What I’ve been reading…

I haven’t posted in a while, but not because I haven’t been reading!  I think it has to do with a general sense of ennui brought on by a combination of our unusually rainy weather and the one year anniversary of my retirement.  (So much for my “move to the Pacific Northwest and write” fantasy!)  In any event, here are a few books for your consideration.

FICTION

The Shore, by Sara Taylor (Crown Publishing Group, 2015) is an odd novel by a new and promising voice.  I chose it because of its setting off the coast of Virginia, in the group of islands that include Chincoteague and Assateague.  As a child I loved the Misty of Chincoteague novels (about the wild ponies there) and lately I’ve gotten it in my head that it is someplace I need to visit.  I don’t know what I was expecting with this book, but what I got was a multi-generational family saga with an overwhelmingly heavy dose of dysfunction and a bleak representation of place.  The ponies do occasionally show up in the background (and frankly are the most “normal” – if peripheral – characters in the book), but mostly it is page after page after page of alcoholic, abusive, drug-addled men and the women they victimize.  There are a few decent men, and very rarely a woman finds the wherewithal to advocate for herself, but even then I found the violence disturbing.  Taylor tries for a touch of magical realism, but it feels a bit forced and is no match for an Alice Hoffman or Isabel Allende.

That said, I kept reading because the writing is by and large excellent.  As frustrated as I was with most of the characters, I wanted to know their stories.  The structure of the novel, which moves back and forth between the past, present, and a dystopian future, had me thinking and wondering and constantly turning back to the family tree at the front of the novel.  I liked the challenge of keeping track of all the interconnected relationships and of puzzling out motives and personalities.  The last chapter in particular uses a language that I found interesting and original.  This may not be light summer reading, but it is good craftsmanship, and I look forward to seeing where Taylor goes with her obvious talent.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Knopf, 2014) was our most recent book group selection.  I thoroughly enjoyed this well-written and engaging novel, which tells the story of two Nigerian lovers separated by the politics of Nigeria and then emigration, she to the United States and he to Britain.  Told primarily through the eyes of the woman, Ifemelu, I found the representation of race relations in the United States as perceived by a black African woman to be especially interesting and illuminating.  I highly recommend this novel, especially in light of recent events in this country.

Conquistadora, by Esmeralda Santiago (Random House, 2011) also explores class, gender, and race relations, this time in colonial Puerto Rico.  I didn’t love this book, but it was interesting enough.  The writing is competent, and the story moves along well.

The Private Patient, by P.D. James (Vintage, 2008) was passed along to me by a friend whose taste I greatly respect.  Oddly enough, I had never read P.D. James before, probably because I don’t read that many mysteries.  I was pleasantly surprised by the gentle intelligence and thoughtful characterizations.  This is an excellent rainy day read.

NONFICTION

If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home, by Lucy Worsley (Bloomsbury USA, 2013) was my birthday gift from my husband.  It is exactly the kind of quirky history that I love!  Worsley explores the history of bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, and living rooms, while also explaining many of the gadgets and conveniences that we take for granted.  Her writing is lively and entertaining, with just enough personal quips to make it feel “real”.  Her bibliography is solid, so even though this would probably not pass muster for serious academics, I found it quite enjoyable.

The Library at Night, by Alberto Manguel (Yale University Press, 2009) is the consummate bibliophile’s tome.  Manguel is Argentinian, but lives in France, where he has converted an old barn on his property into his personal library.  As someone who still wakes up surprised that I didn’t become a librarian, this book had me fascinated from page one.  In thoughtful and erudite prose, Manguel examines seemingly every aspect of collecting, storing, and categorizing books.  It may seem like an almost boring topic, but trust me, Manguel makes it not only interesting, but mesmerizing.  I’ll never think about books or my personal collection the same way again.

I Am Malala:  The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, by Malala Yousafzai (Little, Brown, and Co., 2013) was a Christmas gift from my nephew that I only just got around to reading.  I think he chose it for me out of my passion for education.  I don’t usually like this type of narrative (the book is co-written by Christina Lamb), and I found the prose to be stilted.  But having seen Malala in various television interviews, I recognize that this is her particular style, and the story itself is fascinating.  I particularly enjoyed the glimpse of another very distinct culture.  Malala is not particularly forgiving of some American actions in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and I think it is very important to hear those criticisms even as we exalt her for what she has endured.

Reflecting on these summaries, one thing I’ve taken away from my recent reading has been gratitude:  for a loving family, for the example of strong women who don’t tolerate abuse and believe in education, for the travel opportunities that have allowed me to see the world through other eyes, and for my comfortable home and library.

Thank you for reading my little blog!  🙂