Monday, August 20, 2012

Bless Me, Ultima

We all question faith, if you deny so, you are going against your faith by lying. Just my opinion-I say breathing in a sigh and shifting my pants, sitting on my bed to write this review. Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya, a prominent Hispanic literary artist, explores faith following a young boy’s transformation into a young man. Throughout the book, Antonio Marez-young boy and narrator-questions the world he lives in as he grows up in a small Hispanic American town. Oddly, it is not the Hispanic American culture that is clashing just after a recent war, but the hereditary history of his parents, his own unique heritage-his culture and family that change with age and time. Tony's feelings become torn when thinking of his future. Especially in what he will be when a grown man: a farmer, a priest, a nomadic herder like his father. But it is the wise woman, Ultima, from his father’s hometown on the golden grassy plains, that brings Tony confidence in finding his own path, his own faith, and to discover, appreciate and contemplate all there is in the world.
 There is not much more to say, I could talk about the wise curandera Ultima, an elder considered a pagan or witch though her cures are rooted deep with life energy and the earth. A natural mystical magic that is pure in essence. I could mention the town or the rolling plains or the school children and the deaths Tony witnesses. His brothers and sisters or all the wondrous scenery that Rudolfo Anaya describes through great prose. But that is not for me to describe, for Tony is to tell you about it. For he lived in a world of ups, downs, upside-down horror, down right madness and complete sadness. His journey through life is his to tell, and I can only say: Bless you on your own should you pick up this terrific read!
Rudolfo Anaya has also written Alburquerque and has won the Premio Quinto Sol, national Chicano literary award.
Next week will be my review of Milan Kundera's The Art of the Novel.

Justin Vaisnor

Monday, May 28, 2012

"The Hours" by Michael Cunningham

Review by Dave Karp

            “Yes, she thinks, this is probably how it must feel to be a ghost. It’s a little like reading, isn’t it-that same sensation of knowing people, settings, situations, without playing any particular part beyond that of the willing observer.”
            This is probably one of the most haunting lines that stuck with me from Michael Cunningham’s fantastic novel, The Hours. A friend/mentor of mine let me borrow the book, knowing that I so much loved Virginia Woolf’s novel, Orlando: A Biography, which made me fall in love with Woolf. And, after reading The Hours, I can tell you this: This is one of the most haunting books I have yet to read, but in a unique way that maybe Mrs. Dalloway did for her generation, though I have yet to read the famous Woolf novel yet. The novel has been made into a movie as well, directed by Stephen Daldry and starring Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, and Meryl Streep as the leading ladies (and, may I add, a haunting score by Philip Glass). I recommend the movie, as it was a very good adaptation of the book and brought the haunting atmosphere the novel did to the screen, and stayed true to most of the book. But, back to the novel!
            Cunningham takes the day in the life of three different women in three different time periods. There is Virginia Woolf herself in the early 1920’s in a suburb in London. Then, there is Laura Brown in 1950’s suburban Los Angeles. Last, but not least, is Clarissa Vaughan in New York City, 2001. Woolf is beginning to write Mrs. Dalloway, Laura deal with the disenchantment of suburban life with her husband, son, and another child on the way, and Clarissa is trying to get a party put together for a very dear friend and poet. We are thrown into the lives of these characters as well as their ghosts and troubles, and at the end of the novel, we find how all three of these stories and these lives come chillingly together.
            This is a novel rich with not only story, but description. We look at the world these characters are living in almost poetically, and it works. Of course, there is dialogue, but the imagery that Cunningham gets on the page is very rich and he makes you see everything clearly as you are brought into the lives and environments of these characters. It’s some of the strongest description I have read in a while, and it really brings a whole other layer to the story, one that really makes you feel as if you are an “observer” or a “ghost”.
            The story is one that you become quite curious and enriched in, and is very well written. The thoughts of these characters come out on the page amazingly as well, which makes us feel for them even more, and we understand their struggles all the more. The three women are haunted by many things, and we see that clearly, almost as if in some way it mirrors the lives you and I are living, and questioning how much happens within a day of the lives of everyone.
Which brings me to the thing I may have liked about it the most and was one of the most haunting aspects for me: It was an epic about the everyday life. Such as what Woolf did with her novel Mrs. Dalloway, Cunningham brings into his novel and adds his own flair to it. He brings out the power and the epicness of everyday thought, worries, and questions. With the question the three main characters have, you can’t help think about your own life and your own time you are occupying. The book gets even philosophical about living day after day, and why life is, in a way, both tragic and beautiful. But we are left with remembering that we have many days, many hours, and we should always remember that there are good things and bad, luck and bad luck, but that also, strangely, life is a beautiful thing and the only real enemy is time.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Jessica Abel's "La Perdida"

