Tuesday, July 25, 2017

'The Handmaid's Tale' by Margaret Atwood #BookReview

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an amazing book, hard to read but hard to put down. The narrator, Offred (her real name may be June, as semi-confirmed by the author), could be almost any woman in American society, and with the flaming crap show of a presidency we have going on right now and the unholy alliance between the ultra-corporatist Republicans and the gullible, ultra-religious conservative Republicans, the United States turning into Gilead seems more realistic than at any other time in my life.

Edgar Allan Poe's Raven was correct: Nevermore will there be a balm in Gilead. The Christian theocracy is murderous and reduces women to their bodies in a horrifying but realistic way. In the introduction, Atwood explains that everything that happens in the book has been done by a human society in the past - they've just never been synthesized like this.

Although Offred is the most relatable and likeable of protagonists, trapped in a situation in which she is only minimally complicit, and that by necessity, the best part of the book may be the "historical notes" at the end. In the coda, a team of academics who seem to be mainly Canadian First Nations folks in Nunavit are looking back on Gileadean society and analyzing how this division of Caucasian/Western civilization went so badly. (Hint: religious fundamentalism, racism, abuse of power, environmental abuse. Sound like anyone we know?)

I am a white people (as is the author), but I still like the idea that in the future, South Asians and First Nations people will have put white people in our place and will be studying us like we're extinct in the way that white Americans condescendingly refer to indigenous Americans in the present. Turnabout is fair play, as they say.

What happens to Offred is left deliberately ambiguous, but I'm an optimist and I would like to think that she made it to England and successfully gave birth to a healthy child, thanks to Nick helping her get to the Underground Femaleroad. I'd like to think that Nick and Luke are alive, too.

But I think Moira may actually be my favorite character. I haven't watched the TV show yet but I hope Moira is the character Ms. Samira Wiley (formerly of Orange is the New Black) is portraying. (But for some reason I keep picturing her looking like Ilana Glazer.) I respect Moira's defiance and refusal to accept her non-personhood.

Keep reading. Keep resisting. Keep playing Scrabble and knowing the meaning of obscure and difficult words. Knowledge is power. If you understood the messages of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World, read this book and remember it.

I borrowed this book from a family member and was not obligated in any way to review it.



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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Nonfiction: 'Waiting for the Punch' by Marc Maron

Waiting for the Punch: Words to Live by from the WTF PodcastWaiting for the Punch: Words to Live by from the WTF Podcast by Marc Maron

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’d never heard Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, but I read parts of this book because I was interested in a lot of the people he interviewed on his show about universal topics like relationships, mental health, and sexuality.

I skipped some of the interview subjects whose names I didn’t know or whom I didn’t think were quite as interesting, but the ones I read had a lot of good, insightful things to say. Some of the interviewees whose wisdom I gleaned from this book included:

Ali Wong
Anna Kendrick
Barack Obama
Carl Reiner
Carrie Brownstein
Chelsea Peretti
Dan Savage
Dave Foley
Elizabeth Banks
Judy Greer
Kevin Hart
Leslie Jones
Margaret Cho
Mel Brooks
Melissa Etheridge
Michael Keaton (talking about Tim Burton, Batman, and Beetlejuice)
Natasha Lyonne
Penn Jillette
Robin Williams
RuPaul Charles
Sarah Silverman
Sir Ian McKellen
Sir Patrick Stewart
Wanda Sykes

Some of these folks are real gems of human beings. They have a lot of worthwhile things to say. Some of these things are very funny, some are poignant, some are both. All of these people are smart people capable of articulating a coherent thought, which is shockingly refreshing in this era of idiocracy.

P.S. Congratulations, Chelsea Peretti, on the healthy birth of your son Beaumont Peele.

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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

'Hag-Seed' by Margaret Atwood

Hag-SeedHag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This is the first Margaret Atwood book I've ever read; I know she's enjoying a bit of a resurgence in popularity because her novel The Handmaid's Tale was made into a miniseries. I need to get around to reading that soon, too.

