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[identity profile] sumofparts.livejournal.com
Haven't posted in a while. Here's a series of mini-reviews with some spoilers. Also, some of the books contain potentially triggering content.

6. Un-Nappily in Love by Trisha R. Thomas
7. Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
8. Tracks by Louise Erdrich
9. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
10. Umbrella by Taro Yashima
11. Little Joy by Ruowen Wang
12. Why War is Never a Good Idea by Alice Walker
13. Erika-san by Allen Say
14. Dahanu Road by Anosh Irani
15. What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell
16. The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez
17. In the Company of Ogres by A. Lee Martinez
18. Gil's All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez
19. Divine Misfortune by A. Lee Martinez
20. Monster by A. Lee  Martinez
21. Certainty by Madeleine Thien
22. So Long Been Dreaming edited by Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan
23. A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo
24. Too Many Curses by A. Lee Martinez
25. A Nameless Witch by A. Lee Martinez
26. A Person of Interest by Susan Choi
27. Apex Hides the Hurt by Colson Whitehead

Mention (not counted)
Josias, Hold the Book by Jennifer Riesmeyer Elvgren (white); illustrated by Nicole Tadgell (person of colour)

Read more... )
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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.
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[identity profile] kyuuketsukirui.livejournal.com
Title: Skeleton Man
Author: Joseph Bruchac
Number of Pages: 114 pages
My Rating: 5/5

Summary: When Molly's parents don't return after a trip, she is placed in the care of a mysterious "great uncle" who's appeared out of nowhere. Everyone else believes his story, but Molly knows something isn't right. Soon she becomes convinced that he is the Skeleton Man, a monster from one of the old Mohawk stories her dad used to tell her. With the help of a rabbit who guides her in her dreams, she begins to make plans to escape and rescue her parents.

Review: This is a super short book, but I really enjoyed it. The story is pretty creepy (both the retold tale of the Skeleton Man that Molly relates as well as what happens to her in the present) and I really liked Molly. I also liked how matter-of-factly Mohawk culture was treated.

Title: Shizuko's Daughter
Author: Kyoko Mori
Number of Pages: 214 pages
My Rating: 5/5

Jacket Summary: "Your mother would be very proud..." Yuki Okuda heard these words when she was achieving in school, excelling in sports, even when she became president of the student council. And she could always imagine the unexpressed thought that followed: "...if your mother hadn't killed herself." But Shizuko Okuda did commit suicide, and Yuki had to learn how to live with a father who didn't seem to love her and a stepmother who treated her badly. Most important, she had to learn how to live with herself: a twelve-year-old girl growing up alone, trying to make sense of a tragedy that made no sense at all...

Review: I liked this a lot. I kept feeling surprised at it for some reason and finally I realised why. It felt very normal in a way I am not sure I've ever seen in a book about Japan written in English (as in, not translated from Japanese). Even when the author isn't white, if they're writing for an English-speaking audience, there's often a tinge of exoticism (sometimes more than a tinge), but there wasn't any of that here at all. Sadly, the cover illustration tries to make up for that by showing a girl in kimono, despite the fact that the book is set in the '70s and the only people ever mentioned wearing kimono are Yuki's grandparents, and her father and stepmother at their wedding ceremony.

One thing that bugged me was that there was this chapter where she seems to totally have a crush on this girl and I thought that's where the story was going, especially since later she still has no interest in guys and this is pointed out several times. But then later it turns out that she was just ~damaged~ from her father's betrayal and didn't want to fall in love, and then she does and is happily heterosexual.
[identity profile] mizchalmers.livejournal.com
41. Henry Yoshitaka Kiyama, The Four Immigrants Manga

This book is so freakin' awesome I can't even tell you. I love 20th-century memoir, I love San Francisco local history and I love graphic novels: The Four Immigrants Manga is a standout in all three categories. Even the tale of its rediscovery is freakin' awesome. Frederik L. Schodt was researching a book on Japanese manga in 1980 (how avant is THAT?) when he stumbled across this in a Berkeley library. It took another EIGHTEEN YEARS before his translation was published. Seriously, you should just go and read it right now. Schodt's translation is very clever and sensitive, with English and translated-Japanese rendered in different styles, so you always know where you are.

