I like the idea of doing these quick takes for books for which I won’t be doing a full review. It’s adding up – here’s Quick Takes 1. And this page continues the quick takes on books read or attempted in 2019 – quick takes means I’m not doing a full review but still have a little something-something I want to say.
This one isn’t a book, it’s a short story but I couldn’t find a link to add it to the Reading Room and Gallery on the Wadadli Pen blog, so I decided to say something about it here. The story is Canada-based writer Olive Senior’s The Boy Who Loved Ice Cream which, at its most basic level is about a boy who loved ice-cream (or rather a boy’s urgent desire for ice-cream, something he’s never tasted); but Olive Senior does not do basic. This rural retrospective is simple in nature but it has layers and layers, like a double-stacked cone. The pacing and tension is so well-executed, the stakes seem higher than they maybe are. But maybe they are that high, after all the tension sparked by the boy’s father’s dis-ease, will have implications for the family beyond the tale. And innocence shattered is always an epic theme. The Boy Who Loved Ice Cream appears in Senior’s Summer Lightning and Other Stories. Use of child protagonists has been identified time and time again as a signature of this collection, and The Boy who Loved Ice Cream is certainly representative of that. Published in 1986, it won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize launching Senior from Jamaica to literary stardom.
How to be a Knight in 10 Easy Stages by Scoular Anderson – this was sort of a work read but I enjoyed it – it’s pretty straight forward, a non-fiction for kids with a huge dollop of humour, especially in the illustrations (Scoular is both the writer and the illustrator) – but I learned some things too about life, weaponry, and norms in the middle ages. Also by Scoular and also from the Collins Big Cat series Pirate Party which was funny in the absurdist sort of way that children will find milk out of your nose funny.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera – I was often confused by but never bored with this book. There is so much pain – of the muted and persistent variety – around the issues of being and loving whether familial, romantic, or love of country (and how that mutates when that country is crushed by larger, invading forces; when love tears at your very sense of self and/or is unrequited; when family stifles your spirit before it can even bloom). When I mentioned to a friend that I was reading it, she remarked on the film and the reasons she said she thought it didn’t work make sense to me. How do you transfer this book – the way the individual stories unfold (the same scenarios through different perspectives and how they become something entirely different), the heavy use of symbolism, dream symbolism (the rabbit), dream imagery, object imagery (the bowler hat), that scene on the hill (!), the entanglement of base individual desires and the fate of whole countries, the writing generally (“…the abyss separating Sabina and Franz; he listened eagerly to the story of her life and she was equally eager to hear the story of his, but although they had a clear understanding of the logical meaning of the words … they failed to hear the semantic susurrus of the river flowing thorough them”), the way the narrator seems both a part of and apart from the story he (she?) is telling, is so familiar with the reader (first person, direct address) with god like knowledge of the characters (even the things they don’t understand about themselves), the unexpectedly happy (?) ending though the much more tragic end came earlier in the story, the who-knows-what-really-happened-ness of it all, life and death and the meaning of it all love, lust, political ideology, the fates of countries etc. – to film when it can’t even walk a straight line in your head. As a woman I most identified with Tereza and how Tomas’ infidelities hurt her but that feels too reductive in a book so concerned with much bigger issues (national, philosophical), a book in which you are so often uncertain what’s real. I feel like I need to watch the movie now because I’m not sure how you’d make this in to a movie and I’m not entirely sure how to make it make sense in my head. I found the reading of it invigorating though.
Collins Caribbean Social Studies 1 (eds. Rob Morris, Bruce Nicholson, Eartha Thomas-Hunte) – I actually didn’t read all of this (it’s a student’s revision book) but I did appreciate the stories re the life of Caribbean notables such as Antigua and Barbuda’s own Nellie Robinson.
Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff – Did not Finish [DNF] – so why am I mentioning this if it was a DNF? Because I did make some notes and might as well share them (abridged though my reading of the books was). All I could think as I read was, how is this real life? Not because it sounds outlandish but because I’m not surprised; and still don’t understand how anyone was taken in, and still feel enraged by the media and the enablers around him. Some thought it was funny but as we say in the Caribbean, where laugh dey, cry dey. It was never funny to me (as someone existing in the world where America casts a large shadow). The ignorance, arrogance, and sycophancy described in the book are appalling, but also presented in such a soapy, gossipy, and self-impressed way, it at times amused me with its snark but ultimately loses me. It’s very inside-baseball and sometimes ties itself up with its insidery-ness. Sometimes the level of fly on the wall detail is amazing and at other times the handwaving vagueness would be frustrating (if I cared). The Russia chapter which was about as far as I got, I think, was oddly tedious – too much detail, too much hypothesizing. Beyond that, it just wasn’t a good read – not least of which because it needed additional editing, proofing (which is saying something in a book that uses showy words like “persiflage”), and possibly fact checking. The biggest reason for the DNF though was I realized at a certain point that I just didn’t want to read about him – he’s tiring and reading about him is tiring.
Ororo: Before the Storm by Mark Sumerak with illustrator Carlo Barberi – My favourite X-Men, the second multiple-comic-arc, Storm-focused shot at her origins story I’ve read recently (here was my take on the first one I read) and here are some observations after the two:, there is always jealousy (a jealous rival) in her origins story, a band of thieves as family, a shady but maybe not shady mentor, and a villainous threat that puts her life and the life of those she loves at risk; one major difference, in one everyone and the world of the story is broadly Africa while in this one, I don’t know, from the art, she seems more middle eastern or north east African.
The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton (audio book) – I ended up listening to this cover to cover unexpectedly while I worked. That’s one of the reasons I’m not doing a full review (though this is long for a quick take), I wasn’t reading it reading it…but it wasn’t white noise either. Maybe I was feeling nostalgic because The Outsiders is one of those brat pack flicks my sis and I watched as kids but I’d never read the book and it is so good (better than the movie even). I’m biased though. Listening to the book, the movie played in my head – like C. Thomas Howell is Pony Boy Curtis, Rob Lowe is Soda Pop, Emilio Estevez is Two Bit, Matt Damon, Patrick Swayze, Ralph Macchio…all those dudes, they are stamped in my mind and I am of the generation where they were the hotness. So it was a fond walk down memory lane. Eye candy aside, this is a really touching read – it was movie-wise as well between Dally and Johnny’s tragic end, and the emo-ness of Pony Boy whose family is raising itself after his parent’s death. This is all from Pony Boy’s perspective (he narrates throughout what turns out to be the essay he’s writing at the end) and he says things like “Maybe people are younger when they’re asleep.” It was Pony Boy who introduced me to Robert Frost. So we know he’s highly empathetic and going through it through the course of this story, which is about loss, growing up and classism (the line being between the upper crust Sochas and the lower class Greasers of which Pony Boy, Soda Pop, and their big brother Patrick Swayze are a part). ‘Reading’ the book gave me a warm feeling in spite of all the tragedy (and I was just as hyped over the rumble as I was as a kid – in fact it was better rendered in the book). The story holds up and the narration was good except for some of the dialogue work (jarring at times) – the audio not the actual dialogue. Such a good book – I don’t care what literary/critical snobs have to say about it – and a classic having been written back in the 60s, with the movie coming out in the early 80s. Such a gripping book, such endearing characters, and that ending – it’ll break your heart.
13 Strategies to Elevate Your Career by Janice Sutherland (exclusively e-book) – Blogger on Books – tackles things I can relate to like networking anxiety. A quick, useful read.