Hey everyone! I’ve been a bit radio silent for the last week and a half, and I imagine it will be going on for about another week or so … it’s moving week so that I will be officially living in the city I’ve been going to school in the last five years. Needless to say, I’m a bit preoccupied for a little while. So keep being awesome everyone and I look forward to being back soon!
One thing that struck me while reading this book was the difficulty I had getting into the story. At first, this confused me as the writing itself was very readable: concise and descriptive, it propelled the reader further and further along. Yet every time I went to pick it up, I found myself incredibly reluctant to read. But why?
I asked myself this for about a week until the answer hit me on the back of the head with the force of a bowling ball. I had trouble reading this book because I couldn’t relate. Not on a mental level, not on an emotional level. I’m neither black, nor from Antigua, nor middle aged nor have children nor are single nor am gay nor struggle with my sexuality. Of course I can’t relate because I have literally next to nothing in common with these characters and their struggles.
And that makes me wonder: how often does this happen? I, a white middle class Canadian, have no problem finding stories that I can relate to, that touch some part of my mind or heart. I can walk into the bookstore or the library, pick a random book up off the shelf and find something of myself in it. It is easy for me to find something that not only speaks to my own hopes and dreams and fears , but is also packaged in that familiar way that only comes with storytelling aimed at a certain demographic.
But what about everyone else? What about their stories? What about their dreams and hopes? What about their fears? And before you give me the “but we’re all human! We’re all really the same underneath” with the implication that we just need to understand the language and can take something valuable out of a story, listen to the words of Lesléa Newman from a post she contributed to the CBC diversity blog:
Growing up in the 1950’s, I had no books that showed a family like mine: a Jewish family celebrating Chanukah and Passover and eating matzo ball soup and challah on Friday nights. After reading book after book about families that decorated Christmas trees and hunted for Easter eggs, I wondered why my family didn’t do those things. Why was my family so different? What was wrong with my family?
Do you hear that? What was wrong with my family? What was WRONG??? No one should have to feel that something is wrong with them just because they can’t hear the stories of their family, of their life and culture and ethnicity. How traumatizing to a child’s psyche! How alienating to all who can’t find their stories in the midst of this world?
There are so many people who have been saying this for years and years yet I’m just beginning to hear this now; most voices and the information they provide is so much more sophisticated that what I can give to you. What can I do to change with my own small contribution, with a small voice I’m only just discovering? I don’t know yet. But this is crucial. And I will help. This is my promise.
I’m going to be posting my thought distillation on reading Considering Venus sometime in the next few days, but for now I’m going to introduce you to the book itself. Since, for once, the book cover actually does an accurate and thorough (without revealing the entirety of the plot line!) job of summarizing the story, I present it here for you:
Two women, one Caribbean and gay, the other a straight African-American, meet again 25 years after leaving high school. Both are at an emotional low point: Lesley has been depressed since her husband’s death and could use a girlfriend. Cass, tired of the singles game, could use a mate.
In Lesley, Cass finds all that she is looking for, but how does she tell the woman who sees her only as a friend? Is it a confession of love or a betrayal of trust?
Without a doubt, this book deals with difficult and controversial subjects. In my opinion, it was dealt with quite tastefully- it really delved into the emotions and effects on life that the complications of sexuality, loneliness, grief, love, joy and hope can have on a person’s life. The book does not look to provide answers, per say, just a snapshot of life as two women know it. The writing was colourful and concise- the characters had much depth and the plot was mentally compelling. And though many of the novel’s ideas were complex it was written so naturally and straightforward that it’s not difficult to follow.
Would I recommend Considering Venus? Absolutely- with the caveat that if you find sensually explicit material something to avoid, you might want to skip this one. I do not recommend giving this book to children or teens under the age of fifteen or so (but that’s my personal opinion). There is no explicit violence or language in this novel that I can recall.
To finish off, here is a short excerpt for your reading pleasure:
“Back up! Back up!” Cass snapped, not hiding her irritation. “We’re going to Antigua. One island! The islands are not contiguous like the United States. I’m not from the islands any more than you’re from North America.”
She was on her soapbox again and Lesley waited for the tirade to peter out. By now she was accustomed to Cass’s Gemini temperament and knew when to take her irritation personally.
“It’s disrespectful,” Cass raged on. “The islands. Talking about people’s countries as if they’re merely some playground. Like Coney island! Or Fantasy Island! Don’t you-all realize that people have real lives down there? It’s not just limbo and coconuts and rum, you know. And, personally, I don’t know one person- not one- who says ‘Yes mon!”
In preparation for the post on Considering Venus I will have later this week, here is the Geography Now! video on Antigua and Barbuda. Enjoy!
The star fell to the ground.
The child wished
a dripping eyes and nose
a crossed fingers and toes
But the child’s sticker was still lost.
Happy Tuesday, dear readers! I might be a strange person, but Tuesday is my second favourite day of the week (after Friday, of course). And it is an especially wonderful Tuesday today, partly because I just had a marvellously relaxing long weekend (happy belated Victoria Day from Canada!), but mostly because I have found one more way of feeding my insatiable desire for knowledge.
First, let me just say this: we all live in a bubble of sorts. This bubble consists of our culture, history, religion and all those other various aspects of life that contribute to our shaping as individuals. If we did not grow up in the same place, with the same people as we did, we might be very different from the person we recognize now. Now this is a massive topic, one I would like to cover in more detail later on, but for now I would just like to (incredibly) briefly discuss one of the implications of this: literary interpretation.
Because we do not live in a void our work is not created in a void. Everything we write, paint, or build is influenced by the external world because we as humans are influenced by that world. In the same way, our interpretation when we read is flavoured by what we know and/or believe to be true. This isn’t too much of an issue when we’re reading something like a letter from our grandmother. But international literature? Unless we all read copious amounts of world history from different perspectives, visited the nations of the world, spoke all their languages, and shared in both their sufferings and joys, we would not necessarily truly understand the human context of a work. By extension, this means that in reading the text, there could very well be two understandings of the world at work: both the authors’ and the readers’.
Why does this matter? Because when two people cannot fully understand each other, they cannot have empathy or sympathy for each other. Without these, our species has proven itself again and again that we are, in so many ways, a murderous race. So what do we do? We seek this empathy, this understanding. This is one of the reasons that I seek to read books from so many different perspectives, and hopefully one of the reasons you have joined me on this journey.
So now, I want to help you (and myself) understand a little bit more about these books I’m reading by giving you a clue as to their context. There is this brilliant video blog called GeographyNow! on youtube, which is actively working to provide information on every country in the world in a captivating manner. The best part is Paul, who runs the blog, has given me permission to share his videos here as I work through the countries! So, without further ado (yes, I realize there has been much ado), I present Geography Now!
I received the next book on my list in the mail over the weekend (Considering Venus by D. Gisele Isaac) and you won’t believe what I found inside: A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR!!
I was going to include a picture of the inscription, but unfortunately my HD card and the library computer here are incompatible, so I shall simply copy it out for you. It reads:
To: Pat I’ve heard that you are a fount of wisdom- through our mutual friend. Here’s hoping that you find a few more pearls in my book. Best, Gisele Isaac 6/30/98
How awesome it that?!?!
Happy Monday everyone