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[personal profile] sumofparts
I finished my second set of 50, yay and started a new set. Below are some thoughts on the books.

Remainder of second set:
39. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
40. A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee
41. Orange Mint and Honey by Carleen Brice
42. Zone One by Colson Whitehead
43. The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd
44. The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi
45. Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai
46. Snakes and Ladders by Gita Mehta
47. The End of East by Jen Sookfong Lee
48. Beijing Confidential by Jan Wong
49. Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre
50. Brick Lane by Monica Ali
New set:
1. Decoded by Jay-Z

Cut for length )
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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.
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[personal profile] seekingferret
19) Zone One by Colson Whitehead

I'd been anticipating this novel tremendously since I'd first heard it was coming out. I had it on pre-order months before it came out. Then it came out, I started reading, and... ten months later, I finished it.

I cannot come to you with as enthusiastic a review as I'd hoped. It's a very strange book that works by its own internal logic. I did really like it. But I had to move my head into its headspace in order to read, and I found that process to be very slow going.

Zone One is Colson Whitehead's zombie novel. If you're at all familiar with Whitehead's other work, stylistic novels on the boundary between Modernism and Post-Modernism like John Henry Days and The Intuitionist, this might surprise you. But hell, every literary novelist worth his salt is following Chabon and McCarthy into the genre ghetto these days, so it's not really all that surprising, though one review that went viral when the novel first came out compared a literary novelist writing a zombie novel to "an intellectual dating a porn star." As a lover of genre fiction, a lover of postmodernism, and a lover of mashups, I was looking forward to seeing how Whitehead would achieve his synthesis.

Zone One is the story of the "season of encouraging dispatches", a period of time where the survivors of the zombie apocalypse, struggling with Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder (PASD) and still unsure where their next meal will come from, gather together under the banner of a new government in Buffalo and try to fight back and reclaim the world for humanity. Calling themselves the "pheenies" as the representatives of the American Phoenix, risen from the ashes with good old fashioned American try-hardness and gumption and hope as their only assets, they launch a major offensive in 'Zone One', the lower Manhattan region from the Battery up to Canal Street. They build a wall across the island at Canal Street and go street to street clearing out bodies and 'stragglers'- infected people who stay in one place and don't attack, unlike the true zombies that are actually offensive threats.

Whitehead's writing is beautifully delicate, full of his classic wry metaphors. Time is distorted and distended beyond recognition in his prose, which nests flashbacks within flashbacks within flashbacks, sometimes all within one paragraph, so that the novel's slow movement forward through the three days of present time are constantly disrupted with journeys back to the time before, both into life before the zombies came and into the stories of how Mark Spitz, the protagonist, and his compatriots survived the Apocalypse.It was this that caught me up. The distortion of time made the novel sometimes difficult to follow and difficult to get into a reading flow for. I found it lacking the constant movement that keeps a zombie novel ticking. I'd frequently read five or ten pages in a sitting, enjoy the setting and Whitehead's clever, pop culture tinged humor and genuinely like the characters, and not feel any urge to continue or even find it a struggle to motivate myself to continue.

By the time I'd finished, I did enjoy it, and I moved through the second half of the novel a lot faster than the first half. But there's something hard to explain about the novel that was hard to negotiate for me as a reader. In reflecting on it now, I think negotiation is the right word. Whitehead has a story here that he wants to tell in a certain way, and I as a reader have expectations of both a zombie novel and a Whitehead novel, and I had to enter into a negotiation with the text to find a way forward we could both find agreeable.

At its core, this is a story about a new kind of loss and memory. It's about dealing with loss on a scale that seems newly comprehensible in the wake of the 20th century. When the Black Plague struck Europe, it was just as disastrous as Whitehead's zombie plague, but the difference was that existence was often much more local back then. You barely knew anyone outside your village: if everyone in your village was wiped out, everything you'd ever known was gone, that hundred or two people that were your universe. But with the flattened world, with the information technologies that Whitehead litters through the novel as zombified relics, a catastrophe like this is global and feels global. Suddenly Mark Spitz is reduced to his urb, suddenly Zone 1 is all of his existence and anything beyond is Buffalo, a vague pheenie rumor of a better place. How do you deal with knowing that your whole known world is lost, when your whole known world is billions of people?



