i want to say, about this, that it strikes me as worthy, and informative, even mandatory, but that it doesn't do anything very different from the multi want to say, about this, that it strikes me as worthy, and informative, even mandatory, but that it doesn't do anything very different from the multiple (though unfortunately too few) slave narratives already in existence. except, of course, the creative flair of the railway, and the depiction of individual states as states of mind, with some compendium of post-slavery abuse of african american bodies. the way whitehead puts together in this novel various african american views about slavery, and the recovery from slavery, and the moving on from slavery, is also interesting. but as i said, this may be seen as a compendium -- informative, but it didn't blow my mind. ...more
i marvel at the magic that was the harlem renaissance, when african american writers and artists, still fresh from the civil war, during jim fucking ci marvel at the magic that was the harlem renaissance, when african american writers and artists, still fresh from the civil war, during jim fucking crow, carved themselves a space in which to talk about race so freely, so controversially, so open-woundedly, you know the world would not be the same if the harlem renaissance hadn't happened. and thank you thank you thank you harlem renaissance for having opened space for women and queer people with such generosity. wow, what a time.
the language of this book alone testifies to a freedom of experimentation that blows the mind (the 20s were good from this point of view for everyone in the english speaking world, though, not just for african american authors). larsen, a nurse by training, writes FANTASTICALLY, using fragments, repetition, rephrasings and idiosyncratic language with a freedom that feels amazing to this 21st century reader. so much so that i want to go back and re-read, not only Passing, but also James Baldwin's nonfiction, Zora Neale Hurston, and all these magical writers who can shed some light on the horror and pain of these brutal american days (for posterity, i'm writing this as african american men and woman are slain by the police with the disregard and impunity of rats, daily). i feel that if you are white and a reader and live in america in 2016, it is pretty much your duty to read up on african american literature. cuz the stories, the stories -- how else can you get the stories that led us here? who will say them to you? the books, that's who.
the protagonist of Quicksand, helga crane, is a woman who does not belong anywhere. she tries this and tries that and nothing works. the book ends abruptly, something critics have not liked, but i liked the end cuz it displaced me. you can't wrap up this story. this story won't let itself be wrapped up (see what i just did? this is the kind of rephrasing larsen employs throughout the book. love).
and of course the book is about what it means to belong, to be an african american, and whether "being an african american" has to mean anything at all. and it's also about what it means to be an african american woman, a sexually alive african american woman, who feels impossible and inappropriate desires and doesn't know quite how to satisfy them, most likely because there is no way to do so.
but to me, to me this book is about a shitty childhood, and how a shitty childhood leaves you unmoored forever, bereft of a home, a place to call your own, a place in which you know you will find love. to me, this is a story of trauma -- racialized trauma, for sure, but also the basic trauma of an abandoned childhood. ...more
i have serious love for attica locke. i think she can do no wrong. i think she's basically perfect.
this is a genre/gender bending noir set in an encli have serious love for attica locke. i think she can do no wrong. i think she's basically perfect.
this is a genre/gender bending noir set in an enclave for well-to-do african americans originally set up in the 1940s in houston. the premise under which the city of plesantville was created is a bit iffy. there is nothing wrong of course and everything right for embattled jim-crow-era black people to want to have a safe haven for themselves. but then you have the pesky question of class, and you know that it's going to blow up in their faces at some point.
the bendingness comes from the fact that the story is seriously hard-bitten, with a male protagonist who gets attacked and beaten right left and center but still upholds the right and the good and doesn't give up. since i listened to this in audiobook and the voice artist is a dude, it was hard to remember that the book is written by a woman. also, not a whole lot of hard-bitten noir out there with black protagonists (Chester Himes, Walter Mosley, others?), yes?
the story is about a homicide, and the narrative is riveting and beautifully paced. but then the book turns out to be about the deterioration of civil rights and voting rights, and the role african americans themselves may have played in this deterioration. meaningfully, it is set during the last term of the clinton administration and at the eve of the first g. w. bush administration.
