Category Archives: Thoughts

Thoughts on Undocumented by Aviva Chomsky

Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal by Aviva Chomsky provides a detailed overview of migration and immigration policies specifically within the United States of America as they relate to Mexican and Central American migrants and immigrants. The book traces history from the open borders and heavy recruitment for seasonal work of the 1800’s and early 1900’s through to the first immigration laws targeting Mexican immigrants and the ways in which industry and corporations have benefited from and relied on first seasonal and then undocumented labor. She also talks about the more recent immigration activism and reforms such as DREAMers and DACA and the ways in which they attempt to change the conversations.

In this illuminating work, immigrant rights activist Aviva Chomsky shows how “illegality” and “undocumentedness” are concepts that were created to exclude and exploit. With a focus on US policy, she probes how people, especially Mexican and Central Americans, have been assigned this status—and to what ends. Blending history with human drama, Chomsky explores what it means to be undocumented in a legal, social, economic, and historical context. The result is a powerful testament of the complex, contradictory, and ever-shifting nature of status in America.

The book begins by providing a brief history of where illegality came from. It provides high level ideas and concepts from history of how domination, religion, and race have been used to limit mobility while not delving into the specific laws outside of North America related to this. This general beginning sets the stage for the more detailed examinations in the rest of the book, as it focuses in on immigration history and laws in the US, especially it’s relationship with immigrants from Mexico and Central America.

The author begins from the assumption that we find borders and illegality natural and without question. As my last review showed, I’m not of this mind and I would hope that at least a few others are also of this understanding – that borders and laws and citizenship are constructs created for applied for specific purposes. Chomsky begins by highlighting the similarities between Michelle Alexander’s theory in The New Jim Crow on the criminalization of African Americans and the increasing criminalization of Latinos, with the main difference being that the criminalization of African Americans is to remove them from the labor market while the criminalization of Latinos is to make them especially vulnerable and exploitable in the labor market. This helps set the stage for the ideas and concepts raised through the rest of the book.

Chomsky walks through a history of Immigration laws in the United States, how they were applied, and who they targeted. She also talks about the history of migratory work in Mexico and in Central America and how, in Mexico especially, the US government encouraged it until relatively recently. We see how those coming to work often don’t even realize it is illegal – they are following the same migratory patterns as previously, are working with the same companies, and / or are being recruited by the same recruiters as previously to work within their own country but now the recruiter may be bringing them to a job in the US. She talks about how originally forced migratory work has become a habit for many, especially as local subsistence farming and economic opportunities have disappeared.

In providing a history of immigration law as it relates to those of Mexican and Central American nationalities, some history of anti-immigration sentiment is also provided. In fact, media and politicians are shown as gaining benefits from expressing these sentiments throughout history.

In addition to attracting voters or increasing ratings, the Latino threat narrative serves the more subtle purpose of channeling national anxieties about social inequality; environmental crisis; economic downturn; lack of access to jobs, housing, health care, and education; deteriorating social services; and other real issues facing the US population away from their real cause. Those who benefit from the status quo would rather have people blame immigrants than fight for real social and economic change. (page 102)

Chomsky argues that illegal immigrants are an expected part of the immigration process – that there are less visas available than jobs that need to be filled, that companies prefer to be able to pay employees less and extort bribes up front, and so the system benefits them – why would they change it? The government can deport the employees and then simply assume more will show up to do the work and that any employees injured or who should be able to retire do not need to be assisted in any way. In fact, using undocumented workers makes it much easier for companies to get rid of any who start agitating for better wages or working conditions.

