And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini: Review — The Misadventures of a Media Journalist

Wrote this piece for my cousin’s blog. Follow the link below to read the full review!

Review of “And the Mountains Echoed” by Khaled Hosseini

via And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini: Review — The Misadventures of a Media Journalist

Meagan Reads Sci-Fi: Feed by Mira Grant

I went on vacation, so I’m getting to this review a bit late. Spoilers are also ahead, so read at your own risk if you plan on picking up this book.

feed_blogAs part of the MadLibs 2018 reading challenge, I chose to read Feed by Mira Grant for the “verb” category. It’s the first in the Newsflesh trilogy, taking place in the U.S. after a zombie apocalypse has occurred. Except it’s not really an apocalypse, because the premise shows a world that essentially operates much in the same way as before, with running electricity, political intrigue, and defined geographical territories. The biggest difference is the undead that have consumer certain areas of the world and a virus that needs to be kept in check with constant blood testing and special medical precautions. Much like we have the TSA to ensure weapons don’t make it through airports, this world includes blood testing machines to ensure visitors to a building aren’t carrying the illness that causes zombies to rise. The whole zombie aspect plays in the background of this world and its story much like the wars and protests and other world news play in the background of our reality and daily lives.

This is what made the book such an interesting concept to me. It’s a revolution of sorts, of the human race, and yet aside from the obvious, nothing’s changed. The other biggest change of course is the source of news and media. Per the novel’s storyline, when the zombie outbreak occurred, big news media didn’t properly warn the citizens of the iminent danger, while bloggers and independent publications did. Thus, in this new world, bloggers and social influencers are the trusted and credible sources of news. To be honest, that sounds pretty familiar to me already, growing up a millennial in this Internet age, where my main source of news comes from my Twitter feed, and I’d sooner trust Buzzfeed to give me the real details before I trust Fox News.

The zombie storyline in this book plays more of a supporting role, adding a supplementary layer to the real story, which is dirty politics and freedom of the press. The story follows brother and sister bloggers Georgia and Shaun Mason, along with their sidekick Buffy Messoinier, as they trail the presidential candidate Senator Peter Ryman on his campaign across the U.S. Sabotage soon follows, with cases of the virus popping up and wreaking havoc at Ryman’s campaign events, killing innocent bystanders. The Masons and Buffy investigate until they find the truth, but it’s a dangerous game and by the end, two of them end up dead.

The most prominent flaw I found in the book was the overspecific use of blogging and social media jargon. I know it’s called feed, which is a play on words based on a news feed and what zombies do to live humans, but there was so  much banter between characters that was hyperfocused on the tech and blogging community, that it felt a bit “insider baseball.” I have a bit of a background in blogging and media, so it wasn’t necessarily hard for me to follow what they said most of the time, but for someone who knows nothing about click through rates, content sharing, and metrics, it can become exhausting.

Overall though, I was rather surprised by how much I enjoyed this book, and how much I cared about the characters in the end. I just might continue with the next one if I find I have time.

Have any of you read this book or others like it? What are your thoughts? Do you have recommendations based on this novel? Let me know in the comments!

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Meagan Reads YA: The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

For my workplace book club, a coworker chose The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. I had my reservations about reading this book because of the accusations that recently came out about the author in light of the Me Too movement. I also knew that this was a book that’s been lauded and held in high esteem, and even challenged and banned by certain schools due to certain content.

sherman alexie blog postThe story follows Arnold “Junior” Spirit, a member of the Wellpinit community in Washington. It’s a coming-of-age story about growing up Indian in a racist country. It’s about growing up Indian in a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic father. It’s about growing up Indian and poor. There are so many heavy and tragic topics that take place throughout the story, but it’s all told through Junior’s eyes, meaning it’s told with a wry sense of humor to soften the blow.

I really enjoyed the main character’s voice and his sarcasm aimed not only at the white community that mistreated his people, but at his own people too. It creates this complex and layered relationship between wanting to remain loyal, but wanting more than the life allotted by circumstance and the majority in power. It’s something that many marginalized people can relate to.

Here of course is where the conflict for me as a reader occurs. I truly enjoyed this book and think it’s a good piece of work that’s worth reading. But I can’t just forget the accusations about the author from the people he hurt. In fact, I can even see some of that attitude bleed through in the main character Junior. Sure, he’s a straight teenage boy, so he’s bound to talk about masturbation and look at girls with desire. At least, that’s what’s expected, because after all, boys will be boys. The danger in that expectation is that those boys grow up to be “men who’ll be men,” who in turn continue objectifying women and seeing them as things. This leads to men who “misbehave” and end up hurting women.

