25 Women to Read Before You Die

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Cheryl Klein has commented on (20) products.

Flash by Jim Miller

Cheryl Klein, January 13, 2011

Reading this novel, about a journalist who becomes obsessed with an old Wobbly named Bobby Flash (Wobblies were IWW workers, who caused a stir in San Diego in the early twentieth century), I got the impression that Jim Miller moves through a city much like I do: seeing the past as a ghostly imprint over the present, falling in love with cultural idiosyncrasies, wondering what my history classes never taught me. There's an interesting tension in Flash between artistic individualism and social-justice collectivism which plays out as journalist Jack bumps up against organizers and activists but never quite joins them. His dreamy loneliness is compounded by his semi-estrangement from his grown son and the gaps in his family history. But as his research reveals, the pursuits of individual and communal happiness aren't mutually exclusive. This book is a must-read for history geeks, labor advocates, Southern Californians, people intrigued by alternative communities, and border dwellers in all senses of the phrase.
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Silver Lake by Peter Gadol
Silver Lake

Cheryl Klein, May 20, 2010

The most literary page turner or the page-turningest literary novel I've read in a long time. Silver Lake is the story of two men who have been together for twenty years, most of which have been devoted to making a good life even better: They have a house with a lake view, a semi-successful architectural practice and their weekends are devoted to tennis and expensive cheese. But while the core is not exactly rotten, there are definitely a few loose threads in the fabric of their relationship that could unravel if pulled. Enter Tom, a lonely and charismatic drifter who does just that.

The plot is actually much more interesting than that, but I don't want to give too much away. So I'll just name a few of the things I loved about this book: the all-too-rare in-depth examination of a long-term relationship (and a gay one at that); the way Gadol introduces new bits of backstory at just the right moments, making the reader as distrusting as the characters; his amazing ability to retell a story by shifting the angle of the camera; the idea that every relationship has a shadow history--a different way things could have gone; the reminder that it's healthy to be needy; the way a neighborhood where I know almost every store and corner becomes beautifully timeless. As I tore through it, I kept lamenting how few pages I had left.
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Cranioklepty: Grave Robbing and the Search for Genius by Colin Dickey
Cranioklepty: Grave Robbing and the Search for Genius

Cheryl Klein, May 3, 2010

People use the phrase "dead and buried" to imply just how very over and complete a thing is. This true tale of famous composers, writers and mystics whose heads were stolen by phrenologists and their contemporaries proves that no person or subject is guaranteed eternal rest. As the poor skulls of Joseph Haydn and Emanuel Swedenborg bounce between various collectors and pseudo-scientists, Dickey paints a portrait of a unique period in history, when Enlightenment reason overlapped with relic-worship, artistic flourishings and eugenics. They were the scariest of times. They were the wackiest of times.

But unlike other "thing histories" that claim to explain the entire history of the world through, like, potatoes, Dickey doesn't try too hard to extrapolate. After all, he's telling the stories of people who thought they could determine the cause of genius by rubbing a person's head. I suspect he doesn't want to be the writerly version of a phrenologist. Instead, he does what writers do best: weave intriguing narratives, juxtapose facts and let people draw their own conclusions. One of mine was that I would like to be cremated, thank you very much.
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Tomorrow They Will Kiss by Eduardo Santiago
Tomorrow They Will Kiss

Cheryl Klein, December 22, 2009

Like the heroines of the telenovelas they love, the characters in this book (three women from the same gossipy village in Cuba, now working in a New Jersey doll factory) are painted with somewhat broad strokes, but they're each more complex than the others think. And, also like novelas, their stories are pretty addictive. Santiago has created a great, classic diva in Graciela, a bad girl with a heart of gold. And when her bitchy "friends" relentlessly try to take her down for such transgressions as daring to take fashion design classes, Santiago shows how suffocating small-town life can be, so much so that it can follow you across an ocean. But of course Graciela's not one to taken down easily, and for that you can't help but root for her.
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Shoot an Iraqi: Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gun by Wafaa Bilal
Shoot an Iraqi: Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gun

Cheryl Klein, December 5, 2009

For me, this book put a personal face not only on Iraq and the war there, but on conceptual art, which can seem as distant and confusing as a foreign war. For Bilal, art and survival are almost synonymous. When he builds a mud-brick hut to protect his paintings from sandstorms in a brutal Saudi refugee camp--and when other refugees follow his example by creating art, building huts and eventually creating a working village--I got shamelessly misty-eyed. Sadly, the case for art and against war is one we have to make over and over again, but not many do it better than Bilal.
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