The Mosquito and the Bumble Bee

Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 8.51.38 AMApologies to Nick Lowe (and, of course, Elvis Costello), but as I walk through this wicked world searching for light in the darkness of insanity, I do, in fact, ask myself if all hope is lost. So much anger, so much arguing, so much partisanship in all corners of the globe. It all makes me wonder why we all can’t just get along — or at least try to find some common ground once in a while.

Fortunately, a new children’s book by Scot Sax offers hope. In The Mosquito and the Bumble Bee, the title characters start off as rivals — each insect revels in ruining picnics and camping trips, but when they meet, they immediately see each other as rivals. Ultimately, though, they come to a realization that theirs is a rivalry based on trivial differences, and with a bit of soul-searching (not to mention some Googling), they eventually figure out that what they have in common is far greater than any trivial differences that might arise between them. And in the end (spoiler alert!), love trumps hate.

With charming illustrations by Molly Reynolds, The Mosquito and the Bumble Bee offers young readers an important lesson on appreciating differences and building friendships — not to mention some interesting information on bees and mosquitoes. It’s a welcome addition to any child’s library — and I can think of plenty of adults who can stand to read it, too!

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Review of Sybil Baker’s Immigration Essays – by Lavinia Ludlow

immigrant-essays-front-coverWhether article, novel, or short story collection, Sybil Baker’s writing consistently delivers genuine passion and heart. Her recent collection, Immigration Essays, serves as a fervent reminder that human beings are all a part of “…one single race made up of countless colors, cultures, dreams, ideas, passions, and opinions.” Through the use of personal accounts and narratives, this collection forces readers to rethink conventional answers to the question, “What does it mean to be an expat, exile, or refugee? What can be done for all those oppressed and suffering in unstable economic and/or political environments?”

Baker answers with a variety of stories told through countless people from all around the globe, levying experiences and histories of those oppressed, abused, displaced throughout history from the Native Americans, African Americans, to the Japanese Americans, to those who sought asylum from war, poverty, and violence from countries such as Sudan, Cuba, and Mexico.

Throughout the collection, Baker draws heavily on stories of her own experiences from childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. From her upbringing of eating butter and ketchup sandwiches and chasing the DDT truck, to completely shedding her comfort zone, culture, and all familiarity to live abroad in developing nations, here is a woman determined to wrangle her own version of the American Dream. She challenges what society views as a “woman’s place” by living “outside the social world of marriage, house, family, career,” and goes on to ask controversial questions in order to get to the core of some global truth. Baker dreams across borders whether political, economic, or war-torn, and along the way, gains a worldly perspective entirely different from the average American. She even meets her life partner when their expatriate lifestyles collide in Seoul. Hand-in-hand, they construct a life together separate from the masses, and eventually, settle into a predominantly Black neighborhood that welcomes them with open arms, although Baker herself cannot shake the self-consciousness of feeling “too white.”

There remains an obvious undercurrent of guilt riddled in her personal accounts and admissions. She frequently calls out her privilege of being white, educated, and raised “solidly and predictably American white middle class.” This undertone resonates throughout the entire book, as it must continue to resonate through her present journey. At times, she seems as if she is trying so hard to right the wrongs of the world by immortalizing the voices of those underrepresented and oppressed in print form. Her hope to “do justice to their stories by telling them in a compelling” manner, and offer her “own reparations to redress some of the wrongs.”

“I owe so much to so many. I try to commit to embracing and forgiving this world. But until I begin reparations, I will not be able to forgive myself.”

Baker proves that she is not merely a writer, but a literary humanitarian who reminds us of the greater struggle out there, and urges us to think and even exist beyond our comforts, routines, and the superficialities of the modern world.

“Leaving the States did not save my life as it did Baldwin’s, but in a way it gave me one. I guess I should consider my twelve years in Korea as more of a time of voluntary expatriation rather than chosen exile. I was not escaping anything specific, but I felt more that I was running toward something—a larger way of seeing the world and myself…What living abroad did for me allowed me to live as an outsider and to see the world, forever, in broader terms. It saved me from despair.”

Baker’s content is naturally engaging, and her narrative voice never ceases to impress. She has a natural eloquence in her depictions, and can convey such heart-wrenching beauty in the most tragic of imagery:

There was no aspirational wallpaper in this last room of this empty house, only notes of hopelessness magic-markered on spotted walls in a room littered with broken pieces of things that could never be put back together. I read the messages quickly, and I do not remember the words. I only remember the content: that life had not turned out as planned, and in fact life had taken people to a dark empty room from which they’d never escape. They could have been notes of suicide. They could have been the ramblings of a junkie. The f-word was used like a comma. They were the cries of people who’d reached the end of the line.”

A collection such as this has never been so direly needed in circulation, especially during such time of uncertainty in this post-Trump / post-Brexit world. Baker’s point of view will force readers to question their own privilege and circumstances, and inspire questions that will continue to challenge the status quo.

So what can be done about the world’s instability and conflict? Is it simply enough to be aware of poverty, violence, and war? Perhaps the answer lies in the obvious notion that no single life is worth less or more than another because of a difference in skin color, language, background, culture, or religion. Whether expat or native, Democrat or Republican, man, woman, gay or straight, we are all human beings who came into this world belonging to the exact same race.

Publisher: C&R Press

Release Date: 2/15/2017

Pages: 101

Striving for an Ideal World: Art and Reality in Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle

Not quite a small press title, but a thought-provoking read nonetheless!

