Wharton and McKay’s Witches in New York

I love my Scary Reads series so much that I read and posted most of the month of October before September was over.  And what a lucky thing that I did.

I got my son’s cough a week before my half marathon, and all the money and time spent training for this event was not going to be wasted on a cough, so I ran it anyway.  I was good for about week until it bloomed into what I am pretty sure was sinusitis, which is bad enough in that it is gunky, but I lost my appetite and my energy plummeted to the point where I did nothing but the bare minimum at home and at work.  I had one more race to run that I didn’t run.  I have a list of house stuff and personal projects I am trying to get through and I have late paperwork at work I have to spend time working on today.  It’s time to make serious holiday plans and prep.  I can’t believe how much energy I normally run on and it’s even harder to believe how fast it disappeared.  I went from putting down 13 mile runs to my chest hurting standing up too long. I might have fallen behind on posting if I had not already been ahead.

But I am on the other side.  I still feel like exercising won’t leave me enough energy to do my day, but I can post on what little reading has gotten done.  I didn’t even have the mental energy to focus on reading.  I binged on Netflix.  I never binge on Netflix.  No offense to people who do so to relax, but I feel it is a waste of time.

I decided to combine these two books that I read for very different reasons into the same post.  As I reflected on them, they were actually about the same thing. They both deal with women grabbing up what power they can inside and outside the confines of their lives and conventions and interestingly have two very different takes on New York City in the late 1800s.  They are both witches in their own right, if we are defining a witch as a woman who influences her world rather than being controlled by it.

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The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton

This was for BookRiot’s book you read for school but hated/never finished.  I finished this one and begrudgingly wrote a feminist critique on it for my senior project in high school. It was begrudging for many reasons:  one, I have never found a Wharton novel uplifting (I’m still not sure how I have read three of them) and two, all the seniors not in the advanced class could do their senior project on whatever they wanted.  Anything.  Any senior even in the advanced class had traditionally done whatever they wanted in other years.  My sister did hers on old time movie stars.  My class was given a list of literature to choose from and then we had to do a literary critique on it.  I don’t still have a copy of it.  I don’t remember feeling it to be, even at the time, my magnum opus.

I was still interested to revisit it twenty years later, to see what my new eyes would show me.  And to fully explain my thoughts I have to spoil the end, so if you are thinking of reading it and you don’t want to know, read it and then come back to this post.

I believe in the paper I said that May Welland/Archer was not the innocent that she would like to project, that her moves were also calculated, despite it looking on the outside that she was the innocent victim, nearly getting the short end of the stick by playing by all the rules, the lovely, quintessential affluent female, the crown jewel of NYC’s gilded age high society.

In my second run through, one almost feels badly for May, playing by all the old rules when clearly the context is changing and women are getting more freedoms, and it looks like she could be bested by a woman who personifies the new world and way of thinking.  Newland proposes to an old school version of the desirable bride, but then realizes he wants a woman who isn’t so sheltered who can be more his equal than marriages that he sees in his contemporaries.  May is the old world and Ellen is the new, and the old world, like it does, finds a way to win out.  May makes all the rules work for her when for Ellen, the old rules very much don’t.  May is powerful in her own right.  May keeps her man and Ellen decides to save her pride by returning to Europe but still living on her own terms.  She almost steals Newland in the process, but she doesn’t.  I can’t say that Ellen ends up unhappy, at least she doesn’t go back to her husband, but if the goal is to keep your man and your status, which is clearly what May wants, May wins the day.   Like she meant to all  along.  Even when she offered to release Newland from the engagement before they are married, even if she thinks it is because of feelings toward an ex.  I didn’t know at what point she figures his relationship with Ellen.  Maybe she tries to release him because of Ellen all along.  But it is a beautifully calculating and self sacrificing move.  How could Newland give that up? Guess what.  He never does.  And through her life, she clings to the conventions that worked out for her in her youth.

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The Witches of New York, Ami McKay

I read this one just because I wanted to.  I didn’t intend on a witches post because I did so many last year, but this was too compelling.  It was my dessert. And it was everything I have ever wanted in a magical novel: ghosts, magic, fortune telling, romance, some madness, NYC in the 1880s.  A young woman striking out on her own to discover a magic in herself that she never knew she had.

