Cisneros and Chai

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“Chai” means “tea”. So whenever you order “chai tea” saccharine sweet cinnamonmy goodness, you’re essentially ordering “tea tea.”

Steaming redundancies aside, I’m nursing a Chai while reading Sandra Cisneros. It’s the first time, in nearly ten years, that I’m reading her work, since our teachers last assigned House on Mango Street to us as children. Some background on Cisneros–she’s a Latin-American novelist, poet and activist. She oft writes about straddling the cultural in-between of being both Mexican and Chicana; of being the Other Woman; of race and class and living in poverty. Heavy context, good literature.

Unfortunate for us, though, we were too young to know what we were even reading. Most of this flew over our heads. It was also around this time, I remember, when they threw Animal Farm at our small heads scrawny builds as if we knew a thing about WWII. Like we knew which animal meant who or what scenario meant which–an allegory without the lesson is an empty tale. For the longest time I really thought it was just a book about talking animals bickering over tables, feed and inequality.

Now I’m a little older, though, I can better appreciate these books. I can nibble, munch, and digest the literary contents. Allusions don’t fly over my head; the craft doesn’t go unnoticed. Making little kids read meaningful texts is like offering a delicacy they gobble down hastily, without realizing its weight. I’m no longer a kid, but these books are still literary delicacies (that I like to pair with chai).

100 Books Reading Challenge

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Started a reading challenge project mid-spring. The goal: read 100 books by the end of summer fall. I’m inching along, albeit at a slower pace than I’d like. Figured posting the list on my blog would hold me accountable–also, I get to share cool books!

So here’s a list of books I’ve reading; I plan to update every 10 books or so. If you have any book recommendations, I’d love to hear them! 🙂

  1. One! Hundred! Demons!, Lynda Barry
  2. James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl
  3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie
  4. Here, Richard McGuire
  5. Zombie Survival Guide, Max Brooks
  6. Burned, Ellen Hopkins
  7. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Mindy Kaling
  8. Walking Dead 1, Robert Kirkman
  9. Walking Dead 2, Robert Kirkman
  10. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelous
  11. Milk and Honey, Rupi Kaur
  12. Partner Track, Helen Wan
  13. Girl, Interrupted, Susanna Kaysen
  14. Kafka, R. Crumb
  15. Project Jennifer, Jill Rosenblatt
  16. Dignity, Donna Hicks
  17. Can We Talk About Something More Pleasant, Roz Chast
  18. Ginny Moon, Benjamin Ludwig
  19. Autobiography of Barefoot Gen, Nakazawa Keji
  20. Meow Meow, Jose Fonollosa
  21. Beautiful Darkness, Fabien Vehlmann
  22. Phenomenal Woman, Maya Angelou
  23. The Skin Above My Knees, Marcia Butler
  24. Essential Poems (To Fall in Love With), Daisy Goodwin
  25. Sailing Alone Around the Room, Billy Collins
  26. Future Tense, Paintings by Alex Gross
  27. Why Not Me?, Mindy Kaling
  28. Thirst, Poems by Mary Oliver
  29. Global Street Art, Lee Boffkin
  30. Men Without Women, Haruki Murakami
  31. Vintage Cisneros, Sandra Cisneros 
  32. Have You Seen Marie, Sandra Cisneros

(Updated August 16th, 2017)

Comics, Atrocities and Literary Parallels

A few days ago I finished Autobiography of Barefoot Gen, a book about Hiroshima written by survivor Nakazawa Keiji.  His survival, as a child, was miraculous–he had stood behind a cement wall, which somehow protected him, which then fell against a tree, which then prevented the wall from crushing him. Despite everything he went through, from poverty to shame to stigma, he went on to depict the horrors of the atomic bomb in manga-form.

The author’s baby sister born during the atomic bomb. Autobiography of Barefoot Gen, Nakazawa Keiji

Sometimes I marvel at humanity’s incredible capacity for cruelty. It isn’t to say that all of humanity’s terrible–that isn’t true, there is a lot of kindness and goodness–but at the same time, just, well, wow. Trips down history lane tend to reinforce this belief. Ironic, since history’s written by its victors and you’d think they’d want to portray themselves in the best light possible. But between these moments of kindness, of peace and progress and beauty, are undeniable pockets of cruelty you couldn’t even begin to imagine. From mass genocide to strangely cruel punishments to war to sheer greed, it’s alarming what people are capable of. And this cruelty–it’s from the ground up, too, it’s not just victors from high-up who wield power that are evil, but neighbors, too–family, friends, people you thought you could trust.

