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?”


“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.

April 14th, 2016

book talk // lukewarm feels.

I am a committed and monogamous book reader. I pick up one book at a time and devote myself fully to it.

In the past, I have trudged through every book I picked up, determined to reach the conclusion because it simply HAS to be worth the time I put in. Right?

Well, as it turns out, that is not always the case. So, I have started putting them down. Although I remain committed to only one story, my DNF pile is growing. Admittedly, it is comprised mostly of YA that has failed to hold my attention — but still, there exist books compelling enough to propel me toward an ending without producing any profound feelings or considerations on my behalf (beyond, perhaps, boredom or vague annoyance).

Thus, I have compiled a brief list of lukewarm books that I’ve still read to completion, so far this year, complete with (very brief) summaries / ratings of each.

  The Ramblers by Aidan Donnelly Rowley

Summary: Privileged white girls in New York have some serious first world problems, mostly involving relationships. They need things like life coaches and green juice to supplement their shared penthouse and Ivy League educations. Both of them have jobs they happen to love. One of the boys they like is a photographer who is trying to find his way after inventing an app that transposes poetry quotes over Instagram images, the other is a rich, older hotel entrepreneur who’s finally ready to settle down. There’s a fleeting connection to birds. I was not impressed.

Rating: 2/5 — plus one star because the cover is really pretty

  Hunger Makes me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein

Summary: Carrie Brownstein’s (Sleater-Kinney guitarist / Portlandia creator) memoir. This memoir was very much of a place and time that I narrowly missed due to the year of my birth. I liked the writing, but I did not connect to the subject matter (more music history / personal musical journey, less Portlandia).

Rating: 3/5 — I wanted to like it more.

  The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

Summary: Very Star-Trek-esque in that a human arrives on another planet in an attempt to gain the trust of the alien lifeforms and wants them to join a federation of planets. The alien planet is really cold — both the environment and the hospitality. The aliens can choose and change their gender, an obvious social commentary. Le Guin’s writing style did not particularly endear her world to me. Some of the details were confusing and the passage of time moved (arguably) too quickly.

Rating: 3/5 — Because I love exploratory sci-fi and I would probably read something else by her.


April 8th, 2016

book talk // margaret the first.

I’d heard about Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton on Book Riot’s podcast; then, my local bookstore had the (strikingly beautiful!) cover art on prominent display.

And yet, I knew nothing of Margaret Cavendish when I picked up this book. Nor did I have any expectations regarding Dutton’s writing style or really the genre of the book itself.

The novel is a merging of literary and historical fiction that unravels the tale of 17th-century Duchess, Margaret Cavendish. She was a feminist before the word possessed any meaning. She was the first (and only, I believe) woman to be invited to the Royal Society of London. She dressed with ostentation that outshone anyone else of the time — 8 foot trains, topless ballgowns, small patches on her face shaped like moons and stars. She was whimsical and thoughtful and learned, despite never attending a university. She published eccentric novels and plays — works of philosophy, penning the first science fiction / fantasy novel written by a woman and a score of feminist plays. She wrote in a time when women did not have careers.

Dutton provides us with a portrait of Margaret’s rise — from shy child to bold . Of course, Margaret is both insulated and constrained by her rank. She forms connections that would elude any layperson, yet she must abide by the strict customs of her class — lest gossip destroy her. And it almost does, several times.

Dutton also illuminates the Duke and Duchess’ flaws. They are real people who fought and disagreed, but who also never halted in their support of one another — even with Margaret couldn’t get pregnant, even when her husband is exiled during Cromwell’s Puritan regime. Their devotion and kindness to each other seems to transcend their time period — it was an unconventional, much like everything Margaret did.

Dutton’s novel, though short, was an all-engrossing read. The language is vivid and poetic. The pacing, perfection. Her short, staccato paragraphs left me more satisfied than any long-winded description. There is none of the tedium sometimes associated with historical fiction, but a sense of place is still sufficiently maintained throughout.

