In 2003, I walked away from my childhood religion – a high control (some would say abusive) group with a tiny little worldview and a severe superiorit...moreIn 2003, I walked away from my childhood religion – a high control (some would say abusive) group with a tiny little worldview and a severe superiority complex.
This was my reality:
I believed with all my being that the things depicted above were real, and were just over the event horizon.
Leaving meant losing almost every friend I had ever made since childhood, it created a rift with my still devout family, and quite possibly saved my life.
Is it any wonder that fiction – alternate realities, fantasy, and mental escape – helped me make that decision, helped me move on, and helped deprogram my cult-think? One fiction supplanted the other, only this time I already knew I was working with stories.
Some of this fiction I had read many times, not understanding why the stories resonated so strongly within me, just knowing that I was compelled to return to those worlds, over and over. Others were stories I read during the time surrounding my breakaway, and shortly thereafter.*
American Gods made me observe and think differently. It gave me a new context for the mythologies I had accepted for most of my life. It was bigger than the story of Shadow, or the girl Sam, or Czernabog. For me, it was about how we allow our Old Gods to define our present worldview, and how we allow our New Gods to steal our awareness. Our mythologies set the boundaries of our culture, and paradoxically, as our culture changes, our gods sacrifice their immortality.
"Religions are, by definition, metaphors, after all: God is a dream, a hope, a woman, an ironist, a father, a city, a house of many rooms, a watchmaker who left his prize chronometer in the desert, someone who loves you--even, perhaps, against all evidence, a celestial being whose only interest is to make sure your football team, army, business, or marriage thrives, prospers, and triumphs over all opposition."
The part of the story that affected me the most profoundly was the story of Hinzelmann and Lakeside. The mixing of good and evil, the blurring of lines, townspeople looking the other way – to such a degree that it never occurs to them to see what is happening right under their noses. Dead men's bones. Deaths of legends. It affected me to my core. During the time I was reading American Gods, it was this which rocked me – I was doing the same thing – choosing and keeping and killing my own Gods, my own mythologies.
It was tremendously painful, made a little easier by having the opportunity to process it within the bounds of somebody else's story.
I've read quite a few reviews of this book saying that it was patchy in places, or it bogged down in the historical parts, the character not being bel...moreI've read quite a few reviews of this book saying that it was patchy in places, or it bogged down in the historical parts, the character not being believable in others, etc.
I have not read the novel, so perhaps this is true. As an audiobook however, it was magnificent. The story was compelling, the history inseparable from the development of Calliope, and the voice of the reader - Kristoffer Tabori - was genius. His character variations made an interesting concept into a fascinating narrative of a little girl who was born different.
Middlesex elbows its way into my top 5 favorite listens with her awkward limbs sticking out to both sides like a boy's, hips swaying like a girl's.(less)
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 sur...moreI'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.(less)
Tender Morsels is dark and disturbing... and a fairy tale. The Brothers Grimm would be proud. The story has it all - fairy godmothers, princesses, tra...moreTender 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. (less)
Read part of this years ago. It seemed like gibberish at the time, probably because I was in a cult, and this book is an eye-opener. I recently picked...moreRead part of this years ago. It seemed like gibberish at the time, probably because I was in a cult, and this book is an eye-opener. I recently picked up the audiobook, and spent a lot of time just walking around with my iPod so I could finish listening to it. (less)
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 thes...moreQuite 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.(less)
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'...moreI'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.
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 best...moreWow. 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. (less)
I recently had occasion to reread this story, and am once again absolutely blown away by the brilliance, significance and modern relevance of this, es...moreI 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.(less)
I would love to re-read this, but sadly, I think the evil book gnomes might steal some of my stars if I attempted it. I read this when I was a kid, an...moreI would love to re-read this, but sadly, I think the evil book gnomes might steal some of my stars if I attempted it. I read this when I was a kid, and thereafter saw the movie (the 1982 version with Jane Seymour.) By that time, I'd already learned my snobbish book ways, and thought the movie was atrocious and could never compare to the book. (The book I had read when I was only 9 or so. I wonder how much of it I just didn't get, being a child and all. Ha!)
But... some 18 years later I met and married a guy who tends to spout quotes from the movie version at unexpected moments - things about "fops," and "damned elusive Pimpernels...," he also having seen the movie at the impressionable age of not-quite-teenager.
So through the lens of my historical rose colored glasses, I remember the balls (not those kind! the ones with the fancy gowns and cucumber sandwiches!) and the horses, and the intrigue, and the fact that I checked it out from the library at least 3 times before a librarian thought to tell my mother it might not be appropriate reading material.
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 remember...moreA 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!(less)
A "review" made of non-sequential and probably only personally relevant observations.
I've always dreamed vividly, even my lesser dreams are beyond te...moreA "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. (less)
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 and...moreWow, 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! (less)