Monday, February 28, 2011

Beatrice and Virgil: Review and Giveaway

I haven't read Life of Pi but I've read so much praise for it that I jumped at the chance to read a newer novel by bestselling author Yann Martel. Published in 2010, Beatrice and Virgil sounded interesting to me in an offbeat way right off the bat. The main characters in the book are a writer named Henry, an elderly taxidermist, and two wild animals who speak, Beatrice, a donkey, and Virgil, a howler monkey. It may sound kind of light because of the animals, but the book features a very serious subject: the Holocaust.

Early in Beatrice and Virgil, Henry is excited about the book he's just finished writing. It's a book that's two books in a sense, a flip-book about the Holocaust; one part fiction and one part nonfiction. Henry believes that there's a lack of fiction about the Holocaust and that more stories about it will contribute to its preservation and meaning. Much to his dismay, though, his latest unpublished work is not well-received by his editors nor others, as he learns over a dinner of flavorless, over-refined foods in London.

Henry sets aside his book about the Holocaust and his writing career, and starts a new life in an unnamed city with his wife (who later becomes pregnant with their first child).

"During this time in the city, Henry's earlier existence as a writer was not entirely forgotten. Reminders gently knocked on the door of his consciousness in the form of letters. By the most roundabout routes, often months after their writers had posted them, he continued to receive letters from readers."
~Beatrice and Virgil, Yann Martel

Before too long, he receives a mysterious envelope that contains a short story by Gustave Flaubert, The Legend of Saint Julian Hospitator, along with a request for help. The request is from a taxidermist, also named Henry, who is writing a play called Beatrice and Virgil. Henry is soon drawn into a relationship with the taxidermist, and a new adventure begins.

Henry's visits to Okapi Taxidermy discomfited him, and at times this book perplexed me as well. I know Life of Pi also contains animals, but I don't understand why the author used animals in this story to tackle such a difficult subject. The Holocaust was a human event. Although Beatrice and Virgil kept my attention, I did not "get" the book at times; it was hard for me to comprehend the connection between the Holocaust or the "Horrors" and two talking animals, the characters in the taxidermist's play.

Maybe this ambitious author was trying to do too much in his latest novel: discuss literature and the writing world, create Holocaust fiction, talk about taxidermy, present a play in the process of being penned, and anthropomorphize personable animals who philosophize. If you ask me, that's a lot to tackle in a single novella! The Holocaust in and of itself is a major theme. I felt confused at times during my reading because there was so much going on, on multiple levels, and I was left with a sensation that I was missing something.

Despite my issues with the book, though, Beatrice and Virgil grabbed my attention from the first page, and I read it eagerly and quickly. The author has written a creative and highly original story that refers to works of literature, and features the writing of a play and a final chapter that could never be described as run-of-the-mill. Yann Martel believes, like Henry-the-writer in the book, that the Holocaust deserves more attention and that fiction is a way to give it a fresh and memorable voice, and this is exactly what the author attempts to do.

Random House is generously offering one copy of the book as a giveaway to a reader (U.S. only this time--sorry!).

  • To enter this giveaway for Beatrice and Virgil, simply leave a comment.
  • For an extra chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower, or that you subscribe in Google Reader.
  • For an additional chance, post about this contest on your blog, Facebook, or Twitter.
  • For another chance, name a book about the Holocaust, either fiction or nonfiction, that has made an impact on you.

Enter by 5PM PDT on Monday, March 14. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced on Tuesday, March 15.


Special thanks to Lisa from TLC for sending me this book. For other reviews please visit TLC's Beatrice and Virgil book tour.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Book Blogger Hop: What's in a Name?

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

~
Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare
I had no intention of joining the blogosphere's best BOOK PARTY this week, but decided to participate when I read this week's question from Jen B. from I Read Banned Books: Do you ever wish you would have named your blog something different?

