I’ll admit it. I’m in a crunch to get some numbers on my Cannonball Read list. I read a few really long books (I know….boo-hoo) and had some life happen earlier this year that really messed up my pace. However, there are some nifty graphic novels that meet or exceed the page count that are slightly faster to read than say, Kushiel’s Dart. Take, for instance, Flight Explorer vol. 1 edited by Kazu Kibuishi. Amazon’s description says that the book is supposed to deal with themes of flight, but there were at least two that didn’t touch on any kind of flight I could think of. Maaaaaybe “Snow Cap, 2nd verse” by Matthew Armstrong could be considered a “flight of fancy,” but that’s stretching it. However, it was a completely adorable story with some of the sweetest art I’ve seen recently, so I didn’t care too much that it didn’t fit with the theme.
Anyhoo, this is one of the ones that looked nifty from my local library. It’s a collection of stories edited by Kazu Kibuishi, who also has a delightful story in the book. The ten different authors/artists bring a diverse style and feel to the book, but most seem to have a similar cheeky sense of humor. “Big Mouth” by Phi Craven is another that didn’t seem to fit with the theme and was one of my least favorites, both because the style is not really my thing and it also wasn’t as playful as the others. I suppose it has a good message, though, about being kind to people who’re different and if you’re different to hang in there; you’ll eventually find people who compliment your personality and will be your friend. Even if you do wind up accidentally eating all their ice cream. It helps to give them your ice cream to repay them for eating theirs by mistake.
Editor Kazu Kibuishi’s story “Copper: Mushroom Crossing” was one of my favorites, with just enough wit, pluck, and suspense. The story is simple enough. A boy and his dog need to cross a wide mushroom field. They could either take the bridge or be daring and leap across the mushroom caps. Guess which they chose? Also, the mushrooms could totally be the love children of the hands from the movie Labyrinth and the Ents from Lord of the Rings. The next best story, “Missile Mouse: The Guardian Prophecy” by Jake Parker, is the featured part of the book cover and I admit, I judged this book by the cover and am glad I did. Appropriate and fun for kids over 9 or 10.
The Divorce Party was an intense book. It cracked open relationships at various stages, asked questions that frequently don’t have answers but still spin around in your brain for days or decades, and demonstrated that really, we can’t be sure of anything the way we really want to be. Not love, not how you think people will react, not even the structural integrity of a home.
The story is told back and forth from two different womens’ perspectives: Gwyn, a woman who’s marriage is about to end and who is hosting the titular divorce party, and Maggie, her soon-to-be daughter-in-law. Clearly, one woman is at the end of her (35 year) marriage and the other is just beginning down the path of marriage and family. I think the author did a really good job at pacing and keeping the reader intrigued. The dialogue was a bit stilted in places, but really when you’re dealing with impending divorce, the causes of it, throwing a party for it, meeting your soon-to-be mother/daughter-in-law at the weekend of the party…stilted is understandable. There were a few plot twists that surprised me, which I always like. I usually have respect for a book that can avoid trite plot conventions, but what’s funny is one of the plot twists wind up being a fairly trite plot convention, in the end. Or, at the very least, a cliche.
All that being said, there were some excellent descriptions of Montauk, NY and some incredibly insightful commentary about marriages, love, family, and divorce. As someone who’s gone through one divorce and is about to go through another, it scored some gut hits that ultimately helped me a bit on my journey. That’s was worth the price of admission for a library book right there.
A week or so ago, I discovered a LGBTQ YA reading list on a site (gayya.org) that now seems to be down or having technical difficulties. But the reading list was brilliant, especially since I tend to like reading about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people/characters. The list even included poly-themed books, which made me very happy. The Mariposa Club by Rigoberto Gonzalez fell under the trans/bi/poly category on the site, but really it’s about the high school experience of The Fierce Foursome (three gay boys -Isaac, Maui, Lib- and their trans/drag queen friend, Trini). No bi or poly in this one, but still, it was entertaining as all hell.
The premise is simple but misleading: the boys (or girls, as they refer to themselves) are from Caliente, California and come up with the idea to start a GLBT club at school. They encounter (and create) some resistance at the administrative level and though the club is talked about and changes focus (and names) during the course of the book, it never really goes beyond being another name for the Fierce Foursome.
The back of the book says:
“Little do they know that when the town is struck by a tragic homophobic incident that robs the Foursome of one of their own, the entire high school will turn to the Mariposa Club as a symbol of their grief, fear, and hope.”
