ext_48823: 42, the answer to life, the universe and everything (Default)
[identity profile] sumofparts.livejournal.com
Haven't posted in a while. Here's a series of mini-reviews with some spoilers. Also, some of the books contain potentially triggering content.

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

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

Read more... )
[identity profile] 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
[identity profile] seekingferret.livejournal.com
5)A Nameless Witch by A. Lee Martinez

Martinez's fiction has thus far proved reliably entertaining. This is an inverted fantasy quest novel, with the titular witch serving as the protagonist and leader of a motley band of adventurers including a demonic duck, a troll, an animated broom, and... a white knight. This is the inversion I spoke of. Instead of having the manly-man, angsty white knight lead the quest, he serves as the love interest and sidekick to the witch, who is in fact nameless for most of the novel.

It's at times a funny novel, at times a scary novel, and at times it even gets fantasy- imagining new worlds- right. It is always a fun novel. And as with Gil's All-Fright Diner, it is particularly good at making sex funny.

Thumbs up, all around. I commented to someone recently that I've been enjoying 50Books_POC a lot, and reading a lot of great books, but it's almost all been 'good books'. When I want to shut off my brain, stop wrestling with Rushdie, and read something comfortable, silly, and plotted straightforwardly I keep defaulting to old pulp fiction by white writers. But Martinez works well in that vein. And when I returned to Midnight's Children today it rippled with a new freshness because of my time away.

tags: a:martinez a lee, latino/a, mexican-american, fantasy
[identity profile] ms-mmelissa.livejournal.com
I’m a total book snob, not only in regards to content, but in regard to book quality. This is the reason I have multiple (beautiful!) editions of Jane Eyre, and why I am such a sucker for Penguin and their amazing design aesthetic. All this to say that I was totally peeved when I bought the hardcover edition of Rudolf Anaya’s “Bless Me, Ultima” the novel that not only launched his career, but the entire genre of chicano literature. The book basically looks like someone took a cheap paperback cover and laminated it over two pieces of cardboard.  Hideous. I was prepared to hate the novel based on this alone, but once I started I found myself being drawn in by the voice of the uncertain narrator, the young Antonio Marez. Though the book was published in the early 70’s its set just after the Second World War in a small Spanish speaking community in New Mexico by the llano river.

Tony, the youngest child, lives there with his two older sisters and his parents. His mother and father, while extremely loving, also come from two different cultures. His Marez side (his father’s people) are cowboys and adventurers, while his Luna side (his mother’s people) are farmers. Each parent has clear ideas of which path they want their son to follow and what they would like him to do when he grows up.  The contrast causes a lot of conflict within Tony; he respects and loves each option and can’t bring himself to choose. This is where the titular Ultima comes in. Ultima is a curandera (sort of like a wise woman) who has nowhere else to go, and Tony’s family take her in out of respect for her and her magic. From the start Ultima and Tony strongly connect with Ultima demonstrating that what he thinks of as conflicts or not always so, and that even things that seem separate are strongly connected.

My one criticism of the book would have to be that Anaya does not push this theme of duality strongly enough. There are some hints in the book that Ultima may not be the sainted character she seems to be. It is left deliberately vague whether or not she passes a test proving that she is not a witch. Additionally one of her main conflicts is with a man who insists that she is a witch who is killing his daughters. From the perspective of Tony, our protagonist, it is the man who is in fact the evil one, and he and his daughters are witches that curse the whole village. I find it interesting though that the language Ultima uses to denounce the man and his daughters, is strikingly similar to the language he uses to denounce her. It is possible to imagine the flip side of the book, one in which Ultima really is evil and has cursed the daughters for no reason.

The complaint is somewhat moot though, because Anaya deliberately tries to keep things simple. The language for instance is fairly plain, but gives forth some amazingly beautiful descriptions of the llano river that Tony loves so much. And since the book is a work of magical realism the simplicity of language only emphasizes the fairy tale like quality of the novel.
[identity profile] seekingferret.livejournal.com
44) Gil's All Fright Diner by A. Scott Martinez

The second book by Martinez I've read and reviewed here. Whereas, The Automatic Detective is SF noir, this one is comic horror. It's not so much my genre, and this was not so much the novel for me.

