#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge Day 25 – Most Read Author

img_2550Day 25Most Read Author  Toni Morrison, the Queen, is my most read author.  I’ve read everything except Paradise, Love, and God Help the Child.  I’ll need to get on to reading these three really soon since I’v heard through the grapevine that she’s working on a new book titled Justice.  Sounds intriguing….

 

 

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#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge – Day 3 Anticipated Release

The Book of Harlan

Day 3 – Anticipated Release:  This wasn’t hard for me to choose at all.  I’ve been waiting impatiently for the arrival of The Book of Harlan by Bernice L. McFadden.  It is due to be released on May 3, 2016 by Akashic Books.

“During World War II, two African American musicians are captured by the Nazis in Paris and imprisoned at the Buchenwald concentration camp.

The Book of Harlan opens with the courtship of Harlan’s parents and his 1917 birth in Macon, Georgia. After his prominent minister grandfather dies, Harlan and his parents move to Harlem, where he becomes a musician. Soon, Harlan and his best friend, trumpeter Lizard Robbins, are lured across the Atlantic Ocean to perform at a popular cabaret in the Parisian enclave of Montmartre—affectionately referred to as “The Harlem of Paris” by black American musicians.

When the City of Light falls under Nazi occupation, Harlan and Lizard are thrown into Buchenwald, the notorious concentration camp in Weimar, Germany. The experience irreparably changes the course of Harlan’s life.

Based on exhaustive research and told in McFadden’s mesmeric prose, The Book of Harlan skillfully blends the stories of McFadden’s familial ancestors with those of real and imagined characters.” (Goodreads site description of The Book of Harlan)

Bernice L. McFadden, born and raised in Brooklyn, has always known she wanted to write since she was a child.  “I guess all of the literature I was consuming helped to fuel my already active imagination and so very early on I began writing short stories and plays. I would say my first story was penned by age eight.” (quote from Bernice L. McFadden)  After her studies she ventured out to work as an  international clothing buyer.  Feeling dissatisfied with that job she went back to school and earned a degree in tourism.  However it wasn’t until being laid off in 1990 that McFadden attempted writing seriously.  It was during this period that she wrote her first novel, Sugar, which wasn’t published until 2000.  Yes it took 10 years to find an interested publisher.  McFadden has gone on to write many more interesting contemporary novels  The Warmest December, Gathering of Waters, Nowhere is a Place, Glorious, Loving Donovan, and the list goes on.  Her influences are writers such as Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Ann Petry, Zora Neale Hurston, J. California Cooper, Terry McMillan and many others.  So if you’re into any or all of these writers, there’s no reason why you wouldn’t love McFadden’s writing too.

 

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Out Stealing Horses

I finished Out Stealing Horses on Saturday morning, before meeting with my book club in the afternoon. I was relieved it was over.  I’d dragged 9 days to read such a short book and couldn’t believe it.  So, how come big books get the bad rap so much?

I was expecting something different than what I got.  Actually, the description on the back cover is slightly misleading.  In spite of that, it was good for me but not great. It’s the story of a 67 year old retiree who is living out in the countryside in an old run down house that he’s just bought and is renovating himself.  The story takes place in Norway and the glacially cold landscapes and dark silent nights develop into a story that is both surprising and very melancholy. I can’t say more than that. The little you know about the plot the better off your reading experience. Speaking of the reading experience, Petterson’s writing is simple and undeviating, from his descriptions of the landscape to Trond’s personal feelings. It is perfectly written from the first person, while interchanging with flashbacks.  However, I had a problem with the quiet, slow pace, and depressing tone of this book. There were several times when I started out reading and wound up falling asleep.  Yes there were some slow areas.

Having not read much Scandinavian literature, reading this one made we wonder about the way Scandinavian authors tell stories.  It seems to be very different from the anglo-saxon way.  It’s intriguing and seems to be very much like a puzzle and emotionally charged.  I’m interested in continuing on to read Knausgaard’s My Struggle: Book 1 or Skomsvold’s The Faster I Walk.  If anybody has read either and wants to encourage me to read one or both of them, down below is where you need to tell me all about it.

As my book club discussed the book, we wondered how well it had been translated.  There were some parts that just seemed to have nothing special happen in them and we discussed in depth the utilization of the word “special” in one part of the book.  The book is only 264 pages but even so the plot thickens and makes you wonder because Petterson doesn’t give you all the details.  His writing resembles his protagonist’s personality.  He refuses to fill in the blanks.  We as readers have to do that.  This can either drive you mad, keep you confused, or titillate your imagination.  If anything this book will spark meaningful conversation and much speculation on the different characters – why they do what they do, the outcome of their actions, and oh all the what ifs….

