Tuesday, December 6, 2016

ReadReadRead's Holly Jolly List of Romantic Holiday Movies - Part 2

December is here and I am so happy!

Christmas is my favorite time of the year for so many reasons. I get to spend time with my family. Stores are filled with all kinds of chocolate. People put up Christmas lights and all of a sudden it isn't that dark outside. You can hear Christmas music everywhere. Television is full of Christmas specials. 

Importantly, Christmas is also a time for Christmas movies. Christmas movies have had a special place in my heart since I was a child and within the last few years, I feel like I have started Christmas movies earlier and earlier. Not sure whether I should be embarrassed or not, but this year I watched my first Christmas movie in September. Yep, you read that right. 

While there are awesome Christmas classics out there, films like White Christmas, Holiday Inn, Elf and The Polar Express, my favorite type of Christmas films are those of a romantic inclination producer for television by companies like Hallmark and Marvista Entertainment. Movies that are often super predictable, but an absolute comfort to watch.

This year, I have put together a list of 20 such films I want to share with you. I don't expect many of you to want to watch 20 of such films during the holidays, but I hope that you can find even one or two to put on while having a cup of hot chocolate and a box of chocolates.

I shared the first ten films with you yesterday and now is the turn of the other 10 films. Let me know if you have seen any of these or if you plan to watch any of them during this holiday season.


A princess of a small European nation visiting New York decides to escape her responsibilities and runs away. She meets a man who shows her around the city, not knowing her true identity.

+ Paul Campbell is so dreamy
+ I love these Royal/Commoner storylines

After trying to pursue her dream of becoming an actress, a woman travels from New York City back to her small hometown where she reconnects with a group of old friends. Could she find her dreams from her hometown and leave New York behind?

+ I really like Sarah Lancaster
+ The guy is MASSIVELY cute

Mrs. Miracle (2009)

A widower hires a mysterious Mrs. Miracle to take care of his two sons. Quickly, this charming and somewhat magical older woman becomes irreplaceable as a friend, caretaker and a possibly even a matchmaker. 

+ Doris Roberts is an absolute treasure!

A young woman, who is taking care of her niece and nephew after they were orphaned, travels to a small European country to give the kids a chance to spend time with their grandfather. While trying to be a parent for the two young children, she starts to fall for a young prince.

+ young Sam Heughan!!
+ Royal/Commoner storyline

Let is Snow (2013)

A young executive travels to a rustic lodge to prepare herself for a business presentation that could drastically change the atmosphere of the family lodge. As she spends time with the son of the owner's, she starts to rethink her business plan.

+ Candace Cameron Bure (I might not agree with many of her personal opinions, but I like her as an actress)

A modern reimagining of Beauty and the Beast. Belle, who works for her father, travels to facilitate an estate sale of a mansion and meets the serious, handsome owner of the house. 

+ Haylie Duff used to be like the queen of this kind of films, but unfortunately hasn't done anything new for this holiday season

Miranda has never known her father. When she finds a clue about who her father could be from her mother's old possessions, Miranda travels to a small town in search of answers. 

+ Erin Krakow is probably my favorite actress who often frequents Hallmark productions

After the daughter of a widower writes to Santa Claus, asking for her mother to find happiness, the struggling writer ghostwriting as Santa Claus answers to the girl's mother. They connect via letters until a work assignment takes the man to the small town where the woman he is falling in love with through letters resides in.

+ The little girl is really good and not annoying at all
+ Loved the letter-writing aspect

A divorced woman meets a handsome military sergeant at a ski lodge. When the man is suddenly called on a work assignment, they are separated for almost a year, until their paths cross again. Can she get used to the military lifestyle, or is their love doomed even before it can begin?

A Snow Capped Christmas (aka Falling for Christmas) (2016)

An injured figure skater travels to a clinic at the mountains to recover herself for an important competition. She meets a handsome ex-ice hockey star and sparks fly!

+ FREAKING EX HOCKEY PLAYER (it's almost like this was made for me)


Have you seen any of these? What are some of your favorite movies to watch during the holidays?

Monday, December 5, 2016

ReadReadRead's Holly Jolly List of Romantic Holiday Movies - Part 1

December is here and I am so happy!

Christmas is my favorite time of the year for so many reasons. I get to spend time with my family. Stores are filled with all kinds of chocolate. People put up Christmas lights and all of a sudden it isn't that dark outside. You can hear Christmas music everywhere. Television is full of Christmas specials.

Importantly, Christmas is also a time for Christmas movies. Christmas movies have had a special place in my heart since I was a child and within the last few years, I feel like I have started watching Christmas movies earlier and earlier. Not sure whether I should be embarrassed or not, but this year I watched my first Christmas movie in September. Yep, you read that right.

