Wednesday, October 14, 2015

[TOP 5 WEDNESDAY] Diverse Characters

Dear reader,
Hi! I am sorry for my lack of vivacity today and in the coming weeks, I am swamped at uni. So. Many. Exams. Can't even begin to explain. I still wanted to give something to you guys though, so here it is. Sorry I didn't do anything last week, I don't read many graphic novels, only the tiniest bit of manga, and certainly not enough to come up with a good top five.
This week in Top 5 Wednesday we are celebrating diversity in literature by mentioning our top 5 favorite characters that represent minorities. This is an ode to all those characters that do not conform to the default settings of what society believes a human should be (cisgender male, heterosexual, white, suffering from no health conditions) and steal our hearts. These are my picks:

#5 Aristotle and Dante from Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

This whole novel is diverse, giving a very beautiful homage to Mexican American culture. I like how even though the lives of Aristotle and Dante are described in specifics, their story still feels universal. Props to Benjamin Alire Sáenz for that. 

#4 Andy and Nathan Nolan from Lola and the Boy Next Door

One of the highlights of this quirky novel is this set of parents. Andy and Nathan are an openly gay couple raising their child, Lola, the heroine of the book, in San Francisco. I like how the novel doesn't emphasize their homosexuality, but rather focuses on their parenting and their relationship with Lola. In the end you aren't left with the impression that "wow they are so flamboyantly gay," (which isn't a wrong impression to have, but we often forget that gay people are people besides being gay), but rather, "wow, these two absolutely WIN at parenting."

#3 Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights

Many authors of the period have included a figure representing "the Other", whether they intended to or not, because as an author you are depicting reality and the subjugated people of the colonies and the various people of color slowly migrating to Europe were part of this reality. Yet they are often silent figures, or figures in the background - they aren't given much of a voice, you know. This is why I applaud Emily Bronte for creating Heathcliff - he is of Romanian descent and is described as a handsome man of color, and, contrasted to, for example, Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre, he is a fully fledged character with many layers to him, so many, in fact, that it has many die-hard fans as it has haters. Whether he's cruel or not, swoony or not, he's one of those characters that you feel that you know, the kind that stay with you after you close the book.

#2 Olanna Ozobia from Half of a Yellow Sun

I feel kind of iffy putting Olanna on this list, given that in her world (Nigeria/Biafra in the 60s and 70s) she isn't part of a minority (most Nigerians then and now are black). She is, however, part of the subjugated people, even if she comes from a well-to-do family. She may enjoy relative financial freedom and a decent social standing, but her parents are slowly turning their backs to their roots and adopting more and more customs from Europe and North America in a desperate attempt to be regarded as equals to white people. Olanna herself represents this awkward encounter between cultures. She has been educated in the United Kingdom and adopts Western ways while making a conscious effort at acquiring a certain Nigerian patriotism and pride in her country. Yet she is somehow incomplete, both as a Nigerian woman and as a lady educated in England. At one point in the book she wishes to trade her French and Latin in order to be able to speak more African languages, while at the same time she doesn't want her child associating with poorer black children. Olanna is interesting precisely because of all this contradictions, but above all you can't help but love her because she is truly making the effort to love Biafra and stand by it.

#1 The members of the Martell family from the A Song of Ice and Fire series

They are, without a doubt, the best of all the noble houses in the Seven Kingdoms. They are unruly, ambitious and nothing will stop them in their search for vengeance, either if they proceed covertly like prince Dorian or if they are openly feared throughout Westeros, like prince Oberyn. They also happen to be the most feminist of all the houses, being the only one in which inheritance of titles and property goes to the eldest child, regardless of gender. They are very loving towards illegitimate children: Bastards in Dorne face close to no stigma, and they are radical enough to avoid marriage when it can be avoided (I have nothing against marriage, but I find it really awesome that they are rebelling against it in what would be the equivalent of Medieval times, it makes them very forward thinking). And I honestly cannot think of more badass fictional women than the Sand Serpents, mostly giving the impression of being sweet, well-bred ladies, when they are actually experts in weaponry and poisons. And the majority of them also happen to be people of color. There is just too much badass here to handle!

Let's take this week as encouragement and read more diverse books!
Yours sincerely,


P.S. Here's a link to the Goodreads group of Top Five Wednesday in case you want to make your own. It's fun :) 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

