Review: Small Days and Nights

Title:  Small Days and Nights
Author: Tishani Doshi
Published: 2019
ISBN-13:  9781324005230
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publisher’s Blurb:  A captivating and clear-eyed story of two sisters caught in a moment of transformation, set against the vivid backdrop of modern India.

The protagonist, Grace Marisola, gets dropped into unforeseen circumstances.  Understandably, it’s hard to know what to do when recalled from the US to oversee the cremation of her mother, and finding out the family secret is an older sister with Down’s Syndrome who has been institutionalized Grace’s entire life.

But even under those circumstances, plans arise and actions take place.  The book suffers from not knowing what it wants because Grace  doesn’t know what she wants.  Is it divorcing the husband she left behind in the US?  Remaking family connections?  Taking care of her sister for the rest of her life?

Things happen to Grace, she doesn’t happen to them.  There’s no core to her.  Small Days and Nights suffers from a sort of malaise.  There’s nothing wrong with the book, exactly.  Neither is there something right.

I often overthink my reviews as I try to pin down what I want to write about.  Lots of books offer plenty of opportunities to dig in and do the analysis I love.  Doshi’s book wasn’t one of them.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t write about how her language often captivated me.  For instance,  “Mornings at the beach can arrive like a whore, in a jangly too tight dress at the end of a long and sleepless night.”  Or,  “The heat of summer is behind us but the days still feel bedraggled and worn.

The beauty in that language and those images make promises the book doesn’t live up to.

On Writing: 2019 Book Commentary

“The creative life is not linear” – Austin Kleon

2019 by the numbers.

Random thoughts about the madcap year that was 2019 reading.  Some events were so glorious as to be unrecognizable as anything I’d ever dreamed could happen to me.  Others predictable and necessary (day job). In addition for my own blog, I now write for Hugo award-winning fanzine Drink Tank, and M. Todd Gallowglas’ Geek’s Guide to Literary Criticism.

  • In Toni Morrison’s Beloved Paul D’s story about learning to read and being beaten for it just leaves a hole in my heart.  He kneels on the ground with a bit in his mouth and notices the rooster named Mister doing whatever he wanted.

“I was something else and that something was less than a chicken sitting in the sun on a tub.”

  • I’m not qualified to  review Ta-Nehisi Coates’ We Were Eight Years in Power.  How does one speak to a tragedy caused by differences in pigmentation?

“Barack Obama [governed] a nation enlightened enough to send an African American to the White House, but not enlightened enough to accept a black man as president.

Trump, more than any other politician, understood the valence of the bloody heirloom [slavery] and the great power of not being a n*****.”

  • As Kameron Hurley’s The Geek Feminist Revolution brought me to myself in 2018, so too did Feminisms and Womanisms edited by Althea Prince & Susan Silva-Wayne.  The taste of seminal feminist works from Emma Goldman, Simone de Bauvoir, Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem made it easier to understand big parts of my life.

It is truly amazing how long we can go on accepting myths that oppose our own lives, assuming we are the odd exception.” – Gloria Steinem

The need to be noticed and liked, the need to be listened to and accepted, the need for encouragement and praise; all became sources of shameful, rather than normal, neediness in my mind.  Especially the need for affection.” – Nancy Graham

Susan Sontag’s essay on women and aging made me want to throw the book across the room in a fit of rage.

The rules of this society are cruel to women.”  – Susan Sontag

  • Stealing:  Life in America by Michelle Cacho-Negrete, sent to me for a review by Adelaide Press.  Her essays are powerful as she relates the stories of a life lived right, doing everything she was supposed to do and still needing to steal food to feed her children.  Her triumph over that and the particular experiences of being “other” really sang to me.
  • Stopwatch Chronicles, M. Todd Gallowglas’ collection of flash fiction bowled me over.  He is sharp, witty and fun. His insights are dead on and I love his wordplay.  Ditto Bard’s Cloak of Tales.
  • The Killing Light, the triumphal conclusion to Myke Cole’s Sacred Throne trilogy.  I’ll just quote myself here, “Heloise remains the hero we need for today..”
  • How Fiction Works by James Wood .  I will forever be grateful for the phrase “flaneurial realism.”
  • Literary Theory by Sarah Upstone – this little book packs a lot into it and is one of my go to reference books.
  • The Art of Fiction and Moral Fiction by John Gardner

“… in order to achieve mastery [they] must read widely and deeply and must write not just carefully but continually.”

