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Thoughts on Marriage on Our First Wedding Anniversary

September 26, 2016 2 comments
A collection of selfies from our first year of marriage.

A collection of selfies from our first year of marriage.

It may perhaps seem odd to some given that my parents divorced when I was 15 (messily) and I’m not religious, but I actually view marriage with a real serious near-reverence. I think it’s important, and I don’t think it’s something to be entered into lightly. I think it’s something to be entered into with a clear mind of a fully-formed adult, and I view the commitment it entails very seriously. If your life is a wheel then your marriage is at the center of it with everything else flowing from it. Your decisions are no longer what is best for me but rather what is best for us and our marriage.

I know I’ve only been married for a year so it’s not like I’m some giant sage of wisdom. But I do think a year out I can answer some questions people who have never been married have about marriage and what it’s really like. And I think too that as the recipient of much (unasked for and asked for) marital advice that I can offer up the one that I’ve thought about the most over the year.

So first, to answer the questions: Yes, it does feel different. Being married is far different from being in a long-term relationship or living together. You are a family unit, one that is recognized by society. And there’s (for me anyway) a certain level of certainty. I can (and should) make decisions taking my spouse into account because he’s my spouse. I can 100% know that making this decision by taking into consideration his needs and desires is the right thing to do because he’s always going to be there.

And on the other side of the coin, I know if I have a bad day or if something awful happens that I can depend on him to be there for me because that’s what being a spouse is. It’s being there in the good times and the bad, and I can rest assured that he will be. It’s a sad fact that my father passed away in the first year of our marriage, and my husband was there for me. In the middle of his own grief, he put mine first. He held me. He brought me food and got me to eat. He helped clean out my father’s trailer, taking charge and much of the weight off of my brother and myself. And he gave me space to be angry about it too, and let me know that was ok and valid.

Another question people ask is: how hard is it really to change your name? Damn hard. In fact, I’m only halfway through it because it’s all awful annoying time-consuming paperwork and honestly I got a bit derailed when I was grieving. But I wouldn’t change changing my name for the world. So, I’ll tell you this: if you’re considering changing your name for any reason besides it’s what you want don’t do it. The only thing that makes all the hassle something I’m able to deal with is because of how very much I love being Amanda Nevius.

So what’s the piece of advice I’ve meditated on the most? It was from an article that a college friend posted, actually, and I can’t remember the name of it, but the gist was: don’t lose your marriage over a wet towel on the floor. What does that mean? The petty things can build up over time and make you start to resent each other. So if your spouse perpetually leaves a wet towel on the floor, choose how you react. Don’t let it annoy the crap out of you. Consider: is losing my marriage worth the fight over this towel? And if it’s not (and it shouldn’t be) then just pick it up and put it in the hamper yourself and choose not to be annoyed.

On the flipside of that, if you’re the spouse leaving a wet towel on the floor and you know it bothers your spouse even though you can’t for the life of you understand why (it’s the bathroom floor after all) consider: is losing my marriage worth the convenience of dropping this towel on the bathroom floor rather than putting it in the hamper? If it’s not (and it shouldn’t be) then just start putting the damn towel in the hamper because it’ll make your spouse happy and choose not to be annoyed about it. Obviously this extends to other things, and it makes a real difference on the whole tone of the relationship. It’s not “stop doing X annoying thing” it’s instead “I love you, so I’ll modify this small part of my behavior for you,” whether that’s picking up the towel for them or remembering to put it in the hamper in the first place.

I think it also an excellent reminder that there’s things that aren’t right or wrong; they’re preferences. And being aware of your spouse’s preferences and being sensitive to them is an act of love. I view it as an active meditation on love.

A year out, I feel closer to my husband now than I did on the day of our wedding, and that’s good and right and how it should be. I look forward to growing closer to him every day.