This is why I couldn't resist doing the Hop, even though I could be, and should be, reading. Great question, at least to me. When I first started this book blog, I didn't know what to call it. For simplicity's sake, I think, I decided to use my user name, Suko, and very briefly, my blog was just called "Suko" (the few friends who dropped by probably didn't know what to think--did I have an alter ego?). Very soon, though, I realized that I needed to add something more to my blog's title, and came up with Suko's Notebook. A notebook is a book with blank pages for writing or other uses, as well as a small, portable computer, so it fits my blog's character and purpose pretty well. For the most part, I am happy with my blog's title, although sometimes when people ask me in spoken conversation what my blog's title is, I may falter just a bit.

What about you?

Hosted by Jennifer from Crazy-for-Books, this Book Blogger Hop lasts from February 25 until February 28. It's a fabulous, friendly way for book bloggers to socialize, connect with other book lovers, and discover new book blogs. If you'd like me to hop by your blog, please leave a comment.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Muslim Women Reformers

"If you educate a man, you educate a person, but if you educate a woman you educate a family."
~Ruby Manikan, social systems analyst



As one of four sisters growing up in NY, my mother stressed the importance of getting a good education to each of us. I attended the Bronx High School of Science, and there was never any doubt that I and all of my sisters would also attend college. My mother believed that each of us needed to go to college, and she made sure that we did. I attended an all-women's school, Scripps College in Claremont, CA.

In 2011, girls in a traditional, Muslim country such as Afghanistan, are very unlikely to attend school and become literate, because they are not seen as worth educating.

Although I have felt at times subtle prejudice against me over the years because of my sex, mostly from the older generation, as an American I've been able to enjoy much freedom (and the responsibility that accompanies it). Of course, there have been times when I felt that others did not take me seriously, just because I'm a female, or that I lacked the authority males seemed to have been born with, but for the most part I felt that I was treated more or less as an equal to males. I never worried that I would not be allowed to go to school because of my sex, or that I would be married off as soon as I hit puberty.

If you decide to read Muslim Women Reformers: Inspiring Voices Against Oppression by writer and psychologist Ida Lichter, prepare to be shocked. Published in 2009, this book is filled with unbelievable but true stories and facts that will upset most modern women greatly. I had a very hard time with it, because I was brought up to believe in my worth and value, as well as that of all people, female and male. Consequently, it was very difficult for me to digest many of the traditional ideas and beliefs presented in the book about women in Muslim countries, such as:

Women are seen as inferior in intelligence to men, as items of exchange like land or animals.

Female education is often limited to religious education.

Allowing women to vote would lead to their moral decline.

Girls as young as nine may be wives in certain countries, often to polygamist men who are much older.

Domestic violence against women and spousal rape are common, and if punished, only lightly.

Gang rape of girls and women is rampant. Rape victims are seen as having brought shame upon their families, and so often remain silent.

A woman may be stoned to death for adultery. Female genital mutilation is routinely performed to keep women "in check".

While these ideas do not apply to each and every Muslim country (for example, Bahrain now has greater equality between the sexes, and in some Muslim countries, such as Lebanon, girls are educated), these traditional beliefs are entrenched in many countries. In general and in sum, women are not seen as equal to men in traditional Muslim countries. In Iran, there's a law stipulating that the financial compensation for diya, for accidentally killing a woman, is half that for killing a man; women are seen as half as valuable as men. Even though women give birth, and care for and nurture the young, they are seen as far less important than males (which really doesn't make sense, from any standpoint). In many Islamic countries, women are not allowed to work outside of the home, and in fact are rarely able to leave the house unchaperoned by a male, and must be clothed from head to toe when they do venture out. Of course, these ways are unimaginable to me, as an American woman who comes and goes freely, often by myself. I found many of the ideas about women and their worth to be deplorable and degrading (they stem from the belief that both women and men are animalistic).

