Tag Archives: book review

BOOKSTAGRAM

A lovely acquaintance, Mollie, made a bookish instagram for her editing called Molliereads (mohrediting.com).  AND it inspired me to make an instagram for bookishness and blogging and happiness and words and connecting.

Find me on Instagram @ bookishcassie

You can view my bookish life as it unfolds and we can share favorite books, book photos, and book comments together in a smaller platform.

See photos like the following:

BOOKSTAGRAM

BOOKSTAGRAM

YES. LET’S DO IT. If we can get a few followers from the blog maybe I’ll do Project 365 the Bookish Edition. That would actually be incredibly fun.  I’d have to read everyday for sure (not that I don’t, you know you have to get your before bed read on).


Corvo Azul

Crow Blue by Adriana Lisboa

Who doesn’t love a Brazilian treasure hunt set partway in the sands of Copacabana, brushed through the natural Amazon forests where Araguaia freedom fighters leave their protests on the knives of military forces, and a slow drive through the sucked dry beds of New Mexico.  The coyotes come at night. The military darkens the bolded words of “SECRET” at the top of folders marked with the deaths of guerrilla fighters.  A young girl, Vanja, finds a home on the signature line of a birth certificate.  This is Adriana Lisboa’s first publication from the UK and is on sale in the US TODAY!  Get excited, people.  Don’t listen to my unhappy rantings about the missing double-fs in every word that had them like, coffee, official, suffering, but instead look at the positives. Let’s start there as this is a Tuesday filled with happiness and a globally-important young adult release called Crow Blue.

“Beautiful Little Fool” @ OnHerVanity (WordPress Blog)

I was so enamored with this book for one of the very reasons that I didn’t really enjoy it.  Like To Kill A Mockingbird, I find it hard to read young adult books (which TKAM really isn’t) that write from the perspective of the adult looking back.  It almost isn’t truly young adult because the author is no longer in the shoes that they were in and can’t really tell the story as accurately as a teenager with teenage notions.  I look back on my fourteen-year-old self, in love with a boy named B. Jones who was bad news and blues and would pick fights at football games and I think, how silly that little girl was, what “a beautiful little fool,” to make this a full out allusion day.  (Thanks, Daisy, owe ya one).  In the time I was that girl, I thought myself a funky fashionista who needed to hide things from my mother and acted as a witty damsel in distress to earn the affection of “hot” boy-faced boys.  That’s probably not true either though, as I write this my from my adult, NPR-listening, eat alone in restaurants perspective.

Translation Day @ World Accent

Books like this are sometimes hard to read, but what made this accessible for readers like me was the BEAUTIFUL LANGUAGE.  I have no time to regret the point of view when I experience language as powerful and persuasive and philosophical (had to finish off the alliteration) and truly thoughtful as this.  It was like the author was in my head and putting my “Explainer” qualities into words.  And this book is a translation from Portuguese so that says a lot about both the translator,  Alison Entrekin, and the reasons behind my wishing to speak every language in the world so I could read books in their true form and their true beauty.  Just take a look at some of these quotes and more importantly thoughts on the world and thoughts on writing (clearly this writer has an artistic gift).

  • “Elegance? I wondered. No, not elegance.  Perhaps a certain mistrust of the act of walking.  Perhaps she was trying to remind us that we need to be ceremonious with the world, that this here is no joke, that this is something serious and dangerous, and that the mere act of walking on the ground bestows an unimaginable responsibility on you.”
  • “The mountains of Rio de Janeiro were laughing, deep in their intimacy of earth and stone and roots and organic matter from dead leaves and animals and dumped dead bodies: they were laughing at all that anxious human drama: people love one another, kill one another, roll boulders, and at the end of the day none of it makes much difference.  The mountains’ time is different; so are their time frames of reference.”
  • “A curious phenomenon happens when you have been away from home for too long.  Your idea of what home is – a city, a country – slowly fades like a colorful image exposed to the sun on a daily basis.  But you don’t quickly acquire another image to put in its place.  Try: act like, dress like, speak like the people around you.  Use the slang, go to the “in” places, make an effort to understand the political spaces.  Try not to be surprised every time you see people selling second-hand furniture and clothes and books from their garages (the sign on the street corner announces: garage sale), or the supermarkets offering tones of pumpkins in October and tolls for sculpting them, or corn mazes.  Pretend none of that is new to you. Do it all, act like.”

Her thoughts on the world were just so aligned with this stagnant, spongy place that I think it is.  And if we have souls, and they float when we no longer lay claim to our scarred, nicked, and stretched skin, then my soul likes this book because it believes in this world where it must try to fit in all its odd shaped and shifting glory.

