Friday, 17 March 2023

Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators

Genre: Non-Fiction, Crime 

Published: October 15, 2019 by: Little, Brown and Company 

Pages: 608

Rating: 5/5 stars 

CW: detailed descriptions of sexual assault against both women and minors 

In 2017, Ronan Farrow, a reporter working with NBC news, was led to a story about numerous sexual abuse allegations made against one of Hollywood's most powerful producers: Harvey Weinstein. In the months following, Farrow made attempts to put together the pieces of this story that soon would unravel Hollywood as we know it. But threats by the producer and by NBC itself proved to be challenging to Farrow's career and his own safety. Catch and Kill is a detailed description of the steps Farrow took to bring this story to public eyes despite all of the people in power advising him not to. 

I was very late to the game when it came to this book. But finally I saw it at the library over the summer and I just knew it was time to pick it up. I remember when the #MeToo movement, which was started by Tarana Burke in 2006, made waves across Hollywood, and quite frankly, the world. I remember men saying this was a "witch hunt," and that pretty soon, no man would be safe. I remember news organizations documenting Weinstein's eventual arrest and how some who once defended him cowardly declined to talk about it. I know people called this one of the "best kept secrets in Hollywood," until Farrow decided enough was enough. This text was overall a powerful crime novel about how men in positions of power work to abuse that power through physical and emotional force against innocent victims, and how victims are often scared into silence. 

The only thing I really knew about Farrow before going into this book is that he is the son of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen. I was wondering if Allen's own sexual abuse would be mentioned within this text, but Farrow handles this issue with sensitivity and transparency, especially considering how Allen's victim was Farrow's sister Dylan. Farrow acknowledges that this story is not his to tell, as his sister has documented for years Allen's abuses against her, but he also acknowledges that Allen's abuse continues to perpetuate how men in Hollywood seek to abuse and cover up. I really appreciated how Farrow took every step to establish himself as an unbiased journalist simply reporting on an issue, and not tying anything to his family name or stories that are not his to tell. He gives respect to his sister and also respect to himself by not speaking on issues personal to him. In handling this situation, he showed what a great reporter he is by refusing to let this issue go unsaid, but also respecting the victims involved. 

The book was well-organized and easy to follow. Farrow handles everything sequentially, beginning from when he first started investigating the story, to more recent times when similar abuses were also being shared. I think he really did well to establish a recognizable timeline to the story, despite some of the abuses going back decades. He took care to be clear in his reporting of significant dates and significant connections that needed to be made between these dates and the context of Weinstein's crimes. He also is able to keep descriptions of crimes or descriptions of victims brief and private if needed. He doesn't overshare if it is not needed, especially considering the overall sensitivity of this story. 

One thing that I appreciate that Farrow does do, is namedrop when applicable. Since Weinstein was such a powerful figure in Hollywood, a lot of folks in Hollywood had much to say (or rather not say) about this issue. Farrow makes clear that some of the most well-loved, writers, directors, actors and actresses of Hollywood knew things, but didn't say anything. Or, they found it difficult to believe that Weinstein would do such a thing. Farrow doesn't dance around details that need to be addressed. He makes clear that those who didn't speak up are not on trial, and yet, this book does put into perspective how often in the movie and tv industry, people know things but choose to stay silent to protect their own careers. Now some people needed their careers in order to keep living. But some, had enough privilege that speaking on these issues would not have had an affect on them. And yet, they chose the easy way out. Why was this? Well, Farrow doesn't get the chance to really interview everyone in depth. But he did reach out to many recognizable names who knew or worked with Weinstein to get their opinions. And I was shocked by how many declined to comment. 

Farrow also takes care to fact-check with The New Yorker, the news organization that published his piece. He doesn't let anything he says be up to assumption or opinion, rather every single bombshell he drops has evidence to back it up, which is so important when relying on good reporting. These facts are shocking, but needed so that Farrow can help the victims in this situation have the right to credible news reporting. I can't imagine the stress that Farrow and others helping him were under this time period, but truly they were doing such important work to help raise awareness of this story. 

