Review: The White Book

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Review for "The White Book" by Han Kang (2019)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Ok, so this one’s been on my TBR list for a while. This is a short review because it’s not much meat on this one. It’s a minimalist manifesto dedicated to all things…well, white. Duh.

In this book, author Han Kang makes of a list of things that are white (fog, snow, smoke, etc) and writes short, meditative-style vignettes about each of them. It’s a concept kinda book with a minimalist style with writing that’s definitely good but I couldn’t help but feel as if I was ‘missing’ something that wasn’t there, perhaps something between the lines.

Maybe one has to be in the right kind of mood “get” this book or something. Either way, this volume wasn’t for me. I won’t stop reading Han Kang though.

Read this if you’re into experimental writing.

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Review: Bedfellow

Back, at least for right now. Thanks for waiting on me. 🙂

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Review for "Bedfellow" by Jeremy C. Shipp (2018)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Ok, the cover of this was creepy enough to make me pick it up at the library and begin reading it, but then it got really really weird and confusing, so I began skimming pages in the last quarter.

In “Bedfellow,” a typical nuclear family, the Lunds (Dad, Mom, daughter, son), is unexpectedly visited by a strange intruder who slides into their living room window late one night. The family members react to this is in calm, nonchalant way that immediately makes you uncomfortable as hell. The father, Hendrick, begins to converse with the man and eventually realizes that he “knows” him. The visitor is asked to stay the night in the guest room. The visitor is not a typical person–he vomits a lot, drinks copious amounts of Gatorade, and talks constantly about 80’s pop culture movies. Weird.

I wish that the reading experience gets easier from here but it doesn’t. Slowly, as the story progresses, each family member recalls past memories with this strange visitor as either a friend or a family member. Eventually, the visitor begins to impose his own evil agenda upon the family, from which there is little resistance. The novel is told in alternating perspectives between each member of the Lund family, who often contradict one another’s accounts.

I gave this book three stars because I can understand what the author was trying to do, which is leave just enough bread crumbs to a plot to keep you turning the pages. However, the plot was too elusive and kept wriggling out of my grasp, beyond my reach. When I finally did get a hold of what’s happening, it was too late for me to care about the characters, the story, or anything important here.

This book is a perfect example of how too much of the unusual can muck up what could be a great story. If you do read this, try to hang in there past the first 100 pages. You’ll be better off than I was.

Review: Ghost Wall

Ahhh, I know it’s been a while. Forgive me for my lack of updates. It is almost the end of the spring semester, so my dissertation and scheduled presentations have been taking up most of my reading time. Updates may be a bit slow until mid-May.

Anywho, I do have a quick book review for you guys. Sorry it’s not a good one, but you know me. 🙂

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Review for "Ghost Wall" by Sarah Moss (2019)

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Nah, I didn’t really like this. Thank God it was short.

Teenage Silvie and her Mom and Dad are a part of an experimental anthropology course that involves spending several weeks in the forests of a remote part of north England, living as if they were people during the Iron Age. They make tools, forage for food, wear antiquated clothing, and sleep in huts, just as if they were people from that ancient time period. With an abusive father and a mother that acquiesces to his will, Silvie is more of a hanger-on to this bizarre anthropological experiment.

During their time in the forest, Silvie meets a young woman named Molly, student in the class. She challenges Silvie to question her life, including why they are participating in the experiment. As the story moves forward, it is quite clear that there’s some very sinister, weird shit going in Silvie’s dad’s ‘lil Iron Age LARP adventure…

What bothered me the most about this book is that even though the plot sounded good on paper, the writing and the characters really weren’t all that engaging. You know from the first 3 pages that there is something ominous that is going to happen to these role-players, you’re just not sure what. The suspense is drawn out through most of the book (thankfully it’s short) but by the time the end arrives it’s nothing that you haven’t predicted already. The style was also an issue–with no punctuation and few line breaks, much of the novel runs together in huge paragraphs, a slog to read.

Somebody out there will appreciate this–it just wasn’t me.

Review: Imani All Mine

Reviewing an oldie but goodie today. Enjoy!

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Review for "Imani All Mine" by Connie Porter (2000)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Let me start off by saying that this book had me in tears. Big, watery, and unapologetic. Whew…

“Imani All Mine” is the story of 15-year-old Tasha, a teenager living with her single mother in upstate New York. At the beginning of the novel, she has already given birth to a daughter whom she names Imani, based on “some African language” that means ‘faith.’ Tasha loves her daughter dearly and speaks about her daughter as any new mother would, yet her worldview remains very much that of a 15-year-old girl. Tasha’s dialect and the language throughout the novel is nonstandard English (words like ‘nam’ for “them”) and very much consistent with that perspective. We later learn through flashbacks that her daughter’s existence is the result of a violent rape at the hands of a stranger. Ashamed, Tasha tells no one of her assault and hides her pregnancy from everyone, including her mother.

Despite this, as well as the obstacles of poverty, an impoverished neighborhood, and her physically and emotionally abusive mother, Tasha makes strides and manages to go to school and be a good mother to her daughter. Much of the book is simply Tasha’s observations of the life of a typical teenager–boys, family members, people in the neighborhood, people at school. Tasha defies common stereotypes of teenage single mothers of color by having a strong will and vision for her future.

