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17 posts from March 2007

March 31, 2007

Reading Update

Just finished the third book in Justine Larbalestier's Magic or Madness trilogy, called Magic's Child. I know Justine so the new rule on no reviews applies. But it's a definite "go read this book".

Next up: I haven't decided yet! I started reading The Emigrants by Whatsisface Sebald but the first chapter was so boring I never want to see that book again. Hello, overrated?

March 30, 2007

Leaving Atlanta

I just finished Tayari Jones' Leaving Atlanta and I'm dead impressed.

The book covers the fall of 1981, late in the two-year reign of terror of the Atlanta child murders. The timeline is broken into three parts, each part told, in turn, from the point of view of three different children: LaTasha Baxter, Rodney Green, and Octavia Harrison. Each piece is told in a different voice, and a different person, although I only know that LaTasha and Octavia are told each in a different person because I saw Jones read and she explained that. (I maintain that unless you go out of your way, first and close third are indistinguishable in effect and, as usual, I can't remember which one was first and which close third. But I digress.) Rodney's piece nails the second person, its purpose and advantages, while avoiding its pitfalls.

More impressive, however, than the (mostly) effective use of shifting person, is the fact that Jones manages consistently different voices---understandings, intelligences, ways of expressing---for each child. LaTasha is an ordinary child: a little too naive for her age, and not terribly bright or sensitive. The only thing standing between her and popularity is that feral understanding of how to manipulate the small public opinion of the schoolyard ... and maybe a sense of humor. But when a boy starts paying attention to her, does she snap to quickly. You know where she'll be in ten years--married to a man who will eventually leave her, like her father was about to do.

Rodney's intelligence, and his disassociation, ooze from the creepy second person narrative. You yearn to fix his life and smack some sense into his oppressive parents, even while you're creeped out by his nascent sociopathy and almost in full agreement with the kids who ignore him at school. In a way, this is a kid who has all the advantages, and there's no place in the usual way of things for his disadvantages---the near-complete squelching of his spirit by his father, and of his intelligence by his mother---to bloom. This is a kid who will soon begin to torture animals, and it's incredibly satisfying that his fate is one he chooses.

Octavia is clearly Jones' favorite, a fictional character written into the world Jones actually grew up in. Octavia mentions Jones---or a childhood version of Jones---often, underlining that Jones herself would have been an Octavia if she'd been poorer, or fatherless. Octavia is the most natural of the three, a child who understands the politics of recess while being utterly powerless to affect them to her own advantage. She's smart, funny, spirited, and thoughtful, but a real kid, not a mouthpiece for the author as so many of these characters are. Octavia is the real heart of the novel, and her leaving Atlanta gives the book its title (not a spoiler. It's pretty clear throughout Octavia's piece that she's going to be sent away.)

Jones takes on a lot of issues in this book, and most of them are issues that the mainstream reading public doesn't consider its own problem. For that reason, presumably, and not just because she's black, one of the most accessibly challenging contemporary authors I've encountered will remain midlist at best.

I started writing this over a week ago and haven't had the time to get back to it. So maybe down the road I'll talk more about the book, but I wanted to make sure I got this posted before I finished my next book. Go read it. Serious. This is a terrific piece.

March 20, 2007

Checklist for Originality in Ethnic Writing

A moving portrait (check) of three generations (check) of the Chan(check) family (check) living (check) in Vancouver’s Chinatown (check)

Sammy (check) Chan was sure she’d escaped her family obligations(check) when she fled Vancouver(check) six years ago, but with her sister’s upcoming marriage(check) , her turn has come to care for their aging mother(check) (check) (check) . Abandoned by all four of her older sisters(check) , jobless (check) and stuck in a city she resents(check) , Sammy finds herself cobbling together a makeshift family history(check) (check) (check) (check) (check) and delving (check) into stories (check) that began in 1913(check) (check) , when her grandfather(check) (check) (check) , Seid Quan(check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) , then eighteen years old, first stepped on Canadian soil.(check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check)

