Monday, December 20, 2010

34. "Black Eagle Child: The Facepaint Narratives" by Ray A. Young Bear

Young Bear, Ray A. Black Eagle Child: The Facepaint Narratives. New York: Fire Keepers, 1992. Print

261 pages
Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

Black Eagle Child: The Facepaint Narratives is an interesting collection of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, prose, myth, and folk tales. It tells the story of Edgar Bearchild and his family’s lives on the Black Eagle Child settlement in Iowa.

The story is graphic, violent, sad, spiritual, and, at points, confusing. It can be difficult to tell what is truth, what is fiction, what is poetry, and what is prose. In one chapter, Edgar tells the story of when he and his friend used psychedelic drugs as part of a religious ceremony. Reading the text, I almost felt like I was tripping on the drugs myself. It truly pulled me into the narrator’s point of view.

I think to fully appreciate this book, I will have to read it more than once.

3 darts out of 5
Bookshelf Project Status: KEEP

Saturday, December 4, 2010

33. "You Don't Have to Be Buddhist to Know Nothing" by Joan Konner

Konner, Joan. You Don’t Have to be Buddhist to Know Nothing: An Illustrious Collection of Thoughts on Naught. Prometheus Books, 2009. Print.
333 pages
Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

You Don’t Have to be Buddhist to Know Nothing is a collection of quotes about nothing from various famous individuals. The quotes are lifted out of context and are unconnected and, generally, have little to do with Buddhism as the title suggests.

Save yourself some time. Go to an online search engine and search the terms “nothing,” and “quote” and you’ll have this book. It is not worth the read and certainly not worth your money.

0 darts out of 5
Bookshelf Project Status: NONE (I don't own it).

Sunday, November 21, 2010

32. "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" by August Wilson

Wilson, August. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. New York: Penguin Group, 1985. Print.
111 pages
Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a play written about Ma Rainey and her blues band. The first thing I questioned as I was reading it was is it really a play? Does this not cross into the genre of musical as well? The cover of the text is labeled “play” but music plays such an important role through the entire story that I think it could also be considered a musical. I love it when texts move across multiple genres!

Ma is in Chicago with her band recording an album. In the process of recording audience members are exposed to tension between various styles of Black identity. The dramatic ending leaves audience members with a vivid image of the turmoil and pain certain characters’ face in trying to “make something of themselves” in an unjust society that does not always function in their favor.

Ma Rainey is a powerful lead vocalist. The majority of her band members respect her authority. Slow Drag, the bass player, especially shows her respect: “Don’t nobody say when it come to Ma. She’s gonna do what she wants to do. Ma says what happens with her” (Wilson 1.1).

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom explores many topics one of them being the topic of art. What is art and art’s role in society? Ma Rainey states, “White folks don’t understand about the blues. They hear it come out, but they don’t know how it got there. They don’t understand that’s life’s way of talking. You don’t sing to feel better. You sing ‘cause that’s a way of understanding life” (Wilson 2.1).

The text also explores the blurry line between truth and fiction. In several instances, characters’ would tell the same story but in slightly different ways. This worked to illustrate the ways in which “truth” can be quite subjective.

3.5 darts out of 5

Bookshelf Project Status: DONATE (donated to a library)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

31. "Pepperland" by Mark Delaney

Delaney, Mark. Pepperland. Atlanta: Peachtree, 2004.
181 pages
Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

Pepperland is about Star, as she calls herself, and her journey to healing from her mother’s death. Star and her mom were especially fond of the Beatles and John Lennon. Each chapter title is also the title of a Beatles song which was a creative move by Delaney. Star finds a letter that her mom wrote to John Lennon when she was a teenager and it becomes Star’s mission to deliver the letter to John Lennon herself when he performs in her hometown.

