[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
pauraque: bird flying (Default)
[personal profile] pauraque
(Full book title doesn't fit in the subject; it is The Testosterone Files: My Hormonal and Social Transformation from Female to Male.)

Note: Max Valerio is the same person as Anita Valerio, as published in This Bridge Called My Back, which I know has been reviewed here. It would be nice if we could easily find all his works together through the tagging system, but I can't think of a way to do that without misgendering him. Any thoughts?

Max Valerio is a trans man (like me) who spent many years living in San Francisco (where I'm from). You might think there'd be a lot in his memoir that I could relate to, but for the most part you'd be wrong.

Oh, there is some. His portrait of the life and atmosphere of San Francisco in the 90s is pitch-perfect and often quite funny. (He should write a novel about the lesbian punk scene then.) I was nodding along to his struggles with deciding to transition and sifting out the right from the wrong information about trans people, and his worries about whether he would lose all his gay and lesbian friends if he became "straight". (He lost some -- so did I.)

What I did not nod along to (warning: discusses problematic views of rape) )

Anyway, goes without saying I can't recommend the book. I did enjoy the parts of the memoir that weren't bogged down in sexist and transphobic nonsense, but that's about all I can say. It's a damn shame.

a: Valerio Max Wolf, genre: memoir, subject: transgender, au ethnicity: Native American (Blackfoot), Latino
[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
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[identity profile] kyuuketsukirui.livejournal.com
Title: My Year of Meats
Author: Ruth L. Ozeki
Number of Pages: 366 pages
My Rating: 2/5

Jacket Summary: Jane Takagi-Little, by trade a documentary filmmaker, by nature a truth seeker, is "racially half", Japanese and American, and, as she tells us, "neither here nor there..." Jane is sharp-edged, desperate for a job, and determined not to fall in love again.

Akiko Ueno, a young Japanese housewife, lives with her husband in a bleack high-rise apartment complext in a suburb of Tokyo. At night she lies awake, silently turning the pages of The Pillow Book, marveling at Sei Shounagon's deft, sure prose. Akiko is so thin her bones hurt, and her husband, an ad agency salaryman who wants her to get pregnant, is insisting that she put some meat on them--literally.

Ruth L. Ozeki's exuberant, shocking, mesmerizing novel opens with two women on opposite sides of the globe, whose lives cannot be further apart. But when Jane get a job, coordinating a television series whose mission is to bring the American heartland, and American meat, into the homes of Japan, she makes some wrenching discoveries--about love, meat, honor, and a hormone called DES. When Jane and Akiko's lives converge, what is revealed taps the deepest concerns of our time--how the past informs the present and how we live and love in this "blessed, ever-shrinking world".

Review: That summary sounds pretty horrible, and let me tell you, the book is not any better. If I had read that summary, I would not have read the book. But I read a review somewhere (I poked around at places I thought it might be and can't find anything anywhere, so I really don't know) that made it sound interesting, so I picked it up based on the review (and jacked summaries often sound horrid compared to the actual book). But really, the summary accurately reflects what the book is like.

There were plenty of things that bugged me (the angelic girl in a wheelchair who makes everyone a better person just by existing, and the multiple times hormones in meat cause men to get higher voices (estrogen: it doesn't work that way!) are two that come to mind), but the two biggest problems I had were the way Japan and Japanese people were consistently exotified and stereotyped and the way the book actually turned out to be about how every women just really wants a baby and needs children to be happy. Blargh.

Title: The Intuitionist
Author: Colson Whitehead
Number of Pages: 255 pages
My Rating: 3.5/5

Jacket Summary: It is a time of calamity in a major metrolpolitan city's Department of Elevator Inspectors, and Lila Mae Watson, the first black female evelator inspector in the history of the department, is at the center of it. Lila Mae is an Intuitionist and, it just so happens, has the highest accuracy rate in the entire department. But when an elevator in a new city building goes into total freefall on Lila Mae's watch, chaos ensues. When Lila Mae goes underground to investigate the crash, she becomes involved in the search for the lost notebooks of Intuitionism's founder, James Fulton, and uncovers a secret that will change her life forever.

