April Wrap Up

Yet another month down, and summer is just around the corner. I’m looking forward to warming days and no students around. This should be the first summer that I really get to relax and rejuvenate…and I am so ready. April is my birth month, and I was hoping to get a lot of good reading down. Although I feel like I had a book in my hand most days, I think I read some pretty serious novels over the course of the month which ultimately did not leave me with a high book total. I should be reading 12 books a month, but if I can get through 10 – I’m a happy camper. And as always, my favorite books of the month are highlighted in red.

  1. White Hunger by Aki Ollikainen
  2. Just One Day by Gayle Forman
  3. Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach
  4. The Four Books by Yan Lianke
  5. Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King
  6. Just One Year by Gayle Forman
  7. The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner
  8. Just One Night by Gayle Forman*
  9. The Vegetarian by Han Kang
  10. The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson
  11. The Heart (or Mend the Living) by Maylis de Kerangal

 

I’m not sure what May has in store for me. I’ve built up quite a TBR pile at my house, which makes my earlier rant about the affordability of buying books seem laughable. After I finish these next two library books, I’m going to start on these pile I’ve accumulated through friends and family.

Until Next Time World…

*You are not a book; you’re basically a short story.

On Being

I recently took the plunge and requested a book for review purposes. I was first altered to The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson from some random clicking around Goodreads, my favorite way to waste time. At the time (and frankly until I wrote this post), I thought the book was already published, but just unattainable to me. Disappointed, I tabled my quest for the book and moved on to other things. As I mentioned in an earlier review, I read Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin about a gender non-conforming teen, Riley, who was struggling to fit in at their high school. I really enjoyed the book and wanted to read more about trans* teens. I was poking around on NetGalley the other day, and I stumbled across The Art of Being Normal again. Needless to say, I requested a copy and dug right into the goodness.

Now that you’ve heard the uninteresting fable about how I actually received the arc, let’s talk about the novel. This novel is written in the alternating point of view of two characters, David and Leo. David is struggling with wanting to identify as female, hiding this from their parents but being open with friends. Leo comes from a dangerous, low income area. They have a twin sister, little sister, and an absentee mother. We know that Leo attends therapy and is transferring to a school in an affluent neighborhood, but that’s all the reader gets from the onset.

At the heart of this novel, and all YA novels, is the story of a couple of teenagers trying to figure out life in the bodies and environments in which they’ve been born. There’s an air of mystery surrounding the book, and particularly Leo’s character, which is revealed almost half way through the book, to no surprise to me given the general topic. There’s also the story of friendship that builds between Leo and David, not organically but by great effort, as a lot of close relationships do. Even though this novel’s focus is on trans* identity, it just doesn’t focus on that, it focuses on how humans live life.

There were a number of things I liked about the book that I think help its approach-ability for someone new to the topic of transitioning or gender identity. One of the first things is David’s lack of knowledge about the topic. There’s a lot of focus on how David feels and how he desperately wants to escape his body, but he’s slightly clueless as to how transitioning actually works. Although he’s done some informal research on the matter and read news articles, the language he uses in the book is sometimes wrong and awkward. I appreciated this, because it helps remind the reader that he is in fact 14. It allows it to be okay to start somewhere on your quest for knowledge; even knowledge that intimately has the ability to affect your happiness.

Another thing that was really great in this book was the environmental development. While at times I think that Williamson could have worked harder at developing Leo and David, particularly David, as characters – their settings were highly developed. It was easy for me to imagine Eden Park high school, Leo’s neighborhood in Cloverdale, and the Tripton-on-Sea inn where they spend a weekend. These environments help give life to the characters, making them feel like people you might one day meet.

Although I have a lot of positive things to say about this book and its content, I ranked it 3 stars. It’s a solidly enjoyable book that’s neither light nor heavy, which is an accomplishment given the topic and some of the events that take place. However, there are parts in the book that are simply boring. Leo is a much more developed character than David, which makes the chapters narrated by David seem to drag on and on. There are also a series of minor characters (David’s two best friends, Leo’s family) that aren’t developed at all and seem to only hold the place for some filler dialogue.

Given all of the legislative nonsense that has been occurring in the United States, this book is an encouraging read that definitely humanizes the trans* experience for people who might not have been exposed to it yet. I’d recommend it for anyone who is curious about this topic.

