Thursday, April 5, 2018

Goodreads Review: The Queen of the Night

The Queen of the NightThe Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is very long. There were so many tangents and asides, and in my opinion the book would have been stronger if the author had been able to distill the narrative down to the most essential elements of the plot.

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Sunday, March 25, 2018

Goodreads Review: Cosmopolis

CosmopolisCosmopolis by Don DeLillo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book wasn’t for me. While I am always here for a critique of capitalism, the main character was too despicable, particularly in his continued sexual objectification of women, for me to appreciate the novel. I would have given it 2.5 stars if that were an option, because while I did not like it, I do recognize there were some thematic and symbolic through-lines in the book. So, more than 2 stars for literary efforts.

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Friday, March 23, 2018

Goodreads Review: Red Clocks

Red ClocksRed Clocks by Leni Zumas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was amazing. Relevant to our current political climate and written with compelling and artistic prose, the novel is the story of five women who lead different lives and make different life, career, and relationship choices. The book is set in an America where Roe v. Wade has been overturned, abortion is illegal nationwide, IVF is banned, and single people aren’t eligible to adopt children. The author gives a stark sense of what happens when society fails to support a spectrum of womanhood—there is no one right way to be a woman. I could barely put this book down and highly recommend it.

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Sunday, January 7, 2018

Goodreads Review: The Robber Bride

The Robber Bride The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Yep, another Margaret Atwood book that is essentially literary perfection. She is an absolute wordsmith, and I especially enjoyed seeing themes in this work from the '90s that are echoed later in her MaddAddam series. The four main characters in this book seem to embody characteristics tied to interrelated themes of food and consumption, spirituality, history of civilization, and destruction. I am just completely enamored by Atwood's entire oeuvre, and found this to be a compelling, fast-paced book about women who are strong and feminist in very different ways.

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Wednesday, January 3, 2018

2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge

In 2017, I read 18 books. This doesn't seem like much to me, but then I think about all the proposals, manuscripts, journal articles, and monographs I read for work, and then I feel better.

In 2018, my goal is to read harder and finish 24 books.

Here are the first books I am looking forward to reading in 2018!
Margaret Atwood's The Robber Bride
Paul Beatty's The Sellout
Alexander Chee's The Queen of the Night
Gayl Jones's Corregidora
Jaroslav Kalfar's The Spaceman of Bohemia
Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian
Nnedi Okorafor's The Binti Trilogy

And, ReadosaurusText is now on Goodreads!

my read shelf:
ReadosaurusText's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

Sunday, December 31, 2017

My Top Book Pick of 2017: Julie Lekstrom Himes's Mikhail and Margarita

2017 was a trash fire
Well, 2017 was a trash fire, but you know what wasn't trash? Julie Lekstrom Hime's Mikhail and Margarita, published by Europa Editions. This novel is a treasure, and it was my favorite book this year. I wasn't alone in my appreciation: it won the 2017 First Novel Prize from the Center for Fiction, which is awarded to the year's best debut novelist.

I admittedly have a weakness for all things published by Europa Editions, and in fact have an entire bookshelf devoted to the press, but this book also appealed to one of my other bookish weaknesses: Stalin- and Soviet-era literature. One of the most classic Russian texts is Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov--a political commentary written as magical realism satire to subvert Stalin's censors and regime, and published in an uncensored version posthumously. Himes's book takes the author's life and his titular character, the beautiful Margarita Nikolaevna, and weaves a lovely historical fiction story about their relationship. I don't know how big the Venn diagram overlap is for people who like Master and Margarita and general Soviet history, but I am smack dab in the middle of it!

Timely in its subthemes of authoritarian regimes, censorship, and the power of satire and the arts, Mikhail and Margarita is a wonderfully written novel. While much Soviet literature speaks to the triumph of the human spirit, Himes's book seems to speak more to the inescapability and perpetual cycles of authoritarianism. Conceptually, this book made me feel like someone crawled into my brain and tailor-made a novel to my liking. I cannot tell you how much I dorked out about this novel when I discovered it, and without remorse I broke my 2017 resolution not to buy new books (with the intention of making a dent in my ever-growing TBR pile). While there was one rather graphic scene that I could have done without, the novel really is impeccable in its pace, vivid writing style, and literary calibre. Both entertaining and impactful, Mikhail and Margarita is truly a fiction gem, and I look forward to reading what Julie Lekstrom Himes writes next.

