So, hey. I’m sick! I’m miserable! Today may be the day I do that “walk to the end of the driveway and call it good” walk I’ve been saving and projects and posts for the rest of the week look unlikely. Ugh. But I have news. Specifically, tickets went on sale for our next Craft Cabinet event! Brenda Ponnay is teaching water color. So excited! It’s a technique I’ve always wanted to learn, and I’m still going to try it even though I have zero artistic ability. I can’t draw well, but I can at least listen to what she has to say about mixing and blending colors and use that in projects that take advantage of my ruler-wielding ways. Plus, friends! I get to meet friends!
We’ll be supplying all the food, drinks, and supplies, so it’s a pretty good deal. You can also bring your own craft, too, of course. We’re easy that way.
Whoops! Remember when I said I was going to giveaway a copy of each book club selection every month in whatever format worked best for the winner? Well. I’m glad one of us did! Sorry, between launching and writing over at The Craft Cabinet and me just being…me…it slipped my mind.
Better late than never?
It’s early middle school and should take the winner 15 minutes to read?
All of the above. For this giveaway, I am buying the winner a copy of March’s book club pick: The One and Only Ivan. We will discuss the book end of March/early April.
Same rules as last time. I’ll leave this post up until Friday, when I should (God willing) remember to pick a winner. Even if I don’t remember, no entries after Friday shall be counted. Anyone can enter so long as you are over 18 years of age. Keep in mind that I will have Amazon.com ship directly to you if you do not choose an electronic format, so it may take a while if you are outside the US. I will contact the winner via email and update this post accordingly after Friday.
Thank you for supporting The Phenomenally Indecisive Book Club, and good luck!
Congratulations, CoasterKim! I emailed you.
This Is How You Lose Her was no The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao, but not much can beat that book for me. It’s not often I come across a book that so perfectly captures the Hispanic immigrant culture, and Junot Diaz nailed it with that one. That said, I still love Junot Diaz and this collection of short stories once again shows his incredible talent as a writer. Writing like this makes me want to stick to scribbling grocery lists for the rest of my life.
The are two problems people have with Junot Diaz. One, his writing is raw, often vulgar, and his main character, Yunior, is a louse. Kind of? When I read reviews like that, I wonder if people have read Drown or The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao, because if they have, I don’t know how they can’t have at least a little empathy, or if not empathy, understanding for Yunior’s incorrigible promiscuity. It doesn’t excuse his behavior, but it does explain his behavior. Not everyone with his history reacts as he did, but it’s not unheard of and if what I have read is true, Yunior is Diaz’s alter ego. Yunior’s reactions are Diaz’s reactions, and I’ve read he is still not over the girl who dumped him. That kind of breaks my heart.
If you want to know what I’m talking about and don’t mind blinding neon sign spoilers, read this LARB interview. This is another great review of the book, and it mentions my complaint with the collection–the anticlimactic ending–but we can talk about that in the comments.
The second problem people have with Junot Diaz is his unapologetic use of Spanish and Spanglish in his writing without translating it for the reader. One person gave him one star for this, saying it was alienating and that she couldn’t enjoy the book because she was not familiar with Hispanic culture and that perhaps you had to be from the United States (where people are more familiar with those people and that culture) to appreciate the book.
Funny, I’m 0% Russian, know exactly 0 Russians, and have never, not once, stepped foot in a Russian restaurant, let alone visited a Russian community, Russia, or a country familiar with “those people,” and yet I managed to get through Anna Karenina. I’m sure I missed several nuances, but that’s why they invented the internet. Well, for those people references and for cat videos. Was it easy for me? No, but I didn’t think Leo Tolstoy was out to get me, either. I tend to agree with Junot Diaz on this one, although I he could have been more diplomatic.
Still, it’s true there are one liners or phrases that one may not get immediately. I was shocked when someone told me Anna Karenina was supposed to be funny in parts. My response: where?!
For example, page 100, when Yunior’s brother Rafa was sick with cancer and their mother was worried sick.
Her eyes were shining behind her black Madres de Plaza de Mayo glasses.
