A Country Divided

By coincidence, two pieces of media I recently consumed simultaneously scared the shit out of me (sorry for the cursing, mom, but it’s true). It’s no secret that I’m scared and furious at our current administration and spend most mornings reading the paper while rolling my eyes at their latest lies. No one can know what will come out of this presidency, but a new book and a new TV show do their best to show how a divided country can lead to ruin.

I’m surely not the first person to talk about either of these, but I would recommend not consuming them at the same time because it truly meant a lot of dreary, negative thoughts for me. American War takes place in the latter half of the 21st century (around 2075-2095) in a United States fighting a Second Civil War, with most of the coasts (and Florida – sorry, Florida) flooded due to climate change and the southern states fighting for the right to use now-illegal fossil fuels. As I read this book, I also started watching The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu. I’m sure there is no need for me to summarize it here, but to be brief it shows a United States that has been toppled by a theocracy and places women in subservient roles in which the “fertile” ones are ceremoniously raped on a monthly basis by high-level men in hopes of producing more children.

So, yeah. As far as The Handmaid’s Tale goes, I’ve been too horrified to watch more than one episode so far, but all signs point to it being an incredible show – at least, incredibly written, directed, and acted; incredibly scary to watch and consider how this could become reality.

As for the book, I am the Cutthroat Reader after all…

WHAT I READ:

American War (Omar Al Akkad)

SNAPSHOT REVIEW:

On a scale of 1 to 5 rebel states, I give this 4 assassins.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

An audacious and powerful debut novel: a second American Civil War, a devastating plague, and one family caught deep in the middle a story that asks what might happen if America were to turn its most devastating policies and deadly weapons upon itself.

Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, that Louisiana is half underwater, and that unmanned drones fill the sky. When her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for displaced persons, she begins to grow up shaped by her particular time and place. But not everyone at Camp Patience is who they claim to be.

Eventually Sarat is befriended by a mysterious functionary, under whose influence she is turned into a deadly instrument of war. The decisions that she makes will have tremendous consequences not just for Sarat but for her family and her country, rippling through generations of strangers and kin alike.

HOW IT MADE ME FEEL:

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To be perfectly frank, I really gave this book 5 stars for concept and 3 stars for execution. As stated above, I love the idea of the book, but found myself at times interested and at times bored by the actual writing. Setting this book up in vignettes had some unfortunate flaws. We see life in pre/mid war border states; life in a refugee camp; a bit of life as a sniper for the rebels; a bit of life in prison; and a bit of life afterwards. But with these bits I never got a full picture of the countries, the war, or life for everyone, and most of it was a bit slow. We are tracing Sarat’s evolution into the North-hating person she becomes, but even with the intense eye focused on her, I didn’t get why she was quite so filled with hate.

I devoured the book and still recommend to others – but I suspect the topic of the book and its timelienesss will elevate it a tad more than it really should be.

Even though I didn’t love American War, I still think this book and The Handmaid’s Tale should be required viewing and contemplation for everyone. A book I was reading this morning struck me with the following line (discussing living as a gay man in modern America):

But you know we’re always going to have to rely on the goodwill of those of you who are straight for our survival. And that’s the damned truth.

This sad and beautiful line keeps sticking in my mind. It’s incredibly true for all marginalized communities – essentially anyone who isn’t a white, cis, straight, white wealthy male in America. The LGBT community, immigrants, lower class, women, non-Christians, etc etc – and all intersections of those groups – are just holding our breaths and crossing our fingers that those in power allow us to hold on to (or obtain) basic human rights like equal marriage, liberty, and the rights to our bodies. And the message of what could happen if those rights are taken away are perfectly captured in these two pieces of art.

Is This A Good Book?

It’s rare that I read a book and don’t instantly know how I feel about it. Looking back at my Goodreads reviews, I tend to like most things (3 stars), love some things, and hate (2 stars or less) just a few others. In fact, in all my Goodreads reviews I have only given three books a 1-star review. So, finishing up a book and not instantly knowing how I want to rate it isn’t something I usually face.

That’s exactly what happened when I finished This Is Where It Ends (Marieke Nijkamp). In a nutshell, it shows the perspectives of four different students over fifty-four minutes as a high school shooting occurs. Just from that description you can probably guess why I’m so uncertain how I feel about it. Do I feel uneasy and not-liking-it because it made me feel icky and sad, or do I feel uneasy and not-liking-it because of the way the author wrote it?

In short: both. School shooting narratives are just never something I’ll like reading (is ‘like’ the right word for such a challenging topic?). But, there was also a lot narratively missing from this: framing it over fifty-four minutes means that you don’t get a lot of background or a lot of resolution (there’s about a three-page epilogue). It was also incredibly black-and-white in the characterizations, particularly of the villain.

WHAT I READ:

This Is Where It Ends (Marieke Nijkamp)

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SNAPSHOT REVIEW:

I ultimately decided to give this 2 stars. Not for me.

 #FirstFifty Synopsis:

We are introduced to four different narrators who are in various places in their high school: Sylv and Autumn are in the auditorium listening to the principal’s speech, Tomás is skipping to break into some administrative offices; and Claire is training for a big track race coming up with the rest of the varsity team. We learn tidbits of each of their lives, until the chapter opener reads that it’s 10:05 and someone appears in the auditorium with a gun.

 

 

Turns out I’m not alone in this uneasy feeling – I brought up this book at our book club tonight and the others agreed with me on the general “eeee don’t thiiiink I liked it” feeling (and they are booksellers and librarians, so they know more than I do).

