A World Tour of Books: The Belly of Paris by Émile Zola (France)

For the country of France, the place where I spent most of my childhood, I wanted to read a book in its original language. French has a special poésie to it which simply can’t be translated. I once tried to read through an English version of one of Rimbaud’s poems and found it utterly depressing how the almost musical touch of the words got lost in translation.

I looked through my parents’ library is search of a French book I hadn’t read yet and found Le Ventre de Paris or The Belly of Paris as it is called in English.

Émile Zola being one of the greats of the genre of Naturalism, which I would like to describe as hardcore realism, I immediately became interested. The era of Naturalism is, in my opinion, one of the best periods in literature and its proponents’ determination to portray fearlessly the realities of life is a personal inspiration to me as a writer.

emil

The Belly of Paris tells the story of Florent, who returns to the French capital after years of exile in South America. Having been sent there after being convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, he is full of resentment towards the Second Empire of Napoleon III.

He reconnects with his younger brother Quenu, who is now running a successful charcuterie alongside his beautiful wife Lisa.

Florent takes a job as an inspector in the now gone marketplace known as Les Halles. There he witnesses the affluence it brings to the city, but also the misery that exists within its walls. A distinction is made between the fat and the thin – the rich and the poor.

Although Florent lives with Quenu and Lisa, who are both unmistakably among the fat, he remains thin both in the physical and figurative sense. What he hungers for more than anything is justice and he begins to dream about a great revolution.

But while the thin might envy the fat, the fat are full of suspicion towards the poor. The idea that you should never trust a skinny man is expressed by several affluent characters throughout the book. And it is that very suspicion which will make sure Florent’s dreams remain only that.

The Naturalist beliefs of Zola are obvious in The Belly of Paris. Both in the milieus (I don’t think I’ve ever read such detailed descriptions of piles of vegetables or stinking fish) and in the dialogues. I sometimes caught myself feeling like I was reading the scenes of a documentary rather than of a novel. Although it felt a bit excessive sometimes, like when the narrator suddenly starts giving an incredibly thorough image of piles of cheese in the middle of one of the most suspenseful conversations of the story, but it does the trick. I feel quite confident that if I somehow could travel back in time to the Paris of the late nineteenth century, that I could find my way around Les Halles as if I had been there before.

The Belly of Paris is a great novel about a time and place which witnessed big changes in French society. If you are interested in history, or the Naturalist genre, this would be a good book for you.

 

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Liebster Awards – Part 2

After giving it some thought, I have decided what blogs I am going to nominate for a Liebster Award. Here they are:

Caspian aka afab1996 writes about his experience as a transman in the UK. A very interesting blog, be sure to check it out.

The Foundry
Ruhen writes about writing and I find it fascinating.

I often find myself scratching my head, wondering how the hell people think. That’s not a good think to be so clueless about human psychology if you’re a writer. Luckily, Psychology for Writers is here to help!

Philosophy and Video Games. I stumbled upon this blog while looking through the Absurdism tag (Absurdism being one of my favourite philosophies) and discovered the fascinating subject of philosophical themes in video games.

DMY Inspires. Dmitry is a bisexual teenager with Aspergers and ADHD.

As a favourite blog, I would have to say it’s a shared win between Androgendernaut and Sebastian Lewis Pod.

To the nominated: you are hereby challenged to write a post nominating five other blogs with less than 200 followers, choose a favourite blog and if you wish you can also answer my ten questions.

What is your favourite dish?
What is a great documentary you think people should see?
Do you have a motto or favourite saying?
What day do you consider to have been the best in your life?
Why did you start your blog?
Who are the best: cats or dogs?
What is the best book you’ve ever read?
Tea or coffee?
What is, in your opinion, the best genre of music?
Do you have anyone you consider to be a role model? And if so, why?

Liebster Awards – Part 1

First, a big thank you to Androgendernaut for nominating me for a Liebster Award. I’m happy you like my blog.  🙂

I’m now supposed to nominate five other blogs with less than 200 followers as well as pick one favourite blog. I want to think through some more who I’m going to choose so in the meantime I’m writing this post to answer Androgendernaut’s ten questions.

 

– What inspired you to write?

I’ve been writing since I learned how to. In my case, it feels more like a need than anything else. If I don’t write, it feels like I’m going to explode.

Books, I started to write and share with others because I felt I was relatively good and it. Also: why not try to make a buck from doing something I was going to do anyway?