Himes, Julie Lekstrom. Mikhail and Margarita. New York: Europa Editions, 2017.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Punctuated Post: Anita Shreve's The Weight of Water

Read Anita Shreve they said. You'll like her, they said.

The Weight of Water takes place off the coast of Maine. So, when I traveled to Maine to a dear friend's graduation, I thought this book was a fitting pick! I love to read a book while being in the book's setting.

In a way, this was the perfect type of book to read during the hustle and bustle of travel: light and easy to dip in and out of while boarding flights and such. It has two narrative threads, one contemporary and one pertaining to a mystery from 1853. In the contemporary thread, a woman who is a photographer on a job at the island learns of gruesome murder. We also learn about the circumstances of another women, an immigrant to the area in the 1850s. An undercurrent of both narrative threads is the whodunit of the nineteenth century murder, partially as the contemporary woman finds archived letters written by the immigrant. I think the book could have been more enticing if the murderer didn't seem so obvious early in the book. While I am glad I gave an Anita Shreve book a chance, I am not sure that another is in my future soon.

Shreve, Anita. The Weight of Water. Back Bay Books, 1997.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

How George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four Changed the World

On March 30, I had the opportunity to speak at a local history event. The Third Annual History Soapbox is a venue where ten people have 6 minutes each to persuade the audience that a book has changed the world. This was my humorous attempt to make a case for George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Then the face of Big Brother faded away again, and instead the three slogans of
the Party stood out in bold capitals:
War is peace
Freedom is slavery
Ignorance is strength.

This language of opposites, you will recognize, is the Newspeak doubletalk of George Orwell's Oceania. In the novel 1984, it is the signature means by which the governance reinforces its agenda and policy to keep down the masses. Originally published in 1949, there is no dystopian classic more canonical, and no author who wished so ardently NOT to predict the future, but prevent it. Orwell spins the cautionary tale of Winston Smith's developing consciousness to the tyranny of Big Brother, the omnipresent totalitarian government, who is always watching, always manipulating. In Orwell's 1984, the Ministry of Truth erases history and the Thought Police can "disappear" you without so much as evidence or a trial. They use data mining and surveillance, which kinda explains why Republicans would want to revoke internet privacy rules. But, how can one man fight the oppressive regime? In the end of the book, epically, all are reduced to loving Big Brother.

When I first set out to craft my case that 1984 has changed the world for this Soapbox, I considered becoming goodthinkfullly fluent in Newspeak and then writing an argument completely in Newspeakese. But as I thought through this diabolically clever plan, I made an important realization: a satirical use of doubletalk does not convey humor or purpose when we are in fact living in a time of political doublespeak and alternative facts. So, instead of wit and wordplay, I shall rely on facts----of the non-alternative variety.

Fact: On this very day, Mar 30, in 1984, the US ended its participation in a multinational peacekeeping force in Lebanon
Fact: In 1984, Prince's "When the Doves Cry" was Billboard's #1 song of the year
Fact: The film Amadeus won the Oscar for the best picture of 1984
Fact: These are not the first things we think of when we hear (hand motion) 1984.

What we think of is, oh, wait, was that the name of that super popular Taylor Swift album, you know the one, oh that was 1989? Okay. THEN, we think of George Orwell's book. And, this is because the most notable thing about 1984 is a book about that year, yet predates it. A book that anticipates and predicts, in an astonishingly accurate manner, the rise of a neoliberal agenda, the smoke and mirrors elements of government, and a society complicit in its own ignorance.

Unfortunately for the world, but serendipitous for my purposes here, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, is more prescient than ever after the 2016 presidential election in the US and the developments that have transpired under a Trump administration. To measure the book’s current influence, look no further than a spike in book sales that put it on bestsellers lists everywhere after Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s political advisor, absurdly rationalized misinformation the current president of the United States was dispensing by describing it as “alternative facts” a la George Orwell’s “newspeak” and “doublethink."

