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Posts Tagged ‘recommended’

32. “Room,” Emma Donoghue

October 30, 2011 Leave a comment

I would seriously read a book of every moment of Ma’s and Jack’s life from kidnapping to death.

Page count: 321
Total pages: 10,165

8. “Misery,” Stephen King

January 14, 2011 4 comments

Big time author Paul Sheldon celebrates finishing a new book– the first since he killed off the character, Misery CHastaine, who made him famous, but whom be grew to hate– with a bottle of champagne behind the wheel of his car in a blizzard. When his car spins out of control, he is pulled from the wreckage by Annie Wilkes, his number one fan. Annie nurses Paul carefully back to health, treating him as best she can with his badly mangled legs. Soon, though, Paul realizes that she is a dangerously ill woman and as her mental health slips, he finds himself more and more under her power. The two are locked into a battle of minds and wills Paul cannot afford to lose.

I meant to go to sleep more than an hour and a half ago. But I still had that much time left in this audio book and I could. not. stop. I legitmately let out a small, dry sob of terror somewhere near the end of the book. Okay, twice. Maybe three times. And there was one moment where I was so dizzy with fright I thought I might faint. I sunk my entire day into this book and don’t regret it.

If you listen to this audiobook, which I highly recommend, definitely listen to the version read by Lindsay Crouse, which is really well done and gives Kathy Bates a run for her money.

Page count: 352

Page total: 2,217

5. “Covering,” Kenji Yoshino

December 4, 2010 Leave a comment

I would think, I wish I were dead. I did not think of it as a suicidal thought. My poet’s parsing mind read the first “I” and the second “I” as different “I”s. The first “I” was the whole watching the self, while the second “I”– the one I wanted to kill– was the gay “I” nested inside it. It was less a suicidal impulse than a homicidal one. (8)

While I tried to speak calmly, Bill has since told me I failed. He said I reminded him of the dinner parties he was attending in those days. At the mainly straight parties, his age peers would jabber on about their children. At the gay dinners, they’d jabber on about their coming out. This made him think coming out is the closest many gay men will come to giving birth. The act of giving birth to oneself is miraculous and terrifying, but unlikely to be calm. (13-14)

It is worth quoting Yoshino’s definitions of a few terms at length.

My struggle to arrive at a gay identity occurred in three phases, which I could also trace in the lives of gay peers. In the first phase, I sought to become straight. When I went to the chapel at Oxford, I prayed not to be what I was. I will call this desire for conversion. In the second phase, I accepted my homosexuality, but concealed it from others. By the time I talked to Bill about his class, I was no longer trying to convert. I was, however, trying to hide my identity from my classmates. I will call this desire for passing. Finally, long after I had generally come out of the closet, I still muted my orientation by not writing on gay topics or engaging in public displays of affection. This was not the same as passing, because my colleges knew I was gay. Yet I did not know a word for this attempt to tone down my known gayness.
Then I found my word, in sociologist Erving Goffman’s book Stigma. Published in 1963, the book describes how various groups– including the disabled, the elderly, and the obese– manage their “spoiled” identities. After discussing passing, Goffman observes that “persons who are ready to admit the possession of a stigma… may nonetheless make a great effort to keep the stigma from looming large.” His calls this behavior “covering.” Goffman distinguishes passing from covering by noting that passing pertains to the visibility of a particular trait, while covering pertains to its obtrusiveness. He relates how Franklin Roosevelt always stationed himself behind a table before his advisers came in for a meeting. Roosevelt was not passing, since everyone knew he used a wheelchair. He was covering, downplaying his disability so people would focus on his more conventionally presidential qualities.” (17-18)

I could keep going and quote the entire book, but that should be enough to make you want to give Yoshino a high five. Not only is he immensely readable (which I am coming to feel more and more is something embodied theory must be), but his application of covering is very timely. This book is theory told through memoir and is poetic and incisive.

Page count: 203
Page total: 1,544

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

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

54. “A Fish Caught in Time,” Samantha Weinberg

August 4, 2010 Leave a comment

A quick and very readable history of the re-discovery of the coelacanth, a fish more than 80 million years old and which was believed until 1938 to be extinct.

Weinberg tells the story of the coelacanth through the people who become obsessed with finding it, entwining their lives and their search. I think I caught coelacanth fever, because I keep finding myself fantasizing about how fucking amazing it would be to catch a living fossil, something people believed no longer existed, and something people still hope can tell us more about the moment we climbed from the deep.

Page count: 226
Page total: 14,602
Call number: QL638.L26 W45 2001x