Ah, Murakami. My first challenge in writing this review is finding one of my esoteric little cyber-shelves on which to place this. Poetry? Almost. Life...moreAh, Murakami. My first challenge in writing this review is finding one of my esoteric little cyber-shelves on which to place this. Poetry? Almost. Life-changing? Hardly. I hesitate over "arty-art-art" and skip it over in exchange for "heart-breaking," which is almost true. How to categorize his works?
Just like The Wind-up Bird Chronicles, a number of themes (re)emerge in the lovely, poignant, lucid-sleepwalk that is Kafka on the Shore: an efficient, neatly dressed young man of indeterminate sexuality acting as assistant to a mysterious and elegant middle-aged woman; lost cats; people having sex together only in dreams; accidental clairvoyance; deep, dark wells. This is the stuff Haruki Murakami's dreams are made of.
"Riveting" seems like a word best left to courtroom dramas and spy fiction, not to surrealist tales of precocious 15-year-old runaways and libraries, yet Murakami's mastery of fiction is so complete, the most abstract and vaporous of events becomes seat-of-the-pants storytelling in his hands. Credit should go, too, to his translator, Jay Rubin, who turns the endless cultural references of his subject into flawless English phrase without missing a beat, making Japan seem as natural and accessible as the reader's own thoughts.
While I don't share the fanatical interest his work often inspires in readers, I find his realities are quickly becoming one of my favorite vacation sites. He is in complete control, which is more than I can say for most writers of fiction - and his reveries incite longing in the most unexpected ways.(less)
In a stellar (and readable) example of interdisciplinary historical research, Davis lays bare the skeleton underlying many of the popular conceptions...moreIn a stellar (and readable) example of interdisciplinary historical research, Davis lays bare the skeleton underlying many of the popular conceptions regarding the nature of the "Third World" and its economies. Drawing from sources as diverse as scientific accounts of El Nino and La Nina cycles at the turn of the last century, missionary writings, accountancy notes, travelers' journals, newspaper clippings, and other exhaustive primary and secondary works, Davis describes how the British empire, along with other colonial forces, took advantage of periods of what would have been survivable drought in India, China, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Brazil, and used the circumstances of need to crush the local structures of governance and food-sharing networks and create a horror show of poverty, disease, and the starvation deaths of millions upon millions of people, while simultaneously setting the stage for a further century of economic privation and authoritarian control.(less)
This text should be required reading for participation in the planetary exchange of resources; i.e. breathing, drinking, eating, excreting.
What Lynas...moreThis text should be required reading for participation in the planetary exchange of resources; i.e. breathing, drinking, eating, excreting.
What Lynas has provided here is a comprehensive summary of international research on climate change and carbon emissions from a variety of perspectives and methodologies. The result is a harrowing projection of the kinds of shifts in ecosystems around the world - water tables, weather patterns, food production, biodiversity, ocean acidity - that are likely to occur if the average temperature of the earth goes up by as much as 6 degrees C. In each successive chapter, degree by degree, Lynas walks the reader through the gradual changes humanity can expect to experience, based upon a combination of state-of-the-art computer modeling, statistical probabilities, current observable trends, and historical precedence. The end result walks a fine line between igniting profound motivation for change and tripping the wire of paralytic despair.
A major criticism I have of the work is that, in all but the sketchiest senses, Lynas fails to make the connections between the emissions/warming circumstances and the sociopolitical systems that have precipitated them. Only once or twice does he point directly to global capitalism and consumption at both the industrial and individual levels, and then to predict that - at the point of societal collapse - popular political theory may shift to point blame where it is "deserved." His intention is only to provide an accessible reference for the scientific research as it exists - a moral choice that, given the severity of the circumstances he describes, seems to me cowardly and untenable. Nonetheless, an important book.(less)
This is one of those odd little books that I struggle to find the right label for on my virtual "shelves." Somewhere between the lines, when you add t...moreThis is one of those odd little books that I struggle to find the right label for on my virtual "shelves." Somewhere between the lines, when you add together your in- and out-boxes of "children's," "heart-breaking," "poetry," and "women-gender," what mysteries those flimsy titles may or may not contain, you run into something like this: sweet, savory, often bitter morsels of young life, vignettes of Chicago - though no Chicago known to me - memories stacked one inside the other until they fit into other people's stories, each a page and a half, images so similar to ones of my own, they begin to blur.
