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The Sense of Reality: Studies in Ideas and Their History by Isaiah Berlin.

A collection of nine essays written by a philosopher and historian, eight of which had apparently been unpublished prior to the publishing of the collection. While they're all separate bits of writing, they generally revolve around, er, ideas and their history: It kind of reminded me of Seven Ages in that respect. 

The first few essays mostly focus on the relationship people have with philosophical ideas/political movements (e.g. Marxism) and how broader movements interact with society and the sheer difficulty of "fixing" society: Berlin's conclusion is mostly that "Creating a Utopia is so damn hard because people are really fucking complicated and nebulous and nobody knows enough about anything in order to fix everything." I found these essays a little difficult to understand: usage of terms and words I was unfamiliar with, a general sense of meandering and trying to put complex concepts into words which the English language doesn't have many for, and I think I tend to be a very passive sort of reader, so instead of hopping up and grabbing hold of Berlin's ideas and really tearing them apart I spent the first third or so of the book watching ideas zoom over my head while staring up at them and going "?????"

Eventually though, I got to the essay on the history of socialism and socialist theories, and after that the essays were easier for me to understand, being mostly overviews of already established ideas and bits of straightforward history. Or maybe by that point I'd gotten more used to the very academic language of the book, I dunno.

Anyway this isn't the sort of book I'd normally pick up for the sheer fun and/or interest of it, and I admit I went through it so slowly I had to renew it twice from the library, but it was nice to stretch my circle of Stuff I Read and besides that, the bits where Berlin talks about Marxism and Socialism were especially interesting to me because I see that kind of stuff brought up on tumblr a bunch but I don't know much about it- and now I feel like I have slightly more context whenever I next run into it.

(Also, fun side note: the one essay in this book that had been previously published is "Marxism and the International in the Nineteenth Century" and it was written/published in 1964. Every now and then the essay mentions things like the Iron Curtain being up and there will be a polite footnote saying "This essay was written in 1964.")

For Today I Am A Boy by Kim Fu

I feel like this article written by Casey Plett would be more useful to anyone who wants to know about this book, but here are my thoughts on it I guess?

Anyway, the book is about a Chinese-Canadian transwoman who's named Peter by her father.

(At the very end of the book- literally on the last page- she starts using a different name. I'm going with Peter and she/her pronouns here since that seems the best compromise I can make between avoiding spoilers on how she resolves her identity and being respectful of what her identity actually is.)

Peter's father is emotionally abusive with internalized racism/toxic masculinity issues: He wants to fit into this concept of Western manliness and wants Peter to fit into that too, and is rather less interested in Peter's three cisgender sisters. Peter does her best to survive in a small conservative town in an unhappy home, dealing with school bullies and her family and her own dysphoria. Her sisters all move to various places outside of Canada; Peter eventually discovers an interest in cooking, works at a restaurant, and eventually moves to Montreal, where she continues to struggle with her identity and her relationship with her family, her life complicated by her own isolation, aging, and unhealthy romantic/sexual relationships with other women.

As a novel about transgender issues I have mixed feelings about it- I'm sure there are plenty of trans individuals who can't find a community, who can't transition until later in life, whose constant dysphoria is a crushing enough weight that even as they try to hide it, it utterly dominates their life. (And saying that last bit about Peter almost seems a bit unfair.) And these are worthy issues and all; but still, it's kind of bothersome how many books about trans or other queer issues are basically about being in the closet, and the stories pretty much end once the protagonist gets out of the closet.

That said, as a slice of life, I mostly liked it: Even though nobody in my immediate family is, as far as I know, transgender, I found the story of the sisters trying to muddle through life, spreading here and there, living separate lives and yet still connected in a way they aren't to anyone else, sort of... familiar? To be honest, it really reminded me of my mother and her sisters, and I think the book captured the weird kind of headspace you get into as a result of growing up in a dysfunctional/unhappy family that still doesn't quite fit the model of What An Abusive Family Is Like.

(As you might imagine, this novel is triggery as shit: Off the top of my head, there's transphobia, homophobia, bullying, racism, child-on-child sexual abuse, rape, emotional abuse, toxic religious stuff, and probably more I'm forgetting.)
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rynet_ii: A deoxys (alien-like pokemon) with a neutral expression. (Default)

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