Time is up for 2017 and a year it’s been! Our culture has surfed through political scenarios so many and unloaded unfinished historical business and proudly we can say, “We survived this frenzy!” Books have kept me grounded during this time, and I’m hoping you’ve been inspired and found one or two to read off of Bookisshh. This issue of Bookisshh concludes what I’ve been Blogging about for 2017. Plus, I’m sharing a fun resource and a project that I’ve launched in 2017 and will continue to cultivate in 2018. Enjoy!
What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton (3 1/2 Pens) Non-Fiction/Memoir
Due to controversies persisting up to this very moment, I decided to both read and listen to What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton because there is so much content and perspective in this book. In Clinton’s book, great consideration is given to content which directed public perception of the Clinton/Trump election and presents deeper details Clinton’s party and constituents would’ve shared if given coverage latitude and equality. Interesting are the brief insightful moments when readers observe Hillary as a woman, mother, wife, daughter, and spiritual being (none of which are captured in most articles, SNL skits or New Yorker cartoons). Identified in great detail are resources and organizations, the work they do and efforts they support for those planning on rolling up their sleeves in 2018. What Happened leaves a lasting impression on readers which is critical for all future leaders and voters as we move forward toward sustainable decisions for generations to come.
Turtles All The Way Down by John Green (3 1/2 Pens) Fiction/YA
No author can lend language to anxiety better than John Green who struggles with profound OCD in his life off the page. Turtles All The Way Down is written for a Young Adult Audience but this reader thinks it’s appropriate to drop the “Y” in this category as the teens, albeit high school seniors, which Green brings to this story, are highly idealized in their speech, introspection and actions taken to resolve their conflicts of which in this story there are many.
A diverse cast populates the story. Main character, Aza, suffers from OCD and lives a modest but comfortable lifestyle with her high school English teacher mother. She is befriended by, Daisy, Hispanic, works at Chuck E. Cheese and lives in a struggling working class home. Relationships with guys cross class and racial barriers as a group befriends billionaire son and childhood pal, Davis Pickett, whose father has flown the coop due to financial and ethical impropriety. As per usual in Green’s work, adults are mostly disappointing to their children who attempt to solve the mystery of the lost father to gain the missing person reward of several thousand dollars and while seeking, find and confront themselves as well.
What makes this book worthy is less the character design and plot and more the sentient writing, metacognitive insight and lens, interior dialogue that demonstrates physically, emotionally and cognitively the state a person is in when suffering from anxiety and different steps they can take to bear and overcome its debilitating effect. Language is given to a phenomenon that psychiatry often numbs with an abundance of pharmacology. This book isn’t anti-pharmacology, but offers insight into the work and balance necessary to be proactive and effective in the care of oneself because at the end of the story in order to grow and be fully independent one needs to take care of oneself no matter how they get there.
Sing Unburied Sing by Jesamyn Ward (5 Pens) Literary Fiction/Adult
This is not the first time Jesamyn Ward has won the National Book Award and likely it won’t be her last.
A provocative take on an “On the road” tale. Ward wrings out History’s capacity to weigh heavily upon people in the present and does not allow her readers to forget this. As such she must because though today a greater number of African American people have opportunities and wider access to a decent quality of life not formerly availed to them, there are reasons why struggles persist reasons not discernible to the privileged eye inexperienced with racial history and it’s place in the family and community narrative.
Ward’s prose is captivating, seamless, and her characters are strong though they appear to lack ethics are deeply human at their core as they struggle and juggle with life and lingering tenacious ghosts. It’s a slow, simmering pace and the first bubbles take a little too long to burst. The interracial relationships demonstrate familial and community challenges as the Caucasian families are shown as rejecting and the African American family is accepting but not glad. The young lovers/parents are poisoned by forbidden fruits and become toxic to each other and their children become old before being fully young as they witness the compensations sought by their parents–drugs, codependence, unfulfillable love.
At any rate this is a liberating story consolidating challenges of interracial relationships, the cultural spectrum within the Black community, multigenerational parenting and the quiet lingering horrors of slavery and Jim Crow which haunt and plague America to this very moment. Well deserving of its acclaim, ambitious with great homage paid to Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Gloria Naylor, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Amiri Baraka and of course the Richard Wright. What a dynasty to fold forward!
A Selfie As Big As The Ritz by Lara Williams by Lara Williams (4 Pens) Short Stories
Deftly detailed short vignettes featuring twenty and thirty something characters in and around London. Prose, prose beautiful prose! Further, the author has an uncanny sense of humor and allows her characters to identify and toy with personal flaws. Williams turns her camera on society and showing us how ridiculous our standards can be and when people don’t adhere religiously to them, how isolating it is.
