Review: Between the World and Me

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Thanks for checking back!  Here at Bibliophilia, I’m sharing a book review of Between the World and Me, written by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  This book is especially relevant in today’s world, due to the inequality-charged tension that exists in our society.  Coates writes intimate and honestly raw letters to his son in an endeavor to commiserate with their position as black men in America, but also to explain how and why they are treated the way they are.

What really hit home for me was the allegory of the American Dream and its exclusivity.  As Coates points out, it seems only available to certain skin tones.  It was eye-opening to me that this far-off American catch-phrase is about as realistic for many as finding a unicorn in the front lawn.  The country of the free certainly has a great ability to ignore big portions of its population.

Please note- this isn’t a political stance, this is a stance on human rights.  And what Ta-Nehisi so eloquently comments on is something I agree with wholeheartedly.

The fact that for African Americans, the theme of fear seeps into everything- being pulled over for a minor traffic violation, to playing music loudly from a boom box, even to making eye contact with the wrong person.  It is absolutely appalling to me that his community’s respective body isn’t even theirs to call their own- that at any minute their body- both physical and ideological- can be taken from them is horrifying and something that I know I’ll never quite be able to understand.

Coates taught me a lot about white privilege- not that it’s anything to be ashamed of, but that it’s something we must acknowledge and fight to give others that same privilege.

 

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Review: The Poisonwood Bible

Hello everyone and welcome back to Bibliophilia!  Today I’m going old school with a book review of Barbara Kingsolver’s first novel, The Poisonwood Bible.  I know I’m a little late to the party with this one, since I’ve just gotten around to reading it, but because it is, in my opinion, nothing short of a masterpiece, I had to write my review anyway.IMG_2763

The Poisonwood Bible begins with the Price family who, albeit reluctantly, are moving to the Congo to become missionaries.  The father, a force to be reckoned with, goes forward unflinchingly, determined to communicate his beliefs to the native inhabitants, even though his own community of pastors has discouraged him from the trip because of the unlikelihood of success.

What first struck me about this novel (and believe me, there were many things), was the distinct personalities of each of the four daughters and their mother, who alternately narrate the story.  Kingsolver did an excellent job of not only maintaining four very different voices throughout the entirety of the story, but also in subtly including feminist undertones to the novel by only including the honest points of view of the women.

IMG_2764As they attempt to assimilate themselves into life in rural Congo, their whole family dynamic is put to the test, and in a sequence of shocking and tragic events, the reader follows as the family falls apart and then is put back together, scars and all.

Rachel, the oldest daughter, remarks throughout the novel that she hopes in a few years to put everything that happened in the Congo behind her and forget it ever happened, only to realize that she will never be able to erase or forget that period of her life.

I can think of no other description of these women as apt as the famous phrase; ‘nevertheless, she persists’, because that’s really what this book is about.  This is a tale of survival, full of personal transformations (both conscious and unconscious), heartache, love, as well as their unique spiritual journeys as they struggle to find God in a place such as this.

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Immediately after reading this, I went to the nearest Half Price Books and purchased as many of Kingsolver’s other novels as I could get my hands on, because

if this was only her first novel, I’m sure that what is yet to come will only be better and better.

While I enjoyed the character of Leah the most, because of her open-mindedness toward this new culture as well as her lifelong goals of learning and finding love, I truly loved the unique perspectives that each of the girls brought to the story.  Words cannot express how incredibly Kingsolver combines tragedy, hurt, love, oppression, religion, culture shock, discrimination, and the complex dynamics of family in this one novel.  I cannot recommend this book enough!

 

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Have you read The Poisonwood Bible?  Comment your reviews below!

My Top 5 Reading Recommendations for Fall

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like there’s something about the change of seasons, from summer to fall that seems to impact my reading habits.  Despite the clichéd expression, curling up on the couch under a blanket with a mug of tea and a good book is one of my favorite things to do in the fall…I pretty much become a sloth on the first day of October and do nothing besides eat, read, and nap until around Christmas.

