Chick Lit and Gender Disparity

Gender-Disparity-Chick lit needs to go away.

Whenever I read the term Chick lit, I instinctively recoil. I bristle when people come to its defense; my brain can only register it like an undermining compliment. It sounds nice but you just know something is wrong with it.

I don’t actually have a problem with the content in Chick lit. Bring on all the tropes about single ladies contending with their overbearing bosses and agonizing, 30th birthdays! At first the term ‘Chick lit’ appears innocuous until we analyze the connotations of the name and its implications. Identifying a genre by its audience is problematic in itself (ergo Grip Lit), but the interchangeable treatment of women’s stories as lighter or fluffier is egregious and is another kind of sexism that’s nuanced but, nonetheless, damaging.

Chick lit is defined as a subgenre of Fiction, not Romance, created exclusively to encompass female authors’ works usually involving a young, modern, single-female protagonist who’s struggling romantically or with her career. Chick lit, however, reveals a systemic problem in how women and their works are categorized. If there’s a female protagonist (in love usually), several women occupy the story (dealing with love troubles), or female problems (menstruation and pregnancy for example), then it falls automatically under Chick lit, but women’s stories are not always light despite what the name Chick lit implies. The name nearly blankets all female-oriented subjects and leaves a misleading impression about women’s issues being less than other folks, which translates as half the world’s population being less significant. Not only does the subgenre’s name misconstrue female stories but pairing the words Chick and lit boxes these stories into a niche that can end up excluding people from reading them.

By segregating the works of men and women, we’re presupposing a distinction that fosters gender disparity in how we perceive and recognize women’s literary works. Part of the reason so many harbor this myth is that they believe men and women are innately different. There are differences (especially under the belt) but this is where the problem occurs. It’s not that men and women are different but that women’s works are somehow secondary or less to their male counterparts. As DJ Donnell writes on the subject of Chick lit “whatever lit is, it is certainly not literature. It is much lower on the food chain, something light and unimportant.” Even when men write on virtually the same subject except with a male protagonist, there’s no subgenre made called Dude lit. Men’s stories are treated as a default; they’re automatically put into the genre of Fiction, thus, revealing a double standard in the publishing industry. Separating the works of men and women doesn’t bring emphasis but is polarizing and actually encumbers women receiving equality in terms of how their work is received and regarded. Women’s works are not being assessed by the same criteria that are applied to men’s works, a criteria that causes many women to pander to a set of standards established predominantly by a history of white, male authors (another whole bag of problems). Enforcing these distinctions can only harm our understanding of masculinity and femininity by perpetuating stereotypes of gender. This can discourage male readers from reading these works but can also misinform young women (I know it did with me.)

As I said before, Chick lit needs to go away. It’s the one area of my life—my reading and writing life—that I get to escape to and not be reminded how prevalent sexism is. I’m sure we’ll move passed it, when everyone recognizes the problem, and there is definitely a problem.

Women and Light are not synonymous.

 

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Bird Box“It’s that time of year and what better way to celebrate the season with a book that will try its best to play tricks on you. No mind games (maybe a smidge), but when you’re not allowed to see anything, everything around you is your enemy,” is everything I would have wrote if I had published this BEFORE Halloween; yet, here we are, days after the best time of the year with a novel ripe for this breezy, chilly, foggy season.

Debuting last year, Josh Malerman’s Bird Box is a suspenseful, mysterious novel that’s an infectious read. You’re compelled to keep reading, whether it’s to learn more about a) the mysterious creatures that cause people to ‘erase’ themselves b) what happened four years that left Malorie, our female protagonist, the lone adult survivor in the house with her children Boy and Girl [not at all emotionally detached] c) if Malorie can survive long enough to reach her destination while blindfolded, her only defense against the creatures.

After a one-night stand, Malorie discovers that she is pregnant, and as it so happens, there’s a bigger catastrophic phenomenon sweeping the planet known as the Russian Report, thought to be where the phenomenon occurred. People go insane, sometimes committing murder, but always ending with the infected person committing suicide.

When the disease hits Alaska, Malorie along with her sister Shannon take refuge in their house, knowing that to survive, they must board up their house to prevent whatever it is that’s causing people to, as the media calls it, ‘self-destruct’. After Malorie’s sister dies, Malorie leaves to seek help at a house occupied by a few survivors. It becomes more apparent though that the people of this new world have lost more than the luxury of their sight.

