Thirteen Reasons Why


Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Prior to committing suicide, Hannah records tapes that she places in a box. These messages–thirteen reasons why–detail the series of events that led her to take her life. She mails the box of tapes to the first person on the list with instructions to listen and then mail the box to the next person on the list and so on.

I wasn’t planning on reading this book, but I needed to find a banned book because ’tis the season, and I had already read all the ghost books on the banned list. Note to banning zealots: Let’s get some more ghost novels on the banned list for next year, all right?

It was also R.I.P. Challenge time.

Making my way through Thirteen Reasons Why, I thought it was quite clever to include a listener to the tapes–Hannah’s friend Clay. Clay offers background information and grieves with every revelation. Otherwise, the novel might sound like an oral Gossip Girl, but it’s much deeper than that. My one quibble is that too many coincidences hang upon the events of one party. That felt a little implausible.

Anyhow, I selected Thirteen Reasons Why in audio format, and it just now occurs to me that was the best choice because (aside from the fact that I couldn’t cheat and peek at the end. I know, a nasty habit), I listened to Hannah’s thirteen reasons just as the characters would–her voice telling the thirteen stories that brought her to her untimely end. The book blurb led me to believe Hannah’s story was a self-indulgent revenge tirade. Now, having read this, I think her (and the author’s) motivation was to leave a legacy of sorts and to provide a roadmap of the way in which even small unkindnesses can build and destroy those among us who are sensitive.

I’ve read that some high school classes are reading Thirteen Reasons Why and having discussions. I think that’s an excellent thing (though this book might not be appropriate for some sensitive and suggestible teens). There’s too much bullying and unkindness, and we need to be reminded of the power of our words and actions, intended or not.

Lincoln in the Bardo


Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Lincoln in the Bardo is the first book I read for the R.I.P. Challenge hosted by Heather at My Capricious Life and Andi at Estella’s Revenge.

I didn’t know what a bardo was until I picked up this book. Bardo is the state of the soul between death and rebirth. The translation of this Tibetan word is “between two.” And that’s exactly the condition of the souls in the Oak Ridge Cemetery in 1862 when Willie Lincoln, third son of Abraham Lincoln, was interred. The death of Willie Lincoln and the night-time visits of Abraham Lincoln set off a series of events that will change the ghostly residents of Oak Ridge.

At first, I had trouble connecting with this work. The back-and-forth narrative, mostly between two ghosts, felt like talking heads.  Even though their back stories were quite different, it was difficult to distinguish the characters. I actually think Lincoln in the Bardo would be wonderful as a stage play. The novel reminded me a bit of the cemetery scene in Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town. (Though I must say Our Town is a more accessible read.)

By the middle of the book, however, my interest became fully engaged. The ghost of Willie Lincoln began to assert itself more forcefully and, once that happened, the other characters reacted and changed along with it. I particularly enjoyed the ghosts’ many attempts to get Lincoln to focus on the war effort and how these efforts bring the cemetery denizens together, united for a common goal. Some of those portions are darkly comic. By the end of the novel, the cemetery scene has been altered for the better.

An interesting side story the author includes comes from historical writing including diaries and biographical snippets about the Lincoln family. There was more validation for Mary Lincoln’s troubled mental state. And there was this description of the president’s character: “Vain, weak, puerile, hypocritical, without manners, without social grace.” And, no, this was not about our own President Trump; this line concerns President Lincoln and originates from The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan. McClellan was General-in-Chief of the Union Army and later presidential candidate opposing Lincoln. One other interesting historical tidbit was the number of times Lincoln visited the crypt and, believe it or not, actually took Willie out of his coffin to hold.

Overall, I gained some insight into the tumultuous 19th century times. I learned more about the Lincoln family and happily indulged myself in a ghost novel perfect for the R.I.P. Challenge.




Black and White and Read

“Are you going to be Asian or white?” my older daughter asked her sister.

We were in the kitchen. The kids were working on homework, and I was meal planning. My ears pricked, and I stopped what I was doing to listen.