There are also elements of this book that were really interesting in young adult literature.  The author didn’t dumb-down her information for a young audience, she faced dead-on history that most Americans wouldn’t know.  I had no idea that Brazil contained a guerrilla army in the 1960s and 70s.  Lisboa is almost sympathetic with the guerrilla movement in the story, but she also shows the terror in plan-lacking military force.  Using one of the main characters in Vanja’s story, Fernando, Lisboa tells the untold story of Fernando’s experience as a guerrilla who walked away and only learned the outcome of his groups’ fight after he deserted them in the forest.  He moved to Colorado and never thought of the experience again, after years of training in China, following a communist doctrine, and leaving a woman that he loved and continued to love in all the elements that she left in her daughter.  Fernando takes Vanja in and they share their stories with one another.  A young girl who is lost in a world she is forced to understand in its grandness and its hesitance in sharing it’s own story (land wise and people wise), and a man who has been lost his entire life and needs someone to call home.

I loved this book as a road trip collection.  The journey was far better than where I ended up at the end.  I trusted Fernando, both rebel and keeper of secrets and I trusted Vanja in telling the story of her country and the story of herself.  Instead of being a girl lost and forced into a bubble of a forced freedom, she becomes a girl with a story so thick with characters that she creates a map of family. Plus, there’s a boy who believes in the power of papers to create a hometown and he gets to discover it’s people, not papers that make you a citizen of the world.


39% Horror, and 18% Forced Coincidence | I never said I was a math teacher.

WARNING: spoilers and non-sequential conversation.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

It was a teacher workday today, so instead of cleaning out my desk drawers and taking down posters with inspiring thoughts “Some days you’re the pigeon, some days you’re the poop,” I spent the day finishing The Kite Runner.  225 pages in last night I was tweeting that I’m not sure I can teach this book because I found out the major hunch of Baba and Hassan and Amir.  And then I was PISSED at Baba.  I understood the two halves of himself coming together, but in the beginning I hated him for being a parent annoyed with the fact that his child is not a mini-him, then I grew to love him and his slight hobble asking for the sweet hand of a hook-nosed girl for his son, and then, I loathed him a little more than the beginning due to the secret he took to the grave.

Apparently, The Kite Runner is a graphic novel as well.

Around 300 pages in, I had to walk down to Hawke’s room and ask her if I should keep reading and if Assef “gets his.”  I’m putting a few almost spoilers in this review because I’m assuming that I’m the last person to actually read this book.  It spent 101 weeks on the NY Times Bestseller List, so someone out there had to read it and then recommend it to all of their friends. I seriously wasn’t sure in those climactic moments that Amir could take the nazi (never deserves capitalization, I don’t care if it’s a “proper” noun) that is Assef.  What a dick.  The last time someone was stoned at a sporting event for me was reading “The Lottery” in my classroom and letting my students throw paper balls at the kid who won.  (We weren’t killing trees, they had to write all their work on those papers and then de-ball them in order to turn them in.  Sometimes fun is worth the crinkle of paper from a pocket binder).  In other words, no one has ever been stoned at a sporting event…in my conscious….ever.

I felt so dang American when I read this book.  I was beyond out of my element.  I wanted to simultaneously look away in horror, fly a non-paper-cutting-kite, hug a small child, serve tea, and reanalyze France’s decision on banning burqas.  It was 70% tragedy, 100% humanity, 39% horror, and 18% forced coincidence.  I never said I was a math teacher, which is precisely why I finally read this book.  I had already heard about the first horror of the book and knew just from that-that I wouldn’t be interested in a book like this.  Who wants to read a book where their favorite character will be abused before the hundred-page mark?  It’s like getting sick at breakfast and not being able to eat for the rest of the day due to your disturbing and wretched food poisoning.  BUT, tenth grade at my school teaches The Kite Runner, so I had to trial run it.

Movie Image @ Crash Landen

Taliban @ Wikipedia Commons

As soon as I finished, I knew my students would love this book if they could get through the density of it.  My freshman really appreciated Night, I’m not sure anyone can claim they enjoyed that one, and in Of Mice and Men, I had three girls cry and a choir of tense pressure build up by the end.  Kids who claimed to hate reading told their friends “even I liked that book.” They were both wins for the academics of high school forced-reading and for humanity as a whole as my students learned what empathy truly means through the best superpower, reading. If we covered World War II in 9th grade, maybe covering the Soviet War in Afghanistan, the introduction to Americans of Taliban, and the lead-in to America’s role in a war with Afghanistan might be something golden to teach in 10th grade, especially to students who weren’t even walking when September 11th happened.

