For some reason, apart from some posts on here about all the baking I’ve been doing (making up for lost time, I guess), I haven’t found the time to do any writing of my more personal thoughts. I normally do this in an actual, physical book, but so far all I’ve been recording in there has been my updates to “Books I’ve read since 19 December 2013.” I decided that my New Year’s Resolution would be to become a better-read person, so my “Books to Read” list is largely populated by things I decided were literary classics or important books of some sort, but I’ve sprinkled in some random literature not on the list and some just-for-fun reads as well. Here are some recent highlights:
- Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, by Katherine Boo
I freely admit that I only read this book because John Green told me to, but I’m sure glad I did. It’s mildly uplifting, incredibly depressing, and completely mind-blowing to read about the lives of a few technically-not-poor* residents of Annawadi, a slum near the airport in Mumbai. It’s really important, I think, to read this kind of narrative non-fiction, because while fiction can be a wonderful tool with which to understand people, their environments, their relationships, etc., writers of fiction also have the freedom to wrap up their story at a convenient, resonant moment. BtBF gives a look at pieces of the lives of many residents of Annawadi, centered around a particular, dramatic event, but it lacks the nice, neat closure found in many novels because these are real people, and life doesn’t work that way. Nobody gets magically lifted out of poverty; in fact, it seems that most of their lives may shortly get worse due to the planned expansion of the airport. But life, for the most part, goes on. *Based on the UN definition of global poverty as “living on less than $1 per day.”
- The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
Holy cow, where was this book when I was in high school and could have really used an excellent story with a queer protagonist? Answer: it was sitting on the shelf in the library, where I refused to pick it up and read it because I only wanted to read “fun books” during my free periods (this meant sci-fi, fantasy, and literature by (almost all) white men. Part of my resolution was to correct the emphasis on old white dude literature in my schooling). And you know, while this isn’t a “fun” book, as it deals heavily with sexism, racism, colonialism, domestic abuse, rape, rampant socioeconomic inequality, etc., I really enjoyed it, and it has a happier ending than I expected. Not that that’s saying much.
- Red Seas Under Red Skies, by Scott Lynch
Another confession: I first heard of the series because of a food blog. Specifically, Food Through the Pages, run by one of the geniuses behind Inn at the Crossroads and with much the same idea, but expanded to lots of different books instead of just A Song of Ice and Fire. I noticed that they had a lot of interesting-sounding recipes from some fantasy author I’d never heard of whose book series had the intriguing name of The Gentlemen Bastards. I ended up getting the first book, Lies of Locke Lamora, for Christmas and devouring it on the plane back to Dartmouth. Seriously, I couldn’t stop reading it. It’s got magic and thievery and cleverness and heartbreak and wit and it’s set in basically medieval/almost-Renaissance Venice, but crazier and with magic. Red Seas Under Red Skies is the sequel and runs in much the same vein, but this time it starts out with the main characters plotting to rob a gambling house for the richest of the rich and ends up with them becoming pirates. No, seriously. Read these. Sip a Ginger Scald while you’re at it.
- A Feast for Crows, by George R. R. Martin
Ok, I read this one back in May. I saw it was available as an eBook from my local library, so I downloaded it despite the massive amount of work I had to do. “I’ll just read one chapter tonight,” I thought. I finished it in 4 days, or rather 4 nights of much less sleep than I should have been getting. While the very fact that this particular timespan in the epic saga of A Song of Ice and Fire was so freaking long that GRRM decided he had to split it into two books (one of which features half the POV characters and the next, A Dance of Dragons, the other half, basically) is probably a sign that these series is getting a bit bloated, the author is as good as ever in this book at delivering interesting character development, intrigue, and colorful world-building.
- Beloved, by Toni Morrison
This is another John Green-motivated read, thanks to the excellent Crash Course Literature series he hosted on Youtube, which appears to have just finished. I’ve never read a book by Toni Morrison before, but after this one I’d say her Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes were entirely justified. Beloved is an inspiring growing-up tale (I wouldn’t call it a bildungsroman), a brutal narrative of how slavery damaged the humanity of the characters, a disturbing supernatural horror story, and an intense psychological study of a woman who escaped slavery, her daughter(s?), her mother-in-law, and the man who loves her. Not a light read, but a very good one.
- Wild Cards I, edited by George R. R. Martin
This is a collection of interconnected short stories by a variety of authors, based on the premise that, shortly after WWII, an alien virus pandemic causes some sufferers to die, some to develop horrible, disfiguring mutations (“jokers”), and some to develop superpowers (“aces”). They’re entertaining enough, and I’d definitely recommend the collection to sci-fi fans looking for something entertaining and old-school, but I don’t know that I’ll go out of my way to read the sequels.
- V for Vendetta, by Alan Moore (writer) and David Lloyd (illustrator)
After seeing the movie a while back, I finally got around to reading the original graphic novel. As you might expect, it’s pretty darn good (and I think the movie was a reasonably faithful adaptation). I found it more relatable than Watchmen, and while Evey seems annoyingly weak at the beginning (and I really wish that so much of her development weren’t explicitly due to a man…but I guess much of her emotional journey is catalyzed by a letter by an imprisoned lesbian, so that’s nice?), it is an excellent illustration of the damaging effects of the fascist government on ordinary lives. Definitely a classic graphic novel.
I’ve read other things recently, but these were the ones that stood out. (I’m sure now that I wrote that, I”ll remember something amazing I read, but that will just have to wait.) Next post: probably another recipe, given the massive number of cherries our former neighbors decided to give us…