I've known of Bechdel and her work for a long time because of the Bechdel Test, which I reference often as both a woman and a movie-goer. She's also pI've known of Bechdel and her work for a long time because of the Bechdel Test, which I reference often as both a woman and a movie-goer. She's also pretty well known in Vermont (where I currently live) because she lives here, too, and I believe she has been known to make appearances at the Cartoon School that's not far from where I live. But, despite knowing all this about her, I had never actually picked up any of her work. My mom asked for this for Christmas, and then it got turned into a musical that won a bunch of Tony's, and well, it's weird to have your Mom find out about things before you do, you know? So after she finished it, she sent it to me so that I could read it, too, and I was glad to finally read something of hers.
If, like me, you find yourself woefully behind on pop culture and what this is about, Fun Home is an autobiographical graphic novel memoir about Bechdel's childhood - growing up in a Funeral Home (which got shortened to Fun Home when she and her siblings were kids, thus the title), her own experiences realizing she's gay and coming out to her family, and later, her father's death and her discovery that he was gay and had carried on gay affairs throughout his life.
It's fascinating, but as you might glean from the paragraph above there's a lot to cover here. While I'm almost always the person saying "More is more!" I think this is one of the instances where I'd be inclined to say less is more. The true heart of the story feels like it is and should be her relationship with her dad, but she tries to fit so many details into the story - her father's death was somewhat mysterious, also he was sleeping with the men/boys who were babysitters/house helpers, also a few things about her relationship with her mother, also they lived in a funeral home, also here's the story of her own realizing she was gay and coming out, also her father really loved decorating and classic literature, also... etc etc etc.
Thus, the most challenging aspect of Fun Home is that there's no easy or straight-forward narrative arc here. Bechdel sort of bounces around in a series of vignettes/memories, and what really worked about the graphic novel format was to have the visuals to accompany the memories and make them that much stronger and evocative. I don't think it would've worked at all as a regular text-only memoir format, because the illustrations helped the story at times where it felt choppy and disjointed. The same choppiness and disjointedness, though, I think accounted for why it felt, in places, like there was too much to reasonably cover - another format, or simply a more straight-forward timeline might've made it easier to fit all of the weird, interesting details about her family, her father, and her life more seamlessly. For me, it felt like a big ol' quirk salad - assorted odd memories and tales mixed together in a loose format.
The narrative style also lent to a feeling of sort of emotional distance that a lot my GR friends have also noted on - though Bechdel does call this out in herself and in the work: "...perhaps my cool aesthetic distance itself does more to convey the arctic climate of our family than any particular literary comparison." She says this, in particular, about the literary references she employs throughout the story, but it absolutely applies broadly to the narrative as a whole. Still, as someone who also lost my father at a young age, it was fascinating for me to see such an emotionally distant family, in that for me just about anything about dead dads is a 99.9999999% guarantee that I will cry in some fashion (whether it's a light, misty-eyed cry, or a big break down sob depends on the work), so yeah, I'm the opposite.
I think, perhaps, it's a case of something being a little over-hyped beyond its ability to live up to it, but, having said that, I totally get all of the widespread appreciation, and why it's found such popularity over time. It's an inherently fascinating read, and a wonderful example of someone breaking out of the standard format. It's interesting to think about the ways it does and doesn't work and why, and I think it's getting a whole new host of people into graphic novels who might've never read one otherwise, and/or who in the past might've only seen them as a land of fiction and superheroes. Those are all good things!...more
An Ideal Husband is a bit more highbrow intellectually, a bit more rife with the social commentary, being the tale of a sordid blackmail scheme in British politics.
Two things sort of rubbed me the wrong way about it, and we had an interesting discussion on these points at our book club discussion. One is that Mrs. Cheveley is the most ambitious woman in the play and is essentially cast as its villain. All of the characters are flawed, but she's the only one who doesn't seem to get any sort of redemption of any kind. The other was Lady Chiltern's dialogue towards the end about how a man's life is more important than a woman's. The edition I read said that there's still debate today about whether or not it's to be taken literally - whether Chiltern actually believes this, or as some in my book club suggested, she's playing the game. She's so on the straight and narrow through the whole book that it was hard for me to take it as anything other than being completely direct, but then towards the end, she's also out of character by lying, so there's an argument to be made for the other side, too.
I also actually liked the way the recent film changed the plot by doing away with the brooch/bracelet, which felt like a sort of deus ex machina by means of jewelry. Having Cheveley and Goring make a bet felt more true to the characters and to the story, and made the conclusion feel earned and more satisfying. Plus, instead of further besmirching Mrs. Cheveley, who's already been well-enough sullied, it helped redeem Lord Chiltern, who otherwise seems to get off way too easily....more
You likely know about Watchmen. It's wildly famous, particularly as far as graphic novels go, or even just novels in general. I likely don't have to tYou likely know about Watchmen. It's wildly famous, particularly as far as graphic novels go, or even just novels in general. I likely don't have to tell you that it's an alternate history where Nixon is still in power, the US was successful in Vietnam, and the threat of nuclear war still hovers. The US cracked down on superheroes and outlawed them, deciding that there's not much difference between superheroes and vigilantism. A few linger in retirement, and are becoming targets - of violence, of death.
