We’ll All Become Stories

Many months ago, I read an article from the Washington Post called “Two dying memoirists wrote bestsellers about their final days. Then their spouses fell in love.” I knew then that I wanted to read Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air. This nonfiction, medically-heavy memoir is not what I usually read, but the Kalanithis sounded like people I wanted to know more about. With 13 years of Grey’s Anatomy under my belt, I was able to make enough sense of the clinical terminology and experiences to make this read worthwhile. I was incredibly surprised by how lyrical the prose was written. I hadn’t realized that while Paul Kalanithi was studying biology and neuroscience in college, he was also studying English literature, even applying for a masters in English literature at Stanford. Science and literature are sometimes clashing concepts, but Paul wanted to figure out the answer to the question: What makes human life meaningful? Whether the answer existed in language and meaning, or in the brain, he couldn’t quite decide, but he pursued the answer for his entire life. Despite finding out that he was terminally ill at the age of 36, Paul lived with dignity, following Samuel Beckett’s words, “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

I’m sure this book would affect me differently if I was experiencing a medical crisis in my own life or in the life of someone I know. I think this book would be more powerful at different stages of my life. Paul was intellectual, making him seem strong, but also distant from the reader at times. I would have appreciated more anger from Paul – it would have been completely understandable – or humor (as Lucy later points out, Paul was “wickedly funny” and also sweet and tender, crying many times throughout his prognosis). I was moved to tears reading Lucy’s epilogue. The book builds with an increasing tension as you realize that Paul’s time is about to run out. I was going to put the book down and go to sleep, but then kept reading because Paul’s story deserved the attention to see it through to the end. I stared at the beautiful family portrait of Paul, Lucy, and their baby daughter Cady at the end of the book for a long time. It just didn’t seem fair that this young husband and father and intelligent, caring doctor should be gone so soon. The book hurts, so it’s hard to say that I “liked” it, but I do respect it.   

My next book after When Breath Becomes Air was The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder. It wasn’t a particularly uplifting reading week for me, as this book also had to do with death and dying with dignity. However, it was kind of fitting to get a teen, fictional voice on cancer after such a heavy book.

The Probability of Miracles introduces readers to a teen named Campbell who has been battling cancer and receives some bad news at her recent trip to her doctor. Basically, the only thing that can save Cam now is a miracle, and Cam is not the miracle type. She’s spent too much time watching her family and friends work at Disney to believe in magic. Cam is cynical and sarcastic, distancing herself from people so that when her time comes to leave, it won’t hurt as much. Cam’s mother learns of a little town in Maine that is said to have magical powers, so she picks up her two daughters, loads up a U-haul, and goes in search of a miracle. After a road trip, Cam ends up in Maine and the quirky town seems to be making her feel better. But is it just a bit of relief before the end or a real miracle? For once, Cam allows herself to feel hopeful and open to possibilities.

At first, I found Cam to be a bit too cynical for my taste. After all, she really doesn’t speak very highly of Disney, and who does that?! But she is dealing with cancer and I’m sure her attitude is one way to handle the upset. She’s young and instead of dreaming about her future, she may not even make it to her 18th birthday. Cam changes during her time in Maine, and learns several important lessons, including, “It’s better to be kind than to be right.” In time, the book grew on me and I enjoyed it.

Whether fiction or nonfiction, stories provide tools for us to express our both our fears and dreams.

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Welcoming the Stranger

Immigration. A hot button topic that puts people on edge. Why? Probably because we know how we should treat immigrants, but our fears and misconceptions get the better of us. While I was already open to immigration and comprehensive immigration reform before reading Matthew Soerens and  Jenny Hwang Yang’s book, I’m even more for it after reading Welcoming the Stranger: Compassion, Justice & Truth in the Immigration Debate.

The book, co-written by authors who work for World Relief and offer assistance to immigrants and people dealing with immigration legal issues, covers a number of topics: the history of U.S. immigration, the reasons why people come to the U.S., how immigration works (and doesn’t work), how the Bible views immigration and how we as Christians should treat immigrants (documented or not), how churches are serving immigrants, and how to get involved and take action.

I found myself constantly highlighting interesting facts, and then turning to my husband (who is an immigrant himself) to tell him about what I had just learned. What I quickly realized was that most of the things we think we know about immigration and undocumented immigrants is totally inaccurate. When asked about immigration, the standard reply is, “People should just come here legally. They should get in line and follow the rules.” But, there is no legal way for people who are poor and want to move to the U.S. to provide a better life for their family to come to the U.S. I repeat: There is NO LEGAL WAY for people to move to the U.S. in order to provide a better life for their family. There is no “line” for the majority of people who want to come to the U.S. Of course there are student visas, work visas, travel visas, and even fiancé visas – but none of these are options for families who are looking for a safer place to live.

