24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Category: Abby Reads (page 1 of 12)

Reviews of books I’ve read in real life.

Abby Reads: The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton

The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
Viking Press, 1967, 192 pages
Young Adult Fiction

As one of the local greasers, Ponyboy Curtis finds trouble with the privileged Socs often enough. After befriending a soc name Cherry Valance, things come to a head. Cherry’s group isn’t so keen on Ponyboy and the others spending time with her, so they attack Ponyboy and Johnny viciously. When this Image result for the outsiders hintonevent becomes bigger than Ponyboy could have anticipated, everything spins out of control and nothing will ever be the same in S. E. Hinton’s young adult classic The Outsiders.

If you didn’t already know, Hinton wrote The Outsiders when she was fifteen. The book was published when she was eighteen. This is especially impressive when evaluating the book critically. Structurally and thematically, The Outsiders is a mature and nuanced look at things like cycles and privilege. The way Hinton ties the ending of the novel to the beginning may seem overused at first glance, but the grace with which she handles the transition is excellent. Even as the final pages started rolling by and I realized what Hinton was going to do structurally, I worried — but there was no need. Despite the trope she uses, it feels entirely fresh thanks to adept handling.

Meanwhile, themes of the novel are clear but not heavy-handed. Issues of privilege, albeit with minimal intersection (it’s of its time and so on — there is a Native American slur used and the plights of the characters are, at the end of the day, mostly white-people problems), show up in various ways with nuance and great understanding without making the issues too complicated to grasp. All of this is underscored by Ponyboy’s first-person narration, which is delivered in a well-defined voice. As it turns out, the social commentary Hinton lays down is timeless, too. As some supplementary material points out in the Speak edition I read, the terms “greasers” and “socs” may change over the years, but the fundamental concepts behind the groups and their conflict remain.

Part of Ponyboy’s voice is his attention to detail. This sometimes means the plot seems to be moving slowly, but the reality is the plot is simply a more subtle one and not bogged down with side plots. The Outsiders is short, at 192 pages, but a delicious thing to digest with all of Ponyboy’s observations. A few literary allusions, too, help to define Ponyboy as a character and add value to the book as a whole. Though I often find literary allusions to be on the cheap side, Hinton once again surprised me here.

I don’t think I believe in perfect books, and there were a few moments of The Outsiders where dialog or phrasing was awkward. The single side plot of Sodapop and his relationship with a girl named Sandy certainly had symbolic significance, but I could have done without so much of it. But The Outsiders has stood strong for fifty years for a reason. It’s a strong example of structure and theme woven well together without being an intimidating piece of capital-L Literature and I’m not surprised it’s been used in schools for years.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
Grove Press, 2017, 272 pages
Short Stories

Famed feminist writer Roxane Gay collects several short stories in Difficult Women. From a woman who is essentially married to twins to sisters who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a stranger for a period of weeks during their childhood, these stories explore primarily women and their Image result for difficult women roxane gayrelationships with the men in their lives.

This is the first work of Gay’s that I’ve encountered. My expectations were pretty high: plenty of people have recommended and buzzed about the collection and Gay has a reputation for being an excellent writer with a strong feminist angle. While short stories are not usually my thing — I find it hard to invest in plot and characters in such a short period — this collection was especially challenging.

Though each story tells of different women, the collection ends up feeling incredibly repetitive. At the heart of each story is this message, at least based on my reading: sex with men means bad things for women and in order for a woman to enjoy sex, it must be painful or punishing for her. Perhaps this is what Gay wished to get across. Based on her history of feminism, I somehow doubt it, or else I am misunderstanding how this depiction of heterosexual relationships is feminist. Or, perhaps Gay was purposefully anti-feminist in this collection. I’m not sure. Regardless, I was troubled by the depictions at all, but especially troubled by the fact that this was the same story again and again.

