Zoom

Sometimes, you spill popcorn and as you’re picking it up you notice the perfect book for your evening. This was exactly the case for me this past weekend when I stumbled across Zoom by Istvan Banyai. About a year ago I read and wrote about the second book by Istvan Banyai, appropriately titled Re-Zoom, my thoughts on that can be found here. About a year has gone by and enough has happened that a perspective check was exactly what I needed.

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Zoom is a simple concept. With every turn of the page there is another picture that gives context to the last pages pictures. Essentially, you start zoomed in and with each page you zoom out. There are no words, but I’d caution against flipping through quickly. The art is beautiful and well thought out. The more you appreciate the page you’re on, the environment you’re in, the more exciting it becomes when you turn the page and what you thought was true and real is completely different with a slightly wider lens.

It’s hard to write about this book without drawing parallels for what the United States is experiencing politically right now. I’ll say this: this book is important, if only to remind you how much “there” there is.  It is so easy to get swept up and bogged down in arguments online, or the news, or tv, or even drama with friends. This is all important on its own level. It’s wildly important to stay informed and to be involved and to stand up for what you believe. It’s also important to practice the art of zooming in and out. Take a step back to remember the impact you might be having on complete strangers on the other side of the world. Focus in on the immediate impact you’re having on the blank piece of paper in front of you. I don’t know that one of these is more important than the other but I do believe the practice of considering both will result in more thoughtful discussions. Practicing what this book exemplifies will make it easier to figure out when and where a conversation needs to happen to get positive results, rather than screaming into an abyss and hoping for the best.

This is, I suppose, a children’s book. If all children had access to it and sat with it at bedtime then the next generation will be thoughtful, critical thinkers, that impact the world in a purposeful way. I do hope adults read it too. We’re reactionary creatures and sometimes art is what’s needed to remind us that to react with no purpose is to forget that the lens zooms out.

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

Dreams From My Father

With Mr. Barack Obama (I googled how to address a former president…it’s “Mr.” though Barack Obama without “President” sounds awfully odd) officially out of the Oval Office I could think of no better book to read than one of his, for nostalgia’s sake, for escape from the present, and for inspiration. Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama was written before the former President of the United States was even a senator. It’s a book in which Mr. Obama recounts how his upbringing and his mostly absent father shaped his perspective. It’s particularly interesting to read this book with this article by Ta-Nehisi Coates in mind, if you’re at all curious about Mr. Barack Obama’s view of himself as an African American man in the United States. Ta-Nehisi Coates is also just an interesting and excellent writer in general so it’s worth the read.

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I was not entirely sure what to expect going into this book. I know that most successful politicians are perfectly capable of selling a story, because that’s what all advertisement (including self advertisement) really is. Whether or not they can write a coherent and interesting story is a whole different question. I am happy to report that Mr. Barack Obama wrote a beautiful, coherent, and interesting story. He managed to balance reflection, both self and outward, with a story line that kept me turning the page.

It’s also interesting to see where Mr. Obama’s reflections match up with what we’ve heard him say and seen him do during his presidency. There was nothing majorly incongruent as far as I could tell, but this was clearly written from the perspective of someone that hadn’t yet experienced the presidency. It is worth mentioning that while I’m sure this book didn’t hurt his politics at all, this isn’t a platform on which he’s spouting off too much about where he stands on what issues. He meditates on politic related experiences that shaped how he views the world and himself, particularly in relation to his time in Chicago, where he worked as a community organizer.

Ultimately I saw this book as the perfect expression of practicing what you preach. Mr. Obama thoughtfully explores opinions outside of his own throughout. When he’s confronted with problems in his community he takes action to fix it. I’ll leave you with a quote from his farewell speech, because this book and everything after it is him walking the walk…

“If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the internet, try to talk with one in real life. If something needs fixing, lace up your shoes and do some organizing. If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself. Show up. Dive in. Persevere. Sometimes you’ll win. Sometimes you’ll lose. Presuming a reservoir of goodness in others can be a risk, and there will be times when the process disappoints you. But for those of us fortunate enough to have been a part of this work, to see it up close, let me tell you, it can energize and inspire. And more often than not, your faith in America – and in Americans – will be confirmed.”