it's also about the erosion of american democracy and the tremendous lure of corporate power, to which people succumb at the expense of values they hold dear -- which certainly requires a certain amount of ethical pretzling. the picture of america that emerges is nothing to laugh about.
i liked so much that locke adopted this beleaguered-and-unwilling-male-detective tone; that she appropriated a very male genre and rendered it flawlessly (and why why why did the press decide that it was better to have the novel read by a male actor? why not stick with the bendingness and have a woman read it?).
i loved that jay, the protagonist, loves his family and his kids so fiercely, and i love his rapport with his teenage daughter, which has, as it should, central place in the book. i recently read Mat Johnson's Loving Day, at the center of which also lies a tender father-teenage-daughter relationship, and it's oh-so-nice to see black men portrayed as awesome fathers.
i loved that he owns a gun but the gun is never where he needs it when he needs it. well, except for once. but then no one dies.
i love this book so much. thank you thank you thank you.
this may well be the most beautiful coming-of-age novel i've ever read. it's so non-clichéi love this book so much. thank you thank you thank you.
this may well be the most beautiful coming-of-age novel i've ever read. it's so non-clichéd and, you know, the author, just like the protagonist, is a poet, so basically every page is a poem.
the most astounding feature of this slender book is the treatment of sex. adolescent queer desire; straight puppy sex that is not exactly puppy-esque; the secret sex of not-very-sexual middle-aged same-sex lovers; the sex that inevitably passes between a mother and a child, a father and a(n older) child; rape (yah); and then some more mature same-sex attraction. it's all done so intelligently and so daringly, and even when it feels transgressive and icky it's still intelligent, delicate and smart.
love is sex is desire is love is tenderness is dedication is freedom is sex is desire is love. love can be entrapping or it can be safe. you have to pick your love carefully. if you can. (heartbreak.)
this is a book written by a feminist author who has no desire to traumatize her reader, but means to enrich her at every turn with the power of beauty, feeling, strength, and language.
if you are feeling like the world is a heavy place, this may be the book for you. ...more
i need to say, first off, that poetry in english is really hard for me. i can do poetry in italian, but poetry in english, tough, man.
but a friend of mine agreed to read this with me, and the experience was intense. because saeed jones is nothing if not intense.
i'm writing this before reading any review at all, because i'm sure other people's reviews will intimidate me and push me to silence. here goes.
throat. the speaker's throat is all over the text. throats are oh so vulnerable. so easily punched in, smashed, stuffed. but they are also oh so powerful, the source of our voice, the receptacles of so many pleasures -- gustatory, sexual.
father. this is a long anguished dirge to a father who could have been but wasn't. and then was taken. before things could be set to right. i miss you dad. i hate you dad. i miss you dad. come back dad. look what a good boy i am now. look: i have published a book of poems. i am famous, dad. will you like me now?
invisible mother. barely there. where are women when abusive men massacre their kids? all too often they are being massacred themselves.
pain. dang. pain pain pain. you are so young saeed, and life has already given you so much bitterness.
gender fluctuation and prostitution and drugs: stop living so dangerously, saeed.
race. bitter fruit. katrina. the exxon valdez oil spill. james bird jr.. slavery. swamps. briar patches. running running running from the dogs.
fantastic animals, long dry grass, fire, water -- objects/sites of delight, objects/sites of agony and fear.
this is what i got. so many lines worth copying, but other have done it so go read their review. gorgeous language and this: simple, even common feelings/experiences described with astoundingly powerful one-liners. ...more
so look, this is kind of genius, the genius book that you really want to read again from the beginning so that you can get the million things you missso look, this is kind of genius, the genius book that you really want to read again from the beginning so that you can get the million things you missed. cuz laymon covers a whole lot of black culture and history in this book, and the richness of it, starting from the extremely cool and deft language, deserves a ton of accolades alone. so consider me blown away k?
1. i am not a fan of twainesque, fast-talking, smart-mouthed, boy-narrated literature. just not a fan. it doesn't rock my boat. heck, i didn't even finish The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, so you see, i'm really bad at this kind of literature.
