Peter Pan – A Reflection

Peter PanFirst, A Review

Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie is rated 2 stars because I couldn’t get past the sexism and racism rampant throughout this story.

I’m still not sure how to rate this. If this hadn’t been a classic, I absolutely would have not finished this book. Not far into the story, there are several instances of sexism that is appalling. I fully acknowledge that the era in which this was written in was an era of explicit sexism, but even taking that into consideration, these instances were awful. Then the rest of the book is really a narrative about mothers and it is drenched in the sexism of the day. I read a short story in The Emerald Circus entitled, “Lost Girls,” before I read this original story and was confused as to why there was such a strong feminist statement in it. Now, I absolutely understand. I wanted to write a story like “Lost Girls” myself after reading this story.

There is also racism throughout the book, but in particular, near the end of this book, there is a long narration that is appalling racism. It stands out as particularly awful. I am fine with tolerating off-handed racist and sexist comments throughout a book that was written at a time when that was the norm, but I balk at the idea of finding enduring a story which is entirely based on a sexist and racist narrative. I find it particularly disturbing to see such things in a children’s story that is still being read to children today.

The story itself, even overlooking these issues, is not very good. Peter Pan is an annoying, spoiled boy who simply is too selfish. There is glorified violence. There is no character growth or much point to the story. It is a boys adventure story very reministent of its era. I looked for something to enjoy about it, but found it lacking. I do not understand why it is still considered a classic.

If you are interested in reading this classic, by all means do. There is probably something redeeming about this story that I missed. But please do not read it to children until you have read it and thought critically about it yourself.

Now, A Reflection

When do we chastise a book and/ or author for things like racism and sexism when the words were written at a time when such thoughts was the norm? When do we give a book and/ or author a pass and when do we say it is unacceptable? This is a hot button issue right now, as some of you may know. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the recent controversy, the American Library Association voted unanimously to remove Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from a book award for her racist depictions of Native Americans and blacks. I won’t weigh in on this controversy as I haven’t read the books and in this reflection, I’m more concerned about the actual book and not using an author’s name for an award. I personally really struggled over this while listening to Peter Pan. I wanted to read this classic children’s story and hear Jim Dale narrate it (I’ve yet to listen to one of his audiobooks), yet barely into the story, I was so angry by the sexism, I wanted to stop listening. I ended up going through the whole story hoping that it was just going to be occassional references to sexism and racism, but it wasn’t. I personally couldn’t enjoy the story because of this, but does it make sense to give the book a low rating? Should I have skipped rating it on Goodreads? How critical can I be of a book that was written at a time when sexism and racism was the norm?

I don’t have good answers to these questions. Ultimately, I did rate the book as I truly felt about it, 2 stars, instead of an average rating or 3 stars which heavily took into account the era in which the book was written. But I don’t claim this is the ideal way to handle such situations. For me, the racism and sexism was too severe to ignore and I finally settled on the more accurate rating. However, in other instances, I have overlooked sexism or racism as indicative of the times and not hard it so heavily sway my opinion of the novel. I can’t say why exactly, but these instances were too much for me to overlook. I absolutely expect to be criticized for drawing the line here and not somewhere else. After all, I am currently reading Rebecca, which is a narrative around sexism and has one-off racism in it, and I don’t expect to be writing a scathing review of that book. But I am curious to know:

How to you rate books with racism, sexism, or the like in a classic book? Does it matter whether it’s aimed at children or adults? Does the degree of racism, sexism, etc. matter? Share your thoughts below!

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Carmilla – A Reflection

CarmillaCarmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu is rated 4 stars, though probably more like 3.5 stars because it was a bit predictable, but otherwise well done and engaging. Though, I say a bit predictable as is if there was a genre for this kind of work before this book, so 4 stars is the more accurate rating, time period considered and all.

NOTE: This review and reflections have all sorts of spoilers, but also, I haven’t seen a summary of this work that doesn’t essentially spoil the big reveal, so take this spoiler alert for what it is. The review mostly reveals the same spoiler Goodreads does, but I do mention my interpretation of something that could be considered a spoiler. I will list that specifically as a spoiler, in case you want to read the rest.

