I Am Nujood, Age 10 & Divorced

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Have you ever sat down to take a shit you shouldn’t have committed yourself to?

That about sums up what was wrong with this book. It was simply written too soon.

Nujood’s story calls attention to a severe and important issue. This is a ten year old girl with a consummated marriage. Obviously against her will with a father who has no idea or care what it’s like to be a 10 year old female being sold to a stranger because her father was down on his luck. The mother is…bummed? That’s the best way to describe the feelings she had as I understood them, but then again I’m not a mother from Yemen who has too many children (dead and alive) and absolutely no control once the ‘man of the house’ has made a decision. I’m going to do my best to assume that bummed is the most she can let herself feel and still be able to cook the meals every day.

Not to make light of the issue, but if you can read the title of the book you can pretty much assume the rest of the story. The girl got her divorce, took her new found fame and went right back to the family that seemingly cared so little about her future. Not really a surprise. She’s 10.

My hypothesis that the book was written entirely too soon is based on the fact that most of the time it’s like a 40 year old schoolmarm is trying to interpret the feelings of a preteen who faces incredibly adult situations and then put them down into words. I live with two 10 year old’s and I will openly admit that I could never regurgitate their feelings in written word and carry the voice of their age. I also wouldn’t try. This is such an incredibly serious subject and reading it in an adults voice that is failing to mimic a child takes so much away from it. When I read Princess by Jean Sasson in high school it was my introduction to the plight of the female side of humanity in the Middle East and while I feel that book is still relevant I also felt that Nujood’s horrific tale would be able to show the teens and young adults of now what their lives aren’t and why they are lucky and why they have to pay attention to the ‘other side’ of the world.
If I were 15 year old me and sat down with this book…I honestly still wouldn’t give two shits. It was dumbed down and sugar coated (as much as it could be) and in the end there was almost a feeling of “Eh…coulda’ been worse…”
I know, it makes me sound like an awful person, but I felt as if a lot of detail was held back from the reader.
There’s this great amount of help that Nujood received in getting her divorce. I’ll admit that I was genuinely surprised at that. There are two judges that immediately take care of Nujood when they hear her story and a women’s rights activist that Nujood worships even though it seems all she does is run around while using a cell phone and praising Nujood. This little girl deserves praise! But if you’re going to write  a fucking book give me some details! Who was this damn woman always on the phone with!? Why were these judges so much more progressive than Nujood’s father or uncles or brothers? Tell me, the silly American with no trust in your country’s ability to truly take care of its own people (since you’re still marrying 10 year old’s off to men three times their age), what processes got you to a point of caring about these types of situations.
Had they waited until Nujood was 16 or 17 and more able to express herself like an adult maybe it would have made more of an impression on me. Though I don’t think I’ll be handing the book over to my nephews either. It’s too adult for them, but entirely too young for me.
This book reminds me of missed opportunities to effect change. Nujood got what she needed, for now, and her story did help other little girls escape their filthy, small, and disgusting husbands, but sadly I’m afraid Nujood will soon be forgotten in the minds of those reading her story now which subsequently means we’ll have to be reminded again someday.
And that 10 year old girl…our ‘reminder’…she is the one this book has failed the most.
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Caucasia by Danzy Senna

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I spent most of the time I read this book thinking about it in terms of this, what I would say about it when I was done. I’m apparently known to be a grammar Nazi, but I didn’t spend my time reading this book  looking for editorial mistakes. Hell, I didn’t even look for holes in the plot. I was engrossed in this book for the last week. It’s one of those that you put down and think about it frequently until you can pick it up again. I kept Brakk updated on the plot and twists, though my method of communication was usually me reading quietly and then suddenly looking at him and saying things like “I don’t think the Feds are really after them…” and then either go on a diatribe as to how I was correct in my hypothesis or just drop my nose directly between the pages again.

I found this novel over the summer. I was fairly broke at the time and had just learned of what I personally think is one of the coolest things I’ve ever been able to go to. Share Faire’s are pretty much the shit. If you don’t know what it is, this is a picnic of fucking awesome. You have shit you don’t want anymore. It’s not broken, or at least whatever it is it isn’t trash. Pretty much anything you can think of that’s cluttering your house, but some other person may actually need. At the time  I went to the one of these events in Friendship Park  I was in pretty desperate need for clothing. Between another bad ass night when I was able to pick through clothes in the back room of a local bar that holds a seasonal clothing swap and this experience, I have been able to have clothes that actually fit me. They make me feel good, and for the first time in my life, I actually feel a little creative in my own personal style. If you want to see this awesome shit in action click here.

