Reading Around the Web

I have been doing some very interesting reading around the web of lately, so here it is a compilation of the posts that I liked the most and that I think you will enjoy as much as I did:

  • O tweeted a link to this article on The Guardian: Don’t stop prisoners receiving books, they’re a vital rehabilitation tool. I am appalled by the Ministry of Justice not allowing prisoners to receive books anymore. I visited the state prison’s women section over here last year and they were very proud about their library although it mainly contained romance novels. One of the women said to me that she had rediscovered reading and, in a more practical way admitted that either you kept yourself busy while in there or you went crazy, and books worked perfectly for this.
  • Sam Baker also twitted a link to an inspiring Gloria Steinem quote on the event of her 80th birthday, but the link was not working, so instead I found it here. Happy birthday, Gloria!

“I have yet to hear a man ask for advice on how to combine marriage and a career.”

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Feminist Sunday

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Feminist Sundays is a weekly meme created at Books and Reviews. The aim is simply to have a place and a time to talk about feminism and women’s issues. This is a place of tolerance, creativity, discussion, criticism and praise. Remember to keep in mind that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, although healthy discussion is encouraged.

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB AND AIDS

Last Saturday I finally watched Dallas Buyers Club, a movie that I had long wanted to see because it speaks of an era that changed the world. For those of you who do not know about it, Dallas Buyers Club tells the story of Ron Woodroof who has recently been diagnosed with AIDS and is looking for a way out of the system that, he thinks, is just killing AIDS patients with their drug testing. This all takes place in Dallas in 1985 when AIDS was still not completely understood and people were afraid of those suffering from it. But since it is a movie, here is the trailer.

Now, why this movie and this theme? First of all because of a personal interest since my mom has been a nurse since the early 1980′s and the chaos and confusion that she and medical staff had to face until they discovered what was AIDS and how it was transmitted is epic. I do not know how they made it, but these people deserve all my respect and love. Secondly, because at the time AIDS was a “queer/fagot’s disease”. The movie makes a great point of who and how were affected: Ron is a heterosexual man, but the people surrounding him are transsexuals, homosexuals and some women. If you still haven’t figured it out it was society’s outcasts. Ron himself refuses to believe he suffers from AIDS because he is not gay and he feels free to insult others suffering from the disease as well. But, as time goes by, the disease proves to be a far stronger link than what differentiates them. That is how the relationship between Ro and Raynon (Jared Leto), a transsexual who is friends with Eve, emerges.

But, there is also a missing link here and that is professional women. If you are a fan of Grey’s Anatomy you can see how women doctors were treated in the character of Ellis Grey. In this film, Jennifer Garner plays Eve, a young, hopeful and hard-working doctor who has to fight against her boss and the chemical industry personified in middle-aged, white men in suits who just want to make the most of the AIDS epidemic. She joins Ron, Raynor and the whole buyers club who are just looking a day more to live.

Eve and Raynor at the hospital.

Eve and Raynor at the hospital.

All this came to my mind after thinking of the book Queer Theory by Donald E. Hall. I read the chapter “Who and What is Queer?” where he mentions the 1980′s as a decade that saw the emergence of AIDS and, as a consequence, the criminalization of homosexuality. That the disease was at first linked mainly to homosexual men did not help and a kind of hysteria was unleashed putting AIDS victims into the “outcast” group that already contained women, transsexual and travesties. So, queer theory is the name given to those theories and approaches that study – in the case of literature and movies- the representation of outcast groups in society and how they create their identities. AIDS patients became a part of these theories as they developed in the 1990s because along with other groups they were being misrepresented in both art and life. In the movie, Eve, Ron and Raynor stand for the three groups that suffered the most repression and criticism in this period: professional (medical) women, transsexuals and AIDS patients no matter their previous identities: Ron was well-respected in his misogynist, drug-dealing group until they knew he suffered from AIDS. Then, they repudiated him.

So, this is why I thought it was important to devote a Feminist Sunday to Dallas Buyers CLub. Because, not so long ago – and sadly still nowadays – AIDS has labelled people as outcasts usually in relation to their sexual orientation or even their gender. I think it is important for feminism to remember those battles that seem won but that still need to be fought and, above all, those battles that unite us rather than divide us.

