Willow Weep For Me

There is a good possibility that there are a ton of excellent books that depict depression that I simply have not heard of or read. Though, the excitement I’ve seen around the few I have heard of makes me think this probably isn’t true. I understand why this may be. Who wants to read a story about someone that can’t get out of bed, kind of smells bad, and never sees or talks to anybody? The main action of the story would be the person deciding if talking to another person is an appropriate price to pay for pizza or if they’ll just eat Cheerios again. It wouldn’t exactly be a page turner. So, while I think it sucks, I totally get why there aren’t a ton of novels and memoirs depicting depression. It’s also why I’m extra impressed by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah’s Willow Weep For Me: A Black Woman’s Journey Through Depression. 

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Depression is, by it’s very nature, hard to talk about. When you’re in the thick of it it is impossible to articulate because it throws a sort of black veil over all reason. When you’re out of it, it’s the giant pink elephant in the room that might not trample anyone if you just act like it isn’t there. Pile on the boat load of societal pressure to be ok and just feel happy and an unhealthy dose of people not understanding and you’ve got yourself a tough topic. I think these facts of depression make it impressive when anybody writes down a map of their experience with it. When they can do so artfully, like Meri Nana-Ama Danquah does, it is a treat that feels full of possibility for more like it.

Danquah’s memoir is at once relatable and eye opening. It is worth noting that it was published in 1998 so there has probably been some progress in the areas of mental health, sex, and race…though more of her story rang true and recent, than not. Mental health is being talked about a bit more, but I hesitate to say that it has been completely de-stigmatized. Race and sex has been a topic of much contention these days, particularly with the advent of the newest president. Again, I hesitate to say there has actually been any progress in these realms. If anything it feels as though we are taking tiny steps backward.

Except, and I say this knowing that “except” must now be a word fully loaded with hope, Willow Weep For Me does exist. The hope here is that people will read it and benefit from Danquah’s life story and vulnerability. She has put her very life into her art and I refuse to believe that that sort of commitment and investment can exist with no rewards and returns. If people read this book and are inspired to get help, help others, or simply be open about their own experiences, then maybe that can be one more little step forward.

Commonplace Book Entries

“Our reality often comes to us in fragments.”

Willow Weep For Me by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah

“And, given the oppressive nature of the existing language surrounding depression, perhaps for black people there really aren’t any.”

Willow Weep For Me by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah

“The illusion of time is that it heals all wounds but the ones that have not been attended to only fester.”

Willow Weep For Me by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah

“Healing is about much more than remembering. Healing is about reinterpreting events, aligning the fiction with the fact. I had created so many lies to erase my misfortunes and my mistakes. The biggest and most damaging of which were my silences.”

Willow Weep For Me by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah

Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep listening. Keep creating.

The Secret History of Wonder Woman

Yes, I saw the Wonder Woman movie and yes I read all the hot takes about it and yes I do realize that there are issues with it, but that is not hindering how happy I am about the Wonder Woman movie. I am not hard to delight, so I don’t know how much this means but while watching it I was pretty darn delighted. About a year ago I read one of the first volumes of Wonder Woman and the movie felt pretty true to that while getting rid of some of the more problematic aspects of the original story (not enough of them…there are hot takes, literally just google “problems with Wonder Woman movie” you will find them.) The movie and the first book were the extent of my Wonder Woman knowledge…until now. The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore was a fabulously scandalous, inspiring and true story about the original creators. Sometimes the behind the scenes of books and stories make ruin the stories, I truly believe reading this book will only make you more interested in reading and watching everything Wonder Woman related.