That, too, is misleading. I never would’ve guessed who the “one of their own” was, nor how he would meet his demise. The “girls” go through many high school senior ups and downs, and I was really impressed with how candidly and well the author dealt with topics such as masturbation, porn, sex, fantasies, stereotyping (even amongst the teens themselves to other people), teen pregnancy, parental and sibling relationships, Mexican heritage, runaways, politics, gangs, goths, and anger. I also really loved how real the dialogue felt. I’ve been around “queeny” conversations like these, so when I was reading, I felt like I was eavesdropping on some gay teenagers at the mall.
The back of the book would have you believe that there was only one “tragic homophobic incident,” but really, there were a few – all realistic, all disheartening. But through it all, the “girls” learn to grow up and take pride in themselves and their various cultures, so that’s pretty damn cool. It’s not a revolutionary book, but I’m glad to see a ya book that features a trans character in such a positive way. Trini pulls no punches about being who she is and the book doesn’t focus on how hard it is or the process of becoming her; she just is. I guess in that way, it is fairly revolutionary for ya fiction.
Kushiel’s Chosen is book two in the Phèdre no Delaunay trilogy cycle. My review of the first, Kushiel’s Dart, can be found here. Of the three, this was probably my least favorite, though it wasn’t because it was bad. I just preferred book three (review coming soon) most, followed very closely by book one.
The story of Kushiel’s Chosen still centers, of course, around Phèdre no Delaunay (de Montrève) and her sworn protector, Joscelin. Phèdre, with the scarlet mote in her eye and God-prescribed ability to translate pain into pleasure. Joscelin, with his austere loyalty to and love for Phèdre along with his precision Cassiline training. The two embark on a mission to uncover a traitor in the heart of their city and in the process, discover a much more intricate and deceptive plan than they could’ve ever imagined.
Phèdre winds up being betrayed in a fairly surprising turn and imprisoned in one of the most maddening high security prisons in her world. Because it is a heroine’s story, and this happens a little over half way in, you know she’s going to get out, but it’s the how that was interesting, but with a heavy dose of deus ex machina…literally.
Phèdre’s complex relationship with the enigmatic, dominant Melisande only becomes more complicated, but for me, there wasn’t nearly enough of their interactions in this book. However, there’s political intrigue to spare, battles for a kingdom, treachery from within a sect of the population supposededly immune to it, fantastic rescue/escapes, and as always, a lush world brimming with sexuality and sensuality.
To be honest, this novel depressed and intrigued me, pretty much simultaneously, the whole way through. The concept is that a man named James Witherspoon is a bigamist, so very plainly states the novel’s opening sentence. It’s spoken by his daughter, Dana, who is the child of his second wife. Dan and her mom, Gwen, know that James is a bigamist. James’ first wife and other daughter, Chaurisse, do not know.
The family dynamics that this brings into play are fascinating. Dana seems like a stronger, smarter girl but is always having to play second to Chaurisse. James doesn’t live with Dana and her mom, but comes over every week for dinner. His best friend knows and is in on the secret, so much so that he offers to marry Gwen to give her a more stable life than James can provide.
As a proponent and practitioner of open relationships, I’ve been curious about bigamy for a long time. Why people would willingly flout the law, how it plays out with the people involved, especially the children, and what various people in their lives thought of it. For instance, why would Gwen sleep with James, when it’s clear from the beginning that he’s married. How does Dana deal with it? How does James take care of his second family? What led James to being and staying married to his first wife that precluded divorcing her and marrying Gwen legally and out in the open?
These questions are answered…I just don’t really like the answers. To me, many of them wind up being cop outs, or feeling like it. How James and his first wife wind up together is a tragic portrait of teenage hormones and “doing the right thing” in 1958. Why they stayed together after that has a lot to do with social norms of the time but are still frustrating. Also frustrating is why Gwen thinks sleeping with and marrying James is okay. For the latter, she gets pregnant and James again tries to do “the right thing” by her. But in this situation, there is little clearly cut that’s right, besides not sleeping with a married man who’s first wife thinks she’s in a monogamous relationship to begin with.
However, we mostly learn about these issues through the eyes of James’ daughters. The first part of the book is narrated by Dana and the second half by Chaurisse. Watching what they do and don’t know about each other and how that changes was like watching a train wreck about to happen. You just can’t look away. Also, the ways these girls mimic their mothers in terms of starting or keeping their own relationships is scary and intriguing. Dana gets into a relationship with a guy that you just want to shake her and tell her he’s not good enough for her, but after what she’s learned from her parent’s relationship and how a “husband” treats his “wife,” it’s understandable, yet still sad, that she accepts an unhealthy relationship.
This book left me audibly groaning in places for the choices that characters made, but on the other hand, it made me feel, think, and examine my own choices and relationships, so it wasn’t all bad. It’s interesting and fairly well written, but it was pretty melancholy.
