Not the best in the series, but a perfectly satisfying pot boiler. I particularly enjoyed the Cold War setting and the way that Indridason highlightedNot the best in the series, but a perfectly satisfying pot boiler. I particularly enjoyed the Cold War setting and the way that Indridason highlighted the conflict Icelanders felt about the US military occupation.
First off, Puerto Ricans are Americans. I just want to establish that right away because I'm always surprised by the number of Americans that don't knFirst off, Puerto Ricans are Americans. I just want to establish that right away because I'm always surprised by the number of Americans that don't know that. Also, knowing that, it makes the US policy towards Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans even more depressing.
What Denis does here is present a compelling (if admittedly one-sided) history of the island and how that history manifested in an ultimately failed attempt at independence in the 1950's. Along the way he highlights many of the atrocities the people of Puerto Rico and their leaders have both suffered and made possible. Reading these kinds of histories can be frustrating. You want to find a silver lining, but it's tough to find one when you're reading about torture that sounds frighteningly similar to "enhanced interrogation." Again, I repeat, Puerto Ricans are Americans.
I picked up this book mainly because I'm interested in the financial catastrophe that's unfolding on the island today. Because of their unique colonial status they can neither file for bankruptcy nor go to international bodies like the IMF for cash. Granted, neither of these are good options, but they seem a lot rosier when you consider that the US Congress is on the verge of installing a financial oversight scheme that will further undercut Puerto Rican's limited autonomy. Denis' analysis, while not specifically about the debt crisis, helps to contextualize how we got to this point.
I recommend this book for anybody who is interested in American history, politics, or narratives that explore the ongoing ramifications of colonization, predatory capitalism, and straight-up racism. Really, the situation is deplorable.
I'll be honest, when the book opened with Truman's grandparents settling in Missouri, I almost gave up. Presidential biographies are long enough (thisI'll be honest, when the book opened with Truman's grandparents settling in Missouri, I almost gave up. Presidential biographies are long enough (this one clocks in at over 1100 pages) without giving extensive family history. But I'm glad I stuck it out. I'm pretty foggy on American history of this period (I barely knew Truman was the one to drop the bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima), so it was a really good way to close a few loops.
The Truman years were an interesting political moment for a variety of reasons. Not only did they mark the beginning of American global dominance, but they also saw the beginnings of the Cold War. So much of his administration was dedicated to preserving the hard won peace of WWII, but it's important to note that Truman thought of peace on a global scale. Clearly, he was willing to go to war in Korea in hopes of containing Communism in Asia.
Additionally, the post-war period was probably the last time somebody could get away with claiming they were for civil rights in public while in private writing things like this: One man was as good as another, he thought, “so long as he’s honest and decent and not a nigger or a Chinaman.”... “It is race prejudice I guess. But I am strongly of the opinion that negroes ought to be in Africa, yellow men in Asia, and white men in Europe and America.” Which is not to suggest that Truman was soft on civil rights. He actually did a lot on that score (desegregating the armed forces and civil service, for instance), even if in later years he allowed his private feelings to occasionally be made public, a development that led his former Secretary of State and close friend, Dean Acheson, to caution him to consider his legacy before speaking on race issues. For what it's worth, Truman was progressive enough to prompt a third-party challenge from Strom Thurman, the famously racist and long-lived senator from South Carolina, in the '48 election. As we know, Truman famously won that contest, beating out both Thurman and Dewey.
We can also thank Truman for getting the ball rolling on health care. This being an election year, we're hearing a lot about the Affordable Care Act and as Hillary Clinton rightly pointed out in the Democratic debates, the party has been striving for something like Obamacare since Truman's day. Though he would ultimately be unable to make much progress on health care during his administration, Medicare (and later the ACA) is certainly part of the Truman legacy.
There's a lot more to discuss about Truman, but I think I'll stop there. This was a good read, if a bit over long. In the end, I wouldn't say that I "like" Truman, but reading about him and his time in office has certainly given me a better perspective on the post-war period and a taste of how modern American politics works out. I'm hoping to tackle Robert Caro's behemoth, multi-volume biography of LBJ later this year, so stay tuned.
