January wrap up

This is my wrap up post for January. I’m very happy with my reading this month. I know there are people out the that read +20 books a month, but I can’t, and seven seems like a pretty good number for me.

Let’s see what we’ve got:

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Books read: 7

  • Play it as it Lays, Joan Didion
  • Una niña hecha de libros, Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston
  • The End of the Fucking World, Charles Forsman
  • Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado
  • The Power, Naomi Alderman
  • Noches blancas, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • Mamut, Esther García Llovet

 

Male: 3

Female: 4

Spanish: 3

English: 4

Translated from a language other than English: 1

Translated from English: 1

Challenges prompts completed: 6/107

 

Thank you for anyone who might be following me on this journey.

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A tiny review of a mammoth…

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I have always seen the Malpaso books and think they are beautiful (the only ones worth putting with the spines turned in in your bookshelf). At the end of last year I was in a bookstore just before a movie, and I saw Mamut (“mammoth” sorry, there’s no English translation for this book yet), so I instantly thought of the PopSugar prompt of “a book with an animal in the title,” and bought it.

I don’t really like to review things I don’t like (in general, not only books), so this will be short. And it’s not that I didn’t like Mamut, but the comments on it were so grandiose, that I’m afraid to say it didn’t live up to my expectations.

Mamut tells the story of Junot, who’s looking for Toro, who has been in jail the past two years, and supposedly owes him a certain amount of the drug called “mamut.” There are weird characters and the setting is dark and somber. Of course, in the end things don’t go well…

Mamut (2014), by the Spanish author Esther García Llovet, is a non linear novel with a beautiful bright yellow fore edge. If you look it up you’ll see great names attached to it (Faulkner, Bolaño, Carver, Cheever), but don’t fall for them 🙂

And with this book i finish my January reads…

How the earth moved and pushed me to Murakami, who pushed me to Dostoyevsky

You probably know that on last September there was a HUGE earthquake in Mexico. There were actually two, one on the 7th and another one on the 19th. I was asleep on the 7th (it was after 11 pm) and the rocking movement woke me up. I remember sitting on my bed, looking through the window to some crazy blue lights that looked like lightning or explosions. The earthquake was so long that I was sure the whole Mexico City was in ruins. Fortunately, nothing happened in the city; unfortunately, one of the poorest states in Mexico was devastated.

Then, on September 19th we were commemorating the 32nd anniversary of Mexico’s deadliest earthquake when another superpowerful one hit. Everything was chaos. To reunite my family and get back home took me more than six hours (with a total journey of less than 10 miles). A lot of buildings collapsed and hundreds more were severely damaged. I had always been afraid of earthquakes, but the truth is I had never felt anything like that before.

For a few days I barely slept or did anything really. And after a couple of weeks, I started reading again. The city was still mostly paralyzed, no one was working nor in school, everyone was helping the best they could. I wasn’t pushing myself too much, I didn’t want to read +200 pages a day, but anything I read seemed so superfluous and unimportant… A building next block from my apartment had collapsed, I had been helping to look for survivors and then I would come home and read about two teenage superheroes? Ugh… no… It just didn’t feel right. I’m not sure why I decided to read anything I could about earthquakes. I already had in my shelf a book by Juan Villoro (you might remember that I already mentioned him in my first post) called: 8.8: el miedo en el espejo, it’s a chronicle about his experience in one of the most horrifying earthquakes in the history of the planet… An 8.8 earthquake in Chile that lasted SEVEN minutes. It had been in my TBR for ages… and when I opened it, it didn’t make me feel like I shouldn’t be reading it, which was the most important thing for me. Then, I read a chronicle of that other earthquake that hit my city on September 19th 1985, by one of the most important chroniclers of the city: No sin nosotros. Los días del terremoto 1985-2005, by Carlos Monsiváis. It was a harrowing read because it talked about some of the places that were hit AGAIN exactly thirty two years later… there was a story about a boy created by the media, that supposedly was under the rubble, that echoed EXACTLY a story about a little girl that supposedly was under the rubble of a school. I spent EIGHT hours in front of the TV hoping, waiting, expecting for this little girl to come out, and she didn’t even exist… Imagine how I felt reading that it had happened before…

