Reflections on May...and the first half of 2012.

First, enjoy this song by Arcade Fire - Month of May. It's on my "trampoline jumping" playlist.

The entire album is great by the way.

Now onto the real reason I'm posting -- May was a good month for me. I somehow managed to get through five books (...I'm kind of a slow reader). And in case you missed it (check out my reviews) I read:

Tomorrow is the first day of June and I have about six months or so to complete my challenges. This sounds very doable. Overall, I think I've maintained a good balance of reading according to my lists and random, mood-induced choices of books to read. Participating in three challenges gives me the right amount of freedom I want, but just enough pressure to venture out of my comfort zone. So what have I accomplished?

Smooth Criminals - 5/8:

Color Coded - 5/9:

European - 2/5:

I'm content with my progress so far...Right now, I'm halfway through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a quarter of the way through Prodigal Summer and Mockingjay is on deck on my Kindle. I've been feeling like I need some sci-fi or fantasy in my life, so I'll probably head in that direction with my reading in the not so distant future. That's about it for now -- hasta luego.

* = read this book one day.


Review - The Red Rooster

The Red Rooster
Author: Michael Wallace
Pages: 300+


Of all the desperate women in German-occupied Paris, Gabriela Reyes is the least likely to scratch out her survival as a whore for a Gestapo agent. After fascists murdered her mother and brother and tortured her father in an insane asylum, she hates the Germans as much as she fears them. But when she discovers the man responsible for destroying her family, she decides to become his mistress to try to free her father and avenge her family.

Helmut von Cratz is a war profiteer using his wealth to undermine the Third Reich and is one meeting with an American agent away from ending the German occupation of France.

But Gabriela's sudden appearance as Colonel Hoekman's mistress jeopardizes Helmut's careful plans. Now he must decide: will he abandon his plans, or will he sacrifice yet another woman to the German war machine. 

One look at the hard edge to the man's expression and a know of cold fear formed in the depths of Helmut's gut. I am an enemy of the Third Reich. I am undermining it from within (Loc. 1183)

This is a story about loyalty. This is a story about a German, Helmut von Cratz, and his loyalty to his country. In order to protect his country he must spy from within the Nazi establishment and collaborate with the Americans, to make sure the Russians don't win the war. This is also the story of Gabriela Reyes and her loyalty to her father. If he's alive she must find him. If he's dead, she's going to kill the man who took him away.

I'll just say this...of the two stories of loyalty, only one made sense to me -- the German, Helmut von Cratz's. I refused to even try to believe Gabriela's motivation. Yeah, she had a noble cause but the means she was using to achieve the desired end was questionable. Basically, Gabriela would seduce Hoekman, a Gestapo bigwig, at Le Coq Rouge (a fusion of restaurant and whorehouse) to get information about her father and then kill him. But then Helmut decided he would seduce Gabriela and convince her to get closer to Hoekman (which she was planning to do anyways) so he could find out if Hoekman knew he was a spy, and then kill Hoekman and possibly Gabriela if need be. The whole plan just seemed far-fetched, overly ambitious and unrealistic. And that's probably why it didn't work. 
It's a cold, hard world. Our whole country is getting fucked over by these bastards. It's an ugly thing to use someone and throw them away, but for god's sake, she's a refugee turning tricks. The world has already used her up and thrown her out (Loc. 1644)
I think my favorite part is near the end when we realize Gemeiner has given in to torture and confessed about the espionage and Helmut to Hoekman. Things were going a little too smoothly for everyone up until this point. My least favorite parts are the several times Helmut and Gabriela almost hook up -- really annoying. 

Sometimes I felt like there were gaps...for example when Helmut and the girls are fleeing Paris after Helmut's been discovered and Gabriela's failed assassination attempt on Hoekman. The escape to Marseilles seemed way too easy and lacked a certain level of suspense. I think it would be nearly impossible with the Germans and French police looking for them, and yet somehow they made it. 

Sometimes I found myself reading a lot of awkwardly phrased dialogue. I don't know if something is lost in translation from French to German between characters...and then it's written in English? I'm making excuses, it could just be poor dialogue. 

