Though this is a children’s fantasy, it is only fantastical on a surface level. Beneath the juju knives and the magic beans, there is a reality at worThough this is a children’s fantasy, it is only fantastical on a surface level. Beneath the juju knives and the magic beans, there is a reality at work—one that is dark and full of racism, sexism, and greed. But a reality that is also necessary in that it prevents the book from becoming mere escapism. I really enjoyed the world of the Leopards and to see that even with all their abilities they struggle with the same things that humans do. Should I try to improve myself and the world? Or should I try to grab as much money and power as I can?
Ursula K. Le Guin and Diana Wynne Jones are both fans of Nnedi Okorafor and I can see why. There’s a lot here that reminds me of both their books, especially in the world building and imagination departments. Also, every world-building decision seems well thought out to have some larger meaning.
For example, I really loved that the books Sunny read were not just informational. We get to read excerpts of them at the same time she does, and soon we learn (along with Sunny) that the first book is not to be trusted entirely, because the author has certain biases. But despite that, it still contains some useful information. The second book she reads has letters that moved around. In order to read it, she had to learn a new language that the book itself teaches her to read. This is like every good book I’ve read in my life (but on a more literal level).
Okorafor is at her best when creating a world and showing Sunny’s everyday struggle both in the Lamb world (with bullies) and in the Leopard world (with catching up and learning about her true self). Her mind wants to wander, to continue creating and being entertained by these things (like the conference/fair thing with the wrestling/soccer match and party where the kids got into trouble). But much like a Leopard’s strength typically lies in his or her apparent weakness, Okorafor’s strength also lies in her weakness, which is having a wildly imaginative yet wandering mind.
Thus, when she tries to rein that wandering-ness in and make all the plot threads tie together into a pat conclusion, the book became much weaker. I could sense that she wasn’t as interested in this, and neither was I. But the structure/formula of the book called for it, so she wrote it and I read it. It seemed rushed and uninspired, and none of the questions were satisfyingly answered. Still, I enjoyed the book overall, and I empathize with her struggle because I think if I were to write a similar book, I would have the same issues too....more
This wasn’t the book I wanted to read by Kathleen Rooney. I wanted to read her other one, a new novel with a beautiful cover featuring a walking protaThis wasn’t the book I wanted to read by Kathleen Rooney. I wanted to read her other one, a new novel with a beautiful cover featuring a walking protagonist, which is one of my things (I have a whole shelf here on walking). But this was the one the library had, so I picked it up. I figured I’m slightly intrigued by the topic—I went through a phase of drawing from live models for about a year and had always been curious about the other end of that experience. And why not see if I liked the author’s voice first? If I do, I thought, then I’ll definitely read her novel.
Turns out I love Kathleen’s voice, and after only a few chapters I decided that I will read anything she writes. It’s not just that she’s smart, taking me on a tour of her memory palace, where she’s left tiny objects of personal significance on the kitchen counter or inside the toilet tank; it’s that we’re friends, in the sense that her concerns, the way she thinks and writes about things is exactly how I would want to (or wish to) think about them, if I were smart enough to think about them, that is. What strikes her curiosity also strikes mine. I was completely immersed in this book, whose topic only mildly interested me when I began.
Intimate, smart, curious, she goes from quoting Barthes to recounting stories of growing up in a semi-repressed family. She leads the reader through her thought process for nude modeling, the many contradictions therein, nude vs. naked, professional yet potentially personal, exposed and vulnerable yet powerful. The attendant notions we have of the human body undraped become the way we see the human body, whether that entails shame, power, eros, or clinical facts.
She uses these meditations on modeling as a jumping off point to examine ideas of self, self worth, identity, the gaze, art, and gender, to name just a few of her many concerns—all topics that would otherwise seem a little too abstract or academic (read: boring) if approached straight instead of through the very concrete body of the model on the stand.
Kathleen’s style is engaging. There’s no apparent effort at the seams, though I’m sure she put effort into it; the appearance of it is that she simply steers you in one direction and then another as the gaze would naturally follow points of interest from the feet to the head of a model. The mechanics are invisible. This is not to say that the prose will knock you over (that’s not the point), but it serves the strange shape of the subject matter incredibly well.