My blog was originally supposed to be an author blog but I’ve been writing a variety of posts not related to my writing, such as book reviews and opinion posts about the political climate in my country and the rest of the world.

– What keeps you writing and creating new content?

It’s a variety of things. Sometimes there’s an issue I feel I need to address. Other times I like to share things about my life to connect with people who might be going through something similar.

When I write about books, it’s simply because I’m so passionate about literature that I can’t keep it to myself. Especially when I come across a really good book.

– What keeps you motivated in your daily life?

Knowing that I’ll never reach my goals if I don’t at least try. That and caffeine.

– What life lessons have you learned that you´d like to share?

Kindness and compassion are not signs of weakness. Rather, they are qualities difficult to retain in a world filled with so much apathy and suffering. It takes strength to continue giving a crap.

– What is your favourite thing in the world?

Vegan ice cream, especially the kind made from cashew milk.

– What music do you use to write, if any?

I tried to write some music in my early teens but I just wasn’t that good at it. The best I did was write song lyrics, typical angsty teenage stuff about depression and unhappy love.

– What´s the most awesome book you ever read?

My favourite book: “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac. Not because of the style of writing (Truman Capote said of Kerouac’s work: “That’s not writing, that’s typing.”) Rather, it’s the spirit of the book. It’s that yearning for life, to embrace it fully and with your whole heart. To truly, madly grab it and howl at the moon when you feel like it.

“On the Road” is the first book that made me dream of freedom, of liberating myself from the shackles of my own mind. It’s one of few works I can say in all honesty changed my life.

– What other passions do you have besides writing?

Reading is my biggest passion besides writing. I’m always reading books and looking for new ones I haven’t read before.

Apart from reading, I’m obsessed with philosophy. After losing my faith in God, I started to question what the meaning of life is and if it even has any. And I wanted to learn about different ways to look at life and how to best live it. The two philosophies which have inspired me the most are existentialism and stoicism.

– What event has changed the way you view life?

When I was in my early twenties I got terrible chest pains. Turned out I had an inflammation in a muscle located close to the heart but I didn’t know that so I thought I was having a heart attack. I was afraid I might die and it got me questioning so much. I had had doubts about the faith I had been raised in for years but tried not to think about it. Being reminded of my own mortality got me questioning everything I’d ever known. It eventually led me to leave the Christian cult I had been raised in and finally becoming my own person. To this day, I consider that muscular inflammation to be one of the best things that ever happened to me.

– What are some changes you made in your life?

What I consider to be the biggest life changes I made are the following: leaving the cult I was raised in, starting my transition from female to male and getting proper medication for my ADD. The last one is a very controversial topic, although it shouldn’t be. For those of us with attention deficit problems, getting the right meds can be a total game-changer in the best sense of the word.

To Boycott or not to boycott?

One of my favourite events every autumn is the Göteborg Book Fair in Western Sweden. It’s the biggest cultural event in Scandinavia and one I’ve been looking forward to every year since I first attended it when I was twelve.

Some controversy arose last year when it was revealed that the far-right magazine Nya Tider was going to be allowed to participate in the event. This so-called newspaper is notoriously bigoted and is on a mission to paint Sweden as a country falling to pieces because of immigrants and changing norms, such as a greater acceptance of LGBTQ people.

As a response to this many participants and visitors decided to boycott the Fair. Last year I couldn’t attend so the question of whether or not to go wasn’t one I had to make. But this year I will be able to and Nya Tider is still going to be there.

My first instinct was that I didn’t want to set my foot anywhere near where this garbage of a magazine would be exhibiting. I thought about it some more and realised that might be exactly what they want. After all, isn’t a society without trans and gay people exactly one of the things Nya Tider is fighting for? In their eyes, I am among the undesirable and the Fair will only be made better by people like me not attending.

I don’t claim that either boycotting or not boycotting is the right answer. In the end of the day, people have to follow their own conscious and do what they feel is right.

But personally, I feel more than ever that I need to go. The far-right has doubled down their propaganda in later years and made their way into places they would have never been tolerated before. That’s why I want to never back down and keep reminding them that I and all other people they have marked as enemies have as much a right to be here and as much a right to life, freedom and the pursuit of happiness.

This year especially I feel an urgent need to stand up against these destructive forces. Apart from Nya Tider being allowed into the Fair, the city as given permission to the neo-nazi organisation Nordic Resistance Movement to parade through Gothenburg during the event. To give you an idea of how insane this is consider that beside being openly and shamelessly Nazi, this organisation is also responsible for actual terrorist attacks. Just last year they set off a bomb in the very city they will now be allowed to march through!

