Shades of Milk and Honey

Every once in a while, I’ll accidentally leave the book I’m reading at a friend’s house and pick a new one at random that turns out to be exactly what my readerly heart needed. Such was the case with Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal. It’s been a couple of years since I last picked up a book in the style of Jane Austen, and Mary Robinette Kowal certainly fits that bill with the happy addition of magic. This, for me, was a stay up till two in the morning to finish it type of book. Thank goodness I’m on Spring Break.

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The magic in the world of Shades of Milk and Honey is called glamour and it is considered a skill for well accomplished women on par with piano playing. Our heroine, Jane Ellsworth, is particularly skilled with glamour and adheres to the social expectations and rules for a young, eligible, woman. A lot of this story is setting up and explaining the social structure; and rightfully so, as that structure is forefront in the life of Jane. There is also significant time spent discussing the artistry that goes into glamour and those were my favorite moments. I can see the potential for so many other stories in this world utilizing glamour for more than art and other homely uses. I do believe there is at least one more book in this world and I look forward to see where Mary Robinette Kowel goes with it.

This isn’t to say the glamour aspects of this story aren’t interesting; they just aren’t really the point of the story. The Ellsworth sisters need to get husbands and being good at glamour is one more skill on the list that could attract a good husband. This is where I struggled a bit while reading. It’s the same thing when reading Jane Austen and all of the Bronte’s. I appreciate the story and I understand the confines of the world, but holy Toledo do I ever resent the confines of the world. For the most part the heroines of these stories resent those confines too, so I can be their cheerleader as fight the patriarchy. The fight, however, is not nearly far enough removed from reality for me to not be rage reading occasionally. By the end of this story Jane’s situation has changed in a rather dramatic and exciting way, and I can’t wait to see what opportunities may open up for her in the next story by Mary Robinette Kowel.

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

Milk and Honey

Almost every time I go back to read a poetry book I’m reminded how much I love reading poetry. Upon cracking open Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur I was reminded not only how much fun it is to read poetry but how wildly emotional it can be. You may notice at the end of this post I do not include any common place book entries. This is because after reading the first few poems I realized I’d be copying the entire book into my common place book. So, instead of retyping it all below I chose just one short poem to share with you. Hopefully that will be enough to exemplify why I loved this collection of poems so much.

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What struck me most about Milk and Honey was how deeply personal and honest the whole book was. Each poem is a practice in empathy. When Rupi Kaur writes that “when my heart is broken/ i don’t grieve/ i shatter” she isn’t just telling the reader about her broken heart, throughout that entire poem she has built up to the moment in which the reader can feel shattered with her. Honestly, this is what I look for in all art. I see it as a chance to step into another perspective. If the artist is willing and able to make themselves so vulnerable and open that for a few moments I feel that our stories are the same, then the artist has done important and valuable work. It is difficult to be vulnerable enough so that close friends and family feel what we’re feeling; which is why it’s so much more impressive that Rupi Kaur has been so successful in offering her work to the world.

I would like to take a moment to appreciate how Rupi Kaur formatted the whole book. It’s split up into four sections, The Hurting, The Loving, The Breaking, and The Healing. Because the poems hold the readers hand through hurting, loving, breaking, and healing it was very wise of her to end the experience with a collection of healing. It does not diminish the hurting, the breaking, or even the loving but it leaves the reading on a hopeful note with a looking forward feeling. Given the emotional and sometimes traumatic nature of the poems, particularly in the hurting and breaking sections, the reading experience would have been very different had it been presented in a different order. As it is, Rupi Kaur gently pulled me through a lifetime of hurts and healings and left me hoping for more.

 

“you were so afraid

of my voice

I decided to be

afraid of it too”

Milk and Honey, the hurting by Rupi Kaur

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

 

 

Pym

Pym by Mat Johnson gets a little weird. To the credit of the story it warns us right out of the gates, in the preface, that it’s going to get a little weird. Anyone who has read The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allen Poe will pick up on the similarities, and purposeful differences, between the two stories immediately. If you haven’t read The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, don’t worry about it. You will be told, in no uncertain terms, throughout Pym what to be looking for and thinking about in relation to The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (Can we take a moment and all agree that Poe did a terrible job naming his book?).

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The catalyst of the story is the main character Chris Jaynes doesn’t get tenure. He uses this situation to further his obsession with Dirk Peters, the black man that traveled with Pym in The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. This obsession culminates in Jaynes bringing together a crew to follow the path of Pym and Peters to Antarctica. What follows is structurally a very similar story to The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket with the race roles reversed. Instead of finding the black inhabitants that Poe described they found giant white creatures who they call “Snow Honkies”.