Most of the women in Gay’s stories seem to be thin, light-skinned (if not white) women. This gives me pause only in that she perhaps uses sex as the forced circumstances of life for white women and it becomes a metaphor for living as a black woman in America. The women in these stories abuse themselves either directly or through asking or allowing others to abuse them in various ways, often for things that are out of their own control. Is this a comment on life as a black woman in America? The constant barrage of abuse in one form or another, certainly undeserved, that they face? This is the only thing I can think of that makes any sense.

Beyond the content of the stories, I was disappointed in the prose and writing style, which often felt forced. Gay frequently refers to venison and hunting — perhaps this is something highly present in her own life, perhaps she’s drawing another metaphor here — which felt like overkill. And in many instances, I felt the story ended just where it was getting started, and not in the way many authors want.

While I mostly enjoyed one story titled “The Sacrifice of Darkness” — and it was a science fiction story, so perhaps that makes the difference for me with her — Difficult Women was a total letdown for me otherwise. Where I expected to read about a huge variety of women being difficult against others, I got the world being hard on mostly thin, white, heterosexual, cisgender women. Maybe I’m missing something here, but Difficult Women wasn’t for me.

I read this book as part of Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge, fulfilling challenge #22, “Read a collection of short stories by a woman,” and I leave it behind with one-and-a-half hearts.

❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My Life by Andy Miller

The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My Life by Andy Miller
Harper Perenniel, 2014, 352 pages
Nonfiction

When he realized he had effectively stopped reading for pleasure, Andy Miller knew he had to do something about it. He began a short list of novels he’d always wanted to read, from classics to popular fiction, and started in on it. Before long, he’d caught the reading bug again and added to his list, deeming it 20910034the List of Betterment. In The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My Life, Andy Miller discusses his journey through literature, espousing his feelings on classics such as Moby Dick and War and Peace alongside his disdain for The Da Vinci Code and Middlemarch.

The Year of Reading Dangerously is, sadly, poorly titled. Miller’s stories about books are hardly tales of how they saved his life and he refrains from visiting each of the fifty-two books promised in the title. While the discussion of how Miller came to read the books featured is engaging enough, Miller doesn’t deliver on the title, if that’s what you’re looking for.

But moving on. In terms of the actual content of the book, it’s decidedly British. Full of dry humor, Miller’s anecdotes are sometimes self-deprecating, sometimes depreciative of the material he reads. That he’s able to maintain the humor throughout the book — which is fairly lengthy, given how he chooses to go about the topic — is impressive. Both in-text and in footnotes, Miller injects dry, and often sarcastic humor throughout, both at his own expense and at the expense of the books he reads. While I’m not one to usually pick up on humor in books — to give you a sense of how bad it is, I really didn’t get The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — it was well-placed and written here, allowing even me to laugh at passages.

Speaking of the footnotes, they did become a bit much. Though some of them certainly add to the book as a whole, many of them felt egregious and superfluous. Plus, two chapters themselves felt like footnotes. The first of these is a fan letter to an author Miller admires. He admits in this chapter that, were he the editor of the book, he would cut it. It’s long and rambling and doesn’t seem to connect well with the rest of the material and I have to say I agree that it didn’t belong in this work. Another chapter — the last — is an epilogue about Miller’s relationship with Douglas Adams and his most famous work, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. While the content of this chapter was a lovely tribute to Adams and his novel, it ultimately felt out of place and far more specific than all the other sections of the book.

Overall, reading about books with which you’re already familiar is more fun — at least, this was what I found in The Year of Reading Dangerously. Chapters about books I hadn’t read myself felt tedious and long, as I couldn’t pick up on much of what Miller described. Although he does a decent job at providing what information the reader needs to get through those chapters where they haven’t read that book, there still seems to be something missing that can only be gained by reading the original material.

