An Open Book: What I Read in September

September was a busy month on my bookshelf! And October promises to be just as full of reading. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m in the middle of eight different books right now – and I have about 15 more books checked out from the library, just waiting to be cracked open. That doesn’t even account for the bookshelf that is crammed with reading material. What I wouldn’t give for more hours in the day just to dedicate to reading!

Like Water For Chocolate

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

Three-line review: Food is a big part of this book but I found the inclusion of recipes and the detailed culinary descriptions to detract from the central story of a forbidden love between Tita and her sister’s husband, Pedro. Esquivel does an excellent job using a 12-month calendar and the common thread of cuisine to driver a reader through the book, despite the fact the story takes place over several years. Nonetheless, one of my favorite books is One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and I love both that book and this one because of the magical realism – people who fall in love because passion is mixed into a recipe, ghosts that guide and haunt in the afterlife, tears spilled over heartbreak that cause illness.

I listened to the audio version of this book so was unable to mark my favorite passages.

The Bookseller of KabulThe Bookseller of Kabul by Ȧsne Seierstad

Three-line review: From the time of publication, this book was mired in controversy, but it’s been sitting on my bookshelf so I decided to finally read it and see what all the hoopla is about. It turns out I’m not a fan of how Seierstad wrote this book – removing herself from the scenes and interpreting interactions told simply through someone else’s recollection yet clearly placing her own bias on the situation. I wanted to read about the bookseller of Kabul and how he offered access to the written word to the people of Afghanistan, but this was about the extended family over which he rules, written in short vignettes that didn’t do anything but cause me to feel frustration, annoyance and anger.

Favorite lines:

On large carpets under the open sky or in cramped stalls the magnificent and the necessary lie side by side, turned and fingered by discerning customers. Pistachio nuts, dried apricots, and green raisins are kept in large burlap sacks; small hybrid fruit of lime and lemon lie on ramshackle carts, with skin so thin the peel is eaten too. One vendor has sacks of cackling and wriggling hens; the spice merchant has chili, paprika, curry and ginger heaped up on his barrow.

A wedding is like a small death. The bride’s family mourns in the days following the wedding, as though it were a funeral. A daughter is lost – sold or given away. 

The burkas are pulled over clean heads. Little air gets in, so the burkas have their own peculiar smell. Bibi Gul’s reeks of the indeterminable aroma she surrounds herself with, old breath mixed with sweet flowers and something sour. Leila’s smells of young sweat and cooking fumes. Actually, all the Khan family burkas stink of cooking fumes because they hang on nails near the kitchen. The women are now spotlessly clean under the burkas and the clothes, but the soft soap and the pink shampoo desperately fight against heavy odds. The women’s own smells are soon restored. The smell of old slave, young slave.

The Daring Nellie BlyThe Daring Nellie Bly by Bonnie Christensen

Three-line review: This children’s book follows the story of Nellie Bly, a pioneering female journalist who set a record for traveling around the world in 72 days. The book specifically detailed how Bly came to travel around the world and the path her long journey took, but it failed to cover other achievements in her life – such as the 25 inventions she patented, which are given a simple sentence on the final page of the story. While she may be known primarily for her global travels, the book’s title implies that the story is about Nellie Bly in general, and in that aspects, it is a letdown.

Siri & MeSiri & Me by David Milgrim

Three-line review: Dave Bowman is a technology blogger who falls in love with Siri, the voice-operated search feature on his iPhone, because she speaks uncharacteristically out of turn, which he mistakes as partnership. In reality, Siri conspires against Dave, using her technological abilities to interact with real people in real time. I’m inclined to think this graphic novel is a sad but realistic commentary on our current devotion to electronic devices and how, despite their ability to keep us in touch with everybody all the time, they discourage people from actually getting to know the people around them.

So You've Been Publicly ShamedSo You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

Three-line review: Though this was my book group read for the month, I may have picked it up anyway because it is very Malcolm Gladwellian, and I love books that dig into social psychology and why we do things the way we do – in this case, resort to public shaming. Since the advent of social media and proliferation of lives lived online, the smallest slip-up can easily result in professional and personal devastation, but that isn’t always the situation. With various case studies, Ronson illustrates that, while the internet has given more people a voice and encouraged people to pursue their personal passions, what it’s really done is forced us to conform or be boxed by those around us; this is best illustrated by the last line of the book: “We are defining the boundaries of normality by tearing apart the people outside it.”

Favorite lines:

What we do, when we fuck up, we don’t lose our job. We lose our vocation.

He was a dishonest, number-one selling author who had been exposed by the sort of person who used to be powerless.

You combine insecurity and ambition, and you get an inability to say no to things.”

The way we construct consciousness is to tell the story of ourselves to ourselves, the story of who we believe we are. I feel that a really public shaming or humiliation is a conflict between the person trying to write his own narrative and society trying to write a different narrative for the person. One tries to overwrite the other. And so to survive you have to own your story.

It’s disorienting … that the lie between hell and redemption in the U.S. justice system is so fine.

One Response to “An Open Book: What I Read in September”

  1. Jill

    Always appreciate your opinion of books! Book groups especially can have issues reaching an agreement on what to choose.


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