book review, nonfiction, memoirs/biographies

Review: Dreams From My Father

My identity might begin with the fact of my race, but it didn’t, couldn’t end there.
At least that’s what I would choose to believe.

Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, Barack Obama

AUTHOR: Barack Obama

GENRE: Memoir

RATING: 4/5 stars

BACKGROUND: This book was published in 1995, way before Obama stepped onto the federal stage as the senator from Illinois and before he was President of the United States. This does not concern any of Obama’s public life, but instead his background and his family’s background. This seems to be before he was acknowledging a career in politics, as he does not mention it. The main focus of this book is rather Barry Obama’s quest in finding his own identity: his racial identity and his identity outside of his race.

THOUGHTS: I thought that this story was intriguing, not just because it is the story of our former president but rather it is a story of someone who is caught in between cultures and races. Barack Obama was brought up by his white mother and his white grandmothers, in the absence of his father who spent most of his time in Kenya, but was treated by everyone else that he knew as what he appeared: a black boy.

Obama’s writing was clear, succinct, and admirable for someone who is not a writer by profession. His capacity to relate emotions in a particular moment and his ability in describing events or landscapes took me by surprise, though anyone who has listened to any of his speeches is probably less surprised to hear what a good writer Obama is.

I think the honesty of the book is also refreshing. In a world of turbulent politics dominated by twistings of the truth and fake news, this brief, honest look into Obama’s early life and his early mistakes was intriguing. His struggles in becoming the best brother, the best son, and the best black advocate he could be struck a cord with me; even though the man is intelligent and successful beyond belief, he struggles with the same idealistic struggles that most young people go through.

Anyways, I can fully recommend this read for anyone who wants to know a little more about our former president. It is pretty clear of our typical political debates, besides a couple of chapters about his advocating in Chicago. But even that does not sound like the pushing of an agenda…just a description of the feelings that he went through at a particular moment in his life. This book is truly a memoir, and not of the same stock as those books published after a politician’s term, or before a politician’s election. If you enjoy memoirs in general, you should definitely check this one out!

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other

Is There a Wrong Way to Read?

So the other day my friend was gracious enough to lend me Eleanor and Park and as she was leaving, she told me that her policy on her books she lent out was nonexistent. As in, I could dog ear it, I could do whatever to it, etc.

Years ago, I had borrowed a friend’s copy of Wicked by Gregory Maguire and ended up pretty much destroying the front cover because I had been dragging it around with me to Washington D.C., New York City, and Philadelphia. She was less than thrilled (I was in middle school okay) but she was not pissed. I managed to tape up the tear and color it back in with a sharpie so that the tear wasn’t too noticeable except to the two of us.

Now I normally do not dog-ear pages in a book, especially if they are not my own. I also typically do not write in books unless I am studying them for school and it’s just easier to annotate that way rather than stick in a million post-it notes. I like to keep my books as pristine as possible, but there are times that they get eaten up by the horror that is my backpack.

For my AP Language and Composition class in high school, we had to read an essay titled Never Do That to a Book by Anne Dilliard. Dillard describes two kinds of reading: “carnal” reading and the kind of reading that I do. It is a humorous essay, and if you can get your hands on it, I would definitely recommend reading it. Carnal readers are those who dog-ear the pages, who write all over the pages, and who expose their books to the elements. Those other kinds of readers are those who refuse to let dust get on their books, and make sure that book covers remain uncracked and brand-new.

Basically, what I got from this essay is that there is no one way to love a book and to take care of them. Even though some readers may seem like they disregard the care of their books, it is really how they express their love for reading.

So I want to know…how do you read? Do you think you could read any other way and enjoy it in the same way?

 

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book review, reading recommendations, young adult

Review: Two Boys Kissing

Ignorance is not bliss. Bliss is knowing the full meaning of what you have been given.

Two Boys Kissing; David Levithan

I ticked another book off my extremely long TBR list…and managed to pick this delight of a book. I am making an effort to read more LGBTQA books or books about the LGBTQA experience.

