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[personal profile] yatima
Remember how I said that I was probably way too close to the world described in Juliet Takes A Breath to have any kind of objective opinion about its merits? Join me in laughing hollowly as I disclose that I joined the venture capital industry very shortly after Ellen Pao first filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the industry's giant, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Why is it on me to learn and improve and not on them to listen to me like they listen to one another? I wondered.

I shall confine myself to remarking that I underlined every second sentence or so of Reset but nobly refrained from writing IT'S SO TRUE!!! in every margin, if only because I was reading it on my Kindle. And that Ellen is a real-life badass superhero and that her Project Include is an authentic Force For Good. And that this book is an pretty good primer both on the structure of venture capital and on what discrimination in the workplace looks like, and how insidious it is and how hard to fight. Okay, I'm done.
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[personal profile] yatima
Four fiercely brilliant stories, in order of increasing brilliance. The first deals with toxic masculinity in an unbelievably prescient way, given our current predicament:

This was the other side of their bravado. She looked at him with such infinite care and respect, for she hadn’t known before how much more terrifying it was to be a man than to be a woman.

The second is a laugh-out-loud grimdark Black Mirror episode set in space. The third is a (maybe?) love story so weird it reminded me of Flatland.

But the fourth story! That one, a picaresque journey through space with a hauntingly familiar subtext, brought to mind my Dad's exquisite first edition of The Ship that Sailed to Mars, and all of Borges, and George Takei's Twitterstream. And if that combination doesn't pique your interest, I don't even know what to tell you.
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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.
[identity profile] seabookmonger.livejournal.com

Japanese author Reiko Matsuura is traveling across the U.S. right now, reading from her 1993 novel, The Apprenticeship of Big Toe P , which was just translated into English. It's always a pleasure to meet the authors the Japan Foundation brings to the U.S. They're always prize winners, often edgy in both style and topic, and often female. If you're lucky enough to have the chance, go and hear what they have to say. If you can't meet them, meet them through their writing.

You may have heard that this is a novel about a woman who grows a penis out of her big toe. That's accurate, but it's just the jumping off point as I think this novel is about the desire for love and for connection. Matsuura has said (and I paraphrase a translation) that what happens in the heart during the sexual act has not been depicted in the many male/phallocentric depictions of sex in literature. And in literature, the act is often not depicted, but alluded to. And she wonders about what writers are not saying. What is being concealed in the core of sex? She has written about the interior and exterior aspects of sexual acts between a variety of men and women in this book but, as you come to understand, the penis is the least of it, though people are pretty focused on it. As you can imagine.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
32. Geling Yan, The Lost Daughter of Happiness, translated by Cathy Silber

This novel is about a real historical figure, Fusang, a Chinese woman who was a prostitute in San Fransisco in the late 1800s. Although the narration focuses on Fusang and her relationship with others, particularly Chris- a young white boy from a German merchant family in love with Fusang- and Da Yong- a Chinese gangster who is influential in Fusang's life- Fusang herself ultimately remains a blank. She's never given motivations, inner dialogue, or even much emotion. And this is deliberate. The narrator- who, as a Chinese writer living in America in the modern day, may or may not be the voice of the author herself- often breaks into the story, explaining the impossibility of truly knowing another person, especially when that other person is a historical figure with only brief mentions in texts. At other times, the narrator speaks directly to Fusang, asking her to move a certain way or to reply to a question. I found this distancing effect to be really intriguing, but in other reviews people seem to have been annoyed by it, so your mileage may vary.

The language is beautiful and vivid; the plot is compelling. The novel explores racism, sexism, and violence, often explicitly linking events of the historical period depicted to the modern day. Highly recommended.
[identity profile] whereweather.livejournal.com
#25. This Bridge Called My Back, ed. Cherríe Moraga & Gloria Anzaldúa
1981/'83, Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press

This is another book that is so full of... ideas and thinking and newness, and that has so many visions and so much emotion in it, and that contains both so much I can identify with and so much that seems deeply foreign -- I don't mean only the experiences and attitudes of the women who wrote it, but also, which is harder for me to assimilate, the lens through which they view the world: the moment of history, cultural and political, in which thy formulated these ideas and these manifestoes -- that I feel overwhelmed when I try to think about posting a review of it.