Undocumentedness has everything to do with work and the economy. It is a key component of the late-twentieth-century global system. Every so-called industrialized country – or more accurately, deindustrializing country – relies on the labor of workers who are legally excluded to maintain its high levels of consumption. (page 151)

The use of undocumented labor allows companies to keep prices lower, and allows more individuals within the country to benefit from this exploited labor. Using the structural violence examinations of Violent Borders and applying them to the details provided by Chomsky, we can see clearly how we all benefit from this violence. Lower prices on food, cheap landscaping, and cheap nanny services are just some of the ways in which we might benefit.  In the same way that Jones’ analysis showed the violence caused by keeping poor people within their own borders and subject to low wages and lack of regulation, here Chomsky shows that keeping immigrants undocumented or “illegal” allows companies within the receiving country’s borders to exploit workers in many of the same ways with little to no repercussions.

The inexpensive nature of these services – in part because of the often undocumented immigrant labor that provided them – helped to sustain an illusion of upward mobility for people in the working and middle classes. (page 145)

As well, Chomsky points out the fact that stronger border enforcement has no effect on immigration – while it may make the crossings riskier, it is, rather, political and economic situations in the countries of origin that dictate the fluctuations in migrant crossings. The US has played a part, and continues to play a part, in those very political and economic situations. As well, one large consequence of stronger border enforcement is the breaking of the seasonal patterns of migration – outflows of migrants slows, while new migrants continue to cross over, causing increasing numbers of undocumented immigrants within the borders.

The book ends on a chapter titled Solutions, that unfortunately did not provide many ideas or solutions. The chapter instead provided a recap of immigration law as it relates to people of Mexican and Central American origin. While providing a recap of the book, Chomsky only hints at the idea that the major solution would be free movement for all. Her hope for the book is that it educates people and opens room for more debates, which I think she has done.

This was an interesting and well-written read, although due to the lack of solutions, I did find the book a bit lacking. I wish that chapter had offered true solutions and ideas rather than simply rehashing what had already been said throughout the book. The use of a theory (criminalization of African Americans) that more may be familiar with might also help others see the similarities and civil rights issues endemic to undocumentedness. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who wants to know more about the history of and effects of undocumentedness  on immigrants, on the economy, on regulations, and on all of us.

* Earlier this week I posted my thoughts on Reece Jones’s Violent Borders: Refugees and the Right to Move. The link will take you to that post. I’m working my way through a number of books on immigration policies, borders, and refugees just for my own interest as a bit of a personal project. 

Thoughts on Violent Borders by Reece Jones

Violent Borders: Refugees and the Right to Move by Reece Jones provided a high level overview of borders and the structural and literal violence they cause in various different ways. It examines the actual death toll at borders (40,000 in the last decade alone), as well as the violence caused by less examined issues such as the unequal access to wages and labor regulations and the unequal impacts of environmental change and loss of resources through over-exploitation. The blurb calls it “A major new exploration of the refugee crisis, focusing on how borders are formed and policed”.

The state is a boundary-making institution that legitimizes the exclusion of others from land, resources, wealth, and opportunity through legal regimes and military power. States make exclusive claims to land and resources, define who has access by creating and monitoring social boundaries of belonging, and enforce these exclusions with legally sanctioned violence, such as the right of the police to use force. The structural violence of borders is at the foundation of the state in its role as a collector, protector, and exploiter of resources and labor. (Page 164)

Violent Borders begins with an examination of current borders and their trends to militarization around the EU, the US, and various other places including India, Bangladesh, and Australia. Through these examples, we see the death toll caused at these borders as people desperate to escape war and poverty attempt to cross them. Here we see the most obvious and reported upon violence caused by borders – individuals shot trying to cross, or dying during their journey, and the ways in which the border enforcement directly envisions and plans for theses deaths. For example, forcing migrants on the US-Mexico border to more remote and dangerous areas where death tolls will be higher and which, officials and planners imagine, will make people decide the risks aren’t worth it.

Using the example of Andrew Carnegie, Jones next shows how free movement during a specific point in the past allowed those experiencing poverty and the loss of jobs, in large part due to industrialization, to move elsewhere for better opportunities. As states have moved to create immigration policies, the industrialization of countries outside of Europe leaves the poor and newly jobless with no escape possible as there are no settler-colonies accepting immigrants. This highlights the ways in which so-called developed nations benefited previously from free movement and benefit now from restrictions on movement. A history of border creation through the ages from the Magna Carta, which allowed for free use of the public commons, through to the current age of private property and fences highlights the ways in which the wealthy have long benefited from these borders.

