Octavia Butler’s Kindred


I’m blown away by the sheer density and complexity of this novel for a number of reasons, but I’d have to say Butler’s technique of “layering” is so expertly done as to require multiple readings in order to unpack the story.  In other words, reading Kindred is like cutting into an onion and peeling back layer upon layer to reveal the deep meaning within. One of the more surface-level layers is simply that Butler–the first black, female author to write a science-fiction novel–has written a book about a black, female writer who is, in essence, writing, or rather, –re-writing–history and her future.

By definition, “kindred” means to be “connected” or “related to” and maybe most obviously would connote family relationships and ties. Yet, the first mentioning of the word is a departure from that obvious definition and appears early in the book on page 57 when the main protagonist, Dana, describes her white husband, Kevin: “He was like me–a kindred spirit crazy enough to keep on trying.” The statement is both double-entendre and a foreshadowing of things to come: you must be tenacious enough to pursue the life of a writer, bold enough to disrupt the status quo, and crazy enough to keep on trying.

Dana likens the job market in 1976 Los Angeles to a “slave market”, a clear juxtaposition to the literal slave market where Dana and Kevin are mysteriously transported via time-travel. Here, in the 19th century antebellum south, Dana confronts her familial past where American slavery and the promise of freedom are as inextricably linked as black & white identities.  Will Dana’s time-travels allow her to change the course of history and influence Rufus, son of a slave owner & blood-relative of her great great grandmother, whom she is called upon to save time and again? How will Rufus and Dana embody or challenge the systems of institutionalized racism they were born into? It is absolutely remarkable how Butler masterfully stacks layer upon layer to build characters as complex and enmeshed as our troubled and not-so-distant history of slavery and racism in the United States.

Thematically, Kindred is incredibly dense and complex, but I’ll focus on the theme of “performance” or “acting one’s part” that permeates the entire novel.  In several scenes, characters must “perform” their respective “roles” unless they want to suffer the consequences of falling out of line. Time-travel itself is a brilliant way to point out how racism is a construct and not the natural order.  Should we really require the passing of time in order to recognize and challenge systems of power & oppression?

When Dana brings Kevin to the plantation with her on her second journey back through time and space (she merely has to be physically holding onto him in order to transport him with her), she assumes the role of his slave as a matter of survival.  Kevin, of course reluctant to perform his assigned role as her “owner” accepts the painful challenge in order to protect his beloved wife. That Dana even needs protecting in this way brilliantly exposes and lays bare additional gender and sexuality constructs, another way Butler will craft a specific narrative in order to question it with a critical eye. But maybe one of the not-so-obvious questions is: Who, exactly, is assigning these roles, and why, and to whose benefit?  If we ourselves do not choose the role we are expected to play or act out, what are the implications when we are complicit in carrying out the performance? If refusal to play your role could get you killed (although Dana points out that “some fates are worse than death”),what is the best method for positively effecting change? Some characters in Kindred play their parts–worn down over time and physically beaten down–while others refuse to act: one standout character, Alice, asks “Am I a slave?” and ultimately attempts to break free.

Kindred is the kind of book that will stay with you, I am of sure. The complexity and depth of characters will challenge you to step outside of your comfort zone and do something that great books make you do: contemplate, sympathize, connect. I had some powerful emotional responses while reading this book which is exactly why I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in what it means to be human.

Joyland by Stephen King

Recently, I went on a road trip and I wanted to listen to an audiobook during the long drive. My travelling companion brought Stephen King’s Joyland. I was not thrilled. I have not read a Stephen King book for quite awhile and I imagined that I was going to listen to another book about some weird creepy monsters. As you might guess, books about monsters are not the books that I typically read anymore. So, as I put the CD in the car, I told myself to give it a chance. Maybe I would enjoy this book.

I’m glad that I gave it a chance.