Book Review: Anarchism and Other Essays by Emma Goldman

August 13, 2015 9 comments

Book Review: Anarchism and Other Essays by Emma GoldmanSummary:
Emma Goldman was a Russian immigrant to the United States who embraced Anarchism and became an impassioned orator and pioneer in the movement for birth control.  She was deported in 1919 for her antiwar activities and spent the remainder of her life moving among multiple countries.  This book is a collection of a variety of her essays and includes a contemporaneous biographical sketch and preface. You may read more about Emma Goldman and her life here.

Review:
I picked up this essay collection due to my interest in both US and women’s history.  It then languished on my TBR pile for years until I heard about how the Emma Goldman Archive at UC Berkeley was going to lose its funding (source). The archive is currently still running thanks to charitable donations, (source) but I still wanted to invest some time in learning more about this important female historical figure, and what better way than by reading her own papers.

The essays in this collection are: Anarchism: What It Really Stands For, Minorities Versus Majorities, The Psychology of Political Violence, Prisons: A Social Crime and Failure, Patriotism: A Menace to Liberty, Francisco Ferrer and the Modern School, The Hypocrisy of Puritanism, The Traffic in Women, Woman Suffrage, The Tragedy of Woman’s Emancipation, Marriage and Love, and The Modern Drama: A Powerful Dissenter of Radical Thought.

The thing to understand about Anarchism (the historic early 20th century kind anyway, I won’t venture to talk about modern Anarchism as I have not studied it at all) is that the basis of Anarchist belief is that there should be no government and no religion.

Anarchism is the only philosophy which brings to man the consciousness of himself; which maintains that God, the State, and society are non-existent, that their promises are null and void, since they can be fulfilled only through man’s subordination. (page 38)

Emma took this to the conclusion that fighting for rights within the governmental power structure was pointless since the government shouldn’t be involved anyway.  Modern readers may thus be surprised at how against women getting the right to vote she was.  The reasoning behind it, though was that she thought it was a pointless fight.  Like putting frosting on a shit cake.  It won’t make the cake any less shitty.  It’s interesting reading these papers how much faith Emma had in human nature to do good.  It’s the power structures she considered evil.

My lack of faith in the majority is dictated by my faith in the potentialities of the individual. (page 34)

What I found most interesting in reading these essays, beyond getting a firmer understanding of Anarchism, is how most of them are still highly relatable today.  They have not been particularly dated.  Only “Francisco Ferrer and the Modern School” and “The Modern Drama: A Powerful Dissenter of Radical Thought” came across as dated and a bit difficult to read to me.  The rest could have been pulled straight from a social justice Tumblr account, with just a few names and places changed.  The three essays on women were the most interesting to me, particularly for the rather prophetic predictions that Emma made about the direction women’s rights were heading.  In particular, one section discusses that women winning the right to work will just make everything more difficult because women are still seen as the primary caregivers and homemakers.  They will just end up working just as much at home and out and about.  Emma also pointed out that society would come to expect two incomes, making it impossible for women to not work even if they want to.  This has certainly come to pass.  Emma’s solution to this is more individual freedom, and her passage of advice to women still rings true today:

Her development, her freedom, her independence, must come from and through herself. First, by asserting herself as a personality, and not as a sex commodity. Second, by refusing the right to anyone over her body; by refusing to bear children, unless she wants them; by refusing to be a servant to God, the State, society, the husband, the family, etc.; by making her life simpler, but deeper and richer. That is, by trying to learn the meaning and substance of life in all its complexities, by freeing herself from the fear of public opinion and public condemnation.  (page 132)

Sections that would probably stir up the strongest feelings among modern readers include frequent rants against the Catholic church, hatred of all patriotism or nationalism, very strong anti-military positions, and a strong negative view of marriage.  However, if the modern reader keeps in mind that Emma was for 100% individual freedom and individuality, it’s easier to see that it’s not an individual institution she had something against, but rather institutions in general.  Think of her as an extreme libertarian, and it’s easier to understand.  In the case of marriage, for instance, it’s not that Emma was against love or being part of a couple, but rather against the state being involved in that love.

