Posted in in the reading room

odds and ends of bookish rambling…

First up, a favor. Even though we’ve still got nearly a month left in the current school year (and plenty of work to fill it), it’s time to start looking ahead to next year. Gray and I have decided that it’s time we get economics out of the way. It’s a required subject, but what we cover within that subject is entirely up to us. So I’m trying to start putting together a reading list. I may start us out with Michael Goodwin’s  Economix, because I found that to be not just a great intro to the subject in general, but a great debunker of some very widely held beliefs. But I’m not sure where to go from there. I have a small handful of books on my shelves that might be possibilities (Consumed by Benjamin R. Barber, This Land is Their Land by Barbara Ehrenreich, Bad Samaritans by Ha-Joon Chang, The Value of Nothing by Raj Patel, Economic Apartheid in America by Chuck Collins and Felice Yeskel) and another short list of possibilities I found at the library last night (Seven Bad Ideas: How Mainstream Economists Have Damaged America and the World and Age of Greed both by Jeff Madrick, The Tyranny of Dead Ideas by Matt Miller, Aftershock by Robert Reich). Has anyone read any of these? Are they worthwhile? And mostly, what other suggestions might you have for books (and actually documentaries too!)? Ana? Bina? Eva? I’m thinking maybe you can help me out. *flashes pleading puppy dog eyes*

*****

One of my biggest “before I croak” goals: Stop prejudging books! Gah. I do this all the time. And it doesn’t seem to change a damn thing that I am so often wrong in my assumptions. Latest example: I’ve had “A Problem from Hell” America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha Power on my shelves for years. It’s one of those books that I’ve simultaneously really, really wanted to read and have been really, really afraid to tackle. Somewhere along the line, my brain came up with the idea that it was going to be a dry, difficult read. Oh, my silly stupid brain! Nope, so not dry and difficult. Quite the opposite. So very accessible and so very compelling. I’m only about 70 pages in, but can definitely see this one ending up on my “favorite books that I wish never had to be written” list.

*****

Suppose I ought to update my 100×100 with my latest reading items. Haven’t really been getting that much reading done lately (in large part due to gardening duties), but that just makes this a quicker, easier task, doesn’t it?

#2. Read 100 short stories by authors of color. (30/100)

Most of the stories I’ve read since my last update were by Latin American or Caribbean authors. The first was by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He is one of those authors that I am unjustifiably intimidated by. Friends whose opinions I trust have told me how much I really need to read One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, but I resist, resist, resist. I hate to say it, but this short story, “The Other Side of Death” didn’t help. It was one of those stories that I could appreciate, but that I just didn’t enjoy. Unfortunately life is too short to read every book out there, so it could be that Marquez is just one of those authors whose books I’ll never get around to. Then again, I did really enjoy “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” when I read it last year, so maybe there’s hope yet. Oh Debra, you are such a fickle soul.

Moving on, I had much better luck with the ladies. Five of the stories I read came from the anthology Short Stories by Latin American Women: The Magic and the Real. Quite possibly my favorite of the bunch was “A Poisoned Tale” by Puerto Rican author Rosario Ferré. I think this is an example of metafiction, but I don’t have a very good grasp on that term so maybe not. Plus magical realism. Plus books. A thumb’s down for the evil stepmother trope. But really overall, I enjoyed this one a lot. I also really enjoyed “Berkley or Mariana of the Universe” by Argentinian author Liliana Heker. This is a bit of a “mess with your head” sort of story. Very fun. I don’t have a sister of my own, but I tend to love stories about sisters and their varied relationships. I can’t wait for Gray to read this one–I think he’s going to enjoy it quite a lot as well. Cuban author María Elena Llano totally delighted me with her story “In the Family.” Not really a ghost story, but almost. It’s about a very special mirror. And then there were two stories that could come with trigger warnings. Having a very dear friend who suffered through the ordeal of being stalked, I have to admit that Mexican author Elena Poniatowska’s story “Park Cinema” really shook me a bit. Can a short story be considered epistolary? Oh me and lack of literary knowledge. Anyway, this story is essentially in the form of a stalker writing a letter to his victim. I thought it well done, and it definitely left me feeling shaken up. And then there was Isabel Allende’s “An Act of Vengeance.” Trigger warnings for rape. I have very mixed, very conflicted feelings about this story. I almost wish that I could just hate it. Because I do hate the place it tried to go to. It was saved from going to that place, but in a tragic, horrifying way.

Of all the stories from this update, my hands down favorite was “Children of the Sea” by Edwidge Danticat. She is another of those authors that I have always wanted to read but have been intimidated by. Well, this story cured that! I hope to finish the collection Krik? Krak! (from which this story came) this summer. Yeah, *fingers crossed*…me and my overblown reading dreams for summer. And what the hell, let’s really dream big–I also have Breath, Eyes, Memory and The Farming of Bones on my shelves. Anyway, this story. Oh. This. Story. Beautiful and heartbreaking. Hmm, and also epistolary. Written between two young lovers separated when one has to flee on a boat, hoping to find refuge in the U.S. This story puts a face to the utterly gut-wrenching decisions people must make when they can’t find safety in their own countries and must flee in hopes of finding it elsewhere.

