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The Book of Joan
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2018 TOB Shortlist Books > The Book of Joan

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Amy (asawatzky) | 1690 comments so let's talk about it....

Dianah (fig2) | 255 comments Yuknavitch is a genius. This just barely missed my top 5 list this year. She's a very different type of writer, but I've loved everything I've read by her. The Book of Joan is definitely an underdog in the ToB, which is one of the reasons it was my zombie pick.

Peggy | 181 comments It's my zombie pick too. It's so fierce, so intelligent. I've not finished it yet, but I am into it.

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Amy (asawatzky) | 1690 comments I feel like I need an English lit class to get everything that’s there... it’s one of the fewer paged books on the shortlist but I’m suspicious that’s with tiny typeface... there is just so much to parse!

Dianah (fig2) | 255 comments Amy wrote: "I feel like I need an English lit class to get everything that’s there... it’s one of the fewer paged books on the shortlist but I’m suspicious that’s with tiny typeface... there is just so much to..."

Agreed. It is deeply layered.

Janet (justjanet) | 642 comments I feel like I should have read a book about Joan of Arc first so that I could have looked for parallels. I found it to be a challenging read, intelligent and what a wordsmith Yuknavitch is....I felt like I was reading a new language that she had invented just for this rich and nuanced.

Amanda (tnbooklover) | 1 comments I loved this. It takes some guts to frame a Joan of Arc reimagining in a dystopian novel and I think she succeeded brilliantly. It is also my zombie pick.

message 8: by Lljones (new)

Lljones | 172 comments I have it beside me. I've read the jacket, scanned a few pages. I really want to read it, 'cuz she's a Portlander, don't you know.

But. I don't think I can do it. Maybe the Tob judges as commentariat will convince me otherwise, but I don't think so. I don't think even waterboarding would compel me to read it.

message 9: by Jan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jan (janrowell) | 1087 comments Lljones wrote: "I have it beside me. I've read the jacket, scanned a few pages. I really want to read it, 'cuz she's a Portlander, don't you know.

But. I don't think I can do it. Maybe the Tob judges as commentar..."

I'm waiting for the paperback to come out in mid-February, but have read her other stuff and love her fearlessness and intensity. Lljones, what aspects are concerning you? I'm prepared for violence and abuse and have decided to read the paper version rather than listening to the audio because of that.

Love the suggestion of getting more background about Joan before diving in. Does anyone have a specific book to recommend? If not, I'll investigate and see if I find a nice feminist treatment.

message 10: by Sara G (new) - added it

Sara G I DNF it despite it being one of those books that seems tailor-made for my interests. Don't remember why though, so it looks like before the ToB I'll need to give it another go.

Ellen H | 764 comments I'm half-way through. Not loving it, but I'll finish -- with a LOT of skimming. I don't think it helps that I picked it up immediately after finishing Andy Weir's Artemis.

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Megan (gentlyread) | 67 comments I ultimately didn't like this book (the writing style and the worldbuilding didn't fully work for me, and I had mismatched expectations about how it'd handle gender, so the gender angle wasn't really successful for me, either), but it's full of things to think over and talk about.

And extremely quotable:

"My power is not power. It never was. Power is a story humans made when they feared the world they were born into. And feared each other."

I was really interested in how Yuknavitch handled the idea of bodies as forces of political resistance, and I thought it was a really invigorating look at that, with graf storytelling and the myth of Joan of Arc: our bodies carry history and the future, myth and memory. No wonder humans are each other's favorite target for violence.

message 13: by Erin (new) - rated it 4 stars

Erin Glover (erinxglover) | 101 comments Do you really think a little reading about Joan of Arc will make this book a better read? I haven’t picked it up yet and I want to make it as pleasurable as possible so I’m willing to do a little background reading. Thoughts?

Ellen H | 764 comments Hmmm. If you know nothing about her, it might, but I think a general Jeopardy-level knowledge would be fine. Frankly, I don't think much would have made this more pleasurable for me. There was a ponderousness (not to mention humorlessness) to it that no extent of knowing the story of Joan of Arc would ameliorate.

Katie | 127 comments I read this when it came out and I know little about Joan of Arc - just the basics. I really liked this book. It was weird and layered and I'm sure there were things I didn't pick up but I just found it one of the most unique reads of the year for me. That being said I read it a while ago so if I can plow through enough TOB books I may flip back through it pre-tournament. It's a favorite of mine this year.

