I chose this collection for a World Lit course I'm teaching this semester because it had a good mix of writers I was already familiar with and a few tI chose this collection for a World Lit course I'm teaching this semester because it had a good mix of writers I was already familiar with and a few that were new to me. The highlights included Ngugi Wa Thiong'o's devastating "Minutes of Glory," Nadine Gordimer's pitch-perfect "The Bridegroom," and Dambudzo Marechera's "Protista," a dirty little fever dream of a story that proves South America has no monopoly on magic realism. ...more
Gavrilo Princip, the young Serb who killed Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, igniting World War I, isn't so much the protagonist of this bGavrilo Princip, the young Serb who killed Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, igniting World War I, isn't so much the protagonist of this book as he is a bug under the microscope. As an examination of the mindset of a man who proudly called himself a terrorist, this graphic novel often skates on the surface, but as historical fiction, it works very well. ...more
This isn't the kind of thing I'd normally read (or listen to, as it were) but the library at the school where I teach has a very limited selection ofThis isn't the kind of thing I'd normally read (or listen to, as it were) but the library at the school where I teach has a very limited selection of books on CD, and I needed something for the hour-long commute. I'm glad I chanced upon it this way.
Framed by the story of a conservator working on the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, this is the story of the book itself as it makes its unlikely journey to its resting place in Bosnia. Really, though, this is the story of western civilization and the intersection of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Brooks does a great job of portraying how profoundly sad it is that kind, decent people of these differing faiths so often find themselves at the mercy of zealots and nationalists. ...more
When I started this novel, I was expecting a very science-y take on life in a bee hive, something like E.O. Wilson writing fiction. Within the first fWhen I started this novel, I was expecting a very science-y take on life in a bee hive, something like E.O. Wilson writing fiction. Within the first few pages, it became clear that wasn't the case. The Bees is in the tradition of anthropomorphized animal fables, landing somewhere between Animal Farm and what might happen if Pixar staged Game of Thrones with insects. I was so put off by it that I almost stopped reading, but after I settled in, I found it to be rewarding and quite well done.
The story here follows Flora 717, a lowly worker bee who grows to question her role in life even as she remains devoted to her hive. Paul casts the hive as a sort of totalitarian society/religious cult, a conceit that actually works far better than it seems it would. Over the course of her life, Flora, something of a Cinderella character, rises to prominence in the life of the hive and interacts with a host of other insects, all of which are personified to the same degree as the bees.
For the most part, The Bees manages to get the basic biology of bee life right even as it attributes human characteristics and emotions to its subjects. There are, however, a few glaring exceptions. Paul has the bees born into a caste system by which labor is divided, when in reality all worker bees rotate through work details over the course of their lives. Inauthentic details like that nagged at me and kept me from loving this book as much as I often wanted to, but they do serve to enhance the story, so I was ultimately able to forgive them. The biological fact at the center of the story, the aberration of the laying worker, a role in which Flora finds herself, much to her peril, is a real phenomenon, and one that Paul does a fine job of personifying.
In the end, this is a pretty damn good book teetering on the edge of being great and falling just short. Still, despite its flaws, it provides what one reviewer called a truly "singular reading experience."
*Thanks to HarperCollins for providing me with a review copy of this novel. ...more
Part Civil War period drama and part bayou gothic, Hagridden is a dirty little fever-dream of a novel. The plot follows a woman and her daughter-in-laPart Civil War period drama and part bayou gothic, Hagridden is a dirty little fever-dream of a novel. The plot follows a woman and her daughter-in-law who turn to robbery and murder to survive after being left to fend for themselves during the war. Things take a turn for the worse when a Confederate deserter from their past returns home, pursued by a crazed, very human rougarou, the werewolf-like creature from Cajun folklore.
The bayou, depicted here as a fetid wasteland as bleak and unforgiving as Cormac McCarthy's West,is a fitting backdrop for the troubling story. Fortunately, there's enough humanity on display here to rise above the bleakness and devastation. Hagridden makes good on all its promises, delivering a gut-punch of a story that's as memorable as it is uncomfortable. ...more
Despite an intriguing premise—a near future where the world is racked by a plague of insomnia and the sick rely on sleep transfusions from willing donDespite an intriguing premise—a near future where the world is racked by a plague of insomnia and the sick rely on sleep transfusions from willing donors—this novella is a bit of a disappointment.
