Wednesday, October 10, 2018

My September Reading

This year so far, I hadn't read enough books in translation, so this month, I decided to change it up. I enjoy how the rhythm of English flows differently for such books if the translation is done right. I don't mean that the English is awkward and deliberately looks "translated." A clever translator can retain the rhythm and meter of the original language in addition to conveying in English the images it paints and the prose it employs. This month, I read three such children's picture books in translation.

Poetry of Chinua Achebe
Category: Poetry
Comments: Chinua Achebe was a Nigerian poet, novelist, and critic. I have had Achebe on my radar ever since he won the Booker, but it finally took my pursuit of different poets for me to run across his work. Here is a brief excerpt from his poem Flying. It reminds me so much of Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingstone Seagull in the imagery it invokes.

I too have known
A parching of that primordial palate,
A quickening to manifest life
Of a long recessive appetite.
But oh what beauty! What speed!
A chariot of night in panic flight
From Our Royal Proclamation of the rites
Of day! And riding out Our procession
Of fantasy We slaked an ancient
Vestigial greed shriveled by ages of dormancy.

Article & Interview
Comments: I interviewed Jennifer Kloester, Georgette Heyer's official biographer about a wide-range of topics. She was marvelous, generous and informative. I also interviewed Sourcebooks' editorial director about their re-release of Heyer's Arabella, Frederica, and The Grand Sophy with new covers. The article also contains a retrospective look at all the covers ever published for those three books.

The Mésalliance by Stella Riley
The Dreadful Debutante by Marion Chesney / M.C. Beaton
Category: Traditional Georgian and Regency Romances
Comments: The Mésalliance is the second book in Riley’s Georgian Rockliffe series with the story of the Duke of Rockliffe “Rock,” who was first introduced in The Parfit Knight. The story relies on The Big Misunderstanding trope, but Riley’s handling of it is commendable. I am usually not fond of such plots, but I was won over by this story. And subverting the trope, it is the heroine, not the hero, who is in the wrong and who needs to atone for wronging the hero.

Written in 1994, The Dreadful Debutante is the start of Beaton’s Regency-set The Royal Ambition series, featuring an ingénue who’s also a cross-dressing hoyden who enjoys riding horses ventre à terre. Our hero is a gentleman of consequence with an imp on his shoulder. Neither can resist behaving unconventionally under the very noses of polite society, leaving scandals in their wake. My reviews are here.

Last Night With the Earl by Kelly Bowen
Summer of Scandal by Syrie James
His Rags-to-Riches Contessa by Marguerite Kaye
Category: Historical Romances
Comments: Bowen is one of my best finds in historical romance. Everything I have read by her, I have loved, so much so, that I am convinced she cannot write a bad book. In Last Night With the Earl, Bowen does a masterful job of showing how the bleak and barren outlook both Rose and Eli have on life is transformed as these two damaged souls find solace in the other. Their growing vulnerability and trust with each other are fragile in the beginning, but strengthen over time as do their growing inner confidence and belief in themselves. Their happiness with each other is hard-earned and that much more precious.

In Summer of Scandal, both Gray and Madeleine are hiding their deepest wishes from their parents in fear of censure and disapprobation. Discontent and disappointed, they find in each other someone whose mind and heart marches with their own. James skillfully shows how talented Charles and Madeleine are at their respective hobbies and how they intend to turn their avocation into a vocation. Being indolent aristocrats is not in their makeup—these are two energetic individuals who want to actively engage with life. And thus they may not be the epitome of perfection, but nevertheless they are perfect for each other.

Class differences and uncontrollable addiction for gambling are the main themes of Kaye's story. Even when they declare their love for each other, Becky and Luca struggle to bridge the gap of Becky’s life experiences and Luca’s duties toward his title. Kaye does not magically sweep their obstacles under the carpet but allows them to grapple with the problems to arrive at a true solution. Falling in love is easy, but building an enduring marriage takes work, care and, above all, a deep abiding respect of the other, and that is at the heart of this marvelous story. My reviews are here.

Couldn't Ask for More by Kianna Alexander
Not Another Family Wedding by Jackie Lau
Category: Contemporary Romances
Comments: This was my first book by Lau, and I highly recommend it. On the surface, this is a story of two people in their 30s discovering love after nearly 20 years of friendship. But the story is truly about relationships: relationships between parents, parents and children, siblings, extended family and love interests. It is a story of how you exist within yourself and with others and how every action of every person you interact with has repercussions, small and large, on you. With deep insight and delicacy, Lau navigates all the tricky human relationships in this book with assuredness.

