Thursday, February 16, 2017

we should all be feminists

My oldest gave me their copy of We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi, to read. Its an essay, based on a TED talk Adichi gave a while ago, published as a little soft-cover book. I read it in about an hour, maybe less.

Adichi is smart, dedicated to her cause—you can hear it in her voice—and her argument is simple, and commonsense driven. What I appreciated the most was her definition of feminism; its simply the belief that women and men should have equal rights, not just in the law, but in practice, in society. All societies.

She also understands that changing minds is difficult, and is therefor not focusing her attention on changing the way people act today, rather, she is advocating that we teach our children to be different than we are. Its a good argument.

Anyone who believes that equality will make tomorrow better for all, and decides that it may be easier for them to raise their children to be different than they are, without necessarily having to change their own behavior, may see this as a more achievable goal. Not having to give up their own prejudices and behavior may (at first) seem easier to swallow. But once they’ve agreed to this, then it may only be a matter of time before they begin to adopt these behaviors, as they guide their children, if only a little bit.

Ask your daughter to shovel snow or mow the grass. Ask your son to wash the dishes or the laundry. Speak to them both about sports, money matters, and responsibility. These strategies are simple, but give both sexes a more equal footing, and doesn’t presume that there are certain tasks, stations, or primacy better suited to one or the other.

Yeah, read this book.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

27th kingdom

The 27th Kingdom is an odd little book by English author Alice Thomas Ellis (1932-2005). I haven't read her stuff before, but its got a wonderfully English humor about it that reminds me of "Monty Python's Flying Circus," various English situation comedies, like "Are You Being Served," with a touch of Tom Robbins. That last one is just for the strange bits.

Aunt Irene (pronounced in the East European/Slavic way) is the owner of a small, historically interesting home on the outskirts of London, in the 1950s. Aunt Irene lives with her young, self-absorbed nephew, Kiril, and whatever wayward needling happens to come along. Aunt Irene simply can't say no, and so her house is often occupied by various adult, foundlings. The newest is young, lovely Valentine, sent to live with Aunt Irene by Irene's sister, the abbess of a convent in which Valentine is a postulate. The abbess believes that Valentine needs a time away from the abbey, but hasn't shared the reasons why, with her sister.

The Kingdom is absolutely driven by the dialog. There is very little narration or description. One knows very little about most things in this story if it doesn't come up in conversation. And the conversation is constant, and many times internal to Aunt Irene herself. And Aunt Irene is an odd duck, and the company she keeps is just as odd.

This book is short, fast paced, and pretty much begins partway through the story, and then seems to end partway through as well. When I finished, I felt like I had overhear the larger part of an interesting, but ultimately bizarre conversation, while riding next to some strangers on the T. Ellis writes as though she's a fly on the wall, in the house of whomever she happened to buzz in upon. It began odd, and ended even stranger.

All in all, it was fun to read.

Monday, February 6, 2017

time being

A Tale for the Time Being is a novel by Ruth Ozeki that I borrowed from my office lending library. It looks like the kind of book that would have been in someone's reading group list of books. As usual, I come to these books late because I'm picking them up used, some years after they were popular. I'm not sure how popular this book was at the time, but it certainly reads like one that would get the attention of book clubs.

I don't think I'm giving anything away when I point out that very quickly in the text, it becomes clear that the phase 'time being' is a double entendre. in fact its noted at the top of the back cover on the paperback I read As soon as I read that, the Zen of this book started kicking in. This book is as much about an interestingly disjointed trans-Pacific relationship, as it is about philosophy. Think Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Yeah, like that.

Ozeki is writing her thoughts about Zen into this storyline, just as Pirsig did in his, but I think Ozeki does a better job of working the teachings into the narrative than Pirsig did in Motorcycle Maintenance. The other difference I'll point out is the story in this book is better too! Ozeki sets up a pattern of switching back and forth between two storylines, narrated by two people on different sides of the ocean. Its a one-sided relationship, and we can't help wondering what will happen next with each of these characters, and their supporting characters.

