Monthly Archives: January 2017

#CBR9 Review #8

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

I’m a huge fan of Toni Morrison, which is no secret around these parts. I’ve read all but Song of Solomon, but I had found it a paperback copy at Goodwill. I never know how a Morrison novel will turn out, but this one is absolutely in the top half of her oeuvre. Hooray! I’m glad I invested in the purchased copy, for sure. I am looking forward to unpacking the novel and revisiting it (maybe teaching it) in the years to come.

It’s always hard to summarize a Morrison novel, because there is always so much going on. In short: Milkman Dead was born when a local man committed suicide by flying off the roof of a building. He spends his life under the shadow of a family history: his father, Macon Dead, lost his father young and became estranged from his younger sister, so his father’s tight control over his business and family causes repression and rebellion. Milkman discovers his aunt Pilate and quickly falls in with his cousins Reba and Hagar, the latter of whom forms a sexual attachment to him. Milkman is thus haunted by a past and heritage of which he knows little, a present which inhibits him, and a future that is void of anything familiar.

As with every Morrison novel, there is a lot of setup that takes a while to settle in. Song of Solomon requires patience to see it through. But the last fifty pages are incredibly lovely, with many threads coming together at once to develop a rich family heritage replete with symbolism from the early parts of the novel. The ending is shocking, abrupt, and open-ended. I told The Chancellor that it reminded me of the end of Darren Aronofsky’s film The Wrestler, in that you *think* you can predict what happens, but there are many possibilities. I won’t say any more about this, but it’s brilliantly executed. I will say that this is not the best introduction to Morrison (I would say Beloved or The Bluest Eye, as two more mainstream texts, would probably be a bit more accessible), but it’s a must-read if you are a fan of any of her other work. 4.5 stars.

 

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#CBR9 Review #7

Ms. Marvel, Volume 2: Generation Why by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona

My library accidentally gave me a hardcover edition that included the first two volumes of Ms. Marvel, so I got to read the second volume right away. Hooray! I hate waiting for more books in a series, though I got greedy with my library and am going to have to wait on more of Ms. Marvel’s adventures for the moment. Ahem. Library struggles are real.

Kamala, as Ms. Marvel, has been working on how to figure out her powers, just as she tries to keep her new life secret, maintain a balance at home and school, and try to keep her personal identity separate from her Ms. Marvel identity. As you can imagine, it’s not smooth sailing. Her best friend Nakia is suspicious, and Kamala is struggling to contain her superpowers at the wrong moments. Meanwhile, a villain has emerged and is kidnapping young adults and harnessing their energy for new machines that will wreak havoc upon New Jersey. Can Ms. Marvel stop them? And can she harness the power of Lockjaw, her bulldog mentor (no, really, he is a bulldog)?

This volume felt especially like a love letter to Millennials. I’m an older Millennial, and I’ve been doing my part the last few years to speak out on behalf of my generation and my youngest sister’s generation coming up. Kamala is an endearing and relatable protagonist, and the way she energizes her generation is touching. Right now, it feels like art echoing life. My generation is gearing up for the fight of its life, and we’re in it until the bitter end. Looking forward to seeing what comes next (both in the comics and in life, though the latter is scaring me kind of a lot right now).

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#CBR9 Review #6

Ms. Marvel, Volume 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona

I’ve seen rave reviews for Ms. Marvel, and it was only now that I decided, “I need feminist comics in my life RIGHT NOW.” So when I got the library book, I discovered I had accidentally requested the first two volumes of Ms. Marvel. Even better. I’ve been trying to diversify my reading taste, and Ms. Marvel, the G. Willow Wilson iteration (because Captain Marvel was initially Ms. Marvel, as some basic research showed me), is a great start in that reading resolution.

Kamala Khan is an ordinary American teenager. And she’s also not, in that she’s not the willowy white young woman she envisions to be the “ordinary” American. She’s of Pakistani origin, born of strict parents and a religiously observant older brother. Her best friend wears a hijab, but she does not. She also loves superhero comics, including Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers. One night, she sneaks out of the house to attend a party and gets caught up in a mysterious fog. Suddenly, she discovers that she has super powers and has been turned into Ms. Marvel herself. Kamala is conflicted and aghast, because now she’s gone from “trying to fit in” to “trying to hide my powers” amidst family obligations and conflict.”

