Review: The Underground Railroad

“His patients believed they were being treated for blood ailments. The tonics the hospital administered, however, were merely sugar water.” p. 124

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The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.
Anchor Books, Penguin Random House, New York, 2016.
Adult fiction, 313 pages.
Lexile:  890L  .
AR Level: not yet leveled

Cora is a young woman on a Georgia plantation when a new arrival asks her to run away with him.  Only one slave has ever successfully escaped the Randall plantation, but Caesar believes that if they run together, they’ll make it to the elusive Underground Railroad.

The Underground Railroad (Colson Whitehead) resized

It took me a good while to get to this one.  I’d seen a lot of mixed reviews, and in general I’m not a fan of magical realism (which is what most people were calling this).  Finally I saw this at Target and decided to use it as one of my targetpicks selections.

Going into the read with low expectations definitely helped this novel blow me away.  It’s a very difficult book to classify.  Whitehead uses elements of many different genres, including historical fiction, adventure, science fiction, magical realism, and realistic fiction.

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Discussion: Problematic Authors

When problematic information about an author comes to your attention…

So…  I’ve read, enjoyed, and highly recommended one Sherman Alexie novel.  As you can see on my 100 Indigenous Books challenge page, I’ve purchased two others, one of which I’ve since read (my page needs some updating) and the other I DNF’d but was attempting to re-read.  That’s two reviews that would have gone up later this year.

I’ve been a bit behind on reading blogs so I was very grateful this issue was highlighted on BookToss.  If you want more info, AICL has an exhaustive list of the best articles and commentary about the topic.  If you are looking for alternative books to read, both have lists (note especially these two), or you can check out my reviews.

However, this all leaves me with a bit of a dilemma.  While I don’t plan to buy any more Alexie books, I have a review and a half to go up, and one already up.  When this post goes live, I intend to edit my previous review with a link and comment about this new development and how it’s changed my opinion of Alexie.  But what about the other books?  I have a review ready, and another book that wasn’t going to get a very favorable review anyway.  It takes a lot of time and effort to read and review books, but I don’t want to promote a problematic author either!  Right now I’m leaning towards just giving up on those two reviews, but I’m curious what others think.

What would you do when an author you have scheduled reviews for turns out to be problematic?

2017 Favorites – Fiction

Favorite fiction reads of 2017, from picture books to adult novels.

Yup, I’m not posting this until well into 2018.  In 2017 I reviewed 98 books (plus 10 board books) and so many of them were so good.  It took me a month just to narrow it down this far…  I just love all the books!

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Discussion: Microaggressions in Fiction

A look at several books to try to articulate different ways of approaching microaggressions in literary texts.

Here’s a loaded question for you: When are microaggressions okay in literature?

This question came up today as I was reading a book review over at Sinead’s blog.

After I had written several paragraphs in the comment box, trying to clarify my thoughts on the subject, it made sense to just write my own post and ask for feedback on this question.

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Web: In the Public Domain

Anybody who loves 18th century literature has heard of Project Gutenberg and similar online methods of obtaining books which no longer have a copyright, but when we browse these websites, it is often easier to find books with racist commentary or ideologies than to source books by authors of color.  Today I have a few sources to help you.

The list Black Writers in the Public Domain has a variety of genres available mostly through Gutenberg, but also from some other Public Domain sites.

The same website also has a review of a novel called The Conjure Woman, which is set in the antebellum South and was written by a black journalist.

There are two bookshelves available on Project Gutenberg.  One is African-American Writers, and the other (which has some overlap) is the Slavery bookshelf.  The Slavery bookshelf has some international writers, but is mainly about African-American slavery, which means it includes abolitionist writings by white authors.

Following this rabbit hole eventually brought me to The Antislavery Literature Project, which is all about trying to source original texts about the American antislavery movement from a variety of public domain sources and link them in their database.  This includes writings by white abolitionists as well as trying to source a variety of early writings by authors of color.  Their website is helpful for finding items from smaller digitization projects and gives a brief synopsis of each work.

If you’d like to do a unit on poetry by black authors, poets.org is a great starting place.  They have biographies, essays on, and at least one or two poems by everyone from well-known poets like Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou to comparatively newer poets like Claudia Rankine.

This website is full of sources for teachers, including recommended poems for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Black History Month and other occasions, searchable by poetic form.  Get even more in-depth for Black History Month with this part of the site that includes poems, essays, and original source documents.  There are also areas for movements like the Harlem Renaissance and Black Arts.  I’ve only covered the African-American areas, but this site is pretty good about including poets from a variety of traditions and ethnic backgrounds; if you’re interested in poetry, it’s definitely worth a look!

Oh, and for a starter, here’s an anthology of poems, The African American Experience.  I’m reading this and a nonfiction book from the first list electronically and enjoying both.

Review: State of Wonder

“Her skin was all cream and light in comparison to her father’s and very dark when she held her wrist against her mother’s.” p. 35

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.
Harper Perennial, HaperCollins, 2012.
Adult fiction, 353 pages plus extras.
New York Times Bestseller
Best book of the year 2011 from ten different news sources
Lexile: 990L
AR Level: 6.7 (worth 21.0 points)

Dr. Marina Singh has no interest in going to Brazil.  She’s quite happy sitting in her small windowless lab running pharmacological tests, and her lab partner Anders Eckman was happy to go into the Amazon as long as he could take some side trips to photograph rare and unusual birds.  But Marina’s plain, comfortable world shatters when a letter arrives relating his death.  The company wants to know what happened, and so does his widow.

state-of-wonder
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.

This was a free book from the library that I grabbed after forgetting my bag so I couldn’t read Hidden Figures on my break.  It was surprisingly gripping!  There are so many points to discuss which are major spoilers, but I’m going to limit the spoilers here as much as possible.

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