S.E. Hinton and The Outsiders

Yes, it's 40 years later. This is an nice AP article wherein she reflects on the book and stuff. A nice read.


10. The Giver

by Lois Lowry

I recently read Lowry's Gathering Blue and wasn't impressed. The Giver is much, much better. Very good utopian/dystopian literature for younger readers. This one definitely gets worked into my middle school curriculum some day.

But that's about all I have to say on that.

9. A Thousand Splendid Suns

by Khaled Hosseini

A few years ago this guy wrote his forst novel, The Kite Runner, which floored me. It is one of the best novels I've read. I was a little worried that his second novel would pale in comparison, or that it would turn out that he's just like so many other writers who have just that one genius book in them and don't know to quit, or that he'd try to force another Kite Runner, or that...

A Thousand Splendid Suns, is outstanding. It is comparable to Kite Runner in its emotional power and unflinching telling of how cruel and how loving people can be. Set entirely in Afghanistan, spanning from the 1960s into the 21st century, the novel tells of three generations of women who endure the whims of political despots, messy soviet communism, civil war and then their worst nightmare, the Taliban, and then US occupation, etc.

If you've read Kite Runner and wish for more from this guy, I can promise you that A Thousand Splendid Suns delivers... with perhaps more rewards.

I am more than relieved that Hosseini's second book kicks ass. This guy is great storyteller. I loved it. I couldn't put it down. It has expanded my mind about some things. It has strengthened my resolve about others. It has moved me deeply just as Kite Runner did. Powerful storytelling.

8. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

by Mark Haddon

I happened to be finishing this one up when Meezly posted her quick review of it. I have to say, despite this being well written in a mechanical sense (easy, smooth flowing narrative... like talking) I have two major problems that force me to give it a cold review.

First, for some reason I never trusted that the author's representation of the mental processes of autistic people was accurate. Why wouldn't I? I don't know. I am usually willing to give any author the benefit of the doubt. But there is something about this one that had me skeptical all the way through. In fact, after a while I felt like the whole thing was bullshit. It's not fair, though, to call a book bullshit when I can't back it up with concrete examples of said bullshit. And yet I am compelled to do so. I can't pinpoint why.

The larger problem I had with the book has to do with character. I think this book is a good example of how unrewarding a book can be when the protagonist undergoes little or no growth over the course of time. This character doesn't change. That is until the seemingly forced sense of confidence in the very last lines:

And I know I can do this because I went to London on my own, and because I solved the mystery of Who Killed Wellington? and I found my mother and I was brave and I wrote a book and that means I can do anything.

Really? Sadly, after getting to know this fellow's limitations (just as we all have our limitations), the reader is left with the knowledge that he is very wrong about his ability to do anything.

Sorry, this novel has turned me off like few have of late.

7. Gathering Blue

by Lois Lowry

Lowry has created a strange but plausible future world (apparently she does something similar in The Giver). It is a society ruled by savagery and deceit, that shuns and discards the weak. Even the government is in on it. Left orphaned and physically disabled, Kira is made an exception, first because of a politically powerful grandfather and then by her talents as a weaver/artist. The great Council of Guardians saves her from being sent to "The Field" and gives her the task of finishing weaving an important communal robe by literally weaving in the story of the society's future (across the shoulders)...

You are welcomed to puke at any time.

6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

by J.K. Rowling

This was a richly rewarding ending to a fantastic seven book series. I loved the whole lot of them. I'll say nothing more.

5. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

by Ishmael Beah

I read this one in July and am still blow away by it. Whenever the book is referenced the lump grows in my throat and the eyes well up. I guess in some small, safe way, I have been traumatized by his expereince. I am at once outraged by humanity's capacity for atrocity and deeply moved by our unwavering belief in eachother. It's inexplicable. It's great.

It probably helped that Sandy and I met him last night at a Q&A following a viewing of the documentary Sierra Leone's Refugee Allstars. We also met this remarkably positive, hopeful band of musicians.

Beah was a child through Sierra Leone's civil war (mid-1990s to 2004ish) and ended up indoctrinated into the govenerment army when he was twelve. What this boy had gone through, what he was forced to do, is perhaps the greatest crime of humanity. And yet he survived and is hopeful and loving... and an outstanding writer.

It is a shocking and heart-wrenching personal account of a civil war that was fought by tens of thousands of children, on both sides. Many of these children are now in their twenties and early thirties and are suffering in profound ways... or have not survived.

Beah has posted the first chapter for us:


When he first walked past Sandy and I in the small theater last night, my heart filled with feelings for him. Mosty I felt an inner celebration for his survival mixed with immense gratitude for his decision to share this experience with us. Sandy told him as much. Beautiful.

The Sierra Leone Refugee Allstars are great. This is a band that formed in the refugee camps in Guinea and grew during their decade in exhile. They joined the Q&A last night and performed some of their music for us. Here they are. Here's the documentary, which I highly recommend.