20) The Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

Seriously, this was the most interesting fantasy novel I've read in years. I'd been anticipating it since I read "Where Virtue Lives", a short story by Ahmed featuring the same characters which serves as an excellent prologue to the novel. The book is set in a fantasyland medieval Arabia, where ghuls and other creatures from Arabic folklore wage battle against mages and demon hunters and dervishes as people around them struggle to live ordinary lives.

It's hard to avoid the comparisons to Tolkien, because everyone's in quest of the great non-Tolkienian fantasy, but this really feels like fantasy that's barely aware of Tolkien. It borrows particularly from Leiber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser and takes inspiration from other early 'sword and sorcery' type fantasy novels, with exciting fantasy cities and characters of strong independence and individuality forming hesitant bonds of friendship to band together against a dangerous world. But its lack of anything even remotely resembling Norse mythology makes it feel like its own thing at a deep level.

It's possible Ahmed could have written women better. He is constrained by the quasi-Arabic world he is writing, which has clear ideas of women's roles (which are not the same as women's roles in the present-day Arabic world, nor the same as medieval Western civilization, but they are in their fashion constraining), and he does write two really interesting female characters (plus a third we don't see much of), but they are interesting because they defy expectations, not because they're interesting within their context, especially Zamia. There is admittedly a nice trope inversion in Zamia shyly pursuing Raseed while he tries to resist.

But together the trio of Zamia, Raseed, and Adoulla are the best kind of ass-kicking, monster-killing badasses. And I want as many of their adventures together as possible, which is awesome because this is a fantasy series, so I get sequels!
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[personal profile] annwfyn
I adored this book. It's a young adult historical novel set during WW2 and is the story of the WASP, the female pilots who never were quite accepted by the military, and Ida Mae who is an African American girl who 'passes' as white in order to be able to fly those planes.

I really enjoyed all of it, and found Ida Mae a really easy character to identify with. I really connected with her journey and spent half my time chewing my fingernails for fear she'd be discovered. I wanted her to succeed, I wanted her to fly those planes, I wanted good things to happen to her and was terrified they wouldn't.

I also was incredibly impressed with how well it handled some difficult issues - racism, sexism, the relationship between light skinned and dark skinned - but did so without either giving the reader or the characters easy answers or solutions, or making the book feel like an 'issue' novel. In fact, it felt a lot like a traditional 'boys own adventure' in some ways. There was barely a romance option, and instead it offered cockpit banter, daring heroines risking their lives in the high skies, and some awesome depictions of same-sex friendship. It also passes the Bechdel test with flying colours.

I won't say everyone will like it. There isn't much resolution at the end of the novel, mostly because there wasn't in real life and although I felt it handled the issues it tackles well, other people might not. I would, however, thoroughly recommend it, for the positive depiction of female friendship and the really empowering story of women basically doing male jobs just as well as any man without any kind of apology.
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
[personal profile] seekingferret
17 Mind Storm by K.M. Ruiz

This is really good cyberpunky post-apocalyptic action-adventure with psionics. It is loaded with gee whiz, basically. I discovered it in the Yuletide suggestions post, but I'm not sure it'd make a good Yuletide fandom. It'd make a great rpg setting, though. Perhaps a Gamma World mod. It's sufficiently gonzo, though it also has some Shadowrunny things going on.

The story begins with a little Mad Max- a team of government agents moves across an irradiated desert wasteland on a secret mission to track down a rogue. After just enough time to introduce us to our heroes, we're given an explosive fight scene in fallen LA that throws open the door to startling revelations. And while the combat slows down from there as we move into the intrigues and preparations of the middle part of the book, the pace never slows down. There is a continuous stream of new faces, new alliances, new pieces of information. And there is a gorgeous plan driving the story, an interlocking plot of great intricacy designed to look to its participants like utter chaos.

