Wild Seed by Octavia Butler

51ZwSFC2vpL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Plot Summary:

Doro is an entity who changes bodies like clothes, killing his hosts by reflex or design. He fears no one until he meets Anyanwu. Anyanwu is a shapeshifter who can absorb bullets and heal with a kiss and savage anyone who threatens her. She fears no one until she meets Doro. Together they weave a pattern of destiny unimaginable to mortals.

Genre: Science Fiction, Speculative fiction

Publication date: 1980

This is a truly unique book. Unlike the majority of the science fiction genre, Wild Seed deals with the biological. On top of that, it takes place in the past; between about 1740 and 1840. While the majority of the story takes place in America, the opening of the story takes place in Africa – the homeland of both Doro and Anyanwu. It deals with themes of control, gender roles and connects heavily to the ideas of Natural Selection and Evolution.

“When her enemies came to kill her, she knew more about surviving than they did about killing.”

When I first read the plot summary of this book, I was intrigued. I have always been a fan of speculative fiction and biological science fiction (Children of Men is one of my favorite movies), and this is extremely reflective in my own writing. I haven’t been able to much much biological science fiction out there (Peeps or Parasite Positive by Scott Westerfeld is a good one), but this one is definitely a gem. The writing style is simplistic; Butler is not attempting to bury her themes under piles of words. Rather, the events and the dialogue within the story are chosen carefully to get across her point. The result is a beautifully crafted story about many, many things.

The characters also have a wonderful interplay with each other and in the eyes of the readers. Doro, the oldest of the characters (he is more than four thousand years old) is too old and too powerful to be considered human anymore. He is generally viewed as the ‘bad guy’, but I look at him as more of a representation of control. He is certainly not a good person, but he is also a very complex kind of of character. The catalyst of the story is when Doro find Anyanmu. At more than 300 years old, she has had many children and many husbands and has had to watch all of them die. She has very high morals. Often viewed as the hero of the story, I view Anyanwu as a representation of nature, Doro being the force trying to control her. Coming between these two characters is Doro’s mortal son, Isaac. A good man, he loves both Doro and Anyanwu. And though they are both many times older than he, he serves as the humanizing center and the voice of reason between the two. He is the force that balances them. Together, they can be viewed to make many statements about control and colonial life.

As a whole, the book was wonderful. If you like biology or Toni Morrison (or both), you will probably really enjoy this book.

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Black History in Literature, Part 2: Novels

“Discrimination is the hellhound that gnaws at Negroes in every waking moment of their lives to remind the that the lie of their inferiority is accepted as truth in the society dominating them.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

There are many ways to stand up against discrimination, and one of those ways, I believe, is to write about it. During these times, some may have felt that writing about it was the only thing they could do. In many cases, it was. To write about anything is to put something to question, no matter the topic. Within every book there is a question. Within every poem, play, essay, short story, or what have you, there is a question. There is very rarely an answer. By briefly examining these important and influential novels, I hope to identify these questions. In doing so, I can gain as well as give a new perspective on the experience of a black person in the US. I know I’m going to miss some really important ones (mostly because I haven’t read them yet), so don’t forget to leave some of your favorite African American based books in the comments below.

Immediate disclaimer: I haven’t read The Color Purple or 12 Years a Slave yet.

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

It’s 1936, in Flint, Michigan, and when 10-year-old Bud decides to hit the road to find his father, nothing can stop him.

It’s 1936, in Flint, Michigan, and when 10-year-old Bud decides to hit the road to find his father, nothing can stop him.

“A bud is a flower-to-be. A flower in waiting. Waiting for just the right warmth and care to open up. It’s a little fist of love waiting to unfold and be seen by the world. And that’s you.”

