This is one of the best stories I've marathoned in quite some time. It's tight and clean. Emotional. Suspenseful. It hits that sweet spot for me, wherThis is one of the best stories I've marathoned in quite some time. It's tight and clean. Emotional. Suspenseful. It hits that sweet spot for me, where the action is driven by the self-determination of the female characters.
It has one of the best premises for the undead that I've seen, and the follow through is remorseless and inevitable.
Boy Novak is a complicated person, a mix of action and passivity, both likeable and off-putting. She decides to run away from her abusive father, sheBoy Novak is a complicated person, a mix of action and passivity, both likeable and off-putting. She decides to run away from her abusive father, she sleepwalks into her job and the stability it accidentally provides. She embraces an idea of motherhood, and rejects it later for a different idea of motherhood (instead of attempting to integrate her ideas.) She never quite feels to the reader like she inhabits her own marriage, maybe she loves her husband, maybe she is just looking for an escape.
These are hard characters. They have tough shells, they all hide the truth, sometimes from even their own selves.
Coming into this book, I expected a retelling of Snow White, and the dust jacket led me to believe that it would be primarily a story about race and appearance. But this book is as much about mothers as it is about race. It's about the masks we wear and the mirrors that don't see us, or don't reflect the way we see ourselves. How much do we have to deceive ourselves in order to deceive others? How much do our expectations influence our perceptions?
One of the themes I found most affecting in the novel was this notion of invisibility. The mirrors do not always reflect the person. Children are sent away. Snow is always described in superlatives. She never speaks as a viewpoint character, and even when she writes letters to her little sister, Bird tells her she is not allowed to speak of certain subjects. We catch only the tiniest glimpse of how Snow sees Snow, she is erased, invisible. She's only a beautiful child, a perfect little girl, arresting, evil, absent. Her entire existence is defined and characterized by her (white) beauty.
In an ironic twist, Clara, Snow's aunt (view spoiler)[who was sent away for being too dark - jeopardizing the family's ability to pass - (hide spoiler)]might be the most well-adjusted character in the story. (view spoiler)[But even after being sent to live with her Aunt Clara, others still do not or cannot see Snow. (hide spoiler)]
Teenaged Snow expects that that when she is out with her black friends, people will perceive her as a black woman; "I used to assume that when I'm with colored people the similarities become obvious," but strangers, seeing her pale skin, perceive her as a white woman who is slumming. The dichotomy exists that she is both with her friends, and a danger to her friends. And in some ways, these perceptual lies are a danger to her as well: "I felt as if I'd left my body, felt as if I were standing over on the other side of a room, watching as a big lie was being told about me." But this has been the reality of her entire life, so how can she pick one moment to stand up and say THIS is the truth.
What is seen through the glass, darkly, is that Snow is full of rage over her erasure by her family. But everyone is locked into their pretense, the lie and the invisibility is their entire life. It's this rage that takes my breath away, this incredible, subtle and powerful picture of not being seen, of being an icon in a story. Even the mirrors are in on the deception.
Her Uncle (black, not passing,) tells a story in which he clearly places himself in danger, for a "joke," which horrifies his (passing) in-laws, who clearly draw the parallel between his actions and their bloody cultural history and the relatively recent (real-life) murder of Emmett Till, and yet, in their societal position as "white," they haven't ever lived with the direct threat, only with the constant fear of discovery. The decision of half of this family to "worship white" and pass as white, creates an odd disconnect with the family as it sits around talking. Who are these people if they decide to be something other than what's in their genes? Are they betraying their heritage, or are they trying to minimize their disadvantages? If we reduce it to being able to "pass" into the country club, it sounds so mercenary, but in the context of broken bottle weapons at nightclubs, being denied work opportunities and fair pay... and always, Emmett Till, who is to say they wouldn't do the same if they could?
Time is a little wonky in this story too, as if things happen only when they become relevant to the tale, unmoored from the event's "real" timeline, forward or backward. In the end, Oyeyemi's characters come together in a strange functional/dysfunctional, seeing/unseeing way. And they just wander off, leaving the reader turning the last page back and forth, willing the story to have an ending. There's not an ending, there's a moment where they've caught hold of a bit of new information, and they go off to see if they can make it look the way they see it in their minds. The reader is left behind with a feeling that she is no longer invited to observe this part of the story.
There were parts of this novel that resonated so strongly with me, I found myself holding my breath, while I reread the passage. Other parts made me uncomfortable without being able to explain to myself how and why, and I will continue to think about this story, long after it has been read and put on the shelf.
Last night I dreamed about mirrors that tell a different story.
