Monday, January 31, 2011

Sexist or Not Sexist? That is the Question.

So how does one come to define a book as sexist? Or the author writing it? It can sometimes be hard to decide. At first you get that little tickle in your spine, maybe your cheeks start to flush. You think to yourself, “I don’t like where this is going.” But then you have to stop and ask yourself: is this just the character being a sexist jerkface? Or is the character actually relating to us the author’s true feelings? Am I supposed to relate to this character? Think they’re a stand-up person? Are they the hero? Someone to be idolized? Sometimes the lines can be tricky.

Like in The Picture of Dorian Gray, which I just recently read, Lord Henry espouses many sexist ideas and presents them in a humorous light. Haha, funny funny, let’s all laugh along, right? Well sure, Oscar Wilde was presenting a delightful bit of humor into the story but was I supposed to be agreeing or wringing my hands at how full of himself Lord Henry was? I think the latter. Sure, Dorian Gray, the main character, seemed to idolize Lord Henry at first but then also seemed to despise him at times. And I wouldn’t call Dorian a character to look up to at all as well. My review of this book is to come but it’s fair to say that Oscar Wilde was not in fact showing his true colors through the voice of Lord Henry and that the whole book was a commentary on class and image and beauty. Touche Wilde!

Then there’s a book like The Human Stain by Philip Roth. Arg, where do I begin. It almost pains me to talk about this book to be honest. I finished this one several months ago and it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I remember the tingling feeling in my spine when the sexist talk began (and racist too, what fun!). And then I kept waiting for some part of the book to seem to refute the main character in a way. To make it known that he was NOT a good guy. Sure, it was known right from the beginning, maybe the opening sentence even, that Coleman Silk is going to die, but then the rest of the book it’s like Roth is trying to prove to you that he’s really not an awful person (literally screaming out loud now). Is he perfect? No. Is he a jerk? Sure. But he had his reasons for being such a horrid *insert profanity here* (also insert eye roll). I’m not buying it Mr. Roth. Coleman Silk was a sexist, racist self-absorbed *that profanity we talked about before* and I couldn’t wait until I got to the point in the book where he was dead. The main problem I had though while reading was that I could tell I wasn’t really reading about a character’s sexist thoughts, I was reading about the author’s own thoughts, and that made my skin crawl. It’s hard to describe but it was there.

I’ve since talked to many others about Philip Roth’s novels and many have understood and agreed with what I’m talking about. Needless to say, I won’t be reading another Roth novel anytime again in the near future. But so what about the rest of you? Have there been books where it’s hard for you to tell if it’s the author’s personal POV or the character? What are some books/authors that you think do a good job in distinguishing between the two?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Reviews in Twos!

Time for the next installment of Reviews in Twos (I know you’re all very excited)! The last two reviews were both of wonderful classics. I was so glad to have read both of them. This time it’s a bit different. One’s a classic book, but unfortunately in my eyes it was a huge disappointment, and the other isn’t a classic at all but the latest of the Pendergast books by Child and Preston.

So here we go!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Sexist Hypocrisy of The Odyssey

Now, I haven't read The Odyssey in I want to say 100 years, but truthfully it has been more like 13. I was a freshman in high school at the time so forgive me for basing a lot of this post on hazy memory but that was an eternity ago. But I did read the book and I also saw the mini-series featuring the swashbuckling Armand Assante (thankfully it came out right at the same time my English class had to read the book, let's take a guess at how many students actually didn't do any reading at all...). But someone in my Shelfari group recently posted a review on The Odyssey and it got my engines all fired up (to be fair, the person on Shelfari did agree with the hypocritical ridiculousness I'm about to go into).  

I'm sure most of us are familiar with the basic story, yes? A man, Odysseus, is trying to return home to his wife, Penelope, and son, Telemachus, after fighting in the Trojan war. However because of some spiteful gods (I guess he upset Poseidon or something) there are many fun and challenging obstacles in his way, like having sex with various women and nymphs. Tragic I know. I can only think of how he suffered. Now true, aside from being fed grapes and pampered by women just wanting to throw themselves at him, he also had to fight other monsters and such, so I guess it's only fair he be rewarded with sex from women that were not his wife. I mean, he was so confused and tired.

