A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

“I refuse to “look up.” Optimism nauseates me. It is perverse. Since man’s fall, his proper position in the universe has been one of misery.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 429 pages.
Read from February 12, 2019 to February 21, 2019.

I’ve known about this book for years because of its quirky cover and title but yet knew nothing about the witty and hilarious story within it or the tragic story of its author. Written by the editor, the prologue of this novel details the strange way this book came to exist as the editor explains how he came across what would become a Pulitzer Prize-winning story.  The editor had been attempting to put off this random woman, Kennedy’s mother, who kept insisting that she has a great story for him to publish from her late son. When he is finally trapped in a corner from her persistence he accepts the manuscript anticipating he’d never read it. He devours the book an aptly publishes it with great success. John Kennedy Toole tragically committed suicide at the age of 31 leaving his mother with the manuscript of this novel. She wanted her son’s talent recognized and by getting his novel published ensured his legacy.

Ignatius is the main protagonist in this story, though as a reader you may not like him very much. He is a lazy, obese, misanthropic man-child who has some self-inflated ideas of himself. ignatiusjreillyx13j2xe Of course, his strange views of himself and the world are what make his misadventures so damn funny. Like a peculiar Don Quixote, Ignatius has his own eccentric tendencies from his outrageous slob-fashion to the idea of his “valve” and how he reacts during “stressful” situations. Yet Ignatius’ disdain for the modern world is borderline admirable and while he may view the world differently his insights aren’t always wrong and seem to tap into some lost child-like feelings that we all push aside to fit into the modern world.

“Well, I have had enough of this. I’m going into the parlour to watch the Yogi Bear program. Between wine breaks, please bring me a snack of some sort. My valve is screaming for appeasement.”

Ignatius finds himself in trouble after his mother gets into a car accident and neither of them has any money to pay off the damage. Ignatius’ mother worked hard to put him in school and has received no thanks for her efforts. Ignatius is not a dumb man but his strong views on the world and himself contradict the status quo. Ignatius, who would rather pretend to “work” on a novel while living at his mother’s home for free, refuses to work and blames his mother for many things while showing no appreciation to the woman raised him, still believes in him, and who continues puts up with him. After finally being convinced to get a job Ignatius starts his misadventures from one job to the next meeting an array of characters and situations along the way.

After reading a quarter of the book, I thought I was tired of Ignatius’ antics. He was getting on my nerves with his narcissism and the horrible way he treats his mother however, once he started working, the story turned into something amazing. I found myself rooting for Ignatius and wanting to support his outlandish ideas just to see where he would end up. The initial plot and concern about the car accident became a thing of the past as I anticipated how wonderfully Ignatius would mess and yet always find a way to get out of any situation.

The writing and character work in this novel is nothing short of brilliant and it pains me to think of the talent with lost with the author’s early passing. This book would appeal to anyway the read and loved Don Quixote or who is interested in misadventure stories with unique protagonists.

The Woo-Woo by Lindsay Wong

This is a trainwreck of an upbringing that you can’t help but sympathize with, as you berate yourself for laughing at the strangeness of it all.

4/5 stars.
ebook, 304 pages.
Read from March 3, 2019 to March 9, 2019.

Lindsay Wong describes the Woo-Woo as a Chinese superstition that ghosts are the cause of bad things in your life, which unfortunately for her and mental-health-ridden family, meant an array of irrational behaviour followed by never seeking treatment. This book is in the Canada Reads 2019 shortlist after a few near misses in previous years so no doubt this book will be a fan favourite for the debates.

canada-reads-2019-joe-zee-defends-the-woo-woo
Joe Zee defending The Woo-Woo by Lindsay Wong during the debates taking place on March 25-28, 2019.

Lindsay and her siblings are first generation Chinese-Canadians. Her family came over from Hong Kong and settled in Vancouver which has a large Chinese population giving the city the appropriate nickname of Hongcouver. She lives in an upper-middle-class neighbourhood with her mother father, brother and sister, and for a short time her grandmother. Lindsay basis of daily dealings with her family and her life included things like swearing, name-calling, bribes with money, escaping life decisions and people with makeshift camping trips, and smothering bad feelings and “ghosts” with junk-food. Shouting matches, arguments, grudges and personal hang-ups are what Lindsay thought being a family was all about.