This book has been on my mental shelf for years. Bits and pieces, shreds, chapters have turned up in creative writing prompts, English classes, brainstorms, and poetry slams, but I never managed to sit down and read the whole thing. When I did, it took one sitting. A ravenous, juicy hour and a half. It made me want to wear yellow high heels and drink papaya juice out of a can.
This copy was sent to me by my mother-in-law, an avid reader and member of book groups in her native Chicago. The mayor apparently picks a novel a year and the whole city takes it up like a royal fairy-tale decree: classes and chatrooms and coffee houses and community colleges buzz with it, its discussion, its implications. (As an aside - I wonder if the mayor really picks it, or if its some gem of a side job shuffled off to an eager intern underling, an English major whose dreams of artistry were long since stuffed into a cheap attache case and crammed under the filing cabinet. I hope that's the case. What a darling superpower: picking the city's books.)
Cisneros speaks softly and in anthems - her language never full of itself or its own mission, always real, always more like the awkward voice of diaries than the polished drone of "lit-rih-chuh" - yet in so doing, her voice carries high and clear and far over the heads of her imitators and peers.(less)
I met Molly Gloss when I was in high school in Eastern Oregon, the setting for her beautiful novel, The Jump-off Creek. She was a local hero for the s...moreI met Molly Gloss when I was in high school in Eastern Oregon, the setting for her beautiful novel, The Jump-off Creek. She was a local hero for the simple reason that she wrote about our world, our hills, our familiar tamarack forests and sagebrush, our quiet people and the lives they lead. In a state best known for Portland and the accessibility of natural wonder to the urban I-5 corridor, it was a refreshing bit of acknowledgment to see real - published! - art showing an interest in and sensitivity to the rural eastern expanse of the state.
Not to wax too nostalgic: I didn't like growing up there. To me, the hills were beautiful, boring boundaries carefully dividing my sheltered little town from the weird, varied world I knew existed outside the valley. People were mean, and small-minded, and often simple and hateful. I was mocked until I got too strange, and then I was just feared; stupid, superficial things like purple hair and noserings became metaphysical symbols of all that the down-home culture despised, and they made damn sure I knew it.
It is odd, then, that a book like this should come along - a tender, honest portrait of a small community in Eastern Oregon, not directly inside the valley where I lived, but near by a county or two, which in rural terms means practically the same place - and completely break my heart. Never have I had so much longing for a thing I never loved.
First of all, don't judge a book by its cover. No, really. Never in a thousand years would I have chosen to read something with a golden sunset and a girl-on-horseback silhouette. Hell, I even try to avoid anything with the word "heart" in the title, unless it's closely followed by "darkness." If you can't get past it, I recommend wrapping the book in a plain brown wrapper and pushing on through, because if you don't, you will miss one of the more interesting examinations of small-town life, and with it, a young female hero demonstrating perfectly that role models don't need to be princesses, warriors, or ravishingly beautiful to be strong and, more importantly, real.(less)
Shaun Tan's ingenious, occasionally koan-like stories are the intellectual playthings of his incredible artwork. Beasts and wonderlands mesh strangely...moreShaun Tan's ingenious, occasionally koan-like stories are the intellectual playthings of his incredible artwork. Beasts and wonderlands mesh strangely with parking lots, suburbs, and next-door neighbors, bringing familiar magic to everyday life.
