Book List 08

A list of books I’ve read in 2008 (if you want 2006’s book list, it’s here and 2007’s list is here). A brief description of each. And the first few lines.

1. No one belongs here more than you. Stories by Miranda July
I enjoyed the collection, but found it uneven. Some of the stories were really good (“The Shared Patio,” “Birthmark”), and then some were just okay. Of course, that’s just my opinion–and others have differed, because many of the stories in this collection were published in unquestionably top literary journals. Sometimes I felt the writing was super self-conscious, sometimes I loved the voice, sometimes I loved the characters…but mostly it was just okay.

First few lines of the first story entitled “The Shared Patio”:

“It still counts, even though it happened when he was unconscious. It counts doubly because the conscious mind often makes mistakes, falls for the wrong person. But down there in the well, where there is no light and only thousand-year-old water, a man has no reason to make mistakes. God says do it and you do it. Love her and it is so. He is my neighbor. He is of Korean descent. His name is Vincent Chang. He doesn’t do hapkido. When you say the word ‘Korean,’ some people automatically think of Jackie Chan’s South Korean hapkido instructor, Grandmaster Kim Jin Pal; I think of Vincent.”

2. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
I really disliked her other book, Goodbye Tsugumi, which I read in 2006 but never fell in love or even “in like” with the story, the characters, or the writing. I nearly gave up on Banana but tried Kitchen after encouragement by others. Oh boy! I really liked this book of hers! I thoroughly enjoyed it–the characters, the plot, the writing, and Mikage, the main character. And yes, the pervading theme of food and kitchens. What made this work and not the other novel? I’m not sure.

In addition to the novel, I read “Moonlight Shadow.” The book I bought had both the novel and the short story. I hear it was her first story–wow! They are great companion pieces, both dealing with death and grief and a first person female narrator who is somehow remarkably likeable.

First few lines:

“The place I like best in this world is the kitchen. No matter where it is, no matter what kind, if it’s a kitchen, if it’s a place where they make food, it’s fine with me. Ideally it should be well broken in. Lots of tea towels, dry and immaculate. White tile catching the light (ting! ting!).

I love even incredibly dirty kitchens to distraction–vegetable droppings all over the floor, so dirty your slippers turn black on the bottom. Strangely, it’s better if this kind of kitchen is large. I lean up against the silver door of a towering, giant rerigerator stocked with enough food to get through a winter. When I raise my eyes from the oil-spattered gas burner and the rusty kitchen knife, outside the window stars are glittering, lonely.”

3. Our Twisted Hero by Yi Munyol
I admit, I have not read much Korean literature, even though I really want to get to know Korean literature. Even though there hasn’t been, until very recently, many Korean works translated into English. (My Korean reading/vocabulary, while proficient for conversation, is nowhere near the level needed for reading and understanding of literary works). When I asked my second cousins, my only blood relatives outside of my immediate family in the United States who I ought to begin reading, they listed off a few authors. Yi Munyol was one of them. When I asked, “What about Our Twisted Hero?” They nodded. “That’s a good one,” they approved.

So I was very curious to read this seminary piece of work, one that my cousins approved of so heartily. I tried reading it last year but gave up–somehow I was not in the mood–I was deeply involved with Haruki Murakami’s surreal worlds and his conversational tone. This year, I picked up Yi Munyol and began reading again. I found myself reading without stopping. It’s a very spare sort of writing, an unadulterated style–very straightforward and blunt yet incredibly meaningful. The allegory of the story is obvious, but somehow the story still very much lives–a boy struggling against his class’s very cruel, “twisted hero.” But who really is the “twisted hero” in the end? The plotting is great, the characterization vivid.

Loved it. Going to read more of his work.

First few lines:

“It’s been nearly thirty years already, but whenever I look back on that lonely, difficult fight, which continued from spring of that year through the fall, I become as desolate and gloomy as I was at the time. Somehow in our lives we seem to get into fights like this all the time, and perhaps I get this feeling because to this day I’ve never really extricated myself.”