While there are awesome Christmas classics out there, films like White Christmas, Holiday Inn, Elf and The Polar Express, my favorite type of Christmas films are those of a romantic inclination produced for television by companies like Hallmark and Marvista Entertainment. Movies that are often super predictable, but an absolute comfort to watch. 

This year, I have put together a list of 20 such films I want to share with you. I don't expect many of you to want to watch 20 of such films during the holidays, but I hope that you can find even one or two to put on while having a cup of hot chocolate and a box of chocolates. 

I will share the first 10 films from my list today and post the second part of this list tomorrow! Please let me know if you have seen any of these or if you plan to watch some of them this holiday season. 

By clicking the names of the films, you will be directed to their IMDb pages.


After her boyfriend breaks up with her, Noelle travels to the countryside with her co-worker Liam and her new puppy to Liam's home for Christmas. While Liam waits for his fiance to make an appearance, his relationship with Noelle starts to get beyond professional. 

+ cute puppy
+ cute guy

Layla gains a fake fiance while attending the wedding of her cousin and the man she was supposed to marry. How far can they take the fake engagement without actually falling in love?

+ Jessica Lowndes is not only a good actress but also incredibly beautiful
+ Daniel Lissing is like a freaking Disney prince

Two strangers are forced to share a room in a B&B when their flight is cancelled due to a snowstorm. 

+ It is sooooooo nice to see Mayim Balik as something else than Amy from The Big Bang Theory

Holly, an astronomer and a Christmas lover, travels to New York to surprise her family and her boyfriend. On her way home, she meets Luke and forms an instant connection with him.

+ I have a weakness for Southern guys and the love interest in this film is a freaking cowboy
+ a scholarly female lead

A famous actress (pretty much a Hallmark version of Jennifer Lawrence) travels to a small town to film a new movie and meets the town's young, handsome mayor.

+ the guy is played by the actor who plays Kostas in The Sisterhood of Traveling Pants 

Duncan cares for his sick wife Suzy with the help of Natalie, a young nurse. In an attempt to give Suzy a Christmas memory she will never forget, Duncan buys an old Ferris Wheel. With the help of Tommy, a young landscape designer, the Ferris Wheel starts to take its shape as relationships develop.

+ Mandy Moore

A spontaneous kiss with a mystery guy Wendy thinks she will never meet again gets more complicated when she realizes that the guy is actually the boyfriend of her demanding boss and the owner of the house she is supposed to decorate for the holidays. 

+ I love the representation of friendships
+ Jerrika Hinton before she was in Grey's Anatomy

A lawyer is forced to spend time in an old inn in order to get everything in order after the owner of the inn dies. She soon learns that the house is haunted and is very much able to see the man behind the haunting. Is it possible to fall in love with a ghost?

+ While there are some plotholes here, I really enjoyed the somewhat paranormal element of this film
+ The guy is super hot in those early 1900s clothes

Two strangers decide to join forces and fake a relationship to get through the holidays and the challenges that come with the Christmas period.

+ I loved Jaime King in Hart of Dixie and she is pretty good in this one as well!

Two department-store window decorators are pitted against each other when they are told there is a vacancy for only one for them once the holidays are over. 

+ Chyler Leigh's Lexi was one of my favorite characters in Grey's Anatomy and I always love seeing her in something else (I know she is in Supergirl now!)
+ Paul Campbell is probably my favorite guy who frequents these Hallmark films.


A second set of 10 films will be shared here on ReadReadRead tomorrow!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey (Review)

Release date: October 4th, 2016
Author links: Goodreads - Twitter - Website
Publisher: Viking
Pages: 320

Description (from Goodreads):

An intellectual feast for fans of offbeat history, Ghostland takes readers on a road trip through some of the country's most infamously haunted places--and deep into the dark side of our history.

Colin Dickey is on the trail of America's ghosts. Crammed into old houses and hotels, abandoned prisons and empty hospitals, the spirits that linger continue to capture our collective imagination, but why? His own fascination piqued by a house hunt in Los Angeles that revealed derelict foreclosures and "zombie homes," Dickey embarks on a journey across the continental United States to decode and unpack the American history repressed in our most famous haunted places. Some have established reputations as "the most haunted mansion in America," or "the most haunted prison"; others, like the haunted Indian burial grounds in West Virginia, evoke memories from the past our collective nation tries to forget.   
       With boundless curiosity, Dickey conjures the dead by focusing on questions of the living--how do we, the living, deal with stories about ghosts, and how do we inhabit and move through spaces that have been deemed, for whatever reason, haunted? Paying attention not only to the true facts behind a ghost story, but also to the ways in which changes to those facts are made--and why those changes are made--Dickey paints a version of American history left out of the textbooks, one of things left undone, crimes left unsolved. Spellbinding, scary, and wickedly insightful, Ghostland discovers the past we're most afraid to speak of aloud in the bright light of day is the same past that tends to linger in the ghost stories we whisper in the dark.

