Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Casual Vacancy, by J. K. Rowling

Dear blogspot! I'm ashamed that I could have forgotten you. How have things been without me?

Well, don't fret. I'm here writing one more post. This platform is pretty confusing, and I feel like I might switch over to Wordpress... I just can't find an efficient way to follow/subscribe to people, and I feel like people have trouble following/subscribing to me? Am I being too self conscious? Maybe, but something simpler would be nice. Anyways, here's one last book review while I make up my mind. Nothing's final yet. 

I've been using this site called Goodreads to write my book reviews, but I feel like this little corner of the web is getting lonely, so here's my most recent one. It's for The Casual Vacancy, by J. K. Rowling!! I had been meaning to read this book for the longest time, and I FINALLY got around to it after almost everyone I knew had already read it. We all had very, very different and mixed opinions, and I'm sure whoever's reading this probably will too, so this was an exciting review for me. DON'T read it if you're planning on reading the book yourself though, because there are definitely some big spoilers in here! 

The Casual Vacancy

So, let's start with the technical stuff. The writing is very similar to the writing of Harry Potter -- it's not more wordy or structurally complicated, it's actually very accessible and totally an easy read. It's more adult in its subject matter and frequent f-bombs. At first I was a bit disappointed, since I was looking forward to some prose that could be a bit more challenging or stimulating, but I dismissed that wish very quickly, probably thirty pages in. I love the way she writes. It's basic, but beautiful. The story speaks for itself... it doesn't need any flashy parallel structure or streaming metaphors to stand on its own.

Okay, now for my thoughts on the plot: I know a lot of people thought Robbie's death was cheap, that Rowling just got lazy at the end, that she was just trying to be dramatic. I know a lot of other people who were just disappointed, confused, or indifferent. 

I am none of those people. I actually thought the deaths of Krystal and Robbie were sad and beautiful... Robbie, the dirty and neglected child, being washed away in the river was like a kind of baptism into another world, a baptism only available through death. Krystal's suicide was a crime of passion, a desperate attempt to follow Robbie to wherever he was, using the tools of her Mother's demons to take her to the place of angels, the place of purity she longed for. I thought it was very well done.

I don't think they died in vain, either. My favorite character ended up being Samantha Mollison, and I think their deaths really changed her and made her, suddenly, into someone I just loved. She was humbled, she was changed, she really turned herself around, in a way I never would have thought possible. She sort of reminded me of Edmund, in the Narnia books -- he's so awful and detestable at the beginning, but after the death of Aslan, he completely redeems himself and becomes known as the most just and merciful king in Narnia. I think Samantha Mollison is the Edmund of this book. 

There's a lot to say about a lot of other aspects in this book, but those were my two biggest thoughts.

Anyways, I hope everyone's well! Maybe I'll be seeing you soon. Maybe not. Either way, have a lovely day! 

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

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Coming of Age in Mississippi

Hello, lovely people! I just finished yet another book that I felt compelled to share my thoughts on... and my blog is becoming the perfect platform for my to let my bookwormish thoughts loose! This was another book I was assigned to read in my Life Writing class, and it has definitely been the most accessible and compelling to read so far. I recommend this book to anyone interested in an easy, first-person, girl-to-woman type of book while also educating themselves on the civil rights movement.

Anne Moody grew up in rural Mississippi, and her autobiography tells the story of how she came to support and fight for the civil rights movement of the 1960s. She talks about her experiences with racism, joining the movement, and fighting racism. Her voice is very accessible and relate-able  especially for girls in late high school/early college, but one very cool thing about her story is the way she portrays herself at every age. Some might think this technique to be a bit manufactured or over the top, but I quite enjoyed Moody's re-creation of every time period of her life... When she writes about her childhood, her writing becomes choppy and childish, referring to her Mother's pregnancies as "getting fat" and using other basic, immature terms to describe the events as she perceived them at the time.

What struck me most about this book was Moody's relationship to God. As she witnesses more hate and racism as life goes on, her faith in God dwindles and dwindles till eventually she attacks it head on, raging at God after hearing about a bombing in a Sunday school. It was upsetting to see her hatred escalate and grow as she get older and older, but I think it portrayed very accurately that hate spawns more hate. Here some some quotes to show her growing hostility:

"I was fifteen years old when I began to hate people."