And the story itself, holy cow! It's the tale of the author, who came to San Francisco to study, and three friends he met on the boat. They land in 1904 and the book follows their lives for twenty years, so yes, there's a huge earthquake right up front, but in fact what happens after that is often even awesomer and stranger. (Hint: farm work is much harder than you think.) And it's funnier than hell. Can you tell that I liked it? The Four Immigrants Manga is one of those texts that reaches across a language barrier and a hundred years and shakes the teeth out of your head. It brings my beloved San Francisco to life in new ways. It should be required reading in California schools, and if it were, the kids would love it. BECAUSE IT'S GREAT.

42-3. Sanjay Patel, The Little Book of Hindu Deities and Ramayana: Divine Loophole

Actually all five of the books I'm reviewing today have strong links to the Bay Area, and that's because San Francisco is my adopted home and I love it like food. Go Giants! Patel is an animator at Pixar, across the Bay. I first encountered his Hindu-deity-art at his Web site, Ghee Happy, and I was one of many nagging him to just go publish a book already. Little Book is a useful reference, if you're like me and can't always keep your Gods straight, but Ramayana is an honest-to-God masterpiece. My husband read it to my daughters, aged 7 and 4, and they were spellbound by it every night. The illustrations are really beyond beautiful, and Chronicle Books has done a nice job with the binding: it's an object with heft and sheen, a desirable thing. Highly recommended, if only as a counterbalance to the Greek revival of the Percy Jackson series.

44. Jen Wang, Koko Be Good

Wang is another local graphic artist and Koko is not only set in San Francisco, like the great Wyatt Cenac film Medicine for Melancholy it's set in my San Francisco, south of Market Street, the San Francisco of beer at Zeitgeist and Al's Comics and the fog rolling in under Sutro Tower. It's intensely evocative and very good on random encounters and the strength of the relationships they can drag in their wake, especially for people in transition. If I found the ending both telegraphed and a bit unsatisfying, it's because I'm an extremely fussy old lady with brutally high standards in graphic novels. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it, and if you like it you will love Paul Madonna's sublime All Over Coffee.

45. Iris Chang, The Rape of Nanking

I've only just started reading this and it's going to take a while, because I will only read it during daylight, not while I am trying to go to sleep. Not since Truman Capote's In Cold Blood have I read anything that is quite so high-octane nightmare fuel, and for very much the same reasons: the killings it describes are real, random and purposeless, and the prose itself is beautiful, clear, organized and relentless.

One of the oldest cities of China, [Suchow] was prized for its delicate silk embroidery, palaces, and temples. Its canals and ancient bridges had earned the city its Western nickname as "the Venice of China." On November 19, on a morning of pouring rain, a Japanese advance guard marched through the gates of Suchow, wearing hoods that prevented the Chinese sentries from recognizing them. Once inside, the Japanese murdered and plundered the city for days, burning down ancient landmarks and abducting thousands of Chinese women for sexual slavery. The invasion, according to the China Weekly Review, caused the population of the city to drop from 350,000 to less than 500.
It's a controversial book - Wikipedia has some useful starting-points for a discussion of factual inaccuracies and disputed interpretations - and on the whole you'd probably rather not have it be the famous plagiarist Stephen Ambrose who declares you "one of the best of our young historians." But it is an important book, that helped revive the memory of Nanking in the West.