Review: So, on the jacket, it's called "sidesplittingly funny", and I don't know if I totally missed the humor or the person writing the cover copy just read it completely differently to me (or didn't read it at all), because I don't know what they're talking about. Anyway, it was definitely interesting, even if I couldn't totally get into the whole "in this universe elevators are the biggest thing ever" premise. I liked the intrigue, though was a little disappointed with the ending. I see a lot of people in reviews raving over Whitehead's prose, but I found his style really off-putting. It seems like it might be one of those love it or hate it things. Still, I'm interested in reading more by him.
[identity profile] atdelphi.livejournal.com
6. On the Eve of Uncertain Tomorrows by Neil Bissoondath (New York: Lester & Orpen Dennys, 1991)

I like my chocolate with caramel or nuts or maybe a nice crispy wafer. Bear with me, I have a point. On a similar note, I have a distinct preference for genre fiction. I love the slices of life and beautiful language and insights into human nature that make up good literary fic, but I enjoy those things even more with the added chew or crunch of speculative fiction or historicals or mysteries.

Neil Bissoondath's On the Eve of Uncertain Tomorrows is a strong collection of short stories that focus largely on the aftermath of political violence and the complications of Canadian multiculturalism. I enjoyed Bissoondath's style and his characters (although his female characters felt rather less genuine than his male ones), but ultimately I felt like I was biting into a piece of plain chocolate, thinking: "And...?"

If you're a regular fiction fan interested in tough, true-to-life tales that make the most of the short story medium, you'll probably enjoy this book. For me, it was a good way to pass a few evenings, but I'm not likely to seek out more of Bissoondath's work for casual reading.
ext_48823: 42, the answer to life, the universe and everything (Default)
[identity profile] sumofparts.livejournal.com
1. Swimming in the Monsoon Sea by Shyam Selvadurai
2. Mr. Muo's Traveling Couch by Dai Sijie (translated by Ina Rilke; white)
3. Six Suspects by Vikas Swarup
4. Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life by Bryan Lee O'Malley
5. The Circle of Reason by Amitav Ghosh

Read more... )

tags: a: selvadurai shyam, a: dai sijie, w-t: rilke ina, a: swarup vikas, a: o'malley bryan lee, a: ghosh amitav, chinese, french, indian, canadian, sri lankan, novel, fiction, graphic novel, young adult, china, india, toronto, sri lanka, glbt, mysteryr
[identity profile] atdelphi.livejournal.com
5. A Feast for All Seasons: Traditional Native People's Cuisine by Andrew George, Jr. and Robert Gairns (Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2010)

This is a reissue of the 1997 Feast!, brought back to the public eye after Andrew George, Jr.—a Wet'suwet'en Nation chef—received some well-deserved recognition at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics as head chef at the Four Host First Nations pavillion.

A Feast for All Seasons features modern Native cuisine, aimed at the home cook and hunter. While a few recipes require a smoker or meat grinder, the bulk can be attempted by anyone with a source of fish and game. Background information on the chef and Native North American food cultures is provided, and the book is set up in four sections: From the Waters (seafood), From the Earth (vegetables and grains), From the Land (game), and From the Air (fowl). Seasonal menus are also offered.

So far I've tried the Smoked Salmon on Bannock Fingers (although, like anyone who grew up with bannock, I used my own recipe, because everyone else's recipe is wrong), the Wild Rice and Mushrooms, and the Baked Sweet Potato with Roasted Hazelnuts, and they've all been delicious.

The book is full of interesting information, written in an engaging voice, and the recipes are a great combination of traditional and innovative without being too out there for home cuisine. As someone living on the west coast of Canada, it was nice to find a cookbook that consisted entirely of ingredients I could easily find; most cookbooks on the market here are by U.S. writers, and there are often international differences as to what ingredients can be found cheaply and easily and in what season.

My one complaint is that the book really could have used more photographs. I don't know how this compares with the original edition, but in the age of digital photography, it seems like a few extra snapshots could have been included.
[identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com
This, Lo’s Ash, and Tamora Pierce’s The Will Of The Empress are, to my knowledge, the only YA fantasies with lesbian protagonists ever put out by a mainstream (not small press or specialty) US publishing house. Not only that, but Huntress has an Asian girl pictured on the cover, which is nearly as vanishingly rare in American YA fantasy.

I am really, really hoping it succeeds. It is genuinely groundbreaking and if it does well, it may encourage other publishers to put out and not whitewash similar titles. Even if it doesn't sound like your cup of tea, consider whether you have any friends or relatives who might enjoy it as a gift. I’d say it’s appropriate for good readers of about eleven and up. (It contains kissing but no on-page sex, and some adventure-type violence which is treated with more seriousness than is common. But there’s no graphic details.)

