Friday, July 27, 2012

Movie Trailer: Cloud Atlas

Despite having read David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas two years ago, it is still the book that garners the most reads and comments of all my posts. I think it has something to do with intrepid readers Googling the book during their own Cloud Atlas journeys; comments range from scathing judgment of my apparent “lack of intellect” during my initial and confusing encounter with the story (clearly these readers did not care to follow up and continue reading my own Cloud Atlas experience, and I think I ended up deleting that anonymous comment) to a sort of relief and found camaraderie of mutual questioning.

These comments really do get entertaining, as the commenters have begun a sort of unraveling discussion and debate with each other, despite comments appearing months apart. My heart always jumps a little when I get the email about a new comment on Cloud Atlas, because I want to shout to these comments (except for the insulting ones, obvs), THANK YOU. THIS IS THE POINT OF THE BLOG.

Anyway, because of all this, I feel it necessary to post this newly released trailer for the upcoming film adaptation of Cloud Atlas. I cannot even begin to imagine the difficulty in translating Mitchell’s words from paper to movie screen. It’s beyond me.

Watch. Think. Discuss.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Nonfiction | The Complexities of the Rez

David Treuer’s Rez Life is a nonfiction work that examines the histories and complexities of modern day American Indian Reservations. With a style that shifts between story-telling, journalism, and history lesson, Treuer looks closely at issues such as treaty rights and sovereignty, mostly from the perspective of the Minnesota and Wisconsin tribes around which he grew up.

I learned some really interesting things from this book, things such as:

  • There are 564 federally recognized tribes in the US and 310 reservations, 12 of which are bigger than Rhode Island and 9 of which are bigger than Delaware.
  • The Hard Rock Cafe franchise is owned by the Seminole tribe.
  • Native Americans weren’t considered US citizens until the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924.
  • They couldn’t freely practice their own religions until the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978.
  • And they couldn’t legally drink until 1953.
  • Indian gaming casinos bring in $25 billion a year compared to Las Vegas’ $12 billion.
  • Tribal land is held in a trust and cannot be taxed by the federal government.
But beyond these quick facts and figures, Treuer delves deep into the controversy, misunderstandings, and complexities of who American Indians are, trying to find a comfortable place that melds their past and present while both discovering and then fighting for the rights they technically already have.
Sovereignty and treaty rights are the two biggest areas of conflict and confusion, within both native and non-native populations. Treuer credits misunderstanding as the root of issue, wonderfully summarized:

“Neither side understands what a treaty is and how treaty rights work. Indians aren’t ‘allowed’ to hunt or fish. It isn’t a matter of ‘permission. To cast treaty rights as ‘special rights’ is to suggest that they are in some sense an expression of pity or a payment for wrongs done or a welfare system for Stone Age people. But treaty rights were not ‘given’ to Indian people because of past cruel treatment or because of special racial status. Nor were treat rights ‘given’ to Indians in exchange for land…Rather, when Indian bands signed treaties (and no new ones have been signed since the end of the treaty period in the 1870s), they reserved the land, which became reservations, and they reserved rights. Treaty rights are rights that the Indians who signed treaties always had, rights they explicitly reserved in the treaties.” (p. 101)

The issue that Treuer attempts to address in Rez Life is simply that many native people don’t know what rights they reserved over a hundred years ago. And the non-natives don’t know. And the local governments don’t know. And the federal government doesn’t know. And so many small questions that begin as small conflicts lead to bigger battles and monumental rulings once the time is taken to sift through old documents, determine historic intent, and issue a ruling that can end up being completely groundbreaking.