I am eagerly looking forward to future books in the series. This one was certainly a lot of fun, and it left plenty of questions open for the sequels.

And note that this book is eligible for Best Novel in the 2012 Hugo Awards.


18 John Henry Days by Colson Whitehead

I've been stalled on Whitehead's Zone One for about a month now, but I plowed through this with a vengeance. Actually, that's not quite true. I read it eagerly for a while, got sidetracked into a bit of a Nick Hornby kick, then returned and plowed through it with a vengeance. That's important to note because when I returned to John Henry Days from the airy wit of Hornby the density of Whitehead's writing was a bit of a shock to the system.

Whitehead writes heavy, overloaded prose that I admire the hell out of. He stays just on the edges of his characters' minds so that all you can see of them is the shadows and echoes cast off. There is always a remoteness to Whitehead's writing: in John Henry Days, the main character is known only by his first initial for the entire novel. His first name is implied once or twice, but never stated, and even when he tells someone what it is on the final page, the reader isn't let in on the 'secret'.

But what impressed me about John Henry Days is that despite sharing this remoteness with The Intuitionist and especially Apex Hides the Hurt, this time around Whitehead's emotional narratives go so much further. I became invested in J. I became invested in Pamela. I became invested in their relationship. I wanted them to get together. I wanted J. to leave the business, delete himself from the List, teach Pamela how to bury her father and I don't know, live happy hipster lives in Brooklyn? Of course this novel was heading for a horrible ending, but I was invested enough in it to be devastated by that ending even though I knew it was inevitable. Which is the core, I think, of the John Henry legend that the novel dances around. Was John Henry's death inevitable and if it was inevitable, why?
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[identity profile] sumofparts.livejournal.com
Haven't posted in a while. Here's a series of mini-reviews with some spoilers. Also, some of the books contain potentially triggering content.

6. Un-Nappily in Love by Trisha R. Thomas
7. Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
8. Tracks by Louise Erdrich
9. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
10. Umbrella by Taro Yashima
11. Little Joy by Ruowen Wang
12. Why War is Never a Good Idea by Alice Walker
13. Erika-san by Allen Say
14. Dahanu Road by Anosh Irani
15. What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell
16. The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez
17. In the Company of Ogres by A. Lee Martinez
18. Gil's All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez
19. Divine Misfortune by A. Lee Martinez
20. Monster by A. Lee  Martinez
21. Certainty by Madeleine Thien
22. So Long Been Dreaming edited by Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan
23. A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo
24. Too Many Curses by A. Lee Martinez
25. A Nameless Witch by A. Lee Martinez
26. A Person of Interest by Susan Choi
27. Apex Hides the Hurt by Colson Whitehead

Mention (not counted)
Josias, Hold the Book by Jennifer Riesmeyer Elvgren (white); illustrated by Nicole Tadgell (person of colour)

Read more... )
[identity profile] ms-mmelissa.livejournal.com
Angelou continues to astound in The Heart of a Woman, the fourth volume in her series of six autobiographies. Skipping forward eagerly in time, Heart is set over the course of roughly five years and picks up a few years after its predecessor Singin' and Swingin' and Getting' Merry Like Christmas.

As with the other books in the series there is only the loosest sense of a plot. However what gives the novel coherence is Angelou's observations on motherhood and her continual struggle to take care of her son, Guy, even as he develops into a strong, independent young man. Angelou notes that in the world at large she, as a black woman in the sixties, has little authority and worries that her son will absorb that message and gradually lose respect for her. As part of her effort to reclaim some authority she finds herself becoming involved in the civil rights movement, working for Martin Luther King jr's organization, the SCLC, and marrying a South African freedom fighter who is enamoured of her passion for activism and yet wants to turn her into a subservient wife. 

