God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy – Fantastic
This is one of the most poetic, beautiful novels I’ve read in a long time. It was delicate, it was nuanced, it was layered, and it was a deeply cultural experience that dealt with both national and imperial ideas, as well as struggles with identity, history, family, and loyalty. I highly recommend it.
Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga – Great
This reminded me somewhat of Ngozi’s novel Purple Hibiscus. I was struck by the sense of space and food in this novel, and the way they reflect relationships and reinforce power dynamics and roles within the family. I really enjoyed this one.
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys – Fantastic
I wrote on WSS this semester, and I really enjoyed it. Rhys’s writing is spot-on. It’s gorgeous, and I have a special respect for it because of the research and time I put into the writing I did. Rhys’s connection to Jane Eyre was so personal, so vibrant, and so fearless, and I really admire that. There’s this incredible sense of urgency in this novel– an urgency to exist, an urgency to be heard, an urgency, on a broad scale to legitimize not just the character of Bertha Rochester, but the whole Caribbean world and its cultures. I highly recommend reading it– it’s a fantastic, literary response to a book that I think really earned one.
The Colonial Harem by Malek Alloula – Great
A great expose of colonial-era French Orientalizing postcards. I know that sentence sounds weird, but that’s what this book is. It looks at a body of 50 or so images that romanticize Moorish and North African women for a French market. The essay that Alloula has composed to go with it is thoughtful and insightful– I really admire the job he has done looking at colonialism and exploitation through a different but very concrete lens. Can you tell I did a lot of my work around Orientalism and Colonialism this semester?
The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon (French) – Good, at times great
This book is an anthem of sorts. A revolutionary cook book. It’s fascinating to look at as a literature student– I do have some issues and questions with the particular translation I read. The best part, I believe, is the last chapter, where he goes through case studies of people he has worked with as a therapist. I found that chapter both terrifying and heartbreaking. Fanon is really at his strongest, I think, when he’s showing you the effects of imperialism and colonialism, showing you why it’s mutually destructive and should be abandoned.
Terrorist by John Updike – Nope.
Nope. That’s all. Oh? More? Updike can’t talk about a woman– any woman, for any length of time, in any context– without mentioning boobs. I’m not exaggerating. His characters are flat, and the affair between the guidance counselor character and the mother wasn’t just distracting and irritating, it was extraneous. If Lifetime Movies ever drafted a team of writers to construct a movie about terrorist cells in America, this book would be the backbone of their plot. Don’t get me wrong, Updike can write very lovely sentences– he’s a stunningly lovely writer when he wants to be. But read a different Updike book. It’s not one of his best.
Islamophobia by Peter Gottschalk and Gabriel Greenberg – Good
This book focused on the treatment of Islam in political cartoons at several key junctures in history. The argument here that I thought was both different and worthwhile was that Islamophobia is not new and is not an isolated reflection on the events of 9/11– it has a history reaching back to the Crusades, according to the authors. They do a rather nice job outlining this history, identifying the key places where visual Islamophobia and Anti-Islam stereotyping have run rampant, and outlining national and cultural symbols which have been weaponized in the process. It’s a niche read, but it’s very interesting, and very approachable. It probably honestly deserves a better rating than I’ve given it here.
Jihad Next Door by Dina Temple-Raston – Good
Written like a novel, but it’s not a novel– it’s an account of the Lackawanna Six. It has its good parts and its bad parts. Her characterizations become annoying in places, and I happen to be from about an hour away from Buffalo, so I have my own set of opinions. Overall it was very readable, and does a reasonably good job humanizing a group of men who became villainized very quickly in the wake of 9/11. It’s an interesting read.
Missing by Sunaina Marr Maira – Good
Maira might have broken my heart a little bit. She interviews a group of young Muslim-American immigrants from a variety of countries, and the sense of struggle they have, reconciling their culture with their new country, is staggering and heart breaking. It reminded me of a lot of students that I’ve worked with. I was also particularly taken with her concept of immigrant time. I think she really has something meaningful and important to contribute to the conversations about immigration happening in the United States and other Western countries. She’s dealing, very effectively, with the impact that our politics and our international maneuvering has on the next generation.
Guantanamo Boy by Anna Perera – Okay
I wanted more from it. There were parts of it that I thought had so much potential. One chapter slides sideways into experimental fiction, reflecting an altered mental state after torture. That chapter was striking and effective, but it was so isolated. I would have loved for her to have played more with form and genre to reinforce emotional resonance. As far as story line goes, it’s okay, if formulaic. Certain things, like uncertainty about his cousin and his father while he is in Guantanamo, and who exactly reported him and got him sent there, were very well handled.
Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris- Good
I fracking love the Santaland Diaries. I listen to it every year on NPR. It’s a personal Christmas tradition. I also have a well-documented writer’s crush on Sedaris. I actually treated myself at the end of the semester by reading this book. I’d read about half of it before, between the Santaland Diaries and Dinah, the Christmas Whore, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – Fantastic
My favorite thing about Dickens is his villainesses. Madame Defarge is one of the most sinister ladies in literature. Similarly, Miss Havisham is awesomely crazy. She’s just great. She’s sinister, she’s tragic, she’s ridiculous, and she’s just in an alternate dimension about half of the time. Estella, also, is a pretty spectacularly-played bitch. Also, this might tell you a bit about my personality– I liked the original ending better. John Irving wrote a really nice introduction to the edition that I read, and he made a few points that I really agreed with. Particularly, that it was harder to deal with the kindnesses Pip receives from Joe, Biddy, and Magwitch than it is to deal with the horrible cruelties wrought on him by his sister (who never actually gets a first name), Estella, and Miss Havisham. Also, you could have a field day with the names in this book, from an analytical perspective.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – Great
I do have a certain pronounced soft spot for Victorian and Romantic Gothic novels. I do count Jane Eyre in that group. I re-read a fairly long portion of this book for a paper, and I was reminded just how well-crafted and how carefully nuanced this book is. There so many details that become so important. She handles dramatic irony so well that the book is almost better as a re-read– now you know what the cause of Rochester’s incessant brooding is, and you ALMOST feel badly for him. Mostly not, though. Then again, Jean Rhys sold me pretty hard on loving crazy Bertha Rochester.
A Suitable Enemy by Liz Fekete – Great
Fekete is writing about the immigration detention centers and “deportation machine” in Europe. This is the kind of book that really elucidates and complicates the problems presented in novels like Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits. Like Missing, Fekete is really interested in delineating actual effects of Islamophobia and its politics. If you’re at all interested in racial profiling, immigration, or international politics, I highly recommend this book.
Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole – Okay
I’m struggling to really judge this one because it’s attempting to be medieval instead of 18th century, and because it was freaking hilarious. I will definitely give Walpole props for being creative– of all the ways to begin a book, I would never have thought of DEATH BY SUDDEN AND INEXPLICABLE GIANT HELMET. How big? Big enough that they use it for a prison. I love the ridiculous. I have a well-documented love of the ridiculous. I also loved the giant GHOST!SMASH at the end. Also, there was a portentous nosebleed. Now, outside of all of these beautiful absurdities, it managed to drag through the middle as the scheming prince tried to figure out how to marry his son’s bride, given the sizable obstacles of 1) already being married himself, and 2) her thinking he’s groady. Overall, I’d say read it for the ridiculous, wade patiently through fifty pages of UGH WHERE ARE MY GHOSTIES?! and then be amused by the ridiculous ending.
Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro – Good
This is one of those books that, for no quantifiable reason, read really quickly for me and was really enjoyable. Not a lot happens– actually, the book is more about what doesn’t happen, or what Stevens doesn’t want to admit is happening. Dripping with quiet ironies and crippling English mannerisms, it’s the kind of thing I would definitely recommend to Anglophiles and Austen addicts.
Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson – Great
This is one of those seminal texts that really holds up. Anderson is examining ideas of nationalism and loyalty, nation-building and identity formation. We accept, almost out of hand, that nations exist and have always existed. He has a lot of very marvelous observations, and my one major critique is one of the things I also admired– his cases studies and examples are extremely broadly based. He jumps around everywhere– Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, South America– and it shows that the trends are pervasive, but it also remains difficult to follow an isolated nation’s thread.
The Boys Vol. 1 & 2 by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson – Good, at times great
This series was loaned by a friend, who thought the idea would appeal to me. Other than the occasionally repetitive and gratuitous sex scenes and fixation on perversity and homosexuality in super heroes, the series reads smoothly. It moves pretty quickly, and while there are no great reveals, certainly not this early in the series, it manages to be both tragic and funny, which is the kind of line that interests me. It also manages to engage with the idea of super heroes in an interesting and pointed way. Also, I love the Frenchman. The art style leaves me somewhat cold, there’s nothing really special about it, and I’m not a huge fan of the Butcher’s design.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, illustrated by Gustave Dore – Fantastic
Dore’s work is beautiful, and this is one of his last literary illustrations– second to last, if I remember correctly. The two pieces lend themselves to each other. The compositions Dore creates are really daring and beautiful, and the depth and variety of shade is breathtaking. I’m a printmaker, also, so I’m somewhat biased. However, I also have yet to meet a person who is not taken with the power and precision of Dore’s illustration.