ReaderWriterVille

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Tag: race

Mini-Reviews of recent reads

I’ve read a couple of shorts, DNF’d a new release, and am still mulling over a novel I had many many feelings about. In other words I don’t have lots to say about any of them at the moment, so here’s a brief roundup.

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again by Zen Cho

Nominated for a Hugo in the novelette category this year. I have Cho’s new full-length novel sitting on my ereader but I’m not quite reader to dive into that yet. I hadn’t heard of this story until I saw the Hugo list, and it is free to read at the B&N blog site. It’s more of a short story in length, in my opinion (the Hugo people obviously disagree), but there’s plenty here to sink your teeth into.

This is a lovely little story about Byam, an imugi who cannot seem to become a dragon no matter how hard it tries. And it has been trying for hundreds of years. In order to ascent to heaven as a dragon, an imugi has to be recognized as a dragon by a human. Byam comes close but never makes it. It gives up and unexpectedly finds itself in a loving and rewarding relationship with Leslie, a human. But imugi live much, much longer than humans, so what happens after Leslie?

Cho writes little jewels of stories in which there is always a deeper theme but one that meshes beautifully with the characters and plot that are front and center. The voice that I love from her other short stories and novelettes permeates this story, and it is funny, wise, heartwarming, and sniffle-inducing all at once. Go read it.


The Bewitching Hour by Vivi Anna (Harlequin TBR #510)

A short in the Nocturne Bites series that delivers a bit of story and a bit of romance. Part of a longer series set in the same world. I picked this up to read because it met the “something different” requirement for Wendy’s TBR Challenge category for March, but 40 pages seemed like a bit of a copout. Still, I’m glad I read it.

This short is set at a wedding where our two main characters meet. Fiona has paranormal powers that she can’t control very well, so she’s your basic adorable, cute, but clumsy heroine. Hector is a human in this paranormal world and works in the paranormal CSI unit with other regulars from the series. Since it’s a novella (maybe even a novelette) and they haven’t met before, they have to have lust at first sight, which they do, but it’s nicely done and competently written. I enjoyed it.

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ReaderWriterLinks

I stopped using my Twitter account last June, but I still visit friends’ and others’ feeds occasionally, and I found a link to this gem of an article. Ignore the headline, the real title is in the URL: “Buckle Up Twitter is cancelled.” We’ve all experienced Buckle Up Twitter, i.e., those hectoring Tweetstorms that can only be written by someone who doesn’t actually know much about the subject they’re lecturing the Twitterverse on.

Buckle Up Twitter will not be vanquished by things like “historical accuracy” or “profound embarrassment.” The other day I saw evidence of a thread, now sadly deleted, with the premise that the writing maxim “show, don’t tell” expected and indeed demanded an act of emotional labor from the reader that was similar if not identical to the emotional labor extracted by white men in their dealings with the rest of the world. There was a thread “calling out” King Leopold of Belgium.

I have seen threads that would make your eyes water, and in all cases, the responses were not what I personally would have anticipated. Things being what they are, I would have thought that a thread that began like “LISTEN UP DICKHOLES: TIME FOR A RANT ABOUT HOW LAVRENTIY BERIA WAS A TOTAL JERK AND A REAL PERV” would end with an apology and a promise never to do it again, but why would you apologize when you are met with joy and delight? The thing about Buckle Up Twitter, hard as this may be for right-thinking people like me to accept, is that a lot of other people LOVE IT. They absolutely love to be told that they are morons and that all of this is actually Beau Brummell’s doing.

The Beau Brummell thread which introduces the piece is so eye-wateringly bad (and yet so equally sure of its brilliance and wit) that it’s hard to imagine there’s a better illustration. Except, of course, for the Greatest Buckle Up Twitter Thread of Them All: Time for Some Game Theory. I shudder to think what it would take to dethrone that one.

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ReaderWriterLinks: TGIF edition

It’s almost the end of the week, I was about to say the end of the workweek but so many people have jobs that span all seven days now. Anyway, so much stuff popped up in my surfing forays, RSS feeds, etc. that I have an abundance, so here’s a batch to get us started.


If you’re on Twitter you’ve probably already seen this first one, and I posted it on GR, but it’s worth posting over and over because it’s so good and so different from the tee-hee-romance-genre stories we tend to get.

The Guardian published longread on the state of diversity in the romance genre (just ignore the 50-shades headline, Guardian headline writers are the worst sometimes). The reporter talked to a lot of people and I appreciate that she went and talked to writers in state chapters, rather than just doing the usual email and phone interviews of the names we all see over and over again in stories about the industry. There are lots of fascinating and depressing nuggets of information, including this eye-opening one about Harlequin’s treatment of a Suzanne Brockmann novel:

Marketing black love stories to black women was one thing, but publishers remained sceptical about the idea that white readers would read those same stories. In the late 1990s, Suzanne Brockmann, a white author writing a sequence of Harlequin romances about sexy Navy Seals, decided that she wanted to make a black character the hero of her next book. It was, she admits now, something of a “white saviour” move. Brockmann’s thinking, she told me, was that Harlequin simply didn’t realise the commercial opportunity it was missing by not printing more black romances.

