Book Review: Grace & Style: The Art of Pretending You Have It by Grace Helbig

Book Review: How to do Nothing by Jenny Odell

Book Review: The House Witch: Your Complete Guide to Creating a Magical Space with Rituals and Spells for Hearth and Home by Arin Murphy-Hiscock

Book Review: DNF ‘Please Don’t Kill the Freshman’ by Zoe Trope

I got at least 30 pages into this and found it much too cryptic for me to keep up with (read: I’m too old now for this nonsense!). The multiple ‘List of Characters’ are more like a key to break a code and the writing style reads like someone overly inspired by their first creative writing class — where things like pills are described as “quiet” (“and take some quiet pink pills,” page 9). That gave me a good sense of the book. It’s not like any diary I’ve ever written, for sure, but sure is like assignments I’ve turned in.

I know I’m not the target audience for it and it was written by a teenager (yep, it’s a pretentious teenager. Spot on , duh, because it’s written by one.). There’s slack I should cut it. But I don’t think I can because of that $100K advance it apparently got after being republished. I’m still struggling with the plausibility and the legality (read the other goodreads review implying parts of it aren’t true. Sounds like a potential legal nightmare). The fact this book only has around 100 goodreads reviews since coming out in 2003-ish, despite being pumped by Dave Eggars and Zadie Smith, has me wondering if it was hyped properly by the publisher — has me wondering if the author merely had connections to publication that I’m not clear on. The author is now well known in the library world (Zoe Trope was a pen name) and Charlie Jane Anders has mentioned her on the Our Opinions Are Correct podcast (which I listen to religiously). Thus, I was compelled to pick this book up for reasons other than pure interest in teen angst. Bonus fact: she apparently went to college with Lena Dunham, but who knows why we know that? Was Dunham published young too? Probably. Anyway, it made me want to read the book even more. I apparently love drama.

One thing that did bother me in the book is how she says she doesn’t like being friends with girls. Maybe that changes throughout the book but it’s quite sad to read today. I certainly don’t think that’s true of the author anymore. I’m quite a fan of her writing about libraries and librarianship. I just don’t think this book ended up being what the publishing world probably wanted it to be?

Other reviews I found interesting:

‘I re-read the book last year and couldn’t believe how childish it is, which is something it was actually praised for at the time of its release. There are moments of lovely prose and hints of a great author; but she has not produced any books since Please Don’t Kill the Freshman‘s release in late 2003.’

 

‘It’s rough and could have used more editing–something that was rejected by the author–but the roughness has its charms and the charms are many. It’s also nice to see the difference in acceptance of gay teenagers at the high school level ten years after I graduated from high school.’

 

‘ Trope said that there is little “literary arc” because the book is a memoir and a chronicle of her life, and while I respect that, it doesn’t mean I am going to overlook the fact that the book reads like one lazy afternoon – enjoyable at first with the prospect of all that can be accomplished, but as the afternoon draws on boredom sits in, and though it is still a nice day, it has lost it’s sense of promise.’

Book Review: Necessity (Thessaly 3) by Jo Walton was no necessity

[The title of my post is inspired by another review of this book I read.]

The concept of gods in space and them dealing with robots is not new.  C.S. Lewis did the planets thing in Perelandra and gods playing with or making robots is a tale as old as actual myth. Necessity finally couples the two in the most original way I’ve ever seen.  That doesn’t mean it’s ultimately satisfying.

While it doesn’t seem like there were many loose threads in the last two books to warrant this story, you do learn a lot more about the gods and their functionality–you get answers to questions you didn’t know you had. They’re unnecessary answers, but still worth knowing— exploring more like. I say exploring because, like most things in this series, the answers are hardly set in stone or actually knowable, and even when they are I don’t tend to agree with Walton’s take.

It’s not that Necessity was unnecessary because of this, though. It’s that the titular subject (as a character) is rendered pointless in the process of the book. “Necessity” as a force is undermined, as I will explain. I also didn’t like that the title broke away from the pattern of the first two books: The Just City, The Philosopher Kings. Why not The Necessity at the very least? It’s jarring and isolating from the flow of the other books. I was turned off instantly, because there is no good reason it branched off as if it was a standalone. It cannot, in fact, stand alone from the other two books. Do not try to read this without first reading the first two. Even though I’ve read all of them, I was forgetting who characters were/had been. There’s too many to actually care about, quite honestly. Don’t let it bog you down, though.

