Hello, friends! This may be the longest I've ever gone without posting in the history of this blog, but I have good reason. I don't get too personal on here, but this spring I've been writing a thesis for grad school, working 40 hours a week, and planning my June 1st wedding. As the deadlines for 2 of the 3 have been approaching, it's only gotten busier. Luckily, we're in the home stretch! The thesis will be totally done and turned in by this time next week, and the wedding...well we don't want to wish that away completely, but the planning is mostly done as well!
Nayeli decides it's time to take back the town—back from the bandidos she sees lurking—and she embarks on a mission with her friends Yolo, Vampi, and Tacho to bring back seven men to protect the town and help it prosper once again. Their journey isn't as simple as just crossing the border, though (as if that were simple in the first place); they have to make it to the border first. Nayeli and friends meet a lot of interesting characters during their journey from South to North that often surprise us, the reader, as often as it does Nayeli and her friends.
What I like about this story is that it's such a simple idea, and how that idea is carried out is what really makes it a story. Nayeli is a strong young woman, but you realize she's also very sheltered. It's common as a citizen of one country to view other counties as a whole; the entire place is foreign to you, so you forget it has its own regional, cultural, and political differences. To the residents of Tres Camarones, the northern city of Tijuana is like a completely different country; it's like someone from a small Montana town suddenly navigating their way through New York City. This is what was exciting to read in Into the Beautiful North—considering those regional differences you forget, or don't realize, exist. Nayeli feels like a foreigner in her own country, but her personality won't let that be a hindrance. She is on a mission, and she will succeed.
This is just the type of book I like the read and recommend to others, because it broadens your own horizons and shows you a different perspective. Into the Beautiful North proves that doesn't have to be done in a serious way, either. This book is full of entertaining characters pursuing a mission, and having an adventure on the way.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Thursday, April 18, 2013
The story's main character, Jenny Lipkin, is one of those Park Slope stereotypes that most of New York City usually speaks of with disdain. (That's my characterization, because that is how it is in real life.) She was a successful magazine editor who just decided to give up her career to have kids and stay home and raise them. Thus she becomes part of the Park Slope Bubble, spending days within a 5 block radius of home, where neighborhood politics gain a little too much importance—it's almost like high school again, stuck in this small insular community where the smallest gossip inevitably gets blown out of proportion because there is nothing better to do and this small world becomes your ENTIRE LIFE and you think everything else in the neighborhood, in the CITY, revolves around you.
Ok, so now do you understand the type of world Jenny's living in?
On top of that, her husband went out for cigarettes one night and just never came back. So now Jenny's stuck with two small children, her only support system being in-laws that she's never felt completely welcome around and her best mom-friend in the neighborhood. Jenny also appears to have a history with post-partum depression, though it's never overtly identified or explored. When Jenny's driven to the edge, she does the unthinkable and jumps off the Brooklyn Bridge.
Except she survives. And when floating there under the waters of the East River (gross), her body becomes inhabited by a mermaid that brings her back to life, puts her on a train back to Park Slope, and helps Jenny put her life back together. But this mermaid bit isn't really the main point of the story—don't worry, it's not that much fantasy. It's more about the situation Jenny is faced with and how she copes.
This was an odd book for someone my age and in my situation. I live in NYC and can understand Jenny's feeling of isolation 100%. I loved how she observed her own community with such a grain of salt, understanding "this place is ridiculous, but somehow I became a part of it and now it is my life." What I can't relate to, though, is the isolation that comes with having children. I'm sure it's one of those things you don't understand until you experience it, but Jenny frustrated me often because she was just so whiny, woe is me, no one understands my pain, self-absorbed. She focused on surviving but in the most noxious way possible, with a mentality of "I don't deserve this" rather than "I can get through this." For that, I failed to garner too much sympathy for her.