Joyland is not a book about weird creepy monsters. Our narrator, Devin Jones, tells us the story of the summer when he was 21 years old. The year was 1973. Devin was a college student at the University of New Hampshire. While he was looking through the help wanted section, he saw a listing for an amusement park in North Carolina. The park was called Joyland. Devin’s girlfriend encourages him to apply for the job, telling him that it will be an adventure. So Devin takes the bus down to Joyland to apply for the job. One carny, Lane Hardy, has worked at Joyland for years. He gives Devin pointers on where to eat and tells him about a boardinghouse he can live at during the summer. Lane lets Devin ride the Carolina Spin (the Ferris Wheel). Devin enjoys the view of the beach and the ocean. He knows that he wants to work at Joyland. When Devin goes to the boardinghouse, his new landlady tells him about a ghost story at the amusement park. A few years earlier, a young woman named Linda Gray was murdered in the Funhouse of Fear. Some people claim that they saw her ghost while they were on the ride.

When Devin comes back to North Carolina for the summer, he meets the other boarders at the house. Tom and Erin are also college students working at Joyland for the summer. The trio quickly become friends and they work on the same team at the park. Devin’s girlfriend breaks up with him and he is heartbroken. Devin drops a lot of weight and the staff at the park become concerned about him. Lane Hardy tells Devin that he needs to eat. Devin finds that Lane is a helpful guy and the two have many positive interactions. Lane may be carny and Devin a greenie, but it is clear that Lane likes the kid.

One day, Devin, Erin and Tom have the day off. They decide to go to Joyland to check out the Funhouse of Fear and see if they spot the ghost of Linda Gray. Devin and Erin have a good time on the ride but Tom does not. He reveals that he saw Linda Gray and refuses to speak about it. Devin asks Erin to research Linda Gray when she goes back to college. Devin decides to stay at Joyland and mend his broken heart. Erin comes back to visit Devin in October. She reveals that there were other murders at other amusement parks. She finds pictures of Linda Gray and her killer at Joyland. Something about the pictures bothers Devin but he cannot figure out what is troubling him.

After the amusement park is closed for the summer, Devin meets a woman and her son. They live in a large house on the beach. At first, the woman, Annie, is distant even though Mike tries to engage Devin. One day, Annie and Mike are struggling to fly a kite. Devin offers to help and is able to get the kite in the air. Mike is overjoyed and Annie warms up to Devin. They develop a friendship. Devin quickly figures out that Mike has some psychic abilities when Mike is able to answer Devin’s unspoken questions. The fortune teller at Joyland had told Devin that he would meet a kid with the Sight. This ability proves to be useful to Devin.

Joyland was not the typical Stephen King horror story. If you were a fan of Stephen King’s novella, “The Body” in the book Different Seasons, you will like Joyland. If you do not remember the story, “The Body”, then you might remember the movie that it was based on, Stand By Me. Joyland is full of mystery and suspense and the tone is nostalgic. The audiobook narrator, Michael Kelly, has a great voice to listen. I highly recommend listening to this one.

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

The Sun is Also a Star continues my journey back into young adult fiction. I used to exclusively read only young adult fiction, but about five years ago, I decided that I needed to read outside my comfort area (and to read books with people my own age in them). Starting to read in a new area can be daunting, so I recommend looking at award-winning book lists and even articles with lists of books on different subjects. That is how I stumbled upon The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon.

Nicola Yoon had already been on my radar because of her book, Everything, Everything, but I had never actually read it. When I found an article that was talking up The Sun is Also a Star, I decided to give it a go and try to see what everyone was getting so excited about. (I was also slightly obsessed with making things using yarn when I saw this book cover, so I figured I needed to read it!)

The Sun is Also a Star takes place all in one day. Natasha is a girl who loves everything that is based in facts. She adores science and has a list of facts for almost any situation. She lives with her parents and her younger brother in a one bedroom apartment. Natasha’s life had been going along perfectly until one day when her father makes a mistake and ruins everything for the whole family. Her life could implode around her. Daniel is a boy who never messes up and is therefore seen as the good son at home and the good student at school. After his older brother messes up in college, the pressure on Daniel to be perfect becomes even higher.