(More thoughts in the first comment.)["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
In the 6th novel, redacted, redacted, redacted. We get some answers, a whole lot more questions, and a little bit of heartbreak. Also, I might be a tiIn the 6th novel, redacted, redacted, redacted. We get some answers, a whole lot more questions, and a little bit of heartbreak. Also, I might be a tiny bit in love with Dogger. There's really nothing I can say that wouldn't be spoilery, except that the only bad thing about a Flavia book is waiting a whole year for the next one....more
A "review" made of non-sequential and probably only personally relevant observations.
I've always dreamed vividly, even my lesser dreams are beyond teA "review" made of non-sequential and probably only personally relevant observations.
I've always dreamed vividly, even my lesser dreams are beyond technicolor, hyperreal. When I wake I can remember, if I take a moment of stillness, sometimes a dozen stories. My dreams are populated by everything I've read, what I've experienced, what I haven't.
Maybe this is why I don't feel compelled to watch movies, they seem such a pale imitation. I know it's why I read. Real life is always intense to me, the same multi-textural existence as my dreams but firmly in reality. Real life is pragmatic (and I adore "pragmatic",) solid, and linear. Reading is a waking dream, brilliant, mind expanding, outside of my experience but true.
Sometimes I read a story that lives. I can feel it in my heart and lungs, smell it and taste it, except both and neither. I live in that story, and when I look up from the page, the world looks, for a split second like a slightly faded print, because the page I was living in was as bright and alive as my dreams.
When I am that lucky, I don't read a story, I feel it. It's like I can pinch it between my finger tips and make a hole to crawl inside. It's like walking on gravel. It's like talking to crows, running through sprinklers, burning your hands on hot granite, smelling a forest fire.
Who Fears Death is a story of "feel." It's an ugly, beautiful, heartbreaking story.
I first learned of Nnedi Okorafor because of her short story African Sunrise. It's another story of "feel," magical and sad and hopeful. Go read it. Then read this book. ...more
Quite by accident, I've been reading a lot of stories about righteous people who do wrong things for what they believe are right reasons. Some of thesQuite by accident, I've been reading a lot of stories about righteous people who do wrong things for what they believe are right reasons. Some of these people reap the consequences of their decisions, and some do not. Some see the error of their choices, and a very few go on blindly believing that nobody else really understands, only they can see that they are right, and only they are able to interpret what is true.
The religion of my childhood referred to itself as "The Truth." As a child, I trusted in everything that implied, up to and including believing that there could be only one truth, and not realizing that there are many such groups who call themselves by those precise words.
In "The Truth," there are many rules, and the less thinking one does, the more following is possible. People act like they are happy when they choose not to think. But the truth is not "The Truth," and acting is not the same as being. Among the many rules in my particular "Truth," were rules regarding whom could teach, and whom could lead. There were rules governing relationships, permitted and proscribed activities, gender roles, clothing, and possessions, just as there is conformism in every society, to a greater or lesser degree. In my "Truth," to the greater degree, there were also rules regarding treatment of those who did not keep to the other rules, as well as instruction to repudiate any succumbed to "independent thinking."
Koriba, the mundumugu - a witch doctor and spiritual counselor - tries to hold his people, in the Utopia he helped to create, to unreasoning rules and tradition which do not allow for personal growth and change, and prevent cultural progress. His reasons are clearly in protection of what he thinks is perfect justice and ideal society, but he forgets to love the people in loving the ideas. The stories are brilliant in their execution.
These stories hurt my heart, but they are cathartic too. I lived in my own Kirinyaga. I know what it means to walk to Haven....more
I'm not sure I can adequately express how profoundly this novel affected me. I certainly wasn't expecting such a personal examination of faith. I can'I'm not sure I can adequately express how profoundly this novel affected me. I certainly wasn't expecting such a personal examination of faith. I can't really find the words to explain the physical and emotional reaction the story evoked for me, but I believe that for anyone who has ever lived a life of faith, and then found it severely shaken or lost, they would also find Emilio Sandoz's tale to be a visceral read as they recall their own process.
Another recommendation from a friend, I devoured this one in just a couple of evenings, at the expense of sleep. It has been awhile since I've sacrifiAnother recommendation from a friend, I devoured this one in just a couple of evenings, at the expense of sleep. It has been awhile since I've sacrificed shut-eye for a good story. The writing is very beautiful, but doesn't make you eat your veggies before getting to dessert. The action and suspense is driven, and even though I was pretty sure I had elements of the mystery figured out at various points (and I did!) I was never completely sure. This makes the reveals fun in a "I was right!" sort of way instead of "I knew it, that's sooooo obvious." I think this is how a good mystery should be - enough clues to work it out, but not so many that there's no payoff, and neither should one be blindsided by a reveal that is completely unsupported by clues.
