Realization: I definitely don’t read as much or as quickly in the summertime. There are so many other things going on that I get distracted, but nonetheless I did enjoy four excellent books this past month.
1. “The Tiger Claw” by Shauna Singh Baldwin
This is a deeply moving story based on the real life of a young Indian Muslim woman named Noor who worked as a spy for the British government in France during World War Two. She is in love with a French Jewish man, whom her family has rejected, and she hopes that the war can reunite them somehow through her return to France. The book is dense and slow-going at times, but fascinating.
What made the biggest impression on me was seeing the war through the eyes of an immigrant to Europe. Noor observes the irony of Nazi Germany inflicting the same kind of atrocities on occupied France as France forced upon its North African colonies and Britain forced upon India, i.e. reduced food rations to the point of famine and mass starvation. Her perspective offers the much-needed reminder that history is written by the victor and every nation is guilty of crimes against humanity. Some can just hide it better.
2. “Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim” by David Sedaris
A friend recommended Sedaris’ books to me and, having recently heard him interviewed on CBC radio by Jian Ghomeshi, I picked this one up from the library. This book is all about his wacky and weird family, a collection of short stories that are both hilarious and a bit disturbing. Upon further thought, I don’t know if Sedaris’ family is actually that unusual, or if he just has a knack for putting a comedic spin on daily life. Anyways, I enjoyed this book so much that I’ve already begun another one of his called “When You Are Engulfed in Flames.” It’s just as good!
I found Sedaris’ writing quite inspiring, to be honest. When he had me laughing out loud at descriptions of ridiculous family life, I couldn’t help but think about my own upbringing and some of the eccentric, bizarre situations I’ve been in. Reading Sedaris made me feel closer than I’ve ever felt to writing an actual book since his format (short stories) seems accessible and less intimidating than a full-length book.
3. “Tenth of December” by George Saunders
This is also a collection of short stories, though in a totally different tone than Sedaris. Saunders probes complex life questions in fascinating and disturbing ways. The story that made the biggest impression on me was about a child with many mental issues, seen from the perspective of his mother, who loves him deeply and tries to find the best way to keep him happy — by tying him up in the backyard to keep him from running across the interstate and getting hit by a car. Enter a stranger, who is so horrified at his condition that she goes off to call child services. The ending, as with all of Saunders’ stories, is ambiguous, so I never know what happens, but I was left feeling tense and upset at the complexity of such an issue. Yes, one must be objective about the horrors of child abuse, and yet limited resources can make a well-intentioned situation look much worse than it is. The whole book is full of challenging stories like this, and while I can’t say that I enjoyed reading it, it was certainly compelling and has kept me thinking for weeks.
4. “Vagina: a new biography” by Naomi Wolf
This should be required reading for everyone! Wolf explores the brain-vagina connection and what it is that women need in order to be truly sexually satisfied. Using a combination of new, groundbreaking scientific studies and ancient Tantric knowledge, Wolf shows how real sexual satisfaction results in women who are more creative, more confident, and have a greater sense of identity, and this is desperately needed at a time when female sexual satisfaction is, according to studies, at an all-time low. The sexual revolution and a porn-saturated culture have clearly failed women on some level.
One random tidbit of information that I found especially fascinating was about women’s sense of smell and how, when they’re ovulating, they are attracted to the smell of men whose DNA is different than theirs. While pregnant, they’re attracted to men whose DNA is similar, which may be because pregnant women want to be surrounded by kin at such a sensitive time. With the birth control pill, however, which tricks women’s bodies into believing that they are already pregnant, women’s sense of smell is thrown off and they are attracted to the ‘wrong’ men while single and dating. Once married, a woman goes off the pill to start a family, and suddenly the guy doesn’t smell right anymore. Many women report feeling sexually repelled by their husbands at this point and young marriages are suddenly in trouble. Interesting study, isn’t it?