Author Archives: Andrea Sigetich

Octavia’s Brood

Adrienne Maree Brown and Walidah Imarisha, editors

Fiction, 2015 | 296 pages


The two editors of Octavia’s Brood invited social justice activists who had never written before, many of whom are marginalized, to write a science fiction short story; to dream and imagine a different vision, a different way of being.  The stories do not necessarily present a better scenario, but an altered reality. A few of the 22 authors are journalists and have writing experience, though not in speculative/visionary fiction.  At the end of the last century, speculative fiction by black authors enjoyed a surge of interest.  (Check out Dark Matter).  But this work goes further, inviting writing from many walks of life, circumstances, and cultures.  (Yes, the book is dedicated to and inspired by the writing of Octavia Butler, especially Lilith’s Brood.)

I am not much of a short story enthusiast.  Some of the stories in Octavia’s Brood are badly written, some are well written.  Some are interesting, others a little more boring.  Some are profoundly clear, several are more cloudy and even confusing.  However, this anthology does not read like a collection of short stories.  It seems congruent to me, a unified yet diverse voice of marginalized peoples.  The stories don’t overlap in any way, and yet together they feel like a “whole.”  They present a rainbow of experiences, perspectives, pain, pretend, magic, possibilities, imagination.

In my Decolonization book club, we discussed the stories and then took 15 minutes to write one of our own.  That was a fantastic creative experience, to write and then read each member’s tales. (Our prompt was to write a story as though one institution we know today is gone).

I found this book fascinating.  I highly recommend it for immersing yourself into a new reading experience.

(I have a copy of the book, by the way, if you want it.)





Jane Smiley  |  Fiction

1995, 414 pages

204 pages in, and I just must quit.  I really tried.  The characters in this novel about a fictional Midwest University are universally forgettable.  I mean, I forget who is who in-between chapters.  I keep looking for a list of characters and their roles, and there is not one.  There are too many to keep straight, and there is NO plot of any interest at all.  Of course, it goes without saying that I have not laughed at this ”humorous” novel once. Some of the relationships are interesting for a chapter or two, especially when there is a sexual connection.  I really tried.  My apologies, Teresa.  Too many days and my entire weekend slogging through this book have left me vacuous.  I must find something engaging to read. Now!

Posted 2/21




The Beekeeper of Aleppo

Christy Lefteri | Fiction,  2019

313 pages


Nuri and his cousin Mustafa are beekeepers in Aleppo, Syria, along with Nuri’s wife Afra, who is an artist.  All is idyllic and calm, until war arrives, the hives are destroyed, and they must flee for their safety and to begin a new life in a new land.

Lefteri’s writing is captivating. A somewhat random example, “Afra’s soul was as wide as the fields and deserts and sky and sea and river that she painted, and as mysterious.  There was always more to know, to understand, and, as much as I knew, it wasn’t enough, I wanted more.”  (Pg 21)

What I liked is how deeply we become familiar with Nuri’s heart and soul.  What astonished me is how the realities we make up can be so clearly intertwined with the realities that are in the world we inhabit.  What confused me is how Lefteri intersperses Nuri’s and Afra’s challenging journey to England with their arrival in England.  The time frame shifts were not smooth for me; they were jarring.  I wish she had made the shifts clearer with chapter titles or some such.

This is politically insensitive of me, but I am simply tired of stories about people facing incredibly difficult challenges to move themselves from one place to another, whether as refugees or slaves.  I need new plots; I have become somewhat bored by their stories.

A Chinese concept I learned, that resonates, and that will stay with me from this book is that of (pg 303) “Yuanfen, the mysterious force that causes two lives to cross paths ...”



The Water Dancer

Ta-Nehisi Coates| Fiction, 2019

416 pages


The writing is eloquent; the story of the Underground and of Conduction and The Task is fascinating.  You will know the main character deeply, Hiram Walker, when you finish The Water Dancer.  Based on a true tale of slavery and the urge for freedom, I wonder how much is fiction and how much is true.  The dramatic story is infused with magic; I am so curious about the author’s intention!

Just over half-way in, I think Coates loses his footing.  The book becomes more about the institution of the Underground Railway.  Even though we see everything through Hiram’s eyes, I feel less connected to him for a significant number of chapters. Plus, I find the growing cast of characters a bit confusing.   Ultimately, we wind up back in Walker’s character with strength and power to wrap up the conclusion.

Tough decision .... three hearts or four?  I decided on four because of the writing, the story, and the character development (not only Walker, but some other characters as well). Perhaps my getting lost was just me .... I choose to give Coates the benefit of the doubt.  This is Coates first novel, though he has written non-fiction. Have you read anything by him?



