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Book Review: Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

December 25, 2012 6 comments

White woman with dreads wrapped up in a snakeSummary:
Jeanette has the dubious distinction of being raised by one of the most vocal women in the fire-brand style Evangelical church in a small British town.  Although she at first is different among her school chums for her beliefs, soon she becomes marked as different in her church for her homosexuality.  Her journey from differently religious to outcast young adult is chronicled here.

Review:
I picked this up when I heard that it’s a lesbian classic that simultaneously addresses being raised fundy.  Having been raised fundy myself (and left to become staunchly atheist), I tend to find these leaving the faith stories highly relatable, and I knew the added GLBTQ element would just make it all the more interesting of a read for me.

One interesting thing to note about this book is that no one can quite agree if it’s a novel or a memoir.  Winterson herself says that while this was inspired by her own childhood, it is the lite version.  Hers was much worse.  Given this statement, I choose to respect the author and view this as a novel, but potential readers may want to be aware of this element of the book.

Jeanette (the character) is immediately immensely likeable.  Whereas her mother is overbearing and negative, Jeanette is highly intelligent and witty.  Her observations on the Bible and religion in the early parts of the book before she realizes she is gay are hilarious, particularly to anyone raised in a fundamentalist faith.

I didn’t know quite what fornicating was, but I had read about it in Deuteronomy, and I knew it was a sin. But why was it so noisy? Most sins you did quietly so as not to get caught. (location 533)

As the book moves from Jeanette’s early life to her adolescence the writing style changes a bit.  Winterson inserts various fantastical fancies of Jeanette’s that are clearly her way of trying to discover who she is and explore her options.  Some readers might be thrown by these, but I found them delightful.  It’s a coping mechanism that I think many people use but few authors put down on paper.

Through these periodic fantastical tales combined with the more traditional narrative, we slowly see Jeanette fall in love with another girl at her church.  We then see the fall-out.  The two girls torn apart. The attempts at exorcisms.  Jeanette is left bereft and confused because, unlike myself, she still wanted her faith. She wanted to believe in God the way she was raised to and to be allowed to love women.  She can’t figure out why she can’t have both and thus is left wandering lost and confused.

The novel never makes it clear if Jeanette comes to terms with her lesbianism by letting go of her religion or by finding a more accepting one.  It kind of ends on an uncertain, agnostic if you will, note.  But that’s really irrelevant.  What matters is how beautifully the novel shows the pain that adolescents are needlessly put through when those around them won’t love them for who they are.

At last she put on her gloves and beret and very lightly kissed me goodbye. I felt nothing. But when she’d gone, I pulled up my knees under my chin, and begged the Lord to set me free. (location 1180)

It’s not a book with a clear ending or easy answers, but neither is life really, is it?  What it does possess though is a great ability to show a reader the life of a child raised Evangelical who later just cannot fit the mold demanded of her.  And that’s a powerful story that needs to be told over and over again until people get it that we can’t do that to children.

Recommended to those with an interest in unique story-telling techniques and coming out stories.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Movie Review: Bruno (2009)

December 3, 2009 Leave a comment

Summary:
In this mockumentary Sacha Baron Cohen takes on the role of Bruno–a fabulously gay Austrian fashion reporter who comes to America in the hopes of becoming famous.  Cohen places Bruno into situations with real people who don’t know he’s just a character and sees what unfolds.

Review:
If you’re easily offended at all, don’t watch Bruno.  I, however, am not so I didn’t hate it.  I also didn’t love it either.

A few of the set-ups are great.  The episode where Bruno adopts an African baby because that’s what famous people do is an excellent commentary on celebrity culture.  The scene where Bruno sees a come out of gayness counselor is also thought-provoking.  Unfortunately, Cohen primarily goes for over-the-top sex shock value over commentary.  To me there’s just nothing funny about him and another man bound together in S + M gear taking the bus because they can’t get unlocked from each other.  I was just sitting there going “Wouldn’t the camera crew unlock them?”

Overall, Bruno falls flat.  It tries to be shocking, but mainly comes across as adolescent.

2 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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Amazon Isn’t a Library

April 13, 2009 4 comments

Apparently, it recently came to light that Amazon has removed GLBT books from their online ranking system.  This doesn’t mean that you can’t find a GLBT book if you are looking for it though.  I checked myself this morning, so I wouldn’t be going on hearsay.  When I typed in “heather has,” the auto-completion drop down box immediately completed it with “heather has two mommies.”

Another complaint people are putting forward is that a search for “homosexuality” pulls up books that are against the homosexual lifestyle higher in the rankings than supportive books.  I checked this.  The first result I got for “homosexuality” was Dark Obsession: The Tragedy and Threat of  the Homosexual Lifestyle.  The second result was a genre tag for “homosexuality, ” and a choice of fiction or nonfiction.  I clicked on nonfiction and was immediately led to a result page consisting entirely of books supportive of GLBT people, including Gay America: Struggle for Equality.  Back to my original results page, the third hit was a book from a gay erotica series.

Ok, so Amazon is still selling and displaying books supportive of the GLBT lifestyle.  No, they aren’t the first hit.  No, they aren’t included in the selling rankings.

Newsflash:  Amazon isn’t a library.  Amazon has no ethical responsibility to fairly and equally display both (or multiple) sides of controversial issues.  Amazon is a private retailer.  Whoever owns Amazon can choose what stock to carry, as long as it is legal.  They clearly cannot sell pot, for instance.  Amazon may also choose how prominently to display their stock.  Imagine a traditional bookstore.  They choose what books to place in the windows to draw people in.  I view the sales rankings as similar to this.

What it all boils down to is that Amazon has the right, as a bookstore, to choose what books to stock and how prominently to display them.  Even if they flat-out refused to sell GLBT books, that isn’t “book banning.”  Amazon is not the government.  For comparison, a couple of GLBT friends could start their own bookstore and decide that they didn’t want to carry anything anti-GLBT or pro-fundamentalist Christianity.  Do you think the whole nation would be up in arms about this?  No, it wouldn’t be.  They would say “good on them, overcoming that adversity.”  Well, the fact of the matter is, if we’re talking rights, anti-GLBT people have rights too.

Amazon isn’t breaking any laws.  Amazon didn’t make some hit-list of gay people to refuse to sell to.  That legally would be considered discrimination.  Amazon isn’t even refusing to sell GLBT books.  It simply isn’t displaying them as prominently.  Well, they are a private business, and that’s their right.  If you have a problem with it, feel free to boycot them and send them a letter explaining why you will no longer be buying from them.  However, stop with all the hate and fear-mongering against them.  Quit making a mountain out of a mole-hill.  Quit being a wanna-be martyr.  There are far bigger issues in the world than where Amazon ranks GLBT books.  If you have a problem with it, boycot them and move on.

For the record, I won’t be boycotting Amazon, as I like them, and I don’t believe they’ve done anything wrong.  Odd stance for a libertarian librarian, I know.