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[personal profile] emma_in_dream
I chose this picture book randomly from the shelf because I was looking for a book to encourage eating vegetables. And then, bonus!, it is eligible for this challenge.

It does all the things a book for a picky preschool eater is meant to. It has colourful foods and counting and games and at the end there is a recipe. Pearl looked at the recipe and said NO SOUP! so she is perhaps pickier than the intended reader.
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[personal profile] emma_in_dream
This is bit of a placeholder of a post - I read it, I liked it.

It seemed that the first couple of chapters on African-American art prior to 1900 are different in tone to the later chapters on modern art.

The beginning chapters are the kind of art history which trace forgotten and overlooked artists. My favourite is definitely Dave the Potter who threw large, obviously pretty strong pots (50 have survived). He wrote his own poetry on each jar. 'Great and Noble jar/ Hold sheep, goat, or bear, May 13 1859, Dave'.

The later chapters deal with developments since 1900, and the constant reworkings of the same debate: which is more important, broader artistic traditions or identity as an African-American?
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[personal profile] emma_in_dream
Kim Scott, Iris Woods and the Wirlomin Noongar Language and Stories Project, Mamang (2011)

This is a University of Western Australia Press picture book. It represents a story originally told by Freddie Winmer to a linguist in the 1930s, found, workshopped with his Noongar descendants and presented as a picture book.

I edited the story as it involved a man taking a ride inside a whale. In my version he made it go faster by shouting GO! GO! rather than by poking it with a spear.

Also, it was a nice change of pace as so many collections are of stories from the centre and the north west. As colonisation started in the south east, it's nice to have some stories from the bottom part of the continent where colonisation was experienced earlier and differently.
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[personal profile] sanguinity
16. Sherman Alexie, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.
17. Sherman Alexie, Reservation Blues.

(both noted without comment)

18. Sherman Alexie, Smoke Signals: A Screenplay.

I only had a copy of this by mistake, thinking that I was ordering a copy of the movie. But because I had it, and because I was trying to focus my thoughts about the movie, I read it, thinking it'd just be the movie in print form.

Turns out, this is a bit more like the DVD commentary and deleted scenes what the DVD doesn't have. (What with the DVD having been mastered before deleted scenes and commentaries became commonplace, and never having been reissued since.) Within the main body of the screenplay itself, there are longer versions for some of the scenes, alternate versions for others, and scenes they decided not to use at all. (The bit where Arnold's photograph of his family says "HOME" on the back? In the screenplay, Suzie Song writes that on there.) After the screenplay proper, Alexie gives scene-by-scene commentary in which he discusses the decisions that resulted in the published film being different than the published screenplay (production problems with the burning house and that GAWDAWFUL WIG, and test audiences who didn't know if they had permission to laugh in what was such an obviously tragic film); gossips about the director, crew, and actors (he thinks he can take them all in basketball, three-on-one); and provides a bit of commentary on Indian filmmaking in general (always use Indians to play Indians!), and making Smoke Signals in particular (the scriptwriter doesn't know best!)

Recommended for fans of the film who wanted more than was on the DVD. Maybe Miramax will remaster it someday and maybe they won't, but in the meanwhile, you can tide yourself over with this.


19. Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. (re-read)

Rowdy and Junior are friends. And then Junior breaks Rowdy's heart, and Rowdy retaliates by breaking Junior's heart. Except neither of them can QUITE go all the way with the heartbreaking, and so Junior hopes and draws Rowdy cartoons of the two of them as the best superhero duo ever, and Rowdy still hates Junior but doesn't tear the cartoons up, and then Junior gets a new friend (and he's cool and all but he's still a new friend and not a Rowdy-friend), and then Rowdy and Junior decide that while being heartbroken may be forever it is also boring, so they'll just go on being friends anyway. The end.

Yes, I just spoiled the book for you.

Except that I didn't, because, as always, it's all about the journey.

Also, there's all the stuff I didn't spoil. Stuff about leaving the rez, divided loyalties, and the recurring shit-tasticness of life. (Which has exceptions, of course. But the exceptions -- people! -- can die, so there we are, right back to shit-tastic again.) Plus I didn't spoil all the times where Junior is telling jokes and ripping great big holes in non-NDN misconceptions about NDNs.

(There are times that I think Junior is a bit too self-aware when he's dropping a lesson on us all, but eh. I shall pretend that this is written from a few years older than portrayed.)