Overall, this book is a must-read for future journalists, crime writers, or those who simply know a bit about the MeToo movement but want to know more about how and why it affected Hollywood. Farrow's dedication to the field of journalism cannot be forgotten, nor can the brave stories of Weinstein's victims be forgotten either. 

Have you read Catch and Kill? What did you think? 

Emily @ Paperback Princess

Wednesday, 1 March 2023

Month in Review: February

I am so happy we're in the month of spring. February was rough weather-wise, and just a few days ago I had such a stressful time driving home because of a massive snowstorm. I do not like this weather and am looking forward to a change. Anyways, here's the good stuff that happened this month: 

What I Read: 

I'm Glad My Mom Died by: Jennette McCurdy: 5/5 stars 

Braiding Sweetgrass by: Robin Wall Kimmerer: 4.5/5 stars 

Hunting by Stars by: Cherie Dimaline: 5/5 stars 

Astrid Parker Doesn't Fail by: Ashley Herring Blake: 3/5 stars 

The Theban Plays by: Sophocles: 4/5 stars 

Obasan by: Joy Kogawa: 3/5 stars 

Favourite Book: I was so excited to finally be able to get my hands on a copy of I'm Glad My Mom Died by: Jennette McCurdy. I've read nothing but positive reviews about this book, and as someone who grew up watching McCurdy on tv, this text really provided some shocking but important insights into the toxic culture of growing up on tv. McCurdy is a fantastic writer and I hope she continues to write more. 

What I Blogged: 

I really enjoyed writing my post about Performative Reading. I like when the inspiration to write a book comes from outside of the bookish world, and the inspiration from this post came from a really important talk I attended. The insights people provided in the comments were also very helpful, and I definitely want to continue this conversation. 

Favourite Blog Posts of the Month: 

Kit reveals Why They Like Redemption Arcs 

Cait talks 2023 Book Releases You Need to Read 

Lissa shares Meet-Cutes and "Meet-Awkwards" From Books 

Life Stuff: 

The big and good news from this month is that I got into my PhD program! It was such a coincidence how I found out as I got the email while talking about acceptance letters with a friend, but I am so unbelievably happy. Now comes the hard and not so fun stuff of budgeting, finding a place to live, figuring it all out, etc. But for now I can celebrate, which is good :) 

This month I am looking forward to some birthday celebrations and eating lots of Easter chocolate. With some work as usual sprinkled in as well. 

That was my February? How was yours? 

Emily @ Paperback Princess

Friday, 17 February 2023

Paperback's Pondering's: "Performative" Reading: When Reading Books by Marginalized People Became Popular

CW: this post will discuss the murder of George Floyd, the discovery of unmarked graves in Kamloops, B.C., residential schools, and anti-Black racism 

On my social media feed, I never saw more people reading books written by Black people than in the first few weeks after the murder of George Floyd. Suddenly, my timeline was flooded with people reading THUG by: Angie Thomas, Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race by: Reni Eddo-Lodge, and So You Want to Talk About Race by: Ijeoma Oluo. I too joined the cause to read more books by Black authors, and even books written by other marginalized groups, as I recognized that Indigenous folks in Canada face similar prejudices. But, after a few weeks passed, action on social media seemed to quiet down, and some Black creators began commenting about how the fight needs to continue way beyond when a Black person is murdered. 

I can't remember the exact video they said this, but I remember when Jesse @ Bowties and Books asked poignantly why a Black man had to die for people to start reading books written by Black people. I thought they really put into words the culture of social activism that occurs when something terrible happens, when everyone wants to get involved, but how the activism doesn't always continue past the tragedy. This quote also allowed me to consider when I read books by marginalized authors, but more specifically, what books by marginalized authors I read. Yes, it's important to educate oneself about the trauma that marginalized folks face, but it is also crucial to integrate books of marginalized folks experiencing joy. We need to see marginalized individuals beyond the stereotypes of "victims and perpetuators" (which Eve Tuck so eloquently puts in her article: "Suspending Damage," link below!) 

