Weekly Wrap-up | August 23, 2020

I don’t know about you all, but this week went by so fast for me. I haven’t even gotten used to it starting and suddenly it’s Sunday! Weird when that happens. What made my week, though, was when a friend sent over a batch of red velvet cupcakes for me to taste-test for an online bakery he intends to set up. The cupcakes were AMAZING, but then again, I could be biased.

Anyway, on to the wrap up!

Continue reading “Weekly Wrap-up | August 23, 2020”

Book Review: Parable of the Talents (Earthseed #2) by Octavia E. Butler

PARABLE OF THE TALENTS (Earthseed #2) by Octavia E. Butler
First published in November 2001

My Rating: ★★★★☆

Parable of the Talents is the second and final book in Butler’s Earthseed Trilogy, published eight years after Parable of the Sower. The story picks up five years after Sower, in the year 2032. Here, the protagonist Lauren has successfully founded a small community called Acorn, loosely organized around the religion of Earthseed. While their community is by no means a wealthy one, it’s still something of a micro-utopia: Each person and family has just enough to meet their basic needs; every individual is treated with respect and dignity, regardless of age, gender or race; and there is no crime or violence amongst the members. The community also makes time for creating and enjoying art, music, and religious rituals, despite the hard labor they do to ensure their survival.

But Lauren, being cautious and pragmatic, still keeps an eye on events happening outside of Acorn. She is particularly concerned about the rising popularity of Sen. Andrew Steele Jarrett, a white Christian presidential candidate who wants to “make America great again”. While he intends to do this by upholding Christianity and persecuting other religious groups, his resemblance to modern populist leaders is uncanny:

Andrew Steele Jarrett was able to scare, divide, and bully people, first into electing him as President, then into letting him fix the country for them. He didn’t get to do everything he wanted to do. He was capable of much greater fascism. So were his most avid followers.

True enough, Lauren’s fears materialize when an extremist group of his followers forcibly break into their community, separate the adults from the children, and make slaves of the adults, all in the name of “re-educating” their “cult”. For the rest of the book, we follow the Earthseed community as they struggle to break free from their captors, find their children, and establish new Earthseed communities.

I found Parable of the Talents much more difficult to read than Parable of the Sower. For one, Butler’s descriptions of the violence, rape, and humiliation that came with slavery was brutal to read about, and for another, the resemblance of their political situation to the present is so close it’s downright scary, so if you’ve been reading to take your mind off the mess of 2020, then this definitely isn’t the book to read!

On the other hand, the critique of religion that Butler hinted in Sower is becomes much more pointed in Talents. She makes it clear through the hypocritical actions of Jarrett’s fanatic followers that in its extremist form, Christianity can breed hatred and oppression. Interestingly, Butler also attempts to critique Lauren and Earthseed through the perspective of Lauren’s daughter, Asha, whose commentary prefaces a number of her mother’s journal entries. In the Prologue, Asha writes:

They’ll make a God of her.

I think that would please her, if she could know about it. In spite of all her protests and denials, she’s always needed devoted, obedient followers—disciples—who would listen to her and believe everything she told them. And she needed large events to manipulate. All gods seemed to need these things.

Unfortunately, this line of critique against all religion in general is never fully fleshed out in the novel. Plus, with her searing critique of religion in Talents, Butler seems to imply that religion is the only breeding ground for oppression, such as patriarchy and racism. While this is true in some cases, I also think that these systems of oppression have a way of taking root outside of religious contexts, which is not something that Talents addresses.

Overall, while I found Butler’s Parable of the Talents an engaging read, I felt like it fell short of its promise. I did find myself intrigued by Butler’s thought experiment, though (“What if we can create a more inclusive religion with an impersonal God?”), and I’d still be interested in reading more of her works in the future. I’ve been hearing great things about Kindred, so I might pick that one up next.

Once again, this was also a buddy read with Melanie @ Grab the Lapels. I enjoyed discussing this with you, Melanie! You can read her review of Talents here.

