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I’m Looking Through You (thoughts)

September 17, 2009

BBAW_Celebrate_BooksThis is late because my power once again decided to go on vacation! But when the electricity finally came back, I logged on to Twitter to discover that I’ve won the Best Nonfiction Reviews award from BBAW. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but I haven’t blogged about the awards process at all. It’s not because I wasn’t grateful and excited! I simply don’t enjoy controversy, and I’d rather focus on all of the feel-good aspects of BBAW, and how wonderfully Amy and her helpers have brought us together for a week of fun and play! Have you been doing the scavenger hunts? I feel like a little kid again, in the best sense of the word! And all of those giveaways, showing book bloggers at their generous best. And all the guest posts from non-book bloggers about how wonderful we all are. ;) But now I’d like to take a moment to thank, from the bottom of my heart, every one who voted for me (because there were some awesome blogs on the shortlist, ones that I admire and look up to and get lots of great nonfic recs from!). I’m not the most-confident about my reviewing skills (which is why I always call the posts ‘thoughts’!), and so to receive this kind of affirmation really touched me. Especially since my reviews are usually ridiculously long!

And what better way to celebrate that by reviewing a nonfiction book-one I read for The Challenge That Dare Not Speak Its Name? (Did you like that segue?)

I'mLookingThroughYouJennifer Finney Boylan’s I’m Looking Through Youis actually one of those books that straddles the nonfiction and fiction lines-it’s a memoir. There are all kinds of memoirs out there, but my favourites are ones that weave together stories from the author’s childhood with introspective looks at who they are now and have more than a dash of family mythology about them. Ones that are written by literary people, who value style as much as content, and who have had interesting lives. If this is your recipe for the perfect memoir as well, run, don’t walk, to your library or bookstore to get I’m Looking Through You.

I expected the book to be interesting. After all, it’s written by a transgendered woman in who grew up in an old haunted house. And it definitely was! Boylan meanders through time, switching it up to keep things moving, and always choosing fascinating stories. The (literal) ghosts aren’t on every page, but there’s enough of them that I didn’t feel disappointed.

But I ended up being less interested in ghosts than in the people. Boylan’s friends and family were definitely quirky! Her dad loved classical music and would quiz the kids, having them play Mozart in ragtime or something like that. She went to an all-boys school, and later to a super-liberal college during the hippie years. Her grandmother loved telling the story of the night her father was conceived. You get the idea! Now, if all of these people were mere characters, I would have enjoyed the book. What made me love it was that at the same time that Boylan kept the humanity of each person-even if they only appeared for a few pages, even if they had the most outlandish habits, she never denies a person their whole self. Boylan comes across as incredibly empathetic, which probably has something to do with her transgendered experience.

About that. I don’t have any personal knowledge of transgendered people, although I’ve watched a couple documentaries and read Amy Bloom’s Normal. But the way Boylan handled it immediately made me understand. All throughout her memories of her childhood, she thinks of herself as a girl. It’s written that way, with the feminine pronoun, and I think this simple device, this letting the reader into younger Boylan’s thought process, is perfect. I felt anguished along with Boylan, knowing that she couldn’t be treated as a daughter, that she wouldn’t ever wear a wedding dress. I wouldn’t say the whole book is about her being transgendered (she wrote a different memoir that I think focuses more on that), but since the book is about her growing up, her transgendered status inevitably becomes a filter. Does that make sense?

What made this book an incredible experience, and brought it up to the best memoir I’ve ever read, was Boylan’s writing. It’s exquisite-and varied. The very beginning had me a little iffy, since Boylan’s in a sketchy bar performing with her band, and that’s so far from my life experience that I felt very *seperate*. But soon that faded away, and I’ll remember some of the stories Boylan tells for the rest of my life. I think I was most affected by the stories of her sister…I can’t really tell you any of them, because that would giving away the endings, and Boylan’s so wonderful at building up the suspense that I won’t do that to you. And of course, I already returned the book to the library, so I can’t provide a sample passage. :/ But you can read the whole first chapter in PDF format on the book’s page on Boylan’s website (that’s not a link to the actual file). And remember that I think it’s the weakest in the whole book.

