PUSH by Sapphire

Push by SapphireTitle:  Push

Author:  Sapphire

Paperback:  192 pages

Published:  1996

Acquired:  bought new from Walmart

Challenges: New Author Challenge 2010, We Didn’t Start the Fire 2010 (AIDS), POC Reading Challenge

I don’t have nothing to write today – maybe never.  Hammer in my heart now, beating me, I feel like my blood a giant river swell up inside me and I’m drwoning.  My head all dark inside.  Feel like giant river I never cross in front me now.  Ms Rain say, You not writing Precious.  I say I drownin’ in river.  She don’t look me like I’m crazy but say, If you just sit there the river gonna rise up drown you!  Writing could be the boat carry you to the other side.  One time in your journal you told me you had never really told your story.  I think telling your story git you over that river Precious.

I still don’t move.  She say, “Write.”  I tell her, “I am tired.  Fuck you!”  I scream, “You don’t know nuffin’ what I been through!”  I scream at Ms Rain.  I never do that before.  Class look shock.  I feel embarrass, stupid; sit down, I’m made a fool of myself on top of everthing else.  “Open your notebook Precious.”  “I’m tired,” I says.  She says, “I know you are but you can’t stop now Preciuos, you gotta push.”  And I do.

Push by Sapphire, pages 96-97

wow.  I mean really, WOW.

Push by Sapphire is a book of truth.  It is raw, heart-breaking, and hard.  It is inspiring, hope-filled, naked and honest.  It is not the kind of book that will appeal to everyone, not that happy beach book many want, it is stark and dark and real and beautiful.  It could’ve been exploitative, could’ve been depressing and hopeless, could’ve so easily become an anti-white, anti-men rant, but Sapphire managed to weave the story together, as told by the main character, Precious Jones, into an emotional tale of how education can give hope for a chance at freedom and a better life.

I knew a bit about the story from the movie based on the book, Precious.  I haven’t yet seen the movie (are you kidding?  There’s no way the theater owner of our little 2-screener would’ve had THAT movie in HIS place!  Heck, he wouldn’t bring in a Tyler Perry movie, and they’re funny with a little “let’s get real” on the side), so I have to way until it comes out on DVD next month (already in my Netflix queue), but I have seen the trailers and watched the interviews and heard the awards buzz about it.  From the few scenes I’ve seen, and after reading the book, the movie should win every award it could qualify for, and if it doesn’t, I’ll be irate.  I also knew about this book from seeing it being checked out… always out and never in… at the library, and from reading Kathy at Bermudaonion’s review back in December.

So when I wandered (drifted mindlessly, to be more accurate) to the book section at Walmart the day before yesterday and saw it on the shelf, it was in my cart before Maggie could say, “No more books, MOM!”  Now, my policy for buying new books at full price is that it HAS to be a book I will read immediately.  Not next month or next year, but this week or sooner.  I was already several pages into Push before I left the store, and finished a little more than 24 hours after buying it.  Push is the kind of book that, as soon as you put it down, you pick it back up and start reading again, forgetting why you’d put it down in the first place.  The kind of book you forget to eat because it’s so engrossing.  I could barely go to the bathroom, and would worry and wonder what was going on with Precious while I was gone from her.  It will, without a doubt, be one of my top 10 books of 2010, and on my favorites list forever.

Okay, so enough gushing….  Let’s deal with the book itself.

One of the first things I got out of Push, was the realization of what it was, exactly, that I’d hated about The Blue Notebook by James A. Levine.  Both Precious and Batuk narrate their respective stories through writing in a journal.  Both books deal with the loss of innocence, sexual abuse, the sacrifice of the child by a parent, animosity between mother and daughter, and that education is the only hope and chance of escape.  But where they differ greatly is in the voice of the narrator.  Precious is pissed.  She’s upset, emotional, and expresses her sense of injustice at the terrible hand life has dealt her.  WHY? is her question over and over.  And understandably so; you expect these feelings.  Batuk, on the other hand, falls flat.  She’s accepting of her situation, barely registers emotion, occassionally expresses that she misses her father (the same man who sold her) and waxes nostalgic for the past.  Aarti of B O O K L U S T tweeted that she felt Batuk was a strong character, but I never saw any strength in her.  I do, however, agree that the overall voice of The Blue Notebook was despair and hoplessness, as Batuk knew she could never escape the situation.