The pacing of this is slow as you become absorbed in Jenny's small little world. And as you read, you're left questioning the validity of much of the story. Did things happen? Is this all metaphorical? Does it even matter? Shearn has chosen an interesting way to tell a story that will connect with many readers—many mothers—who have probably felt very close to the edge one time or another. And so because I haven't felt that, I'm not totally sure what to take away from the end, if anything. Maybe someone who has been there, done that would finish the last page and say, "YES." But I was just sorta left with, "Okaaaaay...."
This would be a great book for a book club of ladies who can relate, because it has many discussion points. No issue is too obvious; they are presented subtly or somewhat hidden beneath layers. It would be a good one to explore with a group.
This post is a stop on The Mermaid of Brooklyn's TLC Book Tour! There will be many more fabulous bloggers posting their opinions in the next two weeks; the tour runs through May 3rd—visit the tour page to see the schedule and follow the discussion.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Luckily, the actual story in Nina LaCour's The Disenchantments did not disappoint.
Colby and his best friend Bev have had a plan since they started high school. Upon graduation, they were putting college on hold and packing up to backpack through Europe instead. But not before their final farewell—a week-long tour with Bev's band, The Disenchanments, from San Francisco up the coast to Portland. The tour doesn't start so well, though, when Bev reveals to Colby that she's abandoning their plans to start college in the fall.
It's not so much Bev's abandonment of their plans, though Colby is mega-disappointed he won't be traipsing around Europe with his best friend. It's that he knows she has been lying to him for so long—long enough to apply, long enough to get accepted, and long enough to make plans—all while going on as if they're really heading to Europe after the tour.
It doesn't help that (of course) Colby is actually totally in love with Bev, making this situation 1,000 times worse for him.
The Disenchanments covers the week of that road trip, and it's a pretty delightful, optimistic experience. We experience the story through Colby's eyes, and he's clearly feeling a lot. Not just about Bev and the situation at hand; he's thinking all about friendships, relationships, love, and life—particularly, what exactly he's going to be doing with his once this road trip is done. All the interesting people they meet along the way—never too "out there" and never "too much" to feel contrived—are like pieces of the puzzle Colby is working on about his life.
The thing I liked most about this book is like what I said about the characters not feeling contrived. It never felt like the author was trying to hard to make a statement about life and uncertainty and the freedom that comes after high school. For example, you'd think that, being on tour and all, The Disenchantments would have a following. But in reality, they kinda suck. And Colby knows it. And everyone who listens to them knows it. And the band members themselves probably know it. But they don't care. They like to play, so they do. It would've felt too phony if, on top of everything else, the band was actually amazing. Instead, I think it provided this amazing message about originality in a tone that didn't take itself too seriously. It felt authentic.
Overall, it made me want that exhilarating feeling of uncertainty when you have nothing but freedom before you—both on the road and in life.
Saturday, April 6, 2013
I recently realized that it's been a long time since I've read any nonfiction, despite having an abundance of nonfiction titles on my to-read list. I've been wanting to read Barbara Demick's Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea after seeing it featured on several bookstores' shelves and sporadically running across interesting articles and photo series depicting life in the insular North Korea. Demick tells the narrative of life as a North Korean through the eyes of six defectors, covering the county's history from its split with the rest of the peninsula to the present day.
One of the first things I realized from this book was that Demick's writing style was going to be very easy to understand. She opens with a history of the Korean War and how, essentially, North Korea is all our fault. It was Americans that chose the dividing line, causing ideologies to flock to each pole—communism in the North, capitalism in the South. Overall, Demick's quick overview gave me a better understanding of the Korean conflict than AP US History did back in high school.
The second thing I realized from this book was I never knew I could feel so hungry.
Much of the narrative covers the North Korean famine of the 1990s. She went into great anecdotal detail of how her subjects had to scavenge for food, creatively finding ways to fill their stomachs. And how sadly, most of them didn't even realize that this wasn't normal. They were part of such a cult of worship, utterly trusting in their government and beloved leaders, that it was never even a consideration to blame the government. Many pages are filled with the day-to-day struggles North Koreans had to endure as they fought to survive even as an incredibly repressive regime watched their every move.