What I learned from this book is that it’s hard to know what makes a book good or bad. Just because a book covers serious topics doesn’t mean that it’s a terrible book (See: A Little Life, which is one of the most depressing books I’ve ever read). But, in this case, there just wasn’t enough to make it a worthwhile piece of literature.

 

 

 

 

 

My Grown-Up November Books

Because I’m too lazy to craft full blog posts around these books, allow me to post some mini-reviews of a few grown-up(ish) books that I read!

WHAT I READ:

Commonwealth (Ann Patchett), Book #115 of 2016.

SNAPSHOT REVIEW:

On a scale of 1 to 5 affairs, I give this 4 sleazy authors.

#FirstFifty Synopsis:

Bert Cousins is going to a christening for Franny, his colleague Fix’s new baby, when he meets Fix’s wife Beverly and forms an instant attraction for her – and they kiss. Decades later, adult Franny sits with her father as he goes through chemo and reminiscences on the past. By page 61, we’ve shifted decades again as young Franny and her sister Caroline struggle to integrate with their four new step-siblings in the mingled family of Bert and Beverly.

HOW IT MADE ME FEEL:

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Next!

WHAT I READ:

The Hundred-Year-Old-Man (Jonas Jonasson), Book #116 of 2016

SNAPSHOT REVIEW:

On a scale of 1 to 5 grumpy Swedish men, I give this 3 inferior Oves.

#FirstFifty Synopsis:

Allan Karlsson is preparing for his 100th birthday party in his room at the Old People’s Home when he decides to simply step out of the window (more easily said than done when you are 100), walk to the bus station, and see where the money in his pocket will take him. As he’s in the bus station, a young man desperate for the bathroom asks him to watch his heavy suitcase; Allan decides to take it with him instead (hoping it maybe has real shoes in it, as he only has slippers). That trips off a series of events as Allan travels throughout Sweden with this suitcase and its mysterious contents. Meanwhile, we flash back to the beginning of the 20th century and simultaneously start learning more about where Allan came from.

HOW IT MADE ME FEEL:

Ugh, my cute gif-maker isn’t working, so here are the words I would search to find the perfect gif:

  • Eyes fluttering with cuteness
  • Bored

(very complex emotions. YOU’RE WELCOME, WORLD.)

 

Reflections on my Ghost Life

Confession: I think a lot about Ghost Lives (via Adventurous Kate), my Sliding Doors lives: what my life would be like had X happened instead of Y. If I had gone to this college instead of that college; if the military hadn’t transferred my father to Virginia and instead we had stayed in New York; if I had never had my first internship in international education that eventually led me to my chosen career path.

I particularly think about my ghost life in relation to DC. I lived in DC for six years during college and grad school as I hatched from a little baby freshman college student to a semi-adult (at the very least, I learned how to pay bills, and I kind of learned how health insurance works). While my mother could certainly tell you about my ups and downs during this time (many a teary phone call, as I do not handle transition well) I tend to look back on this time with rose-colored glasses. I had so many lovely friends around me, DC is a genuinely fun city (at least Kristen-level fun- I have no need for 24 hour transit since my bedtime is 10pm), and it was just a bus ride away from home.

When I left DC in 2012, I was pretty ready to leave. Many of my college friends were starting to drift away, and I wanted a new challenge. And so, I spent a year bouncing around Europe and Asia and living at home like a bum, and then moved to Boston three years ago, where I have shivered ever since.

Part of me wonders though: who would I be if I were in DC as a late twenty-something individual? Would I have remained in my old, familiar ruts, or would I be taking advantage of the many events and networking opportunities? Where would I be working, and where would I be living?

There’s obviously no way for me to know, although I felt some twinges of nostalgia over the past year as work sent me to DC on a semi-regular basis. As I met up with friends and explored the city with fresh eyes, I felt a little sad to be going back to my little rut in Boston. (To be honest, I have way more friends in DC than in Boston, which is just depressing.)

My ghost floats around DC, and who knows? Maybe my body will join her sometime soon.

Oh yeah, there’s a book review here. It’s a book set in DC, so there’s your connection.

WHAT I READ:

The Hopefuls (Jennifer Close), Book #103 of 2016

SNAPSHOT REVIEW:

On a scale of 1 to 5 DC Tropes, 1 being THAT HUMIDITY and 5 being BUT EVERYONE IS SO BORING, I give this 3 corrupt politicians.

#FirstFifty Synopsis:

Beth and her husband, Matt, kick off the book in 2009 having recently transplanted themselves in DC; Matt worked on the Obama campaign, and is eager to continue the Hope and Change in the presidency. Beth is less than thrilled, because apparently DC is a hellhole compared to the Elysium that is New York City – DC is hot, humid, only populated by government workers (which is surely a surprise for the 60% of the DC population who does not work for the government, including formerly yours truly), and she just has nothing to talk about with them. She mostly spends the first fifty pages bitching about living in DC, going to dinner at her in-laws’ house (her MIL does sound pretty terrible – any woman who refers to her first child as her failed “first pancake” has definite shades of Lucille Bluth), and basically not making any effort to make friends or find a job of her own. The first fifty pages end with Matt and Beth meeting another couple who actually seem interesting and full of life: Ashleigh and Jimmy.

WHO KNOWS what will happen from there? (Well, I know, because I read this already)

HOW IT MADE ME FEEL:

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NEED MORE?

In general, I give this a “meh.” I didn’t hate it? I liked reading the stuff about DC? But certainly there was a lot to be desired. More here! And I’ll try to read a better one next time, SORRY GUYS