There is much that doesn’t make sense about the new planet they live on. The fact they are given a pre-established planet frustrated me. The planet wasn’t made for them. They took it, nevermind the evolutionary potential and rights of the beings (fish) already there. I’m not sure why Zeus couldn’t have just whipped up a new world without all the undertones of colonization (a theme in the book that seems way too glossed over for my comfort).

The one positive thing about this book was Crocus finally stole the show. The Workers grew on me and were finally made interesting to me in the series; they being the only ones who could ever be truly Platonic (pun intended).

The rest of this is a review for those who have read the book.

Things I didn’t like about the book (spoilers): 

The rules that bind the gods are still like arbitrary hoops Walton made her characters jump through in the first book. I still don’t understand how prayer works. Apollo laments on page 110 of my edition “I wished somebody in Bologna would pray for my help so that I could give them something better than this.” Why is prayer necessary for help? Why could Athena only pull those who prayed to her to populate her city in book one? I still don’t understand this. It would have saved them a lot of time if they could have just pulled in Plato himself to ask him what he meant, instead of three books of “what do you think he means by X?!” It seems a ridiculous contrivance sometimes, especially when there is no excuse.  The entire book is about revising Plato to perfection, but Plato himself never learns this lesson. It requires his absence to function, meanwhile we can bring Socrates back for a second time? Also contrived is the guest-friends concept, how gods cannot eat unless sacrificed to or invited to share — “ritual purposes” (page 127). Is this some law the gods have given to themselves to not scare or exhaust humans? A curse Zeus put on them? Was that ever explained? This does not affect them in mortal form, it seems. I don’t remember Pythas needing permission to eat. So much is brought up again and again but no real answer is established.

And back to the prayer concept – even when Kebes is forced to pray to Hermes/Jathery to take him into the future, he doesn’t address Hermes by name (calling him “Dear demon that I see before me”). So how important can prayer be? If he had actually prayed to Hermes, I suppose the twist that it was actually Jathery the whole time would have been a plot hole. But why couldn’t Hermes have also been Jathery? If Apollo and Athena can patron Earth and Plato, why can’t Olympians champion alien planets?  Apollo even goes into a tangent about Platonic Forms and how he and the gods have several (an idealistic Dolphin form, etc.), so why couldn’t he have a Saeil (spelling?) Form? (Side note: At one point Apollo implies that the emblematic animal of Hephaistus (Hephaestus) is a lion, which is wrong. It is a donkey. Where on earth did Walton get that it was a lion?).  I thought that the Forms discussion was where this was headed, that gods can have “alien” Forms. It made no sense to create new gods when there are already gods. In fact, it seemed speciesist (racist?) when all of Necessity was undermined just so that Marsilia didn’t have to have Jathery’s baby. I’m not sure what statement was trying to be made there. Hermes takes one for the team, though. Still not sure why it couldn’t have just been Jathery. Jathery is a god. There’s ways it could have, even if biology was an issue.

What is strange about this book was Walton’s need to create new alien gods instead of having them share ones that are already ours. It made Earth-gods seem less potent and limited to human form, which I think they should be beyond. Like in previous books, there is acknowledgement of other earth pantheons but that really just means Jesus (Yayzu), and how they don’t mingle with each other, which gets incredibly too complicated to think about when the alien gods are introduced.  There’s no overt acknowledgment of Norse or Hindu or other gods. Only Christianity and Egyptian (Toth). This is likely, yes, because so many Neoplatonists also dabbled with Christian theology. I’m sure it was something she was forced to address because we really couldn’t have modern Christianity without Plato. But what doesn’t seem fair is that she introduced alien gods over explaining the different pantheons we already have and how those intersect well. Maybe she did it well enough in book one.

Kebe’s Christianity still rubs me the wrong way even using something like Ikaros/Pico’s view of “gods are angels/demons.” Maybe someday I’ll put my finger on it. Even if you think the gods are demons, they become part of the Christian pantheon and vice versa — part of the same mythos. This is essentially what Walton is promoting, yet how is it that Apollo has never met Yayzu yet, saying he should meet up with him sometime to talk about incarnation (page 101)? Apollo also has never met Thoth either, apparently, which I just find hard to believe  especially since so many of their gods overlapped or morphed into the same being in real life (page 169).

