Monday, June 11, 2018

Homegoing



Homegoing
by Yaa Gyasi
read: 2018

Reading Roots (OK, listening on Audiobook) was an eye-opening experience for me. Slavery was an abstract evil, but seeing how it destroyed Kunta Kinte's African culture - taking his name, music, and religion, and splitting him from his family - hammered home how dehumanizing it was. Part of Homegoing exists on a similar track, following a family generation-by-generation, through slavery and through the virtual slavery of the prison system.

Alternating chapters follow a parallel family branch that stayed in Africa. That struggle, I had little understanding of before. Slavery not only damaged African culture in the United States, but its tentacles crippled African society as well. European colonies pitted African tribes against each other, waging wars where the victors sold captives into the slave trade. Homegoing paints a picture of an Africa that whites have trampled on. Ultimately, it does suggest that there is something enduring about African culture that the evils of slavery and colonization could not kill. I hope that is true.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Violent Bear It Away



The Violent Bear It Away
by Flannery O'Connor
read: 2018

Flannery O'Connor doesn't make it easy to like her characters. Protagonist Francis Tarwater vacillates between the obsessive religious dogma of his great-uncle Mason and the atheistic revolt of his uncle Rayber, and isn't sympathetic in either mindset. Rayber and Mason are equally intolerant and unreasoning, coming from opposite sides, and Francis holds the same flaws. His faith is a compulsion, and his atheism puts him at war with himself. It's a morality tale, but one that almost excludes the possibility of goodness.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

From Here to Eternity



From Here to Eternity
World War II Trilogy
by James Jones
read: 2018
Modern Library #62, Guardian 1000 Novels

I've read some war novels in the past, but never a book that delved into what the the peacetime military. The primary concern for Private Robert E. Lee "Prew" Prewitt's unit in From Here to Eternity is the success of the boxing team, and Prew's refusal to join shows kind of a heroic integrity. The "jockstraps" get all the top ratings and cushy gigs, whether they deserve them or not. Prew, because he declines to fight, is not only passed over for the coveted bugler position, he is punished with KP duty, physical challenges, and, ultimately, the stockade. The possibility of war hangs in the background, but mostly the principals are concerned with playing guitars, gambling, getting money from gay benefactors, and frequenting whorehouses.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Crome Yellow



Crome Yellow
by Aldous Huxley
read: 2017
Guardian 1000 Novels

Crome Yellow, like Lucky Jim or A Dance to the Music of Time, satirizes early 20th Century British upper class society in ways that I don't really understand. I did identify with protagonist Denis, who possessed the lack of self-awareness, pretense to greatness, and cluelessness with women that I did in my early 20's. Uh, 'cause I've gotten wiser since then. Or something.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Tropic of Cancer



Tropic of Cancer
by Henry Miller
read: 2016
Time 100 NovelsModern Library #50, Guardian 1000 Novels

Why did people think On the Road was so revolutionary? Miller was doing almost the same thing 30 years earlier. I have to be in the right mood for this sort of thing, and I wasn't here, but I did enjoy some passages:
Every time I pass the concierge's window and catch the full icy impact of her glance I have an insane desire to throttle all the birds in creation. At the bottom of every frozen heart there is a drop or two of love - just enough to feed the birds.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

100 Bullets



100 Bullets
by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso
read: 2017

Having finished the 13 volumes of 100 Bullets, I'm tempted to immediately begin reading it again for what I missed. When did the plans of Graves and Shepherd diverge? What was Echo Memoria up to? What's the deal with the painting? How did Graves plant the trigger words? What was Wylie's plan, and did it work? Why did Shepherd recommend Lono as the Medici warlord? Why didn't Graves engage Victor sooner, and why did Victor team up with Lono's squad? What was the significance of Mr. Branch? Even after seeing how things wrapped up, many of the actions along the way still seem murky; I'm looking forward to reading it again knowing how things play out.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth



Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth
by Chris Ware
read: 2017
Guardian 1000 Novels

It took me a while to get into Jimmy Corrigan. I was expecting something funnier, but it was more of an introspective, personal graphic novel; I'd probably liken it Daniel Clowes' David Boring. The most interesting element to me was the shifting between the perspective of Jimmy and his grandfather as a child, dealing with the same elements of abandonment, isolation, and depression amidst the backdrop of the 1893 World Fair in Chicago.