Top Ten Most Recently Added Books on my TBR List

This week's edition of Top Ten Tuesdays (hosted by The Broke & The Bookish) is about the books that I've recently added to my TBR list. My To-Be-Read list is long (officially 317, unofficially 502), and jumps all over the place. From sci-fi to sociology, poetry to philosophy, cookbooks to picture books, contemporaries to classics. I hear about a book somewhere that seems vaguely interesting and I add it to the queue because otherwise I will never remember it again. Part of me admires my fellow bookworms who are more selective than I about which books make it to this list. But the other part of me likes trying all sorts of genres and types of books, because really, I just enjoy the experience of a good story.

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa
As I have a quiet obsession with contemporary Japanese lit and I recently finished A Tale for the Time Being, Goodreads suggested I read this book. It’s about a poor housekeeper who helps a brilliant math professor who has short-term memory loss, and what it means to live in the present. It sounds like it blends math with metaphors for life in a beautiful way.

What Angels Fear (Sebastian St. Cyr #1) by C.S. Harris
Jessica at Quirky Bookworm is in love with the Sebastian St. Cyr mystery series that is set in Georgian England. I’m in love with these three words being in the same sentence: mystery, Georgian, England.

The Face by Ruth Ozeki
This is a collection of essays by various authors writing about their own faces. It’s a little more literary than things I usually read, but I’m curious about the potentials in the theme drawn from a Jorge Luis Borges quote: “A face has a social history: it tells of lineage and belonging. It exists is relation to other faces past and future. Our faces are constant but evolving companions. They are certainly not the faces we are born with, and we don't know which face we will be wearing when we die. A face accumulates signs of wear and betrays our habits of living. Above all, our faces are our most distinctive signatures; flesh-and-blood emblems of the identities we carry around invisibly.”

All Over Creation by Ruth Ozeki
This fictional novel about industrial agriculture giants and antagonizing protestors and community activists attracted me mostly because I’m interested in reading more books by Ruth Ozeki. Though, I do have a passionate hate for Monsanto and a distrust of large farming operations...

My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki
Ruth Ozeki’s first novel is set in Japan and features a mysterious link between a Japanese tv show and the American meat industry. Again, not THAT interested in the book but I’m curious about the author.

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery
Someone said this was a book from their childhood that they would like to revisit during last week’s TTT… I can’t for the life of me remember who posted that! But the point here is that I LOVED Anne of Green Gables and I never once thought that L.M. Montgomery might have written other books. Silly me.

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley
A girl with supernatural abilities (and memory loss) learns that she is part of a secret organization of highly skilled fighters, and wants to know what happened in her past. Intrigue, conspiracy, British government… I’m curious! (Again, I can’t recollect who recommended this to me. I have memory loss too).

The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson
This is an older roman noir, first published in 1952. Roman noirs are mysteries where the protagonist is not the detective, but is a victim, perpetrator, or both. The protagonist in this book is a sheriff in a Texas oil town. Are you not eager to read this gritty crime novel?

The Only Ones by Carola Dibbell
Dystopia (check). Biological manipulation (check). Main character trying to stay alive while multiple factions try to get her (check).

Nest by Ester Erhlich
Wendy Darling at The Midnight Garden posted a great review of Nest. This middle-grade novel seems beautiful and soft, while addressing harder issues (the main character’s mom develops a serious disease) in a genuine and authentic way.

‘Belzhar’ Strikes a Good Note

There are no spoilers in this review, I pinkie swear.

Jam Gallahue is in love, in that bubblegum hormone-fueled hurts-so-good way. She’s in love with a smooth, hot British exchange student, and she knows that this is the real deal.

“Our entire relationship consisted of smiling, smirking, and saying funny things to each other. But I wanted our shoulder to touch. It was as if I thought our shoulders could almost communicate.”

You remember that feeling, right?

So she’s in this relationship where they don’t really have much to say to each other, they just have a mutual understanding of their avowed until death-do-us-part love. Oh and btw, they discovered this love 16 days after they met for the first time.

Fast forward a bit: the boyfriend dies after 25 days of dating (this is not a spoiler), and Jam enters such a state of grief that after one year she still hasn’t emerged. If you are thinking that her grieving she has deeper issues to deal with… you wouldn’t be alone in that. Her parents send her to a special boarding school for teens that need non-medicated psychological support.