While this book finds Angelou mostly abandoning the theatrical world for the political one, there is still no end to the charming anecdotes of stars and other notable personalities that Angelou encountered throughout her life. Billie Holiday, James Earl Jones, Ruby Dee and Martin Luther King jr are a few names mentioned, along with Pulitzer prize winner John Oliver Killens who is the first to encourage Angelou to write. With Killens as her mentor, Angelou joined the now legendary Harlem Writers Guild and in The Heart of a Woman records her first weak attempts at writing and her joy at her first publication in a no-name journal in Cuba. At last, four volumes in, we are able to witness Angelou's first steps on a road that will take her to literary stardom. 
[identity profile] ms-mmelissa.livejournal.com
Maya Angelou is best known for her first autobiography, the groundbreaking I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which chronicles her early childhood before breaking off abruptly when she's seventeen. Gather Together in My Name picks up a short while after her last book broke off and chronicles Maya's early forays into adulthood. 

I enjoyed Gather Together in My Name a great deal more than its predecessor. The work has received criticism for its looser structure; Marguerite stumbles in and out of jobs with regularity and falls in and out of love with men at the drop of the hat. This doesn't provide for a great, over-arching narrative, but then life seldom does, and this chaotic period of Maya Angelou's life (from about 17 to 19) seems to demand a less formal structure. 

Angelou was purportedly hesitant to write about this period in her life and after reading the book it's easy to see why. Already a young mother at this point in her life, Angelou also spent this time period making forays into prostitution, both as prostitute and pimp, while remaining stunningly naive about the world around her and her own actions. Some of the most powerful moments of the book can be found in these passages; Angelou is at her best when she is speaking from the voice of teenage Marguerite, outlining her own beliefs and showing the reader how a headstrong girl who believed she was jaded and world-weary was repeatedly fooled by her own naiveté. However, Angelou was writing this at a point in her life where she was no longer a naive spirited girl, but a savvy woman and the voice of that woman occasionally emerges, to the book's detriment. In an early scene Marguerite goes to the home of a lesbian couple simply to show how laissez-faire and grown up she is. As the two begin to kiss in front of her Marguerite is overcome with revulsion and disgust, which Angelou promptly excuses as the bias and hatred of an ignorant girl repeating the prejudices of the world around her. The authorial intrusion is a rare mis-step in a work that is fearless in its refusal to apologize for its narrator. 
[identity profile] seekingferret.livejournal.com
Two very, very different takes on the ghetto novel. It probably goes without saying, but both these novels should carry warnings for omnipresent rape, violence, and drug abuse.

15) Eldorado Red by Donald Goines

Apparently a classic example of a 1970s street novel. Eldorado Red runs a numbers game. He's on the top of the world, with women all around him, plenty of money, and people who do whatever he tells them to. His son Buddy apprentices to Red while planning revenge for Eldorado Red having abandoned his mother. And that's when things start taking a turn for the worse for Eldorado Red.

A cast of absurd gangsters and druggies and hitmen populate the lively streets of the story and Goines keeps the action moving with a brilliant sense of plotting. It's a classic pulp story, nothing of any redeeming literary value about it but extremely entertaining.


16 King Maker by Maurice Broaddus

This is the story of King Arthur, recast as an Indianapolis gang war. It is incredibly bad and incredibly hilarious. King's 'Knights" include Wayne, a counselor with a Church ministry; Lott, a low end Fedex employee; Percy, the mentally damaged, simple son of a crackwhore; Lady G, a runaway high school dropout who likes to scrap. King is mentored by Merle, a homeless white guy who talks to his squirrel, Sir Rupert. Their enemies include Dred, King's half-brother sorceror and major Indianapolis gang leader and Green, apparently a reincarnation of the Green Knight, with all sorts of vegetable elemental powers. The book ends with King killing a dragon in a slum basement with his Caliburns, custom-made, gold-plated automatic pistols.

I cannot wait to read the sequel even though I kept covering my eyes in horror as I read.



tags: african-american, sff, drama, pulp, a: broaddus maurice, a: goines donald
[identity profile] rosehiptea.livejournal.com
"Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self" by Danielle Evans

I was originally interested in this book just for the title. (Which turns out to be a line from a poem by Donna Kate Rushin.)

