This Month's Articles
Second Person Singular
By Sayed Kashua
Reviewed by Janet Garber
Whose Man Are You?
And if you want another kind of love I’ll wear a mask for you
This subversive line from “I’m Your Man” by folksinger Leonard Cohen ran through my mind as I read Sayed Kashua’s gripping novel of two Arab Israelis living in Jerusalem, both educated men, a lawyer and a student/social worker/photographer, each desperate to create socially acceptable but false identities while ruthlessly suppressing their real selves. You (second person singular) say you’d wear a mask for someone else – but would you wear one for yourself? Would you be more true to yourself with the mask on or off? And after a time, would you even be able to remove the mask?
We follow the paths of the two men until those paths converge and become one: “The lawyer” is outwardly successful in business as he is in his private life, living in a large house with his wife and two children, a respected and contributing member of Israeli society, who hobnobs with other prominent Arab Israelis (a gynecologist, a professor…). He seems to have everything he’s ever.....Read More
By Kathryn Harrison
Reviewed by Andrea Janov
Enchantments by Kathryn Harrison is a historical novel set in Russia that is loosely based on the life story of Masha Rasputin, Gregory Yefimovich Rasputin's daughter. This novel focuses on the belief that Rasputin was a healer and that only those who feared him doubted his abilities. Throughout the novel we are only introduced to characters who are supporters of Rasputin and his work. From the peasant population who flock to the site of his murder to get the last drop of his healing power to the Tsarina who calls upon him each time her son injures himself.
Rasputin’s most devoted follower is his daughter and our narrator, Masha. She is unquestioning in her faith and obedience to his words and prophecies, which unveils itself as the force behind every move she makes within the novel. In fact, Rasputin is the driving force behind all of the action in the novel.
As the novel begins, Rasputin has been killed and Masha and her sister Varya have become wards of the Romanovs and sent to live in Alexander Palace in Tsarskoe Selo with the royal family. It is believed that Masha has her father’s gift and she has inherited the responsibility of healing.....Read More
Is Just a Movie
By Earl Lovelace
Reviewed by Sally Cobau
If It Weren’t So Funny, It Would be Tragic
“If it’s not a pleasure, it’s not a poem.” This is a quote I heard awhile back (sadly I’ve forgotten whom to attribute it to) and one I took to heart. I believe in the pleasure principal—that reading should not be a “good for you” endeavor like eating carrots and broccoli (even though I like eating broccoli and carrots), but should go down smooth. The same goes for novels, memoirs, and every other sort of writing.
Is Just a Movie by Earl Lovelace is difficult in some sense, but it’s also pleasurable. After all, there’s a pleasure in concentrating on something and relinquishing to language that is unpredictable. The writing of Earl Lovelace is not stale, and in this time of sound bites, tweeting, and texting, it harkens back to a modernist sensibility where writers tried to capture the essence of life using language.
Is Just a Movie is set in Trinidad during the 1970’s and after. The characters are a hodge-podge lot: Sonnyboy, who is both a revolutionary and a dreamer with one short leg and a romantic streak; King Kala, a calypso singer who has returned to perform, but is relegated to a third tier stage; Sweetie-Mary, a vulnerable beauty who returns home after dreams of selling.....Read More
The Slush Pile
A Column by Sarah Vogelsong
Small Self-Publishers: Swimming Against the Tide
All aspiring authors dream of two things: holding their book in their hands for the first time, and the perfect editor who will shepherd their fledgling work through the publication process to glory and success.
This editor is to be counselor, friend, and the book’s greatest champion, and the task of editing is to be a twenty-first-century version of the process described by Michael Korda of legendary editors Robert Gottlieb and Nina Bourne working on Catch-22: “[They] put whole pages of manuscript through their own typewriters, rewriting them completely. . .. The manuscript of Catch-22, endlessly retyped, looked at every stage like a jigsaw puzzle as they labored over it, bits and pieces of it taped to every available surface in Gottlieb’s cramped office.”
Such an intimate portrait of editing and publishing is unlikely to be seen in the industry today. In many cases the author–agent relationship, has replaced the bond between author and editor, and authors now often auction their work off to the highest bidder rather than.....Read More
Three Science Fiction Novellas: From Prehistory to the End of Mankind
By J.-H. Rosny aîné
Translated and Introduced by Danièle Châtelain and George Slusser
An Essay by Steven Paul Leiva
At the end of April the Los Angeles Times Book Awards were handed out at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, the largest book festival in the country. What’s always been interesting in these literary accolades, is that, unlike other mainstream awards like the Pulitzer Prize or the National Book Critics Circle Award, the LA Times book awards includes among the typical categories of Fiction, Nonfiction, Biography and Poetry, two categories of what might be considered genre literature: Mystery/Thriller and Graphic Novel.
