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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