Book Reviews #3

Title: The One and Only IvanThe_One_and_Only_Ivan_cover
Author: Katherine Applegate
Genre: Children’s Fiction

Sometimes I read children’s books. This one was suggested and recommended by one of my Professors. It was simplistic in its story but still carried that message (that’s the payoff) at the end. That good ole’ moral.

The theme of this book is friendship and what defines family. A great message for kids, but some adults need to read this too. They often forget what real friendship is.

The limited casts of characters and settings do not distract from the story.

I don’t want to give too much away. It is a charming book, easy read and inspired by a true story about Ivan the Gorilla.

 

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Title: StoryCraft – The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction
Author: Jack Hart
Genre: Non-Fiction

This book was assigned by my Professor and it deals with writing Narrative Non Fiction.

This book goes through the various parts of what makes great narrative nonfiction such as: Structure, Character, Scenes.  Each chapter gives examples which come from famous writers like Erik Larson who wrote the book Devil in the White City, as well as journalists (none of whom I heard of).

Although I’ve heard professionals and professors talk about this stuff ad nauseam, it never fails to give me an epiphany, like it is some new revolutionary knowledge.

I read several reading books a year and none of them are ‘light reading’, but this one I felt was more informative than the average book.

Did I like it? Did I not? Does it matter? No.

Basically the function was to ‘take book, put in brain’ and that’s what I did.

 

Behold the Dreamers

Title: Behold the Dreamers
Author: Imbolo Mbue
Genre: Fiction

Well now. When I like a book I usually let it marinate for a while.  This one I have a lot to say, but it is all good.  I don’t want to give anything away, but this book resonated with me. I’m not an immigrant so I cannot speak to that experience. I am a New Yorker though. 

Looks at the lives of two families. One from Cameroon Africa and one from NYC.  Both families are rich and both families are poor. But you’ll have to read it to understand my meaning.

This novel does have a denouement, but not one I expected. The tidy little bow gives one food for thought. I like things like that. If I invest time in a book of 400 pages, I want a payoff. I want to close it and go “hmm”.

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The Conscious Reader: What I Reached For This Year

 

james-baldwin

James Baldwin

Over my reading career, I’ve noticed that I don’t read many books by People of Color (POC). I don’t consciously omit them from my reading list. However, I do not consciously make an effort to seek them out either. I thought it was about time that I made this effort. I often read for authors I’ve read before, or books on best seller lists. I don’t say to myself, “Is this a POC?” It shouldn’t matter if the book is good. But what does matter is that the lists often don’t have many POC’s to reach for. In more recent days, the list seems to have more inclusion of POC’s, or maybe I’m just starting to notice.

My goal for this year was to read at least 1 POC (African-American/Black, Latino, Asian, Native American) a month. I low-balled it because I would be in school and wouldn’t be sure as to how much stuff I’d have to read for that.

These are the books I read thus far this year that were written by POC’s

  1. Imagine This: Creating the Work You Love – Maxine Clair
  2. Ghetto Klown – John Leguizamo
  3. The Girl Who Fell From the Sky – HeidiDurrow
  4. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – August Wilson
  5. The Fire Next Time – James Baldwin
  6. Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
  7. Lost Spells of Marie Laveau – Marie Laveau
  8. A Brief History of Seven Killings – Marlon James
  9. The Santa Muerte – Gustavo Vazquez Lozano
  10. Miss Burma – Charmaine Craig
  11. Kindred – Octavia Butler
  12. Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood – Trevor Noah
  13. Bad Feminist – Roxanne Gay
  14. Chango’s Fire – Ernesto Quiñonez

By consciously selecting these books I’ve read 14 of them (by September 1). I went back to my list from 2016 and though I read many more books by this time last year, I only read 7 books by POC’s. They were picked without making a conscious effort.

I am sure if I went back through my reading lists, I’d see a similar pattern.

Roxane-Gay

Roxanne Gay

Most of the books on the above list were above average. There were a few that I could have lived without, but that is always the way it is when any book.

 

My goal for 2017 was to read 12 books by POC. I have 4 full months left (as of Sept. 1), I will try and raise this goal to 20.

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An Adult Look Back on Children’s Books and Why I Resonated With Them…Really.

  1. One of my favorites was The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton. It House ust celebrated its 75th Of course I didn’t read it when it first hit the market in 1942, I enjoyed it during its 30th Anniversary. I no longer have the original hard copy, but I did buy it for my daughter when she was young, so I still have a copy. I liked this book because I live in New York City, and the book showed the effects of urbanization on a place that was once pastoral.  At the age of 5, I didn’t know that’s why I liked it. I just liked the fact that the little house find a new happy home after years of neglect.

Perhaps, for me, it was more about relatability. Was I happy where I was? Was I looking for a new place to reside? These are the things I think of 45 years later.