And still I enjoyed this book. The gaps didn't detract too much from the plot, and the awkward dialogue made me laugh. I even found myself googling images of mustard gas scars and reading up on the side effects of a lobotomy and Heinrich Himmler. All very intriguing stuff. 

If I were a history buff specializing in World War II, I might take issue with this novel -- but I'm not.
The Red Rooster

Four stars.

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. To participate grab your current read, open to a random page and share a few sentences. Don't include spoilers, but do include the title and author. 
Something splattered across his face. Shards of sunlight thrust into the car. The gunfire receded, replaced by screams. No more words. 

Loc. 1361? of The Red Rooster by Michael Wallace


Book Beginnings - The Red Rooster

Book Beginnings is a meme hosted by Rose City Reader. Share the first sentence (or so) of a book you are currently reading, along with your initial thoughts and impressions about the sentence or book. Remember to include the title of the book and the author AND link up at the Rose City Reader

Book Beginning (Prologue):
June 2, 1940
Among the throngs fleeing the port at Dunkirk was a young woman from Spain, seventeen years old, who wanted to return to the front lines. She had passage across the Channel, papers paid for with a man's life and a small fortune in twenty franc notes, and a cousin waiting in London. She kicked off her shoes, gathered her dress and prepared to jump overboard. 

 My thoughts:

I think this is a great opener and the rest of the prologue paints a very chaotic picture. At this moment, I like how the story is beginning to unfold. What do you think?


The Great Gatsby - Movie Trailer

It's directed by Baz Luhrmann and it looks amazing! 
...too bad we'll have to wait until December. 

Poetry for Thought - Fat Southern Gentlemen in Summer Suits

Fat Southern Gentlemen in Southern Suits
by Liam Rector

Fat southern men in their summer suits,
Usually with suspenders, love to sweat
Into and even through their coats,

Taking it as a matter of honor to do so,
Especially when the humidity gets as close
As it does each southern summer.

Some think men could do better
By just going ahead and taking the damned
Coats off, but the summer code stays

Because summer is the time
For many men, no matter what their class,
To be Southern Gentlemen by keeping

Those coats on. So late in life here I am
Down here again, having run to fat
(As southern men tend), visiting the farm

Where my grandfather deposited
So much of his own working sweat,
Where Grandaddy never bought into any

Of "that Southern Gentlemen crap."
Up north where I landed in the urban
Middle class I am seldom caught

Not wearing a coat of some kind. I love
The coats, and though I love them most
In the fall I still enact the summer code,

I suppose, because my father and I did buy
That code, even though I organized students
To strike down any dress code whatsoever

In the high school I attended (it was a matter
Of honor). And it still puts me in good humor
To abide with the many pockets, including

One for a flask. So whether it's New York,
Vermont, or Virginia, the spectacle
Of the summer seersucker proceeds,

Suspenders and all, and I lean into the sweat
(Right down to where the weather really is)
Until it has entirely soaked through my jacket.


Review - The Moonstone

The Moonstone
Author: Wilkie Collins
Pages: 350+


Rachel Verinder, a young Englishwoman, inherits a large Indian diamond on her eighteenth birthday. It is a legacy from her uncle, a corrupt English army officer who served in India. The diamond is of great religious significance as well as being extremely valuable, and three Hindu priests have dedicated their lives to recovering it. The story incorporates elements of the legendary origins of the Hope Diamond (or perhaps the Orloff Diamond). Rachel's eighteenth birthday is celebrated with a large party, whose guests include her cousin Franklin Blake. She wears the Moonstone on her dress that evening for all to see, including some Indian jugglers who have called at the house. Later that night, the diamond is stolen from Rachel's bedroom, and a period of turmoil, unhappiness, misunderstandings and ill-luck ensues. Told by a series of narratives from some of the main characters, the complex plot traces the subsequent efforts to explain the theft, identify the thief, trace the stone and recover it.

My thoughts:

First order of business, I'd like to give myself a pat on the back for finishing this book. I truly dreaded almost every moment of it.