His drawings return fantastic and fabulous to their original senses; filled with the kind of wonder that borders right on the edge of fear, humor that teeters on the silly, Tan's most recent collection of stories is a picture book for grown-ups (okay, maybe children can read it, too).
(I have to admit - I was, for some reason, startled to discover that this author is a man; for some reason, I'd imagined a female hand in the creatures and lands that cross his pages.)(less)
Audrey Niffenegger totally won me over with The Time Traveler's Wife:, and I've since been digging around for more work of hers that I can fall in lov...moreAudrey Niffenegger totally won me over with The Time Traveler's Wife:, and I've since been digging around for more work of hers that I can fall in love with. Her other picture book, The Three Incestuous Sisters:, did little for me. This, on the other hand, I thought was wonderful.
Stark and strange and nearly incomplete, this series of images is stitched together with the briefest thread of a story, at once haunting and oddly warm. The afterword explains that the book dates back to the mid-80s, when Niffenegger was a student at the Chicago Art Institute, working on printmaking and other fiber arts (much like her character, Claire). The artwork was produced from a labor intensive-sounding process involving etchings and plates, and the original publication consisted of fewer than a dozen handmade volumes.
I would recommend reading this without the text - let the pictures work their own magic, and sit with it for a while.
This novel is both spare and rich, quick-moving and richly imagined. It is also devastating.
In the tradition of animals-as-protagonists, The White Bo...moreThis novel is both spare and rich, quick-moving and richly imagined. It is also devastating.
In the tradition of animals-as-protagonists, The White Bone relies the least upon clever and familiar anthropomorphic mannerisms and worlds, relative to other classics of the genre, like the weirdly wonderful Duncton Wood, about moles, or the fantastically creepy Watership Down, (whose portrayal of rabbits left me with a permanent fascination and mild fear of the fluffy creatures). Barbara Gowdy creates, instead, a definite and partly alien culture for her characters, complete with kinship structures, celebrations and rituals, hymns, cosmology, care-giving practices, hierarchies, and time/space measurements, all distinct and largely unrelated to our own. What makes this work so beautifully is the research upon which these speculative systems are based, and the genuine love and wonder she has for the species. The other element that makes it all so powerful is her gentle but pointed interweaving of the destructive influence humans have had upon this culture in the "real" world.
The White Bone serves not only as an excellent example of an alternative fiction, but also as a clear statement of protest against the ivory trade and poaching practices in general. Gorgeous, sad, strange. Very highly recommended.(less)
A charming little thought-experiment conducted by a writer of rich yet limited imagination. This book has received rave reviews in a number of journal...moreA charming little thought-experiment conducted by a writer of rich yet limited imagination. This book has received rave reviews in a number of journals over the past few months, and I was on a waiting list at the library for weeks before I had a chance to check it out myself.
Clearly influenced by the structured, dreamlike musings of Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, Sum: Fory Tales from the Afterlives dances neatly through a series of post-life possibilities. Some are clever, some are odd, but few manage to be more than a change of curtains on what is clearly a window into a Judeo-Christian background. There is always a God (capital G), always a mention of sinners and a "you guys get to go one place, and you all go over here." Unfortunately, this book is a missed opportunity for something a bit more mystical, creative, or even simply adventurous.
Eagleman's strongest moments are when he flows inward and touches some of the raw points of sadness we each carry in secret, and when he succumbs to a pantheistic vision that explores natural systems for their own intrinsic miracles.(less)
I read this in one sitting, and it was the best little vacation I've had in months. The praise on the cover is, for once, precise: this beautiful grap...moreI read this in one sitting, and it was the best little vacation I've had in months. The praise on the cover is, for once, precise: this beautiful graphic novel does an unsettlingly good job of recalling the thrill and torture of first loves, the hounded slog of public schools, and the confusion and shame that so often go along with fundamentalist religious upbringings.