The Dead Wife’s Handbook

My Twitter feed went crazy a few weeks ago with the release of Hannah Beckerman’s debut novel The Dead’s Wife Handbook. So, I joined them all and asked for a review copy that the amazing publishers agreed to send me. I was not really sure what the book was about apart from the obvious title, but I thought it would make a great change to hear the dead for themselves rather than through a detective just for once.

From Goodreads:

“Today is my death anniversary. A year ago today I was still alive.’

Rachel, Max and their daughter Ellie had the perfect life – until the night Rachel’s heart stopped beating.

Now Max and Ellie are doing their best to adapt to life without Rachel, and just as her family can’t forget her, Rachel can’t quite let go of them either. Caught in a place between worlds, Rachel watches helplessly as she begins to fade from their lives. And when Max is persuaded by family and friends to start dating again, Rachel starts to understand that dying was just the beginning of her problems.

As Rachel grieves for the life she’s lost and the life she’ll never lead, she learns that sometimes the thing that breaks your heart might be the very thing you hope for.

First things first: this is not the kind of book that I would normally choose, not because of any prejudices, but because there are topics that I would rather stay away from in order to prevent myself from sobbing for days – just for your information, the other category apart from “poignant dead people’s accounts” is WWII – but everyone I trusted had loved this book and I wanted to know why. Plus, Hannah is on Twitter and she gives a pretty wonderful and unglamourized sneak-peek into a writer’s life.

So, The Dead Wife’s Handbook is the poignant description of dead Rachel seeing her family adapt to life without her. Beckerman wisely explores the feelings that she goes through as she sees her husband and child suffer and be happy, both without her. This is not obviously something easy to read. The main theme in the book is love and what comes along, because if Beckerman does something is dwell into the characters’ psychology. Rachel is not happy to see her family suffer, neither is she when she sees them be happy without them. So, the complexity of her situation could easily be translated to someone who has lost a beloved one recently: the need to move on, but the sadness and the happiness that come when you do.

However, I had one big problem with the book: Rachel and her family idealize the time when she was alive. Sure, this is a part of grief, but, in my family we have all been very careful not to idealize dead people because it is not healthy. Them being gone does not make them less loved or precious, but they were complex human beings and it is part of their legacy to remember them as accurately as possible. For Ellie (Rachel’s daughter) the narrative about her mother is how amazing she always was which I think is something all 6-year olds think. But, that “amazing mother” image responds to a devoted and sacrificing motherhood with which I do not sympathize. Rachel is then defined as the perfect mother, because that is the only role that she perfectly plays throughout the novel; sometimes her husband or her friends have more complex feelings about her as a wife or as a friend, but nothing negative at all. Also, Rachel grieves for her time that she would have spent with her family, but never for her own time: the books she could have read, the countries she could have traveled to, her goals and success beyond motherhood and marriage etc.

So, The Dead Wife’s Handbook makes a perfect reading for someone interested in the grieving process. It is also an amazing book to explore love and how it can change other people’s lives, but the main character is exactly what the title suggest: a wife and a mother, two categories that seem to come together no matter what.

Feminist Sunday

feministsundays2Feminist Sundays is a weekly meme created at Books and Reviews. The aim is simply to have a place and a time to talk about feminism and women’s issues. This is a place of tolerance, creativity, discussion, criticism and praise. Remember to keep in mind that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, although healthy discussion is encouraged.

As a non-native English speaker, I usually find myself surprised at how easy words can be created in the English language. One of those words that has recently called my attention is “childless”. I have seen it all over the web in good and bad contexts and it is always surrounded by a morphological debate: Why child-less? It implies a fault, a void that may no exist for the people who are said to be childless or, on the contrary, a avoid that it’s too painful to talk about. Also, last week about Helen Mirren’s interview for Vogue quoted everywhere- another outspoken lady, could it have to do with our name? ;) – where she talks about her being asked the very same question about not having had children her whole career.