First a Review

Carmilla is a beautiful, atmospheric story of a vampire written before Dracula. It shows a vampire that is neither evil nor good; she simply is a human immortal. I greatly enjoyed this complex rendering of such a creature. I am personally not a fan of vampire stories, but I was interested in reading this one due to the YouTube series Carmilla. [SPOILER ALERT] That series takes seriously the lesbian elements in the story and I very much read the story that way, though I can understand how other readers would see the relationship as mearly platonic. I was happy to see this story have elements of romantic love between two women as it is rare a classic or old story has such elements. [/SPOILER ALERT]

I find it challenging to review classics as it feels as though everything one could say about it has already been said. I don’t have much more to add than my personal account above. I do recommend this book to anyone interested in reading one of the first, if not the first, novels to write about a vampire, or a story alongs the lines of a gothic mystery.

Next a Reflection

Reminder: There are spoilers, or least spoilerly interpretations ahead. 

Platonic friendship or romantic relationship? This is a question up for debate in books like Carmilla where there is enough intimacy, it could be interpreted as a romantic intimacy. Who gets to decide what kind of relationship it is? Should we assume it’s platonic unless otherwise specified? Where is the line? Why is the line often so much more clear when two men are involved than when two women are?

I definitely do not have fully articulated arguments for all of these questions, let alone clear thoughts. The thing that was clear for me when I read Carmilla is that it. is. so. incredibly common to dimiss lesbian relationships as close friendships and I don’t think we should. I don’t think we should dimiss lesbian relationships as friendships because that only feeds into homophobia and lesbian and bi erasure and it. is. so. incredibly hurtful and harmful. I myself have experienced erasure and it deeply hurt me. It damaged my heart and soul in a way that I have not been fully able to heal. Telling women, particularly young girls, that a deeply meaningful, soul-mate love level relationship is just a misunderstood friendship is devasting to the core. It shakes their ability to determine what they are actually feeling and who they are sexually. Maybe it seems like it should be a minor thing to dismiss a sexual relationship as a friendship, but in a society in which women are routinely dismissed all. the. time. it is crucial we don’t dimiss them and who they are, even when we are not sure what we are seeing. I would rather people assume I am dating my female platonic friend than assume I am not dating my girlfriend, my partner. It is painful to feel invisible, even when that invisibility affords some privilege. Some female same sex relationships pass as friendships and that helps keep them safe from violent homophobes. Some female same sex relationships pass as friendships and they are allowed additional sexual opportunities straight couples would not have. My high school girlfriend and I were able to stay over at each other’s houses because neither of our parents believed us when we told them we were dating. We were even allowed to go on a vacation together, with her parents, and have our own hotel room for an entire week. We had much more freedom sexually than I did at the time with any male I was dating. Yet, none of this made it any less painful that very few people ever saw the love and commitment we had for each other nor did they believe us when we told them. This kind of dismissal is not reserved for the young. My same sex relationships as an adult have been dismissed as friendships, even when we’ve engaged in public displays of affection. My point is that J. Sheridan Le Fanu could have wrote in Carmilla the words, “these two women were sexual lovers and considered each other to be fulfilling romantic partners on the deepest of levels” and people would still argue they are just friends. Whenever possible, please think carefully about whether your interpretation of a bookish relationship feeds into bi and lesbian erasure or if it tries hard to avoid doing just that.

Lastly, a Bookish Freak-Out

Have you seen Carmilla the YouTube Series by KindaTV? The YouTube series is how I first heard about Carmilla, though I didn’t realize it was a book until a fellow book lover was reading it daily through the Serial Reader app (isn’t Goodreads an amazing way to find great reads???). Carmilla the YouTube Series was a pretty big deal when it first came out in the lesbian community, or at least, the lesbian Tumblr community I was plugged into at the time. I really enjoyed watching the series and definitely followed it up until the movie came out. I was a bit disappointed that it had such an exclusive opening and only after the exclusive opening could anyone else rent it. It was what it was, but I just ended up moving on to other things. Vampires have never exactly been a concept that particularly interested me and I haven’t ever quite gotten into a YouTube series the way I have of TV series. My interest wanned and I never finished the series, but now that I have read the book, I definitely plan on finishing it! If you’ve watched it, what did you think?