Slingshot @ Pixabay (Creative Commons)

To own our history, we must understand the history of those around us.  I’m not sure one person can ever analyze, or study all the histories of the world (obviously), but I am sure that students can understand history that directly relates to their lives and the times in which they have lived.  I am SO looking forward to teaching my students this book.  Although it was kitschy at times; the slingshot, the kite, the brotherhood, the unveiling of Assef and unbearding of Amir, it was still such an amazing book.  I found myself getting nervous in the stadium with the characters, hearing the woman in the already dug grave screaming, seeing the old man ask for coins with his one spoiled eye, carving my name in the pomegranate tree along with Hassan and Amir.

I almost cried at the death of Baba especially when Amir said, “And for the first time in his life, Baba was alone.”  I never want anyone in death to feel lonely even though they’re not bodily with their relatives. BAH.  I fell in love when Amir met Soraya because she was such an honest female character. She’s one of the best-written minor female characters that I’ve read in a long time.  Khaled Hosseini made her so likable in so few paragraphs.  I’ll admit, her husband, it took time for me to like him, but what I like about that is that I only liked him at the time he also finally liked himself completely.  It wasn’t until he had fully forgiven himself that I fully forgave him as well.  Tone and mood came together, my feelings and his matched from that naked bathtub scene to the very end.

Old Television @ D.F. Shapinsky (Creative Commons)

Just, what a great book.  What a great book for the education it makes you research, for the simple fact that sometimes it’s important to feel like an “other,” like you know nothing about the world and pitfalls of the people in that world that live nothing like you (they didn’t even have television, just imagine America in that telescope). There are few books that are both enjoyable and drive their reader to keep reading books on the same topic.  I want to learn more about literature of the Middle East and I want to start right now.  I want to load up my cart and suck the life out of this history so that I can teach as many aspects as I please next year.  This is a book that you will read through the dead heat of night this summer if you haven’t yet picked it up.

I do wonder if I will ever get at the true feelings of what it is to be an Afghani if I can’t read Farsi.  This is one of those times that that the translation can never be as good as the book in the actual language.  I will always be reading from the point of view of the “other” if I can’t learn different languages.  What a disappointing epiphany brought out my an honorable work of literature.

Catster_LetsTalk1_28

Any recommendations for literature from or about the Middle East? What did you think about The Kite Runner and other books by Khaled Hosseini (that I need to read)? If there are any teachers out there, how do you teach this book? What is your favorite lesson?  SHARE AWAY!

 


“A Strange Nature, Only Partly Within My Understanding”

International League for Peace and Freedom @ WILPF.org

One could probably argue that only during war does America experience “the other” in similar ways that third world countries experience the other as they are monopolized, corrupted, overtaken, and kneeling at the hands of their captors in order to face basic survival. Just after September 11th, America united over an idea that the Middle East was our fiercest “other” and all stops were taken to put an end to a distant fear, but a fear made of news stories that criminalized Islamic culture and taught the American people to have a hint of wonder (or something more powerful) if someone stepped on their plane in a hijab or a niqab.  In 1995, President Bill Clinton gave a speech about Racism in America. In it he discusses the rift between whites and blacks present well beyond the Civil Rights Movement, but in this case provoked by the wildly covered OJ Simpson trial.  He says that white people need to acknowledge and try to understand black pain and that black people need to be conscious of the roots of white fear.  In America, I have found that “the other” this person so unknown to us and we so ignorant of their ways is often our neighbor.  They may sit in the desk next to us at school.

A student told me just today that because her father was black that she was asked to move from a library table, the crowd of girls had just assumed from her skin tone that she was white and they could speak honestly about their built-up hatred.  This idea of “the other” never, and I say that word with all the force that could come behind it, creates unity, creates freedom, creates friendliness, or creates the power that comes from people understanding the diversity in the world’s backgrounds.  The only good “the other” creates is the acknowledgement that we are not all the same, but it lacks the depth enough to invoke a search for the stories behind these differences in order to find the truth – the similarities and an appreciation for a different side of humanity.

Books can change these engrained prejudices.

Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya

One of these books is Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya.  Please, please, please trust me on this one and not the Goodreads reviews. Many people have said this is a story of “utter hopelessness” and another reviewer called it “grimsville.”  It is none of these things.  At the heart of the novel is a series of interwoven love stories; the love a mother has for a child, even a child marked with “the other,” the love a wife has for her husband (swoon) and the love a family of the land loves the land of rice patties and cow dung where they have built an honest home.  This is the story of colonization in India, but it isn’t a story of hatred towards “the other,” those whites building the tanneries, the hospitals, but instead a story of how welcoming the people of these villages are to the newness of industrialization and faces unlike their own.

