January 22nd, 2018

book talk // the tiger’s daughter.

I love fantasy novels. However, I am rather particular in my taste. I don’t enjoy the monotony of endless battles or aggressive male tones. I seek, much like I do with my literary fiction, a story that creates a mood, builds an interesting world, and explores characterization. I found that in The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera.

The Tiger’s Daughter is “the story of an infamous Qorin warrior, Barsalayaa Shefali, a spoiled divine warrior empress, O-Shizuka [she's Hokkaran], and a power that can reach through time and space to save a land from a truly insidious evil.”

Before I read the book I made the mistake of noting a few negative reviews on Goodreads. However, I have read several books in the past two years that I adored and Goodreads readers universally disliked or condemned. Still, I went into it with a slight apprehension and was pleasantly surprised.

The Tiger’s Daughter is, what I would call, a tome (~525 pages) told through letters. I’ve always been a fan of the epistolary novel, so I found this revelation to be a delightful one. I also think letters are a solid way to develop background without forcing the reader to entirely relive every little moment, only the important memories.

There is action, however, it’s mostly a character-driven love story. Shefali and Shizuka battle tigers, demons, and blackbloods, but that is not the focus of their tale. The story is also told primarily through Shefali’s letters, which act as flashbacks to their childhood for an older Shizuka, who is presently reading the letters in her palace bedroom. Basically, two warrior girls from differing backgrounds grow up together, fall in love, and battle demons. The writing is rather melodramatic in places, but I loved that the book handled a f/f romance with tenderness. I was very invested in the characters — solid, silent Shefali and spoiled, bossy Shizuka — and their unlikely relationship (considering how it began). Rivera also included a trans character — whose particular abilities, to me, recalled Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness. The inclusivity of this novel is definitely something to love, but the characters and world are what initially grabbed me.

I’ve seen several Goodreads reviews criticizing the racism and slurs used in the book. There’s an insinuation that Hokkaro is based on Japanese culture, while Qorin represents Mongolian and Xian represents Chinese — this is fairly obvious when you read the book — but I think it’s also obvious that the slurs are fictional, based in a fantasy world and, no matter what the similarities may be to our reality, it’s clearly fantasy. Rivera’s use of the slang “ricetongue,” for instance, is employed infrequently to establish a realistic fantasy world where racism and cultural bias exist. She is showing the reality of one culture attempting to subjugate another and the negative interactions that would, naturally, come along with that. As a D&D player, these conversations often occur regarding stereotypes against other races (for instance, elves are often distrustful of non-elves) so, I viewed it as realistic world-building.

My critique (aside from the melodrama) is that when the reader flashes to present Shizuka, the author occasionally flips verb tenses (past vs. present) and it got a little confusing for me in parts. That said, I believe this is Rivera’s first novel, so I am excited to see how her style improves or changes with the next book (The Pheonix Empress – coming out in August). I have a lot of questions that I hope the second book answers! Also, the cover art is incredibly beautiful — how could you pass this one up?

Rating: 4/5
Recommended For: fantasy lovers, people looking for a slow-burn LGBTQ romance

January 15th, 2018

book talk // the vegetarian.

The Vegetarian by Hang Kang is an unconventional novel. It begins with a simple enough premise, Yeong-hye decides to stop eating meat after having a particularly gruesome dream. The novel is told in three parts, first from the perspective of Yeong-hye’s husband, then her brother-in-law, and finally her sister. Her husband describes Yeong-hye as “ordinary,” “normal,” he notes that there is truly nothing he considers special about her. However, when she decides to become a vegetarian, he is disgusted, considering it an affront to their very normal existence. He simply can’t comprehend her behavior and responds first with angry questions, then by sexually assaulting her after her vegetarianism embarrasses him at a company dinner.

