Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Read: 17 March, 2018

I enjoyed this quite a bit more than We Should All Be Feminists. Perhaps because the context is more personal, so it justifies the more personal tone. As with We Should All Be Feminists, this isn’t about building a case or proving a point or trying together statistics to form a broader picture. But unlike We Should All Be Feminists, this book is explicitly preaching to the choir.

That was the problem with the other book – its function would be to convince readers to care. But without a well-crafted argument, without proof that there is a problem in the first place, it falls short. Here, however, Adichie is addressing herself to a friend who has just had a baby and who wants to know how to apply her already-existing feminism to her parenting. She’s already on board with the ideals, but she wants practical advice (and, perhaps, a little cheerleading).

The advice itself is more of the high concept variety. This isn’t, after all, a parenting book with sample scripts. But it serves well as a reminder of all the sneaky little cultural baggage that we bring into our parenting without even realising it.

    Southern Reach #2: Authority by Jeff VanderMeer

    Read: 17 March, 2018

    Now out of Area X, the mysterious focus is shifted to the Southern Reach organisation. But while Area X was surreal and freaky, many of the issues at Southern Reach are human – such as inconsistent funding, personal loyalties and resentments, and the backroom politicking of faraway superiors. And while I’ve enjoyed books like that, it just didn’t fit the Lovecraftian tone set by Annihilation.

    The other issue I had with the book is that it’s just so looong. Throughout almost the entire thing, the main character just circles the same set of questions without finding answers (or, even, more questions). So while the writing style is good, and the atmosphere is creepy, and characters are interesting, there simply isn’t enough there to sustain interest for that long. Annihilation worked, in part, because it was short. I feel like longer works, if they’re going to keep audiences engaged, need to either provide the occasional dog bone of an answers, or at the very least swap out old questions for fresh ones every so often.

    And that, I think, is what my complaint boils down to. I think this would have been a much stronger entry for the series at 3/4 (or even half) the length.

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      Southern Reach #1: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

      Read: 5 March, 2018

      My spouse started reading this before I did. When he was about halfway through, I asked him how it was going. He replied: “I feel like there’s this guy, right? And he’s got a shovel and this big pile of mystery, and he’s just shovelling the mystery onto me and trying to bury me alive.”

      Having now read the book for myself, I have to say that’s fairly accurate.

      This book is what you get if Tarkovsky’s Stalker and the collected works of H.P. Lovecraft had a baby together. A mysterious baby.

      There’s the Zone (here called ‘Area X’), that all appears mundane enough except for this feeling of unease and an absence of people. And then there are people – people known only by their function – who are exploring the Zone. So that’s the Stalker part. Then there’s the hidden creatures of unspeakable horror that cannot be described, plus the increasing inability to sort reality from hallucination/hypnotic suggestion/insanity/dream, and that’s the Lovecraft part.

      The writing style is emotionally distant and clinical, which fits with the narrator’s character. Still, it’s very compelling. While there isn’t much action, the feeling of unease and suspense is well-maintained, and the book is short enough not to overstay its welcome.

      I’m not sure how this story will work drawn out into a trilogy, and I’m even less sure that the mysteries can be solved in a satisfying way (as my spouse put it: “I’m worried this is going to be like Lost all over again”), so I’m a little wary of continuing on. But I did enjoy this one. And I also enjoyed that things decidedly are not wrapped up by the end, which has given the spouse and I plenty to talk about as we spin our own theories for what is really going on.

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        Winternight Trilogy #1: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

        Read: 3 March, 2018

        When I started dating a young Russian gent, I started dating his culture, too. I got into Russian music, I started reading Russian fiction, I started collecting bits and bobs of Russian folkart. And my poor, dear, Russian beau, who fled the USSR and would really rather put the whole Russian thing behind them, tolerantly humours me.

        All this is just to say that The Bear and the Nightingale is right up my alley.

        The writings style has something of a fairy tale flavour to it, which tends to keep a bit of distance between reader and character. This took some getting used to, after the intensely intimate books I’ve been reading recently. But it fit the tone of the story perfectly.