...and it will forever crack me up that the dog dies in the beginning of this book. This ain't Old Yeller or Where the Red Fern Grows, where the dead dog is the climatic tearjerker: the dog dies right off the starting block, and that should be warning enough.
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[personal profile] seekingferret
21 India Calling by Anand Giridharadas

India Calling is a book I read as I tried to write Midnight's Children fanfiction, updating Rushdie's style for an India that has changed since that book was written thirty years ago. It is in some senses typical of a booming sub-genre of nonfiction works about "the New India", coming to grips with the rise of capitalism, the rise of economic and social and intellectual mobility, and all the associated changes those things bring with them. There are a lot of such books- Giridharadas comfortably situates himself within the subgenre by comparing his experiences to those reported in a few of them. As I ended up writing in my story, "Anyone with a pen and paper is writing that India doesn't have a story, and they will sell it to you if you give them the chance."

Giridharadas himself was the son of Indian immigrants to America who then moved back to India as an adult. His perspective is interesting. He's an outsider, but he speaks the language and knows intellectually the customs, so he can get past the exoticization that true Westerners visiting India often subject their readers to. But his perspective is still outsiderly. He feels comfortable reproaching native Indians for behaviors he finds misguided, but also spends a lot of time deconstructing his own mistaken assumptions about India- as backward, religiously intolerant, unambitious, and addicted to poverty and corruption. I really appreciated the humility he brought to his study.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, and though I don't think I ended up using any specific details from it in the fic, the sense he gave me of how India has evolved and how people feel about the evolution ended up being a major guiding force as I developed themes.

22 Dancers on the Shore by William M. Kelley

Kelley is a writer I would never have known about had I not literally googled for African-American literary novelists when I first started doing [community profile] 50books_poc, about three and a half years ago, and discovering him is one of the things I am most grateful to this challenge for. He writes gracefully and complicatedly about the mid-20th-century African-American experience and at times the broader American experience. A Different Drummer, his debut novel, which was one of the first books I read for this challenge, remains one of my favorites.

Dancers on the Shore is a short story collection published not long after A Different Drummer, and it is more of a mixed bag, as short story collections often are. Some of the stories are a part of a roughly continuous family cycle that continues throughout Kelley's novels and culminates in the messy post-modern soup of Dunfords Travels Everywheres. Others are standalone. Some of them feel like early sketches added to fill up the book, while others are marvelous in the depth of character and emotion that Kelly is able to show in so little space.

Though all of his characters are African-American, explicit and even implicit discussions of racial politics are rare (the first page is an invocation from the author begging to be treated as an author instead of as an African-American author who has anything at all to say about the Race Question). The stories are mostly family dramas, characters discovering things about themselves and about the people close to them. A mother contemplates divorcing her husband. A son visits his extended family and learns about his father's childhood. A young woman contemplates an illegal abortion. Two old men endure retirement together. All of these subjects are handled with sensitivity and ambiguity.

23 Terminal Point by KM Ruiz

I loved the first book in Ruiz's Stryker Syndicate series of cyberpunky post-apocalyptic psionic action-adventures, but this one, the second, was more uneven. It was beautifully plotted and paced, and it had more of the great characters from the first book, but it stinted on setting. I knew I was in for a good show with Mind Storm from the first scene, which threw us on a train moving across the radioactive wasteland between the husk of Las Vegas and the husk oif Los Angeles. The location was so atmospheric, interesting, and real feeling that it intensified all of the action. Terminal Point bounces through a lot more locations, and a lot more exotic locations, but none of them feel as rich and real as the settings from the first book. Many of them have their interesting features infodumped at us rather than being allowed to present themselves naturally. The plot subordinated the world building, unfortunately, and the result was a book that offered satisfying resolution to open plots from the first book, but not a book that was as satisfying on its own terms.
dorothean: detail of painting of Gandalf, Frodo, and Gimli at the Gates of Moria, trying to figure out how to open them (Default)
[personal profile] dorothean
Has anyone else read this yet? Comment if so, pretty please! I'd love to hear the thoughts of someone who is better qualified to discuss this kind of book -- YA near-future science fiction of the teenage-protagonist-gets-involved-in-a-massive-conspiracy variety is just not my cup of tea.

Appealing to me: the heroine, Reese is (as per usual, I understand) torn between two love interests who symbolize conflicting forces in her life, but in this case one love interest is a boy and one is a girl.

I also liked Reese's relationship with her mother, and the way Lo describes the physical and psychological effects of the thing that happens to Reese at the beginning of the story.

But I didn't get much else out of it -- conspiracy theories set my teeth on edge and if my science fiction is going to have science-fictional biology, I want a much more detailed explanation.

(Note: if you're the sort of reader who wants to wait for a series to be completely published before reading any of it, definitely wait to read Adaptation -- the story doesn't end with this book and it's clear that there's much more to be told in the sequel, which is supposed to come out next fall.)
dorothean: detail of painting of Gandalf, Frodo, and Gimli at the Gates of Moria, trying to figure out how to open them (Default)
[personal profile] dorothean
Pierre L'Errant, once known as Owl, has come to the Otter Lake Reserve on a mysterious errand. He prefers the basement to a comfortable bedroom, won't eat any pancakes, and sleeps all day, but at least he's paying rent. Tiffany Hunter, at least, is very glad that he doesn't want her room after all: with high school, her problematic new boyfriend, and fighting with her father, she's got enough to worry about.

