Short Hiatus

I’m just posting this quickly to say that there will be a short hiatus in my postings. I am moving house today (very nervous!!!) and won’t have broadband access for 10 days. If I get a chance to blog from the library I will but in all likelihood posts will stop for this period of time. I already have a backlog of reviews to write as I have been quite busy with packing recently.
Anyway, thanks for reading and I’ll see you soon.

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Top Ten Character-Driven Novels

A fabulous blog entitled The Broke and The Bookish holds a weekly feature/web-meme/ link up entitled Top Ten Tuesday.  Each week has a different theme where bloggers from around the world contribute their own top ten and are able to discuss each other’s choices.  This week are recommending character driven novels.  I have decided to look at character driven novels from a range of genres.

CRIME/MYSTERY: The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm- Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

I do like a good crime novel but find that very often characterisation tends towards the stereotype.  Galbraith’s writing doesn’t completely avoid stereotypes of grizzled detectives with a troubled past but she does flesh out Cormoran Strike so he feels like a real person. The books are as much about Cormoran dealing with his past as they are about the mysteries being solved.

HORROR FANTASY: Horns- Joe Hill

Yes, it’s a dark fantasy novel with supernatural elements and a main character who seems to be turning into a demon but more than that… it’s a story of love, passion, loss and despair.  Ig is a brilliantly written character- not always likeable- but one that I felt I could relate to and one that I believed in, despite the far-out concept of the novel.

CONTEMPORARY YA: Eleanor and Park- Rainbow Rowell

This novel just took me back to being a teenager.  I feel that in YA novels, authors sometimes try very hard to make their characters likable and sometimes this can detract from the story.  In this novel both characters act like real teenagers with real angst.  Eleanor isn’t the most likable character all of the time but who is? She was guarded and used her eccentric dress sense almost as a defense mechanism, something that I can relate to.  A beautiful story about first love.

DYSTOPIAN/SPECULATIVE YA: Only Ever Yours- Louise O’Neill

The use of the first person in this novel is really clever.  You are restricted to freida’s view of the world and thus you really begin to see everything through her eyes.  Her mixed feelings about her (ex) best friend isabel are depicted well and at times you don’t know whether to hate freida or just feel sorry for her.

MIDDLE GRADE: The Unforgotten Coat- Frank Cottrell Boyce

We don’t really find out too much about Julie, the narrator of The Unforgotten Coat, but the novel is driven very much by the characters of Chingis and Nergui, two Mongolian children who transfer to Julie’s Merseyside based school.  Their arrival in the Year 6 class suddenly makes school much more interesting- tales of eagle taming, demons and huge furry coats.

GRAPHIC NOVELS: Tamara Drewe- Posy Simmonds

This graphic novel is told from the perspective of several different characters, each with their own distinctive voice.  We see, from a range of perspectives, the effect that Tamara Drewe’s arrival has upon a small village and the nearby writer’s retreat.

LITERARY FICTION: May We Be Forgiven- A.M Homes

For the first part of this novel I just felt really shocked by the actions of the main character.  I couldn’t believe what he was doing but also couldn’t stop reading! This is a man who sleeps with his own brother’s wife which later leads to her death… I just didn’t want to like him, but I found myself getting quite fond of him and his mixed up ways as the narrative went on.  This just speaks wonders about the strength of Homes’ characterisation and writing in general.

Notes on a Scandal- Zoe Heller

Barbara, the main character in Notes on a Scandal, is so devious but yet so deliciously written that I couldn’t stop reading.  Both Barbara and Sheba are written in such a way that you deplore their acts (Barbara: plotting, lying; Sheba: grooming a teenage boy for sex) but also can’t help feeling slightly sorry for them.  I love the way that Heller’s writing plays on our sympathies and twists our emotions about these characters.

White Teeth- Zadie Smith

The main p.o.v characters are so well written and their motivations and emotions really drive the story along.  I loved this so much when I first read it (about 2 years after it was published) that I remember talking to a random drunk bloke in a nightclub about it!

#Bookadayuk

I’m often late to the party because my head is in the clouds (or in a book) but #bookadayuk is a hashtag that has been around since June.  Each month a different publisher or book organisation (this month it’s Books Are My Bag) provides a list of book-related prompts for people to respond to on twitter.

bookadayuk octI only came across the hashtag mid-way through September but since I discovered it I’ve enjoyed reading about other people’s suggestions and sharing my own ideas about books.

