Man Booker International Prize…a journey

So I was inspired. By Maxwell at WellDoneBooks over on Booktube. He set up a goal this year to read more translated fiction and talked about potentially reading the Man Booker long (or short) list as a way to increase his totals. Last week, the long list was released to the public. And I immediately jumped on the chance to attempt to read the list and pick my “winner.” Every time I watch a video done by Max, I’m always impressed by the variety of books he reads and I’m trying to do better myself this year. Although, I don’t think that I often fit into a particular box; I do think that I can read some more books outside of my comfort zone.

So here’s a post to keep me honest with the internet and with my goals. I reserved or checked out all the books I could get from my local library system, and after I make my way through them I’ll have to figure out purchasing the rest. Here’s the long list in the order I currently plan on reading them. The ones with stars I have yet to secure a copy or purchase.

  1. Man Tiger by Eka Kurniawan (currently reading)
  2. The Four Books by Yan Lianke
  3. A Strangeness in My Mind by Orhan Pamuk
  4. The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante
  5. The Vegetarian by Han Kang
  6. Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila
  7. Death by Water by Kenzaburō Ōe
  8. Mend the Living by Maylis de Kerangal
  9. Ladivine by Marie NDiaye
  10. A Cup of Rage by Raduan Nassar*
  11. A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler*
  12. White Hunger by Aki Ollikainen*
  13. A General Theory of Oblivion by Jose Eduardo Agualusa*

 

I imagine that this is going to be a more challenging couple of weeks of reading for me. As I also recently picked up A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, which is waiting by my bedside table to finish. I have 8 more days in this month to make a dent in this collection. As I’ve been travelling for work, and recently sick – I hope I can get some much needed reading time before April arrives.

 

Until Next Time World…

The Audacity of Hope

Barack Obama. Commander-in-Chief of the United States Military. President of the United States of America. If anything, the political landscape of the current election has made him look like a true moderate. My mother is a huge Obama supporter. I am a mostly reluctant Obama supporter. This hasn’t exactly caused tension in our relationship, but it definitely has caused us to have different opinions on all those random “Thank God We Have Obama” t-shirts and memes I see around. My mom has been trying to get me to read The Audacity of Hope for a couple of years now, and I finally gave in to her wishes.

I was not disappointed. I went into The Audacity of Hope thinking that I wouldn’t like it at all. I really thought that the book was going to be a written version of his presidential campaign, and I wasn’t super interested in that. (Don’t get me wrong, Obama does do some politicking in this book.) However, The Audacity of Hope is a delightful and frank look at some of the partisanship that is occurring within our political framework. I found reading this book especially timely considering the political primaries that are occurring and how a divide is occurring, not just between Republicans and Democrats, but also within the respective parities.

Since this book is old hat, I’m just going to leave you with some insights that I found refreshing as a former student of political science. (And since I know I have quite a few non-American followers, please ask me any questions if something I write doesn’t make sense!)

1.) I appreciate that Obama went back to discuss the formation of the parties by the founding fathers. 

Sometimes I forget that politicians are actually intelligent interpreters of the law. As a political science major, perhaps that is embarrassing to admit. But I also watch the news where non-facts are often spun to narrate a story that usually has little to do with a person’s ability or education. I find myself making arguments for candidates and against other candidates with these non-facts rather than talking about their intellect or training that may have prepared them to do a job. These are the real things we should be talking about when we discuss candidates.

2.) Obama covers religion and how Republicans aren’t necessarily misusing it for political gains (as many Democrats try to spin it). 

Religion is something that is seldom truly discussed in politics. I think that because it is a sensitive topic, people shy away. At least that’s what I’ve found when I’m around my more liberal friends. Obama brings up an excellent point when he wrote about the Democratic party base shying away from religion and religious discourse because it “conflicts” with its base ideals. Despite the majority of the electorate being religious, including the majority of Democrats. I appreciate how Obama said that “morality” is important to both sides, but it’s important to understand how they manifest differently through the platforms.

3.) I appreciated that Obama talked about some egotism being involved in running for elected office.

Egotistical. This is a word that has been used to describe Donald Trump a lot this year. Obama admits that to run for office, specially national office, it does take a bit of egotism on the candidate’s part. You have to believe that you are truly what is best for the people, and that the other person is not better than you. I appreciated how real that statement was, and also how it should re-frame how we use that word when speaking about political candidates.

 

Until Next Time World…

Diversity of Gender

I live in the binary. Basically, I tend to categorize things into two piles. Things I like and things I do not like. Good things and bad things. Smart people and dumb people. Women and Men. Democrat or Republican.

To some extent, I think it’s human nature to put a label on something. Labeling allows our brain to categorize and better sort information to pull at a later time when we might need it. There’s been a big movement in the mainstream visibility of trans* individuals, largely due to Caitlyn Jenner and her fame. However, people who identify as gender non-conforming or gender fluid have not gotten as much public attention. I’ve been really interested in looking at how fiction approaches this topic, and this weekend I read Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin as my first foray into these types of books.

