For some reason the National Book Award winners have left me feeling somewhat flat the past few years. I read them with an anxious anticipation that IFor some reason the National Book Award winners have left me feeling somewhat flat the past few years. I read them with an anxious anticipation that I will embark on some voracious reading journey, only to be deflated by cold characters in overly complicated life scenarios. The experience of reading The Good Lord Bird was no different for me. The concept sounded exciting: historical fiction focusing on a young adolescent black boy unwittingly teamed up with uber-abolitionist John Brown. I tend to steer clear of reviews prior to reading books, so I wasn't prepared for the cheekiness of the portrayal of the historical figures, at least as seen through the young first person narrator's perspective. John Brown is a crazed zealot ignoring all reason and rationale as he plunges into a war that it seems like only he is fighting, while Frederick Douglass is a lecherous polygamist. The cast of characters--both real and imagines--is dizzying, and I found myself consistently confused by who was which and what was why. Still, upon further reflection after finishing the novel, I found myself smiling over McBride's attempt to take an often short paragraph in the history books and turn it in something more real, although that effort is thwarted by the foreign culture and context of a barely developing American landscape just a few years before the Civil War. Thus, my initial two stars was bumped up to three....more
Jesmyn Ward has had a rough life, and as this memoir attests, it's all too common for people who grow up black and poor in the South. This book made mJesmyn Ward has had a rough life, and as this memoir attests, it's all too common for people who grow up black and poor in the South. This book made me like Salvage the Bones even more because it brought Ward's perspective into sharper focus and satisfied that voyeuristic fiction reader's need to know what is true in an author's work. Here, she details the deaths of five young black men in her life, all in quick succession, each tragic and senseless. The final portion is devoted to her younger brother, who dies chronologically first, but whose death is devastating to read about after coming to know and understand the history and perseverance of Ward's family. This is an important read in the story of how one person can break the cycle of oppression and still be trapped by its dangers....more
Toni Morrison's most recent and much abbreviated novel is definitely worth a read (as all of her books are), but this one certainly let me wanting morToni Morrison's most recent and much abbreviated novel is definitely worth a read (as all of her books are), but this one certainly let me wanting more. The story follows an Odyssey of sorts as Korean War veteran Frank Money rushes home to save his ailing sister Cee in rural Georgia. Both are dealing with their own demons growing up in the mid-twentieth century American south, and Morrison's telescopic narrative style--something that reminded me of The Bluest Eye--provided some great insight into these complicated characters. Even still, at only 147 pages, the story and characterization merely whetted my appetite. I wanted more and was disappointed when she didn't give it to me....more
As a big fan of True Blood on HBO, I was reluctant to read the original source material. Would it be good enough when I already knew the characters anAs a big fan of True Blood on HBO, I was reluctant to read the original source material. Would it be good enough when I already knew the characters and basic plot line? Friends assured me that the series is different enough from the television show to be an interesting read, yet I found this first in the series exactly like the first season. I knew who the murderer was and I knew the red herrings; there was absolutely no suspense for me. Another thing that is intensely similar is the graphic sex, and that is something I wasn't quite prepared for in the novel. I remember sitting backstage during a production of Bye, Bye Birdie in middle school and reading through a friend's mother's romance novel with a dozen of my 12-year-old friends listening in grotesque amazement about a couple experimenting with cherry flavored condoms. That is pretty much the extent of my knowledge of the genre, but moments of Dead Until Dark certainly stirred those memories in my mind. I couldn't help feeling dirty about it for some reason! I don't think I'll be continuing the series unless I am in desperate need for something on a beach somewhere....more
This collection of short stories mostly center around coming of age pieces in which African-American adolescent protagonists face important elements oThis collection of short stories mostly center around coming of age pieces in which African-American adolescent protagonists face important elements of self-discovery, although a few also focus on adults and their own struggles with identity. The first story entitled "Brownies" begins with the one of the most fantastic opening lines I've ever read: "By our second day at Camp Crescendo, the girls in my Brownie troop had decided to kick the asses of each and every girl in Brownie Troop 909." The story then follows a terrifically unexpected trajectory to create a truly delightful opening to this collection. Other stories are well crafted although none quite live up to the perfection of "Brownies." In "Our Lady of Peace," Lynnea decides to become a teacher in an urban district and suffers the consequences; in "Ant of the Self," the narrator travels to the Million Man March with his derelict father; "Drinking Coffee Elsewhere" follows young Dina during her freshman year at Yale where she refuses to accept her budding sexuality; and the title character in "Doris is Coming" begins the journey of rejecting her family's oppressive religious devotion at the dawn of the Civil Rights Era. Two stories, "Speaking in Tongues" where a young girl runs away in search of her biological mother and "Geese" in which a young woman moves to Japan where she stays in spite of her destitution and expired Visa, aren't quite as enjoyable as those outlined above, and "Every Tongue Shall Confess" is too deliberately understated to convey the importance of the rest of the book.
