Ya’ll know me…I’ve always marched to the beat of my own drum. I read and review what interests me, I don’t care about what books are trendy or popular. Occasionally, however, my curiosity gets the best of me and I pick up a book that everybody else likes too. Below are some “popular” picks that weren’t all that bad after all…
Ahh, memories. This is a good topic this week…
Certain books will always remind you of the past and the time period of your life you were in when you read it. I’ve listed a few that make me a bit nostalgic for that special moment.
Top Five Books That Are Linked to Special Moments in My Life
Ok, ok…before I begin Top Ten Tuesday, the weekly meme by That Artsy Reader Girl, I have to confess to you guys that I’m a bit biased, as my choices for favorite short stories are a bit old-fashioned. Even though I read short stories and novellas all the time, I just don’t think anything comes really close to classics. Also keep in mind that I used to be a middle school teacher, so naturally a lot of classic stories pop up in kid’s textbooks. When you’ve read something umpteen times over the years, you can quote it with your eyes closed. Naturally you grow to like it too.
- “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson – A small town’s terrifying ritual gone amok. I used to teach this story to my 7th grade students and pass out a small slip of folded paper with an ‘X’ on it to illustrate the plot.
- “Patriotism” by Yukio Mishima – Japanese writer’s story about a man and his wife committing seppuku (ritual suicide) in response to a military defeat. Strangely beautiful and mad deep.
- “The Tell Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe – Another story I used to teach to my students. They used to love this!
- “Wild Child” by T.C. Boyle – Historical fiction account of Victor of Aveyron, the first documented “feral” child, in 1800’s France.
- “1922” by Stephen King – Greed and betrayal and rats. The Netflix movie was pretty close to the novella, thankfully.
- “Thank You, Ma’am” by Langston Hughes – A little boy gets more he bargained for when he tries to snatch a woman’s purse.
- “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant – Another one in my 7th grade curriculum about fakery and the power of an authentic life. There’s a twist at the end that always gets me, every time.
- “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Magical realism to tell a satirical tale about ignorance vs. power of freedom, or flight.
- “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin – Story about a woman who loses her husband, then gains him back, and then dies–all within an hour. Powerful feminist message here too.
- “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury – Science fiction story about a class of students on Venus, where it rains constantly and the sun comes out for only one hour every seven years. My 6th graders used to like this one–lots.
Alright, alright…we’re halfway through 2018. I set my yearly reading goal at 140 books back in January, right now I’m at 86. Here are the best books I’ve read this year so far, in no particular order:
- Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson – Beautiful autobiographical novel written in verse about the coming of age of a Black girl in the 1960’s and 70’s.
- Calling My Name, Liara Tamani – Set in the 90’s, this is a beautiful fiction book about the coming of age of a Black girl growing up in Texas.
- Freshwater, Akwaeke Emezi – This book is a bit of a shape-shifter. To say it’s about identity or mental health is to deny its true power, so I’ll say it’s about certain subjects that are so thought-provoking it defies explanation. Let that sit for a minute.
- Sometimes I Lie, Alice Feeney – Pleasantly surprised by this one. Suspenseful, engaging, and full of drama. Loved this!
- Where the Dead Sit Talking, Brandon Hobson – “Quiet” kinda book that packs a helluva punch about the dysfunctional life of an adopted Native American teen in 1980’s Oklahoma.
- Heads of the Colored People, Nafissa Thompson-Spires – First collection of short stories this year that I actually liked. This is definitely one to read.
- Monday’s Not Coming, Tiffany D. Jackson – Another recent read that manages to be hopeful, frightening, and inspiring all rolled into one. Great book.
- Convenient Store Woman, Sayaka Murata – I was recently blown away by this one. This writer is definitely one to watch!
- Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? – Kathleen Collins – Kathleen Collins was a Black playwright, filmmaker, and writer who died of cancer in 1988. Several years ago, her daughter gathered many of her still-unpublished writings and issued them in this volume. The stories in this book are definitely revelatory and quite profound–the reason you haven’t seen a review for this on here is because I still just don’t have words for it yet. I read this back in March and it is extremely good. Definitely check it out!
- The Best We Could Do, Thi Bui – Another recent read that completely blew me away with its beautiful drawings and message.
Another strange Top Ten Tuesday topic is official today, it’s “Series I’ve Given Up On.” I don’t read serial fiction much anymore, so this topic isn’t for me. There was a time, though, as a young grasshopper when I was obsessed with Sweet Valley High, Nancy Drew, and The Babysitter’s Club, but we won’t talk about that, will we?
I’ve decided to explore some graphic novels today. Whether you call it a graphic novel or a comic book, I find the medium to be highly underrated. There is always a visual element to storytelling, and some authors/illustrators are doing it quite well. The following graphic novels I’ve either read or have been on my radar for a while:
Top Eleven Kick-Ass Graphic Novels
- Maus, Art Speigelman. Maus is probably one of the best graphic novels ever produced, nearly 25 years after its first publication. It’s the story of the author’s father’s experiences during the Holocaust, told through very brilliantly drawn cartoons. Even though the Jews are represented as mice (the Nazis are cats), you still cannot help but to be deeply moved by it. When I was a classroom teacher I used to read this with my 7th graders and they loved this book.
- Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi. Another classic graphic novel all about a very precocious girl growing up during the Iranian Revolution of the late 1970’s and 1980’s. She’s feisty and definitely not your typical “little” girl narrator.
- Waltz with Bashir, Ari Folman and David Polonsky. A story of a soldier’s repressed memories during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. The soldier follows up with various people who were in the conflict, trying to fill in the holes in his memory. The story is never completely there, but this is still a fascinating book.
- Deogratias, Jean Phillippe Stassen. A graphic novel about the Rwandan genocide. I didn’t like this book so much, there’s a lot of switching back and forth through time and I found the narration too confusing to follow. I do, however, recommend that you read it if you’re into graphic novels and form your own opinion on it.
- Diary of a Teenage Girl, Phoebe Gloeckner. I wrote a review for this book and you’ll find it here. Fashioned as a diary, this is a graphic novel about a 15-year-old girl growing up in the 70’s who begins having really creepy sex with her mom’s 30-something-year-old boyfriend. This relationship is not presented as grooming or pedophilia, but one in which the main character actively and happily takes part in. It’s disturbing, but it’s a book that provokes a level of thought that I didn’t think was possible.
- Rent Girl, Michelle Tea. Kinda funny but not-so-funny graphic novel about a lesbian’s adventures as a sex worker for mostly male clients. Totally raw and terrifying.
- Zahra’s Paradise, Amir. This one I haven’t read yet, though it’s on my radar. It’s about a protester’s death during fraudulent elections in Iran in 2009. The death was captured on social media, and this book is a fictionalization of this story.
- Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty, G.Neri. I also wrote a review for this book and you’ll find it here. Graphic novel that revisits the true story of Robert “Yummy” Sandifer, an 11-year-old child who died in Chicago in 1994. A member of a gang, he racked up 23 felonies and 5 misdemeanors before carrying out a violent hit, which mistakenly ended the life of a 14-year-old girl. Several days later, Robert was murdered by members of his own gang who feared he was an informant. It’s a meditation on inner city gangs and violence without sounding preachy. Gorgeous drawings too.
- Nat Turner, Kyle Baker. This one’s on my radar. It’s all about the 1831 Virginia rebellion led by Nat Turner, a slave who, upon hearing a voice from heaven that instructed him to do violence, rose up with a group and killed 55 slave holders before being captured and hanged. Even though don’t like the fact that it takes much of its info from William Styron’s Confessions of Nat Turner (a bogus, historically inaccurate account), this one’s still worth a read.
- The Best We Could Do, Thi Bui. This one’s on my radar and currently in my possession. With all the news lately on refugees and immigration, I think it is completely fitting to read this graphic novel about a family’s escape from the war in Vietnam and their subsequent life in America. I’ll have the review when I finish it.
- That’s right. I have 11. Anyway, the last book is Black Hole by Charles Burns. I currently have possession of this book and will be reading it over the next few weeks. It’s all about those awkward years you spend as a teenager. It’s good and thick and a really dark read, but I’m liking it so far.
Ok, that’s it. Read more graphic novels, ya’ll.
I have a confession to make, ya’ll. I typically don’t do TBR lists. The reason for this is simple: I have a horrible reading attention span. I simply cannot guarantee that the books I tell you I’m going to read will be read in the allotted time frame I give. I am literally always looking at books–online, in stores, at the library, through emails I get, through requests. I just can’t say I’ll read x, y, and z during this month when the truth is I will probably find something else while randomly browsing the library one afternoon that will catch my interest.
I find that it’s best for me to base my TBR-isms on what’s currently on my shelf and in my Kindle with an expiration date or on reserve from the library. So here goes:
More Than Likely Read this Summer
1. How to Love a Jamaican by Alexia Arthurs (ARC, to be published on 24 July 2018). Short story collection from a debut author that promises to be really yummy.
2. Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson (currently reading). I am floored by this book so far. Review forthcoming.
3. There There by Tommy Orange (currently on reserve). Debut fiction about urban Native Americans headed to a powwow. It’s gotten some good reviews and I’m curious about it, so I’m going to give this one a peep.
4. The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner (own a copy of this). Fiction book about an incarcerated woman. I’m interested where this one goes.
5. Dread Nation by Justina Ireland (currently in my Kindle). Kick ass Black girls and zombies. Sign me up and take my money…
6. A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising: A Novel by Raymond Villareal (currently on reserve). I told you: I love zombies, so this should be interesting.
7. The Terrible: A Storyteller’s Memoir by Yrsa Daley Ward (currently on my shelf; library copy). I loved her recent poetry volume, Bone, so this should be a great read.