At the school, Jam is placed in an exclusive, invite-only “special topics” English class with an intimate handful of other students. They study Sylvia Plath (hence the wordplay between The Bell Jar and Belzhar) the entire semester, and like Plath, must make regular journal entries throughout. These journals come with a special ability to help the students process their grief and pain in a very unique way.

Throughout the book, I was interested in the story, but had to keep taking two-second reading breaks to roll my eyes. I really dislike romances where the characters don’t show me how they have a long-term sustainable relationship based on something other than, “I just knew it,” or “We had a special connection.” I couldn’t get past how Jam was so in love with a guy that she knew for approximately a month, and whom we as the reader know nothing about besides she thinks he’s hot.

I’m glad I kept reading, however (full disclosure: until 3am). The author, Meg Wolitzer, is not a bad writer of romances, and everything made sense in such a clear way in the end. It’s one of those endings that makes you think back and remember all the clues and hints that were dropped along the way. Like, “Duh, dumb Alisa, why didn’t you pay more attention!?”

As the book progresses, Jam begins another relationship with a guy at the boarding school. She struggles with feeling like she is cheating on the dead British bloke, but Wolitzer makes an elegant contrast between the ways the two different guys treat Jam. It’s not in-your-face and preachy, like some authors that are new to the YA club tend to be. The ongoing comparisons are quiet and demure, yet I think that it could help out a reader who is wondering if their current relationship is healthy or not.

Despite my review’s focus on the romances in the story, the Belzhar’s overall message isn’t about dating. All of the characters are trying to stay living in the past, and are missing out on the present as a consequence. The story is built to illustrate the problems of being too self-abrading with mistakes (hellooo, perfectionist self!), and left me with a powerful punch of one of my favorite self-affirmations: You cannot go back. You can only go forward.

Fashion by the Book || The Walls Around Us

One of my favorite book blogs is Fashion by the Book. This blog is raising the assumptions that you may have of book nerds not having a fashion sense. Seriously, everything that LauraElisabeth puts together is something that I both would never think of and immediately want to wear. I don't have a very good sense of style or a clothing budget, but I love coveting those outfits.

Making outfits based on book covers looks like it's something fun to do, so I downloaded the Polyvore app on my phone, decided on a beautiful book cover, and had a blast. It's really easy to use, and is as fun as it looks. I'll probably make more of these in the future. Thanks for the inspiration and possible new addiction, LauraElisabeth!

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

Top Ten Books From My Youth That I Want to Re-Visit

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. It’s fun to play along, especially since I like to make lists. Join us! I haven’t re-read a book in years, mostly because there are so many other books that are waiting to be discovered. Some of the books on my list I’ll wait to re-visit with my future kids. For the others, I just need to get over my fear of not “being productive” and re-read them!

Piggins by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Jane Dyer
These three books about the crime-solving butler Piggins were my first mystery reads, and I begged my mom to get them for me every time we went to the library. The illustrations are intricate and have clues to help solve the mystery, if your eyes are observant enough!

Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
I loved them when I was little, so did my younger brother. We tag-teamed checking the various books out from the library because there were rules on not checking a book out back-to-back, only being allowed to get so many books by one author/subject at a time, etc. Bill Watterson is a genius because Eric and I loved them, and so did my mom and dad.

Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Little House books were a source of comfort and fueled playtime ideas when I was young and lived in a big woods, too. Farmer Boy is my absolute favorite, and I was overjoyed when I got to read it with a former student that I was tutoring. Honestly though, I don’t remember what happens to the Ingalls family when Laura gets a little older, so I wouldn’t mind discovering that all over again.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
My mom started reading these to me when I was seven or eight, and when I was a little older I read them to myself countless times. Sometimes I would just read my favorite parts. When I was having a bad day, I would sit in my closet and concentrate so hard on going to Narnia.

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
I read this book seven times in 2012. I tried so hard to become Harriet: I created a spy kit, bought a hooded sweatshirt, carried a marbled composition notebook everywhere (though it wasn’t green because my town only sold the black ones), recorded what the neighbors were doing, played “town” according to the rules in the book, and I even tried to like tomato sandwiches at a time in life when I couldn’t stand tomatoes.

Agatha Christie Mysteries
I progressed through mystery novels in this order: Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew, Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes. I don’t really remember which Agatha Christie books I read, so that’s a sure sign that they will be fresh when I get to read them again.

