Tag Archives: Guest Post

Guest Post from Flora: A Pole in Africa

Writing from the relative warmth of Boston (I’m in the Twin Cities, land of snow-crete), Flora returns with a blog post about Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński.  I have allowed her to keep her weirdo British spelling, even though she is technically American. Stay warm, blog friends!

So many dichotomies in the world. Type A’s and Type B’s.  Optimists and pessimists. Doers and dreamers. Those who fly into war zones, arc over burning roadblocks, slip through the jungle towards Stanleyville post-independence pre-Mobutu, stare into gun barrels; those whose days are spent in the swirl of “people, hotel, key, room, stuffiness, thirst, otherness, foreignness, loneliness, waiting, fatigue, life.” And those whose days simply- aren’t.  Or such is the ineluctable conclusion drawn after reading three of Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński‘s books.

Just under a year ago I read the posthumously published Travels with Herodotus. I was new to Kapuściński‘s work, and his measured grace struck me. In truth, his world is not one that encourages dichotomies but instead subverts them, one in which a roaming journalist from a beleaguered nation-state, spectre of German and Soviet subjugation at his back, tries to wend his way through the polarizations – black and white, democracy and totalitarianism – that threaten to coopt day to day life. If only more people alighted on a Calcutta train station platform or waited days for transport in a Sudanese waypost, cross-fertilizing revelation if not understanding; then, he seems to promise, the madnesses of the world might settle into sense if not resolution. I used a passage from Travels for a volunteer orientation session on culture shock for (shameless promo) WorldTeach. I then rather foolishly traded my copy of Travels with Herodotus for an Indian buffet lunch. End Act One of my encounters with Kapuściński. Continue reading


Guest Post from Bill: A Psychiatric Diagnosis of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”

My stepdad Bill regularly sends me mail.  He might single-handedly be keeping the Postal Service afloat.  This review of the most recent Harry Potter movie came just before Christmas, and I found it so entertaining that I thought y’all might enjoy it, too. Relevant notes: Bill hasn’t actually read any of the books; he’s just seen the movies.  And he’s a physician.  Kathy is my mom.

Have you seen the latest Harry Pottsy movie?  Come to think…it may not be the latest.  It’s the most recent to us, Kathy having spent electrons and the Postal “Service” conveying it from Netflix.  Anywho, I’m not sure of the actual title, but perhaps it should be something like “Harry Potter and the Cauldron of Raging Hormones.”  The usual admixture of schizoid, manic, paranoid, and personality-disordered folks frolic through the oppressive walls and grounds of Hogwarts Reformity for Disturbed English Children.  However, this movie deletes the usual delightful beginning of past efforts, wherein some apparition or deformed creature shows up to summon Harry, and the fat uncle gets terrorized in the process.  A disappointment.  Continue reading

Guest Post from Flora: Post-Colonial Fiction Smackdown

Today I offer up a point-counterpoint Guest Post from my friend Flora, who tackles two novels: Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and Anya Ulinich’s Petropolis.   Flora and I went to grad school together, so beware the references to post-colonial narratives and such.  These are awesome books, and I hope you enjoy Flora’s take on them.

I read too much Babysitter’s Club as a child. Despite token acknowledgment of ‘difference’ (Stacey’s diabetes! Mary Anne’s shyness!)  the series was a pretty unsuitable template for a second generation American kid whose best friend lived 45 minutes away, who’d never babysat in her life (since when were 11 year old’s appropriate caregivers anyway?), who couldn’t even name all her aunts and uncles, much less tell you which continent they lived on. Split the hairs on difference: most of my high school friends were either first or second generation themselves, and spoke at least two languages fluently. This was Washington, DC, after all. But I was stubborn and confused: ripe fodder for angsty writing, except I didn’t think to give whatever my heritage was a book of its own.