Unless you are up to date on your Argentine history, you might not know that is a reference to the Dirty War, a period from 1976 to 1983 where people who spoke against the dictatorial government disappeared. They are/were the desaparecidos (the disappeared/those who have disappeared). You spoke against the government and you disappeared in the middle of the night, in the middle of the day at lunch, on your way home from work, etc. Between 10,000-20,000 people are still unaccounted for to this day, and 3 of the 14 founding madres have also “disappeared.” The madres wore white head scarves over their heads to symbolize the baby blankets of their children. The met every Thursday in the Plaza de Mayo and marched for the desaparecidos. Their last annual march was in 2006 because the current government is not related to the atrocities committed during the Dirty War.
The mothers became a symbol of the quiet strength of motherhood. There is actually an interesting discussion to be had on how the group put a different face on 1970s feminism by claiming their strength came from clinging to the traditional role of woman as mother, but that’s a topic for another day. What’s important to take away here is that by saying Mami’s eyes shined behind her Plaza de Mayo glasses, Yunior acknowledged his mother’s pain, her strength, and her refusal to give up while accepting the inevitability of a tragic ending. Well. At least that’s what I think is going on. Just my luck she’s really wearing glasses by a brand called Plaza de Mayo.
Sorry about that crazy tangent. You crack open the door to Argentine history and I kick it wide open, tear down the walls, and add a new room! Sheesh!
I’ll just stop here while I still have readers….
I am almost done updating my Unread Library. I also organized all the books into sections, both for me and for anyone who wants to look at the list. It took me a few hours, and I got tired once I hit the poetry section, so most of what you see on that shelf hasn’t been added. I’ll update the list eventually, hopefully this week, but really there is no rush because I have books to read until the end of time.
The idea of me not buying a book until I finish all the books I haven’t read is so preposterous that I calculate the odds of that happening similar to the odds of Trader Joe’s vegetables lasting more than 3 days before spontaneously disintegrating into a rotten, pulpy mess.
Some things you just know will never, ever happen.
I cut a few books off the list. There were some books on chakras and positive thinking that I tried several times to read without success. True story: the author of the chakra book later renounced the book and said she wanted no ties to it because she now believed it was all foo-foo-la-la. If the author can’t read it, there is no reason I should. Delete!
As ridiculous as the list is, I’m excited. I have some great books! Also, I have some garbage books! Some will be a nice reminder on the perils of impulse book shopping. I won’t read everything, but I will make progress. I was going to reward myself with a book for every book I finish, but I after giving it some thought, I decided I couldn’t come up with an idea that would defeat more soundly the entire purpose of this project.
Maybe a new book for every two books I read.
Speaking of books, I asked around and it looks like people need more time to discuss This Is How You Lose Her. I’m thinking next week, Tuesday or Wednesday.
A few days before Lent started I received an email asking about my Unread Library. It was a nice way of asking why I started buying books again in 2012, and I was glad for the email because it inspired my 2013 Lenten sacrifice. During Lent I am not buying, checking out, or borrowing a new book. I know that for some this sounds like giving up steamed okra, but for me it’s a huge sacrifice. I buy a book or more per week (especially now that I know how to find ebooks on sale), and check out even more than that from the library. I don’t read all of them. How else would I stock an Unread Library?
I can think of to two reasons for the dust gathering once again on all those books. One, I started the book club just three months after I finished the last book. It takes time to research the books, read them, and then write about them for book club. Not that much time, but one must grasp tenaciously to excuses when they are readily available, yes? Two, I sold the green secretary where I kept all the books and walked past them countless times every day. After that, I moved them to a trunk while we saved money for our bookcases. Out of sight, out of mind. Another poor excuse, but one I happily abused.
Those are the reasons I haven’t read from my Unread Library. I have no excuse for why the Unread Library has increased by many books. I’ll amend the list this week, but even if I was suddenly gifted with the ability to properly manage my time, I would not be able to read them all. I can strike two or three off the list, with The Historian being one of them. (One that I will both add and then strike from the list.)
The Historian is a book a reader recommended to me years ago, thinking it was something I would enjoy. I read the blurb and immediately bought it, but then it sat on my shelf for who knows the reason. I even tried reading it once or twice but couldn’t make it past the first chapter.