What’s the relationship between model and artist? And what’s the relationship between reader and author? Browsing her website, I found out that Kathleen writes poems for strangers with a group she calls “Poems While You Wait”. I also write poems for strangers, a project I started years ago here in Atlanta called “Free Poems on Demand”. Perhaps we could have been friends in an alternate world, maybe even collaborators, but like the artist/model relationship, I dare not reach out and mess up that alternate world.
For each relationship has its contracts, its secret dimensions that are better kept than broken. We think of intimacy so one dimensionally: as rigidly as friends and lovers only. But each intimacy is also a loss of another intimacy. The lover can touch in a certain way that the artist/model dynamic cannot. Yet the artist and model, due to their special constraints, have a special intimacy that only they have access to. It may even inspire the envy of the lover.
This is also true of the reader/author dynamic, which is maybe why I feel like Kathleen is my friend. I feel as if I’ve gained access to the workings of her brain, the way she thinks, or at least the way she thinks on paper. This is the type of intimacy that asks only for the empathy of the reader. In return, a world opens up so that for brief moments of my very boring day, I am someone else. I can’t wait to read more from my new friend, maybe as soon as the library acquires more of her books....more
Knowing Rilke first through his poetry is odd, in that it is his most intensely intimate side. He almost does not seem human, but like one of his angeKnowing Rilke first through his poetry is odd, in that it is his most intensely intimate side. He almost does not seem human, but like one of his angels, outside of time and the physical realm. This book shed light on that physical realm: his actual likeness, his long coming of age, as well as on Rodin, his mentor. And for him, how Rodin was this almost godlike figure, representing Art.
Though the two men worked in different mediums and had entirely different tendencies, one earthy and visceral, the other ethereal and metaphysical, they seemed to have a great relationship. For Rilke, especially, I think the mentorship helped him find his way precisely because Rodin was so grounding. He needed a tether.
Surprisingly or maybe not so surprisingly, these men are very much men with all their imperfections. There are passages that had me cracking up or wincing in pain because I related so much to their odd quirks. Young Rilke's fanboyishness and naivety. His utter earnestness and sincerity in the face of a cold world. And Rodin's unlikely rise in the art world, and his painful demise as increasingly he became an embarassment to his earlier ideals.
It's like seeing a cat slip and fall, it's not something you expect. But there is so much of that here, so much human striving within all its doubts and mysteries, that yes only the greatness ended up in the art, but the struggle to get there is so real. I loved seeing that behind the scenes shit.
Many famous names crop up. Freud, Matisse, Tolstoy. And women too, smart and brilliant women, though (sadly) most of them fell into the same fate: motherhood, domesticity, and responsibilities so that the men could pursue their dreams. Rilke looked up to so many women, and truly wanted them to succeed as artists, and yet he was not willing to give up any of his own freedom (like taking care of his daughter) in order for that to happen.
You must change your life, Rilke says, but Rilke did not just do that once. It seemed like his entire life was one long striving to go deeper, to seek and to experience and become more human, to turn and turn and turn within himself so that he can see and be seen....more
A raw, exposed self goes about the world. Each one of these contains a weirdness or an offness, although each offness is different from the others. IA raw, exposed self goes about the world. Each one of these contains a weirdness or an offness, although each offness is different from the others. I like the similarity and the difference. She plays with consciousness the way a child would turn a stone around and around in her palm. Watching it intently. I am reminded of Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett but I liked this one more. Its interiority is not really an interior, in that it's not closed off, the exterior freely steps in. Tracks dirt on the carpet; the rainwater gets all on the sofa. There is an unsureness about each voice when it comes to the world, and yet a confident projection of that unsureness ensues. Some have said 'quiet,' but there are some not-so-quiet moments here too. A better word, I think, is 'comforting,' I find these stories comforting in their not striving and yet not not striving either. There is a comforting dwelling in whatever happens, whatever fucking shows up....more
A premise with potential, but disappointing in execution. The characters both good and evil were flat as fuck. The sexism was over the top, which I unA premise with potential, but disappointing in execution. The characters both good and evil were flat as fuck. The sexism was over the top, which I understand is part of the premise. But sometimes the less in your face types of misogyny are more dangerous and relevant. But everything was one note: hit-you-over-the-head obvious. The message overshadowed the story. And by the way, the story was dull and un-original. It's just the first volume, so it might get better...
