Sunday, October 11, 2020

September Reading: So Much Goodness!

 Rainy and windy here in Vancouver today. Perfect weather for curling up with a book, and I have a few good candidates (currently reading Iza's Ballad by Margo Szabó and Marc E. Agronin's The End of Old Age). But those are books I'll tell you about next month. Right now, instead of curling up on the couch with a book, it's time to tell you what I read in September.

I started the month with Brit Bennett's The Vanishing Half. Bennett is one of the authors I added to my TBR list after Ibram X Kendi posted about a campaign encouraging readers to buy any two books by Black writers. The goal of the campaign was to "Blackout bestseller lists with Black voices" and thus demonstrate Black power and clout in the publishing industry -- in turn, encouraging the development of more Black writers to all our benefit.  My bookshelves already hold many books by Black and indigenous and Asian writers; reading these has rewarded me richly.  (I suggested some authors you might like to read in my own #BlackPublishingPower post).But most of these fall under the rubric of "literary novels," however elitist or arbitrary that term might be.  In one of my favourite genres -- mystery novels -- Black writers have been sadly under-represented.  (Oyinkan Braithwaite's marvellous My Sister, the Serial Killer a happy exception I posted about here; have you read this yet? You must!)

As it turns out, I was mistaken in thinking that The Vanishing Half was a mystery novel. At least, there's a mystery driving the narrative, as the title hints, but there's certainly no murder to be solved. My friend Sue wrote about reading this book for her Book Club discussion around a campfire last month -- we must have been reading it at the same time.  If I'd been able to pop in, I could have used the notes in my Reading Journal as prompts reminding me of what I might contribute to a conversation.  . .   

Second book of the month: Melissa Harrison's beautifully lyrical and elegiac (perhaps a bit melancholy) At Hawthorne Time. . . Harrison writes nature, particularly English nature, so compellingly, obviously from a foundation of rigorous and loving observation. I would say that if you liked Raynor Winn's The Salt Path you might enjoy Harrison's writing, although Winn's is memoir and Harrison's fiction.  My Reading Journal entry photo is above, #54.

Next, I read Don Gillmor's To the River: Losing My Brother  and wrote a few words about this bereavement memoir in this Instagram post and also in my journal.

Time for a mystery, and the library obliged with Peter Robinson's Careless Love. I still enjoy this series (I think I've fallen one title behind), but as my notes -- see photo above -- indicate, I found myself impatient with Inspector Banks' casual, unconscious sexism, the assumptions he makes about women's motivation, behaviour, thoughts, etc. Glad Robinson includes strong female characters to call Banks on it.


. . 

Such a good month for books, a standout being Aysegül Savas' s Walking on the Ceiling (I apologize for not writing the "s"s in her name with their cedillas;  not an option I can see on my MacBook Air). A beautiful novel that will take you to and through the streets of Paris. . . and take you to Istanbul as well. Not as a tourist, though, but as one exploring notions of Longing and Belonging, considering Place and Memory.  I've posted some favourite passages from the book on Instagram

And I loved this interview of Savas by Catherine Lacey. What a wonderful conversation about fiction-writing in general although seen through the focus on Walking on the Ceiling.  Here's an excerpt from Lacey's introduction to the novel :  "The book’s sensitivity never veers into the saccharine; it is tender without being too self-enamored. I feel that all dyed-in-the-wool readers, lonely in some intractable core of ourselves, crave books like this, books that walk along side us, books that are companions of contemplation, not distractions from life but magnifying lenses for it."

September kept delivering! I was introduced to Sandro Cellini, a private detective (ex-police) in his 60s, in Christobel Kent's A Time of MourningNot only does this title offer a cleverly plotted mystery featuring the streets (and rising waters) of Florence and great characters (old and young, a very welcome diversity of ages), but it's the first of a series. I can't wait to read the rest and highly recommend this one to the mystery lovers among you.
And I did discover a new-to-me Black writer of a mystery series featuring a Black Texas Ranger (I learned of Attica Locke's writing through the Instagram account of her sister Tembi Locke whose From Scratch is a beautiful memoir about love, bereavement, family, and Sicily -- mentioned in this post. Bluebird Bluebird is the first volume in this mystery series, and I'm looking forward to reading more. Not everyone wants their escape reading to reflect real-world problems too seriously, but I have always appreciated the genre for its ability to consider morality and justice, the meaning of good and evil, the relationship between an individual and community. The best writers in the genre willingly explore the way that crime and justice sit in a context of racial, class, gender and sexuality (in)equality .  .  . while repaying our attention by introducing us to new places and intriguing characters and entertaining, even thrilling, plots. Bluebird Bluebird does all of that. 