AUTHOR: David Levithan

GENRE: Young Adult Fiction

WHERE DID I GET THIS BOOK / WHAT FORMAT: local library / audiobook

RATING: 5/5 stars

SUMMARY: The novel is narrated by the general gay man that died during the height of the AIDS crisis, and in this novel, the gay men of the past narrating observe the gay boys of today. The novel follows seven different gay boys: one (Cooper) that is dealing with the depths of despair and feels unaccepted by the community around him, two  (Avery and Ryan) that are trying to navigate a new relationship, two (Peter and Neil) that are trying to navigate an older relationship, and two (Craig and Henry) that are trying to break the world record for the world’s longest kiss. In doing so, Craig and Henry are trying to make a statement to the world: that two boys kissing is not scary, that two boys kissing is normal and acceptable. Their feat touches on the lives of the rest of the boys in the novel in some way, whether in a minuscule way or in a way that is meaningful and lasting. Ultimately, this novel maps out the past, the present, and speculates on the future of the American gay experience.

Trigger warnings: There is an outing scene, and talk of suicide.

THOUGHTS: Okay so I absolutely adored this take on the contemporary gay generation. I am familiar with the AIDS crisis and its victims through fiction and theatre only – the men that were wracked with disease are only those that I have seen on stage, on screen, and in cherished books. This approach to the perspective of those men was unique and gave their story more hope than others would have by allowing those men to see how radically the gay experience has changed in America from the realities that they had known. At first I was a little hesitant about how this approach would work out but it played itself out beautifully.

This was my first novel by David Levithan, and I will definitely be reading more of his work because his writing was sublime. This novel had a tone of breathy wonder, of saddened acknowledgement, of weary resignation, and of renewed hope. I honestly just want to brew tea with Levithan’s prose and drink it all day long, it is that good. This book is so well written that even if I had not liked the storyline or the characters (and to be clear, I LOVED both), I still would have enjoyed the experience of reading it. The prose is heart and tear jerking, full of universal truths and general musings on life and existence itself, and the narration was so wonderfully done that even though this book is Young Adult, it lacks the immaturity that other Young Adult books are subject to because they are narrated by teenagers.

I also think Levithan did a good job of captivating the general contemporary gay experience- some of the minor prejudices approached in everyday life, what it means to be a person of color as well as a gay boy, what it means to have a supportive or unsupportive family, what it means to hate your sexuality or love it, etc. All of these gay characters are approaching their sexuality from a completely different background and mindset, which makes the novel that much more honest. Of course, I can only talk about this with the authority that a straight, not-gay-boy, person can have so please keep that in mind.

I adore how this is an own-voices novel, as Levithan himself is a gay man that was born in between the generations that he writes about, so he is in the perfect place to discuss each different and separate experience while still having a degree of separation from each generation as well. It is a lot more powerful to know that an author is drawing from his own experiences and his own interactions to draw inspiration for a book, especially for a book as relevant and significant as this one is.

I would absolutely recommend this book for anyone and everyone, no matter your reading preferences. It is a short read, and I’d be surprised if you managed to make your whole way through without feeling the prick of tears at least once.

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reading goals, to be read

September TBR

Summer is at a close…which means that the time period in which I am able to get most of my reading done is also at a close. The month of September brings new beginnings for me…I’m starting not just one but two (TWO!) internships and I am delving back into the life of a full-time student. So understandably, this TBR is not going to be that ambitious.

  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

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I definitely want to get through this book before school starts, because it is tremendously long and I honestly don’t think I can commit to such a dense read during the school year. I am currently about halfway through and am really ejoying this one.

  • The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler

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I’ve heard so many good things about this book and I am so psyched to read it cause it seems like a cute, fun read and also I adore Jane Austen. I’ve only read three out of her six novels so far, but those three are among my all-time favorite books.