I wonder if all the hype is just because people are really thirsty for intersectional feminism. Which I totally get. I really want it too. But we deserve better, subtler art than this. The art doesn't have to suffer for the message. We can have both!...more
Strange premise (I won't go into the details here, since EVERY review of this book summarizes the plot, I don't feel like I need to). The premise onlyStrange premise (I won't go into the details here, since EVERY review of this book summarizes the plot, I don't feel like I need to). The premise only spurs more and more questions without resolving them. I am not unsatisfied with the unsolved questions, as those unsolved questions are the whole point of the novel. It's nice for the brain to keep moving, just as the protagonist does in this story, walking from cabin to cabin, alone and thinking out the mysteries. It's a book where the questions are supposed to stay with you long after you read it, to haunt you.
Also, makes me think: how are our lives different from hers? Yes we have a bunch of luxuries, and cities, and many more THINGS. But ultimately what do we have? We have each other. But some of us still die alone. We have our knowledge… we have known men. We have known life, we've “lived” so to speak. But that just goes to highlight how much we haven't lived, how much we still don't and can't know.
If everything is relative, what does it mean to be a human with no other humans to be "in relation to." You pretty much don't exist. I loved imagining myself in her predicament, it didn't fill me with dread but an odd excitement. Maybe I'm just weird, since everyone on here is talking about how bleak it is. And I acknowledge that it is that too, but also exciting... I imagine the mysteries of my life being maybe in the next bunker or over the next hill. What strange things will I find there and what will it reveal about the true meaning of my life? It's like one of those really open ended video games where you just go exploring and exploring.
Despite the name, it's not really a “feminist” book, although it is written from a decidedly feminine position, a female character going through female specific things (if it were a group of males stranded in the unknown landscape, how would that dynamic have been different?)
Pretty much the perfect book to start off the year with. Easy page turner, but also highly thought provoking. A perfect blend of historical/politicalPretty much the perfect book to start off the year with. Easy page turner, but also highly thought provoking. A perfect blend of historical/political and personal. There's obviously a lot of darkness here, but the characters pull it through, and it actually ends up being pretty hopeful overall. Elif Shafak is a great, empathetic storyteller. Her characters are believable and it's easy to find yourself rooting for them, even though they've done some horrible things. Highly recommended!...more
Claire-Louise Bennett is deciding something in her head. The process is like alchemy, involving mysterious vapors. And maybe frogs that sound like vagClaire-Louise Bennett is deciding something in her head. The process is like alchemy, involving mysterious vapors. And maybe frogs that sound like vaginas. She is uncompromising about how internal the process is, yet adamant about how transparent she wants to be with you, the external element. As if you were the only one in the room, and not a world of readers in your head as well. What does she want from you?
Her thinking and thus writing practice (for they become one and the same) is not unique. You sense Lydia Davis in there, Thomas Bernhard maybe, Virginia Woolf... But she is decidedly none of these. Some think her voice is unique because it is not any of these other people's voices. But whose voice is it? I do not see a Claire-voice, not yet, it is still something forming and not completely itself. Perhaps too cutesy still. Perhaps the voice is in the movement of the thought. She often starts from nothing, moves on to several other nothings at a moseying pace, hits upon one or two somethings, then as if not to make a big deal about the somethings, god no! she continues on to some more nothings where the story peters out.
How very postmodern of her, to focus on the nothings, to highlight the point of there not being a point at all. But maybe it's too pointless for me. I haven't decided yet either, and it's a decision my head is working on as a background process while drinking coffee in the morning, even many days after reading it. Surely it's worth something for its longlasting-ness in the folds of my brain. So I will give it that.