This is a dumb review (don't have time or inclination for a proper one,) and is not expressing how much I loved the writing itself, which flowed so well that it pulled me along hour by hour. If I could figure out a way that good writing could have the same effect on my skin as "beauty sleep," then I'd add this one to the list....more
Elegant, both in words and drawing. This story examines the value of a life, told through time bending the date of death of a newspaper obituary writeElegant, both in words and drawing. This story examines the value of a life, told through time bending the date of death of a newspaper obituary writer. Emotional on many levels, the piece that strikes me the hardest is how obituaries are for the living, as if we put a stationery seal on the envelope at the end of a loved one's life.
Last summer, someone I once loved very much died. Here is his obituary:
"*** was born on April 5, 1970 and passed away on Saturday, July 2, 2011. *** was a resident of San Francisco, California."
What does that mean? I want a nice little bow. I want to know if he had children? Did he like his work? Did he find beauty in each day? Did he suffer, or pass peacefully at home surrounded by friends? What where his joys and personal demons?
Did he ever think of me?
Bá and Moon know you can't summarize a person's life in a tiny newspaper column, and they show us in each frame, through word and color and nuance, capturing the emotion of the life (and sometimes the detachment from emotion,) and reminding us that, no matter how gracefully written, you cannot distill the essence of living into a paragraph or two starting: "He was..."
I recently had occasion to reread this story, and am once again absolutely blown away by the brilliance, significance and modern relevance of this, esI recently had occasion to reread this story, and am once again absolutely blown away by the brilliance, significance and modern relevance of this, especially in view of current events (Penn State.) Quite possibly the best thing Le Guin has written, in a very deep pool of excellent work....more
Wow. I've been talking about Deliverance to all my friends, who all roll their eyes at me, because I haven't seen the movie.
This was one of the bestWow. I've been talking about Deliverance to all my friends, who all roll their eyes at me, because I haven't seen the movie.
This was one of the best books I've read this year. The writing is documentary style, but surprisingly lyrical. It's told from a single point of view, and works so well for description, mood, suspense, I absolutely loved it.
Am I the only person in the world who hasn't seen the movie? I'm familiar with the two most talked-about scenes. The banjo scene was beautifully written, and the rape is brutal in its simplicity.
I think that was the best quality of Deliverance - the simplicity. Everything except the country is told in a stripped down, journalistic style, but the river country they travel through, is a fully-realized character on its own. The narrator rambles. He tells what they did in little bits. But he describes what he sees in long panoramas, framed by his designer vision, like a layout for one of his magazine spreads.
I was prepared to be disappointed, having read several books lately that seemed as though they had been written just to be an easy screenplay. This novel demands to be filmed, and you just hope that it gets done by somebody who can do it justice. I suppose I'll have to watch it, just to see if it happened. Wikipedia tells me: "In 2008, Deliverance was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being 'culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.'" One can hope that means they succeeded. ...more
A charming story of love and hope, The Magician's Elephant was a delightful surprise. I can't recall who recommended it to me, but if I could rememberA charming story of love and hope, The Magician's Elephant was a delightful surprise. I can't recall who recommended it to me, but if I could remember, I'd thank them. I loved the writing, the descriptions, and most of all, the story of a little boy and love. Absolutely wonderful, and just begging to be read aloud to the children in your life.
Now I'm off to read all of DiCamillo's books, to see if I adore them just as much. I haven't read this much children's lit since I was in elementary school. What an unexpected treat!...more
I've started and erased my little book commentary so many times because this story is so overwhelming and so important on multiple levels, I'm not surI've started and erased my little book commentary so many times because this story is so overwhelming and so important on multiple levels, I'm not sure anything I could say about it would do justice to the complexity and dichotomy of the story surrounding Henrietta Lacks. It might not be far from the truth to state that she was the most important person who ever lived. A physical part of her body has saved hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of lives, and improved the lives of countless others. And her story is not over yet. Her cells are still being used in medical research all over the world. But these benefits came at the cost of a violation of her rights, in a time when it was commonplace for doctors and researchers to just do and take, without consent, especially among poor populations and people of color.
Some of the things done with Henrietta's cells saved lives, some were heinous experiments performed on people who had no idea what was being done to them, in a grotesquely distorted and amplified reflection of what was done to Henrietta. Nuremberg was dismissed in the United States as something that only applied to the fallen Nazi's. Any act was justifiable in the name of science. And yet, some of the things done right her in our own nation were reminiscent of the research being conducted under the direction of the notorious Dr. Mengele.