And finally, I read Murakami’s After the Quake

It was absolutely the best order I could have chosen to read those books, because the first was about something even worse than what I had lived, but far away… a reintroduction to reading something important, but also remote. Then as I had picked up my pace I did read something hard, something close, something that talked exactly of what I was living. And finally, something almost soothing, a series of short stories that mentioned a devastating earthquake so subtly, and were so beautifully written and just plainly exquisite…

There was one that hit me the most powerfully: “Super-Frog Saves Tokyo”. It is the fucking best allegory of survivor guilt. It’s amazing. And I think that little cutesy short story was one of the fundamental things that made me start living my life normally again, going back to routine… And in it Murakami mentions lots of books. But there was one that I was definitely was going to read: White Nights, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Frog (one of the main characters), who is going to fight Worm says: “Fyodor Dostoevsky, with unparalleled tenderness, depicted those who have been forsaken by God. He discovered the precious quality of human existence in the ghastly paradox whereby men who have invented God were forsaken by that very God.” (“Fiódor Dostoievski describió con una ternura infinita a los hombres abandonados por Dios. Él descubrió el valor de la vida humana en la terrible paradoja según la cual el hombre que ha creado a Dios es abandonado por ese mismo Dios”, OMFG :o). I just HAD to read that book.

And when I saw the prompt for a classic with a color in the title in the Back to the Classics 2018, I knew this was it.

I’m so glad, really, I can’t put it in words how happy I am about this challenge.

White Nights is an amazing novella. Published in 1848, it’s an early Dostoyevsky where you can already see what he’ll become.

The story is divided in “nights” and a “morning”. It takes place during a time of the year known as “white nights”. Here’s what Wikipedia says about them:

Locations where the sun remains less than 6 (or 7) degrees below the horizon—above 60° 34’ (or 59° 34’) latitude south of the Arctic Circle or north of the Antarctic Circle—experience midnight twilight instead of midnight sun, so that daytime activities, such as reading, are still possible without artificial light on a clear night.

White Nights have become a common symbol of Saint Petersburg, Russia, where they occur from about 11 June to 2 July, and the last 10 days of June are celebrated with cultural events known as the White Nights Festival.

White Nights tells the story of a “dreamer” (“The dreamer—if you want an exact definition—is not a human being, but a creature of an intermediate sort”, oh, Dostoyevsky, how much I love you… ) who observes everything and everyone so minutely that has no real contact with people, until one night he finds Nastenka, who seems to be the person he has been waiting for all his life. Unfortunately, Nastenka, who at first seems willing to share this feeling with our beloved narrator, leaves him in the end. The morning part of the story, the end, is a masterful exposition of the most sincere feelings all of us (the readers of Dostoyevsky, who I reckon are a sensible bunch) have felt at least once, so pure, honest, and unselfish. White Nights is a life-changing literary experience.

On a side note, and I don’t know if I’m stretching it, I couldn’t help but think about Noches tristes y día alegre, a novel by José Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi published in 1818, which is also divided by days, but unlike Dostoyevsky’s has a happy ending.

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White Nights, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 1848, is the book I read for the prompt “A classic with a color in the title” in the Back to the Classics Challenge 2018. I’ll also use it for the prompt “A book mentioned in another book” in the PopSugar Reading Challenge, as it was mentioned in After the Quake by Haruki Murakami.

Will we ever be able to have an equitable world?