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
I read this book in 6th grade (didn’t understand it) and 10th grade (cried a lot). I told myself that I would definitely read it again.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
I read all the Hitchhiker’s Guide books in a row when I was 13 or so. I remember giggling an awful lot, and trying to explain the jokes to whomever was around me, but realizing that it’s best if you just read it yourself. I also remember being awed by the revelation of 42. So overdue for a re-read.

Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
I read this book twice when I was in high school, and it completely changed my worldview about Christianity and the church. Miller helped me make my faith more personal and less “this-is-just-what-we-do.” This book made me realize that there are many flavors of Christians, and guess what… they are all still Christians!

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
I have actual plans of revisiting it this year! I’m in line for the audiobook of The Fellowship of the Ring at my library, and it’s a full cast BBC production. I’m stoked. I read it in middle school and I am so positive that I missed a lot of its depth. That’s true of just about all the classics that I read when I was a teenager, though.

5 Reasons 'A Tale for the Time Being' is Worth Your Time

A Tale for the Time Being

A Hello Kitty box washes up on the shores of a small island in British Columbia, where it is deemed trash by Ruth, and picked up to be thrown away later. Ruth’s husband Oliver satisfies his curiosity by opening the box, finding a diary and old letters. When Ruth begins reading the diary, the perspective changes to that of the diary’s writer, a Japanese teenager named Nao. Nao plans to write about her Buddhist nun great-grandmother Jiko, but reveals more about her personal life and struggles in the process.

Nao and Ruth are imperfect yet intriguing mirrors of each other. Both were placed involuntarily into a culture that they didn’t ask for and don’t want to accept. They remain convinced that their former lives would have freed them from all of their current problems. For Nao, this means her life in Silicon Valley where her dad was a programmer, before he lost his job and had to move the family back to Tokyo. For Ruth, this means her life in New York City, where she was filled with inspiration to write and had many like-minded friends. Both process the suffocating isolation that is their new lives by biting their tongues until withholding their thoughts is no longer possible.

I’m still reeling from trying to process all that occurred in A Tale for the Time Being. I listened to this as an audiobook, beautifully narrated by the author, Ruth Ozeki. After the book ended, she explained that the physical book has footnotes, appendices, and illustrations that greatly enrich the story, and understandably, those simply can’t be conveyed in an audio format. Even without those, the story is bursting with influences from esoteric sources. To condense my thoughts on the novel, without giving away spoilers or re-writing the book, I think it would be easiest to explain why I loved it by concentrating on five points:

5. It’s meditative yet brilliantly paced.
To me, when I read a book, good timing is more important than plot. This book delicately balances descriptions of Buddhist funeral rites and of Pacific Ocean current patterns while still moving the plot forward. I enjoyed pondering the subjects that needed a little more brain power as much as I enjoyed the parts where characters raced against time.

4. It digests recent historical events into our cultural metanarrative.
9/11, the Fukushima Daiichi tsunami and nuclear disaster, and the lingering effects of WWII are things that we as a culture are continuing to process. It seems that every year Hollywood retells war stories completely fascinated with violence. How can we not be fascinated by it? We live beside it. And there’s no doubt that this attempt at storing our violent histories is similar to storing the nuclear wastewater in underground tanks—it cannot be contained and is bound to seep out into our culture. A Tale for the Time Being subliminally relates the prevalence of violence through the horrific bullying of its characters. But grandma Jiko uses the Buddhist perception of eternity to teach an alternate way to accept violence. I’m thankful for Ozeki’s work in this area by opening up other narrations of history and hopefully permeating our collective conscience.

3. It addresses ups and downs of being bicultural.
Nao lived most of her life in Southern California, and Ruth clearly identifies as being from NYC. Ruth, who is Japanese-American, and Nao, who is, practically speaking, American-Japanese, both wince with questions like: You are Japanese, why can’t you do this? Or the pregnant expectations of: You live here now, why don’t you act like us? The truth is, it’s not that simple. But one of the benefits of being bicultural is that, while they may not perfectly fit into either culture, they are able to form a relational bridge between both.

