Monday, 29 December 2014

Review: Fort Starlight

Fort Starlight
Fort Starlight by Claudia Zuluaga

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a beautifully crafted novel. Full of swampy imagery, you can almost taste the mud and feel the sticky heat on the nape of your neck.

I really connected to this book: themes of families lost and gained, and chasing dreams that you don't feel you truly deserve struck a chord that really resonated with me.

The story is dark but hopeful, extraordinary but believable.

Be prepared to set aside a good chunk of reading time when you start this book, as you will unlikely be able to set it down.

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Saturday, 13 December 2014

How to Be a Good Girlfriend in Ten Easy Steps

  1. Don't dwell on the time your mother told you that you were a terrible person and that nobody would ever love you; it makes you anxious, and an anxious girlfriend is not a good girlfriend.
  2. Don't ask them to talk about their feelings. It makes them anxious, and good girlfriends don't make their partners anxious.
  3. Smile more. Good girlfriends smile more.
  4. Don't talk about your feelings. Talking about any feelings makes them anxious. See #2.
  5. Talk less in general. The less you talk, the less likely you're going to say something upsetting.
  6. Don't hold them accountable for their behaviour. Good girlfriends don't expect their partners to inconvenience themselves with consequences.
  7. Agree with what they have to say. Good girlfriends are agreeable.
  8. Don't make plans. Good girlfriends are always around as a backup when their partners' plans fall through.
  9. Love them more than you love you.
  10. Work hard to make the relationship work, so they don't have to. Good girlfriends don't let things fall apart.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

My World

I live in a world where people like me - queer, woman - get killed for being like me: queer, woman. Where people who aren't like me - people who aren't white, or cis - get killed for not being like me. There are places I dare not venture for fear of my identity being my death sentence. There are places I can go that others cannot for fear that their identity may be their death sentence. I live in a world in which I am implicated in others' fear as much as I experience my own fear, and unless I am actively working to dismantle the fear I am implicated in, than I am no better than those who strike fear in me.

I live in a world where twenty percent of all the women I come in contact with are likely to have been victims of sexual assault in some form. Where domestic violence is considered a normal part of life. Where I walk down the street at dusk, or at night, with my keys clenched between my knuckles, repeating in my head the moves from the self-defense class I took six years ago. Where my friend is choked by a stranger on the dance floor, and then again after she's said NO. Where I feel more relieved that she got home safe than surprised that such a thing could happen, because of course that is something that happens. This is a world where these things are not surprises. Where my male partners are as likely, statistically, to be my attackers as any stranger on the street. Moreso. Where I am made to feel guilty or ashamed for fearing for my life in situations where women are often robbed of their lives, and then made to feel stupid if I do not behave as though I am fearful for my life.

I live in a world where every time I look at the news, there is genocide and hate and terror and cruelty being enacted against people who are simply trying to exist, simply because they are trying to exist. Where my heart aches and breaks constantly and I simply cannot do enough to fix it, where none of us can do enough to fix it. Where those who are trying are fighting against a current a thousand times stronger, that saps us of our energy to stay afloat long enough to fight another current. Where the current we fight against comes at us in the form of our neighbours and families and employers and politicians and teachers and religious leaders and everyone who can control us in some way, who can affect our lives for the worse.

I live in a world where some people are thought to be less than other people, because of who they are, and the fact that who they are is different than those in charge. Where everything hurts all the time, everywhere.
I live in a world where a mother would tell her fifteen year old daughter coming out of the closet that she is lucky she didn't beat her, and that bisexuals spread diseases. Where my straight, cis, white "best friend" of fourteen years will dump me because all I talk about it LGBTQ feminist "propaganda". Where caring about my safety and happiness, the safety and happiness of others, is "propaganda". Where telling people that they are being unnecessarily cruel or hurtful is "propaganda". Where compassion is a weakness and an annoyance. Or a terrorist act.

I live in a terrible world. A world I am scared of and scared for. A world I can't save because I am just one small queer woman. A world that needs so much help that it cannot ask for, and that will not be offered.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Books! Canadian Books!

I set a very measly goal for myself this year, reading-wise. While I was an avid reader up until university, I fell off the reading-for-pleasure wagon when the textbooks started getting heavier. I followed university up with a long-term depression that left me not wanting to do much of anything, let alone read.