Chang took her own life in 2004, and I am sorry for the books of hers we will not get to read.
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[identity profile] kyuuketsukirui.livejournal.com
Title: Name Me Nobody
Author: Lois-Ann Yamanaka
Number of Pages: 226 pages
My Rating: 4/5

Jacket Summary: Fourteen-year-old Emi-Lou feels like a nobody - she's overweight, her mom lives in faraway California and rarely visits or calls, and she doesn't know who her father is. The only people who make her feel like somebody are her brave, blunt grandma, and her best friend, Von. "Where Von go, Emi-Lou go," their families and friends say. But now Emi-Lou fears that Von is going somewhere she can't follow. Von has feelings for Babes, an older girl on their softball team. But Emi-Lou wants desperately for Von to be "normal", not a "lez", and for them to be the same best friends they've always been. What will Emi-Lou be without Von? Nobody, she thinks. But Emi-Lou's desperate actions to hold on to her best friend just may break them apart forever.

Review: I didn't like this as much as Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers. I don't know if two books is enough to say there's a trend, but this is the second book where there are secondary characters who are queer (in the case of Name Me Nobody, quite a few of them), but while the main character gets called lesbian/dyke/etc. it turns out she isn't. And in this book, even though it's all about learning to accept her best friend is a lesbian, overall it kind of comes off as "whew, at least the protagonist isn't gay!"

I also wasn't thrilled with the weight-loss theme. I liked in Wild Meat that the main character just was fat and it wasn't about her losing weight. The weight issues in this book are all very realistic, but it made me sad that while her grandma said she would love her if she were a lesbian and gave this big speech about how Emi-lou should love Von for who she is, even in the end she was stil harping on Emi-lou's weight (and the fact that Emi-lou had starved herself and used diet pills to get thin was never really resolved).

Despite that, I did like the book quite a bit.
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[identity profile] kyuuketsukirui.livejournal.com
Title: Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers
Author: Lois-Ann Yamanaka
Number of Pages: 280 pages
My Rating: 5/5

Jacket Summary: Growing up in Hawaii, Lovey Nariyoshi is having the worst year of her life. Overweight and unpopular, she's sick of being poor and settling for home-made and second-best. Her family thinks she's uppity and her schoolteacher scorns the way she talks. For, above all, Lovey is a Japanese-American: not white, not haole--and from the food she eats to the pidgin she speaks, nothing in her life fits the standard model of success.

Review: Oh, I loved this so much. This is maybe my favorite type of fiction ever, short stories about being a kid/growing up, but not for kids. I like children's lit/YA okay (some books I really love), but I prefer stuff about childhood and adolescence that is written for adults. I like the nostalgia of it. This is set in the early '70s, so it's a little before my time, but I can still recognise the pop culture references (of which there are many) and I can relate to it much better than stories about Kids Today.
[identity profile] zahrawithaz.livejournal.com
I know life is not fair, but recently I’ve been thinking about one grave injustice: Nina Revoyr is not famous.

Most people I’ve met have never even heard of Nina Revoyr, much less read one of her novels. They’ve never had the pleasure of sinking under the spell of her deceptively simple prose, or falling in love with her palpably real characters. That’s their loss, but it’s also part of a greater injustice, because Nina Revoyr tells the stories that aren’t often enough heard.

She writes incisively about relationships between working-class Japanese-American and African-American communities, and about lesbians whose relationship struggles have moved far past coming-out dramas; she creates fully-realized characters and worlds in which white people have only bit parts; she makes the effects of racism so real that the reader recoils; she treats the black urban community of  LA with a deeper respect than I have found in any other author.

Why isn’t she famous? Oh, wait….

[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.)

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[identity profile] kyuuketsukirui.livejournal.com
Title: Southland
Author: Nina Revoyr
Number of Pages: 348 pages
My Rating: 5/5

When Jackie Ishida's grandfather dies, her aunt finds in his closet a box of cash from the sale of his old store, along with an old will leaving the money to someone they've never heard of. Jackie agrees to help find this guy, only to find out he died. Was murdered, in fact, along with three other boys, in her grandfather's store during the Watts riots in 1965. As she and James Lanier, a cousin of the boy, look into the murders, Jackie learns more than she expected to about her grandfather.

