Megan Mayhew Bergman – Almost Famous Women

Almost Famous WomenI have been so well with short story collections recently having just finished Barbara the Slut. Bergman does something very different with her short story collection, but I loved it nonetheless.

While this compilation is a work of fiction, each short story focuses on a real woman from the past and then spins a creative narrative about their lives. The women that Bergman profiles are, as the title suggests, “Almost Famous,” meaning that while they were all quite notable while alive, history has forgotten them. Some of the women featured in these stories I had heard of like Butterfly McQueen, the African American actress famous for her role as Prissy in Gone With the Wind, and many of them had familiar family names; Allegra Byron, Dolly Wilde, and Norma Millay. Many of these women though, I knew nothing about (Joe Carstairs, Hazel Eaton, and Tiny Davis) and found myself completely enthralled by the stories that Bergman told.

Bergman is an amazing storyteller and I found myself lost in her writing. Whit short story collections I normally find that I read one a day, but I completely burned through this collection because I couldn’t get enough. She also did a remarkable amount of research as evidenced by the lengthy appendix to the book and made a real attempt to understand these women’s lives before attempting to create stories about them. One of the things that I liked the most about these stories is that not all of them are told by the characters that they are focused on, but rather are narrated by secondary or outside characters. This narrative style is functional, allowing the author to create profiles of these women without having to be inside their heads, and also compelling as you are drawn to the subjects of the stories as well as the narrators. I loved this collection and can’t praise it highly enough.

Recommended Reading and Listening:

I couldn’t do any better than the appendix that Megan Mayhew Bergman provides everyone with in her book filled with suggestions for further reading.

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Why I Loved the Last Jedi and Hate Canons

Let the past die

The Last Jedi is proving to be one of the most divisive installments of the franchise to date. Pretty much everyone and their uncle has written a thought piece about it and I’ve decided to throw my hat into the ring as well.

WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD

luke

He’s still just a whiny teenager [Image: Lucasfilm]

Aside from the fanboys crying over representations of women and minorities, a lot of Star Wars fans are upset at Luke’s behaviour, seeing it as out of character and, as I keep hearing, “not-canon.” The thing is, this is an official Star Wars movie. It is therefore, officially, part of the canon. Imaginary Worlds did an interesting podcast recently about the idea of ‘canons’ and how maybe we’re living in a post canon world. In recent years we’ve seen the dismantling of literary canons, those that include only white men, as media outlets have put out their own more inclusive and diverse canons. One of my favorite articles written this year, which I highly recommend reading related tangentially to this but was rather called, “20 Authors I Don’t Have to Read Because I’ve Dated Men for 16 Years.”

I understand the criticism of Luke’s character and maybe everyone is totally right. Maybe this aspect of his character development didn’t bother me because I don’t care about Luke Skywalker. The fact that Luke no longer thinks the Jedi should exist anymore after a brief moment of weakness didn’t strike me as wrong or odd, but rather fell in line with who I always felt his character to be. Again, Luke is the one character out of the original three who, while being the main focus, I cared about the least. I was far more interested in Princess Leia being a badass and Han Solo as the rogue. I was even more invested in the droids than I was in Luke. The thing that signified a departure for me was the reveal of Rey’s parents.

Rey’s Parents

As with most fans I spent a lot of time speculating about Rey’s parents after the Force Awakens was released. After all, the previous 6 movies are about family specifically the

Rey

[Image: Lucasfilm]

Skywalker’s and their above average abilities relating to the Force. When Rey showed herself to have such mastery over the Force without any formal training, it seemed to indicate a continuation the legacy, she had to be a Skywalker in some way shape or form.

Providing that Kylo Ren is telling the truth, the fact that Rey’s parents were gamblers who sold Rey to junkers when she was young is shattering in the best possible way. As is the final scene, with the young stable boy seemingly using the force to grab a broom while staring up at the sky. The force isn’t just reserved for the ‘special’ people anymore; it moves through everyone, including the defeated. Which is what makes the Canto Bight scene so important.

