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Posts Tagged ‘assigned reading’

3. “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist-Fight in Heaven,” Sherman Alexie

November 19, 2010 Leave a comment

I had all sorts of quotes here, but they got erased, and I am annoyed.

Page count: 240
Page total: 989

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2. “Thirteen Reasons Why,” Jay Asher

November 12, 2010 Leave a comment

A few weeks after Hannah Baker kills herself, Clay Jensen comes home to find a shoebox fill of cassettes on his from porch. It’s addressed to him– with no return address. And when he starts playing them, he hears Hannah’s voice, promising to name the thirteen reasons– and thirteen people– who drove her to suicide.

This book made me so, so angry for the first thirty or so pages. It! is! not! right! to! blame! others! for! your! suicide! Especially not when then things you are naming are so run-of-the-mill. Her tone moves between gloating, goading, and blase (which, as we all know, is not the right tone for a suicidal person to take, and not the right reasons for killing yourself). I figured that she would have to have been raped, because that’s pretty much the only “good” reason I could think of for a suicide in a YA book. And pretty soon the book starts to voice a pretty excellent analysis of rape culture, which was way more than I would have hoped for.

Hannah is extremely explicit about the fact that a kiss is not groping, and that rumors that she was “easy” are a problem not only because she’s not, but because the stigma associated with being easy means that she is not able to give full consent once that rumor starts. (See Yes Means Yes, please!!) She begins with her first kiss, a sweet, beautiful kiss she had been literally dreaming about. But shortly after the kiss, rumors begin to swirl that she took off her shirt (right there in the park) and let him put his hands under her bra which, we all all know, makes her a slut, which makes her disposable.

When Hannah tells one boy that she “just looked over every name– every story– that completes these tapes. And guess what. Every single event documented here may never have happened had you, Alex, not written my name on that list [of the best asses in the grade],” (41), it felt horrifyingly unfair. Because, Hannah, my friend, the world will do so many worse things to you than tell you you have a nice ass. There are so many more battles to fight. Hell, there is precisely that battle to fight. I read this book for my class on ghosts in US literature, and one of the critical articles we read that has really stuck in my craw has been Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock’s “Scare Tactics,” which argues that there is a US American tradition of women writers of ghost stories and that these stories represent an avenue of increased agency for women writers (and, perhaps, the women characters who usually star in their writings).

The problem is, this implies that a woman gains agency in fiction only by being dead. And that was just the problem I had with Hannah Baker. Hannah seems like a strong, insightful, smart, passionate, all-around awesome woman. But she cannot speak her power. She gains power only though haunting people with tapes after her death. And even as a haunting, that is a fairly limited one, for it depends fully on the listener’s doing just that– in other words, Hannah could not speak if people would not listen, if they refused to press play. Asher’s answer to this is to have Hannah explain that there is a second set of tapes and that if the first one is not passed on, that one will be made public. By a man. The man who gave her the tape recorder that she used to record her ghostly missive.

I kept imagining what an amazing world this would be if we did not have to wait until the Hannahs of the world were dead to care what they had to say.

This book was published in 2007, before the recent, well-publicized spate of gay suicides, but it preaches the lesson that we are all responsible to one another, and that our actions have snowball effects. “I guess that’s the point of it all. No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue. Yet we push [the snowball] just the same,” Hannah high schools (156).

I think the message that “it gets better” is condescending at best, and I don’t blame Hannah for not wanting to fight to make it better, but in literature, where anything is possible, it’s so depressing that this is the best we can do.

Realistic, but depressing.

I may have more thoughts after my class talks about this next month.

Pages: 304
Page total: 749

69. “Across A Hundred Mountains,” Reyna Grande

October 30, 2010 1 comment

Juana and Adelina are two young Mexican women, one who grew up in Mexico, the other in El Otro Lado. Both are struggling to escape their difficult pasts, while trying to reunite with the fathers who left them for another country.

I read this for my class about ghosts in US literature and there is definitely something very haunting about this book. One night before her father gets home from working in the fields, Juana’s cabin begins to flood. Her mother leaves Juana’s baby sister with her and goes to look for Juana’s father. The two huddle all night on a table in their flooded home, but their parents do not return. Finally, Juana drifts off to sleep, only to be awakened by her mother’s screams. Her sister fell from her grasp in the night and drowned.

In order to pay for the funeral, Juana’s father must look for a job in the US. He leaves Juana and her mother on Juana’s twelfth birthday. Mourning for her lost child and absent husband, Juana’s mother slips into despair and the family, further into poverty. The longer her husband is gone, the worst she gets until finally Juana decides she must leave to bring her father back.

Page count: 255
Total pages: 20,634

68. “The Haunting of Hill House,” Shirley Jackson

October 25, 2010 Leave a comment

Two women with a history of experiences with the supernatural are drafted by a doctor into spending their summer at a house with a reputation as haunted. They are joined also by the heir to the house and, eventually, by the doctor’s wife and her assistant. Quickly, the house begins to plot against them: closing the doors they leave open so they can find their way through its labyrinthine halls, pounding on their doors at night, writing their names on the walls and then washing them clean. As the house focuses its attention on simple mousey Eleanor, the others must find a way to get her out before it is too late.

This book actually scared the bejesus out of me. I strongly recommend the audio version, which is wonderfully atmospheric. It’s a quick read, and good for a dark and stormy night with the threat of a power outage. For my part, my roommate’s dog started randomly barking just after there was banging on the doors of the House. Then the barking turned into growling– and finally yelps before I swooned and dragged myself to the kitchen where I discovered he was freaked out by a crepe witch hung over the oven.

Nice work, dog.

Page count: 246
Total pages: 20,079

67. “Kindred,” Octavia E. Butler

October 20, 2010 Leave a comment

On Dana’s twenty-sixth birthday, June 9th, 1976, she find herself transported across the country and back in time to save a drowning boy. Moments later, she returns to the present, but soon she finds herself ripped through time again when the same child finds himself in a burning room. Soon she comes to realize that this child’s father owns a plantation– and is her great-great-grandfather. Protecting him when he calls her back in time means ensuring that she is born, but at what price?

So not only did I miss my bus while reading this book (I was standing at the bus stop at the time, and managed to miss the bus pulling up, emptying passengers, and new ones getting on), but I crawled into bed after finishing it earlier in the night, and remembering that it was over, a little voice in the back of my head wondered “can I read it again?”

I did initially have some trouble with the fact that all the characters just accepted that sometimes people travel back in time to ensure that they are born, but that’s science fiction and, apparently especially Butler for you.

Page count: 264
Total pages: 19,633

65. “Assata,” Assata Shakur

October 7, 2010 Leave a comment

“Assata” is the autobiography of Assata Shakur, who was framed by the US government for multiple bank robberies, held for years in deplorable conditions in a men’s prison before being tried and acquitted, and wrongly convicted of the murder of a State Trooper. Assata escaped from prison in 1979 and for the past 26 years, lived in Cuba as a political prisoner. The FBI continues to consider her a domestic terrorist.

I really enjoyed this book. Assata’s an excellent writer, and her writing felt so immediate. I felt like I was with her in every scene, from working on the grandparents’ beach in the summer, to fighting with her mom, or being chained to a hospital bed. I’m not usually able to visualize when I read, but I saw and felt so much of what Assata said.

Assata is such a beautiful person. She has so much love. Black Panthers are usually painted as separatist, dangerous, violent, hateful militants. While Assata never shies from that term, when she uses it, it is an endorsement, not the indictment it is usually used as. Assata reproduces a speech she made in which she said “I am a Black revolutionary. By that i mean that i have declared war on all forces that have raped our women, castrated our men, and kept our babies empty-bellied” (49-50).

We could use more revolutionaries.

Something I knew I would find challenging going into this book is that I grew up White in the suburbs; I have always been taught that police are my friends and are trying to protect me. It’s difficult for me to understand blanket hatred and mistrust of the police, even as I know that for many Black parents teaching their children to fear the police is an act of preservation that they must transmit. I know that intellectually, and reading how Assata was treated by so many people wearing uniforms and official badges, I understand why she hates the police. But part of me still resists. Part of me still wants to see their actions as those of isolated individuals drawn to power, rather than a manifestation of the power of the government.

On 139, Assata writes “nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who are oppressing them.” I think this quote sumarizes well the Black consciousness movement

But in the past several years, I have noticed that I feel the same uneasiness around the police that I have around so many authority figure: they make me feel guilty and scared like I have done something wrong. I am frightened to look directly at them, and frightened not to show them respect. I am starting to wonder how much of the trust I feel or have felt in the police is trust in my own privilege, that I am not the one for whom they are coming. The discomfort has certainly coincided with my questioning of my power.

There in a weekly video broadcast I watch called the Lucille Clifton Rebirth Broadcast. In it, Alexis Grumbs reads a poem by Lucille Clifton and discusses it while giving an assignment for one to write on. This week’s poem was “Dialysis,” in which Lucille Clifton reflects on surviving her cancer, only to then have to survive dialysis, ending, “I am alive and furious.” I loved this line and it made me think of Assata. How wonderful to be alive, how wonderful to be furious, rather than beaten. Assata says near the end of the book, “every day out on the street now, I remind myself that Black people in amerika are oppressed. It’s necessary that I do that. People get used to anything. The less you think about your oppression, the more your tolerance for it grows. After a while, people just think oppression is the normal state of things. But to become free, you have to be acutely aware of being a slave” (262). It takes so much strength and power to face that and keep fighting. After what Assata has been though, she would have earned the right to just quietly run out her days, but that’s not what she does. She keeps writing, keeps speaking truth to power.

Page count: 320
Page total: 18,349

64. “The Great Gatsby,” F. Scott Fitzgerald

September 25, 2010 Leave a comment

My class read this book in high school. Here’s what I remember: there’s a guy named Gatsby who has a big house and big parties. There’s something about an egg. It’s very dusty and there might be a dog. Someone gets hit by a car. I think she was fat and named Myrtle and maybe someone was having an affair with her.

In retrospect, I might not be as great at absorbing books from context as I thought.

Page count: 180