This is all tangentially related to the Civil War and Apache pictures. I’m almost there.
The Mister received an ipad from work which he turned around and gave to me. He didn’t do it because he’s nice (he is) but because he wants me to use it as a reader so I don’t keep him “up all night” with “the *$#^! light” while I read. His words: it’s a gift for you that’s really a gift for me. He is so sensitive about the whole lighting thing!
My kindle broke after only having it a couple of months years ago, so accessing it through the ipad was like getting all new books. One of the books I found is by self-published author Ellen O’Connell. I bring her up out of every other author in my old Kindle because I may have developed a reputation as someone who is intolerant or unimpressed with self-published authors. Not true! I’m just intolerant and unimpressed with crap. There’s a huge difference. 50 Shades of Gray and its progeny = crap. Ellen O’Connell and hundreds of other unsung authors = not crap. If I’m ranting and raving it’s because the authors writing tampon sex scenes (so I’ve heard) are the ones getting 7-figure book deals while those writing about the Apache Wars in the Arizona Territory in the late 1800s receive quiet accolades from a smattering of readers.
A good book isn’t one that comes from a major publishing house. For me, it’s one that inspires me to learn more. The characters stay with me long after the book is done and I am interested enough in the story that I want to immerse myself in the environment. Rereading Ellen O’Connell the last couple of weeks made me realize I love historical fiction. Historical fiction–not historical romance, which is usually more about setting than history. I love that reading about two characters in post Civil War Texas inspired me to read what I could find on the Civil War and line up some documentaries on Netflix. Dancing On Coals exposed me to the Apache Wars, something I haven’t been able to stop thinking about since. The day after Easter I am buying the illustrated edition of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee to mark the end of my Lenten sacrifice.
Once I realized that historical fiction is what I truly love–a few of you said “Duh” to this revelation–I started researching historical fiction lists on Goodreads. Sure enough, The Historian was at the top of several lists. I was at my bookshelves faster than a jack rabbit searching for that book and later that night as I closed the book to go to bed I wondered why I didn’t read it years ago. Then I made a mental note to research the Ottoman Empire and Vlad the Impaler.
Thoughts on Ellen O’Connell books
This wasn’t a review post, so I thought I would take a few sentences to highlight her books and what I thought about them. These are all categorized as historical romances on Goodreads, so kindly ignore what I said above about historical romances. Some are more historical, some are more romance and if you are looking for brainless fluff where everything is puffy hearts and LOLz, you won’t find it here. You won’t find literature, either. There is mature content in all of them, but if 50 Shades gets a 5 whip rating and Twilight gets a 1, all her books fall in around a 3. Nothing too crazy.
Sing My Name: This is the first book of hers I read, and at first I didn’t realize she was self published. (I couldn’t figure out why the publishing house would release a book with such a goofy cover!) I loved the first third of the book. Loved. The pace of the book slowed down after that, and with it went much of the history. It was fine, just okay, but the first third makes up for it. If you read the reviews, you’ll see most people agree with me on this. I adored the male protagonist. This book inspired me to create this Pinterest board.
Eyes of Silver, Eyes of Gold: This is the second book I read. I didn’t like it as much as Sing My Name, and I think that’s because this book is almost exclusively romance. I read it again a couple of weeks ago and liked it more the second time around. Better stated, I liked it consistently throughout, where Sing My Name I loved at first and then liked at the end.
Dancing on Coals: I loved this one. The history and action I loved in the first third of Sing My Name accounts for the majority of this book. The romance between the characters is slow building, there is a refreshing absence of “misunderstandings” or he-said/she-said, and spoiler [the romance doesn't happen until the last 1/3 of the book]. I could have done without the epilogue. This book inspired me to create this Pinterest board.
Beautiful Bad Man: This one was my least favorite. Like Eyes of Silver, Eyes of Gold, it’s a historical only because it’s set in the past. This book is about a woman with a black and white view of morality and a man who sees everything in shades of gray, the redemptive and healing power of love for two flawed people, and a little bit of land conflict that resolves a little too neatly.