One aspect I think was missing from these essays was more from Emma on what she thought the ideal world would really look like.  How would things work once total individual freedom was won?  This is not touched upon very much, beyond Emma’s belief that crime would disappear without crooked institutions and there would be no more war.  I found her belief in innate human goodness to be overly optimistic, verging on naive.  But I also found it to be endearing that she had so much faith in humanity.

Overall, the modern reader will still find most of these essays highly readable and may be surprised by how modern many of them feel.  Readers will realize how little some things change through time and also will come away with a better understanding of the stance of the often feared and misunderstood Anarchists.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Book Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

October 18, 2014 8 comments

A woman's hair is barely visible on the left-hand side of a book cover.  The book's title and author are in red against a black background.Summary:
On Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary, Nick comes home from working at the bar he co-owns with his sister to find his wife gone. The door is wide open, furniture is overturned, and the police say there is evidence that blood was cleaned up from the floor of the kitchen.  Eyes slowly start to turn toward Nick as the cause of her disappearance, while Nick slowly starts to wonder just how well he really knows his wife.

Review:
I’d been wanting to read this since it first came out, but when the previews for the movie came out, I knew I also wanted to see the movie, and I just had to read the book first. Because one should always read the book first.  A friend head me talking about it and offered to loan me her copy, and I flew through the book in just a couple of days.  Even though I had guessed whodunit before I even started to read it, I was still swept up in a heart-racing read.

There have been many reviews of Gone Girl, so I am going to try to focus my review in on why I personally loved it, and also address a couple of the controversies about the book.  Any spoilers will be marked and covered toward the end of the review.  Please note that this review is entirely about the book and does not address the movie at all.

The tone of the book sucked me in from the beginning.  How the book alternates between Nick’s current life and Amy’s diary of the early years of their relationship clearly showed that the relationship started out strong and fell apart, and I wanted to see how something so romantic could have gone so awry.  Amy’s diary entries simultaneously sound feminine and realistic.  She swears to the same extent that my friends and I do, and I loved seeing that in romantic, feminine diary entries. Nick’s portions, in contrast, perfectly demonstrated the measured response to a disappearance that could easily happen if a relationship was on the rocks a bit at the time.  Nick’s reactions felt very realistic to me, and I appreciated it.

Even though I predicted the whodunit, I still found the end of the book to be thrilling, as exactly how it happened was not something I was able to predict.

If you don’t want any spoilers and just want to know why you should read the book, let me just say that anyone who has been in a long-term relationship will find the complex relationship between Nick and Amy frightening and chilling and will be left giving their partner side-eye periodically throughout the book.  If you like the idea of a book that makes you freaked out at the thought of how truly awry a relationship can go, then you will enjoy this thriller.

On to the spoilers.

*spoilers*
This book has been accused of misogyny for three reasons.  Nick’s internal dialogue, the character of Amy, and the fact that Amy falsely accuses an ex-boyfriend of rape.  I did not find this book to be misogynistic at all, and I will now address each of these points.

Nick clearly struggles with how he relates to women due to the fact that his dad is a misogynistic bastard.  It is realistic for a good person to struggle with bad internal dialogue due to hearing such dialogue from a parent.  This is a very real thing that happens, and that people go to therapy for.  The very fact that Nick fights against this internal dialogue shows that he knows that it’s wrong and is trying to win out over it.  Just because one character has misogynistic internal dialogue does not make an entire book misogynistic nor does it make that character misogynistic.  It just makes the book realistic.  In fact, I find the fact that Nick ultimately defeats his internal misogynistic dialogue by realizing that it’s ok to hate women who are actually horrible but not all women to be really progressive.  Some women are horrible people. Nick learns to turn his internal “women are bitches” dialogue into “Amy is a bitch,” and I think that’s awesome.  Now, this point is related to the next point, the character of Amy.