"Before, the woods had always done so much for me. Once I could actually go out into the woods and communicate with God, or Nature or something. Now that something didn't come through. It was just not there anymore. More than ever I began to wonder whether God actually existed. Maybe God changed as the individual changed, or perhaps grew as one grew."

"I'm through with you. Yes, I am going to put you down. From now on, I am my own God. I am going to live by the rules I set for myself. I'll discard everything I was once taught about you. Then I'll be you. I'll be my own God, living life as I see fit. Not as Mr. Charlie says I should live it, or Mama or anybody else. I shall do as I want in this society that apparently wasn't meant for me and my kind. If you are getting angry because I am talking to you like this, then just kill me, leave me here in this graveyard dead. Maybe that's where all of us belong anyway. Maybe then we wouldn't have to suffer so much. At the rate we are being killed now, we'll all be soon dead anyway."

Not exactly a pick-me-up, but an interesting book that traces the journey of a girl who grew up learning how, who, and why to hate. Although upsetting at times, this book was psychologically intriguing and historically compelling, and I highly recommend it! Enjoy :)

Saturday, March 2, 2013

February favorites.

Hello, lovely people! I don't know about you, but the month of February flew right by for me, and I am eagerly anticipating spring, however long it takes to get here. This past month has been short and sweet and I've been loving so many products lately that I decided to do a favorites post! February was a great month for my skin, so here's my top three favorite products.

Caress body wash.
As you can see, I've basically wiped out this entire bottle of body wash. Before picking this up at good ole Target, I had never even heard of Caress before... I honestly just liked the packaging and thought the scent was nice. But honestly, I don't think I've ever seen such dramatic and healthy improvements in my skin after using something as simple as a body wash! This left my skin feeling literally just like silk, looking brighter and more glowing than I think I've ever seen before. Not to mention that burnt brown sugar and karite butter smell absolutely incredible together... Ahhhh. For only $4 at Target (!!!), this has been the best body wash I have ever purchased. I'm never going to use anything else.  

Kiss My Face moisturizer.
I usually don't pay too much attention to the moisturizers I buy, since my skin doesn't really get too dry even in winter, so I usually shake up my purchases and go with whatever I happen to think smells nice. This moisturizer was only $7 at the store, and it did help keep my skin soft and moist, but what really stood out to me was its uncanny ability to clear my face! I've been using it since about mid January, and I honestly don't think I've had even ONE problem pimple/spot since I've started using this. I don't think I've ever been more thrilled with a skincare product in my life. Apparently, coconut water and oil do wonders for acne. I'm never buying any other moisturizer. Ever. 

Maybelline FitMe Foundation.
Maybe it's because I finally found the perfect shade of liquid foundation for my skin, or maybe every other brand I've tried has been absolute shit... but it's DEFINITELY Maybelline! ;) Hehe cheesy cheesy, I know. But in all seriousness, this foundation has been everything I've ever hoped for in liquid form. I can't even tell when I'm rubbing it in that my face is getting wet with makeup... I just start to magically look like I've come out of a beauty magazine, and my skin looks bright and beautiful and fairylike within seconds! The finish is so natural looking and it holds really well throughout the day, even if I go to the gym to work up an unladylike sweat at noon. I can't even express to you how excited I am to have finally found the perfect product for my skin! 

Essie nail polish.
Love, love, love. This month I've really been loving these two colors, Glamour Purse and Lilacism. I love how opaque they are, how smoothly they go on, how elegant they look... Ah, I'm just in love. Definitely Essie obsessed for life.

Let's hope March will be just as lovely as dear February has been!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Quiet Odyssey

Quiet Odyssey is the autobiography of Mary Paik Lee, a Korean immigrant woman in the United States. I don't think I've ever read such a humbling life story. After the Russo-Japanese war, Japan imposed control over Korea, and many Korean families took refuge in the United States. Her family, and almost every other Korean family, suffered atrocious poverty and racism in this new land. Although her parents worked hard and took every job they could find, their living conditions were reliably inadequate for the growing family, and they were almost always hungry.