So I just finished reading The Power, by Naomi Alderman. It’s such an interesting book. It happens in a world were women have acquired a “power” that makes them superior to men in a way. The story inside the story (of a male writer emailing a female writer for input on this new book he wrote, and it is what we read) happens in a familiar world, dare I say the early 21st century? And then is when “the power” wakes up in young women first, and then all…

What I find the most interesting of this Margaret Atwood endorsed book is the questions it makes you formulate. I basically disagree with its portrayal of the feminine world because I fundamentally believe that if something like this were to happen to women, we wouldn’t turn crazy and men-like… But I’m not even sure if this is what Alderman is proposing… Is it that this book is more intended for men to read and compare? Is it a cautionary tale? Are we really inferior/superior?

I found the parts were rolls are reversed incredibly well written. Like, how did you do it Naomi!? I imagined myself writing them “normally” (the power character as male, and the dominated one as female) and then just changing the names… what a great exercise in writing! Especially in the email exchange between the authors (Neil Adam Armon ―the male writer, an anagram of Naomi Alderman’s own name― and Naomi, the female writer who suggests the book to be published under a woman’s name hehehe) you can read exactly the tones we use in a correspondence between a female who is under a male counterpart, even if it’s just a perceived hierarchy…

There were some difficult parts to read. The violence, the rapes, the blood, the war crimes… and also the more subtle (and exactly because of that the more hurtful?) inequality: “Every book you write is assessed as part of ‘men’s literature’”, or “I’ll ask my assistant if he’ll sort out some dates for us to have lunch.” We are still living in a world where this actually happens, just the other way around. Is there a way out of it? Will there ever be?

The Power, by Naomi Alderman, was the winner of the 2017 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. Alderman is also the cocreator and lead writer of the fantastic app: Zombies, Run! How cool is that!?

Today we take a punch

There are some days that the universe just hits us hard. Two GREAT (all caps) authors died today. Nicanor Parra was one of the most important poets in Spanish language, and he was 103 years old. Ursula K. Le Guin was one of the most important science fiction writers, and she was 88.

The world will be less of a fantastic place without them.

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It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.
Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

 

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Hoy es un día azul de primavera, creo que moriré de poesía, de esa famosa joven melancólica no recuerdo ni el nombre que tenía. Solo sé que pasó por este mundo como una paloma fugitiva: la olvidé sin quererlo, lentamente, como todas las cosas de la vida.
Nicanor Parra, Es olvido

 

 

 

What a f***ing amazing book is Her Body and Other Parties

He Body and other Parties

I read Her Body and other Parties for the Slate Audio Book Club. What an amazing trip it was. I have been busy so I couldn’t read as much as I wanted, but I’m sure that if I had had the chance, I would have read it in one sitting.

Her Body and other Parties is a collection of eight stories, one just as amazing as the next. All of them have a feminist (profoundly feminist) voice, and are so weird and bizarre… I’m not sure if they could be catalogued as science fiction, but I while I was reading I felt that this book and its characters could perfectly coexist in the Black Mirror’s universe. There are even gory episodes, described masterfully, and violence so feminine that is eerie.

This book was also my entry for the January Monthly Motif Reading Challenge: Diversify your reading. Carmen Maria Machado is an American writer whose father was Cuban, so I guess you could say we’re the same race. But I chose her for the diversify your reading prompt, because she lives with her wife in Philadelphia, so she has a sexual orientation different to mine (I’m a straight cis… I know… boriiing).

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Her Body and other Parties will definitely be in my favorites for years and years to come, I’m sure (so, if anyone wants to gift me the hardcover, it’d be very very welcome). And I’m super excited about her next book to be published in 2019: House in Indiana: A Memoir.

 

Have you read Carmen Maria Machado? Do you love her like I do?

My first book of 2018: Play It as It Lays

 

I had never read Joan Didion before. I had been looking at all the amazing posts of the Picador Modern Classics everyone shared on Instagram, and I really really wanted to read her. Luckily, my A Todo Terreno book club had to read Play It as It Lays in December. I was a little behind my 2017 reading goal, so I started it on December 27th, because I had to read some more books before.

