Poetry for thought - Your Invitation to a Modest Breakfast

Your Invitation to a Modest Breakfast 
by Hannah Gamble

It’s too cold to smoke outside, but if you come over,
I’ll keep my hands to myself, or won’t I.
I would like to tell you about the wall eaten up

by the climbing plant—it was so beautiful.
Various things have been happening to me,
all of them sexual. The man on the bus

took off his pants so I could see him better.
Another man said, “Ignore him darlin’.
Just sit on my lap.” But I’m not one of those

who’s hungriest in the morning,
unlike the man at the bakery
who eats egg after egg after egg.

Listen. Come over: the cold has already eaten
the summer. I need another pair of ears:
from the kitchen I can’t tell if I’m hearing wind chimes

or some gray woman with failing arms
dropping a pan full of onions and potatoes.
                            This morning I need four hands—

two to wash the greens, one to lift a teakettle,
one to pour the milk. This morning, one little mouth
will not do. We could play a game

where we crouch on the tiles, two yellow dogs
drinking coffee from bowls. We could play a game
where we let the breakfast burn.

Outside there’s a world where every love scene
begins with a man in a doorway;
he walks over to the woman and says “Open your mouth.”

Image: Flickr - gothick_matt


Review - The Bell Jar

The Bell Jar
by Sylvia Plath
230+ pages

Description via Goodreads
It was as if what I wanted to kill wasn't in that skin or the thin blue pulse that jumped under my thumb, but somewhere else, deeper, more secret, and a whole lot harder to get at. It would take two motions. One wrist, then the other wrist. Three motions, if you counted changing the razor from hand to hand. Then I would step into the tub and lie down (147)
In The Bell Jar, Plath gives the reader a disturbing and poetic look into the life of a young woman who has slipped into the void. Esther Greenwood, who by many standards should be pleased with her life, isn't. Shortly after interning at a fashion magazine she descends into 'madness'. Trapped under the bell jar, suffocating and withering away,  she enters an asylum after attempting suicide. 

Is there anything wrong with Esther? Physically--probably not, but the reader won't know for sure. It's the emotional stimuli that are most fascinating, the physical reactions are just that. The emotional hollowness Plath secures for the reader is not drawn from the everyday or a Moody Monday (this novel is semi-autobiographical). It seems that Esther can't help but to have a breakdown. You get the feeling it's in her nature, this destructiveness. And yet there's something very relatable about her. She's selfish and small talk and other everyday interactions leave her feeling stale. Her internship has her surrounded by silly women all day and she doesn't have to work for anything. She feels displaced, so she feels nothing, day in and day out. 

Flashbacks to her relationship with her quasi-boyfriend, Buddy Willard are odd. The expectations he has of her and their status are discouraging. The same can be said for all the interactions Esther has with men in this book. Just downright discouraging. I think this aspect of the book is most enduring. That and the descriptions  of Esther's melancholic, self-destructive nature:
Then I lifted my right hand with the razor and let it drop of its own weight, like a guillotine, onto the calf of my leg. I felt nothing. Then I felt a small, deep thrill, and a bright seam of red welled up at the lip of the slash. The blood gathered darkly, like fruit, and rolled down my ankle into the cup of my black patent leather shoe (148)
Cobwebs touched my face with the softness of moths. Wrapping my black coat round me like my own sweet shadow, I unscrewed the bottle of pills and started taking them swiftly, between gulps of water, one by one by one...The silence drew off, baring the pebbles and shells and all the tatty wreckage of my life. Then, at the rim of vision, it gathered itself, and in one sweeping tide, rushed me to sleep (169)
The novel is filled with these passages. Lovely, aren't they? I have to say that Esther's anxiety about getting shock treatments gave me anxiety...By the end we see Esther improve somewhat and it seems she will most likely leave the asylum and reenter the world she rejected.

The Bell Jar

Four stars.