Another thing I can tell you, with personal authority, is that the feelings and experiences Precious expresses from the standpoint of being an incest survivor is very real and very true.  There are things that Precious says about the sex with her father that are difficult for a child to wrap their own head around, let alone have the courage to say outloud, even in a journal.  Things like the shame you feel at feeling physical pleasure during this situation that you know in every fiber of your being is WRONG.  It’s one of the things that totally screws up the person’s ability to relate sexually for the rest of their life.  Also, Precious’s reference to genitals, hers as well as others, reflects how deeply incest survivors view their own objectification as a sex object.  “I am of no value nor worthy of love except through sex.”  is the personal worth statement of many, no matter how long it’s been since the last occurance (it’s been over 10 years for me, and he’s now dead, and yet it still that thought pervades), and the longer the abuse went on, the more pervasive and rooted that feeling becomes.

Besides the sensitive subject of molestation and the emotional affectation of the book, there is also the racial side of things.  This is where my brain spent more time, because it’s the only part I don’t share with Precious (well, that and I didn’t have children by my abuser).  I would say, “I hope I don’t offend anyone,” but then would holding back in an attempt to be non-offensive honor my Flavor of the Week, Amy, or create dialogue?  No, it would not.  So let the offense commence!

Push by Sapphire – on Race and racism

This review may become my longest ever (except The Book Thief, and may surpass that and the companion post), but I don’t care.  It deserves the length and the discussion.  Let’s get real, as Dr. Phil says.

Precious has a poster on her wall of the famous leader of The Nation of Islam, and often refers to him as the only real man she knows.  One of his sentiments that she echos more than once is, “problem is not crack but the cracker” (page 83).  I will heartily admit there are far more white people who have put their feet on the back of the neck of blacks throughout history than have helped, but maybe I’m naive in hoping things are better now than before.  I grew up in with a racist father who told offensive jokes and used the N word often, though he was not as bad as a lot of my friends parents.  It’s the way things were then.  It should NOT have been, and it was wrong, but it was what it was.  I’ve done my best to free myself from all that biggotry and to unlearn the prejudice, but it’s still something I’m aware of.  My hope is that my children will never think multiculturalism an oddity, but that it comes as natural to them as sunshine and breathing.

As the story progresses, Ms Rain, Precious’s teacher, shows her that not ALL Farrakhan’s ideas are right, like his anti-semitism and anti-homosexual beliefs, and Precious understands and sees her point.  She still hangs on to him as an inspiration and hero, citing him in her poem at the end of the book “Get up off your knees, Farrakhan say”, which I think is maturity in anyone.  As I’ve gotten older, read more, and learned more, there’s one thing I’ve come to understand about people.  We want a quick and easy, singular answer.  Life is anything but that, though, and no one person has the answers to everything, nor is he or she right all the time.  You have to sift and take away what’s worthy and leave the rest.  Most of the people you glean from aren’t good or bad, but a mixture of the two, and we must see their humanity and avoid the temptation to adulation or hate.

Other moments in the book that show the sense of distrust and dislike of whites are things like Precious’s feelings in the school counselor’s office, or the social worker’s office in the halfway house.  Precious, as well as the others in her class, express distrust, fear, and blame the white people in charge of her case.  This, I think, is the sentiment that sticks in my heart and throat as I try to wrap my head around it and put myself in her shoes.  Everywhere Precious would turn, there is a white wall blocking her escape.  No one stepped in to take her out of the situation after her first baby was born.  Who stood up to help her learn to read?  Where was the teacher when Precious was having such emotional problems (other kids in the class, her mother’s abuse at home, and the main start of the sexual abuse) in the second grade that she was wetting her pants?  Ugh!  I can understand the blame and anger she feels toward whites, and it breaks my heart to know I myself, my kids included, are judged the same, though we would NOT be like that.

And maybe it’s that that makes the racism in this book painful.  I’m being judged by the color of my skin, too, and it isn’t fair – it is never fair.  And with that thought, I have to bump Push by Sapphire up another notch, because reading it has given me a glimpse at what it feels like for African-Americans all the time, and they can’t close their book at “The End”.  They live it all the time, while I get to go back to being white in a white world.