It had its bright spots. Vampirism as metaphor for lust is a theme that's been well-plumbed over the past few years, but it was refreshing to see someone use Vampirism to explore the fact that sex can be funny. Earl the Vampire was by far the novel's most compelling character, and Martinez did a lot of good things to put him in situations one doesn't usually find a vampire in. But otherwise, I don't know... not a whole lot of substance here, just goofy adventures with werewolves and ghosts and witches.

45) Among the Believers by V. S. Naipaul

A really unique travelogue from Naipaul's 1981 tour of four non-Arab Muslim countries: Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Naipaul, a Trinidadian of Indian Hindu descent who holds British citizenship, is an interesting outsider to tell the story. On the one hand, he has little enough experience with Islam that he can ask questions with near-childlike naivete. On the other hand, he has enough experience with the world of the colonized to know the right questions to ask.

I'd heard Naipaul's reputation as a particularly strong stylist, but to be honest, I wasn't particularly struck by his prose. It was serviceable, journalistic, and direct. What I really liked was his perspective, which was aimless, infinitely curious, and driven purely by self-interest. In Malaysia he detours from a planned visit to a particular region because the monsoon rains bother him. He makes no plans to return later, just cuts the trip out of his tour. The ever-present distortion of his own perspective reminds us that most outside visitors to these regions have an agenda. They're there to see something in particular, to record it, and to leave. Naipaul's just there to see whatever comes his way, and tell everyone what he saw, what interested him. One of the book's best passages, in my mind, is when Naipaul discusses his approach to curiosity with a Pakistani journalist who can't quite make sense out of it.

Naipaul is sharply critical of many aspects of Islamic culture (and already, the book I've picked up for #46 has attempted to answer some of his criticisms) for offering no substantive solutions to the poverty, injustice, and inequalities that permeate these societies. He describes the dream of an Islamic society as one driven by vague and elusive promises of a divine law whose shape its dreamers cannot clearly envision, or would not desire if they could. He can be occasionally kind of mean-spirited about this, picking fights with people who are just trying to get on with their lives because he finds their worldviews alien.

But Naipaul has an odd sort of cover: his tour of the Islamic world was so haphazard and random and anecdotal that he can't possibly claim to have a valid read on the society. In the Indonesia section he describes visiting the pesantren, cooperative unstructured Islamic schools. His initial visit finds him hearing them described by a whimsical teacher who refuses to call himself a teacher, and he is shocked and appalled by a school system that appears to "teach villagers how to be villagers", as he puts it. But a later visit, impelled by his guide's insistence that he has misunderstood the system, reveals that he has in fact misunderstood the system. The Islamic world is too large and complicated for Naipaul to easily master its nuances. And I kind of appreciate the fact that he just rolls with this and tries to do his best anyway. But if there's a problem with the book, it's the tedious concluding chapter when he mostly fails to make any sense at all about where the Islamic world is heading.
[identity profile] seekingferret.livejournal.com
40. Wounded by Percival Everett

I wrote 3 rave reviews of Percival Everett novels a few weeks ago. [livejournal.com profile] zahrawithaz pointed me in the direction of Wounded with the dubious recommendation, "I loved Everett's Wounded, though I hated its ending." I flew through it and now... hm... I think the recommendation is well-stated. It's likely necessary to consider the two things separately: the book and its ending.

I loved the book. It's a story about an unlikely tribe that forms on a horse farm in Wyoming- a black horse trainer, John, his ex-con uncle Gus, his white cowgirl girlfriend Morgan, his college roommate's gay son David, their loyal dog Zoe, their 3 legged baby coyote, their untamed mule, and a couple of magnificent horses. All of them have demons and the story is largely concerned with how families do and don't share with each other, the things they hide and the things they tell. How people who have been hurt learn how to fall in love. It's a beautiful story.

John is perfect, and broken. He is a cowboy, in a word. It's a great set of eyes for Everett to use to narrate the story, because John feels all the weight of the world on his shoulders, feels responsible for everybody's shortcomings, and this lets Everett scan far and wide without losing any focus at all. The novel is short and reads fast. It's tight as hell, not a wasted word in sight, and yet somehow feels airy and spacious like the wide open plains John patrols on his horse.