The Year of Reading Dangerously might not deliver on its title, but it’s a reasonably fun read for book-lovers who will see themselves reflected in Miller’s descriptions of himself, even as he laments the challenges of reading. Though it’s a bit on the long side, it generally reads quickly and might give you some inspiration to pick up a book that’s been hanging over your head for years or avoid ones you thought you’d always want to get your hands on.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson

Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson
St. Martin’s Press, 2017, 240 pages
Nonfiction

Michael Eric Dyson’s Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America takes a decided stance on racism in America in 2017, particularly within the context of the election of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States of America in the 2016 presidential election. Drawing from personal experience, 31421117anecdotal research, and data, Dyson illustrates the situation of the black man in America with poise, empathy, and clarity. Written as sections of a sermon, the book is directed at white readers but offers a great deal of material for American citizens and, indeed, beyond.

With regular references to the reader (often, “beloved,” as you might expect in church), Dyson effectively draws the reader in prior to beginning his argument for better treatment of African Americans. Much like officials including Trump’s name frequently in reports meant for his consumption in order to maintain his attention, Dyson’s frequent addresses to the reader does a powerful thing in actively engaging and interacting with the reader who might, without proper empathy instilled, wonder what this has to do with them. To get to the debate of what this has to do with them (assuming the reader does not see the poor treatment of other humans as relevant to their own lives — a reality, to be sure, for many), Dyson must first get the readers on his side. He does this beautifully with these gentle call-outs — calling readers in by name. Beloved. Paired with the history of the word beloved in black culture (think Toni Morrison), this method is hugely impactful to cultivating the reader’s attention.

It is this language, however, that also contributes to a softening of Dyson’s call-out. He is empathetic to a fault, acknowledging directly that confronting racism within yourself and your peers is challenging. At times, Dyson seems to imply that confronting this racism is just as difficult and emotionally traumatic as it is being on the receiving end of racism — whether it’s personal or systemic. He concedes having white guilt is difficult and how white folks in America do have it hard. In doing so, he distracts from the central issue of racism and what people of privilege can and should be doing about it.

In many cases, Dyson’s arguments are strong for those of us who are already on-board. But aside from stating that white folks have it hard as a result of their own racism and using inclusive terms like “beloved,” his arguments are rarely anything new or particularly persuasive for someone who might disagree or is undecided. This is a tough thing to achieve. Certainly those who need convincing are the least likely to pick up the book in the first place, so this may be a misinterpretation of the purpose or target audience of the majority of the book on my part.

That said, the book is highly relevant for modern times. Dyson regularly refers to Trump, Ferguson, and other current events that make the book an immediate call to action. With — well, I don’t know what, luck? Hard work? — with any of whatever it is that we need, we’ll not need this book for too long. And, even more-so, news moves fast. Trump, we’ve seen, moves fast. Tears We Cannot Stop is a static piece of writing that, though perhaps able to be updated in reprints or new editions, will not remain relevant in its current form for long. These are ongoing problems, certainly, but the specificity sometimes takes away from overall goal.

Still, Dyson wraps up his work with an immeasurably useful chapter on real, practical actions readers can take to mitigate the strain of racism. Ranging from tipping people of color extra in their work to reading dozens of more writers on racism in America, these suggestions are some of the strongest I’ve seen in terms of making activism actionable in real people’s lives. Not everyone has the capability to organize a rally, but a good deal more people can effectively choose to patronize establishments owned by black people over white, and thus help even the playing field. The list of writers Dyson offers in terms of further reading is also impressive and helpful, though another format might have made the list more accessible.

Tears We Cannot Stop is readable and interesting, but won’t do much to bring new folks over to Dyson’s side. The actionable items at the end are invaluable and well-organized for those who stick to the end and feel inspired by Dyson’s sermon. As a piece of literature on racism, though it might not lend a lot of new material to the subject, it’s an important one and likely to become part of the canon.

❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova
Sourcebooks Fire, 2016, 336 pages
YA Fantasy

When her powers finally arrive in Zoraida Córdova’s Labyrinth Lost, Alex couldn’t be more upset. It seems magic has only caused her family trouble since her aunt’s death and her father’s disappearance. After a boy, Nova, tells her there might be a way to reject her new bruja magic, Alex is on board. All she 27969087has to do is refuse her family’s blessing during her Deathday celebration. But as it turns out, there are consequences bigger than she’s willing to pay to live a life without magic, and it sends her on a journey in another realm where she’ll be tested at every turn.

Labyrinth Lost starts off strong.  Córdova’s weaving of magic into the real-life setting of Brooklyn, NY is a spectacular thing to behold. Though the bruja and brujo community may be small, its family-like structure is reminiscent of ethnic communities around the country with a strong root in tradition. This world-building brings readers right into Alex’s life and allows them to buy right into her story despite the fantastical elements. Once Alex and Nova cross into another realm, Córdova seems to stagger somewhat. Each layer of the new universe represents new challenges for Alex and Nova, much like the seven circles of hell. But each new location is underdeveloped and never comes well together as a whole, leaving the new world feeling un-built. Chapters following Alex and Nova’s descent into the magical realm frequently feel more like getting through a list of locations rather than experiencing a connected narrative.

Córdova begins strong with an explanation of the magical universe she’s created, too, but this soon falters when the magical realm becomes Alex’s new reality. Rituals and other features of Alex’s magic are dropped away once she leaves Earth, leaving readers wondering about the particulars of bruja magic and, by some extension, Alex, her family, and her culture. Labyrinth Lost is missing out on layers again and again: in world building, plot, relationships, and characters. Each of these somewhat flat, it’s difficult to invest in Alex and her story even when the stakes of losing her family permanently are so high.

Sections of prose in Labyrinth Lost are great examples of solid, atmospheric writing. Often, Córdova writes with vivid and visceral language that helps to describe the scene, even if the events of a moment are foggy — which they often are. Other times, the writing is clunky and doesn’t suit the larger, more general feel of the novel.

Labyrinth Lost feels paradoxical a lot of the time. Though Córdova begins with a great deal of confidence, by the end the novel she is more shaken — not just due to the hazy events that never felt especially clear, but also due to inconsistent writing and a lack of support for the big ideas of the book. Though Alex is one-of-a-kind as far as I’m concerned when it comes to young adult heroines, there were pieces of her that felt essentially missing. A reveal regarding her good friend, for example, seemed to come out of nowhere and jolt the book in a way that didn’t serve it well. This information felt far more throwaway than it deserved to be, and left me with more questions than I had answers. With all the Labyrinth Lost hype, I’m not sure I was as impressed as I expected to be. It’s an important piece in terms of diversity for young adult fantasy literature, but left lots to be desired.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Snow White by Matt Phelan

Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan
Candlewick Press, 2016, 216 pages
Graphic Novel Retelling

In 1920s New York City, Samantha “Snow” White is suddenly without a mother but living the financial high life with her father. When the Queen of the Ziegfeld Follies catches Snow’s father’s eye, Snow’s life changes pretty quickly. For a time, she is sent away. And when an inheritance becomes available, Image result for snow white phelanthe Queen will do whatever she can to get the lion’s share — including hire a murderer for Snow. Following the traditional plot of the classic “Snow White” fairy tale, Matt Phelan provides both the story and art for Snow White: A Graphic Novel with a twist in setting and circumstance.

Phelan’s take on “Snow White” is excellent. A writer must have a reason, generally speaking, to cast an old favorite in a new setting, and Phelan succeeds fantastically here with his Roaring Twenties look at “Snow White.” The new setting allows for great commentary on poverty and wealth while adding a huge potential for aesthetics, of which Phelan takes great advantage. As both writer and illustrator, Phelan mixes both arts well. His illustrations are truly lovely things to examine with a sketchy, noir, watercolor style tinged with just the right touch of magic and arresting splashes of color where it best serves him.