I had hesitations going into this novel but once I started, I couldn’t put it down. The characters are painted so delicately and accurately I felt like I knew them like I know one of my friends. I was hesitant because I often find that stories about healing end up being unrealistic and impossibly linear. I was very impressed with this text’s ability to realistically illustrate the way a young woman might go through the grieving process. Her process wasn’t linear, it was messy, and moving, and beautiful.

Delaney is very good at tackling complex ideas and translating it into something young adults can understand and access. For example, when approaching the idea of art as a healing tool, Delaney writes, “Every intuition tells me that great art, like Dooley’s has to peel away the outer layers, because it’s the only way to get to the places where we’re all the same” (Delaney 49). Here we have a complex idea laid out clearly for the reader.

This novel is an example excellent writing within a genre.

5 darts out of 5

Sunday, October 24, 2010

30. "My Freshman Year" by Rebekah Nathan

Nathan, Rebekah. My Freshman Year. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2005. Print.
168 pages
Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

In My Freshman Year, Rebekah Nathan, a full time university professor, enrolls in a university and goes through a freshman year in order to complete an ethnography of freshman students at a typical American university.

What Nathan discovers was not shocking to me and was, in fact, quite reminiscent of my own experience as a freshman in college. Nathan noticed several patterns of behavior as well as common values among freshman at a university. Freshman, she concludes, generally value deviance, rebellion, freedom of choice, and “fun” with “fun” being defined in several different ways. Students now expect education to be entertaining and they also expect education to be something personal and individual. She writes that to the freshman she studied "community" is “personal networks of friends that some referred to as my ‘homeys.’ It was these small ego-centered groups that we the backbone of most students’ social experience in the university” (Nathan 55).

A point I found very interesting in her work was about the liminality of the university. Nathan writes, “Cross-culturally, rites of passage have universal characteristics marked by severance from one’s normal status, entrance into a ‘liminal’ state where normal rules of society are lifted, and finally reintegration into society within a new status. This jibes well with the nature of the undergraduate college experience. . .It is in the middle or ‘liminal’ state—the ambiguous place of being neither here nor there—that anthropologists see profoundly creative and transformative possibilities” (Nathan 146-47).

I thought that Nathan’s discussion of the university as a liminal space was the most important idea I took away from this text. Everything else she described, I already more or less knew and understood. Her discussion on liminality though, gives me a space, as a professor and as a former student, to navigate life in academia. Because the university is a liminal space, there is an abundance of opportunities to create change both within individuals and society at large. While I might not live long enough to see substantial or drastic changes, I know the potential is there.

3 darts out of 5

Saturday, October 9, 2010

29. "The Namesake" by Jhumpa Lahiri

Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Namesake. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003.
291 Pages
Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

The Ganguli family story is rich, colorful, and full of intricacies. It is also full of insecurities, heartbreak, and a sense of homelessness. The Ganguli family is always just a little out of place. Ashima and Ashoke Ganguli move to the United States from India to start a life together. Ashoke works as a professor while Ashima stays home and raises their two children, Gogol, and Sonia. The majority of the story is focused on Gogol’s life as he struggles to develop a sense of self.

The Namesake flows effortlessly. Transitions between anecdotes and storylines are smooth and nearly flawless. Lahiri’s prose is both simple and elegant. To tell the story, Lahiri relies on sensory descriptions—describing the colors, shapes, smells, tastes, and sounds of every scene. As a result, the characters are exquisitely developed and it was easy for me care about them. As a reader, it is important the characters have depth and are not just empty devices to keep the plot moving. The novel is a genealogy, a Ganguli family history.

I have an uncanny connection to this story. When I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, I too changed my name like Gogol does. I went through the same court procedure that Gogol did to become Nikhil. My new name was actually my original name—the name my mother wanted to name me when I was born—my “good” name, as the Ganguli family calls it. My mother named me something much simpler after nurses pressured her to saying that people would think the name she originally wanted was strange and difficult to pronounce. The name is strange and difficult to pronounce but it is mine, and I made it legally so just a few years ago.

