Personal Development

Review: Just Tell Me What I Want

Cover of "Just Tell Me What I Want," featuring the title in a dark gray box on a background of palm trees and flamingos
Image from Sara Kravitz

Title: Just Tell Me What I Want: How to Find Your Purpose When You Have No Idea What It Is

Author: Sara Kravitz

Genre: Personal Development

Trigger Warnings: Gendered language, Christianity

Back Cover:

This book is for anyone who has ever been told to “follow their bliss” and then immediately wanted to punch that person in the face. Maybe you feel like you should have things figured out by now. Maybe you think things should be better, but you don’t know how to get started. Maybe you would love to work really hard toward something, but aren’t totally sure what that something is.

What if there was actually a way to get you pointed in the right direction? And what if it didn’t involve someone telling you to “follow your bliss”?

This book will:

  • give you concrete tools to figure out what you want
  • help you take steps toward a life that you actually want to be yours
  • help you understand that everyone feels this way at some point, but you don’t have to feel this way forever
  • not tell you to follow your bliss

Change can be scary. Change can feel risky. But taking a chance is always worth it. This book will help you take the right steps for you to figure out what you want.

Review:

This is going to be a short review, because this is a pretty short book.

I found a free copy somewhere, picked it up because I was bored at work, and was honestly unimpressed with chapter one. It was boring and unspectacular, and I almost stopped reading.

But I’m glad I continued, because the rest of the book was pretty good.

Let’s be clear – it doesn’t exactly tell you how to figure out what you want. But it does give you some techniques for figuring out what you don’t want, which is a step in the right direction. It talks a lot about feeling out what’s not right for you and understanding that you have options, which is a great thing to talk about. And it’s also pretty inspiring.

There were a couple things that bothered me about it, though. One was that there was a surprising amount of swearing. Most of the time swearing doesn’t bother me, but in this case it didn’t fit with the tone at all and I think it would have read better if there wasn’t swearing. The other thing that bothered me was a few mentions of God in a Christian context. This may not bother everyone, but I wasn’t expecting it and I wasn’t a fan.

I want to say more about it, but there’s not much more to say. It was good. It had some good tips. There also wasn’t a lot that I hadn’t already heard before. It was a lot better than I expected, but still not fantastic.

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Current Issues/Society

Review: Bobos in Paradise

Cover of "Bobos in Paradise," featuring a long-haired woman holding a coffee cup and sitting next to a laptop and a man in a suit holding a gardening trowel surrounded by trees and large flowers
Image from Goodreads

Title: Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There

Author: David Brooks

Genre: Current Issues/Society

Trigger Warnings: None

Back Cover:

Do you believe that spending $15,000 on a media center is vulgar, but that spending $15,000 on a slate shower stall is a sign that you are at one with the Zenlike rhythms of nature? Do you work for one of those visionary software companies where people come to work wearing hiking boots and glacier glasses, as if a wall of ice were about to come sliding through the parking lot? If so, you might be a Bobo.

In his bestselling work of “comic sociology,” David Brooks coins a new word, Bobo, to describe today’s upper class–those who have wed the bourgeois world of capitalist enterprise to the hippie values of the bohemian counterculture. Their hybrid lifestyle is the atmosphere we breathe, and in this witty and serious look at the cultural consequences of the information age, Brooks has defined a new generation.

Review:

I read this book back in high school – it was one of the texts for my AP Sociology class. And I enjoyed it so much that I kept it after the class was over. Lately I’ve been wanting to reread it, so here we are.

This is mainly a sociological text examining the phenomenon of “bourgeois bohemians.” Brooks calls them “Bobos,” I explain them to people who ask what this book is about as “basically hipsters.” Because that’s pretty much what they are, with their “natural/rustic is better” aesthetic and their love of things that are new but look old and their willingness to pay lots of money for handmade/organic/artisan versions of normally cheap things. Brooks’ name for them comes from the way they developed as a blend of the bourgeois capitalist upper class and the artistic bohemian counterculture.

Brooks and I differ on what we consider “upper class,” though. What Brooks describes as upper class in this book is what I think of as upper middle class. Upper class is, to me, people like Jeff Bezos and the Koch brothers – people who have so much money they can’t think of anything better to do with it than buy politicians or research space travel. Whereas the people who Brooks describes are making $100,000+ per year and have debt from living beyond their means. Which sounds more upper middle class than middle class to me.

