There’s a lot we can take for granted if we are one of several generations born and raised in the US which guarantees rights so many. Take freedom of speech for example. Friends from neighboring countries often comment, “Americans certainly shoot from the hip don’t they?” Speaking freely is not a cultural universal but remains a great benefit that allows us to break through barriers of diversity. 2017 brings a lot of conversation to all of us.
Within and around the United States, people are brimming with opinion and are nervously tempering shared opinions to a perceived climate of mixed company. As can be evidenced in the demographic maps comprised of race, educational achievement and socioeconomic status, Americans strive for and find comfort in like mind, similar fashion in all things possible and the comfort homogenous enclave affords.
The campfire around which we used to sit exchanging stories was replaced by newspaper, radio, film, TV, and the Internet. Resultant from each evolution is greater isolation and dense homogeneity. With each evolution comes a varied interpretation of a small set of facts and the erosion of trust further stimulating a strong need for trusted sources and digestible entertainment.
What’s the recommendation? My experts tell me two things:
1. Manage my media intake
2. Reading books and longform journalism are rewarding solutions.
On his way out from the White House, former President Obama shared several recommended reading lists to his wide base of supporters. In turn these readings sustained and inspired him during his tenure. I wish I could edit down to an essential list but I haven’t read nearly enough. So here’s what I have read of late.
The Girl Before by JP Delaney
Mysterious people shop for mysterious real estate and have mysterious needs for safety. Set in contemporary London, situated at One Folgate Street, looms an austere, minimalist modern home, a plan in experimental living designed by Edward Monkford.
In this psychological thriller, JP Delaney, a pseudonym for Tony Strong, demonstrates how architecture changes how we live and has the great potential to improve us or in the case of “The Girl Before” exacerbate our dark sides. Thought to be the next, “Gone Girl” of “50 Shades of Gray” and optioned for a November 2017 release to be directed by Ron Howard, “The Girl Before” toggles back and forth between “Then: Emma” and “Now: Jane” Both Emma and Jane endure carbon copy evolutions fostered by Architect Edward Monkford and One Folgate his Frankenstein of a house. Dotted with steamy scenes reminiscent of erotica spinoffs of Shaw’s “Pygmalion” both women, survivors of loss and its resultant depression, seek to shed their former lives and struggle with how to do so.
Similar to Ray Bradbury’s “The Veldt”, Delaney employs Monkford and One Folgate in facilitating both women’s changes by limiting their input, screening their choices, thwarting and anticipating their needs, all secretly aligned to force the creation of a modern, emotionally void, iconic woman living in perfection. The reader’s position is quite voyeuristic. The more these women evolve, the more similar they become, and the more undermining they become of One Folgate’s stringent rules. As with all rules there is a price to pray for breaking them. If you have a penchant for Type A characters who obsess over control and perfection and go to far ends to achieve such means then you will enjoy this book!
by Shanthi Sekaran
Timely, controversial, heart wrenching, ethics challenging and loaded with heavy narrative contrasts is “Lucky Boy” by Shanthi Sekaran. This work challenges readers to step out of their comfort zone and explore things most Americans take for granted like moving about the country freely, bearing and supporting children, differentiating from family expectations and blazing ones own trail regardless of judgement.
As an author it’s challenging to give dual consideration to character’s points of view and Sekaran does a fine job of examining her two main characters Solidad and Kavya, both women, both immigrants, one documented and one not.
Sekaran uses third person narration to portray the lives of Soli from Popocalco, Mexico and Kavya a first generation Indian American. Both characters are brought together by baby Ignacio. Both women are confronted by often failing US systems, foster care, prison, federal courts, INS and suffer their shortcomings.
What’s at play in this work are the struggles of and between undocumented and legal citizens and the intricacies within their shared dynamicsand within the United States and countries of origin. What Soli loses–baby Ignacio, Kavya gains and the next thrust of the book is fraught with passionate discoveries of unconditional love and the heartbreaking fight for one’s life and child. The interchange of these chapters is bound by tension and rage as these women are fighting desperately for Ignacio.
