Friday, July 30, 2010

Say What?

Amid my jog this morning and preparing for Sunday's Yummy Lit Review I found time to browse the local paper.

I was, to say the least, a bit disturbed by the headline:

"Three young white men, fuelled by alcohol and testosterone and their own immaturity, crossed paths with a black man and LIVES CHANGED FOREVER."

It sounds like a bad summary on the back of a book... or an advertisement for a much-too-hyped-up blockbuster.

But what really got to me?

The front page screams of racism and sensationalism. I realize the media sets out to do this, to grab the reader's attention, to try to get people to read the newspaper while the print media is still kicking... but it irks me.

Anyways, that's my two cents. Rant over.

Book Blogger Hop

I was surfing the internet earlier this week and found an interesting book blog called Crazy-for-Books. They host a weekly Book Blogger Hop which connects book bloggers together during the weekend. Thought I'd give it a shot :) Only catch - you must answer weekly questions! Here's this week's:

Who is your favourite new-to-you author so far this year?

A: Usually I'll find one author that I love and read all of their books. If I have time to read a book I want to make sure I'll enjoy it, so I go to my standbys of Sparks, Steel, Valenti, Rowling... However, a brand new author for me? I'd have to say Marina Nemat. I reviewed her memoir Prisoner of Tehran earlier this month. It was an awesome read - very powerful, moving, and overall enjoyable. I've been on a 'let's read memoirs' kick and her's has by-far been the best so far!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Animal Farm

I have always heard people referencing George Orwell's Animal Farm. My high school teachers mentioned it in passing, my university English professor cited it as an excellent example of British satire, and my History professors' have recalled it as an adequate metaphor for the Russian Revolution. Yet somehow, after 18 years in BC's education system, I had never read this critical work. A few days ago I set out to do just that.

I reckoned that in one Friday evening I'd be able to read Orwell's work of a mere 90 pages, write a review, and move onto something with less barn animals and more humans. However, Orwell makes 90 pages last an eternity. It has been three days and I've only just finished reading.

I must admit that I agree with my professors - this book is most definitely a well thought out satire and an interesting portrayal of the Russian Revolution. Throughout his work Orwell suggests that Socialism is premised on good intentions and a Utopian vision of equality. Orwell also portrays the downfall of the revolution - the fact that once the animals (proletariat) work to remove the humans (bourgeois) they ineffectively create a new bourgeois class of animal leaders. Lenin and Stalin both make appearances as pigs leading the revolution. Orwell illustrates the manipulation of the government, preferential treatment of certain animals, purges, and show trials.

As a History major I found Orwell's work boring and predictable. Maybe it is because I knew how the revolution would pan out or the story's mono-dimensional characters and lack of dialogue... but, for one reason or another, the story felt flat.

Orwell's work also exudes 1940s gender dynamics. Though this isn't a surprise (especially for the time era) I did find it interesting and note worthy that gender came up in a barnyard story. While the males were portrayed as sturdy workers, leaders of the revolution, or seeking to destroy the newly created society, females were illustrated worrying about not having enough food and fashionable clothing. Orwell escalates this theme by having one of the mare's flee the farm in order to receive attention and grooming from humans.

While I was reading Animal Farm I began to wonder if it is possible to remove proletariat and bourgeois class dynamics. Can there be a classless society? Is equality between all people a societal goal that can be reached?

Of course the answer is no. There is no possibility of ever removing the tension between the bourgeois and proletariat. There is no possibility of living in a completely equitable society for people of all ethnicities, physical abilities, sexual orientations, ages, classes, genders, and sexes. Inequality would continue to exist even if we were to wake up in the morning and miraculously find ourselves in an equitable society. I believe equality cannot be reached as people have internalized their cultural histories of oppression and subordination, which in turn become reflected in one's self-identity.

Instead of searching for equality I believe that people should recognize diversity. For if Animal Farm has taught me anything, it is that whitewashing everyone as equal denies individuality and creates opportunities for further exploitation. Recognition and acceptance of differences are integral steps towards a harmonious society.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Oatmeal Cookies

Sweet Sunday's Yummy Lit Review:
Oatmeal Cookies

There's this old recipe book in my house... it is worn and frayed... it looks like it has gone through a lot. And I guess it has - both my Mother and I used this book as teenage girls learning how to bake. I particularly like its Oatmeal Cookie recipe. Well, kinda. I've made these cookies before but I've never completely followed the recipe ingredient by ingredient, step by step.