I really love this book and, but for the explicit language and the mature subject matter, think it should be read by everyone.  Okay, so it’s not likely to be a classroom read for a high school, but definitely a college study.  I wish I’d known about it when I was in college, I could’ve had another 13 years of mulling it over and letting it work through me.  Of course, obviously, I give Push by Sapphire 5 out of 5 stars.

Here is the author Sapphire in an interview with Katie Couric discussing the journey of the book Push to the movie Precious

And, I couldn’t resist a trailer for the movie.. k, now I’m weepy.

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The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

Title:  The 19th Wife

Author:  David Ebershoff

Hardcover:  507 pages

Date Published:  2008

Publisher:  Random House

ISBN:  9781400063970

Twenty minutes later we were outside the Chevron, eating a sack of microwaved burritos.  ‘Now I know who you are,” said Johnny.  “But remind me:  why’d you get kicked out?”

“I was caught alone with one of my stepsisters.  What about you?”

“I was listening to the Killers.  It wasn’t even my disc, it was my brother’s.  But they caught me.  I don’t even like the Killers.”

That wasn’t the real reason.  They get rid of the boys to take away the competition.  With no boys around, the old men have the girls to themselves.

The 19th Wifeby David Ebershoff, page 96

In The 19th Wife, David Ebershoff switches back and forth from the story of Ann Eliza Young, 19th wife of Brigham Young and his only EX, and the mystery behind the murder of Jordan’s father.   Jordan’s mother, wife number 19,  sits in jail, accused of shooting her polygamist husband, insists she is innocent.  Jordan believes her and sets about to discover the truth, which ends up being a lot more convoluted than he thought possible.

One of the interesting things about this book is how the two seemingly unrelated stories of the two 19th wives were used to not only display how such a lifestyle can be possible in the 21st century but how such a belief system came to be.  It gives the history behind the “Revelation” of plural marriage through the eyes a Sister Wife, and how the practice affected the whole family.

How this book affected me:

I couldn’t help but get angry again and again while reading it.  For one, it boggles my brain how any woman with half the sense God gave a house plant would tolerate such a practice.  I don’t mean that I don’t understand it on an intellectual level, the book does an excellent job of showing how it was a progressive thing, but at a heart level I can’t believe (it scares me to think it possible) that a woman would say, “Why yes, you have my permission to objectify me and treat me like livestock.  Then, when my daughters are older, you can passel them out to their uncles and other men three times their age to be chattel.  It sounds like a lovely set up!” 

No, I learned the history of it, that a man decided to use his position as a leader to cover up his own leachery by saying, “God said” then made his followers eternal salvation contigent upon their following along because if everyone’s doing it then it’s not as bad.  Then the powers that were discovered that if they kept the women breeding their numbers and voting power would be formidable.  Also, the idea of the man being king of his castle and serviced and waited upon by as many women as he wants, doing whatever he wants, would bring in flocks of them in a time when men were the only ones with legislative powers.

To be honest, I haven’t finished this book yet, I’m not even halfway through.  But I will continue to read it because it’s very compelling and well-written.  I want to know how 5 will fare… Why did she lie about not being there the night her step father was killed?  Will Queenie get caught? or will she escape the Firsts?  Did Jordan’s mom do it? Will she be found guilty?  What’s the lawyer’s, Mr. Heber’s, real angle and why does he seem to want her to be guilty?  Is there really unrest within the Firsts? And how did Ann Eliza become the 19th wife of Brigham Young?  I can’t put it down… I wish life would leave me be to read it, though.

Well written, intriguing and, best of all, inspires conversations and further study, The 19th Wifeby David Ebershoff is an excellent book.  I give it 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

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And NOW for the good stuff…. 

How would you like to win a copy of The 19th Wife? 

To enter, leave a comment telling me you’d like a chance to win 🙂  Contest ends 11:59 pm, June 23, with the winner announced at the beginning of next week’s Viral Video Wednesday post (June 24th).

 

Tweet, blog and email about this contest for an extra entry each.

