Monday, August 21, 2017

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

Ella Mnnow Pea by Mark Dunn
Published October 2001 by MacAdam/Cage Publishing Inc.
Source: both my copies were purchased (yes, I did accidentally buy two copies!)

Publisher's Summary:
Ella Minnow Pea is a girl living happily on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop was named after Nevin Nollop, author of the immortal phrase containing all the letters of the alphabet, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”

Now Ella finds herself acting to save her friends, family, and fellow citizens from the encroaching totalitarianism of the island’s Council, which has banned the use of certain letters of the alphabet as they fall from a memorial statue of Nevin Nollop. As the letters progressively drop from the statue they also disappear from the novel.

My Thoughts:
It seems strange to me that this book was on my radar before I read Trish's (Love, Laughter and A Touch of Insanity) review in 2015. It came out quite a few years before I started blogging but yet I seem to recall being well aware of it when I read her review. It was, however, her review that convinced me that this was a book I would enjoy. So I bought it. Twice, apparently. I really do need to get an inventory of the books I own!

At any rate, Trish did not steer me wrong. Like her, sometimes an epistolary novel is just the thing; I especially find that so when I'm working my way through a reading slump. In Ella Minnow Pea, we are mostly privy to the letters to and from Ella as things begin to unravel on the island of Nollop. There's no much here in the way of character development, but that is more than made up for with the language acrobatics Dunn displays as a society of wordsmiths' options become increasingly smaller.
The letter writers are forced to get more and more creative in finding words (the days of the week had to be renamed, for example, once the letter D fell); eventually, it became like reading my kindergartners' journals, with phonetic spellings being the last resort. By the end, the letters had gotten quite short due to the lack of alphabet remaining but even harder to read!

Equally of interest was the view of a society collapsing as those in charge begin imposing restrictions and penalties on its citizens. It might be easy to avoid using a "z" in your writing, but imagine a grocer having to adjust to not being able to call twelve eggs a dozen or a nine-year-old not being able to zoom around. On Nollop, a first offense would have earned said grocer a verbal reprimand. After that, things got much more serious; a second offense would find the offender choosing between the stockades or a whipping and a third offense would get a person banished.

It's a small book, with a seemingly light premise, except that it isn't. Dunn has neighbors turning on neighbors, families broken apart, leaders who commandeer others' property for their own use and hoard food. Because of the epistolary nature of the book, none of that is right in our faces. But it's there to think about and seems pretty relevant these days.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Life: It Goes On - August 19

Any of you headed to Nebraska to see the totality of the solar eclipse? We're expecting quite a lot of visitors this weekend, through tomorrow; it's impacting travel across the state but a tremendous boost to local economies along the path. The Big Guy will head south a bit so he can see the totality but I'm just going to have to live with seeing most of it since I don't want to take off work. Luckily, my office is feeding us all pizza and giving us all glasses to go out and watch so I won't miss it all.

Finishing ripening
Starting to get to be harvest season around here. We've been getting quite a lot of tomatoes, rhubarb and cucumbers, yesterday a coworker gave me a purple pepper from her garden, and last night I picked up a crate of peaches that had come in from Colorado. I love this time of year!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Lots of podcasts, this week mostly episodes from Stuff You Should Know. Cranked up some music as well, including some Sia. Oh yeah, and the high school band marching through the neighborhood, fundraising. Woke up this morning to the sound of the drums as they made their way up our street. Grabbed some clothes and got to the front porch in time to watch them do a couple of mini-concerts for neighbors.

Watching: Some of the book club, a friend and I went to see the film adaptation of Jeanette Walls' The Glass Castle. We were impressed with the acting and I thought they were, for the most part, very faithful to the book. As tough as it was to watch, it still wasn't has hard as it hard been to read.

Reading: I finished Amanda de Cadenet's It's Messy on Friday (review this week) and I'm dipping my toes into books right now trying to find something that sticks. My brain wants to get back to something meaty but my gut says I'm not ready for that. In the meantime, I'm trying things that are a bit different from my usual read. I picked up The Sisters Brothers yesterday but I'm not sure about that so I may pick up Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns or grab something by Nora Ephron. It's always a good time for Ephron!

