Thursday, May 19, 2016

Review: The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

The Woman Upstairs

Claire Messud
A. A. Knopf

First lines: "How angry am I? You don't want to know. Nobody wants to know about that."

The next paragraph is actually pretty freaking brilliant and sets the tone for the book really well.

The Woman Upstairs is Nora Eldridge, third grade teacher and part-time artist. Never married. As Nora explains it, the woman upstairs is not Ralph Ellison's invisible man in the basement or Bronte's madwoman in the attic: she is "the quiet woman at the end of the third-floor hallway, whose trash is always tidy, who always smiles brightly in the stairwell with a cheerful greeting, and who, from behind closed doors, never makes a sound" (6). She lives Thoreau's life of "quiet desperation". In her 37th year, Nora becomes entangled with the family of a foreign student, and it changes her. Or maybe not exactly changes her, but wakes her up and makes her no longer able to continue in the life she was living.

I enjoyed the heck out of this book. I have seen people complain about Nora's unlikeableness, and frankly that is not a big concern of mine. I want characters who feel real. I think most of us have something unlikeable about us, and if a book was written, it might not be about my good side. We could write a book about Nora's years as a teacher, of caring for her ailing mother, of being a dutiful daughter to her father. But where is the fun in that? 

I would love to have a discussion with someone about this book. Why is Nora so angry? What do you make of the fact that Nora seems to have inherited her anger from her mother despite the fact that their lives turned out so differently? Or were they so different after all?

***I hadn't intended to write an actual review, but I had more to say than I realized! Back soon, with mini-reviews of the other books I have been reading...

Monday, May 16, 2016

It's Monday, May 16th! What Are You Reading?


It is a new week and time for the weekly Monday post. "It's Monday! What Are You Reading?" is a weekly meme hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date that gives bloggers a chance to share what they have been reading and what they plan to read next.

Here is what I am currently reading:

The Woman Upstairs

I am listening to The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud. This is one from my backlist must list. I have the physical book checked out also, so I imagine I will get through this one quickly.

The Lost Tribes

I am also in the middle of The Lost Tribes by C. Taylor-Butler. The author is the friend of the sister of my friend, and I'd meant to read it when it first came out last year, but I forgot. So far, so good. I look forward to learning more about another culture.

Other than Inkspell, which my son and I are still reading together, that is it for right now!

I still have a few on deck from last week, The Excellent Lombards, Big Girls Don't Cry, and Sunday's on the Phone to Monday. I have more audiobooks on deck than I can hope to get read before they are due, but my home fiction shelf has been winnowed down to things that I really want to read. Here is a sampling of what I have available right now.

Kill 'Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American SoulGolden Age (Last Hundred Years: A Family Saga #3)Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City
AmericanahMs. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal

What are you reading this week?

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Thursday Thoughts, May 12th - Diversity

Armchair BEA

First, I stole this topic from Armchair BEA. Although I am not a participant this year, I am following along. Yesterday ABEA asked people to introduce themselves, then talk about diversity.

Diversity is pretty important to me. I have a spreadsheet where I keep track of my reading. In addition to title and author, I also track genre, format, source, year of publication, and the gender and nationality of author. I also have a somewhat fuzzy category that I call diversity. It is a simple 0/1 entry that I can then total at the end of the year/month/etc.

Initially it represented the author's race/ethnicity and sexual orientation, but I have started giving myself credit for other differences, like mental or physical disabilities. This is problematic. If the author doesn't have a disability, should it count? How do you know what connection the author has to a disability? I don't count books written by white people about African-Americans as diverse books, i.e., Sue Monk Kidd, Kathryn Stockett, or even Harper Lee. Why should I count a book written by a healthy person about a person with a disability?

Rarely is the answer easy. A good example of an easily categorized book is The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida. The author is actually autistic. But what about Steve Silberman's NeuroTribes that looks at the history of autism? Steve Silberman is not autistic, but he's written a sensitive portrayal of autism. Should it count?

Even things that seem more straightforward can be confusing. Is an author Latina or racially mixed? Can you tell from an author photo? Do you read their bio? Is this a good use of my time? Sexual orientation can be even trickier. And transgender. The book Becoming Nicole by Amy Ellis Nutt is in the same tricky category as Silberman's book. Or what about Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman which is a fictionalized account of his son's descent into schizophrenia and features artwork by his son? Shusterman is also Jewish. Does that count? Do they have to be practicing Jews or write about actively Jewish characters for it to count?

The diversity column is my least favorite column on my spreadsheet. I want to read diverse books, but how do I know which books are diverse?

What do you think?

Monday, May 9, 2016

It's Monday, May 9th! What Are You Reading?


It is another new week and time for the weekly Monday post. "It's Monday! What Are You Reading?" is a weekly meme hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date, where bloggers share what they have been reading and what they plan to read in the next week.

I can't believe another week is over! I am not sure where last week went!!

Anyway, here is what I am currently reading:

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry

My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman is my first Backman. Initially I was overwhelmed by the sheer quirkiness of its characters, but it has grown on me. I am not sure if I will pick up more of his books though.

The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism

I had The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida on my one of my "It's Monday" lists last month, but now I have actually started it. It is pretty interesting. It was written by a thirteen year old Japanese boy who is severely autistic and largely non-speaking.

Tuesday Nights in 1980

I am listening to Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss. It's good. It centers on a handful of characters connected in some way to the art scene in New York City in 1980.

I have a few books on deck.

The Excellent LombardsBig Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American WomenSunday's on the Phone to Monday
The Serpent KingEvery Heart a DoorwayGhettoside: A True Story of Murder in America

What are you reading this week?

Monday, May 2, 2016

It's Monday, May 2nd! What Are You Reading?


It's a new week and time for the weekly Monday post! "It's Monday! What Are You Reading?" is a weekly meme hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date. It gives bloggers a chance to share with they have been reading and what they plan to read next.

It's a new month! Happy May! Only 16 more days of school left for the kids.

Here is what I am currently reading:

What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours

What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi is a book of short stories. I've only read the first 2 so far, and, while I prefer longer form fiction, they have both been very interesting.

The Memory of Light

I am listening to The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork, read by Frankie Corzo. After Vicki's suicide attempt, she finds herself in a state mental hospital. There she makes friends and tries to understand what drove her to try to commit suicide and how to get well. 

Maniac Magee

I am also reading Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli. This is my first Spinelli. It won the Newbery Medal back in 1991, so it seemed like a good place to start.

And that is what I'm currently reading. Up next, I have a few books. 

On audio:

The PassengerThe Serpent KingPrivate Citizens

And in print:

All Stories Are Love StoriesEleven HoursThe Hidden Oracle (The Trials of Apollo, #1)

What are you reading this week?