When it comes to all things supernatural or religious, I am a skeptic. If I can see it, then I can perhaps believe it. But before that, I will have a lot of questions. While I might not be a believer, there are a lot of them out there. Dickey states at the beginning of his book that

"According to one poll, 45 percent of Americans say they believe in ghosts, and almost 30 percent say they've witnessed them firsthand. Though this believe lies outside the ways we normally explain the world -- contradicting science and complicating religion -- it's a difficult belief to shake. That we continue believing in ghosts despite our rational mind's skepticism suggests that in these stories lies something crucial to the way we understand the world around us. We cannot look away, because we know something is important there."
Colin Dickey's Ghostland is not the kind of book I would usually pick up, but for some reason, I felt myself gravitating toward it after reading a multiple reviews for it during the Halloween season. Though I don't necessarily believe in ghosts, I have always liked ghost stories and tales of haunted places. I even have my own experience of being on a ghost hunt (more of that later on in this review), which might have provided an extra pull for picking this book up.

In Ghostland, Colin Dickey covers quite an impressive array of stories about haunted houses, haunted public places like banks and hospitals, haunted outdoor sites, and even haunted cities. Some were familiar to me beforehand, some were completely new. 

If you are looking for a list of haunted places in the US, look elsewhere, because while this does cover a number of haunted places around the US, it is not simply a catalog of haunted places, but rather a study of why and how those haunted places have come to be and why people still believe in then. 

For me, the first half of the book was more interesting than the latter part, but all and all, as a whole, this book was satisfyingly entertaining read. I especially liked the chapters focused on the haunted private properties (houses), which is the very first section of the book, and the chapter that focused on the architecture and hauntings of old mental hospitals.

Writing about haunted houses, Dickey says:

"A haunted house is a memory place made real: a psychical space that retains memories that might otherwise be forgotten or that might remain only in fragments. Under the invisible weight of these memories, the habits of those who once haunted these places, we fell the shudder of the ghost." 
 He also argues:
"The haunted house is precisely that which should be homey, should be welcoming -- the place one lives inside -- but which has somehow become emptied out of its true function. It is terrifying because it has lost its purpose yet stubbornly persists. Neither alive nor dead but undead, the haunted house is a thing in between."
Some of the haunted houses Dickey writes about are the Merchant's House Museum in Manhattan and the House of the Seven Gables (also known as Turner House or Turner-Ingersoll Mansion) in Salem. The House of the Seven Gables probably rings a bell for fans of Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose novel from the 1850s was inspired by the very house. You can see a commercial for the house, which is now a museum, from the video below (interestingly, the museum itself does not seem to be trying to make a bank with the possible hauntings to be found from the house, but information about those can be found easily online).

Dickey also mentions Myrtle's plantation in Louisiana as one of the most famous haunted sites in the US and writes briefly about the ghost of Chloe, a young slave who resided at the plantation. When you google "myrtles plantation" and look for images, it instantly gives you hits featuring Chloe's ghost, images that allegedly feature her. 

In addition to sites associated with slavery, many locations in the United States have been alleged to be haunted by Native spirits. As you might recall, many horror movies set in the United States involve haunted houses built on Indian burial sites. Dickey writes about these narratives in following way:

"The narrative of the haunted Indian burial ground hides a certain anxiety about the land on which Americans -- specifically white, middle-class Americans -- live. Embedded deep in the idea of home ownership -- the Holy Grail on American middle-class life -- is the idea that we don't, in fact, own the land we've just bought. Time and time again in these stories, perfectly average, innocent American families are confronted by ghosts who have persevered for centuries, who remain vengeful for the damage done. Facing these ghosts and expelling them, in many ways of these horror stories, becomes a means of refighting the Indian Wars of the past centuries."
I think for me, one of the most interesting haunted places covered in the book was The Winchester Mystery House, which is located in San Jose, California. The house, which does not seem to end, features a number of secret rooms and hideaways. There are so many interesting pictures of it online, and after looking through those, I must admit I would not mind visiting it one day. Also, as I suspected while reading about the house, the name of the mansion was a source for the last name of Sam and Dean of the show Supernatural

I am a massive Stanley Kubrick fan, and The Shining is one of my favorite films ever. I had read about The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado before, but I was happy to see it included in this book. The hotel, which hosted Stephen King at a time, worked as an inspiration for the Overlook Hotel and the 1997 miniseries based on the book was filmed there. While the exteriors for the Kubrick film were filmed elsewhere, the Stanley Hotel as a site definitely interest me. Fun fact: the hotel shows The Shining on a continuous loop on one of the channel's available through guest room televisions.

