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Tag Archives: essays

Book Roundup #9

8 Aug

“Half of a Yellow Sun” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Adichie seems to get more famous by the day. First for her amazing novel “Americanah” , then because Beyonce quoted one of her speeches on feminism in her song “Flawless.” The woman is a feminist leader, an icon, but above all, she’s an incredible writer. This is one of her earlier books, set during Nigeria’s civil war in the 1960’s. Her characters are vivid and complex, and every word is strung with beauty.

“This was love: a string of coincidences that gathered significance and became miracles.”

“Slouching Towards Bethlehem” by Joan Didion Another book about the 1960’s. This is a collection of Joan Didion’s essays from that time. Didion spent the 60’s living in California and writing about the hippie movement in San Francisco and about the younger generation. It’s interesting to think that these are the people that are now the older generation and to read a lot of the criticisms about them are similar criticisms about my generation. Lazy and too idealistic. Too caught up in a movement to think about the greater realities of the world. Spoiled American children. How quickly some seem to forget history and their own experiences.

“Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee-A Look Inside North Korea” by Jang Jin-sung Another memoir of a survivor from North Korea. I can’t get enough of the hermit kingdom. Jang Jin-sung was a high official in the North Korean government under Kim Jong-Il, writing propaganda poems. He was commissioned to write an epic poem and asked to return to his hometown to do some research. When he arrived, he saw how his family and neighbors were starving and suffering. Upon returning to Pyongyang, he lends a ultra-classified book to a friend. His friend loses the book on the subway, and the two decide they have to escape North Korea or else they will be sentenced to life in prison for sharing the book. This memoir differs from the other ones I’ve read in that it takes place mostly in China as Jang Jin-sung and his friend hide from the authorities and depend on other North Korean defectors to help them. Obviously, they make it out and escape to South Korea. But it seems that it was mostly luck, and it’s sad to think about how many don’t have that same luck.

“Hour of the Bees” by Lindsay Eager My librarian sister also studied Children’s Literature while earning her Master’s in Library Science. She has always been a fan of young adult and children’s literature and passes her favorites onto me. I wouldn’t say this is one of her favorites, but we were on vacation together and she lent this to me to read on the plane home. Most readers have the habit of thinking of young adult and children’s literature as dull and puerile. But there is a lot of good, introspective work being produced, and I’m glad my sister can open my eyes to that on a regular basis. This book was about a young girl in New Mexico whose family spends a summer on a ranch with her ailing grandfather. She learns about her past, about her family, and about the value of home. It was a quick read but entertaining nonetheless.

“Marie Antoinette: The Portrait of an Average Woman” by Stefan Zweig I became fascinated with Marie Antoinette a couple of years ago when I was visiting Versailles with a friend, and we both realized that we didn’t actually know the details of her life besides the sensational. “Let them eat cake.” She was beheaded. She wore huge wigs. But what else was there? This is a great biography of her, because (as it suggests in the title), she was an average person. She had nothing inherently special about her, good or bad. She was born into wealth and royalty and was married off for political reasons. She was spoiled as some wealthy people are and had no sympathy for the poor, because it was a part of society she never saw and never understood. This book paints her as a person who was caught up in history, in the changing fortunes of empires, and came to represent what was wrong in a greater political system. It was a great read that delved into the history of the French revolution which never ceases to be interesting.

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Book Roundup #5

1 Feb

I had a week of vacation time about to expire, so I used it up for a week of traveling, writing, and of course, tons of reading. One of my favorite things about going on vacation is having the excuse to sit and read for hours. Whether it be on a plane, in an airport, at a restaurant, on an island sanctuary, I look forward to how much reading I can get done on extended days off.

MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL by JOHN BEHRENDT

When I decided to take a vacation to Savannah, pretty much everyone I told asked me if I had read this book/seen this movie. I had heard marvelous things about it. With my plane tickets bought, I had to read it. It didn’t disappoint. Another book that is proof that nonfiction is often stranger and more fascinating that fiction. This book is a classic that describes one New York journalist’s life in Savannah society. Odd characters, muddled history, transvestites, voodoo priestesses, and a murder that shook the upper society of Savannah. It absolutely lived up to the hype.

THE PUSHCART PRIZE XXXVI

This is one of the series I had mentioned in my post about short stories. What I like about pushcart is that unlike other series, Pushcart doesn’t limit the writing form. They have a balance of nonfiction essays, fiction, and poetry. It’s nice to have a poetry palate cleanser after reading something longer and weightier. My favorite essay in this collection was “The MFA/Creative Writing System is a Closed, Undemocratic, Medieval Guild System That Represses Good Writing” by Anis Shivani. It put into words exactly why I’ve been so skeptical about applying to an MFA program and confirmed my decision not to. This entire collection, though, was dense, and I don’t have the space here to fully describe all the pieces I loved.