But lurking underneath is another story, a story about tragedy and life as a minority, and in this story John and his clan are part of a larger clan, isolated by the white patriarchal culture of the west and yet brought together by nothing more than their shared isolation. And this story is the one that results in the book's ending, which is a very, very difficult ending to deal with. I wouldn't say that I hated it. I'm profoundly disturbed by it. Scared. Sad. Uncomfortable. But also thought-provoked, because if you can separate out all the emotional responses that it produces, it's a brilliant reappropriation of the Wild West ethos of John Wayne movies. Even when Percival Everett reaches straight for your heart and pulls as hard as he can, he never stops being the clever smartass who wrote I Am Not Sidney Poitier.

I don't know... maybe you'll like it, maybe you'll hate it. You can't know until you give it a try, I think.

41. The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez

If you like slightly campy pulp stories, this will be a treat. Set in a present day noir city called Empire, a city that cheerfully persists in absurd art-deco pulpiness despite the requisite onslaught of evil mad scientists, disproportionate ecological disasters, and killer robots, it tells the story of one of those killer robots: A bot named Mack Megaton who turned on his evil master and is currently driving a cab to pay the considerable electric bill that
keeps him running.

When I say present day noir city, mind, I means something different from the way most authors mean it. Most contemporary noir authors take the noir feel, the so-called "hardboiled" style, and try to use it to tell stories set in a more realistic present day. Martinez has placed Empire in the middle of a non-pulp world, a bizarre outlier where sentient robots patrol alongside biological citizens and jazz has never been supplanted by rock and roll. It is stubbornly and delightfully preposterous, and it makes a great setting.

Martinez does all the little world building things right. I first spotted his eye for worldbuilding detail when I noticed that Mack never 'sees' or 'hears' anything, but 'scans' or 'detects' instead. The narrative voice is sharp and charming and the sense that you're spending time in a truly alien reality never goes away, and never gets tiresome. The detective plot is well-executed and all of the characters are lively and dynamic. I really can't praise this novel enough, for what it is. And I can't praise it enough for resisting the urge that a lot of slumming noir SF writers get to try to transcend the genre somehow. Martinez knows what his novel is and what it isn't.

tags: a: everett percival, a: martinez a. lee, african-american, postmodernist, western, mexican-american, sf/fantasy,
[identity profile] whereweather.livejournal.com
 #30. Luba: The Book of Ofelia (Vol. 2 in the Luba trilogy; Vol. 21 in the Complete Love & Rockets)

2005 (material originally published 1998-2005), Fantagraphics Books

Warning: Long and obsessive plot details ahead!  This is a crazy long book -- 240 pages -- and incredibly dense, for a graphic novel.  Also, the storytelling modalities are highly refined and self-referential, full of interweaving, flashback and allusion; and also it's Part 2 of a three-part series-within-a-series.  So I take these reviews as an opportunity to parse the plot, to assure myself that I've actually followed what the hell is going on.

So!  This is the second part of Gilbert ("Beto") Hernandez's trilogy about the latest adventures of Luba, his protagonist, in America.  (For basics about Luba, you can see my earlier post about the previous book in this series.)

At this point in time, Luba and her children are in the United States, but her husband Khamo is stuck in immigration limbo.  Luba continues her quest to figure out what she must -- or can -- do in order to untangle his shady past, police record, and hazy criminal associations, so that she can bring him to join them.  (Like most of Luba's accomplishments, this is not really hindered -- and is perhaps made more impressive -- by that fact that, like some of the other main characters living in the United States, she still can't speak a word of English.)


Much of this section's narrative mechanics is fueled by the announcement that Ofelia, Luba's long-suffering older cousin, has decided to finally try being the writer she has always wanted to be.  This in-progress "book of Ofelia" gives, perhaps, the collection its title, although the phrasing also seems to imply (in its Biblical cadence) that she is instead the main subject of the book.  (Except that she isn't, really; she's not present throughout.  I keep thinking about the way that, in Spanish -- as I think I understand it, anyway -- this phrase, "el libro de Ofelia," does not make a distinction between the book *by* Ofelia and the book *about* her.  So this book, perhaps, is both.)


(On that note: one other thing I like is how much of the book's dialogue and internal thought-monologues are in Spanish.  The switches back and forth are frequent but consistent: the Latin American-born children tend to speak in fluent English to each other, but use Spanish with their parents, and to think in it when introspection is called for; the American-born children and adults think in English, although they frequently and fluently use Spanish with their relations.  Hernandez indicates the switches with the widely used comics convention of putting the "second-language" dialogue within brackets (and, in this book, some double-bracketing for other languages, like French).  When Hernandez' stories were set entirely in the Central American village from which many of the characters hail, he used to just put a note at the bottom of the first page that everything was in Spanish unless otherwise indicated -- a convention that Jaime has also sometimes used, e.g. in stories set among recent immigrants and jornalero workers -- but now that they've migrated to America, there's a lot more use of both tongues.)


