Book Report: Octavia Butler, Rebecca Traister, Sabahattin Ali

Hey hey hey! It’s January, and I am killing it. I’ve got three books to report on for January, which makes me feel like the queen of the bookworms. I didn’t even put “read more” on my new year’s resolutions list. (And, I don’t make a list of resolutions … I do something way more complicated, of course.) I just realized, over my holiday break, that all I really want to do is grab a book and a blanket and become one with my couch.

My family spent five days together in a rental place (nobody has that many bedrooms in their own house) in the mountains, and for the first time ever (!), there was no television in the living room to tempt us with the TBS A Christmas Story marathon. So we each grabbed our books and spent hour after hour reading.

It was that moment of realization: This is my happy place. I love movies, and I love tv, but nothing beats reading. We looked up every so often to gaze out at the snowy pine forests, to pour more wine, stoke the fire, or step outside for a hit of fresh air. I’ve kept it up as much as I can in the weeks since, trying to read at the end of the work day, spending as much time with my books as with the Times on the weekend.

And here’s what I’ve read:

Madonna in a Fur Coat by Sabahattin Ali

Wanting to learn more about what it might be like to be a Turkish-German individual (for a project), I threw some keywords into my library’s catalog search and found this. It’s a forties-era novel set mostly in Berlin in the 1920s. Excitingly, the jacket copy tells that the author is “an icon of social and political resistance to Turkish youth” today. The book’s old-fashioned literary structure makes for a slow start, but is charming: a young man in Turkey is fascinated by the odd, withdrawn personality of his officemate. He gets a chance to read the other man’s notebook, in which he’s detailed the story of the great love affair of his youth, when he was a young man in Berlin and fell for a bohemian Jewish-German painter.

Bloodchild by Octavia Butler

This edition of Butler’s stories, mostly from the 70s and 80s, with a couple from nineties and early aughts, begins with a preface in which she opens with the line: “The truth is, I hate short story writing.” She includes a brief afterword with each story, and these are equally blunt and dry. It might be off-putting to readers who are not either big fans of Butler or writers themselves, but I can’t speak from experience. I especially enjoyed the inclusion here of an encouraging piece, “Furor Scribendi,” which would be published online as something like “6 Rules for Writing.” Whereas her stories explore bleak extremes in the human heart and potential dystopian human future, this gives a glimpse of the creative, generative, hopeful, humanist in Butler.

Good and Mad, by Rebecca Traister

The dust jacket of Good and Mad is embossed with a white-on-white pattern that says, if you endeavor to look, “F*CKF*CKF*CKF*CKF*CKF*CK.” I thought this seemed a bit much. Then I read the book. Now I think it was showing admirable restraint. I would have bound the book in a layer of inextinguishable flame. Or included a sewn-in cotton wick as a bookmark, so that the books could double as molotov cocktails.

There are sections of this book I believe I’ll need to reread multiple times, because the patterns she elucidates are such novel revelations, so subtle-but-complex, that they strike like lightning and then are gone. I recommend it so highly. But bear in mind: like alcohol, caffeine, or a Twitter feed, you should abstain before bed. This is a book that will keep you up at night.

A letter about letters, and a letter about taxing the rich

Book reports handed in late