Deeper questions and themes continue to emerge for me the more I reflect on this novel. I feel that in order to fully appreciate it, it will require more than one reading. This book is worth reading for its masterful portrait of an immigrant family trying to find their identity and place in the world.

4 darts out of 5

Friday, September 3, 2010

28. "Into the Wild" by Jon Krakauer

Krakauer, Jon. Into the Wild. New York: Villard, 1996. Print
207 pages
Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

Into the Wild is a nonfiction piece about Chris McCandless, a young, ambitious man with a rigid morality. After graduating from a prestigious university, Chris burns all of his identification cards, donates his money to Oxfam, and hits the road. Starting out in a car, he later abandons his vehicle to trek across the United States on foot.

Chris lived with a rigid sense of morality and truth. He was passionate about living an honest life, and knowing people beyond just a surface-level interaction. He met many people on his way. He worked for a while on a farm in South Dakota, and lived in the desert in Arizona with fellow wanderers.

His sense of adventure ends up leading him to Alaska where he dies of starvation. The book is written in such a way that this fact isn’t surprising or shocking to the reader. Krakauer states up front in the very first chapter that Chris was found dead in Alaska: “In April 1992, a young man from a well-to-do East Coast family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. Four months later his decomposed body was found by a party of moose hunters” (ix).

I use this book for my “College Research and Writing” course at the University of Northern Iowa. I always ask my students whether they think starting the narrative this way is a good editing choice and I get mixed answers. I, myself, thought it was interesting. One of the reasons I continued to read the book was a curiosity about how Chris died and why. Was it a suicide? The theme of suicide comes up repeatedly in this text. Readers must decide for themselves as there is no real substantial answer given. Krakauer leans towards the argument that Chris’s death was an accident, but really there is no way to prove this (either way).

This text is wonderful to use in my writing class because it provokes discussion about ethical research. Is Krakauer presenting his research of Chris accurately and objectively or is he manipulating it in some way? Chris’s family is still living, so what did Krakauer have to do to be sensitive and respectful to them? How does their presence affect the information that Krakauer chooses to disclose?

When I read this book for the first time, I read it cover to cover in a day. I loved it and was intrigued by the questions it provoked for me. In all, it is a good read!

Bookshelf Project Status: KEEP

3.5 darts out of 5

27. August 2010 List

Kind of a slow reading month due to school resuming.f there is a book on this list that I did not review but that interests you, I will do a review upon request. To send in requests for reviews email me the title of the text you want reviewed to:

1. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

2. Potiki by Patricia Grace

3. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secret. by J. K. Rowling

Saturday, August 21, 2010

26. "Potiki" by Patricia Grace

Grace, Patricia. Potiki. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1986. Print.
185 pages
Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

Patricia Grace is a Maori writer. She has written novels, children’s books and short stories. She is one of the first and most notable of Maori women writers. Potiki is her second published work.

Potiki is about a Maori family and their struggle to preserve their culture, land, and way of life. They are threatened by impeding businessmen who want to take their land and build a resort on it. These business men will stop at nothing to get what they want.

The novel describes time as being a spiral rather than a straight line. Each chapter is written in a spiral pattern. For example, in a chapter titled “Roimata” the narrator begins by speaking about children and their war games: “And games are stories too, not just swallowers of time, or buds without fruit. Games, as played-out stories, also define our lives—but I did not understand the children’s war games. I could not tell what their war games were a reflection of” (Grace 44). The narrator then goes on to describe war games from when she was a child and then spirals back out to the children’s war games. At first this seemed repetitive until I understood what Grace was doing. I think it is a genius form to use to illustrate the way the Maori families understand time.

Each chapter is told from a specific character’s point of view but the point of view shifts. Chapters titled “Toko” and “Roimata” are told from first person point of view while chapters titled “Hemi” and “Mary” are told from third person limited point of view. For me, this kept the novel fresh and interesting. I was allowed to understand the characters and the family from many angles and points of view. Doing this deepened my connection to the whole group instead of just one individual. This is another running theme in the novel—a focus on community, not individuality.

