So there's this rhetorical strategy some people use to write about racism (/sexism/classism/any-ism), which is to incorporate really bigoted ideas inSo there's this rhetorical strategy some people use to write about racism (/sexism/classism/any-ism), which is to incorporate really bigoted ideas in order to expose them and open up a dialogue about them. I love it when Spike Lee does it. Other times it's kind of touch-and-go ("Bruno," anyone?). The painfully stereotypical "Chin-Kee" in American Born Chinese didn't really do it for me, although I understand the point that Yang is trying to make ~ everyone has to wrestle with their demons in order to finally arrive at self-acceptance. I also don't know if I agree with his overarching argument that you should never try to change as a person, even if this means growing wiser, stronger, more disciplined -- Yang argues that "a monkey should always just be a monkey." I think there's some middle ground that he's ignoring. But overall, this was a good, intelligent graphic novel that grapples with some tough issues ~ race, adolescence and identity....more
George and Martha inspired me to write my own book about hippos when I was in third grade. It involved the underground railroad (which I thought was lGeorge and Martha inspired me to write my own book about hippos when I was in third grade. It involved the underground railroad (which I thought was literally a railroad reached by trapdoor) and a claw-foot bathtub....more
OK, so I didn't really finish this one, which is kind of a new thing for me -- not finishing books. I was listening to this collection of short storieOK, so I didn't really finish this one, which is kind of a new thing for me -- not finishing books. I was listening to this collection of short stories on audio, and I was really getting into some of them. "The Wizards of Perfil" in particular was pretty spectacular. Kelly Link has definitely created her own aesthetic with recurring themes of dragon tattoos, spaceships, board games and magic tricks. But I just got bored with it about 5 stories in. This would be a fun book to have around on your nightstand and pick up from time to time when the mood strikes you....more
More like "Two Batty Ladies." I can imagine these women being in Charles Bukowski or Hunter S. Thompson novels, except with the tables turned to the fMore like "Two Batty Ladies." I can imagine these women being in Charles Bukowski or Hunter S. Thompson novels, except with the tables turned to the female perspective -- a very odd female perspective, full of fluid human desires. But at the same time it reads like a hilarious novel of English manners, set in New York, with divorcees, sailors, and cheap motels. In the end, though, it's all about the mysterious quest for redemption, and searching for something obsessively without really knowing what you've lost....more
As much as it pains me to say this, I just didn't like Liar very much. I think Larbalestier is a smart writer and I really dig the politics of identitAs much as it pains me to say this, I just didn't like Liar very much. I think Larbalestier is a smart writer and I really dig the politics of identity that she tackles in this book. Micah is a pretty complex narrator, and Larbalestier has eloquently written in a lot of layers for the reader to ponder and admire. But yeah, the story itself actually made me really really bored. I don't know if it was the pacing, or the complicated story arc, or what. Anway -- sad....more
This is a really cool kids' book. So many layers -- mystery & intrigue; maturity & sacrifice; identity politics; socio-economic and mental heaThis is a really cool kids' book. So many layers -- mystery & intrigue; maturity & sacrifice; identity politics; socio-economic and mental health challenges; evolving relationships with friends; evolving relationships with parents; even bizarre sci-fi elements. Stead handles all of this with absolute confidence and finesse. The outcome might be a little predictable for adult readers, but that doesn't mean it's any less satisfying -- in the end it delivers an interesting message about love found in unusual places....more
Toni Morrison’s Beloved is ghostly, strange and mysterious, and remains one of my all-time favorite books. Using the novel as a canvas to push the bouToni Morrison’s Beloved is ghostly, strange and mysterious, and remains one of my all-time favorite books. Using the novel as a canvas to push the boundaries of a mother’s love, she inspires me to explore the unexplored and to ask forbidden questions....more
I can understand why The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake gets mixed reviews. It's not for everyone, and it might not even be for you.
It's a very weirI can understand why The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake gets mixed reviews. It's not for everyone, and it might not even be for you.
It's a very weird book, with a very weird premise, and it's hard to know what exactly even happens. On the surface, it's a story about a disaffected little girl whose parents grow distant via an extra-marital affair, and an older brother who disappears one day. You could get away with leaving it at that, and say there's just a little derivative magical realism sprinkled in for good measure, and you'd be kind of right. "She can taste other people's emotions in her cake. Big deal."
