yatima: (Default)
[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.
annwfyn: (raven - with sun in mouth)
[personal profile] annwfyn
I adored this book. It's a young adult historical novel set during WW2 and is the story of the WASP, the female pilots who never were quite accepted by the military, and Ida Mae who is an African American girl who 'passes' as white in order to be able to fly those planes.

I really enjoyed all of it, and found Ida Mae a really easy character to identify with. I really connected with her journey and spent half my time chewing my fingernails for fear she'd be discovered. I wanted her to succeed, I wanted her to fly those planes, I wanted good things to happen to her and was terrified they wouldn't.

I also was incredibly impressed with how well it handled some difficult issues - racism, sexism, the relationship between light skinned and dark skinned - but did so without either giving the reader or the characters easy answers or solutions, or making the book feel like an 'issue' novel. In fact, it felt a lot like a traditional 'boys own adventure' in some ways. There was barely a romance option, and instead it offered cockpit banter, daring heroines risking their lives in the high skies, and some awesome depictions of same-sex friendship. It also passes the Bechdel test with flying colours.

I won't say everyone will like it. There isn't much resolution at the end of the novel, mostly because there wasn't in real life and although I felt it handled the issues it tackles well, other people might not. I would, however, thoroughly recommend it, for the positive depiction of female friendship and the really empowering story of women basically doing male jobs just as well as any man without any kind of apology.
[identity profile] veleda-k.livejournal.com
#17: Ida: A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching by Paula J. Giddings.

Ida: A Sword Among Lions )
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
2. Sarita Mandanna, Tiger Hills

Devi is a beautiful, strong-willed young girl, growing up in Coorg, a rural, mountainous area of South India, in the late 1800s. She's in love with Machu, a warrior famous for having killed a tiger single-handedly. Devanna, Machu's younger cousin, is a quiet, intelligent boy, studying to be a doctor, who's in love with Devi. As you might expect, things don't turn out well.

This novel has some beautiful descriptions of scenery (apparently Coorg- spelled Kodagu today- is known as 'the Scotland of India'), but the plot is a bit over-the-top, with tragedy following tragedy. I enjoyed reading to pass the time on a long bus trip, but I'm not sure I can genuinely recommend it, unless you're looking for something to read that won't require a lot of thought.
[identity profile] veleda-k.livejournal.com
The Way to Rainy Mountain by N. Scott Momaday (Illustrated by Al Momaday)

The Way to Rainy Mountain )

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie (Illustrated by Ellen Forney)

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian )
[identity profile] veleda-k.livejournal.com
#8: Four Reigns by Kukrit Pramoj (Translated by Tulachandra)

Four Reigns )
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
5. The Mahabharata: a Modern Rendering by, um, it's complicated? Trditionally ascribed to Vyasa (who is also a character in the story itself), probably actually composed by multiple people at various points in time, this version translated and edited by Ramesh Menon.

The Mahabharata is one of the two major Indian epics (the other being the Ramayana), and I've been meaning to read it for ages. And I'm very happy that I've now done so! (Though I guess that means I need to read the Ramayana next.) I picked this translation off of a recommendation on this community, and though I can't compare it to any others, I did really enjoy it. It's quite long- two volumes of about 800 pages each- but it's a fantastic, compelling story, full of all kinds of awesome stuff: gods and secret identities and earth-destroying weapons and reincarnations and gender-switching and so much more!

To completely over-simplify the plot, there are two sets of cousins: the Pandavas, who consist of five brothers who are all the sons of gods, and the Kauravas, who consist of a hundred brothers who may be demons. The eldest son of each group wants to inherit the throne, and the machinations and secret assassination attempts and broken promises eventually lead to Kurukshetra and the Greatest War Ever, which causes the end of the age. My favorite characters were Amba, who holds such a grudge that she kills herself and is reincarnated as a warrior to kill her enemy; Draupadi, who marries all five of the Pandava brothers and is amazingly fierce; and Kunti, who is able to summon gods, and who uses this to sleep with them.

There's so many characters and sub-plots and side stories and so forth that it's hard to even describe the Mahabharata. But it's AWESOME, and I loved it.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
3. Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Wench

Whew, this is a depressing book. But well worth reading; the characters are all very believable and engaging, and the situation is compelling. It's a novel, but one based on a real-life situation: Tawawa House, a popular summer resort in the early and middle 1800s, located in Ohio but frequented by rich men from southern states. The story focuses on four black women, all slaves, and all brought by their owners to Tawawa House over repeated summers. Because, see, Tawawa House has a particular reason for being popular: it's a place where slave-owners can bring their black mistresses, leaving their wives behind.