When the family’s land floods because of the construction work the colonizers do, I felt a connection to the text. As an Iowan, I’m no stranger to floods and the floods that have been happening in Iowa the past few years are, as certain scientists argue, the result of poor land management. Iowa’s natural prairie grasses have been replaced by farm crops and the land can no longer absorb the rainfall it was once able to. Similarly, when the construction workers blast holes through the hills in Potiki, the land no longer has a natural barrier to the waters and the village is flooded.

I love this text. It is rich, and deep, and it was the first book in several years that actually moved me to tears.

5 darts out of 5
Bookshelf Project Status: KEEP

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

25. "The House on Mango Street" by Sandra Cisneros

Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street. New York: Vintage Books, 1984. Print.
110 pages
Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

A professor of mine once taught me that I can’t psychoanalyze characters in a novel the way I might a friend, or family member, or even myself. I can’t try to guess at what is going on in their heads or predict what they might do in a different situation.

“All you have are words on a page,” she told me.

“You have to enter into a relationship with each book you read, but all you really have are words on a page,” she emphasized over and over again in class.

Nothing held truer for me as I read Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street. The House on Mango Street is written in snapshots. Each chapter gives readers a glimpse into a different part of the narrator’s (Esperanza's) life. Each very short chapter is somehow connected to the others, though there are no clear transitions between them. Readers must be quite conscious sometimes to make the connections.

The House on Mango Street is about Esperanza’s process of figuring out where she belongs in the world. Esperanza is a young teenage girl and she doesn’t feel at home on Mango Street. She doesn’t like her house which could be symbolic for the way she feels lost in other parts of her world. Cisneros provides delicate character sketches and once the sketches are combined, one can understand Esperanza’s community a little more clearly.

I finished the book but my desire to know Esperanza wasn't fulfilled. She was always just beyond my reach. The snapshots weren’t enough for me. I wanted to really get to know this character beyond glimpses here and there. I wanted to understand her in ways other than through how other characters reflected her. I wanted more but all I had to work with were words on a page. Esperanza remains a mystery to me, for whatever reason.

This doesn’t necessarily detract from the quality of writing in this novel. Cisneros uses beautiful descriptions and imagery. I enjoyed it very much despite Esperanza’s ability to sneak away from me. It was certainly worth the read.

4 darts out of 5
Bookshelf Project Status: DONATED TO A LIBRARY

Saturday, July 31, 2010

24, July 2010 List

The following is a list of all the books I read in July 2010. I did book reviews for some of them (which will be noted in the list) and the rest I did not. If there is a book on this list that I did not review but that interests you, I will do a review upon request.

To send in requests for reviews email me the title of the text you want reviewed to:

1. Johnson, Allan G. The Gender Knot: Unraveling our Patriarchal Legacy. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2005. Print. (Reviewed 7-22-10)

2. Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street. New York: Vintage Books, 1984. Print.

3. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 1997. Print.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

22. "The Gender Knot" by Allan G. Johnson

Johnson, Allan G. The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2005. Print.
243 Pages
Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

The Gender Knot was required reading for one of my classes when I was an undergraduate. I remember not liking it then but thought I would give it another try. This time around, I disliked it even more than I did the first time.

When contemplating where the world “is” in terms of gender equality, Johnson writes, “Where we are is stuck. Where we are is lost. Where we are is deep inside an oppressive gender legacy, faced with the knowledge that what gender is about is tied to a great deal of suffering and injustice. But we don’t know what to do with the knowledge, and it binds us in a knot of fear, anger, and pain , of blame, defensiveness, guilt and denial” (4). Most of this text is riddled with empty claims that lack research or evidence to support those claims. This would be one of those claims. Here he fails to acknowledge the many strides feminists have made in educating the public about gender issues, the wide range of policies and laws that have been written to create a more gender neutral society, and the integrative work being done by third wave feminists. We are neither “stuck,” nor “lost.”

