Five Best Selling Novels

Aug. 23rd, 2017 02:59 pm
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      . . . . It must be summer all right.  I've read 5 novels already, and August still has 8 more days to go!


The historical fictions first . . . .


Martha Conway. (2017) The Underground River. Touchstone, New York.


Set on the Ohio, 1838, in a Floating Theater, featuring a seamstress, who finds herself by helping enslaved people escape from Kentucky to Ohio. The problem, however, is this is 1838, deep into the Panic of 1837. Van Buren is POTUS, inheriting  the consequences of Andrew Jackson’s ignorant, thus destructive economic policies, which the concentrically related conditions he created plunged the USA into the deepest and longest economic depression in the constant cycle of boom and bust economy of the country until the Great Depression of 1930’s. By 1837 - 38, businesses of all kinds, great and small, in the US and abroad, particularly England, from banks to leather shops are failing and have failed everywhere.  There is no, none, nada, credit to be had by anyone, except the very few richest individuals in the country. 


So then this reader cannot help wondering how these poor people along the Ohio River between Kentucky and Ohio find the bit of coin to pay admission to the Floating Theater, which isn't even a steamboat, but a barge? How in the world does the Floating Theater on such margins already, keep going? 


From the Ohio History Connection -- 

. . . .  In Ohio, many people lost their entire life savings as banks closed. Stores refused to accept currency in payment of debts, as numerous banks printed unsecured (backed by neither gold nor silver) money. Some Ohioans printed their own money, hoping business owners would accept it. Thousands of workers lost their jobs, and many businesses reduced other workers' wages. It took until 1843 before the United States' economy truly began to recover. . . .

IOW, the author did a lot of research into many areas, which show up delightfully in her pages, but missing are the economic milieu of the period, which should be crucial to the story she wants to tell -- slavery is always about economics.


This is too bad for this reader, let me emphasize, as everyone else who has read and reviewed this novel appear to have never even heard of the Panic of 1837. But for this reader, this knowledge flowed constantly into the story, creating a great deal of interrogation of character and storylines. The book's characters are for the most part are interesting and vivid.  But this lack of inclusion in the story of this crucial event of the 1830's and 1840's showed equally vividly the author's contrivances, which resulted in a sense of the plot becoming almost glib and as nearly as flimsy as the scenery of the plays presented by the Floating Theater.




It also got this reader recollecting Edna Ferber's Showboat (1926). which was anything but flimsy.  It is set during in the post-bellum era of the Gilded Age.  Every shiver in the economy, every part of racism,  affects the people working on the floating theater steam boat, The Cottonblossom, over the three generations of the characters in this substantial work of historical fiction. 


Linnea Hartsuyker. (2017) The Half-Drowned King. HarperCollins, NY.


Cold climate fiction 9th century Norway, which this reader looked forward to, as the perfect book for that very hot, polluted and humid first week of August.  


Enthusiastically positive review in the historical fiction sections.  Multiple foreign rights sales.


This is first of a trilogy set in the same sort of chronotype as Nicola Griffith’s Hild.  This is the author's first novel since retiring from tech and achieving an MFA from NYU, thus the author isn't yet as skilled as Griffith.  The first sections are somewhat muddy slogging, as the reader attempts to locate where, when and why.  This is made more confusing by sudden switches in protagonists and their limited 3rd person point of view.  The novel  improves about half way through, just about where this reader was going to jettison it. 




The novel's titles are different in different countries.  Seeing the title for the Dutch version perhaps explains some of my initial difficulties with the novel, trying to figure out who and what it was about.  We open with the brother, Ragnvald, so one tends to think he’s the ‘real’ protagonist (and nothing changes one’s mind about that as the book progresses).  But the sister, Svanhilde, gets pov as well --  except when they are in scenes together we get them from his pov.  But the title in Dutch is De Legende Van Swanhilde -- so is Svanhilde the actual protagonist?


I’m guessing at least one of these two siblings will be in Iceland in the second volume.



Sarah Perry. (2016) The Essex Serpent. Serpents Tail – UK / HarperCollins, NY.