Its a story of loss, change, caring, moving away and what 'home' means, bullying, nature, war, coming of age, old age, dreams, Japan, suicide, and Zen. Its got a little of everything, and is just riveting.

Ozeki dances us right out to the edge, and teases us with a universe that is larger than we may ever understand, and then grounds us by reminding us that our finger is not the moon, but that they are, still, the same. Just as a man and a wave in the ocean are.

I really enjoyed this story, as a narrative, a conversation between different peoples, and as a primer for understanding eastern philosophy. Ozeki has a keen understanding of people, and does a great job building characters that have weight and depth.

Read this book. Move others out of the way, if needs be.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

the help

The Help is a 2009 novel by Kathryn Stockett, later adapted for a movie of the same name, in 2011, with Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark, and Emma Stone as Elizabeth 'Skeeter' Phelan. I didn't see the movie, but I do remember the movie doing very well, just as the book did. The Help was one of those books that made it onto many book club reading lists at the time.

Skeeter Phelan and her friends live in Jackson, Mississippi, in the 1960s, and she and all of her white friends have maids and cooks who work for their families, clean their clothes,makes the meals, wash their sheets and take care of their children: the help. The help consists exclusively of black women, who are not allowed to shop in the white supermarket unless they are showing for their white employers, or use the white library, or in some cases use the same toilet as the white employers while they are working in their homes. A divide that is extremely difficult for these dedicated women and their families, but its a system that is so ingrained, that the don't see a way out of it.

In the era of the JFK assassination, and Martin Luther King's speech in Washington, events which slip by in the backdrop of this story of a few families, Skeeter Phelan approaches the maid of one of her friends, Aibileen Clark, and asks her to take a risk and tell her story. The two of them hatch a plot to tell the story of how black housekeepers are treated, and try to publish it anonymously in a book.

This is Stockett's first novel, and I don't think she has followed it up yet, but you can feel the dedication and research that went into this novel. My first impression, after reading a few chapters, is that this type of story seems brave for a white woman to tackle, looking at this era from both a white and a black woman's points of view, but the I realized that its just the same set of feelings in me that keep me from being open minded about who can do what, because what is more important is that its done right; or at least as good is one is able. This book is a great effort to examine the issue.

This book is tense, fun, difficult at times, and helps insure that the story stays alive, and in our thoughts.

Read this book.

Saturday, January 14, 2017


Moonglow is subtitled 'A Novel' but it reads like a memoir, my guess is that its somewhere between the two; so I guess you could say its a memoir styled novel, based partly in reality. Its almost as if Michael Chabon was able to determine a little bit about his family history, and found some of it to be intriguing, but not quite exciting enough for a memoir. Then, wishing there were some more interesting facts, or at least interesting mysteries, he began to spin a tale.

Of course, I could be wrong and it could all be Bologna.

What Chabon does pull off is the intricately woven, dappled, and complicated history of an American family, and how their history makes the inheritors of that legacy what they are today, whether its actually the author's history or not, doesn't really matter.

Chabon peppers the story with 'facts' that at least seem to give the story an anchor in reality, and of course, he's told the story in first person, stepping back and forth in time from chapter to chapter, some of them in the present day, or recent past, in which he (or the narrator) is a character himself.

The story Chabon has spun, centers on the life of his maternal grandfather, a German Jew, ex-US military intelligence officer, from New Jersey, who meets his wife at temple function, where she is being held out like bait in a bear trap by gaggle of women who'd like her to meet someone else. Actually the women are dying to introduce her to Chabon's grand uncle, the newly-minted, handsome young rabbi. Due to a slight miscalculation when the two brothers enter, its Chabon's grandfather, and not the rabbi, who meets his future grandmother. And it becomes pretty clear that the rabbi brother wouldn't have stood a chance.

