This is a beautiful book: an immigrant leaves his family and embarks to a new land, where he knows no one and doesn't speak the language. Tan paints t
This is a beautiful book: an immigrant leaves his family and embarks to a new land, where he knows no one and doesn't speak the language. Tan paints this as a beautiful, strange, and fearful experience, filled with jarring moments and acts of kindness. The book is wordless, to mirror the protagonist's experience, so I'm going to follow suit. The beauty of of this book is in the images, so I'll let them speak for themselves:
Why was it that when she heard Granny ramble on about witchcraft she longed for the cutting magic of wizardry, but whenever she heard Treatle speak inWhy was it that when she heard Granny ramble on about witchcraft she longed for the cutting magic of wizardry, but whenever she heard Treatle speak in his high-pitched voice she would fight to the death for witchcraft? She'd be both, or none at all. And the more they intended to stop her, the more she wanted it.
She'd be a witch and a wizard, too. And she would show them.
This book gets 3 stars, but on the Terry Pratchett grading scale: so far I've found all of his books to be so delightful and charming that I'd probably give them all 4 or 5 stars, simply because they are so lovely to read. Equal Rites continues that trend. It's not perfect - the beginning drags its feet a bit, and the end flies by at a pace that I'm still not sure fully makes sense - but it's a lot of fun. Of the Pratchett books I've read so far, I'd put it above The Color of Magic and The Light Fantastic, but not up to the heights of Guards! Guards!.
Equal Rites is the story of Esk, a young girl who accidentally inherits wizarding magic in a world where girls aren't wizards - not that they can't be, mind you, it simply isn't done. It's also the story of Granny Weatherwax, her old neighborhood witch, who takes Esk under her wing. She's grumpy and competent and clever and provincial, and she's a really great character. I'm happy to hear she'll be popping up later in the Discworld novels.
If I had read this when I was Esk's age, or a bit older, this would probably have been my favorite book in the world. Reading it now, it's still a lot of fun but there's not a whole lot of depth. The overall message of relative gender equality is nice but not particularly nuanced. Problems get solved a little too easily. But it's still a really nice read, with a bunch of very likable characters, interesting set pieces, and reliably-delightful prose. ...more
Karen Stenner's proposition of an "authoritarian dynamic" inherent in human society has complicated ramifications but rests on a simple idea: politicsKaren Stenner's proposition of an "authoritarian dynamic" inherent in human society has complicated ramifications but rests on a simple idea: politics is not an expression of political ideas. Rather, it is an expression of personality, and context, and fears.
This isn't revolutionary, of course, and if the complexities are not taken into account it can feel like this book is simply stating the obvious. At it's core: there are certain people, across cultures and across times, that have an authoritarian predisposition (measured, here, but their attitudes towards child-rearing and their selection of preferred words). These people, in certain contexts, are indistinguishable from the rest of the population. They do not align neatly with any particular political party. However, in the case of "normative threat" - particularly in cases when there is the sense of diversity of belief or poor leaders in command - their authoritarianism becomes activated and manifests as racial, political, and moral intolerance. It was written in 2005 and amidst the current American elections it feels very prescient.
I found two things to be really great about this book. The first was its intense care about terminology (that sounds *thrilling* I know). The rhetoric of American politics - especially on the popular level - is so messy, and words like "conservative," "fundamentalist," and "authoritarian" are thrown around without definition, and as if they mean the same thing. Stenner is very careful about this, and a large chunk of her book sets out to prove that authoritarianism is its own thing, and only aligns with terms like "conservative" is ambivalent, complex ways. There's a clarity and care for specificity that I found really refreshing.
Her final conclusions are also rather fascinating: she posits the idea that this "authoritarian dynamic" she's proposed has a rather sobering implication. First, authoritarianism is not taught, and cannot really be untaught. If you expose an authoritarian to different cultures, and different beliefs, it doesn't open his/her mind to different views. It instigates fear, and a sense of danger, and is likely to make that person more intolerant. On a more macro-scale: democracy imposed upon countries with large degrees of difference - whether from the remnant of imperialism, artificially-imposed borders, or something - will likely create an atmosphere of chaos, distrust, and rampant intolerance. As Stenner states, "democracy does not produce community, it requires community."
The book is unfortunately a big jargon-y, and can be rough going for people without experience in social sciences and data analysis (I am included in this camp). I am not qualified to say whether her experiments are set up in a particularly solid way, but I found them to be, on the whole, fairly convincing. I think it would be fairly easy to pick apart details in the experiments and surveys Stenner discusses, but her results on the whole are clear enough to be pretty persuasive.
There was discussion throughout of a "companion piece" that discussed how this authoritarian dynamic has played out in recent history, but I haven't been able to find it or determine if Stenner ever actually wrote it? I hope she did, because this is such an interesting and important idea, and I think a book like that would have a better chance of reaching a wider audience. ...more
I was hoping that some time and space would give the Snowpiercer franchise some room to grow into itself, but it anything, things just got worse fromI was hoping that some time and space would give the Snowpiercer franchise some room to grow into itself, but it anything, things just got worse from volume one. It's essentially the same story - alpha male from the lower class charges into relevancy with a rich, underdeveloped love interest in tow - but more convoluted and implausible. Characters never have motivations, actions happen at random and their ramifications are never explored. If there were any sense of fun in any of this, it could have turned into a pleasant-enough campy adventure. But instead Snowpiercer remains relentlessly serious and dour without having anything remotely interesting to say in the process. ...more
There's a amazing graphic novel to be found here somewhere. It's an interesting concept - long, long train, running on near-perpetual motion in a postThere's a amazing graphic novel to be found here somewhere. It's an interesting concept - long, long train, running on near-perpetual motion in a post-apocalyptic tundra - and some interesting if heavy handed social commentary. It could have been a fun, well-paced thriller set in a really distinctive context. It could have been a satisfying revolution story. Probably most interestingly, it could have been a fascinating psychological study.
But, it's not really any of those things.
Snowpiercer is fine, I guess - it gets a lot of mileage out of its central premise and setting, and its a very fast read, so you're unlikely to be bored by it. I liked it enough that I'll probably spend the two hours it'll take to read the sequel. But it's also just not very good, and it's hard to read it without spending most of your time thinking about all of the squandered potential.
The characters are almost unbelievably flat - it seems there was zero effort put into giving them any psychological weight or complexity - and the interesting premise is not really developed in any interesting or surprising ways. In theory, if there are many more of these to come, something interesting could develop out of it. But as a stand-alone story, it's very, very flimsy. ...more