I picked up a ton of books that afternoon. I put them on my shelf and then got caught up in summer and didn’t read much except for a sociology textbook I got into for a bit. When I did feel the urge to read this particular title would jump out at me, but I would pick it up, read the synopsis, decide there was no way I could feel a connection with that plot and put it back on the shelf.

If I’m going to be honest, I can’t remember if I started reading Caucasia before or after I started this blog. However, directly after I wrote the first entry I remembered that there was a time when I didn’t read the synopsis of  a book. If I liked the author, I’d give it a chance. If I liked the cover, it would go in the cart. I would simply stay within my comfort genres and that was that. I’ve opened my mind to more genres over the last few years, and somewhere along the way started reading the backs of books again. Last Saturday, I decided to go back.

Don’t keep reading if you have been brainwashed by my awesomeness and would like to also start judging books by their covers because I’m going to outline the story now:

On the surface, in the synopsis, I have very little to connect with in this story.It’s set in the mid 1970’s to the early 1980’s and tells the story of a girl who has a black father and a white mother. She lives in Boston and her mother is a little of the fucking cray side, but only sometimes and she never really hurts anyone, she just loses her shit from time to time. One of the sisters is darker skinned than the other. These two  have bad ass sisterly bond, complete with their own made up language (which if I were to judge the author, I think she could have come up with something better to name it). It’s a coming of age story, so eventually there is a gradual separation of this sisterhood as the older child enters her pre and early teens. But this is bond is important, and essentially drives the rest of the book.

This story isn’t just about being a child of a biracial couple and how that would have been fucking tough in the times these kids are being raised. It’s obviously a huge line of the plot of the story, but this book is also about what a child would go through if her parents were revolutionaries, maybe. How her mother may be crazy, well, no she is crazy but everyone is just trying to figure out to what degree. The author tells us a story, as well, of a girl who is posing as white, and how in the late 70’s and early 80’s it would really suck if your life depended on you keeping your mouth shut when someone uses the word nigger and later kike, at times with a disgust so thick that it would manifest in violent ways. Suck is an understatement. That’s fucking torture. All the while it seemed that no one comforted this child. I really don’t want to give too many spoilers, just in case even one person wants to read this book when I am done, but a lot of crazy shit happens to this girl. The book opens when the main character is roughly 8 years old and goes on until she is in her teens.

The more I read, the deeper into the tale I got, I realized there was quite a bit I identified with. You can tell that somewhere in her life the author had a mother very similar to my own. She writes about the character being taught that books can be stolen, but never defaced. She actually uses the line that books are sacred. It was up until recently that I was the exact same way. No longer. I have a good friend, my best friend, who has taught me that books become a part of you if you treat them like you are actually interested in them. She writes in her books, underlines shit she likes or doesn’t. I can’t be sure, but I think if you look she most likely has arguments against theories she disagrees with written in quick, almost illegible, dark ink in the margins of her books. I let a bit of my friend come out of me while reading this book, not giving a shit about the spine or if the pages got a little bent. Caring only about connecting with the book in every way I possibly could.

One of my favorite parts of the book, and maybe the part I’ll remember most years from now, is in the last half. The character is older now and creeping closer to the edge of teen angst. Another obvious connection we had.  I was in the basement of my work, smoking a cigarette and reading as fast as I could during my 10 minutes. I turned a page to see my one of my all time favorite books, Ethan Frome, mentioned. It wasn’t just mentioned, it was actually being read by someone in the book. One line of dialogue and suddenly I knew this book would be with me forever. The same friend who has taught me that reading a book without kid gloves doesn’t mean you don’t love it, has also opened my eyes to how awesome, amazing, breathtaking even, it can be when a friend or even a stranger, and apparently a fictional character, have read one of your most loved books. I loved this character significantly more at this point.

I could also identify with her lack of being able to really call a place home. She talks about having left some place once and that when you try to go back that place is different and how you subsequently search the rest of your life for something you aren’t ever going to be able to find. The characters life is much more extreme than mine, but I spent years of my life traveling the same 500 mile stretch leaving Illinois or leaving Pennsylvania. They always changed and I never felt like I was going back. Only that I was leaving.