But I also feel kind of like a coward for backing out of reviewing it. What to do? I think I will let it simmer for a while. I may also read the much more recent companion book to it (this bridge we call home, used, I see, as an icon for this group ;), and see if that helps me understand, and bridge the thirty years of historical difference between these women and me.

[tags I would add if I could: assimilation, sociology, spirituality [or: religion/spirituality], puerto rican, a: morales rosario, a: rushin donna kate, a: wong nellie, a: lee mary hope, a: littlebear naomi, a: lim genny, a: yamada mitsuye, a: valerio anita, a: cameron barbara, a: levins morales anita, a: carillo jo, a: daniels gabrielle, a: moschkovich judit, a: davenport doris, a: gossett hattie, a: smith barbara, a: smith beverly, a: clarke cheryl, a: noda barbara, a: woo merle, a: quintanales mirtha, a: anzaldua gloria, a: alarcon norma, a: combahee river collective, a: canaan andrea, a: parker pat] 

(Also, apropos of nothing: Whoo! Halfway through! This book feels like an appropriate one for that milestone.)

[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
29. Shan Sa, Empress. Translated from French by Adriana Hunter.

A novel based on the life of Wu Zetian (called Heavenlight in the novel), a woman born in China in 625 AD to a relatively obscure family, who rose to eventually become Empress of China- in her own right, not as a wife- and found her own dynasty. The novel, told in first person, covers every single event of Heavenlight's life, from before birth (this may be the only novel which includes a fetus's perspective I've ever read) until after her death. This comprehensiveness is my main complaint with the novel: there are only so many scandals, political power grabs, rebellions inside and outside of the court, and trouble with relatives I can read about before it all starts to sound the same and I stop caring about who is who. I think this would have been a much more interesting book if it had chosen one period and focused on it in detail, instead of trying to cover Heavenlight's entire life.

That said, I did enjoy this novel. The beginning especially had lots of beautiful descriptions and fascinating events. Heavenlight was raised at least partially as a boy, and her accounts of horseback riding were so evocative (Sa is a poet, which I'm sure accounted for the gorgeous language in some parts of the book). Her early days as a concubine in the court were also fascinating, particularly when she develops a relationship with one of the other women. Recommended, though I do warn that it is extremely similar in parts to Anchee Min's Empress Orchid (despite the books being based on two different historical figures).
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
27. Dorothy Ko, Cinderella's Sisters: A Revisionist History of Footbinding

A non-fiction, academic book, but very readable. Ko states that her intention is to present a study of footbinding that does not approach the subject moralistically; she's very good at that. However, she also writes that she wants to give the female perspective on footbinding, and I felt that she mostly failed in that attempt. Nearly every single source is from a male writer. The few female sources don't show up until the last chapter. I also would have liked to see more archaeological sources used, either of the actual preserved shoes, or information from graves, houses, etc. Though being an archaeologist, I may be predisposed to that source.

Anyway. Regardless of my problems with it, I mostly enjoyed this book. Ko does a very good job of showing that there was no such single thing as "footbinding". What the practice entailed, in terms of age begun, physical shaping (or not) of the foot, and the cultural meaning, changed continually across time and space. She also does a great job of showing that ending footbinding was in itself a cultural practice, which meant specific things to specific people. Overall, an interesting book, even if I wished it had used a wider range of sources.
[identity profile] whereweather.livejournal.com
21. !Ask a Mexican!, Gustavo Arellano
2007, Scribner

I actually finished this book months ago, but I couldn't figure out what to say about it.  I guess I still can't, really.  There are some things I really like about this book, and some things I find very disappointing, so I guess I'll just talk about that.