The story pops between their early romance, his grandmother's history in Europe and her escape from the Nazis, his grandfather's work in Germany at the end of the war, searching for Nazi rockets, and his lifelong love of rockets and space travel. There are tiny details, tics, hobbies, loves, hates, tastes, obsessions, secrets, habits, and beliefs that makes us what we are, and Chabon has built his characters brick by brick by examining these traits and how they color what people do. This reminded me of Philip Roth's American Pastoral. A family history is built on stories, and Chabon has strung this family's stories together in a way which reminds us of our own, and therefore tells the story of all of us.

I think this book showed up on a lot of must-read lists. My oldest gave this book to me as a Christmas gift; thanks honey!

Read this book.

Saturday, December 31, 2016


Niceville was another weird one, but ended up being a great additional to my recent catalog of paranormal books. I'm thinking about many of the books I've read this year, which are all listed in "the books" tab at the top of the page. Niceville is a character driven crime or mystery story with a little bit of weirdness kind of creeping around the edges. In fact, the book probably would have read just as well without the weirdness, the paranormal bit was really just another sub-plot, that just as easily could have been jilted love, or spousal abuse. And both of those sub-plots were in there anyways.

Niceville is not so nice. Obviously the title name of this imaginary southern town, close to the Blue Ridge Mountains, is tongue-in-cheek, and is what drew me to the book in the first place. No one names a book Niceville, and then writes about how nice it is. It also happens, that Niceville is the first in the Niceville Trilogy. I bought this book used, but the book jacket nor the notes inside mention it being part of a trilogy, maybe Carsten Stroud didn't know that when it was published. But then, I'm not sure what goes on the book jacket is up to the author in most cases.

There is a huge cast of characters, and we get bits of the story from the viewpoint of many of them, all living their own lives, and up to their own deeds and thoughts, until their stories all begin to knit together. Its a story-telling technique we've all seen before, and takes some research in the form of cranking through the first hundred pages or so, until you've learned enough about these characters to see the patterns emerge. Being the first of a trilogy presumably means we won't have to do this again, and can take what we've learned into the next two books.

I'm not sure there is a main character or characters, I get the feeling this is cast driven thing, more like Game of Thrones. Everyone in Niceville seems to have a story, so I won't be surprised if some or all of these characters show up in the next books, altho I expect that some may not, and some new ones will probably appear as well. I'm not really expecting the dead ones to show up again, but who knows, there is that paranormal twist I mentioned right? To say nothing of the possibilities of stories from an earlier time period, which I guess is also possible.

Stroud's writing style seems aggressive, short. Staccato is a good term for it. His dialog is not as loose and slangy as Elmore Leonard's, but he does tell a lot of the story with the dialog like Leonard, which I like. I did notice that he used the same simile within a half dozen pages at one point, which struck me as odd, but maybe I missed the point of it. felt like a mistake in the text to me. meyh, what do I know

I'll keep my eye out for the next installment, but I'm not burning down the house to get my hands on it. It was entertaining, and I did find myself spending more time reading than I normally do, but then I've been sick all week, and laying in bed, soo...

the dispossessed

I'm trying to get down my thoughts on all of the books I've finished in recent weeks, but haven't had the time with the holidays, and being sick during the holiday week.

Merry Christmas to all, and Happy New Year!

I still have a number of books from Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea Cycle on my reading list, but I haven't seen them at my library and haven't had the time to bother asking for them to be delivered. This one however, I found in the library's book sale, apparently weeded from the collection. The Dispossessed is another of Le Guin's looks at society and its norms via SciFi. She has a knack for disassembling societal problems, winnowing them down to their core, and then rebuilding them in an artificial form so that she can examine them more clearly. In this case, she's created a twin world; two planets that revolve around each other--each the others' moon--one green and lush, the other dry and barren.

The green world, Urras, is much like ours, and 175 years ago, a band of dissidents who believe in freedom, and self rule, leave their home to colonize the dry world, Anarres, and build a new world of self rule, collective anarchy. Its a thought provoking look at pure social communism, with no centralized government, no rules, no currency, no ownership, and no laws, built around the believe that in order to be completely free, everyone must do exactly what they want, by agreeing as a society that part of what they want is to help and support one another. A collective anarchy.

