Saturday, April 10, 2021

APRIL READING GROUP UPDATE


 The big news is that one and maybe two of my reading groups will meet in person this month because all members are fully vaccinated! I am excited about every book that will be discussed this month.

One Book At A Time:

I have been on a bit of a Joyce Carol Oates obsession lately and recommended this one for our group. 

Carol's Group:

I am so excited to read this latest book by Kazuo Ishiguro. We may meet on the patio of one of our members.

Bookie Babes:

This is nonfiction but sounds like a good read about a female spy ring in France during the German occupation of France.

Tina's Group:

This group has not met during the pandemic because the leader does not favor meetings on Zoom. Now we are all vaccinated so we will meet at her house to discuss this book about women who use poison to liberate women from men who have harmed them. Sounds good to me!

How is it going with your reading groups? Have you discussed any of these books? 

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

FICCIONES


Ficciones, Jorge Luis Borges, Grove Press, 1962, 174 pp (originally published 1956 by Emcee Editores, Buenos Aires, Argentina, translated from the Spanish by Anthony Kerrigan.)

Sometimes you go on a first date and just nothing happens. I was anticipating a huge, great experience when I first opened the book. So many readers seem to revere this writer. I read the first "story," thinking I'd gotten the hang of enjoying short stories lately. That piece, entitled "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertuis" read like a foreign language to me, even though it was translated into English. I meandered through its 19 pages and arrived...no where. What did I just read?

At the rate of one a day, I pressed on. It was like being in a place where I did not, could not, know or read or understand the language. OK, I thought, as one sometimes does on a first date, who does this guy think he is?

After a few days I realized that these "stories" were more like essays or fictional book reviews about books and authors I did not know. Fine, so that is like being at a party where you are not hip to what everyone else is talking about. You just drink.

Finally I admitted that I was in over my head. I sent messages on Twitter to authors I follow who might be nice to me. They were. They offered some tips. I kept going.

I began to see a glimpse of what authors like William Gibson, John Updike, Mario Vargas Llosa and Carlos Fuentes have raved about. Borges, as some have said, "has read all the books." Books I probably will never read but books that formed a labyrinth in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Carlos Ruiz Zafon wrote a four volume series of novels anchored by what he called the Labyrinth of Books. Labyrinths are a key image with Borges. I finished this collection of 17 stories and found three I especially liked: "The Form of the Sword," "Three Versions of Judas,"  "The South." I felt I had been through an initiation that might or might not have included ingesting certain substances. All I was sure about was that it had been an initiation.

Being a Leo, a feminist, a woman who asserts herself, I don't enjoy being made to feel dumb or inferior. Still, I had to admit I had been in the presence of an intelligence, insouciant for sure, but nobody's fool. Someone I could learn from.

I own another collection by Borges, entitled Labyrinths. It contains all of the stories in Ficciones plus other writings. When I get over myself, I will read that and see what else I can learn.

Because I know one thing for sure: many stories and novels are fairytales, designed to make us feel comfortable in the lives we think we are living. In a way, such literature is as much of a lie as what we get from advertising or politics. I suspect that writers like Borges had something else going on. I am interested in finding out more about that. We will have a second date.

Friday, April 02, 2021

BOOKS READ IN MARCH


 Since I have lived in California, March has become a favorite month. Trees begin to leaf out, daffodils and flowering trees seem to change overnight, birds sing in the early mornings and sometimes I can take one quilt off the bed. The increasing number of people receiving their vaccinations gave us hope. 

My reading was all over the place in genre and style and location. I visited 6 countries other than America, I was introduced to 6 authors new to me, and I read books translated from the Dutch, the French and the Spanish. 

Stats: 9 books read. 8 fiction. 3 by women; low for me; 2 for My Big Fat Reading Project. 1 thriller. 2 historical fiction. 3 translated. 1 memoir.

Places I went: Jamaica, Hong Kong, Wales, Pakistan, Netherlands, Tunisia.

Authors new to me: Sharon Kay Penman, Malala Yousafzai, Jorge Luis Borges, Gebrand Bakker, Daniel A Hoyt, Yamen Manai.

I had many favorites: My Year Abroad, Here Be Dragons, Annie and the Wolves, The Twin, The Ardent Swarm.










Have you read any of these books? What were your favorite reads in March?

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

I AM MALALA

 


I Am Malala, Malala Yousafzai, Little Brown and Company, 2013, 270 pp

This reading group pick turned out to be better than I expected. In case you missed it, MalalaYousafzai, aka The Girl Who Stood Up For Education and Was Shot By the Taliban, made headlines around the world after she was shot and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.

Her story is uplifting. Since she was a small girl, she loved to read and write, she loved school, and was encouraged by her father, a Pakistani advocate for education of both boys and girls. Hers and her father's outspoken presence in Pakistan drew the attention of the Taliban who eventually sent a young gunman to shoot her down while she was riding home from school in October, 2012. She lived through horrific medical procedures and recovered thanks to international outcry and support.

I learned from a child's POV what it was like growing up in Pakistan from 1997 to 2012. Still to this day she is not welcome in her country. Due to her transfer to Great Britain while she was fighting for her life, due to skillful surgeons and doctors, she recovered. She has continued to work for education, especially for women.

