mini-reviews: march trilogy, tears we cannot stop

Continuing my catch-up posts about excellent books on social justice, race relations, and civil rights…

I was captivated by Art Spiegelman’s Maus books when I first read them in middle school. While I was interested in learning about the Holocaust at the time, I’m pretty certain a “regular” book would have been too much for me. The graphic novel/memoir format was excellent at conveying serious subject matter to me then, and while I certainly can handle full-text books on heavy topics now, I was still pleased by and learned from John Lewis’s March graphic memoir trilogy. His life story (then, and still what he does for the country today) is an inspiration. In March, Lewis clearly connects critical events and people within and outside the Civil Rights Movement and the differences of varying social justice organizations of the 1950s and 60s. It was informative, hopeful, and inspiring… and also a little surreal and depressing reading this in January 2017. I hope young people are reading this now. [Read in January 2017.]

Michael Eric Dyson presents his argument for racial issues in the United States as a long-form sermon in Tears We Cannot Stop. This book could not be any more imperative for White America right now. Dyson speaks a lot of uncomfortable truths about race and the Black American experience, and we all really need to listen. Sadly, I’m afraid those who need these lessons the most will not pick up this book, but it’s an important piece anyway. Even just listening, learning, bearing witness, and acknowledging are beginning steps towards true advocacy for white allies. My one tiny criticism is that I believe there is much more to the election than just race, but there are (and will be) other books and articles one could read about all the factors that were in play. The audiobook (read by Dyson) is powerful and fantastic—I listened to the whole thing in one sitting. [Listened to audiobook in April 2017.]

book club: parable of the sower and bitch planet

This week, my friend Anthony and I held another meeting (online) of our Best Friends International Book Club! I have so much fun reading and discussing books with him. Anthony put it sweetly in a comment on my Instagram:

You encourage me to think deeper and wider with each selection, and I love how this keeps us connected—with each other and the world around us! 😍 [link]

That’s how I feel about him and our club! It means a lot to me to stay connected to my beloved Kansas City family. And although we’re in different countries and drinking different beverages when we have our book club Skype dates, we actually do stay on topic! Mostly! We keep it loose as far as timing our meetings go; we chat when we’re both done with the books and when we’re available.

First, we read Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler. It was the first Butler book for either of us. In 2025, society is descending into a chaotic collapse. Headstrong teenager Lauren’s family is killed and her home is destroyed, so she and a few neighbors journey north to a rumored safe haven. Along the way they encounter dangers and new people, and Lauren reveals her plans for a new religion. Lauren also has a condition called “hyperempathy,” which allows her to physically feel the pain of others. I was struck by how prescient and insightful Butler was in her description of this near-future America: privatization, climate change, gender and race issues, religion, the opioid crisis, and more. It’s an important addition to the science fiction genre for these reasons, plus being written by a woman of color. Unfortunately, the book didn’t entirely live up to the hype and rave reviews for me. The religion aspect turned me off, as did the hyperempathy. I always have trouble with epistolary novels, too—Sower is basically Lauren’s diary. I’d rather be shown the action than be told about it after the fact. I think this may actually be a YA book, too, which are usually hard for me to get into. I was interested in the The Road-like journey the crew takes north, though. I wonder if I would have liked Sower better if the religion and hyperempathy had been cut? These parts bothered Anthony less, but overall he felt the same. We decided this first book in Butler’s Earthseed series was enough for us. But! I’m not writing off Butler entirely; I’m looking forward to reading Kindred one day. [Read ebook in May 2017.]

Bitch Planet, Book One by DeConnick and De Landro was our second pick for this discussion. In another near-future dystopia, if women don’t comply with the behavioral and beauty expectations placed upon them by the patriarchal leadership, they are arrested and sent away from Earth to a prison planet. The plot (so far) involves the “non-compliant” women being forced to compete in an all-male game called Megaton in order to “spice up” the event, and there’s corruption in the government and prison, etc. I love how in-your-face this graphic novel is, and how the women are non-apologetic and kick-ass. I’m really interested in seeing where this is going. I do wish there was more backstory, and I felt it drag when the focus shifted to men on Earth just talking about Bitch Planet. Otherwise, I think Bitch Planet has a great premise and is an excellent, creative way to get readers thinking and talking about intersectional feminism, the prison industrial complex, sexism, societal expectations of women, and more. Anthony felt the same way, so we chose Bitch Planet, Book Two for our next discussion. He also mentioned the best part: the hilarious fake ads at the end of each issue! [Read in May 2017.]