My quick handwritten response to the mystery above and below, in red ink. . .  And two pages from the e-book to give you a sense of the context

Texas Ranger Darren Matthews' mother represents a much different background and lifestyle than does his father's family, and it's the latter in which Darren has grown up, raised by his two paternal uncles after his father died. Right from the outset, then, a complexity that asks readers to think beyond stereotypes and acknowledge the rich complications of history and place, justice and allegiance. 

Recommended. (Oh, and I also posted a few words about it here, on Instagram)

The last book I read in September is a short book -- Alan Bennett's novella
The Uncommon Reader. Uncommon, indeed. Bennett imagines Queen Elizabeth discovering, in her eighth decade, the inordinate pleasures of reading . . . and becoming rather impatient with duties that rob her of reading time.

I read this as an e-copy borrowed from the Vancouver Public Library, and I kept screen-shooting pages on my iPad. Really, I need to own a copy of this so that I can underline and post-it-note favourite pages . . . and "entertain" my family and friends, in my dotage, by pulling the book from its shelf and reading aloud. The passage I posted earlier on Instagram, for example: What she was finding also was how one book led to another, doors kept opening wherever she turned and the days weren't long enough for the reading she wanted to do. 
and this one, on the difference between being briefed on a topic and reading about it for oneself: Briefing is terse, factual and to the point. Reading is untidy, discursive and perpetually inviting. Briefing closes down a subject, reading opens it up. (emphasis mine)

I'll post a few more pages to my Instagram Reading Account as soon as I've got this post published, but meanwhile, here's what Bennett's "Her Majesty" thought of Canada, her mood influenced by her planned travel-reading "having unaccountably gone missing" and her favourite reader-attendant having been re-assigned. . . . Thank goodness my country was redeemed in HRH's eyes by Alice Munro.

Indeed! What treats indeed!
And that seems a good note to close on, the thought of the great pleasure in coming "across an author one enjoys and then to find they have written not just one book but at least a dozen." .  .  A half dozen would be a decent pleasure as well . . . This year I discovered Siri Husvedt and Elif Shafak and Attica Locke and Jess Kidd and Chirstobel Kent and Melissa Harrison and Brit Bennett . . . and numerous others. . . What about you? Any authors you've recently discovered, whose backlist you're anticipating reading with pleasure? Or if not, any books you've been rereading and finding even more enjoyable or relevant than the first time you read them. Of perhaps you'll just share books you've liked (or not!) recently. I'm always keen to hear from you and I love to read the conversations that develop in this space. Thank you, in anticipation.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Rounding Up the Summer Reading -- August Is Over!

 We're in the last third of this challenging year,  a year in which my reading has oscillated between indulging my need to escape and fulfilling my need to understand the challenges we face. August brought us (finally!) the warm weather here in Vancouver, and perhaps that's why last month's titles tend toward the indulgent, escapist side of the dial. . . 

Not the first title, though. Carmen Machado's memoir In the Dream House draws its reader in with compelling story-telling about a love story gone wrong. Elegantly written, stylistically effective, and ultimately redemptive as it is, though, the narrative is often uncomfortable, even painful. I'm still recommending to you, though, for broadening our understanding of relationships and of the power negotiations within them--and for illuminating the way that silence and silencing work. (Reminding me of something I included in a post on my other blog recently, a quotation from Alice Zentner's L'Art de Perdre: "Personne ne sait ce que les autres vont faire de notre silence" -- no one knows what the others are going to make of our silence )

I posted a page from In the Dream House in an Instagram post, along with a few comments about the book, and I posted a different page on my other blog, inspired by a metaphor of Machado's that caught my attention

The next three books were all bought at a charming and thoughtfully stocked independent bookshop. Paul and I were the only customers, for the first ten or fifteen minutes, and what a pleasure it was to be able to take our time browsing physical shelves instead of choosing books online. Don't get me wrong; I'm grateful that we've had the online options during these months of physical distancing, but there's really nothing that compares to the sensory reality of shelves filled with new books (Used books are good as well, but different . . . ).