There is at least one strain of feminism that thinks that it’s anti-woman to ever portray any women as bad or evil.  There is also the strain of feminism that just says men and women are equal and should be treated equally.  I am a member of the latter portion.  It is equally harmful to never want to admit to women’s capability for evil as it is to say all women are bad or all women are childlike or etc… There are bad women in the world. There are evil women in the world.  Women are not automatically nurturing, women are not automatically good at mothering, women are not automatically goddesses.  Women are capable of the entire spectrum of evil to good, just like men are.  It is unrealistic to act like women are incapable of evil, when we in fact are.  This is why I find the portrayal of Amy as a narcissistic sociopath to be awesome.  Because there are women just like her out there in the world.  I was continually reminded of one I have known personally while I was reading the depiction of Amy.  The patriarchy hurts men and women, and one way that it does so is with the assumption that women are incapable of evil.  Nick and Amy’s other victims are unable to get people to believe them about Amy because Amy is able to externally project the virginal good girl image that the patriarchy expects of her.  They don’t expect her to be evil. She appears to be a card-carrying, patriarchy-approved cool girl, therefore she is not evil and Nick and the others are delusional.  It’s an eloquent depiction of how the patriarchy can hurt men, and I think that a lot of people are misinterpreting that a misogynistic slant.

Finally, the false rape accusation.  Yes, it is extremely unlikely to happen. (An analysis in 2010 of 10 years of rape allegations found that 5.9% were able to proven to be false and 35.3% were proven to be true. The remaining 58.8% fell into a gray area of not being proven either way. Source)  However, this means that false allegations of rape do indeed happen. 5.9% is not zero, and this isn’t even taking into account the gray cases that couldn’t be proven either way.  Just because we have a problem with rape in this country and with rape culture does not mean that every accusation of rape is actually true.  Just as not all men are rapists, not all women are truth-tellers.  And let’s not forget that men can be raped, and women can be falsely accused of rape as well.  Amy’s false rape accusation also fits well within her character development.  As a teenager, she falsely accused a friend of stalking her. Then she accuses this man she dated in her 20s of raping her. Then she frames her husband for her murder.  It’s a clear downward spiral, and the false rape accusation, complete with faking restraint marks on her arm, is a realistic warm-up to her insane attempt at framing her husband for her own murder.  It fits within the character. It is not a malicious, useless, throwaway plot point.  It fits who Amy is, and real life statistics support that it could indeed happen.

All of these aspects of Amy and Nick and Amy’s relationship are part of what made me love the book.  I am tired in thrillers of so often seeing only men as the sociopathic evil.  I have known women to be sociopaths in real life and in the news, and I like seeing that represented in a thriller.  I also appreciate the fact that Nick is by no stretch of the imagination an innocent golden boy.  He has some nasty internal thoughts, and he was cheating on Amy.  And yet I was still able to feel sympathy for the cheating bastard because he gets so twisted up in Amy’s web.  It takes some really talented writing to get me to sympathize with a cheater at all, so well done, Gillian Flynn.

Finally, some people really don’t like the end of the book.  They wanted Amy to get caught or someone to die or something.  I thought the ending of the book was the most chilling of all.  Nick is unable to find out a way to escape Amy, so he rationalizes out their relationship to himself (she makes me try harder to be a better person or face her wrath), and ultimately chooses to stay in the incredibly abusive relationship for the sake of their child when he finds out she was pregnant.  It is realistic that Nick is concerned that if he divorces her he won’t be able to prove anything, she may falsely accuse him of things, and he won’t end up able to see his child.  This is something people on both ends of divorced worry about, and Nick has proof that Amy is unafraid to fake major crimes just to get even with him.  It is so much more chilling to think of Nick being trapped in this toxic relationship, justifying it to himself along the way, in an attempt to protect their child.  Bone. Chilling.  Because it could, can, and does happen.

Overall, the book is an excellent depiction of how the patriarchy hurts men as well as women, depicts a chilling female sociopath, and manages to be thrilling even if you are able to predict the twist.