But in the meantime, it happens that I read Shakespeare's The Tempest last summer in anticipation of seeing the play performed at the University of Notre Dame. I was thus familiar enough with the play to make reading this a worthwhile experience. (I'm a big Shakespeare nerd anyway, and I love retellings.)

The novel itself is briskly paced and humorous with a lovable protagonist. Felix has suffered the tragic early death of his own little Miranda, but he imagines her so clearly she appears as a spirit-like character, a combination Miranda/Ariel in his own personal tempest.

Much of the novel is set in a prison. In her acknowledgments, Atwood mentions Orange Is the New Black as part of the long tradition of prison literature. I've been watching the series based on Piper Kerman's book (I just finished Season 5), and I appreciate how the Kerman, the book, and subsequently the series have brought attention to the abuse of prison inmates and the good work it's done in helping to humanize non-violent convicted persons. With that background, it's easy to get inside the heads of the prison characters in the novel. Some of the products of their imaginations are very rough around the edges, but Atwood is careful to root the grittiness in their experiences.

Atwood includes a summary of The Tempest in the book, so even if you haven't seen the play staged you can brush up before diving into the novel. But all the allusions - including the chapter headings - will make more sense if you've at least seen a movie version. (The acknowledgments also mention Julie Taymor's movie, which I highly recommend seeing. I still consider Russell Brand the ultimate Trinculo.)

I received this book from BloggingForBooks.com in exchange for a fair and honest review.



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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

5 Corporate Scandals

Oops! I accidentally got carried away while working on a freelance writing project and wrote way over my projected word count about corporate scandals. So please, enjoy this short list of awful things done in the name of capitalism.

If you are horrified and fascinated by these events, perhaps you would like to browse this blog's history tag.

1. Ford Pinto (1978). Ford made its Pinto models between 1971 and 1980. In 1971, Ford recalled 20,000 of its Pintos because of reports of vapors from the fuel tank leaking into the back of the car through the carburetor. In two legal cases, Ford was accused of producing a car it knew was unsafe, particularly in low-speed rear-end collisions. Three deaths and four incidents of serious injury were reported 1971-1974.

https://www.amazon.com/Was-Ford-Pinto-Death-Trap-ebook/dp/B017OFMRQI/
In 1978, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration ruled that the design of Ford’s fuel tank was defective. In 1980 the state of Indiana charged the Ford corporation with murder after three teenage girls were killed in one accident involving a Pinto, but the company was found not guilty.

2. Union Carbide (1984). The chemical manufacturer’s pesticide plant in Bhopal, India was so poorly maintained it caused the largest industrial disaster in history. The accidental release of methyl isocyanate caused the immediate suffocation deaths of more than 2,000 people, injuries in more than 50,000 people, and an additional gas-related death toll of perhaps another 8,000 people. Although the Indian government charged Union Carbide executives with homicide, the company claimed it was not under Indian jurisdiction and these officials did not appear in court to face these charges.

https://www.amazon.com/Five-Past-Midnight-Bhopal-Industrial/dp/0446530883/
3. Lincoln Savings and Loan (1989). The Lincoln S&L had been a respected financial institution since it was opened in Los Angeles in 1925. Its management ran the institution conservatively and made a modest profit.

When Charles Keating purchased Lincoln S&L in February 1984, Keating increased the company’s profits five-fold by taking on riskier and riskier investments. As a result, the parent company was forced to declare bankruptcy and 21,000 investors, many of them elderly, lost their savings.

4. Firestone Natural Rubber Company (1990). Firestone Tire and Rubber Company opened this natural rubber plantation in Liberia in 1926. Leased from the Liberian government, the plantation was the largest of its kind in the world. Human rights groups have documented numerous worker complaints about conditions in the plantation, ranging from accusations of child labor violations to modern-day slavery.

Civil war broke out in Liberia in 1990, and a resistance group took over the Firestone plantation. Although all the details of the what happened on the plantation at that time are unclear, what is known is that warlord Charles Taylor made Firestone Natural Rubber Company his base of operations and that Taylor was convicted in international criminal court for war crimes.