In fact, I think I did well to restrict myself to three books: 

Jess Kidd's Mr. Flood's Last Resort -- because I enjoyed her Things in Jars so much. So well-written, such a romp. Contemporary Gothic mystery doesn't quite capture it, but something like that. 

Susie Steiner's Remain Silent, latest/third in the very good Manon Bradshaw series. Fulfils all the promise of the first two volumes, with perhaps even more depth as Manon grapples with marriage, midlife, the challenges of childcare. . . The mystery also reflects (although coincidentally, rather than deliberately) Steiner's experience with brain cancer over the past year, as she discusses in this Guardian interview. And in case you don't already read High Heels in the Wilderness, Sue writes about Steiner as "kindred spirit" here, on the basis of what she learns in that Guardian interview.

My third purchase at Ivy Books was one a friend had recommended to me (the same discerning reader who'd recommended In a Dream House -- thanks, Brenda!).  You may have read Mandel's too-prescient post-pandemic novel Station Eleven (if you haven't read it yet, perhaps wait until we've come out the other side of what Covid-19 is doing). The Glass Hotel builds from historical events rather than speculative future ones, but it's no less imaginative for that.  Ghost story, mystery, literary fiction spun from the Ponzi schemes and financial crisis of 2008. . . 
Book #51, J.T. Ellison's Lie to Me was one I'd have skipped if I'd had something else on hand to suit my light-reading mood. . . 

Luckily, I had a more satisfying book on hand to finish out the month. . . 
If you don't read French, this moving (and instructive) coming-of-age/war novel by Afro-French writer and rapper (yes, truly!) Gaël Faye has been translated into English (into 36 languages, actually). Set in Burundi, before and during that "small country's" devastating civil war, the novel featuring a young boy won the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens, and has been made into a film. Highly recommended, especially if, like me, you'd like to broaden your understanding of Africa.

And that's it for my August reading. Of course, by now we're a third of the way through September, and I've a few books added to my journal. But those belong in another post, although you can see what I'm currently reading by peeking at my Instagram Reading Account. 

Now I'd love to hear from you. What have you been reading? What's on your nightstand right now? What book is taking longer than you expected to get to or to get through? And what do you have lined up on your TBR list? Also curious to know how you're getting most of your books these days? As e-books, read on e-readers? As physical books -- and do those come from the library or at a bricks-and-mortar bookstore or delivered to your mailbox by courier. . . Humour me: I don't expect answers to all those questions, but I'd love a conversation this morning . . . ;-)

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

July Reading -- It Was a Good Month!

Surprise! I'm back with my list of July reading, and I've done it by the fourth of August. Would have had it posted yesterday, in fact, but Google/Blogger has introduced (read: imposed!) some changes that make uploading photos extremely frustrating. . . .

But I'm here to share recent reading, not to complain about technical problems. Let's go, then. . . The numbering here is that which appears in my handwritten 2020 reading journal. . . 

40 .  I began July reading Denise Mina's stand-alone mystery Conviction. I love Mina's Alex Morrow series (wrote a bit about two of those here), but honestly, I couldn't have loved Conviction more and I'd love to see more mysteries featuring this protagonist.
41. Jess Kidd's Things in Jars. This is so much fun, very well written, well plotted, the setting of Victorian London seems credibly researched -- and highly entertaining. 

42. Another book by Turkish-British writer Elif Shafak. I wrote a bit about her earlier novel The Bastard of Istanbul here and about her most recent book here. . Three Daughters of Eve is as entertaining and illuminating and thought-provoking as those two but takes us into a different strata of Turkish society, that of its supposedly enlightened, liberal, cosmopolitan elite. Their wealth and conformity and complicit silences and wilful igorance.  But also the eager curiosity and poignant vulnerability of the young woman our protagonist once was, attending Oxford, experiencing an exhilarating and worrisome freedom (see my Instagram post for a passage that illustrates that vulnerability). Another Shafak novel I'm happy to recommend. 

43.  Maria Semple's Today Will Be Different is another that my daughter Megan passed along (she gave me Semple's earlier book a few years ago -- Where'd You Go, Bernadette? #59 in my 2016 reading list).  So many laugh-out-loud passages in this one (see my Instagram post for examples).

