Tuesday, July 22, 2008

American Nonrequired Schedule

The dates listed will be post dates. I think one person will be responsible for putting up the first post by, say, 2pm on the post date, and everyone else can add their entries subsequently. That person could rotate or it could be me, or whatever.

Note, the stories are mostly in order, but I grouped together shorter ones that will be two to a week.

Fri. Aug 1 - Middle-American Gothic

Wed. Aug 6 - A Happy Death

Sun. Aug 10 - Ghost Children

Sun. Aug 17 - Rock the Junta

Sun. Aug 24 - American

Sun. Aug 31 - What Is Your Dangerous Idea?

Sun. Sept 7 - Selling the General

Sun. Sept 14 - Loteria

Sun. Sept 21 - How to Tell Stories to Children

Sun. Sept 28 - Adina, Astrid, Chipewee, Jasmine

Wed. Oct 1 - Where I Slept

Sun. Oct 5 - All Aboard the Bloated Boat

Sun. Oct 12 - Love and Honor and Pity...

Sun. Oct 19 - Darfur Diaries

Sun. Oct 26 - The Big Suck

Wed. Oct 29 - Stuyvesant High School

Sun. Nov 2 - Literature Unnatured

Sun. Nov 9 - So Long, Anyway

Sun. Nov 16 - Humpies

Okay so there it is. Anybody that wants to be added as author just email me (abigayle.bessman[at]gmail.com.

Love you readers!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2007 -- Dave Eggers


Alright, it's time to stir things up. As the creator and maintainer of this blog, I used all executive power to choose this book, and what I'm referring to as "Stage 2" of the UBC.

I'd like to have a more interactive, involved section of the blog. I still like the independent selection of books and reviews (and they are helping me choose my new reading material), but I want everyone on the same page of something. Hence "The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2007". This is a collection of essays, poems and short stories which I think will fit our needs nicely. The length should make pieces easy to read in one sitting, and since there is no continuing plot, busy kids like us don't have to sweat if we miss one. Finally, the extreme mix of authors, formats, fiction, non-fiction, investigative news, poetry and nonsense should provide a little something for everyone. I've read the introduction (by Sufjan Stevens) and it tickled me.

As for discussion format, I propose having a separate entry for each work, and multiple contributors to each entry. I'm putting up an Example Entry. I'll go ahead and kick this off doing two entries on the first two pieces August 1st. Thus, anyone who wants to try this out should get their hands on a copy of the book by then. I picked up my copy (in paperback) at B&N for $15.

A schedule and more detail are on their way, try and feel the excitement :)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Black Girl/White Girl by Joyce Carol Oates

- Miranda.

Oh, bother.

This was not a good book. I had high hopes for it, but... no. Spoilers in blue.

The basic storyline is this: Genna Meade, a moderately wealthy daughter of a radical political activist, is in her freshman year at Schuyler University. Her roommate is Minette Swift, a black minister's daughter from D.C. Hijinks ensue. Hijinks that eventually lead to Minette's death.

I'm not really sure what to spoilerfy here, because I'm not going to recommend this book. I'll just put the rest of the plot in blue, but by no means am I telling you to skip ahead.

Genna Meade is weird. She's incredibly needy, but it's so strange. She desperately tries to be friends with Minette, even though Minette seemingly has no interest in her. It's not like Genna doesn't have any other friends, she mentions on more than one occassion that other girls in the dorm like her. She's also bizarrely protective of Minette, for reasons I don't quite comprehend. Genna's parents are bat-shit crazy and her brother ran away to live with relatives when Genna was 11, which I guess could explain why she so desperately tries to create some sort of familial relationship with Minette. Her mother is an alcoholic nutcase. Her father is a radical anarchist who may have connections to criminal enterprises.

Minette Swift is weird. Everybody, except Genna, hates her. Steadily throughout the book she is subjected to more and more acts of racisim, from racist pictures being left under the door, books stolen and vandalized, even the word "NIG" being scrawled in black marker across their dorm door. I know this all sounds terrible, and I felt sorry for her, until it became clear that she was doing it all herself. I'm not sure why, but I think it may have been to get attention, to get a private room, and to get extensions on papers. Once she gets a private room in another campus builing, Minette dies from a fire resulting from all the freakin' candles she left burning.

