Friday, September 30, 2011

The Phantom Tollbooth - A Banned Book?

The Phantom Tollbooth

The Phantom Tollbooth
Norton Juster
Illustrated by Jules Feiffer

As I've mentioned before, things have been a bit stressful lately. I was seeking a comfort read, and I found one in The Phantom Tollbooth. When I first read this book, many years ago, I was utterly charmed and enthralled. I loved all the plays on words and the whimsical illustrations. None of these delights were diminished on my recent re-read.

The Phantom Tollbooth  is the story of Milo, a bored little boy who has no interest in the world around him. One day, after hurrying home from school, he discovers a mysterious package in his room. He reluctantly unwraps it, and discovers a “genuine Turnpike Tollbooth” in need of a bit of assembly. Since he has nothing better to do, Milo decides to construct the tollbooth and see what happens.

Milo and Tock meet the Which
What happens is an incredible romp into an adventure of learning and exploration in the kingdom of Wisdom. Wisdom is a strange type of place, where cars may run on thinking, or silence. Milo somehow is put on a quest to restore Rhyme and Reason (two twin sister princesses) to the kingdom. Without Rhyme and Reason, the kingdom has dissolved into a place of absurdity.

So why would a book that promotes learning and exploration be challenged or banned? I have no idea. I’ve seen The Phantom Tollbooth referred to as a banned book, but I can’t find any details about it. Does anyone have any details about this?

Update: I notice people keep finding this post by wondering why The Phantom Tollbooth was a banned book, so I thought I'd post a link to what I found: Supposedly a librarian in Boulder, Colorado, removed it from the shelves and locked it away because it was "poor fantasy." I have no idea how accurate this is, but it's the only reason I've discovered. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

In Cold Blood review, and giveaway!

In Cold Blood book cover
In Cold Blood
In Cold Blood
Truman Capote

Welcome to Day SIX of the Book Journey Celebration of Banned Books Week, 2011 Edition!

Be sure to pick up all the clues from Saturday, September 24, through Saturday, October 1 and leave a comment on each of the participating blogs to be eligible to win the prize package. Participating blogs are posted daily at Book Journey. Good luck and have fun!

Reason for Ban: According to the ALA, In Cold Blood has been challenged because it contains sex, violence, and profanity. Um, yeah. I really don't want to read a book that doesn't contain at least one of those things.

In high school, I had a friend who grew up not far from Holcomb, Kansas, where the infamous events of In Cold Blood took place. In fact, shortly after we met, I picked up a copy of this book, read the first chapter or so, and then promptly lost the book. I never did find it, but I always wanted to finish reading it. When I spotted a copy at the Borders liquidation sale, I bought it.

The book is known for ushering in a new style of non-fiction writing. In fact, I found my copy in the literature/fiction section, even though it depicts true events. Truman Capote became interested in the grisly murder of the Clutter family, and began covering it as a reporter for the The New Yorker. He and his friend Harper Lee travelled to Kansas, spending significant amounts of time interviewing townspeople, investigators, lawyers, and the defendants.

For those unfamiliar with the general story, four members of the prominent and well-liked Clutter family, were murdered in their home. The two killers were drifters who spent time in and out of prison throughout the country.

This is never a real “whodunit,” since the reader is privy to the murderers’ identities from the very beginning, before there’s even a murder.  Capote manages to keep the reader interested by juggling two simultaneous storylines, one following the events in Holcomb, and one following the killers. The first fifty pages or so have you waiting, ever more anxiously, for the showdown that you know is coming. You’re kept waiting until the very end before the murders are described from the viewpoint of the killers.

