Month: June 2016
A friend lent me her copy of We Love You, Charlie Freeman, and I have been thinking about it ever since. It is a difficult book to write about.
The debut novel of the talented Kaitlyn Greenidge, this book varies between the viewpoint of various members of the Freeman family (mother, father, 2 daughters) in the 1990s, and a woman in a Christian cult named Nymphadora in the 1920s. Both the Freemans and Nymphadora are black, and despite the differences that come from the time periods in which they are telling their story, there are also, sadly, too many similarities.
Ultimately, the impression that I received from this novel is that racism sucks, teenagers suck, and love can twist you up inside and cause you to accept treatment that you would never accept from someone you cared about less. There are a lot of relationships in this novel: first loves, parental love, bestial love, familial love. And there are many characters in this novel who rightfully feel abandoned, some of whom learn to cope with this feeling, some of whom react recklessly and defensively, and some of whom perform harmful acts (though probably not the ones you’re thinking of).
This novel was well written, interesting, and difficult. I felt clammy and physically distressed for the characters. I was not entirely sure where the story was going to go, and was hoping for the best. I was not entirely right, nor entirely wrong.
This novel is a very good read, and one that will really make you think. Highly recommend!
Have you read this novel, or are you planning to read it in the future?
I was going to write a post about how you need to read or re-read Jenny Lawson’s Furiously happy, and gift it to everyone you know for Christmas, even if you already gifted it to them last December holiday season, because the book is just that good… And then, I read some of the reviews on Goodreads, and realized, maybe a book with a hugely grinning, taxidermied raccoon on the cover is not everyone’s cup of tea.
At first, this made me sad. Jenny’s collections of essays are often funny, sometimes heartwarming, and usually dealing with mental illness, which is a bit of a scary topic that is not covered enough in the media, which makes people with mental illness feel terribly alone.
So instead of telling you that you HAVE to read this book, because I as an arbitrary person really, really, really, really, really, REALLY think you should…
Today, I am going to write a post on the difficulties of writing about important things, and also maybe not being an asshole when you review shit.
I don’t believe I am. I hope that I am right. But the fact is, I probably hurt the feelings of some authors, by virtue of writing honest reviews. I try to take care not to be personally offensive, which is something that I occasionally saw within the reviews for Furiously Happy. The fact that I, personally, do not enjoy something, and potentially cannot even fathom how anyone else could, either, does not mean that other people who read and enjoy the work are of lesser intelligence, lesser understanding, or inferior in any way. Nor does the fact that I did not enjoy something that a lot of other people are raving about indicate subpar intelligence or sophistication as a reader on my part. People are different, and they like different things. The fact that I did not enjoy something, and do not recommend it, does not mean that it will not be the next book you clutch to your bosom and sigh over dramatically because you have found your next true love.
One of the most difficult things about writing about big issues such as mental illness, racism, gender inequality, rape, etc., is the niggling feeling in the back of your mind that says: “You aren’t good enough to write about this issue in a meaningful way. Readers won’t get what you’re trying to say. You will offend someone, because not everyone experiences these issues in the same way.” These doubts are on top of the normal doubts that all writers already have that their writing isn’t good enough, that they are wasting their time, that they might as well just sit on the couch watching marathons of well-written television while getting drunk.
Yet the alternative, if all writers give in to these doubts, is to have a literary landscape that is devoid of controversial topics. And if no one is writing and no one is talking about controversial topics, how is the world supposed to evolve and become a better place? How are people supposed to learn and mature and figure out what they think of the world and what they think is their place in it?
I prefer a literary landscape in which writers take chances, promote the issues that they feel passionate about, and make me think about what I am reading. I recognize that this means I will not always like what I read, and that other readers will not always like to read the writing that I greatly enjoyed, but this issue is one that can be overcome simply by maintaining empathy. Some people might find the writing of the Marquis de Sade to be absolutely disgusting, whereas others might be titillated by it. Does that mean the writing should not exist? I argue in favor of its’ existence, though I also maintain that as a reader, if you are really not enjoying something, and furthermore, do not see any other benefits from reading it, it is perfectly fine to stop. Just remember, that simply because you are not deriving what you want or need from a work of literature does not mean that that work should not exist.
What do you think? Where is the balance between writing about difficult topics and being insensitive? What is the difference between a review that is honest and a review that is cruel? Do you consider these topics in your own writing (blog, review, or otherwise)? Or would you like to fangirl/vent about Furiously Happy? I would love to hear your thoughts; please comment!
I recently read Cristanta Knight: Protagonist Bound, an ARC I received via Netgalley.
I was super excited. It’s a fairy tale re-telling! You guys know me (or maybe you don’t, in which case HELLO, NEW READER *awkward wave*), I am a huge fan of fairy tales, and fairy tale re-tellings, when done well, are my jam.
Unfortunately, this fairy tale re-telling is not done well.
Crisante Knight is the daughter of Cinderella.
Cinderella has apparently turned into a vain, pompous queen who pressures her daughter to be a “perfect princess,” who doesn’t use contractions, wears high heels at all times, and is destined to be the “damsel in distress” headlining her very own fairy tale.
Crisanta attends a special, all-girls’ school that prepares “protagonists” to embark on their own fairy tale sometime after graduation. Crisanta has nightmares, is clumsy and aspires to be much more bad-ass than she actually is. She’s full of sarcasm and pomp, which comes across about as well as my teenage sass did (so… not at all). She also repeatedly breaks the fourth wall, which is supposed to be cute, but really just makes me want to punch her in the face. And she’s a fictional character, so she doesn’t even really have a face.
Some of the ideas in this novel were okay, and I liked the prominent use of fairy godmothers.
Overall, though, playing with fairy tale concepts, gender stereotypes, etc., in a fairy tale school setting has already been done, and done much better, via Somain Chainani’s The School for Good and Evil.
The novel is also the beginning of a series, and subsequently does not really get started until the last 50 pages or so, at which point it ends on a cliffhanger.
While I appreciate having been given the opportunity to read this book, I did not enjoy it, and do not recommend it. Although I just checked Goodreads, and it looks like my opinion is in the minority on this one.