44. Damn! Now I'm all caught up in Mick Herron's Slough House series, and I'm going to have to wait for Mr. Herron to write another of these entertaining thrillers and find out what's going on with the various characters who have made it through this far. Also will be curious to see if the next one will feature a certain government's clumsy response to a certain pandemic. Herron has fun placing each volume within a particular political context, so that the reader can play at identifying figures in these roman-à-clef settings. Not at all heavy-handed, and easy enough to miss if you don't follow British news closely, but particularly with Brexit and party politics the last few years, chuckles of recognition may be elicited. ;-)

45. Alice Hoffman's The World That We Knew. As I wrote in my journal (photo above) I have longstanding reservations about fiction set during WWII, the Holocaust especially. This book overcame those. Rich, provocative, imaginative, satisfying, disturbing. Sad, redemptive. . . . Recommended. (I haven't read anything by Hoffman before -- have you?)
46. And, as you can see, I closed the month of July with Donna Leon's The Temptation of Forgiveness. . . .

And I've almost finished August's first title, In the Dream House, by Carmen Machado. Brilliant, compelling, trenchant. More later. . . 

Your turn. . . Comments below, please. . . .

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Looking for a Book to Read?

Here's my reading list for the first half of 2020.  I'm a month late posting it, yes, but there's still time for you to find a title or two for reading at the beach (or, my preference, some shady nook indoors or under a big old tree).  . . Let me know if you read any of these. 

1. Elif Shafak, 10 Minutes, 38 Seconds in This Strange World
2. Bernardine Evaristo. Girl, Woman, Other 
I posted about those two titles here
3. Oyinkan Braithwaite. My Sister the Serial Killer
4. Melissa Harrison, Clay
5. Kate Hamer, The Doll Funeral
Post about 3, 4, and 5 here
6. Tessa Hadley, Late in the Day
7. Val McDermid, How the Dead Speak 
My post about 6 and 7
8. Flynn Berry, A Double Life
9. Pico Iyer, The Lady and the Monk
10. Pico Iyer, Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells
Posted here about 8, 9, and 10
11. Lee Child, Blue Moon
12. Kathleen Jamie, Surfacing
13. Ann Patchett, The Dutch House
14. Katherine Gilbert Murdock, The Book of Boy
15. Marlena de Blasi, That Summer in Sicily
16. Felicity Cloake, One More Croissant for the Road
My notes about titles 11-16 here
17. Mick Herron, Spook Street
18. Jesmyn Ward, Sing, Unburied, Sing
19. Ann Patchett, The Patron Saint of Liars
20. Jean-Christophe Rufin, Le Collier Rouge
21. Mark Lamprell, One Summer Day in Rome
22. Jesmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones
23. Ali Smith, Spring
All my March reading was gathered into this post
24. Cara Hunter, Close to Home
25. Mick Herron, London Rules
26. Jesmyn Ward, Men We Reaped
27. Siri Hustvedt, What I Loved
28. Ibram X Kendi, How to Be an AntiRacist
29. Elif Shafak, The Bastard of Istanbul
More about my April reading in this post
May post here for books 30-34
30. Donna Leon, The Waters of Eternal Youth
31. Shin, Kyung-Sook, Please Look After Mom, (trans. Chi-Young Kim)
32. Shari Lapena. The Couple Next Door
33. Cherie Dimaline, The Marrow Thieves
34. Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Fleishman Is in Trouble
June post for 35-39
35. Hilary Mantel, The Mirror and the Light
36. Emma Healey, Whistle in the Dark
37. Donna Leon, Earthly Remains
38. Cherie Dimaline, Empire of Wild
39. Hélène Cixous, 1938, nuits

Thursday, July 23, 2020

June Reading . . . Yep, I'm Late. . .

Of course, I'm late. What else would I expect, given the established pattern here? But I'm still showing up, and I hope that counts for something. .  .

Again, just posting photos of the relevant pages in my Reading Journal. Let me know if you try to read these and find some portions indecipherable. I'll be happy to transcribe small sections for you or answer questions about a title that invites your curiosity.

No further ado, then.

35 on my year's Reading List is Hilary Mantel's The Mirror and the Light.  Besides the journal entry below, I posted on Instagram -- an excerpt that made me chuckle and another that I admire for its complex layered observations about time and beauty, thoughts about what persists. . .