This is my attempt to do just that.

Let's just say that I failed said attempt.

Here's what Betty Crocker's Cookbook (1975, 0. 137) tells me to do:

3/4 cup shortening
1 cup brown sugar (packed)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped nuts
3 cups quick-cooking oats

Heat oven to 350 F. Mix thoroughly shortening, sugars, egg, water, and vanilla. Stir in remaining ingredients. Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls 1 inch apart onto greased baking sheet. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until almost no imprint remains when touched with finger. Immediately remove from baking sheet. Store in tightly covered container. Makes about five dozen cookies.

Right away the shortening is removed from my list of ingredients and replaced with the healthier version of Becel olive oil margarine. Instead of 1 cup chopped nuts I use 1/4 cup finely sliced almonds... and I add a cup of cranberries for good measure.

It all goes smoothly until it is time to put the batter into cookie-shaped form. Usually I don't look at the book by this point. However, I recall the fact that Yummy Lit is supposed to be a recipe review... and I've already messed around with the ingredients... so, I reason that I should read the book as a last-ditch attempt to do this properly.

Betty Crocker tells me to "drop [the] dough by rounded teaspoonfuls 1 inch apart." I figure that since I'm trying to do it by the book (and I feel a little guilty for not following through on the ingredients list) I'll make sure I use rounded teaspoonfuls. I'm so precise I get my teaspoon measurement out, create my cookies, and put them in the oven...

They come back super super tiny. Now, I like small things... but they're the size of my fingertip! I mean, these cookies look like Mini-Wheats. I feel like I should get a bowl of soy-milk and use these freshly made cookies as my breakfast.

I close Betty Crocker. I get my hands dirty. I start forming my oatmeal cookie batter (which tastes really good) into pretty decent sized balls.

After 13 minutes they come out of the oven... and they turn out much better!

It's proof, sometimes you can't follow the rules. Roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty, be creative, and do it your own way.

Oh, and in total (including those little teeny tiny ones) I get 6 dozen really yummy oatmeal cookies out of the deal.

Hope you have a sweet Sunday! :)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Love the Way You Lie

Are song lyrics literature?

I remember the first English class I attended in university... it was all about poetry. I've always had a thing for poetry. Somehow a poem can sum up so much in just a few eloquently placed words. It is the exact opposite of me - I'm one of those people who tend to write over the word limit in any assignment. My professor introduced us to poetry by claiming that song lyrics are the modern day equivalent of Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare's Sonnets, or Donne's The Flea. Since that class I've looked at song lyrics as another literary outlet... a much less wordy and more poetic one.

Which takes me to today...

While I was driving to the hospital this afternoon the new Eminem and Rihanna song came on the radio. It's called Love the Way You Lie (You can hear it here). You know what I 'love'? The way this song is so completely messed up. I 'love' it so much that I just have to write about it.

The song has some very prime lyrics. It glorifies domestic abuse. And I know I'm not the only one who thinks of Chris Brown when they hear Rihanna's "I like the way it hurts[,]... hear me cry... because I love the way you lie." Eminem continues this charade by discussing an on-again-of-again relationship that involves him physically attacking ("push, pull each other's hair, scratch, claw, bite, throw, and pin") his partner who continues to say she loves what he's doing to her. Ohh, not to mention his claim that "if she ever tries to fucking leave again, I'mma tie her to the bed, and set the house on fire."

Where does this leave us as the audience? With a first glance at the lyrics it seems like the grand message here is the condoning of physical abuse.

The song shows the psychological turmoil that exists within relationships that involve abuse... the fact that the partners' want to be together but hate each other, he doesn't want to hurt her but he does, and she's upset and hurt but she loves him. Even if the song is illustrating psychological turmoil, it still promotes a very negative relationship dynamic.

Furthermore, our current society tends to blame the victims of abuse. A woman undergoing a court case to charge her rapist will have her own clothing brought under question - as if how she dressed signified she was game to be sexually assaulted. And, alike to this song, women experiencing physical abuse in relationships are often blamed for staying in that relationship. Rihanna's lyrics reinforce this idea - it becomes easy to blame her for her abuse because she keeps on going back. So, instead of a song discussing domestic abuse in a new and more thoughtful light, we have Eminem and Rihanna reinstating stereotypes that prevent those experiencing abuse to acquire needed assistance and recognition in society.

