I really enjoyed the two seasons of the Netflix series based on this bestselling book and was psyched when a spanking fresh copy of the paperback rece...moreI really enjoyed the two seasons of the Netflix series based on this bestselling book and was psyched when a spanking fresh copy of the paperback recently showed up in my neighborhood's Little Library kiosk ("Take a book, return a book"). Though the series has definite serious and political undertones, it's first and foremost entertainment. Kerman's original raison d'etre however, was deeply activist at the core – she wrote this brisk, funny, smart memoir about her experiences serving a year's sentence in a federal penitentiary mainly in an attempt to shine a spotlight on the deplorable state of America's criminal justice system. She makes a convincing case that it perpetuates itself on the backs of taxpayers and the inmates themselves, returning precious little for the human and material resources it uses up. Kerman now serves on the board of the Women's Prison Association and advocates for justice reform. Here are just a couple of factoid-y passages from her book:
"In 1980, there were approximately 500,000 people in prison in the United States. Today there are 2.3 million. Much of this is due to the "war on drugs," which has not reduced the rates of drug addiction or abuse in this country."
"The United States has the biggest prison population in the world – we incarcerate 25 percent of the world's prisoners, though we are only 5 percent of the world's population."
She also concludes through her own observation and experience that our prison system contributes little to the rehabilitation of inmates, tearing low income families apart and damaging already vulnerable communities. Ultimately, she concludes that what prison really teaches its residents is "how to survive as a prisoner, not as a citizen – not a very constructive body of knowledge for us or the communities to which we return." She makes a compelling case that reform is not only morally right but deeply necessary. I'm really glad I got to read this book and that it has found such a wide audience. (less)
Leela Corman brings the early 1900's New York to vivid life in this ambitious graphic novel about two sisters and the rocky road each of them faces as...moreLeela Corman brings the early 1900's New York to vivid life in this ambitious graphic novel about two sisters and the rocky road each of them faces as they negotiate coming of age in a decidedly pre-feminist society. I don't think it's a perfect book - Corman artistic skills aren't always up to her aspirations - but somehow the rough spots here and there just add to the sincerity and believability of the tale she's woven, and I was never not compelled to keep turning those pages. There are also lots and lots of lovely pages too, don't get me wrong. Like Joyce Farmer's Special Exits, I find that I'm still thinking about it a couple of weeks later. A rereading will definitely be warranted. Recommended. (less)
Jonathan Lethem’s novel The Fortress of Solitude and Dalton Conley’s 2001 memoir Honky are the only books I know of that are about the experiences of...moreJonathan Lethem’s novel The Fortress of Solitude and Dalton Conley’s 2001 memoir Honky are the only books I know of that are about the experiences of white people who grew up as minorities in largely black or otherwise non-white neighborhoods. I grew up in the 70s in a small, then-mostly-white enclave known as Indian Village in Detroit Michigan, which is just 3 streets, each 7 blocks long, surrounded mostly by the ghettos of Eastside Detroit (Indian Village was in fact the setting for the Detroit segments of the acclaimed novel Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides – the protagonist lived just 2 streets down on Seminole Avenue, while I lived on Burns). As I went to public school I was pretty much the only white boy in my class until 5th grade. So naturally I read both books with great, personal interest. Fortress is an ambitious project that mostly succeeds; combining observations on race, class & privilege with (I assume) autobio/memoir, and, surprisingly & rather thrillingly at times, magical realism. While occasionally the story threatens to collapse like a soufflé overwhelmed by too much time in the oven, all of these disparate elements somehow remain intact and coalesce into something memorable. I enjoyed this big, rich novel very much: the 70s, growing up, tough times, friends and enemies, fear and bewilderment, collecting comic books, superheroes, traditional R&B morphing into things like "Rapper's Delight" as times and tastes change, and so much more than can be addressed in this capsule review.........oh, the memories, both good and bad - Lethem really brings them to life again. This white boy gives Fortress four out of 5 stars and a high five.
