Recent Acquisitions

Last month, I read five printed books off my shelves and one eBook as well as listened to one audiobook I’ve had loaded onto my iPod for almost a year. Great progress towards my goal of reading the books I own.

So how did I celebrate? By going out and buying eleven more print books at a buy one, get one used book sale over the weekend! And I also bought into Persephone’s buy two, get one free marketing scheme for Valentine’s Day. Whoops.

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The used book sale I visited divides their fiction selections into regular and “premium” books. The premium section includes prize winners, popular authors, and bestsellers so I was surprised to find Marlon James’ The Brief History of Seven Killings (winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize) and Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries (winner of the 2013 Man Booker Prize) in the regular section. For fifty cents a piece, of course those two were coming home with me. The only premium book I purchased was Robert Galbraith’s The Silkworm.

As for the rest, I tried to be mindful about purchasing more diverse books, either in the novel’s setting or in the ethnicity and/or nationality of the author. With that in mind, I brought home:

  • Running in the Family (Michael Ondaatje)
  • Moloka’i (Alan Brennert)
  • How to be Good (Nick Hornby)
  • Please Don’t Call Me Human (Wang Shud)
  • The Women (T.C. Boyle)
  • Palace of Desire (Naguib Mahfoua)
  • Soul Mountain (Gao Xingjian)
  • Abundance (Sena Jeter Naslund)

The Persephone books I ordered haven’t arrived from England yet, but I’m looking forward to seeing They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple, To Bed with Grand Music by Marghanita Laski, and Fidelity by Susan Glaspell in my mailbox soon.

The Iliad by Homer

HomerIliadPackageCarton27Mar06.inddFiction — audiobook. Translated from the Greek by Stanley Lombardo. Read by Stanley Lombardo and Susan Sarandon. Parmenides Audio, 2006. Originally published 800 BC. 15 hours, 13 minutes. Library Copy.

Grouped into twenty-four books (or, chapters), Homer’s saga covers a series of battles during the final year of the ten-year siege of the city of Troy by a coalition of Greek states lead by King Agamemnon. The war was launched because the Trojan prince Paris took Helen from her husband and the King of Sparta, Menelaus, after the goddess Aphrodite made Helen fall in love with Paris as a reward for him naming Aphrodite the prettiest of the goddesses Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite.

Interference into the affairs of men on the part of the gods and goddess continues throughout the war, including a plague sent by Apollo on behalf of one of his priests, the Greeks facing near destruction at the hands of Zeus they realize how much they need Achilles, Aphrodite saving Paris from being beaten to death, and so forth. The loyalties of the gods shift throughout the battle reacting not the actions of man but to the actions of one another. So much vanity and territorial infighting! At one point, Zeus prohibits the gods from interfering but, of course, the gods come up with creative ways of indirectly championing for either the Greeks or the Trojans.

The complete removal of free choice is maddening. One army may finally gain the upper hand after ten long years of war or develop a brilliant strategy of war, but their advancements are completely undone by a plague or a flood. Of course, these events may very will be natural occurrences — diseases spread in unhygienic, cramped conditions and major flooding tend to occur in cycles — but like modern-day individuals, both sides utilize the existence of a higher power to justify the bad in their life.

*spoilers*

The central figures of The Iliad are the eldest Trojan prince, Hector, and Achilles, a notorious warrior. Although his dismayed at what his brother has wrought, Hector vows to defend Troy and is the only one to show kindness to Helen, who has seen public opinion towards her change as the war drags on.

For his part, Achilles is a rather unwitting fighter; he has little stake in Agamemnon’s war and, as covered in the first book, is displeased with Agamemnon for taking his captive, Briseis, from him. He refuses to participate in battles, but lends his armor to his cousin, Patroclus, so he can defend the Greek ships from being overrun by the Trojans with stern instructions not to pursue the Trojans directly. Ignoring the warning, Patroclus decides to pursue Hector and is set upon by the god Apollo and the warrior Euphorbos.

Overcome with grief, Achilles vows to take revenge upon Hector much to the horror of his mother, Thetis, who knows that Achilles will die in his quest for vengeance. Seeing Achilles’ determination, Zeus lifts his ban on the gods interfering in the war (not that the gods had been following it) and Athena tricks Hector into turning towards Achilles’ spear in battle. Following his death, Hector’s body is dishonored by Achilles repeatedly and Zeus, disgusted with Achilles’ behavior, decides Hector’s body must be returned to his father, Priam, for a proper burial.