Anyway, Beah's book is awesome. I think you should read it now.

Northbound 35

I know that lyrics torn from their music often die an embarrassing death. But I think these by Richard Shindell are quite impressive ("except for ther phrase "champagne glasses"). I especially like the unknown-ness of "eslebound train."

Northbound 35
Through the iron hills
Under infidel skies
It's two hundred miles to drive
You won't be home

I saw an elsebound train
On the overpass
In the driving rain
Every ticket costs the same
For where you can't go

Mustang horses, champagne glasses
Anything frail anything wild
It’s the price of living motion
What's beautiful is broken
And grace is just the measure of a fall

So I rolled into your town
I passed the smokestacks
And the ore docks down off of Main
And the sky spun around
With her diamonds on fire

We fought all night and then we danced
In your kitchen
You were as much in my hands
As water or darkness or nothing
Can ever be held

It's just flashes that we own
Little snapshots
Made from breath and from bone
And out on the darkling plain alone
They light up the sky

It's 51 and driving south
Ain't it funny
How things'll turn out
I never even kissed you on the mouth
When we said goodbye

Thank You

If the sun refused to shine, I would still be loving you.
When mountains crumble to the sea, there will still be you and me.
-Led Zep

4. The Road

by Cormac McCarthy

I picked up this one on the recommendation of the folks at Mount Benson. A father and son travel on foot along the roads of a timeless post-apocalyptic landscape. The world is gray, a gray ash falls endlessly leaving a gray dust on the gray world. The only other hue in the story is black, which is the vast fire burnt landscape revealed only where the cold wind has blown the ash away. They are starving. And walking. Get it? Really. It's that bleak. Whatever happened happened years before and pretty much all resources have been depleted. There is absolutely no life left but for an occasional fellow human, but none will dare to risk getting close. The potential for horror is high and the reader encounters it often (and in surprisingly creative ways).

As bleak and futureless as this world is, the father and son relationship is remarkably beautiful. A book of hopelessness and horror and yet a heartfelt tale of the best of human emotions.

I definitely recommend this book. It's really quite a good read.

3. Jump Up and Say!

edited by Linda Goss and Clay Goss.

This is a small "collection of Black storytelling" that provides a wide range of themes and geographical perspectives on the Black experience. There is also a wide range in the quality of storytelling, in my opinion. Even some of the works by the famous Alice Walker and Zora Neal Hurston were lackluster stories, making me wonder what the editors' intensions were. I still don't know. It is not merely a collection of inspirational writing. Nor is it simply writing about identity. I don't know why these stories are put together as they are in this collection. I also don't know why there are four stories from William Faulkner (by far the most of any author in the book) in the very beginning.

But some of the stories were great. Anyway...

2. From Both Sides Now: The poetry of the Vietnam war and its aftermath

edited by Phillip Mahony

The is a very moving collection of poetry from a troubling war. Reading the American voices helped me replace many Hollywood images and ideas with ones closer to the event. The kind of truth I seek always seems to lay in the hearts of poets. After filling my head with so much of it, there is a general feeling of pain and hopefulness. What is most moving about the American poetry are the connections made between the soldiers and their enemies. These American soldier/poets try to love their enemy in very real ways. There is an underlying sense that both sides were trying to understand eachother while being compelled to fight.

The very best, most mind-expanding part of this collection was the mountain of poetry from South and North Vietnamese poets. Wow. It is so beautiful, so heartbreaking. And yet so damned hopeful. Like the American poets, the overwhelming majority were preoccupied with knowing the men on the other side. It made for memorable reading.

Finally, I came to further understand that while Americans saw this war at the "Vietnam War," the Vietnamese viewed it as a civil war, one that would lead to the inevitable requirement that they learn to live together in the aftermath. Where the Vietnamese poets concerned themselves with trying not to become hard hearted, finding pathways to peace and reaching reconciliation, the American poets did not have that pressure. Nevertheless, all sides share a sense of tremendous loss and longing to understand that war and its effect on the soul.

1. Fist Stick Knife Gun

by Geoffrey Canada

This one shows up in the memoir/biography section but is really more of an argument about the culture of increasing violence in poor, urban American neighborhoods. And yet it's a memoir, a vivid account of a childhood surrounded by violence in the Bronx, a place where only those who can fight will survive. Christ, I don't know what it is but it's excellent. It's sort of a personal history of violence in America, if that makes sense.

Canada (the man, not the country) survived a dangerous youth and grew to become a teacher, principal and radical community organizer. This book leaps back and forth from his work with today's Bronx youth, many of whom have guns or can get them within the hour, and his own knife-populated youth. He has two basic premises: 1) violence is learned, not innate and threfore can be unlearned, and 2. guns have raised the stakes in poor urban neighborhoods. It is, as well, an indictment of the gun industry, which has deliberately targeted urban drug dealers and young people.

A great read. The man is inspiring, a warrior.