This was one of the first books I ever loved. I first read it in fourth grade as teachers and parents urged me to branch away from Junie B. Jones and Captain Underpants (I had a high reading level, and they insisted I use it). So this is the book that I picked. I think this is important, first and foremost, because it is a children’s novel. It doesn’t have the intensity or complexity of something by, say, Toni Morrison. It’s digestible to young readers, and with this honest portrayal of a young black boy during the great depression, I find that important. In my mind, the book has always been representative of the eternal question: when things get so hard, why keep going? Because, the book answers, ‘when god closes one door, he opens another.’

“Just like when there’s a time that a smart person knows enough is enough, there’s a time when you know you’ve got to fight.”

Push by Sapphire

Precious Jones, a illiterate sixteen-year-old, has up until now been invisible: invisible to the father who rapes her and the mother who batters her and to the authorities who dismiss her as just one more of Harlem's casualties. But when Precious, pregnant with a second child by her father, meets a determined and highly radical teacher, we follow her on a journey of education and enlightenment as Precious learns not only how to write about her life, but how to make it her own for the first time.

Precious Jones, a illiterate sixteen-year-old, has up until now been invisible: invisible to the father who rapes her and the mother who batters her and to the authorities who dismiss her as just one more of Harlem’s casualties. But when Precious, pregnant with a second child by her father, meets a determined and highly radical teacher, we follow her on a journey of education and enlightenment as Precious learns not only how to write about her life, but how to make it her own for the first time.

“Every blade of grass has its Angel that bends over it and whispers: ‘Grow, Grow’.”

This novel gives insight as to what it’s like to live poor and forgotten, live knowing that system thinks you don’t matter and most consider you to be a lost cause. In this story, Precious is a “black object in a world of hopelessness and despair”. While the details of her story are not remotely universal, the core of her story is something that too many people share, including a disproportionate amount of black people. Precious, for the majority of the story, is simply surviving. Is there more to life? Is there a way we can break out of this, find something better? The answer: if we all hope together, maybe.

“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.”

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

The Bluest Eye tells the story of black, eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove. Pecola prays for her eyes to turn blue so that she will be as beautiful and beloved as all the blond, blue-eyed children in America. It is a vivid evocation of the fear and loneliness at the heart of a child's yearning, and the tragedy of its fulfillment.

The Bluest Eye tells the story of black, eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove. Pecola prays for her eyes to turn blue so that she will be as beautiful and beloved as all the blond, blue-eyed children in America. It is a vivid evocation of the fear and loneliness at the heart of a child’s yearning, and the tragedy of its fulfillment.

“Along with the idea of romantic love, she was introduced to another–physical beauty. Probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought. Both originated in envy, thrived in insecurity, and ended in disillusion.”

Why should we love something when it is not beautiful? This book. Just…this book. Something that is hugely important that people often miss – this is not negatively looking at blue eyes and blonde hair. It’s honestly critiquing society. Pecola’s love and need for blue eyes was representative of a life she would have preferred. The white, middle class life. She loved the idea, and love can be so dangerous. Love perpetuates beauty, and to many black girls beauty, in their minds, is impossible. Because they can never be white. This is important and continues to be important because this is still a problem in society today. When asked who the prettiest, smartest, nicest child is in a line up of identical cartoon children (save for their color), children chose the light skin. Whiteness is what we continue to behold as beautiful – the white face, the white figure. It’s not nearly as bad as it was in the past, but we still have a ways to go. This book is a beautiful take on the identity of a young black girl who doesn’t think she’s beautiful.

“Love is never any better than the lover. Wicked people love wickedly, violent people love violently, weak people love weakly, stupid people love stupidly, but the love of a free man is never safe. There is no gift for the beloved. The lover alone possesses his gift of love. The loved one is shorn, neutralized, frozen in the glare of the lover’s inward eye.”

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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Tomboy Scout Finch comes of age in a small Alabama town during a crisis in 1935. She admires her father Atticus, how he deals with issues of racism, injustice, intolerance and bigotry, his courage and his love.