The story follows these two in alternating chapters -- Owl/Pierre as he re-learns the land by night and remembers his long life, spent mostly in exile; Tiffany as her frustrations build to a crisis.

No, (thank goodness,) this is not a love story. Owl/Pierre and Tiffany are not Edward and Bella or Angel and Buffy. Tiffany isn't even particularly interesting to Owl/Pierre. But he does give her something -- maybe the only thing that a supernatural being many times older than an ordinary teenage girl really can properly give her -- memories. Memories of life, of experience that she doesn't yet know and he knows much too well, and of the past that can be important now to her as well. As he says: perspective.

When I first heard about a novel about a Native vampire returning to his homeland for the first time in centuries (thank you, [personal profile] sanguinity!), I was overcome by the potential of such a story. I'd just learned about the rediscovery in the 1970s of an eighteenth-century village at Ozette, and its effects on the Makah people. Ownership of Ozette dig resulted in the archaeological confirmation of oral history, evidence that won a legal case, a renaissance of Makah traditional culture and language. I heard about The Night Wanderer and imagined that the artefacts of Ozette could literally talk: the oldest elder ever whose memory went back before contact with Europeans, who could tell everything, who could soothe some hurts with his memories, who could himself be healed by the end of his exile.

I forgot that vampires are not just immortal: they're also monsters who drink human blood. And this is a Gothic novel. So Pierre has, over the centuries, stopped caring very much about individual people, and he's much too scary to make his age and identity known. He's seeking healing for himself, but he doesn't intend to offer it to others -- he might end up killing them instead. It's in spite of his monstrousness that he gives what he does: a longed-for Anishinabe word in the sleeping ear of an old woman; a story for Tiffany; and, also for Tiffany, a material connection to their past.
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[personal profile] oyceter
The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun (TW for discussion of sexual abuse in TSS).

I know her Inheritance trilogy has a fair number of readers, but I'm sad there isn't as much discussion of this series!
dorothean: detail of painting of Gandalf, Frodo, and Gimli at the Gates of Moria, trying to figure out how to open them (Default)
[personal profile] dorothean
Patternmaster is the last book in this series by internal chronology, but it was the first published -- in fact, Butler's first published novel -- and it shows.

There is actually a fifth book in this series, Survivor, but it's never been reprinted because Butler decided it wasn't good enough. She described it as her Star Trek novel.

...Patternmaster is her Darkover novel. The kind without lesbian separatists.

Cut for length )
dorothean: detail of painting of Gandalf, Frodo, and Gimli at the Gates of Moria, trying to figure out how to open them (Default)
[personal profile] dorothean
At first I expected Clay's Ark to have more ... human interest? for me than Mind of My Mind.

Both novels concern a sort of new development for humanity -- Mind of My Mind has people with psychic abilities who are gaining power by working as a group, and Clay's Ark has an isolated set of people infected by an alien disease which changes them completely. All of the major characters in Mind of My Mind were part of the in-group of psychics; there was no real voice for the ordinary humans whom the psychics were able to use and prey on. I think this had a purpose in the novel, but one of the effects was to make it cold -- the psychic characters are difficult to sympathize with.

More than half of Clay's Ark is told from the perspective of three people who are kidnapped by the disease carriers. The disease, like a souped-up Selfish Gene, changes its victims' behavior and thoughts, driving them to infect other people so that the disease can survive and spread. The carriers remain in some control of themselves, able to choose to stay in an isolated ranch instead of going into a city and infecting a vast population, but most of their decisions do revolve around the propagation of the disease, making them selfish in ways similar to the psychics of Mind of My Mind. So, the three kidnapped people, not yet changed by the disease, are able to struggle against it and speak loudly about the problems it will cause for humanity.

I thought that these viewpoint characters would give the book a warmer, easier feeling -- a heartier and more obvious sense of moral indignation, maybe. But they don't. Cut for length )
dorothean: detail of painting of Gandalf, Frodo, and Gimli at the Gates of Moria, trying to figure out how to open them (Default)
[personal profile] dorothean
Mind of My Mind is set roughly in the present (that is, the present of 1977 when it was first published) and is the story of Mary, the greatest success of Doro's program of breeding humans with psionic abilities. Through Mary, some of Doro's people gain unprecedented power.

What prevented me from finding Mind of My Mind actually fun -- the coldly unsympathetic nature of all of its characters -- is also something that makes it excellent speculative fiction.

