Andrea Blythe (blythe025) wrote,
Andrea Blythe

Books read in April

1. No Surrender: Poems, by Ai
2. Dead West, written by Rick Spears, illustrated by Rob G.
3. An American Tragedy (audio book), by Theodore Dreiser
4. I am J, by Cris Beam
5. The Letter All Your Friends Have Written You (poetry), by Caits Meissner and Tishon


1. No Surrender: Poems, by Ai
A gorgeous collection of poetry, which presents narrative style monologues from the point of view of a variety of people, men and women of different stations. One series of poems looks at the lives of Irish settlers, and others look at the lives Japanese or other heritages. Almost all are underscored with subtle subversive discussion, while being vivid and detailed portrayals. Most of these poems are fairly easy reads (while still being intelligent and evocative) and I would recommend them for those who don't often read poetry.

2. Dead West, written by Rick Spears, illustrated by Rob G.
In the wild west, a group of white settlers bring their claim to the land and order the local natives to leave, only to slaughter them when they don't. The sole survivor of the tribe comes back to the settled town years later, and performs a ritual to raise the dead, thus unleashing his vengeance upon the townfolk.

First, if we look past the issue of how native americans are portrayed -- on the one hand, simple victims, and on the other hand, perpetrators of of mystical and evil power -- the story still doesn't have much going for it other than action and bloodshed.

The art is okay, very scratchy and gritty in style, which actually works for the story, but there is zero character development for anyone in the book and I'm not sure why I should care if any of the townfolk or the cowboy who comes to their rescue should live or die. Overall, I wish Sparks had put more thought into the story, at lease in an effort to make the people likable and interesting, but as he didn't I'm afraid it all just falls short.

3. An American Tragedy (audio book), by Theodore Dreiser
An epically long look at the life of Clyde Griffiths, an ambitious young man who wants to escape the poverty of his youth and replace it with wealthy, prestige, and social status. Along the way, he becomes entangles in the "dark side of the American Dream."

I am starting to loose faith in the Modern Library's ability to choose so-called "great" books. While I think a truly great book goes beyond just entertainment to where it makes the reader think or expands their point of view, I don't see why so many "classics of great literature" have to insist on a kind of dark drudgery. Dreiser, for example, rehashes scenes, dialog, events multiple times, and maybe that's necessary in a book that involves a trial and thus requires multiple interpretations of the same events. However, I really think this book could have done with an editor to hack away all the superfluous repetition that beleaguers the point at every turn. (I almost gave up at a couple of points, but each time figured, welp, I got this far. I may as well see it through.)

And yet, I didn't out right hate the book, because even though Clyde is greedy, selfish, and in all rights rather unlikeable, I found it interesting that even as I came to realize just how awful a human being he is, I also found myself siding with him against the law and society that also wasn't all that likable (though for entirely different reasons). So there are definitely some interesting complexities there.

I suppose the only "good" character in the whole book is Clyde's mother, an unordained preacher whose entire faith lies with God, which isn't surprising as Dreiser's message seems to be that people need to give up the selfish and destructive pursuit of things and seek a simpler more godly life.

4. I am J, by Cris Beam
From the book flap: "J always felt different. He was certain that eventually everyone would understand who he really was; a boy mistakenly born as a girl. Yet as he grew up, his body began to betray him; eventually J stopped praying to wake up a "real boy" and started covering up his body, keeping himself invisible - from his family, from his friends...from the world. But after being deserted by the best friend he thought would always be by his side, J decides that he's done hiding - it's time to be who he really is. And this time he is determined not to give up, no matter the cost."

This is a rather sweet and moving story of a young trans man claiming the right to be himself. J is an interesting character faced with a difficult reality. He is who he is, but the world doesn't see him that way. Declaring his existence, even at the risk of losing all the people in his life whom he loves, is vital to his survival. Besides any thing else, for J, would be a lie.

People are complicated, and this books respects that fact. Family and friends surprise, and strangers alike (some of whom are also trans), all end up surprising (in both good and bad ways) J at various points. Sometimes funny and often touching, this story brought me to tears several times. It's a great book, which I encourage many, many people to read.

5. The Letter All Your Friends Have Written You (poetry), by Caits Meissner and Tishon
This Kickstarted funded book, published by Well&Often Press, presented a first collection of poetry by two New York poets. The book is presented in thematic groups that portray the rawness of youth and friendship and love and hurt, with a backdrop of pop culture and the urban world. Both poets have a clear and distinct styles, and their work is highlighted well within this book.

I'd like to do a longer more in depth, text-based review later on (but I keep running out of time), so for now I'll just say that this is a fantastic collection with deep and resonant work.


It was been a slow reading month for me.
Tags: books, reviews

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