Borders, which currently affect the movement of people but not goods, impose limits on free markets which results in violence in terms of low wages, lack of regulations, and so on around the world. Workers in the US were historically able to agitate for better working conditions and create unions because the majority of goods came from within the border, meaning that any regulations were applied broadly across all competitors. The increasing globalization of goods allows companies to now get around these regulations and laws, which aim to protect workers, because state borders constrain the regulations and wages, but not the goods.

…while global institutions like the WHO and free trade agreements allow corporations to operate across borders, regulators and workers are contained by them. (page 132)
As long as labor is contained by borders and not protected by basic labor and environmental standards, the systems of exploitation will continue regardless of whether individual companies change their practices. (page 138)

Borders also allow states the ability to focus on resource exploitation and extraction within their own areas in disregard of global impacts. The expansion of exclusive economic zones in the sea is leading to increased resource exploitation – despite the popular theory of the “tragedy of the commons”, history shows that states look out for their own interests at the expense of global needs. Border walls disrupt animal habitats and change water ways and migration patterns. Borders make impossible any true action on climate change as each state looks out primarily for its own interests rather than global interests.

The structural violence of borders concentrates the negative impacts of borders on more vulnerable places and contains the affected people to those areas through movement restrictions at borders. (page 153)

Thus, the book argues: borders have been created, borders cause violence, and the only legitimacy that they have is that which we give them. Jones ends with three ideas and options for moving forward to a world allowing free movement of people and access to resources and opportunities. Jones argues that those in a privileged position are currently privileged in part due to their exploitation of others, and free movement as both a human and civil right is necessary. He also argues for global regulations on working conditions, which would improve job conditions around the world and create more jobs everywhere, including Europe and the US. Lastly, he argues for global environmental protections and responsibilities as well as limits on free property.

The exclusion of others from resources and opportunity is based on the idea that the in-group should be protected no matter what, with little regard for what effect it might have on the other and without questioning why there is a distinction between “us” and “them” in the first place. Rather than hard lines around nations of people and their homelands, political borders are systems for controlling land and resources and limiting the movement of people. The “nations” they enclose are not long-term historical realities, but new political communities that developed with the emergence of states and borders. (page 168)

Overall a well-written examination of the visible and invisible violence caused by borders, and a look at how we can envision and create a more just and free world. My only complaint is the comparisons of serfdom and current global working conditions to slavery. I understand the modern-day slavery movement and the ways in which the working conditions, low wages, and lack of options are termed slavery, but it also seems disrespectful to historical slavery which was a completely different thing – forced work, being sold as chattel, no wages, no changes for escape, families being torn apart. What is termed modern-day slavery, in my opinion, should have a different name.

A recommended read and it seems like this will be a great introduction for my current reading project on borders, immigration policies, and refugees. I’m looking forward to see how these themes interact with the topics of my next reads.

*This was the ONLY one of the seven books I looked into regarding borders, immigration policy, and refugees which my library had in general circulation. Many of the others were there, but only a reference copy. Very disappointing, especially in this current political climate, as reading on this topic seems especially relevant. 

Thoughts on Why I Am Not a Feminist by Jessa Crispin

Why I Am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto  is a book where “Outspoken critic Jessa Crispin delivers a searing rejection of contemporary feminism… and a bracing manifesto for revolution.” Through the book she talks about the issues with lean in, commercial, and choice feminism and how they dilute and make meaningless the word “feminist”. She takes on the idea that all decisions are feminist decisions, that we don’t have to do the hard work of learning and of questioning our life and our choices. That women are often complicit in both our own oppression and in continuing oppressive systems, just with us as part of that system instead of outside of it.