I loved reading this book. There was never a moment when I didn’t understand Tasha and her love for her child, her struggle, and her motives. I definitely recommend this.

A word of caution: this isn’t YA. Although the language makes it super-accessible, I would only give this book to teens if they were super mature. This is definitely an adult read with a child protagonist.

Review: An American Summer

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Review for "An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago" by Alex Kotlowitz (2019)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

If you’re an educator, particularly of urban youth, then Alex Kotlowitz is your man. I was first introduced to this writer completely by chance, picking up his famous book “There Are No Children Here” at a used book store about 6 years ago. Granted I read it 30 years after its release, but it still had a profound effect on me. Unlike other books on the subject of urban life that create a ‘poverty porn’ atmosphere (you know, exploiting poor people’s condition for notoriety or increased book sales), Kotlowitz seemed to be deeply invested in the lives and futures of his subjects, giving them humanity.

In “American Summer,” Kotlowitz returns to Chicago, where we all catch glimpses of the headlines year after year about the dangerous gangs, crime, and rampant gun violence that plague this city. He chronicles an entire summer spent there in 2013 talking to men, women, and children touched by violence. Each chapter introduces us to a person who has either lost a family member to violence, committed violent acts themselves and are coming to terms with it, or witnessed the effects of violence first hand. Some people have several chapters in the book dedicated to their story, which are ongoing and run through the entire narrative.

I love this book because Kotlowitz does not pander to critics or make excuses for bad behavior. True, much of the violence is related to gangs and the young people in them, but what about the scores of those killed who aren’t? The point that remains is that people are still people, and that gang participation is often a response to external forces (racism, poverty, segregation, poor educational outlooks) that were in play long before this particular epidemic of violence even started. There is also widespread distrust of police due to years of misconduct and overpolicing and a “no snitching” street culture that holds violence firmly into place.

I also love the way Kotlowitz begins his book by stating that it does not pretend to know the answer to why gun violence in so widespread here. What it does do, however, is humanize people from both sides of the headlines and start a conversation toward healing.

I don’t give five stars lightly, and I can’t recommend this book enough.

Review: The Water Cure

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Review for "The Water Cure" by Sophie Macintosh (2019)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

“The Water Cure” is the strange tale of three sisters–Grace, Lia, and Sky–who live in isolation on a remote beach island with their mother and father. At the beginning of the novel, we are told that their father (aptly named ‘King’) has left to get supplies, but after an extended period, has not returned. We learn that the reason why the family lives in isolation is because, many years before, King took them from civilization in order to protect them from a “toxic” outside world. The source of ‘toxicity’ is never explained, and it is unclear throughout the book whether an actual environmental catastrophe has occurred or if its strictly symbolic (i.e., toxic ideas, toxic values, etc).

In time, the sisters come to believe that the world beyond their island home is ‘toxic.’ In order to cleanse themselves, their parents perform painful “therapies” and rituals in order to cure them. The “therapy” often takes on the form of physical and emotional abuse, the disturbing details of which are given in each of the sisters’ perspectives. Mother is particularly sadistic; as a result all three of the girls have serious health issues, with Lia predisposed to self-harm. We’re also informed that women visitors used to come to the island a long time ago to ‘cleanse’ themselves of toxicity and male violence, leading the reader to wonder if King is running some kinda weird cult here. Once again, the whole back story behind this is unclear.

About mid-way into the book, three strange men wash up on shore. The narrative switches to Lia’s perspective and the bulk of the action takes place over the few days that follow. I won’t give away what happens, other than to say the lack of a narrative back story make for very interesting reading. I did notice that there is a coldness and detachment to the writing here, none of the characters drew me in. I imagine that this is an outgrowth of the ambiguities of the story, of questions left unanswered. I don’t know if I liked it, but the constant wanting to know managed to hold my attention until the end.

This novel is being marketed as feminist dystopia, and I don’t know if I agree with that label. ‘Dystopian’ is a hazy label here, because it’s unclear if this book takes place in the future, the present, or the past. I don’t like ‘feminist’ to describe this either, so much of it is so rabidly anti-feminist and anti-woman that for me it was hard to reconcile the character’s actions with any kind of redeeming hope for anything resembling a future.

I do recommend this though, if you don’t mind books that are purposely ambiguous or like experimental types of writing.

Most Wanted Reads for Spring

Since I missed yesterday’s Top Ten Tuesday, I’m just going to post 10 of my most anticipated reads for this coming spring, in no particular order. Enjoy!

Fiction

Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams (March 19)

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The Other Americans – Laila Lalami (March 26)

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A Woman is No Man – Etaf Rum (March 5)

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Lot – Bryan Washington (March 19)

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The Dreamers – Karen Thompson Walker (January 15)

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Nonfiction

Shout – Laurie Halse Anderson (March 12)

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The White Book – Han Kang (February 19, US Edition)

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What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker – Damon Young (March 26)

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Young Adult/YA

Internment – Samira Ahmed (March 19)

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With the Fire on High – Elizabeth Acevedo (May 7)

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