Set between January through November in a single year of the late Victorian era, this is a 'literary' historical fiction, which received glowing reviews in all the venues that review such fiction. For this reader though, the various parts do not connect thematically, and did not meld via the laborious and labored metaphor of the serpent of the title.  This serpent writhes throughout the text in the guise of several visions: prehistoric, i.e. scientific of the real, material world, superstition of the infernal, mystical vision of the divine, creative impetus of the imagine. These and more meanings of the serpent cycles into the consciousness periodically of the people who live in a village upon the Blackwater River in Essex, close to the sea. 


For someone who has read enormously in the great century of Victorian fiction, the characters felt as lesser shadows of all the Victorian characters we already know -- particularly those out of historical fiction -- rather than original figures in their own right.  Except they are given to thinking as if they are no different from thos who in the 21st century, which is how the author has taken pains to tell her readers they are not.  There is an exception of one of the peripherals, Naomi Banks, a motherless child with a hard drinking fisherman father.  It's her story that is the interesting one, but we don't get much.


This reader got very impatient before the end arrived.  The book felt about 60 pages too long, and it felt as though nothing amounted to much at all -- which is perhaps where it is like so many people alive today?


Contemporary fiction . . . 


Don Winslow. (2017) The Force. HarperCollins, New York.


Police thriller suspense in New York City, glowing reviews, hailed frequently as "the perfect beach read." This reader naturally then expected it to be perfect for hot humid summer nights, of which this month there have been many (with respites, thank goodness!) 


But what it did it feel like was one of those grey and dreary, interspersed with violence of weenie-wag over testosteroned New York City types from the later part of the second decade of the 21st century. However, the protag keeps telling us we're on the mean streets of  present day NYC, though, naturally, mostly we're in the supposedly still Fort Apache neighborhoods of uptown baby and the 'jects and kingpin drug dealers of heroin . . . . 


Narrated from the strictly limited point of view of the leader of the narcotics special forces protagonist, it sounds like something written no later than the last decades of the 20th century, with that hardboiled consciousness and narrative tone that was common for such fictions.  Never fear, however, the pages are well laced with whinings about how unfairly the cops are regarded and treated by those they keep safe -- while they, particularly the protag -- committing one hideous crime after another from stealing and dealing and getting big moola by selling the drugs they take from the criminals -- not to mention spending sprees with the most expensive hookers going, and other infidelities to wives and families who are too protected and selfish to understand their special pressures. 


This reader did not like this book, so skimmed from the middle to the end.  At least protag dies. He dies, moaning, "All he ever wanted to be was a good cop."



Julia Glass. (2017) A House Among the Trees. Pantheon – Penguin USA / Random House. New York.


Ta -Dah!


This one is by far the winner of  this reader's August's fiction reading. Despite the NY Times's snarky review by David Levitt, this reader gobbled Glass's novel down in two long nights of reading, from first word to the last word.  Levitt does concede that though he despised the novel yet it was pleasing enough that one reads happily to the end -- and yes, not only does this novel provide a happy ending, but it provides several happy endings, all skillfully and plausibly wrapped together, rising out of who the multiple characters are. 


Other reviewers have observed that if one likes Australian novelist, Liane Moriarty's books, and I do (the recent HBO series, Big Little Lies, was adapted to Malibu from one of her books) one might well like this novel too.  But ultimately this reader doesn't see that they have much in common. For one thing, it's about the world of children's publishing.  But Glass gets in so many threads of our current entertainment media, including computer games, movies and television, biking, and even museums. 


It was almost like having another of Sue Miller’s splendid novels from the 90’s, (her first novel, The Good Mother, was published in 1986) when she was at the top of her form. Miller's the more graceful writer by several percentage points, but Glass's novel moves even more effortlessly than Miller's, which means I shall look out for Glass's previous novels.


Will I get in another novel before August melts into September and the fall's crazy schedule, including traveling to Cuba and to Mexico, kicks in? These last few weeks, as hot and unpleasant in some ways as they've been, have been the most relaxing I've experienced in years. It's kind of like being on vacation.  Books are good for that too.


Thinking About Charlottesville

Aug. 17th, 2017 02:54 pm
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      . . . . No illustrations to this as such gross, contemptible, ugly hatred should be left to the starkness of unadorned language.


It's a miracle there wasn't a full shoot out this weekend this weekend in Charlottesville. 


First -- the people that romperitler says are just the same as the white nationalist neo nazi, neo confederates, white supremacists, etc. were not, surely by choice, not armed with military weapons. They did not bring the violence.  The above named groups came deliberately into someone else's home and brought it.