This debut collection at times becomes a bit heavy handed, particularly around some of Packer's proper noun choices like "Camp Crescendo" noted above and a teacher named "Mrs. Ampersand," but the narration and perspective of her pieces make it clear why The New Yorker chose Packer as one of their "20 Under 40"....more
Gaines's premise--chapters narrated by many different characters, each unfolding the mystery of the white man's corpse surrounded by dozens of old blaGaines's premise--chapters narrated by many different characters, each unfolding the mystery of the white man's corpse surrounded by dozens of old black men claiming they each individually killed him--is certainly a great study in perspective; however, the many different characters and the jolting shifts in voice from chapter to chapter make this a rather discombobulating read. In the early portions of the book, the reader's confusion mirrors that of the characters, learning of the white man's murder secondhand amidst a confusing flurry of action as the old men gather at the scene of the crime, yet as the book progresses, that uncertainty about who is who and what is happening dissipates for the characters yet remains for the reader.
There is too my sense that Gaines's narrative is a bit dated. I am a huge fan of racial identity theories being integrated within a piece of literature, yet this story, set on in the late 1970s, feels too heavy handed in promoting the theme that times are changing. That said, there are still important social elements of this book, primarily the past injustices that force men and women to make brash, bold decisions.
I didn't feel truly involved in the plot until about a third of the way into the book, and the only time I felt compelled to continue reading was during the final staccato chapters that bring the story to a conclusion. ...more
This book was one of the most boring books I've ever completed. I placed it on my "to read" shelf after it was shortlisted for last year's National BoThis book was one of the most boring books I've ever completed. I placed it on my "to read" shelf after it was shortlisted for last year's National Book Award and a few others (I think it was even on the list for the Pulitzer). I should have taken heed that it didn't win anything.
The story jumps between the same few days nearly a decade apart, the early years which focus on the death of Termite's father in the Korean War and the latter focusing on Lark and Termite (half-siblings who share an absentee mother) during one fateful and stormy weekend in Virginia. The problem is that nothing happens for the longest time, and the multiple perspectives in the Virginia portions of the story become totally redundant. Termite's perspective of altered reality is also entirely confusing, as his character is a pre-adolescent boy with significant mental disabilities. I definitely found myself tuning out and skimming certain portions of the book.
Phillips's format reminds me of Ernest J. Gaines's A Gathering of Old Men in which a mystery of some sort is unraveled via multiple perspectives and points of view. Unlike that book though, Lark and Termite refuses to let you know what the "mystery" is until far too late in the narrative. I wasn't intrigued until I was nearly two-thirds of the way through the book when one of the title characters discovers who her father is. From that point on (similar to A Gathering of Old Men), the story actually takes some interesting turns, but it's all too little, too late. Once the action becomes intriguing enough to get me to read regularly and carefully again, Phillips throws in some totally random elements, including a spectral figure that only Lark and Termite can see, and a direct-from-the-soap-operas deathly fall down the basement stairs.