What's so interesting is how long these rules of society remained, despite the desperation—rules against personal relationships, voiced opinions, and outlawed media; all things that are trivial when you're literally fighting for your life. It's as if the government expected people to just not notice the hunger and go one with their daily lives.
There was, of course, a breaking point for many, and this led citizens to begin escaping to neighboring China or South Korea. The stories of these journeys are perhaps the most interesting part of the novel, as you learn the risks, sacrifices, and hardships along the way. What's even more interesting, though, is that the number of defectors is still an incredibly small portion of the North Korean population. There's something that is keeping many citizens where they are, and it's fascinating—and frightening—to think about the strength of this mental influence.
I thought Demick's narrative style was a compelling, though terrifying, way to tell the story, because you are put in these particular shoes, following their footsteps. I was flabbergasted with the realization that I was alive during this. Not just alive because I was alive when the Berlin Wall fell. But alive as a conscious and aware individual that had the capacity to learn and understand such a situation. It seems so recent for such a terrible atrocity. This was an easy to follow, though sometimes difficult to read, solid piece of nonfiction that illuminates a mind-boggling reality.
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Despite having been out of college for five years, my mom still occasionally sends me care packages of goodies since we still reside 800 miles apart. Usually, she's sending me something I've requested or that she's told me about, but she always fills the box with other little surprises.
In my most recent package containing some Target shoes I couldn't find at the crappy NYC Targets, she included this picture book—The Boy Who Was Raised by Librarians by Carla Morris, illustrated by Brad Sneed. She babysits my 2-year-old nephew twice a week, and library visits are part of their routine. Apparently, they were reading this one together, and she realized that it's my story and decided to share with me.
The Boy Who Was Raised by Librarians is about a boy named Melvin who grew up as a frequent library patron, bonding with the librarians as he researched for school projects, discovered new books to read, and attended library events. And who can guess what career path he chose by the end?? It's a cute story and a good tool for inspiring that library love all of us bookworms hope our future progeny possess! Just wanted to share with you all.
Friday, March 22, 2013
So yes, I said it. I'm citing this ONE TIME that I think the movie is better than the book. Perhaps it's just a case of preferring whichever was first experienced, but in the case of the book series, they're all starting to feel the same. Anne moves and meets new people; she loves them all; they all (eventually) love her.
In Anne's House of Dreams, Anne finally becomes Mrs. Blythe; Gilbert's finally a doctor; and the couple leaves their beloved Avonlea behind as Gilbert's job takes them elsewhere. They land in Four Winds Harbor, a small coastal town with its own set of notorious characters. Luckily for Anne, their first little home is exactly as she hoped it would be; it's their dream house, cozy and romantic with a wide open coastal view. Gilbert is away often, mending the sick and all, so Anne takes it upon herself to make friendly with the neighbors (because really, what else is there for her to do?). She meets Captain Jim, the lighthouse attendant blessed with the gift of storytelling; Miss Cornelia, who would be the outspoken match to Ms. Rachel Lynde but has a series bias against men (the phrase "isn't that like a man" was quickly retrieved from the depths of my 11th grade mind); and the tragic but beautiful Leslie Moore, a young woman with a dark past that Anne is determined to befriend.
It's lovely to meet new characters through Anne, because, though the pattern feels the same, it's just like meeting new people in real life; they all have their own stories to tell. My disappointment with the series doesn't lie in this aspect of the books; it's instead with the way Anne's story is going.
For one, I'm upset with the lack of Gilbert. He's not much more than "Anne's husband," occasionally present for a conversation, serving as a "voice of reason" to Anne's flightier ideas. But, even though this book celebrates their marriage and continuously mentions how "happy" they are, I don't see much evidence of that. They just don't interact very much.