Alexander's book is set in the fashion industry and she's clearly done her homework. I enjoyed how young and fresh the characters sounded in this story and how interconnected they all are. Long-term relationships are hard whether they’re between friends or families, so it was good to see deep, abiding closeness between the people in this book. While the emphasis is of course on the romance between Alexis and Bryan, and we see both of them through the other person’s eyes and through their own thoughts, all the other relationships in this novel also inform on the protagonists—who they are as people, what is important to them and what they’re willing to sacrifice and for whom. My reviews are here.

Chirri & Chirra by Kaya Doi, translated from Japanese by Yuki Kaneko
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: I am not artistically talented, so I cannot describe the creative colored-pencil artwork (at least that is what it looks like to me). Chirri and Chirra are pedaling through the forest one day, when they come across a magical forest café, which serves them acorn coffee and honeybees violet tea. Then they set off to ride on through the forest for a while, when they chance on a bakery in the forest that breads in all shapes and jams in all colors and serves creative combinations of the two for all the animals of the forest. After eating, off they go through the forest and arrive at a forest hotel. And there they meet all kinds of creatures with whom they attend a music concert and sing together. What a lovely story of togetherness and belonging no matter who you are.

Marwan's Journey by Patricia de Arias, illustrated by Laura Borràs, translated from Spanish
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: This heartrending story gives a human face to what refugees all over the world face. Young Marwan's journey is our journey; it is one of courage of taking that step away from home to a far away strange land in search of a new home. It's is a story of belonging and othering, a story of peace and strife, a story of suffering and hope, and ultimately, a story of a human being. While the story doesn't say, the pictures show that Marwan's journey starts in the desert from a town with minarets and redolent with the smell of tea and jasmine. "I walk...and I don't know when I will get there, or where I am going. I carry a heavy bag. My mended clothing, a prayer book, a notebook, a pencil, a photograph of my mommy."

How Raven Got His Crooked Nose translated and retold from Alaskan Dena'ina by Barbara & Ethan Atwater, illustrated by Mindy Dwyer
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: This is a fable that has been passed down among the Alaskan Dena'ina (Athabascan) people for centuries. Many of the Dena'ina fables are teaching stories for the young. Chulyen, a raven, commits foolish acts, but through his magical powers manages to solve his problems, well, sort of, not quite. This is a sukdu, a story, that was told to Barbara Atwater by her great uncle, a Dena'ina elder, and is retold in English with a sprinkling of the Athabascan language.

This is a tale told by Chida, a grandmother, to her granddaughter. Chulyen is very proud of his straight nose. One day, things do not go as planned and he finds that he loses his nose. He is desolate, but through his magical powers, he knows where his nose is, but how to get it back? In the meantime, the nose is being used by an old woman for all her daily chores and it becomes the worse for wear. In the meantime, Chulyen assumes human forms and creates an army of sand soldiers. They raid the old woman's hut. But in his hurry to get his nose back on, Chulyen jams the soft nose any which way on his face and it ends up crooked. The moral of the story is that it is always best to take your time and do things right. We may not get a chance to fix our mistakes. Dach' qidyuq, and that is what happened.

Baby Goes to Market by Atinuke, illustrated by Angela Brooksbank
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: This is a cute story of a baby and his mother set in South West Nigeria. This counting book's joy comes from the rhythmic, poetic style of the writing and humorous colorful illustrations. Baby rides to the market slung on his mother's back. He is so cute, cheerful, and funny that market sellers gift him with food; he eats some and puts the rest in the basket on his mother's head. His mother is so busy buying things that she does not notice her basket getting heavier than usual. When Mama finds out what her baby and the market sellers have been doing, she tells the baby that he is a good boy because he put all the gifts in the basket without eating anything. The naughty baby falls asleep, his belly full, and his mother none the wiser.

Friday, October 5, 2018

My Notes on Alice Walker's Talk

On Thursday night, I was extremely fortunate to be able to go listen to Alice Walker talk, to listen to her read her own words in her own voice. It was only through her voice did her words gain such power and beauty. She lives in her dreams in what she writes. Poetry comes to her—she does not seek it. Novels come to her in images.

Here are a few things I managed to capture in my notebook as she was talking...

"We have to believe that we are the agents of the change we want to see in the world. Though our wings may be small, though they might look weak, if they're moving, they can be changing the climate all over our world."

She thinks very highly of Thich Nhat Hanh, a renowned Buddhist monk, who she says taught how to take the arrow out of the heart.

