Posted in Books, LGBT, Uncategorized

Reading LGBT Books With Pride, Literally (Literally!)

When I was younger, my reading tastes were strictly limited to two things: Sweet Valley and the kind of bodice-ripping romance novels from the likes of Johanna Lindsey featuring guys with a long mane of blond hair who I’ve recently discovered were all basically the same guy in different outfits whose name was Fabio.

I’m happy to say that my tastes have evolved since then. I’ve mostly outgrown romance novels, especially the ones that seem more like wish fulfilment rather than actual literature (I’m looking at you, Twilight).

Joining the Goodreads community, and my forays into the book clubs around London, has exposed me to many different genres. I’ve read so many fabulous books these past couple of years, more than I can ever manage to review, and I’ve picked up books from genres that I never would have imagined myself exploring ten years ago.

The one recent and unexpected genre I’ve discovered recently is LGBT-themed books. I’ve always thought of myself as a reasonably open-minded person despite my sheltered and almost prudish upbringing. But the Philippines, being a strictly Roman Catholic country, isn’t exactly the kind of place where you’d have a bookstore that proudly boasts an LGBT section.

I came across my first LGBT-themed novel when I was challenged by one of my Goodreads friends to read a New Adult book called Him, which was actually co-written by two of my favourite authors, both of whom have published a lot of books featuring heterosexual couples. I was in between books at the time, and travelling around Western Europe by train, so I decided to give it a go.

I’ve always believed that the more we come to accept each other’s differences, the easier it us for us to accept that we are all the same despite of it. This is what I realised when reading ‘Him’. Sure, gay couples will have difficult experiences that people who are straight will never fully understand. But fundamentally, these books are all about the struggle to understand your feelings, and the courage it takes to act on them.

I think that’s something that everyone will relate to, straight, gay, bi, trans and everything in between.

At the risk of sounding corny, I think The Beatles said it right when they said that all we need is love. I think as human beings we are genetically engineered to crave companionship, no man is a bloody island after all. And that’s another running theme in all books, that human need for another person who will see the world in the same way that you see it, to paraphrase from the great John Green.

So, in honour of pride weekend, I thought I’d make a list of the fabulous, world-view-altering, and inspiring LGBT books I’ve read these past couple of years in the hopes that other readers like me will pick them up and discover what I did, that to want to love and be loved is universal. Enjoy, fellow bookworms!

Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda

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I’ve reviewed this book for my blog and I’ve recently re-read it because the movie adaptation came out. Both are equally good, but the movie doesn’t really capture the quirky, naive, confused and endearing quality of Simon’s inner thoughts.

Just to add to the diverse theme of this novel, Simon’s main love interest is also of a different race. But again reading it, I never noticed any of those things. This was just a plain old sweet and awwww-inspiring YA novel that is a must-read for any fans of the genre.

Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of the Universe

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This is another one of those YA books that ran the risk of being sickeningly sweet and overly saccharine but because it was placed in the hands of a talented author, it became a tender and romantic ode to coming-of-age and the wonders of falling in love with your best friend. The writing style reminded me a lot of Rainbow Rowell, one of my favourite YA authors. And the cover was absolutely divine.

Call Me By Your Name

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Ah, yes. The book that started my obsession for all things Timothee Chalamet. I read this book at a time in my life when I could relate to the main situation of the novel, even if not necessarily its main theme. I’ve already waxed lyrical about how much I love this book so I won’t go into it again. If you missed it, read my review here.

The Song of Achilles

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This one actually won the Orange Prize in 2012. I read it because it was recommended by fans of Call Me By Your Name. It was wonderful and sad all at the same time. I mean, I know the story of Achilles and his famous heel but somehow reading the backstory made this Greek tragedy feel even more tragic. Read with a box of tissues on hand.

Maurice

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This one I read again because of my love for all things related to Timothee Chalamet. I think the movie adaptation of this book was directed by James Ivory, who is the Academy Award winning screenwriter of Call Me By Your Name.

Anyway, this book not only deals with being gay in England at a time when it was a punishable crime, it also deals with class boundaries and the struggle to be yourself even amidst the crushing weight of familial expectations. A bit darker, less of a fluff piece, but an interesting read nonetheless.

If We Were Villains

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This one was a Waterstones bookclub recommendation that sparked the liveliest debate in all of the sessions I attended, in part because of the dodgy and inscrutable characters but also because of its ambiguous ending. This is more of a thriller than anything else but at the heart of it is the kind of passionate, boundary-breaking love that can drive someone insane. Its since become one of my favourite murder/mystery novels. Read my review here.

Him

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And finally, the book that started it all. I find it fitting that a romance novel like this  started what has since become quite a literary adventure. Okay, I may have cringed and blushed at a few of the more graphic scenes. But really, is it any different than when you read straight romance novels? I don’t think so. I’m glad I got past the initial discomfort and awkwardness of this experience, because at the heart of ‘Him’ is one of the most beautiful love stories I’ve ever read, right up there with anything Judith McNaught or Johanna Lindsey has to offer.