It’s definitely a lot of fun and I would heartily recommend taking a trip over to twitter and casting a glance at the some of the great recommendations coming through #bookadayuk.

Am I all about that bass?

I’m a sucker for a catchy riff.  It gets in my head and for a while that particular song is all I will play.  At university I drove my flatmates mad for a fortnight with constant playing of Xanadu by Olivia Newton John and ELO.  I’m not sure why I became so obsessed with that song at that time.  It wasn’t like I had heard it for the first time- I used to watch Xanadu at least once a month on VHS when growing up.  For some reason, at this point in the third year of my degree I decided that my life was missing a little bit of 80s roller-skating magic.

A few weeks back I drove my husband crazy with constant playing of Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off.  He was very relieved when I finally stopped playing it on a loop but then a new song entered my consciousness and now I think he thinks back to the heady days of Taylor Swift with a longing.  Yes, since I first heard Meghan Trainor’s All About That Bass there hasn’t been a day in this house go by without me declaring that “it’s pretty clear I ain’t no size 2 / but I can shake it shake it like I’m supposed to do.”

As a woman with a sizeable rump (my husband tells me affectionately that I make the rockin’ world go round) I first felt really empowered by this song.  It’s great to hear a song proclaiming that it’s fine for a woman to love her curves and feel sexy.  I was once in a bar and feeling a bit down about my size and shape.  Anyway, I was in a queue for the toilets when the woman behind me declared what a good ‘booty’ I had (‘Booty’ doesn’t sound right in a British accent BTW… I much prefer ‘arse’) and how the floral print on the dress I was wearing sat in just the right place to show it off.  I know confidence comes from within but that gave me absolute boost.  Hearing Meghan Trainor’s song for the first time brought back that confidence boost and made me feel happier with my body and particularly with my bum.

It’s fantastic to hear a song decrying the evils of photoshop.  Trainor announces that we know it’s not real and it’s not helpful for young women (or women of any age) to be constantly presented with these fake images of womanhood and femininity.  It was amazing to hear a song telling us that “every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top” especially when it’s just so catchy.

After a few times of listening I realised I couldn’t get the song out of my head, and as the words got more ingrained into my skull it became more apparent how problematic some of the lyrics are:

Cause I got that boom boom that all the boys chase
All the right junk in all the right places

Yeah, my mama she told me don’t worry about your size
She says boys like a little more booty to hold at night
You know I won’t be no stick figure silicone Barbie doll
So if that’s what you’re into then go ahead and move along

OK, be proud of your size and feel sexy, that’s great… but in this song sexiness is defined solely by the male gaze.  It’s not so much about self-acceptance but about how men actually prefer a little more meat on their women.  It’s fantastic to give girls the message that they should be happy how they are but this song explains that they should be happy because actually men find bigger women sexually attractive.  Yes, it is a real boost when you know that your partner finds you sexually attractive but this in itself is not self-confidence.

Also it seems that Trainor’s confidence boost for big girls is at the detriment of the confidence of our less curvy sisters:

I’m bringing booty back
Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches that

I know she follows this line with “Nah, I’m just playing” but isn’t this just as harmful a message? I personally have a struggle with my weight and can put it on really easily but I have close friends who have the opposite problem, who would love to have a little more ‘meat on their bones’ but their metabolism doesn’t work that way.  How is this helpful to those girls who are bullied for having ‘chicken legs’? Fat and thin both have their problems and our own personal body confidence should not be at the expense of other women.  We want to teach our young people to support each other, not treat each other like the eve’s in Only Ever Yours- shaming them for being too fat, too thin or for what they put in their digestive system.

The thing is (wincing slightly here) I do really still like the song.  It’s in my vocal range, unlike most pop songs these days, meaning that I can sing along without awkwardly swapping registers all the time and singing an octave below.  Also it makes me proud of my big arse (I tried the word ‘booty’ here but I can’t pull it off… even written down) as long as I know that I’m sexy because I feel that way and not because “all the boys chase” me.