Full disclosure, this author and I share a publisher. With that said, I loved this book. It started a little slow for me but picked up near the middleFull disclosure, this author and I share a publisher. With that said, I loved this book. It started a little slow for me but picked up near the middle. By the end, I was staying up late trying to squeeze one more chapter in before bed. Much has been said about the mental illness aspects of the story; the NYT did a good write-up about it. I, instead, want to focus on the sense of isolation that permeates the novel. I've long been a fan of books that separate their characters from the larger world and this is a classic example. Either because of aforementioned mental illness reasons or because of pride or fear or shame (or some combination of all three), the majority of the characters in The Border of Paradise find themselves living semi- or completely reclusive lives. This setting imbues the prose with a satisfying creepy air as well as provides for a more subtle reflection on the hyper-connectivity of contemporary life.
For me, Wang really hit her stride with the character of Gillian. She quickly became the novel's sense of curiosity and foreboding. Her relationship with her parents and her brother, William, was at once idyllic and deeply troubling. I like books that resist good/bad dichotomies. Nobody here can be dismissed or venerated without confronting a big asterisk hanging over their life choices. While the novel's structure of interspersed multiple narrators necessarily occluded some interesting backstory, nothing of great substance was lost. And having the various perspectives probably kept an already isolating story from tilting into straight-up claustrophobia.
Pick up a copy if you like dark family dramas told in beautiful prose.
In the vein of the Tales of the City books with a pinch more concern for middle-class respectability. The main tension is around whether or not RaymonIn the vein of the Tales of the City books with a pinch more concern for middle-class respectability. The main tension is around whether or not Raymond, a bisexual man, will pick the gay life or the straight one. Throughout we get a lot of hand-wringing over which gender he prefers in bed and emotionally. He's dealing with an embarrassment of riches here since his girlfriend and boyfriend (though he never uses that word) are both, seemingly, awesome people and great lays.
It was hard for me to read Invisible Life without judging it by contemporary standards. I really had to force myself to stay in an early 90's mindset. Even still, I kept thinking: Why choose? Maybe the sequels tackle that question in more depth, but I don't think I'll be reading them. While I zipped through this in two days, I was never really hooked and the level of craft was pretty off-putting (lots of unnecessary dialogue tags, passive voice run amuck, etc). I'm glad I read it from a historical perspective, though. I'm glad to have a deeper bench of black LGBT lit as a result of reading this.
One major quibble, Harris glossed over a lot of the gay sex, but made sure to dwell on the straight sex. I wouldn't say I was reading it for the sex, but there were times when the prospect of some hot man-on-man love was the only thing getting me through the ponderous prose. Also one question: Ladies, do breasts really get erect? Like, seriously, is that a thing? 'Cause they do here, a lot.
Martel's latest is completely engrossing and formally engaging. I went into it knowing absolutely nothing about the plot or the themes (though I had sMartel's latest is completely engrossing and formally engaging. I went into it knowing absolutely nothing about the plot or the themes (though I had some assumptions based on his earlier work). I won't go into too much detail here, but in a nutshell, the book is comprised of three related but largely independent narratives. Each thread gets its own (long) chapter. If you've read Martel before, you won't be surprised to come across a lot of animal allegory as well as a fair bit of religiosity. There's violence, too. That's something I always forget about his books: they are often heartbreakingly violent.
Martel stretches into new territory with this one. The magical realism that has long been a hallmark of his fiction takes on greater weight in The High Mountains of Portugal, primarily as a blunt device in service of his grander philosophical musings about the value of the simple life. In that sense, this book is much less a parable than, say, The Life of Pi or Beatrice and Virgil. While I feel I walked away with a good grasp of what's going on here, I will confess that a fair amount left me scratching my head. It's the kind of book that, no doubt, rewards multiple readings, and I look forward to doing just that one day.
John McManus’s new collection Fox Tooth Heart is a gripping, often tragic meditation on the vast distance betwOriginally appeared onLambda Literary
John McManus’s new collection Fox Tooth Heart is a gripping, often tragic meditation on the vast distance between inner life and outer expectations. Each of these nine stories create a rich world of personal struggle for their protagonists, worlds that tend to be characterized by an extreme dissonance of ability and opportunity where the very notion of salvation is called into question.
In “Gateway to the Ozarks,” a tragedy forces a crisis of identity for a young boy who is one of several clones of Thomas Jefferson placed with families throughout the country and across socio-economic lines in hopes of determining the limits of nurture versus nature. In “Cult Heroes,” Hunter, a mountain biking champion, wishes for emancipation from his Christian Scientist mother and sets off on a road trip to find his father on the eve of the government shutdown in 1995, a journey that culminates with the biking of the Grand Canyon. In “Bugaboo,” Max finds relief from crippling delusions in free-solo mountain climbing, setting in motion an inevitable confrontation between personal safety and personal well-being.