When the two meet, Daniel finds himself questioning what his parents have always told him and just how he lives his life. He is a poet and a dreamer, but must live up to his parents’ high expectations. Daniel must find a way to be around Natasha more than he probably should. Natasha is more hesitant than Daniel and finds his exuberance about their “relationship” daunting and more than a little off-putting. Daniel feels that there is something magical and extraordinary between them, if only he could get Natasha to feel the same way. Daniel reaches out into the universe to try to convince Natasha that their futures can change, but he has trouble believing he can change himself.

This book, while taking place in one day, shines through a series of flashbacks into each character’s life. Minor characters that Natasha and Daniel come in contact with have their own sections within the book as well. The tiny snapshots into daily life show the effect a short interaction with a complete stranger can have on both your life and the other person’s. The ending left me wondering what had really happened between the two. Long after I finished reading this book, I found myself thinking a lot about fate, how even the smallest and inconsequential of our actions can greatly impact our lives and the lives of others, and how our attitudes and thoughts can influence our futures as well. The Sun is Also a Star had more of an impact on me than I thought it would. I’m glad I decided to pick it up and give it a try.

Now Departing for: Seattle

It’s time for our next stop on our 2017 Online Reading Challenge! This month we’re exploring Seattle in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Home of Pike Place Market, the first Starbucks, the Space Needle and lots of rain (although I’m sure there’s much more to it as well!). It’s also the setting for some great books and movies so this month’s Challenge should be a lot of fun too. Some suggestions to get you started:

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford.Set in the ethnic neighborhoods of Seattle during World War II and Japanese American internment camps of the era, this novel tells the heartwarming story of widower Henry Lee, his father, and his first love Keiko Okabe.

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest. Steampunk. Zombies. Air-ships. Mad-scientists. All in a toxic and ravaged Civil War era Seattle. Don’t say we can’t mix things up.

Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister. Six women gather to celebrate their friend Kate’s recovery from cancer, where she strikes a bargain with them: to celebrate her new lease on life, she’ll do the one thing that’s always terrified her, but if she does, each of them will also do one thing that they’d find difficult.

Second Watch by J.A. Jance (all of the JP Beaumont series is set in Seattle) Second Watch shows Beaumont taking some time off to get knee replacement surgery, but instead of taking his mind off work, the operation plunges him into one of the most perplexing mysteries he’s ever faced. His past collides with his present in this complex and thrilling story that explores loss and heartbreak, duty and honor, and, most importantly, the staggering cost of war and the debts we owe those who served in the Vietnam War, and those in uniform today.

If you’d rather watch your Challenge this month (and remember – that’s totally allowed!), check out 10 Things I Hate About You with Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles, based (very) loosely on The Taming of the Shrew and is full of sharp and witty dialogue, Sleepless in Seattle (of course) with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan or any season of the television series Frasier, possibly the best tv show ever unless you don’t like superb comedic acting, clever writing and engaging characters. Also look for Say Anything, the modern classic love story.

I’m planning on reading Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple which has been on my “to read someday” list for ages and has been a favorite with our patrons.

What about you? Do you know what you’re going to read for the Seattle leg of our journey? If you’re still looking for ideas, be sure to stop by any of our locations and check our Reading Challenge displays!

 

 

Now Arriving From: Rome

Coliseum

So, how did your “trip” to Rome go? Did you find any books (or movies) that transported you to the Eternal City? How did you like this first month of the Challenge?

As I said in a previous post, I watched Roman Holiday which had lots of scenes of Rome and lots of Roman atmosphere. However, I didn’t find a book to read so I’d be interested to hear what you read and whether you’d recommend it.

If you are a fan of Ancient Roman history, I’m sure you had no trouble finding lots to choose from. There seems to be an abundance of historical fiction set in Rome – lots of gladiators and togas. However, contemporary Rome was harder to track down – did anyone read a book set in Rome in the present day?

Don’t unpack your passport (um, library card) just yet – tomorrow we head back to the US and the great Pacific Northwest.

