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review 2018-04-21 21:22
Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition, by Paul Watson
Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition - Paul Watson

This is the first book I've read that focuses on the multitude of searches conducted to find the lost Franklin expedition rather than on the expedition itself, though of course early chapters offer context. As a fellow obsessive, it's worth asking why this lost expedition to find the Northwest Passage has generated so much interest and so many searches over the years. It certainly wasn't the only lost voyage.

 

One answer is Franklin's wife, Jane, whose tenacity and devotion was the force behind many of the search efforts. What I didn't know, and this book details, is that Lady Franklin was an explorer and adventuress in her own right. She'd have gone on a voyage to the Arctic herself if she hadn't been prevented. Her efforts extended to seances and mediums, popular at the time in Britain; a few turned out to be uncannily accurate.

 

However, one of the clearest explanations why it took so long to find the two ships (both recently discovered at the bottom of the Arctic in 2014 and 2016) is that Inuit witnesses were ignored or misunderstood (in fact, Charles Dickens penned an incredibly racist rant once it was revealed via the Inuit that some men of the expedition resorted to cannibalism). Another strength of this book is that it gives these figures and their culture their due. However, I was put off a few times by Watson's language, which could go heavy on the "magical native" trope (at one point there's a "mystical glint" in an Inuit's eye).

 

I appreciated that in addition to citing those who traveled to the Arctic or gave information on the expedition's fate, Watson also highlights those whose inventions and pioneering aided in searches. He also unequivocally connects climate change with the discoveries of the ships; ironically, after many lives lost searching for it in the past, a Northwest Passage is now feasible due to the melting of Arctic ice. Canada, Russia, and the United States, along with Britain, were heavily invested in these expeditions and their recovery because a passage would be so lucrative. So...there's the bright side?

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review 2018-04-09 18:31
Starting National Poetry Month with a bang
Citizen: An American Lyric - Claudia Rankine

I'm cognizant of the fact that I don't read enough books by women of color and that I read very few works of poetry. I decided to kill two birds with one stone by reading Claudia Rankine's Citizen: An American Lyric. (Also, it's National Poetry Month so it was a no-brainer.) This book is especially relevant right now with the state of our world being what it is: a shambles. Citizen is essentially Claudia's exploration of what it is to be a black woman living in America as told through poetic verse. It is beautiful, tender, terrible, tragic, and real. She doesn't shy away from such topics as police brutality or the prevalence of feeling like an outsider. This book is a personal revelation and a public admonishment all rolled into one neat package Coupled with her verses are historical quotes and pencil drawn (I think?) artwork. What better way to begin your foray into poetry than by reading a book that challenges the status quo and speaks from the heart? If you'd like to maybe see the world through a different set of eyes Citizen is your golden ticket with many stops along the way. 9/10

 

I made a note of this quote on page 89 to give you an idea of just how powerful her words are:

 

Those years of and before me and my brothers, the years of passage, plantation, migration, of Jim Crow segregation, of poverty, inner cities, profiling, of one in three, two jobs, boy, hey boy, each a felony, accumulate into the hours inside our lives where we are all caught hanging, the rope inside us, the tree inside us, its roots our limbs, a throat sliced through and where we open our mouth to speak, blossoms, o blossoms, no place coming out, brother, dear brother, that kind of blue.

 

What's Up Next: From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty

 

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

 

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2018-04-04 05:59
Middlesex -- So much better than I had imagined
Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides

Edit: I've been thinking about this since, and I've come to the conclusion this book couldn't be written today (in 2018) while it seemed daring and real just a few years ago. There's more to that conversation, but I'm still judging this based on the time in which it was written. And I'm still very glad it was written and I got to read it.

 

Back to your previously scheduled program:

 

I was rather shocked at how good this is. I couldn't wrap my head about the blurbs. The idea of a book about an intersexual person sounded like it would be a political or medical diatribe, or possibly a whiny "poor me" tale falsely disguised as fiction. I realized Jeffrey Eugenides was not writing his personal story, but I did have the idea that this was still somehow a disguised bit of biography -- perhaps it is. If I was a real book reviewer, I'd have to look that up, but I'm not. No matter its origins, it doesn't read like any of these usually disguised things, and it's really very good.

Funny as could be, almost every line is quotable. This is more of an historical novel than just one person's story. It's a family story that is more vital to the man telling it than most. Cal née Calliope Stephanides is proof of a family secret in his very being. It will take a trip across the ocean at the end of the Greco-Turkish War and the accidents of love in the close-knit Detroit community for the secret to reveal itself through three generations of Stephanides. Even then Calliope is a child and hasn't been educated to the multitudinous ways genetics and gender (nevermind sexuality) can play out. So this is a very original coming-of-age story, a medical history, the story of forbidden love and much more in just over 500 pages of stunning prose.

