Monday, February 27, 2017

All You Need is Love

I highly doubt I'm going to finish another book by tomorrow, so here's February's list of reads (and the one movie).
  1. Mafia Prince by Phil Leonetti, Scott Burnstein, and Christopher Graziano
    • While in the beginning there is a lot of trying to build up a certain type of mood (emphasizing stuff like this being a book about murder, disillusionment, and finally redemption, which isn't wrong) that was pretty off-putting to me personally - it made me feel as though if this is what the book is making itself out to be, then I already know where this is going, and it does kind of just follow that formula - I enjoyed the increasingly larger chunks of text written by Leonetti himself as I made my way through the book. It also highlights what appears to be a stark difference to how the Sicilian mafia was described in Cosa Nostra, for example the talkativeness (though that might be because Phil Leonetti was a trusted member), though the Nick Scarfo described at the beginning did resemble (or at least appeared to aspire to) descriptions of the (myth of the) Sicilian mafia.
    • Also, there was this kind of narrative of Leonetti being instrumental in bringing down the American mafia, and I'm wondering if the American mafia is actually at this point decimated beyond reconstruction, or if it's simply a matter of restructuring going on. In addition to which, if it has been destroyed, it would be interesting to know whether they left a gaping hole in terms of business opportunity that other groups have since filled in, or if it was taken over completely by another organization. How has this damage against the American mafia affected the Sicilian mafia, if at all, at this point?
    • Lots of mistakes in the text though as far as writing goes (e.g. then instead of than, site instead of sight, words missing from sentences, etc.), and there's a lot of repetition. I'm glad for some of it, because I didn't keep all the details in mind as I was going through the book, but a couple of passages sounded like they were copy-pasted, then paraphrased from chapter to chapter.
  2. Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan
    • A modern interpretation of Snow White, with seven little boy dwarfs who refuse to give up their names until tragedy had already befallen Snow and should thus already have been too late to undo their reticence. But when she wakes up, she does know them - "Linus" - and the detective that rescued her with a kiss weds her and rescues her from her stepmother (or perhaps not, because the stepmother appears to have died when the electricity went through and put the lights on at the theater house) and an uncertain life all alone. The illustrations were quite nice, and I enjoyed the pace and the drama. In general, I prefer Snow White (and other fairy tales) adaptations that riff off the idea and continue to run with it, changing the story to suit their own purposes, but this retelling, set in the 20s, was quite well done.
  3. As Red as Blood by Salla Simukka
    • This was surprisingly good! And I say surprisingly because I'm not usually one for novels aimed at young adults/teens. While there was a smattering of the self-conscious trying to be mysterious description that I don't like at all about YA novels throughout, in reference both to what it was Lumikki was running away from and to her past relationship, the plot and the writing helped make this a pleasant read. I wanted to know what would happen, how Lumikki was going to get involved and what she would do. By the end of the book, we still have no idea who the ex-lover was and what happened, exactly, and there's a lot that's left unanswered: why twins for Polar Bear? why are they Polar Bear? did Lumikki used to have a sibling? So I'm hoping for a sequel.
    • Maybe try more YA in the future.
  4. I Am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis & Kathy Kacer, illustrated by Gillian Newland
    • When my coworker mentioned this book as one of the many diversity books talked about in a panel at OLA, and even when I saw the cover, my first thought was that it was about concentration camps. This is a very powerful story, aided by equally strong illustrations, and we need more of these stories told by people who experienced them, aimed both at children in particular and all ages in general. While Irene and her brothers were able to escape the residential schooling system after their parents stood up to the officer, I think the reader is confronted with the image of all the other children that did have to return to the schools. The interaction in the canteen with Irene and the hungry girl across from her forces us to consider the entire system rather than focus only on Irene's story.
    • It's also difficult to find books that feature First Nations characters as protagonists doing regular, everyday things (the same issue applies to black characters, where a lot of books featuring black characters talk about civil rights, slavery, the Underground Railroad), which is a pity.
  5. Workwear exhibition at the Harbourfront Centre
    • Of all the exhibitions I've been to, this is probably the one I got most into: you can feel from the accompanying text in the guide describing each of the uniforms how much fun each of the artists and designers were having with these! They're whimsical, totally bizarre, and dream-like at every turn. Some look exactly like what they're meant to be, to an extent where you think that it can't possibly be that (e.g. "a dress for a carrot-picking girl", where there are literally fabric carrots already stuck in carrot-shaped pockets, on a dress), whereas others are completely inscrutable to me (that gentleman's club one? if anyone can explain that to me, I would greatly appreciate it). Some I can even see myself actually wearing (there was that one suit that was absolutely dreamy).
  6. On Fishes, Horses, and Man exhibition at the Power Plant
    • We ran out of time, so I could only see the film and not the rest of the exhibitions, but it was pretty intense: you watch as the men catch their fish (and I do mean their fish, as it seems to me), cradle them in place as they suffocate against their chests, thrashing. And then the scene repeats. The men look at the camera directly immediately before death occurs. And repeat. I haven't done any research into it, but I'm interested to know whether this is in any way related to that tribe mentioned in Wilcox's Venomous that stays with the prey that they shoot down using a slow-acting venom, crying when their prey cries, dying with them in spirit if not in body. Then there's also the issue of whether these acts of what appear to be compassion, the tenderness they proffer the fish, might be unwanted kindness - for all we know, their actions put more stress on the fish dying in their arms.
