The Book Jam Blog
Read our latest reviews
We are back.
But... Oh summer please don’t go! We’ll eat you up. We love you so (with a nod to Maurice Sendak).
As sad as we are to say goodbye to long warm days and a season of more relaxed attitudes, we also are excited to tell you about the great books we read during our "Gone Reading" hiatus. Today, we will ease us all back into our posts with only two reviews, one from each Lisa. But, don't worry. Recaps of the rest will follow soon enough.
There There by Tommy Orange (2018, paperback 2019) - The writing in Tommy Orange's debut novel is forceful and builds a percussive momentum as the story progresses, perhaps not unlike the beat of a drum at a Native American Powwow. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that the author himself majored in sound engineering as an undergraduate before working in a bookstore and falling in love with reading and writing. There There explores identity and sense of place, telling the story of twelve characters, mostly urban Native Americans, all living in Oakland, California. Their lives are braided together though it is not until the end, at the Oakland Powwow, that the reader understands just how. From the outset, it is clear that things won't end well. However, the beauty of the prose, the poignant stories of the individuals it tells, and the insights and honesty it offers into the Native American experience compel one to read to the painful, shocking finish. Orange's work has received a great deal of publicity since it was published in 2018. Margaret Atwood and Pam Houston have both sung its praises. The New York Times named it one if the "10 Best books of the Year" in 2018. It was even a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. These kinds of reviews can be off-putting to the casual reader, the hype overwhelming, the literariness of it all stopping one before the first page can even be turned. Don't let this get in the way of reading such an important and accessible book. For me it was one of those "shape shifters," a work that helped me to understand our culture and history in a different, richer (though not easier or more comfortable) way. ~ Lisa Cadow
The Travelers: A Novel by Regina Porter (2019) - This book has an energy I can't yet describe adequately. However, my inadequacy is irrelevant as what matters is that this energy and Ms. Porter's prose had me rapidly turning pages of this debut novel; I really, really wanted to know what happened to each of the many characters. And by "many characters", I mean that the cast list at the beginning of the novel, reminiscent of the copy of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead one of the characters keeps carrying around, proved extremely useful in tracking who is who. Ms. Porter deftly moves her plot and her abundance of characters between decades in a delightful, surprising, and circular motion while she portrays two main families - one black and one white - navigating the decades from the Civil Rights Movement to Obama's presidency. I am a bit jealous that those of you who have not yet read this novel, still have discovering how Agnes Miller, James Vincent, and Claudia Christie are connected in your future. Ms. Porter's tale employs wit and compassion, two things I believe we can call use more of these days. But, perhaps most importantly, as The Guardian Review of this debut states, this novel reminds us that "we are all both the heroes of our own stories and the extras in other people’s". ~ Lisa Christie