-President Barack Obama

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

Missing You

I am lucky enough to have a family that not only supports my reading habit but endeavors on reading habits of their own. In addition to a White Elephant gift exchange and the new tradition of a beer exchange (let’s take a moment and appreciate having family that is mostly overage and has good taste in beer), we do a book exchange.  It’s set up like the white elephant except instead of a combo of fun gifts and gag gifts, it’s all books. This year I picked Missing You by Harlan Coben and was told it’s supposed to be a page turner.  I have to admit I scoffed at that after reading the tag line “A nightmare is just a click away”, but then I stayed up till two in the morning reading it. What can I say? I got sucked in.

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It’s not my habit to pick up mysteries or thrillers.  Part of why I started this blog was to force myself to expand my horizon, genre wise, but for some reason it never occurred to me to give this particular genre a try. I’d like to be able to say that snobbery plays no roll in that but, if I’m being honest, I’ve been in the academic world of reading and writing for just long enough to be a bit of a snob. Which is a shame because when it comes to writing a book that entertains, which is always at least part of the goal in writing, authors like Harlan Coben know what they are doing. By the end of every chapter there is something we’ve discovered and in that discovery there is a question that can only be answered by reading the next chapter.

Missing You follows Kat Donovan, an NYPD detective as she tries out the world of online dating and runs into an ex-boyfriend. This run in prompts several discoveries, all disturbing, some horrific, that Kat needs to tangle through in order help a boy find his missing mom and herself to figure out her father’s murder.  Basically, there is a lot packed into this one book. It never felt like there was too much going on though, if fact, I’d say any less would have left the story missing something. What’s interesting about this, is part of the appeal of this type of book is that there is constant discovery and consequence. Corben, instead of breaking genre to take time with his characters, uses a plot line of discovery and consequence to aid in explaining the characters to the readers.

My only real issue with this book is one that, I suspect, shows my age. The catalyst is a dating website and various modern technologies appear throughout the book. It drove me absolutely crazy when the characters didn’t understand some pretty common knowledge technology things. I’m not a techie by any means, but I am a 25-year old living in 2017. If I’d been handed this plot line and told to write the story, it would have been a tad shorter, if not non-existent, via basic internet etiquette and rules of thumb. It’s worth considering a few things with this particular critique: I may not be the target audience for this book (I suspect an older generation), the main character is 40 years old (though I think this excuse is a little insulting to 40 year olds), and, if only to flatter myself, that I’m more tech literate than I thought I was. Regardless this was, indeed, a page turner and it felt so good to be so involved in a story that I lost track of time.

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

The Slow Regard of Silent Things

The holidays tend to be a little displacing.  Finals and school run right up to the holidays and get as close as they can to a full on collision before pulling up and out leaving me slightly shell-shocked and before I’ve recovered I’m off to celebrate with family. All sense of routine is thrown to the wind and nothing seems to be in quite the right place. This is why The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss was exactly the story I needed to read right at this moment. It’s an odd duck of a story but it is one that manages to convince you there is a chance the off-kilter can be tipped back into its cozy rightful place.

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Both before and after the story Patrick Rothfuss informs the reader that this story is not a great one to start with if you are new to his world. I have to agree with that sentiment and am so happy to say that I have read the first of his Kingkiller Chronicle and you can read my thoughts on that here. The Slow Regard of Silent Things delves into the world of Auri, a character that shows up in his other books but (and I say this having only read the one) is by no means a main character.

I know I have said quite a bit now that this is an odd book but it is worth repeating just because it may aid in the reading of it. I have found that the “ride the wave” style of reading is often the best way to go into these sorts of things but this wave may not take you to the shore. Auri lives and spends her time in the “Underthing” (below the university) and this book is a glimpse into that life. There are hints about who she was before she became who she is but that is not really the point of the story.

The point of the story is to see Auri’s world through Auri’s eyes and heart. Auri spends a lot of time making sure everything is in its proper happy place. This, by itself, would not be enough to make the story enticing, or even really, a story. It is Patrick Rothfuss’s poetic and carefully chosen words that make this story such a comfort. While reading I got the impression that Auri thinks about things the way Rothfuss must think about words. Every one has its own rightful and needful spot and the world just will not be quite right until it is there. I took some time to read part of the book out loud because the words were so carefully placed it seemed the right thing to do and was rewarded in way that, until then, only poetry had rewarded me.  It rings true in a happy way, to have the words in Auri’s story cared about as thoughtfully as she cares about her world.

 

Common Place Book Entries:

“It was wise enough to know itself, and brave enough to be itself, and wild enough to change itself while somehow staying altogether true.”

