2019 Hugo nominations have been announced. I’m so pleased to see at least one book I’ve read, and a fanzine I know well, nominated.
WorldCon 76 was almost literally in my backyard, someone helped me decide I HAD to go, and it’s the only time (so far) I’ve been able to vote for the Hugos.
One of my favorite authors Mary Robinette Kowal, and astronaut Kjell Lindberg hosted a “Koffee Klatch” to talk about their work, and answer questions. There were ten of us, and we were enthused about meeting them. We learned some pretty interesting stuff about writing and being in space, and carried out a good amount of signed swag. (Kjell even signed the inside of the Canadarm hatch door on my model shuttle.)
Since I don’t anticipate going to WorldCon 77 in Dublin, sad doesn’t begin to cover how I feel about not being able to vote for at least these two nominees.
There’s such good stuff which has been nominated, and good lord how do people read it all? I’m still working on last year’s packet!
Being a list making/keeping type of person, it’s tempting to download the list of all Hugo winners/nominees and see how many I can read, but that way lies madness. There are two many other books to read, my apartment would explode with that large an influx of books.
Speaking of which, Marlon James‘ Black Leopard, Red Wolf just arrived. Here’s a great long read from The New Yorker published just before the book was published.
Part of my assigned reading for LitCrit involves N. K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth Trilogy, Toni Morrison’sBeloved, and James’ book. To bring it back to the Hugos, Jemisin won three years in a row for Broken Earth, and with as much hype as there is about Black Leopard, Red Wolf, I won’t be surprised to see it nominated for a Hugo next year.
Author: Toni Morrison
Publisher: Vintage Books International
Publisher’s Blurb: In the winter of 1926, when everybody everywhere sees nothing but good things ahead, Joe Trace, middle-aged door-to-door salesman of Cleopatra beauty products, shoots his teenage lover to death. At the funeral, Joe’s wife, Violet, attacks the girl’s corpse. This passionate, profound story of love and obsession brings us back and forth in time, as a narrative is assembled from the emotions, hopes, fears, and deep realities of black urban life.
“… it’s hard to match the superstitious for great expectations.” (p9)
I enjoy music and love books, but I don’t know how to put the two of them together. It confused me when Jack Kerouac wrote about going to the clubs and listening to bebop, then using the beats in his writing. I really wanted to approach Jazz from this perspective but I haven’t a clue.
Morrison explains how she approached Jazz in the Foreword, “Romantic love seemed to me one of the fingerprints of the twenties, and jazz its engine. (p. xviii)” I understood that, but translating that into my words? An incantation I can’t follow.
Also in the Foreword she writes, “I wanted the work to be a manifestation of the music’s intellect, sensuality, anarchy, its history, its range, and its modernity. (p. xix)”
All my life I’ve been surrounded by creative people. And a lot of them talk about beats. Theatre people, musicians, poets, writers. I know the basics of music, I can find the beat, but that’s not what writers mean.
Morrison’s unidentified narrator uses phrases like, “clarinets and lovemaking,” and talks about the rhythm of the trains on their tracks, and the drums of the men who marched in silent protest to the massacre of East St. Louis in 1917.
I can imagine the drummers marching in line down the street filled with onlookers who show their anger in complete silence. The solemn rhythm a heartbeat connecting all to bear witness to the pain and tragedy.
More, I can imagine the smoky jazz halls filled with the sounds of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Earl Hines while people danced to the rhythm. I can even imagine the sounds of jazz coming from windows on a hot summer day through open windows.
But in the story of Violet and Joe Trace and his young girlfriend, Dorcas, I don’t hear it. In this story, I feel the pain of trauma, the suffering from unfulfilled expectations and the nervous energy when Violet walks into Dorcas’ funeral and slashes the corpse’s face.
I feel the pain of those who don’t know who their parents are, or who were lied to about their parentage. The anxiety of being squished into a few blocks by people who don’t know a thing about you and your community.
There is a rhythm to the laughter of women who gather for cards and shamelessly flirt with Joe Trace, the Cleopatra beauty products salesman who just happens to pop by. So too is there rhythm to the teen-aged dance in someone’s apartment where liquor is surreptitiously served to boys and girls nervous about their bodies and their sexuality. And then there’s the shock when Joe walks in and shoots Dorcas, and Dorcas telling her friends to just leave her alone.
Toni Morrison addresses big themes I could never identify with fully simply because I am white in a world that, no matter how misogynistic, will always privilege me over a woman who is not white. Yet it is in reading Morrison both in Jazz and Beloved that i get a feeling of what it’s like to have suffered inhumanely from those who don’t see humanity, only skin color.
Maybe knowing more about the rhythms of jazz would have helped me get deeper beneath the surface. Maybe. What I know is the pain I felt for these characters and this sad, sad story so beautifully written. What I know is how hard it is to look ugliness in the face and give it a name, to wrestle with demons no one can bear, and what it is to live with heartbreak and despair so many days of a life, one wonders if it’s even worth going on.
I know Toni Morrison writes so that people like me can begin to try to understand the suffering of people we would never have known otherwise. She writes, I read, and then offer prayers of gratitude for her gorgeous words.
Author: Toni Morrison
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Publisher’s Blurb: Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Toni Morrison’s Beloved is a spellbinding and dazzlingly innovative portrait of a woman haunted by the past.
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture
It’s often difficult to tell the difference between an over-hyped book and one deserving of my attention. Thus it was between Beloved and I. Until an essay in The Methods of Breaking Bad made me think I “should” read it. The tipping point came over lunch with a friend who was absolutely shocked I hadn’t. All righty then.
