Reading Update from On the Road

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It’s been almost two weeks since I left my job, packed up my life, and left Singapore. Up until now, my reading had taken a bit of a nose dive. Every time I sat down with a good book, my mind would be all over the place. Needless to say, Feminist Lit February was a complete fail.

Now that I’m “on the road” (I hate that phrase but, as I’m currently homeless, jobless, and carrying everything I own in three bags around the world with me, I guess it’s pretty fitting) though, I’ve started to relax and am finally getting to dive into the books I’ve brought along with me.

And, as I haven’t written about my reading habits for a few months, I thought I’d take this opportunity, on this very lazy Sunday, to write about everything I’ve been neglecting.

Feminist Lit February

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I guess #FemLitFeb wasn’t a complete fail because I did manage to read 3/5 of the books on my TBR.

What was a bit ridiculous was starting the month off with a Joan Didion book. Didion is notoriously anti-feminist so it seemed quite contradictory to be reading one of her works. I can’t help but enjoy Didion though. I’ve only read her fiction so far and usually end up flying through them in the space of a few days. Her characters – while rich and supremely privileged – are always embroiled in some crazy thriller that spans generations.

I also wanted to get to The Last Thing He Wanted after hearing the news that Dee Rees (director of Mudbound) was adapting it onto the big screen with Carey Mulligan in the cast. I enjoyed it. I do feel like Didion’s books can be pretty hit and miss but this one was a hit for me. I didn’t get anything particularly deep and meaningful from it (or, if I did, it’s been two months and I can’t remember it) but it was the quick-pace, edginess, and shady goings-on that captivated me. I gave it 4 stars.

Next, I completed the ‘Feminist Freebie’ challenge with Joy Harjo’s memoir, Crazy Brave. I’d read a few of Harjo’s poems in the past and was really eager to learn more about her life. Shout out to my parents for giving me this book for Christmas because I loved it. Harjo’s poetic way with words is present throughout the entire memoir as she takes us from her earliest memories of her parents to life with her abusive stepfather to learning how to express herself through creative writing and art in school and college.

Harjo’s non-linear stream of consciousness is full of beauty and heartbreak, and makes for a really honest and inspiring read. I gave this 5 stars.

Following on from that, I read Rubyfruit Jungle. Yes, Educating Rita fans, this is a real book. I chose this for my ‘Read a book of feminist fiction’ challenge and ended up connecting with something incredible. I was blown away by how much I resonated with our protagonist, Molly, a young girl growing up in 1950s America, attempting to navigate her way through society’s ideas of gender, whilst also dealing with her own sexuality.

I loved Molly. I was not brought up in 1950s America but was definitely more of a tomboy as a child and definitely remember being questioned (by other kids) about why I loved Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesMighty Max, and Power Rangers rather than playing hairdressers or with (kids’) makeup. Being a queer girl is also a strange thing to deal with and, god, I wish I’d read this book while I was growing up. I needed someone like Molly to look up to: Someone who was never afraid to be herself and flat-out refused to succumb to other people’s expectations.

This book made me realise that I need to read more queer literature. Women’s queer literature, in particular. I don’t read a lot of LGBT books but the ones I usually pick up deal with men. That’s fine but I hadn’t realised, until now, how much I do need women’s queer lit in my life. 5 stars to Rubyfruit Jungle.

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For my ‘Read a book of feminist nonfiction’ challenge, I read Invisible Victims by Katherine McCarthy. At this time, the official number of Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women is at around 4200. It’s estimated that the actual number is far greater.

I’ve been following the #MMIW trend on Twitter for quite a while now. I’ve read numerous articles, reports, and first hand accounts on the subject and it never fails to astound me how much this goes ignored in the mainstream media. Katherine McCarthy has put together a short book on the topic, which almost serves as an introduction to what has been going on. The length is short but this certainly packs a punch and delivers a well-researched collection of cases. A must read. 5 stars.

Finally, the last book I finished in February was Woman Walking Ahead by Eileen Pollack. This is described as a look at the relationship between Tatanka Iyotake (Sitting Bull) and Catherine Weldon, a white woman from New York who moved to Standing Rock in 1889 to act as his secretary and interpreter.

