Thursday, April 09, 2015

March Reads

I only managed to read three books in March, and almost all of them were read in the first half of the month. This is because I started my new job half way through the month and WOW a full time job will really cut into your reading-for-pleasure time! Now that I'm settled in and used to my new schedule, I hope to get back into the habit of reading every day. I've missed giving myself that precious time.  

That said, the three books I did manage to read last month were pretty good and very different from one another. Here are my reviews (longer versions are on Goodreads, as usual!). 

Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

I fell into this book and wasn't able to look up until I finished. Even then, I found myself still lost in the pages, thinking about the characters I'd grown to love, wistful that I'd reached the end and there weren't more chapters to spend with them. So, yes, I really, really, really liked this book. 

In Americanah, Adichie tells the story of Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who leaves her home country (and Obinze, her college boyfriend and her first love) to finish college in America. Obinze is supposed to follow her but after 9/11, he can't get a visa. Ifemelu has a harder time adjusting to America than she thought, becomes depressed, and cuts off contact with Obinze, even though she still loves him deeply. When the book opens, we learn that Ifemelu has just closed her very successful blog, about race in American from a Non American Black's perspective, and is returning to Nigeria - and, of course, to Obinze, with whom she hasn't spoken in 13 years. 

In a lesser writer's hands, this book would not work as well. I loved it, but there were moments where I worried that the conversations were going on too long, that some of the characters were caricatures, representatives of ideologies instead of individuals. If you don't like thinking or reading about race, then this book might bore you and also you should check your privilege, as they say. I, for one, thought the conversations were fascinating, and especially loved that Americanah looks at race in America from an outsider's perspective. Mostly, though, I cared so much about Ifemelu, was so invested in her life and relationships, and was happy to read as she talked, blogged, ate, loved, and discovered things about America and Nigeria and, of course, herself. I was anchored in this book in the best way and reading it reminded me what a powerful pleasure a great book can be. 

Mermaids in Paradise, by Lydia Millet 

In this book, Deb and Chip get married and go on a tropical honeymoon, where wild and crazy things happen. Deb is a great narrator - she's funny and sarcastic, and the whole first half of this book seems like a fun and silly romp, light hearted, with many reasons to laugh out loud. (Which I did. And I hardly ever laugh out loud while reading books!) Then they discover a pod of real, live mermaids swimming near their vacation resort, and that's when things get dark. There's a murder mystery, an evil corporation, a minor conspiracy, and a mostly-happy ending. 

And that's all I can say, due to something happening at the very end (like, in the last three pages) that would ruin everything for the reader if I even hinted at it. (In fact, I may have said too much already.) If you have read this, let's go to the comments and express our feelings there. 

Family Life, by Akhil Sharma 

For some reason, I was under the impression that this book was going to be full of "dark humor," which I love. Instead it was just really, really dark. 

In it, a family - Mom, Dad, and their two sons - moves from India to America, hoping to better their lives. Instead, shortly after their arrival, the older brother, Birju, has an accident in a swimming pool that leaves him brain damaged. The book is narrated by the younger brother, Ajay, and this is where most of the humor begins and end. Ajay is about ten when the accident happens and his voice and observations are funny, sad, strange, and often unexpected. He's not very likable, which the reader forgives because he's young and his life has taken a very bad turn. When it becomes clear that Birju will never recover, never walk or talk again, the family falls apart. Mom becomes Birju's caretaker, focusing all her energy on him and neglecting Ajay. Dad becomes an alcoholic who can't deal with the terrible way all his dreams have been crushed. And Ajay is adrift, torn between loving his brother and hating him, a sad boy who grows up to be a sad man, incapable of true happiness. 

In the end, this isn't a book about redemption or acceptance or anything even remotely resembling optimism. It doesn't have to be, of course. I don't read books because I want a happy ending or a Lifetime moment. But it's rare for a book to feel quite so devoid of hope as this one does. Even An Untamed State, arguably the most horrifying book in recent years, was more uplifting that this quiet tale of a family fallen apart. While there were lovely moments and the writing was beautiful at times, the ending felt incomplete, as if the book had been building toward something but never quite reached it.

And now, for some awesome things you can read right now, written by people that I know and love! 

Tonight the Stars Are Strung Up Like Elegies and Khepri, by Sally J. Johnson
Gorgeous and beautiful and perfect and painful - but would you expect anything less from Sally?  No, you wouldn't.

Choreography for Brief Flight, by Hannah de la Cruz Abrams
This piece is so weird in the most lovely way. I have read it six times now and it gets better each time. 

Home Sonnet, by Kathleen Jones
Shakespeare is totally jealous right now. Also: what a perfect portrait on love and relationships and anger and hope. 

Speaking in Tongues, by Kerry Headley
This essay is sharp and funny and sad and necessary. But mostly it is pure Kerry, and that's why I love it. 

Happy reading!