Understanding People Who Don’t Read Fiction: the good, the bad and the somewhat unclear

found this too in one of my old blogger drafts

Note: Migrating from Blogger to WordPress [so late] has been a lot of fun, because I keep unearthing old write-ups from my 500+ Blogger drafts! So this is an old post from 2015, which was written with an incorrigible intention of making fun of everyone; starting with myself. My reading habits have changed considerably in the last five years, but my befuddlement at intellectual elitism and the “fiction / non-fiction is not useful” tirade endures, and that’s what this post was about. Here I go:

Ever since I started Tabula Rasa, I have met, virtually of course, many fiction fanatics. In real life, however, I only know so many. My real world is filled with those who promote conscious reading of non-fiction and newspapers and real world knowledge-expanding truths. People have often scoffed at and expressed utter puzzlement over my love for stories. Biographies, some can understand, but fantasy – hell no! “What is the use of reading things that are not true?” I have been asked and sometimes, generously shown articles that answer the very question. Forced into interaction with this breed of people for over twenty years now, here are some things I have discovered about them:

The Good:

1. They are extremely well informed. Because they dedicate their reading time solely to non-fiction and factual information, they regularly fill their minds with important dollops of knowledge. Because they don’t let themselves get distracted by that which is not true and never existed, they build a good memory and possess a high recollection power.
2. They are very grounded. Unlike fiction readers, they don’t indulge in escapism and can firmly face reality, having practised it throughout their lives, on a daily basis!
3. They are time-management experts. They value time and resist the urge, if ever they have one, to escape from the real world. This is rather obvious, seeing as reading which we fiction-readers view as a hobby is actually a method of learning for them. They simply cannot help but direct all their time to a useful end.
4. They are logical thinkers. They tend not to get carried away by emotions, and when push comes to shove, are able to focus on the critical necessities of a situation than be affected by extraneous, for lack of a better term, fluff. (I have yet to figure out just how this relates to reading non-fiction, but have generally observed it to be true.)

The Bad:

1. They are uncreative. Since they only ever read non-fiction, they don’t get as much of a chance to exercise their imagination, and inevitably lead dull uninspired lives.
2. They cannot come to terms with their own emotions. Since they miss out on the cathartic relief offered to us fiction-readers, they spend their lives unable to grapple with their complex feelings. They do prefer raw facts to temperamental silliness, anyway, however, the lack of emotional self-awareness must cause problems.
3. They lack empathy. Unable to comprehend even their own feelings, they lack the compassion necessary to understand other people’s thoughts and emotions. They find it difficult to put themselves in other people’s shoes, and obstinately stick to their world-view. This may lead to inexplicable loneliness – not caring about feelings doesn’t make one immune to them, after all.
4. They make enemies. Cold, logical thinkers who cannot empathise with others, their argumentative nature often gets them into trouble. They do get along mightily with other non-fiction readers, engaging in debates and healthy competitive discussions on general know-how. But a part of me wonders if they ever make any real friends.

The Unclear:
There are other random observations I have made about people who don’t read fiction. If you, unlike me, are a non-fiction reader (in which case, welcome to my blog, hope you find something of use here,) please be so kind as to clear my doubts.

1. Language: Are readers of non-fiction less likely to sound pseudo-intellectual and do they have more of a business-like vocabulary which helps their expression stay precise and on point? Or am I being baseless and arbitrarily judgemental in this specific instance? Surely not all fiction has extravagant flowery writing! Although to be honest, the vast majority does…
2. Enjoyment: They must watch TV and film for only the aesthetic quality, because insofar as I know, stories don’t give them pleasure. Speaking of which, is it all right in their world of non-fiction for them to enjoy themselves for the sake of it? Or do all non-fiction readers naturally want to indulge in only those actions that have a purpose…? Wait, this vaguely reminds me of something I read in this book called The Metaphysics of Morals (or something like that, curse my bad memory.) Unfortunately, I can’t tell you exactly what it was. See, I quit reading after the second page when I realized it had no plot…

Books I Meant to Read In 2020 But Didn’t Get To

Or rather, books I bought, but didn’t read. This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic makes me sad, because that list is always longer than I’d like it to be. Here we go with ten random picks:

1. The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman – The second installment in the sequel-trilogy to His Dark Materials. I honestly don’t know why I haven’t read this year – dying to!

the colours are so pretty

2. The Hot Zone by Richard Preston – This is about the origin of the ebolavirus. It came highly recommended by at least two different people. As fascinating as the blurb makes it sound – science fiction thriller, mystery, horror combined but TRUE – it just hits too close to home!

3. Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch – This book is all about what the internet has done to language – the history of it, the science, the magic! I’m a little sad about this one because it’s been sitting half-read on the shelf for no reason.

4. The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel – Speaking of sequels and trilogies, this is the third book in the Thomas Cromwell saga that started with the oh-so-brilliant Wolf Hall all the way back in 2009. I’ve been admiring this beautiful cover on my shelf for months now, but too scared to pick up the tome.

blue

5. A Promised Land by Barack Obama – I absolutely fell in love with Dreams From My Father, which I read a few years ago, but which was written over twenty years ago, when Obama had been elected as the first black president of… the Harvard Law Review. I expect this won’t be anything like that but would certainly like to read it.

6. The Ode Less Travelled by Stephen Fry – I found this at a book sale early last year. This a little guide to writing poetry, with tasks and exercises and advice from the inimitable Stephen Fry. Just haven’t had the time to read it!

7. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – This book was recommended to me by a friend, I gifted it to two people who both absolutely loved it and I still somehow haven’t got around to it. It will happen soon!

that coffee mug though

8. The rest of the Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski – One of the highlights of last year was starting this series. I love it, love it, love it. Maybe this is my gateway back to fantasy series after many years!

9. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke – Another book I was SO excited to read! I adore Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. But with Piranesi, the first ten pages were very different from my expectation. I was curious but worried it would be letdown, so I put it aside. Should I pick it back up?

10. The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon – The image of this gorgeous book has been haunting me for all of 2020. I left it in another city and was then stuck somewhere else for the rest of the year! We shall meet again.

look. at. it.

What about you? Any unfinished business, books left on the shelves last year?

On tiptoeing into poem interpretation and reading Cat and the Moon by WB Yeats

In the quest to become a more regular blogger, I find myself thinking more. This sounds like a silly thing to say, but it’s true. For the past two months I’ve been making more time for just that sort of staring-off-into-space zone. I would just say it’s another word for procrastination; if only it didn’t feel OH SO good.

lovely in essence, not in skill

Anyway, this lovely picture of the moon from my window prompted me to hunt down a poem by Yeats that I absolutely used to love. Disclaimer – I am totally obtuse in poetry matters, but there’s something about this that gets me every time!

Cat and the Moon

The cat went here and there
And the moon spun round like a top,
And the nearest kin of the moon
The creeping cat, looked up.
Black Minnaloushe stared at the moon,
For, wander and wail as he would
The pure cold light in the sky
Troubled his animal blood.
Minnaloushe runs in the grass
Lifting his delicate feet.
Do you dance, Minnaloushe, do you dance?
When two close kindred meet,
What better than call a dance?
Maybe the moon may learn,
Tired of that courtly fashion,
A new dance turn.
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
From moonlit place to place,
The sacred moon overhead
Has taken a new phase.
Does Minnaloushe know that his pupils
Will pass from change to change,
And that from round to crescent,
From crescent to round they range?
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
Alone, important and wise,
And lifts to the changing moon
His changing eyes.

There is something voyeuristic about reading this poem because it you see him referencing the cat ‘Minnaloushe’ which was the name of Maud Gonne’s cat, the same Maud Gonne whom Yeats loved and who did not love him back. It is as if the poem is for her to read and understand; not for your prying eyes. Yeats may be the cat, he belongs to her but not quite and Maud the moon; for the moon is so often feminine… And they chase each other, though hesitant; both so similar, yet so apart.