Favorite passage:  “The face there is no different from the one I had expected to see at age sixty-seven.  In that way I am in time with myself.  Whether I like what I see is a different question.  But it is of no importance.  There are not many people I am going to show myself to, and I only have the one mirror. To tell the truth, I have nothing against the face in the mirror. I acknowledge it, I recognise myself. I cannot ask for more.” (Out Stealing Horses, p. 98-99)

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The Green Road

IMG_1954It’s Man Booker Prize longlist time and The Green Road is my first official read from the 13 books.  Technically I attempted to read A Little Life a few months ago.  I got to page 200 and got side tracked by other books and life and quit reading it.  This is what can happen when I read more than one book at a time and when a story isn’t grabbing me.  No worries I’ll surely get back to it eventually.

I was away in the south of France with no internet and poor network connection for my smart phone so of course that allowed me to fully concentrate on reading.  And boy did I read.  I read four books in a week.  That’s a record for me.  You’ll hear about what I read in another post.  I’m back today to talk to you about what I thought of The Green Road by Anne Enright.

The story is split up into two parts.  The first part is composed of five view points from the Madigan family – from the children, Dan, Emmet, Constance, Hanna, and the last viewpoint is from the mother, Rosaleen.  Part one is called Leaving and part two is called Coming Home.

Part two is a series of episodes that tie up or make clear how each person fits into the Madigan family.  “This is how they knew each other, the Madigans, they knew the timber of a voice, the rhythm of fingers tapping on a tabletop, and they didn’t know each other at all.  Not really.  But they liked each other well enough. Apparently.” ‘The Green Road, p. 254)  Each point of view in Part one is told from the third person, making the characters difficult to care about.  Not to mention their voices don’t show enough of who they are individually, much less how they fit together in the family.  I think I would have preferred their points of view to be told in first person to really get into their heads.  In spite of this, Enright does paint an intricate picture of family.  She writes those touches of language that make The Green Road a type of classic tale of an Irish family, while at the same time trying to give the Madigan family specificities.

The structure of the novel is what it has going for it.  The writing is good, but not brilliant and the reader must piece together the family story.  That seems to be a metaphor for this family’s lack of togetherness.  The family is in pieces in the same deconstructed manner of the storytelling.  As we meet each member we are trying to figure out what’s gone wrong and why.  That is the difficulty of the book, which may put some readers off.  Through each section the reader is bombarded with a lot of information about that family member and themes from alcoholism, homosexuality, illness, etc.  We learn about each family member at different time periods and their relationships to their husbands, children, girlfriends, etc..  I believe Enright complicated the story of the Madigans, henceforth rendering it uninteresting.  Moreover, I would be very surprised if this novel makes it on to the shortlist.  I didn’t give a  hoot about any of the people I was reading about and the ending fizzled out into something that seemed to be thrown together to round the story off to a complete finish, making for a really dry ending.  I’ll be extremely surprised if The Green Road makes it further.  I’m not sad that I read it because now I’m interested in picking up The Gathering, for which Enright won the 2007 Man Booker prize. Hoping that I’ll enjoy that one more.  I’d like to see what a winner from her is really like.

It seems that there is a strong theme around family in this year’s Man Booker 2015 longlist.  I still have 2 others that treat the subject of family left to read on my wish list – Did You Ever Have a Family and A Spool of Blue Thread (unfortunately I hear this one is uneventful)  I won’t be reading the entire longlist because there are some I’m not interested in at all.  I hope they will be more interesting than The Green Road.   .  Could it be for The Green Road that I’ve missed some extremely important Irish references?  Possibly.  So have you read anything from the Man Booker 2015 longest?  If so what?  Have you read The Green Road?  What did you think of it?

The Memory of Love

After finishing The Memory of Love late last Friday night, I was truly sad to see page 445 arrive.  It seemedIMG_1139 to come so quickly for me.  I started reading on Wednesday and read non-stop anytime I was free through to Friday.  I could have just been pushed by time since I was discussing it with my book club on Saturday, but actually I just didn’t want to do anything else besides read this book.  I really didn’t want that passionate story of memory to end.

The Memory of Love is a story that takes place in the West African country of Sierra Leone.  The main characters are Kai a brilliant surgeon, Elias an aging academic, and Adrian a British psychologist.  It’s through the relationships of these three men that we follow their personal stories and memories along with the tragic incidents from Sierra Leone’s troubled political past and growth.   The faculty by which the mind stores and remembers information is one of the essential themes of the story.  The past can be so tragic that one’s only means of survival is to bury that tragedy deep within and push the little that is left of oneself forward.