I'm not sure there's much I can say, big picture-wise, about Watchmen that hasn't already been said, in better ways than I could. A couple of GR reviews that I really liked can be found here and here.
So, a few assorted personal thoughts:
I have little more than the average layman's comic knowledge, but on that level, many of the ideas in Watchmen reminded me of the morality struggles captured in recent superhero films (which Hollywood is truly saturated with at the moment) - particularly Nolan's Batman trilogy and the recent Avengers films. Obviously these ideas aren't new, but it's interesting to see them en vogue again, in a massively popular way.
Also, the idea of starting war to unite humanity is another theme I've encountered throughout novels over the years, particularly genre fiction.
What impressed me most, and I what I hadn't totally anticipated were the layers here - not just in the story itself, but also in the art. There's so much going on, and so much to process, that I already know I'm going to have to read it again to try and see all the things I missed out on the first time (and I'm already looking forward to that).
My favorite character was Rorschach and I was kind of horrified by it, but then glad to find that that I'm not alone after perusing reviews on GR. Rorschach is the kind of character that makes me glad for books, because I would never like someone like that in person. I'd never actually be able to spend time with someone like Rorschach. But I can root for him in fiction, because I can appreciate the aspects of his personality that I'd never see in person due to that inability to overlook or tolerate the rest. (See also: Littlefinger/Petyr Baelish in ASOFAI/GoT.)
The only thing that kept me from full-on loving every bit of Watchmen was the women characters and their treatment, which was not great, but wasn't totally terrible, either. It wasn't that I got the impression that Moore has anything against women - quite the opposite actually. I think Moore clearly takes issue with the sexism towards women in the genre (and in general), I just think he wasn't personally able to enact or devise something better than what's here. I wish there had been more for them, but I do give him plenty of props for trying.
Overall, there's good reason here for Watchmen's enduring legacy and popularity, and I'll be happy to help carry that torch....more
Before picking up The Dead Zone this summer, the only other Stephen King books I'd read were the first couple in the Dark Tower series. I enjoyed themBefore picking up The Dead Zone this summer, the only other Stephen King books I'd read were the first couple in the Dark Tower series. I enjoyed them, but staring down seven books (or however many) is fairly daunting for a starting point. I'd like to get back to the series, eventually, but I think I need to buy into SK's other works a little more first before I commit to something that huge.
My beau is a big King fan, and so I told him I'd read my first stand-alone King novel this year, finally (while we were in Maine, which seemed only fitting since it's SK's place of residence). I chose The Dead Zone since it spoke the most to me in terms of plot.
I don't think it's too too much of a spoiler to say that The Dead Zone focuses around Johnny Smith, who gets involved in a car crash one evening, spends several years in a coma, then resurfaces with the gift of premonition - when he touches people, he can see far into their futures, generally related to big events, like death, but not always.
Both waking up from a coma and gaining premonition are things that at first breath might sound pretty alright, but are rather back-handed gifts. With the coma there's adjusting to the passage of time without you - new world and political events, the changes in your family's and friends' lives, and of course, the way that laying down in a bed for years can wreak havoc on your body and your mobility. With the premonitions, basically everyone thinks you're crazy, evil, or wants to call on you to solve their problems - and as it turns out some problems just shouldn't be solved.
We follow Johnny as he navigates the politics and consequences of his premonitions, deciding who to tell if he has one, what's best kept secret, the ways that others want to use him for their own gain. Johnny responds as most of us might - wanting to use his sight for good, wanting to do the right thing, and finding it so, so hard when people don't believe him, are too scared to, or want him to operate on demand, when his visions don't quite work like that, and especially trying to do the right thing and have it turn out all wrong.
Johnny's lifepath crosses with that of Greg Stillson, an up and coming salesman turned politician (guess that's redundant, ha!). Stillson makes grand gestures towards the blue-collar/working class, has visions of grandeur like shooting all of the garbage on the planet into space, and as you might be noticing, bares some chilling similarities to Donald Trump. (I thought I was very clever for thinking this but then King himself said that people tweet at him about the similarity all the time.)
There's so much to appreciate about The Dead Zone even beyond King's own gift of foresight, it would seem, with regards to political waves in the USA. Johnny Smith is at once an incredibly endearing character and also at times very frustrating for his occasional inability to anticipate the personal consequences to his own actions/visions - for someone with so much foresight to share with others, he sometimes lacks it when it comes to himself. King's development of Johnny and his relationships is really masterful, particularly in that I truly bought in to Johnny and his sight - for something so out of this world, King brought it down to earth and made it feel entirely plausible, as if Johnny's story could've happened to a friend of a friend, or some guy in your hometown.