Mind of My Mind is told entirely from the perspective of Mary, some other psychic people who are close to her, and Doro. None of the characters are people without psionic ability. Doro (whom I described in my review of Wild Seed) is an immortal mass murderer with no conscience. The other viewpoint characters are all psychic -- they can read other people's minds, project their thoughts, and manipulate other people with their psychic power. All of them have grown up using those powers to get what they want and need. Some are nicer than others, but all of them are manipulative and have preyed on people who are defenseless against them.

Butler designed these people -- the Patternists, as they come to call themselves -- so that it would be almost impossible for them to exist without abusing ordinary humans. Cut for length )
dorothean: detail of painting of Gandalf, Frodo, and Gimli at the Gates of Moria, trying to figure out how to open them (Default)
[personal profile] dorothean
Anyanwu and Doro and their difficult relationship are what I remembered best from my first reading of the Patternmaster series. I'd forgotten that Wild Seed, while the chronological first of the series, was actually published after Mind of My Mind (second chronologically) and Patternmaster (fourth chronologically); perhaps it's meant to be only a prequel to the stories of Anyanwu and Doro's descendents.

In any case, there's so much in Wild Seed.

The speculation is worth grappling with; I'd describe it as magic with a far better appreciation for science than most magic systems, but then, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," so I'm also happy to call it science fiction. I could love Octavia Butler for her fictional biology alone.

Then, of course, Wild Seed is also historical fiction. Its three parts are set in 1690, 1740, and 1841, and follow Anyanwu as she leaves her home in now-Nigeria, taken by Doro on his unusual slave ship to a colony of his people in New York, and then elsewhere in North America.* The historical context demands recognition of African enslavement's consequences -- uprooting from homeland, isolation from family, the creation of new family in shared captivity, the psychology of people born into slavery, the treatment of people as property, the treatment of people as wealth (as food), the treatment of people as breeding stock. These are also the consequences that befall Doro's people.

Cut for length )
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[personal profile] sanguinity
14. S. Allen Counter, North Pole Legacy: Black, White and Eskimo.

Counter is a lifelong polar exploration fan, and ever since his childhood Counter was a hardcore fanboy of Matthew Henson, the black American explorer who achieved the North Pole with Commander Peary. Counter had been traveling in Scandinavia when he heard a rumor that Henson had Inuit descendants in Greenland (it had long been an open secret that Peary did), and Counter immediately decided that he needed to go meet them. Because of the Cold War, getting to Etah in northern Greenland was difficult (and possible only because Counter was a Harvard neurologist), but once there, it was simple enough for Counter to track down Henson's son, Anaukaq Henson, who then introduced Counter to Peary's son, Kali Peary. Whereupon Counter learned that both men, now in their eighties, had one last great ambition for their lives: to discover if they had siblings in the U.S., and if possible, to meet them.

I had read Henson's memoir before reading North Pole Legacy, and had found Henson's memoir enormously frustrating: Henson obviously was presuming that one would only get around to reading his memoir if one had first read everything that Peary had ever written; likewise, there were many things that Henson was deliberately avoiding saying. Reading Henson's memoir cold was like watching DVD extras without the benefit of watching the main feature nor reading the fansites: not-quite-ringing-true statements that everyone got on grandly with everyone else; vague, denial-ridden allusions to scandals that he isn't going to dignify by explicitly mentioning; big presumptions that you already knew the "main" story inside and out. Henson's memoir was an enormously frustrating read.

Counter, in contrast, dishes the dirt. And oh, is there dirt to dish!

Counter spends quite a bit of time outlining the history of the Peary expeditions -- including their failtastic elements, such as Minik Wallace's personal story, Peary's meteorite thefts, and Peary's colonial agenda -- and then quite a bit more time giving a thorough account of Henson's life, his relationship with Peary, his position on Peary's expeditions, and the public reaction to (and dismissal of) Henson's achievements. Along the way, it becomes clear why Henson's memoir reads as it does: Henson had an intense and complicated relationship with Peary, rife with both loyalty and betrayal, and Peary had retained final approval on any memoirs published by any of his expedition members. It's not at all clear that Henson would want to write a tell-all -- from what I can tell, Henson was genuinely grateful to Peary for his patronage -- but Peary would just as obviously never have permitted a tell-all, either.

Additionally, Counter offers a nicely nuanced discussion of racism, institutional and personal, in Peary and Henson's relationship. For example, Peary vigorously defended Henson from people who disrespected Henson and his competency on the basis of his race, while simultaneously making use of that disrespect for Peary's own ends: as the only white man at the North Pole, Peary was the only member of the final six who "counted", and thus didn't have to share his glory with anyone. (That came back to bite Peary later: since Henson didn't "count", Henson also couldn't "meaningfully" corroborate Peary's claim of having attained the pole, which left Peary more vulnerable to Cook's counterclaim.)