“… the temptation to explain should almost always be resisted.”

“Art, in sworn opposition of chaos, discovers by its process what it can say.  That is art’s morality.”

“…art can at times be baffling …”

  • Wizardry & Wild Romance by Michael Moorcock.  Each reading enriches my understanding of the genre I live and breathe.
  • Better Living Through Criticism by A. O. Scott.  Scott’s commentary helped give voice to the questions I’d been asking about what criticism is and why it has value.  His outstanding thoughts on art and criticism as a conversation resonate deeply. As does his insistence criticism is a way to seek out the excellent as a foodie demands excellence from their favorite chef or restaurant.

“… our understanding of art emerges from our experience of it.”

Writing for Drink Tank led me to works I might never have read.  Chris’ unbounded knowledge of books and themes kept me busy.

  • Challengers of the Unknown by Ron Goulart led me to one of the cheesiest books I’ve ever read.  (Drink Tank #414)
  • Before the Golden Age edited by Isaac Asimov, From the Earth to Around the Moon by Jules Verne, and First Men in the Moon by H. G. Wells were fodder for thought about Antique Space.  (Journey Planet/Drink Tank Crossover)
  • Drink Tank #410 gave me a reason to join the Alexander Hamilton party.

 

2019 in Review – By the Numbers

Total Books Read: 34
Total Pages Read: 12,456
Total Books Procured: 83
Diff: -49
Publication Dates: 19 (1953 – 2019)
Author Count: 28
Written by Women: 8 books (4 authors)

Most read authors:
Myke Cole (4)
N. K. Jemisin (3)
M. Todd Gallowglas (3)

New (to me) Authors I Would Read Again:
Michelle Cacho-Negrete
Sara Upstone
Ron Chernow
Stephen F. Knott
John Gardner
Alfred Bester
Michael R. Underwood
A. O. Scott

Recommendations:
Stealing: Life in America by Michelle Cacho-Negrete
Stopwatch Chronicles  by M. Todd Gallowglas
The Killing Light by Myke Cole
Beloved by Toni Morrison (2nd reading)
We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates

LitCrit Theory:
How Fiction Works by James Wood (2nd reading)
Literary Theory by Sara Upstone
The Art of Fiction by John Gardner
On Moral Fiction by John Gardner
Wizardry and Wild Romance by Michael Moorcock (2nd reading)
Better Living Through Criticism by A.O. Scott

Non-Fiction:
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
Feminisms and Womanisms  edited by Althea Prince, Susan Silva-Wayne

Commentary
An Open Letter to Stubby the Rocket Concerning the Guns Of Fantasy” – THE GEEK’S GUIDE TO LITERARY THEORY

Reviews:
From the Earth to Around the Moon by Jules Verne / First Men in the Moon by  H.G. Wells / “Jameson’s Satellite” by Neil R. Jones in Before the Golden Age edited by Isaac Asimov (Journey Planet)
Challengers of the Unknown (Drink Tank)
The Killing Light
Euridyce (City Lights Theatre)
Alexander Hamilton (Drink Tank)
Literary Theory: An Introduction
The Sprawl Trilogy
Binti Trilogy
The Handmaid’s Tale
Jazz
The Mortal Word
Stealing: Life in America
God’s War
Projections

Writing: Procrastination

It’s 3:30ish on a Saturday afternoon.  Headphones firmly in place, I’ve been listening to my Writing playlist.  It’s rain and ocean and babbling brooks, mostly to block out the every day noise around me.  Including the occasionally noisy visitors who speak loud raucous Spanish next door.  My desk is about the way I want it, enough room to spread my journal and books out to review notes.

I should be writing.  There are two deadlines this weekend and I am right up against both of them.  But I’m procrastinating.  Because … that’s what I do.  It’s what people do, especially writers.

I could explain it away as having my weekly routine disrupted by Thanksgiving and having to work last Saturday to make up hours.  Or I could say that I’m so beat when I get home from the day job that the literal weight of writing tires me out more.  Or … I need to do chores, the laundry, run errands, etc.

Those excuses don’t work today.  There’s no reason to leave the apartment, chores are almost done and I slept in.  I even started a canonical spreadsheet for a ginormous writing project.  Then I found this:

Well,” he said, “first, I put it off for two or three weeks. Then I sit down to write. That’s when I get up and go clean the garage. After that, I go upstairs, and then I come back downstairs and complain to my wife for a couple of hours. Finally, but only after a couple more days have passed and I’m really freaking out about missing my deadline, I ultimately sit down and write.”

