Lucy – Jamaica Kincaid (2002)

book414After reading some earlier work by Jamaica Kinkaid (see review of Annie John), I already knew that Kinkaid was a really good writer, and so when I happened upon this volume, I picked it up with little hesitation as I knew it wouldn’t disappoint me. And it didn’t. Hooray for good consistent writers!

This novella is rather a coming-of-age/bildungsroman recount of how a young woman from the unnamed “islands” (but clearly referring to the Caribbean area) takes her first job as an au pair for a rich white family in the States. Lucy, the titular character, is young and not very experienced, and is excited about this opportunity to travel. Happy to be elsewhere, Lucy strikes out for this new adventure with trepidation and anticipation, but also colored by her having just finished a rather difficult childhood with a complicated relationship with her mother. This mix of emotion is a constant thread throughout this short story, and colors every experience that Lucy has in this new world of au pair-ing.

Being an au pair is a tricky situation. Most families try to be welcoming and include you as “part of the family”, but there is always a reminder that you’re not actually equal to the other family members, and it’s difficult to set up boundaries for both the au pair and the family. When is an au pair really off the clock? How private can his or her time really be? It seems to be fraught with issues, and the situation with Lucy is no different than that.

So this title follows a year of employment for Lucy with her au pair employers, and it’s certainly a year of growing for everyone involved: the children, Lucy herself, the parents… Just like any development, this gradual maturation can be a situation filled with dissonance for all.

Lucy has grown up on a small Caribbean island with her mother and step-father. Her mother is educated and employed as a social worker, but as is quite common, her mum is very patient and understanding with her clients, but this doesn’t carry home for Lucy. It’s curious – her mother is big on her clients growing and learning new skills, but she is resentful of Lucy continuing her education and of spreading her wings. (Perhaps it’s jealousy…)

Stateside, her employer family are having complications of their own, and they can’t help but involve Lucy in these problems as well, since she is with them all the time. As the saying goes, you can never step in the same stream twice, and as the novella continues, the family and Lucy grow and change both as a group, but also an independent beings.

Lucy is a bundle of conflicting emotions: happy to be away from her claustrophobic country, a common vacation choice for the Americans who surround her, Lucy also deeply misses her island and her family. Given the difficult childhood that she’s had, Lucy is relieved to be away from her family, and yet she yearns to be understood as only a family member could do. She yearns to “belong,” but she also wants to be independent from everything that she’s known before, so although this is a short novella, there are a lot of contents to be unpacked when you go through this read.

Considered to be highly autobiographical for Kinkaid (who lived a similar experience in her younger days), it’s a challenge to enjoy Lucy due to her fractious ways, and yet at the same time, I felt sympathy for her at the same time. As an expat from England who also moved away from home to a foreign country at a similar age, it’s true that you do really have a lot of mixed emotions about the first year in your new home. So much is different that, at times, you yearn for it to be more familiar so everything is not a surprise or a puzzle. And yet, at the same time, I’d been wanting to live abroad since I was a young girl ready for a change, so it can be tough to balance those two conflicting views.

This was well-written, but I’m not sure that I enjoyed this particular read that much. 😦 Aah well. Can’t win them all.

Part of JOMP’s celebration of Black History Month.

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Go Tell It on the Mountain – James Baldwin (1952)

bookxxxxI had no idea of what to expect, but went along for the ride with this book to see how the narrative would go. I’d heard of this title, naturally, but had not read it, and thought this month would be the month to try it.

Hmm. I’m not sure that I can say that I enjoyed (or even understood) the read. It’s strongly influenced by Christianity, specifically the African-American Pentecostal perspective, and so I think, since I’m not religious, that I probably missed half the references and thus didn’t really understand what the book was talking about.

It’s well written – very lyrical – but hell’s bells if I wasn’t mightily confused for the majority of the read. So, this might be a short review!