  1. Another favorite was Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans. This one is celebrating its 78th year of existence. Again, didn’t read this one until the early 1970s. I liked this book because here is a little girl who is full of mischief but nevertheless well liked and cared for. And who can forget the clever rhyme scheme.

It was nice to see that although Madeline was a little big much for her caretaker, she was taken care of when it was needed, and not begrudgingly.  She was treated so well, that the rest of the girls wanted to also have their appendix (appendices?} removed. Now, I’m not saying my mother would not have taken care of me. Not at all. Of course she would have.  I just got a fuzzy feeling when I see other children, especially ones who are not at home, being cared for and loved. I bought this book (hardcover) for my son when he was small.

  1. The Snowy Day and Peter’s Chair by Ezra Jack Keats were two books that I read around the same time. They were both written in the early 1960s, so they were not that old when I got my hands on them. And why did I like them? Well the protagonist was African-American, something that was woefully missing in children’s books in the early 1970s.

I just really liked seeing someone that looked like me in a book. There is no deep hidden psychological reason, just the obvious.  Yes, I bought these for my son when he was small.

An Honorable Mention: This one popped up while I was looking on Amazon.I had all but forgotten about it.

MAYBELLE

Maybelle the Cable Car also by Virginia Lee Burton. I hadn’t thought about this book since I was a child.  I didn’t even buy it for my children.  What I like about Virginia Lee Burton’s books is that they are urban.  She draws subways, cable cars, apartment buildings and just other very urban scenery.  What I really liked about this book is the drawing encircled the text.  Most picture books of the time had a picture and then under or above were the words.  This book had the text in varying places throughout the entire book.

Being in New York City in the 60s/70s I never rode a cable car; however, it isn’t much different than a city bus and that is how I related to it.

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Book Reviews #2

EDGARTitle: There is a River: The Story of Edgar Cayce (1945)
Author: Thomas Joseph Sugrue

Genre: Biography

I have been a fan of Edgar Cayce for many years.  I read a biography entitled Edgar Cayce: An American Prophet (2000) by Sidney D. Kirkpatrick many years ago.  But this book proceeds that book by almost 60 years.

Thomas Sugrue (1907-1953) was a skeptical journalist who lived with the Cayce’s for a while. During this time, he completed this book. His access to the information was first hand.

The book takes the reader through Cayce’s life from childhood until death. It is obvious to see where Sugrue left off because it seemed to go from a country walk with Edgar to a hastily written section about his later life and death.

Though that was no doubt added later. As well as case studies that are at the end of this book.  Those didn’t interest me although I looked at a few.

I would have given this book 4 out of 5 stars if it weren’t for the addendums. 

I enjoyed the more recent biography by Kirkpatrick better.

Neither of these books are for the mere curious, one would have to have a deep interest in Edgar Cayce and his works.

 

CitTitle: Citizen: An American Lyric
Author: Claudia Rankine
Genre: Poetry/Prose/Art

This was a ‘school read’.  I read poetry books occasionally.  This one was different, as it isn’t the type of poetry book I’m used to. This had poetry, prose poetry, artwork within.  Some of it was autobiographical, other stuff was commentary.

It is hard for me to say if I loved it or not. I didn’t mind it. I did find some interesting quotes by Rankine and other authors who she quoted.

She wrote stuff like:

“The past is a life sentence, a blunt instrument aimed at tomorrow.”

“Its motion activates its darkness. The pickup truck is a condition of darkness in motion.”

How I wish I could write stuff this breathtaking.

This book is about racism in American against African-Americans. But what Rankine is showing are the subtle ways that it occurs.  Sometimes she does go there…goes to the brutality of it, but often it is that whisper of racism that even the black person doesn’t see unless the look really hard.

Some of the pictures of the artwork were moving, some I just didn’t get. I enjoyed the book overall. Different that anything I’ve read in the past.

It also was a stage play at some point. That was probably very interesting.

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An Unfinished Essay about Unfinished Essays

It boggles my mind why someone like Roxanne Gay can seem to write and publish so many essays, yet I can’t finish one. She must endlessly think about interesting things in general.

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It isn’t because I don’t read, I do. I read a lot of non-fiction as well. I watch TV programs, news, biographies, NOVA, BBC, you name it. But yet, when I sit down to write something the mind becomes constipated.

Maybe I just don’t have deep thoughts?

No that’s not it.

Actually I find myself thinking about all kinds of things, but how to write about them?

I start writing about something and then I say, “Ah this is no good!” and leave it alone. Sometimes I go back to it if there is something that gnaws at me. I have a ton of unfinished essays, but why?

