#FridayReads for 8/21
Men We Reaped
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Ashley: Between 2000 and 2004, five young black men in Ward’s life died—from being hit by a drunk driver, from a drug-related shooting, from overdosing on the drugs themselves. Those are all drug-related, but Men We Reaped is not a story about drug abuse—it’s about the poverty and the racism and the sexism and the myriad of other systemic issues that lead to a reliance on the temporary highs of things like drugs in the first place. “The same thing that make you laugh make you cry,” Roger, dead at 23, used to say. This is the thesis statement of Ward’s somber memoir of her life in DeLisle, Mississippi. In the prologue Ward describes how, whenever she’s away from DeLisle for a while, or when she’s about to leave again, she feels a crushing nostalgia that makes her cry. But as she guides us through her life, she shows us why she also needs to escape, why sometimes people leave, to get away from what she describes as a wolf that hunts the people of DeLisle’s hopes and dreams. In a time where we hear about another unjustly dead black man seemingly every other week, Ward’s memoir injects some much needed perspective and humanity into the larger narrative.
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Freya: It’s common to depict the twentysomething female as a hot mess—take Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck or Lena Dunham’s Girls as prime examples. We’re enraptured as these young women navigate failed relationships, one-night stands, dead-end jobs, and complicated friendships, watching them try to find some greater meaning to it all. But strip away the melodrama and the comedic relief, and you get Kate Zambreno’s Green Girl. Unlike its Hollywood counterparts, Green Girl offers a disturbingly recognizable and gripping depiction of the quiet ways the identity crisis most people experience in their early 20’s manifests. The green girl is Ruth, a young American working as a shopgirl in London. She is vulnerable, anxious, and unsure, but can also be savagely fierce and cruel, both beautiful and disgusting. Zambreno depicts gritty scenes of the green girl lost—listlessly working her menial job, sleeping with people she shouldn’t, drinking more than she should, all while trying to find her place in the world. It’s this brutal honesty that makes Green Girl difficult to stomach, but ultimately impossible to put down.
If on a winter’s night a traveler
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Alex: In essence, Calvino’s postmodern masterpiece If on a winter’s night a traveler is the story of the reader (that’s you; and yes, the second person is frequently employed) attempting to read Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler, only to find yourself led through a maze of printer errors, missing pages, academic mischief, publisher negligence, and romantic misadventures that foil every attempt to finish the novel, presenting in its stead the first chapter of several others, attempts at which to finish are similarly frustrated. A satire of varying literary styles ensues, alongside satirical depictions of everyone involved in the creation and consumption of books, from publishers to booksellers to academics. For such a convoluted (anti)plot, and a novel so explicitly frustrating the expectations of the reader, it’s a wonderfully fun read, Nabokovian in its allusive and metafictive playfulness. It’s one of those books that reminds me of all the classics I’ve yet to read, all the beginnings I still have ahead of me to begin. First, though, I’ll do my best to finish this one.
The Invincible Iron Man: The Five Nightmares
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Joey: The Invincible Iron Man Vol. 1 collects the first seven issues of Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca’s Eisner award-winning comic book series and contains the storyline that eventually spawned Iron Man 3, starring Robert Downey Jr. In it, Tony Stark struggles with some personal demons while also juggling the responsibilities of running a megacorporation, helming the international defense agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D., and protecting the planet as Iron Man. When a suicide bombing turns out to be caused by technology to rival his own, Iron Man must battle the ghosts of his past, literally and figuratively.
Fraction’s take on everyone’s favorite billionaire playboy in bleeding-edge militarized armor is expertly carried out, and Larroca’s art deftly toes the line between extreme realism and classic comic book flair. The dialogue is snappy, brimming with Stark’s trademark intelligence, braggadocio and humor. The through line of the comics is Stark’s own insecurity and obsession with being the best. Even in the midst of battle with a supervillain, Stark is more concerned with optimizing the Iron Man armor. His biggest fear is being out-thought, out-invented, and made obsolete. He’s seen his life spiral into listless depression and alcoholism before, and will do anything to prevent it from happening again.