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

I’m a cover girl (not the make-up kind of cover girl), but the kind of person who is intrigued by book covers and usually picks her next read based on what cover catches her eye. That’s how I started my latest read. In my latest fit of boredom in a doctor’s office, I was scrolling through OverDrive trying to find something new to listen to. I stumbled upon Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty, an author whose book covers always caught my eye, but also an author that I had never read. The book blurb sounded promising(“Three cute kids. One small dog. It’s just a normal weekend. What could possibly go wrong?” – provided by publisher), so I decided to give it a go.

I loved it. Truly Madly Guilty is a domestic fiction romp into the lives of three different families: Erika and her husband Oliver, Clementine and her husband Sam (and their two little girls, Holly and Ruby), and Tiffany and her husband Vid (and daughter Dakota and their dog). Tiffany and family live next door to Erica and Oliver, while Erika and Clementine have been friends since childhood. Sam and Clementine seem to have everything together. Clementine is a cellist preparing for a new audition and Sam just started a new job. They are also busy parents to two adorable daughters.

Erika and Clementine have been friends for so long that they can have whole conversations just by looking at each other. Their friendship is immensely complicated though. The real story of Erika and Clementine’s friendship unfolds throughout the book. I was reminded of unpeeling an onion or a head of lettuce. There are so many layers to their relationship that just when I thought I had them figured out, I didn’t really know anything at all.

One day, Vid, Erika’s boisterous neighbor, invites everyone over to his house for a barbecue. Clementine is delighted because that means that Vid and Tiffany will be able to be a buffer between her and Erika. Erika and Oliver are the uptight, childless, responsible, and type-A couple, while Sam and Clementine are more care-free and go with the flow. Plus Clementine has always felt an obligation to Erika, due in part to the fact that her mother always forced her to hang around Erika even when she didn’t want to. This barbecue is just what they all needed: a chance to relax and enjoy good food, good company, and good music. A series of unfortunate events both leading up to that day and the events of the day of the fateful barbecue changes everything for all three seemingly perfect families. They are left reeling and feeling guilty for their actions.

Truly Madly Guilty is told from multiple characters’ points of view, as well as by switching back and forth between present day and the day of the barbecue. Readers are given crumbs of information throughout the book, but what really happened at the barbecue isn’t revealed until towards the end of the book, about 3/4s of the way through. I really liked all the background information that was given before we found out what happened the day of the barbecue. I’ve read reviews that disliked all the build-up, but I really enjoyed being able to guess what could have possibly happened.

This story is read in OverDrive by one narrator who manages to change her voice subtly for each character she is voicing, so much so that it seems at times that there is more than one narrator for this book. I was easily able to keep all of the characters separate in my mind, a feat I was amazed at given how many different points of view are represented within. I enjoyed Truly Madly Guilty and am looking forward to reading more Liane Moriarty books in the future.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

I’ve been reading a lot of young adult fiction in my spare time. A vast majority of them have dealt with sad topics: mental illness, suicide, death, endings of relationships, abuse, homelessness etc. These are all topics that teens deal with on a daily basis, so I appreciate the fact that there are resources out there that teens(and their parents/guardians/loved ones) can turn to if they need some help. However, reading all these angsty books with no break and with no happy ending in sight is throwing me down a rabbit hole of sadness. I needed a break or a book with a happy realistic ending, not a sad realistic ending. Enter Jennifer Niven.

I’d read All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven last year and had loved her work (fair warning though: this book has a sad realistic ending dealing with mental illness and suicide). Flipping through a review magazine, I found Holding Up the Universe, also by Niven. The premise sounded like it could possibly end well and I was willing to risk it because I had loved her previous book so much.

Holding Up the Universe tells the story of Libby Strout and Jack Masselin. It is told from both of their points of view, alternating chapter to chapter. Libby Strout was once known as “America’s Fattest Teen”, a teen whose house had to be partially demolished in order to get her out of it. Back in school for the first time in years, no one can see past her weight. She’s still just the fat girl even though she’s lost 300 pounds. After her mom’s death, Libby is left picking up herself, her father, and their grief. She is ready for the new start high school has to offer.