4. Blue Angel by Francine Prose
Man! After a rapid reading pace for this year, it took me over a month to read another book! It wasn’t for lack of trying–I think I started 3 or 4 books simultaneously, wondering which would catch my attention–and in the end, Francine Prose’s Blue Angel won out. You see, I’m a sucker for campus novels. Especially campus novels having to do with creative writing professors and students, ala Wonderboys or Straight Man.

So of course I was predisposed towards liking this book. And I did. It was slow until three quarters of the way through when the sh*t hit the fan. And then it accelerated (yay! I thought).

First few lines:

“Swenson waits for his students to complete their private rituals, adjusting zippers and caps, arranging the pens and notebooks so painstakingly chosen to express their tender young selves, the fidgety ballets that signal their weekly submission and reaffirm the social compact to be stuck in this room for an hour without real food or TV. He glances around the seminar table, counts nine; good, everyone’s here, then riffles through the manuscript they’ve scheduled to discuss, pauses, and says, ‘Is it my imagination or have we been seeing an awful lot of stories about humans having sex with animals?'”

5. The Diving Pool Three Novellas by Yoko Ogawa
I love Yoko Ogawa, ever since I read her short story/novella, “Pregnancy Diary” in the New Yorker a few years ago. I immediately fell in love with her writing–her vivid imagery and remarkable tension left an imprint in my mind, one that needed to be filled again.

So when I saw “The Diving Pool” in another issue, I gobbled it up. Same with “Backstroke” in A Public Space‘s inaugural issue.

And when her book, The Diving Pool came out, of course I ordered it straight away. It’s a collection of three novellas, two mentioned above (“The Diving Pool” and “Pregnancy Diary”) and so I found myself treading familiar narrative ground as I chewed through the two stories. The third one is “Dormitory”–and it’s a statement of how much I love Ogawa’s writing that I say that the book was worth the purchase, even though I’d read 2/3 of the book’s stories already.

Her writing is haunting and yet innocent. Full of great tension (I must learn from her) and tremendous imagery. It gets under your skin. In a good way.

First few lines of “Dormitory,” the third novella in the book (and somehow it reminds me of Yasunari Kawabata’s Sound of the Mountain:

“I became aware of the sound quite recently, though I can’t say with certainty when it started. There is a place in my memory that is dim and obscure, and the sound seems to have been hiding just there. At some point I suddenly realized that I was hearing it. It materialized out of nowhere, like the speckled pattern of microbes on the agar in a petri dish.”

6. Edinburgh by Alexander Chee
An entire book written in present tense? This couldn’t possibly be, is what I told myself as I began reading Edinburgh. Will the book and the writer (Alexander Chee, aka Koreanish) pull off hundreds of pages written in present tense?

I mean, I have read so many novel drafts written in present tense–painful, slow moving, non revelatory drafts stuck in present tense, without the enlightenment of the future…that I have developed a prejudice AGAINST present tense. So this novel had a hill to climb with me.

But yes! One of the greatest things about present tense is the element of surprise–and I can’t see this book written in anything but present tense, given its plot and character development. In fact, I already recommended the book to someone who is writing a novel in present tense.

The other wonderful and rich facet of this book is the language–just miles of beautiful words and phrases and images. The story is heartbreaking, but the beauty of the words makes you linger, always.

Just to give you an idea how engaging the home stretch of the novel is, I read the last half of the novel last night in one fell swoop, staying way past my bedtime. The first half was read over a couple of weeks (my normal pace–as I read in bed before going to sleep).

And strangely, the book makes me want to visit Maine.

First few lines:

“I audition for the Pine State Boys Chorus on an afternoon at the end of November in the year I am twelve years old. The audition, I recall, is my own idea. In a gray-stone cathedral’s practice room, somewhere near Longfellow Square in Portland, Maine, I sing, for a square-headed, owlish man, a series of scales that he plunks out on the piano, his pink fingers playful over the black and white keys.”