The opening line, “124 was spiteful,” sets the stage. Who or what is 124 and why is s/he/it/they spiteful? That sentence leads into the deeply moving, dark tale of not so distant slavery and being black in America. Which story resonates today as we struggle with racism in modern times.
124 is haunted by the spirit of Sethe’s daughter who, we learn as the story moves on, was killed as an infant as protection by her mother from the slave runners. This “ghost” symbolizes all the pain, anger, and suffering slaves endured at the hands of white owners.
But then, Beloved appears seemingly out of nowhere and is suspected to be the corporeal manifestation of Sethe’s daughter. The chaos still exists, now represented by the physical embodiment of pain, anger, and suffering.
124’s inhabitants are the epitome of chaos as buried memories come to the surface. How can anyone go on after suffering the horrific indignities of being a slave? How can life go on? How can anything approach something approximating “normal?”
Beloved explores these questions. And faces harsh realities. Being black in America will never afford the right of equality and the privilege of agency. Never.
My favorite quote is from a scene that Paul D describes while a slave at Sweet Home. He describes to Sethe what it was like to have his eyes opened by Schoolteacher, who taught everyone on the plantation until Mister broke up the lessons. Mister gets to be Mister no matter what, because he’s white. “Schoolteacher changed me. I was something else and that something was less than a chicken sitting in the sun on a tub.” Paul D realizes now his value was less than the chicken who was about to become dinner. Schoolteacher exposed him to that understanding, which both binds Paul D tighter and frees him.
Cleveland in 1863 just as well be Ferguson 2014 or Philadelphia 2018. Anyone who thinks this is not the way of the world hasn’t been paying attention.
Beloved is complex. And I join the chorus which insists this is a book which should be read by everyone. Repeatedly.
See my list of books which help me understand being black in America.
This is an incomplete list of books I’ve read which have helped me understand what it means to be “other,” based on skin color. They make my heart ache, and think more deeply about my own privilege of being white.
Title: The Methods of Breaking Bad
Author: edited by Jacob Blevins and Dafydd Wood
Publisher: McFarland Books
Publisher’s Blurb:Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad is a central work in the recent renaissance in television-making. … This collection of new essays focuses on a variety of themes.
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture
As a writer, I found Breaking Bad a ripping good story. Which, in my vernacular means asking, “What happens next?” And that was my reaction to Breaking Bad a lot. Digging into the themes and subtext has helped deepen my understanding of writing as a craft, and of Vince Gilligan’s brilliance as a story-teller. Not to mention Bryan Cranston’s portrayal of the fascinatingly unlikable Walter White.
Breaking Bad is a work that facilitates, perhaps even makes possible, a dialogue about aesthetic, philosophical, psychological, and ethical elements in our culture in a way we have yet to see in television. (p. 7)
The essays written by academics in The Methods of Breaking Bad focus on the ways in which the story is told. I found it invigorating, inspiring and, more than a little intimidating. At best, I am casual viewer, reviewer and writer. One can only go so far on one’s own.
Miguel E. H. Santos-Neves’ essay, “Our ‘word … is half someone else’s’: Walt and the Literary Echoes of Whitman” focuses on the purpose of Walt Whitman’s “Learn’d Astronomer” in Breaking Bad. In larger context, Santos-Neves makes the point that unlike the insular community of a story like The Sopranos, the literary allusions in Walter White’s world point to something less constrained, the entire world. Bonus points for making me finally read Whitman.
Not many of the characters in Breaking Bad were likeable. Most were downright loathsome, yet viewers returned episode after episode, hanging on every twist and turn. Aside from Jesse Pinkman (Walter’s sidekick), and Mike (played so well by the always excellent Jonathan Banks) who had his own sense of honor, there was no one I liked.
Giving Skyler White short shrift was quite in vogue at the time. After reading Rebecca Price Wood’s “Breaking Bad Stereotypes about Postpartum: A Case for Skyler White,” I reconsidered. Price Wood’s thesis that Skyler’s behavior was exacerbated by being pregnant for most of the series, and giving birth to beautiful Holly resonated. Surviving in Walt’s world would be harrowing for any woman. Trying to maintain sanity while pregnant and being mother to Flynn, who has cerebral palsy, would be damned near impossible. And that’s where Skyler finds herself. I still don’t like Skyler, but I do have more sympathy for her based on Price Wood’s essay.
The most fascinating essay for me was Neil Connelly’s “What Writers Can Learn From Breaking Bad: The Risks and Rewards of Deliberate Disorientation.” His comparison of Gilligan’s story telling style to that used by Toni Morrison in Beloved is what drove me to read it finally.
Above all else perhaps, the reader must trust the writer, must feel like an intentional master plan is being unveiled, must sense that her efforts are being rewarded with additional knowledge and understanding. (p. 49)
That was one of my aha! moments. As was the ensuing discussion of how disorientation is used to great effect. Gilligan’s skill forces us to trust he’s leading somewhere, and that we will understand when we get there. From the iconic opening scene of the RV roaring down the dirt road and a pair of khakis flying out the window to Walter’s death at his own hands, the viewer wonders “What is going on?” Followed at some later point by, “Oh! That’s what was going on!”
Reading Connelly’s essay helped me understand that disorientation was one of the most appealing things about Breaking Bad‘s story. Gilligan made me pay attention, and since the payoffs came frequently enough to help me understand the story at a deeper level, I came to trust the story was leading me somewhere interesting.
Overall, The Methods of Breaking Bad, led me to enjoy the show on a deeper level. As a creative person, the collection of essays gave me much to ponder about craft and style. Not a bad use of time, if you ask me.