Quick Look: Americanah by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie

I recently joined in with my coworkers in reading a book from the Great American Read, and began reading Americanah by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie. It’s a lengthy paperback I picked up, over 500 pages, a size I’ve been avoiding for the most part with the limited reading time a needy toddler gives to me. But as I started reading it while my daughter fell asleep on my shoulder one afternoon, I turned the pages, faster and faster, and though I still have half a book to go I am chomping my way through Adichie’s book faster than I would have thought.

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I look at the way Americanah is written, and I should not find it so appealing. So much narrative summary, going quickly over the lives of Ifemelu and Obinze, should leaving me feeling separate, distant from the characters. Instead Adichie’s words and sentences coil around me deeper and deeper into their thoughts, their worlds, until I am enmeshed in the story of a girl who grew up poor, who moved to America and was so disheartened with the path her life was taking she shut out the person she loved the most; the story of a boy who grew up comparatively privileged but enters adulthood to find life so much harder than he thought it should have been, every dream he had suddenly unreachable. There is so much history to the she writes about, and I’m impressed by this writing that is so different from what I write, from what I thought I would want to read.

I didn’t mark a particular passage that I can quote now, and when I flip back through the pages I can’t find the one line to illustrate what I mean. It’s the whole thing, the cadence of the sentences strung together, and I am pulled deeply in before I even realize what has happened.

Quick Look :: Being Understood in Pops by Michael Chabon

In Michael Chabon’s essay “Little Man”, found in his collection Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces, Chabon talks about following his son Abe around fashion week in Paris. It was something he didn’t enjoy, something he wasn’t able to connect with his son over a mutual love. In fact, he realizes towards the end, his very presence may have impeded his son’s full enjoyment of the event.

I had been only his minder. I was a drag to have around a fashion show, and because I could not enter fully into the spirit of the occasion, neither could he.

The time his son was truly able to feel comfortable in the event, was when his father pulled back and didn’t take part in the event, and Chabon realized his son had found people.

You are born into a family and those are your people, and they know you and they love you, and if you are lucky, they even on occasion manage to understand you. And that ought to be enough. But it is never enough. … [My son] was not flying his freak flag, he was sending up a flare, hoping for rescue, for company in the solitude of his passion.

This reminded me of when I first started going to anime conventions, all those many years ago. (Seriously, half my life ago, oh my god, augh.) The first few times, my mom actually took me and my friends. Now, I’m pretty sure my mother had no idea why I liked anime so much. She spent a lot of time trying to convince me to stop spending all of my expendable income on DVDs and posable figures. But she booked a hotel, drove us into the city, stood in line with me while we waited for the dealer’s room to open. Even before that, she took me to the fabric store and watched me wrap duct tape around a giant cardboard spatula for my costume.

Like Michael Chabon to his son, my mother was my “minder” for the weekend. But she also stepped back, left me to my own devices, and allowed me to have my fun. I wouldn’t have been able to scream and freak out and sink down in this pool of nerds if she’d been on my all the time.

This was an occasion in which I was understood–at least enough to be seen that this was important to me, that I had found my people, that I wasn’t “flying my freak flag” but finally, comfortably, fitting in.

I’ve Been That Kid (When You Can’t Stop Reading, Ever)

As I helped set up the kid’s movie at the library recently, a boy filed in with his family, his nose in a graphic novel. Moms chatted, kids flopped on cushions, and this kid kept reading his book.

Ninety minutes later the movie ended, and we turned on the lights. When I noticed the kid again, he was standing among the other kids, book open, looking down. It was seamless, as if he’d never closed the book since I turned out the lights and hit play on the movie. And maybe he didn’t– maybe he read straight through, more interested in what he could read then what he could watch. Or maybe once one form of entertainment ended, he slipped back into the other one at hand before I could even see the transition.

I was the girl who read Animorphs on my lap between lessons, who couldn’t leave the house without a book in my bag, who couldn’t handle a trip to Maine until her mother took her to a bookstore to restock. So kid, I relate.

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Things Books Made Me Want to Do

Books can inspire you to do a lot of things: learn a new topic, go somewhere, or eat something you’ve never heard of before. Or they can just make you wish that something existed so you could actually do it.

For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, here are a few of the things books have made me want to do.

  • A Ring of Endless Light by Madleine L’Engle made me want to go to school for English. This is all because one person that the main character, Vicky, meets tells her that if she’s serious about her writing, she shouldn’t major in creative writing in college, but she should major in English so she can study stories. I may have been the only person I knew in middle school who knew what she was going to college for.

 

  • My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George made me want to live in the woods. If I could get my own peregrine falcon, even better.

