Sunday, January 29, 2012

VIEW FROM THE (ALMOST) LAST PAGE

Confessions of a Shopaholic.

Sophie Kinsella, 2001.


WARNING: SPOILERS

1. If Becky winds up with Luke Brandon, I will be very disappointed. I will still read Sophie's books, because I am loyal like that, but I won't be happy.

2. Becky's behavior- overspending, telling lies, blowing off work- would keep me from liking her if she weren't so likable. Also, who among us has not done those things at one time or another?

3. Becky's compulsive shopping is an addiction. She uses things to change the way she feels. She describes the shops as magical places, where she can forget about her problems. Her bad habits hurt her and the people she loves. She hits bottom and is ready to give up when she can no longer safely shop, the same way an alcoholic does when the drink stops working. What Becky does is not meant to represent addiction; it is a serious addiction in its own right. Why, then, did the first book attempting to deal with this problem have to be a comedy?


4. It made me happy to see Becky blow her stack at Luke after the luggage incident. Even a shopaholic has limits.

5. When all Becky's charge cards are denied, I feel sad for her even though she is completely at fault in this situation. Of course, I know, this being a chick lit novel, that things will likely work out in the end. Nothing too terrible can happen in a book like this. The heroine can undergo trauma and a painful life change, but she can't die, go to prison, or become insane. It might be one of the genre's limitations, but it is also part of the reason we keep reading these books.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

MORE THAN ONE STORY

Never again will a single story be told as though it's the only one.
-John Berger, quoted by Arundhati Roy in The God of Small Things




It is possible for a critic or student to be so enamored with a text, so overwhelmed with its beauty and anger and ways of speaking, that she almost cannot write a meaningful response to it. She feels that nothing she says will do the work justice, that the author's voice has made hers unnecessary.

She accepts her own inadequacy. Yet she wants to share this book with other people, so it can overwhelm them too.

My natural response to learning something new is to teach it. For that reason, I will try to write a meaningful response. But if you have never read The God of Small Things, you have to. I have made it part of my personal canon. Its overall effect may be small, but I will always view the world differently than I did before I read this book. That is why we have literature,and it is the best praise I can give any writer.

The book taught me that it is not enough to say "there are two sides to every story." As the Berger quote and the Adichie video suggest, there is never just one story; we can never sum up all the sides. I can apply this knowledge right now, as an emerging middle school teacher.

Why do some kids flourish in school while others fail? Is it honest to say that all public schools do a good job of preparing kids for college? Should we choose the books our students read, or should they have some say? How much say? Should we even expect all our students to go to college? What are the other options?

These questions frame current teaching methodology. But there are endless questions to ask in any industry, for any vocation. No matter who you are, you can read The God of Small Things and take its lessons into your life. Never accept a single story.

Monday, January 23, 2012

First Twitter Book Club Meeting is January 31

@womensbooksonly and I - @michellehaimoff - are going to discuss Arundhati Roy's "The God of Small Things" on Twitter on January 31st. This will be the first meeting of our monthly book club, which will feature books by women authors only.

Like my Facebook page and write in the comment section if you want to participate in our February book club featuring my book, "These Days Are Ours." The first 20 readers to contact me will get an advanced copy. The book is also available on Amazon. We will discuss the book on February 28, 2012, which is the day that it launches!

If you live in Los Angeles or New York City, I would love to see you at a book event! The list of events can be found on the above mentioned Facebook page.

Can't wait to chat on January 31st!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

TWO BOOKS, TWO LOST GIRLS


Snow Apples. By Mary Razzell. Groundwood Books/House of Anansi press, 2006. Young Adult. 209 pages.


True Confessions of a Heartless Girl. By Martha Brooks. Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press, 2002. Young Adult. 210 pages.

The main characters in both these novels are teenage girls who become pregnant. In Snow Apples, Sheila Brary lives on a remote island, coming of age in the days after World War II. Razzell uses Sheila's voice to tell her story. Sheila doubts herself, resenting her embittered mother while wishing for her wayward father's return home.

Sheila's greatest desire is to escape the domestic life her mother plans for her. Does Sheila's mother resent her own homebound fate, wishing to ensnare her daughter as a form of revenge? Or does she truly believe that marriage, babies, and an end to education are the best things for a young girl? Mrs. Brary's motivations are never quite clear. Life in a small town, with no opportunity to meet new people and hear new ideas, makes her unstable and insular. Mr. Brary's drinking and adultery do not help either.

It is against this straitjacketing of her life that Sheila seems to be rebelling. She challenges her mother's values by pushing for a spot in nursing school. She is stymied when her beloved older brother sides against her after a sexual assault by an older man. She befriends Helga, the town's outcast, who spends her days searching for the drowned bodies of her long-dead family. Sheila also babysits her drunken boyfriend before he impregnates and abandons her.