The title of the book comes from an 1865 African-American spiritual song, “Tell it on the Mountain”, and this book has been highly ranked in both the Modern Library’s 100 English-Language Novels of the 20th Century, and Time Magazine’s 100 Best English-Language Novels from 1923-2005.

So – short post today. Glad I read it. Highly unlikely that I will ever read it again. :-}

This title is part of JOMP’s celebration of African-American History Month.

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Time to Play with the TBR…

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Strolling around the blogosphere seeing what’s going on, I read Thomas’ great blog at Hogglestock, and saw that he had a complete re-org of his library shelves (and he really does have a dedicated library room. #SeriousReader.)

Seeing the photos of him messing around with his book collection made me want to at least catalogue what titles are in my own TBR pile, thinking that if I had a better idea of what books I actually owned, it would actually lead to an increased likelihood of me reading them (in theory).

Plus – like a lot of book-y people, I love lists.

So, I opened up an Excel sheet and got to work. With the leg in plaster, I couldn’t pull all the books off the shelf (a la Thomas), so I ended taking photos with my camera of each shelf, and then moved to another room to type up the info, using the photos as reference for adding to the Excel sheet. It worked out really well, and although it’s not the same as physically taking books off the shelf and physically handling them, it came close enough for me.

(I’m still going to remove all the books from my bookshelves at some point, but that can happen only when this cast is removed. Not too long now… One more month to go.)

Reading about other people’s TBR piles, I became very curious about what exactly my own stash was holding, and I dug in. The end results were pretty interesting (to me, at least), and the numbers weren’t as bad as I had thought. (Everything is relative though.)

My total of TBR (both fiction and NF) is 399. (Let’s say 400 in case I missed a title here or there.)

This is divided up into two main categories:

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I am quite surprised about the number of fiction books that I have. I would have sworn that I had less than that, but you can’t fight numbers, can you?

With the NF, I seem to have a penchant for buying books concerned with history (mostly Victorian), but some other historical pieces slip through the net at times (e.g. social history, early American life etc.), social justice [esp. in the last year or so], travel, well-written biographies and autobiographies, and then the always-popular books-about-books.

That said, there are some rather random (but still interesting) one-off topics in there:

  • The true story of a guy who follows the journey of a swallow from northern Europe to Africa…
  • The true story of someone who retraces the journey of a person back in history who tried to track down the mythical city of Atlantis and never returned…
  • A historical look at the attitude towards sex in America and how it changes (or doesn’t, as the case may be)…
  • The suffragettes, the history of Roe v. Wade and abortion in America and other related issues…
  • A journalistic view of sorority life for students at university…
  • An AIDS memoir…

And the list just continues. I’m very glad that I took the time to do this project as it’s opened my eyes to the books I already own, all of which I’d like to read. (Except one or two odd titles that are going to the FoL Library Sale forthwith. I have no idea how they slipped through the defensive team, but there you go… Can’t win them all.)

 

Love Anthony – Lisa Genova (2012)

book415After having read a couple of rather heavy-duty fact-laden books lately, I wanted something that read a little smoother – a “hot-knife-through-butter” book. In perusing the TBR shelves (wooh me!), I pulled off Lisa Genova’s issues-based novel, Love Anthony, knowing from past experience of prior Genova books that it would probably be a good read.

Genova structures the novel around a chance intersection between two women who both happen to live in Nantucket, and who have both experienced a loss of some kind. What makes this book more interesting is that Genova, a Harvard-taught Ph.D. in neuroscience, includes a character on the autism spectrum as well, a depiction that, according to some superficial research on the net, seems to be pretty accurate for families who have been impacted by this.

Anthony is a non-verbal child with autism*, and although he doesn’t end up with a big talking role in this novel (obvs), he does play a sentinel role in the narrative and is the overlap between the two women with the accidental friendship.