May Welland Archer lived in the other part of town, playing by all the rules in the center of society, while these women inhabited the fringe.  Growing up half parentless and unconventional themselves, these women are more obviously witches who perform magic and see ghosts and fortunes and help women to take control over their lives in the guise of a tea shop.  They pretend to live in the lines with a respectable business and are patronized by women of means, but they are independent and enjoy being so.

I was intrigued by the world of the very rich when I first read Wharton but I am now more intrigued by the fringes of the world than I am with the circumscribed security of the rich.  I liked the talking bird and the description of how life was lived on Blackwell’s Island, the ghosts who only allude some characters. The darkest of antagonists and more life threatening situations than challenging of the old way of doing things and the possibility of one’s husband absconding to Europe with your scandalous cousin.

We never get a peek into May Welland’s mind but I am assuming that she believed herself to be powerful by being the opposite of these women who also believe themselves to have as much control over their world as possible.  May plays and wins the game from the inside, these witches play from the outside, and even though they have different outcomes, they all are victorious in the way they want to be.   Same time, same place, different witches.  Different definitions of victory and happiness.  I wish I had been able to compare these both feminist texts when I was in high school.

I’m two books away from completing the BookRiot challenge with 8 weeks in the year to go.  The rest of the year is going to sweep right along anyway, with preparing Christmas for a small child.  And then planning my projects in a new year.

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Riotous September Continued: A Book with a Female Protagonist over 60

It’s my anniversary weekend!  Seven years.  My husband doesn’t seem to be itching and I even left him for a week this past summer to go camping with my son.  He made pickles and ran laundry and went to work, I don’t think he was caught up in a flirtation with a pretty neighbor.

I remember when months seemed significant relationship markers, and then years did, and I think years were significant in the time when things and I were still changing constantly from year to year.  Nobody held on for the entirety of my moving from a teenager to the adult I was when I met my husband, but that’s okay.   For the best, actually. Now that the changes have slowed a little bit seven years is notable but nothing staggering. I have peers who have been married over ten years by this point with children much older than mine and seem to be doing okay together.  So I will take the seven years since that Friday night I got married in a pub in a forty dollar cocktail dress.  Even if marriage hasn’t always been my favorite.  It’s never someone’s favorite all the time.  But I’ll take it.  I don’t mind a quiet life full of love and enough routine for me to explore my interests too.  And have my sweet boy.  I don’t know how people have the energy to carry on affairs while they fully intend on maintaining the marriage they have.  Or the desire, really.

It’s interesting then that this week’s post,then, has a lot to do with a disastrous marriage in a time and place where disastrous marriages could have been the swept under the rug norm.  I didn’t live in China during the Second World War so I couldn’t tell you for sure on that, but it makes a good story for Amy Tan to churn out.

A Book With A Female Protagonist Over the Age of 60:

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The Kitchen God’s Wife, Amy Tan

Now, props to BookRiot for reminding me that the aged are also a marginalized group.  Especially older women.  With the focus right now, in my opinion, moving off color some and onto gender and still some on religion when it comes to being marginalized, I forget that a large chunk of our population here, Baby Boomers, are moving to the edges. They don’t run the world like they did when I was a kid.  I run the world now! Argh!

And this is about a woman who was already pushed off in China for not having her mother around and then further roped into a disastrous (yes I am using that word again) marriage to a man who seems to have struggled significantly with a mood problem, not that that excuses his abusive behavior.

This would have been harder to read if I had not known from the beginning that she got out.  If it had not started from the vantage of her adult American daughter who is married with children of her own.  Since I knew it ended okay I could get through the assault, the infidelity, the numerous lost children who came to be and the ones who were lost before they did.  The fact that her own father was victimized by him too when he had a stroke and they returned to his home to take over and therefore couldn’t, and never did, save her. I knew she had to have grit to wiggle her way out of his clutches, trying all the ways that she did to get away, and I wanted to know how she got out of the puzzle box.

And I don’t even know if this puzzle box was that unusual.  She did live through the war, making her experiences somewhat unique, but how unique was it?  Were many women in China trapped at that time like that? It is easy to forget when she comes to America and blends in with the other immigrants, which is hinted in the story, running a successful floral shop with two children and a husband, that there were layers of a hard life before underneath it.  Yes, BookRiot, I am sure that this was exactly your point in tossing me into an Amy Tan book.

