This updated essay based on Adichie's TED talk of the same name is fantastic and amazing and everyone should read it. There's a snippet of the TED talThis updated essay based on Adichie's TED talk of the same name is fantastic and amazing and everyone should read it. There's a snippet of the TED talk in one of Beyonce's recent songs, and the essay itself is so much better (obviously). Read this yourself, read it to your kids, and most of all, live by her ideas!...more
Amy Poehler is pretty awesome, and this book provided some ample concrete evidence to support that assertion. I was a tad disappointed with the cavaliAmy Poehler is pretty awesome, and this book provided some ample concrete evidence to support that assertion. I was a tad disappointed with the cavalier references to illicit drug use, particularly given the subtext of so much of her work being the empowerment of young women because in certain circles that likely is contradictory, but at the same I enjoyed reading about her early years growing up near the town where I'm raising my kids, particularly the rivalry with affluent Lexington (an obvious stand in for Parks and Recreation's "Eagleton, Indiana"). Overall, a worthy read, especially if you already love this awesome woman....more
I honestly loved just about every page of this wonderful book. Emily St. John Mandel uses fragmentation and flashback to create a before-and-after porI honestly loved just about every page of this wonderful book. Emily St. John Mandel uses fragmentation and flashback to create a before-and-after portrait of a world ravaged by a deadly flu epidemic. Her characters struggle to find meaning in both worlds, whether living before the collapse or after, and this all slowly unfolds as characters interact with a one-of-a-kind comic book featuring Station Eleven, a planet-sized space station in which inhabitants live in fear of being captured by denizens of the Undersea. The story is complex without being complicated: totally worth the read!...more
With an opening line that is intriguingly tragic, Ng creates an elaborate character sketch of a biracia"Lydia is dead. But they don't know this yet."
With an opening line that is intriguingly tragic, Ng creates an elaborate character sketch of a biracial family grappling at once with both a devastating loss and the intricate layers of racial identity. Providing a detailed snapshot of grief interspersed with flashbacks that piece the puzzle of Lydia's death together, this novel is well worth the read....more
This should absolutely be required reading for all of humanity (or at least teachers and parents). Sam Killermann's work is important, thorough, pragmThis should absolutely be required reading for all of humanity (or at least teachers and parents). Sam Killermann's work is important, thorough, pragmatic and funny. He takes an entirely complex topic that forces us to question are understandings of a concept whose apparent simplicity we take for granted and carefully walks us through the intricacies and rationale for how things are progressing. Read this book!...more
This hysterical satire is a must read for book lovers, especially those like me that all-too-often fall victim to those "award-winning" golden stickerThis hysterical satire is a must read for book lovers, especially those like me that all-too-often fall victim to those "award-winning" golden stickers on the cover of trade paperbacks. (Honestly, I can't remember the last time I really enjoyed a National Book Award winner! Why do I keep buying them?!) St. Aubyn provides a hilarious send up on the inner-workings of the esoteric British literary establishment. I'd recommend reading this in print form though, as the cast of characters is large and while reading on my Kindle I found myself wishing I could quickly flip back a few chapters to look up a character....more
Clocking in at over 500 pages, this book was a bit intimidating at first. However, the super short alternating chapters create a suspenseful plot thatClocking in at over 500 pages, this book was a bit intimidating at first. However, the super short alternating chapters create a suspenseful plot that compels the reader forward to a swift conclusion.
I have to admit as well that at first I thought the concept was a bit trite. There have been so many books in recent memory that focus on the atrocities of World War II through the innocent point of view of youth (some better than others), but this brought in some new perspectives, particularly through the character of Marie-Laure, a young girl blinded by disease early in her life who must endure the hardships of the German occupation in France without the aid of her sight. Doerr highlights these themes of sight and blindness by coupling Maire-Laure's story with that of young Werner Pfennig, a German wunderkind in the world of radio waves.
In the end, I was sad that it was over as I'd grown to expect and enjoy the presence of these well-drawn characters in my daily reading....more
I adored just about every second of this book, relishing the ways in which Oyeyemi carefully uses aspects of the Snow White story as a foundation forI adored just about every second of this book, relishing the ways in which Oyeyemi carefully uses aspects of the Snow White story as a foundation for her story of race, beauty, and identity. Thankfully the references are fairly subtle and never heavy-handed. The characters were so interestingly drawn and her depiction of Massachusetts life so realistic.