Are you a feminist? Do you believe women are human beings and that they deserve to be treated as such? That women deserve all the same rights and liberties bestowed upon men? If so, then you are a feminist . . . or so the feminists keep insisting. But somewhere along the way, the movement for female liberation sacrificed meaning for acceptance, and left us with a banal, polite, ineffectual pose that barely challenges the status quo. In this bracing, fiercely intelligent manifesto, Jessa Crispin demands more.

Why I Am Not A Feminist is a radical, fearless call for revolution. It accuses the feminist movement of obliviousness, irrelevance, and cowardice—and demands nothing less than the total dismantling of a system of oppression.

Sounds good right? And there were some really great points. There were so many times I found myself nodding along, or where I was really agreeing – usually that happened each time she brought up a new point and lasted until about the third or fifth or seventh paragraph where it got problematic. How did it get problematic? Let me provide (some of) the my thoughts (in no particular order).

First: Let me make this as clear as it should have been in the marketing material / description / title. This is not a book for all feminists. This is a book aimed to an audience of heterosexual white middle-class feminists. Those who don’t fit this narrow stereotype are likely to feel alienated. The book begins from this premise that feminism is excluding “other” groups, and White feminism has, but that is a subset of what exists. While Crispin does acknowledge in places that she is talking about White feminism specifically, the book still was written in such a way that anyone outside of this group seemed to not exist. (For example, the statement that feminists could be, but often aren’t, building alliances with “people of colour … religious minorities and the poor.”, which assumes that you, as the reader, are not any of those. Or that if you are, you must not be a feminist.) And let’s be honest, women of colour feminists have done an incredible amount of activism and academic work – feminism would be a sorry place if they hadn’t always been a part of the movement.

Second: Crispin implies a level of indifference with micro-aggressions and believes that calling them out takes away from “real life struggles”, is hateful, et cetera. Sure, context is important in some cases, which is one of her points (and her example uses this type of scenario), but that does not excuse micro-aggressions and even outright hate speech and acts. We shouldn’t let those who perpetuate harm off the hook because ‘culture’ and because ‘we should be focusing on systemic issues not individual acts’. Systemic issues are important, but so is holding individuals accountable. And when one often isn’t the target of the comments or jokes or actions, it is easier to say that they are unimportant and should be ignored.

Third: As a real gem, the critique of using female safety as a justification for war or for expanding the criminal justice system was on point. But then, right after this, she talks about how if cases of rape are “he said / she said”, we should applaud judges throwing them out. Because we’re at a time when women’s claims are taken seriously and we should be careful about our desire for revenge. Which is… definitely some fantasy world in which I want to live, where women’s claims of rape and harassment are believed and it is our revenge fantasies causing us to seek prosecution. (While I am pro-prison abolition and am against the PIC, it is not because I am concerned about the revenge inspired victimization of men by women.) Falling back to that excuse for throwing out cases is disingenuous and part of the problem that feminists need to work to resolve – namely ending violence against women and granting equal belief to women’s testimonies.

As Leigh Gilmore says in Tainted Witness: Why We Doubt What Women Say About Their Lives (which I am reading right now): “How “he said/she said” has come to be seen as something other than the prompt from which due process begins suggests that women lie outside the frame of justice from the beginning.” And also: “”nobody knows what really happened” is the starting point of a trial. Like the presumption of innocence, it names a suspension of judgement rather than the imposition of doubt.”

Fourth: Crispin is a staunch defender of and cheerleader for second wave radical feminists such as Germaine Greer, Andrea Dworkin, and others. Yes, they did some great work. Yes, we shouldn’t always throw out the baby with the bath water, as the saying goes. But their lack of intersectionality and their, in some cases, trans exclusionary stances are pretty big issues. She says ” Lately, older feminist writers and activists have been vilified by the younger generations for not using the right language, for arguing points that are no longer fashionable, and for just taking a different point of view.” If the language or unfashionable points are trans exclusionary points and language then we do well to criticize. It could be that some of their ideas or works are being ignored because of reasons other than their looks.