Bad things do happen to this family and they are overcome with more than their fair share of suffering, but in this beautiful told tale, it’s almost more important that they suffer.  In the calm stillness I saw him open his eyes, his hand came to my face, tender and searching, wiping away the unruly tears (139).  The narrator of this novel is a woman who has left her family at a young age, a priced bride, and moved in with her husband Nathan, a home he has built by hand.  From that moment on, Nathan protects her from burden, rocks to sleep her worries, and stokes the deep threads of the rice field that he does not own like he is feeding a fire.  He is a man of his word, but that word doesn’t come often and their relationship is one of true compromise and compassion.  I am in love with their love.  During the in-between of night when it’s not yet morning, but too far from evening, I read some of the lines to my boyfriend because I couldn’t deal with that much beauty by myself.  It opens with this, sometimes at night I think that my husband is with me again, coming gently through the mists, and we are tranquil together.  Then morning comes, the wavering grey turns to gold, there is a stirring within me as the sleepers awake, and he softly departs (1).  The relationship is subtle as the flecks in a light beam.  One of my best friends talked about this kind of love when he was discussing his latest crush.

Rice Paddy, India @ Columbia.Edu

“They touched my face, with their palm. Touched my face.  Laid across from me and put that hand against my stubbled cheek and left it there.”  This small description of his experience is the thing I think of when I think of the relationship between Nathan and his wife.  They are the couple that lay on a mat and touch the burnt cheeks of one another without saying a word.  Rough hands, scarred hands, hands smelling of wet rice paddy, disturbed water, but hands gentle for the face, for the night.

The intruder in this novel is obviously “the other” of colonialism and industrialization which leads without a heart towards the people of this small country village.  They are not asked whether they can afford to buy the land, they are told to move from it for the new tannery.  They are not asked to fill jobs, as the brick layers have brought in their own men.  They are not told to fill positions at the hospital because at this time, the money is begged for.  This is a village that cannot compete with the prices of the newcomers and so they suffer through not paying their own because they can bargain better with the industry.

Indian labourers stitch buffalo leather at a tannery workshop in Kolkata. Piyal Adhikary / EPA @ TheNational.AE

It’s a sad revelation to know that you’re in a country that uses other countries for their goods and their people’s working spirits.  I actually avoid thinking about it because it upsets me so much to know that somewhere a woman is hammering stones in a rock quarry to feed her family dinner and I am sitting in my cozy bed typing a blog that will reach only those with internet connection.  I’m not sure how I can fix anything being capitalist and needy, and “the other,” that doesn’t understand, but has empathy that she can’t really use and so it’s stored up for the next heartbreak on the shoulders of someone she cares about.

Kenny is “the other” in this novel, but he blends beautifully with the people of the village. He tries so hard to help them in little ways and the wife of the novel is very dependent on his comings and goings as he helped her conceive early in her time in the village.  Kenny is light-hearted, but knows he will never be one of them as they know they could never let him mingle in their culture.  I nodded.  There was no sense in agreeing or disagreeing, the gulf between us was too wide; it was no use at all flinging our words at each other across that gaping chasm (68).  He is a likable character although he symbolizes so many terrifying things.  In America, I guess I can’t speak for all Americans, but for me, I’m not sure which is worse, the thought of people starving in villages owned by corrupt landowners, but this is the way they have lived for generations, or introducing a world of industrialization that doesn’t invite them in for generations, but possibly teaches them a new way of life.  It’s the first world, “civilization vs. savage,” as if if you don’t have a personal commode in your house than you aren’t a civilized people.  Not true, obviously, but are there first world dwellers who believe this is a savage way to live? Probably.

Human Rights @ Wikipedia (Creative Commons)

There are moments of ruthlessness in this novel that are hard to gulp down.  “Sometimes from sheer rebellion we ate grass, although it always resulted in stomach cramps and violent retching.  For hunger is a curious thing: at first it is with you all the time, waking and sleeping and in your dreams, and your belly cries out insistently, and there is a gnawing and a pain as if your very vitals were being devoured, and you must stop it at any cost…” (65).  I definitely had trouble reading moments of grief, starvation, and times they lacked basic necessities.  This is a book I needed to read though.  It taught me about my own bias.  It taught me how to teach my students about their own bias, unconscious or otherwise, and it introduced me to a new way of reading literature.  We always try to suspend our own judgmental natures when we read, but to really try to experience the world as someone not so ourselves,  if only to understand for a moment the life of someone who is not built on public school and colored eyeliner.

Catster_LetsTalk1_28Read any books that changed your perspective on the world lately? Teaching this to my 10th graders I’m going to also use excerpts from Teju Cole’s Everyday Is For The Thief as I think it represents the idea of “the other” in a new way.  Does anyone else have other recommendations that could go along with this book? I would LOVE to hear your thoughts. I also feel like this review might have offended some people, if you’re offended, I promise I didn’t mean to offend you.  I just speak how I feel and sometimes it doesn’t always come out with the right words.

