The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race

Book cover: The Fire This Time ed. by Jesmyn WardIn 1963, James Baldwin published The Fire Next Time, a book about race in America. More than half a century later, Jesmyn Ward soberly reflects in her introduction, “It is as if we have reentered the past and are living in a second Nadir: It seems the rate of police killings now surpasses the rate of lynchings during the worst decades of the Jim Crow era. There was a lynching every four days in the early decades of the twentieth century. It’s been estimated that an African American is now killed by police every two to three days.”

In The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race, contributors including Edwidge Danticat, Kiese Laymon, Daniel José Older, Claudia Rankine, and Isabel Wilkerson pick up where Baldwin’s book left off. Most of the essays look to the past, several consider the present, and a couple look to the future. Considering we’re living in a period where it’s still considered radical to insist that black lives matter, the publication of this collection couldn’t be more timely.

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The Regional Office is Under Attack!

Book cover: The Regional Office is Under Attack! by Manuel GonzalesThe Regional Office exists to protect the world from nefarious attacks. It was created by the superhuman Oyemi and her partner, Mr. Niles. Together, they source oracles to predict future attacks and train teenage girls to become highly skilled assassins. But now the oracles have predicted that someone on the inside wants to bring down the Regional Office, and sure enough, it’s under attack.

It’s kind of a hard book to describe. Imagine elements from Minority Report, Kill Bill, Die Hard, plus a dash of Mean Girls, then sprinkle in some superpowers. On one side is Rose, a hot-headed teenager who is leading the attack. Half of the book is told from her perspective; when the attack happens, she’s in for a nasty surprise and must think on her feet. But she’s also lovestruck with the man who recruited her into becoming an assassin, and the chapters alternate between her troubled past and her present predicament.

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Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary

Book cover: Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary ed. by Susan MorrisonThirty Ways of Looking at Hillary was published eight years ago, back when Hillary Clinton was first running for president. I’d wanted to read it at the time, but then election fatigue took its toll and down the TBR list it went. But now here we are again: Hillary Clinton is running for president and new election dramas are unfolding. Even with people still feeling the Bern, she’s the formidable front runner this time around. And though you still can’t exactly call her “cool,” she managed to pick up some more social currency during her stint as Secretary of State. It is with this hindsight that I dove into this book.

I’d been hoping for a more elevated conversation about Hillary. With thirty women, many of whom probably identify as feminist, you’d think that the conversation would move beyond aesthetics and wrestle with Hillary’s ideology, place in pop culture, etc. And some authors did. But mostly, the writers took the title a little too literally: Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary mostly busies itself by looking at Hillary.

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Burial Rites

Book cover: Burial Rites by Hannah KentSet in 1829 and based on a true story, Burial Rites follows the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last woman who was executed in Iceland. Having been convicted of murdering her former master, Natan, Agnes is sent to an isolated farm to await her execution. The family who owns the farm is horrified by this turn of events. Jón Jónsson, the farmer, is resigned to the family’s role, but his wife, Margret, is furious at being forced to risk their daughters’ safety by housing such a woman. As Agnes awaits her execution, she has selected a young priest named Tóti to be her spiritual adviser; no one knows why she has selected such an inexperienced person for the task, especially since she has no previous ties to him.

Margret puts Agnes to work around the farm, keeping a strict and watchful eye on her every move. Agnes willingly and ably follows orders, stopping only when Tóti comes by for their sessions together. Haltingly, Agnes’s life story begins to take shape, and the truth behind her involvement in Natan’s death begins to emerge.

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That Other Me

Greetings from Dubai! I was here last month but didn’t get to post this because I was too busy sightseeing during the few hours I had during my layover. Now I’m here again, slowly making my way back home. Today’s book is by Maha Gargash, who was born and currently lives in Dubai. This is her second book.

Book cover: That Other Me by Maha GargashMajed Naseemy is the controlling patriarch of an esteemed Emirati family living in Dubai. Years ago, he tricked his brother into signing over his share of their growing agriculture company. His brother died soon after, and many whisper that Majed’s betrayal is what killed him. Now, the family lives in great wealth. Majed has taken responsibility for his brother’s daughter, Mariam, who is studying in Cairo. He also has a daughter, Dalal, from a secret marriage. The family refuses to acknowledge her, and her recent stint on Nights of Dubai, an American Idol-type show, has infuriated her father, who sees such entertainers as low class. Dalal now lives in Cairo with her mother; she’s trying to get her music career off the ground.

Though Majed forbids them from interacting, Mariam and Dalal are close friends. Neither of them have a good relationship with Majed, but he tries to control their every move just the same, going so far as to employ goons to spy on them. The two girls are strikingly different . No matter how much she despises her uncle, Mariam is obedient and always conscious of how her image in public may be interpreted by fellow Emirati; her worst nightmare is being seen doing something improper and having people back home find out. Dalal is the complete opposite; she’s hot-headed and outgoing, and she and her mother openly defy Majed no matter how aggressive or extreme his reactions might be.

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