I’m also not sure how accurate this book is anymore. It was published in 2000, and while I can still see some of the things Brooks points out (especially in the area of cultural values), some of the things he says don’t seem applicable these days. Notably the chapter on politics – Brooks’ point in that section is that Bobos are more moderate and shy away from any sort of radicalism or anything that’s too ideological or dogmatic. And looking at the current state of American politics and our hyperconservative, highly ideological, highly dogmatic current administration, it’s pretty easy to see that that is not true.

Accurate or not, though, Bobos in Paradise is still a highly interesting (and entertaining) read and gives a glimpse of a lifestyle that seems simultaneously hypocritical and desirable. If you’re looking for insight into today’s world, this might not be the best place for you to go, but if you want to learn about hipsters and where the upper middle class was headed in the early 2000s, this book will be an enjoyable place to get your information.

Dystopian

Review: Fight For You

Cover of "Fight For You," featuring a sunny picture of the Roman Coliseum with a girl holding a sword in one of the archways
Image from Kayla Bain-Vrba

Title: Fight For You

Author: Kayla Bain-Vrba

Genre: Dystopian

Trigger Warnings: Death, blood/violence, sexual assault, whorephobia, sexualization of female characters

Back Cover:

Sold off to pay her father’s debts, Cherry spends her nights dancing and her days longing for freedom. Determined to break free of her life, she transfers from the dance halls to the stadiums, where all the real money is made.

The only problem with her plan is that she’s not a fighter. In order to learn, Cherry approaches Berlin, one of the best fighters in the stadium. Berlin, however, wants nothing to do with her, and Cherry realizes the hardest fights do not take place in the arena …

Review:

I was really excited about this book. It even made my Top 5 Want to Reads for this year. I guess the joke’s on me for getting so excited about the concept and not reading the reviews. This is the most disappointing book I’ve read this year.

So you know how based on the back cover, it seems like a lot of the story is going to be about Cherry convincing Berlin to teach her to fight? Yeah, Berlin agrees to train her on page 2. Right after their first kiss. Berlin gives Cherry an aggressive kiss after tackling her as a “show of dominance.”

Which leads me to my next problem with this book – Cherry and Berlin are both overly sexualized. At once point, Cherry says “I want people to see me as more than tits and ass,” and yet the author describes both girls mostly in terms of tits, ass, and how horny they make each other. There’s a lot of nudity. There’s a lot of random nipple sucking. There’s a lot of sexual situations that don’t fit the fact that these girls hardly know each other. And most of it reads like amateur erotica.

I don’t want to be That FeministTM, but this novella reads like it is by and for the male gaze. Cherry and Berlin are described in terms of sex appeal, their relationship develops through mutual horniness, and the level of physical intimacy they have as strangers is straight out of a random encounters erotica story. If there had been actual on-page sex when the girls had sex, I would call this amateur erotica with a veneer of gladiators slapped on top.

The pacing was also very bad. It moved much too fast and didn’t focus enough on anything to give either of the girls real emotions. The conflicts between Berlin and Cherry feel contrived and both girls get over them within a few paragraphs with no emotional growth shown, and you get no sense of the world (other than this is some sort of dystopian society where people or their family members are sold to work in The Zone if they can’t pay their debts).

A short list of other problems that I want to mention but not spend an entire paragraph on:

  • Both girls act like sex work is awful/shameful/makes you less of a person.
  • Two unnecessary sexual assault scenes.
  • It’s not really clear how one actually makes money off the fights. Maybe betting on them?
  • It’s mentioned offhandedly that the fights are mostly about the sex appeal – which is just, what???
  • The line “You’re going to be turned on when you’re fighting.”

This could have easily been expanded into a novel – and I think with time to flesh out the world and the characters of Cherry and Berlin, this could have been at least good. Berlin has an interesting past, and Cherry at least has some family history that could have been explored. The world could have been interesting. And I still love stories about fighting in arenas for money. I’m mostly upset about this novella because it could have been good, and I wanted it to be – it just wasn’t.