Johnson defines patriarchy as “a kind of society, and a society is more than a collection of people. As such, ‘patriarchy’ doesn’t refer to me or any other man or collection of men, but to a kind of society in which men and women participate. . . . A society is patriarchal to the degree that it promotes male privilege by being male dominated, male identified, and male centered. It is also organized around an obsession with control and involves as one of its key aspects the oppression of women” (5). This might possibly be a decent definition that I could work with as an instructor, but Johnson fails to acknowledge any other possible definition of the term, limiting the scope of his argument. He makes no mention of the root of the term (pater—meaning “rule of the father”) and makes defining patriarchy seem more cut and dry than it really is.

In the first chapter, Johnson works to break down these three parts of patriarchy, and in his section on male identification he writes about the traditional marriage in which the husband goes to work and the wife stays home and does the domestic work. Despite his inability to recognize changing marital structures among heterosexuals (things have changed since 1950!) he goes on to write, “Since women generally don’t have wives, they find it harder to identify with and prosper within this male-identified model” (7). Hold up! Say that again, please: “Since women generally don’t have wives…” (7). This was the point where I started to believe this book was utter crap. Yes, on page seven. Johnson’s text is exclusively for heterosexuals stuck in 1950’s American culture. It fails to acknowledge the work being done by third wave feminists on intersecting and fluid identities, on the instability of gender identity, and on the ways we can restructure relationships. When working to contextualize his work in the first chapter, he fails to recognize the way lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, and transsexual individuals are affected by patriarchy. He sets up femininity and masculinity in a very strict, stable binary: Masculinity is this and only this; femininity is that and only that.

Johnson writes that women in power are automatically at risk of being raped: “To a rapist, the most powerful woman in the land is first and foremost a woman—and this more than anything else culturally marks her as a potential victim” (23). I am absolutely offended by this statement for SO MANY REASONS. I feel like I could write a book just debunking this ill-informed perspective. First, ALL women are at risk to become potential victims no matter how much power they supposedly have and so are men. Second, this sort of logic works to dissuade women from wanting any kind of power and recognition on the basis of fear thus further oppressing them. Third, this claim is fear-based and not evidence-based. He presents no statistics or research to support what he’s writing.

In conclusion, I would never use this book in the classroom, EVER.

I can’t decide what I want to do with it: trash or compost fodder? To the compost it goes. *rip*

0 darts out of 5
Bookshelf Project Status: TRASHED

Sunday, July 11, 2010

21. "Beneath the Wheel" by Herman Hesse

Hesse, Herman. Beneath the Wheel. New York: Farrar, Strous, and Giroux, 1968.
Translated by Michael Roloff
187 pages

Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

The first book I read by Herman Hesse was Siddhartha. I read that book when I was sixteen and it changed my life. Beneath the Wheel hasn’t been as life-altering, but it is a novel that has an uncanny parallel to some of the decisions I’m making and issues I’m struggling with in my own life. Herman you rascal, you’ve done it again.

Herman Hesse (1877-1962) was a novelist, a poet, and a painter. Originally from Germany, his work frequently explores an individual’s search for self-knowledge, authenticity, and spirituality. He struggled with depression most of his life which he illustrates in Beneath the Wheel.

Beneath the Wheel was Hesse’s second novel and was originally published in 1906. It closely parallels parts of Hesse’s own life, making it a semi-autobiographical work. The novel is about Hans Giebenrath, a young, and vastly intelligent man. The story begins with Hans in the thick of studying for an important state examination. He feels pressure from every part of his community save one—Flaig, the shoemaker. When asked about Hans the school principle states, “Just look at him. He’s the veritable incarnation of intellect” (Hesse 8).