2. the masculine stuff really puts me off. not a thing i can do about it. i realize that if you have a teenage boy narrating a book you will probably want to stick in some masturbation and quite a bit of talk about genitals, but me, it puts me off. (it's really not primary, as it probably is in Oscar Wao -- remember that i didn't finish it; didn't get past chapter one, if you want to know the truth -- so don't let this dissuade you from reading the book if you are not really, really put off by it)
3. most of all, i don't buy and don't understand all the mystical stuff. this comes near the end so i'll put it under spoiler tags. (view spoiler)[the whole back-and-forth between time periods, with consequent personal meaning for the arc of the narrator's life, is good ol' time-travel mind-fuckery, which is always quite fun. but at the end it gets folded into a whole new narrative of racial redemption or salvation, and, first, i find this very obscure, second, i find it over-reaching in a boring and annoying way. maybe it would be less annoying if it were clearer, but shrouded in mysticism as it is, well, it didn't work for me. (hide spoiler)]
so these are the reasons for my low rating, even though i stayed up until 4 fekkin AM to finish it!...more
i would like to review this book here for you all but i can't, because GR is bullying everyone, taking away our right to be, and showing itself to bei would like to review this book here for you all but i can't, because GR is bullying everyone, taking away our right to be, and showing itself to be profoundly ungrateful to people who have provided content here for years for free, and my buddy octavia, may her lovely soul rest in peace, would most definitely be against bullying and ungraciousness. so i'll tell you a story instead.
the author of Donald Davidson, philosopher Simon Evnine, used to live in west l.a. and when he lived there he had this absolutely unreliably mustang. i knew nothing from nothing so i was duly impressed when he told me that a mustang was a really cool car to have, that mustangs were fast and powerful cars, that mustangs were prestigious cars. i was so impressed that i really didn't care that the car wouldn't go more than one block without stalling, bucking, sneezing, coughing, and being stubborn, which, on hindsight, and with a better knowledge of the english language, i see was an entirely appropriate behavior. the mustang also released really bad fumes, which, even in hindsight, i can't find any appropriateness for (unless you want to equate fumes=poop, and i'm not willing to go there). (reader beware: this is a gun that won't discharge.)
one day Donald Davidson's author and i took a trip to san francisco, in the mustang. it was thanksgiving and the california hills and valleys could not have been more beautiful.
unlike the california valley of The Grapes of Wrath, however, this valley was as dry as a bone. in fact, when i say that it could not have been more beautiful, it is my readjusted memory that's talking. at the time, i was so utterly confused by the mere existence of such a landscape, and so utterly bereft by the lack of proximity of real mountains (where real mountains=the alps), or, in other words, so fucking homesick, that my reaction to the landscape was one of incredulity and dismay. what was i doing here? what were these burnt hills with no vegetation except stubbly yellow grass and the occasional isolated tree? where were the lush green, the vineyards, the old curvy roads, the ancient dry rock farmhouses that in my mind designated life on the planet earth?
so, you see, i wasn't in the best of moods. one could even say that i was pretty despondent.
and then i saw that this earth, this yellow dry-as-a-bone moonlike earth had cracks. largish genuine cracks, like the heat and dryness were too much and, like unmosturized skin, the earth has simply cracked open. the cracks were big enough for maybe three people to stand comfortably inside them. at least that's what it looked like from the car. i had to stop the merry chat Donald Davidson's author and i were merrily conducting to ask, "simon, do you think there are snakes in the cracks?"
being a man who doesn't pronounce even tentatively on things he has no way of knowing, Donald Davidson's author responded, not unreasonably you might think, "i have no idea."
i, being a person whose belief system and speech is made up entirely of untested hypotheses and flights of fancy, asked again, "but what do you think?"
