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review 2018-03-20 23:48
Dear Martin -- my best YA read in recent memory
Dear Martin - Nic Stone





This is what I imagine Justyce, the MC, would do if asked to hold a sign about race early on.


There has been a stream of books about race and police brutality in the last few years. One could read nothing but books on the topic and still not keep up with the books available. What a great problem to have: too many books on important topics. Now if only these books were useless because the problem had been solved.


If one can "enjoy" a book like this, then I enjoyed Nic Stone's telling of tragedy story more than I've enjoyed almost any other. There are obvious comparisons both in other recent books but also to real cases in real America. Nic Stone writes for the young reader in a simple way that never is dumbed down or too basic. She has all the nuances and difficulties of her subject matter under command as she writes the story of Justyce and his friend Manny, two black kids at a liberal, elite school and the ways they handle casual, subtle, daily racialization, microaggressions, as well as the more obvious and deadly type.


The POV shifts between third person storytelling to Justyce's interior life to second-person letters/journaling to "Dear Martin" (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) Nic Stone makes excellent use of the "safe place" classroom, where the white students do all the talking on race while the black students sit uncomfortably or angrily by, but certainly don't feel "safe" on the topic of race, despite having a black teacher. There is confusion by the bundle for our protagonist, in the way his friends behave, the racial issues involved in dating, the always-difficult world of being a teenager. He takes refuge in writing honest letters to MLK, and it's here that he feels safe enough to say what he thinks. But can even Dr. King help Justyce when the world caves in?


This is, ultimately, an uplifting story with characters who grow in the face of extreme circumstances and stereotypes that threaten to keep them stuck. Well worth anyone's time.


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review 2018-03-14 01:00
This is a DENSE book, ya'll
The Portable Nineteenth-Century African American Women Writers (Penguin Classics) - Hollis Robbins,Hollis Robbins,Henry Louis Gates Jr.,Henry Louis Gates Jr.,Various

If you're looking for a book that you can dip in and out of over the course of several days (or weeks if you're me) then I recommend you check out The Portable Nineteenth-Century African American Women Writers. Organized by theme, this book features many writers of different genres. There are poets, essayists, lecturers, novelists, ministers, and teachers to name just a few. The common theme (besides their gender and race) is that they are advocates for equality of the races and sexes. I found that this book was an excellent conversation starter especially if you want to talk about tough topics like economic and social equality coupled with the history of the Americas. It's also an excellent way to discover writers that you may have never heard of as many of them are quite niche. As you might surmise, the topics covered in this collection are quite deep and therefore as a whole it's an emotionally and mentally exhausting enterprise. It's well worth the effort though. It's astonishing to me just how many of these women I had never heard of but when they were originally writing their voices were strong, no-holds-barred, and topical (most are relevant even today). The truths spoken are hard to accept because the topics are still so ingrained and fresh in the memory of our country. It's another reminder that we should continually be expanding our minds and looking beyond what we already 'know'. Embrace learning about new things! 9/10 and only lost that point because by 1/2 way through I was having to hype myself up to pick it back up again.


What's Up Next: Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang


What I'm Currently Reading: Fly on the Wall: How One Girl Saw Everything by E. Lockhart

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2018-03-11 12:11
I should have read the Crown Princess's actual memoirs instead.
The Red Queen - Margaret Drabble

Pretentious and self-centered.  Forget the book blurbs -- this actually isn't about the Lady Hyegyōng but about Margaret Drabble and the "connection" she allegedly feels with this 18th century Korean princess.


In fact, only the first half of the book even focuses on the Lady Hyegyōng's story at all -- and even that part is (1) almost all telling instead of showing and (2) clearly NOT told from a Korean (even if only a contemporary Korean) perspective but from the Western contemporary author's own perspective.  Then we get to the second part, where we're being presented with a Western POV stand-in character for Ms. Drabble, who (for reasons never satisfactorily explained) feels compelled to research and "keep alive" the Lady Hyegyōng's story after having mysteriously been sent a recent translation of her memoirs -- until, that is, during the Seoul conference forming the majority of the second part's backdrop, she embarks on a fling with the conference's star speaker / scientist / participant (or rather, throws herself at him with jet propulsion force).  And ultimately, Drabble doesn't even shy away from explicitly inserting herself into the book, as (you guessed it) the autor eventually tasked with telling both the Crown Princess's and the Western POV Drabble-stand-in character's stories.


If I hadn't been planning on using this book for the Kill Your Darlings game, I'd have DNF'd it -- at the very latest when the second part's supremely annoying Western POV character started throwing herself full-forcce at that star scientist (while at the same time being equally supremely rude to a Korean doctor who'd saved her skin on more than one occasion and who had even taken out time from his own busy schedule to show her Seoul's historic sites).


So, one star for the faraway glimpes at the Lady Hyegyōng provided in the book's first part, and half a star for inspiring me to seek out her actual story ... and her own point of view.


But if this is supposed to be one of Margaret Drabble's most celebrated books, I'm afraid I'm now going to need a truly huge incentive to go near her writing again any time soon.