Find me on Goodreads! | Read from August 9-15, 2020

Book Review: Parable of the Sower (Earthseed #1) by Octavia E. Butler

Parable of the SowerPARABLE OF THE SOWER (Earthseed #1) by Octavia E. Butler
First published in October 1993
This edition published on November 8, 2016 by Seven Stories Press

My Rating: ★★★★☆

TW: Graphic depictions of violence, rape, slavery, mentions of cannibalism, romance with a large age gap

I’ve been hearing about Butler’s works for awhile, so I was finally glad to be able to buddy-read her Earthseed duology with Melanie @ Grab the Lapels. (Melanie’s reviews will also out this week, so head over to her blog to check them out!) One thing that struck us both about the Earthseed series was how 2020 it feels despite being published nearly two to three decades ago. While there’s no pandemic in the series, there is a general sense of anarchy, chaos, and suspicion that pervades the atmosphere of these two works, so that reading it feels eerily similar to watching the news headlines today.

The first book in the series, Parable of the Sower (1993), is set between the years 2024-2027. We follow the perspective of the 15-year-old protagonist Lauren Oya Olamina as she tells us her story in the form of journal entries. In the first half of the book, we watch Lauren and her family struggle to survive within their small walled community in L.A. In her world, basic necessities like water and food have become scarce; technology and education are luxuries that only the very rich can afford; crime is rampant; and the police cannot be trusted to enforce law and order. Every family is left to fend for themselves.

Perhaps a result of her environment, Lauren is practical and tough-skinned from a young age. While she does have a special condition called hyperempathy, which allows her to feel the pain and pleasure of other people, her condition ironically makes her more suspicious and wary rather than empathetic and trusting of others. She explains this is because sharers (those with hyperempathy) are typically looked down upon and exploited, so she does her best to hide her condition.

Just when things seem terrible enough, the story takes a turn for the worse towards the second half of the book: Drug addicts who get a sexual high from watching fire (yes, really) storm into Lauren’s community and raze it to the ground. During the panicked flight from the fire, Lauren is separated from her stepmother and her brothers, and she is forced to fend for herself. However, she journeys to find a safer community, she meets people along the way that she comes to trust and befriend. They eventually form their own community around Earthseed, the religion that Lauren creates (more on this later).

I’ll be honest here: I badly wanted to love this duology, especially since I admire and respect Butler’s work as a writer and activist. However, after finishing this book, I realized that I appreciated what Butler tried to attempt with this novel more than its execution.

I’ll start with what I liked about it. First, I appreciated Butler’s natural incorporation of BIPOC characters in the story without anyone feeling like the “token” minority. This was a rather eye-opening experience for me, since it revealed to me that I’m used to assuming a character is white unless otherwise stated. It was refreshing to finally be able to assume otherwise.

I also agreed with how Butler explored the themes of community, inclusivity, and human resilience. Butler’s imagined future is very much like our present in that misogyny and racism still exist, but in the community that Lauren creates, she clearly condemns those. Instead, she urges everyone to live as equals and to help each other according to their capacities. Butler’s vision of what an inclusive community can look like is also a vision I share.

However, Butler also imagines religion as necessary to hold such a community together, and this is where I diverge with her. As I’ve mentioned, Lauren creates the religion of Earthseed from scratch, initially done as a reaction to her father’s Baptist teachings, but eventually to capture what she thinks is “the truth” about the divine. Here are verses that form the backbone of Earthseed:

All that you touch
You Change.

All that you Change
Changes you.

The only lasting truth
Is Change.

Is Change.

Earthseed views God as neither male nor female—in fact, God is not human. To Lauren, God is the impersonal force of change that shapes circumstances and that can also be wielded to shape circumstances.

I can appreciate this as a critique of monotheistic religions, but I don’t believe that inclusive and supportive communities require a religion as a foundation. Once you accept something as irrevocably true, as Lauren does with her idea of “God is Change”, this can easily ossify into dogma, at which point it risks becoming just like the religions it was founded to critique in the first place.

Aside from that, I also had some minor issues with the world-building. For one, the mechanics of Lauren’s hyperempathy is never fully explained. Lauren can only feel physical pain and sexual pleasure, but not emotions like sadness, fear, or confusion. While we were talking, Melanie mentioned how much more interesting the story would have been had Butler explored this hyperempathy more fully, but as it is in Sower, it just felt like something tacked onto an otherwise near-invulnerable protagonist.