8. Sick: A Memoir by Porochista Khakpour (currently on my shelf; library copy). A nonfiction account of the author’s long and expensive struggle to get a diagnosis for what is discovered to be late-stage Lyme disease. I have a sister-in-law with Lyme disease, and she nearly lost everything just to get a doctor to listen. I need to read this story.
9. Severance by Ling Ma (ARC, to be published on 14 Aug 2018). Interesting dystopian fiction read about a lady who loses her job while the end of the world is happening at the same time. Can’t wait to read this later this summer!
10. Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras (ARC, to be published on 31 July 2018). Fictional story set in Colombia at the time of Escobar’s violent hold on the country. Promises to be a great read by a debut author.
Ok, work in the morning folks.
Once again, this week’s designated Top Ten Tuesday doesn’t agree with me…so I’m making my own topic. I’ll pretend I’m in a speed dating situation and I’ve got about 15 minutes to tell you about what I like and don’t like as far as what I read.
(This is silly, but play along here, OK?)
Top Ten Book Loves/Book Hates
- YA, YA YA. I pity people that don’t read YA. Seriously. Like, what do you do in your boring ass life? Young adult books are the shit because it’s where all the action is. Want to know what’s hot in the streets? Read YA. YA is a cool litmus test for finding out what’s hip, what’s controversial, what will be talked about next. As an educator I dive into YA often, because I want to know what young people think about, what types of messages about life they receive from older people. I also like YA because it’s a safe place for nostalgia, make believe, and uncomplicated, raw emotion. Where else can you be angsty as fuck and get away with it? YA, of course.
- Diverse characters. Ever since I took a Multicultural Literature class as an undergrad student in 2001, I’ve strove to make my reading as representative of society as a whole as possible. Here on 29chapters.com, you will find that I review books about people of all races, ages, gender identities, sexual orientations, ethnicities, religions, ability levels, social classes, as well as inside and outside of the U.S. This is done purposefully, not only keep me in the loop of the human experience, but to shine a light on people with experiences unlike your own whose stories deserve your attention.
- Nonfiction about social issues. I love reading nonfiction, but I strive to make the reading of mine worthwhile by reading to educate myself on social issues that interest me–particularly issues of crime and the criminal justice system, race, feminism, immigration, and poverty. Oppression of one is essentially the oppression of all, and learning how all of these issues are connected in our every day lives is critical.
- Dystopian lit. Books on how jacked up the future will be are always a treat for me. Perhaps it is because I am deeply pessimistic on the future as well, and believe that the changes we don’t make now will revisit us in the future, only three times worse. Either way, it’s fun to read about how the world’s going to hell, and there’s very little we can do about it but wait. Weee…
- “Thinking” while reading. If I’m thinking while I’m reading it, that’s always a good thing. Books that engage me intellectually and challenge me are always books that I will finish, whether I like them or not. It just drives home (for me, at least) that reading will always be a thinking process, not just some passive activity where I’m sitting and absorbing info like a plant. It also means that we can still be friends and disagree.
- “Chick” lit. Ewww, I hate anything that resembles this genre of literature. Books where the main objective is finding love, catfights, figuring out silly friendship drama, or a good pair of heels is not for me. I turn down offers to review on these kinds of books all the time and will continue to do so unapologetically. No chick lit here ever, I’m convinced it causes brain shrinkage.
- Romance novels. Another genre I don’t touch with a ten foot pole. As a matter of fact, if I go to a book review site and it’s full of reviews on romance novels (even if they are YA) and chick lit, I immediately back up and make a note not to visit that site again. Brain shrinkage occurs with this one as well, only at a more rapid rate.
- Books from Western canons. I’m not saying there aren’t classics because there are, but surely one has noticed that 99% of the books in the humanities considered “classics” are written by White men. I love All Quiet on the Western Front, Grapes of Wrath, Aristotle’s Poetics, and Huckleberry Finn as much as the next gal, but if these kinds of books is all one reads, I question why your reading perspective is limited to that of straight White dudes only. As if Western perspectives and being cisgendered is the center of the moral universe. Not so, I say. I’ll stay on the left.
- Mainstream bestsellers. I could care less what’s on the Amazon or New York Times bestseller list. I also don’t care about who won what award, or what book “everybody” is reading right now. As a matter of fact, if I see a book on “the list” I will usually avoid it for that very reason because yes, millions of people can be wrong. Occasionally I do read pop fiction, but it is only because I am curious about that particular book. But nah, I’ve never gone to “the list” and scanned it for something to read. To this day I maintain that I’ve never read a Harry Potter book and don’t plan to. My son has read them all though. Bless his heart.
- “Major Motion Picture” covers. So Everything, Everything is a movie now. That doesn’t mean you have to change the paperback cover. I know you want to sell movie tickets, but urrrrgghh…this burns me up. Keep it the same, don’t change it.
Rock on, guys…