For example:

  • Do non-natives have rights on native land?
  • Do natives have rights both on and off the reservation?
  • Is tribal law sufficient to handle Indian conflict?
  • Is tribal law sufficient to handle conflict involving both Indians and non-Indians?
  • Can homes, businesses, buildings, and consumer goods on reservations be taxed?
  • Who, if anyone, has power over tribes? State government? Federal government?
I know that describing a book as both fascinating and boring sounds like a total contradiction, but that’s the most honest way I can describe this one. As I mentioned, the narrative’s style is varied, and sometimes, a history lesson is just not an interesting read. And sometimes you don’t want to hear anecdotes about people you don’t know. Or read an in-depth profile of something that doesn’t personally affect you. But all of these things together paint a much clearer picture of the bigger issues than any single one of these narrative styles would be able to do alone. Even though you may get bored after five pages of history, Treuer has given you the background details to understand where these people you’re now reading about are coming from and what exactly they’re dealing with. It’s actually quite a brilliant way to present a complex issue.

I could go on with the notes I took, but those really aren’t going to be of any interest to you. This book, though, should be if you’re a nonfiction or history fan. You’ll definite feel like you learned something by the end.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Missing Piece

Anne of Green Gables has been one of my favorite stories for as long as I can remember, ever since I saw the CBC movies as a wee one and received a set of the first three novels from someone I can’t even remember.

A fortuitous visit to the library’s Book Barn a few years ago led me to most of the rest of the series—in the same imprint (very important!)—but I was still missing one: the elusive #5!

Since then, I have searched. I have scoured used bookstores as well as sites like Paperback Swap, Amazon, and where it’s next to impossible to ensure that the book I need is of the same imprint, size, and series as the rest of them. Thus, my collection has had a hole for the past 3 years (at least!).

And then a serendipitous trip to the new and pretty McKay’s in Nashville led me to the missing piece of the puzzle, and $1.75 later, the collection is complete!

This series will get a re-read very soon! Anyone interested?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Fiction | Oddities of the Ruralist

I really love the short story. It requires an art and skill completely different than the full novel, and I think George Singleton has got that skill down pat.

His book, The Half-Mammals of Dixie, is the first short story collection I’ve read in a while. On a whole, I loved parts and didn’t love parts.

I thought the first two stories started off strong—on a humorous, biting sort of note. “Show-and-Tell” is about a kid’s father who sends him to school with old relics from his former relationship with the teacher, disguised as important artifacts, just to torture the teacher. I mean, that’s a pretty humorous concept. 
The second, “Fossils,” is about a KKK-member newspaper deliveryman who cuts up the papers to censor anything related to integration. One man has had it, and he and his son drive around leaving flyers for an estate sale at the deliveryman’s house to try and get even. Again, a brief comedic piece that made me really chuckle.
It mostly starts with the fourth story, “When Children Count”… when the characters nosedive into something you feel is going to be lifelong hopelessness. Most characters are connected outside of their stories by a local flea market where swindles are part of every transaction and people live by a thread of hope that business will pick up once Floridians head north in respite from Miami’s summer heat. “Answers” involves a husband and wife playing 100 questions as part of a mail-order mend-your-marriage kit; “Bank of America” follows a group of men—friends from high school—that just don’t seem to really like each other and are all sleeping with one’s wife; “Duke Power” introduces a corporate patsy to a flea market character we met back in story number two with disastrous results at a bowling alley; and “Page-a-Day” unwinds one couple’s apathetic relationship in one strange day.

I know you don’t get the full story in a short story and are sometimes left wanting to know more about the characters. But frankly, many of them just weren’t very likable so I didn’t want to know more! These were “characters” by every definition of the word—drunks, cynics, screw-ups; I just found it so…hopeless. They all seemed like lost, lonely people whose problems mostly stemmed from their own shortcomings and unwillingness to do anything.

Maybe I’m taking these stories about the South much too personally, but this hopelessness is a version of the South that I don’t want to read about and don’t want to share with my non-Southern neighbors. Yes, it’s a departure from the other Southern stereotypes in literature (race relations and the old-money drawl), but it highlights another Southern stereotype that I find negative—an overwhelming sense of apathy, small-mindedness, stuck wherever you were put.

