All posts by thefeministbibliothecary

Lite Reads Selection: ‘The Girl of His Dreams’ by Sabrina Huang

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Welcome to The Feminist Bibliothecary’s Lite Reads, where we read a different short story every week, and then discuss it here and on social media. This week’s Lite Reads selection, chosen especially for Women in Translation Month, is The Girl of His Dreams by Sabrina Huang!

The Girl of His Dreams by Sabrina Huang, translated from Chinese to English by Jeremy Tiang, is a literary short story originally published in 2012 as part of the collection Welcome to the Dollhouse. The story follows a lonely man without any confidence as he joins a dating site to find a woman, and offers an exploration of loneliness and a critique of dating sites.

Sabrina Huang (1979-) is a Taiwanese short story writer who has also published under the pseudonym Jiu Jiu. Huang works in media and has a degree in philosophy. She has published the short story collections Fallen Xiao Luren (2001), Eight Flowers Blossom, Nine Seams Split (2005), and Welcome to the Dollhouse (2012). According to her biography on The Short Story Project, she has won every major short story prize in Taiwan.

You can read The Girl of His Dreams by Sabrina Huang in full for free on The Short Story Project. The Short Story Project also offers an audio version of the story through the same link, although I am unaware of any free audio version of this story and I apologise for any trouble this causes.

Join us in the comments section here, or on FacebookTwitterTumblr, or Instagram, to participate in discussions throughout the week. You can also join in on the discussion at Litsy by following @elizabethlk and the #litereads hashtag. Our full review will be available Saturday, August 15.

Lite Reads Review: ‘Toward Happy Civilization’ by Samanta Schweblin

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Week ninety-three of Lite Reads comes to a close as we finish our selection Toward Happy Civilization by Samanta Schweblin. There were questions as food for thought on social media as people had the chance to read it and think about it. Before I announce the next Lite Reads selection (August 9), I will be sharing my own thoughts here. Spoilers ahead for those who have not read the story yet.

Toward Happy Civilization by Samanta Schweblin, translated from Spanish to English by Megan McDowell, is a short horror-esque story published in Schweblin’s short story collection Mouthful of Birds. The story follows a man named Gruner who is stranded at a rural train station. After losing his ticket to board the train to the capital and the “happy civilization” there, he tries to purchase a new ticket, but they deny him one since they don’t have change. He offers all sorts of compromises, but they indicate to the train not to stop. He becomes integrated into the daily life at this train station, doing household chores and farm labour for the permanent residents Pe and Fi, alongside several other guests. Although Pe and Fi offer their “guests” a sense of parental affection and seem to be playing the role of a happy family, Gruner realises fairly quickly that the other residents are trapped there just like him, unable to purchase tickets without the correct amount of change. After some time, they eventually come up with an escape plan, and successfully board the train, but as the passengers of the train alight, we hear them describing how the train had been going on without stopping for years and how happy they all were to be off. As Gruner and his group pull away in the train, they get the sense that happy civilization may be behind them rather than ahead.

Before reading Toward Happy Civilization, I had also read Schweblin’s novel Fever Dream (also translated by McDowell), and I really loved it. A lot of what I loved about her novel is also what I enjoyed about this short story. One of the main things that pulled me into both is the atmosphere. Schweblin has an incredible gift when it comes to building the ideal horror atmosphere. Even though much of what’s happening in Toward Happy Civilization leans towards the mundane, the story feels sinister and there’s always the sense that something disturbing must be going on. I have a great appreciation for atmospheric horror writing, regardless of the medium, so this kind of intensity is just right up my alley. The story pulls you in right from the beginning, from the very first time it notes that Gruner is unable to purchase the train ticket. The atmosphere constantly makes you aware of the need to pay attention for something sinister, like walking alone at night–even when nothing happens, you get the sense that something dire will happen at any moment.

I think the ways the creepy and the mundane blend within Toward Happy Civilization is one of the greatest aspects of the story, even outside of the atmospheric elements of this. The more normal things seem on a surface level, the more it appears that something sinister is happening. At times, I feel like the writing is essentially a form of magical realism but blended into the horror genre. I think that horror as a genre and stories with horror elements can often be at their best when the story uses so much of the every day because it leaves you feeling that as improbable as the events may be, you’re still personally in danger of experiencing what is happening to the characters. I think this is a perfect example of a story featuring more terror than horror, and that really works here.