This is a delightful entry into what I am hoping will be a thoughtful and empowering series. A woman heroine in comics is a delight, but a Muslim woman at that, is even better. Diversity is great, and it’s even better when it can be fun and entertaining. I like reading serious literature, but I’m also glad to have something lighthearted and endearing to pass on to my students. Would definitely recommend, and I’m going to tear through this series.

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#CBR9 Review #5

Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat! Volume 2: Don’t Stop Me-Ow by Kate Leth and Brittney L. Williams

I closed out Cannonball Read 8 with Volume of Patsy Walker, AKA, Hellcat! and was delighted by the experience. The second volume, while not the hilarious sparky joy of the first, still continues an interesting trajectory and challenges the stereotype of the “superhero comic.” I highly recommend continuing the series, and I’m sad that I now have to wait for another installment *again.* [Fun sidenote: The Chancellor has taken to saying Catsy Walker instead and then uses Kate McKinnon’s Cat Lady accent. It’s hilarious, and now it’s stuck in my head.]

Patsy’s best friend, Jennifer, aka She-Hulk, is hospitalized and in a coma. Patsy is beside herself with worry. What’s she going to do? In the meantime, her frenemy, Hedy, has decided to wreck Patsy’s life by contacting her two superhero exes and getting them to take her out. Because of course. Patsy finds herself back in hell and fighting to get back to her regular life. Meanwhile, Black Cat is back, and it’s not a good thing. All seems to be falling apart, and Patsy has to find a way to rally her friends and make it all work.

This series got off to a strong start and seems to continue the interesting story by bringing us a lot more to focus on. There is a LOT of plot, and I hope we get it teased out in Volume 3, but that’s my only complaint. The fun of the first volume still carries over, plus the wry humor. And Patsy herself is a major delight. We get guest appearances by Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, which is a delight. Plus, there’s stuff with Ian and Tom that I won’t spoil for you, but YAY! is all I’ve got there. Plus, Black Cat is a worthy villainess. Lots to enjoy. I’m soooo impatient for Volume 3 already.

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#CBR9 Review #4

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

When your spouse works for a church denomination, there’s a good chance that his boss’s boss ends up in your book club. And that’s what happened with L. She had our February pick, and I decided not to waste any time when she announced that we’d be reading The Underground Railroad in February. I only had to wait a few days for my hold to come in, and here we are! The Chancellor is finishing it right now, so you’ll have to see his review, but already, I think we’re going to have a book club disagreement on it.

Cora is a slave on a plantation. When she is finally convinced to run away from the plantation where her mother and grandmother grew up, she discovers that there is an *actual* railroad, in a bit of revisionist history from Whitehead. She finds herself in South Carolina, North Carolina, and then Indiana, as she tries to make a life for herself, ahead of the slave catcher who is hunting her down.

I’m going to be honest: I just don’t get the hype. If you’ve ever read any nonfiction slave narrative (Twelve Years a Slave or Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl come to mind) or Uncle Tom’s Cabin, then you will already have read this book. To be fair, Whitehead is a great writer, and he tells a compelling story. I appreciate that he was unsparing in his descriptions of slavery, but the metaphor of the Underground Railroad coming to life just didn’t pay off, frankly. It didn’t ask any big questions or do anything new.

Also, it just felt like misery porn for guilty white people in the end. Yes, slavery was and is AWFUL. No, slaves did not live happy lives, and yes, their freedom came at the price of great suffering. But I feel like continually awarding praise to books about slavery (AHEM, Academy Voters and the Twelve Years a Slave film) just reinforces a narrative about suffering that perpetuates more stereotyping. On the one hand, we don’t want to forget the awfulness of slavery. On the other, let’s diversify the narrative and make it broader and more expansive. I wish Whitehead would have done this.

