Tag Archives: Books

The Pen Has Been in Their Hands

I just finished reading Jane Austen’s Persuasion and I will admit that it’s the first Jane Austen novel I’ve read. I guess the BBC series’ don’t count, do they?

I think Jane Austen’s feminist credentials have been discussed/debated at length in various places, so this might not be earth-shattering for some. But I read a passage in Persuasion that perfectly captures an idea that’s come up a few times this year in my work. When Sarah writes about it she get wordy and needs to qualify it, and gets caught up with using the appropriate term of the moment etc etc. When Jane writes about it…well, from now on I will just refer to Jane.

To introduce the following passage, Anne is arguing with Captain Harville about whether men or women harbour heart ache longer. Captain Harville insists that men don’t get over heartbreak easily (“and that as our bodies are strongest, so are our feelings”). Anne argues that women are more fragile and thus suffer more. Keep an eye on Anne’s response to Harville.

Harville says:

‘as I was saying, we shall never agree, I suppose, upon this point. No man and woman would, probably. But let me observe that all histories are against you–all stories, prose and verse. If I had such a memory as Benwick, I could bring you fifty quotations in a moment on my side the argument, and I do not think I ever opened a book in my life which had not something to say upon women’s inconstancy. Songs and proverbs all talk of woman’s fickleness. But, perhaps, you will say these were all written by men.’


‘Perhaps I shall. Yes, yes, if you please, no reference to examples in books. Men have every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.’

It reminds us why it’s so important for women to tell their own stories (and to report on the world too, as journalists, historians, academics etc). In Aceh there is a huge gap. I’m working on a book at the moment that is the first collection of essays written by Acehnese women to be published. My organisation was motivated to publish this book because there is so much written about Aceh but very little of it is written by the women of Aceh, who will give unique perspectives and reflect a whole different set of issues to the men of Aceh, or people coming from outside (men or women). We often think about ‘what issues are being written about’, but sometimes overlook the important question of ‘who is writing about the issues’.


Because I always feel like I need to continue the discussion

A few points relating to things mentioned on this blog in recent days:

  1. Benjamin, did you think I was joking about eating and looking at bookstores…? Seems like Batu Caves are a cool place to go if my schedule wasn’t already packed. I’ve said that about Batu Caves the last 5 times I’ve been to KL.
  2. Speaking of book shops in KL, Kinokuniya runs rings around Borders and Times. That place is amazing:
    • Great selection of books (I’ve never seen a bookstore as well stocked with as much variety),
    • A section for everything including, philosophy (a whole wall devoted to it), sociology and a dedicated gender section. Greg reported that the history section was pleasingly ordered by subject rather than author,
    • “Bestsellers” walls that were actually just books they wanted to sell, but the selected books were great. Perfect if you’re looking for something new to read without a specific author in mind,
    • Great music playing over the loudspeaker (not too loud, not too soft, not too hideous…this is a warning to Borders that was playing covers of bad 80s songs by bad late-90s bands),
    • Books were where they were supposed to be,
    • Plenty of people to serve, but no one creepily following you around asking if you need help,
    • “self-help kiosks”, a name that received Greg’s scorn, but a good concept none the less. Can search for something on the computer yourself, no need to ask the sales staff.
  3. Cherry Ripe anyone? I ate the one Elisa sent me. OH MY GOD, have they always been this delicious?

Unrelated note

I am looking to buy a new carry-on suitcase but was uninspired by the selection I saw in KL. I did find one I loved but it was so expensive. Fortunately as I negotiated on price Greg thought we were talking 500 ringgit ($165). If he’d known we were talking about USD500 (after 50% discount) he might have dragged me out of the shop. For the record, I can’t afford a USD500 suitcase…but it was sooooo cute…and pink! Can anyone recommend a brand they like? I want it to last until I’m 80 so I’m willing to spend a bit of money (maybe not USD500 though).