European Reading Challenge 2012 - Complete

My Reading Selection

Germany - The Neverending Story
Sweden - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
England - The Moonstone
Russia - Pale Fire
France - Pierre and Jean and Selected Short Stories

The Neverending Story
Pierre and Jean and Selected Short Stories

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Moonstone

Pale Fire
The Moonstone

Pale Fire
Pierre and Jean and Selected Short Stories

I was about to publish a post about how I wasn't able to finish this challenge, when I realized I already had! Here I am struggling to read The Three Musketeers when I don't need to--ha!

You see my Kindle tells me I'm at 38% and I'm pretty sure I've read at least 300 pages. So the entirety of that book is some absurd number of partially engaging narration. I can't do it. I didn't know the story was that long. Had I known, I would've chosen another book and adjusted my reading schedule accordingly. But like I said, I don't need to. I had already read a book by a French author sometime in July of last year.

At first it was looking like this would be an unsuccessful reading challenge, but it was actually decent: The Neverending Story was wonderful, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo--overrated, The Moonstone--boring, Pale Fire--leaves me with a question mark and The Three Musketeers--is not at all on the level of The Count of Monte Cristo Pierre and Jean and Selected Short Stories was eclectically morose.

With this complete (We had until January 31st to finish), I can finally focus on my 2013 reads.


Poetry for thought - The Darker Sooner

The Darker Sooner
by Catherine Wing

Then came the darker sooner,
came the later lower.
We were no longer a sweeter-here
happily-ever-after. We were after ever.
We were farther and further.
More was the word we used for harder.
Lost was our standard-bearer.
Our gods were fallen faster,
and fallen larger.
The day was duller, duller
was disaster. Our charge was error.
Instead of leader we had louder,
instead of lover, never. And over this river
broke the winter’s black weather.

Image: Flickr - MSC@flickr  


All the way from Indiana--a package!

Look what came in the mail!

...it had to be inspected first.

...and then once again after I opened it...animals are so silly. 

Anyways, it's a copy of Wolf to the Slaughter by Ruth Rendell, courtesy of Bev at My Reader's Block. In 2012 I participated in her Color Coded Reading Challenge, and was selected as a winner of sorts...so she gave me the option of choosing a book and I chose this one. Exciting because 1) I'm not one of those people who win things--ever (unless it's a competition) and 2) I love getting packages in the mail..

Thanks Bev!


Review - The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
by Junot Diaz
300+ pages

Description via Goodreads
What did you know about diaspora? What did you know about Nueba Yol or unheated 'old law' tenements or children whose self-hate short-circuited their minds? What did you know, madame, about immigration? Don't laugh, mi negrita, for your world is about to be changed. Utterly. Yes: a terrible beauty is etc., etc. Take it from me. You laugh because you've been ransacked to the limit of your soul, because your lover betrayed you almost onto death, because your first son was neverborn. You laugh because you have no front teeth and you've sworn never to smile again (160)
I read The Feast of the Goat not too long ago (click title for review) and I remember thinking how fear, shame and paranoia could spread through the oppressed and the oppressors for individuals in the moment and through generations over time. I have similar feelings about this book; it is a fictionalized account of the generations over time I was referring to. And I mention the Vargas Llosa because of the connection to Trujillo. There are footnotes about Trujillo all over the pages of 'Oscar Wao'. Trujillo's legacy of fear and hate is unleashed upon Oscar and his family, and it has diffused into Dominican culture on the island and in the community in the States.

While I feel Trujillo and things like fuku* are unique to Dominican culture initially, I believe they easily transpose to the American experience, and  the struggle with identity many young people face at some point in their lives, or throughout their lives. Oscar is the quintessential example of this: an overweight, ghetto nerd, living and breathing science fiction and fantasy culture and wallowing in self pity and degradation...and his biggest affront--he lacks that famous/infamous Dominican swagger. Poor Oscar is not the object of female affection...well no romantic affections anyways. He's a minority within a minority, a subculture within a subculture. I realize this doesn't sound like much at first, but this preoccupation with love and affection goes deeper than what it appears at the surface. It's present in the love-hate relationship between Oscar's sister, Lola, and their mother, Belicia. Oscar and himself. Lola and her boyfriends. Belicia and her past. Belicia and her family in the DR, Belicia and her mother-figure, La Inca, La Inca and her family, the family and Trujillo, the DR and Trujillo...once again, it's the fuku and the angst of society at work. 