So.  What's happening in the Book of Ofelia?



Obsessive plot details! Avoid if you fear spoilers! )


[Tags I'd like to add: a: hernandez gilbert, i: hernandez gilbert, california, children [*not* "children's"], magic realism, disability, meta-literature]

[identity profile] whereweather.livejournal.com
#27. The Education of Hopey Glass (The Complete Love & Rockets, Vol. 24), Jaime Hernandez

2008 (material originally published 2005-'08), Fantagraphics Books


Okay, here I go about Love & Rockets again.  I feel a little dumb writing in so much detail about each new volume of the series I devour (being on a ten-year catch-up binge as I am), since I'm not sure anyone else is interested.  But at the same time, it's hard for me to resist it.  Half of the books -- the ones by Jaime Hernandez, about his post-punk ambisexual working-class Latina chicks in L.A. -- I've been following for so many years and love so much that I can't help gushing on and on.  And the ones by Gilbert Hernandez, about his ever-more-convoluted Lynchian psychosexual post-magic-realism Mexican American and Central American émigrés in L.A. -- the ones who all seem to sport big breasts, huge butts, impressive penis sizes, and an increasingly complicated array of fetishes... well, those are so involuted that I can't really follow the story line unless I break it all down for myself.


So here we have  Volume 24, all about Maggie's best friend and one-time lover Hopey Glass.  The overarching narrativethrust comes from the fact that Hopey has a new job.  It's a real job, which is really strange for her!  As long as we've known her, Hopey was living either with or on other people; or playing bass with a band; or off a small inheritance; or, more recently, bartending and working odd jobs.  But apparently she recently took up temping, and now she has -- of all things -- studied for, taken, and passed an exam to become certified as a teaching assistant in the state of California.  It's a new school year now, and her job is about to begin.

What this volume's all about... )
[identity profile] whereweather.livejournal.com
#26. Luba in America (Vol. 1 of the Luba Trilogy), by Gilbert Hernandez
2001 (material originally published 1998-2000), Fantagraphics Books

Ha!  Man, I just never stop referencing myself, do I?  (Well, well: the internet wouldn't be as much fun if it weren't so easy to be intertextual.)

This is the third Love & Rockets book I'm reviewing, since I am indulging in a catch-up binge on my favorite comics series after years of only-sporadic reading.  The first two I reviewed were by Jaime Hernandez, the half of the Hernandez brothers whose work I consistently adore. Luba in America, by contrast, is by Gilbert Hernandez, whose stories, characters, style and subjects are quite different.  In an earlier post I discussed my feelings about Gilbert's work, including and especially my ambivalence about his increasingly sexual and sexualizing vision of his female characters' lives.  

But, heh, Gilbert was also a bold, compassionate and masterful storyteller at one time, and perhaps is still.  If his "weird id display" (as a previous commenter called it) doesn't put you off, there is still a lot of story to admire.  So here I am: taking a careful breath, and plunging into the now-complete "Luba trilogy" to see what Gilbert has recently been up to.

Venga conmigo! )
[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.)

ext_150: (Default)
[identity profile] kyuuketsukirui.livejournal.com
Title: The God Box
Author: Alex Sanchez
Number of Pages: 248 pages
My Rating: 5/5

Paul is a Christian teen who has been dating his best friend Angie since middle school, but while he loves her, he feels no attraction towards her. Every night he prays that God will make him attracted to girls and take away his feelings about guys. Then he meets Manuel, who is a Christian and gay and sees nothing contradictory about that. As Paul and Manuel become closer, he starts to question what he's been taught about the evils of homosexuality.

