Category Archives: Books I enjoy!

Time for a Book! “Memorial” by Brian Washington

Things go around in unexpected ways… Naomi’s Photos
Memorial by Brian Washington

What an unusual and powerful book. I’m still thinking about it weeks (and several other books) later.

I never imagined that a book written with so many understatements brief acerbic sentences, along with generous use of the “F” word, would convey so much in such an engrossing way from page one.

Unlike some reviewers I encountered online, I believe that the central idea of the book is not really about the relationship between the two main characters, Benson and Mike. The book highlights how much working out your own identity and your relationship with your parents / your parents’ perspective, is needed in order to form your own long-term, stable relationships.

The book begins with an unusual situation that draws you right in – I just wanted to know more! The morning immediately after Mike, (a Japanese American chef at a Mexican restaurant in Houston) brings his mother (who just arrived from Tokyo)  home, he flies to Japan to look for his estranged father who is dying.  This means that Mike has left his stunned mother and his lover Benson ( a Black daycare teacher with a knack for reaching out to “troubled” kids) alone together in their small Houston apt…

A very interesting read!

“My Name is Red” by Orhan Pamuk

RED!
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This is a VERY special book – absolutely fascinating.

I’ve read other books by Pamuk and found them interesting but this one is “an experience”.

Be warned that it’s a “slow read”. Oddly enough this is not because the plot advances very slowly (though I admit, the book could have been a bit shorter…) but rather due to the fact that there are so many important details and an abundance of characters. The reader needs to stop and take it all in!

Mind you – characters are not limited to human beings in this book.  I never imagined a coin or a drawing could be so alive!

The story takes place in 1591, in the Ottoman Empire.  While it is a “whodunnit” murder mystery, the book vividly presents the tension between East & West as expressed through the role of art and artists. The complexity of finding the balance between artistic freedom and religion, of the desire to create vs the need to do things as they have always been done, how art reflects the relationship between God and humans.

One of my favorite parts was the presentation of what dreams are good for and how to use them!

Pamuk doesn’t glorify the past – life expectancy in those days sounds short and violent…

In short – read this book when you have time to savor each detail and let it take you on its journey.

Enjoy!

Saturday’s Book: “The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennet

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This is the first time this has ever happened to me on Edublogs – I spent an hour writing a 300 word review and it all disappeared suddenly. The site froze and POUF.

It’s gone!

In short:

This is a really good book. It draws you in from page one.

My criticisms are minor.

The writing is superb, the story is powerful and the issues thought-provoking.

The book deals with racism, with “passing” as white, with gender issues. Lots of mother-daughter issues.

It mainly deals with reinventing one’s life in very different ways.

It’s engaging and I recommend it!

Three Books Related to “Doorways”, by McGuire, Greer & Yu

Ok, it’s a gate, not a door. And it looks like windows. It will do!
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“Every Heart a Doorway” by Seanan McGuire

One of our sons recommended I read this book after we both read “The 10 Thousand Doors of January” by Harrow. He liked McGuire’s book better.

I myself have mixed feelings about both books.

This book has doorways that lead to other worlds but the story takes place in this world.  A world where teenagers who have spent time in other worlds and desperately want to return there, are stuck, unable to find the right portal again. Their parents, who don’t know what to do with them, have sent them to a special boarding school, where they meet each other.

At first, I was quite enthusiastic about this book as the reading flows and the movement between present-day reality and the descriptions of truly interesting “other worlds” was quite engaging.  The names of the worlds were of interest as well (compared to some of the names in Harrow’s book). The angst of being a teenager and the struggle to find your place in the world is certainly portrayed cleverly.

However, the book then morphed into two things which I’m less fond of, and left me with no desire to continue reading the series:

a – a “whodunnit” crime mystery

b- a classic boarding school tale of a small band of kids or teens who form a group, supposedly the oddballs of the school but always end up saving the day…

Nevertheless, the book is worth reading and I’m not sorry to have read it. In addition, it is always a pleasure to share book experiences with family members.