This is a hard book to describe, because there's not much of a plot; most of what changes over the course of the novel is the slow shifts in Lizzy's (the main character) attitude toward her life and the other people in it. Wench is excellent at describing the tangled situation she and the other women find themselves in, their feelings about each other, other people back home on their plantations, and finding themselves in Ohio- a free state- while still being a slave. Each of the four women has differing attitudes towards their men, ranging from Lizzy (the main character), who really believes her owner loves her and her children, to Mawu, who would kill her owner given the chance. Lizzy's efforts to make a better life for her children shape her character and result in some of the most heart-breaking scenes in the book, while her time in Ohio tempts her to leave them behind and make an escape attempt.

Not a fun book, but an excellent one. I recommend it.
zeborah: Map of New Zealand with a zebra salient (Default)
[personal profile] zeborah
This is a young adult novel, fiction set in the real town of Buxton, Canada, a settlement of runaway slaves. Elijah is the first child born into freedom in Buxton. The book starts with him telling about his ordinary life of school, chores, fishing, and getting in trouble with his friends. As the story progresses it keeps its sense of humour but shows us more and longer glimpses of the scars that slavery has left and is still leaving on his family and neighbours.

I can't really talk sensibly about it more than to recommend it, along with a box of tissues if you're what his mother would call "fragile". :-)

SchoolWAX TV has a Meet the Author interview with Christopher Paul Curtis.
[identity profile] cyphomandra.livejournal.com
Laurence Yep, The traitor. This is the fourth book, chronologically, in Yep's Golden Mountain series - I read Dragonwings (set next, chronologically, but written earlier) years ago, when I was obsessed with fantasy (it was next to Jane Yolen's dragon books, and I picked it up assuming it was similar), and liked it but was grumpy about encountering only metaphorical dragons. Currently I am grumpy about endless fantasy trilogies instead, so possibly I should have gone back to these earlier - I hadn't realised until I picked this up that the series was now up to nine books.

Laurence Yep, The traitor. )

Caryl Phillips, The nature of blood. )

And it's beautifully written but unremittingly bleak. I've read a lot of good but depressing books recently, and although I've enjoyed them I wouldn't mind something lighter for contrast. Maybe I should avoid literary fiction in general (it hasn't been ending well for me for a while!) but I thought I might just take this opportunity to ask the community if they had any recommendations for this challenge that were a bit more upbeat, and weren't children's or YA - other genre is fine.
[identity profile] anitabuchan.livejournal.com
I initially wasn't going to count uni reading for this, but since I haven't had time to read fiction for what feels like months, I'm giving that up :). Also, I thought these articles might be of interest to a few here.

21. Retrieving Women's History: Changing Perceptions of the Role of Women in Politics and Society, ed. S. Jay Kleinberg.

There are several articles by women of colour in this anthology, but the two I read were:

The Presentation of African Women in Historical Writing by Ayesha Mei-Tje Imam

Imam reviews historical writing on African women, discussing areas which have been studied, areas which haven't, and approaches taken towards African women in historical writing. I found the last bit most interesting. She outlines the four ways African women have generally been presented by historians: as oppressed and subordinate to men; as equal but different to men; as oppressed victims of colonial policy; and, most recently, as actors in social processes who have experienced a general decline in status due to colonialism.

She also outlines problems with the above four approaches, before linking the decline in status women suffered as a result of colonialism to both Christianity and capitalism. Christianity (and 'education') led to girls being raised as future wives and mothers, rather than future citizens. Capitalism, and changes in local economies, led to women losing economic power.

Breaking the silence and broadening the frontiers of history: recent studies on African women by Zenebeworke Tadesse

Tadesse gives a brief historiography of African women, before, as the title suggests, reviewing recent historical studies of African women. She explores the heroine/victim dichotomy she says has dominated the study of African women, arguing that they are either presented as eternal victims and passive objects, or as heroines of women's uprisings and as powerful matriarchs (as an example, she brings up the Igbo women's war). She then summarises various studies on subjects such as women and slavery (both women as slaves and as slave-owners), women in the colonial period, women and resistance, and urban women.

Overall, both articles are very interesting and informative for anyone looking for a quick guide to historical writing on African women.