What are your thoughts???

Note: Most of this review posted first in June 2018 on Goodreads. The reflection and freak-out are new content not found on any other site.

Ash – Reflection: Sexuality

14196204508_b158d03706_zPhoto credit: every flag together is the peaceful warrior : rainbow country, san francisco (2014)torbakhopper | CC 2.0

An ex reached out to me recently and it caused me to spend a bit of time thinking about my sexuality. I have learned over the years that for me, at least, sexuality is this complicated, grey mess, which I might not ever fully disentangle, especially if romantic attachment is included, incorrectly, under sexuality. Part of the reason sexuality has been a complex topic for me is that during my formative sexual years, I had no access to books which featured anything besides a straight romance. Which caused me to think: is Ash an opening to a broader discussion on the great variation within sexuality?

While in my review, I was critical of the lack of clarity around what Ash was feeling, as I ponder asexuality, I wonder whether my criticism might have been in haste. To be clear, I am not myself asexual, but I fall on the spectrum and have identified as grey-ace for awhile, though the label demisexual is a clearer fit. It’s this grey area of asexuality that may have shown up in Ash, as quite often Ash doesn’t appear to be sexually attracted to the two potential mates, but in the case of the Huntress, there is a clear romantic sort of attraction. I initially chalked it up to the innocence of first love, but now I wonder if it was a bit more complicated than that.

But maybe a more important question is does it matter? In my reading of Ash, I felt the romantic storyline was unclear and vague and I was critical of that. But should I have been? Is there some simplicity in simply not driving a point strongly home and just letting whatever be, be? Quite possibly. Sometimes I feel I struggle with sexual identity simply because I put too much importance on certainty and labels. (Which is interesting consider the teenage version of me did a lot to shirk sexual labels for years.) In my attempt to read more diverse books, written by diverse authors, I have become a bit too focused on what specific diversity is showing up in a book. But how much does that truly add to my experience of reading?

This topic was brought up in my reflection of Wonder where I was critical of a person of privilege (able-bodied) writing about the experiences of a person that lacks that privilege (physical deformity). While I still strongly believe in the importance of #OwnVoices and have found I greatly prefer those stories, the discussion in the comments did cause me to hesitate on whether I was closing myself off into a too narrow box. When I first conceived of this site, I planned on discussing books written by white American women and non-American whites. But then I came across various sites on diversity and felt I was not doing justice to the voices that needed to be lifted up enough if I did not narrow my focus. While I think there was good intent here, and it lead to me reading some amazing stories like Juliet Takes a Breath and The Hour of Daydreams I would not otherwise have read, I think it has become too strong of a focus for me, to the point that I am now in a significant reading slump. For a while I have been slipping into the slump by ignoring the books I want to read based on my mood in favor of reading those that meet the strict criteria for this blog and I finally fell in a serious enough slump I haven’t finished a book in over a week and nothing much has interested me sense.

For me, it is time to take a critical reflection on how I am approaching book reviewing and what it is I am placing emphasis on. Ultimately, my critiques of Ash’s lack of clarity around sexuality did not drive down the rating of it, so I stand by the review; I just wonder whether taking a step back from my critical framework would reignite the spark I had when I started this blog and reinvigorate my reading again. I do think that ultimately, the tone of reviews and reflections are going to shift a bit. The focus in reflections already has and I am happy with this change. There may be more joy in accepting the grey than trying to define things. I think there was in Ash and it’s a rare gift to read a book where there is a vagueness that rings true of youth, innocence, and coming into one’s sexuality. It reminded me of that time in my youth and it’s why I ultimately enjoyed reading Ash, even if I didn’t fall in love with it the way I thought it would.

What parts of your identity are more grey, fuzzy, and hard to define? How comfortable are you with the greyness? How comfortable are you with greyness in books?