While the text is quite sparse, the images of the graphic novel carry the story well, even in more nuanced moments. Exact facial expressions and implications throughout the text help to develop characters in specific ways that can’t be translated through text. Although the Queen is an antagonistic character, even with the spare text, her personality and motivation are well-developed, allowing readers not necessarily to sympathize, but to certainly understand her position. With the backdrop of the Great Depression, the Queen’s desire for a large financial net — particularly as someone who works as a performer — is attractive, and it’s well illustrated through Phelan’s story even without spelling it out. Phelan’s one shortcoming with his art style is an occasional tendency to draw too much chaos into an image, making it unclear exactly what has happened from one pane to the next. Often, the surrounding work is enough to clarify, but on occasion, scenes of violence are difficult to follow.

Rather than the traditional dwarves, Phelan employs young street urchins to come to Snow’s aid in her time of need. Each with a street name, the apparent orphans are reliant upon themselves to live and get into some light mischief along the way. While Phelan mostly avoids magic and fantasy in his Snow White, the urchins are a perfect stand-in for the seven dwarves, if they don’t carry the wisdom the original dwarves are known for. The Dickensian twist works well within the context of 1920s New York City, too, and makes for a charming addition to the retelling.

Phelan does fall a little short in pacing with the narrative. With plenty of exposition leading up to the main event and conflict, the story feels a bit front-heavy. The role of the rescuing prince — here, a detective — seems to come from nearly nowhere, and his consequences are difficult to see form from any earlier appearances. His involvement earlier on might have solved this in some fashion, even as an appearance in Snow’s childhood to help bring the story full circle. It’s primarily this that makes me think Snow White: A Graphic Novel might have benefited from another round or two of edits.

The work stands solidly, however, as a whole. The artwork is truly remarkable and something I’d be willing to hang in my home, if not keep the graphic novel as a piece on a coffee table. Phelan very successfully brings “Snow White” to a new setting and to great effect, certainly enhancing the original story with his choices. His art and text mix beautifully and, while a few elements needed tweaking, the graphic novel is a win. Interestingly, the book is evidently targeted at elementary-school- and middle-school-aged children, though the quality and layers could easily serve an older, adult audience.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Borderline by Mishell Baker

TW: suicide, mental illness

 

Borderline by Mishell Baker
Saga Press, 2016, 400 pages
Urban Fantasy

A twenty-something Los Angeles filmmaker, Millie doesn’t have a lot going for her in the first of the Arcadia Project series, Borderline. Recovering from a severe suicidal episode that cost her her legs, Millie suffers from borderline personality disorder and has, for quite some time, lived in a facility in which 25692886she has access to healthcare professionals. But when a mysterious woman shows up and offers her independence in the form of employment, Millie jumps at the chance. She soon discovers her work will include plenty of detective work as she works to hunt down a missing fey person and work out how his connections are involved with the help of her partner and the rest of those working for the Arcadia Project.

I came into this novel after asking the folks at Book Riot for a recommendation based on the elements of my all-time favorite book, War for the Oaks. I requested something in the urban fantasy vein that had a great female lead, faeries, grittiness, a little urban feel, a stark feeling of realism within the fantasy, and music. Based on those qualifications, Borderline had a pretty strong start. The female lead was interesting and by no means nice, Baker had her own take on faeries, Millie’s reality as a double-amputee and someone with a serious mental health diagnosis was certainly gritty, there was a reasonably strong sense of realism, and, while there was no music, there was a heavy presence of art in the form of movies. After a quarter to a half of the novel, most of those things had fallen away in one way or another from their strong start.