The book is centrally made up of a collection of columns by Arellano, who writes a kind-of-advice column for the OC [Orange County, CA] Weekly, whose putative mission is to answer questions from clueless gabachos (white people) about Mexican culture and mores.  That's a part of the country where many Mexican immigrants and their Mexican-American descendants live side-by-side with white (and other) Americans, and where there seems to be a virulent ongoing culture clash, fueled in part by arguments about immigration policy and illegal immigration, and in part by the stuff that fuels any culture clash (confusion, fear, tribalism, bigotry, language barriers, racism, and all the rest of that awesome stuff).   So tensions can run high there, and if one can judge by the tone of the questions The Mexican gets asked -- if even one-third of them are actual questions written in by actual white Californians -- there are lots of people who are happy to let their racism just hang out.

Given that background, I admire Arellano's "straight-talk" approach, which deals candidly with insults, epithets, stereotypes and racist language, in order to talk about them.  Wab and gabacho (insulting words for "Mexican" and "white person" respectively) are frequent in the column.  Questions like "Why do Mexicans have so many fucking kids?", "Why do ghetto-poor people spend money on their trucks instead of their families?," "Why do your women insist on wearing low-riding jeans with their fat bellies spilling out?," or "Why don't you illegal immigrants have enough respect for the United States to learn English?" -- these questions get serious answers.  Arellano doesn't spend a lot of time berating anyone for intolerance or racism; the premise seems to be that the racism is obviously there, that's the ground-zero starting point, so let's talk about the actual questions.  He maintains his dignity by addressing his interlocutors in the same tone -- which is not particularly polite -- but the answers often have a lot of actual content: Arellano talks about cultural, social, and historical issues and themes in Mexican culture, and frequently quotes sociological studies and government demographic data (Arellano has an MA in sociology).  That's presumably the aspect of his approach that merited the cover blurb from the L.A. Times, "A sassy mix of Lenny Bruce rant and civil rights manual."  For my part, it reminds me of the early days of Dan Savage's "Savage Love" sex-advice column, when he invited -- nay, demanded -- that his interlocutors address him as "Hey, Faggot!"  The theory again being: we both know you have private opinions about me, so let's get it all out there up front so that it won't become the subtext to the rest of our conversation.

I was disappointed, though, by some aspects of Arellano's answers.  For one thing, he doesn't always address the actual question asked: sometimes you can see him quickly veering the discussion around to fit in with something he apparently really wants to quote or write about that day.  That's not great advice-columnist manners, I think: dude, it's not all about you.  Also, some issues that questioners bring up he just kind of fails to deal with.  The ones that were of most interest to me -- where I happened to notice him falling down or just evading, over and over again -- were the ones that had to do with ingrained gender inequality in Mexican culture, and the ones relating to homosexual behavior and attitudes toward it.  He just kind of evades, man, over and over again -- and every now and then he says something that's just concretely insulting.  "As for the Mexican women being sultry and spicy -- that's all documentary, baby."  "Any man who breaks the shackles of propriety and... grabs his crotch is the kind of immigrant we want... Wolf-whistling Mexican men are our modern pioneers, and gabachas are their new frontier, their virgin soil."  "As for our young men's current fascination with pansy-ass K-Swiss sneakers and the color pink... blame metrosexuality, the biggest threat to machismo since the two-income household."  You know what, man, fuck you, too.

That said, I did learn a lot from this book.  One of the most interesting parts are the longer "investigation" pieces Arellano wrote for the book, and includes at the end of each chapter.  A lot of them include discussions with currently living-illegal Mexican immigrants about issues like living on a tiny budget or doing jornalero work (manual day labor).  The most amazing one, for me, is undoubtedly the ten-page essay on the huge Mexican and Mexican-American fan base of Morrissey.  (Yes, Morrissey, the fey, depressive Englishman, who remains sexually ambiguous decades after it's stopped being cool.  THAT GUY.  Morrissey and Mexicans?  I would never, in a thousand years, have guessed that one.)

So anyway.  As you can see, this book gave me quite a lot to think about. 

Below is a short sampling from it, to give an idea of Arellano's style:

Q: "Why are Mexicans known as greasers?  Is it because they spread rancid lard from their dirty kitchens all over themselves after bathing instead of baby oil or cologne the way clean, civilized Anglos do?"