That’s why apart from going to the Fair and buying as many books as I can that Nya Tider wished didn’t exist (queer books, books by people of colour etc.), I will also attend on Friday the 29th a protest against Nazism.

If Nazis and other far-right extremists think they can scare their opponents into silence, they are terribly mistaken. We aren’t going to go down without a fight. Just bring it on.

A World Tour of Books: The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna (Finland)

From the country of Finland comes this humorous and charming story about a man and his hare.

Vatanen is a bored journalist who leads a passionless life in the country’s capital. One day, while he’s out on an assignment, the car he’s riding in hits a baby hare. The animal survives but has an injured paw. Suddenly gripped with compassion for the poor creature, Vatanen decides to save its life.

He leaves everything behind, including his job and his wife, and travels across Finland with his new companion. They get into many comical situations and meet many interesting characters, including a hungry raven, an angry bear and a conspiracy theorist who believes the president has been replaced by a look-alike.

 

Hare
The Swedish translation of  The Year of the Hare

 
The Year of the Hare a feel-good book. It’s going to make you smile, laugh and maybe even pause and wonder about your own life. Vatanen’s escape from the stress of modern civilization might make you feel jealous and urge you to search for your own adventure from the drudgery of everyday life.

This 1975 book by one of Finland’s most popular authors has been translated into 18 different languages and has been adapted twice into movies, including a 2006 French film featuring Christophe Lambert.

It’s a beautiful story about the special bound between a man and his hare and has touched many hearts far beyond Finland.

10 months on T, life changes and robot penises of the future

It’s now 10 months and 1 week since I started taking testosterone and here’s what’s happened since my last update:

Body and facial hair: Steadily increasing. I’ve started to get my first chest hairs and I’m shaving my face every 2-3 days. Unfortunately, I’ve only got patchy facial hair on the underside of my chin so I can’t grow any moustache or beard worth the name yet.

Skin: A bit more acne but nothing like I feared would happen. Could be because I have a good anti-acne facial cleanser I use twice a day.

Muscle mass: No difference that I can see. But then I also don’t work out much so that’s probably why.

Voice: Getting darker and darker. Definitely got that pubescent boy voice now.

Hunger: Not much of a difference. Other guys told me I would be hungry all the time on T but that hasn’t happened.

Sex drive: Definitely stronger but nothing too distracting.

Energy levels and mental changes: My energy levels increased around the time I went from half a sachet to a sachet of Testogel a day. But if I remember correctly it was also around that time I started taking a higher dosage of ADHD meds so that could be why. Or maybe a mixture of both.

The mental changes are what have changed my life the most, even more so than the physical ones. I have way more of a drive to do and achieve things. My confidence is like it’s never been before, I’m more self-reliant and don’t obsess over what people think of me anymore. Pre-T, I never thought I would one day be so mentally stabile and happy.

While we’re on the topic of change: a big one might be coming my way soon. On the 24th I have an appointment at the gender clinic to get this certificate I need to change my legal gender. I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. Finally, I’ll be able to live as just another guy, without having to out myself every time I need to show my ID. It will also allow me to start looking for a new job without worrying about whether my new boss will continually misgender me like my current one is.

The form I will have to fill also asks if I want any bottom surgery, which isn’t allowed until you have legally changed sex. I definitely want a hysterectomy and an oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes) but other than that I like what I have and plan on keeping it.

Although, sometimes I think maybe I should have a simple phalloplasty without urethra lengthening or vaginectomy. I like men and gay men like dick so I think it would help me find someone.

Now a lot of people would say: “But it shouldn’t matter! True love is unconditional!”

To that I say: Balderdash. Sexual attraction and romantic love are just about the two most conditional and discriminatory things in the universe. Not that they shouldn’t be.

But I don’t think I want a penis so bad that I’ll be willing to put myself through having phalloplasty. Maybe I’ll change my mind in the future. Right now I’m hoping more on advances in the development of prosthetics. Scientists have already created synthetic skin you can feel like it was your own so it isn’t inconceivable that a few years from now there could realistic looking penile prostethics you can feel like it was a part of your body.

When it happens I will definitely get myself one and I WILL name it RoboCock, because how could I not?

Another great change that has happened is that I finally had an appointment at the endocrinologist, so I will no longer need to pay lots of money to get hormones prescribed in another country. I will also switch from Testogel to injections so I won’t have to worry about making sure not to sweat, cross-contamination and all the other hassle that comes with the gel.