 


Ah, The Fragile Workings Of Our Sense of Smell.

I’m a little rusty on my reviews, try not to judge too harshly.  17,000 words down on writing.  The words don’t go together yet, but they are somehow a part of the same story.

All The Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld

Sheep make excellent book characters.  Whether they’re being sheared, or the reader can hear their cries through a broken fence, I can’t think of any novels where the sheep have not added something to the story.  In this story, they appear over and over as a mirror to the main character, Jake Whyte.  Jake has finished running from a haunted past and is standing still in the dark of a small English town where she keeps a sheep farm, a lone barn dweller, and a few pyro teenagers.

Shadow of A Man @ Helgi Halldórsson

I won’t go into the details about Jake’s haunted past because the killer part of this novel is the pacing and the structure.  The novel has alternating chapters between who Jake was before a series of incidents and who she is after.  In the before chapters, the reader learns her life as a teenager was not built on stars.  She had a large family who she (in present day narrative) calls and just listens to the space of breath on the other line rather than talking to her brother or mom.  The only person she does talk to is her sister who is not friendly.  The reader doesn’t understand why until the final chapters of the book.  Jake is a runaway that has now remained on her farm with a gun and a dog named Dog.  She refuses all humanity that approaches the farm and only really trusts Don, the man that sold it to her.  I will tell you that Jake has to run away twice in her life, once by her own undoing, and once by a forced lock and hidden keys.

It’s marketed as a mysterious thriller, which I think it is.  I think that’s justified.  There were moments in this book where my heart beat was pattering because I wasn’t quite sure what was coming next.  There’s a terrifying dog character named Kelly, owned by Otto who is a pathetic sack of arsehole, if you ask me.  It wasn’t a scary book, well, it was a scary view of human qualities gone shaky, but it isn’t a horror story.  It’s more just a really dark novel that remains dark until probably the last sentence.  There’s even a mysterious looming shadow that is hunting the living at the brim of the woods behind her house.  The reader finds out just what this force is by inference, it is never really revealed, but truly I thought this force was going to be an awkward encounter with Bigfoot.  No, seriously, that’s the kind of reader I am.  I also almost believed in the Google Maps Lochness siting from today.

Running Away @ Darted Rose (Creative Commons – Deviant Art)

The problem I had with this book was that not all my questions were answered.  Sometimes, I like if the author leaves a few points hanging.  I won’t lobby around the fact that the reader never finds out what happens to Greg, who Jake dated on a runaway stint to a sheep sheering gang where she was ousted by a friend of her boyfriends who saw posters of her face a few towns up.   I will lobby around the fact that there is no warning that this book is going both forward and back at the same time.  I liked that because it was new to my reading plate.  Other than Cloud Atlas, I had never read a book that could multitask in tenses, and move back and forth through a time spectrum in such a backwards way.  It was a bit rocky at times, Back to the Future rocky sometimes, but it wasn’t REALLY obnoxious.  It took me a few to-and-fros to understand what she was doing, but this was also the time when I thought the chapters were from two different people.  I really thought the girl’s stories would intersect, turns out it’s one girl.  WHOOPS, must have missed that one.  As you can see, this was a little bit of work for my amateur reading mind to really figure out, which isn’t always a bad thing.  Sometimes we need a little reading arithmetic in our lives.  Word problems of the bookish and blowzy.

Smell of Tammany @ Wikipedia (Creative Commons)

The things that are on my list of grievances are shorter than they are long. I liked this book, it was mysterious, difficult to follow at times in a good way, and interesting.  My problem was that it wasn’t fully thought out.  Some things in books, readers just can’t fill in because they don’t know where the author wants them to go.  I wasn’t sure of her ending story with the fire (if you’ve read this, you know what I mean).  The description was missing logical steps to follow to understand how everything happened.  There was no information on how she left home, how she recovered, what happened to the townspeople.

I also had trouble with the barn dweller.  She accepts this man into her home with very little forethought.  She does prove to be spontaneous and run her life on impulse previously in the book, but I also found her to be really untrustworthy with anyone, not just unsavory characters.  I have mixed reviews of her hasty turn of feelings on this whiskied man. (Yes, I just made whisky a verb).

I’m not sure of the pacing (how many days he was there before he took over the guest room and the dog training), but it felt like very few.  And this is a woman who trusts no one, sleeps with tools to kill under her pillow (I sleep with my car keys).  It’s nuts that that relationship came so willingly.  All you romcom girls out there, this isn’t one of those “it was love at first sight,” or “I met him and just knew” kind of thing, Jake is not that kind of woman.  She has tiger stripe scars on her back and can shear a sheep without cutting to the quick.

