Celebrating International Women’s Day 2015

International Womens Day 2015 Books

Happy International Women’s Day! Every year on March 8th, International Women’s Day celebrates women’s achievements while advocating gender equality. I think days like these are so wonderful because while we have made great progress when it comes to gender equality, there is still so much to be done. (And I’m still in shock when people tell me that gender inequality doesn’t exist…)

So, in honour of International Women’s Day today, I’ve chosen some of my recent favourite reads to celebrate! These in some way or another have touched me and inspired me. I realize as I’m typing this now that I should have included Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, so let’s pretend that her book is pictured.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The first thing I loved about this book was its packaging. It’s so small and compact that it would be perfect as a small gift (and it totally should be given away as gifts). I also love that it’s so cheerful and bold with its colour choice. It really demands attention, and for a rightful reason. On to the content: this is actually an adapted essay by Adichie, who originally presented it as a TEDx talk. Adichie shares personal anecdotes and defines what feminism means to her. She doesn’t shame anyone for not recognizing gender issues; she merely explains (very eloquently) how they exist and why we should be paying more attention. One of my favourite passages:

“The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognizing how we are. Imagine how much happier we would be, how much freer to be our true individual selves, if we didn’t have the weight of gender expectations.” (pg 34.)

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

There is a reason why The Handmaid’s Tale is hailed as a classic. This haunting dystopian novel shows us a world where there is no freedom – even those in the ruling class are required to follow strictly defined roles. Handmaids are chosen to be reproductive machines, while Wives are simply housewife figureheads. Commanders are supposed to have relationships with their Wives but mere relations with the Handmaids. This is a society that is so constricted by their prescribed gender norms that hardly anyone is happy. If you haven’t read this yet, I’d strongly recommend it.

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

This is an upcoming title from Random House but I loved it so much that I thought I’d give it a shout out here. The story follows Anna, an American expatriate living in Switzerland with her banker husband and three children. As the novel’s title suggests, Anna is a housewife. She is completely dependent on her husband and his family. She doesn’t know how to drive, and thus relies on trains or someone to drive her when she needs to go anywhere; she has limited grasp on German (and even more limited handle on Schwiizerdutsch), requiring her husband to help her with paperwork; she doesn’t even own a bank account. That she is a housewife almost defines her, except for her secret life away from her family. I highly enjoyed getting to know Anna – not as a housewife but as a deep, complex person – and I can’t wait to chat about it more when it officially comes out.

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

Moving away from fiction, I wanted to feature two memoirs that I have loved recently, the first one being Not That Kind of Girl. It is no secret that I admire Dunham. She is not afraid to be different – in fact, she flaunts it – and she continues the trend of letting us in on her thoughts and feelings in her memoir. She doesn’t claim to know everything, yet she offers sound advice from time to time. Something that has stuck with me:

“Here’s who it’s not okay to share a bed with: Anyone who makes you feel like you’re invading their space. Anyone who tells you that they “just can’t be alone right now.” Anyone who doesn’t make you feel like sharing a bed is the coziest and most sensual activity they could possibly be undertaking. Now, look over at the person beside you. Do they meet these criteria? If not, remove them or remove yourself. You’re better off alone.” (pg. 20.)

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Like Dunham, Amy Poehler is another public figure I adore. I love that she is so committed to promoting rising female talent (Broad City, Upright Citizens Brigade, Smart Girls at the Party, anyone?). The fact that she has such a strong friendship with another female – Tina Fey – just makes me so happy. To me, Poehler exemplifies the fact that you don’t have to step over everyone’s toes to get to the top. Why not do it together and show that successful women are not exceptions to a rule? There were so many wonderful bits in Yes Please that I shared my favourites in this post. The “currency” tip is my absolute favourite.

So there you have it! If you’re looking for something new and inspiring to read this International Women’s Day, I hope my list proves to be as thought-provoking for you as it was for me.