Despite her family having a comfortable income Lindsay wore old, dated clothes and showered once a week. Lindsay lacked the social skills to make friends but her aggression made her an excellent hockey player, an endeavour her father bribed her into to achieve some sort of Canadian-dream status.  Her father insisted that she was extremely stupid and fat as some messed up means of motivating her to achieve more along with a sick sense of dark humour. While her mother fell prey to the mental illness that plagued her own mother resulting in her being obsessed with ghosts and trying to protect her family from them. Her protection came in the form of insisting that her family never show any emotion as to not invite the ghosts in, terrorizing midnight wakings, lighting Lindsay’s feet and bedding on fire, day-long walks in shopping malls, and more.

Lindsay grew up in fear the Woo-Woo as she saw it slowly wreck her grandmother, her mother and eventually even her Aunt, whom she thought was safe. Without the means to empathize and deal with normal human situations in a healthy manner, Lindsay was in constant worry about her own mental state. Despite all this Lindsay managed to get into a university far from home where she was relieved to finally escape her family, only to find that the Woo-Woo seemed to have followed her there.

Even with these enormous hurdles to overcome, Lindsay seems to have found peace and understanding with her upbringing. Despite the dark and sometimes traumatizing events that Lindsay endured she approaches her story with a stoic and entertaining sense of dark humour. This is a trainwreck of an upbringing that you can’t help but sympathize with, as you berate yourself for laughing at the strangeness of it all. It brings awareness to the stigmas around mental illness and the barriers we still have to overcome, especially culturally, which healthcare systems could benefit from learning more about.

If you live in Vancouver, I would absolutely say this is a must-read. This is also a relevant book for those looking from some reprieve from their own families and mental health struggles.

The most moving part of this story comes from Lindsay finding the courage to write such an intimate memoir about her family, especially since she is writing from a standpoint of success in battling her inner Woo-Woo and family troubles. It’s a testament to the power of healing yourself and finding faith in yourself against the odds.

 

 

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“What does “feminism” mean today? That is the question at the heart of “We Should All Be Feminists…””

4/5 stars.
ebook, 32 pages.
Read September 20, 2018

I can’t recall how I found this short essay but I’m really glad I did. I have often a wondered what exactly feminism means today? Especially in this volatile political environment. How can we as women explain our situation to the many men (and some women) who still don’t think that it is a relevant position to take a stand on in the present day? Well, I think the continued awareness and prevalence of rape culture, that a misogynist is the American president, how toxic masculinity is creating more and more troubled men, and the potential uproar over women’s basic rights in first world countries and all over the globe is more than enough time to consider how important feminism still is. This essay is important, so much so that I wish I could casually hand a copy of this to nearly everyone I know.  Essays like this should be required reading in high school and universities everywhere. 

“Some people ask: “Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?” Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general—but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women.”

How do you persuade people to understand a point of view? You explain how your point of view will benefit them and to not attack them for their current views. Chimamanda finds this wonderful balance between stating facts firmly to diffusing difficult aspects of feminism with grace and humour. She discusses the marginalization of men and women and the archaic beliefs that shape this discrimination, while also recognizing that we’re all unconsciously shaped by our culture so it’s easy to get caught up in what’s perceived as normal. Feminism is here to help us dismantle the beliefs that no longer benefit us in society, and that’s for both men and women. Feminism is not something to be feared, as many men do, as there is a history has a prevalence of fearmongering when it comes to women empowering themselves and others. 

“We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man. “

In end, people will believe what they want to believe. You cannot move people like Trump and those who follow him, but for the rest of us that want better for humanity and are constantly trying to understand and improve, this essay is a wonderful, pervasive and persuasive read. 

“A world of happier men and happier women who are truer to themselves. And this is how to start: We must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our sons differently.”