Until Next Time World…

 

A Man Booker Update

I haven’t updated here on my Man Booker International award journey in a while, but I’ve been plugging away. A couple of weeks ago the short list was announced. (In fact it was announced on my birthday!) Although I hadn’t made as much of a dent in the long list as I liked, I was pleasantly surprised/concerned the books I hadn’t read didn’t seem to make the list. This is a good thing, because it gave me time to read the non-short list books first. It was a bad thing, because I still felt as though I had a long way to go before I could speak intelligently about the award. 

Since I last wrote about the award, I’ve managed to finish two more books, both on the short list. The Vegetarian by Han Kang and the The Four Books by Yan Lianke were both interesting and fast paced reads, to a certain extent. In comparison to the three books I previously read off the list, I completely understand how these two books made it on the short list. I’ll post my thoughts on these novels in a different post, but in general The Four Books was amazing. The narration was fantastic and immersive and relevant to Chinese culture. The Vegetarian was also very culturally relevant, but almost to the point where I feel a lot of the story was lost on my lack of understanding about the Korean culture. 

Right now, I’m almost half way through The Heart by Maylis de Kerangal. This book has gotten increased attention and some outcry from not being included on the short list for the MBI award. Although I’m not finished, I can see why people gravitated to this novel. It’s a interesting tale of the process of organ donation and is affects on all who are involved (family members of the donor, doctors/nurses, family members of the recipients). I’ve liked what I’ve read so far, and the book has such a large social commentary that I’m sure to post a review in the near future.

Until Next Time World…

On Love and Chance Encounters

I’m a sucker for a good love story. I really am. Every since my partner brought home “If I Stay” from Redbox, I’ve instantly been a Gayle Forman fan as well. Although I haven’t found all of her stories to be the best thing I’ve ever read, they’re enjoyable and usually have a good romantic element.

I read Just One Day, Just One Year, and Just One Night over the past week, which means I’ve now read all of Gayle Forman’s YA novels. In all of her novels there’s some aspect of romance, and they all seem to be coming of age tales. (But hey – what YA novel isn’t a coming of age tale in some way.) Just One Day covers the story of Allyson or “Lulu” and Willem, college age youth, who meet randomly and spend a magical day in Paris only to be separated. It then follows Allyson as she comes to grips with that day and herself. Just One Year follows Willem where he looks for the mysterious girl “Lulu” who he left and tries to repair his broken relationships and come to grips with his family. Just One Night is the culmination of these two novels, when Willem and Allyson are reunited.

Now that I’ve gotten that short synopsis out of the way, on to the real topic of conversation today – love in entertainment. As someone who is currently in a relationship, but has spent most of my adult life single, I’ve found love and how to find a frequent topic of conversation. From Beyonce’s new docu-video “Lemonade” to the pleathora of dating “Bachelor”-esq dating shows, entertainment attempts to show us how to be in love and have relationships. In Forman’s novels love always propels the protagonist into a coming of age story where the love interest is essential to opening up the door for self-discovery. What I appreciate about this narrative is that there is self-discovery; it’s not just about the love. Forman writes complex characters who have hopes and dreams, fears and tribulations. These characters are brought alive by those who they love, but it’s not in an overt way, which I appreciation. However, I do find discomfort on what that tells us (or more specifically younger readers) about love and what it does to you.

So maybe I’m cynical and not looking for the best out of love, but I’m not so sure that love usually opens up the avenue for self-discover or self-reflection. This is partly a reflection on my own relationships and love, but I think that love is more often than not a trial. Being a fiercely independent person, it’s sometimes hard for me to successfully blend my life with another human’s. It’s hard work to figure out how to live with another person, where you’ll each go to college; who’s job search is more important; what city or town will you try to reside in; and a million more things that are supposed to be easy. I find it hopeful and ebullient to see this young characters find their love support them through the most difficult times (I mean….in Sisters in Sanity, she’s literally in some sort of psychiatric prison), but sometimes it just seems like an unrealistic example of how a relationship goes. I won’t even touch on the point that these are teenagers having these relationships. Sometimes when I come home from work, it’s hard for my partner to even understand the type of day I had, let alone rearrange his entire life to support a whim of mine (major or minor).

