Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Awakening: Kate Chopin

The Awakening is a touchstone in feminist literature. Chopin was a fantastic writer who was shocked at the reception of this novel, so much so that she stopped publishing. It is the novel of a woman who questions traditional gender rules and commits herself to doing as she likes.
When it was published in 1899, such an idea was appalling to the general public. The Awakening was pulled from the presses and it was banned until after Chopin's death. She was devastated.

Edna is a gentlewoman of twenty-eight years, married with two children. As is custom, she spends her summers at a lovely resort, socializing with other gentlewomen. It is at the resort that she meets Robert, a handsome, doting young man who spends every waking moment catering to Edna's every desire. Edna takes his admiration for granted, thinking nothing of his puppy love. It takes nearly the entire story for Edna to admit to herself that she returns Robert's love--which is socially unacceptable considering her marriage.

This novel has long stood as a standard for the women's movement. Edna is an example of the overly pampered housewife who grows bored with her situation and begins to question her role in life. She takes baby steps towards her liberation; small, seemingly insignificant thought processes that turn Edna into a woman shirking her traditional role and expectations.

I had a really hard time with this novel. There were so many problems with this story. For one thing, I had to overcome the archaic language that includes words like "darkies" and "quadroon". I had to overcome my personal beliefs about the ridiculousness of a housewife requiring the assistance of a nanny (what does a woman do who doesn't work, doesn't clean house, nor does she care for her children?). I then had to overcome the outdated traditions of "calling hours" and making excuses for not being available for said visiting hours. All those things aside, the novel could conceivably take place today. Here is a woman who has bought into the role of wife and mother, who has replaced her own identity with that of wife and mother, who becomes frustrated and begins to question those roles.

I am personally a proponent of questioning societal norms, and I firmly believe that marriage does NOT make a woman the property of her husband. Unfortunately, because of the era, this novel moves slowly and negates much of the process of self discovery through excuses from the husband. Rather than feeling like a cheerleader for Edna, I felt aggravated, anxious for her to stand up and take her life into her own hands with some real Umph!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Alchemist: Paulo Coelho

Paulo Coelho earned a significant place in my heart when I first read The Devil And Miss Prym while in South Korea. I manage to pick up Coelho's novels when I most need his insights. The Alchemist is no different.

At it's core, The Alchemist is about the value of following your heart at all costs. One sentence that is repeated throughout the book is "When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to acheive it." What a fantastic idea! Santiago is our protaganist, a shepherd in Andalusia who takes the advice of various people he encounters who all encourage him to "follow the omens" leading to his dream. On the path of his Personal Legend, Santiago learns from everyone he meets--an important lesson for all of us living in this modern world. He encounters love, science, faith, danger, and all along he is reminded that it simply is what must be. Because as he is told time and time again, "it is written".

The theory is that when you heart wants something, it is because that thing is your Personal Legend. It is the thing you are meant to do, and all the universe will help you achieve it. Coelho is a deeply spiritual writer, who combines the mystical with ideas of God and Fate. I love that his writing is accessible to everyone, no matter their faith.

The Alchemist is another beautifully written volume from Coelho, and a valuable tome for anyone needing a nudge on the path of their own Personal Legend.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Sundays at Tiffany's: James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet

For five dollars at Fred Meyer's, I picked up this book by James Patterson--an author I have generally no interest in reading. However, the title alone piqued my interest, being that I am an Audrey Hepburn fan for life and Breakfast At Tiffany's is one of my favorite movies of all time. Reading the back cover was what ultimately pushed me to buy the book; I mean, who wouldn't want to read the story of an imaginary friend come to life?!

Jane is a very lonely child who meets Michael--an invisible friend. He's not exactly imaginary--just invisible to anyone he doesn't want to be seen by. On her 9th Birthday, as per Invisible Friend Rules, Michael has to leave Jane and let her grow up in a world without invisible friends. Theoretically, she is to never remember Michael once he has gone from her life. (I would like to mention here that I find this completely plausible, as I had an invisible friend when I was a child whom I apparently spoke of at length. As an adult, I don't remember this friend at all). As an adult, Jane is still lonely and stuck in a life that doesn't belong to her. At just the right time, Michael sees Jane and she sees him and he sees that she remembers him, and it's fireworks. In a predictable plot, they fall in love and live happily ever after.

Sundays At Tiffany's is kind of a hard novel to review simply because it's so formulaic. I mean, other than the invisible friend bit, it's the typical boy and girl fall in love, there's a predictable conflict and the resulting resolution. The characters are not especially dimensional, though not altogether unlikable. Basically, for what I would call an "airplane paperback", it's not a bad read.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Kitchen: Banana Yoshimoto

Kitchen is translated from the original Japanese novel by a gal called Banana Yoshimoto. This book was gifted to me with the forewarning that it was a bit odd. Death, Love, and Transvestites--oh my! So of course you know I was interested before even cracking the cover!

Kitchen is technically two different stories about completely different people. At first a reader might wonder why these stories were paired. Well, there are the obvious links of death, sorrow, and the love that carries us through the darkest hours. There is also a sense of the mystical in both of these stories. As though there is something surreal in the ugly reality of loss.

Yoshimoto is a brilliant writer. Of course, this being a translation, I can't say that with complete certainty, but it is my opinion that the heart of this novel is well expressed and that heart belongs to the author regardless of any translation. The descriptions are beautifully moving, and the similies that Yoshimoto uses to describe the emotions of each character are poignant and real.

Ultimately the stories in this short volume are about the deep, black sorrow of losing family, and how it takes the love of the living to climb back into the world of light. Sometimes the best love is born of an absolute loss. When someone we love dies, it's easy to forget that there is no real end. Yoshimoto brings the mystical wonder of afterlife into the lives of characters who are so enmeshed in their despair that only an experience with love can remind them to keep living.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Such A Pretty Fat or Why Pie Is Not The Answer: Jen Lancaster

LAUGHTER! That is the best word to sum up my reaction to this book. I don't remember the last time I laughed so hard at a novel. Such A Pretty Fat was not on any of my reading lists, I just happened to pick it up last time I was at Borders. I liked the back cover synopsis, and wanted a lighthearted book. I thought I might get a chuckle out of it, but I never expected that I would find myself laughing out loud on the bus ride home.

Jen Lancaster is a memoirist. She has written a few other books that I will probably be interested in reading now. This particular title is about her battle with weightloss. Having reached a size 24, she decides to take on the project of writing a memoir about dieting. Having never previously successfully lost weight, this battle is full of the ups and downs that every dieter has experienced. The complete lethargy that keeps one from exercising. The love-hate relationship one has with food while dieting. And the complete and utter disappointment at finding that every dieter in the world has some excuse to blame their weight on others. Jen Lancaster is witty and rough around the edges. Her writing is conversational and oh so very real. It feels like chatting with Jen over coffee. Or maybe coffee and pie.

I think the most likable aspect of this novel is that it's sort of universal. I don't think you have to be overweight to enjoy Lancaster's insights and her humor. I admit that there are times when I question the sensitivity of Jen Lancaster's writing, but overall, I find her completely marvelous.