Monthly Archives: December 2013

Our Favorite Books in 2013

This year, the book club read 4 gay books, 4 lesbian books, and 4 queer books. We voted for our favorite book of the year. 

Alaa Al Aswany's The Yacoubian BuildingGay Books

Alaa Al Aswany’s Yacoubian Building – WINNER
Mercedes Lackey’s Magic’s Price
Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Dream of the Celt
Sonya Sones’s One of those Hideous Books where the Mother Dies

Lesbian Books

Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home – WINNER (tie)
Libba Bray’s
Beauty Queens – WINNER (tie)
Mia Farlane’s Footnotes to Sex
Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt

Queer Books

never mind i - edward st aubynMark Gatiss’s The Vesuvius Club
Edward St Aubyn’s
Never Mind – WINNER (tie)
Tan Twan Eng’s The Gift of Rain
Kathleen Winter’s
Annabel – WINNER (tie)

OVERALL WINNER
Alaa Al Aswany’s Yacoubian Building

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Filed under Alaa Al Aswany, Alison Bechdel, Edward St Aubyn, Gay, Kathleen Winter, Lesbian, Libba Bray, Mario Vargas Llosa, Mark Gatiss, Mercedes Lackey, Mia Farlane, Monique Truong, Queer, Sonya Sones, Tan Twan Eng

54th Discussion: Kathleen Winter’s Annabel

ANNABELSpecial thanks to Raj for organizing a Christmas party for this discussion.

It seemed that everyone, except Aaron and Amit, disliked the book: it’s depressing (Alexius), too slow in the latter half (Timmy), grating style (Raj), and forgettable one-dimensional characters (Amit). Har didn’t read it because he disliked the cover. Javin, Luke, Ben and Gil lent their moral support.

THEMES

1. Parenting:

(a) mother: Raj claimed Jacinta wants to raise Wayne as a girl, not a boy. Timmy agreed, saying that’s why Jacinta encouraged Wayne’s interest in synchronized swimming. Aaron, on the other, believed that Jacinta would raise Wayne as s/he is, as an intersex.

(b) father: Raj and Timmy thought that Treadway has no love for Wayne, but Aaron argued that Treadway shows his love in actions.

(c) Thomasina: Both Raj and Timmy thought that Thomasina loves and understands Wayne. But Alexius pointed that that she is using Wayne as a substitution for her dead daugther. Aaron saw her as the villain of the novel because she makes use of Wayne to cope with her grief selfishly, and makes very bad decisions.

2. Marriages: Amit observed the only happy married couple is Thomasina and Graham, and that’s because, Timmy said, Graham is blind. Aaron opined that since blindness is a classic Freudian symbol of castration, then it seems that a happy marriage is between a woman and emasculated man.

3. Sexuality: Although the portrayal of Mr Henry seems homophobic, the ambiguity of Wayne’s sexuality gives the book an inconclusive stance on homosexuality. However, Amit averred that the author seems to skew Wayne to his female self, and to like women.

Metaphors:

1. Peeling: Alexius read the peeling of skin as a sign of his puberty but Timmy saw it as a metaphoric rebirth.

2. Bridges: Alexius said it was the bridging of Wayne’s genitals to cause his pregnancy; Raj saw it as a bridging of both feminine and masculine traits.

Favorite Characters

Timmy’s and Raj’s favorite is Thomasina because she is a strong, independent woman who keeps it real. Alexius liked Steve. Following in Alexius’s footsteps, Amit liked a minor character, the kind make-up artist, and Wayne who reminded him of himself. Aaron stood up for the misunderstood father, Treadway, who prefers animals to humans.

As a conclusion, Alexius relished the synopsis on the back cover; Timmy, the unpredictability and complex characters and the name “Annabel”; Raj had not seen such a writing style; Amit generally liked it, especially the tender portrayal of Wayne as a human being. Aaron gave three reasons why this might be the best book we read this year: (1) the zen-like placid style mirrors the peace of forest and nature; (2) the author is compassionate and this compassion shows in the treatment of characters, even villains, and Aaron thought the world needs this compassion (although, Alexius chimed, the author isn’t compassionate to dogs); (3) the moral of the story: even if we are born a certain way, with our own defects, or encounter obstacles, like Wally, we can still overcome what we are given and make the best out of the situation. Despite adversities, there are little victories in life, and perhaps that is all that matters.

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Filed under Canada, Coming of Age, Ecology, Family, Intersex, Kathleen Winter, Love, Queer

53rd Discussion: Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens

Shout-out to Isaac for allowing us to use his office for our discussion; Aaron moderated the discussion.

OPENING

Libba Bray's Beauty QueensAlexius thought the book was not as good as he had hoped, as he thought it could have been the female version of Lord of the Flies. He stated that it was funny for him initially; however it became cheesy and the “singing at the end spoiled the book” for him. Isaac also agreed that it was not funny and felt that the book was not catered to “people of his age.” Jiaqi thought the book was fairly entertaining, though the author did not set out to explore the presented themes in a deep manner and glossed over issues in an attempt to make it more “politically correct.”

At the other end of the spectrum, Javin actually read the book and declared that he liked it, comparing it to Miss Congeniality. Aaron gushed about the book too, saying that despite the “cheem” English being used, parts of the book were a “tour de force” with sublime writing.