Dear Gabacho: Mira, güey [Look, man], the only grease we put on ourselves is the Three Flowers brilliantine Mexican men use to lacquer up their hair to a shine so intense astronomers frequently mistake the reflection off our heads for the Andromeda Galaxy.  That puts us in brotherhood with the 1950s gabacho rebels whom mainstream society also denigrated as greasers.  But the reason greaser maintains such staying power as an epithet against Mexicans -- etymologists date its origins to the 1830s -- is because it refers to, as you correctly imply, our diet. Sociologist Irving Lewis Allen devotes a chapter in his 1990 compendium of linguistic essays... [Etc.]
[identity profile] whereweather.livejournal.com
[Note: Tags I would like to add, when it eventually becomes possible: a: hernandez lea, i: hernandez lea, steampunk.]

#20.  Cathedral Child, Lea Hernandez
Cyberosia Publishing, 2002 (?)

Cathedral Child
is a very curious graphic novel of somewhat confusing provenance.  It is also, I think, unfinished.  I gather that it was meant to be the first volume of a series that Hernandez called "Texas Steampunk Trilogy," but there were a long series of delays in publishing the book and I don't think the second and third volumes were ever produced.

Which is a pity, because Cathedral Child is full of interesting ideas, and has a unique sensibility and a lot of heart.  The ending is very confusing to me, but I don't know how much of that comes from its being supposed to continue on later, or perhaps from the artist having been obliged to cram some extra plot points in where they hadn't been planned.  (Babylon 5 season four, anyone?)

So anyway, I can fault this book on several counts of clarity and pacing. On the other hand, conceptually it is fantastic.  It is set in nineteenth-century West Texas, where a white engineer, Nikola (I see what you did there!), and his investor/partner, Stuart, have set up shop to build an "analytical engine," which in this setting seems to mean an AI. 

They are building their AI inside a mission-style Spanish church, which is referred to as Cathedral, and the "machinists" and "tutors" -- who do the work of teaching and training the young artificial intelligence --  come from among the ranks of the so-called natives, who seem to be Hispanicized Indians.  (This is not entirely clear to me, but on the other hand I am not entirely clear on the distinction between "Hispanicized Indians" and the people we now call Mexicans, so maybe that means I have to do some more research myself.)   In any case, they are brown people, with Spanish names.  And there are really not nearly enough representations of brown people with Spanish names in steampunk at all, much less drawn in a manga-influenced American style, so even if it were just for this I applaud Lea Hernandez a lot.

I won't summarize the whole story here -- I guess I should just recommend reading it yourself, if it seems interesting to you.  I do admit I find the book somewhat confusing.  Some of the story concepts aren't as clearly brought through as they should have been, and I think that unclearness resides both in the storytelling and in the artwork.  On the other hand, I like many of the characters, and some of the ideas are just sublime.  It's really too bad the trilogy seems never to have been finished.

(Also: this book, and its writer, raise a "Who's P.O.C.?" question for me.  Is Lea Hernandez a writer/artist of color?  I am assuming, from her name, her place of origin, and -- here's where it gets really tricky -- from the content of her work, that she is Hispanic, and probably Mexican American.  But does that mean she's necessarily a person of color?  I don't know.  All the (smallish) photos of her I've been able to find online show her with blonde hair.  But I don't know if that means anything; many Mexicans have blonde hair... So here I am, including her, but without really knowing.  For all I know, I could be wrongly assuming.  And we all know what assuming does.  I could be making a ming out of my ass.)
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
26. Faith Adiele, Meeting Faith: The Forest Journals of a Black Buddhist Nun

Faith is the daughter of a Swedish mother and a Nigerian father; she grew up in a small town in the Midwest. She is smart, motivated, and involved, and her drive to succeed gets her a scholarship to Harvard, where she is involved in social work in addition to her classes.

And the pressure quickly causes her to fail and drop out.