While the book is an excellent read and covers important topics with a genuinely funny voice, it’s hard not to notice the moments where adult Alexie and fictional Junior crossover into one another. It becomes a question of separating the art from the artist, which is something I’ve always struggled with. To what extent can we do so, and at what point do we stop separating the two? Because it’s obvious that no one is perfect and no art is perfect, but we have to make a stand somewhere.

Alexie’s new reputation is a blow to marginalized communities because he was such a strong voice for his own. Then again, maybe if more publishers championed more marginalized voices, it wouldn’t be such a detrimental hit to those communities in the first place.

Did anybody else read this book after what came to light about the author? Did anyone read it before? What are your thoughts on liking a book but not liking an author? Let me know in the comments!

Review: Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Wrote this post for my cousin’s blog. Check out the link below!

Here’s another backlist I recently read as part of a book club with my coworkers. I figured since it’s been slated for production as a television show with HBO though, it might be relevant to some media fans. Readers beware: spoilers are ahead! Also, tw: sexual assault, rape, violence. Here’s a quick rundown of the […]

via Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor: Review — The Misadventures of a Media Journalist

Diving into Diverse Reading

Lately, I’ve made a much more conscious effort at reading diversely. We chose The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu for my cousins’ book club. I read Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat for the 2018 Madlibs reading challenge. And for my book club at work with my coworkers, we’re reading Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor. I’ve enjoyed the books I’ve read in the past, but it is so easy to fall into patterns, especially when those works get widely passed around by the mainstream. It’s easy to miss out on some truly excellent work from writers of different backgrounds simply because they are not given the same platform.

A few years ago when I started listening to the Book Riot podcast, it made me aware that I’d fallen into the pattern of reading the same authors and types of work. Not that those stories aren’t worth telling, but rather that other stories are worth telling also. So, I started curating a list of diverse reading on my Goodreads to read list. But I still didn’t get around to reading so many of those books until just a few months ago. Why? Well, I still have a whole library of books I own at home that I haven’t read and need to get through. Having those books I own still sitting on my shelf made it easy to keep with my reading patterns. I knew I still wasn’t reading diversely, but I had no one to hold me accountable.

With the use of reading challenges and book clubs though, the excuses stopped. Having people to discuss the books with made it easier to choose diverse stories. More than that, having a planned out list for reading challenges made me more conscious of what I was choosing to read, and I’m grateful for that. The reason I’m writing about this is because truly diving in diverse reading has made me aware that I really don’t know much about other cultures.

 

Image from Goodreads

Ken Liu’s work is the first I’ve read by a Chinese writer. Edwidge Danticat’s book is the first perspective I’ve read about Haitian immigrants and the political struggles that country has gone through. Nnedi Okorafor’s novel is the first time I’m delving into African culture. With just these three books, I’ve been introduced to new worlds that gave me an appreciation for what I still have yet to learn. I don’t want to be the kind of person who never thinks of other cultures and ways of living and buries her head in the sand. I want to learn about other people. I want to understand others’ stories and hear their voices. We can learn so much about each other through our stories, so I think all readers should make an effort to start diversifying their bookshelves. It’s not enough to make lists without taking action.

How do you all diversify you’re reading? What books have you read recently that tell a story different from your own life?

Poetry Review: Past Life Invisible by Daniel Haskin

It took me some time to get through this and finally get around to reviewing it, not because it’s a slog to get through (far from it), but rather just due to my hectic schedule. I would like to summarize my overall thoughts about this collection with the statement that it is a reader friendly compilation. Many people are often uncomfortable with poetry because they feel it might go over their heads or that they won’t be able to glean anything from it, but Haskin’s Past Life Invisible does not take that route. Haskin’s poems still create sensual and beautiful images with deft lyricism that a poetry connesieur can appreciate, but it never feels like it goes over the head of the average reader who enjoys the occasional poetry collection.

 

past life invisible
Image from Goodreads

The poem “Wintersong” is a good example of the lyricism I spoke of. The lines “Hollow and shopworn/Praying to your god of thorns/Lonely pages torn…” have a melodic rhythm that you can easily put a beat to. In the poem “My Dark Age,” the opening stanza of “The things I now see/Inside my dark cruelty/The lines of my palms/Like red rivers running…” holds that same rhythmic quality that makes Haskin’s pieces sound like songs ready for a musician to adopt. While many writers struggle to adequately use a traditional rhyme scheme to create poetry, Haskin uses the tool adeptly in a way that melds tradition with contemporary style.

