A Novel

Well the plan was to move to lighter reading; however, “novel” doesn’t always imply lighter, especially in dystopian fiction about a second civil war.

American WarAmerican War by Omar El Akkad

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In spite of the title, the war serves only as backdrop to the story of the Chestnut family and especially to one of the fraternal twins, Sarat. This is announced in the novel’s prologue: “This isn’t a story about war. It is a story about ruin”(7). One reads to find the multitude of ruins.

The same prologue tells some of the end in a broad way. This is a narrative structure I find appealing, leading me to read more for how something happens than what happens. Meanwhile, there are plenty of intermediate steps where the relevant question is, What happens next? Another similar device is interspersing “quotations” from various news items, trial notes, and memoirs between chapters. There is a good balance of the two strategies.

I found the pacing of the novel amazing. It starts with six-year-old Sarat playing with honey on the wooden floor and quickly introduces the war background, the bureaucracy, climate disasters, and the family’s poverty. The family faces increasing tension in this setting, but also normal childhood adventure is interspersed. Sections of the novel are 5 years apart, allowing for condensation. Then comes an abrupt shift from living in wartime to participating in war. And imprisonment with torture. (This is not a spoiler: the torture is foreshadowed in the prologue.) The point of view changes from first person of the prologue to third person for the first 2/3 of the novel; the last third returns to first person, but it is not clear whether it is the same narrator. The first person portions provide immediacy and reflection as it is an older narrator reflecting back on events.

There is a map of the US in 2075 that shows a portion under Mexican rule. Although I would love to know how and why, it isn’t told. Nor is it necessary to the novel. Necessary changes are told: portions of land under water, the quarantine of South Carolina because the north had dropped a virus so deadly that the whole state had to be walled off. This walling off of disease is one of several points where it was a stretch to suspend disbelief. Another was that only four states would resist giving up use of fossil fuel and secede. Another was that race was not an issue, Sarat being of mixed race with black features in contrast to her fraternal twin, Dana.

Most of the characters were well developed and likeable. Even those who turned out to be unlikeable, started out in better terms. I found myself always empathetic to Sarat, her decisions always being clearly motivated.

In short, it is a good read on a harrowing theme.

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A Book on Ageism

This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against AgeismThis Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism by Ashton Applewhite

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ageism is an important topic. The first two chapters chart that it exists and why it matters. The next chapters trace misinformation about aging and studies that refute that misinformation: memory, health, sex, working. Next comes a discussion of delusions of independence, of ways to be dependent yet retain control. The overall organization is good.

Within the sections, it felt like a random list of studies. It could have used more transitional clues. In one case the list went from studies she disagreed with (no clue given of disagreement) to a study that contradicted the previous ones with no signals to guide the reader.

Another small quibble: Although Applewhite explains her need for new terminology, I wasn’t fully convinced. And every time “olders” came up, it was jarring. (And I have no problem with being called “old.”)

Two other areas where I have mixed feelings: Applewhite discusses how we each contain all the ages we have been, and that is a good insight. However, to derive from that the idea that maybe we should not tell our age seems to reinvoke the ageism of not telling our true age. The other is about all people identifying as “an older person in training.” In general, this seems a good tactic, especially for younger people. It seems to take some of the “Other” aspects away from Old people. My only caution is that as we get older and still use it, it seems to contradict that we are now old (even as it acknowledges our getting older). Still, that aging is a continuum is an important insight.

On to what I liked. “Aging means living” and all the insights around the idea. The chapter on death and dying–first delinking it from aging into its own section. Second, clarifying the difference between “right to die” and “duty to die,” the former an important thing enabling a letting go and the latter an ageist thing based on misunderstandings of aging and the view from inside.

The strongest point Applewhite makes is her quoting Jane Fonda’s saying that age looks better from inside than from outside. She makes the point early on and elaborates about individuals looking ahead with fear and being old and finding pleasure. It gets reinforced at the end of the book when she looks at what society says about aging Vs the individuals’ experiences of it.

It is an important book on an important subect.

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Still Reading

It seems books that I thought would be well spaced when I requested holds have been all becoming available close together–not quite all at once, but no breaks. Sewing will keep; due dates won’t. I have read more than I have reported here (Through Dakota Eyes, The Handmaid’s Tale); let me know if you want to hear about them.