High Fantasy

Review: The Golden Yarn

Cover of "The Golden Yarn," featuring a golden tree branch that forms the silhouette of a face on a blue background
Image from Cornelia Funke

Title: The Golden Yarn

Series: Mirrorworld #3

Author: Cornelia Funke

Genre: High Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Death, blood, sex mentions, mild body horror

Spoiler Warning: This book is third in a series, so this review may contain spoilers of the previous books.

Back Cover:

Jacob Reckless continues to travel the portal in his father’s abandoned study. His name has continued to be famous on the other side of the mirror, as a finder of enchanted items and buried secrets. His family and friends, from his brother, Will to the shape-shifting vixen, Fox, are on a collision course as the two worlds become connected. Who is driving these two worlds together, and why is he always a step ahead?

This new force isn’t limiting its influence to just Jacob’s efforts – it has broadened the horizon within MirrorWorld. Jacob, Will and Fox travel east and into the Russian folklore, to the land of the Baba Yaga, pursued by a new type of being that knows our world all too well.

Review:

This is a book best read in quick succession with Reckless and Fearless, because it picks up right after Fearless leaves off and it does a disservice to this book to be trying to piece together things you don’t remember while reading it. Although it has been five years since I read Fearless, so it’s probably my own fault for not rereading the first two books before this one.

And since it’s been five years, I can’t really compare the characters to how they were in the previous books. And The Golden Yarn follows a LOT of them. Jacob and Fox, Nerron the Goyl treasure hunter, Will, the antagonist, the Dark Fairy, Kami’en the Goyl king, Jacob’s father …. There’s a lot of storylines woven through this book. (This is a book best read without distractions, otherwise it’s easy to get confused.)

The only characters I’m really going to touch on are Jacob and Fox, since they are the main protagonists and the bulk of the story focuses on them. And most of the other characters’ stories were more about plot than character, anyway.

Jacob’s theme for this book was “love.” His love for Will (and his desire to protect him) drove most of his actions, and his love for Fox drove most of his emotional arc. You still get some of his awesome treasure hunter-ness, but not as much. Fox took a bit of a back seat and ended up caught in a love triangle (which didn’t annoy me like love triangles usually do, but still).

The characters (even the minor ones) are all solid, but you really read a Mirrorworld book for the world – and the plot, which often ties in with the world. The world is enchanting and vivid and woven full of myths and magic. You get a lot in the previous books, but you get even more in this one – the characters cross multiple countries and the diversity of the magic and legends reflects that.

I want to say so much more about this book, but I don’t want to give any spoilers. This entire book is amazing. All of the subplots are fascinating and engrossing, the world is wonderful … it’s everything you want out of a Mirrorworld book. And I haven’t found anything about a sequel, but the ending of The Golden Yarn is too open-ended for this to be the last book. And besides, I want more.

The Mirrorworld series:

  1. Reckless
  2. Fearless
  3. The Golden Yarn
Women's Issues/Feminism

Review: Loving to Survive

Cover of "Loving to Survive," featuring red text on a tan and white background
Image from Thrift Books

Title: Loving to Survive: Sexual Terror, Men’s Violence, and Women’s Lives

Author: Dee L.R. Graham

Genre: Women’s Issues/Feminism

Trigger Warnings: Discussion of rape, incest, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and abuse

Back Cover:

The authors of this book take Stockholm Syndrome as their starting point to develop a new way of looking at male-female relationships. “Loving to Survive” considers men’s violence against women as crucial to understanding women’s current psychology. Men’s violence creates ever-present, and therefore often unrecognized, terror in women. This terror is often experienced as a fear for any woman of rape by any man or as a fear of making any man angry. They propose that women’s current psychology is actually a psychology of women under conditions of captivity, that is, under conditions of terror caused by male violence against women. Therefore, women’s responses to men, and to male violence, resemble hostages’ responses to captors.

“Loving to Survive” explores women’s bonding to men as it relates to men’s violence against women. It proposes that, like hostages who work to placate their captors lest they kill them, women work to please men, and from this springs women’s femininity. Femininity describes a set of behaviors that please men because they communicate a woman’s acceptance of her subordinate status. Thus, feminine behaviors are, in essence, survival strategies. Like hostages who bond to their captors, women bond to men in an effort to survive.

This is a book that will forever change the way we look at male-female relationships and women’s lives.

