What a fun read! I received a free copy of Rita Mae Brown's seminal masterpiece as part of a gift bag at this year's Lambda Literary Awards (I was theWhat a fun read! I received a free copy of Rita Mae Brown's seminal masterpiece as part of a gift bag at this year's Lambda Literary Awards (I was there because my book was nominated!). I've been meaning to read Rubyfruit for years, but had never gotten around to it, but, boy, am I glad this was literally placed in my hands! I tore through it in about two days.
I place this book in the same category as Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City series. Like Maupin's work, Rubyfruit is funny and lighthearted while remaining an important cultural and historical touchstone. The book's not perfect, though. Like many early LGBT texts it indulges a queer utopia where, seemingly, everybody is gay. I also found some of the scenes troubling from a contemporary political perspective. For instance, there are a couple of instances where some of the women force themselves on ostensibly heterosexual women, convinced that all they need to realize that they're lesbian is some woman-on-woman action. How many times have we heard that excuse from straight men? Still, I make allowances for books like this that broke through and made bold first strides for LGBT literature. I'd definitely recommend it to a friend.
I enjoyed these two novellas, but I'm glad Murakami has grown as a writer since then. What later will be an interesting take on male waywardness hereI enjoyed these two novellas, but I'm glad Murakami has grown as a writer since then. What later will be an interesting take on male waywardness here reads a bit bro-y and a lot misogynistic. I was more engaged with the "Pinball" half, but I think that's largely due to the fact that I've read it before (in a different translation). I recommend this for Murakami completists and those interested in seeing the scaffolding for his better works, but don't start with these if you've never read him before; you'll be disappointed. ...more
I picked this up with very little knowledge about its contents—only a vague concept about it being the story of a man caught between cultures. Good thI picked this up with very little knowledge about its contents—only a vague concept about it being the story of a man caught between cultures. Good thing, too, because I tend to shy away from war books and there's a fair amount of that in here. Still, I'm glad I did pick it up. Whether writing directly about the war or not, Nguyen's eloquent prose expertly captures the immigrant/exile experience, the double consciousness of belonging nowhere and the futile attempt to fit into categories that don't accommodate multitudinous identities. At its heart the book is about friendship, camaraderie, and bounds among men (a common enough theme in war books), but the point is balanced against cultural, economic, and political concerns. There are lessons to be learned here regarding our current adventures in the Middle East and elsewhere, particularly in his depictions of jingoistic policies. I liked the way Nguyen resisted neat categorizations of good and bad, though, allowing a full measure of sincerity to blossom throughout. Everybody's got skin in the game here, and the right side is more a matter of perspective than anything else.
A final point: I loved the part about how the history of the Vietnam War was the first history to be written by the loser.
If you liked this, make sure to follow me on Goodreads for more reviews! ...more
I really struggled with this one. The last two sections were probably closer to 4 stars, but overall the book felt solidly 3 stars to me. Yanagihara'sI really struggled with this one. The last two sections were probably closer to 4 stars, but overall the book felt solidly 3 stars to me. Yanagihara's prose is lush and often beautiful, but it is also weighed down by a lot of repetition and sentences that trail off into unnecessary digressions. It's also a bit of a bait-and-switch. I started this book thinking it was going to be about a group of four friends trying to make it in New York. In that way, it appealed to my own nostalgia for my twenties in New York and the solid group of friends that I made there. Yanagihara's cast is a resplendent patchwork of familiar types in the city. There's Willem the struggling actor; Jude the quiet, sensitive soul with a mysterious past; JB the acerbic artist, convinced of his own genius; and, lastly, Malcolm, the son of privilege, a wanna-be architect. Of these Malcolm was my favorite. Unfortunately for me, he quickly becomes a tertiary character, relegated to cameos filtered through Jude and Willem's perspective. The bulk of this 700+ page book is given over to Jude's life and Willem's role in it. While it quickly becomes apparent why Jude is an interesting character, I had a lot of trouble mustering enough empathy for him to sustain me throughout. I won't go into details (because the bulk of this book is in the details), but let's just say that while I sympathized with his plight I didn't need to rehash it for as long as I was made to.
