Reading List: August 2017
This is the eight edition of the reading list and so far so wonderful. I think one of the things that the reading list has made me do is actively keep track of the books that I read and have a whirlwind book adventure, complete with book selfies or #bookelfies, like this one that I took when I was reading Diksha Basu’s The Windfall. Lovely book. Highly recommend.
I am still reading more than one book at a time, which is the best way for me to get through books and enjoy the reading adventure. I felt vindicated a couple of days ago when I read an article on BookRiot.com which extolled the magic of reading multiple books at a time.
Allowing myself to read multiple books at once increased how much I read overall. Much more importantly, it has increased the diversity of books I read overall.
Laura Sackton. The Magic of Reading More Than One Book At A Time.
In addition to going through the books on my monthly reading list, I am discovering additional new fiction, like Ms. Basu’s book which I found through our friends at Book of the Month Club. I followed that one with Vivek Shanbhag’s Ghachar Ghochar. I have a fascination with books that are translated into English from a different language and was particularly keen to read this one that was translated from Kannada, which is the official language of the Indian state of Karnataka. Following The Windfall with Ghachar Ghochar, had me residing in India for a bit, at least in book world. Mr. Shanbhag’s oeuvre is one of those small but mighty books which you read in record time but the inspiration that you derive from it lingers for long after you have finished reading the book.
I do a lot of my reading during my train commute to work, and when I do not have my nose in a book, the latest edition of National Geographic or the New Yorker, I am curious about who else is reading and what they are reading. Side note: I have actually discovered some new books that way. A few years ago, I was seated on a flight next to a lady who was reading Jayne Amelia Larson’s Driving the Saudis and that was how that book wound up on my reading list. and what an enjoyable read it was. So just the other day, a lady seats next to me on the train and I have one of those book recommending a person moments when I see that she is reading Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. That book is a treasure. It is one of a bunch of books that I have on nightstand at the moment, because it is a book to read and re-read over and over. I was sure to tell the lady who was reading it and pleased that she agreed with me. A book lover’s magical moment.
I am in the middle of Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko, which is rather cosmic because this was the book that led the author of the article on Book Riot to have a eureka moment when she realized that she could not read this book alone. I can totally relate because parts of the book are a bit intense and I needed to take some of that edge off – enter Ms. Basu, Mr. Shanbhag’s creations. Lorena Hughes’ The Sisters of Alameda Street which was featured on last month’s reading list somehow made its way to the top of the queue and is up next for me. As we go into the final months of 2017 and while I am in novel writing mode, I feel like I need to read a classic book and so yesterday, I went to my local bookstore and picked up a copy of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield. I started reading it last night before I nodded off. What good memories that evoked.
Now, for this month’s reading list, which somehow mimics last month’s in terms of the gender composition of the authors. Only one male author is featured on the list. Believe me when I say this is not intentional. Echo me as I scream #girlpower. So we have one book which tackles the issue of immigration focusing on the Chinese immigrant’s experience in the US. And it is told in short fiction through a much awaited debut. Our next book takes us to my native Nigeria, with a Fela Kuti-inspired story about music and dissent. Then we we are in London, US and Pakistan (I may have this a bit muddled) but the book takes on the issues of power and privilege. The next book has a little bit of romance and a lot of adventure, still on romance, our next book takes on the issue of cultural identity and how the choices we make can shape our future. Then we have a coming-of-age book from one of America’s beloved contemporary authors – whose books I have not yet read but plan to. And finally, a book that takes the meaning of work-life balance to a whole new level, highlighting the sacrifices that are made for the eternal labor of maternity.
Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang. This is the first book to be published by Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner’s new Lenny imprint at Random House. Seven short stories which are centered on a community of immigrants who have traded their endangered lives as artists in China and Taiwan for the constant struggle of life at the poverty line in 1990s New York City. Narrated by the daughters of these Chinese immigrants, the stories reflect the struggle that they go through in order to stay afloat – dumpster diving for food, scamming Atlantic City buses to make a buck. Narrated with compassion, moral courage, and a perverse sense of humor, Sour Heart is a darkly funny and intimate rendering of girlhood which examines what it means to belong to a family, to find your home, leave it, reject it, and return again.