Review:

This was an interesting book.

Right off the bat I was skeptical of the concept – that because of male violence, all women have Stockholm Syndrome (a phenomenon called “Societal Stockholm Syndrome” in the book) and women’s relationships with men are filtered through that lens. (There was also an implication that heterosexual women are only heterosexual because of Stockholm Syndrome, which was just plain weird to me.) But I decided to give it a chance.

The book started with a discussion of Stockholm Syndrome. It went over in detail the Swedish bank robbery that the syndrome got its name from, which was actually a fascinating read, and covered the conditions necessary for it to develop. Then it moved into examining the situation of women in (modern American) society and matching that up with the conditions for Stockholm Syndrome to develop.

Some of the points made sense – like that women have no way to “escape” from men or be completely positive that they will not be victims of male violence. Others – like the idea that the only perspectives women have access to are male perspectives – seemed like a bit of a stretch. Dee had some good ideas and gave a solid explanation of many aspects of patriarchy, but ultimately, I was unconvinced. It’s definitely a theory worth exploring, but in my opinion, there just isn’t enough solid evidence to call it a fact.

The last chapter, though, was worth the entire read. It covers ways women have and can resist the patriarchy and is full of practical, actionable things you can do to work on de-Stockholm-Syndrome-ing yourself. I’m not a woman, but I definitely plan to use some of those suggestions.

And speaking of that – I am not a woman (I’m agender), and I also don’t have a lot of experience with male violence, so I didn’t find this book all that relatable. Women and those who have experienced a lot of male violence will probably see themselves more in these pages. This book also doesn’t even touch on trans or nonbinary issues – it is 100% about cis women and cis men.

Overall, though it lacked enough evidence to convince me, Loving to Survive presented some good ideas, made some solid points, and gave an excellent discussion of the violence aspect of the patriarchy. And if nothing else, it’s a fascinating read.

Technology

Review: Code

Cover of Code, featuring a white background with the title in red letters; underneath the letters is each letter in braille and binary code.
Image from Charles Petzold

Title: Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software

Author: Charles Petzold

Genre: Technology

Trigger Warnings: None

Back Cover:

What do flashlights, the British invasion, black cats, and seesaws have to do with computers? In CODE, they show us the ingenious ways we manipulate language and invent new means of communicating with each other. And through CODE, we see how this ingenuity and our very human compulsion to communicate have driven the technological innovations of the past two centuries.

Using everyday objects and familiar language systems such as Braille and Morse code, author Charles Petzold weaves an illuminating narrative for anyone who’s ever wondered about the secret inner life of computers and other smart machines.

It’s a cleverly illustrated and eminently comprehensible story—and along the way, you’ll discover you’ve gained a real context for understanding today’s world of PCs, digital media, and the Internet. No matter what your level of technical savvy, CODE will charm you—and perhaps even awaken the technophile within.

Review:

This is not the kind of book I would normally read. But I found a free PDF of it somewhere online, put it in Evernote to read someday, and started it because I’m at my new job for 5 hours every day and I have about 1.5 hours of work per day.

Code is an interesting book. It takes you through the technology from the telegraph to the computer, and explains a lot of concepts in the meantime. Reading it was the first time I felt like I actually understood Boolean algebra or non-base-10 numbering systems like base-8, base-12, and even binary (base-2).

On the other hand, computers are complicated. I’ll admit that the part where he explained how computers use circuits to store information and read it back out went way over my head. If you don’t have an extremely mathematical, mechanical, or engineering mind, it might not be a bad idea to have an engineer or computer expert on hand to explain some of this stuff to you.

This book is a little outdated – copyrighted in 2000 – and doesn’t cover a lot of newer technological advances like smartphones or even the video capabilities of computers. (Towards the end, Charles mentions that videos displayed on computers are poor quality and jumpy.) It’s a good book to understand how computers exist, how coding works, and the way electrical currents can store things as complicated as text and images, but you’re not going to get anything about the sheer power of modern computing.

This is a short review because I really don’t have a lot to say about this book. It was interesting. I learned a lot. Some of it was complicated and I really didn’t understand, even though Charles did his best to put it in simple English. Code was interesting and useful, but there wasn’t anything really spectacular about it.