Second, one guesses an armed shoot-out didn't happen because the intimidation of those who brought being so heavily armed worked. The cops were afraid of the nazis and confederates (though the chief? superintendent? of Charlottesville police later walked back from that implication which he'd put out in his first comments).


But just barely did the shoot-out not happen. The itchy fingers of those white men standing fully armed in front of the Charlottesville synagogue on Saturday during Sabbath services -- terrifying, as the night before of those gangs of armed white men carrying torches marching past, and yelling, "There's the synagogue!"


Ultimately one thinks, however, that the confederate nazis were still, barely, sane enough to realize if they really did start shooting it would go all over the world and they'd lose the pr war that they were hoping this would be, i.e. capturing hearts and minds of we 'norms.' OTOH, however, these guys are now insisting that they were the victims of violence, so if shooting happened it would be the fault of liberals and black lives matter. 


But for the weekened they feasted adequately upon their armed, infantile cosplay. They LOVE rolling around, doing a public strut and fondle of their guns, where all eyes are forced to see their circle jerks, like the guys who masturbate on the subways where little girls are forced to see “it." *


So maybe that was enough for them, barely, at the synagogue, for instance, to keep them from opening fire. 


As well, Virginia has legal open carry, unlike Massachusetts and Boston (which demo for Saturday, isn't supposed to be the same people as in Charlottesville, They Say -- and we'll see), so the authorities in Charlottesville weren't obligated to challenge them. Yes, as many have described, this event was very well organized and their target location for the opening of Act 2 of the take-over of Us All was carefully, consciously chosen. This demonstration could not legally have gone on in a non open carry state. 


Murdering by vehicle was not in the planning. It did set off an aghast, horrified fire storm world-wide, fanned by the romperitler a$$holery. They have attempted to pretend otherwise. Living in their bubbles one suspects they'd over-estimated the support in the US for genocide and slavery.


One rather suspectls that Car Murder Guy couldn't afford the guns and outfits that so many publicly masturbated with in Charlottesville's public and not so public spaces -- they are expensive. He evidently couldn't even afford the shirt that neo-nazi group, Vanguard America wore with their spears and shields, so a shirt was donated to him. Car Murder Guy had to do something to show he was worthy to be one of them. And this, with all the pumped adrenaline sent him ramming into the protesters -- no doubt howling Yeeee Haw! Until he saw what he had really done and then, like every other bully, shyte himself.


But the shooting will come unless these armed demonstrations of hatred, racism and ignorance are shut down by the authorities, right now! Open carry laws are making it inevitable, one thinks. But then, that was a big part of the objective in the push for open carry laws by the ugly white politicos in the first place.


---------------------------------

* The photo of Car Murder Guy even looks like the pervert that during one period in my life when on my way to work in the mornings would hide in the men's toilet on the subway platform (the toilets were still unlocked an available then -- no longer).  He'd run up to me, masturbating.  If he hadn't infuriated me so much, for interrupting my reading, I would have fallen down laughing at how he looked, trying to jerk off and hold on to his pants at the same time. But I got more and more infuriated because, you know, my privacy, my precious moments of reading before getting to work, and thinking about what I was trying to write


This went on for most of the fall, at least three mornings a week.  The MTA attendant wouldn't bother calling the cops. The cops didn't care when I called them myself (no cell phones yet!)  It didn't stop until the morning I was ready and waiting with a barely screwed closed thermos of very hot coffee which ooops, I poured all over his ugly member.


This was in the days when nobody in my neighborhood of retirees and artists, musicians, and musicians, except me) had 9-5 jobs, there were no kids and parents taking them to school, and tourists never came here -- too scared -- so the platforms were always empty at rush hours.  I was always there by myself.  Almost impossible to remember that now, when the whole world is always on the platform at all times of the day and night, all year 'round.


Black Nerd + Confederate

Aug. 15th, 2017 06:16 pm
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      . . . . Don't miss it, peoples!  For Black Nerd's recap of G-O-T's season 7, ep 5, "Eastwatch" -- go here.

