Sunday, December 7, 2014

I'm not actually sure I can pull this off, Kelly.

Kelly,

It's December 7th. I just want you to know that this may be the year I don't make it across the finish line. I am hopeful for a last minute sprint across the finish line once Winter Break starts...but...it seems so daunting. I am finding The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet sort of boring, and I still have at least three or four hundred pages left in Postwar.

Eek.

How about you?

J



Thursday, November 6, 2014

Completed: Please Look After Mom

Kelly,

I'm not sure I wrote a preview post about this one. I bought this book a few years ago when it won the Man Asian Prize for fiction. As you may remember, I try to read the big prize winners ever year---which has come in handy for my Tournament of Books reading! However, there are lots of less mainstream reading awards out there. You may also remember that I feel a little stuck in the "American authors" rut, so I'm pretty sure I picked this up at a time where I was looking to expand my reading horizons. I'm glad I did---this was an enjoyable, interesting, and quick read.

Please Look After Mom is set in modern day South Korea, and was translation from Korean. It won the Man Asain Literary Prize in 2011. This is the author's first time being published in English. The story is about a sixty-nine year old woman who goes missing from the Seoul train station one day. She's with her husband, but he's walking too fast and gets on the train without realizing she's not with him. The story has four major sections, with each section being told through the lens of one of her family members---her daughter, son, husband, and finally herself. Here's the weird part, though, the narration is told mostly in second person. It's a strange hybrid that doesn't seem like it would work, but somehow it does. You get to experience Mom through each character, experiencing their worries, fears, hopes, and memories.

I'll admit, this one kind of snuck up on me. Even though it's about an older mother with adult children, it still hit home. There's a lot of poignant and pointed observations about motherhood. At one point, the daughter asks Mom if she enjoyed cooking. "Mom held your eyes for a moment, 'I don't like or dislike the kitchen. I cooked because I had to. I had to stay in the kitchen so you could all eat and go to school. How could you only do what you like? There are things you have to do whether you like it or not.' Mom's expression asked, What kind of question is that? And then she murmured, 'If you only do what you like, who's going to do what you don't like?'" The novel makes clear that Mom is a woman who always fulfilled her duty to her family, even if they didn't always reciprocate. This pull between duty and freedom is experienced by each character, but only after Mom goes missing do we realize the extent to which Mom herself was torn.

Each character reveals some different part of Mom's life, her secrets, and her fears. The daughter is a famous author, but Mom is illiterate and cannot read her own daughter's books. Her son reveals the lengths to which Mom went to make sure all of her children were educated, which only makes sense when her husband reveals how his younger brother desperately wanted to go to school and they couldn't send him. Mom loved the boy, and when he dies tragically, she blames herself for never going to school. Mom reveals her long-standing friendship (affair?) with a young man in her village. The book unravels all of the small secrets of an ordinary life. There's something delicate and lovely about the careful unpacking of Mom's life.

I enjoyed reading about Korean culture and family life. The book's ending was lovely and sad. Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I'd definitely recommend it. It's a short but lovely exploration of motherhood, family, and identity.

Jenny

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Completed: The Poisonwood Bible

Dear Jenny,

I feel like I am the last person on the planet to read this book. It was extremely popular when it first came out (1998) and I feel like I have heard every reader I know talking about it. Now I know why -- cause it was really good.

Took me a little while to get into it, but once I did, it was definitely one of those "I cannot wait to get back to reading this!" books. I won't bore you with a plot summary -- I know you (and everyone else) have already read it. The story was engrossing and what impressed me the most was that it was told with 5 different voices and each one of them was *so* distinct... I could literally open the book at any place and know exactly who was "speaking." That's impressive.

I didn't really know much about the Belgian Congo/Zaire/Republic of Congo, etc. when I picked this book up and, since reading it, I have spent some time learning. Like much of world history, it is interesting but heart-wrenching (perhaps that is why I can't get into history -- I'm too soft. I can't handle the truth!) and this book did a good job of following a difficult time in the history of that place with a personal heart-wrenching tale. The domestic issues of this dysfunctional family played well against the larger national issues going on around them.

I was so happy when the mother finally just bailed on the crazy preacher father, although I was sad that it took the death of their youngest to be the catalyst -- I guess she finally found out what the "last straw" was for her. I really enjoyed all of the different "lenses" of the book -- the shallow oldest sister truly did come across as being totally shallow and dumb from her own perspective (even misusing and misspelling words) and to view her from her sisters' point of views only confirmed that.

For me, the only real misstep in this book was... the end. Which is a rather common issue, right? I wonder what percentage of books really do stick the landing for me. Perhaps I should start making a notation next to books -- StL or not? This one did not.