In way of its narration, Malerman disperses with two time lines: four years after the Russian Report and the days leading up to Malorie’s pregnancy. Immediately, we are introduced to the chaos and horrors of the new world coinciding with her unexpected pregnancy (a not so subtle metaphor.) There’s rarely a moment to pause to consider anything for very long.

Malerman invents an intriguing yet isolating world. He takes the one aspect of everyday life that we take for granted and undermines our own security. Having read John Wyndam’s The Day of the Triffids, a global plague of blindness that infects anyone witness to the meteor shower, Malerman’s novel similarly evokes the chilling fear and helplessness, but unlike Triffids, Bird Box is more abstract; the creatures are never revealed and much about what happens to the world remains unanswered. Identifying and knowing what we’re afraid is one thing, but not having an idea of the monster’s shape or its thoughts is another. And this is assuming that there were creatures at all.

While Bird Box is not the most descriptive of novels considering its premise of taking refuge in a safe house and wearing a blindfold when going outside, it’s rapid firing sensory descriptors triggers just the right imagery and appropriate tension. The characters’ vulnerability is palpable when they’re feeling their way through the backyard or to a house next door. Without sight, the emotions are intensified, leaving a lot of the characters and their reactions to situations raw. Subsequently, Bird Box is left with the bare minimum, its characters skeletons and metaphors flimsy.

With its excellent pacing and its white-knuckling moments, Box inadvertently forgoes any real character development. Malorie, although undergoes significant trauma, is an observer, who oddly surfaces as the reluctant leader-drill-sergeant mother. This is not to belittle her experiences (her experience with giving birth made my insides and my vagina lurch: never, ever, EVER, having kids,) but the glut of character development is lost, which usually occurs in most post-apocalyptic stories when the circumstances of the new world subsume the plot and characters’ own lives. Auto drive sets in and characters’ ambitions are abandoned for survival. Malorie embodies this notion as does her housemates. To my disappointment, I can only describe each character with one word.

Most of what I loved about the style and fluidity doesn’t compensate for its clumsy symbolism, i.e., the bird box. While the image itself is spectacular, Malorie and the children under a canopy of mad birds, there’s hardly anything else. Even the bird imagery, which potentially has several meanings, feels awkward. It’s the one part of the novel that feels out of place. Usually I love when a novel’s title finds its way onto the pages, yet this may be a rare instance when I wish it had just stayed as the book’s title. It ends up being more literal than a metaphor.

Box had only two viable conclusions, which is something I usually don’t enjoy.  This is very much a novel about survival, testing one’s limitations, and what part of your humanity are you willing to discard. With few surprises, Bird Box is still entertaining and creepy and will fill up your afternoon with excitement; however, if you’re susceptible to these kinds of stories (like me), do yourself a favor and keep it away from your nightstand before going to bed. One of the last few passages of the books is one that’ll haunt anyone with a reproductive system.

Just saying.

The Difference Between YA and Adult Dystopia

DystopianDystopian novels have been the new hoard of books pulverizing our field of vision for the last couple of years. Like an avalanche, after reading or even mentioning just one, there’s more to come. With Dystopian novel sales booming with no end in sight, the Dystopian subgenre appears more conducive under the umbrella of Young Adult Fiction than in Adult Fiction. In reading books belonging to both subgenres, I’ve picked up on the nuances between what YA Dystopia and Adult Dystopia contain, which is rendered in their interpretations.

Although it’s clear that both subgenres analyze an ostensible utopian world and use it as a backboard to our own society, YA offers a heavy, pointed, if not, absolute, complaisant critique, while its counterpart, Adult Dystopia, holds to having an open  discussion fostering polemics. Adult Dystopia challenges the concept of universal freedom by prompting us with scenarios that make it hard for us to easily disagree with the politics of the idealized world. Of course, that’s the point. We’re supposed to be just as susceptible and uncertain as the characters are about this world and learn what makes the world ‘not a good place’, except it seems that’s not what we really want to read.

YA Dystopian novels are constructed by a concept of innate desire for freedom. The seeds of liberation are sprung at the beginning of the novel by a single character usually by the story’s protagonist. The YA genre itself consists of stories focused entirely around the protagonist that make it impossible for anything else to happen without the protagonist intervening. Following one of YA’s popular tropes, these stories rely on an individual being special who will be placed on a pedestal at one point seen with characters such as Jonas from The Giver or Katniss in the Hunger Games, the first possessing the rare ability to store humankind’s memories and the other with impressive, esoteric survival skills. What these protagonists share is almost clairvoyance; they can view the distorted world almost immediately. There’s a compulsion to rectify the world and change things to the status quo, which they abstractly but unconsciously know. The story is contingent on the guidance from the protagonist that, without him or her, the story decomposes. It’s also what creates a story where the individual’s actions shape the world whereas Adult Dystopia is more so about the influence of the world on its people.

