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[personal profile] yatima
"Welcome to the Middle-Aged Orphans Club," writes Sherman Alexie, and as a middle-aged orphan myself, I did feel welcome, and seen, and understood. In July, Alexie cancelled part of his book tour because of complicated grief and being haunted by his late mother: "I don’t believe in ghosts," he writes. "But I see them all the time." Me too, brother.

Like Bad Indians, this is an intricate quilt of a book, part memoir, part poem, part dream. It's hard to imagine how it could be otherwise. The loss of a parent is a loss of meaning. For indigenous people, this is doubly true. Lillian Alexie was one of the last fluent speakers of Salish. Her death robs her son, and the world, of an entire universe.

This book, like Hawking radiation, is an almost-undetectable glow of meaning escaping from a black hole. If you haven't lost a parent yet it might be too much to bear, but if you have, it might feel like joining a group of survivors around a campfire after a catastrophe.

IN AUGUST 2015, as a huge forest fire burned on my reservation, as it burned within feet of the abandoned uranium mine, the United States government sent a representative to conduct a town hall to address the growing concerns and fears. My sister texted me the play-by-play of the meeting. “OMG!” she texted. “The government guy just said the USA doesn’t believe the forest fire presents a serious danger to the Spokane Indian community, even if the fire burns right through the uranium mine.”

...“Is the air okay?” I texted. “It hurts a little to breathe,” my sister texted back. “But we’re okay.” Jesus, I thought, is there a better and more succinct definition of grief than It hurts a little to breathe, but we’re okay?
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(Content warning for child sexual abuse)

Samantha Irby is seriously funny in a way that, ironically, makes me frown and try to analyze exactly how she's pulling it off in such a sustained way. Part of it is that she is hashtag relatable as heck:

What I really wanted to do was pull a blanket over my head and listen to Pearl Jam’s No Code on repeat while eating snacks and pretending to be searching for myself all day (fuck, that’s all I want to fucking do now), but I couldn’t find anyone willing to pay for that shit.

Fifty out of the 168 hours of my week are spent mad because work is interfering with all the Internet articles I’m trying to read

Part of it is sheer discipline: tight writing with a point so sharp you almost won't feel it slide in.

You could tell how much the bride’s parents loved her by the quality of the food.

My parents, as I can’t stop reminding people, ARE DEAD.

So yeah, dizzying technical prowess and ferocious wit, but that's not even the thing. It's the writing on the deaths of her parents - unsparing, un-self-pitying - that will stay with you long after the last page. Get into Samantha Irby now, so that when she blows up into the megastar she's destined to be, you can say you knew her when.
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[personal profile] yatima
I loved the first essay in White Girls so much that I fully became that obnoxious person monologue-ing about the book I was reading while my poor friends were just trying to drink their pinot grigio in peace. Hilton Als is a staff writer and theatre critic at the New Yorker, and I think I was expecting an ironic, distanced New-Yorker-contributor voice like Peter Hessler's in River Town or Katherine Boo's in Beyond the Beautiful Forevers, both of which I enjoyed very much. But Als writes like a man in love, about being a man in love, and that first essay especially just destroyed me.

By the time I met him and longed to be his wife, SL sometimes described himself as a lesbian separatist. No man could have him.... His gifts were road maps to our love, the valley of the unconditional.


The conceit of the title is that queer Black men are like white girls in all our fucked-up-ness and yearning for the full citizenship we are never granted. Ever since my first 50books challenge in 2009, it's been an article of faith for me that Black men and white women and people of color generally and queers of all stripes and all the others have no chance unless we make common cause, in the deep sense of seeking to understand one another's inner lives. To have that conviction reflected back to me is a true gift. I am inexpressibly grateful to this book and I press it into your hands.
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[personal profile] yatima
Bad Indians opens with a line so good I'm angry I didn't write it myself: "CALIFORNIA IS A STORY. California is many stories." Deborah Miranda is a member of the Ohlone-Costanoan Esselen Nation, and this angry, loving book takes a knife to all the lazy and superficial versions of the California story. Of the history unit all Californian fourth graders (including my own two daughters) are required to take, Miranda writes: "[T]he Mission Unit is all too often a lesson in imperialism, racism, and Manifest Destiny."

A nonlinear collage of prose, poetry, pictures, transcriptions of interviews and more, Bad Indians can be hard to follow, but the effort pays off when the events of Miranda's life take their place in a precisely drawn and nuanced historical context. "The original acts of colonization and violence broke the world, broke our hearts, broke the connection between soul and flesh. For many of us, this trauma happens again in each generation," she writes. And: "I love my father. I hate my father. He died alone, in a hospice facility."

This book is essential reading for anyone who cares about the indigenous peoples of California, their present and their possible futures. Strong content warning for descriptions physical and sexual abuse of children, among many other horrors.
[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] livii.livejournal.com
13/50: Chicken With Plums by Marjane Satrapi
Well, it was beautifully drawn as always - I love the style - and witty and funny and sharp. But the story was just completely uninteresting to me. Nasser Ali was a giant asshole, it seems, and I just couldn't care about his plight with music, and women, and blah, when he had a family to take care of, and his suicide seemed so empty and pointless. Sometimes it's interesting to read about a very unlikeable protagonist; this was not one of those times. On the plus side, it was short.

14/50: Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama
Finally read this one, and mostly really enjoyed it. Obama has a great many interesting and insightful stories to tell; he has led a fascinating life. His observations on race and culture are meaningful, and thought-provoking. I especially enjoyed reading about his trip to Kenya, meeting his family and seeing the land and people there. I do think it was too long, however - easily could have been cut down and made more powerful by not meandering. It took me a while to get through some parts, as they were quite slow. Overall, though, it was awesome to read such a personal, honest, emotional work by the current sitting president of the United States!

15/50: Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
FANTASTIC. Ceremony is the story of Tayo, a half-white, half-Native American young man who has just returned to his reservation from WWII. The novel is perhaps more like a dream; there are myths, chants, side-stories, and diversions scattered throughout, and the story is not strictly linear. Tayo struggles with his identity, with his family's tragedies, with the effects of being a prisoner of war, and with his relationship with the land and the loss of that land. He also learns how to heal himself, about the importance of tradition but also change, and most importantly about the lie that everyone, aboriginal and white, is living (while white colonization and theft is rightly called out in this book, there is a greater theme of witchery causing the whole world to lose its way, and the book does not so much blame as expose). There are fabulous recurring motifs, exceptional descriptive passages, and a variety of interesting, sympathetic characters. This review doesn't really do it justice, honestly. It is a very dense read, however; there are no chapters, and the spacing and such is done deliberately. It took me a while to read this, but in part, that was because I felt I had to really consider and absorb each piece of it. I was taken aback, somewhat, by the brutal violence at the end, but really, that was my own fault - I forgot that the book was, inherently, centered around the history of violence and loss. Two thumbs up, three if I had another one.
[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!]

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