Personal Development

Review: Braving the Wilderness

Cover of "Braving the Wilderness," featuring a few pine trees in front of a light blue sky
Image from Brené Brown

Title: Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone

Author: Brené Brown

Genre: Personal Development

Trigger Warnings: Fatphobia (mention)

Back Cover:

“True belonging doesn’t require us to change who we are. It requires us to be who we are.” Social scientist Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW, has sparked a global conversation about the experiences that bring meaning to our lives—experiences of courage, vulnerability, love, belonging, shame, and empathy. In Braving the Wilderness, Brown redefines what it means to truly belong in an age of increased polarization. With her trademark mix of research, storytelling, and honesty, Brown will again change the cultural conversation while mapping a clear path to true belonging.

Brown argues that we’re experiencing a spiritual crisis of disconnection, and introduces four practices of true belonging that challenge everything we believe about ourselves and each other. She writes, “True belonging requires us to believe in and belong to ourselves so fully that we can find sacredness both in being a part of something and in standing alone when necessary. But in a culture that’s rife with perfectionism and pleasing, and with the erosion of civility, it’s easy to stay quiet, hide in our ideological bunkers, or fit in rather than show up as our true selves and brave the wilderness of uncertainty and criticism. But true belonging is not something we negotiate or accomplish with others; it’s a daily practice that demands integrity and authenticity. It’s a personal commitment that we carry in our hearts.” Brown offers us the clarity and courage we need to find our way back to ourselves and to each other. And that path cuts right through the wilderness. Brown writes, “The wilderness is an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching. It is a place as dangerous as it is breathtaking, a place as sought after as it is feared. But it turns out to be the place of true belonging, and it’s the bravest and most sacred place you will ever stand.”

Review:

I am a huge fan of Brené Brown, so much so that this book make my top 5 anticipated reads of 2018. I was especially excited because it talks about belonging, which – as someone who feels like the misfit in most situations – promised to be really helpful for me.

And overall, this was a solid book. I just had one major issue with chapter four, which made me put down the book for a little bit – but I’ll get to that.

Brené starts by talking about disconnection, how it’s a basic human need and modern society is very disconnected. She also talks about the “wilderness,” which is basically her conception of a place where you’re authentically yourself and radically vulnerable and open to connection with others. Then she goes into four steps her research has found to move towards that wilderness:

  1. People are hard to hate up close. Move in.
  2. Speak truth to bullshit. Be civil.
  3. Hold hands. With strangers.
  4. Strong back. Soft front. Wild heart.

Chapter four was the first step: “People are hard to hate up close. Move in.” And I agree with her idea here, which is that if you make the effort to truly understand where people are coming from and what they believe, it’s hard to hate them. My problem was that she brought politics into it, and she’s definitely coming from a white moderate, “let’s all be friends” view. Which, on one hand, I understand. If you’re privileged like she is (white, straight, cisgender, rich, Christian), it can be easy to want to get along with everyone because politics doesn’t affect you a lot. But if you’re queer, a person of color, poor, Muslim, or any other variety of minority, politics has the potential to affect you a lot. I’m not trying to say that you shouldn’t bother trying to understand someone with different politics from you, but in the age of neo-Nazis who want people dead for being black, queer, Muslim, etc., safety is more important than understanding. Despite what Brené Brown says, it is not necessary to attempt to understand people who want you dead.

Beyond that one problem, though, I didn’t have issue with the book. Brené goes on to talk about setting boundaries and standing up for yourself while still being vulnerable, avoiding black-and-white thinking and searching for the gray areas, avoiding superficial and negative connections based on mutual dislike, and the power of seeing people in person. There are a lot of good and applicable ideas that inspired me and made me want this “true belonging” that Brené talks about.

This one of those books where I feel like I’ll have to read it a couple times to fully … I don’t want to say fully understand it, because I did understand it, but I guess fully acknowledge and understand how I can apply this to my own life. Even though I definitely disagree with Brené’s politics, I still think this is a very worthwhile book.

Did Not Finish, Fantasy

Review: Otherbound

Cover of "Otherbound," Featuring pink and purple text in front of two faces, mostly in darkness, facing opposite directions
Image from Corinne Duyvis

Title: Otherbound

Author: Corinne Duyvis

Genre: Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Verbal abuse, physical abuse, blood/injury, character death

Back Cover:

Amara is never alone. Not when she’s protecting the cursed princess she unwillingly serves. Not when they’re fleeing across dunes and islands and seas to stay alive. Not when she’s punished, ordered around, or neglected.