That’s from Megan McArdle’s 2014 article in The Atlantic titled, “Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators.”  Yep, there I am.  Among other things, she addresses imposter syndrome.  Lots of interesting and good things are on the horizon, and people I respect a great deal praise my work, but deep down I’m afraid I don’t deserve it.  Compliments get lapped up greedily because they might go away and no one will call me brilliant ever again.  Or they’ll find out everything I’ve done is a fluke.

So instead of writing, I’ve done the dishes and watched The Simpsons and contemplated going back to sleep because my day job kicks me in the ass some days.

Maybe, I should just start writing and see what happens.

On Reading: 3 November 2019

Sunday nights tend to be when I catch up on reading email.  It’s a way of putting off Monday as long as I can.  Tidbits get posted to Facebook as I read along, but it occurred to me that my very own blog would be a better place for such ponderings.  So here’s the first of what’s sure to be a randomly timed post about things I found to be interesting.

Gaping Void Culture Design Group

Hugh MacLeod‘s art has always resonated with me.

Gaping Void Culture Design’s work also resonates with me, mostly because it’s a common sense approach to leadership in business.
This is a gem from the past week:

“So maybe this is a good way of figuring out that you’ve finally ‘made it’- suddenly everything is terribly dull and tedious.

“Be grateful that you’re still struggling…”

If the conversations you’re having about ideas are still interesting, and you’re wrestling with your own approach to creativity, be grateful. It seems counter-intuitive, but there is satisfaction in the struggle even when you’re tired of everything and just don’t want to anymore. Keep on.

Tor.com posted ‘s intro to The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019.  Reading it thrilled me because the ages old #LitFic vs. genre argument is heated, old and tired.  The combatants don’t care to read each other’s work, they just want to hurl bullying insults over an arbitrary line.  Reading good work is enjoyable and doesn’t need to be labelled.

“Why waste time drawing boundaries and performing ancient arguments and erecting dead horses and beating straw men and enacting coldness and smugness when you could be reading and salivating and standing and yelling and crying and learning and experiencing narrative pleasure and wonder and joy? Why, when you can do those things, would you do anything else?”

In other words, just read damn it!

H/t to Austin Kleon for pointing out Jeff Bridges does photography:

Review: The Killing Light

The Killing Light by Myke Cole

Title:  The Killing Light
Author: Myke Cole
Published: 2019
ISBN-13: 978-0-76539559-3
Publisher: Tor.com Publishing
Twitter: @MykeCole
Publisher’s Blurb: Heloise and her allies are marching on the Imperial Capital. The villagers, the Kipti, and the Red Lords are united only in their loyalty to Heloise, though dissenting voices are many and they are loud.

The unstable alliance faces internal conflicts and external strife, yet they’re united in their common goal. But when the first of the devils start pouring through a rent in the veil between worlds, Heloise must strike a bargain with an unlikely ally, or doom her people to death and her world to ruin.

This is the final book of The Sacred Throne trilogy
Book 1 –  The Armored Saint | Book 2  – The Queen of Crows

I was provided an Advanced Reader’s Copy by Tor Publishing in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

“But I am thine Emperor, and the harder the step, the closer it taketh thou unto me. –Writ. Lea. IV.2.”  (p. 167)

In The Art of Fiction, John Gardner writes, “The primary subject of fiction is and always has been human emotion, values, and beliefs.”  (p. 14)  and “The writer must enable us to see and feel vividly what his characters see and feel …” (p. 44)

Any writer who can make the reader feel great anxiety for his characters and drive them to tears in relief has most definitely met the criteria set forth by Gardner.  That Myke Cole’s writing kept me fully engaged and emotionally involved says something about the great talent he has for telling a story.

There’s a thread running through The Killing Light about men and how they must be treated by women.  Repeatedly a female will say something like, “Everything with men is a great care.”  (p. 46)

Heloise was never meant to be and do all the things she does in The Sacred Throne trilogy.  She was meant to be a young woman who marries the man her parents have chosen for her and to settle into the role of home keeper, as women in her village have always done.

But we don’t always get to choose the shape our life takes and who we fall in love with.  The best we can hope is to be gentle with ourselves when we are tested. This is part of the story Myke Cole tells with Heloise, how she must accept and come to terms with herself, and her evolving beliefs and leadership skills.