Empire Falls by Richard Russo

Title:  Empire Falls

Author:  Richard Russo

Paperback:  483 pages

Date Published:  2001

PublisherVitage Books (a div of Random House)

ISBN:  9780375726408

MiscellaneousEmpire Falls won the 2002 Pulitizer Prize for Fiction

 

“Has it ever occurred to you that life is a river, dear boy?”  Mrs. Whiting said when Miles sat down opposite her in the gazebo.  In asking this question the old woman managed to convey, as with all such queries, that she was not anticipating a response that would enlighten her.  Whereas some people’s attitude suggested that perhaps they knew something you didn’t, Mrs. Whiting’s implied that she knew  everything  you didn’t.  She alone had been paying attention, so it was her duty to bring you at least partially up to speed.

Empire Falls by Richard Russo, page 161

Empire Falls by Richard Russois the multi-faceted and complex tale of the Central Maine town of Empire Falls. Woven together like a rich tapestry, it tells of the cross-generational intersections of the lives of its denizens, with the life of Miles Roby the central focus.

Miles has spent most of his life going with the flow. A devout Catholic, he’s predisposed to motivation-by-guilt and a nagging sensation that everything bad that’s ever happened can somehow, if one looked hard enough, back to him and is his fault. His desire to always do the right thing gives him the unintended air of moral superiority that can be repellent, and the fact that he attended 3 1/2 years of college before returning to Empire Falls when his mother was on her death bed gives him an added perception of intellectual superiority. All of this is not a truth about Miles, only what others sometime perceive about him.

Opposite Miles are Jimmy Minty and Mrs. Whiting. Jimmy Minty, Mr. Empire Falls as he referred to himself, is a police officer and possibly the next Chief of Police. Whereas Miles can seem morally and intellectually superior to the town even though it’s everything he is NOT, Minty is the “everyman”. People may not like him, but at least he’s one of them and knows it. What the town does NOT know is that this “everyman” has keys to each and every lock in Dexter County, a houseful of stolen electronics and no tangible income to explain his ownership of a shiny, new, red Camaro.

Minty’s off-the-book work as Mrs. Whiting’s muscle is, of course, how he affords the car. Think of a Bedford Falls in which George Baily just went along, obligingly, with what Old Man Potter said, and you’d have Empire Falls. Mrs. Whiting is Russo’s answer to Mr. Potter. Incapable of feeling love herself, she has an incredible knack of uncovering that affliction in others and does her best to eradicate it. “Power and Control” are the words by which she lives, and tells Miles that people often confuse will with power, and that the “power” they perceive the lucky few as having is simply that they know what they want in life and go after it.

 

“You appear to have been visited by some sort of revelation, dear boy,” Mrs. Whiting observed. “Here’s my suggestion, though. Why not think things over? Passionate decisions are seldom very sound.”

“When did you ever feel passion?”

“Well, it’s true I’m seldom swept away like those with more romantic temperaments,” she conceded. “But we are what we are, and what can’t be cured must be endured.”

“What can’t be cured mus be avenged,” Miles said. “Isn’t that what you mean?”

She smiled appreciatively. “Payback is how we endure, dear boy…”

Empire Falls by Richard Russo, pages 434-435

 

Another of Miles nemeses, Timmy the Cat, is one of my favorite characters in this book.  Timmy, found and adopted by Mrs. Whiting’s daughter Cindy, had, as a small kitten, been placed in a sack with her litter-mates and tossed into the Knox, the river that runs through Empire Falls.  She was the lone survivor and never right in the head ever after.  Described by Miles in such loving terms as “psychotic” or “homicidal”, Timmy is whispered by the townspeople (usually in the bar and after a few drinks) to be Mrs. Whiting’s familiar.  Appearing as if from thin air whenever Mrs. Whiting’s name is spoken, as if the uttering of her mistress’s name was the spell to summon the demon cat.  In a way, Timmy is representative of Mrs. Whiting’s nature and how she relates to people, as if she were a cat and they the wounded prey she toyed with until they bored her and she finally ended their lives.

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It took me a while to finish Empire Falls, and a bit longer than that to write this review.  It is a dense and complex novel, with several sub-plots and sub-stories.  There’s Tick, Miles’s daughter, and her steady march to adulthood.  Will she become passive and resigned to whatever the fate’s bring like her dad?  David Roby, Miles (maybe half) brother, and his life of sobriety after an accident caused by his own drunk driving, rendered his left hand useless.  And, of course, there’s the incorrigible Max Roby, Miles father, who’s life philosophy can be condensed into two words, “So What!”  Max is always on the look out for the hand out and badgers his son  for money, promising him if he’d just give him $500 then he’d take off for the Florida Keys, and he’d be out of Miles’s hair for a whole New England winter.  Tempting, Miles thinks, before realizing the old man would just call for more money once he got there.

