January 11, 2016

Recent Reads

163. Crenshaw
Book blurb: Jackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There's no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to live in their minivan. Again.

"Imaginary friends are like books. We're created, we're enjoyed, we're dog-eared and creased, an then we're tucked away until we're needed again."

This is a sweet story about a tough topic, and the tone is just right for middle grade (8-12 year old) readers. The chapters are really short, and there is just the right mix of tough stuff and humor, however as an adult reader, I felt at more of a remove from the story.

I would recommend this as a way into exploring these themes with kids, and it would make a good read-aloud/discussion book. Rating: 3 stars.

164. Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova
The world is big.
Anna is small.
The snow is
and all around.
But one night . . .

See how wonderfully this picture book for kids starts? I love the idea of biographies that little kids can read, but this one had text that was too bland and boring, especially considering that it was a biography of the ballet star Anna Pavlova. The art however is wonderful and folksy and conveys a fairy tale mood that works well.

I'd rate the text 1 star, and the art 4 stars, so that's a 2.5 average, that I'll round down as I disliked the text so much. Rating: 2 stars.

165. Humans of New York: Stories
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” ― Plato

This book is collection of photos and text lifted from a very popular blog, and I had such fun dipping in over the course of several days. I was reminded of the Plato quote, and found myself falling in love with humanity all over again.

If you have yet to check it out, I would highly recommend the Humans of New York (HONY) blog or Instagram feed to get a daily fix. Rating: 4 stars.

166. An Unnecessary Woman
Book blurb: Aaliya Sohbi lives alone in her Beirut apartment, surrounded by stockpiles of books. Godless, fatherless, divorced, and childless, Aaliya is her family’s "unnecessary appendage.” Every year, she translates a new favorite book into Arabic, then stows it away.

I read this one for my book club, and I don't even think I can put into words how much I loved it. Yes, it is "a love letter to literature and its power to define who we are," and yes, it is a "breathtaking portrait of a reclusive woman’s late-life crisis," but honestly I struggle to explain myself.

There are sentences like this:

"The children grew up embarrassed, if not horrified by their mother. She was so desperate for each of them to have a better life that she raised them not to have a place for her in it. She shows up at all their events and gatherings, incredibly proud of them, and they ashamed of her."

The book is littered with sentences and observations that made me stop and take a breath, and then re-read, all the while shaking my head at how finely the author (a man) is tuned-in to a woman's inner life.

When I first started this one, I was dismayed by all the author name dropping; was this another intellectual showing off his muscles? But once I got past the first twenty or so pages, I realized that there is a purpose to the names dropped. I'll confess that I did feel at times that I was reading this book without taking a prerequisite class, and there are many references I simply did not get. Oh, but entire universes opened up with the ones I did.

A note on the reading medium: I read this one in print form. I had the audio, but found that I needed to pause and re-read, or simply shake my head in wonder too often for the audio to be effective.

I found a reader who complied a list of the authors and books mentioned, so my TBR pile has expanded exponentially, and I have little doubt that I'll be reading this one again at some future point.

This beautifully written novel is indeed an ode to literature and readers, and is quite a feminist novel to boot. The majority of my book club loved it too, and the fun and lively discussions this one sparked was worth of price of admission. Rating: 5 stars.

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