Books

Book Fridays: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

I feel as though it’s been a while since I wrote about the books I’ve been reading. Part of the reason is that I’ve been busy reading but also because I had prewritten about 6 Book Friday posts and once I ran out I was not motivated to write more. Writing about books is not something I spend too much time on. Depending on the book I might devote more time to researching the author etc but I am no professional book reviewer. I don’t analyze books based on themes, prose and the like. I might make mention of it if it pops out at me but I am just a reader who likes to write a few lines about what she’s been reading.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent is a debut novel that apparently made quite the splash when it was first published due to the hefty six-figure advanced received by Ms. Kent. An interesting bit of trivia in my opinion.

The story is set in 1830 I believe, in a small rural town of Iceland. Agnes, our protagonist, has been sentenced to death and is awaiting execution. The story is told during her last winter as she awaits her fate. I found the writing to be lovely. I enjoyed the descriptions which are so well done that I found myself feeling slightly chilled as I read about an Icelandic winter. I loved it. Agnes is sent to live on a farm against its occupants wishes but they were charged with taking in this prisoner and caring for her. It was interesting to see how her presence created such upheaval in the lives of her host family and those around them.

It is important to note that the story on which this book is based is true. This woman existed and she was killed. In fact, she was the last executed person in Iceland. We learn her story, her crime, and her life through her conversations with her chosen confessor, Father Toti.

I spent some of the book conflicted about whether or not Agnes was guilty but in the end I think I knew…

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Book Fridays: Reading priorities and July TBR

I don’t think I have ever shared my monthly TBRs but since I have a few books lined up and no scheduled post for today I am sharing what I plan to read this month. I have always frequented my local library but between last year and this one I have really amped up my library use. I go to the library almost weekly whether it’s to browse, pick up holds, or return books. I also make use of their Overdrive service for e-books. It turns out I do not have the funds to buy as many books as I read. I actually like borrowing books first because if I love a book I can always purchase it knowing that I really want it in my collection. Reading borrowed books has helped me knock out  a lot of books I’ve been meaning to read since once I bring them home I actually read them. See, I used to buy a lot of books and they tend to sit for a while before I get around to them. With library books I am forced to prioritize my reading.

Speaking of purchased books, this year I am reading my shelves and so far I’ve read several books I had purchased years ago but never read. I am also purging my bookshelves of books I am not longer interested in owning because my reading tastes have changed a lot over the last few years.

But back to prioritizing my reading, this week, Daniel Jose Older’s Shadowshaper was released and I am dying to read it. I planned to start it the day it came out but I hadn’t finished the book I was in the middle of and with another two library books still in the wings I know that I have to wait. I am not the type of reader who likes to read multiple books at once unless they’re non-fiction, or a collection of stand alone stories. It’s not a hard and fast rule for me but I much prefer to read one book at a time. In fact, I seldom ever have multiple books going at once. Reading mostly library books has really challenged me in that I have had to begrudgingly put down a book for a few days because one of my library holds has come in.

Here is what I plan to read this month:

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings by James Baldwin

Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older

I will probably read other books but I’ll pick those out depending on what I feel like. I’ll either borrow hard copies from the library or e-book format from Overdrive. My husband has Amazon Prime so I could also borrow books from there.

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Book Fridays: La ultima noche que pase contigo by Mayra Montero

It has been a while since a book angered me this much. I picked up this book on a whim on a recent library trip. I happened upon their collection of Spanish literature and this book caught my eye. I had no idea what I was in for. Because I will be quoting this book I will be writing this post in Spanish. For those interested, this book is racist and I don’t mean there is a racist character set straight by another character that speaks sense. This book has some of the most blatant, despicable depictions of casual racism. It is not something new, Latino culture is rife with racism and this book is a perfect example of it. Of note is the author’s disregard for the harmful and historically racist depiction of black people as monkeys. In the book the female protagonist has sex with a black man and upon returning to her stateroom her husband remarks that she “smells like a monkey”. That the author chose to describe her smell as such after sleeping with a black man should tell you everything you need to know.