The beginning of the book provides us with insight into how Margaret views herself — “Queen of the Tree-People.” Then, a shift occurs, she becomes an object of speculation, a celebrity of sorts, and we begin to observe how she is viewed from the outside.

She climbs the wooden staircase, takes her place in the box. And like ripples in a summer pond, lines of faces slowly turn—from the gallery, the pit—she watches the ripple spread. 

The Duchess of Newcastle becomes a tabloid celebrity, when such a thing was still being invented, and it seems to have been invented entirely for her.

The question that gnawed at me from beginning to end was Margaret’s pseudo-obsession with fame. I suppose I never really considered fame as an important construct in 17-century England, but of course it was. So, was she a modern woman, a feminist fighting to champion her sex — or was she simply attempting to garner a reputation that would outlive her?

Margaret the First is intimate and glorious and tantalizing and I want to read and re-read it several times over. I also think I may have to embark on further investigation of Margaret Cavendish.

Overall Rating: 4/5
Recommended For: anyone who has struggled with finding their place in the world, lovers of poetic prose and literary fiction

March 21st, 2016

backpacking // angel island.

I haven’t gotten outside as much as I’d like to since moving back to San Francisco. California offers a host of hiking and backpacking options, but I’ve remained primarily indoors over the last couple of months. Partly, this is due to finances and the weather, but also, I was scared. I hadn’t climbed so much as a steep hill in months. I was afraid to challenge myself and fail at it.

I admit that, when it comes to the outdoors, I am more Henry David Thoreau than Sir Edmund Hilary. I am not competitive or fast, I am an ambler, a wanderer who aims to meander through nature, experience it wholly, then attempt to recapture it in words. I want to write the whole world into a notebook I can re-read and experience every thistle, pine cone, ocean wave and grain of sand over and over again. But, in order to accomplish this, there must first be the challenge.

I signed up for a Trail Mavens trip on Angel Island. I have been on Trail Mavens trips previously (this was actually my fourth), so there was a level of perceived comfort that cushioned the fear of the unknown. I had also never been to Angel Island, but it was on my Bay Area Bucket List, and I knew we’d have to backpack in — so I was excited at the chance to utilize my (highly underutilized, of late) backpacking gear.

We went through the proper packing protocol, distributed group gear, then left on the ferry from Tiburon to Angel Island. Upon arrival, we hiked approximately 2 miles in to the campsite — a fairly developed site that provided us with privacy, potable water and trash cans. We had a fabulous view of the entire East Bay and the Bay Bridge. Sail boats dotted the water, dipping and swerving with determination as they faced the aggressive ocean breezes. They tipped so far over, almost touching the water’s edge, but never sinking. Perhaps, in my next life, I could be a sail boat.

We also almost immediately spotted a hummingbird. I love hummingbirds and see them so rarely in California, in stark contrast to Texas, and even Mexico, where they continually dot the sky — I perceive them as a definite sign of good luck.

During the day, we hiked to the summit of Mt. Livermore (with day packs, no heavy gear) and watched the fog roll in to entirely obscure our vision, but not our ascent. We sat in silence and quiet meditation — together, each listening to the breeze and our own breath.

At night, we cooked a Mexican-themed backpacker bowl (rehydrated beans, rice, avocado, bell pepper and cheese) on two camp stoves. Sidenote: I love Trail Mavens’ commitment to excellent backpacking meals and the prioritization of always bringing booze.

Since Angel Island prohibits campfires and burning, we participated in a vigorous session of jumping jacks before stripping down to one layer and zipping ourselves in for the night. I made it through six pages of White for Witching before my eyes began to close on their own. I always enjoy sleeping outside, with the notable exception of increased urination due to staying properly hydrated.

The second day brought intermittent rain, sideways swiping our faces as we hiked away from camp. But, I really enjoyed exploring the abandoned (see also: potentially haunted) buildings. The juxtaposition of backpack-toting women set against the backdrop of a distant city and the more proximal addition of both wild flora and deserted buildings gave me a very dystopian vibe — shades of Station Eleven.