I’m also confused as to why Pico/Ikaros continually gets credit for coming up with the “angels are gods” thing when there were philosophers who did it earlier? Was this addressed in earlier books? I may have missed something, but there seems to be a huge lack of St. Augustine and other earlier philosophers. Especially since he seems like someone Kebes would want to emulate.

I also don’t believe that the gods can’t be in the same place twice. What is to stop them? Apollo is said to have “had no power while he was incarnate,” which means he has no ability to perform miracles. The fact “Yayzu” has power (according to his mythos) while incarnate is no matter for Walton.  I also find it hard to believe Apollo had no power because his children became gods.  He clearly doesn’t have mortal sperm, ahem. There’s so many big ideas crammed in that it makes it feel rushed or it seems insensitive/careless. Walton needed more time for certain things–things like the fact the Workers create a city of their own and exclude non-Workers from being citizens seems like positive reinforcement for nationalism. I’m not sure I like where it landed.

Also, I don’t understand how they have honey (page 253) on a planet inhospitable to bees!

The second book is still my least favorite of the series. I’m sad it’s over. I bought this book back when it originally came out and let it sit on the shelf. It was my hope and I didn’t want to let it go.

Other reviews I agree with: 

It’s a shame that we got the “Athene is lost but no one seems all that worried or pressed for time” storyline when we COULD have gotten more about Marsilia dealing with Hermes/Jathery and Crocus setting up a FREAKING CITY OF WORKERS/ROBOTS, I care about that way more than Ikaros who doesn’t do anything at all in this book! Seriously, he lifts right out. I must be missing something about this character. I found him a lot interesting in the first two books as a person who did terrible things and was slowly coming to the realization that he had some serious repenting to do… despite digging himself further into his own theories… that… could be interesting? It doesn’t help that he never really shares is theories and we only hear them second-hand from other characters who don’t understand or agree with them. So… Yes, more Marsilia, Crocus, Thetis, and Socrates, please.

 

[Athene’s disappearance in Necessity seemed to be random, the journey to finding her was unnecessarily repetitive and complicated, the climax of that plotline happened mostly off-screen, and the reason why Athene disappeared and what she gained in the process can be condensed into a couple of trite axioms. I would much rather spend more time with the human characters, learn more about the alien races of Saeli and the Amarathi (which is a species of SESSILE organism!), meet more alien gods, and read more about the Just Cities’ reintroduction to the greater human interstellar dispora (which was teased at the end of book 2). I feel like the Thessaly trilogy needs a 4th book just to cover all these, and I sincerely hope Walton would consider writing it]

 

I had hoped this 3rd book would go more into the potential for strained relations between natives and immigrants—when they all barged into Hilfa’s house I was waiting for a debate on immigration raids—but everyone seems to get along mostly fine, apart from language barriers. I wish we’d gotten to see these philosopher kings struggle with human nature a bit more!

 

Or there are all these plot contrivances to bring the characters to a point where creating a pod (basically an alien form of family that is made of exactly 5 people) is the logical solution, so they do so despite being 2 god-descendants, a normal human, an alien and Sokrates reborn, which shocks everyone. Yet…this new configuration doesn’t seem to mean anything. It doesn’t actually feel like a poly arrangement of 5 adults, it feels like random people thrown together who are kinda fine with it all and just like raising children together.

And speaking of Sokrates, he’s back and I’m pissed about it. About half this book feels like characters explaining things to Sokrates, and him saying wise or rebellious things back to them. It’s time for other characters to get to be interesting and philosophical!

 

As a whole, the trilogy is a work to remember though. Walton takes on complex subjects and ideas in these books and yet manages to keep them very accessible. I would not be surprised to see a few people pick up some of Plato’s works (note that Walton does not recommend starting with The Republic). Walton pushes herself in these books but she also pushes speculative fiction as a whole in a new direction. There are not many authors that can claim to have done that. Maybe she falters slightly on the home stretch but it is still a noteworthy work of fiction.

Book Review: Almost Lost Arts by Emily Freidenrich

If I had a coffee table, this is the kind of book I’d want on it!

I picked this up because Brittany Nicole Cox is featured and I find her work delightful.

The author has a fascinating instagram as well.

