Reading Through Rape With Room by Emma Donoghue

I just read a real power house of a book. Like many books, I’d seen this one when it first came out and felt intrigued by the premise. Room revolves around a five year old boy  who has spent his entire life locked in a single room with his mother, imprisoned a captor that comes to sexually abuse her at night. The book being told from the point of view of a child sounded like an interesting approach to telling such a horrible story, but in the end it took me a while to read Room, partially because of my usual excuse of the towering to-read list, and also because of the intense nature of the novel’s subject itself.

Well, a few weeks ago I came across this movie trailer. Turns out they’re making Room into a movie, a really good looking movie, and I was not about to have another book made into a movie before I have the chance to read it (*cough Girl With the Dragon Tattoo cough The Martian cough many many more). That gave me the kick in the pants I needed to go out and read the book. Afterwards, I was only sorry it took me so long to get around to it in the first place.

Reading stories that involve discomforting topics like rape, abuse, and other reprehensible acts can be a very trying process. Handle these delicate topics with grace, though, and you can create a truly powerful text, as Emma Donoghue has done so here.

There is certainly no one way to “properly” write about trauma-inducing events, but Donoghue finds a very powerful through the unreliable narrator that is Jack. When a young child knows only one thing in life, they are bound to take it as the norm, the way things are. Jack retains a sort of childlike innocence and even cheerfulness throughout the book, despite extreme conditions he faces.

Exploring the mind of someone who has lived a life without the outside world, without ever speaking to anyone else except his mother is part of what makes this book so intriguing. The struggle Jack has when he is eventually freed, (and they are freed. I hope you don’t mind me spoiling the fact that this book ends relatively well here) to deal with his sudden change in reality, with things as simple from realizing rocks and trees aren’t just from TV to the strange and process of establishing his identity as a person in a world with far more people than just his mother, who must herself begin the arduous process of rejoining society and making her own space in the world.

Sometimes, Jacks adventures are cute and amusing, sometimes they are heartbreaking. Across every bit of that spectrum, though, Jack’s simple honesty means the reader can always feel a connection to this strange child. He learns what it means to accept other people into his heart, what can and cannot hurt people in the “outside”, and what it takes to build your own person-hood. As strange and unknowable Jack and his life first sound on paper, his story turns out to be own that can resonate deeply with almost any reader.

That’s what brilliant stories can do with painful subjects like rape, kidnapping and abuse. They can take difficult, painful topics and turn them into a powerful narrative, one that has the power to reach out and enlighten people, sometimes even help to heal them. I fully believe Room achieves this admirable goal and encourage anyone, even people unsure about how they would handle these difficult topics, to give Room a chance, and not just wait for this one in theaters.

How to Give Away Books

Become enough of a bibliophile, and you’ll undoubtedly start to pile up loads and loads of books. Pile up enough books, and you might start running short on living space. I certainly have lately. It’s not that I’ve been buying more books lately, just that I’m finally starting to reach capacity in my room and all my other secret book hidey holes, like the funny looking tree outside the grocery store, or the secret compartment behind the hidden panel in the wall right behind you. No, don’t look! It’s a secret. Duh.

With a librarian mother who also happens to be a general neat freak, the pressure to clean things up by giving the books away to benefit, say, a local library gets pretty high pretty fast. Still, though, each of these books that make up the stacks fast turning into large pillars have a special place in my heart and soul. Trying to give away the wrong one could cause a painful Jenga tower-like collapse, both metaphorically with my delicate emotions and and literally with all the books piled up in my room.

I came through the experience okay though, with much more space than I thought I could make for myself, and a few decent tips for other people looking to reduce their stock but unsure where to start. Lucky for me, I’ve got just the blog to share them on. Here we go:

1. Start easy.

Some people like to go on about how getting hard things over quick, like ripping off a band-aid, is better for you. Those people probably never had to figure out whether they were truly going to give up on  “getting around” to reading that one book about doily crocheting or give up your favorite sci-fi trilogy from high school. Start with the simple little books, the ones you’ve already read and didn’t care for. Maybe you even forgot you had them. Shoveling away all the junk books in your space can be cathartic, and help get you into the give-away mindset.

2. Be honest with yourself

C’mon Maddie. That crochet doily book from before, are you really going to use it? Even if you got good enough and doing all those fancy little stitches, wouldn’t you find better things to make than doilies? What are doilies even for anyway? Ouch, that hurt, but now I have one more book in the giveaway pile.

Books are meant to be read. Whether its an old favorite you haven’t picked up in a long time or a to-read text that’s been collecting dust for ages, you need to consider giving the book a new home, one where it might be read and re-read. That way, everybody’s happy.

