Bookmark Bookstore

A Welcome and A Bookish Update

Bookmark BookstoreThanks for joining me here at the new home for the Keep It Wordy book blog! I’m excited to have a self-hosted home for the blog and to be integrating all of my interests into one site. You can find my full list of book reviews and the review policy as dropdown menus in the Keep It Wordy tab above. Currently, I’m planning on releasing a book-related post every Tuesday, as well as a new book review each Thursday. Welcome to the old readers and new!

Besides reorganizing the website, I’ve been frequenting way too many bookstores these days, but really it’s not my fault… The Friends of the Oakland Public Library bookstore, Bookmarks, was having a 30-50% off sale this past weekend – and their books are already only $3-5 dollars usually so of course I had to drop by. I found Still Writing by Dani Shapiro, which looks like it will be a great book about the writer’s life, with various witty meditations and advice. I also picked up a completely silly book, Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh, which I’ve wanted to read for a while and promises to be an entertaining mix of ridiculously drawn comics and wit.

But after this I’m staying out of bookstores for a month, honest! (*crosses fingers*)

The Self-Help Shelves

By Helga Weber via Flickr Creative Commons

For some reason the last time I went to the library I binged out a little on self-help books. There was Uncertainty, a book about working through your fears around creative endeavors; as well as The Highly Sensitive Person, which talked about how to navigate the world as someone who is easily overstimulated by common activities; and finally The 4-Hour Work Week, which will supposedly teach me the magic formula to work productivity.

I’m not in any particular crisis, and I didn’t feel any deep need to be reading self-help books this October, but for some reason these all piqued my interest. I realized that I enjoy breaking up my fiction and heavy nonfiction reading with a little supportive, easy-to-follow self-help. Sure, these types of books seem to start repeating each other if you read too many of them at once, but every now and then it’s nice to get a little reminder of ways you could be making your life run just a tad more smoothly.

Do you ever find yourself browsing the self-help section for no real reason?

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Review)

There are some things that are so unforgivable that they make other things easily forgivable.
From Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The more I read of Adichie’s work the more I fall in love with her prose and the type of characters she creates. In Half of a Yellow Sun, Adichie takes us to Nigeria at the beginning of a devastating civil war in which one half vies for independence from the other.

Enter three main characters (yep, not one, not two, but three) — Ugwu, a servant from a small Nigerian village; Olanna, an attractive, wealthy Nigerian woman whom he serves; and Richard, a white British expat who finds himself involved with Olanna’s family.

I was sure at first that I would get incredibly confused and bored by the number of main characters Adichie brought into the book, plus a number of ancillary and important secondary protagonists. But Adichie wields her characters with ease, developing them through long sections in the beginning and then interspersing them with each other more freely as the novel progresses.

Olanna and her twin sister Kainene remind me of Ifemelu from Americanah, for those who have read other books by Adichie. But they are also subtly different, with different baggage and ambitions in life. For a work that is over 400 pages, the words really flew past, and I found myself halfway through before I realized it.

The war itself is fascinating and horrifying. I was surprised (though maybe I shouldn’t have been) that I had never heard of Biafra (which fought for independence from Nigeria) or much at all really about internal conflicts between different ethnic groups in the country. It makes me remember how limited of a history education we Americans receive in grade school.

I love Adichie for fully absorbing me into another place and another time with her well-crafted work.

5/5 STARS

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay (Review)

In An Untamed State, a Haitian-American woman named Mireille is kidnapped on a visit to the country of her heritage and held for ransom. Her father refuses to pay the ransom and as a result she is subject to all manner of atrocious cruelties. When she is finally set free, she must figure out how to find her way back to herself.

Almost as soon as I started reading An Untamed State I wanted to know if Roxane Gay was writing from fact of fiction. And while I may never know the full answer to that question, there is definitely some fact involved. Gay was gang raped at a young age, and I can’t but imagine how creating this book must have been both incredibly challenging and incredibly necessary for catharsis.

I am almost unsure how to review this book. I can’t quite say that I liked it, given the terrible situations and subject matter that surrounds Mireille. But at the same time, I’m am glad that I read it. The book is about not just the terrible things, but also how to come back from tragedy and trauma in an ever-uncertain world. Mireille is not someone who gives in to life easily, and she strays from the typical “damsel in distress” female protagonist.

One interesting aspect of the book was the way it was able to engage in a class, race, and gender conversation. Mireille and her husband are deeply in love, but at times their different cultures divide them. Mireille loved the Haiti of her childhood, but she also knows that it was coated in privilege and the necessity of keeping others out. Mireille’s gender makes her vulnerable to men in a way she will never be able to completely control. Gay explores all of these tensions with compelling, clear prose.

I also love the cover on this work. The image of an attractive woman looking backward while running away from something that you can’t see captures the essence of what the book is about. I’d love to know how others felt about reading this work, particularly women. I will definitely be reading Gay’s other book out, Bad Feminist.

4/5 STARS