Book 36 was Emma Healey's Whistle in the Dark.  If you haven't yet read Healey's Elizabeth is Missing (which I wrote about here), I highly recommend that mystery novel.  Her second novel isn't quite as compelling, for me at least, but still entertaining and thought-provoking.

#37, Donna Leon's Earthly Remains -- I'm aware that I really need to start dragging my heels with this series because I'm coming perilously close to the end of titles.  And for me, they're only getting richer as Guido and Paulo move further into middle age, their children almost ready to leave home, their bodies beginning to show the years. In the volume before this, Brunetti had a chance to get out rowing one day and was exhilarated by the experience (although in serious agony for the following two days of protesting muscles). In this title, some beautiful passages that describe more rowing as Brunetti seeks respite from obligations on a nearby island -- I posted an example here.
38. And Cherie Dimaline's The Empire of Wild.  A wild romp of a novel that will make you laugh and make you think while it introduces you to new landscapes and mythologies. Dimaline is a Métis writer and activist who prefers to identify as a writer of indigenous stories rather than as a Canadian writer.  Colonization's continuing damage and destruction, ongoing systemic racism, the presumed supremacy of imposed Euro-centric/Western culture are undoubtedly targeted in her work, but she will entertain you on every page. (check out my Instagram post for examples of her descriptive writing -- the metaphors!)

39.  The last book I read in June has sat on my nightstand since our return from France over a year ago. I picked it up a few times and read ten or fifteen pages, but the stylistic challenges Cixous' work presents were more challenging for me in French, and I kept putting it back down. Last month, though, I got an email from the friend who'd invited me to accompany her to a reading by this feminist icon at the wonderful Mollat bookstore in Bordeaux. My friend had similarly put off reading her copy of 1938, nuits, but as she finally dug into it, had started to do some research and found that the interview and reading at Mollat's had been recorded. The link she sent me motivated me to pick the book up again with more serious intentions.

And, as so often happens, once I committed, the words exercised their power and I was quickly engaged, compelled even. Cixous writes (as she has before) of memory and family and trauma in an elusive style, suggestively autobiographical, confessional, conversational. Layers of allusion to history and mythology and literature . . .
Anyone else enjoy the austerity of French book covers? They speak volumes (ha!) about the intrinsic value of the written word, don't they?

Having studied and admired Cixous' work (her essay The Medusa's Laugh is a requisite on syllabi in feminist thinking, critical theory, cultural studies courses -- or at the very least, a reference to her écriture feminine), it was very cool to hear her speak in a relatively intimate setting. And then to chat with her for a few seconds as she signed my copy. . .
Now that I'm finished it, I'm going to view the video of last year's reading and see how much more of it I can understand. . . . My French aural comprehension is very much a work in progress.

There! Now that I've posted my June reading, my next post will be my half-year Reading List, in case you're looking for some Beach Reading. Not that many of us are heading to the beach this year. Maybe a big beach towel spread on the living-room floor . . .

Your turn now. Any comments about any of my June titles?  And of course I'm always curious about what you're reading, as if my TBR list isn't daunting enough. . . Favourite books lately? And if you're not reading at the beach, where have you been curling up with your books?

Friday, June 12, 2020

May Reading

I began this post a week ago Monday, but then found myself unable to complete it. I've spent the ten or twelve days since debating whether I'll continue blogging at all, wondering about the value of my words but also about the responsibilities or obligations that this space might carry at a time when anti-racist work is more important than ever. . . but also when the expectations for that work can seem to demand forms of activism that are not mine. . . As you'll see immediately below, this is what I was already mulling Monday before last; it's just taken me this long to emerge again.

A Monday morning that makes any effort at continuity nonsensical. And yet . . . To sort my way toward seeing what this hummingbird might do to put out the raging forest fires of racism (never mind the already overwhelming context of a frightening pandemic burning its way across the world). . . To do that, I seem to need that continuity, to work within its possibilities until I can see where to break away, where to stretch, where to pause. . . .