-The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

“She felt…less. She felt tamped down. Dim. More faint. Feint. Feigned. Fain.”

-The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

“Some days simply lay on you like stones. Some were fickle as cats, sliding away when you needed comfort, then coming back later when you didn’t’ want them, jostling at you, stealing your breath.”

-The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

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

Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza

Ok, if you read my last post about Half-Resurrection Blues by Daniel José Older, then you know I’ve been thinking a little bit about the dualities contained within individuals lately. Broderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldúa is the epitome of this conversation from a her own real life perspective. A fair warning; this book is not all in English.  Now, the only language that I know is English, I still knew what was going on and I believe I gained something from reading the book. I did spend enough time on Google Translate figuring out the Spanish parts of the book to know that if you speak Spanish and English you’ll a get fuller more complete and textured reading experience. I suggest everybody read this book, and, if anything, not knowing Spanish will make more visceral to the English speaking reader the experience of many Latinx, Chicanx, and Spanish speaking Americans.

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Borderlands/La Frontera is a collection of essays and poems in which Gloria Anzaldúa explores how we define ourselves via her own experiences as a Chicana, a lesbian, an activist, and a writer. Her essays are not her already set in stone definitions of what it means to be each of these things rather, they depict her efforts to simultaneously embrace and reject the social expectations that come with each label to be at peace with the “she” she is. Gloria Anzalúa grew up right next to the Mexican/United States border which she points to as a physical manifestation of the ideas she’s talking about, the borders contained within. The life she describes living is one of never being quite enough; no matter what group she was encountering there was part of her that had to be suppressed,  shamed, or hated. This self hate is aided and encouraged by every culture’s desire to be better than “the other”, instead of embracing and appreciating the differences in each other and ourselves.

This is a lot for just one book to cover, especially since she’s not restricting herself to just one “border” within, she’s talking about all them. What I appreciate about this book is that she’s tackling a large topic with a microscope pointed towards herself.  It would have been very easy for her to be very academic and look at statistics of various groups that support her points and separate each issue into it’s own chapter. Instead she bares all to the reader. She let’s herself become the studied and vulnerable which adds a beautiful and heart wrenching amount of texture and feeling to the book.

In particular, I appreciate that she is a poet.  If I didn’t know before reading her essays, I certainly would have figured it out while reading. She uses such beautiful language and imagery.  Now, you don’t have to be a poet to pick the most perfect word, but poets certainly have a knack for it. She’s discussing intangible, abstract ideas that if she’d tried to be less poetic, it would have been significantly less effective. She layers facts and feelings by choosing the most exact word to puncture indoctrinated ideas of who we have to be. It made my little poet heart very happy.

Common Place Book Entries:

“Humans fear the supernatural, both the undivine (the animal impulses such as sexuality, the unconscious, the unknown, the alien) and the divine (the superhuman, the god in us).  Culture and religion seek to protect us from those forces.”

-Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldúa

“The queer are the mirror reflecting the heterosexual tribe’s fear: being different, being other and therefore lesser, therefore subhuman, in-human, non-human.”

-Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldúa

“I want the freedom to carve and chisel my own face, to staunch the bleeding with ashes, to fashion my own gods out of my entrails.”

-Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldúa

“Silence rose like a river and could not be held back, it flooded and drowned everything.”

-Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldúa

“The writer, as shape-changer, is a nahual, a shaman.”

-Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldúa

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

Half-Resurrection Blues

If you read my post on Shadowshaper and/or this years Nerdcon: Stories then you know that I was lucky enough to sit down and chat with the author of Half-Resurrection Blues, Daniel José Older. I was very excited to pick up more of his books but life and school kept getting in the way. Finally, I picked up this book because I wanted a little break from the school stuff I’ve been reading and wouldn’t you know it, I found a relation between this book and the things I’ve been thinking about for school. Maybe subconsciously I didn’t want a break from school I just wanted a fantasy perspective.

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This is the first the A Bone Street Rumba series and it does not start slow. Daniel José Older takes us directly over the cliff and into the action. Right off the bat we find out that our main man, Carlos Delacruz is kind of dead. He toes the line between the dead and the living and can communicate and interact with both, though he’s working for the New York Council for the Dead. I think it’s interesting thinking about this book compared to Shadowshaper because Shadowshaper is very clearly a young adult book (in that it’s content is a little scrubbed up to be appropriate for all ages) while this, in my opinion, should be read by all ages, it has not been scrubbed up.  It’s a little grittier, a little darker, and a little more real (which is an awesome thing to be able to say about a story that has ghosts in it!)