Of course, then I got to the last thirty pages where the story took a confounding and unexpected turn. I honestly had very little idea what was going on and the ending was incredibly unsatisfying. Still, I enjoyed most of the other 300ish pages, so I'm still billing it as a five-star read....more
This is a simply sublime twenty-minute read, as is the case with most George Saunders stories. It's bizarre and touching and creative and funny all atThis is a simply sublime twenty-minute read, as is the case with most George Saunders stories. It's bizarre and touching and creative and funny all at once!...more
I absolutely loved reading this collection of nine short stories from morbidly hilarious Tom Perotta who is a master of providing a glimpse into the dI absolutely loved reading this collection of nine short stories from morbidly hilarious Tom Perotta who is a master of providing a glimpse into the dark souls of seemingly normal characters, revealing a little bit of how we all behave if we're being completely honest about our motives. So many of Perotta's stories accurately capture the world of the New England public school, and as a New England public school teacher, I simply cannot tear my eyes away from the train wreck that is the cast of characters that make up his fictional world. Whether providing a glimpse into the egocentric world of an honors student trying to pad his resume for college, detailing the anxieties of a teacher with a negative rating on Rate My Teacher, or recounting the neurotic self-destruction of a hired test taker, these stories will both entertain and mortify you....more
Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is one of my favorite novels of all time, and her Oryx and Crake trilogy is excellent. When I came across this series of three chapters browsing the "Kindle Shorts" website, I purchased it immediately and devoured it in three days. Written for the online site Byliner in an effort to bring back serialized fiction, the story picked up steam after the first chapter when fans wanted more, including television producers who want to turn the story into a series.
The world of Positron is a new society in which victims of the world's failing economy and rising crime rates willingly enter a walled compound where a large prison fuels the local economy. Every citizen has a counterpart with whom they trade places once a month, first living in the outside world of relative freedom in a government-provided house, then incarcerated while providing the type of manual labor that helps society function. There is of course a dark underbelly to this world and nothing is as it seems.
There are trademark Atwood motifs here, principally her thematic focus on the ways in which sex motivates our every move and the ways in which society's attempts to clamp down on our voracious sexual appetites only serves to fuel them, but Atwood is one of the great authors who can write about this potentially seedy topic without making the literature feel seedy itself. The characters here aren't as clearly drawn as in her dystopian novels, but they are amusing and realistic, their internal monologues providing a light-hearted humor that underscores the dark gravity of their situations.
I'm eager for future installments, and I look forward to a potential television series based on Atwood brilliant creations!...more
I haven't ever read an entire book of "flash fiction," short works no longer than two pages each, and I found the experience so fun and rewarding. TheI haven't ever read an entire book of "flash fiction," short works no longer than two pages each, and I found the experience so fun and rewarding. The "Editor's Note" for this collection is invaluable, most notably because it suggests reading the pieces like poetry. Each piece is so short, that a reader can't simply swiftly comb through it and expect to gather everything the author intended. These pieces are not driven by the traditional elements of the short story, but in many cases they are just as rewarding.
Some of my favorites included "Mandela Was Late" by Peter Mehlman, where a despicable parole officer waits impatiently for a meeting with Nelson Mandela after his release from prison; "Currents" by Hannah Bottomy which is a tragic beach scene told in reverse; "Rose" by John Biguenet, a carefully crafted portrait of parental loss; and "The Wallet" by Andrew McCuaig, a piece that uses a traditional story arc in just under two pages. There are dystopian pieces here like Jim Crace's future world of manipulative shopping in "21" and there are witty plays with form, like G. A. Ingersoll's "Test," which is formatted completely like a standardized test. My favorite of all though is certainly the final piece, J. David Stevens' "The Death of the Short Story," an obituary for short story genre that describes, among other fabulous personifications, how "the loutish Novel got drunk on cheap Chardonnay and babled about the good times he and the Story had shared" (227).
