A Book A Week Challenge – Week 31

This Book is a part of Man Booker 2016 Longlist Read Series.

Disclaimer right at the top: Kindly excuse me for all the references to race and stereotypes to follow but the blame is not entirely on me as much as it should be on Paul Beatty. From Prologue to the closure, there is no escape from the references of Blacks nor is it from the satire.

Paul Beatty -The Sellout.jpg

Book #: 31

Title: The Sellout” by Paul Beatty

Pages: 204

Paul Beatty’s ” The Sellout” is arguably one of the best books I have read this year. Talk about the experimentation in the style of writing – this book takes it to a different level in terms of satire- the brilliant satire on every topic under the sun. Be it macroeconomics, parenting, tattoos, logos, literacy, racism, egotism and so on, the list just goes on. The first time I read “The diver’s clothes lie empty” by Vandela Vida, a full book written in the second person, I was amused to the most. This work by Paul Betty just puts the writing on a different space altogether (in terms of amusement it creates in reading).

The narrator (referred to as ‘Me’ in initial court sequences, ‘Bonbon’ by his girlfriend and ‘Sellout’ by the intellectual folks he is fighting against) provides you with an opinion of everything from the eyes of a Nigger (if I am allowed to use the reference) and the take is absolutely satirical- the level beyond the best of stand-ups.

Tip for upcoming stand-ups: Pick the paragraph – throw in some accent- add your swag bit – ta da you have some excellent laughable material.

Every black male, irrespective of shade or political affiliation- secretly thinks he can do one of three things better than anyone in the world: play basketball, rap, or tell jokes.

If you believe that there is something missing from the list above, it is all through the book – weed- the references sometimes poetic but most times gross. As the reality hits with stereotyped references to “all Blacks are stoners” and “we Whites hit highs too but we do it behind the super soft silk curtains bought through capitalist suppression of these Afro-Americans.”

In Paul Beatty’s words “No matter how heroin or R Kelly you have in your system, you absolutely cannot fly”

As from an agricultural standpoint, “weed is not a cash crop, but more like a gas money one” and then follows it up with few wise words about how to get a girl going with an effective description of weed you smoke only to reutilize the techniques you used in through-beds in schools.

One of my favorite bits in the book comes early in the book and drives the story where he describes how the city “Dickens” vanished from the map-

No Loud send-offs, similar to the Soviet Union during the Civil War atomic accident by atomic accident. In the wee hours of night, after the community boards, homeowner associations, and real estate moguls banded together and coined descriptive names for nondescript neighborhoods, someone would bolt a large glittery Mediterranean- blue sign high up on the telephone pole”

That is all it took. The city now wakes up in Crest View, La Cienega Heights or Westdale. Dickens didn’t even have to go through all the trouble- the welcome sign boards are gone and the people now belong to anywhere. But no one has time to give any f-words about.

The narrator has set himself up for three major ambitions – first to bring back the city of Dickens on the map; second to create reverse race-based segregation in schools so as to value them separately than the whites and third to get hold of All-Black “The Little Rascals.”

Talking about unorthodox utility centers, you find them aplenty in this book – like the Dum Dum Donuts serving as a center for macroeconomics discussions related to Keynesian principles, the BDSM club fulfilling the role of the mental asylum in treating a “worthless black life” for his happiness.

But amidst all the satire, smiles, and acknowledgments, there lies the life of a black, early age orphaned youth in the modern America trying to get his way through the nuances and hypocrisies that rust fill all those lives chasing the green 75% cotton-25% linen filled dollar bill.

The only drawback in this galvanizing take on racism satire is how the second half is shaped. The charm of experimentation lets go of the essence for quite a few pages- the story is stuck on a single incident and the pace of narration drops down rather dramatically only to be revived in the closing phases. Then it is mostly a downslope until the closing section where a courtroom drama is set up to resurrect but with little success.

“What exactly is Black?” as questioned by French author Jane Ganet.

“Blackness is a state of mind” as often an essential rapper’s lyric

It is like a tumor that grows in the minds of all colored folks. (Indian caste system is no exclusion, neither is Chinese nor is Pilipino, no escape from it).

It evolves in multiple stages: Stage 1- Neophyte Negro; Stage 2- Capital B Black; Stage 3- Race Transcendalism and Stage 4- Unmitigated Blackness.

Overall, Paul Beatty’s “The Sellout” leaves you with immense knowledge about anything and everything under the sun, in addition to the wisdom of surviving in a downtrodden society. You finish off with a serenity and introspection about racism once you step out of the literary blend of Chaplin-isque satire. It is right in front of your eyes- be offended or laugh off.

