What Are You Reading Right Now?

Here’s some guidance for the kind of response I’m looking for, but this time — instead of featuring what I’m reading — I’m featuring some examples from your peers. What I like about these is that they reflect a full immersion in the experience of reading book and they consider the book from a writer’s perspective.

Sophia on Little Bee:

well, i just finished reading little bee, like, yesterday, so i suppose i’ll talk about that.

little bee was gorgeous, like, seriously. her voice was crisp and clear and beautiful. she, as a character, was both sad and funny and sweet. you can’t help but fall in love with her.

likewise with the little boy, charlie. as a four year old who insists on being called batman and who never, ever takes off his batman suit incase the evil ‘puffin’ comes and destroys the world, he is remarkably unannoying. he is cute and sweet and a much needed comic relief in the tension that exists between all of the major characters, like sarah, charlie’s mother, a woman who cut off a finger to save little bee, andrew, who is sarahs husband, and who was too weak to cut off a finger and save little bee’s sister, and lawrence, sarah’s lover, who loves sarah more than anything, but considferes little bee a danger and someone who simply does not belong in england as an illegal immigrant.

honestly, though, the story line wasn’t too great, and when i finished, it left me wanting so much more. it just wasn’t enough.

but still. the characters are enough to keep the entire boat afloat, simply because they are so well written, so well done and developed and they are so realistic.

but one of the reasons i was so intrigued by it in the first place was because i am always interested in immigration, and how immigrants are treated. and this book added a lot of insight on that, about how long it takes, and how horrible the conditions there are.

and another reason is because i am always curious in stories, and this one seemed to have a particularly nice one to tell. and it did. little bees background story, especially, was both heartbreaking and uplifting.

all in all, it is really just a book you have to read, if you like it in the end or not. it is one of those great books that are rarely produced, and in the very least, it will teach you something about voice and character.

Amanda on Let Us Now Praise Famous Men:

I’m reading Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, written by James Agee and photographed by Walker Evans. I decided to read it because when we read the first page in nonfiction, something about it threw open a door and let light in. This book (so far) has really changed the way I think of myself as a writer and how I can manipulate the time and space that I’ve given myself to evoke things from others. This was, of course, Agee’s aim, by writing about three sharecropping families in rural Alabama in 1936 — a gentle kind of exposé, passivity culminated into serialized articles for a magazine which expanded as the artists grew closer to the families and eventually turned into a book.

I identify a lot with Agee and Evans in both their temperament (see the preface written by Evans) and their work, the diligence and the practice and their aspirations for themselves and what they do. I haven’t read very much due to the fact that I’m trying to follow the suggestions in one of the most beautiful preface/introductions ever written; Evans mentions that Agee did most of his writing at night, when everyone was asleep and when he could find time to slip away. He goes further to say that Agee’s voice really came alive when he wrote at that time, so it is strictly, logically sensible to read it at night and understand it on different levels. He was right, and I have no regrets.

Carmen on Game of Thrones:

Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin is…..fantasy in a mideval setting. I recently got in the mood to read fantasy after re-watching Neverending Story. I got to thinking– why don’t we write about strange creatures and dreamworld anymore? I think we write fantasy on the down-low, and sometimes it gets a bad rap for not having enough substance or for being “child-like”. Why don’t we really get crazy with weird animals and mythology and just straight up goofy stuff? Just for fun. Are our imaginations dying because we’re too busy being “scholarly” to dream? to be completely ridiculous? we’re killing Fantasia!

Anyways, at first, I thought Game of Thrones was a crazy fantasy book with weird monsters and such because in the very beginning, there’s a scene in which this ghosty-ice-like-samurai-red-eyed thing (real descriptive, I know) opens a can of kick-butt on some young, pompous commander. As I read on past the prologue, however, the story became more about Eddark Starrk (ruler of the North/Winterfell) getting to the bottom of the death of his good friend (who is also the King’s Hand). The story revolves around how deceptive and corrupt people in power are and so on and so forth.

