When my friends at The Larryville Chronicles tweeted “There’s a line about ‘basic bitches’ in #LongDivision,” I knew I had to check it out. A little d...moreWhen my friends at The Larryville Chronicles tweeted “There’s a line about ‘basic bitches’ in #LongDivision,” I knew I had to check it out. A little digging revealed that this debut novel by Kiese Laymon was actually a finalist in the 2014 Tournament of the Books. After 14-year-old City Coldson becomes an overnight YouTube sensation for shouting at some racist judges during a nationally televised quiz contest in Jackson, Mississippi, he picks up a mysterious novel called Long Division and discovers a way to travel into the future. Here are more reasons to love Long Division, in no particular order: Hip hop lyrics. Time travel. Love. Revenge. Badass women. Talking cats. Grammar jokes. Post-Katrina racial politics. Time traveling Klansmen doing 80s dance moves in front of a laptop camera. Weird and wonderful teenagers creating the lives they want to live. An open-ended conclusion that made me cry like a baby. Kiese Laymon is completely rewriting and reinventing literary fiction, and it gives me shivers— I think I like it.(less)
I know, I know... I was supposed to love this! The audio performances were phenomenal, and it was a cool book, but ultimately I think World War Z is b...moreI know, I know... I was supposed to love this! The audio performances were phenomenal, and it was a cool book, but ultimately I think World War Z is best for people who love action and world-building stories. And points for lots of juicy speculative elements, too.
For me, though, the story's structure as oral histories came at the cost of more interesting character development and wordplay, the two things I usually love most in books. So while I enthusiastically liked this, I wouldn't put it up there with my favs. Glad I gave it a shot.(less)
Some book clubs plan their reading list and meeting schedule a year in advance. Friends, that is not my book club. We’re what I’d like to call "charmi...moreSome book clubs plan their reading list and meeting schedule a year in advance. Friends, that is not my book club. We’re what I’d like to call "charmingly" disorganized; we often don’t know when or where we’re going to meet until the day before.
So when we spontaneously decided to meet at the Taproom this Tuesday to talk about Michel Faber’s Under the Skin , I knew I had to get reading… fast. Because books about Scottish alien cannibal women do not lend themselves well to spoilers.
You guys, Under the Skin is the most fun I've had reading since Gone Girl in June. Part morality tale, part horror story, and part dystopian sci-fi, it's a lightning-paced read with a serious literary backbone, featuring an embattled, tough-as-nails heroine. Better yet, it taps into pop-culture's beloved hitchhiking motif, but in totally new and unexpected ways. I promise you'll want to hitchhike even less after reading this book.
Although I don’t typically read horror or sci-fi, I loved Under the Skin. It’s a genre-bending tale in the vein of some of the best science fiction classics out there: 1984, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451; the genre is such a great vehicle for exploring those big juicy human questions, and Faber writes with such economy and control. And if you’ve ever been in a book club, you’re hip to the fact that they’re fabulous for getting you to pick up stuff you might not have read on your own.
You might already know Michel Faber as the writer behind the awesome historical mini series The Crimson Petal and the White. But he’s about to enter pop-culture consciousness in another big way — Scarlett Johansson is slated to take the screen as the leading lady in the film adaptation of Under the Skin, due out next month. If you want to read the book first, here’s a tip — the audio version is worth it for the Scottish accents alone.(less)
**spoiler alert** Let me start out by setting something straight. For the record: I really love Ready Player One. This in spite of the fact that I typ...more**spoiler alert** Let me start out by setting something straight. For the record: I really love Ready Player One. This in spite of the fact that I typically go for the same navel-gazing fare that makes bookish hipsters swoon. I don't play videogames. I grew up in the 80s, but hell if I know much about retro gaming culture. Yet there's something irresistible about Cline's exuberant, dungeon-masterly hero quest, and I loved it til the bitter end.
But Ernest Cline: what the f***? In the book's last 50 pages, the four characters who've known each other virtually in the OASIS finally meet each other IRL. We learn that Art3mis is beautiful although insecure. Shoto is the token Asian non-character whose token Asian buddy gets rubbed out halfway through. Or is that Daito? Nevermind, doesn't matter.
And then there's Aech. Let's revisit the scene:
"A heavy set African American girl sat in the RV's driver seat, clutching the wheel tightly and staring straight ahead. She was about my age, with short, kinky hair and chocolate colored skin that appeared iridescent in the soft glow of the dashboard indicators. She was wearing a vintage Rush 2112 concert T-shirt, and the numbers were warped around her large bosom."
OK, so she's got big breasts. Whatever. Fast forward to Wade's reaction:
"A wave of emotion swept over me. Shock gave way to a sense of betrayal. How could he -- she -- deceive me all these years? I felt my face flush with embarrassment as I remembered all of the adolescent intimacies I'd shared with Aech. A person I'd trusted implicitly. Someone I thought I knew."
Aech has clearly crossed a line for Wade, who lives within a privileged framework that gender and race are fundamental aspects of personhood, and that to perform a gender or race other than those you were assigned at birth is tantamount to betrayal. How convenient for Wade, who just happened to be assigned "white male" in the being born lottery.
But oh my god, this is the f***ing virtual OASIS! With wizards and cat people and stuff! Haptic suits!! Let's remember that Shoto and Daito look nothing like their avatars, but no big deal. Meanwhile, Wade's panties are in a monumental twist just because his best friend is missing a certain manly appendage and tweaked her RGB.
