Well, we’re getting into the final days of summer, and hopefully the final days of triple digit temperatures. I’ve got to really step up my game to tell you what I’ve been reading before the season is long gone. Here’s the first of three posts on what I’ve been reading the past few weeks…
The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing
The Gist: Harriett and David Lovatt see themselves above the fray when it comes to the sexual revolution in 1960s England. They want a simpler, more traditional life surrounded by a large family. While there are problems pursuing their path—the expenses of a large home, multiple pregnancies, and the need for day-to-day help from Harriett’s increasingly resentful mother—they remain committed to their goals. When their fifth child Ben is born following a nightmare pregnancy, the Lovatts are visited by an unthinkable horror. Ben is alien, violent, almost inhuman in appearance, and inexplicable in his responses to normal human interactions. The family’s world begins to tear apart.
Status: This was my second read of Lessing’s modern day horror story. I came across it in a Texas bookstore with my sister earlier this summer and remembered how good it was. I bought her a copy and ended up reading it again over the weekend before leaving it with her.
Summer Escapism: The best! (A real “there but for the grace of God go I” kind of escapism.)
Strength of Writing: A (It’s Lessing. What do you expect?)
Stimulation of the Little Grey Cells: B
Social Relevance: B (Beyond the horror story, there are underlying themes of dreams broken and plans destroyed, maternal love vs. fraternal love, and the inability to control what life brings.)
General Reaction: I loved it the first time I read it 20 years ago, and I loved it when I read it again this summer. The Fifth Child works so well because the horror is not from the outside. Ben is not possessed by a demon. There are no supernatural reasons for why Ben is so alien and dangerous. Although Harriet believes Ben is a punishment visited on them for their “selfish” plans to live an idyllic life, both she and David begin to see this child as a throwback to a previous hominid form. This is nature at work. And it means the horror is in us.
Ben in the World by Doris Lessing
The Gist: In this sequel to The Fifth Child, we see how Ben perceives the world around him. He knows he is different, and he pines for a place where he is accepted and understood. As he makes his way across the globe, he is sometimes treated to kindness; but more often he is used and manipulated by the unscrupulous. The monster in The Fifth Child becomes the protagonist of a modern fable.
Summer Escapism: C (Not much, but that’s OK. While it is easy to relish a horror story, this fable was sometimes painful to get through. The reader is asked to sympathize with Ben, but his alien nature makes that a difficult process. That, in itself, could be considered either a flaw or an accomplishment, depending on what Lessing intended.)
Strength of Writing: A
Stimulation of the Little Grey Cells: C (I struggled through this book for the reason given above.)
Social Relevance: B (How do you apply the Golden Rule to a monster, even if the monster is part of us?)
General Reaction: A frustrating experience (and I wasn’t the only frustrated reader), but that may be because I harbored expectations based on the earlier novel. Here’s what’s ultimately interesting about this book: Ben’s monstrous behavior can be explained by his true nature; but what can we say about the monstrous behavior of the humans in the book? Is that our nature? The answer is not what we would prefer to hear, but we know it to be true too well.
So those are two of the title I read recently. Your turn! What have you been reading lately?
I just saw Michael Wallis on Jon Stewart and he did us proud, talking about his David Crockett book. He even mentioned he lives in Oklahoma. It was great. And remember Young Bill included him on one of the Library Youtube Breaks. You can tell Bill and I are big Michael Wallis fans, and the biggest reason I’m his fan is he appreciates the real history of Oklahoma and the West.
ABE Books is a great place to find out of print books. Thousands of book sellers at your fingertips. Enjoy.
It was released way back in 2009, but it’s currently number one on both the trade paperback and e-book fiction New York Times bestseller lists. It’s been made into a hit movie with lots of Oscar talk, especially for lead actress Viola Davis. It’s a summer reading pick by Oprah Winfrey, and the release of the movie has made it a selection at book clubs across the country. A colleague at a conference in Chicago a couple of weeks ago waxed glowingly of the book and told me she plans to see the movie. A colleague at work told me there was no way she was going to see the movie. It’s hot. And it’s controversial.
It is The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Is it another landmark book and film on the civil rights movement, or (as one writer put it) is it “just another example of Hollywood’s interest in black stories, but only if they are told from a white protagonist’s viewpoint?”
