Review: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The point of healing from trauma is not forgetting the trauma happened, but allowing oneself to process what happened in as much detail as is tolerable and then considering the ways in which it shaped us and will always be a part of us.  And respecting it.

The same applies with the collective trauma that we experienced in becoming the nation we are today.   The trauma that became the reason behind our laws and regulations. Our systems.

I am wondering if this is why Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad not only won this year’s Pulitzer and National Book Award,  but also is on the long list for the Man Booker Prize.

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Also I am wondering why my summer reads this year are books that will help me recover from my first world problems.  I picked up another book to alternate with this heart wrenching tale for some breaks to find out that book was heavy as lead, too.  No rest for the wicked, or the privileged, I guess.

This book is exactly what the title says:  a narrative about a slave trying to survive her way to freedom via the actual underground railroad.  It illuminates attitudes on both sides of the slavery debate, even those of people who think they are being enlightened, but who in the end were almost as scary as the infamous and terrifying slave catcher.  It brings into sharp focus what these slaves lives were like: the realization of hardship that crashed early and fast, taking the light from children’s eyes before they are ten years old.  The main character evolves with the stages of her own journey to freedom:  a woman who was “a stray herself” from the beginning of the novel trying to find her home, free of bondage, where she can love and belong.

That said, I am wondering what is so exactly special about this book to make it worthy of two, possibly three of the highest book accolades there are.  It is powerful and well written, but we are pretty heavy as it is on the slave narratives.  I feel that Between the World and Me was more illuminating, as slavery is covered in the US History classes I took, but the effects of modern racism, even to this day, I have not encountered so much in formal studies.  It hides itself better today.  And I am careful of it in my work as a therapist.  I asked the people who go through it what it is like for them today, in this time and place.

But The Underground Railroad feels like this has already been done.  Maybe because those who decide the prize feel that it is done better than the narratives there are out there.  I mean, I don’t decide literary prizes and I don’t feel qualified to do so.

Do I recommend this book? Absolutely.  I think it should be assigned, or parts of it, for high school students taking US History.  I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin in that class instead. I just think that something hogging the major awards should have some aspect that is more overtly different, a different juxtaposition.  I don’t know.  It will probably win Man Booker too and make me look like a fool.  I understand why The Sellout won Man Booker last year.  It was brilliant in its satire of race. I have not read the other contenders for last year’s prize, but it would take a lot to change my mind.   I just feel that there was something more eye opening to me from Between the World and Me and The Sellout than The Underground Railroad provided.

I was sneaking in books about white people on the side all along.  I won’t play like I wasn’t.

Comments/likes/shares!  Tell me I am a fool if there is something missing. I am willing to hear alternate points.  Especially since I am using a whole post for one book, which is rare, just to say, how is this book, exactly, special? Ha.

 

 

 

LBGTQ+ Books

So, I really tried to get to posting on time last week. Really, I did.  But I wanted my son to meet my friend’s first squishy newborn son and there is only a window of opportunity for these things.  I am sure that my tsunami of readers will understand.

I have actually been considering posting every other week.  I did last summer, and I felt that it backlogged my posts which is not a bad thing, but that would not be the purpose this time.  I need to be reading things to hone my writing:  short stories, lit mags, poetry, my New Yorker magazines, types of books I might not want to post on here, nonfiction books about writing or to learn more about topics I might want to include in my writing.  I think for August I will trial space it to every other week and see what other things get worked on.  Blogging is fun and it has become emotionally safer than writing things to potentially submit and the weekly schedule gives me an excuse to continue taking the safe way of writing blog posts instead of taking on more challenges with my writing.

I am training  as well as trying to continue to challenge myself with writing.  I managed to get the motivation back to train for triathlon #3.  Does that make me a triathlete yet?

Also, grocery store malt beverage disguised as a delicious and festive champagne is a little butt kicking even when I fancy it up with rainbow sherbet.