Wonder – Reflection: Ableism and #OwnVoices

16951605420_4ecb7ff1cb_kPhoto credit: Writer’s Block | Isabelle Gallino | CC 2.0

Before I became disabled, ableism was not something I thought much about nor was I truly aware of the extent it is embedded in our society and in our internal voices. Ableism is defined as discrimination in favor of able-bodied people, but such a definition calls to mind things like discrimination in hiring or access to a building. Yes, these are aspects of ableism, but ableism goes beyond these things. It is pervasive in our society in an insidious way where most of us, even those of us who are victims of it, do not quite recognize it for what it is.

I had considered ranting about ableism and how books like Wonder feed into this mindset that there is some perfection we should all be trying to achieve. There are people who advocate euthanasia for children on the autism spectrum. This is equivalent to forced sterilizations of “imblices” and other degenerates which occurred in our history and it sickens me to think that there are such similar conversations going on today.

But honestly, such a rant wouldn’t be entirely genuine as I am not disabled with a visible or obvious disability. Instead, I have an invisible illness and while ableism is rampant towards people with invisible illness, it isn’t exactly or always the same as the ableism faced by those with visible illness or difference. In my case, I would prefer a world in which I could be fixed, so I could go back to my old self, but I also strongly believe there is nothing about me that needs to be fixed in the way society seems to think I need to be. After all, in America, we are most often judged on our productivity and a person on disability is deemed unworthy since they do not contribute. I do not think I need fixing in this sense and recognize that I have value regardless of productivity.

I already discussed this some when I reflected on the book, The Little Queen. So that’s not the direction I want this post to go in. I don’t know exactly the direction I want this post to go in. I feel the need to share something to atone for reviewing a book that falls within the parameters of this blog (author of color), but yet falls into the same problems of books by white authors writing outside their experience about marginalized groups. It’s made me stop to consider more carefully what specifically is the aim of reading books by authors of traditionally marginalized groups if those books do not fall within the realm of #OwnVoices. I don’t have an answer for that yet. In fact, I did not realize I needed an answer for that until I sat down to write this post. But it does partly help explain why I’ve struggled to write reviews for a few books I read awhile ago. When a book is outside of the #OwnVoices story, yet tries to write of such experiences, something does not sit well with me. It turns out, that the book I am currently reading falls into that category and there are moments I consider bailing; not because the story isn’t good or it’s not well written, but because I cannot imagine how the author can be true to his main character which has lived an experience so vastly different from his own.

Does it matter who writes the diversity as long as there is diversity? Is it possible for a writer from a privileged group to write a true account of character from a marginalized group? How do we know what is an #OwnVoices story and what isn’t? Do we demand authors tell us their history and background to then determine whether it is an #OwnVoices story? How responsible are we for what we read?

The Golden House – Reflection: Self-Care

32674732605_592af8cde0_o.pngPhoto credit: Selfcare | Cajsa Lilliehook | CC 2.0

This reflection will be a bit different than the previous format. While I will still be reflecting on a topic, it will be one the book inspired, instead of one based on the book itself. It’s a subtle difference, but I like to be transparent.

When Nica fell ill, my reading amount plummeted. It wasn’t intentional, but there were many long, very emotional days and I did not have the strength to read at night. It only worsened when Nica was released and needed around the clock care. Normally, this wouldn’t bother me at all, even with this blog as most people are understanding of such situations. But it did bother me, a lot, because my ARC reading schedule was already so very tight that if I slowed down reading, I was going to miss release deadlines for books I had requested. Admittedly, when I requested all the books I did, I never expected to be approved for them all since I had been denied most requests on Netgalley previously, but many weeks ago, I was approved for them all and set up a schedule I thought I could maintain even while reading other books that aren’t “required” or “work” or whatever label I throw on the ARCs which make them feel like a chore to review. I was doing great, until I wasn’t and the guilt mounted.