Toward Happy Civilization also gives us a look into the concept of a happy civilization. What does that look like? Is it at the capital they are so eager to travel to? Is it the community of people from the train they’ve left behind? Is it a simple farm life with a mysterious community? The characters don’t seem certain, and as readers, we never find certainty either. The entire notion of a happy civilization in the context of the story seems just as abstract as it does in the real world, especially with characters feeling like that happy civilization is present but always seems just beyond their reach.

Overall, Toward Happy Civilization by Samanta Schweblin, translated by Megan McDowell, was a genuinely fun and thrilling read that was enjoyable to me on a surface level and upon further examination. I was really glad to read this one, and it makes me want to go through more of Schweblin’s works.

I hope everyone who participated by reading the story and following along on social media enjoyed reading this short story. If you have more thoughts to add, please feel free to comment on this post, or anywhere on The Feminist Bibliothecary’s social media. Week ninety-four begins shortly, August 9, with a brand new short story selection chosen for Women in Translation Month!

The Feminist Bibliothecary’s Favourite Female K-Pop Artists

I confess, I’m relatively new to K-pop. I’ve only gotten into any artists within it at all in the last two-ish years, and I’ve only really started exploring what it has to offer in a wider sense since the beginning of 2020. I’ve definitely found that I have a preference for women in the industry, whether they be girl groups or solo artists, whether they be mainstream or a bit on the fringes of what one might term K-pop. I’ve developed a number of favourites that make many of my personal playlists, and I’m excited to share these favourites with you. This isn’t an exhaustive list, these are just the women in K-pop that I’m most excited to be listening to at the moment, including a favourite song from each.

 

(G)I-DLE – Oh My God

 

Lulileela – Dive

 

CLC – No

 

Lim Kim – Yellow

 

3YE – YESSIR

 

MAMAMOO – Hip

 

Blackpink – As If It’s Your Last

 

HyunA – Flower Shower

 

ITZY – Icy

 

Sulli – Goblin

 

Lite Reads Selection: ‘Toward Happy Civilization’ by Samanta Schweblin

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Welcome to The Feminist Bibliothecary’s Lite Reads, where we read a different short story every week, and then discuss it here and on social media. This week’s Lite Reads selection, chosen especially for Women in Translation Month, is Toward Happy Civilization by Samanta Schweblin!

Toward Happy Civilization by Samanta Schweblin, translated from Spanish to English by Megan McDowell, was originally included as part of the short story collection Mouthful of Birds, published in Spanish in 2009 and published in English in 2019. The story was republished in English in The Atlantic in 2019 and read as part of LeVar Burton Reads shortly thereafter. The description The Atlantic gives for this creepy short story is: “A traveller plots an escape from a rural train station.”

Samanta Schweblin (1978-) is a Spanish-language author from Argentina and living in Berlin. She has published several short story collections and two novels, which have garnered her numerous awards and nominations. Her works have been translated into over twenty languages. Three of her works have been translated into English by Megan McDowell, including her short story collection Mouthful of Birds (2019), and her novels Fever Dream (2017) and Little Eyes (2020).

You can read Toward Happy Civilization by Samanta Schweblin, translated by Megan McDowell, in full for free on The Atlantic. You can also listen to the story as read by LeVar Burton on his podcast LeVar Burton Reads (the entry from May 21, 2019), which can also be accessed through Spotify.

Join us in the comments section here, or on FacebookTwitterTumblr, or Instagram, to participate in discussions throughout the week. You can also join in on the discussion at Litsy by following @elizabethlk and the #litereads hashtag. Our full review will be available Saturday, August 8.

Lite Reads Review: ‘An Account of the Land of Witches’ by Sofia Samatar

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Week ninety-two of Lite Reads comes to a close as we finish our selection An Account of the Land of Witches by Sofia Samatar. There were questions as food for thought on social media as people had the chance to read it and think about it. Before I announce the next Lite Reads selection (August 3), I will be sharing my own thoughts here. Spoilers ahead for those who have not read the story yet.