People from Central America and Mexico take huge risks to illegally cross the border – paying coyotes lots of hard-earned money to transport them, spending days without food and water in the desert, leaving their homes and families behind – to live and work in tough conditions for very little pay, in constant fear of being deported.

Once here, there is no legal way for undocumented immigrants to get drivers licenses, apply for aid, attend colleges where applicants must provide proof of citizenship, or to become legal citizens. They will forever be trapped in a state of “otherness” as a second-class person.

Overall, I would almost give this jam-packed book a 5 star rating, as it has a lot of valuable information and is easy to read and understand, but there were a few weaknesses to the book. One, it’s obviously very biased in the Christian perspective, and I found the chapters that quoted scripture to be rather dull. I mean, I don’t care what religion a person is, shouldn’t we all realize that being a decent human being means that you treat other human beings with decency? I don’t understand why that’s such a difficult concept. Two, I also didn’t care for the chapter about what specific pastors have said about immigration and what specific congregations have done. It just felt like a big, long list. It wasn’t written in the same style as the rest of the chapters. Three, because the book was published in *2009, it mainly focuses on immigration from Mexico and Central America, so I was missing the authors’ thoughts on refugees and Middle Eastern immigrants. That being said, I would still HIGHLY RECOMMEND this book to anyone who wants to learn more about immigration and undocumented immigrants.

And just remember, no one is illegal.

 

 

*I see on Goodreads that there is now a revised and updated version of this book, published July 2018.

NaBloPoMo is Here!

It’s November and NaBloPoMo is back! Whether the event still exists is anyone’s guess – as I certainly can’t find anything about it on blogher anymore – but I’m officially declaring that I’ll be participating in this unofficial event! I’m eager to share all the bookish thoughts, reviews, and news I’ve been saving throughout the year. I hope you’ll follow along with me this month.

For those of you who are new to Love2Read365, welcome! Please check out my About page to learn a little bit more about the blog and find links to some of my most popular posts.

It has been another year of great books for me, and I hope you had a great year of reading, too. When I reflect on what I’ve read in the past year, I see that Young Adult books dominated once again. I think this is because I like the fast pace, the drama, the adventure, and freshness of Young Adult literature. Meanwhile, Adult Fiction often feels boring to me, with the plots more often than not focusing on a depressing marriage. While I thought that I had branched out to a larger variety of reading material, this breakdown clearly shows otherwise!

These labels are pretty limiting, though, because there’s so much more to each book. There’s Fantasy, Contemporary, Chick Lit, Social Justice, Science Fiction, and LGBTQ representations. Heck, one book (#7) was even a Western!  

I’ll talk to you more about some of these books as we make our way through November, but for now, I’d love to know if you read any of the same books as me. I’d also like to know if you’ll be participating in NaBloPoMo so I can follow along with your blog.

Here’s to a happy, creative, connected November!

Reading up on Prince

       

        Could U be the most beautiful girl in the world?

        It’s plain 2 see U’re the reason that God made a girl

        When the day turns into the last day of all time

        I can say I hope U are in these arms of mine

When I saw the beautiful cover of The Most Beautiful: My Life with Prince, I knew I was interested. I became a Prince fan in 2004 during my senior year of high school. A strange time to become a fan, but my dance class used Prince’s song “Thunder” for our spring recital and I couldn’t get enough. I needed more Prince in my life! Lucky for me, Prince was releasing his album “Musicology” that year and going on a concert tour. My aunt got tickets to one of the three Minneapolis shows (thanks Aunt Cathy!), so we went to see him LIVE! Simply amazing. So much energy and charisma! My favorite part of the show, though, was when he sat down in a swivel chair and played some of his hits on a plain old acoustic guitar. It was a huge venue, but felt so special. The author of The Most Beautiful, first ex-wife of Prince, Mayte Garcia, mentions in the book that she also loved when Prince played an acoustic guitar.

“The acoustic guitar is my favorite,” I told him. “I like that little squeaking sound when you slide your fingers up and down the neck. It’s so personal.”

While I enjoy Prince’s music, and relished every sighting of him on TV – be it the Super Bowl, promoting his music on a late night show, or even appearing in an episode of New Girl – I didn’t really know anything about his personal life (other than the strange fact about him becoming a Jehovah’s Witness). I didn’t know who he had dated or married or divorced or that he had lost a child – all of this took place when I was just a child. Mayte’s story of her life with Prince provided all sorts of new information and insights for me.