Basically – I wanted to love this book. I agree with many of the authors points. I think feminism has to mean constantly learning and being better and pushing for change. I think that working within the system simply props up the system and slightly expands who is “in” while maintaining oppressive systems. I think that men have to do their own work to educate themselves and not rely on women to do that work for them or to excuse them. BUT I just found too many problems. Too many instances of one specific example being thrown out to justify some large assumption or stereotype.

In so many instances Crispin seems to imagine this rosy world, which is ruined by people calling themselves feminists focusing on the wrong issues. She both wants us to be more radical and on the fringes, yet also wants us to ignore micro-aggressions and not seek retribution against individuals who cause harm. She both lambastes feminism for being exclusionary while writing a book targeted to an exclusive group, within which she excuses those she admires for being  exclusionary.

This book falls into this weird space that was in some instances super radical and in others super weak, often within the same sections. I wanted it to be so much more. In too many instances it generalized or glossed over or just threw out ridiculous arguments or examples as if they were the norm. Mostly I think I’m disappointed because I expected it to be so much more than it was.

I’ll go back to more academic and intersectional texts now.

Noir Reads Subscription Box – Did You Subscribe?

Earlier this month I heard about a new monthly subscription box, Noir Reads, which promises to deliver great Black Authors to your front door each month. Their site says, about the books:

Noir Reads is simple and easy way to read Black literature to develop or deepen your understanding of Black culture & the Black experience by introducing readers to writers of the Diaspora and engaging in dynamic discussions with a growing private online community.”

The box will contain 2-3 books as well as a reading guide and access to an online book club. I LOVE this idea. I’m a huge fan of subscription boxes, but because I’m in Canada and the majority of them seem to originate in the USA, shipping can be prohibitive. While this box was way more cost friendly then most I’ve seen (at $35 per month), the shipping was still expensive to Canada ($25 – sad face). For that reason I didn’t sign up, but I’m curious – did you? It was open to only the first 200 subscribers and is now sold out, I’m interested to see if they will open it up to more subscribers, or if a separate access will be available to join in the book club.

One of the main goals mentioned by the co-founders (Zellie Imani and Derick Brewer) is to foster community and a deeper understanding. The February theme and books have been announced, and they are both books which I already own, so I’m glad for that reason that I didn’t subscribe.

I am going to try to make sure to read the books each month that they select, as I love the premise and am going to be making even more of an effort this year to read diversely. February’s theme is From Black Lives Matter to Black Liberation and features Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Angela Davis (which I read earlier this month) and From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation by Keeanga Yamahtta-Taylor (which I ordered earlier this month and is expected to arrive tomorrow).

 

Readathon: October 2016 Wrap Up

  1. Which hour was most daunting for you? Surprisingly none were super daunting – I may even have been able to stay up the entire 24 hours if I hadn’t had to go to bed because of a baby shower for a family friend in the morning.
  2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? Nimona by Noelle Stevenson is always a fantastic choice, as was Cass’ recommendation of poetry.
  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next season? None, loved it as it was
  4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? I thought it all worked well.
  5. How many books did you read? I read 6 books and 1427 pages. All but one were re-reads.
  6. What were the names of the books you read? I read Nimona by Noelle Stevenson, How to Be Alone by Tanya Davis, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange, The Mothers by Brit Bennet, Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur, and Uprooted by Naomi Novik.
  7. Which book did you enjoy most? Because all but one were rereads, I really couldn’t choose! The Mothers was fantastic, and the others were all books or collections that I read specifically because I loved them.
  8. Which did you enjoy least? See above 🙂
  9. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? I’ve got the next one already marked in my calendar! I would plan to do the same, although do a bit more blog cheering (which is my favorite place to cheer). I hope that next year the list of blog readers is provided again!

Also, I won a prize in hour 14!! Woohooo!

