#CBR6 Review #106: The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi

This is it! THIS IS IT!!! I’m writing my last chapter, you guys!!!! The end is in sight!!!!!!!!


Ahem. The Buddha of Suburbia is one of the main texts in this chapter, so I re-read it (new for CBR, though) in order to help focus my argument and cement the novel’s place in this chapter of the dissertation (I won’t articulate my argument here, but basically, the novel of manners isn’t dead. Because though we don’t live in Regency England, we still practice manners). It’s one of the most intriguing and original contemporary British novels that I’ve read.

Karim Amir is a young man growing up in late 1970s London with his white English mother and British-Indian father, who has taken up yoga and meditation to “teach” to bored suburbanites. Karim himself is struggling to articulate his identity. Is he Indian, despite having been to India only once in his life and being born to a white mother? Is he English, despite the color of his skin? The novel points to the way in which we articulate nationality and identity (both corporate and personal), and it interrogates the Anglocentric nature of contemporary fiction. It’s also hilariously funny, even though it’s poorly labeled (in my opinion) as a comedy of manners.

Since I am specializing in contemporary British and American fiction (well, 20th century as a whole, but after 1980 is the period I *love* the most), this is exactly my kind of novel. If you’re into literary fiction, you’d probably find it interesting. It certainly asks interesting questions about how we view fiction (and is much more approachable than, say, Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses–though I love that novel, too).

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#CBR6 Review #105: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

My book club is big into nonfiction. I’m not myself, but I *did* really like Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit. So I was definitely willing to give Unbroken a try. Hillenbrand is an excellent writer, and she really ups her game with this book.

This is the true story of Louis Zamperini’s experience in World War II as a bomber, when his plane crashes in the Pacific Ocean. He and two other men survive at sea, where they endure panic, sickness, starvation, and attacks from all sorts of factors. I won’t say what, but there was a truly scary scene that had me squealing in bed. I can’t wait to see how the movie depicts it. And then, their raft is picked up by a Japanese boat, and they are taken to a POW camp. And that’s where the real crisis of the story hits.

Like I said, I’m not super into nonfiction, mostly because I read more for pleasure than information. But the way Hillenbrand tells a story, presents facts and ideas with evocative details–that’s a true pleasure to read. She is imaginative and detailed, plus she plots the narrative so that it’s not a dry chronology. *Also, if you know her personal story, you will be struck by how she battles her own chronic diseases to create such intriguing narratives.* If you’re into nonfiction, especially World War II, you must give it a shot. If you’re not, I still recommend this book highly, because it is interesting and powerfully rendered. I learned a lot more about POW camps and the sorts of lives of the airmen than I ever knew possible. I’m really interested to see how this film is going to play out.

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#CBR6 Review #104: Yes Please by Amy Poehler

First things first: 2014 has been a crazy year. Amidst writing my dissertation, teaching, facing health issues that (thankfully) have been resolved, and unexpectedly having to buy a new car, it’s been hard to believe that I could fit in 52 books this year. And yet I have managed to double that number. I credit pretending that Netflix does not exist in order to spend more time reading in bed, as well as discovering that I *do* like audiobooks on my 90-mile drive to work/school. I am deeply grateful to this community for pushing me to read and to write about reading. You all are so very, very kind.

Now: let’s talk about what you all came to read. Ever since I read Bossypants and Is Everyone Hanging Out without Me?, I’ve been waiting eagerly for Amy Poehler’s memoir. And then I waited on a list while my library cycled through everyone ahead of me. And then I got the magical email on Monday. I forced myself not to tear into the book right away and read all night, because I wanted to savor it.

And savor it I did. Every word. Amy Poehler is not as fluid a writer as Tina Fey, but there’s something so real about her, that it feels as if she’s actually talking to you. Much as I love Fey, I get the sense that Bossypants presents a very carefully-selected side of her. Yes Please, however, feels like Amy is telling you about her, warts and all. I give her credit for discussing the SNL skit that made fun of cognitively disabled individuals and the guilt and shame that prevented her from apologizing for five years. You can tell that she found catharsis and grace in sharing this story. Plus, her anecdotes of growing up, improv, SNL, and beyond have shown what a rich and fortunate life she has created for herself.

I give this five stars, because I enjoyed it so much. It’s not as cohesive as Bossypants, but it’s a great time, and it makes me love Amy Poehler as a celebrity and a person. I think the anecdotes work, because her writerly voice is engaged and energetic. May she carry off Parks and Recreation into a glorious sunset and bring us something equally wonderful.


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#CBR6 Review #103: Middlemarch by George Eliot

It took me two months to listen to Middlemarch via audiobook, but I did it! It’s one of my all-time favorite novels, and it’s been years since I read it. Spoiler: it did not disappoint.

