Friday, 25 September 2020

My 500th Blog Post: What I've Learnt Along the Way

I am not usually one to get sappy. In fact, if I hadn't glanced upon it, I probably wouldn't have even noticed that this post is my 500th blog post that I've published. Can you believe?! But I have found that my blog has very much evolved over these past six years. I decided to take some time to reflect on what I've learnt over 500 posts. 

1. It's good to not take yourself too seriously. 

I used to write really stuffy, overly professional blog posts. But I quickly realized that this was not my thing. I don't talk like that in real life, so why would I want to write like that? I have learnt that it's ok to swear, it's ok to be sarcastic, it's ok to go on rant reviews sometimes. I enjoy looking back on my old posts and laughing a bit, because that person was so not me. I'm glad that I have a platform where I am able to be myself. 

2. It's ok to talk about harsh subjects. It's ok to get "political." 

There was a time where I was convinced that if I ever had to use my blog on a resume, that I had to be strictly un-biased and uninformed on political issues for fear that employers would disagree with me. Now I'm like: to hell with that! Us bloggers are privileged to have a position in which we can educate people on world issues. We can talk about racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia, and we should not fear over getting "political." I mean, human rights in my opinion is not even a political issue. If you're not using your platform to speak up, then why do you have it? 

3. Content warnings mean the world to an anxious reader. 

I used to be able to read anything, no matter how dark. It wasn't until I was diagnosed with OCD that I learnt the value in content warnings, and I wish I had utilized them in my reviews sooner. Content warnings show that you care about your reader. And they are certainly NOT spoilers. It took me way longer than it should have, but now I am proud that I put content warnings in all of my reviews. 

4. Sometimes, the design doesn't matter. 

I have never been a graphic designer. When I started my blog I was so stressed that I would have to be able to design all of these fancy headers and widgets. I have since learned that at least for me, all I care about are the words I'm writing. Yes my blog design is super simple. Yes my blog button looks like a children's book. But I have a pretty header that my cousin generously designed for me, and to me, that is all I want in terms of design. I write blog posts, I don't design websites. (But major props to those of you who have drop-dead gorgeous sites. I will forever look up to you). 

5. Your blog friends will be closer than any friends you made in high school. 

I have never been one to make a lot of friends. I barely had any friends in high school, I don't have any close friends in university. The closest people I have in my life are my blogging friends and my family. The truth is, y'all have helped me through some tough shit. Whether it's Cee who helped me through a panic attack, or the weekly Zoom chats I have with Joey, Tessi, Claire, Sofia, and Riv, these relationships matter to me. I am so grateful. 

So, this was my 500th blog post. Thank you so much to every one who has ever read or commented on one of my posts. Blogging is a huge part of my life. It keeps me sane, and I don't know what I would do without it. Here's to 500 more. 

Emily @ Paperback Princess

Friday, 18 September 2020

How We Fight For Our Lives by: Saeed Jones

Genre: Memoir
Published: October 8, 2019 by: Simon and Schuster
Pages: 192
Rating: 5/5 stars
CW: racism, homophobia, predatory behaviour onto minors, grief

Saeed Jones is an esteemed poet who blends poetry and prose into a powerful memoir. Jones tells the story of his life as a boy in the deep South, dealing with a tumultuous but strong relationship with his family members, and his own identity as a queer Black man. How We Fight For Our Lives is a story of coming into ones identity, of losing people close to you, and of navigating a world that privileges some, and marginalizes others.

I love a good memoir. I especially love a memoir that intertwines different genres to get its message across. Saeed Jones is known by most to be a poet. In his memoir, he uses his gifts as a poet and a writer to craft a memoir that makes an impact. Not only does it make an impact, it makes a statement. Even though this book is chilling and at times very graphic, I still think if you can handle the subject matter, it is worth the read.