So, why I am I bringing up this conversation in 2023? Because earlier this week, I had the privilege of attending a talk with Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, who is a Mississauga Nishnaabeg writer, and Robyn Maynard, who is a Black Canadian writer. One person in the conversation asked the two writers about allyship, which prompted me to ask them how they felt about the performative activism regarding reading that occured in 2020 and even in 2021 after the discovery of unmarked graves near a former residential school in B.C. I wanted to get their opinions on this very polarizing and complicated discussion, as it has been something I have been pondering over the years. Is all reading for activism good, even if it is performative? When does reading for activism become performative? Is it when Indigo puts out a table in their stores during Pride Month to celebrate LGBTQ+ voices? Is that enough? 

Robyn Maynard answered first, and she said something that really opened my eyes. She started off her statement by saying that she had a "controversial" opinion on the subject, which is that she doesn't really care how non-Black individuals consume Black abolitionist content, as long as they are doing so. She said that if someone thinks that reading books on abolition is "cool" then who is she to stop them? She did consider that continuity is a problem, so if someone is not consuming Black-led content on a regular basis, then we can look critically on that, but overall, she sees any reading of Black books to be a good thing, regardless of intention. 

Maynard's comments allowed me to think about performative reading and how BIPOC writers and readers may have a diversity of opinions on the subject. I think I had limited myself to the viewpoint that if someone is really only reading activist books for the "hype," then they are not contributing to activism as a whole. But Maynard really helped me to see the chain reaction that occurs once someone reads a book. They may like it, they may post about it on social media, and that inspires other people to pick up the book. Yes, hype may be a factor in this reading, but if someone does take something away from the book, then something was gained from the hype. Continuity is something that needs to be addressed, but at its core, performative reading may help to gain more readership in a positive way. 

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson expanded on Robyn's comments by noting how social media activism played a role in the Idle No More movement. Overall, both of these scholars note that we can often critique performative activism and reading for its intention, but there is also major positives to be gained when someone shares and posts these texts. This conversation helped me to recognize that I need to look at different perspectives on this subject because I think I put my opinion in a box and just looked at the critiques, while I failed to listen to BIPOC authors who suggested other viewpoints. 

Overall, all of this is just to say that yes, performative activism and performative reading should be critiqued when continuity comes into question. Also, it is completely valid for BIPOC folks to be angry when books become hyped only at the time of trauma. I think this problem reflects widely on capitalism capitalizing on when things go viral on social media. However, it is also important to see the positives in privileged folks consuming activist content, and perhaps we can trick the system so that capitalism ultimately becomes a way to get more of these books into the hands of people who need to learn from them. This talk inspired me to listen to different viewpoints and understand that not all BIPOC artists will have the same opinion on a subject, and that's okay! Learning involves diversity, and sometimes a question doesn't have just one answer. In this case, I think Maynard and Betasamosake Simpson answered my question quite well. 

What do you think about performative activism/reading? Have you ever put your opinion into a box and failed to see differing perspectives? 

Eve Tuck's article: Suspending Damage 

Emily @ Paperback Princess

Wednesday, 8 February 2023

Dancing with the Octopus by: Debora Harding

Genre: memoir

Published: August 27, 2020 by: Bloomsbury 

Pages: 384 

Rating: 5/5 stars 

CW: kidnapping, sexual assault, PTSD, familial abuse 

Debora Harding grew up in Omaha Nebraska, with a temperamental mother and an absent-minded father. In the winter of 1978, she is abducted a knifepoint and held for ransom by a man who will show no remorse for his crimes as Debora's life continues. While Debora is rescued and her captor is persecuted, her young adult life is forever changed not only because of her assault, but because of her parents' lack of concern for the PTSD she may be suffering. As Debora moves into her adult life, she begins to undertake a project to meet with her kidnapper in order to attempt to bring herself some closure from a life not only corrupted by a terrifying assault, but also significantly impacted by her absent and abusive parents. 