But Orwell’s masterpiece changed the world long before the current political climate, and that 1984 had changed the word is indisputable.
Exhibit A:  CBS's long-running hit show Big Brother, hosted by the one and only Julie Chen. Now, what other book do you know of that has inspired a prime time reality television show while simultaneously fulfilling the idea that a bunch of the populous would willingly (and enthusiastically I might add) succumb to having their free will curtailed.
Exhibit B: Twitter says so, so it must be true.
@EKKAH writes: George Orwell 1984 is one of the best books ever written. Book emoji. Heart emoji. #readabookday
@reesnathan on June 25, 2013: Happy birthday George Orwell! 1984 is still hands down the best book I ever read and it comes at a time where it's
significance is huge.
And, now I bring you to Exhibit C: This canonical book is on high school reading lists everywhere. It is often the first book to open up a young reader’s eyes to the possibilities of political dystopia and to encourage critical thinking and skepticism about the social structures around us. Due to the broad readership and accessibility of this book, it has been changing the world of its readers since its publication nearly 70 years ago.

Until now in this county, perhaps we have hoped doublespeak and Big Brother could only be a figment of Orwell’s imagination. Given current circumstances, though, this book is especially changing the world by helping inspire daily resistance against a governmental regime that has jumped out of the pages of fiction into reality.
So, esteemed judges, people's choice, when you make your decision tonight about the book that has changed the world, I invite to you consider these questions to guide you:
One: Which of these books have you actually read?
Two: What other presenter here is sporting an appropriately bookish t-shirt (which by the way, was purchased years ago)?
And lastly, what other book has ever made you so acutely aware of getting your face gnawed off by rats?

There is only one answer, and it is Nineteen Eighty-Four. And remember: Big Brother is watching.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Punctuated Post: Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven

It is not often the case that you embark on reading a best-selling book award finalist and have no idea what the novel is about. I lucked out, both in a sense that each page and plot twist was a surprise, and then in the sense that the book is premised on an epidemic. I am fascinated with epidemiology. In sixth grade, I used to read the goriest passages from Richard Preston's The Hot Zone. In college, my first major was microbiology because I wanted to become a virologist, but math is not my strong suit, so I get my epidemiological fix through books. My interest isn't even merely quite about the power of a small virus that can tear through civilization, it is about the post-apocalyptic humanity (or lack thereof) that comes with it, in books like Parasites Like Us by Adam Johnson, Blindness by Jose Saramago, Margaret Atwood's MaddAddam series, and now Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.

I finished this book two years ago--exactly two years to the date I started drafting this post (oops!)--and with the benefit of hindsight I can still say that I really enjoyed this book and have recommended it on many occasions.

Mandel, Emily St. John. Station Eleven. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Edward P. Jones's The Known World

Happy Black History Month! When I started The Known World by Edward P. Jones last month, it was coincidental that I would be finishing it this month, but how appropriate that I'd be reading such a wonderfully powerful novel of African American historical fiction during a time we especially dedicate to the celebration of black history, and at a time when the president-elect has insulted and attempted to undermine the great civil rights hero, John Lewis, and seems to think Frederick Douglass is alive doing an "amazing job." Meanwhile, the vice president honored black history month by praising the work of a white man. Lest we ever forget the power of books, John Lewis's memoir and graphic novel trilogy sold out on Amazon when news spread about Trump's attack on the now politician. It is so important for people to engage with stories and histories that provide insight on the continuing inequalities in our government, society, and world.

The Known World among just a few other
books my TBR pile.

The Known World is set in the antebellum South as the US nears its Civil War. The plot is compelling because it complicates the history of the slaveholding south by telling the story of a freed slave, Henry, who then becomes a slaveholder. The book illuminates the varied reactions to this reality: disappointed parents who were former slaves themselves; a proud former-master who facilitates the purchase of Henry's new slaves; poor men in the community who resent that a black man has slaves while they do not. All these relationships illuminate the system that on the one hand views black people as property, but on the other hand has so engrained the idea of slavery that it can be legal for anyone to own slaves and to continue to reinforce the system.

I also celebrated Black History Month with Octavia E. Butler's Kindred and Miguel Barnet's Biography of a Runaway SlaveNext I'll be digging into Daina Ramey Berry's hot-off-the-press The Price for their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved from Womb to Grave in the Building of a Nation from Beacon Press. Don't limit reading about black history to this month--these stories and histories are crucial every day.

Barnet, Miguel. Biography of a Runaway Slave: Fiftieth Anniversary Edition. Trans. W. Nick Hill.
     Evanston: Curbstone/Northwestern University Press, 2016.
Butler, Octavia E. Kindred. Boston: Beacon Pres, 2003.
Jones, Edward P. The Known World. New York: HarperCollins, 2004.