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.

Babies have preferences — who knew?

Before my daughter was even born, I wondered: what kind of things would she like? What would be her favorite shows, the books she read again and again? I figured I had a while before these preferences set in.

Related imageThen around 10 months, I read Llama Llama Red Pajama, repeating the story every time she flailed her arms and grunted, “Unh!” (It was many times, over many nights.) One afternoon she hit the PBS Kids app on my phone and accidentally started an episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, thus beginning an ongoing love of imaginary tigers singing infuriatingly catchy songs. And she has not yet had her fill of this bunny video…

Her personality set in so much faster than I realized it would. Every day she becomes more distinct, more herself, and watching this happen is so exciting.

 

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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A Library Book Sale is a Dangerous Place (Still Battling Tsundoku)

When I used to work at the used bookstore, I had a real problem — too many books! Every day new (to me) books passed through my hands, so it was inevitable that some of them never made it to the sale shelf, winding up in my house instead.

That is a time when my tsundoku got really out of hand, so that many of the books I gave away when I moved had never been cracked open by me.

But, I work at a library now. Things are better now. Right?

Well, a little better. Now when I get out of hand and bring home a huge pile of books I’ll never read, they go back to the library a couple weeks later with nothing missing from my wallet, and my shelf space still intact.

Usually.

Of course, being a library, people like to give donations, these donations being piles of books they don’t want anymore. Sometimes these donations are…less than savory (Encyclopedias from 20 years ago! Worn out mass markets that reek of smoke, and sometimes cat pee!) But sometimes these donations are great. Really great. Like, books that I’ve been meaning to read for ages so maybe I should bring them home in case I get a chance to read them great.

DSC00465So, maybe tsundoku’s not as bad when you work in a library. But I love books — I love to touch them and smell them and have them in my home, almost as much as I love actually reading them. So if I’m unpacking a dirty box, and something shines out at me, or if a coworker picks up a donation and presses it into my hands telling me I must read this, then you can bet I’ll put a crumpled dollar in the money drawer, stuff the book into my purse, and sneak it onto my shelf or into my pile, where it will wait for me.

“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.

Girls Comics Today (I’m So Jealous…)

I think I’ve always been a comic reader. I read Archie comics sporadically, and each Sunday it was of vital importance that I read every single strip in the funny pages — yes, even Doonesbury. I bought Garfield collections and started filling up a shoe box with issues of Sonic the Hedgehog and Knuckles the Echidna.

But one thing was obvious, as I started moving into more story-based things: there weren’t a lot of comics, or graphic novels, meant for girls. There were some things, like Betty and Veronica, but nothing that appealed to the other stories I loved, fantasy and adventure, or even stories that just focused so deeply on characters and their problems. No, those were in “boy” stories, in super hero comics that didn’t usually appeal to me.

20151208_101015.jpgMaybe that’s why I fell so hard into manga. The first volume of manga I ever bought was Cardcaptor Sakura, where a girl gains magical powers and fights monsters in outfits designed by her best friend. On the cover she’s decked out in pink and is surrounded by swirling ribbons. This was a story made for girls, and I was so hooked.

Fushigi Yuugi, Mars, Kodocha, Magic Knight Rayearth — manga was an embarrassment of riches when it came to girls comics, even with the limited choice available when I first started reading. And I read plenty of “boy” manga, too, Inu Yasha and Rurouni Kenshin, but even a lot of those stories seemed to have a sense of their large female audience, so saying it was a shonen (“boy”) comic really more of a category than a directive.

Flash forward to nowadays. Now there are loads of lady comic artists/writers who were reading funny pages and Archie around the same time as me, and they are making their own comics for girls. There’s Smile and Sisters by Reina Telgemeier, Cece Bell’s El Deafo, Faith Erin Hicks and Friends with Boys, and Lumberjanes, oh my goodness Lumberjanes. A bunch of girls solving ciphers and fighting monster and preventing petulant gods from taking over the world and falling in love! Even some of those super hero comics that had never appealed to me would have been amazing when I was twelve, with Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and the new Ms. Marvel. And of course, there’s more shojo manga around than I would have ever been able to read.

Lumberjanes!

I’m jealous of these girls today, finding comics made for them, sitting in easy reach in the front of book stores, waiting to be checked out from their school libraries. There are so many wonderful, special things being down with comics that I didn’t even know I craved when I was a kid. So many different stories for them to devour and grow up with and remember fondly as a part of their childhoods.

 

Readers! Did you read comics as a kid? What did you love and collect? Are you as jealous of kids comics today as I am?

Reading Pet Peeves: How Do You “Mouth” Words??