But the inclusion of these genres -- so open-minded, so Los Angeles, so West Coast -- just points out the glaring non-inclusion of Science Fiction.
Is this understandable? Perfectly. For the mystery genre, despite having started out in the pulps just like science fiction, has been considered “literary” ever since it was decided that Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler were “great” writers. (And I’m not saying here that they are not).
Also mysteries, which usually concern murder, deal forthrightly with morality, or the lack thereof, good and evil, and the darkness in the human soul, which allows readers to think that they are thinking deep thoughts. The dark, rain slick mean streets of today, it seems, are literary; the starlit space-ways of humanity’s future, it seems, are not.
Of course it’s not really that simple. Science fiction is well considered.....Read More
Portfolio: William Grant: Bridge Master
by Kara Fox
William Grant has always owned a camera—from his teen years till today. His talent was his destiny. Coming from a father who was a photographer, William went on to become a fine photographer in his own right, as you can see from this month's portfolio.
At the age of sixty, when most are thinking of spending their days with less responsibility, William, following a successful career as a lighting designer for Dance, Opera and the Theater, and as a teacher of darkroom technique at the Inner City Cultural Center in Los Angeles in the 1970’s, was filled with desire to do something different with the rest of his life:
“I began photographing bridges. I started with some of the iconic bridges in New York City: The Brooklyn Bridge, The George Washington, The Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and other bridges that make this city what it is.” He then began traveling around the world photographing bridges that held an appeal to him. To date, he has shot about 40 bridges throughout the US, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Australia, and Scandinavia. The reason for all of this travel has been to complete a book, Bridges in the Sky, a photographic journey.
Bridges—amazing structures, built to surmount obstacles, to reach places. Grand combinations of steel, stone, lumber and other elements that reshape the environment we live in. Bridges are built and William Grant, using his talent, gives honor to these astounding monuments.
As part of William's journey, he has been sending e-mails to friends describing his travels. These emails are brief essays that range from the mundane to the humorous:
Some of the titles include: “Pasta with Moose Sauce,” “Shooting Babies” (no babies were harmed.....Read More
A WRITER'S WORLD
A Writer's World
by Molly Moynahan
How to be Helpful
First, return favors. If someone does you a favor, try to do one back. If someone spends hours helping you solve a writing problem with your book or script or essay, thank them and if you are a Facebook or Twitter person, make the thanks public. It’s good for others to understand even published writers need help, and it’s good to acknowledge that help.
Make yourself available to offer similar aid.
Second, be happy for other people’s success. If you can support another writer by purchasing their book or attending a reading or sharing your delight in something they’ve written, do so. If you can think of anyone that could help your writer friend get more exposure share that information.
Lose the mindset that whispers, “hoard, hide, protect.”
Be mindful of social network announcements and try to comment or share if your friends have a great review or something. This can become burdensome if your friend is one of those people who uses Facebook solely as a marketing tool. Don’t do that. Comment on other people’s status updates. Create a separate page for your “business” if necessary.
Be generous. You have no idea of the effect you can have on a writer searching to find his or her voice. If someone asks for help, see what is required. If it’s something you should be paid for, tell the person, and quote a reasonable fee. It’s healthy to regard yourself as a professional. You.....Read More
Gathering of the Waters
By Bernice McFadden
Reviewed by Loretta H. Campbell
Weighed in the Water
Recent events in the killing of Trayvon Martin have opened the collective wound of African Americans. Memory/suffering goes back to the brutal murder of 15 year-old Emmett Till nearly 57 years ago. As this book attests, his murderers boasted of their crime. Because they had already been tried and found not guilty, they could not be tried again. They didn’t serve any time for his murder.
A tragedy of this magnitude can block out anything else in a book unless it is the focal point of the work. This novel, which could have stood on its own without the reference to this monstrous killing, only uses the homicide as a touchstone. That may not have been a wise choice given the way the story unfolds.
