An American Marriage

This book is both devastating and gripping. Reading Roy and Celestial’s accounts of what happened and their letters to each other in Part One left me crying (on the train, no less). I almost didn’t want to go on because I knew more pain and heartbreak awaited me– as well as anger, particularly at Celestial and later at Andre. But that is part of the beauty of Tayari Jones’s writing. The characters are so real, and the situation is far too believable. The whole roiling pot of human emotions at the injustice done to Roy and the consequences thereof to everyone grasps the reader from the beginning and does not let go.

Perhaps I should have given it five stars, but I am far too angry at Celestial, particularly in her Part One letters and her Part Two belief in her own illusions to do so.

Don’t Get Mad, Get Writing

Today I had a conference to go to for work. We met at work and traveled together to the Bronx where our conference day was held. It took about two and a half hours from home to the school. If I had driven, I could have been the in 25 minutes, but there was nowhere to park. But my darling husband offered to pick me up at the end of the day to save me two hours on the way home. And then, he made a little mistake and went to my school instead of the one where I was.

I was mad. Everyone else left on the bus back to Manhattan. I had to sit around for 40 minutes in a large, nearly empty auditorium in a school I didn’t know, in a neighborhood I didn’t know.

And then I glanced at my bag and saw my notebook. Forty minutes later, I was still writing when he called to say he was there and significant strides were made on my story. Time well spent.

Twitter Tree Monday

In an effort to promote my Etsy shop, I tried a Twitter Tree this morning, sharing a couple of my own wares and then promoting others. Here’s a link to the original post with many diverse items to view and buy. There’s holiday jewellery- Halloween, Christmas and Hanukkah- as well as other jewelry, ponchos, lithographs, jewellery-bags for craft fairs, and more.

http://christiecottage.blogspot.com/2019/10/monday-twitter-tree-ccmtt_13.html?m=1

It’s Good To Be Home

Today my students, my inner-city high school students, asked me what my book is about. After giving them a brief synopsis, some said, “I want to read that.” “First I need to finish writing it,” I replied.

Now maybe, quite possibly, they were just trying to butter up their English teacher, but still, they reminded me to keep working on it. So, when I missed my train home by a minute and had a half hour to kill, I brought it to life instead by grabbing some napkins from Starbucks and scribbling a new part of the story. Who knows if this will make it in, but at least I’m back in the story’s world, a place I’d been away from for far too long.

It’s good to be home.

A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

A Place for Us CoverHonestly, I think I like this book better in retrospect than I did while reading it. And that fact is both a positive and negative. There were times I just wasn’t that interested in picking up the book again, but I did and was glad I did.

On the positive side, Mirza does such a good job of making her characters real. I was often cringing at what Amar might do next. It feels obvious that he has a good heart and he wants to do the right thing, but he is lost; he doesn’t know how to fit in–in his community, in his family, in his own mind. And his mother, his sisters, even Amira don’t know how to help him either because despite the love they feel for one another, they do not know how to share their feelings–everyone assuming that everyone else had everything figured out–and Amar is the most lost of all of them, not being able to find footing in the shifting sands between old world and new. Yes, this is a positive. Mirza’s skill at characterization brings them all to life. We feel for them; we want to laugh, cry, and yell with/at them.

Nonetheless, I was not always engaged in the reading because of the way Mirza shifts perspective and time throughout the first three parts of the novel. This stylistic choice does not necessarily have to be a negative. I enjoy seeing a story from multiple perspectives. Maggie Estep’s Hex, Gargantuan, and Alice Fantastic or George R.R.R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice make use of the technique quite successfully. However, Mirza fails to signal the shifts adequately. Too often I had to reread a section, or part of it, to figure out WHEN we are in the narrative. (See spoiler alert below for an example.)

The fourth part which culminates the novel is my favorite. It is all from one perspective, Rafiq’s, full of his experiences as an old man and his reflections on his own life and his interactions with his children, particularly Amar. He even speaks directly to an absent Amar, trying to explain himself, to say all those things he didn’t know how to say earlier. No, this part wouldn’t have been possible without the earlier parts from the others’ perspectives, particularly Amar’s and Layla’s, but here is where Mirza’s prose shines. Her nostalgic tone draws us in and draws her tale to a successful conclusion (leaving me with that retrospective appreciation for the novel).

Ultimately, A Place for Us is a heartbreaking/heartwarming novel of family life and the clash when old world meets new. I recommend it for your book club–there’s lots to discuss.

