Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie

Two Chinese teens sent to be "re-educated" during the communist Cultural Revolution gain a whole different kind of enlightenment through a suitcase of elicit Western literature.

Through film and novels, the boys learn storytelling and gain experiences they can't otherwise obtain in their limited, censored lives. They, in turn, offer this same cultural broadening to a new friend, the tailor's daughter,

I didn't expect this book to be funny and sweet, but that's the first thing that comes to mind when trying to summarize this book. Of course, it's also expectedly horrifying at the work and conditions in which the villagers live ... but the real story is in the friendship, hijinx, and loves.

I loved this novella - it's another book about loving books - and the story is told briskly in a series of short chapters and vignettes about their lives. It's rich with details: you can perfectly visualize the coats they're wearing, and the fine suitcase leather is almost real to the touch.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Haters by Jesse Andrews

Three teens ditch out of jazz camp to hit the road and try their luck as a band: Wes and Corey are enthusiastic but merely average players on bass and drums - Ash, on the other hand, is exceptional as a blues fusion guitarist and songwriter and singer and instigator and dream girl ...

It's a fantastic road trip book with relatable characters and the kind of accidents and happenstance that occur on an ill-planned youth odyssey. The gang's on-going banter about band names especially rings so, so true.

This book's been getting a lot of press as a hot summer teen fiction release, and it's well worth the time.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

An Evening with Neil Gaiman & Amanda Palmer

This audio compilation of short stories, songs, poetry and more from pop culture's favorite superstar couple was bundled from a series of events on tour in 2011.

I don't usually review "not-books" but this one's hard to classify (it's not in print, but it's more than an audiobook and not quite a music CD and is actually something all-together different) and I think it deserves a blog post.

This would be worth a listen just to hear Neil Gaiman read some of his own work. It's always a treat. But then to get some of Amanda Palmer's songs, and some banter between the two of them ... well, it's well worth the time.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire

Working in the sea deep below a Canadian oil rig, welder Jack Joseph knows his job: focus on the weld, hold a steady hand. But one day he sees something from the corner of his mask and everything begins to unravel.

He's brought up to the surface, revived, and sent home early from his stint aboard the rig. Going home should be a blessing because Jack's wife Susie is on the verge of giving birth, but Jack's restless to discover what he saw in the deep water outweighs his impending fatherhood.

This black-and-white graphic novel shows through flashbacks and some time travel trickery how Jack's grief for his missing father is affecting his joy for the birth of his own son. In the introduction there's reference to the TV show the Twilight Zone - which is really how this story feels.

It's bleak and sad, but also told very well.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson

Genevieve and Stephanie become friends online through their mutual love for a television show. It's a fast friendship, accelerated by a fan convention trip where they meet in real life and find they really do enjoy one another's company.

They're both young women (18 and 22) with complicated lives - Gena's about to begin college (if she finishes her exams and papers), has absent and disconnected parents, and has a history of mental instability; Finn is looking for her first "real" job, has just moved in with her boyfriend, and is contemplating future options (marriage? kids?).

The book is formatted as blog posts and comment chains, direct messaging, text messages, emails, notes, diary entries, and more.

While there's a lot of back-and-forth chats that are quick to read, I can't say it's easy: the part that you instinctually want to ignore (the header, subject line, date and time) holds information that helps you work through the conversation. I found myself doing a lot of backtracking and rereading those headers - for example, some emails are drafts that were never sent.

I almost gave up on this book about 15 pages in, but decided to give it another go. I'm glad I did, too, because I really enjoyed it once I got to know the characters better. And it wasn't nearly as formulaic as I'd feared a modern-novel-in-messaging might be - the storyline went in a couple directions I hadn't anticipated. Hooray!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Alligator Candy: A Memoir by David Kushner

David Kushner grew up with a hole in his life - the empty spot where his next-oldest brother should have been. And while the Kushner family moved forward, its surviving members living and achieving, they all carried the grief of losing 11-year-old Jon.

David was four years old when his brother died. He was too young to really understand what was going on, but certainly not too young to miss the brother he'd worshipped. His memory wiped clean most of it away, and throughout his life David remained mostly naieve to the details of Jon's death.

In bits and pieces, he eventually opens up to the story - but mostly, it's the death and funeral of their father (36 years after Jon's death) that compels David to turn his journalism skills to this tragic story and research, read, and interview his way into a full account of Jon's demise.

The book's well written and honest, though a bit emotionless even though it's personal. It's Kushner's factual, journalistic style that makes it so shocking then, later, when he coldly lays bare the facts of the murder.

To carry the weight of that information must be crushing - what was done to the child - and for me it made things even more stunning how the family members each dealt with the knowledge yet led fulfilling lives.

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer

I will be talking about this book for a long time to come - after listening to the library's audiobook (not simply read but PERFORMED by the author) I bought a paper copy so I can post-it note and highlight parts that will bear heavy repetition for their deep resonance.

The book is about her life as a performance artist and indie rock star, and the book is about her successful, ground-breaking crowdfunding via social media. It's about her marriage to writer Neil Gaiman, and it's about her life-long friend and guru Anthony.

But mostly, this book is about the give-and-take of  all relationships: drop a dollar in the living statue's bucket, get a flower; open your heart and mind, receive love. She looks at her art in the way it's building a relationship with her fans - not just as the number of units sold in the usual corporate commercial model.

She's got some fantastic perspective for artists of all types concerning self-worth, doubt, and dealing with criticism. The lesson to glean from Henry David Thoreau: take the donuts. The analogy of "blender setting" for how real-life experiences get chopped up and changed in the art blender.

She's controversial, and there's a strong wave of haters. But it ain't me, man.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Morning Star by Pierce Brown

In the finale of the Red Rising trilogy, Darrow and the Sons of Ares rise to battle for control of Mars - and other planets in the modern system too. Their goal is the end of government based upon class distinction and birth caste. The battle is mighty.

While Red Rising was about character development and Golden Son was about political positioning, Morning Star is completely about the war: battles, fighting, blood, death, strategy and survival. Who can you trust, and who must you kill? But also, is it all worth it?

This book has twists and heartbreaking betrayals, and just when you think you know how it will end, it twists again. Oh!

What a great series, overall. Highly recommended!