Our next choices for BFIBC are Bitch Planet, Book Two, Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, and Chris Hayes’s A Colony in a Nation. I’m excited!

reading recap: may 2017

I read 13 books in May! Even though several were short and several were on audio, this might be a personal record for me. I also already hit 50 books (currently sitting at 51)! I can’t believe it. I guess this is what happens when you listen to audiobooks all day while you draw.

  • The Hearts of Men (audio) … Nickolas Butler, read by Adam Verner
  • Frankenstein (audio) … Mary Shelley, read by various
  • The Leavers (audio) … Lisa Ko, read by Emily Woo Zeller
  • The Road to Jonestown (audio) … Jeff Guinn, read by George Newbern
  • What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky (ebook) … Lesley Nneka Arimah
  • There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé (ebook) … Morgan Parker
  • The Teacher Wars … Dana Goldstein
  • Men Without Women: Stories (audio) … Haruki Murakami, read by various
  • Life’s Work (audio) … Dr. Willie Parker, read by Caz Harleaux
  • The Radium Girls (audio) … Kate Moore, read by Angela Brazil
  • Drinking: A Love Story (ebook) … Caroline Knapp
  • Parable of the Sower (ebook) … Octavia E. Butler
  • Bitch Planet, Book One … Kelly Sue DeConnick with Valentine De Landro

My favorites for the month, as usual, were the non-fictions: The Road to JonestownThe Teacher WarsLife’s WorkThe Radium Girls, and Drinking: A Love Story. I was fascinated by Jonestown and Radium, while Teacher Wars and Life’s Work are important pieces to understanding where we are on the topics of education and abortion today. Drinking was personal and raw, and made me think more deeply about my own use and relationship with alcohol.

Of the fictions, The Hearts of Men and What It Means When A Man Falls from the Sky really stand out to me, as well as a few stories from Men Without WomenParable of the Sower and Bitch Planet were recent picks for my international book club with my friend Anthony, and it was so great to read these along with him.

This last month I made a detailed plan for catching up on book posts here. I want to write a little bit about everything and I WILL get to it all! I’m traveling for several weeks in June and July, so I’m not sure how many posts I can write up and schedule ahead, but I’ll try my best to keep this space active a bit while I’m away.

I’m currently listening to Going Clear on audio, the exposé on Scientology that came out a few years ago, and it’s riveting so far. I also recently purchased Van Gogh’s Ear and Pachinko, which I’ve had my eye on for weeks! I also would like to pick up Chris Haye’s A Colony in a Nation and Roxane Gay’s new one, Hunger, while I’m on the road this summer. What are you planning for summer reading?
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mini-reviews: feminists, citizen, beard

I had a wonderful week celebrating the holidays in Wisconsin last week! I was able to squeeze in three short books before the end of the year, plus a couple of audiobooks (reviews coming soon for those). Here are my brief thoughts on each:

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the text of her 2013 TED talk, a short essay I read in one 30–40 minute sitting. Since it it so short, Adichie doesn’t go into extensive details or analysis, just lays out the topic in clear, concise language mostly based on her own personal experiences. This could easily be expanded into several essays, and was a great complement to a couple of the essays in Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist (my review). I appreciated that Adichie doesn’t get angry here, nor does she place blame on any group for the way things are, only urges everyone, women and men alike, to recognize there is a problem and to do all we can as a collective society to fix it. She recognizes there are fundamental, biological differences between men and women, but why the social differences? She gives a great example of cooking historically being a “female” thing, while men are generally off the hook (though feeding oneself is a necessary life skill, no matter your gender). I really enjoyed this, and just got Adichie’s Americanah in the mail and I’m looking forward to reading it in 2015! [Read on December 24, 2014.]

Next, I read Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine. What a powerful, timely collection of prose poetry. Everyone—regardless of race, color, creed, socioeconomic status, etc.—should take a few hours to read this book soon. Formed in brief vignettes ranging from seemingly innocuous encounters in everyday situations (errands, appointments, job interviews, etc.) to more egregious aggressions on an national or international stage (Serena Williams’s televised tennis matches, for example), Citizen reveals expectations, assumptions, and behaviors that millions of Americans deal with on a daily basis in their lives, things that have very real after-effects on people, body and soul. This books is an accessible expression of the complexity and reality of race issues historically right up to today. [Read from December 27 to 28, 2014.]