And also, these guys were two best friends who eventually came to see each other in a different light. And they realised that the one thing they’ve been looking for has been standing in front of them this whole time. Sounds familiar? Of course it does.

Happy Pride Weekend everyone!

 

Posted in Books, relationships, Reviews, Uncategorized, Women's literature

Book Review: Where’d You Go Bernadette? – Maria Semple

Its funny. 

We never really think of our parents as being people. To us, they’re Mum and Dad: the people who know all the answers, who can make the scary stuff go away, who will always be there to bandage every hurt and dress every wound. Growing up, we see them as these superhuman creatures that we can always count on to catch us when we fall. That’s how I saw my parents anyway.

Until I moved away from home and embarked on my own “adulting” journey, it never occured to me to think of my parents as two people who are probably just as scared as I am about the responsibilities that come with being an adult. No one really gives you a set of instructions for these things; there’s no set objectives like, year one month one: set up a bank account: month two, make sure you have health insurance. You kind of figure it out as you go along. You fake it and hope to God you make it (I imagine parenthood would be the same but magnified because you’re actually responsible for another person).

So why am I waxing lyrical about mum and dad? Well, that’s kind of the key theme of ‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette?’. Bernadette Fox is many things to different people: an architectural legend,a brilliant but troubled wife, an uncooperative neighbor and the menace of the local parent-teacher association. But to her daughter Bee, she’s really just Mum. Until Bernadette disappears and Bee has to put together the pieces of her mum’s life to really see the dynamic, complex woman beneath the Mommy mask.

This book is told primarily through letters sent to and from Bernadette and letters about Bernadette. These letters were collected by Bee to help her in search for her mum. I always find this epistolary style quite clever. Its hard to give a full picture of a story through letters and emails but I think if done well, it really works. I actually think this novel loses a lot of steam once we got to the more linear kind of narration (from Bee’s point of view).

The blurb is a little bit misleading because I thought the journey to ‘finding’ Bernadette would involve a lot more, well, travelling. Especially to places that relate to her past. I thought the novel would explore her past more because there was a big build up about this ‘terrible thing’ that happened to her which had such a huge impact on her life. But the actual search for Bernadette seemed a bit anti-climactic. It was pretty obvious where she went and I never really understood why she went there, why she stayed and if anything was resolved at the end of the book.

I’m not sure if we readers are meant to sympathise (and like) the titular character. She seemed a mess to me and while I can see why that is, I think I agree with her husband when he said that we shouldn’t let past failures keep us from trying again. Its how you pick yourself up after a fall that matters after all. While this book is intended to be a satire or a dark comedy, I think Bernadette is a really tragic figure in that she never really realises all her potential. Towards the end its hinted that there might be some resolution but as I said, it wasn’t really clear. Maybe this is intentional, I don’t know. I’ve never really been a fan of books that leave the ending open to interpretation.

What’s evident throughout though is the fact that as troubled as Bernadette may have been, no one can doubt that she tried to be a good mother to Bee. She allowed Bee to be whoever she wanted to be and made everything an adventure. She probably wasn’t the most dependable of parents, but she was there when it mattered. It reminded me of that episode of Modern Family when one character said that 80% of the time, being a good parent meant simply showing up.

So yeah, this book was a good read. While I never really connected to the characters or the plot, I can’t deny that I was thouroughly entertained. Maria Semple’s writing style just flows and I would definitely read her other books if the plot sounds interesting. 

I’d like to end this post with a photo of my mum. Whatever else she may have been in the past, I am happy for the combination of whatever fulfilled dreams, untold failures and twists of fate that led her to being my mama, the wind beneath my wings, my anchor and my rock. 😘

Posted in Books, Classic Literature, Reviews, Uncategorized

Blast From The Past: Book Review – And Then There Were None 

People use the term “classic” to refer to something that transcends generations, a piece of work that remains relevant no matter what decade it is.

 This crime novel from Dame Agatha Christie is a classic in every sense of the word.
The plot is simple. 10 strangers are lured into a secluded island off the coast of Devon by the myseterious U.N. Owen. They started off thinking that it’ll be a nice weekend getaway. Then things take a more sinister turn when, after dinner, a pre-recorded gramophone thingy (I have no idea how a gramophone works) accused them all of being guilty of murder.

All of them denied it of course. There was a plausible explanation behind each accusation. They thought someone was just playing a practical joke…until one of them dies. And then one after the other each member of the party is killed, and the murder method is based on an old nursery rhyme called “Ten Little Soldier Boys.” 

Ten little soldier boys went out to dine; one choked his little self and then there were nine.

Nine little soldier boys sat up very late; one overslept himself and then there were eight.