I’m not going to hold Trainor up as a great role model for young girls though.  Yes, she has a great voice, wears pastel colours well and has a retro charm but the lyrics in her other songs are also a bit (understatement) worrying.  Dear Future Husband (oh God help us!!!) seems to want to posit itself as promoting equality (I won’t say feminist values because Ms Trainor has already distanced herself from this) but doesn’t quite get there.

You got that 9 to 5

But, baby, so do I

So don’t be thinking I’ll be home and baking apple pies

This sounds great! We both have jobs.  I’m not just going to cook because I’m the woman. However…

Take me on a date
I deserve a break
And don’t forget the flowers every anniversary
‘Cause if you’ll treat me right
I’ll be the perfect wife
Buying groceries
Buy-buying what you need

Erm, why can’t he buy the groceries too?  Why can’t this job be shared?  Where is it written that the “perfect wife” does the shopping? My husband got the raw end of the deal then! Also, is being a husband just about the spending- “take me on a date”, “don’t forget the flowers”? Yes, it’s nice to treat each other from time to time but it’s not just the male job to do this. Also, isn’t it a cliche to think that flowers are the way to a woman’s heart?

Dear future husband,
If you wanna get that special lovin’
Tell me I’m beautiful each and every night

After every fight
Just apologize
And maybe then I’ll let you try and rock my body right

Oh, flipping ‘eck! This is where I feel it gets really worrying.  If you’re a good lad and apologise even when you are in the wrong I’ll reward you with sex.  It’s patronising and really over-simplifying marriage.  I understand that she’s young and I understand that this is a song about a future fantasy but it’s a very unrealistic look at a modern relationship.

To be honest, I’m really only scratching the surface of what is problematic with these lyrics- “Buy me a ring / Buy-buy me a ring, babe” but the more I listen, the angrier I get.  I don’t feel that even the bubbly pop 50s sound redeems this song (especially when Olly Murs did it so much better with Dance With Me Tonight).  

I’m going to stick to “bringing [arse] back.”

onlyeveryours

REVIEW: Only Ever Yours- Louise O’Neill

freida and isabel have been best friends their whole lives. Now, aged sixteen and in their final year at the School, they expect to be selected as companions – wives to wealthy and powerful men.

The alternative – life as a concubine – is too horrible to contemplate.

But as the intensity of the final year takes hold, the pressure to be perfect mounts. isabel starts to self-destruct, putting her beauty – her only asset – in peril.

And then into this sealed female environment, the boys arrive, eager to choose a bride.

freida must fight for her future – even if it means betraying the only friend, the only love, she has ever known…

Thanks to NetGalley and Quercus for this e-Arc in return for an honest review.

Only Ever Yours is set in a dystopian world where a woman’s purpose is solely related to how she can please a man.  In fact, girls are no longer ‘born’, but instead are genetically engineered to be the perfect aesthetically pleasing accessory to the powerful male.  Schools are set up with the function of teaching them skills that will help them during their future ‘career’ as either a companion (wife, homemaker, mother to as many baby boys as possible) or concubine (prostitute, plaything).  At the age of 16 the girls meet real life boys for the first time- the 10 inheritants that will, at the end of the year, choose which girls will become their wives and which will be kept in a harem purely for their sexual pleasure.  Any girls who do not meet the requirements for either being a suitable wife or prostitute may have the opportunity to become a ‘chastity’- the teachers and caretakers of the future girls.  As a mark of their uselessness to men, the chastities are made to wear long flowing black robes that cover their bodies and have their hair (an outward sign of their femininity) shaved.

This book should be put on recommended reading lists for secondary schools.  It is well written, sharp, dark and delicious.  There are allusions to current TV and social media which teenagers would pick up on straightaway (MyFace, Who Wore It Better?) but O’Neill takes the uncomfortable obsession with fashion/size/diet that girls today are surrounded by in the media  and takes it to the nth degree.   What if girls had to maintain a certain weight to ensure their attractiveness to men? What if girls were to be rated publicly by their aesthetic appeal and their chances of finding a mate were linked to this?  It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine and this makes this book fascinating and frightening all at once.

As I read the first few pages I wondered if there was something wrong with the punctuation in my e-ARC- for some reason all of the names were not capitalised.  As I continued it became apparent that it was only female names that were not capitalised.  Girls were not important enough to warrant the use of a capital letter whereas the patriarchal head of society- the Father- received the capitalised pronoun of ‘Him’, raising him to god-like status.  This is a subtle and clever touch that shows how inherent sexism can be.