We rode the ferry and walked back through Tiburon in the same sideswiping rain. Suffice to say, I was very glad to change into warm, dry sweatpants and go to bed early. However, this experience provided me with a bit of a reset, a reminder of where I want my priorities to be, and encouragement to seek out my own adventures.

March 2nd, 2016

book talk // natives.

24886629Inongo vi Makomè’s Natives (translated by Michael Ugarte) is a book I picked up because of the cover, and kept because of the description. I am reading a lot of literature in translation lately, and Natives happens to fit into that niche obsession. It’s also one of the few African novels to be translated from Spanish to English. So interesting! The added beauty of reading books and authors that haven’t been widely translated into English is a wide-eyed sense of discovery. And, while I’m not sure how this novel received as little publicity as it did, I’m glad I got to read it as a blank slate.

Natives is a startling novel that deals with racial stereotypes, the idea of charity, classism, colonialism, immigration and sex. In its most basic form, Natives is a novel about two middle-aged, under-sexed women, who are successful in their careers, but not the bedroom. Montse suggests to her friend, Roser, that they seek out an African immigrant to pleasure them. Although Roser resists, Montse (who is also the more financially and socially successful of the two) is insistent and picks up a homeless man from Mali, living on the streets without papers, named Bambara Keita. The women convince him to become their personal prostitute, exchanging his “services” for money and essentially pimping him out for their own pleasure.

Although the back of the novel describes it as a “satire,” I found it hard to read it as anything other than alarming realism. Satire is often funny because the scenarios are unlikely to ever truly take place – in Natives the story is too viable, too real. Rich women taking a virile African lover because they have money and he doesn’t, because they have power that he doesn’t, because he is already dehumanized and they can prey upon him, because the rich and powerful always have control over those who have nothing.

The very explicit sexual scenes, paired with a smattering of sexual stereotypes, dip into the satirical and then swiftly back out when the descriptive and messy reality of sexual encounters between the three lovers are revealed.

Sex work is not illegal in Barcelona and Montse insists several times to the reluctant Roser that what they are doing is not necessarily illegal, but there is definitely an implication of it being wrong. They treat Bambara Keita as someone beneath them, making him use the servant elevator, forcing him to walk behind them, not speaking to him in public. He takes this treatment as part of the deal, he can afford food and his own apartment now, but it does not justify the women’s actions toward him. The women, in turn, justify their treatment of Bambara Keita as charity.

Montse asserts: “But you know very well we live in a culture where charity is everywhere. We invented it and put it into practice the moment we took over the world.” 

And Bambara Keita, wisely, observes in turn: “‘I come look for life. Africa now not good place for make life. No work for young people, lots of poor.’ … He knew that in the culture of charity that prevailed in the West, the needy had to use those kinds of words to achieve their ends.” 

So, we begin to wonder, who is truly in control of this exchange?

Racism and stereotypes come up throughout the novel, but one of the instances that stood out to me was when the women ask Bambara Keita to get an STD test due to their concerns he may have AIDS. He agrees, but then asks the same of them citing his own worry for his health. Roser is outright offended that he would dare to ask a thing of her.

Makomè comments, “We seldom accept that we might do exactly what we accuse others of doing.”

The women encourage Bambara Keita to get aggressive with them, then they coddle him with motherly affection (bordering on racism) and buy him things. They don’t hurt him or force him to stay, but without them he has no papers, he has no freedom, he has no other options aside from the street or returning home to Mali in shame. He has become enslaved without the manacles.

Since Natives was translated, I was on high alert for any narrative inconsistencies. I did find a few editorial errors (misspellings, repeated words, punctuation missteps), unintentionally, but the tone of the story was very direct, as were the characters — so I found the narration to be mostly correlative. The prose itself has a special kind of beauty (which I attribute to both the author and the translator) and overall is a work I think needs to be more widely read.

Overall Rating: 4/5
Recommended For: I’d have to REALLY know a person before I recommended this book

February 22nd, 2016

book talk // sudden death.