This story cast a fantasy light on an issue that I’ve been learning, reading, and thinking about a lot lately, which is the tension between the dualities within us. What I mean by this may become more and more clear with the next couple of posts as I discuss it in different contexts. Within the context of this book we have Carlos who, as far as he knows, is the only being that can communicate and interact with both the living and the dead. These are two communities that are in danger of forgetting exactly how much of an effect they have on each other. Invariably one’s actions and activities will influence they others existence. Carlos is left trying to navigate two worlds and neither of them are set up for the whole of him. This story doesn’t dwell on it too much, but I think that’s a characterization of Carlos. If he lets himself steep in the unfairness and impossibility of his situation then that’d be letting the outside sources tear him apart. He’s got to keep moving, keep working, and keep fighting. His journey even just within this story is fascinating which makes me so excited to see where he’ll go in the series.

Half-Resurrection Blues has action, adventure, some badass ladies (which will never ever stop making me happy. Seriously, read this book and let me rave to you about how Kia is my favorite), and bureaucratic deception and secrets. I am so impressed by Daniel José Older’s ability to layer the complexities of essentially two separate worlds on top of fully developed and rich characters with personal stories the reader can’t help but be invested in. I absolutely can not wait to dig into the next few books in this series!

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

 

 

Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America

Wait! Before you let the idea of reading a history book scare you away, hear me out! First of all this book is fascinating, well written, and totally deserves a chance. If you shudder at the thought of reading a history book or a nonfiction book or reading in any form, I’ve got you covered! There is a documentary version of Harvest of Emipire: A History of Latinos in America by Juan Gonzalez here!  It’s on youtube so, minus the opportunity cost of having to watch a few ads, it’s totally free!  The book and documentary cover the same topics. The book goes more in depth but the movie gives you a solid idea of the topics covered and is totally worth your time. Of course, I’m going to talk about the book, because, well, that’s just what I do.

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Full disclosure I read this for a class. I really think that’s part of what makes it awesome, this is the first history related reading assignment that I’ve been excited to get back to reading each week. The book is split into three sections entitled Roots, Branches, and Harvest.  That alone is a fascinating lens through which to view history. I think we often see the past as a movie that we can watch because those things all happened then and we are living now. The connections are loosely there, but for the most part we get so bogged down in the present we forget to think about how we got here. Which is kind of a big deal because we are creatures of habits and patterns and there are some things that we’ve done that need to be acknowledged, remembered, and studied so we don’t repeat them. This point is particularly relevant with this book and the United States current political climate (I am so sick of hearing that phrase I  want to take a moment and apologize for using it… blegh).

The first section, Roots, goes deep into American history, primarily Central and South American history but it occasionally touches on North American history to make a point. I think what really drew me in was the question asked from the get go. Why is North America so incredibly different from South America? How did that happen? This is something that had been on the periphery of my mind for sometime, especially after having read Sudden Death which went into some South American history that intrigued me, but I can’t say I remember learning any of what this book was going over in high school or middle school. The perspectives of the overlapping bits of history were so vastly different that I had to really search my memory for the connections between what I was taught back then and what I was reading today.

The perspectives that are being ignored are what we are faced with when we talk about immigration these days. I’d like to say that I could give a well articulated argument about why building a massive wall and kicking anybody of Latin@, Hispanic, or non Euro decent out of the country is an awful terrible idea and I do think it is a terrible idea for many many heartful reasons. Heartful reasons simply aren’t enough, facts about how we’ve gotten to where we are, are essential. Heart needs to be mixed into the facts in order for policies, laws, and countries to be changed for the better. Juan Gonzalez does an excellent job of combining the facts with personal narratives from people who lived the facts. He did this country by country which, unfortunately, got a little redundant because bad patterns were forming in the United States behavior towards it’s Southern neighbors. As critiques go this one is weak, if anything the redundancy makes Gonzalez’s point about the cause and effects of our actions abundantly clear.

The truth is until I read this and really studied the hows and whys of who we are as a country today I was living in a constructed reality. It is so important to dissect what we are learning and make the effort to learn about other perspectives on the same topic because, ultimately decisions are being made based of the lens we’re looking through. No matter where you stand on immigration, politics, or books make and effort to learn as much as possible. Even if it means watching the documentary instead of reading the book.