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Joyful Girl

Andrea Blythe's blog about writing, reading, and everything else


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Books Read in May
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1. Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror, by Jason Zinoman
2. Paradise, by Toni Morrison
3. The Black Unicorn: Poems, by Audre Lorde
4. Tender is the Night (audio book), by F. Scott Fitzgerald
5. Skin Folk, by Nalo Hopkinson


REVIEWS:

1. Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror, by Jason Zinoman
Discussed elsewhere.


2. Paradise, by Toni Morrison
"They shoot the white girl first. With the rest they can take their time." These powerful first lines set up this beautifully written and complex novel that explores what utopia means and the cost required to maintain it.

Ruby is a small town, founded by black families who persevered through the roughest of times to make a home for themselves away from the threat of whites and the shame of being rejected by other blacks. Built 90 miles from anywhere, Ruby has been able to preserve and protect itself from the influence of the outside world, in addition to creating a complex mythology around its founding that sustains it. The families live in peace without threat of violence, drugs, television, or the miscreant behavior of mistreated children.

Meanwhile, far on the outskirts of this small town is the Convent, once the home of nuns aiming to plant a seed of culture in young native girls, is now a last refuge for lost women, who have been shattered by their lives. Each reach the Convent, one way or another, by accident, and intending to stay only a few days, end up staying years.

The novel interweaves the history of Ruby and its founding families and the lives of these women, and true to Morrison's style, nothing is simple, not people, or towns, or history, or stories.

One of the things I remember from when I first read it in class was the question of who the "white girl" was. Race is an important question in the book, or I should say, it's an important question and focus for the townsfolk of Ruby, who pride themselves on being dark-skinned blacks, as opposed to the light skinned blacks who rejected them, not to mention the whites they were trying to escape and avoid. However, among the women who live at the Convent, the story is different. Race is less of an issue, and Morisson never makes it clear who the "white girl" is, and though we spent a lot of time in class trying to debating it, in the end, I think perhaps it doesn't matter, because these women (after a long false start), began to create a kind of paradise for themselves that was not at all built on race, but on something else entirely.

Paradise is a rich, complex book with rich, complex write that you could pick up 50 times and come away with something new each time. It requires a certain amount of focus, of paying attention to get through, but it is absolutely worth the effort, and is a beautiful read.


3. The Black Unicorn: Poems, by Audre Lorde
African folklore collides with the modern world in this provocative collection of poetry. Lorde explores darkness here, the beauty of black and the deep abyss of sorrow. A common style in these poems is to have one thought collide with the next, a line of text in the middle rubbing against both of the lines above and below it, so that it becomes torn between two different meanings.

Many of these poems are laced with anger and many lovingly paying homage to people either real and mythical. It's a beautiful and brutal collection that lingers, leaving one with a sense of uncertainty to the places they've just been.


4. Tender is the Night (audio book), by F. Scott Fitzgerald
From the book description: "Set on the French Riviera in the late 1920s, Tender is the Night is the tragic romance of the young actress Rosemary Hoyt and the stylish American couple Dick and Nicole Diver. A brilliant young psychiatrist at the time of his marriage, Dick is both husband and doctor to Nicole, whose wealth goads him into a lifestyle not his own, and whose growing strength highlights Dick's harrowing demise."

Tender is the Night is about loving as an act of faith, the kind of long term loving that involves taking in all the flaws of your lover and absorbing them until two people merge into a gentle and vulnerable intimacy. Apparently, the story is grew from Fitzgerald's own experiences with loving Zelda, which can definitely be seen in the tender, bruised way the story is approached.

I never appreciated Fitzgerald's writing while reading Gatsby in school, but his style is crisp and clean, the kind of writing that bring physical and emotional vividness without belaboring the point (so, I'm definitely going to have to try Gatsby again). Though sorrowful, there's a sweetness to this book as well, the way one nostalgically looks back on a rough and hurtful memory with a smile.


5. Skin Folk, by Nalo Hopkinson
Hopkinson's eerie and haunting collection of short stories influenced by her life and roots, both her Caribbean cultural heritage and her experiences living in Canada. With powerful, vivid prose, Hopkinson unveils strange, unsettling worlds in which an ordinary eggs give birth to strange, deformed monsters, glass storms cut up everything in their path, and trees take flight. Many of these stories explore darkness. "Snake" is an absolutely terrifying tale from the point of view of a child molester and killer, "Tan Tan and Dry Bone" tells the story of a girl weighed down and burdened by not only her own guilt, but by a horrible creature bent on sucking out the last of her happiness, while my favorite, "The Glass Bottle Trick" is a Caribbean spin on the bloody Bluebeard folktale. But no matter how unsettling or terrifying, the stories are bolstered by beautiful imagery and prose that slips between the surreal and the realistic. A fabulous collection.
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