This book was worth the read if the reader is willing to fill in the blanks, and follow it through, if only to see how delicately and with much fragility a writer can weave in the sense of smell (and other well-worn senses):

“I’d been up that morning, before the light came through, out there, talking to myself, telling the dog about the things that needed doing as the blackbird int he hawthorn started up.  Like a mad woman, listening to her own voice, the wind shoving it back down my throat and hooting over my open mouth like it had done every morning since I moved to the island” (79/3191).

“The night sky is crisp with stars and I sit on the fence, listening to the cicadas and the night birds, the bandicoots and rats and all the live things that are out there, breathing with me.  Not far away, the sheep are a dense and silent cluster” (497/3191).

“I smoked a cigarette.  Down in the bottom field, one of the ewes ate from where the grass was still darkened from the dead sheep.  They didn’t hold a grudge, sheep” (519/3191).

“The headlights lit up a lot of insects for that time of year, white in the beams, large-winged flakes like ash. It took me a while to understand that they weren’t insects, that it was snow” (1628/3191).

“The hot smoked air, the birds. The salted ends of my hair when it flew in my mouth.  My family” (2594/3191).

Catster_LetsTalk1_28

 

Read any good books starring sheep or with sheep as side characters.  I think they’re kind of like the setting as a character, that oddly noisy sidekick.  Have any thoughts on the darkness in this book, or the narrative structure? Let other readers know what you thought.


Newsday Tuesday

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Favorite Tweets:

(Sorry about the non-picture tweets.  My internet sucks sometimes. Thanks, Time Warner).

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Favorite Search Terms:

  • the man who walked between the towers book literacy: My FAVORITE children’s book to share with my high schoolers.
  • ricardo nuila’s dog bites: Can someone explain to me what this means?
  • short films on petticoat discipline: Is this a weird porn search or do these actually exist as manners classes?
  • spell to make him have a bowel movement while cheating with another woman: HOLY COW.  I’m a little scared of this search.

Book News:


Meta Meta Meta Meta Meta | Metaphor For Identity

140306_DX_BlazingWorld-COVER.jpg.CROP.original-original

The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt

This book review should really be titled: When the world doesn’t know how to categorize something, they pull out the “meta” and the “feminist” and slide the remote into their back pockets to watch it all unfold.

This might be the weirdest book I’ve ever read.  On reading reviews, it’s been toted as the newest in “feminist literature,” and has been compared to Woolf’s A Room Of One’s Own.  On the other hand, it’s a philosophical diatribe on the underground philosophies of intellectuals hidden because of their own strokes of identity.  That’s what I think this book is about at its core.  Identity.  How we use it to function in everyday society and how we remove it to function with ourselves.  Many bloggers have claimed that this is a work of “meta-fiction” with the novel acting as a work of art that is spoken about within the text.

While I love deep thinking and all that bullshit, is this where fiction is going? I love a layered novel where it takes some critical analysis to really tap in, but I don’t want to dig to China to be able to read something that is supposed to be for pleasure.  I think there is an elite class of fiction readers that will find this book utterly breath-taking.  I was quite taken with it in the beginning, I read almost one-hundred pages in one sitting because I couldn’t sleep one night.  I was fascinated by the cutoff meandering of the novel, there were connections between characters, but then each had their own brief story in Burden’s life.  It sometimes made me wonder how those people on the public transport change your life in the blip of their turning conversation towards you and opening their jacket to pull out a harmonica. (Our free buses are a bit odd in Raleigh and my nephew likes to have deep bus conversation with the army fatigues to his right).

Amazing illustrations by Jari Di Benedetto @ Tumblr

The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt is not a book that you can just read for pleasure.  It’s a book that wants to constantly educate you as you read. Not only is it told from the perspective of too many voices including the journals of the main female character, Harriet Burden, but it’s almost a collection of the odd sorts in society thrown together to solve a mystery.  Harriet Burden is a NY Artist who was married to an art collector (that had a gaggle of men and women on the side even though “it has nothing to do with his love for her) and she’s never really achieved any sort of recognition for her art.  She decides to take in the fringe society to a studio hotel that she’s created and make certain men into little puppets in her game.  There are three different men, with three different art shows that are supposedly Harry’s art, but their face.  It’s this idea that women cannot get coverage in the sophisticated and prejudice art world of NYC, so Harry Burden must pull the wolves over the eyes of the high society and show her art under the veil of strange men.

