D’s Loquacious Late Spring Reads, 2010 Edition

Hey, kiddies. It’s been a while.

Can’t believe it’s June already! Hopefully this hot, new month will spawn some creativity that was lacking in May.

In the meantime, here are some my most recent reads:

Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi

I’d heard good things about this memoir by Azar Nafisi, in which she recollects her life as a young university English professor during the Revolution in Iran.

The book certainly opened my eyes Рat least, to the way she saw the events unfold around her. I liked how she paired the works by her favourite authors with anecdotes from the rapidly changing world around her Рa life in which the very love for her livelihood and for English literature was threatened. I learned how it was her love of books that kept her sane.

Come to think of it, this book reinforces for me – as a lifelong¬†reader – how astounding the power of words can be,¬† how books play such a huge role in regimes and periods of oppression … and how the written word seems like a threat to those who try to control.

In any case, I encourage you to give this a try, if you haven’t already.

The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga

I didn’t actually plan on reading this one anytime soon, especially so soon after reading¬†Midnight’s Children, which took me¬†a dog’s age to finish. And after feeling disappointed, the last thing I wanted was another long, winding yarn.

But I took a chance after an impr0mptu visit to the library … and I’m so glad I did YES! THIS is what I’m talkin’ ’bout!

The White Tiger takes on the form of a very long letter to the Chinese president, from a self-made entrepreneur in Bangalore. But it’s not too long before we learn the secrets of the¬†protagonist’s so-called success.

The book is dark, with punches of humour to match. And life portrayed in the book is rough and tough from start to finish. Is it realistic? I can only place my trust in the author that it is, to some degree.

That aside, once I started reading, I made fairly quick work of devouring The White Tiger. I highly recommend it.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz

I was drawn to this book, not by anything I’d read – because I hadn’t – but simply by the cover.¬†Who was Oscar Wao? What made his life so brief?

It literally was months before I got my grubby hands on Oscar Wao. And all I can say is, well, wow. 

If you like books written from a nerd’s perspective, in a sci-fi/fanboy style,¬†complete with footnotes about Dominican history and generous helpings of Spanglish, this might be a book for you.

Oscar Wao is a thick chronicle¬†of¬†the de Leons,¬† dyfunctional Dominican-Americans¬†with a rough¬†family past. But¬†a huge portion of the book is,¬†obviously, dedicated to¬†the title character –¬†an obese young man with both a desire to make it as a fantasy writer … and no game whatsoever, when it comes to the opposite sex. The novel isn’t narrated¬†by Oscar, but mostly by Yunior, a family “friend”, and¬†some narration from other family members who give scarred flesh and bone to the¬†family’s backstory.

Some people may not like the footnotes at the bottom of a number of the pages. But I actually found them helpful and loved the sharp style in which they were written. 

But, still.¬†Consider¬†giving this book a try before either putting the book down or ploughing right through it. And I hope that if you do, that you’ll end up doing the latter.

The Peep Diaries: How We’re Learning to Love Watching Ourselves and Our Neighbors, Hal Niedzviecki

It’s perhaps coincidental – or uncannily relevant¬†– that I’d just happened to complete my read of¬†The Peep Diaries¬†last week, amidst all this¬†talk about Quit Facebook Day to protest the site’s new rules on privacy settings and whatnot.¬†

In his tome, Niedzviecki explores the realm of Peep culture – think of it as The New Voyeurism in the age of Facebook, Twitter and reality TV, amongst other things.

Through his conversations with YouTubers, bloggers, reality TV show participants, and even performing his own experiments, Niedzviecki tries to wrap his head around why people are obsessed with seeing, as well as being seen by, others. He ponders the different ways in which people watch others, whether it’s relevant, and and whether sometimes it simply crosses the line when it comes to issues of privacy … if lines can still be drawn.

Everyone’s got their own perspective on the matter, so that might colour what you think of the subject matter in Niedzviecki’s book. But¬†if you’re like me – or the millions of other people spending hours online¬†– it’s a good attempt at making you take a step back and soberly think about the times we live in.