Capote describes the Clutter family and their home at River Valley Farm as quaint, unstylish, outmoded. They seem to spring from a different time and place than Capote, living in New York, must have been used to. At times it seems that he holds them and their lifestyle slightly in contempt. Here he describes the interior of the Clutter home: 
“[T]here were spongy displays of liver-colored carpet intermittently abolishing the glare of the varnished, resounding floors; an immense modernistic living-room couch covered in nubby fabric interwoven with glittery strands of silver metal; a breakfast alcove featuring a banquette upholstered in blue-and-white plastic. This sort of furnishing was what Mr. and Mrs. Clutter liked, as did the majority of their acquaintances, whose homes, by and large, were similarly furnished.”
Dick and Perry, the killers, are seriously troubled young men. But Capote makes you realize that they are people, not monsters.  Perry, in particular, is a pathetic case. He was one of four children. Two of his siblings died tragically, and his other sister, Barbara, has tried her hardest to escape what she sees as a family curse. She had cut off contact with Perry, saying she was afraid of him. This was a far cry from the love she’d felt for him when they were children, before their family had broken up. She recalled some of the hard times, scouring the country, looking for work during the Great Depression, not having enough to eat: 
[She] remembered that once the family had lived for days on nothing but rotten bananas, and that, as a result, Perry had got colic; he had screamed all night, while Bobo, as Barbara was called, wept for fear he was dying.
The book ends with Perry Smith and Dick Hickock paying the ultimate price for their crimes. Even knowing the ending, In Cold Blood is well worth reading as a compelling account of a crime and its aftermath.

Want to read this? Enter to WIN my copy of In Cold Blood by leaving a comment telling me (along with something else) that you're interested. I'll pick a winner next Monday, October 3rd. 
US entrants only, as I am a poor unemployed blogger with a mountain of student loans.
And here's your clue:

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Top Ten Books I Want to ReRead

Top Ten Tuesdays is a weekly feature created by the folks over at The Broke and the Bookish. This week's prompt is to list the Top Ten Books you'd like to reread. You're welcome to join in the fun!

I don't typically reread books, because there are so many books out there that I haven't read yet. Sometimes, though, I do read a book more than once. Usually, it's a short, easy book. I like to reread things I read when I was much younger, to see if they stand up to an adult perspective

1) Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery. I have been craving a reading of this lately. I need to locate a copy.
2) Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston. I read this in high school but didn't really appreciate it. I think I'm ready for it now.
3)Where the Sidewalk Ends, Shel Silverstein. I have a copy of The Giving Tree on my shelf, and I pull it down periodically for a re-read. I don't have any of my old poetry collections by Silverstein, though, and I miss them.
4) & 5) Maus I&II, Art Spiegelman. Because they are awesome. 

6) Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder. Because it's been too long since I hung out with the little half pint half drunk up.
7) MacBeth, William Shakespeare. Because I am embarrassingly ignorant of the bard. I read a bunch of his stuff when I was younger, but it has all kind of blended together.
8) Number the Stars, Lois Lowry. Another favorite from my childhood.
9) & 10) The Iliad & The Odyssey, Homer. I don't know if these really count as rereads, as I've never read the complete versions. Whatever, I think they count, so that's all that matters.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Happiness in 93 pages

A Happy Man

A Happy Man
Hansjörg Schertenleib
Translated by David Dollenmayer

If you follow me on twitter, you may have seen some gushing as of late relating to this title. If not, let me make this clear: this book is amazing. Best book I’ve read all year, for sure. Go buy it.

The inside flap of my Melville House edition says: 
This quirky novella asks a simple question: Is it possible to write compellingly about a happy person? In the hands of celebrated (but never before translated into English) Swiss author Hansjörg Schertenleib, the answer is yes.
 This Studer is the titular happy man. But he’s not one of those people who shove their good cheer into your face, making you suspect if they are just trying to cover up a sadness lurking under the surface.

No, This seems just plain happy. He has become more accepting and understanding of people as he’s gotten older, and he just can’t be angry or mad at them when they act badly. He has a teenaged daughter whose favorite activity, besides hanging out with her boyfriend, is trying the patience of her parents. While Daniela, This’s wife, is often exasperated by her, This takes it all in stride.  He remembers back to his time as a teen, and is certain that this too shall pass.