Craig Thompson is a wonder; he walks the fine line of emotional honesty and poignancy without becoming precious or trite. His images are tender and lovingly wrought. His characters are familiar and drawn close to the bone. The story itself moves quickly and surely from moment to moment and scene to scene; while it drew more quickly to its end than I was ready for, I felt satisfied and complete once it was finished. I look forward to reading more of his work.
This was recommended to me by a friend whose mind I admire...I was lounging on a carpet in a West Village flat, mug of coffee in hand, and hours of id...moreThis was recommended to me by a friend whose mind I admire...I was lounging on a carpet in a West Village flat, mug of coffee in hand, and hours of ideas pouring slowly back and forth between us. I know so little about history, about politics. He mentioned American pragmatism, and that word - so loaded for a linguist like me - caught my attention. He suggested I read this book, said it had turned on a friend of his, started a fire in his mind that produced a brilliant dissertation. I am beginning to understand why - investigating the links between pragmatism and Anarchism. Will write more soon.(less)
John Fowles has previously rocked my brain into twisted submission with such delights as The Magus and Mantissa. The things that man can do with a Gre...moreJohn Fowles has previously rocked my brain into twisted submission with such delights as The Magus and Mantissa. The things that man can do with a Greek island and sunlight are not to be trifled with.
A dozen or so pages in, and I am not yet hooked. Curious, perhaps, piqued by an accent I cannot place and haunted with two images: that of a thick slice of ham resting on buttered bread, and the other a screaming rabbit with its legs shorn off by a thresher.
I made it to page three hundred and something and then realized with something like shock that I was, well...bored. My list of holds at the library is growing, and I have recently fallen in love with another book, one that is not only engaging and fun but which makes me feel like I'm actually learning something. I guess what I'm saying is that I've been cheating on Daniel Martin, and it's time for us to break up.
It's not that it's not well-written, or that I don't secretly harbor a certain mild fascination with many of the social worlds his characters inhabit. It's just that I'm not convinced my life is being enriched by this experience, and - for this much effort - I need a little more philosophy and less solipsism.
One literary note - I do admit to being fascinated by the complicated and inconsistent use of pronouns throughout..."He" and "Dan" blending into "I" and "we" with no breaks. I can only assume this stylistic choice resolves itself into the larger themes of the book. Too bad I don't have the patience to find out.
This book is worth it, but for long winter nights. It's too close to spring, and I am antsy. I will try again someday.(less)
These are lessons in binding from a seasoned and sympathetic hand at the art, ranging from supremely simple (how to make...moreThis is my new favorite book.
These are lessons in binding from a seasoned and sympathetic hand at the art, ranging from supremely simple (how to make a book from a sugar packet in 10 seconds or fewer) to the breath-taking and complex (but not intimidatingly impossible!!) super-stitched Japanese-style beauties.
Carefully photographed, clearly labeled step-by-step how-to's walk even the most paper-challenged fumbler through the stages of each, and provide a spectrum of advice from the practical (polish your bone folder) to the yogic ("You must be very relaxed to sew a book.") It is full of the best of any kind of recipe: clear instructions, combined with gleeful exhortations to creativity and reckless abandon.
One of the most useful pieces of advice was to be sure to make an ugly book before you make a pretty one. She urges us to practice the forms first - with anything! With blankets, with wadded-up receipts, with yesterday's news - and then to move on to the creative part once we've mastered the techniques. Wise lady - knows me well.
I got this book from the library - a magical place where they actually let you take books home, and you don't even have to pay for them. Can you believe it? This is a relatively new discovery for me, so bear with me in my age of discovery. In any event, I'll be purchasing a copy of this for my very own. It's a must-have on the shelf of anyone who likes to make things, and for word-worshippers, everywhere.(less)
I've been making fun of Victorian literature for so long, I'd completely forgotten that I'd never actually read any. Being in Chin...moreWell, shut my mouth.