Thankfully, though, Muslim Women Reformers also offers hope and inspiration. Thoroughly researched, this absorbing book presents numerous women reformers, activists, and feminists (not a dirty word) from Muslim countries--from Afghanistan to Jordan to Nigeria to Yemen--and details their often heartbreaking stories and struggles. Heroic women activists are working to make their voices heard, such as Iranian Sussan Tahmesebi, spokesperson for the One Million Signature Campaign, which aims to collect one million signatures in support of a petition to Iranian parliament to reform discriminatory laws against women. Or Marina Mahathir in Malaysia, who's trying to prevent the spread of AIDS through efforts to educate Muslim women, who may be more at risk for this dreaded disease because they must submit to their husbands' demands. In this book, the work of numerous Muslim reformers is presented--I wish I could mention each of them by name, because each is so deserving of recognition. They struggle to end gender discrimination and violence against women in Muslim societies, which is due at least in part to men in patriarchal societies who wish to retain their dominance, superiority, and control over women. These women activists are joined by a handful of Islamic male activists, and work ceaselessly for women's rights, hold meetings and international conferences, and campaign for major political, social, and educational reforms. They help pass family laws (moudawana) like those passed in Morocco, which give women more equality. They fight for women's rights because they know that these are basic human rights, which will ultimately benefit everyone.

While we are fortunate in America to have a great degree of equality between the sexes, women's rights in Muslim countries have a long way to go. Muslim Women Reformers points out that this lack of equality stems from a traditional, conservative culture that interprets the Koran in patriarchal and misogynistic ways that oppress and denigrate women, instead of advocating a more modern, egalitarian interpretation of the holy text. Brave and outspoken, these women reformers and activists share an ongoing quest for more rights, equality, and education for women. It was an eye-opening book for me, definitely worth reading.

Special thanks to Lisa Roe, Online Publicist, for sending me this book.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Magpie Tales #54: Puzzleland


She always took things far too literally
looking up words
to learn what they meant.
Though she knew
their words were mere shadows
imprecise, blurry.
Still
why did their words affect her so?
After all
she lived in a puzzleland
comforted only
by her own thoughts.
Briefly
until the next round.


This poem was inspired by the photo from Magpie Tales. Your feedback is greatly welcomed.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Half in Love

A copy of the movie The Hours from Netflix sits on top of my dresser, where it has been for at least a month, and I may well send it back, unwatched. I saw the movie several years ago, and ordered it with the intent to watch it again, because even though I recall that it was good, I don't remember many of the details of the film. However, I do remember that it depicts the 1941 suicide by drowning of Virginia Woolf, played by Nicole Kidman, and now I'm not sure that I want to watch the movie again, because it might be too upsetting.

I kind of felt the same way about reading Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide by writer Linda Gray Sexton. I was a bit reluctant to read a memoir about suicide, because I thought it might depress me (albeit temporarily), make me too somber. The subject matter is something I do not like to think about. But I very quickly realized that the subtitle of the book contains a vital, hopeful clue; I knew the book would be about suicide, but also about surviving the legacy of suicide. I cast my doubts aside and jumped right into this book, hoping to be enlightened, and maybe even inspired. Once I started reading this book, the clear prose drew me in swiftly, and although at times it was difficult to read about the author's misery, and I wished the story were not true, I finished the book in just a few sittings.

Half in Love is a very candid and affecting memoir, written by the daughter of Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Anne Sexton. Growing up, Linda feared that her gifted but mentally ill mother would kill herself. She was aware of her mother’s numerous suicide attempts, which were followed by hospital stays, and she was filled with nearly constant dread. Linda and her family suffered along with Anne, always worrying that she would kill herself.

"When my mother took an overdose, Death came into the room and stood at the head of her bed. When my father, or my Nana, or her best friend, took her to the hospital, Death waited on the threshold and watched for his opportunity. Sometimes Death lived at our house, slithering between the big bottles of her sleeping pills and tranquilizers, twining around the packs of cigarettes and bottles of booze. Death was the itinerant salesman, always knocking on our green front door. My mother never failed to let him in."
~Half in Love, Linda Gray Sexton

While Linda was 21 and studying at Harvard, her mother succeeded in taking her own life. After that horrific ordeal, Linda and her sister, Joy, vowed to never attempt suicide, and Linda later promises her own children that she will never be like her mother in that regard. Very sadly, though, the legacy of suicide and depression gradually becomes too strong for Linda, and she does eventually attempt suicide a few times, before finally getting the help that she needs.