  • If I was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

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I’m trying to read more diversely and I have yet to read a book with a transgender main character in it. I honestly think YA is a great genre to try and introduce more diverse characters to the larger world of literature in. I am excited to see what Meredith Russo has done, especially as this is an own-voices novel. (BTW: the model on the cover is a transgender model. Well done, publishers!)

  • Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

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This is a novel with Lithuanian characters set in the Soviet Union, cause this girl is all about the historically accurate fiction. This book is about a family that gets deported to Siberia by Soviet police and the struggles they face there while the father of the family is sent to a labor camp. As soon as I read the synopsis, I knew that I had to read it!

  • The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

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My friend has been begging me to read this, and as I am a sucker for historical fiction novels, I caved. I also made this particular friend read All The Light We Cannot See with me, so I guess fair is fair right? But her begging aside, I am always down for a well written book set in WW2.

  • Lighter than My Shadow by Katie Green

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Yet another YA book on this list, and a diverse, mental-health focused book at that! This is supposed to be a graphic novel concerning issues like eating disorders and abuse. I received this book from NetGalley and it comes out October 3rd, but I’ve already heard so many good things so I’m sure this is going to be a fantastic read.

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to be read

Books I’m Taking with Me to College (FALL 2017)


The inspiration for this blog post came from Katherine Reads on Booktube. Because I live in a dorm room that is meant for two people but that will actually be occupied by three means that I do not have the luxury of taking more than six books to my dorm room. The rest of the room on my bookshelf will be dominated by the books I actually need for class!

I hope to rely on the extensive University of California library resources, as well as audiobooks and ebooks to supplement the few physical books I am bringing with me to college. Also, as soon as the quarter ends (in December) I can bring these back and bring back six more unread books!

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The Awakening by Kate Chopin: I’ve been meaning to read this book for forever (I have read some of Chopin’s short stories and I am obsessed) and it’s small enough that I’ll be able to store it easily in my backpack and in my purse for my commute for my internship.

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Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell: I had mentioned to a friend that I recently read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell and enjoyed it, so she immediately supplied me with Eleanor and Park which she claims is much better than Fangirl. I can’t wait!

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Life of Pi by Yann Martel: I solely picked up this book because of the hype surrounding the movie but apparently the novel is just as good as the movie supposedly was. I picked this one out of my TBR jar when picking out books for college and I am excited to read it.

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The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan: I wanted to include a nonfiction book as well, and I love personal essays so I chose this book. I had bought this book earlier this summer and have only heard good things about it. I know that Emma Watson also recommended this book, so of course I am going to listen to Emma Watson, cause, duh.

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The Price by Arthur Miller: I wanted to bring a play in addition to the novels that I am bringing. I adored Death of a Salesman by Miller, so I’m excited to see what that’s about.

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The Sonnets of William Shakespeare by William Shakespeare: Sometimes, after reading hundreds of pages of textbook reading, I don’t really want to read long chunks of text. Poems, and short ones like sonnets, are the perfect solution to this.

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book review, young adult

Review: Fangirl

To really be a nerd, she’d decided, you had to prefer fictional worlds to the real one.

Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell

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I have checked off one book from my insanely long TBR list! 126 more to go…

AUTHOR: Rainbow Rowell

GENRE: Young Adult Fiction

WHERE DID I GET THIS BOOK / WHAT FORMAT: local library / ebook

RATING: 3.5/5 stars

SUMMARY: Cath is one of the biggest Simon Snow fans in the world, and a popular fanfiction writer in that fandom. She is about to start her freshman year of college with her twin sister and best friend Wren, but things go amiss when Wren declares she’d rather not room with Cath. Cath, who deals with crippling social anxiety, struggles to thrive in the social atmosphere of college without her socialite sister to guide her, and also struggles to reconcile the real world that she lives in and the fictional world that she would rather inhabit.

THOUGHTS: Okay so the worst thing about being a book blogger/reviewer is that as you read a book, you start to determine what its rating will be from the very outset. I began hating this book and evolved to like it. I enjoyed Fangirl, although I probably liked it a lot less than those who read Young Adult exclusively. A lot of YA reviewers gave it a 5/5 but honestly I didn’t love the book like that, nor did I not like it.

