Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing with Feathers

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4.0 Stars

Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter is a strange little collection on loss that will leave you with a few tears by the end. 

The narrative is dissected into fragments based on perspective. The dad, the boys and the crow all have a viewpoint to share. The story starts after the death of a wife and a mother. Her husband and two young boys are left to grieve. Helping them grieve is Crow. Crow is all parts protector, comforter, and trickster. He watches over the family and offers his incites and anecdotes to help them cope. 

I greatly enjoyed this book. Edmund Burke describes grief as a pain we cling to and make the focus of our lives. Porter expresses this through the father when he is told he should move on: “Moving on, as a concept, is for stupid people, because any sensible person knows grief is a long-term project. I refuse to rush. The pain that is thrust upon us lets no man slow or speed or fix.”

A particularly heartbreaking part of the narrative was how the boys talked about being deliberately mean to their dad so that they wouldn’t feel bad if they forgot their mom. One of my favorite lines in the novel comes from the boys’ perspective: 

“We used to think she would turn up one day and say it had all been a test. 

We used to think we would both die at the same age she had. 

We used to think she could see us through mirrors.”

The vivid expression of grief is intermingled with the absurd, yet for anyone who has experienced grief, you know this is how it is. Grief will stalk you throughout your day, and just when you think you can keep it together; you break down. A memory or a thought will suddenly connect and there is no subduing your reaction to it. Perhaps, the single greatest line to sum up all that grief encompasses is from the dad as he remembers all the memories he shared with his wife:

“Again. I beg everything again.”

Feelings of sadness are always best soothed with a glass of dry, red wine. I recommend Domaine Paul Autard Chateauneuf-du-Pape from Rhone, France. The 2012 vintage was given a 91 rating by Wine Spectator. This red blend consists of 70% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 15% Counoise. It has a full mouth feel and deep flavor. At $39 for a 350ml bottle, it’s on the expensive side, but totally worth it.

Format: Paperback.

Crazy Brave: A Memoir by Joy Harjo

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4.0 Stars

Joy Harjo is a Mvskoke poet, musician and activist. She is a strong defender of women’s equality and is an active member of the Muscogee tribe. She uses her poetry as a “voice of the indigenous people.” I first encountered Harjo through her poetry and I’ve been hooked ever since. Harjo’s works blend the physical world with the spiritual world. She is almost a mystic, a shaman, a seer. In both her memoir and her poetry she speaks of visions and stories as though they are a part of her life and the spirits of her ancestors.

Harjo’s memoir chronicles her life from before she was born, to when she was fighting in the womb and had to be pulled into this world, to how she finally was able to envision herself above panic and poverty and eventually follow the spirit of poetry. Her storytelling in enchanting and brutally honest. The lesson that Harjo lived and relived is that through the casual abuse, rape, negligence, and fear there is still the ability to transcend beyond that, to let yourself be healed, and to bring healing to others.

While most Native literature is suffused with magical realism (for lack of a better term), Harjo is one of the few who actively sees visions. While other authors create characters like the wise grandmother or the magical elder in their works, Harjo is that character. She is the one who sees into the past of her ancestors. She’s the one who relives the life of her great-grandfather through a vision. As a reader, it is not hard to suspend my disbelief; because I want to believe. I am fascinated by the idea of being able to dream the life of your great-grandmother. I am enthralled at the thought of having sickness being eaten away by an alligator in a dream. I find it mystical and wonderful. Can I honestly say that I believe it without a doubt? Probably not. However, I want to believe; and I think it is the believing that makes it beautiful.

I’ve chosen to pair this with Black Grouse, a smokey-sweet whiskey that finishes with hints of peat and a gentle smokiness. Throughout her childhood, Harjo lived in Oklahoma and everybody seemed to have smoked. She also believed that “all of these plant medicines, like whiskey, tequila, and tobacco, are potential healers. There’s a reason they’re called spirits. You must use them carefully. They open you up. If you abuse them, they can tear holes in your protective, spiritual covering.” So pour yourself a finger of whiskey, light a cigarette and enjoy this memoir.