After considering and weighing Empire Falls by Richard Russo, I came to the understanding that the best way to describe it is that it’s a “grown up book”.  Not necessarily for language, though it does have plenty of that, nor for sexual content, ditto, or for violence, though there is animal cruelty and a shooting in it, but rather that it’s the kind of book that rings several emotional and experiential bells that one needs to have lived a little to even begin to catch the nuances and appreciate the full sensations found in the book.

For its intimate and tangible moving portrayal of life in a small town, I give Empire Falls by Richard Russo  4 1/2 out of 5 stars.  I cannot, for the life of me, explain why I’m holding that last 1/2 back… perhaps because it’s not a WOW book, but rather, like water slowly flowing along, eroding the rocks and banks slowly and imperceptively over time, until, all at once and a long way down river, it’ll suddenly hit me.

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I’ve been watching the HBO mini-series Empire Falls, based on this book.  It’s a really good show, and does a good job of staying close to the book, in spirit if not literally.  The screenplay was also written by Richard Russo.  As for the casting, I wasn’t entirely stoked about Ed Harris as Miles, but I did like Paul Newman’s Max Roby, and thought William Fichtner as Jimmy Minty was SPOT ON. 🙂

and a twofer, this one is a brief “making of” but gives a great feel for the book itself.

Read-a-Thon ~ I’ve been Chosen by the House of Night

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First off, I want to say Thank You! and throw smooches and hugs at all the RaT cheerleaders 🙂 You are much appreciated 😉 And I’m glad everyone’s enjoying my button… you know me, I like to mock ’em and shock ’em 😀

Also, I “finished” Empire Falls and How to Be a Villian today, but they were unfinished reads already began before today. I read about 20 pages and 80 pages in them, respectively, and about 15 in The Magician’s Nephew So I’ve only read about 140 pages altogether, including what I’ve read in Marked. S.Krishna and a few others blow me away with their tweets ever 20 minutes, “Finished another book!” Gack!

But It’s not a contest… *deep, cleansing breath* 😀

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Okay, so on to Marked… I don’t know where I’d heard of the House of Night series, maybe from one of the publisher’s newsletters, but when I did, something about the books screamed for me to read them.

I’ve been thinking that I might want to include some of the more popular books in my reading and reviewing for two reasons: 1) It’s part of the Zeitgeist of our culture, so I need to read them so I can keep up with the conversations, and 2) Reading and posting reviews of the more popular books might increase my blog traffic. The House of Night series popped out as possibly being a more popular set of books. AND, they’re about vamps, and I like vamp books. 😀

So far, I’ve read the first 3 chapters of the first book in the series, Marked, and I get it. It’s more of a social commentary… an allegory of our culture… and “vampyre” is the concept being used, but I think “homosexuality” is really what the authors are saying.

Zooey is an average, just-wanna-fit-in, middle child, sixteen year old in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Her mom, who used to wear make-up and have fun, is now married to a church Elder who’s more concerned about what people will think of him than if Zooey should go where she can get what she needs.

When her step-loser (as she calls him) sees the sapphire-blue crescent moon given to her by the Vampyre Tracker that marks her as a Vampyre, he tells her he’s not surprised her bad behavior has brought this crisis on her. He tells her, “Get behind me, Satan,” and tells his wife and her mother to call the clueless family psychiatrist and the church Elders to come over and “cure” Zooey.

To all of this Zooey replies that scientists have proven than it’s a genetic change that happens to some teens, and is not brought on by a vamp’s bite or by a person’s “bad behavior.”

Of course, his reply is, “God’s knowledge surpasses science, and it’s blasphemous for you to say otherwise…”

Yeah, okay…. I get it. On the one side, yes, people can get very cruel about things, Christians or otherwise. Parents, too, can be absolutely clueless about what’s going on with their kids.

