THE SUBPLOT

WHAT CHINA IS READING AND WHY IT MATTERS

A succinct, fascinating overview of literary ambivalence in China.

The gripping yet uneasy state of literature in China.

Journalist Walsh’s first book is an eye-opening glimpse into China’s “intentionally hazy” authoritarian political climate of censorship and propaganda, which disorientates its fiction scene—a “mixture of staggering invention, bravery, and humanity, as well as soul-crushing submission and pragmatism.” China is in the midst of a science-fiction golden age thanks to novels like Liu Cixin’s global bestseller, The Three-Body Problem(2015), among others. Walsh describes how many young writers embrace online or self-publishing to bypass China’s state-controlled publishing program as they “reveal the truth and highlight what is still hidden.” Mo Yan, the Nobel Prize–winning author, is both praised and condemned as a mouthpiece for the state; Walsh calls his fiction “garrulous, feverish, and often smutty.” Female author Wei Hui’s 1999 erotic bestseller, Shanghai Baby, showed that in “China’s new market economy sex and controversy were great for business.” The rise of China’s internet and its rural migrant workers spawned the most comprehensive poetry movement in the world, while Lu Yao’s novels portrayed “poor, rural idealists dreaming up a new life in the city.” Walsh chronicles how hugely popular, escapist online fantasy novels reveal the “mercenary, amoral instincts of the market.” The government has cashed in with its own University of Online Fiction, with Mo Yan “nominally at the helm, a move he finds as peculiar as anyone else.” Largely dominated by Japanese manga, China has “become the biggest comic book market in the world,” with its underground comics scene providing a transgressive and masochistic view of the world. Tibetan and Han Chinese writers, writes Walsh, “have played a controversial role in both the elevation and erosion of ethnic difference.” In a society with a draconian legal system, crime fiction lags far behind SF. As Walsh cautiously writes, it’s “hard to say what the future holds.”

A succinct, fascinating overview of literary ambivalence in China.

Pub Date: Feb. 8, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-7359136-6-7

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Columbia Global Reports

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2021

BEYOND THE GENDER BINARY

From the Pocket Change Collective series

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.

Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change. (writing prompt) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

BLACK LOVE LETTERS

A wide-ranging collection of testaments to what moves the heart.

Black Americans declare their love.

This anthology brings together dozens of love letters by prominent Black Americans. The entries, interspersed with illustrations, address an eclectic mix of topics arranged under five categories: Care, Awe, Loss, Ambivalence, and Transformation. In their introduction, editors Brown and Johnson note the book’s inspiration in the witnessing of violence directed at Black America. Reckonings with outrage and grief, they explain, remain an urgent task and a precondition of creating and sustaining loving bonds. The editors seek to create “a site for our people to come together on the deepest, strongest emotion we share” and thus open “the possibility for shared deliverance” and “carve out a space for healing, together.” This aim is powerfully realized in many of the letters, which offer often poignant portrayals of where redemptive love has and might yet be found. Among the most memorable are Joy Reid’s “A Love Letter to My Hair,” a sensitive articulation of a hard-won sense of self-love; Morgan Jerkins’ “Dear Egypt,” an exploration of a lifelong passion for an ancient world; and VJ Jenkins’ “Pops and Dad,” an affirmation that it “is beautiful to be Black, to be a man, and to be gay.” Tracey Michae’l Lewis-Giggetts’ “Home: A Reckoning” is particularly thoughtful and incisive in its examination of a profound attachment, “in the best and worst ways,” to Louisville, Kentucky. Most of the pieces pair personal recollections with incisive cultural commentary. The cumulative effect of these letters is to set forth a panorama of opportunities for maintaining the ties that matter most, especially in the face of a cultural milieu that continues to produce virulent forms of love’s opposite. Other contributors include Nadia Owusu, Jamila Woods, Ben Crump, Eric Michael Dyson, Kwame Dawes, Jenna Wortham, and Imani Perry.

A wide-ranging collection of testaments to what moves the heart.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2023

ISBN: 9781638931201

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Get Lifted Books/Zando

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2023

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