Zapateria: The World of Zapatero

screen-shot-2017-02-14-at-11-26-53-amOver the past few days, I’ve been reading The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick. It’s a novel that imagines a world in which the United States lost World War II. Within this world, Americans living on the west coast are regarded (and, indeed, regard themselves) as social inferiors to their Japanese rulers. Compounding this perception is the fact that Americans have yet to fully adapt to Japanese social norms. As a result, they are always second-guessing everything they say and do. Thus they live in a constant state of uncertainty and anxiety. Nonetheless, because history played out the way that it did, they regard their current state of affairs as “normal” or the natural order of things.

Challenging this perceived natural order of things in the context of the novel is a book titled The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, which describes an alternate universe in which…

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Gender and the Quest in British Science Fiction Television

screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-8-53-21-amIn Gender and the Quest in British Science Fiction Television, Tom Powers examines Doctor Who, Torchwood, Red Dwarf, and Blakes 7. As the book’s title suggests, in addition to genre, one thing Powers sees as the common thread shared by the programs in question is that their heroes’ various journeys of self-discovery have as much to do with their sense of gender identity as they do with defeating threats from the near and far reaches of the universe. What’s more, Powers also argues that each show’s fan base has, over the years and to one extent or another, encouraged BBC production teams  to explore sexuality in ways that are both subtle and overt.

Specifically, Powers coins the term Continuum of Nostalgic Continuity to describe the complex relationships among television programs, their producers, and their viewers. Within this continuum, some fans demand that their favorite characters adhere to norms and mythologies established by early or classic iterations of the shows in which they appear, while more progressive fans imagine alternate realities for their heroes via various forms of fan fiction, cosplay, and speculative quasi-academic criticism of the shows they love. Caught in the middle are the shows’ producers who, in Powers’ estimation, walk a fine line between envisioning brave new futures for their respective shows and keeping the old guard happy. Or, in Powers’ words, the book explores the ways in which producers and fans are “continually engaged in an ongoing act of media synergy and conflict that distinctively shapes and stalls their gendered heroic SF mythologies.”

While a working knowledge of social theorists like Pierre Bourdieu and Michel de Certeau will certainly help readers make their way through Gender and the Quest, Powers is at pains to explain key concepts clearly and succinctly throughout his analysis. Additionally, his own apparent love for the programs in questions (early on he describes himself as an “aca-fan,” i.e., an academic who is also a fan, and therefore not entirely objective about his chosen object of study) does not blind Powers to the fact that many of his readers may not be overly familiar with the more obscure elements of the programs in question, particularly with respect to Blake’s 7 and Red Dwarf.  Indeed, Powers comes off as most engaged with his material when he’s guiding readers through key moments of each show’s history, both onscreen and behind the scenes.

All told, Gender and the Quest is a thoughtful examination of the ways in which individuals and systems interact with each other to bring about change that applies not only to television but to society writ large. Ultimately, we are all simultaneously producers and consumers of culture in one way or another, Powers suggests, and in our roles as both, we shape the world we live in — even if we do so at a glacial pace.

And Party Every Day

300Anyone familiar with the KISS anthem “Rock and Roll All Nite” will immediately guess how Larry Harris came up with the title for And Party Every Day, a memoir that focuses on his the years he spent working for his cousin Neil Bogart at Casablanca Records in the 1970s. What they may not realize, however, is that KISS was only one act in the veritable circus of stars that called Casablanca home during the entertainment company’s golden age — Donna Summer, the Village People, George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic chief among them. Throughout the book, Harris details the wild risks that Bogart took in order to put his company on the map, and though his high esteem of the record exec’s business acumen in the early days of the company is clear, the author also offers a realistic critique of the choices that eventually led to Casablanca’s downfall. Taking a chance on KISS, for example, showed great foresight, as did signing a wide range of disco acts before the genre really took off. By way of contrast, putting out four simultaneous solo albums by the members of KISS and continuing to sign disco acts after the genre had peeked were a sign that things were starting to go south for the company.

Anyone with an interest in the music and culture of the 1970s will find something to enjoy in this memoir — so much so that if the creators of the recent HBO series Vinyl had based the show more concretely on Harris’s book, it might have been a hit. Indeed the yawning chasm between that series and And Party Every Day suggests that when it comes to the record industry, truth will always be stranger, not to mention more entertaining, than fiction.

 

One More Day

In her third novel, One More Day, Kelly Simmons deftly demonstrates that she is an author who is not afraid to take risks when it comes to the art of storytelling. The novel centers on a young mother whose child is snatched from his car seat while she’s tending to a particularly onerous parking meter. Roughly a year later, however, the child reappears for (as the title suggests) a single day before disappearing again. His reappearance and subsequent disappearance opens old wounds and forces the young mother to reflect on her marriage, her culpability in the disappearance of her child, and to come to grips with distant memories that continue to haunt her. In this respect, One More Day is similar to the author’s previous novels, Standing Still and The Bird House, both of which take memory and the tendency of the past to haunt the present as major themes. With One More Day, however, Simmons pushes into new territory, experimenting with unreliable narration and a healthy dose of magic realism. One also catches a very slight hint of Christian allegory a la William P. Young’s The Shack, particularly given the protagonist’s occasional reflections on faith in general and her relationship to her church in particular. Overall, One More Day is not only a mystery but an existential reflection on the frequently fraught relationships between the past and the present, not to mention the living and the dead.

PS: Shout out to FP Dorchak: This one is right up your alley!