James Nestor |  Nonfiction, 2020

280 pages


This is an interesting book, presenting some potentially useful ideas and posing interesting questions.  It also infuses a history of yoga and meditation practices, which were originally developed as breath practices.  However, the book seriously lacks in real medical double-blind studies, and is over-reliant on the author’s and others’ anecdotal evidence.

As I progressed, Breath moved from four hearts for its interesting hypotheses, to three hearts for its complete lack of statistical evidence, to two hearts as the techniques for “better breathing” grew more and more bizarre.  Like giving a woman 35% carbon dioxide through an inhaler bag to spark her fear, because she had never felt fear and kept putting herself in danger.

Among the more useful health/breathing considerations, if you do only one thing, learn to breathe in for 5.5 seconds and breathe out for 5.5 seconds, for a total of 5.5 breaths per minute.  Here is a simple tool to help.

So, read if you are interested, but not if you are looking for sound medical advice.



Hood Feminism

Mikki Kendall| Nonfiction, 2020



Deenie was a roommate senior year in college.  She introduced me to the concept of feminism.  Being one of a handful of women in the Business School at the University of Michigan, I immediately glommed on to what she was teaching me.  That was 46 years ago.

Hood Feminism is like a long consciousness-raising session on feminism, elaborating on all the ways we (White & privileged) feminists have ignored the full scope of women in the world, and have let women down.  I love what Kendall says in her interview with Trevor Noah (yes, surely worth the 7:10 commitment...)  “If we are going to do feminism for all women, we have to make sure that the poorest women have everything they need to survive.”

In Hood Feminism, Kendall addresses a myriad of topics, including, but not limited to, hunger, murder, housing, gun violence, reproductive justice, poverty, parenting, education, patriarchy, allies, fears, and fierceness.

If you consider yourself a feminist, and/or simply are committed to social justice, this is a book you must read.  It will expand your perspective significantly.  At least, it did mine.


Desert Notebooks

Ben Ehreneich  |  Nonfiction

2020, 325 pages

I am sad to write three low-hearts reviews in a row, but that is what the pages have offered me.

Desert Notebooks is a very distinctive book.  The author interweaves science, creation myths, ancient history, Greek mythology, Native American traditional stories, and present-day experiences of the desert to explore the nature of time and the existential crisis of climate change.

Huh?  What is she saying?  I cannot be much clearer.  It is challenging to explain this book.

There are moments of lucidity and clarity when the author returns to the present day and makes sense of the ancient tales he just retold.  But those moments happen every dozen(?) pages or so.  And I am tiring of reading different interpretations of Lilith.  I have given this a respectable try ... 88 pages.  And I am going to abandon it now.

(BTW, my next two books appear as auspicious as my last three, so you can expect Dusty Shelves to end the year with a dearth of hearts. Sigh.)

Posted 12/20




Beyond Your Bubble

Tania Israel  |  Nonfiction

2020, 175 pages

Oh, I am so disappointed.  I was hoping this book would tell me how to find people to engage in dialogue with, beyond my liberal/progressive bubble.  Instead, it teaches how to be in dialogue ... how to listen, to talk, to manage emotions, and to understand others.  Absolutely useful and important skills!  Just not what I was seeking.   All that is useful to me is a list of three resources in the “additional resources” section at the end.

Posted 12/20




The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist

Adrian Tomine |  Biographical, 2020

162 pages


Longtime Dusty Shelves readers know my fatal flaw.  I don’t often find the written word funny.  A few reviewer's comments on this book: “painfully honest and often hilarious” and “deeply aware, darkly funny ...”

I did not find a single pane of this graphic novel funny.  I just found it depressing.  And sad.  Amen.  The end.  No recommendation from me!

NYT 100 Best Books of 2020.  (Again, NYT disappoints).



A Burning

Megha Majumdar | Fiction,  2020

293 pages


I wouldn’t quite deem A Burning “electrifying” or “all-consuming,” words used by some reviewers.  I would call it a good story.  Good, but not great.

This is the tale of three people in modern day India:  Jivan, a young Muslin woman, is falsely accused of a horrific crime and thrown in jail; PT Sir, a gym teacher at the local school seems to lose touch with his moral compass, bit by bit, page by page; Lovely, a hijra, is an appealing and endearing young woman(?), an impoverished beggar, who aspires to be an actress, and around whom the emotional story evolves.

Majumdar’s character development, in this, her debut novel, is astounding.  These three figures are unique, strong, and distinguishable in their differences and depth.  I very much enjoyed getting to know each of them.

As I mentioned in my opening statement, I did like the story and learning about the injustices ever-present in India; I simply did not find it a page-turner.  It is a rather quick read, and I recommend it.  I look forward to your comments and thoughts and reactions, especially from those of you who may love this book dearly...