Rabbit-Proof Fence (CBR7 #99)

This is another book that I picked up based on the Read Harder Challenge put on by Book Riot. Task number 9 was to read a book either by or about an indigenous culture. Scanning through recommended lists, I chose Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington, and it happens to satisfy both sides of the task. Pilkington recounts the true story of her mother and aunts escape from the Moore River Native Settlement outside of Perth and their nearly thousand mile walk home along the titular rabbit-proof fence that crossed Western Australia.

Pilkington, herself a former resident of the Moore River Native Settlement after having been taken from her own mother, traces in this slim volume a history of Aboriginal life before European arrival, the tenuous balance that was carved out once settlement occurred, and then the history of her own family and its ties to Moore River Native Settlement. We are then dropped into the story as reconstructed by Pilkington through primary sources and interviews with her mother Molly, and her aunt Daisy who as half-castes (Aboriginal mothers, white fathers) were removed from their Aboriginal families to be educated and westernized at the Settlement, which was notorious for terrible conditions, overcrowding, and the erasure of Aboriginal culture.

The book at times vacillates between reading like a term paper and reading an oral history. This is perhaps the weakness of Pilkington’s work, that she is giving the reader a needed description of the persecution of Aborigines in Australia, which in and of itself is an important task, but while I was reading I was left wondering at the gaps in information.  What I was reading was interesting and captivating, but I wanted and needed more.

When I finished the book I went and did a little internet sleuthing about the Aboriginal Settlement Camps, the Stolen Generations in Australia, and the direct correlations to the American Indian Boarding Schools. These dark pieces of history are, to me, where we need to build our awareness. If we are striving to be more informed, better citizens then it is here we need to begin, by listening to the stories of the people who have walked the terrible path.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Nimona (CBR7 #98)

I really WANTED to fall in love with Nimona. It seemed like such an obvious pairing: Nimona the impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy and Lord Ballister Blackheart, a villain with a vendetta. These two setting off to prove the heroes aren’t always heroic? Done. But… I only liked this one and caught myself more than once skipping ahead to “get on with the story”. What were my problems?

Inconsistent backstory and inconsistent characterizations.

From the beginning we learn that while students at the institute, Ballister and his now nemesis Goldenloin jousts. Ballister knocks Goldenloin off his horse, and then Goldenloin uses his modified lance to shoot Ballister, taking his arm off. This sets up their being on opposite sides of any and all battles, as per the Institute, with Goldenloin and his good looks taking the role of “hero” and mutilated Ballister taking on the role of “villain”. Moving forward Ballister is onto the machinations of the Institute. Sometimes he’s out to get them, sometimes he’s trying to expose them, sometimes he hates Goldenloin, and sometimes he is in league with him. There was a vibe that Stevenson was going for; I’m just not sure she hit it all the time.

Also… Nimona’s backstory. It just… didn’t come together for me.

What works? The way Stevenson wrapped up her story in this world, the world itself which has magic and science coexisting beautifully, and the art itself. All of these things were great. I just wish that the story as a whole worked better for me, but I’m in the minority.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Why Not Me? (CBR7 #97)

I am at best unsure of how I feel about Mindy Kaling. I detested her character on The Office – Kelly Kapoor drove me nuts. I did love some of the episodes she scripted for The Office, and The Mindy Project is some of my favorite television right now, but not always because of Kaling herself. Sometimes her brand of humor, or the humor she surrounds herself with, just don’t work for me. I can really appreciate a show without always finding it funny. And that is also how I feel about much of this book.

Why Not Me is a collection of essays focused around Kaling’s life in the past few years. She’s circling everything from getting her own show launched, to public expectations about her image and body, to being a minority in Hollywood, the reflecting on her college days and how it affects her lasting friendships and what true friendship looks like over 30. This is all well written and interesting, but left me wanting.

The best chapters by far are the ones where she discusses dating someone who works in the West Wing and the titular chapter where she goes back and answers the question “where does your confidence come from?” properly for the young woman who had the courage to ask the question at a public event in New York. Both of these chapters expose the real heart and soul of Kaling, and what she values and how she sees the world.

I also discovered that I really do enjoy Kaling the comedy writer. The chapter where she writes the fictionalized version of her life as a Latin teacher would make a fantastic movie and she should get on that.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Take the Cannoli: Tales from the New World (CBR7 #96)

I love Sarah Vowell. I do. With this book complete, I believe I have all of her books except the newly released Lafayette in the Somewhat United States. However, there is something to be said for reading books in a timely manner, or reading them in publication order. I hadn’t ever really worried about that with Ms. Vowell’s books, but Take the Cannoli is one of her earlier works and is an anthology. They are in some cases slightly dated, or I’ve read them (or their inspiration) elsewhere by now. This book didn’t hold my attention the way others of her books have (Assassination Vacation was a book I almost couldn’t put down and should probably reread and review for Cannonball Read).

Take the Cannoli is a compilation of stories focused around the New World. Vowell is bouncing from idea to idea to place to place. From Hoboken NJ and Frank Sinatra, to Georgia and the Trail of Tears Vowell is honing her craft in this 2000 work for what will come later: Unfamiliar Fishes about the imperialistic conquest of Hawaii, and The Wordy Shipmates where she looks at the original Puritan settlers. The book of Vowell’s that Take the Cannoli reminds me of the most is Partly Cloudy Patriot. In this one, like that, she is taking a page out of the book of fellow This American Life-r David Sedaris and giving us a small view into her larger world.

My favorite part about this book? That Vowell’s style is such that you can sit on the couch with the book and read it and be fully absorbed while sitting on the couch with a friend and the TV is on.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Riding the Rap (CBR7 #95)

Sometimes you just want to hang out with a U.S. Marshal, you know?

Riding the Rap, the second Raylan book, finds our trusty Marshal a year later, still in South Florida and still in a relationship with Joyce. Harry has gotten himself into some trouble again. He’s officially retired this time, thanks to the U.S. government, and is looking to collect the last of the monies owed on his bookie business. This find him hiring Bobby Deo to go collect from Chip Ganz. Ganz unfortunately doesn’t have the money to pay Harry, and instead launches a plan to kidnap Harry for ransom.  With Harry gone for a couple days Joyce is on Raylan’s case to find Harry – which seems to be a relative constant in Raylan’s life.

This book wasn’t as good as the first in the series, Pronto. Riding the Rap is a smaller story in scope and execution but in it we are introduced to some interesting characters, a very fun picture of how South Florida was 20 years ago, and more of the character of Raylan who would be present in the television series Justified. But the storytelling was a bit uneven. Where Pronto felt like it was continually building, one piece on the next until the entire tower toppled over, this one felt like a series of episodes of action. Three ne’er do wells join forces against Harry. Harry gets abducted. Raylan is forced to go look for him. Days pass with little action except for our team of crack criminals scheming on each other. Raylan is driving up and down I 95 and trying to figure out how fortune teller Reverend Dawn is connected to Ganz and the missing Harry. Joyce is annoyed. Several some ones get killed and Raylan uses his seeming sixth sense to solve the case that isn’t actually a case.

However, I REALLY enjoyed the first part of the book where Raylan’s new normal is being laid out for the reader and we’re introduced to the character of Dewey Crowe, Jr. There’s a lot to love both in the character of Crowe (and how much remains the same in the show) and how only Raylan could be the victim of an attempted carjacking, but someone manage to turn it all around – that section was the most comically light of the book, and really the best part to listen to. I’ll be continuing my way through the Raylan books soon.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Between the World and Me (CBR7 #94)

This book is 152 pages long. I marked 25 of them. This means that nearly one out of every six pages had something I needed to revisit, to think about, to quote, to write down, and to ruminate on. I knew to expect that this book would speak powerfully into the cultural climate we find ourselves in, and that it would examine how we got here. I did not expect to be literally unable to read it for long stretches of time. I could not bear to read more than about 30-40 pages at a clip, my brain needs time to process.

Between the World and Me is DENSE, in the best possible way. I had to read slowly to fully grasp what Coates was saying, all while nodding along. Sometimes it felt like all I did while reading this is was nod my head and mark more pages. Mr. Coates wrote this book as a letter to his son following the failure of those responsible for Eric Garner’s death to be indicted. As Mr. Coates describes it, this is the first time his son truly lost the hope that the fair and correct thing would be done, and it devastated him. In order to speak to that pain, he began to write. In doing so, he talks about how this country can let the killings of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, and so many others go unpunished. How we have let the black body be worth less than the self-image of those who think they are white.