Are you reading any female-centered literature this International Women’s Day? Do you have any book recommendations for me? (I need to find my copy of bell hooks’ Feminism: From Margin to Center…)

3 Inspiring Books That Have Shaped My Worldview

3 Books That Have Inspired One More Page kmn04books 2

One of my favourite things about books, besides their ability to transport me to another place and time, is how they are able to present new ideas and perspectives that may not have reached me otherwise. I’ve been lucky enough to have read and studied many books growing up, and this has continued even after I graduated from formal schooling. I can’t be more thankful that reading has provided me with so many opportunities to learn and absorb stories that are different from my own, and as I grow older (and hopefully wiser), I’ve come to the conclusion that I never, ever want to stop learning. The following three books are ones that have strongly influenced me, helping to shape my worldview and opinions on certain topics. Since this weekend is American thanksgiving, I thought I’d give my thanks to these books on my blog.

1. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

With everything that has been going on lately, I’ve been compelled to put all of my other books aside and re-read Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. I read this book for the first time in high school and even then it resonated strongly with me. During this re-read, I am not only aware of its political message, I am also appreciating Atticus Finch’s character a lot more; he is a great father to Jem and Scout and their relationship is so wonderful and heartwarming to read about. I have not finished my re-read, but I’m seriously contemplating reviewing the book once I am done.

Everyone should at least give this classic book a go as it reminds us that right thing isn’t always the easiest to do, but standing up for what is right is always worth a try.

2. All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

Shortlisted for the 2014 Giller Prize, this tender and skillfully crafted book asks us to reconsider our views on assisted suicide and depression. As Yoli grapples with her sister Elf’s desire to end her own life, she is faced with a difficult question: should she help her sister? Is it selfish to keep someone alive when they want to die? Is there a right or wrong thing to do? This has always been something that I’ve wondered about, and I respect Toews’ nonjudgmental way of presenting the varying point of views on this subject. After reading this book, I feel like my thoughts on this are more well-rounded, and I am thankful that this book allowed me to work out my feelings along with it.

I’d recommend this book for those who have ever wanted to read an insightful and thought-provoking book that deals with the morality of suicide. The book itself doesn’t deliver a concrete answer, but perhaps you’ll be able to work out your views yourself along the way.

3. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Another classic that is commonly taught in high school, The Handmaid’s Tale is a book that reinforced my views regarding gender inequality, and how haunting it can be when a society or regime is so oppressive that basic human rights are restricted by made up rules. What would happen if women’s basic rights to read and live a fulfilled life with a chosen family get taken away? Logically, human rights should be a given, but The Handmaid’s Tale presents a terrifying world where these rights are privileges belonging to a select few.

Interested in human rights and gender equality or unconcerned when it comes to these matters? This book is bound to be thought-provoking to whoever picks it up.

That’s it for me! These books have all profoundly impacted me in one way or another and I would love to hear your thoughts on them. Have you read any of these books? Are there any books that have shaped YOUR worldview and changed your mind about things?

Book Review | Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood Stone Mattress Nine Tales Book Cover Review

[I received a copy of Stone Mattress by its Canadian publisher Random House Canada. This does not affect my opinion of the book.]

I’m ashamed to say I haven’t read very many Margaret Atwood books (embarrassing, I know). The only other book I’ve read by her is the Canadian classic The Handmaid’s Tale, which I was incredibly blown away by (you can read my full review of it here – it was my first ever review on this blog!). So, when I heard that there would be a new short story collection coming out, I was immediately intrigued. Now, I feel like I should start this review by saying that I’m not incredibly well-read on the short story front, so I’m not sure if my unfamiliarity with the form was a factor in my enjoyment of the tales as a whole.