Finally, the plotting also seemed haphazard to me. Since the story is told through a series of journal entries, Lauren often prefaces each entry by explaining the main event before letting us know the lead-up to it, which really killed the suspense for me. There were also a number of coincidences in the novel that seemed like easy solutions to the characters’ problems, but this actually didn’t bother me much—they were all struggling so much already that it was nice to see something good happen to them for once.

In the end, while Parable of the Sower wasn’t as emotionally gut-wrenching as I thought it might be, I still cared deeply for the characters and was content to ‘follow along’ with them on their journey, coincidences and all. And while I wasn’t convinced of the “truth” of Earthseed, I truly admired Butler’s attempt to criticise extremist monotheistic religions and to envision an entirely new belief system that would be more compassionate and inclusive to people from all walks of life. Overall, Parable of the Sower is a gritty, thought-provoking, and ultimately hopeful work about the power of community and human resilience. I recommend it if you’re interested in dystopian fiction, particularly in dystopian fiction that can help us re-envision social justice.

Have you read any of Butler’s works? What did you think of them?

Find me on Goodreads! | Read from June 26 - August 8, 2020

Weekly Wrap-up | August 16, 2020

Happy Sunday, everyone! I hope you had a great week of reading and blogging. As for me, this week was a little weird—I’ve been reading more and I got back to tackling my backlog of unreviewed books, which is great, but I also had a lot of unstructured free time while waiting for the results of my exams, which is not so great, since I don’t do so well with unstructured free time. It reminds me too much of the first weeks of lockdown.

On the bright side, the sudden surplus of free time made me eager to schedule a number of catch-ups with my friends, so I ended up doing yoga over Zoom three times this week (for some reason, all three groups preferred exercise as a bonding activity… I’m just glad no one suggested HIIT). And I had a great chat with Melanie @ Grab the Lapels about Butler’s duology over the weekend to cap off my week. So I’d say it was a pretty great week, overall.

Anyway, enough of me. On to the wrap-up!

Continue reading “Weekly Wrap-up | August 16, 2020”

Mini-Reviews: An American Marriage & The Mothers

For this post, I decided to review together two novels by Black women who wrote about the lives of Black, middle-class individuals: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, and The Mothers by Brit Bennett. Incidentally, both these novels also follow three main characters who happen to be involved in a love triangle. I’m not a fan of love triangles, but while these two novels did veer melodramatic, I also ended up enjoying them anyway. I’ll get right to it.

An American MarriageAN AMERICAN MARRIAGE by Tayari Jones
First published by Algonquin Books on January 29, 2018
Winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction (2019)

My Rating: ★★★★☆

An American Marriage is a thought-provoking novel about what loyalty and fidelity mean in a marriage, especially after the unimaginable happens and all one’s plans for the future are destroyed. We follow three narrative voices: Roy and Celestial, the newleyweds, and Andre, Celestial’s childhood best friend. Roy and Celestial have been married for only a little over a year when Roy is falsely convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. Initially, the couple is hopeful that the decision will be reversed, but the layers of bureaucracy and the deep-seated prejudice against black men in the criminal justice system makes this a long and drawn-out process. As a result, Roy and Celestial then find themselves reluctantly settling into their strange, new, and separate lives.

Continue reading “Mini-Reviews: An American Marriage & The Mothers”

Book Review: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

My Dark VanessaMY DARK VANESSA by Kate Elizabeth Russell
Published by William Morrow on March 10, 2020

My Rating: ★★★★☆ (4.5 stars)

I’ve read My Dark Vanessa way back in May, and back then, I’d given this book only four stars because of some issues I had with the plotting. But as I was writing this review, I realized that I was barely even looking at my old notes while writing it—which hardly ever happens—meaning the story really stayed with me. So I’m bumping up my rating to 4.5 stars.

My Dark Vanessa is about the ‘relationship’ of Vanessa, the protagonist, and Strane, a teacher thrice her age. The narrative alternates between the past and the present, with the past exploring the 15-year-old Vanessa’s perspective during the height and drawn-out aftermath of their relationship, and the present depicting a 32-year-old Vanessa as she is forced to confront the nature of her relationship with Strane, especially after one of his other victims comes forward and reaches out to her for solidarity and support.

