TSS – Small changes

We are one month into the new year and there have been some very subtle changes to Regular Rumination in the new year.  You probably haven’t really noticed them – they’ve been personal goals that I’ve been trying to fulfill slowly and surely.  One small thing I have changed is adding a unique title to each of my posts.  I decided to do that because I really had only two or three titles that I would change slightly.  Such as Review – Title – Author, TSS – Date.  Maybe once in a small while I’d have a uniquely titled post, and honestly I can’t really tell you if it made any difference, but it seems important to have a title that properly evokes what the post is about.  So tell me, does that make a difference when you’re reading a post?  Do you even really notice the titles of blog posts?

I’ve also been trying to make my posts more well-crafted.  This has been a very personal goal over the past month or so.  I became a little disappointed with the overall quality of my reviews.   The writing was less than great and a lot of times I felt like I was just posting to post, even if I didn’t have  a clear idea of what I wanted to say about a book.  It became more important to have a post for you to read than to really spend a lot of time with a post.  Part of the problem is the fact that I have less time when I’m in school, so I would rush to finish a review.  I realize now that I would rather have a well-crafted review than four posts a week.  Maybe that should have been obvious, but to be honest, at the end of last year it really wasn’t.   Maybe if this hasn’t been as noticeable as I think, that’s probably a good thing, but I hope that the quality of my posts is better than it once was.

Well, that’s all for this Sunday.  I have lots of things to think about, but for today I will be reading In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker and Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldúa for class.  What are you reading?

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Poetry Wednesday – Sherman Alexie

This Poetry Wednesday, I thought it would be fitting to include poems from Sherman Alexie because I just reviewed his novel Flight.  I love it when authors cross over from poetry or fiction – often you can see the influences of fiction on their poetry and poetry in their fiction and this is certainly true of Alexie.  Alexie talked about the event that he describes in this poem during his interview with Nancy Pearl that I posted yesterday and I didn’t know he turned it into a poem until I tried to find a poem to post today.  I love it.

Grief Calls Us to the Things of This World

The morning air is all awash with angels
Richard Wilbur

The eyes open to a blue telephone
In the bathroom of this five-star hotel.

I wonder whom I should call? A plumber,
Proctologist, urologist, or priest?

Who is most among us and most deserves
The first call? I choose my father because

He’s astounded by bathroom telephones.
I dial home. My mother answers. “Hey, Ma,

I say, “Can I talk to Poppa?” She gasps,
And then I remember that my father

Has been dead for nearly a year. “Shit, Mom,”
I say. “I forgot he’s dead. I’m sorry—

How did I forget?” “It’s okay,” she says.
“I made him a cup of instant coffee

This morning and left it on the table—
Like I have for, what, twenty-seven years—

And I didn’t realize my mistake
Until this afternoon.” My mother laughs

At the angels who wait for us to pause
During the most ordinary of days

And sing our praise to forgetfulness
Before they slap our souls with their cold wings.

Those angels burden and unbalance us.
Those fucking angels ride us piggyback.

Those angels, forever falling, snare us
And haul us, prey and praying, into dust.

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This poem is absolutely beautiful and full of grief.  But he expresses it so beautifully and simply.

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Call me Zits in Sherman Alexie’s Flight

Sherman Alexie is one of those authors that everyone loves and for good reason.  He’s ambitious, witty, fearless and unbelievably creative.  I’ve been interested in picking up more of his books recently, especially after reading and loving The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time IndianTen Little  Indians and some of Alexie’s poetry last year.  I’ve also been listening to Nancy Pearl’s podcasts on my commute and one of her older archived interviews was with Sherman Alexie right after he published Flight, which is, as far as I can tell, one of his least popular books to date.  It did not sell well and has received very mixed reviews.  Something about the way Alexie talked about his narrator Zits really made me want to read it and I suggest everyone go watch the video!  If that doesn’t make you want to read Flight, I’m not sure what will.

“Call me Zits,” the novel begins, introducing us to one of the most original narrators I’ve read in a long time.  He’s a half-white-half-indian teenager who has been wronged by life, a not uncommon tale, of an absent father and a loving mother who dies when Zits  is young, forcing him into an uncertain life going from foster care family to foster care family.  After one particular incident with a new foster care family, Zits is arrested and while in jail he meets Justice.  Justice convinces him that he can bring his mother back, but only if he kills someone in a revenge murder.  So Zits shoots up a bank and is killed by a police officer, dying immediately.

But that’s not where Zits’s story ends, that’s only where it begins.  As Alexie explains in the video, he becomes “unstuck in time” like Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse Five, going from one moment in American history to the next.  At each moment, he experiences a revenge killing of sorts, making him relive the moment when he made the decision to shoot the bank.  Zits inhabits the body of all sorts of men and boys throughout history – men who betray their wives, soldiers who betray their army, even a little boy who is asked to do an unspeakable thing.  Each time he feels the guilt multiplied until he cannot understand making that decision over and over and over again.