When Counter brings in the colonial aspects of the expeditions, Henson's role becomes more complicated: Henson was the one who bothered to learn to speak Inupiaq properly, and likewise learned his Arctic skills from the Inuit, acting as the primary trader, teacher, and go-between for the white Americans. Because of that, Peary's success is directly attributable to Henson's mutual and intimate respect with the people of Etah. But on the flip side, Henson participated in (and was apparently proud of) Peary's theft of the Greenland meteorites, habitually referred to Inuit men throughout his memoir as "boys", and so forth.

In between all of Counter's dirt-dishing about the Peary expeditions, we also get to hear the saga of trying to bring Kali Peary and Anaukaq Henson to the U.S. to meet their American relatives. (The Henson descendants are depicted as embracing a long-lost cousin; the Peary relatives are depicted as jealous and obstructionist, sure that either Counter or Kali Peary had ulterior, anti-Peary motives.) During all this, Counter was also trying to get Henson accorded posthumous honors parallel to those that Peary received: burial at Arlington, with Peary. And then there are more stories, such as how the founding of Jet magazine is deeply intertwined with Henson's legacy. In all, Counter knows a good story when he hears it, and he knows how to pass them on.

I have a few reservations about Black, White, and Eskimo, most of which revolve around my craving for an Inuit perspective on these stories. There are a few times that Counter conspicuously falls short -- f'rinstance, his amusement that the Etah Inuit quaintly refer to their houses as igloos despite the distinct lack of snow in their construction (Counter apparently missed the memo that "iglu" means "house"). It's impossible for me to tell what other lacunae Counter has.

Overall, however, Counter has done an excellent job pulling together disparate sources (including the unpublished memoirs and correspondence of other expedition members and oral traditions among the Etah Inuit) into a accessible, compelling, and multi-layered set of stories.


13. Matthew A. Henson, A Negro Explorer at the North Pole.
15. Matthew A. Henson, A Negro Explorer at the North Pole.

So, I read this both before and after Black, White, and Eskimo -- in fact, I read Black, White, and Eskimo because I was at such a loss for what to say about Negro Explorer after my initial read of it: if nothing else, I could review both books in one post.

On first read -- or more precisely, on reading without any background knowledge of Peary's expeditions -- A Negro Explorer is opaque, incomplete, and hugely frustrating. Henson doesn't so much effectively summarize the twenty years of Peary expeditions that preceded the final 1909 expedition as cite them as his CV: Henson was on this expedition, during which he did that; he was on this other expedition, too, during which... It is very clear, right from the get-go, that Henson expects anyone coming to his memoir to have already read everything else ever written about the Peary expeditions.

Unfortunately, I hadn't read Peary's memoirs (nor did I want to), and I consequently spent huge parts of the memoir trying to figure out what the fuck was going on: for example, it wasn't until they reached the North Pole that I had quite understood Peary's strategy, and consequently I had been enormously confused by his continually senging people ahead or back. (Although it did rather seem as if Henson and the other expedition members were doing all the work, while Peary was forever coming along behind in maximal comfort.) Henson would be sent off to weld the alcohol casks, and I'd be all, "Alcohol casks? Alcohol for what? Medicinal? Fuel? Recreational? What?" As a reader, I was so. damn. lost.

Additionally, beyond the mere logistics of the expedition, there are many places where Henson alludes to some scandal or controversy without ever stating the particulars of what he is alluding to: again, he presumes his audience are avid followers of all the arctic exploration gossip. And again, as a reader, I was lost: I had no familiarity with any of these scandals, and often couldn't suss out what the scandal was from Henson's words alone. Just, ARGH.

Thus, my first read went like this: I'm confused; that sounds cold; I'm still confused; I wish he wouldn't call them "boys"; that sounds really really cold; I'm still confused; cold; cold; beautiful; confused; ack, scary!; cold.

...but then I read Black, White, and Eskimo, learned all the good gossip that I had missed, and came back to Henson's memoir again.

At which point, the thing opened its wings and became fascinating. Because once you know the scoop, coming back to see the things Henson chooses to talk about, to not talk about, and what he chooses to say about each? OMFG. I have highlighted my copy to hell and back again because the subtexts are just that compelling. Also, once I understood the bits of background that Henson never bothers explaining, I could relax and enjoy the passionate writing here, not to mention Henson's quick sense of humor.