I hope I’ve convinced you to give this a try. Even if memoirs or ghosts or GLBT books aren’t usually your thing, this is a book that transcends any labels. At its heart, it’s simply about being human, about relationships and identity and humour and hauntings. And the language is so beautiful, it would be a shame to pass it by.

What was the last book that took your breath away?

31 Comments leave one →
  1. September 17, 2009 3:30 pm

    Congratulations, Eva!

    I love your ridiculously long reviews. :-)

  2. September 17, 2009 3:35 pm

    Ah, yeah Eva. You definitely convinced me to give this one a try! Seriously, my dear, this was an incredible review…I swear I must have said in my head, “I want this book” eight different times while reading it.

    And congrats, Eva! So very, very, very much deserved! Very.

  3. September 17, 2009 3:35 pm

    Congratulations, Eva! I was so happy when I saw that you’d won :D You should be confident about your reviewing skills, because you’re definitely one of the best. And nothing wrong with ridiculously long! We should start a League Of Bloggers Who Unapologetically Write Ridiculously Long Posts ;)

    Also, between you and Jenny I’m totally sold on this book!

  4. September 17, 2009 3:36 pm

    I really can’t wait to read this. It sounds so wonderful. Just the description sounds great, and to have you praise it as well…

    PS – Congrats.

  5. September 17, 2009 4:36 pm

    Congrats on your win! It’s certainly well-deserved, and this review is a definite testament to your non-fiction reviewing skills. I’m a huge lover of the literary sort of memoir, and this is going right on my wish list!

    I love long posts, too, reading them and writing them. I would definitely sign up for that League Of Bloggers Who Unapologetically Write Ridiculously Long Posts, which has a suitably long title. I’m already casually lobbying for a “Most Verbose” BBAW award category for next year. ;-)

  6. September 17, 2009 4:54 pm

    Congratulations on your win, Eva!

    I’m SOOO glad I decided to put I’m Looking Through You on my library holds list. I’m SOOOO glad my library even has it! I can’t wait until it comes in because based on your review, I think I’ll love it.

  7. September 17, 2009 5:46 pm

    You and Nymeth can be the founding members of the League Of Bloggers Who Unapologetically Write Ridiculously Long AND AWESOME Posts. I love your “thoughts.”

    Congratulations on your well deserved win. :-D

  8. September 17, 2009 5:55 pm

    Congratulations, Eva!

    Wow, this book sounds good to me! *adding it to my long wishlist!* :D

  9. September 17, 2009 6:16 pm

    Congratulations, Eva!

  10. September 17, 2009 6:49 pm

    Congratulations! I feel about the awards the same way you do. That book sounds wonderful. I love memoirs, but call them “lite” non-fiction.

  11. September 17, 2009 7:12 pm

    Congratulations, Eva!!!

  12. September 17, 2009 8:00 pm

    CONGRATS on your award :)

  13. September 17, 2009 8:45 pm

    I’m so delighted! You won! and you do write some of the best non-fiction reviews! You have no idea how you inspire the rest of us (or me at least) to a) read non-fiction and b) to write about what we’re reading, and why we like it or not. Congratulations!

  14. stacybuckeye permalink
    September 17, 2009 9:56 pm

    Congratulations, Eva! I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but you always have me adding them to my wish list :) Well deserved.

  15. September 17, 2009 10:10 pm

    Congratulation on the award! You truly deserved it!
    Boylan’s book sounds really interesting.
    The last book that really took my breath away was The Cellist of Sarajevo.


  16. September 17, 2009 10:49 pm

    Congratulations Eva!!!