Will you still love me when I’m going on 50?
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“Less” by Andrew Sean Greer

This showed up on my LIBBY account as an available audiobook just when I needed a book to listen to.

All I knew about “Less”  in advance was that it had won a Pulitzer Prize. I must admit that at first I went and checked again that it really had won the prize, as it took me some time to figure out what was going on in this book.  My first impressions were that there didn’t seem to be a plot at all!

But once I realized that “Less” is also about “doorways” and “coming of age” (except this time the age to contend with is turning 50!) I started enjoying myself, particularly as the audiobook reader was so good at presenting the colorful characters that appear in the book.

Arthur Less is about to turn 50 and the man he loves has invited him to his wedding with another man. Each stage of his comic journey (not laugh aloud comic but full of misadventures and comic characters)  around the world (his excuse for not attending the wedding), he basically sheds layers of his fears, beliefs, and insecurity while moving toward a new stage in life.

And…

Just so you know (without it being an actual spoiler):

There is a very real, actual  (an ancient, thick) door the writer goes through at the climax of this story, so “doorways” are not just metaphorical in this book.

Together doesn’t mean “the same”.
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“Interior Chinatown” by Charles Yu

It is fortunate that I had this book as an audiobook (once again, courtesy of Libby!) as the talented reader helped me deal with this book. It was somewhat of a struggle for me.

On one hand, this is clearly a clever book. It is told as if you are watching a “police/crime” T.V show being filmed in the fictional “The Golden Palace” Restaurant in Chinatown, getting the “behind the scenes” story as viewed by the protagonist, who is usually known as “generic Asian Man”.  By using this show, the author hammers home a message of discrimination against Asian people in the United States in general and its reflection in Hollywood.  You are made to understand every nuance of the term “Generic Asian” – not only are the individual people not visible, but people from so many different places and cultures are also lumped together as if they were one –  “Asian”.

As someone who is interested in genealogy and immigrants, I found the personal histories of the people very interesting.  While I had known a bit about immigrants from China to the West Coast, I was not aware of all the discriminatory LAWS that existed in the USA. Another thing you don’t learn in school perhaps.

On the other hand, I’m not particularly interested in Hollywood,  and aspirations of “making it” in Hollywood. I found bits difficult to get through and had fleeting thoughts of not finishing the book despite it being a comparatively short book. I felt that the message was already clear enough.

But then I would have missed the ending.

An ending that is worth reading.

Once again, I thank a library for getting me to read books outside of my “comfort zone”.

 

 

 

 

Time for a Book: “Disappearing Earth” by Julia Phillips

Lockdown, again…
Naomi’s Photos

You know a book is really good when you keep thinking about it after you have read it, mulling over details, realizing details in the book are metaphors for more things than you realized before.

This is one of those books.

Even the title still resonates with me – there are so many ways to “disappear”…

The book is cleverly written.  There is the “official” story, about two sisters, young girls, who disappear one day, in Kamchatka, Russia. They seem to vanish without a trace.

But that is not the only story, or even (at least to me) THE story of the book, though it is certainly there and you do get your “whodunnit” satisfaction.

Using the framework of the case of the missing sisters the author introduces us to a variety of women. We peek into their personal lives – everything about them is so vivid I feel as if I had met them. Through these characters, Phillips gets across strong messages (and thought-provoking questions) about women, about their control or lack of control over their own life (control can vanish too…), about racism, corruption, nature, and more.

All this while moving the dramatic plot forward. I was not able to predict the final chapter at all, even though I’m often quite good at doing that!

I heard the audiobook version so I didn’t have the helpful character guide I later discovered was included in the book. It didn’t make much difference insofar as understanding what was going on but for a time I did wonder if the author would ever stop introducing characters!

They really do all connect!

In short, don’t read about the book, read the book, and let it speak for itself.