Did you readathon? Do you plan to join next April? (April 29th, 2017!!) If so, let me know and I’ll know whose blog to go check out during that time 🙂

Readathon: October 2016

It’s Readathon time again!! Are you joining in the fun today? I won’t last the full 24 hours, because I never do, but I will get as much reading time in as I am able, although with a few planned breaks. I’ll be updating this post as the day goes on.

Hour 20

Reader friends, I can’t believe I’m still up. I just finished my sixth book, Uprooted by Naomi Novik – another reread. This has definitely been the readathon for rereading, and also the latest I’ve stayed up for one. We have a baby shower tomorrow to attend but I feel like I’m so close to the finish line… 😀 (But I’m still throwing in the towel and going to bed now…)

Hour 13

Over half way through!

1. What are you reading right now? I just finished The Mothers by Brit Bennett (so good!!) and am about to dip into a reread of Milk and Honey.
2. How many books have you read so far? I just finished my fourth book – one comic / graphic novel, two poetry collections, and one novel. All but the novel were rereads.
3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? I haven’t made a pile of books, so not looking forward to anything in particular.
4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? So many kitty cuddles – they keep interrupting me and I just can’t say no!
5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far? Not a thing 🙂

Hour 8.5

Not a lot to report here. I spent some time with the boyfriend (I got home yesterday from two weeks away), and I took a mid-afternoon walking / Pokémon Go break with a friend (Dacey). I completely spaced on taking a picture, but it was a lovely time. Plus I got to meet Betel! I’ve put on some food, and now am back to reading.

Hour 3

Hard to believe it’s three hours in already! I ate some crepes, cuddled with the kittens, and checked out Twitter a bit. After seeing Cass’ great reading choices, I read two short poems. First I read Tanya Davis’ illustrated How to Be Alone (watch a video of the poem at the link), and then Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf.


Hour 1.5

I was having trouble updating my site, but it seems to be working now, so I’m posting the opening survey a bit late. I just finished a lot of kitten snuggles (I’m so happy to have kittens this readathon!) as well as Nimona by Noelle Stevenson. I have so much love for Nimona, and spent forever trying to push it on everyone, and am SO HAPPY it exists.

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today? I am in Toronto, Canada
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? I haven’t really made a stack, I’m going from my whole library today!
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? My boyfriend just woke up and is making crepes for breakfast. It doesn’t get much better than that!
4) Tell us a little something about yourself! I’ve been pretty inactive on the blogging front for the last couple of years, but have still been reading as much as I can. Readathon is always a great excuse to get back on here and interact more.
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to? I’ll be doing the same as usual, reading some books and generally enjoying the day.

Readathon – April 23

Another readathon is here!! Life sure is good, here on the blog. Life just seems to go from readathon to readathon, as if that’s all there is. I have been reading all kinds of great books in between, I just haven’t been posting any reviews or details here. These days, my only social media presence is Instagram. If you want to see what I’m up to and what I’m reading, that’s the best place to go!

I’m home, and I’ve gathered my potentials for #Readathon! #readathonstack who else is excited for tomorrow??

A photo posted by Amy McKie (@amckiereads) on

Opening Meme, 8am EST

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today? I am in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? I made a pile of books, though I don’t always tend to stick to my pile. I’ve tried to chose a varied list of non-fiction, fiction, and young-adult, as well as a couple of romance (which is a new thing I’ve been reading lately!). I’m quite excited for everything in the stack today!
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? I haven’t planned them out in too much detail, but I did pick up some ginger lemon cream cookies, which I’m very excited about.
4) Tell us a little something about yourself! I’m a project manager with an IT company, and am spending every second week or so in New Orleans this year – any tips for me while I’m there?
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to? I have to admit that I am shamefully nervous about this year – I’ve LOVED cheering in the past couple of readathons, but this year all of the cheering is on Twitter. I’m hardly on Twitter anymore, and have no idea how to cheer nearly as well there! Silly, right? I shouldn’t be so sad about missing cheering on blogs when I can’t even be bothered to update mine all year long! 😉

Happy reading everyone!