Hesse creates a contrast between academia and creativity. For the sake of the novel, academia seems to represent logic, intellect, ambition, and discipline to the detriment of creativity, spirituality, emotion, and instinct. The biggest struggle Hans deals with is learning to balance all of these parts of himself in a way that will make him happy. Pressured by friends, teachers, and his father, he suffers from constant headaches and various other health issues.

At the Maulbronn Academy, Hans meets Herman Heilner, a sensitive, and creative boy. Heilner is described as a genius who resists all of the academy’s attempts at molding the young man. Constantly in trouble with the Headmaster, Heilner’s creativity flourishes despite the school’s attempts to squelch it. Hesse writes,

“Teachers dread nothing so much as unusual characteristics in precocious boys during the initial stages of adolescence. A certain streak of genius makes an ominous impression on them, for there exists a deep gulf between genius and the teaching profession. . . . A schoolmaster will prefer to have a couple of dumbheads in his class than a single genius, and if you regard it objectively, he is of course right. His task is not to produce extravagant intellects but good Latinists, arithmeticians and sober decent folk. The question of who suffers more acutely at the other’s hands—the teacher at the boys, or vice versa—who is more of a tyrant, more of a tormentor, and who profanes parts of the other’s soul, student or teacher, is something you cannot examine without remembering your own youth in anger and shame” (99-100).

Heilner is expelled leaving Hans friendless and alone at the academy with no emotional outlet or social support--not even from his teachers.

Beneath the Wheel is an exploration of humans’ duality. Hans craves the solitude of being in nature and going fishing but another part of him thirsts for knowledge and finds great pride in his academic success. The novel explores Hans’ attempts at balancing his life’s ambitions which is something I am grappling with in my own life right now. Academia consumes lives. It is highly competitive, highly demanding, and not very nurturing as is seen in the examples of Hans’ experiences at the Maulbronn Academy. You either keep up with the pack or are crushed beneath the wheel.

4.5 darts out of 5
Bookshelf Project Status: KEEP

Sunday, June 27, 2010

20. June 2010 List

The following is a list of all the books I read in June 2010. There are a lot as I was finishing up my thesis. Many of the books I re-read in preparation for my thesis defense. I did book reviews for some of them (which will be noted in the list) and the rest I did not. If there is a book on this list that I did not review but that interests you, I will do a review upon request.

To send in requests for reviews email me the title of the text you want reviewed to:

Make sure your subject line says "Book Review Request" so that I don't send it to my junk mail folder.

I can not guarantee when the review will be posted but I will write one up eventually. :) Here's the list for June:

1. Feinberg, Leslie. Stone Butch Blues. Los Angeles: Alyson Books, 1993. Print.

2. Kirsch, Max H. Queer Theory and Social Change. London: Routledge, 2000. Print.

3. Larson, Jonathan. RENT. New York: William Morrow & Company Inc., 1997. Print.

4. McKruer, Robert. The Queer Renaissance: Contemporary American Literature and the Reinvention of Lesbian and Gay Identities. New York: New York UP, 1997. Print.

5. Merry, Sally Engle. Human Rights and Gender Violence: Translating International Law into Local Justice. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006. Print.

6. Ohba, Tsugumi and Takeshi Obata Death Note. San Francisco: Shonen Jump, 2003. Print. 12 Volumes. Reviewed 6-8-10

7.Prosser, Jay. Second Skins: The Body Narratives of Transexuality. New York: Columbia UP, 1998. Print.

8. Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990. Print. Reviewed in 2009.

9. Saxey, Esther. Homoplot: The Coming-Out Story and Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Identity. New York: Peter Lang, 2008. Print.

10. Sinfield, Alan. Cultural Politics-Queer Reading. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994. Print.

11. Slaughter, Joseph. Human Rights Inc.: The World Novel, Narrative Form, and International Law. New York: Fordham UP, 2007. Print.