Millie, though originally with a refreshing, biting personality that is often reserved for men in procedural dramas (think Gregory House of House, MD) — to include hypersexuality driven by symptoms of her borderline personality disorder — became a bore after not too long. While it was fun to watch a woman inhabit this character for a while, Millie’s existence as a woman dissolves and the reader might as well be reading about a man. Because her gender felt so specific in the opening, the lack of its influence in the rest of the novel doesn’t fit well. Additionally, while Millie doesn’t need to be likable to be interesting — and I’ll again state that I don’t feel protagonists need to be likable to be worth reading about, nor do they need to be redeemed for a novel to be of value — there’s a strange disconnect in which Millie is often quite socially aware and politically correct, excepting for a few moments, one of which features her having an unkind, racially-charged thought to the detriment of an Asian American character. Her generally harsh personality combined with this propensity to be social-justice conscious seems at odds, and is never quite explained or developed enough to make sense, unless readers suppose it’s some feature of her personal experience with mental illness and stigma.

Grittiness remains throughout with Millie’s challenges as a double-amputee and someone with BPD, but the industrial grittiness I admittedly looked for in comparison to War for the Oaks was mostly absent in the shiny land of Los Angeles. And, I think the form of art featured (again, instead of the cool and dirty rock ‘n’ roll of Oaks) took away from any potential grittiness, especially as film is used as a sort of metaphor for illusions and glamor (a faerie concept, if you’re familiar with the genre, meaning magical visual illusions, primarily). So these things ultimately let me down.

Also frustrating for my tastes was that Borderline sits more comfortably as a detective or mystery novel, much like a procedural show like CSI might. It seems that Borderline is one of these, first, before it is a fantasy novel. This is partly evidenced in that, aside from the heavy procedural and detective influences on the plot, Baker seems to know more about her fantasy world than she lets on. This is somewhat natural, given Millie is new to it and she is the reader’s eyes for the purposes of this story. But the fact remains that Borderline doesn’t quite feel as advertised. Plus, Baker has a new take on faerie lore — fine, maybe, for others, but not for me.

Borderline has a sequel, but it’s not something I feel compelled to read. Though the novel might not be bad, it simply wasn’t what I was looking for and felt miscategorized and poorly marketed based on the dust jacket description and cover image. Baker’s world needed more explanation and less of a detective lean for my tastes.

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Dear Ijeawele, Or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Dear Ijeawele, Or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Knopf, 2017, 80 pages
Essays

Drawing from her personal life and what she’s learned as a scholar, popular author and essayist (and famed TEDxTalk speaker) Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes a letter to her friend who has newly given birth to a daughter in response to a request on advice in raising a child in a feminist manner. With fifteen short parts, Dear Ijeawele, Or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions offers practical and evidence-based ideas to her friend and the world Image result for dear ijeawelebeyond, using examples from their shared experiences and beyond.

In one of the most succinct introductions to Gender and Women’s Studies I’ve ever encountered, Dear Ijeawele is absolutely a useful text for the novice feminist or pre-feminist. Certainly the collection of essays (most no more than a few paragraphs) lays out the very basics of feminism as it addresses things such as wage inequality between men and women, domestic abuse, gendered clothing, and workplace discrimination among other topics.

Adichie writes in a fashion that is superbly accessible and keeps from getting too into the weeds and thus keeps from scaring off potential new feminists with jargon and assertions which require an understanding of intersectionality and interconnectedness (for example, this is not the book for examining how poverty or a disregard for the environment also contributes to misogyny and vice versa). The unwillingness to dive into the depths of feminist theory — fine, of course, for Adiche’s stated purpose is a basic guide for a friend raising a daughter — does mean, however, that there is nothing new here. Adichie revisits old ideas that might just as well be found in Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, perhaps with the added context of the Internet and other modern influences.

