Libros

Eight books for July

July felt like a really long month. Maybe it’s because I was counting down the days until Xavi’s first birthday, it was hot, or I was going through the job application/interview process.

I took advantage of those 31 days by sticking my head in a book. Or eight..

I read the first three books below as to finish off the A-Z challenge.

Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
For several years, I’ve come across Edwidge Danticat on lists of women writers, young writers, people of color writers, etc. I knew I should read something by her, and wasn’t sure where to start. Her first novel seemed appropriate. Overall, I enjoyed the story of Sophie Caco coming to live with her mother, Martine, in NY after many years of living with her aunt and grandmother in Haiti. Of course, the relationship between mother and daughter (and the other women, niece/aunt) are quite complicated given that Sophie is the product of rape.

Bilal’s Bread by Sulayman X
TRIGGER WARNING. Breath, Eyes, Memory was depressing in it’s exploration of rape and complicated or abusive family relationships. Bilal’s Bread topped that by adding in Kurdish refugee issues, marginalization of Muslim families, physical and sexual abuse/incest, and the coming out process. I’m not sure I’d recommend it since the depictions of physical and sexual are very graphic. However, it does explore homosexuality and Muslims — what does the Koran say vs. how followers interpret this — which was interesting.

Black Widow’s Wardrobe by Lucha Corpi
I picked this up on a whim because I remembered reading Corpi’s poetry in a Chicana/o literature class. The best way to describe it would be a mystery novel for Chicana/o studies majors. Overall, it’s okay, but it wasn’t my favorite and I don’t think I’ll read Corpi’s other two novels following her heroine and PI, Gloria Damasco. Maybe I would’ve liked it more if I had read the other books in the miniseries? I don’t read many mystery novels, but in the few I read, the villain’s motivations are always quite flimsy. That was the case with Black Widow too. I did appreciate the tie-in to Mesoamerica and the brief lessons on Malintzin/Doña Marina/La Malinche. I’ve read at least one other historical fiction novel about Malintzin, but I like Corpi’s approach more.

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I went a little crazy in the new fiction section at the library one day and picked up 4 of the following 5 books. (I read The Commitments via e-book.)

At Night We Walk in Circles by Daniel Alarcón
Earlier this year I read Lost City Radio and didn’t love it as much as I expected. Part of what bugged me is that the sense of place was ambivalent. Peru is never mentioned, just like the word Chile is nowhere to be found in Isabel Allende’s The House of Spirits. Perhaps because I know a little more about Chile this didn’t bother me.

Despite never mentioning Peru in At Night We Walk in Circles, I didn’t feel annoyed or loss. There was a much stronger sense of place especially as Daniel Alarcón described the slow life in the provinces away from Lima.

This wasn’t a “can’t put down book,” for the first 3-4 parts (250+ pages). The set-up takes a while as the unnamed narrator tells us about Nelso and his family, the Diciembre theater troupe members, the revival of the troupe and ensuing tour in to the slow countryside.

Once I got to the end, I was surprised at how much I liked it and how well Alarcón set everything up. I remember thinking, “Whoa, I see what you did there. Cool.” Sophisticated, review, I know.

A few quotes that stuck out and are a good example of how great Alarcón is with language:

In response, Henry explained that heartbreak is like shattered glass: while it’s impossible that two pieces could splinter in precisely the same pattern, in the end, it doesn’t matter, because the effect is identical. [p. 223]

That morning, he was afraid of becoming old, and it was a very specific kind of old age he feared, one which has nothing to do with the number of years since your birth. He feared the premature old age of missed opportunities. [p. 262]

The Commitments and The Guts by Roddy Doyle

I picked up The Guts because I liked the cover. As I read the book jacket closer, I realized it was a follow-up to The Commitments so I downloaded that one first. The Commitments is the story of Jimmy Rabbitte and his friends trying to form a soul band in 1980s working class Dublin. It’s very short, but entertaining. I can see why it was made in to a film and musical. The Guts is a return to Rabbitte and some of his friends from his youth. Now he’s married, has four kids, and is still working in the music scene though not as a manager. He’s worried about his finances and health — rightfully so, he has colon cancer. I didn’t like The Guts much, mainly because I didn’t like Jimmy all that much. Also, reading a novella in Irish English is one thing, but the whole novel feels like a little too much. At least I learned new slang.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else.

There’s a reason this is a NY Times bestseller. Just go read it. You can probably do it in one sitting, but you’ll regret it because you wished you had spent a little more time with it. That’s okay. You’ll do just as I did and re-read the prologue and first chapter. Then you’ll re-read the final chapter and epilogue. Maybe you’ll re-read everything because it’s the type of book that gets better with each new read. Then you’ll go re-read your favorite passages and quotes. There will be many. Then you’ll sadly return the book to the library, make your husband read it and promise to one day buy the lovely hardcover version. When you’re done, come back and tell me if you cried.

The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer
I really enjoyed The Interestings and hoped The Uncoupling would be similar. Not really.

The premise is interesting. The local high school where Dory and Robby Lang teach puts on Aristophanes’ play “Lysistrata.” In the play, the women abstain from sex in protest of the Peloponnesian War. This spell overtakes the New Jersey town and all heterosexual women, from teens to those married for several years, are suddenly disinterested in sex. While I loved The Interestings as a character study, I wasn’t drawn to the men and women in Wolitzer’s Stellar Plains. They all sort of fell flat. Also, the protest of the actual war in Afghanistan felt like it was shoehorned in. Overall, it was okay, but nowhere nearly as memorable as The Interestings.

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2 thoughts on “Eight books for July

  1. -k- says:

    What, you’re gonna leave us hanging on the job thing?

    So, given how hard I love Radio Ambulante, I feel like I need to read Daniel Alarcón- all in all, which of the two books of his you read recently would you suggest?

    I’ve read some Meg Wollitzer this year too, but I think I quit. The Position was just okay, and I actually quit The Interestings some 300+ pages in. I *hate* quitting books but I realized that I was returning to it more out of a sense of obligation than enjoyment. I also felt like there were a number of recycled elements between those two books- did you notice the same with The Uncoupling?

    Loving the book reviews. The A-Z idea is a nice way to keep the momentum going.. might have to try it!

  2. I’ll email you about the job thing.

    I liked At Night We Walk in Circles more than Lost City Radio. Both were solid, but the vagueness of location really threw me off about LCR. Isabel Allende does it too, but as I mentioned before, I know a lot more about Chile than I do about Peru. Thus, when Allende mentions “The Poet”, I know it’s Neruda and “The General” is Pinochet, etc. I can situate myself. The other thing about LCR is that it was the 3rd or 4th book I’ve read this year dealing with disappearances, war, or torture. So, I compared it to others. I’d put both on your reading list just because it’s Daniel Alarcón.

    I also felt like there were a number of recycled elements between those two books- did you notice the same with The Uncoupling?

    Yes! I’m pretty set on reading about upper middle class white women in NY for a while, I think. If I read more Wolitzer, it won’t be for a while. When you read them in (almost) succession, the characters tend to run together.

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