On Being Alive

We are, aren’t we? In gasps and outrage, in shock and horror, in reluctant smiles over the most unexpected happenings, and always in sorrow.

2017 has been a battlefield in many ways and from the looks of the world, things are just going to escalate until our hearts are but repositories of pain translated into things we can endure.

I have learned many things over the course of this year. For instance, how to get sunk deep into a story, so deep that you can smell the air in the city you made, so deep you can hear your characters laugh and cry in real life. I have learned what it means to carry around a broken heart because you are somehow never enough. I have learned to value people and their stories and their silences. I have learned to look at the world in moment and notice the minute details. I have learned not to accept the limitations the world seems determined to place on me. I have learned to continue writing even when every word hurts. I have learned to be more than what I am.

And I have met people. Good people who inspire me in small and big ways. People who with their passion and desire for life and work have inspired me to keep holding on.

Generally this is the kind of post I would write on the last day of the year but I have also learned that life is short and can end unexpectedly so just in case, let me get this out.


September Wrap Up

It’s not yet October 1st but it will be by the time I finish composing this post. I am hideously tired but made the mistake of drinking a large mug of chai with enough caffeine to keep me going for at least two hours into the a.m.

So I figure I will talk to the internet (or the void, whichever makes you feel better) about the books I read in the month of September.

I am at that point in my current work in progress where it is slowly taking over my all my mind so chances are my reading progress will slow down significantly. I hope I do manage to keep an average of 20 books/month for the next three months because it seems like a shame to read less than 250 books this year.

Anyway. In the month of September, I read 20 books. As I recounted on Twitter, they were:

  • 4 picturebooks
  • 5 graphic novels
  • 3 nonfic/poetry
  • 2 MG
  • 2 adult (fantasy) fiction

If you were to ask me what my favourite of these books were, I would laugh and tell you to go away. I DNF often and if a book manages to lose me before 50 pages, I stop reading it. I have too many books to read to slough away at something that I can’t feel. (Exceptions occur frequently.)

Here is the annotated list:

  1. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao
    After I got over the fact that I probably would not like Xifeng, I was able to enjoy the complexity of her character and the story she was being woven into. I enjoyed the writing and the world and I am ready for the next one in the series. Give it to me now please.
  2. Brave – Svetlana Chmakova
    I don’t know what it is about Chmakova but she has a way of making her characters come alive. Like right in your heart alive.
  3. Mighty Jack and the Goblin King – Ben Hatke
    It’s Hatke so I automatically loved it though I felt it was too short and the medium is unable to give the story as much complexity as it deserves.
  4. The Way to Bea – Kat Yeh
    I wrote this brilliant review on this book on The Book Wars if you are curious to know what I thought of it. (Spoiler: I loved it.)
  5. The Bloodprint by Ausma Zehanat Khan
    I loved this one too but it has a CRUEL CLIFFHANGER, AUSMA YOU MEANIE.
  6. Castle in the Stars – Alex Alice
  7. Gray Wold Island – Tracey Neithercott
    CHARLIE KIM IS AMAZING. Basically. He is my fave fictional character.
  8. Spinning – Tillie Walden
  9. You Bring the Distant Near – Mitali Perkins
  10. Adios Barbie – Edited by Ophira Edut
  11. Nejmah – Nayyirah Waheed
  12. Mind = Blown – Matthew Santoro
  13. Akata Warrior – Nnedia Okorafor
    This WAS SO GOOD, DAMNIT. I want moaaar.
  14. Molly & Mae – Danny Parker
  15. Come With Me – Holly M. McGhee
  16. The City of Brass – S. A. Chakraborty
    This was every bit as good as I wanted it to be.
  17. After the Fall – Dan Santat
    Omigosh, this picturebook just made me weep. I WEPT.
  18. Imagine – John Lennon
  19. The Changeover – Margaret Mahy
    THIS IS SO GOOD. I hope it is repackaged and remarketed to contemporary audiences who can enjoy Mahy’s genius as it ought to be enjoyed.
  20. Pashmina – Nidhi Chanani
    Well, I want more from Nidhi. This was beautiful and tugged at my heart.

The Nonexistent Knight by Italo Calvino

Nonexistent Knight

Paperback, 144 pages
Published August 15th 2017 by Mariner Books
Source: Raincoast Books

I have been a fan of Calvino’s ever since I read his If On a Winter’s Night, A Traveler but I have never had the chance to actually give much time to his other titles. Mariner Books recently repackaged and released his older titles in this sparse minimalist style that I adore.

