Review: Farm 54 by Galit Seliktar, Gilad Seliktar

The promise of having a collection of Jewish-Israeli short stories in graphic novel format was exactly what I was seeking.

Farm 54 is a collection of three semi-autobiographical stories addressing three important periods in the life of the protagonist, Noga, born at the start of the 1970’s and growing up in Israel’s rural periphery. Substitute Lifeguard (1981) finds her towards the end of her childhood as she experiences a family trauma, a blessing and a birthday. Spanish Perfume (1983) brings her to teenage in the wake of the First Lebanon War whilst Houses (1989) portrays her passage to adulthood and hence military service in the occupied territories.

Though for the most of my reading experience I wasn’t particularly engaged in the storyline, I found the last tale, centering around Noga entering her IDF service, to be such an eye-opener. There’s a lot I’ve yet to discover in the details of one’s IDF service, so Houses, in its brief page-time, delivered a lot of knowledge for me.

The graphic novel as a whole relies a lot on telling stories without words in the way of silent/wordless graphic novels; it made for plenty of poignant, quiet, and pondering moments to take in. But the true star of this show has got to be the art and its stroke of minimalism.Farm 54 1-- bookspoilsFarm 54 2-- bookspoilsFarm 54 3-- bookspoils

In the end, I was left with a sense of stillness in my mind that is hard to come by in books nowadays. I would love to pick up Tsav 8 by Gilad Seliktar next.

4/5 stars

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Farm 54, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

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Review: Rookie on​ Love by Tavi Gevinson

“My memory of men is never lit up and illuminated like my memory of women.”Marguerite Duras

A single-subject anthology about the heart’s most powerful emotion, edited by Tavi Gevinson. Touching upon love in all its different variations, from “a devotional to dogs” (Durga Chew-Bose) to unrequited love to accepting your self-worth to experiencing intimate friendships with women.

“Love is all around, but its holding place is not always another person. Sometimes you find the best companion in yourself, or the fun of worshipping a teen idol, or the challenge of trying to understand love in its various forms. ”

Before starting, I casually browsed through the table of contents and saw a stellar piece titled “Do Sisters Actually Love Each Other?” by Jazmine Hughes, which I hurried on to read because it was something I really needed. And it was just as spectacular as the title conveys, featuring a group text between a bunch of sisters.

JAVONNE I came back to, like, eighty messages to read and I will not.
Someone fill me in if you want an answer from me.”

When I then saw that Tavi Gevinson had shared a live reading of this hilarious and touching piece, I was over-the-moon:

All I need now is the return of the Rookie podcast, which I raved about back in April of 2017.

Rookie on Love, however, didn’t quite embody the expectations I had in mind before starting. More than once I experienced the feeling of really enjoying how a story builds up but then, almost without fail, it would veer off downhill, destroying what it had created in its small space, and end on a completely unsatisfying note. And because of the short length, there wasn’t even a redeeming moment that could’ve saved the narrative.

It also didn’t help the collection of hitting a rough patch in the middle, where none of the essays held my attention and consequently failed to raise any emotion out of me (I mean, other than bitter rage at a certain line in Collier Meyerson’s piece I landed upon while randomly flipping through the collection)… Thankfully though, when I finally reached Victoria Chiu’s written piece, which came in to save the day, as she touches upon her choice to abstain from “(penetrative) sex.” As well as other standout pieces in here that I’d like to feature, such as:

  • Fwd: Letter to Leyb by Tova Benjamin, talking about relationships in the digital age:

“Sometimes I think, I will never forget that I felt this way. And then I do. It seems horribly scary to invest so much time and energy and emotion into something that will eventually wind down to the end of its life, be it 44 days or two years and nine months. And then what?”

  • The Most Exciting Moment of Alma’s Life by Etgar Keret. A quick story on life after experiencing your highest high.

Though for Alma, it’s not really just a question. Sometimes she actually dreams about what happened at the Biblical Zoo. She with her braids and the lion standing so close to her that she could feel his warm breath on her face. In some of the dreams, the lion rubs up against her in a friendly way, in others, he opens his mouth and roars, and then she usually wakes up terrified. So one can say that as long as she keeps dreaming, that moment hasn’t completely passed. But dreaming, with all due respect, is not exactly living.”Rookie on Love 1-- bookspoils

  • Beyond Self-Respect by Jenny Zhang. One of the most important pieces, talking about how love and respect need to go hand in hand, which I also heard a lecture on a few months back and it completely changed my viewpoint.