Obviously, Henson's memoir contains all the problematic content you'd expect: the Peary expeditions were explicitly colonial, and Henson buys straight into that. Henson tends to indulge himself in that peculiar backhanded respect for the Inuit members of the expedition, wherein he can't ever quite stop calling them the "gentle, lamb-like Esquimos," and does so even while Ootah is BAMFily rescuing Henson from certain death. (Interestingly, according to Counter, the Inuit referred to him in similar terms: "Mahri-Pahluk," or "Matthew the Kind One." I would like to read these as a set of mutual pet names they had for each other.) Additionally, some of the stories that Henson glances past are truly enraging (cf Minik / Mene), and are worth more than a few politic words; unfortunately, you will never ever read word one against Peary from Henson's pen -- partly because Peary retained final approval of everything Henson wrote, but also party because Peary was, in some sense, Henson's patron.

Still, though. If you are inclined to enjoy passionate, old-school adventure writing, full of odes to day-long twilights and swooning when one finally gets back to the ship and is reunited with one's comrades, there is a lot of enjoyment to be had here. I only suggest filling yourself in on some background from somewhere else first.
dorothean: detail of painting of Gandalf, Frodo, and Gimli at the Gates of Moria, trying to figure out how to open them (Default)
[personal profile] dorothean
After I read The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet, I immediately sought out any other books by Vandana Singh available at the libraries to which I belong. This turned out to be only one -- a children's chapter book called Younguncle Comes to Town.

Younguncle is the youngest uncle of the three children in the story, but he was called Younguncle even when he was a child, because it just seemed to fit. Younguncle is a very jolly young man who is very good at making friends with everyone. He is impulsive and unconventional and very good at making everything around him more interesting and imaginative. This makes him terrible at adult things like holding a steady job or impressing with his sister's stuffy future in-laws, but it means he's a wonderful uncle. (And a wonderful brother, too, when the sister realizes that she really doesn't want to marry that guy after all.)

After Younguncle, my second favorite character is his baby niece, always referred to as the baby. She cannot talk yet but she always listens. Although she loves Younguncle, who entertains her by reading her physics textbooks, she is also his worst adversary because she is determined to eat one of his shirts.

Younguncle's adventures often begin with charming mishaps, such as his short-lived career as a railway station manager (during which period his greatest interest was in learning to imitate all the different sounds that trains make), but end by his righting an injustice (his sister's unfortunate engagement, the theft of a cow, and even the reign of a family of criminals). He maintains that one good reason for all of his adventures is to collect stories to tell his nieces and nephew.

He's sort of a combination of Mary Poppins and Robin Hood.
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[personal profile] dorothean
I was almost afraid to read this book because I didn't see how it anything could possibly live up to the ideas that "the woman who thought she was a planet" conjured up in my mind. But it did, oh it did!

The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet has ten stories and a short essay, "A Speculative Manifesto." Some read more like science fiction (space travel -- other dimensions) and others more like fantasy (a woman discovers she's a Naga) and some, like "Three Tales from Sky River: Myths for a Starfaring Age," overlap.

For years I have adored, in theory, the concept of speculative fiction that speculates about mathematics as well as science. This was attempted in the 1950s and 60s by editor Clifton Fadiman, whose collections Fantasia Mathematica and The Mathematical Magpie are unfortunately riddled with sexim and white supremacy. If I were an editor, I'd try to do a new version of those books with only a small minority of the authors being white men. I know now that Vandana Singh would be the first author I'd beg to allow one or more of her stories in that anthology. My first choice would be the emotionally fluent "Infinities," which intersperses quotations from Indian mathematicians and poets with the story of Abdul Karim, who wants to spend his life in understanding the ideas of Cantor and Godel, but who, like Archimedes, can't hold himself aloof of the sorrows of the world. "The Tetrahedron" is an absolutely classic story along the same lines as many in Fadiman's anthologies, asking the reader to think about Moebius strips and the fourth dimension in order to follow the plot, which in this case has to do with an object of bizarre properties that is blocking traffic in New Delhi.

To take the rest of the stories in order: Read more... )

This is the sort of story collection in which no matter what order you read them in, each story is even better than the one before. I can't recommend it enough.
dorothean: detail of painting of Gandalf, Frodo, and Gimli at the Gates of Moria, trying to figure out how to open them (Default)
[personal profile] dorothean
Sequel to Beguiling the Beauty, which I wrote about here. I liked this one a lot more!

Here is most of my review from Goodreads, minus some prefatory thoughts on sexual monogamy in romance novels. (Short version: Skip this book if the protagonist being in love with/sleeping with someone who's not the official love interest is a dealbreaker for you in romance novels.)

Ravishing the Heiress --- ugh, I wince every time I type that. Can I rename it just for this review? I promise to choose something relevant and interesting! Okay, thanks -- Dormice and Demolition starts off with your typical marriage of convenience. Heroine (age 17) is the only child of a wealthy manufacturer whose ambition is to unite his family with a title. Hero (age 19) has unexpectedly inherited an earldom, an almost irredeemably derelict estate, and overwhelming debts. Unable to escape any of these, he's forced to conclude that he must marry wealth, and has the heroine thrust upon him.