Speaking of Amy Tan, I read The Joy Luck Club 2005-2006 one summer in my boyfriend’s family’s hot tub, and while it was excellent, the toxic mother daughter relationships were hard to get through and sometimes this makes me reluctant to read more Tan, even though I also own The Valley of Amazement and The Bonesetter’s Daughter.  I know she’s a beautiful, skilled writer who helps me see the world through a different set of eyes, but she can be hard on the emotions too.  Which clearly also makes her gifted.  But I was worried about the same mother daughter dynamic in this one, and while there is a mother and a daughter who do not understand each other, which would be hard anyway because they had completely different lives, they find a way to appreciate each other.  They reach out between their cultural rifts toward one another and it’s a satisfying resolution all around.  It wasn’t toxic, it was just a challenge, but both wanted to be better to the other, which made all the difference.  Maybe her other books would be more palatable.

I wanted to lighten up the emotional pull of my reading after this, so I moved to The Master and Margarita, which I reviewed last week, which was challenging for entirely different reasons.  But then I went camping and moved onto the Halloweeny reads while camping, which the reader should know by now includes scary books for all audiences and levels, and isn’t quite so serious.   Reading while camping was awesome but I lost the moment to post on the magic of reading during camping.  Maybe next year if I take my son to sleep in the woods with me again.

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The Importance of Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing

Another BookRiot read this week with a book that was already higher up on the TBR and then BookRiot made it happen.  There was never any doubt I was going to read this one.

That said, I was putting it off some, too.  It’s like the half marathon I have been training for all summer that’s at the end of September. I know it will be good for me and I will be glad I did it, but it might be a little intense in the middle.  It won’t be about white people problems, and it will be based on real atrocities.

A Book of Colonial or Post Colonial Literature:

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Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi

I’ll be honest right now that this book already looked appealing, but when Ta-Nehisi Coates endorsed it right on the cover, I knew I was going to read it. I knew that if he endorsed this story it would be real and not a whitewashed version of the story.  Not that I thought that the author, a Ghanaian-American woman (and in her twenties, no less), would whitewash the truth, but I get concerned about what happens when it goes through the publishing machine to make it more appealing to white people.

Looking over her bio to be sure I have her specs right for this blog I am also intrigued by what an immigrant black woman’s life is like in Alabama, but maybe she’s saving that up for something else of hers I will inevitably buy.

So, here’s the thing that makes this book special.  The slave narrative, in my opinion, has been done.  I haven’t read all the literature I even have on that, but like I said when I reviewed Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad, which I very much respect as a well written novel, I felt it had all been done before.  Homegoing includes more of what the black slavery/immigration/”liberation”/existence was like for the dark skinned in America and Africa in recent history.  There are stories of Africans on both sides of the slave ships, men serving as free mining labor due to trumped up prison charges, a woman kidnapped back into slavery, drugs and jazz in Harlem in the sixties.  There is more than the times they were enslaved, and beaten, and apprehended as part of their time as slaves.  When the Civil War changed the laws there was still a long way to go, especially as I have read Toni Morrison’s Beloved (and  some of the books I have read on literary critique I now feel I  missed about half of it somehow) and the immediate implications of a so called ‘freedom.’

The description on Amazon puts it perfectly: “the legacy of slavery is fully revealed in the light of the present day.”

It’s enough of our history to still be playing out today.

These narratives of families can get tangled and make bounds through time. I wasn’t always completely sure who the new character belonged to out of the women that were first introduced in the very beginning, but I could trace their more immediate families. It wraps through time the different experiences of hardship, and they are complicated ties.   But it almost doesn’t really matter who these people were tied to back in Africa, their stories are important and poignant.  And as I said before, there is conflict in Ghana with the British as well in the story, not just about the American experience.

I might need to make a post on what would be required reading in high school if I ran the ship.  I have a few in mind to help kids getting ready for the world to shake their ignorance just a little sooner.  This would absolutely be on the list.  I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe and while I enjoyed it, it was a piece of propaganda written for the time.  I think Homegoing is more immediate and relevant to people now than Uncle Tom’s Cabin, that relies on a context we no longer live in.  I can’t fault Gyasi for that, though, seeing as she was about nine years old when I was doing my reading for US History and Government.  If I had read this at 16-17 years old, I might have struggled with knowing how to feel about it, a situation that was terrible and past my control, but it would have been a start.

This is a shorter post today, as the other book I am writing about next is also intense and involved.

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Book Riot: A Book Published Posthumously

Likely it will be a riotous September with the month’s posts focusing on the Read Harder Challenge.  I’m gearing up for October being my usual round of seasonal scary reads because I love a scary reads binge to ease me into the fall.   I’ll try not to wax poetic about my guilty love of fall.  I’ll just read the right books to celebrate hoodies, crisp air and spookiness.

There was never any question that this is the year to read the book I chose for this category.  My best friend had just gotten through it, although he openly admitted that he feels some of the story got past him (so I knew some of it would slide by me, too).  I have read many of the other considered to be classic examples of Magical Realism, with a few detours to eat up most everything by Sarah Addison Allen, and then when I googled book ideas for this category it popped right up to greet me, even with the same cover as the used edition I snagged via Amazon not that long ago:

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The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov

It’s telling in itself that I don’t even know where to begin when talking about this novel.  I could start with the fact that I would probably be a ton cooler if I understood it.  If I wasn’t combing the internet for whatever extra information I could get to make it hold together in my mind any better than it did.  It’s not even my first go at a Russian novel, with having read Crime and Punishment and Anna Karenina years ago.  And yet there was always a feeling that I was missing the context that would really drive this one home for me.

What I gathered, mixed with information teased out of the internet, was that Satan and some compatriots, the cat that is featured on every cover of this novel (and even my post!) named Behemoth being one of them, to wreak random havoc on Soviet Russia in a satirical fashion.  I really tried to read other sources before writing this, but it felt so random to me, the reason for their shenanies being that the whole point was to make fun of Soviet Russia circa 1930.  I didn’t understand why they would just roll into Russia and mess with everyone and then decide they are done and take off.  I spent time in my lovely writing course on the importance of character motives and I didn’t see one for these guys other than being foils and hosting a ball leading to a random adulterous woman getting her greatest wish.  Anyone is free to comment to set me straight.

I may have felt I was missing something because of the paucity of knowledge I have around Soviet Russia circa 1930.  I know that the people were mainly poor and struggling.  I grew up during the last vestiges of the Cold War and I remember hearing in school about how Communism played out in the Soviet Union, as well as having done a presentation on Stalin for sixth grade and how he allowed record numbers of his people to die (freeze/starve if memory serves).  But I had to pick through other sources to understand what exactly was being made fun of.  I didn’t mind this, really, but it’s difficult to spend time reading a novel and wishing when it was done that you had done it through the context of a college course where you didn’t have four other courses to complete.

Also, as I have found with many classics, there is a lot of rule breaking going on as far as all the advice out there on how to write a novel people want to read.  The main characters don’t come into the book until the first third is over.  There is none of this introducing them and their arc within the first page or two.  There is action, with Satan arguing about the existence of Jesus with a man who does not believe as was what the government preferred at the time, and then a predicted and freaky mishap ending in death, and then a chapter telling the story leading up to the crucifixion.  But you don’t meet Master for awhile and then even later, his lover Margarita.  And as I said before, either I am really dense or there aren’t really clear motivations of the supernatural team of the devil and his cronies, and then the Russians find ways after to explain it away and minimize it, which the writer takes pains to detail out.  And you never really know why Margarita is so dissatisfied with her clearly enviable life to the point where she throws it all away to carry out the dreams of her lover.  Like, I understood why Anna Karenina made the choices she did, because Dostoyevsky made her sucky marriage clear, but Margarita has money and a loving husband and takes the first chance she gets to become a witch and fly around and then host a ball with like, no clothes on, meeting some of the darkest souls in Christendom.  I know she does this to be reunited with her lover but she enjoys it, too.

It was entertaining and I know I’ll need another go at it at some point to gather all of it.  Even reading the summaries shortly after the chapter (which was somewhat interrupted by the fact I was reading it on a camping grip with limited WiFi access) I was like okay, that part was not as clear or I missed something.   n

I also realize this was a lot to say about a book I had to work at for the incomplete knowledge I gleaned.  And it gets its own post being as mysterious and intriguing as it was leading up to reading it and then the baffling entertainment that it afforded.  It was messed up and that’s why people love it.  But I think there is more of a point to the messed up that I sifted out.  And I don’t feel ashamed of that.

Riot list reads continue as we coast into the last quarter of the year.  My last fall was busy and this one is shaping up to be, too, with not having time to set aside to do my pending novel edits.  As I have noted ad nauseum before, however, it is a long, long winter.

