Holding Fire: Short Stories of Self-Destruction by Scott Hughes

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Buy the book here!

3/5 stars.
ebook, 288 pages.
Read from June 12 to 13, 2015.

Want to know a great way to support up and coming authors? Buy this book! This book was published by The Online Bookclub,  a website that I write book reviews for occasionally. The book is a collaboration of some independent authors who were all brought together by the webmaster, Scott Hughes, and contains 10 short stories all surrounding the theme of self-destructiveness of vengeance and hate. The story selections were all made by a team of judges and these stories were the final picks out a thousands of entries!

This anthology explores the repercussions of very raw human emotions and experiences, making the content easily accessible to almost every reader. While the book itself doesn’t contain any profanity or excessive sexuality, the mild violence and adult concepts may be a bit much for a younger reader. From grief, jealously, suicide, doubt and hatred this book depicts everyday people making rash decisions based on these emotions. In many of the stories, you feel for the protagonist and the choices that they make. This results in bringing up some interesting topics and questions about justifiable revenge, murder and the broader concepts of justice.  With that, not all of the protagonists make choices that evoke sympathy, making this book even more dynamic. The setting of the stories are also unique, from modern day to fantasy based. The age and gender of each of the characters in the stories also add for variety.

My favourite story would have to be My Name is Finn by Julieanne Swiatczak which is the tragic story of an abused teen named Finn. Finn’s revenge and hatred for his abusive father comes together in a tragic and undesirable ending. Just when Finn finds a breath of hope in his sad life, he is surrounded with more tragedy. He decides to take out his revenge in the only way he knows how. A close second favourite would have to be The Unsuspecting Nature of Grief by Jessica Phillips, in which a widow visits the murderer of her husband in jail and surprisingly takes him under her wing.

For an independent publication this book is pretty well edited as there are only a few minor errors. Many books that are independently or self published often times suffer for their lack of editing but I was impressed with how well this book came together. It’s very professional and is easy to read. Overall I’m really happy to support these talented authors and enjoyed reading their work.

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Filed under 3 Star, Online BC, Read 2015, Short Story

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

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4/5 stars.
ebook, 272 pages.
Read from May 27 to 30, 2015.

This book has been on my to-read list since the beginning of my university days. I recall reading some of Plath’s poetry during this time but having known so little about her at the time and not having the maturity in regards to her situation, I never found the poems as potent as they were intended to be. Without getting into too much into literary theory, I will state that I do believe that with some pieces of literature it is important to know the history of the author and how their history can intentionally be placed into their work. I believe that Plath’s work fits for this circumstance.

For those that don’t know, Sylvia Plath was an American writer who was born in 1932. Her father died when she was just a girl, an event that would change Plath and affect her writing substantially in the future. Plath attended college and was a promising student with top marks. She was offered a guest editing position at a top women’s magazine but it was not what Plath hoped it would be and this is when her mental health issues started to show. She survived her first suicide attempt after overdosing on her mother’s sleeping pills and crawling into a hole outside. She was hospitalized and given psychiatric treatment which, at the time, included insulin shots and electric shock treatment. Plath seemed to make a decent recovery after 6 months in treatment and returned to college. It was here where she meets her future husband, Ted Hughes, who ends up becoming a famous and notable English writer.  During their marriage she gave birth to two children and had one miscarriage, an event that also presents itself in her writing. Plath was also in a car accident, which was likely another suicide attempt. Shortly after, Plath and Hughes separated after Plath discovered that Hughes was having an affair. After the separation is when Plath wrote some of her most important pieces, but sadly she committed her final act of suicide and died on February 11, 1963, just days after being prescribed anti-depressants. Plath died of carbon monoxide poisoning. She barricaded herself in the kitchen and placed her head inside the oven with the gas turned on.

Plath’s life was tumultuous and tragic and The Bell Jar is a semi-biographical story that reflects the beginning of Plath’s life and illness before she meets Hughes.