I really loved this book a lot. It's set in LA, but not the Hollywood LA that you usually see in books and movies (it's so rare to see a portrayal of the LA I know and love). The main character is a lesbian, but it's not The Plot, just a fact about her (what? You mean there can be stories about gay people that aren't about being gay???). She's also Japanese-American, but this isn't a story about internment camps (they are mentioned, during some flashbacks in her grandfather's POV, but it's not the point of the story, and boy is that rare).

It's also a really neat story. My one complaint is that it's really tell-y. Like, it could have been cut down by at least a third if the author had just trusted the readers instead of having so much internal exposition about what people were thinking and feeling every step of the way.
[identity profile] b-writes.livejournal.com
When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka, was chosen as this year's "Vermont Reads" book, and I was very excited about it-- a book by a woman of color, set neither in Vermont nor in a rural community! But I found the book itself a disappointment. It's slim and the prose is elegant, but I only began engaging with the characters about midway through the novel, and then mostly with only one character-- the youngest boy in the family the book focuses on, a Japanese-American family split by the war and sent to two separate concentration camps. The family seems frustratingly passive, and even the signs of life in the camp-- a dance contest, the murder of a man who was likely only picking a flower-- happen offscreen. When the Emperor Was Divine attempts to illuminate through small details, but isn't always successful. It also probably suffered in contrast with Woman in the Dunes, which I read pretty soon afterward.

I'd heard of Kobo Abe's Woman in the Dunes as a novel that had been adapted into a famous cult movie, about a woman forced to shovel sand to protect her town and a hapless man kidnapped to help her. The premise always appeared faintly ludicrous, so I was pleased to realize when actually reading the book that things make a bit more sense in context. It's still more allegorical than realistic, but it's more believable than I'd thought. I am still not sure whether I was fortunate or unfortunate to read it so closely to When the Emperor Was Divine, because it drew my frustration with that book into sharp relief-- Abe does what Otsuka tries to do, only he makes it look elegant and effortless. Abe's protagonist is also angry, active, and sometimes self-destructive-- but at least he's clearly and brilliantly alive. A few paragraphs about sexuality brought the book to a bit of a screeching halt for me (and there is a certain amount of ingrained sexism in the lead character that might be difficult for some), but overall it was well worth the read.
[identity profile] rootedinsong.livejournal.com
10. Skim, by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

Somehow, this book didn't resonate with me as much as it did with others here. I'm not sure why; it is beautifully done, and it seems like the kind of book that I would love. But it didn't quite do it for me.

11. Shortcomings, by Adrian Tomine

I had mixed reactions to this one. On the one hand, a lot of things about the characters made me twitch. On the other hand, it examines honestly the issues of race and attraction and what contemporary American culture conditions us to find attractive. And there are a lot of queer women, portrayed for the most part realistically. It's just... eh.

One thing that I found amusing: the protagonist tears into his ex-girlfriend for dating a white man, and she protests that he's actually half Jewish and half Native American. I'm a quarter each, and have never encountered that combination in fiction before (or anywhere, really).

12. Still I Rise: A Graphic History of African Americans, by Ronald Laird and Taneshia Nash Laird, illustrated by Elihu "Adofo" Bey

This book traces the history of African-Americans from the early 17th century to the election of Barack Obama. It is absolutely packed with information: the authors try to squeeze four centuries of history into 217 pages, so it feels like information is whizzing by at a breakneck speed.

This is the second edition; the first edition was published in 1997. The second edition includes 13 more pages about history from 1997 to now. (There's an obvious break between the original pages and the added pages: the handwriting in the new pages looks different, the lines are thinner, and the characters look subtly different. It looks a little less carefully planned.)

The history is told by two narrators, a man and a woman - who sometimes have different opinions about the events they're recounting. I think doing it this way, as opposed to attempting to tell the history "objectively," allowed the narrative to be deeply centered in the black point(s) of view: they could talk about "us," make value judgments, show the unity and diversity of opinion. For those who are used to the dominant white-centered narrative of US history, I think this would represent a radical recentering; for me, it was interesting because I'm used to Native American critique and recentering of that narrative, so this recentering was alike-but-different. It felt to me like some parts were missing - but it also felt like it included other parts that I was missing.

