Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: Brown Girl in the Ring

Brown Girl in the RingBrown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 instead of 4. Ti-Jeanne has a baby she doesn’t always want, visions that she can’t control, & a life in a destroyed city that didn’t welcome her. Her grandmother Gros-Jeanne tries to lead her into accepting her reality & making it better. But it isn’t until Ti-Jeanne’s spurned lover knocks at her door with a plea to escape Toronto that she has to decide whether or not to face her hard circumstances & rise above them or escape with him.

This book was on a recent NPR list that focused on Afro-Futurism & mentioned this book so I thought I’d pick it up. I was drawn in by the tension between the traditions that define Ti-Jeanne’s life & how the city of Toronto doesn’t seem to nurture them. (I feel like some of this push-and-pull is what was missing from The Galaxy Game.) The book is also written with just enough dialect to keep me captivated, instead of blocked out. Fans of Sacred Games, you’ll appreciate the language work here. There were times that the everyday moments of Ti-Jeanne’s life dragged, but it is possible that this was a result of reading the book in an electronic format. I’ve found that it can be a lot easier to skim/skip parts that don’t interest me when I’m not holding a physical book. Ultimately, the beautiful parts of this book are in the atmosphere & the paranormal insights that Ti-Jeanne has when her faith & her adopted land come together in her mind. Everything else in the plot seems to dull in comparison.

Also, content warning: there is a graphic clinical description of a heart transplant. If you are squeamish, like me, you’d do best to skip that section. There are other body horror elements, but not as terrible as the described surgery.

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The Not-Snow Day

Grey Window View
Morning View in the Winter

Yesterday was an odd day.  I woke up to a temperature of -3° Fahrenheit & a heater that was struggling mightily to heat the rest of the house.  My husband & I decided to spend most of the day in our upstairs bedroom where the heat from the sun would be captured & our flannel-covered bed could help keep us warm.

It was like a snow day without the snow; a sick day without actually being ill.  We went nowhere, camped out with a bunch of books & busywork, & indulged our cat as he stretched more & more across the width of the bed.  But this is not really what was odd.

What was odd to me was the relative quiet within myself.  I’m a jittery person that is constantly pacing & trying to figure out what to focus on first, because there are always so many things I must be neglecting or forgetting to do.  And I’m still that person to a certain extant, but with the recent PTSD treatments I’ve had have turned a lot of that interior noise way down.  I still felt some guilt over choosing to do almost nothing for the entire day, but I was able to do it with the emotional mudslide.  I could answer the question, “What about. . .” with a common shrug & let the thought alone.

I don’t know if I’ll ever really stop fighting myself—that constant tension between what I want & what I think I’m supposed to do or what I think others think I’m supposed to do has been with me so long.  Anticipate, defend, escape, repeat.  But yesterday was the growing proof that the tone could change, that a different balance could be found.  And that insight is such a small, powerful thing that it scares me too because it is too dear to be lost.

But the fear is not the stronger emotion; what prevails is the wonder & the hope for the future.

Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: The Bassoon King

The Bassoon King: My Life in Art, Faith, and IdiocyThe Bassoon King: My Life in Art, Faith, and Idiocy by Rainn Wilson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A memoir by Rainn Wilson about art & personal experience in the vein of Yes Please, Scrappy Little Nobody, or Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living.

It’s 2017 & I’m just now getting around to watching the American adaptation of The Office. But as I’ve made it through the first two seasons, I was reminded of how much I loved the character Arthur in Six Feet Under & oh, yeah, that actor guy wrote a book awhile back. There are some interesting stories here that I really got into, especially when it touched on topics like growing up religious with conflicted parents or being anxious about pursuing an artistic life. There was also lots of cool anecdotes that I wanted to hear more about. (Dude, tell me more about Arthur, I think it’s awesome you love that character too but why?)

There were some curmudgeonly asides that grated, but at its core King is more about Wilson’s interests in the intersection of art & faith & he has plenty of room here to talk about his search for understanding these parallels. Overall, the book walks the line between being quirky & being philosophical & it doesn’t always work. But, I still think it would be cool to compare weird religious upbringing stories with him.

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Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: The Wind in the Door

A Wind in the Door (A Wrinkle in Time Quintet, #2)A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Meg Murry is trying not to be anxious. She’s home, her parents are working together again & her brother Charles Wallace has started school. But there is a grim air over everything. Charles Wallace isn’t in the best of health & he’s insisting that dragons are nearby. Mrs. Murry is working herself hard over an experiment in molecular biology & can’t spare much extra attention to her children. Everything seems to be a struggle to find the bright & the good. But “the dragon” is soon revealed to be a cherubim that has arrived to aid Meg, Charles Wallace, & their friend Calvin in another fight against agents of the Dark Thing. The three find themselves pitched against despair itself in a place just as foreign & awe-inspiring as their last quest.

While A Wind in the Door continues many of the same themes as Wrinkle, I found myself more captivated by the sequel. The main force the children tackle is once again apathy but its embodiment the Ecthroi are still recognizably frightening to this adult reader, especially in this modern time where feelings of isolation & powerlessness are common. Meg’s maturing here is interesting–she’s clearly learned from her trials in Wrinkle but still struggles with the demands her compassionate quest requires of her. Her struggle to connect & clearly empathize with the dry, unhappy Mr. Jenkins is compelling & a step in the right direction to keep her character from becoming overly sentimental & saintly. (This does mean though that her relationship with Calvin is simply reduced to immediate reciprocal love & comfort with little obstacle.) I’m curious to see if the practical twins become more clued in to the supernatural goings-on swirling around them.

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Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: A Wrinkle In Time

A Wrinkle in TimeA Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Meg Murry is in a difficult phase. She feels constantly at odds with the people around her, her father has been missing for months, & her baby brother Charles Wallace seems to be privy to a secret plan with the eccentric Mrs. Whatsit, a newly arrived transient who’s been stealing the neighbor’s sheets. On top of that, another oddball named Calvin has inexplicably found friendship & comfort with the irrepressible Murrys. Meg, Charles Wallace, & Calvin are brought together by three fantastical beings in a quest to find Mr. Murry that will take them beyond the stars.

So, confession time, I knew absolutely nothing about this book, despite it being a touchstone of children’s literature. But once I opened the book, I soon found myself absorbed in Meg’s trials (both practical & supernatural) & struggles to understand the quicksilver changes she observes. I did vaguely know about L’Engle’s Christian concerns & was impressed by her outlining Meg’s struggle to embrace willing compassion. The drama of Wrinkle occurs just as much in the interior of her characters as well as outside them. And I now do wish I had read the series sooner.

The end of the story comes quickly & definitely left me wanting more. After seeing the struggle against the Black Thing & knowing there is much more to be done, I get that L’Engle has many more books to refine her overall goal. But the rescue, return, & reunion of the Murrys takes place so immediately, it’s hard to catch up & accept the end of the story. Onto the next book!

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