The Help is about three women in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi: two black maids and child caregivers (Aibileen and Minny), and a white college graduate who has returned to the south (Skeeter). Skeeter aspires to be a writer, and she has been told by a professor to write about what bothers her. What bothers Skeeter is the racism and hypocrisy in her community, and she convinces Aibileen and Minny to spill their stories about life as black maids in Jackson.
Since Aibileen and Minny are major players in the story, it’s not tokinism that is causing the controversy. Much of the controversy revolves around the fact Stockett is a white writer, which immediately provokes many readers to first question the authenticity of such a story. Is it honest? Is this just going to be another story of a liberal white person standing up for the rights of black people? What does she know about the experience of black maids during that era? (Stockett’s family was cared for by a black maid until she was 16, when the maid died.)
Similar questions were raised when Rilla Askew’s novel about the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot, Fire in Beulah, was published in 2001. But leaders in Tulsa’s black community were quick to see the honesty and authenticity of Askew’s work and her five years of research into the clouded event. More than anything, there was an appreciation that the truth about the slaughter of people and the destruction of America’s Black Wall Street was finally seeing the light of day.
Stockett is finding it harder to win positive reviews from many critics and readers, despite the book’s phenomenal success. She is criticized for the dialogue she writes for Aibileen and other black characters (“You a kind girl”). She is criticized for the dialogue she writes for the white characters (Where is the southern accent?).
She is accused of making Aibileen an Uncle Tom, a “good” minority, a person who absolves the white people around her. The archetypes of Uncle Tom and Mammy are invoked by the characters and setting of The Help. Those archetypes add to the criticism that The Help ignores real history about the state of Black America in the 60s.
I suspect it is mostly a good thing when a book is the subject of debate in America. If nothing else, maybe more people will read it to find out for themselves, or read the reviews and discussions going on surrounding the work to understand the cultural, historical and social issues that are being debated.
Just take a look at what people are reading, writing and watching on the web about The Help:
The Queen’s Castle: Excerpts from Jet magazine and other items on The Help.
NPR: The Help Draws Audiences, and Ire
CBS News: Katie Courie interviews Kathryn Stockett
Check out this article on NewsOK about women who have cleaned homes, past and present.
Okay, it’s your turn: Have you read The Help, or seen the movie, or both? What’s your reaction? Are you staying away from the book and movie for some reason? Tell me, tell me, please…
The site is big and bold, filled with enough information to make any sci-fi/fantasy fan drool. The book reviews are thoughtful and professional, and there are exclusive interviews with authors in the field. Spotlights is a feature which focuses on notable books coming out each month, although it appears they lost interest in including graphic novels a few years back. Upcoming Releases is a detailed listing of titles that are heading our way. (It’s like the biggest buffet ever!)
Or, you may want to start with their substantial Best of Lists, produced by Fantasy Book Critic’s contributors. The feature includes End of the Year Best of Lists, Best of Genres, Best of Upcoming Releases, and any other Best of Lists.
As with many weblogs, the search function isn’t up to par with the best search functions on traditional websites, but that shouldn’t keep you from exploring this great site. It gets a Literary Kitty stamp of approval. Meow!
Indie Bound is very cool and has let me create a book widget for new Oklahoma Author titles.
I love gadgets on the web.
Let me know what you think.. And check out the titles while you are here.
Dr. William T. Hagan was an honored historian, teacher and author. We are saddened to hear of his passing.
His research specialty was American Indian history, and he has authored many books on this topic. He served as president of both the American Society of Ethno History and the Western History Association. In 1989 he was awarded the Western History Association Prize and in 2003 was inducted into the Oklahoma Historical Society’s Oklahoma Historian Hall of Fame.
In 1998 he was a Non-fiction Oklahoma Book Award finalist for Theodore Roosevelt and Six Friends of the Indian, and in 2004 a Non-fiction finalist for Taking Indian Lands: The Cherokee (Jerome) Commission, 1889–1893.
His other titles include: The Sac and Fox Indians; United States-Comanche Relations; Quanah Parker, Comanche Chief, and, Charles Goodnight, Father of the Texas Panhandle.
Dr. Hagan will be missed, but his work will continue to inform and teach us about our Native American heritage and culture.
