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review 2018-08-18 16:38
The examination of others that leads to the self
Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison is another title from the list of 100 books compiled for the Great American Read. (Have you voted today?) I feel somewhat chagrined that I had never heard of this classic until I checked out this list. The reader follows a nameless narrator who tells the story of his days in college while living in the South to his move to New York City. As this is set in 1930-40 the racial/social divide is still quite stark even in the North and the author doesn't pull any punches in that regard (i.e. expect violence). The beginning starts out with our narrator underground and in hiding although we have no idea why. In explanation, he weaves a story full of brutality, bigotry, backstabbing, and political machinations. He leaves college and goes to NYC where he is recruited into the Brotherhood which purports to strive for equality among all men regardless of race. Events unfold quickly and he fully believes and embraces the cause. The fomenting of racial riots are underway in Harlem (his district) and at this pivotal moment he is pulled out of his district and sent on another assignment downtown. The reader is kept on their toes and always wondering (as the narrator is) just which side is the "right" side and what is truly motivating the men he has come to trust in this (to him) foreign city. What is the "true" self and how does one embrace it? Invisible Man chews this question over while telling a story of one man coming to terms with the racism (both overt and covert) of society which is told so convincingly that you'll forget it's a work of fiction at times. This is a dense book and took me far longer to read than I expected. Several interesting points were made and quite a few powerful passages but overall it doesn't rate higher than a 6/10 for me.

 

A compelling and thought provoking point:

"For history records the patterns of men's lives, they say: Who slept with whom and with what results; who fought and who won and who lived to lie about it afterwards. ...only those events that the recorder regards as important that are put down, these lies his keepers keep their power by." - pg 439

 

There are quite a few covers but I like this one best.[Source: National Book Foundation]

 

 

What's Up Next: Comics Squad: Recess! by Jennifer L. Holm, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Dan Santat, & Raina Telgemeier

 

What I'm Currently Reading: ???

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2018-07-18 02:58
So much hidden meaning
The Intuitionist - Colson Whitehead

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

 

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2018-06-23 15:55
Is Death owned by Big Business?
The American Way of Death Revisited - Jessica Mitford

The American Way of Death Revisited by Jessica Mitford blew my freaking mind. There's no other way to say it. I took 4 pages of notes after finishing it and then bought my own copy so that I could reference back to it. As you might have guessed from the title this is another book about death culture and funeral practices in the United States. (Here are 3 more on the topic: Caitlin Doughty 1 & 2 and Bess Lovejoy.) Mitford gives a comprehensive look at the funeral industry in America up to the last update of her book in 1997. (A small portion of the book compares the US outlook on death with the UK and there is a stark difference.) She does not shy away from making her points about the injustices committed by those working in the funeral industry. She discusses the methods employed by everyone from funeral home directors to gravestone manufacturers. This book was a definite eyeopener in terms of what is actually legal when it comes to the handling of the dead. (Spoiler alert: pretty much everything.) 

Alas, poor Yorick! How surprised he would be to see how his counterpart of today is whisked off to a funeral parlor and is in short order sprayed, sliced, pierced, pickled, trussed, trimmed, creamed, waxed, painted, rouged, and neatly dressed - transformed from common corpse into a Beautiful Memory Picture. This process is known in the trade as embalming and restorative art, and is so universally employed in the United States and Canada that for years the funeral director did it routinely, without consulting corpse or kin. He regards as eccentric those few who are hardy enough to suggest that it might be dispensed with yet no law requires embalming, no religious doctrine commends it, nor is it dictated by considerations of health, sanitation, or even of personal daintiness. In no part of the world but in North America is it widely used. The purpose of embalming is to make the corpse presentable for viewing in a suitably costly container; and here too the funeral director routinely, without first consulting the family, prepares the body for public display. - pg 43

I include this lengthy quote (and another in a moment) to illustrate the importance of being educated about what your rights are both as the deceased and as the loved one making the arrangements after death. Mitford includes accounts of deliberate fraud by members of the funeral industry against the grieving. (Many funeral homes even include in their pricing grief counseling!) The frauds range from offering 'package deals' with no options for opting out, non-disclosed fees prior to invoicing, refusal to provide itemized statements for services, or inflation on pre-need arrangements (example: plots purchased well before death). I think this is a book that every single person should read because it discusses in depth a topic which is considered taboo in our country but until it is talked about openly and frankly as Mitford does the funeral industry under its many guises will continue to take advantage of the average consumer. Know your rights, people! 10/10

