Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Bright Hour (by Nina Riggs)

This is a posthumous memoir by a woman who died of metastatic breast cancer.  I first learned about her and her book because her widower is now dating Paul Kalaiathi's widow.

This is a beautiful memoir about Riggs dealing with her own cancer as well as her mother's illness and death. The writing is at times poetic, funny and endearing, and often profoundly thought-provoking. I feel like as I grow older and continue to grapple with mortality, this will be a book I return to.

“I am reminded of an image...that living with a terminal disease is like walking on a tightrope over an insanely scary abyss. But that living without disease is also like walking on a tightrope over an insanely scary abyss, only with some fog or cloud cover obscuring the depths a bit more -- sometimes the wind blowing it off a little, sometimes a nice dense cover.” 

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Friday, January 26, 2018

Artemis (by Andy Weir)

I enjoyed this just fine. As others have notied, the problem is that he made his lead a female Saudi Arabian Muslim without making her femaleness, Arabic-ness, or Muslim-ness really factor into her identity at all. She's basically Mark Watney, except not, because she's totally a female Saudi Arabian Muslim, you guys.

I absolutely appreciate the effort, and the fact that when the movie is made they will actually have to cast an Arab female in the lead, and not Matt Damon. I also think Jazz's father is somewhat successful as a devout Muslim character, and there are some nice character notes towards the end. But there are a lot of implausible moments, a lot of "a woman would never say that" moments. It reminds me of how the narrator of Lock In was supposed to be gender ambiguous but used a phrase like "I have to take a piss," which I literally have never heard from a female person in my entire life.

Anyway. Not trying to circumscribe how to be a woman, but merely saying I didn't buy Jazz as an authentic character. Other than that, it's a fun and lightweight, and Martian-y, Moon adventure.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The End of Eddy (by Edouard Louis)

Not exactly a memoir -- it's an autobiographical novel.  Picked this up for the Tournament of Books and this is the book I alluded to in my last post as a bit of a slog, although it's quite short.

I'm not sure why I never warmed to this book. It's the story of a gay boy growing up in rural France in roughly the present day (the author, whose life this is based on, is only 21) and dealing with extreme poverty and homophobia.

I had some issues with the verb tenses shifting (which, to be fair, may be a translation issue) but also I found the characterizations somewhat uneven, the plot at times stagnant, and the timeline slightly confusing.

This simply did not click for me, for whatever reason, and I feel like it's probably a better book than I'm making it out to be. Curious to see how the Tournament discussion shakes out. I probably wouldn't have finished it otherwise.

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Monday, January 22, 2018

Florence Gordon (by Brian Morton)

Recommended by aych for the Read Harder Challenge category "book with a female protagonist over the age of 60."  I loved this novel! The other book I'm reading is yet another slog from the Tournament of Books, so in comparison, this breezed on by and was simply a pleasure to read.

Florence Gordon is a prickly, 75-year-old feminist. (As soon as Frances McDormand turns 75, she's going to do a great job playing Florence Gordon in the miniseries.) The novel shifts between her point of view and those of her son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter. The novel deals with many themes -- among them, the gulf between the feelings of our loved ones and our assumptions about those feelings.  It's powerful and quiet and subtly moving.

I loved the minimalism of the writing and the emotional complexity of Florence Gordon, and I adored the prickly protagonist. Recommended!

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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Homegoing (by Yaa Gyasi)

An early contender for best read of the year, for sure.  Homegoing absolutely blew me away.

If you aren't already familiar with it from the crazy hype last year, it starts on the African coast, in modern-day Ghana, with two separated sisters. One is forced to marry a slave owner and stays in Africa. The other is kidnapped and sold to America.  We follow each of their family histories, generation by generation, through the present day -- each chapter is a vignette focusing on a child of the previous protagonist.

The vignettes cover a large swath of the African and African-American experience, from the civil rights movement to slavery, Jim Crow to colonialism, tribal war in Africa and the Harlem of the renaissance.  Loss and separation is a constant theme. Each vignette is strongly character driven, each character is vivid and unique, and I formed an emotional connection with each one.

I can't say enough good things about this.  A must-read.

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Space Case (Moon Base Alpha #1) (by Stuart Gibbs)

I discovered this series when I was looking for a read for this Read Harder Challenge category: "The first book in a new-to-you YA or middle grade series."

This incredibly fun book is "a murder mystery on the moon" starring a 12-year-old boy named Dashiell who is a member of the first moon colony in 2040.  Both his parents are scientists and his whole family is on the moon for three years. When a fellow colonist steps out of an airlock and dies, Dashiell becomes convinced it's murder -- and tries to investigate.

I actually was reading another book set on the moon, Artemis by Andy Weir, and put it down in favor of Space Case.  Then I immediately downloaded Space Case #2, which I'l probably also read before I get back to Artemis. Given how much I enjoy Weir, that's a compliment to Stuart Gibbs! Fun read.

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Friday, January 12, 2018

Dear Cyborgs (by Eugene Lim)

Now that I have this library thing figured out, as soon as the Tournament of Books shortlist came out, I immediately added every book I could find to my library holds list (minus the ones I've already read: The Animators, Fever Dream, Lincoln in the Bardo, Manhattan Beach.) This is the first one that was available.

Unfortunately, Dear Cyborgs was an inauspicious beginning for me. Although there are some insightful passages and commentary that will probably lend themselves well to being quoted in Tournament of Books judgments, this did not hang together for me at all.  My notes merely say "hella pretentious and annoying."  The lack of narrative, the fragmentation, the experimentation -- just all felt like it went a bridge too far and I did not go along for this particular ride. 

Lots of people love this and it worked for them. But it didn't work for me.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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Righteous (by Joe Ide)

The sequel to IQ and the year's first Read Harder Challenge book since it fits the "Mystery by a person of color" category -- although I would have read it regardless!

I didn't feel Righteous was as good as the first in the series -- jumping back and forth between the two storylines lost some momentum for me, and I found myself having to reorient myself with all the main players every time the timeline shifted.  I also didn't feel there were quite as many awesome Sherlock Holmesy "aha!" moments in this one.  But I still enjoyed it and love Isaiah as a character, and will likely stick with the series for now.

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