Saturday, November 24, 2012

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan: A Review

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour BookstoreMr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one had me at "24-Hour Bookstore" :) And, indeed, the magic of this book lies in this namesake bookstore itself.

The novel opens with Clay, an unemployed website techie, who finds himself working the late shift at an all-night bookstore in San Francisco. But this is no ordinary bookstore. The shelves are stocked not with ordinary books but bound puzzles (of sorts), and the "customers" aren't customers at all. I won't go into the details so as not to spoil anything. Suffice it to say, that while this book is a clever page-turner that follows Clay on his quest to uncover the secrets of a mysterious book and the underground society dedicated to its preservation and the cracking of its code, it is also an interesting commentary on the place of books in a digital age and the unique possibilities of how this chasm might be bridged.

The only disappointment for me was the rapid-fire ending, as well as the slight let down I felt when the riddle was solved (so much build up, it would have been nearly impossible to fulfill whatever expectations I had). But this book is really fun, and very, very clever.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers: A Review

The Yellow BirdsThe Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4 1/2 stars. Wow. There is imagery in this small novel about an Iraq war vet that may never leave my memory.

However, anyone looking for a linear "war story" shouldn't bother. This book is messy and complex, even in its simplicity. But it somehow manages to both capture the experience in a hypnotic, poetic, rumination rather than a traditional narrative. This book is chaotic, achingly visceral, and tremendously lyrical in its rendering of war and its aftermath.

I fell in love with THE THINGS THEY CARRIED by Tim O'Brien when I was a student. This novel does what O'Brien did for Vietnam for the war in Iraq. It is no wonder it was nominated for a National Book Award. Gorgeous.

Monday, November 05, 2012

On Hope (Four Years Later)

I'm not entirely sure how it is possible that four years have passed since President Obama was first elected. Already, the memories of that Tuesday have faded for the girls. Only Kicky vaguely recalls being awakened from sleep to hear Obama give his acceptance speech with his wife and two little girls at his side. And neither of them remembers that cold day in January when we watched the inauguration on TV while their dad braved the frigid temperatures and unbelievable crowds on the Mall. Obama's daughters have grown, and so have ours. Four years is a long time in the life of a child, but not so long in the life of a man. And especially a man with such a big job to do.

I don't know what will happen tomorrow. No one really does. Because no matter what any polls suggest right now, uncertainty is the only certainty. What I do know is this: four years ago, everything was in turmoil. Everything was precarious. The housing market had crashed, the economy had crashed, people were despairing everywhere. Obama offered hope, and while the ascension from those seemingly bottomless depths has been slow, the climb has been a steady one. And it is hope that sustained us.

This campaign has been endless and ugly. I truly fear for the future. I fear a backsliding, an undoing of all the good that has been done. I worry about my rights as a woman and the rights of my daughters to govern their own bodies and to love whomever it is they choose to love. I worry about the earth's health, and the health of all the people on it. I need hope that our movement as a country, as people, will be forward.

Below is the letter I wrote to the girls so they might never forget the importance of that historic moment. And lest I ever forget the pride, the excitement, and, most importantly, the hope I felt for my country that day just over four years ago:

January 19, 2009

Dear Kicky and Esmée,

I just put you down to sleep after a long day off from work and school. Your Daddy is at the theatre at one of the inauguration events, and I am here, listening to the sounds of the house as you fall asleep.

I know you both understand what is happening tomorrow, though I also know you are too little still to understand how very important this day is. Your father and I debated for a long time about whether or not we should take you down to the Mall to witness the swearing in of our 44th president, Mr. Barack Obama. And it was with a heavy heart, and more than a little hesitation, that I finally told your father to accept the ticket that had been offered to him and made the decision that we girls would stay home to watch Obama address this nation as President for the very first time.

On the news, the streets that we drive every day are filled with people. There is a line trailing two blocks long out of Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street. The Mall is crawling with people who will sleep in the cold all night just to be closer to him tomorrow. Esmée, when you go to school on Wednesday, you will be only blocks away from where the Obama girls eat and play and sleep. People have traveled here (our home, the place where we live!) from all over this country, all over this world, just to take part in this moment in history.

I can’t help but worry that I am depriving you of an experience of a lifetime, that some day I may truly wish I had risked the crowds and suffered the cold with you, so that you could also be a part of history. That this will be one of my big regrets. We live so close. We could almost walk. But I only want you warm and safe. And as your mommy, that trumps everything, right?

What I need to remind myself is that you are a part of this moment in history. You, my two bright eyed, curly-haired angels, are Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream realized. You too are products of the civil rights struggle which has ultimately led to this moment. You too are proof that this world can change.

Your grandfather, who passed away before you were born, was a young man back when Rosa Parks sat in the front of the bus. Around the same time he was one of the first black lifeguards at an all white east coast beach. When he proposed to your Nonna (and she said yes) it was with the understanding that they might both lose their jobs. That their love for each other would threaten friendships and family ties. They risked everything to be together. And the result was more than twenty-five years of marriage, your Auntie B, and your Daddy.

And, thankfully, their courage, and the courage of countless others was not in vain. By the time your father and I fell in love, the world had shifted on its axis. Changed.

Now, when I look around your classrooms at the myriad of colors (at the faces in all their beautiful shades of brown and peach and cream), my heart thrills at your curiosity about each others' differences and your simultaneous ability to transcend them. You are dumbfounded by our fascination with this, can’t understand why a brown-skinned man in the White House is such an anomaly. You are seemingly incapable of prejudice. Racial bias is, at least for now, a bitter relic of your ancestors’ pasts.

Tomorrow, we will watch our future unfold on TV, safe and warm inside. You may or may not remember the details of this day, but I will try to remember them for you.

Whether we are there or not, you are a part of history, little ones. You are the proof. Yes we can, he says. And I believe -- I have to believe for you -- he is telling the truth.

On this day and every day, I love you…to the bottom of the ocean and back to the top,