Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Ambrea's Read Harder Challenge, part 5: Hawthorne, Ephron, & Gino

This week, I completed three more challenges:
  • Read a collection of essays
  • Read a book under 100 pages
  • Read a book by or about a person that identifies as transgender
For my first challenge, I had to read a collection of essays.  At first, I picked up Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace, but I quickly changed my mind after attempting to read the first essay.  (Way too dense and way too many footnotes for my taste.)  So, in my second attempt to finish this challenge, I read I Feel Bad About My Neck:  And Other Stories on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron—and am I glad that I did.

I absolutely loved reading Nora Ephron’s essays on what it means to be a woman and, more importantly, what it feels like to have to deal with time, age, facial products, and oversized purses.  I laughed liberally throughout reading this book.  Her experiences are universal and her humor is outrageous.  Even if I couldn’t relate to every experience, her essays had a way of picking out the familiar, like frustrations with wrinkles or hair dye, hatred of purses because they have a way of eating change and spitting up tic-tacs, or fighting over directions with a significant other.

It’s a short read, but it’s an incredibly fun journey.  I enjoyed every story in Ephron’s book, but I especially enjoyed her wit and her candor and her humor as she recounted her many, familiar experiences.  She managed to connect with me as a reader and as a woman, and I appreciated her book for that.

Next, I quickly read Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  Although it probably constitutes as a short story rather than a “book,” which the challenge calls for, I thought it would be a good place to start.  I don’t often read short books or novellas, and I had a dickens of a time trying to find a book under 100 pages.  Even How to Train Your Dragon, which took me part of a day to read, was over 100 pages.

So...short story it is!

The plot of Young Goodman Brown is simple:  Goodman Brown takes leave of his wife, Faith, for some unknown errand in the forest, whereupon he meets a stranger in the forest carrying a black serpent-shaped staff.  He stumbles across various townspeople who travel the forest with him, until he reaches an altar in the middle of the wood where new acolytes are being brought into the fold—and one of them is his wife, Faith.  Events transpire which test his faith, causing him to live the rest of his life distrustful of his neighbors—and then he dies.

If you were hoping for a surprise, I’m sorry if I ruined the story for you, but I have to say that I didn’t understand the point of this story.  On the one hand, Hawthorne sets up the episode as a potential dream, so I have no way of knowing whether or not his entire ordeal is real—which could possibly mean a dream completely ruined his life.  On the other hand, if it is real, he has the ability to see the hypocrisy and sins of his neighbors, which also ruined his life.

I didn’t like it.  I’m fairly certain that Faith was supposed to represent his actual faith and, when he lost her in the dream, he lost her in real life.  And I’m pretty positive that the traveler with the serpent staff is the devil, since all the evil people know him and Goodman—a good man—has the good sense to fear him.  There’s so much metaphor and symbolism in, like, 14 pages that it’s almost sickening.

Last, I read George by Alex Gino as part of my reading a book by or about a person who identifies as transgender.  I don’t know anything about the author, but I do know that the book is about George, a little boy who would rather be a girl and who desperately wants to play Charlotte in the school play of Charlotte’s Web.

One of the things I noticed about this book was how George, who did not describe or identify himself as a boy, is consistently referenced with feminine pronouns.  I thought it was a nice touch, because it seemed to make an impact, seemed to impart the importance of a person who is transgender to identify with the gender they choose.  It’s an intriguing and eye-opening concept that, I thought, adequately conveyed some of the struggles that George encounters.

I actually enjoyed reading George more than I thought I would.  I’ll admit, I was a little hesitant, because I had my own preconceived notions with which to contend, as well as others.  Given the debate in the media over which bathrooms transgender individuals should and shouldn’t use, I really didn’t want to read a book that was full of ugly prejudices or a novel that would dwell upon hurtful things.  I was afraid of finding a depressing novel.

Luckily, I didn’t.  George is surprisingly upbeat, and I found it was rather fun to follow his journey from George to Charlotte, how he managed to fulfill the slogan on the back cover:  “Be Who You Are.”  It has a positive message, and it’s appealing because it doesn’t get bogged down by hateful language; rather, it focuses on George’s journey and her success in embracing her own identity.

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