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One of my favorite types of books to read while I’m in my wholly sedentary state are novels that have some kind of journey in them, whether physical or emotional/journeys of self discovery.  So, bearing this theme in mind, here are my picks:

  1. Watership Down by Richard Adams; This tale of a ‘lapine’ exodus to find a new home is a great read for both kids and adults.  It’s got adventure, friendship, loyalty, and of course, rabbits.  I definitely would recommend this read because the lessons Hazel, Fiver, and the rest of their warren learn along the way are important ones- even to those of us with only two legs.
  2. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas; This classic story isn’t near as dry as most ‘classics’ are typically deemed.  Dumas is excellent at weaving together multiple plots that all come together to create a more well-rounded and holistic story about a series of both tragic events and persevering heroes.
  3. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini; I like this read a little better than Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner,” because it does have a happy ending.  I loved the feminist undertones, and the women’s journeys both to find their own freedom and identities in an oppressive environment, as well as Laila’s decision to devote herself to helping her community and finding her own happiness.  You fall in love with the characters, the plot lines, and even the heartache that comes with it.  One of my favorite books of all time.
  4. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros; The journey included in this book is more centered on the evolution of a community, and the interconnected lives of those living and trying to survive on Mango Street.  Cisneros gives great insight into what life is like for that community in general, while still maintaining a strong individual narrator.
  5. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho; I cannot praise Coelho’s masterpiece enough.  This story is of a shepherd who is determined to find his own destiny and an unknown ‘treasure’, but along the way, he faces countless obstacles, meets friends of all kinds, and learns more about himself and who the universe is helping him to become.  It was both a spiritual/philosophical and an inspirational read; it encourages you to be the person you are meant to be, but reminds you that you will have lots of help along the way.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed my fall reading recommendations- these are some of my personal favorites, most of which are so special to me because they were recommended to me by really cool people!   If you like to spend the majority of fall in one spot (couch, bed, comfy chair, you name it) like I do, any of these books is perfect to take your mind on the adventures your body is just too lazy to accomplish!

Which books are on your fall reading list?  Comment some titles below!

Review: The Hillbilly Elegy

As part of my Introduction to Miami class, we were required to read the Hillbilly Elegy, a memoir written by J. D. Vance.  Even though it was a ‘mandatory’ read, I enjoyed Vance’s intermingled story of his childhood and his analysis of the biggest problems plaguing his community.  It is both a tale of tragic undoing and personal triumph, of sub-cultural devastation and unique opportunities.

IMG_2767Yet, even while maintaining a strong sense of personal narrative, I certainly have some critiques for Vance’s style of narration.  Specifically, his propagation of hillbilly stereotypes in the whole of Appalachia.

What I liked the most about this book was his matter-of-fact tone and his ability to look past his mom and family’s sometimes disappointing behavior and understand the aspects of their less fortunate childhoods that lead them to act in that way; his mom’s substance abuse wasn’t wholly the result of her erratic adulthood (although she was at least partially to blame).  To paraphrase Vance: he felt anger for the present that she chose, but sympathy for the childhood she couldn’t help.

J.D. Vance really delves deep into the almost total isolation of his culture, and explained the differences between ignorance, lack of opportunities, and lack of the tools necessary to profit from those opportunities.  But, instead of limiting this to his own experience, he carries it forward and suggests in a ‘preachy’ way that this is the same for all of people like this.

Furthermore, I feel like in some ways, Vance, though proclaiming his own humility, seemed to be a little arrogant.  He often deprecated himself by saying he had accomplished nothing, then a few pages later, went on to highlight how much he had done as a Yale student, in the marines, etc.  I feel like some parts of ignorance were a little exaggerated; like the fact that he didn’t know he had to wear a suit to an interview, yet he had already spent years in college and in the marines.  Also, the fact that after spending so much time being educated, he still felt like it was acceptable to jump out of his car and attempt to attack someone at an intersection after they cut him off.

Even though in some ways this is a ‘problem’ memoir that faces a lot of backlash for its over-simplifying and often insulting portrayal of Appalachian culture, I would still recommend this read whether you are from a similar past or not.  I still believe that we could learn from Vance’s words so long as we don’t take his words as truth for an entire subgroup of today’s American society.

Have you read Hillbilly Elegy?  What were your thoughts on the book? Comment below!

 

 

“I lived in a world that at any moment could erupt into fire. It was the sort of knowledge that kept you on your toes.” -Jeannette Walls

Review: The Glass Castle

>> SPOILER ALERT <<

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The Glass Castle movie picture, found on Rotten Tomatoes.

