Saturday, August 26, 2017

More Reading Life

Finished This Past Week:

It's hard for me to talk about how I feel about poetry. But I read this straight through, and even though I liked some poems better than others, I was feeling the whole spirit of this anthology.

After a run of unusual reads for me (nonfiction, short stories, poems), I got back to my roots with an Octavia Butler science fiction novel. Fledgling was her last book and it didn't disappoint. Butler turns the myth of vampires among us into a thought experiment on mutualism and group marriage sustained by chemical bonds, plus darker skin as a genetic advantage. Like a lot of her other books, it thinks about how humanity and relationships would be different with different types of chemical and biological relations. Shori, a vampire-type creature known as an Ina, which in Butler's version is a distinct species, needs to drink human blood to survive, BUT her human symbionts benefit from pleasure, longer life, and improved healing. Both Shori and her symbionts are chemically bonded to one another--and she naturally needs several in order to sustain her without harming any. Unlike other Ina, Shori is genetically engineered with darker skin so that she is able to walk in the daylight. This causes the main source of conflict in the book but there are interesting undercurrents of gender, racial, economic, and political power dynamics as well. This was supposed to be a trilogy, and I wish Butler had gotten to finish it.

So, I finally read this. It's okay as fanfiction, which is what I consider it. I'm also sure it's better seeing it performed than reading the script. but I refuse to consider this the eighth Harry Potter book. There is no such thing.

Next Up:

Pretty amazing that I actually have this! I've had it on preorder forever. Twitty was my Hebrew school teacher, one of the only ones I actually liked, so I'm happy to support him. It's also kind of cool that when I go to a tavern in Williamsburg, his recipes are on the menu. Interested to learn more about his journey as a culinary expert in African American cuisine; also looking forward to learning more about his research on his family, which I remember learning about in Hebrew school!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Reading Life

Recently Finished:

I finished Wedding Toasts I'll Never Give by Ada Calhoun on the plane back from Boston. I bought it that day at Porter Square Books in Cambridge. Although it's not at all what I expected (I thought it would be snarky toasts about her friends' misguided love lives), I devoured her reflections on the realities of her own marriage. As a newlywed, I enjoyed it and I'm sure others will too.

Almost Finished:

I enjoy travel writing, but these are overly focused on remote corners of Africa and Alaska for my taste. I did enjoy the story about saving the books of Timbuktu and the story involving writers and libraries in the American South.

Next Up:

Also purchased at Porter Square Books, I've already started dipping into these timely poems.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

My Reading Life

Finished Last Week:

The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

I picked up The Wangs vs. the World after attending a panel with the author at the Gaithersburg Book Festival back in May. The eloquence of patriarch Charles Wang's hatred of America inspired my purchase, but still the hardcover sat unread for days and months, intimidating me. I knew I was going to like it, but that also made me more eager to wait for the right moment, when I could appreciate it.

The prose didn't disappoint. From white wolf hair ink brushes to urea to "guyliner," Chang creates an entertaining world of words, including transliterated but untranslated Chinese, in which the Wangs wither. Patriarch Charles is joined on his ride of shame across the nation by his wife Barbara, son Andrew, and daughter Grace en route to daughter Saina in upstate New York, who has troubles of her own. However, although entertaining and well-worded, the troubles of the Wangs don't seem to be resolved in any meaningful way, or, at least, the world suffers the consequences just fine.

Station Eleven, on the other hand, which I picked up from the Little Free Library near my home, metamorphoses material goods like iPhones, stilettos, and comic books into symbols of hope and ineffable meaning. It centers on a performance of King Lear in Toronto where the lead actor, Arthur Leander, perishes of a heart attack on stage, followed by a worldwide pandemic. The story follows the one young actor who survives, the paramedic who tried to revive him, and other characters from the life of Arthur Leander. Just as Chang's story does, Station Eleven follows multiple characters at different moments in time, but primarily focusing on one physical journey. However, reading them so close together, it was palpable to me that while I enjoyed the characters in both, Station Eleven felt so much more meaningful and significant and has a much more narratively fitting ending. Although I do think St. John Mandel's work has an intentionally spiritual quality (and, frankly, Chang has the more sparkling vernacular), I do wonder if post-apocalyptic worlds are necessarily imbued with more meaning than our mundane world, where entrepreneurs rise and fall and go to live with their daughters. It reminds me of that old Okcupid question, "In a certain sense, wouldn't nuclear war be exciting?"

Finished This Week:

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

Friday the Rabbi Slept Late by Harry Kemelman

I started reading The Five Dysfunctions of a Team at an airport and finally managed to get it through hold at the library. Although it's fictional, the team in the book seemed entirely realistic. Lencioni succinctly and entertainingly details the consequences of a team's lack of trust, and how one might turn it around. I haven't read many business/management type books, but I would highly recommend this one.

Friday the Rabbi Slept Late was a find from the Bookcrossing table at the Gaithersburg Book Festival. I'm generally not a fan of mysteries, but I couldn't pass up a novel with 'rabbi' in the title. I'm glad I did, since, although the whodunit was obvious, reading about synagogue politics of the 1960s was at once familiar and revelatory. I grew up around the kinds of attitudes and discussions in the book...but I've never read about them before. Plus, the eponymous Rabbi Small is a Talmudic scholar who applies his learnings to the modern world, which was nerdily fascinating to me. There are apparently 11 of these Rabbi Small mysteries, plus a TV pilot, and I'm considering acquiring the rest.

Currently Reading:

The Best American Travel Writing 2015, edited by Andrew McCarthy

Up Next:

Not sure what I'm up for yet.  It's Women in Translation month so perhaps I'll spring for the next Elena Ferrante novel (I'm due to read the third), or a different WIT read.