While Dear Ijeawele is one of the most simple feminist texts I’ve encountered, its prose does little to sway those who are not already feminists. And, frankly, if a reader already is a feminist, they won’t find anything here that is new to them. This can only mean, for me, that the work — while concise, simple, easy to read, well-written and organized, and all of that — is somewhat extraneous at the end of the day, and supplementary at best. Though perhaps useful in a classroom setting for an Introduction to Gender and Women’s Studies class, the book has little other use. Those seeking the advice Ijeawele seeks are not likely to see anything in the text they have not already realized for themselves. And while Adichie has a great opportunity here to explore intersectional feminism, she outright rejects it, and states in no uncertain terms that she believes sexism is a bigger problem in the world than is racism. She doesn’t explore the particulars on that opinion, even, so I am unconvinced there as well.

So, truly, Dear Ijeawele is hardly more than an introduction, if that. There’s no doubt Adichie makes important points and feminism is both relevant and crucial in modern times, but Adichie brings nothing new to the table in Dear Ijeawele, opting instead to reissue old favorites. The essays have value as ones that are well-written and as pieces that cover the basics, but there’s no incentive to read this over any other established feminist text. Many readers may well be better off with bell hooks or any other number of canon feminist writers.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella

Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella
Houghton Mifflin, 1982, 265 pages
Fantasy

After a bodiless voice tells him to do it, Ray Kinsella turns his farmland into a baseball diamond, where he awaits the appearance of long-dead Shoeless Joe Jackson in W. P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe. When Jackson shows up, Ray knows this is not the end of this wild spiritual journey. Instead, he is compelledImage result for shoeless joe wp kinsella to drive from Iowa to New Hampshire in search of the recluse J. D. Salinger, at which point he will take Salinger to a Red Sox game and — well, who knows. Driven by complicated feelings about his upbringing and a desire to be a part of something bigger than himself, Ray travels halfway across the country and finds there’s more to baseball than he ever imagined.

I realize naming a character Ray Kinsella has narrative value in that it’s relevant to the J. D. Salinger connection (read the book for more information on that), but it felt pretty ridiculous reading a novel in which the author shared the main character’s last name. I think most of us can agree that male writers tend to do a lot of self-insertion (and, true, writers of all genders do, but it seems the men deny it to an extra degree), but this felt especially egregious. In any case, the name was distracting, especially as it appeared as a Point again and again.

The danger of putting Ray on a quest for Salinger and him rolling over in his doubts for hundreds of miles of driving is that the story can be monotonous at times. Typically by himself, Ray has little cause for dialog and primarily ruminates on his baseball field, its implications, sometimes his family (both the one he was born into and the one he’s created). He makes sweeping observations about American life and leisure, which can be interesting, if a bit pretentious at times. And, perhaps predictably, Ray falls into the unfortunate state of racism and sexism on occasion. One particular scene troubled me, in which Ray purchases a gun. In an exchange with a gun shop clerk, Ray and the clerk discuss how the neighborhood has changed “if you know what I mean.” Kinsella — both author and narrator — need say no more for modern readers, at least, to pick up on the fact that the reference, here, is to people of color moving into the neighborhood, particularly with the context around this scene. It’s a shame. Although I’m not one to believe a book must eschew racism outright, I do believe it ought to have a purpose if it is going to appear. In this case, the conversation was nothing but filler, rendering it as just a vehicle for racism. In many other scenes, Ray’s focus is on his wife’s body, her little girlishness, his daughter’s similar innocence, and other dehumanizing aspects of the few women present in the story — again, to no real point.

Though these moments might do little to illustrate any consequential character traits (at least insofar as they’re related to the narrative), Kinsella does an otherwise fine job of developing the inhabitants of Shoeless Joe. Both J. D. Salinger and Moonlight Graham are especially good examples of characterization well done. They are complex individuals with motivations and desires, developed to the point of realism. While I don’t know enough about Salinger’s personal life story (beyond the usual facts of reclusiveness and rumors) to imagine this characterization was either well-researched or accurate, it certainly comes across as reasonably real.