Canto Bight

Star-Wars-Last-Jedi-Rose-Finn

Rose Tiko was one of my favouite additions. [Image: Lucasfilm]

This scene, and Finn and Rose’s side mission was a point of contention for a number of fans. It did feel a bit clunky and again, the criticisms of this scene are totally valid BUT it was still important. Finn and Rose’s gallivant around Canto Bight underscored the dirty underbelly of the Star Wars Universe. The scene showed what the world is actually like for citizens of this universe outside of the main heroes and villains. This is one of the things that bugged me about the original movies. There’s an evil empire and a rebellion, but there aren’t any citizens; no unrest among the masses. Rebellions are driven by everyday people; revolutions occur when populations are oppressed for too long. (Something the Huger Games got right). The Canto Bight plot sets this up, while also hitting the audience over the head with it. There are people in the galaxy who are ready to rise up, they just need the spark to light the rebellion. They have that spark now, the rebellion can begin.

2017: The Year I Learned About Self Care

This time in between Christmas and New Years in always a time for self reflection and for self care. It took me a few years to full grasp on to this idea of self care. I had viewed it as more of a “treat yo’ self” kind of thing where women go get their nails done and sit at home surrounded by candles eating full fat ice cream watching You’ve Got Mail. While pampering yourself is definitely an aspect of self care the term means so much more.

It hit home for me this year with the endless news cycle of 2017. Everyday it was more about what Trump was doing, or about the endless number of women who endured harassment and abuse at the hands of powerful men. Self care means different things to different people but for me it started to make sense when I finally turned off the news.

The goal was to stay informed but not inundated by depressing stories after depressing stories. I would check my news outlets in the morning, take a quick scroll through twitter and then that was it. No more reading endless articles from Jezebel about why I should be outraged at the world. I was less exhausted and unplugging became part of my self care routine.

Depression and anxiety are two things I’ve struggled with, although it’s not something I have always been forthcoming about or willing to admit. Rough patches and mental breakdowns in grad school weren’t always met with the understanding I needed from those around me and therefore I began to see it as a weakness. It’s not, and there’s nothing wrong with needing a break.

I realized that the stress of grad school, as well as the stress my relationship at the time was causing, meant I had less time to do some of the things I had worked into my routine during undergrad and high school. Things like reading and writing for myself which I didn’t even realize I missed doing until I wasn’t doing them anymore.

As my relationship was on the way out and I started a new graduate program, one that was still a lot of work but much less pressure, I found the time to get back into the things that I loved. I even picked up new hobbies, specifically knitting. Working with my hands is calming and soothing for me and I began to use knitting as a way to centre myself and heal.

As I look to the year ahead I’m going to try and do more things that bring me joy. I’m going to try and be better at keeping up this blog as I branch out from writing exclusively about book reviews and try to open myself up a bit more. I’m going to try to work meditation practices into my knitting, and I’m going to continue to be mindful of the effect that the endless news cycle is having on me.

I thank everyone who has followed this blog for years and am excited about this coming year. So let me know, what is your self care routine? And how do you plan to take care of yourself heading into the New Year?

Caroline Moorehead – Village of Secrets (2014)

VillageofSecretsIn her previous work, A Train in Winter, Caroline Moorehead profiled a group of French women instrumental to the resistance in France. She followed their journey to concentration camps where many perished. Her newer work, Village of Secrets, looks at the French resistance from a different angle focusing instead on the residents of the French Village Le Chambon-Sur-Lignon.

In 1990 this town was one of two that were recognised as righteous among nations by Yad Vashem for being a safe haven for Jews during the Second World War. According to Moorehead, residents of the village secured the survival of at least 800 Jews by hiding them (many of them children) and helped an additional 3,000 get safely across the border to Switzerland.

There is an impulse to celebrate the Resistance, especially in France as the country struggles to cope with the existence of the Vichy regime and those that were complacent or even supportive of the Nazi’s. Celebrating an entire village is difficult however and there are naturally those that exist in a grey area. The world was not divided into Nazi’s and the Righteous and many kept their heads down in order to simply keep themselves alive. Still the efforts of those that risked their lives to save Jews from Nazi hands are extraordinary and they must be applauded.