This book is a memoir, mainly focusing on the time Faith spent in Thailand, where after leaving Harvard she went to work on an Anthropological research project about the status of women, particularly Buddhist nuns. Faith eventually decides to live as a nun herself for a season. The book jumps around in time a great deal, following a chapter about daily life as a nun with one about Faith's childhood, and then with another about prostitutes in Thailand's big cities. This style sometimes made things a little hard to follow, but it also was great for focusing on thematic issues instead of narrative. Another thing I disliked was that the book is published in a style that has quotes from scholars, Buddhist practitioners, and Faith's journal along the edges of the pages, making it look more like a textbook than a memoir.

However, I did like this book a lot. It's written in a style that accommodates both people who know nothing about Thailand or Buddhism with those who have more knowledge. Faith's comparison of the pressure and the succeed/fail mentality of Western culture against the more internal processes of Thai Buddhism are also pretty insightful, although they can be a bit simplistic at times. I really enjoyed her descriptions of meditation and mindfulness. She is a very vivid writer, and very readable. I really enjoyed this book.

Also recommended: If anyone is looking for more recommendations of books by POC, I really liked this podcast/blog post. Three African-American women talk about books they like. Not all the books mentioned have POC authors, but many do. Plus, though I'd never listened to this podcast before I stumbled on it today, these guys are really funny.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
25. Amjed Qamar, Beneath My Mother's Feet

A young adult novel about Nazia, a 14-year-old in a working-class family in Karachi, Pakistan. Nazia is smart, doing well in school, and engaged to her cousin. However, when her father is injured and loses his job, things quickly go downhill. Nazia's mother gets a job cleaning houses, and Nazia is forced to drop out of school to help.

This book was seriously brutal in the multitude of bad things which happen to Nazia and her family. It never came off as unbelievable or emotionally manipulative, but it was shocking to see how little a supportive net there was available for this family, and how quickly they lost everything. Overall, this wasn't even a depressing book, mainly because of Nazia, who is a strong and optimistic character. She may have a bit too much faith in people, but she relies on herself, and ends up finding her own solution. Recommended.

Also, wheeeee! Halfway to the goal!
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[personal profile] oyceter
I grabbed these from the bibliography of Kim Anderson's A Recognition of Being: Reconstructing Native Womanhood (2000). Anderson is Cree/Métis. I took all the books with Native authors or co-authors, including ones with white editors that seemed to be majority-Native authors. For books with Native co-authors, I didn't exclude ones in which the Native co-authors are in the minority (ex. 2 non-Native authors, 1 Native) because I thought people could still use it to look up other books by the Native co-author. There are other women of color authors also in the bibliography, but I excluded them to keep the focus on Native authors.

Giant list of books )
[identity profile] whereweather.livejournal.com
#8. Mother Love, Rita Dove

1995, W.W. Norton & Co.


The title of this book rhymes with the author's name, which must be unintentional but which for some reason I can't get out of my mind.


This is the first book, the first thing really, I have read by Rita Dove. My first reaction upon finishing it was that I liked it, I admired it or many things in it, but ultimately I didn't think it held together as a book, with the arc of the story that it is claiming to tell.


I have been thinking about it for two or three weeks now, though, and I keep on thinking about it, and now I have started reading the book again. There is a lot to return to there. So I have to say it is growing on me, and all in all may be a richer and more lasting work than I had initially thought.


The theme of the book, despite its title, is not really mothering qua mothering. It is the myth of Demeter and Persephone, focusing on these principal players -- which itself bears remarking, because there are many treatments of the myth that pay attention instead to the way the story affects the (male, it must be said) gods around them. (The story, in brief, is this: while gathering flowers, young Persephone wanders away from her friends and is kidnapped to Hell by Hades, king of the underworld. He wants her to marry him and be his wife. Demeter, her mother, the goddess of growth and harvest, goes on strike and lets the world wither -- an action of anger? grief? or both? -- until Zeus, king of the gods (and brother to both Hades and Demeter) makes Hades return Persephone. But Persephone has eaten six seeds of a pomegranate down there, so for six months of the year she must go under the earth to sleep with Hades and be queen in Hell, and the other six months she may rejoin her mother above ground. And this, says the myth, is why we have winter.)


The pit is down below... )


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