The book is filled with social satire and witty commentary. Some are funny, many are not. Here, I'll let you be the judge:
A cloak (on a woman's back) is an emblem of charity -- it covers a multitude of sins (84)
Follow me carefully, and I will prove it in two words. You choose a cigar, you try it, and it disappoints you. What do you do upon that? You throw it away and try another. Now observe the application! You choosea woman, you try her, and she breaks your heart. Fool! take a lesson from your cigar-case. Throw her away, and try another! (124)
Poor thing! the bare idea of a man marrying for his own selfish and mercenary ends had never entered her head (194) 
Have you had enough? because there's a ton more I can share, thanks to the narratives of Betterredge.
Also, I was only mildly curious to learn why Rachel was acting so cruel to Franklin Blake...and in my opinion the only interesting character is Mr. Candy's assistant, Ezra Jennings. He's the unsung hero, the unlikely hero. Consequently, his narrative/involvment in the plot (the opium experiment) was the only part I enjoyed. However, this doesn't happen until the last maybe 50 or so pages. I think that's the major problem with this one: it's too slow and too tedious.

I know it's a classic, but I didn't care for it. And I'm a little confused because I really liked The Woman in White. I guess I'm in the minority of people who prefer The Woman in White over The Moonstone. It is for me the better of the two. But this is just my humble opinion. That is all.

The Moonstone

Two stars.

Smooth Criminals, Reading Challenge for 2012

Book Haul (+14 )

...this is becoming a sport. It's even better when you don't have to pay for any of it.

 What's in this book haul?

The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd - I'm curious to see if I'll like her writing now that I'm older. The Secret Life of Bees was good...when I was 13.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini - a book I've always wanted to read.
The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett - I liked the Maltese Falcon, so I figure 'why not?'
Pierre and Jean and Selected Short Stores by Guy de Maupassant -- I got this for one story -The Horla.
Mystic River by Dennis Lehane - a book I've always want to read.
Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver --  I love her earthy, romantic writing style.

...and eight others.


Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. To participate, grab your current read, open to a random page and share a few sentences. Don't include spoilers, but do include the title and author.
It was as they shared a cigarette some time after midnight that he told her they could not see each other for a while. Cecilia turned her face to him in surprise.
"What do you mean?" 
p.288 of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson


Book Beginnings - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Book Beginnings is a meme hosted by Rose City Reader. Share the first sentence (or so) of a book you are currently reading, along with your initial thoughts and impressions about the sentence or book. Remember to include the title of the book and the author AND link up at the Rose City Reader.

Book Beginning (Chapter One):
The trial was irretrievably over; everything that could be said had been said, but he had never doubted that he would lose.

I know, I know -- I'm the last person ever to read this book...The good news is despite it's popularity, I know basically zero about the story. As far as the beginning, I'm not sure what to think. Maybe whoever this 'he' is, should have done a better job at the trial. Maybe it was pointless to do well. We shall see.


What's Next

I feel like I'm behind on my reading challenges, although I'm probably right where I need to be. I've been reading The Moonstone for what feels like forever. I am NOT enjoying it! My goal is to finish it by the weekend and then write a bitter review. Here's what I'll be reading next:

The Red Rooster, Color-Coded Reading Challenge

Paris, Nazis and the 'Red Rooster', which I'm assuming is a brothel or some fashion of a whorehouse. Should be interesting.

Mockingjay, following the herd

I need to finish this series and move on with my life.