2. Ecology, theoretical quantum physics and Zen Buddhism are seamlessly blended.
Don’t be intimidated! Thankfully, Ruth also doesn’t have much of a grasp on these subjects, and other characters come alongside to teach her. It can come off as preachy or patronizing, but it’s worth the sacrifice to be able to connect the dots and follow the path the author is taking you down. In Jiko’s view, science and Buddhism don’t conflict at all. In fact, they have been supporting each other all along. This part isn’t overly-explained, and I loved the enlightened feeling I got when I was able to reach the conclusions on my own.

1. The writing is eloquent and breathtaking.
At times I was giggling, other times I was reverent, but at all times I appreciated the deliberate care and consideration that Ozeki put into crafting this story.

Why I Don't Buy Books

I love reading BookRiot’s Buy, Borrow, Bypass feature. I love the alliteration in the title, I think it’s a very clever way to say how valuable the content of a book is, and every time I read it I am halfway tempted to rip off that style of post. But, I never will.

I have a fundamental problem: I don’t buy books. This is absurdity for a booknerd like myself, I know. I used to have lots of books. Now I have twelve.

My book buying history

Growing up, I had an adequate collection of books in my bedroom, and probably a couple shelves more than the average American kid. On my birthday, I would always ask my dad to take me to Barnes & Noble and buy me a few books. My mom was good at finding Costco book deals or Friends of the Library sales. Most of my reading materials came from weekly visits to the library.

When I moved away for university, I left my books behind, but Tucson has a wonderful used bookstore called Bookmans. During the school year, I would visit Bookmans for stress relief, and naturally would walk away with a handful of beautiful volumes. Come summer break, I moved out of my Tucson house, every year, and sold most of the books back to Bookmans. It’s hard to lug that many books around the state a couple times a year, you know?

After graduating, I worked for Americorps for a year. While it was a great experience that I don’t regret at all (if you are thinking of doing Teach for America or Peace Corps but also kinda don’t want to, look into Americorps! It’s way more flexible and very interesting!), but part of the deal is you live at poverty level. Thankfully, Tucson is cheap and I already lived modestly. But some priorities had to be made: am I using my “fun money” to eat out with friends or buy a book? Clearly the answer is tacos with friends. The neighborhood library branch saw me a lot that year.

Two international moves have happened since my year with Americorps, both involving selling as much as I can and taking only two suitcases with me. Books in Brazil are more expensive than they are in the US, and even more so when you compare the prices vs average middle class wages. It’s not that I don’t covet ALL THE BOOKZ, it’s that they aren’t worth the cost.

How I get free books

1. Library e-loans.
My library card from Arizona is still active, and Pima County’s e-book collection grows daily. Tucson libraries are small but mighty.

2. Kindle books from Amazon
The public domain classics, though possessing the ugliest covers, are free. I would love to buy these classics from The Folio Society but I’ll have to wait until I get rich for that to happen. Occasionally, friends from church tell me that there is a one-day special of free kindle books by a Christian author, but I don’t know where they get this insider information.

3. Netgalley
This site connects publishers with people who should get advanced copies of books. There are soo many interesting books that I request for review. I don’t always get approved (especially because I often get curious about books that have nothing to do with my area of expertise—YA), but publishers still provide me with so much reading material that I set limits on how frequently I’m allowed to browse the site.

4. Self-published Authors on Goodreads
I joined some YA groups on Goodreads, and it’s pretty common for self-published authors to offer free copies for review purposes. That’s how I read Alora by Tamie Dearen. I’m challenging myself to get over my bias against self-published authors by actually reading them.

Murky waters

I completely agree with John Green’s essay “Why Libraries Are Different From Piracy” and I generally don’t download books illegally. But, there are two big exceptions:

4. Manga Rock
This app that draws from a number of manga sharing sites across the internet. You can find pretty much every manga, ever. This is like the Pirate Bay of Japanese comic book series. I justify this with asking myself: How would I even be able to find, let alone afford, a whole manga series that’s in English in Brazil?

5. PDFs of non-fiction
When my library doesn’t have a non-fiction e-book that I feel is important to read, I submit a purchase request to them. If after a month they still don’t have it, and I still want to read it, I hunt around online until I find a pdf. This is the case with The New Jim Crow. I don’t feel guilty about this because educating myself on important topics is worth breaking the law.

I’d like to hear your opinion on my less-than-ethical book acquisitions. Imagine this scenario: While I would never steal The New Jim Crow from a bookstore, I would go to the store and sit down and read it without buying it, being very careful to not crack the spine or tarnish the pages. Is that unethical too?

