In another life, I used to own bookcases filled with books. When I moved from Cleveland, Ohio, to San Diego, I gave them all away. These days, I read digital downloads from the library because they’re free and because I travel light.
The Cancer Journals: Let me just say: Audre Lorde was an incredible woman. A feminist, a civil rights activist, and more, she writes about what I’ve been thinking lately. My library didn’t have this one, neither did my affiliated state-wide library system. Too bad. I had to borrow this from archive.org after a waiting period. It came today (7/27/2018) and I’m devouring it. It’s on a laptop browser as a compliment to the complicated medical studies I’m also currently reading on the type of invasive cancer discovered in my post-mastectomy biopsy.
The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts: Because in the end – love is all that matters. For real. But hey, on this life journey, I was curious about why this book is so well-regarded and gets such high reviews. It’s an easy-breezy read, compared to my last few. Needed to lighten it up a bit. Gary Chapman’s ideas about how we love our spouses (and children), and why we want to be shown love in specific ways, makes a whole lot of sense. Now what you do with this obvious insight, is another story.
Exit West: I loved this book. Beautiful read. It’s about a young couple forced to leave their home country because of war. They become migrants, like so many millions of other people from different parts of the world. This fiction story appeals to me because I have seen migrants everywhere – from Tijuana to Lisbon to Sarajevo – and I always imagine what kind of lives these people had before they fled. One of my favorite lines: “We are all migrants in time.” Exit West won several awards and also was on former President Barack Obama’s reading list in 2017. (Imagine that. A compassionate, empathetic president who reads books.) It’s by Pakistani author Mohsid Hamid.
The Cellist of Sarajevo: Fantastic, fantastic, fantastic read. A tie for favorite book so far this year. It’s a fictional account about three people who lived in Sarajevo during the Bosnian War, and also the cellist who plays each day at the spot where a mortar killed several people waiting in line to buy bread. While this is fiction, it’s loosely based on a true story. The bread line mortar happened; the cellist playing at the site of the bread line murders happened; the siege happened, the war happened, and you have to know that crazy things happened during war time. Maybe not these exact penetrating events– but events that had people questioning humanity nonetheless. I would have loved this book even if I had never been to Sarajevo, a place where people are haunted by war scars, and tentatively hopeful about new times. So many fantastic passages, but this one may be my favorite: “If the city is to die, it won’t be because of the men on the hills, it will be because of the people in the valley. When they’re content to live with death, to become what the men on the hills want them to be, then Sarajevo will die.” And the next sentence is from a runner up passage: “It’s a rate gift to understand that your life is wondrous, and that it won’t last forever.” The Cellist of Sarajevo is by Steven Galloway.
American War: I like dystopian fiction. This is about a second American Civil War, a plague, and how it affects a family. It’s by Omar El Akkad – born in Egypt, raised in Canada. He was an investigative reporter and this is his debut novel. The first few pages hooked me – especially the map of the United States, which shows a seriously altered coastline thanks to climate change. The rest of the book… well, it was just ok. He had some good ideas, and there some fast-paced passages that were good — but not quite thrilling. Kind of a sloppy plot. Or maybe there were too many sub-plots. Or maybe it just wasn’t that good of a book.
Do Electric Androids Dream of Sheep?: World War Terminus. Never-ending media propaganda. Kipple. Artificial intelligence. Robot sex. This book is about all those things and more, and how it changes our humanity. Yeah, this was a fun dystopian read. While cheering for the protagonist (a futuristic detective bounty hunter) I wondered if the antagonists (androids that look like people) aren’t walking around this planet at this very moment, because so many people today lack empathy. I guess this sci-fi read by Philip K. Dick was made into a movie, called ‘Blade Runner’, which I never saw. The book is almost always better, anyway. (Except Baroness Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa. I loved the book, but I loved loved loved the cinematic interpretation.)
Lovely, Dark, Deep: A few years ago I read some horrible reviews on this book, including one published in the New York Times. However, I love Joyce Carol Oates, and I don’t care what critics say. These short stories have disturbing American Gothic themes that haunt me: lovely, dark, deep, indeed. Marriage, cancer, relationships, love, hate, mental health. And that’s one of the things I love most about Oates. She’s not afraid to write — and share — where her mind goes. Sure, as a prolific writer, some of her stories are bound to be not-so-great. Reviewers point out she reuses certain words too often (not really) and sometimes they come across a (gasp!) cliche (occasionally). But: I will take her mediocre stories for the incredible tales that leave me sitting with my Kindle in my lap for several minutes, sometimes stunned, sometimes pondering how I want it to end, but always moved. This was my favorite book so far this year. Oh — and another reason critics be damned — this collection was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2015.