The only thing that I struggled with is the set-up. Subtlety is not King's strong suit, so you end up spending about 100-some pages of Johnny being in the coma where you know he's going to wake up one day, but King dictates what happens in the world, and in the lives of Johnny's cohorts, while Johnny is comatose, and it just drags - I kept thinking, get us to the point where he wakes up already, do some quick scenes of Johnny being all like "hey, what happened while I was comatose," fill in the missing time and information that way! Ultimately, though, that's obviously not going to be the thing that I'm going to remember about the book forever - just made it slower for me to buy in during the reading process.
By and large a fascinating read, and for me ended up being a great starting point with King's stand-alone works....more
I really loved Queen of the Tearling, so much so that I wanted to wait to read The Invasion of the Tearling until I was on vacation so that I could stI really loved Queen of the Tearling, so much so that I wanted to wait to read The Invasion of the Tearling until I was on vacation so that I could straight-up marathon it, and marathon it, I did. In some ways, though, I wished I hadn't waited so long - I found myself needing to look at recaps of Queen of the Tearling to remember certain plot points or characters from the first book that were being referenced again. There were parts of this that I liked more than in the first, and parts I liked less, which is why I'm rounding it out to about the same rating.
Obviously, there will be spoilers about the first book from this point on.
In Invasion of the Tearling, Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, having stopped the shipments to Mortmesne, is now in a pickle because her best hope is to hold off an inevitable war that she can't really hold off. Evacuation and delaying techniques are all her small, poorly-armed army can muster. So, plot-wise, this is very much a "second" book in a trilogy in that it's a point A to point B story - all the kingdom can do is delay and await the inevitable, which doesn't make for the most enthralling narrative.
Johansen tries to splice this up and make it more interesting by offering a series of flashbacks to the pre-Crossing time, showing a very fucked America, with large socio-economic divisions, homeless camps and security systems, intense government control and surveillance - sort of Children of Men-like. (A reminder that yes, this is a post-apocalyptic fantasy, which turns a fair amount of people off the story. It doesn't bother me much - if I'm going to suspend my disbelief, at least do something interesting with it, and that's interesting.) We see these flashbacks through a woman named Lily, and while it sheds light on all the reasons why William Tear gathered his people to make the Crossing and form the Tear, it takes awhile (a little tooooo much of awhile) for Johansen to reveal how Lily relates to the current manifestation of the Tear, and why we should care. It also makes for a pretty bleak view of humanity since things clearly didn't turn into this beautiful Utopia that Tear envisioned (quelle surprise!)
What really worked about The Invasion of the Tearling is that Johansen has started adding a bit more dimension to some of the characters. My biggest issue with a lot of genre fiction is the obvious division of good and bad - these people are good, those people are bad - like morality isn't the beautifully mixed, complex, intricate, subjective thing that it is. She really took liberties to make Kelsea less inherently likable, and more like the turbulent young woman that she should be in her late teens. No young person is going to rise to be in charge of a kindgom without some growing pains and some ugly mistakes, and we finally get to see Kelsea make some, and it makes her more relatable, and a better character because of it. She also started delving further into the Queen of Mortmesne, too, which I liked, though I hope there will be even more of that in the third book.
Again, I think the second act in trilogies always ends up being a transitional, point a to point b sort of thing, and as far as this series goes, there's plenty in Invasion of the Tearling to keep you excited and ready to continue into Fate of the Tearling. That said, I can't believe it's almost over! It feels like there's still so much to be done in book three - and I hope Johansen is able to take this story all the places it wants to go....more
I'd been hearing good things about this series for quite some time - and since I have an endless appetite for all things true crime, fake crime, mysteI'd been hearing good things about this series for quite some time - and since I have an endless appetite for all things true crime, fake crime, mystery, etc., I'm game. The only thing is, when something gets endless praise, I like to let it sit for a bit to sort of distance myself from everything I've heard, so I can be firmly in my own headspace when I read and not influenced by outside opinions and whatnot.
In the Woods has a whole bunch of a lot going on, and French starts with a bit of a juggling act. There are essentially three main stories happening here:
1. That of Adam Rob Ryan, who ventured into the nearby Knocknaree woods one night with two of his childhood friends, both of whom were never seen again, and Adam/Rob was left with no memory of the incident. (He now goes by Rob so that people don't connect him to the mystery of his childhood, as he fell under a lot of press/media attention.)
2. A couple decades later, a young girl, Katy Devlin, is found murdered in the same wooded area (now the site of an archaeological dig on a timeline, because a highway is going to be built through the area). Is it connected?
3. The will-they, won't-they friendship between Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox, his partner, with whom Rob is investigating the new murder that happened where his friends disappeared.
So yeah, there's layers. Plenty of 'em.
It's a lot to handle for your first book, and for the first 3/4 of the book, French handles it all pretty deftly. I absolutely raced through most of it. However, the first and third storylines hit the breaks at about the same time, leaving only Katy Devlin's murder to carry the last 100 pages or so, and Katy Devlin's murder is the least interesting part. It wasn't so much that I had solved it or figured it out, so much as I couldn't really be bothered to spend extra time thinking about it, because the other parts were so strong.