When a book starts to get on my nerves, my tendency is to stop reading. As I’ve said, why should I waste that time? Well, sometimes it’s such a train wreck you can’t stop (New Moon!!!) or sometimes you don’t realize how bad it is until you’re almost done, and by then you’re in for the long haul. Sometimes you really like 95% of the book, there’s just that one thing that makes you super batty… And sometimes you’ve got to read it for a review, and you’ve got to finish it no matter how much of your brain you’re sure has turned into an overcooked marshmallow. In any case, you start to notice things, they start to bother you, and suddenly you have a new pet peeve about books that will pitch you into a rage every time you see it.

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I’m not going to call out the specific book on this one, partly because I know I’ve seen other books do this, this one just had a particular problem with it. When characters mouth words. This is, as far as i can understand, when you move your mouth as if you are speaking, but you purposely don’t make any sound. Okay. Sure. I’ve seen this, I’ve done it myself in real life. But here, I’m not talking about mouthing “Hello!” to someone when you’re on the phone, or “Oh no!” when you’re expressing fear or empathy to a person across the room. I’m talking about characters mouthing full, entire sentences. I won’t quote anything specific, but it’s somewhere along these lines:

“Oh, hi, I’ll be done here in just a minute, grab a sandwich and wait over there, thanks.”

I feel like it should be obvious why this is ridiculous, but I’m going to break it down just in case.

Firstly. When I picture someone “mouthing” words, I imagine exaggerated mouth movements to make what you’re saying obvious. After a couple of words, it’s just going to look ridiculous.

Secondly. I feel like this requires some skill in lip reading from the recipient of the silent message. How many people can do this well? I honestly don’t know, I just know that I can’t figure that stuff out.

Thirdly. The character tends to “mouth” words when they don’t want other characters to know what they’re doing/saying. But when they do it with such long sentences, aren’t they just drawing attention to themselves? Aren’t the other characters going to be wondering what the heck this person is doing? And how on earth are they paying attention to what else is going on?

So, yup. There’s something that bothers me way more than it should! What about you all — what’s bugging you in your books?

Reading Problems: Quitting on Them Books

Sometime last year, I came to a decision that’s changed my reading: I was going to let myself give up on books.

I’ve given up on books before. Three separate starts couldn’t get me through The Count of Monte Cristo, and I just could not handle the third Shopaholic book. But it was always with a lot of hemming, a lot of guilt. How could I leave this book unfinished? How could I abandon this story?

Here’s how. My Goodreads list of books to read is in the hundreds. And even that’s just the mountainous tip of the book pile. There are books that I forget to add, new novels that don’t make it to that list, and all the other books, kid’s lit and nonfiction, that I just pick up on a whim and begin. When I’m reading a book that I wasn’t in the right mood for, or that I honestly don’t like, I think of all those books that I could be reading, that I’d rather be reading.

So why don’t I just read those instead?

I have more books on my list than I could read in a lifetime. I shouldn’t feel obligated to waste more of that time than I have to.

Do you abandon books? Does it kill you inside, or are you fine with it? Or maybe I’m just spouting blasphemy as far as you’re concerned? Let me know, and tell me some books you’ve ditched!

The Bone Season (The Bone Season, #1)Here are some recent ditches of mine, some because I just didn’t feel like it as much as I thought I would, others because I just could not enjoy myself, at all (you can guess what’s what!):

  • The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon
  • Kafka by the Shore by Haruki Murakami
  • The Magicians by Lev Grossman
  • Dodger by Terry Pratchett
  • The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
  • Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Books on My Spring To-Be-Read List

This is part of Top Ten Tuesday (yes, I know it’s Wednesday) on The Broke and the Bookish. This week: what books do I want to read this spring?

Men at Arms by Terry PratchettMen at Arms by Terry Pratchett. I’m reading Guards! Guards! right now, and I have read this book before, but I want to go through all the Watch books in order in my quest to finally read all of Sir Terry’s books.

Dodger by Terry Pratchett. Not a Discworld book! (I think?) But I’ve been meaning to grab it for a while.

The Peculiar by Stefan Bachman. I’m getting back into my middle grade story, so it’s time to read a bunch more middle grade books.

The Curse of the Blue Figurine by John Bellairs. More middle grade lit! This is an older one, but it was a favorite of my husband’s when he was a kid.

The Sculptor, graphic novel by Scott McCloudThe Copernicus Legacy: The Serpant’s Curse by Tony Abbott. I…should have read this one already, I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

The Sculptor by Scott McCloud. I’ve got my library copy wasting away in my book basket.

Get in Trouble: Stories by Kelly Link. Short stories! Yes! This should be good.

Lost & Found by Brooke Davis. A new adult novel that sounds really fascinating (a girl gets abandoned in a store by her mother). So long as it doesn’t get depressing at the end.

Cress and Fairest by Marissa Meyer. I’m putting them both in the same spot because I just, just started Cress.

That’s me! I might actually get to these ones? We’ll see.

What about you? What do you plan on reading?