Reading about the book, I thought it would be a perfect match for my tastes: a strong voice, odd humor, quirky vocabulary, internal workings, small moments, beautiful sentences, etc. Ding ding ding! All my smart friends love her and for very smart reasons. But it turns out it's like one of those 95% matches on OKCupid that turn out to be only a good date in theory. IRL, it's a bit boring. And we don't laugh at each other's jokes....more
Racism. When it happens, there is no way to come out on top. Citizen is an investigation into the ways of dealing with that. Do you snap? Do you let oRacism. When it happens, there is no way to come out on top. Citizen is an investigation into the ways of dealing with that. Do you snap? Do you let out the rage that's accumulated over the years, that submerged part of the iceberg, risk appearing insane, unreasonable, unprofessional? Do you move past it, ignore it, pretend it's not there, don't make a big deal of it? Rise above it! It's an exception, a slip-up. But aren't our days just made up of a long string of exceptions? You lose either way. You try to not have it accumulate inside, but it does.
Here are some high profile cases. Serena Williams. Trayvon Martin. James Craig Anderson. Here are some personal unsung silent moments--just swallow it down. How many more moments have been swallowed without notice? Without even the sound of a gulp?
Sitting at the coffeeshop, the guy on the phone swaggers back and forth in front of me talking loudly about some property. To be that guy, to be so oblivious and so carefree inside your body, your white skin. Have I ever?
Am I invisible to him? What is it you don't see? How much of the world is invisible to you?
How much is invisible to me?
From Claudia Rankine's perspective, the world from inside of her black body and her black experiences... this is not a book for white people. Although white people will read it, and should.
You will either recognize it instantly. Echoes of your own moments. Or you'll be confronted with this other world, previously invisible, in which you do not participate and have never experienced. It's okay. You can ignore it and move on. Or you can acknowledge it and maybe some of it will sink in enough for you to see it the next time, maybe only the outlines. It will still require vigilant effort. Always and that's ok.
Because we don't like talking about it. We certainly don't, as much as it may seem like we do. What you hear from us is only the tiny part that bubbles out, unable to be contained from the many instances in which we keep silent....more
“Every angle is slightly wrong. Hugh Crain must have detested other people and their sensible squared-away houses, because he made his house to suit h
“Every angle is slightly wrong. Hugh Crain must have detested other people and their sensible squared-away houses, because he made his house to suit his mind. Angles which you assume are the right angles you are accustomed to, and have every right to expect are true, are actually a fraction of a degree off in one direction or another. [...] The result of all these tiny aberrations of measurement adds up to a fairly large distortion in the house as a whole. Theodora cannot see the tower from her bedroom window because the tower actually stands at the corner of the house. From Theodora's bedroom window it is completely invisible, although from here it seems to be directly outside her room.” p. 77
Like Hill House itself, this book is built on tiny disturbances in language. Instead of walls and surfaces not meeting at right angles, Shirley Jackson sets things slightly ajar with the language, tone, voice, and character psychologies. Things seem normal but you can sense something is just a little off. Among the strangenesses built into the frame of this house:
The voices of the characters seem slightly at odds with the situation. They seem like children at play, taking on roles and voices willy-nilly, even though they are all grown adults. Along with this theme, the borders of each character start to dissolve, especially our main character, whose identity teeters on an edge:
"Perhaps she was to be allowed to speak occasionally for all of them so that, quieting her, they quieted themselves and could leave the subject behind them; perhaps, vehicle for every kind of fear, she contained enough for all."
And an ominousness enters ever so slowly into the psyches of the characters who at first are quite good-willed. It seems that their thoughts have unexplicably soured, and since so much of the novel happens within the thoughts of the characters (the narrator's consciousness-hopping reminded me of reading Mrs. Dalloway), it feels for the reader as if they have lost all contact with the reality of the novel, even though it is still (on the surface) written in a fairly realistic style.
"In the darkness their feet felt that they were going downhill, and each privately and perversely accused the other of taking, deliberately, a path they had followed together once before in happiness."
You should --and I'm glad I did--give Shirley Jackson another read, even if you've read her wildly famous short story The Lottery before. She is not a one trick pony. Her attention to detail in this story is what made this such a subtly disturbing novel. And her attention to the sounds and tones of language here puts her in the company of the best poets.
"Around her the trees and wild flowers, with that oddly courteous air of natural things suddenly interrupted in their pressing occupations of growing and dying, turned toward her with attention, as though, dull and imperceptive as she was, it was still necessary for them to be gentle to a creation so unfortunate as not to be rooted in the ground, forced to go from one place to another, heart-breakingly mobile."