It hints to French's strengths that what should have been one of the more inherently interesting parts of the book is its least compelling. Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox are such fantastic characters that everything outside them just paled in comparison. Their relationship is the real true heart of the book, and the mystery is just the excuse to get to know them, to peek into their world.
French's writing is brilliant and emotional for all its subtle richness. She spends time on the details, but not so much as to be flowery. She's not coming at you with the sledgehammer, or on the wings of a dove, she's coming for you with all five senses. It wasn't so much that I was struck by every line, so much as from time to time a sentence would sneak in that would make me pause and go, "Well, damn."
For me, the story is the vehicle that carries the good characters and the great writing, so if it all falls apart, or is a lackluster plot, I'm just too distracted by its absence, which is what happened with the last quarter of this. But having said that, if I wrote a first novel even half as good as this, I'd be stoked. Despite being a bit underwhelmed by the dismount, overall In the Woods was an exciting, thoughtful, and memorable read, and I definitely plan to continue the series, and look forward to it. ...more
The plot is essentially the title with The Invisible Man - there's a man and he's invisible! We learn how that came to be, and the reasoning and ramifThe plot is essentially the title with The Invisible Man - there's a man and he's invisible! We learn how that came to be, and the reasoning and ramifications for this development.
This is my first experience with Wells and I was enjoying it through the first half, which thrusts us into the middle of the invisible man's story. However, it begins to lag at the mid-point, where Wells uses my least favorite narrative device from the time period, which is that Person A and Person B meet halfway through Person A's story and Person A narrates his origin story to Person B. Frankenstein employed this same method, and it drove me crazy there, and still did here, despite the fact that Wells' writing style is more my speed. Once we passed through flashback city, the story picked up again, but I couldn't get back into it as ardently as I had been in the first half after losing steam.
I found Wells' writing surprisingly charming, and at times darkly funny, which I didn't anticipate. Honestly, I think he could've just as easily passed this off as a dark comedy and I'd love to see a modern film reinterpretation done in that fashion. (view spoiler)[The plot of the story is: man thinks being invisible would be awesome, turns out he didn't totally think that through. For real, it became kind of funny how poorly thought-out this idea was. (hide spoiler)] Though the execution wasn't completely effective, the concept and writing style is enough for me to pick up more Wells down the line.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I've wanted to read something by Neil Gaiman for a long time, and book club ended up handing me the perfect opportunity by nominating The Ocean at theI've wanted to read something by Neil Gaiman for a long time, and book club ended up handing me the perfect opportunity by nominating The Ocean at the End of the Lane as June's book.
The story is surprisingly complex, but the simplest summary is that a man has to make a trip back to his childhood town for a funeral (whose is never explicitly mentioned but is heavily hinted to be for his father) - setting him in a wistful state of mind, thinking about his life thus far, which includes some kids and an unhappy marriage. His thoughts primarily drift to a series of escapades with Lettie Hempstock, a mysterious girl with a mysterious family who lived at the end of the street, as he visits their old home.
To delve into the plot much more than that is to take the joy and wonderment out of the thing, but suffice it to say that The Ocean at the End of the Lane shifts into something of a fairytale meets nightmare, equal parts haunting and imaginative. For the first 98% of it, I was all set to give it five stars, but then I reached the closing chapter where we return to the adult perspective. The end took the wind out of my sails a bit, and never fear, I'll put all the reasons why behind this lovely spoiler tag.
(view spoiler)[I don't always struggle with ambiguous endings, but I really struggled with the choice of the ambiguous ending here. When we return back to the adult narrative, we aren't given any satisfying answers - aside from knowing that his relationship with his father eventually got better, which, whatever? His father was an abusive dick so to tack that on feels like an attempt to make it all warm and fuzzy and better somehow - and even more than that, we're just given more questions. It's implied that there aren't three Hempstock women, only one, and the woman who's there admits to changing his memories, which we could've figured out given that we know she has this ability. Child narrators are already unreliable, and then we're thrown the curve ball of knowing that his memory of events was edited and changed. Ultimately what bothers me is that I'm unsure what the point of the adult sections are, because they don't tell us anything that we couldn't have guessed or assumed given the childhood narration. If those sections are going to be there, they should enhance the story, and for me they did the opposite and detracted from it instead. (hide spoiler)]
Despite my hangups on the ending, it was an overwhelmingly positive experience for my first Gaiman book, and I plan to revisit his work again for sure.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I'm one of those people who spends more time than anyone should admit watching Forensic Files. Not to mention plenty of fake or "based on real events"I'm one of those people who spends more time than anyone should admit watching Forensic Files. Not to mention plenty of fake or "based on real events" crime shows, like CSI and Criminal Minds. I never got heavy into Law & Order but I've watched some of that, too. Oh and how could I forget true crime miniseries like The Jinx and Making a Murderer, and the only podcast I've ever really listened to is the first season of Serial about Adnan Syed and Hae Min Lee. I eat that shit up.