SAVANNAH FOLKLORE by Nicole Carlson Easley

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According to legend, this statue of Little Gracie can be heard crying at night.

While I was in Savannah (more detailed post to come), I became interested in the ghost stories. So upon my wandering one day, I found an adorable book store E. Shaver, Bookseller and spent an hour or so wandering the aisles and petting their cats that live in the stacks. I wanted to know more about the local history, but there wasn’t much to choose from, besides the big display of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” I settled with this short, glossy book that gave a quick overview of a lot of the history and legends of Savannah. Not great writing, and I read it in an afternoon while relaxing in a square. I hated revealing myself as a tourist to the cute ladies that managed the cash register at the book store, but I had to know more about the weird things I had seen and heard.

THE ALIENIST by Caleb Carr

Dr. G and I always discuss what books we are reading, and he gave me this murder-mystery paperback to read on my vacation. It’s pretty run-of-the-mill serial killer stuff. The Alienist refers to one of the main characters who is a psychologist. The book is set in the late 1800’s when psychology was a new and misunderstood science. It had a fun aspect of historical fiction to it, talking about the grimy Lower East Side of New York, the hatred many people felt toward immigrants (not much has changed). Teddy Roosevelt is a main character since he was police commissioner during that time. The group of sleuths try to find a serial killer by examining his motives, his mind, what his upbringing was most likely like. It was a fun vacation book to read.

JOHNS, MARKS, TRICKS, AND CHICKENHAWKS: PROFESSIONALS AND THEIR CLIENTS WRITING ABOUT EACH OTHER

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A book of essays written by a variety of people who work in the sex industry and who are patrons of the sex industry. I find this subject interesting, but I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. The essays vary in what they cover, and some are a lot more graphic than others. Some people are into some weird things. And while I believe that the whole beauty and point of reading is to get a glimpse into other worlds, there are some worlds that I’d rather leave alone, some images I’d rather not have in my head. I made it about 60% through this book before I had to put it away. Just not my thing.

 

The Summer Game by Roger Angell

20 Apr

I know that I’m a couple of weeks late in writing about the beginning of the 2015 baseball season. But that shouldn’t undermine the level of excitement and complacency I feel. Playing softball with my friends on the warm Spring days. Watching the Mariners at a sports bar while eating wings and drinking beer. All is right with the world. Everything is as it should be.

During this time of the year, I spend a lot of time working with Dr. G who is a lifetime Yankees fan. We tease each other back and forth and talk about the ups and downs of our respective teams. Dr. G is the one who told me about Roger Angell who is a friend of his and a client of the clinic’s. I had no idea that the adorable old man with the Jack Russel Terrier also happens to be one of the most legendary baseball writers of all time. “The Summer Game” is the first book of his that I have read.

The book is full of essays that he wrote during the sixties. To be honest, some of the writing didn’t grab me, only because I was reading about games that happened almost 60 years ago. And while I easily recognized names like Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, and Carl Yastrzemski. So many of the other players and games he wrote about are so far in the past that their importance doesn’t translate. So I did skim over a handful of the recaps of who stole what base in what inning.

There was an interesting arc to the essays as they followed the nascent years of the New York Mets whom I support on a casual and Queens-pride level. He wrote about how horrible they were in their first couple of seasons, yet how the fans supported them with a fervor that some of the more successful teams couldn’t come close to. He wrote about the transition from the Polo Grounds to Shea stadium, tracking the evolution of major league baseball to newer venues, expanded franchises, players rights.

“This was a new recognition that perfection is admirable but a trifle inhuman, and that a stumbling kind of semi-success can be much more warming. Most of all, perhaps, these exultant yells for the Mets were also yells for ourselves, and came from a wry, half-understood recognition that here is more Met than Yankee in every one of us. I knew for whom the foghorn blew; it blew for me.”

Angell writes about baseball as only a true baseball-obsessed person can, as a religion. I get tired of the debate I have with people about whether baseball is boring or not. If other people don’t like it, I simply don’t care. It’s something I need in my life. And there’s a special kind of recognition to spend time with another baseball fan who understands the game and what makes it so special. This is the recognition that I found in his writing.

“Whatever the pace of the particular baseball game we are watching, whatever its outcome, it holds us in its own continuum and mercifully releases us from our own.”