Yeong-hye’s husband, as well as the rest of her family, cannot abide this decision and their disagreement on the issue culminates in a violent crescendo that mirrors the subtle psychological terror present in Korean horror movies. Eventually, she has a psychotic break that leads to a sort of anorexic catatonia and, eventually, an extended stay in a mental institution. Yeong-hye no long wants to eat a plant-based diet, but instead live a plant-based life, subsisting solely on sunshine and rainwater. To her, this seems both pure and plausible. To everyone else, it seems utterly unhinged.

Yeong-hye is not a character you really want to believe in or support, and I’m not sure she could even be described as likeable (probably none of the characters in this book could be), but her cause is striking and compelling, if insane. It’s also interesting to me because, at the time of the original Korean publication, marital rape was not yet illegal and Yeong-hye quietly accepts this treatment, walling it up in a place deep inside her. She also lives within a culture where she must be subservient to men (her father, husband, brother even), so this novel makes allegorical sense in that she is trying to assert herself, and perhaps even protect herself, through the only thing she can actually control — food. Additionally, the presumed protagonist, Yeong-hye herself, never gets a chance to vocalize her own experience; the novel is told entirely from outsider points of view, again, indirectly showcasing her inability to control her own life.

This novel has been described by many as Kafka-esque, and I would agree that the tendency toward surrealist themes is definitely there and there is no filler in her writing, no fluff, each word has its intended place. However, the tone is more poetic, the images perhaps more graphic , and I believe this sets Kang in a category all her own. Don’t go into this novel expecting answers — you’ll leave with more questions than you began with — but, instead, savor the fact that Kang has created something sparse, dark, and undeniably moving.

Rating: 5/5
Recommended for: lovers of weird literary fiction, those who want to read more literature-in-translation or specifically Korean literature

January 11th, 2018

dungeons & discourse // no. 2, avian.

This is part of an ongoing series: (no. 1, saltwater)

//

The boat. Why hadn’t they gotten on the damn boat?

Instead, her compatriots decided to dismantle said boat, hide the pieces to protect a potential getaway, and high-tail it over to the lighthouse which sat one mile up the beach. The overarching idea being that someone was operating the thing and it was up to them to discern: friend or foe.

“But we could just leave. The Kraken’s Tooth is only scheduled to dock in Seacrest for another day and I fear they may have already left us,” Osiria had insisted.

To be honest, she was quite done with this island filled with living decay, cursed children, and more secrets than she could hope to discern in a lifetime. She was also incredibly anxious to find Archimedes, whom she had sent back to the mainland with a message the day prior. The shore was only an hour’s flight away, and she knew he wouldn’t have willing stayed gone without some sort of trouble.

Off they went. Two boobytrapped doors and some poison darts later, the foursome was staring down a half-dozen, white-feathered Kenku pirates. After dispatching three of the creatures, a truce was called. The remaining three were bundled off into a closet with the bearded dwarf, Roondar, guarding the door.

The inside of the lighthouse had been transformed into a ghastly nest. Feathers, droppings, and what they kept referring to as “shinies,” covered the floor. The bunks, originally intended for humans, were now outfitted for their half-bird inhabitants, the bed sheets whirled into a rather impressive cocoon of leaves and dried seagrass.

“Love what you’ve done with the place,” Osiria called brightly, dropping her bedroll onto an unblemished spot on the ground.

She largely ignored the other creatures and settled in to read the naturalist tome she had taken from Frogon’s cabin. As she read, she absently braided dried sea grass and adorned it with random beads she found on the floor, “shinies.” Osiria liked to keep her hands busy, especially when she was feeling anxious. Eventually, she tied the braided ornament into her hair and settled into a restful state — that place between sleep and wakefulness the elves inhabited.

When the sun broke over the horizon, Osiria was already awake. She sat, alone, inside one of the smaller nests — it stank, but she didn’t mind — considering her worries about their being abandoned in Seacrest. Not that she particularly minded the town, snow just wasn’t her particular forte. She missed the rugged woods of Evermeet.

A loud snort tore through her meditations.

“The birds, they said there are more coming,” Roondar announced, by way of alarm clock.

Osiria hopped out of the bed and approached her friend.

“Today? Perhaps we can use your spyglass to observe any potential intrusions?”