I can see how if you were a person in This’s life, this could be frustrating, but as a reader, I’m just a simple observer. Instead of placing myself in the shoes of his wife or daughter, I can try to get to know This, and learn a thing or two about appreciating the beauty in the everyday. In a way, it reminded me of some of my favorite parts of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, when Francie and her brother are entertained by the simplest pleasures in their otherwise squalid surroundings.

If this was in fact a writerly experiment, it was a resounding success.

As a little treat, here’s Ben Webster playing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on the tenor sax, since This is a ballad fan.

*Disclosure: Melville House, the publisher, sent me a copy of this back during the Art of The Novella Reading Challenge. Yay free!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Brooklyn Book Festival Update

So. It happened again. No BKBF festival for me. Le sigh. This time, it was because I ended up packing up my apartment and moving across the country under very short notice to start a post-grad fellowship. Stress, I have it.

On a more positive note, I did read my goal of books from 5 festival authors before the event. The books I read were:

The Taste of Salt, Martha Southgate
The Buddha in the Attic, Julie Otsuka
Reservation Road, John Burnham Schwartz
A Tiger in the Kitchen, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan
Interrupting Chicken, David Ezra Stein

The idea was that I had only read books from 5 of the authors that were going to be there, which seemed like an awfully low number. I wanted to double it, and I did. Since then, I realized that I had actually read 6 authors, since Norton Juster, who wrote The Phantom Tollbooth, was there. That was one of my favorite books when I was younger. I'm thinking it might make a comforting re-read during this time of stress. Hmmmm, I'm actually blogging from the library right now, since I have no internet access. Maybe I'll see if they have a copy....okay, off to do that!

Friday, September 16, 2011

BBAW Day 4: Readers

Book bloggers blog because we love reading. Has book blogging changed the way you read? Have you discovered books you never would have apart from book blogging? How has book blogging affected your book acquisition habits? Have you made new connections with other readers because of book blogging?

My very first post, and my blog title, Wandering in the Stacks, describe how I usually pick a book. This can be hit or miss. I love when I find a hidden gem, some book I’ve never heard of that turns out to be one of my favorites. I also like getting recommendations from friends. It helps when I know my friends have tastes similar to mine. Blogging has just expanded my circle of recommenders (is that really a word? Spell check isn’t yelling at me).

Blogs are great, because I can search someone’s reviews for books I’ve read, and see how our tastes compare. Then I can see what else they’re reading, and what they think of it. I’ve found this is a great was to find new titles or authors.

Another way that bloggers influence my reading is by reminding me of certain titles I’ve been wanting to read. Sometimes it’s as simple as helping me pick my next book from the TBR pile. For example, my neighbor had lent me a copy of Assata, by Assata Shakur. One of my twitter friends was tweeting up a storm about radical 60s politics, and recommended this book. She gushed so much about it that I promised to pick it up asap. I did, and I loved it. I’ve yet to write my review, but it’s coming, promise!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Speaking Pigeon English

Pigeon English

Pigeon English
Stephen Kelman

I keep seeing  Pigeon English  described, roughly, as the story of a young boy’s murder told from the perspective of an eleven year old boy, Harri. Initially, I started my review the same way. Then I realized that description isn’t all that accurate, and led me to expect something very different from what the book actually delivers.

So let’s start again. Pigeon English is about a young boy named Harri. Harri has recently emigrated from Ghana to London with his mother and older sister. His father, baby sister, and grandmother are still in Ghana, waiting to join the rest of the family. Harri is trying to figure out how to navigate this new world – learning the slang, making friends, fitting in, finding a girlfriend.

At times, Harri’s world is brutal. I mean, the story opens with a murder. Harri knew “the dead boy” as someone around the neighborhood, someone Harri wanted to be friends with, but never really got to know. Harri and his friend Dean decide that since the police don’t seem to be able to solve the case, they are going to investigate the murder, CSI style. They turn this into one of their many games, like jumping over puddles or acting like zombies. Of course, the stakes in this game are much higher.

At first, the dialect was a bit much. It took me probably 50 pages to figure out that “asweh” meant “I swear.” After a while I started to just go with it, since it seemed like a realistic portrayal of a young immigrant’s speech patterns (as far as I know, which isn’t very far). Harri’s language was jarring in other ways, too. His friends are incredibly homophobic, disablist, and misogynistic, and the language they use reflects this. This may be true to how kids talk and behave, but it was grating.

There are times when Harri’s sweet nature shines through. He remembers one time back in Ghana, when his mother was still pregnant with Agnes, his baby sister. He describes people hanging lanterns from their windows and fences during a blackout, making it look like stars all around. He tells Agnes:
“I fixed the stars for you! They’ll be waiting for you when you come out!”
Mamma: “Thank you, sweet thing!” (She did it in a tiny voice like it was Agnes who was talking.)
 One limitation of Harri’s point of view is that you are limited to brief snippets of what’s going on in the adult lives. I wanted to know more about the other characters. His mother is a nurse, and is having trouble at work. Aunt Sonia burns her fingertips to get rid of her prints so she can’t be deported.
One voice that did NOT work was the talking pigeon. Oooohhhhhhhhhhh, talking pigeon, please shut up! You are a pointless distraction.

Overall, this was a quick, decent read. Nothing remarkable, nothing awful. The Booker committee obviously liked it more than I did, as it was just shortlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize. Then again, I was not wild about any of the three longlisted titles I read, so maybe the Booker isn’t my cup of tea.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

BBAW Interview

I’m participating in this year’s Book Blogger Appreciation Week (BBAW). As a new blogger, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I figured I’d dive right in and sign up for the BBAW Interview Swap. I was paired up with the great Annabel over at Gaskella. After reading her answers, I think you'll agree that I was fortunate to be partnered up with her!

What would (or does!) your perfect reading spot look like?

Although I do a lot of my reading in bed, both before going to sleep and after waking up, my perfect reading spot would be sunny afternoon on a comfy sofa where I can tuck my feet up and read without interruptions and too many distractions. The radio might be on a talk channel in the background though, and a big mug of tea by my side is a must.

The Sisters Brothers
What type of cover is likely to make you pick up a book?

I’m always drawn to good graphic design – my favourite in recent times is The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt. It’s bright, stands out, and has layers of meaning in it.  I also love the new Penguin Modern Classics – understated with a great font. I dislike ‘fluffy’ soft focus covers and headless women.

If you had the chance to give a book to the political representative of your choice, with a guarantee that they’d read it, what book would it be, and why?

That’s a really tough question!  It’d have to be something dystopian – to illustrate what could happen if it all goes wrong. Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban is set in the future in an England that has reverted to the iron age after ‘the big one’ – Can I have lots of copies to give to leaders of nuclear powers, or those who still want to be. [You can have as many copies as you'd like! - MJ]

If your life was going to be used as the inspiration for a work of fiction, who would you want the author to be, and why?

It would have to be Nick Hornby.  I tend to strongly identify with his characters, especially Annie in Juliet, naked, but also my geeky side with Rob in Hi Fidelity too. He is sympathetic to his characters but doesn’t let them get away with things, and he turns fairly ordinary lives into extraordinary novels.

As you move forward, what is one blogging goal that you have?

I’d like to read more on a whim and less to order, and I hope that’ll be reflected in better and more insightful writing on my blog. I’ve always read voraciously, but not studied English since school, but I’ve found that since starting my blog, writing reviews has really helped to improve my critical thinking and writing.

Now I want to read Nick Hornby! Also, I had tried to get a copy of The Sisters Brothers
(it’s been longlisted for this year’s Man Booker prize) but my library didn’t have it. I’ll have to keep an eye out of it, because that cover is great, and it looks like a fun story.

I hope you enjoyed learning about Annabel. Make sure to check out her blog, where I answered her questions!

Monday, September 12, 2011

BBAW: The Book Blogging Community

Today’s BBAW theme is Community. The idea is to highlight a couple of bloggers that have made book blogging a unique and meaningful experience. I decided to take a cue from the BBAW description and talk about the first bloggers who commented on my blog and encouraged me to keep at it.
Young men and women dancing in a circle, circa 1950

My first ever comment came from Amy over at I Ponder the Page (what a great blog name!). Amy describes herself as a Christian stay at home mom, Sunday School teacher, wife to a great husband, and of course – a reader. I love that’s she’s always so positive, and willing to read books outside of her usual comfort zone. For example, she identified ten genres of books that she doesn’t normally read, and reading one book from each genre. I am sometimes very stuck in my reading habits, so I applaud her for doing this. The biggest way I get out of my comfort zone is by reading whatever my book club picks. I will read almost anything, but I won’t necessarily pick it up on my own.

My second comment was courtesy of the awesome Eva over at A Striped Armchair. Eva is a real inspiration for my blogging. She’s always managing to read great sounding books, and write terrific reviews. I love how she often includes companion reads when she reviews a book, so you can have even more choices. I wish I were as organized about what I’ve read. Of course, one of my main reasons for starting to blog was so that I can keep better track of what I’ve read, and what I thought of it. Eva also vlogs, which is way too scary for me!

I encourage everyone to check out these great bloggers, or go give a little love to some of your favorites. And leave any suggestions for me to check out in the comments – as you can see, I love my commenters!

Be sure to come back tomorrow, when I will be posting and interview with another book blogger :-)

Friday, September 9, 2011

Moving Woes of the Bookish Variety

would be the most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves. ~ Anna Quindlen

I am moving. One of the things I try to do whenever I move is cull some books from my shelves. It is a difficult process, because, well, I love books. On the other hand, the hubby often asks me "Are are ever going to read that again?" Or, "If you haven't read that in 5 years, maybe it's time to let it go." Both are fair points, but seeing as he is not a book lover, he just does not understand my attachment.

This time, I knew the process was going to be even worse. I knew that I was going to have to give up one of my bookcases.

My mostly-cleared off bookshelf
The hubby, for all his non-bookish ways, built this shelf for me when we were first married. We had moved into our first house, and I needed a bookshelf. All I had was a small shelf I had used in my college apartment. I wanted a shelf where I could put all my books. We quickly discovered that bookshelves were expensive. We did not have the money to spend several hundred dollars on a decent quality shelf that was big enough for my books, and other ephemera. I finally turned to the (quite handy) hubby and said, "Well, why don't you make me one?" And he did.

I designed it with shelves of varying sizes and heights, and I was pretty happy with how it turned out. It's about 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide, which I thought would be enough room. That, *ahem*, turned out not to be the case. (See above for my bookish ways). The shelf has survived a trip from Florida to New Jersey, and New Jersey to New York. It's made it five years.

Along the way, I discovered I am not, in fact, an engineer. Although the shelf looks good, a design flaw has led to some sagging, and general weakening. Plus, we tried to make this on the cheap side, so it doesn't have a back, which would have helped keep it stable. As you can see in the picture below, the only part of the shelf that touches the ground are the very outer pieces. I've tried to keep it from sagging too much, or even breaking, by shoving old school binders under one side. Classy, I know. The hubby also screwed this case to the one on the left, again, hoping to lend it some strength. Alas, I knew that these were temporary fixes, and eventually I would have to part with my shelf. 

My flawed design
And now the time for goodbye has arrived. Fare thee well, my dear bookshelf. I shall miss you.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Adventure and Danger on the High Seas

Jamrach’s Menangerie
Carol Birch

This three part novel, shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker prize, is an adventure/coming of age/survival story focusing on little Jaffy, a London street urchin in the Dickens tradition.

