Le cousin Harki, by Farid Boudjellal

I enjoyed this BD, even though it seemed to wander lots of places. And the idea of a Zappa-loving young person interacting with a former Harki in a convalescent hospital in Nice seemed, well, rather odd, but I guess in France there was more social mixing of this sort. The shaggy dog stories snap into sad focus at the end. The panels devoted to French withdrawal from Algeria especially poignant as the world just lived through a similar withdrawal as U.S. forces left Afghanistan.

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Kwei Quartey, Death by His Grace

Enjoyable detective novel. Lots of interesting Ghana-related details, as usual.

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Frank Yerby The Treasure of Pleasant Valley

Excellent novel from Yerby, with insightful passages on the injustices and stereotypes that stained the westward expansion.

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Phineas Finn by Anthony Trollope

Friends know I took every occasion to talk up this novel. I spent a bit of time also in the Trollope rabbit hole, which is a home of many mansions. There was so much to appreciate and savor in Phineas Finn. The complexity of the inner life, rather than plot, is at the heart of the novel, and upper-class men and women navigate the shoals of Victorian society and politics. I loved how characters appear, and Trollope notes, in a familiar way, that the reader is surely familiar with them (from another novel!).

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Hail Mary by Andy Weir

After the (for me) disaster of a novel Artemis, I started Hail Mary with trepidation. But it opened well. The Martian back to form. A really interesting science fiction science problem, plausible enough to engage the reader. But trouble follows. Weir engages very unrealistically with the social consequences of the challenge confronting the planet. Like all good science fiction writers who have only read Robert Heinlein, he knows that all scientific challenges can be addressed by a hero who knows a lot of basic science, all of which can be extrapolated to any life-threatening problem, and generate an engineering solution involving duct tape. So, he creates two characters: a woman hero who is charged with saving the world and must make all the tough decisions. She is there perhaps because Weir’s editor said he needed a woman character? She has no life, no voice, no nothing, and is dropped halfway through the novel. That is when the second hero, Mr. Weir as middle school science teacher, takes over. Did he have a wife, or life, before being sent off to space? I honestly can’t remember as I write this. A most pleasant fellow, this one-dimensional middle school teacher. Wait! He has a second dimension, revealed about 5 pages before the end. Maybe an editor said, “The character needs some complexity, could you not add something?” “Gee most of the novel is already finished.” “What if he had amnesia, and then suddenly remembered the complexity?” “I can work with that! Where’s the duct tape?” So, slog through this if you wish. I would enjoy the first 100 pages and then skim.  Then enjoy the introduction of Rocky. Then skim again. Done. There is a nice unintended consequence episode (about two pages) and the final image is sweet.

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Vendredi ou la vie sauvage by Michel Tournier

Honestly, I read this just to read something in French. This is the young adult version (written by Tournier) of his longer 1967 novel. In may have been seen as edgy and genre-bending then, with a painfully drawn out colonialism allegory, but now it just seems contrived and even bizarre.

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Frank Yerby, The Garfield Honor

Frank Yerby’s The Garfield Honor was published in 1961. Well-written potboiler serving as allegory of the 1870s Texas frontier expansion crushing the souls of both those literally expelled but also those doing the expelling. The language is strong. My hunch, although I’m no literary scholar, is that Yerby did this on purpose: the attitudes of the white settlers were not “brave freedom loving individualism” but rather “those other people are just a shade higher than dogs, and so should be treated as such.” Yerby inserts the complex (soap opera, for sure) interpersonal relationships into this background of moral bankruptcy. Darwin Turner expressed my perspective on Yerby well: “Ideas– bitter ironies, caustic debunkings, painful gropings for meaning– writhe behind the soap-opera facade of his fiction.”

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Longitude, The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time, by Dava Sobel

A pop history account of the competition between John Harrison, who made the first precision marine clock in around 1735, and the astronomers of the time (such as Edmund Halley, who figured out you could determine longitude by the difference between local time and time in some known place in Europe by published tables of when the moons of Jupiter would be eclipsed by Jupiter, or where the moon was in relation to the sun at certain predictable times once the orbits were worked out). Super interesting on the basics of measurement of something incredibly useful.

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Herman Melville, White-Jacket

Pretty awesome reading. Reading random chapters in no particular order worked fine. As usual with Melville, the prose is engaging and clear, and the level of extraneous detail about how a Man of War worked, in terms of the interpersonal relations among the crew and between crew and officers, never fails to interest.

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When the Emperor was Divine, by Julie Otsuka

Read for my short book club, to be discussed next week. Poetic in its sparseness, devastating in its account of how trauma, in childhood and adulthood, irrevocably changes people. I don’t always like to link fiction to social sciences, but the novel helps you think about persistence, resilience, and change in the mental life of a person, with consequent ramifications for everything they do. And, of course, there is no better way in my opinion than fiction to promote what should be a human reflex, but often is not, to never “other” when others are “othering.”

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Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro

Fantastic novel that will linger for many years in my memory, to be sorted out. With just a few building blocks, Ishiguro addresses a lot of subtle philosophy and rich description of what an interior emotional life could mean.

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Georges Simenon L’homme qui regardait passer les trains

An intense psychological portrait of a bourgeois man descending into nihilism and uber-self-conception… Georges Simenon’s L’homme qui regardait passer les trains is precociously modern in style and subject matter. Not at all what I expected.