*end spoilers*

Recommended to thriller fans looking for something different but don’t be surprised if you end up giving your significant other funny looks or asking them reassurance seeking questions for a few days.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Borrowed

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Book Review: The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood (Bottom of the TBR Pile Challenge)

A bowl of fruit on a black background. A purple stripe across the bottom contains the book's title written in white.Summary:
It’s the 1960s in Canada, and Marian McAlpin is working writing and analyzing surveys for a marketing research firm.  She has a feminist roommate she doesn’t quite understand, and hangs out with the three office virgins for lunch.  Her boyfriend is comfortable and familiar. When he proposes to her, the office virgins think she’s hit the jackpot, her roommate questions why she’s following the norm, and her married and very pregnant friend seems hesitant about her fiancee.  None of this really bothers Marian, though.  What does bother her is that, ever since her engagement, there are more and more things she simply can’t eat.  First meat then eggs then even vegetables! She thinks of herself causing them suffering, and she just can’t stomach them.  What will happen to her if there’s eventually nothing left for her to eat?

Review:
I’m a fan of a few Margaret Atwood books, and the concept of this book intrigued me.  Since I run the Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge, I was also wondering if this might actually be a new take on anorexia.  Unfortunately, Marian is not really anorexic, it’s more of an elaborate, overdone metaphor.  Perhaps the plot is simply dated, but the interesting concept, when fleshed-out, comes out rather ho-hum.

The novel is divided into three parts, with Marian using first-person narration for the first and third parts, with third person narration taking over for the second.  This is meant to demonstrate how Marian is losing herself and not feeling her own identity.  It’s an interesting writing device, and one of the things I enjoyed more in the book.  It certainly is jarring to suddenly go from first to third person when talking about the main character, and it sets the tone quite well.

It’s impossible to read this book and not feel the 1960s in it.  Marian is in a culture where women work but only until marriage, where women attending college is still seen as a waste by some, and where there is a small counter-cultural movement that seems odd to the mainstream characters and feels a bit like a caricature to the modern reader.  However, the fact that Marian feels so trapped in her engagement, which could certainly still be the case in the 1960s, doesn’t ring as true, given the people surrounding Marian.  Her roommate is counter-cultural, her three office friends claim to want a man but clearly aren’t afraid of aging alone and won’t settle.  Her married friend shares household and child rearing with her husband, at least 50/50.  It’s hard to empathize with Marian, when it seems that her trap is all of her own making in her own mind.  She kind of careens around like aimless, violent, driftwood, refusing to take any agency for herself, her situation, or how she lets her fiancee treat her.  It’s all puzzling and difficult to relate to.

The Marian-cannot-eat-plot is definitely not developed as anorexia.  Marian at first stops eating certain meats because she empathizes with the animals the meat came from.  As a vegetarian, I had trouble seeing this as a real problem and fully understood where Marian was coming from.  Eventually, she starts to perceive herself as causing pain when eating a dead plant, bread, etc… The book presents both empathizing with animals and plants as equally pathologic, which is certainly not true.  Marian’s affliction actually reminded me a bit of orthorexia nervosa (becoming unhealthily obsessed with healthy eating, source) but the book itself presents eliminating any food from your diet as pathologic.  Either Marian eats like everyone else or she is going off the deep-end.  There is no moderate in-between.

What the Marian-cannot-eat-plot is actually used for is as a metaphor for how Marian’s fiancee (or her relationship with him) is supposedly consuming her.  The more entwined with her fiancee she becomes in society’s eyes, the closer the wedding comes, the less Marian is able to consume, because she herself is being consumed.  This would be quite eloquent if Marian’s fiancee or her relationship with him was actually harmful or consuming, but it certainly does not come across that way in what we see of it in the book.