Tags: a:imam ayesha mei-tje a:tadesse zenebeworke w-ed:kleinberg s jay
ext_12911: This is a picture of my great-grandmother and namesake, Margaret (Default)
[identity profile] gwyneira.livejournal.com
#44 & #45, Randa Abdel-Fattah, Ten Things I Hate About Me, Does My Head Look Big in This?:

Both books deal with Australian Muslim girls who are trying to figure out how to reconcile their religion with their lives, in different ways. In Ten Things I Hate About Me, Jamie dyes her hair blond and wears blue contacts at school in order to hide her Muslim self, Jamilah, and avoid being stereotyped. But she can't keep her secrets forever; eventually, she'll have to decide: Jamie or Jamilah? I thought the resolution a little too easy, but Abdel-Fattah provides an excellent, complex examination of passing. I especially liked her portrayal of Jamie's relationship with her traditional (what Jamie calls "Stone Age") father and her two siblings.

In Does My Head Look Big in This?, Amal decides to wear the hijab full time, in spite of worries about how others (especially the students at her school) will see her choice. I rather wish I'd read this before Ten Things I Hate About Me, because I didn't like it quite as much. It's very funny, and I liked clever Amal and her steadfast sense of herself, but I thought Abdel-Fattah tried too hard to make her points and erred on the side of preachiness. (Ten Things I Hate About Me, written afterward, was better, though.) Truthfully, I was rather more interested in the plight of Amal's friend Leila, who faces much more opposition from her parents as she tries to reconcile her religion and her gender, and the parts of the book dealing with her problems were my favorites.

#46: Ying Chang Compestine, Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party:

As Ling grows from nine to thirteen in Wuhan, China, her happy life she shares with her adored father and stern mother changes to a grim existence of survival during the last years of Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution. I admired this very much, especially the historical background, the elegant writing, and the beautifully handled child's point-of-view. I do wonder, though, whether it's one of those YA books that might work better for adults than kids; it's awfully grim, and I would imagine it would be confusing to a reader who knew nothing of the historical background. (Reading the afterword first might help with this, though.)
sanguinity: woodcut by M.C. Escher, "Snakes" (Default)
[personal profile] sanguinity
13. Walter Dean Myers, Riot.

Yanno, when I heard Myers was going to do a YA about the 1863 Draft Riots, I had a hard time waiting for it, I was so excited. Myers! 1863 Draft Riots! When it finally came out and started getting poor reviews, my faith was still unshaken. They just don't get Myers, I told myself.

But now that I've read it? I should have had more faith in the other reviewers.

The screenplay format didn't work at all for me -- not enough characterization, not enough information. A screenplay is such an unfinished presentation of a story, and without the additional creativity of a director and actors, I struggled to know what I was supposed to be getting out any given scene. Mind you, I was a huge fan of the way Myers used the screenplay within Monster (as one of two contrasting and deeply flawed documentary sources). But here? I continually fought the format.

(Also, this was not convincing as a screenplay, either. The soliloquizing -- oh, the soliloquizing! -- seemed far more like a stage script than a screenplay. )

It may be that my antipathy for Claire -- our light-skinned, biracial Black and Irish heroine, who has close emotional ties to both aggressors and victims of the riot -- can be attributed solely to the format, but I found her characterization wholly unconvincing, and her "dilemma" uninteresting. I kept wanting Priscilla -- Claire's dark-skinned best friend, who works at the Colored Orphan Asylum -- to take over the role of POV character. Like Claire, Priscilla has plot-drivingly-useful emotional ties to the rioters, but unlike Claire, Priscilla does things; she doesn't spend the "movie" standing around gasping about how shocking, shocking it all is. (Shocking!)

I would have liked better historical notes in the back, too. They conclude with a reference to how "far-reaching" the effects of the riots are, and how they were a part of shaping NYC into the city we see today, but there's not enough information in either the screenplay nor the historical notes to know what Myers is referring to in those lines. (It wouldn't have needed much more explanation, either: the link I dropped above concludes, "Many blacks fled Manhattan, and the riots drove a wedge between black and white workers that lasted through the civil rights movement of the 1960s." Just a sentence like that would have been helpful.)

In all, eh. I hope that there's someone out there that loves this book, but it isn't me.

14. Zetta Elliott, A Wish After Midnight.

This has been getting buzz forever, but I was dragging my feet because it was self-published (which too often corresponds to an obvious lack of professional editing), and because the library didn't have it. But then I heard that Wish After Midnight was about the Draft Riots, too...