Man Booker 2016 Longlist Read Series:

The North Water” by Ian McGuire

His Bloody Project” by Graeme Macrae Burnet


A Book A Week Challenge – Week 30

This Book is a part of Man Booker 2016 Longlist Read Series

Graeme Macrae’s choice of subject from his family lineage brings forward some very interesting characteristics of lifestyle and cultural practices from a small Scottish county during the late nineteenth century. Based on some “found” documents related to the triple-murder crime that shook the lives of Culduie Highlands drew the world’s attention towards the trail that led to the death sentence of a Seventeen year-old.

Graeme Macrae Burnet - His Bloody Project

Book #: 30

Title: His Bloody Project” by Graeme Macrae Burnet

Pages: 288

The book sets out to re-imagine the scenes that led to the murder of a family of three by a Seventeen-year-old Roderick John Macrae (Roddy). One striking aspect of this book is the way it was structured – a three-section writing and order in which the sections were strategically placed.

In traditional crime writing, authors take the advantage of back and forth screenplay with court-room drama as its central premise with the unveiling of crime and leading up circumstances popping up in between. Graeme Macrae employs a linear narration with the sequences unfolding in the order of timelines it occurred. Advantage – you feel pity for Roddy even before you feel hatred for the crimes he committed.

The first section is written in the first person where Roddy himself articulates (or rather writes) his version of the story and the circumstances that led to the homicide. Towards the end of this first section, there is an unprecedented rush as to how the murder unfolded, only leaving the readers to crave for more detail. But, Graeme had it covered.

The second section is an account of J Bruce Thomson, an expert in criminal anthropology, brought in by the advocate of Roddy – Andrew Sinclair to prove that the crime was done in not so much ‘right frame of mind’. The ‘right frame of mind’ is probably the most clichéd defense put forward by the public defenders and it becomes even funnier when the murderer himself confesses for the crime.

This part of the book is an extract from “Travel in the Border-Lands of Lunacy” by J Bruce Thomson.

The third section is the trail that led to the conviction and the death sentence of Roddy. This part of the book has references to various newspapers that covered the trail more intimately during late 1869. The arguments for and against the frame of mind under which Roddy had committed the crimes might not be as engaging as you would expect but it drives the interest due to a completely different perspective of murder brought in by the statement of J Bruce Thomson.

In terms of the underlying incidents, “His Bloody Project” is not much of superior or barbaric in its crimes given the intensity of crimes that we have witnessed over the years. But, the success of this book lies in the backdrop it was set in. A small county in the late 1860s in Scotland where there are very few families, yet struggling to lead happy lives due to anarchism existent in those times.

As long as the book is within the control of Graeme, it is an absolute delight to read. His narration of the cultural and social circumstances of a family struggling to meet its ends and the greedy constable who led to the assault on this family were depicted with brilliant detail. Once the murder happens, you know what would have happened next and it did happen so. There is very little excitement that book offers once the initial story has been unveiled.

There are some instances which describe the situation in that period which is still applicable to the more eastern world even to the present day-

“I offered condolences on her misfortune not to have been blessed with a son”

“my father stood awkwardly in the middle of the room, fiddling with his pipe, unwilling to sit in the presence of his better”

There are many prejudices and blind beliefs that were existent during that period-

“my father thinks it (tea) is only fit for womenfolk”

“crows are an unwelcome sight as they are thought to be an augury of ill fortune”

Overall, “His Bloody Project” by Graeme Macrae Burnet is an absolute winner for its writing as long as it is in his control. But, the supporting documentation drains down the interest created during the first section of the book. Despite its challenges, “His Bloody Project” throws light on some of the intricate and interesting cultural references during the late nineteenth century and the black comedic investigation that led to more questions than answers.

“One man can no more see into the mind of another than he can see inside a stone”

A Book A Week Challenge – Week 29


As it now been a part of my routine leading up to reading a new book every new week I searched for “reading sessions” of Ian McGuire but I couldn’t find any. I am not sure if it is the decision of Ian McGuire or the publishers Henry Holt and Co. But, eventually I proceed to read the first book as a part of “Man Booker 2016 Longlist Series” with very minimal context on what to expect.


Book #: 29

Title: The North Water by Ian McGuire

Pages: 336

The book was set during the period of turbulence that whaling industry was going through – late nineteenth century. Even though conversation between the characters go “petroleum can end but whale oil will stay in end”. What happens eventually to whaling industry and how petroleum took over the world is irrelevant to the story.

The basic plot of the book is a voyage on Volunteer with some interesting characters – some you root for, some you absolutely hate and some you have no opinion upon. The underlying theme is simple – how these set of 38 voyagers on this ill-fated ship had to encounter hardships in their pursuit of whale oil.

The best part of this novel from Ian McGuire lies with its characters. The characterizations are written with a lot of detailing and the motive of every character to ‘do-what-they-do’ has been established excellently. But, the problem with the book is it offers very little exciting from what you have already read or seen in any of Sea voyage disasters.

Overall, Ian McGuire’s The North Water has moments that occasionally evoke the excitement of what happens next. But, the brutality of conditions and how individual characters respond to them makes it an interesting read.