As a young woman, I have issues with the word and the whole discourse surrounding it. I have been dating Mr.B&R for a long time now and my extended and lovely family know him and so do my acquaintances. So, whenever they find me playing with one of my amazing nephews or nieces – or let’s be sincere, merely out of the blue – the inevitable question comes. And it does not come in a polite way, as in “What do you think of having children?” but something more in the lines of “you are getting older, when are you having children?”. I am known for being an outspoken person and you can imagine how disappointed, angry and defensive I get when asked, if I tell you my mom usually grabs my arm to try to soothe me. It works, sometimes, and I try to excuse myself for not being old enough, for not having a house or a job yet and the like, because really, experience has taught me that’s the easy way. Other times  I say “never” to try to shut them up, when I really want to say “it is not any of your ******* business”. But apparently, that is not a polite answer to someone who is meddling with your private life, so I save that to myself, vent my anger with Mr.B&R and he tries to make me laugh at it so that we can move on, something I will be forever thankful to him.

It is not the question that bothers me, although partly it does because people do not ask me about other aspects of my life that matter to me right now as much as they do about a possible motherhood. It is the discourse behind the question, the idea that a woman in a stable relationship has to want children, because, why wouldn’t her? I am not saying I will never have children, neither am I saying I am dying to have them. But, as a young woman and as a feminist who loves working, who gets pretty good grades and feels at her best when at school (be it lessons, a meeting or just talking to my classmates and professors), I wonder what do people really think of me. And with “me” I mean what I stand for, which is a European, middle-class, white, heterosexual, young, hard-working woman.

As a feminist, I think motherhood is one of the fields where more work needs to be done because it has been culturally constructed in ways that have not proven healthy and I think it can be an amazing experience; but I’ll devote yet another Feminist Sunday to it. I am in no way suggesting that motherhood should be not talked about nor am I promoting anti-motherhood feelings; today I am just talking about being asked the question. Because maybe it is time for people to see more in a woman than a mother. And especially when that woman is young, when there are so many options in life and motherhood can come in so very different ways nowadays. What if the woman or her partner suffer from a medical condition and cannot have children? What if it is a daily struggle for them? Should they feel compelled to tell everyone asking why they don’t have children? What if they just simply do not want them? Or, what if they are hiring a surrogate mother or adopting a child? Does the “have children” in the question mean the same, then?

Extending the question out of the matrix of heterosexual couples: Would the same question be asked to a homosexual – be it gay or lesbian – couple? Would they ask the same to a single woman? Or more importantly, would they ask a single man about the possibility of adopting a child? The gap of expectations between different people, with different sexualities and different emotional situations, is huge and it is harming us a society. By setting these “standards” we are opening and closing different life paths to people depending – mainly, although not always – on their sexuality and their love lives. And it’s not fair for any of us because feeling the expectations to do something is as harmful as being told you will never have such an option in your life.

So, let’s talk! Have you experienced these kind prejudices? Have you been asked “the question”? I would love to hear from you all – men and women – and especially how your perception of this issue has changed, or not, in time :)

The Engagement

The Engagement is a novel by Australian author Chloe Hooper. I was lucky enough to win this novel at Naomi’s blog and I was really excited about it. Sadly, the book didn’t turn out the success both Naomi and I thought it would be. However, I would like to thank her for running the giveaway.

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From Goodreads (excerpt):

Liese Campbell is working as an estate agent in Melbourne when she first meets Alexander Colquhoun. The handsome scion of a prominent farming family, he is searching for a pied-a-terre in the city. At another disappointing viewing, Liese leads Alexander to the bedroom, and they sleep together. Afterwards, he pulls out a roll of cash, and she takes three hundred dollars. ‘Half price’, she says jokingly, ‘because I like you.’ Liese is not a prostitute, but it is an erotic game, she thinks, that both parties are playing.

Whenever Alexander is in the city he calls her, and pays for sex. For Liese, who has travelled to Australia from England after losing her job, the relationship is fun, and a useful way to begin paying off her debts. When Liese decides to return home, she receives a letter from Alexander inviting her to the country for the weekend, and offering a price she cannot refuse. A few days of sex and luxury, she thinks – a final fling before she departs.

As you can see for the description, the book seemed perfect for me. But, from the very beginning I felt a detachment from the main character that remained with me the whole novel. Liese was a confused and chaotic character that should have appealed to me, since these kind of characters always do. But all throughout the novel I thought she had been careless and had behaved like a teenager. In fact, her behavior did not help me understand her choices.