I do not make it a habit to write about books that I rate very poorly. Mostly because I am very diligent in my selection process but also because most of the time not liking a book is subjective. This is not one such instance. I can’t keep silent about this book.

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No suelo escribir sobre aquellos libros que no me han gustado pero es necesario hablar sobre este libro porque presenta un gran problema en nuestra cultura Latina. Como tal, la historia que leemos en este libro se trata de una pareja de crucero y la infidelidad que existe entre ambas partes. En si la historia es una sobre personas poco agradables pero eso no es lo que me dio asco.

Este libro expone muchas ideas racistas. Les explícito y lo voy a mostrar con ejemplos del texto.

“Tenia unos ojos achinados y perversos, un negro chino, una fisonomía diabólica, un cuerpo tenso y duro, puro nervio y puro músculo, un negro y renegro, me recorrió un escalofrío: estaba segura de que íbamos a zozobrar.”

Veamos el lenguaje, hombre negro es reducido a algo del diablo. La manera en la cual la autora se refiere a las personas de color negro es despectiva durante todo el libro. Aquí jamas encontramos a un personaje que le llame la atención al personaje racista. Por ello considero a la autora cómplice en ello.

Nuestra protagonista le teme al hombre negro pero este temor se convierte en excitación sexual y luego de seducirlo se encuentra enredada con el mismo hombre a quien mira despectivamente por su raza.

“…puso sus manos sobre mis muslos, sus manos que afuera parecían tan grandes y que ahora dentro del agua, se tornaban enormes, descomunales manos de patron de bote, de negro proscrito, de monstruo marino.”

Nuevamente el lenguaje, las palabras seleccionadas, en particular la palabra “monstruo” es violenta porque deshumaniza al patron del bote. Lo iguala a un animal. Esto es racista.

En otro instante la protagonista se refiere al patron del bote como un “animal de amor” que es un estereotipo común sobre los hombres negros.

Una vez su encuentro con el botero llega a su fin la protagonista regresa al barco donde su esposo (sin saber de donde ella venia) le reclama . La asociación entre las personas de color y los monos no es nueva. Históricamente es solo una de las muchas maneras a través de las cuales se le negaban derechos a estos ciudadanos. Que la autora escogiera esta frase para comentar sobre el olor de la protagonista luego de tener relaciones sexuales con un hombre negro ignora la historia dañina  de esta asociación y solo sirve para perpetuar estereotipos raciales.

Podria dar otros ejemplos pero creo que basta con los que he compartido aquí. Considero este texto extremadamente racista. Los cuerpos negros no son un fetiche pero así lo consideran los protagonistas. Otros problemas a discutir es la representación de violencia entre los hombres y las mujeres especialmente durante la intimidad.

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Book Fridays: Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler

I always go to the library with a list but I also go with a hunger to discover new books. Unlike grocery shopping hunger is a welcome companion here. I have Kindred on my TBR but I knew my library didn’t have it on the shelf so I wasn’t looking for it. On display at the end of the stacks was Fledgling and having not heard anything about it I picked it up, read the back and decided to take it with me.

I want to get the two issues I had with the book out of the way: firstly the editing was not very good. I found several typos and other errors that had me reading sentences over and over thinking there was something wrong with me. The other is the element of pedophilia. I can’t decide if Wright was a pedophile or not. I almost feel like this is a moral dilemma presented to the reader on purpose. Our protagonist, Shori, is a vampire. A species separate and different to humans. Her body is like that of an eleven year old girl. That is Wrights first impression as she doesn’t have breasts but later on we learn that female vampires don’t have breasts so the evaluation of her body in comparison to human development is incorrect. Shori and Wright have sex shortly after he picks her up on the side of the road thinking her a runaway child. I did not get the impression that he had any nefarious intent when he stopped to offer help. He did not become interested in her sexually until she bit him.