One comment on  my post about White Fragility was a suggestion of people to follow on Instagram. So I did.  And on one of them was a suggestion of four authors more to read on racial justice. One I had already read; I have placed holds on two of the others’ books.  I won’t neglect the fourth. This is the first that has become available.

So You Want to Talk About RaceSo You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an important book.

Oluo starts most chapters with an incident from her black  life, then adds history and theorizes from there. The vignettes allow for deeper empathy than anything else I have read on racial justice. The history and theory help with understanding the systemic nature of racism.

The book is mostly addressed to white people. Occasionally, where relevant, Oluo explicitly addresses people of color. Mostly, issues affecting black and brown people are addressed, but there is one chapter featuring Asians, where she discusses the “model minority myth” and its harm.

The book is divided into fairly short chapters, many on topics likely to come up if one chooses to discuss race with white people. Oluo offers some lines of reasoning as starters for handling the issues in discussions. Some chapters address current terminology from racial justice theory: intersectionality, cultural appropriation, microaggressions. Others discuss fears, like that of saying something wrong or being called racist. And more.

It ends with suggestions for action to get readers beyond reading and discussing. (Luckily I can keep reading while beginning action.)

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Another Book: Bill McKibben’s Falter

Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? by Bill McKibben

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Since I associate Bill McKibben with climate change writing, I was surprised to hear this book was also about Artificial Intelligence. I went to hear his presentation about the book. (I live in Portland where we have Powell’s City of Books, and authors come to talk about their recent works.) It was done as a dialogue and the questioner dealt only with the climate stuff, as did most of the Q & A. Until the last question. Someone asked about AI. Of course now there was no time. But his answer indicated that he felt we were at a beginning of awareness of AI akin to where we were on carbon in the 70s.

Now even more interested, I got on the library wait list and finally got the book.

The book begins with climate stuff, updates on research. A couple details especially interested me: As the earth warms, the protein content of some plants decreases. At certain concentration of carbon, our cognitive abilities decrease. (I don’t remember how far in the future or what percentage.)

Then the AI. He cites goals and claims of speed of anticipated accomplishments, exponential. He discusses designer babies–not just medical adjustments, but choices of intelligence and character and . . . The latter would be changes that could be passed on genetically, so affecting more than the baby itself. One critique he made was that Designer Baby 1 would have a selection of traits that the parents deemed desirable. Then the science would continue so that Designer Baby 2 would have an even more enhanced set. Thus Baby 1’s time of functional superiority would be short lived, soon to be outdated by the next model, as with most technology.

He discusses solutions in the third section, managing to maintain hope for a move to solidarity even while acknowledging the counterforce of individualism. So the book ends on a cautious hopefulness.

While there is scientific information, the book is readable. And there are footnotes for those who want to follow up. I especially appreciated the balance of his ending.

Lots of good books ahead. But I think it is time for something light and then some sewing.

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Book Time: Robin Diangelo’s White Fragility

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About RacismWhite Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the past I was part of a cross-racial discussion where the term “white fragility” appeared. From the context I determined it meant a defensive reaction, a lack of listening. Learning that this book was the origin of the phrase led me to reading it. And I learned it meant much more than defensiveness. It includes denial along with defensiveness and has the effect of stopping the discussion/analysis of racism. It involves keeping the racist system we are socialized into in place. Or as Diangelo puts it, the mention of racism disrupts the system and the fragility response restores equilibrium.

Important to the discussion is an understanding of racism as systemic rather than individual acts; as a system, it is something we are socialized into, often unconsciously. Understanding that socialization divorces “racism” from something a bad person does. Being free of seeing ourselves as bad people when exhibiting racism frees us from the need to deny it. Rather we can listen, process the information, and work to change.

Because I had had previous exposure to concepts of social construction of identity and power structures and their perpetuation, I could quickly get into Diangelo’s argument. Someone not so exposed might have to work harder to understand and accept it. Might need more discussion, explanation, and examples. I had also previous understandings of a part being considered the norm from my studies of sexism–I especially remember a study where healthy male and healthy humans were the same; healthy women were defined differently. So it was easy to follow the discussion of how whiteness becomes normal human.

All of those concepts are necessary to understanding the rest of Diangelo’s discussion of “white fragility,” our resistance to seeing ourselves able to do and say things that have racist impact and to see the need to interrupt the perpetuation process.

I can only hope that in a real life situation, that if someone offers the comment that I’ve said/done something with racist impact I can remember to say , “Thank you” instead of resisting the information. And learn.