Marian presents herself to her boyfriend then fiancee as a mainstream person, and he treats her that way.  He does one thing that’s kind of off-the-rocker (crashes his car into a hedge) but so does she on the same night (runs away in the middle of dinner, across people’s backyards, for no apparent reason and hides under a bed while having drinks with three other people at a friend’s house).  The only thing that he does that could possibly be read as a bit cruel is when she dresses up for a party he states that he wishes she would dress that way more often.  It’s not a partner’s place to tell the other how they should dress, but it’s also ok to express when you like something your partner is wearing.  Personally I thought the fiancee really meant the latter but just struggled with appropriately expressing it, and Marian herself never expresses any wants or desires directly to him on how they interact, what they wear, what they eat, how they decorate, etc…, so how could he possibly know?  In addition to never expressing herself to her fiancee, Marian also cheats on him, so how exactly the fiancee ends up the one being demonized in the conclusion of the book is a bit beyond me.  He’s bad because he wanted to marry her? Okay…… The whole thing reads as a bit heavy-handed second-wave feminism to me, honestly.  Marriage seems to be presented in the book as something that consumes women, no matter if they choose it or are forced into it by society.  It is not presented as a valid choice if a woman is able, within her society and culture, to make her own choices.

In spite of these plot and character issues, the book is still an engaging read with an interesting writing style.  I was caught up in the story, even if I didn’t really like the ideas within it.

Overall, this is a well-written book with some interesting narrative voice choices that did not age well.  It is definitely a work of the 1960s with some second-wave feminism ideas that might not sit well with modern readers.  Recommended to those interested in in a literary take on second-wave feminism’s perception of marriage.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Better World Books

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Book Review: Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut

Pink coiled snake with a mint green background.Summary:
In the future when humans have evolved to have much smaller brains and the ability to swim like penguins, a long-lasting ghost from the prior stage of human evolution tells us the tale of how it all went down.  How overpopulation of the old-fashioned, big-brained humans, a very bad economy, and a series of unfortunate (fortunate?) events led to an odd group of humans being marooned in the Galapagos, surviving the worldwide fallout, and evolving into the smaller-brained, fish-eating, natural swimmers we have today.

Review:
I picked this up during a kindle sale for incredibly cheap purely for the author.  I’d read three other Vonnegut works previously: Cat’s Cradle, Slaughterhouse-Five (read before my book blog), and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (review).  I enjoyed the first two and felt meh about the last, so I was fairly confident I’d enjoy another Vonnegut book.  So when one night my partner and I decided we wanted to read a book together (out loud to each other), we looked on my kindle, both glommed on to the name Vonnegut, and chose this as our first read together.  So my reading experience was a mix of listening and reading out loud myself, which I am grateful for, because I honestly think Galapagos sounds even more absurdist aloud.

There is an incredibly unique writing style to this particular scifi book.  So much so that my boyfriend and I wound up researching to find out if, perhaps, Vonnegut wrote this toward the end of his life when he was perchance senile.  (It was not, although it was published in the 80s, unlike my three prior Vonnegut reads, which were published in the 60s).  Then we wondered if maybe Vonnegut had Asperger’s, although we didn’t bother checking up on that.  Why these wonderings?  Well, Galapagos is a very odd book.  The premise isn’t that odd for scifi — a projected future evolution of humans and telling how we got there.  But the ultimate future is kind of hilariously odd (penguin-like humans).  Mostly, though, the way the tale is told is odd and unique in a way that took time to grow on me.

Beyond the whole odd scenario, there’s the fact that if a character will be dead by the end of the chapter, an asterisk appears next to their name.  And the names appear a lot.  Vonnegut is incredibly fond of naming everyone and everything by their full name every time they appear.  He also loves lists.  (This is the part that had us wondering about Asperger’s).  At first this is grating on the nerves, but with time it comes to feel like the vibe of the world you’re visiting when you open the book.

Similar to the lists and constant naming, there are philosophical asides.  Some of these are worked smoothly into the story thanks to a handheld computer device (similar to a smartphone) that pulls up relevant quotes to read to the survivors.  Other times, though, they are truly random asides that go so far off the path of the story you’re left wandering around in a cave in the woods instead of on the nice paved road.  But then everything comes right back around to the story, and you can’t really be upset about spending some time listening to an old ghost ramble.  For example:

What made marriage so difficult back then was yet again that instigator of so many other sorts of heartbreak: the oversize brain. That cumbersome computer could hold so many contradictory opinions on so many different subjects all at once, and switch from one opinion or subject to another one so quickly, that a discussion between a husband and wife under stress could end up like a fight between blindfolded people wearing roller skates. (page 67)

Off-topic? Yes. Quirky? Absolutely.  Interesting and fun nonetheless? Totally.