7. Slam by Nick Hornby
I love Nick Hornby–I am a fan of his books. Slam wasn’t my favorite but if you’re a Hornby fan, you’ll still want to pick it up. The plotline is on the simple side, and I am beginning to think the last two books of his (A Long Way Down and now Slam) are written with movies in mind. I swear, it feels like Hornby even has the movie stars pre-cast in his mind! Hornby’s strength is his voice, but the narrator, a skater named Sam, has a remarkably similar voice to Marcus in About A Boy, even though the characters couldn’t be any more different. In sum, I feel like Hornby is recycling voices–but of course, that also makes this a “typical” Hornby novel: fun to read, lively characters, and a quick pace. With just a hint of romance.

Still, enjoyable! It was great to take a break with Hornby.

First few lines:

“So things were ticking along quite nicely. In fact, I’d say that good stuff had been happening pretty solidly for about six months.

  • For example: Mum got rid of Steve, her rubbish boyfriend.
  • For example: Mrs. Gillett, my Art and Design teacher, took me to one side after a lesson and asked whether I’d thought doing art at college.
  • For example: I’d learned two new skating tricks, suddenly, after weeks of making an idiot of myself in public. (I’m guessing that not all of you are skaters, so I should say something straightaway, just so there are no terrible misunderstandings. Skating-skateboarding. We never say skateboarding, usually, so this is the only time I’ll use the word in this whole story. And if you keep thinking of me messing around on ice, then it’s your stupid fault.) All that, and I’d met Alicia too.

8. The Dead Fish Museum by Charles D’Ambrosio
A friend of mine raved about this collection. She absolutely RAVED about it–to the point where I became rather suspicious. Could it be THAT good? She kept telling me to read it.

So of course, in my stubborn way, I decided to NOT read it right away. I mean, no one tells me what to do and what to like!

But I finally did pick up the book, a year later. And fell in love with the stories and D’Ambrosio’s writing. These are complex, complete stories–the characters so intricate, the writing both ruthless and compassionate. The level of detail he provides (and the eye for the right details) is amazing–I’ll have to pick apart each of the stories later, see where he goes deep and where he hangs back, and try to learn that perfect balance between the near and far. In terms of themes and such–they somehow remind me of Mary Gaitskill’s stories in the way they show the dark side of humanity.

Awesome collection.

First few lines of “Drummond & Son”:

“Drummond opened the shop every morning at seven so he and his boy could eat breakfast while the first dropoffs were coming in. The boy liked cereal and sat at the workbench in back, slurping his milk, while Drummond occasionally hustled out to the curb to help a secretary haul a cumbersome IBM from the back seat of a car. The front of the store was a showroom for refurbished machines, displayed on the shelves, each with a fresh sheet of white bond rolled into the platen, while the back was a chaos of wrecked typewriters Drummond would either salvage or cannibalize for parts someday.”

9. Beauty and Sadness by Yasunari Kawabata

Another work of genius by the genius. An incredible display of unfulfilled desire–and an incredible balance of subtlety and power in his writing. I have to figure out how he IMPLIES so much in his writing and yet the characters and plot are not vague whatsoever.

I know I’m short–but Kawabata is one of my favorite writers and I can’t say enough good things.

First few lines:

“Five swivel chairs were ranged along the other side of the observation car of the Kyoto express. Oki Toshio noticed that the one on the end was quietly revolving with the movement of the train. He could not take his eyes from it. The low armchairs on his side of the car did not swivel.”

10. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

This is better than her first collection, the Pulitzer Prize winning Interpreter of Maladies. Much better than her novel, Namesake. This short story collection shows her growth as a writer–the influence of having written a novel, of having lived life, of taking her time, of ever growing confidence. Her sentences are impeccable, each line is critical path, the pacing spot on, the characters tragic and beautiful. This collection is FANTASTIC. I loved it, especially the 2nd part about Hema and Kaushik, which made me weep.

And I don’t weep as a reader very often at all.

First few lines of “Once in a Lifetime”:

“I had seen you before, too many times to count, but a farewell that my family threw for yours, at our house in Inman Square, is when I begin to recall your presence in my life. Your parents had decided to leave Cambridge, not for Atlanta or Arizona, as some other Bengalis had, but to move all the way back to India, abandoning the struggle that my parents and their friends had embarked upon. It was 1974. I was six years old. You were nine.”