Review - Drowning Ruth

Drowning Ruth
Author: Christina Schwarz
Pages: 300+
In the winter of 1919, a young mother named Mathilda Neumann drowns beneath the ice of a rural Wisconsin lake. The shock of her death dramatically changes the lives of her daughter, troubled sister, and husband. . . . Told in the voices of several of the main characters and skipping back and forth in time, the narrative gradually and tantalizingly reveals the dark family secrets and the unsettling discoveries that lead to the truth of what actually happened the night of the drowning.
My thoughts:
There’s a lot going on in this book; a lot of backstory, back and forth, flashbacks etc. So a brief synopsis is in order – Amanda Starkey returns to her family’s farm to live with her sister Mathilda and her daughter Ruth. About a year later, Mathilda mysteriously drowns leaving Amanda to care for Ruth. Mathilda’s husband, Carl, also returns to the farm after serving in the war and discovers that Amanda has become the family matriarch. Carl and Amanda work together to raise Ruth, who is sort of a problem child. At one point Amanda has to be taken to a sanatorium, but eventually returns to the family farm to continue to raise the girl. A split narrative between Amanda, Ruth and a few other minor characters reveals family secrets, how the family lives on and the truth behind Mathilda’s drowning.
I see I haven’t said enough. I thought I might omit this part, let it settle silently into the muck where it belongs, but it seems that isn’t possible. People want to hear everything, don’t they? Spy every strap and pin and hem. It’s not enough for them to run a finger along the scar or even to see the knife slice the skin, they must hear the blade purring against the whetstone (63)
Guilt, shame, mental illness and secrecy; all these are part of the propelling force of the novel. It really is a page-turner. From the beginning, it’s clear that Amanda isn’t keen on telling the truth. Flashbacks into the past reveal why. Amanda grows up the older sister to Mathilda, but obviously isn’t the favorite. She’s constantly compared to her more beautiful and charming younger sister. She also deals with her mother’s illness more explicitly than anyone else in her family. From reflections into the past, the reader learns that Amanda must be the responsible one, while Mathilda is a free bird. When Mathilda marries Carl, Amanda leaves to become a nurse, to start her own life away from the Starkey farm. But the damage is already done and what she encounters in the hospital only worsens her condition.  
We met because of Private Buckle and then I killed my parents. Had I mentioned that? No, I thought I hadn’t. Of course, I didn’t mean to kill them, but in a case of death, how much does intent really matter? (65)
To me Amanda is the most intriguing character in the book. At times I pity her, other times I empathize and then there are many points when I’m disappointed. Maybe going to work as a nurse and seeing men with missing limbs and holes blown into them, would settle her own uneasiness, make her realize how much better she had it or give her a sense of belonging. I don’t know. But ultimately, working there does her no good because its at the hospital where she meets Clement Owens. He wines and dines her. Stands her up frequently but always brings flowers and an excuse as an apology. And when the deal is sealed, the truth finally comes out – he’s married! Damn. How deceptive. But then again all the signs were there; the dates always out of town, because he had a wife in town. The heartbreak and shame sends Amanda back to the family farm, only she doesn’t realize she’s carrying more than that.
There were many times when I was sure Amanda had killed Mathilda. Her episodes, the things she said and did, or didn’t do all pointed to that conclusion. What kind of person blames her niece for the death of her sister? What kind of person let's her brother-in-law think that his dead wife (her sister) was seduced by and had a child with another man?
The simple truth was, she’d wormed her way in so deep, I’d never get her out. If I changed my name and went to the ends of the earth and never came back, still she wouldn’t let go. She was stuck like a burr in my hair (329)
This is a dark story about secrets, dysfunctional relationships and the imperfect love between family and friends. It's a good read.

Drowning Ruth

Four stars.  


Teaser Tuesdays


Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. To participate, grab your current read, open to a random page and share a few sentences. Don't include spoilers, but do include the title and author.

I tried to explain about contagion, about how she was safe with Ruth, about how they would see her once the recovered. But they were delirious with fever. They refused to understand.
p. 66 of Drowning Ruth by Christina Schwarz


Poetry For Thought - Dangerous for Girls

Dangerous for Girls
by Connie Voisine

It was the summer of Chandra Levy, disappearing
from Washington D.C., her lover a Congressman, evasive
and blow-dried from Modesto, the TV wondering

in every room in America to an image of her tight jeans and piles
of curls frozen in a studio pose. It was the summer the only
woman known as a serial killer, a ten-dollar whore trolling

the plains of central Florida, said she knew she would
kill again, murder filled her dreams
and if she walked in the world, it would crack

her open with its awful wings. It was the summer that in Texas, another
young woman killed her five children, left with too many
little boys, always pregnant. One Thanksgiving, she tried

to slash her own throat. That summer the Congressman
lied again about the nature of his relations, or,
as he said, he couldn't remember if they had sex that last

night he saw her, but there were many anonymous girls that summer,
there always are, who lower their necks to the stone
and pray, not to God but to the Virgin, herself once

a young girl, chosen in her room by an archangel.
Instead of praying, that summer I watched television, reruns of
a UFO series featuring a melancholic woman detective