Memorable quotes:

“In the end, we must each tend to our own gulfs of sadness, the others can assist us with kindness, food, good words, and music.”

“I felt the presence of the sacred, a force as real and apparent as anything else in the world, present and alive, as if it were breathing. I wanted to catch hold, to remember and never forget. But the current hard reality reasserted itself. I had to have the house cleaned just right or my stepfather would punish me. So I continued on my path to forgetfulness.”

Format: Paperback.

Mary M. & Bryan Talbot’s The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia

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4.0 Stars

The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia recounts the life of French feminist and anarchist Louise Michel. The narrative is structured as a frame tale, in which American feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman is told the history of Michel’s work by a few women who knew her. This graphic novel explored the idealism of the Paris Commune of the 1870s and the optimistic futurism that was being displayed in the current literature.

Once I started reading, I had to stop and brush up on my French history (Joke’s on me, guys. There are annotations at the back of the book that I completely missed). Louise Michel and her revolution were fighting for the people of Paris after the fall of Napoleon III. They took over the city of Paris and tried to create a utopia where there was free marriage, in which men no longer held proprietary rights over women; equal education, where children and women could be educated and have jobs so that all classes of people had food on their tables.

This revolution was eventually taken down by the French army. The slaughter is known as the “Bloody Week” due to the thousands of France’s own people who were killed. Louise Michel was arrested and her most famous quote came the day she stood trial. She stood before the committee and said, “Since it seems that any heart that beats for liberty has the right only to a small lump of lead, I demand my share. If you let me live, I will not stop crying for vengeance, and I will denounce the assassins on the Board of Pardons to the vengeance of my brothers. If you are not cowards, kill me!” Although she dared them to execute her for her revolutionary ideals, she was deported. She spent two years in prison and seven in deportation before returning to France to continue her work.

There is one particular scene in the comic that is striking. It takes place during Michel’s deportation. The story is being recounted to the American feminist of how Louise Michelle helped the local indigenous people rise up against the white colonizers. The American feminist starts to say “you mean, she helped those nig-? I mean, she didn’t stick with her own kind?” At this point, Michel’s friend who is telling the story explodes, yelling “her own kind you say? She was sticking with her own kind! She stuck with the indigenous people, just as she always stuck with the oppressed! Just as she did with the rebellious, oppressed and then defeated people of Paris. They were fighting the same fight.”  What is important to take away from the scene is that so many of us American and feminists, forget that the feminist movement, in particular, Susan B Anthony, did not want the black man to have the right to vote before the white woman. Racism and classism was still very much an accepted norm. Yet, here we have the story of a 19th-century French woman, who defies those norms. That being said, we know how colonialism works. The white colonialist pitted tribe against tribe and there was massacre after massacre. Michel wrote to her friend, Victor Hugo, asking for his help and sent documents to the French newspapers exposing the massacre in the colony. This type of revolutionary, activism from a woman – a woman with no power, remember, she is a prisoner. She has been deported. But time and again she is reaching out to help those groups in need. And when she cannot help them, she exposes their oppressors.

While she is hailed as the “French grande dame of anarchy”, her real legacy lays in the Labour movement and women’s rights. Michel was decrying poverty in theoretical essays long before it was recognized as a problem. She was a school teacher, medical worker and revolutionary. After coming back to France she was continually in and out of prison, always giving lectures and writing essays on the Social Revolution. She was shot in the head for her words, and thankfully survived, although some reports say she had remnants of the bullet in her head. She continued her work until her passing at age 74.

The graphic novel format made this fun to read. It’s always nice to have history and feminism presented in a non-traditional style. The art was simple but striking.

Some of my favorite quotes are as follows:

“Knowledge, it must be presented in a manner that enlarges the horizon instead of restricting it. Girls are given a pile of nonsense supported by childlike logic, while at the same time boys have to swallow little balls of science until they choke. For both of us, this is a ridiculous education. Education can provide not only an avenue to economic independence, but also a means to hasten the recognition of women’s rights.”

