Reading Update: It is Monday, March 3, and as of today I’ve read 21 books toward my goal of 52 for the year. I’m beginning to think that I may want to change that goal earlier as opposed to later; I never dreamed I’d be almost halfway there before April. Of course, a lot of my reading has been less than totally intellectually challenging or time-consuming.
In the past week, I’ve read three books. One of them — a baby book called Red Dog – doesn’t have a cover image anywhere online. Here are the other two:
Jane, the Fox & Me by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault, is a very beautiful illustrated story — graphic novel? sorta? — about a girl in Montreal who finds herself ostracized and bullied by the girls she once thought of as friends. Unhappy with her life, her changing body, her clothes, Hélène hides away inside the world of Jane Eyre and uses it as a lodestone for the better life she hopes one day to find. The fox comes into play when Hélène goes to a school camp, encounters the titular creature, and makes a new friend. It is beautifully illustrated and a lovely sort of thing to read on a drizzly afternoon. A lot of women/girls will be able to empathize with Hélène.
Where Jane. the Fox & Me is lovely and intimate, Boxers is awful and epic. The first in a pair of graphic novels (the second is Saints, which I hope to read this week) about the Boxer Rebellion of China in 1898-1900, it challenged, disturbed, and educated me. For those not in the know (like me, pre-reading), the Boxer Rebellion was a violent uprising against foreigners — specifically Christians. This book puts the reader on Little Bao’s team, makes him a sympathetic and even inspiring character, and then makes the reader watch as Little Bao commits atrocities. Except, of course, you’re left wondering what “atrocity” means, and what the spread of Christianity really looks like to the non-Christian world, and ultimately it’s all just kind of hard to read (and impossible to put down). The illustrations will make this accessible to younger readers, but the subject matter makes it a book suitable for adults. If you’d like to know more, I encourage you to check out this review from GLW.
Currently Reading: I have been flipping through a couple of different books. I’m going to go ahead and claim Saints, although I haven’t opened it yet, because I know I’m going to read it in the next day or two. I think City of Dark Magic is going to stick (that is, I think I’ll end up finishing it) although I’m not going to make any promises just yet. Other books on my “I’ve read a few pages but I’m not committing yet” list include Outlander and These Broken Stars.
Looking Ahead: Probably could have lumped this category in with the previous.
This review originally posted at Guys Lit Wire.
Recently, I ordered several books for our school library, including this much-hyped middle grade novel about immigration reform. I mean, about conditions in the meat processing industry. No! It’s about corruption in the legal system based on the evils of money. Ack! What I am trying to say is, a novel about ZOMBIES. Yeah, that’s right! It’s about zombies, and baseball. Or so I am reminded, when I look at the cover….
Okay, I should be fair. This was actually a pretty darn good book for what it is, and even though I’m about to point out its weaknesses, it overall gets a thumbs-up from me. Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Bacigalupi is a grody, funny adventure story of the classic “groups of kids running around with curiously little parental supervision” sub-genre. It’s a buddy story, written in an accessible style, with plenty of the stuff that middle school boys like: slapstick, comic books, sports, video games, cars, oblivious adults, crazy heroics, poop. You know: the good stuff. I found myself smiling, compulsively turning pages, reading choice bits aloud, and rooting for the good guys. It was a fun read.
On the other hand, Zombie Baseball Beatdown is also a not-at-all veiled polemic against racism, the meat industry, American immigration policy, and big business. As my husband, who is an expert in such things, reminds me, zombies are always political metaphors. And of course, subtlety isn’t really in order when you’re writing middle grade literature. That said, ZBB really lays it on thick. My personal politics weren’t offended by the book, but it didn’t take much imagination to realize that plenty of readers would be completely turned off by the story’s message and end up walking away from what was otherwise a fun story. Obviously the use of fiction to promulgate ideology is nothing new (hello, pretty much everything you ever had to read for a high school English class) but a lighter hand with the vituperation might not have been uncalled-for here.
As an adult reader of a kid’s book, I was uncomfortable with the violent ideation. It bothered me that almost all of the protagonists’ (adult) nemeses conveniently got zombified, providing the kids with ample excuse to beat them up with baseball bats. I mean, I’m not so far gone that I can’t see how this would appeal to a middle schooler’s sense of justice; heck, some of these adults were so rotten before become zombies that I wanted to smack them myself. But there are a few violent (for a middle grade novel) moments where the kids get to deliver what ought to have been fatal beatings to adults in their lives, and they left me feeling a little disturbed. The inevitable zombie apocalypse scene blithely glosses over the fact that the kids are bludgeoning their erstwhile parents and neighbors.
Looking back on the novel, I realize that there are really no positive adults in this book, and ZBB fails the Bechdel Test big time. I’m not really counting that as a flaw here; it’s clearly a book intended for young guys, and the characters are pretty awesome. Our main character is a smart (but not caricature-smart) Indian-American boy who isn’t much of a baseball player but has a good head for stats. One of his friends is a courageous, big-hearted Mexican-American boy from a family of illegal immigrants, and the other is a Martin Riggs type with a rough home life. Together, the trio face enemies small, large, bovine, and undead. The ending is deliberately untidy, in such a way that felt exactly right to me and will frustrate the heck out of its target demographic.
Ultimately, this is a book that I’ll still sincerely recommend to kids who will either gloss over the politics or not mind them, and it’ll have a prominent place in our Halloween book display next October. It may make Cory Doctorow’s YA lit look subtle in comparison, but Zombie Baseball Beatdown is also a zombie-infested revenge fantasy filled with lots of cow poop — what’s not to love?