I found Cath to be kind of immature, even though I know this is an aspect of Young Adult fiction, it sometimes got on my nerves. Cath isn’t that young- she is a freshman in university. I am going into my second year of university, so Cath isn’t that much younger than me, and there are a lot of aspects about Cath that I could appreciate and relate to: her preference for books over parties, her reluctance to partake in overwhelming social activities, and her love for fictional worlds and characters. However, the way that Cath just shrugged off some of her school work or even her important relationships in order to tend to her literary commitments seemed ridiculous and acts that belonged to an angsty sixteen-year-old rather than an eighteen-year-old. Other characters comment on Cath’s pettiness and immaturity throughout the book, so Rainbow Rowell had made a deliberate choice there, but honestly? I wasn’t the girl’s biggest fan (see what I did there?)

Other than that, the rest of the book was enjoyable for me. I liked the family drama it encompassed, Cath’s journey to breaking a little more out of her shell, and her experiences with the harsh realties of real life breaking her out of her fantasy-induced stupor. All in all, the characterization was done quite well- none of the characters were too tropey, not even the introverted, fangirling nerd that was Cath. The relationships between characters, and how they broke, mended, and strengthened is what really gave this novel its life.

Also, I was LIVING for the frank portrayal of mental illnesses, self-medication, and family drama. This could have easily been a super fluffy, cute book, but instead, it also incorporates some serious subjects that fiction exists to take us away from sometimes. If anything, this book speaks to the self-medicating powers that fiction writing and fiction reading can have- for a few short moments, it can give us a place to hide from ourselves and our own issues.

If you like YA in general, I’d recommend this to you.

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book review, reading recommendations, short story sunday

Short Story Sunday: A Good Man is Hard to Find

For those of you who find it hard to set time aside to read, but still love the pull of a good novel, I introduce to you Short Story Sundays! Basically, I will review a short story or even an essay that I loved each Sunday (most of them will be recommendations) instead of a full length novel or play that you can easily pick up, read, and digest in the span of an hour.

This week’s story comes from the brilliant writer who is a masterful commentator on American life: Flannery O’Connor.

SUMMARY: The narrator of this story comes in the form of a Southern grandmother who would rather vacation in Tennessee, rather than in Florida, where her daughter and her grandson are dragging her along to. This is the kind of woman who is stuck in the past, and stuck in the idea that she was part of a Southern aristocracy, and stuck in an idealized American past that no longer exists in a modern world. She points out an article concerning “The Misfit”, or a serial killer who is out on the road. She finds herself at odds with her family, and she has antiquated values, but this story is still a thriller and the plot twist at the end may have revealed that this grandmother was right about something that she may or may not live to regret.

REVIEW: I was introduced to this chilling story in school, and I am eternally grateful for this introduction because it prompted me to pick up Flannery O’Connor’s collection Everything that Rises Must Converge which I absolutely adored.

O’Connor is great at capturing the feelings of those who are stuck in a different kind of American South, where the wealthy, white plantation owners reigned supreme and in which all of society catered to them. This story proves no exception, and O’Connor manages to concurrently validate those stuck-in-the-past feelings as well as satirizing them.

I also loved the plot and the twist it has at the end, and how it was treated. Yes, it is not the happiest of endings, but that’s O’Connor for you- her stories will leave you somewhat terrified and somewhat in awe. The characterization in this story is particularly some of O’Connor’s best as well; even though you do not know a lot about these characters, they are easily identifiable to any reader. Even the one character in the restaurant that is only briefly mentioned is fleshed out enough for the reader to have an idea of who he is. Additionally, the diction and symbolism is simply enthralling.

If you like a story with excitement, suspension, and an ending that will leave you feeling queasy, (as well with some colorful insights into American generation gaps and American psyches), this story is for you.

RATING: 4.5/5 stars

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