5. Halliburton (2010). Founded in 1919, the Halliburton Company is among the world’s largest oil field service companies. It has been involved in numerous scandals over the years, from accusations of illegal trading with the enemy when a subsidiary opened an office in Tehran to charges of obstructing an investigation by deleting data related to the Deep Water Horizon oil rig explosion of 2010. Halliburton was found to be jointly responsible, along with BP and another oil company, of negligent practices that caused the deaths of 11 employees and the discharge of 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

'Geekerella' by Ashley Poston Book Review

GeekerellaGeekerella by Ashley Poston

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

'Geekerella' is a sweet, fun, charming retelling of the Cinderella fairy tale. Its heroine, Elle, bonded with her late father through the sci-fi television series 'Starfield.' Its prince is Darien Freeman, an actor on a soapish evening drama series recently cast as 'Starfield's Prince Carmindor in a movie reboot.

Elle is not initially happy with this casting decision. A nice twist is that part of the book is written from her point of view and part is written from Darien's. I don't think I've ever read a "Cinderella" version that gives us the prince's POV before.

Darien and Elle correspond via text without knowing who the other person is in real life. They fall in love through each other's words and their shared love of 'Starfield.' In a way, they become Carmindor and the fictional TV series' heroine, Princess Amara. There's a wicked stepmother and a lost shoe, but this retelling is contemporary and fresh enough to make it all seem new.

An important detail about this book is that it has a Cosplay Ball, and at that ball, a Dean Winchester and a Castiel are a dancing couple. (Okay, maybe that's only an important detail if you're a Destiel shipper.)

I'm more of a fanfiction writer than a cosplayer, so I didn't quite identify with Elle as much as I did with Cath Avery in Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl. Still, this is in 'Fangirl's wheelhouse, and fans of Rowell's geeky romance should enjoy this romantic geeky retelling.

I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway and was not obligated in any way to review it.

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Friday, May 12, 2017

'Democracy In Black' #Nonfiction #Politics

Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American SoulDemocracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is excellent at describing what the problem is, but a bit lacking in practical solutions on how to solve the problem. Professor Glaude isn't responsible for single-handedly solving the race problems in the U.S.A., of course, but I did think that at the beginning of the book he said that he would focus on what could be done other than more preaching to the choir.

The #1 problem, as summed up in this book, is that white Americans fundamentally need to change the way we view African-Americans before anything will truly change. Professor Glaude then goes on to describe how contemporary African-American politics, including the presidency of Former President Obama, exacerbate rather than deal with the problem. Namely, the Black Left is too worried about placating and catering to white ideas of what an African-American politician should be to be considered "acceptable."

The result is that the Democratic Party counts on the support of the African-American voting block without actually creating policies that do anything to make Black life in America any better. It's a huge frustration, quite disheartening, and a problem that grass-roots activism is going to have to work really, REALLY hard to make a dent in.

I received a paperback copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a fair, honest review.

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

'When God Made You' #childrensbook by Matthew Paul Turner and David Catrow

When God Made YouWhen God Made You by Matthew Paul Turner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a beautifully written and beautifully illustrated picture book with words by Matthew Paul Turner and images by David Catrow. The star of the book is an unnamed little girl who appears to be about four years old. She's a girl of African descent with an adorable little face and beautiful natural hair in braids.

I knew I was going to love the illustrations when I opened the cover and saw the abstract, rainbow-hued "squiggle" artwork on the inside. On the first story page, a cat of perhaps Siamese persuasion is making a very cat-like face on one side of our heroine, and a fluffy little dog is looking very curiously at her story book on her other side. Her baby sister plays contentedly on the floor. It's a charming illustration in watercolors and a few lines of black ink.

The story introduces children to the concept of being created as a unique creation in God's image. It would be a nice lesson for a young children's Sunday school class, for a religious or home-school kindergarten or preschool class, or for a bedtime story. The illustrations get increasingly whimsical.

Overall, this book is an absolute joy.

I received a copy of this book from BloggingForBooks.com in exchange for writing this review. I was not otherwise compensated.

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