I’m Looking Through You (thoughts)
This 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?)
Jennifer 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?