These experiences make Sheila feel powerless and resentful. They also ultimately help her build her own identity and become independent- as independent as any young woman could be in Canada during the late 1940's.

Noreen Stall, the 17-year-old heroine of Heartless Girl, has far less structure from which to escape. Her religious fanatic mother is little more than a shadow. Her stepfather's physical abuse gives her motivation to run away from home. So does her sister Gladys's marriage; Noreen sees it as a betrayal. Noreen runs first to Wesley, a sweet, gentle construction worker who loves her passionately. They are happy until he catches her in a lie. In an attempt to make things right, she decorates his apartment, stealing money from him to do so.

When Wesley confronts Noreen, she steals his truck and flees to Pembina Lake, a rural community that takes her in. Lynda, the owner of the town's cafe, lets her stay in a spare room. Dolores, the town's matriarch, nearly persuades Noreen to open up about her problems. By the time Noreen needs medical attention for her pregnancy, she has a support system in place.

But Noreen is reluctant to accept help. She has a history of harming others with her behavior. One of her first acts in Pembina Lake is to feed chicken bones to Lynda's 5-year old son's dog. The dog, Tessie, becomes seriously ill when the bones lodge in her intestines. Her life hangs in the balance, Noreen's actions come to light, and for a few chapters the reader wonders- did Noreen make a mistake, or was she trying to kill the dog?

The answer to that question turns out to be a huge theme in Heartless Girl. We are meant to learn some things about redemption, the definition of family, and the nature of choices.

Both Snow Apples and True Confessions of a Heartless Girl chronicle young women's attempts to define themselves, become independent, and establish rewarding relationships. Both authors treat teen pregnancy with empathy and compassion. On the one hand, they resist the easy trap of condemning adolescent sexuality. On the other hand, nothing they have written makes young motherhood seem alluring. In an era where shows like Teen Mom predominate and anxious fathers take their daughters to purity balls, teachers and parents should welcome books like these.

Monday, January 16, 2012

ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS


for The God Of Small Things

1. Do members of a marginalized culture build their identities differently from members of a dominant culture?

2. Who is the other in this book?

3. Who is the protagonist of this book?

4. When privileged people are exposed to trauma, is it less authentic than it is for the underprivileged?

5. What would it mean if people from all cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds agreed on a single definition of poverty?

6. Can a novel be a feminist text even if the characters have never heard of feminism?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Q&A WITH NINA MANOLSON

It is that time of the year again. We are officially back to work, back to school, and- if we are parents- back to the routine we have with our kids. The sheen of those New Year's resolutions might be wearing off in the light of our everyday lives.

Nina Manolson, MA, CHHC, is here to help with that. She is a busy mom who runs the website Smokin' Hot Mom. You can also follow her on twitter.

Nina is a certified Health Coach and Smokin’ Hot Mom Mentor. She coaches busy moms, who are great at taking care of everyone else but have neglected themselves. She teaches moms to prioritize themselves in a way that balances their whole life, makes them happier, healthier and turns them into smokin’ hot moms who love their life. Her clients find wellness from within, through nourishment on all levels – body, mind, and spirit. She also teaches conscientious moms how to feed her kids well in a world that doesn't and has a book coming out soon entitled: Feed Your Kids Well in A World That Doesn't.


I spoke with Nina about her mission, tips for staying motivated, and of course her Mandatory Reading for men.

1. What inspired you to start smokinhotmom?

The website was born out of my passion for helping moms feel fantastic.

I have been working with women, helping them reconnect to their body, feel good in their own skin, and listen to their own knowing for over 20 years. When I became a mom I realized that all those things I learned to feel my best, needed to be relearned or at least updated for my new busy mom life.

When women step into motherhood, we step into a new set of priorities. Family comes first, we focus on the big picture of our kid's future or the tiny moment of how do we get our kids to their after-school activity. Often moms step into a self-less phase of life. We have to-do lists a mile long, but we're not on it! This lack of self-care results in moms who feel like they've lost their energy, their joy, their pizzazz. Most moms get to a point where they realize they want their vitality, their body, their sexiness back. Basically, they want to be a smokin' hot moms!

It's not that mom's don't know they should eat right or take time for themselves. It's making it happen in the crazy-busy life moms lead that is the hard work.

Smokin' Hot Mom is my unique, easy and pleasurable way of helping moms make the journey from overwhelmed and exhausted to radiant and smokin' hot!

2. Can you describe your favorite self-help / self-improvement books?

The self-help books I love are those steeped in self-compassion. I love the books that are not about what the "right" thing is to do, or eat, or think. I love books that remind us that we are human-beings not human-doings.

In our fast paced, high-expectation society, I use books to be the voice of balance, loving-kindness, and slowing down.

Some of my current favorites are: Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff, The Slow-Down Diet by Marc David, The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown and Finding The Deep River Within by Abby Seixas.