“The way we talk about respect and teenage girls needs to change. I want girls to learn how to disrespect the men in their lives who cause them harm and violence, I want them to learn how to disrespect patriarchal values that bind and demean. Looking back on my past relationships, I can pinpoint the very moment when I lost respect for the person I was dating. Often, it happened early on—a casually offensive remark that betrayed deeper levels of racism, an unfunny joke that revealed how much he feared and hated women, or even just a delusional comment that showed zero self-awareness—but always, when I was younger, I would continue to date that person, doubling down on my commitment, all the while losing respect for him. That’s the most disturbing part, that I thought I could love someone I didn’t even respect.”

  • Super Into a Person’s Person-ness a conversation between Rainbow Rowell and John Green, “YA powerhouses on writing epic—yet real—teen love.” I can listen to Rainbow Rowell for eternity, as you can tell by my extensive review of my all-time favorite book of hers, Fangirl.

RAINBOW When I’m writing love stories (which I can’t help but do, it’s always a love story for me), I really don’t want to be writing a story that makes it worse for the people reading it. That perpetuates all the lies about love and attraction.
JOHN Right.
RAINBOW But also, if I’m writing about teenagers, I don’t want them to be somehow magically above this bullshit. They can’t be wizened 40-year-olds who know from experience that it’s garbage.
JOHN Well, but also, I don’t think you ever get magically above this bullshit. We’re talking like this is all in our past, but of course inherited ideas about beauty and attractiveness affect adult life, too.
RAINBOW Yes.
JOHN Hopefully over time you develop an awareness that, e.g., your obsession with the perfect nose is completely ludicrous, but it’s not like it all goes away.
RAINBOW You’re still a nose man?
JOHN God, no. I am a PERSON MAN. I am super into a person’s person-ness.”

  • Before I Started Writing These Things Directly to You by Tavi Gevinson, on trying to capture the feelings as they occur.

“I just don’t trust words a whole lot, and wonder if writing this, too, takes the air out of the whole thing, like in the Chekhov story “The Kiss,” where the sad loner shares the story of an improbable romantic encounter with his male colleagues and, upon hearing it out loud, experiences the whole thing as woefully insignificant.”

I wholeheartedly enjoyed this piece by Tavi, wherein she managed to create a solid grip on her relationship with this goofy grinning guy in just one page.Rookie on Love 2-- bookspoils


Overall, I’d say I came to appreciate most of all the pieces that exposed my innermost feelings so successfully that it made me reflect a lot. So even though the collection as a whole was mainly a hit or miss with its forty-something stories, I still came to cherish a handful of pieces.

3/5 stars

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Rookie on Love, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

Review: Momma and the Meaning of Life by Irvin D. Yalom

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about Yalom’s titular story in Love’s Executioner, particularly this one line I keep circling back to: “Perhaps the function of the obsession was simply to provide intimacy: it bonded her to another—but not to a real person, to a fantasy.”

So wanting to bask again in the author’s wisdom, I took the plunge and started Momma and the Meaning of Life. In six enthralling stories drawn from his own clinical experience, Irvin D. Yalom once again proves himself an intrepid explorer of the human psyche as he guides his patients–and himself–toward transformation. With eloquent detail and sharp-eyed observation Yalom introduces us to a memorable cast of characters. Drifting through his dreams and trampling through his thoughts are Paula, Yalom’s “courtesan of death”; Myrna, whose eavesdropping gives new meaning to patient confidentiality; Magnolia, into whose ample lap Yalom longs to pour his own sorrows, even as he strives to ease hers; and Momma–ill-tempered, overpowering, and suffocating her son with both love and disapproval.

I knew I’d picked the right time to read this when it opened up with the titular story Momma and the Meaning of Life, recounting a dream of Irvin Yalom discussing with his late mother. Exploring dreams and the message behind them is my Achilles’ heel. What took my breath away was their earnest conversation about motherhood by making him understand that his mother is human and him not seeing her as such by upholding too many unrealistic expectations is hurting both of them.

“The way I what? Go ahead. You started—say it—I know what you’re going to say.”
“What am I going to say?”
“No, Oyvin, you say it. If I tell you, you’ll change it.”
“It’s the way you don’t listen to me. The way you talk about things you don’t know anything about.”
“Listen to you? I don’t listen to you? Tell me, Oyvin, you listen to me? Do you know about me?”
“You’re right, Momma. Neither of us has been good at listening to the other.”
“Not me, Oyvin, I listened good. I listened to the silence every night when I came home from the store and you don’t bother to come upstairs from your study room. You don’t even say hello. You don’t ask me if I had a hard day. How could I listen when you didn’t talk to me?”