Making: Banana bread, peach/rhubarb tarts, and apple cake with caramel sauce. There's clearly someplace in my head that is ready for fall, what with all of this baking!

Planning: On a small redecorating project in Miss H's bathroom this week. I've ordered a new shower curtain and some artwork. When the shower curtain gets here, I'll head out to pick up some new towels and a rugs. I don't think I'll paint but once the curtain gets here then I'll know if I need to do that. Still pondering new flooring - I've never done that before! This could turn out to be a much bigger project than I initially planned!

Thinking About: Looking for a reading chair. I really want to create a reading corner where I can read in quiet, without the television blabbing on in the same room.

Enjoying: Evenings on the patio and a visit yesterday from BG's oldest brother as he went through town. He is one of my favorite people so we're always happy to spend time with him.

Feeling: Tired. Which is odd since we've had a very quiet weekend.

Looking forward to: Curling Night In America next weekend. It's an international event being held here in Omaha. I'm so excited to see curling live! 

Question of the week: How's back to school going for those of you who have kids still in primary and secondary schools? I miss some of the activities of those school days but I don't miss having to get everyone out the door in the morning or fighting homework in the evenings!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Fairy Tale Fridays: Horse, Flower, Bird by Kate Bernheimer

Horse, Flower, Bird by Kate Bernheimer
Published September 2010 by Coffee House Press
Source: bought this one three years ago when I was deep into reading fairy tales

Publisher's Summary:
In Kate Bernheimer's familiar and spare—yet wondrous—world, an exotic dancer builds her own cage, a wife tends a secret basement menagerie, a fishmonger's daughter befriends a tulip bulb, and sisters explore cycles of love and violence by reenacting scenes from Star Wars.

My Thoughts:
Ti, of Book Chatter, starts her book reviews with "The Short of It." If I were to do that, this review would open like this:
The Short of It:
Dark, modern fairy tales that made me think.
This tiny book (just 6" x 7 1/2") is just 185 pages. Many of them look like this:

Which makes writing the second piece of Ti's usual reviews, The Long Of It, tough. There's not a lot here, word count-wise. On the other hand, I really liked the way the stories were printed. It lent a break in the reading that enhanced the stories.

The eight tales in the book are odd, to say the least. All are about girls or young women and some have a Jewish element which makes them unique among fairy tales. But, like traditional fairy tales, the men in these tales tend to be the oppressors and there are no lessons to be learned. Unless the lesson you take from A Cageling Tale is to make sure that you never let your daughter have a parakeet lest she one day become an exotic dancer in a cage and eventually builds a cage for herself in a spare room.

I told you they were odd. But also utterly unique and original and the perfect way to break up my other reading and to spark my fairy tale reading again.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Talented Ribkins by Ladee Hubbard

The Talented Ribkins by Ladee Hubbard
Published August 2017 by Melville House
Source: my ecopy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
At seventy-two, Johnny Ribkins shouldn’t have such problems: He’s got one week to come up with the money he stole from his mobster boss or it’s curtains for Johnny.

What may or may not be useful to Johnny as he flees is that he comes from an African-American family that has been gifted with rather super powers that are rather sad, but superpowers nonetheless. For example, Johnny’s father could see colors no one else could see. His brother could scale perfectly flat walls. His cousin belches fire. And Johnny himself can make precise maps of any space you name, whether he’s been there or not. In the old days, the Ribkins family tried to apply their gifts to the civil rights effort, calling themselves The Justice Committee. But when their, eh, superpowers proved insufficient, the group fell apart. Out of frustration Johnny and his brother used their talents to stage a series of burglaries, each more daring than the last.

Fast forward a couple decades and Johnny’s on a race against the clock to dig up loot he’s stashed all over Florida. His brother is gone, but he has an unexpected sidekick: his brother’s daughter, Eloise, who has a special superpower of her own.

My Thoughts:
This is one of those books that I thought sounded interesting when it was pitched to me then completely forgot what it was about by the time that I started reading it. I'm so glad I did - going into the book completely unaware meant that it was an even bigger treat than it might otherwise have been.