Mainly, the tensions in the story comes from the medieval standards — how young girls are supposed to sew and be flowery and so darn polite and get married young and such, how wives are supposed to turn the other cheek when their husbands have sons on the side, how boys are supposed to mature quickly, ride horses, kill people, drink wine and spirits, go to brothels, etc etc. How the characters react to these standards is simply compelling and as more pressure is placed on them, the more they want to step out of line, and everything seems on the verge of collapse.

Okay. So.

By Thursday post your response to what you’re reading in the comments section below.

  • Again: it has to be a book this time — a book you’re finished (or almost finished) reading.

Rest assured, I’ll do it too.

  • My book: Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient.
  • I’ve read it before but there are reasons I need to read it again.

16 thoughts on “What Are You Reading Right Now?

  1. sophia September 28, 2011 / 7:26 pm

    well. i just finished reading The Book of Proper Names. it was excellent. as a novella, it was extremely well done, well written, entrancing, and beautiful.

    plectrude is named after an obscure saint, named by her mother so she would have an exceptional name. however, she is not raised by her mother, because she is in jail for killing her husband while plectrude was in her womb. so, born in jail, and then sent to her adoring aunt, aunts husband, and two cousins. she grows up believing everything is beautiful, that the world was gorgeous, that everything would always be alright in the end. however, at the age six, she learns that a person is not put on earth for pleasure.

    plectrude is a beautiful dancer, and she is accepted in the the ecole des rats (a prestigious dancing school) in 9th grade. she soon falls into the grip of anorexia and her life is changed forever.

    this book was entirely devastating, while at the same time comic and sweet. however, the ending disappointed me. it made no sense and it seemed to fall apart at the edges.

    but it was still extremely satisfying. i learned a lot about lyrical writing from it. it was beautiful.

  2. Liam September 29, 2011 / 7:19 pm

    I’m almost finished reading Medium Raw. One of the best autobiographies I’ve read in a long time.

    This is an incredibly engaging book and I couldn’t get myself away from it once I started. Bourdain takes the world of cooking and turns it upside down on its head.

    I feel myself writing in a more sarcastic, humorous tone lately. I owe this to Bourdain’s writing style. He is witty, funny, and sometimes controversial.

    I have always been entirely too addicted to Food Network and Anythony has kind of ruined that faerie tale for me in a lot of ways. The real world of cooking is a lot grungier, more exasperating and just plain unfair.

    This book has inspired me to start my own autobiography. Probably one that will never be published but is almost like a journal in that I plan to keep expanding on it. So all in all, I would definetly say that this book has been a very good influence on my writing life and life in general. (Although Paula Deen’s happy face seems just a little more fake now).

  3. jessica September 29, 2011 / 7:27 pm

    okay, i just finished The Bell Jar, and it was fantastic. i loved it. as i said before, the descriptions are just wonderful,the voice is amazing, and the story is definitely intriguing. it was great. you should all go and read it.

    but now, i’m reading Hector and the Search for Happiness, which is, if nothing else, adorable. again, Lita bought me this one for my birthday, so it’s been on my shelf for a while and i figured it’d be fun to read. thus far (which is only about 35 pages…) i like it a lot. it was originally in french, so the language is… not broken but… a little choppy. basically, it sounds translated, which, like i said, it is.

    but anyways, it’s basically about a psychiatrist named Hector, who goes an a world-wide adventure to find out what makes people happy. he begins a list, which i like. because i like lists.

    as a reader, this is making me think a lot more about what makes ME happy, and why. and it makes me wonder if i could make a list like Hector is, or if these things are subconscious.

    so, i’m pretty excited about this. i like it a lot. it’s in third person, which is different from the past several books i read, so it’s a nice little change. and it’s pretty short, and easy to read.
    so yeah.