“In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd” was written by Ana Mendéndez, an American author who is the child of Cuban exiles. While not as acutely tragic as “Children of the Sea,” this story in some ways makes a good companion to it. This story focuses on Máximo, now an old man, who was forced from Cuba years before. A story of having to give up so much in being forced from the life he once lived. Even though he was able to build a new life for himself and his family in the U.S., he is left always feeling somewhat the outsider. There is a particularly poignant scene where he becomes frustrated and angry over being made to feel like tourist attraction as people come by to take pictures of the old men playing dominos.

I also read a story by Tlingit author Debra S. O’Gara. Titled “Grandpa’s Little Girl,” I suspect this is an autobiographical piece, but I can’t state that as fact. Whether fictional or non-fictional, I loved it. Sort of a coming-of-age story from the life of a 13-year-old. A moment when the relationship between a granddaughter and grandpa changes forever. Not for the better or for the worse. Just a moment of growing up. This story came from Living the Spirit: A Gay American Indian Anthology. I’m so sad that I’m not likely going to finish this book before I have to get it back to the library, but it’s good to know that it will still be there later. I haven’t been reading this book straight through, but rather dipping in and out largely at whim. I’m glad that I hit upon this story.

#6. Read 100 poems that speak to me. (1/100)

“Speak to me” can obviously mean a lot of different things. I suspect that for every single poem I end up including here, it could mean a different thing. It might be that the poet put my feelings into words in a way I never could. It might be that a poet made me understand something a little bit better that I’ve never had to experience myself. It might be that the poet put together a wonderful collection of words in just the right way that puts a smile on my heart. As I read Paula Gunn Allen’s poem “Some Like Indians Endure” once, then twice, then half a dozen times, I knew it was speaking to me. But wow, how the hell do I put into words what’s it saying? I’m serious–I just don’t know how. It’s touching me in my heart and my gut and my brain, but I’m finding myself entirely clueless as to how to explain it. So I’m just going to include an excerpt from it. And I wonder if that won’t be what I always end up doing for this category.

so dykes

are like indians

because everybody is related

to everybody

in pain

in terror

in guilt

in blood

in shame

in disappearance

that never quite manages

to be disappeared

we never go away

even if we’re always

leaving

 

because the only home

is each other

they’ve occupied all

the rest

colonized it; an

idea about ourselves is all

we own

#21. Read 100 biographies/autobiographies/memoirs/collections of personal stories. (1/100)

I think the only other thing I’ve read that counts somewhere for my project is When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up Under the Khmer Rouge, a memoir by Chanrithy Him. It goes without saying that a memoir of living through a genocide isn’t going to be a happy one. I’ll say it anyway, it wasn’t. There was so much I appreciated about this book, things like learning more about Cambodian culture and learning more about daily life under the Khmer Rouge. Gray and I have read a lot of books on genocide this school year, but this was the first memoir we tackled. (Though last year for a different course, we did read Elie Wiesel’s Night.) We’ve read and read and read, and I’m not sure either of us have come any closer to an understanding of why people continue to inflict such unspeakable horrors upon others. There have been times when I thought that even doing this class was a huge mistake. And yet we are, and I thought it important that we read the story of a single family within the midst of a genocide. One’s heart can break for a million people killed in a genocide, and in some ways I think it can break even more for one. Chanrithy’s family lived a good life in Phnom Penh before the Khmer Rouge gained power. That came to a fairly abrupt halt, when they were given just days to leave the city. We follow them through camp after camp, watch them do anything they can not to starve to death, see them forced apart from one another time after time, we witness them suffer through illness and injury with no care. And we cry as one after another of Chanrithy’s family dies. Her father is executed outright near the beginning of the genocide. and then through the course of a few short years she loses a younger brother, a younger sister, her mother, and an older sister. Half of her immediate family, as well as much of her extended family, is killed due to the brutal policies of the Khmer Rouge. And we get to see that while improved, life in the refugee camps isn’t exactly wonderful either. Chanrithy is just a year younger than I am, and all through her story I couldn’t help but think about the childhood I was living compared to the childhood she was simultaneously living. I know you never know how strong you are until you’re put to the test, but my god, I just don’t know how people survive some of the things they’re put through. I almost hate to mention it, but I will because it’s the one thing that bothered me. The attitude of Chanrithy towards the peasants of the country. For example, in talking about a local girl and her “distinctive northwestern drawl,” she writes: “In the past, such an accent would have made me laugh. Here, I only risk a giggle under my breath. It is hard not to mock people you don’t respect.” I wish I could say she was talking about the Khmer Rouge, but she wasn’t. Despite this, I carried a lot of admiration for a child who never gave up. She and her remaining two sisters and two brothers made it to the United States in 1981.

Okay, so that really wasn’t the quick and easy update I’d anticipated…

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just a middle-aged lady who gets giddy about lots of things

6 thoughts on “odds and ends of bookish rambling…

    1. Okay, now that absolutely sounds like a book I need to find for our reading! And you know, that title is ringing such a bell in my head–I think I may have checked that out of the library one time but didn’t get to read it. Which if true, would be good news, because it means I can get my hands on it again. Thank you, Ana! Any other suggestions?

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