Many of the characters in this book have dealt with pain or abuse of some form or another, but Diaz is able to spin threads of humor and realness into the dialogue and narrative, so the read as a whole isn't bogged down with misery. It's filled with playful generalizations, semi-colloquialisms, muted violence, brief dream sequences of a golden mongoose...the 'n-word' is said a lot--on par with the level of usage in the movie Django. It is colorful melancholy and strangely personal (...for me anyways) And while the ending isn't a happy one, it was certainly appropriate. This book is wonderful.

*fuku = curse, doom, superstitious powers, The Curse and Doom of the New World. 

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Five stars.


Book Beginnings - The Bell Jar

Book Beginnings is a meme hosted by Rose City Reader. Share the first sentence (or so) of a book you are currently reading, along with your initial thoughts and impressions about the sentence or book. Remember to include the title of the book and the author AND link up at the Rose City Reader
It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York. 
First, I have yet to read a poem* by Sylvia Plath that I haven't relished--and what can I say other than, this is my type of beginning...I'm reading The Bell Jar for a TBR challenge this year. I don't know how I went so long without reading a book that is seemingly right up my alley...I haven't officially started reading it yet, but plan on cracking it open sometime this weekend.

*The Applicant (click to read a great poem)


Poetry for thought - I Had Just Hung Up from Talking to You

I Had Just Hung Up from Talking to You
by Jessica Greenbaum

I had just hung up from talking to you
and we had been so immersed in the difficulty
you were facing, and forgive me,
I was thinking that as long as we kept talking,
you in your car in the parking lot of the boys’ school
as the afternoon deepened into early evening,
and me in the study, all the books around
that had been sources of beauty to us,
as long as we stayed in the conversation
padded with history like the floor of the pine forest,
as long as I thought out loud, made a joke
at my own expense, you would be harbored in that exchange,
but the boys were leaving the track
and after we hung up I looked out the window
to see the top of the bare January trees spotlit to silvery red,
massive but made from the thinnest
twigs at the ends of the branches at the ends of the limbs
they were waving and shining in a light
like no other and left only to them.

image: flickr-clogozm


Continuing the 'Quest' with Junot Diaz

Last year I told myself I was going to read more African-American fiction because I had knowingly avoided it for reasons mentioned here. In sum, I was annoyed that 1) Most books in the A.A. section of the bookstore looked like low-grade smut with brown people on the cover and 2) As a brown person I'm expected to read or have a connection to these books...I realize now and have realized for some time that I shouldn't generalize about things that I haven't investigated. So what did I do/try to do?--well, investigate of course. I started Quest Alpha to explore contemporary African-American fiction. 

The first book I read for Quest Alpha was Man Gone Down (click title for review). And it was amazing. I nominated it as one of the best 'Morose' reads of 2012 for it's gloomy depiction of a broken man in a broken family, trying to make the American Dream. Noting that the utter hopelessness in the stream-of-conscious narrative was raw, poetic and intellectual. I initially chose it because I thought it would address two of my favorite themes: (de)composition of the American family and failure to realize the American Dream. It did not disappoint. 

The second book I was supposed to read was Erasure by Percival Everett, but to this day I haven't been able to get my hands on a copy...so I redirected to another book--Who Fears Death (click title for review) It was like nothing I had ever read before, a weird composite of sci-fi/fantasy/dystopian with a non-eurocentric flair.

I read Who Fears Death months ago. In October I think. I haven't read anything else for the quest since then...but interestingly enough I started reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz a few days ago. And I feel I've inadvertently stumbled upon another book for the quest. However, there might be a problem...but wait, before I go into that potential problem I want to say why I think it works for the quest. There's a theme that connects Man Gone Down, Who Fears Death and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao: the struggle with identity. It is overwhelmingly present in all three books. But now the problem: Junot Diaz. No that's not right, the real problem is I don't know enough about Junot Diaz--enough about Junot Diaz's color identity. Is he one of those brown people who doesn't identify with his brownness? This of course doesn't matter in the storytelling. A good story is a good story. But I also don't want to slap a label containing any form of modifier that doesn't apply to someone, i.e African-American. There are some people who might take issue with this...not myself--but some. Diaz is Dominican point blank. I'm not certified, qualified, or justified to grade his level of blackness or African-American-ness (?) Besides I don't think Junot Diaz is one of those authors who tries to define anyone's blackness per se, he's just illustrating his reality. A reality, a genuine experience. An experience that this young woman can identify with...so anyways, I found this video of Junot Diaz speaking last December. Please watch if you have a minute or two.