“Let’s run into the red teeth of the chattering machine guns, the ash blowing around us like black butterflies!”

“I have seen criminals and whores and spoken with them/now I inquire if you believe them made as of now they are,/to drag their rags in blood and mire,/preordained an evil race./You to whom we are all pray, have made them what they are today. ”
(Ok, doesn’t that remind you of Drew Barrymore in Ever After when she says “first you make thieves and then punish them”? Well, now we know who said it first.)

I’m pairing this book with Left Hand‘s Milk Stout Nitro. I was originally going to get a light French lager but this graphic novel was dark and moving, so I opted for the rich, stoutly sweet taste of this beer. The mild coffee aromas coupled with the sticky sweetness of the beer perfectly matched the mood and tone of this novel.

Format: Hardcover.

Naguib Mahfouz’s Arabian Nights and Days

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4.0 Stars

In Arabian Nights and Days, Mahfouz entwines both social and individual morality. This novel really made me think and question how I view people, society, and morality. If these characters abandoned their beliefs effortlessly in these exceptional circumstances, then one has to wonder: did they ever really have any morals? Were they ever inherently good or were they only good because they had to be? This book was published in 1979 and is still insanely relevant and will continue to be as long as humans remain… well, human.

Mahfouz utilizes genies to explore and analyze humanity’s willingness to abandon their morality and conversely the deep-rooted good people who do the exact opposite. I couldn’t help but repeatedly think about The Walking Dead while reading this. Although both seem very different at first glance, the concept of morality is examined in both narrations. When the zombies attack, everyone and everything goes to shit. Once viewed as noble individuals suddenly became trigger-happy rapists and selfish, thieving, liars.

Throughout Arabian Nights and Days, Mahfouz reminds us that simply because someone presents an appearance of being moral it does not necessarily mean they are. Morality is found etched in a person’s very being; it cannot be altered, regardless of the situation. It should not matter what may happen to that individual, they will keep those beliefs and principles. This is important to view in society today where there are numerous wolves in sheep’s clothing and many cowards disguised as heroes, whether it is in politics, work, or even within our own families. Mahfouz allows the reader to ponder these moral issues from the safe distance of an observer. Towards the beginning of the novel, Umm Saad tells Sanaan al-Gamali, “Under the skin of certain humans lie savage beasts.” This sentence sums up the entire novel. When an individual is put into a dire situation, one can truly view what makes up the person. Arabian Nights and Days leaves the reader wondering if they, themselves, are in fact savage beasts.

I chose to pair this novel with Blue Moon‘s White IPA and (just like the novel) I surprisingly really dug it. So this beer bears similar qualities to other IPAs but the flavoring has a certain twist to it, I’m assuming it’s the exclusive hop strain, Huell Melon. I assumed this was going to be a shitty IPA but I was wrong. Just like some people may seem to be really moral and noble, they may just be deviants and cowards. You never know, haha.

Format: Paperback.

Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles

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4 .0 Stars

This series was incredibly enjoyable. All the books in this series are retellings of fairy tales in a sci-fi-esque future. All their stories intertwine to create a riveting and awesome adventure. Cinder is a super rad protagonist. By her name you can imagine that she is a reimagined Cinderella. She is a funny, sarcastic, and spunky cyborg mechanic. She is a great feminist, actually, all the female leads are great feminists.( I also love Iko! She is hilariously fantastic. Wolf and Scarlet make my heart ache. ♥)

As a brown girl, it is refreshing to read a Young Adult series where all of the characters are not white by default. I grew up reading books with white characters and always found it difficult to imagine myself as one of the characters, to relate to, or fully indulge myself because of this sometimes. Thank you, Marissa Meyer, for doing what all these other Young Adult authors whom I have read seem to be unable to do; and that is to make a diverse group of characters. Not only personality wise but ethnically too (Interracial love! YAY). This really made it great for me. Not only are there various races but also people from different planets, androids, and cyborgs. It’s great. It might not concern many readers but diversity is something I look for in my books. I’m excited for all the nonwhite teens who will read this and think, “Yaaasss Princess Winter is Black like me!” or “Cinder is Asian like me! Finally!” Ok, I’m done.