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When I started The Secret History of Wonder Woman I definitely just assumed I’d be getting a little background in the suffragist movement and learn something about comics. I got that and so much more. Jill Lepore is an excellent writer and tells the story of Wonder Woman’s creators in a way that kept me turning the page, but really, after reading about the creators it would have been hard to turn this story into a boring history book. If the facts were listed in bullet points they still couldn’t help but be interesting. Ultimately this book is about William Moulton Marston, the man who wrote Wonder Woman. He was a psychologist who invented the lie detector test, a feminist, polyamorist, and, frankly, while reading the book it was hard to decide if he was way ahead of his time or just, kind of creepy. Most likely a healthy mix of both, but the man was nothing if not interesting and, thankfully, surrounded himself with many strong women who inspired Wonder Woman.

If I were to give you a run down of all the more scandalous aspects of The Secret History of Wonder Woman the book would come across rather salacious and I suppose an argument can be made for that description, but the truth is a story like Wonder Woman isn’t written in the 1940’s by your average Joe sexist…and woman weren’t being given the job. The history behind Wonder Woman has everything to do with how her stories turned out and give every moment of the comics a little more meaning, and I think that alone makes this book worth reading.

Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep listening. Keep creating.

 

The Windup Girl

There’s nothing quite like reading a story about a scary future that isn’t out of the realm of possibility to keep me up at night worrying. I have already read The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi in which water is power and power is scarce. Now, I’ve finally gotten around to reading The Windup Girl, in which calories are the power of the day and, of course, they’re not exactly abundant. It was worrisome enough that I spent a lot of my time reading it stress eating. Which, given the scarcity of calories in the book, I felt at turns guilty and grateful for my stress snacks.

Cover of The Windup Girl

The Windup Girl is set in Bangkok, Thailand and gives us the perspectives of several characters. One, Anderson Lake, is a a calorie man running a factory as a cover for his mission to find seed stock that AgriGen could utilize. Emiko is a windup girl which is in this futuristic hungry world what they call a engineered human being. She is a human but modified so she can be easily recognized as a windup, infertile, and with instincts to serve. There’s also Hock Seng who is a refugee from China and works in Lake’s factory, and Jaidee who works for the Thai government in protecting the seed stock. There is a lot to keep track of in this book. The world is so fully developed, intricate, and complex that reading, especially with the varied perspectives, sometimes felt a bit overwhelming. It was certainly a ride the wave read. The first few chapters I really had to trust that Bacigalupi would take to me to a point where things made sense if I just kept reading.

I would love to say that eventually everything made sense that the book tied up all the loose ends and with a complex little knot, but I don’t think that’s true and I don’t think, with this book, that that’s even the purpose. By the end of the book I understood the world a little bit better but, more importantly, understood the characters. Bacigalupi gives us the perspective of somebody on every side of the battle in this book. The corporations, the creations, the people, and the government all get their say and that many perspectives never leaves anyone with a feeling of finality. Luckily, I don’t think that was the point of the story. The point was to show each of the perspectives and the complexities of the calorie crisis this future world (*cough maybe not too far in the future cough cough*) is experiencing. Each of the characters was beautifully developed and when I was reading their perspective it made sense for me that they should get their way…until I read the next perspective.

This book ended up being a sort of character study when characters are in crisis. Which is when most good character studies take place, anyway. The story never feels preachy, and given the subject matter it would be very easy to tend towards that. Instead, Bacigalupi built a world around his characters that is as complex and full as they are, which makes this a beautiful and slightly scary read.

Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep listening. Keep creating.

 

 

 

 

Smoke and Mirrors

There is nothing better than a collection of short stories to get me out of a reading slump. I’ve recently been having a little bit of trouble focusing on any one book or story, but Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors contained stories too short for me to possibly loose focus and too interesting for me to bother with putting it down after one story. Gaiman came through, as usual, with the perfect amount of weird and relatable. I have read one other collection of his called Fragile Things, his novel American Gods, and, of course, his comic books, The Sandman: The Kindly Ones. I loved those, especially the Sandman Series, but there was something particularly satisfying about Smoke and Mirrors.

