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If I'm honest with you, I'm probably much too close to this book to have a fair opinion of it. On the other hand, it's a gorgeous, loving, clear-eyed and critical portrait of the world in which I live. In a week that felt hopeless, this book gave me a beautiful and hopeful place to be, and I adored it without reservation.
Powell’s Books beckoned to us in red, black, and white, like a flag for a new America. One that’s educated, homegrown, and all about sustaining local book culture.

Libraries are where nerds like me go to refuel. They are safe-havens where the polluted noise of the outside world, with all the bullies and bro-dudes and anti-feminist rhetoric, is shut out. Libraries have zero tolerance for bullshit. Their walls protect us and keep us safe from all the bastards that have never read a book for fun.

Juliet is a fat 19yo Puerto Rican lesbian writer from the Bronx, spending her summer in Portland, Oregon, interning with Harlowe Brisbane, the white feminist author of Raging Flower: Empowering your Pussy by Empowering your Mind. Shenanigans ensue, and they are gloriously, heartbreakingly real: a science fiction writing workshop honoring Octavia Butler; a reading at Powell's that goes horribly wrong; a queer POC party in Miami.

Rivera is brilliant on the rollercoaster that is growing up one or more kinds of "other" and trying to be true to your authentic self before you have quite figured out what that is.
You are your own person, Juliet. If it’s a phase, so what? If it’s your whole life, who cares? You’re destined to evolve and understand yourself in ways you never imagined before.

She is also extremely acute on the specific failures of white feminism. At a moment in history when our alliances may or may not save the world, it's on white women to understand how our thoughtlessness can inflict deep injuries on our best allies. And it's on white women to stop that shit.

This is a first novel and unpolished, but it's a huge shiny diamond full of light and color and my favorite thing I've read in the challenge so far.
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Ian McEwan's acclaimed novels On Chesil Beach and Saturday both take place over the course of a single day, in an improbably lily-white version of England. Race-bending this formula is the fundamentally good idea beneath Black Bread White Beer. When we meet Amal and his white wife Claud, they have just lost a pregnancy in the first trimester, but they go ahead and visit Claud's parents in East Sussex as planned.

The novel is at its sharpest and funniest when Amal is reporting his Pakistani parents' reactions to his horrible in-laws:
‘What she means is, we wish you all the luck in the world, Amal, but you must watch your back. Her people look like a bunch of backstabbers. Never trust them for an instant.’

There are also some moving passages where Amal imagines what he and Claud would be like as parents:
Theirs would not be paraded about like Sussex show ponies. There were plenty of cool, funky children they could take as their template.

or what their lives would be like child-free:
They could buy a holiday home abroad. Two. One on each hemisphere if that is what would make her happy. He racks his mind to think of the childless couples they know – not the kids from the office; guys their age and older – but cannot dredge any up. In their immediate circle, there are no trailblazers, only conformists. No matter. They are taste makers, she and him. They can set the precedent.

As with McEwan, though, I found these characters difficult to warm to. Amal and Claud both struck me as joyless corporate drones, preoccupied with status, their world devoid of beauty and pleasure. A technically adroit book, but not for me.

Aziz Ansari, Modern Romance, 2015

Aug. 17th, 2017 10:01 am
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I loved Aziz Ansari in Parks and Recreation and I revere his own series, Master of None. The "Thanksgiving" episode of Master of None is one of the best things I have ever seen on television. So I picked up Modern Romance with some enthusiasm.

In a classic Tom Haverford move, rather than just write the obligatory you-have-succeeded-as-a-comedian-on-TV book (Bossypants, Girl Walks Into a Bar, I'm Just a Person, Paddle Your Own Canoe, Self-Inflicted Wounds, The Bedwetter, Yes Please... yeah, it's a genre), Ansari teamed up with Stanford sociologist Eric Klinenberg to figure out both why technologically-mediated dating is such an unrelieved horror show and, reading between the lines, why Ansari was finding it difficult to meet a nice woman.

The resulting book reminded me a bit of Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything in that it's as curious and interesting as it is funny. Ansari's quizzical sweetness shines especially in his reporting on the specific dating scenes in Buenos Aires, Doha, Paris and Tokyo.
In Japan, posting any pictures of yourself, especially selfie-style photos, comes off as really douchey. Kana, an attractive, single twenty-nine-year-old, remarked: “All the foreign people who use selfies on their profile pic? The Japanese feel like that’s so narcissistic.” In her experience, pictures on dating sites would generally include more than two people. Sometimes the person wouldn’t be in the photo at all. I asked what they would post instead.