And then there are these constant contradictions. He yearns to dance with the moon, teach the moon a new dance, but they’re both changing. And at the end of it, he is still alone and aware of it. But even without that little spiced factual/historical tidbit, the imagery is so compelling. These playful, almost innocent visuals of a cat dancing in the moonlight, make it impossible not to dive into the poem! The poem might just be the story of any unrequited love, or the struggle between the base animal and the divine, between mind and heart…

A poem that lends itself to interpretation, to meaning-making, is a win, in my world. I don’t know if there’s such a thing as “reading too much meaning into something.” Words exist to mean, right? To engage with the reader. A good poem surrenders itself to its reader. Isn’t that the point? Cat and the Moon is beautifully written too, linguistically and structurally. Consider Minnaloushe. What an adorable word, three sonorant sounds ending in a little kiss. I’m obsessed.

[P.S. British linguist David Crystal has written a fair bit – linked here – on why certain words sound more beautiful than others, structurally, culturally (and arguably), based on the kind of syllables, sounds, sound combinations they have. Look up sound symbolism too if this piques your curiosity!]

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney

Book 1 of 2021. I have been seeing Normal People by Sally Rooney just about everywhere in the book blogging world, so I was keen to pick this book up when it was recommended to me. I like to read books that are not overly discussed at the moment, because then, I am afforded the luxury of lower expectations. Anyway, preamble aside, I was surprised by how much detail the Goodreads blurb went into, so instead of copying the whole thing, I’m sharing here only bits and pieces of the summary I had read:

Summary: “Frances is a college student and aspiring writer and the endlessly self-possessed Bobbi is her best friend and comrade-in-arms. Lovers at school, the two young women now perform spoken-word poetry together in Dublin, where a journalist named Melissa spots their potential. Drawn into Melissa’s orbit, Frances is reluctantly impressed by the older woman’s sophisticated home and completely taken by her tall, handsome husband, Nick. However amusing their flirtation seems at first, it gives way to a strange intimacy neither of them expect…”

The book vaguely reminded me of a slim little story I had read years ago called Department of Speculation by Jenny Offill. “Can something be laid back and intense at the same time?” is how I had described it then and that glove fits this book too. Like Dept of Speculation, Conversations with Friends has ‘marriage’ as one of its main themes; it is, after all, another book about an affair. A trying topic, I did not expect to be so taken by Melissa and Nick’s difficult marriage. The circumstances of the affair raised issues like ego and vulnerability, poor choices and trust. But more than anything, the failing marriage portrayed how you only ever see others as extensions of yourself – paradoxically more so when you “know them better.”

But here’s the thing, what I loved the most about the book – this marriage – was not what the book was about. It was about friendship, as goes the title. I found Frances and Bobbi’s friendship interesting because it went against the odds – they were in no way alike and they were hardly ever honest with each other about their “inner worlds.” Yet, they were friends, unequivocally so; and would give each other just enough space in the event of any conflict, that their friendship somehow survived all the trials they put it through! I’ve been in friendships like that, albeit with less drama.

The writer used emails to show glimpses of all her characters’ perspectives and in doing so, showed us how their misunderstandings transpired. It was an interesting device because we saw many facets to each character, and it was hard to pin them down to any trait. Bobbi with Melissa was not the same as Bobbi with Frances; and Frances with Nick was not the same as she was with Bobbi. And the Frances we saw as the narrator, inside her mind, was not revealed to anyone at all. She cared so much about how she was perceived, she lost herself somewhere in all the theatre!

Unreliable narrator or not, I couldn’t help but call Frances two-faced! She was immensely dislikeable – not because of how closed off she was or how she changed colours, but because of how easily she let herself off the hook. Because no one knew the real Frances, no one could hold her accountable for anything – for her envy, her mistakes, her active aggression. Was she fooling herself too? They’re kids, they’re twenty one; I kept having to remind myself, as I watched her coolly carve her identity into whatever suited her then. Is anyone this deceptive?

I suppose one could call this story a portrayal of the modern idea of love, relationships and friendship – the sort of fleeting uncertain messiness. The Goodreads summary (that I clipped short) labels this lifestyle as “a painful and disorienting way of living from moment to moment.” I can understand this too, also relate to it in some parts, but I cannot for the life of me claim to like it. And this is my issue with the book – I just don’t want to be part of this world, even if this world is very like the real world, or perhaps because it is so.

Rooney’s writing redeems the book and she leaves you with these teenie memorable moments and turns of phrase that beautify the drama.

“Afterward I lay on my side with A Critique of Postcolonial Reason propped half-open on the pillow beside me. Occasionally I lifted a finger to turn the page and allowed the heavy and confusing syntax to drift down through my eyes and into my brain like fluid. I’m bettering myself, I thought. I’m going to become so smart that no one will understand me.”

“I laughed to myself although there was no one there to see me. I loved when he was available to me like this, when our relationship was like a Word document that we were writing and editing together, or a long private joke that nobody else could understand. I liked to feel that he was my collaborator. I liked to think of him waking up at night and thinking of me.”

Have you read the book? Or Normal People? What did you think? I guess for all my complaints, I will pick up Normal People one day, after all.

Favourite Books of 2020 – Part 3

Hey, it’s January! This blog is getting ooold. Anyway, this post should have been written in December, but I have a lot of “looking ahead” bookish posts coming up and might as well start with this little unfinished Favourite Books Part 3. Links to the other two: Favourite Books of 2020 – Part 1 and Part 2.

1. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – I’d borrowed this gem from a friend and it came highly recommend and it was worth every moment spent on it. I have seen and read enough fiction around WW2 to feel compassion fatigue and a general wariness about picking up yet another formulaic designed-to-make-you-cry book. This was a breath of fresh air. The story is … – quoting the Goodreads blurb – … about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

2. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen – One word: genius! The Sympathizer is set at the end of the Vietnam War. As multitudes of Americans evacuate the country, our narrator is one of the locals who escape. He works for a general of the South Vietnamese army. Except… he’s actually been a North Vietnamese spy all along, a Communist sympathizer. What unfolds is a social satire of the Vietnam War, its depictions by American media, the alienation experienced by those rendered homeless, loss of identity in exile, and the Westerner’s misguided understanding of the East. It’s a comedy, tragedy and psychological thriller all rolled into one.

3. Hidden Things by Doyce Testerman – Full review here. A detective receives a mysterious phone call with some clues from her partner, and hours later, he is found dead. She sets off on a mission to find out what really happened, following the few clues left by her partner… only to be lead into a dark supernatural trap that lies waiting beneath our mundane world. It’s an American Gods meets Dresden Files kind of adventure – with shadow creatures, clowns, goblins… and could it be possible?… dragons! One of the coolest finds of the year.

4. The White Zone by Carolyn Marsden – A touching, sweet story about two ten-year-old boys, growing up in Baghdad, both of them innocent spectators and soon-to-be perpetrators of communal violence, in the aftermath of the Iraq War. In early 2008, there was a snow fall in Baghdad for the first time in a hundred years (in fact, it happened again last year after more than a decade.) This story is weaved around that one event, that miracle, that while it lasted, seemed to blur out the differences that waged war in lives of these boys. The story has an uncanny depth of character, and this subtlety, both surprising for a book means for young adults.

5. First They Erased Our Name: A Rohingya Speaks by Habiburahman – Quoting the Amazon blurb – “Habiburahman was born in 1979 and raised in a small village in western Burma. When he was three years old, the country’s military leader declared that his people, the Rohingya, were not one of the 135 recognized ethnic groups that formed the eight “national races. He was left stateless in his own country. In 2016 and 2017, the government intensified the process of ethnic cleansing, and over 700,000 Rohingya people were forced to cross the border into Bangladesh.” It is a small, personal glimpse into a modern tragedy, a political horror story that is too difficult to fit into words. Unimaginable!

6. What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape by Sohaila Abdulali – Oh man, this book. You really need to have the stomach for this kind of brutal honesty; the kind that makes you uncomfortable, or “sounds funny” or sounds not-true, because it’s so beyond your scope of imagination. It starts out as a quasi-memoir, as Abdudali details her own experience and soon transforms into a cut-throat dissection of rape culture. A must read for any and all of us!

Reading Looking For Alaska by John Green

Disclaimer: I reached the end of the blog post before I realised it’s not a review; so here’s a warning, this is not a review. In fact, I may have forgotten to write about the book entirely, as in its plot or themes or characters. Goodreads can help you there. Let’s call it what it is – It’s a rant. 

Disclaimer 2 – I also quote myself a bit; not being self-indulgent here, just lazy.

Have you read The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett? It is this tiny little book which poses and answers a question: what would happen if the Queen became a reader? Among other lovely things, there’s a scene in the book when the Queen invites all these writers she’s newly discovered to a dinner of some sort. And at that dinner, she discovers something that all readers eventually learn: the writers are not their books. She’s disappointed.

Ever since I read that book, I mentally put authors I read to the “uncommon reader test” – do I like them as much as I like their books? Stephen King and Sir Terry Pratchett are the only two writers to pass that test unequivocally, for me.

Over the last few weeks, I have been binge-watching old vlogbrothers videos from back when I actually followed vlogbrothers videos. I’ve also been wondering why I stopped following them because I absolutely ADORE John Green. Yet I haven’t read much by him. I’ve said this before on the blog in my Turtles All The Way Down review; but I feel like he’s one of those people who – when he writes, he becomes unstuck in time and is a teenager himself – the effortless points of view, the angst and rebellion – only to come back to his adult self when structuring his stories.

He just does teenage well; without that internal lack of structure and self-awareness that a real teenage point of view would have. He knows when to start and stop being his characters, you know? He also gets storytelling more than many writers that fall hopelessly into that young adult books’ club.

So, Looking For Alaska. This is the third book of his that I have read, and the first he has written. I did not like A Fault In Our Stars, the infamous tear-jerker. I LOVED Turtles All The Way Down. And now, Looking For Alaska completes the set by falling somewhere in the middle. Green certainly has a ‘type’ of plot, he has his own set of tropes… and I don’t know if his books spawned the many similar others, or he just followed someone else’s worn path.

But you have the school setting; the misfits who ‘fit in’ more than you’d think; that one English Lit/Arts teacher who is just a cool teenager in sheep’s clothing; the endless quoting of music and writing that, let’s face it, couldn’t possibly be so popular among real-life teens [I’m thinking of the likes of Faulkner and Maugham, and correct me if I’m wrong about this], not to mention, abysmal parenting that is taken in a stride by all the adult characters. Young adult tropes abound.

But so do the more-than-occasional delicious turns of phrase; the warmth emanating from every page; the depth of feeling and that kind of untamed teenage energy… Turtles All The Way Down had a lot more of it in my view, but this book does too. A few years ago, I wrote this about teenagers in an unrelated post on another blog. Kind of fitting to add it here –

As annoying as teenagers are, they kinda make me nostalgic. I mean, when else would you be so lost in your own little technicolor bubble as when you’re in your teenages, when the whole of life and creation is spread out before you and you’re this tiny speck floating around aimlessly in the wide universe, and yet somehow you picture yourself in the centre of the whole damn mess. You never get to be as beautifully self involved as when you’re sixteen, not before nor after.

Looking for Alaska is that – self involved, but beautifully so. I have got around to it rather late too. As it turns out, this was published in 2005 – when I was 13. How weird is that. I probably would not have liked it back then. I was busy playing very own young adult trope of being too “grown up” for certain books, you know, and judging them too harshly. Young Priya would have been wrong. I read the book rather quickly but it was an evening well spent. A whole three stars’ worth.

Do you read young adult books? What do you think of Green’s writing? And what about your “uncommon” writers – do your authors live up to their books?

Favourite Books of 2020 -Part 2

This post is the second of its kind and there will be at least one more. Part 1 of Favourite Books of 2020 can be found here.

1. Baptism of Fire (Witcher #3) by Andrzej Sapkowski – This is admittedly a strange choice for a favourites list and it doesn’t work as a recommendation. Surely you would have to read at least 2 books before you start this, not counting the short story collections before that. But I just loved the book! It has so much character development.. and the pace, and story perfectly complement what it sets out to do. Like any mid-series installment, it wants to take a pause, stall the reader and very books achieve that very well.

2. Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward – Short review here. Men We Reaped is a memoir set in Mississippi. It follows the tragic and difficult stories of the writer’s childhood and the men she lost to drugs, suicide, accidents and the kind of bad luck that only afflicts the poor and the minorities. It is anecdotal, emotional, nostalgic… and this style of writing adds substance to a dry discourse on race that often inundates, but does not move.

3. Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje – I often choose to read the “less famous” works to get a taste of the author before reading what they’re best known for. Running in the Family is hilarious! It’s a partly fictionalised, surreal, postmodernism memoir about the writer’s family in Sri Lanka, wherein he traces both their history as well as a recent visit he paid them. It’s also a travelogue and poses as a love letter to Sri Lanka with all its quirks. Superb writing!

4. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson – I wanted to read this ever since I read about this lawyer through Anthony Ray Hinton’s perspective in The Sun Does Shine. Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer and the man behind Equal Justice Initiative, which is a non-profit that provides legal representation to prisoners who have been wrongly convicted, denied a fair trial or anyone on death row. Just Mercy was published in 2014 and it is interesting to see what the initiative has done in the years since. The book itself is heart-breaking and terrifying at once… the information just plain scary and the stories heavy with emotion.

5. Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill – Sea of Rust is this fascinating double dystopia… the human civilisation has been long destroyed and taken over by AI, and now… it’s the robot civilisation that has turned on itself… Left on the planet are a few stray scavenger robots, who are on the run from what seems like inevitable assimilation with their very own big brother. Stranded in this place, called the Sea of Rust, is one old robot. This story is his search for meaning and for some remnant of the humanity in whose image all robots were created.

6. My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elisabeth Russell – Detailed review here. An incredible book! This is the story of a woman who discovers that one of her old teachers has been accused in a #MeToo scandal. Soon, we learn that Vanessa had an affair with the very same teacher. In fact, she had been in love with him. The story unfolds through her fifteen year old perspective. Meanwhile, in the future, the woman comes to terms with a reality that she had buried.

Books for German Learners: Plays

As a language teacher, I have realised one of the trickiest things is identify the right resources to practice your skills – be it listening or reading. A learner is likely to easily spooked by the content out there that is just beyond your level of understanding… and be turned off by the concept of practice at all. So I’m going to share my go-to recommendations for learners to practice different skills and levels. This time sharing with you three plays.

Language learners should read plays, as dialogues are easier to follow than a third person narration. The language in today’s recommendations is too difficult for early readers, but not C2-difficult. And these are some of my favourite reads!

  1. Des Teufels General by Carl Zuckmayer – This play is based on the life of General Ernst Udet. Set in 1941, the lead character of this play is Luftwaffe General Harras and the three acts of the play center around conversations over drinks. Harras is skeptical of the Third Reich and its attempt to conquer the whole of Europe, and cynicism leads him to losing his friends.
  2. Die Dreigroschenoper by Bertolt Brecht – Personally, Brecht is not an easy read, but the play is fun, especially with its songs, like Mackie Messer. I would recommend watching the Theaterstück rather than reading it. Mackie Messer is a criminal who marries a woman whose family disapproves and then seeks to hang him.
  3. Leonce und Lena by Georg Büchner – Probably one of the more famous plays in German literature, this is a must read for advanced learners. This is a humorous play, and humour is always a little harder because of cultural differences and having to read between the lines. But if you’re up for the challenge, try this! A love story which is a political satire, what’s not to like?

Follow our Books for German Learners Facebook page for vocabulary, links to magazine and newspaper articles, and quotations from books.

Men We Reaped: A Memoir by Jesmyn Ward

Until the past couple of months, I’ve been reading a lot of very heavy, kind of sad content. 2020 has been a weepy year, book-wise. Men We Reaped is another book that moved me to tears.

Synopsis – In five years, Jesmyn Ward lost five men in her life, to drugs, accidents, suicide, and the bad luck that can follow people who live in poverty, particularly black men. Dealing with these losses, one after another, made Jesmyn ask the question: why? And as she began to write about the experience of living through all the dying, she realized the truth–and it took her breath away. Her brother and her friends all died because of who they were and where they were from, because they lived with a history of racism and economic struggle that fostered drug addiction and the dissolution of family and relationships. Jesmyn says the answer was so obvious she felt stupid for not seeing it. But it nagged at her until she knew she had to write about her community.

Losing someone in an accident… losing them to an illness… I’ve often used and heard the term a “meaningless loss” and death does seem so pointless and meaningless; something akin to a tornado happening upon its victims at random and utterly destroying them from inside out. And yet, when it comes to the death in Jesmyn Ward’s life, the death that fills it and surrounds it.. calling it “meaningless” would be callous and a gross injustice. Because it is not accidental and it’s not “out of nowhere.” This book takes the random statistics you would find in the pages of a newspaper and fleshes them out, it flashes a light on the “meanings” and “interpretations” that we may choose to keep buried.

Is this a story of any poverty, any grief, any addiction or any illiteracy? As easily as you might find parallels to yourself in the book… you’re reminded that you’re still an outsider peering into something far more complex… because your grief and your loss may have been meaningless, and that is your privilege. Hers isn’t a story of the ‘inexplicable,’ it’s a story of neglect. It is a book about systemic racism. It is about the plight of the southern man. It’s about the writer’s love and revulsion in parts for her childhood in Mississippi. It is anecdotal, emotional, nostalgic… but this style of writing adds substance to the dry and objective, instead of taking away from it.

“What I didn’t understand then was that the same pressure were weighing on us all. My entire community suffered from the lack of trust: we didn’t trust society to provide the basics of good education, safety, access to good jobs, fairness in the justice system. And even as we distrusted the society around us, the culture that cornered us and told us were perpetually less, we distrusted each other. We did not trust our fathers to raise us, provide for us. Because we trusted nothing, we endeavored to protect ourselves, boys becoming misogynistic and violent, girls turning duplicitous, all of us hopeless. Some of us turned sour from pressure, let it erode our sense of self until we hated what we saw, within and without. And to blunt it all, some of us turned to drugs.”

Books I’ve Read More Than Once… and Why

Top Ten Tuesday for today… hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. Today’s topic is Books I’ve Read More Than Once.. and Why.

1. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – What a moody, mysterious book. I have never done this with a book, but I read this cover to cover a second time the very night I finished reading it. Twice in a day! I just didn’t want to stop reading it, so when it ended, I had no choice but to read it again.

2. Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke – Rilke is comfort food. Advice for any and every time of your life. Practical and sensitive rolled into one.

my go-to source of motivation and inspiration

3. Embassytown by China Mieville – I was in AWE of this book. But I kept having to reread parts of it as I read it to make sure I was able to follow it.

4. Carrie by Stephen King – I remember reading Carrie cover to cover a few years after I first read it. The first time, I’d rushed through it to find out what happens. The epistolary style meant I missed a lot of details. Good thing too, because I admired the book way more the second time around.

Is it just me or is this old cover absolutely awesome? I don’t like the movie stills.

5. The Prisoner of Azkaban / The Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling – I guess I’ve read all of the series many times, but with these books, the rereads have been because of how much character is packed into them. I don’t think much happens in either of the books! But so, so much character. I read these two for those unforgettable character moments – the boggarts and the DA meetings!

6. Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice – I recently read started reading parts of this again, because it has just been too long… I don’t remember it as clearly as I’d like to. Sometimes I see a post on Instagram.. or another blog, that reminds me of a book that I read a long time ago; and I just want to relive the experience. I had seen this post about Lestat which made me go back to this one.

7, Watership Down by Richard Adams – I re-read it when I saw that there was a new movie out on Netflix. Don’t you do this too? Read the book again before you watch the movie. The film is lovely, didn’t expect that; with the greatest cast!

Apparently people hated the animation. I didn’t, And it’s far better than the old movie!

8. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle – This one’s strange.. but I’ve read this over and over, virtually combed through it, to teach it! I suppose that also applies to books you study. You’d think that when this happens the book stops being a book, a pleasure read… but with The Hound…, every time I read it and dissect it further, I love it more and more.

9. The Tempest / Macbeth by William Shakespeare – I suppose everyone rereads Shakespeare, right? Just in the effort to follow? Or re-watches. These are my favourite plays and the only ones I’ve actually read multiple times.

10. The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde – The second play on the list. But this is here to represent most of the ‘humour’ books I’ve read over the years! [I had to choose between this, Good Omens and Three Men In a Boat.] Humour is best enjoyed in repeated doses, right?

Which books do you find yourself revisiting? And why?