I think of Art Spiegelman, author of MAUS, who depicted his father’s survival of the Holocaust in comics form. As a child, Art had fallen down and his friends had left him behind. Upon telling his father, his father says that until he’s spent five days locked up in a room with others with no food, driven to the brink of desperation, he does not know the meaning of “friends”. When I read this, one of the first pages of the book, I was confused. Then it quickly dawned on me–ah, yes, the Lord of the Rings-esque brutality that brews beneath the surface of humanity: that’s what he’s referring to.

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“Then you can see what it is, friends!” MAUS (pg. 3), Art Spiegelman

If I were in some sort of literature class on comics–and I was, but I no longer am–I’d start drawing parallels between Spiegelman’s MAUS and Nakazawa Autobiography of Barefoot Gen. I will anyways. Both depict the horrors during World War II, with one taking place in Germany, the other taking place in Japan. Both stories are told with a combination of text and visual form–in this case, comics. But whereas MAUS is Art’s depiction of his father’s stories, Nakazawa’s stories are his–he had gone through the horrors first-hand. Even so, both descend into depression after writing their stories.

There aren’t many ways you can effectively communicate these experiences without alienating the audience. With most people, they cannot stomach reliving–if only as a third party–the reality of these atrocities. Even with the removal provided by time, space, distance, mental-acrobats, glass museum displays, it can be difficult to (literally) face history. But that’s what makes their use of comics genius. It’s easy, as a viewer, to look at comics, to listen to a story ballooned through speech-bubbles. Comics offer a cartoonish version of reality, where things are distilled into visual and mental palatability. Possible downsides: it doesn’t accurately convey the horror, waters down the experience. But I’d say that Spiegelman and Keiji succeed in toeing the balance between depicting their experiences while keeping the stories, well, “audience-friendly.” Relatively, at least–they’re still horrific.

From a personal bookish perspective, both are really good reads. Not sure if the Autobiography of Barefoot Gen is online, but MAUS I and MAUS II are (I’ve linked to the pdf for MAUS). If you ever get a chance to read any of them, I’d recommend it, especially if you’re interested in history, WWII, comics or memoirs. Or if you’d like to get a glimpse of the realities of those who lived through these atrocities, hear the stories of these survivors.

Ender’s Game

 Good books are the ones that stay with you; they’re the ones that form memories of experiences you’ve never had. Ender’s Game is one of them. Year after year I return to this book. Then it’s like I’m in space all over again as a six year old boy with a Dragon Army squad that’s training to beat the Buggers.

…So coughing insomniac me’s reading Ender’s Game for maybe the seventh time at 3 in the morning because, y’know, I can.

Except instead of reading it in the book format, as I usually do, I’m reading it online as a graphic novel. (Comics are such an incredible art form–underlooked and underrated.) I’m really impressed by the artist’s ability to visually translate this text. Usually people envision texts differently–book-based movies never look quite the way we imagine it, etc. But Ferry, the artist, just did a really great job of depicting the scenes and characters that I’d at least argue did the story justice. Ender seems Ender-esque: clever, worn and perceptive; the Buggers look strange (but then I remember to empathize); the scenes are vivid and bring to life Orson Scott Card’s descriptions. So props to it, Ferry.

If you’d like to read the Ender’s Game comic online, ’tis hereEnder’s Game, in case you’ve never heard of it, is a military-style sci-fi book that pits mankind against space buggers. Even if you’re not into, say, aliens or sci-fi, I’d still totally recommend this book.