Based on its synopsis alone, it’s clear that My Dark Vanessa goes into detail into some heavy and uncomfortable material—for example, there are graphic depictions of grooming and rape in the novel—but what makes reading these even more uncomfortable is how Vanessa romanticises their relationship, and how she continues to defend him from his accusers. However, as the narrative unfolds, it becomes clearer that defending Strane was Vanessa’s way of defending herself, and that the heart of the novel is Vanessa’s struggle to reframe their relationship from one of a ‘love story’ to one marked by manipulation and abuse.

Continue reading “Book Review: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell”

Weekly Wrap-up + My reading mojo is back!!! | August 9, 2020

Exams are over, yay!!! I’m so glad I can FINALLY move on with my life. I didn’t realize how much headspace the exams were taking up until I crashed and slept for the rest of the day, right after I submitted my last exam. It felt soooo luxurious to do that, especially since I’ve been waking up at odd hours over the past few weeks due to anxiety.

In other news, MY READING MOJO IS BACK!!! Just this weekend, I finished two of the books I’ve been struggling to get through for the entire July, plus I picked up Tender Is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica on a whim (which I first learned about through Callum’s review) and finished that, too. For some reason, I’ve been in a dystopian mood—fitting given my country’s political climate, lol.

Books Read This Week

Books I’m Currently Reading

Today, I’ll be starting the second book in Butler’s Earthseed series, Parable of the Talents. Melanie @ Grab the Lapels is saying this is much darker than the first book, so I can’t wait to see what Butler has in store.

Parable of the Talents

Books Added to My TBR

So I added a bunch of books to my TBR this weekend, inspired by Fatma’s post on Books Translated from the Japanese, Callum’s post on Women in Translation, and Emily’s post on the Booker Prize 2020 Longlist. Check out their posts for more recs!

Continue reading “Weekly Wrap-up + My reading mojo is back!!! | August 9, 2020”

Yet Another Weekly Update… | July 19, 2020

Hello hello hello! I hope you’re all doing well! Please bear with me as I continue to churn out these weekly updates instead of reviews and am more delayed than usual in blog-hopping and responding to comments—it feels like something is always coming up to mess with my blogging and reading juju. My exams are also very close (the first half is NEXT SATURDAY AAAH) so I’ve decided to give myself after exams to get back to reading and blogging.

Some good news: I’m feeling much better than I was last week! After cutting out the food that I suspect has been causing my hyperacidity and bloating, my pains have been becoming less frequent and less severe. Plus, now that the worst of caffeine withdrawal is over, I find that my sleep is also getting better—I don’t even need an alarm to wake up now, when before I used to set three alarms (and snooze every one… lol).

Also, today, after I complained to a friend of my caffeine withdrawal, she sent over samples of her tea collection for me to try. She even taped the instructions on the bottles, since she knows I’m an ignoramus when it comes to tea. I was so touched! I might not be a tea person but this is the perfect time to get into it. She especially recommends something called Phoenix Oolong Tea, which she got from her visit to Shanghai.

Screen Shot 2020-07-19 at 9.20.05 PM.png
So much tea! And a wild pack of Golden Oreos on the side. My brother and I are fans.

Also, Melanie @ Grab the Lapels and I will be buddy-reading Butler’s Parable of the Sower, so I’m slowly making my way through it. A number of reviewers on Goodreads have commented on how the theological aspects of the novel weren’t to their liking, since the protagonist here also tries to form her own notions of God, but surprisingly I’m finding it one of the more fascinating parts so far. I think it’s rather audacious to try to reformulate the Judeo-Christian tradition from your own perspective, and I admire the protagonist’s guts for doing it.

Parable of the Sower

Well, that’s it for now! Just out of curiosity, are you a coffee or tea person? What blends or leaves (flavors?) do you usually prefer? Let me know in the comments!

Weekly Wrap-up | July 12, 2020

Happy Sunday, everyone! I’m pretty pleased writing this since I was able to finish not just one, but TWO books this week! I guess something good came out of my recuperating from hyperacidity, after all. 

Books I Read This Week

Real LifeThe first book I finished is Real Life by Brandon Taylor, which I gave 4.5 stars. Real Life is told from the point of view of Wallace, a PhD graduate student in a university in the midwest. Since it’s set in academia and partly about a lost twenty-something in graduate school, I found it deeply relatable, and so was able to finish the novel in about three sittings. Despite having finished it quickly, I wouldn’t say that Real Life is an easy read. Wallace, the protagonist of Real Life, is the only black and gay student in his program, and as such he faces many forms of discrimination. While reading about those incidents in the novel, I felt infuriated at how unfair everything and everyone is towards Wallace, and overwhelmed at the accumulation of microaggressions that he faces on a near-daily basis. It’s a testament to the author’s skill that he’s really able to make me feel what it’s like for the character—Taylor doesn’t overexplain the incidents, and leaves some room for readers to interpret what happened for themselves. Overall, it’s a fantastic read, and I highly recommend it.

