…because if they are, I’m gonna need SOMEONE to either buy me this shirt or spin me around in circles until I forget about my bank account and buy it myself.
I leave for Memorial Day weekend tomorrow and you’d better believe I’ve been plotting and scheming to decide which books I should bring with me for a four day weekend of lounging with a book at every conceivable moment.
This week is a little thinner than usual, but I have a couple of very good reasons, one of them being that the first book I finished this week is actually a book I bought for a friend’s birthday but wanted to read before I gave it to her and I want to keep the surprise INTACT. The second reason is that there are a couple of books (a history and a short story collection) that I’ve been making my way through a little more slowly.
PLUS, I have some pretty strong Thoughts & Feelings about both of these books, so we should have plennnnnty to go on!
Red Clocks – Leni Zumas
“Will she ever stop with the reproductive dystopias?” you may be thinking to yourself.
And the answer is: no. I certainly will not.
This book has been getting a lot of buzz lately, for both its timely themes and beautiful writing. The premise: the Personhood Amendment has made abortion and IVF completely, 100% illegal in the U.S. The Canadian border is heavily patrolled and desperate teenagers can be put away for years for “conspiracy to commit murder.” On top of that, adoption is about to become restricted so that only a married [heterosexual] couple is allowed to adopt.
Oddly though, the chilling premise almost falls into the background as the author deep-dives into the lives, desires, and fears of four women living in the same Pacific Northwest small town. A single teacher desperately wants a child but is running out of options, as is a pregnant teenager — but for the opposite reason. Another woman feels stifled by her routine wife-and-mother life, and then there’s the “mender”: an herbalist who values her solitary-ness above all else but offers her expertise to women with “problems.”
When I read Future Home of the Living God, I wrote a little bit about how dystopic and apocalyptic narratives have a fine line to walk in terms of balancing character dynamics and worldbuilding. Zumas takes a very specific approach and completely commits to it, which I very much respect. She takes her time establishing the characters and their inner lives, dropping in allusions here and there to the political climate of the book, giving us the majority of exposition in the back half, which I found an interesting and effective choice. There was also a nice nod to the Jane Collective, a late 60s-early 70s organization that helped women get abortions in the years right before it became legal [I’m actually reading a book about it right now so that’ll be coming up!]
Overall, I think the book Worked Well and I would highly recommend it to anyone, but particularly if you’re interested in reproductive dystopias/female narratives. Another interesting thing about the book is that — unless I’m forgetting something — there’s not any sexual assault in the book, which is pretty rare for a story focused on these issues, and on women in general.
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness – Austin Channing Brown
The internet — and the IRL world — has been ON FIRE for this book, and for excellent reason. Austin Channing Brown’s book is part memoir–part reflections on being Black in America–part call-out for “Nice White People” who want to believe that they are not racist, but often end up making Brown’s life [and the lives of other people of color] even more burdensome as they navigate white fragility, policing systems that threaten rather than protect them, and organizations that would rather appear to listen to Black voices than actually listen to them.
Nathanial Totten noted on Twitter that: “I’ve highlighted so much of @austinchanning‘s “I’m Still Here” that it’s probably depreciating the value of highlighting.” which was VERY MUCH my experience. Page after page I needed to confront my assumptions about whiteness, racism, and myself. Even as I write this, I feel myself searching for the right words to exonerate myself, to prove that I really “got” this book.
So here it is: I can’t tell you the most important things about this book. You’ll have to take in the words of the author and find them for yourself.
Plus Brown’s writing itself is gorgeous and compelling! Every chapter I finished I thought “okay I should probably take a break to let this sink in” but then I’d see the next chapter heading and think “I GOTTA KEEP GOING.” I’ve been recommending this book to everyone I know and will be rereading it for years to come.
That’s all for this week, folks! May your Memorial weekend be filled with lemonade [maybe the boozy kind if you’re of age and that’s your jam…] and grilled foods and rest. To those heroes that work holiday weekends — the nurses, the waitstaff, the call center volunteers — I wish you the most respectful patients/customers and excellent tips!