The End of East (check) weaves in and out of the past (check) (check) and the present(check) , picking up the threads (check) f the Chan family’s stories(check) (check) : Seid Quan, whose loneliness (check) in this foreign country(check) is profound (check) (check) even as he joins the Chinatown(check) community(check) ; Shew Lin, whose hopes(check) for (check) her (check) family (check) (check) are threatened by her own misguided actions(check) ; Pon Man, who struggles with obligation and desire(check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) ; and Siu Sang, who tries to be the caregiver (check) everyone expects(check) (check) , even as she feels herself unravelling(check) (check) . And in the background, five little girls (check) (check) grow up (check) (check) (check) under the weight of family expectations(check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) . As the past unfolds around her(check) , Sammy finds herself embroiled(check) in a volatile (check) mixture (check) of a dangerous love affair(check) , a difficult and duty-filled relationship with her mother(check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) , and the still-fresh memories of her father’s (check) long illness.(check) (check) (check)

An exquisite (check) and evocative(check) debut (check) from one of Canada’s bright (check) new(check) literary (check) stars(check) The End (check) of East (check) sets family (check) conflicts (check) against (check) the backdrop (check) of Vancouver’s Chinatown(check) – a city(check) within a city(check) where dreams are shattered a(check) s quickly as t(check) hey’r(check) e bu(check) ilt(check) , (check) an(check) d wher(check) history repeats itself(check) (check) (check) through(check) the generations(check) (check) (check) .

No, I did NOT make this up.

March 18, 2007

"Reading" Update

Finally read The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller. Not impressed. Okay, so he did it first. But then Alan Moore turned right around and did it ten times better with Watchmen, and please don't tell me that because that appeared a few months later it wasn't being made at the same time.

I don't do well with a lack of characterization. The "characters" in Dark Knight are flat, including Batman. Watchmen, on the other hand, is messy, full of individual characterization, and ambiguous moments. Not impressed.

March 15, 2007

Book Update

Remains by Mark Tiedemann, falls under the won't-review-because-I-know-the-author rule, but it is a "go read!"

I'll say this: the synopsis sounds like typical genre fare: security guy's security wife dies in an "accident" on Mars and he spends years trying to find out what happened to her, meeting a hot cybrid chick who holds the secret to his wife's death in her head, yadda yadda. But then you start reading about how this hero is motivated by the fact that he can't figure out whether he loved his wife or not and you realize it's a pretty unusual book. Check it out.

Also just finished Cintra Wilson's Colors Insulting to Nature which is pretty fun. Couldn't put it down, actually. Don't feel like reviewing it, either, though. Recommended.

Next I'll be reading Dark Knight Returns. Yeah!

March 14, 2007

Betrayed By My Mother

Just wanted to share:

I was at a family dinner tonight with my uncle, cousins, their little sub-cousin kids, and my folks. My slightly older cousin was saying how she thought she looked damned good for her age (she does), and I quoted Gloria Steinem on being forty: when an admirer told her she "didn't look forty" she said, "This is what forty looks like."

So my mom steps in and says she had lunch with Gloria Steinem once.

I said, "Had lunch with, or were seated at a table with, along with twenty other people?" It turned out to be the latter. "Did you talk to her?" I asked.

"Of course," Momage says haughtily.

'What was she like?"

"She was very nice. Very outspoken. ... Really, she wasn't very feminist."

"What does that mean?"

"Well, you know, she was normal."

There was more, much more, but my cousins and I were laughing (and I was screeching) too hard for me to remember what all she said. Trust me, it was a world of negative definition.

Mom, I never knew you felt that way!

March 11, 2007

BSG Spinoff

Yeah, I'm way behind the times, but I've been sooo gritting my teeth since I heard about the BSG spinoff that I haven't looked into it at all.

Well, I finally did look into it and found out that it takes place fifty years before, on Caprica, and concerns the development of the Cylons.

Yawn.

What part of "Star Trek: Enterprise sucked and the fans hated it" did they not understand? Skiffy is progressive, folks, not regressive. Even if you're, like, Harlan Ellison, and hate women, skiffy is still chronologically progressive. That means don't fucking go back to stuff that we already pretty much know about.

Geez, how hard is that to figure out? But then, that's why BSG is sucking now: because they're going back over stuff they feel they hadn't fleshed out sufficiently the first time around, like exactly how Starbuck's fingers got broked, or exactly how Apollo felt about his grandfather's profession. Guess what? I don't care. Somebody needs to tell these cryptosquares that the writers who worldbuild best are the writers who worldbuild least. Capeesh?