So, lots of drama here along with the story: one marriage breaks up, another is struggling with a terrible loss, and the plot focuses upon how the two planes overlap. I have to admit that I kept getting lost in the first half of the book as there were so many characters, and I kept forgetting who was who and in which family. However, if you persevere with the book, there comes a point where the two narratives overlap and then coalesce, and then it’s all a lot less confusing. But sheesh. I was completely perplexed up until then.

It’s well written, it’s an involving plot (especially once it joins together), and the author seems to know of what she speaks, but it did cross over into schmaltzy sentimental chick-lit at times with the relationship of the two women, and the other-worldly aspect of the child with autism. However, kudos to Genova for at least trying to bring more of a focus on the world of autism, especially through the voice of one who is on the spectrum.

So, an ok read in the end for me. I appreciated the insight into life with autism (assuming it’s accurate), but thought the book couldn’t decide whether it was chick-lit or should be a more serious look at a complicated condition.

  • Is this the preferred term for referring to someone with autism? If not, pls let me know. I’m happy to rewrite it.

 

The Best of… 2017 Edition

end-of-the-year-reflection

As December comes to a close, it’s a nice end-of-year tradition for me to review my reading for the past year, and just see how it panned out. There’s no number goals or similar, but I do likes to see how I’ve spent my reading time over the last twelve months, just out of curiosity.

(Note: like a lot of other bloggers have noted, these titles weren’t necessarily published in 2017; they were just read by me in the last twelve months.)

First, a huge thank you to everyone who drops and reads my blog, whether you are a one-off reader or a regular. I appreciate your time and comments!

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To the numbers:

  • Total # books read: 58 (about right for the average year the past few years)
  • Total DNF’s: 2
  • Total fiction: 31 (51.2%)
  • Total non-fiction: 21 (44.2%).
  • Total Pages: 15,542
  • Format of books (e-books vs. tree books): 3 e-books, 55 tree books.

Years Published:

  • Oldest title: 1897
  • Nineteenth century: 1
  • Twentieth century: 28
  • Twenty-first century: 27

TBR Progress:

  • Off the TBR: 28 (48.2%)

New books in:

  • Bought new/new-to-me:  16 books bought (compared with 27 TBR read (i.e. out of house)

Demographics:

  • Male vs. female/other identified authors: 26 male authors, 32 female/other
  • POC author or POC-related topic: 13 (23%)

Fiction: 29

  • Novels: 26
  • Plays/Drama: 1
  • Graphic Novel: 1
  • Short stories: 2

Top Five Fiction:

  • Lantana Lane – Eleanor Dark (1986)
    • Australian novel set in small community in outback.
  • Beloved – Toni Morrison (1987)
    • Second in trilogy, but also works as stand-alone. New York city life of troubled African-American couple set in mid-century.
  • Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel (2014)
    • Rollocking good dystopian read about (American) life after an explained/ unexpected epidemic
  • Ceremony – Leslie Silko Marmon (1977)
    • Series of interlinked stories set in First Nations community during modern times.
  • The Lizard Cage – Karen Connelly (2005)
    • Fictional retelling of political prisoner living hard existence in world of corrections in Burma/Myanmar.

Non-Fiction: 26

  • Most read about topic: history (especially social history), social justice, travel

Top Five Non-Fiction:

  • Dreams from my Father – Barack Obama (1995)
    • Autobiography from our former U.S. President. Reads like fiction when compared with our reality with the Orange Goblin. 😦
  • Medical Apartheid – Harriet A. Washington (2007)
    • Hard-hitting investigative/historical journalism closely reviewing the troubled past of how the U.S. medical establishment has treated African-Americans over the past century or so. Fascinating and disturbing.
  • Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life – Sally Bedell Smith (2017)
    • No blog post, but trust me, this is a good read, however you may feel about the possible future King of England.
  • A Kim Jong Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, his Star Actress, and a Young Dictator’s Rise to Power – Paul Fischer (2015)
    • A very weird and very true tale about how a young North Korean dictator kidnapping a foreign filmmaker and his movie star wife to force him to improve the quality of the North Korean film industry. Fascinating and keeps you reading.
  • At the Broken Places: A Mother and Trans-Son – Mary Collins and Donald Collins (2017)
    • A dual POV from a mother and her trans-son’s gender transition. Fascinating because the mother is so unsupportive and doesn’t seem to understand why the adult child should choose to do this “to her”. Really, people?