The dwarf sometimes forgot he possessed the thing and she gently nudged him.

“Two ships,” he acknowledged, peering through the glass. The correct end this time, she noted proudly.

The paladin, Heph, provoked into a rage by this new information, threatened to execute the Kenku prisoners if they didn’t provide more information. Osiria was about to intervene — she’d seen Heph’s temper overflow into hastily considered executions before — when one Kenku, who identified himself as Ki, offered to broker a truce.

“Please,” he clicked his beak in broken Common. “Spare us and I will get you off the island unscathed.”

“Deal!” Osiria shouted. The others agreed as well.

Thus, the party departed: three Kenku tied together by a hempen cord and led into a rowboat by Heph and Roondar, while Osiria and Duma hurried to the lighthouse on foot to prepare for a potential ambush. They were pirates, after all. Artemis circled overhead, until finding a tree to stealthily roost in, and Osiria once again felt a sharp pang in her chest for the missing Archimedes.

Elhenestra, let this go quickly, she silently prayed.

Fortunately, Ki was true to his word and negotiated a hazy truce. The Kenku pirates would bear the displaced group back to Seacrest and then disappear, but only if they were not to be pursued in return. Agreements were made. Hands and talons shook upon it. And they were off.

Osiria, Roondar, Ki, and the pirate leader Ko, plus two additional birds Osiria didn’t know, took off in one ship. Heph, Duma, and the rest of the brigandes were placed in another.

The mid-morning sun bathed the deck in a blue-gold glow and the boat began to rock rhythmically with the waves as they departed. Roondar, still enamored of floating in the water, peered over the side. Osiria sat down and allowed Artemis to go aloft. Her blood hawk had startled the Kenku initially. Osiria was worried they might see her as some sort of bird-controlling menace, but they actually appeared rather astonished by her companionship with the creature.

The Kenku clamored all over the deck, speaking in a series of beak clicks she could not follow. Instead, Osiria hummed a few notes that were caught in her mind and toyed with the sea grass braid again. However, this time, she noticed Ki watching her — well, not her.

“Shinies,” he clicked.

“Oh, yes.”

She looked into his hungry eyes, black and beady — not menacing, but not exactly a comfort either. She unfastened the braid from her hair and held it out to him. He snatched it hungrily and turned his back to her to better admire his new prize. Then, as if by afterthought, Ki turned his head and quickly bobbed an almost imperceptible bow. Osiria nodded back.

Then, she turned her eyes toward the shoreline. Almost there.

January 6th, 2018

book talk // the heart’s invisible furies.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne was recommended to me multiple times and also recently won the Book of the Month “Lolly” award for 2017, so I figured winter break would be a good time to dive into this 580 page tome. However, I have very mixed feelings about this book. While I recognize that John Boyne is addressing important social issues, I felt that many of the characters were simply mouthpieces for the author’s intended viewpoint and the plot devices were so contrived as to border on comical.

The story begins in rural Ireland where Catherine Goggin, an unwed and pregnant teen, is castigated by the parish priest in front of her entire congregation as a “whore.” She is subsequently kicked out of the town she grew up in and disowned by her family. The narrative begins here, in the 1940′s, and spans about sixty-five years, told in seven year intervals. Boyne is clearly making a statement about the course of LGBTQ social issues over this span of time. Initially, the story is told from Catherine’s perspective, but then switches to Cyril’s (her son’s) and tells the rest of the story from his POV.

While the writing is good, albeit not particularly challenging, it’s a lot of tell and no show. The reader is supposed to accept Cyril’s character evolution, but with the several year gaps, we don’t actually see it. Very dramatic and arguably unbelievable events (the pillar collapsing comes to mind) take place in each section bringing about tidy resolutions to each of Cyril’s problems. Then, the reader is pushed forward in the timeline — there is no point for the reader to linger and experience Cyril’s emotional turbulence and, thus, no opportunity to observe his growth.