The Vagenda described this book as ‘The Handmaid’s Tale meets Mean Girls‘ and in those few words they really hit the nail on the head.   The girls are snarky, two-faced and bitchy and O’Neill writes their dialogue gloriously and beautifully.  Just like in Mean Girls, alliances are made, back-handed compliments are given and you need to watch out for your frenemies.  No one is definitely on your side.  Every eve (the term given to girls) has to look out for herself.

The first person narrative is well handled.  freida is not necessarily a likeable character but it is a testament to O’Neill’s writing that even though I didn’t like her I did feel for her.  She had been bred this way, choosing her alliances carefully and shifting allegiances seemed to be the only way to maintain her ranking as one of the #10 eves and claim one of the companion posts.  I thought isabel was a very intriguing character.  We heard a lot ‘about’ her but didn’t really discover enough of her.  Purposefully O’Neill kept her at arm’s length from us but I feel that being allowed to know more about her earlier friendship with freida would have made the book more believable and even more shocking.

I was wary of the book before reading because of the comparisons made to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.  I still think that Atwood’s writing is the more mature and accomplished but this is a brilliant introduction to the ideas held in that text for a younger audience.  Saying that, I don’t think that this book should be just read by young adults but I think older readers should be aware that some references to today’s world (the references to the Kardashians, Hot or Not) seem rather hammered home.

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AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: Horns- Joe Hill (narrated by Fred Berman)

Ignatius Perrish spent the night drunk and doing terrible things. He woke up the next morning with one hell of a hangover, a raging headache . . . and a pair of horns growing from his temples.

Once, Ig lived the life of the blessed: born into privilege, the second son of a renowned American musician, and the younger brother of a rising late-night TV star, Ig had security and wealth and a place in his community. Ig had it all, and more – he had the love of Merrin Williams, a love founded on shared daydreams, mutual daring, and unlikely midsummer magic.

Then beautiful, vivacious Merrin was gone – raped and murdered, under inexplicable circumstances – with Ig the only suspect. He was never tried for the crime, but in the court of public opinion, Ig was and always would be guilty.

Now Ig is possessed with a terrible new power – with just a touch he can see peoples’ darkest desires – to go with his terrible new look, and he means to use it to find the man who killed Merrin and destroyed his life. Being good and praying for the best got him nowhere. It’s time for a little revenge; it’s time the devil had his due.

PLEASE NOTE- I have made a pact with myself to get through this review without mentioning the author’s father.  When you are writing in the contemporary horror/fantasy genre there is always going to one name that you will always be compared to.  This is going to happen ever more when you are this particular author’s son.  My intention is to write this review without any reference to his father’s writing style or skill.

Ig Perrish has woken up with a stonking hangover and a huge pair of knobbly horns poking through his forehead.  Not only this, but he also now has the ability to make people tell him their inner most secrets and darkest wishes.  You might think that this sounds like a great skill but do we really want to know the exact truth about what people are thinking in their head? I mean, do you really want to have to face the prospect of listening to your family explain their most sordid thoughts and deeds? Ig gains the skills to discover who killed and raped his girlfriend a year ago but also has to face up to the reality of knowing exactly what is going on in other people’s heads.

This is not a horror story in the traditional sense but the depiction of what goes on in the typical human brain is terrifying.  Due to the power of the horns Ig is able to know about about affairs people are having, their true feelings about their children, their sexual urges, their violent urges… any urge they’ve ever had basically.  OK, the book isn’t filled with things that go bump in the night but it’s actually really scary to consider the thoughts that go flying through people’s heads and what would happen if we all went around acting upon them.

Although Horns has the stock features of a horror or fantasy novel, at it’s heart is a love story.  Flashbacks allow us the opportunity to witness Ig and Merrin’s relationship from their first meeting at church until her untimely demise.  I was worried at first that Merrin would just be portrayed as a fantasy dream girl as we would see her only from Ig’s P.O.V.  However, Hill’s use of flashbacks and changes of P.O.V character means that we get to know much more about Merrin than I initially thought.  I really liked her and felt that the text allows us to see her flaws and her positive qualities.  I really understood why Ig loved her so much and it really helped for me to invest in his quest to revenge her death.

