22 books in 21 days: my reading/writing retreat reviews/thoughts/reflections

2015 reading/writing retreat book thoughts/responses/reviews for the 22 books i’ve read this year:

1. herland, charlotte perkins gilman
this book is a collection of fascinating concepts embedded in dated writing that was hard to read at moments, particularly around race. the central concepts around what a society of only women would be like, what a mothering-based society would look like, are really quite lovely. it’s a quick read, i would recommend to folks looking at feminism and parenting in sci fi, to mothers.

2, 3, 4. saga volumes 1-3, fiona staples and brian k vaughan
this graphic novel may actually be the best thing i have ever encountered. the writing is gorgeous and visceral and hilarious, the visuals are emotive and stunning. i was moved to laughter and tears multiple times. i couldn’t put it down and i wanted to know that all of these complex characters were going to be ok. magnificent way of casting the world in a war vs peace question without feeling boring or earnest. can’t wait for more.

5. the secret history of las vegas, chris abani
subtle, strange, poetic. a good mystery with skilled reveals. particularly of interest for those considered freaks and outcasts by mainstream society – how is that condition, that distance from the center, survived, navigated? abani is a masterful writer, he creates a situation where you wouldn’t want to be in this world, but you can’t not see it.

6. a book of common prayer, joan didion
this book makes me want to release a particular little keening moan. didion writes about grief and pain in the most exquisite precise way. this story is very small and personal and a little mysterious…i can’t exactly put my finger on what she was telling us about other than heartache. but it’s enough. apparently it’s about to be a movie with the redhead from mad men – i anticipate.

7. chronicle of a death foretold, gabriel garcia marquez
garcia marquez could write about sitting on a toilet for 100 pages and i would be stunned by the beauty of it. this is a story of a murder, where the murderers are known, and the motive, and everything. but the exploration is around how the whole town handles it both before and after. his writing is poetic and objective and casts judgment without any accusation, simply with the information he offers.

8, 9. fifty shades trilogy (darker, and freed), e.l. james
i just had to know: what was the big deal about these books? as someone who doesn’t really read romance novels, there was a certain thrusting loin quality, where every brush of the knuckle against sensitive skin blooms an orgasm that felt beyond ridiculous. but what i was left with was a lot of discomfort, not from the kind of sex, but from the abusive relationship between this virgin and a possessive, traumatized, controlling man. i was glad to see the presentation of bdsm agreements and communication around sex that gets explored here. but the way sex was used to connect with someone so emotionally volatile and manipulative made me want to sit down with this girl and do some life coaching and mediation. i’m sure someone good has already written about this somewhere, but i hadn’t seen it. i kept rooting for her to put her foot down and say no, you can’t treat me this way. alas, they would instead fall into romantic throes again because she bit her lip and his manhood was involved. yay for bondage and consensual play, but all thumbs down for the presentation of this as any model of a sexy relationship.

10. positron episodes 1-3, margaret atwood
this is a hilarious dystopian future series. i didn’t realize it was an unfinished series when i started or i probably would have waited til it was done. but it’s funny enough, though not her best, not on par with the maddaddam trilogy. she is skilled and cynical, she makes me actually laugh out loud, and the idea is a brilliant critique of the modern prison system.

11. the blind assassin, margaret atwood
a tragedy, written in slow full detail. very different, sadder and more earthbound than anything else i’ve read of atwood’s work. this is a great family drama, and it’s quite cinematic. there is sci-fi in here but its tucked inside a world war 2 era tragedy that builds up to be very specifically of it’s time, the kind of tragedy that can only emerge out of deep shame and politeness.

12. kafka on the shore, haruki murakami
ahhhh. this book had so much magic, so many of the right fundamental questions, so much good taboo and sensuality…it is a perfect book, each character unlikely and compelling, the mysteries pulling you forward. there is a section of this story that actually feels impossible – an act of sexual violence that is somehow made part of the journey through innocence, that i have to note as a survivor, and also say i never thought anyone could write such a scene in a way that still felt safe, tender, forgivable and humane. the whole thing is brilliance. the story is paced perfectly, and there are things like having half of a shadow, or talking with cats, that make total sense here. i want to read a lot more of his work.

13. at night we walk in circles, daniel alarcon
this story really echoed garcia marquez’s chronicle of a death foretold in it’s pace, in telling of how scandal and love and youth happen in a small place, or in this case a series of small places where people are trying to make meaning of their lives. i love how daniel writes, and i love what feels like looking behind a curtain at the friendships and society of men, the immense quiet suffering, confusion and pride.