Sometimes you read a book and realize that, perhaps, it’s the greatest novel you’ve ever read – or, perhaps, it’s an indictment of every novel you’ve ever read – or, perhaps, it’s not a novel at all.

“The only real things in a novel are the sequences of letters, words, and sentences that make it up, and the paper on which they’re printed.”

Álvaro Enrigue has penned a magnificent scrapbook of history and, at its core, we are forced to examine the evolution of language, nomenclature and the unstoppable force of history. We must question: what could have been, and then apply the answer to our consideration of what will come. The interconnectivity of seemingly disparate parts create the whole.

Enrigue inserts himself into the narrative to remind us this book is not about tennis, or Caravaggio, or Cortes. He writes in vignettes, in epistles, in screenplay, with biting insight, quite a lot of sex and complementary humor. To a historical purist, this novel may provide more questions than answers. However, it is the overwhelming lack of purity that thrusts this novel into the unknown and pushes the boundaries of what we conceive of when we think “novel.” We cannot know what the novel will evolve into, but Enrigue might.

I found myself immensely engaged in this book. I was constantly consulting Google to look up pictures of Lake Pátzcuaro and featherworking and what exactly an “arse-fanner” is and if there were Renaissance tattooists and who exactly was Malinche (known also as Malinalli, Malintzin or Doña Marina) – my Internet history is a patchwork of random thoughts jutting out from the novel itself, my own addition to the timeline. As Enrigue himself said, progress is not linear, but neither is it circular. We are more a line with other lines coming off of it. I comprehend that concept more fully now.

This book requires a re-read, mostly likely, before I can fully process or comprehend its importance. As with many Spanish-speaking authors, Enrigue has toyed with the traditional, teasing it out with humor and a lack of true realism, to make something wholly original. I think this book specifically appeals to readers who want to try something different – it’s definitely not for everyone.

Overall Rating: 5/5
Recommended For: I’m not entirely sure.

February 9th, 2016

book talk // a tale for the time being.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki was, in a word, unexpected.

I picked it up because a remaindered copy was on sale at my local bookstore and I liked the cover art, plus I had a vague understanding that it was about Japan.

The story itself involves the lives of two different characters and takes place in two different times: Ruth, a novelist (who is both the novelist of this story, and not) living in Whaletown, Canada and Nao (pronounced: now) a bullied teenager who lives in Tokyo, Japan. The diary and Ruth’s reality exist about a decade apart.

Ruth, living in a secluded part of Canada, finds Nao’s diary, along with some other letters and a watch, washed up in a plastic bag on the beach. Immediately, Ruth begins to piece together the elements within the bag, weaving a living tapestry of a Japanese teen, despite Nao’s story being told an ocean away, and in the past tense — something Ruth (and the reader) often forget. Nao’s story is so personal, witty and intimate that I found it impossible to not like her. Ruth’s story is more reserved, withdrawn, as she delves deeper into the mystery of the teen’s timeline.

“A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.”

In what appeared to be an epistolary novel, interspersed with present time commentary, A Tale for the Time Being is actually realistic fiction with some magical realism elements and lots of philosophy. There are also postmodern, metafictional elements (which I wasn’t expecting at all), such as footnotes, appendices and the novelist herself who is trying to write a memoir and is, but also isn’t, writing the story we are currently reading. There’s intellectual discourse on ocean flows, gyres,  indigenous / nonindigenous species, Zen Buddhism and a smattering of quantum physics toward the end (which I admittedly skimmed).

If you have patience, it’s all immensely interesting.

Patience is essential for a book whose most persistent theme is time and appreciating the here and now (Nao, get it?). The symbolism for time is heavy without feeling oppressive. First, Nao’s diary is bound in the hardcover of Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu or In Search of Lost Time, there is also the blunt discussion of suicide (wasting the now), Altzheimer’s (losing one’s memory and therefore sense of time), the constant resurgence of both crows and cats (animals with attachments to archetypal mysticism and the crossing of planes — just a personal note: I think there’s only one cat in the story) and, finally, a kamikaze’s (sky soldier) watch which needs constant tending, winding, much like one’s own life.