She can’t be alone, because a boy from another world experiences all that alongside her, looking through her eyes.

Nolan longs for a life uninterrupted. Every time he blinks, he’s yanked from his Arizona town into Amara’s mind, a world away, which makes even simple things like hobbies and homework impossible. He’s spent years as a powerless observer of Amara’s life. Amara has no idea . . . until he learns to control her, and they communicate for the first time. Amara is terrified. Then, she’s furious.

All Amara and Nolan want is to be free of each other. But Nolan’s breakthrough has dangerous consequences. Now, they’ll have to work together to survive–and discover the truth about their connection.

Read To: Page 268

Review:

I wanted to love this book. I really did. The concept was awesome (person in our world is connected to someone in a fantasy world to the point where he literally sees through her eyes), lots of other people have good things to say about it, and the female lead is bisexual. I got about two thirds of the way through it because I wanted to love it. But I finally realized that I just didn’t care enough to finish it.

My main problem was Nolan. I didn’t like his parts of the story at all. He wasn’t a very active character – everything that happened to him seemed to happen by accident, and when he eventually discovers he can affect something in Amara’s world, he uses that power to have conversations with Amara – and compared to what was happening with Amara, his world was really boring. It was kind of hard to care about Nolan’s relationship with his sister when Amara is running for her life.

I was much more invested in Amara’s story. Amara was a solid character, with a lot of conflicting thoughts and feelings that gave her a lot of depth. She also had a crush on Cilla (the princess), which was a fun subplot and added some more complicated feelings to the mix. Her world was interesting – a pretty basic high fantasy world, but with interesting takes on mages and magic, and her situation was interesting. Difficult and seemingly hopeless, yes, but at least interesting.

Around where I stopped reading, though, even Amara’s world lost the plot a little bit. In the beginning, Amara and Cilla are running from their lives from mages who want to kill Cilla, but the man “protecting” them is also horribly abusive. It’s a life-or-death (or physical pain) high-stakes situation. But it kind of loses that – not that there isn’t danger, but it’s dialed down in exchange for some conspiracies. Which, to be fair, were interesting in their own right, but still felt like a step back from the danger of the previous parts.

If the story had been only about Amara, I might have finished it. Even though it lost the plot a bit, I might have pushed through to see how the conspiracies worked out. But I didn’t have the patience to read through Nolan’s parts, and I didn’t care enough about Amara’s story to push through his for hers.

I wanted to love this book, I really did. It just couldn’t make me care enough.

Jalyn Rants

The Two Types of Queer Books (and Why We Need Both)

There are basically two kinds of queer books:

  1. Books about being queer
  2. Books where being queer isn’t a big deal

(You also sometimes get books that do both.)

Books about being queer are pretty obvious. Books about characters coming to terms with their sexuality. Books about characters discovering their gender identity. Books about coming out. Books about dealing with homophobia or transphobia.

Books where being queer isn’t a big deal, on the other hand, have queer characters, but their gender identity is treated like any other gender, or their queer romance is treated like any straight romance would be. These are books that focus on other things (magic, adventure, school drama) and just happen to have queer characters.

I prefer the second kind. I like my fantasy and my scifi and my superhero books with characters like me – not straight, not cisgender – where the characters can just live and experience the plot and fall in love (or not) without dealing with people hating them for who they are.

But we need both kinds of books. Books about being queer are important. Queer people struggling with homophobia or transphobia or biphobia or aphobia or whatever other prejudice they’re dealing with need to see their stories represented. Heterosexual cisgender people need to see us humanized in stories and have an opportunity to learn (in a way) what it’s like to be on the receiving end of those biases.

But that can’t be the only kind of story we tell. We also need books where being queer isn’t a big deal. I think this quote makes my point best:

“I think there can be a demand for authors from marginalized backgrounds to write difficult, heartrending stories about the challenges of racism, xenophobia, homophobia, ableism, or other oppressions. To write books that “teach” the mainstream about our experience. And we can internalize that demand, as I did. While it’s really important to allow kids of all backgrounds to see their own community’s suffering and resilience reflected in books – it can’t be the only, or the predominant, type of narrative we see out there. I worry about the tendency to demand the performance of pain from marginalized communities for others’ voyeurism. People from marginalized backgrounds have all sorts of stories – and it’s important to make room for that variety. Who is allowed to be happy? Who is allowed to be magical? Who is allowed to be funny? These can be political questions. Joy can be a type of resistance.”