I picked up this book on a whim from the library in the "true crime" section. I am incredibly weary of true crime texts because I think the general public's obsession with reading about other people's trauma should be looked at critically. But something about the title of this book, and the cover, intrigued me. I am always willing to read a memoir, so I figured I'd give it a shot. I was amazed at Debora's intelligent prose, her willingness to integrate dark humour into an incredibly traumatic story, and most importantly, her ability to highlight that her assault and kidnapping were not the only abusive events she encountered in her childhood. I think Harding is an incredible writer, and I would encourage all those who enjoy memoirs to give this one a read. 

I am pretty receptive to dark humour within texts. But, a book that manages to integrate dark humour into a crime involving kidnapping and assault seems daunting. Harding's humour may be tough for some to digest. But, I could really see how humour was used by her as a coping mechanism as she tried to deal with her trauma without any help from her family. When her family wasn't there, humour allowed for her to escape from all of the harsh realities of her current situation. I admired Harding's willingness to be open about such a difficult time in her life in the events after her kidnapping, and her humour I think helped for me to see just how seriously she was neglected by her family after her assault. 

Harding characterizes her kidnapper, and her parents, with honest portrayals that is needed in order for the reader to see how serious her situation was. She absolutely does not sugar-coat anything, and she often refers to her kidnapper as a "fucking asshole," and recounts in visceral detail the insensitive and victim-blaming statements her mother said to her after her assault. These statements are difficult to get through, and I would encourage everyone to go through the content warnings and approach this book with caution. It is tough. However, I can see that through writing this book, Harding was able to hold nothing back because she was told to hold everything back within her childhood. This book gives her the ability to unload her trauma when her parents would rather have had her forget about it. If you can get through these harsh portrayals, then you can really see why using visceral details is therapeutic for Harding. 

A key moment in the text that I found was handled with sensitivity and incredible intelligence is when Harding talks about the race of her kidnapper. Harding was kidnapped by a Black man, and as a white woman, she is very much aware of the conversations that arise when considering racial stereotypes and crime. Harding's explanation is thoughtful and very informative. She acknowledges the stereotypes that Black men face when it comes to crime, and she also explains how Black people are disproportionally incarcerated in US prisons. She also recognizes that this man happened to be Black, but cautions readers against making her crime an example that these stereotypes are true. I don't think Harding had to discuss race at all in her book, but the fact that she took the time to explain racial stereotypes and how her kidnapper's crime does not invite readers to perpetuate harmful stereotypes was incredibly thoughtful. 

Overall, this book was a shocking, deeply personal account of what happens in the aftermath of a crime to victims who do not have familial support. I think Harding's story is one that everyone who is interested in true crime should read, as this book shows that behind the glamourization of criminals within popular culture, there are real victims whose lives are anything but entertainment. 

Have you read Dancing with the Octopus? What did you think? 

Emily @ Paperback Princess

Friday, 3 February 2023

Month in Review: January

We all survived the first month of 2023, go us! This month was filled with loads of stress, but also loads of reading. Here's what happened: 

What I Read: 

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by: Gabrielle Zevin: 4/5 stars 

Funny You Should Ask by: Elissa Sussman: 4/5 stars 

Slash by: Jeanette Armstrong: 4/5 stars 

Time's Convert by: Deborah Harkness: 4/5 stars 

One Italian Summer by: Rebecca Serle: 3/5 stars 

Bridgerton Series books 1-3: avg. rating: 3.5/5 stars 

I read a lot this month! When I'm stressed, I read, and this month was full of stress reading. I would say my favourite book would be Tomorrow x3 by: Gabrielle Zevin. I didn't expect to like this book as much as I did, but it was a really poignant character-driven novel that will tug at your heart strings. 