I am torn on the issue, too. On the one hand, I do believe that God can do anything. He can heal people of incurable diseases, one of my good friends was healed (against all the doctors prognoses) of ovarian cancer. He can change the nature of a person, the habitual thief can be touched and steal no more. He can change a person’s desires, too, and an alcoholic or smoker can lay down their vice and never look back or suffer a twinge of withdrawal. I know people who have experienced these things.

On the other hand, it is the job of those around these people to judge them as a freak, criminal, or worthless, only to love, befriend and support as a fellow human being. Providing a person is not harming another, it is not our business what they do in their own private moments.

*drags the soapbox away and stores it back in the closet*

Any way… lol… back to reading. I am enjoying the book Marked.

What are your thoughts or book selection being partially influenced by popularity and the hope of increasing blog traffic? Selling out?

Reading Update:

Empire Falls by Richard Russo ~ finished.
The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis, Chapter Four “The Bell and the Hammer” ~ finished
How to Be a Villian: Evil Laughs, Secret Lairs, Master Plans and More!!! by Neil Zawacki ~ finished 😀
Marked: A House of Night Novel by P. C. Cast & Kristin Cast ~ page 27, the start of Chapter Four

The Appeal by John Grisham

campaignhTitle: The Appeal

Author: John Grisham

Hardback: 355 pages

Publisher: Doubleday

Publish Date: 2008

ISBN: 9780385515047

Mr. Trudeau slapped the table and barked, “What went wrong?!”

Well, Ratzlaff thought to himself and wanted to say aloud except that he very much treasured his job, let’s start with the fact that our company built a pesticide plant in Podunk, Mississippi, because the land and labor were dirt cheap, then we spent the next thirty years dumping chemicals and waste into the ground and into the rivers, quite illegally of course, and we contaminated the drinking water until it tasted like spoiled milk, which, as bad as it was, wasn’t the worst part, because then people started dying of cancer and leukemia.

Than, Mr. Boss and Mr. CEO and Mr. Corporate Raider, is exactly what went wrong.

“The lawyers feel good about the appeal,” Ratzlaff said instead, without much conviction… “We still have the money, Carl,” Ratzlaff said. “It’ll be years before a dime changes hands, if, in fact, that ever happens.”

Mr. Trudeau was pacing dramatically. “Forty-one million dollars. And there are how many other cases out there, Bobby? Did someone say two hundred, three hundred? Well, if there were three hundred this morning, there will be three thousand tomorrow morning. Every redneck in south Mississippi with a fever blister will now claim to have sipped the magic brew from Bowmore. Every two-bit ambulance chaser with a law degree is driving there now to sign up clients. This wasn’t supposed to happen, Bobby. You assured me.”

Ratzaff had a memo under lock and key. It was eight years old and had been prepared under his own supervision. It ran for a hundred pages and described in gruesome detail the company’s illegal dumping of toxic waste at the Bowmore plant. It summarized the company’s elaborate efforts to hide the dumping, to dupe the Environmental Protection Agency, and to buy off the politicians at the local, state, and federal level. It recommended a clandestine but effective cleanup of the waste site, at a cost of some $50 million. It begged anyone who read it to stop the dumping.

And, most important at this critical moment, it predicted a bad verdict someday in a courtroom.

Only luck and a flagrant disregard for the rules of civil procedure had allowed Ratzlaff to keep the memo a secret.

Mr. Trudeau had been given a copy of it eight years earlier, though he now denied he’d ever seen it. Ratzlaff was tempted to dust it off now and read a few select passages, but, again, he treasured his job.

Mr. Trudeau walked to the table, placed both palms flat on the Italian leather, glared at Bobby Ratzlaff, and said, “I swear to you, it will never happen. Not one dime of our hard-earned profits will ever get into the hands of those trailer park peasants…. If I have to bankrupt it or break it into fifteen pieces, I swear to you on my mother’s grave that not one dime of Krane’s money will ever be touched by those ignorant people.”

and with that promise, he walked across the Persian rug, lifted his jacket from a rack, and left the office.

The Appeal by John Grisham, pages 16-19

The Appeal by John Grisham is a compelling, at times frightening, look at the appeals process, big business, the new and growing trend of buying elections, and a grim outlook at where it is all taking us. The book begins where most legal fictions end, with the verdict and then follows the appeal through corporate maneuvering and the campaign to plant their man on the Mississippi Supreme Court who will rule in their favor.