Since it’s a classic novel and probably read widely, I thought it might be fun to do something kind of different. So, without further ado: what if the Middlemarchers went to Hogwarts? Here is how the Sorting Hat would sort some of the major characters:

Tertius Lydgate:


Tertius is a Gryffindor. Duh. This man has a Cause and a Mission and he is going to Change the World. Etiquette be damned. Propriety be damned. He is a passionate and ardent believer in doing good. Unfortunately, Tertius is also a major misogynist. He believes in the prettiness of submissive ladies, and he likes the empty-headed mind he can mold to his own temperament and thinking. This piggish attitude makes his own marital mishap all the more hilarious and unfortunate, because the magical vagina he stakes his claims on turns out to be anything but a pretty face. Which brings us to…

Rosamund Vincy Lydgate:


Girl, please. Rosamund is a Slytherin. Homegirl is playing a long game, and make no mistake about it. Rosamund LOOKS pretty and sweet, and she is completely aware of the feminine powers she possesses. That swan-like neck makes her seem vulnerable, so she flashes it when she needs attention or consideration. She plays the part Tertius desires of her until his will crosses hers. And then the tables turn. Rosamund knows exactly what she wants, and she will do what it takes to get it.

Rosamund suffers no fools. Much like another blond queen who would arrive decades later:


This brings us to Dorothea Brooke:


Considered to be a counterpart (but not a match) for Lydgate, Dorothea is a Gryffindor. Like her house companions, Dorothea is passionate, ardent and cause-oriented. Of course, this desire to change the world and do good leads her to marry a dried-up prune who turns out to be a really despicable creature. And of course, when he conveniently dies and leaves Dorothea an immense fortune (with the caveat that she never marry his young, talented, and extremely hot cousin), she still wears her widow’s weeds for far longer than is necessary. Because she is FEELING all the THINGS. Gryffindors [eyeroll]. In all seriousness, I love Dorothea, I really do. I think that Eliot’s plotting is so clever, because it shows the kinds of limitations imposed on women, and how marriage was seen as this driving force to change the world, when it often just meant you married the wrong man.

So, let’s talk about that wrong man, shall we? Edward Causabon, one of the worst men in literary history:


That haircut. [Shudder] It’s perfect. Mr. Causabon is, in my opinion, a Hufflepuff. Given the choice between ardent scholarship and discussion of his field or stubbornly sticking to HIS idea, Mr. Causabon chooses to stay the same course, even though a Key to All Mythologies is Simply.Not.Possible. He’s happy to stay in his musty books without his new wife or other scholarly companions. In the end, he wants to fulfill the same rote responsibilities and stay in his same surroundings. I realize you could make the interpretation of Ravenclaw, but a true Ravenclaw pursues intellectual knowledge and are often smart enough to change courses when they realize the scholarship is headed another direction. Hufflepuffs are stubborn, yo. Which Causabon is. Also: he sounds like an extremely cold fish in the sack. Poor Dorothea. [Shudder]

Let’s move on to Fred Vincy, shall we?

Fred Vincy

I think Fred is also a Hufflepuff. He wants to be loved, and he just wants to find some useful work. He’s not terribly ambitious, nor is he remarkable in many ways. He’s nice and earnest and pretty, but he’s kind of foolish. Poor Fred. He does improve by the novel’s end, I am happy to report, mainly because of my deep affection for…

Mary Garth:

Mary Garth

Mary is a Ravenclaw. She is witty and bitter and acerbic, fighting off disappointment with humor and sarcasm. She’s also determined to maintain a sense of integrity to her morals, which she does, even if it means denying Fred’s love, which she honestly wants for herself. Mary is always seeking the truth, which keeps her free from being tainted by Peter Featherstone’s mindgames. I love me some Mary Garth.

Now, for one of my favorite literary men of all time: Will Ladislaw.



Will is, I also argue, a Ravenclaw. He’s an artist, but he’s not cause-oriented. Nor is he stubborn in the same way that Causabon is. He tries art, politics, writing, and eventually becomes an activist, determined to do good, but because he finds his talent there. Unlike Dorothea, he is not driven by a hazy notion of altruism, but by a sense of purpose based on his talents and artistic vision. He’s not a fighter, but a mind and artist (much like my lover, Peeta Mellark).

I find this interesting, because Eliot is, herself, a Ravenclaw. She is an observer of human nature, but she is not cause-oriented. Nor does she harbor an idealistic vision of life. Rather, she reported as she saw. And that’s why she’s one of my favorite authors. If there is anyone who Gets It, it’s George Eliot.