  4. adriane September 29, 2011 / 7:36 pm

    Yesterday I started The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Charlie is writing letters about his life to a random person because he feels kind of alone and just wants to know that someone out there cares. I love Charlie’s voice- how he writes exactly what he thinks and his honesty. I also love how he writes things down as he thinks them. As he says his grades have improved in English class, his thought process does, too, and it shows in the letters over time. The use of the word “incidently” in every letter is a bit annoying, but the letters as a whole are charming, so it makes up for it. What makes Charlie’s letters so beautiful is that he writes about things that any teenager can relate to in some way or another at some point in their adolescent years, and you kind of get attached to his character. I find it interesting that he signs every letter with “Love always,” when he doesn’t even know the person he’s sending them to. Charlie’s life isn’t exactly easy, but he never complains about anything. He just tells things like they are, in his unique, flowy way, and it turns out beautifully. It reminds me a lot of a book I read over the summer- The New Rules of High School- because the plot and the characters are pretty much the same, but the way Charlie presents his story is more fascinating.

  5. Julianna S. September 29, 2011 / 9:04 pm

    Ok, i think this is where 9th period posts about what we are reading…

    So, I just finished the book I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak. He’s an Austrailian author and writes books for young adults. Several of his books have won the Printz award which is like the Newberry for young adults. I Am the Messenger won and another one of his, The Book Thief, won.

    But anyway, I Am the Messenger is about this Austrailian teenager (he’s nineteen, and he’s hopeless). He doesn’t have a very good life. He’s in love with his best friend, Audrey, he’s a cabdriver, his mother hates him. But one day, he stops a bank robbery and gets lots of press from it. A few days later, he gets an envelope in the mail with the Ace of Diamonds from a playing card deck inside. Written on the card are three addresses and he soon realizes he has to help one person at each house.

    I think it’s a book that focuses on “random acts of kindness” and how sscares those kinds of acts are. Throughout the book, you see Ed, the main character, find his potential and see how he isn’t a loser cabdriver who sucks at playing cards. It sounds like a cheesy, motivational story, but Markus Zusak manages to steer the meaning far from that. And Markus Zusak plays with the form really well. The book is split into four different sections, one for each ace Ed recieves in the mail.

    Also, I just started J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher and the Rye. I haven’t gotten too far into it and I’ll probably talk about it the next What Are You Reading post, but so far, I love it.

  6. Brennan September 30, 2011 / 1:15 am

    About five minutes ago I finished reading a t-shirt business book called “Thread’s Not Dead” – http://threadsnotdead.com.

    Although the book is geared toward the clothing entrepreneur and covers some of the ins-and-outs of the t-shirt business, Jeff Finley (the author) covers some pretty basic principles of social interaction as well. The principle I favored most was that of “under-promising and over-delivering.” I’ve considered that idea on a more broad spectrum in the past (particularly when I tried to convince myself that my way of thinking–which is generally more “negative,” others tell me–is ultimately a way to make myself happy; if I lowered my expectations [with the subconscious intention of having them exceeded], then I would be much happier than if I’d had high expectations to begin with), but I’d never applied it to anything as specific as starting and maintaining a clothing business. It’s very enriching to see that concepts like that are applicable to specific situations, and I’m glad that I’m finally realizing that they ARE applicable.

    I also appreciated the emphasis–both by contributors to the book and Finley–on connecting with people online in a personable way, not as if you’re a heartless corporation. The statements made pertaining to that issue were very aware of the current state of the internet, I felt, as well as how it can just as easily serve as a medium of engagement as it can a medium of disengagement. (Unfortunately, I feel like they were probably preaching to the choir.) On the same note (haha, “…choir,” “note”), Finley’s voice felt very stream-of-conscious, friendly-familiar, which made it very easy to read through. I’ll probably have to re-read it once or twice to get the most out of it (I need to check out some of the links that were spread throughout the book), but for now, I’m pretty satisfied with what I’ve learned.

  7. Antoinette September 30, 2011 / 2:16 am

    I’ve finished my book, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. It’s this awesome graphic novel (literally a novel, 300-something pages). It’s all in black and white, and yeah, it’s really cool. It’s about Marjane Satrapi and her childhood. It follows from her a elementary student to a college grad, and shows her struggles. She lived in Iran during the Islamic Revolution.

    I love this book because Marjane is an amazing person. Her struggles are grand, her losses intense, her victories beautiful. I love her voice, the way she thinks, how human she is. She is honest, even when she is ashamed of what she has done, ashamed of betraying innocent people, but she expresses her remorse, all of her feelings. Marjane’s bravery inspires me, her bravery in actions and in writing. She lead a life extremely different than anything I’ve experienced, but I’m able to connect with her and understand her experiences and actions.