who had gotten cancer and was made sterile by aliens. I watched
infomercials: exercise machines, pasta makers,
and a product called Nails Again With Henna,

ladies, make your nails steely strong, naturally,
and then the photograph of Chandra Levy
would appear again, below a bright red number,

such as 81, to indicate the days she was missing.
Her mother said, please understand how we're feeling
when told that the police don't believe she will be found alive,

though they searched the parks and forests
of the Capitol for the remains and I remembered
being caught in Tennessee, my tent filled with wind

lifting around me, tornado honey, said the operator when I called
in fear. The highway barren, I drove to a truck stop where
maybe a hundred trucks hummed in pale, even rows

like eggs in a carton. Truckers paced in the dining room,
fatigue in their beards, in their bottomless
cups of coffee. The store sold handcuffs, dirty

magazines, t-shirts that read, Ass, gas or grass.
Nobody rides for free, and a bulletin board bore a
public notice: Jane Doe, found in a refrigerator box

outside Johnson, TN, her slight measurements and weight.
The photographs were of her face, not peaceful in death,
and of her tattoos Born to Run, and J.T. caught in

scrollworks of roses. One winter in Harvard Square, I wandered
drunk, my arms full of still warm, stolen laundry, and
a man said come to my studio and of course I went—

for some girls, our bodies are not immortal so much as
expendable, we have punished them or wearied
from dragging them around for so long and so we go

wearing the brilliant plumage of the possibly freed
by death. Quick on the icy sidewalks, I felt thin and
fleet, and the night made me feel unique in the eyes

of the stranger. He told me he made sculptures
of figure skaters, not of the women's bodies,
but of the air that whipped around them,

a study of negative space,
which he said was the where-we-were-not
that made us. Dizzy from beer,

I thought why not step into
that space? He locked the door behind me.


Look what I found!

I was running Sunday errands today and decided to take a peek into a discount store down the road.  I found a really awesome stir-fry cookbook there once, at a great price. It was a steal actually...the same book sold for three times as much at the bookstore I used to work in. There were quite a few interesting books in their inventory and I ended up purchasing these two:

A Most Wanted Man by John LeCarre and Bram's Stoker's Dracula.

I really liked the Dracula cover and the edges of the pages are a metallic-red. I love it when the edges of pages are different colors.

I'm sort of a book snob, and I don't usually buy books used because I hate when pages are ripped or sentences are underlined or someone's thoughts and questions are written in the margins. I have a similar concern when shopping at discount stores...sometimes cheaps things are flawed and easily broken. In the case of books, accidently marked up or missing a page.

On the other hand, if you're in the right place at the right time, you'll ocassionally find some gems--unique covers and titles that are rarely reprinted or super hard to find--and I can't ignore the price.  Owning books can get expensive...I got these two books (new) for half the price of one. Not bad right?

Two more books added to the bookshelf.


Book Beginnings - Drowning Ruth

Hola! We're trying something new today called Book Beginnings. 

Book Beginnings is a meme hosted by Rose City Reader. Share the first sentence (or so) of a book you are currently reading, along with your initial thoughts and impressions about the sentence or book. Remember to include the title of the book and the author AND link up at the Rose City Reader

Okay, so here's mine from Drowning Ruth by Christina Schwarz:
Ruth remembered drowning.
   "That's impossible," Aunt Amanda said. "It must have been a dream".  
But Ruth maintained that she had drowned, insisted on it for years, even after she should have known better. 
My thoughts:

I actually thought this was a lukewarm beginning. The very next sentence is way more captivating-- I would have started the book with it--but I don't think I'm allowed to share it...I'm about 60 pages into the book, and it's really good. I think it's about family secrets. Oh, how I love family secrets.



Review - A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange
Author: Anthony Burgess
Pages: 200+

Publisher's Description:

A Clockwork Orange is a frightening fable about good and evil, and the meaning of human freedom. And when the state undertakes to reform Alex to "redeem" him, the novel asks, "At what cost?"