This was long before I’d heard of Bhabha and Appadurai and post-colonial narratives, and when Zadie Smith’s White Teeth came out my reading list docket was full of 1960’s R&B histories. I finally got to it a few weeks ago, and I have to admit the first two-thirds were spent just a little jealous that I didn’t think to write something similar when I was 24. By the last third I caved in to overwhelming admiration of literary talent, aided by a pleasant but not captivating detour into Anya Ulinich’s Petropolis. The two books both detail late 20th century identity politics, although Petropolis is a picaresque novel which follows the misbegotten adventures of the quarter-African, nominally Jewish Sasha Goldberg of Asbestos 2, former USSR, and in White Teeth the stories and characters of immigrant London come twirling together, 200 years in the making, converging on a evening’s celebration of the allegorically denominated “FutureMouse”.  In short: ok, maybe they have different scopes, but Petropolis made a great sprint of a plane read, whereas I submerged myself in White Teeth‘s London for weeks. Continue reading

Guest Post from Sarah: Remainder, by Tom McCarthy

Today I offer you a guest post from my friend Sarah, who is such a voracious reader that she has her library identification number memorized.  Now that’s dedication, friends.

If you suddenly received millions of dollars, what would you do with the money?  It is one man’s (fictional) response to this question that Tom McCarthy explores in his novel, Remainder.  The premise of the novel is that the protagonist/narrator gets 8.5 million pounds in a settlement following an accident.  He has no idea what he wants to do with the money, rejecting his friends’ suggestions that he either live a rock star life full of drugs and (well-endowed) women or invest in development in Africa.  Then, when using an acquaintance’s bathroom, he sees a random crack in the wall.  This crack triggers a detailed vision based around an identical crack in the protagonist’s imaginary bathroom, which is part of an entire imaginary apartment complex, including the people who live there and what they do.  Suddenly, he is gripped with a compulsion to bring this vision to life.

The book really takes off as he “re-enacts” the apartment building.  He has to buy property, renovate it to match every detail in his vision, and hire “re-enactors” to fill the roles of the people living there.  For example, there has to be one old woman who has to be constantly frying liver, the smell of which must waft up into the protagonist’s apartment.  The protagonist describes testing for the smell of liver frying:

An extractor fan had been installed above the liver lady’s stove, its out-funnel on the building’s exterior turned towards the windows of my kitchen and my bathroom.  Liver had been bought that day—pig’s liver; but we found that frying just one panful didn’t produce enough smell.  Someone else was dispatched to buy more frying pans and a lot more liver.  They cooked it in four frying pans at once.

After completing the apartment complex, the protagonist becomes obsessed with re-enacting a variety of different events in different locations.  While this is strange, the book lulled me into accepting these activities.  It even made me identify with the protagonist through descriptions about how events make him feel and about what he is searching for by undertaking the projects.  Eventually, though, his re-enactments led up to a shocking (but fitting) ending which snapped me out of my identification with the main character.  I finally realized that, although I knew some of his inner thoughts, I really didn’t know anything about him: I didn’t know the details of the accident, anything about his life before the accident, or what kind of person he actually is.  As I was writing this review I realized that the character doesn’t even have a name!

Overall, I found Remainder to be very original and interesting.  Although it’s been a few days since I finished it, I still find myself thinking about it at random times.  To me, that’s the sign of a good book.

All Lauren the Bookworm Reads: Never Let Me Go (Installment 2)

Thanks to my friend Ben, who initially recommended the book Never Let Me Go, we have this lovely online book club.  I hope that you’ve been intrigued enough to grab a copy of your own to start reading, and I welcome comments and guest posts.  Here’s Ben’s response to my post.  Spoiler Alert!!

Attraction of the Clones

I enjoyed Lauren’s comments on Never Let Me Go, especially since I also was reminded of The Giver. (Maybe this shows how important that book was in the Holy Trinity English curriculum.) One of my favorite aspects of the book is how it is such a great story about love and what keeps people apart and the fact that the people in the story are clones is really kind of secondary. It is really Ruth’s fault that Tommy and Kathy are apart for so long, not the fact that they give up their organs to rich people. This sounds somewhat unrealistic but reading the book you see how human interactions (even when the humans are clones) aren’t always logical but still can be just as powerful as other circumstances.

Lauren said she didn’t especially like the fact that the exact science of the donations was never explained, but that was actually one of my favorite stylistic choices of the book (which is ironic considering how much I love science). I thought it gave the book a feel of being old, when in fact it is set in the future. And even though the fact they are clones is a key plot driver, the mechanism for it is not the point and I think Ishiguro wanted to focus more on the emotions it caused. It is like Kathy assumed you knew how the donation worked so she didn’t need to go into it since the details were not crucial to the story.  Much like The Great Gatsby doesn’t explain internal combustion, and cars are a key plot element in that book.