While the company in this story is clearly liable for the injuries cause by their gross negligence, flagrant disregard for mandated disposal of their product and illegal dumping of class I carcinogens that eventually leeched into the towns water supply, claiming the lives of nearly 70 residents and another 140 on their way to the graves, it is important to remember that there area great number of frivolous personal injury lawsuits and stacked class action suits filed everyday in this country. Grisham does show this to some extent with Bintz, the Philadelphia (that’s Pennsylvania, not Mississippi), but the fact does seem to be glossed over with the book’s focus on the more sensational and legitimate cases being rendered by the stacked court.

One thing I have learned in my 30+ years of life is that nothing is simple, nothing is all of one and none of the other. Business, the legal system, and politics, like life, are a complex mix of facts and interested parties, and as many outcomes to factor into account as the causes that brought things to that point. Grisham well displays, though again somewhat slanted, how people with beliefs and causes can be whipped up into a frenzy with campaign rhetoric, half-truths, and sound-bytes. I generally try to defer discussing politics and religion in my blog and reviews, but I imagine regular readers have picked up on the fact that I am a Christian with a moderate-to-conservative Republican view on politics. To a degree, Grisham seems to hold up the liberal side of things as being the thinking side and the Christian conservative side as being the easily manipulated simpletons who are ushering in the ruination of the country.

To be fair to the author, Grisham doeshave Denny Ott, a non-denom pastor who thinks for himself and chastises a fellow church leader for his use of the pulpit as a campaign tool. Also, the protagonists of the book, married partners of the law firm Payton & Payton, are also practicing Christians who pray before going into court, donate legal advice through Ott’s church, and sacrifice everything for what they believe is right; Krane should be held accountable for their heinous conduct that has destroyed the lives and even the town of Bowmore.

The Appeal by John Grisham is the first Grisham novel I have read, though I have seen several of the author’s books-to-movies. I definitely enjoyed the easy to read writing style, and was captivated by the storyline. Grisham is an excellent storyteller, and The Appeal will not be my last of his books. I give it 4 stars out of 5, it’s a good, solid book that makes you think and consider the world around you.

Here is a clip of Border’s interview with John Grisham about The Appeal. Very interesting and eye-opening:

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon

Title:  The Yiddish Policemen’s Union

Author:  Michael Chabon

Soft Cover:  411 pages

Publisher:  Harper Perennial

Publish Date:  2007

ISBN:  9780007149834

Miscellaneous:  This is a P.S. edition

Nine months Landsman’s been flopping at the Hotel Zamenhof without any of his fellow residents managing to get themselves murdered.  Now somebody has put a bullet in the brain of the occupant of 208, a yid who was calling himself Emanuel Lasker.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon, page 1.

This first paragraph of Michael Chabon’s book about Jews living in the Federal District of Sitka as an interim homeland after Israel failed after three months of Statehood in the alternate timeline of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.  Now, as the Sitka District is two months from reverting back to the control of the state of Alaska, homicide detective Meyer Landsman, occupant of room 505 of the Zamenhof, a hotel that’s only half a step up from a flea bag flop house, is called on by the night manager to investigate the murder of a man in room 208.  It is apparent from the start that the man is not who he claims to be, and the only clues Landsman has is the bullet hole in the man’s head, a chessboard in mid game, a book of 300 chess moves and the evidence of heroin abuse.

Throughout the book, the reader is able to see and feel the inside world of a Jewish community.  With it’s humor and sprinkling of Yiddish words and phrases, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union begins as a murder mystery but spreads to include the prejudices not only from the outside world, but those within the sects and families within the Jews of the Sitka District and outlying areas, and the political manipulations going on from Washington, D.C. and the Sitka bosses.

As a murder mystery, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is good, but what I really loved about the book was its use of the game of chess as a metaphor and to foreshadow the events in the story.  The use of strategies and tactics to reveal the nature of the characters.  And it is the game that was forever stop mid-play in the dead man’s room that ultimately leads to the capture and confession of the killer.

Besides chess, murder, and Jewish culture, the book deals with the universal nature of a child’s desire for the approval and acceptance from his or her parents, even when that child is a burly man in his thirties and a father himself.  Homosexuality, drug use, alcoholism, and the supernatural all make appearances in The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.

