Tuesday, November 19, 2019

What I'm Reading Now

Bernadine Evaristo, Girl, Woman, Other 

This one won the Booker Prize this year, so when I saw it on my library's new books shelf, I picked it up. An excellent decision! This is one of the best books I've read in quite some time, although very different from the books I usually read.

The writing style is non-traditional, for one thing, which is not a thing I usually go for. Incomplete sentences stacked like poetry on the page, wandering about in demi-paragraphs, with unmarked dialogue -- this usually makes me slam a book shut and return it to the shelf posthaste. But Evaristo makes it work, I suppose because her control of the language is so effortless and complete.

It's also a non-traditional narrative, in that we don't have a plot. Instead, we have the interwoven, or maybe intertangled would be a better word, lives of twelve British women, ranging from Yazz, who is just finishing up at university, to Hatty, an octogenerian on a north country farm. They are all women of color, many of them immigrants, and are related by blood or circumstance.

The language here, as I've said, is wonderful; but Evaristo also, by showing us life from these twelve different points of view, creates an impressive depth of field. This works especially well because of the range of age and class of her characters, and because Evaristo herself clearly knows her stuff.

This is highly, highly recommended.

Emma Donoghue, Akin

You might remember Donoghue from another book she wrote, Room, which was made into a movie. That's the one where the woman was kidnapped and kept in a room for years, giving birth to a little boy there, and finally escaped?

This one is far less sensationalist, and a much better book. In this book, Noah Selvaggio, who is about to leave on a long-planned trip to Nice, in France, gets a phone call from DHS. His grand-nephew has been left homeless by the death of his grandmother. (His mother is in prison.) Noah is the only available relative who can house the child.

This set-up is somewhat unbelievable, as is the social worker's insistance that Noah take the nephew, Michael, to Nice with him. But once you get past all that, this is a very likable book, and very readable. Both Michael and Noah are well done as characters, and the stuff about Nice is interesting, as is the social commentary on the drug wars and America's prison system. Also, Noah has gone to Nice to investigate what his mother did during WWII, so there's a kind of mystery operating as a plot, and that works okay.

Plus a happy ending, so don't worry about that.

Cathleen Schine, The Grammarians

I'm just not sure what I think about this book. I mean, I liked it. It's about twins who grow up speaking a secret language and who are also obsessed with words and English grammar, and it's also very well written -- what's not to like?

But the pacing is so strange. We hop and skip through time, speeding up and slowing down, jumping past all the parts that seem really interesting and then -- right when the book seems to be reaching its climax -- zip off into fast forward and get the rest of the story in a brief summary.

I mean what the hell.

I still enjoyed it, and you might too, especially if you like books about the East Coast and books in which people take grammar seriously. (One of the twins is a prescriptivist grammarian and the other is a descriptivist. Feuds ensue!)

W. Somerset Maugham, Cakes and Ale

This book, a Modern Library edition, has been on our shelves forever -- it's one of the books Dr. Skull brought into our marriage -- but this is the first time I've read it. It's an interesting and odd little book. I see from reading reviews that it's apparently filled with inside-baseball jokes. The main character is Maugham himself, and the writer he's riffing on is probably Thomas Hardy, and so on. I don't know that we need to know that to follow the main point of the novel, which is a take down of conservative British culture before the war (before WWI, that is) with its stiff-neck class issues and prudish notions about what was and wasn't "done."

The book was published in 1930, and is from the point of view of an old(ish) man looking back on his youth, so it's a picture both of the 1920s and the 1880s in Britain. Maugham writes a lovely crisp prose, bringing these worlds to life at the same time he ripostes them.

Recommended if you like this sort of thing.

George Takei, They Called Us Enemy

This is a graphic novel about George Takei's childhood in the internment camps during World War II. It pairs well with Warren's Enemy Child (see the next book in this list) which gives a much more benign view of the internment camps. Takei grew up to play one of the crew in the original Star Trek series, and is now an activist, semi-famous on social media. This is a good introduction to the story of the Japanese camps, with beautiful drawings by Harmony Becker.

Andrea Warren, Enemy Child

While this is also a good and thorough introduction to what was done to our Japanese citizens during World War II, and also has wonderful pictures, it works a little too hard to justify the actions of the U.S. Government. To be fair, it is told from the position of Norman Mineta, the "enemy child" in question, and that seems to be his position as well: that the U.S. Government was justified in doing what they did to him and to his family and to the other Japanese citizens of the time. But I would definitely have my child read this book in conjunction with George Takei's book, since Takei gives information that Warren's book elides or leaves out entirely.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for these! I've never read Somerset Maugham, but am tempted to give this one a go. Will definitely get to Evaristo when it turns up at my local library.

delagar said...

I'm going to read Maugham's Of Human Bondage next, which I have also never read.

The Evaristo is *really* good!