I thought I’d start a little series where I share my thoughts on some of the books I’m currently reading. Sometimes I’ll have so many things to say about certain books that I either forget half of it, or I’ll cut half of it out of my monthly wrapup videos because I just end up rambling. I usually read multiple books at once, from different genres, so that whatever mood I’m in I’ll have something on the go that suits it. Let’s see how this goes!
Bad Feminist – Roxane Gay
This is the book I’ve started reading most recently, I’m 234 pages in and it’s 320 pages long. I can’t quite decide if I’m enjoying this or not. It’s turning out to be a very different book to what I thought it was, so at first I flew through this because I was really excited about it, but the more I’ve read the slower I’ve read it and now I just kind of want to get it finished.
This is a collection of essays by Roxane Gay, who’s an American professor, author, a black woman, and a daughter of Haitian immigrants. The book is essentially about her perspective and experience of life. There have been a few essays I’ve really enjoyed, I really liked ‘Typical First Year Professor’ which is about, as the title says, what it’s like starting out as a professor. I loved hearing all about that because that’s the kind of career I hope to have, I’m just about to start my master’s. I also really enjoyed ‘The Careless Language of Sexual Violence’, which is about the way sexual violence is reported in the media and portrayed on television, and how we as a society have become sort of numb to the horrors of these acts. There’s also a pretty good discussion on the Fifty Shades books.
There is one particular essay that I really had a problem with, though, and that’s 1960s Mississippi: Thoughts on The Help. This was quite a coincidence for me because literally the day before I read this chapter, I’d watched The Help – not for the first time, I love that film. So I was quite interested to hear what she had to say about it, and very disappointed when she ripped it apart. I feel a little awkward discussing this as a white person, but I do feel that I’m still entitled to talk about my interpretation, I’m just very conscious about offending someone.
Warning: The following 2 paragraphs contain spoilers for the book/movie. I don’t consider them huge ones, more subplots, but if you don’t want to hear anything about the storyline then skip the next couple of paragraphs 🙂
I felt like she very specifically picked and chose which bits of the movie to discuss, and left out anything redeeming about it, for the sake of criticizing it. It felt extremely biased. For example, she mentions how, at the end of the film, Celia and her husband tell Minny ‘You have a job here for the rest of your life,’ because they’re so grateful for all she’s helped them with. Roxane Gay writes ‘Minny, of course, beams gratefully because a lifetime of servitude to a white family, doing backbreaking work for terrible pay, is like winning the lottery and the best a black woman could hope for in the alternate science fiction universe of The Help.’ My first issue with that is that actually, during that time period surely that was a pretty good position to be in for a black woman, considering that many of the struggles these black maids have experienced or discussed in the movie revolve around losing their jobs. But my main problem with this point is that Roxane Gay has deliberately only included part of the sentence. Celia’s husband actually says ‘You have a job here for the rest of your life. If you want it.‘ That, I feel, is a crucial point, because he’s telling Minny that it’s up to her, that it’s her choice, she could go on to do these bigger and better things that Roxane Gay implies are available to her, but if she chooses, she can work for them for as long as she wants. When you exclude that last part of his line, as Roxane Gay did, it completely changes the meaning so that it fits with her argument. I was quite frustrated with that.
The other big problem I had with her argument was how she discusses the fact that Minny is a victim of domestic abuse. Minny is physically abused by her husband, and in one scene the woman she works for, Celia, sees the bruises on her face and encourages her to hit him back. Later in the movie, Minny leaves her husband. Now, I didn’t interpret these things as related, as she leaves him after the book The Help has been published, so I assumed that that’s what gave her the strength and courage to do it, rather than her boss telling her to hit him back a few months ago. Roxane Gay writes ‘the narrative leads you to believe that Celia indirectly empowers Minny to leave her abusive husband, as if a woman of Minny’s strength and character couldn’t do that on her own.‘ I actually found this interpretation to be quite offensive to women who are victims of domestic abuse. Roxane Gay’s statement here implies that if you’re a strong person you should be able to leave your husband when he becomes abusive, but the truth is that even if you are a strong woman, you can become trapped in that relationship. I don’t think this scene was about race, I think it was about women. I interpreted the scene to be saying that women need to help and support each other, no matter their race. That’s just my interpretation, but I think it’s ridiculous to say ‘as if a woman of Minny’s strength and character couldn’t do that on her own.’ I really think that’s quite offensive.