In the meantime, his wife Penelope is home in Ithaca fighting off about 100 suitors who think it is unfair of her to have waited ten years to not remarry. Yes, you read that right: 100 suitors for 10 years. But does she slip up? Even once? Nope. She remains perfectly chaste, the whole time thinking of no one except poor Odysseus, who for all she knows could be dead. I mean after 10 years, come on! And despite Penelope being true to her marriage vows this whole time, her rotten son, Telemachus, assumes she's plotting something with one of the suitors behind his absent father's back.

Finally when Odysseus returns home, after he's managed to somehow wrestle himself out of the beds of all these strange alluring women, he creates a test for his wife to find out if she's been faithful to HIM! Of course she passes (big shocker there), and then father and son go on to kill all her suitors. A happy ending for all!

Now, I'm not saying the writing by Homer isn't absolutely fantastic and that the story in parts isn't riveting, but the rest...I can't help but roll my eyes.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Catching Up on Reviews...Reviews in Twos!

Alright, well the way I think I'm going to run this blog is I'll post my reviews of books very shortly after I've read them but since I’m starting basically a month into the year already I’m going to post a couple reviews at a time until I catch up to myself (I’ve already read 6 books since 2011 started, yay me!). I mostly read the classics but my tastes can vary a lot. And some books will elicit more of a passion for discussion in me than others (it’s usually the ones I DON’T like, haha). I try to give a little summary of the book before I describe my response to the story and what I thought of it but the formula doesn't always work, such is life! Don't worry though, I'll warn you ahead of time of any spoilers.

So without further ado (yes I know you’ve been waiting with bated breath), here are the reviews for the first two books I read this year: 

Welcome to My Blog!!

Well, this is the start, but I have to warn you all (whoever you are) that I don’t know exactly what I want this to be. I do know two things: that I’m a feminist and I’m a book lover. So those things are going to be incorporated in here. I write off the cuff most of the time so I hope that is appreciated. Right now I plan on keeping a log of the books I read and posting my reviews, good or bad. In between will be my always witty (yeah right) observations of daily life. Whatever bugs me or intrigues me I’ll be sure to try to include it for your entertainment. And maybe we’ll get some good discussion out of it in the process. Sound like a deal? Well I hope so because you can’t really respond right now so that’s too bad. 

So here goes…

I guess my first post should be about me then right? Well, I’m in my late 20s (ugh I have to say late now? that’s horrible!) and I live in Chicago. I was born and raised in Chicago but moved to Louisiana when I turned 18 and went to college down there. I loved it. New Orleans specifically is where I lived. Spent 5 glorious years there. Yes, I lived through the Hurricane. It sucked. But I was a lucky one. Don’t really want to talk about that though. After graduation I moved back to Chicago and I’ve been here ever since. I love Chicago but I never imagined I’d be back. Oh well, it’s a great city (not as great at NOLA though).
I got my BA in history at college but that’s also where I learned I was…a feminist. Now what is this crazy label of feminist you may ask? Well, it’s pretty simple. Basically it means that I think all human beings are equal and should be treated as such (crazy I know). Unfortunately while in college I learned to start looking around at the world and see that things were not equal for everyone the way they should be and that, well, that blew. Hence the feminism. And once you start taking off those rose-colored glasses and seeing the sexism all around you and the racism and what have you, you can’t really put them back on again.

As I said, I’m also a book lover. I have been ever since I can remember and this is due in large part to my mother. I remember her reading to me when I was just a small girl. All the good books like Stuart Little, Trumpeter Swan, Charlotte’s Web, Little Women…so my interest in books was sparked very early on for which I am immensely grateful. But then once junior high and high school started I hated being told by teachers which books I HAD to read. So in response I didn’t read them. I’d still read other books on my own, but not the classics. So as of a few years ago I started reading all those books for myself, and personally I think the experience has been wonderful. I’ve been able to fully enjoy them and all for myself as opposed to doing it for a book report for school.

So I’m fully back in the reading spirit and find I can’t be satisfied unless I have a book or my Kindle in my purse.