My gift to my husband this year for Christmas (in addition to The Lego Movie… best wife ever!) was a copy of Stephen Collins’s The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil. Nick has a beautiful, glorious long red beard which looks fantastic on him, so beards have become quite a topic of conversation in our lives the past year. I thought this would be a fun gift and it was! I read it in one sitting after Nick finished. This strikingly illustrated black-and-white graphic novel is about Dave, a dude who lives on an impossibly tidy island called Here, surrounded by the ominous There (dystopia or utopia?). Several themes exist in Gigantic Beard—existential crises, general ennui, fear of the unknown and “otherness,” society being evermore connected but evermore alone, fitting in vs. individualism, and so on. This is just begging to be a Pixar feature-length film. Also, I thought it was hilarious that Dave’s iTunes suggested R. Kelly’s Ignition Remix after playing the Bangles’ Eternal Flame. [Read on December 29, 2014.]

the walking dead compendium one

My husband received a copy of The Walking Dead Compendium One by Robert Kirkman last year for Christmas and I thought it would be a good choice for the “graphic novel” genre of my Eclectic Reader Challenge. From Goodreads:

Introducing the first eight volumes of the fan-favorite, New York Times Best Seller series collected into one massive paperback collection.

In a world ruled by the dead, we are forced to finally start living. With The Walking Dead #1-48, this compendium features more than one thousand pages chronicling the start of Robert Kirkman’s Eisner Award-winning story of zombie horror, from Rick Grimes waking up alone in a hospital, his band of survivors seeking refuge on an isolated farm and the controversial introduction of Woodbury despot, the Governor.

I don’t have much experience reading graphic novels, and the ones I have read didn’t make much of an impression on me (WatchmenBlack Hole). Something is just missing for me in graphic novels, and I don’t become very emotionally invested. After those two books, I felt just fine never reading another graphic novel again (and yes, I certainly do count them as “real” books and see the appeal). While I enjoyed The Walking Dead Compendium One more than any graphic novels I’ve read before, I still kind of think they’re not quite for me.

Of course, with the popularity of the TV show (of which I’m a fan), it’s impossible not to compare, but fortunately the books are different enough from the show that you can enjoy both without frustration that the show isn’t more like the book and/or vice versa. Characters in each may have the same name, but nothing else in common as far as personality or story line. I did wish the women were stronger in general—Lori and Andrea are better in the books than the show, and Michonne is equally kick-ass in both, but the rest of the women in the book are pretty weak. Several characters were downright annoying (Maggie and Glenn… whom I love on the show!). This may be just me and my lack of experience with graphic novels, but some characters (especially the men) I couldn’t tell apart and would forget who they were… however in general they were more three dimensional (ironically!) in the books than the show.

The artwork seemed pretty par for the course in my limited experience, with a handful of really impressive full-page spreads. I thought the detailing on the zombies, making each one unique, was particularly well done. There were a lot of dynamic, action-packed sequences throughout, and the main point of other people being the real threat—not zombies—was driven home well. One thing that came through shining clear in the book that didn’t in the show for me was that our motley crew fighting for survival in this new, terrifying, desperate world are the walking dead—not the zombies.

While again, I’m not sure I’m hooked on graphic novels after this, I was definitely hooked reading this collection. I can’t say I’ll make a point to read the subsequent compendiums (so many other books on my TBR to get through!) but I do recommend this first one for horror and post-apocalypse fiction lovers! It was a great warm-up to the next season of The Walking Dead TV show premiering in October.

The Walking Dead Compendium One is my graphic novel for the 2014 Eclectic Reader Challenge, and marks 5 of 12 completed on the list.

Read from August 26 to September 6, 2014.

day twenty-six | 30 day book challenge

30 Day Book Challenge | Day 26 — A guilty pleasure book

“A guilty pleasure book” was actually originally day 22, but I switched it up because for one thing I couldn’t think of any guilty pleasure book in the technical sense (something generally panned that I loved), but the one book that falls into “guilty” and “pleasure” categories for me recently involved Christmas…

The Walking Dead: Compendium One by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, and Cliff Rathburn. This was a Christmas gift to my husband from my brother, but since we didn’t go up to Wisconsin for Christmas this year I have been in possession of this book for a few weeks, hiding it in my office at work. Before Nick opened it up yesterday morning, I have been sneaking reading it during lunch at work. So while this isn’t a technical “guilty pleasure” book, I have been (semi-)guiltily taking pleasure in reading someone else’s Christmas gift before they had the chance, mwauahah!

What is one of your guilty pleasure books?