Return to Fiction

Been such a long time. Over a year to be exact. I wouldn’t say that I’ve stopped reading because something like that would be unimaginable. I just don’t read fiction like I use to. I’m even ashamed to say that I’ve started several fiction books and put them down unfinished. I don’t know much about new releases or book news either. It’s a sad state of affairs.

But the good thing is, I have pre-teen students who harass me about reading. They ask me everyday why I haven’t finished Divergent and why I haven’t started Uglies. They tell me about their books and I watch as they bring countless paperbacks into my classroom eager to read given a moment’s chance. Even my family has asked about what I’m reading and I often rattle off some cookbook, self-help, or non-fiction title. Well, recently, a friend of mine mentioned that she planned to read 12 books in 3 months. I told her I’d turn off the television and join her for the challenge. Let’s see if I can keep my word. Of course, the hard part (besides the watching the idiot box and getting off the phone) is choosing what to read. I can never decide! I don’t even think I want to bother with the books I put down, but I feel kinda obligated.

I made a few updates to the blog for the sake of motivation. My iPad is fully loaded with tons of books. We shall see if I can keep up with this 3-month commitment. Send a kind word if you’re still out there.

Happy reading, y’all.

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley: A Review

.

“When you deal with a person who’s experiencing dementia, you can see where they’re struggling with knowledge [. . . ] You can see what they forget completely, what they forget but they know what they once knew. You can tell how they’re trying to remember. … What I saw in my mom’s eyes and in some of her expressions, was her saying, ‘I want to understand it; I want to understand what you’re saying; I want to enter into a dialogue with you; I want things to be the way they were.’ That’s the crux of the novel: What would you do to have things the way they were?” ― Walter Mosley on The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey

ptolemygreyMy Summary: 91-year old Ptolemy Grey is lost in his memories until a doctor gives him the medicine he needs to gain clarity, set resolutions, reflect upon regrets, and seek redemption.

Their Summary: Ptolemy Grey is ninety-one years old and has been all but forgotten-by his family, his friends, even himself-as he sinks into a lonely dementia. His grand-nephew, Ptolemy’s only connection to the outside world, was recently killed in a drive-by shooting, and Ptolemy is too suspicious of anyone else to allow them into his life, until he meets Robyn, his niece’s seventeen-year-old lodger and the only one willing to take care of an old man at his grandnephew’s funeral. But Robyn will not tolerate Ptolemy’s hermit-like existence. She challenges him to interact more with the world around him, and he grasps more firmly onto his disappearing consciousness. However, this new activity pushes Ptolemy into the fold of a doctor touting an experimental drug that guarantees Ptolemy won’t live to see age ninety- two but that he’ll spend his last days in feverish vigor and clarity. With his mind clear, what Ptolemy finds-in his own past, in his own apartment, and in the circumstances surrounding his grand-nephew’s death-is shocking enough to spur an old man to action, and to ensure a legacy that no one will forget.

Thoughts on the Book: There was plenty of wisdom shared throughout the pages of Ptolemy Grey. I could see and hear every character and various emotions were raised during their interactions with one another. The book made me question and reflect upon my own life, wondering what regrets or memories I might hold onto if I reached 91. What relationships impacted me in ways I might not realize now and what thoughts would bring me sorrow? Obviously, Ptolemy Grey is the kind of book that makes you think and even teaches lessons, as all books should. I mean, the summary says just enough of what you need to know about this one. I loved it. I suggest you read it for yourself. I don’t know what more I can say.

Oh, I will add that when I thought about who might play the part of Ptolemy in a movie adaption, the first person that came to mind was Samuel L. Jackson. Little did I know that according to Shadow & Act (they know everything!), there’s already something in the works. Read more on that. Sorry this isn’t much of a review. I just really enjoyed this book. Sometimes it’s that simple.

Excerpt: “Are you still having trouble thinking?” Church asked.

