“Children, I said to her. For the first little while, they not exactly human, you don't find?”
Nalo Hopkinson

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Favorite Reads of 2009

"The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf" Mohja Kahf
This is the coming of age story of a Muslim girl from Indiana. Maybe because I am from the Midwest too, there were parts of her journey that spoke directly to my heart and mind. It seemed that she observed some of the things that I have seen,  but was never able to articulate. The protagonist struggled with trying to fit into society while appreciating her own culture, and developing her own true self.  At the end of the novel, I was in tears because of the love and life she showed to be present in ordinary people, and the joy of unexpected surprises. It is a novel about being different, and accepting things and people for what and who they are.

"The Remains of the Day" Kazuo Ishiguro
What I love about this book is the main character. I love it that he is nothing like me, a colored, middle-aged woman from Detroit whose ancestors were originally from the South.  He is a older white butler who lived in the England of the 1950's. How different can we get?  And yet we have a lot in common. We are both trying to face up to the mistakes we have made in the past, to really understand how we got to where we ended up, and figure out where we will be going next.

I love the way the protagonist Stevens tries to rationalize his past decisions and then finally after explaining the same things over and over to himself, he eases into admitting that he may have made some errors in judgements out of fear, arrogance, and ignorance.

Stevens tried with all his might to be the best butler that he could; he served in a household where his employer was tricked into sympathizing with the Nazis. Stevens tried to pretend that he had no responsibility to ever think about anything that was going on in the household where he worked and expended all his physical, spiritual, and mental energy.

I cannot believe such a young man wrote this book.  Ishiguro was thirty-four years old.

"A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek" Annie Dillard
Chaos, survival, beauty and suffering beyond description are a few of the subjects Dillard tries to explain or discuss, though I cannot say that she comes to any conclusions or that she should or could haves during her walks and meditations around Tinker Creek.

Maybe we do not have the intellect or eyesight to handle all that there is to see or understand what is happening in the world and universe around us.

One of the many questions Dillard brought up pertained to light and darkness. She speaks of men traumatized as they looked at water with too much sunlight reflected from it. Maybe it was too much information for their eyes to handle. Dillard also talks about her fear of the dark, and how it could be compared to the human fear of mystery. She discussed how some blind people who had cataracts removed and actually preferred being blind. Maybe it had something to do with the age of their brains. I do not know. She does make me think because I know my eyes are made only to see certain things and my brain able to understand only so much. I realize that there is so much I do not know.

"Moll Flanders" Daniel Defoe
This book helped me to understand the perils of being a poor woman in Seventeenth Century London. Moll Flanders was born poor and she had no family to support her, therefore her only ways of survival was to get married, sell her body, or become a servant at very low wages. She chose to become a thief, and to always to appear to be a respected woman which she could not afford to be.

It is almost like a travel book because Moll is always moving from town to town, and from life episode to next episode, crossing the ocean trying to find a place to be herself and not a fake representation of a good woman.

Sometimes the narrator is too detailed and tells more than I needed to know, but it does seem like a woman is speaking, or writing in a journal, even though the book was actually written by a man. I enjoyed reading the book and felt some sympathy for Moll Flanders because of her struggles, weaknesses, and her ability to endure.

"The Life of Langston Hughes: Volume I: 1902-1941, I, Too, Sing America" Arnold Rampersad
I learned that research can be used as a blessing and a way of connecting readers to life sustaining knowledge. Thank you Professor Rampersad for writing this book! Now I know what a great American Langston Hughes was and why he had so much influence he had over other writers such as Alice Walker, Ralph Ellison, and Arna Bontemps, Claude Mckay, Dorothy West, and too many more to list.

Hughes was a world traveler and activist in addition to being a innovative writer of poems, essays, plays, and fiction, and a very respected part of the Harlem Renaissance.

He travelled to Russia, Italy, Germany, West Africa, and Cuba while he was poor, young and colored. He lived in Mexico and Paris, Harlem and San Franscisco. He was a correspondent during the Spanish Civil War and personally knew many of the influential artists of his day.

Hughes was always trying to figure out if his work should be commercial or radical. He made some major mistakes along the way, but somehow he always recovered. Unfortunately Hughes never did have much money despite all the work he contributed to the American canon, but he lived a magnificent, rich and full life.

What an outstanding American! I think this book should be required reading for all high schoolers. I cannot wait to read Volume II.

"Sphere" Michael Crichton
I had never read science fiction before, but I found this book at a yard sale for twenty-five cents, and since I have always enjoyed the movie Jurassic Park, I decided to read one of Crichton's books. Once I started, surprisingly to me, I could not put it down. It is a story about the future, the present, and the complex nature of humanity.

A group of investigators are sent underwater to the bottom of the ocean to determine the reason why a ship detected by the United States military has appeared. They suspect treachery from a rival country or somewhere else, and seek to find its purpose.

Adventure and mystery abounds. If you want to find out about what happened, you will have to read it. The plot is not what you would expect, or maybe it is.

"Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Diaster" Jon Krakauer

Each time I read this book me I am reminded that what I think and do matters and has an affect on the lives of others. Most of the time I do not realize it, but it is still nevertheless true.

What really surprised me about this book is the tremendous amount of needless deaths among relatively young people. But I suppose when a person is young they never expect death to happen to them. What is extraordinary is that tmost of he leaders on Everest in May of 1996 had friends who had died trying to reach the top of mountains, so they knew what could possibly happen.

Just as shocking to me were those who died trying to save the lives of other people. I think this book shows what wonderful idiots human beings can be. I shall never forget it.

"The Bluest Eye" Toni Morrison
The story of "The Bluest Eye" is told from the multiple perspectives of different characters within the novel. The main narrator is a child named Claudia who relates the pitiful story of Pecola Breedlove, but the reader also sees the story through the eyes of the characters Pecola Breedlove, Pauline Breedlove, Cholly Breedlove, and the child molester Soaphead Church.

After witnessing a fight between her mother and father Pecola’s child-like understanding of the world makes her believe that if she had blue eyes she would have friends and family who love and care for her. She eventually goes insane.

I had read this novel about ten years ago, and I didn't like it because I thought the story was just so heartbreaking. Now I read it and wonder at Morrison's ability to write of grief and desolation with such depth and at the same time, her ability to use words to create such beautiful imagery.

Wait a minute. I have so many more to write about. What I will start doing is featuring a book every week, otherwise this list will go on forever.

1 comment:

  1. Have you read Hughes' memoirs? (The 1st is titled "I Wonder as I Wander.") I enjoyed them, but at the same time, I kept asking myself how much was true and how much was altered and/or embroidered for publication. I should probably cross-check some of Zora Neale Hurston's accounts of trips with Hughes, just to get her side of it. ;)

    Have been meaning to get Kahf's novel + some of her poetry for a couple of years now - thanks for the nudge! (Ditto for your 'graph on Moll Flanders, which I've been intending to read but keep moving to the bottom of the pile...)

    My most recent "Aha! Wonderful writing! moments have come from Alan Bradley's new novels - he's 70 and just now being published, so I guess there might be some hope for me. ;) (Actually, I don't have anything in mind at the moment, but you never know...)


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