I had never heard of the book but it was available on Libby so I thought I would give it a chance.

So glad I did!

The Pandemic Can’t Stop Me from Traveling Through Books!

Stuck at home…
Naomi’s Photos

 

While my passport and suitcases may feel that I have completely forgotten about them,  I have been “traveling” around the world. As a matter of fact, I’ve even been “traveling” through time!

So where have my books taken me?

I’ll answer briefly even though my brevity isn’t doing justice to some of the books. I read much more than I can post about these days!

The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak – Istanbul,  (Arizona & San Fransisco too)

Many thanks to Ruth Sheffer for introducing me to this book.

I was so intrigued by the unusual style of storytelling in this book that I went on to listen to her excellent TED Talk “The Politics of Fiction”.  If you are wondering if you should give the book a try, listen to her talk (I haven’t heard the other talks yet) https://youtu.be/Zq7QPnqLoUk

The way I see it, this is a book about the buried secrets of the past affecting the present whether we unearth them or not. It’s a tale of two families, spanning generations, one Armenian and one Turkish, and their intertwining fate amid the backdrop of a historical tragedy one side tries to forget while the other never will.

The sounds, smells, and food in Istanbul play a prominent role in the book and the cast of characters (mainly women) is varied and beguiling. Ancient traditions coexist with the 21st century.  The people are so real that I can easily imagine a movie version of it.

I’m glad I read it!

Heat…
Naomi’s Photos

“One of Them: My Life Among the Maasai of Kenya” by Eti Dayan – Kenya

What an interesting book!

The odd thing is that what makes the book so interesting is that the first part of the title isn’t really what the author says in the book! At the time of publication, the author, Dayan, had been living with the Massai of Kenya for 15 years, spoke their language fluently, and took part in community life.  Nonetheless, Dayan emphasizes throughout the book repeatedly that she is not nor will she ever really be a Maasai. Yet it is exactly her frank portrayal of the challenging process of learning and understanding along with her reflections on the Western culture that make the book illuminating. The descriptions in the book are vivid and detailed. Dramatic changes to society unfold and Dayan doesn’t shy away from grappling with difficult issues and realities of life in that area.

“The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart” by Holly Ringland – Australia

At first, I was impressed by the author’s use of flowers to tell a tale of a woman torn apart by her family history/secrets and was interested in the plot.  However, the more I read the less I liked the book. It became too much like a “soap opera” for me. I found myself saying (to myself!) “Oh, come on” or “Really?” far too often.

Nonetheless, I actually finished the book (got my sense of closure!) despite not being quite sure why. I guess I should be giving the author more credit than I am – just not the right kind of book for me.

Empty…
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“There was a woman” by Yael Neeman – Israel

I listened to this audiobook in Hebrew. I believe it hasn’t YET been translated into English. I haven’t read the one that has been translated yet.

This book pretends to be about one particular person but I would say that it is really about “the second generation” – the lives of children of Holocaust survivors.  This particular woman tried to erase any memory of her existence.  The book is constructed as an attempt to reconstruct the story of this woman’s life through a patchwork of interviews with people. Naturally, when each person strives to explain their connection to the woman who “erased herself” they tell about their own background.

While I found the book to be a bit too long, I enjoyed it.

Really?!
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“Conversations with Friends” by Sally Rooney – Dublin

I listened to this book as an audiobook. The narrator had a lovely Irish accent.

That’s the best thing I can say about the book.

I gave it a good chance before giving up on it.  I found it immensely boring. I know the author is hugely successful. Perhaps I’m too old for a book presenting every thought and minute action of a woman in her 20s and a few others. Lots of alcohol and cigarette smoking in the rain.

Nothing happens.

Not a book for me.

 

Oh, The Past & The Present Time: “The Pull of The Stars” by Emma Donoghue

Spooky…
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Today is October 31, 2020.

This book takes place over three days, October 31, November 1, and November 2.