The book reads as a sort of parody of The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym at the same time as satirizing the use of the slave narrative as the primary method of articulating African American history and artistic expression. A point that is made several times throughout the story is that when telling and/or living (as is the case, eventually with the characters in Pym) a story that is a slave narrative the story is forced into the confines of the system of white and black that was used to justify slavery to begin with.

That all sounds rather serious, I know, and the book certainly has serious, and relevant, points to make. Don’t mistake serious points for a sad book! This book is funny and soaked in irony. I highly recommend it if you’d like a fresh and entertaining critique of racial politics and identity.

Commonplace Book Entries

“In this age when reality is built on big lies, what better place for truth than fiction?”

Pym by Mat Johnson

“Nobody wants to give a job for life to an asshole.”

Pym by Mat Johnson

“It was depressing looking at every extra pound on him, each a reminder that we were both moving swiftly into decline with little else as accomplishment.”

Pym by Mat Johnson

The constantly rustling wind didn’t help. That was just the sound of silence moving.”

Pym by Mat Johnson

“’Goddamn global warming.’ Garth leaned forward to get a better view. ‘Ain’t our fault. It was all them Escalades in the ghetto.’”

Pym by Mat Johnson

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

Beloved

Just like Justin brought sexy back in 2006, I’m bringing this blog back today (and yes I’ve rewritten half of that song in my head to be about a book blog and am happy to share upon request). I took a brief hiatus for the sake of school and sanity, but I couldn’t stay away for long because, as luck would have it, I study books at school!  I am fortunate enough to be in a class that has Beloved by Toni Morrison on its reading list and even more fortunate to have a class full of thoughtful and intelligent classmates to discuss it with. For a moment I’d like to comment that Toni Morrison is a must read. Beloved is an excellent book but if you’re not into fiction she does have non-fiction books and essays. For my class we read excerpts from Playing in The Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination and I feel lucky to live in a time that allows me to learn from such a brilliant mind.

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Beloved follows Sethe and her daughter Denver eighteen years after Sethe escaped from slavery and eight years after slavery is abolished in the United States. The story begins with a haunted house, “124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom.” Take a moment and breathe in the hook of those first two sentences and try to tell me you’re not curious what happens next. Now feels like a pretty good time to let you know that this book gets odd. It is a ghost story, the house is haunted by Sethe’s dead baby girl, but the “ghostiness” of the story is not what the story is about. In Beloved Toni Morrison is looking at slavery and its lasting harmful impact not from a historical perspective, but from a human perspective.

The story can be hard to follow if you don’t go into it expecting flashbacks and warped reality and time. The book confronts the trauma of slavery with characters that are trying their hardest not to. The past influences and grabs hold of Sethe and Denver in ways they could not predict and, arguably, could not avoid. As the story moves along and the ghost gains more and more power and influence on our main characters the readers become completely immersed in the explosion of trauma and grief that threatens to consume Sethe.

There is a section of three chapters in which each chapter is from a different characters perspective that I, as a writer and critical reader, totally geeked out about. Every moment of that reading experience mimics the experience of the narrator herself, down to the formatting of the words on the page. This is the type of care that Toni Morrison put into Beloved in addition to using beautiful language. It gets odd and is absolutely, at times, difficult to read, but it is so key to understanding slavery not as a history but as a far reaching trauma incited upon an entire race of people.

Common Place Book Entries

“Her past had been like her present—intolerable—and since she knew death was anything but forgetfulness, she used the little energy left her for pondering colors.”                              –Beloved by Toni Morrison

“It never looked as terrible as it was and it made her wonder if hell was a pretty place too.” -Beloved by Toni Morrison

“They were not holding hands but their shadows were.”                                                                  –Beloved by Toni Morrison

“Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that free self was another.”            –Beloved by Toni Morrison

“It was lovely. Not to be stared at, not seen, but being pulled into view by the interested, uncritical eyes of the other.”                                                                                                                       –Beloved by Toni Morrison

“Now she is crying because she has no self. Death is a skipped meal compared to this.”       –Beloved by Toni Morrison

“God puzzled her and she was too ashamed of Him to say so.”                                                        –Beloved by Toni Morrison

“Clever, but schoolteacher beat him anyway to show him that definitions belonged to the definers—not the defined.”                                                                                                                         –Beloved by Toni Morrison

“the others do not know he is dead   I know   his song is gone   now I love his pretty little teeth instead”                                                                                                                                                   –Beloved by Toni Morrison

“…being so in love with the look of the world, putting up with anything and everything, just to stay alive in a place where a moon he had no right to was nevertheless there.”           –Beloved by Toni Morrison

“Maybe they were simply nice people who could hold meanness toward each other for just so long and when trouble rode bareback among them, quickly, easily they did what they could to trip him up.”                                                                                                                                     –Beloved by Toni Morrison

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.