I won't lie. This book is as subtle as a brick and Manuel is unbelievably wise and perfect for a teenager, but I loved it to death. I don't really consider myself a Christian anymore (and I was never this sort of actively-Christian Christian myself), but this is how I grew up and Sanchez portrays the conservative Christian community perfectly. Reading this felt so familiar to me. The Christians in this book aren't parodies; they're real people, and I loved that the story wasn't about choosing between being a Christian and being gay, but about being a gay Christian.
[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] whereweather.livejournal.com
#19.  Locas in Love, Jaime Hernandez (The Collected Love & Rockets, Vol. 18)
2000, Fantagraphics Books (material originally published in Penny Century, Measles, and Maggie & Hopey Color Fun, 1996-2000)

As I think I mentioned in an earlier post, I have loved Love & Rockets since I was about thirteen.  It's one of the great joys of my life that this series (that's what it is, a black-and-white comics series written and drawn by California-based Mexican-American brothers Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez) is, despite all odds, still going; that it has no obvious end in sight, and that I can imagine (though I realize it's unlikely) that it may be with me all my life.

My ability to follow the series closely has varied with my own circumstances, and with the circumstances of its publication.  Since about 2000, for various reasons -- the brothers were publishing several different series, the schedule was irregular, I was out of the country -- I have only been able to read issues every now and then, when I came across them in a shop; or, occasionally, spend several hours in a bookstore reading whatever recent compilations they had on hand.  With the double inspiration of this 50books project, though, combined with the realization last month that the university library to which I have access (through my job) is willing and able to get even graphic novels for me -- quickly and easily! -- through interlibrary loan, I've begun a binge of catching up.  This is freaking awesome, people.

So, even though I have already read Vol. 22 (Ghost of Hoppers, which I own), and the last post I made was on Vol. 20 (Dicks And Deedees), this post is about backtracking all the way to Vol. 18, Locas In Love, which I figured I should read anyway because I thought there might be some material in there I'd missed.  (I'm only talking about even-numbered ones here because those are the ones collecting Jaime's work and storylines; the odd-numbered ones are Gilbert's collections.  Um, I realize this is incredibly involuted.  That's because I'm a comics dork, OK???  And I own all the volumes up to #15, Hernandez Satyricon, so...  OK YES I AM A DORK!)

So anyway.  Below are some spoilers.

Spoilers, spoilers... )

I LOVE LOVE & ROCKETS, PEOPLE.  And I still hold out hope that someday, someday, those stupid MacArthur people will get their heads out of their butts and do something for the Hernandez Brothers.

[Note: Tags I would like to add, when it becomes possible: superheroes; magic realism.]
[identity profile] fiction-theory.livejournal.com

Title: Happy Hour at Casa Dracula (Casa Dracula, Book 1)
Author: Marta Acosta (MartaAcosta.com)
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Page Count: 312 (Trade Paperback Edition)
Publisher: Pocket Star

Review: Happy Hour at Casa Dracula. Spoilers! )
[identity profile] anitabuchan.livejournal.com
17. Getting It by Alex Sanchez

Getting It centers on 15-year-old Carlos Amoroso, who is not only a virgin but has never even been kissed. He has a crush on a girl named Roxy, and after watching Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, decides he needs a gay guy to give him a makeover. He asks Sal, a senior at his school, and Sal agrees - but only if Carlos helps him set up a Gay-Straight Alliance at their school.

I enjoyed the way Carlos changed over the course of the book. At the start he was fairly homophobic, and was embarrassed to be seen even talking to Sal. He also struggled to stand up for himself, against his friends and family, and had a whole bundle of insecurities. Seeing him grow in confidence, and seeing him start to genuinely support Sal, was lovely. It's a bit different from mmost of Sanchez's books, focusing on a straight character, but if you like his books you'll probably like this too.

18. Where The Streets Had A Name by Randa Abdel-Fattah

13-year-old Hayaat lives in Bethlehem. Her family used to own an olive grove, but were forced to leave by settlers, and now the six of them live in a small two-bedroom flat. Not long before the events of the book, Hayaat was caught up in a protest. Her best friend was killed by a rubber bullet, and Hayaat left badly scarred.

Now, her sister is preparing for her wedding, while her grandmother is ill after a stroke. Hayaat believes she could save her grandmother's life if she brings her a handful of soil from the Jerusalem garden she left behind years before - it's just a few miles away, but in between is the Wall. Hayaat and her friend Samy set out on a mission to find the soil.

I think this is my favourite of Abdel-Fattah's books. It's more depressing, but I think better-written than the other two. It tries to show the effect curfews, checkpoints, travel restrictions and the Wall have on daily life in Palestine. Hayaat herself is likeable, although I think I prefer her friend Samy.

