Book Reviews

Meet Judith Rodby, Ph.D., Professor Emerita of English from CSU, Chico. Judith leads our monthly book club and is a voracious reader who enjoys connecting with fellow book lovers. Judith led The National Reading Initiative for the National Writing Project and has facilitated book clubs for children, adolescents, and adults. Be sure to check back frequently to learn about her latest favorites, and browse the archive for even more!

 

 


Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Pachinko is an old-fashioned novel, a saga of four generations (1932-1989) of a Korean family living in Japan coping with the distain and racism that had or have become deeply ingrained in Japanese attitudes toward Koreans.

Lee tells the stories of people who struggle to construct family relations through and often in spite of romance or marriages of convenience, and the omnipresent threat of poverty. The characters are resilient. Over and over they remake themselves to survive.

Written in a straightforward, linear, frame, the novel comes alive with details of not only the emotion but also the materiality of everyday life: shoyu, barley tea and fermenting cabbage; rough cotton patched with tiny pieces of silk; cramped quarters redolent with the smells of food and illness.

This is a novel I couldn’t put down. I climbed into the story each evening and read until I couldn’t keep my eyes open.

 

 

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

In  2015, Paul Beatty won the Mann Booker Prize for a novel that makes a claim for race as a persistent, pervasive and lived category in the contemporary United States. It is written, undoubtedly, for a largely white readership who has perhaps been lolled into believing that the U.S. is a post–racial society during and since Obama. Beatty, however, is very confident that race is neither an abstraction nor a defunct category.  Race, he writes, lives in “your subconscious” and through the voices of his characters, he  “beat[s] you silly with it.”

The narrator, known only as ME, has been raised by a psychologist father who uses ME in his experiments with Barbie and Ken dolls and bullhorns. Dad doesn’t make it into very many pages of the story, however; he is killed by white cops. Working to organize his life on an urban farm in a town that has literally disappeared, ME, and his best friend Hominy Jenkins, cooperate to reinstitute segregation (and thus race) into the workings of everyday life – buses, schools, etc. And so Beatty works it. And works it.

From the first page to the last, this novel’s caustic humor, unfailingly spot-on, is like a sucker punch; it got me repeatedly even when I least expected it. But these are not mere jokes, rather they are ideas that persist in offering an understanding of how race works in the contemporary U.S.

 

Devotion by Patti Smith

A slim volume of poetic reminiscences and creations divided into three parts:  first, her exploration of and search for remnants of Simone Weil and of Paris, including  her 50 year old memories of the Paris she explored with her sister; second, a tale with the tone of myth and children’s stories (reminiscent of Anais Nin as well), an obsession with a skater, a girl alternately named Eugenia and Philadelphia, parentless, countryless, but speaking more languages than she has fingers, living near a frozen pond; third, an exploration of why Smith (or anyone) writes as she searches for  “a glimpse of the divine that will also become a poem”  (92).

 

Dear Ijeawele or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Written as a letter of advice to Adichie’s childhood friend, perhaps the most compelling suggestion is to “Make difference ordinary. Make difference normal."  For me all the other suggestions pale and in some senses are incorporated under this one.