Meagan Reads YA: The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

For my workplace book club, a coworker chose The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. I had my reservations about reading this book because of the accusations that recently came out about the author in light of the Me Too movement. I also knew that this was a book that’s been lauded and held in high esteem, and even challenged and banned by certain schools due to certain content.

sherman alexie blog postThe story follows Arnold “Junior” Spirit, a member of the Wellpinit community in Washington. It’s a coming-of-age story about growing up Indian in a racist country. It’s about growing up Indian in a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic father. It’s about growing up Indian and poor. There are so many heavy and tragic topics that take place throughout the story, but it’s all told through Junior’s eyes, meaning it’s told with a wry sense of humor to soften the blow.

I really enjoyed the main character’s voice and his sarcasm aimed not only at the white community that mistreated his people, but at his own people too. It creates this complex and layered relationship between wanting to remain loyal, but wanting more than the life allotted by circumstance and the majority in power. It’s something that many marginalized people can relate to.

Here of course is where the conflict for me as a reader occurs. I truly enjoyed this book and think it’s a good piece of work that’s worth reading. But I can’t just forget the accusations about the author from the people he hurt. In fact, I can even see some of that attitude bleed through in the main character Junior. Sure, he’s a straight teenage boy, so he’s bound to talk about masturbation and look at girls with desire. At least, that’s what’s expected, because after all, boys will be boys. The danger in that expectation is that those boys grow up to be “men who’ll be men,” who in turn continue objectifying women and seeing them as things. This leads to men who “misbehave” and end up hurting women.

While the book is an excellent read and covers important topics with a genuinely funny voice, it’s hard not to notice the moments where adult Alexie and fictional Junior crossover into one another. It becomes a question of separating the art from the artist, which is something I’ve always struggled with. To what extent can we do so, and at what point do we stop separating the two? Because it’s obvious that no one is perfect and no art is perfect, but we have to make a stand somewhere.

Alexie’s new reputation is a blow to marginalized communities because he was such a strong voice for his own. Then again, maybe if more publishers championed more marginalized voices, it wouldn’t be such a detrimental hit to those communities in the first place.

Did anybody else read this book after what came to light about the author? Did anyone read it before? What are your thoughts on liking a book but not liking an author? Let me know in the comments!

Diving into Diverse Reading

Lately, I’ve made a much more conscious effort at reading diversely. We chose The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu for my cousins’ book club. I read Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat for the 2018 Madlibs reading challenge. And for my book club at work with my coworkers, we’re reading Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor. I’ve enjoyed the books I’ve read in the past, but it is so easy to fall into patterns, especially when those works get widely passed around by the mainstream. It’s easy to miss out on some truly excellent work from writers of different backgrounds simply because they are not given the same platform.

A few years ago when I started listening to the Book Riot podcast, it made me aware that I’d fallen into the pattern of reading the same authors and types of work. Not that those stories aren’t worth telling, but rather that other stories are worth telling also. So, I started curating a list of diverse reading on my Goodreads to read list. But I still didn’t get around to reading so many of those books until just a few months ago. Why? Well, I still have a whole library of books I own at home that I haven’t read and need to get through. Having those books I own still sitting on my shelf made it easy to keep with my reading patterns. I knew I still wasn’t reading diversely, but I had no one to hold me accountable.

With the use of reading challenges and book clubs though, the excuses stopped. Having people to discuss the books with made it easier to choose diverse stories. More than that, having a planned out list for reading challenges made me more conscious of what I was choosing to read, and I’m grateful for that. The reason I’m writing about this is because truly diving in diverse reading has made me aware that I really don’t know much about other cultures.

 

Image from Goodreads

Ken Liu’s work is the first I’ve read by a Chinese writer. Edwidge Danticat’s book is the first perspective I’ve read about Haitian immigrants and the political struggles that country has gone through. Nnedi Okorafor’s novel is the first time I’m delving into African culture. With just these three books, I’ve been introduced to new worlds that gave me an appreciation for what I still have yet to learn. I don’t want to be the kind of person who never thinks of other cultures and ways of living and buries her head in the sand. I want to learn about other people. I want to understand others’ stories and hear their voices. We can learn so much about each other through our stories, so I think all readers should make an effort to start diversifying their bookshelves. It’s not enough to make lists without taking action.

How do you all diversify you’re reading? What books have you read recently that tell a story different from your own life?

Meagan Reads SciFi: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

I’ve been participating in the MadLibs Reading Challenge 2018, and I chose this book as one of the “noun” categories. Be warned that spoilers are coming ahead, so if you plan on reading the book, do not pass this line!