This is a wonderful collection, and I'm eager to read more!...more
I actually scanned the pages of this book into my computer and use it with my kids on the interactive white board to teach comma placement. They LOVEI actually scanned the pages of this book into my computer and use it with my kids on the interactive white board to teach comma placement. They LOVE it. Then after we look at the pages, they create their own versions. So fun! :)...more
I loved almost everything about this book. The chapters set in Zimbabwe are powerful and real, and the protagonist's move to America provides anotherI loved almost everything about this book. The chapters set in Zimbabwe are powerful and real, and the protagonist's move to America provides another great glimpse into immigrant life in modern America. Every chapter is focused and poetic in its narration, and the horrific aspects are balanced with the humorous....more
While on the surface much of this book sounds like it should be trite and contrived, it simply works. The titular Burgess boys are Jim and Bob, escapeWhile on the surface much of this book sounds like it should be trite and contrived, it simply works. The titular Burgess boys are Jim and Bob, escapees from Maine living the high life as lawyers in New York; the former in insanely wealth, helping the rich stay rich, and the latter is a Legal Aid attorney, helping the poor and downtrodden. Initially, they seem to have left behind Bob's twin sister Susan and the shadows of guilt over their father's death when they were all children, but when Susan's son Zach makes an incredibly stupid decision, one that disrupts the delicate balance between hearty Mainers and the newly relocated Somali refugees, the boys are pulled back home and the reality of their ties to their hometown and each other are revealed to be both strong and strained.
Strout explores various narrative perspectives, seemingly inconsistently, yet each contributes to the central themes of her novel. Her characters are flawed and imperfect, and she simultaneously makes them endearing and horrifying. The book read incredibly quickly, and I admit loving every minute of it....more
I loved this book. The characters are complex contradictions who stumble through life as their history of friendship pulls them together as often as iI loved this book. The characters are complex contradictions who stumble through life as their history of friendship pulls them together as often as it pulls them apart. The longevity of the story--several decades--gave me plenty to savor as I went through periods of loving and hating the characters' choices, always with anticipation of what was to come though....more
I’m fast becoming a huge fan of Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. Her adult fiction is intelligent and important, and Americanah is no exception. Here she detaI’m fast becoming a huge fan of Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. Her adult fiction is intelligent and important, and Americanah is no exception. Here she details the seemingly doomed relationship between two Nigerians: Ifemelu and Obinze. Their affair begins in Africa and seems destined to fail once Ifemelu moves to America, but through a fragmented storyline that opens in the present and fills in the holes via flashbacks and shifting narrative perspective, Adiche provides a refreshing and unique point of view on how race truly is a social construct that mutates between cultures and continents.
Early on, Ifemelu quips “How easy It was to lie to strangers, to create with strangers the versions of our lives that we have imagined” (17). Upon her move to America, she suffers that traditional immigrant experience of feeling a part of two worlds and failing to feel at home in either. However, as an African immigrant in a country where blackness defines social standing, she provides a new frame of reference. Ifemelu finds a type of fame in the United States as an anonymous blogger on race, but her authority on the matter is rather suspect according to American standards. She is hired to give speeches on race only to be told that her ideology is flawed and anonymous posters regularly start flame wars on her website. The sister of her African American activist Ivy League professor boyfriend summarizes the issue when she somewhat spitefully suggests that the reason “Ifemelu can write that blog [is] because she’s African. She’s writing from the outside. She doesn’t really feel all the stuff she’s writing about. It’s all quaint and curious to her. So she can write it and get all these accolades and get invited to give talks. If she were African American, she’d just be labeled angry and shunned” (336). In reality, she has to learn the hard way that there is immense truth in what her aunt tells her upon her arrival to America: “You are in a country that is not your own. You do what you have to do if you want to succeed” (119). Ifemelu suffers considerably in a number of ways, and she fails to come to terms with the reality of her success until late in the novel, particularly her reliance on a white family that find her friendship an important collectible tchotchke for their mantle of liberalism.