It's a collection of short stories featuring African-American and mixed-race characters. The stories deal with issues of race and class, and with relationships of all sorts (romantic, friendship, family) through the lives of a variety of fully realized characters. Sometimes it's hard to get a "feel" for what a person is like in a shorter format but not in these stories. I also liked that they dealt with the reality of life, and the fact that not everything ends happily... and not everything ends when you want it to, either.

Also I felt the stories were consistently good, with none that I felt brought the collection down. I highly recommend this book.
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[personal profile] pauraque
I tried several times to write a post about this book and what it meant to me, but I found that I couldn't do justice to my feelings without delving much further into my personal experiences as an abuse survivor than I wanted to in a public space.

I will say that this is one of the most powerful and brilliant novels that I have read. Do be careful if you are triggered by depictions of abuse -- each of us has to decide how much we can handle in that regard -- but ultimately I found the realism of it empowering and cathartic, and I did not regret my decision to read it.


a: Sapphire, African-American, novel
pauraque: bird flying (Default)
[personal profile] pauraque
This book has been reviewed here several times, and I don't disagree with what others have said. Much of it is a beginner-level discussion of racism and privilege, though a notably clear and compassionate one with many striking analogies. (I particularly liked the image of racism as an airport moving sidewalk -- if you "do nothing", it carries you along. You have to actively walk the other way just to stay in one place, let alone get anywhere else.)

It seems aimed at people who may still be unsure about whether white privilege is real, and if it is, whether it's really that big of a deal. I think it could be a good way to ease in to the topic for someone who doesn't know where to start, especially because of the large amount of further reading Tatum suggests. It led me to add many titles to my list of books to look for.

Read more... )


a: Tatum Beverly Daniel, African-American, non-fiction, race
pauraque: bird flying (Default)
[personal profile] pauraque
What is Whiteness? Who is White?

These are questions that many people (and especially people who consider themselves white) never seriously ask, as though the category of whiteness is a natural one. It isn't, of course -- it's a socially constructed idea that has developed and changed considerably over many hundreds of years.

This book takes us through the history of that idea from its earliest known roots in antiquity, and ultimately goes on to focus mostly on Britain and the United States, where various different "white races" were long spoken of and ranked in value. The gradual incorporation of light-skinned people into one big group called White proceeded (and continues to proceed) in waves in the U.S., corresponding to waves of immigration, backlash against it, and an eventual admission that such-and-such a group is at last "American".

You've probably heard this phenomenon mentioned as a derailing tactic in discussions of race. ("Irish people were treated worse than black people") That is not what Painter is doing at all. She understands that the racialized ill treatment of white groups by other white groups does not erase anti-black racism -- it illuminates it! As the definition of who can be "white" has expanded over the centuries, it only sharpens the line between white people who might be able to become "just plain American" someday if they work hard and assimilate, and black people who, no matter what they do, never can.

Read more... )


a: Painter Nell Irvin, African-American, non-fiction, history, race
[identity profile] seekingferret.livejournal.com
13. Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed

After two promising but ultimately disappointing books by Reed, this is at last the book I was looking for when I started making my way through his work. A discursive, ranty, elusive tour of 1920s Harlem from the perspective of a '60s radical Black, it tells the story of an outbreak of Jes' Grew in New Orleans and its frantic attempt to make its way to New York City and reshape the American cultural landscape, as The Wallflower Order tries to stop it from making everybody want to dance.

What is Jes' Grew?

An epidemic is sweeping the nation. You have probably not heard about it because powers that be find it in their best interests to keep you in the dark. People you know may have even detected inklings of its presence, but kept quiet, hoping that ignoring it would make it disappear. Nothing could be further from the truth. This epidemic is called jes’ grew, and you might have it already.

Symptoms of jes’ grew include: mediocrity intolerance, chronic questioning of authority, and uncontrollable shaking of the hips and ass. As of this writing, medical science remains baffled. They can not point to a viral or bacterial pathogen responsible for the disease. Some unorthodox researchers have suggested that it may be neither, and that jes’ grew may be caused by something else entirely. So far, however, no papers have been published in any major medical journals on the subject.