This essay kind of tarnished my whole reading experience, because it opened my eyes to just how easily she is able to construct a compelling argument through deliberately picking and choosing what to include and what not to include, and stating her interpretation as fact. I really enjoy, appreciate, and agree with a lot of what she says, but it’s made me question the entire book and left me with little enthusiasm to finish the rest of it. Luckily this essay was in the last third of the book so I don’t have much left!
Wow, that turned out to be super long.
Bird Box – Josh Malerman
I’m one chapter into this book, I picked it up because I didn’t really fancy reading any of the other books I’m currently reading. I’m not totally sure what this book is about because the blurb and first chapter are very vague, but it’s about some kind of apocalypse where everyone who looks outside goes blind – I think. It sounded exciting and creepy, and I’ve heard really good things about it, but the first chapter hasn’t really done anything for me.
The first line of this book wasn’t great. First lines don’t have to be good, a book can have a boring first line and go on to be great, but a good first line really helps. The first line of this book is ‘Malorie stands in the kitchen, thinking.’ Meh.
The main problem I have so far is it hasn’t told me anything! It’s four years after whatever happened happened, and this woman, Malorie, has two four year old children, who for some reason she calls Boy and Girl. This makes me kind of not like Malorie, as that seems like a really cold and unloving thing to do, not name her children. Maybe that’ll be explained later, though.
The book alludes to the fact that certain things have happened in the past and there are certain dangers outside, but it’s all just so vague that it’s started to bore me. I think there’s a fine line between a thrilling, need-to-know-more vague, and just a dull, I-don’t-know-what’s-going-on-vague. So far, this book is the latter.
But I’m only a chapter in, hopefully it’ll get better!
Noughts and Crosses – Malorie Blackman
This one I’m rereading, I’m 89 pages in. I read it when I was about 14/15 and I loved it. I also read the second one, then I got about halfway through the third one before giving up because I found the plotline too confusing, and I never even bought the fourth one. I wanted to revisit this series because I really enjoyed the first two books, and now that I’m older and (hopefully!) more able to keep up with the storyline, I think I’ll really enjoy the third and fourth books too. This is a pretty well known and well loved series so I’d love to get it read.
It’s set in a world similar to ours, where the ‘crosses’ are black, and they have the power and wealth in society, while ‘noughts’ are white, and they’re poor, lower in society, mostly work for the crosses. They’re sort of going through integration, an elite school has just this year allowed noughts to apply, and a lot of crosses are very, well, cross, (ha ha) about this. It’s essentially a book about race and hate and terrorism, and turns our actual history on its head.
The problem is, it feels a little childish. It has two perspectives, a 14 year old girl and a 16 year old boy (I think those are the right ages!) and I can really hear their youth, particularly in the girl’s chapters. I know it’s something I just have to read past though, because if I remember correctly, the rest of the books are narrated by older characters.
Also I feel like there are an excessive number of exclamation points.
Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty – Daron Acemoglu & James A. Robinson
I’ve been reading this book since December. I’m 115 pages in, it’s 462 pages long. It’s non-fiction, and is looks at the reasons behind why some countries are rich and some are poor, when they can be so similar – like why the United States is so rich and powerful while some of its neighbouring countries aren’t. It essentially argues that it has nothing to do with geography, or culture, as other people have argued – they argue that it’s due to the different political systems put in place throughout history.
This book combines two topics I love: politics and history. I found this book brilliant at first, it was so interesting, it discusses things I’ve never heard discussed before and made some excellent points. But then it got kind of repetitive. I feel like I have to get through this (large) chapter in order to get onto a slightly different topic, but I can’t bring myself to do that for the moment because it really feels like they’re making the same points over and over!
Have you read any of these books? I’d love to hear your thoughts!