Review by David Karp

            Jessica Abel’s graphic novel, La Perdida, follows the adventure of Carla, a Mexican American, and her move to Mexico City to learn more about herself and her identity. She crashes with her ex-boyfriend, Harry, who is following the steps of the likes of William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac and crashing in the city, struggling to find inspiration for his writing. Disenchanted by each other, they come to an inevitable clash and Carla goes to join her new friends, natives Memo, Oscar, and others. Carla eventually finds herself “in too deep” in the Mexican underworld and her good intentions of trying to be a part of the culture and no longer an “outsider” gets her into trouble.
            Ok, I loved this graphic novel for many reasons. One of the reasons is the cultural aspect of the novel the story and the artwork brings. We are brought with Carla on her journey through the good and the bad Mexico City, and it is done with careful detail and enriched language. The use of Spanish is very cleaver, and it’s brought to any non-Spanish speaking readers in a very helpful, easy to grasp, and even information and educational way (parts of the novel also having subtitles which is fun!). Any words or phrases that one would need help defining are in a convenient glossary in the back of the novel.
            The story is very compelling, and the characters are certainly very outspoken. I honestly don’t think there was a character I didn’t get frustrated with at one time or another in the novel because of their words or not-so-wise decisions, but you end up getting to know the character’s views and dreams very intimately.
            That’s the other thing about this novel; it’s very conversational (which I love to read in any type of novel). Yes, it’s a graphic novel, so yeah it’s going to be, but this was in a very unique, almost (at least in the beginning) in a Woody Allen like way in its philosophy and its political/cultural undertones.  The characters very much express their views (especially the character Memo, who seems to always get into arguments with everyone) and have very thoughtful conversations about the differences of Mexico and America as well as the culture of Mexico and what it is to live as a real Mexican, which is, of course, one of the big themes of the novel, as well as Carla’s goal.
            Admittedly, I have not read that many graphic novels in my life, and being introduced to La Perdida has made me want to explore more, and more specifically ones that fuse different cultures into it. Yes, the fusion of culture in Abel’s novel is very good and the story makes us think about our own views towards other countries and the differences of being a tourist and being an “insider”. The form of a graphic novel was a very cool way to see this kind of cultural story play out, as I like the idea of introducing culture through both words and pictures.
            Of course, the artwork of the novel is really good. It captures the story, characters, and culture of Mexico City really well as the pictures guide us through the stories and the emotions. The artwork is black and white, which brings another unique feel to it; a rawer storytelling feel which I like. It also brings an urban air to it, which fits well into the setting of Mexico City and its darker side as you progress in the novel.
            So, all and all, I really suggest checking out this graphic novel, as you will not only be introduced to some Mexican culture, but also thrown into a unique journey and a different viewpoint of Mexico City that makes you think, all through the awesome art of graphic novel.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Interview with The Toucan's Liz Baudler

Well this interview has taken several months to bring to the wide-wide web! In fact-and Dave and I aren't afraid but TOTALLY embarrassed to admit this-we conducted this interview while attempting to create our first project together (that started great but kinda went nowhere...) Never mind that, the past is past and now we are Writers, Writers without a home! Which is more fitting when interviewing the co-creator of a literary magazine instead of for a podcast...So here it is! The interview long overdue! Justin Vaisnor and Dave Karp featuring Liz Baudler! Enjoy!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Review: Politics by Aristotle