Vignettes in graphic fiction form from a Food Not Bombs activist worker. I really like this because it avoids the usual sloganeering and presents the...moreVignettes in graphic fiction form from a Food Not Bombs activist worker. I really like this because it avoids the usual sloganeering and presents the issues from a personal, inevitably ambivalent viewpoint. Cagle is a good cartoonist to boot. We need more comics like this - hope more issues are forthcoming. (less)
If I could, I would issue a copy of this new book to every impressionable young gay person just taking those first little timid babysteps out of the c...moreIf I could, I would issue a copy of this new book to every impressionable young gay person just taking those first little timid babysteps out of the closet, in an effort to keep them the hell off of the so-called Right Path of the cookie-cutter mainstream gay scene; I'd encourage them instead to stray over to the less-traveled DIY realm of Larry-Bob and his friends, where folks are encouraged to color outside of the lines and make up their own lyrics, while having a lot more fun thinking for themselves rather than letting others do it for them. Larry-Bob, one of the leading lights of the queer zine scene for the past 20+ years, gives good essay.(less)
Aside from all the old Oprah drama/controversy/bullshit (that even today seems to cast a pall over Jonathan Franzen’s reputation), Freedom is overall...moreAside from all the old Oprah drama/controversy/bullshit (that even today seems to cast a pall over Jonathan Franzen’s reputation), Freedom is overall an excellent novel: always smart, highly involving, and by turns hilarious, moving, thought provoking, and wince inducing (in a good way). I always looked forward to picking it up again whenever I had the chance – which is perhaps the greatest of all the joys of reading. The long section that comprises about the first third of the book, “Mistakes Were Made, Autobiography of Patty Berglund by Patty Berglund (Composed at her Therapist’s Suggestion)” is one of the best pieces of writing I’ve read in the past few years, a tour de force of excruciatingly acute characterization that the rest of the book just doesn’t live up to (highly enjoyable as it all is). In the end, I don’t see Freedom as the latest piece of literature destined for placement in the canon (as some of its publicity/hype machine would have it), but I think it works beautifully as a time capsule for the first decade of our still-young American century. Subsequentally, later this year I want to reread Franzen's The Corrections – a book I absolutely loved when I first read it about 6-7 years ago - to see how that holds up. (less)
I'm surprised this book doesn't have more reviews here on GR: it’s a seriously fascinating, very (pardon the pun) dishy examination of America's culin...moreI'm surprised this book doesn't have more reviews here on GR: it’s a seriously fascinating, very (pardon the pun) dishy examination of America's culinary habits and how they have radically changed - mostly for the better - over the last 70 years or so. This is all due in no small part to the efforts of culinary masters (and the major stars of the book) James Beard, Craig Claiborne, Julia Child, and the doyenne of the famed Berkeley restaurant, Chez Panisse, Alice Waters. These four, among many others, all championed the cause of changing how Americans thought about preparing, eating, and serving food, and several spent considerable energy driving home the common sense of building more sustainable food resources and advocating for free range, grass-fed farming, etc. For these gourmet cooks, writers, and restaurateurs, this was their life’s passion, their raison d'etre, and they contributed to many positive changes in a relatively short time. As the book closes there is some discussion of mending some of the problems of the nation’s atrocious school lunch program, but (on a lighter note) no coverage of my favorite television show, Top Chef, which hadn’t begun airing yet. I learned a lot from this highly entertaining, assuredly written, witty gem of a book and recommend it without reservations (sorry, I couldn't resist). 4 out of 5 stars, and let’s go eat!(less)
A devastating post-mortem on the fate of Detroit, my tragic hometown - what happened and why. It really hurts to read but this is an outstanding work...moreA devastating post-mortem on the fate of Detroit, my tragic hometown - what happened and why. It really hurts to read but this is an outstanding work of scholarship and sociology.(less)
Get your radical activist freak on. Mattilda hosts a collection of essays, manifestos and first hand reports written from the frontlines of the anti-a...moreGet your radical activist freak on. Mattilda hosts a collection of essays, manifestos and first hand reports written from the frontlines of the anti-assimilationist, anti-gay-yuppie-scum movement. Some great stuff in here, notably from Mattilda herself, Carol Queen, my old zinester pal, REB, of Fanorama fame, as well as a wonderful interview with the great Sarah Schulman and Jim Hubbard on organizing the first queer film festivals ever (DIY, baby). A few other contributors left any sense of humor or a certain kind of perspective at home and strike me as probably not a lot of fun to hang around with, but overall this is an important book, guaranteed to challenge a lot of pre-conceived notions and fuel the fires of unrest. Can we get a sequel, please? Bonus: the book's cover is literally one of the best, most beautiful (and apropos) that I've ever seen. (less)