Having an access to the internet is a true blessing while reading a book like this, because you can go online and search for pictures of these places Dickey is writing about. I kept highlighting the names of the different places mentioned in this book while reading, and after I finished with the book, I spent a fair amount of time going through the places I had just read about.

As a media scholar, I found the way Dickey was able to bring up the influence of the online culture within the communities who believe in the paranormal quite interesting. He also manages to discuss the fact that with platforms like YouTube, access to alleged paranormal footage has been made easier also for those who are not involved in the paranormal communities in general, i.e. the general public. Viral videos start to circulate and the more they get exposure, the more people start to believe in them. And while many videos with a paranormal nature are proved to be wrong, that information does not reach everyone, which means that there are individuals who hold their belief to what they have seen. 

A recent paranormal story and one that made rounds online is that focused on the death of Elisa Lam in 2013. Lam, a Canadian student visiting L.A., was staying at the Cecil hotel when she mysteriously disappeared. Almost three weeks after her last sighting, her body was discovered from a water tank located at the roof of the hotel. While her story might otherwise have remained just a tragic mystery, the elevator security video, which circulated online, raised questions about the possible paranormal involvement in her death. 

The video featuring her in the elevator has been watched millions of times -- it is difficult to say exactly how many views it has got, because it has circulated so widely. I remember seeing it on Facebook at the time, and the version I now accessed from YouTube has almost 17 million views. I won't insert the video here directly, because I am not quite sure how to feel about it, but if you want to watch it, you can see it from here (there is no sound in there and it is not violent or anything, but I think it is tragic that this video, one of the last times this young woman was seen, has become so sensationalized). (The video was originally shared by the LAPD, I believe, to help in the possible discovery of a missing person). 

If you are a fan of American Horror Story, it's "Hotel" season is based around the Cecil Hotel, which in addition to being the site of Elisa Lam's disappearance and death, once hosted serial killers like Richard Ramirez and Jack Unterweger. 

As mentioned before, I found the section focused on old mental hospitals interesting. Dickey writes for example about the Danvers State Hospital, which is often named as the birthplace for the pre-frontal lobotomy. A few years ago, I watched a film called Session 9, which used the hospital as a setting -while the story of the film itself wasn't super interesting, the location is definitely very creepy. It is also believed the hospital was the inspiration for H.P. Lovecraft's fictional Arkham Sanitarium. 

Dickey relates his discussion about the hospital to the Kirkbride Plan, a design by architect Thomas Kirkbride first implemented in 1848 at the New Jersey Lunatic Asylum. Dickey writes,

"The Kirkbride asylum came to be the architectural style most thoroughly associated in the United States with the moral treatment. Rather than terrifying, the new asylum would be inviting, surrounded by lawns and gardens that patients could tend themselves. The defining features of the Kirkbride asylum include the central administration building, stately and elegant, with a central tower and elongated wings, forming a shallow V that extends back farther and farther. Part of the beauty of this architectural model was that wings could always be added farther out indefinitely. As a result, they were often massive, growing to hundreds of thousands of square feet."

While the intentions behind these architectural giants might have been good, the asylums ended up presenting something completely different than peace and tranquility. While at first they were private places for the well-off to send their sick family members to, they eventually fell into state hands and began to be filled with increasing numbers of patients. They quickly became understaffed, underfunded, and identifiable as sites of horrible abuse.

Dickey writes:

"The ruins of the Kirkbride asylums -- and their attendant lore -- reveal how uncomfortable we've become with antiquated methods of "healing the sick". Whatever the intentions behind them, lobotomies, straitjackets, and aggressive shock therapy not strike us as barbaric and unnecessary and hover in the back of our collective consciousness. As a culture we still struggle with unresolvable questions that were once wrongly answered in places like these: Who is crazy? Are we crazy? And what can we do to assure ourselves that we aren't."
I mentioned my own ghost hunting experience at the beginning of the review, and I will share that here before I add some photos and quotes to this review. As some of you might know, I studied film and theatre in Edinburgh back in the day. During my second year of studies, I was involved in a short documentary project with a local paranormal investigation group and during one dark November night, they took us for a paranormal investigation to Greyfriars Kirkyard, allegedly a site of a lot of paranormal activity (while I was doing research for this review, I came across a DailyBeast article that called it "The most haunted graveyard in the world"). While Greyfriars Kirkyard is the site from where J.K. Rowling took inspiration for the names of Harry Potter characters and a place to which many body snatching stories locate to, the poltergeist the paranormal group told us about was the one of George MacKenzie, whose mausoleum is prominently located in the graveyard. 