First off, I’m not racist, why I start with that statement I will explain soon-I promise you that. Secondly, I am also not a sexist…why I had to state that is because of the book I read and in which you are reading my review of now: Politics, by Aristotle.
            Aristotle, at times, comes across as a bit of a bigot but an even greater sexist and isn’t anymore racist as my Greek uncle who worked and lived on the South Side of Chicago (a bit racist). Aristotle’s racism I would say it stems more from a feeling of nationalism in the Hellenic state (Greece). Aristotle even claimed at one point that the Hellenic people are the best governed and if they could form one state they would be able to rule the world (Aristotle was Alexander the Great’s tutor, so this statement could have been set in his mind as he tried to conquer the known world). Aristotle thought slavery as a possible and normal institution or trade for any state to have. Of course slavery now is thought more of a single race issue, when that is far from true (African Americans may have gained freedom but they are still mistreated and our cultures were segregated {still are a bit}, with one causing great degradation toward another) there is slavery even today in China, Africa, and Indonesia; and then there is the thin line between that and wage slavery. But I’m digressing, Aristotle thought any race could become a slave; which to me was a terrible way to argue that something like freedom and equality in a state is possible when a man can rule despotically over another, or over a woman.
            However, Aristotle makes many compelling observations and logical reasoning in how to govern a state and the many forms of governing. The editor of this edition of Aristotle’s Politics makes a statement I wholeheartedly agree on after reading this philosophical analysis of man being a political animal in it’s attempts to make “a community of free men”, Cora Newald states: “If everyone who votes or holds public office would read this book-what a better and saner world we would have! And what greater understanding of the society in which we live!”
            Aristotle isn’t that difficult to read-although I have been reading this edition for a year periodically-what I lost myself in, and what bored me somewhat, were his examples of tyrants, statesmen, and city states that have been nearly forgotten. But any reader can still draw similar conclusions to his theories and reasoning by taking examples from history and of their world today.
            Aristotle makes compelling deductive reasoning when discussing the ruling by one, a few, or all and which is best. Rule by one is great when that leader is a statesman and is virtuous striving for peace and equality for all in the state, an oligarchy is also great when furthest from an aristocracy (rule by a rich few) and possess a strong constitution, and democracy is the greatest though the worst when a constitution is good-which is something I would argue, especially in our world today where advancement in social media and technology allows people access to events, networks, organizations, url’s where one can vote on something one sees, and an access to another individual half way around the world. Of course people value private lives and private time, which I enjoy myself, the ones that would want everything public are the one’s looking to gain-to continue gaining wealth, property, etc. Freedom doesn’t mean doing whatever a person likes, but requires responsibility to live happily while living for a purpose that would benefit society. The one that finds the cure for all cancers, wouldn’t sell it, but provide it for society. A cure is not a BigMac, just like the vaccine for polio: share something with the “inter-connected whole that is in endless motion”. Something Aristotle viewed society as that modern sciences recently claimed as true.
            Also reader, if you are afraid of tyrants or unjust ruling, here is what Aristotle saw as the ways tyrannies can be preserved: “…for the preservation of a tyranny, in so far as this is possible; viz. that the tyrant should lop off those who are too high; he must put to death men of spirit; he must not allow common meals, clubs, education and the like; he must be upon his guard against anything which is likely to inspire either courage or confidence among his subjects; he must prohibit literary assemblies or other meetings for discussion, and he must take every means to prevent people from knowing one another (for acquaintance begets mutual confidence). Further, he must compel all persons staying in the city to appear in public and live at his gates; then he will know what they are doing: if they are always kept under, they will learn to be humble.”
Should any of these happen, feel free to say you are losing your freedom and right for freedom by a tyrant. Or better yet, read other books like Plato’s Republic or others to think and try to find an understanding of what it is to you to be a good and just citizen. Aristotle’s book Politics is something I would like to see in more ‘to read’ lists or even on more bedside tables than say…the Bible. For rather you believe or not, you cannot deny the book has brought controversy while Aristotle’s Politics is meant to be discussed if there is disagreement and understood that logical and virtuous people want to lead happy, virtuous and free lives. One can still read the Bible, just know one can find a way to be a good person through more ways than reading any book, and one of them is being with people; love or hate them, be with them so as to try-at least try!-to be virtuous and happy, to yourself and to others!
Next review: Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima.
Justin Vaisnor
Also, if you liked this review, take a gander at our Fiction page and check out "Voters". Thanks!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Family of Man