[TOP 5 WEDNESDAY] Banned Books I've Read

Dear reader,
So, guess what! It's Wednesday! At least when this goes up it'll be Wednesday.
Maybe you guys are like, "but Virginia, it's one of the most boring days of the week, I mean, it's not crappy because it's not too close to Monday and not particularly exciting because Friday is still pretty far off." Well, well, let me tell you, Wednesday means Top 5 Wednesday! It was created by GingerReadsLainey over at the BookTubes and it's a fun thing to do if you enjoy rambling about bookish stuff on the internet.
And this week, oh, is this week interesting! And important! And relevant! And, I'm not gonna lie, pretty intimidating for a total newbie to Top Five Wednesday (like me). This is Banned Books week, a week to celebrate our freedom to read whatever the heck we please without the Government or the Church or whatever leaving certain books out of our reach, and I'm supposed to rate the banned books that I've read from fifth to first. Just a walk in the park for a newbie book blogger, am I right or am I right? (#Not).
There are some people over there who are like, "well if you're going to bother to read non-assigned books you might as well pick one up from the non-fiction section, at least that way you'll learn something" (to these people I send the wisdom of Cher from Clueless, "you're a snob and a half!"). But the thing is, fiction and stories are not just escapism. They can be that, but they aren't exclusively that. If stories were just sweet nothings we read before bed that just put us at ease for a little while and that's it, they wouldn't be considered "dangerous" or "threatening" by the people that are actually dangerous and threatening. If you're going to remember anything at all from this ramble, then remember this: Anything that adopts totalitarianism as its policy on what to think, how to think, what to read, etc. is very, very dangerous and to be avoided at all costs.
Anyway, the thing is, stories are powerful. They have the potential to change the way in which we perceive the world, the way in which we relate to others, the way in which we experience reality. That's why some people and governments and organizations feel the need to ban them and even burn them (ah, the burning of books, the ultimate symbolic act of totalitarianism, "we rule what you think, therefore, we rule you, you're powerless"). We have to protect our right to read anything and everything under the sun because taking books away from us is like taking our freedom away.
(/End of Ramble, I think) Without further ado, here's my Top Five Wednesday. All of these are capital works of literature that I can't recommend enough and deciding on the order wasn't easy, but in the end I settled on putting the books that had the most impact on a personal and emotional level on top. So, here they are:

#5 Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

This book wasn't technically banned, but some parents wanted it removed from a school library in Minnesota because of "rough language." The school board considered what they had to say, but luckily they decided to retain the book. These parents weren't the first ones to show concern, some had already been complaining that the reality of domestic abuse discussed in the book might be too much for the young audience the book is aimed at. Some parents want to avoid their children's exposition to certain realities arguing that their kids are "too young." It seems childhood is meant to be some sort of crystal castle where the trials and tribulations of real life can't get in. But, sadly, domestic abuse does not distinguish among age groups and many real children of the age of the protagonists or even younger do live through events similar to those described in the book. It is for their sake that I'm happy that the library in Minnesota decided to retain the book among its shelves. And even those children that don't suffer from domestic abuse can profit from reading it -they can gain awareness about abuse and be more empathetic towards the victims. AND YES, I OWN A SIGNED COPY, IT'S SO SHINY AND PRETTY!!! *breathes* Okay, Virginia, calm down, you're 22, not five.

#4 Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa 

As an Argentinian I could not stop mentioning one of the banned books from the Dictatorship that took place in my country from 1976 to 1983, known in English as the "National Reorganization Process" (official name given by the dictators) or the "Dirty War." During the rule of the three presidents that were in office during this dictatorship, the objective was to "purge" the country and reorganize it anew - which of course meant kidnapping, torturing and killing intellectuals, homosexuals, communists, socialists and basically anyone who was suspected of having leftist leanings. Among the many basic human rights that were violated during this time in the history of my country was freedom of speech and thought. There was a list of books that libraries, bookstores and people were penalized for having in stock or stowed somewhere in their houses (and by "penalized" I mean the gruesome punishment I've already described). These books mainly consisted of works such as "The Communist Manifesto" by Marx and Engels or Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano (so mainly political non-fiction, if you will). But I decided to look at the list in order to add something from there to this list, and I was surprised to find this novel by Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa. I read it a couple of years ago, and I don't remember it having any communist "subliminal messages" (not that I would have minded at all...). This actually comes as no surprise since the author himself leans more towards the right when it comes to politics. What there was in the book was a lot of slander towards Argentina and Argentinians. Now, I am Argentinian, I love my country, and I also really liked this book. Do you want to know why? Because this book employs a lot of satire. The artistic life of young Marito is compared to that of the Scriptwriter, a sort of caricature that teaches you exactly what not to do when writing fiction. The slander comes precisely from this caricature's mouth, that's why I took what he said in jest, especially after you find out the reason why the Scriptwriter hates Argentina so much (which I can't really state here because spoilers...).

#3 "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson

Again I am kind of, sort of cheating here, since the topic today is "Banned BOOKS" not "banned short stories," but this was just too good not to include. This is a short story written by my dear Shirley Jackson (homegirl says hey from the grave) and was published in The New Yorker in 1948. Up to this date no other short story in the prestigious magazine has met with so much hate as this masterpiece of the genre. For a few months, the offices of The New Yorker were flooded by hate mail and many people cancelled their subscriptions. It was banned in South Africa. This short story manages to be really insightful about how masses and society work in just a few pages with a seemingly simple premise. If you haven't read it yet, it's available for free online and it's really short, so you really have no excuse :) Read it, I'll wait.


