NPR BOOK CONCIERGE TIIIIIIIIME: A Totally Chill Links Round-Up

Good morning! I have started a new thing that I wanted to tell you about, where I thank journalists when I read a story that I particularly like. There is every reason to do this (especially under the new administration, which we already know will be very hostile to journalists) and no reason not to. Try it!

The NPR Book Concierge has arrived once again! Every year I get zillions of recommendations from this thing, and you should too!

How fantasy movies portray the experience of oppression in near-totally white terms (by the fabulous Zeba Blay).

Vann R. Newkirk II is flames emoji as usual on calling out racism and the value of civility.

The Eritrean soccer league keeps defecting en masse when it goes to games overseas. The author of this article, Alexis Okeowo, allegedly has a book about resisting extremism in Africa, and I am going to read it twice because this article on Eritrean soccer is incredible.

2016 was the year America finally saw the (black) South: A super-great article by Jesmyn Ward. Oh! I forgot to tell you! Last night I dreamed I met Jesmyn Ward, and I wanted to tell her that I admired her work, but all I had read of hers was THIS ONE ARTICLE, and I felt terribly embarrassed that I hadn’t read any of her books yet. I was like “But — I mean, but, I have The Fire This Time at my apartment right now!” and Jesmyn Ward, in my dream, couldn’t have been more polite about it.

The rise of the romance novel (including the genuinely fucking awful The Flame and the Flower, dear God I want those hours of my life back). This article notably includes a picture of romance novelist Rosemary Rogers in a sari because of course.

Authors from around the world discuss colonialism and literature.

It’s been a while since we had a bonkers story in this round-up! Let’s have one: Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants, is embroiled in a deeply weird financial scheme regarding Hatchimals (a prime Christmas gift for children).

Zadie Smith talks about the experimental (or otherwise) nature of multiculturalism and her hopes for the future.

Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen

Heard about this because it was one of those books that is always on front shelves at Bongs & Noodles.

I know it is contradictory to say that I enjoyed this and then file it as an unfavorite, but it’s true. I enjoyed it in that I carried on reading it all the way to the end, so I guess something about it must have been interesting and absorbingish. Basically, the story is narrated by an old man who is slipping in and out of the present into his past, when he worked as a circus vet in the Depression. (I don’t like the Depression. I know that everybody didn’t like the Depression, but I just want to go on record as disliking it.) There is an elephant and an crabby midget and a pretty girl and some crazy people. I love circuses (in theory – I have never actually been to one). I really wanted to like this book. I really really did. I’m not just saying that.

It’s just – I didn’t give a shit what happened to anyone. The guy’s two best friends get killed by the crazy circus people, and I just didn’t care at all. I didn’t care if the elephant got killed; I didn’t care if the chick stayed with her crazy-ass husband or ran off with the narrator; I didn’t care about anything that happened to anyone, ever. And you know, that isn’t really the mark of a great novel.

The concept was interesting, a Depression-era train circus and its wild and wacky adventures, but it wasn’t worked out at all well. The transitions between the bits with the old guy in the nursing home and the bits of his past that he remembers are really, really not smooth (mostly), which has led me to believe I can (and will!) do better with such a frame. There was a very unfortunate combination in this bookydook of excitable prose and unbelievable relationships (I don’t know if that’s the right adjective, but my point is that there was nothing the least bit realistic or moving about these relationships), which gave the novel a feeling of fantasy rather than history. In a way that might be a good thing, but because it was a historical novel, it made the history bits sound made-up, and everyone worked together in a painful congruence to make this book seem childish and very unfinished. Which is a shame, because I think there is a fascinating book in there somewhere, and I have no doubt that the truth about Depression-era circuses is most riveting.

Pooh.