Top Ten Books on My Spring TBR List

This week's Top Ten Tuesday hosted by The Broke and the Bookish is about books on our spring TBR pile. Just fyi, It’s AUTUMN down here in the Southern Hemisphere! My favorite season! On my list I decided to not include books that I’ve already started.

10. Fragile Bones: Harrison & Anna by Lorna Schultz Nicholson
I love books, TV shows, and films with characters who have autism. I’ve even gone to real-life lecture about autism by an autistic man, and I will always listen to a radio program about it. I cannot explain the source of my curiosity. In Fragile Bones, two teens, one with high-functioning autism and the other who is the top of her class, buddy up through a school program and find their lives mixing in ways that they didn’t sign up for.

9. Cleo by Lucy Coats
I’ve had a life-long attraction to Ancient Egyptian lore. I hard-core fangirled when I saw the Book of the Dead in the Louvre. So of course I wanted to read this: teenage Cleopatra escapes to the temple of Isis to flee from her awful step-sisters. When Isis needs help to regain her full power, Cleo returns to take on Alexandria and her future.

8. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
I’ve read mixed reviews: most are stellar, but Alyce from At Home With Books gave it a derp face. I requested it from the library because I like psychological thrillers, and there is an audiobook version. I go through a lot of audiobooks because I commute at least two hours a day. So, a commuting girl sees something horrific on her daily commute and it changes the way she sees the world? I’m looking forward to arriving to work completely terrified.

7. The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler
I recently finished reading A Tale for the Time Being, and I have a small book hangover from it. That’s what attracted me to The Book of Speculation - it has a similar plot. The main character receives a book that gives him clues to his family’s history. He realizes that he must act quickly to find all the clues and try to save a relative from the family curse.

6. Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Bruna from Bruna Writes and Ana from Butterflies of the Imagination both recommended that I read The Lunar Chronicles series, and they aren’t the only ones. I finally put myself on the hold list at the library. Besides meeting a PopSugar Reading Challenge need, this will satisfy several YA subgenres I like: fairytale retellings, dystopias, and sci-fi.

5. The Buried Giant by Kazuro Ishiguro
I keep seeing this around places, including a review by Neil Gaiman, and I kind of have an obsession with novels written by Japanese people or Japanese descendants. It’s not because I’m one of those people who wears cosplay and believes I was born in the wrong culture. I like the sense of acceptance of the self, the pacing, the introspective attention to details, and refined use of language that are generally present in contemporary Japanese literature. I don’t know much about the story (and I like it like that!) besides this: a VI century British couple journeys to find their estranged son.

4. Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata (manga series)
The other day when I was exploring the Japanese neighborhood in São Paulo with my boyfriend, we stopped into a bookshop. Silas started swooning over the Death Note series because he had seen a remarkable play based on the story. From what I understand: a young man finds a notebook and discovers that if he writes someone’s name in it, that person dies. He starts out using it to bring justice, but then the power gets to his head.

3. The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery 
Did you know that I’m a scuba diver? And that one of my favorite sea creatures is the octopus? When I go to an aquarium (which I love to do), I divide my time between trying to get an adrenaline rush from the shark tank and trying to communicate telepathically with the octopi. I’m very excited about reading this non-fiction on the amazing intelligence of octopi.

2. Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo (manga series)
Guys. There is this app called Manga Rock and it gives you access to pretty much every manga ever. I’m trying to still be a productive member of society, but it’s reeaalllly hard. Manga is addicting because it’s so quick to read, the stories are imaginative and creative, and nearly all of it is serialized (Gotta catch ‘em all!). Post-WWIII Tokyo, sci-fi, and a struggle for an extreme power… Sign me up!

1. Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer
To be honest, I wouldn’t naturally choose this book to read based on the blurb (a girl goes to a therapy home to receive assistance with the grieving process over her dead boyfriend). But I heard an interview with the author, read several positive reviews on blogs, and watched a booktube where it was endorsed. I’m a curious person, plus a cover art whore.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

The first Haruki Murakami book that I ever read was 1Q84. It was written like nothing I had ever read before—magical, calm, layered, connected, obscured, symbolic. Over the next couple years, I made my way through more of his books, as my local used bookstore and library allowed. Norwegian Wood, Kafka on the Shore, and After Dark were all enjoyable, but they didn’t give me the same high that I had been searching for since I lapped up the final pages of 1Q84.