On the plus side, it is refreshing that Eminem admits he is also experiencing physical abuse even if it is only having his hair pulled. Men very rarely comment on their experiences as victims of domestic abuse. At least the song begins to address this version of domestic abuse in today's society. However, Eminem's 'victimization' is a very very small segment in a song that concentrates on a female saying she enjoys being repeatedly abused by her lover.

I find it saddening that a song like this has become so popular in a society that has large rates of domestic abuse. Eminem and Rihanna's Love the Way You Lie merely promotes violence and unhealthy relationships... and yet somehow this song has made it to the Canadian Top 20... number 17 to be exact. Honestly, out of all the songs playing in Canada this somehow reached number 17?

***** As a side note... earlier this year one of my professors sent my Family Sociology class this video of Keira Knightley and domestic abuse. Thought I'd pass it along.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

He's a Stud, She's a Slut

I searched everywhere for this book... it's not available in any B.C. bookstores. I searched Washington, USA... couldn't find it anywhere. Finally, after over a year of looking, I found it on a little shelf in the Vancouver Public Library.

I must say that I was well beyond eager to read Jessica Valenti's He's a Stud, She's a Slut and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know. The title either instantly intrigues you or causes you to shudder, because yes, it sounds an awful lot like a title for some loud and brass feminist book... which it is.

I was introduced to Valenti's first monograph Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide to Why Feminism Matters in a Sociology of Gender university class during early 2009. I instantly developed an academic crush. I loved that her writing was uncensored to such an extent that it felt like I was reading a letter to a friend. I loved her ideas and views on society. One of the subjects Valenti discusses in this work is North American culture and its promotion of female thinness. I became engrossed in her theories on this subject. Valenti's claim that eating is a powerful and revolutionary act for women in today's society distinctly resonated with me at the time due to my own personal struggles with food. Since reading Valenti I have proudly declared myself a third wave feminist and have become motivated to improve my own unhealthy relationship with food.

Needless to say I began reading He's a Stud, She's a Slut with very high expectations. It was a good read... but I honestly left the book feeling disappointed. This book felt like a quick rehashing of Valenti's previous Full Frontal Feminism.

He's a Stud, She's a Slut is a good introduction to feminist studies for a general audience. Valenti argues that feminism is premised on equality and choice. It is about being aware of one's culture and understanding its patriarchal roots. Feminism recognizes the inequalities that exist within society for individuals of all sexes, ethnicities, social classes, sizes, and sexual orientations. Valenti claims that change and progress are only possible through recognizing inequality and by making a conscious effort to eradicate it at a grassroots level.

Valenti's work is an eye-opener. It is also extremely funny. Among the many double standards she discusses are those involving fashion, health care, salaries, body image, humour, the dichotomy between physical attractiveness and intelligence, procreation, and the role of each partner's age in a romantic relationship.

She discusses the Miss, Ms, Mrs debate. As you can tell from my blog, I pledge allegiance to the Ms category. I'm not against being called Miss (in fact, I use it often under the right circumstances), and I will probably chose Mrs when that time comes... but right now Ms sums me up perfectly. Though it is just a label, Ms reflects the notion that my self-identity is not attached to any relationship, be it family or romantic. Men never have to deal with this conundrum - Mr covers all of their life stages. Heck, men can avoid wearing wedding rings without society frowning upon them.

Valenti also brings up the potential for social networking sites, such as Facebook, to diminish the inequalities in relationship statuses. Facebook asks all of its users to list their relationship status and even sexual orientation. I can see her point... even in something as trivial as Facebook there has been progress and movement towards recognition and equality. Talk about a grassroots movement expanding tenfold.

Valenti provides evidence to suggest that we are far from an equitable society. Her work remains enjoyable and highly amusing though it does contain facts that may be hard to swallow. However, I'd be sure to read Valenti's first work, Full Frontal Feminism, before setting out for this one.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Girl in the Red Coat

My friend K and I enjoy exploring metro-Vancouver on the days we have off from work or studies. Typically we venture to the mall, spend countless hours wandering and shopping, and go home with at least a few books. Recently, we've decided to broaden our trips to include Robson Street and visits to the Vancouver Public Library.