So the inevitable Read Harder cave in resulted in posting on two LGBTQ+ books.  This is a serious hole in my reading.  My reading used to have a hole created by a dearth of celebrity memoirs and I don’t like admitting that that was filled before the lack of LGBTQ+ reading.   I didn’t even intend for this post to land at the time of Trump’s announcement about the transgender community serving in the military, but neither are these about transgender, but homosexual males.  Issues with gays are old hat compared to people who are transgender!  And in case anyone is wondering, discrimination hurts people more than the way they were born, so…. But I digress:

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Drawn Together, Z.A. Maxfield

BookRiot gave this as an example of a book that would fit their requirement of a gay romance novel.  I think it is a self pub, which I don’t think is unusual for a book with that specific of a niche.

I don’t have a lot of experience with any sort of romance novel, so I don’t know how it would be in comparison to the romance genre in general.  I follow some bloggers and writers of romance books on Facebook and this still has not encouraged me to check out the genre more thoroughly.  I picked up a Nicholas Sparks from a giveaway bin and it still is sitting in my bag.  So, romance has not ever been really one of my ‘things.’  I could use more exposure to the genre, though.

That said, the book wasn’t bad. The dialogue was a little stilted at times, unrealistic, and I could not tell if one character calling the other ‘cher’ was meant to be affectionate or derogatory.

I have actually heard of the trope in gay lit where one character is unaware at the beginning of the story that they are attracted to the same sex.  That is the case here, which the book blurb is clear about. The other element driving the plot is one of the men having a stalking, psycho killer that threatens his life, the stress that the characters experience that sharpens their feelings toward one another, especially for the guy who believes at the start of the story, that he is straight.

I might read other gay romance after reading this one.  There was another on the BookRiot list of acceptable books, one about a bed and breakfast, that looked interesting to be able to compare this one to.   Not anytime soon, though, as I am making my way through lists I never said I would.

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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Benjamin Alire Saenz

This one was for the requirement of a YA/middle grade book written by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+.

I have come to the conclusion that a good YA novel is one that captures what it is like to be a teenager, and this one has the added bonus of what it is like to be a gay teenager.  Most teenagers wonder where they fit into the world, but this particular teenager Aristotle has the added level of really never feeling like he fit in and his parents notice.   Like, he takes the ‘don’t fit in’ piece to a totally new level.  And Dante does not even know how truly Mexican he is.

Saenz has sparse and clean sentences and he does not ride heavily on description, but he says all the true and painful things in this simple language that makes the story shine.  It is even sparse and simple through some very dramatic events that show the boys in the end who they really are.  It clearly shows Aristotle’s frustration with his family story and how that ties in to who he is and his style of communicating and his family trying to evolve, too, through their own shadows.

This story was a work of art.  It is really something special with it’s multilayers and speaking to a set of underrepresented teens without being dramatic or maudlin.  I love it for that, too. I deal with many underrepresented teens in my life.  I am glad Saenz can write about something he knows so beautifully.

Due to it’s accolades it was on my TBR forever, so I am not completely ignoring my goal of reading it all down in favor of looking at a challenge to diversify my reading.  This also inspires me to read another of the same I have, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson.

I am glad for both of these categories being on the Read Harder list this year.  There are also in my opinion too many comics, not as important as understanding diverse viewpoints, but as I possibly have a reluctant reader on my hands it might not be an entirely bad thing.

So I am going to see if posting bimonthly will help me focus on other writing projects where I will be challenging myself and pushing through the anxiety that nothing is any good.  Knitting less will also help with this but no promises.

Comments/shares/likes!

 

5 over 500, Book 3: The Name of the Wind

So, I am awfully behind on my long reads this year.  I was done with my long reads last year by the springtime with The Time Seekers.  I have one beautiful week left of July and I have only made it to three long books.

Last year’s 5 over 500:

The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic, Emily Croy Barker

Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes

The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco

The Time Seekers, DA Squires

 

This year’s 5 over 500 so far:

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke

A Winter’s Tale, Mark Helprin

The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss

A lot of reading what I have is shorter things, which should mean I am ahead on my book count as last year, but I don’t have a hope of reading more books this year, with 43 so far.  I would have to read 60 books between today and the end of the year to match that, over 162 days in which to do it.  I would have to get through about a third of a book a day to make it.  Not entirely out of range, especially if I stick to shorter things.

