Archive for October, 2016

Review: This Is Where It Ends

Friday, October 28th, 2016

I was successfully marketed to for this book by The Big Library Read at the LA Public Library.  It’s a book targeted to young adults – the Twilight demographics – about a school shooting.  A book for high schoolers about a school shooting seems inherently interesting to me.

Overall, Marieke Nijkamp’s This Is Where It Ends is a well constructed thriller with some meat to it. Nijkamp builds a set of detailed characters who turn like clockwork through a believable scenario.  The motivations all feel realistic to me, often forming reasons for the horrifying actions without becoming excuses.  The story is told from various students’ points of view that form a mosaic view of the events.  The plot and storytelling are excellent.

The diversity of the cast is also impressive.  Despite being set in a small town, the students all come from believably different backgrounds.  Multiple sexualities and ethnicities are all represented without feeling forced.  The sexuality of some of the students is a plot point, but not one that is overplayed.  It all fit together well and felt like a look at a realistic school, not something constructed to make a point.

The major shortcoming for me was that none of the student’s narration had a different voice to me.  Everyone had different details and features, but their word choices and sentence constructions all were consistent. Nijkamp corralled a bunch of diverse students who all talk like they’re in the same English class.  A missed opportunity, IMHO.


Review: Between The World And Me

Friday, October 28th, 2016

Between the World and Me caught a fair amount of attention for its frank and clear assessment of the dialog between black men and their sons, not to mention between black society and America as a whole.  It is all that – and that’s a lot – but it’s also something more special.

As harrowing and sometimes appalling as America’s treatment of black people has been, there are many heartfelt factual histories of that treatment and the ongoing evolution of that situation.  Ta-Nehisi Coates’s work here is more brave and personal than most.

Here is what I’ve learned about Mr. Coates from Between the World and Me: he’s a deep thinker and a poetic writer.  The abstractions and metaphors he chooses when writing of his experience illuminate people and institutions in personal and unique ways.  Individual word choices turn colleges into churches and human policies into automations of menace.  His expressions are clear and powerfully show institutions and experiences in new ways.

Beyond that, Coates is an atheist.  His point is not to justify his religious position, but it informs everything he writes.  He speaks of how American systems control the bodies of black people; he describes the mixed feelings that the power of churches in the black community evoke in him – and particularly how his beliefs can deny him solace.  The reflections of his atheism are only one way that World is powerfully personal, but it is unusual and telling.

Overall, a brilliantly written mixture of memoir, position paper, and message to the future (the text is written as a message to his son) well worth one’s time.

Strongly recommended.

Review: West of Eden

Friday, October 14th, 2016


I hadn’t realized that Jean Stein’s West of Eden was such a recent release.  I checked it out of the LA Public Library‘s e-book collection to try that out and assumed that it was an older book.

Eden is essentially a set of interviews about key players in Los Angeles’s past.  I mean that there is no explicit narrator’s voice or textual context.  The whole book is composed of transcribed snippets of interviews laced into these discussions.  The compositions are deft, which provides Stein’s narrative voice.

Reading the interviews rather than hearing them in a narrator-free documentary gave me a sense of distance from the events being described.  Some of these events are detailed stories of chaotic LA parties, which makes the absence of immediacy pleasantly dissonant.  Drinking stories on the page are different than in a secluded bar, though the implications flow both ways. The overall effect is an unusual reading experience to say the least.

While I found this to be an interesting way to understand these figures – and the figures are fascinating – I think I need more context to really understand the significance of them. I’m still looking for more conventional histories of LA.