So this year, I set a little goal on goodreads to read 12 books in 12 months. I blew past it. Okay, some of them were comics, so they were fast to get through, but whatever. I'm reading again. It's great.

So I want to set a more challenging goal for myself, and I've made up my mind.

The CBC sort-of-recently posted a list of "100 Novels that Make You Proud to be Canadian". The page allows you to select the books you have read so you can measure up. I've read all of seven, which is disappointing, because I adore Canadiana. Part of me doesn't understand exactly why I love Canadian media as much as I do, because I am decidedly anti-nationalist, politically. But there's just something about Canadian television and writing that makes me feel at home.

Anyway. I feel like this is the challenge for me. A lot of the "classic" novels that everyone says you should read are books that either bored me to tears/sleep or that I really don't enjoy reading, but this list is full of books that I think I'll actually enjoy, and it will give me an excuse to keep reading after I start school again in a few weeks.

The seven books that I have read are:

Brown Girl in the Ring - Nalo Hopkinson (fantastic book)
Green Grass, Running Water - Thomas King (also fantastic)
Life of Pi - Yann Martel (loved it until the last chapter)
Neuromancer - William Gibson (some classic sci-fi, always a good choice)
The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood (amazing, of course)
The Jade Peony - Wayson Choy (heartbreaking)
What We All Long For - Dionne Brand (breathtaking)

I won't be rereading or reviewing them, since I read most of them a while back, but I will be reading/reviewing the rest of the list in alphabetical order because that seems to be as good a system as any other.

Wish me luck!

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Giving Too Many Shits, Losing Friends, and Finding Community

I am loathe to admit this, but when I took my first (and only) course specifically on gender, I told my professor that I didn't like the word "feminism" because I felt like fighting for equality should be about equality "for everyone" and "feminism excludes the men".

I know. It's gross. I've come a long way since then and I have admitted that to very few people because it's really embarrassing (although now I've admitted it to the entire Internet, so there's a weight off my chest). By the time I graduated from University, I felt very differently, and I'm glad I eventually experienced a reality check and got my head out of my ass.

I think differently now than I used to. I talk differently. Where I used to engage with the world with a lot of internalized misogyny, I now try to be hyper-aware of what I'm saying and how I'm saying it. I call other people out. I apologize when I catch myself doing something shitty and oppressive. I try to educate my other white, cis, able-bodied friends. I try to use my positions of privilege (white, cis, able-bodied, educated, conventionally attractive) to support people who are oppressed and my positions of oppression (woman, bisexual, poor, depression) to become as visible as possible while fighting for positive change. I try to check any sort of saviour complex and instead try to be a truly supportive ally. I try to teach others how to do the same.

I'm not always good at it. When I fail, I try to apologize and do better the next time. I am constantly trying to be critical and aware and anti-oppressive. It's exhausting to have to constantly check yourself but being able to "take a break" from it is a privilege that oppressed people don't get. People of Colour do not get to take a break from experiencing racism, women don't get to take a break from experiencing sexism, etc. So I try not to take breaks from the stuff I have the privilege to be able to. When I do check out because my depression or other emotional concerns are getting triggered, I try to be as cognizant as possible of the fact that I am doing so.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

I'm a Bad Writer

This is the simple truth: I am a bad writer.

Not in the sense that my writing is bad. When I write, I write well. I know my grammar. I have a good grasp of style and flow. I can spell. I can put ideas together in such a way that you can actually follow what I'm trying to say. My essays tend to be better than my fiction, but my fiction is alright. My poems are probably mediocre, but they're at least on par with poetry I've seen published elsewhere.

So, no, I'm not saying I suck at writing, because when I do it, I do it well.

The problem - the reason I'm a bad writer - is that I don't do it.

I used to write prolifically. When I was a teenager, I churned out fanfiction like it was my job. Flashfic, short stories, one or two lengthy multi-chapter stories. And poetry! And my own short stories! And lyrics! I was constantly writing when I was a teenager.

Then university happened. Then depression happened.

But then I graduated, and the depression got (somewhat) better. And it turned out those were excuses (or at least, university was an excuse. The depression was a legitimate reason to not write). I no longer had papers due and stacks of books to read and a thesis to write. But I still wasn't putting that time towards writing.

Then I got a soul-sucking full-time job at a call center and I still didn't write. I made more excuses about work taking up all my time, and wanting my "free time" to be just that.

