Summer Reading

IMG_3957Last year I joined Now Read This, the online bookclub sponsored by PBS and The New York Times.  Why did I join?  To expand my exposure to books I might not otherwise read, to learn, to explore, to interact with others reading the same books.

I rarely read fantasy or science fiction.  This summer has become an exception.  The June choice, The Fifth Season by Jemisin, won the Hugo in 2016.  The other two books in the trilogy won in 2017 and 2018.  I wanted to know what happened to the characters so I read them all.  The spine says Fantasy.  I think they are more science fiction.  Even people who claimed they did not like either fantasy or science fiction became like me and read them all.  This series tells a futuristic tale extremely applicable to events, both social and political, in the world today, how prejudice kills both overtly and covertly,  how fear of those who are different affect everyone, what it costs to live in a world where certain attitudes exist.

It took me two days to finish the July title even with chores, touchup house painting, all the things teachers attempt to do during summer break.  Although I had previously read at least three books by Luis Alberto Urrea, I had not read this one, The House of Broken Angels about a family who lives back and forth across the border–San Diego and Tijuana.  It is a tragic-comedy about the endurance, hopes, dreams, cooking, living of several generations.  His non-fiction book, The Devil’s Highway, is a must read for those who want to understand what occurs along the US-Mexico borderlands.

In the midst of all this, I went back and reread Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness.  Wow, no wonder it caused a stir when it was published in the 1960s: a whole country where everyone switches back and forth between male and female and those who cannot do this are considered perverts.  Additionally, the main character is described as having very dark brown skin and those who do not behave exactly as they should or politically protest are sent off to a stark camp where they work in excessive cold and eventually die.

Then I read an article about Toni Morrison and authors who do not write for people based on a certain audience, e.g. black, white.  They write about what they know, what they feel, for a different purpose. One book listed was Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, a fantasy, all of which takes place in what we now think of as Nigeria. It has not one single white character in it.  I kept thinking, wow.  I read a lot of literature from Africa, Middle East, and Latin America.  Most of the time, for better or worse, characters from other cultures show up, usually European and usually for the worse.  Not in this one.  If you go to a book store looking for it, look in Young Adult.  Jemisin’s can be found in Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy.  When I mentioned to someone I could not tell why some are categorized one way and some another, I was told there is less graphic sex in YA.  Really?  I cannot tell the difference.

Next on my list?  I annually act as a judge in a literary contest.  Three novels arrived in yesterday’s mail.  Guess I need to get busy.


Modern Politics and Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz

Who would think that a Mexican woman who wrote poetry more than three hundred years ago would have anything applicable to today’s political arena?  About one and one half years ago, my daughter returned from a business trip with a little gift, a translation of Sor Juana’s work.  It is not the sort of literature I sit down and read all the way through.  It is deep, questioning, the sort of literature you savor here and there.  A few minutes ago I opened the book once again to read one of her ballads–typically referred to as romances.   However, this is not exactly a romance.  It reads:

“One who is sad criticizes

the happy man as frivolous;

and one who is happy derides

the sad man and his suffering.


The two philosophers of Greece

offered perfect proofs of this truth;

for what caused laughter in one man

occasioned tears in another.


The contradiction has been framed

for centuries beyond number,

yet which of the two ways was correct

has so far not been determined;


instead, into two factions

all people have been recruited,

temperament dictating which

band each person will adhere to.”


This is only a small portion of the ballad.  It is ballad 2 in the translation by Edith Grossman.  The introduction to the book is by one of my favorite authors (I have read all her books published to date), Julia Alvarez.