The plot, in spite of being deeply meandering, does develop and actually tell a story.  We learn how overpopulation caused disaster and then how a few humans managed to survive on the Galapagos Islands and evolve into the futuristic penguin-like folk.  Along the way we have some fun side-trips like an Argentinian military man appearing on a talk show and trying to explain that Argentina really does have submarines, it’s just that once they go underwater they never show up again.

Although I did ultimately appreciate the absurdity and the quirkiness, I must admit that I think it was perhaps a bit overdone.  At the very beginning of the book when the list-making and other elements like that were much more prevalent, I was more annoyed and might have stopped reading the book if it wasn’t for the fact that my boyfriend and I wanted to finish the first book we started reading together.  It took until about 60% of the way in for the list-making to ease off a bit and the style of the book to really start to work for me.  I could easily see a reader being totally lost by some of the more annoying elements of the book, and I wonder what the effect would be if the order was reversed.  If the quirks built throughout the book instead of starting that way.  Or even if they were just dialed back a bit.  I think just that tiny bit of editing would have made me love the book.

Overall, this is a fun piece of absurdist scifi that examines evolution from an over-the-top hypothetical situation.  Potential readers should be aware that this book is even more absurdist than Slaughterhouse-Five, so you must be willing to do some more intense suspending of disbelief and be willing to do some meandering and read some lists.  If absurdist fiction is something you enjoy and meandering and lists won’t bother you, then this humorous examination of overpopulation, end-of-the-world, and future evolution might be right up your alley.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Book Review: A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen

January 18, 2011 2 comments

Summary:
It’s Christmas time and Nora is eagerly getting ready for the holidays with her husband, Torvald, their children, and their friend Dr. Rank when her old friend, Christine, shows up in town.  Christine is recently widowed and is looking for work.  Nora, who appears flighty and silly at first, informs Christine that she saved her husband’s life when they were first married by taking a loan from, essentially, a loan shark to pay for them to take a trip to Italy.  He remains unaware of both the loan she is working on repaying and the fact that his life was ever in danger.  Unfortunately, things come to a head when the man who loaned her the money, Krogstad, threatens to reveal all to her husband.

Review:
This three act play is regarded as possibly the first ever feminist play, so I knew I had to read it.  I was naturally curious as to what feminist issues the play would address.  Although it’s difficult to pin down exactly what it is addressing, the content and the title point toward women being treated as playthings, as men’s own versions of dolls to make do whatever they wish in their perfectly-imagined household.

The three acts are all written so that they may remain in one room.  This is convenient for the actors, of course, but I also personally enjoy seeing a story unfold all in one room.  It takes skill to make that happen, and it makes the whole story feel more personal and urgent.

At first I was annoyed by how Nora allows Torvald to speak to her, addressing her as his “little squirrel” and “songbird,” as well as making it evident he doesn’t think she has a capable brain in her skull.  He is painfully selfish, apparently viewing her entire existence as only for him.  Of course, this is all part of the set-up for the ending, and makes the ending surprisingly enjoyable.

It is a short read, but the play itself takes about three hours to perform, making it an excellent length.  The dialogue and mystery of the debt are intriguing enough to hold one’s attention, as well as not suffering too much from older English dialects.  This may partly be because it is translated from Norwegian of course, but still.

There is one element of the ending that I find confusing, and I’m not entirely certain if I’m supposed to be confused or not.  This combined with some of the more annoying aspects of the first act prevent me from loving the play, but it is still highly likeable.

I recommend this 1879 three-act play to those interested in older versions of the theater, as well as those interested in feminism.  It is not only entertaining, but leads one to consider both gender and marriage roles.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Audiobooks app for the iTouch, iPhone, and iPad.

