Tag Archives: Review

The Problem With Anne

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This Post Contains Spoilers for the Netflix Series Anne With an E

Much has been written about the joint CBC-Netflix show Anne with an E, with many reviewers feeling as though the series has ruined the magic of the book. (Magic that was in contrast, encapsulated by the 1985 movie). Like many young girls growing up in Canada, Anne holds a special place in my heart and I was sceptical about the iteration of her story. (I did not watch the American version starring Martin Sheen or the BBC Version). This deep-seeded love of the free-spirited Anne is the reason there was so much backlash against the grittier story Director Niki Caro decided to bring us. I however, don’t mind a darker Anne.

From the opening credits set to The Tragically Hip’s Ahead by a Century I had tears in my eyes. This was going to be a Canadian-driven production and it would be true to the story. I fell in love with Amybeth McNulty and the casting of R.H. Thompson and Geraldine James as Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert respectively was likewise on point. The sweeping picturesque scenes filled me with a warm appreciation for my country and I was totally engrossed in the story. Even Anne’s flashbacks, which signal a dramatic departure from the original tone of the book and 1985 movie, moved me. It’s realistic for Anne to have suffered from PTSD as being an orphan in the Maritimes at the dawn of the century would not have been easy. I was willing to accept this artistic choice, but then they changed some fundamental things.

My one main problem with the new series is that the creators lack a full understanding (as I see it) of what made Anne so inspiring. As a young girl I wasn’t outright bullied with name calling or threatened with physical violence, but I was a social outcast. I knew I was different from the other girls in my class because I loved to read and I loved to learn. I was an awkward looking girl with little interest in boys, or at least they had little interest in me. For me, my sense of who I was came, and still does come, from my academic achievements. Characters like Anne, Matilda, and Hermione got me through my rougher years in grade school and taught me that things get better; smart girls can rule the world.

In the new series, Anne isn’t the brightly shining student she is in previous incarnations. Yes, she loves to read, but when it comes to math she seems to fall behind. She even drops out of school for a while due to unrelenting bullying, something unheard of for the Anne Shirley I know and love. I understand trying to make Anne a more sympathetic character, someone other kids being bullied can identify with, but this series weakens her, especially in her relationship with Gilbert Blythe.

In the book, and 1985 movie, the entire relationship between Anne and Gilbert is founded on an intense academic rivalry. He is a charming blowhard who Anne has no romantic interest in until much later on in their lives. In the Netflix series, Gilbert initially meets Anne in a forest after he rescues her from a bully threatening to harm her. The series rewrites their relationship turning Gilbert into an sensitive brooding boy who can bond with Anne over their shared orphan-ness. The series turns Anne into a damsel in distress which is an interesting choice, given that the rest of the time the series seems hell-bent on convincing the viewer she is a feminist icon.

The thing is, Anne already was a feminist icon. Not because she is inspired to “be her own woman” by Aunt Josephine, or because she bests a bully telling her to literally “get back in the kitchen.” She was a feminist icon because she took school seriously at a time when women weren’t supposed too. The need to “better than the boys,” that innate feeling, is one that will resonate with many young girls whether is be competing with men at school, with sports, or at work. I could write at length about how hard it is for women and girls in higher education and the workplace because young girls are taught to be nice while boys are taught to be brave but I won’t do that here. (Reshma Saujani did an amazing TED Talk on this subject).

The competition appears mid-way through the series but doesn’t feel authentic to me. It’s forced and is simply a means to the end: The two are a romantic pair from the start and Gilbert is later removed entirely from this academic setting. The two trade barbs but do so cautiously in a way that highlights a different connection between the two, one based on an emotions rather than on one of intellect.

Previous versions of Anne never let anything hold her back, she knew she was smart and went for it even though she was constantly having to prove herself as a woman. She’s a feminist icon because she’s a fighter. She fights to stay at Green Gables; she fights for herself in school and repeatedly ends up at the top of her class gaining a scholarship and attending university despite all the societal pressures working against her. When she ultimately ends up with Gilbert it is only after years of academic rivalry out of which grew a deep mutual respect for one another.

