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content note: discussion of nazis and antisemitism

This is a book about the history of nationalism (and attending fascism/racism/nazism) within the Mennonite confession. A good book, but a hard read - both because of the academic writing style and because of the uncomfortable contents.

Too much of Mennonite history is presented kind of as a hagiography: look at all the ways our ancestors have nobly suffered over the years for their morals and their faith! I think this is an important reminder that we are not exempt from sometimes being really terrible too, just because we also have a history of having been persecuted.

Mennonites like to think we have always been separate from the world, but during the general rise in nationalist sentiments in the 19th and 20th centuries, many Mennonites went right along with it. Of course, what nation we were being nationalist for varied: are we German, or are we Dutch, or are we Russian, or are we our own Mennonite nation? The answer to this question swung in various directions depending on political expedience.

And along with the rise in nationalism came a decreased commitment to pacifism within the Mennonite community (at least in Europe), which was really surprising to me, but perhaps shouldn't have been. I've always been taught that pacifism is one of the doctrines that sets the Mennonite denomination apart from other denominations. We're one of the Historic Peace Churches and all! But among some groups there was all sorts of frantic back-pedalling from the historic association of Mennonites with nonresistance, arguing that if one is really committed to being part of your country then of course you must be willing to defend it (which means fight in your country's army, whatever that army happens to be doing, even if it isn't technically defense). Including one suggestion that doing so doesn't break with what the original Anabaptists meant by their pacifism, because defending your country isn't the same thing as spreading your faith by the sword. Wow.

And then we get to the Nazi era and the political expedient of what to be nationalist for swung more firmly towards being German. After all, we were held up as the Aryan ideal! More pure than most Germans, maintaining this purity even when living in diaspora! There's even this whole alarming discussion about how we were seen as the anti-Jew: a wandering people, but the good ones.

I've noticed some parallels between Jewish identity and Mennonite identity before, and it was kind of awful to see that the parallels were brought up historically by Nazis to support antisemitism, when that is the opposite of how I would personally use the parallels.

Of course not all Mennonites - not even all Mennonites who lived in Germany - repudiated pacifism or supported Nazism, but a really disheartening number did. I have a Nazi relative namechecked in this book, even. And Mennonites personally materially benefited from the genocide of the Jews, with land and other possessions. We were complicit in the atrocities perpetrated, and in some cases actively participated in the atrocities.

And then of course in the post-war period there was a whole bunch of denial of germanness (we're not German, because that would mean being stuck in post-war Germany and being held accountable, and we're not Russian, because that would mean repatriation to the Soviet Union and that doesn't sound like a good idea, so let's try out claiming being Dutch! And if that doesn't work then obviously we are our own Mennonite nationality!) as well as denial of any culpability. And Mennonites did a pretty good job of distancing our reputation from both of these things - I mean, the popular conception of Mennonites these days is of technology-avoidant North American farmers. And we did a great job of denying it internally too. Even now if you check out GAMEO (the online Mennonite encyclopedia), the article about one strongly pro-Nazi Mennonite I looked up says nothing about all his Nazi-supporting activities and instead talks about the many ways in which he was a wonderful person who did wonderful things. Gross.

It's interesting to me, the way that this book demonstrates a link between nationalism and the sense of being part of a global Mennonite church body. I've always seen the latter as a positive thing: instead of being insularly focused on other Mennonites who are Like Us, we are reminded of our connection with many different kinds of Mennonites all around the world. And I think it is a positive thing these days when we're actually willing to admit people of colour as being equal coreligionists instead of only counting the white people, but it definitely did not start with a goal I would personally find laudable.

Anyway, the book does manage to end on a positive note, which is impressive given the general tenor of most of the content of the book. It ends by reminding us that, as Mennonitism has had a multiplicity of shifting identities and priorities in the past, so it continues to change now and can continue to do so into the future, and we are not bound by the awful things Mennonites have been and done in the past - we can be better.

Which is a timely reminder, given that we are living in an era when Nazism is rising again. It's time to be better than our past!
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
Gosh, what a good book! A slow start - a slow most of it, actually, but very worthwhile. I love the way it shows over and over that there are no easy, uncomplicated answers for anything.

This book's premise is that it fixes the horrific stuff that happened at King Leopold's hand in the Belgian Congo, with bonus steampunk. Read more... )
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[personal profile] boxofdelights recommended this book to me when I expressed interest in books about the fairy tale The Snow Queen. This was a good one!