11. Memory by Philippe Grimbert

A good friend of mine recommended this book, one of her favorite books of all time, to me. She said it could possibly change my life to read it. I don’t know about you, but I am all for reading books that could shake the psychic ground beneath me.

And so I immediately bought it. It is a tiny book, less than 150 pages and the pages are about 6″x4″, the size of large index cards–but oh my, it covers so much psychic and narrative ground in that spare ground! It is full of soul. And it makes me want to go back through all my novel pages and edit out all the lines and scenes without a soul, without a heart.

Because Grimbert shows us what happens when every line sings with heart and depth. This is now one of my favorite novels of all time, too. I am grateful to my friend for showing me this book.

First few lines:

“Although an only child, for many years I had a brother. Holiday friends and casual acquaintances had no option but to take my word for it. I had a brother. Stronger and better looking. An older brother, invisible and glorious.”

12. The Life Before Us (“Madame Rosa”) by Romain Gary (Emile Ajar)

The same good friend who recommended Memory recommended The Life Before Us (and I was to read Memory first, which I did with great obedience).

Heartbreaking story. Reminds me of Dickens. The greatest piece of brilliance in this book was Gary/Ajar’s characterization of Momo, Madame Rosa, and all of the other children and neighbors in a Parisian immigrant slum. I’m working on characterization in my novel right now, so this book came to me with great timing.

Also, it’s gotta be one of the best first person narratives I’ve read. Check out the killer opening lines.

First few lines:

“The first thing I have to tell you is that we lived on the seventh-floor walk-up, so you can take my word for it that Madame Rosa, with all the pounds she had to lug around with her, had more than her share of daily life with all its sorrows and cares. She said so too, whenever she wasn’t complaining about something else, because to make matters worse she was Jewish. Her health wasn’t so good either, and I can tell you right now that if ever a woman deserved an elevator it was Madame Rosa.”

13. GraceLand by Chris Abani

A new writing mentor–someone I really admire. I picked up GraceLand because I was curious and hopeful about its novel structure. And I was rewarded.

Notes on it structure–the main story is set in 1983…but in Book 1, every other chapter is set in the past until the timeline intersects at the end of Book 1 (i.e., Chapter 1: 1983…Chapter 2: 1972…Chapter 3: 1983…Chapter 4: 1974, etc., etc.). The beginning of Book 2 moves forward from that point, staying in 1983.  Bam.

In addition to structure, I found the climax riveting and terrifying. Wow. I feel grateful for this book. It came to me just in time.

And…you’ll love Elvis.

First few lines:

“Elvis stood by the open window. Outside: heavy rain. He jammed the wooden shutter open with an old radio batter, against the wind. The storm drowned the tinny sound of the portable radio on the table. He felt claustrophobic, fingers gripping the iron of the rusty metal protector. It was cool on his lips, chin and forehead as he pressed his face against it.”

14. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

This is a memoir and book about running AND writing.  It makes me want to start training for a marathon, because the two seem, according to Murakami, inextricably linked, as if the key to his writing success, the key to his writing creativity and energy.

Murakami writes short stories and novels.  He has, previously, published one book of nonfiction about the sarin gas attacks in Tokyo.  He has never published a memoir, something this personal–and even though he doesn’t go deeply into his person life, this window into his thoughts on running do help us get to know the writer behind the stories a bit better.

First few lines:

“I’m on Kauai, in Hawii, today, Friday, August 5, 2005.  It’s unbelievably clear and sunny, not a cloud in the sky.  As if the concept clouds doesn’t even exist.  I came here at the end of July and, as always, we rented a condo.  During the mornings, when it’s cool, I sit at my desk, writing all sorts of things.  Like now: I’m writing this, a piece on running that I can pretty much compose as I wish.”

15. A Map of Home by Randa Jarrar

I love this book.  It is a great example, along with Junot Diaz’s writing, of how the voice of a narrator can make you fall in love with a character and what she might have to say before the story really even begins.  It is a bildungsroman, starring Nidali, a spunky charismatic firecracker of a girl, who is born in Chicago, grows up in Kuwait and then after war displaces her, moves to Egypt, and then after more difficulties moves to Texas.