  • Amelia’s Notebook series by Marissa Moss inspired me to fill my childhood journal with awesome doodles.

 

  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis gave my a lifelong desire to try Turkish Delight. (It didn’t work out so well.)

 

  • And, of course, Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling made me hope, hope, hope that I would be a witch. Still waiting on that owl…

Check out The Broke and the Bookish for more lists! What have books made you want to do? There are still so many other foods books made me want to try…

What I’m Listening To: Murder and NPR Disney

I keep trying to listen to audiobooks, and I’ve been listening to more music, but when walking the dog and doing the dishes, podcasts are still my favorite way to pass the time.

My Favorite Murder with Karen Kilgariff and Georgia HardstarkMy Favorite Murder

My newest favorite podcast is My Favorite Murder with Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark. This is a true crime murder podcast where two ladies from LA describe their favorite murder (or murder attempt survival) stories that I found after the hosts had a guest appearance on the Cracked podcast. It’s a bit morbid, I know, but murder stories are fascinating (it’s why I have a hard time changing the channel when I come across a Law and Order marathon) and Kilgariff and Hardstark are having so much fun talking about everything that I get almost as much enjoyment out of just listening to them talk. Some of it gets really brutal (like Episode Seventeen, oh my god) so be prepared for that if you go to listen to this.

I’ll also just add that listening to a story about a pregnant lady fighting off a would-be murderer/baby snatcher is really good motivation while you’re running on the treadmill.

Disney parks American Icons Studio 360American Icons: The Disney Parks

Studio 360 recently replayed their episode on Disney and the Disney Parks on NPR, so I downloaded the whole thing for a car trip with my husband. Because if you didn’t know, we really like Disney Parks, and my husband particularly loves learning about the history of WDW and the like. If you have any interest at all in Disney, it’s a great listen. There are sound bites from people who love and hate Disney (Carl Hiaasen refusing to take his grandchildren to Disney World is kind of great), a story from a woman who played Snow White for years, and a gay love story involving a Disney dancer and a Prince Charming.

What podcasts are you listening to? I’m trying find some book podcasts, but I have trouble finding anything that I’m able to get really into, so any recommendations on that end would be fantastic.

Other podcasts that I loved can be found here, and here.

“A Sense of Comfort” :: On Bringing a Book Everywhere

Debbie Tung
Debbie Tung, Where’s My Bubble?

This post is inspired by a comic by Debbie Tung. Check out her Tumblr, she’s really amazing!

“You’re bringing a book on a date?”

I looked up, startled. It was senior year of college, and I was in the common area shared with my three roommates, getting on my coat and packing up my purse before going out for dinner with my boyfriend. My last step — taking the paperback I’d been reading, and nestling it in beside my wallet in my old beat-up purse.

It’s never been unusual for me to have a book crammed into my bag whenever I leave the house. Dinner with the in-laws, party with friends, a half-day at work that doesn’t include a lunch break — there’s a mass market, or a full hardcover, or now a Nook or even something downloaded on my phone, ready for me to read at the first sign of five free minutes.

I’ve done this for as long as I can remember, back to Animorphs books in my backpack, back to Dr. Seuss on car trips. That paper brick right within reach is a comfort, a security blanket, ready to help me out at a moment’s notice, to pull me free from boredom, keep me company if loneliness surrounds me, to cheer me up or calm me down if depression or anxiety worm themselves into my brain.

While I don’t know too many people who insist on this practice (I was the one in my family curled up in the back corner of the minivan on road trips with nothing but a too-loud Disc-man and an R.A. Salvatore novel) but I’d never been made to feel weird about it. Until that day, in my dorm, with my friend. Though loads of my friends love to read, this friend was pretty close to last on the list of people I would have expected to question me. My fellow bookworm, the one who ALSO made time for pleasure reading during finals week, who rambled on about stories and characters with an enthusiasm so bright it blocked out the glazed expressions of everyone who was forced to listen. I looked at this person, expecting her to realize the logic behind carrying a book you would never crack open, just because you wanted it there.

And she looked back at me, confused, like I was an indecipherable nerd, like all the passages in my brain were turned around and broken.

“Uh, yeah,” I answered lamely. “Just in case.”

All my good reasons, rooted in emotion and vague-but-real feelings of comfort, became suddenly inexplicable, particularly in the face of a person who should have understood. It all seemed weird, and silly, and maybe a little bit messed up.

I’ve left home without a book before, because I was distracted or rushed, and managed to forget. But for the first time that I could think of, I consciously, purposely, removed the book from my bag, placed it on the table, and left without it.