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Book Review: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall By Anne Bronte

September 22, 2009 Leave a comment

coverthetenantofwildfellhallSummary:
Cited as the feminist antithesis to her contemporary Austen’s romantic 19th century ramblings, Anne Bronte’s best-known novel presents the much more dire image of the very real risk of marriage in a time where the wife loses all her human rights to her husband. Gilbert Markham becomes infatuated with the widow Helen Graham who has moved into his neighborhood with her son, but rumors soon start to spark up around her. When he confronts her about her conduct, she shows him her diary. There he learns her travails and sufferings at the hands of her still very much alive husband.

Review:
I came to this book with high expectations. I heard of it simply as the one of the earlier feminist novels written in response to such works as Austen’s. I felt this opened the door to many possibilities, but perhaps I was thinking about this with too much of a 21st century brain. What held The Tenant of Wildfell Hall back was the relentless presentation of Helen as the picture of Christian piety. Given the fact that Helen behaves quite willfully and controversially for the time period by leaving her husband’s home to live separately from him, this was probably quite necessary for Bronte’s contemporaries to find Helen a sympathetic character. For me though her severeness sometimes had me siding with her tyrant of a husband in my mind. He calls her cold and calculating. Well all she ever talks about is living piously now to be joyous in heaven after death. I would find that cold and calculating as well.

This book does hold value for the modern feminist though if we re-position ourselves to look at it through the lens of how society at the time has messed up both Helen and her husband, Arthur. Society tells Helen that it is her job as a woman to be the pious one. Although single men may go cavorting about she must sit respectably at home or go out to supervised dances. Men may behave however they desire as long as they settle down after marriage. This belief leads Helen to make her foolish, egotistical mistake of thinking that marrying Arthur is alright for she can change him after they are married. To a certain extent Arthur makes the same mistake. He has been told the ideal wife is a highly pious one, so he marries Helen thinking she will save him when, in fact, they are the most mis-matched couple ever.

Arthur enjoys cavorting, playing cards, and drinking. Helen refuses to do these things out of piety and nags Arthur not to do them. They both come to realize they are mis-matched, but in their society divorce is a painful embarrassment to both parties. Helen doesn’t even consider it for Christian reasons; Arthur in order to save face. This leads to their gradual loss of caring for each other, although Arthur’s comes much faster and more brutally when he carries out an affair with the wife of a visiting friend.

Arthur no longer wants Helen, but she is his wife and he would be a laughing-stock if he couldn’t control her, so he starts abusing her emotionally–repeatedly telling her it disgusts him to see her pale skin, for instance. He also carries out the afore-mentioned affairs with her full knowledge and at first forbids her from having any of her own. I am not condoning Arthur’s ill-treatment of Helen. He made the situation far more worse than society alone would have had them make it. He could, for instance, have allowed them to set up separate households, which was sometimes done. He at least could have shown her the respect she deserved as a human being, but instead he came to view her almost as a hated prison guard. This would not have been the case if they could have parted ways amicably.

I must admit what struck me far more than the restrictive society was Helen’s restrictive religion. She almost constantly lives only thinking of her reward after death in Heaven. She possesses nearly no joy for her beliefs require that she squander her life away serving a man who hates her. The only reason she even leaves him for a time, relieving some of her pain, is because she believes her duty to raise a pious son outweighs her duty as a wife, so she is justified to remove her son from the soul-risking influence of his father. Helen’s faith seems to bring her no joy, but instead demand she behave as a judging marble statue.

Although The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is not an obvious feminist manifesto, it as an excellent rendition of the oppression of 19th century society on both men and women. Reading of their struggles and realizing as a 21st century observer that there is essentially no way out for either of them beautifully demonstrates how far we’ve come. Bronte’s writing style is complex enough that what could be a bit of a boring, straight-forward tale remains interesting throughout. She changes perspectives a few times via diaries and letters. She does suffer from the 19th century literature trap of overly extensive descriptions of settings, but these are easily skimmed. An excellent example of 19th century literature, I wish Bronte’s realistic work was assigned more often in literature classes than Austen’s fluffy, unrealistic drivel.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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