sumofparts: picture of books with text 'books are humanity in print' (books)
[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 )
[identity profile] ms-mmelissa.livejournal.com
Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas is a compulsively good read. Like Angelou's previous two biographies it's not very long, but the enthusiasm with which Angelou relates her experiences makes it seem even shorter. While her other biographies deal with childhood and her early steps towards independence, Angelou emerges here as a full-fledged adult become more confident with herself and the world around her.

The book covers two major themes, the first being Angelou's beginnings in show business. After her first marriage fails (the courtship, marriage and its dissolution are covered in a brisk few pages) Angelou takes a job as a dancer in a strip club. Her dances catch the attention of some white night club singers who help her begin a career as a nightclub singer which becomes a launching pad for her career as an actress and dancer. At last the Marguerite Johnson of the two previous memoirs transforms into Maya Angelou. A role in the renowned opera Porgy and Bess opens the world up to Angelou literally as well as metaphorically as the opera's tour allows her to visit Europe and parts of North Africa.

Wound inseparably into the narrative is Angelou's observations about what it is like to operate as a strong-minded independent black woman in America in the fifties. Segregation meant that her previous experiences with white people had been infrequent and hostile, but as she begins to travel in different circles her experiences with white people become more frequent and complex. Her family reacts badly when she marries a white man. Her white friends still have the power to unexpectedly wound her with a thoughtless comment and Angelou feels that power imbalance keenly. Her tour across Europe is also incredibly revealing to Angelou as she and the members of her company are often the first black people that people have seen in real life. The questions and stares give way to both painful moments and beautiful ones all of which Angelou recollects with grace and good humour.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
1. Bharati Mukherjee, Miss New India

Anjali Bose is a small town girl in rural India who has big dreams. Her teacher, an ex-pat American, encourages her to make something of herself by heading to Bangalore, which they both see as the best new city in India. Anjali eventually heads there, and ends up in more trouble than she anticipated.

The writing in this novel is quite good, very poetic, in the first few chapters, but gradually heads downhill and becomes very pedestrian by the end. The problem, I think, is that there is just way too much plot in this book. The main characters deal with rape, international terrorism, false charges of murder, police brutality, arranged marriage, teenage runaways, divorce, gay men in India, botched back-alley sex change operations, prostitution, art theft, suicide, the role of outsourcing in the Indian economy, riots, the art of photography, homelessness, telecommunication centers, and more. By about the fourth major plot twist, there's no time for poetry anymore, and even for much of a reaction from the characters, because there's just too much happening. I think it could have been a much better book if it had just focused on a few of these issues instead of all of them.

That said, many of the characters here are quite appealing, particularly Anjali. And it certainly seems to be a very current look at Indian society (I learned, for instance, that the cool new dessert is cold coffee with ice cream, which I promptly went out to try, and I can inform you that it is delicious). Overall a fun read, but not a particularly deep one.
sanguinity: woodcut by M.C. Escher, "Snakes" (Default)
[personal profile] sanguinity
1. Mildred D. Taylor, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.

I haven't read Roll of Thunder since I was a kid, and honestly, didn't remember much of what goes on in it. Reading it now, I can't help but contrast it with To Kill a Mockingbird -- the two novels are very similar in themes, plot, and setting. Both take place in rural, Depression-era South; both plots center around the racial injustices of the place and time; both are narrated by young girls who are only just becoming aware of the racial politics that around them; both narrators are relatively sheltered and prosperous, as compared to their peers; both narrators idolize their fathers and alternately look up to and chafe under the influence of their older brothers.

I've read Mockingbird umpteen times in my life, and for the first half or so of Taylor's book, Roll of Thunder felt to me like I had rotated the Mockingbird world in my hands and was looking in at it through another window, seeing many bits of the story that had been hidden from Scout. And then the world twisted on me. In this story, Atticus isn't a hero.

Mr. Jamison, the fair-minded white lawyer who is respectful to the black families and willing to incur personal risk while advocating in their interest, is... well, pathetically ineffectual. He is portrayed as a good man and an ally, but he isn't trusted, either. He is very alien, very removed from their lives, and no one can forget that he acts solely from his own sense of morality and may buckle under social pressure at any time. And, as I said, despite all his efforts, he can't do all that much to help anyone. During the book's climax, OMG SPOILERS! ) This is a very, very different portrait than the self-composed Atticus reading below Tom Robinson's cell window while they wait for the lynch mob.

And, yanno, notwithstanding all these lines I just spent on Mr. Jamison? He's a minor character. He's hardly mentioned in the book at all. I just finished reading the novel this morning, yet I had to go look up Mr. Jamison's name so that I could write this post. However grand and heroic Atticus is in Mockingbird, his alter-ego barely exists in the Logans' world.

The ending of Roll of Thunder is... abrupt. More of a highly-emphasized break between acts than a true end of a novel. But I hear that Taylor wrote bunch more about the Logans...
[identity profile] into-desire.livejournal.com
Hi! I read a lot. I started keeping a list at the beginning of 2007, just out of curiosity, and I think the record-keeping made me read more. It's a vicious cycle, really.