I approached Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage with high expectations. I pushed away the thought that perhaps the reason that the majority of Murakami’s books don’t match up to 1Q84 means that 1Q84 is more of an anomaly than a rule. “Naah,” I told myself, “1Q84 was the last book published before Colorless, and it represents a newer and better leaf in his career.” I avoided reading any reviews, so as to preserve every drop of a virgin reading experience, but I was so certain that Colorless would be even better than 1Q84 because of how much display area it got in bookstores. Good marketing does not a good novel make.

The basic plot: middle aged Tsukuru has trouble forming and keeping relationships with other people, and it’s not because he is on the Autism spectrum (though his train station obsession hints at that). His close group of high school friends broke up with him out of nowhere, and that experience hurt him so badly that he has been apathetic about getting close to people ever since. When his love interest detects that he has a psychological block, she quests him with reconnecting with his friends and tying up loose ends.

Many people compare Colorless to Norwegian Wood, and I agree with making that comparison. Both center on unhealthy relationships that the main male character needs to address before he is able to move on with his life. Both of them have an older female character who intuitively knows what the main character needs to do and tells him so. Neither of them have magical or occultish themes like we see in Kafka on the Shore and 1Q84.

I guess it’s important to remember that Norwegian Wood was Murakami’s breakthrough novel, and the one that endeared him to the Japanese public. So there are people out there, millions of them, who enjoy reading about ruminating on old relationships in Murakami’s slow, steady, rainy-day way. And besides Japan, it seems that the whole Man Booker Prize committee also enjoys this (read five prize winners in a row and you’ll see what I mean). But personally, I don’t have lingering regrets about past relationships, or discontentment with my current one, and I wasn’t able to identify with any of Tsukuru’s problems. I’m thankful for this. Maybe when I reach middle-age, I’ll feel regrets about the what-if’s in my life, but I doubt it. Not dwelling on the past is one of my coping mechanisms and is important to my worldview.

So, I was fundamentally disappointed with the plot, but all the other Murakami hallmarks were there to redeem it. The linguistic style is smooth and calculated, the pace moves in a contemplative and careful manner, and as always, it gave me a desire to go live in Japan and be an introspective, clean, reserved, polite person. And listen to records and pet cats.

Life Update || March 2015

New angles of São Paulo. I got a job teaching business English in companies around São Paulo! So far I don’t mind travelling all around because I get to go to parts of the city that I would otherwise never see. My new job is the reason why I wasn’t able to be so active in the blogosphere this week. (The other reason was that I got an awful case of the flu!)

Rain. One of the most famous Brazilian songs is Águas de Março, and it gets its title from the rainy season of March in this part of the country. We have been getting rain every afternoon since early February, which my friends say is one of the effects of global warming - an earlier start to the “Waters of March”.

I’ve been missing Arizona a lot lately, which manifests itself in the form of wanting Mexican food. Unfortunately, it’s been impossible to find an authentic tasting restaurant (read: Taco Bell + Brazilian flavorings), and even avocados to make guacamole are out of season right now. I’ve been making lots of pico de gallo with some kind of pepper that tastes like a Thai Chili but is called “finger peppers”.

With my daily commute being at least one hour each way, I have plenty of time for audiobooks. I finished A Tale for the Time Being and started The Fountainhead this month.

My pens, more than usual. Between journaling in English, starting a new journaling habit in Portuguese (using prompts from The Life: Captured Project), prepping for classes, and teaching, I used a lot more ink this month than I did the previous month.

Interesting Links
Things I Can Say About MFA Writing Programs Now That I No Longer Teach in One 

Manga for Beginners: My Journey into the Big, Mad World of Japanese Comics

Can This Small Publisher’s Radiohead-Style Plan Change the Way Books are Sold?

Dear People Who Defend 50 Shades with “It’s Just a Book”

Looking for Romance and Finding Friendship in Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Will Grayson, Will Grayson cover

*Contains very minor spoilers! Ye have been warned!!*

Will Grayson, Will Grayson was my first exposure to both John Green and David Levithan, the ever-so-trendy YA authors. It’s like a crime that I call myself an avid YA lit consumer, and haven’t read The Fault in Our Stars or Boy Meets Boy. This was also my first time reading a book with LGBTQ prominent characters. Dumbledore doesn’t count, you guys.

