books

Book Fridays: I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Treviño

I had no idea who Juan the Pareja was before picking up this book. I found it while browsing the children’s section at the library. I read the blurb and thought it sounded interesting. The book, while a good read, is not without its problems. Juan de Pareja was slave to Diego Velazquez one of the most important painters of the Spanish Golden Age. This story is told from Pareja’s point of view which is both wonderful and problematic.

Juan de Pareja was born to a mulatto mother and Spaniard father. He was born into slavery. Diego Velazquez inherited him after his original masters succumbed to disease. I’m going to go ahead and discuss what I think the book has going for it before I delve into what I took issue with. Having a Newberry Medal winner be a book about a black protagonist is significant. Almost 50 years later we still face diversity issues in publishing but it is important to note that the author of this book is a white woman. I’m not saying that she won because she was white but if you look at the list of Newberry Medal winners you will see which way it skews. One book about a 17th century slave does not change the reality of publishing.

When we talk about 17th century Europe many people overlook the fact that black people lived among all the white people we read about in books and see in movies etc. set in that time period. They are not often discussed or depicted but they were there because: slavery. This is why a book about and told from the point of view of a black man is significant.

The writing is good and the story engaging. There were a couple of scenes that stood out to me.

When I started reading the book the foreword bothered me and 40 pages in I declared the book garbage on my GoodReads status update. My feelings have mellowed somewhat but the main issue I have with the book is the handling of slavery and racism. The author doesn’t go as far as to justify it but she does almost excuse it. She doesn’t go as hard on it as I think she should have. The contempt for slavery is mild and Pareja is characterized as a docile slave who loves his station and his masters. Her foreword is basically a declaration of that’s just what was done back then rather than a condemnation.

Something else that I found disgusting was the way in which the white slave owners were heralded as kind, good people. Heroes even for treating their slaves with common decency. This is the kind of bullshit that I honestly cannot stand. A person who owned slaves is scum, I don’t care how well they treat their “property”. They are still in the ownership of human beings. I feel that the author went to great lengths to make the reader sympathetic to the slave owners. The idea that a slave and master can have a real loving friendship is a fallacy. There is too much power imbalance in such a relationship.

What saved this book for me was the character of Brother Isidro who finally lays down some truth when he says, “They look at a black boy and they see only a slave who is capable of doing work. They do not see what I do.” and adds, “Well, I see a person.” He is the only character that acknowledges Pareja’s personhood. Another character that tempers the complacency depicted throughout most of the book is Loli, a fellow slave who later becomes Pareja’s wife. She is the opposite of Pareja. She hates being a slave and she resents the white people. Her anger is not dwelled upon but it is expressed in a conversation she has with Juan. These two characters have a minor presence in the story but the fact they were there gives me hope that Treviño was a sincere detractor of racism and slavery.

The bottom line: this is definitely a worthwhile read. It’s a good book and for all the faults I found I still enjoyed it. Being critical of something doesn’t mean you can’t also like it. I think it’s important to read critically. To consume all things critically. It’s not always comfortable but it is necessary.  There is a lot more I could say about this book and the issues but I have dinner to prepare and so I must end it here.

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Book Fridays: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

I finally started my Harry Potter journey. I am a fan of the movies, loved them and for as long as I’ve been a fan of the movies I’ve told myself I was going to start on the books. I can now declare myself Harry Potter trash, officially. Haha. But seriously, this has been a long time coming. I wanted to read the UK versions of the books but those are hard to come by here in the States. This frustrates me to no end. I refused to read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone! It was by lucky happenstance that I came upon this UK Edition at my local Library. See? Visiting the library pays off. It had never occurred to me to look for the books there. I am only sorry that I could not keep the copy forever. Now I want the full set.

I won’t go into the story because these books have been reviewed and written about to death. I just want to share that I loved the book and I loved that the movie adaptation was so faithful. I was honestly shocked. I can say with all sincerity that of all the book to movie adaptations I have watched and then read this one has been the most true to the book. Of course I noticed a few changes etc but overall it was really, really good. I hope that I can say the same about subsequent books in the series but so far color me impressed.

Have you read Harry Potter?