Adult Dystopia is a quandary; it wrestles with the dark undertones and myopia. Unlike YA Dystopia, Adult Dystopian characters usually have no precedent of freedom. The world and/or government has already conditioned the people and subsequently dehumanized them into thinking of no other alternative. Not that YA Dystopia lacks mature or dark content, with the premise of some of them nightmarish, but there’s usually a subtle hint of hope, even if it’s shoehorned into the bleakest of pieces. Adult Dystopia makes no such concessions, ergo opening a typhoon of unfavorable imaginings that’s not wide-spread entertainment. Turns out, people want happy endings! Go figure.

And these happy endings found in YA Dystopia are usually extended into multiple books contrary to Adult Dystopia novels that are limited (or fully realized) in stand-alone books. YA Dystopia has the advantage of expansion, quintessentially creating new subplots in the overarching story. Adult Dystopia rarely expounds on its stories; however, that’s starting to change.

Although both genres offer a reoccurring recalcitrant theme, it’s undeniable that YA Dystopia is more popular amongst its targeted audience. Built on a semi-fictious world and characters, YA Dystopia ends up actually being more relatable to its young adult audience versus Adult Dystopia. The themes in dystopia resonant with young adults, who feel locked away in schools, their lives dictated by their teachers and parents. It’s no surprise young adults can relate. Adult Dystopia touches on these issues too, but they’re not as palpable to adults who, for the most part, have a choice and ultimately are responsible for their decisions (yay for adulting…) And adults reading YA Dystopia isn’t new. As I noted previously, YA Dystopia is a pithy and usually promises some kind of light at the end of the tunnel, whether it’s a moral lesson or a small patch of happiness amiss the rubble. Compared with Adult Dystopia, which can be equally as entertaining, it doesn’t guarantee a happy ending and may just decide to leave you alone at the bottom of a well of despair.

But this isn’t to say that one is superior over the other. Each subgenre is simply but differently conveying stories set in worlds and societies seemingly perfect that are not. The overwhelming demand for Dystopia is not curtailed to only one domain. Each subgenre just meets different needs. And if Dystopia isn’t meeting your needs or you’re exhausted with the barrage of enslavement-scientific-experiment-gone-wrong- genetically-modified reductive plots, fear not, this will pass. Or if you’re crazy about Dystopia and cannot get enough of it, ride the oversaturated market as long as you can, but also, fear not, Dystopian novels won’t disappear entirely.

Persepolis

41j0HePe1BL._SL500_AA300_I’m not ashamed to admit this but a bulk of what I read when I was a kid was Manga. Some of my favorite stories are from such works as Pandora Hearts, Fruits Basket, and xxxHolic. At the time, I was mortified because that’s just not what people read. They were reading Artemis Fowl and Harry Potter. Nothing is wrong with these books or what I had/have read. But for a long time, I thought there was something wrong with because I loved books with pictures. Several times I was even accused of reading only “low-brow” work, which is just silly.

Persepolis chronicles Marjane Satrapi’s life during the war between Iran and Iraq, her time abroad in Austria, her return to Iran, and eventual departure. A coming-of-age story, Persepolis originally was two separate graphic novels in a series. I was fortunate enough to read the complete work.

With novels like Persepolis, the movement of the plot is conventional and reads like a memoir should. From the perspective of Marjane Satrapi, the story heavily relies on the keen observations and self-interjections of Satrapi for narration. What makes the story interesting is, of course, Satrapi’s perspective. It’s the way she internalizes and externalizes her experiences that elevate the story.

imagesThe novel’s emphasis on femininity and national identity remain faithful throughout the story with independent, intelligent characters. Satrapi’s parents and grandmother influence Satrapi’s beliefs and development, and they engrain in her the significance of a formal and informal education, something I’m thankful my dad did for me. Education often is a means to self-liberation, not exclusively to employment opportunities, but in learning who we are and how we fit into a world where domestic violence exist, women are attacked sexually for campaigning for equal rights, or there’s disparity in wages between men and women. These are relevant to anyone. I loved that the people in the book generate these discussions and provide sophisticated, critical points discerning women’s roles during wartime and in an oppressed culture. Because the novel follows Satrapi’s life from start to finish (sort of), we are able to see Satrapi’s ideas evolve into something more complicated but in terms she can identify with.

