Star Wars: The Force Awakens, by Alan Dean Foster

Review:

The Force Awakens (Star Wars) - Alan Dean Foster

This is the first book adaptation of a film that I’ve read and the first I’ve ever wanted to. There are of course many Star Wars novels, none of which I’ve read. I wondered what sort of money-grabbing, hastily edited crap I might be delving into. Though in the opening pages there was some awkward language or editing, on the whole those issues didn’t persist, and the book gave me what I wanted, which was a sort of “behind the scenes” look at the story, moments we see on actors’ faces translated into words, “missing scenes,” etc. I got just as emotional reading particular scenes as when I watch the movie and at the same time was interested by some changes or details explained (I believe the adaptation was based on the shooting script).

Some film versus book differences of note:

Unkar Plutt isn’t just a jerk, he’s kind of a creeper, too. There’s a missing scene where he shows up on Takodana for Rey, and Chewie rips his arm(s) off! In addition, Rey comes much closer to selling BB-8 than she appears to in the movie. There it seems her conscience gets the better of her; in the book, she counters Plutt’s offer of 50 portions with 100. When he immediately accepts, that’s when she decides not to sell the droid; it’s like she can’t bear to let him have something he so obviously wants.

I’m a bit confused by the timeline of some things in the films, so it was helpful to learn, for instance, that when Kylo Ren removes his mask when Han directs him to, we discover it’s the first time he’s seen his son “grown.”

There’s a whole lot more on Kylo Ren’s thoughts and his interactions with Snoke. In the film he comes off as moody and prone to anger. This is actually atypical of him, according to the book. He’s all about control and lack of emotion. He even says that revenge is “an adolescent concession to personal vanity,” which is interesting given his focus in <i>The Last Jedi</i>.

The book also provides context that I was unclear on, such as the fact that the Republic still exists, but there’s typical political infighting in the Senate; most believe Leia is blowing things out of proportion concerning the First Order. In addition, there are more details about the First Order, storm troopers, and how that system-destroying weapon works.

There’s more than that, so if you’re a Star Wars fan (aren’t you?!), it’s worth checking out. I’ve already started the next one (by a different author).

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens, by Alan Dean Foster

The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin

Review:

The Fire Next Time - James Baldwin

There they (police officers) stood, in twos and threes and fours, in their Cub Scout uniforms and with their Cub Scout faces, totally unprepared, as is the way with American he-men, for anything that could not be settled with a club or a fist or a gun.

Terrible how much this text is still relevant, might have been written today. This would not have surprised Baldwin–he acknowledges more than once that things may never change in America–though I imagine it might have saddened him.

The Fire Next Time contains two separate nonfiction pieces, one a letter to Baldwin’s nephew, the sort of message or discussion African Americans have with their younger family members that white people don’t. The second is an elegant “Letter from a Region in My Mind” that explores the author’s coming to (and leaving) religion as a way to discuss race and racism in America. It is, ostensibly, a solution, though perhaps an impossible one.

I couldn’t possibly capture Baldwin’s argument in a brief synopsis, nor do I want to. His prose is beautiful and crystal clear, unflinching yet humane. He’s my favorite kind of arguer, one who acknowledges from where other points of view are coming while advocating for his own position. It’s been too long since I first read him, and I won’t make that mistake again.

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The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin

After Birth, by Elisa Albert

Review:

After Birth - Elisa Albert

As we approach Mother’s Day in the U.S., pop culture has lately been reassuring me that my decision to never have children is a good one.

Most recently, I went to see the movie Tully, in which a woman who’s just had her third child struggles to sleep and care for herself until finally she relents and accepts her brother’s gift of a night nanny. Life for her improves markedly, perhaps magically (for a reason).

Inspired by Tully, I consciously chose to read After Birth. Might as well ride this wave of mother-related trauma, I thought. The novel follows Ari, a first time mother, over the course of three months, her son just turning one. It flashes back to when she was pregnant, endured what she feels was a needless C-section, and when what is likely to be post-partum depression ensues.

In its bitterness, its sometimes funny rants and ambivalence about Jewish identity, After Birth felt of a piece with Albert’s first novel, The Book of Dahlia, which I read last year. I admired that book for its stubbornly unforgiving protagonist, dying of brain cancer. Similarly, Ari’s often caustic, volatile voice, her resentment at modern birth practices and various mothering cliques, as well as the unnecessary isolation of motherhood, was often refreshing to read. Sometimes, however, it became a bit much for me.

Ari wrestles with her past, doomed relationships with other women, including her mean mother, who died of cancer when she was young, former friends, roommates, lovers. In the present, she befriends and helps a new mom who was in a seminal feminist band. This relationship enables Ari to “grow up,” to perhaps become less judgmental or bitter about the women in her life, and those who may become a part of her life.

Like everything else, motherhood in the U.S. has become commodified, both as an inextricable part of the health care industry and as a way to sell “stuff” that mothers have done without for ages. The most valuable, engaging aspect of After Birth is the insistence that, however individual birth plans and approaches to mothering may be, women are not meant to raise children on their own (whether there’s a man or not); we’re meant to help each other.

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After Birth, by Elisa Albert

DNF: Absurdistan, by Gary Shteyngart

Absurdistan - Gary Shteyngart

DNF not quite halfway through. In the beginning I was impressed by the fine line this book walks between annoyance and charm. The word I thought of to best describe it was “rambunctious.” Then I thought, “Will this ‘rambunction’ get old?” And it basically did. Or maybe I’m just not in the mood for satire of life 15+ years ago when the present is even crazier. Like, we’re living a satire right now. I will say I enjoyed the physicality that Shteyngart revels in; that’s rare. On the other hand, I could do without the meta quality, references to an author with a name like Shteyngart’s who published a novel that sounds like his debut novel.

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DNF: Absurdistan, by Gary Shteyngart

Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life, by Yiyun Li

Review:

Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life - Yiyun Li

Reading Li’s memoir was a unique experience, or perhaps one so rare I can’t remember the last time I had it. It challenged me to think not only about her as a writer and reader, but about myself as a writer and reader. I highlighted tons of passages, brief and long. I read the book slowly because I frequently needed to pause and evaluate Li’s notions of self, writing, and reading, often all essentially the same thing, against what I believe or thought I believed.

Early on, Li notes that she does not like using first person. It is unavoidable in this type of work, but she uses “one” elsewhere, as in, “One hides something for two reasons: either one feels protective of it or one feels ashamed of it. And it is not always the case that the two possibilities can be separated.” I found that it functioned much like second person (“you”) where it assumes the reader’s agreement. Having read the book, I can’t think that was Li’s intention, but it created an at times adversarial stance from which I judged her obviously personal claims. This isn’t a critique, only an observation of the sort I don’t make often. In a way, then, it’s a compliment.

Because Li in part is writing about writing, I put it on a mental list of texts I’d love to assign in a creative writing workshop. Though my genre is poetry (and fiction after that), its insights apply to any genre. “To write,” she says, “betrays one’s instinct to curl up and hide.” Upon that I can easily agree.

 

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Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life, by Yiyun Li