Books

Book Review: God in Pink by Hasan Namir

Disclaimer: Topics of sexuality, religion, and spoilers for the book is mentioned in this blog post.

A revelatory novel about being queer and Muslim, set in war-torn Iraq in 2003. Ramy is a young gay Iraqi struggling to find a balance between his sexuality, religion, and culture. Ammar is a sheikh whose guidance Ramy seeks, and whose tolerance is tested by his belief in the teachings of the Qur’an. Full of quiet moments of beauty and raw depictions of violence, God in Pink poignantly captures the anguish and the fortitude of Islamic life in Iraq.

With a lot of things going on nowadays in Iraq and surrounding countries, I find myself becoming a little more interested in the lives of a typical Muslim. I understand that being queer and Muslim isn’t exactly “typical” but it was a topic I’m drawn to being queer and somewhat religious myself. Namir takes a very different take on this scenario than from what I expected. This little novel takes on the perspectives of Ramy, a gay man wanting to find a way through being gay in Muslim society, and Sheikh Ammar is a preacher who does not not to even entertain the idea of homosexuality.

Although in his mid-twenties, Ramy seems to me like a young teenager. He is full of passion, extremely rash, idealistic, but also a little hesitant to fully break free. He falls for men somewhat fast and extremely hard. Although he longs for freedom, he sees around him in the closeted gay community full of hypocrisy and tragedy. His family keeps pushing for marriage not just because it’s expected but because on some level, they know Ramy is gay and they want to either help him keep it a secret or to convince themselves that he’s actually straight and not gay. While his whirlwind and bloody romances are expected, what’s not so expected is the supernatural twist Namir puts to this tale.

Sheikh Ammar begins to have hallucinations of a pink cherub, Angel Gabriel, and a woman donned in a Burqa, Abaddon. They act as opposite sides of his conscious. Angel Gabriel is gay and encourages Ammar to accept Ramy in all of his glorious gayness whereas Abaddon points out the Islamic teachings that say otherwise. This supernatural twist was something that seemed almost left field for me. I did not expect it. I can’t say for sure if I like it or not. I feel like I wouldn’t be missing out on much if Ammar’s storyline was cut out completely. I do like the turn Namir takes with Ammar however. In the end, Ammar turns to cross dressing and pretty much renounces his religion completely.

Overall, it seemed a bit of a rollercoaster going from one storyline to another. The moments when they intersected were disappointing. Both main characters had their moments of ridiculousness for me. What disappointed me the most was how little of Ramy’s life after marriage panned out. I’m not disappointed that the marriage happened because it is realistic, I could totally see it happening. But Namir got me invested in Jameela and I felt a twinge of sympathy for her marrying a man who could not love her as fully as a man who was interested in women was.

Somehow though, I liked it. It was quirky and a little fun. It wasn’t as serious as I thought it would be but I think adding the tinge of dreamy-like aspects made it a more enjoyable read.

Books

Book Blogger Hop #21


Book Blogger Hop is a weekly meme run by Coffee Addicted Writer. Every Friday, a question is posted for the book blog community to discuss. This week’s question is…

Name a book that changed your life.

Busting out the big questions. This is a hard one to answer. I think that I’m still trying to find it. I have my favourite books but I’m not sure of their impact on my life. They seemed to be entertaining books rather than books that held a lot of weight.

My first inclination was to think of any self help books I’ve read but none come to my mind. Then I thought of my favourite book, Villette by Charlotte Bronte. I relate a lot to the main character in this book and it made me extremely emotional, however I don’t think I changed any more after reading it. I just really related to the character and it somehow reinforced my pessimistic outlook.

So to have an actual answer, I think the one book that changed my life was probably the very first book that I had ever read out of my own volition, even if I don’t remember what that book could have been. Reading is such a big part of my life, I think my life would be very different if I had never taken up a book that I actually wanted to read and was not forced to read in school. Can you imagine a life without reading? Neither can I.

Books

Book Blogger Hop #20


Book Blogger Hop is a weekly meme run by Coffee Addicted Writer. Every Friday, a question is posted for the book blog community to discuss. This week’s question is…

If you are at a really good point in a book and the phone rings or the door bell rings, do you stop reading or let the phone or door bell go unanswered?

Honestly, I would get up and check them. Mostly because, in my mind, those things don’t happen unless there is something important. Who actually calls people anymore? The only phone calls I get are usually important such as my bank, my doctor, etc. If someone is taking the time to visit my home, I will go look at the door. Nine times out of ten it is usually just a door to door salesperson but I won’t let him in. Now if it was a text message, I will definitely let that go unanswered.

Honestly, it’s rare for me to be so engrossed in a book that way. If it really is that good, I will probably let my brother or parents look at the door or answer my phone instead. Unless they yell for me to do it instead, haha!

Books

Book Review: Vital Signs by Tessa McWatt

After thirty years of marriage, producing three now-grown children, Mike and Anna have settled into entrenched domesticity. She is skillful and poised and still beautiful, an instructor of English at the city college. He is a successful graphic artist on the verge of retirement, his awards and ambitions and accomplishments largely behind him. Though the couple’s erotic life has dimmed somewhat, he still considers her ravishing.

But their apparent balance is thrown asunder when Anna breaks the normal silence of their breakfast table with uncontrollable babble about hummingbirds. After an emergency consultation with a neurologist, they have a diagnosis: confabulation, or the scrambling of time, memories and language due to a dangerous aneurysm in Anna’s brain that could burst at any moment.

Not knowing how much time they have left with the beloved Anna, Mike and the kids rally together to support her through the terror of her disintegrating mind. But the unbearable strain of the situation is worsened by another worry that is haunting Mike: he suspects that his two eldest children, Charlotte and Fred, know of his past infidelity.

Several years ago, Anna and Mike took a trip to Egypt, hoping the shared adventure would thwart their mid-life marriage blues. Instead, the trip deepened the chasm, his sexual jealousy and insecurities swamping her attempts at intimacy. Their estrangement worsened when they returned home to discover that their youngest daughter, Sasha, was in hospital, having overdosed on drugs. Anna was furious with Mike for his cool response at the time, which she interpreted as unfeeling.

Two weeks later Mike began his affair, with a much younger woman dissimilar to Anna in all respects. He persisted in the romance for three years, feeling young and vital and once again in control, at least for a time.

The affair is long over but today, as Anna disappears into a terrifying collapse of time and language, Mike is wracked by his dilemma: should he keep his silence about the affair and spare his family more pain, or should he seize the opportunity to be wholly honest with the woman he loves, possibly in the last days of her life? Perhaps the answer lies in his drawings, the means of communication with which he is most comfortable. Can he codify his emotions into pictures? Can he articulate his love and regret and sorrow to his wife – and to himself – without having to say the heart-rending words out loud?

Narrated by a terrified male protagonist whose deep yearning for forgiveness might only be granted by a woman in the grips of dementia, Tessa McWatt’s Vital Signs is a thought-provoking and mesmerizing literary accomplishment – a compassionate and visceral study of a marriage at the brink of catastrophe.

I received this ARC copy of this book from First Reads back in like 2011 and I am completely glad I did. This book was the first First Reads books that I so desperately and truly wanted to win. I read the summary and immediately felt that this seemed like a book that I would love to pieces. I’m glad that my first instinct wasn’t wrong.

Around four hours ago, I looked into the mail and saw the package waiting for me. Immediately, I took it inside and opened it. Ever since then, I’ve been reading it, taking a few breaks to write down what I thought about it as I read.

The very first few pages were emotional to me, and I knew how much of a ride I was in for. I fell completely in love with McWatt’s writing. Everything was so beautifully written and captured me.

Every single one of the characters were incredibly real. Their feelings were real as well. It was heartbreaking to read but at the same time, some scenes were just so beautiful and touching.

I was incredibly moved by this novel. My only complaint however, are the pictures. I understand that the pictures serve an important part to the story, but they also distracted me from the story. They seemed very abrupt, and I didn’t really like their placement. But, they were very well done. I just wish it didn’t interrupt the flow as much. I did love the very last drawing though. It took me a while to figure out the meaning, but I came to love it.

Vital Signs is definitely a short and bittersweet read. I will have to make sure to buy it once it comes out. Spoiler alert, I eventually did years later under the impression that I never read it in the first place. Interesting how fate works. I re-read it and it was all extremely fresh to me. I am a little hurt that the book didn’t leave an impact that would last over six years. However, I’m glad I got to experience it again with a blank mind with little to no expectations.

Books

Book Blogger Hop #19


Book Blogger Hop is a weekly meme run by Coffee Addicted Writer. Every Friday, a question is posted for the book blog community to discuss. This week’s question is…

How do you organize your blog in terms of what is in your side bar? Do you have categories and defined sections in your side bar?

At the moment, my side bar is laid out by links to my favourite bloggers, categories, monthly archives, and recent comments. I don’t like to clutter my side bar with too much, especially images, so it’s mostly all text. I love minimalist designs.

Books

Book Review: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

To many readers, who have perhaps known Frankenstein only at second hand, the original may well come as a surprise. When Mary Shelley began it, she was only eighteen, though she was already Shelley’s mistress and Byron’s friend. In her preface she explains how she and Shelley spent part of a wet summer with Byron in Switzerland, amusing themselves by reading and writing ghost stories. Her contribution was Frankenstein, a story about a student of natural philosophy who learns the secret of imparting life to a creature constructed from bones he has collected in charnel-houses. The story is not a study of the macabre, as such, but rather a study of how man uses his power, through science, to manipulate and pervert his own destiny, and this makes it a profoundly disturbing book.

Shelley is a lot like her mother. They both love characters who talk and talk and talk.

Honestly, I did not expect most of what happened in this book. Everyone “knows” the Frankenstein story: mad scientist raises the undead in a creepy laboratory in the mountains during a thunderstorm. It usually seems to end there. Some variations, Frankenstein actually makes a “female” version and, usually, the female doesn’t want anything to do with its male counterpart.

However, I learned that Frankenstein is much more than that. It’s a lot more gruesome and morbid than I thought it would be. I wouldn’t really classify it as horrifying in any way. Honestly, I was a bit bored by many parts of it. I sympathized with Frankenstein’s creation when he told his tale but it was still hard for me to picture him as anything but human.

I will say that I enjoyed how Shelley utilized the unreliable narrator. I can’t believe sitting down with someone while they recounted a story as long as this.

Overall, I’m glad I read it and got it out of the way but I didn’t particularly like the book itself. I don’t want to say “it was okay” AKA 2 stars because that implies there was something good about the book. Not to say there’s anything bad but it just wasn’t for me.

Books

Book Blogger Hop #18


Book Blogger Hop is a weekly meme run by Coffee Addicted Writer. Every Friday, a question is posted for the book blog community to discuss. This week’s question is…

If you could have lunch with any living authors and/or book bloggers, who would you choose and why?

Oh man, the living restriction is a tough one. If language wasn’t a barrier, I would definitely have lunch with Haruki Murakami. Although I have mixed feelings on his work, I feel like it would be pretty nice to sit down with him and chat over a cup of tea overlooking Tokyo (I’m assuming he lives in Tokyo) in some little cafe. I’d probably just let him talk about his views on life, his running, his portrayal of women in his novels, and so on.

If language is a barrier, I just might have to sit down and have a chat with Lucy Kinsley. If you are unfamiliar with Lucy, she is an artist with a couple of graphic novels under her belt. I will admit I have a little admiration crush on Lucy. She seems like a fun-loving quirky woman and she would probably know the best hidden place to have lunch at.

Books

Book Review: Nine Island by Jane Alison

Nine Island is an intimate autobiographical novel, told by J, a woman who lives in a glass tower on one of Miami Beach’s lush Venetian Islands. After decades of disaster with men, she is trying to decide whether to withdraw forever from romantic love. Having just returned to Miami from a monthlong reunion with an old flame, “Sir Gold,” and a visit to her fragile mother, J begins translating Ovid’s magical stories about the transformations caused by Eros. “A woman who wants, a man who wants nothing. These two have stalked the world for thousands of years,” she thinks.