Loaded with content, the writing and dialogue laser in on issues with beautiful and disturbing candor. There’s a myriad of issues such as war, loss, freedom, drugs, and separation that I thought the cartoonish illustrations would desensitize. The illustrations don’t take away from the darker parts of the novel but instead lends us a pair of eyes that help us better understand the conflicts and how Satrapi conceptualized these events when she was a child.

The ending is more like a beginning. Satrapi undergoes a transformation and is ready for the next phase of her life. So often novels conclude as if this one single event defines life, but as Persepolis suggests, several instances and experiences are what lead us to become the people we are today.

Rating: 4.6 out of 5

The Honey Thief

51CmRq28eEL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Sometimes it’s easy to categorize the books we read while other times we’re not sure what we’ve just read. This is not bad—just difficult. The Honey Thief by Elizabeth Graver fell under this indistinctive classification for me but according to Goodreads, it belongs under the genre known as Literary Fiction which umbrellas a range of themes forming thoughts or criticisms reflective of social and/or political issues exploring some aspect of the human condition. Certainly parts of The Honey Thief have this nuance; yet, it doesn’t fully develop and ends up undercutting the characters’ stories and conclusions.

Eleven-year old Eva and her mother Miriam uproot to a small town leaving behind their lives in New York City in hopes of starting somewhere fresh. Miriam wants to move on from the loss of her husband, but she’s also keeping a secret that is the primary reason for her and her daughter moving to the boonies. It’s summer though, which means Eva is left exploring the town by herself until school starts. During one of her days outside, she happens upon some jars filled with honey, which she steals. We’re then introduced to the bee keeper named Burl who’s enamored by bees, and when little Eva comes along; the two of them form a bond.

The structure of the story is worth mentioning for its multifaceted viewpoints. The plot at times is ostensibly stagnant and aimless, and its external environment scarcely influences the story’s trajectory. Like most works of literary fiction, the story occurs internally. Eva wanders around town before meeting the Burl, but it’s not her adventures that we notice but how she internalizes her experiences that give the plot momentum. Otherwise we superficially have Burl the fanatical-bee-loving bee keeper and an eleven-year-old klepto Eva who ends up adopting the same fascination toward bees. These obsession, however, expose the book’s intention to demonstrate people’s need for companionship and studies arbitrary definitions of happiness. In addition to the semi-occurring plot, a bulk of the story is told through a series of flashbacks commenting on the fragility of human intimacy and companionship. The characters anchor the plot from floundering.

Not only are the characters vastly different and generate diverse opinions, it’s the tension shared between them that renders an authentic humanistic portrayal, which I typically expect in literary fiction and what I love about the genre. In trying to understand each other, the characters reveal more about themselves than the person or object they are fixated on. But what makes this disappointing is the disproportional narration. Miriam tells a majority part of the story which contains the scope of her life while Eva and Burl don’t have nearly as much disclosure. Although Eva’s youth doesn’t allow for this, Burl certainly has a handful of experiences that are mentioned but are treated with no merit. By the novel’s conclusion, it’s the mother and daughter relationship that offers the novel’s last words and subsequently snubs Burl out despite the novel’s forthcoming presentation of the plot and of its well-developed characters.

For a lack of better words, the writing is literary meaning it emulates the best and worst qualities innate with being human. The style remains consistently the same amongst each character, which subdues forming individualized voices for them; however, the content contained within the writing makes up for this, which is how the book is able to create such concerning, thought provoking characters.

The novel’s conclusion delays satisfaction by ambiguously resolving the overarching issues—which, I realize, is what most literary works do. Near the conclusion though, the novel takes a drastic turn disheveling the well-established tone and meanings prior. The story shifts from everything happening internally to something externally occurring. The novel imposes on us immediate conflict that is such a sharp contrast to the rest of the novel that it feels like it’s only added to give us some action when it’s not warranted. I’m grateful it doesn’t undermine itself by squarely giving us a finish, but at the same time, it feels incomplete in the way it doesn’t fully develop its characters, or how it discontinues the story after introducing this conflict and propels the story in a new direction. Contrary to most people’s complaints about literary fiction having no plot or having little of it, The Honey Thief certainly exemplifies some of the genre but also subverts some of the literary fiction conventions too.

Rating: 3.8 out of 5

Annihilation

Annihilation_by_jeff_vandermeerBooks in the science-fiction genre are a hit or a miss with me. I find either these books are too saturated with McGuffins or stories too epic and fantastical that plot or character elements go by the wayside, which is why Annihilation pleasantly surprised me in more than one way.

We are introduced to a team of four women that make up the 12th expedition into a place known as Area X, a mysterious, uncultivated region occupied with anomalies. Previous expeditions have ended strangely with members of each expedition succumbing to different illnesses and fates such as aggression, injuries, trauma, cancer, and death. The members of the 12th expedition are designated names according to their occupation: Surveyor, Psychologist, Anthropologist, and the Biologist, who narrates the story based on her observations and occurrences in Area X, and she also reflects on her life with her husband, who was a member of the last expedition who died under mysterious circumstances as well. As the team explores more of Area X, the team’s behavior change, showing increased signs of aggression, anxiety, and paranoia. The Biologist, however, seems unaffected. As she learns more about Area X, more questions start to surface, which no one seems to want to ask despite all the previous failed missions. What’s the real reason behind coming to Area X at all?

What I found surprising about this story was its telling of a complex, unknown world in a way that doesn’t completely alienate us. There’s no question that Area X is bizarre, but it’s not like we are dropped in a place that requires a new language to understand everything. Buildings and objects resemble things in our post-modern world, which makes me speculate that Area X was once connected to our continent until such-and-such event happened, and humankind decides to wall up Area X to isolate it from the general public (since, you know, walls solve everything.)

The external environment acts as a plot agent that generates the conflict and characters’ actions. The characters’ development is contingent on Area X. I would argue that this form of plot narrative can hinder a characters’ progression only because the characters act as filters sifting through the odds and ends of the world’s landscape. Because the protagonist is a biologist though, the narration about the world coincides with the progression of her character, which works really well. In a team of four, the Biologist receives the most attention, considering she’s the protagonist narrating the story, which allows us to learn of her back story and varying thoughts. The other three members don’t receive the same attention and turn stale midway through the story (i.e. they outlive their purpose.)

Admittedly the Biologist is not a character everyone will like or relate to. She’s considerably cold and distant towards her team members. She views life through a scientific lens, even though her narration doesn’t completely reflect this. It’s surprising the way she changes, not into someone warm and gooey, but in the way she perceives the world and how she’s relearning the events from her past. Her relationship with her husband is complicated, not for martial reasons but for introspective reasons. While she continues to observe the outside world, she internalizes what she sees and tries to provide an objective view of things that sometimes differ from her responses. I grew to respect this character, and I enjoyed watching her change. She herself takes notice of this change and laments that there’s no going back. I also found that the book specifically heralds this transition in her character, having one of the characters, the Psychologist, describe her as if she was brighter or on fire.

The writing style mirrors the protagonist’s analytic mind and incorporates a lyrical narrative style that I imagine is difficult to do in a science-fiction, genre book. I was impressed at the descriptions, which is what made reading this easier than reading other science-fiction works that are meticulously concerned with accuracy and sometimes overwhelming attentive to detail—needing to tell us everything—that it interferes with the writing style.

The conclusion loosely ties everything together leaving things purposely vague to be explored in the other two books. Annihilation is a part of the Southern Reach Trilogy. I wasn’t aware it was a part of series until after I started reading it. . .

Consider this a benefit in reading reviews prior to reading a book.

With that said, Annihilation generates enough interest to want to read the second book. Annihilation ends up asking more questions instead of answering some of the mystery it’s laid out for us. I’m conflicted in some ways because Annihilation by itself is flimsy and cannot stand on its own, but I really do want to know more. Individual books in trilogies must wrap up their stories, even if the overarching story is a continuation. I don’t need a book to give me all the answers, but there’s so much said in Annihilation that very little is actually revealed.

Rating: 3.3

Lovely Book News:

The sequels for this book have been released!
Book Two: Authority
Book Three: Acceptance

Eventually I will be picking these books up to review, but this was a relief to find and odd since I usually don’t see books in a series released within in a short amount of time. This is also the first book I’ve read by Jeff VanderMeer, and if his books are published this quickly then that’s more awesomeness for everyone.