As the title suggests, Stone Mattress is made up of nine tales. Some of them are interconnected, some are purely stand-alones. There are a few writerly characters, some characters that have been holding grudges, and characters that have secrets. From the book jacket:

“A recently widowed fantasy writer is guided through an ice storm by the voice of her late husband in “Alphinland,” the first of three stories about the romantic entanglements of a small group of writers and artists. In “The Freeze-Dried Groom,” a man who bids on an auctioned storage space has gruesome surprise. In “Lusus Naturae,” a woman born with a genetic abnormality is mistaken for a vampire. In “Torching the Dusties,” an elderly lady with Charles Bonnet syndrome attempts to cope with the little people she sees while a newly formed populist group prepares to burn down her retirement residence. In “I Dream of Zenia with the Bright Red Teeth,” we remeet Tony, Charis, and Roz from The Robber Bride -by years later- as their nemisis recurs in an unexpected form. And in “Stone Mattress,” a long-ago crime is avenged in the Arctic via a 1.9 billion-year-old stromatolite.”

I had mixed feelings about this collection. There were stories that absolutely gripped me (the three interrelated stories, “The Freeze-Dried Groom”, “Torching the Dusties”), but there were also stories that I didn’t really respond to (“I Dream of Zenia with the Bright Red Teeth”). The latter I attribute to my unfamiliarity with short stories and of Atwood’s other works, because I do think that Atwood has interesting ideas and things to say. She was recently on the CBC’s The Next Chapter talking about Stone Mattress, and was quoted saying “There is a reason why religions stress forgiveness. It’s very hard to do.” When I think about the collection in terms of forgiveness, the thread I was looking for to tie all the stories together appeared. It’s true: many of the characters have either trouble forgiving those who have wronged them, or have worked very hard to find it in them to forgive. I think I’m going to have to re-read the stories with that theme in mind and see if my reading experience is better the second time around.

Something that stuck out to me as I was reading the collection was Atwood’s portrayal of men. In these stories, more often than not, the men are seen objectifying women, barely seeing past their physical attributes. If not that, then they’ve done something terrible and misogynistic in their past. While I applaud Atwood’s frank depiction of her male characters, I couldn’t help but hope to see different types of men, ones that perhaps respected women a little bit more. Is this a recurring theme in Atwood’s writing? Not having read very much by her, I’m not sure.

That being said, I do applaud Atwood’s imagination. She is one of Canada’s most prolific writers and I admire her so much for having so many ideas and stories. Even though I couldn’t fully understand or appreciate Stone Mattress, I’m looking forward to reading more from this beloved Canadian icon. (Seriously – she’s so cool.)

Verdict: Overall, I think Stone Mattress would be a wonderful book club book. I am not always the most creative when analyzing texts and would have loved to have someone to discuss these tales with. (This is where you come in, Internet!!) Like I mentioned above, just hearing Atwood talk about the book in terms of forgiveness offered a new way to understand the stories as a whole, and I look forward to hearing different interpretations!

Read if: You’re an Atwood/CanLit fan, enjoy reading short stories, want to find out what exactly a “stone mattress” is.

Are you a Margaret Atwood fan? Have you read Stone Mattress yet? What did you think?

10 Great Canadian Reads for Canada Day

10 Great Canadian Reads The Girl Who Was Saturday Night A Tale for the Time Being All My Puny Sorrows The Handmaids Tale The Bear

Happy Canada Day! Canada was founded 147 years ago today in 1867 and man… have we produced some great literature! Today I want to share with you all 10 of my most recent favourite Canadian reads. I know there are many more great stories out there, but I’ve read each of these recently and need to share how great they are!

1. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that I absolutely adore A Tale for the Time Being. I won’t lie and say that it’s a happy read all the way through – it does have difficult-to-read subjects such as schoolyard bullying and severe depression among the pages – but it is beautifully textured and complex. Half of it is told from a 16-year-old Japanese girl Nao’s perspective, the other half focuses on Ruth, a writer living in British Columbia. Read my full review here.

2. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

A modern Canadian classic. No list of great Canadian reads would be complete without mentioning Margaret Atwood. The Handmaid’s Tale in particular is one of her most widely read books, thanks to it being compulsory reading in many high schools (and rightly so). Set in a dystopic future where women are merely reproductive robots, the questions between the pages still hold true today, even 29 years later. Read my full review here.

3. The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill

This is Heather O’Neill’s newest book after her critically acclaimed Lullabies for Little Criminals. Once again set in Quebec, the book follows twins Nouschka and Nicolas Tremblay as they navigate through life trying to fit in. In the background, Quebec is also trying to fit in, and the separatist movement plays a large role. I would highly recommend reading this book to see a different side of Canada. My full review can be found here.

4. All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

All My Puny Sorrows is about Elf and Yoli, two sisters with one fundamental struggle: Elf is severely depressed and wants to commit suicide while Yoli wants to save her. Somehow, Miriam Toews manages to turn a sad subject into something that has hope and is bursting with love. The book opens a discussion around mental illnesses and euthanasia, but doesn’t attempt to sway the reader in any way –  it merely shows its point of view. A highly, highly recommended read from me. Read my full review here.

5. The Bear by Claire Cameron

I don’t know what it is about Canadian women but they sure know how to write a gripping novel from a child’s perspective. In The Bear, we follow five-year-old Anna as she processes the aftermath of a bear attack at her family’s campsite at Algonquin Park. It is a gripping and trying read at times, but an entertaining and thrilling one at the same time. Read my full review here.

10 Great Canadian Reads This One Summer Listen to the Squawking Chicken No Relation I Want to Go Home

6. This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

This stunning book by cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki is sure to delight graphic novel lovers. Its artwork is absolutely breathtaking and complements the words effortlessly. This One Summer is about, well, one summer at a cottage. But along with the idyllic scenery lies struggle and heartbreak. This is a graphic novel that shouldn’t be missed this summer. Check back in a few weeks for my review!

7. Listen to the Squawking Chicken by Elaine Lui

This is a must-read book for any memoir lover and Lainey Gossip fan. Lui tells the story of her mother with this hilarious and heart-warming memoir. It’s the perfect read for mothers and daughters alike. I know that it definitely makes me want to be a better daughter. For more, read my review here.

8. I Want to Go Home by Gordon Korman

This was my favourite book as a child. I can’t count how many times I’ve read and laughed with this book. I Want to Go Home is about two kids who are forced to go to summer camp by their parents and hate it so much that they attempt to escape multiple times. If you’re not familiar with Korman’s work, I would highly recommend checking him out. He’s one of my favourite children’s writers of all time. (His MacDonald Hall series is laugh-out-loud funny.)

9. No Relation by Terry Fallis

Speaking of laugh-out-loud funny, Terry Fallis’ No Relation is just that. It’s about Earnest Hemmingway (no, not Ernest Hemingway), a recently-fired copywriter whose dream in life is to be a successful novelist and is plagued by his famous name every day. He meets a bunch of other “Name Famers” and hilarity ensues. If you’re looking for a pick-me-up read, I would highly recommend this book. I can’t wait to re-read it! Read my gushing review here.

10. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (not pictured)

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find my copy of Anne of Green Gables so it is not pictured. But, this is a classic Canadian children’s book and one that I will read over and over again. I read it for the first time in university, so I can confidently say that children and adults alike will fall in love with Anne and hope that she would consider you her kindred spirit. She is a headstrong girl with hilarious ideas and will forever be a beloved Canadian character.

Well, there you have it! 10 of my favourite Canadian reads. Have you ever read any of these books? Are there other Canadian books that you would’ve liked to see on this list?

Book Review | The Handmaid’s Tale

I can’t believe I hadn’t read this book until now.