David | 10 comments There are several references to Shakespeare, too. I don't think one's knowledge of Joan of Arc or Will the Bard will influence an understanding of this novel.

Definitely not feeling the love here. About 2/3 through and have to say: Enough already with the incessant references to the flickering blue light. It gets more mention than Harry Potter's scar!

Ellen H | 764 comments Heh. I'm with you, David; it was a short book but seemed endless to me.

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Amy (asawatzky) | 1690 comments I’ll “ditto” that. It feels like this must have been tiny font, close-spaced or something to be under 300pgs. Maybe we need word counts instead of pages in our book specs!

message 19: by Bob (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bob Lopez | 378 comments Did anyone else listen to it? I feel like I missed out on something because the reader sounds like she's dozing off and I got distracted from time to time. It often felt like the book was missing chapters. I may give it an actual read if I got time before the tournament because the reasons for praise it's receiving seem to align with my typical book preferences. I dunno what to think.

Ellen H | 764 comments Well, Bob...I dunno. I got the same sense and I was reading it. In print. From the book.

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Kelly | 28 comments I'm on chapter 3 and considering putting it down. Its just not doing anything to capture my interest. Do I care why people became marbleized sexless zombies who scar themselves for the hell of it? Right now, not one tiny bit.

For those who finished, does it get better? Or if I don't like the beginning, am I not likely to enjoy the rest?

Ellen H | 764 comments Well, it's a matter of taste and opinion, but to my mind, that was kind of...the BEST part of the book. My reading involved a lot of skimming.

Peggy | 181 comments Kelly wrote: "I'm on chapter 3 and considering putting it down. Its just not doing anything to capture my interest. Do I care why people became marbleized sexless zombies who scar themselves for the hell of it? ..."

I really loved this book and thought the body stuff in particular was compelling. But...if you're not liking it...I don't think it changes quite enough for you to get into it as things progress. It does leave CIEL at a certain point (I don't think that's a spoiler) but, again, it still covers some of the same ideas/themes, so it still might not work for you. My two cents, anyhow.

message 24: by Adam (new) - rated it 2 stars

Adam (adamstephenhall) I keep falling asleep while reading this. I’m really trying here. Just not for me.

The incessant action-hero one-liners are just so not good.

Alison Hardtmann (ridgewaygirl) | 459 comments The first four chapters almost did me in. I kept reading because it's a ToB book, though. It got a bit better, and though it never became something I enjoyed reading, there was something there.

I liked some of the ideas, the future people lacking hair and genitals, the idea of earth throwing off humans, the way wealthy people used grafts and scarification as status symbols.

But the writing was often over-wrought. We spent so much time reading about how very emotional and important an event was that the event itself became slow-moving and opaque. I really don't love that style of writing that tells the reader how much stronger and more important the characters' emotions are than everyone else's.

message 26: by Ezzy (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ezzy | 30 comments What a slog!

At times I felt like the writing was so good, but every scene seemed to devolve into something both trite and overwrought. There wasn't enough world building to make me care about the plot, but too much character description that made them feel like archetypes rather than real people. (Or whatever we're calling humanoids in the future, if not people)

My reading wasn't helped by having recently finished "On the Backs of Small Children." I get it! Sex is violence and violence is sex! All of it is directed at children and everything is terrible! Humanity is terrible! Please force feed me another tortured mother/earth metaphor before we all give up and burn it all down!

No Actual Spoilers but My Feelings About the End:
After all that, the end felt like an unfortunate mash-up between a Bond villain's final "I've got you now!" and a Harlequin romance novel, with a little young-adult "only one savior" thrown in for good [bad] measure.

message 27: by Erin (new) - rated it 4 stars

Erin Glover (erinxglover) | 101 comments I just started this and got sucked in immediately. I don't usually read sci-fi and never would have picked this up without TOB. But at the 10% mark, I'm completely enthralled. I think I'm really going to enjoy this one. I've been putting off the last five books I haven't read for TOB and reading them in the order I think I'll like them the most. This would have gone ahead of Idaho and Manhattan Beach if I hadn't let the genre scare me off. The last sci-fi book I read was Borne and I couldn't stand it.

message 28: by Adam (last edited Jan 23, 2018 01:55PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Adam (adamstephenhall) Ezzy, Bond villain is a spot-on description.