Kudos to Singleton for branching out in Southern lit. I think he gives these oddities of rural Southern life an honest (and sometimes satirical) look, no matter whether I like it all or not.

I wish I hadn’t already returned my copy to the library, because the hardcover version has THE BEST author photo I’ve ever seen, and I can’t find it anywhere online!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Blog Tour: An American Family

I just read a great book last week.

I’ve been off the review request/blog tour train for quite some time simply because I don’t have the time, but when I was approached with Peter Lefcourt’s An American Family, I hopped back on board because the premise sounded right up my alley.

The narrative is a sprawling one, following the core members of one family from Kennedy’s assassination through 9/11. Nathan, the patriarch of the Perl family, immigrated to New York from Poland in his youth and has kept a long-standing job in the garment district like many other immigrants of Jewish descent. His five children—three from his first wife, two from his second—are growing up through the turmoil of the 60s and 70s. You can see how each of them are shaped by the world around them, each character defined by experiences at a particular age—from the older, ambitious Michael, struggling to make a fortune through old-fashioned business, to the youngest Roberta, a wild child hippie whose youth ran alongside the Woodstock movement.

We also meet the eldest son, Jackie—a lawyer with the wrong connections, often struggling with booze and a gambling problem; Elaine, the eldest daughter—one who followed the “right” path but now feels trapped in her life that has been created according to a traditional way of living; and Steven, the youngest son, who struggles with his sexuality and finding his place in a world that is changing and a family that isn’t.

If just those character descriptions make this sound slightly depressing, let me assure it that it isn’t. So this family has its share of issues; whose doesn’t?

I love the sweeping historical novels as long as the characters help guide you, the reader, along that journey. In this story, the characters are congruous with the history as they try to assimilate, shape, bend, and even break the traditions and standards of the society surrounding them. Because they are each so carefully crafted and we know so much about them, it’s exciting to see where the changing world takes each of them throughout the story’s timespan.

On the surface, this is a really enjoyable story about really complex and really different characters that are tied together by family bond. On a deeper level, though, it’s about how environment, society, and history all shape people differently, and everyone struggles to make sense of it all and create their own sense of place.

In this case, it’s about finding a place as an American family, but the sentiment is really universal.

An American Family is available as a Kindle download on Amazon. Be sure to check out the rest of the blog tour here.

Friday, July 6, 2012

An interruption from the Nothing that has been regularly scheduled…

This blog has taken a bit of an unplanned hiatus the past few weeks. I have drafts to about five different posts started, but I just haven’t had the motivation to finish them. Something about summer and my constant need/quest to be doing something outdoors, along with my vacation mentality thanks to the break from classes, has left me with zero motivation to transfer my thoughts to actual words. As you can see, I couldn’t even muster up enough energy to finish my monthly Next On the List post (and yes, that was one of the drafts!).

But next week, my two week “vacation” is over (I’ve been in San Diego and Nashville, not really for legit vacation) and it’s back to the real world. And hopefully my brain returns to New York with me, and I’ll have enough focus to write on the great stuff I’ve been reading these past few weeks.

Coming up:

  • My long-awaited explanation on the contradictory nature of Rez Life
  • The scandal of last month’s book club choice, The Bad Girl (if I can even remember it at this point!)
  • An exploration of Southern short stories in The Half Mammals of Dixie
  • Thoughts on the new Alison Bechdel memoir
  • Pining for travel and exploration with To Timbuktu
  • And the chronicle of An American Family through the latter half of the 20th century
It’s easy to get behind in blogging, and sometimes it’s just necessary to take a break; when you’re forcing yourself to do it, that sentiment is going to come through in the way you write. It would be very easy to drop it altogether, but then I remember how much I enjoy having a sort of reading journal that I can go back to, and I remember how much deeper I explore a book when I write about it, and so I pick back up my figurative pen and paper and get back to it.