Tag Archives: toni morrison

Book Review: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Per the book jacket:

Released from prison, Shadow finds his world turned upside down.  His wife has been killed; a mysterious stranger offers him a job.  But <r. Wednesday, who knows more about Shadow than is possible, warns that a storm is coming – a battle for the very soul of America… and they are in its direct path.

To say that is an overly simplistic and practically boring synopsis compared to what my experience of it would be an understatement.  This work takes myths and legends of gods from many cultures and gives them faces, expounds upon their personalities, and brings them to life in a manner that is not wholly unlike what Toni Morrison does with her magical realism, but without the ethnocentric and overly wrought depressive tones.  The reader is taken on journeys to different times to learn how gods were brought to America or simply how the gods came into being each story told with a different flavor and oft times different narrative voice.  My favorite passage of the entire 588 page tome came in the section called “Coming to America 1778” :

Without individuals we see only numbers: a thousand dead, a hundred thousand dead, “casualties may rise to a million.”  With individual stories, the statistics become people – but even that is a lie, for the people continue to suffer in numbers that themselves are numbing and meaningless.  Look, see the child’s swollen, swollen belly, and the flies that crawl at the corners of his eyes, his skeletal limbs: will it make it easier for you to know his name, his age, his dreams, his fears?  To see him from the inside?  And if it does, are we not doing a disservice to his sister, who lies in the searing dust beside him, a distorted, distended caricature of a human child?  And there, if we feel for them, are they now more important to us than a thousand other children touched by the same famine, a thousand other young lives who will soon be food for the flies’ own myriad squirming children?

We draw our lines around these moments of pain, and remain upon our islands, and they cannot hurt us.  They are covered with a smooth, safe nacreous layer to let them slip, pearllike, from our souls without real pain.

This passage resonated with me a great deal and speaks to the heart of some of my views.  That said, there are a few areas where I would have preferred Gaiman to be slightly restrained in his sharing.  Mostly in that I really don’t like it when authors even mention characters needing to relieve themselves regardless of the vernacular used.  I get the idea that this is a way of demonstrating human action, that we might feel more grounded in the realism of a fantastic story with such details, but for me it’s extraneous.  When a character is human I assume they have to go to the bathroom upon waking and several more times throughout their day.  There’s also the matter of a few inconsistent point of views offered although they’re at least pretty clearly rendered even if mildly annoying when one happens across them.

But that’s the worst thing I have to say about this book and even to my thinking and ears it sounds awfully fussy.  Very much a worthwhile book to dedicate time to.  Gaiman is a master craftsman with an excellent literary voice and one of the most clever minds involved in modern fiction.  Is it any wonder I already have Fragile Things  on my TBR shelf?

Seriously, if you haven’t read it and enjoy GOOD fantasy, this is a must read.  And, heck, HBO is going to make a series out of it!

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A Bookish Meme

Sorry for the delay on this post, folks.  Apparently my ISP decided to say “Happy New Year” by letting service flake out just as I was about to hit “schedule post” last night.  Some days I’m not at all excited about paying my cable company.  Before this turns into a full blown rant, however, here is the post I managed to save in a text document before the internets could steal it from me. *I* was the victor!  Muhahahahaha!!!!  [If ever a victor could be described as someone who just managed to save her work while still not being able to do what she had set out to do.]

This little meme is courtesy of Mae (go check out her very wonderful blog) and, obviously, it’s so awesome I thought I’d steal it (I also had no will to create something of my own as I’m still unwinding from holiday insanity and other neuroses).

How many books read in 2010? 40 (this is a somewhat educated guess, I reviewed more than thirty, some to “air” this month, while others didn’t get reviewed)

Fiction/Non-Fiction ratio? 37/3

Male/Female authors? 13/27

Favorite book read? Time Enough for Love by Robert Heinlein (you can check out my review to find out why)

Least favorite? There were a few books I didn’t finish reading, which you can check out here and here, but out of ones I finished reading I’d have to go with Brooklyn.

How many rereads? I honestly don’t know.  There were a few as I discovered a wonderful used book store in my state that seemed to only encourage me purchasing old romance novels I remember reading in my youth.