3. What was the last book you read?

I'm a chronic read-many-books-at-once kind of gal. So, what I'm currently reading is: The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown, Anatomy of Spirit by Caroline Myss, You Can Create an Exceptional Life by Louise Hay and Cheryl Richardson, and there's always a ton of recipe books littered around as well.



4. If you had the power to make every man in the universe read a certain book, which one would you choose and why?

I get so into each book and each subject I'm reading, I tend to think everyone should read it. That's how I feel about right now about Kristin Neff's book on Self-Compassion. It's a message we all need to hear.



5. I have found that it is easy enough to start a self-improvement program, but hard to keep one up. How do you stay motivated?

The key to motivation is having clarity and support.

If you get really clear on why your self-improvement program is important to you, and what's in it for you at a deep level, you get past the "I should" and into the "I want" and "I need." "I want and need" has a whole lot more power than "I should."

Having the support to make change is crucial. Most of us tend to think we can do it all ourselves. But having support, someone to guide the way, to champion you in your quest for healthy change is what makes it do-able and what helps make the changes stick.


6. Do you have any literary guilty pleasures?

Currently I'm deep into reading Harry Potter aloud to my kids. It's bliss to cuddle up with them and share a great story.

Nina is currently offering a free teleclass for busy moms to reclaim their body and end the war with food: http://smokinhotmom.com/freecall/

For more information: Smokin'HotMom.com, HealthyYummyKids.com.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

CALL FOR CO-AUTHORS

Do you have an interest in books by women?

Do you enjoy writing about how women are portrayed in literature?

Do you want to learn more about feminism, especially feminist literary criticism? Or do you have something to teach us?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, and if you are able to read all or most of the books on our book club list, starting this month with The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, I would like to invite you to contribute to this blog. You can write about your response to our books, or about your own favorite women's books. There are no assigned topics here, but our focus will always be women's books and feminism. There is no schedule for writers, but we would like to see at least two contributions a month from our writers.

If you are interested, please email Stevie at swatso37@students.kennesaw.edu so I can send you an invitation. You will need a blogger account through Google. Please provide a paragraph about your background, your reasons for wanting to contribute, and a sample of your writing if you have one.

If you do not want to contribute, you can still follow one or both of this blog's co-editors on twitter:

Michelle Haimoff

Steven Watson (womensbooksonly)

You can also leave comments here without becoming a contributor. Join us at #wbo for a twitter conversation at the end of each month for that month's book.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Estha and Rahel

Happy New Year! The first book we will be reading this year is The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy. The book was published in 1997. It is Roy's first and so far her only novel.

It tells the story of an Indian family from the perspective of its two youngest members,Estha and Rahel. They are a brother and sister who are in their thirties when the story begins. Roy soon flashes back to their childhood. She spends the entire book shifting from one time period to another, recasting events through Rahel's eyes (though not in Rahel's voice).

The first thing we learn about Estha and Rahel is that they have had some kind of trauma in their lives. Estha never speaks and spends most of his time walking his neighborhood or doing household chores. He still lives at home with his English father. The father retires and has to send Estha back home to Ayemenem, the Indian town of his birth. The implication is that Estha cannot take care of himself, even though he is an adult.

Rahel comes home, too, leaving her job at an all-night gas station in the United States. We can tell from Roy's description of her that Rahel is intelligent and could be successful. She trained as an architect, just as Roy did. But she was often in trouble at school, and has ended up at a job where "drunks occasionally vomited into the till... pimps propositioned her with more lucrative job offers... she saw men being shot through their car windows. And once a man who had been stabbed, ejected from a moving car with a knife in his back" (p. 21)

It is not clear, in the first chapter, why Estha and Rahel act the way they do. There are some clues.

On page 12, we learn that Estha's parents were embarrassed when he began sweeping, mopping, washing laundry and buying groceries for the household. These are seen as women's tasks, and Estha seems to be pushing against the limitations placed on him. Rahel is expelled from three different schools for rules violations. First she assaults senior girls by hiding behind doors and running into them. She explains that she wants to find out if breasts hurt, as if she is rebelling against school norms that do not acknowledge or value women's bodies.

At her next school, Rahel is expelled for smoking. The last school expels her for setting fire to her Housemistress's wig. These incidents lead her teachers to say this about Rahel:

"It was, they whispered to each other, as though she didn't know how to be a girl" (p. 18).

Another clue to Estha and Rahel's behavior comes on page 7. The children attend a funeral, where they and their mother Ammu are ostracized and have to stand apart from the rest of the family. This incident takes place in another flashback, when Estha and Rahel are seven years old.

What happened to Estha and Rahel to ruin their lives? Why are they incapable of forming intimate relationships or finding fulfilling work? Have they made a conscious effort to refuse their gender roles, or is that just a by-product of their overall approach? These are some of the questions we will answer as we explore this complex and challenging book.