We never see other people anyway, only the monsters we make of them.
–From Zone One by Colson Whitehead
My review of Zone One is up for Friday as part of the A More Diverse Universe challenge!
She waited in the coffee shop for the unknown witness to arrive. After thirty minutes, just as Sarah was about to give up, a woman with creamy cappuccino skin entered and —
Hold up. Stop right there. “Creamy cappuccino skin”? Please, for the love of all readers of color, stop describing us as food!!!
This is a major pet peeve for me when reading, probably higher than whiny female protagonists. Look, I appreciate when a white author chooses to include a character of color (or hopefully even more than one) in their work, I really do. Lack of representation is still a huge issue, as the wonderful folks over at #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign so recently brought up in reference to children’s and YA literature. I do want writers to continue including people of all colors in their books.
That does not mean that you should be constantly referring to your character’s skin tones to point out to the reader just how not white they are. And when you do point out their skin color in a description, please stop using edible words. I don’t want to be eaten. I’m not a chocolate, or any version of coffee, or even butterscotch candy. I’m just me, brown.
How often does a writer specifically call out a white character as white? And even when an author does that, the character is usually compared to porcelain, or silk, or some other delicate non-edible item. All I’m saying is, if you’re an author, ask yourself if you really need to say every time a POC (person of color) enters the scene. Can you let her be brunette, or thin, or short, or well-dressed, or any other adjective that you let all of your white characters be first? You can get to her skin color later, if you need to. Don’t get me wrong, don’t hide your POC characters, but if you’re going to go around highlighting all the POC and how different they are all the time then do the same thing with your white characters too. Thank you. End of rant.
Oh, and just for fun… If White Characters Were Described Like People of Color in Literature.
Bill Bryson, Bill Bryson, Bill Bryson… I liked this book. I liked it a lot in some places. I enjoyed learning about the Appalachian Trail (AT) and getting to picture myself out in the wilderness alongside Byson. I even liked some of his anecdotes about the trail, like the times when his backpacking partner, Katz, would get angry at the amount of weight in his pack and toss valuable food and water over the side of a cliff when they were only a little ways on their journey.
The book gave me an appreciation for how hard it is to do something like backpacking, day-in and day-out, in sometimes-terrible weather, with sometimes-disagreeable people, and nothing to distract yourself with except your thoughts. Bryson did a good job of complicating the romantic feelings I have about the woods, the idea that to “get away” for more than just a day hike must be the most idyllic sensation in the world. He reminded me about what backpacking really is — trudging around with a huge amount of weight on your back and constantly staring at the ground so you don’t trip all over yourself in the process. The trail is rarely flat, always sloping either too steeply upward or too steeply downward to be comfortable, and that’s kind of about it. Oh, and some sensational beauty and serene moments that might be worth mentioning.
So, there was a lot that I enjoyed, and the book was a pretty quick read that didn’t require a lot of attention or emotional commitment. HOWEVER, I do have a few issues with it. Mainly issues with Bryson. Basically he comes off at a number of points in the book as — how shall I put it? — stuck up, elitist, and just plain mean. His characterizations people who live in small Appalachian towns didn’t set him off to a good start in my view. Relying on stereotypes of the “hillbilly” is probably not the greatest way to go around defining a region.
Additionally, he has some strange obsession with talking about how fat other people are, especially when he doesn’t like them. And he feels compelled to include way too many snide and sarcastic remarks about how the National Park Service is completely incompetent. (I’m not saying I know much about how competent or not they might be, but he could have at least made his arguments in more of a grown-up way).
Throughout the book, I couldn’t help comparing it in my mind with Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, which I know isn’t completely fair, since they are very different people, who had very different reasons to do a long hike (which in Strayed’s case was the Pacific Crest Trail). But I couldn’t get out of my mind how much more I enjoyed Strayed’s honest, self-reflective, and self-effacing voice when compared to Bryson’s blusterings and rants. While she encountered many of the same challenges as Bryson, Strayed approached the trail as more of a lesson than something that should be perfect and comfortable.
The last part of Bryson’s book dragged on a little for me, since he never really gets back on the trail in the same way he does in the beginning. He drives his car out to the wilderness, does a day-long stint of hiking, and then goes back to his cozy home again for the evening and resumes at the next spot on the trail the next day. I’m not criticizing his choice to hike that way — I don’t feel the need to encourage the idea of one “right” way to hike the AT — but it did make the book a little less interesting at that point.
In sum, it’s a good adventure and outdoorsy novel to read, especially if you’re looking for something light. But it wasn’t my favorite because of Bryson’s voice.
SPOILER ALERT: Oh, and one final note — he never actually ends up running into a bear. Not required, but come on, let’s talk about the cover…
Hunters will tell you that a moose is a wily and ferocious forest creature. Nonsense. A moose is a cow drawn by a three-year-old.
–From A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
Just a little quirky quote to set up my review of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods coming up on Friday. See you then!
I love getting book recommendations from other people. I love going to bookstores and picking out something new to read that I’ve heard a lot of positive reviews about. But some of those books are definitely longer than others, and given my sometimes-short attention span, the long books aren’t usually the ones I go for first. This leads to a huge backup on in big books, which self-perpetuates because then I feel overwhelmed by how many large books I have to read!
So this post is an attempt to reorganize myself and take stock of what I’ve got going in the doorstop realm. Here’s a look at some of the large books I still have and want to eventually take up:
In case you can’t read the titles:
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Shogun by James Clavell
Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind
World Without End by Ken Follett
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
11/22/63 by Stephen King
The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro
And that doesn’t even include Les Mis, which I currently have on my e-reader. Physically putting the books together like that was pretty intimidating, so I quickly dispersed them again to different corners of my bookshelf. But I’m really committed to reading more of what I have at home before I buy additional books or get more books for the library, so I’d like to tackle at least one or two of these over the next few months.
I find that before tackling a large book, especially something really dense like David Foster Wallace (seriously, shouldn’t that count as like two or three books?) it helps to read a couple of light novels. Since I have plenty of other small books on my shelves that shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Though I still haven’t decided which of the big ones I’ll go for first.
What doorstop books have been sitting on your bookshelf for a while? How to you keep yourself moving through the ones you start to read?