I didn’t need the book that night. Really, it’s rarely necessary all those other times. But I’ve always liked having that backup plan, that comfort. “Because it feels like I’ve got a good friend by my side,” Debbie Tung writes in her comic. That’s exactly right, and it’s why I’ve never left a book behind since, if I can help it (it’s hard to fit a paperback in those tiny purses I use at weddings). I always keep a book in my bag, even if I wind up with a twenty-pound purse, even if someone gives me a weird look because they don’t understand.

It’s worth it, to feel secure, and to know my friends are close.

Comics: Nimona, Zodiac, and Hellcat

I’ve been reading a bunch of comics and graphic novels lately! Mostly stuff aimed at teenagers and children, because that’s who I am. Let’s take a look!

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson. Noelle Stevenson is known for writing Lumberjanes, and apparently for writing on Wander Over Yonder (is this why I like the second season so much?) but before that she wrote a webcomic, Nimona, which last year was collected in a nice hardbound book. Nimona, a girl who can shapeshift into basically anything, decides to become the sidekick for Lord Blackheart, an evil scientist, whether he likes it or not. She helps him fight against the Institution, a group of knights Blackheart once trained to be a part of, including Ambrosius Goldenloin, his ex-best friend (maybe more?) and current arch nemesis. When I finally checked this book out of the library, I figured this would be a fun, light-hearted comic, and it is — at first, at least. Then the story gets kind of dark. The characters turned out much more complicated than I expected from a single-volume webcomic collection, with secret, twisted pasts, complex relationships, and moral codes that aren’t black and white but make total sense. I give it all the stars, and all the recommendations, and will probably buy my own copy.

Zodiac Starforce #2 and #3 by Kevin Panetta and Paulina Ganucheau.
I still don’t have #1 of this! But oh boy, am I going to find a back issue of it. This story is good. A magical girl story, but, you know, in America. The four members of the Zodiac Starforce have apparently been broken up for a couple of years (that’s what I’m getting at least, I’m sure it’s explained better in the first issue) but are now working to fight off monsters again. Emma is a little bit too much of a self-sacrificing leader, but then, the leader was never my favorite character in these things, and Panetta and Ganucheau give me sensitive Savanna and hot-headed Molly to love. I’ve only read this little bit of it, but the four main characters are distinct and fun. The colors are soft and bright, definitely leaning towards the pink spectrum, and just adds to an overall gorgeous design. Plus, everyone’s got absolutely bombing hair. Just look at Emma as Gemini!

This is the kind of story I would have gobbled up in a quick minute as a kid, but it didn’t exist so I found the manga version of it instead. Now I’ll gobble it up as an adult!

Patsy Walker A.K.A. Hellcat by Kate Leth and Brittney Williams. Patsy Walker, also known as the super heroine Hellcat, gets fired from her investigative day job with She Hulk (yup) and now is trying to start a temp agency for super-powered humans who want normal jobs. Also, her frenemy is reprinting the embarrassing comics her mother wrote about her teenage years, so she’s going to try and sue the pants off of her. PLUS, an evil Asgardian magic woman (“She’s basically Enchantress.”) is gathering minions, and Hellcat needs to stop her. I’d put this story in the same vein as The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl–funny superhero story written for girls. And it’s great. I love all the characters, including her new roommate with telekinesis, Ian (“Telekinian!”) and, obviously, Patsy, with her fun-loving, but still not-taking-crap-from-anyone nature. The cameos are great, too, like when Howard the Duck stops by the tattoo shop she’s working at, or when she calls everyone from Squirrel Girl to Lady Thor to get hamburgers with her since she’s having a bad day. I had a blast reading this, and it may be what gets me back to the comic store every month. (My wallet isn’t happy about that.)

Well, now that I’m through that part of my comic stack, I’ve got another pile from the library and bookstore to work through!

What comics have you been reading? Anything else I should pick up at the comic store?

Comic Bookish People to Follow on Twitter

I spend a lot of time on Twitter, so, I follow a lot of people. People that I think are great. Particularly, I love following my curated feed of comic people. Not only are they hardworking and talented at their actual profession, but they’re funny, passionate, and seem to just have a drive to find and create good art.

Some of these people I’ve been following for a while, some are artists I’ve found because of the other artists that I follow. If you’re on Twitter, and you love comics, I think all of these people are worth your time.

This post is done as part of The Broke and Bookish Top Ten Tuesday.