“The memories come at unguarded moments, when he cannot sleep.  In the past, at the height of it, he had attended to people whose limbs had been severed.  Working with a Scottish pain expert years later, he treated some of those patients again.  They complained of feeling pain in the lost limbs, the aching ghost of a hewn hand or foot.  It was a trick of the mind,……the nerves continued to transmit signals between the brain and the ghost limb.  The pain is real, yes but it is a memory of pain.” (The Memory of Love, p.184)

This book isn’t plot driven.  It has no real beginning, middle, or end.  It’s life.  It’s survival.  This book will teach you about Sierra Leone’s history and culture.  The first one hundred pages left me a little frustrated because Forna was giving me information, but not as I was anticipating it.  I soon stopped trying to will the book into what I wanted and began to accept and appreciate the story Forna was trying to tell me.  Beautifully written and always with phrases that are exact and perfect for each situation, there are lessons to be learned through out the novel.

Forna writes the three male characters with absolute realism.  Not at any moment did I feel a feminine voice ringing through.  I would have to say that this is a book about men,  since the female characters were minor and not very vocal.  Their roles were to bring the male characters’ stories full circle.  Reading about the habits of the people in Sierra Leone was enlightening, as was unfortunately hearing about the atrocities that happened to its people.

Forna-Aminatta-e1410397047138Aminatta Forna is a Scottish-born British writer, raised between the UK and Sierra Leone.  The Devil that Danced on the Water, a memoir, was her first published book in 2003.  It discusses the imprisonment and later death of her father due to his political involvement.  Her first fiction novel is called Ancestors Stones and was published in 2006 and won her the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award in 2007.  The Memory of Love won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 2011 and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize and others.  I’m looking forward to reading The Devil that Danced on the Water and Ancestors Stones.

Book Club reactions:

Everybody raved about it.  Some also complained about the first 100 pages being difficult because they couldn’t figure out who was speaking (story is told from multiple points of view and switches from first to third person frequently) nor could they figure out where the story was taking place specifically.  They marveled over Forna’s capacity to describe situations and places, as well as her poignant writing.  We also discussed at length her background and how Forna feels as comfortable in the UK as she does in Sierra Leone.  We all came to the conclusion that showed considerably in The Memory of Love because of the authentic descriptions of Sierra Leone but also of Adrian Lockheart and his reactions to things he saw there and descriptions of his family back home in England.  We all agreed we were interested in reading more of her books, specifically The Devil that Danced on the Water.

If you’ve read Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone you’ll probably be interested in reading The Memory of Love.

NW

I opened NW on Friday night and immediately became submerged in this part of London that I’ve never been too.  I closed andIMG_1092 finished it late Sunday night.  My reading was supported by the excellent Penguin audiobook.  The two first-rate audiobook readers added to the tremendous life that Zadie Smith put into writing NW.  Each accent gave me that perspective I needed to relate to the characters but most of all to give me the right tone.  The tone that I imagine Zadie Smith was imaging when she wrote NW.  I found myself comfortably reading and merging into this complex story – “the story of guests and hosts and everybody in between” (back cover of NW, Penguin edition).  Uncomfortable. Challenging.  Shocking.  Colorful.  Sincere.  Brutal.  NW  packs the punch that maybe some aren’t ready to read.

NW is the story of two girls, Kesha and Leah, that have grown up together and been close friends for a long time. One is white and the other is black.  We follow them as young girls who become successful young women.  Their starting point is NW.  NW is their shame, their fond memories, their family, their friends,….  It isn’t far from shopping on the High Street, sightseeing on double-decker buses, and lounging in Hyde Park.  However, it seems to be a place that is important to both characters since it is the place they grew up, their focal point, and it is part of who they are, no matter how much they try to hide it.

The novel is split into 5 parts.  Each part tells the story of inhabitants of NW who may or may not be directly connected to the main characters.  The majority of the second half of the book is a series of short sections that are numbered from 1-185.  What is important is the feeling and ambiance that you’ll get as the story continues.  Contemporary in structure, this sort of stream-of-consciousness writing is captivating and spirited.  It will keep you hooked.  At times, it made me laugh aloud.  Nothing really happens in NW because it is a character driven novel.  Don’t go into reading this thinking it’s just a typical plot that moves from A to Z.  It’s more than that and you’re going to have to work to enjoy and to understand the importance of it.  Imagine trying to piece together a puzzle.  However, everything fits together in the end.  I highly recommend the audiobook, which is extremely helpful with the different accents.  Being American I would have had difficulty imaging them all in my head correctly.  Really, that audiobook made a significant difference.

