Jola Reads: April – June (and then some)
If I am asked to review my reading life in 2018, I would most likely describe it as ‘The Year of Reading Memoirs‘. This is because in the first half of the year, I have read more memoirs than I think I have ever read in…I hesitate to say in my lifetime, but I would say in any six months combined. Astonishingly enough, all but one of the memoirs that I have read have been written by a woman and even the exception was co-authored with a woman.
Ann Patchett, who is one of my favorite authors shared her take on memoirs in a blog article back in April:
I am 100 percent here for a good stranger-than-fiction memoir. Do I want to know how someone escaped a cult, pulled off a heist, or became famous after surviving a freak accident? Absolutely. Send me your tales of life-and-death adventure. But I want to read about the lives (and deaths) of people who face nothing extraordinary at all, whose stories exemplify the challenges and realities of common, daily existence.
I wholeheartedly agree with Ms. Patchett’s acknowledgement that daily life can be an adventure in and of itself and that reading about other people’s experiences especially those who encounter the same sorts of nuances as we do, as they navigate through life, can be encouraging as it is inspiring. But in describing ‘ordinary life’ context matters a lot. What serves as ordinary for some could be extraordinary for others and possibly vice versa.
For a street child in Brazil, ordinary life involves having wonderful adventures in the wild combined with heart-shattering moments as she encounters the dark side of this ordinary life . Life takes on a different turn when she begins course on another somewhat ordinary existence in Sweden but still holds on to the vestiges of her previous ordinary life allowing them to guide her path, especially the prevailing call of a mother that she is involuntarily separated from and who has always encouraged her to never stop walking.
Ordinary life changes for a young wife and mother in the United States who, together with her spouse, makes a conscious decision to trade the urban life of one of the most famous cities in the world, for life in a rural commune where they have to learn to work the land and live in close proximity with strangers who become family. The horizons of her spiritual life expand as she undergoes a journey of self-discovery and a broader understanding and acceptance of what it means to be a mystic or a misfit.
There is the ordinary boy attending school in rural Zimbabwe, whose understanding that he is gifted leads him to set stratospheric ambitions for himself, recognizing that his future will take him far away from the life that he currently knows. His seemingly innocuous response to his teacher’s request to write to a pen pal in the United States will have unimaginable consequences. Epistolary exchanges lead to the amalgamation of two families separated by thousands of miles, serving as an incredible testimony that kindheartedness can transcend any cultural divide. And it begins with a promise to always write back.
Ordinary is when a family moves back to India from the United States and has to learn to adapt to a different set of cultural nuances. The mother of the family undergoes an unusual renaissance and gains a deeper understanding of her country’s ardent reverence for cows. And all of this is orchestrated by the lady who sells milk across the street from where they live in Bangalore.
Cows are the epitome of patience in this community network. Goats are tetchy, arching their necks as they get pulled down the street. Roosters scratch the ground moodily. Stray dogs are hyper – racing each other, chasing their tail; cats aloof; and crows clingy. Cows wait their turn. Their eyes look at eternity. As animal species go, cows have a good temperament.
The Milk Lady of Bangalore by Shoba Narayan
Ordinary, could be the sad and visceral story of a young girl whose idyllic childhood in Rwanda is rudely interrupted by the events of a terrible genocide that leads to the break-up of a close-knit family, giving her the the denigrating label of “refugee” and as she carries this label during a multi-country odyssey, nothing in her imagination would lead her to contemplate the incredible denouement of a story in which she is celebrated on the world stage as the girl who smiled beads.
And while five out of the fourteen books that I read this past quarter were memoirs, I was pleased to finally include some short story collections to my reading life.
The stories in Curtis Sittenfeld’s You Think It, I’ll Say It were so rich in dramatic irony, that there were times when I was tempted to put the book down and stand up and applaud for the beautiful prose that I had just read. I do a lot of my reading on the train so politeness and the aversion of drawing too much attention to myself prevented me from doing this. Stephanie Powell Watts’ We Are Only Taking What We Need (with its stunning cover), had me in a whirlwind of emotions. The beautifully imagined stories in Anjali Sachdeva’s All the Names They Used For God, vacillated between the transcendence of magical surrealism and the frailty of human nature.