I can’t tell you how many times this book had me laughing my ass off.  The humor is informed by sadness and struggle (in Korean we call that feeling “han”–and not incidentally, Nidali’s very name means “struggle”) and I found myself identifying SO much with Nidali. The humor is effective because it has layers of meaning, because we know what it is trying to deflect, and because it drives us forward in a narrative that is, in the end, unflinching in its honesty.

And despite all the laughing throughout my reading (there are sooo many killer lines in this book that sometimes I wondered if Randa was guided by Margaret Cho’s spirit), in the end, I burst into tears.  “Stop crying, stop crying!” my husband playfully admonished me, as I closed the book.

First few lines:

“I don’t remember how I came to know this story, and I don’t know how I can possibly still remember it.  On August 2, the day I was born, my baba stood at the nurses’ station of St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center of Boston with a pen between his fingers and filled out my birth certificate.  He had raced down the stairs seconds after my birth, as soon as the doctor had assured him that I was all right.  I had almost died, survived, almost died again, and now I was going to live.”

16. Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino

Spotted this book at a Borders in Ann Arbor, remembered that Junot Diaz once said he liked a novel by Kirino, and bought it.  Six months later, I crack open the book…

I’m not sure why this book was as long as it is–the storyline itself is not that epic or groundbreaking, even though the premise (the narrator’s sister and high school classmate are murdered…) is intriguing.  And the ending?  Total let down.

But but but!  The book did take risks in other areas, to great success.  The characters are fantastic.  The narrator intriguing.  The voice, great.  What I found especially inspiring was the use of letters and diary entries in the structure of this novel.  Even though I normally dislike epistolary fiction, I was really in love with the letters and diaries–I really felt like I was eavesdropping into the characters’ lives.  And it has given me some inspiration for my own novel and the device of letters.

I hear Kirino’s Out is a better novel.  Going to check that out.  Grotesque was okay.  It took me two months to get through the first third of the novel…just a couple of weeks to get through the last two thirds, if that gives you any idea of the pacing.

First few lines:

“Whenever I meet a man, I catch myself wondering what our child would look like if we were to make a baby.  It’s practically second nature to me now.  Whether he’s handsome or ugly, old or young, a picture of our child flashes across my mind.  My hair is light brown and feathery fine, and if his is jet black and coarse, then I predict our child’s hair will be the perfect texture and color.  Wouldn’t it?  I always start out imagining the best possible scenarios for these children, but before long I’ve conjured up horrific visions from the very opposite end of the spectrum.”

17. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

My favorite novel of all time–and one I revisited with another read.  Every line just sings.  Gatsby’s tragic character is so layered, I discover new dimensions each time I reread the book.  But this time, I read with a new eye to the novel’s structure, told in just nine chapters.  I’m still digesting.

First few lines:

“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

‘Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’

He didn’t say anymore, but we’ve always been unusually communicative in a reserved way, and I understood that he mean a great deal more than that.  In consequence, I’m inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran bores.”

18. Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

Another book recommendation from a friend.  She called this book “possibly the most perfect novel.”  I think I agree.  It is a masterpiece–and as I read it, every single word and image and scene and character and theme was precious and in tense and steady balance.  Like plopping a bunch of stuff on a seesaw, making an arrangement, making that arrangement more complex, yet keeping it on the fulcrum.  Every single thing matters.  And every single thing matters to the narrator and to the characters, and everything is tense to the narrators, the characters and the setting of South Africa.  It was inspiring and heartbreaking to read.

First few lines:

“For a man of his age, fifty-two, divorced, he has, to his mind, solved the problem of sex rather well.  On Thursday afternoons he drives to Green Point.  Punctually at two p.m. he presses the buzzer at the entrance to Windsor Mansions, speaks his name, and enters.  Waiting for him at the door of No. 113 is Soraya.  He goes straight through to the bedroom, which is pleasant-smelling and softly lit, and undresses.”