The series overall isn’t bad. It’s worth it for the artistic shots of Ontario and PEI alone, and puffed sleeves and raspberry cordial still play prominent roles. For anyone watching for the first time however, I urge you to go back and either read the books or watch the 1985 film version. I am interested to see if they do another season and if any of these aspects of Anne are reclaimed. I recognize that this is my own personal bias but she was an idol for me, someone I looked up to and wanted to be. Girls, and boys, being introduced to Anne today deserve to have her as their role model too. To ignore Anne’s intelligence is to do her a complete and total injustice.

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Hunter S. Thompson – The Rum Diary (1998)

TheRumDiaryHaving previously read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as well as Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, I came into this book familiar with Hunter S. Thompson. I liked this book way more than the previous ones.

I don’t even really know why; it’s similar to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but the Caribbean setting just makes it better for some reason, and I found I liked all the characters better too. This book is exactly what you’d expect from Hunter S. Thompson, a semi-autobiographical rum-soaked account of working as a journalist in the Puerto Rico. The story is about the journalists who work at a ill-fated magazine and their tangled love triangles, jealousy, and drunken shenanigans and violent outbursts.

While it feels like it was written by a older man reminiscing, Thompson was only 22 when he penned this narrative, something I did not know until doing a bit of research. It’s surreal in a way, the experience that 22 year old Thompson had in Puerto Rico. It’s a fun read and a great introduction to Hunter S. Thompson for those unfamiliar with his hilarity, absurdity, and genius.

Mary Doria Russell – The Sparrow (1996)

51tOtm+GblLGrowing up in a Catholic household, I was raised, especially by my Grandmother, to believe that the Jesuits could do no wrong. Obviously as I grew up and became disillusioned with the Church I turned more cynical and didn’t necessarily subscribe to her views. Still, in Catholic School, and then University, learning about the Jesuits always fascinated me because of their predisposition towards exploration. Reading and translating the Jesuit Diaries for an undergraduate class was an amazing experience, and despite how problematic the diaries are, I loved reading them.

In her novel, Mary Doria Russell imagines what it would be like if Jesuits were the first group of people to make contact with an alien species. I’ve heard a lot of amazing things about this book, and while I liked it, it didn’t blow me away. There is no denying that it is beautifully written, but I had a hard time visualizing things at time. Russell jumps back and forth in time starting with introducing us to Emilio Sandoz, the lone survivor of the mission who has returned to earth physically and mentally damaged. Throughout the novel you learn more about Sandoz and the other cast of characters who end up involved in the mission. You find out how they made contact, and finally what went wrong.

The novel is much more of a character study than it is a work of science fiction in its classic sense, which was fine with me. The characters are all compelling in their own sense especially as they grapple with issues of religion and faith. There just wasn’t a moment in the book that completely wowed me, but maybe I had my expectation driven up too high by all the things I’ve heard about the book. It was still a great concept and a good read, especially for those who enjoy character driven stories.

Alice Hoffman – Museum of Extraordinary Things (2014)

MuseumofExtraordinaryThingsI’d heard of Alice Hoffman, author of The Dovekeepers, but never took the time to read anything she’d written. I fell in love with this book quite fast, and not only because it deals with some of my favourite subjects, (freakshows, immigrants living on the Lower East Side, The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire), but because Alice Hoffman is an incredibly talented and beautiful writer.

Through her novel Hoffman traces the stories of two characters, Coralie, a young girl who spends her days serving her cruel father, Professor Sardie, and serving as one of his living wonders at The Museum of Extraordinary things, and Eddie Cohen, a Jewish boy who turned his back on his faith and makes a living as a photographer. The two lives intersect in various ways as they both attempt to help the other escape.

Hoffman is such an amazing writer, telling a story in such vivid detail. It’s been a while since I found myself completely lost within a book, but it was quite easy to do with this one. The characters are flawed and relatable and there is the perfect mix of intrigue and whimsy. Set against the backdrop of the Coney Island boardwalk and the Lower East Side Tenements, this book was a fantastic snapshot of New York City at a particular moment in time.

Anya Von Bremzen – Mastering The Art of Soviet Cooking (2013)

51M7OxYdMNL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_In this book, part memoir, part cookbook, Anya Von Bremzen traces her family’s history living in Russia (then the Soviet Union) by discussing the type of food they ate. She starts with her maternal grandparents living in Russia in the 1920s but jumps back and forth in time and space between her homeland and 1980s Philadelphia where she and her mother immigrated to. At the end of each chapter Von Bremzen depicts a dinner party her mother is hosting in the present day, where she and Anya are attempting to cook through the history of Soviet food.