12. Wronka, Joseph. Human Rights and Social Policy in the 21st Century. New York: University Press of America, 1998. Print.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

19. "Death Note" by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata

Ohba, Tsugumi and Takeshi Obata. Death Note. San Francisco: Shonen Jump, 2003. Print
12 Volumes
Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

I originally became interested in this series because a friend of mine recommended the anime version to me. I watched the anime up to a certain point, and then when I lost my internet, I started reading the manga series.

Death Note
is about a notebook, a very deadly notebook. In fact, whenever a name is written in the notebook that person dies of heart attack shortly after the name is written (unless a specific time and mode of death is written).

The notebook belongs in the Shinigami realm, or, the realm of the gods of death. When a Shinigami gets bored, he decides to drop his notebook to earth and see what happens. A teenager named Light Yagami finds the notebook. Once he learns of the notebook’s powers, he decides to become the new justice system for planet earth. He kills anyone who commits a heinous crime, but eventually, Light gets drunk on power and begins to venture outside just criminals.

The story spirals out of control much in the way Light does. The problem grows bigger and bigger and eventually ends up on the world stage when Light takes political control of the world.

This series is so complicated and layered. Generally, it is a fast-paced read with the exception of a few lulls here and there. The characters are very well developed and the art is great. I’m no expert on film analysis or art, but the graphics in this series are creative and thought provoking, adding a new layer to the already complex narrative.

While I loved almost all of this series there was one thing that bothered me: the representation of women. There were very few female characters in this twelve volume set. The few women characters that were included were objectified as sexual objects, dumbed down, and used as dispensable plot devices. While this series isn’t nearly as terrible as other manga I’ve seen in terms of its representations of female characters, it still does no justice to women.

Aside from that though, there is little that I didn’t like about this series.

3.5 darts out of 5
Bookshelf Project Status: NONE (I don't own them.)

Monday, May 31, 2010

18. "Blessed Unrest" by Paul Hawken

Hawken, Paul. Blessed Unrest. New York: Viking, 2007. Print.
Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

Paul Hawken, an environmentalist and writer, toured the country for years giving lectures. Over the years, he collected numerous business cards from people involved in various activist groups—typically social, economic, and environmental justice organizations. He became curious about the sheer number of cards he had stored up over the years and began to count them. This lead to an even greater curiosity. How many justice organizations are there? Hawken has counted over two million activist groups around the world working towards various forms of social, economic and environmental justice.

Hawken calls activism in the 21st century, “the largest movement in the world” (5). He writes that what is happening with activism in the world today can be considered the largest and most important social movement in recorded history. He notes that “The Movement” started during the abolition. The abolition illustrates the first time in recorded history that people have come together to work for the good of people they have never met, and will never meet; they are simply doing it because it is the right thing to do (Hawken 5). He writes:

“The [. . .] individuals who may never meet and come to know one another are part of a coalescence comprising hundreds of thousands of organizations. It claims no special power and arises in small, discrete ways, like blades of grass after a rain. The movement grows and spreads in every city and country and involves virtually every tribe, culture, language, and religion. [. . .]
The movement can’t be divide because it is so atomized—a collection of small pieces, loosely joined” (11).

Hawken traces the environmental movement back to its roots and he argues that it is important not to separate human beings from nature. He writes that we are nature and therefore, social justice movements are also environmental movements and vice versa.

He points out the importance of preserving indigenous culture so that we might learn from them—not in an overly romanticized way but in a practical way. He goes on to write about concentrations of wealth and issues with trade and globalization.

Toward the end of the book he writes about the earth being its own living organism. He then compares The Movement to our own bodies’ immune systems. He writes that The Movement acts as an immune system for the earth.

In all, I really liked this book. My biggest point of criticism lies in a slight lack of cohesion. Certain points that were made didn’t automatically appear to support the larger argument. At times, I really had to work to understand how certain examples and illustrations were proving the point and supporting the argument. The connections were not made automatically clear; I had to infer them.