The book raises questions of what good and evil really are.  Is evil created or is it a choice that is made? Does doing the right thing always mean doing the good thing?  Right from the beginning we are aware that Ig is becoming some sort of devil or demon but does this mean he is bad? Is he a villain? A hero or an anti-hero? I really liked how Hill kept playing with our sympathies and our loyalty.  Initially I felt really sorry for Ig because his girlfriend had been murdered and everybody thought he did it.  However, the moment he carried out a violent act towards his grandmother I started to question my initial ideas.  Even when we are given an opportunity to get into the brain of a real psychopath (the real murderer of Merrin), things are not cut and dry.  We get to find out about the workings of his mind but also to see what might have caused him to be this way.  Is it his fault or should we feel sorry for him after all?

At the beginning of the book I felt that Glenna (Ig’s friend-with-benefits) was going to be a thinly written 2 dimensional character, a stock ‘slutty’ girl.  However, the glimpses into her as a child really helped me to understand where this woman was coming from and why she stayed with Ig despite the rumours and the fact he was always still in love with Merrin.

This book was a good long listen- around 12 hours- so if you have an audible account it’s definitely worth your credit based on time alone.  It took me a while to get used to the voice of Fred Berman as it has a very gritty, gravelly nature which worked fine for the male characters and reflected their inner turmoil well but made the female characters sound even more sinister.  After a while though I got into it and was able to just let the words wash over me.

I really enjoyed this book and felt that, although there were a few slow moments where too much description took over, it was a great read.  I very much look forward to seeing the film adaptation starring Daniel Radcliffe and Juno Temple.

Well done, Joe Hill.  You may not be the King of horror (oops! Broke my pact!) but you’re definitely the prince of psychological terror!

Top Eight Books That Were Hard for Me To Read

A fabulous blog entitled The Broke and The Bookish holds a weekly feature/web-meme/ link up entitled Top Ten Tuesday.  Each week has a different theme where bloggers from around the world contribute their own top ten and are able to discuss each other’s choices.  This week we’re looking at books that we found difficult to read for various reasons.

Tales of The City- Armistead Maupin
I absolutely loved San Francisco when I visited there a few years ago and wanted to revisit it through fiction. I’d heard that the TOTC books have strong characters and is really engaging so I took the first out from the library. I started to read it at night but soon found that I physically couldn’t read it. The print size was tiny and my tired eyes just couldn’t settle on the font. I tried downloading it on Kindle so I could adjust the font size but it wasn’t available. In the end, I found an audiobook version on iTunes (narrated by Maupin himself) and have really enjoyed listening to it instead.

Danny the Champion of the World- Roald Dahl
I have loved this book since childhood but there was one occasion a few years ago when I found this book too difficult to read to my class. It was the first anniversary of the death of my father and I just found the book too emotional to read aloud. I mostly managed it but got to the end of the book, the line about the best father a son could ever have, and ended up welling up in the classroom.

Ulysses- James Joyce
I had to read this for a modernism module at University. They gave 3 or 4 chapters that we had to read and then suggested we could try to read the whole book. I (eventually) enjoyed reading the few chapters suggested but found it really hard going. I do intend to go back and complete it one day but haven’t had the energy or time to do so yet (and part of me doubts I ever will).

A Clockwork Orange- Anthony Burgess
I tried to read this at age 17 but just couldn’t get my head around nadsat (the language of Alex and his droogs). A few years later I picked it up again and I found it to be the most incredible read. I have always been interested in the concept of language as power. The use of nadsat really pulls you into Alex’s head- the effect of this is claustrophobic and disturbing.

How Late It Was, How Late- James Kelman
I had to read this for two modules at University: Contemporary Literature and Twentieth Century Working Class Literature. The first time I had to read the book I managed two pages. The second time I got at least half way through before the seminar date. The reason for my difficulty? The heavy Scots dialect that the book was written in was really hard for me to understand!

The Blazing World- Margaret Cavendish
This book sounds fantastic- utopian 17th century Science Fiction set in the. North Pole written by a woman featuring polar bear men! The problem is that it’s totally boring. Nothing really happens. I suppose that’s the problem with utopia- if everything is utopian and wonderful where is the tension in the narrative?