Its narrator is the town where Till was murdered. “I am Money. Money Mississippi. …Their story begins not with the tragedy of ’55 but long before that, with the arrival of the first problem, which came draped in crinoline and silk; carrying a pink parasol in one hand and Bible in the other.”
It is 1900. The girl, Doll, is described as the “first problem,” but she really isn’t. The first problem is a Black prostitute named Esther. After her brutal and unsolved murder, she becomes an evil spirit that possesses innocent children.....Read More
The African Gentleman
…and The Plot to Re-establish The New World Order
A Novel by Fred Beauford
But enough about Gladys, and Liz Gant, for God’s sake,
Sex would come, and I let her continue to read, as Gladys had calm down. My mind was already back to a very real drama, with all of its profound, far-reaching consequences, and now, a suspected shadow.
It turned out to be some meeting. As I watched the people gather outside of the door to the conference room, I was disappointed that none of the hip looking young women from the Design Department were there. As I sat in my seat, almost directly across from the PR Director, I was still hoping that they would soon walk in.
But to no avail.
This was indeed an important meeting. Only eight people attended. They included the Vice.....Read More
Fifty Shades Of Grey
By E.L. James
Reviewed by Emily Rosen
Does a highly respected on-line literary magazine have a responsibility to report or comment on a publishing phenomenon? And if such a phenomenon does not -- even a teeny tiny bit -- qualify for the category of “literature,” is “pornographic runaway best seller” a sufficiently credible status to require that it be acknowledged?
I struggle with an answer even as I write this, in response to an assignment.
For anyone who has been holing up in a cave for the past few months, 50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James and its two follow-up novels (it’s a trilogy) of the continuing saga, have not only occupied top spots on the best seller lists, its author, readers, social impact, and prurient content have (and for this, I say, “thankfully”) almost replaced the badgering, repetitive, unstinting droning of partisan politics.
Simple in premise, virgin Anastasia Steele, a college student of—if you’ll pardon the irony—literature, interviews high powered executive, drop dead gorgeous Christian Steele, a man in his mid-thirties, for her school publication and she quivers at the sight of him.
Inconceivably, this man of enormous wealth, power, physical magnetism, and position, (lots of positions) is somewhat attracted to the plain Jane co-ed, although it is never established and therefore really a stretch, to understand why. But I suppose in this genre, it doesn’t really matter.
He deflowers her with no resistance and invites her to engage in a no nonsense sexual arrangement wherein he is contractually the Dominant and she the Submissive. They negotiate the written contract throughout the book, which is otherwise plotless, during which time, they experiment with its stipulations. There is no lead-up to indicate why this otherwise seemingly stable and sane female would relinquish her complete self for the tenuous lure of glamour, opulence, and physical pleasure during the contractual limits of weekends, and the guarantee of a non-permanent relationship. Hmm, really ?
As for Mr. Big Shot, the reasons for his weirdo proclivities, S & M, chains and the like, are never quite analyzed, at least not in the first of the trilogy, however simplistically they are hinted at. Character and motivation are no place seriously explored in these pages.
The set-up is so contrived that it would pass as a myth, if only there were a message. Personally, I love orgasms, the explosive characteristic of which is highlighted herein, page after page. But when scripted descriptions of it land on the pages of a book, with a resounding thud that.....Read More
The Classroom and the Cell: Conversations on Black Life in America
By Mumia Abu-Jamal and Marc Lamont Hill
Reviewed by Brenda M. Greene
“After all, it’s about the work you know.”
The professor, Marc Lamont Hill, and the prisoner, Mumia Abu-Jamal, two Black men from North Philadelphia whose lives took dramatically different paths, sit down to engage in a provocative discussion and insightful analysis on issues faced by Blacks in America: the prison industrial complex, the educational system, politics, hip hop, love, identity, Black leadership, and life and death.
Their book, The Classroom and the Cell: Conversations on Black Life in America, published by Third World Press, is in the tradition of Cornel West and bell hooks, who in the 1990s wrote on race relations in their conversations: Breaking Bread, and Margaret Meade and James Baldwin, who penned the widely discussed A Rap on Race.
We get their viewpoints and we hear their perspectives on solutions to critical issues facing Black Americans. One wonders whether there is only one “professor” in this book; are not both engaged in “professing?”
Mumia Abu-Jamal, an award-winning journalist and activist, has spent the last 29 years of his life on Pennsylvania’s death row for the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer. He was sentenced to.....Read More