It probably wasn’t the best choice, because I read a little, then stopped, then started it again in 2018. And it is a tough book. I wish I hadn’t read it as my first book of the year, but oh well…

It tells the story of a Hollywood actress, Maria, struggling with her career, her mental health, her relationships. It touches themes as abortion, infidelity, the loss of a mother, suicide… Overall, I loved it. Joan Didion’s language is pristine and completely gripping. I cried a little and felt despair.

I will definitely look for more books by Didion. I might even buy the little Picador…

Do you like Joan Didion? Have you read Play it as it lays?

Play It as It Lays, by Joan Didion. 1970. Picked by Time as one of the 100 best English-language novels since 1923.

My Birth Year Reading Challenge 2018

These are the books I have prepared for the Birth Year Reading Challenge

So I’ve decided what books I’m going to read for the Birth Year Reading Challenge 2018. I was born in the amazing year of 1983. I looked up the books published then, and I found quite a few jewels. My goal is to read at least six books published in 1983, so my main six will be:

  • Cathedral, by Raymond Carver. I’ve read it, and loved it of course, but last year I bought the Library of America edition for an episode of the Slate’s Audio Book Club (which I haven’t heard yet), and it has Cathedral, so I’m excited to reread it.
  • The Witches, by Roald Dahl. I was actually going to read it last year for a prompt challenge of a book set in a hotel, but I didn’t get to it. The movie was one of my favorites when I was a child, so I’m really eager to start reading it.
  • The Autonauts of the Cosmoroute, by Julio Cortázar and Carol Dunlop (in Spanish it’s Los autonautas de la cosmopista). This is on my Top 20, easily. I adore this book, I’ve read it a couple times, but I’m so happy it was published on 1983 because I definitely want to read it again. Now that I have found my partner for life, I think it will be a much more amazing read. I will also be reading this book for the prompt of a book by two authors for the PopSugar challenge.
  • Malvinas Requiem, by Rodolfo Fogwill (in Spanish it’s Los pichiciegos). This book has been in my TBR for years. For some reason I thought it was much more recent, I had no idea it had been published the year I was born. It’s supposedly one of the best books of Argentinian literature, and I haven’t read a single review that’s not incredibly favorable.
  • The pianist, by Elfriede Jelinek. According to Granta it was the best book published in the year I was born. I also love the movie (and I’m a bit ashamed of watching first the movies of two books on this list) and I think I need to read more Jelinek. Now I only have to choose the language I’ll read it in… I’m not quite sure if I should read it in Spanish or English, as it’s translated from German.
  • Mr. Palomar, by Italo Calvino. I’ll read the Spanish translation published by Siruela, called just Palomar. Calvino is one of my Top 10 authors, and I love the books published by Siruela, so I’m eager to read this one.

 

The runner-ups will be:

  • The Woman of Porto Pim (Donna di Porto Pim, in Italian), by one of my Top 5: Antonio Tabucchi. I think Tabucchi was one of the first authors of real Literature (with a capital L, the Big literature, the literature for grown-ups and initiated) that I ever read, when I was in my early teens. I clearly remember going to a store called Sanborn’s (I’ll probably write a bit more about this store some day, because it’s sooo weird and amazing) and his book L’angelo nero was there, with a HUGE discount, if I’m not mistaken it cost like 15 MXN (that’s less than a USD now). When I started reading it I felt completely mesmerized by his words. It definitely was one of the reasons I studied Literature. I don’t think there’s an English translation of The Black Angel, and it’s a shame, because for me it’s his best collection of stories. But The Woman of Porto Pim is definitely translated, in case you want to dive in…
  • How to Suppress a Women’s writing, by Joanna Russ (which was published in 1983, but will have a re-edition in April this year). I want to read more books by women authors. And more about feminism. On the Amazon description, Jessa Crispin (who writes the foreword) says: “it was published over thirty years ago, in 1983, and there’s not an enormous difference between the world she describes and the world we inhabit.” Sounds important enough, so I’ll try to get my hands on it after April.

 

I hope you like my list, and ideally that it helps you discover some great authors. What will you be reading for this challenge? Or this year?