I will not go into who George MacKenzie was or what he did here (you can find plenty of information online),  but I will say a few words about the paranormal investigation itself. Basically, the group had all these gadgets Dickey writes about -- expensive cameras, lights, and so on. They talked to the spirits, trying to call them up, but nothing happened (which wasn't very surprising to me). They talked about their previous paranormal experiences and warned us about the dangers of being possessed and so on. 

As an experience, it was one of a kind. While I did not believe in the paranormal, it was extremely interesting to hear the group talk and see how they interact together. I only spend a few hours with them, but during that time I was able to make conclusions about the group dynamic. Especially one of the guys would have made an extremely interesting character study, mostly because it felt like he was consciously trying to create this cloak of mystery around himself.

If you are interested in the paranormal side of Edinburgh, there are plenty of sites online that focus on those. Here is a list of Top 10 Haunted Places in Edinburgh to start with. There are also a number of organized tours around the haunted places, though those are highly targeted to tourists and probably more for show than actually tales of the paranormal places. 

To conclude this review, I want to bring up one of the concluding arguments Dickey makes in his book. Throughout, his argues that many ghost stories are often modified according to the time they are told, which means that different world events and historical contexts play a role. This means that we take well-known ghost stories, relate them to something important that has happened, and create stories of our own. While the basics might remain, the unconsciously or consciously come up with something new. 

Writing about the prevalence of ghost stories, Dickey states:

"Part of the reason that ghosts stay with us is that they remain a compelling mechanism to explain so much that is unknown in our lives. They enter and reenter our lexicon to explain the explainable, to represent the unpresentable, to give a word to that which we don't understand. "
Whether you are a believer or a nonbeliever like me, I believe Ghostland has something to offer for every single reader out there. For me, it was an interesting study of the stories humans have chosen to believe in, and a look into the history of those stories. In addition, Dickey writes extremely well, which makes Ghostland an entertaining, thoroughly satisfying reading experience.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Non-Fiction November: Missoula - Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer (Review) (Repost from 2016)

Release date: April 21, 2015
Author links: Goodreads - Website
Publisher: Doubleday
Pages: 367

Description (from Goodreads):

Missoula, Montana is a typical college town, home to a highly regarded state university whose beloved football team inspires a passionately loyal fan base. Between January 2008 and May 2012, hundreds of students reported sexual assaults to the local police. Few of the cases were properly handled by either the university or local authorities. In this, Missoula is also typical.

In these pages, acclaimed journalist Jon Krakauer investigates a spate of campus rapes that occurred in Missoula over a four-year period. Taking the town as a case study for a crime that is sadly prevalent throughout the nation, Krakauer documents the experiences of five victims: their fear and self-doubt in the aftermath; the skepticism directed at them by police, prosecutors, and the public; their bravery in pushing forward and what it cost them. These stories cut through abstract ideological debate about acquaintance rape to demonstrate that it does not happen because women are sending mixed signals or seeking attention. They are victims of a terrible crime, deserving of fairness from our justice system. Rigorously researched, rendered in incisive prose, Missoula stands as an essential call to action.  

Once in a while, I take the time to share these more serious reviews with you. The last time that happened with Dave Cullen's Columbine about the school shootings in Columbine high school, and now I will do it with Jon Krakauer's Missoula about campus rape cases in Missoula, Montana. 

Before I get to the things that I "liked" about this book, I want to acknowledge that I am aware that it is not flawless. It lacks the voices of the accused and Krakauer himself has admitted confirmation bias. It also relies heavily on court proceedings, which might not be for everyone. BUT... it also gives a voice for the victims and brings up an extremely important topic of which general public still seems to have a very flawed image of. So yes, there are flaws, but for me, this book was an extremely interesting, scary, harrowing and heartbreaking read about the situations way too many young women -women of my age and situation (students) - are put into.

To say that I "liked" this book seems slightly wrong, because though I found it very difficult to put it down, I cannot say I "liked" what I read. The way these women account their stories and the ways they are treated by the police and the people around them made me so angry. We live in a culture heavy with victim shaming. If a girl drinks, or if she dresses up in a certain way, "she probably was asking for it". If her friend, a popular football player rapes her, she is probably just "making too much of it", because why would a popular guy who could have any girl he wants need to rape someone? [Edit: unfortunately it seems like victim shaming is getting more and more common and it makes me so freaking angry and frustrated!]