And so maybe it's just the mood I was in when I picked it up, but the fact is that I couldn't have loved The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake any more. For me, the bizarre magical elements take a mundane little story about teenage girl angst into the realm of the inexplicable, the confusing, & the sublime. I won't give away what happens to her brother -- it's so weird! -- but the thing is, even though what happens is physically impossible, it still feels a real way that I've felt before. In dreams? In small, secret places....more
Last week while I was in line for coffee, I got asked if I was a psychopath.
This wasn’t because I look psychopathic (I hope), but because I was carryiLast week while I was in line for coffee, I got asked if I was a psychopath.
This wasn’t because I look psychopathic (I hope), but because I was carrying a copy of Jon Ronson’s newest book, The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, under my arm. It’s my favorite book of the moment, and the one I’m going to badger everyone I know to read.
I’ve been a huge fan of Jon Ronson’s since I first encountered his non-fiction book, The Men Who Stare at Goats, in a used book store in Burlington, VT, circa 2007. The Men Who Stare At Goats is loosely about U.S. Army officers who try to harness psychic energy in an attempt to disintegrate live goats, and since its publication in 2004, it’s been turned into a film starring George Clooney, Kevin Spacey, Ewan McGregor and Jeff Bridges, and Ronson has been invited as a regular contributor to NPR’s This American Life.
Ronson’s forte is weird fringe journalism, wherein he investigates psychic and paranormal military ops, extraterrestrial theories, Roswell type stuff, and now, psychopathy. But the thing that makes him so much more than a run of the mill conspiracy theorist is his knack for serious journalistic endeavors: how did our psy-ops military culture lead up to Abu Graib? How foolproof is the rubric we use to label people psychopaths? And should we be more concerned about the psychopaths who are in prison, or the ones who are running the world’s biggest corporations?
From the Stockwell Strangler to former Sunbeam CEO Al Dunlap, Jon Ronson sets out on a quest to understand the nature of psychopathy and power. (According to Bob Hare, creator of the Psychopathy Checklist Revised, at least 4% of our world leaders meet the minimum qualifications of psychopathy!) Ronson’s anecdotes are witty and revelatory, and will make you feel a little like you are able to identify the psychopaths in your own life. But at the heart of his investigation, Jon Ronson unveils his own unsettling hypothesis about our culture’s fascination with madness, and why we’re all sort-of comforted by those pill-popping personalities we see on reality TV.
If nothing else, The Psychopath Test is a fabulous conversation starter. I suggest you take it with you next time you go for coffee. You might get asked if you’re a psychopath....more
I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the tiny crocheted zombies, ninjas, and robots within these pages; this is the book that first introducI will always have a soft spot in my heart for the tiny crocheted zombies, ninjas, and robots within these pages; this is the book that first introduced me to amigurumi. In fact, I learned how to crochet just so I could use this book. (YouTube Donna taught me.) Literary bonus points: contains an amigurumi Cthulhu.
These lil guys are very cute, and pretty simple to make even for beginning crocheters. The layout and illustrations in Creepy Cute Crochet are easy to understand, and each pattern is categorized as "beginner," "intermediate," or "epic," which was helpful. Also loved that each creature was created from the same basic color palette, which made my evil mass production plot all the easier. I only had to buy 6 or 7 skeins of yarn to make the whole lot.
Some crafting books promise a lot in the title and don't deliver, but that wasn't the case with Creepy Cute Crochet!...more
The last time I wrote about “lightning rods,” we were talking counterrevolutionary icons in Marie Antoinette’s France. This is not that kind of lightnThe last time I wrote about “lightning rods,” we were talking counterrevolutionary icons in Marie Antoinette’s France. This is not that kind of lightning rod.
Helen DeWitt’s newest book has gotten juicy reviews, and with good reason. Because this is a family-friendly review, I’ll describe the plot as delicately as I can: a salesman tries selling Encyclopedia Britannica and Electrolux vacuum cleaners, and fails. Then he tries selling something a little more risqué -- “Lightning Rods” -- to small companies, and viola: success! As another reviewer has said, “let's just say it's about an innovative solution to a workplace challenge and that this innovation is controversial.” It’s these risqué bits that have gotten Lightning Rods so much attention, and sure enough, the story is shocking and fun for those who enjoy that kind of thing. But the last laugh’s on the reader, because these parts of the story are written in such a matter-of-fact, utilitarian way that they don’t ultimately satisfy in the way you might expect. As the leading lady, Elaine, would say, “It’s a lot like going to the toilet.”
