Reads 11-16

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

This book was sort of a required read, though I was curious about it due to the good reviews it was given. Brooklyn was selected as this summer's One Book, One Chicago title by the city, so I decided to make it the book for my work's dicsussion group. Well, this meeting will be interesting, because I don't really have much to say about it. It was a nicely written tale of immigrant life in the early 20th century, in New York. The heroine worked through the challenges and joys of being a lone female, away from her home and kin, only to screw things up for herself in a colossal (though not fatal) way for herself in the end. Part of me wants to write her off as being a big dummy, but her errors are understandable, considering her age and newly found freedoms and feelings - another part of me didn't want to call her anything because she wasn't a compelling enough figure to me to elicit an emotional response.

Lieutenant Nun: Memoir of a Basque Transvestite in the New World

This book was given to me in a book exchange, and made for a wonderfully engaging short read for a flight. This memoir relays a first-hand account given by one Catalina de Erauso, a Basque woman who escaped a convent, began living as a man, and eventually became a soldier for Spain in the conquest of Peru and Chile. While the book's preface goes into some detail discussing transvestism throughout history, and citing passages in Erauso's memoir to support her probable preference for the fairer sex, her own words stick mainly to the facts of her journey and leave us to speculate about her deeper motivations. This was a pretty fascinating read into the life and mind of an individual who lead an extraordinary life in extraordinary times.

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books

If anything, Azar Mafisi's memoir about her life in, and eventual departure from, Iran, showed me that I have much ground to make up in terms of reading my 'great books.' Aside from relating her hardships and joys in her home country during a very difficult era, Mafisi's discussion of the individual selected works are wonderfully in-depth and heartfelt. One can tell that Mafisi truly loves her chosen subject matter (she is a professor of literature and international studies), and feels deeply the works she explores with her students. This is moving read for both lovers of literature, and those interested in Middle Eastern affairs.

City of Thieves: A Novel - David Benioff

I judged this book by it's cover, deciding to read it when it caught my eye on the returns cart at work. This was a quick read, good for a flight or a couple evenings at home. COT dealt with a series of events (fictional) that occurred during the siege of Leningrad during WW2. The narrative floated in and out of humor, horror, hope, and bravado (often combining many of the above) with the fluidity one might expect when told from the vantage point of a late teen/early 20s young man, left behind by his family with aspirations to guard his city from intruders. I won't give too much away, but this book was one part survivor story, one part 'how I met your grandmother,' one part great escape novel, and one part coming of age at a time of crisis story.

Dead in the Family - Charlaine Harris
The latest installment in the Sookie Stackhouse series (TrueBlood), preordered and delivered on the release date for all my nerdy pleasure, left me pretty unsatisfied. It was like grabbing some guilty pleasure fast food and then realizing you can't taste any of it because you have a head cold; I knew I was reading, but I didn't feel like I was getting anything of interest out of the book. I know the Sookie books aren't really marvels of literature, but usually they're the kind of read I blow through and enjoy because of the action and amusing characters that are constantly evolving. This book just kind of left me hanging. I got the feeling that everything that happened was just a setup for a much more interesting followup book, or a handful of slightly less dull followups if Ms. Harris decides to stretch the things she's developing out further by tying up each loose end in a separate book. Unfortunately, I think I'll probably have to wait another year until the next release to find out; kind of stinks when something you've looked forward to doesn't pan out.

Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight by Gina Ochsner

I thought this was a beautifully-written book that traveled fluidly between poetry, prose, fiction, and what could be considered historical fiction. For some reason I seem to be returning to the topic of Russia often in my reads (perhaps it's all the cold, gray weather). This quirky little book had much to offer in terms of unique plot, vivid characters, and an unexpected ending. For someone who tends to lean towards less avant-garde works of fiction, I can say that I was genuinely surprised that I got so into a work like this that tended to be so unpredictable and (as the title would indicate) dreamlike. I would definitely seek out more of Ms. Ochsner's work in the future - I hope that she continues to write outside her usual short story genre.