So I'm going to go ahead with a post I've planned, sharing my reading journal pages for May.  But I'd like to begin by reminding you about a book I referred to in my last post, Ibram X. Kendi's How To Be an Anti-Racist.  This morning, I posted a page from that book on Instagram, the page in which Kendi explains why we need to move from "not being racist" to "being anti-racist." I would also recommend, again, another book I wrote about in my last post, Jesmyn Ward's memoir, Men We Reaped. Ward's novels Salvage the Bones and her Sing, Unburied, Sing, both of which I wrote about here, testify powerfully and movingly to the ongoing and systemic racism that continues, somehow, to be ignored. Inconvenient truths indeed.

That's all I will say about that for now. I know we're all mulling, in our own way, what we can do to effect the necessary change.  I'm going to hold space here, for now, to do that. And meanwhile, provide some continuity as well, so as to try to hold onto this little community of thoughtful readers, that means so much to me.

My reading this past month skewed a bit lighter, beginning with
Donna Leon's The Waters of Eternal Youth (borrowed from Vancouver Public Library as an e-book, via my OverDrive app)

I posted a couple of favourite pages on Instagram.  The passage in which Paula tells Brunetti what she does when she's stuck talking to one of the "men who know everything" exemplifies so much of what I love about this series. . . .

And that's as far as I got. . .
I'll continue now by moving to my 31st title for 2020's reading, Kyung-Sook Shin's beautifully moving novel (translated by Chi-Yong Kim) Please Look After Mom.  Thanks so much for recommending this, Dottoressa!
 The novel's structure allows us to construct a holographic view of the mother:  narration moves from one adult sibling to another, as they look for Mom. She's lost herself in the busy city of Seoul after being separated from her husband (always impatient with her, always walking too quickly ahead) at the train station where the elderly couple had arrived from their country village home to visit their children (all of whom were too busy to pick them up). There are also sections told by the husband and by the mother. , ,

While the novel draws illuminating, detail-rich sketches of life in Korea -- scenery, culture, domestic life, food, differences between urban and rural living, changes over seventy years -- the problems of the mother-child relationship, of the ageing mother, were powerfully resonant, so many poignant moments translated above and beyond cultural differences.

I posted an example on Instagram, photos of two pages that tell of a candid and revealing conversation between mother and adult daughter
Book 32 of the year was Shari Lapena's The Couple Next Door.  I must have seen this recommended somewhere online and coincidentally found the e-book available at the library.  Apparently I wasn't impressed. . . .

In retrospect, especially in this historical time when racialized writers deserve our attention more than ever, I'm a bit uncomfortable with my lukewarm journal response to Cherie Dimaline's The Marrow Thieves. I would temper that response now by telling you that many readers (far beyond a YA readership) have lauded the book (as evidenced by the awards it's garnered). Certainly, I found it exponentially more interesting than Book 32, above, and it's fairer to judge it that way, against other genre novels. I think I was just hoping for a novel that better filled the promise I saw in her collection of linked short stories, Red Room (mentioned in this post).  But if you're looking to broaden your reading and expose yourself to exciting First Nations (Native American, indigenous, depending on your country's terminology) writing, this book entertains, moves, disturbs, and provokes thought. . .

We're fortunate enough to have not one, but two, indigenous-owned bookstores within walking distance. I got my copy of The Marrow Thieves from Massy Books and hope to visit Iron Dog Books soon.  Bookstores here are gradually re-opening, and I'm still thinking about how comfortable I'll be browsing in my face mask, but I do need a copy of Dimaline's latest book, Empire of Wild. Eden Robinson and Tommy Orange have both recommended it. Who am I to argue?!
Last book in today's post is Taffy Brodesser-Akner's Fleishman Is in Troublei
lent to me by my daughter -- an astute and prolific reader whose recommendations I always trust. As you'll see if you can read my scrawl in the photo below, I might not have kept reading beyond the first couple of chapters if she hadn't given it to me.
I'm glad I trusted her. . . .
And that's it! I'm still reading Hilary Mantel's The Mirror and the Light (so many parallels with our current situation -- commentary about rulers (I won't write "leaders" when the term doesn't apply) and their advisors. Henry VIII, in all his kingly arrogance, deferred to Cromwell's experience and pragmatic, if often ruthless, wisdom. . . . Clear parallels in the rumblings of potential civil war. . . .
You can see, perhaps, why I needed to take a quick detour to Venice with Donna Leon's Commissario Brunetti . . . . but that's for next post.