I definitely was annoyed by Ruth as well, however I might replace “was annoyed by” with “wanted to stab in the throat with a lightsaber.” However, I think the biggest reason I was so annoyed is because we all know people like her. We all know people who act childishly and keep what they can’t have away from others. And maybe it angered me more to know in the future those people are still around. 😉

So that is what I got. I am glad you enjoyed the book and hopefully some other people did as well.

Guest Post from Shannon: Gang Leader for a Day, by Sudhir Venkatesh

Shannon, of The Time Traveler’s Wife fame, is back to offer her thoughts on a new sociology/economics book for the masses.  You may have read a bit about Sudhir Venkatesh in Freakonomics, but now he has his own format to discuss crime, poverty, and the projects.

Sudhir Venkatesh’s book, Gang Leader for a Day, is his account of the six years he spent in Chicago while working on his PhD in sociology from the University of Chicago.  During this time he became impassioned to return to the root of sociology and discover people in their most natural environments.  His solution?  Conduct his own research in the projects.  For a guy from suburban California, it was a wake-up call to say the least.

Through his interviews, Venkatesh became entwined with J.T., a gang leader who was college educated and had chosen to go back to the projects.  J.T. was quickly rising through the ranks and willing to let an eager student follow and study his every move.  Venkatesh does an excellent job of keeping the story moving by telling short vignettes in an impersonal voice.  Although he shares some of what he was thinking at the time, he withholds judgment – a standpoint that allows him to draw connections between policy, economic development, sociology, poverty, the drug trade, and demographics.  The situational account of what actually happens in the projects and more importantly why it happens provides a realistic glimpse into the problems and amazing coping mechanisms of those in poverty, as well as the options and decisions governments have to ameliorate the over-arching issues that pervade “bad” areas of large cities such as Chicago.

This was a fascinating book and was written in a very conversational style. Right after I finished it I had the opportunity to hear Venkatesh on his book tour. I would suggest that others supplement their reading in this way if possible. He spoke of much more of the background behind some of the decisions and was even somewhat self-deprecating in noting his idiocy in certain situations.  While there was a certain amount of fear, he became more and more desensitized by some of the scenarios in which he found himself, including fights and drive-by shootings.  His recount is not just from memory but also directly from the many notes he would scrawl after spending all day and night in the projects. Continue reading

Guest Post from Mike: The Machine, by Joe Posnanski

Baseball season is coming to a close (well, until all the playoffs and World Series and such).  So it’s fitting to bring you the tale of the 1975 Cincinnati Reds, aka the Big Red Machine.  My boyfriend Mike is an ardent Minnesota Twins fan but is equally ardent about Joe Posnanski, a baseball writer whose star is on the rise.  Posnanski, now a writer for Sports Illustrated, recently published The Machine, and Mike has some thoughts about it.

I discovered Joe Posnanski thanks to Minnesota Twins bloggers’ repeated praise of the Poz’s writing.  After sampling his blog last year, I managed to work through about a year of posts over the course of a few months.  This feat (and it is a feat – Posnanski is prolific in his writing) converted me into one of his many blog readers excited about his new book about the 1975 Cincinnati Reds.

I grew up building an epic baseball card collection, so I recognized all of the names in the Cincy lineup from that year: Rose, Morgan, Bench, Perez, Foster, Griffey, Geronimo, Concepcion.  Four Hall of Famers, plus a Hall of Fame manager.  I knew the stars best, of course, and only through the eyes of someone who read the epilogue to the story.  Pete Rose’s downfall, Ken Griffey playing for the Seattle Mariners with his son, Joe Morgan becoming a broadcaster.*  The Machine brings out the personalities through anecdotes giving dimension that baseball cards never could.  Knowing that Rose collected 4256 hits does not tell you how willing he was when manager Sparky Anderson asked him to move to third base to help the team.  Quotes from Tony Perez (“Doggie”) show a sense of humor that I couldn’t get from the Donruss rendering of his smile that I saw years ago.

* I think the tremendous and now-defunct blog Fire Joe Morgan clouded my view of one of the personalities, though not his dominance in his playing days.  Posnanski mentions the FJM blog at one point, as it (like Morgan’s baseball announcing career) has likely had a significant effect on Morgan’s legacy for some baseball fans.

Continue reading