I’ll probably write another update around the 7th of November, when I’ll be one year on T.

 

My predictions for The Last Jedi

A while back I had a short Twitter thread about what I believe is going to happen in the next movie of the Star Wars saga:


I thought I’d write a post to expand on my theory.

In the previous movies, the Force is presented as having two sides: the light one and the dark one.
The light side of the Force is followed by the Jedi Order. They are all about complete self-denial and abnegation and focusing entirely on the well-being of others. These beliefs are taken quite to the extreme, to the point where any type of attachment and loving one person more than another is seen as an offense. Romantic relationships are strictly forbidden and the to-be Jedis are taken as children from their families and kept from ever seeing them again.

As a cult survivor, this has always disturbed me about the Jedi. I grew up in a religion where healthy self-interest and personal attachments are considered sinful and threats to the goals of the group. I’ve experienced first-hand what it does to you and how it destroys families and communities.

This is why in my eyes, the Jedi are not as good and loving as they think they are.

But the Sith aren’t so great either. They take things to the other extreme and are focused on nothing but self-interest and personal passions, often to the point of bringing on their own end.

So, both the “light” and “dark” sides of the Force are destructive in their own ways when followed dogmatically. There has to be a way between being an egotistic tool and self-denial to the point of near self-eradication.

To find this balance, one can turn to the teaching of the ancient Je’daii, as they are presented in The Star Wars Legends. The Je’daii were the predecessors to the Jedi order but unlike them they believed both sides of the Force were necessary to keep balance within oneself and in society. Kind of like Taoists believe yin and yang must be in interaction for things to not fall into chaos.

What we know is that after Return of The Jedi, Luke Skywalker founded a new Jedi Order. But just like the previous order, it was destroyed by an apprentice who joined the dark side. Perhaps driven into its arms by the dogmatic demands of the Jedi?
Many Star Wars fans were upset when they heard Luke say “the Jedi must end” in the trailer to the up-coming movie. Not me, though. When I heard Rey’s words “light, darkness, a balance” followed by Luke saying “it’s so much bigger”, my thoughts immediately went to the Je’daii Order and their belief that the Force is far too great to be categorized in two completely opposite categories. 

Personally, I can’t wait to see both the Sith and the Jedi come to an end and be replaced by something better. That is assuming my theory is right. To find out if it is I guess we’ll just have to wait till December, when the movie finally comes out.

Book Recommendation: The Male Brain by Louann Brizendine, M.D.

Whenever you bring up the topic of neurological differences between men and women people often assume you are trying to make a point about superiority. Because if two things are different then one must be better than the other, right?

Not at all says neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine. Author of the best-selling The Female Brain, she followed her success with The Male Brain and nowhere does she ever try to make the point of one sex being intellectually superior to the other. On the contrary: studies have shown that men and women can solve the exact same problem but will use different parts of their brains to do so.

According to Brizendine, accepting our differences and learning to understand each other can help bring more peace and success in our personal lives.

The Male Brain follows the man’s brain throughout the stages of life, from fetal development to old age, and explains how the masculine brains circuits along with a man’s changing hormones affects male feelings and behaviour. It explains for example why a man’s reaction to a woman’s problem can be perceived by her as insensitive while it is in fact a sign of his concern and affection.

And why do so many boys like rough-and-tumble play? Why are their games so competitive rather than cooperative? Why are certain adult males such players while others are strongly monogamist? Why do men become calmer and more affectionate with age? These and many other questions can be understood by learning about the male brain, male genetics and the effect of male hormones.

As a transgender man, the topic of male-female brain differences has long interested me. Obviously, if male and female brains were exactly alike people like me could not exist. One cannot feel like a man or like a woman if there is no such thing as a male or female brain.

Reading through this book helped me understand myself a little better, although it never mentions anything about trans people. I have now a better understanding of why I preferred “boy games” as a child and why I process emotion differently since I started taking testosterone.

Because not all gender differences are made in utero, at 8 weeks gestation when the neurocircuits for gender identity are believed to be laid. Hormones create certain changes also, as this book explains.

The Male Brain is mostly focused on the heterosexual male brain, which is understandable as the straight male brain is the average male brain. But there is also a very interesting although short appendix on the gay male brain. Studies have shown that homosexual men have a similar pattern to heterosexual women in the parts of the brain that affect sexuality, for example the parts that control how someone responds to male pheromones. But there are often similarities in other areas, such as the parts that effect verbal abilities.