“Be yourself, they say. Be whoever you want to be. Dad, Ed, Mr. Hughes, Oprah bloody Winfrey. Like some crappy mantra.
But they’re not the same thing. Not the same thing at all.”
As someone who’s recently been doing a lot of soul-searching about “who I am” and “who I want to be”, this opening to Joanna Nadin’s book Wonderland got to me. Being yourself and being who you want to be are two very different things. And sometimes, it’s a struggle to both be yourself and also work towards being who you want to be. Especially when, like the novel’s protagonist, Jude, you’re sixteen, your mum committed suicide when you were a kid, and you’re bullied at school by the British band of Heathers.
Luckily, Jude’s best friend from when she was a kid is back. Stella is everything Jude isn’t. Brash, adventurous, sexy, and unafraid to go after what she wants. Jude thinks herself to be plain and boring in comparison and throughout the course of the book, makes an effort to be more like Stella. You know something is going to go very wrong along the way, however, since the first chapter, set in August, opens with Jude and Stella in a car about to go all “Thelma and Louise” because “this is the only way”. The next chapter starts in May and from there, the book goes chronologically until we see how Jude and Stella wound up about to go over a cliff.
The journey there is both familiar and slightly foreign. Jude seems to be a typical teenager who’s having growing pains. She’s having trouble with growing up. She doesn’t think boys would ever like her. Her relationship with her father is estranged since her mother’s death. And she’s got mean girls at school picking at her emotional scabs on a regular basis. But once Stella comes back, Jude starts to come out of her shell. With Stella pushing her, Jude goes to parties, flirts, tries to make it to an audition for a performing arts school.
Where the novel deviates from the norm, though, becomes a fairly well done psychological study in coping with unimaginable loss while trying to grow up at the same time. Jude uses some fairly surprising means to learn the difference between who she is and who she wants to be, and somewhere along the line, how to have the courage to bridge the gap.
The Doll People by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin (with pictures by Brian Selznick) is a sweet children’s adventure book about the importance of family, friendship, courage, and adventures.
Annabelle Doll and her family haven’t seen her Aunt Sarah in 45 years. In this world, much like Toy Story ouerve , toys can come to life after there are no humans around. If you are caught out of your proper place when a human does come around, though, you risk being put into Permanent Doll State. For this reason, the Doll family hasn’t gone looking for Auntie Sarah. They fear getting caught and losing their own doll lives.
But one day, Annabelle discovers Auntie Sarah had a journal. She starts reading it, hoping it will give her insight to her Auntie’s disappearance. What it tells her is that Auntie Sarah liked to explore the house…and not just their Doll house, but the house in which their humans lived in! This was a revolutionary idea to Annabelle and so she started cautiously go exploring, hoping to find Auntie Sarah.
On one such expedition, she comes across another Doll house in another room. This is a far more modern, plastic version of a doll house, and the family that lives in it are called the Funcrafts. The Funcrafts are also plastic. They have a daughter named Tiffany, who’s just about Annabelle’s age. The two become fast friends and wind up reading Auntie Sarah’s journal and exploring together.
They wind up in some scrapes along the way but there is a happy ending and a doll house door left wide open for sequels. It’s sweet and beautifully drawn, and probably would make a good reading-a-chapter-to-a-child-before-bedtime kind of book.
I have no idea who would read this book. I just don’t. This is the sort of book that sits on a bookshelf, conspicuously at eye-level in a living room. As a totem, it is a visible demonstration of the owner’s intellect and keen insights into the world. The possessor of the book does not have to be able to quote from it or even understand it for this totemic magic to work.
With Zizek pumping out several books a year, you could enhance its magic with a few of his other works. ‘Oh!’ your guests would say, ‘You have more than one of Zizek’s books! How clever you must be!’
First as Tragedy, Then as Farce is an extremely difficult book. Difficult and turgid, but rewarding. Published in 2009, Zizek explores the philosophy and social constructs which provided the background of both the cause of the Global Financial Crisis and the response to the Global Financial Crisis.
Zizek’s project is to act as the philosophical optometrist to the world. We, the ordinary folk of the world, cannot see what is really going on because we have the wrong pair of glasses. Worse, we the ordinary folk of the world have been self-prescribing our glasses using WebMD and have strong emotional attachments to the glasses that we have prescribed for ourselves. As philosophical optometrist, Zizek not only wants to prescribe a new pair of glasses but also wants to convince us that we should put aside our emotional attachment to our current glasses.
This is where the difficulty comes in. When discussing the background philosophical issues — for example, the analysis of how capitalist ideology has become invisible to most people — he is subtle, nuanced, even beautiful in his expression. More than that, he is persuasive and (as a conservative myself) confronting.