When She's MarriedMy second read this week veers in the opposite direction and is what I lovingly term a ‘junk food’ or ‘trash’ book by Ruby Dixon, the queen of alien smut. I’ve never read her Ice Planet Barbarians series, but I picked up When She’s Married because it’s short and because it’s all my attention span can handle. I’m tempted to say that horned, brawny, blue-skinned aliens with tails is only my thing because of my hyperacidity brain, but I would be lying. This was pretty great. In the story, the heroine basically gets an ex-convict out of prison and proposes to him, because only an arranged marriage can secure her claim on the land she was given on the alien planet. CRAZY premise, but the execution was not bad. I liked how business-minded the heroine was about the whole arrangement, and the alien sex wasn’t as weird as I thought. Aside from the horns and tail, which don’t figure prominently during sex, Dixon’s aliens have pretty much the same anatomy down there as human males—only bigger, because they’re aliens. A really fun, light read.

Other Life Updates

  • My brother’s knee sprain is thankfully not serious, which is a relief for both of us. After taking some medicine to ease the swelling, he’s able to walk again after a few days, with only a slight hobble.
  • As for myself, I had two more hyperacidity attacks this week. The pain is manageable with antacids, but what I can’t handle is giving up my two cups of coffee a day until my stomach settles. Going from two cups to zero has turned me into a cranky zombie. If this goes on I might have to consult a doctor, because having a number of attacks in a row is atypical for me.
  • One other thing that occupied me this week was buying food for Cat. He has a urinary tract problem, so the vet prescribed a special kind of feed for him, which isn’t easy for pet shops here to stock up on during quarantine. Happily, we found an online shop that sells it, and our order was shipped yesterday. Cat is grateful because now we can stop rationing his meals.

Well, that’s it for me. How was your week? Let me know in the comments! 🙂

Weekly Update | July 5, 2020

Happy Sunday, everyone! I still haven’t got much reading done this week, but that’s okay—I’m coming to terms with the fact that I won’t be going back to my normal reading pace after being gone awhile. For now, I’m setting a (very relaxed) target for myself of a book a week, and only books that can hold my suddenly goldfish-like attention span.

In other news, some weird energy is circulating around our place this week… I had a bad case of hyperacidity, and right after I recovered, my brother sprained his knee. He’s pretty bummed about it, but then, he also seems to enjoy ordering me around to fetch things for him just a taaad too much. I might kick his sprain if this keeps going on for another week. We’re having it checked tomorrow, though, so hopefully it’s not serious.

What I’m Reading

Still reading Butler’s Parable of the Sower, and recently I picked up Real Life, also encouraged by Emily @ Literary Elephant’s glowing review. I haven’t been able to get into a lot of the books I picked up lately but Real Life drew me in from the start, since it plunged me immediately into the character’s thoughts and emotional life. Fingers crossed that these books can pull me out of my slump!

Books Added to My TBR

I also began adding a number of books to my TBR again, mostly from Hannah @ Books and Bakes’ Mid-Year Book Freakout Tag. (Thanks for making my TBR explode, lol!) I was especially cheered to know that Allie Brosh’s new book, Solutions and Other Problems, is set to be released this September. I loved Hyperbole and a Half, so I’m really looking forward to getting a copy of this one.

Other Non-Bookish Things

Many of my friends in real life know me as the one who’s always late on the bandwagon (if I even get on it at all), and this week, I finally started started watching Season 1 of Queer Eye with a friend’s encouragement. And omg I WANT TO HUG THIS SHOW. Even if I’m aware that most of the ‘moments’ could be staged, every episode so far (I’m three episodes in) made me smile and tear up and believe in humanity. Bless these guys. They just made my week.

Netflix renews Queer Eye original reality show for its sixth ...

How about you, how was your week? Did you read or watch anything interesting? Let me know in the comments 🙂