***SPOILER ALERT: You can skip this part if you haven’t read the book.
One example of a particularly confusing shift occurs when Layla goes to Seema about Amar and Amira’s relationship. I read most of that section thinking, “But what does this matter now? Amira has already broken things off with Amar.” Of course, she hadn’t. We’d seen that scene from Amar’s point of view. Now we are learning the motivation for it. It’s actually a clever tactic that is so poorly signaled that we lose our connection to the story. Our narrative engagement is broken trying to figure out the shift. ***SPOILER ENDS

 

Fahrenheit 451

I’ve known “the story” of this book for ages, but I’ve only just actually read it because I have to teach it (next week). I don’t know why I’ve waited so long. Even basically knowing the plot, I was riveted. There is so much of this 1950 novel relevant to today, not only the censorship and the perception of a waning interest in reading (though not among my friends and family), but also in Bradbury’s prescient images of individual will consumed by social media. I am still working out how I will use the description of Mildred at the end with my students. I see such a resemblance to the blank stares and meaning chatter one hears from those with airpods in their ears and their eyes stuck on a screen. (Yes, I get the irony of the fact that I’m writing this, and you’re reading this on a screen.)

Then, there is Bradbury’s “Coda,” written in 1979. I found myself cheering on this curmudgeonly voice saying, “Leave my works alone! If you don’t like it write your own!” (Not an actual quotation. Just what I sum his position up as.)

I am looking forward to taking about this with my students.

Create Something Today

facebook_1564941375570.jpgI saw this posted on FB today by #KevinSmith. Yes, I thought. Yes. Let us create in the face of destruction. Write a poem, a letter to the editor, a short story–it can be about the tragedy our nation faces or it can be about puppies; it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we continue to create, we continue to make this world new, we continue to affirm our community with others, all others. So, knit a scarf; paint a painting; make some jewelry; hook a rug; sing a song; play an instrument. Do what you do to create some beauty in world that looks pretty ugly when we turn on the news.

 

Here is New York

20190705_082143.jpgYesterday was the 4th of July, and while I did not go to a barbeque (that’s ahead, on Sunday with the fam), I did enjoy some fireworks in the sky on my drive home from my mom’s. What I did not enjoy were the fireworks that someone set off either in our driveway or just behind it at 12:35 am–and I am not talking just fire crackers, but full blown stars and sprays of color and booms of sound basically right outside our window. I couldn’t see who it was, and that’s probably a good thing.

Unfortunately, I was so startled awake from a sound sleep that my heart was racing and I could not go back to sleep. I got up instead, reached for my book stack, and read Here is New York by E. B. White. It is a charming little book, this edition with essentially two essays about that grand place I call home: White’s original 1948 essay and Roger Angell’s 1999 “Introduction” to this edition. Both are worth your time, which they won’t take much of; I read them both in an hour in the middle of the night and will definitely read them again.

White wrote this essay after having moved out of New York; he was enticed back one hot August to write a piece about New York for Holiday magazine. This interestingly gave him three perspectives from which to view the city: young newcomer, eager and full of hope; resident, working, living and falling in love; out-of-towner, returned tourist noticing the changes. In fact, the changes are integral to White’s essay; New York changes at an amazing pace; both he and Angell, writing fifty years later, note that it is “the reader’s, not the author’s, duty to bring New York down to date.” White focuses on the gifts of New York being its privacy and loneliness–probably not the first two words that come to mind when you think of New York. Yet, he makes it work in his own way, the way one can be private in a crowd of people at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and lonely on a crowded subway.

White has great disdain for the commuter and depicts a stereotype of a frazzled man boarding trains like a lemming, working in an office like a drone, and living like a plastic man in the suburbs. I cannot agree with White here, but I can appreciate his view, especially remembering that 1947 was immediately post-WWII, and the dream of the suburbs was looming large. In addition, White’s New York is Manhattan only–like many a native and transplanted Manhattanite, that is New York, with only a sidelong glance at Brooklyn and bare mention of the Bronx; Queens and Staten Island are a suburb and ignored, respectively. Nonetheless, Manhattan is the New York most tourists flock to, and writing for a travel magazine and being a former transplanted Manhattanite himself, it is natural that this be his focus.

What is charming is not only White’s style that is both descriptive and contemplative, but also noticing how much has not changed despite the demise of the Automat, the Layfayette Hotel, and others. Roger Angell thought White would have deplored the crime and violence and poverty of New York at the turn of the millenium as well as the proliferation of chain magnets replacing Mom & Pop stores in the neighborhoods he described with reverence. Yet, Angell notes, there were positive changes too that he would have like to share with his step-father.

Twenty years later, I read Here is New York for the first time and am charmed by it and them. I think White would still find something to love in New York and still find the privacy and loneliness he describes as New York’s greatest gifts. Despite the proliferation of flashing colors, loud sounds, and constant connectivity, New York still harbors its old self, its neighborhoods, beneath the veneer of neon and plasma.

Summer Book Stack

 

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Add in Educated by Tara Westover, which is on my Kindle…

This may be a bit ambitious for summer reading, but three of them are rereads, and I’m already halfway through the Deep Magic Anthology… and who knows, I may change my mind as the summer goes along. I’m already thinking that I may need to add in a Muirwood book too (but once I start those, I usually can’t stop!) Or a Clifton Chronicles. And some poetry, of course!

What are your reading plans this summer?