Her world is one in which only hetero normative standards are accepted.  In Book 1, The Armored Saint, she finds herself in love with her best friend who not only doesn’t reciprocate those feelings, but is horrified by Heloise’s feelings.  Shortly after this reveal, Basina is killed and that death haunts Heloise more than anything else through the series.

Cole portrays her struggle with tenderness, and introduces Xilyka from one of the Traveling People clans who join Heloise’s army.  Xilyka becomes one of Heloise’s bodyguards, never leaving her side. It is in the most tender moments we see Heloise began to overcome her fear of being a lesbian, and of driving Xilyka away.

In one such scene, Heloise’s father, Samson, has arranged a private place with hot water so Heloise can bathe after many weeks on the battlefield, stuck in the war machine.  At this point, the agoraphobic leader  trembles in abject terror at leaving the machine which has protected her and allowed her to become the leader she is.  Samson the loving father tries to coax her out.  Xylika literally rides to the rescue, leading Heloise in her machine behind the screen and bathes her tenderly.  Cole does not ignore the sexual tension such a situation would create, but neither does he dwell on it. His deft writing shows us the normality of two people getting to know each other, carefully exploring the beginnings of a physical relationship.

At the other end of the spectrum, there is Onas, a 16-year-old boy from a different Traveling People clan who also becomes bodyguard, and tries to assert his authority over Heloise as potential husband.  This does not go well. Heloise is exhausted, she doubts her moral imperative to be leading this fight, is grieving for the many deaths caused in this war, and is in despair over having to re-evaluate the values she was taught about the Emperor and the Order.  She literally has no energy to put into this boy’s demands for romance.

Onas keeps pushing.  Heloise side steps, telling him when the war is over, she will think about it.  He sees what’s going on with Xilyka, which infuriates him and makes him push even harder.  Then, the unthinkable happens and Onas’ mother, the leader of his clan, dies in  battle. Onas blames Heloise for his mother’s death.

It becomes too much for him to bear when they stumble upon a band of the Order whose leader has killed so many, and Heloise refuses to let anyone kill Brother Tone.  She recognizes Tone can provide entrance and information into the Emperor’s city and palace that will prove useful.  Onas throws a teenaged temper tantrum and runs off taking other disgruntled fighters with him.

This is not unusual behavior.  Boys have been conditioned to believe that their wants and needs take precedence over a girl’s.  So it is with Onas and Heloise. Despite the many stupid reasons he throws at her as he storms away, the one he cannot voice is he expected her to fall into his arms and she did not.  All logic does not penetrate.

Onas is not the only male in this story who treats her as less than because of her gender.  Sir Steven, leader of the Red Army which falls in with Heloise and her villagers, treats her with great disdain both because she is young and, more to the point, a woman.  During a council at which he has commanded Heloise attend, she questions him. Obliviously he says, “This is my punishment for taking a council of war with a girl.” That word, that attitude, meant to demean her in the presence of other leaders has exactly the opposite effect.  She draws herself up and asserts her authority as the one who has killed a devil and therefore, has more expertise on this subject than Sir Steven.

When they reach the capital city, Steven’s attitude has changed and he treats her as equal.  He has seen her leadership grow, witnessed her wisdom. It is her determination to get through, and her insistence on continuing to fight when too many have died and others have given up, which leads Steven to fight more equitably alongside her.

Even Brother Tone who for two books did everything he could to kill Heloise and her village because of her questions regarding the Emperor’s governance comes to accept, and follow, her leadership.

In one of the pivotal scenes of The Killing Light, the reveal literally drives Tone to his knees, and makes him question everything he has ever believed.  He becomes vacant and only continues the fight at Heloise’s insistence. His knowledge is the key which will lead to stopping the war between Devils and humankind.

Tone goes from murderous devotee to thoughtful follower, all due to Heloise’s mission to settle things once and for all.  Most of the characters, male and female evolve, becoming more self-aware and thoughtful about their actions and the effects those have on the bigger picture.

Teenaged Onas is not completely immune to this, but  his maturity will come only through time.  Myke Cole’s writing shows he’s attentive to what makes the most sense for the entire cast, including keeping Onas true to his male teenaged arrogance.

The Killing Light is the satisfactory and logical ending to this trilogy.  Heloise becomes what she’s destined to become after all the pain and death she’s been witness to.  Heloise remains the hero we need for today.