I Want to Show You More by Jamie Quatro
Publisher/Year: Grove Press, 2013
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
What it is: A collection short stories, many of which have elements of fantasy or center on the subject of infidelity.
Why I read it: In this case, my awesomely scientific method behind choosing this book amounted to,”I feel like reading short stories. What does Grove Press have? Ooooh, I like this cover! Oh, and I need a Q author for my A-Z reading challenge. Done!” For real. I don’t even remember reading the book’s description! (Why Grove Press? I trust them enough to go on these random reading journeys of mine because I have yet to read a book I hate that they’ve published.)
What I thought: This is a quirky little collection. I wasn’t expecting Amy Bender-ish weirdness, so running into that in this book was an interesting surprise. As a whole the collection was hit-or-miss for me, but Quatro really is an amazing writer. A lot of the stories are more atmospheric rather than plot-driven, and are instead propelled by the characters’ rich internal lives. Some of my favorites were “Decomposition: A Primer for Promiscuous Housewives,” about a woman whose infidelity manifests itself by the the sudden presence of her dead lover in her bed; “Ladies and Gentlemen of the Pavement,” quite possibly the most disturbing story about running a marathon you will ever read; and “1.7 to Tennessee,” about an 89-year-old woman who decides to take an uncharacteristically long walk.
The Guy’s Guide to Feminism by Michael S. Kimmel and Michael Kaufman
Publisher/Year: Seal Press, 2011
What it is: An A-Z primer on feminism for guys.
Why I read it: I like reading Intro to Feminism-type books.
What I thought: Kimmel and Kaufman give a lot of presentations at schools, and I can see this book being useful in that context. The “chapters” are short and touch on dozens of feminist buzz words (H is for Honor Killings, M is for Macho/Machismo, N is for No, V is for Vaginas/Vulvas, etc.; many letters have multiple entries). I could see this book coming in handy in a classroom or in a small group setting; it only takes a minute or two to read most of the chapters, and that would serve as a good starting point for discussion. That said, the book is very, very basic. It’s good for people who have little to no knowledge of feminism, but people with a basic understanding of feminism might not get as much out of it. And personally, I found the style a little grating. Guy jokes are sprinkled in liberally, and I know the whole point is to cater to guys? But sometimes it felt like the equivalent of feminist primers that gear themselves toward teen girls by assuring them that they can still be feminist and wear pink, etc. There’s a market for that, and people do sometimes need those assurances, but it gets annoying after a while.
Publisher/Year: Recorded Books, 2011 (book first published in 2003)
Length: 10 hours, 53 minutes
Narrated by: Lisette Lecat
What it is: Kambali is a privileged, 15-year-old Nigerian girl growing up under the harsh rule of her abusive father, a well-respected man in their community. A brief stay at her aunt’s house shows her just how different life could be, but a military coup soon shatters her peaceful environment.
Why I read it: I had never read anything by Adichie (I know, I know), so I figured I should start at the beginning.
What I thought: I wanted to like this book more than I did. Parts of it were amazing. Adichie was wonderful at creating the tense atmosphere as a result of the domestic violence taking place inside Kambali’s home, and this fear extended to nearly every aspect of Kambali’s life, guiding her actions and shaping the way she interacted with others. At fifteen, she’s soft-spoken and naive about so many things that girls her age — even those less privileged — take for granted. But overall, I felt it dragged too much and was at times a chore to get back to. It probably didn’t help that the narrator was the slowest reader ever.
Blasphemy by Sherman Alexie
Publisher/Year: Grove Press, 2012
What it is: A collection of old and new short stories, mostly dealing with male Native Americans from Spokane.
Why I read it: I’m an Alexie fan.
What I thought: Of all the Alexie books I’ve read (I think this was the fifth) this is definitely the one with the darkest undertone. About half of the stories had been previously published and I’d read several of them, but much of the newer material had an angrier and sadder edge to it. As with most of his books, his characters often face the some of the more common problems affecting Native American communities — mostly racism, alcoholism, depression and poverty — and the stories only show a tiny snippet of the characters’ lives. There were a few weak stories, but it was interesting to compare his older and newer work side by side.
The lawyer, one of the nameless narrators of Second Person Singular, seems to have it all: he’s one of the best Arab criminal attorneys working in Jerusalem, and he’s treated with respect in a city where Arabs are often disenfranchised. The lawyer is always trying to improve himself, and of the of the ways he does this is by attempting to be well-read. One day he stops by a used bookstore and picks up a copy of Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer Sonata. When he gets home and begins flipping through the pages, he discovers a love note written in his wife’s handwriting that’s addressed to a man named Yonatan.
