After dipping her toes this weekend into the controversial subjects of cancer and Sarah Palin (not that the two have anything in common–or not much, anyway), Fakename will now withdraw into the relatively safe world of books.
I finished two books this week. The first was Rebel Yell, by Alice Randall. Alice Randall is a fascinating person. She’s an African-American woman, educated at Harvard, who is now writer-in-residence at Vanderbilt. She’s also written several country music songs. Go figure. Rebel Yell is her third novel, and she’s probably best known for her first: The Wind Done Gone. That book, which I haven’t read, is a parody of Gone With The Wind; in order to have it published she had to settle a lawsuit with the estate of Margaret Mitchell.
I thought it was a good book, though not a great one, but now, after several days, I’m revising my opinion. One hallmark of a great book is its unforgettability (is that a word?) It continues to haunt me. The synopsis in the link above captures the essence of the book well. I’d add that it provides a glimpse into what it’s like to be black in America, in a way I haven’t quite seen before. There are people who say that you can never really understand what it’s like to be black in America without actually being black. To those people Fakename says: Get over yourselves. It’s like saying that empathy is either impossible or irrelevant. I’ve never been black, but I’ve never been bitten by a snake either. I have a good enough imagination to know that being bitten by a snake would hurt.
The second book I finished was Beneath The Lion’s Gaze, by Maaza Mengiste. Ms. Mengiste is a resident of New York City who was born in Addis Ababa. The book takes place in Ethiopia beginning in 1974, when Haile Selassie (the “Lion of Judah”) was overthrown and eventually assassinated. It’s a period of time and series of events I knew absolutely nothing about, zero. My immediate reaction to it while reading it was to thank my lucky stars that I was born and live in the U.S. It’s almost impossible for us to grasp the brutality and fear the Ethiopians endured, and for that matter, what the Congolese are enduring even today. But there goes that empathy thing again. This book too is one that I would not have called great, but it continues to sneak up on me in a way.
It was not my intention to read two books in a row by African-American women (technically speaking, Ms. Mengiste is an American born in Africa). It just kind of worked out that way. I don’t have a preference for any particular subject matter, nor for women writers. As I’ve said before, if I have any preference at all, it’s for first novels by anyone.
Now I am reading another novel which apparently is not a first, but perhaps the first available in the U.S. It’s called Mr. Allbones’ Ferrets, by a writer from New Zealand named Fiona Farrell. Our hero, Mr. Allbones, raises ferrets, which he uses for hunting rabbits. The descriptions of ferret behavior are quite enlightening. I’m fascinated, in the same way you can’t help but slow down when you pass a car wreck. One of the more interesting things to come to light is that male ferrets are called “hobs” and female ferrets are called “sluts”. Finding that out was worth reading the book if for no other reason.
Finally, one of the joys of Facebook has been reconnecting with people I went to high school with. Well some of them, anyway. In hindsight, not counting the part where you were a raging bundle of hormones, I realize I was very fortunate in high school. I was surrounded by smart people, and being smart was not a thing you were expected to hide, even if you were a girl. Some of the people I’m reconnecting with I was not close to in high school, and it’s very nice to have a second chance to know them better.
So one of my classmates lives in the D.C. area and is in a book club she and her neighbors organized. Last week she sent me their booklist and invited me to join in, long-distance. I always thought a book club would be great fun. This month’s book is The Summer Guest, by Justin Cronin. The monthly meeting and discussion is on April 20th, and I think I can do this. Since I once lost five pounds via email, I think I can be in a book club via email too.