Movie of the Year:

  • Chicken People (2016)
    • Absolutely charming documentary about the world of competitive chicken showing in the U.S. It’s a real thing, and this was just lovely (even if you’re not into chickens that much). Over the course of one year, follows a small group of amateur (?) chicken breeders and how they progress in the competitive season.

Goals for next year? I am keeping it very open and laid back as I enter my first semester teaching college for the Spring, and with my new job responsibilities. Whatever numbers I read, they are less important than the quality of reading.

Here’s to a happy new year for all!

 

Thrift Store Bounty…

thriftstorebooksAs I’m of the many who enjoy prowling through thrift shops, I had an hour to spare last weekend, so off I went to one of our local (and biggest) ones. I went with the intention of looking for things to put on Cowboy’s head. Found several objects which will help with the project, and heavens to Betsy, if I didn’t also accidentally on purpose find some books which were looking for a new home.

(Well, I had to buy them, right? Don’t want to be rude…)

So, as can be seen in the photo above, here is what made it home with me:

  • The Iceman Cometh – Eugene O’Neill (play)
  • The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins (F)
  • The Soul of an Octopus – Sy Montgomery (nature NF)
  • Full Catastrophe Living – Jon Kabat-Zinn (NF on meditation etc.)

I’ve been itching to read a play lately. We went to a local playhouse to see a version of an Agatha Christie murder-mystery, and it was surprisingly good for a local am-dram, and so I ended up with the O’Neill. I read him during my classes in graduate school, so I’m curious to see if if the experience will be similar or whether it will be radically different. I’m a very different person now, so I’m interested to find out how or if this impacts the reading of this play.

The Girl on the Train – loved the movie, so am v interested in reading the book the film was based upon.

The Soul of an Octopus – I rather like octopi and have heard only good things about the nature writing of Montgomery.

And the Jon Kabat-Zinn book is just going to be a good reminder about living a principled life through a Buddhist perspective.

So, I have some good finds there, and am glad that I can add them to the TBR pile, ever-growing as it may be. It’s good to have choices!

October 2017 Reading Review…

october

October, one of my favorite months of the year, actually ended up being pretty busy with both teaching and writing this year. That’s not a criticism by any means, but just an observation of life on campus now.

The weather is getting to be more and more autumnal, although the temperatures are still a little zany: We had almost snow yesterday morning, but it’s forecast to be close to 90 this Friday, so dressing is all in layers to cope with the wide temperature spread. (I call it ski jackets and shorts weather, as you’ll probably need the cold protection in the morning and the shorts for the hot weather in the afternoon.)

The semester is more than halfway done now – about six weeks left, I think – and I think my students have been doing very well for the most part. They’re certainly enjoyable to teach (from my perspective), so it’s still fun.

To the October reading:

The best read by far was the very strange recounting of the North Korean kidnapping of a South Korean film director and his movie star wife. It’s an insane story, but riveting at the same time. Highly recommended for certain.

The others were mostly ok. I really enjoyed the Summerscale book about a Victorian wife who is caught having an affair. The librarian book and the Atwood read were ok. (More broccoli books really, although I had high hopes for the photo-heavy book.)

The Virago O’Brien was confusing and dry as anything (despite it being billed a romantic story), but that’s one of the gambles you run with the Virago imprint. Some are really really good, and some are not. 🙂

So, November is up next. Three weeks until Thanksgiving, six weeks until Finals, and then time for a break. Yahoo!