Most books read by one author this year? I’m going to go with the qualifier “new to me” for author and say Meredith Duran.  She only has four books out so far and I’m clinging to one of them unread so I have a treat just prior to her new book comes out in the spring.  Three, however, were read in rapid succession.

Any in translation? A couple.  I think.  The Housekeeper and the Professor was certainly one.

And how many of this year’s books were from the library? 16

Favorite New-to-Me Author: Meredith Duran

Favorite Classic: Brave New World

Most On-the-Nose Title: I’m going to cheat and use a book I read in 2009 for this one – The Road by Cormac McCarthy.  It was brilliant work and the title was absolutely perfect.

Most Disturbing: The Chocolate War

Most Accessible Author Who Intimidated Me for No Good Reason: Toni Morrison.  She’s an excellent author but, in my opinion, not at all someone to be intimidated by.

Most Discouraging Realization: Two parts for this one.  First, is that books that show “the mob” in a poor/undesirable light seem to take the banned list by force.  Second, that certain big-to-do literary review newspapers pander shamelessly to the person anointed “genius”, or so it seems to me, by some random and anonymous someones.  Although, that isn’t so much a discouragement, more a very large irritation.

Most Reassuring Realization: Those controversial books were still published and now people like me, who obviously hold censorship with great disdain, now have a great checklist from which to build our TBR lists.

2011 Reading Goals: War and Peace, The Satanic Verses, and many others!

 


Review: Beloved

Another book from the frequently challenged/banned list and it is absolutely brutal.  While the present day of the novel is clearly post Civil War the story fills in through sojourns into the past and this includes before the war.  The main character, Sethe, says goodbye to these three little beings, the youngest being less than a year old and later known as “Beloved”, moments before she is caught by her master.  A brutal whipping is her punishment and something she endures before she walks and runs her way to freedom; a search for her children at her mother in law’s house pushing her to survive and move even during the last days of pregnancy.

But the story of Beloved really begins further than this; a time when Beloved is already dead and haunting her mother, grandmother, and one remaining sibling.  Her brothers left, her father was never found, and here her mother works to feed the ailing grandmother and a sister who didn’t want to leave the property.  She never knew slavery as her mother or father knew it, was less than a year old at the time of her murder, and her spirit is angry, restless only to become more so when an old friend of her mother’s comes to stay.  A man named Paul D, one of the boys from Sweet Home (the old plantation Sethe escaped from), happens upon her and scares the tantrum throwing poltergeist from the house.  The love, the attention that Beloved feels she’s entitled to is then given over to the man and that one sibling, Denver.

Each character, including the deceased matriarch Grandma Baby Suggs, is fleshed out through “rememories”.  A flip back in time to understand what happened on Sweet Home to result in so many attempting to escape and what happened to those who didn’t.  Steps back and forth through these lives flesh out the story of what happened to Beloved, her father, her mother, and later how things came to be for Denver and Paul D.  It is as horrifying as one would expect and more so than any person besides a scholar would ever think of.

While discussing this with the friend who loaned this to me I was able to clarify my feelings on this book and so offer you some of the tidbits from that digital conversation:  “The horrors were too great, the tragedies too belabored, and not anywhere was there even a sign of hope or want that would leave me feeling grateful for the ending. I think this is what happens when you never show characters’ positive motivations or even their love. Everything is a sickness which then makes each decision made be in response to the symptoms of that. Even as a tale of survival it’s somehow lacking. For life to matter to the reader then it needs to matter to the character. Or at least someone’s life needs to matter to the character.”

The prose is artful and brilliant as is noted in this passage about Paul D’s experience as a prisoner in Georgia:

They chain-danced over the fields, through the woods to a trail that ened in the astonishing beauty of feldspar, and there Paul D’s hands disobeyed the furious rippling of his blood and paid attention.  With a sledge hammer in his hands and Hi Man’s lead, the men got through.  They sang it out and beat it up, garbling the words so they could not be understood; tricking the words so their syllables yielded up other meanings.  They sang the women they knew; the children they had been; the animals they had tamed themselves or seen others tame.  They sang of bosses and masters and misses; of mules and dogs and the shamelessness of life.  They sang lovingly of graveyards and sisters long gone.  Of pork in the woods; meal in the pan; fish on the line; cane, rain and rocking chairs.