  8. Carmen September 30, 2011 / 2:28 am

    Pablo Neruda’s 100 Love Sonnets

    I’ve always had the idea that love poetry was sappy and ostentatious. I thought that love poetry was the stuff that made people say “Awwwwww,” and to be honest, I dislike “Awwwwww.“ These, however, did not make me “Awwwwww,“ so I was surprised. No, each sonnet was delicately crafted in a way so that each line, and each connection was a media of worship. Worship of women. Worship of love. Worship for all the earth and all the life that is in a woman. He often uses metaphors to connect the image of a woman with the earth and its bounty, and through this, he expresses a kind of respect and gratefulness.

    a line of Poem XII reads:

    “Full woman, carnal apple, hot moon”

    I don’t know about anyone else, but this had a profound effect on me. I don’t know how but the images of an apple and a moon equate to desire, but it does. I think Neruda is giving little hints or suggestions to the reader; and the reader’s mind fills in the rest. Maybe. The reader’s knowledge and experiences (not that I have any) are born with the words and thrust onto the page. It’s an immediate immersion. A reader-writer connection.

    And as much as I love this, I don’t think I could try my hand at this kind of poetry…I don’t think my heart is big enough right now. XD
    But, Neruda still rocks. Just sayin.

  9. tjbeitelman September 30, 2011 / 6:41 pm

    As I wrote in the blog post itself, I’m re-immersing myself in Michael Ondaatje’s THE ENGLISH PATIENT.

    Here’s a tangent: I went to a writer’s conference one time. My workshop leader was a writer named Robert Boswell. He was, by the way, a great teacher. He’s a great fiction writer too.

    At any rate, during my one-on-one conference with him, he said something interesting. He was talking about how, when he and all his highly accomplished writer friends get together, the talk invariably turns to writing and what they’ve all been reading lately.

    What do you think they talk about specifically? Plot? Character? Back story? Book deals?

    Nope.

    “We mostly just talk about sentences,” he told me.

    And not in the Grammar Police sort of way.

    More in the way of painters examining a fellow painter’s brushstrokes.

    More in the way of how a sentence (or a brushstroke) can be a sacred thing.

    Also: how the way a fiction writer makes sentences really is THE essential root of how a reader experiences the story.

    So that’s where Ondaatje (in general) and this book (in particular) come into play for me.

    Set in and around WWII, it’s the story of a mysterious man who was burned when the plane he was piloting crashed in the desert of north Africa. It’s also about the nurse who is caring for him, alone, in an Italian villa that has been fashioned into a makeshift hospital. The novel is chiefly (though not exclusively) concerned with unraveling the mystery of who exactly this burned man — The English Patient — is. It’s a love story, mostly. Or actually: it’s a set of love stories orbiting and crashing into one another.

    And all of that is wonderful. Really top notch.

    But it’s the sentences…

    Sentences like these made me want to write a novel (so that I too could make sentences even half as affecting as these have been for me):

    – “Every four days she washes his black body, beginning at the destroyed feet. She wets a washcloth and holding it above his ankles squeezes the water onto him, looking up as he murmurs, seeing his smile. Above the shins the burns are worst. Beyond purple. Bone.”

    – “He turns his dark face with its grey eyes towards her. She puts her hand into her pocket. She unskins the plum with her teeth, withdraws the stone and passes the flesh of the fruit into his mouth.”

    – “She was a woman who translated her face when she put on makeup. Entering a party, climbing into a bed, she had painted on blood lipstick, a smear of vermilion over each eye.”

    – “He looked up to the one cave painting and stole the colours from it. The ochre went into her face, he daubed blue around her eyes. He walked across the cave, his hands thick with red, and combed his fingers through her hair….There were traditions he had discovered in Herodotus in which old warriors celebrated their loved ones by locating and holding them in whatever world made them eternal — a colorful fluid, a song, a rock drawing.”

    Etc.

    I did write a novel. I like the novel I wrote a lot. One of the reasons I like it so much is because I know it doesn’t belong to me.