19. The Untelling by Tayari Jones

I had been wanting to read something by Tayari Jones.  And so I found myself browsing through novel synopses, debating between her two books (the other is Leaving Atlanta); when I learned that The Untelling revolved around a character’s infertility, that was the clincher.

Infertility isn’t oft-talked about even in the realm of fiction, which seems to otherwise run rampant through the world of taboo. And so I read–the prose was silky, I was drawn in immediately into the characters.  I found the structure compelling–chapters flashing back into present time, flashing back into the past.  And of course, the brave, unblinking look into the world of infertility.  It has given me the courage to go ahead and do what I have been hesitating to do in my novel, and stop balking: I’m going to include a character’s infertility.  The character had been infertile all along, I had just not done more than mention it.

And I read the book after J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace, a very tough act to follow.

First few lines:

“Ariadne, my given name, the one that’s on my driver’s license, is the sort of name that your’e supposed to grow into.  It was my mother’s idea.  Her parents underestimated her when they called her Eloise, a name that had strained at the seams before she was old enough to spell it.  Our mother’s gifts to the three of us were lush, extravagant, roomy names.  Names that fit us like over-sized coats, trimmed in seed pearls, gold braid, and the hides of baby seals.”

20. The Pachinko Woman by Henry Mynton

Wanted to like the book, wanted to LOVE it.  I’m obsessed with the idea of pachinko parlors and their rumored connections to North Korea.  I seriously have considered writing a story around such an idea.  So when I spotted this book on the library shelf, I nabbed it.  Seriously: I WANTED TO LOVE THE BOOK…

But hated it.  I’d even go as far as to call it a piece of sh*t book.  Stereotypes abound–exoticism of Asia everywhere.  On page 9 there’s a line, “Steig knew that he was not handsome, but women were attracted by his smile–and by his eyes.  They were light blue…”  Blue eyed man in Japan. It keeps going.

Craft-wise, the writing is deplorable.  The point of view shifts drive me batty–switching from character to character.  Complex (good) AND confusing (bad).  Exposition everywhere.  Characters NOT “allowed” to interact and be themselves and instead burdened by author-driven explanations (paragraphs about history abound alongside dialogue).  And because they’re not allowed to bloom, they’re all two dimensional stereotypes.

The plot meanders, so much is episodic (stuff just happens and I’m not sure they’re linked/related).  There are lines that just drag under the weight of the words (seriously: “TV screens writhing with Japanese soaps”…?!  TV screens.  Writhing?!).  The voice is stiff–and the author is so intrusive in the narration.  Uggggh.  I’m so insulted–as both a Korean American and as a writer.  I’m just getting started.

According to the book jacket, “Henry Mynton is the pseudonym of an American who has lived in the Far East for more than thirty-five years….”  I can only presume a white American–the perspective is definitely that of an outsider with no respect for Korea/Japan…only what I can generously call “shallow fascination.” I’m not saying Korea/Japan is perfect, but for G*d’s sake, portray it in a three dimensional fashion! For all the beauty AND the faults.  This is a perfect example of what can go seriously wrong when writers write characters outside of their own race.

Also, as a writer, I can’t believe this piece of shit got published.  I have read rough drafts of fiction from MFA peers that are WAY better than this.  Actually, MOST of them were WAY better than this.  And I’m talking about rough drafts…of even the worst shit.

First few lines:

“Steig spent an hour getting to the gambling place that Japanese call a pachinko parlor.  The drizzling had stopped, but not the Tokyo humidity; he was sweating in the June evening heat.  Following his training, the German had doubled back twice, changed trains, taken a bus, broken his profile by putting on a cap and jacket, changed pace frequently, and finally strolled the open space near Meiji Park.  This allowed him a good look to see if he was being followed.  Two couples in cutoff jeans and rapper hairdos were heading the opposite way.  Nobody else.  He was clean…

Above the whirling of steel balls and thunder of howling music, displays of flashing lights exploded in dizzying streaks.  One wall was fifty TV screens writhing with Japanese soaps, the first inning of the Yomiuri Giants baseball game, and erotic foreign films.  The noise and excitement were cataclysmic.  A sense of place prevailed as if this were the eye of the storm.”

