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Review: Short Girls by Bich Minh Nguyen

The book in three sentences: As sisters Van and Linny grew up, they also grew apart. To take care of their father, they must learn to reconcile their differences. Short Girls is as much a novel about complicated familial relationships as it is about the immigrant family experience.

Rating:  Travel companion

Long story long (no spoilers): Short Girls is a unique story about the challenges of growing up as a first-generation Vietnamese-American in the United States. Although the pacing is slow and the characters are not particularly likable, I enjoyed the book because I saw some of my childhood and my friends’ childhoods reflected in this novel.

The story is told through both Van and Linny’s perspectives, each chapter alternating between the two sisters. The more you read, the more you begin to develop a fuller understanding– a more complete picture– of what is going on in their family. I liked this narrative technique because both characters have an opportunity to speak or stand up for themselves, and also offer an outsider’s view of the other.

As the title implies, Van and Linny are short girls. Their father is overly obsessed by this, and when they were young would constantly remind them that there were plenty of famous short people and if they worked hard to prove themselves, they could be well-off too. It doesn’t take long to work out that the sisters’ lack of height is a proxy for their lack of whiteness. Van herself makes the connection when she comments that being Vietnamese in Michigan is like being short in a room full of tall people.

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Review: The Making of Jane Austen by Devoney Looser

The book in two sentences: Devoney Looser explores Jane Austen’s long and lasting legacy as one of the most brilliant novelists to ever exist. In this book, we see Austen illustrated, dramatized, politicized, and schooled in ways that give voice to Austen’s lesser-known authorities.

Rating:  Travel companion

Long story long: I made it through a whopping four pages of Pride and Prejudice the first time I picked it up. I was in sixth grade and figured it was about time I started reading “the Classics” (whatever that meant). I wouldn’t end up finishing the book until two or three years later.

Since then, Pride and Prejudice has become my favorite novel. I have read it nearly 20 times, listened to the audiobook version almost twice as much, collected fan-fiction and spin-off books, and been to a number of stage adaptations.

There are many reasons I love Pride and Prejudice—Austen’s biting social commentary on class, marriage, and wealth, to say the least—but the most meaningful to me is that it has helped me track my growth as a reader, and as a person, over the past 18 years. Every time I read Pride and Prejudice, I’ve either learned something new about myself, or something new about the book and the author; it never ceases to surprise me!

Devoney Looser’s novel The Making of Jane Austen is a wonderful continuation of this tradition. Her book explores the legacy of Austen in four parts through lesser-known historical figures. In the first part, she wonders how “illustrations seen by Austen’s first generation of readers shaped then-developing understandings of the author and her fiction” (15). A number of artistic choices made in the 19th century carry weight even today, and have influenced early stage and screen adaptations of Austen’s novels.

Continue reading “Review: The Making of Jane Austen by Devoney Looser”

Review: Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat

The book in two sentences: This collection of short stories centers around the lives of Haitian women, across space and time, in a dialogue about identity, autonomy, suffering, and strength. It is a thematically “heavy” conversation, and gives the reader an opportunity to sit in their discomfort.

Rating: ✈  Travel companion

Long story short (no spoilers): What I enjoy most about short story collections is trying to figure out how each story connects to the others. Sometimes these connections are obvious, and other times they are more obscure.

At its core, Krik? Krak! is about the lives and deaths of Haitian women, their communities, whether real or imagined, and their relationship with violence. There are times when characters from one store appear, however briefly, in another, or when a character in one story alludes to a character in a another story. There are also a number of crosscutting themes throughout the book—self-preservation, how identity is strongly tethered to a place, the power in ancestral lineage—that surface frequently.

One theme that stood out to me was the rendering of time. It is difficult to know when exactly Danticat’s stories take place and over what period of time (e.g., days? weeks? months?). This gives a sense that these stories (and subsequently the violence, pain, suffering, and hope) are both eternal and fleeting. I haven’t quite decided what that means yet, but perhaps in my next reading of Krik? Krak! I can tackle that question.

Have you read this book or another by Danticat? What did you think? Comment below!

Review: The Orchard of Lost Souls by Nadifa Mohamed

The book in two sentences: Nadifa Mohamed weaves a beautiful and haunting tale of life in a Somalian city as the country is on the brink of civil war. As refugees, soldiers, and rebels pour in, the lives of three women—a widow, an orphan, and a soldier—are bound forever.

Rating: 🌴 Island collection

Long story short (no spoilers): In her novel, Mohamed captures the senselessness of war from the perspective of ordinary people. Even Filsan, the soldier, has never been in combat before and is more a civilian in that sense than the widow Kawsar and even the young orphan girl Deqo, both of whom have lost their families to the growing political turmoil.

You see the buildup towards what will eventually become a civil war from the viewpoint of these three women. The increased presence of soldiers and checkpoints, the arrests of students, the kidnapping and killing of intellectuals, the banning of outside news outlets and journalists, the rationing of food and water, all signs of an increasingly totalitarian government. If you are wondering how things can even get this far, this book begins to answer that question, and it is equal parts compelling and terrifying.

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Review: Woman Hollering Creek by Sandra Cisneros

The book in two sentences: In Woman Hollering Creek, Sandra Cisneros weaves 22 tales of passion, pain, and longing that describe life along the U.S.-Mexico border. They take place in different times and follow different people on different paths, but all are centered around the identities and experiences of Chican@ and indigenous womxn.

Rating: 🌴 Island collection

Long story short (spoilers): What I enjoyed most about this collection was the writing. Cisneros’ prose is lyrical and enchanting. She often lapses into these long, run-on sentences, where one word just flows into the next, and like a wave they slowly draw you in before crashing into you.

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Currently reading: Woman Hollering Creek by Sandra Cisneros

The Unread Shelf Project

If you know me, you know that I buy books at an alarming rate and then forget all about them when something shinier (well, dustier, since I only shop at used book stores) comes along.

Not this year!

My reading challenge for 2019 is to read the unread books on my shelf before diving into anything newly purchased. I hope to read 52 books (I came close last year, but no cigar), and be better about blogging reviews / general wonderings.

It’s the #unreadshelfproject and I’m excited! Join me!

Reading progress

I found a solution for my next-book indecision. When I’m having trouble deciding what to read, all I have to do is pull a title out of this kimchi jar. Voilà! Problem solved.

What are you currently reading?

Too soon?

I’m not even close to finishing my 2017 reading challenge, but I’m already looking forward to next year’s! One I’m thinking about following is the 2018 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge, but I’d love to know what else is out there!

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