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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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text 2018-06-26 02:45
Reading progress update: I've read 105 out of 400 pages.
Mayor Harold Washington: Champion of Race and Reform in Chicago - Roger Biles

This is proving an excellent political biography, full of analysis and anecdote. Biles's recounting of the 1983 mayoral election was particularly interesting.

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review 2018-06-21 16:13
Wade in the Water, by Tracy K. Smith
Wade in the Water - Tracy K. Smith

U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith's Wade in the Water is her most recent collection and the first I've read. I think it makes an excellent introduction to her work and wouldn't be a bad place to start if you're new to contemporary poetry. She does not intimidate, nor does her language obfuscate.

 

The two middle sections engaged me most. The first mines the Civil War era past and makes use of erasure and historical and primary sources in a way that both gives the suffering of African Americans at the time specificity and voice while absolutely illuminating continued injustices in the present. The second also makes poetry out of found materials to focus on contemporary issues such as the environment and racist violence. However, the poems don't attack; they feel like they come from a place of hope.

 

A book I'm sure I'll come back to soon, after I read her other collections, of course. :)

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review 2018-06-18 22:08
Part of Summer Reading Goals
The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: Race, Law, and Justice in the Reconstruction Era - Michael A. Ross

Ross looks at a once famous case that has been largely forgotten by people today. A kidnapping of a young child who is later found with a black Creole. In discussing the case, Ross shows how Reconstruction, racism, and changing times influenced the case and its outcome. A very interesting and engrossing read. 

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review 2018-06-07 16:32
Another Country, by James Baldwin
Another Country - James Baldwin

"So what can we really do for each other except--just love each other and be each other's witness?"

 

When I finished Another Country, it brought tears to my eyes. There's so much suffering exquisitely depicted alongside glimmers of love and beauty, such whole, flawed characters. Like the recently read The Fire Next Time, a nonfiction work by Baldwin, it might have been written today. Again, this is both a compliment to Baldwin's art and his powers of observation but also a lament that so little has changed, particularly regarding race but also gender and sexuality.

 

Nothing is easy about this book except its gorgeous, lucid prose. It's not afraid of the dark things in people, the mistakes we make, and what holds us back. I felt deeply for these characters, but the book doesn't give in to despair, which, at the end, is what made me cry in relief.

 

I was surprised to be reminded of Virginia Woolf as I read. There are passages where a character's inability to express "it" or oneself or story are noted. There's a suicide. There's also something about the way both Baldwin and Woolf capture fine states of emotion or the way our feelings and attitude can change so quickly, from seemingly small things. And, when we learn Cass's real name is Clarissa (her husband is Richard), I knew I wasn't crazy to make these connections!

 

The book is a landmark queer text, and Baldwin clearly knows how to write sex, the act itself--between men and women and between two men--and desire. Its queerness affected its reception at the time; I'm sure many would prefer Baldwin stick exclusively to race and racism. The quote above is spoken by Vivaldo to Eric, and it is a beautiful and simple idea even as the story proves it may be impossible to live by.

 

However, Baldwin does privilege love between men and the homosocial above all. Nearly all the central male characters are queer or explore their sexuality with one another; at the very least, platonic love between them is a source of comfort and hope. This is not the case with the women. Women's sexuality and power emasculate or cannot be known. There appears to be no escape or solution for women and their pain and oppression, whether white or black. If there is one flaw or problematic issue in this book, in my mind it's that. The love and act of witnessing in the quote seem to be for men only.

 

 

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