This book is so confusing. I don't like any of the characters, the plot doesn't really make that much sense, and Oates' sentence structure is awkward. It really feels like she started the book without knowing how it would finish. From the blurb I thought it was going to be about Minette's murder at the hands of the people who were harrassing her and the way Genna and the college deal with the aftermath. My version sounds kind of interesting, right? Like a murder mystery with some racial/political aspects. But no.

I'm willing to give Oates another shot. She's written 119 books, I'm just going to assume that I picked one from the shitty end of the bell curve. Sigh. I give it a D+.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Making Plans

--by Abby

Having settled into my new job, new apartment, new hometown, new home state and new time zone, I'm ready for a project.

I know we've discussed the difference between a book club (where all the members read the same book then come together to discuss it) and an online forum for book discussion (this blog) and the shortcomings of each. For starters, by my count our bloggers now span at least 4 states, not really conducive to scheduling a meeting. But on the other hand, without common purpose we are lacking a real glue to hold the thing together.

So I'm opening the floor up to suggestions. I like the idea of everyone reading the same book at the same time, but I don't know if we should split up the entries, or each do our own, or do a chat or something. The real appeal of online is that everyone can go at their own pace, just check in on certain bits when they get to them.

Let me know what you think, and if anyone has suggestions on material, I'd take those too. I thought maybe a collection of essays or short stories might be a nice baby step, so if you miss one, its not so tragic.

Bring on the creativity.

Middlesex - Book 1

--by Abby

Chapter by chapter seems really difficult for this book (many chapters, too compelling to stop to blog). As an alternative I'm going to do an entry for each book within the novel.

Book 1
One can't help but notice the emblem on the cover of Middlesex that reads: Winner of the Pulitzer Prize. It shows. The writing is fantastic. The narrative style is unique and interesting and really sucks you into the story by mixing the past and present and giving away what seems like too much information, but eventually you realize it isn't a mystery novel. You know how it ends. The thing that keeps you hooked is trying to understand how it comes to such an end. The psychology of the characters is fascinating.

(Spoilers in green)

The book opens with Cal (formerly Calliope) blatantly stating his mixed sex and mingling science, personal anguish and nostalgic, wistful tidbits about the family history. As a person completely defined by his genetics (in a more segregating way than most of us) Cal has studied his family and found all the coincidence, the parallels, the moments of fate that led to his birth as a girl.

The first momentous family story occurs as Cal is in the womb with his grandmother divining his sex with a spoon over his mother's belly. The story reverses back to Cal's highly scientific conception then rewinds back much further to the story of his grandmother as a young woman in the old country.

I am so impressed with the story of Desdemona and her little brother Lefty. From the first, you feel the oncoming incest, but you expect some horrible event, some violence, some mortifying guilty mistake. Instead I found myself falling for their confusing love story, a brother and sister in love, in denial. They are so innocent and young and alone in the world that you really can't judge or hate their forbidden romance, and so instead I was happy for them.

Later, when Desdemona and Lefty are living as man and wife, there is this dread that their children will betray them, punish them for not knowing better. But the children are fine (and then I realize that the kids have to be at least mostly healthy, because I know that their son is Cal's father. Silly me.) Anyway I mourn the loss of intimacy between the couple as Desdemona is consumed with guilt and Lefty with jealousy for his wife's attention.

New fears arise when Desdemona is forced to take a job and unwittingly becomes a silk-stress for the young church of the Nation of Islam (complete with fully functioning militant wing, even as the first Detroit church is in its infancy). And that is pretty much where the first book leaves off, though its interspersed with stories from Cal's adult life that inspire memories of his family's history.

I think one of things that really makes the story believable is the true history of the exodus of Greeks, the early Detroit auto manufacturers, the impact of the Depression. I find I'm picking up quite a bit of history in this story and I like it. I'm really excited to read more. Probably will finish over the long weekend.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Middlesex Handoff


After much silence, I've finally begun Middlesex. I think I'll revise and reissue Miranda's previous posts, adding my thoughts in a different color or something. If I get ambitious, I'll add some summary posts.

I gave up on the Faulkner book, it was way too painful.

To make an effort to acheive my 25 books a year goal, I've made a little calendar for myself, laying out the book plan. I'm thinking about posting it here, but the sidebar is already quite full. I might just put up a link to it instead, or add it as a blog entry and I can repost it whenever I make changes.