Jes Grew is Jazz, it is ragtime, it is the Harlem Renaissance, it's the cakewalk and it's the Charleston. It's rock 'n roll and the blues, bebop and hoodoo and voodoo. It's that which makes you want to dance uncontrollably. When I read Reed's The Last Days of Lousiana Red, I thought it was a stand-in for 'that which is authentically African in the African-American experience', but it's a much more richly envisioned and much more complicated life force in Mumbo Jumbo.

Mumbo Jumbo has 5 pages of bibliography at the end and is lovingly illustrated with dozens of archival photographs from American history. It's full of snippets of American life, chopped up and reassembled with incredible artistry to tell a story that bops to a powerful groove. It steals lovingly from Burroughs and Joyce but stays true to its own vision, claiming them for the legend of Jes' Grew.

Ask the man who, deprived of an electronic guitar, picked up a washboard and started to play it. The Rhyming Fool who sits in Re-mote Mississippi and talks "crazy" for hours. The dazzling parodying punning mischievous pre-Joycean style-play of your Cakewalking your Calinda your Minstrelsy give-and-take of the ultra-absurd. Ask the people who put wax paper over combs and breathe through them. In other words, Nathan, I am saying Open-Up-To-Right-Here and then you will have something coming from your own experience that the whole world will admire and need.

But as I think this review shows, I can really do no better to recommend this novel than to quote passages from it. Its style advertises it better than anything I can say about it. Mumbo Jumbo just drips with joy and fury.

tags: a: reed ishmael, african-american, postmodernist
[identity profile] seekingferret.livejournal.com
11) Monster by A. Lee Martinez

At this point, I could probably copy/paste the review I've written of the past three Martinez novels I've read here. Martinez's fantasies are lightweight, fun, irreverent, and formulaic. I enjoy his formula a good deal, and I enjoy the way I can just have that pleasure without thinking too hard. I'll keep reading his stories.

This one specifically is about a monster-hunter working for the equivalent of animal control in a city with frequent infestations of fantasy monsters. If you think that concept sounds like fun, you'll enjoy the story.


12)Black, White, and Jewish by Rebecca Walker

Walker is the daughter of (black) author Alice Walker and (white and Jewish) civil rights lawyer Mel Leventhal. She was born in Mississippi at the height of her parents' civil rights struggle. She describes herself as a "Movement Child", whose interracial makeup was a deliberate and direct challenge to the racism that surrounded her parents. In many ways this memoir tells the coming of age of a girl who was born as a social experiment. I feel queasy making this comparison, but it reminded me of Ishiguro's dystopic novel Never Let Me Go. At the minimum, it's being narrated by a woman who always seems unsure and a little afraid that the reason she's writing this story is because it was the story she was born (and maybe designed) to write.

Her parents divorced when she was still a child. Her father moved to New York and her mother to San Francisco and she split her childhood between coasts, between parents, between lives. It's reasonably stress inducing, but again, her parents were intellectuals affiliated with the Civil Rights movement and they knew they were fating their daughter to this kind of split existence (though they thought they would be together to give her more stable guidance). The thing I found most fascinating about Walker's narrative is the way she seems to be pushing up against the 'expected' narrative of an interracial childhood, seeing if she can fit into it or if she needs to invent new narratives.

Walker's prose is gaudy and overwritten and not helped by artsy section headers that grab random lines from the chapters that follow and turn them into incomprehensible pull quotes. I think this added to my sense that the novel compared to Ishiguro. It felt like a novel more than a memoir, and Walker's life is interesting enough that a straight recitation of the facts and her impressions of them would have held my attention. I didn't know what I was supposed to do with her schmaltzy, vaguely spiritual musings on memory as an abstract concept. Those parts of the story held no value for me and were generally skipped or skimmed.