Disgusting

This has to stop.

Reading Update

Have finished Un Lun Dun and am therefore ready to test out my theory that I should never even attempt to review a book written by someone I know, even if the review would be positive.

...

See? It worked!

I've written commentary on friends' books before, but I've decided not to do that anymore, either. All I'll do is say, "Hey, go read it!" or not, and if not, I won't post about it at all, and you'll never know if I read it or if I didn't get to it, because I now know so many people who publish books that I can't possibly read them all! Yay! Or maybe they've just published too many books in one year and I'm not caught up or something. Whatever.

In any case. Go read Un Lun Dun. Seriously. That's all I'll say.

Except this: boy am I reading slowly this year.

March 10, 2007

The Land of Justified Racism Because the Dragons Say So

Kristina Wong has some fun at Kenneth Eng's expense.

March 08, 2007

International Women's Day

Happy International Women's Day!

I like to think of this non-holiday as a time to really think about--not women in general, that's too vast and silly--but the women in your life who are really important to you.

Here's mine:

My mother, of course, the first woman in my life, the person I am turning into (ack!) and who is turning into me (the ornery old coot is gettin' rebellious.)

My sister, who is far away, and my niece, who is slowly/quickly becoming a woman.

My grandmother, who just lost her husband.

My favorite cousin Aimée, who is having a bad month.

My cousin Abby, who is moving soon.

My cousin-in-law, Heather, who is having her third!

Former friends who are also far away, but who have taught me what long-term love and loyalty and selflessness are--and sometimes when you need to stop being selfless and go lick your wounds.

Current friends who have been on my mind lately for one reason or another (in no particular order): Sam (who just broke her knee), Patty (who just left her job), Praba, Tempest, Wendy, Shailja (in permanent transition), Sita, Lauren (who just sold her first book), Sabina, Jean, Robynn, Liz, Charlie (who kicks ass), Nisi, ... and the ones I haven't thought of this week but will think of again soon.

My idols, role models, and mentors: George Eliot, Octavia Butler, Yuri Kochiyama, Nalo Hopkinson, Ursula Le Guin, Shelley Jackson, Lil, Laura Brun, Nancy Hom ... such a short list. Why?

And all of my new colleagues at Women's Initiative for Self Employment, my new job, where mostly women (and some kick-ass men) help other women become self-sufficient. You have never seen such a well-organized, effective group in your life. Seriously.

Think about the important women in your life, then give one a call.

And then donate some money in honor of an important woman in your life:

Women's Initiative for Self Employment

Maitri

A Room of Her Own Foundation

March 06, 2007

ABUSIVE PARENT BRINGS CATHARSIS; IN OTHER NEWS, BSG SUX

Lemme guess, now that Starbuck's DEAD, she gets to come back and haunt people as an angel, sort of like a more annoying Caprica without the red dress. BONG BUH BONGBONG BUH BONGBONG BONG BUH BONGBONG BUH BONG ...

I'm so glad her childhood physical and emotional abuse was all in the service of preparing her to kill herself and take one of the last remaining vipers with her. Oh, and I'm so glad that all those amazing personality quirks that made every BSG fan in the world fall madly in love with her were all the result of abuse---because women aren't that way NATURALLY, they only get mysterious, strong, and enchanting if somebody BEATS ON THEM.

And I'm so glad BSG feels the need to explain EVERY SINGLE LITTLE DETAIL they seeded in the first two seasons, because knowing that every one of Cara's fingers on one hand was neatly broken in the same place wasn't disturbing enough on its own. We had to get to SEE the door slamming on her hand not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES.

I'm so glad it was her military stage mother and not her piano-playing father (hello! How pussy is THAT?) who BEAT ON HER. It's all about strong women, you see. Oh! I get it! Starbuck is B'Elanna Torres! But without the brow ridges and with that dark, grimy edginess that Battlestar Trek Galactica is so rightly famous for. BONG BUH BONGBONG BUH BONGBONG ...

I'm guessing in the next dimension Leoben is going to knock her up with a lil' face-of-the-shape-of-things-to-comebuck, and she's going to stress out about whether or not she'll beat the thing, whether or not it'll have chrome brow ridges, and whether it will be Cylon, Human, or some tragic toastlatto hybrid accepted by neither, reviled by both, and cursed with a bum arm that jerks out with a will of its own at least once a season for the rest of the show's already excessively protracted run, punching its superior officer in the face, and landing its alloyed butt face down in a bucket of water in the brig. It's happened before. It'll happen again.

