Saturday, July 15, 2017

Recent Reads

Love this short graphic history of the IWW and its radicalism, its struggle for justice for the oppressed, and its myriad accomplishments. Social Studies teachers take note that this has substantial usefulness if you teach economics, labor, civil rights, or race relations as part of your curriculum. I dreamed I read about Joe Hill last night--in cartoon form!

Had a nice conversation with a Lyft driver from Nigeria about politics in our home countries and about the immigrant experience in Trump's America. I told the driver about this novel, which focuses on the experiences of a half-Nigerian, half-German immigrant living and working as a psychiatrist in NY. The narrator sees the world mostly through a European lens, with European attitudes, tastes, and morals. He seems a nice sort, well-rounded and hard-working, intellectual and curious about the world. But he is unable to really connect with other immigrants, those living on the margins of Western societies.  Though he is familiar with and a bit sympathetic to their reasons for radicalization, he is too inside his European self to really understand them. There are nods to Edward Said, Noam Chomsky, Franz Fanon. Late in the book a childhood acquaintance confronts the narrator about a long-repressed crime. This crime serves as analogy for the West's imperial/colonial crimes and their repression on a societal level. A beautiful and sad work, quite substantial.

And speaking of beautiful and sad works--damn! Great portrayal of Lincoln's grief at the loss of his son. The manner of story-telling here is documentary style, with snippets from correspondence, diaries, newspaper reports, and also from the POV of denizens inhabiting a purgatory centered around the cemetery where young Lincoln is buried, and where Abe goes late at night in his despair. Like most of Saunders's fiction, the tragic is balanced by outrageous hilarity. A brisk and thoughtful work, clever in construction and much deeper than expected.

Dixon is an acquired taste, one I acquired back in the '90s when I read Frog. No other writer peels back the curtain on his process to this degree--the reader is plunged into the reminiscences, revisions, and constraints that went into the craft of the story. In fact the structure of his work often IS the story being written overtly on the page. Knowing his oeuvre quite well, I would place this in the middle tier of his novels. It's quite frustrating at times and at others is deeply sad or hilarious. What I like most about Dixon's fiction is his ability to show through that unique voice our own fussy self-revisions, repressions, and constraints--how we craft our own stories about ourselves and those we love. I remember him signing Frog for me at Borders back int he '90s, and correcting by hand with a blue marker two typos before returning it to me. Mind you, Frog is like 800 pages long and he flipped quickly to both spots and made the corrections. Something one of his narrators would do, or do do, or would think about doing and then not.

Chunks of a giant comet smashed into Earth 12,000 years ago, destroying an already advanced human civilization. A few survivors roam Earth teaching other peoples the lost knowledge, and encoding warnings about the calamity's return in sites like Gobleki Tepi and the Giza plateau. I like Hancock's books--because I, too, believe there have been previous civilizations here that were destroyed, and that the presumption we have achieved the heights of wisdom and knowledge and that all who came before are "primitive" is likely the sort of hubris that sank the Atlanteans. But I don't always buy Hancock's arguments or his reasoning--what is a speculative leap on one page becomes an accepted fact later. But: FUN!

Sometimes gorgeous and wise, sometimes cloying and silly--but always worth the journey.

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