Due to the aforementioned lack of development, I just never felt like I truly knew Cyril Avery. While I understand and appreciate that he experienced hardships as a gay man in Ireland when being homosexual was still illegal, I just didn’t like what I learned of him. He was selfish, arrogant, and more than a little reckless. Also, his treatment of Alice and then his insistence that she both forgive him and allow him back into her life (while he makes jokes all along the way), while also not being self-aware enough to realize he was just as bad as the man who jilted her before (possibly worse) made me angry on her behalf. While I can appreciate the sentiment of “let bygones be bygones” — his obtuseness regarding the quality of his own character when has has supposedly changed / evolved so much bothered me.

The lens through which Boyne allows the reader to view LGBTQ culture in different countries and decades is what made this book interesting for me. There is a little bit of dark humor, a lot of sex (much of it unpleasant), and some good dialogue. But it just didn’t do much for me. I thought it was terribly overwrought and lengthy. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara deals with these same issues, also spanning the decades of one man’s life, with a good deal more emotional connection and subtlety.

Rating: 3/5
Recommended For: fans of historical fiction, anyone who wants to read more about LGBTQ social issues or if you’re interested in reading more from John Boyne (he also wrote The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, fyi)

January 1st, 2018

bookstore // dark carnival.

One of the greatest benefits to living in the Bay Area has been discovering all the hidden bookstore gems. There’s nothing more fun than a quick adventure to a new-to-me bookstore, followed by tea at a cafe. Most recently, I spent an afternoon checking out Dark Carnival in Berkeley, a store focused primarily on fantasy, science-fiction and thriller/mystery and named after Ray Bradbury’s short story collection of the same name.

Dark Carnival has the feel of an ancient bookstore hermetically sealed in time; a portal to the past. But, fear not, the stock ranges from current releases to highly obscure British imports and out-of-print or signed editions. They also have some very interesting nonfiction sections, including headers such as: Arthuriana, Celtic lore and faeries.

The bookstore itself is small and dark with a distinct smell of old pages — don’t go in expecting a well-lit, Barnes and Noble-esque experience. There is not an entirely discernable method to the organizational madness, it’s what I would describe as “almost alphabetical.” It’s definitely cluttered, but in a charming way, and I look at that more as an opportunity to lose myself in another world for a little while.

As you descend deeper into the first floor depths of the store, you find piles of books, truly stacked to the ceiling, for your rummaging pleasure. The caddy-corner nooks and unexpected vestibules are lit with lamps of varying wattages. Ascending the stairs brings you to yet another floor of genre selections and kitschy toys. Plastic ravens peek out at you from the shelves as you browse. It was here that I discovered a couple of titles I had been hunting for a while and my partner found a 90′s collectible toy of The Confessor.

Overall, this is definitely a local store I will continue to support. Personally, I like the vibe more than the similarly stocked Borderlands in San Francisco, though I acknowledge it may be easier to find a specific title there. The Dark Carnival staff was quiet, but helpful if you had questions. Additionally, if you are using credit, you will have to pay next door at Escapist Comics — but, that just gives you an excuse to pick up a graphic novel too, right?

December 29th, 2017

book talk // outline.

I spoke too soon in composing my five favorite books of 2017 post — I even considered not admitting I finished this particular book in 2017, but it seemed a shame not to acknowledge what was, truly, a year-end gem.

Outline is, in a word, a gift. It’s art; beautifully constructed, not a sentence wasted or word misplaced. The blurb describes Outline as, “a novel in ten conversations” — and that’s precisely what it is. But, it’s also quite a lot more.

A British author travels to Athens to teach a course on writing and, beginning with her seat neighbor on the plane, proceeds to have a series of encounters that she meticulously records. The conversations are intimate, introspective and mostly deal with failed relationships, failed attempts at parenthood, and an absence of romantic love. The tone throughout could be described as nihilistic, as the author herself is going through a divorce and traveling without her own children, she also mentions seeking a separation from traditional relationships. Perhaps the conversations themselves also seem too raw, too personal, but, oftentimes, with a few pointed queries, people (strangers, even) will reveal quite a lot about themselves without much prompting. I was reminded of Humans of New York and how a particular person can have a talent in allowing strangers to open up. And the author, in turn, mines those stories for important lessons.