I tried to remedy this by first picking ARCs I thought I would most enjoy, like Girls Made of Snow and Glass, but that book was a bit disappointing and all I wanted to do was read a good book by a tried and true author, but that list of ARCs was suffocating. So, I picked up the next best ARC that was about to come out and started reading. But immediately, I wasn’t feeling the book, The Golden House. I knew that it was a me problem – that I just wasn’t in a space to deal with high literary fiction on the incredible scale that is Rushdie, but I felt obligated. I felt required to continue with this book. After all, it releases today. But it clearly wasn’t working for me to read this just before bed, so I set aside a large chunk of time to just read. And I did. I read and read and read and felt worse and worse and worse. See, it’s not just that Nica was recently diagnosed with cancer or still needs more care than normal, it’s also that I have my own surgery this week, I was in a car accident the night I went to pick up Nica from the hospital that I’m still in pain from and fighting the driver’s insurance, there’s been some family drama, and the fall semester has started so I now will be caring for my nephew much more. It’s a lot to deal with all at once, especially as a person with chronic pain and chronic illness. I could feel my mental health taking a hit. There was something about The Golden House that did not sit well with me and it ended up bringing all these issues to a head for me after my marathon reading session. Yet still, I felt like I must read it.

Balancing self-care with my responsibilities has been something I’ve struggled with most of my life. I haven’t ever had a well balanced work-life balance and it’s my life than suffers, not my work. Even through the worst of Nica’s recovery, I was writing blog posts through tears. I felt obligated to keep to the schedule I promised for both blog posts and ARCs. But I hit a breaking point last night. A hard, bad breaking point. Then, I had a thought. What if I just didn’t finish The Golden House right now? What if I just put it aside and read something light and fluffy, by an author I know can just make me happy? And like that, my anxiety lifted. It was exactly what I needed.

But what is the ideal balance between commitments and self-care? How does one balance the commitments made to readers and/ or publishers? This is an even more challenging question for me to tackle now than before when I had a 9 to 5 job. There was a boss to discuss this with and sick days to use. But now, I am the boss and there are no sick days. There are no coworkers to cover when I can’t be there. Either the work is done or it is not and I cannot easily, last minute, come up with alternative arrangements. Trust me, I am a much worse boss than most of my bosses in real life were. I do not value self-care for myself, so I don’t take it. Which was the problem in the first place. Had I simply stopped back when Nica was first critically ill and said, I’m only sleeping a few hours at a time and randomly crying throughout the day – I’m not going to write any blog posts, maybe I wouldn’t have had to hit the wall I hit last night. The wall that if it breaks causes me to fall into a minor mental breakdown. A wall that is the last defense before the spiral downward starts in earnest. I am not happy with how close I came to slamming through that wall and frankly, I’m not out of the woods yet. It’s only going to get more stressful for me before it gets better. But this time, I know I need to prioritize self-care.

Be forewarned that there might not be posts for the end of this week. I refuse to write blog posts from my hospital bed 🙂

How do you manage self-care? How do you find work-life balance when you are a self-employed blogger, writer, etc.?

The Shadow of the Wind – Reflection: Sexism

23682460491_1547feaeed_oPhoto credit: Ad busting: Stop sexism | luckyfotostream | CC 1.0

When I was reading The Shadow of the Wind I found myself getting angry and frustrated with the level of constant sexism. Worse though, I started attributing it to Spanish culture, even though I know this was simply one account of how things might have been in Spanish after the war. I kept flashing back to my time in Spain as a teenager and struggling to navigate a more aggressive sexual culture than what I had experienced in Midwestern America. I was uncomfortable with that experience and the book reminded me of that discomfort. But this time, I was uncomfortable with my discomfort.

When I watched the television show, Mad Men, I was not particularly bothered by the sexism. Yes, it angers me that that’s how it used to be, but I expect to see it during that time period. So why was I unable to chalk up the sexism in The Shadow of the Wind up to the time period? Is racism driving my concern that this type of sexism isn’t simply the time period, but part of a culture.

In the United States, there is a perception that in Latin American cultures, there is an aggressive sexual culture where men after forward and crass about their desires. I have previously dismissed this as likely a racist view of a culture people do not understand. Yet, when I was reading The Shadow of the Wind, I found myself assuming this was more of a cultural issue than a time period issue. I let a stereotype become true because I saw it in one book set in Spain.