The images throughout Haskin’s poetry are often simple, yet convey layers that leave the reading open to interpretation. Phrases like “false colors of autumn” from “Cancer Season” create a sense of vague images, and yet the reader knows exactly what the speaker means by that statement. It’s intuitive. In “Mollytide” the speaker uses sensuous diction like “dark and decadent” or “embrace you like smoke” to create a titillating piece with words meant to be spoken between lovers, but which the speaker allows the audience to see behind closed doors.

Haskin appears to have made a conscious decision not to include punctuation (or rather sparingly) throughout all the pieces, without a single poem ending with punctuation. It conveys this sense that while every poem has a beginning, it doesn’t necessarily have an end, and feels like the speaker of each piece has drifted out of their own trailing thoughts. However, because of this stylistic choice, the few times punctuation is used within a poem, it stands out and is jolting, coming off as typos that made it past the final editing process. The rare stray comma in a line can really stop that lyrical flow the writer so deftly created, so the inclusion of such marks should have been more carefully curated.

Overall, I think it was an excellent collection of poetry and I give it 4 out of 5 stars. If you want to delve into poetry, then this might be the place to start.

Meagan Reads SciFi: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

I’ve been participating in the MadLibs Reading Challenge 2018, and I chose this book as one of the “noun” categories. Be warned that spoilers are coming ahead, so if you plan on reading the book, do not pass this line!

Annihilation is a relatively short read, but don’t let it’s small size fool you. There is such a complexity of character and plot happening that the writing itself very much resembles the way the biologist, the main character, views the world around her. Even though VanderMeer wrote the story so that none of the characters had names, it didn’t create for a lack of depth with each one. I felt a particular kinship with the biologist though, as we saw most of the story unfold from her point of view.

She tells the story with a clinical voice, especially at the beginning, in which she constantly talks about observation and analyzing the environment around her, whether it’s in a lab, at a tidepool, or even in her own marriage. She makes it clear that observation holds more value to her rather than interaction, and I felt such a relief in seeing a female character that emphasizes this point without ever being villainized. Through her habit of observation, she remains apart from her ecosystem, and never becomes a part of the ecosystem. I think after recent conversations I had with a friend of mine about how I’m so quiet all the time and I rarely tend to interact with people, it felt good to see another woman portrayed this way, but not made to be evil.

That doesn’t mean that her tendency toward introspection and observation didn’t irk those around her. It’s made clear in her flashbacks to her marriage with her husband, one of the lost souls to the previous Southern Reach expedition to Area X, that he was vexed with her habit of retreating into her own observations and never letting anyone in, emotionally. When she volunteered to go as part of the next expedition, the psychologist was also annoyed at how little she could get out of the biologist.

Now, as to the plot of the story, I’m not gonna lie. I don’t entirely know what it’s point is or where it’s going (as there are two more books). I do know that I enjoyed the scenery VanderMeer created with the plant spores that created actual writing on the wall and seemed to have its own life. Throughout the book, the reader knows there have been various expeditions into Area X to study the phenomenon happening, but we know as much as the explorers do. There is no source or origin for why these mutations are happening or how. There is no explanation as to why they are researching and exploring Area X. Do they think it’s dangerous to the world as a whole? Is there still a world outside of the Southern Reach and Area X? If there was an apocalypse, was this the source?

The explorers and reader don’t even know where the entrance point is to Area X. There’s no recollection how they got there, and more worrisome to the mysterious government agency in charge of the expeditions, they don’t know how anyone could have gotten out. The biologist’s husband returned from the expedition, but he was the first to do so and he did not return as himself. One can assume that despite their strained marriage, the biologist entered Area X to find out what came back, because if it wasn’t her husband, what was it, and what else came through? We start to catch glimpses toward the end when the biologist discovers the journals of previous explorers, of which there were many more than the Southern Reach disclosed to present expeditions.

As the book comes to a close, the reader sees there’s something strange going on in the way of clones, doubles, or doppelgangers. How they come to be and where they go is still to be determined. The one thing I wish I had seen more of in the book were the animals and other plants. There was such a  high focus on the living writing on the walls of the tower/tunnel that the reader didn’t actually see much of Area X’s other creatures, except for a brief appearance of a wild hog that comes close to the expedition’s camp.

When I’ve talked about this book with friends I’ve described it as the kind of story that fans of Archive 81 would enjoy, and I stand by that statement. I’m definitely itching to find out where the biologist’s journey takes her in the end as she follows her husband’s path deeper into Area X, so I will be picking up the next book.

Has anybody else read this book? What did you think? Do you have theories as to what Area X is exactly and how it came to be? Let me know in the comments!