 

And speaking of rights I'd like to leave you with this bit of advice from the last chapter of Mitford's book:

Send a friend to two or more mortuaries to obtain their general price lists and casket prices. Ask for the cost of direct cremation, including transportation costs and crematory fees. Likewise, for the cost of immediate burial. Pay no money in advance. If death has not yet occurred and you wish to pay in installments, do so by setting up a Totten Trust, naming yourself or a relative or close friend as beneficiary. Remember, above all, that many funeral homes have a "no-walk" policy, which means simply that if and when you start to walk out, the fee will come down, down, down until a level acceptable to you is reached. - pg 274

 

 

What's Up Next: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows & Mary Ann Shaffer

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Condoleezza Rice: A memoir of my extraordinary, ordinary family and me by Condoleezza Rice

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2018-04-21 15:39
Nothing too terrifying I'm sad to report
Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places - Colin Dickey

I picked up Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey with the hope that it would be like the 13 Alabama Ghosts books I remember so fondly as a child (they still have the first in the series at the public library in my hometown). I don't fully believe in ghosts but I do fully enjoy reading ghost stories. Tales of haunted places in particular are fascinating because they're usually told with a kernel of truth at the center. However, Dickey seems to contradict himself at every turn in this book by retelling these ghost stories and then almost immediately debunking them. Further compacting the confusion, each chapter ends with a somewhat mystifying takeaway about why there seems to be so many 'ghosts' and 'haunted places' in the United States. (And this is despite the U.S. as we know it being a relatively young country.) He covers the gamut of places that could possibly be haunted. There's the typical cemeteries and old houses but there's also factories and even the rarer entire city haunting (Detroit for example).  Overall, I didn't feel satisfied because I think I was hoping for less analysis and more storytelling. I suppose this might be of interest in terms of a tour guide for places to check out yourself but it wasn't my cup of tea. 4/10

 

Of possible interest: Dickey is a member of the Order of the Good Death started by Caitlin Doughty which I'm sure you'll all remember from earlier blog posts. I have to say that I didn't find his writing nearly as compelling as hers. :-/

 

What's Up Next: Fly on the Wall by Emily Jenkins

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan

 

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2018-04-13 16:21
Looking for death in all the right places
From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death - Caitlin Doughty

Here I am talking about death again. Part of me worries that 'harping' on about this subject and these books will turn away the average reader to my blog but the larger part of me (and the one who runs things) believes that if I am going to be authentic with my reviews then I have to follow my mood with what books I voluntarily choose to read. That being said, I'm here to talk about Caitlin Doughty's second book From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death. As the title suggests, this is a bit more of a travelogue piece about the death industry. This book explores in depth the way that death is viewed, celebrated, and treated in different countries and cultures. [A/N: I don't know that it needs to be necessarily spelled out but just in case: This book is not for those who shy away from talk of decomposition and graphic depictions of death in general.] Caitlin visits places both far-flung and just around the riverbend all in search of what she terms the Good Death. (For more info visit her website to see if you'd like to join her group.)  She attended an open air cremation where the body is laid atop a pyre and the ceremony is experienced by all members of the community (Colorado). In Japan the families are brought in after the body has been cremated so that they can extricate the bones by chopstick to place them in an urn for safekeeping. She experienced Fiesta de las Ñatitas in La Paz and spoke to those who celebrate these saints by collecting and displaying shrunken skulls (and in some cases mummified heads). One of my favorite places that she described was the Corpse Hotel in Japan where you can visit your deceased family member in the comfort and splendor of an upscale hotel. Overall, From Here to Eternity is a fascinating look at the way that death is addressed by various cultures around the world. It serves as a sobering reminder that death is not accepted but rather feared here in America. If you are interested in the ways that others approach death and how they treat their dead (some cultures revisit the dead to clean and redress them as a sign of honor and remembrance) then I urge you to read this book. 9/10

 

P.S. I'm not done with books on this subject. Keep an eye out for at least 1 possibly 2 more in the not too distant future.

 

What's Up Next: How to Love the Empty Air by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz

 

What I'm Currently Reading: The American Way of Death Revisited by Jessica Mitford

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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