpowers, weird-stalkery-love from a supernatural creature to a young woman where doesn't really have any choice or control over. What is super atypical is how fucking badass our orphaned young ladies are. I have been a little checked out of the YA scene for the past few years, and I hope this is a new trend. For the record, this book came out in 2003, five years before Katniss Everdeen ever grabbed a bow and arrow.

Our story takes place in the countryside during the Industrial Revolution in England. Kate and Emily have recently been orphaned after being raised by their father who had crazy ideas like young women should be educated in literature and science, and they are shipped off to distant relatives who are the closest thing to appropriate guardians. Very early in the text it becomes clear that there are magical races still alive (goblins, elves, dwarves) and one has decided that Kate must become his bride. 

I don't want to give too much away, as this is NOT the Scarlet Letter where we all know the plot and read it anyway, so I'm going to obliquely reference some of the very awesome things this book does without giving away too much about the plot. 

Kate is beautiful, of course, but more importantly she is FIERCE and SMART. She uses her limited physical capabilities (she is an undersized teenager after all) and her intelligence to scheme and plan and foil her enemies, and when she needs to, she uses weapons, and yes, she totally kills. Emma is our minor character whose virtues are in her SWEETNESS. Oh are you an ugly little baby goblin who is scared? Don't worry, Emma will coo at you and make it all better. She's also incredibly CURIOUS which is a useful plot tool because she asks questions that the reader is wondering and thus we get the backstory we need, but it's also just nice to see so many quality characteristics spread across two young women. 

Probably because I'm in a gender class right now, I'm paying a lot more attention to it, but the mythos this book presents about women, marriage, and pregnancy are an interesting and welcome balance of sweet/romantic/chivalrous and feminist (see the above snake who knows EVERYTHING about every king's wife and could care less about unimportant king's lives). Also, because there are different races who look quite different from humans, it has a great message about discrimination but it's woven into the story and doesn't feel didactic.

Overall, I'd be very very happy for more young people, particularly young women, to read this book. It satisfies what I want out of light reading but also upholds all the values that I want young women to have. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

13: The Woman Warrior - Maxine Hong Kingston

"Normal Chinese women's voices are strong and bossy. We American-Chinese girls had to whisper to make ourselves American-feminine. Apparently we whispered even more softly than the Americans...."

"Girls are maggots on the rice..."
"It is more profitable to raise geese than daughters..."
"Feeding girls is feeding cowbirds..."
"When you raise a girl, you're raising children for strangers..."
"When fishing for treasures in the flood, be careful not to pull in girls..."

This is my second reading of this particular novel. The first time I read it, I just read it for pleasure; this time I read it for my Gender and Lit class and had to give an oral report on it the day before my comps. My presentation was so thorough my professor asked if the book was on my list - it wasn't. I have spent the last four weeks recovering from my comps, existing in a catatonic state where I don't want to do anything academic (which is really unfortunate because after my exam I still had five weeks of school left. Four weeks of reading theory, and one 15 page paper left. I still haven't written my paper, due Thursday, which is the only thing standing between me and my MA. Can't. Force. Myself. To. Do. It. Procrastinating. On. The. Internetz. Also. Have. Pink. Eye. And. The. Flu. Yay. Public. School. Teaching. So. Many. Germz. <-evidence that I am incapable of writing the last 10 pages of my paper). 

Anyhow, blah blah blah.

First of all, this book is for everyone. It's probably one of the most important Asian-American books out there (can anyone think of one more important?). If you are interested in women, Chinese culture, story telling, America, immigrants, mother-daughter relationships, or speaking English as a second language, then it's particularly interesting for you. The first time I read it, I remember feeling really satisfied when I finished, but I can't remember why. The second time I read it, I was really looking for something that I could present to the class because there is nothing more humiliating than having nothing interesting to say to a group of your grad school peers, and I decided to focus on voice and silencing. An excerpt from this book is commonly found in high school anthologies where the main character corners another Chinese-American girl in the bathroom and tries to bully her into speaking as the girl refuses to talk in all aspects of her life, so I decided to focus my readings on that knowing that that moment would be coming up near the end.

The book is a collection of five stories/essays (depending on if you're reading this as memoir or fiction) which read a little longer than your typical short stories. Almost all have to do with being a woman and the family's history in some way. Some are fantasy, some are rooted in reality, but all are interesting snapshots of one family's life from China to America and sometimes back again. 

I still claim that I am braindead, and thus the shortness of this review!