While I think Forman does a tip-top job making these contemporary romances have some meat to them, I still think that it’s a little shallow on showing the challenges of real relationships and their effects on the couple. Love is hard. Love when you’ve known someone for a long time is hard. Love when you first meet someone and you don’t live in the same state is hard. I wish that I read more YA books that had that message, because I think it’s a message that young adults really do need to learn.

As I wrap up this long post/rant, I encourage you to pick up a Gayle Forman book. Each story has it’s own twist, and hopefully your heart will be warmed as you follow the characters discovering themselves. And she writes awesome dialogue.

Until Next Time World…

 

The Anatomical Shape of the Heart

The Anatomical Shape of the Heart by Jenn Bennett is a fun YA novel that follows the story of a girl who has found art in the human body and a boy who has found art in the modern world.

I’ve been waiting to review this novel, because (again) I wanted to do a video blog on it. This is the second time I’ve mentioned wanting to do a video blog and yet not providing one. I should probably just work off the assumption that I’m never going to do one! What can I say, I must be camera shy (and lack the ability to edit videos). Moving on, I really enjoyed The Anatomical Shape of the Heart as a story. I think that Bennett did a great job developing a believable plot with interesting characters.

The basic premise of the novel is a love story. Beatrix, a high school student, meets Jack taking the late night bus home from a hospital one summer night. Beatrix is caught up in her own world, trying to get into college in order to become a medical artist (draw cadavers, etc), deceiving her mom along the way to pursue her dreams.The typical stuff, even if what she is specifically trying to do is really atypical. What I found really interesting was Jack’s story line.

I think that Bennett did good job of creating an air of mystery around Jack’s character. The only thing that the reader knows about him for the first half of the novel is that he graffits large gold letters on prominent places throughout San Fransisco. I read this book a couple of months ago, when I was in the middle of reading a lot of YA contemporaries focused around mental health. It was refreshing to see some characters grappling with issues that weren’t highlighted in some over characterized way. When the reader discovers who Jack really is and why he’s chosen to do this graffiti art, the story begins to pick up the pace. I found myself wanting to read just one more page before I had to tear away and go to work. 

Overall, I was really impressed with how Bennett kept me engaged in the characters and the story throughout the whole book. I’d recommend this book for anyone who wants to touch on some mental illness issues and how it affects those around the person. I’d also recommend this book to someone who wants to read a sex positive book about teenagers, because Bennett definitely wrote that well. 

Until Next Time World….

A Cup of Rage: rawr

Hey y’all. I’m trying something new and blogging from my phone. I just have no energy to get out my laptop to make everything pretty and symmetric and add links. So depending on when you read this post, it may be in a rough phase. I read A Cup of Rage by Raduan Nassar a couple of weeks ago as my second #manbookering read.

A Cup of Rage is a novella centered around the argument between male and female lovers. Something that I’ve noticed in the 4 MBI longlist books I’ve read is that the theme of sex is heavily reoccurring. This novella opens up with a fairly detailed description of the couples foreplay all the way up to actual intercourse, and it’s not particularly for the faint of heart. I’ve read some commentary praising MBI for being more sex positive and opening a space for erotica in awards. I’m not sure if it’s my prudish, American nature, but these stories just haven’t done it for me.  A Cup of Rage in particular does not present this sexual encounter as particularly sex positive. The narration is mostly told in the male participants viewpoint. He speaks, both internally and externally, about the importance of the power that he has over his female companion. This is off putting, because some of the things he does during this encounter seem to be solely for his pleasure in basking in power rather than to give her any sort of pleasurable experience.

I think that this can be problematic, because this behavior is not painted in a negative way, but at some points the narrator’s masocistic behavior is even praised. Moving into where the majority of the “action” takes place is during the argument. The reader is given the impression that this make narrator is secluded in a country side estate. At brunch he discovers that ants have broken through his hedges, thus exposing him to the world. His female companion then criticizing his reaction to the break in his hedges and a fight ensues.

Nassar’s writing style is that which he readily shows the reader the tediousness and nuances that the fight takes on immediately. It’s even more interesting when you consider that this style is translated from its original language. This novella has several footnotes that help as context to the writing, and particularly the fight. I quickly grew bored while trying to read the chapter about the fight. Through the first 6 or 7 pages I understood the existential manifestation this crisis had caused in the male narrator, but after that the fight and the prose took a dark turn. I thought that the male narrator’s comments toward his companion were extremely sexist and hinged on the power he held over her. When he began to lose some of that power, he ultimately resorted to violence that led to the end of the chapter.