One thing I think is clear from reading Flight is that we are all capable of revenge.  It can be a small thing, it does not have to be as big as murder, but that is a human feeling.  It does not matter what race you are or what gender you are or what age you are.  It is a powerful human emotion that can make anyone do something they will regret.  Zits’s story ends well, at least he tells us it does.  We are left at the end, unsure of what to believe or knowing what was real.  In the end, though, it does not matter if it was real or all in Zits’s head.  It does not matter if he killed in 2007 or the 1970s or the 1700s, or if he killed at all.  What is important is what he learned along the way – the danger of exacting revenge for something that no one could stop and the ability to forgive.  At least we hope he learned something.

Alexie, through Zits, provides so many insights that make Zits completely believable as a character, such as:

And then it’s the white kid and me.

He sits on the floor at one end of the cell.  I sit on the floor at t he other end.  He stares at me for a long time. He’s studying me.

“What are you looking at?”  I ask.

“Your face,” he says.

“What about my face?”

“It doesn’t have to be like that,” he says.  “They got all sorts of medicine now.  I see it on TV.  They got miracle zit stuff.  Clear your face right up.”

I’ve seen those commercials too.  The ones where famous people like P. Diddy and Jessica Simpson and Brooke Shields talk about their zits and how they got cured by this miracle face cream made from sacred Mexican mud and the sweet spit of a prom queen.  And, yeah, I’d love to buy that stuff, but it costs fifty bucks a jar.  These days, you see a kid with bad acne, and you know he’s poor.  Rich kids don’t get acne anymore.  Not really.  They just get a few spots now and again. (21)

This novel is so unique, drawing on influences from literature and popular culture, but making it into a completely original story that encompasses many aspects of our culture in one short novel.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

Other reviews: Bibliofreak.

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Waiting for love? in Waiting by Ha Jin

What struck me about Waiting by Ha Jin, was not necessarily what this novel said about love, but instead the way it used a love story to portray life in China under communist rule.  At the heart of this novel is, as the title suggests, is waiting – but it is not waiting for love, instead it is waiting for the public acceptance of that love.  The need for an outside source to defend and give validity to a relationship ultimately is that relationships destruction.

Lin Kong is a doctor in the army, stationed in Muji City while his wife remains in the remote Goose Village to raise their daughter and care for her husband’s ailing parents.  While in Muji City, he falls in love for the first time with a nurse named Manna Wu.  For the next 18 years, Lin is torn between the two women.  He has never felt love for Shuyu, and never had the chance to let a love grow between them.  What he feels for Manna is completely foreign to him, and over the years, as he waits for his wife to grant him a divorce, his feelings for Manna become something that he cannot explain or define.

Every aspect of Shuyu,  Lin and Manna’s lives are controlled by the government and it marks every decision and move they make.  Manna and Lin cannot be together because the army forbids it.  Lin cannot divorce Shuyu because the government will not let him.  When one character gets raped, she cannot tell anyone because the government would not believe her.  It’s a comedy of errors that is as heartbreaking and frustrating.

She got up from the bed, went over to the wardrobe, and took out the box.  Removing the padlock, she opened the lid, whose underside was pasted over with soda labels.  A roll of cream-colored sponge puffed out, atop the other contents.  She took the roll out and unfolded it on the bed, displaying about two dozen Chairman Mao buttons, all fastened to the sponge.  Most of them were made of aluminum and a few of porcelain.  Their convex surfaces glimmered.  On one button, the Chairman in an army uniform was waving his cap, apparently to the people on parade in Tiananmen Square.  On another he was smoking a cigar, his other hand holding a straw hat, while talking with some peasants in his hometown in Hunan Province.

“Wow, I never thought you loved Chairman Mao so much,” Lin said with a smile.  “Where did you get so many of these?”

“I collected them.”

“Out of your love for Chairman Mao?”

“I don’t know.  They look gorgeous, don’t they?”

He was puzzled by her admiration.  He realized that someday these trinkets might become valuable indeed, as reminders of the mad times and the wasted, lost lives of the revolution.  They would become relics of history.  But for her, they didn’t seem to possess any historical value at all.  Then it dawned on him that she must have kept these buttons as a kind of treasure.  She must have collected them as the only beautiful things she could own, like jewelry.  (251)

This is not the first time that an author has used that concept of waiting to explain or define a corrupt government.  One that always comes to mind for me is a movie:   La Muralla Verde (The Green Wall) is a Peruvian film that uses the same mix of waiting, inevitability and senselessness; it is a very effective combination that, unfortunately, paints an accurate portrait.  Waiting has received mixed reviews as a love story, but as tragedy it succeeds.  Lin is a tragic character above all else, unable to rise above his own indecisiveness to have a fulfilled life.  Instead it is a life filled with waiting, always waiting for the happiness and love that never come.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

Other reviews: Books of Mee, A Striped Armchair, A Book A Week, Book Awards Challenge.

TSS: Some serious thoughts

It has been an interesting week, both in blogging land and in my personal life with the start of a new semester and it seems that I really have had a lot to think about.  I’ve been somewhat silent on many of the issues at hand, at least on my blog, I have been vocal in the comments, but it is important to me to publicly say what I think, because adding one more voice to the crowd is important.