My thoughts:

I've been meaning to read this cult classic for long time. I mean a really long time. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about and now that I've read it, I think I understand the appeal. The readers follow Alex and his gang of droogies as they carry out their ultra-violence and speak their Nadsat slang (which was really fun to decipher). The reader gets the feeling that they're always up to no good. Theft, rape, murder, you know, the usual. One day Alex is caught by the millicents (police) and thrown in jail for murder. After some time in jail, he is chosen to be a test subject for a rehabilitation technique that turns the bad into the good. 
The question is whether such a technique can really make a man good. Goodness comes from within, 6655321. Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be man (93). 
After being rehabilitated Alex is released back into society, but has a tough time reintegrating. Society is cold and without empathy. It's the society he both came from and helped perpetuate. Alex encounters a group of subversives who want to use him as a weapon of propaganda against the government, but with no desire to be violent and no sense of belonging, he seeks an outlet: suicide.
I most emphatically do not approve. An eye for an eye, I say. If someone hits you you hit back do you not? Why then should not the State, very severely hit by you brutal hooligans, not hit back also? (104)
I found the novel to be an interesting mix of philosophy; tossing in God, humanity and oppressive political systems. The central character Alex is somewhat intriguing. I had a hard time understanding his fascination with classical music. I mean it's not unusual to like classical music. I like classical music, but I was also a musician. And Alex just seemed so one-dimensional, his only motivation being his ego, his violence and tendency to fly off the handle. And classical music to me is very different. It has many layers. It's disciplined and complex, tender at times, bombastic at others. But I may be over-analyzing this. Alex liked classical music simply because he could. He had the choice. Later in the novel, choice is denied to him and classical music once a source of pleasure is transfigured into a source of pain. 

Apparently, the last chapter of the edition I read was initially omitted from the American version..I can see why. In the last chapter there's a change; after converting back into his old self, Alex becomes bored with violence and begins to mature at the ripe age of eighteen. I don't know, it just seems out of place. I wish I hadn't read the last chapter. I would have preferred to end it on a darker note, with the implications that man is man, violent and reckless. And he can't be changed. This American can appreciate that message. 

If you were wondering what the title is about, maybe Burgess can shed some light on it:
I mean it to stand for the application of a mechanisitic morality to a living organism oozing with juice and sweetness (A Clockwork Orange Resucked, 1986)
I liked it. I get why it's a cult classic.

A Clockwork Orange

Three stars.


Adios, Maurice Sendak.

For me Sendak was able to capture perfectly, the darker side in a most honest, ugly, sincere and scary way. His words and illustrations really spoke to me, someone whose middle name should of/could of have been Melancolia...To me he was just so real. He said whatever, however. Unapologetic, candid and complex.
Most people may know him best for Where the Wild Things Are. It was beautiful and terrifying and one of the most stressful things I've ever seen/read and I loved it. I enjoyed the 2009 movie adaptation...that was the last time I gave him or his work much thought, that is until I watched the Colbert Report's two-part interview with him in January. Hilarious. He will be missed.
The New York Times posted a great article today -- Maurice Sendak, Author of Splendid Nightmares and this NPR interview from last year is fantastic:
I have nothing now but praise for my life. I'm not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can't stop them. They leave me and I love them more. ... What I dread is the isolation. ... There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I'm ready, I'm ready, I'm ready. 

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. To participate, grab your current read, open to a random page and share a few sentences. Don't include spoilers, but do include the title and author.
Well, then she had to be tolchocked proper with one of the weights for the scales, and then a fair tap with the crowbar they had opening cases, and that brought the red out like an old friend.

p.13 of A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess


Starting Points: The Quest to Explore Contemporary African-American Fiction

I thought about my post on African-American literature/fiction over the entire weekend. I mostly contemplated the type of books I would end up reading...I'm not opposed to novels exploring sexuality, but I really don't want to read a whole bunch of smut. I also thought about re-reading books or reading more works by familiar or traditional authors associated with the genre. But I don't want to do that, so I won't. I want to read contemporary, as in no earlier than...what is it now? 2012? Wow.  Let's say no earlier than the year 2000. And so I thought I'd start with these two books:

Why am I starting with this book?

Easy. It was named in the article I discussed last week --Does African-American Literature Exist?-- and it seems like it will address two of my favorite themes: (de)composition of the American family and failure to realize the American Dream...I don't know why I like to read these things, but I do. 