I started off by saying that the final two sections saved the book for me. I think that's in large part because all the backstory was done by that point, and we got to just experience these characters and their present struggle without too much purposely engineered mystery. I also felt that the emotional impact (expect plenty of tears) of the ending rung more authentic than it had earlier.
Overall, I think this is a good book, but I'm not sure if it's one I'll keep around on my book shelf forever. Read it for the generally strong prose, endure the indulgences of style, and prepare to wallow in some depths.
I read this as the civil disobedience protests in Baltimore were unfolding, which was a rather apt time. A large chunk of the essays in Solnit's "encyI read this as the civil disobedience protests in Baltimore were unfolding, which was a rather apt time. A large chunk of the essays in Solnit's "encyclopedia" examine the myth of looting. In the process she exposes the media and cultural fixation on property over people, arguing that in most cases (and it's important to note that her case studies are natural disasters, the Haitian earthquake and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans) during catastrophes civil society emerges to fill in the vacuum left by the environmental disruption. Most people, she notes, are "looting" to feed or care for their families and communities. She goes on to say that while things like TV's do also get taken, it's a small price to pay, and that attempting to protect property requires redirecting resources away from more critical needs. In her examples, these needs largely amount to rescuing people affected by natural disasters, but one can easily apply it to something like Baltimore. The difference there might be that focusing on "looting" diverts public attention from the much more critical issue of systemic racism.
The book is about more than "looting." Solnit is never short of reliably left-wing critiques running the gamut of environmental hazards to public shaming of rapacious capitalists. If there is a strong unifying element through the book it's an exploration of the power of civil society. She's working towards a rallying cry. Unfortunately, some of the more hopeful moments (Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring) maybe didn't go on to the be the utopian ideal Solnit is clearly hoping for.
Often when I read systemic critiques it feels like there's nothing to do with my anger after the fact. Everything can start to feel hopeless, but Solnit does an admirable job of balancing the fatalism and rage with moments of hope. I give her kudos for that!
A thawing of the icy relations between the United States and Cuba has brought a renewed interest StatesideReview Originally Appeared on The Collagist
A thawing of the icy relations between the United States and Cuba has brought a renewed interest Stateside in the Caribbean island's cultural patrimony. Cuba has a proud literary tradition dating back to the 19th-century poet and freedom fighter José Martí, whose work outside the island is largely known in song form; one of his poems was adapted into the 1960's international hit "Guantanamera" by Pete Seeger. Martí's principal contribution was a call for freedom, liberty, and democracy. His enduring legacy in Cuba (and beyond) today is testament to the timelessness of those ideas, as well as a study in how concepts of liberty can be co-opted by restrictive regimes—Martí remains a strong symbol of Cuban patriotism and one oft-cited by the Castro administration.
Less international attention has been paid to the genres in Cuban writing, however. Though that, too, is changing in the new geopolitical climate. For instance, Restless Books is turning the spotlight on Cuba's science fiction by making two titles available to American readers for the first time: A Planet for Rent by Yoss, a contemporary writer and "Friki" (literally, "Freaky"; colloquially, punk rocker), and A Legend of the Future by Agustín de Rojas. While Yoss has enjoyed some exposure outside his native land in recent years, de Rojas is less known, but perhaps more influential in the world of Cuban sci-fi. In contrast to better-known Cuban writers—people like Reinaldo Arenas, who initially supported the revolution before ultimately fleeing the island as a political dissident in 1980—de Rojas' work is committed to the utopian ideals of Socialism. His critique takes a different form than Arenas' satire. By hewing closely to the convictions of the revolution, he reveals how far from the ideal Castro's regime has strayed.
Set amidst the backdrop of a global contest between two superpowers for world domination, A Legend of the Future tells the tragic tale of the first manned journey to Saturn's moon, Titan. Things don't go quite as planned for the crew of Sviatagor. Following a disaster that leaves most of them dead, the three remaining crewmembers—Isanusi, Gema, and Thondup—must find a way to get back to Earth despite their injuries and the ship's reduced capacities. What develops on the isolated ship is a microcosm of the perils and advantages of collectivism.