There is first, of course, the question of whitewashing on book covers.  Magic Under Glass is a book I have not read, but it is clear that Bloomsbury made another big mistake.  I do not condone this and while I will not be boycotting the publisher (though I completely support those who are), I want to make it very clear that this is not okay.  It is completely unacceptable and I have a responsibility, as a reader, a reviewer, a purchaser of books, to make it clear to all publishers that yes, I (a white, middle class 20-something) will read and review and love books by POC.  This is not about liking a book just because an author has skin darker than mine, because no, I will not like every single book by or about a POC that I read and I will be completely honest about that, because to do anything less would be just as bad.  This is about reading about and becoming aware of  different cultures, and trying to understand.   With understanding, comes respect.  Thankfully, the blogging world is quick to respond to such things, and several new resources have arisen in the past week to help readers like me, who want to diversify their reading and make a point to put POC authors and books about POC characters in the spotlight.

Readers Against Whitewashing
Diversify Your Reading
POC Reading Challenge

Join one, join two, join three.  Or don’t join any, but do something if this is important to you.  Because no matter how small your voice is, and I know that in this big publishing world my voice is very small, you have the opportunity make someone listen.  So take advantage of that, use your blog for good.

But it is not all about POC.  It is about reading books that make a difference.  No, reading is not always about making a statement, but sometimes it is.  Why was I embarrassed when I was reading Twilight in public?  Why are some adults embarrassed to be reading a young adult book in public?  Because the book you choose to read says something about you, it informs the observer about you, whether you like it or not.  It just might get someone else reading the same kinds of books you are.   Not every single book I choose to read will make a difference, but I should make a point to tell you about the ones that will.  That is my philosophy and that is what I plan to keep doing this year.  One of my new years resolutions was to use the reading challenges I have joined (Women Unbound, GLBT Challenge, POC Reading Challenge) to make my reading more diverse and to raise awareness about people and cultures and issues that are different from my own.  Or even to explain, in the best way I know how, things that make my experience unique: by giving you a book to read.

Other thoughts on Magic Under Glass: Chasing Ray, Reading in Color, Color Online, 1330v.

Thoughts on the publisher’s decision about Magic Under Glass: Chasing Ray, Reading in Color, Color Online.

More thoughts on diverse reading: A Striped Armchair, Shelf Love.

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In other news, I have some giveaways to announce the winners of!  Chosen by random.org:

The winner of René has two last names/René tiene dos apellidos by Rene Colato Lainez is:

EMILY!

The winner of Under the Ceiba by Silvio Sirias is:

SOFT DRINK!

The winner of a button from The Strand New York is:

ASH!

Email me your addresses to regularrumination@gmail.com and they will be on their way!

Poetry Wednesday – Elizabeth Bishop

I hope you are as excited for the return of Poetry Wednesday as I am!  It got lost in the holiday shuffle, but it’s back in business, which coincides nicely with the announcement of Clover, Bee & Reverie: A Poetry Challenge that I’m hosting with Jason.  Today I am feeling sick of winter and cold after that warm spell we had last weekend.  I just have no time for this stupid thing called winter and I am really desperately holding out for spring.  One thing I miss most most are thunder storms and I adore poems about lightning and rain and thunder.  If you’ll remember, I already posted one poem about this from Mary Oliver, so when I opened up Elizabeth Bishop’s The Complete Poems 1927-1979 and the second poem I read was about a storm, I knew it was meant to be.

ELECTRICAL STORM

Dawn an unsympathetic yellow.
Cra-aack! – dry and light.
The house was really struck.
Crack! A tinny sound, like a dropped tumbler.
Tobias jumped in the window, got in bed –
silent, his eyes bleached white, his fur on end.
Personal and spiteful as a neighbor’s child,
thunder began to bang and bump the roof.
One pink flash;
then hail, the biggest size of artificial pearls.
Dead-white, wax-white, cold –
diplomats’ wives’ favors
from an old moon party –
they lay in melting windrows
on the red ground until well after sunrise.
We got up to find the wiring fused,
no lights, a smell of saltpetre,
and the telephone dead.

The cat stayed in the warm sheets.
The Lent trees  had shed all their petals:
wet, stuck, purple, among the dead-eye pearls.

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For me, what really makes this poem, are those last two lines.  They are beautiful, but describe destruction, and refer back to the hail that we were shown at the beginning.  It’s a lovely poem that shows just how closely fear and comfort, beauty and destruction are connected.

Grief and humor in Looking for Bapu

“The wrinkle-nosed woman turns again.  ‘You’re brave to wear your turban, young man.  With all the anxiety!’

Young man?  Mr. Singh must be at least forty.  ‘I’ve been honored to wear this turban for many years,’  he says, holding his head high.  ‘Throughout history people have fought and died for the right to wear it.  I will not take it off  now.’

The woman purses her lips.  ‘Well, you’re very brave.’  She turns ahead  again, and the line begins to move, finally.  I glance sidelong at Dad.  He looks Indian, but he whistles ‘American Pie’ in the shower and reads the Seattle newspaper in the morning.  My dad is not what anyone calls him.  My dad is just my dad.  Is it brave to be what you are, I wonder?  Brave to just be yourself?” (pg 63)

Continue reading Grief and humor in Looking for Bapu