  7. Chi-Raq (2015)
    • There are times when the rhyming gets a bit forced, and to be honest, I'm not too sure what to think of the sex battle (what are the rules? how were they going to determine who wins? what does it say of Lysistrata that she participates?), or why Cyclops was given a much shallower character than Demetrius, but on the whole, I enjoyed it. After about halfway into the movie I started wondering how long it was and when it was going to end, but I think that's to do more with the interruptions (is it the chorus, comprised of one person?).
    • I do think that that the propagation of the myth of the chivalrous or honourable gangster, though integral to the plot (because otherwise there wouldn't have been much to guilt Demetrius into confessing that hadn't already been done), is slightly problematic, if only because, in the end, it's a myth. Just like the myth of the honourable mafia. Some individuals may have held that standard to themselves, but most likely it was never the whole truth of the matter. That being said, I realize that it was used to ultimately condemn the thug life, so perhaps the message is more that if you're going to want to be in that life because of this story that gets told, that it's full of honourable gangsters, then you better live up to it even when things go awry - better yet, realize that it's not what it's hyped up to be and put your efforts towards more fulfilling aspirations.
    • There's also the insertion of Oedipus, which I'm not sure occurs in the original Aristophanes since I haven't read Lysistrata just yet, who although I get the feeling is there for comedic relief - because hey audience! Oedipus loves his mother and she loves him back, wink wink nudge nudge! - also highlights the inexorable hand of (the) Fate(s).
    • I'm not too sure why Lysistrata is given the powerful female role of leading the strike and rising up to the occasion to become such a large figure who commands so much respect from all those around her, yet is not allowed the ability to help Demetrius directly. I suppose it's because he has to come to terms on his own with what he has done, be consumed by his guilt, rather than do it for the sake of someone else, though. Like I said, I haven't read the play.
  8. The Merry Widow (Toronto City Opera)
    • I definitely needed the surtitles, even though it was all in English. They had some technical difficulties with the projector during the second act, which led to the complete disappearance of the surtitles (along with some visible mishaps), but all in all, it went smoothly enough. This is my first opera, so I wasn't too sure what to expect, or what makes a good opera, but just a couple of things that I noticed:
      • The range of variation in technique was quite broad, I think. I'm not sure if voices are generally supposed to be clear and resound, or if there's no such standard, but it did bother me when I couldn't make out words because of the voice + word combo that made it hard to tell what was being sung, as well as when the singing was too quiet. There were a couple of times where the lead woman overpowered the rest of the group when singing together, and I'm not sure if this is because she has a more powerful voice, or if it's because she was supposed to do so (perhaps a mix of both).
        • The troupe is not auditioned, and accepts all interested parties, so the range is perfectly understandable though.
      • I couldn't really get into the plot. I get the feeling it would've been a different story had I gone to see Carmen instead. Or perhaps not. The characters weren't very lovable, nor very relatable. Perhaps it's the nature of opera that they were caricatures? I'm not sure - I'd have to see more operas to know.
      • Edited: I did enjoy the contemporary references (e.g. "you're sounding a lot like a mutual fund", "that's fake news!").
  9. Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
    • Hidden Figures reads almost like a novel, and Shetterly's style is easy to follow. She delivers the events with lively prose, bringing each of the personages to life by fleshing out the details of their lives, not just focusing on their contributions to science and technology or social change, but giving the reader information about their children as well as how technological advances (e.g. the USSR launching Sputnik before the USA could launch anything into space) affected their social lives. She leads you through the involvement of black women at Langley during the war, through to their contributions towards launching astronauts into space.
    • It's pretty amazing how the work of so many black women could be completely tucked away and forgotten about - or if not forgotten, then simply not remembered (which seems to be not too different in this case from a willed forgetting), and I'm very glad that Shetterly has written this book, and in such an accessible format. However, I feel as though there's a lot more information that was got during research for writing this that didn't make the cut, and Shetterly addresses this in the epilogue as well. I suppose that simply means she's passing the torch to other writers to bring to light more of the achievements of black people, and/or black women in particular. At a quick glance, it appears that the issue of not being written into history is not just within the black community, so much as within any community outside of the white one, or at least insofar as Western, or perhaps (North) American history is concerned.
    • Just a couple of notes:
      • Katherine Goble-turned-Johnson's marriage proposal being more enticing than her being allowed to attend those editorial meetings: was it actually more enticing, or was it written this way more for story aspect of the book? This line of questioning makes me question how much of the reconstruction of some of the personal life details were recorded directly from the people themselves, but I'm probably being a little too wary here.
      • Those FORTRAN punch cards sound a lot like jacquard looms! Exciting stuff.
Currently reading:
  1. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
    • I'm reading this on recommendation, and it's actually really good! I'm trying to get into the YA scene a little bit so that at the very least I'll have a couple of titles to recommend as reader's advisory if I'm even asked. This was also on one of LitHub's lists (15 Books by Contemporary Mexican Writers that Make America Greater), so I decided to give it a go.
    • Sáenz captures the confusion of the teenage years in terms of navigating social situations and relationships with people quite well, I think, while also putting a focus on being Mexican-American in America (all the more relevant now) when negotiating Aristotle & Dante's identities.

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