I am still sorting out my reaction to the sexism in the book. I dislike sexism and I have no problem with my revulsion to some of the scenes in the book. Yet, I fear I focused too much on it to the point where I missed out enjoying a good book because I was so angry at a culture for treating women that way. I read this book with my perception of the world and was not able to fully put that aside. While I stand by my rating of the book, this is something I need to be more aware of in the future as I come across books with scenes I detest. I give American authors leeway I failed to give a Spanish author and I want to do better in the future.

When reading a book set in another time period, in a culture different from your own, how do you understand the rampant sexism in the book? Is it something to chalk up to a different era or a different culture? Should there be criticism for a book reflecting a reality? When do you let such things go?

Still Here – Reflection: Social Media

5209796269_3b538042c8_oPhoto credit: Social Media | Sean MacEntee | CC 2.0

I thought I’d do something different for this reflection. My copy of Still Here came with Extra Libris: A Reader’s Guide and I’m hoping it will spark discussion. I write reflections as a way to engage dialogue on books and I’m hopeful that this topic will spark lots of discussion. The question is:

How did reading Still Here and watching these characters interact with social media change the way you look at you own life online? Did you see any similarities or differences?

For those of you who have not yet read the book, here’s the relevant, non-spoiler quotes on how the characters interact with social media. From page 60, Regina is the lurker or someone who “rarely posted anything herself and almost never commented or liked.” From page 61, Vica is the affirmer and “‘liked’ everything and posted all these uplifting photos of their family trips.” The narrator forgets the name type for Sergey, but explains his type as one who “never posted anything himself, but would often butt in on his friends’ discussions with an especially lengthy intellectual comment, and then comment on his own comment.” Finally, Vadik thrived on social media as it “allowed him to try all those different personalities,” with a different personality for each platform.

What is your online presence like? Do you see yourself in any of these descriptions?

Starting around Thanksgiving 2016, I stopped checking Facebook. I haven’t actively checked since, though I log on every so often when I get an email that I was tagged in something or when I know pictures have been posted. I was an early adopter of Facebook (I signed up in 2004 when it still was The Facebook), but I didn’t ever quite figure out how to use it in a way that fit me. I want Facebook and social media to be another way to deeply connect with people, but that’s not how it works in practice. If one shares deeply personal things, it comes across as an overshare. Yet, at least for me, surface sharing just feels fake. I’m a person who strongly dislikes surface, how’s the weather kind of conversations, even with good friends. Social media feels more like these surface conversations, where people try to show the best version of themselves, but aren’t really connecting.

I thought I would really miss being on social and feel less connected to the world, but I don’t. Every so often, I think about going back to Facebook, but I never quite see the point. It would absolutely be different if I still lived far away from my family as seeing pictures of my nephew brought me endless joy, but now that I see him regularly, I don’t need other people’s pictures. I do have a Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr page for this blog, but things are automatically posted to those accounts, though I do go on them to interact with followers. I’m fine with this level of interaction with social media, but I don’t have much desire to engage more fully than that. I had gotten to a point where it consumed too much of my life and I’m glad I didn’t put the apps on the phone I bought last December.

I do see the value of social media and I understand how people different from me would love it. I usually post on Facebook whenever there is a crisis in my life; but I have yet to post about the current crisis. I’ve preferred to directly reach out to friends for support. Sometimes I feel obligated to post on social media to inform everyone what is going on, but this time, I do not. I need to deal with this in whatever way keeps me sane and not being on social media does that for me.

While Still Here didn’t go as deeply into the concept of an app that would preserve someone’s online presence after death as I was hoping, I did ponder whether I would want it to appear I was still there, reaching out from the beyond. I do not think I do. I find it a bit unsettling to have thoughts attributed to me after death and I’m not that bothered by not having a legacy. I do like the memorial page concept and I have found that helpful for the grieving process when I’ve lost friends. I don’t feel the need for more. All the things that went unsaid will forever be unsaid and no app can remedy that.

Interestingly, I just finished reading The Circle which take social media to a different extreme. It was an interesting contrast to read these books essentially back to back. There are so many aspects of social media we often do not take the time to think about, but as the technology continues to advance at an alarming rate, it’s not a bad idea to stop and think about who you want to be and what you want to share on social media.

What social media type are you? What are your thoughts on social media? Would you be interested in an app that maintained your online presence after death?