But, obviously not in 2020.

The year is 1918, just before the end of the first World War. The setting is Ireland, mainly Dublin.

A year in which a pandemic is raging, ravaging the population.

The Spanish Flu.

Certainly a  “timely book”!

Frankly, I knew absolutely nothing about the book when I began reading it. During the first week of August, I noticed that our Libby library service had some new books, including this one. I added myself to the waiting list without bothering to see what this book was about or read reviews because of the author. I’ve enjoyed reading several of Donoghue’s previous books.

The audio version was well worth waiting for  (3 months!). The excellent reader is clearly Irish herself – not only does she read the book with the relevant accents, she sings the “ditties” that are heard and even moans along with the women in the  Maternity/Fever “ward”. You can feel the stress levels rising and ebbing along with the reader’s voice.

Hope…
Naomi’s Photos

In the book, we see the world through the eyes of  Nurse Julia Powers, who has already recovered from the flu and works in a TINY makeshift hospital “ward” set up so as to distance the women who have caught the dreaded flu from the rest of the expectant mothers.

You may pause here and ask (what I asked myself when I realized the time and the setting of the plot) “why would I want to read about a pandemic when I’m already living in the time of one”?

Because…

The book is about SO MUCH MORE than illustrating the reality of that pandemic and making one feel grateful for all that we do have going for us in this wretched 2020!

It’s a book about not doing things the way they have always been done simply because they have always been done that way. It’s about the need to fight for a society that doesn’t just look after a  small percent of its members. It’s about strong women, lost children,  rules that don’t make sense, and more.

While this book is a work of fiction, “historical fiction”, one of the main characters, Doctor Kathleen Lynn, was a real person. The endnotes about her are very interesting.

A word of warning, particularly if you aren’t familiar with books by Donoghue – the book starts slowly, with many medical and procedural details given. The pace doesn’t stay slow.

I felt that the characters were so real (the audio version helps with that, I think!) that I now find that I miss the characters!

Final note:

Emma Donoghue wrote this book BEFORE she knew anything about the current pandemic, even though it was published after the pandemic had begun.

As I said, what timing!

Time to talk BOOKS! “Invisible Cities” by Calvino & “Ties” by Starnone

The best I could do for “invisible”!
Naomi’s Photos

Both of the following books were written by Italian authors and both are short books, printed in a small format – 162 pages / 203 pages.

Naturally, I assumed I would be reading each one quite quickly, especially as we’ve been on lockdown.

I was mistaken.

“Invisible Cities” by Calvino is a book that I had to read very slowly. In fact, I couldn’t read more than a few pages at a time. The book isn’t really a “book” in the usual sense, there’s no real story line – but rather a “procession” of very rich descriptions of more than 50 “invisible cities”. All these cities are considered to be the many faces of Venice.

After reading a description I had to stop and think – what did I just read? What was Calvino trying to say here?

Sometimes I was moved, and felt that a description was powerful, or lyrical. So many people live /work in a place and don’t really look at it – so much is being missed!

Sometimes I didn’t get the point of the description at all.

Sometimes I got annoyed that some descriptions were a bit repetitve.

I know it’s a strange thing to say, but I truly found the book to be too long.  I wished it had been a series of blog posts which would send me a description of one “invisible city” a week to ponder.  More than 50 such descriptions in short succession  had me losing the ability to focus properly on them all.

Naomi’s Photos

Ties by Starnone

It is interesting to note that in Hebrew this book is called “Shoelaces”.  I have no idea what the original title in Italian means but “ties” is a more of a “give- away” of a clever metaphor that the shoelaces represent in the book.

This is a book you don’t want to know too much about in advance as it has some surprising parts. It’s a story about a family in a crises, over years, and is told in different ways in the books several parts. I had the book pegged one way and then it became a little different.

One one hand, it held my interest and I read it (yes, much quicker than the previous one) all the way through gladly. On the other hand, I didn’t find the characters completely “convincing” and some of the story line didn’t make sense, or rather “ring true”.