At some point I felt like I needed to get into some serious non-fiction about forensics, not just because I'm interested in it, but also because I want a better understanding of it, not just a fictionalized or potentially biased portrayal, more than the average pop science understanding of DNA and fingerprints and the like. I think I found The Father of Forensics on a GR or Amazon list of forensics and true crime books, and it turned out to be a really nice find, though I admittedly held off on reading it for awhile because you never know with this kind of book - I was worried it would be a bit dry. But not at all!
Bernard Spilsbury was a huge player in forensics and crime for a wealth of reasons - and not just his pathology, though that was his area of expertise and employment. He also introduced the murder bag to law enforcement to help train law enforcement and reduce contamination and destruction of evidence at a crime scene, and had a huge impact on trial methods, as he was one of the first quintessential expert witnesses, because he was able to explain the science in a way that the average layman (or jury person, as it were) could understand - complete with visual supplements, and because of his unflappable confidence in himself and his methods, as well as his rigorous note-taking.
Evans employs a fantastic means of narrating Spilsbury's life and achievements through his cases. Each chapter looks at one of Spilsbury's most famous cases, and puts it in the context of any major scientific developments or achievements Spilsbury reached through the case, what the greater significance of the case was to forensics, science, or law, and to Spilsbury's career and life (though spoiler alert his career was his life, essentially). Evans uses a pretty even-handed tone, and doesn't shy from discussing Spilsbury's more contested/debated results and cases (I mean, this was before DNA, so evidence can only be so infallible here).
For anyone looking to further their knowledge in this area, this is a great book to get into....more
At a time when many of us are forced to spend time connected to glowing boxes doing unremarkable things like fussing about with Outlook or Word or ExcAt a time when many of us are forced to spend time connected to glowing boxes doing unremarkable things like fussing about with Outlook or Word or Excel, it's no surprise why Ready Player One became a smash hit.
Ready Player One concocts a United States not so different from our own in 2044, only environmental devastation is beyond the curve, the wealth/poverty gap has ever expanded, and people assuage their fears about the devastated nature of humanity and the planet by spending most of their time in OASIS, an alternate reality that to me essentially sounds like Second Life on steroids - people have jobs there, go to school there, etc., and it can be as anonymous as you need, helping people project an idealized version of themselves.
James Halliday, the reclusive genius sort, created the OASIS and, as he had no family, has no immediate heir - thus left a series of clues or easter eggs to be unlocked, the award for which is ownership and control of the OASIS. None of the clues pop up for years, and people lose interest, but of course there are a few die hards who continue the hunt, including a business that has obvious monetary interest in the hunt, and whaddya know, Wade finally stumbles on the first clue after years of searching.
It's an addictive book once you get through the first 100 pages, which are bogged down with a lot of set-up, in a rather dry method of delivery. Cline has made a pretty ideal storyline, from a writer's perspective: the hero's quest is always going to have some innate interest, and he created a world in which almost anything can happen, so there aren't a lot of rules here, which is a pretty boss situation for your first novel.
Once I got through my binge of this (and believe me, I started hitting it hard after getting through the first 100-150 pages or so), though, the longer I sat on it, the more mixed feelings I had.
It's rife with pop culture references that rely pretty heavily on a rather cliche definition of geek (namely people who are into fantasy, sci-fi, comics, video games, D&D, etc.), and because OASIS creator Halliday grew up in the '80s, Ready Player One is rife with '80s references, which seemed to unnerve a lot of GR folks, and I get it. It seems both unlikely and improbable that a bunch of teens would not only find the '80s legitimately cool in the wake of the many decades that followed, but also that they'd have the time to play all of the video games and watch all the movies and tv shows, read all the books and the comics... and you know, go to school, hunt for the clues, do normal teen shit, sleep, etc. (I mean, as a '90s kid, thinking about the movies that came out in the '90s about technology - The Net might be one of my favorite guilty pleasures but it's laughable now, and it's something I enjoy enough to watch like every couple of years, not so often that I could act it out entirely... granted, '90s comedies are a different matter.)
But it's not the pop culture references that irked me, personally - it was the convenience of the way things were set-up in the story. Unlimited technology as deus ex machina, essentially. It's a smart set-up on Cline's part, because he can operate within the framework of the story to do just about anything he wants or needs his characters or story to do, but the drawback of being able to get from point A to point B with a few clicks of the button is that it felt too easy at times. At points the plot or character development didn't feel earned, and for as magnificent and limitless the OASIS was, the world outside of OASIS was thin. (view spoiler)[For example, the reveal towards the end of Watts' best online friend being a black girl kind of irked me - it feels like Cline wants the diversity bonus points of having a black girl in his story without having to do the work of actually writing a black female character because she was pretending to be someone else for most of the book. I get that the point is that they were friends and had already connected beyond race and gender etc etc but still... it feels like it kind of negates race, which isn't the same as acceptance of race. (hide spoiler)]
Having said that, though, it makes for a fun, action-packed summer read, the book equivalent of the Marvel movies, if you will, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. The world needs these books too, and I'm interested in picking up Cline's newer book, Armada, though I've already heard from many that it's nowhere as near as good as this one.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a fictional YA tale that turns out to be at least somewhat autobiographical for Sherman Alexie, whoThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a fictional YA tale that turns out to be at least somewhat autobiographical for Sherman Alexie, who, like his narrator, Junior, grew up on an Indian Reservation near Spokane, WA, was born with hydrocephalus (a condition that occurs when there is an abnormally large amount of cerebral fluid in the cranial cavity), had an alcoholic father, and chose to attend the local high school in a very white town instead of the school on the rez, in hopes of getting a better education.