Following the death of so many of her friends and colleagues, Gema's psychological state is in danger of collapsing. To prevent this, Thondup activates a conditioning program that alters her consciousness and turns her into a kind of android. (Thondup himself is on shaky psychological ground, only managing to stave off psychosis with regular doses of psychostabilizers.) While the benefits of such a transformation keep the diminished crew from fracturing in the immediate aftermath of the accident, the long-term results are less clear, though they do suggest a potential loss of Gema's fundamental humanity. De Rojas writes:
"Did Thondup explain the conditioning to you?" [Isanusi asked Gema.] "Yes." "Was it helpful?" "Reasonably. Why didn't they include all that explanation in my memory? I wouldn't have had to waste so much time. . ." "Can you undertake the task now?" "Which task?" "Rescue all you can from your previous mental make-up, and merge it with your new one. Do you think you can do that?" "There's a good probability of it, but . . . I'm overwhelmed with work. And to do what you're suggesting takes time. I don't know if I'll have enough to recover what you want before it finally disappears." "You're not saying what you really think, Gema." The young woman said nothing. "Speak." "Isanusi . . . Thondup is a psychosociologist." "I know, he has been for a long time." "He doesn't think it's possible." "There's no reason he has to be right there's no previous experience of this kind of conditioning, Gema. Everything we say to you is simply guesswork. . . . The result depends on you, on your efforts."
One gets the sense that de Rojas is gesturing towards the larger collectivism experiment that is part of Socialism. A Legend of the Future was published in 1985, which was in retrospect, perhaps the apogee of Castro's revolution. The regime was secure from American intervention and ideologically oriented. Cuba would enjoy a few more years of Soviet sponsorship before descending into the dreaded "Special Period" of shortages and cataclysmic economic decline in the wake of Soviet collapse. 1985 was likely a relatively hopeful time on the island, a time when the sacrifices Castro demanded in the struggle to establish a new order were waning. Perhaps it would have seemed possible to rescue what was good from before the revolution and integrate it with the newly remodeled nation in much the same way Gema might yet recover the essence of her humanity while operating as an avatar of the state.
It's not just Gema who becomes a living experiment in the collectivist spirit of a utopian new society, however. As she and Thondup succumb to radiation sickness, the successful return of Sviatagor to Earth depends on whether or not the rapidly degrading body of Isanusi—whose name, de Rojas tells us, means "'the seer' or 'he who sees most'"—can be replaced by the ship itself. The scheme involves transplanting Isanusi's consciousness into the ship, which is not as easy as it might seem at first blush—even for a work of science fiction. Sviatagor's crew represent a "united, solid collectivity that...will be able to face any challenge . . .As long as they remain intact." With all of them dead (or very nearly dead) the ability of any individual to successfully bring the ship home without the support of the unit's "mutual dependence" seems unlikely unless Gema and Isanusi are able to form an "emotional telepathy" that will allow Isanusi's consciousness to maintain the emotional imprint of the entire crew and thus save him from total isolation. Sviatagor—under the control of Isanusi's consciousness—does ultimately return home, but the implications extend beyond a mere happy ending. The ship's name is a reference to a tragic figure from Russian mythology who was imprisoned and left to die in a stone coffin and who has come to embody the spirit of an edenic Russia. De Rojas draws a clear connection between the folkloric hero and the ship-of-state here, and, by extension, the utopian Socialist project underway in Cuba. Individual desire, he seems to argue, must be sacrificed in service to the collective good, yet the individual's humanity must be retained, for it is the only thing capable of holding the entire operation together.
1985 was a long time ago and much has changed in Cuba and abroad, but, in a sense, a similar historical moment is playing out on the island today. The Obama administration's doctrine of re-engagement with Cuba after five decades of isolation is one predicated on hope and, unsurprisingly, change—the hope that the reintegration of the neighboring countries can usher in a new era of prosperity for Cubans, which will, inevitably, lead to a change in the political atmosphere. Written thirty years ago, de Rojas' words serve as both justification and warning for the project. The question remains whether or not the Cuban people will be able to reap the benefits of renewed relations with their neighbor and long-standing political adversary without losing whatever benefits their long sacrifice has earned. The literature can point the way, but it's no guarantee of a safe arrival. After all, in Martí we've seen the facility with which enlightened ideas can be manipulated to bolster baser realities.