Symptoms of Being Human is the story of Riley Cavanaugh, the child of a California congressman. Riley is gender fluid, some days feeling masculine, other days feeling feminine, and other days feel a bit of both. Riley is struggling with these confusing feelings while also trying to survive high school and being thrown into the spotlight through her father’s public service. This book is the story of a teenager just trying to figure out which way is up.

I really enjoyed reading this book. Working with college students and known some individuals on both a personal and professional level who have struggle with their gender identity, I wasn’t exactly new to the topic. However, Garvin writes this story with such sincerity that I felt a little of what Riley was feeling while navigating the world. As you read along with Riley’s struggles and online blogging (!!!) life, you get a glimpse into how hard it really is to try to live up to others’ expectations.

Although there are many things that I could highlight in this book, I want to talk about this concept of the binary and categorization. A couple of chapters into the book, Riley misgenders a classmate. When I first read the scene, I was kind of horrified. Riley spent the first couple of chapters trying not to spiral out of control as people referred to Riley as “it” and other completely inappropriate pronouns/names. And then Riley is (although not to the same extend) passing on binary judgement of others. I stopped reading at this point, because I was attending a conference and had to go to some sessions. As I reflected on what I had read and discussed the book a little with some of my colleagues, I hoped that Garvin would spend more time addressing Riley’s own use of the binary.

When I returned to the book, I found that Garvin did just that. Riley reflected on using the binary to describe Bec, who later turns into a love interest, and comments on how prevalent the need to categorize is in our society. This is the point I want to drive home. Sometimes what is right is not what is easy. And it’s really easy to try to put others into convenient predetermined boxes. I think this book helps the reader recognize the danger of categorizing people. It’s something I have to actively work at not doing, but it’s absolutely worth it.

Until Next Time World…

Bookish Academy Awards! 2016

I really like book tags. I like watching them, because I think it’s an easier way to get some recommendations for new books. I saw peruseproject‘s video on her book awards from her last reading year, and I thought this would be a good tag to do. Like her, I am only using books that I read in 2015. I’ll try not to overlap too many books, because that wouldn’t be very much fun.

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Best Male Protagonist (Best Actor)

Noah from I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson was by far my favorite male protagonist in a book in 2015. I’ll Give You the Sun was one of my favorite books of the year, and part of the reason I love this book is how Noah’s chapters were put together. He had beautiful thoughts, and I thought Nelson did a great job translating them into prose.

Best Female Protagonist (Best Actress)

Madeline from Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon was my favorite female protagonist in 2015. She’s a teenager who suffers from a very rare auto-immune deficiency disease. When a cute boy moves across the street (obviously), she has to come to terms with the seriousness of her disease and how much she’ll let it take control of her life. She’s also a non-white protagonist, which we don’t see enough in mainstream popular literature!

Best Plot Twist (Best Cinematography)

Plot twist is sort of a weird concept, especially after you’ve already read the book. However, I have to give this honor to Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. This book wasn’t a plot twist in the traditional sense of the term, but I thought there was an interesting shift part way through the book. The narrator, Clay, receives a set of tapes from one of his classmates who recently committed suicide. Upon listening to the first tape, he realizes that she sent these tapes to the 13 people who she says uniquely contributed to her death. It’s heavy, but a pretty interesting book.

Best Book Cover (Best Costume)

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer gets my win for best book cover. The only reason I read this book last year was because a student left it after attending an orientation session, and I thought the cover was cool. It’s simple, but has enough colors to make me wonder what it’s really about.

Best Side Character (Best Supporting Actor/Actress)

Silas in Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg. I reviewed this book at the beginning of the year, and I think it was one of the best releases of 2015. Clegg writes a beautiful book following several characters in the aftermath of a tragic event in a small beach town. Silas, who is the narrator of the first chapter of the book, stole my heart. In a book of 7 narrators, I really enjoyed reading what Silas had to say about his involvement in the tragedy that occurred.

Best Book to Movie (Best Adapted Screenplay) 

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green? I don’t watch movies really.

Book You’d Like to See Animated (Best Animated Feature)

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (Siobhan Dowd) is easily the book I’d most like to see animated. In fact, I believe that the movie will be coming out soon. It’s a harrowing children’s book about a monster that visits a little boy every night.

A Writer You’ve Read for the First Time (Best Director)

RAINBOW ROWELL. Holy Moly. How did I never read her before last year. And it was a big year for Rainbow in my life. I read all of her books, with the exception of Carry On. She’s a fantastic author who transcends the confines of YA or “adult” literature. She writes the story she feels people want to read, and that’s awesome.

Best Collection of Short Stories (Best Short Film)

I actually didn’t read any true short story collections last year. However I did read Stuff Christians Like by Jonathan Acuff. This is a series of short chapters about various topics surrounding Christianity (particularly that of the evangelical sort). He’s hilarious and if you have an appreciation for Christianity, you’ll find this funny.