I am a massive sports fan, and though my sport of choice is ice hockey, there are a lot of things in this book that made me think about the treatment of athletes and those who might have been mistreated by them. Just earlier this year, a very famous hockey player, a Stanley Cup winner Patrick Kane, was accused of rape. The case seems to be over now, and Kane was declared not guilty, but the way the case was discussed in the media reminds me a lot of the ways the cases were discussed in this book. I am not a Patrick Kane fan, and I probably never will be, and when someone accuses someone of rape, I take the side of the accuser until the moment enough evidence has been gathered to reach some sort of conclusions. I think there is nothing worse than victim shaming, but unfortunately, that is what happened with Kane's case. Comments all over the Internet were shaming the victim, calling her names and stating that she is "yelling rape" just to get money. Kane was praised and the arguments were much on the line of "why would he rape because everyone would sleep with him anyway?". New York Post actually brilliantly discussed the actions of fans in this situation, stating 

"But the morally agnostic fans don’t care about justice, nor particularly much for a horrified young woman or a permanently impugned young man. Only that Kane is on the ice come Oct. 7, for the season opener against the Rangers."

The question that came into my mind while reading this book, and while reading about Kane's case, was how I would react if someone blamed one of my favorite players of rape. I love hockey to no end, and I am very protective of my favorite players, but at the same time, I WANT TO BELIEVE THAT NO WOMAN WOULD EVER VOLUNTARILY GO THROUGH VICTIM SHAMING AND BLAME AND EVERYTHING ELSE, just to get money. I know situations can be desperate, but I would like to think they are never that desperate. I am aware of the fact that there are cases out there in which the woman has lied and the accused has been convicted wrongfully, the case of Brian Banks. But as Krakauer proves through statistics, the percentage of wrongful accusations is EXTREMELY SMALL.

Krakauer's book focuses on what is called acquaintance rape, meaning a rape committed by a person known to the victim. He argues several times, through academic research, that rape is still very much thought as something done by spooky, scary strangers that attack women in the dark, where in fact it seems most of the rape cases, at least of those done in college towns like Missoula, are acquaintance rapes, committed by classmates, friends and potential romantic interests of the young female victims. With acquaintance rape, the criminal process is described as problematic, because despite rape kit evidence, the question of consent becomes very problematic. I would like to think that "no" means "no", but this book very quickly proved to me that in this kind of situations "no" might not mean "no" after all, at least not according to those accused and those defending them. Maybe she was drunk and said "no" even when she really wanted it. Maybe the way she was dressed said "yes". Maybe some previous interest can be read as a sign of consent... There are so many sick, twisted ways the judicial system places blame on these girls, as a result of which more that 90% of rapists get to walk free.

To finish up with this review, I will present here some direct quotations from the book. There are so many ways I could have approached this review, but I think this is the best way to do it, to give Krakauer's voice a chance to present what his book is all about. Missoula: Rape and Justice System in a College Town is an extremely difficult book to read, but it is an extremely important book, one that will definitely make you think, one that will probably make you very angry and upset. It gives the victims of this horrible crime a voice and allows them to present their side to the story. I haven't read anything by Krakauer before, but his style of presenting facts really worked for me, and I will definitely check out his other books as soon as possible.

"Using data gathered in 2011, the CDC study estimated that across all age groups, 19.3 percent of American women "have been raped in their lifetimes" and that 1.6 percent of American women - nearly two and a half million individuals - "reported that they were raped in the 12 months preceding the survey.""

"Women don't get raped because they were drinking or took drugs. Women do not get raped because they weren't careful enough. Women get raped because someone raped them."
(From The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti)

"They said you were moaning, so you couldn't have been passed out. We needed one more person to take your side and back up your story, and there wasn't one. I'm sorry, but there is nothing we can do."
(Police to a girl gang raped by a group of football players)

"Well, sometimes girls cheat on their boyfriends, and regret it, and then claim they were raped."
(Police officer to a victim of alleged rape)

"Why do your detectives seem more concerned about the defendant than the victim?"

"When cops and prosecutors fail to aggressively pursue sexual-assault cases... it sends a message to sexual predators that women are fair game and can be raped with impunity."


Friday, November 18, 2016

Non-Fiction November: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance (Review)

Release date: June 28th, 2016
Author links: Goodreads - Twitter - Website
Publisher: Harper
Pages: 272

Description (from Goodreads):

From a former Marine and Yale Law School Graduate, a poignant account of growing up in a poor Appalachian town, that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class. Part memoir, part historical and social analysis, J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is a fascinating consideration of class, culture, and the American dream.

Vance’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love.” They got married and moved north from Kentucky to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. Their grandchild (the author) graduated from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving upward mobility for their family. But Vance cautions that is only the short version. The slightly longer version is that his grandparents, aunt, uncle, and mother struggled to varying degrees with the demands of their new middle class life and they, and Vance himself, still carry around the demons of their chaotic family history.