Thanks for clicking!  Today I’m sharing a book and movie review of the Glass Castle, a memoir by Jeannette Walls turned into a movie, directed by Destin Daniel Cretton.  It just so happened that I finished reading the book a few weeks before the movie came out, so I really enjoyed comparing the movie with the book and seeing Walls’ words come to life through the incredible acting of Woody Harrelson, Naomi Watts, Brie Larson, and others.

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“I cried my eyelashes off.” -Rachel Lindsey

Both the book and the movie caused me to experience almost every human emotion possible; from ugly crying unstoppably, to laughing at the lovable yet cruel parents; I loved every minute of the movie.  Woody Harrelson was especially good in this role – if he doesn’t win some sort of award for his performance, I will be shocked.  He played Rex Walls, Jeannette’s dad, who despite his love for her and his undoubtable sense of adventure, couldn’t keep it together long enough to take care of his family.  So, he left Jeannette and her siblings Brian, Lori, and Maureen to raise themselves and find a way to survive and ultimately, to escape.  I loved how they focused on the complex but loving relationship between Jeannette and Rex, and how despite everything, she still wanted to believe in her dad.

The only thing I didn’t think the movie captured well was Naomi Watts’ character. While I had no problem with her portrayal of Jeannette’s mom, I think that the script writers made her seem more normal than the way she was presented in Walls’ memoir.  They left out the parts where she spent her entire paycheck on art supplies or candy bars that she hid and kept to herself even though her children hadn’t eaten for days.  Also, the part where Rosemary’s inheritance gives her two free houses but she instead selfishly chooses to make her children squat in abandoned buildings without running water or heat in the winter, was totally omitted but, in my opinion, necessary in understanding why Jeannette had such a hard time getting along with her mom.

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Still, both the book and the movie are ones that I would highly recommend- it certainly caused me to realize how lucky I am, and how incredible it was that all the Walls children managed to survive, thrive, and eventually, learn to love their parents for who they could have been instead of who they were.

 

 

“Living Like Weasels” and “I Have Been Called a Luddite”

“Living Like Weasels” by Annie Dillard and “I Have Been Called a Luddite” by Kurt Vonnegut, both non-fiction essays, albeit with very different topics, manage to convey the writers’ own beliefs relating to certain facets of society.  “Living Like Weasels” highlights the raw fierceness of the un-remorseful weasel, while “I Have Been Called a Luddite” demonstrates the peaceful alternative to an existence composed around technology.  Dillard and Vonnegut detail their own experiences, that are accompanied by warnings, exhortations, and reprimands directed toward the reader and society as a whole.  Though maintaining several differences throughout their non-fiction essays, Kurt Vonnegut and Annie Dillard present the importance of their unique narrators in order to ensure a more accepting and open minded reader who would be willing to heed their warnings, reprimands, and exhortations.  
Both narrators recount personal experiences in order to illustrate a different way of life, which in turn persuades the reader to welcome their exhortations and mimic their styles of living.  Kurt Vonnegut briefly begins by explaining the term ‘Luddite’, immediately followed by a habitual day in his life.  vonnegut describes his writing process, highlighting the routine by which he sent his manuscript to a typist named Carol.  These activities take place with little fanfare and very limited technology.  Vonnegut introduces (with some sarcasm) a paper clip and a manilla envelope- the only necessary tools to complete his task.  His use of language indicates how fulfilling such a simple routine was in his life.  Similarly, Annie Dillard focuses on intense language and imagery to present various anecdotes detailing the stunning ferocity of the weasels.  She writes of an acquaintance having seen the remains of a weasel’s jaw still attached to the neck of an eagle.  The practically grotesque, warrior-like attitude of the weasels in general recurs throughout each of the anecdotes Dillard includes in her essay to, like Vonnegut, add strength to their cases.  They are exhorting society to embrace life-styles that are, in most cases, the opposites of those we are comfortable with.  However, it is clear that in the lives of Dillard and Vonnegut, these lives can still be enriching.  Their anecdotes and acute language serve to draw the reader to their conduct; not only proving that a life without technology or a life like a weasel can be done, but that one can also thrive.  Their models at minimum are testimonies to their personal successes, and make their exhortations much more attractive in the eyes of the reader and society as a whole.
The authors passively characterize the narrators so the reader will receive their reprimands less defensively.  Vonnegut and Dillard treat their topics very carefully in order to avoid conflict with the reader.  Technology and doctrines prescribing the best way to live your life are sensitive subjects that typically cause a stand-off between the essayist and the reader.  That being said, their reprimands are presented in a passive and resigned manner to avoid argument, which immediately guarantees a more receptive reader.  In Dillard’s case, her motivation for becoming like a weasel seems to be an entirely personal case.  She discusses a very important moment in her life, when she spent a few intimate minutes with a weasel and afterward, how that event represented a catalyst for a new way of living.  She does not condemn readers for living otherwise, though her own fervor for “living like a weasel” suggests to the reader that perhaps they should follow suit.  By the same token, Vonnegut immediately identifies himself as someone who hates technology, but seems more resigned to a life filled with these new devices than bitter toward those who willingly use technology.  An example being when he describes himself as well as his friend Carol as being obsolete though does, in no way, blame society for having caused the near extinction of their old-fashioned habits.  He describes his joys of being able to live without these short-cuts, but does not necessarily argue with those who do.  Vonnegut’s narrator is characterized as an older gentleman, slightly bothered by society’s new trend, but not a spokesman or avid Luddite; in this way he remains passive in his affiliations.  Dillard and Vonnegut reprimand society’s valued lifestyle so discreetly that the reader would hardly notice they were being scolded.  All the more ensuring the readers come to their own conclusions as to the lives they are living, consequently preventing hostility toward the authors.
“Living Like Weasels” and “I Have Been Called a Luddite” utilize other characters in order to further contrast the speaker’s own individuality; warning readers against straying from the styles of life that Vonnegut and Dillard have described.  Vonnegut highlights his wife’s situation as a tech-savvy photographer to demonstrate how polar opposite his own opinions are.  A character so close to the narrator portraying completely different values further suggests how singular Vonnegut’s own values are.  Naming himself a Luddite, a reader would prepare for a cult of some sort to back the narrator’s claims.  Instead however, they encounter a handful of people who are used to a lifestyle that has become unnecessary- so few are those who agree with Vonnegut that his own wife is not among them.  It is in this way that Vonnegut, by pointing out the individuality of Luddites, warns readers not to follow society’s tendencies as his wife has done.  He warns them against this lifestyle through the portrayal of his wife, who does not seem to understand his views.  Dillard personifies the weasel with a shockingly advanced capacity for knowledge, and she is in awe of their lives.  She states her desire to become like them, and professes to have wanted even to fight the weasel, proving how serious her desires are; in her quest for an unabashed fighting instinct, she would even turn on the very creature who introduced this savage lifestyle to her in the first place.  The weasels are held on a pedestal to emphasize Dillard’s desires to be similar, though this way of thinking and living is so rare that it is reserved to an entirely different species.  By praising the weasels, she therefore disapproves of those who live differently; she warns society against passively living their lives.  Vonnegut and Billard compare themselves to others to represent not only how unique their own beliefs are, but to warn readers against the alternative ways of living that are less satisfying in their opinions, ergo influencing the reader’s intrigue toward the authors’ beliefs.
“Living Like Weasels” and “I Have Been Called a Luddite” are two examples of essays that provide warnings, exhortations, and reprimands through a unique narrator’s point of view.

Persepolis Literary Commentary

Persepolis, a graphic memoir written by Marjane Satrapi relates her childhood and coming-of-age in Iran, at a time of conflict.  In page 6 of her graphic memoir, the author illustrates her religious affiliations at a young age.  Marjane Satrapi emphasizes the character Marji’s religious beliefs in order to contrast her modern societal views in a climate of radical change.

Satrapi illustrates the choice between religion or modern opinion as a source of conflict in Marji’s life.  In the first panel of the page, Marji is drawn divided through the center of the panel; half of the imagery is religious while half is modern.  Half of the panel illustrates Marji in westernized and modern clothing, with gears, a ruler, and tools in the background, to represent new and developing technology, while the other half depicts floral designs and the veil, traditional to Marji’s religion.  The author clearly contrasts the inner conflict Marji is experiencing by the white background and black veil she is wearing on the right half, and the black background with white, modern apparel on the left.  Right away, the reader’s eye is drawn to the immediate conflict, represented by Marji’s uncertain expression, which is directly in the center of the panel.  These two topics, clearly mutually exclusive, express the breaking of the metaphysical as Marji looks straight out from the panel, as if imploring the reader’s participation in the debate, though the stoic position of her mouth and eyes show no preference for either.  This being the first panel on the page effectively draws the reader into the proceedings, as Satrapi characterizes the protagonist as hopelessly confused, and torn; a feat that many readers would understand.  Asking outright for their aid draws the reader in, demanding that they choose a side that Marji should follow, therefore investing themselves in the story.  Furthermore, Marji is drawn smiling only when depicted as the last prophet, with a ring of “celestial light” around her face- a traditional symbol of deities that reinforces Marji’s desire to fulfill her religious ambition.  That being said, the decision she must make is still complex, what with the modern ideologies she expresses interest in, in the later panels of page 6.  It is these ideologies that prevent Marji’s immediate alliance to her religion, therefore stimulating her inner conflict.

      

The author expresses Marji’s controversial opinions of societal norms through her desire to change societal norms through her desire to change society as a prophet.  The main character is illustrated in the 5th panel next to the prophets who had come before her.  As Marji explains to them that she is the last prophet, they all bear the same expressions of scorn and anger with the words “a woman?” written above their heads.  It is here that Satrapi characterizes the naivety of the protagonist, as society and, in this case, her religion (personified by the prophets) already have in place roles for the woman in their societies.  As we see in these panels, the religious men are outraged by Marji’s proclamations, a reaction to be expected in this historical context.  Marji on the other hand is still smiling- not reacting to the juxtaposition of a woman as a prophet.  Additionally, the young girl associates religion with the solution to social classes and poverty; another instance highlighting her naivety as a child.  She draws her father in his cadillac while she hides in the backseat, as a problem, though we may reason that wealth is instead an asset.  Were it a problem (as Marji believes it to be) it would not take religious intervention to solve it.  Satrapi highlights that her maid did not eat with them- something negative from her perspective.  She again emphasizes the gap in wealth as the maid is drawn smaller in the background, while she and her family are drawn in the forefront.  The elimination of social classes, as Marji hopes to see to in her future as prophet, would result in communism, a style of life Marji shows her approval of later in the book.  Communism is hated by those promoting the Revolution; the same people who proclaim their religious fidelity.  This is ironic as Marji believes the same religion of the fundamentalist leaders, though her morals in other respects directly oppose theirs.  Her governmental doctrines in in addition to her views on equality for women (demonstrated by her desire to be a prophet, though not accepted by the other religious men) contradict some of her religious beliefs, creating a disjointed combination of religion and modernity.

 

Satrapi foreshadows the protagonist’s eventual change of views in relation to the revolution.  The continual use of the past tense to describe her religious sentiments: “didn’t know”, “was”, “wanted”, foreshadow a change in those beliefs.  Marji discusses her confusion toward the veil, stating that at the time she did not know what to believe.  Her statement later on however, places all these events “before the revolution” reiterating that the revolution was a turning point which decided her stance on religion.  She recounts her tale as a childhood fantasy, accompanied by a tone that firmly positions those ambitions in the past, which would imply that Marji turned away from religion to follow her “avant-garde” family.  These indications are proven by her already controversial opinions of religion (support of feminism and communism) that did not coincide with reality.  

The author alludes to Marji’s own values, which contradict those of her family.  As a baby, Marji states that she was “born with religion” though makes no mention of her parents having anything to do with instilling those morals in her.  Her family was modern and so, seemingly disconnected to any religion their daughter practiced.  On page 6, her parents are only illustrated in the last panel- and even then they are critiqued for their high social class: the possession of a cadillac and physical separation from the maid.  Her parents are drawn with content facial expressions, seemingly unaware of their daughter’s frustrations.  In the 6th panel, Marji is the only one who is unhappy- even the maid smiles from her seat in the kitchen.  This would suggest that these luxuries in life do not perturb Marji’s parents, nor do they notice that those same luxuries bother Marji.  Her values, stemming from her desire to right the world as a prophet do not bother her parents, so proved by the fact that she is religious and her parents are not.  This is significant in contrasting Marji’s two beliefs.  Her parents, who are not interested in religion, clearly side with the modern lifestyle.  To choose religion would be going against her parents’ affiliation, something which young Marji is hesitant to do, which serves to prolong her inner conflict.  Her situation is even more difficult in that she must choose her family, or God.    
Though Marji is extremely religious, her moral codes stray from tradition dictated by her religion and conservative society.  The conflict between choosing to ally herself with God or her family continues throughout the memoir as the Islamic Revolution continues to change the society in which she lives.  It is only in emphasizing her personal religion that the reader can also deduce her opinions on society.