Oh, but I loved this. It's well-written (I need not have worried about it being self-published) and utterly engrossing. The usual one-line summary is about a black girl in contemporary Brooklyn who tosses a penny into a fountain to wish for a different life, and gets transported to 1863 Brooklyn. The wish, it turns out, doesn't happen until seventy pages in, and I did not mind one bit. Genna is lovely and awesome and there are so many perfect little moments where the Genna-ness of Genna shines through. I adore Elliott's characterizations, most especially how much she can communicate in a single vignette. Some characters are on-page for only a page or two, but still I know (or can guess!) enough about them to make my heart squeeze tight. (But I do not wish for more page-time for those characters: Elliott gives me enough that I am content to let these bit players go, when it is time for letting them go.)

When the big time-swap finally happened, I fought it. I was attached to the story we had been reading. But then I turned a page, and another page, and another page after that, and it turned out that Genna-in-1863 was almost as engrossing as Genna in contemporary Brooklyn.

And frankly, being attached to the before-shift story? Syncs us up emotionally with Genna, which is a useful thing. When she misses her brother, we have fond memories of him, too. The lack of that syncing is often a problem I have with "loss" stories -- we, the readers/viewers, haven't seen enough of what was lost to have any attachment to it.

During the 1863 section, Kindred kept batting around in the back of my mind -- there are obvious comparisons between two contemporary black women being dropped, without preparation or warning, into slavery-era U.S. and what they have to do to survive there -- but that comparison was not a distraction, nor did it detract from my enjoyment of Wish After Midnight. Genna is not Dana, Brooklyn is not Maryland, and (skip spoiler)
Judah is most certainly not Kevin.

My one complaint about the book? Cliffhanger ending. (Okay, not as cliff-hangery as it could be, but still.) I don't know how fast Elliott has been writing Judah's Tale, but I would like it very much if she would please write faster. And re that spoiler on that final page? Yes, she's sold me. I very much want to see where she's going to go with this.
ext_20269: (sally - 30s dress headshot)
[identity profile] annwfyn.livejournal.com
'Jupiter Amidships' is a sequal to 'Jupiter Williams', which I reviewed here. This time, the arrogant young hero of Jupiter Williams finds himself press ganged into naval service, and serves on board a British naval ship around the turn of the 18th/19th century.

First of all, this is a really really good book. The characters are well drawn, Jupiter is wonderfully flawed, as ever, and the depiction of the 18th century British navy is unflinching in its accuracy. There's not a lot of romanticisation here - you see it in all its bloody brutality.

Having said that, I struggled with this book a little at times. The first book was very 'boys own' adventure, and this one even more so. In fact, as far as I'm aware, there wasn't a single female character in the book. Of course, this makes sense for a book set entirely on board a ship, but it was something that I vaguely felt the lack of. It was also a very tough book - it kept pressing on, with more and more awful things happening to the heroes and it doesn't let up very much. This isn't unreasonable, considering the context of the story, but at times I did feel a bit like I just desperately wanted to give the poor kid a break! And yet, at the end click for spoilers )

As in the case of the last book, I really hope there's a sequel. I think there might be. The story does definitely seem wide open for one.
[identity profile] seekingferret.livejournal.com
25) Toni Morrison's Jazz, which... I think it's probably the most pleasurable and satisfying reading experience I've had to this point on 50books_POC, which makes it an appropriate halfway marker.

I made myself a playlist of 1920s Jazz- Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, Bessie Smith... and listened to it on shuffle on my iPod while reading. And the combination of the incredible music and Morrison's unbelievably vivid language was special. I was transported, transported to Morrison's storybook Harlem. I walked in those streets, waved to the people, made myself comfortable on a street bench watching the cars go by. I was in the speakeasies, in the hair salons, in the tenements. Wow.

I’m crazy about this City.

Daylight slants like a razor cutting the buildings in half. In the top half I see looking faces and it’s not easy to tell which are people, which the work of stonemasons. Below is shadow where any blasé thing takes place: clarinets and lovemaking, fists and the voices of sorrowful women.

Wow. The storytelling bounces back and forth like a jazz song, themes popping in and out, up and down, bopped from player to player, each time they resurface looking entirely different.

