Thursday, 10 November 2016

what cat read: october 2016

Welcome to the first first edition of what cat read -- a series in which I go through all of the books I've read the past month, giving you all a brief summary, and then talking a little bit about my thoughts on them (with no spoilers, of course).

So what were my eyes and mind occupied with this month? Just three books that are quite different from each other: a poetry collection, a graphic novel, and a short story collection. October has been a pretty hectic month for me -- there's been far too many all nighters and late mornings, too many things I've forgotten about, and furious hours typing away at assignments and papers. Despite all that, though, I made the time to read two short books that weren't for school, Anya's Ghost (the graphic novel), Night Sky with Exit Wounds (the poetry collection), since they were short enough to get through in a couple sittings each. Interpreter of Maladies, on the other hand, was for an English class, but I loved the selections so much that I got a copy of the collection and read them all. Let's chat about them, now, shall we?

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri 

Winning the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Interpreter of Maladies is a collection of short stories written by Indian American author Jhumpa Lahiri that center around the lives of Indian and Indian American characters who attempt to balance an old and new world. 
We were assigned to read three stories -- "The Real Durwan," "This Blessed House," and "Mrs. Sen's." Exhausted from rushing to finish readings for another class, prepare for a presentation, and write a paper that week, the last thing I wanted to do was read any of these stories. But I didn't want to fall further behind in this class than I already was (it's been a mess of a month, to say the least), and so the bus ride to work one cold afternoon, I read "The Real Durwan." I should have been tired and I should have wanted to stop, but I kept going -- I read "This Blessed House" while on break at work that evening, and "Mrs. Sen's" when I got home later at night. All three filled a hole inside me, but then left another. 

The hole that was filled was a lonely one. As an Asian-Canadian, I often feel under and misrepresented (as so often Asian-Americans feel as well). Then I read these very contemporary stories of people who felt the same as I do: caught between two worlds. I do not come from an Indian heritage and so therefore I am not Indian-American, but these immigrant, second-generation struggles felt so familiar. I was with Mrs. Sen when she refused to learn to drive and I was with Boori Ma when people expected things and aspects from her. 

The hole that was left was one that was created as I reflected once more on my identity. I don't have an answer to any my questions -- What makes me Westernized and what makes me Easternized and at what point am I Western or Eastern enough? Do I have to choose one world or the other? Am I really a part of both like I think that I am, or am I forever an outsider regardless of where I was born (in Canada)? If I'm not part of both, can I possibly be a part of both, and if so, to what extent? -- and I don't think I need an answer or a solution per say, but this collection has made me feel a little less lonely; maybe I'm not the only one who has this hole. 

Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol 

Anya befriends a ghost after accidentally falling down a well, one who is now helping her with her exams and getting closer with a cute guy. The ghost is not who she seems, though. Brosgol illustrates a fascinating story about a ghost, murder, and friendship all while exploring issues of body image and immigrant struggles. 

I picked up Anya's Ghost about 3 years ago while volunteering at a Book Fair at my brother's school. (By the way, YES. It was probably the best evening I had being at a book fair again since I hadn't since elementary school.) I told myself I would read it, and then lent to a friend shortly afterwards (hi, Kier, if you're reading this!) who said it was great ("a solid 8/10, imo" - Kier). I told myself I'd read it because of his positive reviews, but didn't get around to it until now. I, too, give it a solid 8/10. 

I think I struggled with the book in the beginning because Anya was so unlikable. She was rude to her mother and brother and seemed to only care about popularity. I was initially annoyed with her insecurities that felt so trivial, but as I got further into the book, I understood her struggle, as she states later in the book that she "worked hard" to get rid of her accent and fit in with American culture and American kids. This is probably the only reason why I'm knocking off two points (if we're going by the whole point system here). The other 8 come from the story of the ghost -- Emily, who fascinated me and ultimately sort of terrified  me at the same time. It doesn't sound like a page turner at first, but about halfway in I was hooked and could not put it down (had to sneak away from dinner for a bit to read a few pages...). 

Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong 

A collection of poems by Ocean Vuong about family, love, sexuality, war, and moves. 

Poetry and I have a complicated relationship. I once wrote poetry and I once read poetry. But the more I read poetry, the more I almost disliked it. And I'll be honest -- I think I dislike it because I have a hard time grasping some of the concepts. The arrangements of words and the format of the lines sound and look pretty, but that prettiness is so distracting for me that I'm focusing so much so on what things sound like and what it looks like that I'm not thinking about what it means. I don't know, poetry is hard, and I feel so free admitting that, especially after disastrously taking a Romantic era poetry class last year... 

Anyway -- I was perusing The New Yorker one day, as I often do, and came across an article about Vuong titled "How A Poet Named Ocean Means to Fix the English Language." Like.. what?? I'm interested in Asian-American writers (if that wasn't obvious) and plus that article title drew me in too far so I read up on Vuong and immediately became interested in his collection. I've linked the terribly interesting article that I read about three times (the first being while in class, which I now must say that I am missing a fair chunk of notes...), and highly recommend it to learn about such a unique and talented individual. Night Sky with Exit Wounds is a slim book, one you can read in one sitting, but it's full of so many profound things. I have to admit, though, that I don't know if I've fully understood all of them and I don't know if I'm misinterpreting many ideas being presented, but I enjoyed the collection and plan on rereading it to see if me and poetry have another chance at this relationship (maybe Ocean is the key?).  

It's clear that this month I've unintentionally stuck to a common theme between my books, regardless how different they may be in format, but I've opened myself up to three new formats I haven't looked into far enough, it seems, for that each captivated me in different ways. I'm on a bit of an Asian-American / Asian-Canadian author/story binge, though, so I've been doing my research on upcoming books to read that are still associated with this theme. Next months, perhaps, I'll have a few more. . . 

But for the time being, have you read any of these books before? If yes, what are your thoughts? If not, will you? We're not limited to just these three titles, though -- what have you all been reading this month? Let me know in the comments! 

Until next time, friends. X 

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