It's basically an early 20th century family drama with components of both "Groundhog Day" and "Inglorious Basterds." UCool premise and execution here.
It's basically an early 20th century family drama with components of both "Groundhog Day" and "Inglorious Basterds." Ursula Todd repeats her life over and over again each time she dies, eventually using the information she gleans from past lives to infiltrate Adolph Hitler's inner circle and assassinate him.
It would be hard not to get too repetitive here, but Atkinson does a good job at using the necessary repetitions to reveal more depths and dimensions to Ursula, her family, and her friends.
The Hitler component isn't a spoiler; it's revealed within the first chapter. And I was somewhat nervous about how this central plot point, a common revenge fantasy, would be enacted in a non-gimmicky way. Still, after reading about two of Ursula's alternate lives--one as an immigrant to Germany watching her child suffer, another as an aide worker in England seeing the toll of the war on her siblings--it worked for me....more
Adelle Waldman nails the Brooklyn bro-gressive perfectly. You know the type; he can spend hours expounding on the waves of feminism, but hasn't read aAdelle Waldman nails the Brooklyn bro-gressive perfectly. You know the type; he can spend hours expounding on the waves of feminism, but hasn't read a book written by a woman in years. Equal measures of feeling bad about his privilege and having no idea just how much he benefits from it. Plays devil's advocate on misogynistic and classist ideas "for fun." Recognizes the overarching social problem of the objectification of women, but only dates the conventionally beautiful.
At its best, "Nathaniel P." felt like a rollicking, fun hate-read, like secretly discovering a blog of an ex and having your worst suspicions about him come true. At its worst, it just felt like trodging through a few hundred pages of terrible dates with these guys; trying to pick out a movie at his apartment and discovering that none of his collection passes the Bechdel test as you listen to him mansplain the news from the other room.
So, definitely mixed feelings, but because Waldman was so effective. "Nathaniel P." is a realistic, vivid skewer, which somehow manages to never ventures into caricature. It came at a much-needed time; I've read that some women have begun using "Nathaniel P." as shorthand for this type of man, which I fully endorse....more
This won the Morning News Tournament of Books, which I follow religiously. Just knowing that and the premise of the book, I had high expectations, becThis won the Morning News Tournament of Books, which I follow religiously. Just knowing that and the premise of the book, I had high expectations, because:
1. James McBride writes excellent prose and vivid dialogue. He has a knack for exploring troubling topics with humor and humanity.
2. John Brown is an intriguing, controversial historic figure. With his larger than life reputation, the story could be an excellent avenue for exploring topics of faith, human rights, and violence. It's also good timing with the story's parallel to modern news stories: how do we define a "freedom fighter" vs. a "terrorist"? What are the most appropriate/effective responses to institutional violence?
3. The role of gender in the story. The protagonist is a small boy, Henry, who takes to cross-dressing after John Brown's initial confusion about his gender, and opportunistically continues the charade.
After finishing the book, I felt like it only delivered on the first count. McBride's prose is in fine form; his takes on John Brown's rallying cries and spirituality were well-written. I also loved his sense of humor in portraying Frederick Douglass.
The central problem was the protagonist, Henry. Despite 400 pages of following Henry from Kansas to the East Coast to Harper's Ferry, I never had a strong sense of his personality, motivations, or drive. A number of passages indicate that Henry does not know or understand why he continues to follow Brown and his men. He opportunistically hopes for escape at several passages, but seems relatively resigned to just following Brown's wishes, instead of taking action toward his own goals or motivations.
McBride plays with the idea of Henry's faith--skepticism at his father's and Brown's sermonizing and a conversion experience while under fire-- but this seems underdeveloped, and born solely out of fear. Henry's desperate prayers do little to reveal the nature of the character or his internal life.
The exploration of gender was the most disappointing component to me. I had been hoping for a look at racial privilege vs. gender privilege through Henry's eyes, or to see code-switching through a historic lens. Henry's charade as a woman seems to be more of an afterthought--he accepts it as he accepts most of Brown's directives, without much thought or argument--and the minor characters play along. The little we hear of Henry's internal thoughts on gender identity are rooted in gender essentialism, instead of unique insights; they're limited to his frustration at his inability to pursue romantic relationships with women, occasional self-criticism around a gendered idea of being weak, and a final push to "be a man."