I think my biggest issue is with the development of Anne herself. I was actually quite annoyed with things she said in this one, because her romanticism wasn't just optimism; it was selfishly upholding an ideal. (Spoiler details: she doesn't want Gilbert to suggest medical treatment that may improve the well-being of one character because it will make another's life less enjoyable. REALLY, ANNE?) Overall, she's predictable. She still has some of that old sense of daydreaming romanticism that's always been so refreshing and endearing, but it's also not adding anything new. She's lost a lot of her spunk from childhood...and I don't think that should disappear with age! A girl that had a penchant for writing, excelled in school, earned a college degree, and succeeded as a "working woman" is suddenly doing nothing with her time except keeping house and staying updated on local gossip? Now she's just a wife. Then a mother. The end. I can't believe it.
I still love the Anne stories for their well-drawn characters and quaint, nostalgic simplicity. But dare I say I prefer the Anne from the often-criticized movie #3 to this one?
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Okay. "Great novel of twentieth-century Europe" is quite the acclaim for this fairly simple story. In fact, it left us wondering from where this praise came—and to what exactly it was being compared. The author wrote this book when she was in her early twenties, and it sometimes suffered from what book club members called "writer's workshop syndrome." As in, that sentence sounds like it came from Creative Writing 101. I can't say I really noticed that throughout; I think I took this book at face value and didn't analyze it too much. I didn't love it, didn't hate it. I didn't think it remarkable, but didn't think it had anything too worthy of criticism.
Mario Vargas Llosa penned the book's introduction, and somewhere in there, he described this story as one that is plagued with sadness throughout (not his exact words, just to that effect). So naturally, I entered this believing, "Oh god, 270 pages of depression. Can't wait." But in actuality, I didn't read it that way at all. I'll give you a bit of background to explain why.
When Andrea arrives at her new home, she joins a family that is suffering from a lack of funds. In a nutshell, there's no money and conditions are dismal at best. And then you have the family itself. There's grandmother, the matriarch, who is old and feeble but always trying to take care of others. Her two sons who, post-war, have wandered off the path of ever being productive members of society; now they're just violent or sullen or confused, but grandma will never deem them anything except her "wonderful boys." You have Gloria, one brother's wife, who has some awkward relationship with the other brother but constantly suffers at the violent hand of her husband (though, of course, grandma still thinks she's great). And then there's one of grandma's daughters, who is possessive and manipulating and more than a little bit nuts. Actually, they are all nuts. I think that, really, in the most serious way, the entire family is suffering from various mental illnesses.
So you see how that dismal setting can foster an overall tone of despair. What gives light to the story, though, is Andrea. After reading the intro and the setting into which she had entered, I was afraid Andrea was going to end up mentally and emotionally weak, almost manipulated to a point of submission. That's not the case at all, though. Andrea is a strong character, and through her telling of the story, you get the feeling she's telling it with a bit of an eye roll and a tone that says, "My god, look at these crazy people I had to put up with." I actually read this story with a bit of humor. Much of that tone may come from the perspective—that Andrea's character is "looking back" on this part of her life, though that also makes you wonder how much is truth and how much is reflective exaggeration.
This story takes place in a post-Civil War Barcelona, which is somewhat described through the characters and their situations, but without a working knowledge of post-war society, it just spawned a lot of questions. Like, were these extremes we saw just norms of the time? The poverty, the domestic violence, the gap between rich and poor—were these all understood by readers at the time, making this just a story rather than a statement about a particular moment? So many characters are stuck in the past, or rather, defined by the past. But to them, it's recent; it's just life. To us, it's a reflection of a much broader history—social, economic, and political.
Despite this being a longer-than-usual post, it was actually our shortest book club discussion on record. It just felt rather straightforward. Not bad. Just simple. So like I said before, "great novel" may be somewhat of an overstatement, at least from our perspective.