Part one of the book deals with Jaffy’s life as a young lad growing up on Ratcliffe Highway, a poor section of London. As a lad of eight, he meets a tiger walking in the street, and approaches to stroke its nose. The tiger is not amused, and scoops little Jaffy up in its jaws. Of course, he’s rescued, and his encounter with the tiger leads to a job working for the titular Mr. Jamrach, a procurer of exotic animals. Jaffy enjoys working for Jamrach. He makes a frenemy is Tim, a boy a year older who does things like lock him in a shop overnight, nearly getting Jaffy fired from his second job at Spoony’s Tavern. Jamrach takes these young boys under his wing, making sure they have boots and schooling.

After spending a few years tending the animals, the story fast forwards to Jaffy going on an expedition to help capture a dragon for one of Mr. Jamrach’s wealthy clients. Jaffy volunteers to go as to not miss out on any of the fun that Tim is sure to experience. The boys will travel on a whaling ship, the Lysander, where they are expected to help hunt and harvest whales until the reach the island where the elusive dragon may or may not exist.

Jaffy learns a thing or two about sailing, and the superstition on the high seas. Some of the crew starts to voice their worries, and Jaffy realizes that:
The superstition of sailors is no more than the lone howling of miles between you and dry land and home, making you know that you are a thing that can die.
He’s going to learn that lesson pretty intimately before he finds his way home again.

Compared to how engaging the previous section was, part three felt like a bit of a throwaway.  Okay, survivors head home, they try to adjust, ho-hum, yadda yadda. I get that Birch wants to show how a person adjusts to “normal” life after going through a life-threatening, traumatic experience, but it just fell flat. Maybe that’s inevitable? I don’t know.

Overall, this was a decent read. There were just a few little things that bothered me. First, when they’re in the lifeboats, it rains a lot. They’re dying of thirst – are they catching the rain? Hopefully yes, but there is no mention of it. I wanted to scream at the characters – you can drink that! Quit telling me how it feels falling on you and get to collecting it! Just a simple sentence or two would have kept me from getting distracted. Something like – “The measly two inches of rain they were able to collect did not go far in satisfying their thirst.”

Second – I kept thinking about the Dudley & Stephens criminal case from the mid-1800s. “The Custom of the Sea” did not protect you from the law, even if public opinion was on your side. I just don’t know how accurate Birch’s portrayal of this part of the story was.  Although I really didn’t mind being brought back to my first day of Criminal Law, where my friends and I sat drooling over our professor. Ahem.

Lastly, the story was heavily borrowed from other sources. I already mentioned the nod to Dickens, but it is also reminiscent of the Man Booker 2002 winner, The Life of Pi, and of course, there’s Moby Dick (Jaffy’s love interest is Ishbel, for goodness’ sakes), and the real life sinking of the Essex. Most stories borrow from or are inspired by others, but I just felt it bordered on heavy handed and obvious here – but that’s just me. Birch certainly took the inspirations and wove them together in her own story, and it’s a fair contribution to this type of adventure story. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Sorting through Guilt

A Cupboard Full of Coats
A Cupboard Full of Coats
Yvvette Edwards

Jinx is a thirty year old woman, still living in the house where her mother, Joy, was murdered 14 years earlier. She is emotionally cut off from the few people in her life – her ex-husband and her son. She works as an embalmer, a pretty solitary occupation. A Cupboard Full of Coats takes place over one weekend, when a former friend of her mother’s comes over to talk about the circumstances surrounding the murder.

Jinx isn’t interested, and initially pushes Lemon away. Over the course of the weekend, he wears her down, wanting to explain his role in her mother’s death. Right away we know that neither Lemon nor Jinx actually killed Joy. That was the work of her fiancé, Berris. Despite Berris being the murderer, both Lemon and Jinx feel guilty.

I was interested in this book especially after reading this article from the Guardian where Edwards recalls her editor telling her the book contained no white characters. Edwards said she couldn’t believe she had missed something so “glaringly obvious.” I admit, I wanted to know whether she had “fixed” this before the book was published, and if so, why? This actually ended up being a little distracting as I read. (In case anyone else would also be distracted, there is one white character, the mother of Sam, Jinx’s mixed race childhood friend. I think she has one line in the whole book). Normally I don’t pay much attention to the physical descriptions of characters, but I was looking for it here. Even if I hadn’t been specifically looking for the characters’ race, Edwards makes their skin tones a feature. Sam talks to Jinx a lot about color. Sam is obsessed with color. She is light skinned, and states she would never be with a dark skinned boy. This leads to a somewhat interesting sub-plot. Jinx is also observant when it comes to color. She is worried that her skin is too dark, especially next to her mother's.