This worked fine for me as I have already had some experience working in and reading about the kinds of campaigns and information that Hawken presents, but I do think for someone who might not have this same experience, the connections may be impossible to make. The writing style itself is very clear, but I wanted more explicit connections between the support and the overall argument.

3.5 darts out of 5
Bookshelf Project Status: NONE; I don't own it.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

17. The Bookshelf Project

So, for this blog I am starting a new project I like to call "The Bookshelf Project." I am "weeding" my bookshelf. I have too many books. Yes, I said it. TOO MANY. My books overflow my bookshelves onto mountainous piles on my floor and other parts of my home.

Call me a simpleton, but I don't plan on ever living in a space much bigger than the one I'm living in now. Maybe slightly, but not much. What I have now, will be what I have then, if that makes any sense. I don't NEED a space bigger than this. The size of my current living situation is highly satisfying. A spacious one-bedroom apartment (Proabaly between 1,000 and 1,200 square feet of space). This place is LUXURIOUS in comparison to other places I've lived and also in comparison to spaces that most people around the world occupy. I refuse to rent or buy a larger living space to satisfactorily store all of my accumulated "stuff." So, the "stuff" has got to go.

My library is one place I could definitely downgrade. Holding a random book in my hand I ask myself: Could I find this book easily at a library? Yes? Then, it's got to go. Donate it to a library, to a school, to Goodwill--wherever! It has to go nonetheless.

I have a large amount of books in my library that I haven't read or haven't read all the way through. So, "The Bookshelf Project" involves reading and rereading the books in my library. I plan to only keep books that are hard to find (i.e. can't be found at a public library), and books that I love and will read over and over again.

So far from my collection I have read:
"Ceremony" by Leslie Marmon Silko
"Emma" by Jane Austen

"Ceremony" was a keeper; "Emma" had to go. I sent it off to Goodwill. I'm sure some poor teenager/college student is going to be required to read that and will be happy to purchase it for $.25 at Goodwill rather than $20 at the bookstore.

So, if you notice, on my reviews I have added a section under the rating that indicates whether the book was a "keep" or a "donate". I will continue this process until I've made it through every book on my shelf...and floor, and desk, and coffee table. Yep, I've got a lot of reading to do!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

16. "Emma" by Jane Austen

Austen, Jane. Emma. New York: Washington Square Press, 1963.
430 pages
Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

Since I started studying literature, I have begun to read in a very calculating way. I read looking for certain things like theme, feminist and queer discourse, post-colonial rhetoric, tropes, plot devices, errors, holes, flat characters, etc. I can’t remember the last time I just read a book forgetting about all these very academic forms of reading. Studying literature has certainly added a new dimension of thought to my reading but it has sucked the life out of the characters for me in some ways. No longer are they there for me to feel connected to, but for me to pick apart and analyze.

I started reading Emma over a year ago and, at first I thought it was this exact form of calculated reading that has kept me at a distance from this novel’s characters. For the first half of the book or so, all I could think about was how boring they were—rich, British snobs sitting around doing nothing but gossip about each other. To me, they held little depth and caused each other nothing but trouble.

So, I tried to put aside my literary “training” and just read the novel for pleasure. I tried to get to know the characters, to become involved in the plot.

It didn’t work.

As much as my academic peers will give me crap for it, I don’t like this book and I couldn’t finish it. It was a little bit like literary torture trying to read to the end. I stopped at 2/3’s of the way through. I could go no farther.

I am a very plot-oriented reader. I like a good story. Emma’s plot bored me. The characters gossip from one party to the next and poor widdle Emma meddles needlessly and unproductively in other people’s lives. Maybe I would gain a better appreciation of the book if I read it through to the end. Maybe there is some mind-blowing plot twist on page 400 that I’ve missed. The thought still wasn’t enough to get me to keep reading.

1 dart out of 5
Bookshelf Project Status: DONATE (donated to Goodwill)