Let's start off by saying it's a beautiful library... see?

It's Vancouver's version of a little Coliseum. Upon entering the library you receive shopping baskets and a map. It's that big. Last Thursday I spent most of my afternoon on the 6th floor - the History section - and left with eight books.

Roma Ligocka's The Girl in the Red Coat was the last book I decided to take home... and ironically the first book to be discussed on C.T.R. But where to start?

I'm assuming most people have seen Schindler's List. I remember the first time I saw it in a social studies class during high school. The film is dominated in black and white imagery besides one scene - that of a little girl in a red coat. In case you don't remember or by chance have not viewed the film (in which case I highly recommend you do!) here's a youtube clip.

Ligocka, a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust, claims to be the real little girl in this clip. Born in 1938, the first years of Ligocka's life were spent in a Polish ghetto with her father, mother, and grandmother. Ligocka claims to have worn a bright red coat alike to the little girl portrayed in Spielberg's film. Ligocka recognizes her family members in the film - the murder of a Jewish engineer and a couple who marry in Auschwitz reflect her own family's experiences in the Holocaust.

It seems like Ligocka is attempting to give Spielberg's work authority throughout her memoir. Yet, the similarities between Ligocka's and Spielberg's stories suggest to me that the Holocaust is overall generalized to far too great an extent.

Generalizing the Holocaust does create the opportunity for audiences to relate to the portrayed characters and begin to comprehend, at least a little bit, the horrors endured during the Second World War. Generalizing the Holocaust also permits people to have a cursory glance at the subject, to say that they will remember, but to fail to acknowledge the full diversity of the experience. Generalizations suggest that there is one story and thus removes and suppresses individual voices.

At times Ligocka's story is hard to believe. How can she remember events from her early childhood? How can she recall conversations, sequences of events? I suppose this can be attributed to artistic license. Yet doing so removes the sense of authenticity from her work.

Perhaps my strong dislike for generalizations is why I enjoy memoirs. Once I overlook Ligocka's views on Schindler's List her work becomes much more enjoyable. Ligocka's personal experiences are vivid. Her writing oozes descriptions that come to life - bed bugs, her first taste of chocolate, meeting her father after his escape from Auschwitz, ill-kept Jewish cemeteries, and Jewish schoolchildren who cry and flinch in class after the close of war.

Ligocka's work is most profound due to her focus on the psychological impact of the Holocaust. Ligocka adeptly illustrates the survivors' desire to not speak of their experiences, to turn away from the past, and (for some) to resort to addictions to alcohol and prescription medication.

Overall, The Girl in the Red Coat tells the story of Poland under fascist and communist dictatorship, portrays a woman's lifelong struggle to find self-acceptance, and urges one to not turn their back on the past. It is an interesting memoir but not one of the most enthralling pieces of Holocaust literature.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Sweet Sunday's Yummy Lit Review:

The ULTIMATE Dutch cookie. I grew up off of the store-bought version of these babies... and yes, you can tell the difference between the pre-packaged (though imported from Holland) and homemade version. Mine were less spicy and a lot softer than the store-bought. Having said this, Joy of Baking did a good job with the creation of this recipe... But next time I think I'll use a bigger measurement for the spices.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3/4 firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
finely grated rind of 1 large lemon
Additional sliced or shaved almonds

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, spices and salt. Set bowl aside.
Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy in a separate bowl.
Beat in the egg and lemon zest until well combined.
Add the flour mixture and beat until combined.
Flatten the dough, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Form the chilled dough into 1 inch balls. Place the balls of dough on a prepared cookie sheet, space approximately 2 inches apart. Flatten each ball of dough to 1/4 inch thick with the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar. Sprinkle each cookie with shaved almonds.

Bake for about 10-12 minutes, or until lightly browned around the edges.
Remove from oven. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes approximately 3 dozen cookies.

A Slight Departure

Apparently I can't stick to one topic. I've always been indecisive... I can hear the snickers and see the eye rolls already... and I've fought long and hard with myself to continue C.T.R. as a strictly "hardcore" literary review blog. However, I feel like I am pushing away one of my other strong passions - baking cookies! So... what shall I do?