Her saliva, we learn, is a drug to humans. It gets them off and it gets them high. If they go without it they die. Vampires and humans have a special relationship and this turning them into junkies ensures that vampires have a willing supply of food at all times. Humans, or symbionts as they’re called once they’re paired up with a vampire, are under the vampire’s influence at all times once they’ve been bitten. Even if they don’t want to follow an order they do, because they have to. I can see where the initial ick factor presented by Shori’s apparent childhood would put readers off. She’s a 53 year old vampire and she never comes across as an innocent child despite her physical appearance. At all times she has the upper hand, in physical strength and consent.

Shori is a vampire-human hybrid. Her family successfully crossed vampire and human DNA in order to create a vampire who was able to stay awake during the day and able to go out into the sun with minimal issues. The magic indredient: melanin. Shori is of mixed race in terms of her coloring. Her human mother was black. Therefore, she looks markedly different to her full vampire counterparts. So in this book Butler subverts the idea of melanin and all of the negative associated with it. In her world melanin is powerful.

As Shori looks for answers as to why her family was attacked and destroyed (she’s the sole survivor) Wright offers up his theory as to why she is being hunted and attacked:

“Chances are, this is all happening for one of three reasons.It’s happening because some human group has spotted your kind and decided you’re all dangerous, evil vampires. Or it’s happening because some Ina group or Ina individual is jealous of the success Shori’s family had with blending human and Ina DNA and having children who can stay awake through the day and not burn so easily in the sun. Or it’s happening because Shori is black, and racists — probably Ina racists — don’t like the idea that a good part of the answer to your daytime problems is melanin.”

When we first meet Shori she is recovering from the attack that killed the female side of her family. A head wound seemed to have affected her memory so that throughout the book she is learning about Ina culture along with the reader. Even so as her memory is jogged and she learns about how to be Ina (what the vampire species is called) Shori exhibits humanity. When one of her symbionts is killed off Shori intends to kill the vampire responsible but refuses to consider killing the symbiont who committed the murder because she found it despicable to use symbionts as though they weren’t people.

I really enjoyed this book and I am definitely going to read more of Butler’s work. It is unfortunate that she passed away shortly after publishing Fledgling. I would have loved to read more about Shori.

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The Book Blogger Confession Tag

Blu Chicken Ninja published a blog post answering this tag and I thought that doing one of these every once in a while looked like fun. I wouldn’t call myself a book blogger per se, but I do write about books once a week so even though nobody would ever tag me I decided to tag myself.

1. Which book, most recently, did you not finish?

The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff. I didn’t get very far into the book but I found myself putt off by the writing. The writing wasn’t bad but the voice behind it rubbed me wrong. I can’t explain it. When the narrator described a girl as too plump to be wearing a dress I put it down and didn’t pick it up again.

2. Which book is your guilty pleasure?

I have mixed feelings about this question because when we talk about guilty pleasures we often refer to things that we consider to be intellectually lacking and they are usually in the YA or Romance genre. We shouldn’t feel guilty about what we read and nobody should be judging people’s preferences. On the other hand I totally understand the tongue in cheek jabs we take on ourselves about arguably shitty books that we love. I would reread Twilight so I guess that would be my guilty pleasure, although I would read it publicly just to dare somebody to question me.

3. Which book do you love to hate?

If I Stay was really meh for me and even annoying. I don’t really bash the book but I didn’t connect with that story and as a result I never understood the hype. I also genuinely hate the book I mention below.

4. Which book would you throw into the sea?

La Ultima Noche Que Pase Contigo by Mayra Montero. It was disgustingly racist and the book was more rape-y than erotica. Absolute waste of paper.

5. Which book have you read the most?

I don’t reread books very often, in fact not since The Enchanted Wood by Enid Blyton have I read a book over and over again. I remember starting that book over as soon as I had finished it because I loved it so much.

6. Which book would you hate to receive as a present?

Anything by a celebrity. I am not interested in reading ghostwritten drivel.

7. Which book could you not live without?

I would rather not choose one book. I love books, even the books I don’t care for/wouldn’t read are important to me. Freedom from Fear by Dr. Howard Liebgold has changed my life. I struggle with anxiety and panic attacks and I refer to this book often when I need a refresher. I would hate to ever be without it.