~Sayantani DasGupta

Queer people also need to see ourselves reflected in stories as happy, as magical, as funny, as living our lives and being the heroes without reliving the prejudice and bigotry we face every day. (And for that matter, heterosexual cisgender people need to be able to see us in stories that aren’t “oppression porn” and portray us queer people as characters as vibrant, interesting, and varied and in plots as interesting as straight characters.)

Yes, we need to be able to tell stories about our oppression. But we also need to be able to tell stories about our joy. And personally, those stories – the ones where I see myself reflected in queer characters that are happy and magical and funny – are the ones I really want to read.

Fantasy

Review: Equal Rites

Cover of Equal Rites, featuring a purple wizard hat with light purple designs surrounded by a ring of stars and the female symbol (a circle with a cross sticking out of the bottom)
Image from Terry Pratchett Books

Title: Equal Rites

Series: Discworld #3, Witches #1

Author: Terry Pratchett

Genre: Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Misogyny

Back Cover:

On Discworld, a dying wizard tries to pass on his powers to an eighth son of an eighth son, who is just at that moment being born. The fact that the son is actually a daughter is discovered just a little too late. The town witch insists on turning the baby into a perfectly normal witch, thus mending the magical damage of the wizard’s mistake. But now the young girl will be forced to penetrate the inner sanctum of the Unseen University–and attempt to save the world with one well-placed kick in some enchanted shins!

Review:

This is not technically my first foray into Terry Pratchett’s work, as I read Wintersmith in middle school, but literally the only thing I remember about that book is that the main character’s name was Tiffany, so I count this as my first Discworld experience.

And oh boy was it an adventure.

The two main characters are Esk and Granny Weatherwax. Esk is the girl who accidentally got wizard powers. She’s eight years old in most of the story, but except for a few moments of childish petulance/impulsiveness, she seems a lot older. She’s very intelligent and naturally good at a lot of things (probably the wizard power, but still), and I frequently forgot she was so young. She was the kind of “everybody underestimates me but I still come out on top” character that I love to read about.

Granny Weatherwax is the town witch. She knows a lot of stuff about herbs and magic and such, but her magic is just as much convincing people she’s magical (muttering nonsense “charms” and such) as actually doing magic. She very much has an air of being Too Old For This Nonsense but at the same time an attitude of Everything Will Bend To My Will Or I Will Make It Do So. And she can be very intimidating.

When you write it out, the plot is very simple. Esk gets wizard powers as a baby, Granny Weatherwax tries to turn her into a witch, but when the wizard powers get too much they decide to take her to the wizard school and convince them to take on their first female student so Esk can learn to be a wizard. But it’s the adventures along the way and the fascinating side characters that make it interesting.

For one thing, Esk and Granny Weatherwax keep getting separated. Esk is busy making her own way towards the Unseen University, wizard magic helping her along, and Granny Weatherwax spends a lot of the book annoyedly trying to find her. They both encounter interesting people and have unique takes on everything.

And while I’m on the subject of unique takes – this book has some of the best turns of phrase I’ve ever read. They’re creative ways of describing things and often don’t fit into the magical Discworld at all. Such as “a light that would make Stephen Spielberg reach for his copyright lawyer.” There’s a lot of lines like that, and a lot of really creative descriptions, and it’s overall delightful to read.

In short, I throughly enjoyed this foray into the Discworld, and I intend to return to it again. Maybe not with the next book in the series, since I’ve heard the Discworld books can pretty much be read in any order, but I’m sure my local library will have a few of these books that I could get my hands on.

The Witches Sub-Series:

  1. Equal Rites
  2. Wyrd Sisters
  3. Witches Abroad
  4. Lords and Ladies
  5. Maskerade
  6. The Sea and Little Fishes
  7. Carpe Jugulum

The Discworld Series:

There are over 40 books in this series. Just check out Goodreads’ list.