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Review: Beyond Guilt Trips: Mindful Travel in an Unequal World by Anu Taranath

The book in one sentence: Dr. Anu Taranath explores the politics and ethics of travel and guides readers on how to navigate discomfort and accountability in new cultures.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Long story short: While traveling can no doubt be a worthwhile and noble pursuit, one that bridges distances across cultures, languages, and identities, it can also be a stressful or tense experience. Beyond Guilt Trips gives travelers, especially those coming from countries that were (are) colonial or imperial powers, a way to talk about their experiences abroad and acknowledge how their identities may impact and influence their surroundings.

Through personal travel anecdotes and stories shared by her students and colleagues, Taranath helps us work through feelings of doubt, guilt, and discomfort as we reflect on the trips we’ve made or plan to make. This first requires examining our identities– who we are, where we come from, how much and what we have– and then making sense of how they might resonate with others as we travel.

Beyond Guilt Trips is a must-read for anyone who has traveled, is traveling, or wants to travel, whether your destination is 10 miles away or 1000. If you want to hear more about the book, keep reading for a more in-depth review.

Continue reading “Review: Beyond Guilt Trips: Mindful Travel in an Unequal World by Anu Taranath”

January 2021 Round-Up

I know I say this every month, but I really can’t believe January is over. Which is strange because there were weeks that felt like they’d never end. I mean, in the span of 31 days we’ve had an attempted coup, an inauguration, a second impeachment, shaky vaccine rollouts, and stock market drama…it’s enough to wear out even the most steadfast of people. Whenever I get weirded out by my perception of time like this, I’m reminded of a quote by my favorite Doctor:

“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually, from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey…stuff.”

– Doctor Who, Blink
Wibbly wobbly, timey wimey stuff - Album on Imgur

All that to say, time is a social construct and I’m going to deal with it the way I know how: by getting lost in a good book.

January kick-started my 2021 Reading Challenge. My goal is to read 52 books this year, all by women, trans, queer, and nonbinary authors and authors of color. To ensure I’m reading diverse voices talking about diverse subjects, I’m taking suggestions from the Book Riot and POPSUGAR reading challenges.

This month’s round-up features the books I’ve acquired (bought, found, been gifted) in January, books I’ve read in January, what’s coming up on my TBR list, and general progress on my reading challenge. I’ll be publishing some stand-alone book reviews as well. I’m hoping to keep this up all year as a way to motivate myself to read more and make sure I’m sticking to my challenge. So, here we go!

Continue reading “January 2021 Round-Up”

Review: Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey

The book in one sentence: When prominent Brazilian author Beatriz Yagoda climbs into a tree and disappears, Emma, her translator flies from Pittsburg to Rio in search of her.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Long story short: If you’re looking for a fun/weird mystery and a quick read, this may be the book for you. The story is fast-paced and Idra Novey does a good job of setting up and drawing out the suspense. However, I think it ends a little too neatly, too conveniently, given the events of the book and I would have preferred a more open-ended outcome. If you like having closure, you’ll like the ending.

The plot is definitely intriguing but my favorite thing about the book is the writing and structure of the novel. The storyline itself is fairly straightforward, represented by a writing style that is descriptive and linear (i.e., A happens, then B, then C). On the other hand, Emma’s thought process and musings, the way she tries to make sense of Beatriz’s disappearance, are expressed in a very lyrical and whimsical prose. Then finally, Novey’s larger commentary about interpretation and misinterpretation, close reading, structure, fantasy, the relationship between author and translator, and ways of making meaning is its own distinct layer. I couldn’t get enough of Novey’s poetic prose and wanted to see more elements of magical realism (which is how she describes Yagoda’s writing) in the plot of the novel itself.

Ways to Disappear was a nice way to start my 2021 reading challenge and if you have suggestions for other works that are similar and you think I might like, drop them in the comments below!

Quarantine Book Haul – Part 1

Drum roll please…

Yes, it’s finally happening!…I’m updating my reading blog! Mostly because I need a distraction from, well, everything…

Why 'This Is Fine' Is the Meme This Year Deserves - The New York Times

Below is a list of what I’ve acquired over the first ten (?!) months of quarantine, all from local/small bookstores, and below that is a quick note about a few books. Stay tuned for more in-depth reviews!

  • Feminist City by Leslie Kern
  • Finna by Nino Cipri
  • Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
  • Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories by Vandana Singh
  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
  • The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart
  • The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall
  • The Witches by Roald Dahl
  • Shapes of Native Nonfiction edited by Elissa Washuta and Theresa Warburton
  • The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch
  • The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2018 edited by Sheila Heti
  • Disability Visibility edited by Alice Wong
  • The Secret Loves of Geek Girls edited by Hope Nicholson
  • And Then I Got Fired: One Transqueer’s Reflections on Grief, Unemployment, & Inappropriate Jokes About Death by J Mase III

Feminist City by Leslie Kern

A recent series of lectures and conversations around police and prison abolition made me wonder more broadly about urban planning and design, particularly the way cities reflect (or don’t reflect) the lives of people that live in them. I did some Googling and found Feminist City by Leslie Kern. Her book is an exploration of how built environments shape and have been shaped by the experiences of its women, transgender, and gender-nonconforming inhabitants.

Continue reading “Quarantine Book Haul – Part 1”

August 2019 book haul

I’m trying to diversify the types of posts I, er, post on here, and thought folks might be interested to know what kinds of books I’ve bought lately. Introducing: my monthly book haul blog!

For my reading challenge, I’m going through books I already own (i.e., didn’t buy in 2019) and haven’t read. It’s definitely helped curb the amount of books I buy, though not as much as my mom hoped it would.