[ " Jaime for real shook cuz dude done seen some shit. He like, yo, that scorpion? Was like a splinter to that big winged fire droppin’ bastard. We. Can’t. Win. Cersei is like, yo, you killed her pops and I sit on the throne, I don’t think she about that peace, fam. Then Jaime tries to tell Cersei that Lady Olenna gave up the ghost and the murder inc to Jaime before she died. She told him that it was her that murdered Joffrey and not Tyrion. Cersei was basically like, yeah, that’s fake news. Cersei ain’t trying to hear these alternative facts man. Cersei the type to claim the confederacy is about southern pride and nothing to do with slavery. Sorry, that’s even too far a stretch for a fantasy epic like Thrones. People don’t actually believe that shit… "

. . . . Oh shit, Bran not being fucking useless sighting. Warg in the sheets is controlling a whole group of ravens (an unkindness, if you will) out from Winterfell, beyond the Wall and into some Planet Earth BBC footage. They finally come over the hill and see a massive army of White Nationalists Walkers carrying Tiki torches weapons with the singular goal of destroying the lives of everyone that isn’t like them. Warg Ravens out here getting the lay of the land, seeing the size of this army when finally Ice King Magneto look up and make them muthafuckas scatter. So, we gonna learn what this connection is fam? Why can Ice King Magneto see the truth like he performed human transmutation or some shit? Why he got Bran shook every time he look at him through the portal and shit. Bran act like he Debo. I be quiet when he around, but when he leave, I be warging again  " ]
 

As for "People don't actually believe that shit ..." HBO & D&D are determined to go ahead with Confederate.

When they gonna learn that white supremacy is fake news?
 

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     . . . . This recap of Got's season 7, episode 4 is wonderfully funny. It goes beautifully with Leslie Jones's hilarious "Game of Jones Thrones" with Seth Meyer.


 


 Link to Jones Thrones -- The G-OT- Is MEEE is here.

Brienne asked her how she learned that shit, and Arya hit her with “No One.” I wasn’t ready, fam. I just wasn’t. Also, NEITHER WAS SANSA. My god, Sansa look like she just showed up to the city wide science fair with a potato clock. That shit was rouuuuugh. Jon got fucking murdered, but became King in the North. Bran got paralyzed, but became an Omega Level Mutant. Arya has had to run to every corner of the continent and lost her sight to become Agent 47. And Sansa was betrothed to not one but two monsters, got brutally assaulted, and gained a stalker so that she could fill out TPS reports on grain inventory. That’s fucked up man. Everybody else went away to college and became experts in their field while Sansa rotted away at a terrible MFA program and left with a degree she ain’t gonna do shit with and even more student debt. Life ain’t fair, yo.

 

 

What Black Nerd says about D&D's HBO slavery fanfic is penetratingly wise, rather than comic.  It goes well with Ta-Nehisi Coates' piece on Confederate in the Atlantic and the radio interview with the #noconfederate activists -- links to both these are here. 


Let’s not stand on ceremony here: as great as Benioff and Weiss are as visionaries, their blind spots as two cis white men shows up too often for me to be comfortable for a show with slavery as a major component of the story. The gratuitous display of sexual assault (well past showing how brutal the world is), and the reluctance of having any pivotal POC character or venturing into the very natural lines they have drawn around color (the Unsullied army is almost, if not all, POC as former slaves, but is only explored as a class differentiation) gives me little confidence that this will be a new awareness taken on with this new venture. There aren’t many scenarios I see this working: 
- Slavery is minimized and a smaller part of the plot: So… we minimizing slavery now? Yeah, no.
- Slavery is more than just Black people in this alternative world: So… we just minimizing Black slaves as a narrative on some all slaves matter stuff? Nah.
- The flip of that being Black people or other POC own slaves as well: Sigh, come on, man.
These are all alternatives to the possibility that it’s not just a continuation of slavery from the very real world brought into a modern era. Even if these cats have the tools to do this, then Game of Thrones has been a terrible dress rehearsal because we haven’t seen it. 
The only way this holds any significant interest for me is if there is a slave revolt in the first episode and the third civil war is about the Black people taking over the America. Das it
Make Alternative America Great Again. 
. . . . this has a lot to do with agency. About who gets to tell who’s stories. Would I feel differently if Black creators were behind this show? Probably. Not like, Lee Daniels though, but still. These stories can exist in the world, either based on real life narratives or alternate universes, but the voice and the trust in the identification of the producer counts for something. Handmaiden’s Tale, Underground, shows like those, where the writer reflected the identity of the marginalized people in those stories, relays a faith that those characters will be handled with a caring and understanding befitting the human portrayal we expect. Game of Thrones is excellently written and thematically beautiful, but it is also spectacle. It is decapitations and rape and little girls burned alive. I’m fatigued on stories of a time period (or time period carried over, in this case) that attempts to justify racism and racial violence as a tool of the day, but I’m also fatigued on the spectacle of “back in the day” racism. There’s no reason to have confidence this won’t continue under Benioff and Weiss, and they have had several years with the highest visibility prove otherwise.
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      . . . . #NoConfederate controversy is on the local public radio stations prime time variety talk program, Leonard Lopate, with call ins.