Even though their lives are miserable, Lee's narrative has a quiet strength to it (hence the title, Quiet Odyssey), and she never writes off the United States as a hopeless, stupid, hypocritical country, which I'm sure I'd be quite keen to do had I been in her place. Instead, she finds refuge through nature and small acts of kindness from the few compassionate people she meets in her life. She speaks highly of her family and her husband, emphasizing the importance of family and love during times of hardship.

Here are some quotes that especially struck me:

"I asked Father why we had come to a place where we were not wanted ... He explained that anything new and strange causes some fear at first, so ridicule and violence often result. He said the missionaries just lowered their heads and paid no attention to their tormentors. They showed by their action and good works that they were just as good or even better than those who laughed at them. He said that is exactly what we must try to do here in America — study hard and learn to show Americans that we are just as good as they are. That was my first lesson in living, and I have never forgotten it."

"I saw Father and Mother sitting across from each other at the table holding hands, with tears flowing down their faces. I realized how much agony they were suffering, and that my own feelings were nothing compared with theirs. I had been so absorbed in myself that the thought of my parents' suffering had never entered my mind. Seeing them that way made me realize how ignorant I was. It awakened me to the realities of life."

"One boy stood up and asked, 'Are you really a human being like us?' My answer was, 'I have two eyes, a nose, a mouth, two ears, two arms, two legs — just like all of you. The only difference is the color of my skin and hair. I have black hair and dark skin. Do you know that there are more colored people in this world than there are white people? Some are black, brown, yellow, or red. They are all human beings. They speak their own languages, of course, but they love, fight, hate — just like you. When you grow older and are able to travel to other countries, you will see that America is not the only country in the world."

"Living in the country gives one the privilege of discovering that humans are not the only ones to have feelings of love and caring. Ducks and geese mate for life. If one is sick or injured, the other will bring it food and try to protect it. I have seen many that were shot and unable to leave with their group. Their mates stayed with them until the wounded ones died; then they flew away to rejoin their group. Witnessing such devotion makes one feel humble."

Lee's perspective towards her life and her experiences inspire one to work hard, complain less, and never take a single moment for granted. After finishing her autobiography, I wished that I had learned more in school about Asian American history, and I wish I knew more about our despicable treatment of Asian American immigrants that came here less than a generation ago!

For anyone who's craving an eye-opening, historically enlightening, touching and inspirational narrative, I highly recommend Lee's story. Let me know what you think!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lent 2013

Hello, lovely people! Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. For those of you who aren't familiar with the Christian faith, Lent is the time during which Christians either give something up or promise to start doing something that will bring them closer to God. It lasts for forty days leading up to Easter Sunday, the day Jesus rose from the dead! Lent is a wonderful time to improve your spiritual relationship with your creator, to better yourself as a human being, and to practice the virtuous habits of discipline and dedication. Chris and I went to the 7:00 mass at our local parish today, and the mass really touched me. The priest stood up and gave a brief but powerful homily, urging us all to devote ourselves entirely to our Lenten journeys, and to view these forty days as a time to rejuvenate and replenish our souls. We all stray from the path of goodness, and we all need to be reminded of our call as children of God to be the best people we can be, and to live our lives in accordance to Jesus' teachings. The priest's words reminded me of the lyrics to one of my favorite songs by Mumford and Sons, The Cave.

"I'll find strength in pain, and I will change my ways.
I'll know my name as it's called again.
I have other things to fill my time,
You take what is yours and I'll take mine.
Now let me at the truth which will refresh my broken mind."

I think these are wonderful lyrics to keep in mind during this season of repentance and rejuvenation. The way God calls us is different than the way our friends and family call us; He calls on us not just by name, but by everything good within us, by all the love in our lives, by the very essence of our souls. He knows us better than we know ourselves, and for all our faults and failures, He loves us more than we could ever know. He sees us as infinitely beautiful, infinitely important, holy creatures —  he sees us in our true form, the form that mirrors His image.