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#CBR6 Review #102: Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

For some reason, I never read Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Maybe it was the reports of bathos, hand-wringing, and tear-filled emotions, or maybe it was when I convinced myself that I didn’t like nineteenth-century American fiction (spoiler: I do. I just don’t like Emerson all that much), but somehow, that part of my education got skipped. I’ve read several nonfiction accounts of slavery as experienced by the enslaved, such as Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs (who initially published as Linda Brent), and Solomon Northup. My students and I read excerpts from several accounts this semester as examples of persuasion through rhetoric. Now, I really, really wish I’d read Uncle Tom’s Cabin then, because we so would have included a chapter.

Let’s get the stereotypes out of the way, shall we? Yes, it is pathos-driven. Yes, it is emotionally wrought. But it’s so DAMNED EFFECTIVE. Slavery is awful. It tears you apart, body and soul. It breaks families, and it turns people into animals. All of them. And what’s most powerful is how Harriet Beecher Stowe pulls apart Bible-based arguments supporting slavery through her use of rhetoric. It’s some awesome mic-dropping that shows this kind of selective literalism is crazy and unethical and unbiblical.

In fact, if you read it now and substitute “gay” for “black,” you will find a highly uncomfortable similarity. The people who use the Bible to support a narrow and limited position are missing the point of the Bible entirely. And I’m saying this as an ardent church-going Christian. Stowe wrote a highly emotional book to drive a point home. And I was crying by the end. Is it heavy-handed? Sure. But it’s unforgettable for its explicit depiction of families torn apart, escaping from bounty hunters, and the kind of abuse men and women endured for the sake of their skin color. I highly recommend you reading a nonfiction account first (especially Northup’s) and then read this book.

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#CBR6 Review #101: The Circle by Dave Eggers

It was my friend A’s turn to pick our month’s Book Club selection, and she went with The Circle. I’d never read Dave Eggers before (though A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius has been languishing on my shelf for a few years now), but I was highly curious about the premise. After reading it, I can only say: WOW. Our digital world is scary.

Mae is naive, impressionable, and eager to please. She gets a job at The Circle, a social media networking corporation, through her best college friend Annie. Mae quickly rises in the ranks and discovers the depths to which The Circle invests itself in our daily lives. Social interactions change through thumbs up, hearts, zinging, and even “ranking” as a prolific user. Mae does not realize to what extent she has been sucked into the cyberworld enveloped by The Circle until she’s been fully submerged.

I try to be judicious about my involvement in social media. I am careful about my privacy settings on Facebook, I am not on Twitter, I don’t really do Tumblr or Reddit, and my blog is not linked to my real-life name. Still: the way social media tracks and consumes us is frightening. I remember once looking up a bridesmaid dress on David’s Bridal website to show The Chancellor what I will be wearing in an upcoming wedding. The next time I logged into Facebook, I was “suggested” to like David’s Bridal. Creepy. Though nothing compares to the time I was “suggested” an egg-freezing cocktail hour in the major city near me. Um, no. 29 I may be, career-oriented I may be, but desperate to freeze my eggs? No. My point is: social media is trying to “get to know” us, but it’s starting to invade our privacy. The Circle made me think about my choices online, and wonder how I can try to preserve some bit of myself from the impersonal world wide web.

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#CBR6 Review #100: The Death Cure

Think of the cheapest-tasting candy you have ever eaten. It will differ for all of us, but for me, it’s Tootsie Rolls. They’re not bad, per se, but they’re just not great as far as candy is concerned. Think about it: when you’re cruising the candy aisles at Target, there are great bags of Reese’s or Hershey candies or even Wonka Candy varieties for $9, but the Tootsie Roll bag is always $3 or $4, and there’s a ton there, because no one wants to buy them and eat them over the next year.

But let’s say you get curious, because the last time you had a Tootsie Roll, it wasn’t that bad. You remember it tasting kind of good, in fact. And so, you take the plunge and pop a Tootsie Roll into your mouth. It tastes sweet at first, and it’s kind of fun to roll around in your mouth.

But after about 5 minutes, you really wish the candy would get right to it and melt, so you can enjoy something else. Your mouth is getting bored. Your teeth are getting stuck to the candy, and you can’t eat anything else. By now, you are just DYING to get this stupid Tootsie Roll out of your mouth, but you can’t even spit it out, because you’re committed, dammit. You don’t quit three-quarters of the way through!

But the candy is still in your mouth, and it just won’t be done. By the time it FINALLY melts into nothing on your tongue, you are so relieved to be done that you can’t even begin to think of another Tootsie Roll. Your hatred has been worn down to something even worse: indifference. This one-star candy gets an upgrade, because your indifference won’t even let you hate it properly.

And that is how I feel about The Death Cure. Nothing else needs to be said.

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