It's very much written like a YA novel, though it deals with more adult topics - racism, alcoholism, sexism, the subpar educational system, death, the atrocities that have been exacted upon Native Americans and their current situation, and the like. It's interspersed with cartoons for comic effect.
The plot and the emotional state of the novel hit that teen-like hyperbolic status: everything feels so important and so traumatic and so amazing, and everything is happening all at once, sudden deaths, fights with the biggest jock in school, the big basketball game, your best friend is mad at you because he feels left out, the prettiest girl in school said she'd go out with you, and such. Despite the exhausting teen pace of the plot and the emotional content, there's plenty for the average adult to enjoy, though due to the tone and delivery I don't know that I ultimately see this as something that's going to really stay with me or hold a lot of reread interest. Definitely going to seek out some of Alexie's more adult material soon....more
I'd been hearing wonderful things about Burial Rites since it came out, and woweee, it did not disappoint.
Burial Rites is based on the story of AgnesI'd been hearing wonderful things about Burial Rites since it came out, and woweee, it did not disappoint.
Burial Rites is based on the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last woman to be publicly beheaded in Iceland. There's limited information out there, but Kent did impeccable research to find what information she could, and to weave into her estimation of the story. Agnes, along with another woman and man, was charged with killing her boss and lover. Burial Rites tells this story through shifting narratives from Agnes, members of the family that's hosting her until her execution, and Tóti, a priest who's supposed to serve as her spiritual adviser during her end days.
Kent does a masterful job of setting the scene, particularly considering this is her debut novel. The Icelandic countryside, farms, turf houses, are rendered in vivid detail. Iceland has been on my list for a trip for some time now, and particularly even moreso after reading this book.
Despite a significant reliance on flashbacks and the ol' someone telling their story to someone else as a way of narrating a story, it's still a tense and emotional read, and it's a testament to Kent's skill that I was much too absorbed in the tale to be distracted by analyzing the way she chose to tell it.
Kent's not reinventing the wheel here, but she succeeded at what she set out to do, and what she does do here is incredibly effective and impressive, regardless of whether this was a first novel or a fifth - but considering that her first was this good, I really look forward to what's next.
I wasn't sure what to expect with this one when I nominated it for my book club - all I knew is that I'd heard it was hilarious and we'd been readingI wasn't sure what to expect with this one when I nominated it for my book club - all I knew is that I'd heard it was hilarious and we'd been reading some fairly intense selections at the time, so we were ready for a break.
It was indeed funny, though also quite emotionally exhausting, being the not-exactly-loosely based story of Ephron's marriage and divorce from Carl Bernstein of Woodward and Bernstein, the infamous journalists that broke the Watergate Scandal.
Like just about anyone who is exposed to main stream culture, I'd long been familiar with Ephron's screenwriting, but not as familiar with her print work, and I was pretty enchanted with Heartburn. Ephron's voice is funny, sharp, self-aware, all the things you'd expect from her, so she pulls off quite a few things that a lesser writer wouldn't. There's some seriously dated stuff, and there's a privilege card that can be played, and all, sure. Most of all, though, Heartburn is filled with vastly raw and relatable emotions for anyone who's been betrayed by someone they loved (and if you haven't, thank your lucky damn stars), or has experienced the fear that they might be. A few people in book club had nightmares about it, so yeah - safe to say it touches that nerve.
The movie is not nearly as enchanting despite the great cast, but was an amusing watch nonetheless....more
This was the third book in a series of three that I read over the winter about the experience of being black in America - the others being Citizen aThis was the third book in a series of three that I read over the winter about the experience of being black in America - the others being Citizen and The Bluest Eye. Any one of these could stand on their own, but I was glad to read them all together, and I look forward to reading more by each author.
Contrasted with Citizen, which speaks largely to the emotional and psychological aspects of the racism experienced by Rankine and her friends, family, peers - Between the World and Me is centered in the physical. Coates speaks a lot about the body, people who want to do harm to someone's body. Both books are alarming, horrifying, heart-breaking - all those things. But there was something especially jarring about this continued iteration throughout the book.