This conversation between my daughters took place some years ago as my younger child was preparing to attend middle school. We were looking at a couple of different schools, one of which, a large public school, had a particular reputation of closed racial groups–Black, white, Asian–with little interaction among the camps. I thought how strange that one could actually choose one’s racial affiliation. (My kids are Korean and Caucasian.) On the other hand, I felt uneasy that my daughters felt the need to limit themselves racially at school.

I am reminded of that memoir Life on the Color Line: the True Story of a White Boy Who Discovered He Was Black by Gregory Howard Williams. Williams, who had been told his people were Italian, lived as a middle-class white boy in Virginia. But upon his parents’ separation, he was informed his father was Black and was sent to live with his father’s family in a poor, segregated community. For me, one of the most poignant moments of that book was when Williams entered the gymnasium on the first day of school. White students sat on one side, and Black students on the other, separated by law. He stood there for a moment and then took a seat on the Black side.

I wasn’t going to write about this subject of race. I never planned to. Nor did I feel entitled to (my ancestors hailed from the northernmost regions of Europe, any farther north and they would have toppled into the Baltic Sea). But recent events in Charlottesville and even more recent comments by the president regarding athletes, free speech, and the national anthem compel us all to speak up against racial inequality.

In an article for USA Today, Alia E. Dastigir states the Southern Poverty Law Center “documented an uptick of hate and bias incidents after the presidential election, tracking 1,094 in the first month alone. The organization also says the number of hate groups in the U.S. increased for a second year in a row in 2016. In April, the ADL reported anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. rose 86% in the first quarter of 2017.

It’s all more than a little bit daunting.

Hate is clearly on the rise. Hate now has permission to raise its ugly head and bray venomous messages against non-Christians, non-heterosexuals, and non-whites. What to do?

On her Facebook page, author Darcey Rosenblatt referenced an article “11 Things White People Can Do To Be Real Anti-racist Allies” by Kali Holloway. I read all of them. I plan to attend more peaceful rallies like the uplifting Hands Around Lake Merritt and the Oakland Women’s March (suggestion # 11 by Sarah Sahim), but it was item # 6 by Arthur Chu that struck a chord with me. He said:

Read a book.

Chu says, “asking your black friend or Asian friend what books they’d recommend will probably be received a lot better than asking them to explain race to you right then and there.”

Now that I can do. And I can not only read a book (more than one) by a Writer of Color, I can talk about said book, and I can review that book. So that’s my plan so far. The first book I purchased for my new plan is titled, appropriately, Behold the Dreamers by Mbolo Mbue.

It seems a little thing, reading a book. Yet I know some of Hitler’s earliest actions were to confiscate printing presses and ban books. And guess what? This also happens to be Banned Books Week!

So there you go.

R.I.P. XII Challenge

What time is it? R.I.P. time!

I must admit, though, R.I.P. XII caught me by surprise this year.  In many ways, this has been a dispiriting year for many, so perhaps that played a role in my tardiness when it comes to my favorite time of year and the spooky books I love to curl up with when the days lengthen and darken.

At any rate, better late than never to year twelve of the beloved autumn reading challenge in which you:

enjoy books that could be classified as:

Dark Fantasy.
Every September 1 through October 31 for the last 11 years Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings has hosted the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge, affectionately known as the R.I.P. Challenge. This year, Carl has entrusted the event and its traditions to Heather at My Capricious Life and Andi at Estella’s Revenge.
As always, there are multiple levels at which you can participate. I am opting for Peril the First, which means I will read four books. I may also do Peril on the Screen–that sort of depends on whether I find a good ghost movie I have not yet seen. A challenge, for sure.
Here are the four perilous books I have selected for R.I.P. XII in the order I expect to read them:

Quiet Neighbors by Catriona McPherson

Quiet Neighbors

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Lincoln in the Bardo

13 Reasons Why by Jay Archer

Thirteen Reasons Why

The Secret of Crickley Hall by James Herbert

The Secret Of Crickley Hall
I hope you’ll join me for R.I.P. XII this year. It’s easy and fun (and you only have to read one book or watch one movie). Click here to sign up, and let’s get reading!