An Account of the Land of Witches by Sofia Samatar is a short fantasy story told in five parts. The first part is the titular “An Account of The Land of Witches”, in which Arta, an enslaved woman, describes how her master brought her to a strange land where Dream Science is used to create magic for the women living there and Arta improves her own life by learning Dream Science. When we move on to the second part, we read “A Refutation of An Account of The Land of Witches” which was written by Taharqo of Qorm, a jewel merchant and Arta’s master. Taharqo offers a completely different account, in which he reveals that Arta has fled after learning Dream Science, although he believes Dream Science to be the mass delusion of the people in the Land of Witches, all of whom he clearly thinks very little of. He sees them having taught Arta Dream Science as them having turned her against him and her leaving as a betrayal. In the third section, we read “A Refutation of the Refutation of the Account of the Land of Witches,” set in what seems to be the present day, where Sagal is writing her dissertation on the original documents and trying to find the original locations on a trip home to Sudan, where she is stuck after not being allowed on the plane back to North America. As Sagal learns Dream Science, she slips further away from her research and her family and closer to the Land of Witches. The fourth section is “Notes Toward a Dreamer’s Lexicon,” a poetic reference tool for the words required for Dream Science, something originally written by Arta and added to by Sagal. In the fifth and final section, “The Travellers,” we follow a band of amateur witches as they search for the Land of Witches, using the notes of the previous sections to guide them on their hopeful journey.

An Account of the Land of Witches offers up some truly phenomenal fantasy writing. The world-building is so thorough and each section necessitates more complexities in the world-building than the one before it. The first section stylistically reminds me of classic fantasy stories, and it made me think of my experiences of reading a number of older fantasy works. In particular, I thought of a previous Lite Reads selection, Sultana’s Dream by Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain. The way Arta introduces the reader to the Land of Witches in such an exploratory way even as she is only exploring it for the first time herself just made me feel a lot like I did when I read Sultana’s Dream. The second section felt like reading the actual writings of slavers and colonizers from centuries ago, which was admittedly disturbing, although it fit the character and world perfectly, and added a great deal of mystery that would be built upon in subsequent sections. The third section seems to be set in our own modern world, with Sagal fixating on the Land of Witches in a way that felt like a more modern otherworld fantasy. I think the way the fourth section added to all of it was really interesting and probably the least expected. Although it appears on a surface level to be a list of words to cue dreams for the witches, as written by both Arta and Sagal, it manages to extend beyond that by offering a deeper insight into the events of the first and third sections, adding a hidden meaning to words that seemed to be insignificant at the time. The writing itself here may be in a list format, but it reads as a magical sort of poetry. The final section of the story offers up a sort of adventure story where all of the characters are witches who have complete access to their magic, but have yet to find the Land of Witches, giving us something of a grail quest to end the tale. These shifts give the story such depth and complexity, exploring the breadth of the fantasy genre, that it was hard to believe it was a short story at times.

The use of perspective in An Account of the Land of Witches is fantastic as well. Each section gives us such a jarringly different perspective that it seems almost impossible that these parts belong to one complete story, but the story wouldn’t be complete if it were missing a single part. Exploring the interior of such different characters was interesting, and it really showed off what a talented writer Samatar is. The way she was able to portray each of these characters as entirely their own people, whether these were people you could like and cheer for or whether they were villains, was refreshing. I know there are numerous stories that portray similar events through multiple perspectives, but in my opinion, this is a standout example.

I thought the way this story portrayed differences between countries, cultures, time periods, and individuals was really refreshing. Even though the fantasy settings felt very different from our own world, they also managed to capture these dynamics perfectly. I think the ways slavery and colonialism were portrayed felt especially true to our world history. I think dealing with these subjects in a fantasy setting can be very difficult to get right and not accidentally do harm, but it felt true to life while never veering anywhere close to trauma porn and it still managed to keep me firmly in the fantasy setting while reading. The way it’s all put together to use this vibrant fantasy world to reckon with a painful history is artful and accessible all at once.

Overall, An Account of the Land of Witches by Sofia Samatar was a wonderful fantasy short story and something I really loved reading. I’ve actually never read anything from Samatar prior to this story, and it’s helped give me the kick to bump her novels up my TBR. It’s definitely something I’d recommend.

I hope everyone who participated by reading the story and following along on social media enjoyed reading this short story. If you have more thoughts to add, please feel free to comment on this post, or anywhere on The Feminist Bibliothecary’s social media. Week ninety-three begins shortly, August 3, with a brand new short story selection chosen for Women in Translation Month!