Marvelously detailed, interesting and well-researched, with decent and realistic portrayals of all genders, from the roaring twenties through the twenty-first century, love and marriage, Detroit, and America/Americans broadly, Eugenides is a smart writer with a warm, welcoming voice. The word most likely to describe it would be "charming." While occasionally I got sniffy about some of the ease with which Cal seemed to make his decisions, it would have turned into a fake memoir if we went through every painstaking detail. He seemed a bit naive at times, then Eugenides would have him say something about his upbringing or family to remind me that he, in fact, was naive. Kids were much more naive in pre-internet days, or if not naive, often just plain confused or wrong. Cal is clearly not the type who would pour out his feelings anyway. When I know a character well enough to know why she does or doesn't do things, it's usually a good sign the writer has gotten his story and his characters under my skin.

I can see why Oprah picked Middlesex for her book club years ago. The voices are all supremely individual and Cal is a charming narrator, but Cal - while being the main character - is almost incidental to the overall story in some ways. I wish I'd read this with a group, because the discussion could go on forever. This is one of those books I knew I "should" read, and I didn't really have much interest. It didn't sound appealing, but I passed it on a shelf at the library last week and obviously picked it up. A different copy will find itself in my home soon, because I will certainly want to read it again and urge others to do the same. So, hey you - if you've not read it, take the leap. It's so much better than it sounds.

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review 2018-04-01 18:31
SING, UNBURIED, SING -- a graceful trip through harrowing territory
Sing, Unburied, Sing: A Novel - Jesmyn Ward

A realistic book where ride-hopping ghosts feel as natural as a toddler vomiting on a long trip is a feat of nature. It simply should not be possible, but Jesmyn Ward achieves it with ease in SING, UNBURIED, SING.

 

And can we just talk about that title? Everything about this book is pitch perfect. I rarely read anything that doesn't stop me at some point to notice that I'm reading. It's one of the horrors of growing up. I used to read everything by just diving in and living in that world for the length of the book. Nowadays, I notice far too often that this is a book. It's either overly clever or overly wordy or overly cute or overly bad or something along the way. That didn't happen here. I didn't notice anything but a story I got sucked into and read voraciously from the first page to the end.

 

There are plenty of great reviews by people who know better than me why this is a good book. I am not going to pretend to know. I just know this is a book I felt intensely and lived inside while I read it.

 

Every scene is impeccable like a well-preserved antique: not in a bright shiny way - just in a refined way, sort of soft and easy, no matter the subject matter. (Maybe this is what "lyrical" means.) Given the subject matter of parental drug use, a son who has taken the world on his shoulders, race relations, the worst prison in the country, family dynamics, poverty, cancer... Those things are not usually written with agility. They are often "important," but not usually graceful. SING, UNBURIED, SING is. There's a light but purposeful touch.

 

This is a book -- and they seem to come along only rarely -- that reminds me exactly why it is so vital, life-affirming and essential to read.

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review 2018-04-01 17:37
Small Great Things -- My Unpopular Opinion & Female Mansplaining
Small Great Things - Jodi Picoult

Though this has the qualities I associate with fiction, it felt a lot like being forced to listen to a room full of college kids who just read Nietzsche for the first time and come home to perform that knowledge for hours *at* me - without asking 1) if I already know this, 2) if I care to listen to all of their newfound knowledge, and 3) if I agree with their strong opinions.

 

That's how I felt for much of the second two sections of this book (and I won't even go near the author's note that follows -- beyond saying that it's the best example of mansplaining a woman could hope to portray.) I have no problem with a white writer writing a person of color. I do have a problem with a fiction that is only thinly disguised "racial sensitivity 101" built on a cadre of stereotypical "types." I felt like Jodi Picoult took a class (and I was right - she did!), saw the light, feels woke, got serious, and set out to explain it all to all of us, without asking us to join in the conversation - or what we could hope to bring to it - much like an author who assumes you don't know any of the big words she uses. It was the long passages of internal dialogue that killed this book dead for me. The "aha" moments that took up pages and pages and then more pages repeatedly were so awfully serious and so awfully lecture-like, they could have been lifted from racial sensitivity 101 -- which made them completely unbelievable because as we teach in those classes, changing one's racial mindset takes a long time and is an internal process that cannot be done through thoughts alone. Practice will help, awareness is key, but no change like this happens overnight. I've taught those classes, and they sound just like this book, with the caveat I just made about changing (even when you start out as a stereotype, like every single character in this book.) Nonfiction exists for a reason. I thought this was a story - not a lecture, but I was wrong. Jodi Picoult doesn't realize that she's become the white savior that Kennedy is supposed to portray.

 

The book felt extremely condescending to the reader. Picoult should now wait while I go take a class on writing, interview a few writers, then I will type my long, heartfelt, dissertation length "aha" moments in a story and she should be FORCED to read my new feelings about writing. Because that's just about how ridiculous the inner dialogue of her characters sounded to me.

Two books I can recommend to Picoult or anyone else who actually cares about race and all the feelings white people are now having that I've read this year that cover similar topics: So You Want to Talk about Race  and Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race. If you want to go deeper, there are so many better books, both fiction and nonfiction.

 

The story's basic foundation could have held up a lovely tale. Picoult got indulgent with her newfound awareness and had her characters thinking and behaving in unrealistic ways to cram more of that knowledge into their heads, then she polished it off with an ending torn from a Disney Princess's wishbook. It all became very trite and downright silly by the end.

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