On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
Publisher/Year: HarperAudio, 2019
Narrator: Bahni Turpin
Length: 11 hours, 43 minutes
What it is: A young adult novel about a 16-year-old girl named Bri who wants to become the next great rapper. Her father was a rapper who died before his time, but she doesn’t want to be a mini version of him, the way everyone thinks she’ll be; Bri is her own person with her own style. She’s feeling the pressure to succeed: her mother has lost her job and her neighborhood is ruled by gangs. If she can make it big, she can help her family.
Why I read it: Angie Thomas is a great writer.
What I thought: I read Thomas’s debut, The Hate U Give, and while I wasn’t as blown away by it as so many others were, I could appreciate the book; it just felt like Thomas was throwing too much in at once. I didn’t feel like that about On the Come Up; in fact, I liked it more than The Hate U Give. Here, all of the plot points — even the over-the-top ones — felt appropriate; Bri is trying to make it big as a rapper, after all. Thomas beautifully balances bigger social and political issues with the important, personal questions that teens face as they come of age.
Greetings from Chennai, formerly Madras, where today’s author was partly raised. My friend and I have been here for a few days and are heading out tomorrow. It’s safe to say that the highlight of my stop in Chennai happened last night. My friends and I had a chance to take a private South Indian cooking class in a lovely Brahmin woman’s home, so we got to learn a little more about Tamil culture on a personal level. It was amazing: great food, great spices, great coffee — OMG for real, the coffee — and great conversation! To be honest, it’s been one of the highlights of my entire stay in India! I didn’t want the night to end.
I came to know Padma Lakshmi the way a lot of people did. Lakshmi started her career as a model, has some acting and cookbook credits under her belt, and was once married to Salman Rushdie, but most people probably recognize her as the host of Top Chef on Bravo. Back then, I sometimes wondered about her connection to food, something that she admits to having second-guessed herself about as well. Any doubts about her “food cred” are put to rest in this memoir.
Lakshmi’s mother comes from a conservative Tamil culture, but after failed relationships, including the one with Padma’s father, she moved to New York to start over. Padma was left in India in the care of her grandparents, and once her mother had a stable income, Padma immigrated to the United States as well. She writes of all the new foods she was exposed to, including some interesting concoctions she and her mother came up with since they were Brahmin vegetarians in an area that was decidedly less vegetarian friendly back then.
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.