So I watched the video and knew I didn't want to pull a 'passport check' AND I really like this book so I'm going to use it as reading material for Quest Alpha. But I still feel a little weird including him in the mix...I'm  going to learn all I can about Diaz...he intrigues the hell out of me.  


Book Beginnings - The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Book Beginnings is a meme hosted by Rose City Reader. Share the first sentence (or so) of a book you are currently reading, along with your initial thoughts and impressions about the sentence or book. Remember to include the title of the book and the author AND link up at the Rose City Reader

Our hero was not one of those Dominican cats everybody's always going on about--he wasn't no home-run hitter or a fly bachatero, not a playboy with a million hots on his jock. And except for one period early in his life, dude never had much luck with the females (how very un-Dominican of him). He was seven then. 
I'm not very far into this one, maybe forty pages or so, but I'm smiling and laughing with every page turn. The tone and approach of this novel is a change-up from what I normally read and I'm really enjoying it. I know I shouldn't snicker at the generalizations tossed around in this book, but I can't help it.


Review - White Butterfly

White Butterfly (Easy Rawlins #3)
by Walter Mosley
250+ pages

Description via Goodreads
I kept my silence and Hobbes took his friendly hand back. I was in a hurry to get to my house. I felt bad about turning down the policeman. I felt miserable that young women would die. But there was nothing I could do. I had my own life to attend to--didn't I? (20)
I flew through this book. It's Mosley's great writing--straightforward, fast-paced and charged with grit. I can't say that this particular story was any better than Devil in a Blue Dress or A Red Death...but I'm at the point where I'm comfortable with the characters, so I don't need to ponder their every action or word spoken. It all just works. 

What's new with Easy? Well...he's married with a kid and his adopted son Jesus. One happy family, except not. He's called on once again to help the police find a serial killer of exotic dancers/strippers/women of that variety. But the time Easy spends away from home and enveloped in secrets and the L.A underworld is taking a toll on his family life. This story is as much about personal wrongdoing as it is criminal wrongdoing. What do I mean by personal wrongdoing? ...well in my opinion it seems that Easy only married his wife, so he can say he has a wife and a home. Same goes for his daughter, who is named Edna by the way--shockingly close to his ex-lover/best friend's ex-wife's name, Etta. Now, I'm sure he loves them, but I'm also sure he's more in love with the idea of having a wife and child at home, in the house he bought all those years ago. It's sort of ties back in with his struggle over possession in A Red Death. In the end we see where all his  creeping around at questionable hours, in questionable places gets him and the family he always wanted. 

White Butterfly didn't leave me with as big an impression as Devil in a Blue Dress did, and that's because I viewed this as a transitional book...Easy once built up, is now stripped down. Again. We'll see what happens in the next Easy Rawlins mystery. 

White Butterfly

Four stars


Poetry for thought - Living in the Body

Living in the Body
by Joyce Sutphen

Body is something you need in order to stay
on this planet and you only get one.
And no matter which one you get, it will not
be satisfactory. It will not be beautiful
enough, it will not be fast enough, it will
not keep on for days at a time, but will
pull you down into a sleepy swamp and
demand apples and coffee and chocolate cake.

Body is a thing you have to carry
from one day into the next. Always the
same eyebrows over the same eyes in the same
skin when you look in the mirror, and the
same creaky knee when you get up from the
floor and the same wrist under the watchband.
The changes you can make are small and
costly—better to leave it as it is.