The book was co-written with British journalist Christina Lamb. It reads smoothly and I felt it captured Malala's childhood voice nicely. She was only 15 when she was shot. Her recovery took two years including several operations and extended physiotherapy.

Now anytime I feel angry about the lack of rights and opportunities for girls and women around the world, I think of Malala and what she endured. Apparently it is all a matter of enduring.

Monday, March 29, 2021

ANNIE AND THE WOLVES


 Annie and the Wolves, Andromeda Romano-Lax, Soho Press, 2021, 344 pp

When I discovered that Annie Oakley was a main character in this novel, I had to read it. Annie Oakley was a childhood heroine of mine. I never missed an episode of the TV series and for years when we played cowboys outside, I was Annie and my bike was my horse. I also had a cap gun and a holster.

Andromeda Romano-Lax is a trusted author for me and she maintained that trust in her latest novel. She creates wonderful flawed characters and her plots include history, mystery and a bit of psychology. In Annie and the Wolves she proved she can handle a dual timeline better than most.

The portrayal of Annie Oakley in the TV series certainly showed her as the phenomenal and fearless sharpshooter she was, but it provided little concerning the facts of her life. I was absorbed by the history Romano-Lax dug up, showing who Annie was, the abuse and trials she overcame as well as her passion for enabling women to protect themselves. 

The current timeline features Ruth McClintock, an historian whose obsession with Annie nearly derailed her career and her love life. Both Annie and Ruth suffered from residual and debilitating consequences of violent accidents, including out-of-body episodes that seemed strangely like time travel.

Exciting, thought-provoking, and a deep exploration of female revenge, this novel thrilled me to the core.

Here are links to my review of two earlier novels by this author:

The Spanish Bow

The Detour

Friday, March 26, 2021

HERE BE DRAGONS

 


Here Be Dragons, Sharon Kay Penman, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1985, 701 pp

How do you choose what to read next? For me it is complex. I have lists, I have plans, I have impulses. I first learned about Sharon Kay Penman from a blogger. Helen at She Reads Novels, my favorite historical fiction blog, has reviewed Penman's books over the years. Since her books are often long, as is this one, I kept putting off reading her.

The impulse came when I learned of Ms Penman's death on January 22 of this year. I then felt guilty for not having read her yet because I would no longer be able to tell her if I liked her books. It also happens that I am gradually making my way through Will Durant's The Age of Faith, a history of the Middle Ages.

Here Be Dragons, set in Medieval England and Wales, is a historical fiction lover's dream come true. Solid research; the evocation of time and place, people and customs; dramatic set pieces that bring wars and kings and feuds and families to life; and best of all to me, equal time given to the women.

The story ranges from 1133 to 1216 during the reigns of several Plantagenet Kings: Henry II, his sons Richard I (the Lion Heart) and King John. Eleanor of Aquitaine appears, wife of Henry II, mother of Richard I and John. She does not come across as favorably as she does in other stories I have read but she looms large.

The focus however is Wales and the exploits of her Princes, including both internal feuds and their attempts to keep the English Kings out of their country. When King John marries off his illegitimate daughter Joanna to the powerful Welsh Prince Llewelyn, in an attempt to secure a truce, the stage is set for a grand passion fraught with conflicting loyalties.

I spent many days reading Here Be Dragons. I was never bored. In fact, I was spellbound. I love studying history and then reading the historical novels that bring the key figures and the attendant families and personal struggles down to the everyday particulars.

This was a perfect example of that with a passionate love story that includes great sex and stormy emotions but is never overdone. I will read more by Sharon Kay Penman. She wrote 13 other books!

Have you read this author? If so, which ones are your favorites?

Monday, March 22, 2021

MY YEAR ABROAD


 My Year Abroad, Chang-rae Lee, Riverhead Books, 2021, 498 pp

This is Chang-rae Lee's sixth novel. I have read every single previous one and loved each one in different ways.

I loved My Year Abroad for several things: the smart, sassy and delicious writing; the hero Tiller and his viewpoint as an Asian/American young man; the absolute richness that Chang-rae Lee brings to all his novels.

Let's go right to Tiller. In many ways he is a mess and yet he is wide open to experience. He has a secret sorrow and is so emotionally vulnerable I just wanted to give him hugs all the time. He is so game and willing when he follows the other main character, Pong the Chinese/American entrepreneur, into Asia. He just keeps trying to be whatever Pong seems to see in him. Many wild adventures ensue, seemingly millions of meals, predatory men and women of all levels of Asian society, and scenes that are barely believable. 

There is an alternating time line in the story concerning Tiller's life in New Jersey, both before and after his year abroad. This was somewhat annoying except by the end I realized the author did me a favor. No matter the horrors Tiller experienced in that year, you know he made it through and you are shown his inner strengths in the kindest way possible.

That last paragraph may sound like a spoiler but it is not because you know all along that he did survive. The wonder of the book is that you still worry he won't.

The smart and sassy aspect includes Lee's deftness with the way college age Americans speak and behave. Also the exact truths he writes about our modern times, stereotypes, global trade practices, the effects of capitalism as a global phenomenon, all done in emotional yet humorous ways.

In case you are thinking this is a lot to unpack, you are right. You will know quite soon in the book whether it is your kind of story or not. It certainly was mine.