 

Brief Thoughts on November Nonfiction Reads

I had plans to actually get some longer thoughts posted on a few books I read and loved recently, but work got busy, and now my mom and aunt are visiting for a few days. My mom flew in from PEI with oysters and mussels so we’ve had a seafood feast, and now we’re entertaining ourselves with food and shows and more tasty food!

Since November 1st I’ve read 5 non-fiction books. That number is so high because three of them were graphic novels (which seems to be a bit of a theme this year in my reading, and in the nonfiction reading of others this month), one was a cookbook, and one was a book of poetry (which perhaps shouldn’t count, but I think do). Here are my thoughts on all five of them.

Dinner: The Playbook by Jenny Rosenstrach

I picked this book up because I LOVE Dinner: A Love Story by Rosenstrach. It is basically my food bible. I’ve gifted it a number of times and each time I have, I get back rave reviews. It is a good story, but also packed with simple yet truly delicious (and complicated tasting!) meals. Unfortunately I didn’t love The Playbook nearly as much. It is written as a challenge – to cook 30 new meals for your family in 30 days, as a way to get out of the rut of eating the same thing and of kids being unwilling to try new things. The recipes look good, but if you’re already happy enough with your cooking and variety, I recommend her first instead of this one. If you need a challenge to help you out, then try this one.

Fun Home: A Tragicomedy & Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel

Odd fact about me: I am generally very uncomfortable with memoirs. People are writing about their own lives, without the distance that an outside third-party might bring to their story, and they are writing while other inhabitants of their stories and worlds are still alive. This always leads me to wondering what those being written about actually think, and how much their lives may be disrupted by the publication.

Bechdel, in her defense, does talk about this. Are You My Mother? includes various discussions between her and her mother about the writing of Fun Home, about her mother’s thoughts on it, and about her mother’s thoughts on writing a book about her. It also included conversations with girlfriends and with therapists, and was really as much a look at the psychoanalytical theories on growing up and the bond between mothers and daughters, the effects of growing up in abusive homes, and so on as it was a true story about her and her mother.

Fun Home, rather than tackling the subject of the effects of family on later life, is all about her father, their life growing up with him, some of his history, and his death. It discusses his violence, his time in therapy, his brush with the law, and his sexuality. Bechdel compares her coming out as gay to his closeted gayness. I’m just going to say that the parts about her dad and his, basically, grooming of younger men did put me off slightly, as the power imbalance (he was a teacher) could have affected consent. Did anyone else wonder on this, or was that just me?

Both books are graphic memoirs, broken into different chapters which don’t necessarily flow in a chronological order. I found them both to be slightly disjointed, although interesting. Decent reads, though not favourites.

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley

Another graphic memoir, although this one, being more about the author herself and not disparaging of others in her life, didn’t make me quite as uncomfortable as memoirs generally do. In Relish Knisley discusses memories and food, and how the two are often linked for her. Her family is heavily involved in food and the food industry, and so food made up a large part of her life. Through the memoir she shares different memories through her life of food, cooking, and travels. Each chapter ends with a short recipe, which all looked interesting and delicious. I again found it decent but not a favourite.

Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppernann

I saved the best for last – this collection of poems was incredible. The collection starts with an opening poem titled The Woods:

The action’s always there.
Where are the fairy tales about gym class
or the doctor’s office of the back of the bus
where bad things also happen?
Pigs can buy cheap building materials
just as easily in the suburbs.
Wolves stage invasions. Girls spit out
cereal, break chairs, and curl beneath
covers like pill bugs or selfish grannies
avoiding the mess.
No need for a bunch of trees.
You can lost your way anywhere.

So many lines and stanzas and whole poems in this collection really resonated and could become quotable favourites. Heppernann does a great job bringing the fairy tale to every day life, showing the ways the stories we are told as children continue to both resonate through our lives and haunt our lives. She expertly skewers the beauty myths and expectations placed on young women throughout, in unsettling, dark, and beautiful poems.