Body is a thing that you have to leave
eventually. You know that because you have
seen others do it, others who were once like you,
living inside their pile of bones and
flesh, smiling at you, loving you,
leaning in the doorway, talking to you
for hours and then one day they
are gone. No forwarding address.

Image: Flickr - Dreaming in the deep south


Review - The Tombs of Atuan

The Tombs of Atuan (Earthsea Cycle #2)
by Ursula K. LeGuin
150+ pages

Description via Goodreads
The Earth is beautiful, and bright and kindly, but that is not all. The Earth is also terrible, and dark, and cruel. The rabbit shrieks dying in the green meadows. The mountains clench their great hands full of hidden fire. There are sharks in the sea, and there is cruelty in men's eyes. And where men worship these things and abase themselves before them, there evil breeds...(118)
We meet up with Ged again, on another journey--but not at first. The majority of this short book is dedicated to introducing the character Arha, the High Priestess of The Nameless Ones in the Place of Tombs. She is a living artifact of an old, somewhat forgotten religion and even less relevant to the kingdom of the Godking that rules today...Ged, enters the book much later.

I thought the role of religion in this adventure was interesting. The worship at the Place is very dark in nature. It involves frequent human sacrifice and trips into a labyrinth of tombs and treasure, where no light is permitted. Arha is able to discern that religion means different things for different people. For some it is a pathway to power, for others it's a way of life and for others it's just something to do because there is nothing else to do. Gradually, she uses this realization to form opinions of her circle of acquaintances, and decide who is friend and who is foe. Ged, an outsider, nonbeliever and heathen wizard, whom she discovers in the tombs one day turns out to be friend. He defies everything Arha was told--he lights the darkness. He shows her there is more out there than what is suppressed in the dark labyrinth. He returns her name, Tenar, to her, and frees her from the Place...it was no surprise that some of her fellow temple-folk turn out to be foes. 

Plot-wise I didn't enjoy The Tombs of Atuan as much as I did A Wizard of Earthsea, but I think the language in this one is more friendly, and easier to read. I found Ged's origin story in A Wizard of Earthsea to be more compelling than Arha's...she comes across as a very self-righteous, condescending and self-centered character, which can be traced directly to her upbringing. As The Eaten One, she is told the darkness is her domain, and placed on a pedestal. Yet still she is just a girl, young and dumb, with no grasp on how vast and different the world is. Sequestered at the Place, she only knows what the other priestesses have taught her...which is religious worship (until she meets Ged) 

At the end of The Tombs of Atuan, Arha still has much to learn about herself. Whereas, by the end of A Wizard of Earthsea, Ged had matured substantially...but Ged also had the freedom to go on a journey of self-discovery. Arha is just now finding this freedom and perhaps in the third book of the Earthsea Cycle, Arha will experience something more.

The Tombs of Atuan

Four stars.


Book Beginnings - The Tombs of Atuan

Book Beginnings is a meme hosted by Rose City Reader. Share the first sentence (or so) of a book you are currently reading, along with your initial thoughts and impressions about the sentence or book. Remember to include the title of the book and the author AND link up at the Rose City Reader

One high horn shrilled and ceased. The silence that followed was shaken only by the sound of many footsteps keeping time with a drum struck softly at heart-pace (5)
This beginning is from the first chapter of the book. It's a decent opener, I think. Definitely a little eerie, especially considering the title of the chapter: The Eaten One. This is the second book in the Earthsea Cycle by Ursula K. LeGuin. I read A Wizard of Earthsea in 2012. (Click here for the review) I thoroughly enjoyed it, as I really love LeGuin's writing. I hope to have a review up by sometime this weekend. 


Note to self: 2013...

I don't like the word resolution. It's much too strong, carries too much weight and too formal for what this is...

This is more of a personal memo, a note to self type thing.

Anyways, in 2013 I will:

Read more books.
I don't know how many I read in 2012, but I can do better. Let's try fifty. That's not bad for a slow reader. Right?
Write better reviews.
Honestly, I don't think I write terrible reviews. But I realize they are brief...and that bothers me a little. On the other hand, I know I don't read uber long reviews (and I sure as hell don't want to write them)--I skim them, until something interesting forces me to do otherwise. So I'm conflicted. Also, I never have the patience to produce a plot summary, so it will never be part of my review writing formula...I don't know. I just need to do better. I'll figure it out.