But as I said, the story and her impressions of it are enough of a story to hold my interest. Walker writes of experiencing an incredible range of growing up experiences and how much context shaped her experience. When she was among black people, the specific ways she felt part of their community and the specific ways she felt isolated are sharply detailed, and the same thing comes in her vivid descriptions of her experiences in white communities. And many of her stories are interesting and compelling even without the frame of reference of race, stories of growing up, learning about sex and sexuality, learning about family history, learning how to learn.


tags: mexican-american, biracial, african-american, jewish, fantasy, memoir, a: martinez a lee, a: walker rebecca
[identity profile] seekingferret.livejournal.com
10) Reckless Eyeballing by Ishmael Reed

I want to recommend this book with as many warnings as possible. This book is sexist, racist, anti-semitic, homophobic, ethnocentric, classist, colorist, and probably a few other -ists as well. It's got a rape, a lynching, a sexual assault, a blood libel, a murder, police brutality. And that's the point. This book is designed as a provocation. Reed throws so many -isms at you as a sort of reductio ad absurdum about intersectionality of oppression. You're still trying to think in terms of a hierarchy of oppressions, Reed says. Your brain wants to say "Oh, racism is worse than anti-semitism. More horrible things have been done in the same of racism." or vice versa. Or whatever. But your brain is wrong. You can't compare this stuff, and trying to do that plays into the hands of people who are more interested in power than justice. Trying to construct a calculus of privilege will only lead to madness.

In a Tom Wolfeian 1980s New York, playwrights vie for the attention of the downtown theater scene. A white feminist playwright has written a play rehabilitating Eva Braun. A black male playwright works with first a Jewish male director, then a black female director, then a white female producer, on an all-female play about the aftermath of a 1960s lynching and who might be to blame. Reed calls a lot of attention to the eyeballing part of his title, the role of constantly changing perception in shaping this world, but I think 'reckless' may be the more important part of the title, the key to his linkage with Wolfe, the key to understanding his characters' behavior. The story is manic, crude, mostly out of control, highly confusing. It's also pretty damn funny, and pretty damn thought-provoking. I enjoyed it a good deal and I enjoyed having conversations about it with people. But... all of my warnings stand. Go into this book with your eyes wide open about what you're stepping into.


tags: a: reed ishmael, african-american, postmodernist, satire
[identity profile] seekingferret.livejournal.com
9) Blood Pressure by Terence Taylor


It's sequel to Taylor's excellent vampire/zombie novel Bite Marks, and I believe it's book 2 of what will eventually be a trilogy. It jumps the action 20 years ahead, from the 1986 New York of the original novel to Summer 2007. Taylor is fantastic at grounding his story in that particular sense of time and place. He's a New Yorker and much of the novel feels like it was written as a love story to his favorite parts of the city. And since in Summer 2007 I had just graduated college and was living in an East Village apartment while trying to figure out what to do with my life, I really appreciated the little details he stuck in that represented his city. Several major events in the story take place in a club that was three doors down from my apartment.

Though its vampires, zombies, voodoo, and mummies in modern New York would make it urban fantasy ( and it is clearly marketed as such), I don't think it felt like classic urban fantasy. Instead, I'd compare the story to the work of contemporary fantasists like Susanna Clarke, with its rich secret histories, sprawling cityscapes, and vivid and complex characters. The first book in the series weaves the Hindenburg disaster, Jack the Ripper, and the AIDs crisis into its vampire lore, while this one makes Zora Neale Hurston a crucial character and opens with a reinterpretation of a news story I remember vividly from Summer '07- the eruption of a water main near Grand Central Terminal.

Taylor keeps most of the characters from the first book around, in new configurations and life positions, and adds a bunch of new and interesting faces, including some only alluded to in Bite Marks. By the end, there are a lot of characters to deal with in the final confrontation scene, and I like what he does with all of them. I was just as surprised by the ending of this book as I was by the ending of Bite Marks, and the ending of Bite Marks is spectacular.