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review 2018-03-08 01:36
Freshwater -- A new perspective on mental health and trauma
Freshwater - Akwaeke Emezi

Akwaeke Emezi is a new, wonderfully fresh, voice to add to the many memoirs of living with C-PTSD (psychobabble below review) and surviving a traumatic childhood. Most go in rote portrayal through X happened, Y is the dysfunctional way we (identity states) dealt with it, Z is the (usually much healthier) way we learned to cope and the place we landed by the writing of the memoir/book.


Instead Emezi gives protagonist Ada and her self-states their own music and more importantly, own heritage, in telling a magical, spiritual, semi-autobiographical story of how the many came to be and worked their way through life to become the person they are now. They are distinctly Nigerian, and all of that Western psychobabble below is inadequate for anyone who hasn't sprung forth directly from a textbook - even for a person who grew up in the West. Imagine how absurd it is to anyone whose background is infused with spiritual aspects, beliefs and legends the West does not allow for.


An ogbanje is an Igbo spirit born into a human body, and this is how Emezi sees her young protagonist's system of being. There is a body and the body plays host to a number of gods and people, each running the whole system from time to time, weaving in and out to deal with the situation. When you think about it, we all have parts of ourselves that take over for certain situations. You at work are not the same you that crawls into bed with a partner at night or the same you who studied hard in university or the same you who did something you may not be so proud of. Everyone's identity works on a sort of continuum.


What Emezi has done so specially is tell her protagonist's story including all of the possibilities. Yes traumatic things happened, but perhaps she was born primed to be more than just one. Perhaps the ogbanje were there, just waiting for a chance to assert themselves. Others are born along the way. We do follow the general arc of birth to present, but the path is gorgeously written, spiritual and magical.


I could either quote the whole book or tell you what happens at every step, but I won't. I will tell you that like many lives, hers is not easy. They are different; Ada's life has more scary places than others. Parts of her react dysfunctionally, she goes "mad." Hard things happen, but they take on significance for the unique way the many who live within the body called Ada cope with each new horror, wonder or challenge.


The prose is lyrical and beautiful even when the events described are not. While it's fantastical, it's also very truthful. Perhaps this much truth can only be safely told by spirits, gods and a little bit of magic. The end is uplifting. If we are going to read "DID Memoirs" or stories of difference - be they about race, states of being, health, illness, whatever, let this be one you read.



 -- And as promised, psychobabble:


Complex Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is the newest Western nomenclature for what we used to call Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) - which itself is the name used since 1994 for something formerly called "Multiple Personality Disorder" - a very misleading and much maligned term/diagnosis. C-PTSD et al are not a personality disorder, but rather the lack of a unified self-state or identity. The identities act as centers of information processing.


The term "personality" means "characteristic patterns of thoughts, feelings, moods and behaviors of the whole individual," while for a person with C-PTSD, the switches between identities and behavior patterns is the personality. So it's just a different way to process the world and oneself. It's not Sybil or the Three Faces of Eve or even very strange. It's called C-PTSD because it usually stems from a trauma so long-lasting or severe that the child creates a complex way to cope.


Glad we cleared that up.


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review 2018-03-06 15:17
The Buddha in the Attic - Tight & Smart, until it's not
The Buddha in the Attic - Julie Otsuka

This is one of those novels you know the critics will adore. It's written in a different way, there is no main character, it's almost a book of linked sentences (though all books are that. I have no idea how to describe the writing.) Everything is a statement. Every sentence is structured the same way *for most of the book.* And that's where I dropped a star.


The group of Japanese women who narrate in a third-person "god's eye" sort of way for most of the book are the main characters of this book. They are young and naive when the book opens, all on the lower decks of a ship bringing them to America - these "picture brides." Idealistic, if conflicted, they believe their lives will be better in the US, despite their fears and concerns about loud, giant, hairy, smelly Americans. They're on the way to live with the Japanese men who have built the American dream in San Francisco early in the 20th century. When they get here, those men aren't all they represented themselves to be.


The women go from young brides to farm laborers to house maids to mothers, and then the tone shifts and we no longer hear the story from the group of Japanese women. Instead a nameless white woman (or women?) takes up their tale. She explains that they've disappeared, and for a while they think about these Japanese workers who were just here, until they don't anymore.


When the women become mothers, the structure starts to change. Sentences get longer and there are no more statement followed by statement lists. By the time the white women start to tell the story, it's no longer that tight, rigid and entrancing structure. Instead it becomes more like regular prose. I didn't like that change. And with our main "character" gone, I felt like a door had been slammed.


Now, all of that could mean that the author did exactly what she meant to do. These people were lost when they were imprisoned during the war. They couldn't speak for themselves, and apparently nobody cared to speak for them, plus white women don't speak like Japanese women in this book, this place or this era. Perhaps the nameless white women taking up the story or lack thereof represented exactly what it was supposed to. I don't know. I just know that it felt abrupt (like the move into the camps itself) and cold (again, like the actual history.) Then it ended, which isn't like history.


I am incredibly impressed with this sad tale. I just wish it had stayed in that format or given me more to hang onto through what was, in many ways, the most crucial point in the book: the end. Why could we no longer hear from the Japanese women? I know they disappeared, but we heard their private thoughts before that. Anyway, it's interesting and very short. Worth a read, if only so you can tell me why I'm wrong.


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