Meanwhile, I'm curious about what you're reading -- and perhaps, also, about how your reading has shifted, or is shifting, in response to this powerful movement of solidarity against racism and against state/police brutality. All taking place, of course, within the context of a pandemic that continues to unsettle us in so many ways.  . .  I know that affects our reading as well. How to balance? Reading for comfort, for entertainment, for diversion, but also reading to learn, to develop empathy, to broaden our perspective, to find hope.  Small questions for you today ;-)

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Spring Reading. . . .Mystery to Memoir to Anti-Racism, Istanbul to New York City. . .

After reading Jesmyn Ward's Salvage the Bones and Ali Smith's Spring last month, both wonderful, even important, books. . . but emotionally and mentally demanding. . . I enjoyed the palate-cleansers noted in the photo above: Mick Herron's London Rules and Cara Hunter's Close to Home.  I can't explain why mysteries (and sometimes thrillers -- Herron's "Slough House" series is more thriller, than mystery, and I've loved every one!) are my escape genre of choice. . . .

But palate cleansed, I was ready for something a bit more complex in taste and texture, and Siri Hustvedt's What I Loved was on top of the To Be Read pile, waiting patiently since I'd picked it up at Powell's Books in Portland back in January. . .

So, so much I loved about this book, and I could reread it tomorrow happily. I posted on Instagram that I was reading it and got several comments from other readers who had read it, loved it, and remembered it well long after.

Highly recommended. . . . Also recommended, for very different reasons, is Ibram X Kendi's How To Be An Anti-Racist.  The title might suggest a polemic; to me it signals instead the book's directness and practicality -- and the "how-to" book reference also suggests an engaging self-reflexivity and humour and humanity, and even a sense of "hope against hope" combined with a "we're all in this together; can we roll up our sleeves and get to it." I've been reading this out loud to my husband as he cooks dinner over the last few weeks and I'm surprised how galvanizing it's been for him. As an academic working in the humanities, much of what Kendi says is familiar to me, although he's opened my eyes and offered new lenses to me as well. For Paul, I'd say some of the way Kendi frames the distinction between racism and anti-racism is close to transformational.

And then Jesmyn Ward's Men We Reaped.  She was another writer we were to have heard her speak at University of British Columbia's Chan Centre in early March. . . and then Covid-19. . . .Since then, I've read two of her novels and this honest, painful, determined memoir. . . .such an important voice.  She tells tough truths about our world, about racism and its effects in America, but she will also reward the reader's willingness to witness truth by offering complex, fully human characters and engaging narratives and well-observed settings, the ugliness of poverty peeled back to reveal beauties in landscapes we tend not to see.
So yes, Also recommended.

And Elif Shafak's The Bastard of Istanbul (which I photographed for Instagram against the background of a sweater I'm knitting -- because Look at those coordinated colours!
I discovered Elif Shafak through someone in this circle who was reading Ten Minutes and Thirty-Eight Seconds in This Strange World , I think -- Dottoressa, was it you? Or Mardel? Both of you?
I knew so little about Turkey/Istanbul before that novel, although I knew that its politics have become increasingly intolerable and that Shafak has been very brave in writing as she does. Despite its tragic premise (a prostitute has been beaten and left to die, but remembers her life in the 10 minutes, 38 seconds that her brain functions after her heart stops beating) hat novel introduced me to a lively city and culture, to wonderfully entertaining and likeable characters, and to a range of humour and of sadness and horror and despair and joy. . . . all wrapped in vivid, energetic prose. I wanted more. . . .

So picked up a couple of novels back in January, that same visit to Powell's Books. The Bastard of Istanbul was written about fifteen years ago in a different political landscape than now, but still restrictive enough that Shafak was charged with "denigrating Turkishness."

You could read for yourself to see if you think she does that. In fact, I'd say she celebrates Turkishness (depending how you might define that word/concept) by questioning it. And the writing! Some reviewers complain about the contrivances of the plot here, about the phantasmagorical playing a role . . . issues of credibility. I don't think the novel is as tightly or neatly structured as 10 Minutes. . .  but for me it seems to tap into a tradition that I know little of -- the Turkish (and/or Armenian) tradition of folk tales, of story-telling. . . .
So I would recommend this rollicking big story, but with the proviso that it isn't for everyone.  (although it's so much Fun!! Go for it ;-)

That's my last few weeks' reading. Now I'd love to hear what you've been reading, and also happy to read anything you have to say about what I've written in this post. . .