The remaining guests soon figured out that because of the seclusion of the island and the inability of the boats from the mainland to come across, the murderer could only be one of them. The author did such a great job of creating the atmosphere; one can almost feel the paranoia mounting. Who can you turn to? Who can you trust?

I was amazed that Agatha Christie was able to cram this much action in so few pages. One would think that the characters wouldn’t be as fleshed out because its such a short novel but this actually proves that you don’t need to waste chapters and chapters just to provide someone’s backstory. And this author had 10 characters to contend with! 10 characters represented by 10 figurines of soldier boys in a mantelpiece, each figurine disappearing after one dies. 

Its clear early on that the motive for the murders is related to some form of justice being metted out. But justice for whom? Is the murderer related to one of the purported victims? Is there a common thread to all the victims that would eventually lead to the identity of the killer? These were some of the thoughts running through my head. It felt a little bit like watching the tv show Lost, which tells you how far ahead of its time this novel was. 

My boss told me that the stage adaptation of this book is also quite good. I can see how this would be great as a play; I sometimes felt while reading it that it comes across as a screenplay more than an actual novel. It still doesn’t take away from the genius of it. I was left completely confounded and guessing until the very end. I went so far as to postulate the theory that these people were really all one person, like they were part of “UN Owen”‘s dissociative personality just like in that film with John Cusack called Identity (spoiler alert: they’re not. There really is a murderer!)

I would recommend this book to all lovers of mystery, especially for those who want to have a good read but get bored with long, drawn-out stories. This is for you! 

Posted in Books, Feminism, Reviews, Uncategorized

Book Review: Young Jane Young – Gabrielle Zevin 

Its a narrative as old as time.

 
Young, naive woman meets succesful, prominent  and married older man and is mesmerised by his charismatic persona that she decides to pursue him. They inevitably get caught and get caught up in a scandal. He asks for forgiveness from the public and his wife.

 
The wife has to put her game face on and forgive him; she stands by him and his career and puts the mantle of ‘wronged but strong woman on’ and she gets lauded for this behaviour. Its the ONLY thing that gets her through the days when she wants to scream and shout from rage at the shame and humiliation of it all.

 
The other woman becomes a social pariah; an internet joke; a cautionary tale to young girls everywhere; a shining example of everything that feminism isn’t.
He gets away with a metaphorical slap on the wrist and continues to serve his office for at least one more term.


If all that sounds familiar, that’s because sometimes truth is stranger than fiction and we all had to bear witness as this political sex scandal was gleefully covered by the media almost two decades ago. I think I must have been 9 or 10 when the whole Monica Lewinsky-Bill Clinton scandal broke out. Although I was too young to understand the intricacies of that affair, the basics were pretty clear: he cheated on his wife with a young intern under his employ.

This book was based largely on that true-to-life story but its gives a different perspective and a decidely feminist stance. Aviva Grossman is ‘Florida’s Answer to Monica Lewinsky’ and despite the fact that I abhor the idea of mistresses, the author managed to make even me sympathise and relate to her. All she really wanted is to move on from the repurcussions of that youthful indiscretion and start a new life for herself. In the grand scheme of things, and considering all that she went through, that shouldn’t be too much to ask.

 
But the world can be unforgiving. Aviva drew several parallels from ‘The Scarlet Letter’ when reflecting on her experiences and its true. She may not have been asked to wear a big red A in front of the town, true. But all anyone had to do was google her name and they’d find every detail of the affair (she stupidly kept an anonymous blog that everyone eventually figured out was hers). She had a permanent infamous presence on the internet.

 
‘Slut-shaming’ is a term I hear quite often. I don’t specifically know what it means to slut-shame anyone but I guess its when one or more person makes a judgment about another person’s private life and makes her feel ashamed for her choices. Its anything that paints a woman as this character because she appears to be…forward. This book is meant to be a commentary on slut-shaming and it hits more than it misses.
Its certainly made me feel uncomfortable. It made me think about how often we probably do this unconsciously. There may have been instances where we’ve judged another woman too quickly on her choices and labelled them well, a slut, where they may not have deserved it. You never really know what a person is going through and cliche as it may sound there are always two sides to every story. Who are we to judge other people’s choices? F. Scott Fitzgerald had it right when he said:

Whenever you feel like criticising anyone, remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.

It all comes down to choice. This is the kind of feminism that books like these fight for: a woman’s right to make and not be judged for the choices she makes. Its not even about the affair and the scandal really. It doesn’t even go into the details of the affair; rather it focuses on the internal struggle between knowing something is wrong and doing it anyway, as well as the long-term effects on Aviva or Jane Young after she had her name legallly changed.

 
Its absolutely inspiring to read the little snippets of feminism that was injected into this book. Its subtle but its there, and it makes you think about how wonderful it is to be human and a woman in 2017, that we’ve come so far in terms of achieving gender equality. I highly recommend this book.