But my goals are different this year.  It’s more about reading what I have, and I am doing that, but I am getting pulled back to reading challenges.  Inevitable.  They are seriously like a black hole or a succubus or crack to me.  A black hole made of crack full of succubi if you will.

So number 3 was in the title and anyone reading for a review of The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss must be getting impatient and scroll happy.

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This is your quintessential fantasy book, in my opinion.  Granted I have only read The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring if I am going to model fantasy after Tolkien, but I feel this is similar.  A powerful wizard has to scrape his way up from devastation and nothing to realize his power in school, as well as trying to find out why his parents and actor troupe were murdered.  I am going to warn the reader straight out, though, that you plow through almost 700 pages and 25 listening hours to get like a fingernail of the story.  The last few pages involve a twist that leaves you hanging, and picks up interest. Typical of fantasy, it is not a standalone novel, and if you are okay with that, this could be for you.  It looks like this is a trilogy.  I have to be more hooked on a trilogy to do the other two, and I looked at the second one, The Wise Man’s Fear, is over a thousand pages.

I mostly liked the worldbuilding and the main character, who is smart but bold and impatient.  He has had enough time with loving parents and in childhood to have healthy attachments and empathy for others, but his time scraping to get by hardens him and he is much more bold and brash where this book leaves off than he was in the beginning. He lives by his wits on the fringe to keep stringing along tension.  He is not completely alone, he has friends, but he is certainly on the edges of society.  Further reviews suggest that he moves from being a wizard and a hero to even more powerful as the books go on, and who does not like a good quest to power?

Some parts felt slow, like when he was on the streets surviving, or when he takes an impromptu two day trip to find out more about the Chandrian and why they murder.  I know that the part with the dragon and the opiate resin he finds will be important elsewhere in the story, but where the book leaves off, I am wondering what that part was for.  His issues with a rich noble are not resolved, nor is his access to the Archives.

What I realized about fantasy while I was reading this and A Wizard of Earthsea is just how much philosophy this genre can incorporate when it wants to. Both of these dealt a lot with names and the meaning and power of knowing names.  Naming something usually means a degree of power over it. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rothfuss has read and developed some of his own work from LeGuin.  And I am planning on reading more LeGuin and seeing how much more philosophy/theology that she pulls in.

Even trolling some of the reviews I see, some people loved this and some people thought it was mediocre or even crap.  I posted on another blogger’s Facebook page that I was reading it and I got some loves, but Facebook does not have a dislike button yet so I only got one side of the reviews.  Why doesn’t Facebook have a dislike button, after all?  Is it trying to deny one of it’s predominant purposes of starting crap between people?

While I know reading outside my genre is good for me, I just don’t know if in my heart I am a fantasy reader.  I don’t want to do A Song of Ice and Fire, especially after having a boyfriend who wanted the next book to come out so badly he would have a fit when Martin did not report on his blog that he was writing, but watching football instead.  I don’t want to depend on someone to stop watching football to let me know how a thousand plot lines and random deaths will make sense in the end.  I understand why Martin was more interested in the Jets.  At some point I should buck up and read the other two Lord of the Rings, but honestly I read Fellowship in like 2001 and I only saw that one movie so I am not holding out hope.

Probably I can relate better to YA fantasy, sad as that is for me to admit.

But I did get through a Read Harder challenge category.  I am finding I care less for Popsugar this year.  And also Read Harder gives credit to the authors who I admire who selected these categories.  I like it.  I am cool if Roxane Gay and Celeste Ng pick out something for me to consider.

And briefly in other news, I listened to an old episode of Literary Disco to get through some of my back podcasts (because I will die beside a mountain of unrealized hobbies) and I think I need to listen to it more to sharpen my book critiquing skills.  Yeah.  Awesome yet funny book discussions galore.

Comments/shares/likes for please!!

 

 

Stories From Both Sides of the Second World War/How I Overcame Some First World Problems

Despite the title of this post, I am going to keep my discussion of my recent first world problems to a minimum.  They are even more embarrassing after reading through some of my accumulated books on the Second World War.