“… you know now, if you did not before, that the police departments of your country have been endowed with the authority to destroy your body. The destroyers will not be held accountable. Mostly they will receive pensions. And the destruction is merely the superlative form of a dominion whose prerogatives include friskings, detainings, beatings, and humiliations. All of this is common to black people. And all of this is old for black people. No one is held responsible.” (9)

Starting back with his own youth in Baltimore, Mr. Coates traces how he learned about the system that our society has created, where his body, and those of other black men and women are worth less. How we live in a society that is deeply entrenched in racial disparity, but no one will claim responsibility. How there will be much expected, but not much given to a young black man. And perhaps more importantly, how the Dream of being white has defined the underclasses throughout our country’s history. This book is powerful, and raw, and in many ways painfully eye opening.

“Very few Americans will directly proclaim that they are in favor of black people being left to the streets. But a very large number of Americans will do all they can to preserve the Dream. No one directly proclaimed that schools were designed to sanctify failure and destruction. But a number of educators spoke of ‘personal responsibility’ in a country authored and sustained by a criminal irresponsibility. The point of this language of ‘intention’ and ‘personal responsibility’ is broad exoneration. Mistakes were made. Bodies were broken. People were enslaved. We meant well. We tried our best. ‘Good Intention’ is a hall pass through history, a sleeping pill that ensures the Dream.” (33)

I should mention what I have alluded to before in other reviews. While I’m a white middle classed educated lady (until I start cursing a blue streak) I grew up in a highly diverse area, and attended high school with a nearly 50% drop out rate which was over 90% black. For those reasons, and for a nearly quarter century friendship with my best friend, I am perhaps more familiar with some of the data about what the Dream does (nearly 60% of black young men who drop out of high school will end up in jail, for example). As a student of history I am also aware that the definition of ‘white’ has been evolving and continues to evolve (it wasn’t that long ago that the Irish and Italian were not considered ‘white’). But that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t more for me to see, to hear, and to think about.

“Hate gives identity. The nigger, the fag, the bitch illuminate the border, illuminate what we ostensibly are not, illuminate the Dream of being white, of being a Man. We name the hated strangers and are thus confirmed in the tribe.” (60)

But where I think this work has the power to be most compelling is the conversations it can start. I want to buy this in hardback so I can press it into the hands of everyone who needs to read it in my own life.

“But my experience in this world has been that the people who believe themselves to be white are obsessed with the politics of personal exoneration. And the word racist, to them, conjures, if not a tobacco-spitting oaf, then something just as fantastic – an orc, troll, or gorgon. “(97)

“The mettle that it takes to look away from the horror of our prison system, from police forces transforming into armies, from the long war against the black body, is not forged overnight. This is the practiced habit of jabbing out one’s eyes and forgetting the work of one’s hands. To acknowledge these horrors means turning away from the brightly rendered version of your country as it has always declared itself and turning toward something murkier and unknown. It is still too difficult for most Americans to do this. But that is your work. It must be, if only to preserve the sanctity of your mind.” (98-99)

I’m going to be done here. There are so many more quotes I’d like to share, but you need to read this book. Then let’s chat.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

The Fifteenth Minute (CBR7 #93)

This book has proven difficult to review. I finished it 5 days ago and have been avoiding the review. I also read the first ten percent of the book and put it down for a few days to recalibrate my expectations. I had known from our romance readers group on Facebook that there were problems with this, the fifth book, in the Ivy Years Series. What are the problems and what were the expectations? Let’s discuss.

If you’ve been reading along with those of us who hopped on the Sarina Bowen bandwagon this summer and fall, you’ll know that we were all ecstatic that Bowen was tackling new adult feminist romance with intense, relatable, and realistic characters. The four full length novels and one novella are indicative of some of the best storytelling that is out in the genre right now. Going into the fifth book my expectations were high, so high in fact that I preordered it, because the previous books had dealt beautifully with intense topics ranging from gay hockey players coming out, to slut shaming, to moving past devastating injury. And then the initial reactions started rolling in, and I was concerned.

There have already been four reviews of this book, from the lovely Beth Ellen, alwaysanswerb, Mrs. Julien, and emmalita. Each has discussed at length the big problem of this book: the false rape allegation. I won’t be going super in depth about that problem, but the link that Mrs. Julien offered in her review, as well as the various reviews of Jon Krakauer’s Missoula encapsulate my concerns about that topic and how it was framed. (Please note I haven’t read Missoula yet, but it is on the list and spot on to my concerns, best as I can tell.)

