Lidia Yuknavitch’s latest novel is a dystopian reimagining of Joan of Arc. Set in the near future, Earth has been ravaged by radioactive fallout following several world wars. Survivors are white, sexless, hairless creatures who live as slaves under CIEL’s tyrannical rule; these creatures inscribe epic stories onto their skin. Other humans — the wealthy — have escaped and now hover safely above Earth. CIEL is headed by Jean de Men, a sadistic leader who rules with an iron fist.
Jean de Men is believed to have killed a child named Joan of Dirt, turning her into a martyr for a resistance that is brewing. Joan glows blue light and has a mystical relationship with the Earth; she has the power to destroy, but she also has the power to bring things back to life. In this new world, where everyone’s genitalia has basically shriveled up and fallen off, her powers have made her the stuff of legend. One of the sexless slaves, Christine Pizan (a nod to 12th-century proto-feminist author Christine de Pizan), is particularly enamored with Joan of Dirt’s story.
I’m doing Read Harder 2017. I would have read both of these books anyway, but it just so happens that they both work for Task 3 (read a book about books).
Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch
Publisher/Year: Harper, 2011
What it is: After the sudden death of her older sister, a reeling Nina Sankovitch turns to books for solace. She and her sister frequently traded and discussed books, and on her forty-sixth birthday, Nina begins a literary journey and healing process: she’ll read one book a day for a year and write about every single one. This book is a memoir of that year.
Why I read it: Confession: I got this as an advance copy…6 years ago. I’d always been meaning to read it — when it came out, it was very popular in the book blogosphere — but I just never got around to it until this year.
What I thought: I read anywhere from 75-100 books a year depending on how hectic life gets. I think the most I ever read was 134. So I’m thoroughly impressed with anyone who can read more than that, and being able to read a book a day — and actually sticking with it — is just mind-blowing to me. The complete list at the end of the book is impressive. As for the book itself? It was just okay. She writes a lot about her family history, then ties in the books she read according to the theme of the chapter. It’s occasionally repetitive, and I would have liked more about the books themselves. She’s a lovely writer with beautiful sentences, but insight-wise, I wished she’d pushed it further. It all felt too tidy.
Like a couple of its predecessors, Louise Erdrich’s newest book, LaRose, returns to the Ojibwe territory of North Dakota. It begins with a fatal tragedy: while hunting, Landreaux Iron shoots and kills his neighbor’s five-year-old son, Dusty. The neighbor, Peter Ravich, is Landreaux’s best friend, and their sons were best friends. Dusty’s death is promptly ruled an accident, but the two families are left in pieces. Landreaux, a recovering alcoholic, is devastated. He’s been cleared by the law, but his grief is pulling him towards a different kind of atonement.
Quite simply, he wants to die. Peter’s wife, Nola, who happens to be Landreaux’s sister-in-law, also wants him to die. Her anger, it seems, is the only thing keeping her going. Instead, Landreaux’s wife, Emmaline, goes with him to their sweat lodge to pray. When it’s all over, they’ve come to an agonizing decision on how they’ll atone for Dusty’s death. As per ancient custom, they’ll give their own five-year-old son, LaRose, to the Raviches. “Our son will be your son now,” they inform the bereaved couple.
Thirty 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.
Unrequited: Women and Romantic Obsession by Lisa A. Phillips
Publisher/Year: Harper, 2015
What it is: Part memoir, part investigation, Phillips explores the role of obsessive love in women’s lives. She begins with her own story: many years ago she fell hard for someone, was rejected, and kept pursuing him. She ended up sneaking into his apartment complex early in the morning and was shocked that he remained locked behind his door with a baseball bat, ready to call 911. Phillips examines how she, an educated and confident person, could have done that. She also looks at case studies and interviews other women who have done similar things and closely examines the gender-based double standards: former NASA astronaut Lisa Nowak, for instance, became a comedic punchline in 2007; male stalkers, on the other hand, are universally feared and considered dangerous. Women who go through life pining over an unrequited love are pathetic and desperate, whereas men suffering from unrequited love are at the heart of many pieces of classic literature. Towards the end of the book, Phillips also looks at the positive sides of unrequited love.
Why I read it: It sounded like really interesting subject matter, and I was curious how the subject of stalkers would be handled.
What I thought: There are a lot of complexities to this subject, and Phillips does a great job of exploring the different angles. Some parts dragged a bit, but overall, I appreciated the historical context and the way she teased out the double standards. I also like that she split her own story up, interspersing each stage of her romantic obsession into relevant chapters. It’s really interesting how common unrequited love among women is; most women will experience it at some point in their lives (although not everyone will act on it).
Choose Your Shot: An Interactive Erotic Adventure by Christine d’Abo
Publisher/Year: Carina Press, 2013
What it is: This is the fifth and final book in d’Abo’s Long Shots series. I haven’t read the other four books, but they all revolve around a BDSM club called Mavericks, which apparently burned down at some point before Book 5. In this particular book, Mavericks has now reopened for business, and Tegan, one of the regulars, is back for its opening night. Each chapter ends with different options and lets you choose what kind of sexytimes Tegan will have.
Why I read it: To examine the book’s structure and see if “choose your adventure” books worked better in eBook form. (Like, for real. I’ve been toying an idea for a writing project of my own for about a year now.)
What I thought: This is the second “choose your adventure” type book I’ve read. The other one was a romance with hook-ups; this is straight up erotica. In theory it’s a neat idea, but I’ve yet to see it executed in a non-cheesy way. The options just feel too paint-by-numbers. And I know this is erotica and not a romance novel, so it’s more about sex than plot, but when you have so many options, the already weak plot gets stretched way too thin.