21. The Truth Book by Joy Castro

What a gutsy memoir.  You root for the narrator/author/protagonist from beginning to the end, you pray for her, you want to hug her, you want to just bring her something to eat, you want to tell her it will be okay, and you want to hug her again.  The emotional timbre of this piece is so very honest–I wish more memoirs were written like this with no hint of self-consciousness.

The book’s structure is intriguing–she flashes back and forth in time, and yet pulls it off by adding complexity, without confusing the reader.  I have to take a closer look at how Joy Castro does this…without removing the suspense from the storyline and without confusing the reader as to when/where we are.

First few lines:

“I was alone in Miami then, staying with a girlfriend who’d gotten married.  Her husband didn’t want me there, didn’t know me, claimed I was a bad influence on the children.  At night, they’d argue.

‘It won’t be much longer,’ my friend would say.  ‘October.’

The abortion hadn’t worked.  Lenny had driven me to the industrial park in Peoria.  I gave the man our two hundred dollars.  He didn’t look like a doctor.  He took me to a room farther back in the warehouse while Lenny waited on a folding chair.  He told me to close my eyes and relax.  He put things in me and took the out, played around down there.  Then he told me to go home.  It hadn’t seemed so bad.  Lenny drove to Chinatown and we ate dinner.  I sat with my head on his shoulder all the way home.  He’d let me, now.  He was affectionate again, now that I’d done it.”

22.  My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor

The book I had to read, written by a neuroanatomist who had a stroke.  Incredible insight into strokes by a certified “brain scientist,” who first came to my attention via her enlightening talk at TED.  Though each stroke is different, she really spoke for me.

First few lines:

“I am a trained and published neuroanatomist.  I grew up in Terre Haute, Indiana.  One of my older brothers, who is only 18 months older than I, was diagnosed with the brain disorder schizophrenia.  He was officially diagnosed at the age of 31, but showed obvious signs of psychosis for many years prior to that.  During our childhood, he was very different from me in the way he experienced reality and chose to behave.  As a result, I became fascinated with the human brain at an early age.  I wondered how it could be possible that my brother and I could share the same experience but walk away from the situation with completely different interpretations about what had just happened.  This difference in perception, information processing, and output motivated me to become a brain scientist.”

10 responses to “Book List 08

  1. anonwupfan

    YEAH! I’m glad you enjoyed “Kitchen.”

    Beware: “Moonlight Shadow” is a pretty boss story, but I refuse to believe that that was her first–the person perpetuating this lie is obviously a demented sadist hell-bent on shaking your confidence (take care to avoid this person in the future.)

    As far as BY’s other writing goes, maybe she just had a couple of hum-dingers in her and that was it. As an aspiring writer, it’s terrifying to consider that the first years of writing could be the best. She is still pretty young though; maybe she’s working on something great as we speak. We can hope so.

  2. KuanShiYin

    I’ve been looking at your reading lists – not what brought me here but that’s another story about another “pleasant patient”.

    If you like really Murakami, you must read The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. It is my favorite so far.


  3. KuanShiYin: The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, I think, is his masterpiece for sure! I definitely agree with you. It was the first book of his I read, and one that made me a lifelong fan.

  4. twentythird

    Hey JP, have you read Jhumpa Lahiri’s new short story collection yet?

  5. twentythird: I have not–but I just cracked it open yesterday!

  6. Violeta

    I got the Murakami “running book” for my husband. He hasn’t gotten to it yet because he’s reading Junot’s Oscar Wao, so I might just borrow it from him in the meantime to read myself.
    I love your reading list! Mine’s on my website because I can’t figure out how to put it on my blog.

  7. I am halfway through Unaccustomed Earth and LOVE it. I’m sad to hear her other books aren’t as good because I want to read them both ASAP. I LOVE her writing and it always makes me happy to discover a new author whose future books I can look forward to.

  8. P.S. The baby in Only Goodness is the same age as Shea, and I was horrified by the bathtub incident. OMG!

  9. Chi

    Yesterday i spent 300 $ for platinium roulette system
    , i hope that i will earn my first $$ online

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