We need to learn how to see ourselves as God sees us, and even more importantly, we need to learn how to treat ourselves as God treats us. If we see and treat ourselves as infinitely beautiful and infinitely important souls with infinite amounts of goodness and love within us, then we will surely find ourselves becoming more beautiful, more important, more good, and more loving, day by day.

This principle holds true in almost all aspects of our lives — if a girl starts seeing and treating herself as pretty, then she will, nine times out of ten, become even more pretty than she was before. If an overweight person starts seeing and treating themselves as a fit and healthy person, then they will absolutely lose weight and become fit and healthy. If a student who procrastinates and skips class starts seeing and treating himself as a serious student who cares about his work, then he will undoubtedly do better in all his classes. It all starts with the belief that we can become the people we want to be; in this case, it all starts with believing that we can become the Christian God calls us to be.

This Lent, I have promised myself to go to church every Sunday — I wish I just did this regularly, but alas, Saturday night always seems to get the best of me — give up sweets entirely, and go to the gym three times a week. When I'm healthy, I feel better about myself, my mood improves, and I have more energy to live my life with a Christian mindset. I'm less distracted with feeling bloated, or tired, or stressed. Here goes nothing!

"Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?" Isaiah 58:6-7.

What are your Lenten promises? 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Incidents in the Life of a Slavegirl

Hello, lovely people! Today, I am going to write a little post on Harriet Jacobs' autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slavegirl. I just finished reading it a few nights ago for my Life Writing class, and I thought to myself, what a great book to talk about on my blog! Hope you enjoy :)

For those of you unfamiliar with this book, I'll give you a basic plot summary. Harriet Jacobs writes about her life of slavery and journey to freedom under the name of Linda Brent, a pseudonym used to protect herself, family and friends during the unsafe time. Her childhood was relatively comfortable, and she never dreamed her condition of slavery was anything that mattered, let alone anything at all. But her parents died when she was relatively young, and with no one to legally protect her, she was abruptly kicked from her pleasant life to the Norcom family (referred to as the Flint family in the book) as a slave girl. Dr. Norcom/Flint constantly attempts to seduce her, and resorts to many dirty and slimy tricks to force her into sexual relations. Fortunately, Harriet/Linda manages to reject and escape them all, and eventually becomes pregnant with the child of a well respected white man in town, hoping her condition will be enough to provoke her Master into selling her.

"I knew the impassable gulf between us; but to be an object of interest to a man who is not married, and who is not her master, is agreeable to the pride and feelings of a slave, if her miserable situation has left her any pride or sentiment. It seems less degrading to give one's self, than to submit to compulsion. There is something akin to freedom in having a lover who has no control over you, except that which he gains by kindness and attachment."

Jacobs defends this move with a compelling and heartbreaking argument. She insists that slave girls and slave women cannot possibly be held to the same moral standards as white women, considering that their lives are not ethically protected through any laws of government, religion, or society. She writes:

"O, ye happy women, whose purity has been sheltered from childhood, who have been free to choose the objects of your affection, whose homes are protected by law, do not judge the poor desolate slave girl too severely! If slavery had been abolished, I, also, could have married the man of my choice; I could have had a home shielded by the laws ... but all my prospects had been blighted by slavery. I wanted to keep myself pure; and, under the most adverse circumstances, I tried hard to preserve my self-respect; but I was struggling in the powerful grasp of the demon Slavery; and the monster proved too strong for me. I felt as if I was forsaken by God and man; as if all my efforts must be frustrated; and I became reckless in my despair."

I'd like to stop here and point out the profound heartbreak within this passage. All too often throughout this book, I sat and thought to myself, "What if this had been me? What if I had been born a slave girl, with no rights of my own, no freedom to live life I can be proud of?" It would have been all too easy for God to plop my soul into the body of a young black woman during these horrific times, and then it would be me in the place of Jacobs, hating my life, feeling alone and beaten and worthless on a daily basis.