        I loved how rich the world feels – at once historical and magical, fantastical and plausible. I also loved Vasya, is was such a charmingly wild thing, without it coming off like it the narrative was trying to hard.

        Learn from my fail: There is a glossary at the back for the Russian terms used in the book. You don’t actually have to keep bugging your spouse with questions. Though you certainly can, if you want to.

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          Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

          Read: 26 February, 2018

          Disclosure: I got an ARC copy through the GoodReads giveaways.

          Though not my usual genre, I quite enjoyed this book. The mystery isn’t too much of a mystery – the baddie is revealed almost immediately, and then it’s just a matter of finding out just how much various other characters might be complicit, and the details of what happened.

          But the writing is very compelling, and I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen to the main characters.

            A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka by Lev Golinkin

            Read: 24 February, 2018

            My mother loaned me this book because my spouse, though not Jewish, also fled from Russia at around Golinkin’s age. Though he was an emigrant, rather than a refugee, the experiences were surprisingly familiar – particularly in the ways both families responded to the trauma of having lived in the USSR.

            I love that this book paints a complex picture. Recipients of charity aren’t always grateful, threat and trauma can lead even the most sober people to make careless decisions, and acts of kindness are sometimes done for entirely selfish reasons.

            I also enjoyed the humour of the book. A lot of it is a distinctively Russian humour, that fatalistic “everything is terrible, isn’t if funny?” brand of deadpan humour that I enjoy so much.

            Mostly, though, I love the message of hope. In the course of its story, A Backpack presents thousands, millions, of small acts – a donation here, a smile there – that, together, build up to something so meaningful. As Canada discusses its obligations toward refugees, this was a powerful book to read.

              We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

              Read: 20 February, 2018

              At 48 pages, this is a very short book – really more of an essay. Because of the vast discrepancy between the size of the topic and the size of the book, this is obviously going to be a very superficial treatment. Even so, the essay is very conversational, and skips from topic to topic without much focus. Ultimately, it doesn’t really answer the title question, so much as simply mull over ways in which sexism have affected the author.

              To the extent that Adichie makes statements of position, I often found myself disagreeing with her. Mostly, it has to do with the gender binary, which she clearly accepts even as she doesn’t think it should should be prescriptive.

              I did enjoy the particular African perspective of the book – when I read about feminism, it’s almost always from a North American context. In particular, there are a few parts in the book where she talks specifically about African (and Nigerian) culture.

              Apart from the cultural perspective, Adichie doesn’t bring much new to the table. This is a casual, personal book, without much history or facts. But it is worth reading, given the short length.

                Vorkosigan Saga #12: Brothers in Arms by Lois McMaster Bujold

                Read: 18 February, 2018

                I was very clever and read the “Borders of Infinity” novella before coming back to this book. While the book Borders of Infinity comes next in the chronological order, the novella (which can be found in the book) comes just before Brothers in Arms. While it isn’t absolutely necessary to read them in that order, much of Brothers in Arms is dealing with the aftermath of the story in “Borders of Infinity”, so I do think it’s best to read them in order. What I did was read all the novellas in Borders of Infinity, then come back and read Brothers in Arms, then read the framing device in Borders of Infinity.

                It’s probably no surprise that I really loved this one. So far, the Vorkosigan has been a whole lot more hit than miss. I love the dissection of identity and personhood, and I love the exploration of how wartime actions and choices can keep coming back to haunt whole lineages.

                We haven’t heard much about Earth so far in the series, so it was interesting to see how Bujold sees the future right here at home.

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                  Vorkosigan Saga #13: Borders of Infinity by Lois McMaster Bujold

                  Read: 18 February, 2018

                  I recommend reading the third novella, “Borders of Infinity”, before reading Brothers in Arms, as the events in the novella come up quite a bit in that book.

                  There isn’t too much to the framing device – Miles is back on Barrayar, getting interviewed by security chief Simon Illyan about some recent missions (and the expenses they accrued). As far as I can recall, there’s nothing that gives away key plot points of Brothers in Arms (spoiler: Miles survives), so this book could be read first, even though it comes next chronologically.

