Lots of people confuse "dystopia" with "utopia", especially in literature. I read a lot of dystopian novels, and they usually show the breakdown of soLots of people confuse "dystopia" with "utopia", especially in literature. I read a lot of dystopian novels, and they usually show the breakdown of society after a utopia has hit its peak. This novel followed the rise of a utopia, the beginning stages. How it comes about. Which, for me, was scarier, because unlike following characters in dystopian novels who rebel to bring the utopia down and restore humanity because (surprise, surprise) it actually doesn't work for everyone (The Hunger Games, This Perfect Day, Birthmarked, etc.), we see people who are caught up in the search for utopia. Their motives are ostensibly pure (Save children! Reduce crime! Know things!), and we can relate to that desire to make the world better. There were times at the beginning of the book that I'll admit I knew there were probably things wrong with their plan, but you know, it sounded pretty good. (Don't worry, by the end, I had changed my position.)
So that's the good stuff. The bad was that it was SO OBVIOUS. I like a little subtlety in my dialogue, a little inference required by the reader. This had little to none. I have to believe that either Eggers did this intentionally (because I know he has subtlety and grace in him, I've read it in his other books) and I don't get why, or he did it because he wrote this book in one burst of outraged, manic passion, alternately scouring the internet for fodder and locked away in a mountain retreat without even a cell phone. And then because he owns his own publishing company, he pushed for very little editing, because it HAS to get in the hands of the people. Now.
Make of it what you will, but I felt it was a good use of time. With no one watching. Except you.
Lots of great stuff about slavery, racism, social justice and overcoming ideas of difference to embrace a common humanity. I'm glad there are sequelsLots of great stuff about slavery, racism, social justice and overcoming ideas of difference to embrace a common humanity. I'm glad there are sequels - while this could be a stand-alone book, the ideas in it are merely the tip of the iceberg, and I think readers need more examples of actions taken to right wrongs, not just the new-found realization that wrongs exist. (I haven't read the sequels, so I can't say if they achieve that or not.) I think setting the book in the future and also on another planet was a useful way to explore these ideas without raising people's hackles from the outset.
Some things I didn't like (which are probably personal picky-picky things) - why couldn't the GEN be male and the trueborn be female? Why does he have to be the hero? Is 100 years really long enough to completely create a religion and division of classes and so much tension? (I'm not entirely skeptical - I think it is possible. Look at our own lack of memory at things that happened 100 years ago. I just read that the term "racism" was invented in the 1960's. What?! Ok, end of digression.)
The book was easy to read, well thought-out, fast-paced without being a roller coaster of tension, and predictable enough to keep my trust. I'd recommend it to teenagers or adults who like YA lit or light sci-fi....more
In a book of collected stories or essays, its hard to love everything in it. And it's true, some of these I didn't get, not so much. But the ones I diIn a book of collected stories or essays, its hard to love everything in it. And it's true, some of these I didn't get, not so much. But the ones I did were amazing, heart-wrenching, truth-speaking pieces. I wanted to hand them out like candy to the people I love. I need to own a copy of this book.
Favorites included "Transcension" by Diamond & Blazes (it was a comic), "The Manly Art of Pregnancy" by j wallace, "Why you don't have to choose a white-boy name" by Kenji Tokawa, and "Pilgrimage" by Zev Al-Walid. I also enjoyed (mostly) the interchanges between Bornstein and Bergman throughout the book.
So many of the things that hold trans* people back from full inclusion and acceptance in society are things that hold many other people back as well, but are often much more compounded. When the day comes when we have addressed these inequalities in employment, housing, health care, and just plain being seen for who we are, it won't just be trans* people who benefit, but everyone....more
This was the first Ann Patchett book I ever read, and I've loved her ever since. I remember I read this soon after Autobiography of a Face, and felt eThis was the first Ann Patchett book I ever read, and I've loved her ever since. I remember I read this soon after Autobiography of a Face, and felt each added to the other....more
Normally when I read short stories (which, for the record, these are essays) gathered into a collection, I enjoy not reading them in order. Despite thNormally when I read short stories (which, for the record, these are essays) gathered into a collection, I enjoy not reading them in order. Despite the hard work of curating and organizing that an editor does, I like fate to choose what I will read. Out of deference to Patchett's brilliance, I read this one in order, which turned out to be too bad. The writing was good, but the way these were pulled together, mostly chronologically, made them often repetitive. I don't think this would have bothered me if I hadn't felt like "I've just read that."