After 175 years of this planet-wide experiment, Le Guin looks in at how a society like this might be faring, and compares and contrasts it with the world the anarchists left, and no longer have any contact with. The original colonists, and their children are long dead, and generations of people have been born and raised in this experimental society, completely untouched and uninfluenced by the governments and currencies of their home world.

One scientist from dry, isolated Anarres, decides that perhaps its time to re-connect with the people of Urras, and share what he has learned; the new science that he has developed. But Shevek finds that sharing and giving don't have the same meaning in a society based on currency and centralized governmental control. He also finds that having a new idea, which is normally celebrated in his own society, can be threatening, when that new idea includes reaching outside of that long closed society. Threatening to the isolationism that many on Anarres believe insulates them from the evils of Urras.

If you aren't interested in this type of outside look at anarchy, and what society means, this may not be for you, but if you can get past the preaching which underlies the story, the story itself is an interesting look at different ways of life. And some pretty hippy-dip space-time theory, which or may not, in some form, be actually pretty close to true.

Le Guin is still kickin' it at 87. She has recently released a collection of novellas entitled The Found and the Lost.

By the way, The Dispossessed is part of a series called the Hainish Cycle, but the order of this series of books, is a little loose, and from the way it sounds, not really critical. FictFact has it listed this way, why I'm not sure, as it seems to be in opposition to the advice from Le Guin herself on what order to read them in, if that is important to you in this case. For her advice, go here and search for the phrase "in what order should I read" or the word "Hainish."

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

everlasting nory

The Everlasting Story of Nory is an odd little book by Nicholson Baker. I picked this volume up at the book sale at a library I visited to do some work between meetings. I don't know a lot about Nicholson Baker, but from what I've read, he tends to focus on stream of consciousness storyline involving adults. Not the case here.

Eleanor (Nory) Winslow, is a nine year old American girl, whose family has recently moved to England. Nory tells her story of assimilating into English school culture, how she feels about bullies, and their victims, mixed in with her remembrances of life and friends in America. It seems as though Baker has tried to channel a 9-year-old girl when authoring this, so there are misspellings, tangential meanderings, and a fair number of tortured idioms throughout. Nory tells the story of her first year in her new school, how she made her way, what she had to put up with, and describes the differences between where she used to live, and where she now lives, all from her quirky, story-telling way.

It appears that Nicholson Baker has a pretty dedicated following, so if you're a Baker fan, you may enjoy this, but without knowing any more about him, I'm not sure I'd recommend this book as a starting point.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

fallen angel

Fallen Angel reminded me of The Bridges of Madison County. It's romantic. It's comes at a time of transition in the protagonist's life. There's a little mystery involved.

Its also completely absurd.

There is a certain amount of 'suspension of disbelieve' that a reader needs to bring to every book I read sci fi for pete's sake but Snyder asks us to go one further when he asks us to believe that people will act as he indicates in this one.

In this case, our guy is kind of a jerk. Left his childhood home in Maine to escape the life his parents--mostly his father--made for him, and scrabbles around in different jobs for years til he ends up representing talent in Hollywood. you know, that old trope of washing dishes until your a movie producer Now he finds himself at forty with nothing to show for it but a small pile of money, and then...drama.

So his earlier life reaches out for him and he ends up back in Maine rediscovering what he had run from all those years ago.

And it's Christmastime.

I picked this one up at the library book sale without knowing much about it, but I was surprised. The Christmas bit was a surprise too. It's not a terrific book, just sort of sweet and season appropriate. Don J. Snyder has apparently done this kind of thing before, I just haven't read them. If you liked Bridges, then this one is probably worth a read, otherwise don't bother. Or you can just check out the Hallmark made for TV movie, which probably ran at Christmastime. on the lifetime channel

yeah I made my little notes red and green on purpose