 

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BookRiot: A Book with a Cover you Hate

Labor Day weekend: the predawn of the school year for us in New York.  My son will be a first grade boy!  I have less apprehension about this year, as there have been glimpses of the mature boy that he is headed toward, but there still is some.  He’s still him, after all.

It’s been a BookRiot binge.  A binge! I think I just love a list, but whatever, it’s guiding my reading appreciably.

A Book With a Cover You Hate:

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My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrarante

So yeah, this cover, bar none, cracked me in the face the first time I saw it.  BookRiot gave examples of books whose covers they don’t like, but it was usually because the cover had nothing to do with the story, or it was part of a series of covers that featured the authors over any other aspect of the book, like Margaret Atwood chilling on the cover of A Handmaid’s Tale.  This cover is way uglier than any author could dream of being. And for clarification, I am only talking about the first novel cover, not the series, but I will mention that in a bit.

It’s ugly to me because it looked so impossibly common and cheap.  I have said before I don’t tend to read books with a shoe, a purse, jewelry or a martini glass on the cover (except a witchy cozy because come on, its a cozy with magic) and a wedding is certainly on that list.  An ugly wedding at that.  An ugly wedding at the top!

Interestingly, the wedding in the book felt to me as superficial and cheesy as the picture on the cover.   This brilliant novel, and I will agree with everyone else who finds her writing brilliant, is about two girls born into a world that neither is really suited for.  One, the narrator, is supported by her parents by distinguishing herself from the usual fates of neighborhood girls by allowing her to attend school much longer and shining at it much more.  The other is not allowed to shine through school so shines by living the most prized existence possible within the confines of her world.  She shines by (spoiler alert) attracting and marrying one of the most desirable neighborhood boys and displaying a wealth and sophistication only dreamed of by others, but as I said, I think her marriage to him is more about beating everyone at their own game rather than being a true source of fulfillment for her. At the end of this first installment, there’s no proof that either is particularly happy.  I feel that both females are at their happiest with one another, even though the relationship has it’s dysfunctional aspects.

There is a little codependency on the narrator’s part.  She chases after a friend who she truly loves, but who can be as emotionally unavailable and even less predictable at times than her own mother, who predictably and pretty consistently hates her.  She also develops real feelings for a boy for the first time who can be focused on himself and unavailable as well. I mean, a mother who hates you will cause you to seek out relationships that are emotionally uneven.   It makes sense.  But I wanted more for both of these girls than the world they were born into, the world that wasn’t for them.  I wanted more for her than (spoiler alert) boy that got her hopes up about being academically recognized and doesn’t follow through.  I don’t know how I’d survive in a world that didn’t have a place for my strengths.

So about the cover. Other sources suggest that the covers were chosen to look ‘domestic’ because Ferrarante wanted to suggest that the details of domestic women’s lives are important as a literary topic.  She was hiding relevant/resonant material in covers that made it look the opposite. She was being ironic.  She was pointing out my condescending attitude toward books geared at women, which I already demonstrated with my previous paragraph regarding cover no fly zones. The cover eventually didn’t deter me due to the intrigue surrounding the covers and her secret identity, and because I knew they were highly rated and regarded.  The contents promised to outshine the trappings, and they did.  And a brief perusal of the other covers shows me that that first cover, that first face smack, is still the worst of the series.

This won’t change my reliance on a good cover.  Or my attraction to a book based on the cover.  I have a hard time turning away something darkly magical.  Some people wrote that they still haven’t made it past the covers.   But I did.  I made it.  And I ached for the characters in this depressing novel.  And I’m sure this was Ms. Ferrarante’s goal.

Another BookRiot post is coming up next, but there has been a list drafted of my creepy read downs for the impending fall.  And it’s not fall yet, lest anyone think that Sept 1 signals the acceptability of pumpkin coffees, because it does not.

I am ready for another creepy season without having to buy any books, insert wide eye emoji here.

Plus noveling continues. More about that at some point.

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BookRiot: Women and Sci Fi, aka Women Kicking Butt

I don’t always like science fiction, especially when I think it is going to be too complicated or too stressful.  Post apocalyptic, people trying to survive in a world pretty convincingly having gone to crap in the not so distant future isn’t always the relaxation and diversion I am looking for in a book.

But reading challenges are about expanding the mind and the possibilities, right? To make us uncomfortable for the sake of growth?