My reading personality is an Explorer. I like to build empathy and see the world from other people’s perspectives as I ride on the SUP I got for my birthday and have the health and time to train enough to do well in local triathlons and knit for fun with luxury yarn.  Some of it is charity knitting, to be fair.

The thing that is depressing about both of these beautiful second world war novels is that it is sad to die in the war, and sometimes it can be as sad and anticlimactic to survive it.

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A God in Ruins, Kate Atkinson

I loved Life After Life.  I believe I have shared this sentiment on the blog already.  This is meant not as a sequel but as a companion piece to that novel, according to Atkinson. I think she could not bear to leave her characters after writing Life After Life.  She chose the perspective of Teddy, or Edward, Todd, the most loved and lovable of the Todd sons, to flesh out his story and participation in the war as a fighter pilot.   Excellent choice to choose the most sympathetic character, but I wondered about her choices in spinning him out into a daughter, Viola,  who is not likable in the least.  Atkinson does not try to make her appealing in any aspect: she is immature, greedy, self centered, and hopelessly unable to make herself happy or be satisfied, even before the death of her mother when she was a kid.  And much of the story is hers, especially earlier on in the novel.  I really wondered about Atkinson’s choice in this.  I need tension from a novel, that is true, but I like tension from a character I like.  The story is enough about Teddy himself and his participation in the war and the original family cast of characters to keep me interested in the parts about his daughter, and especially in the parts where he is a loving grandfather to rescue his grandchildren from the complete ruin of their disaster parents.  Viola takes a decent stab at redemption but his grandchildren adore him long past my caring about her and what she does, and that makes her bearable.

This novel is not just depressing in the production of the daughter Viola but also in that Teddy’s real actualization in life is centered around the war.  He is aimless before and aimless after, engulfed in a typical British tedium (and I say typical just because of the other British books I have read) devoid of a certain amount of action and passion.  And then he lives on to his own ruin, a depressing ending to a hero in the war, in the midst of a generation who never had to participate in the war and question his morals in doing so. It’s kinda heart wrenching.  You like Teddy, you want him to find more after his participation in the RAF from life than puttering around and being the target of his daughter’s dissatisfaction with everything.

But, because Atkinson is a true artist, I still loved it.  I am still glad I read it.  I should have read it sooner.  I love the story of the Todd family and all the iterations that Ursula lives through. I love how she chose to end A God in Ruins.  It reminded me of my love of the story as the final note.

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The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

This one really gnawed at any lack of appreciation I was harboring toward my life.  A little girl in Nazi Germany taken into a foster home because her mother is too ill to care for her but not before her brother dies on the way to their new family.  No, that has to happen first.  She has to be ten years old and totally alone in the world. And death is narrating one of the most deadly periods in history.

Zusak makes it beautiful, though, because Liesel thrives in a terrible time and devastated place.  She is resilient.  She is lovable and kind and works hard and wants to do good things.  Yes, she steals books, but it is to feel whole.  Books are her survival and I can totally relate to that.  She comes of age in a scary time where survival is at a premium, and she experiences her own layers of trauma.  Liesel survives and makes a happy life for herself, but will have the demons from the war cling to her forever.

It’s that important YA that can make teenagers stop and think about what things must really have been like at that time and place.  I am a firm believer in appreciation and I am sure these books reminded me to do a little more appreciating.

I was going to say I won’t watch the movie, and I don’t watch a lot of movies, but this one could possibly be an exception.  I might not be able to promise that.

I loved both of these stories, but I am recovering from them by changing tracks with my reading.   I have three more WWII novels and I can’t do five in a row or I will be threatened with collapse.  On my SUP.  I liked how it worked out that I read books on the same topic from two different points of view, but in some ways, these views were very much the same.

I may have given up resisting Reading Challenges, even though I have had other, competing plans of how I am going to shape my reading.  Because it needs a shape.

Comments/shares/likes are always appreciated!

 

Purgatory and Race. Because summer.

This Sunday I am actually reviewing newer books!

