Showing posts with label Gloria Naylor. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gloria Naylor. Show all posts

Saturday, January 4, 2014

7 Favorite Reads of 2013


With each year comes one concrete, consistent thing that forever entertains, comforts, and enlightens me... that would be books.  According to Goodreads I read more in 2013 than 2012.  I felt a little surprised, certain that it was the other way around for some reason.  Still, I had a few decent books on that list that I cropped through to find my 7 Favorite Reads of 2013 that I wanted to share on the blog.  Some of the books I've never written about; this is the perfect time to do so.  I also have another list comprising of a few of the books I rather leave in 2013.  Neither list is necessarily numbered in order of greatness, flavor, or level of entertainment.  It’s just a list of the books I walked away from feeling mostly inspired (or uninspired) by.
Here goes…
1. The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino

Natsuo Kirino is a Japanese crime writer best known outside of Japan for the English adaptation of her grizzly novel, Out.  I was introduced to her by that particular book, after a bored bookstore stroll for new titles to read.  Quickly put, Out is about four hard-up Japanese women working in a bento factory while disposing bodies for extra cash.  Their method of disposal?  Divide the bodies into pieces before each takes a part to an undisclosed location for dumping.  It doesn't take long before their trust with one another, concerning money and their nasty dealings, begin to unravel from within.  And true to its nature, some of these women don't make it till the end of the novel.  While Out may sound like some sort of ABC crime novel under the streets of Tokyo, the psychology Kirino goes through with each of the women places this book a whole step above.  That exploration into a character's dark psychology (and impulse) is familiar in Japanese crime novels.  You see it in authors Keigo Higashino and Miyuki Miyabe as well.  Nonetheless, I was sold by Out's synopsis and have been a fan of Kirino since.  

The next novel adapted into English was her book, Grotesque.  Just as dark as Out, Grotesque follows the story of two Japanese sisters weighted by the inferior treatment of women in Japan.  One sister has turned to prostitution underneath the weight.  When I say this story will take you down some dark and scary places--I mean it.  It is one ride that will keep you hanging on just to find some kind of resolution with these sisters.  If you can stomach it, of course.  In 2008 the English adaptation of Kirino’s Real World was released.  Here we had another dark story featuring a group of Japanese teens assisting a murderer-on-the-run within their group.  Naturally, Kirino’s dark stories reflect societal concerns, particularly bullying and the heavy amount of pressure placed on Japanese students and academics, so addressed in Real World.  

So what is Kirino’s fourth English adapted book about?  

Almost the same theme concerning the overthrow of women in Japanese society; however, it’s told underneath a retelling of an old Japanese kwaidan-like myth.  The Goddess Chronicle takes place on a Japanese island shaped like a teardrop (let’s go ahead and push the symbolism).  On this island we’re introduced to two sisters born and designed to fulfill a local prophesy.  One sister, Kamikuu, must be a representative of purity and light, whereas the other sister, Namima, resides in the shade.  Natural to Kirino’s characters and storytelling, Namima wishes to escape her position underneath her sister’s shadow.  This wish becomes increasing dire when Namima is ordered by tradition to serve the goddess of darkness.  To serve the goddess is to live in isolation without the island’s graveyard, attending to the dead.  However, Namima carries a secret that breaks her tabooed position as a servant of the darkness.  Namima devises a plan to escape the island.  Should the tradition-baring locals find out about her secret, the consequences could equal up to her life.  Where Namima's eventual escape leads her is to the Realm of the Dead, where she meets the goddess of darkness herself.  It's here that Namima realizes that she has a lot to relate to with the goddess herself.  They both share the pain of the betrayal.  Now to find absolve (or maybe revenge) within those betrayals are the women’s common goal.

2.  Night by Elie Wiesel

3.  Tar Baby by Toni Morrison

4.  Linden Hills by Gloria Naylor

My post on Linden Hills.  

5.  The Shining by Stephen King

7.  Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Now the 3 books I'd probably leave in 2013 follows...