Although this book did not leave me with immediately terrible thoughts, upon further thought – the plot of this book was unpleasant. On Goodreads I believe that I gave this book 2 stars. I think the translation was good and in general the writing style was interesting, but honestly I wouldn’t recommend picking up this book.

Until Next Time World…

Man Tiger

Man Tiger by Eka Kurniawan was the first book I read in my journey to read the Man Booker International prize longlist. I thought that this would be a good endeavor for a couple of reasons. First, it’s become so obviously apparent that all of my thoughts and opinions are formed based on my limited experiences as a US citizen. I’ve spent my whole life in the United States, and although I have traveled to different countries and continents, my perspective is so grossly Westernized. While in college, I exclusively read BBC news in attempts to learn more about “world news,” but even that was insufficient. As the US is in full swing regarding its presidential election, I’m again reminded how biased all media coverage is, but specifically that in the US. So I hope to expand my world view a little more by reading books set in non-US (and often non-Western) settings.

Second, I was in a little bit of a YA k-hole. I didn’t read YA when I was a teenager. Harry Potter wasn’t even finished by the time I graduated high school. Last year I kind of really discovered this phenomenon. I’ve read a lot of YA books over the past year, and some of them have been excellent. But a lot of them have failed to challenge me intellectually or emotionally. So I thought it was about time I move my interests a little past YA into translated works.

Now that I’ve gotten all that nonsense out of the way – on to Man Tiger specifically! As I stated earlier this week, in my quick update, I think that this book was a solid three star read for me. The part that was most disappointing was the lack of story around Margio (the main character’s) affliction of having a Tiger live inside of him. At the end of the first “chapter” or story, you find out that he has a Tiger inside of him. But really that’s where the author’s coverage of the story stops. I’m not sure what this book is called in its original tongue, but I hope that title makes a little more sense than the English version.

I enjoyed how Man Tiger was broken up into chapters based on story. I also found the translation really excellent, because although the book sometimes switched POV and often switched between present, past and future, it was never confusing for me. I think that this is in stark contrast to Everything I Never Told You, which I thought was extremely confusing and annoying to follow. It’s unusual plot sometimes made it hard to become really invested in the book, but when I did sit down to read it I was always interested.

I would recommend this book for anyone who is interested in translated works of fiction. I would also suggest that those who are doing the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, that this would be a cool book to fulfill the “book by an author from Southeast Asia” section.

Until Next Time World…

March Wrap Up

March has definitely been a reading slump month for me. I read a measly seven books, and honestly only 5 of the following books are really full length. I wasn’t that interested in reading this month, probably because I was so tired all the time. I have been working A LOT, which doesn’t leave many hours for sitting on the couch with a good book. I’m hopeful for April, my birth month, to be a great reading month. I need to get a jump start on my #manbookering goals, but I also have a couple of weeks to develop some new graphics for my blog before my software warrant expires.

Since I have such a small number of books, instead of leaving you with a top 5, the red highlighted book was my top read of the month!

  1. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamine Alire Saenz
  2. This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp
  3. Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin
  4. The Lies About Truth by Courtney C. Stevens
  5. Man Tiger by Eka Kurniawan
  6. A Cup of Rage by Raduan Nassar
  7. Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell

 

Until Next Time World…

Quick #manbookering Update

Hi All –

I wanted to give you all a quick update on my #manbookering progress. Although work and life have been extremely busy, I’ve been able to read 2 books of the long list so far, Man Tiger and A Cup of Rage. These books were respectively 3 and 2 star reads for me. It’s interesting how important a good translator is to getting across, not only the content, but also the prose of a story.

A Cup of Rage is obviously a smartly written book, and I believe the translator did a good job of translating that from Portuguese to English. I’m also in the Goodreads group related to this topic of reading the nominees for this award, and one reader stated that the book was tedious. It’s so true!

Man Tiger was the first MBI book I read from my local library. It was a slower read for me, especially considering that it is only 170 pages. It’s written in the form of vignettes, which allows the reader to get a glimpse of life from different time periods within the characters’ lives. Overall, it is worth reading, especially if you are looking to read a Southeast Asian author.

I’ll post a more thorough review of these two works later this week, but I wanted to give everyone a glimpse into my progress. Now I’m on to White Hunger!

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…