The writing is continuous speaking, with scattered dialogue here and there.  It’s the first time I’ve enjoyed stream-of-consciousness writing.  I can’t explain it but for me it made sense.  The mosaic of characters, incidents, and life happenings made the story tangible, until I got to the end.  Sure life is abrupt, but the ending lacked a serious amount of reality.  That was the only thing that really bothered me.  I read somewhere that Smith was taking care of her young daughter when she was working on NW so wrote in chunks which is probably what gave birth to the numbered sections in the second half of NW.  All the same, I’m impressed with Smith’s capacity to capture the authenticity of each of her characters no matter how minor they are in dialogue.  It’s brilliant.  I could even imagine what each character might look like even though there weren’t necessarily descriptions.  Dialogue is so important and she is the “Queen of Dialogue”.

Having read White Teeth and The Embassy of Cambodia (loved them both), I read On Beauty and didn’t like it very much.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect with NW.  Well it’s really good, however a challenging read it is well worth it.  I’m rating this one 4,5 stars.  I have to say I’ve fallen in love with Smith’s writing again. The next Zadie Smith’s I’d like to read is Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays and The Autograph Man (nobody ever mentions it).

 

 

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

IMG_0919This is the fist book I’ve picked up from the Man Booker longlist. Yes I had some trouble getting a few of them while I was in the States. In fact, I only managed to pick up two, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves and To Rise Again at a Decent Hour.  Since then I’ve managed to pick up a few others either in e-book form or ordering physical copies online.  Happily the first two I picked up this summer have been put on the shortlist. Is that a sign that I can choose a good book by its cover? Hmmm! Probably not. Trying to acquire a few of these longlisted intriguing novels, I decided to pick up We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves first.

After reading the description on the back cover I was worried that it would be contrived and gimmicky.  Some say the description is a big spoiler however I found the book was more than what was described on the back cover and anyway everybody has heard or knows the basic principle of the novel.  Fowler created a story full of anxiousness, mystery, and sensitivity.  We follow a dysfunctional family through the eyes of the main character, Rosemary Cooke.  Or is she the main character?  Rosemary is quirky,  slightly guarded, highly intelligent, and honest.  She is quite the reliable narrator, which we can see clearly when she second guesses some of her memories as she recounts the first few years of her life living with her “sister” Fern and brother Lowell.

The novel opens with the voice of a character who is hiding herself and her pain.  A pain that she has held within herself for many years.  We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is Rosemary’s attempt to come to terms with all that is and has been wrong with her family since the addition of a baby chimpanzee to their family called Fern.  Who would have known the consequences of this addition to the family?

Rosemary’s parents are distant and acting as they see fit or as they would think is necessary.  Rosemary’s relationship with her father seems strained beyond repair.  As the story continues, it becomes clear where the problems lie.  The entire family has strained relationships with each other due to Fern’s appearance. It’s as if Fern became the focal point of the family and no other member of the family saw the other family members’ needs.

Fowler constructed the story in a way that you don’t get the full picture until the very last page.  Starting in the middle of the story, clues about the Cooke family are strewn through the pages almost as if it were a journal.  Rosemary is witty and at times brutally honest.  She gives us all the information we need to know, facts included.   The language Fowler uses and her writing style contribute to the novel’s emotional power.  I was marvelled at Fowler’s brilliance in choosing certain vocabulary and expression.  Communication and language were two of the primary themes in this novel and we as readers got to have a closer look at these themes from many angles.  Communication and language are what initially separates the Cooke’s, however it is what drew them closer to Fern.

I couldn’t help it but I found myself searching for information on chimpanzees that had been raised with humans and ran across a few You Tube videos.  There was something seriously unsettling, eery, and lugubrious about it all.  It just didn’t seem right from the child’s point of view and certainly not from the chimpanzees’.  I found this book incredibly  moving and informative.  I think it might have a good chance to win the Man Booker but who knows since I haven’t read any of the other shortlisted ones yet.  However, this one is a must read and is very difficult to put down.

Karen Joy Fowler is known for having written sixteen books in total including The Jane Austen Book Club, which was adapted to film in 2007.  Some of her other novels are Wit’s End, Sarah Canary, Sister Noon, Black Glass, The Sweetheart Season, What I Didn’t See: Stories, and many more.  She broke into writing with her well-known collection of science-fiction short stories called Artificial Things in 1986.  She also won the Pen/Faulkner Award 2014.  She’s been lucky to have been chosen for the Man Booker shortlist, for the first year that the competition was open to authors outside of the Commonwealth, as well as being nominated for a 2014 Nebula Award.  We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is definitely a five-star book not to miss out on.