Highly visual writing takes readers into odd moments of women coping… Coping with being single, old, big, quirky, driven and independent. Featuring women who want something more and different than the average lives women are leading within the stories. In terms of character development there’s not much background building and readers often left in the height of a character’s unresolved conflict. Williams leaves her readers hungry for more and startlingly interested in the moments before and after these short scenes. It is a great way to sample an author’s offerings and I will keep my eyes open for a novel length work in the year ahead as I’m guessing there might be unless there’s something adapted for viewing…
Things We Lost In The Fire by Mariana Enriquez (3 1/2 Pens) Short Stories
A macabre collection of gothic-esque tales set in Argentina post the fall of several dictatorships and coups spanning about 20 years, 1970-1990. This collection scraps the sanitized, splashy front page approach for dark, gritty, oily pages of exaggerated horrible truths. Enriquez offers no levity to her readers and by the time I reached story number twelve my heart was violently pulled into too many directions and my eyes held open burned with fatigue.
Atrocity and the final fluttering moments of morality and hope illuminate her work which stages some of the greater horrors chugging along across the social stages of our ever turning globe. Time sits heavily like a cancer plagued Buddha and resolution is a clear choice on behalf of the reader. A minus .50 for not offering a rest from suffocation, drowning, burning, mutilating and other verbs which keep this from being a preferred genre and an additional minus 1.0 for lack of prose expressing the intrinsic beauty or history which enlivens her character and/or country fostering the need for dramatic expression.
Things We Lost In The Fire reads a little like a test pile for her to choose which novel next to write or short film to produce. As a working Journalist, Enriquez’ profession influences her craft by paring down to the facts thus shrinking the narrative and in doing so structure crumbles. Her writing strips readers of touristic fantasy and lays bare the wounds, the needs, the inequity and social justice across the ocean, beyond the walls where the ghosts of dictatorship haunt the masses.
What It Means When A Many Falls From The Sky by Leslie Nneka Armimah (4 Pens) Short Stories
What a collection of stories from Nigerian author Leslie Nneka Armimah! These twelve stories taken in part demonstrate how one voice can parade through genre styles and be consistently clear. Stories include straight fiction touching upon feminist concerns in contemporary times–immigration, family standards, career, marriage, compliance, and family.
Other stories include an embedded folktale about a tortoise and porcupine and how elders disseminate wisdom using the oral tradition within their culture which in this case grows forth from the many tribes of Nigeria. Offered in the collection is a unique take on science fiction in the story and book title, What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky. In this one Arimah weaves together elements of science fiction and fantasy and it reads like a Nigerian dystopia–fallen communities, social stratification, alogorithm social takeovers, superhero-like abilities, synthesized viruses–but she uses them in minimalist fashion enabling readers to exact a feeling of the untouched and/or underdeveloped lands and communities within Nigeria. For those who’d like political content Arimah inserts Biafra and how near overnight it became a changed nation and what that might mean to survivors and the world at large who so quickly forget the rapid fire broadcasting of international tragic stories in lands so far away.
This book brought the Nneka Armiah forward to be named “5 Under 35” by the National Book Foundation. It is a quick read which at times requires readers to bend their ears due to some syntactic differences. Feminism permeates her work in a quiet and polite fashion which is probably how it moves and grows within other male dominated continents. She is an author to read and follow.
Heather The Totality by Matthew Wiener (2 Pens) Novelett
There is nothing worse when obsessed fans and money hungry industry hold up a work as fantastic when it simply isn’t. This behavior is akin to the story, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” This is exactly how I feel about, Heather The Totality by Matthew Wiener the writer who also created the long running show Mad Men loved by so many and never viewed by me.
Here’s the basic storyline.. Almost no longer youngish, a couple meets and marries and moves to the most expensive block in New York city. They move to an exclusive coop and become members of the privileged helicopter parents and proceed to lose themselves in their perfect daughter who is way too at the center of their lives so much so they lose themselves and are unawares. This story parallels one that is total opposite except that the poor, substance abusing, abandoned, incarcerated young man is also caucasian and demonstrates that being a bad boy is something any racial male can do. He becomes a construction worker who stalks the daughter who is coming of age and her father in the twilight of his excellence begins to notice this is happening. No spoilers here.
The only two things I enjoyed in this book is that it was an entirely quick read and that is doesn’t value the fake social currency fashionably abused by upwardly mobile people who populate this tale. In fable-like fashion Wiener’s characters are symbolically shallow. The character flaws and actions are akin to postmodern morality tales but without the sophistication that well-developed fiction can offer. Had Wiener not rested on televisual laurels and the elbow rubbing within industry and developed the real story, the predatory nature toward youth, then he’d have something.
Mister Tender’s Girl by Carter Wilson (4 Pens) Suspense/Thriller Adult
Reality becomes fiction in”Mr. Tender’s Girl” when the story of Slender Man and the Charlie Hebdo stabbings are thrown into Carter Wilson’s creativity blender and out comes a suspense thriller filled with victims, perpetrators, cuts, scars, blood puddles, dark bars and cozy cafes. Wilson is a master of setting and dialogue and both work cleverly together cultivating suspicion and paranoia in readers. Parents betray children who are abandoned and end up doing no good, spies and eyes are everywhere back and forth from New York to London. There’s a small space for a love story and panic attack’s are well demonstrated. The story concludes with s great speech and moment of self discovery—literary suspense thrill perhaps. Likely to land on Netflix or other short serial network though I hope it doesn’t foster the obsessive audience participation that this story and the one it was born from inspired. I’m not usually a thriller reader but this one incorporated all of the elements of mystery down to the Red Herring. Wilson crafts quirky characters content with their flaws and leads his readers down twisting roads and up sheer cliffs. It was a quick, fun read and the lack of realism though he’s tagged some real events make it an engaging read.