8. Which book made you the angriest?

See number 4.

9. Which book made you cry the most?

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel recently got to me.

10. Which book cover do you hate the most?

I don’t like book covers that are a still image from a movie adaptation. I don’t know why. I just don’t like them! Whenever I see a book released with a new cover because the movie is coming out I cringe.

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Book Fridays: My Father’s Ghost is Climbing in the Rain by Patricio Pron

This book left me haunted. My knowledge of South American history, particularly that of Argentina is very slim but I knew enough to look up what I needed in order to delve into this book. In this story an unnamed narrator takes us through his murky rediscovery of his past. After spending eight years in Germany he returns to Argentina to see his ailing father who is in a coma. The beginning of the story feels foggy. The narrator has little to no recollection of his life in Argentina. He spent his time in Germany medicated out of his mind. And for good reason as he was a product of the Dirty War. As a child his dad would check their car for bombs before driving the kids to school.

The story is about the disappearance of a local man, Alberto Burdisso (a real person). Rather, the story is about our narrator finding his father’s news clippings on this disappearance and piecing together not just the story of that man but the story of why he repressed his memories. The writing is choppy and fragmented much like the narrator’s mind. I think that aspect worked really well. The newspaper clippings with their bad grammar and typos were a bit boring to read even though ultimately the information they contained was useful.

Overall this book was an interesting and haunting read both for what was on the pages but most notably for what wasn’t. The story is semi-autobiographical in that Pron is actually exposing his parent’s past as supporters of Juan Domingo Peron and all that came with it.

I did not know this book was a translation and I am disappointed to have read it in English as I prefer to read books in the language they were written in whenever I can. I will probably read it in Spanish at some point.

Book Fridays: The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas

This was such a fun read. I don’t quite know where to begin. Our protagonist, Ariel, finds herself minus her dissertation advisor after he goes missing. She then finds a copy of a rare book by the subject of her thesis, Thomas Lumas, that is said to be cursed and as such results in the death of anybody who reads it. Of course Ariel reads the book (and so do you since large chunks of the text are inserted into the story).

I read a few reviews that dragged Ariel’s character for being promiscuous, arrogant, etc and I want to state, for the record, that those opinions are a load of bull. I mean if you like your women weak and under the patriarchy’s thumb then yes, Ariel is a terrible woman. But for me, and my views she was all right. Mind you she wasn’t perfect but the issues many have pointed at just don’t hold water.

Anyway, in this book that Ariel finds she learns about the troposphere. A place where you can travel into people’s minds, read their thoughts and even, perhaps, influence their thoughts. The book contains the recipe for a potion that one drinks in order to enter the troposphere and Ariel goes on a brief quest to obtain what she needs in order to make it. Once she does she enters the troposphere herself.

The tone of the book was playful even as it tackled some serious topics. Some of the conversations about Quantum Physics and Derrida felt like info dumps but overall this book was an enjoyable read and left me pondering after I read it. This particular cover (seen above) makes sense once you’ve read the book.

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Book Fridays: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

A pandemic wipes out 99% of the human population. What happens afterwards? This is one of the questions that this book seeks to answer. The Georgia Flu hits fast and hard. Civilization collapses. Everyone is on their own. Apocalyptic stories scare me, mostly because they’re possible but also because I have zero faith in my surviving beyond the first few days if that. How does society make a comeback?

The story moves back and forth between pre and post apocalypse. You get to see the trivial and completely useless lives that people lived. The things that mattered but soon wouldn’t because Maslow’s hierarchy of needs would come into play before people knew what hit them. The story follows regular people on this journey and I think that is why I enjoyed this book so much. It was about survival but it was also about the human spirit and how it can be challenged but still manage to shine bright.

One of the characters, Clark is on an aeroplane when the pandemic reaches critical mass and is forced to make an emergency landing. The airport becomes his home. Fortunately none of the passengers are infected but a plane does land and is kept quarantined. All the passengers die inside that plane. The horror, the decision made to keep the flu contained inside that vessel is one that kept me thinking long after it happened. It wasn’t even a particularly important part of the story as it was not delved into but my mind delved into it.