1.  Jazz by Toni Morrison

Seems a little off I'm sure.  It's not that I disliked the book, it just wasn't what I'd hoped for.  I've learned that much of Morrison's material post-80's has what I see as a distracting dip in vivid prose and language.  The problem for me is that that "distracting" sometimes lures me away from gathering some sense of the plot of the book, or even the order of the plot.  Add in the multiple themes and narratives in JazzI just didn't leave fully connected with overall story.  However, some of the individual narratives in the book stood so strongly that it was like reading an individual short story inside the book.  Glimpses of pieces of the past that made the two main characters was where I enjoyed the book the most.  In any regard, it's definitely a book that needs a second, focused read.

2.  The Shadow Reader by Sandy Williams

The Urban Fantasy genre has failed me over the years.  After Laurell K Hamilton's Anita Blake series set the tone for what to avoid while writing/reading in the genre, I've been sketchy on picking up anything that even distantly suggests a girl must sleep with vampires and werewolves for a plot.  Save for the authors who introduced me to the genre (sadly, Hamilton is one), I try to look carefully for new authors in the genre.  I'm afraid they'll try to pull me in with a ridiculous plot about sex and a she devil who thrives on it to survive.  Williams, luckily, isn't any of those things.  However, what did annoy me about this particular book was that the heroine spent a little too much time than I cared for ruminating on her affection between two guys.  One guys is labeled bad.  One guy is labeled good.  We got a love triangle and the whole time I just wished the main character, McKenzie, would give up the need for romantic stability and just start slaying heads.  Something tells me that's a personal taste of mine.  Nevertheless, I'm actually on the fence about continuing the series.  I'll let it get a few books in then see.

3.  Deadline by Sandra Brown

She has some good ones.  She has some boring ones.  This was a boring one.  I hate to say it, but many times Brown's characters are all the same.  Their careers are different, but their desires are not.  Predictable in many senses.  I saw a lot of that in Deadline.  Same as in 2012's Low Pressure.  Same as in 2011's Lethal (which I actually liked).  As I said before, Brown's books sometimes read like Lifetime movies--and that's not a bad thing.  But here's what I see too often that annoys me.  There's a guy.  He's often a suspect involved in the murder contained within the book.  He likes the girl.  She's often related to the victim in some way.  They're either on the run from cops or bad guys.  Between that running, she is a wall to his desperate sexual advances.  She cracks.  He makes way.  Together they become a force to smoke out the true killer.  That's been her last 3-4 books.

That's the end of my list folks!  Wish I could've written about them all, but trust and believe me when I say that the ones that I didn't write about would've required an entire post.  Any suggestions or comments?  Do you have a list 2013 book list of favorites?  Share and let's compare notes!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

1996 and Intruding Thoughts

“The Boys sit transfixed before the small computer screen. A green line, indicating the brain wave activity of the Naylor woman, scrolls across the screen. On the other side of the wall, she’s in bed, tossing and turning, trying to get comfortable. They catch their breath in excitement as the words appear at the bottom of the screen; This pillow is too soft. Paulo can’t help himself; every time he sees that a tingling occurs at the bottom of this stomach. To be inside of someone’s mind has to be the sexist thing in the world. There was nowhere left on earth to go, no new frontiers. This was it; they were touching someone’s soul. Each time that it’s his turn, he trembles just a little as he “answers” her. The pillow isn’t too soft. Your head is too hard. After typing those words, he presses the “send” key and there is a slight hum from the satellite dish. Leave me alone. Jesus, would you look at that. She heard them. They’ve done it a dozen times by now, but every time it’s like a little miracle. So this is what it feels like to be God, Paulo thinks."   

This frightening excerpt comes from Gloria Naylor’s fictionalized memoir, 1996.  It’s considered a fictionalized memoir because of the interlocking narrative, sectioned between Naylor’s first person perspective of events (considered reality) and a third person view.  The third person narrative (proposed as fiction) provides readers a glimpse into the villainous acts of the government “squad” used to torment Naylor because of a small series of misunderstandings that inaccurately labeled her an anti-Semitic (those who are discriminating towards Jews).  As a book submerged in Naylor’s familiarity with government surveillance and conspiracies, her accounts left me wondering how probable her experiences were as well as what were the odds of finding myself in something similar.  Should you find time to read the book, you will see how disturbingly easy Naylor arrived to her situation.  And I say that without arguing whether her accounts are fact or fiction.   