    Reading this novel again, I’ve had the humbling and exhilarating experience of remembering my influences — and, most exhilarating of all, realizing that this book in particular influenced me so deeply, it dove straight into my subconscious mind.

    Words, images, tones, rhythms. A belief in the power of white space.

    (I even got the predilection for commonplaces from this book; the “he” above uses a dog-eared copy of Herodotus’s Histories as his own commonplace.)

    But, most essentially what I got (took?) from this book was this:

    Sentences.

    Sentences like poems. Sentences that make you flay the open book across your chest and close your eyes to let the shimmering residue settle all around you.

    “There were traditions he had discovered in Herodotus in which old warriors celebrated their loved ones by locating and holding them in whatever world made them eternal — a colorful fluid, a song, a rock drawing.”

    Or an imperfect novel, a labor of love, an only half-conscious homage.

    A book can do that. Books make other books. I’m really happy (these days in particular) that this book did that for (to?) me.

  10. Laura September 30, 2011 / 7:08 pm

    Right now, I am reading Night by Elie Wiesel. Growing up, my mom always tried to get me to read books about the holocaust, which I hated, because they always made me extremely depressed. So I haven’t really gone near one since I saw Schindler’s List about four years back. But this was sitting on the shelf filled with lots of books about being jewish, being a jewish woman, or the holocaust.

    I honestly didn’t think I would like it at all. And it is so depressing. So very depressing. But it is told form the perspective of Elie Wiesel as he was at eleven years old. So there really is a strange sense of innocence I wasn’t expecting. And I really do like it. I like it a lot. Because while it is very serious, it’s a fascinating view of how a young boy grows to understand morality amidst a compete annihilation of his fellow man. It’s sad, but fascinating, and aggravating trying to understand why this all happened.

    I think the main thing that I continue to be amazed by (apart form the stunning images, language, and detail) is conciseness of the story. I have always had a really hard time actually being concise in my own writing, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. I see how Wiesel can tell a extremely intense story that feels like it lasts a lifetime, in 108 pages. It makes me want to try to gain the same ability to say things so quickly, yet clearly, that they resonate like a bell echoes, words you won’t easily forget.

    So even though it is depressing, I am going to finish this book. (and then probably go watch a marathon of Friend’s afterwards)

  11. Jasmine W. September 30, 2011 / 7:17 pm

    I’m in the middle of Eat. Pray.Love. This is definitely one of the best non-fiction novels I’ve read concerning travel and yet so much more. It really makes each city and market very real, so much that they are quite vivid in my head. The book is divided into three countries, starting with Italy, then India and finishing with Bali which is in Indonesia. The way she describes these places and her experiences there make the lands seemed personified. After reading about Italy, I felt like I had been there, and if you can do that as a writer, I think you’re successful.

  12. Dakotah September 30, 2011 / 7:39 pm

    Right now I am reading The Metamorphosis and Other Stories– a compilation of short stories by Franz Kafka.
    And….Wednesday? of this week, my friend brought me The Portable Beat Reader. I am so excited about this book. I will probably want to buy it and carry it around with me. I devoured the excerpt from Jack Kerouac’s “The Road.” I think it’s interesting because Cassady, kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg are all in the story except disguised by names- aliases. The book includes poems, short fiction, Jack Kerouac’s letters, song lyrics (Bob Dylan,) and non fiction essays.
    I love how the book includes song lyrics and also how it is broken up- the section of San Francisco Renaissance Poets is called “Constantly Risking Absurdity.” I think that’s why i love to read beat era poetry- the boundary pushing and also the author’s attitudes toward their work. I think a strong writer has faith that someone will see what they see in their work and go with gut, but balance that with helping even befriending the reader so to speak it’s hard not to care if people agree with your vision. It’s hard not to care if people find your work purposeless, un-finished or bizarre.
    The book has already made me want to read all of On the Road and The naked Lunch. Also, for some reason this beat stuff- kerouac and Kafka reminds me of John Steinback.
    To touch on the Kafka book, I have only finished The Metamorphis The Metamorphosis surprised me. It may sound silly, but the idea of Gregor turning into a rodent almost turned me off completely. I love Kafka though, he kept me turning pages. Kafka has no map to writing world. There is only his reality when you are reading his work, and I will follow him wherever his words lead, there are no rules and no stipulations. It’s bold and fascinating to think about. I am going to try to borrow his biography- I think it would fascinating to learn more about his process.