I was not terribly thrilled with going all the way through with their "future selves" (the injured twin becomes a doctor and manages to heal her life-long physical ailments, the other twin stays in Africa and manages to reunite with her husband after a long jail sentence, the shallow oldest sister runs a hotel in Africa for rich white men and manages to succeed at that endeavor, the mother finds peace growing flowers...) but the nail in the coffin was the "observations" from the dead youngest sister of their lives and her afterlife. After such pitch-perfect narration throughout, this tacked-on ending was a little bit disappointing to me.

However! It's been over a month since I finished this book and I barely remembered that problem with it -- if I hadn't marked the pages to write about on this very blog, I probably would have blocked them out already and been left with the general feeling of: "I enjoyed this book."

And there! Another post done! (Still not sure why I have struggled so much in 2014 to write these posts, but oof... I have many more before I am done.)

love,
kelly

PS -- Back on the acacia tree sunset treatment observation -- click that link and notice the last book.  Is that.... The Poisonwood Bible? Indeed it is!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Kelly's Book 9.14: Arc of Justice

Dear Jenny,

Yes, yes -- I still have 4 other posts to write. But I also have 4 more books to read, so let me write a preview post on one of those: Arc of Justice by Kevin Boyle. I am about 40 pages into this book and just wanted to jot down some thoughts before I go any further.

First of all... I thought this book was fiction. Really paying a lot of attention to these books, eh? Sheesh.

My mother-in-law gave it to me a few years ago when it was the "Great Michigan Read" for 2012 (kind of a neat idea -- the whole state is essentially in a giant year-long "book group" together where everyone reads a single book written by a Michigan author). I've never participated in the "Great Michigan Read" but for some reason, I thought all of the books were fiction. They're not. This book is not. Nope. It's a true story.

We've talked before about how I don't read much non-fiction, so I am laughing at myself that I chose a book I thought was fiction but it's not. (Also! I have just realized the 4 of the books I have read this year are non-fiction! How did that happen?! Maybe that is why I am struggling to write about them? Hrmm.)

Didn't take me long to realize this was non-fiction -- the endnotes were a dead giveaway. (Ha) Aaaand they're also kind of annoying -- I always feel compelled to stop my reading and go straight to the endnotes. But in this case, they are literally *all* just sources, so I have done a good job of skimming straight over them. Go, me!

The subtitle (long subtitle -- another giveaway that this book would be non-fiction, right? Duh.) is " A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age."

It's a story about a black doctor who moves to an all-white neighborhood in Detroit in 1925, and then all hell breaks loose. I've actually already read that part, and it was difficult. Pretty much exactly what you would expect to happen, happens: Day after he and his family move in, a mob of white neighbors gather outside his house. As tensions mount, someone throws a rock through the window and one of his friends fires a shot into the crowd, killing one white person and injuring another. He and everyone in his house are immediately arrested and taken away. It's a bad scene. (And made me think "1925 or... 2014?" Which is just f*cking depressing.)

Once I realized this was non-fiction, I recalled that I actually do know some of this story. The man's name is Ossian Sweet. As I recall, against all odds, he was acquitted. I'm curious now how that all goes down because, honestly, it seems like an unlikely outcome.

As a side note, this book also won the National Book Award in 2004 and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Sooo... has everyone and their brother heard of this book while I'm all, "Oh, my MIL recommended this book to me so I guess I'll read it. (La-la-la...)?" Probably. And now the Internet knows. Heh.

love,
kelly

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Jenny's Status Report

Kelly,

I like this status report thing. Keeping me honest. Hah!

Well. My plan to "listen" to Postwar is a total and utter failure. I basically feel like I have been listening to that sucker *forever*, and then today went to check my progress in the actual book to find out that I am only about a quarter of the way through it. Argh!

I think there are a few problems. One is that the material is just too dense for an audiobook. I'm having trouble keeping track of all the facts and figures, etc. Also, I don't love the narrator and find it sort of hard to listen to for long stretches.  I am sort of annoyed by how I notice the change in audio...I don't know how to describe this because I don't have a great vocabulary for it. But, I can tell when the recording switches, as if he's reading on a new day? There's not smooth transitions and sometimes it's a little louder or softer or his pacing seems different. There are obviously lots of foreign names and places, and I can tell that he went back later and rerecorded just the names. It's super distracting. I think I have to abandon the audiobook plan. I'm honestly not sure where that leaves me. Maybe I'll just try to knock out a few chapters every week with the goal of finishing it by the end of the year.