Many aspects of this book are quite remarkable! The honesty of Linda's story is nothing short of incredible. I admire this honesty, although it was difficult for me to read parts of the book. It took great courage on Linda's part to reveal so much about herself and what she went through. She describes in agonizing detail her first attempt at suicide in the bathtub, and also writes about how cutting her skin with sharp objects initially helped alleviate the pain she felt inside. Another thing that struck me was her determination to beat the deep, recurring depression that made her suicidal and kept her bedridden and paralyzed. She strived to be a good wife and mother, and took medication for her depression and mood disorders. Many people mistakenly think that you can "tough out" depression, which is a real and serious illness that is often difficult to treat, and sometimes fatal. As the book points out, a suicide attempt isn't a selfish act, but is rather a response to tremendous, relentless pain; if death is seen as the only way out, then life must be absolutely unbearable.

I was quite relieved that she was able to find the support and nurturing that were absolutely essential to her survival, after being abandoned by several prominent people in her life. After her mother's death, she became friends with Rachael, who was older and understanding, a new, healthier version of a mother for Linda. After her first marriage ended, Linda was devastated, but some years later she meets Brad, who turns out to be a wonderful, accepting mate. Eventually Linda finds a marvelous doctor, Barbara, who not only listens and provides guidance and insight (she suggests the idea of the legacy), but who also nurtures her to an extent. Her children, Gabe and Nathaniel, now adults, are lovingly supportive of her. They knew that Linda had always tried to do her best as a mother, and that she loved them, but that at times she was overpowered by this forceful legacy. Their understanding of their mother brought tears to my eyes.

Linda survives, writes her powerful and personal story, and provides hope and inspiration to individuals and families suffering from the affects of depression and the dark shadow of suicide. I hope it doesn't spoil the book for anyone when I say that this book has a happy ending. Or, in Linda's case, a happy, new beginning.

Special thanks to Lisa from TLC for sending me a copy of this book. For more reviews of this book, please visit the other stops on TLC's Half in Love book tour.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Magpie Tales #52: House Rules



Now that we live in a house, we need to have some rules around here.

House Rules
****************
~Don't bring any mud or dog turd in on your shoes. Take off your shoes so you don't spoil the carpet. Slippers are okay. (This may be hard for "shoe people"--but I hate dingy-looking carpet.)

~If you are the first one up, please get the newspaper and turn on the coffee maker.

~Please make your bed each and every morning. It doesn't have to be perfect--hospital corners aren't required--but it does have to be done.

~Clean the bathrooms once a week, minimum.

~If you leave crumbs on the counter or table, please wipe them up, and hang dishtowels neatly. A tidy kitchen is more appealing than a messy one.

~Don't leave dishes in the sink, unless the dishwasher is running and it's too late to add dishes. (And Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day makes washing dishes by hand almost a pleasure.)

~No smoking. (Sorry, Charles!)

~Should we hire a housekeeper, to help out twice a month? Shelley uses a gal named Sondra.

~If you break something, "fess up"!

~Lights out by 10:30 PM during the week (unless you're reading a Jodi Picoult book).

****************

This is an interactive Mag--please add something to this list of house rules. :)

Photo and writing prompt from Magpie Tales, which celebrates a one-year blogiversary this week!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Really Random Tuesday #18: Love, Loyalty, and POM


Can you feel the love? As Valentine's Day approaches, book bloggers are showing their appreciation for their readers by hosting a variety of celebrations and giveaways.

I Am a Reader, Not A Writer is hosting the Follower Love Giveaway Hop. Stop by for your choice of nearly 200 book-related giveaways!

Seasons of Humility is hosting a Season of Love Blog Party, so be sure to stop by this week as well for interviews, guestposts, and giveaways.

****************

Last month, I wrote a Really Random Tuesday post on the topic of book blogger loyalty. This inspired a thoughtful, well-written post on Petty's blog, Pen and Paper. If this topic interests you, stop by and join the discussion, if you haven't already done so.