Best Action in a Book (Best Visual Effects) 

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson is my pick for best action in a book. It would also be my pick for longest title read in a single year. I don’t read a lot of action packed/fantasy based books, but this is a harder category for me. This book follows a man named Alan who disappears from his retirement home on his 100th birthday. Hilarity ensues as he makes his way across Sweden while reliving key moments in history he supposedly lived through. Set in many countries from China to the US to Russia, this book is nothing short of an adventure.

Best Historical Fiction/Non-Fiction (Best Documentary)

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling brought out the fangirl in me last year. I love her. AND she’s hilarious. This book has some great insights, and I previously wrote a review if you’d like to see exactly what I thought.

Best Book (Best Picture)

The big award! Last year was a pretty good reading year, where I added a couple of books to my all time favorites list. For the best book award, I choose Trail of Broken Wings by Sejal Badani. This book was so beautiful and so unexpected. It follows 4 Indian (and American) women as they grapple through their sorted family history with the paternal figure. It has beautifully written prose, great character development, and a moving plot. If you haven’t read this book yet, I’d definitely recommend it.

These are the books on my Bookish Academy Awards for 2016. If you want to do this tag, feel free! Special thanks to YAbookworm for the use of the image.

February Wrap-Up & March Reading

For the past two weeks I’ve basically been doing nothing…

So this blog post is long overdue. I’ve been in sort of a rut lately. Work has been busy as we interview and pick staffs for next year. I recently went to Wisconsin for a week to recruit people to work at my University. It’s been a good time for conversations about politics, privilege, and religion – my favorite topics. But consequently, it’s been a bad time for books. March was supposed to be my re-read month, but I’m moving it to April. So hopefully my birthday month can be filled with some of my favorite authors and books!

In February I read 14 books, which is about a third less than I read in January. However, I’m still ahead of my reading goal for the year – so I’m happy.

  1. The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan
  2. Everybody Sees The Ants by A.S. King
  3. Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
  4. The Anatomical Shape of A Heart by Jenn Bennett
  5. Passenger by Alexandra Bracken
  6. The Audacity of Hope by Barrack Obama
  7. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
  8. My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga
  9. Made You Up by Francesca Zappia
  10. Yes Please by Amy Poehler**
  11. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  12. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  13. Soy Sauce for Beginners by Kirstin Chen
  14. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Per usual, my top five are highlighted in red. The ** will mean that it is better to listen to this book as an audiobook!

Until Next Time World…

Passenger

The hype monster strikes again…

Passenger is the much anticipated release of Alexandra Bracken’s new trilogy. It’s a time travel fantasy novel that takes place in many countries during many different centuries. Being new to the blogging world, I thought I’d try to read a newly released book with everyone else to stay current. There seem to be people who LOVE LOVE LOVE this book. And others who are completely bored by it. I think I fell somewhere in the middle. On Goodreads I gave this book a meh-worthy 2.5 stars.

The story of passenger is focused around two teenagers, Henrietta (Etta) and Nicholas. Etta was born in modern times, while Nicholas was born during the American revolution. Bracken lets us know two things off the bat about Nicholas. 1.) He’s black,the child of a slave and her white owner. 2.) He’s a pirate, a member of a low socioeconomic class. Etta is classical musician, but other than her ability to time travel (HELLO. The point of the book.) we don’t know a lot else. There are a number of things about this book that are problematic as far as literature goes…some of the writing, some of the story narrative, and the minimal and confusing world building to name a few. However, you know me (or at least you should be beginning to have an inkling), I want to talk about some of the smaller motifs within the book.

As this is a time travel novel, I thought that Bracken did a good job of applying cultural relevance to the cities and time periods our main characters found themselves. Although good portion of the book was spent in Nicholas’s native time, she did not spend as much time describing some of the social customs and tensions that were relevant during the American revolution. She did, however, provide some insight into Nicholas’s internal struggle of being attached to a powerful family, while maintaining the status of a second class citizen. Both Nicholas’s race and bastardization were presented as central to his character and Bracken showed how they affected his self-confidence off the boat in colonial society. I appreciated that Bracken tried to tie in race and socioeconomic status into her fantasy story. Young adults need to read stories about people who are different from the norm, and Bracken sets a good foundation for this to be expanded on in subsequent books.

As Etta and Nicholas moved through the time periods as the book progressed, I found that the cultural context of the various cities and time periods improved greatly. Bracken reached her stride when the two reach Damascus. The characterization of the city, its culture, and its people was good and thorough. I found myself really into the setting and story line. It is because of this ending that I think I will continue on with the series, even though I didn’t love it. I’d recommend this book for anyone who is interested in time travel and fantastical elements of stories. There’s also a “pirate” angle that could be interesting to some people. Overall, I was happy about this series beginning to tackle some real world problems related to identity.

Until Next Time World…