Books to Read

Note to self: read, read, and then read some more. Here are some titles that’ve been tacked on the side of my computer screen for some time with the title, author and cursory description. I’m obnoxiously picky, so they’ve all got ratings of >4 on book-review-thingamajigs. Also, they sounded really interesting:

  • The New Journalism, Tom Wolfe
    • 1973 anthology of journalism
  • Palestine & Footnotes in Gaza, Joe Sacco
    • Journalistic graphic novel about Israel-Palestinian conflict
  • Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan DidioImage result for slouching towards bethlehemn
    • Didion’s 1968 collection of essays
  • Stone Butch Blues, Leslie Feinberg
    • Novel on transgenderism
  • The Book of Disquiet, Fernando Pessoa
    • A ‘“factless autobiography”, fragmentary life project
  • Either/Or a Fragment of Life
    • On human development, aesthetic-ethical, consciousness, philosophy
  • Image result for ficcionesQuantum and Lotus, Matthieu Ricard
    • Buddhism meets contemporary science, written in form of dialogue
  • Ficciones, Jorge Luis Borges
    • Collection of short stories
  • The White Album, Joan Didion
    • Didion’s 1979 book of essays
  • Kool Aids: The Art of War, Rabih Alameddine
    • Situated in 80’s, on AIDS epidemic in San Fran, Lebanese civil war

Reading

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Reading: a method of self-annihilation, also a method of escapism. From what?… probably the world. Normalcy equates to bouts of tragedy punctuated by moments of silence and then yet another tragedy right on the heels of the last until they’re stacked one on top of another and you’re like, well, shit.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot, aka participating “engrossed self-annihilation”, mild escapism, and basic nerdy pleasure. I’ve been burying my nose into books, lots of books–story books, nonfiction books, books-books. (It’s the library card fever.)

I’ve been trying to finish Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, but it has the effect of making real life seem as slow as he portrays. Figured I’d just forgotten how to read. But then I devoured Burrough’s latest memoir Lust and Wonder and blundered on through three more in a week, so I figure that maybe I just wasn’t vibin’ Steinbeck.

Also, it’s official: I’ve fallen in love with Haruki Murakami. I quoted him before I read him and now I get it. Him. Sort of. At least, I can hear his voice, I can paint his scenes and it’s all coming together. It’s like a partially weaved quilt of gradual understanding. My mind picks up on recurring themes in Murakami’s stories: the struggling novelist, the empty one night stands, the natural disasters. Occasionally it’s doused in absurdism. Overall, though, it’s fantastic. Dreamlike. The perfect thing to lose your sense of self with, oh-ho-ho.

TEXT

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Lately writing feels addictive and forced and weighty. Maybe it’s just because most things in my head feel heavy and convoluted so I don’t how exactly how to communicate them. Right now they’re like fragments of not-yet-developed muse in some globbish nascent.

And then there’s that voice lamenting the lack of LIFE LIVED. It’s counting the number of days left, keen drop-outs, creative wanderers. Too little, I’m too damn little, it says. And there’s so many places to be other than my circuitous head but I can’t get out. So I read.

The more of an author’s work I read, the more I grow to understand and see them. The writer, I mean. It’s like slipping on perspective goggles to momentarily view the world from their perspective. As the focus sharpens, you zero in on the writers’ lives dotted with feelings, thoughts, experiences; it forms into a mental collage, glued together by the alphabet, dried by sentiment.

It’s pretty fucking beautiful. 

So when I think of Eugenides, I see Detroit, mountains, suburbia and Greece. Harukami, and it’s Japan, missing cats, disappearances and lust. Steinbeck and it’s slow heat, open fields, Salinas Valley. Burroughs and it’s exploitation, oddball psychiatrists, suburban neighborhoods, and mothers who eat wax sandwiches. Worlds, you know. Voices and conversations.

Just to keep track–here’s a list of books I’ve barreled on through the past two weeks (nose buried a million worlds deep):

  • Lust and Wonder, Jeffrey Eugenides
  • Sputnik Sweetheart, Haruki Murakami
  • After The Quake, Haruki Murakami
  • The Strange Library, Haruki Murakami
  • Shakespeare’s Counselor, Charlaine Harris
  • Poems From Homeroom, Kathi Appelt
  • The Stranger, Albert Camus

Now at 1AM, I curl up, book in hand. Am currently reading:

  • The Wind Up Bird Chronicles, Haruki Marukami (recent obsession)
  • For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow is Enuf

…as memories of other books are tickle-flirt-whisper for me to read and reread:

  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz
  • Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
  • Alice, Christina Henry

So there’s that.