****************


In the past, POM Wonderful has generously sent me pomegranate juice and teas to sample, which I loved. This time, Ryan from POM Wonderful sent me some pomegranate juice concentrate to sample. Thank you, Ryan! To begin with, I used it to make juice by adding water, and have also added a few drops to my green tea and orange juice. The flip-top cap makes it easy to pour and mix. Later, I tried mixing this 100% pure pomegranate juice concentrate with Perrier, and created a refreshing and healthy sparkling drink. I like the tart but not too tart flavor. Pomegranate, as you probably already know, is a superfood, loaded with antioxidants. If anyone has any creative ideas about how to use the concentrate--in cocktails, confections, or other culinary creations--please let me know. POM Wonderful does have a website with many recipes that use pomegranate juice, including one for pink velvet cupcakes, which would be perfect for Valentine's Day.

****************

Really Random Tuesday is a way to post odds and ends--announcements, musings, quotes, photos--any blogging and book-related things you can think of. If you're inspired by this idea, feel free to copy the button and use it on your own blog. Leave a link in the comments if you’re participating and I'll add it to this post.

For other recent Really Random Tuesday posts, please visit Vivienne's blog, Serendipity, Kim's blog, Page After Page, and Naida's blog, the bookworm.

Thanks for reading!


Saturday, February 5, 2011

Quote it Saturday: Anne Morrow Lindberg




“I must write it all out, at any cost. Writing is thinking. It is more than living, for it is being conscious of living.”

Men kick friendship around like a football but it doesn't seem to break. Women treat it like glass and it goes to pieces."

“By and large, mothers and housewives are the only workers who do not have regular time off. They are the great vacationless class.”


~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh (1906-2001)
pioneering American aviator and author; married to aviator Charles Lindbergh (photo from Wikipedia)


Quote It Saturday is a meme hosted by Freda's Voice. I chose to highlight these quotes because I love Anne Morrow Lindbergh's book, Gift from the Sea (1955). For quotes from this book, please visit a thousand Books with Quotes.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Book Blogger Hop, and Fifteen Firsts

Hosted by Jennifer from Crazy-for-Books, this Book Blogger Hop is a brilliant BOOK PARTY, and lasts from February 4 until February 7. So grab the button, sign up on the linky, and join the fun! If you'd like me to visit your blog, please leave a comment and I'll be sure to hop by.

This week, Jennifer asks the following question: What are you reading now and why are you reading it?






I'm currently reading a book I received from Online Publicist Lisa Roe, Muslim Women Reformers: Inspiring Voices Against Oppression by psychiatrist and writer Ida Lichter. It's a serious and important book about women (and a few men) in Muslim countries who are fighting for gender equality and truly making a difference. I hope to review this book soon.







****************


Feeling a bit nostalgic, I organized fifteen "firsts" for my book blog. In order to do this, I had to go back in time and really search for the answers to some of these, but now I have a tidy record of some of my blog's history.

  1. First blog post: My first book blog post, Greetings, was posted on May 2, 2008, the official beginning of Suko's Notebook
  2. First book I blogged about: Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech
  3. First book blog I admired: Kate's Book Blog
  4. First blogging friend: Christie from Belly Acre Farms (she left encouraging comments on my posts in the early days of my blog)
  5. First international blogging friend: I'm not sure--either Myrthe from The Armenian Odar (Armenia), or Mee from Bookie Mee (Singapore/Australia)
  6. First author interview: I was thrilled to interview Kate Jacobs, author of The Friday Night Knitting Club series, in November 2008
  7. First blogging award: Honest Scrap Award, from Kim from Writing Space in December 2008 (Thanks, Kim!)
  8. First blogiversary: May 2, 2009 (duh!)
  9. First book I received in the mail to review: Saffron Dreams by Shaila Abdullah, sent to me by her agent, Kristina, in June 2009
  10. First book blog tour I participated in: TLC's book tour for Two Years, No Rain by Shawn Klomparens, in July 2009
  11. First reading challenge I participated in: Spice of Life: A Reading Challenge, hosted by Rebecca Reid, in August 2009
  12. First book I won on another book blog: The Blue Star by Tony Earley, on Laura's Reviews in September 2009
  13. First online interview: With Amanda from The Zen Leaf, for BBAW in September 2009
  14. First book giveaway I hosted: Edith and the Mysterious Stranger by Linda Weaver Clarke, in October 2009
  15. First weekly meme I participated in: Maibox Monday, in November 2009 (and I've been hooked ever since!)