The main plot, though – what really happened to Joy – is more frustrating than interesting. The mystery is slow going. Edwards drops hints about the night in question, revealing little bits at a time until all is finally revealed at the end. Everything is told in an extremely heightened fashion. It gets a bit melodramatic at time, and I don’t respond well  to that.

There are a few things I didn’t like about this book. First of all, Lemon just seems unrealistic. He shows up on Jinx’s doorstep, seemingly wanting to absolve himself of the guilt he feels, but at the end, he basically shrugs his shoulders and says
“It was her time, and when it’s your time, it’s your time.”
 I can understand this, but if he’s already come to terms with his actions, then why is he at Jinx’s door? Who is he to assume that Jinx needs him, 14 years later, to help her move on with her life? And why is it okay that he ignores her instruction to go away, because, of course, he knows what’s right for her?  He just seems to be a too-convenient catalyst for Jinx’s growth, especially since he just slips off without a trace.

Also, things seem to wrap up a little too conveniently for Jinx. She has realizations about her role in the murder, and learns that things were not as they seem. Okay, good so far. However, this resolution just makes it seems like perhaps if things had been a bit different, then perhaps Jinx would be culpable. This, to me, is unacceptable. Berris was at fault, the end. He was an abusive partner. If he hadn’t killed Joy on the night in question, then it most likely would have happened the next week, when she did something else to upset him. To make it seems that anyone but Berris was responsible feeds the cultural narrative that abused women are at fault for being abused.

And eeewwwwww, just ew, to the relationship between Jinx and Lemon. I get that people get together for various reasons, and sometimes people try to work stuff out through sex, but ew. I was totally creeped out.

All that said, I was bothered by the problematic elements because I think there was the potential for a pretty good book here. There are moments when you can see some it. Ultimately, though, it just didn’t deliver. Maybe it is a product of it being a first novel – I don’t know. At the end of the novel, it looks like Jinx is going to try to reestablish relationships with the people that are still in her life. I’d be interested in following Jinx as she matures, and in giving the author another chance, hoping that her style and skills mature as well.

Note: A Cupboard Full of Coats was longlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Nigerian Literature Challenge

Amy over at Amy Reads was nominated for a Book Blogger Appreciation Week Award, for Best Cultural Blog. She's proposed a Nigerian Literature Celebration for October 1st. I was originally going to read Chinua Achebe's The Education of a British-Protected Child, but then I saw this awesome TED talk by Chris Abani, and got super excited to read something by him.

I encourage you to join the challenge. Amy's got a list of book suggestions if you need any ideas. Time to get reading!


Saturday, September 3, 2011

"I'm Moving" Giveaway

I am moving, and I have too many books. Take them, please. The hubby will be very grateful.  The first person to email me (stackwanderer AT the gmails) with their name and mailing address will get the books. I will send them out on Tuesday. Please limit 2 selections per person.  US only please, as I am poor. Oh, and some of these may be labeled for bookcrossing. Please do not feel obligated to journal them if you get one that is so labeled.

Some of these are books I’ve read, some aren’t. Most of the ones I haven’t read are YA from my former classroom library. They are in no particular order, except how I pulled them off my shelves.