Though Huntress has a somewhat wider scope than Ash, more varied cultural influences, and is not based on a specific fairy-tale, it has most of the same virtues and flaws that Ash did: a strong romance, some very beautiful passages, sketchy worldbuilding, and awkward plotting and pacing. You can probably predict with good accuracy how much you'd like one by how much you like the other, even though the stories are quite different.

In many ways, Huntress is an old-school quest fantasy. Weird and bad stuff is happening in the world, a message unexpectedly arrives from the Fairy Queen, and a party is sent forth to travel to her city and hopefully get her help fixing things. The fellowship includes several adult warriors and guards, the crown prince, and the two teenage heroines. Taisin, a sage-in-training, wields magic and has visions… and will be sworn to celibacy once she officially becomes a sage. Because Taisin had a vision of Kaede, another girl at the sage school, Kaede comes along too, even though she’s about to leave school because she has no gift for magic, and has no obvious gifts at all other than a knack for throwing knives.

En route to the fairy city, Taisin and Kaede get to know each other, fight off magical opposition, and slowly fall in love. Lo excels at depicting the slow budding of their relationship, and all their hesitant, conflicted feelings. I could have happily read a story about nothing but Taisin and Kaede going to sage school and falling in love, because the romance aspects of the story are really well-done.

Other than the romance, the book was oddly structured and paced. Most of the story takes place on the road, which is fine but a little slow-paced, but once they arrive in the fairy city, events happen extremely fast. There’s a rushed-feeling second quest, in which the Big Bad goes down with disappointing ease, followed by an even more rushed third quest, which takes all of five pages to begin and complete. The final quest made sense thematically, but it was oddly placed and jarringly fast.

The world is Chinese/Celtic, and those very different cultures didn’t mesh coherently. The omniscient POV also didn’t quite gel for me – it was mostly Kaede and Taisin, but with brief peeks into other characters. I would have liked it better if the chapters had alternated between Kaede and Taisin’s POVs.

That being said, I did like the romance very much, and I enjoyed reading the book. If I knew any teenagers who were interested in non-urban fantasy, I would definitely press it upon them.

[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] rachelmanija.livejournal.com
And what of Paama herself? She said little about the husband she had left almost two years ago, barely enough to fend off the village gossips and deflect her sister’s sneers. She didn’t need to. There was something else about Paama that distracted people’s attention from any potentially juicy titbits of her past. She could cook.

An inadequate statement. Anyone can cook, but the true talent belongs to those who are capable of gently ensnaring with their delicacies, winning compliance with the mere suggestion that there might not be any goodies for a caller who persisted in prying. Such was Paama.

An adult fantasy novel loosely based on a folktale from Senegal. When a spirit called a djombi gives Paama a probability-altering Chaos Stick, a series of events spin out to change her life, the lives of her family, the lives of a great many innocent and not-so-innocent bystanders, and even the undying lives of several djombi.

I loved this book. LOVED it. The absolutely wonderful prose and the humor kept me reading with a huge smile on my face, and occasionally laughing aloud. I could pull quotes from every single page that would make people who enjoy this sort of thing rush out to buy it, though the funniest bits are best read in context. (The bit where a trickster spirit cleverly disguised as a very large talking spider has a deadpan conversation with two men in a bar was one of my very favorite scenes.) The very knowing and slightly defensive narrator cracked me up, and the more serious second half, while not quite as purely enjoyable as the first, is poignant and lovely.

If you enjoyed the elegantly mannered prose, metafictional commentary, and sly humor of Michael Chabon’s The Gentlemen of the Road or William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, you are almost certain to like Redemption in Indigo.

The plot falls apart for about twenty pages or so after Paama confronts the indigo-skinned djombi, but it picks up after that (so don’t give up.)

The ending was moving (which is not a code-word for “sad”), and very satisfying. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that we get a touching psychological explanation for her ex-husband’s compulsive gluttony, so I’ll say so here for the benefit of anyone who might find the very beginning, which is based on a folktale about a man who gets in comic trouble by eating everything in sight, fat-phobic or anti-eating. I loved the way Lord preserved the non-realistic qualities of the original folktale, while the narrator invented realistic justification until it became impossible, and then resignedly advised the readers to just go with it.

Highly recommended. This is the kind of book where I feel constrained in reviewing lest I over-sell, but if you like this sort of thing at all, go out and get it.