This elliptical non-story deals with concepts regarding how we view ourselves, also how others view us, and how those two ideas may conflict. She notes that people present one aspect of themselves and allow an entire identity to be based on a single attribute, only to later reveal their true nature and, in turn, distort the carefully curated false reality. The enormous social currency that goes into creating an alluring outward appearance made me think multiple times about social media, although it’s never once mentioned in the novel.

The novel meanders. It’s ponderous in a way I think only British authors can be. The expansion of one moment. The narrator is vague, distant, and we only learn her name in the final chapter — I believe this is intentional, as she is only meant to be an “outline,” a sieve for the stories of others. It made me think about my own observations and interactions with the world, that I too am an observer and even the simplest moments can teach us a lesson.

Overall Rating: 5/5
Recommended For: those who enjoy small, intimate moments or the most literary of literary fiction

December 27th, 2017

the five best books I read in 2017.

I picked up Hot Milk because I always try to read a bit of the Man Booker longlist. I’d heard very little about it and (rather unexpectedly) fell in love with this book. It had such a dreamlike quality and was cast with a host of mostly unlikeable characters. But the prose was what really drew me in. Beautiful and strange — recommend!

I read Strange Weather in Tokyo, not knowing it was The Briefcase (as published in the US) — I am glad I read this version, I prefer the title and the cover. This book is one of the most poignant and tender I’ve ever read. There is no plot, not much happens, it’s mostly a character study — which I happen to love. Everything in it is utterly insignificant, but layered with such a veneer of significance that the mundane entirely shifts meaning. Essentially, it’s a story about two mismatched people being drawn to one another, despite an age difference and cultural norms. In fact, based on all the Japanese literature I’ve read, Tsukiko is the least traditional female I’ve discovered. I found myself empathizing a lot with her, perhaps too much, actually.

The evocative descriptions of place and food are also enough to make me want to re-read the entire novel again

I picked up this book at random while browsing in a local bookstore — I was immediately drawn in by the beautiful cover and summary blurb. “This sounds like something I will like!” And I was right. I have to say, I’m glad I discovered it on my own because it was devoid of hype and expectation. This is a quiet book that deserves a subtle, solitary discovery. I’ve seen many people refer to this book as a collection of short stories, but I read it more as a stream-of-consciousness narrative, something akin to post-modern Virginia Woolf rather than a collection of separate pieces. It often seemed as if the words were appearing right before my eyes, that I was reading the author’s immediate thoughts as she was thinking them — a collection of musings based in the seemingly banal moments that constitute a day: fruit on the windowsill, green fountain pen ink, a walk in the fog. This book is not for everyone, but the poetic prose and small vignettes were near perfection to me. A balm for the soul.

This book was a sleeper hit for me. When I first picked it up, I was expecting an Elizabeth Taylor-esque tell-all type story — but it was so much more than that. Although, I thought the author got off to a rather shaky start with the split narration, once the narrative was flowing, I could NOT tear myself away. Evelyn Hugo is one of the most interesting characters I’ve read in recent memory. I loved every second of this glamorous, scandalous, addicting page-turner.

Pachinko is a multi-generational novel (spanning 4 generations and 80 years), that tells the story of a family’s harrowing journey from South Korea to Japan and their struggles to survive as anything other than second-class citizens. There is a lot of impeccably rendered history and carefully sculpted moments of intense emotion. The narrative structure itself was a bit choppy in parts and some of the characters simply fall away as the years wear on (also, I could see how the cover might be off putting to some readers) but, at its core, this is an engrossing and breathtaking piece of historical fiction.

December 15th, 2017

dungeons & discourse // no. 1, saltwater.