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I have officially gotten to the point in my own writing where I’m a little bit obsessed with finding out about the process various writers go through. So I was extra thrilled to see that in my copy of Smoke and Mirrors there is a little note from Neil Gaiman about each story. Some of them are explaining why the story exists, which, a lot of the time was someone asked for it, and some of them explain the various iterations the story went through before arriving in Smoke and Mirrors. This extra bit of context for the stories, while exciting for me as a writer, are also helpful in grounding the stories a bit. If you sit down and read a bunch of these at once it is easy to feel as though the worlds you’re being pulled through are too fantastical to keep up with. Flipping to the front of the book and putting some familiar reality around the fantasy was a helpful way to keep my feet on the ground.

The stories themselves were, in true Gaiman fashion, all surprising in their own ways. They ran the spectrum of spooky, scary, funny, and downright odd. It is so easy for me to get caught up in a reading list of books that I need to slog through. Picking up Smoke and Mirrors every once in a while to, for five minutes (sometimes less), be surprised by what would come next in this book of little oddities was pretty delightful. That’s not to say all the stories were happy ones, this is Gaiman after all, but they were all well crafted snippets that made me think a little harder about what reality actually is and could be. I like a book that does that, and one that can do it in easily digested bits and bobs is even better!

Common Place Book Entries:

“You want to know the future, love? Then wait:”

Reading the Entrails: A Rondel from Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman

Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep listening. Keep creating.

Zong!

Zong! by M. NourbeSe Philip is unlike any poetry I’ve ever read before both in content and style. If you are a fan and avid reader of experimental poetry then I recommend going straight to the book rather than reading this as there is no way to write about it without spoiling some of the experience of reading it. However, if you don’t have a ton of experimental poetry experience then I would still recommend it but proceed with the expectation of disorientation. Don’t be surprised if you start it and have no idea what’s happening because, for some of it anyway, that’s the point. It may help you to know the backstory of both the real life story these poems are drawing from and how the Philip went about utilizing that story.

Cover of Zong. A leg bone with a red dot at the knee in front of a body of water.

Zong! is based on the true story of the slave ship Zong. In November of 1781 the captain ordered about 150 Africans thrown overboard so the ship could collect insurance money off of their deaths. The only repercussion of these horrendous actions was a court case not for murder but for insurance fraud. The transcript of that court case is the only historical record of this mass murder. Philip uses the transcript to tell the story through poems. She confined herself to using words only found in the transcript of the court case for her poems. Because the court case was not extensive or even about the murder of 150 people she got creative with the form and structure of the poems. Many of them can be read in different directions and many them are hard to decipher.

I found it to be a bit of a frustrating reading experience but this is an occasion where I think frustration in reading may be the point. Zong! is about a tragedy that is nearly impossible to fathom. Philip was not just trying to tell the story, she was trying to give a voice to those that died. If you walk away from these poems feeling disoriented, frustrated, and confused imagine how these feelings would have been intensified for those thrown off the ship to drown. I was left with less of the story and more of the emotion, which is, I think, a quality particular to poems. Poetry is usually going for maximum emotional impact and Philip’s poetry is doing it’s job in an effective and unique way. Even if you don’t particularly like experimental poetry the book includes a little history of Zong and M. NourbeSe Philip’s writing process which I also found quite fascinating.

Common Place Book Entries

“the order in destroy”

Zong! by M. NourbeSe Philip

“Some–all the poems– need a great deal of space around them — as if there is too much cramping around them, as if they need to breathe…”

Zong! by M. NourbeSe Philip

“Within the boundaries established by the words and their meanings there are silences; within each silence is the poem,”

Zong! by NourbeSe Philip

“I deeply distrust this tool I work with — language.”

Zong! by NourbeSe Philip

“The disorder, illogic and irrationality of the Zong! poems can no more tell the story than the legal report of Gregson v. Gilbert masquerading as order, logic and rationality.”

-Zong! by NourbeSe Philip

“This language of the limp and the wound.”

Zong! by NourbeSe Philip

Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep listening. Keep creating.