Along with these intimate looks at life with Prince, Mayte also tells readers about her life. Mayte’s father was in the military, so she moved around frequently during her childhood. She began training as a belly dancer at the age of three, and dancing became a passion and a source of revenue for her. When she was 16, she went to see Prince at a concert in Barcelona. Her mother miraculously managed to get a videotape of Mayte’s belly dancing to Prince when his tour passed by near their home in Germany, and the rest is history.

Mayte and Prince began a strange friendship. He would call her on the telephone and they would talk for long periods of time. He would fly her to different cities so they could hang out. He would send her song ideas he was working on and ask for her opinion. When she graduated from high school, Mayte put her dreams of dancing in Cairo, Egypt, on hold so that she could join Prince’s tour. She spent years traveling with him, dancing in his shows, appearing in music videos, and being a friend.

“For me, this relationship was the opportunity to step out of my ordinary world into a rarified existence in which life itself is a work of art. It had never occurred to me that each shoe and rock and handwritten letter is an opportunity to express yourself—or it’s just one more of a million little things that don’t. It’s up to you. But why would you choose to create a life from a pile of little things that don’t actively matter to you?”

Eventually, their friendship became a courtship, and Prince proposed to her over the phone. They got married in Minneapolis in 1996. Mayte was 22 and Prince was 37. From the book, it’s clear that the couple was very much in love. They pushed each other creatively, intellectually, and spiritually. They both had big dreams of creating a loving family. Two months after their wedding, Mayte was pregnant with their first child. Unfortunately, after a difficult pregnancy and labor, the baby did not live long due to Pfeiffer Syndrome, a rare disease where bones fuse together. The loss of their child and their grief created a rift between Mayte and Prince that they were not able to repair. After a strange appearance on Oprah in which the couple refused to speak about their child, a molar pregnancy, a period of separation where Mayte bought a house in Spain while Prince started a relationship with another young girl and began studying as a Jehovah’s Witness, Prince finally asked for their marriage to be annulled. Their divorce wasn’t finalized until 2000. It wasn’t until Prince married Manuela Testolini in 2001 that Mayte truly realized her relationship with Prince was over.        

At first, the writing style of The Most Beautiful didn’t feel very polished. I thought it was going to be a cringe-worthy celebrity book. Mayte would be telling the reader about something that happened in the 1980s and that would remind her of something that happened much later, so sometimes the timeline felt confusing. However, as I read more and more of the book, I became less bothered by this, and was sucked into the strange and wonderful world of Mayte and Prince.

I highlighted many songs and music videos that I want to look up now. (Prince had managed to block most of his videos from appearing on YouTube, but Mayte’s website has a few videos and a dance reel at https://www.mayte.com/). I hadn’t realized there was so much belly dancing in Prince’s music! I also want to see some of the things that Mayte has done post-Prince (for instance, she helped Wade Robson choreograph Britney Spears’s “I’m a Slave 4 U” music video and infamous MTV performance).

While it’s obvious to anyone that this book could be a chance to grab some of the money and fame after Prince’s death, the book was so….so real….so loving, that I didn’t come away thinking poorly of Mayte or Prince after reading the book. She wasn’t making Prince out to be some perfect, awe-inspiring thing just to please his fans, and she wasn’t being cruel to get back at him as a scorned lover either. She just wanted to share with us – the fans – a part of his life. It felt very genuine. There were bits of humor, like when Prince sent Mayte back to her apartment to change when she showed up in sweat pants one day. He expected everyone around him to be dressed to impress and dressed to work hard. He had a wardrobe department in Paisley Park that tweaked his clothing so that it fit him perfectly and wore one-of-a-kind pieces. He often stole Mayte’s clothing and had them revamped for himself. Remember that period of time where he wore really big sweaters? Those were Mayte’s pregnancy sweaters! Prince also employed a “foo foo” staff member who was responsible for zhooshing up hotel rooms to make them more comfortable and homelike for Prince.

“The foo foo was not about a pampered star’s outlandish demands; it was about this hydraulic engine being well maintained, fed, and rested enough to pull an entire train.”

I would recommend this book to anyone who is a Prince fan. The book paints a picture of a life just as surreal as you would imagine. It couldn’t be easy to be married to a celebrity, but for a little while, Mayte had it all. Today, she is still dancing and choreographing. Additionally, she runs an animal rescue charity. But most poignantly, she finally became a mom after adopting a little girl. I walked away from this book feeling like I knew a lot more about Prince and I hope other readers will enjoy it as much as I did.

“With love, there is no death.”