I just hope that book 3 comes out soon, because I really can't wait to see the whole gang team up against newbadguyiwontspoil. And I really, really can't wait to see what Lopez has up her superbadass sleeve. Oh man, I really hope that book three is All Lopez All The Time.

tags: a: taylor terence, african-american, urban fantasy, vampire
[identity profile] seekingferret.livejournal.com
8)American Desert by Percival Everett

It's a strange and goofy sort of novel. It's a sort of academic satire about a suicidal English professor (Everett loves writing funhouse mirror versions of himself) who is decapitated in a car accident and then comes back to life after his head is sewn back on. American society, driven by media frenzies and government conspiracies, does not know how to respond to this mystifying Lazarus, Ted Street.

I enjoyed it, but I did not enjoy it as much as I've enjoyed Everett's other novels. Two of the blurb-writers on the back of the book called his writing here 'savage', but compared to The Water Cure this was tame, and even compared to Erasure the humor lacks bite. In some ways that's a virtue, because this is a black comedy full of a surprising amount of heart and human decency. But I wanted the satire to be a little fiercer, more aggressive.

The final scene is phenomenal, though. A brilliant piece of imagery that I shall not spoil, but almost makes the whole thing worth it.



tags: a: everett percival, african-american, postmodernist
[identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com
Visually stunning, mythic, disturbing comic about a tiny, brave little black girl named Lee, who descends into the underworld beneath the swamp to save her father from a lynch mob, and her best friend from a swamp monster. Volume two continues her quest in a world in which spirits, monsters, and adorable anthropomorphized animals enact American myths and American history.

Jeremy Love said in an interview, "I’ve always been interested in the mythology of America. The south, in particular, seems like a haunted place. You have this region that is covered with blood but produces so much beauty. I never really felt connected to African mythology until I started reading Joel Chandler Harris’ Uncle Remus tales. Seeing how elements of African mythology were interwoven with American folklore was the spark. What led me to the Uncle Remus tales was Disney’s Song of the South, a film I’ve always had mixed feelings about. I felt I as an African American creator could reclaim that mythology.

I thought this world would be the perfect place to stage an epic fantasy tale. I could mash up elements of the Civil War, blues, African mythology, Southern Gothic and American folklore and show how they form a tapestry that is the American South."

If you can deal with the sometimes horrific and violent content, made about ten times more disturbing because so much of it deals with real history, not to mention real racist imagery, this is an extremely powerful and satisfying work.

I especially recommend it if you're even passingly familiar with African-American history, folklore, and folk songs. I don't think you have to catch all the references to appreciate this, but it adds a lot if you do. In volume two, for instance, a character is introduced early on, and then named a little later. He works as a character even if you've never heard of him before, but I actually exclaimed aloud with delight when his identity was revealed.

Bayou Vol. 2

In case this may sway someone to read this, the mystery character is below the cut. (CAPS not mine - that represents a huge font.)

Read more... )
[identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com
This begins as a sweet, fluffy YA novel about Lainey, a shy, socially awkward teenage girl who wants to become the first African-American vegetarian female celebrity chef, but gains unexpected emotional force as it goes along.

Lainey has been content for years to hang out in the kitchen of her mother’s restaurant, chopping vegetables and bringing in her own recipes for the staff to try, and dreaming about leaving roses at Julia Child’s kitchen in the Smithsonian. But her long-time friend and secret crush, a popular boy named Sim, starts stirring up messy, uncomfortable feelings in her, and finally gets her to help him run away - a favor that seriously disrupts her life and even her relationship with her mother.

This is one of the more realistic depictions of teenage emotions, relationships, and sometimes terrible decision-making I’ve come across in a YA novel. (But don’t worry, it ends happily.) While the basic story has been told many times, it’s still worth telling and this is a good version of it. Many of you may identify a lot with Lainey’s social difficulties and determination to pursue her own quirky interests. Plus, it has a number of tasty-sounding recipes included.

While Lainey is nearly 18, this novel is suitable for preteen readers as well as teenagers: the writing itself is fairly simple, and the concerns aren’t ones limited to older teens. It’s definitely the sort of thing I would have enjoyed at nine or ten, and still enjoyed now.

A la Carte

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