I’m taking a few minutes to sit, and it was either stare gloomily at Pinterest or come over here, so here I am.
I’ve just realized that I never made my work coffee this morning. The coffee in my mug, only half-consumed, was brewed at 6:30 AM. Yum. No wonder I’m tired and thirsty.
Man, I hurt.
Since having Henry, I’ve had pelvic pain — not severe enough that I’ve felt the need to do anything about it, but the muscles or tendons or whatever in there just aren’t as well-strung as they once were. I’m always “yoinking” my hips. Pushing something heavy — say, a cart full of books — goes straight to my pelvis, and because the hip bone is connected to the back bone, that then goes to my lower back, which goes to my stomach, and so basically I’m spending a fair amount of time wishing I could somehow ace-bandage my hip joint into the pelvic bone. Add to that all of the lugging-of-baby and weird positions we sit in while holding babies, and I’m pretty sure I’d make a chiropractor cackle with glee and call his accountant with good news.
So our school has a used book sale every year, which is this massive labor-intensive project, and has been head up for the past several years by a supermom volunteer who lets boxes of books take over her entire garage for the sale while they are sorted and stored. This year, I was encouraged to do the sale again despite the fact that supermom had moved out of state — and no other parents were jumping up and down to take her place. The easiest solution seemed to be for me to step into the volunteer coordinator’s role. I mean, how hard could it be to sort donated books as they come in?
And the answer is, not hard — but hard. I mean, my brain doesn’t falter under the weight of book sorting. But I’ve spent the better part of the day, every day for the last week, pushing around heavy (poorly-wheeled) carts full of often grimey books, bending over, picking them up, sorting them into cardboard boxes, and moving/stacking filled cardboard boxes. And if you’ve ever had the misfortune to help us move, or anyone else with a sizeable collection of books, you know exactly how much fun cardboard boxes full of books are. Nearly 2,200 books so far, and three more days worth coming — hopefully getting us close to my goal of 5,000 (about half of what we’ve had in the past, and not nearly as well sorted, but I’m trying to finish up a yearbook and be a librarian too, so it’ll be what it’ll be).
I don’t mean to complain. It’s kind of fun, and I took it on myself. But it is really exhausting, and really physically demanding, and I hurt.
It’s an interesting project. I open a bag or box of books and it’s a little window into the donor. Most of the kids are bringing in benign bags of outgrown children’s books, but the teachers are culling from their own collections. It’s fun to reach in and pull out a double fistful of gory thrillers, or enough romance novels to fill a bookshelf. Political books! Pedagogy books! Books that reveal religious beliefs, eating habits, family issues. I open a bag and discover a kindred spirit, or someone with whom I apparently disagree on just about everything.
(I want to take a second right now to say that I have no idea which person is connected to which book; if there were names on the boxes/bags, they’ve long since been removed by the time I get around to sorting.)
Who is this person? I wonder. We would have so much to talk about. Or: I wish I knew so I’d be sure never to bring up politics around them.
Then again, that’s a silly game to play, because maybe these books didn’t belong to any of my coworkers at all. They could be a spouse’s books, or books left over from a neighbor’s garage sale, or books they collected for the drive from all of their church friends.
And besides, they’re the books that the donor decided to get rid of — not her treasured personal library. What says more about a person: the books on her shelf, or the books in her donate pile?
By the way, I searched for a picture of cardboard boxes to illustrate this post, and found the picture below, and now I can’t wait for Henry to be big enough to do this because DUDE.
Reading Update: It is Tuesday, February 25, and as of today I have read 18 books toward my 2014 goal of 52.
Orange is the New Black is our book club selection for this month. It was a good read: thought-provoking and engaging without being especially taxing. I didn’t find it to be as hilarious as promised, but it was a pleasantly complex and forthright examination of a world I hope never to know any more personally than this. I liked the author and how she wrestled with and handled her identity as an educated, wealthy, privileged white woman in the prison community; my favorite part was the end (an addition to the paperback edition) where we learn what she did with her privilege to help those who helped her through her incarceration. My only complaint, if I can even call it that, is that I kept reaching for a plot arc that didn’t exist — and I blame Kerman. Her writing style kept teasing us with the next shoe to drop, except that it was a memoir and not a novel, and so things didn’t play out according to classical story structure. Not sure whether that’s fair to even mention, but there you have it.
This Star Won’t Go Out is the collected papers (journal, emails, etc.) of and about Esther Grace Earl, a Nerdfighter who didn’t inspire John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars but to whom the book was dedicated, for glaringly obvious reasons. So yeah, you’re basically stepping inside the mind and world of a young teenage girl who has by now died of cancer, and if you’re the sort of person who lets things like that get to you (like, ah-hem, me) then you’re going to spend a few hours pretending that you’re not crying. I’m not really 110% sure that this was a good book, but it was certainly a reflection of a good person, and I couldn’t put it down, so take that as you will. It’s certainly a loving and lasting legacy of a girl who never forgot to be awesome, and I’m proud of her and of her family and friends for making sure that her star doesn’t go out.
On a completely different note we have Zombie Baseball Beatdown, which I’ll be reviewing for GLW here in a few days, so stay tuned.
Currently Reading: I just finished ZBB last night and haven’t started anything new yet.
Looking Ahead: I’m currently carrying around These Broken Stars but I’m not exactly feeling inspired at this moment in time. The library just got in a box of graphic novels that are looking more my speed today, but that might be because I have a headache.