Review: Watch the Sky (Kirsten Hubbard)

Watch-the-SkyJory’s life is at once dramatic and exhausting. His step-father hints at approaching doom that their family must prepare for, but that preparation is seemingly endless. What is coming? The boy does not know. When will it arrive? He has to trust that it will.

Kirsten Hubbard’s novel, Watch the Sky, dances in purgatory — the novel is delightfully ambiguous, at least till its satisfying conclusion, and it worried and excited me as a reader. Jory, the boy telling the tale, is a very reliable narrator — he is honest almost to a fault, at least with us readers. He shares with us secrets he keeps from his family and his schoolmates, and he mulls over the many secrets kept from him.

Watch the Sky is a book of secrets made ominous by its very believable and sympathetic protagonist. Jory is any young person, wishing for the best, putting up with the worst. The novel veers into some very dark corners (without growing too disturbing for middle grade readers) but Jory neither whines nor crumbles: he deals. And we feel for him all the more for his persistence.

Review: Watch the Sky (Kirsten Hubbard)

Review: Mr. Mercedes (Stephen King)

kingThis book is nothing special. It pains me to say so — I was excited to read it and I have a special place in my heart for its author. But I found that there was nothing here that surprised me, nothing that particularly pleased me. And then, there isn’t anything particularly unlikeable about the novel, either: it just sits and is.

It is competently written, but not so funny or thrilling that it stands out on packed THRILLER shelves. (In fact, the language often struck me as quite forced, faux colloquial.) The characters aren’t unbelievable, but they are boring. A retired detective, now suicidal. Okay. A villain who flirts with his would-be captors. Fine. This is a grizzly detective tale, and who cares?

Stephen King has made me squirm (It) and sweat (Misery), and he has made me laugh — and weep — aloud (The Body). This is not his best work. Far from it. That isn’t a tragedy, of course: the man has so many books, it is impossible for them all to gems, and so many of them actually are. This one, however, felt to me as though King were checking off boxes, which I truly doubt he does. He’s a seat-of-the-pants writer, making up the plot as he writes, not planning ahead of time. King himself admits that this approach often leads him nowhere worth reading, it’s just that in the case of Mr. Mercedes, he and I disagree about where this story led.

Review: Mr. Mercedes (Stephen King)

Review: Freedom is a Constant Struggle (Angela Y. Davis)

I really can’t review this book. Was it enlightening? Yes and no. No, because I’ve read many other such works–Davis covers information I’m well-acquainted with (the militarization of police, the bombings of Black Americans throughout the Civil Rights era, etc.). But that is not a true criticism of the work, and there is plenty here that is new to me. And, it should go without saying, everything Davis teaches here is worth learning.

Which is surely why she repeats herself, as she often does. Repetition is a byproduct of collecting short nonfiction and speeches of a focused intellectual, but it might also be intentional. Students expect repetition from a course determined to get points across.

And this professor does get her points across, fantastically.

Review: Freedom is a Constant Struggle (Angela Y. Davis)

Review: Was She Pretty? (Leanne Shapton)

This book is something of a graphic novel, although it is not a novel at all. It is a collection of brief events and bare details that might be included in a novel to fill out the exposition, to deepen the reality of the narrative.

Tanya’s ex-boyfriend Marcel once told her that the sex they had was “up there with the best.”

Moments like this one, above, or descriptions, one after the other, are paired with illustrations to match. Each is seemingly unrelated to the others except in that a character mentioned might be said, on a preceding or proceeding page, to be the lover, or previous partner, of another character. And in that way, all of the characters are related.

The things that made up the chain that bound the Fenris wolf were “altogether unknown.”

The book leaves me torn. It demonstrates interconnectedness, how we each impact each other, but as often as those relationships delight, they dismay. We don’t always influence each other positively, of course.

Now, this book doesn’t tell its reader how to feel, but somehow, in its stop-and-start way, the prose strike me as bitter and the images melancholy. Jealousy, restraint, exasperation are prevalent here. Yet, there is hope, too. Hope in numbers. There isn’t some, one person to be found or forever out of reach; there is another and another person out there to get to know–to try out–till one seems right.

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Review: Was She Pretty? (Leanne Shapton)

Review: Sunday Night Movies (Leanne Shapton)

A collection of black-and-white watercolors portraying moments from classic films. The book is a portrait of the artist’s affection for this other medium, but also, as it includes title cards and less aesthetically engaging stills, it seems to be a sort-of recollection of the experience of cinema. The imprecision of watercolor evokes the haziness of memory while the seeming arbitrariness of the chosen images, especially the more unnatural selections (letters, floating heads, and so on) illuminates the artificiality of life portrayed on screen.

Review: Sunday Night Movies (Leanne Shapton)

Review: How to Be Black (Baratunde Thurston)

img_20170212_210617.jpgLike so many books on race matters, How to Be Black was written as much for Whites as people of color. This faux manual uses humor to make uncomfortable issues more approachable and to simplify points of contention between White and Black Americans. We do not live in a “post-racial” society, but racism isn’t always (or even usually) as overtly manifested as during, say, hate crimes. This book helps shed light on some of the more pervasive, subtle forms of racism, and describes ways Blacks struggle daily. Moreover, the book shows through real-life examples (the author’s experiences and interviews he conducted, which are scattered throughout the book) how flawed the premise of such a manual is, because there is no one way to be Black, just as there is no one way to White or to be any member of any racial, social, or economic group. Ultimately the book seems to say that, yes, we can discuss these issues, and we can work together to solve problems and celebrate each other while having fun in the process.

Review: How to Be Black (Baratunde Thurston)

Review: Danza (Natsume Ono)

Although I have read comics from a very young age, I did not think I liked Japanese manga till I discovered Natsume Ono. Her works are hushed, delicate. Unlike the superhero series I grew up on, Ono’s books aren’t driven by external action but by internal struggles. Danza is no exception.

The collection of short graphic stories centers around male relationships: a father and son, two brothers, work associates, etc. Traditionally, men are stoic. Ono’s approach of sparse dialogue and open spaces here emphasizes the emotional distance her male characters attempt to put between themselves and others, but of course the artist/author says much with little, and her characters give themselves away, too, with glimpses, silences, averted eyes.

Danza is visually poetic and emotionally uplifting. I am pleased and surprised every time I pick up one of Natsume Ono’s books. I can’t recommend her enough.

Review: Danza (Natsume Ono)