One thing I really like about this book is that it is thoroughly well-research with plenty of references to scientific studies. In fact, the notes and references part make up almost half the book.

I would recommend The Male Brain to everyone. If you are a woman wondering how the hell the men in your life think, this book is for you. If you are a man, you could learn something important also. Through knowing oneself, it is possible to learn how to best overcome one’s weaknesses and how to best use one’s strengths.

Yourself is after all the person you need to learn to know best since it is who are going to spend every moment of your life with.

 

A World Tour of Books: The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu (China)

I have long been fascinated by the psychological phenomenon known as flow, that feeling when you are “in the zone” and your actions seems to come without effort. It is through reading about flow that I came across the Taoist concept of Wu Wei.

Wu Wei, or effortless action, is the art of doing without striving to do. Sounds paradoxical? In a way, it is. And yet, anyone who has ever experienced this state of mind will recognize what it means.

There are several theories by different Chinese sages on the best way to reach this state of being. For Lao Tzu, the supposed author of the Tao Te Ching, the way to go is to return to nature and live in accordance with it. Simplicity and contentment are highly emphasised in this ancient writing and are seen as a way to avoid unnecessary distractions from the important things.

The book also highlights the value of cultivating such qualities as compassion, caution and humility and of keeping a calm and clear mind. In these ways, Taoism has certain similarities with Buddhism.

Tao Te Ching was written in the fourth century BCE and is one of the two foundational texts of Taoism. The other, the Zhuangzi, was written in the third century BCE.

The central teaching of Taoism is that one should follow the Tao, meaning the Way. This mystical force is what holds the universe and everything in it together. By following its laws one can find harmony with oneself, others and the world around us.

The Tao Te Ching explains these laws in 81 short chapters and often uses parables to make them easier to understand. Not that it always is simple to grasp the meaning of what the author was trying to say. Many sayings are paradoxical in nature and even seem contradictory. This is a book that will make you stop and meditate on what you just read.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the subject of philosophy. There is a reason why this writing has been cherished by many for over 2000 years. Its wisdom is timeless and thanks to its old age it is also copyright-free and doesn’t have to cost a dime. You can find it for free online and as an audiobook on Librivox.

Not that its knowledge could ever be valued in gold.

A World Tour of Books: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (Nigeria)

For the country of Nigeria, I have picked what is probably the most well-known African novel of all times: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. Set in the late 1800’s, it tells the story of a brave warrior by the name of Okonkwo. He is a hard-working man and resilient even in the face of setbacks and adversity. Driven by a desire to never be like his father, whose laziness often led his family to the brink of starvation, he always does his best.

Like all good literary characters, he does not only have good traits. His fear of being weak leads him to rule his family with an iron hand and he frequently beats his wives and children. Although he still does feel love for them, especially his daughter Enzima.

 

chinua
The Swedish translation of Things Fall Apart

 

Okonkwo makes a name for himself in his village and earns titles to show that he is a great man. But things will fall apart. First, he and his family will be exiled for seven years after he accidentally kills a man. Then the white people will come.

Bringing with them not only a new and to the Igbo people strange religion, but also military power like they have never seen before. Shortly after hearing of the white people, Okonkwo learns that another village has been eradicated and its population almost entirely decimated because some of its members killed a white man. After that, things will only get worse.

Things Fall Apart was first published in 1958 and is one of the most important novels about the European colonization of Africa. Previously, Africans had often been portrayed as dumb, animal-like and without any culture. But through this book many outside Nigeria learned about the complexities of Igbo society: its beliefs, values and its social order.

Sadly, many societies not only in Nigeria but all throughout Africa would be torn apart by people who thought they came with the light of civilization and of God himself. The bloodshed and suffering it led to is a truly shameful chapter of human history.

It is a known fact that history is mostly written by the winners. This is why books like Things Fall Apart are so important: to give a voice to the stories the colonisers of Africa would have preferred never to be heard.

I found this book to be very well-written. The way Achebe depicts the characters makes you feel for them even with all their flaws. Realism is the genre that best describes the style of writing. Achebe does not romanticize anything and doesn’t look away from the tragic, the disturbing as well as the beautiful.

Some of my favourite parts of the novel were when people shared stories with each other. As a writer I have a deep interest in the art of telling stories and I was fascinated with the glimpse I got into the rich tradition of Igbo storytelling.

In conclusion, this is an important and fascinating book. Truly one of world literature’s great treasures.