At first, I was a bit averse to picking this book up on account of its being stuck in the GAY & LESBIAN genre. There are multiple sides to the genre debate, I know because my boyfriend and I argue about genre labels all the time. On the one hand, It makes it easier to find books with topics you are interested in, but on the other, it’s also possible that the label will turn you off from reading a book that you would actually enjoy because you didn’t like the last book you read in that genre. I just always assumed that a book filed under “Gay & Lesbian” as one of its defining characteristics wouldn’t interest me. I mean, even if I read a book with straight characters who are thinking of / talking about / taking action on sexual thoughts all the time, I’m not too interested. I usually breeze through those parts and judge the author. So I always thought, “Well, the only way this book would have enough content to be in this category is if the characters are all lusty all the time.”

Will Grayson, Will Grayson isn’t like that. It does have a couple gay characters: one of them is stereotypical (likes musicals, says words like “FABulous”, makes it clear who is hot and who is not) but the other is not. The other, Will Grayson, is an average lower-middle class teenager growing up in suburban America, struggles in a single-parent home, takes medications for depression and anxiety, is unaware of how arrogant and self-absorbed he is, and gets butterflies in his stomach about holding hands with his crush. He is a remarkably realistic, believable character, and more importantly to me, was not what I imagined when I read the label that he came with.

The book is set up so that the chapters alternate between two characters. In the first hunk of the book, the times remain consistent, so when one chapter ends at say, 3pm on Tuesday, the next chapter will start at 3pm on Tuesday. One uses proper formatting, the other uses all lowercase (because I was reading an e-ARC, I assumed the final edits weren’t done yet...true story). Besides this, you don’t get a lot of clues that you are reading about different people until about 25% of the way through the book.

Now, I assume you are a much more clever person than I, because it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out that, guys, there are TWO WILL GRAYSONS in the book. They are completely separate characters who happen to have the same name. There is no magical explanation of alternate realities or changing space time or reincarnation. It does not get awkward super weird Freudian theory puzzling and they don’t fall in love with each other. Read in peace. Because I certainly didn’t.

Straight Will has basically everything in life going for him: chill parents with well-paying jobs, good looks, good connections, and a super cool standoffish attitude that doesn’t allow him to get sucked into school drama. Gay Will, as I mentioned, is a little more believable. Both Wills struggle with expressing their emotions and have trouble when it comes to commitment in romantic relationships. But ultimately, the story isn’t about romance. It’s about friendship.

Will Grayson and Will Grayson have a mutual friend named Tiny. Tiny has a big build, a big personality, a big presence, and is pretty mature for his age. He is always going out of his way to build confidence in other people, and he looks outside of himself to push and encourage those around him to reach further. Though Tiny plays a supporting role in this book, he actually is the one that ties the whole story together. In the end, the two Wills emerge from their self-absorbed bubbles and work together to show Tiny how much he is appreciated.

This book was an enjoyable read, it surprised me in really good ways, and it has a refreshing emphasis on healthy friendships (not psycho lust interests like so many other YA books that SHALL NOT BE NAMED). It definitely broadened my horizons and showed me some of my own biases. Read it, it’ll be good for you!

I got an e-ARC for review purposes, but that in no way affected my honest opinion.

World Book Day || Authors from Around the World

cartoon world map

Happy World Book Day! I realize that World Book Day is more for…young children, but I liked the idea of it. In celebration, I’d like to recommend recognize some books by authors from around the world. Yeah, I’m hijacking this day.

Africa || Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih
This is a beautiful story that gives an immense sense of culture and place. A Sudanese man goes to study in the UK and sleeps with women because they are exotic. It turns out that women sleep with him for the same reason. After he returns back to his culture, he mourns his loss of cultural identity--being neither anymore from ‘here’ nor ‘there’.

Asia || Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
I love Murakami and will take every opportunity to sing his praises. I’ve read many of his books, and Kafka on the Shore is one of my favorites. A boy, Kafka, runs away from home, has strange, subversive, and dark magical realism-ish adventures, and as you would expect, there are cats. Lots.

Australia || The Book Thief by Markus Zusack
Listen to the audiobook and you will not regret it. You may regret wearing mascara though. Set in WWII Germany, a compassionate (though not particularly soft) couple takes in young Liesel, and later on a Jewish man. As Liesel’s world begins to open up through a stubborn love of books, it is physically drawn smaller as the war marches onward.