Taduno’s Song by Odafe Atogun. A stained brown envelope that arrives from Taduno’s homeland, signals the end of his exile. He returns full of trepidation, as he discovers that his community no longer recognizes him, as most people have believed that he is dead. Worse still, his girlfriend Lela has disappeared, taken away by government agents. As he wanders through his house in search of clues, he comes to realize that all the traces of his old life have been wiped away. All that is left are the memories. Taduno starts to find a new purpose, unravel the mystery of his lost life and find his lost love. A mesmerizing and deceptively simple debut from a fresh Nigerian voice, Taduno’s Song is a powerful story of love, sacrifice and courage, lightly informed by the life of Nigerian musician Fela Kuti.
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie. Practical-minded Isma has spent the years since her mother’s death watching out for her twin brother and sister in their North London home. When an invitation to grad school in America comes through unexpectedly, it brings the irresistible promise of freedom too long deferred. But even an ocean away, Isma can’t stop worrying about her beautiful, headstrong, politically inclined sister Aneeka, and Parvaiz, their brother, who seems adrift – until suddenly he is half a globe away in Raqqa, trying to prove himself to the dark legacy of the father he never knew, with no road back. Then, Eamonn Lone, the son of a powerful political figure enters the sisters’ lives. He has his own birthright to live up to – or defy. Is he to be a chance at love? The instrument of Parvaiz’s salvation? Suddenly, two families’ fates are inextricably, devastatingly entwined. Home Fire is a nuanced, searing, and exceedingly timely novel about love and loyalty, ideology and identity, what we choose to sacrifice for love and why.
Map of the Heart by Susan Wiggs. An accomplished photographer and widow, Camille Palmer is content with blessings she’s enjoyed. When her ageing father asks her to go with him to his native France, she has no idea that she’s embarking on an adventure that will shake her complacency and utterly transform her. Returning to the place of his youth sparks unexpected memories – recollections that will lead Camille, her father, and her daughter Julie, who has accompanied them, back to the dark, terrifying days of the Second World War, where they will discover their family’s surprising history. Map of the Heart is a deeply emotional story of love and family, war and secrets, moving back and forth across time, from the present day to World War II France.
New People by Danzy Senna. As the twentieth century draws to a close, Maria is at the start of a life she never thought possible. She and Khalil, her college sweetheart, are planning their wedding. They are the perfect pair. Their skin is the same shade of beige. They live together in a black bohemian enclave in Brooklyn, where Khalil is riding the wave of the first dot-com boom and Maria is plugging away at her dissertation, on the Jonestown massacre. They’ve even landed a role in a documentary about “new people” like them, who are blurring the old boundaries as a brave new era dawns. Everything Maria knows she should want lies before her — yet she can’t stop daydreaming about another man, a poet she barely knows. As fantasy escalates to fixation, it dredges up secrets from the past and threatens to unravel not only Maria’s perfect new life, but her very persona. New People is a heartbreaking and darkly comic tale that challenges our every assumption about how we define one another and ourselves.
The Burning Girl by Claire Messud. Claire Messud’s first two books have been on my reading list for the longest time and I know I have to read The Emperor’s Children and The Woman Upstairs before I pick up The Burning Girl. Here is what it is about: Julia and Cassie have been friends since nursery school. They have shared everything, including their desire to escape the stifling limitations of their birthplace, the quiet town of Royston, Massachusetts. But as the two girls enter adolescence, their paths diverge and Cassie sets out on a journey that will put her life in danger and shatter her oldest friendship. Brilliantly mixing fable and coming-of-age tale, The Burning Girl gets to the heart of these matters in an absolutely irresistible way.
The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas. Joan Ashby is a brilliant and intense literary sensation acclaimed for her explosively dark and singular stories. When she finds herself unexpectedly pregnant, she is stunned by her husband Martin’s delight, his instant betrayal of their pact. She makes a fateful, selfless decision, to embrace her unintentional family. Challenged by raising two precious sons, it is decades before she finally completes her masterpiece novel. Poised to reclaim the spotlight, to resume the intended life she gave up for love, a betrayal of Shakespearean proportion forces her to question every choice she has made. The Resurrection of Joan Ashby is a story of sacrifice and motherhood and the burdens of expectation and genius.