··    Diana Wynne Jones, The Dalemark Quartet. Includes all four books, Cart and Cwidder, Drowned Ammet, The Spellcoats, The Crown of Dalemark. YA.
·         Tamora Pierce, Circle of Magic. First two books of the quartet. I know I have the third, so if I can find it before mailing, it will be included. I do not have the final book. YA.
·         Tamora Pierce, Magic Steps. The first book in The Circle Opens series. YA
·         Johanna Reiss, The Upstairs Room. YA Holocaust memoir.
·         Markus Zusak, I am the Messenger. YA
·         William Faulkner, The Unvanquished
·         Joyce Carol Oates, Rape: A Love Story
·         DH Lawrence, Sons and Lovers
·         Roger Fisher & William Ury, Getting to Yes. Nonfiction
·         Claudia Trupp, Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes. Memoir. Advanced Uncorrected Proof.
·         Phillip Margolin, The Undertaker’s Widow. Legal thriller.
·         Panos Karnezis, Little Infamies
·         Kevin Davis, Defending the Damned. Nonfiction
·         Peggy J. Martin, 5 Steps to a 5: AP World History. Something read leaked on the cover and the edges of some of the pages, but inside it is totally fine.
·         Boeli Van Leeuwen, The Sign of Jonah. Translated from the Dutch (I think?)
·         Carmen Firan, The First Moment After Death. Poems, translated from Romanian.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Things Said, and Unsaid

The Grace of Silence
Michele Norris

According to the introduction, Michele Norris (of NPR’s All Things Considered) began the book in 2009 after becoming convinced that a conversation about race was happening, but that things were being unsaid. She wanted to get at the real issues, not just dance around them. What did people really think about race in America when we were about to inaugurate our first black President?
The cover has a quote from Toni Morrison. She says “An insightful, elegant rendering of how the history of an American family illuminates the history of our country.” That strikes me as inconvertibly true. Norris does a wonderful job intertwining her family’s history with the brutal events in America during the twentieth century.

This is a personal story. You can see Norris struggling with learning her own family history, and trying to reconcile it with the parents and family members she grew up with. Her family, especially her father, did not talk about certain things. In fact, she never knew that her father had once been shot by a policeman in Alabama shortly after he was discharged from the Navy. When she finds this out she is flabbergasted.  Her mother, who had divorced her father many years before the revelation, said that had she known, it would have explained a lot.

Her quest to find out what happened during this shooting forms a good portion of the book. Norris is desperate for details, but they are hard to come by. Court and police records have not been retained. Some have been deliberately lost. The major (white) newspapers did not report when a white police officer shot a young black man.

Norris finally interviews a family neighbor who was around during the time of the shooting. He tells her what he remembers. As he talks to her, he “wonders whether my father might have been killed” had things gone slightly differently. Norris immediately states
“This seem far-fetched to me. More likely than not, the police intended only to put some black men in their place, not six feet under.”
However, only fifteen pages later, Norris talks about how the six week period around her father’s shooting, six young black veterans were shot and killed by the police. One of those men, Timothy Hood, was sitting in the back of a police car when he was shot in the head by the chief of police. The shooting was almost instantaneously ruled a justifiable killing. Somehow, it doesn’t seem as farfetched as one might like to think that Norris’s father could have been killed, rather than wounded, in his shooting.
Norris may have intended to get at the unsaid, and she certainly revealed some of it. But what this book shows most of all is how much is still left unspoken.  I do not fault her for this. I do not fault her family for choosing silence as a coping mechanism. I do not want to diminish their struggle, or imply that they should have done it differently. Absolutely not. What this revealed to me was the tremendous, crushing burden borne by people of color in this country.

As for me, I expect more from those who walk around wearing their white privilege completely unaware. It is not the same when a black mother tells her son to be wary of white police officers and when a white mother tells her daughter to lock her doors when driving through a black neighborhood. It’s just not. The white mother has a whole institutionalized power structure that backs up her implication that black people are poor, that they are thieves, that they are a danger to white women. The black mother? Not so much.  To imply that it is the same is to let the white power structure off the hook much too easily.

We must do better. We have so much farther to go before we even come close to living in Dr. King’s society where we truly value people not for the color of their skin, but the content of their character.

I encourage everyone to read this book, and to expect more.

FYI: "The Grace of Silence" is being released in paperback September 6th.