Now, to be fair, I was at that job for a year and a half, and for a year of it, I was spending a lot of my free time making a book happen, for which I wrote one essay and then worked with my business partner to edit the rest of them before publishing the collection independently. So it's not like I haven't been doing writerly things, and Being a Grown-Up took a lot of time and money and energy and work, and I don't wish to discredit myself. I do continue to write poetry, but that doesn't take a lot of time, and I can do that in the memo app on my phone when I'm on my lunch break or in bed.

But I have not been one to make time for writing, as much as I want to write. I think about writing all the time. While I'm bicycling to and from work, or laying in bed at night, I roll essays around in my head, I plan out snippets of dialogue, I chart out storylines and figure out where I'd find information for research. I develop arguments and outline papers.

I never write them down. I have lots of excuses for not doing so. I'm tired after work. I need to rehearse my lines for this play I signed up to do. I need to clean my room (hahaha). I should spend time with friends I never see. My desk is a mess and I can't focus. I should, I can't, I won't.

Mostly I watch Bob's Burgers and eat in bed.

I absolutely know that it's as simple as scheduling writing time. Hell, if I scheduled one hour per week of writing time, I'd still be writing more than I write now.

This isn't a call to arms. I'm not going to promise that I am going to write more often, especially now that I'm going back to school in September. I guess this is an attempt at accountability. I'm calling myself out for making excuses. For thinking about something I want to do and not actually doing it. If I let my fear of failure, and my dislike of spending time alone with my own thoughts, stop me from doing this thing that gave me so much freedom and release when I was growing up - the thing I did so much that people were certain I'd go on to "be a writer" - then that's nobody's fault but my own.

Maybe I'll be a better writer in the future. Maybe not. I guess I'll find out. In the meantime, I'm booking an hour of writing time into my Google calendar this week.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Review: Captain Marvel (Marvel NOW!) #1

Captain Marvel (Marvel NOW!) #1
Captain Marvel (Marvel NOW!) #1 by Kelly Sue DeConnick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yet another tumblr recommendation! Also glad I picked this one up, and I'm looking forward to reading more about Captain Marvel's adventures in space.

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Review: She-Hulk #1

She-Hulk #1
She-Hulk #1 by Charles Soule

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I quite enjoyed this comic, and I look forward to reading more about Jennifer's legal AND heroic exploits. Another tumblr recommendation, I'm glad I picked this up.

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Review: Afterlife With Archie #1

Afterlife With Archie #1
Afterlife With Archie #1 by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having grown up with Archie, and loving zombies, this was a great return to Riverdale. Ridiculous in its own right, it's highly readable.

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Review: Lumberjanes #01

Lumberjanes #01
Lumberjanes #01 by Noelle Stevenson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I picked up Lumberjanes because of a tumblr recommendation. I'm so glad I did! A great romp with best friends at the heart of it. This comic gives "girl power" a whole new meaning.

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Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Review: Shoot Me

Shoot Me
Shoot Me by Lesley Crewe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I began reading Shoot Me, I didn't actually expect to finish it. Crewe's brash and conversational style took a few chapters for me to get into, but perhaps I've been spoiled by de Lint. However, I'm glad I stuck it out, because I did end up enjoying the book.

The characters are all a little bourgeois, which is a little more than annoying, but Elsie is likeable, if spoiled by privilege - not her fault, truly. Her sisters are little more than leeches, but her daughters are likeable and her estranged husband redeemable. And Aunt Hildy is a gem.

The story takes some time to get going, but this is not - despite what the back cover blurb implies - a murder mystery; this is a people and relationships story. And really, aside from the deranged murder of a senior citizen, it really does work out as a happy (albeit terribly contrived) ending.

There are many things that could have been done differently with this book, but for what it's worth, this was a fun read and worth the time spent reading it.

However, I now keep thinking I'd heard of a new restaurant opening near the waterfront, before remembering that was in a book, and not real life.

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Sunday, 6 April 2014

Review: HELP! A Bear is Eating Me!

HELP!  A Bear is Eating Me!
HELP! A Bear is Eating Me! by Mykle Hansen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you've ever read the Knitter's Circle Rapist Annihilation Squad, this book is a lot like that: hyperbolic stream-of-consciousness-ranting, for the most part. However, unlike the Knitter's Circle Rapist Annihilation Squad, this book is a lot more concerning in that it strikes a lot closer to home.