The abuses Soli suffers bring tears to this reader’s eyes and are unfortunately based on truth. Male characters are mostly drawn unimpressively and it is the women who bear the deeper burdens in this story. Husbands, fathers and bosses seem clueless and are blindly reaching toward solutions or are immersed in their own desires of personal success. Redemption and shift are meted out for the men at post in this story though they don’t exit with great strength.
Do not read this looking for something light and inspiring. Instead read this with a discerning conscience, heavy heart and raging political concern.
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
Aptly described as a memoir of a family and culture in crisis. In other words, this is the story of white people living in poverty, have been abandoned by the economy, and have lost their sense of community and upward mobility. Enter the memoir moment when J.D. Vance doesn’t cave to the evils lurking in his world and manages to become an Yale law school graduate.
Honestly, I found myself yawning and near sleeping as I read of Vance’s struggle to find a sense of home and place and acknowledgment of the failed parental figures in his life. He is not a grand storyteller and did not provide nearly enough emotional depth needed to compel a wide base of readers to his story. I can’t believe this has become a best seller actually! “Hillbilly Elegy” feels like a tool of Trump propaganda to endorse his interest and immediate support of the Kentucky to Appalachia, Irish-Scotch descendants, who like many Americans value hard work as they struggle against the absorbed realities of unemployment.
“Hillbilly Elegy” didn’t do it for me, but I included in this issue of Bookisshh to demonstrate that as a self proclaimed professional reader, I remain open-minded to all authors and am willing to experiment with recommendations from local and national best seller lists. Definitely not a “Must read.”
The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco
This issue of Bookisshh features a Young Adult fantasy work by debut author, Rin Chupeco. Narrated in first person point of view, Chupeco takes us into the life of the Bone Witch who is mysteriously exiled from her kingdom. Tea, the Bone Witch and narrator is a practitioner of death magic. Born during the height of an eclipse, she is the sole member of her family to practice necromancy. Tea commands, Daeva, monsters controlled by the False Prince and the Faceless who aim to take over the world.
Replete with oracles, Ashas, dragons, warrior maidens, potions, magical feasts, divine dances, spiritual festivals, spells, and heart glasses worn to reveal specialties and fates, “The Bone Witch” requires young adults to submit to a dirth specialized vocabulary and language that this mature reader found mildly annoying and at times tedious. This book becomes something that a young adult must really sink into and devote longer stretches of reading time to sustain the narrative. Chupeco merges cross cultural symbol elements from Asia, the Middle East and Russia. The character of the Bone Witch is much more interesting than the story she lives in and likely this will become a series because interesting characters sustain series works but I’m not sure the Bone Witch is interesting enough.
The Lynching Waltz
by Stephen L. Kanne
It’s always fantastic when an author tells a local tale. It becomes more interesting when the author discloses he performed a genre switch. Kane elected to do so because as an attorney he values supporting evidence to validate the truth and in the case of “The Lynching Waltz” the required evidence aside from his firsthand experience has not survived the years.
Set in Glencoe, Illinois “The Lynching Waltz” moves through four historic periods all building a case for the prominent black families who once resided in Glencoe many years ago. It is the story of Tuskegee Airmen, Negro Baseball leagues, federal judges, journalists, activists, former slaves and how using a paternal retelling seen through Jamie Washburn’s eyes, the story of how African Americans came to Glencoe and why they should be held in esteem and not dishonored by Jamie’s dancing. Further, it tells of the story of why a former and NO LONGER tradition, “Fortnightly” ceases to exist in small town Glencoe.
The story opens with a young African American boy dancing at his grandparent’s house and he is chastised by his grandma for dancing. Learning of this, his grandfather decides it’s time for the young boy to learn his heritage. Through a series of road trips the grandfather and son learn of crucial figures in Black History who have contributed to the advancement of all people.