Unsurprisingly there is a lot of hardship throughout the book, especially when Anya is discussing life in the Soviet Union during the Second World War. In addition to the food rations, Von Bremzen also discusses the indoctrination of Soviet youth and how her mother was once a proud Soviet citizen before becoming disillusioned with the system. The depictions of the meals are vivid, although I could have definitely used a glossary; I had a hard time keeping all the Russian terms straight and knowing what was what.

At the end of the book Von Bremzen has included a number of recipes discussed in the book and I am looking forward to trying my hand at at least one of them. I had been familiar with Russian cuisine from its imperial age (Thanks Anna Karenina), but know less about Soviet cooking. I love food and think that cooking another culture’s cuisine is the perfect way to get to know them.

Recommended Listening:

This podcast from The Table Set that discusses hosting a Russian themed dinner party. 

Recipe To Try:

An adaptation of Anya Von Bremen’s pirozhki recipe from the tasting table.

A video showing the AV Club sampling Soviet Sodas.

 

Kate Bolick – Spinster (2015)

Spinster“Spinster” is one of those terms that is not as commonly used as it once was. Having used to refer to a woman who remained unmarried whether a conscious decision or not, the term has fallen into disuse, or when used conjures up images of severe middle-aged “spinster librarian” types. (A stereotype that, as a librarian, I dislike). In her book, titled Spinster, Kate Bolick explores what it means to be single and seeks to reclaim the term.

In this book (an outgrowth of a 2011 Atlantic Article, “All the Single Ladies”) Bolick traces the lives of five great female writers (all of whom never married) and interlaces their lives with stories from her own personal journey. I’ve never read anything quite like this before, that blends memoir/autobiography with non-fiction. I was unsure at first, but as I kept reading I really began to like Bolick and drew my own inspiration from her.

Unlike Bolick’s article in the Atlantic, which was much more “fun” featuring one-night-stands and whirlwind romances, Spinster, is full of contemplative ponderings and the joys of solitude. I bought this book at a time when I too was trying to find joy in being alone after a tumultuous relationship and maybe that’s why it spoke to me so much. If anything it made me realize that I was going to be ok, and being alone, as much as I disliked it at the time did not make me a failure.

I feel like this book will split readers down the middle with some loving it and other hating it. It’s interesting and I fall on the side of those who loved it. Spinster is above all a product of Bolick’s long-term goal; a rejection of the traditional female role for something that she finds more fulfilling. Agree or disagree with Bolick, it is still an insightful and interesting read.

Recommended Reading: How to Be Alone from Thought Catalog. This is an older article but is still in my bookmarks, and I revisit it often.

Recommended Listening: A podacst episode on Self Care produced by Bitch Media for Valentine’s Day. 

Lev Grossman – The Magician King (2011)

9780670022311_MagicianKing_CVF.inddIn contrast to the tested theory that the second installment in a trilogy will never be as good as the first, The Magician King was in my opinion, better than The Magicians, especially because it follows two storylines as opposed to one.

The character of Julia, the girl Quinten originally had a crush on before coming to Brakebills and meeting Alice, reappears in this story and we learn what happened to her while Quinten was obtaining a formal magical education and becoming a King of Fillory. Essentially Julia was in the admissions exam for Brakebills and did not pass. While students who are not admitted to the school normally have no recollection of the event, Julia knew something was wrong and she let that fact consume her. We learn that Julia, obsessed with becoming a magician, found an underground world of hedge magicians to train with.

While we learn Julia’s backstory, specifically how powerful she became eventually becoming a Queen of Fillory, follow Julia and Quinten as they find themselves accidentally kicked out of Fillory and struggle to find a way back.

While Grossman introduces some interesting moments in the Julia and Quinten storyline, like having to travel to Italy to speak with a Dragon and the nature of those dragons, Julia’s backstory is far more interesting and compelling to read. The book ends with Quintin once again in exile from Fillory and I’m sure the third book is all about his attempts to return. I really hope Grossman does more with the story however as I got tired of Quinten not in Fillory.