Delving into his own personal story and drawing on a wide array of sociological studies, Vance takes us deep into working class life in the Appalachian region. This demographic of our country has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, and Vance provides a searching and clear-eyed attempt to understand when and how “hillbillies” lost faith in any hope of upward mobility, and in opportunities to come.

At times funny, disturbing, and deeply moving, this is a family history that is also a troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large portion of this country.

Before reading this book, the word "hillbilly" instantly brought into my mind a few things, mainly the image of Billy Ray Cyrus. Yes, you read that right. I used to really like Hannah Montana back in the day, and I think I always kind of associated Billy Ray Cyrus as being a hillbilly (I think he even wrote a book or something called Hillbilly Heart.) J.D. Vance's book is definitely not about Billy Ray Cyrus, and it definitely managed to give me a more well-rounded definition of what a hillbilly really is (though obviously Vance's description is not the definite truth, but rather his own interpretation.)

I saw this book making rounds as a book that would explain why Trump has gotten so popular in US. That prospect made me both intrigued and scared -- would Vance offer a view that is non-partial, or would he provide the reader with pro-Trump trash? Neither is really true when it comes to what Hillbilly Elegy really is. While it might give some ideas about the society in which some people are willing to give attention to Trump, it does not really comment on Trump himself in any way. 

Hillbilly Elegy is essentially Vance's account of his own life and how growing up in a Hillbilly family was both a blessing and a curse. He recounts his childhood filled with grandparents, aunts, cousins, his mom, and a multiple father candidates that never end up sticking around. He acknowledges that people like him rarely "get away" and manage to create lives for themselves that differ from those their parents had. Vance's mother is addicted to multiple substances, and his father is only partilly part of his life, which are things that did not seem very promising to him growing up. But with the help of other adults, mainly his grandmother, Vance was able to rise up on the social ladder, and now he is probably among the 1%, the wealthy American upper class. 

The role of Vance's grandmother (or mamaw) is one of the most interesting aspects of Vance's book. The influence of mamaw, a strong personality who might not have been liked by all, but who was able to keep Vance on the right road, shows that sometimes, when our parents fail us, the only way to keep going might be the careciving of someone who is not "supposed" to take care of you. Vance acknowledges how lucky he was to have someone like mamaw on his corner, and that now everyone is as lucky as him.

While the first 70% of this book were extremely interesting, I feel like the moment Vance starts to recount his tales from Yale, I partially lost my interest. Vance has been incredibly lucky, and he does take that into account, but I couldn't help to feel that at points he was just using this book to tell everyone how fricking awesome he is. Yes, he might be awesome, I don't know about that, but when he does it comparing himself to those who were not as fortunate as he was feels kind of douchey. 

Vance argues that in order for the Hillbillies to prosper, they need to take control of their lives and in a way, be someone like him who is not ready to let the obstacles of social class stop them. He recounts tales of how he used to work in manual labour and how his co-workers were often late and dropped out of work because they did not feel like working. He writes about "wellfare queens" and people who blame their problems on the government without actually doing anything to make things better. While both of these things can, and probably do, happen, I think Vance occasionally generalizes things a bit too much and gives a very arrogant image of himself. Experiences in the Hillbilly community, like in any other community out there, are subjective, and while Vance might have been surrounded with a "people like him" growing up, he cannot have intimate knowledge of the backgrounds of those people he deemed too lazy or too uninterested to make things better for themselves.

I also couldn't help feeling like this blue collar work world Vance writes about is probably not as hellish as he lets his reader believe it is. It feels like for Vance, blue collar workers are lazy time wasters who cannot take care of their families. Once again, Vance fails to see that people are different, and relies on generalisations about a huge group of people. Not everyone can graduate from Yale, and not everyone even wants to. And that is completely fine. He continually seems to make this distinction between people like him (educated, experienced) and people like he used to be (uneducated) and seems to believe that people like him are needed to tell the people like he used to be how to better their lives. 

The last few paragraphs might make it sound like I did not really like this book, but don't get me wrong, there were things here that I really did enjoy, which resulted in me giving it three stars. The stories from Vance's childhood were occasionally heartbreaking, but there was a lot of hope out there as well -- he had good relations with his sister, his grandparents, and other family members. There is also surprisingly quite a bit of humor in here, and while I think I would have first been quite terrified by mamaw, I believe I would have liked her at the end of the day.

Vance writes quite well, and especially the beginning of the book made me feel like I did not want to put my iPad down. I must admit that going into this believing it would maybe open my eyes more as to why certain groups of people are turning to Trump as a sort of savior, and noticing it did not really do that was kind of disappointing. But at the same time, I do think Hillbilly Elegy offers an interesting story of ONE PARTICULAR person with a hillbilly background. For a broader look into the Hillbilly lifestyle/culture, I think Nancy Isenberg's White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America could be the book to go with (I will definitely check it out as soon as possible!)