The problem is that the hero is desperately in love with someone else, whom he could have married if not for the money problem. This does not escape the notice of the heroine -- brought up passionless and dutiful -- who has quickly fallen in love with him, despite her best intentions. Since she cannot hope to win the kind of love he has already given to this other girl, she determines to save herself from heartbreak by insisting on a marriage in name only. They'll live together, appear in public together, and make financial decisions together, but nothing else. When she proposes this plan, the hero assumes that she strongly dislikes the idea of intimacy with him. They agree to wait eight years before trying to have children. Apart from this, they will behave as though they're not married: he can have discreet affairs and so (after the child-rearing period) can she.

I've read other romance novels that begin this way, and what happens next is that the other woman turns out to be horrible, the hero realizes that the heroine is whom he truly wants, and they live happily ever after. This either happens immediately, or after months or years of separation during which they do not interact at all. Dormice and Demolition doesn't work this way.

What happens is this: Not particularly spoilery, just long )

Recs?

Jul. 17th, 2012 11:52 am
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
[personal profile] seekingferret
I've been reading Elmore Leonard lately and was wondering if people had recommendations for authors of color in a similar vein- gritty settings, colorful characters, a bit of a light touch? Other writers in a broadly similar vein might be Florida Crime writers like Carl Hiaasen or John MacDonald. Doesn't need to be crime stories, though, if you feel it's similar in other ways.
dorothean: detail of painting of Gandalf, Frodo, and Gimli at the Gates of Moria, trying to figure out how to open them (Default)
[personal profile] dorothean
This is the novella that made me smile and laugh out loud in the waiting room of the car repair place today, even though I knew that I was about to spend a very unpleasant amount of money on my wheel alignment. If you have an e-reader of some sort, I highly recommend getting The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo for the next time you're in a similar situation. It is short and fluffy enough to be appreciated in a public waiting room with the TV on, containing plot twists more unexpected than the average romance novel's, and sweet and especially hilarious enough to distract most pleasantly from the anticipation of a painful dental, medical, or financial procedure.

Jade Yeo (who's really Geok Huay, but has given up on Londoners pronouncing that) is a witty young woman on the edge of the Bloomsbury literary scene. The story is contained in her diary entries, in which she writes her incisive, sometimes insecure, sometimes very very funny thoughts about books, clothes, chocolate, families, sex, and love.

I was very impressed by how Zen Cho managed to keep this so short and light and still include the following rather heavy subjects:
polyamory, unmarried pregnancy, mental illness, British imperialism
-- but she did, very successfully.

I won't say anything about the plot; it's such a short novel that it would be far more efficient for you to just go read it yourself. You shouldn't regret it.

Note: Zen Cho is [personal profile] qian on Dreamwidth -- not sure if she reads this community or not (if yes, hi!). You can buy The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo as an ebook in various formats (see here), but she's also posted it on her website and on Dreamwidth, plus a very interesting afterword (with spoilers).
dorothean: detail of painting of Gandalf, Frodo, and Gimli at the Gates of Moria, trying to figure out how to open them (Default)
[personal profile] dorothean
(Thanks to Muslimah Media Watch/[syndicated profile] muslimahmedia_feed for alerting me to this book's existence with a review!)

Rughum is a devout Muslim woman who is extremely good at two things: (1) memorizing and interpreting the Quran, and (2) swordfighting.

Najda is the adopted daughter of a Manichaean healing woman. She's beautiful, she's too agnostic to accept Islam, and she has good handwriting, which she figures out how to monetize.

This is the story of their true love. It takes place at the end of the reign of the Caliph Al-Ma'mun: in his court (in the slave quarters, hall of the judge, and royal chambers), in the city of Baghdad, and away to Morocco.

There are lots of exciting passages -- disguises, including cross-dressing! swordfights! sex! women using argument and song (and SWORDS) to make male authority figures back down from condemning lesbians! betrayal! true love!

The class differences and conflicts among some characters (slave, poor, rich) are handled very sensitively. There are several male characters who either do bad things or are in a position to do bad things to the main characters; while their actions and attitudes are not excused, they are described enough to become understandable and even a little bit sympathetic. There are two instances in which a character is in danger of being raped, but isn't -- without harming the logic of the narrative or setting off either my "using the threat of rape as a way to heighten the emotional stakes" sensor or my "characters are safe despite living in a dangerous reality because the story won't really hurt them" sensor. (In fact, be warned -- this is not a happily ever after story. They do get hurt.) When one of the characters disguises herself as a man, Habib takes the trouble to explain that while some people dress as men because they want or need to, in this case the character happens to be doing it only in order to further her plans -- I loved that; I wish other writers of crossdressing characters would acknowledge that distinction. And there's an intersex character.