  13. Natalie September 30, 2011 / 8:00 pm

    At the moment I’m actually reading three different books, so I guess I’ll just give a little feedback on each one.
    Okay, so the first book I’m reading is the second in a series recommended to me by both my mother and my sister. It’s “Two For the Dough” by Janet Evanovich. Essentially, the entire series is about this woman named Stephanie Plum who, after getting laid off, becomes a bounty hunter at her cousin Vinnie’s bond agency. As expected, wild adventures ensue. The thing about the entire series is, even though they’re funny, I don’t feel like there are enough “serious” moments. The books never slow down and let Stephanie be introspective and change. Each one, from what I can tell, because they’re are about twenty and I’m only on the second one, is essentially “Here’s a light-hearted adventure with Stephanie Plum! What you loved about the first one, nineteen more times!” And I know I’m sort of knocking it, but the books do have some things I do like, the voice for example. The book is written in first-person, and just the way it follows Stephanie’s thought process is entertaining to me, especially since she tends to be sarcastic and honest. And the plot of each book, the mystery of the felon Stephanie’s tracking down, are usually fair to good, so the series is pretty good for an easy read.
    The second book I’m reading is “Eating the Cheshire Cat” by Helen Ellis. I love this book. I do. It’s set in Alabama, and it’s very believable. Ellis isn’t afraid to focus on the rivalries between Auburn and Alabama, the differences between joining or a sorority or not. Plus, she does this thing with switching the speaker of the story by chapter (which is sort of like what was happening in “How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found” which I talked about last time) but the order is random, so sometimes you get the main character, Sarina, talking, and then it switches to Bitty Jack or Nicole in the next chapter. One cool thing about this though, is that even though Bitty Jack and Nicole’s storylines do relate to Sarina, it’s not directly. Each character follows her own story and you watch them all entwine as the book progresses and they grow up. You also get a clear sense of voice with each girl, Bitty Jack gaining self-confidence, Sarina realizing that even though she can get the “perfect life” she still won’t be satisified, and Nicole’s obsession with Sarina causing her to spiral into near psychosis. Seriously though, I adore this book.
    Okay, the final book I’m reading is “High Lonesome” which is a collection of Joyce Carol Oates’ short stories. I was already a fan of Joyce Carol Oates before I started reading “High Lonesome”, but seeing her work all together like this really lets me see just what I love about her style. The thing she does, I realized, that I adore so much, is her way of putting very straight-forward, very minuscule details to work, using them to convey what’s going on instead of saying it outright. She doesn’t treat the reader like an idiot, and trusts that they’ll be able to figure out what she’s trying to say. A lot of her stories are darker, but the way she writes it, it doesn’t make your skin crawl. It sort of reminds of this prompt Flynn once gave us, to write a very brutal fight scene but present it in a way that we would present to our grandmother, something not graphic outright. That’s what Joyce Carol Oates’ writing style reminds me of the most, that prompt.

  14. Jasmine J October 2, 2011 / 5:55 am

    uraaggh

    I apologize for the lateness….

    But! I am reading a webcomic called VIBE

    http://www.vibecomic.com/

    I kinda forgot that I was reading since it hasn’t updated in a while.

    So the story is about Baron Bones–a witch doctor. His age isn’t specified yet, but I would guess he’s aout 13-16 years old. He is looking for his older sister Bree who vanished years ago and he destroys bad vibes. In the first chapter there is a guy who’s worried sick about his family and he has some bad vibes going on–well because he couldn’t get happy the bad vibes turned into this monster and that’s where Baron comes in. Using different powers he can defeat these bad vibes and ultimately make the person feel better.

    I really like the storyline of the story. It’s like any other hero story (“I have to find someone close to me they’re being kept in some ditch by this evil guy raaaahhh!!…I’ll also save some towns.”) but it’s different at the same time–I think its the vibes. I mean vibes are such a simple subject for a hero story. Like most of the time its just beating someone else up not making them feel better. I just like simplistic security of that.