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Book Fridays: El cumpleaños de Baldomero by Isabel M. Febles Iguina

This book caught my eye during our last library visit and I was pleasantly surprised when I got it home and read through it. I’ll be honest, I picked it up because it was published by the University of Puerto Rico. Currently, I am on a mission to find children’s books in Spanish. Diego’s library is pretty large but he’s got more books in English than in Spanish. This isn’t a huge issue, I often translate for him or simply talk about the book. Pictures can be discussed in any language after all. I try to balance story time so that it favors Spanish but includes English so I read to him in both languages almost every day. I just try to read an extra book in Spanish. Anyway, these aren’t hard and fast rules and quite honestly I have no idea what I am doing.

But back to the book, this book is a two in one. It is printed in both English and Spanish. I really like that it’s two books in one. Instead of printing the different texts side by side the book starts over in English after the Spanish language text. The story is about Baldomero’s birthday party. We start out with Baldomero and his parents coming up with the guest list. His parents allow him five guests but he has trouble with his fifth guest. When his parents probe him he explains that he really wants to invite his classmate Tito but he’s deaf and Baldomero doesn’t know sign language. His parents are very supportive and tell him that the fact that Tito is deaf is no obstacle to being his friend.

There are many things about this book that I loved. Firstly, I loved that these characters were not whitewashed. I find that even in texts that are written by and for a Latinx audience the illustrations favor fair skinned, green/blue eyed characters with straight hair. And while there are Latinx who do look like this failing to include people of color is erasure. Afro-latinx people exist! Puerto Rico in particular is inhabited by people of all ethnicities. There is diversity in our community even though media does not often represent that. And just in case there is a person of Latin or Hispanic descent that feels misrepresented when we talk about brown and black peoples because “we aren’t all dark!” please take a seat. I don’t have time for you, go away.

Anyway, the illustration of this book stood out to me in a good way. The inclusion of a child with a disability also adds to the diversity. Diversity is not just about representing people of different colors, races, etc. it is also about representing those who are not able-bodied. The message of the book is a positive one: people who are disabled/different in some way are still people. Tito was humanized throughout the story and he was not reduced to his hearing impediment.

You don’t have to be bilingual to enjoy this book and I encourage you to seek it out for your children!

Lastly, I always try my best to use correct language when discussing communities of which I am not part of. If I have expressed myself incorrectly or offensively please let me know.

Thank you for reading.

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Book Fridays: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

It’s been a few months since I read this book and I have slacked on keeping notes or writing about what I’ve read soon after reading it. All I have are some quotes I took pictures of (I was too lazy to write them down and I don’t own the book). I decided against looking at any reviews or summaries as I don’t want to be influenced. In fact, I generally do not read reviews until after I jot down my own thoughts.

The story takes place in Nigeria during their civil war when Biafra was trying to take over. There was tension between the Yoruba and Igbo tribes and many lost their lives in the conflict. The story follows several characters during this time and their stories intersect each other for the entire book. One of these characters is Richard, an expatriate who begins to write a book about the conflict. At the end of the story he reveals that he gave up on that book as it was not his story to tell. I thought that this was such a powerful statement. And one that white people need to take heed. Too often we see white characters portrayed as knights that somehow rescue people of color. This character addresses that. It subverts that too common narrative and sets it right.

I had many favorite scenes but I especially loved the part where Richard gets called out when he states his surprise at Igbo-Ukwu bronzes: “It is quite incredible that these people had perfected the complicated art of lost-wax casting during the time of the Viking Raids.” he says.

When he goes home to his girlfriend Kainene (who is Nigerian and black) he immediately makes the interaction about his feelings. This is a great example of white fragility:

“I do love the art. It was horrible of him to accuse me of disrespect.”

I couldn’t help but notice how he doesn’t even try to see how his statement was telling of his bias that African culture was far too primitive to accomplish such art. He only thinks of his hurt feelings and how he truly does love the art. This brings to mind the recent comments that Kelly Osborne made when she asked Donald Trump who would clean his toilets if he were to get rid of the immigrants. She immediately got in her feelings stating how she is not a racist! But you see, the thing is that you don’t have to be consciously racist in order to hold and express all manner of fucked up biases. That’s a fact and this scene from the book is a good example of it.

Kainene responds: “And it is wrong of you to think that love leaves room for nothing else. It’s possible to love something and still condescend to it.”

I thought her comment was perfect and it applies to real world issues. Many times we see people appropriating a culture under the guise of loving it but if we look closer we see the condescension and contempt held for that very culture they claim to love.

Going into this I had very limited knowledge of Nigerian history. Adichie writes a compelling story that kept me interested and invested throughout. She is currently one of my favorite authors and I don’t see this changing any time soon.

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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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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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