What I Blogged: 

I'm still on top of reviews, which meets one of my New Year's Resolutions. My review on You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty would probably be my favourite review I wrote this month, as it was fun to try to put my complicated feelings towards this book into words. 

Favourite Blog Posts: 

Claire reviews Emily Ratajkowski's "My Body." 

Nicole's releasing her Debut MG Novel in Verse 

Cee says: You Can't Do All of the Things, All of the Time (And That's Ok) 

Life Stuff: 

As I mentioned before, I was a bit stressed this month. Writing the research proposal for my PhD applications (due on February 1st) was a very trying time, as I had a lot of different opinions on how the proposal should go that I just really ended up writing in circles. It's submitted now, and all I can really do is wait. I really don't know what I'm going to do if I don't get in, but I'm trying to tell myself now that I can't predict the future or what the committee's going to think, and that rejection is a part of life. (Even though it really sucks). 

Other than that, I've been working as a teaching assistant at the university I did my degrees at, and it's been fun! I really enjoy leading seminars and grading papers, and it's been a welcome distraction from the chaos. Next week the students start learning about The Marrow Thieves, which as some of you may know, is a book really important to me, and it's going to be really rewarding to share with the students why this book is important to learn from. 

So now we start the waiting game for hopefully some acceptance letters, and just continue going though the motions of life. I do hope all of you guys had a good January. 

Emily @ Paperback Princess

Sunday, 29 January 2023

The Prince and the Dressmaker by: Jen Wang

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Graphic Novel 

Published: February 13, 2018 

Pages: 277 

Rating: 5/5 stars 

CW: minor bullying regarding gender norms 

In a regal setting inspired by Paris, Prince Sebastian is waiting for the king and queen to find him a suitable wife. However, the prince is less enthused about marriage and would rather twirl around in beautiful dresses made by his best friend Frances. At night, Frances and Sebastian sneak out and take the fashion world by storm. But Sebastian's princely duties are starting to catch up with him, and he begins to wonder if he can be both a ruler, and a beautiful fashion icon at the same time. 

This book was an absolute delight. I saw it in a bookstore when I was on vacation back in the summer, and I just knew it would be one that I would need the physical copy of. The pictures were whimsical and fun, and the story was heartwarming and refreshing. I would recommend this book to tweens, teens and even adults looking for something easy to read. 

Jen Wang went above and beyond creating beautiful artwork in a gorgeous colour palette. The book is made up of pastel artwork that perfectly captures the whimsy nature of the book. I loved the use of soft pinks throughout the panels, and I couldn't help but focus in on the pictures even when my mind naturally goes to the words in a graphic novel. Wang made the pictures so soft and sweet. 

The story is full of fluff and fashion, though without being dull. Wang is still able to build action and tension within the text, but not in a way that automatically defaults to trauma. Yes, Sebastian does endure some stigma due to his like for wearing dresses. But the book ends on such a happy and hopeful note, and just when you think this is going to be a sad tale, the ending turns out to be so positive. Not to mention that the final few panels are just really fun as well. 

I have to say that I really liked that Wang doesn't really label Sebastian's gender or sexuality throughout the text. I think it's easy to stereotype boys wearing dresses, and saying that they are gay. Or that masc-presenting people who wear dresses must not be cisgender. But Wang just lets Sebastian be Sebastian, without the labels. He has a wholesome, adorable relationship with his best friend Frances, who was also a well-rounded character you can't help but root for. I appreciated the side plots that involved fashion within the story, as seeing Frances have a passionate career in the industry was really cool to see. 

Overall, this book was easy to get through, light and fluffy, and a great example of how to show positive representation of challenging gender norms without resorting to trauma. I think this book would be perfect for tweens wanting to get into reading graphic novels, and the message can't be beat. 

