I have to admit that I was nervous about picking up this book. It’s not because I don’t love Southgate’s work. The Fall of Rome is outstanding and one I hope to teach one day. The Taste of Salt is artful. It was the mention, on the back, of the protagonist’s effort to find her way and her fame in the era of blaxploitation films in LA. “This book,” I thought, “may not be for me.” Still, out of loyalty to Southgate, I bought a copy.
Then came Michael Chabon’s voyeuristic and superficial treatment of the blaxploitation film scene in Telegraph Avenue. I figured that I had to try this one, if only to get the bad taste of that part of that book out of my mouth. To what extent did it matter to me that Chabon is a white male who gave me a lousy answer to my question about what it was like to try to write black characters and that Southgate is an African-American woman?
The first five chapters go by in a flurry. They read like a montage, a whirlwind, appropriate both for the impressions of a young woman from Tulsa moving to LA and book that is so much about films. And then Southgate finds another gear and another voice – again, an appropriate shift considering what’s happening to / with the characters.
I never stopped being amazed at how layered and seamlessly structured this book is. Southgate takes us back and forward in time – from LA to New York to Tulsa, to the early 1920′s and to present day. There is much to be learned and admired about the stories of the three generations here, the stories of three generations of women, the stories of three generations of African-American women. “There is,” as Southgate writes, “something there that can’t be denied” (268). And there is something there that even I could understand. At the very least, I read the last 30 or so pages through tears – the tears of a child, a parent, but no longer a grandchild.
I also like that the book left me curious about history. Why did I know nothing of the Tulsa race riot (http://www.tulsagal.net/p/1921-tulsa-race-riot-in-pictures.html)?
Now I just have to find a copy of Another Way to Dance.
This is part of the American Lives series, edited by Tobias Wolff. I’m not sure why I picked it up. Perhaps it’s because I once took a class called American Lives; perhaps it’s because I was intrigued by what the back cover promised – a memoir about a move west. In the end, it has given me much to consider, though that does not necessarily mean I recommend it.
Stephens and her husband move west. It is not until later in the book that we learn that they are just married or that, more importantly, she has moved west to do her thesis on the west. All the while, she struggles to call her new place in Utah “home,” with all of the connotations that that word has for her. She strives for authenticity but does not let on until late that she was always going to be a visitor, or even a cultural tourist.
She’s aware of her desire to remove the irony from her situation. She’s observing, but does not want to observe. She wants to be there. To that end, she throws herself into the small Mormon community and relishes the landscape, the animals, and their neighbors. At her farewell picnic, she notes, she has much more in common with the people there, who she’s certain will forget her, than she did when she first arrived. Is this a mark of success? Or just an expected outcome of a very serious ethnographic study? After all, Stephens has met one her standards for being grounded in the community; she has been very committed to her life there. She even gives birth while living there.
What, then, is this book? A memoir? A research project? Voyeurism? Evidence of privilege?
Like I said, much to chew on.
As a temporary Minnesotan, it felt almost obligatory to be a fan of Louise Erdrich. I was not engaged by Love Medicine and when it was re-issued with the stories in the order the author intended, I was just confused. I liked The Master Butchers Singing Club and The Birchbark House, but still not enough to investigate her full catalogue. When The Round House won the National Book Award, I decided to give her another try.
I’m glad I did.
This is a masterful, wonderful book. I think part of the reason is that it defies genre. It’s a mystery, it’s a coming-of-age story, it’s a story about stories, it’s a commentary. Erdrich blends content and character so well that I had to force myself to stop at times so I could relish the book even more.
And I’m sure I’ll love it even more the second time around.
Her bookstore: birchbarkbooks.com
First a disclaimer. Hillocks was my Master’s advisor. Therefore, I’m inclined to be biased. Still, one can indulge in too much of a good thing. Eventually, I branched out and my understanding of his work grew fuzzy. Thanks to the excellent recommendation of three very talented teachers, I picked up this book and have been reminded and re-inspired by the brilliant simplicity of Hillocks’ work. Though it’s December already, I now know how I want to start the year. Hillocks’ methods are intentional, high-interest, and well-researched. At the recent NCTE conference in Boston, his work was alluded at several sessions and deservedly so. It’s foundational.
Though there were a few times when I wish the transcripts of student conversation were shorter, they were affirming, reminding me that Hillocks’ ideas have been tested by real students. I have always admired how grounded Hillocks’ work is. He has the theory and research to back it up, but his primary interest has always been to help the teacher plan what will happen in the classroom.
So this one will stay by my desk at school, and I’ll go through it again and again, each time with more annotations and more post-its.
There’s too much cleverness in this collection for my tastes. Too many seemingly forced efforts to make plays on words, to fit into ideas into short lines and narrow columns that I found myself quite frustrated with this collection. What came first, I wondered, the idea or the insistence on a certain form? When he finally breaks free of his seemingly self-imposed restrictions in the last section, “I Can Sleep Later,” I enjoyed the poems more. His ideas could breathe.
In his introduction, David Mitchell (one of the two translators, along with KA Yoshida, his wife) tells the story of this story. He and his wife have an autistic child, and they wanted to understand better his inner self. Hence, the subtitle — “The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism.” Higashida, an accomplished writer who makes amazing use of an alphabet grid, responds to 58 questions about autism and offers a few of his own stories and parables.
His inner voice is nothing short of astonishing. His responses, often little more than a page, are precise and clear. If you have anyone autistic in your life, I’d call this one required reading.
Kai and Sunny, familiar to those who know Mitchell’s work, provide outstanding illustrations here as well.
I know I’ve written before about my search for a Henning Mankell replacement. Since Mankell recommended him, I’ve tried a few of Jo Nesbo’s books. I listened to this one. It took so long that the library assumed that I’d lost it. In any event, Nesbo is awesome at plot. And I liked the fact that the story is continued. What happened in The Snowman still matters here. But there are already suggestions here that Nesbo has written himself into a kind of, at best, formula, at worst, rut.
There’s a difficult case. It seems like Norway might have a serial killer on its hands. Though he’s unconventional, the police need Harry Hole. They bring him back and he operates his way without impunity. Along the way, he gets hurt physically and emotionally and abuses everyone with whom he has a relationship, especially the women. But since he’s such a lovable rogue, people forgive him and are willing to help him. Oh, and there’s a lot of intense wince-worthy violence.
Still, sometimes a formula works. There are red herrings, there are messy ending, there are complications. I’ll keep searching, but I’ve heard good things about Nesbo’s new one, Police.
And Robin Sachs gets huge praise for me for his slight, but memorable and meaningful variations among the characters. I’m pretty sure I’d listen to any story he read.