“The Lynching Waltz” brings readers to a dance tradition formerly held on the top floor ballroom of Central School, “Fortnightly,” which was for graduating 8th graders during which they demonstrated their excellent ballroom dance skills. At least until Amelia Polk came along and brought with her a fear of intermingling between black and white students especially during “Fortnightly.” Polk newly employed as dance teacher at Central School during a time when there was a sizable black community, living in good harmony with caucasian counterparts. Wanting to prevent intermingling between black and white students, Polk callsa secret meeting including many of the town’s stakeholders on both sides of the issue. Here is where the record ceasesto be recorded and fiction is employed.
I will leave the narration here. Successfull in “The Lynching Waltz” is the racial tension and local nature of this book. What further makes it successful is that it is grounded in truth and real events among real people. What doesn’t work, is the narrative structure of the book. It reads more like research notes and outlines and lacks the fluidity of good Historical Fiction. It makes Bookissh because how often is something local and timely written about your backyard waiting to challenge the like-minders?
Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein
Memoirs have been jamming up my shelf. I guess when I hits the 50s I wished to tap, or in my case, re-tap into the once youthful, abundant, expansive nature that left me feeling like a can-do artist. What better way to do that than to enlist the stories of Carrie Brownstein, punk star, comedian, actor, writer, producer and author of “Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl.”
In Brownstein, readers discover a self-conscious narrator who can shyly be accused of being pedantic (though I liked it). Brownstein’s stories are filled cafes, musicians and artists, grad school, tours on the road, and exploration of the United States, Europe and Australia.
Brownstein brings readers into the world of outsiders and how to spot the ones of her era, while over chronlogizing the musical history of her major influences and achievements. The amount of detail during these passages is too attentive to these type of details. Further, readers gain insight into her emotional and physical relationships with one of her band members in Slater Kinney.
What I found most insightful is how Brownstein and Slater Kinney comes to their music and the processes they engage in order to live and work as artists. She doesn’t hide the loneliness, the physical energy exacted from so much output and how the lifestyle lends itself to various shades of mental illness. It’s an honest book, and this reader only wishes she’d dig a little deeper into her emotional responses to situations and how and why she changed them. A little less detail about the factual stuff and a little more about her. Nonetheless, it made me realize that our energy is always there humming beneath the surface of every day’s routine and that we just need to grab a rope and swing with it!
Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman
This is not a new book by any stretch of the read, but Alice Hoffman is one of those writers who I am behind on reading and intuitively thought I might like. “Marriage of Opposites” and basically I was correct.
Who cannot enjoy the lush and divine settings within which to craft a masterful tale of limited opportunity for women and jews in the 1800s, cultural blending and barriers among islanders and of course love. Set in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas “Marriage of Opposites” is a story of mothers and daughters, sisters and friends and women. It is also the story of the ill effect of the Shiddach or arranged marriage, the birth of great artist, Camille Pizzaro and his quest to express beauty and truth.
Hoffman’s prose is lavish and extravagant and she spares no detail crafting intricate descriptions of clothing, food, potions, love making while structuring informative portraits both interior and exterior of her story subjects.
Generations and secrets that bind them are revealed as is how faith based communities impose and interfere in the sacred rite of marriage and the deep bond of family. In this story secrets are sewn into the lining of the Pissarro family cloak beginning with mother Rachel and ending with her son Camille. It was interesting to see how each member of a family carefully removes one stitch in the seam of the family secret, though it added to the length of the story and I was ready for it to conclude well before it did.
If you wish to escape and be hypnotized by healers, folklore, remedies and Jewish mysticism read this. If you wish to be swept away to an Island world or the bustling world of Paris enticed by color, natural beauty or gorgeous descriptions of pastry and art, then lend Alice Hoffman some of your time. I definitely plan on reading her further.