However, what I did like was the Australian landscape. It had been a long time since I read a book settled in Australia, even though I am a huge Kate Morton fan. One of the things that I like the most about postcolonial settings is the contradictions tha come from the settlement and the place. In The Engagement Liese is trapped in a typically Victorian building in the middle of the hot, vast Australian landscape. That alone is a very powerful tool to make readers feel uneasy and out-of-place and it did help me feel like Liese did.

I read that this book is similar to Gone Girl, but I apart from a messed and confused main female character I do not know where the comparison comes from. Amy was a much more calculating and psychopathic character than Liese. I certainly cannot imagine Amy making the mistakes Liese did, but then again, I did not understand Liese at all.

So, maybe this book came at a difficult reading time for me, or maybe it was not my kind of story. But I suggest it to anyone interested in Australia and Australian literature because the contradictions of what the place was intended to be and what the landscape and geography was play a key role in the novel.

Hi, there! Last week was a little bit of a chaos: my grand-uncle passed away and I spent a few days with my family. On Monday, I went back to school and it felt great because I got to meet a new professor who is just perfect and she focuses on Scottish literature. Also, we’ve had a visiting professor meeting us today in the most inspiring meeting. So, things will go back to normal as soon as possible. Thanks for staying tuned!

Exclusive Interview: Author Paula Daly

Didn’t I tell you there were some great things happening this week? Well, this is one of them! Paula Daly, author of Just What Kind of Mother Are You? and Keep Your Friends Close has let me interview her again. I had the pleasure of interviewing Paula previously after her first novel, Just What Kind of Mother Are You? was published. Now, she has let me interview her yet again, so thank you, Paula, for being so generous with Books&Reviews!

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1. Where did the idea for Keep Your Friends Close come from?

I was having dinner with a friend who had been unlucky in love and she was complaining of the fact that she found it hard to meet someone. Without  really thinking, I replied, “You don’t have any problem meeting someone, it’s snaring them that’s your trouble.”

Then I started to think about all the ruthless, driven women I’ve known, and the lengths that they would go to snare a man.

And then I thought – what if such a woman set her sights on my husband and I was powerless to stop her?

2. Eve is the quintessential femme fatale. Are you a fan of film noir?

Not particularly. But I am a fan of strong, complicated villains who push the hero to their absolute limits. If the villain is more powerful, cleverer, more ruthless than the hero, so much the better.

 A story is only as good as its bad guy.

 3. Being a femme fatale, Eve deserves the ending you gave her, but did you think of letting evil triumph?

 No. But I did want you to champion Eve. Just as I want you to dislike Natty – our protagonist, on occasion. I want to blur the boundaries between good and bad and for the reader to not always like Natty, but to understand why she does things. And the same goes for Eve.

 4. I felt Eve’s conquest of Sean was only possible because Natty and him were having sexual “problems”. Did you want to confine their marital problems only to their sexual lives? Why/ Why not?

 The lack of sex in Sean and Natty’s life was a symptom of a much bigger problem – the fact that Sean had become invisible to Natty. She was focused on the other stuff – the children and their hotel business. This was intentional because it is how a lot of us become when balancing work and kids, and so I wanted to highlight it.

The fact that Eve was able to woo Sean so easily with the promise of sex and attention was also intentional. I have known many couples break up just because one person receives what simply amounts to flattery from another. They go willingly and easily just because they have been so starved of affection for so long. We like to think we’re more complicated than that, but experience tells me we’re not.

5. Speaking of which, your characters are complex thanks to your inclusion of their sexual lives in the narrative, not something that comes up too often even nowadays.  Also, Eve and Sean’s first sexual encounter makes one steamy scene! How did you confront the writing of this part of our lives and – particularly – that scene?

 You’re right. Traditionally, thrillers have been written by men and they shy away from sex scenes. And rightly so, because they can be clumsy. But if sex is part of the motivation of a character then I think there’s a place for it. With regards to the writing of them, it is so much easier to write sex from the villain’s point of view. If it was from the hero’s point of view, then people would assume it  was me in those scenes! And I’m far too prudish and self conscious to let them think that!