Nonetheless, I also left the book wondering whether some of the fleetingly negative criticisms I have for myself are produced from within.  Or are they manufactured thoughts by some other source, as seen in parts of Naylor’s situation?  I suppose the safest choice is to settle with those negative thoughts being constructions of my own.  This may keep me from falling into that whole state of believing that the world is out to get me.  Nevertheless, I’ve always taken into account that nothing--and I mean nothing--in this world can be contained within our knowledgeable grasp.  Meaning, anything can absolutely be.  Nothing is impossible.   

So if those negative voices in our head are not manufactured, as they were in 1996, where do they pop up from?  As the depraved Paulo referred in the passage above, are they from God?  The better question is how true are those voices and should they always be acknowledged when we are faced with decisions or realizations about ourselves?  What percentage of them are thoughts influenced by the beliefs of others?  And how much of those thoughts are residual from our childhood experiences?  That’s what I really wanted to get to.   

So when our mind is wrestling with something, how easy is it to stay impartial and allow the debate to pass?  Is it helpful to stuff down the negative thoughts with positive ones?  Or should the negatives be just as accepted.  Because the mind won’t shut off, will it?  Every bad thought it shares does not pertain to you, though.  That's to be realized.   

Imagine the feeling of relief when we make peace that we are not that stupid voice in our head.  Instead, we’re just there to “listen” to it play out if we choose to.  We don’t have to participate with its corrugated reasoning.  It’s easier that way, but why is it so damn hard to reach such a state?  I find myself wondering this when in my head I am debating the behavior of others based off a decision I’ve made, of course translated through the lens of negativity.  See, a schedule was posted at work, and me being a first shift associate, suddenly found myself relegated to working two second shifts as the MOD, or manager on duty.  At the beginning of the summer I explicitly asked to move and stay exclusive to first shift.  Here, I could continue to have the personal space I felt required to better myself.  As far as the MOD status, I could have sworn that I turned down being a lead back in March.  Trusting my instincts, I should add.  So I was thoroughly perplexed looking at the schedule.  I was not going to get paid to watch over the second shift team members’ work, and should something happen within the store, I wasn’t willing to take the heat and stress crashing on my shoulders.  Nonetheless, I didn’t put up a fuss looking at the schedule, besides the managers had all dipped out!  I simply wrote a post-it note that read something like this:   

“I am not interested in managing second shift or working its hours again.  Thanks.”   

Well, that became the talk of the store.  People began to believe that the real second shift team lead was quitting (management put me on those two days to work her days off).  People thought I was quitting.  People became concerned for the store’s coverage.  Some were even proud of me.  But as for me... I (in my head) just kept thinking that I should have handled the situation differently.  Why?  Because I--once again in my head--believed I had upset some people by causing them to rearrange matters that inconvenienced others.  I am the type of person who tries not to make a fuss wherever I go.  I try to keep things mellow and fun.  For me to outright say “I won’t accept this” is almost unusual.  Granted, I speak my mind and take a no-bullshit approach to certain areas of my life.  However, I was also taught to take on my responsibilities however they come.  Nevertheless, it really did bother me that management felt they could just throw me into such a position after discussing months ago that I didn’t want such.  Still, this negative tape in my head kept insisting that my insubordinate “violation” of other employee’s time and space might’ve been doing too much.  What gave me the right to protest management’s decisions (besides the fact that I wasn’t going to get paid for it)?    

So when a certain employee may have forgotten to speak to me one day, I think it’s because of my demands.  Or when a manager eyes me across the room, I wonder is he ready to give me the boot (which I probably would gladly take) or cut my hours for making such a bold demand.  Is everyone mad at me?   

But it’s all an illusion, you see.  Those things only exist if I make them so and making them so starts with hooking myself into the negative thoughts that encourage them.  Things like my personal intentions and motivations play a role in my decision to spend my good times chasing a better life.  So if those choices ask me to stand up for myself, I must oblige.  It is much more rewarding to congratulate myself than berate myself over the falseness of guilt and negative illusions, which would once again turn into an inner battle begging me to quit the job all together.   

Nevertheless, I suppose the point of this post, in relation to Gloria Naylor’s novel, is to not allow anything, including your very own battling thoughts, to control and wear your purpose.  On all accounts, stand up for yourself throughout inner and outer circumstances.

Naylor, Gloria. 1996. Chicago: Third World, 2007. Print.

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