I lack confidence. That is what Roxanne Gay ha
s that I don’t. She knows what she has to say is something others want to hear. She is unapologetic about it. It’s not that I am not unapologetic about what I have to say but I question if I really want to go down that particular sewer drain. I mean, I can write an entire book of essays about my mother.

I know one only gets confidence by writing, so that is what I must do. I must write the essays and I must finish them, and then I must submit them (get rejected) submit them again, and continue ad nauseam until….voilà…one is published.

 

 

 

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My Thoughts on 2 Fiction Novels

Title: Young Jane Young
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Genre: Fiction

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College intern Aviva Grossman has an illicit affair with a congressman.  However this story isn’t

1) Just a story about a young woman and an older married man’s indiscretions.
2) Told from solely Aviva’s point of view or the congressman’s point of view,

The five parts of this novel are told through different points of view, and they are told in different ways which gives the novel added interest.

Part I – Bubbe Meise – This is a first person POV told by Rachel, the mother of Aviva Grossman.

Part II – Wherever You Go, There You Are – This is a first person POV told by Jane Young.

Part III – Thirteen, or a Few Interesting Facts About Maine – This is in an epistolary fashion through email. Jane Young’s daughter, Ruby has a Pen Pal named Fatima in Indonesia whom she corresponds with. Through these emails, we learn a lot about who her mother (Jane) really is.

Part IV – Angel in the House – This is a first person POV told by Embeth (the congressman’s wife).

Part V – Choose – This is a second person POV told by Aviva Grossman. It is also in an epistolary form (diary entries).

I enjoy stories that are told through different lenses. Sometimes third person Omniscient (even close third) can get boring.  I like to see what people are thinking about a situation and what is going on in their lives while this situation is going on.  Even though as the book progresses, we know ‘what’s up’, it is interesting to see, Ruby for instance, trying to piece it together.

Usually second person POV drives me nuts, but here (Part V) it is done so deftly, that it reads as if it were you.

 

Title: The Orphan’s Tale
Author: Pam Jenoff
Genre: Fiction

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Sometimes I pick up a book, not knowing what to expect. I read the synopsis and it sou

nded mildly interesting. There are books that I read that stay with me long after, this will be one of them.

The point of view switches between Astrid and Noa in alternating chapters. Astrid atrapeze artist from a German circus family and Noa, a young Danish woman who was kicked out of her home because of an unexpected pregnancy become the unlikeliest of friends.  Two woman that lose everything, find each other.

I know it sounds hokey, but it is a really really good story. I stuck with it and by the end, I needed a tissue.

I haven’t read much Historical Fiction this year. This one takes place during WWII in Germany and it has all the bells & whistles of a book set in that time without being cliché.

And to read about circus folk.  I am always shying away from it, but when I do finally pick up a book with this theme, I thoroughly enjoy it.

 

These posts will be for my reading journal for my MFA program. They will come periodically.

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Most Interesting Books Read Jan – Jun 2017

My reading was all over the place this year. I read current and I read classic. I had no theme, genre or author binge (I usually do). These are some of the books I read in the first half of 2017. These are not necessarily my 5 star books, but they were the interesting ones. No spoilers or synopsis. Just my thoughts on the books.

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The Mayor of Casterbridge – By Thomas Hardy (5 Stars)

This novel was read for school, although it would have been something I chose for myself. I’ve seen the BBC production of this so the story wasn’t foreign to me. It was one of those books that I would get around to reading one day.

Talk about scandal and nonstop ‘monkey wrenches’. This is far from a boring dry classic. I needed a drink when I finished this one. The BBC production didn’t do the novel justice.

 

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1984 – By George Orwell (5 Stars)

I might be the only adult that wasn’t assigned this book in high school. Years ago I attempted to read it, but the copy of the book I own has type smaller than baby ants, so that wasn’t happening. After the 2016 Presidential election, it charted again. I was curious as to why…I’ve heard things.

What took me so long? This was a fantastic work of dystopian fiction. Creepy in its foresight. After I read it, I understood why people became re-interested in this particular dystopian novel.

 

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Never Let Me Go – By Kazuo Ishiguro (4 Stars)

Another assigned read. I’ve seen the title on book lists but ignored it. I can honestly say that this book was ‘different’. I often read books and things have me think, but this book had me thinking deeply. I thought a lot about society, race, gender, age, discrimination, and a whole lot of other things no one wants to really think about, but should.

 

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Crime and Punishment – By Fyodor Dostoyevsky (3 Stars)

Yes people, I got to it. I read the whole thing too. Not my first Russian, but the first one in years. It wasn’t as challenging as I thought and it is another book that makes you think about society and morals. Don’t worry, this didn’t become a theme. My brain can only handle so much deepness.

Out of the 42 books I’ve read from January – June, these 4 were the most important reads for me. The second half of my reading year is shaping up to be very interesting indeed. What I read when I’m left to my own devices!!!

 

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