My Two Cents on a Political Read

politicalreadDuring this ridiculous political season, I decided I wanted to learn more about Hillary Clinton – but not from the internet. Mainstream media focused so much on the negatives, and I was looking for something different. I wanted a book. Something that an author researched, an editor touched, and a publishing house approved. My library had The Secretary: A Journey with Hillary Clinton from Beirut to the Heart of American Power by Kim Ghattas, so I decided to give it a try. Here’s what the book is about:

For four years, BBC foreign correspondent Kim Ghattas followed Hillary Clinton and her entourage as she traveled the world as secretary of state. Clinton took the job in November of 2008, though she and President Obama were rivals, and she set out to find her own style of diplomacy and repair America’s relationship with foreign nations. Ghattas uses interviews with Clinton, administration officials, and players in Washington and overseas to shape her narrative. Ghattas grew up in Lebanon during the civil war, so she also uses the book as an attempt to get her own questions answered about America’s place in the world and the strength of its power.

The book was incredibly dense. It covered the history of relations with different countries as Ghattas and Clinton traveled there, and then filled readers in on the current situation and what Clinton was up against. For me, it was too much information. I thought I was going to learn more about Hillary and what she’s like – both personally and professionally. But the book only gave tiny snippets of her personality and was more about US foreign policy and the author’s own quest to understand the events of her childhood in Beirut. The book was tough for me to get through and took me two full weeks to read. Even though the book wasn’t quite what I was looking for, I did learn a lot.

Just a few thoughts I had while reading this book:

  • I had no idea how the press worked. It was interesting to hear that reporters work inside the State Department and travel on the plane with Hillary. Sometimes they don’t even know where they’ll be traveling to. I imagine that they must do a lot of sitting around, waiting for something to happen that they can report on. Which leads me to…
  • I’m disappointed by the mainstream media for not providing me with more REAL, IMPORTANT news content. The only thing I knew about Hillary’s trips to other countries was that she wore a scrunchie in her hair. There was no coverage of the town hall style meetings she held about human rights and women’s rights.
  • It makes me angry that people think Hillary couldn’t be president or wouldn’t make a good president. She’s far and above the most qualified and experienced candidate of all the candidates there were this election season. She has been everywhere and met everyone. The book talks about the huge binders and dossiers of information that Clinton would read before traveling anywhere. She knows the background histories between the countries and understands the policies. She has built up relationships with other countries and leaders. On top of that, she lived through many of the job’s demands already as First Lady. She knows how to act appropriately when visiting another country’s leaders. She knows how to be respectful. It’s insulting, really, that people don’t see her as the clear choice.
  • The book made me really grateful that we are able to elect people to our government, as opposed to other countries where there is a fake democracy or military dictatorships. Other countries have constantly changing leaders, or perhaps even worse, are sometimes stuck with the same terrible leader for 20 years. At least we get an opportunity to change the situation every four years.

Why anyone wants to be a politician is beyond me! I wouldn’t want the job. You are under scrutiny all the time. There is very little thanks, and fifty percent of people are always going to hate you, no matter what you do. And there are no fast or easy answer to the problems that plague our country and our world. One thing we can do: educate ourselves and VOTE for the politicians we believe can do the most good.

What’s on my nonfiction bookshelf

nonfictionshelfLess than 5% of the books I read every year are categorized as nonfiction. It’s just not what I’m drawn to when I’m looking for something to read. If I want to learn about a historical event or famous person, I’d rather look up the information online. I want facts fast – I don’t need 300 pages worth of details! I have, however, tried to branch out this year. In fact, depending on how many more books I read in 2016, almost 12% of my books may be nonfiction this year! (My dad would be really impressed with all the math I did here…but probably wouldn’t trust that I did any of it right! ha!)

Here are all the nonfiction titles I read in 2016:

  • Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
    • A graphic novel, yes, but also a memoir! Bechdel focuses on her father’s closeted sexuality and his death, but also reflects on her childhood and her own sexuality.
  • Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel
    • Another graphic novel memoir. In this one, Bechdel focuses on her relationship with her mother. But while she spared no details in her first book, Bechdel seems afraid to say too much about her mother in this one. Bechdel spends a lot of time revealing her own anxious and self-deprecating tendencies through real-life therapy sessions.
  • The Secretary: A Journey with Hillary Clinton from Beirut to the Heart of American Power by Kim Ghattas
    • BBC correspondent Kim Ghattas traveled with then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and learned about Clinton as a person and politician, and examines American foreign policy. Dense, but informative, this book showed me how little I know about foreign policy and what it is a Secretary of State does.   
  • Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
    • Readers get more of what they love about Mindy Kaling in this book. She writes about weddings, love, work, what a day in her life looks like, and a little bit of everything. She mainly shows readers that she works really hard to achieve all of her successes. While not rolling-on-the-floor funny, it is quirky and enjoyable and I smiled while I read it.
  • Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman
    • Yes, the television show is based on a book, and the book is about a real person’s life! Kerman committed a crime when she was young, but doesn’t pay for it until later in her life. She enters the criminal justice system and has a lot to say about it. She talks about prison life – both in trying to fit in to protect herself, but also in proving to herself that she’s somehow different or better than everyone else in prison with her – she also reflects on the absurdity of it all and the wastefulness: prison does not equal rehabilitation.
  • The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman
    • A concise book full of writerly guidance for people who want to know what it takes for agents and publishers to keep reading your novel. Includes straightforward advice with plenty of examples. Some of it is common sense and things that we’ve all heard before (Show, don’t Tell), but Lukeman gives good reasons and samples to back up his statements. 