 
HBO has received backlash since it announced plans in July to produce "Confederate," a show that takes place in an alternate reality where the South successfully seceded from the Union. Critics have pushed back on the show's premise and it's two executive producers, "Game of Thrones" creators D.B. Weiss and David Benioff. April Reign, author and activist who created the Twitter campaigns #OscarsSoWhite and #NoConfederate, discusses the controversy. She's joined by activist and artist Bree Newsome, who drew national attention in 2015 when she climbed the flagpole in front of the South Carolina statehouse and lowered the Confederate battle flag following the mass shooting at Mother Emanuel in Charleston.

Jonathan Capehart guest hosted this segment of "The Leonard Lopate Show."


I listened to it just now.  It's a bit too early to listen to the broadcast, but it will be possible to hear it all here, shortly,.

C
lose to the end they tell us how we can help pressure HBO to change its mind on this.

It's good to read
Ta-Nehisi Coates's piece on this in the Atlantic too.  It's cogent, smart and correct.

The point is, as I and others have said all along when people object to our objections to something that hasn't yet been made: D&D in Got have made a clear and dramatic track record as to how they treat people of color, the enslaved and women for 7 years now.  Certain ilks never change their spots, and D&D are among those.  I went looking for a screen shot to illustrate what we mean by their track record depicting enslaved, women, sex and people of color.  I cannot in any conscience put any sample of such images in my own online journal.

This is particularly urgent in light of the global growth of contemporary slave labor and enslaved sex trafficking of women and children.  Putting up sequences and images of the enslaved in contemporary circumstances as entertainment will not in any way deter people from enjoying the action and the implications.  

See: the reactions to HBO's West World and how the viewers revel in the degradation, torture, rape and humiliation of the 'androids.'  They are not discussing how terrible it is that real people have and are suffering these horrors.  They delight in seeing real people pretending to be androids pretending to be real people suffer -- and then, presumably the grand catharsis when it all gets blown up in a hurricane of violence that destroys the enslaved / androids more than any other quality -- and it all just recycles. 

There is no ethical justification for this.


Leslie Jones "The G-O-T Is ME!"

Aug. 10th, 2017 11:46 am
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     . . . . This is hilarious -- and Varys -- yes, the real Varys da Spider shows up too -- "Leslie Jones Game of Thrones" --

 
 
Dudes and Dudessas -- this is really great!  Nobody has more fun watching the G-O-T than me, says Ms Jones, and she is right.  She has so much fun that even those who despise Got will love this.  I laughed so hard when she tells Varys and Seth just exactly what is what with those drawings in the caves -- if you know some of the Fruit of Islam mythology you too will laugh your ass off.
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      . . . . Personally, it's  Octavia Butler's Kindred I'd prefer to become an Ava Duvernay prestige television project  (who brings the classic Wrinkle in Time to the  movie screen next year)



However, Kindred's a stand stand-alone, while Xenogenesis / Lilith's Brood, are three works -- Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago -- here's the potential for three SF seasons.



The bit doesn't say to which television congloms DuVernay has pitched. I hope not the SyFy Channel.  DuVernay's recent (2016) documentary, 13th (titled after the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution), streams on Netflix.  I've really liked her series, Queen Sugar, co-produced with Oprah Winfrey for Winfrey's OWN Network. 

If you all don't recall, Duvernay first received bold-face prominence with her film, Selma, dramatizing the events around Dr. King's march from Selma to Birmingham.

--------------------------

 
Hmmmm -- for some reason DW has disabled x-posting to LJ, and I can't get it back, it seems.  Is this a problem for others?


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