The Blogger on Books Series dates back to my time on My Space. Put a book nerd on social media, what am I going to talk about? Books, of course. And a series was born. I write about books just-read. Not every one; just the ones I want to write about. Catch Blogger on Books IV, V , VI , VII, VIII, IX, and X here on the site, and Blogger on Books 1 through 3 on Wadadli Pen (the online platform for the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize, a programme I launched in 2004 to nurture and showcase the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda, and which I still coordinate). Reviews migrated from my My Space page are tagged as throwback reviews. Also since I’ve started receiving more of these, going forward I’ll be sure to tag with an (RR) any review or complimentary copies received from the author or publisher whether for review purposes or not – all reviews are still my honest opinion. Also-also, a ‘few’ of my quick takes have become lengthier than anticipated. So, going forward, if they do, I’m just going to make them a full review even if, length aside, they still feel like quick takes to me.
Who am I? Author, Journalist, Editor, Producer, Columnist, Course/Workshop Facilitator, #gyalfromOttosAntigua
Last read …
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – It’s not surprising that the author said that she was drawn to her post-apocalyptic fictional world by a sense of awe for the trappings of our modern world – trappings, like electricity, air travel, satellite communication – often overlooked, and the contemplation of their absence. This isn’t the zombie or similar type apocalypse (which I usually quite enjoy & even wrote my own) – though there is a virus and danger, standards of the genre, but the focus is people feeling their way in a world bereft of every crutch they’d taken for granted, people struggling not just to survive but to connect and to hold on to what matters from the past even as they build a new future. I love that one of the things they decide matters is history (one character building a museum) and art (from the independent in-universe comic series drawn by one character pre-apocalypse and carried by a handful of others post-apocalypse, the story centering a travelling “symphony” of Shakespeare actors – and isn’t King Lear just the perfect bleak Shakespearan experience for the dystopia). There is even celebrity obsession, an element of modern engagement with pop culture, with one of the main characters toting paparazzi clippings of a long dead actor and his many wives. This is remarkable to me as an artist since most (read: all) dystopian fiction I’ve read are survivalist (and apparently the arts has no place in those worlds). But focused on community-building, not just survival, “Station Eleven is very much a hopeful book,” like the author said in a video I found after listening to a reading of the book (a rare audio listen for me). I am struck by how much this mirrors my own final note: “what an unexpectedly hopeful ending”. The TV/streaming series was already on my to be watched list but this read bumps it up. I really enjoyed this book.
Among its artful qualities I noted and responded to was the motif of glass (including paperweights), real and invisible, a sort of divide between reality and a hyper realized version of it; the deeply connective characterisation of our first of several point of view characters, Jeevan, and continuing – but starting with Jeevan’s complex emotions, earnestness, and dry humour; the rising action – the unfortunately relatable way that, in a pandemic, things crumble whiplash fast through unawareness to disorientation to panic to acceptance of the new forever-changed reality. I found myself wondering when was this written (a quick google says 2014, at least five years before we had ever heard of COVID-19).
I felt all the familiar frustrations of that time but through the lens of fiction could extend a little more grace than I could toward in real life people I knew who – though infected – did not quarantine, and resisted both masking and vaccines (sigh). Because sure Laura, jeevan’s girlfriend, for instance, was a litte frustrating in her failure to listen and absorb his warning, but also, without context, he does sound crazy. And he’s aware that his actions – his seven shopping carts in a single shopping blitz – don’t quite compute: “feeling foolish and afraid and a little crazy”. But he was on point as were those of us who took the pandemic seriously from the jump. And, as with the moment I found myself in March 2020 sitting on my bed in the complete silence of shutdown – curfew, no travel etc. – there is a definitely feeling of, well, that escalated quickly, even with the various character and time jumps. This is an author with a good handle on pacing (because it’s fast but not rushed), as she tugs the reader in to this fictional world.
I did find myself losing track of who was who (e.g. the actor who died in the opening sequence’s many wives – wondering why I was spending so much time with him and where was Jeevan?). With these dystopian stories, it’s always tricky isn’t it, who’s point of view are you telling the story from and why, but I was attached early on to Jeevan and became attached to others (the once eight year old actress, the artist who became one of the actor’s wives, the actor’s friend from before who settled with a community in the airport and started the museum there…and whom I kept mixing up with Jeevan in my mind because I found them both endearing). Initially, though, I found the flashbacks to the actor who died just before the pandemic and his affairs and acting journey a bit head scratching in terms of relevance. But many of the characters grew on me in time – though, clearly, I still have trouble remembering all their names.
I didn’t always follow what was happening, especially after the 20-year time jump – which might be a result of my ongoing challenge to focus during audio book listens (there may have been some napping involved). I had so many questions as I listened but was hooked enough to wait for the answers to come (the way the characters from the before times showed up in each others’ life in the world after).
I, also, found myself questioning how completely all technology disappeared, and to an extent the memory of it (a child who was eight when everything happened is “fascinated by electricity” years later?). Society returned practically to a pre-Industrial Revolution stage…and, I don’t know, when things settled, wouldn’t there still be, among those remaining, the knowledge that produced the technology…or certain medicines that could still be extracted from plants (shortened life expectancy being one of the realities of this world and not just from violence). Things wouldn’t be as they were, obviously, but surely enough of the knowledge remained, even with global populations decimated, to make a go of it (much as, a character made a go of a new world newspaper) seems plausible to me…and to the author’s credit, there’s an inkling that they’re starting to get there by the end.
Finally, there were some things about the world building – the patchwork nature – that I found charming. Example: “I remember you, he said when they reached him, you can set up camp at the Walmart” – markers of modern society almost carnivalequely stripped of their context and prestige.
Older Reads (i.e. books completed)…
Anansesem inaugural issue September 2010 (throwback review) – Quick Takes I
The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama (throwback review) – Quick Takes II
BIM: Arts for the 21st Century vol. 2 issue 1 (throwback review) – Quick Takes I
Catapult: A Caribbean Arts Grant Stay Home at Artist Residency Resident Blogs Issue 2 Vol 2 (2020)
Dreads by Francesco Mastalia and Alfonse Pagano (with an introduction by Alice Walker) (throwback review) – Quick Takes 1
Mythium: The Journal of Contemporary Literature and Cultural Voices vol. 1 no. 1– Quick Takes I
My Life So Far by Jane Fonda (throwback review) – Quick Takes I
The Return Journey by Maeve Binchy (throwback review) – Quick Takes II
Speak Out! Issue 3
What Start Bad A Morning by Carol Mitchell
The White Woman on The Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey (throwback review) – Quick Takes II
Ya Ya Surfeit by Chadd Cumberbatch – Quick Takes II
DNFs (the books I did not finish) –
My first of these of 2023 is How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney. I stopped at the start of chapter 2. Hear me out. I have had this on my TBR for a while because it’s one of those essential books and after one chapter of the audio book, I agree; it is. But I don’t have the bandwidth just now, or maybe ever. But the non-fiction book first published in 1972 by the Guyanese academic and activist who was assassinated in 1980 in a bombing in his home country, at the young age of 38, is essential. Essential in understanding how “all of the countries named as underdeveloped in the world were exploited by others” and why “many parts of the world that are naturally rich are actually poor”. But after nearly two hours of listening, I realize I’m going to have to get these insights another way – it’s a me problem. And I think that’s fine; every book isn’t for every one – even the essential ones.
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