What I’m curious about is how many of you readers are into nonfiction? What is the appeal for you? Also, do you have any nonfiction reading recommendations for me?

Nonfiction, Graphic Novel, and Memoir, all Rolled Into One

funhomememoirOne of my goals is to read more nonfiction, and it just so happens that I am reading some nonfiction right now. Or wait, is a graphic novel memoir classified as nonfiction? Hm. Well, at any rate, it is quite a bit different from the YA novels I typically read. After recently finishing up Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, I decided to also pick up her memoir Are You My Mother?

Let’s start with Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic first. Even if you haven’t read Fun Home yet, you’ve probably heard about it. It caused some controversy when college students refused to read it because it went against their beliefs. Despite this, the book went on to achieve critical success and was even listed as one of the best books of 2006 by The New York Times. Later on, Fun Home became a Broadway show. The musical was nominated for twelve Tony awards, and won five of them, including the Tony for Best Musical.

But what you may have missed with all of this news was that the book itself is actually really interesting. I consider my life to be rather average and a bit boring. I thought my life of growing up in a small town with parents who have been married for over 30 years now was typical and normal. But perhaps that life is more abnormal than I realized. Bechdel reveals a lot of private details about her family life, and wow, what a life. Bechdel’s father, Bruce, works as a funeral director and high school English teacher while her mother is an actress. Their house is an old Victorian, which her father is constantly working on. In college, Bechdel comes out as lesbian. She writes a letter to her parents to tell them the news. Whatever reaction she thought she would get flies out the window when her mother tells her that her father is gay. While this may have been something for a father and daughter to bond over, Bechdel’s father unexpectedly passes away after getting hit by a car. Throughout the book, Bechdel reflects on her childhood, seeing the details about her father she had missed the first time around. Bechdel also shares memories from her journals about her own obsessive-compulsion disorder which becomes so bad that her mother transcribes her entries for a while. Along the way, Bechdel also uses well-known works of literature to tie in the artistic and academic natures of both herself and her parents.

While the book took me some time to get into, I eventually became hooked. It was exactly what I wanted a graphic novel to be: smart, fresh, and interesting. It was insightful and clever. While the themes and ideas were not easy to deal with, the line drawings and efficient use of text made the concepts relatable and accessible. The author didn’t seem to hold anything back. I was fascinated by the Bechdel family. I was also fascinated by the idea of memorializing your life in comic book form. I wish I could do that.

After Fun Home, I was pleased to find another book by Bechdel on my local library’s shelf: Are You My Mother? As the title suggests, this book focuses on Bechdel’s mother and the relationship the mother and daughter share. But while I found Fun Home fascinating and unexpectedly good, I struggled to get through Are You My Mother? Instead of classic works of literature, Bechdel uses dreams, her own therapy sessions, and psychoanalysis to link together themes in this book. It was very heavy-handed, and I’m sad to say, boring. I just kept waiting for Bechdel to come out and say what she wanted to say about her mother, and she just felt like she was holding back the entire time. She’d already revealed so many personal details in the first book that I couldn’t quite understand what she was so afraid about with this book. I was really hoping to know more about how her mother felt about being stuck in a small town with a house full of kids when she had originally dreamed of becoming an actress. I wanted to know why she married and stayed with a man who was gay. I wanted to know if she liked being a mother and what her relationships were like with her other kids. Bechdel just beats herself up the whole book, stumbling around and filling up the pages with psychoanalysis rather than content the reader wanted.

What I hope you’ll take away from this (ridiculously long) post is that Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic is definitely worth the read. Unless you read a lot of graphic novels, it will be unlike anything you’ve ever read. Bechdel’s family is so unique that you will forget you’re reading a memoir. The work is different. And that’s a good thing.