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#CBR9 Review #3

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

Two years ago, I reviewed The Buried Giant for CBR7, so I won’t hash out the summary and details for you, but will instead link to that review for a summary. What I’d like to do instead, since I’ve reviewed this book before, is to sink my teeth into the themes that made the book seem doubly relevant to me.

The book is about a couple’s quest to visit their son’s village that gets wrapped up in a knight’s quest and a young boy’s prescience, along with the aging Galahad’s seeming lack of purpose, but it turns into a commentary on the different kinds of pain that come from memory: both from forgetting and remembering. This prompted a discussion at our book club (since it was The Chancellor’s pick): is it indeed better to just forget, since remembering brings up old wounds and suffering?

I can see the reasons why forgetting might be “better,” but in the age of Trump, I have to firmly disagree. I was born in 1984, so I remember vaguely a few Cold War anxieties and the kinds of stories still emerging from World War II. I grew up in the 1990s being firmly taught never to use pejorative epithets towards any minorities for any reason.

And now.

And now.

I have heard the n-word more times from adults than I care to recall. I have heard horrible things said about Barack and Michelle Obama. I have witnessed on the news the gleeful use of the swastika and other Hitlerian rhetoric. And I weep. How can we forget? And somehow, we have forgot the incredible suffering that we have wrought upon each other. And now, we’re in the process of doing it all over again.

That’s what I got from this reading of The Buried Giant. Our forgetfulness is poison, even if it eliminates pain. We hurt each other and we remember how much it hurts instead of how to prevent the hurt from happening again. To me, Ishiguro was prescient in his writing, even though he wrote this before Brexit and before Trump. This is a novel that would work well in a “state of Europe” sort of thematic group or class, and it would pair well with Zadie Smith’s Swing Time.

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#CBR9 Review #2

Part-Time Princesses by Monica Gallagher

I’m always in the market for a new graphic novel, so when I was browsing at my local library Monica Gallagher’s Part-Time Princesses jumped out at me. I was intrigued. Look, I am a proud feminist and all, but I love pink, and I unapologetically enjoy me some Disney Princesses. I like Cinderella, because she’s plucky and kind and resourceful. I love Belle, because she’s bookish and ambitious. And I definitely adore Mulan, because she’s loyal and brave and willing to stand for family honor, even though she’s definitely *not* a man. I can get behind that. AND, I’m especially a fan of Anna and Elsa, because I am all about being yourself and keeping your sisters the priority. [The Chancellor knows not to make fun of me when I choke up towards the ending. I have two sisters, and I will cut a bitch for them (and my brother, even though there aren’t brothers in Frozen] What I’m saying is, this book seemed made for me. And at first, it was.

The novel starts off at a theme park, The Enchanted Park. You’re taken through some of the princess exhibits and then you go behind the scenes, when the guests leave the park. Each of the four princesses are four high school seniors—Tiffany, Amber, Courtney, and Michelle (seriously, the names are so 80s! If the author had been younger, there would have been a Madison, McKenna, or Kaylee/Kyleigh/Kaitlyn hybrid)—and they are building their post-school plans. But when things start to go awry, they realize that their park jobs as princesses may be the only thing they have to hang onto. And that’s when things start to fall apart at the park.

I really wanted to love this novel, but I also feel that this novel really wanted me to love it. That’s always a discouragement. Seriously, don’t work so hard for my affections! Just be you! I will follow! Also, the subplot of settling really, really bothered me. I won’t go into detail, but Michelle, the ambitious one, gets sort of pooh-poohed over her real desire to go to college, and the others don’t really take her seriously. As someone who was eager to get out of high school and face the Great World (to quote the Betsy-Tacey books), I always like to see high school students in fiction with ambition. I think we tend to lionize high school in fiction, when the reality is, peaking in high school does not do much for the rest of your life. I think that message left a bit of a sour note for me.

Also, Gallagher rushed through some important bits and completely hovered over boring parts that did not add to the story. This would be something to improve on for the next book. Take your time developing the story and cut out the bits that aren’t necessary! All in all, this wasn’t an amazing read. If you are curious and want to, go for it. It’s a fast read and there are some fun parts.

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