Commute by Erin Williams
I had a personal target to read more graphic novels and comic books last year, a genre I tremendously enjoy. So I started March with this and am sorry but this was a big letdown. I sometimes refrain from sharing books that did not work because I feel it may work for someone and I often think that my opinions will not particularly help someone. But this sort of bordered on botheration for me and I wonder if it would trigger some readers. I picked this book up from a bookstore in a train station and read most of it on the commute. The positives: I admit I liked the simple sketches and the way the book is laid out. I like how this could have been pretty powerful – I loved the title and felt it would touch on all those moments during commute that one has felt threatened, the different encounters and circumstances on a commute as a, in this instance, a woman. While Erin has been unflinchingly honest about some of the issues and thoughts, stereotypical as they maybe, I was really disappointed that she picked up different “issues” such as objectification, self worth and left them hanging in the air without unpacking them enough or exploring in its entirety sometimes sending across an incomplete undesirable message. I want to be understanding in that the author has tried to show instances of oppression that she faced as a way to talk about some other women too. But her takes on fear of being fat and undesirability and its links to loneliness leave one wanting for more clarity. Being brutally raw and honest is appreciated especially given how painful it must have been but it was vague and many times un-relatable and just did not do it for me.
The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa
Every now and then, you come across a story that moves you incredibly and leaves with an unparalleled sense of joy – this was one of them thanks to S on Instagram. The story revolves around a mathematics professor who after an accident, ends up with a memory that lasts 80 minutes. After having a few housekeepers who do not seem to stay for long perhaps given the special circumstances, there is one housekeeper who walks into the Professor’s life along with her son (with whom the Professor develops a wonderful bond, caring for him as his own) and what follows is a series of beautiful moments between them. The professor’s love for and faith in math is so deep and eternal that it is hard for the housekeeper and her son to not be influenced and wrapped it in its magic. It is a story of living life by the day, savouring the present, in the little moments that Ogawa etches so beautifully thorough the book that I had to keep reminding myself that it is not a memoir. The references to math are particularly enjoyable and left me wanting for a teacher who could have shown the magic of numbers the way the Professor did. So content, that is what the book made me feel.
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
“It’s easy to become anything you wish . . . so long as you’re willing to forfeit your soul.” This line really stood out to me in the book but I didn’t know then that this truth wove together the three seemingly disjointed stories of the 1) legendary Money King, 2) a second generation Chinese-American kid and 3) a white American kid whose Chinese cousin ( a stereotypical character) comes for a visit. They are presented as different stories that come together in the end and that really caught me by surprise though I had read the foreword and knew that they had something in common. I was talking to a friend about how this is a thought provoking exploration of immigrant experience in US – the overwhelming need to fit in and the struggles of imbibing a new cultural identity starting from learning a new language to all the daily struggles.
The book really had me engrossed. The author, Gene Luan Yang does such a great job of deconstructing stereotypes and highlights the everyday pressures to assimilate to the predominating culture albeit at the cost of one’s individuality. The illustrations particularly the expressions of the characters are so well done. This is an author I’d like to read more from – take a bow, Gene Luan Yang!
All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
I first read James Herriot in 8th grade. I stumbled on his book at Manasa Library, my local library which was as big as a local grocery store and housed some of the best treasures that I cherish to this day. I don’t know if it was Pa or me who picked this one up but there has been no looking back. I have read a few of his works and this one is a gem, like them all. His words and work offer an escape to Herriot world – over the hills in Yorkshire Dales that is full of deep love for animals and life itself. These are the stories that give me solace and company no matter the tumultuous times. His books are wonderful in that, they are not unputdownable. Infact they are the opposite. You can read one of his hilarious accounts of delivering piglets at 3 in the morning or an incredibly moving story of an animal he had to put down (thankfully these are fewer) or his humorous and poignant interactions with the farmers in Yorkshire, and then heave a sigh of contentment and go to sleep only to come back for another tale the next day. His tales are episodic and unforgettable. He sketches the personalities so well in all his timeless stories, that I have “met” so many of the character in his book. I read some of these stories to Mili and K on some of the nights before we go to sleep and it elevates our mood so much. Herriot is so endearing and I love his works so much, that I know we’d be really good friends when we meet someday.
So tell me, what are you reading?