“A lot of Japanese use their cats,” she said.

“They’re not in the photo with the cat?” I asked.

“Nope. Just the cat. Or their rice cooker.”

“I once saw a guy posted a funny street sign,” volunteered Rinko, thirty-three. “I felt like I could tell a lot about the guy from looking at it.”

This kind of made sense to me. If you post a photo of something interesting, maybe it gives some sense of your personality? I showed a photo of a bowl of ramen I had taken earlier in the day and asked what she thought of that as a profile picture. She just shook her head. OH, I GUESS I CAN’T HOLD A CANDLE TO THAT STREET SIGN DUDE, HUH?

For me, the most engaging part of the book was seeing insights that later ended up as jokes in Master of None. I endorse and seek to emulate this kind of creative reuse! As for meeting a nice woman, the gossip rags tell me that Ansari was in a relationship with pastrychef Courtney McBloom for a while, but they parted amicably last year. So it goes.

The Summer Prince

Aug. 13th, 2017 11:38 am
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[personal profile] yatima has been carrying all the water around here, and shouldn't have to.

Earlier this week, I finished Alaya Dawn Johnson's The Summer Prince. I have had this book by my bed for months and months and months. I would pick it up, read some, like it, and then get distracted. Finally, I decided it was too good for that kind of treatment and got serious about moving through it.

It is an excellent and fascinating book, even though it never really grabbed me. The worldbuilding is awesome and the depiction of the inner lives of teenagers, affected by the different world they live in and nonetheless completely recognizable as the teenagers of our times, is especially well done. The The prose is beautiful and the evocation of the city is outstanding. The setting is a post-apocalyptic Brazil and effectively everyone is (from our perspective) PoC; Johnson explores class divisions and to some extent national divisions, but the key cultural rift she explores is age.

I can't quite figure out why it didn't have momentum for me, and I expect that will be different for other people. I found it well worth the comparatively slow going, and will probably re-read it at some point. 



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Australians of my generation have a particular reason to be fond of Journey to the West and it is the gloriously daft Japanese adaptation that was replayed endlessly on after-school TV. (For many queer Australians of my generation, myself included, Masako Natsume, the woman who played Tripitaka, is a pivotal figure in our secret lives.) The Monkey King resurfaces in Gene Luen Yang's graphic novel American Born Chinese, one of the books that taught my younger kid to read. (I was especially touched when in Yang's book, the three wise men who attended the birth of Jesus turned out to be Monkey and his friends Sandy and Pigsy. I'm a sucker for good crossover fanfic.)

All this to say that The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is yet another delightful take on Journey to the West, this time set in the hyper-competitive high schools of the Bay Area. Monkey is now Quentin, a handsome, short, brilliant and very annoying teenager who kept reminding me of Miles Vorkosigan, in a good way. Genie herself has a surprising connection with him, but is a three-dimensional character in her own right, with a sense of honor and complicated relationships with her parents and friends. Her efforts to balance college applications with supernatural obligations had a Buffy-ish resonance, and the various Gods and demons showing up in modern America will please Neil Gaiman fans. I found this a quick and enjoyable read.
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"Welcome to the Middle-Aged Orphans Club," writes Sherman Alexie, and as a middle-aged orphan myself, I did feel welcome, and seen, and understood. In July, Alexie cancelled part of his book tour because of complicated grief and being haunted by his late mother: "I don’t believe in ghosts," he writes. "But I see them all the time." Me too, brother.

Like Bad Indians, this is an intricate quilt of a book, part memoir, part poem, part dream. It's hard to imagine how it could be otherwise. The loss of a parent is a loss of meaning. For indigenous people, this is doubly true. Lillian Alexie was one of the last fluent speakers of Salish. Her death robs her son, and the world, of an entire universe.

This book, like Hawking radiation, is an almost-undetectable glow of meaning escaping from a black hole. If you haven't lost a parent yet it might be too much to bear, but if you have, it might feel like joining a group of survivors around a campfire after a catastrophe.

IN AUGUST 2015, as a huge forest fire burned on my reservation, as it burned within feet of the abandoned uranium mine, the United States government sent a representative to conduct a town hall to address the growing concerns and fears. My sister texted me the play-by-play of the meeting. “OMG!” she texted. “The government guy just said the USA doesn’t believe the forest fire presents a serious danger to the Spokane Indian community, even if the fire burns right through the uranium mine.”

...“Is the air okay?” I texted. “It hurts a little to breathe,” my sister texted back. “But we’re okay.” Jesus, I thought, is there a better and more succinct definition of grief than It hurts a little to breathe, but we’re okay?

July 2015

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