Samar Habib is a professor whose work is in gender, queer studies, and Arab culture. She has translated texts pertaining to homosexuality in the Islamic middle ages, and I think that lots and lots of the details in Rughum and Najda are simply fleshed out from these sources. There actually was a Bathal, who awed the Caliph's court by changing the words of a popular song in order to praise sex between women. The lesbian subcultures described here really existed; the ways that characters describe and debate homosexuality are historically accurate.

Okay, do you want to read it yet? Here, let me help you: Amazon -- Barnes & Noble -- The Book Depository

The downside: This book really deserved some (more?) editing, both to help the story flow better and to tighten up the writing style. It's not badly written at all, just not as polished as it could be, with problems such as the use of words that logically ought to be English words but actually aren't. It's also very obvious that Habib knows lots and lots about women's lives in this period and wants to share everything with the reader -- she interrupts the flow of the narrative with some rather professorial anecdotes about the history of the caliphate, a famous woman chef, etc. I made this better for myself by imagining that I was taking Dr. Habib's college lectures and that she was making them even more fun for her students by telling a story. So I actually enjoyed all of these infodumps in the end -- but really they still don't help the book as a novel.

There are also footnotes that I think could have been put to better use. These were helpful to me in explaining words I didn't know, but I think they were inserted automatically, so by the end I'd lost count of how many times I'd read the exact same footnotes explaining that "tharifa" (slang for lesbian) literally means "witty woman" and that "people of the book" refers to followers of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. What I would have really liked would have been more footnotes explaining when particular details were drawn from a historic text, and when they were invented.

I've been trying to find out more about the publisher, Oracle Releasing. This is a small company that seems to focus mainly on short films, but has published quite a few books and seems to be focusing on "themes on LGBT Muslim and Arab community". However, Oracle Releasing's website is rather strangely designed and doesn't seem to have anything about the books; I had to search by publisher on Amazon to see what other titles are available. My current theory is that while they're awesome enough to publish things like Rughum and Najda, they might not have the resources to give it a really thorough editing treatment. I've actually emailed the company to ask if they do have any more information online, and if there is I'll post it here.
dorothean: detail of painting of Gandalf, Frodo, and Gimli at the Gates of Moria, trying to figure out how to open them (Default)
[personal profile] dorothean
One of the books on my unofficial and ever-growing Mandatory Reading for U.S. History list.

The way the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s is taught in primary and secondary schools in the United States is something like this: A brave old lady, Rosa Parks, sat down in the white section of a bus, and refused to move. A group of black teenagers insisted on their right to attend Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, despite the outrage of white citizens. College students in Greensboro, North Carolina decided to make a point by sitting at a whites-only lunch counter. The bravery of these people, and the inspiring speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., triggered a mass movement among Southern blacks, changes in policy from the federal to local levels, and the defeat of institutionalized white supremacy. (Yay!)

The telling of these stories often features the spontaneous actions of individuals. One can get the idea that real change can be started by just a few people, if they're the right people and they're committed enough.

The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement is about how this is the wrong lesson to learn from those events.

The actions and words of certain individuals did serve as a catalyst for protest. However, in most cases it was not the individual traits of participants that mattered as much as their organizational connections.

Morris's thesis is that the Civil Rights Movement was able to emerge and become strong because it was deliberately developed out of long-established Southern black social and organizational networks, especially black churches. Because Southern blacks were excluded from political, economic, and social power held by whites, and because most blacks depended on whites for their livelihood (whether as sharecroppers or as schoolteachers whose school board was all white), black ministers were in an almost unique position of both leadership within black society and economic independence from white society. This position, the connections ministers shared with others across the country, and the fact that many ministers were also involved in organizations such as the NAACP, meant that new civil-rights groups such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, whose leaders were almost all pastors, could draw on decades of organizing experience and pre-established support networks.

Morris is a sociologist; The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement reads a bit more scientifically than some histories, but I found that to be a good thing. Morris's writing is not beautiful or particularly dramatic, but it is clear and very organized; one always knows exactly what he is arguing and how the evidence fits together. There are appendices at the end describing research methods and giving a list of the many Civil Rights participants Morris interviewed (many of whose words are included in the book).

The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement is focused on the organizations that created and led the mass movement: national organizations such as the SCLC, NAACP, CORE, and SNCC; what Moore calls "movement centers" such as the Montgomery Improvement Association; and "halfway houses" like the Highlander Folk School. It's a history of how these organizations got started (usually, it turns out, with the assistance of other organizations), how they interacted with each other, and how they carefully, strategically planned and executed the Civil Rights Movement.

This book is full of fascinating information about the Civil Rights Movement, and I think it can also be read as instruction in how to build massive protest.

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