This memoir doesn't read like non-fiction. By this I mean that Jones doesn't simply regurgitate moments from his childhood without any substance. He is able to tap deep into his thoughts and feelings within each moment in his past that he talks about. The ways in which he writes is lyrical and enthralling. The book takes you on a stream of consciousness journey. I could not put it down once I started.

I read this book shortly after the murder of George Floyd. People were emphasizing the need to read more books by Black authors, and specifically Black queer authors. I saw someone recommend this book and decided to go into it without knowing much of who Jones was. But I emerged knowing so much about Jones and wanting to know even more. I am inspired by the way he writes. I love how he is able to incorporate intersections of race and queerness in his works. He shows how these two concepts are highly connected. I can see this book being studied in queer theory courses, because not only was it educational, but it is a critical look at race and queer relations in the United States.

*Side note, after I finished this memoir I wanted to research Jones' other works, and I came across this article he wrote for GQ regarding the Black Lives Matter protests. It was so incredible, I would encourage you all to read it:

Whose Grief? Our Grief

This book deals with some tough subject matter, so I would suggest going into it after knowing of the content warnings. However, if you are looking for a memoir to take your breath away, look no further. I think this is a memoir that everyone should read.

Have you read How We Fight For Our Lives? What did you think?

Emily @ Paperback Princess

Friday, 11 September 2020

Paperback's Pondering's: My Problems with The Selection series

If you've been around the book community for a while, then you probably know of The Selection series by: Kiera Cass. The Selection is about a girl named America Singer, who is entered into a competition to see if she can win the charismatic Prince Maxon's hand in marriage. The land in which America lives is divided by castes, and economic divisions between the castes, resulting in rebel fighting, are what drives the main conflict throughout the series. I used to LOVE this series. To be honest, it makes for a good reread too. But given what I now know about diversity in YA and the ways in which heroines are written, I feel like I need to get things off my chest.

America is your typical "I'm not like other girls" protagonist. She is described as plain to look at, and she hates dressing up and putting on a lot of makeup. In the palace, when the other girls get excited about makeovers, American typically chooses to scale back, rejecting big jewelry for her simple songbird necklace. Now look, America can do whatever the hell she wants. I can admire a girl who rejects typical roles of femininity and instead wears what she feels comfortable. My problem lies in  how much America silently judges the other girls who do like dressing up.

If we're going to write female protagonists who dress how they want, then the respect needs to go both ways. Yes we can admire America for following her own path. We may even relate to her. But so often, women are judged for being frivolous or too girly. I am sick and tired of girls in YA being shamed for liking to dress up and put on makeup. If you want to paint your face everyday, go for it! If you want to go bare-faced, go for it! But what I am so done with, are girls being shamed for the former. America does judge the other girls based on their looks, which is very shallow, especially considering she is supposed to be the heroine. If I have to read one more female antagonist who acts as a complete foil to the main character because she enjoys dressing up, I'm going to lose it.

Along the same topic, I wanted to address the main antagonist, Celeste Newsome. Celeste is, like I hinted at, a typical "girly girl." She wears a lot of makeup, she is also a professional model, and she is known for being catty towards the other girls and for trying to seduce Maxon. Now the seduction part is what I have the most trouble with. The fact that Celeste is portrayed as a pretty model whose only strength is her body, is really troubling to me. Celeste is overly sexualized, with America constantly talking about her plunging necklines and sultry voice. This borders on slut-shaming for me. While America is pure and naive, Celeste is is risque and scandalous. Quite frankly, I am sick and tired of the female antagonists having to be overly sexual. It makes it seem as if their sexuality is their negative trait. I read Celeste as a product of her environment. A girl who has constantly been told that she needs to be perfect, and she needs to stand out if she ever wants to succeed. Does she do shitty things? Yes! But I think villainizing her for simply being comfortable in her body and in her sexuality is a pretty crappy thing to be teaching young women. As long as you are being safe and responsible, nobody should be able to police how you carry yourself.