Marv, our narrator and primary character, is a terrible human being and doesn't even realize it. He is the epitome of deranged male aggression and misogyny. He honestly believes that his actions are reasonable. He's a sociopath.

While intentionally hyperbolic, the thing I found most uncomfortable about this book, is that it doesn't seem too far off from what men, and some women, could actually be thinking. Everything Marv says explicitly is being said implicitly - and sometimes explicitly as well - by our media and society at large. The rub being we're in Marv's head in this book. The things he says out loud to his wife and colleagues could be said by anyone, and it concerns me that the thoughts he's having in this book are more common than we want to admit among men.

As a feminist, I think this book does a service by highlighting the ludicrous male aggression and alpha requirements we have in place for success in our society that breed unnecessarily sociopathic behaviours in men. The satire is on point - it's hyperbolic enough to make its point, but close enough to truth to make you a little uncomfortable.

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Sunday, 30 March 2014

Review: Divergent

Divergent by Veronica Roth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I quite enjoyed Divergent. The story was interesting and I never found it to drag or be bogged down in unnecessary description or exposition. Roth tells you what you need to know to move the story forward and build her characters.

It's always heartening to see a popular franchise with a girl lead, and I was impressed to see consent and agency in full force in Tris. I think she's an excellent blend of strength and vulnerability - something that the "strong female character" trope often fails.

I would happily recommend this to a preteen or teen girl, which is more than I can say for certain other popular YA franchises-turned-movies.

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Review: Muse and Reverie

Muse and Reverie
Muse and Reverie by Charles de Lint

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every time I find a collection of Newford stories that I haven't yet read, it's like a bit like my birthday. Charles de Lint is one of my writing idols, and I love his take on urban fantasy.

Every story in this collection is interesting and different from the next. New characters and old staples of Newford work their way through the stories, and everything is entrancing as always.

It's hard to talk about short stories without giving away the entire story, so instead of reviewing each individual short, I'll just say that the collection is wonderful. If you prefer the recurring characters, you might be disappointed in this collection, as there were many stories with characters I hadn't seen in Newford before. If you just love Newford and seeing its world expand, then you'll likely love this collection.

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Monday, 17 March 2014

Review: The Knitting Circle

The Knitting Circle
The Knitting Circle by Ann Hood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It took me until 5AM, but I read this entire book in one sitting.

The Knitting Circle was sad but engaging. While some feel that the fact that every one of the women has some sort of tragic past is unrealistic, I think it speaks to the unknown stories of the women in our lives. We all have our secrets and our regrets.

I cried my way through the book, which I believe does an excellent job of addressing grief and loss and the way people express the feelings that come with that. Anger, helplessness, hopelessness.

At times, it almost reads like multiple short stories, as each woman talks about what happened to her. This doesn't completely work - it feels a tad cheesy at times - but it doesn't detract too much.

While not going to win any major literary awards, or going to go down as a classic, The Knitting Circle is still a good story that deserves reading.

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Friday, 14 March 2014

Review: Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened
Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hyperbole and a Half was one of the better blogs I had stumbled across in my journeys across the Internet - clever, funny, and entirely relatable for (I think) a lot of the Internet generation - and Allie's book does a fantastic job of carrying over her blogging style from an electronic to print medium.

Full colour, with each section separated by different coloured pages, and with the same goofy drawings that punctuate her blog posts, "Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened" is one of the best Blog-to-Book ventures I've seen yet.

The book contains a few of the favourites from the blog, such as "The Simple Dog", "The God of Cake", and "Dogs Don't Understand Basic Concepts Like Moving", as well as parts one and two of her piece on depression, the driving factor between the sudden lack of new posts on her blog. The book would have been amiss without these included; it's lovely to have them in a print format so you can read them without being online.

However, rather than just transcribing the entire blog to a book, the book also contains new stories not featured on Hyperbole and a Half. They are true to her style and definitely make the book worth having in your hands.

If you're a fan of Allie Brosh and Hyperbole and a Half, this book is for you. If you're a fan of cleverly told personal stories, silly drawings, and sometimes being struck with how sad and weird and hard life can be, than this book is for you. If you have no idea who Allie Brosh is, I suggest you visit the Hyperbole and a Half blog (Google will take you there) to get a taste of what Allie has to offer.

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