But BSG has neatly skiied around the shark this time. Why? BECAUSE NO ONE HAS TRIED TO RAPE STARBUCK YET. So you see, the show still has a ways to go to hit rock bottom. Can't WAIT!

March 05, 2007

Leelularah or Something

I got this offa Salon.com so propses.

I actually really liked this song last year, but this vid made me laugh out loud for three minutes, so ...

March 03, 2007

Octavia Butler Tribute Fundraiser!!!!

LAST CALL FOR BOOZE 'N' SCI-FI!

Yes, cows and cowboys, tomorrow's the big day. You DO NOT want to miss this one.

Nalo_1Nalo Hopkinson will be there, she of the interesting hybrid accent, straight from Toronto, author of two of my favorite books: Brown Girl in the Ring and Midnight Robber (wouldn't it be cool if she did a sequel to Brown Girl in the Ring and called it Tralalalala?)

Jewelle
Jewelle Gomez will be there, in all her former grantor glory! Four words: lesbian escaped slave vampires. I know that's enough.

Gomez_penaGuillermo Gomez-Peña will be there, mixing it up, literally, linguistically, futuristically, and poetically. A MacArthur Genius. Heh, like Octavia. Now how often do you get to see geniuses?

Susiebright_1 Susie Bright will be there, erotica'in like there's no tomorrow. Really, do you want to miss the woman who is the nation's true expert on sex fiction? I think not.

MartaacostaMarta Acosta will be there, and can someone please explain to me what could possibly be wrong with Latina vampire chicklit? Yeah, that's what I thought.

DeguzmanJennifer de Guzman will be there. Comix goddess, yes. That's "Woman of Color Comix Editor" to you, sucka, Ms. de Guzman if yer nasty.

So you see why you can't miss out.

Here's the info again:

The Carl Brandon Society presents an

Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship Fundraiser

with readings by

Nalo Hopkinson
Jewelle Gomez
Susie Bright
Marta Acosta
Jennifer de Guzman
and
Guillermo Gomez-Peña

A fundraiser reading to benefit the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship.
Fabulous fabulists honor one of our great writers and raise funds for the next generation.

Sunday, March 4, 5 - 7 pm

The Starry Plough
3101 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA.
510-841-2082
http://www.starryploughpub.com/

$5-20 sliding scale.

The Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship will enable writers of color to attend one of the Clarion writing workshops, where Octavia got her start. It is meant to cement Octavia's legacy by providing the same experience/opportunity that Octavia had to future generations of new writers of color. In addition to her stint as a student at the original Clarion Writers Workshop in Pennsylvania in 1970, Octavia taught several times for Clarion West in Seattle, Washington, and Clarion in East Lansing, Michigan, giving generously of her time to a cause she believed in.

Funniest "Dog" You'll Ever See

I don't know why I never posted this.

Hungarian "Puli" Sheepdogs.

Argh. Cutest puppy ever.

Dogs with dreads. Do they smoke doobs, too?

March 01, 2007

New Year's Resolutions Update

I have framed all of my pictures and hanged them on da wall.

One down, 12 to go.

Black History Month Over

Black History Month ended five minutes ago by my clock and I didn't do what I said I was gonna do. So much for "it's our Black History Month, too!"

I have lots of excuses: exhaustion, being in the middle of a life-transition (no, not menopause, asshats), fighting off viruseses. But during May, API Heritage Month, I'd go out sick and blog something at least every other day, something cranky, no doubt. Bottom line: it's not our Black History Month. Not yet. All rhetoric aside, I still clearly think that it's their Black History Month, not mine, and not my responsibility.

And therein lies the conundrum.

I hinted at it here, when I posted that:

east asians are famous for being afraid of black people, but i steel myself when i see a black man headed my way because that purposeful walk means only one thing: he’s gonna get up into my shit for being asian. 99% of the time, i’m right, too. not all, not most, not even that many black men. just the ones who actually walk towards me that way.

do you know how long it’s been since i’ve taken shit from anyone but a black man for being asian? and yet, every single one of those black men who give me shit are wearing the aura of homelessness or some similar economic desperation on them, and they give me shit while i’m on my way to my fancy nonprofit, bleeding-heart job, or on my way to my mfa creative writing class, stinking of perfumed soap.

in response to Angry Black Woman's question about whether or not blacks can be "racist".