All in all, I recommend it. But look elsewhere for in-depth treatment of the events depicted.

Edit: I keep breaking the tagging system...
[identity profile] osprey-archer.livejournal.com
Yoshiko Uchida published A New School for Susan in 1951, and I read it out of historical interest as much as anything else: what were the yay!multiculturalism books of the fifties like?

This one, at least, is a very stereotypically fifties children’s book: happy little boys and girls attending their happy little school, where they draw cheerful little pictures under the watchful eyes of their cheery teacher and jolly principal. It’s just that instead of featuring little blonde girls named Sally and Sandy and Susan, the Susan in this book is Japanese-American.

This book might be the most frictionless thing I’ve ever read. No arguments, no conflicts of any kind, certainly no mention of racism or the Japanese internment camps – which would have been a pretty raw memory in 1951, so I can’t blame Uchida if she didn't want to write about it. But still, not even any arguments?

So I can't recommend the book on its intrinsic merits, but it really was interesting as a historical artifact - especially if you compares it to Uchida's later books, like Journey to Topaz, which is all about the Japanese internment camps.
[identity profile] clodia-risa.livejournal.com
From My Grandmother's Bedside: Sketches of Postwar Tokyo. Norma Field.

Dr. Field is the daughter of an American soldier and a Japanese woman who were married for several years after WWII. This book is a series of thoughts, memories, and vignettes that range from stories told about her grandmother's childhood, to musings about art criticism and what it says about the Japanese nationalistic culture. She was raised in Japan but now lives in America, and teaches at the University of Chicago. The main narrative story (as much as there is one) is the story of the three women in her family, Field who only can visit in the summer, her mother who cares for the titular grandmother, and the grandmother herself, who has suffered from her second stroke and spends much of her time absorbed in her private self. "My grandmother is my mother's jewel" is a line that is repeated throughout.

There were times that I wished I was better versed in Japanese history and culture, but for the most part it was clear to someone who has mostly been exposed through anime and manga. It contains many interesting thoughts about Japan, but mostly it was one person thinking about her family. I very much enjoyed it, and would recommend it to anyone interested.

The Legacy of Hiroshima: its past, our future. Naomi Shohno. Translated by Tomoko Nakamura and adapted by Jeffrey Hunter. 

Naomi Shohno was away at college when her hometown, Hiroshima, was destroyed. Fortunately, her parents survived. Not all of her family did. She became a researcher in nuclear physics after graduation, and was involved in the research on the damage and aftereffects of the two atomic bombs dropped in Japan. This is not a fun book. It is, however, concise, well-written and translated, and informative. She does not shy from technical details, but skips over the ones that she knows will be inaccessible to laymen, and explains all concepts so that I, a liberal arts major, could understand them. She balances the facts of the bombs with the human stories very well. The consequences of those two bombs on humans lives are horrific. The weakest two chapters were the final two, in which she covers all of the testing done from 1945-1986 (which was when the book was published) and makes her appeal to get rid of all nuclear weapons. I highly suggest reading this book.

[identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com
A memoir about Japanese-American author Mori’s visit to her hometown of Kobe and other parts of Japan many years after her family was shattered by her mother’s suicide. Mori spends time with her dysfunctional family, tries to understand her long-dead mother, and grapples with her own cultural identity.

Well-written and thoughtful, but also a bit emotionally distant and with little variety of tone. I wasn’t bowled over, but my taste tends more toward brightly colored passions and humor than to delicate understatement. If you are more inclined to the latter, you would probably like it more. It did get rave reviews.

Check it out on Amazon: The Dream of Water
[identity profile] whereweather.livejournal.com
#11.  Shortcomings, Adrian Tomine
2007, Drawn & Quarterly

I keep trying to like Adrian Tomine, and he kind of just keeps leaving me cold.  Cool, anyway.  I'm not really sure what else to say about it. 