Another great offering from KSR! In a way this book has a greater scope than his previous works because it has mankind spreading beyond our solar systAnother great offering from KSR! In a way this book has a greater scope than his previous works because it has mankind spreading beyond our solar system, but in another way it's actually quite compact. The majority of the novel takes place on the generation ship, so we get to watch a microcosm of humanity play out in a confined space. That was a big plus for me as I tend to be drawn to books that take their characters and isolate them in some kind of arena.
Overall, I found Aurora to be less optimistic than, say, the Mars Trilogy, or even the decidedly bleak 2312. It seems that after years of exploring the utopian possibilities of technological advances, Robinson is pulling back a bit. I found the shift refreshing and intriguing. But not everything in this book is a departure from his usual topics. A fair amount of the dramatic tension is given over to politicing. I think that's something I appreciate more and more as I read his books. Anybody can make an interstellar space journey interesting, but it takes a special talent to craft parliamentary procedure and governmental participation into a compelling narrative.
One of KSR"s big themes is the technological sublime. You can see it everywhere in his books manifested as heavy world building (sometimes to a fault). I watched a video of a lecture he gave on the topic a while back in which he explains that he likes to use the technology as a way to reboot an appreciation for the natural world. Aurora succeeds at that perhaps better than his earlier books, and without resorting to tedious depictions of soil or habitats and the like. While the description is a bit more restrained the sense of appreciation for a natural world is palpable on almost every page here.
Hargrove tells a compelling story of his life with the killer whales at SeaWorld. His passion for these mammals shines through. The big moments in theHargrove tells a compelling story of his life with the killer whales at SeaWorld. His passion for these mammals shines through. The big moments in the book revolve around the moments of aggression that lead to the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau and others as well as various injuries in the parks' half a century with the animals. But the quieter moments provided a poignant counterpoint. We see Hargrove and his fellow trainers' dedication to the whales, as well as their tireless efforts to improve their living conditions. For the most part, the trainers were fulfilling childhood dreams. Their complicity in the abusive system of orca captivity stems from a place of childhood naivety. It must be hard to speak out against a system and a company that has been your north star for so long, much easier to subscribe to the corporate line. Hargrove spoke out, but, notably, only after a fourteen year career that came to an end, at least in part, because he could no longer, physically, complete the work.
I sped through this book and thoroughly enjoyed it, but I felt like a lot of it was material I already encountered in Blackfish. I recommend it for people who want some more detail after watching the film. ...more
I found this to be a delightful and impactful read. Heiny excels at mixing humor and pathos. Here's one of my favorite parts. I think it illustrates tI found this to be a delightful and impactful read. Heiny excels at mixing humor and pathos. Here's one of my favorite parts. I think it illustrates the tone of the book perfectly:
In the days right after Josie and Billy had sex for the fourth and last time, Chicken Pox called to tell her that Diet Coke was on sale at the supermarket, two packs for ten dollars, and this put Josie in such a black mood that she lied and told Chicken Pox that she got a better deal at the supermarket way outside of town and Chicken Pox said, "Oh, my God! The twelve-packs or the twenty-four-packs?" and Josie said the twenty-four-packs, and Chicken Pox made a distressed sound and said, "How much did you pay?" and Josie told her three dollars per pack, and Chicken Pox said in a sad voice, "But you probably didn't save all that much, when you figure in the price of gas driving there," and Josie hung up because she was about to say that she had had a fifty-percent-off coupon for gas, which is, like, impossible, as far as Josie knows, and of course none of this was Chicken Pox's fault anyway.
We've all been there! Right?
A lot of the stories revolve around affairs, and I walked away from this collection thinking it was a commentary on how women often lack agency in their lives and, as a result, are forced into conventional arrangements that lead to unhappiness. But I'm not so sure it's that neat of a summation. I think there's something else below the surface that I can't see clearly. Yeah, there's a lot of ennui in the book, but there's a lot of joy too. And it's not like the characters are without resources. Most of the protagonists are financially independent and emotionally grounded. Rather the tension seems to spring from a desire to have this and that simultaneously. Maybe what's going on here is more a comment on the unsatisfactory nature of any life that requires you to pick just one path.