I was impressed with Senna’s ability to show the change in age of her character through her writing. The character thought like an 8 year old when she was eight, but also like a 15 year old when she was 15. I’ve found that oftentimes the characters voice stays the same in other coming of age books, always seeming adult, like someone looking back. Senna did something different here and I really appreciate it.

Lately I’ve been feeling extremely alone when it comes to family. Not my “Pittsburgh Family” the wonderful hodgepodge of friends that I’ve made in the last year or so. My ‘born with’ family. I’ve felt isolated and like no one I know here can truly understand how I feel because they don’t know said family. That was the part of this book I identified with the most, and needed even more. This girl is on the run, she has a secret that she can’t tell anyone and it affects every single part of her life. She didn’t do anything, she is a child. However, she is also the product of someone who did do something, and the fact that none of this is fair never comes into play. I felt sorry for her because I so often feel sorry for myself. I feel as if I have been left to deal with the emotional fall out of things that those older than me in my family have somehow come to terms with already. It’s as if the problem is done for them and so they don’t have to worry about it anymore, never really understanding that I feel like I’m standing alone in the midst of a nuclear winter. Towards the end of the book I found myself wanting to scream at the adults, tell them to stop being insane and just tell this girl “Well, fuck, we’re real sorry that we didn’t think about you even a little bit while we were completely fucking you emotionally. Let’s go have ice cream and then come out of hiding and we’ll stop expecting you to be a normal girl now because we realize we’re lucky you haven’t committed matricide yet.”

That never happens for this girl and it isn’t going to happen for me either. It’s not a problem, it’s a fact of life. Sometimes the adults are stupid, sometimes what they fuck up hurts you forever, sometimes you have to take things into your own hands, and sometimes you just have to leave. I think by the end of this book both the main character and I had learned the same lesson. Sadly, I’m 28 and real and she’s 15 and fictional. Either way- lesson learned.

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The Tudors and The Ice Dragon

This is a blog posing as a place for book reviews. I think instead it will be a blog that will tell about books, and little stories of my life, because that is significantly easier than telling whether in my opinion a book was well written, or what characters I liked or disliked and following up with reasons why.

Books make me happy. Books make my friends happy, they make my fiance happy, and they teach us lots and lots of stuff. When I was blogging all the time before, I would read posts about how the reader connected with some characters and how the editing was awful. The cover art is gorgeous, but the author needs a thesaurus.

I also would write posts like that, but somehow felt that they just didn’t come easily and eventually I was too stressed to want to discuss books online. But it’s fun, and I have always loved the conversations about books and reading that I’ve had with people in person or via the internet.

That’s where the book really gets you sometimes. Not in the reading of it itself, but in the passing it along to others.

So I’m going to move forward with this, another first post amongst 1 million first posts, and show you exactly what I’m talking about.

It took me over a year to read The Tudors by G.J. Meyer (which is SUPER hard to say out loud. Try it. G.J. it’s weird.) Part of the reason it took so long is that the book happens to be 576 pages. It’s not a horribly dry book and for non-fiction I found it fairly easy to read. I think the hardest part was keeping names straight, but this isn’t my first foray into Tudor history, so many of those names are familiar to me. However, it’s not really a fast paced page turner. There wasn’t a lot of suspense for me. Again, not my first dabble in the history of, well…90% of the people in this book. There were times when I would find out something completely new to me, and that was a nice surprise. Learning is fun and all that. Often I found myself frustrated when I ran into new information, mostly because it wasn’t about main players and therefore I’d get about 2 lines of information. Just enough to pique my interest and the author would move on. There are many notes in my note book that start out

Learn More About:

The notebook. That’s the other reason this book took a century to read. I’m a note taker. I can’t help myself. Sometimes if I’m reading non fiction (like the occasional fun textbook, or because of all the foreign-to-Sharyla names, Zealot) I can’t really read the book without taking notes. Here is a picture of how my book and notebook look together (they match because I take nerd to that level bitches)

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Last January I bought both of those for myself at the tiny and confusing Barnes & Noble on the Duquesne campus. This touts itself as a Barnes & Noble by having a large sign that I swear to god reads “Barnes & Noble”, and I’m sure that everyone else who frequents book stores in Pittsburgh knows it to be a lie. I was new. I had no idea. This is more of a Starbucks and college paraphernalia store (and not the fun kind) with 30 or so books that someone not in college might want to read. There was a downstairs I think. I don’t think it had books.  I remember that trip as being one of the biggest let downs of my new life in the city. I was so broke, I had gone from being able to drop 50 bucks on books essentially  any ol’ time I wanted, to going to the public library. I support the public library, but no matter how responsible I try to be, I fail at actually returning the books. All I wanted was to take my parents money, in the form of a shiny gift card and spend hours walking around looking and smelling and touching (and that’s when the term bibliophile actually becomes creepy.)