One thing that did make me go WTF, unconnected to the book: on the back of the UK cover, they've managed to spell her name wrong. 'Hyaat'. In big letters along the top. Seriously, shouldn't they have someone who checks that sort of thing?
[identity profile] b-writes.livejournal.com
I listened to the unabridged audiobook by this, read by the author. When Cisneros first spoke, I was taken slightly aback and afraid I wouldn't like the book: her voice is light, sweet, girly. I thought it might be twee, or goofy-sounding.

But I was quickly won over by her warmth and excellent reading. She has a deft, smart delivery, and she treats her listener like a confidante or best friend. The introduction was especially affecting (I am not sure if it's just in the audiobook or is included in newer editions of the book as well), where she talked about the reactions her book has inspired in readers over the years.

[livejournal.com profile] osprey_archer sums up the book very well here; I want to recommend the audiobook as a good car read, because the short chapters lend themselves well to short trips around town, and again, because Cisneros is such a good reader. I felt like I'd gained a new friend by the end of the book.
[identity profile] whereweather.livejournal.com
#16. Bless Me, Ultima, Rudolfo Anaya
1972, Quinto Sol

It is the 1940s.  Antonio, who is almost seven, lives with his family in a small riverside community in "the llano" -- a vast, green plain where sheep, goats and cattle graze, and vaqueros make their living herding them out in the freedom and silence.  Antonio's father comes from the Márez family, which has always roamed the llano, but his mother comes from the Lunas, settled farmers and town-builders, and she wants her youngest son to become a farmer or a priest.  Antonio doesn't know which way his blood will pull him, but he is on the brink of many changes: he's about to start making the walk across the river every day with his sisters to attend the school up in town, where, the kids say, they make you learn English; he will start catechism in preparation for his first communion, and enter into the privileged community of those with whom God shares secrets; the end of the war might bring his older brothers home; and -- most immediately and excitingly -- Ultima, known as la Grande, the venerated curandera, is coming to live with them.  Ultima is a medicine woman, a healer, and a sage -- not, Antonio is convinced, a witch, as some people call her.  But not everyone agrees with him...

More on magic, rivers, wide plains, fish... )
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
20. Alex Sanchez, The God Box

Paul (not Pablo, although he used to go by Pablo before he moved to America) is living a pretty content life as the boyfriend of Angie. He's a devout Christian who attends a charismatic church and is part of Bible Study at his high school, and lives in a small town in Texas. His only problem is that he does not feel much of a sexual attraction for Angie, or any other girl. But when Manuel, a openly gay student, moves to town, things start to change.

A lot of this book is taken up with various characters making the Christian arguments against homosexuality, and other characters then refuting them. Which, since I've heard all of these points before, made me start to skim certain spots. I can imagine that for someone who hasn't heard these arguments, though (such as the small town teens who I presume are the intended audience), this book could be a great resource, because the points are stated clearly and made well.

What I thought was most interesting about this book was actually its portrayal of Charismatic and Fundamental Christians, since that's a world I have very little experience with. I like that the book is very firm in emphasizing that it's not Christianity or faith itself which causes people to be bigoted, as the gay characters and their allies continue to strongly identify as Christian at the end of the story.

Overall, a bit of a simple story, but one I found sweet.
[identity profile] anitabuchan.livejournal.com
I've already read Sanchez's Rainbow trilogy, but hesitated over getting this until I read [livejournal.com profile] sanguinity's review here. It basically says everything much better than I will, so you should go and read it!

I enjoyed this very much. Paul is a devout Christian, as is his girlfriend and most people in their high school. He's never met anyone openly gay before - until Manuel arrives. He's also Christian, but he doesn't believe homosexuality is a sin - and is prepared to argue with anyone who says otherwise!

I loved the developing relationship between Paul and Manuel: there were no big flashy moments of epiphany, just Paul's initial denial then slow realisation that, actually, he was gay. It was slow and sweet, and I found it very believable. Both of them were struggling with their own issues (Paul moreso than Manuel) which got in the way of them getting together.

I liked that there was no demonisation of Christianity. It was several members of the Bible club who were most supportive of Manuel (although several of them were the most hostile as well). If you know the non-homophobic interpretations of the Bible, then much of the discussion of Scripture will probably be familiar to you. It was to me, and I've not studied it in all that much depth.

It's not perfect, of course not, but it's a book that left me with a happy glow and a desire to recommend it to everybody - although it's probably most suited for LGBTQQA teens, especially those who are Christians, I think others could enjoy it too.


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