Although some stuff was predictable there are still numerous surprises and you won’t even breathe from anticipation, once you get towards the end. I was excited to see what happened after each installment. I am so sad that it’s over. I  might just read the entire series again!

I definitely see various tidbits that were inspired by Sailor Moon in the series which makes the fangirl in me squeal.

I paired this series with Rogue‘s Morimoto Imperial Pilsner. This beer starts off tasting sweet with a floral scent and finishes with a somewhat bitter taste (not too harsh) that reminds me of Cinder’s “take no shit” attitude.

List of the books in the series, in order of release:
Cinder
Scarlet
Cress
Fairest
Winter

Formats: Paperback. Hardcover.

Inga Muscuo’s CUNT: A Declaration of Independence

4.0 Stars

First and foremost, take the title literally. This is not some ideological rambling on theIMG_20160607_124128 feminist movement or feminist expression. This is straight-up talk about your fucking cunt.

Muscio embraces a very holistic and almost neo-pagan approach to being a woman or as she proclaims a goddess. I found her passion and her experiences charming, if not quite elegant. She talks about everything from menstruation to abortion to activism. I admire her unabashed love for her blood towel and the way she has followed the moon phases to know her own body better. The level of deep love and respect she has for her body is akin to religious zealotry. While I don’t think I can ever be that type of girl (one who is dedicated enough to chart the moon every night), I surely admire her power.

Reading other reviews on Goodreads, I noticed that many people were critical of how she spoke against men and the male-dominated world. But to paraphrase from another feminist, Rebecca Solnit, when a woman starts talking about a man and the patriarchy, we may start off at describing something small, petty and patronizing and end with rape and murder. The violence against women and the dangers that a male dominated society poses to anybody with a cunt – it’s hard for some people, women included, to criticize because we have been bred to accept it.

I can’t say that I agree with everything in this book. But I do think it is a great womanifesto that all women of all ages should read. For example, I don’t agree with the glorification of whoredom without taking into consideration the sexual abuse, physical abuse, drug abuse and sex trafficking that happens because of prostitution. Furthermore, I believe that “whores” are created for the male gaze and for male desire. While she doesn’t specify too much about what type she’s referring to when she talks about “whores,” the impression is that she is referring to sexually empowered women who choose to sell their bodies. She refers to them as goddesses or priestesses. And teaching women and teaching men how to be sexually free is supposedly the greatest thing in the world. Ehh…Whatevs.

However, where I think she shines is when she talks about womanhood, sisterhood and motherhood and being “cuntlovin’. “Women should support each other. Women should look out for one another. Friends should make sure other friends get home safely. Women should not judge other women, etc…, if a woman in the community has been sexually harassed, all other women should harass the harasser. We should fill up his car with Limburger cheese and tell his new girlfriend that he’s an abuser. Embarrass the shit out of him.

And to end with a few fave quotes:

“Why did we fuck those boys who never exactly made our clits pound out the Bohemian Rhapsody in the first place? What were we doing? Did we love ourselves at all? We certainly mustn’t have, or we would at the very least, have practiced safe sex.”

“The enforced silence of women allows men’s fear of us and our sexual power to reign unchallenged. Thus ,the wisdom of brilliant people such as Audre Lorde is not venerated, and we are still sent to school where idiotic puds like Aristotle are worshipped.”

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I’m pairing this book with a fruit beer, Éphémère Pomme. This beer drinks like a cider or a white spritzer with a hint of apple. It’s light and drinkable without being too sweet. This book was fun and informative and made me feel happy as I read it, which made me want to drink something fun.

Beer Photo Credit: Beer Crank

Book Format: Paperback.