Jack Masselin is the quintessential high school popular boy. He has swagger and the ability to give people what they want. He is able to fit in. While he seems like he has it all together, Jack has a major secret. He cannot recognize faces. Jack has prosopagnosia, the inability to recognize people by their faces. Everyone he meets, he has to try to figure out who they are by their identifiers: big hair, beauty mark, Mohawk, etc. Jack gets through life by being the funny, charming guy, but doesn’t let people get close.

Jack and Libby’s lives become entangled together in the aftermath of a cruel high school game. Sitting squarely in community service and group counseling together forces them to make a connection. This connection changes both of their lives, forcing them to confront issues that neither of them realized they are carrying. Will their connection change their world for the better or for the worse? Add in cruel high school students, family issues, obesity, brain injuries, and the possibility of love and Jack and Libby are in for a crazy ride of self-esteem, self-reliance, and teenage angst. Holding Up the Universe was the exact book palette refresher I needed.

Tippi: a Memoir by Tippi Hedren

 

If you do not know the name Tippi, you probably know her face. Tippi Hedren starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s,The Birds, playing the character Melanie Daniels. The role was Hedren’s film debut in 1963. Previously, she had modeled and starred in commercials. It was a television commercial that caught the eye of the famous director. Hitchcock told his staff to find the girl in the advertisement and they did what they were told. Tippi received a phone call letting her know that, “a famous director was interested in her”. No one would tell her who the famous director was but she was thrilled to find out that it was Alfred Hitchcock. Tippi signed a contract with him and starred in two of his films: The Birds and Marnie.

You may have heard that Tippi Hedren has said that Hitchcock sexually harassed her. And that he sexually assaulted her. While Tippi goes into some detail about the harassment, she will not reveal the full story of the assault. So if that is your only interest in the book, then you will be disappointed. There is a movie about Tippi and Hitchcock working together and there are scenes where Hitchcock is being inappropriate. The Girl (which was Hitchcock’s nickname for Tippi) was a HBO movie that is now on DVD. And if you don’t subscribe to HBO, you are in luck. You can check it out from the library. I watched the movie before I read the book ( I know, I know. Bad librarian!) and it made me interested to learn more about Tippi Hedren. Hence, that is why I read the book and why I am now writing this blog.

So even though Tippi went through a difficult time being an actress for Alfred Hitchcock, she continued to work in other films. But the big story in Tippi is that she ended up being the caretaker of several large cats. I do not want to tell the entire story, or how Tippi and her husband, Noel Marshall, thought it would be a great idea to have their own pride of lions to make a film about. The stories about her adventures in raising lion cubs are quite funny (and sometimes scary). Tippi also had tigers, cheetahs and leopards. There was also a Liger. Eventually they were forced to move out of Hollywood so they could live somewhere large enough to take care of all the big cats. They even acquired an elephant. Now the place is called Shambala. You can learn more about the place and the ROAR foundation at Shambala. Or read the book, Tippi: a Memoir.

The Birds
Marnie
The Girl

 

 

 

The Queens of England

People! Have you been watching the new series about Queen Victoria on PBS? Mark your calendar immediately – this is one of those must-see, highly addictive historical series that Masterpiece Theater is famous for (i.e. Downton Abby)

Opening just as the 18-year-old finds out her uncle has died and she is now the Queen of England, Victoria stars Jenna Coleman and airs on Sunday nights. As we have come to expect from Masterpiece Theater, the costumes and jewels are lavish and the sets are breathtaking (Filmed mostly in Yorkshire with various manors and castles standing in for Buckingham and Kensington Palaces and Westminster, you’d be hard put to tell the difference on screen) Coleman does an admirable job with this massive role, playing the young Queen who, in the early episodes, struggles to find her way. Sheltered and controlled by her mother and her mother’s partner (who had planned to rule thru Victoria), Victoria breaks with them quickly and forges ahead on her own. Nowadays, when we think of Queen Victoria, we tend to think of the old woman, heavy and dressed entirely in black with a dour expression. We often forget that she was once a young girl who loved to dance, who fell in love, who ruled the largest Empire in the world. In Victoria we catch a glimpse of that young girl, her naivete, her mistakes, her growth and her courage. It is fascinating to watch.