Redemption in Indigo: a novel (Check out the gorgeous cover!)
[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
ext_939: Sheep wearing an eyepatch (skywardprodigal Cog Flowers)
[identity profile] spiralsheep.livejournal.com
16. I read I Speak for the Devil by Imtiaz Dharker. Her poetry tends to confessional style, which I usually dislike, but Dharker uses that style to speak for herself and her characters so skillfully that I enjoyed this collection throughout. The language and structures are deceptively simple but manage to convey complexities and deeper meanings. The whole collection is complemented by Dharker's own illustrations, which highlight her interest in bodies and embodiments. I offer you two samples: the more intellectually representative poem and the more sensually typical poem.

Tags: british, scottish, islam, muslim, calvinist, british-asian, poetry
vass: A sepia-toned line-drawing of a man in naval uniform dancing a hornpipe, his crotch prominent (Default)
[personal profile] vass
It took me two years almost to the day.

47. Charles Yu, How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe
I've heard this book criticised as slight. I disagree. The structure really worked for me (if you're reading this for recommendations, be aware that I frequently like the structure in books that other people have described as having serious structural problems.) I really loved the whole issue of failure, and of reaching a ceiling on your life and having to go down from there.

48. Marjorie Liu, The Wild Road
I found the ending a little disappointing, but overall I liked it. If you like amnesia as a trope, this is the Dirk & Steele novel for you.

49. Marjorie Liu, The Fire King
OMG OMG! In this book, Marjorie Liu addresses my biggest narrative kink ever that I don't think I've ever seen addressed to my satisfaction before now, the one where a person from the present day explains their time period to a person from the past, in terms that they will understand. The person in question has awakened 3000 years into his future. The heroine is the only person living who can speak his language, and that's only because she has a psychic ability to understand any language provide she's in contact with someone who knows it. There's the usual running from dangerous magical and psychic folk and allying with the good magical and psychic folk plot, but that was much less important to me than OMG THAT TROPE.

50. Samuel R Delany, They Fly At Ciron
A very unusual Delany book. Unusual in that he didn't make the reader do much heavy lifting at all, there weren't a lot of new and mind-expanding ideas, and it wasn't very strange. To be fair, it was his second novel. Naturally, the prose was beautiful. It was still a good book. I'm just a little disappointed because from previous experience I expected a SUPER AMAZING book.

And now I start again.
[identity profile] puritybrown.livejournal.com
47: Mardock Scramble by Tow Ubukata

I'll be reviewing this at greater length elsewhere, and when I do I'll post a link here. For now I'll just say: this is a 775-page-long science fiction thriller, part of the Haikasoru line, set in the future city of Mardock, centring on the quest of Rune-Balot, former child prostitute, to retrieve the stored memories of the man who tried to kill her. It's a great big baggy rambunctious mess of a novel, occasionally glorious, often infuriating, full of wild shifts in tone and content. There are flying sharks. There's a gang of assassins who have the body parts of their victims surgically implanted on their bodies. There are many, many metaphors involving eggs. (E.g. the main characters are called Balot, Oeufcoque, Dr Easter, Shell, and Boiled. And there's a casino called Eggnog Blue and an egg-shaped flying home called the Humpty.)

I don't know if I recommend it, exactly; parts of it were enormous fun to read, parts were rather dull, and I don't know that it amounts to very much, all told. Still, it was an interesting ride.
[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] seekingferret.livejournal.com
7)Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

Oh man, I've been reading this book on and off since last September and finally finished it. And am somewhat sad that I won't be able to spend any more time with Saleem Sinai and his family. Midnight's Children is incredibly immersive and I think it's my favorite book of the 57 I've read for [livejournal.com profile] 50books_poc thus far. This book doesn't really demand a review so much as it demands critical essays, but I'm always unsure if this is the appropriate venue for that sort of spoiler-rich dissection. I'll try to keep it somewhat vague.

Midnight's Children is a magical realist exploration of the history of India since independence in 1948. It's narrated by Saleem Sinai, who was born at midnight on the day of Independence and therefore grows up as India grows up. (Being an extremely self-conscious narrator, Saleem actually dissects and classifies the types of correlation, metaphoric and actual, between his life and India's.) Saleem, like Tristram Shandy, is not born until more than 50 pages into the book. He inhabits an India full of mysteries informed by the Ramayana and the Arabian Nights. And his narrative voice and position in society recall one of the first books I read for this challenge, G. V. Desani's manic 1950s satire All About H. Hatterr, with its helter-skelter command of the English language and unsteady position trapped between British rule and Indian self-rule. Midnight's Children is a book that inhabits both Eastern and Western traditions simultaneously, as modern India itself does.