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West of the Revolution by Claudio Saunt

Really enjoyed this history of a variety of locations in what became the United States. Excellent readable style, and pretty much everything was new to me. Russians in the Aleutian Islands; Juniper Serra and others missionize the California coast; Spanish missionary explorers in the Colorado Great Basin area; the Creeks in Florida consider trading with Spanish Havana; and Henderson “buys” much of Kentucky. Food for thought for libertarians who refuse to ever consider the ethical question of property unjustly acquired at scale.

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Chang-Rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea is a readable dystopia that really pushes the reader to think hard

Chang-Rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea was an excellent reading experience. A parable-style meditation on dystopia and hope, with the reader constantly wondering whether the dystopia is right now: a future narrator might present our current early 21st century exactly this way, and a character like Fan might emerge who, though prosaic, becomes a focal point or catalyst for significant change (that we cannot even really imagine, and that Lee leaves unsaid). The narrative voice and technique of alternating windows worked for me, though I could see how for some it might come across as tiresome. The episodes, or vignettes, could almost be read as parables, and invite the reader to provide for each a pithy maxim: Experiencing, through reading, the equanimity of a character facing adversity, bends the mind.

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Enjoyed Cynthia Ozick’s story “The Coast of New Zealand” in The New Yorker

A meditation on sense of brightly burning life when 99.9% of us are nervous about confronting the boss, and second-guess ourselves, and maybe just think of what we would have said had we burned brighter inside, suffer the indignity of knowing that we should have burned brighter, and still can’t figure out what burning brighter is better, if in the end it means rearranging piles of books of stories. At least that was my initial impression. But that is what an epigram does?

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Boneland by Alan Garner

Re-read Boneland by Alan Garner, from 2012. I think I was put off the first time by the excessive compression. Re-reading it I enjoyed it much more, though the reach for mystery and frisson of eternity still eluded me. But I appreciate the tremendous craft, and I will anticipate a re-reading in a couple of years (most of Garner’s adult books are so compressed that each re-reading opens up more levels). A good review, by Ursula K. Le Guin (!) helps understand the context of the book.

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Encadrement du responsable du centre multimédia de Houndé (CMH) sur les techniques de rédaction des livres pour enfants

Le centre multimédia de Houndé (CMH) dans la poursuite de ses objectifs de promouvoir les talents locaux à travers l’encadrement et la formation aux activités d’initiation aux outils informatique, encadrement en dessins et en écriture (création des livres pour enfants). Il a organisé le samedi 19 juin 2021 sous la direction de son responsable Koura Donkoui une séance d’initiation de 10 filles à la création des livres pour enfants. Elles ont eu le plaisir, la motivation à créer chacune son livre et de le saisir sur l’ordinateur. Nous les encourageons beaucoup à poursuivre l’œuvre et à s’améliorer au fil du temps. Car disons, c’est des petites actions qui deviendront des grandes actions.

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Funny in Farsi by Firoozeh Dumas

Read Funny in Farsi by Firoozeh Dumas. It is a light, almost stand-uppy commentary on childhood as Iranian-American during the late 1970s and 1980s, and then vignettes from marriage (to a Frenchman). Not quite Thurberesque. People my age will recognize many of the anecdotes, and that is part of the effort, to remind readers that we all share much in common despite our different backgrounds. I wanted more insight about her mother, about her (perhaps non-existent) political engagement or thinking about Iran, and about her cosmopolitanism and what that means for others.

In our discussion I was of course reminded of the amazing Iranian film A Separation.

And then of course Mariam Satrapi’s fantastic graphic novel Persepolis. And lastly, my colleague’s Mary Hegland’s Days of Revolution: Political Culture and Process in an Iranian Village.

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Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer

Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer. Unless you really, really, liked Annihilation, I would avoid this novel. It has similar elements: rambling, disjointed narrative, foggy-thinking main character, ambiguous setting, lurking menace, muddy philosophizing, eco-themed naturalism…. But, in my opinion is comes across as pretty hurriedly or lazily written. The prose certainly does not sparkle. If I read one more time that the hero called her purse Shovel Pig, I was ready to scream. I did. Then again. All the fucking way to the end of the novel, she was still talking about “Shovel Pig”? No. Any editor worth their salt would have insisted on changing that. Lots of other instances of bad writing in the novel. A big mess. It read like a tossed off screenplay treatment of a “wouldn’t it be cool” TV show… moody dystopian thriller set in the Pacific Northwest.

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The Overstory by Richard Powers

The Overstory by Richard Powers was a great read in the beginning, partly because I was under the impression that it was a somewhat sci-fi novel, and would transition from the human characters to a more complex novel that treated the trees, and our living world, as sentient but on a different time scale.

Instead, the novel became a “tree whisperer” clickbait novel. The human characters evolved fairly predictably (to this reader) and the trees never did anything (they may have, but I missed it?). The tree in the Amazon that grew the trunk into the shape of the woman… was that important? It seems like it was never mentioned again. So still waiting for someone with the writing ability of Powers to write the novel that I want to read. Lots of didacticism, as if he had been browsing forestry and biology articles for random tree facts, and going on long hikes with long-winded naturalists.

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