Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Reading Rainbow

Reading A TON lately and loving every minute of it.  In direct proportion to how busy life gets is how much I crave brushing my teeth, putting on my jammies, and squeezing in an extended period of reading-in-bed.  It's lovely.  I hope, I hope, I hope I can pass on this love of reading to my kid.  The Dotytron has actually been getting mad at me because I keep putting off Downton Abbey (we're on our last episode of season 1!) for more time in bed, reading.  

In the battle between television and books though, literary pursuits will always win.  Here's what I've been laying my peepers on, lately:

Wonder by R.J. Palacio.  This book slayed me.  It's a quick YA read - I plowed through it over 2 nights, staying up way past my bedtime because I couldn't bear to put it down.  This book is about August, a boy born with severe facial deformities.  Homeschooled by his mother, the book begins with August entering 5th grade at a public school for the first time.  As August says in the opening pages, attempting to describe himself, "whatever you think I look like, it's probably worse."  This book had me in tears because Palacio doesn't take the easy way out.  Auggie isn't sheltered from the meanness that is in people or the viciousness that characterizes so many social interactions, especially among children.  What makes this book so enriching is that in the end, you realize, along with Auggie, that there are more mostly good people than there are mostly bad people in this world.  That we as humans are capable of kindness and that we should always strive to be kinder than is necessary.  The book is told from a few different perspectives: August's, his sister Via's, his friends Summer and Jack's, and finally, from Via's former friend Miranda's point of view.  All these perspectives and experiences make up an ultimately life-affirming story of how we are blessed to be capable of kindness and love and how we are blessed to receive kindness and love:

“Courage. Kindness. Friendship. Character. These are the qualities that define us as human beings, and propel us, on occasion, to greatness.”  - from Wonder

A distant acquaintance recently had a baby with Down Syndrome.  The baby has had some health setbacks as well and is still in the hospital.  I look at the pictures they've posted on FB and it makes me cry.  As if being a new parent isn't hard enough, they're going through the ringer with their little guy, who in the grand scheme of things, is still going to be okay.  Their little baby is such a lamb and the expressions on his face are just so dear and sweet.  It just makes you think what a miracle little kids are and how remarkable human beings are, with our ability to cope and the boundlessness of our love.  It also makes you realize how the scale of our perception gets redrawn all the time.  How, in spite of how lucky I am, I am able to take things for granted and bemoan small, piddly trifles.  I don't know where I'm going with this - just that (and I'm not relinquishing my beliefs on women's reproductive rights here) little people are miracles, in a way.  And that no matter what, your kid is YOUR kid, however they turn out. They are of you and more importantly, they're of all of us - little balls of potential.

 My work book club selected Esi Edugyan's Half Blood Blues (which won the Giller prize this year) and I wasn't expecting to like it (me and my work book club's views don't generally mesh) but I was instantly drawn into the writing and the story.  The book follows a group of black jazz musicians playing in Berlin before the start of World War II and follows their eventual exile into Paris.  The book cuts between the present day, when the surviving members of the band are brought together for a reunion tour, and the events of the past.  There are secrets and ambitions and love and love lost.  There is race and there are Nazis and there is the disgusting and disgraceful self-preservation instincts of occupation.  There are "human zoos" like Tierpark Hagenbeck but there is also history and friendship, jealousy, time, forgiveness, and love.  There is jazz music and talent and envy.  All these things are in this book and I loved reading it.  It was interesting to read about black experiences during the war and to see (in a sense) how Berlin went from being a cosmopolitan city with a thriving art scene that welcomed musicians of all races and religions to seemingly overnight becoming a place of paranoia and snitching and arrests.  

Finally, I've recently plowed through Craig Thompson (author of Blankets, which I LOVED).  Habibi is a technical marvel, from the standpoint of Thompson's imagery.  Set in the Middle East, he blends the forms and styles of Arabic writing into his incredibly intricate panels and weaves together a story from strands of the Qur'an, the modern gritty Middle East, and myths and stories.  The story follows Dodola - a young girl sold into marriage by her parents who subsequently at the age of 12 adopts a young slave boy Zam, who is 3.  She trades sexual favours to desert caravan men in exchange for food to support herself and Zam.  She becomes a mother, sister, and eventually, a lover to Zam.  Uhhh...that part was kinda gross.  I loved the visuals in this book and totally appreciated the hours and hours of labour that went into the details of the illustrations, but I had huge problems with the story, specifically in the depiction of sexuality and female sexuality at that.  I'm having a hard time articulating it, but let's just say that Zam becomes a eunuch, there are multiple instances of sexual exploitation of women, and then there's the whole, "I'm your mother and now I'm your lover" thing, which is just plain ick-tastic.  You learn from Thompson's semi-autobiographical tale, Blankets that Thompson was raised in an extremely religious family and was extremely conflicted by his awakening sexuality (with his girlfriend) and the Christian asceticism which characterized his upbringing.  This sense of shame pervades this work and makes it difficult to read, much less enjoy, much less tease out a cohesive, coherent point to the images of rape and plunder and starvation and disrespect.  It seemed kind of gratuitous after a while and I found a hard time getting the bigger picture.  The comic is also way too long.  I don't think I'd recommend this.  Or, flip through the pictures, take in the intricacy of the lines and brush strokes and then put it down.

Tonight is the first night class of my last course of this degree.  This is thrilling, but at the same time, I can't believe I have like, 12 weeks to get through!  But I just got to keep my eye on the prize.  Making it easier: for dinner tonight I had doubles from that place that makes the best ones in the world and a chicken roti which the Dotytron bought for me as a special treat.  He's the only one who knows where the special doubles place is...all I know is it's somewhere in Etobicoke.  I'm going to miss seeing my Boobla tonight, though.



Nicole said...

I just finished all the available eps of Downton Abbey... including the post-season 2 Christmas special! Now just waiting til September for its return.

karl lagerfeld, esquire said...

spoken like a true woman on maternity leave...so jealous of you! i didn't know there was a christmas special! imma get on that, stat.

Nicole said...

me neither! Jesse found it for me. So much goes down in it too so you can't miss it. lol