Annihilation is a relatively short read, but don’t let it’s small size fool you. There is such a complexity of character and plot happening that the writing itself very much resembles the way the biologist, the main character, views the world around her. Even though VanderMeer wrote the story so that none of the characters had names, it didn’t create for a lack of depth with each one. I felt a particular kinship with the biologist though, as we saw most of the story unfold from her point of view.

She tells the story with a clinical voice, especially at the beginning, in which she constantly talks about observation and analyzing the environment around her, whether it’s in a lab, at a tidepool, or even in her own marriage. She makes it clear that observation holds more value to her rather than interaction, and I felt such a relief in seeing a female character that emphasizes this point without ever being villainized. Through her habit of observation, she remains apart from her ecosystem, and never becomes a part of the ecosystem. I think after recent conversations I had with a friend of mine about how I’m so quiet all the time and I rarely tend to interact with people, it felt good to see another woman portrayed this way, but not made to be evil.

That doesn’t mean that her tendency toward introspection and observation didn’t irk those around her. It’s made clear in her flashbacks to her marriage with her husband, one of the lost souls to the previous Southern Reach expedition to Area X, that he was vexed with her habit of retreating into her own observations and never letting anyone in, emotionally. When she volunteered to go as part of the next expedition, the psychologist was also annoyed at how little she could get out of the biologist.

Now, as to the plot of the story, I’m not gonna lie. I don’t entirely know what it’s point is or where it’s going (as there are two more books). I do know that I enjoyed the scenery VanderMeer created with the plant spores that created actual writing on the wall and seemed to have its own life. Throughout the book, the reader knows there have been various expeditions into Area X to study the phenomenon happening, but we know as much as the explorers do. There is no source or origin for why these mutations are happening or how. There is no explanation as to why they are researching and exploring Area X. Do they think it’s dangerous to the world as a whole? Is there still a world outside of the Southern Reach and Area X? If there was an apocalypse, was this the source?

The explorers and reader don’t even know where the entrance point is to Area X. There’s no recollection how they got there, and more worrisome to the mysterious government agency in charge of the expeditions, they don’t know how anyone could have gotten out. The biologist’s husband returned from the expedition, but he was the first to do so and he did not return as himself. One can assume that despite their strained marriage, the biologist entered Area X to find out what came back, because if it wasn’t her husband, what was it, and what else came through? We start to catch glimpses toward the end when the biologist discovers the journals of previous explorers, of which there were many more than the Southern Reach disclosed to present expeditions.

As the book comes to a close, the reader sees there’s something strange going on in the way of clones, doubles, or doppelgangers. How they come to be and where they go is still to be determined. The one thing I wish I had seen more of in the book were the animals and other plants. There was such a  high focus on the living writing on the walls of the tower/tunnel that the reader didn’t actually see much of Area X’s other creatures, except for a brief appearance of a wild hog that comes close to the expedition’s camp.

When I’ve talked about this book with friends I’ve described it as the kind of story that fans of Archive 81 would enjoy, and I stand by that statement. I’m definitely itching to find out where the biologist’s journey takes her in the end as she follows her husband’s path deeper into Area X, so I will be picking up the next book.

Has anybody else read this book? What did you think? Do you have theories as to what Area X is exactly and how it came to be? Let me know in the comments!

Meagan Reads YA Fiction: Wrecked by Maria Padian

This is a post I made for my cousin’s blog. Click the link below to see the full review.

This one is a bit of a backlist, as it was published in 2016. However, its contents and story are still relevant, as they have always been, and as I fear they may always be. I wish I had more optimism for the future of gender equality, but stories like this one are all too […]

via Wrecked by Maria Padian: Review — The Misadventures of a Media Journalist

Review: Roxane Gay’s Hunger

I’ve started contributing to my cousin’s blog. Here’s my first post on her site!

Hi everyone! I’m a new contributor to Chronicles of a Music Journalist, as requested by my cousin. My name’s Meagan and I’ll start my debut here with a review of Roxane Gay’s Hunger: A Memoir of (my) Body. Gay is an author known for her sharp and insightful thoughts on feminism and pop culture, as […]

via Hunger: A Memoir of (my) Body by Roxane Gay — The Misadventures of a Media Journalist

Reading Challenge Accepted

I’ve spent the last two and a half years reading books for a book challenge my best friend and I decided to take on. She’s a much faster reader than I am and finished in about a year. It was the first time I’d ever done a reading challenge, as before I chose my books by whatever was at the front of my shelf and I hadn’t read yet (or wanted to reread). It only took up over 2 years, and yet, now that I no longer have that reading challenge, at the end of it, I found myself feeling a bit lost.