Sorry this took so long to put out. I blame an enormous lack of motivation, paired with procrastination. But until I blog again, enjoy!

D’s Loquacious Long Winter Reads

I’ve been meaning to write this and have kept putting it off for various reasons. But better late than never, I say.

Here’s my latest list of books I’ve read over the past few months …

Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, Immaculee Ilibagiza

The book chronicles the author’s harrowing experience as a young Tutsi woman trying to survive Rwanda’s bloody 1994 genocide – hiding in a tiny bathroom with seven other women for three months – as well as her miraculous¬†escape to freedom, unscathed.

I want to describe this book as simultaneously horrifying and astounding. But I’m not even sure those words do it justice.

Obviously the underlying story is how Ilibagiza found God during her time in that tiny bathroom, and how that she was going survive that hell on earth.¬†But it doesn’t even matter whether you hold religious beliefs or not. To read¬†how Immaculee managed to survive – physically, mentally and spiritually – for so long while sheer horror took place outside that bathroom window –¬†is perhaps reason enough to tackle this book.¬†

Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie

Not a new book, but one I’ve never read. Rushdie’s novel chronicles the lives of “midnight’s children” – those born at the moment of India’s independence in 1947. What isn’t immediately known is that these children have been born with unusual physical characteristics and special gifts or powers.

Narrated by the main character, Saleem Sinai – among those who hold the strongest powers because they were born precisely at midnight – the book follows the twisted history of Saleem’s family, and the act which determines fate, intertwined with fledgling India’s numerous conflicts and political struggles.

Of all the authors on this list, Rushdie has been the one I’ve wanted to read for the longest time, out of sheer curiosity.

Unfortunately, of the books on this list, this one took the longest to read – about two or three months.¬†Not because of its size. At roughly 530 pages, it’s hefty, but not insurmountable, for an adult novel.

However, for someone not used to Rushdie’s way of storytelling – such as myself – some points along the story’s path were a bit too winding for my taste, even a bit too slow. Even trying to imagine the various scenes in my mind took some doing.

I can’t say I hated the book. But I found it a tad underwhelming, and it left me a bit disappointed.

Corked: A Memoir, Kathryn Borel Jr.

After such a long slog through Rushdie, I happily turned my attention to a book patiently sitting on my bedside table for weeks.

The first book from brand-spankin’ new memoirist (and colleague) Kathryn Borel, Corked is the story of Borel’s wine trip through France with her father Philippe, a hotelier and wine connoisseur.

As the trip winds through France, the book also takes us into Borel’s deepest thoughts about love, her attempts to learn about wine, and death. The trip is also opportunity she seizes to hash things out with Dad over a life-changing event five years earlier.

Having gotten flashes of Borel’s off-beat personality in real-life, I could hear her voice loud and clear as I turned the pages. I also recognize a couple of the people she talks about. Yes, I snickered here and there (hopefully where appropriate). But even though I can’t say I know her very well, Corked¬†helped me understand a bit more about her.¬†I appreciate who she is because of what she’s written.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston

My personal goal for Black History Month was to take on a what was considered a classic novel – although acclaim at the time it was published was heavily divided, and then it fell out of sight until it was rediscovered again in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The novel follows the life of Janie Crawford, who transforms from girl to woman (through the course of two marriages) in the Southern U.S. of the 1930s.

The book is supposed to be an ode to African-American culture and heritage (so says the explanation on the inside front flap of the jacket). It was a bit of a challenge to me, navigating the dialect, and trying to imagine what the characters were all thinking and doing. The male-female dynamic between Janie and her husbands was certainly something interesting. And ever-present were some the issues, such as class and skin tone – something that seems to be around, even in this day and age.

I wasn’t bowled over, but I’m glad I gave it a read anyway. It’s not a long book, so I’d recommend anyone to give it a go.

C’est tout,¬†y’all. Maybe I’ll find some meatier morsels to tackle for the spring.

Happy reading!