Where else were there issues? Unfortunately all over the place. (We’re about to get spoilery and revisionist, so exit now if you want.) Bowen appears to have decided to tackle the false rape allegation as a way to get to the bigger topic at hand in the narrative. This is probably why I’m less angry than some of my peers about the allegation plotline, but that doesn’t make it okay. What Bowen is really taking to task, or attempting to, is colleges and universities adjudicating rape accusations on their own, outside of the court system. This is an enormous problem (see Krakauer above), BUT, Bowen had already set up a way to talk about this topic in The Shameless Hour. In my review of that book I expressed concern about how the plot was tied up, particularly with the sexually aggressive abuse that Bella suffered and how it was dealt with by the Dean’s office. This same office is responsible for placing our falsely accused Daniel (I can’t deal with his job-as-nickname) in a state of permanent limbo. Bowen DOESN’T deal with how the Dean’s office handles the outcome of the accusations made against the frat at the end of Bella’s book, but she absolutely could have in this book and still featured Lianne and her budding romance with Daniel, since both appear on the page in that book, and Lianne has involvement in Bella’s interactions with the fraternity. As well as the fact that this book occurs within the same school year as The Shameless Hour. 

The other pro to that possibility is that it would have saved us from some pretty unforgivable character assassination. Daniel is one note (attracted to Lianne, but his entire future is in jeopardy because he was accused of a sexual crime he didn’t commit), but so is Lianne (seeking out a ‘normal’ relationship to counterbalance all that is ‘abnormal’ in her life as an actress). The longer I read this book the more Lianne felt like a Emma Watson fanfic (who attended a prestigious New England university of her own), which is not at all how I felt about that character when we meet her in The Shameless Hour.

The other issue I have with The Fifteenth Minute is the fact that Bowen used it to attempt to bring up the very real issue of portions of religious conservative population of this country having incredible issues around a woman’s worth being tied to ‘cleanliness’ and ‘purity’. This is a good effort, but it was wasted in the back quarter of the book. There are signposts along the way that we are headed here (and it is eventually what saves Daniel) but it actually subverts Bowen’s intention of opening the book on in-house rape investigations. Yes, as a plot point it clearly shows that a lack of proper hearing by the college caused six months of limbo of something that could and should have been uncovered earlier, but it scapegoats the problem. Nothing to see here, folks. Just some whacko religious nut parent who forced his daughter to lie to protect his image of her as holy. No rape, just like we said! I see Bowen’s intent, but it just didn’t land.

I really feel that Bowen accidentally set up a story that feeds into the anti-feminist myths (false rape accusations being used by social justice warriors to attack men because feminists HATE men, obviously) because she saw a bigger target in need of taking down. But I am feeling pretty sure that Bowen got in over her head. So why did I still rate this book as three stars? Because in many ways my concerns are that of a well-read picky feminist. This isn’t a bad story, it’s perfectly serviceable and the portions that take place after Daniel’s hearing are back to form and the type of story I wish Bowen had decided to tell with these characters. Let’s dig in to Lianne’s crazy history and lack of family. Let’s explore, honestly, Daniel’s status as an adopted kid in an incredibly loving and tight family unit. Let’s talk about consent, and what it means and how we express it.  I just wish it were better, but you can’t really stay mad at an author for attempting big themes, even when they fall short of the mark.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains (CBR7 #92)

Confession time: I listened to this book solely because I decided that I would not be finishing The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood for the Go Fug Yourself book club over on Goodreads. I spent two weeks actively avoiding listening to it on my commute to work, and on a three hour road trip to Philadelphia where I didn’t have a radio in the loaner car from work. I needed a palate cleanser, and I needed a moody atmospheric listen to go along with Halloween. Neil Gaiman sounded like a perfect idea.

And thanks to the fantastic review of Cannonball’s own Renton last year I had this on my to read list, and had downloaded it from Audible a few months ago when I saw it  Gaiman is in usual form here – he is playing with words, slowly releasing meaning in gradual layers. What I hadn’t remembered from Renton’s review was that part of it charm was in the artwork. To quote him “The most effective sections of the book have the text bleed into the artwork, as the story passes from paragraph to comic strip to full-page painting in one fluid movement.” Now, in listening to the Gaiman narrate the work I didn’t feel like I as missing it because as was also done in M is for Magic, the stories are interwoven with music to help create tension. That may have been what kept my rating down to a three and not up to a four like Renton’s.

So what was this novella all about anyway? Gaiman is at work with myths and lore again. We follow the tale of two men on a quest to the titular cave for gold, but it’s also rumination on what we do for love and greed. And also what we’re willing to sacrifice. A good read for anytime of the year, but definitely one suited to the fall and the shortening days.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.