Doubt A parable

Here’s an interesting thing: at this moment (and this could change in the next) I find the preface to Doubt: A Parable by John Patrick Shanley a more interesting thing to think about and discuss than the play itself. Which feels like a foolish thing to say because, of course, the preface is directly related to the play. Doubt is a play that tackles a lot without hitting you over the head with what it’s tackling. It’s a prime example of the audience participating in the moment with live theater (I imagine…I haven’t actually seen the play I’ve just read it). The moment John Patrick Shanley wrote is real and, I think, still relevant, but the spine of the play, doubt, and his ideas about it are more relevant than ever in the  context of 2016.

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I’ll say this about Doubt, it is interesting and incredibly well written. It’s set in a Catholic Church/school and tackles so many issues that could appear in that setting without really ever directly attacking them. It’s an artful incitation of doubt. As a written piece it’s clear to see why it’s produced (small cast, easy sets, ect) and as a story it’s easy to see why people watch it and love to talk about it. In researching it a little bit I found that the original cast liked to say that the second act of the play is the audience leaving and discussing it to try and decide what they believed. I think that’s exactly what I love so much about it. Given the opportunity I would love to see this performed and strongly recommend it to people who do have that opportunity!

All that said, I would also like to recommend the preface to the play. You know how people describe things like Shakespeare and Van Gogh and Mean Girls as timeless? I don’t know for sure that Doubt is timeless, it’s an “only time will tell” type of thing. Will we always remember the scandals of the Catholic Church?  Will the Catholic Church continue to be relevant?  I suspect for a very long time, at least, it will; but the idea behind the play, the doubt, the discussion he has in the preface, I don’t think that will ever go away.

In the preface Shanley asks, “Have you ever held a position in an argument past the point of comfort?” Even if the answer to that used to be no, if you live in the USA, after this last election your answer has almost certainly changed. He asks, “Have you ever given service to a creed you no longer utterly believe?” Even if we’re not willing to own to doing this, at the very least we can point to many many many people that have (for the record, it is my opinion that those that aren’t willing to admit to this are, invariably currently doing it…just one ladies opinion).  Many of us have found ourselves on shaky ground and staring down disbelief at the decisions of friends and family and power. It is Shanley’s point that this disbelief, the shaky ground, the doubt, is an opportunity for growth. It’s an opportunity to lean into the unknown and let yourself fly away from the “shared certainty”.

I’ve had and overheard several conversations in the past couple weeks that amount to, “what now?”  The ground is as shaky as it’s ever been and the doubt is but one aspect of a tangible and valid fear. The storm of self-reflection that happened immediately after the election was at once overwhelming and encouraging. What I see now is people yearning for a place of comfort. The answer to the questions, “What now?” and “How do we continue?” should not involve a place of shared certainty. The desire for comfort and someone telling us what is right and wrong, the trust in outdated systems that have forgotten what the spine of their purpose is will lead us to ruin.

Read the preface to Doubt (it won’t take more than 10 minutes) and you’ll find him writing about a place you recognize.  Shanley points to “that crucial moment when I renew my humanity or become a lie.” as a moment of change, of courage, and of passion.  We are in that moment, what we do with it is entirely up to us.

Read the preface here.

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

Common Place Book Entries

“deep down under the chatter we have come to a place where we know that we don’t know…anything. But nobody’s willing to say that.”

-Preface to Doubt by John Patrick Shanley

“When a man feels unsteady, when he falters, when hard-won knowledge evaporates before his eyes, he’s on the verge of growth.”

-Preface to Doubt by John Patrick Shanley

“Life happens when the tectonic power of your speechless soul breaks through the dead habits of the mind.”

-Preface to Doubt by John Patrick Shanley

“When trust is the order of the day, predators are free to plunder.”

-Preface to Doubt by John Patrick Shanley

“The beginning of change is the moment of Doubt. It is the crucial moment when I renew my humanity or become a lie.”

-Preface to Doubt by John Patrick Shanley

“But innocence can only be wisdom in a world without evil.”

-Doubt by John Patrick Shanley

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.