brainwane: My smiling face, including a small gold bindi (Default)
[personal profile] brainwane
I read The Underground Railroad in 2016. I thought it was engaging, moving, and accessible,* and I nominated it for a Hugo Award (Best Novel).

Na'amen Gobert Tilahun reviewed Underground Airlines as well as The Underground Railroad in Strange Horizons and discussed several aspects of both books. That review mentions speculative elements in Whitehead's book beyond the railroad mentioned in the title, in case you are wary of spoilers.

I have read John Henry Days, The Intuitionist, and I think at least one other Whitehead book, and am trying to reflect on how Whitehead approaches and uses the railroad, because I think it's different than the way a lot of speculative fiction authors do, and has more in common with how other mimetic fiction authors tend to use speculative premises. I want to compare The Underground Railroad to Never Let Me Go, where the story doesn't concentrate on (or, sometimes, even mention) the origin story of the big plot premise, and instead the story is entirely about the lives of people living or resisting -- just for themselves, to survive or thrive -- within that system.

* I think Whitehead deliberately works to make the book accessible to people who have not previously read slave narratives, fictional or nonfiction -- I think he spells out subtext more often than he would if he assumed the reader had more of a grounding in antebellum history or the history of anti-black racism in the US.
kaberett: A drawing of a black woman holding her right hand, minus a ring finger, in front of her face. "Oh, that. I cut it  off." (molly - cut it off)
[personal profile] kaberett
This came into my possession via the latest Humble Ebook Bundle, and I am so glad it did. This is how glad I am: I am about two-thirds of the way through it and I can't wait to finish before I tell you all how good it is.

The protagonist, Hanna, is sixteen, manic depressive (and explicitly, canonically prefers that descriptor to "bipolar", Because Reasons), and Finnish-"island girl" (Hawaiian?), raised (for most of her life) in Dallas. She describes herself as biracial and bicultural, and she's bilingual in English and Finnish - and the codeswitching is genuinely plausibly represented.

The dude she ends up hanging around with a lot is the same age, Latino, and bilingual in Spanish and English - again, really nicely represented.

The story takes place in creepy smalltown Texas. It's sub/urban fantasy and abusive parents and a critique of the medical-industrial complex and teenagers having (complicated, not always happy) sex lives all tied up in tight, funny monster-killing brilliance. It's lovely.

Content notes. )
ext_48823: 42, the answer to life, the universe and everything (Default)
[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] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
14. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, The Mistress of Spices

A sort-of fantasy novel about Tilo, a 'Mistress of Spices'- immortal, mystical women, trained in magic and secret knowledge, sent out into the world to help people. Tilo is sent to Oakland, California, where she slowly becomes personally involved in the lives of the people around her, and begins to reveal her own backstory.

This novel is very hard to describe, because it doesn't have much of a plot for most of its length. Instead, it's full of beautiful, poetic descriptions of spices and food, magic, Oakland and imaginary places like the Island where Mistresses are trained. Some parts are very realistic; others involve rampaging pirate queens or singing sea serpents. It took me a while to get into this book, because the beginning is very slow, but by the end I was in love. The language is incredibly evocative, and the resolution felt just right. I really grew to like the characters, particularly Tilo, who shows herself to be much more of a flawed human than any mystical fairy.

Highly recommended.
rydra_wong: Lee Miller photo showing two women wearing metal fire masks in England during WWII. (still IBARW)
[personal profile] rydra_wong
There are books you can't put down, and then there are books you put down a third of the way through so that you can run to the computer and start ordering more books by the same author. The Intuitionist is that good.

I don't know whether this should be counted as sf/f, slipstream, magical realism, or something else altogether: its very own genre of lucid-dreaming surreal noir, a vision of a city that might be New York riven by the conflict between rival schools of elevator inspectors, the Empiricists with their faith in dutiful physical inspection and the Intuitionists who aspire to sense defects by tuning into the the soul of the machine itself.

Lila Mae Watson is the first "colored" woman (the book is set in what feels like the '40s or '50s) to become an elevator inspector - and she's an Intuitionist. When an elevator she inspected inexplicably goes into freefall, she finds herself at the centre of a web of political intrigue, where race, class, secrecy and mysticism intersect in the hunt for the "black box": the design for a perfect elevator.

Lila Mae is a fantastic protagonist: dour, self-contained, and, like the novel, utterly herself. But what makes the novel absolutely compelling is the narrative voice. Something like Don DeLillo, something like Walter Mosley (who contributed a well-deserved blurb), and a lot that's all Whitehead's own. This doesn't read like the first novel it is; it's unhesitatingly confident and polished in its idiosyncrasies:

Anyway, slept. In the biggest bed she has ever slept in, swimmable, Lila Mae buoyant despite her negligible body fat (a skinny one, she is). The bed possesses an undertow conducive to dreaming, but she doesn't remember her dreams when she wakes. On waking, her half-dreaming consciousness segues into a recollection of her visit to the Fanny Briggs building. It was simple: that's what Lila Mae is thinking about in her room at 117 Second Avenue.
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!]
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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