“No. I think just fine,” Ptolemy said. “It’s just that I got some trouble remberin’ things I used to know. I mean, I know you got them gloves on ’cause you think there’s a germ in here. I know that this girl here is my granddaughter. But I don’t remembah where I put things a long time ago, an’ I cain’t, I cain’t . . . things I need to find.”

There was so much he couldn’t do. Sometimes he’d stand over thee toilet for five minutes waiting to urinate. Sometimes when the phone would ring he’d go to the door and ask, “Who is it?” and when Robyn told him that it was the pone he’d get so embarrassed that he’d go  into the bedroom just  so he wouldn’t have to see her feeling sorry for him.

waltermosleyWalter Mosley on Writing:  My only ritual for writing is that I do it every morning. I wake up and get to work. If I’m in a motel in Mobile — so be it. If I am up all night, and morning is two o’clock in the afternoon, well, that’s okay too. The only thing that matters is that you write, write, write. It doesn’t have to be good writing. As a matter of fact, almost all first drafts are pretty bad. What matters is that you get down the words on the page or the screen — or into the tape recorder, if you work like that. Your first sentence will start you out, but don’t let it trip you up. If you are the intuitive type, just sit down and start writing the novel: Lamont had only enough cash to buy half a pint of whiskey at Bob’s Liquor Emporium, but he knew it wouldn’t be enough. Ragman was dead, and that was at least a quart’s worth of mourning. What does it mean? How should I know? Those were the first words that came out. I’m not going to worry about it; I’m just going to keep on writing until either something clicks or I lose momentum. If it doesn’t seem to be working, I’ll start with a new first sentence. I’ll keep on like that until something strikes my fancy and I have enough of a handle on the story to continue. (Read more . . . )

.

Happy reading, y’all.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed: A Review

.

Aside from marrying my husband and having my children, hiking the PCT was the best thing I ever did. The hike very literally forced me to put one foot in front of the other at a time when emotionally I didn’t think I could do that. You have to keep walking, no matter what. - Cheryl Strayed

wildMy Quickie Summary: Proceeding her mother’s death, a divorce, sexual awakening, and heroin habit, Cheryl Stayed decides to hike the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT) to sort out her mind state—without a real plan.

Their Summary: At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and she would do it alone. Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.

Thoughts on the Book: Wild had the potential to maintain my initial interest, or so I believed. I don’t hike or do outdoorsy type stuff and honestly wasn’t familiar with the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT) until this book. After reading the summary, I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to her out on that trail that would make Oprah not only select her book for her book club, but also that would make so many other people read it. Well, I found out for myself that Oprah’s stamp of approval may not suit my tastes.

Cheryl Strayed begins her memoir with her mother’s death and then shifts through a divorce with Paul, a man she’d been married to since the age of 19. After dealing with promiscuity and a developing heroin habit, she decides to hike the PCT to get her mind and life back. When she begins this hike, what drove me was that she didn’t have a real plan. She admitted to the stupidity of this as often as it entered my own head. Her backpack was too big, her boots too small, and overall she just wasn’t prepared. I kept reading to see how she’d overcome these shortcomings, but then the book started to read like this:

blah, blah, blah, backpack too big, blah, blah, blah, my feet hurt, blah, blah, blah, can’t get this song out of my head, blah, blah, blah, trees, blah, blah, blah, animal, blah, blah, blah, hungry/thristy, blah, blah, blah, met a kind stranger, blah, blah, blah, sexy man, blah, blah, blah, I stink, blah blah, blah, I really stink, blah, blah, blah, burn another book, blah, blah, blah, strangers gave me a ride, blah, blah, blah, too much snow must detour, blah, blah, blah, I’m broke and want a Snapple lemonade, blah, blah, blah, ex-husband is so supportive, blah, blah, blah, memories of mama, blah, blah, blah–I DID IT!

I don’t read erotica/romance, so I must also admit that it’s sad when I’m hoping for a sex scene to add a little spice to a book–especially a memoir. The really unfortunate part is that when I got one, I was sourly disappointed. That said, at about page 130 I started skipping around until, with an eye barely open, I found my face plastered to the final page. I read that page, closed the book and decided to move on with my reading life. Did I miss anything? Doubt it.

