Sunday, January 16, 2011

3 books from this week

Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool SelfBefore You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self is Danielle Evans' debut story collection, and wow, it's good. Evans has an incisive, confident voice, and she knows exactly how to say what she wants to say. 
As with other collections, for me, these are best when given a little breathing room between stories, and since I'm normally a 'read all the time, straight through' kind of book consumer, I feel like I've had to adapt a litte. But that's my own issue.
In general, the narrators here are young women with somewhat complex histories - divorce, inter-racial realtionships, and class issues all crop up - and who are moving into a more self-aware maturity through a world full of internal or external hurdles. It's a good subject to explore, and Evans does so deftly.
My favorite story is "Snakes," in which a bi-racial girl is sent to live with her disapproving white grandmother for the summer, but it is her relationship with her blonde cousin/BFF that shines the harshest light onto the issues within their extended family. The payoff at the end is lonely and deeply felt.

Just KidsJust Kids by Patti Smith - I know it has the seal of approval right there on the cover,
but I was often inclined to skim this memoir of Smith's life with Robert Mapplethorpe. The early years were the most beguiling - poor kids struggling to stay alive and together while finding ways to express themselves as artists in the unforgiving world of NYC in the 1960s.
As their lives grew more complex, though, Smith's descriptions moved between "sure, I worked all the time while he drew and did drugs all day, but wasn't a martyr, nope, not at all, I liked giving him cash to buy porn and staying up all night to write since it was the only time I had" defensiveness and "we went on the train, I wore a white shirt from the thrift store, he wore a hat and a necklace" emotionless descriptions of appearances and movements only. I don't know if it was just too hard to describe a love that deep, or if she didn't want to risk offending anyone by leaving their name out of the descriptions of where they went and who they talked to, leading to pages of name-dropping without benefit of an interior arc to frame it all. Or maybe I just don't get it, man, what it was like in the 70s, maybe I'm just too unimaginative and not tuned into the arts enough.
I admit it would be hard to write an honest yet favorable account of an early passionate relationship without delving into "he came to pick me up for prom, he was wearing his Dr. Who scarf, he gave me a white corsage" reportage, but Just Kids left me reading between the lines and on Wikipedia to get any sense of connection to the two central characters, which hardly seems ideal.

Zombies vs. UnicornsZombies vs. Unicorns, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier is an audiobook of often funny YA stories I've enjoyed listening to this week. It alternates zombie stories with - you'll be surprised to hear - unicorn stories, and each is introduced by Black (for Team Unicorn) and Larbalestier (for Team Zombie), who apparently debate this issue on-line frequently.
It includes stories by many of my favorite YA writers - Libba Bray, Meg Cabot, Naomi Novik - and some that were new to me. I adored the ones by my favorites, either because I'm biased or because they're legitimately really good. Or both? I also liked getting to know Diana Peterfreund & Scott Westerfeld, in particular.
Overall, since I know you're curious - Team Unicorn won this debate, in my opinion. "Princess Prettypants" and "Purity Test" were just too delightful, and Garth Nix's "Highest Justice" was all about the creepy power held juuuuust in check by a force for good, and you can't go wrong with that.


  1. You are a wise & perceptive reader with a great critical voice.

    An Admirer.

  2. I admire you, too, sweetie. And your critical voice!