Book Review (?): The Companion Species Manifesto by Donna Haraway

“Dogs are said to be the first domestic animals, displacing pigs for primal honors.  Humanist technophiliacs depict domestication as the paradigmatic act of masculine, single-parent, self-birthing, whereby man makes himself repetitively as he invents (creates) his tools. The domestic animal is the epoch-changing tool, realizing human intention in the flesh, in a dogsbody version of onanism. Man took the (free) wolf and made the (servant) dog and so made civilization possible. Mongrelized Hegel and Freud in the kennel? Let the dog stand for all domestic plant and animal species, subjected to human intent in stories of escalating progress or destruction, according to taste. Deep ecologists love to believe these stories in order to hate them in the name of Wilderness before the Fall into Culture, just as humanists believe them in order to fend off biological encroachments on culture.

These conventional accounts have been thoroughly reworked in recent years, when distributed everything is the name of the game all over, including in the kennel. Even though I know they are faddish, I like these metaplasmic, remodeled versions that give gods (and other species) the first moves in domestication and then choreograph an unending dance of distributed and heterogeneous agencies. Besides being faddish, I think the newer stories have a better chance of being true, and they certainly have a better chance of teaching us to pay attention to significant otherness as something other than a reflection of one’s intentions.”

Book Review: The Great Vanishing Act: Blood Quantum and the Future of Native Nations

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A lot of this book was what I was expecting: how blood quantum is a colonial concept never meant to help tribes, how the base rolls used to calculate it are racist and lacking, how even when tribes don’t have blood quantum members are still racialized, etc. But a lot of this book presented new aspects that I was not expecting. For one, I never realized how complicated the Indian Child Welfare Act can get—how it can influence some of the most unexpected things, like whether or not you could donate your eggs or donate sperm as an Indigenous person. The worst is that it can actually work against children who do not meet blood quantum requirements, allowing children to be removed from a tribe they grew up in but are not necessarily an official recognized member of. The Act goes against the very children it tries to protect (because of tribal decisions of exclusion). Another aspect that was new to me is the view of membership outside of citizenship, how they could be two different levels of tribal belonging. Many essays push up against the fact that tribes can have citizenship without borders—how they are viewed as nations within nations instead of functioning on their own/how they essentially still work under a guardianship model. Blood quantum seems to consume/override many creative ways of inclusion and ways of being. This book is good for perspectives on many tribes, though I don’t think I agree with all the authors here 100% of the time. Many of the essays conflict with each other in this same fashion.

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Some quotes from the book I want to highlight:

“Yet blood quantum has so thoroughly permeated ideas of race and citizenship in Indian Country that even the most common alternative to the blood quantum system – enrollment by lineal descent –largely adheres to the same racial logic. The Cherokee Nation, for example, grants citizenship based not on degree of Cherokee blood but on the ability to prove biological descent from an individual listed as Cherokee by blood on the Dawes Rolls generated in the late nineteenth century. Importantly, this reckoning excludes thousands of Cherokee Freedmen, the descendants of African slaves whose history within Cherokee society traces back to the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Configuring identity on the basis of descendent recycles the concepts of indigeneity as biology and posits that sociocultural belonging in Indian Country – along with ties and claims to Indigenous lands – is on some level transmitted genetically.

…How can we explain the persistence of blood quantum as a mechanism for determining tribal membership in a way that does not shame or blame the colonized? Critics of blood quantum such as Joanne Barker have pointed out that the practice indirectly works to destroy Indigenous nations by creating a dilemma of identity: Native nations must either racialize themselves or risk losing recognition as ‘authentic’ Indians. This colonial double bind leaves Indigenous communities to exemplify notions of authenticity that are not entirely of their making, yet have become central to Native self-identity. This painful situation is exacerbated by the fact that the system of racial registration – along with the unscientific notion that race and purity even exist as biological realities – is a remnant from an era of eugenics and theories of white racial superiority.

…So long as blood quantum alone confers citizenship, Indian Country will remain bound to an enrollment system that reifies biological categories that were originally founded upon the hierarchical presumption of white supremacy.” – Doug Kiel, ‘Bleeding Out: Histories and Legacies of ‘Indian Blood.’’