"Take the arrow out of your heart instead of railing at the person who shot you. Look to yourself. Relieve your own pain. It is hard to live when we are in such pain. Be with your pain and let go of it: meditate. On your in-breath watch all the misery you have. Then breathe out what you would rather have for yourself and for others. This is your guiding direction."

(This is the essence of Buddhism:) "We've all had arrows; some of us more than others. Some may think they've never had any arrows. They're the ones who are most pinned to the wall! But as you go along, you learn that suffering is the great teacher. It takes training to recognize the benefits."

"Love the mystery of life, the unknown. Learn to be grateful you are here in this wonder. My favorite word is "amazed." I can't believe what we've blundered into, being born in this world, wherever we are. It is a gift."

(Be authentic:) "The long road home to who you really are."

"Get clarity within yourself. Wait for it. Meditate. Dream. Walk. Believe in the beauty of the world."

(Be in the moment:) "I live my life as it unfolds."

"No matter how deep the fall into obscurity and obscenity this new age portends, life might permit us to remain standing, if only on the inside."

(Let people be who they are:) "No one is going to have all the qualifications you want this person to be."

"One of the greatest joy of our life is that we always have teachers. Finding them is our task. The people who have gone before us, stood for us. We are loved by these teachers. They teach us how the world works and should work."

"Remember that we have a soul. Just the certainty of knowing that should be our lodestar."

"What goes into the making of a human being, the good and the bad, is timeless."

"All loss has a door. Stay with the curiosity about who you were and who you will be. The door at the bottom of the well will penetrate your sorrow. There is no door-less bottom to this life."

"Facing fear, stepping into your better selves, takes courage and work. Encourage people to work. Freedom is a constant struggle. Do the work. Make progress. Work is endless. Accept that, and keep doing it."

When asked what truth artists need to be shouting: "I don't believe in shouting. It's enough to get clarity, and often, clarity has to be prayed for."

"Don't waste your energy on something that doesn't matter much anyway. Life teaches you to let go. And it's a good thing to learn."

She blogs regularly about politics, books recommendations, and whatever else takes her fancy. She also shares snippets of poetry or entire original poems about current events. She's currently fascinated by Nigerian writers and the work they are producing. Her favorite book that she can recall at the top of her head is The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen.

An aside: She participated in the 1963 March on Washington, where she met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Another aside: In 1983, she coined the term "womanist" to mean a feminist of color, thus elevating the importance of diversity in feminist pursuits.

While her book tour was for her newly-released poetry book Taking the Arrow out of the Heart, I picked up her earlier book of poems The World Will Follow Joy: Turning Madness into Flowers, when her journey into Buddhism was still fairly young. I bought the book for her very first poem, which is in praise of His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, someone whom I admire deeply and consider the most holy of human beings.

"What Makes the Dalai Lama Lovable?"

He smiles / As he bows / To Everything: / Accepting / The heavy / Burdens / Of / This earth; / Its / Toxic / Evils / & Prolific / Insults.

Whenever I see / The Dalai Lama / My first impulse / Is to laugh / I am so happy / to / Lay eyes / On / One / So effortlessly / Beautiful.

The Dalai Lama is Cool / A modern word / For / "Divine" / Because he wants / Only / Our collective / Health / & Happiness.

That's it!

What makes / Him / Lovable / Is / His holiness.

The talk and reading part of the event was excellent. Then came the conversation led by Vivian Phillips, one of Seattle's Arts Commissioners, an adjunct professor in Seattle University's MFA Arts Leadership program, and known as a communications professional and civic arts leader and advocate in the region.

In short, the conversation was a disaster. Phillips loved the sound of her own voice—she talked more than Walker could. She asked a question and then started answering it herself rather than giving Walker the floor. She had zero interviewing skills. She didn't know how to keep the conversation flowing based on what Walker was saying. She asked the most inane of audience questions without moderating them.

But worst of all, she was ill-prepared and had obviously not read anything about Walker other than some cursory biographical details and nothing of Walker's work other than The Color Purple and that, too, not very thoughtfully. I realize TCP is what Walker is known for, but she is a writer of far greater import than that one book. Walker is as much of an activist as she is a writer. A brief look through her blog reveals what she thinks about everything happening in the world today. Very little of this was brought forth in the conversation. Surely, if you were charged with interviewing a writer of Walker's stature, you would do the needful homework and really get to know your subject and their work, and brush up on interviewing skills. What a disappointment!