The tension between Asians and Blacks--and indeed between Blacks and all other minorities--exists, is constant, and just never gets talked about.

So how amazing is it that an extremely editorially ill-considered, blatantly racist "column" in an ethnic mag actually gets people talking about this very hidden tension? I'm talking (again) about the Kenneth Eng piece in AsianWeek, which I first saw in Hyphen's blog.

Go back to the article and read down into the comments. There's a lotta stupidity going on there, but it's also the most amazing discussion I've ever seen in Hyphen's comments. Almost every comment so far has said something new. The level of articulateness in these comments is well above par. Why does it take racist assholes to get people talking like this?

Some of the obvious things to say:


  1. Blacks are lowest on the racial totem pole, yet have the strongest racially-based social justice institutions; blacks have more cultural power to defy stereotyped images than all other ethnic minorities combined, yet are probably more judged and worked upon by those stereotypes in real life than all other minorities. This is complicated and difficult to comprehend, and no one who is angry about their lack of privilege will try to understand it.

  2. Fear of blacks nowadays is both the traditional fear of the rampaging negro savage, and the more postmodern fear of the incomprehensibly angry black tongue-lashing. The latter fear has become "racist" because it is so bound up with the former fear, but it is not, in itself, racist. It is the result of racism, where someone holds racist ideas and cannot free herself of them, and is therefore afraid to speak because every time she does, she is taken to task for her racist ideas. I want to separate these two fears because the latter fear is, in part, a fear of giving offense, and it is exactly that fear of giving offense that prevents many people from venturing a racist idea and then being corrected.

  3. I do not know to whom Black History Month belongs. I do not know what to do about it.

  4. Asians and blacks. Oh my gods. I can't even begin to touch that subject until you've listened to Ishle Park's amazing piece "Sa I Gu" on this CD. That's my cop out. There are so many individual crossovers, and so many individual clashes. What there has almost never been, except during the Rodney King riots, or "Sa I Gu", is groups of Asians and Blacks beating on each other, or, actually, talking to each other. I can't say anything.

  5. Except this: the Chinese are very, very racist against blacks, yes, it's true. It's culture-wide, and it's very different from how whites do it. The justifications are different, even here in the States. There's an imbibing of white cultural valus, certainly, but there's also a special Chinese brand of racism all its own, where "ghost/demons" are generally white, but there's a black version as well. Where everyone who isn't Chinese is a monkey, and not in a good way.

  6. And this: Chinese Americans led some of the early Asian American Movement groups and they modeled their protest consciously on the Civil Rights Movement ... for reasons that are obvious now--because they did it--but were not obvious then, when Chinese were considered foreigners, and not somehow "native" lessers, like blacks. It was the consciously taken lessons of the Civil Rights Movement, taken by the Asian American Movement, that enables discussions of parallels and differences, compare and contrast, between As Ams and Af Ams today. We chose to make blacks our model of activism and not whites. As Ams chose to model our Movement after Civil Rights and not the equally accessible and equally powerful white anti-war movement. Everybody needs to stop and think about that.

And here's the Black History Month conundrum:

Blacks don't get the spotlight often, so I should stay out of theirs in February.

But that doesn't mean that I should ignore Black History Month. That would be just as bad.

But it's weird to play an explicitly supportive role, for a whole month. Isn't that weird? And patronizing?

And I have all of this unresolved anger against blacks which is genuine, if vague. And did I mention unresolved?

And I'm angry at this specific black pundit for a stupid comment about Asians and I don't know where to put it to get it out of the way for February.

Plus: Black History Month: not really my deal, is it?

Ohmygod, if I say anything at all during Black History Month everyone will be looking at me and judging me and what if I say/do the wrong thing? It's not like anyone else who's not black is doing anything to take the heat off of me.

Am I really just an insufferable goody-goody?

Plus, now the month is over.

Yes, I'm being partly silly but I'm also deadly serious. I have not given up on My Black History Month. I just don't think it'll happen in February.

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