The pacing also presented an issue. A large swath of the middle of the book covers two years where Henry is separated from John Brown, introducing new characters who play little consequence to the themes or overall plot of the book. The final climactic battle at Harper's Ferry felt rushed.
There is still a lot to like here. I enjoyed learning more about John Brown's ascent before the famous Harper's Ferry attack and the various regional attitudes on race and the Union as the Civil War approached. Maybe my expectations, given the book's praise and my love of McBride, were too high....more
An engrossing story about isolated, lonely people trying to create a family. Lahiri is great at skipping across decades and continents to flesh out heAn engrossing story about isolated, lonely people trying to create a family. Lahiri is great at skipping across decades and continents to flesh out her narrative. These devices feel fluid in her hands, where they would feel gimmicky coming from a lesser writer.
Her prose, as always, is gorgeous. The crowded streets of Calcutta, birds flying above East Coast salt marshes, empty libraries, bustling farms. She makes them all come alive.
I also appreciated the opportunity to learn more about India's political history and the Naxalite movement, of which I had zero prior knowledge, through her characters. I appreciated the full spectrum she showed of political involvement as a component of personal identity and family life. Each flawed character was forced to make complex decisions and sacrifices around personal risks, ideologies, love, and showing vulnerability. ...more
After binge-watching the Netflix series, I decided to pick up the book. I liked that it lacked the romantic melodrama of the series, and that Kerman cAfter binge-watching the Netflix series, I decided to pick up the book. I liked that it lacked the romantic melodrama of the series, and that Kerman chose to focus on the importance of community within Danbury, showcasing a wide variety of female relationships--platonic, pseudo-familial, and romantic-- and how incarcerated women help each other survive their stays. I also appreciated how, without preachiness, Kerman inserted statistics and facts about our country's futile "war on drugs," demonstrating how mass incarceration is an incredible waste of taxpayer resources and human potential. Her anecdotes share the creativity and ingenuity of inmates, and how thousands suffer from systemic mismanagement and bureaucrats' failure to recognize the root causes of crime.
However, there is one component of the television show that I appreciated which did not make it into the book. Each episode flashes back to different inmates' lives outside of prison, giving LGBTQ women, women of color, and other minorities a spotlight not often seen in popular television. While Kerman depicts the motivations and sometimes the background of her fellow inmates, the book is decidedly her story. The wide variety of complex characters, and the backstories of non-white, non-wealthy women are what make the television the rich narrative it is, instead of merely a fish-out-of-water story.
A fantastic vacation read. Clever, fast-paced, and compelling. The story tells about the breakdown and disappearance of Bernadette--brilliant architecA fantastic vacation read. Clever, fast-paced, and compelling. The story tells about the breakdown and disappearance of Bernadette--brilliant architect, creator who's not creating, recluse, queen of neighborly disputes-- all through a complex compilations of emails, court records, and personal narrative compiled by her precocious daughter, Bee. ...more
I appreciated the work that went into this anthology. The editors collected oral histories from people who lived in high rise public housing in ChicagI appreciated the work that went into this anthology. The editors collected oral histories from people who lived in high rise public housing in Chicago, and completed the book with articles about housing policy, the decision to tear down high rise towers, and maps of Chicago.
I loved the variety of perspectives the editors chose: people with fond childhood memories of their communities, parents who struggled to keep their children safe in the high rises, community advocates and organizers. These human stories should be required reading for anyone who works on the issues of affordable housing and homelessness. These voices demonstrate the true effects of policies that sound good on paper, but have different real world implications. A woman relocated to mixed-income housing refuses to have her children's birthday parties at her home, because of the prejudice of her higher income homeowner neighbors. An elderly woman's son cannot visit her at home upon re-entry because of the one-strike policy. Overall, it's a complex, humanizing portrait that avoids any easy, prescriptive answers on poverty, prejudice, and the need for affordable homes....more
"We Need New Names" works in two halves: Darling's childhood in Zimbabwe and teen years after moving to America to live with her aunt. Bulawayo had so"We Need New Names" works in two halves: Darling's childhood in Zimbabwe and teen years after moving to America to live with her aunt. Bulawayo had some fun ideas. I liked the depictions of Darling's adventures and games with her childhood friends, the Western journalists and NGO staff as a source of humor, and the universal experience of kids being bored in church.