Coates seamlessly floats through a vast and varying narrative, mostly based around his personal experiences as he moved through life, but also about his friends, his neighbors, his family, his sons. He invokes bigger picture concepts like "the people who think they are white" and that being white is not really a race or an identity but an evolution from what used to be other races/identities (Irish, Norwegian, French, etc.) (I really love this excerpt that I posted on Instagram while I was reading it) - the american dream and how it's embodied in the suburbs and green lawns and picket fences etc, but grounds them in his personal stories and experiences.
I grew up fairly aware of some of the contrasts that he writes about - he talks about witnessing an encounter in front of a 7-Eleven that involved a group of kids and a gun, and it particularly struck me since a kid at my high school was shot at the 7-Eleven a block from my house. That's not to say I lived this experience - but I was certainly its neighbor, not ignorant of the very different worlds inhabited by the families across the street. Quite literally across the street - there was a major road that divided two very different neighborhoods, mine which was largely white, older families, big houses and yards, and the one across the street, which was duplexes, apartments, trailer parks - mostly inhabited by black and hispanic families. Slowly, the neighborhood has changed and isn't so clearly divided now. I wasn't really old enough to understand the systems in place, or to do more than just notice and think about it, but even as a kid these stark contrasts were plain as day to me, and seemed horrendously unfair. So I particularly felt connected to Coates' voice, even though he was across the country and growing up in a different decade - it felt like I finally had eyes and insight into what was going on just across the street.
Coates does such a good job of bringing these concepts into tangible, physical forms. One part that really struck me was when one of his friends dies (unjustly), and he talks about all of the work that went into bringing him up, the hours worked to pay for school, tuition, books, the childcare, the help with homework, the money, the hours, the love. He does this throughout, as he discusses that black families have to work extra hard, even beyond the economic sense, have to try doubly hard to keep their kids out of trouble, because they don't even have to get into trouble to get hurt. Obviously, it's not a new concept after the years of violence we've seen exacted on black kids (and adults, for that matter) in this country, people who didn't have weapons, who were wearing hoodies, or just playing their music a little too loud. Coates looks at the different ways that families and parents struggle with this, try to deal with it.
Like the others, this book just gutted me. I don't have answers, but I know I want to be a good ally, and try to keep learning more and more about what that means and how to do it....more
I already want to reread this, in one sitting, which is how it feels like it should be read. As it was, I read it in piecemeal chunks before bed, becaI already want to reread this, in one sitting, which is how it feels like it should be read. As it was, I read it in piecemeal chunks before bed, because life happened to be busy at that particular moment in time. It worked for that, too - light and airy and not too mentally taxing, like wafting through someone else's old family albums.
Duras' prose is the real star here. She could write about a garbage can or a dumpster and probably still fill it with evocative language and incredible emotion. And her life, her incredible, fascinating life. For a book called The Lover, I actually thought the titular romance was the least interesting part of the whole thing. Older men with younger women - it's all so old hat, you know? Which I don't mean as a slight to Duras at all - just that that story has been told in so many different ways, and as someone who was also once a teen girl interested in an older man (which never went anywhere, thankfully!), there's nothing about that situation that intrigues me or appeals to me. The stories of Duras' family, though, were incredible, and I would've gladly read hundreds of more pages on that....more
Playing football is hurting people. That's hard for me to say, as a football fan, but it's hurting people, and there's undeniable truth that that is sPlaying football is hurting people. That's hard for me to say, as a football fan, but it's hurting people, and there's undeniable truth that that is so.
Bennet Omalu, the subject of the recent Will Smith movie Concussion, recently compared football to cigarettes, and that comparison is apt for so many reasons, not the least of which is the industry-funded cover-up about the truth of just how dangerous they are.
I would like to think that we are very near the tipping point in the connection between CTE and football where even the NFL is going to have to admit how harmful it is, but we're obviously not there yet.
League of Denial illustrates this connection in a thorough, well-vetted route, from the early days of concussion studies (even the medical community did not think concussions were a big deal until the '80s or so), through to present times. The writers are ESPN writers and have no stake in any of these stories - which is important because there are so many competing interests here.
Even moving just beyond the NFL's appalling behavior to try and minimize the studies done on CTE and football, there's an unbelievable amount of infighting in the science community, to the point that you have scientists reaching out to families to ask for brains immediately after a loved one has died, because they want to beat out a rival researcher. I expected the NFL to do some ugly, dirty things - and oh boy do they - but I was rather appalled at the behavior of some of these scientists, too. At times while reading this, you have to wonder if some of this would've come to light in a much stronger way had there been more cohesion and collaboration in the field. Part of the reason I chose this book over Omalu's is because I wanted an unbiased portrayal, and a bigger picture look. I do worry that Omalu's got an agenda - which isn't to say that I necessarily disagree with it, but particularly after reading this, I do think he has one.
This isn't to say I'm trying to lay the blame on science here, it obviously lies on the NFL, which basically followed the cigarette industry handbook of how to fund studies, bury science, seduce people with money, push people around, etc. Still, you have scientists who are one minute fully behind the CTE-football connection, and who are working for NFL the next (but also a few in the opposite direction)!