I read Shortcomings in the space of about an hour; and thought about it; and then I reread it, trying to be sure to catch whatever I might have missed.  Tomine's work is  much more technically accomplished now than it used to be, and sometime he even gets daring or lyrical in his framing.  But his characters are kind of... they leave me untouched.  What can I say?  I know plenty of people who love his work.  But I keep comparing his spare, skillful black-and-white comics about humans in relationships to the spare, skillful black-and-white comics about humans in relationships of Jaime Hernandez, and I'm like, "Man.  One of these artists I keep going back to and his characters live in my imagination.  And the other one... I close the book and they're gone."

Which is probably just as well, because they were assholes anyway.  Nobody in Shortcomings is very likable, including the protagonist -- which is, I suppose, one of the strengths of the book.  Ben, who (like Tomine) is Japanese-American, is having a rocky time in his relationship with his girlfriend Miko.  Miko, also Japanese, suspects that Ben has a wandering eye for white women (by which both she and he appear to mean "blonde and blue-eyed," which apparently describes all the eligible Caucasian females in California).  Ben denies it... and then concedes that maybe, yeah, he's been culturally conditioned to find that sexy, but it that his fault?  Ben is intensely defensive, and never seems to give a moment's thought to Miko's well-being.  Which is why, when the relationship gets rocky, it comes as no surprise...

An interesting book about interesting issues, and certainly a protagonist and perspective we don't see much -- or enough -- of.  I just wish... I wish I could find an emotional heart in Tomine's work.  It's so cool and cynical, it stands so far away while it dissects, that it's hard for me to care.  A story about emotions that refuses to become emotionally engaged is... it's not something that can really become meaningful for me.

[identity profile] icecreamempress.livejournal.com
Apologies for the brevity of these reviews, but they're from my Twitter book-review project (@booktweeting, for those of you who Tweet).

Life is Short but Wide, by J. California Cooper
New York: Doubleday, 2009. ISBN-13: 978-0385511346

20th-CENTURY FABLE of a black family and community in Oklahoma, told in rich, lyrical language. Vivid characters. A MINUS

(More than I could say on Twitter: J. California Cooper is an incredible writer with a distinctive style, who should in my opinion be right up there with Toni Morrison and Alice Walker in the pantheon. There's something so engrossing about her writing; its very simplicity makes the characters seem real and very close.)

Bento Box in the Heartland: My Japanese Girlhood in Whitebread America, by Linda Furiya
Berkeley, California: Seal Press, 2006. ISBN-13: 978-1580051910

SWEET MEMOIR of growing up Japanese in rural Indiana has charm, poignancy, but may seem slight to some readers. B PLUS
[identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com
She’s an amnesiac swordfighter with stigmata! He’s a scar-faced soldier fanatically devoted to Charles II! Together, they fight an evil sorcerer and his vaguely described monstrous minions!

A sweet, likable romance, though regrettably not as half as cracktastic in the reading as a plot description makes it sound, nor is there as much action and adventure as the set-up made me anticipate. Most of the story consists of Catherine and Jack getting to know each other in a succession of inns. This is surprisingly fun reading despite the lack of obvious conflict: I cared about what happened to them, plus there’s some dueling, lots of food description, and period-accurate birth control (intercrural intercourse and withdrawal.) It also contains the only misunderstanding plot I’ve ever liked, which is that at one point Jack thinks she only had sex with him because a priest told her that her stigmata is a gift from God, so she sinned in the hope of getting rid of it.

Finally, I am pleased to report that the epilogue does not involve a baby.

Incidentally, the back cover of my edition seems to be describing an entirely different, and much more erotic, dark, and angsty story than the one between the covers. Its claims to the contrary, Jack does not have a terrible secret, Catherine is not a hunted criminal, and I have no idea what the stuff about “a place of unimaginable pleasure” where “day becomes endless night” is about. Though I’d also like to read that book!

Click here to purchase from Amazon: Dark Enchantment

The author is biracial (Japanese-American and white); unless I missed something, all the characters in this are white.


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