THEMES

We first delved into the opening chapter, “A Word from Your Sponsor.” Aaron asked why did the author started with this. Alexius commented that it acted as a preface and to give context to the book. Javin felt that the chapter was meant to be ironic and read with a sense of humour. Like Alexius, he believed that the opening chapter sets the stage for the rest of the book. Both of them agreed that it was akin to the reality television format that we see nowadays.

Death was pretty imminent in the book; in fact, according to Aaron, they were too many of them. The closest explanation that we derived from this was to showcase the blood, sweat and tears to becoming beauty queens, and what their world is like in extreme situations (Javin).

From there, we moved on to why Taylor started on her killing spree. Aaron thought that the change in character was freaky; Javin felt it was too sudden and Alexius commented that Taylor may have been possessed. All three agreed that Taylor suddenly became unstable.

We also touched on the topic of race. Aaron felt there was diversification covered in the book, which got the thumbs up from him. It also highlighted racism and society as a whole. Aaron asked Shanti’s motives for being best friends with Nicole, the other minority character of the book. Javin viewed it as a strategy to win the beauty pageant, while Timmy felt it was just a minority allaying with another minority. Jiaqi opined that the two share the same challenges and thus, would be able to understand the problems if they face it together.

Jiaqi felt that the transgender issue was not treated in a “deep” manner and no serious conflicts were portrayed. Javin disagreed, highlighting that Petra was initially supposed to be cut out of the pageant due to her nature, but was eventually allowed to stay when they were stranded on the island. Aaron questioned whether the issue was sensitively handled. He also brought up the question as to why Shanti disliked and ostracized Petra. Timmy commented it may have been a case of minority versus minority, while Javin quipped that “all Indians dislike transgenders.”

We also discussed briefly on lesbianism, which Javin felt was handled too tamely compared to the other issues that were present throughout the book.

Aaron questioned whether the book was a feminist book, which got a positive response from everyone else. They all agreed that it portrayed all kinds of women – stupid women, weak women, strong women, coloured women. Aaron felt that this portrayal was “amazing” as it showed the different sides of beauty queens and not as one-note, dumb females; that behind these facades, they are smart, gung-ho women.

In comparison, the males were glossed over and came across as only two-dimensional. The pirates, in particular, were hardly portrayed (Jiaqi), only had to be hot, good looking and have abs (Javin), and were daft, scheming douches (Aaron).

CHARACTERS

Taylor

Aaron felt that the author was punishing her by turning her into a crazed killer and making her stay on the island. Javin agreed, adding on that she has the necessary skills to become Ladybird Hope. Overall, he viewed her as a sad character who may have decided to remain on the island because she “cannot win the beauty pageant.”

Jiaqi disagreed; he felt that she became more interesting due to the transformation and may have even found herself. “She became what she wanted,” Alexius quipped, from being leader of the (beauty queens) tribe to leader of the jungle.

Adina

Javin found her annoying, “high and mighty”, sarcastic and disrespectful; someone who was no better than the rest of the beauty queens. Aaron agreed, commenting that she was too moralistic and compared her to Sandra Bullock’s character in Miss Congeniality. Alexius felt there was nothing special about her.

Shanti

Javin’s favourite character; he found her “realistic” and felt that she was “interesting” due to her devious nature. Aaron, however, felt that the author made her unlikable and only used her “cultural background” to make people/ readers like her. Javin disagreed, proclaiming that Shanti “does not represent her race.”

Petra

Jiaqi thought that she was not negatively portrayed. Aaron and Javin both agreed, saying that her character was fleshed out quite well (Aaron) and she was tastefully written (Javin). Javin further added that the author gave her a good ending and allowed her to shine. Alexius agreed to a certain extent, but also found her “scary” as “transgenders may influence heterosexuals to like them.” (WHUT.)

Tiara

Jiaqi felt that she was not stupid, perhaps just “slow” in thinking and reaction.

Jennifer

According to Aaron, she was not like a typical beauty queen, although Jiaqi felt that she did not get her “happily ever after.”

Sosie

Javin viewed as a typical, normal person who struggled with her decisions and took more time to figure things out. Jiaqi felt that she was sexually experimentative, and that was fine with him, which led to Aaron asking whether she was just using Petra to figure out her sexual orientation (“any hole to poke”).

Mary Lou

Jiaqi found her to be the more interesting character of the book. Aaron thought her sexual awakening scene to be the dreamiest and sublime part of the book.

Agent Jones

Like Taylor, this character too ended up going crazy, which led to Aaron proclaiming it as his punishment for being the mastermind of the island. Jiaqi and Javin both viewed him as the bad guy of the book. Alexius felt that he was the only one to have a back story out of all the characters. Agent Jones is also Alexius’s favourite character thanks to his humorous outcome (he put on a bunny suit, had a serious exchange, and then died shortly afterwards).

Apart from Javin and Alexius, both Aaron and Jiaqi did not have any favourite characters. Aaron found them all to be unlikable and hated them, yet he still liked the book, which he felt was very difficult to achieve.

CLOSING STATEMENTS

In capping off the discussion, everyone was required to share something (good) about the book. Alexius liked the back cover and thought it showed some initial promise and meaning to the book. Javin liked the book and found it hilarious, commenting that the book did not take itself too seriously and was portrayed realistically to a certain extent. Jiaqi found the book fairly easy to read and was kept entertained. Aaron thought the book was well-written and multi-faceted, though he felt it was rather difficult to sustain a satire throughout 400 pages.

Isaac, however, found the book annoying and the humour did not bode well with him; hence he had a DNF (did not finish) stamped all over it.

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