The protagonist of the story is Trish Edgewater, a recruiter for SlumberCorp who reminds me of the hawkish Red Cross recruiters who used to badger me, a source of five-star platelets , into monthly donations with tales of infants desperately in need of the blood components coursing through my veins. Trish uses the story of her sister, the insomnia plague’s first victim, to get her hooks into potential donors and becomes intimately involved with the parents of Baby A, the world’s only universal donor. Meanwhile, a nightmare contagion has found its way into the sleep supply, calling into question the safety and efficacy of donation and transfusion. Trish’s feelings about her work grow more and more ambivalent as the story progresses and come to a head when she discovers corruption within the ranks of her organization.
There are a few times when Sleep Donation threatens to be brilliant, like when Trish muses about the donor/recipient dynamic underlying all human interactions, even love and sex. The problem is that the story itself takes too long to get off the ground, a structural flaw that is perhaps more fatal in a novella than in a longer work, and ultimately fizzles just when it seems ready to pop. Another problem for me is that the mechanism of sleep donation and transfusion, which seems to involve a tangible substance being somehow extracted, never really gets explained enough to justify the willing suspension of disbelief necessary for literary sci-fi to work. Still, there’s enough in the way of potential and nifty turns of prose here to suggest that Russell might just produce a book worthy of her status as a McArthur Genius recipient soon. ...more
When I finished The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, the anchor novella in this collection of stories, I was ready to proclaim Ms. McCullers superior to FlanneWhen I finished The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, the anchor novella in this collection of stories, I was ready to proclaim Ms. McCullers superior to Flannery and Eudora and even Bill Faulkner himself. And this was without ever cracking open The Heart is a Lonlely Hunter, her first novel,a book that seems to make everyone who's read it gush about how someone so young (she was 23 when it was published) could write so movingly and beautifully about love and loss. My ardor cooled a little after reading the stories that round out the collection, which are all very good but lacking somewhat in comparison, lovely little moons that can hardly be seen held so close to the blinding sun of brilliance that is The Ballad of the Sad Cafe.
is just that good, a perfectly crafted story that packs the devastation of an epic novel into its scant 72 pages. The love triangle that erupts between the mannish, flint-hearted Miss Amelia, her hunchback cousin, and her violent ex-husband lays bare the human heart, which McCullers probes with surgical precision. The other stories here can't keep up the same pitch, which diminishes the overall effect. Still, this is an impressive collection, and McCullers belongs in the top tier of Southern writers on the strength of the title story alone. ...more
I didn't know what to expect from Portis, knowing only two things about him before I started The Dog of the South:
1) He wrote the book that became TrI didn't know what to expect from Portis, knowing only two things about him before I started The Dog of the South:
1) He wrote the book that became True Grit, which I must admit I've never seen because I hate John Wayne, knowing only his ridiculously jingoistic war movies.
2) An avid reader friend of mine, the same one who gave me this book, begins frothing at the mouth at the very mention of Portis, proclaiming his genius in much the same fashion that The Dog of the South's Dr. Reo Symes canonizes the fictional J.S. Dix, an enigmatic writer of advice manuals for salesmen.
I certainly wasn't expecting this picaresque road novel brimming with satire worthy of Twain and Cervantes, blindingly brilliant without ever taking itself too seriously.
Portis' characters flail around and bump off of one another, all with their heads so far up their own asses that any kind of genuine connection with one another is impossible. It's a lucid dream of the world that seems especially prescient now, in a 21st century America filled with conspiracy theorists and political and religious extremists screaming at one another across unswimmable gulfs of perception, all wrapped up in their own comfortable little myopic world views and making a great clamor of sound and fury. It's a quest novel about longing and finding a way in the world, a trip down the continent of North America akin to Huck Finn's trip down the Mississippi. It's the funniest novel you're probably ever going to read, and damn near the best. ...more