3. Don’t be afraid to sleep on it.

If you come across a book you just can’t place, just leave it alone for a bit. I found taking a break for a while usually clears my head to the point where I can make a decision nicely. Don’t wait more than a day or so, thugh. Otherwise the days turn to weeks then months and now you’ve just got a mess a books that you’re totally gonna get around to sorting eventually but never do, and you pretend having that much difficulty opening your sock draw is totally fine. You don’t need to move these!

4. Don’t let mom help.

Mom, dad, another family member or friend, the person can change but the sentiment remains the same. Even if these people are fellow book lovers, do not trust them. They can’t feel the intimate connection you have with each and every volume in your collection. Worst case scenario, they just randomly start chucking away old books that are “in the way” or “especially bad looking.”

If a certain helpful clean freak starts looking at you weeding through books and saying stuff like, “What, do really need those?” immediately evacuate them from the premises. Calmly push them away from you books and assure them that you have everything under control and dammit mother just let me do it myself!

5. Get rid of those old library books.

Oh dear, how the heck did these get here? A library book? I think  maybe I checked this title out in 2007, but how did it end up all the way in the back of my closet?  Yeah, it happens, no use getting all guilt-ridden about it now. Give it away. They won’t refund any fines you had to pay. If you somehow avoided getting caught, like if this was on you sister’s card or you just outright stole a library book (you monster) don’t go dredging up old stinking corpses. They’ve probably bought a new copy of the book by now, and anyhow who needs to live through that one Seinfeld episode and go on an epic quest to discover just who what and where happened to this old copy of Tropic of Cancer.

Well, there you have it, the five strategies that helped me keep sane during one of the most painful and emotional parts of any book lover/hoarder’s life. Hopefully they’ll help keep you from going into a sobbing fetal position the next time some decides you need to clear out some old books, like I totally never did. Ever. The End.

Starting Senior Year With Caleb’s Crossing

Well, I’m finally here, right at the beginning of my senior year in college. Just one more school year before I level up and out of academia to take on the real adult world. It’s all very exciting and a bit daunting at the same time.

Coincidentally, or maybe not and this is all my subconscious’ fault, I just made it through a book about a highly historical college graduate. Caleb’s Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks, is a take on the life of Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, the first Native American to graduate from Harvard, all the way back in 1665. I’d never heard of Caleb and his ordeal before, but the premise intrigued me right away, especially since I’d already known Geraldine Brooks was a pretty good historical fiction writer. Her take on Caleb’s life journey of crossing from his native world into the world of the English settlers, (whoa, I just explained the title there!) was definitely one that intrigued me and made me want to learn more. At the same time though, it did make me pretty nervous about graduating, for reasons that will soon become apparent.

The book is actually told through the perspective of a preachers’ daughter named Bethia, who lives on the same island as Caleb and the Wampanoag tribe he belongs to. She gets to know him and an interesting dialogue is created as the two get to know each other and their lives intertwine. A thirst for knowledge and book learning unites them, as does their apparent inability to get it in the culture they find themselves. Bethia is a young woman and her father fears educating her will spoil her for a decent marriage. Caleb wants to use the knowledge of the white man to aid and preserve his own culture, but faces persecution from both side by pursuing an formal education. It all makes for a pretty interesting analysis of what people can and will do when their desires conflate with the path or paths society says they  must travel.

The Wampanoag tribe getting along really well with some white settlers.

The Wampanoag tribe getting along really well with some white settlers.

In an ending that will surprise no one who had their young hearts broken when they learned how badly Disney lied to them about the life of Pocahontas, Caleb does not have a good time. The other couple of natives who attempted to study at Harvard, (mostly to be educated spiritually and become preachers and good Christian soldiers,) either left or died before they graduated. Caleb himself died of tuberculosis only a couple months after graduating. A Native American slowly getting the life force sapped out of them by being forced to live in the white man’s world; I told you it was a familiar story.

Narrator Bethia is lucky enough to marry a Harvard scholar, thereby securing a chance at some sort of learned life. She also watches most of her family and friends die horribly, along with her dream that Native Americans and Settlers might find a way to coexist peacefully, so yeah. No one gets a perfect happy ending in this book.

