Monday, May 22, 2017

Startup (by Doree Shafrir)

A fun read that would work great on an airplane or on the beach. It's a lightly satirical look at tech culture in New York, and as someone who works in tech, albeit in SF, it hits way too close to home way too much of the time.  (Douchey tech-bro Mack goes into a meeting repeating be the change... be the change.... I have a banner over my desk with the same slogan on it.)

I was a bit disappointed that what started out as a somewhat morally ambiguous plot coalesced into an obvious good vs evil showdown at the end, turning Mack into a caricature in the process.  Plus the ending is way too abrupt (is it trying to be "literary" in quotation marks all of a sudden) for the relative straightforwardness of the rest of the plot.

But, of course, I tore through this in a day and was wildly entertained. Shafrir got the details so right, I love-hated the window into my life. Very fun.

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Friday, May 19, 2017

Lincoln in the Bardo (by George Saunders)*

Buzzy novel about the death of Willie Lincoln, his father’s grief, and a chorus of spirits in the graveyard where he is laid to rest. I listened to this on audiobook. I have to say the audiobook production is  spectacular. The main narrators are Saunders, David Sedaris, and the delightful Nick Offerman. I also recognized the voices of Susan Sarandon, Ben Stiller, Bill Hader, Jeffery Tambor, and Rainn Wilson. But there is a cast of 166, both very famous and very not. Reminded me of The Graveyard Book, another chorus-of-spirits novel with an excellent audiobook. But of course, this is much darker and deals with more adult themes.

I couldn’t help but be struck by the fact that the main characters are male: Abraham Lincoln and the three main spirits who narrate the story Mary Lincoln is barely touched on, and although some of the stories involve female spirits, and some of those are very good, most don’t; men are really central here, and by the end I came to find that that irritating. There is also an awkward ending where an African-American spirit kind of “influences” Lincoln to free the slaves or something? It felt like a concession to the fact that this book focuses on the sadz of Lincoln and the experiences of white men at the expense of a lot of other voices.

That said, it’s hard not to feel the sadz when the novel focuses on the grief of a losing a son, and the realization that the Civil War is leading to many more deaths of many other parents’ sons. That was quite powerful. But otherwise this novel felt discursive and unresolved. (Of course, death is always unresolved and that's part of the point. But I was really hoping to learn the Reverend’s ultimate fate, and more of the “rules” of the bardo.) Anyway, if I did star ratings, I'd give it three stars.

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Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Hate U Give (by Angie Thomas)

A young adult novel highly recommended to me, and now highly recommended by me.  Salon called it "required reading for clueless white people" and although I don't consider myself totally clueless, and live in a diverse community, it did challenge some of my preconceptions and my comfortable ideas about contemporary black life.

It's also entertaining. The protagonist, Starr, is a wonderful, relatable character with an authentic voice. But a friend of hers from her neighborhood is killed in a routine police stop, and Thomas delves deeply into what this means for Starr herself, for her neighborhood, and for her as a black girl. She's also dating a white boy from her fancy private school, and Thomas delves into what it means for Starr to be caught between two worlds.

Excellent -- even if you're not typically a young adult fan, The Hate U Give is well worth your time.

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Sunday, May 07, 2017

Queens of Geek (by Jen Wilde)

A fun YA that is very much a love letter to geek culture. Three best friends attend the ComiCon-esque SupaCon and have various adventures. One is an out bisexual YouTube star trying to avoid her ex-boyfriend and dealing with a crush on a fellow YouTuber. One is a "big name fan" who is socially anxious in real life (and also in love with her best friend). The third is the aforementioned best friend, who is supportive and nerdy and kind of dreamy.

I loved the feminist sensibility, the diversity, the focus on the female characters.  (Only Tay and Charlie, the two female characters, get point of view chapters.) (All three main characters also have gender-neutral names, which I found interesting.) Clearly Jen Wilde is intimately familiar with fandom and fandom culture, and it shows. Highly recommended for YA fans and nerds!

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