Meanwhile, Obinze is shut out of her life after her move, and he must find his own path to success. He struggles with immigration abroad in his own way, only to find a path to economic success and a traditional family back home. The only problem is that “he was no longer sure, he had in fact never been sure, whether he liked his life because he really did or whether liked it because he was supposed to” (21). Upon Ifemelu’s return to Lagos late in the chronology of the story—a plotline that is revealed rather early in the novel however—he questions whether or not he can stay in the life he has created now that his past has returned to him. When he contemplates leaving his life behind in order to create a new future with Ifemelu, he is told by a friend “many of us didn’t marry the woman we truly loved. We married the woman that was around when we were ready to marry. So forget this thing. You can keep seeing her, but no need for this kind of white-people behavior. You can keep seeing her, but no need for this kind of white-people behavior. If your wife has a child for somebody else or if you beat her, that is a reason for divorce. But to get up and say you have no problem with your wife but you are leaving her for another woman? Haba. We don’t behave like that, please” (472).
This “white-people behavior” is the soul of the Americanah—the native Nigerian who returns after having lived abroad in a Western culture that unintentionally marginalizes traditional African life. Ifemelu joins an Americanah Club upon her return and realizes that “It’s as if we are looking at an adult Nigeria that we didn’t know about” (429); her new outlook on her homeland is mature, but the conflict of embracing Western culture and her native way of life is a difficult one to overcome. Such is the crux of this post-colonial tale: how does a country with such promise move beyond the devastating effects of colonialism without embracing the power that exists in the Western world? When Ifemelu tells her American ex-boyfriend that “race doesn’t really work here. I feel like I got off the plane in Lagos and stopped being black” (476), there is both truth and falsehood wrapped up in that statement. Blackness is a construct in America born of a oppressive legacy that many refuse to face, and having lived so long within that culture, how can Ifemelu possibly shed the trappings of that identity even upon her return to a country without the same social constraints? ...more
I trusted most of the reviews of this wonderful book, in spite of the premise being something that made me roll my eyes. Aaliyah is an aging LebaneseI trusted most of the reviews of this wonderful book, in spite of the premise being something that made me roll my eyes. Aaliyah is an aging Lebanese woman who has lived through the tribulations of war-torn Beirut working as an attendant in a small bookstore and carefully translating some of the world's major literary works into Arabic. Over the course of the novel, this first person narrator carefully reveals herself to be somewhat unreliable as her perspective on history and her own experiences shifts to exhibit a far more complex characterization than she initially constructs, and the incorporation of literary allusions is witty and intelligent without being heavy handed or esoteric. I'm still thinking a lot about the ending and regretting that Aaliyah's voice is no longer in my life!...more
When I was living in New York, the best thing about my time there was seeing great non-musical plays. Ever since college, I've been heading into the cWhen I was living in New York, the best thing about my time there was seeing great non-musical plays. Ever since college, I've been heading into the city and going on these whirlwind tours of Broadway musicals, easily packing five shows into one weekend. When I moved there and started working in the industry, I had the opportunity to see LOTS of non-musical shows both on Broadway and off, and I realized how truly fantastic these shows can be. I've always been a fan of theater in any form, but I never felt the compunction to go out and pay a huge amount of money for a non-musical show. Since I left New York, I'm better about seeing these shows in Boston and occasionally in New York when I have the chance, but now with kids my trips to the theater (especially in New York) are incredibly limited and I've lapsed again in my "straight play" adventures.
Reading Rabbit Hole though totally reminded me how great these plays can be. It's a really simple piece focusing on the aftermath of a family losing a young child to an hapless accident. The setting takes place actually in the time following the typical "grieving period" that immediately follows the death. I think I find myself so attracted to this setting because having lost my mother over a year ago, that period after everyone stops asking how you're doing and after you are "expected" to talk about your loss is really the most devastating as you consider what to do with yourself and how to cope with the vacancy inside of you. And then also, I'm going on two plus years as a father now, so the idea of losing a four-year-old is both incredibly unimaginable and entirely real. So for these reasons I think I was especially in tune with the subject.
Knowing the original cast of actors fairly well helped in imagining how great the original production likely was. Cynthia Nixon and John Slattery are two of my favorites, and imagining them as this bereaved couple struggling to reinvent their marriage when they suddenly find themselves childless helped to realize the intent of the piece.