An interesting little book just crossed my desk, A Year in the Life of Oklahoma. For example, on this day, August 5th, 1903, JOE “IRON MAN” MCGINNITY of McAlester, Oklahoma pitched and won both ends of a doubleheader for the major league baseball New York Giants. He earned his nickname working in coal mines in southeast Oklahoma. He had two 30-win seasons and eight 20-win campaigns in ten years in the majors. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946.
This book is written by Oklahoma historian, Bob Burke and I can see that it would really come in handy for teachers, writers, history buffs, and a fun book for kids.
Just got my e-newsletter from University of Oklahoma Press. Looks like interesting new arrivals and recent releases. My favorite is by John Wooley, Shot in Oklahoma: A Century of Sooner State Cinema. You probably recognize his name from his very popular book on Oklahoma music, Blue Devils to Red Dirt: The Colors of Oklahoma Music.
And since I just found this website and want to put it up on our links list, Here’s a literary kittie moment,
Go to ShelfAwareness. This blog hosts two newsletters, one for Readers and one for folks (like librarians and booksellers) in the book trade. You can get the newsletters sent to you directly or just stop by for a read. The Book Trade newsletter comes out each morning with essential information for booksellers, librarians, book buyers at nontraditional stores, members of the media, marketers, salespeople, publishers, including news about titles coming out now, titles getting buzz in the media, authors on major shows movie tie-ins, sleepers, news about the business, tips on how to sell, etc.
The Readers newsletter comes out Tuesdays and Fridays with the best 25 books coming out in the week as selected by industry insiders.
Articles, reviews, author interviews and events. Latest from twitter followers. This is a great find.
GBA Ships is an international charity operating out of Germany. The news this week is that the largest GBA ship, Logos Hope, is docked in an Indian port until August 11. Logos Hope carries more than 7000 book titles, travels around the world promoting good literature, raises money for charity, undertakes community projects, and fosters cultural exchange during its global voyage.
Imagine living in an area of the world that has little to no access to books, and this glorious ship docks in your local harbor, opens its doors, and introduces you to a whole new world!
Directly below, see Logos Hope in 60 seconds. A longer YouTube video with much more information about the project follows in this post.
A little break from my usual format for my summer reads. I was just so taken with this little book…
Many people think that a very abstract activity, like the playing of chess, would be best. It can also be maintained that it is best to provide the machine with the best sense organs that money can buy, and then teach it to understand and speak English. This process could follow the normal teaching of a child. Things would be pointed out and named, etc. Again, I do not know what the right answer is, but I think both approaches should be tried.”
We’ve all seen science experiment with the chess playing computer, but what about this second approach—to raise an artificial intelligence (AI) as you would a human child?
The book is the story of Blue Gamma software employees Ana Alvarado and Derek Brooks, and their digients (AI programs represented by avatars) named Jax, Marco and Polo. We “watch” as Ana and Derek help their digients develop motor skills, explore their emerging curiosity, learn human language, recognize themselves versus others, and socialize with other digients and humans. New hardware even allows the digients to “port” to physical robots to experience the real world versus the dataspace.
As the digients advance—and Ana and Derek develop parental affections for Jax, Marco and Polo—the standard upgrades inevitable in the world of software brings newer versions of digients to life. The discontinuation of a virtual world platform, and lack of support for Blue Gamma AIs in other platforms, threatens the very existence of Jax and his friends. To save Jax and other digients like him, Ana and Derek join with other Blue Gamma parents to create a private dataspace to protect the developing cyber life.
But the parents must solve a problem: how to upgrade the Blue Gamma AIs so they can rejoin other digient friends and continue their development. This quest for solutions ends up posing some interesting questions for the characters and the reader:
• At what point can an AI make a decision for itself?
• Are AIs on their way to being persons with similar rights as human beings?
• Should AIs follow traditional child development with the implementation of an adolescence and sexual awakening to reach their full potential?
• Should humans make the same sacrifices for digients as they often do for human children?
As the story progresses toward its conclusion, Derek and Ana find their paths diverging in the name of love: love for a fellow human in one case, and love for a digient in another.
I’m a fan of Chiang’s work. He’s not a prolific Sci-Fi writer, but his short stories are some of the best in the genre right now, and the critics and readers agree, as his long list of awards indicate.
Read what Ted Chiang has to say in this Locus Online interview about his motivation for writing The Lifecycle of Sofware Objects.