Fifty Shades of Grey- E.L James
Ick… the writing style… “My inner goddess”- ew!! ‘Nuff said!

Eat, Pray, Love- Elizabeth Gilbert
As far as I can tell this book tends to split people right down the middle into those who love it and those who hate it. I really wanted to like it but Elizabeth herself wound me up so much. I kept reading and I did finish the book, but it was so much hard work to get through the whining! Straight after reading I made the decision never to watch the film!

silhouette

REVIEW: Doctor Who: Silhouette (12th Doctor)- Justin Richards

“Vastra and Strax and Jenny? Oh no, we don’t need to bother them. Trust me.”

Marlowe Hapworth is found dead in his locked study, killed by an unknown assailant. This is a case for the Great Detective, Madame Vastra.

Rick Bellamy, bare-knuckle boxer, has the life drawn out of him by a figure dressed as an undertaker. This angers Strax the Sontaran.

The Carnival of Curiosities, a collection of bizarre and fascinating sideshows and performers. This is where Jenny Flint looks for answers.

How are these things connected? And what does Orestes Milton, rich industrialist, have to do with it all? As the Doctor and Clara joint the hunt for the truth they find themselves thrust into a world where nothing and no one are what they seem.

I’ve read a few of the Doctor Who novels and novellas.  I particularly liked the Justin Richards penned Paternoster Gang novella ‘The Devil in the Smoke’ so when I saw that one of the first 12th Doctor books to be released would be both written by Justin Richards and featuring Vastra, Jenny and Strax I straightaway decided to pre-order it- despite my mixture of fascination and trepidation about the carnival setting.  I love the idea of the circus and carnival performers…all except clowns.  I hate clowns.  I was hoping that there wouldn’t be any scary clown scenes (there weren’t, phew!!)

On 11th September the book arrived onto my Kindle and by the next day I had read the entire book.  It’s an easy read and the characters were written beautifully.  I particularly thought the depiction of Strax was note-perfect.  He gets all the best lines, is incredibly funny and the way he mixes up pronouns was captured brilliantly.  I understand that Sontarans are clones so they are all male, thus no need for gendered pronouns.  However, Strax refers to Clara as “Miss” and this confuses me.  In this novel, Clara asks Strax about this and his answer definitely made sense to me and put my mind at ease on the matter for good!  I also really enjoyed Strax’s friendship-of-sorts with a bloke he gets to know in the local pub.  On the surface they may seem to have little in common but they enjoy to complain, drink and fight and that is enough to bond them together!

The Doctor definitely maintains the darkness that Capaldi has brought to the role so far, and the change in relationship between him and Clara is captured brilliantly too.  Clara gets to work alongside the doctor, but also to investigate on her own, allowing us to see her as an independent woman and not just a sidekick.

My only issue with relationships in the book is regarding Madame Vastra and Jenny. There is no mention of their marriage and the relationship depicted is that of mistress and maid rather than of the loving couple (albeit with some power imbalance) we’ve seen on the TV.  I did like, however, that Vastra’s storyline did allow us to see her as a more emotional being.  Jenny, as usual, is empathetic, friendly yet strong.

The story is paced well and builds a real sense of suspense.  The carnival setting provides an eerie mysterious atmosphere and it is easy to imagine this fantastical setting populated with strong men, bearded ladies, wolf boys and indeed potato headed squat men and lizard women.  The book is a mixture of Victorian mystery (murder in a locked room) and Sci-Fi (aliens, mysterious energy spikes) and the other-worldliness carnival setting means that this combination works really well together.

I’m struggling to say anymore without giving any spoilers away but I will say that I loved this book.  It was an enjoyable romp through Victorian London and I would love more Doctor Who books featuring The Paternoster Gang.

i remember beirut

REVIEW: I Remember Beirut- Zeina Abirached

Thank you to NetGalley and Lerner Publishing Group for sending me this book as an ARC in return for an honest review.

This book will be published on 1st October 2014

I Remember Beirut is an autobiographical graphic novel memoir, telling of Zeina Abirached’s experience of growing up in 1980s Lebanon as a Christian Lebanese child.