Donald Davidson's author couldn't understand the question. please do realize that he didn't know me well at all, and he had never in his entire life been pushed to give an opinion about something he knew nothing about.
an exchange ensued. i would call it an argument, even a very heated argument, but that would be airing dirty laundry in public so i'll just leave it at conversation. the gist of it was:
but you can guess!
but i don't have any basis on which to guess!
there was born the "are there snakes in the cracks?" trope of our micro-civilization. when Donald Davidson's author doesn't have any opinion at all about something but is pushed, by me, to pronounce, he remembers, "are there snakes in the cracks?" and assuredly says "yes" or "no," depending on his mood, on butterflies batting their wings in asia, the vicissitudes of el ninõ or some such (non) random phenomenon. me, i'm entirely satisfied.
a proper review of this book will be provided when i finish reading the third volume of the trilogy and it will be posted on Booklikes. i will provide a link, so come back!
THIS REVIEW IS CLEARLY IN VIOLATION OF ALL THAT IS SACRED IN THE WORLD, NOT TO MENTION THE GOODREADS' TOS. PLEASE FLAG IT FOR BEING ENTIRELY IRRELEVANT TO THE BOOK IN QUESTION, FOR ATTACKING A GR AUTHOR AND FOR ITS GENERAL CUSSEDNESS AND INAPPROPRIATENESS. THANK YOU.
for jakaem: this is the second installment. ...more
i'm going to review this classic without reading anyone else's review (i'll read them later), because the experience of reading it was so powerful fori'm going to review this classic without reading anyone else's review (i'll read them later), because the experience of reading it was so powerful for me, i want to try to convey it here intact. this is my fourth octavia butler, after Parable of the Sower, Fledgling and Wild Seed. butler is pretty consistent in her themes, but not until this time was i able to see precisely what she's doing.
this "precisely" indicates the level of power this book had for me, not the truth of what octavia butler is in fact doing. what i mean is, while reading this book i had a precise sense of what she was talking about. this precise sense is a merging of butler as a writer and me as a reader. it is unique. it doesn't speak of anyone else's experience, or at least of the experience of those readers who didn't come to this book with the same general set of issues and apprehensions and emotions with which i did.
it seems to me that all of butler's book are about love. in Sower the protagonist is an empath. she cannot helps feeling what others within a certain spatial range feel -- not their feelings, but their pain. feeling others' pain is love. wanting to alleviate this pain -- because it becomes our pain -- is love. in Fledgling the vampires love the humans they bond with absolutely. their love is so powerful that losing one of these humans devastates them. again, love brings enormous vulnerability. loving involves the possibility, maybe even the certainty, that sooner or later you will feel terrible pain. in both books, there is a salvific element. i'm using the christian word, maybe wrongly, but i can't think of another one. in Sower humanity truly positively needs to be saved from destruction.
in this book humanity has already managed to self-destruct though war and nuclear annihilation. the planet has been rendered uninhabitable. enter the oankali, an extraterrestrial species that plucks from earth the few survivors, puts them in hibernation to be able to study them, and in the meantime restores the earth to salubriousness. it also destroys all ruins, with the precise intention of giving humans a blank slate.
250 years later our protagonist, lillith, is awakened from her suspended animation and restored to normality. she's on the oankali's ship, prisoner. she is at first treated like a prisoner, too, and subject to interrogation by invisible and patiently stubborn interrogators. eventually she is told that she, along some of the humans who have also been saved (the ones most fit for such enterprise, and also the ones willing) will be sent back to earth to start from scratch, or almost (they won't have to redo stone age, obviously, and they will have some modern tools). but there is a catch. in order to survive as a species, the oankali need regularly (we are talking in terms of thousands of years, i imagine) to find another species with which to merge. the humans are incredibly attractive and stunning for them, a real find. they find them to be full of untapped potential, and really amazing from a number of points of view.
here starts the delicate and brutal love dance between lillith, presumably chosen for her specialness to be the first to do this, and the oankali who are specifically designated to deal with her as her family.
lillith resents the oankali because there are many aspects of her future (and her present) the oankali have decided for her and about which she doesn't have a choice. for one, she can't leave the ship and go to earth on her own, refusing the oankali's help and, above all, their intention to merge with her and the other humans. she is a prisoner. but it's also true that the oankali give her all sorts of freedoms and choices, including to refuse them (in which case she won't get to go to earth). also, and this is the other part of the equation, the oankali have saved her, continue to save her, and are incredibly kind to her. what i am saying is, if someone were that kind to me, spoke to me like that, used that kind of respect and treated me like i am the most precious things ever, i'd find it pretty damn seductive. who doesn't want to be loved like that? but there is a price, of course, and the price is a certain kind of freedom. she does have the freedom to say no, but she doesn't have the freedom to shape her life as if she were alone.