Read more... )
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I have been hopelessly obsessed with these books since I read them, and if there was any fandom for them to speak of I WOULD BE IN THAT FANDOM but since there are no epic-length fics for me to be reading, I'm left with just...rereading the books themselves. Even though I don't usually do rereads that soon after a first read. But this time I'm doing it by audiobook so it's at least a different experience!

It's been a while since I've listened to an audiobook, so I'd forgotten how much more intense and immersive an experience audiobooks are? There's no skimming or skipping ahead possible, and you can't read faster as it gets more exciting. You're stuck at speaking pace for every single sentence in the book so there's plenty of time for things to really sink in.

I mean, I knew this already, this is why I generally don't read novels by audiobook as my first exposure to the book, it's too stressful for my delicate sensibilities. I definitely would not have been able to handle The Scorpion Rules by audiobook if I didn't already know everything that would happen. But I was still surprised by how different an experience it was to listen to it as audiobook.

For one thing the horrifying nature of everything that happens was way more directly horrifying, oh my god. Like I did notice this stuff but it didn't strike me as much on first read through when I was all focused on questions of what happens next.

Read more... )
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Ah yes, very much in the usual style of Alcott's moralizing tales for young folks: ridiculous and kind of preachy, but also somehow charming.

It's a book about how poverty, modesty in dress, old-fashioned manners, hard work, and familial love are what you need to live a happy and fulfilling life, as shown by contrasting the main character Polly with her rich city friend Fanny and Fanny's family. The first part of the book takes place when Polly's about 14, and the remainder is Six Years Later when they're all adults.

I don't love this book as much as some of Alcott's others, but it's possible that's just because I was introduced to this one so much later. I grew up reading the Little Women trilogy, and Eight Cousins/Rose In Bloom, so there's a great deal of nostalgia factor in my love for those books, I think.

But it also seems to me the case that Polly, far more than the lead characters in these other books, is deliberately put forward as a model girl, which makes it harder to see and like her as just a person. And I don't understand Polly's interest in her designated love interest at all, which doesn't help me to feel happy with the conclusion of the book. (But then there are plenty of narrative choices in Alcott's other books that I also don't like, including some that I don't like a lot more than this (I AM STILL SO MAD ABOUT WHAT HAPPENS TO DAN IN JO'S BOYS), so who knows whence comes my lesser love for this book.)

My favourite part was the part where we meet all of Polly's female friends who also work for a living. Their close friendship and love and support for each other is great. Unfortunately this was just one short scene in the whole novel - definitely not an actual focus.
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OH GOSH!!! It's hard to know what to say about this book. It was SO GOOD.

in which I find a lot of things to say anyway )
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Well, this was not what I expected, and also AMAZING. It's a YA future dystopia sort of novel, which seems like it's probably going to fall into the standard pattern of Special Girl meets Special Boy and learns she must REBEL AGAINST THE SYSTEM. And then it....doesn't do that. It does other things.

Read more... )
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This is not the kind of book I ordinarily would have chosen to read, but my mom gave it to me years ago and so I kind of felt obligated to get around to it eventually.

It's a very odd sort of book and I'm not quite sure how to categorize it. Somewhere between memoir, writing advice, ode to the power of stories, and Christian witness, I guess? The genre that it seems most similar to me personally is the sermon, actually: using both personal experiences and biblical stories to illustrate a point about Christianity.

L'Engle wrote this book in her old age, after a very serious car accident where she was significantly injured. So she talks a lot about that, of course, but also uses illustrations from throughout her life.

I found it largely a pleasant sort of book to read; not particularly mindblowing or anything, and there were some parts that were tedious, but mostly it feels like just hanging out with the best kind of elderly church lady. Her overall theme - of story (and particularly the Christian story) as truth rather than fact - is good, as is her general loving approach to religion and life.
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Meh. Written in the 1940's by a man, and the gender dynamics are unfortunately what you'd expect from that origin. Also the plot and characters are not what one might call nuanced. According to the internet, the people who like this book like it for its prose and imagery, not its plot and characters, but I wasn't struck by the prose and imagery myself - I mean, it's fine, but nothing special, and not worth reading the kinda-crap story for, since there's plenty of better books with just as good (and better!) prose/imagery.
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Another book that I wanted to like more than I actually did. It's a perfectly fine book, but I don't love it.

Read more... )
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Octavia Butler is a highly-renowned author in sf and I've been intending to read her for ages, so when a friend lent me an omnibus of the Xenogenesis trilogy I was excited! But although Dawn (first in that trilogy) is objectively a good book, it really wasn't for me.