Wade defines and inscribes Aech with the attributes "fat" "black" "lesbian" "chick" because he's invested in the privileged heteronormative assumption that it's "regular" to be a skinny white straight dude. Thanks, Robinson Crusoe. Meanwhile, Aech represents all that is opposite or "other" -- the transient dark enigma that's somehow subverted the IOI's panoptic gaze.
But then Wade decides he's cool with it. 'It's OK dudes, I've got African American friends.' Ultimately, Wade has an enlightened epiphany that allows him to understand why Aech would want to perform white maleness in a Virtual. F***ing. Reality:
"In [Aech's mother's] opinion, the OASIS was the best thing that had ever happened to women and people of color. From the very start, she had used a male white avatar to conduct all of her online business, because of the marked difference it made in how she was treated and the opportunities she was given."
Oh, really. Because at the end of the day, we'd all just be so lucky to pass as straight white men. Nevermind black power, second wave feminism, the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.... the practice of radical subjectivity. Nope, Wade's so right: we'd rather just assimilate and pretend we're all bros. Bitch, please. (less)
Imagine your favorite futuristic dystopia, hashing out socialist versus capitalist values: Brave New World? Fahrenheit 451? 1984? And now imagine that...moreImagine your favorite futuristic dystopia, hashing out socialist versus capitalist values: Brave New World? Fahrenheit 451? 1984? And now imagine that the nuances are a tad bit richer, the characters are a little more flesh and blood, the philosophical explorations are somehow just a smidge deeper and the solutions more ambiguous and complex.
I don't even really like Sci-Fi, but The Dispossessed was pretty perfect. The two worlds LeGuin creates in opposition to each other -- the socialist, utopian Anarres, and the wealthy, earth-like Urras -- are so complete, so believable. But what really sets this book apart from others in the genre is the way she interprets and explores the two worlds -- not as good versus evil, but rather that each is beautiful, corrupt and challenging in its own way. The hero Shevek, in navigating between the two worlds, must learn to understand and live in them both. In choosing this approach, LeGuin really gets at the heart of something more human and rare than you often get to see in novels.(less)
This is a really cool kids' book. So many layers -- mystery & intrigue; maturity & sacrifice; identity politics; socio-economic and mental hea...moreThis 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.(less)
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 storie...moreOK, 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.(less)
This looks like it's going to be a really fun series! It didn't blow my mind away as the best graphic novel series of all time, but it's an all-around...moreThis looks like it's going to be a really fun series! It didn't blow my mind away as the best graphic novel series of all time, but it's an all-around pretty solid package ~ smart, hilarious, suspenseful, exciting. While the premise might seem kind of militantly feminist (some mysterious accident kills all of the men in the world except for one), I find its treatment of women (and men) to be pretty fair. I love the complexity and sheer variety of the female characters, and Yorrick, the "last man", is just a pretty sweet guy. I hope Vaughan and Guerra keep it up in the rest of the series!(less)
Wow, so I just finished reading Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, and what a ride! For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure yet, let me bring you up to...moreWow, so I just finished reading Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, and what a ride! For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure yet, let me bring you up to speed: Tally Youngblood lives in a futuristic society where all the teens get mandatory plastic surgery when they turn 16. Turning everyone from “Uglies” into “Pretties” is supposed to eliminate all the insecurity, jealousy, inequity and general suffering in the world. But of course, it can’t really be that easy…
It is a pretty silly book, but it also has otherworldly addictive powers. The feminist in me wants to throw up when Tally must make a huge sacrifice in order to save the world and be validated by an older and wiser guy–who, incidentally, is always “touching her shoulder softly.” But I think one of the reasons I actually liked this book is because it walks that line that so many young women have to walk, between wanting to be fearless, independent and "off the grid" awesome-warrior-women, yet still longing to be that pretty girl with pretty things that we've all been conditioned to want to be since girlhood.
There are also some pretty chewy ethical dilemmas, and I loved the rad futuristic toys: hoverboards, crash bracelets, wallscreens, SpagBol, etc. (less)
This is so not the same book I remember reading when I was 14! I remember really loving it because of the anti-censorship and book-loving themes. This...moreThis is so not the same book I remember reading when I was 14! I remember really loving it because of the anti-censorship and book-loving themes. This time around, though, I was super surprised how elitist and hateful the story seems! A bunch of Harvard hobos hide out by the railroad tracks while the rest of the world is destroyed by nuclear war. . . really???
I can understand the use of heavy-handed approaches when tackling a topic of heavy philosophical import, and here Bradbury is questioning our ability to maintain critical thought in the age of 30 minute TV segments. So Fahrenheit 451 isn't about censorship at all -- its about why Hamlet is superior to Superman, a claim that I'm going to go ahead and challenge!
Bradbury's canonization of dead white guys is also troubling, as well as his view of women just in general ~ no wonder Montag's wife wants to kill herself! Instead of trying to reach out to her after a traumatic suicide attempt, Montag laments her stupidity and ridicules her friends. The only positively portrayed female in the book is Clarisse, the crazy 17 year-old who smells like strawberries. Ah, this must be because all women turn into stupid hags when they pass their twenties!
Anyway! It is written beautifully, and Bradbury does raise some interesting philosophical dilemmas. After all, isn't the whole point of anti-censorship to read and discuss even the ideas you do disagree with?(less)