Mini-DNF reviews #3: Riot Days (Maria Alyokhina) and Up Up, Down Down (Cheston Knapp)

Welcome back to my little shame corner of ARCs I will not finish. I am still working my way through my NetGalley ARCs – I am this close to being in the single digits! I have implemented a rule for myself that if I have been reading a book for over half a year, I should just be honest to myself and consider it a DNF.

Riot Days by Maria Alyokhina (published by Penguin UK)

34759979A Pussy Rioter’s riveting, hallucinatory account of her years in Russia’s criminal system and of finding power in the most powerless of situations

In February 2012, after smuggling an electric guitar into Moscow’s iconic central cathedral, Maria Alyokhina and other members of the radical collective Pussy Riot performed a provocative “Punk Prayer,” taking on the Orthodox church and its support for Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian regime.

For this, they were charged with “organized hooliganism” and were tried while confined in a cage and guarded by Rottweilers. That trial and Alyokhina’s subsequent imprisonment became an international cause. For Alyokhina, her two-year sentence launched a bitter struggle against the Russian prison system and an iron-willed refusal to be deprived of her humanity. Teeming with protests and police, witnesses and cellmates, informers and interrogators, Riot Days gives voice to Alyokhina’s insistence on the right to say no, whether to a prison guard or to the president. Ultimately, this insistence delivers unprecedented victories for prisoners’ rights.

Evocative, wry, laser-sharp, and laconically funny, Alyokhina’s account is studded with song lyrics, legal transcripts, and excerpts from her jail diary–dispatches from a young woman who has faced tyranny and returned with the proof that against all odds even one person can force its retreat.

Thoughts: I should have loved this one. I love memoirs, especially political and feminist ones written by women, I find Pussy Riot endlessly fascinating, I love books about how art can change the world, but with this I struggled. I found the fragmented style difficult to access (which again, weird, because I love that style normally) and put the book down around 20% in and every time I tried to read further, I got stuck.

Up Up, Down Down: Essays by Cheston Knapp (published by Scribner)

35297400Daring and wise, hilarious and tender, Cheston Knapp’s exhilarating collection of seven linked essays, Up Up, Down Down, tackles the Big Questions through seemingly unlikely avenues. In his dexterous hands, an examination of a local professional wrestling promotion becomes a meditation on pain and his relationship with his father. A profile of UFO enthusiasts ends up probing his history in the church and, more broadly, the nature and limits of faith itself. Attending an adult skateboarding camp launches him into a virtuosic analysis of nostalgia. And the shocking murder of a neighbor expands into an interrogation of our culture’s prevailing ideas about community and the way we tell the stories of our lives. Even more remarkable, perhaps, is the way he manages to find humanity in a damp basement full of frat boys.

Taken together, the essays in Up Up, Down Down amount to a chronicle of Knapp’s coming-of-age, a young man’s journey into adulthood, late-onset as it might appear. He presents us with formative experiences from his childhood to marriage that echo throughout the collection, and ultimately tilts at what may be the Biggest Q of them all: what are the hazards of becoming who you are?

Thoughts: Again, I should have loved this. I love essays that form a memoir of growing up, so very much. But this one left be slightly bemused. I read around 40% of the book and kept wondering why these essays in particular were chosen for this book. I never got a feeling for the author and at some point decided to just give up. There are so many essay collections I could be reading instead, so I did.

3 thoughts on “Mini-DNF reviews #3: Riot Days (Maria Alyokhina) and Up Up, Down Down (Cheston Knapp)

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