                  It was nice to see Cordelia again, however briefly. Since Barrayar, she’s often been a presence, though usually only off-screen. That said, I can understand Bujold’s choice. Both Cordelia and Aral are rather larger-than-life characters in Miles’s mind, so it makes sense to keep them hidden from the reader to preserve Miles’s perspective.

                  The Mountains of Mourning

                  I reviewed this in more detail in Dreaweaver’s Dilemma. It’s still a heart-wrenching novella, in addition to being a really good exploration of Miles in his home environment. It does a lot to show us the tension between the old ways and the new world that Aral (and, to a lesser extent, Miles) is trying to create.


                  Despite the questionable romance between a 20-some year old and a sheltered sixteen year old (somewhat mitigated along other power axes), I really dug this story. I loved the exploration of humanity that Bujold did so well in Ethan of Athos, and the way it kept coming up to hammer at Miles, smoothing out his prejudices. I enjoyed seeing more of Bel Thorne, particularly the exploration of its gender fluidity. It reminded me of the romance in LeGuin’s Left Hand of Darkness, where a gender fluid individual shifts presentation to accommodate the preferences of a heterosexual.

                  I also liked the theme of accessibility. It’s always around when Miles is present, of course, due to his brittle bones, but here we also see someone who requires a mobility aid. It’s just not something that many authors think to include in their stories – even in science fiction, where technology could remove so many barriers to public participation for people with disabilities or physical differences.

                  Mostly, though, I loved getting to see a quaddie again. I’ve been dying to find out how they’ve been getting on ever since Falling Free, and here we see one – two hundred years later, a product of an ongoing colony. I wish we could have spent more time with her, but it was lovely to get that much.

                  The Borders of Infinity

                  I just didn’t click with this one so much. Some of it is just the setting, which I don’t think would have ever worked for me. I didn’t like it in Riddick, I don’t like it here. But, also, because there’s a sort-of-twist ending, Bujold chose to hide a lot of Miles’s thinking from the reader. The joy of reading the Vorkosigan stories is in getting to see all the strategies and counter strategies that Miles comes up with – and if we don’t know what he’s trying to accomplish, it just isn’t nearly as fun.

                  This wasn’t a bad story, by any means, but I do think it’s the weakest of the Vorkosigan stories that I’ve read so far.

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                    Star Wars The Last Jedi: Cobalt Squadron by Elizabeth Wein

                    Read: 18 February, 2018

                    After watching The Last Jedi, I wanted to know more about Rose Tico. She’s an intriguing character who doesn’t get much exploration in the movie, but just enough to hint at a lot more depth.

                    Unfortunately, she doesn’t get much exploration here, either. The story is about Rose and her sister, Paige, trying to help a local rebellion on the planet Aterra Bravo. Set before the outbreak of war with the First Order, Rose and Paige have to operate in secrecy while the rebellion gathers evidence against the First Order.

                    So far so good. Except that the narrative is fairly superficial, and we don’t get a whole lot of character exposition or development. There’s a bit there about Rose’s relationship with Paige, and what development there is is about her learning to function independently of her sister (giving the last few chapters quite a bit of pathos, considering what happens in the first few minutes of The Last Jedi).

                    There’s certainly enough plot to fill a full length novel, but the author opts for repetition of the superficial, rather than depth. So over and over again, we hear about how Aterra Bravo reminds Rose of her homeworld, and over and over we hear about the difficulty of navigating the heavy bombers through the Aterran asteroid field. It’s so repetitive that even my six year old was getting annoyed! This book does not trust its readers at all.

                    Which is such a shame, because Rose is an interesting character, and because the plot is interesting on its own.

                    This isn’t a terrible book, but it is a disappointing one. The author seems to have confused writing for a younger audience with writing for a lazy, uninterested, and unengaged audience. She sacrificed depth for the assumption that her audience wouldn’t remember details from one chapter to the next.