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What I’m Reading: Science Fiction and Lady Comic Books

I’m still working my slow, deliberate way through Ursula LeGuin’s The Dispossessed. I still think it’s a good novel, but it gets so dense, and there are such long parts of the novel without breaks, that I have a hard time reading it for long stretches. Plus, I keep falling asleep on the couch while I’m reading the book…

I also started reading Great North Road by Peter F. Hamilton. I bought the mass market at Barnes and Noble after reading the back and realizing it was a futuristic science fiction story, AND a detective murder mystery story. I really love it so far. Hamilton’s writing is accessible, and the super technological bits don’t make me go cross-eyed. I did almost roll my eyes right out of my head when he spent an entire paragraph describing how hot the main character’s wife is: “slimmer than anyone who’d had two children should reasonably expect”; “she was enticingly fit”; “the dark hair…still as lush”. Blarg. But I powered through it! And I still like the book.

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Comic Book Run: Patsy Walker A.K.A. Hellcat and Zodiac Starforce

A trip to the comic store got me…some comics! I picked up the first four issues of Patsy Walker A.K.A. Hellcat by Kate Leth, because I love Kate Leth and I’ve heard good things about it. I’ve read the first issue so far, and it’s super, super cute. I do wish that super hero comics had looked like this when I was a kid.

On top of that I grabbed some issues of Zodiac Starforce, which is colored like Steven Universe and sounds like Sailor Moon. So, really, probably for me, I figured! I read issue #2 (they didn’t have #1 at the store), and it turns out yes, I was right, this comic is my kind of deal. I’ll have to find the missing issues next time I’m in a comic shop.

What are you all reading? Anything nerdy? Anything smart?

Also, I think I’m going to frequent my comic shop more often (it is right next to the grocery store, after all). Any suggestions of what I should get?

 

 

The Books on the Bus

My bus had the absolute longest route in high school. I say this without exaggeration: the beast snaked over every back corner of town, tumbling down long dead-end streets and then crashing back out again. The routes then cut across the rest of town, into the next, passing thick forests and cow pastures until the bust finally rumbled up the hill to the regional high school. We were always late. They never decided to change the route.

I was the first stop in the morning, then the last stop when we finally got out, so I knew the length of the trip better than anyone, over an hour one way. Even my brother didn’t catch the full weight of it — the seventh and eighth grades split into middle schools before he got there, and then he was wise enough to spend his money on his own car his senior year for transportation. For me, I spent every school day from seventh grade until senior year finals week, when I borrowed my parents truck so I could duck out early, scrunched up in those seats for hours.

The downsides to this bus route are obvious. If the driver wasn’t right on time (she was never on time) we arrived at school with only minutes spent in the lunch room, the only time of day guaranteed to group my friends together. If the driver was really late (she was often really, really late) this meant going as a group to get late passes at the office, or else explaining to the unpleasant Spanish teacher that you hadn’t been loitering–you’d been shoving the contents of your locker into your back pack in a deranged panic. For someone riddled with anxiety, consumed with constant (unfounded) fear that she would get in awful trouble and disappoint everyone, this was not the ideal way to start the day.

But it wasn’t all bad.

I’ve discovered that, with a lot of the people I know, finding themselves stuck someplace with nothing to do but wait, they become bored, anxious. They desperately want that time to be over.

Those are the moments I cherish.

I arrive at doctor’s offices early, and hope they don’t call my name right away.

I sit in the back corner seat in the mini van, where I can’t see anyone’s face.

On airplanes, I settle up against the window, drop my tray as soon as is allowed, and close myself down into a tight metal-and-plastic box.

This is not where I get bored.

This is where I do things.

I bring my supplies of course. A paperback novel crammed in a purse; a notebook and a half dozen pens, since I kept forgetting if I forgot one; headphones so I can plug into my podcasts, my music, my books. For that time, I focus on the things I love, without any of the niggling thoughts that I should be doing something else.

The whole thing wasn’t too much different in high school. I had a Discman and a collection of CDs with bad rock music (I was a big fan of Creed) and pirated anime songs (also a big fan of Yu Yu Hakusho) instead of a smartphone, but methods and preferences were all the same. I’d hunch up with my book in the morning, or blast Kurama’s character song in my ears. In the afternoon I completed my homework, so when I got home there was nothing in the way of playing Dreamcast or watching the new episode of Dragonball.

For two hours a day, five days a week, there was no where else for me to go, nothing else for me to do. No chores, no responsibilities. Even the other kids didn’t bother me, usually, preferring to leave alone the quiet girl who sat close to the bus driver. More than any other time in my life, that was my time, a time to do what I wanted with no one to question it. It was worth bouncing down all those old streets, waking up earlier than I’ve ever had to do on a regular basis since.

It might have been nice to get dropped off the late bell more than occasionally–but who knows how many fantasy novels I would have gotten through, or how many Japanese songs I would have memorized otherwise.