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Return to Improv and Scraps

Back in the day (here) I started an improv for the Academy of Quilting class with Elizabeth Barton. I chose this exercise because it sounded the fastest. Wrong. I think  spent more time on it than on the two small color studies I recently finished! A piece would look flat after pressing. Then when a new piece was added, it bulged in an old seam, not the new one. I haven’t figured that one out yet. It meant lots of corrective seams and darts.

Anyway, the top is finished now. (Some very pretty curved seams will disappear into “hidden” seams. Oh well . . .

4-patch top finished

38 x 43 inches

Once the top was finished, some fabric turned into scraps.  So I decided the back should be a big four patch.

4-patch back

I hadn’t started out to make the corners not meet; however, the orange piece was all I had, so I decided it was fitting to be unmatched since the front was purposely unmatched. (The light green wasn’t big enough either, but I did have enough to piece it.)

I still had more scraps so I made a scrappy binding (before they got mixed in with outer scraps).

4-patch binding

I carefully laid it out along the quilt to see how the colors worked with the top and to be sure I didn’t have a seam at the corners. However, I laid it out on the front, and I will be sewing it onto the back. The corners will still work.  I’ll just wait and be surprised at how the front looks when it is finished.

Do you make scrappy bindings? If so, how much do you plan them. I’ve been saving left overs from binding quilts, planning on a more random scrappy binding someday instead of a color coordinated one. Someday I’ll have a quilt that that will be appropriate for. Oh, while stitching pieces together, I learned that each join takes up 2 inches.

On a more scrappy note yet, I tackled some leaders/enders. I was running out of 2-inch squares to attach so needed something new. The pile looked big enough to do “something” with.

I have no idea what the plan was when I started these. I pondered between making 4- or 16- or 20-patch blocks. Four-patch blocks sounded easier, so I went with that. I have 80 sets pinned and ready to be Leaders-and-enders.

A baby quilt (36 x 36) would take 72, so that is the current plan. I’ll alternate a 4-patch with a plain square. If I have enough coordinating 3 1/2-inch squares, I’ll continue scrappy; if not it will be a half-scrap project. The left over 8 will become something else.

Although a leader-ender project feels like it happens by magic, there are moments of preparation needed, like this one.

Check in with Kate of Tall Tales from Chiconia to see other Scrap Happy folks’ accomplishments.

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Grid in Two Color Combinations

Back to the grid sketched for the More-Abstract-Art-for-Quilters class (sketch here among other things).  After the line sketch, I did several value sketches and then several color sketches of the best value sketch. I decided to make a very small version of my two favorite color combinations.

So yesterday morning I pulled all the shades I had of red, blue, yellow, and green.

grid fabric pull

I had no intention of using all of them, but didn’t yet know which I’d want. Notice the top green one–at least it looks like a light yellow-green to me. When I ended up using it, it looked yellow in context.

So I started cutting from the first color sketch.

grid start with sketch

You can see already that the look of real fabric will be quite different from the look of the sketch. And as I worked with actual fabric, I made a couple adjustments to the colors on the sketch–a couple things worked in pencil but not in my selection of fabric.

Sewing took longer than I allowed for it–I’d planned to make them both yesterday. Instead I finished one and cut out the second. Usually I can chop any design into all straight seams. Not this one.  There were several partial seam construction spots. I started sewing what could be completely sewn together, then calculated the order of partial seams. By supper time I had this.

grid color

10 x 15 inches

I figured I’d better cut out the second before putting the fabric away. It was a good thing I had.  It was much easier to work on it today having it already cut.  I should do that more often. So here is version 2:

grid color maquette 2

(You can rotate it once to the right if you want to see it in the same orientation as the first one.) This one is the same size.

I will face them both and do a little stitch-in-the-ditch quilting.  I had thought I might do matchstick since the piece is so small, but I don’t think I want the haze of color that would produce. The “stripes” don’t work out evenly even if I did change thread color.

Now the question is whether I want to make either (or both) and what size. For one thing, it will have to wait till I find that bright green. I haven’t seen that color in shops for years and I have only 6 inches or so left.

I have plenty of sketches from the class to keep me busy for a while. Plus ideas from the improv class. And I am now signed up for Elizabeth Barton’s class on color.  She had one exercise in the More Abstract Art class that was so helpful, I’m hoping for more like that in the color class.

I’ll try to remember to link up with the Clever Chameleon on Tuesday. (Link in sidebar)

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