Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Recent Reads | September

I've found, particularly this semester, that reading makes for a perfect break from university work, and so I've continued my habit of always keeping a book in my bag and pulling it out to read every so often. I made it through seven books this month, most of them quite short, but nonetheless engaging for the moments of relief they brought. 

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
It'd been far too long since I'd read a book deemed a classic, and I Capture the Castle refueled all my love of older written language. Though it's not that old - as it was Smith's first novel, it was published in 1948 - it nevertheless evokes the same emotions that a classic would. The characters are written with pure love and the plot is simple and slow yet engaging and even comical. I Capture the Castle reads like the journal of a Cassandra Mortmain, a 17-year-old English girl who lives in an abandoned castle with her family, and whose life is changed dramatically when a wealthy American family moves into their village.

Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
Having run out of Gaiman's books for adults last month, I turned to several of his children's and illustrated pieces this month. The first of which, Odd and the Frost Giants, was written for World Book Day in 2009 and is a short and inventive take on Norse mythology. Odin, Thor, and Loki find themselves turned into animals and must seek the help of a young Norwegian boy to convince the Frost Giants to return them to their original forms. It's cute but clever, in a way that only Gaiman manages to write.

Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
I expected Freakonomics to be much in the vein of Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, and it was, but not nearly as good. Each chapter tackles a different question aimed at exploring the ordinary to show that economics is a study of incentives, such as why people join crack gangs and how real estate agents sell their clients homes versus their own. While interesting, the author seemed to jump to a lot of conclusions that he couldn't substantiate, and thus I found the book not entirely trustworthy.

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman
This beautifully illustrated version of Sleeping Beauty has a twist that seemed quite tame by Gaiman's standards, but nevertheless fun to read. Many thought this would turn out to be a lesbian retelling, only to find out that it was a story of a woman's independence without love. Though quite short with very little to learn from the characters, the illustrations are gorgeous and the tale familiar and entertaining, and I would recommend a hardcover copy over a digital version.

Mirrormask by Neil Gaiman
The last of Gaiman's books I picked up this month, Mirrormask is a graphic novel/novella retelling of a fantasy film Gaiman wrote several years prior. It tells of Helena, a girl who longs for an ordinary life after working for her family's circus, who finds herself mysteriously transported into a magical realm and her real life stolen by alternate version of herself. The inclusion of illustrations keeps the story alive and more interesting than if it had been published as a novella, but even so, I think it's a story that translates better on-screen in its original form.

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
As soon as I saw the title I knew I had to read Solnit's famously humourous yet all too real essay, but I was worried she would come across as too unfair or unable to cross the balance to those who really need to read it. To my surprise I found the title essay and subsequent chapters extremely accessible to both men and women; she scathingly relates the issues at hand without alienating her readers, an important but hard to maintain balance with such a hot button topic. Solnit tackles sexism in the workplace, contemporary violence against women, the new balance of marriage equality, and even a little on Virginia Woolf's take on feminism.

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
Mbue's debut has been on a number of must read lists for 2016, and I was honestly quite disappointed. Behold the Dreamers tells of a family of Cameroonian immigrants - Jende, Neni, and Liomi - as they struggle to remain legal residents of the US after moving to NYC. Jende works as a chauffeur for a wealthy Wall Street banker and Neni splits her time between being a student and a home health aide, and together they try to weather the perils of the 2008 crisis and the impending threat of deportation. The writing was engaging and I was rooting for Neni the entire time, but I could not sympathise with Jende; he was too stubborn and selfish for me to care much about his side of the problems and I was genuinely angered by the ending. I'm looking forward to more of Mbue's work in the future, but only if her characters are more likeable.

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