The Handmaid’s Tale is on numerous high school and university reading lists and I can absolutely see why. Set in the near future where everyone is divided into specialized categories (Handmaid, Martha, Guardian, Commander, Commander’s Wife, etc), we see a totalitarian society where everyone is oppressed in their own way. The story is narrated by Offred, a Handmaid, and follows her journey in transitioning to this new reality. As a Handmaid she only has one purpose – to breed. Her meals are designed to increase her chances of conception, she is only allowed out of the house during her morning walk, and she is required to wear the Handmaids’ uniform. Simple privileges like choosing an outfit or reading are no longer available to her. What has happened to her family from her previous life? Is there any way out of this way of living? Is there hope?

I devoured this book. I seriously could not put it down. The society that Atwood creates is terrifying in that it doesn’t seem altogether removed from reality. Due to Atwood’s brilliance (or my pessimism towards our society), it feels like our world really could suddenly become Offred’s world. I have heard other readers argue that they had a hard time believing the sudden transition between regimes but I had no troubles suspending this disbelief. Offred’s narration has a sad, reminiscent tone and I was more appalled than skeptical. As the book progressed, I became more and more immersed in Offred’s story. I found myself becoming paranoid with her. Who can she really trust in a world like this, when trusting the wrong person means torture and death? I couldn’t help but root for her to escape and so the book kept me on the edge of my seat till the very last page.

Beside the fact that The Handmaid’s Tale is an incredibly well-written, suspenseful book, I love it even more because it invites its readers to think. Though I appreciate the steps we have taken so far regarding women’s rights, the book made me wonder how much progress we really have made. There is so much more to be done. The distinction between “freedom to” and “freedom from” is raised in the book and while I have a new-found appreciation for my freedom to read, I am left wondering about our various “freedom froms”. There are still so many problematic discussions about birth control and rape. There is the thought that granting women’s rights means diminishing men’s rights. These thoughts are all brought to the forefront in The Handmaid’s Tale and really solidifies its stance as a cautionary, dystopic work of fiction.

I don’t want to spoil anything for those who haven’t read the book so I’ll end my review here, but I would highly recommend anyone who hasn’t read it to do so. The impact of the book left me so disturbed that I couldn’t even pick up another book to read the next day. It’s one of the best dystopian books I have ever read.

Verdict: Highly recommended
Read if: You like dystopian fiction, suspense, thought-provoking reads

February 2014

Books bought:
*A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
*Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
*The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
*Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
*The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
*Hey Nostradamus! by Douglas Coupland
*Birth House by Ami McKay
*One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
*The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
*Native Son by Richard Wright

Books won:
*The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
*Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Books read:
*A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
*The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
*Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
*The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
*The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Another month, another summary post! Probably one of the most exciting things that happened to me this month was winning HarperCollins Canada’s Valentine’s Day Book Battle on Facebook. First of all, I never win anything so it was a thrill to be chosen. Secondly, I never really buy what’s normally categorized as “Chick Lit” (although I really despise that term) so it was great to receive these bestsellers! I was especially excited about The Rosie Project because it seemed like that book was everywhere – in bookstores, talked about on blogs and Twitter, and I even saw a few people reading it on the subway! How did I like it? Keep your eyes peeled for the review to come 😉

This month my book purchases had a Canadian theme. I didn’t really mean for that to happen but after reading The Handmaid’s Tale I felt inspired to read more Canadian literature. I already knew that I would love A Tale for the Time Being due to its subject matter and from my experience reading Ozeki’s My Year of Meats in university. My Year of Meats was such an enthralling book that I kept bumping into people as I read and walked from class to class! I used to think Canadian literature was all about prairie life and landscapes but I’m so glad that misconception has been cleared. I think that Canadian authors have a lot to offer and I am looking forward to reading more from them. I am especially excited about reading The Birth House by Ami McKay as it was highly recommended to me by a close friend whose opinions have always been in line with mine.

My goal is to write a review or at least a quick summary of all the books I read throughout the year, so check back often for new content! I am going to go finish my review for The Handmaid’s Tale after I submit this post and I can’t wait to share my thoughts.

Have you read any of the books that I read this month? Do you have any book suggestions for me? I would love to hear from you!