May Month in Review

I’ve let myself down this month. I only read ten books. I know, I know. I can tell you’re all disappointed in me, but I can only offer the excuse that one book was over 1,000 pages long, which is really an average of three books for me. It was fantastic though, and I loved every second of it. There were a couple lows, but overall, I enjoyed this month. As usual, if I have written a review of a book listed, it’ll be linked. This month I finished (in order):

  1. American War by Omar El Akkad
  2. Persepolis: The Story of A Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
  3. The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston
  4. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
  5. The Relic Master by Christopher Buckley
  6. Gemstones of the World by Walter Shumann
  7. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
  8. Glass Tepee by Garry Gotfriedson
  9. Twenty Love Poems and A Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda
  10. Voyager by Diana Gabaldon

I must admit that Omar El Akkad’s dystopian novel and Mohsin Hamid’s monologue of a Pakistani man were the highlights of my month. I’ve been finding that I enjoy immensely authors who hail from the Middle East or the northern part of South Asia, Khaled Hosseini being a particular favorite. Even Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel memoir was so well constructed, I closed the book breathless. Skimming reviews of Mohsin Hamid’s sophomore novel(la), I found many who felt the single-sided nature of The Reluctant Fundamentalist to be confusing, and one even argued it was poorly executed. I must disagree, however. Especially considering the conclusion of the story, the style of narration was absolutely essential to the effect of the book. I read the book in just a few hours I found it so compelling.

As usual, I felt privileged to read the two poetry collections I did in May. The classic by Pablo Neruda was a gift from my mother at Christmastime. I had expressed a desire to read more poetry (a desire I have fulfilled so far this year) and this was her response. The edition is beautiful: a small Penguin book, less than nine inches square, compiled with original illustrations by Pablo Picasso. I am not very schooled in art appreciation, so most of the sketches were beyond me, but the classic poetry certainly stirred something within me. Pablo Neruda certainly looked at life with ecstatic joy.

Glass Tepee was very different. Neruda strictly adhered to contemporary forms, but Gottfriedson rips apart traditional structures. He does this partly as an attempt to deconstruct the imposed colonial restrictions on poetry as an art form, but there is also a grief to his poetry that cannot be contained in meter or standard rhyme as Western literature knows them. It calls for something else entirely, with Gottfriedson delivers. I’ve studied quite a bit of modern indigenous literature, as well as American Indian history since Columbus arrived in Hispaniola, so I immediately understood most of the references made in Glass Tepee, but I also knew the author made careful selections that a reader who is a colonizer (as I am) could not penetrate the depths of emotion distilled on the pages. His small book seemed to be both for his people and for those who had victimized his people. It does not, however, reinforce the stereotype of the helpless Indian, powerless before the tidal wave of colonization. In the grief, there is also a restoration of agency that characterizes modern indigenous writing.

The only bad book I read was The Lost City of the Monkey God. You can read my review of it, but in short, it removes indigenous agency to an alarming degree. It reinforces the old narrative of indigenous peoples as either ignorant or vanished. I was deeply disturbed by how poorly researched Preston’s rhetoric and history were.

As purely pleasurable reading, and not necessarily great literature that I hope endures forever, it was a great month. Lisa See and Christopher Buckley’s novels were both fun and interesting. See’s Snow Flower takes one into a period few Americans know well in nineteenth century China, whereas Buckley’s The Relic Master is a fairly hilarious jaunt through sixteenth century Europe, primarily the Holy Roman Empire. I must say I really enjoyed Buckley’s tale. It was funny, compelling, and very well researched, drawing of people who actually lives. Normally I find fictionalizations of real people rather silly and often poorly executed, but this was very historically accurate and brilliantly fun.

With Diana Gabaldon’s book, Voyager, the third in the Outlander series, I have to admit I loved it. I struggled to make it through the 1000+ pages of Dragonfly in Amber, the preceding novel, and had to take a six month break halfway through. Voyager was my favorite so far. It may seem like a novel topping a thousand pages would be rather brimming with fluff, but it is action packed with some incredibly wonderful (hetero) sex scenes. And finally, the series dug into the rather interesting fantasy aspects that first appeared when Claire traveled back in time to 1700s Scotland.

I’ve already posted my upcoming reads for June. Check it out and read with me! ♥


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