I usually get quite annoyed with people when they refuse to sympathize with my problems and refute my complaints with arguments like "Well Anne, there are children starving in Africa, so I'm pretty sure you'll be okay," or "Okay Anne, try being homeless on the streets of New York City, and see if your problems really matter then." Because okay, yeah, a lot of people have it a lot worse than I do, but that doesn't change the fact that I'm going through a difficult time and I'd appreciate some support and encouraging words rather than some patronizing comments and obnoxious eye-rolls. But when I read books like this, I really am thankful that my problems involve not much more than a pretty tough French class and some frivolous insecurities about my not-even-that-bad acne.

Anyways, Jacobs plan to be sold to the Father of her children fails, because her Master refuses to sell her, though his wrath is an even more intense force to be reckoned with. She becomes more and more desperate, and after the birth of her second child, she decides to run away. Before she makes her escape from town, she takes shelter in her friend's backroom, and then switches to the attic between the ceiling and roof of her grandmother's shed, in which she barely has enough room to roll over, let alone stand up.

Here's the crazy part: she lived in that cramped attic space for seven years. Seven years! She crawls down every once in awhile to prevent herself from becoming a cripple, but not often and she is still confined to the tiny shed. Her life consists of lying in an incredibly uncomfortable, dark, dismal place, watching her children grow up before her eyes through a little peephole in the wall of her den. Can you imagine? This whole time, her Master is obsessively searching for her, putting signs out for her recapture and harassing her family and friends for information.

My book came with illustrations, photographs, and scanned documents. Here's a picture of Dr Norcom/Flint's reward sign for Harriet/Linda's recapture. It is truly horrifying to look upon something like this, a demand for the right to a fellow human being's freedom and life, and think that these were all completely acceptable and familiar documents to society at that time.

Everything I have to say about slavery has been said before, but I'll say it again anyways: it was a disgrace to humanity. It was a shameful, offensive, and purely evil institution that will forever remind us of our fallen natures, of how filthy and wretched the soul can become when drunk with power. It is impossible to underestimate how twisted we humans will let our lives and families and communities become before we are put in our place.

This may sound dramatic and perhaps unnecessarily pessimistic to many of you; but I think it is important remember that we are all naturally prone to imperfection, and fighting the evil within ourselves will be the war of our lives. I think it is important to understand how easily and naturally entire societies, states, and nations fall into conditions of vile sin, and to constantly remind ourselves that we are not immune to this wayward behavior; we must constantly remind ourselves to follow the good, to stay on the right path, to fight for the saving of our souls. Reminding ourselves of our fallen nature is vital to our soul's survival, lest we become too comfortable and proud in our imperfect condition. God knows even angels fall.

Eventually, opportunity presents itself, and Jacobs is finally transported to the North. But the ghost of slavery is still with her wherever she goes, and she finds that the North is not as free as she would have liked to think. Even though she discovers that Dr Norcom/Flint has died, his son and daughter in law still claim her as their property, and eventually come to the North to take her back once more. She obtains freedom after being bought from the Norcoms by her Northern friend, who then sets her free. Although she is happy and content with her life at the end of her story, she is still plagued with the scars that slavery leaves on souls, and even her freedom is tainted with the dirty hand of that vile institution.

"There are wrongs which even the grave does not bury. The man was odious to me while he lived, and his memory is odious now."

"I well know the value of that bit of paper; but as much as I love freedom, I do not like to look upon it. I am deeply grateful to the generous friend who procured it, but I despise the miscreant who demanded payment for what never rightfully belonged to him or his."

"It has been painful to me, in many ways, to recall the dreary years I passed in bondage. I would gladly forget them if I could."

I admit, I was not particularly satisfied with the ending of this story  but then again, many slaves have had stories with endings far less satisfying than this one. I suppose that's part of reading an autobiography, a story written from real life... The endings are not always happy, or satisfying, or even necessarily good at all. But I think the disappointing mediocrity of her ending presents a call to duty, a call to action for the reader that would not be as strong if everything had gone according to her favor. It implies that there is still much to be done, and society is still unjust and cruel in many ways.

I highly recommend this book. It was historically enlightening as well as emotionally invigorating, and presents profound and important food for thought to the attentive reader!

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Does this sound like something you'd enjoy? Let me know! :)