The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill (3 Pens) Fiction
There’s an interesting tension in this work as the author juggles some heavy themes. The story centers around an orphaned boy and girl placed in the same convent run orphanage in Canada in the early 1900s. Children are unwanted, abandoned, raped, blamed, institutionalized and abused. By way of wit and natural talent a boy and girl escape as performers until the Depression occurs and life requires them to separate and and develop a life as servants. The girl becomes a governess and mistress to her charge’s father and the boy a companion and later an adopted son to a wealthy man abandoned by his family. Drugs, servitude, prostitution and bittersweet good fortune land in these character’s lives as they wonder and lust to return to their former childhood friendship during which they shared pain and creative understanding. Crime and clowning bring them together and pull them apart. The ending is hurried and abrupt but there is a certain charm and joie de vivre which is common to the clown world and O’Neill does a fine job expressing this essence. A good story for midnight burlesque or circus goers and if not for the lush prose, mildly entertaining for this reader.
The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy (3 Pens) / Memoir
A memoir aptly titled. Levy, a staff writer for the New Yorker, has quite a career behind and in front of her. This is her story of her choices and their consequences. A Jewish girl from Larchmont, New York, decides she’s gay and directs her life accordingly. She goes through all the struggles that relationships provoke–commitment vs marriage, career vs family, codependence vs independence, gay vs not gay etcetera. Her memoir demystifies to women that Feminism entitles women to everything they want and reveals that it doesn’t. While a discomforting thought, Levy struggles her way through everything, sharing some pretty bloody details, and finds a place of comfort and home. Unlike memoirists like Mary Carr, Levy protects her kin and doesn’t really examine how they fit into her trajectory. She glosses over her parent’s divorce, father’s remarriage, mother’s breast cancer, and the small town that always felt too small for Ariel. At times Levy’s narrative hinges on narcissistic as she’s self-promoting regarding her career and examines how others affect her and how she struggles with it trapping readers in her bubble with limited air. Compelling was her dip into motherhood as she does lose a child and she does a gorgeous job of expressing the intrinsic beauty of motherhood. The conclusion sets up a later memoir dangling a possible love interest in the heterosexual zone of life. This one gets 3 pens for the actual writing but 2 for the storyline, we can always live better.
Projects and Participations…
Straight out of Portland Elle Uecker shares her library for free with readers across the country. All you have to do is go to http://www.Thebookshipproject.org, create an account, browse through her library, select one or two books and fill out her form. Once the book becomes available, she sends it to you along with a few other goodies including return postage! Elle only asks for a couple things in return: read the book in two weeks (she’s flexible), fill out the card with your name or Instagram handle, what city and state you live in, leave a note about the book saying whatever you want in the library pocket, take pictures and post them wherever you post things and include The Book Ship Project as a tag, then send it back to her. The card and note stays with the book as it travels from person to person. I sent her a token of thanks that I could stash inside the book for her generosity. Elle is simply lovely!
Here’s what I read:
The First Bad Man A Novel By Miranda July (3 Pens) Fiction/Adult
I discovered this author on a New Yorker Writer’s Voice Podcast and enjoyed her voice. She covers subjects I’m not intimate with but in a spirit of diversity I’m including in my reading now and tomorrow. Narrator, film maker, artist, mother and wife, is only the shortlist for Miranda July who knocks readers off their chair, stabs them in their heart and spins their inner eye to a state of exhaustion as she journeys them into the life of Cheryl a single, adult woman who works for a self defense foundation for women.
It’s one of those reads that has everything and then some in it. The premise is blurry at first but as life falls upon main character Cheryl she experiments with her own version of fight club meets lesbianism, cohabitation, therapy, role play, motherhood, maturity, partnership, leadership and loyalty. Cheryl can’t center her love due to rigidity and possibly buried trauma. She works at a self defense organization and it is in the screwy enclave she finds family, love and friendship. Amid the economic and emotional safety Cheryl opens her soul and survives various conflicts with her roommate, lover, and surrogate of sorts, triggering an innate fear of death.
July’s writing has minor organizational glitches but is not intolerable as it’s buried under her unique sense of tension and beautiful snap shots detailing profound emotional discovery.
If you’re triggered by explicit sexual moments this book my raise concern. Nonetheless this story is quirky and strangely honest and as I wanted to cast it aside and I’m glad I didn’t.
Betwixt is an Instagram situated project I created that incorporates reading short story collections with Instagram friends around the country. During Betwixt, we dialogue on the collection in part, as a whole, the author’s style and more. It has been great fun connecting with a diverse group of people spanning the country. In 2018, I hope to cast a wider net and take Betwixt to another continent!
Check me out on Instagram! Follow the link…