Still, I very much enjoyed her essay on being a writer and the writing process, having toyed with being a writer myself. I also liked the speech she gave at the school where her book was in such controversy. And there was something sweet about the title essay about her marriage. Oh, and the one about being a touring author was interesting too.
I never did figure out the answer to the word game. Maybe someday I'll have to go to a book signing and ask her in person....more
It is a brave and monumental task, in my mind, to write a book about books for book lovers. There are so many ways you can quickly go wrong. Luckily,It is a brave and monumental task, in my mind, to write a book about books for book lovers. There are so many ways you can quickly go wrong. Luckily, Zevin sidestepped these pitfalls (at least for me). In some ways it reminded me of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, though it didn't have the same historical context. Still, both were about loving books, stories, and the written word, and both were set on islands. I liked how periodically Zevin would jump to one person's perspective, even if they were a minor character, and talk about how a particular book or genre affected their life (ex: child welfare caseworker). I too feel that books find us at the right time, and will put off reading something if it doesn't "feel" right - hoping, of course, that it will come back to me when I need it. Though I felt this lacked a certain depth that might have put me off at another time, I didn't need or want that now, and there was enough character development to keep me engaged. A perk of this type of book is that it piles other books onto one's list, so I better get cracking (spines, that is!)....more
I visited John Brown's farm in upstate New York a few years back when in the area for a wedding. I had heard of Harper's Ferry, vaguely, but didn't reI visited John Brown's farm in upstate New York a few years back when in the area for a wedding. I had heard of Harper's Ferry, vaguely, but didn't really know much about it. This book fleshed out the man and his cause, and what I enjoyed most was the nuance. McBride paints Brown as a flawed man with a passionate cause; one who must be crazy in order to keep it up.
The other piece that McBride does really well is that he shows how even the whites fighting for abolition of slavery had no idea the true nature of the black experience. Brown just barges ahead, not really listening to how this is going to affect the slaves he's trying to recruit. And yet, McBride also does a fine job pointing out that it's up to each of us to "be a man", ie, choose to live our lives as our consciences, not our fear dictates. (I kind of hate the phrase "be a man", but it works here, as a reflection of Onion's gender dilemma.)
There were a couple points where I found McBride's phrasing to be a bit repetitive. I also wondered if so many people really said "I is". Especially Brown, with all his thee's and thou's. There were a couple other language anachronisms in there too. I tend to believe an author, figuring they did their research (and I hope he did - there's a lot of room for inaccuracies in here otherwise), but those tripped me up a bit. Speaking of, I wish McBride had included an afterword with some historical facts. I think it would have added to the richness.
That said, the book isn't about the facts of John Brown's life, or even the fight to end slavery. It's about finding out who we are and what we are called to do. And I think it's also a call to weigh the fallout - but not so much you lose the will to do the right thing....more
I had high hopes for this book, as it was recommended on National Public Radio. Unfortunately, I discovered that the characters deal with their griefI had high hopes for this book, as it was recommended on National Public Radio. Unfortunately, I discovered that the characters deal with their grief in a manner that is... not accessible to the reader. (Saying much more would be a spoiler alert.) Which I think defeats the point of fiction - to live through another's life in order to better understand your own. Granted, this can be accomplished through fantasy by means of metaphor, but I wasn't seeing the metaphorical equivalent.
If you asked me to rate the last couple of chapters, including the protagonist's reveal, I think I'd probably up my rating to four stars. The ending pulled it all together and made it worth reading, in my opinion. There was a realness to it that grabbed me. So, I probably won't go back to it, but it wasn't bad....more
The best way to learn an untold history. Most moving for me were The Shame and Two Letters. May we make sure never to repeat such tragedies. I love hoThe best way to learn an untold history. Most moving for me were The Shame and Two Letters. May we make sure never to repeat such tragedies. I love how this book is simple enough for middle grade readers (or younger) yet nuanced and real enough for adults.
Make sure to spot the nod to platform 9 and 3/4. I won't tell which chapter. ;-)...more
I read this in two sittings, and didn't even notice the time passing. Yet despite being engrossed, it didn't pull my heartstrings for the people of NeI read this in two sittings, and didn't even notice the time passing. Yet despite being engrossed, it didn't pull my heartstrings for the people of New Orleans the way What is the What connected me to the plight of refugees. So I guess I walked away... not disappointed, per se, just... underwhelmed.