And why this book?

Honestly, I'm a little hesitant about this one because it's supposed to be satirical. It's not that I don't 'get' satire because I do...I just think satire is very hard to execute successfully. Anyways, it seems like Everett uses satire to address some of my grievances with 'African-American' fiction of today. I also like the word 'erasure' and what it could mean in the context of this book. Cultural erasure? Intellectual erasure? Erasure of identity?  


Poetry For Thought - I Might Have Dreamed This

I Might Have Dreamed This
by Kirsten Dierking

For a short time after
the rape, I found I could

move things. Energy birds
swarmed from my brain.

With a witch's sense
of abandoned physics,

I set dolls rolling.
Back and forth. Like a

breathing sound.

Using only my night-powered
eyes, I pushed the lamp

to the dresser's edge.
I buried the mirrors

in avalanches of freshly
laundered underpants.

I never slept.

I did all these things
lying down.


What is this 'African-American' Literature you speak of?

What are black people writing about today? Can someone please shed some light on African-American literature? When I go into a bookstore about 95 percent of the books in the 'African-American' fiction section look something like this:

             or this...                      
Are we to assume that black people can only write smut? No—that can’t be right. These politically correct labels have many people confused. African-American literature is about black people, for black people and by black people, right? No, not quite. When I read and re-read Ellison's Invisible Man (amazing by the way), his message about invisibility can’t only appeal to people with brown skin. Or can it? I've read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (also amazing)...but does this even count? It's about a black woman's contribution to science and the present-day struggle of her family, but it's written by a white woman (Rebecca Skloot).
I’m vexed. What is African-American literature? Or more relevant to me, what is the state of African-American fiction? I think about foundational authors; Frederick Douglass, Toni Morrison, James Weldon Johnson, Ralph Ellison, Maya Angelou (to name a few) What did their writing mean in the past? What does it mean now and for the future?
I think that in the past—that is to say, before our ‘post-racial’ society—their stories told of a consciousness forgotten, a subconscious element of an era defined by racial separation and degradation. They were the voices of history (little ‘h’) that History could not suppress. I came across this article by English professor Kenneth Warren, which does a lot better job of explaining the historical aspect than I can.
Here’s what I took from the article:
  • AA lit. has come to an end which is not something to regret or lament.
  • AA lit. is of a historical period, the Jim Crow era, a Jim Crow phenomenom.
  • No one can write AA literature just as no one can write Elizabethan literature.
  • The society that gave rise to AA lit is not one that we have or want now.
Definitions of AA lit (according to others):
  • Black authors that reworked rhetorical practices, myths, folklore and tradition from the African continent.
  • A prolonged argument with slavery.
  • Refutation against the charges of black inferiority.
  • An instrument that served to fight against Jim Crow.
*Writing was a function of changing the world, explicit propaganda, the primary subject matter was the welfare of the race*
I starred the last talking point because it best sums up my thoughts on what African-American literature was in the past…I don’t know that the same can or should be applied to African-American literature of today or of the future. If you read the comments at the bottom, I think you’ll find there isn’t 100 percent agreement on the question or answer. One person left a link to another website: The African-American Book Club
Do you see what I see? I see a paused video clip with the image of a man’s bare chest plastered with female hands with really long fake nails. Is this the future? Now, in all fairness, I haven’t had a chance to check out the entire website (which claims to be the #1 site for African-American Literature) The image really turned me off to exploring the website any further…I’ve digressed a little. Let’s bring it back.
So does African-American literature exist? I really want it to. I know there has to be some contemporary authors out there, who can write some creative, engaging and thought-provoking stuff.
I look at my TBR list for the reading challenges and only have three books written by black authors (Yesterday Will Make You Cry - Chester Himes, Devil In A Blue Dress – Walter Mosley, and The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man – James Weldon Johnson). Fortunately, the article by Kenneth Warren gave me a starting point—Man Gone Down by Michael Thomas—and I’m determined. I’m on a quest to find these gems, to find an answer.
p.s-- I only posted images of Zane books because her shit is everywhere, not because I have anything against her.