My experience in the store took all of 30 minutes.

But I bought The Tudors, and I was happy with my purchase. I actually have a few fond memories that the book plays a part in, my favorite being the first time Brakk displayed a love of something I was just…doing.

I was sitting on my couch waiting for him to come over and he came in to find me hunched over my maroon notebook. He smiles and says “Are you taking notes?” I said yes and he told me I was adorable. He does this all the time, but it was my first venture into being loved for the way that I am. For the right reasons.

I’m glad it took me a year. I’m glad I’ve had the weight of this almost 600 page book along side through a good portion of firsts that happened for me in 2013.

Here are some pictures of my notes…because I swear I will never read them again, and so I felt someone should look at them.

My ‘notes’ are sometimes entire passages of the book copied verbatim, sometimes they are topics for future learning, sometimes there are simply lines that I thought were well written or that I identified with, and a lot of the time it’s me trying to interpret the information I’m receiving and immediately put into my own words so that I can ensure that I have actually learned something.

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The Ice Dragon by Oliver Postgate & Peter Firmin has the copyright date of 1968. When I picked it up originally, I thought it looked like something my Mom would have read to me when I was a kid, and I thought Brakk would like it too. We found it at a grade school library sale during some Catholic school carnival. We didn’t go on our own, that’s even a little too creepy for me, but our best friend and nephews were getting out of the house on a weekend night, and we decided to tag along. Incidentally we had a lot of fun. There were stupid rides, really easy games (where I won Brakk a poster of Taylor Swift), a beer ‘garden’, and even live music that was bad, but not awful. The library sale was the best of course. They had a system where you bought a certain height (by inches) amount of media (there were books, records, VHS tapes, we even got a copy of Risk for the PC, which I thought was bad ass) and I think we spent a whole five dollars. We were stoked.

Photos of the book because that’s fun for me:

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If you didn’t know, Brakk and I are often the cutest couple that has ever existed. I bought the book to read to him before bed. We do that. It’s adorable. I promise.

Brakk loved it. It’s come up in conversation quite a few times, and I’m sure we’ll be reading it again soon. I don’t know if this is book is going to be hugely available, but if it is I’d grab a copy if I were you. It’s really fun to be a kid again via a book. How many adults watch movies like Despicable Me and Toy Story. Trust me, if you sit back and read a kids book, not one that you’ve read a million times in your childhood, but something new, you’ll find that it’s even better. It also takes less time. Put one next to the shitter and have a blast.

It’s a story about some little viking dudes, who are all around pretty cool guys. They go on a mission to kill a dragon and everything turns out great in the end. It’s exactly what you want when you’re a kid. It was fairly funny, and the art is just…fun.

Originally the book cost 50 cents, and we already know I didn’t pay much more, and it quickly became invaluable. It took me right back to being five years old and the type of  books my mom got for me on our trips to the library, and subsequently never returned.

Both of my parents read to me a lot when I was a kid, and when I was an adolescent, and even as an adult my mother and I have sat in my living room to take turns reading a book to each other. This book sent me right back to being a kid, and my Mom’s big red rimmed glasses that I can only assume were out of date, but I loved and still miss. I remembered how she uses her cheeks to push her glasses up her nose, a skill I have to admit I’ve always admired. She loved reading to me and my brother. Riki Tiki Tavi was her favorite, and when I was younger and lived with my dad I would always get a little sad when she would read it to me when I went for my summer visits. I missed the sound of her voice when she was reading. It was a deeper voice than her usual voice. Smoother. I don’t remember my mom ‘doing’ voices of characters, she read a story, she didn’t perform it. And to be honest, I preferred it that way.I like reading to Brakk now because I’ve recently discovered that my voice sounds just like hers when I read. I find it comforting, as if I am closer to that long lost moment where I am little, Mom can fix everything, and it all turns out great in the end.

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