I am always debating with myself about if I need to niche blog to get more readers.  But I can’t.  I just love to read widely and I am gravitating again toward some reading challenges this year.  Admittedly, the books geared toward white women problems suck me in the most and some of the ones outside my favorite genres can feel like a slog, but very often I am glad I have read something outside my genre or picked up an award winner to see what the fuss was about.

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Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders

Now, Audible let me know, in its full Audible marketing glory, that this book is as much a performance piece as it is a book.  The last book that was marketed more as a performance piece was Their Eyes Were Watching God and hands down, that was absolutely the case. I became a believer.  I also want to hang out with the Audible staff.

I saw Lincoln in the Bardo at the library in hardcover and I didn’t even pick it up.  I caught it on audio available at my library (Overdrive…if you have not tried it as part of your local library and you love audiobooks…seriously…get it together ;)) and I am sure something would be lost by just reading. It is like the Her Royal Spyness series by Rhys Bowen and how I mostly prefer them in audio because of Katharine Kelgren’s artistry with the cast of British characters.

And in case you cannot read further without knowing, a bardo is the period where a soul is between death and rebirth.  So, to me, purgatory.   The voices are souls caught in the graveyard where Abraham Lincoln’s son Willie is buried after succumbing to typhoid and Abe comes in to visit him continually and open his casket and look in on his body as a way to wrestle with that special soul crushing grief of burying a child. There are stories of people’s lives and what is unrealized that makes them stuck, against the background of the Civil War, interwoven with a heartbreaking narrative that very much humanizes the ill-fated sixteenth POTUS.

And it took me way longer to pick out David Sedaris’ voice than I care to admit.  I have listened to him in person and on the New Yorker fiction podcast. He is a major narrator and I forget that his voice is as effeminate as he is.  But he fits the character perfectly.

I still think Their Eyes Were Watching God is the best narration of a book, but this is a close second.  And I have to also admit it took me awhile to catch onto a few things, like their word for casket, and what was always going on, but my focus has also been crap lately and I feel better that my staff has admitted theirs to be on equal footing.

 

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The Sellout, Paul Beatty

Last summer, when the Man Booker Prize longlist rolled out, I perused it with my dad for something we both might like to read.  The Sellout never had an appeal to me in the blurb, in fact I have since bought four of the long listers since, but then it won.  I bought it for us to read only because it won and after The Luminaries I’ll put some faith in the selection committee.

It’s absolutely hilarious and I know I will have to read it again. The prologue felt a little frenetic to me, and it almost lost me the night I picked it up out of insomnia, but I pushed through it.  I told my father to start with Chapter one and then circle back to the prologue when he is done because the prologue makes more sense once you have read it.   Like, if you want to explore the modern state of race relations and laugh like hell, this is it.  I hope my father likes it, as he can abandon the likes of Stephen King when the one character he likes dies and he is a bit more old school than myself. And it is heavy on psychology metaphors which makes perfect sense to me with my doctorate in it, but I don’t know how much the layperson knows about basic psychology, so how funny it would be.  But it’s a biting and entertaining satire that the whities need to stay on track with racial sensitivity.  And I mean that.

Delightfully, I also took a week off in the coming week.  I am still a staycationer, with being able to have my son in school while I relax/catch up on house or life stuff.  Write in Dunkin Donuts or something.  Read compulsively and live the dream.  Hopefully train, but motivation lately has been a little rough.  Family trips will be forthcoming…when he is just a tiny bit easier.

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Don’t want to be busted like that

Travel writing sounds, on the surface, like one of the most appealing jobs out there.

And I chose a life that would not be amenable to doing it. Not in the least!  Likely because the amount of planning, flexibility, and uncertainty involved in traveling is something that I balk at when faced with in reality.  Trust me, my job has plenty of gray area, but I don’t have to rely on flights to get home, I speak the same language as most people around me and I generally know what is in my food.  I have different challenges.

My best friend is a regular globetrotter.  He rents cars and drives on the other side of the road, eats anything, and actually leaves the airport during long layovers to get drunk in the classiest way possible before checking back in to continue on his travels. The country he was in did get bombed on my birthday this year but Mark Zuckerberg let me know he was safe almost simultaneously.  His personality is so vastly different from mine.  Not so different that we cannot successfully travel together, which we have, but he is much better able to roll with all the game changers and loss of predictability and comfort that is endemic to seeing the world.  I call him my Travel Xanax.