 

 

Kafka On The Shore

I am graduated, no longer in Ireland, and completely partied out after my grandma’s 80th birthday party. It is about darn time I finish reading and talk about Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. I started this book when I was in the thick of my last semester in college and was, perhaps, over ambitious in thinking I could read a book for fun along side reading several for school. I spent a few days when I got home from all the hullabaloo that was my month of May sitting on my couch with a glass of whiskey (thank you, Ireland) and reading this puzzle of a book.

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This is not a book to read when you have a lot going on or would like to just turn off your brain for a little bit. Sometimes reading it feels like you’ve got a patchwork quilt under a microscope and you’re trying to figure out which square each thread is in while trying to figure where each square goes and how all the threads and squares are connected. This book is the epitome of show, don’t tell. It follows two main characters. There is Kafka Tamura, whose real first name we never discover but it is his real last name, and Nakata, who can talk to cats. Nakata and Kafka never meet but their stories are intertwined. We meet Kafka as he has started his journey running away from home, the reasons are not made explicitly clear but you do get the impression he is better off not at home. Nakata’s story starts with him as a child in a mysterious accident that left him a little mentally disabled but with ability to chat with cats.

The magical elements of the book are written in casually. They are not an accepted element of the world, we get scenes of policemen, newspaper headlines, and news reporters astounded at leeches and fish falling from the sky, but the elderly and simple Nakata and depressed and impressionable Kafka take most of these occurrences as a fact of their non reality. Murakami keeps the readers constantly guessing what is real by writing scenes only to, chapters later, reveal they could have been dreams, but never quite confirming either way. This forces the reader to not only question what is real within the story but question whether it matters if it is real or not. By the time we are thrown completely into a clearly magical scene we no longer really care if it’s real, we’re caught up with the substance of the story and the reactions of the characters. What does it matter if it’s real or not if the characters are reacting to it? What does it matter if magic exists or not if you still haven’t found the reality that you’re looking for? Murakami is an insanely talented writer who shows you bits of the quilt and let’s you decide what it actually looks like.

Common Place Book Entries

“Silence, I discover, is something you can actually hear.”

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

“Nothing’s going to disappear just because you can’t see what’s going on.”

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep listening. Keep creating.

Dubliners

Hello world, it’s Emma back again with the book blog! Once again this semester I found myself taking a break from this fabulous corner of the internet to keep myself at slightly more normal levels of insanity. This semester was a little different in that it was my last as an undergrad! As a celebration of finally being done with school, my dad and I are headed to Ireland. By total coincidence I spent part of this last semester reading and studying James Joyce! Which means I’ll for sure be taking a picture at his statue but it also means I’m going to be talking about his collection of short stories Dubliners.

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Dubliners is by far Joyce’s most reader friendly book. (After I recover from the semester a little bit I’ll do a post on Ulysses…and whew that is a book that makes you sweat.) It’s a collection of short stories following various Dubliners going about their day.  There is some Irish/time specific references but my copy of the book had some handy endnotes to help me put some context around some of the events. When reading any sort of James Joyce at all it is helpful to already be well read because he has a tendency to pack his books and stories full of literary references. With Dubliners there isn’t quite as much of this and it certainly won’t hinder your reading experience if you miss a few references.

I think it’s kind of interesting that at the time of publication Dubliners was fairly well received, even in Ireland, because the picture Joyce paints is not exactly a vibrant full of life one. A running theme throughout the short stories is paralysis. Joyce seemed to be of the opinion that Ireland and the Irish arts were going through a rather stale period of non growth. Because of this reading all the stories in one go of it might get a bit wearisome. Regardless, Dubliners is a good way to ease into reading James Joyce and appreciating his complicated, but undeniable genius!

Common Place Book Entries:

“I found it strange that neither I nor the day seemed in a mourning mood…”

-The Sisters by James Joyce

“No one would think he’d make such a beautiful corpse.”

-The Sisters by James Joyce

“Now that she was about to leave it she did not find it a  wholly undesirable life.”

-Eveline by James Joyce

“…laughing as if his heart would break.”

-The Dead by James Joyce

Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep listening. Keep creating.