Let me start by saying "I'm Dutch." This means I could walk around in wooden shoes if I realllly wanted to without looking too crazy, and yes, I do have a fondness for cheese and Heineken. The Dutch are also known for having cookies with their coffee. Go to Holland, order a coffee, and I'm pretty sure a cookie will end up in front of you as well.

C.T.R. has been based on my thoughts while reading with a cup of strong and lovely coffee nearby. And while reading can be performed with coffee or without, while sitting in a comphy chair or running on a treadmill, it can also be enjoyed with a plate of fresh fruit... or a cookie. At least this is how I rationalized my decision.

C.T.R. will remain "Coffee Tale Reviews: The Literary Musings of a Coffee Addict."

The only catch?

C.T.R. will also review recipes. The yummier cousin of literature, pictures of the final baked products, and corresponding reviews will all be recorded in the Yummy Lit section.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Hero at Large

I wasn't planning on writing a review for this book because really it's pointless dribble. However, this blog can't just be praises...

First off, I must say that I try to not judge a book by its cover... but this one I really should have. The cover's depiction of a big burly dog and a rabbit sending out little red hearts is just corny and trivial... Unfortunately this theme continues into the pages between the cover.

Written by Janet Evanovich, Hero at Large is a novel based on a love affair between a figure skating instructor and an unemployed man... who magically turns out to be a multimillionaire. The woman in the relationship is the figure skater, the man is the one with the cash - Evanovich does a great job with gender stereotyping! Included in the book is a batty Grandmother who stops at nothing to force the pair into a relationship. Oh, and a good dose of drama and heartache (once the woman finds out her man is a multimillionaire she wants nothing to do with him?)... all to end with a happy ending.

Really, I don't know what I expect when I purchase these books.

In the long run it's not so bad though. Evanovich's novel passed time, was good for a few laughs (ie - multimillionaire's apparently can't cook), and it was a welcome light read for the afternoon.

Prisoner of Tehran: A Memoir

During my first cup of coffee this morning I thought it was high time I post a review. I've read a couple of books this week... one pointless, frivolous, and lacking a strong plot line (just as a romance novel should be haha)... and another that was immensely powerful.

It's been a few days since I finished reading Marina Nemat's Prisoner of Tehran: A Memoir, but it is still vivid in my mind. Typically I read a book in a day or two. I've been reading Nemat's work on and off since late May although it is a page turner, suspenseful, and relatively short at just under 300 pages. I've been a busy girl, but the fact that Nemat's writing called me back after a month long hiatus is a pretty good testament to its value.

Nemat tells the story of her life in Iran. Nemat, then a 16 year old girl, was imprisoned by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in 1982 and tortured for two and a half years under a false charge of conspiracy against the Ayatollah Khomeini government. She provides accounts of her childhood in Tehran, the change of rule from Reza Shah Pahlavi to Ayatollah Khomeini, in-depth backgrounds on the lives of her fellow female inmates in Evin, and the psychological and physical torture she endured both inside the prison's walls and in her own family after her release.

Though this memoir could have been extremely negative, and in parts it is, Nemat does an adequate job in illustrating that despite everything she encounters Iran remains an integral part of her and her concept of home. Yes, the memoir is littered with descriptions of repression, torture, suicide, rape, and murder... but Nemat also portrays fond memories of life in Iran - visiting her family's summer cottage, falling in love, parties, and the birth of children. She expresses sadness at the thought of her own children never knowing Iran, never being able to see her country's beautiful landscape upon her emigration. In this regard, Nemat proves that one cannot view a country, a people, or a history in black and white terms but must recognize the existence of diversity.

Nemat's work is deeply engaging, emotional, and powerful. It's the kind of book where upon completion the reader is asked to contemplate and perhaps (as in my case) they will even acquire goosebumps. The Prisoner of Tehran: A Memoir is an excellent read.


Welcome! Coffee Tale Reviews (C.T.R.) was created in order to express opinions concerning literary works - be they novels, memoirs, journal articles... you name it! Though I am a published writer, I find much more enjoyment reading other people's work... and then dissecting it. This blog will chronicle what I am reading and my corresponding thoughts. I hope you enjoy!
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