And then the ending, which I shall not spoil, but is probably the subtlest surprise ending I've ever read. The misdirection the narrator(s) employ, or perhaps don't employ but are themselves suckered in by, are just... wow. I don't even know what to say but wow.
ext_12911: This is a picture of my great-grandmother and namesake, Margaret (Default)
[identity profile] gwyneira.livejournal.com
#29: Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point

Gladwell proposes here that ideas, information, and behaviors act like an epidemic, starting small and spreading until they reach a certain threshold, the "tipping point". Although I enjoy Gladwell's clear, conversational writing and thought he had some interesting ideas, I was less taken with this than I was with Blink. Much of what he talks about in this book has to do with marketing and advertising, and I just don't find those compelling topics, as opposed to, say, Blink's discussion of unconscious racism and ideas for how to combat that. It was an entertaining read generally, but it's not a book I'm going to be thinking about a lot after finishing it.

#30: Hank Aaron with Lonnie Wheeler, I Had a Hammer: The Hank Aaron Story

Hank Aaron was until a couple of years ago the holder of major league baseball's career home run record, and he is by all accounts one of baseball's all-time greatest players. Aaron started his career in baseball soon after Jackie Robinson broke the racial barrier, while black players still faced virulent racism on many fronts. Aaron faced more than most when he challenged Babe Ruth's home run record; he received thousands of hate-filled letters, many threatening his life, which are simply horrifying to read (the book quotes several). He faced these challenges with courage and dignity, he broke the record, and he became known for speaking out on racial issues.

In this autobiography, Aaron relates the story of his life, from his poverty-stricken beginnings in Alabama to his elevation to the ranks of baseball's greatest. Each chapter is introduced with a third-person section which gives a historical picture of the world Aaron lived in, before Aaron's first-person narrative takes over; I thought this was an excellent structure, setting each part of Aaron's life and career in the context of his times while allowing for his own thoughts and opinions to be set down. This is one of the best baseball autobiographies I've read, and along with Jackie Robinson's I Never Had It Made, it's essential reading for any baseball fan who wishes to understand the history of the game. More than that, though, it provides a thought-provoking look at American social history and civil rights through the lens of the sport often considered America's favorite.

#31: Lisa See, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

In their remote villages in 19th-century China, women are treated like servants, not equal to the men who head their families nor to the husbands to whom they will be given in arranged marriages. When Lily is only seven, she is paired with Snow Flower, her laotong or "old same", in an lifelong bond as important as marriage and much more sustaining emotionally. Lily and Snow Flower communicate via the women's language known as nu shu, passing messages back and forth by writing on a silk fan; they share their pains and joys and heartaches both face to face and via nu shu. Eventually, though, their friendship is threatened by acts of betrayal which may sever their bond forever.

See's writing is lucid, restrained yet emotional, beautifully mirroring the elegant writings Lily and Snow Flower exchange. She's clearly done her research, and the historical details are deftly combined with her narrative, explaining but never overwhelming the story. I liked this a lot and will be reading more of See's work.
[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] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
30. Reza Aslan, No God But God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam

I adored this book. It's a non-fiction book detailing Islam as a religion; about half of it is devoted to an incredibly detailed description of life and culture in the Arabian peninsula immediately before and during Mohammad's life. The second half of the book lays out some of the most prominent evolutions of Islam since then, from the basic branches of Sunni, Shia, and Sufism, to more recent developments like Iran's Khomeinism to Saudi Arabia's Wahhabism.

This book was fantastic. It's perfect both for the reader who knows nothing about Islam and the educated reader. It contains so many details and interesting perspectives that I think there's something new for everyone to learn*, and yet it lays things out so clearly that it's also a great introduction. Aslan is a wonderful writer; despite it being a non-fiction book, it has a very conversational tone, which is totally engaging and enthralling. I have not read many non-fiction books that have sucked me in like this one.

Very, very highly recommended, and I'll be checking out Aslan's other book.

In particular, I spent a lot of time shrieking "Oh my God! Did you know this?!" during the section about Britain's role in the formation of Saudi Arabia.
[identity profile] ms-erupt.livejournal.com
06. How Far We Slaves Have Come! by Nelson Mandela; Fidel Castro
Pages: 83
Genre: Non-fiction; World Politics; Diplomacy and International Relations; South Africa; Latin America
Rating: 5/10; May or May Not Recommend

Short review and possibly spoilery review. )

Comments may contain spoilers.


50books_poc: (Default)
Writers of Color 50 Books Challenge

October 2017

891011 121314


RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Oct. 22nd, 2017 11:41 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios