The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead is included in the list of 100 titles chosen by American citizens for The Great American Read hosted by PBS. (More info on the books on the list and how you can vote for America's favorite novel can be found here.) In an effort to read more diversely (and to have the ability to recommend books for the adults in my branch) I started with this book as I had never heard of it despite it being listed as a 'classic'. The story follows Lila Mae Watson who is the first female person of color to be an Elevator Inspector. In the world created by Whitehead elevators are the height (ha!) of technology and the majority of the population see them as somewhat mystical and beyond the realm of ordinary comprehension. (There are even guilds which seek to elevate the status of Elevator Inspectors in society to those in political office.) Even more confusing to discern are the two distinct sects of theory as to the maintenance and future of these machines. One school of thought is firmly rooted in the reality of the technology while the other views them as metaphysical creations that can be 'sensed'. Lila Mae belongs to the second school of thought which further compounds the problems that she faces among her coworkers and the public that she encounters on her daily rotations. This sci-fi novel is rooted in the reality of race. What drives the story are the veiled discussions of race but it is told through the lens of technology innovations. It is ultimately a story of hope for a better world where we are 'elevated' from the weaknesses and barbarisms of our current reality. Whitehead challenges our perceptions of our accepted reality as he argues that established views are not solely based on what we see with our eyes. This is a book with a seemingly simple premise about elevator manufacture and maintenance in a world so very similar (and familiar) to our own but instead what we get is a complex discussion of race and how we can (hopefully) rise above. 9/10
What's Up Next: The Read-Aloud Handbook (7th Edition) by Jim Trelease
What I'm Currently Reading: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
I DNF at 21 percent. I tried to finish this book, but honestly nothing was grabbing me at all. Initially, I was intrigued about how Whitehead would weave in John Henry into the story, but instead we seem to be flip flopping between different narrative styles. I really loved "Underground Railroad" and was hoping for more of the same here, but this book really needed some magical realism or something like the former book to really make it stand out.
"John Henry Days" takes a look at folk hero John Henry and an African American journalist (called J) who is flying into the town that claims him to write about the John Henry Days celebration. Whitehead goes back and forth between J and just random characters in this book. I think this is his way of taking a look at race in America. I just couldn't force myself to keep reading this.
I didn't care one whit about J the only character that I think that we follow through this whole book. I found the writing to be uneven. There were way too many metaphors. The chapters were really short too which doesn't allow you enough time to get settled into whatever POV you are currently in while reading.
My eyes are about to glaze over. This is just really boring. I loved Underground Railroad and this is not similar to that book at all.
"The List had been pushed from the earth by tectonic forces. The List possessed a specific gravity measurable by scientific instruments. The List contained weight and volume. The List was aware of those in its charge. It knew if writers moved, switched from this newspaper to that magazine, if they died or retired, and updated itself accordingly. The men and women of the List were surprised at the promptness of the List’s readjustment, but only the first time. After that first time they were surprised at nothing. Contact names were updated with military precision. The publicity firm rolls were never obsolete. If a bouncer at a club quit, or went to jail, or moved to a different club, his replacement was noted and identified to eliminate possible embarrassment. The quirks and pet names of maître d’s at the popular restaurants were indexed. A harmony was achieved. And the List rewarded the world."