I finally finished reading Joyce Magnin’s JellyBean Summer. I have to confess that this story was so cute and delightful, I honestly did not want it to end.
I have always been enthusiastic fan of a good whodunnit, I cut my reading teeth devouring Agatha Christie’s books, so I was really pleased to stumble on Sujata Massey’s The Widows of Malabar Hill – a murder mystery set in 1920s Bombay with an unlikely heroine – a female attorney who against all the cultural odds eschews traditional roles carved out for women by pursuing a career. Her clients are a trio of widows who live in the seclusion of purdah meaning they cannot have contact with males outside of their family, and therein lies the power that our intrepid protagonist wields.
Ratika Kapur’s The Private Life of Mrs Sharma uses bursts of humor to describe the complex role of women in Indian society – a quick and easy read featuring a powerful narrative voice.
Michael David Lukas’ The Last Watchman of Old Cairo had me spellbound from the very first page. An engaging reading that ties three loosely connected threads across timelines and cultures. I have always been intrigued by historical Egypt and this book satisfied my quest for knowledge.
A couple of reads this quarter fell short of my expectations. I was really drawn to the synopsis of Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists but the story left me rather deflated, especially what I considered to be the unnecessary sexual references. I found Lisa Jewell’s Then She Was Gone, confusing and disturbing.
Another interesting development this past quarter was the way I procured books. I have very openly confessed that I probably spend a fortune on books. A confession that is not accompanied with any regrets but in life there is always room to learn lessons. So, I made a conscious effort this past quarter to explore my local library and I am pleased to report that four out of my fourteen reading adventures were borrowed from the library. I was actually impressed because my local library has a very nice collection of new releases and in some cases, I was the first person to read the book I borrowed, largely thanks to the ability to reserve books online. Another thing I had been wary of, was used books. I have a very high standard when it comes to my books, a standard that sadly not everyone adheres to. And because, I am still a little averse to e-reading, I have to contend with the quality of some of the hard backs and paperbacks that come my way. Finding a good used book store has always been on my list and I was pleased to find one this quarter. Not only are the books in great quality, they are also very A-F-F-O-R-D-A-B-L-E. Color me happy! Color me ecstatic!
This quarter, I also re-discovered Alexander McCall Smith – a rediscovery that came about through the most unlikely of mediums- television. I stumbled on an interview he gave during the Hay Festival and I was smitten by how he generously dished out details on his writing habits, [Note to self: He writes everyday] and how he creates his delightful characters, including Mma Precious Ramotswe of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, a character, brought to life on the screen by the inimitable Jill Scott, that enters its 20th year in 2018. So life will soon have me reading Mr. McCall Smith’s Heavenly Date and Other Flirtations, and this may be a good time to share my current reads (books I am currently reading).
I jumped on the Liane Moriaty bandwagon a little late and was introduced to her work when I watched the Big Little Lies mini-series on HBO and I knew I had to read her writing before more of it made its way to the screen something which seems inevitable at this point, so I am starting off with Truly Madly Guilty. I am still living the Year of Reading Memoirs and Apricot Irving’s The Gospel of Trees is the memoir keeping me company these days. Also on my reading radar are Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone, Uzodinma Iweala’s Speak No Evil, Dave Eggers’ The Monk of Mokha, Jane Austen’s Persuasion (I recommend reading a classic at bedtime, it makes for very interesting dreams), Michael Donkor’s Hold, Simone St. James’ The Broken Girls (this one is a hard read, but I am determined to make it through) and Abbi Waxman’s Other People’s Houses. I have made a commitment to read at least two books on the e-reader and Naima Coster’s Halsey Street and Natalia Sylvester’s Everyone Knows You Go Home are the two that I have fired up on the Kindle App. And, the crown jewel in my current reading adventure is the (insert teary face) final installment in Jeanne Birdsall’s The Penderwicks: The Penderwicks At Last featuring a cast of utterly unforgettable characters whom we have all enjoyed watching grow up. I got to meet the author at a book reading in PA last month and what a delightfully down-to-earth lady she is. She also shared that she writes everyday [Another note to self]
In the future, I hope to include Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians and Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give to my current reads, simply because I would like to read the books before I watch the movies which come out later on in the year.
So, that is it from me. Wherever you find yourself and whatever you are reading, I wish you peace, light and love in your corner of the world.