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The Story of a New Name

The Story of a New Name (The Neapolitan Novels, #2)The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book two lacks the punch of book one, in my opinion. But I'm still engrossed in this story.

Book one ends with an horrific revelation that plays out in the first chapters of book two. But eventually the story reaches a point where it drags on, and I was growing tired of the characters and the plot. I think it could have moved more quickly in places. But the final third does move briskly and sets up some intriguing possibilities for where the story goes next.

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LeviathanLeviathan by Thomas Hobbes
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The first two parts, wherein the essence of the political argument is made, were entertaining enough. Interesting to read for better historical perspective. Interesting to read to see the flaws in the argument--such as the false dichotomy between an all-powerful sovereign or a state of civil war and his oversimplified and incorrect understanding of human psychology and evolutionary development.

Parts three and four are a chore, even if you skim through them. I didn't expect the lengthy theological arguments. At points the issues are relevant to the political issues confronting him--he is writing after a religiously-motivated civil war--but often there are vast numbers of pages on various doctrinal issues that seem unrelated to the main thrust of the book (and also wrong with the hindsight of the history of theology and biblical interpretation).

But worthy to read these historical text if nothing else to help remove the blinders that keep us trapped into our current moment, thinking we live at this exceptional time and that our troubles are so, so bad.

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Brilliant interview with Arundhati Roy

The Boston Review has published a brilliant interview with author Arundhati Roy discussing her books, her politics, and the state of the world.  I encourage you to read it.  An excerpt:

While it is easy to take lofty moral positions, in truth, there is nothing simple about this problem. Because it is not a problem. It is a symptom of a great churning and a deep malaise. The assertion of ethnicity, race, caste, nationalism, sub-nationalism, patriarchy, and all kinds of identity, by exploiters as well as the exploited, has a lot—but of course not everything—to do with laying collective claim to resources (water, land, jobs, money) that are fast disappearing. There is nothing new here, except the scale at which its happening, the formations that keep changing, and the widening gap between what is said and what is meant. Few countries in the world stand to lose more from this way of thinking than India—a nation of minorities. The fires, once they start, could burn for a thousand years. If we go down this warren and choose to stay there, if we allow our imaginations to be trapped within this matrix, and come to believe there is no other way of seeing things, if we lose sight of the sky and the bigger picture, then we are bound to find ourselves in conflicts that spiral and spread and multiply and could very easily turn apocalyptic.

Parable of the Talents

Parable of the Talents (Earthseed, #2)Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first Earthseed novel, Parable of the Sower, was one of the best books I read last year (and there were a handful I rated highly). So, I was excited to read the second novel.

And, wow, is it powerful too. What's most surprising about both of these novels is how relevant they are to our contemporary context--in this one the evil candidate for president runs on a slogan of Make America Great Again (Butler published this book in 1997).

I rated this one lower for two reasons. I thought some elements of the plot were less coherent than the first novel--there are more loose ends and things that raise questions that pull you outside of the suspension of disbelief.

And second, it wrapped up too quickly. It felt like there needed to be a third novel that achieved what she accomplished in the final chapter.

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87 Books in 2018

For the second year in a row, I set a new record, reading 87 books in 2018.  I finished the last one at 10:30 p.m. on New Year's Eve.

According to my tally, they breakdown as follows:

  • 31 works of fiction
  • 7 works of philosophy
  • 9 works of theology
  • 8 books of Biblical scholarship
  • 8 books of history or current events
  • 6 memoirs or travel books
  • 3 books of poetry
  • 2 general religion books
  • 2 books about music
  • and 11 children's books
  • 43 by women--a percentage record
  • 22 by people of color
  • 14 by women of color
  • 13 in translation (fewer than 2017 when reading world lit was my major project)
  • 5 by queer authors

"We are all wounded"

Light in the Dark
"We are all wounded, but we can connect through the wound that's alienated us from others," so writes Gloria Anzaldua in her book Light in the Dark.  

I don't remember where I saw this book discussed in order for it to make it onto my to-read list, but so far I'm intrigued by some of the ideas.

The above resonated with the reading I did earlier this year on trauma and resilience, those particularly in relation to theology and biblical studies.  Shelly Rambo's Resurrecting Wounds: Living in the Afterlife of Trauma discusses the significance of wounds and the ways we can relate to one another through them.

Anzaldua discusses this wounding and healing under the concept of the "Coyolxauhqui imperative" which draws upon an Aztec myth of the dismembering and restoration of the moon goddess.  "The Coyolxauhqui imperative is the act of calling back those pieces of the self/soul that have been dispersed or lost, the act of mourning the losses that haunt us."

She continues,

The Coyolxauhqui imperative is to heal and achieve integration.  When fragmentations occur, you fall apart and feel as though you've been expelled from paradise.  Coyolxauhqui is my symbol for the necessary process of dismemberment and fragmentation, of seeing that self or the situations you're embroiled in differently.  Coyolxauhqui is also my symbol for reconstruction and reframing, one that allows for putting the pieces together in a new way.  The Coyolxauhqui imperative is an ongoing process of making and unmaking.  There is never any resolution, just the process of healing.

That last sentence rings true and quite important for us to grasp.

For Anzaldua, this in-between space after wounding is the site of imagination and the possibility of transformation.  She writes, "We can transform our world by imagining it differently."  

For one reason, in this in-between space, which she calls nepantla from a Nahuatl word, we get in touch with our shadow sides.  "Our collective shadow--made up of the destructive aspects, psychic wounds, and splits in our own culture--is aroused, and we are forced to confront it.  In trying to make sense of what's happening, some of us come into deep awareness (conocimiento) of political and spiritual situations and the unconscious mechanisms that abet hate, intolerance, and discord."

Conocimiento is a "searching, inquiring, and healing" that lead to spiritual activism.  And the people who guide us through neplanta--those who assist transformation and the creation of the new world--are artists and activists whom she calls "neplanteras."

I find this concepts quite intriguing.  At the same time I was reading this, I finished Maryse Conde's Tree of Life and began Octavia Butler's The Parable of the Talents.  Both novels has aspects that fit Anzaldua's worldview, of guiding across liminal spaces by those in touch with their wounds.

Amos Oz

Oz & Sebastian
Upon hearing of Amos Oz's death I was reading some of my favorite passages from A Tale of Love and Darkness to Sebastian, including this one which caused him to giggle:

The bird sang with wonderment, awe, gratitude, exaltation, as though no night had ever ended before, as if this morning was the very first morning in the universe and its light was a wondrous light the like of which had never before burst forth and traversed the wide expanse of darkness.

The best obituary I've read was in The Guardian.

Tree of Life

Tree of LifeTree of Life by Maryse Condé
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The story of multiple generations of the Louis family of Guadeloupe. This isn't a lengthy epic, and at times I felt the story and the characters were rushed because of how short the novel is, but overall the book was enjoyable as Coco, our narrator and the youngest of the generations in the book, explores the stories of her own family in order to better understand herself.

Along the way we get a comedic view of island life, particularly the politics, but without the negativity one is familiar with in Naipaul. There is more of a bemused acceptance of the fascinating array of characters.

This is the second Conde novel I've read this year, and I look forward to continuing to read her works.

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