It would be remiss to not discuss the lack of diversity within this series. America is a red-haired, white-skinned girl who is often described as beautiful in her simplicity. Her best friend Marlee, who is praised for her kind and pure demeanor, is also white and blonde-haired. The only glimpse of a person of colour we see throughout the series is in Elise, who we can assume is East Asian through her family's ties to "New Asia."

My problem with Elise's portrayal, is that she never seems to be able to take up any space in the story. She is constantly described as quiet and reserved, and never a threat to any of the other girls. This is a problem, because people of colour, specifically women of colour, are often taught to blend in, keep quiet, and not occupy too much space. The fact that she is never seen as a threat to America, and is even admitted by Maxon to being kept around because she could help in the war with New Asia, perpetuates the idea that there's no way a WOC could have won The Selection. Elise simply is just there to advance the white character's needs. And this is so stupid to me.

I think Kiera Cass could have done a lot more with The Selection. Like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, The Selection gets a lot of its action through the inequalities within the caste system. The problem is, I don't think Cass did much research on how caste systems work when she was writing this series. She could have explored how capitalism and the patriarchy works to keep the caste system moving. She could have explored how people of colour are more likely to fall in lower castes due to marginalization from the all-white government. Instead, she barely scrapes the surface of these issues, and only portrays the lower castes as being ways for America to heighten her saviour storyline. But to be honest, I never bought America's bullshit. She is not the heroine I admire.

I think it is important to look critically at book series we used to love. I do reread The Selection from time to time because it is easy to get through and can provide some escapism when I need it. However, I do think it is time for publishers to look beyond series such as these as the pinnacle of YA literature. These series on the surface can seem to portray a strong female character who is "not like other girls." But if she's not like other girls, then why does she have to tear other girls down? Why does she have to shame female sexuality? Why does she have to be white? It's time to put these series to rest, and to focus on teaching girls that no matter how they present themselves, they are valid.

Have you read The Selection series? What did you think?

Emily @ Paperback Princess

Friday, 4 September 2020

Siege and Storm (Shadow and Bone #2) by: Leigh Bardugo

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy
Published: June 4, 2013 by: Henry Holt and Company
Pages: 435
Rating: 5/5 stars
Content Warnings: Violence and gore, predatory behaviour

Alina and Mal are in hiding, on the run from the dangerous Darkling who is in pursuit of Alina and her powers as the Sun Summoner. But when they learn that the Darkling is waging war against Ravka, Alina enlists the help of a mysterious privateer to bring them back to the country they abandoned. But the Darkling is not finished with his manipulation of Alina, and Alina begins to slip further into the Darkling's grasp. Suddenly Alina must choose between her love for Mal, her love for her country, and her newfound powers that could save, or kill, everyone.

I did NOT think I was going to love this book as much as I did. Now did I enjoy Shadow and Bone? Yes. But as always, I have a love/hate relationship with fantasy novels and I have been known to tear a series apart after the first book. But this book ended up being a new favourite for me. I definitely preferred it to even the first.

I think the characters got even stronger in Siege and Storm. Alina is dealing with this internal conflict where she is loyal to Mal, but she also cannot resist her powers and the hold that the Darkling has on her. Mal is one of those characters that you either love or hate. I appreciate that he has some duality there. And speaking of duality... the Darkling is one of the best written villains to ever exist. He is pure evil, but he also has hinted to have some softer sides. I can never side with the villain, but I have to admit, he is such an amazing character.

The plot kept me entertained the entire time. Like I said, I usually get bored in fantasy novels. But this book was so interesting in the ways in which Alina and Mal make their way back to Ravka, and their run-ins with the Darkling. I LOVED the character of the privateer. No spoilers, but the reveal of the privateer's identity blew me away! There were definitely a lot of shocks to this book, which made me feel all the feelings.

Overall, I'm really happy I continued with this series. Sometimes I just let fantasy series stay unfinished, but this series is on track to become a new favourite of mine. Now give me the tv show!

Have you read Siege and Storm? What did you think?

Emily @ Paperback Princess