If there's anything difficult about League of Denial (aside from the content, that is), it's that there are so many people involved, and it's hard to keep them all straight. I felt like I needed some kind of family tree like in the ASOIAF/Game of Thrones books.
Football is too big to die right now, but that won't always be true. The game has to evolve if it wants to continue. Whether that evolution means fewer contact practices, more practices with dummies, I don't know. Something has to change, and I think something will. To revisit the cigarette comparison, people still smoke despite incontrovertible proof that it kills you. I think that will also be true of playing football, what with it also giving people the ability to make millions (cigarettes just rely on that whole addictive thing). I don't have answers, but the longer these studies continue, the more football players are found to have CTE, the more people they're going to lose. Something needs to change....more
I went on a huge bender with this book. Devoured it in days - only to pull up slightly as I got towards the end, because I didn't want it to be over.I went on a huge bender with this book. Devoured it in days - only to pull up slightly as I got towards the end, because I didn't want it to be over. Then I told all my friends - particularly my women friends who are into fantasy - about it. One of those.
Kelsea Raleigh Glynn is a princess, raised in exile for her protection, until her 19th birthday, when she sets out under protection of the Queen's Guard to claim her rightful place on the throne that her deceased Mother once held. Of course, it's not so simple as that. Her uncle, who's been stewarding the title, wants to keep it - and really, who's in charge in the Tearling when the Tearling has to send hundreds of slaves to the neighboring kingdom of Mortmesne, in order to stave off war against a mysterious and powerful Red Queen? For a lot of parties, it'd be better if Kelsea was dead.
I'm not especially well-versed in fantasy, but I know enough to know that Johansen isn't exactly rewriting the script here. Family turmoil and secrets, wars with neighboring kingdoms, stones with mysterious power, a clan of assassins - these things aren't new. But Johansen is very, very good at all of the world and character building, and her voice is still incredibly unique - in no small measure for the fact that she's a woman in a genre where a lot of the canon is dominated by men. There are multiple strong, women characters - even beyond our main protagonist - and for any genre, that's always refreshing to see. Johansen also does an impeccable job of walking that line where this could be a good YA book for an advanced reader (I think teen me would've loved this if I hadn't been so turned off from fantasy as a teen), but it's at a high enough intellectual level for adults, too.
The only thing that started to wear on me was how often they drove home that Kelsea is a bit homely and a bit chubby. These are great, wonderful things to see in a female heroine - her beauty isn't remarked on by every man near and far. But it tips it a little too far in the other direction. Instead of discussing how rather average she is on all accounts with frequency, maybe just dial back the conversation about her appearance in general? I'm hoping that that's just a symptom of the first book as means of introduction and that it's toned down a bit in the second and third parts of the series - which I await with great anticipation. ...more
Bluest Eye was the second in a series of three books I recently read about the experience of being black in America - the other two being Claudia RankBluest Eye was the second in a series of three books I recently read about the experience of being black in America - the other two being Claudia Rankine's Citizen, and Ta-Naheisi Coates' Between the World and Me (review tk). Each one was brutal and heart-breaking and incredibly moving, and all three work very well individually, but also complement each other nicely.
The Bluest Eye is the oldest work of the three, and the only work of fiction, but felt every bit as modern, as raw, and as real as the other two. It also has the largest scope in that it looks at a community, at family, centered around Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl who wants nothing more than to have blue eyes and blonde hair so she can be seen as pretty in a society that continually puts forth a white, blue eyed and blonde hair image of beauty (particularly in dolls, a potent message to young girls). The novel tracks the way that systemic injustices infect a series of lives by just infecting one - someone who is hurt and humiliated by white men turns into a person who hurts and humiliates others, who then bear that hurt and humiliation, etc.
Again, it's not really for me to speak to the content, beyond to express dismay at the brutality so inherent in Amercia's history (as well as its present), and the way these prejudices have perpetuated in so many different forms. Morrison's prose left me awe-struck. This was the first of her works that I've read, but I'm sure to seek out more again soon....more
I read Citizen in one sitting on a Sunday morning, alternating between having to put it down out of sheer disgust, taking a few sips of coffee, and thI read Citizen in one sitting on a Sunday morning, alternating between having to put it down out of sheer disgust, taking a few sips of coffee, and then having to pick it back up because it was so good, so intense, and I couldn't stop reading.
Rankine hooks you, and we as readers are tossed about, sucker punched, left with our chins hanging open. It's not really for me to speak to the experiences within, the repeated humiliations in forms large and small, from the subtle to the direct, stemming from Rankine's experiences as a black woman in America (as well as the experiences of others placed in hostile situations stemming from racism) -- but it's all brutal, all heart-breaking.
The essay about Serena Williams that anchors the middle is a part that I return to again and again, particularly as a sports fan. I referred a lot of football fans to this book after so many people were (rightfully) disgusted with the press' treatment of Cam Newton in the most recent football season.