If this meme appeals to you, please feel free to make your own list of "firsts", modifying anything you wish to. Happy Friday!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Wondrous Words Wednesday: The Philanthropist and the Happy Cat




















Writers of short fiction choose their words with great care and precision. Because they use few words to tell their stories, each and every word becomes more weighty, in a sense. In The Philanthropist and the Happy Cat (1911), a pithy short story by Saki, words are especially significant. I learned about the existence of this short story on Mel's blog, The Reading Life, where I'm often first introduced to sundry short stories.

As I read The Philanthropist and the Happy Cat, there were a few words that I thought I'd investigate for Wondrous Words Wednesday. Hosted by Kathy from Bermudaonion's Weblog, I enjoy this meme immensely; it's the consummate meme for wordsmiths, readers, dictionary fiends, and others who care deeply about words. My word discoveries this week enhanced my understanding and appreciation of the story.

1. snuggery: a small, cosy, comfortable room or place. The British spelling of 'cosy' seems more appropriate here, as this word is chiefly British. (Do my British book blogging friends read in their snuggeries? It sounds quite lovely, to curl up with a book in the snuggery!)

In the story there are several references to the snuggery, about which Jocantha Bessbury, the protagonist, announces her "simmering satisfaction", near the start of the story.

"She was very well pleased, for instance, with the snuggery, which contrived somehow to be cosy and dainty and expensive all at once."

"And as with the snuggery, so with the rest of the house, and as with the house, so with the other departments of Jocantha's life; she really had good reason for being one of the most contented women in Chelsea."

Married and comfortable, Jocantha is pleased with herself and her lot in life, and only wonders if her cat, Attab, may be more content than she is.

The snuggery takes on greater meaning in the context of the story, in both a literal and figurative way. Jocantha is very content, until she leaves the confines of her snuggery, of her small place. This word is perhaps the most important word of the entire story.


2. thraldom: slavery, thrall; the state of being under the control of another person.

I know I've come across this word before, maybe even on this meme, but I didn't remember it. In this sentence, Jocantha imagines the future of boy with the "beautifully-brushed" hair who has caught her eye.

"He would exchange that humdrum thraldom in due course for a home of his own, dominated by a scarcity of pounds shillings, and pence, and a dearth of most of the things that made life attractive or comfortable. "

In the story, Jocantha may discover that she is in a state of thraldom herself, bound to the comforts of marriage and home, to domesticity, to the cozy but confining "snuggery".


3. "Yellow Peacock"

In the story, Jocantha, starts to feel sorry for others, and decides to find a lonely girl in a tea-shop who she will then give two tickets to a performance of the "Yellow Peacock". I became curious, then suspicious, about the name of the play in the story; had it been an actual play in theaters? Luckily, I quickly discovered some relevant matters on Wikipedia's page of Theatrical Superstitions. First of all, peacock feathers are never supposed to be brought onstage, as a costume element, prop, or set piece. Actors and directors have blamed peacock feathers for all kinds of theater mishaps, including collapsing sets. The color yellow is also suspect. Yellow is considered to be quite unlucky. This belief dates from the days of religious plays, when yellow was the color worn by actors who played the devil.

The fact that the play in the story is called "Yellow Peacock", a less than fortuitous name for a play, makes this story, which is mocking in tone, even more comical.

I highly recommend The Philanthropist and the Happy Cat, which is about four pages long and can be read online. For a review of this story, please visit The Reading Life.

What wondrous new words have you encountered during recent reading?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Magpie Tales #51: Pieces

P ie c e s

Brok
en


di
vi
ded

red

raw
rugged

Worn
chipped
old
biased


Muted
mellowed
motionless

Jagged
crumbling


Wisened


Pieces


This poem was inspired by the photo from Magpie Tales. Your feedback is greatly appreciated.

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Some of the books reviewed here have been provided
to me free of charge by authors, publishers, and agents,
in exchange for my honest reviews.