Avoid this book at all costs. Unless otherwise suggested by a reading friend I trust, I'll steer clear of Phillips as well....more
Not much to say on this one other than that it was a real challenge. I'm sure if I read it in college with a literature professor to unpack everythingNot much to say on this one other than that it was a real challenge. I'm sure if I read it in college with a literature professor to unpack everything for me, I would absolutely adore this book, yet reading it on my own with nothing to keep my endurance than the embarrassment of not having finished it for my book club, I found it hardly enjoyable. Faulkner constructs some beautiful prose at times, but the narrative structure here is incredibly confusing. (Had I the time and the inclination, this would be a great second or third read, knowing what I do now having finished it once.) A friend showed me her copy, which includes an appendix that Faulkner wrote detailing intricate backstories and explanations for each character, an aid that would have been invaluable on my first reading. However, if such an appendix is necessary for mere comprehension, I wonder what the value is of crafting such ambiguous characters and situations is in the first place.
I definitely won't pick up another Faulkner book for a while, yet I still have this burning desire to read As I Lay Dying and a friend told me that it's not nearly as "difficult" a book...so perhaps some day in the future I'll try to climb Faulkner's mountain again....more
A gorgeously illustrated version of the traditional African folktale. I use this in class with sophomores when I teach Toni Morrison's Song of SolomonA gorgeously illustrated version of the traditional African folktale. I use this in class with sophomores when I teach Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon, but it's a great read for kids to teach them about some of the more difficult history of this country. ...more
Wow. This book is a fantastic read. A good friend recommended it following our discussions about the difficulties of teaching To Kill a Mockingbird beWow. This book is a fantastic read. A good friend recommended it following our discussions about the difficulties of teaching To Kill a Mockingbird because I feel that text so often reinforces ideas of white supremacy and alleviates the guilt surrounding white privilege. My friend thought this would be a great companion to Mockingbird since that's required reading in her district.
This novel follows a young white woman nicknamed Skeeter in Jackson, Mississippi, at the dawn of the civil rights era (early 1960s). Skeeter begins writing a book based on interviews with the African American maids that work in the upper class white women's homes, raising their children, cooking for their families, and cleaning their houses. What is unique about this book from other texts that focus on this overpopulated genre is that focuses almost solely on the female perspective. The focus is on the subtle ways in which white women's racism can be so much more incendiary that the physical brutality of white men's racism (although the latter certainly makes its appearance in the story at various points).
This type of racism is so much more representative of the type that exists today. Skeeter's narration (with the exception of one chapter, the book is narrated in chapters by Skeeter and two black maids) and the dynamic nature of her character arc show the truly difficult struggles that come with truly analyzing one's unearned privilege. She is far more ambiguous in her convictions of equality that Atticus Finch, a character with whom many today too easily (and probably unrealistically) identify.
The book is not without its flaws. The ending seems a bit too fortuitous for the main characters (as well as the deserved fate of the central antagonist), but Stockett's plot and character development made it difficult to put this book down....more
This is an amazing collection. I am a huge fan of Trethewey now! I read this in preparation for a class I'm teaching on the Pulitzer winners of the paThis is an amazing collection. I am a huge fan of Trethewey now! I read this in preparation for a class I'm teaching on the Pulitzer winners of the past few years; Native Guard won the poetry award in 2007. This collection focuses on the emotions and thoughts surrounding Trethewey's mother's death and her upbringing in Mississippi as the daughter of an interracial couple during the civil rights era. The poems cover some heavy ground, but all of them are truly wonderful. She does some really interesting things with form and structure that I think will work well in the classroom for showing students how poetry really and truly differs from prose in its effectiveness. She does things with enjambment and repetition that simply wouldn't be possible to the same effect with prose. A great read!...more
I just finished rereading this (I think for the third time) for a class I'm teaching right now and it's still so good. The kids get so much out of itI just finished rereading this (I think for the third time) for a class I'm teaching right now and it's still so good. The kids get so much out of it and it's such a brilliant piece....more