My KL agenda

I’m in KL on yet another Visa Run, but this one is different because this time I have a GREG to keep me company. We’re pretty determined to cross everything off our ‘to do’ list. Fortunately the list looks like this:

1. Eat tasty food
2. Look at bookshops

Done and done. and we’ve only been here 18 hours. So for the rest of the stay (I leave tomorrow and Greg a couple of days later), we will re-do the list. Eat more good food and look at different bookshops.

I went to the embassy this morning and had a remarkably efficient time there. The system they have coordinates a series of counters and number taking and it means that 50+ people submitting visa applications can move smoothly in a very small space and any minor obstacles (e.g. forgotten photocopies, incorrect forms filled out) can be dealt with easily. All this and you get your visa later the same day. Quite a different experience to my visit to the Consulate in Melbourne last month. In a room with a three other people waiting quietly I went to the desk with all my forms in order and was told my visa would be ready seven days later. Grrr.

I’m writing this in a creepy, dark and smelly gaming internet cafe that makes you think it’s the middle of the night even though it’s 12pm and sunny outside. So I shall leave now and go outside, but only for as long as it takes to walk to the next mega-super-giant bookstore inside a mega-super-giant shopping mall. I love KL.

Postcards from my momma getting published

Do you remember that I posted a funny email from MJ on a website called Postcards From Yo Momma a while back?

Here’s the original blog post about it: Things That Make Me Laugh

Well, turns out they liked MJ’s email a lot and plan to include it in a book they are publishing called…

“Love, Mom: Poignant, Goofy, Brilliant Maternal Messages from the Digital World” (due for release in April 2009).

Funny, huh?

I just sent an email to my brothers and sisters about it so went to the website to find the original post to show them. MJ’s email got one comment, and it was a cracker.

overreacting much? lol
sounds JUST like my mother.
all mosquitoes carry debilitating diseases in her eyes.
this is my fav email yet. lol

The funniest part about this, I think, is that when I saw that website for the first time I thought “I bet I could find a funny email from MJ for this” so I opened the most recent email from her, surely enough it was funny, and I sent it in. Apparently MJ, your everyday material can make Americans laugh. Imagine if I offered them your A-game?!

I also think it’s funny that this person with an overreacting mother thinks that MJ is like that too (for the record, MJ just keeps up the appearance of being paranoid to make me feel loved).

P.S. Here is the email they liked so much:


What are you doing getting bitten by mosquitoes?!! You will get MALARIA – and i will have to start worrying about that instead of typhoid. Maybe you have got dengue fever even! Are the drugs working? Are you still alive?

What I Loved.

Happy Birthday Beck!

I just finished reading What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt. MJ recommended this book to me a billion years ago. Unless I dreamed the whole thing, this was one of her book club books. I bought a copy of it to Aceh because I knew it would force me to finally read it after years looking at it on the shelf. If only MJ was a little more over top in her recommendations, then I might have understood just HOW AMAZING THIS BOOK IS!

My housemate Mike read this book before I did (I think he tore through my entire Aceh collection while I meandered through one book). About a week after I started this book, Mike said, “isn’t it great how that book is so calm at the beginning and then turns sinister?” Well, of course, after one measly week I was still in the calm beginning! So it played on my mind every time I turned the page…Is this where is gets sinister? I was enjoying the calmness so much that I was dreading the sinister part, and worried it would degenerate into a crime novel (Sarah DOES NOT like suspense and unsolved crime-style books…they make me anxious). All I will say, so as not to spoil the ending, is that the turn that this book took was so seamless and engaging that I didn’t lament for a moment the passing of the beautiful pre-sinister period.

If you have an interest in any of the following you MUST read this book:

  1. Art/art history/art theory
  2. Psychology/psychological disorders
  3. New York (in the 70s, 80s and 90s)
  4. Relationships (romantic/sexual/paternal/maternal/friendship…it’s all covered)
  5. Raising children

I like all sorts of books, but this book falls well into my favourite genre that I can’t define (that maybe doesn’t exist as a genre), of books that discuss ideas and generate thought almost incidentally to the plot, but never at the expense of the plot. I once thought that the plot was secondary for me, but then it occurred to me that if I wasn’t there for the plot I’d be reading non-fiction.