Victoria is currently showing on PBS. You can catch the first couple of episodes (there are 8 all together) online on pbs.org or you can request the DVD from the library. I recommend that you do!

While you wait for the next episode (or to fill your life-of-the-royals needs), here are some further recommendations.

Young Victoria starring Emily Blunt. Covering almost the same time period of Victoria’s life as the PBS show, this is another beautiful, superbly acted look at the young Queen, focusing on the romance between Victoria and Albert (which will begin in episode 3 of Victoria)

Mrs. Brown starring Judy Dench takes a look at the elderly Queen, still deeply in mourning for her beloved Albert, who meets and forms a deep friendship with the Scotsman who looks after her horses. Was there more than friendship?

For a great book about her life, try Victoria the Queen by Julia Baird or Becoming Queen Victoria by Kate Williams. For a closer look at their famous romance, check out We Two: Victoria and Albert by Gillian Gill or A Magnificent Obsession by Helen Rappaport.

If you’d rather go a little more modern, there’s a terrific series, The Crown, now running on Netflix about Elizabeth II – it just won Golden Globes for Best Performance by an Actress (Claire Foy who plays Elizabeth) and Best Television Drama. Each season will cover about a decade of Elizabeth’s life, with the first season starting just before she married Phillip and ending shortly after Winston Churchill (superbly played by John Lithgow) retires as Prime Minister. It’s promised to come out on DVD eventually, but no release date has been announced so either queue it up on your Netflix account, or find a friend that already subscribes!

 

 

 

 

Angel Catbird by Margaret Atwood

Angel Catbird is author Margaret Atwood’s first official foray into graphic novels. In the book’s preface, Atwood tells readers about her life and her journey to the creation of Angel Catbird. She talks about her love of drawing and how she has loved comics in their varying forms. Atwood also talks about how Angel Catbird has a science and conservation side to it. Nature Canada and CatsandBirds.ca has included facts and statistics about birds and cats in banners throughout the book.

Angel Catbird tells the story of Strig Feleedus, a young genetic engineer, who was headhunted by a major company to help figure out and finish a secret project. He figures out the hole in the project, fixes it, and is on his way to meet his boss when he, his cat, and an owl are hit by a car. Feleedus is accidentally mutated by his own experiment, which results in his DNA being merged with a cat and an owl. He becomes Angel Catbird! This experiment is wanted for use by a nefarious person, Feleedus’ half-rat boss, and Feleedus soon discovers that he in not the only human who has either had his DNA mutated or was born with mutated DNA. Sinister plots are discovered and Feleedus and company must work together to save themselves and the people around them.

Animal puns galore run throughout this graphic novel. I wasn’t sure what to expect when reading this, but I was pleasantly surprised. Angel Catbird becomes an unlikely superhero whose adventures are not at all what I was expecting.


Atwood is also the author of The Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopian novel that she wrote in 1985 that is being made into a television series starring many famous actors. The series will be released on Hulu on April 26, 2017. Talk about the show has been blowing up all over social media with the trailer garnering much speculation and excited responses from fans the world over. Want to watch the trailer? Hulu just released it and it’s haunting. I can’t wait to watch it.

Margaret Atwood has written many, many novels, pieces of short fiction, children’s books, one graphic novel, works of poetry, nonfiction, television scripts, radio scripts, has done recordings, edited works, and even wrote a play. She’s widely known and people flock to her work. Her work has been translated, so far, into more than 25 different languages. Her critical articles and reviews have appeared in newspapers and magazines all over the world. If you’ve never read anything by Atwood, I highly recommend you check her out. If you’re already familiar with her, try reading your favorite again or maybe pick up a new-to-you piece.

Want to try something by Atwood? I highly recommend you check out her website (http://margaretatwood.ca/). It’s fabulous! This site is very easy to navigate with a full bibliography, a section with interviews, and a section for works about Atwood herself. It’s one of the best author website I have seen.