Now, I really don’t know what to make of this. I will start by saying that Pollack really did her best with what little information was out there. There are letters and a few documents still around that helped her piece together part of Weldon’s story. But that didn’t make me like Weldon.

We can see her as some sort of strong, feminist hero for taking charge of her life as a young widow, refusing to let any man or society tell her what to do. But, let’s be honest here. All this book taught me was that Catherine Weldon embodied everything about white feminism before it had a name. She thought of herself as a white saviour and set out to speak for and ‘save’ the Lakota people. She encouraged Tatanka Iyotake (Sitting Bull) to embrace Christianity and follow the white man’s example in order to play nice. She looked down her nose at traditional native ceremonies and practices, and was more than happy to speak for the Lakota people, as long as they were living her idea of ‘civilised lives.’

Weldon’s story has been adapted into a Hollywood film with Jessica Chastain and it’ll be interesting to see how it turns out. Chastain is pretty outspoken about women’s role in film and loves to play strong, female characters. Sure, Weldon was a strong female but she was also pretty awful. Is she really oblivious to the fact that Weldon epitomised white feminism? Or are they glossing that fact over? Like I said, it’ll be interesting to see how the film turns out.

I gave this 4 stars for the fact that this is a really well put-together book. It lost a star for me because I got the feeling that Pollack wanted Weldon to seem more important than she actually was.

March … Meh …

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I should probably start by saying that the books I read in March weren’t ‘Meh’ – just the amount. I can’t remember the last time I read such few books in a month. Especially as these were both pretty short.

I started off with Roald Dahl’s Going Solo. I’d been putting off this book for more than a year because I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I’m a lifelong fan of Dahl’s children’s literature and have never ventured into his adult works, for fear of it tarnishing my opinion. Plus I knew that Going Solo was his account of living and working abroad for the Shell company and then being a fighter pilot in WWII so I was afraid it would be a complete snoozefest.

O ye, of little faith.

How could I doubt Dahl? He is the master of storytelling. I absolutely loved this book. In fact, as someone who’s lived abroad for the last four years, I found myself connecting with quite a few of his wicked observations:

“It would seem that when the British live for years in a foul and sweaty climate among foreign people they maintain their sanity by allowing themselves to go slightly dotty. They cultivate bizarre habits that would never be tolerated back home, whereas in far-away Africa or in Ceylon or in India or in the Federated Malay States they could do as they liked. On the SS Mantola just about everybody had his or her own particular maggot in the brain, and for me it was like watching a kind of non-stop pantomime throughout the entire voyage.”

Roald, why are you me?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself silently judging how nuts us Westerners can be in the east.

It’s a combination of this humorous tone and some truly heartfelt passages that carries us through Going Solo as Dahl comes to terms with the events leading up to the war before finally enlisting. What’s interesting to note is the humanity Dahl adds to the passages describing the battles. His job, as a fighter pilot, is to shoot down enemy planes, but not once does he turn into a military machine in the battle of good guys vs bad guys. He knows that enemy planes must be taken out but shows compassion for the young men on the other side and that is why this isn’t just another war memoir, made up of facts and figures. This was another 5 star read for me.

Finally, the last book I read during my Feb/March slump was Sitting Bull: His Life and Legacy by Ernie LaPointe. I’d read that this was the best and most accurate book about Sitting Bull as LaPointe is the icon’s great-grandson. I wasn’t disappointed. Perhaps I’m biased because I really admire Tatanka Iyotake (Sitting Bull). I love everything he stood for and think he was a great man. While short, this book is everything you need to learn the truth about his life. This is Lakota oral history turned into written history. Truly inspiring. 5 stars.

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And that’s a wrap on all the books I read in February and March. I think I’ll write about the books I’ve been reading ‘on the road’ at the end of April. This is just a little catch up of everything I read during my last two months in Singapore.

It’s now Monday morning so this post has taken me a whole 24 hours to write.

Right now, I’m in Bali, enjoying the peace and quiet and trying not to get sunburnt. Soon I’ll be moving along to another place and we’ll see if that affects my reading. For now, have a good week, everyone. 🙂

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One thought on “Reading Update from On the Road

  1. Oh man. Rubyfruit sounds like something I needed to read when I was young as well. Definitely going on my list! Enjoy Bali!! One of these days I’ll make it to Indonesia. 😀

    Like

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