Edwidge Danticat • The Farming of Bones

Although I’m not an English student or teacher anymore, there are some books that just scream out to me, “This would be a great teaching text.” So let me get this out of the way:

I strongly recommend The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat for university-level English classes. It would be a glorious teaching text, full of intimacy and history, written in an accessible yet subtle style that rewards close-reading.

In fact, everyone should go ahead and read it. It won’t take long and you’d be better for it.

Edwidge Danticat, The Farming of Bones. 1998 novel about the 1937 Parsley Massacre of Haitians by Dominicans. Highly recommended.

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Carmen Maria Machado and women not coping

Content warning: sexual violence.

Carmen Maria Machado’s debut collection, Her Body and Other Parties, has received impressive advance praise, and it is deserved. Her images are vivid, carefully-observed, and tactile to the point of stickiness; her pacing is expert. Machado executes the contemporary syntactic style of the lit-fic/weird-fic borderlands—present-tense sentences with SVO order and frequent, colloquial sentence fragments—flawlessly.

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Janet Mock • Redefining Realness

You should read this one.

Figuring out what the stakes of a book is, for me, the most important step in the book review process. Expecting a book to be other than what it’s attempting to be delivers you to your own prejudices and blinds you from a book’s worth.

Judging by its cover, you might think Redefining Realness is a simple inspirational memoir. Its subtitle is “my path to womanhood, identity, love and so much more,” and the pull quote on the cover, from bell hooks, calls it “a life map for transformation.” Judging by the surface of its writing style, you find a light read, though heavy in content. However, when you think about the stakes of this book and how well it lives up to its goal, you realize just what a tremendous achievement it is.

I hope to convince you of this fact below the fold.

Janet Mock, Redefining Realness. 2014 autobiography of a trans writer and advocate. Wholeheartedly recommended.

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Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh

The author of the blurb on the Oxford edition of Aurora Leigh does not love poetry. “Aurora Leigh is the foremost example of the mid-nineteenth-century poem of contemporary life,” it reads, a sentiment so bloodless that the Oxford editors had the sense to headline it with a quote from George Eliot: “no poem [of our own day] embraces so wide a range of thought and emotion, or takes such complete possession of our nature.”

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Jean Echenoz • Ravel

Aren’t public libraries the best?

The other day I was looking up books on Maurice Ravel, who is one of my favourite composers. The title Ravel: A Novel caught my eye. Yes, it was about the composer. I’d never heard of the author, Jean Echenoz, but a quick search told me he was a popular contemporary French author.

What a happy accident it was! If a light novella that manages to be both funny and touching sounds pleasant to you, then I highly recommend it. No need to read the review below. But if you want to see some aspects of the book that I enjoyed, read on. As always, there are plenty of spoilers below.

Jean Echenoz, Ravel, trans. Linda Coverdale. 2005 novella about Maurice Ravel’s last decade. Warmly recommended.

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