    The drawing style is ammmaazzinnngggg. It inspired me to try some interesting things with my little drawing talent like focusing more on shapes and the like–I just think this comic is really awesome. Also I don’t know about you but I love watching speedpaints/livestreams of people drawing and his (as in Dan the creator of the comic) livestream videos are probably the hipest of the hip. Dan has inspired me to become…hip.

    http://www.livestream.com/soulkarl/video?clipId=pla_fef219b2-6696-4e36-858f-bbfb8351ff93&utm_source=lslibrary&utm_medium=ui-thumb

  15. Jay B. October 4, 2011 / 8:00 pm

    So last week I finished this book called The Sand Child, by Tahar Ben Jelloun. Jelloun is Morrocan and the book was originally written in French, but I read a translation by Alan Sheridan. Normally I hate reading things in translation because I worry I’m not getting as much out of the writing as I could, but this particular translation was recommended to me by a French major with an interest in North African writing and so I decided trust the translation. I’m glad I did, because the language in the book was really incredible.
    The main story in the book was the story of Ahmed, a biological female raised as a male by his father because the customs in their society dictated that if a man died without an heir all his property and possessions would pass to his brothers on the event of his death. Ahmed has seven older sister and when his mother became pregnant for the eighth time his father decided that regardless of the sex of the new baby he would raise it as his heir. The book follows Ahmed’s journey through an odd childhood and then his life after the death of his father where he struggles to rectify his biology with his upbringing. The thing that I really loved about this book, though, is that the central story is surrounded by another story entirely. This story starts with a storyteller in the main square of a village describing the story he is going to tell, which turns out to be Ahmed’s story. Each day (or chapter) the storyteller comes back and tells a little bit more of the story to the people in the square. Eventually, however, the storyteller stops coming back, and three of the villagers decide to try to figure out the end of the story themselves. At that point the book gets pretty confusing and I got lost a couple of times, but after going back through and reading it again I fell totally in love with all of the different stories that emerge after that point.
    There were some lines in the books (like “already the vertigo of words dries my tongue”) that both blew me away and also described impeccably the struggles of storytelling. This is a book that, were I ever to teach a class about writing, I would assign without a second thought, because it is a really well-done novel which also in a certain way describes the hardships and internal mess that is writing a novel.
    An aside: The Sand Child reminds me of Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex, which if you haven’t read you should. They are similar in both subject matter and storytelling mode.

  16. emma October 5, 2011 / 7:19 pm

    The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. For English class. I like the language and the basic exhibition of the “human condition”, but I’m really awful at keeping up with the reading dates and I’m not excited about the analytic discussions we have in class (while, yes, Hawthorne did love extended metaphors a bit more than your average author, I really don’t think every tangible noun mentioned in passing is a symbol for depression or society’s projection or whathaveyou), so I’m not comfortable vouching for it. I do have a Stockholm Syndromish theory, though, that I’m looking forward to verify.

    Stage Door, by Edna Ferber (from a 20 best plays of this century kind of anthology). The play our theatre department is putting on next month. I helped my theatre friend rehearse a scene and figured I might as well try and read it before it opened. Although somewhat stereotypical 1940s fluff (so far, I mean, I think there’s a suicide later, but I don’t know), it’s interesting to read it knowing who is cast for whose part, imagining them trying to project this or that character.
    Edit: Finished Stage Door and moved on to the other plays that are in the anthology. Am now wondering why I don’t read plays that often. Fantastic stuff.

    I Sailed With Magellan, by Stuart Debyk. Collection of short stories welded into a novel. Bought at 2nd and Charles, cheap; worth the money, but not necessarily recommended. The characters are fun and strong, but nothing is extremely earth-shattering about it.

    Self-Help, by Lorrie Moore. Recommended to me by Mr. Bman. Moore is slowly becoming one of my favorite authors. Her preferred voice, second person (something that’s always interested me), is wonderfully excecuted, something that’s actually harder than it looks. Thanks.

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