 

 

The Lizard Cage – Karen Connelly (2005)

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It’s been a bit crazy at work this week, although, amazingly enough, we are almost halfway through the semester already. This new job keeps me busy, and busy equals happy for me. (Plus, I can’t quite believe that I actually hold this job sometimes as it’s that good!)

Apart from the being occupado at work, I’ve also been reading and writing in my spare time, and it’s finally reaching autumn temperatures around here more days than not, so what’s not to love?

There has been one tragic thing that occurred on campus last week, which was a troubled student shot and killed one of our campus police officers. Life on campus has been a little subdued for the last few days, unsurprisingly, and our thoughts are with the family of the fallen officer. It’s been a sad week.

Not to be insensitive or anything, life has been moving along despite this event, and I’ve finished up a great book called “The Lizard Cage” by Karen Connelly (2005), a novel that follows the life of a political prisoner who is being unjustly held in a horrible cell in Burma/Myanmar (depending on who you ask). It’s from the POV of the prisoner, and it details his day-by-day life in prison in solitary confinement (the cage of the title) and the people with whom he interacts.

It’s a great read, although the subject matter can be hard to take (prison rape, inhumane treatment, etc.). It’s actually written by an American woman who lived for two years on the border of Burma/Myanmar, and it’s quite amazing how she can lead the reader into the head of this political prisoner in a realistic manner. It’s clear that she has done her research with this.

Despite the harsh living conditions and inhumane treatment, the protagonist is a great example of human resilience, and there are some other patches of humanity that are allowed to shine through. Some of the other prisoners are not horrible people, there is a small boy orphan who lives at the prison as he has nowhere else to go, and there are a few others that come and go, but for the most part, it seemed to be a pretty dark place.

However, the prisoner in question (he who lives in the Lizard Cage) finds small things for which to be grateful – the lizards who climb down the walls from the outside skylight, the ant colony who travel through his space, and the one or two people who show him some small kindness in this unpleasant world.

However, Connelly has done a good job with making this a very readable book without glossing over the hardships of the characters. It’s a good balance and kudos should go to her.

I also read another book, but can’t remember what the title of that was to save my life. Unlike my typical slightly obsessive habit, I didn’t seem to write down the relevant details, but hey. Life goes on, my friends.

Then I started a NF read about Victorian times, but it was soooo badly written that I ended up not being to take it any more, so threw that one down. (It was a shame though, as the topic was perfect: the servants of Victoria? Yes please, but it was not to be.)

Now I’m enjoying a read of Kate Summerscale’s Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady. Victorian times? Check. Social history? Check. Uses some epistolary work? Check. Well written? Check, check, check. I’m enjoying it and am looking forward to reading some more of this over the weekend.

Hope life is good for you as well.

Some Mini-Reviews for You…

WowStationElevenNorthAmericaHiRes. The last few weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind, but as I’m figuring out how the world turns in my new position at work, I think there will be a bit more breathing room for me to get back to blogging.

So – let’s jump to it. Some mini-reviews to catch up on some of the titles that I’ve finished recently:

Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel (2014)

Different from my usual fare and searching for a “hot knife through butter” reading experience, this met the match on so many levels. Set in a fairly near future in the U.S., this fast-moving novel revolves around an emerging flu pandemic which devastates the world and the people in it. Just a few communities populate the world now, and they have to learn how to survive without electricity, without running water or pipes, without regular food shopping, without government… Mandel does a superb job here of describing how unmoored regular twenty-first century people would be in such a situation. (If you think about it, most of us would be woefully unprepared without replenishing grocery stores, without public governance, without communication.)

As the plot progresses, things begin to get more dire as the usual order of things collapses left, right, and center…

The story revolves around a roaming group of musicians and actors who travel from community to community, trying to avoid being attacked and sharing their message of culture to those who may not remember or be exposed to Shakespeare and the like. (In fact, this whole story starts with the unexplained death of an actor playing one of the parts in King Lear.) Since this is a book that uses the different threads in a tapestry structure, you’re lost at first (or at least I was), but then the magic happens, and you get the whole picture through different POVs and characters.