[I've decided to write a series of short fiction pieces about my D&D 5e character, Osiria Lunamond and her ongoing adventure. She's a wood elf beastmaster-ranger from the island of Evermeet. Her animal companions are two sibling blood hawks: Artemis & Archimedes. She tends to wear a cloak to conceal her oddly toned white & blue hair. She has a talent for pan-flute, naturalist illustrations, tracking, and distrusting pretty much everyone. So, that's what this is.]

Osiria woke, disoriented, from her meditative rest. She quickly scanned the room, her hand automatically grasping for the curved dagger at her waist. Ah yes, the cabin. Nothing more threatening than Roondar’s throaty snores. As she rose, her limbs stiff with cold, discarded snippets of the night prior returned to her, winding their way into the waking ephemera of her mind.

Fire, she recalled mostly fire — it lapped hungrily at the corners of her memory. And yet, she shivered. The hearth had gone out long ago and the entire cabin suffered from a penetrating chill.

“Poor souls, may Ehlenestra bless them,” she murmured, whilst coaxing the soot-covered embers back to life. Had it really only been a few hours since the paladin had discovered the druid’s burned and broken body concealed in this very hearth? The pained cries of his now abandoned owl companion would haunt her sleep for many moons yet, she knew. Its yellow eyes were blinked out into the void, staring, she could hear its low-throated hoots from the tree outside.

The druid [Frogon] whose research had led him to a lost text of the Seven Armies that, in turn, summoned Rozzad himself — well, some form of the long dead commander. Frogon had paid the ultimate price for his curiosity. Osiria acknowledged that party had been luckier, but only slightly. The purifying purge of fire had blotted out the remaining evil and destroyed the remnants of that demonic text. So, at least it wouldn’t happen again. A small comfort.

She assessed her body. There were no obvious injuries, but she was sticky with both sweat and the wight’s decay. It was enough to make any elf cringe. (Wood elves, though creatures of nature, are still quite fastidious about their cleanliness).

The others slept on. The dwarf barbarian, Roondar, had collapsed in a gory heap on the only bed and his snores echoed even into her dreams; the paladin, Heph (short for… something, she didn’t remember) was curled around Rozzad’s armor in a charred circle (sleeping in the decay of her vanquished enemies wasn’t Osiria’s personal style); and Duma, that desert peacock, was sprawled out nearby on a furred rug, shirtless (of course, which increasingly seemed to be his natural state).

She sighed. How she’d ended up in this mess was beyond her. Her penchant for travel had set her on that wayward merchant vessel, headed toward the frigid south, her mediocre talent for pan flute paid her way. Apparently they were quite desperate for both entertainment and anyone willing to make the journey. However, this trip had brought on quite a lot of trouble. Her scowl reformed into a small smile at the recollection of her wayward fishing trip on a dwarven vessel. Who knew dwarves could float? She earned a coral crown, a small pouch of gold, and, she liked to think, a bit of local respect. That monster of a fish had put up a fight and she had honestly enjoyed preening, but only for a moment.

What would Alistair have thought of this place? No, she pushed the thought away.

Osiria cast aside her cloak, letting her mass of snowy hair tumble down her back. A blueish tint threaded itself throughout each strand and it was dredlocked in places, but she no longer tried to rake a comb through it. Instead, she piled it up into a ridiculously large top knot and,  impulsively, added a few of the speckled owl’s discarded feathers to join Artemis and Archimedes own. Her hair, more often than not a treasure trove of naturalist totems.

She walked out into the frigid air and splashed lukewarm water over herself. She heard Artemis’ call from a nearby branch.

“I don’t have any food for you, my dear. We will have to hunt once the sun rises.”

Another soft chwirk.

“You wouldn’t happen to know where your brother is, would you?”

Silence.

“That’s what I thought.”

Thoroughly cleaned, she re-donned her cloak, pulling the hood protectively over her hair and headed back inside. After some rummaging, she found a wheel of hard cheese, rye bread and some dried meats (she immediately tossed some out into the dawn to both birds, knowing the owl’s hunger would overcome his hesitance). She also unearthed a cask of honey wine, something that smelled like… mushroom wine? And several glass-stoppered jars of herbal tea. While the others slept, Osiria relished the silence and filled a cask with the earthier wine, its heady, peaty aroma filling her nose. A little something for later, perhaps.

