As you can probably tell by the title of this post, I am not “braining so good” today, as we say on the Internet.
But I have been reading some books lately. So I’ll do my best to coherently tell you about them.
Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement
This is one of those novels where a plot description just isn’t enough to explain what the book really is. The story is about Ladydi, a young girl who lives in a tiny community in Gurrero, Mexio, on a mountain just outside of Alcapulco. It is a poor area completely dominated by drug lords. There are no men on the mountain, as they have gone to the U.S. to find work. Only women remain, and the young girls are in constant danger of being stolen (kidnapped and then trafficked by the drug lords). Ladydi comes of age and tries to make the best life she can for herself in this environment.
Just given that description, it sounds dire and depressing. For sure, there’s a deep sadness here, but it comes across as just a reality of life. There’s also a lyrical, almost poetic note to Clement’s prose. Somehow the brutality of Ladydi’s world and experiences is both lessened and magnified by the style. And, of course, Ladydi is tough and matter-of-fact, and never melodramatic. She’s a wonderful protagonist to follow. The depiction of Mexico and the people who still love it no matter what it has become is also moving and provides a wonderful sense of place. If you like this, try Lisa O’Donnell’s The Death of Bees or Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman.
Talking of Lisa O’Donnell, her new book Closed Doors is every bit as affecting and ultimately hopeful as The Death of Bees. In Closed Doors, a boy named Michael Murray is trying to piece together exactly what befell his mother one night. All the information he has comes from the overheard and confusing (and often contradictory) statements from the adults around him. O’Donnell excels at creating a close-knit island community that any small-towner will recognize–for the bad and for the good. She also gives great believable voice to Michael, a boy who never seems to be anything but just that–a boy who lives in a tough situation and can’t make sense of it to himself. Family dynamics and dealing with trauma are painted quite realistically as well, from darkly funny to hopeful to sad. It’s a moving piece of realistic fiction. If you liked Emma Donoghue’s Room, you might give this one a try.
The Rise and Fall of Alexandria: Birthplace of the Modern Mind by Justin Pollard and Howard Reid
Book clubs are fantastic when it comes to getting you out of your usual reading comfort zone. The wonderful nonfiction book group I joined is no exception. Our latest read was The Rise and Fall of Alexandria, a wonderfully readable and accessible survey of the political and intellectual history of the once-great city of Alexandria. Personally, my classical history is sorely lacking, so I learned a LOT just by reading this slim volume. If you’re a better-versed student of the period (331 BC to AD 646, roughly), you still might enjoy the focus on the intellectual and scientific–all the work of the great Library of Alexandria, much of which is now lost. In the introduction, the authors give part of the point of their work as:
We will not only return to the lost wonders of Alexandria, we will also try to enter the ‘mind’ of the city, to discover why it produced such an extraordinary flowering of creativity, knowledge, and understanding. And we will discover that at the core of this dazzling whirlpool of ideas lies the thing you are reading now: the written word.
Never has a city and culture so devoted to the idea of learning for learning’s sake existed before or since Alexandria. This book is also a love letter to a lost library, to lost ideas. Only about one percent of the books once held in the library at Alexandria survive today. This is really wonderful read on several levels, including the bibliography and notes!
That’s all my brainbox can handle for now, kids, if I want to get any cataloging done today. My current reading consists of The Count of Monte Cristo (another book group pick), Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English, and, on a whim, The Complete Stories of Evelyn Waugh. Mostly, I’m hovering like a vulture waiting for Sarah Waters’ new novel, The Paying Guests, to be ready to circulate. I will most definitely be writing a blog post about that one.