The first book I read this week was The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. This has been on my radar basically forever, because who hasn't heard of it? I read his A Thousand Splendid Suns waaaay back in 2011 and always intended to get to this one next... but I never did. This is about two friends growing up in Afghanistan from the 1970s onwards- Amir and the son of his father's servant, Hassan. Things happen, their friendship turns a bit sour, and later Amir moves to the US when shit goes down in Afghanistan. Later as an adult, he returns to Afghanistan to make amends. I liked this in a lot of ways- I'm always fascinated by books set in times and countries that I know very little about, and the depiction of the horrible things that happen in this book is brave and unflinching... but there were other things I was less keen on. The trouble with books that deal with such horrible things as war, rape, child abuse and so on is that it's difficult to avoid becoming overly sentimental and, well, a bit hackneyed. And it's not helped by the frequently implausible coincidences and the like that go on in the plot. Is this balanced out by the horror? I don't really know. Still, I enjoyed this, if not quite as much as A Thousand Splendid Suns.
I know already that Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard is going to be one of my favourite books of the year. I've been looking forward to reading it basically since I first heard about it- a YA book with a butch lesbian main character!- and it did not disappoint. I'm trying to formulate a full-length review of this because I have so many feelings, so I'll be relatively brief here. Pen is a boyish girl who loves video games and struggles to deal with her traditional Portuguese family who disapprove of the way she dresses and acts and want her to be more like a girl. Also, her friends are kind of dickbags. She starts dating Blake, the lead singer of a band and strikes up an unlikely friendship with her best friend's ex Olivia, cuts her hair, learns to 'man up' and deal with her family and friend problems. I loved this book on so many levels- the focus on gender identity and not feeling like quite one or the other, misogyny, masculine identity, as well as just being a really good story about a girl growing up and dealing with shit. I loved this so hard.
Next up we have Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, something I probably wouldn't have picked up myself except my girlfriend is a big fan and swore it's better than the movie. And it totally is in many ways. The book is much more scientific and much more violent and it really does make you wish for a more loyal adaptation- or maybe a nice Netflix original series. But at the same time, the film does simplify it to an extent that feels much more accessible. There are so many characters in this book that don't really serve much purpose and all sort of run into one another- I much prefer the distilled main cast in the movie. Plus Hammond, the rather cuddly, eccentric owner of the island is completely different and completely awful in the book. Which makes me weirdly uneasy, even though obviously the book Hammond came first. All in all this is a pretty fun read.
Next up: Tenth of December by George Saunders. Hmm. Sometimes when I'm doing these round-ups, I get to a book and I don't really know what to say... because in the short space of time since I've read it, it really hasn't left any impression on me. And, sadly, this is one of those. I wanted to like it, as in general I like short stories and this came highly recommended, but... yeah. Don't get me wrong, this is definitely not a bad book and I guess I liked it, but maybe I just wanted more. This is a collection of short stories which can be best described as a bit weird, a bit off. And normally that's my jam, but... oh, I don't know.
Okay, let's get this out of the way: I bought Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie literally a day before all the stuff came out about her views on trans women vs. cis women and it sort of put me off her a little. But only a little. The relationship between trans* people and privilege is a vast, complicated issue and I don't think she meant any ill will by her comments. Basically, I don't agree with her and that's soured our relationship just a little. And that's all I'm going to say about that.
But anyway! This is another little short book very much in the style of We Should All Be Feminists (I actually just listened to the TED talk for the first time this week too). It's a response to Adichie's friend who asked for advice on raising her daughter as a feminist. This treads a lot of the same ground as WSABF but sort of sets out more of a vision for how to raise the next generation to make them feminists. It's a nice companion to it, actually. And it's only 32 pages long, so definitely worth a read if you can pick up a copy.
What I'm reading next:
- Wildthorn by Jane Eagland, a YA take on the "Victorian girl is falsely imprisoned in lunatic asylum trop". With lesbians!
- A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce, as I have read and loved only bits of Ulysses and it's definitely time to read something proper (and relatively unintimidating) by Joyce
- The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia by Sir Philip Sidney, in which I once again try to put myself outside of my comfort zone by reading some 16th century literature. Also, according to Emma Donoghue it has lesbian undertones, and I'm all for that.