This was a great read, and I have no idea why I’d put it off for so long. If you’re searching for a fast-paced novel that’s really well written with an involving story line, you can’t go wrong with trying this one.

thunder_rednissThunder and Lightning – Lauren Redniss (2016)

Described as an “uncategorizable fusion of storytelling and visual art”, Redniss here covers the huge topic of weather and atmospheric science in bits and pieces. It’s a little random, but it was an good read, and I’m developing a more detailed post about this. (See here for my review of Radioactive , Redniss’ 2010 creative exploration of the biography of Marie Curie, and a finalist for the National Book Award in 2011.)

Moving on, I had a quick read of Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko (1977) which I enjoyed, although it wasn’t a very happy novel detailing, as it does, the modern day challenges of a group of First Peoples in the US whLeslie_Marmon_Silko_-_Ceremonyo are in the midst of unemployment, modern day choices, and trying to retain their old tribal ways. (Sounds horrendous. It wasn’t an awfully depressing read, but it wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns.)

Then, a read-through of Our Longest Days: A People’s History of the Second World War (edited by Sandra Koa Wing, 2009), an edited collection of Mass Observation diary entries from WWII England. There’s something about reading diaries which is irresistible to me, and so I gobbled this one up. (Perfect for a Monkey Mind, but you do need to track who’s who where and when. Luckily, there’s an appendix which details this, so you just flip back and forth. Easy to do, and you can kinda figure out who’s saying what in the end as you get to know the characters…)

Then there was a lot of picking up and putting down of titles (talk about Monkey Mind), but then I finally landed on an old Virago read of an Aussie author. Completely unknown to me, but ending up to be a witty read in the end. (Just finished it, so post to come.)

So, these are the past titles from the last few weeks, and then a couple more posts to come about two titles that each deserve their own reviews.

Glad to be back. I’ve missed you.

So – here’s some news…

Great-News.jpg

So, there is some momentous news for me in my world: I have a new job. Yessiree. I’ve left my previous job for some different adventures but still at the same university. I have been invited to join the faculty in the department of Media and Communications at the university, and I am completely excited about this. I’m going to start in the fall (i.e. next month), and until then I’m on vacation which means … Guess what?

Loads and loads of free time to do stuff! This is such a great gift for me, as I usually tend to feel as though I don’t really have enough time to do All the Things, and now I have the next three weeks off. And how am I going to fill the time, you ask? Well….

I am reading the textbook(s) to become familiar with the material that class will be covering, and I’m researching some of the Best Practices for teaching in the classroom. I’ll be covering sophomore writing classes for media (along with a technical writing class for the English department), and I am so psyched to be back into the classroom after such a long time. I’m also going to be (posh title alert) Editor-in-Chief for the college’s publications, and I am very looking forward to this whole new adventure.

In the meantime, I have a few days in which to mess about doing non-work stuff such as working out, reading, writing, and doing general catching up on life. My reading mojo has returned as well, and so that’s been a lot of fun for me. I have missed the joy of reading over the past few months, and have a small pile of books that I’ve pulled from the TBR shelves from which to choose.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying Our Longest Days, a collection of WWII Mass Observation diaries edited by Sandra Koa Wing (2007), along with a fiction read of Ceremony by Leslie  Marmon Silko, a First Peoples author, and both are good so far.

I’m also preparing to travel to CA to see some family out there, and, as always, am enjoying the excitement of choosing which titles to take with me to read (on Kindle and otherwise). Book nerds unite!

So – life is good right now. I hope that you can say the same of your life. 🙂

(Life is good except for the orange clown and Charlottesville. That’s not good at all. What is wrong with some of these humans? I’m sending gentle thoughts to the many out there. Be kind. Be calm. Be courageous.)