February 13, 2017

Recent Reads

10. Queer: A Graphic History
Book blurb: From identity politics and gender roles to privilege and exclusion, Queer explores how we came to view sex, gender and sexuality in the ways that we do; how these ideas get tangled up with our culture and our understanding of biology, psychology and sexology; and how these views have been disputed and challenged.

I was at a gathering recently where people were asked to introduce themselves, and identify which pronouns they prefer. Huh? There are times I feel so dang old. Sigh.

This nonfiction graphic novel is a historical overview of queer theory. There were things I knew, much I did not, much I learned, and though I'm not sure I understood everything being covered, this is one I will certainly be reading again. Lots to ponder and highly recommended. Rating: 4 stars.

11. My Brilliant Friend (L'amica geniale #1)
This book is translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein, and I listened to the audiobook, which is really well narrated by Hillary Huber.

The hype surrounding this book and the entire quartet made me uneasy. I tend not to like books that are really buzzy, plus several friends did not have positive things to say about it. Since I'm trying to read more translated works in 2017, I decided to give it a try, and I'm so very glad I did.

The story is set in the 1950s, in a poor neighborhood outside Naples, and revolves around two young girls, Elena and Lila. The story is told entirely from Elena's point of view. This is a coming of age story, and is rather wonderfully spun. It's not unusual to get close up looks at the lives of boys, but it's rarer to get those types of stories about girls. This story is not plot driven, but is a delightful character study, so if you are looking for a fast paced plot, this one's not for you.

The story explores the friendship between two young girls, and the challenges their friendship faces as they grow up and take different paths through life. This quite feminist story explores the lives, choices, and agency or lack-there-of available to girls and women in this community, and asks us to look at how those play out in our lives as well. I love these girls, and completely related to their push-me-pull-you friendship. My heart ached at certain points, especially when certain paths were closed off to them because of circumstances outside their control. It's generally understood that parents want a better life for their children than they had, but what sorrows and heart break await those parents when their children become unrecognizable to them and their old way of life? Children have dreams of their own, but how do they cope when those pursuits change them so that they no longer fit in with their families or communities?

This story clearly resonated for me, and I really enjoyed this journey. I docked a star, because I felt that there were plot points that did not add to the story, but maybe I'll find they are there for a reason when I get to the next book in the series. Rating: 4 stars.

12. How to Survive in the North
When we make poor choices, does it help to know that others have done the same with much more catastrophic results?

This graphic novel combines three narratives, two historical and one fictional, of people making bad decisions. The historical ones are both Arctic explorations, namely Vilhjalmur Stefansson's 1912 and 1926 expeditions. The 2013 fictional one is the story of a professor caught having an affair with a student. Things do not go well in any of the narratives, and it's interesting to see the links between the stories unfold. The flat colors of the art evoke the right mood, and help to determine which narrative one is reading, which is useful as we go back and forth between these three stories. A quick and enjoyable read. Rating: 3 stars.

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