But when it comes to fields of expertise beyond philosophy — particularly economics — Zizek becomes increasingly less subtle and nuanced. It should go without saying that the causes of and responses to the GFC have an economic element to them, but it is difficult to find that economic element expressed satisfactorily in the book. Although both Michael Moore and the Tea Party make functionally the same claim (‘bailing out the banks is robbery!’), it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are both equally correct. Or even that they are saying the same thing, as strange as it sounds. One is saying: ‘[Giving money to the people who caused the problem] is [morally impermissible because they should be punished for what they did to everybody else].’ The other is saying: ‘[Giving money to people whose business model failed] is [morally impermissible because taxation is theft and propping up businesses distorts the market].’ The focus on the US contributes to this myopic view. Here in Australia, while fending off dropbears and hating on the Lebanese, we invested taxpayer dollars into various areas of the economy in order to ride out the GFC. By most reasonable accounts, it worked well. If you can extrapolate Zizek’s reading of the US experience to Australia, the coherency of his discussion breaks down. In other words, his analysis of their social engagement only seems plausible because the actions failed. Had the actions not failed (as was the case in Australia), the analysis would not look plausible.
Philosophy gets an unfair wrap in public opinion due to films like The Matrix or whatever which make philosophical questions look easy. Where philosophy is absolutely at its best is when it is informed by the very best in other fields of research. First as Tragedy, Then as Farce desperately needs more input from economists (and not just of the ‘I have a popular column in a newspaper’ variety).
The act of reading therefore becomes an act of sifting. You have to filter out all the gobbledegook about economics in order to focus back on the questions Zizek answers best: where are our blindspots when it comes to arguing about politics and economics?
Then again, Zizek does absolutely everything he can to push the reader away. Jokes that are seriously NSFW litter the book. And the jokes don’t really serve much in the way of a purpose. A joke about a peasant’s wife getting raped doesn’t contribute much to the argument.
Towards the end of Zizek!, Zizek complains that the ‘enemy’ tries to marginalise his views by laughing at them. ‘Ho, ho. That funny Zizek. He’s not a serious commentator on politics or culture!’
Here he is, for example, complaining about tulips:
But it’s not the ‘enemy’ making him look foolish there. It wasn’t the ‘enemy’ which littered First as Tragedy, Then as Farce with awkward jokes. It was Zizek himself.
And thus we get back to the start. I have no idea who would read this book. Is Zizek simply writing book after book to his fans? Are they dutifully purchasing each one, making room for it at eye-level in their living rooms? Do fans of Zizek even have money? Worse, Zizek doesn’t seem to have a particular audience in mind.
Which is a shame because three-fifths of the book (the non-economics stuff) is genuinely great.
So, if you’re a masochist with an interest in the philosophy of politics and economics, grab a copy of this book and read it in a really busy cafe so that lots of people can see you.
Christmas with Holly was originally titled Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor, and is the first in Lisa Kleypas’ Friday Harbor trilogy. Each book in the trilogy focuses on one of the Nolan brothers (Mark, Sam, and Alex), their romantic issues, and life on Friday Harbor, Washington. The first is Mark’s book and his story – their sister, Victoria, is killed in a tragic car accident and her will names Mark as her daughter’s guardian. Holly is an adorable six year old who becomes mute as a means of coping with her mother’s death. To help her the best way he knows how, her uncle Mark moves her from Seattle, where she and her mom lived, to the quaint town of Friday Harbor where he runs a gourmet coffee shop and is fixing up a dilapadated Victorian house.
Brothers Alex and Sam also live on the island and the banter between the three of them (or any given two) is quite fun to read. However, the real magic of this book comes from the chemistry between Mark and Maggie Collins, a recent widow. She runs the toy store down the street from Mark’s coffee shop and is good with kids. Maggie and Holly form a special bond, where Mark’s girlfriend, Shelby, can’t seem to. Oh. Right. Mark already has a girlfriend. However, it’s clear from the way that she doesn’t consider Holly Mark’s “real” daughter that the relationship between and Mark isn’t going to lastlong. And you don’t have to be a genious to figure out the love interest.
All that being said, the book doesn’t rely on cliches or a deus ex machina to get rid of Shelby or bring Maggie and Mark together. The dialogue feels real, the decriptions of Friday Harbor make me want to visit, and a litmus test for me reading any book is whether or not I’d want to know the characters in real life. This book made me wish I could live in Friday Harbor down the street from Mark and his brothers. However, I’ll just have to settle for knowing there are other books in the Friday Harbor series and read/review them this year.