Europe || Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Orphan Jane is abused by all whom she should be able to trust. After she is hired by Mr. Rochester to become a governess, she begins to unravel his secret and unconventional life, which wraps her up in its dark mysteries as well.

North America || Happy Birthday or Whatever by Annie Choi
This is a hilarious memoir about balancing the expectations of your family’s culture with the culture that you live in. Annie is Korean-American and her conversations with her mom had me in tears. If bicultural identity isn’t the thing that has made North America the way it is, then I don’t know what to tell you. PS Here’s a fun interview with the author.

South America || Dom Casmurro by Machado de Assis
Don’t let the fact that this is a classic Brazilian novel published towards the end of the 19th Century scare you off. This isn’t one of those books that has a bazillion (a brazillion?) cultural references that you won’t be able to understand (I’m giving a stink eye at you, The Tale of Genji). Told from the first person perspective of Bento, he recounts his relationship with his lover from childhood up to old age. But as the story progresses, you realize that not everything is as it seems to be, and it finishes with a haunting question that not only drives Bento mad, but continues to plague Brazilians today: Did she do it?

Leave a comment and tell me some of your international favorites!

Popsugar Reading Challenge 2015: I need suggestions!

My friend Qadria sent me the Popsugar 2015 Reading Challenge at the end of last year. Qadria is one of my only IRL book buddies, and we decided to take the challenge, albeit informally. Like, if one book could check off multiple things on the list, then we would check off multiple things. With over two months into the new year, I’m going to do a check-up on the list.

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10/50. I’m drawing a blank thinking of ideas for:
A book written by an author with your same initials - Any suggestions for A.W.?

A book with antonyms in the title - Uhhh...War and Peace? It doesn't help that I'm automatically skeptical of books titled something like "Good Girl, Bad Girl." It seems cheap. 

A book with a color in the title
- A Darker Shade of Magic, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage… no luck here! If you suggest 50 Shades of Grey, you get a black mark next to your name.

A trilogy - I don’t want to start a trilogy that isn’t fully published yet. I’m pondering re-reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy this year, but those are pretty time-intensive reads. Or maybe The Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis. Do you have any other must-reads?

For the book with more than 500 pages, is it crazy to attempt Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time? I already bought a kindle edition, eep! I know I’m trying to become fluent Portuguese, I have a new job that is challenging for me, I am trying to grow personally and professionally with this book blog… but Proust references keep popping up and I have reached my curiosity limits. 1Q84, A Tale for the Time Being, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and Little Miss Sunshine (my all-time favorite film), to name what I can think of off the top of my head. Besides, ‘The best time to start was yesterday. The next best time is now.’ Right?

New on the Stack || February Edition

The Deliberate Reader is hosting a monthly link-up to share what you’ve added to your reading piles in the past month. I’m always drooling over new (or new-to-me) books, so this link-up is a perfect match for me!

Extraordinário (Wonder) by R.J. Palacio
How I got it: I bought it at Livraria Cultura.
Why I got it: Reading The Silkworm in Portuguese is a liiittle too hard for me at the moment, so I decided to shelve it for a while. I still need to read every day, so I decided to pick up something that interested me—YA lit—and was a little easier. It turns out this is perfect because it's dialogue-driven, and before, I was having trouble with descriptions.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
How I got it: I checked out the audiobook from the library.
Why I got it: The cover attracted me (sue me: I am a chronic judger-by-the-cover), and I like Japanese fiction (or in this case, Japanese American fiction). The narration and prose are beautiful.

Cleo by Lucy Coats
How I got it: e-ARC from Netgalley
Why I got it: The cover, mostly. But also because when I was younger I went through an intense period of loving historical fiction set in Ancient Egypt, and clearly, I still have trouble resisting.

Fragile Bones: Harrison & Anna by Lorna Schultz Nicholson
How I got it: e-ARC from Netgalley
Why I got it: I was kind of interested in it based on the typography on the cover, but I decided to request it after I read a good review on a book blog (I'm sorry I don't remember where I read it!).

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
How I got it: I got a sneak preview from Netgally and am in line at the library to borrow the full e-book. I hope those other people know how to return an ebook early.
Why I got it: It looked intriguing, and boy was my hunch correct.