Probably my mistake was in thinking this book is about hurricane Katrina. That's what I was looking for. It's set there, but it's really about two other things - one, the basic goodness of people who are usually maligned by the media, and two, the depths to which our country has sunk when it comes to the actual "justice" piece of the criminal justice / human rights system.
Because the truth that I came away with is that when the apocalypse comes, it's not mother nature, the looters, or God you should fear, it's the government bureaucracy handing out guns that turns decent people into uncaring psychopaths. And that's enough to traumatize anyone.
Or, that's what I got from it. And that wasn't what I was looking for....more
Some combination of too much teenage boy and too close to home. I'd like to pick it back up again at another time, but now was not when I needed to reSome combination of too much teenage boy and too close to home. I'd like to pick it back up again at another time, but now was not when I needed to read this, so I returned it to the library for someone else to enjoy....more
This was a curious book. Normally the fantasy novels that I read have some form of violence in them, as the theme of good vs. evil tends to play out oThis was a curious book. Normally the fantasy novels that I read have some form of violence in them, as the theme of good vs. evil tends to play out on a grand scale, which, until I read this book, I thought had to include great battles. And there was a great battle, but overall violence was decried as a generally unnecessary evil. Instead, one wins the hearts and minds of the people (albeit, sometimes with magical technology, which is a force in itself).
Now, don't get me wrong - other fantasy books also give lip service to shunning violence. Phedre of Kushiel's Chosen undergoes a ceremony that causes her to feel keenly the deaths of everyone she caused in some way to die. And yet there is still an undercurrent of glory in scenes of battle, the way the author writes them. There is none of that in this book, which I found fascinating. It's all about making one's self a force of love in order to wield power over others.
This book also reminded me in some ways of Wells' The Time Machine, in that it shows a civilization with human beings that is so far in the future we can't even imagine that scope of time. Fourteen thousand years in the future? The science fiction I've read tends to look a couple thousand forward at most, or even just a couple hundred. Instead, Silverberg shows us a society of humans and aliens fully integrated (well, almost - see: Metamorphs), evolved (almost) past the point of violence. Which, you know, is kinda cool.
What kept me from giving a full four stars was the preponderance of description. Everywhere the characters went, Silverberg had to tell us ALL about what they were seeing. Amazing fields of trees that float, castles of incredible size, cities that never end... shame on me, at some point I started skimming. Yes, Majipoor is amazing. I get it. Is the point to simply amaze me with the things you've thought up? Or to explain why Valentine loves and needs to save his world? Or does all this become relevant in sequels? I never figured it out. This manifested itself in repetition as well; for instance, looking back and listing Valentine's companions and where they had been every time they went somewhere new. It was a little thing, but it irked me.
Anyway, I can see why my friend Mike (who recommended the book) got into juggling. It is certainly a celebration of the art, layered with symbolism and metaphor, as is the rest of the book....more
Sometimes, when I'm out backpacking or even just on a particularly beautiful day at the park, I'll get the feeling that my heart is both full and heavSometimes, when I'm out backpacking or even just on a particularly beautiful day at the park, I'll get the feeling that my heart is both full and heavy. This is what I think makes beauty strike me to my core - knowing that it is fleeting. Sunsets, childhood, cherry blossoms, moonlight: all these things will end. This is what makes the apocalypse the perfect setting for this elegiac novel. It is an ode to all the things that the character loves and has or will someday lose. As I love these things too (okay, not flying, but the rest of it), I connected very closely with Heller's writing.
I find myself often looking at my cat, knowing someday he will die and I will be heartbroken beyond imagination. I also think about this in the context of the apocalypse. So, thanks, Heller for showing me how to keep going when that happens.
If you aren't into violence or apocalyptic fiction, I can see where you might want to steer clear of this book. But the plot and setting, while arguably essential, take a backseat to the love poems Heller writes to life, to happiness, to humanity. I wonder if in some way, though, by romanticizing the end of all things, Heller isn't dooming us to give up on saving the planet? It is a danger. (But a lot more enjoyable than books that illustrate merely that life is ugly, brutish, and short!)...more