    I know one transgendered person, she used to work at a call center with me and she was my trainer. She knew there was a lot of talk about her so one day she came to the training room and said, ‘Ask me all you want, but do not talk behind my back and spread wrong thing’. We asked her everything, even embarrasing questions. It was so awesome.

    I’m adding this book to my wishlist.

  17. September 17, 2009 11:46 pm

    Susan, aww-thanks! :)

    Debi, thanks so much! I hope you enjoy it!

    Nymeth, I will be a charter member of that League!!

    Amanda, I think you’ll enjoy it. :)

    Megan, I know right-what was up with ‘most concise’ but not its opposite?! ;)

    Andi, thank you! I can’t wait to see your review!

    Softdrink, hehe-you’re so sweet!

    Melody, thanks! And I hear you on the long wishlist. ;)

    DS, than you!

    BermudaOnion, most of the time I think they’re light nonfic but not always.

    Cathy, thanks!

    Jessica, thank you!

    Susan, that is such a nice thing to say. You’ve made me feel wonderful, and I’m sure I’ll feel like that for awhile. :)

    StacyBuckeye, thank you!

    Tiina, thanks! And I have The Cellist of Sarajevo on my radar thanks to you. :D

    Violet, that’s neat that she was upfront about it.

  18. September 18, 2009 12:50 am

    I remember reading She’s Not There and liking it quite a lot. Felt sorry for Boylan’s wife, though, because that’s a lot to handle.

  19. September 18, 2009 5:33 am

    Well done on winning the award. I love the book. The cover is awesome.

  20. September 18, 2009 6:25 am

    Congratulations on the award! I’m glad you enjoyed the book – the parts with her sister just broke my heart. I have three sisters, and I’m really close with all of them, so it just made me so sad to read that they had been estranged. Hopefully things have gotten better since she wrote the book…

  21. September 18, 2009 6:55 am

    And thank you, says the author. Very generous. I have posted a link to this site and your kind words on my own site,

    Boylan fans will find my next book, FALCON QUINN AND THE BLACK MIRROR to be an approach to some of these same issues through a whole different lens. This new young adult series, which starts with Book 1 in May 2010, is about kids who turn into monsters. BUt what does it mean to be a monster? Should you try to fight it? Should you try to imitate a human being if that means survival? Or should you embrace your “true self” if your true self is, say, a zombie? Stay tuned! And thanks.

  22. September 18, 2009 7:12 am

    Congrats on the BBAW award!

  23. September 19, 2009 4:01 am

    Bybee, I think the wife’s roll was less looked at here; there was a lot of appreciation and love for how cool she was though!

    Vivienne, thanks! I like the cover too. :)

    Jenny, I found it really sad too-but the way that last chapter was written was wonderful. I thought the sister was going to die in some IRA attack!

    Jenny B., thanks for stopping by and linking to my review. :) There are a lot of book bloggers who love YA, so if you need some reviewers I’m sure you’ll find them!

    Serena, thank you!

  24. September 19, 2009 11:02 am

    I’ve had this book on my watchlist for ages, and now that I’ve read your ridiculously long review ( ;) ) I’m bumping it up to a must-read! Memoirs are my favorite non-fiction genre and the story of a haunting (both literal and figurative) is irresistable.

  25. September 19, 2009 6:39 pm

    I’m starring this post because I’d like to remember this book recommendation. Sounds great! Congrats on your award too!

  26. September 22, 2009 4:20 am

    Lesley, it’ll be interesting to see what someone who’s read a lot more memoirs thinks of it! :)

    Natasha, thanks so much!


  1. A Striped Armchair review of I’m Looking Through You
  2. December Challenge Wrap-Ups « A Striped Armchair
  3. "I’m Looking Through You: Growing Up Haunted: A Memoir" by Jennifer Finney Boylan « Multigenre Fan
  4. Women Unbound: a New Reading Challenge « A Striped Armchair
  5. “I’m Looking Through You: Growing Up Haunted: A Memoir” by Jennifer Finney Boylan

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