The references to Tristram Shandy don't end with Saleem's birth. The significance of Saleem's nose recalls poor Walter Shandy and his Theories. Saleem's castration recalls Uncle Toby's wartime injuries. The resemblances continue. Rushdie fills the novel with an incredible density of ideas and allusions and references, a density which sometimes overwhelmed me but usually enchanted me. Of course, as I wrote about Zadie Smith's The Autograph Man recently, the problem with dense post-modern novels is that if you miss the references, you can sail right by and not realize what you're missing. I'm sure that an Easterner reading the novel would have an utterly different experience than I did. An almost entirely parallel set of allusions would be driving their access to the novel's themes. I wonder if the density and two-headedness of the novel can inspire a sort of critical laziness in the reader. It would certainly be possible for me to play spot-the-western-canon-reference and never spend a moment thinking about just how non-Western the novel is.

Because in many ways, this is an incredibly Indian novel and it does things with language and storytelling that I can't fathom seeing from a writer only steeped in the Western tradition. Its nonlinearities speak of an incomparably old oral folk tradition as much as they speak of a modern, urban lifestyle of fast-paced change and uncertainty. In one of my favorite lines, Saleem says "Everything has shape... there is no escaping from form." As with Marquez and Eco and Pynchon, the novel's form speaks eloquently about a way forward for Indian literature, without rejection of Western thought or modernity, but also without rejection of millennia of imposing history. Midnight, in the novel, is about standing on that precipice, straddling the day before and the day after. But Rushdie cleverly undermines his narrator's premise by demonstrating again and again that we are all living lives as Midnight's children, a perpetual existence perched between yesterday and tomorrow. That this is what makes Saleem special and unique is also what makes all of us special and unique. Our uncertainty becomes our raison d'etre.

All told, a magnificent literary experience.

tags: a: rushdie salman, postmodernist, indian
[identity profile] emma-in-oz.livejournal.com
2.29 Larissa Behrendt, Home: A Novel (2004)

Here's another from Anita Heiss' list of her top 100 (or rather 99) Indigenous books - http://anitaheissblog.blogspot.com/2011/04/anitas-bbc-black-book-choice-reading.html

I really really liked this novel. It begins in 1995 with a young, Indigenous lawyer visiting the lands from which her grandmother was taken. It then flashes back in time to 1918 when she was taken as part of the Stolen Generation and has different chapters on the lives of her descendants.

Not only is it an interesting conceit but it is very well written. There's a great line about her relationship with her white, French boyfriend - there is 'nothing between us but skin'.

It's the winner of the David Unaipon Award for Indigenous writers.
[identity profile] emma-in-oz.livejournal.com
2.30 Michael Eric Dyson, Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster (2006)

I've been doing a lot of reading about Hurricane Katrina recently. I was inspired by the second Spike Lee documentary to revisit this issue - because it was a genuine puzzle to me. I could not believe that the response to a disaster could be so incompetent in the first world.

I made a donation to the American Red Cross and as I did so I remember being astounded that I was sending disaster relief to the richest and most powerful country in the world because they just could not get their act together to help their own citizens.

So I've read several books and they list a whole lot of factors. The National Guard was depleted because of Iraq; Bush was focussed on terrorism and had subsumed FEMA into the Homeland Security Department; FEMA was headed by an incompetent who reported to a moron; the White House had poor relations with Louisiana because it was held by a Democrat; Mayor Nagin didn't use his buses before the storm and after it they were flooded; FEMA kept telling active lies about sending buses so no one else organised any; FEMA would not let people in to help. But the elephant in the room is, of course, why these factors were allowed to sway the relief efforts.

Apparently FEMA had very competently organised relief the year before in Florida (in an area where there were Republican voters to woo). But the entire rescue effort in New Orleans was stunningly bad, bad beyond belief.

Dyson just goes all out and says yes, this difference is because the people who were stuck in New Orleans were, largely, poor and black. Some of his information is just astonishing - such as the fact that people leaving the fancy hotels were allowed to jump the queue for the buses. That is to say, people wealthy enough to stay at nice hotels, people who had gone through the hurricane without wading through fetid storm water and who had had access to food and water for the days of waiting for help, those are the folks who were put at the head of the queue to get the buses out of town.