Review - The White Woman on the Green Bicycle

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle
Author: Monique Roffey
Pages: 400+

Publisher’s Description:

Newlyweds George and Sabine Hardwood arrive in postindependence Trinidad from England in 1956. Struggling with loneliness, exhaustion, and the challenges of racial segregation at the dawn of a new political era, Sabine finds some comfort in expressing her hopes and dreams in letters to Eric Williams, Trinidad’s charismatic new leader. The letters are never sent, but when George finds them many years later, the discovery sets off a devastating series of consequences as other secrets from their marriage emerge.

My thoughts: 

Before I get into themes and characters, I'd like to say that this novel is very unique in style. Its slathered in vivid, sensory descriptions of the island of Trinidad and loaded with onomatopoeia, colloquial language and Trinidadian accents. I found myself reading aloud often and I still need to hear what a 'steupse' sounds like in-person. It's also written in a weird reverse chronology, starting with the latter parts of George and Sabine's life on the island, then jumping to when they first arrive and progressing back to the future. Perhaps not an innovative style, but a unique combination. 
I was white. White in a country where this was to be implicated, complicated, and, whatever way I tried to square it, guilty. Genocide. Slavery. Indenture. Colonialism -- big words which were linked to crimes so hideous no manner of punishment was adequate. (p.355)
Roffey takes a crack at weaving a personal story about George and Sabine with the historical and political story of Trinidad. When the readers are introduced to George and Sabine they will find two people in a loveless marriage, which according to Sabine is largely the fault of her husband. George falls in love the island, enjoying the ideal, the picturesque, the exotic women, the potential Hardwood legacy he could never have established in the United Kingdom. George ignores the political problems and the structural integrity of his marriage. Sabine on the other hand, couldn't stand the island from the beginning. She wants to leave before she has even arrived. She can never compete with a beautiful island which offers so much more to her husband than she ever could. For so long Sabine denies that her fate and happiness are tied to someone else's ideas. To me it seemed as if the injustice, corruption and political uprisings in Trinidad were a sort of  background noise to Sabine and George's drama and only fueled Sabine's hysterics. The personal and political stories are weakly connected. I suppose the intent was to mirror marital strife with political strife. 
'Eric William will destroy this country.' Bonny's eyes hardened.
'Oh really? He's a well-educated man. He's been to Oxford. He's an historian. How many people here can claim that? Do you think there's one person in this garden with a university degree?'
Bonny quivered, a snarl on her lips. 'Williams is obsessed with slavery. It's all about the past. He can't let it drop. He should forget about it. It's boring.' (249)
There were a few things that irk me in this novel, all of them related to Sabine. Her naivete about history, colonial legacy, and race relations annoys the hell out of me. She fancies herself way too much and is overly self-righteous about political problems; and she has no real intention of righting any wrongs. Maybe having sincere friendships with her two maids is her way of righting the wrongs. Maybe that's all  is necessary since she's forever planning to leave Trinidad. Her contrary mannerisms are most apparent whenever someone insults the People's National Movement, more specifically, Eric Williams. Sabine takes develops an intense--almost creepy-- obsession with Dr. Eric Williams, the leader of the PNM. Why would a white woman determined to leave Trinidad be interested in the country's new revolutionary leader? Well, I have a  couple of theories: (1) it's a tactic of self-preservation; know your enemy. Eric Williams wants her and what she represents (colonial chains) out of the country. In a way understanding his motives helps her to determine her movements. And (2) she's having an affair with him, an emotional affair of course, but an affair nonetheless. Emotional because her fear and physical repulsion of black men is too great for the affair to be truly physical. She write hundreds of unsent letters to Eric Williams, mainly complaining of her husband George and life on the island. She compiles clippings of his speeches and appearances. She hides them. And Why? What does Eric Williams represent? The courage to lead her own revolution, to put her foot down, to say enough is enough...I don't know why she didn't leave George.

I wanted to love this book and there were many parts that I did love, but overall I only 'liked' it.

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle

Three stars.


Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. To participate, grab your current read, open to a random page and share a few sentences. Don't include spoilers but do include the title and author.

You're a child again, Trinidad. Not an adult. A child. Don't run, don't run away with yourself. Learn to walk again, walk away from them. Crawl and walk in the opposite direction.
p.312 of The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey