So, between being extra good about going to the gym every day, a couple of long train commutes, and a day at the doctor followed by some recoup time, I’ve found myself with a lot of reading time lately.
Here is a quick review of the books I’ve finished this week!
Spin, by Robert Charles Wilson, (and the two sequels) was recommended to me by a friend as a sci-fi book for people that aren’t sure they like sci-fi. I’m not sure if I do or do not like science fiction since I don’t think I’ve really tried to read it much, but I definitely liked this book! It was long. Since I was reading it on my Kindle I didn’t get a good feel for the size of the book, but I worked on it for a solid 2 plus weeks! That’s a long time for me! But I was engaged the whole time, and I liked the set up between flashbacks and present day. Nicely done, Mr. Wilson!
Spin is the story of an “event” that encapsulates the earth suddenly one night, causing time to slow down drastically compared to the rest of the universe, and the way that three young teenagers cope with the effects of the event throughout their adolescence and their adult lives. Tyler, Jason, and Diane handle the Spin in differing ways, and as such represent the ways much of humanity struggles to cope with the knowledge that other beings exist in the universe, and that mortality may come sooner than we had all thought. 8 mangoes!
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou, is an autobiography published in 1969 that covers her childhood and teenage years. It was beautifully written, and both a very heart breaking and liberating story. This is a woman you could sit and listen to for hours, absorbing her fantastic stories. It is a short, quick read, and my major criticism is that I would have loved to have more details. I did feel like there was a strange pacing change about 3/4 of the way through the book (the final time she returns to live with her mother in California), almost like we rushed suddenly to the end. I felt like the end just stopped, rather than being concluded, as if this was book 1 of a collection. So I was left a little disappointed. Not for the social conservatives among us, rape, lesbians, and sex all make their way into the story. It is a testament to human nature that a woman who survived that childhood could become the woman she has, and touched the lives that she has. 6.5 mangoes. Also, although it wasn’t mentioned in the book, if you haven’t read the poem by the same name, do so now.
American Dervish, by Ayad Akhtar, is a novel about a young Pakistani-American boy who struggles to find his place in Islam and/or the secular American world he lives in. He is influenced by his father, a man that pursues his passions and sneers at fellow Muslims and their beliefs, his mother, a woman that repeatedly reminds him that Muslim men are the worst kind of men, and his “Auntie”, who brings a sort of secular spiritualism to Islam that differs from the extreme fanaticism of some in the community and his parent’s own indifference.
Although I enjoyed the story, especially the author’s ability to describe the tension of growing up in what is essentially an insular fundamentalist community, it felt a little off in parts. The main feeling I got was that it was trying to be an autobiography rather than a novel – a coming of age tale without a story arc to keep it focused. And that perhaps the author tried a little too hard to Find Meaning. I wanted to tell the author that okay to just tell a really good story, and let audiences find their own meaning in it. I also wonder if some of my disappointment came with the aunt’s final conclusions about God and spirituality – that of finding God in suffering. Personally, I don’t like the sorts of religious beliefs that justify suffering (and with it, abuse and shame) as part of God’s will. I prefer the sort of religious beliefs that encourage people to rise to new heights – a place where we don’t accept abuse and shame in ourselves or in others. Although the main character distances himself from Islam as an adult, I felt like that was the last emotional impact of the story, and was not actually challenged. So it ended up being a big turn off for me. (also, did the epilogue seem totally out of place to anyone else?) 4 mangoes.