I Feel Bad About My Neck: What can I say? It’s a beach read. I came across an old New York Times review surfing the web one day and thought this short collection of essays would be a fun read. At least, what the Times critic claimed. I have chuckled a few times in two of the essays I’ve read so far, but nothing yet has made me laugh out loud. It’s my first read of something by the late Nora Ephron, and I’m in no rush to read more.
Under the Tuscan Sun: I wanted to read this book by Frances Mayes for two reasons. First, I recently was in Tuscany, and two, I wanted to see why so many women loved this book. I understand why she wanted to buy an abandoned villa there in the 1990s – before doing such an overseas feat was popular. And I get that most women long to live in a fabulous home like hers. But… I’m not most women. I powered through the renovation and restoration parts (which were frequent) and I skipped whole pages of recipes — I am not a cook. Maybe one day, I’ll want a house under some kind of sun somewhere, and I am interested in learning to cook… eventually. I totally get the attraction women have to the idea of reshaping, resetting their lives at the midway point. I understand how this book may have given them hope and some courage. But I’ve already done that in my own life – twice – and making that change mid-course for me wasn’t about renovating a historic home with foreign contractors. I did enjoy her writing when it was more about history and the Tuscan villages and people.
Mayes wrote paragraph in the Twentieth-Anniversary Afterword I really liked:
“Living and writing in a foreign country shakes me to the core. I think that’s a positive thing because we are creatures of our culture. We tend to vote the way your peers do, value what those near us value, worship and eat and dress pretty close to home. Sometimes we can’t truly see ourselves or those we care about because the background absorbs us into it. To leap out of all that changes you. Drastically. And perhaps it allows you to graze truths you did not know you knew. In addition, the change to a different culture gave me the gorgeous gift to learn about the Tuscans, how they live like the gods.”
Beautiful Days: a new collection of published short stories by Joyce Carol Oates published elsewhere in recent years. I love short stories, and I love Joyce Carol Oates. Oates did not disappoint. I like dark and sometimes grim stories, and she is an evocative mistress of ceremonies in this realm, IMHO. Fleuve Bleu, Big Burnt, Fractal — awww, yikes, ouch.
Wastelands II: More Stories of the Apocalypse: One of the last physical books I bought before my Kindle days was the first Wastelands short stories book. In this second book, the editor acknowledges it was a challenge to make it as good as the first. I read it anyway. Light reading, but there were some gems. I have always loved dystopia and how dire situations affect humanity. Some authors in this collection approached storytelling in non-traditional ways – and I also love to see variations of the short story formula. All in all, it was an okay read. I have two stories left. I think I’ll move to a heavier Daphne du Maurier collection next, which has been on my list for quite some time.
Lift Like a Girl: This book is by Nia Shanks, a strength trainer who has battled an eating disorder. I found her on Instagram and I liked some of her exercise videos. While I cannot relate to her eating disorder, I have battled other addictions so I stuck through the first half of the book even though much of it bored me. I did enjoy the workout advice later in the book, and likely will return to some of her approach when I restart my fitness training. (We’ve been traveling a lot since mid-December, and I haven’t worked out since I left a wonderful gym back in Mazatlan, Mexico.) I bought this book on sale for $.99 on Amazon. Personally, I would not pay more than that.
The Refugees: A short story collection by an author I’ve never read before – Viet Thanh Nguyen. I dug it. Stories of trials and victories told through Vietnamese immigrant voices, and I related on a human level. Theses stories made me feel something. This was a recommendation from my library based on my past check-outs.
Men Without Women: I like to get a man’s take now and then on love and lust and life. Only one of these short stories haunted me. Another story dragged on – I just couldn’t get into it. Overall, I enjoyed my first read of Haruki Murakami and I would give this author another try in the future. This was on my library’s reading list for me based on other selections I’ve read in the past.
Secret London – an Unusual Guide: This was on the shelf at our Airbnb rental in London. When I get back to London one day, there were places in this book I want to go see when I have more time – especially the London Library and the Greenwhich Observatory, which both are among the more mainstream options outlined in this odd guide.
We stopped at the oldest, continuously selling bookstore in the world! It’s in Lisbon, Portugal. If you’re in Lisbon, and you love books, Bertrand Livreiros is an interesting stop – even if just a quick one. There is a small section for English books, and a small cafe at the back of the shop. The store features some tributes to famous Portuguese writers with a little information about them in English. We went in the winter of 2018.
The 1755 earthquake that decimated the city didn’t stop the owners from moving locations and to continue sales. Now that’s a love for books! The official site is here (in Portuguese). The Guinness World Records site is here.