The tea was brewed, fire re-ignited, bread sliced, and she herself was looking not too worse for wear — despite the previous night’s fiasco — by the time the others joined her.

The dwarf and the paladin, still in his armor, lurched about performing morning ablutions — though not as thoroughly as her, she noted. Duma sprung up to show everyone that he could do bare-chested sit ups, the dwarf almost stepped on him coming out of the sleeping loft.

She inwardly sighed, it was only a few hours time before the boat bearing them to Frost Haven was scheduled to depart and she was anxious to be on the way.

Finally, they departed.

Osiria led the party onward toward the lighthouse they had glimpsed from their cabin’s elevated perch. The forest was dense with strange, white birch trees and plants that couldn’t possibly grow anywhere else, their swollen leaves reaching desperately out of the snow. Wildlife was plentiful, she noticed wolf tracks as well as smaller rabbit and squirrel markings. She recognized some of the strange flora as notes from the druid’s journals and picked a few leaves to examine later.However dense the trees became, with Artemis’ keen sight and her own knowledge, Osiria cut through the forest like a dagger, quick, never faltering, never questioning — allowing her instinct to guide her.

The others tried to keep up, to match her step for step, but they tired after a fashion. To be honest, she wasn’t wholly aware of them — her only awareness was of the biting cold breeze on her face and saltwater stinging her lips. The forest was always a welcome home. and her lungs burned with the renewed vigor.

She let Artemis hunt while she foraged. Together they acquired a pound of edible mushrooms and a squirrel. Duma and the paladin decided to go off on a hunting excursion as well and, while she waited, she crouched ever lower, surveying the landscape. With Roondar’s spy glass, they ascertained a small shack approximately a mile further. How had they not spotted it before? A small dock tapered off into the dark, icy ocean, obscured by flotsam at it’s endpoint.

A boat, a boat, a boat… the ceaseless hope beat in time with her own heart.

December 14th, 2017

Why I buy books.

I read a lot.

People often ask me why I buy my books instead of utilizing the library. There are many reasons, not the least of which is that I once saw a man peeing all over the new fiction section at the downtown branch and was effectively put off of the idea. But, there are other reasons as well.

Today, I read this Book Riot article: I Buy Books Exclusively for These Five Reasons and it struck me how people are always justifying their book purchases: “Well, I only buy used books” “I attend the library sale, but I never spend more than $5 total” “I read free / sale books on my Kindle.”

And that’s all well and good. But what about the pure, gluttonous pleasure that comes from buying a brand new book. Holding it in your hands and knowing yours are the first, perhaps the only hands, this beautiful tome will ever know. You caress it lovingly, smell the newly minted pages, trace your fingers along the deckled edges, admire the cover art, and sigh contentedly. At home, perhaps you open it immediately and begin pouring over each word. Or, perhaps you put it on your shelves, a veritable library in their own right, and allow it to wait its turn, looking over every once in a while to whisper soothingly, “soon,” both of you placated for a time.

I buy used books, I buy new books, I buy comics. I used to have a Kindle, but it felt like more digital clutter to me, I couldn’t see and sort my books in a way that pleased me, plus I enjoy the tangible connection with anachronistic media. The turning of pages, the flipping of a record.

So, what are my five reasons for purchasing books…

1. I like supporting independent stores.

Since moving to the Bay Area, I have become quite passionate about supporting independent bookstores. If I want a new book, I almost always head to Green Apple Books in the Richmond district or Moe’s Books in Berkeley. If I want used books, it’s Half Price Books (not independent, but still a great community resource), a few random East Bay spots, or Green Apple, again.

2. I buy books for their covers.

Eschewing the idiom, I actually love cover art. To create a cover that is aesthetically pleasing and representative of a story is something that I admire greatly. If I see a beautiful cover, I will almost always pick the book up and will occasionally purchase it, even if I know next to nothing about it. Once a year, I do a BookDepository order and buy British releases — sometimes of books I already own — just for the superior cover art.

