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Powell's Q&A | September 3, 2014

Emily St. John Mandel: IMG Powell’s Q&A: Emily St. John Mandel

Describe your latest book. My new novel is called Station Eleven. It's about a traveling Shakespearean theatre company in a post-apocalyptic North... Continue »
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    Station Eleven

    Emily St. John Mandel 9780385353304


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Kara Shamy has commented on (16) products.

Sixteen, Sixty-One by Natalie Lucas
Sixteen, Sixty-One

Kara Shamy, December 21, 2013

**Clever and Uniquely Powerful Approach Characterize Memoir of Painful Personal History**

Author Natalie Lucas pulls no punches in this tremendously original, sophisticated, and potentially inspirational or cathartic memoir. Sixteen, Sixty-One describes the author's experience in a sexual relationship with a 61 year-old man when she was only -- you guessed it -- 16 years of age herself(!) She doesn't spare the man in question or the reader from the nasty details of her liaison. I respect this unforgiving truth-telling.

Moreover, as the book moves forward Lucas engages with wholly novel ways to unpack her feelings and experience; the book is ultimately in dialogue with the tradition of the epistolary novel and literary criticism of the same. Lucas is no slouch as a literary critic, so to go through her dissections of e-mails from Mr. 61 (if you will) is awesome and, I found, empowering just to read. The power was contagious. Lucas's analyses are never trite or otherwise boring, I found. You could say the topic of this book includes a lot of navel-gazing by nature, but this material struck me as absolutely fresh and unquestionably powerful throughout. I highly recommend this memoir to anyone with whom the subject matter resonates.

Please be advised I gained access to a free electronic copy of this book on NetGalley through gracious permission of the publisher.
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Buck by Mk Asante

Kara Shamy, November 3, 2013

This is a fascinating memoir, but it reads more like a superb novel. The sophistication of M.K. Asante's work reflects long study and practice of his craft -- to say nothing of great giftedness as a writer. It veritably oozes ambition in the best sense possible.

The book is a coming-of-age story set in an African-American family who we meet living in the Philadelphia area. Asante's style can be described as "urban"-influenced, and much of his story has to do with the specifics of his youth in "urban" environments -- with their attendant dangers and disadvantages, peculiarities and personalities, and unique and rich local culture(s), which variously impact Asante.

However, its major theme has to do with his self-education and deepening understanding of himself and where he comes from. This story shows the coming of age of an intellectual and an artist, and it places itself squarely within a long and broad literary tradition in that respect.

Most prominent among the strengths here, Asante is fearless in his (largely successful) experimentation with form, which gives his story a unique and distinctly appropriate voice and correspondingly authentic effect on his audience. He uses language with great purpose and frequent brilliance. His work is unmistakably art.

On the other hand, the organization didn't always seem to be in perfect step with the content of the story; on occasion, his brilliant range of formal approaches looked to be applied somewhat haphazardly. Some of his lyricism fell flat as well, even though much of it was wonderfully evocative and original.

In sum, Buck: A Memoir is a fine work of literature that bears a lot of scrutiny; close or multiple readings of the text will enrich understanding and stimulate. However, some elements of the book are much stronger than others. Still, I strongly recommend reading this book, if for no other reason than it will give you insight into the true masterpiece(s) M.K. Asante will author in the years to come (among many other things).

I received my copy of this book from the Goodreads First Reads giveaway program.
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The Bold Investor by George Thomas Clark

Kara Shamy, October 26, 2013

***Collection Showcases Author's Distinctive Style, Characterized by Love of Language and Sense of Humor***

I admit I have never felt less certain of my opinion about a work than I do with this distinctive collection of fiction by George Thomas Clark. I'll have to give The Bold Investor time to percolate in my mind and probably re-read the collection closely at some point as well. At this point, I can articulate some clear observations and analyses that may be of more service to you, fellow readers, than my ultimate conclusion about the total literary merit of this read.

There were two things I appreciated deeply and unambivalently about Clark's unique narrative style and plot content:

A) His sense of absurdity and his tragicomic sense of humor. The irony in his stories isn't going to please everyone, and it didn't always sit well with me. But, his general narrative tone--which I think is best termed a sensitivity to and an appreciation of life's absurdity--kept me intellectually engaged and entertained throughout my read.