The first man is Anton Tish.  He’s a waif. Completely useless as a character other than being completely unknown to himself.  Harry uses him like a dish rag to dust off the good china.  Then, there’s my personal favorite, Phineus Q. Eldridge.  She finds him in an obscure newspaper when his show is critiqued by the staff.  He performs a one man autobiographical comedy act where he plays both the white man and the black man, one side of him is woman, one man, one side black, one white, and basically blurs the lines of any sort of boundary line that this American society has created.  He’s got the most interesting voice, but unfortunately the reader doesn’t get to spend much time on his interview because we’re always being wisked away by other diaries, other questions, other answers that don’t truly need answering, when the most interesting story is a young boy who cowers under the thrown spiral of a football released from his father’s hands.

Amazing illustrations by Jari Di Benedetto @ Tumblr

Sometimes, I just wish a book could be a book.  We wouldn’t have to go through all this education mumbo jumbo, chutzpah, or shenanigans that make books “great works of literature.”

It’s clear through the many stories, and fictional (yet factual) footnotes, the author wanted to prove how educated she can be.  With a PhD on Dickens (because how uncommon is that) she goes on to write a book that takes an FBI super agent filled to the brim with literary and humanity decor to uncover the true heart of it.  I like to think I’m a pretty smart girl, but there were moments in this book when I just didn’t care enough to go on.  There was no connection to these characters and everything is kept at a safe arm’s length.  I’m sure this is going to be one of those books that is reviewed by the New York Times as avant-garde and brilliant, a sly form of new age literature for the literary feminists, but I just don’t get it.

Great literature causes great empathy.  With this book, all I had was a great headache.

The other problem with this book is that the publishers didn’t care enough to fix their ebook formatting errors before releasing the book for advanced reader’s copies.  There were numbers EVERYWHERE on the page.  They would be placed in the middle of words, in the middle of important sentences, even occasionally where another number should be and the reader is thinking she meant at the age of six, but then the next word is nineteen and we suddenly realize that was a mistaken six.  They always started over at forty and maintained pace throughout the entire novel.  Do you know how hard it is to actively try to skip over numbers that aren’t meant to be there.  I’m FUCKING disappointed in that. If your ebook isn’t legible, don’t put it on the market until it is because you have readers like me that actually want to invest some sort of body part into these novels in order to understand their value.

Image @ Tumblr

I would love to tout this book as something that inspired that fisted feminist that hangs out between my rib cage and just below my throat but other than the plot, nothing in this novel screamed feminist.  The author was obviously well-read, she wears the signature black turtleneck of someone trying to look profound, but also look like they could step into a dark bar and crouch into the fetal position on stage only to bloom into some sort of slam poet.  In these ways, this is feminist literature.  In the way that Harry is shut down until the faces of her art are young men of strangeness. Also, in the way that the final man, Rune, finds ways to squash any chance that she created the art and he was only the basket in which it came in.  He claims she has mental disturbances which we all know is the sure way to put your wife away so she can die in a mysterious fire. (Oops, too Fitzgerald for a second).  This is the claim that men have been making for centuries though, seriously? Here we have Joan of Arc burned at the stake, the Salem Witch Trials – that amusement park of hangings, Sylvia Plath sticking her head in the oven, and women who have served their lives in “rest homes” because their husbands were overburdened with the idea that women can do more than vacuum with heels on.  I understand all of this and where Hustvedt is going with her novel.  I’m just not sure the hyper intellect she put into it really works.

Other Reviews (because I’m always one of the few haterzzzz):

Catster_LetsTalk1_28

This book is getting a lot of hype.  Have you heard anything? Are you planning on reading it?  Read any good feminist literature lately – I want your recommendations so bad, I’m willing to walk into the ocean with my pockets full of rocks. (Too early, still)?

 


Newsday Tuesday

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Favorite Search Terms:

  • grunge poems tumblr: There’s only one this week.  I just want to know what came up when someone googled this because usually tumblr is two-line break up poems or inspirational poems set in a colorful sky.

Book News:


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  • slashtopher coleman: I’m kind of excited that people search Slash this way.  Play coming out soon?
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Book News:

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Comments on recent book news? The cat wants to know.  Thus…the speech bubble.  I really liked the adaptation of The Raven by Lou Reed, the article on Why that guy hates Dead Poet’s Society (valid points), and A Brief History of the To Do List because I, due to my Mother, am a list-maker.


Read This Blog About How I Hate Award Winning Books Awarded For Experimentation And Not Actual Merit. Longest Title Ever.

Once again, I’m the rare species that didn’t like a book.

The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan

This story, The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan,  is about the economic downfall of Ireland after the “Celtic Tiger” model.  I had to look up what that was as well and luckily other scholars were there to explain at Huffington Post.  The story is set in small town Ireland (I’m not really sure of the geography of Ireland, but aren’t most towns known as small towns in Ireland, much like North Carolina or Kansas).  A group of men in the town work(ed) for a “sketchy” guy named Pokey.  Who would trust a man named Pokey, I’m not quite sure (unless it was Hokey Pokey), but they do and they rely on his booming business to make ends meat.  Pokey has other plans and runs off without leaving any of the men a dime to their name and the story progresses from there.

