a cat, a cause, commendable books; 6.26.19

Hey friends! I have some good news and some rough news, but let’s start with the good news, which is that I got a cat this last week!

She’s 10 months old, her name is Fisher, and I already worship her, as does pretty much everyone who’s met her so far.

The rough news is not personal to me, but you’re likely aware that we’ve been hearing more and more of the atrocities being inflicted upon families at the border. It’s easy to feel helpless in these situations, which is why I’ve been donating what I can to RAICES, a legal nonprofit that’s doing a lot right now to reunite families and get them out of ICE’s clutches. If you can’t donate, please keep calling your representatives, keeping your eyes out for protests, and pushing back in whatever ways you can. If you are able to donate and are on Twitter, there are several prominent authors and public figures who have been matching donations, and hopefully more will follow suit, so keep your eyes open there as well.


Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower – Brittney Cooper

Image result for eloquent rage brittney cooper

Oh my god, these essays!! They’re directly up my alley in terms of the balance between memoir/personal essay and research/theory. Cooper expertly weaves her experiences, sense of humor, and hopes and concerns about the future in with her academic analyses of race and gender.

Women’s anger has been a buzzy topic lately–who gets to express it and when, buried anger and its toll, its power and dangers. Cooper’s book, which came out over a year ago, holds rage as the core, noting that Black women in particular have good reason to feel rage and should be most closely paid attention to. She posits anger as useful, both for oneself and for creating a more just society. Her essays tackle a wide range of topics–including but not at all limited to misogynoir, police and state violence, sex and theology, and the double-edged sword of exceptionalism–and often skillfully pull several topics together. She’s open about the places where her own viewpoints are in conflict, elucidating complex topics without dulling their complexity while also not leaving the reader feeling lost. It’s a really fantastic book, unputdownable in a way that books at this level of analysis often aren’t.

[tw: police violence]

Iza’s Ballad – Magda Szabó

Image result for iza's ballad

So a couple months ago I read The Door, Szabó’s most well-known novel, and it absolutely bowled me over. I’m still not really over that book, and maybe that tinged my appreciation of this book, which was lovely in spots but didn’t have the same magic for me. Where The Door was tightly focused on the complex and tense relationship between two unconventionally connected women, Iza’s Ballad is a bit more sprawling [and you know how I feel about sprawling book-wise], even within a relatively short novel. 

The central tension in this book is also between an older and younger woman, although this time they are mother and daughter. Ettie, in her 70s, has just become a widow, and her only child Iza brings her to live in the city with her. Their different modes of life and expectations for life together drive Iza to distraction and Ettie to depression. Meanwhile, their background and characters are further drawn out through other characters, primarily Iza’s ex-husband. Szabó’s writing is still intimate and oddly comforting and her characters are rich and well-observed, but I wish the plot construction had been a bit tighter.

[tw: suicide]

The Joy Luck Club – Amy Tan

Image result for the joy luck club amy tan new edition book cover

Speaking of a tight plot construction…literary classic The Joy Luck Club! Set up as 16 connected short stories which form a novel’s whole, Tan’s first novel explores the relationships between 4 sets of Chinese-American mothers and daughters. They’re often fraught, often passionate, frustrated, disappointed, devoted, protective. All of the mothers are immigrants, and they and their daughters emotionally wrestle (both with each other and with themselves) over the balances in their past, present, and future. 

Obviously Tan is a literary legend, and while I’d read snippets and sections of her work before, it was a new and captivating experience to read these stories as a whole and see how they worked together, sometimes through contradictions between the characters. Each of the 8 main characters has two stories told from her point of view. There’s a beautiful essay on LitHub by Tan about her reflections on the book after 30 years (it’s also the preface to the newest edition of the book), which eloquently describes the tension she was trying to (and did) capture, the anxiety both parent and child frequently feel that they will not be understood by the other, and the extra layer in the immigrant parent/child relationship.

[tw: sexual assault]


That’s all for this week! If you’re a Pop Culture Pen Pals subscriber, the July preview is in your inbox, and if you’re not it’s in our archives!

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