We did take a mirror selfie before it was cool in Versailles back in 1999 in the hall of mirrors with a sweet disposable camera during our senior year of high school.  His idea.

The other piece I am missing to write a travel memoir is that I am thankfully not battling a serious team of demons at the moment.

The two memoirs I talk about in this post are both authored by women who travel in part to see the world but also to pull themselves back together. I am not going places to collect the pieces of myself that have gone missing or dark.  That’s my excuse.  I am not working toward one of my dream jobs because I am just too put together.

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Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube, Blair Braverman

A foreign exchange stay goes wrong for Blair and then is compounded by an abusive relationship when she is traveling back to the North for the unique adventure and experience of driving sled dogs for tourists.  This book is about the extreme regions of Alaska and her finding a home with some people in Norway and making friends. There are educative pieces for the reader about how these people live, which thankfully de-idealizes their democratic state as a utopia where no one ever starves because the social support system is just that good.  I am all about social support systems but I have often thought they are presented as too good to be true, which they are, and Blair absolutely points that out in her memoir.  Blair moves in places where she is one of the only young and unattached women and discusses the complications of being so in this man’s world.

This book is about the north, but it is a lot about Blair discovering and owning her personal power.  If you want a book that is more about the sport of driving sled dogs, there is that, but it is more about Blair’s evolution as a person, which is probably why I didn’t have trouble hanging in there with this one.  I like her friend Arild who ends up hosting her multiple times and healing some of her feelings about herself, I liked how balls she is with her sled dogging and making it in places that I don’t think that I could.

I think that people expecting more of the survival stories or technical piece will not enjoy it as much.

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Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Okay, yea, this could have been lumped into my last post of things I should have read long ago.  That’s out of the way now.

Sometimes I could worship at the church of Elizabeth Gilbert.  She says such beautiful and true things about spirituality and growth and the nature of loving others and oneself.  Some of my favorite passages I want tattooed into my brain forever.  A book that I thought when it came out was more floofy and fun actually had real spiritual substance.  I was pleasantly surprised about the depth of this journey on which she embarks.  I know I will return to it.

And then in other parts she is whiny and self centered and kind of an irritating mess.  She does not try to hide that she can be a needy clingy mess, and she puts the best words to it about how she sets herself up to be a needy, clingy, self centered mess, and I give her props for that, but in some parts I am like, seriously? I am conflicted about even the times that I judge her, like her thing about never wanting kids.  Having a child is so impossibly difficult, especially when you are used to and very much enjoy a life of freedom and entertaining yourself (like me) and I think if someone really does not want one then they should not have one and there is nothing wrong with that.  A lot of my favorite people probably won’t ever be parents and I don’t love them any less for that (like Mr Globetrotter and when he takes selfies with pizzas because they are his true love).

But sometimes I think she needs something to focus on other than herself.  Her reluctance to focus on someone other than herself may be why she starts the novel sobbing on the floor of a gorgeous suburban home because she does not want to fill it with children after all.  I alternate between admiring her ability to just fly off for a year of self discovery and joining the ranks of other women who cast a bit of shade her way because many women have to pull themselves back together with a lot fewer resources at their disposal.  Another time I felt that way was when she admitted that she throws herself big expensive birthday parties on the regular for non milestone birthdays, in like, Manhattan.  I think the last adult birthday party I attended was six years ago. I was like really, you don’t just go out to dinner with your current guy and have a drink and call it a day like the regular people?  You have the emotional and financial resources to do this and subject your friends to it? Nice. I took my birthday off from work but not from parenting.

It also does not help that when I picked up this book I also knew that she recently used the attention from her friend’s terminal cancer announcement to announce that she was in romantic love with the woman and left her current husband for her.  Like, we couldn’t just focus on the friend, ol Liz had to pop up for her piece of the pie.  Because there is no other time to confess your love to someone.