“If there’s just one kind of folks, why can’t they get along with each other? If they’re all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other?”

This book talks a lot about innocence, morality, and sympathy. In includes a lot about the struggles of a black man and community through the eyes of a young girl as she tries to figure out how people divide themselves. It is difficult to comprehend how a person could hate another person without first knowing that person, passing judgement with a glance. Reading a white child trying to make sense of it adds some kind of sense to the whole thing. What these people are doing, it’s not looking. They can’t tell the difference between a mockingbird and a blue jay, although they’re sure that one is bad and the other’s good. A blue jay can’t see through the mockingbirds eyes – it’ll go on sure it’s a mockingbird. There is a real struggle to be able to sympathize with other human beings, to discover that these people are, in fact, human beings. We are all different, but we are all the same. We are unequal, but equal. We are all human. When we have enough sympathy to realize the humanity of the people around us, we can see our own.

“When they finally saw him, why he hadn’t done any of those things . . . Atticus, he was real nice. . . .” His hands were under my chin, pulling up the cover, tucking it around me. “Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.”

Beloved by Toni Morrison 

Sethe was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. Her new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.

Sethe was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. Her new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.

“Beloved looked at the tooth and thought, This is it. Next would be her arm, her hand, a toe. Pieces of her would drop maybe one at a time, maybe all at once. Or on one of those mornings before Denver woke and after Sethe left she would fly apart.”

This book is not about slavery. It’s about people, and what happens next. What are you, when one day you become more than another man’s property? At what point do you become free? Beloved is a character who belongs complete to other people. Her life depends on the love and attention of Sethe and Denver. And she is empty and falling apart. To Sethe, at least, she would rather her children be dead completely than dead on the inside – “if I hadn’t killed her she would have died and that is something I could not bear happen to her.” To Beloved, she cannot distinguish death from the white man – the skinless man with a whip is after her. This is the embodiment of both death and slavery. Slavery took the personhood and the identities of an entire peoples, sapping them and leaving them to discover something different when it was through with them. People keep doing this to themselves and to each other, and this is a kind of slavery that we cannot allow ourselves to be subjected to. We have to remember slavery and the wrongness of the past hundred years for the same reason we must forget. Who are we, without it?

“But suddenly she saw her hands and thought with a clarity as simple as it was dazzling, ‘These hands belong to me. These my hands.’ Next she felt a knocking in her chest and discovered something else new: her own heartbeat. Had it been there all along? This pounding thing? She felt like a fool and began to laugh out loud.”

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurtson

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One of the most important works of twentieth-century American literature, Zora Neale Hurston’s beloved 1937 classic, Their Eyes Were Watching God, is an enduring Southern love story sparkling with wit, beauty, and heartfelt wisdom. Told in the captivating voice of a woman who refuses to live in sorrow, bitterness, fear, or foolish romantic dreams, it is the story of fair-skinned, fiercely independent Janie Crawford, and her evolving selfhood through three marriages and a life marked by poverty, trials, and purpose. A true literary wonder, Hurston’s masterwork remains as relevant and affecting today as when it was first published—perhaps the most widely read and highly regarded novel in the entire canon of African American literature.

Sexuality, power, independence. This was one of the first major books by a black woman about a black woman and one of the many gemstones of the Harlem Renaissance. I could never do it any justice, so I’ll live you with it, and let it speak for itself. Let me know what you think about it in the comments, and have a very nice day.

“It is so easy to be hopeful in the daytime when you can see the things you wish on. But it was night, it stayed night. Night was striding across nothingness with the whole round world in his hands . . . They sat in company with the others in other shanties, their eyes straining against cruel walls and their souls asking if He meant to measure their puny might against His. They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God.”