While I did enjoy this book, I have to say I had hoped it would be more compelling.  I reached the end of the book with the sadness often felt at the departure from the world and people within the covers.  The book didn’t really impress me much, and it will probably be forgotten in six months.  I give The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon 3 out of 5 stars.  It was good but not great, interesting but not a page-turner.

 

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Tan Lines by J. J. Salem

Title: Tan Lines
Author: J. J. Salem
Hardcover: 306 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publish Date: July 8, 2008
ISBN: 9780312374150

Normally, I like to start my reviews with a quote from the book. However, I think you’ll enjoy this video of Tan Lines’ first line the good people of St. Martins press has posted over at YouTube.

So with a first line like that, you’d think this book would definitely be a fun and steamy summer read, right?

Well, it’s definitely steamy. If you took all the sex out of it, Tan Lineswould probably be whittled down from the 306 pages to 220. AND, if you took out the drinking and doping, you’d be further reduced to about 190 pages (it would have been even less, but some of the drinking and doping is mixed in with the sex). Then, if you took out all the who’s wearing what designers clothes, shoes and undies… Undies, for cry-yi-yi! One line says Kellyanne stripped down to her La Perlas, I thought it was some new slang for being naked. Turns out La Perla is designer underwear… So taking out all fashion apparel text, it’s down to about 165 pages. Now, take out the name dropping, the “Kelly Ripa was at the table next to them” and “Mathew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker was leaving as they were going in”, and the book would be cut down to about 158 pages.

With almost half of the original text cut, what is left? One hell of a story, to be honest. It could almost be a joke, or a Reality TV series: What happens when you take Hillary Clinton, Courtney Love, and Elizabeth Hasselbeck to the Hamptons to share the same house for the summer? That is kinda-sorta the premise of Tan Lines.

Of course that’s not enough to make a book, J. J. Salem (who is a guy by-the-by) adds Liza’s stalker, Kellyanne’s cruelly possessive sugar daddy, a closet party-guy neocon who’s hanging from the chandeliers on coked out benders with Billie while being engaged to a frosty-queen old money deb, Liza’s shiftless leach of a fireman husband who Liza believes is cheating (what’s really going on with his is a complete blindside), and several other characters hear and there that wouldn’t be a stretch to see killing one, or all, of the three.

Revealing that one, or all, of the characters will die is not a spoiler, by the way, because the prologue says: “…the way those girls had been in the beginning, before everything had gone so wrong.” and that the condo owner is remodelling because “she could not look at those ghastly bloodstains one more day.

Reviewing Tan Lines, for me, is an exercise in schitzoprhenic writing. On the one hand, I could seriously done without all the sex. Really. I learned things reading this book I had never heard of before, and I scored 36.6% on the purity test! Booty bumps and bleached bungholes were completely new concepts to me. After a while, Tan Lines’ sexual content had the same effect as the nude tribesmen in the National Geographic specials -after 20 minutes, you stop seeing their nakedness. Also, I really could have lived without all the drinking and drugs. AND I don’t care that much about fashion and designers.

But, on the other hand, I thought Salem’s writing is quite effective, his plot development compelling, and the twists and turns he throws in completely disarming. He is an exceptional storyteller, and his characters are very human -even if most are the dregs of society.

The ending was quite a surprise. For one, it was beautifully happy and fair. Second, it was inevitable. and Third, it was all of a sudden and shocking… and I just didn’t get why it couldn’t have been the rock star! It sucks, and it wasn’t fair.

There are some really wonderfully sweet scenes, as well. Liza’s blossoming relationship with her arch nemesis and Kellyanne’s realization that she’s more valuable than being some nasty old man’s sperm receptacle. When it comes to Billie, unfortunately the only epiphanies had are those of the people around her deciding she’s a lost cause and they’re better off exorcising her from their lives.

I would definitely say this book is an X rated book, but not erotica. It’s graphic and explicit, full of foul language, alcohol, and drugs… even forced sex on a couple occasions. It is NOT the book for the Christian Women’s book club. I probably wouldn’t even recommend Tan Lines to me. But I would have to say it’s a great read, very compelling, and sticks with you for a while… for better or worse.

Overall, I’m giving Tan Lines 4/5 stars.