So, what does that mean for me and the “crossing” I’ll face from graduation into the real world? Am I going to die of tuberculosis or some other horrid disease five months after I graduate? I mean, college can be hard on a person’s health but I don’t think I’ll be that unlucky in the 21st century (or maybe I will, now that I’ve jinxed myself by mentioning it). Will my position as an educated white woman leave me safe and sheltered enough to live a prosperous life, but ultimately powerless to stop war, racial prejudice and cultural conflicts from destroying the lives of my friends and loved ones, and indeed possibly the world at large? Um, well… yeah. Not to sound over-wrought, but that one’s definitely more difficult to answer. My senior year anxiety did not need all these frightening historical parallels to latch onto.

All this is not to make it sound like I regret reading this book at all. I loved learning about the time period, what Harvard life way back when would have been like, and following the two compelling protaganists through their story. The best books always manage to make you feel like a little bit of your life is connected to the story too. Geraldine Brooks did it here with a period piece presenting a thousand little threads of historically resonant parallels and themes. I connect to them just a tad more as a soon to be college graduate, thirsty for knowledge and fully aware of an America that still has plenty of issues with race, culture and education.

Mind-Melding with Felicia Day

One of the best things that can happen when you read a book is a sort of mind melding with the author or narrative voice of a book. Finding a book that very closely mirrors your own neural wavelengths creates a very delicious sort of mind melding experience that helps you validate yourself and feel like you have a friend you never realized you had before. This doesn’t happen to me a whole lot, but I was lucky enough to have it happen to me recently with Felicia Day’s book You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost).

Felicia Day is an actress, writer and producer who has a very comfy niche in the nerdy part of the entertainment industry. The Youtube channel Geek and Sundry showcases a whole lot of her online work, and definitely gives you a good taste of her geeky gamer flavor. I was relatively familiar with her as a fun and nerdy internet personality whose videos and tweets I enjoy, so I naturally planned to read her book. If my worship of Tina Fey’s Bossypants in a previous post didn’t make it obvious enough, I’m generally a sucker for the “quirky comedic gal writes her memoir” genre.

Day’s book definitely did not disappoint. I read the thing in just over one day, and found an unlikely mind-meld buddy. I always knew Felicia was just a tad more hardcore on the geek/nerd scale than I could ever be, but reading her book revealed that she led quite an unusual life, one I could never dream of myself. She was home schooled for most of her life, technically has no GED, but went to college at 16 years old and graduated with two degrees, one in Math and the other in Music. Compared to her, I’m finishing up my one degree in English at the miserly old age of 21. Oh wait, I’ll be 22 by the time I graduate so, yeah. Great. I haven’t even talked about her start as an actress-writer-producer extraordinaire in Hollywood and online yet. I’m having flash backs to my Mary Shelley entrance from last week. What’s with all these young female masters I keep writing about? It’s almost like I’m trying to give myself a complex.

Actually, though, speaking of complexes, that’s the key to how I connected so deeply with this book. As much as I wondered at the unique path of Felicia’s life, I also marveled at how much we had in common on an emotional level, an emotional level of the crippling-anxiety variety. Felicia covers the many unending bouts of severe anxiety throughout her life fairly openly in the book, and in those pieces I found someone very much like myself. I too worked myself into a deadly frenzy of helpless anxiety over grades,work, social acceptance, self confidence, etc. I still do, I suppose. Ever since I was five or six years old and had a horrifying realization of my own mortality one summer at the local swimming pool (a true story that surprisingly does not involve me drowning or anything,) I’ve struggled with accepting myself, with using the energy my anxiety gives me to work hard at succeeding.

That anxious energy can quickly turn into a sour, self-esteem zapping bile if you are not careful, or even if you are anyway. Anxiety does love to feed off of that need for careful perfection. I know this from experience. I’m sure plenty other people do too, but hearing Felicia Day discuss her messy, self destructive habits of self-doubt and control-freakery with plenty of earnestness and a healthy dash of humor makes me feel much better than simply knowing that anxiety issues are a relatively common problem. If I could recommend this book for one reason and one reason only, it would be so other people could feel that connection.

Felicia’s coy little nerd face stares at me from the book cover as I struggle to find the perfect way to  wrap up this post. I gently smush/pet my hand on her face, assuring that we’ll both be alright. She’ll get through her stuff, I’ll get through mine. Sure, you’ll definitely love this book if you’re even a tiny bit into video games, the internet, fantasy or other classic nerd fodder. Even better though, than all her stories about gaming over early dial-up internet and exploring the early wilderness of Youtube stardom, is that chance to look a fellow nerd and human being in the face, a face that only comes out when they find the strength to write about themselves and their lives very intimately and find acceptance. Your’e weird and broken. She’s weird and broken. I’m weird and broken, and it all feels so much better to say that when you know it doesn’t make you a weird little broken outlier. If you can even be weird on the internet, that is. Cheers, Felicia!