“A rape on the night of Day Eighty-five, the airport woken after midnight by a woman’s scream. They tied the man up until sunrise and then drove him into the forest at gunpoint, told him if he returned he would be shot. “I’ll die out here alone,” he said, sobbing, and no one disagreed but what else could they do?”

Justice and safety are important and this passage illustrates that beautifully. That rapist broke the social contract and he faced consequences that sadly he might not have faced in our civilization. He was exiled and it most likely meant his death but order HAD to be maintained. And how awful would it have been for the woman he raped if he had been allowed to stay out of pity. Life inside the airport was fragile but good prevailed.

During a mission to gather whatever supplies they could from outside the airport a group walked by a hotel. Abandoned and reeking with death they did not enter but were later followed by a resident of the same. His sheer relief at finding people broke my heart. It once again brought to mind Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which are as follows: physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, self-actualization.

People naturally sought to have their physiological needs met first as these are essential for survival. Food, water, and shelter are the first needs to be met. This is followed by safety and then love/belonging. Humans are social animals and this interpersonal need is important. It is why people were grouped together, not just for survival but because psychologically it hurts to be without company. A lot of the story follows characters as they meet these three needs first and slowly branch out to other things.

What I loved about this story is that it looked at humanity with hopefulness. Even in adversity there is good in people and good can win. That’s not to say that there weren’t any bad apples along the way but by and large there was a faith in humanity that came across loud and clear.

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Book Fridays: We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

It’s the dreaded F word of modern times… I find that men and women alike are afraid of the word feminist. So much so that it’s becoming common for female celebrities to publicly distance themselves from the term but why is that? Now, among women of color (especially black women) there is an understandable aversion to mainstream feminism because it is often not intersectional. It doesn’t include black women but that’s material for a whole other post.

I have found myself more times than I care to count in conversation with people who truly have no idea what feminism is. They base their opinions on misinformation and anecdotes that support it. Feminism is NOT about superiority over men. Also, feminism is NOT misandry. Misandry is also not a real thing. It is not the counterpart to mysoginy much like reverse racism is a myth.

We Should All Be Feminists is a wonderful essay adapted from Adichie’s Tedx talk of the same name. It is a short read but a powerful one. Her Tedx talk is just as wonderful and you can watch it here. She approaches the topic in a way that is accessible and powerful.

I found it difficult to choose an excerpt to share but I succeeded:

“Gender matters everywhere in the world. And I would like today to ask that we begin to dream about and plan for a different world. A fairer wold. A world of happier men and happier women who are truer to themselves. And this is how to start: We must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our sons differently.

We do a great disservice to boys in how we raise them. We stifle the humanity of boys. We define masculinity in a very narrow way. Masculinity is a hard, small cage, and we put boys inside this cage.”

Feminism is not just about women, it’s about men, too. We should all be feminists because this cage affects us all.

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Book Fridays: The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

This book was sitting on my shelf for a while and when I picked it up I was unsure as to whether or not I had read it. I bought this book in the days before I logged my reading on Goodreads so I had nowhere to look for clues. I decided to just read it and if it turned out I had already read it then it would turn into a re-read. The beginning felt a little familiar so I looked to Goodreads reviews for a refresher. What I found were very harsh, passionate reviews dissing this book to hell and back. Seriously, it was scary to read the bad reviews. I read it anyway and I really enjoyed it!

The book is long and a little slow-paced. Personally, the pacing was fine for me but I will concede that I can see how it would be a sticking point for others. The writing is beautiful and detailed. In all, this book is possibly not everybody’s cup of tea. The epilogue bugged me as I found it unnecessary and I wish it had been left out.

This story is about vampires, more specifically it’s about Dracula but it’s different. It’s an academic approach to the story. I was hesitant to use the word academic because it feels a bit stuffy but that’s the best way I can describe it. The amount of research that went into writing this book is significant and woven together beautifully. I am only sad that I didn’t read it sooner.

If you’re into vampire stories this is worth checking out.

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