The scene between Priam and Achilles where Priam begs for his son’s body was my favorite part of the novel. I was very nearly moved to tears as Priam and Achilles shared a meal and tried to grapple with their grief. Neither of them wanted this war; neither of them had a role in launching it. Yet both experience the collateral damage of war, and listening to these two men on opposite sides lament how war has cost them both the person they love most in this world was the perfect conclusion after so many gruesome, descriptive depictions of men dying in battle.

*end of spoilers*

Lombardo’s translation is noted for “adding dramatic significance to Homer’s conventional and formulaic language”. I’m not sure I can comment specifically on this statement, but I did find his translation far more engaging than E.V. Rieu’s translation of Homer’s The Odyssey. And my apprehension over the translator also serving as the narrator turned out to be unfounded as Lombardo’s reading was on par with other audiobook narrators I have loved.

I also appreciated the recaps of each book as read by Susan Sarandon that are inserted at the beginning of the chapter. These summaries not only established expectations of each book, but they made it easier to start and stop the audiobook when needed. I would often re-listen to her one to two minute recaps after setting aside the audiobook in order to reorient myself with the story. It would be great if all complicated classics included these refreshers!

The infamous Trojan Horse does not feature in Homer’s tale, which was a bit of a surprise after listening for fifteen hours and expecting it to appear in the very next book. So now I will have to add The Aeneid by Virgil to my to-read list in order to experience that part of the war.

The Classics Club:

I read this book for the Classics Club, which challenges participants read and discuss fifty or more books considered to be classics within a five year period. My personal goal for this project is to read seventy-five books in three years ending on August 15, 2017. You can find out more information by checking out my introductory post, project post, or spreadsheet of titles

Bookstack for #ComicsFebruary

IMG_2841.JPGI know, I know. I’m supposed to only be reading the books I own until the end of March. But everyone started posting pictures of the books they plan to read for #ComicsFebruary and I got bookstack envy. So off to the library I went.

I tend to be drawn to nonfiction when it comes to comics so the majority of the titles I picked up are from that section of the library. The one exception is Diana Gabaldon’s The Exile, which recounts the events of Outlander from Jamie’s point of view. Yes, please!

#ReadHarder in 2016

Earlier last month, I was poking around BookRiot and stumbled across the #ReadHarder Challenge. I’m normally rubbish at challenges. Put a book on a list and I pretty much lose all desire to read it.

But I started reading through the list of twenty-four prompts and realized that I had either already read or was in the middle of reading a book that counted towards six of those prompts. Twenty-five percent of the way there! So why not challenge myself to go for the full 100 percent?

2016 Read Harder Challenge List

  • Read a horror book — Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
  • Read a nonfiction book about science
  • Read a collection of essays
  • Read a book aloud to someone else
  • Read a middle grade novel
  • Read a biography (not memoir or autobiography) — The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
  • Read a dystopian and post-apocalyptic novel — Pure by Julianna Baggott
  • Read a book originally published in decade you were born
  • Listen to an audiobook that has won an Audie Award
  • Read a book over 500 pages long
  • Read a book under 100 pages
  • Read a book by or about a person that identifies as transgender
  • Read a book that is set in the Middle East
  • Read a book that is by an author from Southeast Asia
  • Read a book of historical fiction set before 1900
  • Read the first book in a series by a person of color
  • Read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years
  • Read a book that was adapted into a movie, then watch the movie and discuss which is better — Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally (the movie is better)
  • Read a nonfiction about feminism or dealing with feminist themes — My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem
  • Read a book about religion (fiction or nonfiction)
  • Read a book about politics, in your country or another (fiction or nonfiction)
  • Read a food memoir
  • Read a play
  • Read a book with a main character with a mental illness — Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Some of these topics won’t be a stretch for me as my reading is pretty focused on the Middle East, religion, and politics. But I would love suggestions for the other incomplete titles!

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

Nonfiction — Kindle edition. Random House, 2015. 304 pgs. Purchased.

In this collection of anecdotes from the road, Steinem’s premise is that the only way to understand one’s fellow citizens and, therefore, enact change is to hit the road and engage in face-to-face conversations. Which makes the book a rather ironic choice for Emma Watson’s online, feminist book club, Our Shared Shelf.