Review by David Karp

        I believe that the title says it all about what this amazing collection of photographs is about. The Family of Man. One must ask, what does that mean? Well, once you go through the book, you find out. The family of man is the family of the world.
            The book, originally an exhibit in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC put together by Edward Steichen,  explores people that we see every day in America throughout time and then, we also travel the world to various different countries to see the everyday men and women of that particular country. We see how people live and express their emotions to one another.
            This collection’s aim, I believe, is to knock down borders and show that we, as in everyone in the world, are all a family. We are all citizens of the earth, and we are all human, so why are we blowing each other up and acting like someone different is an enemy? I’ve seen this all too often in my life, and it doesn’t make much sense to me.
            I’ll start here: The picture that struck me the most was on page 70 of the man who is on the steel part being hoisted up in the sky, probably trying to get that onto a larger structure that was soon to be a building. The reason why I liked this picture so much? It reminded me of home.
            I grew up in New Jersey. I know, a lot of people believe that New Jersey is basically what you see on Jersey Shore or The Real Housewives of New Jersey or other stupid reality shows like that. Believe me, we are not all like that! In fact, though I am from suburban North Jersey, I grew up around a lot of working class people! There were a lot of blue-collar workers around my home that I got to know, and they all seemed to have some sort of brotherly/sisterly bond to each other that I really admired. They seemed the most realistic, yet the most loving. I remember when I was younger and I would always be fascinated with the people who were high up building buildings or fixing stuff, whether it was somewhere in Jersey or just across the river in New York City. But I was always fascinated by them. Hell, I still am! I believe that’s what the picture I mentioned reminds me so much of home…because of the people around me that considered each other family.
            Not only does the collection showcase the various kinds of people in the world, but it also showcases the different types of human emotion, which is why I believe these photos were picked to be in the book: the emotion is at the rawest form and brings the “reader” to the emotion itself. It lets us know how human we are and lets us connect with the different people in the book, and we ask the question: How different are we really if I feel what she/he is feeling in this picture. We feel love, fear, anger, hope, uncertainty, and more and we relate to the people in the photos even if we don’t know them! It doesn’t get much more human than that! It just proves that we all have the ability to help and relate to each other, so why is the state of the world the way it is today? That’s a question that I don’t believe anyone can fully answer. It’s just the absurdity of life.
            So, all and all, I really enjoyed taking a look at this collection and the having the questions it brought to me posed. It really does make you think about life and love and why we can’t just all realize how silly it is to be so angry with each other.
Still, with all the questions it poses, in the long run, The Family Of Man really made me feel at home, and this past weekend, I realized how happy I am to have any type of family and that sometimes, we have to make our own family and learn to know how lucky we are to just have hope. And yes, I believe there is some hope left in this world. I may be pessimistic at times, but deep down, I still have some hope. The Family of Man is another example. It’s a family album, just of the bigger family you may have not realized we had. We are all in this together, and we are just another photo in the family of man.
This may not be a “book” book, as there are not that many words to read, but the pictures are its own kind of story and the quotes in the book speak as loudly as a million words. I truly believe that this collection is worth a look for those who love history, culture, literature, and photography!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Review of: Impulse

Perfection, is ugly. It is unobtainable, for everything changes so even the idea or notion of perfect will change. But there will always be those striving for it.
After reading the book Impulse by Ellen Hopkins I couldn’t help but think this. The book, with vivid characters written in verse novel, (written in poetry form rather than prose) delves into the lives of maturing teenagers in a mental ward sounding like a nice thirst-quenching retirement home: Aspen Springs. The book holds the reader’s attention by switching-but staying in first person-to the thoughts of one of the three main characters: Tony, Conner, and Vanessa, all   had attempted suicide. The “cure” for each involves drugs, group therapy, and individual therapy by trying to coup with the problems hidden in their past.
Ellen Hopkins has written poetry and several nonfiction novels. She explores everything from belief and belief in love to nature and nurture. The reader witnesses pain and the reason the characters may strive for it, just to feel. There is beautiful imagery and wonderful rhymes spaced throughout the book. The book Impulse has more than 600 pages! But when written with five or less stanzas a page it would take a fast reader a day and a half ride on a quiet el train to finish. Hopkins is great with not only descriptive imagery, but conversations and flashbacks to painful memories in the characters past as they try to change themselves in the present. Try.
And why I began with thinking perfection is ugly, is because of the strive in some of the character’s lives to be perfect and perfect in the way others want them to be. Some strive for perfection without wondering what that would entail and what cost that may come by. If one strives to do what they love and achieve what they want, then maybe that is perfect, perfectly understanding one self and their place in this world.
Ellen Hopkins has written other verse novels and New York Times Bestsellers like: Crank, Glass, and Identical; and also Burned and Tricks. She has a way with words and the form on the page like that only seen in writers when they try a new style, but this she is mastering and exploring as she goes.
Impulse is a brutally graphic and beautifully constructed long short story that discomforts the reader when in the mental ward, and yet that sickening prison becomes a home where all are accepted for being fucked up and not just pretending they aren’t messed up. Again, it is a quick and beautiful read, I highly recommend it! In two weeks check for my review of Aristotle’s Politics.
Justin Vaisnor