Have you read The Prince and the Dressmaker? What did you think? 

Emily @ Paperback Princess

Friday, 20 January 2023

You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty by: Akwaeke Emezi

Genre: Romance, Contemporary 

Published: May 24, 2022 by: Atria Books 

Pages: 288 

Rating: 4/5 stars 

CW: death of a spouse, PTSD 

It's been five years since visual artist Feyi Adekola's spouse was killed in a car accident, and Feyi is coping as best as she can. She feels ready to try and see if she can get a second chance at love, and after she has a flirty encounter with a man named Nasir, she thinks that maybe loving again is possible. Nasir invites Feyi to a luxury island where is his father Alim works as a celebrity chef. While there, Feyi's art career flourishes with opportunity, and she is immediately charmed by Nasir's family. However, things get complicated when Feyi begins to grow closer to Alim as they bond over shared grief, and Feyi begins to question the relationship she has formed with Nasir. 

When I heard that Akwaeke Emezi was writing a romance, I was intrigued. Emezi is known for their powerful, soulful writing, though often these tales come with unimaginable sorrow and trauma. This book seemed a little bit lighter while still dealing with some tough themes, and I thought the island setting would make it perfect for summer. I was definitely not disappointed, as the book definitely has Emezi's distinctive, poetic prose. However, I think most people will find the romance in this book a bit dividing, as I certainly did. 

I think it was really unique of Emezi to have her main character be a widow. I don't read a ton of romance books where the main character is a widow trying to find love again, but I think this detail introduces a whole different layer to the character and makes the stakes surrounding the romance all the more complex. I appreciated seeing how Feyi grapples with wanting to learn to live again, while also not wanting to forget her past love behind. Her and Alim bond as they have both lost past loves, and I think seeing people share grief with one another can be an incredibly healing process. 

This book has a lot of wonderous food imagery, as well as takes place in a luxurious island setting. Emezi wastes no time in filling the page with delicious food and a glorious setting that really helped to make this book an easy to get through read. Since the island is in the Caribbean, I got introduced to a bunch of different foods and flavours that I was not familiar with, and I think setting this book on an island when the book was released right before summer was a smart move. This book definitely set the vibe of  a summer romance really well, and the food imagery was a nice added touch. 

The book begins by introducing Feyi as a woman whose soulmate is her best friend Joy. I definitely don't want to count out Joy, as she was a very welcome addition to the book. Joy has helped Feyi through thick and thin, and their friendship was so supportive and healthy. I think showing platonic soulmates within a romance book is such a unique but important feature, as oftentimes romances can kind of push the friend characters to the side. However, Joy is a ride or die friend to Feyi, and honestly they may have been the most important relationship to the book. 

This book functioning as a romance can be very polarizing to some people. I have seen folks criticize the romance as unhealthy, or people characterize Feyi as being a shitty person because of the feelings that she develops. I really don't want to give much away as I think this is a book that you just have to read and form your own opinions on, but by reading the synopsis and other reviews, it's no secret that the romance in this book is complicated. Thus, my opinions on the romance are complicated. Do I think the romance was unhealthy? No. Do I think Feyi is a bad person? No. Nobody is perfect, and Feyi is learning and growing as she continues to deal with her PTSD after her spouses' death. However, I don't know if I could completely root for the romance in this book. I think if I were involved in the situation myself I would have a really, really hard time rooting for the romance. Like I said, you just have to read it to know what I'm talking about, but at the end of the day, I couldn't give this book five stars because I just wasn't sure if I was wholly supportive of the romantic relationship. I'm gonna sound like a broken record, but it's...complicated. 

Overall, I would recommend this book because I need to know other people's opinions on it. I think it is definitely worth reading for its setting and food imagery, and I think even reading the romance side of it will leave people thinking, which is a good thing! 

Have you read You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty? What did you think? 

Emily @ Paperback Princess