You can feel free to skip the rest, but I highly recommend you pick up this one!

What have you been reading through the start of nonfiction November?

On Being Thankful

This weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving. Monday is the actual holiday, and it is a day to be thankful for the harvest and other blessings. This is a slightly better official reason than in the US, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have historic racist and otherwise problematic undertones (and overtones) here as well. Thanksgiving feasts have happened irregularly, by explorers and settlers, starting in 1578, for reasons such as, good luck, good harvests, celebrating and remembering the ends of wars, in celebration of royalty, and so on.

I read an opinion piece in the CBC late last week which got me thinking more about how and why I celebrate the holiday. I highly recommend that you read this piece by Kim and Jordan Wheeler. They both raise some very important points. I’d challenge everyone to think hard about why they celebrate, and what they are celebrating. Some things on my mind, thanks to the Wheelers:

  • If we’re giving thanks for the harvest – have you actually participated in any harvest this year? Are you eating local and seasonal foods? I do have a small garden, and make an effort to eat local and sustainable food items. I also make an effort to preserve the harvest – my pantry (i.e. spare closet) is currently full of canned jams, sauces, pickles, and vegetables. In this sense, giving thanks for the harvest does make sense for me. This weekend one of the items on my to do list is tearing down my garden and preparing it for winter.
  • What other blessings through the year am I thankful for? This has been a fairly standard year, which means in many ways it is a great year in comparison to some. Should I be making lists of these blessings? (Is this gathering of all of our yearly blessings into a list supposed to warm us in preparation for the upcoming winter?)
  • If I’m not religious, to whom am I giving thanks? The official government proclamation of the holiday reads that we are giving thanks to the ‘Almighty God’. We can all give thanks in our own way, I hope, without the invocation of a specific government mandated deity.
  • Why do I need one day set aside on which to do this giving of thanks? Isn’t it just something we can be doing continually as we go through our life? Historically, apparently, settlers even shared their thanksgiving feasts with the First Nations peoples on the day of thanksgiving – how kind of them. One wonders what the country might look like if they extended the giving of thanks and the sharing into the remaining 364 days of the year.
  • Lastly, how are you giving thanks? Is it through a large meal? Was that food ethically harvested (i.e. how was the farmer paid / the workers treated / the animals raised) or are you giving thanks for blessings in your life through injustices committed against others?

Rather than the European settler idea of giving thanks on one day of the year, perhaps we should follow the tradition of many First Nations peoples to give thanks continually, as Kim and Jordan Wheeler point out. Rather than thinking only of ourselves throughout the year – each and every day we should be giving thanks for what we have and for those who have in any way assisted us. Every day we should be recognizing how our actions impact others, recognizing how our privileges affect our view of the world and what we see and what we get from it, and ensuring that when we are giving thanks we aren’t doing so selfishly but in full recognition of how our blessings affects others.

How that relates to here: I’m thankful for every visit and comment and interaction I get – thank you dear readers. I’m thankful I have access to great books. I want to be more cognizant of how my access to certain types of stories is limited: to who I am reading, and whose stories I am not reading. I want to always remember to thank those who have in any way enabled this. This weekend my book of choice is Finding a Way to the Heart: Feminist Writings on Aboriginal and Women’s History in Canada edited by Robin Jarvis Brownlie and Valerie J Korinek.

Thoughts?

Welcome…

Oh hello. Thanks for visiting my new site! My archive of posts is at amckiereads.wordpress.com.

The thing is, I’m finally back to reading again which is a great thing. And I often want to discuss what I read with people – especially aspects in what I am reading such as racism, ableism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, and etc. I want to have these conversations as part of my desire to see an improved publishing world. But I also have gotten out of the habit of writing about books, and am feeling like I don’t have the language / education / background necessary to write these posts and have these discussions.

I’ve started posting some thoughts on what I’m reading, and hopefully some day I will be able to discuss in the way that I would really like to.