Harlequin published Brockmann’s book in 1998, but she was shocked by the way the company dealt with its publication. She recalled her publisher saying: “You will make half the money because we will print half the copies. We cannot send it to our subscription list.” It was the same argument Harlequin had made 14 years earlier: “We’ll get angry letters.” It wasn’t just black characters that Harlequin rejected, according to Brockmann. She said she was also told they would not publish a novel with an Asian American as the central character. (Brockmann later moved on to another publisher.)

And this paragraph made my stomach clench:

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The White Card by Claudia Rankine

Claudia Rankine’s latest work is a play. It premiered last year in Boston and was covered locally, but I didn’t know anything about it until I saw an advance copy of the published script listed as “coming soon” at my library’s Overdrive account. The White Card is a two-act play that explores whiteness, white privilege, and how they affect art, and it grew out of Rankine’s public Q&As about her much lauded poetry collection, Citizen: An American Lyric. The play has five characters: Virginia and Charles, a wealthy white couple who are art collectors, their college-aged son Alex, their white art dealer Eric, and Charlotte, a youngish black artist whose work most recent work they hope to acquire.

White Card book cover

The first act takes place in Virginia and Charles’s apartment, which is filled with art on the themes of racism and protest. They’ve given their black maid (their description, not mine) the night off and are hosting Charlotte and Eric to dinner. Charlotte is picky about whom she will sell her artwork to and Virginia and Charles know she hasn’t decided about them, but they seem pretty confident that their liberal credentials will get them what they want. The conversation is stilted and predictable, a reprise of set pieces we’ve seen at least since Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Reading the dialogue rather than seeing it performed emphasizes how stylized it is, but it’s mostly effective and builds to a shattering climax in the first half, when Virginia and Charles reveal their latest race-centered acquisition. They see it as part of their overall collection, which they have curated to emphasize the racism and inequalities black Americans live with, and they (and to a lesser extent Eric) can’t understand why Alex and Charlotte find it exploitative and unacceptable. It’s a predictable outcome, but it is powerful nonetheless.

The second act takes place a year after this dinner party and is a two-hander between Charlotte and Charles. And it occurs on Charlotte’s turf: Charles comes to her studio. Charlotte’s experience the previous year led her to abandon her work in progress, which was a restaging of the Charleston church killings. She has come to believe that constantly showing black bodies in states of distress or as subjects of violence reinforces whiteness and the white gaze rather than challenging it, and she has turned her method to a different subject: Charles.

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Booker Longlist Review: Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

This novel has now been longlisted for both the Booker and Giller prizes. It was one of the novels I especially looked forward to, and I found its themes interesting and ambitious, but the execution ultimately unsatisfying.

George Washington Black is a young boy, an outdoor slave on a Barbados sugar plantation, when he is plucked from the fields to assist the scientist brother of the villainous plantation master. When a cousin of the family dies and Wash is likely to be implicated, the brother, named Titch, and Wash take off in an airship. Thus begins their adventure, which takes Wash from Barbados to Virginia to arctic Canada to England and beyond, all in a brisk 350 pages.

The novel has the structure of an adventure story but Wash is a slave and Titch is the brother of his master and it’s 1830s US and England. So there’s much more going on than the normal coming of age story (Wash is barely a teenager when the novel opens). The first part, set on Barbados, is unsparing in its depiction of the horrors of plantation slavery. The villain may seem cartoonish and the conditions exaggerated, but the historical record pretty much confirms that this depiction is not unusual. The publisher’s blurb calls it steampunk, but none of the science is far-fetched. Airships, diving suits, and the types of scientific inquiry and specific experiments being conducted were all around at the time the story is set.

Since this is one of the Booker longlist choices a lot of people have been reading it at the same time, and I have felt as if I’m reading an entirely different book from them. Some readers have focused on the adventure aspects, calling it a rollicking story. I never had that feeling. Wash is a fugitive slave for a large portion of the book, and he’s chased by a bounty hunter for most of it. He’s at risk for capture in the US portion, especially since slavery is still legal, and in Canada and England he’s frequently treated as something less than human. When he falls in love and enters into a romantic relationship it regularly puts him at risk. His great scientific and artistic achievements are appropriated by white men, who encourage him but either can’t or don’t find ways to give him credit for his contributions. The story is suffused with the knowledge that he will probably never have a fully peaceful, satisfying life, because the world will not allow it.

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