1. Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
Underrated and under-read. As a writer, the originality of Kindred is inspiring. Dana, a twenty-six year old African-American woman, lives with her white husband, Kevin, in 1976. While she is unpacking, she time travels back to the early 1800’s, where she saves a young boy, Rufus, from drowning. Throughout the novel, Rufus calls her back to save him through his adulthood. The problem is she doesn’t know how to return to 1976 so she must adjust to the ways of the antebellum South, sometimes being the dehumanized companion and protector of her ancestor Rufus for months at a time.
As a black woman, Dana’s experiences are traumatizing. How often am I subject to similar conditions as my ancestors? Being forced to submit as a slave when you have been granted the opportunities of education (a college education in Dana’s case), making a living wage, family members not being sold or bred, choosing your own profession, and marrying a white man——while living amongst your ancestors is humbling. That could have been me if I were born 200 years earlier. This novel brought up the question, “Why them (my ancestors) and not me?”
This novel features one of the only black female leads in science fiction I have come across. As someone who gets nightmares after watching the voyage sequence in Amistad and took years to finish 12 Years A Slave, I recommend this novel as food for thought and the imagination.
2. Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut
Vonnegut creates satirical but thought-provoking worlds within this book of short stories. My favorites are “The Foster Portfolio,” “Miss Temptation,” “Next Door,” “Tom Edison’s Shaggy Dog,” “Long Walk to Forever,” “Welcome to the Monkey House,” and “Who Am I This Time. ” In “Who Am I This Time,” he writes of an actor who has become a fabric of the community theater in town. In “The Foster Portfolio,” he writes of a man who keeps his life simple in order to maintain another secret life. Vonnegut writes about people we immediately recognize from our own family, friend group, and community.
3. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
A white woman’s dystopia. The “feminist” issues of the novel primarily deal with female oppression and reproductive rights. Stripping women of mothering their own children so they can breed for their masters has happened in American slavery and colonized countries. Society will know true dystopia when those who feel protected from laws inflected against “other” are subject to what has been going on to the colonized for years.
A particularly intriguing character for me is Serena Joy. She used to be the ultimate conservative. She was rich and could afford to preach about staying home and a woman’s duty—a lifestyle she didn’t have to live. Now that she is forced to do that duty and stay in the house, she is miserable. It is almost like what she was preaching was never something she had to actually do. Sounds like some politicians? Atwood has created the ultimate dystopia for women, women in general. But the character of Serena Joy specifically reminds me of politicians and people who make wide-sweeping statements in hope to encourage others to change their lives to live to the speaker’s ideal.
I finished this book in ten hours. The delightfully sweeping structure of weaving between flashbacks of Offred’s life before, her grooming to be a Handmaid, and of her life now is torturous but successful. I have yet to see the Hulu series but I can’t wait to experience the story in another medium. Atwood’s world is probable in the same way reading 1984 or Fahrenheit 451 in 2017 feels like a harbinger in what seems to be a predetermined regression of our society.
4. The Effect by Lucy Prebble
How big of a chance is falling in love? In this play, two young volunteers, Corinne and Tristan agree to test a trial psychological trial drug. The administrators hope this drug will be a progressive anti-depressant. Corinne is a cynical young woman and Tristan is a loving, free-spirited young man that uses these trials as a source of income. While showing Corinne the ropes, they fall in love. But too many questions arise. Is the drug responsible for their romance? Are one of them on the placebo? This play made me wonder if the circumstances, questions, and concerns raised would be any different if Corinne and Tristan weren’t inside this facility.
5. All My Sons by Arthur Miller
This is my favorite Arthur Miller play. It takes place during WWII and revolves around a family whose oldest son has been MIA for years. The mother, Kate, still clings onto hope that he’ll return. The younger son, Chris, is marrying his presumably dead brother’s fiancée, Ann. The father, Joe, has manufactured and sold faulty airplane parts to the United States Armed Forces…and has yet to suffer any consequences for doing so. This play is about figuring out the balance and fine line between how loyal you can be to your own family without corrupting your own integrity. I would love to see this play produced with adjustments made to reflect the United States current involvement in the Middle East.
6. The Reader by Bernard Schlink
Translated by Carol Brown Janeway
An emotional rollercoaster.
This book will make you feel:
empathize someone with questionable morals.
This book will remind you that history is made of movements. Movements are empowered by propaganda and propaganda doesn’t always let people know why the movement needs soldiers.
In Germany, a fifteen year old boy, Michael, develops a sexual and romantic relationship with a woman twice his age and the impact of their relationship tests the limits of his empathy for the rest of his life.
Ranking Code: Loved, Liked, Not Sure How I Finished It