The Nonexistent Knight is about…well, a nonexistent knight. If you are Calvino, you can write about nonexistent knights and very well at that. The story is told from the viewpoint of an initiate nun in an obscure order. The nun is very much a character in this novella and brings her own experiences to the tale she is telling.

Calvino makes use of a dizzying array of techniques to tell the story of this nonexistent knight who is bound in the armor he wears and by his habits. Not gonna lie, I was uncomfortable by the fact that the villains in this book, the enemies of the Christians were the Muslims but Calvino didn’t focus on painting any group any shade of black. Calvino looks at war and the stiff, unyielding, set of rules is often made to seem ridiculous especially when juxtaposed by the reality of a thing. For example, the romance of the armor is depleted when the person inside the armor is only too dismally human with human failings and flaws. Or when the chivalry of a knight is for naught when the damsel he is rescuing would much rather not be rescued.

All in all, Calvino’s The Nonexistent Knight is not a book you can speed through but it is something you savour in sips and dips, appreciating his wordsmithery and the way he tells a tale.

August Wrap Up

Another month has zoomed on by and I am left befuddled at the speedy pace the year assumes during its latter months. I have zero expectations that September will go by any slower. But hey, at least we’ll be done with the heat so that’s a good thing, right? I do so love autumn.

Anyway, I read 23 books in August. A lot less than in July but these were all substantial and weightier than the pbs and graphic novels consumed in the previous month. Here’s a list:

  1. salt. – Nayyirah Waheed
  2. Rebel Seoul – Axie Oh
  3. One Hundred Shadows – Hwang Jungeun
  4. A Play of Shadow – Julie E. Czernada
  5. Words in the Deep Blue – Cath Crowley
  6. Maisie Dobbs – Jacqueline Winspear
  7. Shade, the Changing Girl – Cecil Castellucci
  8. Art of the Street: Rio de Janaeiro – Andy Cantillion
  9. Spellbook of the Lost and Found – Moira Fowley-Doyle
  10. The Princess Saves Herself in this One – Amanda Lovelace
  11. My Life with Bob – Pamela Paul
  12. An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors – Curtis Craddock
  13. Sarabella’s Thinking Cap – Judy Chachner
  14. Brother’s Ruin – Emma Newman
  15. Warcross – Marie Lu
  16. The Masked City – Genevieve Cogman
  17. Maya Lin – Susan Rubin
  18. The Burning Page – Genevieve Cogman
  19. Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls – Elena Favilli
  20. Gone – Min Kym
  21. How to Make Friends with a Ghost – Rebecca Green
  22. The House of Binding Thorns – Aliette de Bodard
  23. The Nonexistent Knight – Italo Calvino

My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul

My Life With Bob

Hardcover, 256 pages
Published June 13th 2017 by Henry Holt and Co.
Source: Raincoast Books

When I was ten years old, my mother handed me an empty notebook and told me to write down the titles of all the books I read. Twenty three years later, I have moved to tracking my reading on Goodreads but I have two or three notebooks filled with simply the titles of the books I read when I was younger.

Pamela Paul’s Bob, her Book of Books is a similar thing only she was much smarter than me and noted down not just the titles but the authors and perhaps what she felt about the books she read. Now as she looks at the titles she has recorded in her Bob and the notes accompanying it, she can construct for herself the time she spent reading this book, what she going through while reading this book, and what she got out of this book. For instance, she remembers her travels in Southeast Asia by remembering the books she read while there. Sometimes she constructed her entire experience of a place by the book she was reading at the time which is certainly problematic but at the same time, understandable.

Her memoir will appeal to all bibliophiles who are in constant search for their people. You know, people who look forward to book release days, who cannot pass a bookstore without going in and browsing, who talk about books they are currently reading and plan to read. Those kinds of people.

Paul’s writing is sympathetic and I could relate to her intense love for books.  However, I must point out that unlike Paul asserts in her book that “every girl who aspired to become a writer fancied herself as strong and independent Jo,” I never did. In fact, The Little Women rang a bit too saccharine for my tastes.

I was also amused by the almost sheepish way in which Paul confesses in one of the latter chapters that kidlit was a source of great pleasure for her. As someone who specializes in children’s lit, both academically and creatively, I am entertained when people who have spent their lives reading literary fiction discover the wonder of it and feel guilty for liking it.