In any case, this August I made five purchases:

  • The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein (kindle)
  • Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (kindle)
  • Bolivar: The Liberator of Latin America by Robert Harvey (kindle)
  • Color Theory edited by Maya Gomez and Vreni Michelini-Castillo (paperback)
  • Triangulation by Masande Ntshanga (paperback)

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein

One of my favorite finds this year has been BookBub, a free service that sends reading recommendations and deals on books and e-books. A few times a week I get emails about new releases from my favorite authors, and deals on Kindle books. I’ve discovered a number of exciting finds this way, and it’s one of my go-to places to purchase (mostly digital) books.

That’s how I found The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, a science-fiction novel about a revolution–on the moon! Written by a Hugo-winning American novelist, it follows the rebellion of a former penal colony and explores the relationship between them and the controlling authority on Earth.

Continue reading “August 2019 book haul”

Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

The book in one sentence: As Harry begins his third year at Hogwarts, he is warned about Sirius Black, one of Voldemort’s supporters who has broken out of Azkaban prison and is looking for revenge.

Rating:  Island collection

Long story long: Rereading the Harry Potter series has been both thrilling and nostalgic. It’s incredible how well the stories have held up over the past 20-something years, and how much of our lives they continue to influence (I mean, I still haven’t given up on my Hogwarts letter).

Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite book so far because it marks a turning point in the seven-book series. It has some of the darkest material we’ve seen– what with an escaped convict, an execution, the return of Voldemort’s servant, and all the Dementors– and more importantly, it connects Harry’s life in Hogwarts to the larger wizarding world outside.

We get glimpses of this world in the first two books, but we start to understand it better in Prisoner of Azkaban. It introduces us to Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic, and to the Dementors who guard Azkaban prison, both of whom become important figures in Harry’s story. We learn about Peter Pettigrew’s betrayal and the subsequent deaths of Lily and James Potter, and we meet Harry’s godfather, Sirius Black, who is one of the few people who intimately knew his parents.

Continue reading “Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling”

Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

The book in two sentences: Harry is excited to start his second year at Hogwarts, but a mysterious, half-forgotten monster begins to terrorize the school. Harry, Ron, and Hermione attempt to stop it before Hogwarts is shut down for good.

Rating:  Island collection

Long story long: I realized after publishing my Sorcerer’s Stone review that that was less of a review and more of me just feeling good about re-entering the magical world (which is totally valid and I don’t feel bad about it at all). I could have talked about more literary things (like all the foreshadowing, character development, etc) but it felt nice to “turn off” the part of my brain that likes to analyze everything (everything) and let myself get swept up in the magic.

Chamber of Secrets, on the other hand, is a great place to start thinking more critically about the story: we’ve had a solid introduction to the wizarding world, gotten to know some of its characters, and we can now focus on the actual storytelling.

My amateur artistic rendering of Harry (who admittedly looks a lot older than 12 here)

Similar to Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets is inward-facing, having more to do with Hogwarts than the rest of the wizarding world. Like all books in the series, it gives Harry more insight into Voldemort’s identity and ethos. If the first book serves as an introduction to Voldemort, the second is where we start to see the real implications of his return. A memory of him is powerful enough to manipulate a student into petrifying her classmates…just imagine what Voldemort at the height of his powers could do.

Continue reading “Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling”

Review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

The book in two sentences: Harry Potter discovers that he’s no ordinary boy as he begins his training at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. In his first year he will form deep friendships, make several enemies, and begin to find his place in the larger wizarding world.

Rating:  Island collection

Long story short: I’ve been wanting to reread this series for a while now, and since I won’t be starting school this September, I thought this would be a fitting time to imagine myself at Hogwarts instead.

I first read The Sorcerer’s Stone in fourth grade– I bought a copy through the Scholastic Book Fair because I liked the drawing of the boy on a broomstick– and it wasn’t long before I was entirely consumed by the wizarding world. I’m sure this story sounds familiar to many.

It took about a page and half of The Sorcerer’s Stone to transport me back to Harry’s world. I was clutching Archimedes (my Kindle) and sitting wide-eyed with my heart beating faster and faster. I actually got goosebumps. It was incredible, really, how quickly the same feelings I had the first time around– excitement, apprehension, wonder– came flooding back.

Continue reading “Review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling”

Review: The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall

The book in one sentence: It’s Sherlock Holmes in space, where Shaharazad Haas, a pansexual sorceress, and John Wyndham, a transgender ex-military officer, fight vampires, necromancers, and the occasional literary critic.

Rating:  Travel companion

Long story short: Overall, I really liked this re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes. The characters and some of the settings were similar enough to draw me in to the story, but new enough to make me keep reading.

My favorite things:

  • The queering of Holmes & Watson. I love seeing well-known characters exist outside of the confines of what was once imagined. I also liked that the story didn’t revolve around their queerness; they just exist as queer people.
  • The plot was so twisty. I loved the twists and turns in the story because they were both interesting and easy to follow.

My not-so-favorite things:

  • World-building could improve. Hall created an incredible universe in this story, but perhaps it was too ambitious for this one novel (this isn’t yet a series). He mentions a lot of things superficially, while I would have preferred him choosing a couple of things and giving us a deeper understanding. It’s certainly a self-contained story, so perhaps he wasn’t sure whether he would have the space later.
  • The ending came out of nowhere. After following Haas and Wyndham on an exciting chase, the entire mystery/puzzle comes to an end in about 10 pages and is a little disappointing. Given that literally anything is possible in this universe, it isn’t the type of story that you can try to solve as you go.

Have you read The Affair of the Mysterious Letter or other work by Alexis Hall? What did you think?

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