From here the book splits into two different stories. The lawyer, it turns out, is an intensely jealous type. Without even talking about it to his wife, he becomes convinced she’s having a passionate affair and is determined to find out who Yonatan is; as a successful criminal attorney, he certainly has the connections to begin investigating.
At this point, we’re also introduced to the second narrator, who knows all about Yonatan. Where the lawyer’s point-of-view is pretty singularly focused on thoughts of his wife’s affair, the second narrator’s point-of-view is what contributes to most of the plot. This narrator is almost exact opposite of the lawyer; he too is an Arab living in Jerusalem, but he’s poor, works as a social worker, and is witness to more of the ethnic tension and stereotyping that many Arabs face.
The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich
Audiobook Publisher/Year: HarperAudio, 2009
Narrators: Peter Francis James & Kathleen McInerney
What it is: The brutal murder of a white family on a farm in North Dakota sends an angry group of men out to the nearby Ojibwe reservation in search of the murderer. The injustice of what happens will have repercussions for years to come. Two generations later, a part-Ojibwe/part-white girl named Evalina is trying to piece together her family’s involvement in what happened.
Why I listened to it: I’d never read anything by Erdrich before, and I picked it up on a whim when I saw it at the library.
What I thought: Parts of this book were positively breathtaking–I was often stunned by Erdrich’s poetic prose. Unfortunately, I can’t say this about the book as a whole. There is a lot to keep track of: multiple genrations, multiple narrators, side plots, etc. I wonder if it would have been easier to follow along if I’d read the book because I usually have no problem juggling different characters and plots. I read somewhere that the book originally started as short stories. If that’s the case, I can see how the book turned out somewhat disjointed; read as stories, some of the chapters would have come off as phenomenal. Overall, I didn’t not like it, but it wouldn’t be the first Erdrich book I’d recommend to people.
If this book were a beverage, it would be: whiskey.
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
Publisher/Year: Grove Press, 2002 (reprint)
What it is: A tragicomedy about the misadventures of Ignatius J. Reilly, an obese, offensive, haughty 30-year-old medievalist who lives with his mother in New Orleans. He’s often mistaken for a vagrant because of his unkempt appearance, and he can’t hold down a job, but that doesn’t stop him from looking down upon everyone.
Why I read it: For my Pulitzer Project.
What I thought: I kind of don’t even know what to say. Toole was a talented writer, and so much of this book is hilarious; the secondary cast of characters takes Ignatius everywhere, from jail to a second-rate strip club, to the flamboyant, wealthy gay scene in the French Quarter. The book is fantastic in small doses, but if I tried to read it for long stretches of time it started to get on my nerves. I spent most of my time wanted to strangle Ignatius, but I was also dumbfounded by the extent of his willful obtuseness. I really have to hand it to the 1981 Pulitzer voters for going so far off the beaten path and choosing Confederacy as the winner for that year.
If this book were a food, it would be: a hot dog.
I first discovered Dagoberto Gilb’s work while taking an undergrad Chicano/a literature course at Texas State University and immediately fell in love it, so I was upset to learn that he’d had a stroke in 2009. Although Gilb permanently lost some vision in both eyes, he recovered enough use of one hand to return to writing about six months after his stroke. Before the End, After the Beginning is a collection of ten short stories. A couple of the stories in the book have appeared in other places–I read “Uncle Rock” over a year ago in The New Yorker–but most of this book is comprised of new material. Though not much has changed in terms of his style–Gilb is a gifted storyteller whose protagonists are usually male–this collection does seem a lot more introspective compared to his other works that I’ve read.
If the elephant in the room is his stroke, Gilb acknowledges it head on in the first short story, “please, thank you”. The main character, Mr. Sanchez, has suffered a stroke. Once a strong man, Mr. Sanchez is knocked down by his health. The reader sees him through the early days of disorientation and follows along as he makes small victories in his recovery over the next few months. The story is at turns humorous and touching. It is also typed by Mr. Sanchez, who only has limited movement in one hand; as such, there are no capital letters in the story because Mr. Sanchez can’t reach the shift key. It’s a beautiful story, and one of my favorites.
Another favorite was “Uncle Rock,” about a young boy and his single mother. No matter who his mother dates, Erick refuses to warm up to them. It’s no different when she begins dating Roque; Erick can see that Roque adores his mother, but no matter how much Roque tries to engage with Erick over, Erick remains indifferent. Knowing that Erick loves baseball, Roque takes them to see a game at Dodgers stadium. Still, Erick tries to look nonchalant. But then something happens at the game, and Erick can keep his composure no more. The end left me smiling.