Anyway, My Life with Bob was fun reading. Like any bibliophile worth her salt will know, going into other people’s houses is only wonderful for the peeks you can take at their bookshelves, reading Pamela Paul’s memoir was like taking an extended look at someone’s personal bookshelf. She should read more diverse kidlit though.

I do recommend the memoir, especially for other bibliophiles who will take pleasure in reading a book about books.

Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami

Men Without Women

Hardcover, 224 pages
Published May 9th 2017 by Doubleday Canada
Source: Publisher

There’s something about the way Murakami tells a story. I know I have whined on occasion about his habit of detail, his fascination with cats and ears, and the way his characters always seem to be stir-frying vegetables or making pasta but there’s something about the way he tells a story that not many people do. I don’t know if it’s because they are emotionally resonant even when the protagonist is strange in a much stranger world or because there’s an honesty, a truth, inherent in his fiction but I am unable to resist his books.

By his own admission, Murakami prefers writing short stories to novels and my goodness, he is a master of them. His stories in Men Without Women are all excellent but I have my faves. The one about the guy who, after discovering his wife red-handed with a lover, opens up a bar and runs into supernatural stuff and the one about the actor whose wife has died and he has to adapt to a new female driver are two of the stories that linger with me.

Murakami knows how to build tension, keep the pace, and most importantly, how to end the story. Many writers either end a story too soon or too late. Murakami sometimes leaves the reader gasping for more and surprised there isn’t because he couldn’t leave the story there, could he? And he can and has.

I have read a lot of Murakami books (only two remain before I’ll be done with all that have been released in English) and I can say with the authority this has earned me that Men Without Women is one of his finest works. I recommend it.

July Wrap Up

THE YEAR IS GOING BY TOO FAST! Make it stoooop. I’m kidding, don’t. You’ll break the universe trying. And Trump is doing that fine on his own. Sigh.

Anyway, July was a tough month for reasons I don’t get into so I read quite a bit. Like many other people, I use fiction to escape reality and it works darned well for me.

I read 42 books which feels like a lot but isn’t really when you consider the number of picturebooks and graphic novels I read.

The books I read in July are:

  1. A Conjuring of Light – V. E. Schwab
  2. The Library of Fates – Aditi Khorana
  3. There is a Bird on Your Head – Mo Willems
  4. Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late – Mo Willems
  5. The Duckling Gets a Cookie – Mo Willems
  6. The Pigeon Needs a Bath – Mo Willems
  7. Beautiful – Stacy McAnulty
  8. Want – Cindy Pon
  9. The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart – Stephanie Burgis
  10. Shadow Girl – Liana Lu
  11. I Believe in a Thing Called Love – Maurene Goo
  12. A Most Extraordinary Pursuit – Juliana Gray
  13. Otherworld Barbara – Moto Hagio
  14. Goldfish Ghost – Lemony Snicket
  15. Nothing Rhymes with Orange – Adam Rex
  16. A Place to Read – Leigh Hodgkinson
  17. The Curse of Einstein’s Pencil – Deborah Zemke
  18. Crash – Nancy E. Krulik
  19. Octo-Man and the Headless Monster – Jane Kelley
  20. Bronze Gods – A. A. Aguirre
  21. One Fell Sweep – Ilona Andrews
  22. Flora and the Ostrich – Molly Idle
  23. Nightlights – Lorena Alvarez Gomez
  24. The Trials of Morrigon Crow – Jessica Townsend
  25. Thornhill – Pam Smy
  26. Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct – Mo Willems
  27. Leonardo the Terrible Monster – Mo Willems
  28. We Are in a Book – Mo Willems
  29. Climbing the Mango Trees – Madhur Jaffrey
  30. Waiting Is Not Easy – Mo Willems
  31. Where Are the Words – Jodi McMay
  32. The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There – Catherynne M. Valente
  33. Spymaster – Margaret Weis
  34. A Study of Scarlet Women – Sherry Thomas
  35. Sleep Tight, Charlie – Michael Escoffier
  36. A Pattern for Pepper – Julie Kraulis
  37. The Mother of All Questions – Rebecca Solnit
  38. Trust No Aunty – Maria Qamar
  39. The Beach At Night – Elena Ferrante
  40. Hello Goodbye Dog – Maria Gianferrari
  41. Moshi Moshi – Banana Yoshimoto
  42. The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two – Catherynne M. Valente