I also abandoned one of my books this year, Snow by Orhan Pamuk. Presuming I can finish Postwar, that means I have to choose 2 out of the remaining: Please Look After Mom, All the Names, or The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. I'm thinking it's going to be All the Names that's left on the road, but we'll see. 

I'm at that point in October when I really want to wrap it up and thinking about next year's list---so excited we're making plans for that! 


Maybe I just need to read a little more Postwar today to feel that sense of forward progress. 
Jenny




Thursday, October 2, 2014

2014: Kelly's Status Report (October)

Dear Jenny,

2014 hasn't gone quite as smoothly for me as our first few years of doing this and I'm not sure why.  I've been reading, but I've been getting bogged down posting. My last status report was in June. I have since read all five of those books, but only posted about 3 of them. So let's see how it's going...

 

Books that are DONE! (Woo-hoo!): 4

You already know about these, but hey -- I gotta pat myself on the back for getting something done around here!

Completed books, awaiting blog posts: 4

I have finished all of these, but still need to write about them:
  • Detroit City Is the Place to Be by Mark Binellimk
  • Digressions on Some Poems By Frank O'Hara by y Joe LeSueur
  • On Being Brown: What It Means to Be a Cleveland Browns Fan by Scott Huler
  • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
If I write one of these per week, I can be done by the end of October -- that seems doable, right? Sure.

 

Books in Progress: 2

I am reading two books at one time right now (the Baker is essays, so I spread them out) and they are:
  • Arc of Justice by Kevin Boyle
  • The Size of Thoughts by Nicholson Baker 

 

Have not even started: 2

I'm not 100% sure what these will be yet, but I think I finally have to give up on Don't Know Much About History. After February, I did not stick to my "chapter-per-month" plan and since I've been on a crusade to "abandon books with abandon" this year (I have abandoned 9 books!), I think that's got to go.

After that, the longest page count is Stones from the River, so I'll just give it the boot right now. That leaves:
  • The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
  • Tim Gunn's Fashion Bible: The Fascinating History of Everything in Your Closet by Tim Gunn
(Unless I cannot get through one of those and then I will bring back Stones.)

I have, once again, done a year-end page count and I have to read a little over 15 pages per day to make it, which is totally doable (there are 90 days left in the year today, FYI). The key is the writing! Aaaaand yes, I do realize I have just spent 30 minutes writing this "status" post... aaaaand I could have been writing a book post instead. Whatever.

How's it going over there? You're already planning 2015, aren't you? ;)

love,
kelly

Monday, September 29, 2014

Completed: Cry, the Beloved Country

Dear Jenny,

As I mentioned in my status post (that I wrote back in JUNE!), I knew pretty much from the start that this book would be a downer, and I was correct. It is set in South Africa the year before apartheid came into being, so you know things are going to be f*cked from the start. Add to that a pretty depressing personal tale and... whee.

Ok! I deleted a few paragraphs here where I tried to tell the story right after I read this book and just got bogged down. It's convoluted and tragic -- some of the same sorts of "Weird-coincidence-results-in-crazy-tragedy" business that I also saw in Hunchback. (Aaaand... this may be the first time in history that someone has drawn a connection between Cry, the Beloved Country and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame...)

When I was in college, I was in a show called the South Africa Project and we did a lot of reading about apartheid, so I have some knowledge of it, but this book was set in the years leading up to it, which is an interesting (and kind of nerve-wracking) perspective -- it definitely adds a certain tension to the story (which is already pretty tense).

While I was reading this book, you sent me a link to this blog post, showing how almost every book about Africa gets the "acacia tree sunset treatment."

Second row, first book? Yup. That's Cry, the Beloved Country. My copy also has the acacia-tree-sunset treatment, as you can see at right.

What if every book set in the US got the same cover treatment? What would that look like? And eagle flying in front of the stars and bars with a gun and/or hamburger clutched in his talons?

One thing that I found of interest in this book -- things are falling apart in the rural areas, so the people are fleeing *to* the cities for salvation. Of course, that is the exact opposite of what is happening in many modern US cities, where people are fleeing to the suburbs to get away from the sh*t that's falling apart in the cities (hello, Detroit!)

I understand the reasons -- very different times, of course. Just particularly struck me on the heels of reading Detroit City is the Place to Be (yes, another one of my TBR books that I have not written about yet...)

Well, I feel like I kind of pooped out this "review."  It's another book that I wouldn't necessarily recommend, unless someone is really into reading a fictional story set in pre-apartheid South Africa. The writing style is very poetic, which can sometimes be lovely and sometimes feel like a slog, depending on one's mood.
Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that's the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing. Nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley. For fear will rob him if he gives too much. [80]
See what I mean? It's lovely and it's tragic.

love,
kelly