Reading certain parts of this book, I found myself holding my breath in horror at some of the ideas conjured by medical practioners in the name of “research.” Of course, we know.* Anyone who is even moderately informed on this nation's medical history knows about the Tuskegee trials, MK Ultra, flu and hepatitis research on the disabled and incarcerated, radiation exposure experiments on hospital patients, and cancer, cancer, cancer. The poor, disabled and people of color in this country, the “land of the free,” have been subjected to so many cancer experiments, it defies belief. Many of these trials, including some devised of Henrietta's cells, have involved injecting cancer, non-consensually, into human subjects.
So while it is true that there can be utterly no doubt that our lives, and the lives of much of the world, are better, because of the knowledge made possible by parts of Henrietta Lacks's body, still acknowledgment of this reality comes at the cost of knowing that procedures were performed on her without her knowledge or understanding, and without her consent, with impunity; these actions were made even easier because she was poor, black and female, and this is to say nothing of the numerous and unethical violations of her (and her children's) privacy. It's an old story.
It's a story that her biographer, Rebecca Skloot, handles with grace and compassion. Henrietta is not some medical spectacle, she was a real woman. If she has been deified by her friends and family since her death, it is maybe the homage that she deserves, not for her cells, but for her vibrance, kindness, and the tragedy of a mother who died much too young.
There are a great many scientific and historical facts presented in this book, facts that I couldn't possibly vet for veracity, but the science seems sound, if simplistic, and the history is presented in a conversational way, that is easy to read, and uninterrupted by footnotes and references. Family recollections are presented in storyteller fashion, which makes for easy and compelling reading. Fact-checking is made easy by a list of references, presented in chapter-by-chapter appendices.
Rarely do I read something that makes me want to collar strangers in the street and tell them, “You MUST read this book,” but this is one of those times. Henrietta's story is bigger than medical research, and cures for polio, and the human genome, and Nuremberg. Henrietta's story is about basic human rights, and autonomy, and love. It's about knowledge and power, how it's human nature to find a way to justify even the worst things we can devise in the name of the greater good, and how we turn our science into a god.
This story is bigger than Rebecca Skloot's book. But I am grateful that she wrote it, and thankful to have read it. Would the story have changed had Henrietta been given the opportunity to give her informed consent? That's the thread of mystery which runs through the entire story, the answer to which we can never know.
*documentation in this list is inconsistent, but most of these experiments can be independently verified....more
Tender Morsels is dark and disturbing... and a fairy tale. The Brothers Grimm would be proud. The story has it all - fairy godmothers, princesses, traTender Morsels is dark and disturbing... and a fairy tale. The Brothers Grimm would be proud. The story has it all - fairy godmothers, princesses, transmogrification, violence, joy, sadness, death, babies, magic and murder. It is not for the faint of heart.
This is one of the most beautifully written novels I've read this year, the imagery is vivid, the characters have form and emotion, and the plot is complex, and yet, still a fairy story. Lovely. ...more
Wow, I loved this, and can't believe I took so long to start it. Is this what they call "gateway" sci-fi? It's written like fantasy, but the hints andWow, I loved this, and can't believe I took so long to start it. Is this what they call "gateway" sci-fi? It's written like fantasy, but the hints and foreshadowing tells me that it's going to get much more... well, science fiction. Love it! ...more
Reading is good, and ebooks are good for readers. They're smaller, cheaper, conserve natural resources. They're accessible to all. Ereaders make it eaReading is good, and ebooks are good for readers. They're smaller, cheaper, conserve natural resources. They're accessible to all. Ereaders make it easier on the eyes and hands. Bad eyesight? Use text-to-speech and other audio devices. Or instantly make any book a large-print version. Ride the bus? Now you have a whole library in your pocket. It's wonderful!
I do believe that, wholeheartedly, and have embraced digital reading, along with millions of other avid readers. I love the digital community, the easy to use devices, and above all, the access. I'm pleased that I've reduced clutter, that (if I maintain my equipment,) I'm leaving less of an environmental footprint. Instead of buying 75,000 pages a year, I'm paying for the ethereal – story in pixel.
“Whitewash washes white not only its target but, over time, any memory of the target. That is the purpose of whitewash.” ~ Ron Powers, CNN Opinion Special, speaking of the sanitizing of Huck Finn.
Boyce Watkins, also a CNN Opinon correspondent, labels it thus: “Making a more appropriate version of Mark Twain's novel available...” He says that NOT editing offensive material is “disconnected from reality.”
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury, was quietly censored for over 13 years, and replaced in schools with the mutilated version.
