book reviews from reading/writing retreat 2015-16

Book Reviews from my reading in Mexico:

Falling in Love with Hominids, Nalo Hopkinson
Beautiful, sensual and intriguing collection of short stories. I love how Nalo writes, could read her writing about almost anything. Standouts in here are a story about children in a world with a virus where aging turns you into a monster, and another about grief for a lost sister that carved me open.

Savage Holiday, Richard Wright
Well written and strange experiment by Wright to do a book with no black characters as a study of man, and in this case a study of a pretty abhorrent man. What I enjoyed was the inner monologue distress as circumstances get to out of hand. Read a bit long for me though, and I sought more redemption.

In the Skin of a Lion, Michael Ondaatje
Ahhhh. Ah ah ah. this is exquisite writing. This story takes place before The English Patient and we get introduced to some of the characters we see there. Everything small is made visible, the sensual writing gave me goosebumps and longing, the story moves in various directions that almost lose each other at times, but the writing and character development and inner focus are so stunning that it made me realize that that is also how life is. Stunning.

Istanbul, Orhan Pamuk
I couldn’t finish this book. I wanted it to be like Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children in terms of weaving between a place and a story, but I felt underwhelmed by the story. Maybe something is lost in translation but it felt like a really really slow long study of melancholy. I am still excited to go to Istanbul this year though.

Demian, Hermann Hesse
This one started slow for me, similar to Istanbul it felt a little navel gaze-y, which I have a low tolerance for from male writers of a certain era (the past). But then the book really landed in it’s shameless philosophical exploration of the dark side of energy and experience in the world, or rather a liberation from good and evil as a binary framework, and invitation to accept the whole. Hesse published this originally as if the author were the main character, only a decade later claiming it as his own work. Reading the second half I found myself stopping, underlining, gasping, saying ‘you did that!’ and really experiencing a reader ecstasy.

Some of my favorite lines:

An enlightened man had but one duty – to seek the way to himself, to reach inner certainty, to grope his way forward no matter where it led.

We create gods and struggle with them, and they bless us.

That is why so many people live such an unreal life. They take the images outside them for reality and never allow the world within to assert itself. You can be happy that way. But..

A priest does not want to convert, he merely wants to live among believers….to be the instrument and expression for the feeling from which we create our gods.

Whether you and I and a few others will renew the world someday remains to be seen. But within ourselves we must renew it each day.

If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is a part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.

Your soul…you’ve borrowed it: it has existed for thousands of years.

He even brought out a zoology book and showed me the names and illustrations of these anachronistic fish. And with a peculiar shudder I felt that an organ from an earlier period of evolution was still alive within me.

The surrender to Nature’s irrational, strangely confused formations produces in us a feeling of inner harmony with the force responsible for these phenomena…if the outside world was destroyed, a single one of us would be capable of rebuilding it…every natural form is latent within us, originates in the soul whose essence is eternity, whose essence we cannot know but which most often intimates itself to us as the power to love and create.

Sooooo gorgeous and good.

OK. Next book!

Changing Planes, Ursula Le Guin

Fifteen worlds explored through the lens of a frequent airline traveler who learns to slip through planes of existence. She is anthropological, and prolific in it. Lovely concept, well executed.

There’s a line in the intro that offended me, surprised me. I’ll ask her about it if we meet.

The Teachings of Don Juan, Carlos Casteneda
Wow. I finished this book a week ago and Don Juan is still walking around with me everywhere I go. Really intriguing approach, I love being with the skeptical protagonist as he learns these lessons which made me…I really felt, inside, what he learned, or rather what he got on the page. Death is on your left at arm’s reach – don’t deny it, accept it. Respect it. Be less accessible – be intentional which your energy. I am the bird, the ant, no more important, no less miraculous. This is a liberation. I highly recommend this book and am grateful to everyone who pointed me to his writings. Hungry for more.

Doris Lessing, The Making of the Representative for Planet 8
This is tough. Grace Lee Boggs recommended this author and series to me, and I feel the values in this book so much. But the writing plods along, and this particular book is really focused on misery, the death of a planet, for pages and pages and pages. And we should consider this, understand this is a fractal prophecy. But it’s been hard work to read her words – I wonder if people who mostly read nonfiction political work would find her a good bridge though.

Cosmopolis, Don Delillo
This book was disturbing in this odd blip of Trump’s presidential effort. It’s a ridiculously wealthy and wordy man having a breakdown. There is some real poetry, and interesting sex…and I like how Delillo writes. Took me a while to read. My favorite character was an advisor of his who is into chaos theory. Lots of people not to like, lots of randomness that felt, to me, like the emptiness that comes from having too much for too long.