So many people worry about their gut, their skin, their rear end, but fewer actually concern themselves over their brain until it begins to fail them. There’s a lot of great brain food out there that requires zero pharmacology—sleep, solid nutrition, love, meditation, conversation, nature, music, art, dance, daydreaming.. You get my drift. And since you’re here with me in this space, there’s also reading and because I want you to be openminded, I’m not citing research or offering links that prove that reading is good for your brain. You can choose from thousands of internet rabbit holes, feedback loops and echo chambers to agree, disagree or agree to disagree. In this issue of Bookisshh, I’m holding up titles that appeal to one lobe or the other and if I’m lucky both. Plus, I’ll tell you why I think the book gains residency in our library or goes off on a donation or used book journey of its own. Enjoy!
Everything And Less by Mark McGurl
Non-fiction appeals to the left side of my brain which responds to information that is analytical, logical, precise, detailed and scientific. There are other cognitive processes there but this is what I seek to gain from sound non-fiction writing.
Warning! This book is not for the person with a limited vocabulary and a resistance to expanding their vocabulary by wandering off-page and into external sources like the dictionary (in this case Miriam Webster will do and not the Urban dictionary). Further warning!! This author is a literary scholar, critic and major academic who’s Ivy background is entombed in green vines and library content. Nonetheless, I enjoyed some of it anyway… Nerdy academic men can wander into misogyny and female stereotyping and this professor most certainly does.
What’s it about? McGurl examines how the corporate mother ship, Amazon, impacts a consumer’s use of their time as a measure of opportunity cost when considering, purchasing and reading a novel. Further, McGurl demonstrates how readerships are fragmented into smaller and smaller factions who preference esoteric novelized content and are served up more and more, as algorithms tailor their interest by isolating them from discovery and wonder. McGurl cites works that have sold in huge numbers for prolonged periods, most specifically citing the 50 Shades of Gray works and romance novels endorsed by dollar-motivated demographics who reunite in other corners within the Amazon universe featuring fan fiction—communal co-writing novels by voting in/out characters and plot (most of which has failed and been taken down—see Writey Novel and The Hate Store). McGurl dishes a passionate lecture on the death of the novel and imagination as long as our curiosities are spoon-fed by capitalist billionaires seeking to center and laser focus their narrative and watch their piles of gold transform into towers.
Did I like it? I’m really 50-50 on this book. Half of my brain enjoyed lurking around Amazon using an academic’s flashlight to discover how it works and what the costs are. My left brain liked that and my right brain began to wonder what a society who gives up it’s imagination and wonder might look like. However, the manipulation of facts and comments on women and women’s reading habits seemed manipulated and out of sync by today’s standards and my right brain told me to look away.
Lastly, McGurl was repetitive with his emphasis on 50 Shades of Gray (which I have not read or seen), and therefore do not find company within this tribe of women and/or men. McGurl’s repetition is something the left brain likes, but MY left brain doesn’t, so it sends me walking. Thankfully I walk to the dictionary to look up those scholarly nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs and as I reached the last page (two months later ) am grateful for my expanded vocabulary and new insight as to how publishing evolves under our very noses while gatekeepers quietly gate-keep away.
Luster by Raven Leilani / Fiction
Raven Leilani is to literary Black feminism as Gillian Flynn is to literary suspense/thrills feminism. Both authors want their characters to be bad to the bone and if that’s not a wakeup for conventional guidelines or politics for women thank I don’t know what is…
Brave, bold and iconic, Leilani insists and persists in designing and blurring the line between antagonist and protagonist all while allowing them to unapologetically badly.
This debut is brilliant, elegant and provocative. Leilani challenges what it means to be Black, female and an artist struggling to sustain basic needs within a culture that fetishizes, disadvantages, enables Black women while seeking reward or congratulation for doing so.
Leilani does not turn away from trauma and how it shapes lives. Within these pages readers witness characters engaged in erotica, politics, art, science, quirky businesses, struggling families, the intersections of racial and economic privilege all while stumbling through various paths to self discovery, healing, redemption and self-actualization. At the sentence level, Leilani orchestrates fantastic oldies, cosplay and manga, mortuary science, pathology, photography, how an artist gleans inspiration, and does so in an braid of erotica, humor, fierce honesty and social witnessing. Leilani is a genius grabbing at the stars—sex, politics, gender, race, trauma, youth witnessing, privilege and society’s struggle to convene and practices identities that aren’t outmoded for all.
The storyline… A young woman struggles with sexual addiction and does so at work and just about everywhere else. She’s an artist, she’s trying to work and come of age and has to face the forces that have prevented her from gaining and sustaining a life so defined by herself and herself only. So readers, meet Edie whose father was a Vietnam vet and brought home PTSD but turned to religion. Edie’s mother who struggled with various issues and found god but that became an addiction loaded with secrets, so when Edie’s ticket came up to leave home she took it and went to school. Flash forward she has a job and has sexual escapades both online and irl. Edie meets a married man who fetishizes her blackness and the roll forward into a kinky relationship that becomes complicated. At this point marital partners, adopted child and Edie’s desperate financial circumstances converge. It gets messy here so all the trigger warnings, but readers be assured, Edie does come out the other side, but you will have to read to find out how.
There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.Ray Bradbury
However you get there, remember while for some reading is escapism, a means to pass the time, a way to feel cozy and decompress etc.. Reading is also activating both sides of your brain and infusing it with things that chemistry, food, exercise and nature cannot wholly provide. Sometimes I read randomly—any 2 works, 1 fiction and 1 non-fiction. Other times I read intentionally based on themes, core issues, subjects, authors in conversation with one another. I’m always looking for new ways to guide my selections. I do this for periods of time then I just read fiction for as long as I feel like it. Whatever you do, read well because your brain needs you too! Book A-Petite!