I also think Erin's response helps me understand why I'm having such a negative reaction to this book. Being perhaps too familiar with superheroes/science fiction/fantasy in my youth, I felt this story used all the tropes of those genres without adding anything new, and with less self-awareness than authors who normally work with them. (I mean, most of Jean De Men's dialogue would be excised from even the most derivative of comic books.) However, I can totally see how someone without that kind of exposure to genre fiction would be enamored with it.

There are a lot of creative ideas here that could be used to great effect in a genre piece, but the execution is lacking, in my mind. I adore more "literary" approaches to genre works; it's just that this one fails to transcend its sources of inspiration and falls victim to their worst excesses.

message 29: by Adam (last edited Jan 23, 2018 08:31PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Adam (adamstephenhall) Now that I’ve finished the book since my last post, I feel as though I was too harsh. I did like the reveal of Jean de Men, and the relation between bodies and language was very cool. On the whole, though, I felt the novel was far too didactic at the expense of either strong character work or a compelling narrative: I need one or the other. I do understand the novel is intended to be experimental/poetic, but its melding of that and genre struck me as uneven and disjointed and simply didn’t add up to an enjoyable reading experience for me personally. I can see how others’ opinions could differ.

Alison Hardtmann (ridgewaygirl) | 459 comments After giving it a few days to settle in my mind, I like this book less than I did when I finished it. And I'm willing to admit that it's largely down to the writing style, which struck me as fan-fictiony* in it's constant need to make every breath significant and emotionally meaningful. Yuknavitch tells us, over and over again, how emotional each moment is (especially for Christine) so that emotional weight isn't allowed to develop over the course of the novel, but is dumped on the reader's head. over and over again.

* In no way is this a criticism of fan fiction. There is some high quality stuff out there. I'm referring to how it sometimes seeks to elicit an intense emotional response in the reader, and tries to do so in a few thousand words.

message 31: by Adam (last edited Jan 24, 2018 07:14AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Adam (adamstephenhall) Exactly how I felt, Alison. I wanted to think that maybe the heightened tone of the narrative would serve as some sort of meta commentary on the material, but no: it had the delicacy of an emotive teenager's journal entries.

I will say this, though: I've been thinking about this book more than many ToB books I unequivocally enjoyed reading. So there's that, I guess.

message 32: by Ezzy (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ezzy | 30 comments Alison wrote: "Yuknavitch tells us, over and over again, how emotional each moment is (especially for Christine) so that emotional weight isn't allowed to develop over the course of the novel, but is dumped on the reader's head. over and over again.."

That sums it up for me. None of the meaning or significance is conveyed in the description of the event or plot, so we have to be told over and over again how the characters feel about it.

message 33: by Nadine in California (last edited Jan 27, 2018 07:51AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nadine in California (nadinekc) | 581 comments I loved the language but was so grossed out by the humans on CIELO that I nearly quit, but I'm glad I kept going. So many ideas in this book, my mind is spinning. I started thinking about them in my GR
, but my little brain pooped out fast and didn't get too far ;)

message 34: by Jan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jan (janrowell) | 1087 comments Fascinating review of this in The Guardian.

@Nadine, love your longer GR review. It does sound like Foucault would be good background for this one. ;-) I'm holding out on reading it for a few more weeks (waiting for the PB, other stuff in the queue ahead of it), but I respect LY's fearlessness and, like Erin, am not a normal consumer of SF, so I'm hoping I'll find it interesting and not too traumatizing to read. Not my normal hopes when starting a book, haha!

Nadine in California (nadinekc) | 581 comments Jan wrote: "Fascinating review of this in The Guardian."

Thanks for sharing the review! In the best of all possible worlds (maybe one with 30 hour days) I'd read this again, and not as fast. But reading reviews and discussions is the next best thing.

message 36: by Erin (new) - rated it 4 stars

Erin Glover (erinxglover) | 101 comments Weird. I liked this novel less at the end than at the beginning. The author repeated the themes ad nauseam. Okay. I get it. I'm not stupid. Joan's story is tethered not to a god or messiah but to the planet, to matter, to her body; the more we understand the body the more we understand the universe; the things we thought we created were always within our bodies; look to the earth (matter) not the sky; look down, not up; humans never-ending ego-driven consumption led to the demise of the planet; love conquers all; and so on.