I am terrible at reaching out. It goes against my nature. I'm a loner. I tend to connect to only a handful of bloggers on a frequent basis (you know who you are) But to successfully do this blog thing, I need to get over it. I'll try to do more read-alongs and blog surfing and challenges and what not. It's the right thing to do I guess...I don't know how memes will go this year though. I suffered from meme exhaustion around late summer, early fall, so I may or may not continue some of them. FYI - I am on Goodreads, but I only use it for organizational purposes. I am also on Twitter: @ AnbearJay (I'm new to it/ don't tweet that often, haha)

Find a niche
I already kind of have one...sort of. I don't want to read only one type of fiction, or stick to certain authors or groups of authors, but I am going to read along similar themes...does that make sense?

...I'm forgetting something...I know I am. There was one more...oh yeah.

Continue with Quest Alpha 
Completely abandoned it. On accident. 

image: flickr-jetalone


Review - Icy Sparks

Icy Sparks
by Gwyn Hyman Rubio
300 pages

Description via Goodreads
No, Miss Emily had not a clue as to what ailed me. She could stop herself from eating. I, on the other hand, couldn't help what I did. My urges controlled me. Nevertheless, in Miss Emily's eyes, we were the same. She was the orphan of Ginseng; I was the orphan of Poplar Holler. If she had her way, she'd used our strangeness to unite us (38)
Icy Sparks is a serious yet playful story of a young girl named Icy Sparks, whose adolescence is marred by tics and outbursts she can't control. Icy learns about the value of the truth from a young age. She knows how both her parents died and how their dispositions may have affected her own. She knows she's different and feels her difference should be kept a secret. But the longer she keeps her secrets, the longer the pressure builds and the greater the outburst. These outbursts drastically affect Icy and her relationship with everyone she encounters in the small rural Kentucky community.

Icy is a great character...I can't decide if she's rudely honest or honestly rude. Either way it's charming. I think the author is successful at spotlighting a seriously misunderstood topic in a very humorous and relatable way, with such a character. The narrative is sprinkled with bits like this:
I stared at Wilma's stomach, which was puffing out more than usual, and at her mustache, which had become thicker and hardier in the past few weeks, and gagged at her being pregnant and even harder at the thought of her being the Virgin Mary. "Poor baby Jesus," I whispered. (169)
There are similar interactions between Icy and her best friend and teacher, Emily. Icy spares no feelings about her friend's obesity...They're an interesting duo. I was conflicted because I knew Miss Emily loved Icy and wanted to elevate her, but I didn't know by how much. I wasn't always convinced she wanted Icy to do better; they were outcasts together after all. I'm mostly referring to the exchange they shared over being 'touched'. And by 'touched' I do mean intimately. It was one of the more awkward sections of the book. And yet completely necessary. I think Emily's relationship to Icy worked well because it demonstrates that there are good and bad parts to everyone...and everyone has their own demons.

Overall, this book was good...until the last 50 pages. And I know it had everything to do with Icy's resolution--her epiphany (albeit met with resistance) at the Revival. It shouldn't bother me but it does...the fact that finally succumbing to church theatrics gave her an answer. It was so over the top, so unlike the rest of the book that it threw me off. I think Icy's character was very likeable, interesting and believable, that to toss God in there when she wasn't truly religious was odd. I'm not implying that people don't find God at later phases of their life, because they certainly do, but in this instance it was...forced? I think I'm going to go with word forced.

When I reread the section I came to the conclusion that it wasn't actually the institution that gave Icy the relief; she could care less if she attended a Catholic church, Baptist, Methodist, etc. It was that feeling of community and acceptance. That feeling of belonging. Icy was able to jump headfirst into something with no fear or threat of rejection. In this way, singing with several church choirs, she could finally be part of the community that had estranged her since childhood. At least that's what I told myself to help from being completely disappointed with the ending. 

Icy Sparks

Three stars.