“Life is fleeting. Don’t waste a single moment of your precious life. Wake up now! And now! And now!” 

In the end, the lives of the women overlap, blur together, as Ozeki toys with our understanding of time, letting past and present wrap together in a slowly revolving gyre that skirts both reality and illusion.

Overall Rating: 4/5 stars
Recommended For: Man Booker followers, anyone wanting to wake up

February 1st, 2016

book talk // some thoughts on harry potter.

I read Harry Potter as an adult. I read it while I was living in South Korea and, somehow, my days were longer, stretched thin like gossamer, and words poured more easily into me. I read a lot that year, but Harry Potter lingered in a way that the others did not.

I didn’t read the books as they came out. I was determinedly reading whatever could attain the most AR points, pointedly ignoring anything that was on a reading level beneath my own.

I lived almost entirely in my own head, but constantly strove to learn new words and achieve, achieve, achieve. As a child who believed she could find Narnia in the back of her father’s wardrobe, I can now say, that skipping Harry Potter was a mistake.

But, I made up for it eventually. And with rather interesting results.

What new can be said about Harry Potter? Probably nothing. But I would like to outline my own take on the novels just for posterity’s sake.

The Philosopher’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets:  Less than extraordinary, to me. Perhaps because I found the youthful Harry unrelateable. Perhaps it’s because I have been a teacher and having a student like Harry, who is so often deliberately getting himself into trouble, would inspire Snape-like feelings in me. I found myself identifying far more with the Hogwarts educators than the wayward youngsters.

The Prisoner of Azkaban: Shit starts to get real, siriusly.

The Goblet of Fire: I watched the movie directly after finishing this one. It’s still one of my favorites (movie and book) because of the Yule Ball, the other wizarding academies and Harry’s unintended entry into the competition forcing him to really accept his role as “hero.”

The Order of the Pheonix: The one with all the angst. I really disliked Harry in this book, he behaves rather selfishly throughout and I found myself enjoying the subplots more than what was happening with him.

The Half-Blood Prince: It’s been a while since a book made me ugly cry like that. It actually gives me goosebumps just reliving the ending.

The Deathly Hallows: Easily the most well written story in the series, and just dark enough. I did, however, feel as though the ending was a bit rushed after weeks and weeks of Horcrux hunting. Or maybe I just didn’t want it to end — that’s probably more accurate.

The books mature in a way that few stories can accomplish — something that, I think, truly showcases JK Rowling’s masterful storytelling. In all the ways that the first book felt young, the final book felt almost shockingly adult.

These books provided me with a wholly developed magical world that I could happily imagine myself into as easily as Narnia or Middle Earth. Perhaps more so, as the journey begins in London, somewhere more realistically accessible than The Shire.

The saga of Harry Potter wove itself into my being; the adventure of an epic hero on par with Bilbo Baggins and Luke Skywalker. I identified as a Ravenclaw. I wanted to be a Muggle Studies professor. And then, I visited Harry Potter World this past summer and was offered the unique chance to live out scenes from my imagination. I bought a wand, I cast spells, I drank butterbeer, I got motion sick on a broom (no Quidditch for me).

Then, Alan Rickman died. I watched via the Internet as someone left a lily at the Potions door and others raised their wands together in silent tribute. It seems silly, but Snape was one of my favorite characters and it struck me that his role would never be reprised by one of my favorite actors. We mourned him in real life as we mourned Dumbledore in the novels.

Then, I got a Snape tribute tattoo. I’d been thinking about it for a while — how to permanently showcase the effect these books had on my life, my imagination, and how they saved me from mentally breaking down at several points in my adult life. I got it because it’s real for us. I got it because tattoos fill me with endorphins. I got it because I’m a huge geek and I want to start conversations with fellow geeks.

Now the transformation is both whole and complete.