I've been making fun of Victorian literature for so long, I'd completely forgotten that I'd never actually read any. Being in China was the worst, where young women currently derive 98% of their impressions of female Western culture from Jane Austen novels, and are subsequently using slang and household vocabulary from the 18th and 19th centuries, with romantic notions to match. "Teacher, I cannot come to class because I have chilblains and ague; oh, I suffer so." And then they swoon over a charged look from a member of the opposite sex, an experience that makes them "flush and reel with unknown passions." Luckily, the other 2% seems to come from the Internet, so they dress like Japanese hookers with a fetish for fantasy novels. It's all very confusing.
In any event, I realized that, if I am to continue to mock my friends' taste in BBC period specials (12-hour versions of Pride and Prejudice and the like), then I should probably familiarize myself with the material. Lo and behold, I can - without pride, OR prejudice - say that Jane Eyre tore me a new one.
Seriously. I was hooked. 545-some-odd pages of wistfulness, swishing skirts, orphanages, and severe Christian morality, and I devoured it in a couple of days. What I hadn't counted on was the deep undercurrent of rebellion that runs through Bronte's work: the unlikely struggle of a woman holding her own against both class and gender inequities, and having her fire and faith in self ultimately rewarded. It doesn't get much better than that! Brava, Miss Charlotte. I'll read more - one of these days.
This edition is a great starter-kit for doubters such as myself, as it's illustrated by the self-proclaimed neo-Victorian hipster extraordinaire, "Dame Darcy," a cartoonist with a delightful body of work best typified by Meatcake, and with a jagged, big-eyed style that dances neatly between Tim Burton and an attack of a 12-year-old with a box of markers.
This book tapped into something I've been thinking about quite a lot lately - the continuum between freedom and security. It seems that, to gain one,...moreThis book tapped into something I've been thinking about quite a lot lately - the continuum between freedom and security. It seems that, to gain one, the other must be sacrificed - that the two are positioned in such a way that requires careful moral calculations to balance or understand.
As a young adult novel, this book does an excellent job of bringing out the complexities of utopian visions, of the difficulties that lie in making choices between collectivity and individualism, and explores very elegantly the positive sides of pain and sorrow.
For obvious reasons, this book is included in many high school reading curricula - it should make its way onto adults' shelves, as well.(less)
Leonard Cohen often makes me cry. I sat on the floor of a bookstore with my hair streaming rain and collecting the smells of coffee and ink and read h...moreLeonard Cohen often makes me cry. I sat on the floor of a bookstore with my hair streaming rain and collecting the smells of coffee and ink and read his book of poetry, Stranger Music, almost cover to cover, mostly in tears. I heard his words in my head long before I remembered he sometimes sang them; I like his voice, and forget to like his music.
This book was strange - at first I wanted to hate it, to be bored by the leaping into the past and the Algonquins and the endless fucking and wailing and madness. I wanted to get tired with page after page of the interiors of a broken man and his bouncing, syphilitic friend. I didn't. Instead, I stayed up nights, marveling at further evidence that the world is exactly as beautiful and perverse as I often suspect it to be; wondering at the bravery and small kinks that make relationships what they are.
Whole pages would trundle on before I'd realize I'd read something remarkable, that I was holding my breath. I'd skip back and look for its beginning, like chasing a thread through a darkened closet to find a sweater quietly unraveling itself. I filled pages of my journal with passages carefully copied word for word. Personal, messy, often not at all a truth that I would claim, sometimes exactly what I would have wanted to say or think or feel, if I'd had the chance or had realized sooner.
What begins as a self-congratulatory, self-destructive exercise in some kind of parallel universe of writing ends as something gentle and lovely, something delicate and whole. I was impressed.
"People sneeze, F., that's all, don't make such a damn miracle out of it, it only depresses me, it's a depressing habit you have of loving to sneeze and of eating apples as if they were juicier for you and being the first one to exclaim how good the movie is. You depress people. We like apples too." (less)