3. I am a collector.

Nothing gives me more pleasure than surveying my bookshelves — my kingdom, my legacy. Over the summer, my partner and I took the time to separate and color-coordinate our shelves into a rainbow of literature. Then, we had to buy another shelf for our back room to accommodate my ever growing obsession and teetering TBR pile (I, in turn, created the reading nook featured above). I have no regrets. I also enjoy collecting multiple editions of the same book, Pride and Prejudice or The Great Gatsby come to mind as novels I own duplicates of.

4. I buy “hard to find” translations / foreign literature.

You never know when something “unpopular” might go out of print or suddenly become hard to find. So, I tend to pick up books that are released from foreign publishers, especially when they are in short stock, or anything by my favorite smaller presses.

5. I like to read what’s coming out now.

Yes, I could wait. I could wait for the book to come available at the used bookstore, I could put myself on the library waiting list after 20-30 others. But I am a woman not known for her patience when it comes to things I want. I like to be on the cutting edge of new fiction — in part because I teach literature and in part because I like to know what’s happening at this very moment in the creative world of writing — so, I pre-order new releases and join book subscription services in order to keep myself swimming in a deep pool of new fiction.

So, yes. I buy books. Sometimes at full price. Sometimes for beautiful covers without knowing anything about the books. Sometimes for deckled pages and lovely typefaces. Sometimes sight unseen because I love / respect the author or publisher. Sometimes simply because it’s new and shiny. #sorrynotsorry

September 21st, 2016

book talk // the underground railroad.

“All men are created equal, unless we decide you are not a man.”

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead fits squarely into a categorization I would refer to as “novels of pain” — a subheading I would also attribute to books such as A Little Life and Beloved.

I will begin by acknowledging that this is the first novel I’ve read by Whitehead and, therefore, I can offer no significant comparison to his larger body of work.

The story opens with Cora, a slave on the Randall plantation, and her dramatic tale of escape. She meets Caesar, another slave who grew up under different circumstances in Virginia, and he is the impetus for her decision. Whitehead successfully crafts a story that is both plot and character-driven, delving into Cora’s generational past and examining her multi-tiered motivation for escape. The dangers they encounter along the way kept the plot fluid and mobile.

There are multiple POVs and that, at first, was offputting to me. I wanted to stick with Cora’s story. When the narrative made a jerky and sudden transition to Ridgeway’s POV, I put the book down for a couple of days. When I picked it back up, and discerned the true purpose of Whitehead’s introduction of the character, I was utterly engrossed. His quick transitions took a bit of getting used to as I continued, but they didn’t take me away from the overall story.

Whitehead offers some interesting divergences from a more traditional slave narrative in that he includes the POV of both a slave catcher and a grave robber. Additionally, he intersperses a bit of magical realism by realizing the Underground Railroad as an actual railroad, complete with unique trains, the decor in each station ranging from elaborate to pitiful, and including at every stop a host of interesting characters acting as station agents along the way. (Here, I can see why people were so quick to liken it to Gulliver’s Travels.)

I cried, predictably and unexpectedly, over moments so brief they didn’t even last a paragraph. That is how the writing struck me — lashing out when I had just calmed myself. It utterly destroyed me when one of the older escaped slaves is trying to learn to read in the South Carolina schoolhouse and Cora and the children get frustrated with him, he begins to cry, then he hastily wipes his eyes. Cora even recounts the moment later when she realizes the extent of her own ignorance in the Valentine schoolhouse.

The turns of phrase in this book are excellent as Whitehead examines, and re-examines, the violent history of slavery America — holding a microscope so closely to our collective consciousness, that you may have to take a moment to look away, to collect yourself, and then continue. But you must continue, because this book is important.

Overall Rating: 4/5
Recommended For: purveyors of pseudo-realistic American history, people who can stomach atrocities, those who know we can’t look away from our past.