#2 The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

On December 8, 1980, John Lennon was shot dead by Mark David Chapman. When the police searched his room at the Sheraton hotel they found this very book in which he wrote "This is my statement," signing it Holden Caulfield (he seemed to identify with the main character of this classic book). Since then, that book has been permanently linked to the murder of John Lennon. Although this novel, like Eleanor and Park, hasn't been formally banned by governments, it has met mixed reactions in various schools, but it has survived the controversy and is nowadays regarded as a timeless classic. This is a freaking masterpiece that depicts what it's like to be a troubled teen like no other. I adore John Lennon and I adore this book, their link is only accidental to me.


#1 The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Of course, I was going to include my favorite book if I could, and here it is. Sylvia Plath's semi-autobiographical novel was suppressed in the late 1970s because it defied the prevailing gender stereotype of the woman as a mother figure before everything else (so glad we outgrew that as a society already! Although I still hear people saying that very same baloney about women being mothers above all and arrrgggh it makes me mad... I have a lot of feelings kay?). In one of the most iconic scenes of the novel, Esther, the protagonist, contemplates the many routes her life can take - she sees her life flourishing as a fig tree with many diverging branches - and she is saddened by the fact that she'll eventually have to pick just one path (isn't that every young adult's life described in a single literary scene? No?). But of course those nay-sayers had to give Esther hell because she didn't particularly want to be a mother. Booh-freaking-hoo. She went on to be a badass. She went on to be freaking Sylvia Plath, sorry, a depressed young girl named Esther who undergoes all sorts of (thankfully) outdated treatments for her mental illnesses. When all is said and done, one thing remains true: Nobody discusses double standards, feminism and mental illness so masterfully in just one book like my homie Sylvia. Nobody.

I am going to say it again because I feel I haven't stressed it enough: don't let anyone, ever, have the ultimate say on what you can't read.
On that serious note, have a nice few days and feel free to comment below and share with me whatever random stuff you have in mind. I'll be happy to hear it.
Yours sincerely,


P.S. Here's a link to the Goodreads group of Top Five Wednesday in case you want to make your own. It's fun :)

Monday, September 28, 2015

Dear Reader

Dear Reader,
Wow, first two words of this blog and I'm already mimicking Jane Eyre. Or we can get all fancy and say that I'm "referencing" Jane Eyre. Or better yet, that this is a case of "intertextuality."
But, anyways, dear reader, hi. I am completely, whole-heartedly and utterly honest when I say I am happy to make your acquaintance in whatever shape or form. I'm dying to have bookish friends - friends to do readalongs with, friends to have hour-long chats about books and authors, or just... readers, I suppose, that read what I have to say about bookish stuff and reply sometimes, if they feel they have something to say (sometimes I find I don't have that much to say in response to an article, don't you?).
I'd like to begin saying that I find writing nerve-wracking. Especially in English. As you may already suspect, English is not my native tongue. No, that is Spanish. I am Argentinian. I started taking English classes with a tutor when I was ten years old (22 now, yes, still young and fresh and new to this "living" thing), and I sort of never stopped. And by "sort of never stopped" I mean I sold my soul to the devil like Doctor Faustus in order to become Da Ultimate English Master. And by "selling my soul to the devil," I mean, of course, that I am an English Literature and Translation major at university and I study the language and its literature like my life depends on it. Well, sort of. When I am not procrastinating. When I am not reading books that aren't for school (mostly in English). When an exam is coming. So I apologize in advance for all the various mistakes that this blog is going to have. I promise I'll do my best though, and feel free to correct me (nicely, if you can, no pressure though).
But I am more than the languages I speak and my proficiency in them, even though my academic choices don't seem to agree with me on this point. I have a passion for literature. I want to be a writer someday. I scribble short stories in my notebooks sometimes instead of paying attention in class, and then I translate them from the original Spanish into English and I send them to literary magazines with fancy names and interesting (though not very large) readerships. I also like to read (duh!). I am a slow reader and I have taken a fastidious liking towards large and sometimes complicated books, but I wouldn't be happy if I weren't reading a few things at a time. This is why I created this blog, because I have ideas and opinions about the things I read and I want to share them and become a part of the dialogue. I considered joining BookTube but I guess I'll leave it in the "Maybe Some Day" list. I am not the most eloquent person when it comes to speaking (especially in a foreign language) and I'd have to acquire some expertise in the arts of recording video, and my brain feels pretty crammed right now. So... "Maybe Some Day".
For the time being, I have my books, I have thoughts on them and I have this, a brand new blog, and I present them humbly to you, dear reader, to use and peruse and do with it whatever you please, because that's what the internet is for, isn't it?
Yours sincerely,
Vir (short for Virginia, btw)