Shoeless Joe has been, in my experience, surprisingly overlooked as a piece of good literature. Capital-L Literature, even. The novel is slow-paced, to be sure, and not a whole lot happens. But the prose is delicious to turn over in most passages, and there’s no doubt Kinsella-the-author does a fantastic job at weaving magic and realism into a seamless example of magical realism. None of it seemed so outlandish that it couldn’t be, particularly in the very sacred context of baseball. Like lots of Literature, it does at times seem pretentious and lofty, but it’s the tolerable kind that adds to the story, rather than detracting from it. Even if you’re not a fan of baseball, Shoeless Joe provides another look at the American Dream, wanting to be a part of something bigger than yourself, and the concept of spiritualism — and, it’s worth reading just to compare to the movie adaptation, Field of Dreams.

 

❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2010, 320 pages
Juvenile Fiction

In Sharon Draper’s Out of My Mind, Melody Brooks is eleven years old and has never spoken a word. In her wheelchair, she often meets issues of inaccessibility, but as she tells readers in her first-person narrative, she thinks things could be just a little easier if she could express herself with words. Image result for out of my mind sharon draperThough she has some very basic tools to communicate about things like needing the bathroom and being hungry, she’s been unable to make many deep connections outside herself due to her cerebral palsy. When a new technology comes into her life, Melody is suddenly able to get more involved than ever before, but there are challenges she perhaps didn’t anticipate that must be met.

There’s no getting away with writing a review for Out of My Mind without mentioning R. J. Palacio’s Wonder. Both telling the story of a child with physical challenges (one more cosmetic than the other), both novels were published within the last seven years. While Out of My Mind appeared in 2010, Wonder came out in 2012. Between the two, Out of My Mind is superior for the simple fact that it does better work in not falling into the trap of being inspiration porn. Melody is angry and not afraid to show it. She is not always kind, she is not always understanding. And it is this that makes her a sympathetic character, paradoxically enough. Where Auggie of Wonder is known for being extra kind (and certainly this is admirable), he is also essentially awarded for having a disability, which boils down to something offensive — people with disabilities are more than their disabilities, and it is exactly Melody’s negative traits that demonstrate this so clearly.

Another success of Out of My Mind is Draper’s refusal to treat ten-year-olds like toddlers. Frequently, Melody’s peers do things that are cruel, even as they know they are wrong for it. Draper makes no excuses here, heightening the realism of the novel, which again further brings home the point. Even adults are not immune to mistreating Melody, though sometimes this happens — as in real life — with good intentions. The discomfort Draper brings out on the page is excellently handled because she does not suppose that this behavior is cartoonish or the result of a lack of realizing the action is wrong. Sometimes, people are just cruel, and where Palacio tip-toes around this concept, Draper takes it head on in a much more effective manner.

There are some shortcomings in Out of My Mind. On top of being a difficult topic, the first half of the narrative is startlingly slow and repetitive. This serves Melody as a character, of course, and readers’ empathy for her — just as Melody’s life has been monotonous and frustrating in part, as a result of her inability to communicate as others do, so is the reading experience prior to her acquisition of communication assistant technology. Too, Melody is said to have a photographic memory, but this trait doesn’t seem to play out in the reality of the story — perhaps this is a miscommunication of what exactly “photographic memory” means in Melody’s case, but she still must drill trivia questions as she prepares for a tournament in a series of study sessions with her neighbor/caretaker.

I can’t outright say that I loved Out of My Mind. Stylistically, I struggled with Draper’s writing and found it to be slogging in many places. There’s no doubt that the novel touches on a difficult and important topic, but this alone does not a great or enjoyable book make. Though certainly a useful story for a classroom, book club, or heart-to-heart discussion, Out of My Mind is not the thing to reach for if you’re looking for a fun, strictly-entertaining read. Still, if you’re between Wonder and Out of My Mind, go with the latter — not only does the book mostly avoid being inspiration porn, but it also was written by a woman of color and touches on life with cerebral palsy in a reflective and no-punches-pulled manner.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

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