Oh, what last lines. She knows how to hold her argument; the final comment completely shifted my perspective.

And as I continued my reading of the tales in this collection, I came to realize that his grief for his mother lies at the heart of the following stories. The strong-willed women that followed, all with a formidable presence, left a lasting impact on me.

I took many notes of the conversations shared throughout my reading because it not only made me think and try to understand my own life, but certain phrases were “too important to me to be entrusted to memory.”

I think these stories are so readable and therapeutic to me because, as Yalom put it: “Perhaps they had benefited from spectator therapy: watching someone else work effectively in therapy often primes a patient for good therapeutic work in the future.”

As well as this line that captures it all: “Most of all, I had shown them that there is no such thing as a boring or empty patient—or group. Within every patient, and within every clinical situation, lies the chrysalis of a rich human drama. The art of psychotherapy lies in activating that drama.”

Each story, featuring a strong and multifaceted woman that reverberates off the page, had something show-stopping to say. From Paula’s grandiose faith through her terminal illness in Travels with Paula (“I remember once telling you that a compromise cannot exist alone: it breeds, and before long you have lost what you most dearly believe.”), to Irene’s grief-stricken state of loss and rage, where I took to heart her deeply specific point about connecting with people. I felt a little off-kilter in the best of ways when I read it:

“When I started seeing you, I was not going to take the risk of losing someone important to me again. I couldn’t go through that. So I had only two choices—”
As she so often did, Irene stopped, as though I should be able to divine the rest of her statement. Although I didn’t want to prompt her, it was best, for now, to keep the flow going.
“And those two choices were?”
“Well, not to let you matter to me—but that was impossible. Or not to see you as a real person with a narrative.”
“A narrative?”
“Yes, a life narrative—proceeding from a beginning to an end. I want to keep you outside of time.”
“Today, as usual, you walked into my office and straight to your chair, without looking at me. You always avoid my eyes. That what you mean by ‘outside of time’?”
She nodded. “Looking at you would make you too real.”
“And real people have to die.”
“Now you’ve got it.”

My head reeled. The point she made on holding eye contact struck a hidden chord in me. Really, truly, with all of my heart, I was awestruck that someone I’ll never meet could describe something within me so precisely with one phrase. It’s like this article conveyed, “where I fully understood the power of words and their ability to bring about a strange sort of comfort through shared experience.”

It was worth saving this insightful, revealing, painful book to read at the right time, though, the hours passed all too quickly with this to consume. Of course, not all the stories were revolutionary, but each contained something wholesome and uniquely kind that made for a healing and enriching reading experience.

I do have to note, though, that the last two stories dissatisfied me in comparison to the preceding tales, mainly because it wasn’t with Yalom as the therapist, rather a random (and fictional) Dr. Lash inserted with no prior introduction. The only thing that doctor made me realize was the fact that having Irvin D. Yalom in our story was a central point in the therapist-patient interactions. Before the out-of-nowhere insert of Dr. Lash, I was under the impression that the patients were the ones that made the story so worthy. But after reading Dr. Lash’s average therapy with his patients, it made me appreciate and look at Yalom’s approach through new eyes. Dr. Lash feels like the therapist you’d meet in real life, whereas Irvin D. Yalom is the one you want to read about in books; the therapist that challenges your thought process and goes out of his way to make sure you’re both on the same page. It just goes to show that sometimes you got to see the bad to know that the good is underappreciated. But it still threw me off that we didn’t receive a warning that the story was fictional until the afterword at the very end. A little heads-up that we were about to explore “the boundary between fiction and nonfiction” would’ve been much appreciated before I got into the story feeling confused as to who this Ernest Lash was.

On a more positive note, the shortest tale talking to his mother’s ghost in his dream and the longest tale describing Irene’s raw grief and laments is where I feel this collection really flourishes. I got answers to a questions I didn’t even know I had. It’s what I hoped Yalom’s writing would evoke out of me, as it did in his previous collection. He has my everlasting admiration in the Nonfiction area.

Lastly, the central theme of disentangling dreams and trying to make sense of them through analyzing every corner was an added bonus for me.

4.5/5 stars

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Momma and the Meaning of Life, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!