I found both of the books I am posting on here engaging.  One I didn’t expect to be engaging and another has been one I have been looking to read for awhile now and when it fit a category, even though I had already read the first one, I had to do it, too.  Two on a category I tend to have to talk myself into reading, no less! I know. I didn’t expect it either. An added bonus, but not a fact that made me anticipate not liking these works is that the protagonists aren’t only women, but women of color.

And on reflection for the purposes of this post, it makes sense I’d get absorbed into females in sci fi.  It’s the ultimate of girl power. Both of these are about pulling gender roles into greater equality. Both are about women who have special powers who, among other things, greatly enjoy their sexuality. And women kicking butt!!

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Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler

It’s difficult to consider myself well read if I have never picked up Octavia Butler.  I have this fuzzy list in my head of whose works I might not gravitate toward but who I still think are important, and Octavia has always been one of them, along with Ursula K. LeGuin.

I was immediately captivated by this book.  I wanted to know about their world and the dangers within and how she gets out of it when it inevitably burns down from the violence and the desperation they are steeped in.  It’s later in the book when they say that the time frame is about 7-10 years from now, or I wasn’t paying enough attention to that fact in the beginning for it to turn me off to reading it.  I don’t think things will be in that state in that short a time frame, with the gross corruption and people having to live in walled communities to stay safe from the larger world. I had to push myself a little to do this one, and then I was hanging on every word.

Some who reviewed this on Audible thought it was ‘preachy.’   The protagonist is building her own religion but she is developing it as a lens through which to make sense of and manage the crazy chaotic world she was placed in.  Science fiction, to me, always has that taste of philosophy that goes with it, like in Le Guin’s Tales of Earthsea, when so much hinged upon knowing a name and what that meant.  If you are building special worlds then there are considerations for world building and religion for the people.  It is part of context, not meant to be preachy. And in this book, she becomes a religious type leader, but I think it is to have rules with which to organize and give her new group purpose.  They are trying to survive in a new way and that new way is going to need a framework, whether it be that ‘we lie and steal and everyone for themselves’ or “God is change’ and wanting to promote the good of the group.  She has her nay sayers, like in any believable group, but she also has the best chance of making this whole survival thing work.

This book was captivating and I didn’t expect it to b.e  The world was clear and I wanted to know what was next with her surviving in it.  There was always something going to crap, like I would think is the norm in futuristic apocalyptic sci fi.   I listened to this, mostly, and I liked the narrator as a woman of color as the protagonist was. It all made it seem more real and pulled together.  And she kicked butt.

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Who Fears Death, Nnedi Okorafor

I wanted to read this as it was, and I don’t remember the original impetus, and then I saw a copy of it on my best friend’s desk on a weekend trip to NYC and considered sliding it into my bag.  He said his interest was because it was going to be made into an HBO series and he wanted to read it first. And he is kind of tired of reading about white people, something in my ultimate whiteness might never happen to me.

Then Amazon put it out for 1.99 and I don’t know why they did this right before I realized that this also qualified for the reading challenge, halfway through Parable and I was like the universe wants me to do two in this luscious category of girl power.  It wanted me to roll about in it.

The funny thing about the HBO production is because people were getting confused because George RR Martin is going to be producing it and people thought that he wrote it, which is hilarious that anyone who read this book would think that a white man wrote it.  Dr. Okorafor shut down the rumors on Twitter, as she should, but it’s just another symptom of our society to think that Martin wrote this.

This is bad ass girlpower, even more than Parable. This tackles gender inequality in a huge way, not just in that the protagonist has all kinds of power that some men don’t have and the men who do have it don’t want to share it with women, but that she verbally confronts these differences.  She uses her powers to overcome institutionalized sexual oppression of women. She is a sorcerer, a healer, she is fierce, she came from trauma and less than nothing to rise above. She can change into animals! I loved reading about her discovering herself and her powers, her changing relationships, her heart.  This book was awesome and beautiful.  It was mystical realism instead of magical, and didn’t have the weird sexual relationships.

That said, this book is also intense.  I listened to a significant part of it and the narrator’s style was appropriate but hard to hook my brain into initially.  The topics are intense, the trauma and the inequality are intense. The sexuality is intense. This book is a ride.

 

If you want nonwhite girl power, do these.  I love it.

