Friday, September 30, 2011

What I'm Reading Now: Stories in Living Color

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

You all know I regularly post book reviews here on the Meltingpot, but the truth of the matter is, I read far more than I have time to review. In fact, I read so much, I consider myself a book addict. When I finish one book, if I don't have a new book to dive into, I'm like a crackhead and start to get the shakes. Sometimes I can stave off withdrawal symptoms with a good magazine article, but that will only hold me for a short period of time.

Because I know many of you appreciate recommendations for good books, I thought I'd share with you what books I've gobbled up...I mean, read lately. And these aren't just good books, these are Meltingpot books. In other words, I'm not really interested in reading a book about White people and their lives in a White world. Not that I don't find White people fascinating, but it seems their stories are everywhere. I want to use my reading time to find out how other people live. Even if it's fiction, I want to immerse myself in another culture, or see my own culture reflected in some way. I want to see different cultures engaging with one another. I want to see cultures colliding and coming together. Don't get me wrong, I don't discriminate in my literary choices. I think of it more like affirmative action. If I can find a book with at least one colored character, I'm choosing that one over the book with just White folks. But at the end of the day, a good book is a good book. I'll read anything by Ann Patchett, for example, whether she adds people of color in her books or not (interestingly she usually does but not always.)

So, without further ado, here's what I've read in the last two months, in addition to Conquistadora and The Taste of Salt, which I reviewed here on the site.

1.  You Are Free: Stories by Danzy Senna. I generally shy away from short stories, but I'd read a grocery list if Danzy Senna wrote it. She is one of my favorite authors who always tackles mixed-race identity in all of her work. You Are Free is no exception. The stories aren't explicitly about race, but almost every story in the collection features a mixed-race character grappling with an issue that seems to stem from their racial blend. It's deep stuff and kind of depressing. By the end of the book, I desperately wanted to know if Senna was intentionally playing with the 'tragic mulatto' stereotype or if she truly 'knew' these characters she had invented. I'd love to hear other people's reactions to You Are Free.

2.  Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. Lisa See has been in my literary rear view mirror for awhile. My mother's book club was reading one of her books. One of her books is now showing at a theater near me. The local Barnes & Noble had a display of her books on the front table. But I just wasn't that interested. But when my local Borders went out of business, I scooped up Shanghai Girls because it was on deep discount and I decided to finally find out what Lisa See could deliver. This book is about two young sisters who are living the high life in Shanghai right before the Japanese invasion. Their privileged world falls apart however, when their father admits he's gambled away their fortune. To save himself, he essentially sells his daughters to get out of debt. The two sisters, May and Pearl, are now wives to two awkward brothers who live in the United States and they go from upper-class Chinese, to downtrodden immigrant workers in California.

I can't say I loved this book, but it was definitely a page-turner that kept me entertained. I also learned a lot about Chinese culture and the Chinese immigrant experience in America. For that reason, I would recommend the book to every American because you will never eat at a Chinese restaurant or stroll through your local Chinatown with the same innocent eyes.

Now I'm reading a new memoir by the award-winning author and poet, Jackie Kay. Kay was adopted as an infant in her native Scotland. Her birth mother was Scottish, her father an academic from Nigeria. The book, Red Dust Road, is her story of tracking down her birth parents and examining her life growing up with her communist parents. Despite the seriousness of her endeavor, this book is hilarious. Considering Kay finds out her birth mother became a Mormon and her birth father became a Christian zealot, if she couldn't find the humor in her origins, she probably wouldn't be in such a positive place in her life today. I had the pleasure of meeting Kay a few years ago at a literary festival and she is a beautiful human being and full of laughter. When I finish the book, I'll give you a complete review. But if you want to beat me to it, order if for yourselves. The only thing is, my friend sent it to me from England where it was published. I'm not sure if it's available through US book stores yet.

So, what are you reading these days? I'm going to need my next fix soon.

I'm listening.



Anonymous said...

Hello LT,

This will probably be one of the craziest question you have been asked. Please try to answer it as the answer will be really helpful. How do you read so fast?


Cyretha said...

This year my husband gave me an ipad. After seeing a friend with the kindle app on hers, I immediately downloaded it on mine. At that point in time, I decided I was only going to read books only by African authors. At the moment I am book #9 after starting in early June. I have enjoyed each and every book I have read. It has been an entirely new experience to read books by these great authors. I will not name all of the books here, but I will give three authors names; Suzanna E. Nelson, Alaa Al-Aswany, and Leila Aboulela. I have read two books by each of them.

A good place to find books in the genres that you like is

Hope that is helpful.

LT said...

I read all the time. I read before I go to bed and with a newborn, reading is really all I can manage. I even read in the bathroom because it's my only quiet, uninterrupted time. I read while my son is at guitar practice and I read during karate lessons. I love to read and I really do just read fast.

I love your commitment to read African authors. And thanks for the suggestions. I'll check them out.

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I wonder if you have more lectures like this one in your blog!