I think Allison mentioned how the author overwrote the emotions. I think she overwrote the themes, the settings, the love Joan felt for Leone, the love Christine felt for the guy being executed and just about everything. The author says the same thing in different ways over and over, (See the themes, above.)

I don't read sci-fi but my husband loves Marvel Comics movies so I've seen Iron Man, I loved Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, and the blind lawyer one. I bring this up because Jean de Men tested my ability to suspend my disbelief. When I read about Nyx's mutilation, the author lost me. I just couldn't believe it. It seemed too outlandish. Granted, I don't read this genre, but doesn't that make me qualified to render an opinion on whether something is believable?

This novel started out so strong and just didn't fulfill its promise. Joan was so powerful at the beginning. Yuknavitch was trying to make her even more powerful at the end, but I think the way she wrote it, she made her less powerful.

message 37: by Ryan (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ryan Fields | 77 comments I just read this over the last few days and, while not really enjoying it, I did find some of the references and themes interesting. Also, I liked the idea of using historical figures such as Joan of Arc, Christine de Pizan, and Jean de Meun (not sure I liked the way it was carried out). As someone mentioned above, there were several references and parallels to Shakespeare: a borrowed quote from Hamlet, Trinculo and the idea of prison from the Tempest, and even disfigurement and the cheesy violence from Titus Andronicus. Maybe this will lead to a lot of discussion during the tournament.

Bryn (Plus Others) (brynplusplus) | 94 comments Erin wrote: "Granted, I don't read this genre, but doesn't that make me qualified to render an opinion on whether something is believable?"

I haven't yet decided if I will finish this, but I wouldn't say that this book really falls within the genre -- it uses the trappings of the genre to make its points, but as best I can tell it isn't in conversation with other science fiction novels, and reading it using genre reading protocols would run into difficulties very quickly.

message 39: by Eric (last edited Feb 03, 2018 08:43AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Eric | 90 comments People who don't read a lot of SF usually try to distance popular literary SF novels from the genre. As though it is a ghetto that more refined readers wouldn't want to explore. But I read a lot of SF and can tell you this book reads like an exciting example of the state of the art of that genre. I'm also reading N.K. Jemisin's The Fifth Season (Hugo winner) right now, and they could live on the same shelf.

I'm only 40 pages in, but it has the feel to me of other of my favorite SF writers, like Harlan Ellison and Ursula K. LeGuin.

message 40: by Adam (new) - rated it 2 stars

Adam (adamstephenhall) While I don’t share Eric’s high opinion of the book, I agree that it’s functionally a genre novel. This isn’t a bad thing. The only difference is in its branding.

message 41: by Eric (new) - rated it 4 stars

Eric | 90 comments Finished it today. I got a definite Harlan Ellison vibe from it. It's like a full length SF novel he never wrote.

message 42: by Jan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jan (janrowell) | 1087 comments I'm getting down to the bottom of my TOB reading list, gearing up for this one by reading a short bio of Joan...written by the guy who's also done bios of Jackie O, Audrey Hepburn and Alfred Hitchcock. Because, um, yolo?

message 43: by Heather (new)

Heather (hlynhart) | 308 comments I think I'm gonna go ahead and nope on out of this one. Got up to pg 57 and I'm just bored....Got too many other books I want to read. The only other shortlist ones I haven't gotten to yet are The End Of Eddy, Lucky Boy and Savage Theories. I have them all in my possession from the library, so I will try them all, but I'm no longer gonna pressure myself to finish any that I don't enjoy.

Bretnie | 479 comments I wonder if the timing of reading this book made me enjoy it less. I've been on a bit of a depressing/intense run of books lately, and maybe this one marked the last melancholy straw I could handle. I usually enjoy post-apocalyptic sci-fi, but I found myself frustrated that the plot didn't quite live up to the interesting ideas.

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Amy (asawatzky) | 1690 comments DNF this one.

Melanie Greene (dakimel) | 236 comments I finished, but because I could change the speed on the audiobook to 1.75 & listen while I walked today.