When not ruminating over her sexual past and current fantasies, in the company of only her aging cat, J observes the comic, sometimes steamy goings-on among her faded-glamour condo neighbors. One of them, a caring nurse, befriends her, eventually offering the opinion that “if you retire from love… then you retire from life.

I’m a 22 year old who has had thoughts about giving up on love. Of course, this book intrigued me. What would a middle aged woman’s life be like alone and loveless? The protagonist, J, tries to sort out exactly what she wants in life after getting divorced and rekindling an old flame that ultimately went nowhere. At first her cat, mother, and neighbours seem to sustain her. But the past is always creeping up in the back of her mind. When is it okay to give up on love? One of the main characters profoundly remarks, “To retire from love is to retire from life.”

This book has given me a lot of food for thought. I hoped to gain some insights but I don’t feel any less confused or more confused after reading it. There seems to be a lot going towards trying to find love. I expressed my feelings of becoming a cat lady to a friend and she replied with, “But who’s going to take care of you when you’re old? If you die, your cats will just eat you.” She has a point, which Alison also touched on in the book. Most people who have a family are usually taken care of by their children. Sure, I could admit myself to a retirement home if I get that old but maybe it might be different if I had kids.

And as a human being with certain needs and urges, I thought that I could just, you know, take care of myself in that department when I’m older and alone. Alison also addressed this. Ultimately, it really depends if you’re okay with that and if you could sustain yourself that way. I think I could get by.

Of course, there’s also the loneliness factor. J focuses greatly on her work translating Ovid and her little side project of trying to save a duck. Her hobbies are a little off the wall but are they really hobbies or are they just distractions? I myself have a wealth of projects that should keep me busy and content but they don’t always fill as much space as I would like them to sometimes.

Human contact is also a must which J gets no shortage of. Her neighbours, her cat, her past flings, and her mother are all social outlets that she utilizes. I’ve entertained the idea of becoming a complete social recluse but I know that would not go out well. As much of an introvert that I (think I) am, I do enjoy being around people. I feel more human that way.

With all these thoughts swirling in my mind I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the arguments made in the book. There is really no hard conclusion that J comes to at the end. Maybe she’ll stumble into love one day, maybe not. At the moment, she seems pretty okay with where her life is. So is the moral of the story to just go with the flow and take opportunities where they crop up? I’m not sure.

While I did focus a little too much on the content, it’s not hard to notice that Alison’s writing is absolutely dreamy. Her words float around you and bite at you with clever quips and wise insights. Her characters are all a little quirky and feel almost not real but it’s not hard to believe people like these exist. I wish I could have slowed down a little bit more to absorb how well written this book was but I was too engrossed in the story.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. I ate it up in two days after a reading dry spell. God, who knew Jane Austen could be so boring sometimes (I was in the process of reading Northanger Abbey at the time)? So this little novel was a good change of pace.

Books

Book Blogger Hop #17


Book Blogger Hop is a weekly meme run by Coffee Addicted Writer. Every Friday, a question is posted for the book blog community to discuss. This week’s question is…

Do your bookshelves have books ONLY or do you also have bookish items on the shelves?

I have books, bookish items, and non-bookish items on my shelves. Actually my shelves are in a pretty sorry state. There is a lot of clutter on them and they’re usually my go to place to put things when I have no idea where to put them. If I wasn’t ashamed I would post a picture of my shelves but no one needs to see that!

Ideally, my shelves would only contain books. I’m not quite so sure about bookish things. I guess a handful of bookmarks would be appropriate on shelves. I want to cut down on my figurines and memorabilia so I am hesitating on putting book related objects like those on my shelves.

Books

Book Blogger Hop #15


Book Blogger Hop is a weekly meme run by Coffee Addicted Writer. Every Friday, a question is posted for the book blog community to discuss. This week’s question is…

When you feature a book in your posts, do you include a book cover?

I definitely try my best to do so. It seems a little weird to write a blog post about a book without featuring the cover. I know most people like visuals when they look at a post and feel more enticed to read it. They also say, “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover” but more often than not, I’m sure many people do (I am one of them!) and decide to pass on posts depending on what kind of book they think it is about just from the cover. This might have the opposite effect from what a blogger may want but it just seems to be the standard!