Sunday, March 21, 2010

Hold Love Strong (2)

Author: Matthew Aaron Goodman
Publisher: Touchstone, Simon & Schuster
Copyright: 2009

Well, after the first breathtaking section (the sections are called "bars," by the way - the table of contents is called the "composition" - nice touch - I wonder how the music aspect plays out in the book), well - the pace slowed down a bit. The early childhood years of Abraham's life are told through snippets of stories about himself, his family, his neighborhood... It is a bit disjointed, and for a few pages I was wondering where the story was going, if there was an actual plot. But then the pieces start coming together, and by the middle of the third "bar," the real story seems to start.

One thing that confused me and took a while to get used to - Abraham's mother is a teenager, and her mother is the age I would think of when I hear the word "mother." The narrator refers to these two as "my mother" and "my grandma," which made me have to stop and think about whom exactly each one referred to each time they were mentioned. But I got used to it, and now it flows nicely.

So - a little disappointed that the brilliance I saw at the beginning isn't steady throughout the book. But here's hoping this was just an interlude and that the things I loved about the beginning are in the rest of the book as well!

Hold Love Strong (1)

Author: Matthew Aaron Goodman
Publisher: Touchstone, Simon & Schuster
Copyright: 2009

A tough situation - a place where very young teenage pregnancy is the norm. Should be sad, but it's actually funny. Not tasteless funny! But instead of pitying the young mother and her family, you feel like they're real people, and their personalities shine through so strongly! Funnily enough, the narrator, who is only being born and a baby in this section, has a strong voice already! I especially like: " grandma cut my umbilical cord and left me the ugliest outie the world has ever seen." The insertion of his view on his birthing process - how funny is that!

There is a wry undertone to all the events. But at the same time, there is a certain loving tenderness. When describing how his five-year-old cousin takes care of him, he transforms what should be pathetic - one child taking care of another - into a special bond between the two of them.

Can't wait to read more of this.

Say You're One of Them

Author: Uwem Akpan
Publisher: Back Bay Books, Little Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group)
Copyright: 2008

Short stories (two not-so-short) set in Africa

I had to ration these stories so I wouldn't gobble them up all at once! These are stories made to be read slowly, so as to savor each gem.

The author describes horrible, terrible situations and makes them real and relatable. We hear stories like these on the news, but Uwem Akpan brings them to life, partly by creating real, believable characters that the reader can empathize with. Each character is unique, and not a single one is stereotyped, which could easily happen in stories with sweeping themes such as these. Instead, every character, not only the main characters, has an individual personality, so that in addition to becoming aware of the conditions in these African countries, the reader connects to a single story in each country.

Each story focuses on a different country, and the different points of view help give each one a different feel. I especially liked how Akpan used second-person point of view in "What Language Is That?" It's a great technique for pulling the reader right into the middle of the story, and he does it beautifully.

He also balances individual voices with the practical need for clarity, so that somehow - I wish I knew how! - the language reflects the individual voice without becoming slow, laborious reading. I also love how he inserts bits of other languages into the stories. Sometimes they're translated - naturally, without sounding like a translation - and sometimes they're left untranslated, just a bit of the culture of the country thrown into the story.

What I love most about these stories is that amidst all the horror of what is going on in these countries, you get a feel for human character, and not all of it is bad! You get to see how "life goes on" and how people care for each other even in the craziness going on around them. So for all that this is a book describing horrific events, I keep thinking of it as heart-warming.



Have you ever heard of the concept that readers actually keep a running dialogue with the books they're reading? Teachers are taught that in order to help their students understand more of their texts, they should be taught to maximize on the interactions already taking place in their minds with the texts as they read. After I learned about the various methods for doing this, I began noticing how I "talk" to the author, the characters, or the book in general as I read. I began taking note of what kind of interactions there are, and I've decided to share some of them with you in this blog.

Generally, I'm going to keep my comments to evaluations of the books. These are thoughts that I had while reading, as well as thoughts that occurred to me after I finished the books. The exact format of the posts will probably change as I get used to blogging and figure out what works best.