I started off the year reading books by women of color. I read five in a row, then got distracted. Counting back now, it turns out that of the 133 books I've read so far, only 13 of them are by African-American or African authors. I've read another 12 by Japanese and Chinese authors, but 10 of those are the Petshop of Horrors manga series. So this community has a good goal for me.

Here's what I've read in 2007 by authors of color (apart from manga):

(1-4) Octavia E. Butler: Parable of the Sower, Parable of the Talents, Kindred, and Fledgling. Her world-building, that takes into consideration race, class, age and gender, is really refreshing after the sort of good-old-boy scifi where the (young, sexy, white) women mainly lounge around in spandex and/or armored bras. Fledgling is a really interesting take on vampires.

(5) Ayaan Hirsi Ali: The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam. A passionate, important, and highly experienced voice on a pressing issue.

(6) Sapphire: Push: A Novel. Sapphire is mainly a poet but I found her first novel gripping and thought-provoking. It draws on The Color Purple quite a lot so I wish I'd read that first.

(7) Alice Walker: The Color Purple. I felt very ... friendly to everyone in this novel by the time I'd finished it. And deeply impressed by the range of emotions Walker expresses. It's one of my favorite novels ever.

(8) Mark Mathabane: Kaffir Boy: An Autobiography--The True Story of a Black Youth's Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa. Had to read this for a class. It's the true story of how Mathabane managed to survive (barely) and eventually escape the incredibly brutal and dehumanizing life of an African in urban South Africa.

(9-10) bell hooks: Where We Stand: Class Matters and All About Love: New Visions. bell hooks is one of the most important authors to me. The first book of hers I read, Teaching to Transgress, almost singlehandedly made me a feminist. Neither of these is among my favorite works of hers, but everything she writes has a lot of wisdom in it.

(11-13) Toni Morrison: The Bluest Eye, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, and Beloved. I'll be reading a lot more Morrison this fall as I am taking a course about her. So far I have come to the realization that she is the greatest living English writer, and that Beloved is the greatest novel I have read thus far (out of hundreds). I would have read all her books by now if I'd known that earlier, but when we did Beloved in high school I wasn't mature enough to appreciate it. Playing in the Dark is a short monograph I recommend to anyone remotely interested in American literature.

(14) Liang Heng (and Judith Shapiro): Son of the Revolution. Memoir of the Chinese Cultural Revolution under Chairman Mao.

(15) Ji-Li Jiang: Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution. Memoir for a young-adult audience, possibly middle-school aged.

[PS. I'm on LibraryThing!]
helens78: A man in a leather jacket, seated on the ground, looks up hopefully. (Default)
[personal profile] helens78
Hello! I'm Helens. )

I discovered Octavia Butler in college, in a comparative lit class about science-fiction books. We read "Dawn", and though it would turn out not to be my favorite of Butler's books, I was inspired enough to go out and get more of them. I finished off the Xenogenesis series and then went for the Pattern cycle.

Patternmaster is the first book Butler published, but in series chronology, it's the last of the Pattern cycle. It opens on a world so unfamiliar that a first-time reader won't necessarily know what they're looking at, which I think is a pretty cool artistic decision. At only 202 pages, it has a narrowed focus, telling the story of the protagonist (Teray) and his struggle to come to adulthood in a hurry and find his place within the Pattern that connects all the Patternists in this world, but Butler's tight, clear writing style gives us a fantastic view of the world she's invented and never leaves us feeling confused. (This is a big deal for me; I often feel confused when writers invent worlds but don't ground me sufficiently enough in them for me to understand what's going on and what the "rules" are.)

I rated it 4.5 stars on LibraryThing, but only because the second (publication date) book in the series is one of my favorite books of all time (Mind of My Mind), possibly my favorite book, if I were held at gunpoint and asked to pick one. I've read MoMM several times in single sittings; it's that good. So there has to be room to go up from here, but not much! Patternmaster remains an excellent book with an engaging world and outstandingly smart, powerful, tough and brave protagonists. (And for those of you who aren't familiar with Butler's work, her protagonists are almost always Black or multiracial characters; many of her books have tall, Black, female protagonists; see the Xenogenesis series and the Parable series.)
ext_6334: (Zora Neale Hurston)
[identity profile] carenejeans.livejournal.com
Note: This book figures large in my bookish past, and I started writing this essay for an (unfinished) post for IBARW. Not all of my posts will be this personal.


I first read Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye more than thirty years ago. I haven't read it very often since (about three times, once for a class in college) but it has stayed with me, lodged firmly on my memory's bookshelf. It's one of my "foundational" books -- those books that you find just when you need them (even if you didn't know you needed it) and which fit into your brain like a puzzle piece from the Big Picture of, you know, life, the universe, and How Things Really Work.
Read more... )

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