Bradbury's tale has become an iconic tale of censorship, (although he has always maintained that he wrote it to highlight how television destroys our desire for literature.) In 451, it was only after most people stopped reading that the Firemen began to burn the books. In a twist of greatest irony, Ballantine, in 1967, began sanitizing the novel. In all, 75 sections were edited in the school and library version issued by this imprint. Bradbury learned of the “mutilation,” around 1979, and a restored version was released in 1980, and Bradbury issued an incredibly important essay called Coda.
In The Book, we have a society of readers and non-readers, presumably in similar proportions to our current reality, but they read everything on a government edited electronic book. Under the influence of environmental crisis, and a highly effective reduce/reuse/recycle program, books gradually came to be seen as a “wrong” choice, then they became unavailable, and finally illegal even to possess.
The Book showcases some of these concerns, and it does it in a wonderfully well-written, compelling, and believable story of a man who has just discovered how circumscribed his access to thought, controversy, growth and challenge has become. Intention at the highest level has been to make these edits for the greater good. Erase even the memory of conflict, and peace is preserved. It's the uniform presentation of the same interpretations that erases the ideological loggerheads of their past.
Without the print versions to compare, edits, both large and small, became very easy to issue, via daily update transmissions. Digital information being highly mutable, is used to “protect” the citizenry from unpleasantness, maintain political correctness, avoid giving offense, expunge inflammatory ideas, and to eventually bring about peace through uniformity.
It's happening now. Some of the participants at ereading forums refer to printed books as DTBs – short for Dead Tree Book. This is very subtle but it is, nevertheless, shaming language. Printed books are gradually being accepted as wasteful, with digital versions the “environmental” response. And with digital versions, we are faced with a blessing and a curse. Find a typo? Fix it. Terminology becomes offensive? Change it. Maybe we should rename 1984 to 2084? Easy as pie, with just a few keystrokes. Want to add a “stronger female character” to Heinlein's brilliant Puppetmasters? All it takes is a few sentences inserted here and there. Voilá, political correctness. It's good, right?
It's a chilling fiction that is all too real. Burn all, burn everything. Fire is bright and fire is clean.
I think I've recommended this to more people than any other book I've read (except maybe American Gods,) and yet I had to let it tumble around in my mI think I've recommended this to more people than any other book I've read (except maybe American Gods,) and yet I had to let it tumble around in my mind for months before writing about it.
Sometimes it's like that, and I'm so smitten with a story, or the prose, or... something... that I have no clue what I want to say at the end. I think the idea of all of these people doing such ordinary things, day to day, in the background, as they struggle to just survive in a world that has gone so completely awry, through no fault of their own. People who are just pawns and bystanders in a calorie shell-game...
The best Post-Apocalyptic sci-fi, in my reading experience, is the type that could happen, if we don't get our collective heads out of our asses and stop the plundering of earth. We all want exactly what we want, when we want it, and tomorrow will be soon enough to reduce-reuse-recycle, and develop renewable energy sources, and quit dumping toxic refuse into rivers, and quit trying to create all these resistant GMO whatevers that crossbreed/pollinate/contaminate all the other whatevers in their immediate environment, etc, etc, etc.
I include myself in the collective, as I sit at my lovely laminate petroleum-based desk, in front of my two huge and gorgeous flatscreen monitors, and occasionally pat myself on the back because I turn off the lights, put on a sweater and recycle almost religiously.
There's a recurring plotline in Windup Girl regarding ice - it's the ultimate luxury in this hot, humid tale. Everything is hot and humid, over and over, until the heat itself becomes another character in the book, as much as Anderson Lake, or the Windup, or Hock Seng, and ice - ice that's nearly impossible to get - becomes a metaphor for the inevitability of what has been done to the planet, and how things will never be normal, and there will never be a new normal, not even if you can finally get your hands on the seeds from the old normal, not even if you can develop new sources of energy, you'll still be caught in the gears of inexorable decline.
Still, it's human nature to hope, and maybe the Garden of Eden still exists, out there hidden somewhere, even if there's no ice. ...more
Very powerful book about the nature of "normal." I sad-cried at the ending, and felt sorry for being sad. This is absolutely a single character novel,Very powerful book about the nature of "normal." I sad-cried at the ending, and felt sorry for being sad. This is absolutely a single character novel, and works incredibly well in this context; I cared deeply about what happened with Lou. Highly, highly recommended. This story will stay with me for a long time.
I have no idea how to write about this without massive spoilers, I'm not even sure yet how to think about it, because as I'm trying to form a coherent thought about why this story affected me so emotionally, I want to cry again. I think I'm experiencing grief for Lou Arrendale, which seems foolish, because my rational mind tells me he's "just a story." ...more