And they beat.  The women for having known them and no more, no more; the children for having been them but never again.  They killed a boss so often and so completely they had to bring him back to life to pulp him one more time.  Tasting hot mealcake among the pine trees, they beat it away.  Singing love songs to Mr. Death, they smashed his head.  More than the rest, they killed the flirt whom folks called Life for leading them on.

It’s the best written, worst book I’ve ever read.  Worth reading?  For the cultural information and the history alone I think it is.  I must admit, however, if it weren’t for this challenge I would not have finished it and I’m quite grateful I did.  Jury’s still out as to whether or not I’ll read another of Morrison’s works as the beautiful telling is no real substitute for the showing that could have made this read powerful.  I wanted to loathe the slave owner who inflicted so much cruelty, to love Sethe’s children (or at least fear for them and her), for me to be grief stricken over the horrors the main cast of characters suffered, and I never did.  For all that, Morrison demonstrates that language in the right hands can be art even if it is sometimes a cold and cerebral one.


The Sexy Librarian

Or not…  Okay, there are a few posts I’m working on that are kind of tied in together (thank Orwell for that) that are not completed as yet.  What does that mean?  Well, for the sake of my sanity I am doing a fun little meme.  This is a rather unique one I found courtesy of Jessica over at The Bookworm Chronicles and so thought I’d share.  Please feel free to take part and, of course, link and let me know if/when you do it.

Photo Credit

 

 

Before talking about sexy reading let’s first behold a woman who can and, in my opinion, pulls off the sexy intellectual thing with class and aplomb (and humor).

 

 

 

Now that we have all partaken of the wondrousness that is Tina Fey, let’s get on to the very fun meme!

 

 

 

1. Most romantic male character?

Just off the cuff (and because I’m having withdrawals) I’m going to say the hero in Duke of Shadows (my review) by Meredith Duran.  Julian is of Indian descent, a bastard for all intents and purposes, brought into the titled crowd of Britain forcibly.  When first we meet him he is residing in Delhi while it is still part of the British Empire and doing his absolute best to warn the Crown of the impending mutiny.  His loyalties are more to humanity, to the freedom of it, than they are to any nation or ruler and so he advocates those in control of the military to be aware and compassionate.  As a romantic interest he is also superb.  He fights for what he believes in, tries to bring about peace, and tells his love he will come back for her.  Years later they meet, he having thought she was killed (separated during time of war does that), and he finds her changed.  An artist, one who exorcises her demons through her art, she has become reclusive – removing herself from life.  Still, he stays by her, fights for her to come from her place of isolation and to speak of what haunts her. 

2. Most romantic female character?

Jane Eyre of, well, Jane Eyre.  A strong female lead, one who wants and needs love that does not succumb to that want over her principles.  This isn’t to say she doesn’t love, but rather that her love of self keeps her whole despite how desperately she wants to marry the unmarriagable man she loves.  Written in the 18th century, the character and the work is strangely modern with a triumphant message for all.  Does love conquer all?  No.  But Jane Eyre seems to manage it despite the failings of the love of her life:  Mr. Rochester.

3. Best sex scene ever?

This is a toughie.  I read a lot of romance with varying degrees of sexiness in each, but I have to say the honor goes to (I kid you not) Atlas Shrugged.  Yeah, I know.  To be specific I’m talking about the one between Dagny Taggart and John Galt.  No, not the scene that shows a predilection of the main character for rough sex.  To this day I can’t figure out quite what it is that gets me about this scene, but I’ve read it several times trying to figure out how Rand wrote it without much detail and still wound up with a very excellently displayed bit of lovemaking.

4. Do you think sex scenes are appropriate in Young Adult novels?

I don’t care.  When kids are in that “young adult” phase hormones are already going a mile a minute so I hardly see the issue with having words depicting things they’ve pictured/imagined already.  [Judy Blume did it superbly in Tiger Eyes]  As it pertains to scenes bordering on erotica I still don’t know.  Sex is something often viewed with a great deal of stigma around here and I can’t help but think this encourages a less healthy approach to sex.  The important factors are the handling of the matter:  If there’s violence, do it well and explain it; if it’s in a relationship, do it justice and encourage without deifying the experience of it; but above all, these things are meant to be discussed and all of them can be.

5. Sexiest book you’ve read this year?

I have no idea.  Sorry I can’t offer something here, but I just don’t know.  Part of this block is directly related to my most recent readings that have been quite depressing.  No sexiness.  At all.

6. Literary turn on?

Stellar prose and fully fleshed out characters.  The books have gotta at least have one of those to carry it.

7. Literary turn off?

Psychologically defunct characters and a completely unsound philosophical point.  Mind you, a philosophical point doesn’t have to be present at all for me to like it, but if an author’s going to go there then they better damned well use logic and sound reasoning.  They don’t, the premise winds up being flawed, and next thing you know there’s a few hundred pages of hyperbole and rhetoric before you.  Also – lots of pop culture references.  Hate ’em.

8. Most uncomfortable sex scene you’ve ever read?

I want to say the rape scene in Speak earns that place, but it was handled so well and was so obviously not the most uncomfortable part of the work, that it doesn’t fit here.  I’m going to have to go with what I’m currently reading and say Beloved.  It can’t get much more horrifying or uncomfortable than a woman having sex with a tombstone engraver, in the cemetery, so she can have something put on her murdered infant’s headstone.  A review on that work will be coming up shortly.

9. What’s the difference between a sexy book and a romantic book?

One is about the sexual tension and engages the body of the reader first, the other engages the heart first.

10. What makes a love story realistic?

Whole characters and an apt demonstration of what draws people together.  Skipping over resolutions to massive character conflicts to get to the HEA doesn’t cut it.  The resolutions have to demonstrate the humanity of people involved and the veritable complexities that brings to a relationship. 



Monday Meme: Current Reads

I wasn’t planning on updating this meme again so soon, but as I managed to finish Lady Chatterley’s Lover and decided to NOT finish Franzen’s Freedom (the reasons of which can be found quite handily in this review I came across that, after having read half of the book myself, I could not disagree with any of) there’s new stuff to post.

First, I finished Animal Farm last week and then promptly launched into a fascinating and somewhat disturbing book called The Giver.  The synopsis from Amazon states:

In a world with no poverty, no crime, no sickness and no unemployment, and where every family is happy, 12-year-old Jonas is chosen to be the community’s Receiver of Memories. Under the tutelage of the Elders and an old man known as the Giver, he discovers the disturbing truth about his utopian world and struggles against the weight of its hypocrisy. With echoes of Brave New World, in this 1994 Newbery Medal winner, Lowry examines the idea that people might freely choose to give up their humanity in order to create a more stable society. Gradually Jonas learns just how costly this ordered and pain-free society can be, and boldly decides he cannot pay the price.

In an effort to discuss Socialism and the oft reviled Communism I decided it would be a good idea to read the original theory via Marx.  This wouldn’t be so pressing if not for my upcoming review of Animal Farm which very much requires the discussions of common interpretations of these political ideologies/structures.  Such things need to be discussed, understood and, honestly, it’s about time I read this work to see if my assumptions have thus far been correct.

And lastly, because I’m still working my way through that banned books challenge, is Beloved by Toni Morrison.    The summary, again via Amazon, is as follows:

In the troubled years following the Civil War, the spirit of a murdered child haunts the Ohio home of a former slave. This angry, destructive ghost breaks mirrors, leaves its fingerprints in cake icing, and generally makes life difficult for Sethe and her family; nevertheless, the woman finds the haunting oddly comforting for the spirit is that of her own dead baby, never named, thought of only as Beloved.

I’m reasonably certain my brain is going to melt down sometime soon and that I will want a romance novel before long (or perhaps more Heinlein), in the mean time it’s wonderful to read such impressive works.  What are you reading?