I can't say that I've ever been a huge fan of David Lindsay-Abaire in what I've read and seen of his work, but this changed my perception of that. The other pieces I know by him are pretty light, and this carried such a sincere weight. There are moments of levity amidst this weight, and I think that holds so true to actual experience. Again, the setting focuses on the extended time period that follows that initial grieving process, and humor is such a necessary and appropriate coping mechanism. And with these humorous points are coupled some truly brilliant assertions about loss. At one point, the protagonist's mother (who has also lost a son in her lifetime, although an adult one) says, "At some point the [weight of loss:] becomes bearable. It turns into something you can crawl out form under. And carry around--like a brick in your pocked. And you forget every once in a while, but then you reach in for whatever reason there it is: 'Oh right. That.' Which can be awful. But not all the time. Sometimes it's kinda...Not that you like it exactly, but it's what you have instead of your son, so you don't wanna let go of it either. So you carry it around. And it doesn't go away, which is...fine...actually." So true.
I'm teaching this play this fall as part of a Pulitzer Prize-winning literature seminar for a select group of students, and I think this is going to make a brilliant addition to our slate!...more
Reading this morbidly humorous collection of short stories reminded me how much I enjoyed reading CivilWarLand in Bad Decline so many years ago when aReading this morbidly humorous collection of short stories reminded me how much I enjoyed reading CivilWarLand in Bad Decline so many years ago when an attractive young literature professor assigned it to me in college. In the years since, I haven't had the chance to pick up another Saunders book, but when David Sedaris recommended this most recent book at a reading last year, I decided it was time to revisit the strange world of George Saunders.
My favorite story here is definitely "Victory Lap" where Saunders explores three different points of view on a botched abduction attempt. First we enter the mind of a teenage would-be debutante so self-deluded that she barely notices that she is about to fall victim to a brutal assault. This is followed by her fetching neighbor who has been brainwashed by his parents into maintaining both a clean house and a clean soul. And finally there is the pitiful kidnapper whose motives are as revolting as they are comical. By the end of the story, it's unclear who the true monster is, a theme that is prevalent in many of the stories in this collection.
I also enjoyed "Escape from Spiderhead," a dystopian piece reminiscent of Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange except that the horror and violence is replaced with macabre comedy. Some stories are beyond strange, like "The Semplica Girl Diaries" in which upper social class is marked by adorning one's yard with immigrants tethered at the head, but Saunders's style makes it easy to buy into even the weirdest of scenarios. The heart of these pieces is so true to our world, even when he's exploring the oddest of settings and situations. After one character has been drugged into a blissful union with a complete stranger, he thinks, "It was that impossible thing: happiness that does not wilt to reveal the thin shoots of some new desire rising from within it" (50). Another character newly home from a dubious war assaults his mother's new boyfriend and notices, "They were both so scared they weren't talking at all, which made me feel the kind of shame you know you're not going to cure by saying sorry and where the only thing to do is: go out, get more shame" (183). Later the same character quips, "It was like either: (A) I was a terrible guy who was knowingly doing this rotten thing over and over, or (B) it wasn't so rotten, really, just normal, and the way to confirm it was normal was to keep doing it over and over" (200). And in another story, a character witnesses the aftermath of his boss's rape of a co-worker and tells himself, "Based on my experience of life, which I have not exactly hit out of the park, I tend to agree with that thing about, If it's not broke don't fix it. And would go even further, to: Even if it is broke, leave it alone, you'll probably make it worse" (207). This is where dark and honest realism invades the absurd world Saunders has created, and it's where we can see the power of well crafted satire....more
This book should be required reading for everyone in America. Solomon's staggering research is presented in an incredibly palatable manner as he measuThis book should be required reading for everyone in America. Solomon's staggering research is presented in an incredibly palatable manner as he measures the balance of identity and disability. Taking on deafness, autism, criminality, transgenderism, and more, he layers each chapter carefully upon the previous, moving readers to an understanding of the ways in which disability may be simply a social construct.
Read this book!
(If you pick up the book and are scared off by the number of pages, know that more than half of it is notes on his research!)...more