It is a relief to find someone willing to put an overarching narrative together rather than getting bogged in the details of when Heckofajob Brownie sent this email or that, and how many New Orleans school buses were working. His overarching story is that people got treated badly because they were mostly poor and mostly black.

That's certainly how it appeared to my outsider's eyes. Though, again from my uninformed outsider's perspective, the American belief in limited Government seemed to make things work. The evacuation order given for New Orleans basically said ' Get out if you can; if you can't abandon all hope because we're doing bugger all for you'.

Dyson quotes the head of the 9/11 fund who said that a similar fund need not be set up for those displaced by Katrina. The interviewer asked if 'the underlying philosophy here.. [is] that I'm responsible for my own life and if something bad happens, too bad.' He affirmed his - 'It's the United States after all. Our heritage is limited government. The government is not a guarantor of life's misfortunes.'

I guess I find this concept of citizenship odd. I imagine the State's role is to protect its citizens but this isn't an argument that Dyson spends a lot of time on. (I guess this is a fish doesn't see the water thing, where Dyson also accepts this heritage of hands off Government and rugged individualism.)

In short, this is the least factually informative of the books I've read on Hurricane Katrina, but it is the most emotionally satisfying as it does argue an overall story rather than a collection of snippets about what happened.
[identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com
A fascinating, easily readable history of cancer, how people conceived of it, how they tried to cure it, and how all that changed society and science. Mukherjee is an oncologist, and salts the text with anecdotes about his own patients. (Those were great and I would have liked more of them.)

If you like pop science at all, this is a great example of it: educational, clearly written, both explaining things you always wondered about (why is there so much cancer nowadays?) and delving into issues it never occurred to you wonder about (how did we get from a time when the New York Times refused to print the words “breast” and “cancer” to marathons for a cure?) Mukherjee takes us from bone tumors found in ancient mummies, to the Persian queen Atossa who had a slave perform a mastectomy on her, to the genesis of “wars on diseases” and campaigning for funds and cures, to the beginnings of chemotherapy, to cutting edge genetic research. He brings all the personalities of the scientists, the politicians, the patients, and the (evil! evil!) tobacco company executives to vivid life.

I probably don’t need to mention that this book can be gross, upsetting, and disturbing, given the subject matter. (The section on radical mastectomies was especially nightmarish.) But if you can either deal with that or skim a bit, I highly recommend this.

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer
[identity profile] seekingferret.livejournal.com
6) Lords of Finance by Liaquat Ahamed

First in what should be a spurt to get me to 10. I've been slowly making progress in three big books over the past month and am within 50 pages of the end in all three.

Lords of Finance won the Pulitzer Prize last year and it deserved it. In terms of critical evaluation, I really needn't say much more than that. It's an analysis of the events leading up to the Great Depression and the fall of the gold standard from a macroeconomic point of view, focusing on the central bank officials in Europe and America whom Ahamed maintains had the power to have prevented the Depression if they'd had a better understanding of their situation.

The descriptions of the bankers are personal and intimate. Ahamed seeks to understanding not merely their decisions but what drove them to make those decisions. The descriptions of financial maneuevers are clear, simple, and do not require a Ph.D in economics to follow. Ahamed takes massive, complicated financial systems and expresses them in terms that make sense. While I'm always going to be mistrustful of this process, I felt much less mistrustful than I usually do with popularizations of complicated mathematical ideas. By leaving the mathematics entirely out and focusing on the processes, Ahamed was able to explain what happened without showing his work, and his clarity and precision served as adequate substitute for the actual equations.

Needless to say, the book was so acclaimed because it professes to teach lessons about our present economic difficulties. There are unquestionable parallels, and Bernanke and the European Central bankers have carefully studied the history of the Great Depression in order to learn how to approach this crisis. If I had a criticism about the book, though, it's that in the epilogue where Ahamed tries to draw these parallels, he avoids specifics and does not probe as deeply into the issues as the rest of the book does.

The book is also avowedly Keynesian and does not give much time to rival economic theories. Not necessarily a bad thing, just a bias to take into account. But I loved his affectionate portrayals of Keynes, Norman, Strong, Moreau, Schacht, and the rest of his characters. If anybody knows Keynes RPF, it would satisfy an itch.

tags: a: ahamed liaquat, economics, nonfiction


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