14. killing moon (dreamblood), n.k. jemisin
n.k. writes fantasies where the darkest skinned people are the divine presence, where romance is queer and crosses gender, sexuality, ability and species. there is tension, longing, principle, power play. she easily evokes and drops us into worlds that are fully formed and believable, and then she focuses in on tender interpersonal dynamics. this book really examines death – seeing it as something not to be feared, as a possible transition into ecstasy that i found very compelling.

15. the salt eaters, toni cade bambara
this book is difficult! there isn’t something clear to grab onto and hold as you enter the heart of this healing, and i found myself having to approach it as a spiritual journey rather than a narrative as i was moved, confused, annoyed, touched, witnessed and worked. i am grateful toni opened herself up to this one, and i know this isn’t my last time reading it.

16. americanah, chimimanda ngozi adichie
ahhhhhh. ah ah ahhhh. i saved this book for near the end of my trip because i had great expectations and i wanted to savor the anticipation. adichie delivers. she writes this book about all of these normal things – love, family, friendship, growing up, figuring out who you are and want to be – and she makes it all feel honest and meaningful. what is it like to be aware of yourself being difficult, or being silent in the face of injustice, or walking away from love? how many of us are moved by forces we can’t quite put our finger on, between choices that don’t offer clear and easy next steps? when i finished this book i hugged it, literally, with gratitude.

16. this is how you lose her, junot diaz
yunior! this book felt like it flew past, the voice moving so quickly, so of the world junot is documenting, that i wanted to make myself read it slower, but i couldn’t. i appreciate what feels like a shamelessness in this, the exposure of how straight men learn to speak to each other and think to themselves about women. and how much these women with their fears and care and needs actually mean to the men, in spite of the training to disregard love, to be greedy. i wanted it to go on.

17. how to slowly kill yourself and others in america, kiese laymon
i wrote some about how this book effected me in my delirious travel posting. i think kiese is writing a very particular voice that feels like the open vein of this political moment, wonderful and accessible and also hard to read. i love his southern black boy stance, i love reading him be vulnerable about what he has lost in trying to be tough, i love his relationship with his mama and the women who love him, i love that this collection of essays is designed to be read in one sitting – even though i took a break in the middle to have a spiritual enlightenment moment – and i love that it feels like there is so much more to come from him.

18. y the last man volume 1, brian k vaughan
after falling hard for saga people kept mentioning this work to me and it’s fantastic – the premise is like herland, a world of women, and the experience of a man/men traversing that world. vaughn writes characters you want to kick it with, want to kick the asses of, and want to see win at life. can’t wait to read more.

19. motherless brooklyn, jonathan lethem
this book was a find on the shelf where i was staying once i ran out of books. i grabbed it because it had incredible reviews, and i found it an interesting book – the lead character is a detective who lives with tourette’s and the most fascinating part of the book by far is being inside his tourette’s ticking mind – the self awareness of control and lack of control. made me think how much i take for granted the relationship between my mind and my body. the detective story was fine, but the journey into the protagonist’s brain was the reason to read this book. i’m excited to see ed norton take this on for film.

20. lion’s blood, steven barnes
wow. i wanted to read this book because i had heard about how steven flipped white supremacy in his head to the degree that in the book hard times are called ‘pale times’…i wanted to see this flip. this book is well researched and deeply plausible, and it really pushes the mind to see how clearly white supremacy works, where it is embedded and assumed. there was a point where i was reading and wanting to close the book because the account was so traumatizing, and then had to release a good cry because…that’s my lineage. this is a powerful, innovative and thorough alternate history.

21. healing sex, staci k haines
this book is so necessary. staci is my teacher in my somatics and social justice path, and i have been needing and fearing this book for a few years. i worked through it one chapter at a time and there was so much smart, nonjudgmental, ambitious and practical wisdom in here…i feel like i grew up a few years in my journey of sexual health and power with this book. i recommend it to anyone and everyone who has sex.

22. soul talk: the new spirituality of african american women, akasha gloria hull
this book, prescribed to me by dr alexis pauline gumbs, also got touched on in my delirious post, but i want to add that i thought it was brave of akasha to name that the book was a spiritual journey in and of itself, in addition to being a whisper across spirit between these women of the 80s and those of us reading and learning from their words today. this book is full of vulnerability, and not trying to condense or synthesize black creative and spiritual brilliance, but letting it be ethereal and precise and emotional and mystical. she helped me read the salt eaters, and moving through it one chapter at a time, it put me in contact with my ancestors in a way that feels precious and right.

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