this is where the story and my own thoughts/emotions/beliefs converge. 'cause, do we ever have the freedom to shape our life as if we were alone? and if we do, which we don't, but if we manage to do it as much as possible, isn't there a price to pay? i am not saying that those who choose to live like this are doing something wrong. god no. i am saying that those who abandon the world and go live in a cabin in the mountains with dogs and pets but no other humans (which is the extreme case of going it alone) do pay a price, a price they may be very happy to pay but which most of us simply cannot pay. and then it goes without saying that they, too, rely on others in some respects, just because of the way societies and the world have evolved.
so, the way i read this book, when lillith struggles against the amazingly seductive, warm, loving, and respectful captivity of the oankali, she is fighting against giving in to love, salvation, maybe even a superior form of freedom. because the oankali to whom she's bound give her moments that are so special, it's hard for her to walk away from them, and to acknowledge that she's walking toward them of her own free will.
this is the gist of what i wanted to say. there are other things here, trademark butler themes: the leader is always a woman, a black woman, and she is formidable at the same time as she is also vulnerable. she does get hurt, but she is strong as all get out. she has vision. she understands others. she gets it.
sex is a fluid thing, a merging of bodies and minds and hearts that is sublime and special. the gender of the other person doesn't matter. the species of the other (humanoid -- no bestiality in butler) person doesn't matter. the appearance doesn't matter. the number doesn't matter. what matters is intense, unbelievable erotics mixed with something so deep and alluring, it makes you willing to give your life for it. i call it love. it is love.
this is what i mostly got from this book. lillith is being taught how to love in a way that makes her rebel but also give in. the struggle, as i see it, is a struggle that comes from the very same traits that have made humanity destroy itself, and that would make humanity destroy itself again if it weren't for the loving (and pained: the oankali love too, and therefore suffer) teachings of the oankali.
at some point, the oankali tell lillith that humans have one exceptionally good feature and one feature that dooms them. i don't remember the exceptionally good feature but i remember the dooming one -- a pernicious tendency to arrange themselves hierarchically. i had the duration of the book to mull this over and i think butler gets it exactly right.
ETA and now that i browsed the reviews i see that people think poorly of the oankali, who to me are adorable. what do you know. ...more
i am, doubtless, doing a grave injustice to this book, which will be probably rectified the moment i read reviews and secondary material on it. but ii am, doubtless, doing a grave injustice to this book, which will be probably rectified the moment i read reviews and secondary material on it. but i have a prejudice against alice walker. she seems to me, for an accumulation of reasons none of which sits discreetly in my mind, identifiable, a sloppy writer. say this book. the story is powerful and powerfully told. but then there's a whole lot of anthropology thrown in, and some etymology, and some sort of grand historical theory of patriarchy and the submission of women, and when you scratch the surface a tiny little bit you realize that it's made up. i didn't scratch the whole surface, so it's entirely possible that some of it -- the core of it? -- may not be made up. but when i scratched i found sloppiness or unabashed invention (some invention is openly acknowledged in the postscript) and, well, i am not sure i liked it.
i could be persuaded, but, right now, i don't see why alice walker needs to come up with an invented nomenclature (say) for stuff that truly exists. she doesn't offer any reason and i don't see a reason myself.
so this is what took the book south for me. the first part is beautiful, but then, well, i stopped being engaged, because i felt i was being taken for a ride, and i become unconvinced with everything. what is the relationship between adam and lisette all about? what is its narrative purpose? how do people (reviewers, etc.) know that tashi is treated by carl jung? are the clay figurines for real? do women really leave refugee camps because otherwise they'd be asked to work? what?
nice treatment of post-traumatic mental pain, and powerful, powerful indictment of genital mutilation. i thought i knew about it but i didn't know a thing. genital mutilation must stop. ...more