Tag Archives: Adult

Escape the Ordinary – Summer Reads

ETO Adult Summer Reading Club_For Your LeisureSMALLER

In a sleepy English village in 1914, Beatrice Nash arrives to do the unprecedented: to teach Latin to the village’s students. Freethinking, attractive, and studious, her arrival uproots the villagers’ quaint notions of what a Latin teacher should be. Meanwhile, Hugh Grange is preparing to marry a surgeon’s daughter and inherit a lucrative practice. But when he is sent to pick up Beatrice from the train station, his plans suddenly don’t seem so concrete. While the town wars between notions of progress and tradition, a greater war is brewing in Europe, threatening the summer idyll of the town.

511FjMo8C9L. SX326 BO1,204,203,200  photoHelen Simonson’s The Summer Before the War brings readers to the charming Sussex town of Rye. On the surface, it’s your quintessential Edwardian English village: all sunshine, gardens, and bicycle rides into town, charming in its pre-war naivety. The novel takes its time, the pace as leisurely as life in Rye. But Simonson isn’t a nostalgic writer, and beneath the pretty surface she exposes the ugly truth of bigotry and small-town pettiness. And as the realities of World War I encroach on town life, these truths are thrown into sharper and sharper relief.

The Summer Before the War is reminiscent of many things. Beatrice Nash might call to mind Elizabeth Bennet in her independence, progressiveness, and ability to craft a covert insult. The plot and setting will be familiar to Downton Abbey fans, which also dealt with themes of grand families, social progress, and World War I. While Jane Austen and Downton both take shots at high society’s thin veneer of gentility, Simonson’s novel digs further into the cracks. There are suffragettes and bohemians in Rye. A woman is a victim of a war crime. An aspiring poet and an earl’s son might be more than friends. These people threaten the status quo of Rye’s social core, and so they’re all but shunned—with the utmost decorum. Simonson does an excellent job portraying the frustrations and quiet outrage of Beatrice Nash as she tries to stand ground both for herself and her friends. Simonson presents more than one war: one physical, fought on the battlefield, and one ideological, fought at home.

There’s also the timely issue of refugees, as Rye becomes home to a large number of displaced Belgians (in fact, England took in 250,000 Belgian refugees over the course of WWI). The townspeople open their doors to the Belgians, but not without comment (“It is quite impossible to ask our ladies to take absolute peasants into their own houses, however charming their wooden clogs.”) or without patting themselves on the back. It’s hard to read about the plight of the Belgians without thinking of today’s refugee crisis. Are we any less judgmental? Are we any less self-congratulatory?

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Have any thoughts about this book? Leave a comment below! Some questions to consider are:

1. Women didn’t fight on the fields in WWI, but they had their own fight at home. What sort of injustices do Beatrice and her peers face? How did life at home change after the First World War?

2. Society in 1914 England is divided by men and women, but also by social class. For example, Snout is denied an equal education because he is Romani. In what ways did society restrict both men and women before the war? What freedoms do we have now? What freedoms are we still fighting for?

3. The Summer Before the War takes place in a time when war was still thought to be glorious, but the events of WWI start to change this notion. Do you agree with Agatha’s attempts to keep Daniel home? Or is dying for your country always honourable?

Something Queer to Read: Fiction and Memoir

Because this week is York Pride Fest, and because of the recent anti-LGBT mass murder in Orlando this past weekend, I have decided to write a couple of posts highlighting books by and about LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, and other gender and sexual minorities) people. Please also check out my list of non-fiction resources.

Anyway, here are some of my favourite LGBTQIA+ books and authors:

genderGender Failure, by Rae Spoon and Ivan Coyote

This book is based on Spoon and Coyote’s live show of the same title. It contains the text of the stories they told as well as Spoon’s song lyrics, and some of the images from the show. Gender Failure explores both of the authors experiences growing up and not fitting into the gender binary, and the ways in which they have found authentic identities as non-binary people. Continue reading

Something Queer to Read: Non-Fiction

For those who don’t know, this week is York Pride Fest, celebrating the residents of York who are LGBTQIA+ (that’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual and other gender and sexual minorities). In light of this, and especially in light of the recent anti-LGBT shooting in Orlando, which has left queer people around the world reeling, I wanted to take a moment and highlight some great resources for people interested in learning more about the diverse communities that make up the LGBTQIA+ rainbow. I will make a separate post this week highlighting some of my favourite queer fiction and memoir authors as well (Edit: I did this! You can find it here).

Gay and Lesbian

homophobiaThe Dictionary of Homophobia: a global history of gay & lesbian experience
A comprehensive guide to the history and struggles of gay and lesbian people all around the world. These issues also affect bisexual, pansexual, and queer people.

Continue reading