Inspired by W. E. B. Dubois' essay "The Talented Tenth," Hubbard has crafted an utterly original novel full of heart, hope, and, dare I say it, fantasy. Is it possible that I have actually enjoyed two books already this year with a fantasy element? The Talented Ribkins is also something of a reverse graphic novel - rather than taking a story and turning it into an illustrated work, this feels like an illustrated work that's been translated into novel form. I don't read many graphic novels, either so this one would really seem to be out of my wheelhouse.

Maybe what I've learned from this book is that those genres, fantasy and graphic novels, might actually not be that far distant from my usual fare. Because this book is filled with interesting characters I grew to care very much for, there is an interesting family dynamic, there are complicated relationships, and there is a depth to the story I wasn't expecting. Perhaps I've been giving those genres short shrift. Or perhaps Hubbard is just that great at storytelling, which makes this debut novel all the more impressive.

Once in a while, things got a bit muddled, but Hubbard pulled things back together and wove the various threads she'd been developing throughout into a very satisfying ending. Although she relies on the fantastical gifts of the Ribkins to drive the story, the clear lesson here is that people need to make the most of the gifts they are given. Oh yes, and that no matter what our issues are with our family (however we define that), family is everything. I like that, I like that a lot.

Thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for introducing me to this book and to Hubbard. I look forward to reading more of her work. For other opinions, check out the full tour.

About Ladee Hubbard:
Laddee Hubbard is the winner of the 2016 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award and the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition for the Short Story. She holds a BA from Princeton University, an MFA in Dramatic Writing from New York University, an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin, and a PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles. She lives in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Talented Ribkins is her first novel.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Nasty Women: A Collection of Essays and Accounts On What It Is To Be A Woman In The 21st Century

Nasty Women: A Collection of Essays and accounts On What It Is To Be A Woman In The 21st Century
Published March 2017 by 404 Ink
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:

With intolerance and inequality increasingly normalised by the day, it's more important than ever for women to share their experiences. We must hold the truth to account in the midst of sensationalism and international political turmoil. Nasty Women is a collection of essays, interviews and accounts on what it is to be a woman in the 21st century.

People, politics, pressure, punk - from working class experience to racial divides in Trump’s America, being a child of immigrants, to sexual assault, Brexit, pregnancy, contraception, identity, family, finding a voice online, role models and more, Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!, Zeba Talkhani, Chitra Ramaswamy are just a few of the incredible women who share their experience here.

Keep telling your stories, and tell them loud.

My Thoughts:
If you'd titled your book "Nasty Women" a year ago, you'd have been putting together an entirely different kind of book. Since last year, though, if you give your book that title, there's a good chance I'm going to pick it up. And I'm going to know exactly what I'm going to get.

This collection, largely written by women in the UK, covers the gamut of issues women have, from birth control to sexual orientation, from a woman's place in predominately male venues to race. Every one of these women is tired of having to fight but inspired to keep up the fight, to be a nasty woman. Given the number of authors not from the United States, I was more than a little surprised to see the current U. S. president come up again and again. But it's not just the political climate in the U. S. that has these women concerned; it's the political climate in their own countries, as well. These women understand that's it's taken a long time for women, particularly those of color or of the LGBTQ community, just to get where we'd gotten. Now many feel that we will fall back.

As with all collections, some of the writing are stronger than others and some of the writing really stands out. I particularly liked "Independence Day," about a woman who was forced to face the bigotry of a family member after the 2016 election in the U.S.; "Lament: Living With The Consequences of Contraception," which mixes a letter to "D" with a story about the author's ordeal with Depo-Provera injections; "The Nastiness of Survival," the author's story of being a rape survivor; and "These Shadows, These Ghosts," in which the author talks about the generations of nasty women in her family and the ways that stereotypes and expectations damaged them.

I read this collection straight through but I wish I had read it an essay at a time and let myself have time to really consider each essay before moving on to the next. It can get to be a little much read straight through. But as a collection, it's well worth reading. Particularly if you proudly call yourself a nasty woman.