Adventures in Reading

Fiction: Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu, 1872

“The effect of the full moon in such a state of brilliancy was manifold. It acted on dreams, it acted on lunacy, it acted on nervous people, it had marvelous physical influence connected with life.”

J. Sheridan LeFanu’s Carmilla is a novella about vampires and a predecessor to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Laura and her father inhabit a lonely schloss in “Styria;” after a carriage accident outside of their home, a strange and “invalid” girl is left with the family. Laura and the girl Carmilla recollect each other from a dream-like experience from their childhoods. The family’s experience with Carmilla is surreal and haunting; the neighboring villages are plagued with some sort of feverish, wasting disease, which kills a variety of female inhabitants. The emphasis in Carmilla, unlike in Dracula, is with female subjects as both predators and victims.

This year has turned into my year of vampires, I suppose, and my interest in Carmilla was peaked while reading the introduction to Dracula. Though LeFanu’s work is easily solved approximately half way through and there are some significant unanswered questions, Carmilla is bother a curious and interesting look at vampirism.


Nonfiction: In the Land of Invisible Women by Qanta A. Ahmed, MD

Sourcebooks, Inc. kindly sent me a copy of the memoir In the Land of Invisible Women by Qanta A. Ahmed, MD, which was perfect timing as I had just heard Ahmed’s interview on the Diane Rehm Show and was quite curious about the book. Ahmed, “a British Muslim doctor,” is denied a visa to stay within the United States and quickly makes up her mind to accept a position in Saudi Arabia. Her memoir In the Land of Invisible Women offers a unique perspective of a western woman, professional doctor, and Muslim living within the kingdom.

I feel that most of what I know about Saudi Arabia has been my interpretation of evening news’ sound bytes. Via an original and interesting perspective, Ahmed takes the reader through her experience of Saudi Arabia, particularly in Riyadh [1], where she worked as a doctor for two years at the National Guard Hospital. In the Land of Invisible Women reads as a cross between a medical narrative and a memoir, and also manages to pursue two distinctly interesting themes: a western woman’s experience within the Kingdom and a lifelong Muslim’s interaction with more extreme forms of Islam.

My only complaint about the book regard some structural issues as some chapters read as disjointed. Assumedly the format is chronological, though certainly gaps of time are missing, but the reader at times is expected to make shaky leaps between one handful of chapters, for example, that focus on Hajj season to the next handful of chapters detailing Ahmed’s experience with romance in Riyadh. Relatively a minor distraction, but it did force me to wonder if I had managed to skip pages.

What I most appreciated about this book was Ahmed’s divulgence of her opinion and how she avoided becoming dismissive of other’s beliefs. The author is consistently willing to acknowledge the complex traditions and cultures that, for example, produce both negative and positive responses to wearing the abbayah. Nevertheless, Ahmed still beautifully asserts her arguments and confronts the anti-Semitism, the sexism, and the anti-western attitudes she experienced.

In the Land of Invisible Women gave me a lot to think about, and just not about the complexities of Saudi Arabia but also my country’s, the U.S.A., interactions within the Middle East.

[1] I now have a new appreciation for The Girls of Riyadh, a book I previously shrugged off as so-so pop-literature.

Other opinions: Book Addiction.

Conclusion: Available on Bookmooch.

Revisted Reviews: Childless Revolution by Madelyn Cain

Madelyn Cain’s definition of “childless” and “childfree” are childless individuals are people who wanted children but never conceived and childfree individuals are people who actively chose not to have children. After this point is made the book is mostly complete rubbish, but this was apparent from the author’s introduction where Cain discusses that the most important ambition, goal, and purpose of her life was to have children. She wrote the book for herself as consolation of her fear of, “What would my life have been if I had never had a child?” Cain is a mother writing about the experiences of the childfree/less and she seems to greatly miss the point for some people.

I was interested in this book because every time I stumble across a childfree book list – there it is! The book is divided into three childless sections (choice, chance, and happenstance) and the choice/childfree section is the shortest. Without saying these things are explicitly true, Cain does ensure to link and even suggest within the childfree chapter that women who dislike children have a genetic disorder, men seeking vasectomies at young ages are associated with a religious cult, not wanting children (if not genetic) as a result of childhood trauma/abuse, and of course the never failing favorite – childfree people are selfish/bitter. The section is then broken into three further categories of positively childfree, environmentally childfree, and religiously childfree. Cain does a successful job through her interviews to make everyone in these groups (excluding the religiously childfree) sound crazy.

Other problematic areas in the book include some very negative discussion about adoption (a la the orphans will put arsenic in the well variety), a pervading idea that men are forcing women not to have children, if you don’t have a husband OR a child you will be old and alone, it’s “ironic” that lesbians have so much trouble having/adopting children rather than homophobic, the extreme level of Christianity her interviewees expresses, little discussion about disabled couples, and no comment at all about individuals who couldn’t conceive from birth, no comment on the continuous “my genes” conversations that occur, etc. The list does just go on and on.

The last saving grace of this book is the brief section about childfree/less complaints. This includes tax, work, housing, etc issues. I would not suggest this book to anyone but if you are going to read it please do so with extreme reservations.

As I’ve mentioned before, last summer I started to realize that I did not want to have children and resulting from past expectations and assumptions it was important for me to explore the childfree experience. Childless Revolution I believe was the first such related book that I read. Driving home from the library with my partner, I remember reading the introduction and was quite taken aback that it was a woman who had a child that had written the book. This doesn’t mean that a mother could never write a book about childlessness but I must assume that Cain was not one of these women who mastered the talent.

And an additional review from Bookslut.