So what will I be reading this year?

I figured I need to engage myself since the beginning, I’m still a bit anxious about losing my books, so apart from the challenges and clubs I talked about in my last post I will be trying to complete a few other reading challenges. I’ve been reading a lot about these and they encourage overlaps with other challenges, which I think is awesome because you can look at the same book from very different angles.

So first of all I’ll be doing the Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge 2018. Twenty four books ranging from comics to non-fiction. The category I’m the most excited about (and I think I could read a few books for it) is a sci-fi novel with a female protagonist by a female author. Sci-fi has always been my favorite genre, but I don’t think I’ve read much by female authors. The Read Harder Challenge will be my priority throughout the year, I must say, but I plan to mix it with other interesting challenges I found.

My second challenge will be Back to the Classics 2018, hosted by Books and Chocolate. I fervently believe that what took me back to reading was going back to my own classics, and I think it’s incredibly important to get back to The classics. I loved Karen’s prompts and it’s twelve books, so I think it’s amazing to plan at least one book published more than 50 years ago a month.

Another challenge I’ll be joining is the Birth Year Reading Challenge, hosted by Hotchpot Cafe. In this challenge we have to read an indefinite number of books published in the year we were born. For me, that’s 1983. I don’t really pay much attention to this, but I find it really fun, and a quick search directed me to some amazing books like Cathedral, by Raymond Carver; The Color Purple, by Alice Walker (which I can’t read this year because I read it last year for the RHC prompt of a classic by an author of color); and Heartburn, by Nora Ephron (which I also read —as an audiobook read by Meryl Streep— last year for the prompt of a book about food for the PopSugar Challenge), so it sounds promising. I plan to read six books for this challenge.

One more challenge that I think I can complete is the 2018 Monthly Motif Reading Challenge, hosted by Girl XOXO. Each month has a motif or theme, so it’s also 12 books, with a bunch of categories that I have in other challenges 🙂 The one that excites me the most is in September: Don’t Turn Out The Light! Cozy mystery ghost stories, paranormal creeptastic, horror novels!

Then, I found an incredibly fun challenge. The Kitty Lit Reading Challenge 2018, hosted by Becky’s Book Reviews, encourages us to read at least three books with cats. I love cats, so… I actually have a book with cats on my TBR, so I definitely plan to get on board with this challenge.

I want to do the 2018 PopSugar Reading Challenge, too, but I plan to do it more as fill-in-the-blanks. What I mean is that apart from the previous challenges, I will also be reading the twelve books of the Slate Audio Book Club and there’s a radio show I used to follow here in Mexico City called A todo terreno, they have a sort of book club (no real discussions take place, just a book critic goes and determines the book to be read that month, but so far I’ve enjoyed the recommendations and I do participate a little on their Goodreads group) so that’s twelve more books. I hope I can use some of those 24 books to complete the 40+10 book prompts.

And finally, I also plan to read at least 50% of books by women authors (I hope more, but I don’t want to set an unreachable goal). Fortunately, as a Mexican reader, I think my reading is diverse, but I think it’s important to read more books by women. I signed up for Open Letter also, so I think I will be getting 12 books in translation (in English). The first couple of titles look awesome, and they’re books that wouldn’t be translated into Spanish, anyway, so I’m excited about them. There’s a book by Rodrigo Fresán (an Argentinian author), The Bottom of the Sky (in Spanish it’s called El fondo del cielo, and was published in 2009), and I’m still debating if I should read it in English or in Spanish… We’ll see, whenever it gets here.

I’ll soon be posting about the first book I read in 2018 and the plans I have for my different challenges.

 

Thank you for reading.

How I changed my life in 2017

So this is something I haven’t told anyone before, even if some people knew a little about it. I studied Latin American Literature, and the last nine or so years I wasn’t able to read books. I did read the occasional novel (struggled a lot to do it) and I never stopped buying books, but I just didn’t read. I’m not exactly sure what happened.