The impoverished circumstances of the Jefferson clone Carl Barton’s life repeat with great regularity for McManus’s characters who all seem to have drawn the short straw of privilege. But it’s Hunter and Max who best typify McManus’s protagonists. They are men endowed with extraordinary physical abilities who find themselves separated from a harmonious life by a deep chasm. Enabled by their gifts to rarefied realms of achievement, their coping skills narrow while their instincts to self-preservation tilt toward the increasingly desperate. To race down the Grand Canyon on a mountain bike or to free-solo the most foreboding peaks in Yosemite, is to telegraph that all is not well. Yet it is precisely these types of exploits that garner increased scrutiny, and with increased scrutiny comes a powerful impulse to retreat further into their compulsion, causing the situation to escalate. Speaking of the abusive relationship at the heart of the final story in the collection, “Blood Brothers.” McManus writes, “Sometimes he’d smack me upside the head, which we both liked.” One gets the sense that these men are running down the clock all the while goading the clock to tick faster.
Succor is in short supply in this collection as is equivocation. The book is too concerned with playing out the zero-sum scenario for that. Yet that is not to suggest a sadistic brutality with the reader. McManus’s muscular, sparse style cajoles the reader into epiphany the same way a drowning victim may cling to the neck of his savior. For the characters in these stories, the time for diplomacy has simply run out.
This was not a perfect book, but I was so enthralled by the good parts that I'm giving it five stars. Gornick's prose manages to be somehow both lushThis was not a perfect book, but I was so enthralled by the good parts that I'm giving it five stars. Gornick's prose manages to be somehow both lush and sparse. Comprised of brief sections with no chapter breaks, her guiding principle seems to be poignancy (and owes a debt to the Modernist novels she extols throughout).
In many ways, this is a memoir on the importance (and ephemerality) of human connections, and perhaps what I most enjoyed was the friendship at its heart. The book is largely structured by insightful, if all too brief, conversations between Gornick and her friend Leonard, "a gay man who is sophisticated about his own unhappiness." That description alone was enough to get me to buy the book! As you might imagine, this brief book tends towards the darker corners of solitude, but it's far from a joyless read. Gornick finds much to praise in the marginal life. The greatest reward, perhaps, is a sense of deep understanding. This is a writer who has spent a life observing and learning (and learning what does and does not interest her). The reader is in capable hands....more
I haven't felt the need to memorize a poem in a long time, but Kay Ray awoke that dormant part of me. There are so many beautiful little poems in hereI haven't felt the need to memorize a poem in a long time, but Kay Ray awoke that dormant part of me. There are so many beautiful little poems in here. I think I'll keep it by the bedside for a while, so I can read a couple before bed.
A change is coming. Some version of that statement is repeated by the aliens throughout the novel whenever they are pressed for an answer as to why thA change is coming. Some version of that statement is repeated by the aliens throughout the novel whenever they are pressed for an answer as to why they have come. Aside from being cryptic bordering on creepy, it's also pretty obvious and I was tempted to roll my eyes while reading. We can debate the pros and cons of alien invasion infinitely, but the one thing everybody can agree upon is that an alien invasion would definitely signal a dramatic change to the status quo. Still, I think it was a pretty savvy move by Okorafor, who is mostly interested in thinking through the implications of a symbiotic alien invasion. What if the aliens aren't here to invade? What if, instead, they want to help us out?
To be clear, when I write us I'm not limiting it to humans. The aliens first speak to the creatures of the sea and from there Lagoon proceeds from a position of assumed parity and dignity for all life on Earth (real, animate, inanimate, mythological, etc.). I liked this take. I though it was a fresh perspective on the invasion trope. Okorafor dispenses with the idea of malicious aliens early on. This technique allowed her to quickly move beyond the friend-or-foe suspense that bogs down too many stories about aliens. Right from the beginning, we're focused on how and why the protagonists, three people with seemingly nothing in common (a marine biologist, a rapper, and a soldier), have come together to help facilitate first contact. That tension is at the heart of this novel's aim. It's really all about the underlying connection between all of us. The aliens help our protagonists understand that change is possible and that collectively we already have the tools to accomplish it; all that's needed is the will.