The book begins with Steinem sharing about her own childhood — the father who never settled and the mother who never had a choice — and how these experiences shaped her into a person who longs to travel, to live out her life as she wants to. And she touches briefly on how this is a rather revolutionary concept for women are often discouraged from traveling alone either out of concerns about their safety or because such acts would bring shame upon the family. If a women can go out on a self-willed journey and be welcomed warmly when she comes home, then perhaps the world is less restrictive and patriarchal than it has been in the past.

It’s said that the biggest determinant of our lives is whether we see the world as welcoming or hostile. Each becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I have often heard Steinem and other mainstays of the feminist/women’s movement in America be lambasted for their lack of interest in intersectional feminism. That is, by focusing on gender pay gaps, political representation, and access to education, feminists too often ignore that a person’s identity and, therefore, oppression is multifaceted. I can no more change my skin color than I can change my disabilities or my sexual orientation. Reading this memoir, though, makes it apparent that this charge does not apply to Steinem.

…one of the simplest paths to deep change is for the less powerful to speak as much as they listen, and for the more powerful to listen as much as they speak.

There are two moments in Steinem’s life on the road that had a profound influence on her — a conference on women’s rights in Houston in the 1970s where state representatives were directly elected by women and her time in Oklahoma with a Native American activist named Wilma Mankiller. In both instances, Steinem devoted her time and efforts listening to the stories and desires of women of color so that feminism and the women’s movement could address the issues within their communities.  And, in fact, the biggest lesson I took away from reading Steinem’s memoir was that I need to increase my own understanding of life in Indian Country. I need to listen and learn. I need to be a better intersectional feminist.

…the most reliable predictor of whether a country is violent within itself — or will use military violence against another country — is not poverty, natural resources, religion, or even degree of democracy; it’s violence against females. It normalizes all other violence.

In discussing her efforts to increase representation of minorities both within the movement at large and at Ms. Magazine, Steinem does fall into the trap of proclaiming herself as “I’m not like those other women”. She wrote earlier in the book about how important is to resist ranking instead of linking humans, and it was disappointing to see her repeatedly set herself up as the anti-power activist to Betty Friedan’s desire to serve on one board after another. Do I agree that there need to be more voices and more people within the feminist movement? Obviously. But I so loathe segregation perpetrated by comments about not being like “other girls”, which are far too often used by people across the gender spectrum to put down women as shallow and stupid, that it was disappointing to see Steinem fall into this trap herself.

Aside from that quibble, I was greatly heartened by Steinem’s confession that she loathes public speaking even after all these years of being an activist. (Organizer, as Steinem would probably correct.) But she explained that she looks at her talk as a way to open the door to a greater conversation. If she can get the audience to engage with her afterwards, then she has done her job as a speaker. If she can get the audience to engage with each other but answering questions asked to her, then she has done her job as an organizer. This approach may not directly translated into the business world, especially since women are routinely talked over or disregarded, but it is certainly a different and rather inspiring way of approaching a presentation or lecture.

The selection of this memoir for January was particularly well-timed as the public is being re-reminded of Bill Clinton’s extra-marital affairs and Hillary Clinton’s response to them. In discussing her decision to support Clinton in the 2008 presidential election, Steinem discusses how she listened to and conversed with numerous “Hillary Haters” — white, well-educated feminist women who did not want Clinton as president — and learned that their hatred stemmed from Clinton’s refusal to leave her husband over his affairs. They wanted to see Clinton eviscerate her husband because they were unwilling to leave their own husbands and jealous of the equality within the Clintons’ marriage. This reasoning does not exactly jive with my recollection of the 2008 nomination process, and I admit that I dismissed it out of hand. Yet, two days after I finished this particular section of Steinem’s memoir, there was an article in the New York Times about how Clinton is losing support of feminists over Bill’s 1990s affairs.

In describing this memoir to family and friends, I said that it was a bit like getting coffee with Steinem and listening to her recollect moments in her life. She does seem to jump from one event to another, and the book switches from being arranged topically to chronically and back again. But it was one of the better coffee dates I’ve had in some time as it reaffirmed the importance of intersectional feminism and pointed out the places I still need to visit and learn from. Time to go on my own self-willed journey.