Archives for posts with tag: books

When I went to went to go hear Sharon Draper talk about the book she wrote after she wrote Out of My Mind, she said her new one had been hard to write because so many people had called Out of My Mind her “best book ever.” “How,” she asked, “do you write the next book after you’ve written the best book ever?”

I’m afraid Jennifer Haigh has the same problem. In 427 pages, she has created an epic for our times. Populated by the inextricably linked small town characters she has used in her other novels, Heat and Light takes as its central plot the impact of fracking on a small town in Pennsylvania. To Haigh’s enormous credit, she tells the story of many different points of view and uses many different time periods, and what she ends up with is not an anti-fracking diatribe, but a well-balanced examination of the choices people make that they never thought they’d have to confront.

How will the novel stand up in 20 years? I’m not sure. It depends on what’s happening in the fracking world. The point is that it stands up quite well now; it is important, more than say, Hillbilly Elegy. You want to understand the world today, read this. You want to understand people – the people of yesterday, today, and tomorrow – read this. I hated and loved every single one of these characters.

I don’t envy Haigh’s task of following this book. It is, I suspect, a nice problem to have.

I said once that if I could just read one author, I’d choose Baldwin because he wrote plays, non-fiction and fiction. Boy, did I underestimate him. There are letters, reviews, forwords and afterwords, letters, etc. in here, and so I am grateful for and grateful that I found this collection.

I think in this era when so many people are being introduced to Baldwin because of his ideas, it can be easy to forget what an amazing writer he is. His sentences are so packed full and syntactically interesting that I read some more than once just to enjoy the sound of  them. At one point, he even mocks himself by calling one of his sentences “undisciplined.” I think it’s the only one.

So read this, both for the urgency of the ideas it contains and to read a master essayist at work.

Oh, and keep a notepad by your side. When Baldwin recommends that you read something, you’re going to want to read it.

It is hard to know the truth of what led to the end of Esquith’s career. A brief Google search indicates that there are almost as many theories as there are websites. I admit, though, that my bias is that “something is rotten” here, and that it’s not Esquith. The book is good. His arrogance shows through often, and he is unsubtle when he criticizes his own administration. Neither of these things probably earned him many friends.

Still, he clearly sacrificed a great deal of time, money and energy to do the best work he could. Some of his reasoning is circular – ‘I think we should study this and therefore we should because I am the arbiter of such things’ – well, then, he’s far from alone.

There is a great deal here to support – that he has very high expectations, is clear. He mocks the errors of his younger teacher self. He realizes the reality of standardized tests and how, in the end, they are so very unimportant.

If he did what he stands accused of doing, then he deserves to end his career in disgrace and to lose his freedom. But if he didn’t, oh, if he didn’t. . .

an account of Esquith’s firing from Diane Ravitch’s blog

Hobart Shakespeareans

Hobart Shakespeareans – Trailer

I was in a bookstore and was struck by a title – If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler – and I opened it. The first line is something like, “You are probably in a bookstore right now.” I laughed. Out loud. And I bought the book.

It was a revelation. It was my first experience with meta-fiction, long before I even had any idea what that term meant. I loved it.

I’ve since read a few other Calvino titles. He, like Saramago, takes a certain kind of concentration. Invisible Cities is another delight. Esoteric and layered, it is a series of reports from Marco Polo to Kublai Khan about cities Polo has encountered in his journeys through Khan’s empire. Maybe.

Or is it a kind of Arabian Nights tale, in which Polo is making up these reports to present to a ruler who fears the slow destruction of his empire, in a language of gestures and words so insufficient that the two men spend a great deal of time in silence. Maybe.

Or is it a criticism and / or a celebration of the dichotomous nature of cities, of which, like and despite words, we can only ever gain a temporary understanding?

I’m not sure; I’m glad it’s a book club choice. I’ll be eager to hear what others offer.

“Make no little plans,” Daniel Burnham once said. And Angie Thomas took his advice. Her sprawling, complex first novel is remarkably ambitious. Though its hot button issue is the shooting of a black teenager by a white police officer, Thomas does not limit herself to that. There’s interracial dating, gangs, the ‘hood vs. the suburbs (where a pit bull – another issue – is not allowed), there’s “snitches get stitches,” a fried chicken ‘joke,’ a condom mistake, gunshots, arson, domestic abuse, hybrid families, Huey Newton, a discussion of names that black parents give their children, compromises and a debate about whether macaroni and cheese is a main dish or a side dish.

And aside from some occasional pedantic moments (often during conversations), Thomas pulls it off. This is an amazing novel – young adult? – I don’t care; it’s just an amazing book, one I’ll look forward to using in the classroom. Right now, I have a classroom that is 100% students of color. It would be a very interesting book to choose in a mixed-race classroom or even a largely white one. Much to consider here. I look forward to handing it off to students next week in order to get some reactions.

Angie Thomas’ website

Teju Cole is, I think, as close to a Renaissance man as I know. The range of allusions in this large collection of short essays is staggering. Naturally, the range of topics is equally wide, focusing (pun intended) on photography. If you know his novel Open City, it will not surprise you to learn that the essays are lyrical, non-linear, observational and insightful. They are, in far too many cases, too short. I know that at least some were lifted from elsewhere. I wish that he’d chosen fewer to include and expanded those that made the cut. The pieces on photography were challenging for me since I don’t really speak that language, and he is only able to include a few of the images in the book itself. I enjoyed the sense of humor that sneaks into a few of these pieces, and I liked traveling with Cole to the places he visits. He is a master at using words to make pictures.

This seems to be a tale of two books, one more interesting than the other, if perhaps inconsisten with the title of the collection. In her essay, “How It Feels to be Colored Me,” Zora Neale Hurston writes –

I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about it. Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep at the world—I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.

It is when Bennet sharpens his oyster knife that his poems, apparently often performed, gain their edge. “Theodicy” (you do not know how to write / what you can’t imagine the end of) is one of my favorites (and is dedicated to Renisha McBride), but it may contain some of the sobbing that Hurston disdained (which obviously doesn’t bother me). “X” is also excellent as is “On Flesh.” “Still Life with Little Brother” is good and its ending is gorgeous.

Please, excuse my shadow. I can’t

stop leaving. I don’t know how

to name what I don’t know

 

well enough to render

in a single sitting. Every poem

about us seem an impossible labor,

 

like forgetting the face

of the sea, or trying to find

a more perfect name for water.