B) His unmistakable love of language, which is evidenced throughout the book from the small font packed tightly on each physical page to delicious sentences, which feature vocabulary in clever ways that I consider representative of Clark's idiomatic style. I had seen such a sentence in one of my favorite stories, "Cal Tech [sic] versus Notre Dame," but I just scanned the story twice and cannot find it. Here's a pretty good quotation to represent a lot of what I like about Clark's collection generally in this quotation from the aforementioned story:

"'That is unsupportable, unscientific, and manifestly absurd,' said Marx. 'So many of you traditionalists were unable to adapt to dynamic and challenging new realities. Mired, as you've always been, in the arcane and unreal world of the laboratory, you would've preferred to gaze into test tubes until liquidators backed trucks up to your doors. The super-universities have been bleeding us for years, offering outrageous salaries to our most esteemed colleagues...It damn near destroyed my spirit, seeing former Cal Tech [sic] professors develop cures for herpes, baldness, impotence, and hysteria, and their new institutions reap millions of dollars. Those Nobel-caliber studs have got to be paid years before their work reaches fruition, and there was only one way we could hope to do so'" (p. 210).

The main problem I had with the book--the only unfavorable reaction I had--is related to the titular, final story "The Bold Investor." I found the ending hopeful and unsurprising, but I'm not sure I understood it properly. And, depending on how I interpret the story, I might even find the themes offensive or at least disturbing. I would not expect other people to have that reaction, please note. However, it's an example of a failure to clearly set forth his thematic purpose as well as how his sense of irony might not amuse.

I hope this is helpful to someone; thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts. Finally, please be advised I received a free copy of this book through my good fortune in a Goodreads giveaway.
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American Odyssey by R. Douglas Clark
American Odyssey

Kara Shamy, October 26, 2013

***Worthwhile Read, Which Pays Sufficient Respect to Literary Forebears***

*American Odyssey* is a really good work of fiction -- definitely worth reading if the description of the story interests you. It is not, however, a historic contribution to the literary arts. So what, you ask? Well, I underestimated it at first, and I found a strength in author R. Douglas Clark's work where I expected to find a weakness.

At the outset, I expected the incongruity between author R. Douglas Clark's literary achievement and that of Homer, whose immortal classic *The Odyssey* Clark incorporates as context within his own work, would severely mar the work of contemporary fiction. I expected the book would seem that more amateurish, vastly overreaching its grasp, or maybe it would come off as pretentious.

All of these concerns proved unwarranted. On the contrary, Clark's invocation of classical literature served to dignify the subject of his story -- the travels of an Afghanistan vet newly arrived back in the US -- and elevate the issues of contemporary life to the level of histories that formed the basis of great epics. The frame of reference is an artistic technique that characterizes Clark's subject and is not meant to place the book itself in any particular tradition. This high-minded reverence for the tragic, heroic, and otherwise dramatic in his contemporary story distinguishes Clark's storytelling as serious-minded and ambitious -- and above all shows respect for the soldier at the heart of his story.

In sum, *American Odyssey* is a readable, worthwhile debut as well as an ambitious and timely project. I look forward to Clark's next publication.

Please be advised I received my copy through a Goodreads giveaway.
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Wesley's Wars (Theological) by J. Robert Ewbank
Wesley's Wars (Theological)

Kara Shamy, October 26, 2013

***Accessible for People Who Want to Learn about Methodist History & Theology and Substantive Too!***


I was very happy I had the chance to read Wesley's Wars. Sometimes winning a GoodReads giveaway (as in this case) allows me to indulge a reading interest I would otherwise defer, possible indefinitely.

I have always been a student of religious texts as a way of getting closer to God. I have recently been interested in reading more theological work for contemplation. Moreover, I have been doing a lot of genealogical research on ancestors who converted to the Methodist faith, including Wesleyan Methodist. This could be an interesting family history type of tool if you're into that sort of thing.


I came to this book with limited theological background. I had read some Protestant thinkers in college, but I've never been to a church and been fully indoctrinated in one or more faith's teachings. It was accessible to me, which was most important. However, I felt I was given a taste of the more complex theological points -- some real knowledge to develop further. In other words, this is a great introduction for anyone's who is interested in this theology but doesn't want to deal with a treatise or original source!
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