And that’s the point. Lightning Rods is not really meant to titillate, but rather to satirize the absurdity of a corporate sales culture in which the weirdest things slide in the spirit of turning a profit. The story follows the same arc as those nineteenth century American novels that have scrappy little shoeshine boys pulling themselves up by their bootstraps to make a living in the land of opportunity. Sales! Progress! But, asks Lightning Rods, what happens when we stop talking about shoes and start talking about other, more morally ambiguous, stuff? DeWitt especially shines when she deadpans about the techno-rational focus groups, test cases, and scientific studies (with baboons!) that we use to justify obviously terrible sales choices.
Finally, Kansas readers will appreciate DeWitt’s Kansas City vignette, in which the protagonist, Joe, travels to the Big K to open up his second office. There he sees a dwarf on a bus reading John Foster Dulles (“JFD”), and has this epiphany about Kansas:
"Joe was wondering why it was that Kansas had never acquired a reputation for being strange. If somebody can go around calling John Foster Dulles JFD and nobody bats an eyelash you have to ask yourself what are the rest of them like? And no sooner had he asked himself why word hadn't gotten out than the answer came to him, just like that. The reason nobody knew about it was that normal people never came to see what was going on."
Lightning Rods is not DeWitt’s The Last Samurai, and it’s not Nicholson Baker’s classic erotic workplace novel Vox, but it is a pretty perfect little piece of corporate satire. Recommended for anyone who needs a little break from office culture....more
I've got a literary crush on Daniel Woodrell, who's the author of Winter's Bone and Lawrence Public Library's guest of honor for Read Across LawrenceI've got a literary crush on Daniel Woodrell, who's the author of Winter's Bone and Lawrence Public Library's guest of honor for Read Across Lawrence in September 2012.
Mr. Woodrell first launched his writing career as a crime novelist with his haunting and gritty Bayou Trilogy featuring Detective Rene Shade in the Louisiana swamp town of Saint Bruno, a place where "tempers went on the prowl and relief was driving a hard bargain." Soon after came Woe to Live On, which was adapted into the Ang Lee film Ride With the Devil and explores the dark and twisty undertones of Quantrill's Bushwhackers and their raid on Lawrence, KS. Winter's Bone is one of his most recent works, and familiar as the inspiration for the film that was a multiple Oscar contender in 2010.
Curious to see what Daniel Woodrell had been up to since Winter's Bone, I cracked open his newest book, The Outlaw Album, a collection of short stories set in his ancestral home of the Missouri Ozarks.
To characterize Woodrell's work just as tough and gritty would be to miss out on some of its finer nuances. Following in the footsteps of other southern gothic writers like Flannery O'Connor, William Faulkner and Cormac Carthy, Daniel Woodrell knows a thing or two about how to turn a sentence. His work is infused with eerie dreamlike enigmas, a quality that really shines through in the short story format. In one of my favorites from the collection, "Night Stand," a Vietnam war vet named Pelham is attacked by an intruder and defends himself with a knife that mysteriously appears on his nightstand. The intruder is killed, and for the rest of the story the question gnaws at Pelham: how'd he get that knife? He never solves the mystery, but instead becomes obsessed with his deceased attacker.
The other stories in the collection are equally tragic with fabulous first sentences: "Once Boshell finally killed his neighbor he couldn't seem to quit killing him." "Morrow wondered if he might soon die because of a beautiful girl from his teens he'd never had the nerve to approach." "My brother left no footprints as he fled."
Most of the characters who populate The Outlaw Album are unfussy tough guys who don't suffer fools: handy with shotguns, suspicious of fancy outsiders. But a few have softer sides: the convict with a surprise gift for poetry. The army private who processes difficult emotions by creating fantastical paintings (of cows). The girl with penny-colored hair who wears swan-winged glasses and a crinkled black dress, and whose "words put special color to events." There's beauty and humor to be sniffed out from tragic passages.
In a Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross, Woodrell has said that he likes to write about people who are easy to dislike; he wants to coax the reader into caring about somebody she or he wouldn't usually care about. These are the characters of The Outlaw Album, and if you look closely, you'll glimpse their redemption -- writ however quiet or small....more