This started out v strong for me, and then the aforementioned bludgeoning of repetition of themes and telling of emotions just drained all my enthusiasm away. It felt like she had Big Ideas To Convey, but they weren't explored to any satisfying ends - just "here is a thing you should notice" "here is another"

Melanie Greene (dakimel) | 236 comments Spoiler-laden rant ahead:

My biggest problem, with this - and whenever else I find it - is the whole "one person loves / was scorned by / stole a pencil from in grade school / betrayed another, and now their interpersonal conflict is going to result in GLOBAL DESTRUCTION" arc.

It felt like Christine led the resistance because she had a crush on Trink (sorry, audiobook - I'm prob getting names wrong) and Trink fought with Jean because Jean... did something bad to his boyfriend? I zoned out on that part... and since Trink hated Jean, and Christine would Do Anything For Love, she formed an army.

Like, if Jean needed defeating, and they had the same resources all along (it didn't seem like there was much preventing the exact events happening earlier?), why didn't they act sooner? Am I supposed to like Christine waiting / ignoring the suffering of everyone except Trink until she was on her last year of scheduled life to act? And to just accept that Trink was going around building spider and salamander networks for secret messages but never conveying basic info like "Joan is alive" "I have a network on Earth" "Jean thinks he's controlling me but really I'm controlling him, so no worries when he starts torturing me more" "Jean's experimentation on humans is become even more monstrous"? Like, take a moment between trying to get Christine - who you're not sexually attracted to - to sit on your dildo, and maybe spit out a fact or two.

Or, wait until someone gets really mad because of an injury to a loved one, and then start a war.

Joan's motivation works for me - she didn't know all the crap happening on CIEL so her drive to get up there and kick some ass and take some names once her girlfriend was nabbed makes sense - there was a genuine sense of urgency & high stakes to her plot. She found out about CIEL, they stole away her love, she got there and found out her visions were telling her there was massive horror being perpetrated, and she turned her personal vendetta into one that impacted the world. That's a lot different than knowing everything is bad all along, but not using the power you have to better things until your loved one is threatened.

tl; dr: #Resist

Madeleine | 6 comments Did anyone like the reveal about Jean de Men and feel like they understood what it contributed to the book? I had no idea what purpose it served, other than to be shocking and creepy, which feels transphobic to me. I got some kind of terfy vibes in general from this--the idea that these cold future people are genderless blobs and Joan, the only person who's really tied to the REAL EARTH, is the only one who STILL HAS A GENDER! I only finished it recently and am still working through it in my mind, so this is less a critique and more something I'm puzzling over. Would love to hear some other takes!

message 49: by Eric (new) - rated it 4 stars

Eric | 90 comments It's funny. I was just reading The Fifth Season at the same time, and there was a scene where an ostensibly female character is revealed to have a penis. It was a weird coincidence that I read that and the scene in The Book of Joan on the same day.

Melanie Greene (dakimel) | 236 comments Madeleine wrote: "Did anyone like the reveal about Jean de Men and feel like they understood what it contributed to the book? "

like? no
understand? no

so there's the whole 'we capture people with wombs and then experiment on them and hold them and discard them to the rubbish heap when their wombs fail to produce babies' line, which is a horror show but at least in line with Dystopian Stories Where Human Reproduction Is Difficult. And I think the book would have worked better for me if that had been the focus of the cold future / genderless blob plot.

Add in the numerous references to Christine's longing to be filled, her continual fantasies about her gay friend as a potential sex partner if only it weren't for the unfortunate erasure of all sex organs (and her own willingness to erase his sexuality to suit her), the fetishizing of sex - of penises and penetration especially. All that wraps in with my irritation about One Interpersonal Relationship Results In Global War / Destruction. And it felt like the Jean revelation existed only for shock value (which means we must subscribe to the view that being trans is So Shocking - very terfy indeed), because in this world, no matter how many vulvas or penises one has naturally or through body-mods, you're not using them for pleasure or for reproduction. I can finesse the ideas around to make it connect to the destruction of the planet or mechanization of the CIEL world, but it wasn't organically there for me.

I just didn't feel Yuknavitch gave us a solid through-line that gave meaning to the Jean reveal, and also that the narrative about Christine's search for a connection to her former "earthiness" (the kind that only Joan Who Still Has Hair & a Womb retains) wasn't tied into the overall storyline in a satisfying way.

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