Not sorry I read it though.

 

Time for a BOOK: “Inland” by Téa Obreht

The new Convention Center /Naomi’s Photos

I loved it!

I couldn’t put it down.

I just wanted to read and read…

Everything seems so vivid in my mind (a week after completing the book!), the characters, the sights, sounds, and smells, that I feel as if I had seen a movie!

True, neither books nor movies convey smells, but it seems that the end of the 19th century (actually, 1893, I believe) in the Wild West, particularly the Arizona Territory, wasn’t a place that smelled washed and clean. Lack of water and drought certainly served as a powerful excuse, though that was certainly not the only source of smells in this book.

But clarifying THAT statement would be a big spoiler.

I am well aware that I don’t tend to write too much detail about the plot of a book in my posts and that some of you go off to read summaries of the book elsewhere. I strongly urge you not to read to much about it in advance. The book starts slowly,  but as the plot unfolds in surprising twists and turns the pace becomes quicker and quicker until the final, unexpected “showdown”.

You don’t want to ruin the experience.

A person needs to know that it is a Western, but not a traditional Western. There are strong, interesting female characters featuring prominently in the book, along with male characters you would expect to find in a Western and those you wouldn’t.

The book relates to actual, historically documented events that occurred, and feels well researched, down to the details, including the dialect and phrases of the period. However, at the same time, not everything in the book is grounded in reality…

Enough said.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Just what you need for a second lockdown…

 

 

Books I Didn’t Post about in August: Pastoralia by G. Saunders & More

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I have some good excuses for the current backlog. The books here are only part of it – another post coming shortly!

In August I was either (happily) doing things away from my computer or madly trying to create a great deal of teaching material that would help me deal with going back to school “COVID Style”.

But let’s step away from all that now and talk “BOOKS”!

Pastoralia by George Saunders

Pastoralia is the name of the book and of the first short story in this short story collection.

It is the best one. It is engrossing, surprising, and gave me the same “punch” as reading another George, George Orwell. The tale is set in a weird theme park where modern people are supposed to live/act like cavemen for extended periods of time, in a desperate attempt to make a living. As the relationships and actions of the characters involved (the “cavemen”, the park directors, their family members) unfold and become dramatic,  we find ourselves staring at a picture of aspects of American modern society, absurd yet very real and familiar.

It’s not that the other stories aren’t good. I would have enjoyed them more if I had read each one month apart. The stories are different from each other, especially “Sea Oak” (full of surprises!) although   “The End of Firpo in the World” also deserves a proper mention. That one could be used for discussions in training educators, and in parenting sessions (Yeah, I’m a teacher. Where were you, school, with this kid?!).

The trouble with reading George Saunder’s stories one after another is that while the events from one story to the next are totally different, the main characters have a lot in common. I’ve also read (several years ago) Saunder’s “10th of December” which is a good collection, but I had the same problem.

I don’t think I read the last story in either collection…

Nonetheless, let me make it clear – I do recommend reading this book!

Naomi’s photos
Origin by Dan Brown

Once you have read a book by Dan Brown you know what you are getting into when you choose to read another one, the structure is the same. It was an enjoyable audiobook to have for an August spent more at home than usual, though too long (over 19 hours!).  I enjoyed the first part more, especially the detailed descriptions of the Guggenheim Bilbao museum. At some point, Brown slows down the plot too much with his lengthy explanations. In addition, as someone who has taught Asimov’s story “True Love” many times, I was not surprised one bit by the ending.

Sometimes, a Dan Brown is what you need for your mood and you get what you expect to get.  That’s a good thing.

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The Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen

Skip it.

Sweet is an understatement.  AN UNDERSTATEMENT.

I read it because I was in the mood for “sweet and comforting “(before going back to school) and it was a free Kindle book from Amazon.

So many other books worth reading out there!