Saturday, June 04, 2011

What I've Been Reading

I picked up a bunch of books at Goodwill about a week or so ago, and here are three of the books I've read from that bunch:

American Wife: A Novel, by Curtis Sittenfeld

The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold

Trans-Sister Radio, by Chris Bohjalian

I very much enjoyed each of these books, which all covered very different topics. The first, American Wife, is a novel very loosely based on the life of a First Lady (Laura Bush, to be exact), almost entirely before her husband's time in office at the White House. I found it interesting, although I never really connected with her character, and in fact often found myself frustrated with her and even actively thinking she was mealy-mouthed or an idiot. Still, I liked it enough that I would recommend it as a fairly good read.

The second, The Lovely Bones, has been made into a movie, as I'm sure you all know. I previously had no interest in seeing the movie or reading the book, because I found the premise a bit stupid, really....a girl is murdered and then narrates the entire book from her heaven as she looks down and watches the people in her life adjust in their various ways to her death. I picked the book up as a sort of "oh, might as well" kind of thing, but really found it an intriguing read. The unique perspective of the narrator allowed her to not only watch but also to know what the various characters are thinking and feeling. It was a bit disturbing to read, because I have an enormous fear of one of my children pre-deceasing me, and this book triggered that quite a bit. I was frustrated with both of the parents for different reasons, based on their reactions and how they coped, but I could also identify with bits from the father. (the mother, yeah, no) Having my sister die before me is an eventuality I have been prepared for most of my life, because of the nature of her illnesses, although her being murdered has never figured into any of the preparative scenarios. Further, I had a cousin who was murdered while I was in high school, so the girl's friends who cope in various ways was also something I could relate to. Not one of the characters was someone I could totally identify with, but I could understand their motivations. Overall, I'm glad I read the book, but I was also glad to put it aside, because it made me uncomfortably aware of the random nature of events, and that at any time we could lose someone we love, and I just don't handle that idea well.

The third book was my favorite. Trans-Sister Radio deals with a couple who fall in love, only to then have to deal with the enormous complications and adjustments that go along with one of them having male-to-female (M2F) sex reassignment surgery. Allison and Dana had already fallen in love when Dana reveals that (s)he is in the process of changing genders. There is a great deal of introspection needed on Allison's part when she needs to work out whether she is in love with Dana the man or Dana the person, and whether she as a previously staunch heterosexual is capable of pursuing a lesbian relationship to stay together. In addition, there are the reactions of Carly, Allison's daughter, who is just entering college, and Will, Allison's ex-husband, who has remained close friends. There is also an enormous amount of mixed, mostly negative, reaction from the community at large, and the issue comes up as to whether Allison's personal life should be a factor in whether she is allowed to keep her job as an elementary school teacher.

Altogether, it is a very thought-provoking book. We are driven to look at the separate issues of gender and sexuality, our own flexibility or rigidness in reaction to the issues, our acceptance (or not) of a very controversial form of diversity. Questions constantly arise: how would you react if someone you started a relationship with, told you that he was really a lesbian woman trapped in a man's body and was going to get that changed? Would you be able to continue a relationship? Would you be able to adjust your previously unquestioned sexual preferences to continue the relationship? What do you feel about the process itself, independent of being in a relationship? Do you think that the procedure is immoral? Do you find it a perversion? Do you think being in a relationship with someone who is transgendered is perverted or immoral? Do you think that teachers should be held to a higher standard of morality than anyone else, because of their potential influence on our children? Do you think we have the right to dictate how a person conducts their personal life because of their chosen profession? Could you find yourself attracted to a person if you found out that they had once been the opposite gender? Is gender identity disorder biologically based or psychological? And on and on.

I consider myself a person who is very accepting of diversity, but I admit that this issue is a challenge for me. I finished the book this morning, but I know that I will be thinking a long time about it, seeing where this topic fits in my spectrum. Some of the above questions I have quick and firm answers to. Others, I think I will have to really turn over in my mind for a long time, and still might find myself unable to decide.

I -highly- recommend this book to anyone and everyone. I think it would be a FABULOUS book-club discussion. I wish I was in a book club just so I -could- discuss this book. :)

The author of this book, Chris Bohjalian, wrote the book Midwives, which I also enjoyed very much and recommend.

Any of you who have read any of these books, I would love to hear your take on them. mk


Beast Mom said...

I read LB and thought similiar things. Didn't really relate. Sorta' interesting tho, I suppose. I don't generally like stories that are of that content and tend to avoid.

Have not read the other two, although I have read Prep by Sittenfeld which I found sad more than interesting. Coming of age books don't usually draw me too much either b/c I didn't enjoy that time of life too much and have little desire to relive it in any form. :)

I have a book rec for you however. 'Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine.' Just finished this novel - thought it was horribly funny. It fits my demented sense of ethnic humor though. It's set in Russia mostly and told from the autocratic yet oblivious mother's POV which I found unique and hilarious and sad and sacrificial and touching and aggravating and martyr-like all at once. Sort of like how real moms affect their daughters. :) I laughed out loud in many places. It's really a satire I think, but maybe not. Maybe it's how the author's mother really was. Who knows. ;)


markira said...

OK, I am putting that book on my To-Read list. You and I have such similar senses of humor, I am -sure- I will love it. :) mk