Part 1 – Part 2

To the Silver Screen Vol. 1

Perhaps my favorite book to movie adaption (in which I have read the book and seen the movie) is The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. In my mind, the movie was a perfect adaptation and that is do, in no small part, to the fact that Chbosky was the writer and the director of the film as well. In that was, he was able to elaborate on some of the events mentioned in the book, making for a great adaptation. Another aspect that made this so darn enjoyable was the casting, which was perfect. I have no other argument than to say that the casting was perfect.

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower Wallpaper-We Are InfiniteEven though this did not perfectly fit the way I’d imagined them, by the ten minute mark in the movie I couldn’t imagine them any other way. They captured the essence of each character in the same way that Chbosky was able to display the essence of his book on the screen.

In my mind, a book as always been the story of the author, which is why so many adaptations fail. When new writers and directors come in, they often tell the story their own way, giving limited power to the author. I’m okay with this sometimes (as in the cases of Jaws and The Godfather), as the book simply wasn’t cinematic or something of the sort. 

I think this adaptation only worked because Chbosky was at the helm. If he weren’t, many things would have been changed or cut or gone terribly wrong because movie execs just don’t love the story as much as they love the money and their freaking sample-size statistics. Which is understandable, in their position. 

But this whole thing just turned out so perfect, I can’t quite express in words how perfect it was. What’s your opinion on this adaptation? Let me know, and have a nice day. 

And in this moment, I swear we are infinite

 

The Best Book I Read Last Year

Before I really go into, I’d like to make clear my definition of ‘last year’. it means something different to different people. For me, I’m going to go with last school year. Admittedly, I didn’t read that many books last year, but one really did stand out to me.

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Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

This book…is wonderful. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. It was slightly adorable at times, gut wrenching, heart warming, angering and just plain painful at times. And it was worth it. Here, have a synopsis:

In 1969, Henry Lee joins a crowd outside the panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle’s Japantown. It had been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has discovered the belongings of Japanese families who were sent to internment camps during World War II. As the owner displays and unfurls a Japanese parasol, Henry, a Chinese American, remember a young Japanese American girl from his childhood in the 1940s – Keiko Okabe, with whom he forged a bond of friendship and innocent love that transcended the prejudices of their Old World ancestors. Now, forty years later, Henry explores the hotel’s basement for the Okabe family’s belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot even begin to measure. His search will take him on a journey to revisit the sacrifices he has made for family, for love, for country.

This book switches between the 40s and 1986 until we’re up to speed on both stories, and they come together in a wonderful final stretch. The thing that really got me about this novel is the perspectives it presents.

I have always been very interested in WWII. I’ve done a lot of independent research about the war away from home and some (but less) about the war at home and I’ve found that something the consistently brushed over in school was the treatment of minorities during the time – especially pertaining to Japanese internment. Most of WWII related books I’ve seen are related to the holocaust (concentration camps, a Jewish family on the run). I’m not negating the devastating significance of the holocaust, but WWII was more than that.

This book goes into perspectives which are often missed. I had never even thought about how the war might have effected the Americans of Chinese (or otherwise Asian) descent. The main character wears a button for a big chunk of the book reading ‘I am Chinese’ for fear of being mistaken for being Japanese, since no one could tell the difference (not that they tried). The book also goes into the jazz scene of the era. It’s definitely worth noting that Henry’s best friend is a (black) sax-man named Sheldon. Then of course there’s Keiko, Japanese ancestry but American nationality. Through these perspectives, we get a lot of cultural and racial identity and the treatment of such identities within several cultures.

But, like all my favorite books, it’s about much more.

It’s about hope and loss, friendship and family. I could say it’s about jazz music saving a nation, but that might come off as a bit biased (and maybe a bit of a stretch).

It really is a lovely read. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in compelling characters, a good story, any of the themes listed above, WWII, and especially someone who likes to consider the troubles of racial and culture identity (we’ve all been there, am I right?).

Just a side note, I love the title so much. It’s a title with a meaning that is probably slightly apparent in the synopsis alone. I love it.

Anyway, yeah. Great book for a book list. Give it a look!