"The statistics tell you that kids like me face a grim future -- that if they're lucky, they'll manage to avoid welfare; and if they're unlucky, they'll die of a heroin overdose, as happened to dozens in my small hometown just last year."

"In Middletown, 20 percent of the public high school's entering freshmen won't make it to graduation. Most won't graduate from college. Virtually no one will go to college out of state. Students don't expect much from themselves, because the people around them don't do very much."

"There was, and still is, a sense that those who make it are of two varieties. The first are lucky: They come from wealthy families with connections, and their lives were set from the moment they were born. The second are the meritocratic: They were born with brains and couldn't fall if they tried. Because very few in Middletown fall into the former category, people assume that everyone who makes it is just really smart. To the average Middletonian, hard work doesn't matter as much as raw talent."

"How much of your lives, good and bad, should we credit to our personal decisions, and how much is just the inheritance of our culture, our families, and our parents who have failed their children? How much is Mom's life her own fault? Where does blame stop and sympathy begin?"


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Non-Fiction November: Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit (Review)

Release date: May 20th, 2014
Author links: Goodreads - Website
Publisher: Haymarket Books
Pages: 130

Description (from Goodreads):

In her comic, scathing essay “Men Explain Things to Me,” Rebecca Solnit took on what often goes wrong in conversations between men and women. She wrote about men who wrongly assume they know things and wrongly assume women don’t, about why this arises, and how this aspect of the gender wars works, airing some of her own hilariously awful encounters.

She ends on a serious note— because the ultimate problem is the silencing of women who have something to say, including those saying things like, “He’s trying to kill me!”

This book features that now-classic essay with six perfect complements, including an examination of the great feminist writer Virginia Woolf ’s embrace of mystery, of not knowing, of doubt and ambiguity, a highly original inquiry into marriage equality, and a terrifying survey of the scope of contemporary violence against women.

I came across this fairly short collection of essays a while ago while looking for feminist content to read. Rebecca Solnit's name was familiar to me before, but I had never read anything from her before picking up Men Explain Things to Me. If Rebecca Solnit is a new author to you like she was to me, I think Men Explain Things to Me is a good starting point -- it definitely made me want to read more by her in the future.

Solnit's essay titled Men Explain Things to Me, which you can read from here, was originally published in 2012 and it is the piece of writing this short essay collection has been built around to. This very essay has been connected to the popularization of the term "mansplaining", and overall, it made such rounds online that Solnit decided to produce a whole set of essays, which were released together in this collection in 2014.

Since most (if not all) of the essays featured in this collection were published beforehand, you don't necessarily have to buy this collection to get an access to them (you can find them online!). But I do think having a collection like this can be an interesting addition to personal libraries, and I definitely do not regret purchasing it. 

I do want to point out though that maybe reading the essays back to back is not the best idea. I did that and noticed quite quickly that Solnit uses some of the same examples/arguments in a number of essays. This is not a problem if you consider the fact that the release of these pieces was originally more sporadic. But reading about the same examples back to back in a book format can get kind of repetitive and take something away from the reading enjoyment/experience.

Men Explain Things to Me is only a bit over 100 pages in length, but it definitely managed to make me think. The essays range from hilarious to tragic, and Solnit manages to cover a lot of ground and make a lot of arguments within a fairly short page count. Solnit's writing style is interesting and engaging, and definitely, something I want to familiarize myself more with at some point.

If you are interested in feminism, in the treatment of women in the society, and so on, I definitely recommend checking this one out. As said, you can write a lot of these essays online if you're not interested in purchasing the whole collection.

"But explaining men still assume I am, in some sort of obscene impregnation metaphor, an empty vessel to be filled with their wisdom and knowledge. A Freudian would claim to know what they have and I lack, but intelligence is not situated in the crotch -- even if you can write one of Virginia Woolf's long mellifluous musical sentences about the subtle subjugation of women in the snow with your willie."

"Most women fight wars on two fronts, one for whatever the putative topic is and one simply for the right to speak, to have ideas, to be acknowledged to be in possession of facts and truths, to have value, to be a human being."

"We have an abundance to rape and violence against women in this country and on this Earth, though it's almost never treated as a civil rights or human rights issue, or a crisis, or even a pattern. Violence doesn't have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, but it does have a gender."

"Increasingly men are becoming good allies -- and there always have been some. Kindness and gentleness never had a gender, and neither did empathy."

"His name was His, and he presumed everything was his, including her, and he thought he could take her without asking and without consequences."

"His name was privilege, but hers was possibility. His was the same old story, but hers was a new one about the possibility of changing a story that remains unfinished, that includes all of us, that matters so much, that we will watch but also make and tell in the weeks, years, decades to come."