But I loved the things she said in this and in Big Magic.  I want to read her Signature of All Things because I am curious now about how she uses, if she uses it, in her fiction and what her themes are in her stories.  She is an artist and she speaks all the spiritual things I know to be true in my heart.   I want her words while she also annoys me.

I don’t want to be broken in the way that necessitated these books so maybe travel writing shouldn’t even be a pipe dream for this old mom.

Holiday week!  I hope everyone is enjoying the summer love with the people whom they love 🙂

Comments/likes/shares!

 

I Should Have Read it Long Ago

There are some books on my TBR that have tarried there far too long.  Had way too many cups of coffee whilst killing time in purgatory.  Or maybe a beer.  Or a hundred beers.

These are the modern books that are good for me, not just the dusty classics into which this blog wanders from time to time.  The award winners that I have sometimes passed over when I don’t want to use my brain as much or the ones that seem to constantly dangle in front of me, strongly recommended.  Books that any self respecting book blogger logged long ago and that I admit I am just getting to now.

I own my guilt but I also am a firm believer that every book in its time.  A book gets read when it is time for me to read it, not necessarily when it hits the award list or keeps showing up on some of the book sites I troll.   Or even when my price stalking ends in a 1.99 victory with 3.99 companion audio.

 

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Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng

I may have climbed into this novel now as I have a child coming up on the age where he can better understand what larger things I might want for him.  Better understand, not completely.

This novel is about two parents who focus all their unrealized fantasies on a daughter who dies as at the opening of the novel, mysteriously, in the middle of her teenage years.  It is about the dead daughter but it isn’t, too: it’s about how people’s unchecked dreams can spin out into dysfunction for all involved.  Parents whose issues prevent separation/individuation, instead creating a lens through which they view a chosen child as a vessel for their unrealized hopes and dreams, some weird sort of second chance. It’s messed up, but the stories of how it really gets so messed up are engrossing and relatable.

The book is also about what it was like to be different in the not so distant past, where people were expected to marry and procreate within their race and their children being able to fit neatly into the scheme of things, the status quo.  Neither parent in the book is the status quo:  a brilliant mother with the ability and ambition to attend medical school and rejecting her assigned housewife role, the Asian man who makes it in the Caucasian world of academia.  It’s not difficult for me to be who I want to be in my environment, but I can’t forget the people who have to defend their right to be who they want to be when it flies in the face of convention.  Grad school did not have the extra layer of suck that it has had for women in the past. And I came across plenty of women in my higher education who were getting degrees even though they were becoming mothers or already mothers.  The repression of times past created so much yearning and sadness. And here I am with an advanced degree, a full time career, and am a shining beacon of parenting that involves likely too much sodium and the unconditional support of Netflix. And my contentment with my world is pretty solid.

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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz

I have to admit my burnout on Latin American novels, and the fact that this had the same audio narrator as The Shadow of the Wind did not help.  For some reason I was not expecting this to be similar to the other Latin American novels I have read, and in some parts it was more Americanized and contemporary, and in other parts I felt I was back in the pages of Marquez, Allende, or Zafon.  I mean, Diaz is in good company with that trifecta, but one has to be in the mood to read about the Latin American political intrigue and family curses un-spooling over generations just to end in a glorious burning crash for the characters you spend the most time getting to care about.  I was not sure I was completely game for the inferno, but in the same vein Diaz’ artistry was not entirely lost on me. It deserved the Pulitzer.  I mean, I still don’t get how A Visit from the Goon Squad won one, and I did not get far into Gilead before I abandoned it, but this, yeah, I can see it.  I also liked Middlesex and The Shipping News, and I could fawn over All The Light We Cannot See to the point of being annoying.

I was rooting for the ghetto nerd.  I am immensely satisfied that it did not end with his attempted suicide.  Is that a spoiler? I hope not.  I mean, it won the prize in 2008, I don’t know what other serious reader in the world has not gotten to it yet.

The journey of too long neglected books continues next week with my wandering out of my usual genres into some newer territory.

I turn a year older in this upcoming week, but at least I won my age group in my first triathlon (sprint) this summer 🙂

 

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