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A History Spinning on Violence

Of my first time reading Beloved, I remember most the violence of the book, and my own horror at learning that such violence was at the root of my country’s history. Of course I knew about slavery and the Civil War, but most history classes are a lesson primarily in sugarcoating, if not in outright lies. Still, lucky me, to have lived so long so blithely unaware.

At seventeen, though, I was primed to see violence everywhere: through copious amounts crime shows I watched each evening, so fond of their pretty dead girls of the week, but also day after day in my own life: sexual harassment in the hallways at school; teachers getting caught, year after year, exploiting and molesting their students; the slurs and whistles and slow creeping of cars weekly (daily?) on my way home from school.Read More

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The Fight Against Silence in Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictée

Open the novel Dictée.  Turn to page 3.  

“DISEUSE.  She mimics the speaking.  That might resemble speech.  (Anything at all).” 

DICTÉE.  French for dictation: the action of saying words aloud to be typed, written down, or recorded on tape; the action of giving orders authoritatively or categorically.

“Greater than is the pain not to say.”

Greater than is the pain not to say.  Theresa Hak Kyung Cha was a Korean-American writer, producer, director, and artist whose life and heritage were complicated and oftentimes painful, and who wanted to express her experience (both lived and inherited) in equally complex forms.  Read More

image: illustration of a white man sitting on a stool holing a suitcase. Behind him are framed pictures of leaves on the wall. The shadow of a window makes a cross over him.

The Impossibility of Going Home

Anne Tyler has built a career on mapping the inner life of the American middle class family. She has delivered a remarkable 20 novels on the subject, from A Spool of Blue Thread, released a few months ago, to Breathing Lessons, the winner of the 1989 Pulitzer Prize. For the past 50 years, Tyler has unapologetically tackled questions of family, relationships, and belonging, and her first novel, If Morning Ever Comes, represents a fitting start to her prolific career. Part bildungsroman, part family drama, the book offers a meditation on the unfulfillment of home, and it contains all of the penetrating social observations that have made Tyler famous.Read More

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Breaking the Love Laws

Nearly two decades have passed since the novel The God of Small Things was first published in 1997, launching its author Arundhati Roy to global literary acclaim. The winner of the Man Booker Prize tells the devastating story of an upper caste Indian family that is torn apart when one of its members has an affair with an untouchable.

As a young woman without a dowry, Ammu didn’t have many opportunities to guide her future. She desperately wanted to be freed from her father’s tyranny so she married the first man who asked. “She thought that anything, anyone at all, would be better than returning to Ayemenem.” She had one chance and she blew it, hedging her bets on a man who would prove to be no better than her father, an abusive alcoholic.Read More

abortion protest

Marge Piercy Discusses Illegal Abortions

“I lost my best friend when I was 24 to a botched abortion. She bled to death and it was covered up. Usually those kinds of deaths were then covered up.”

“Also it wasn’t just women who were seeking abortions. I had a friend who desperately wanted a child and she was pregnant and she lost the child. But when you lost a child you were treated like a criminal. So she lay in the corridor in the hospital and they wouldn’t give her anything, and they wouldn’t do anything…It was hell in those days.”Read More

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When Falling in Love Could Kill You: Abortion in the 1950s

Braided Lives is difficult to read as feminist canon. The women are more often frenemies than friends, and the main female friendship is full of jealousies and betrayals. They help each other survive, but help with survival is not enough to cite as positive female/female representation. Braided Lives is about as feminist as your average primetime soap, except for one pivotal factor: accounts of abortion in America during an era when it was illegal, and the social mores that enabled this dating hellscape. That is the political glue holding this novel together, and these glimpses into a society with only primitive access to abortion make the book well worth the read.

At the root of the abortion issue is the misogyny permeating every interaction between the women and the men they date. Read More

book shelves

Worst Bookshelves Reviewed

There are a lot of terrible bookshelves out there, sitting quietly in Brooklyn apartments, doing unspeakable things to the books they are supposed to house and protect. Here are some of the offenders.Read More