 

“Historically, federal policy to determine who is Indigenous goes back to those first counts of our people during the early wars and Indian Agent period in the latter half of the 1800’s. It was a military process in which they needed to count, and name, our people and place them on reservations, or in prisons/forts, or to forcibly remove them to some remote reservation. These initial lists are called base rolls and create the baseline for subsequent membership or citizenship determinations. The individuals on the initial base rolls are artificially considered to be full-blooded or 100% of a particular tribe. However, these base rolls were created to during the time of intense wars and conflict. Our people had been subjected to capture by the military, others had to flee to other locations, some were forcibly removed to remote localities. These base rolls are based on an arbitrary process of issuing our people a number, a new name (because they couldn’t understand our real names in our own languages), and an identity. It fails to take into consideration that our peoples have always been fluid, and we moved about, traded, and intermingled with other tribes throughout our history.” –Debra Harry, “Decolonizing Colonial Constructions of Indigenous Identity: A Conversation between Debra Harry and Leonie Pihama”

 

“The overwhelming majority of Cherokees did not hold any slaves at all. The 1835 census indicated about 1,600 slaves held by Cherokees in the years just prior to the forced removal, the Trail of Tears of 1838-39. One claim often heard by freedmen descendants is that their ancestors, too, were on the Trail of Tears. However, the wealthier slaveholding families did not subject themselves or their slaves to the hardships of removal. They had the means to remove independently and in greater comfort, and they did. About ¾ of the slaves immigrated to the Indian Territory with these families previous to the Trail of Tears. The ¼ who were on the trail, about 400 people among the 16,450 Cherokees who were also removed, were those who were owned as one or two by the smaller subsistence households who had no means to transport either themselves or their slaves more comfortably. These 400 indeed suffered the same rigors of the march as the Cherokees, but it’s very difficult to know exactly which ones they were or who their specific descendants are.” – Julia Coates, “Race and Sovereignty”

 

“Lineal descent does not de-emphasize biology. It emphasizes it differently, making a distant relative more like to stand for social relations.” – Kim TallBear, “Twentieth Century Tribal Blood Politics: Policy, Place, Descent”

 

“In short, Tribes should use membership in disregard of the Tribe’s jurisdictional boundaries, and that membership could and maybe should be based on blood quantum – jus sanguinis. However, Tribes must evolve a citizenship model for those who are born or who at least reside inside the Tribe’s jurisdictional boundaries, regardless of whether the person is a ‘member’ or not, regardless of that person’s blood quantum. Instead, the contours of such citizenship can be determined by birthplace, a minimum residency requirement, and cultural proficiency. And it must have civic relations, responsibilities, and participatory rights as its benchmarks.” – Richard Monette, “Blood Quantum: Fractionated Land, Fractionated People”

Book Review: Fear of the Animal Planet by Jason Hribal

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We often say we are the voice for animals but this book posits that they are speaking and resisting our oppression all the time. If you needed more reasons to hate #zoos, this book could help make your point. Mostly about #elephants, this book goes through a lot of specific examples of historical animal figures, including ones in Victorian/colonial zoos and circuses all the way to examples of today. I never knew all that #Jumbo and the others went through. The author has done extensive research which at one point involved having to stand his ground to be let into zoo #archives who wanted to censor him. I had to stop reading because it was affecting me and I've seen enough videos of zoo animals being shot to not need to read about it. But this book is very important in recording and understanding animal resistance and I recommend it if you are studying or sitting with the topic. It's a book that needs lots of pauses. #Listen #NoMoreZoos #Resistance

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Book Review: A Matter of Breeding by Michael Brandow

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Nothing I didn't already know. 💁 I skipped around on this book but it pushes against this question for me: How can we get rid of Nazis when their language is baked into our culture on so many levels, including how we treat the animals we claim to love/don't consume? We don't even see the intersection that's right in our homes. I'll be the first to say orgs like American Kennel Club (#AKC) are evil and help fertilize racist concepts, but it is also more than that. We find it acceptable that #bulldogs are in constant pain — can barely breathe, lift their heads, or have natural births. German shepherds have hip problems. Others have skulls too small for their brains. This book references the doc _Pedegree Dogs Exposed_ and I recommend it (it's likely online for free). You can watch it as an intro to this book (which is more so a validation for me than new information). Just like with cattle, pigs, and other ag animals, #dogs are not exempt from forced existence/artificial insemination for their contrived proportions. Eugenics that leads to human suffering is normalized first in those viewed as lesser.

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