At the end of her work, Moorehead follows those that were saved and survived, but the book ends on quite a melancholy note. Even in stories of the resistance and the good they did, the stories of the children get lost. Many of the children’s lives were saved but often they didn’t have a life to go back to. Instead they had to live with family they never knew, family they ceased to know, survivor’s guilt. Those who banded together in grief often fared better than those reunited with family. The Holocaust, and the efforts to save Jews, created an entire generation of orphans because the impulse to save the lives of children is often the strongest. Many of the survivors are quoted about how they struggled with being grateful to those that rescued them while also combating feelings of resentment for being torn from their families even though staying together meant an almost certain death.

Helen Bryan – War Brides (2006)

war-brides-by-helen-bryanHelen Bryan’s novel opens in the present day with an elderly woman packing to get on a plane to Europe. Her distination is unknown, but we know that whoever she plans on seeing, she hasn’t seen in over 50 years.

The bulk of Bryan’s novel takes place 50 years earlier during the Second World War and follows the lives of four women, Evangeline who has eloped from New Orleans, Alice a spinster living in the English countryside, Elsie evacuated from London, Tanni who has fled Vienna, and Frances a high spirited society girl sent to live with her Godmother, as how their lives intersect as they all find themselves in Crowmarsh Priors for the war. The novel had a great set up, but fell rather flat and had an unsatisfying conclusion.

I won’t say too much more at risk of spoiling the book, but there is a lot of character development during the first half of the novel which is well done, but Bryan seems unsure of where to go from there. Each woman is introduced on her own and has a compelling backstory; Evangeline is the daughter of a planter in New Orleans and is having an illicit affair with her mulatto cousin, Elsie is a slum rat in London but clever nonetheless, and Tanni find herself married to a family friend studying at Oxford in order to escape Nazi occupied Austria. Once all the women find themselves in Crowmarsh priors, their stories get tiresome. The women’s stories end before the war does, and the epilogue tacked on to the end is sloppy and seems out of place. It feels as though Bryan was rushed in writing this in order to make a deadline or something. I was quite disappointed after what seemed like such a promising start to the story.

New Project Alert

buffy-ensemble

Hi everyone, I just wanted to share a new project I’m working on with you. I’ve never seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer so I’ve decided to watch every episode and write about it. I know there are quite a few Buffy recaps out there, but I want this one to be more than just an episode recap. You can check it out at my other blog here.

I’ll still be reviewing books, just wanted to share this with you all and hopefully gain some followers!

Thanks guys,

Katie

Lauren Holmes – Barbara The Slut and Other People (2015)

23398781__UY2514_SS2514_I have a difficult relationship with short stories, and aside from David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day, I have yet to come across a compilation of short stories that I absolutely love. Well I finally found it.

I’m not even quite sure how to explain what makes this collection so great, which is terrible because I’ve decided to review books in my spare time, but it definitely has to do with Holmes’ writing style. She writes in a very candid way with short and snappy sentences never leaving her characters to dwell on a thought for too long. Her writing is very matter-of-fact and often times dripping with sarcasm or irony. Maybe I just loved her writing so much because I feel like I speak in a similar way.

The stories themselves are also all great ranging from the story of a law student with an identity crisis acting as a lesbian to work at a female-positive sex shop, so a woman who falls in love with a Swedish guy who she grows to dislike more and more as he gets attached to her dog Pearl. I feel like short stories seem like they would be easy to write, but are actually in reality quite difficult. It’s easy to come up with the idea for one, but then to create a compelling enough storyline that people actually care about before reaching a satisfying conclusion in a limited number of pages is tough. As with most short story collections, I likes certain stories better than others, but they all hit all the right notes.

I can’t recommend this enough. It’s a short smart and quirky read that you’ll want to lend to your friends so that you can laugh about it together.