Some of the notable books I read this year:
The Resurrection of the Romanovs: Anastasia, Anna Anderson, and the World’s Greatest Royal Mystery, by Greg King and Penny Wilson. I was one of those die-hard Anderson supporters, even after DNA tests seemed to indicate she wasn’t Anastasiya. I found so many reasons to justify my belief and discount any of the opposing evidence the other side claimed. Finally, I got to a point I was willing to concede she might not’ve been Anastasiya, but still couldn’t have been a mere Polish factory-worker given her extensive inside knowledge of the Russian Imperial Family. Reading this book destroyed any lingering doubts. I actually felt sick to read all this new evidence, from sources beyond DNA. It wasn’t just that I’d believed this lie for almost 20 years, but that this woman stole a murdered 17-year-old’s identity and fooled so many people for decades. I belatedly had to come to terms with the fact that none of them survived after all.
I was, however, highly annoyed at how the authors “translated” so many names! I accept how certain people, like Nicholas II and Peter the Great, are far better-known by Anglicized names in the Western world. That doesn’t mean it’s kosher to “translate” the names of people who only ever went by Russian names, or who are called by their Russian names in the vast majority of current English literature. I cringed so hard every time I saw yet ANOTHER reference to a Russian supposedly named Nicholas, Michael, Elizabeth, Serge, Marie, Eugene, or Zenaide. I’m fine with a transliteration style that’s different from mine, so long as it’s consistent (e.g., Tatiana vs. Tatyana, Felix vs. Feliks, Andrei vs. Andrey, Yuri vs. Yuriy vs. Yury), but not with outright “translating” personal names. They do this in their other books about Imperial Russian history too, and it’s just as frustrating.
Texts from Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters, by Mallory Ortberg. This is an awesome book, full of text messages from famous literary characters and writers. Chapters include Moby Dick, Hamlet, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, The Baby-Sitters’ Club, Nancy Drew, John Donne, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe, and Daisy Miller. Some of the texts might go over your head or not be as funny if you haven’t read the source material, however.
As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised As a Girl, by John Colapinto. I’ve known about David Reimer’s story for a long time, but was moved to read his biography after spending so much time reading gender critical blogs skeptical of the exploding trend of transing children as young as 18 months, and gender-nonconforming (usually gay) teens and twentysomethings suddenly declaring themselves trans after binging on YouTube videos and hanging around Reddit and Tumblr. Many of these bloggers and regular commenters have mentioned David’s story as evidence of being unable to truly change biological sex, even when your own parents have socially transitioned you and pushed you to remain in this role of being the opposite sex. It’s such a sad story, a story many of these modern-day SJW snowflakes would do well to pay attention to.
I have at least one blog post on this topic planned for the new year, but suffice it to say, I’m far from the only person who’s become so skeptical of this rush to ignore biological reality and crawl back to rigid stereotypes erroneously based on biological sex and the dominant culture. I’ve always been more stereotypically guy-like than girly-girl, and I shudder to think what might’ve happened to me had I been born 5–10 years ago instead of in an era when it was still considered cool for girls to play with toy trucks instead of dolls. David always knew he was male, before he could even articulate his feelings, no matter he’d lost almost all of his penis and then had a partial sex change surgery shortly before his second birthday. Gender may be a social construct, but you can’t deny biological sex playing a huge role in innate identity, even when you put a little boy in a dress and pretend he’s a girl.
The Last Romantic, by Hannah Pakula. This is the definitive biography of Queen Marie of Romania, who was a granddaughter of both Queen Victoria and Tsar Aleksandr II. She’s one of my favorite members of the extended Russian Imperial Family, since she was such an awesome queen and a very strong woman who overcame a lot of obstacles. It also really sounds like her husband, King Ferdinand, may have been a fellow Aspie. I just wish Ms. Pakula hadn’t used the outdated, incorrect spellings Roumania and Roumanian, just because that’s how Queen Marie herself spelt them. It’s not like the difference between color and colour or Moskva and Moscow; it’s just incorrect!
Like Water on Stone, a YA novel in verse by Dana Walrath. This was a really emotional read, since it’s about the Armenian Genocide. It also made me angry yet again to think about how the Turkish government STILL denies this genocide now a full century later. At first I was confused by the shift in narration, until I realized it was yet another book with alternating narrators—Ardziv (an eagle), 13-year-old Shahen, his twin sister Sosi, and their 6-year-old sister Mariam. Since it’s a novel in verse, though, it didn’t bug me like it usually does in prose. There are also righteous odar (non-Armenian) characters, like the Kurdish Kaban and Palewan, who hide their 19-year-old pregnant daughter-in-law Anahid (Sosi and Shahen’s sister) from marauders and lie about her whereabouts, and Mustafa, a Turkish friend who takes no part in the genocide and protects the children.