My first impression when I looked at the cover of I Remember Beirut was that the artwork seemed extremely reminiscent of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis.  I have found Persepolis to be one of the most moving books I have ever read, and so this resemblance meant that I was simultaneously worried and excited. Excited- that it would be an honest, thought-provoking memoir like its predecessor; worried- that it would be too derivative of Persepolis, that it wouldn’t stand up in strength in comparison to Satrapi’s work.

In I Remember Beirut, Abirached appears to address a younger readership than suggested in Persepolis.  The book is presented not so much as a narrative but a set of vignettes, joined together with the sentence start “I remember.”  It’s a simple technique which would be appealing to children and allows them to see 1980s Beirut from a child’s point of view.  Abirached doesn’t get into the politics of the period, instead presenting the reader purely with what she does remember- the bulletholes that changed the colour of the family car, her brother’s collection of shrapnel, the night that they had to sleep in the school.  These memories are childlike and innocent but also hint at some of the underlying worries of living in the Lebanon at this time.  However, having a child’s perspective means that we not only see the terror but also the simplistic joys of an infant.  I do think that the repetitiveness means that the book possibly works better for a younger audience.  After a while, I tired a little of “I remember”, but the memories themselves were so powerful they always drew me back in.

Yes, the drawing style is reminiscent of Persepolis, but Abirached’s images have a sense of childlike wonder and whimsy that isn’t present in Satrapi’s work.  Although we are aware that this book is written by an adult looking back, we get an impression that she can vividly remember what it was like to be young.  Her pictures reflect this- the spiral waves of her hair, the simple blocky shapes of buildings.  There is a real sense of nostalgia in these images which is appealing.

Personally, I believe that Persepolis is a stronger memoir for an adult reader with a more engaging narrative.  However, for a younger reader I believe that this explains on their level some of the experiences of living in a war-torn country. 

Fifty Shades of Censorship

Part of the Banned Books Week Blog Party over at Things Matter.

On May 25 2011 Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James was published.  For the years following this E.L. James has been on the ALA Top Ten Challenged Book Lists.  The reasons given for the challenges are “nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.”

Personally, I’m not a fan of Fifty Shades. When they first started to get media interest I downloaded the first of the trilogy onto my kindle.  I’m really nosy and at the hint of a little bit of controversy about a book I tend to want to buy or download it straight away.  I wanted to know what was driving women who didn’t usually read to pick up this book.  I also hadn’t read any erotica before and wanted to know what all the fuss was about.  I’d heard women raving about the relationship and passion between the two characters and wanted to experience this for myself.  I was disappointed.  I couldn’t stand Anastasia and couldn’t understand how a girl who had never had any sexual experience before could so quickly find herself drawn into the world of BDSM just through the sheer magnetism of this man.  I couldn’t understand why during the infamous Thomas Tallis scene she didn’t use the safe word!!!!  I couldn’t understand what was so attractive about a man who seemed to me to be obsessive, controlling and stalker-like.  I have no problem with the idea of consenting adults engaging in power play or other activities but this didn’t seem to be a healthy relationship to me.  What has controlling her food intake throughout the day got to do with sex? I read half of Fifty Shades Darker in the hope that miraculously I would understand what so many women were seeing in Mr Grey but in the end I had to give up.  I couldn’t take any more references to “my sex” or “inner goddess” and I just couldn’t buy into Anastasia and Christian’s relationship. (It probably didn’t help that I had recently seen ‘Secretary’- a film which I felt dealt with the topic much better than the book Fity Shades of Grey did.  Buzzfeed recently published this list of reasons to watch Secretary before the film version of Fifty Shades of Grey is released).

Anyway, I think the book is badly written and tries to depict an abusive relationship as exciting and adventurous. So, do I want to see it banned?

No.

I understand that children could get their hands on it and could find themselves reading something totally unsuitable for their age.  Surely we as adults should be able to have conversations with our children about age suitability and content? Also, surely librarians and booksellers are capable and sensible enough to keep an eye on who is borrowing the book.  This can be done without having to ban a book outright from a library system.

I might find this relationship to be abusive but there are plenty of women for whom Fifty Shades has opened a new world of reading.  Why should I stop them from enjoying something just because it doesn’t fit with my ideals? There is a very simple answer to it- I just won’t read it again!

I think we need to know that it’s OK to shield our children from certain content without banning it outright.  Censorship often drives us more to discover what has been hidden from us- see this article in the Huffington Post.