I looked at my bookshelf and suddenly felt overwhelmed with just how many reads I had ahead of me. How can I ever make it through that jungle? I needed a break from reading goals, if only for a day or two. Instead of trying to figure out what the next challenge would be or how to go about choosing my next read, I settled back in with a book I’ve had ongoing for as long as that last reading challenge, Leyenda. This one’s been a slow go because it’s my first time reading an entire book in Spanish. Yes, I’ve been reaching out of my comfort zones for reading for over two years only, but already I feel like I can’t go back to the way I used to choose material.

I can’t just blindly pick something up without considering what kind of writers and stories I’m supporting. Taking on that book challenge I think has made me a more conscientious reader. Like my TV-watching habits, I’ve learned to recognize what is worth my time and what should be let go.

I looked at my shelves a few days ago and thought, “What can I get rid of? What doesn’t need to be read or reread?” I still haven’t gotten around to clearing out my book case, simply because I haven’t had the time, but once my vacation comes around I’d like to dedicate a day to truly weighing my options and getting books off the shelf that really don’t need to be there. I did a mini version of this a few months ago, but then I was just trying to make space for new books I’d purchased. This time, I want to go into it with a real critical eye, so that I can continue to challenge myself with what I read.

I’m not saying I’m giving up YA or sci-fi/fantasy books completely, but I am attempting to be more aware of what I pick up off my shelf. Taking on that reading challenge for two and half years made me realize that I need to expand my horizons, so I’m including more diverse reads, whether it’s by authors of color, women, queer writers, or some combination thereof.

After three days of taking a breather with my Spanish-language book, I decided on Roxane Gay’s Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. Books like this one are difficult but necessary if I’m going to become not only a better reader and writer, but a better person. Reading challenge accepted.

Another Post About That Anne-Girl

It took me a little over two years, but I finally finished the 26 book reading challenge! I ended the two-year endeavor with the category “a book you love, read it again,” with Anne of Green Gables. I read this book so many times between 4th and 6th grade that I lost count of how many rereads I’d gone through. For some reason though, after 12-years-old, I stopped going back to Anne’s adventures on Prince Edward Island. Maybe I felt too grown up for such childish dreams, or maybe I simply didn’t have time with all the books in the world to read. Whatever the reason, after nearly 15 years, I decided with this reading challenge it was time to go back to Avonlea.

anne blog

From the moment I opened to the first page and read the familiar lines a smile spread over my face and a warmth spread through me, like the feeling I get when I’m reunited with old friends who make me feel like I’m home. Even after 15 years, I still knew the words by heart, like my favorite song that I sing along to on the radio every time it comes on. My reintroduction to Anne Shirley at 26-years-old was as magical as that first time at 9-years-old. Just like when I was a child, I devoured the poetic language of the hopeful protagonist who chose to see the beauty around her despite having been through ugly situations her entire life. Those negative aspects of Anne’s life became more poignant to me now, especially after having watched the Netflix series Anne with an E, and I realized just how tumultuous her early years really were.

I still laughed at all the scrapes Anne got herself into, from flying off the handle at Mrs. Rachel Lynde to accidentally getting Diana drunk off wine she thought was raspberry cordial. What struck me most though, was how little I remembered of Anne’s later years, when she starts studying for the Queen’s entrance exams, goes on to win the Avery scholarship and dealing with the grief of losing Matthew. I guess I hadn’t paid much attention to “grownup” Anne when I was a kid because I just couldn’t relate to such things. Now though, reading about her anxieties with school and her ambitions, I see myself in Anne more than ever. Descriptions of how she felt being away from home, learning to cope with homesickness and eventually falling into a routine and comfort of studying, with less frequent visits home, brought back the memories of my undergrad years when I’d first graduated high school and went to college, living on my own for the first time.

The chapter of Matthew’s death struck me harder than I ever remember it from my childhood. Again, at the time, I hadn’t seen as much death as I have now, so it never hit that close to home. Having watched my friends’ and family’s loved ones pass away though over the last four years alone, Matthew Cuthbert’s death on the page hurt twice as much as it had when I was a kid reading the book. Moreover, Anne’s grieving process of delayed tears made so much more sense to me now than it did when I was a child.

I’m so glad I reread Anne of Green Gables during this particular time in my adult life. It felt like I was growing up with her all over again. Hopefully my next read won’t be so many years apart, but no matter what, I know I will always come home to Green Gables when the time is right, just like Anne.

What are your favorite childhood books and how have you felt about them when rereading as an adult?