When I first noticed this I got really really worried. I remember that a friend who knew one of my favorite authors (Juan Villoro) emailed him asking for advice. He said I was someone who used to devour all types of literature and he wanted to know if he (Villoro) had any suggestions on some books that would make me read again. Juan Villoro actually replied that he suggested “fun and intoxicating books,” and gave a list:

La vida exagerada de Martín Romaña, by Alfredo Bryce Echenique

Dos crímenes, by Jorge Ibargüengoitia

La ternura del dragón or Carreteras secundarias, by Ignacio Martínez de Pisón

París no se acaba nunca, by Enrique Vila-Matas

I bought them all, I actually had read in school Dos crímenes (and loved it, by the way, Ibargüengoitia is one of my favorite authors), but they did nothing. After a few months (years?) of them sitting in my bedside table, I just added them to my neverending (and nevershrinking) TBR. Looking back I’m not even sure what happened, or how it happened. It’s not that I didn’t open a book, but it was so hard to keep reading, I took so so long to finish a chapter, or even a page. I was so easily distracted (I’ll talk more about this in a bit).

I was worried and I felt terrible. Alone and incapable. For a reason I didn’t understand something that I loved and that was paramount in my life (jeez, I studied Literature) just disappeared. I don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t reading (of course, since I started reading at 5) and reading actually saved me so many times throughout my life, that this new reality felt sad and desolate.

After some years it started getting easier to accept. I realized that it wasn’t that I couldn’t read. I read all the time! Online, just not books. I never stopped buying books, but more than fiction I bought non-fiction. Books that I could read just a passage that I needed and then leave them. Food-trucking, translation, working from home, consulting… and of course, some literature from time to time.

And then something happened last year. I’m sure it wasn’t just for me, but globally, 2017 was a hard year. If 2016 was morbid, 2017 presented many more challenges from the get go. I started watching BBC’s Sherlock and suddenly felt the urge to read the canon. I actually had never read it in English, I found Sherlock Holmes when I was very young and I read it in Spanish (I didn’t know a thing about translation when I was 9, but I still believe it was a good one). So I looked for a cheap but well rated edition (in Mexico we have a saying “bueno, bonito y barato”, “good, pretty, and cheap”) on Amazon and ordered it. I started reading and couldn’t stop. My husband gifted me one of those “Big ideas simply explained” books about Sherlock Holmes, and as soon as I read a novel or a short story I complemented it with the chapter on that book. I didn’t realize I was *reading* at first, but then I started to get anxious. What would happen after I finished Conan Doyle? Would I go back to my book drought? So I looked online, of course.

There were lots of articles saying to take a book everywhere (I do that now) because there’s always time to read. But I found one that made me really curious.  This Book Riot article linked to the Read Harder challenge 2017 and the categories were amazing. I decided to give it a shot, I mean it was May already, so that meant I had to read a little more than two books a month, but it definitely seemed achievable. It wasn’t like my university days, of course, but taking two weeks to read a book sounded okay with how much I was reading by then.

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My Read Harder Challenge 2017 😀

By December 31st I had read +40 books! And I covered all the Read Harder prompts! I know it’s not much, especially seeing the Rioters’ statistics, but I do feel proud. After reading The Shallows, by Nicholas Carr (for my non-fiction about technology) I feel that’s exactly what happened to my brain. The Internet changed the way I think and my books went away. I’m so glad I eventually found a way out.

I know that it started as “going back to basics” (classics, in this case, my own, of course), but book challenges and book clubs (I follow the Slate Audio Book Club, too) turned my life back to the right (and beautiful, and amazing, and challenging, and wondrous, and fulfilling) path.

 

On 2018 I’ll be doing the Read Harder Challenge again, obviously, and with the Slate Audio Book Club and a book club of a radio show in Mexico, I think I’ll be able to achieve my goal of 60 books.

I’ll be writing about my journey. I hope that this way I can make myself a little more accountable.

 

Happy New Year to anyone who might be reading.

 

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The books I read in 2017 😀