Esther Greenwood is a young, smart and ambitious woman who has just started the beginning, of what she is hoping to be a prominent and promising career in writing. She has been awarded the opportunity to intern at a popular women’s fashion magazine in New York, which is a dream come true for Esther. However, Esther slowly watches her ambitions drain away as an unstoppable depression begins to take over. As her ambition fades and the depression takes its toll, so does her once in a lifetime chance of making it in New York, in which, at this point Esther is so numb with depression she nearly doesn’t care. She almost marries, she is hospitalized and nearly dies. The ending does give some hope that perhaps there is still a chance for her.

The events Esther lives through are nearly identical to the ones Plath went through herself. Esther is pragmatic and brave. Esther wanted something more for herself so she is brutally honest about aspects of relationships and her refusal of a what would have appeared to be a perfect match for marriage. She is also honest with her depression, while not naming her condition, Esther describes perfectly what it feels like consumed by depression:

“The silence depressed me. It wasn’t the silence of silence. It was my own silence.”

“To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is a bad dream.”

“…because wherever I sat—on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok—I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.”

“I couldn’t see the point of getting up. I had nothing to look forward to.”

Even though it was written long before I was born, this book will always be timeless for its honesty with depression and mental health and particularly because it comes from the perspective of a woman. Even some of the social issues in this book are still relevant for women. Esther’s thinking on marriage was very forward for its day and age:

“So I began to think maybe it was true that when you were married and had children it was like being brainwashed, and afterward you went about as numb as a slave in a totalitarian state.”

“That’s one of the reasons I never wanted to get married. The last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be the place an arrow shoots off from. I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.”

I wonder if these were Plath’s own views and what changed her mind later in life to marry Hughes? There are many aspects in the book where Esther, despite protesting that she will never marry, still indicates that she wants it all: love, a family, but also her freedom. However she knows that she cannot have it all. Perhaps these are the same thoughts that brought Plath to succumb to her own marriage?

Plath’s short life feels like a story unfinished, which also contributes to her still present popularity. Feminists have taken her under their wing and are devoted to her prose and the continuation of her legacy. It makes me curious to what kind of woman Plath would be now and what she would have become. This book has made a lasting impression on me and is a hugely important book for the continuation and understanding of mental health issues.

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Filed under 4 Star, Classic, Read 2015

Canada Reads 2015

 Canada-Reads-2015

While it took me longer than I would have liked I have finished reading the 5 finalists in this year’s Canada Reads competition. The theme for this year is books that break barriers and the declared winner was Ru by Kim Thuy, a selection I actually agree with. In regards to the debates, I am happy with how this one panned out. I’m glad that When Everything Feels Like The Movies made it to the final round, despite and because of its controversy.  You can watch all of the debates on CBC’s website. In terms of how much I enjoyed the books though, this is how I would rank them (links to my reviews included):

1) And The Birds Rained Down by Jocelyne Saucier – One of the most beautiful books I’ve read in years. It’s the remarkable story of a few elderly characters who choose to die in their own way. Through their journey the characters start to find, that even at their age, there is still always something to be learned.

2) Ru By Kim Thuy – Poetic and moving, this book depicts the harsh realities of a refugees/immigrants coming to Canada. The book broke barriers with its writing style and harsh truths.

3) When Everything Feels Like The Movies by Raziel Reid –  The most controversial book in this series. In terms of breaking barriers,  I felt that this book topped them all. The book contains graphic and violent homosexual content involving the bullying of a teen. The book is relevant as the story mirrors an actual even that took place in Canadian history.

4) Intolerable by Kamal Al-Solaylee – Another remarkable story of immigration and suffering. The writing style is what bumped this book down the list for me rather than the content. The sacrifices and guilt that the author has had to live with in terms of his choices for a better life are hard to imagine but make for an interesting read.

5) Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King – I wanted to rank this book higher but in terms of the other books in this series it just didn’t stack up as well. This book is a very important book for Canadians to read and King broke a lot of barriers with his brash honesty and style of writing.

Onward to 2016! I wonder what next years theme will be?

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Filed under Book Banter, Canada Reads 2015