Read more... )
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I picked this up because it was recced by [personal profile] skygiants as her favourite Snow Queen retelling, which obviously was going to be of interest to me as a thorough and longstanding Snow Queen fan.

Read more... )

And if anyone has recommendations of other novels based on The Snow Queen please do let me know so I can read them too! So far this one and the one by T. Kingfisher are the only ones I've come across.
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Okay so I spent a few days in June reading a bunch of Courtney Milan. Apparently she's a "betcha can't eat read just one" kind of author for me. I read ten. Most were rereads, which I don't have anything new to say about, but this time I did get around to reading a few books of hers that I hadn't read in November when I last did this. Namely: the Carhart series, the first romances that Courtney Milan ever published! This was back when she was being conventionally published by Harlequin instead of being a self-published author.

This Wicked Gift, by Courtney Milan (Carhart #0.5)

cut for discussion of rape )


Proof By Seduction, by Courtney Milan (Carhart #1)

And so I continue with the Carhart series despite the extremely inauspicious beginnings. This one, well, at least it didn't have a rapist main character? I still didn't love it though. I dunno, I didn't write down my thoughts soon enough after having read it so I don't remember all the reasons. But it doesn't have the things I like about later Courtney Milan (such as strong female friendships and interesting families) and also doesn't have a romance that I enjoyed reading about. And the leading man was pretty uninteresting to me, and the leading woman kept making baffling life choices.


Trial By Desire, by Courtney Milan (Carhart #2)

The Carhart series continues to improve! This one was actually mostly enjoyable. I liked the leading woman's mission in life, and I enjoyed the nature of the romance being one of having to develop a relationship between a husband and wife who don't really know each other and have been on different continents for years. But although this is closer to the Courtney Milan I know and love, this book just didn't get me excited the way her later books do.
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I first heard a recommendation for this book a LONG time ago, so when I finally got my hands on a copy and started reading it, I had totally forgotten everything I'd been told of what to expect from this book.

So I found that what the book was actually about was rather unexpected for me. But in a good way!

Read more... )
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This is one of those books that I've been intending to read for a lot of years, have actually owned a copy of for multiple years, and just could never quite get around to reading it because I kind of got the impression it was the Serious Literature of the SFF world. And okay yes it kind of is that but it turns out it's also very readable!

This book is most well-known and widely-discussed for what it does with sex/gender. Namely: a planet of people who five-sixths of the time are sexless/genderless and also do not experience sexual desire, and the remainder of the time become either male or female for the purposes of reproduction and sexual activity.

It's disconcerting to me then that actually this stuff is what I care least about in this book? I have arguments with its treatment of gender (and sexuality). But I really enjoyed everything else about the book!

Read more... )
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THE NEXT BOOK IN THE QUEEN'S THIEF SERIES!!!!

Megan Whalen Turner does not write fast. This is the first new book that's come out since before I got into the series. I was very worried about it not living up to expectations, since I have pretty high expectations for this series. But Thick as Thieves is a thoroughly worthy book to be added to the series and and I am relieved and delighted!

Read more... )
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WELL I am now finished the Rivers of London series so I suppose I will post about the last four books all at once here since it feels weird to keep posting one at a time as if I'm not already done. Here we go!

Whispers Under Ground, by Ben Aaronovitch )

Broken Homes, by Ben Aaronovitch )

Foxglove Summer, by Ben Aaronovitch )

The Hanging Tree, by Ben Aaronovitch )
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Alison Bechdel's second comic memoir. Her first was Fun Home and was about her father and her relationship with him. This one does the same with her mother.

I wasn't nearly so into this book as I was Fun Home. I think my biggest problem with it is that it just so very much about psychoanalysis, which is not a topic that interests me, and in fact I'm rather skeptical about given how based in Freudian theory it is, and how much of Freud's theories have been discredited.

The book really felt more like it was about the psychoanalysis of Alison's relationship with her mother instead of actually about her actual relationship with her mother. So for what it is, it's well done, but it's just not what I personally wanted to be reading.

Oh well. I was warned going in by the friend who lent me this book that it's not as good as Fun Home, so at least my expectations were appropriate going in so I didn't experience unexpected disappointment.
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
Second in the Rivers of London series. Another enjoyable book!

Read more... )
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A kids' book about a preteen girl who wants to save the outsider-art tower structures her uncles created, whose neighbourhood society wants to get rid of the towers for looking weird and driving down the value of the gentrified historic neighbourhood.

Read more... )

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