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BookRiot’s Read Harder Challenge: A True Crime Book

So, as I said in my last post…I have a hard time resisting a book list.  We had our summer reading challenges in high school and while that booklet of doorstop sized titles could be daunting, I liked going through it to see what I was going to read.  It is also how I chose Pride and Prejudice for the first time.

As the summer goes on it is more difficult to resist the pull of ticking things off my BookRiot list.  The last four months of the year go by fast and I like to have things done ahead of time.

BookRiot’s true crime category was more a question of choice than of desire.  True crime fits right into what I do every day:  trying to make sense of something outside the norm.  Trying to appreciate it from another angle rather than coming from a place of judgment. Which is a luxury of mine: the chance to be objective.  I don’t expect the people who these crimes affect to be objective, but I try to expect myself to be.

It also was a question of choice because my library has a ton of true crime available on audio, it seems. I have not compared this count to other forms of nonfiction available, so maybe it’s just that they get more borrows on nonfiction audio, but I was astounded at the choices I had.  If they tend to have more audio of true crime than other nonfiction works, why would that be?  Does the level of drama lend itself better to audio?

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The Spider and the Fly:  A Writer, a Murderer and a Story of Obsession, Claudia Rowe

I chose this one because I felt a reluctant ability to relate to the blurb from the library website.  A young woman looking to make sense of a terrible thing, set in Poughkeepsie, New York.   I knew I would be able to relate some to the setting, as I worked in the state hospital for a year in Poughkeepsie to complete my doctoral hours.  In fact, one of the people in this book also worked for the hospital and with the mentally ill there.   So I had been there:  the country setting just a reach away from the city.    I knew where she was talking about when she talked about what it was like down Rte 9.  I was there more than ten years after she was, so I didn’t know as much about how the downtown had been abandoned to favor the growth around the arterial, but I had stomped where she had stomped.  I drove through downtown to get to the hospital daily.

What struck me when I started to read this was all the trauma on all sides.

The writer’s trauma isn’t revealed until later on but was apparent to me pretty quickly, as one only becomes obsessed with something like a serial murderer when they are looking for their own answers.  There were some skeletons urging her on from her closet too, urging her into trying to make ends of a random and senseless crime. She could relate to all the pieces: the killer, the victims, the setting, the period of time.

I think what makes it even more compelling is that the killer’s trauma is much more subtle.  I have worked with people with the propensity or even history of killing and abusing others and usually the reasons are straightforward: abuse, severe neglect, trauma, psychosis.  This killer, Kendall Francois, appeared to have none of these, his family presenting as completely normal on the outside, even a black family blending into the white section of town.  Other siblings who for all intents and purposes seem to be functioning and contributing members of society.  The inside of his home is a decrepit mess due to hoarding, so there is some illness there, and I have my own theories of what Kendall’s diagnosis could have truly been based on the author’s spin on things, so there is a shade of dysfunction, but there are plenty of harmless people in the world who struggle with hoarding.  Who do not hoard rotting murder victims above their families.

When dysfunction is difficult to see, the press for answers can be more consuming, more challenging.  Pieces need to be put together as they emerge from the mist, subtle in and of themselves.  The pieces of his trauma line up with hers, in that they both come from families that look good on the outside but have their secrets on the inside.  Her trauma matches up with the lives of his victims as well, women who turned tricks due to their own damage that wasn’t addressed.  Of course I would want to read all this wreckage. I make my living sifting through wreckage!

But the author does grow and change from the experience, and that’s what we all want to see when there is wreckage.  Healing. So there is meaning in it in that it helped her figure out some things for herself and move on with the usual adult milestones.

As I said in the beginning, there were many contenders for this one, and if I was not noveling, I may have read more than one for this. Helter Skelter, In Cold Blood, The Devil in the White City.  All classics whereas this one is not as canonical.  Clearly the rest will sit on the TBR for now, and when I get to them, I am not sure they will resonate with me as much as this one.  I was once a young woman too looking for answers and dealing with extreme illness in Poughkeepsie, and in an even weirder parallel, the author and I both had boyfriends at the time who we did not end up with.  And that was a good thing.  So many connections on so many levels.  I’m not old now, but I am certainly no longer the woman I was when I was finishing my doctorate, and neither is she when she finishes with her journey with Kendall.

Comments/likes/Shares?  I’ll be reading harder (in addition to the copious other projects) as we slide into the cooler season…