It’s “contemporary literary fiction” as it’s written from the point of view of every single character associated with the story within this small town.  Each “chapter” is in a different voice brought on from one of the townspeople that was mentioned in chapters before or will become important in the latter of the novel.  I wasn’t particularly interested in any of these voices, other than Bobby Mahon.  He and his wife are only really given two “chapters” to speak.  I think the narration was interesting and I knew as soon as I discovered it was told this way that this one would be a hit because for some reason people just latch onto things like that.  I normally do love it when an author gives different voices their own chapters, but not this way. (See: Feast of Love by Charles Baxter)

Abbeyleix | Irish Heritage Towns

You have to have a character poster board set up on an easel next to you in order to read this one.  I’m sorry that I don’t remember minor characters mentioned in the second vignette or “chapter” that come up in the nineteenth.  It was hard for me to remember who was who and at one point I thought two of the characters were living in the same schizophrenic body because it sounded to me like they were, turns out I was wrong…I think.  I’m still not really sure about that one.

This book is the literary equivalent of getting on a ferris wheel and hearing the same story about how riding the ferris wheel was from every family in each of the round bobbing ships.  There was no need for the author to really go deeper into the story because he was so reliant on the characters different cues to tell the true effects of how it all unfolds.  From reviews, I was ready to pick up a deeply sad, character-driven book, but this was not it.  I had no emotions while reading and even stopped ever so often to play a quick round of Candy Crush so that I could take a break from the monotony.

Irish Flocks

I further have a problem with everyone speaking about the “quality of writing.”  This book does not have beautiful, literary writing.  At most, I highlighted two phrases and not because of their writing quality, but because of their idea quality.  This didn’t make me want to call the mayor about hanging wreaths of these words around town.  It was a story, driven by character voices, who I would not want to have lunch with.  That’s not just because they live in sad times when they’re all a bit lost, but because the majority of them weren’t likable and I wasn’t truly able to get to know them.  I call books like this “ducks” because the author  hasn’t developed the actual characters enough to give them more stock on the page.  Not sure where “ducks” comes from, but that’s just my nickname for them.

Image @ I Heart This

I don’t believe that my dislike comes from my need for “linear storytelling.”  I believe that this was just poor storytelling that someone could have planned out in a short story and had a greater impact on the reader because that kind of story would have given rise to feelings. OR as my darling students call it, “make you feel some type of way.”  This book didn’t make me feel anything but the need to play more Candy Crush and get over the level slump that I am currently in.  I didn’t feel like I got to know the troubles of Ireland any better, I didn’t feel connected to most of the characters unless something in me matched or found itself in something in them (like that poor wanton woman, or Dylan’s mother who was preoccupied with herself).

Lastly, I find it unnerving that people say “love the language” because this man is writing in the slang and grit of his own language.  This is the language he hears everyday.  I could write a novel in the voices of my students and it would sometimes be decipherable and most of the time the reader would have to look up the words on Urban Dictionary, but I know that language because I’m immersed it in everyday.  Yes, in an American head, this language seems foreign and beautiful, but it is the language of the writer and for that, is no extraordinary feat other than him deciding when to add more slang and with whom, because slang in language can sometimes go too far.  I can’t think of an example, but a lot of Southern novels overuse the Southern dialect so that the reader begins to feel trapped within the language.

Corny Titles.

I would much prefer if this book would be performed for me rather than having to read it for myself.  Maybe then, with blocking, characterization, and the mooning looks on actors faces, I would be able to get into this “some type of way feeling” other reviewers claim to have.

If the ominous “they” are going to continue to give awards for books of experimentation and not actual literary merit then I’m going to have to stop reading award winning books and just read books that I can hang trophies from.  I love experimenting.  I hate when books are given awards for that experimentation that doesn’t always work.  For example, this book, and Goon Squad with the forty pages of powerpoint slides.  THAT IS NOT A BOOK. THAT IS A PRESENTATION.  I DIDN’T ASK TO BE PRESENTED TO.

And while I’m at it, what a corny title.

And fivehundrethly, read a few of the reviews from Goodreads.  Most of them give generic reasons for liking the book rather than actual cold hard evidence of why the book was so good to them.  I find that oddly unsettling.

Catster_LetsTalk1_28

Is there any experimentation that you just can’t handle?  What have you thought of recent award winning books? Did you read this one and have a totally different opinion because sometimes…I suck, too.


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