The second half of the book--Darling's life in Michigan--seemed to lag. I feel like other novelists have explored the immigration experience, and the feeling of belonging to two cultures and no culture in more interesting ways. As a greedy reader, I longed to know more about Darling's childhood friends--how was Chipa handling motherhood, did Bastard ever harnass his innate charisma and leadership skills--and couldn't seem to care about Darling's quiet cousin or generic high school classmates. Even the more interesting storylines and anecdotes from this half-- the man at the nursing home, Darling's fractured relationship with her mother--were undeveloped, and never reached the same emotional poignancy as the group of children illicitly climbing trees to pick guavas.
Thanks to this book, I'm now eager to pick up other novels or short stories about Zimbabwe's political history, economic issues, and immigration to/from other countries. I kept finding myself being frustrated at the child narrator when Bulawayo was delivering exposition about the worthless old currency, anti-colonial movements, and the Zimbabwean voting system (Note: not a critique of the book--the child narrator worked well! I just have too many gaps in my knowledge about history!). Can anyone offer recommendations?...more
Jesmyn Ward packs a punch in every sentence. Her memoir tells the story five men in her early adult life who were killed due to various injustices. AsJesmyn Ward packs a punch in every sentence. Her memoir tells the story five men in her early adult life who were killed due to various injustices. As she recounts her coming-of-age, with these stories of loss, the reader clearly sees the struggles at the intersections of race, gender, and class in her gulf coast home....more
I liked these short vignettes based on Albert Einstein's dreams. Each showed a new world where time or space functioned slightly differently, and theI liked these short vignettes based on Albert Einstein's dreams. Each showed a new world where time or space functioned slightly differently, and the impact of these developments on the worlds' inhabitants.
A lifetime of Toni Morrison fandom, and I just now got around to reading her best-known book.
Beloved captured the psychological terror of slavery in aA lifetime of Toni Morrison fandom, and I just now got around to reading her best-known book.
Beloved captured the psychological terror of slavery in a way no other book I've read has. Morrison's fantastic way with words: tenderly handing over details, slowly revealing pain, was the perfect delivery for this haunting story....more
I really enjoyed this as a summer beach read. The plot introduces six friends who meet at a summer camp for artistic children, then follows them as thI really enjoyed this as a summer beach read. The plot introduces six friends who meet at a summer camp for artistic children, then follows them as they come of age and grow up in New York. Wolitzer's writing and dialogue were good enough to get lost in, and the characters were, yes, interesting enough to want to spend some time with.
Still, the book felt altogether too long. Given the heft, I was hoping that Wolitzer would explore some of the less developed and potentially more interesting plotlines. Jonah's character was far too undeveloped and his minor plot wrapped up far too neatly. He had far more potential than the central love triangle: growing up near fame, coming out, dating during the AIDS crisis, balancing immense talent in both art and science. Even less developed, I feel like Cathy's perspective should have been heard. The book seemed to skim over her trauma: losing a group of close friends because they sided with her rapist, having a body that betrays your talent. Her story seemed far more worthy than the other characters' meandering decades-long stories.
At the 2/3 point, I realized that Wolitzer wasn't going to explore these characters any further. At that point, the last hundred pages of Jules' jealousy and Ethan's unrequited love drug on for me. Kind of like those numerous dinner parties the characters attend in the book where nobody talks about the things that are actually important. ...more
A fast-paced black comedy featuring one of the more dysfunctional families imaginable. While the beginning is effective, the shock factor wears out byA fast-paced black comedy featuring one of the more dysfunctional families imaginable. While the beginning is effective, the shock factor wears out by the book's last third, and we're left with implausible situations that feel a little too quirky-for-the-sake-of-being quirky. Still, a worthwhile read for the hilarious Nixon parallels and the commentary on academia/youth culture. ...more