Wild Excerpt: Each day I felt as if I were looking up from the bottom of a deep well. But from that well, I set about becoming a solo wilderness trekker. And why not? I’d been so many things already. A loving wife and an adulteress. A beloved daughter who now spent holidays alone. An ambitious overachiever and aspiring writer who hopped from one meaningless job to the next while dabbling dangerously with drugs and sleeping with too many men. I was the granddaughter of a Pennsylvania coal miner, the daughter of a steelworker turned salesman. After my parents split up, I loved with my mother, brother, and sister in apartment complexes populated by single mothers and their kids. As a teen, I lived back-to-the-land style in the Minnesota northwoods in a house that didn’t have an indoor toilet, electricity, or running water. In spite of this, I’d become a high school cheerleader and homecoming queen, and then I went off to college and became a left-wing feminist campus radical.

But a woman who walks alone in the wilderness for eleven hundred miles? I’d never even anything like that before. I had nothing to lose by giving it a whirl.

strayed&oprahCheryl Strayed on Writing: I often recommend writing as a tool for self-discovery because it’s helped me so much. I use writing in different ways: I write as an artist but I also write when I’m just trying to work through something or make a tough decision. And I think, a lot of times, even people who aren’t writers will write in crisis. They’ll write in their journals after breaking up with someone, even though they haven’t written for two years. That’s because it’s a way to essentially practice your thoughts and see what’s there. Writing forces you to locate your clarity.

.

You know, I think A Piece of Cake by Cupcake Brown would have been an excellent selection for Oprah’s Book Club–a crackhead turned lawyer? Tell me that’s not an inspiring memoir. Anyway, somebody better recommend something good for me to read soon–and not Oprah.

Happy reading, y’all.

Incomplete Read: Temple of My Familiar

According to Goodreads, I’ve only invested 2 weeks time into Temple of My Familiar. I feel like it’s been an entire month and I’m just not getting through it. Each day I tell myself, I’ll knock out a few more pages—or I convince myself that I’ll finally finish it on my days off, but nope. I’m just not interested and I can’t make myself get interested. So, after 150 pages, I’ve decided to put it down. Maybe I should have a long time ago. After Third Life of Grange Copeland, I had really high hopes for Temple of My Familiar, but after my mom mentioned that even she couldn’t get through it . . . I officially give up. In the meantime, I found an article online that helped me realize where things went wrong.

AliceWalkerHaroldBloomReviewers generally applauded Alice Walker’s 1989 novel, The Temple of My Familiar, for its development of ideas and themes introduced in her earlier fiction and essays—its castigation of white and male oppression, its valorization of African American and female identity, and its emphasis on the importance of community and female friendship. At the same time, however, they were perplexed by the novel’s conglomeration of narrative techniques and styles. Joyce Maynard, for example, labeled The Temple “a radical feminist Harlequin romance written under the influence of hallucinogenic mushrooms . . . There’s a little black history here, a little crystal healing there, with a hot tub and some acupressure thrown in for good measure.” (Read more . . . )

So that was it for me. The “narrative techniques and styles.” Sounds like a good place to point the finger.

And now I must move on to the next book. But one of these days, I’ll pick up another novel by Walker. Just not any time soon. Even if Celie, Sophia, and Shug promise to make an appearance again.

Happy reading y’all.

Ghana Must Go: Taiye Selasi

A former Canadian colleague of mine mentioned that she didn’t like American literature. She said she hated the Civil War. I didn’t say anything, but I thought to myself, is that all American writers pen? Moving beyond Gone With the Wind, twice this week I’ve had to mention that I don’t read much African literature and while I don’t have reasoning as foolish as above, it is something I’m not proud to state.

Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go continues to generate a bit of a buzz around the web. I read a summary before the book’s publication and even skimmed a few reviews here and there. If you haven’t heard of it by now, here’s the excerpt:

He didn’t want a garden. He couldn’t have been clearer. Nothing lush, soft, or verdant; all the lines clean, etc. (In fact, he didn’t want the things that he associates with gardens, like Fola or the English, on his property, in his sight.) He wanted pebbles, as in the driveway, a wall-to-wall carpet of white pebbles covering the plot like fresh snow around a rectangular pool. With the sun glinting brilliantly off the white and the water, the blazing heat kept at bay by a concrete overhang. This is what he’d sketched in the Beth Israel cafeteria, sipping cheap, lukewarm coffee, stinking of disinfectant and death. A chlorine-blue box on a beach of bleached white. Sterile, square, elemental. An orderly view.

And the life that came with it: getting out of bed every morning, coming to sit in his little sunroom with the paper and a croissant, sipping fresh, expensive coffee served by a butler named Kofi to whom he’d speak in a British accent (somewhat inexplicably),

“That will be all.” All his children sleeping comfortably in the bedroom wing (now the guest bedroom wing), his cook cooking breakfast in the dining wing. And Fola. By far the best part of the view: in her one-piece white bathing suit swimming the last of her morning laps, Afro bejeweled with droplets, rising dripping from the water like Aphrodite from waves (somewhat improbably; she hated getting her hair wet), and waving. (Read more . . .)

The author video clip alone has me interested enough to find a copy. More to say about this title in the near future, hopefully. In the meantime . . .

Happy reading, y’all.

Fall Apart: Achebe Dies at 82

If I had to name a list of books by African authors that I’ve read, I probably wouldn’t make it beyond one hand. This statement alone might make it obvious that I haven’t read anything by Nigerian novelist, Chinua Achebe. Upon his recent passing, The Guardian had this to say:

Chinua Achebe 1960

Chinua Achebe, who has died aged 82, was Africa’s best-known novelist and the founding father of African fiction. The publication of his first novel, Things Fall Apart, in 1958 not only contested European narratives about Africans but also challenged traditional assumptions about the form and function of the novel. His creation of a hybrid that combined oral and literary modes, and his refashioning of the English language to convey Igbo voices and concepts, established a model and an inspiration for other novelists throughout the African continent.

The five novels and the short stories he published between 1958 and 1987 provide a chronicle of Nigeria’s troubled history since the beginning of British colonial rule. They also create a host of vivid characters who seek in varying ways to take control of their history. As founding editor of the influential Heinemann African writers series, he oversaw the publication of more than 100 texts that made good writing by Africans available worldwide in affordable editions. (Read more . . .)

I can recall visiting my mother for the holidays sometime ago, and she happened to have the audiobook for Things Fall Apart going in her car. She shared a few interesting details about the book and more recently another friend mentioned that it was one of her favorites. Here’s a quick excerpt from the opening chapter–I’m sure most of my readers have already read it (I’m the late one):

Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond. His fame rested on solid personal achievements. As a young man of eighteen he had brought honor to his village by throwing Amalinze the Cat. Amalinze was the great wrestler who for seven years was unbeaten, from Umuofia to Mbaino. He was called the Cat because his back would never touch the earth. It was this man that Okonkwo threw in a fight which the old men agreed was one of the fiercest since the founder of their town engaged a spirit of the wild for seven days and seven nights.The drums beat and the flutes sang and the spectators held their breath. Amalinze was a wily craftsman, but Okonkwo was as slippery as a fish in water. Every nerve and every muscle stood out on their arms, on their backs and their thighs, and one almost heard them stretching to breaking point. In the end, Okonkwo threw the Cat. (Read more . . .)

Achebe, born November 16, 1930, died March 21, 2013. He held numerous honorary doctorates and awards. His legacy cannot be captured in a couple of quick blurbs. Maybe it’s time that I move this author a little higher up on my list.

Happy reading, y’all!

Wednesday Wisdom: Jhumpa Lahiri

jhumpilahiri

“You are still young. Free,” he said, spreading his hands apart for emphasis. “Do yourself a favor. Before it’s too late, without thinking too much about it first, pack a pillow and a blanket and see as much of the world as you can. You will not regret it. One day it will be too late.

- The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri