Book Review — Equiano, The African: Biography of a Self-Made Man

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Equiano, The African is one of the best nonfiction books I have ever read. Hands down. To even tell you everything that I learned would take much more space and time than we have time to talk about here, but let’s go over the highlights, shall we?

First, let’s talk about the author a bit. Vincent Carretta is a professor of English at the University of Maryland, and he specializes in 18th century history and literature. He’s published books about other important voices of black history, such as Phillis Wheatley, the first African American poet, and Philip Quaque, the first African Missionary.

In this book, Carretta takes us on a voyage through Equiano’s life by going through Equiano’s autobiography, and gives us the context surrounding specific moments of his life, some of which are incredibly original.

“Equiano’s autobiography is the most extended and detailed account of naval experience left by any eighteenth-century writer of African descent”

The book is divided into fourteen chapters, each cataloguing specific parts of Equiano’s life, such as the descriptions he gives of his birth in Africa, which is still under debate. Carretta argues that Equiano was not actually born in Africa and might have been born in the Carolinas in the United States. This hypothesis is very clearly laid out and Carretta also explains how, if this is true, Equiano was very clever in writing his autobiography and marketing it so that people wouldn’t suspect otherwise.

Equiano started as a slave, became a sailor, and after buying his own freedom, he even managed the transportation of slaves. Equiano didn’t view slavery as a bad thing at first, but through his experience and his spiritual and religious discovery, he became certain that slavery was a thing of evil. But the most interesting part of this book for me was how Carretta was able to put more than one perspective of the abolitionists of the eighteenth century as the framework for how Equiano himself came to that conclusion.

“Opposition to the African slave trade was politically nonpartisan and religiously nonsectarian. Conservative Christians opposed it because it was sinful, political reformers because it denied the natural rights of humanity, social reformers because it was oppressive, and economic theorists because it was inefficient”

We get to explore the timeframe of the eighteenth century, when horrible things were done to many human beings who were seen as “others” or who simply had to pay some debt and went into the vortex of slavery to never get out. Equiano is our point of reference through which we can see how the world was back then, how far we have come, but also how some things remain the same. It taught me the origins and transformations of our biases based on skin color for example:

“The traditional definition of race as bloodline was increasingly replaced by the notion of race as species that became dominant in the nineteenth century. This “modern” concept of race, which was secondary during the early colonial American period, became primary.”

But it also taught me some really interesting facts, about naval ships at the time, how the politics worked under a monarchy previous to a parliament, and things like this:

“…Birmingham’s Lunar society, so-called because it met on the Monday nearest each full moon, when its amateur scientists and experimenters had enough natural light to find their way home following an evening of conviviality, conversation, and consultation… Mostly from humble origins, many of the self-described “Lunatics” were self-made men like Equiano himself.”

Carretta’s writing is enjoyable and flows really well. Even when talking about battles and dates and names of politicians I found myself immersed in the writing and invested in the people, so much so that I am definitely looking forward to reading more of his works (at least the two mentioned at the beginning of this post).

Equiano was a fascinating man, no matter where he was born, he left a legacy that will not be forgotten. He was part of many activists of the eighteenth century who fought to abolish slavery, and even if he didn’t get to see it all come true, he lived a life true to his values and to his beliefs.

This was but a taste of what’s in this wonderful book, I definitely recommend it if you like history, original perspectives, and, especially if you think that history has nothing left to teach you (because it does!). Also, if you think history is boring, read this, this was far from boring and I just wanted to know more about many of the people introduced in this book (like Phillis Wheatley!).

Do you like nonfiction books? What’s your favorite? I need recommendations! 😀

Book Review — The Spark by David Drake

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The Spark and Ulysses were this month’s TBR jar picks!

So I received The Spark in a Page Habit box a few months ago and it was an unexpected but pleasant surprise.

David Drake was born in 1945, he’s a Vietnam War veteran and he’s known for being a major author in the military science fiction genre. The Spark is the first book that I read by Drake and I really enjoyed it!

The Spark is a take on an Arthurian legend, if you are familiar with the tale, you’ll see plenty of parallels, but the differences are what really caught my attention. First is the world where this story takes place. It is a world that has many towns and cities connected by a Road. The world is divided into Here and Not Here, two sort of parallel universes that connect or overlap in certain places, one of them being this Road that connects everything. There are artifacts from the Ancients (which seem to be today’s world since there are references to umbrellas, projectors, and weapons) that only certain people are able to fix and make work again, these people are called Makers.

“Since I’d come away from Beune, everything I’d seen was people in pyramids, somebody at the top and everybody else scrambling to get on top instead. Or at least to get off the bottom” — Pal

So, Pal is our main character, he’s a young man from a small town that’s not exactly governed by the Commonwealth but Pal’s dream is to become a Champion of Humanity (Pal’s also a Maker!). The Champions are selected at Dun Add, a city where King Jon rules the Commonwealth. The story begins as Pal arrives at Dun Add after traveling through the Road with the help of his dog Buck (people can’t see well in the Road and must see through the eyes of their animal companions in order to travel safely).

Truthfully, the part that I was dreading the most was that of the romance. Of course there must be a maiden in distress that needs saving! However, even though there was a woman who needed help finding her sister, there was no romantic love there! Even the one who might be Pal’s main love interest is not even considered so by him until perhaps the end of the novel. I liked this because it wasn’t the usual “Oh, they saw each other for the first time and now they are in love and will get married tomorrow after they slay the dragon” deal. Women are portrayed as individuals with purpose and their own dreams and desires. They aren’t always nice and pretty and princess-like, they are raw and real and troublesome too.

Then there was the violence. There are certainly deaths and some gory parts that stand out in my mind even days after reading them. Drake is really good at describing the battles and the fighting, he gives us enough detail to know what’s happening but not too much that we are overwhelmed.

“You can’t spend all the time thinking about how to stay safe and still live what I’d call a life” — Pal

So all in all, this book had a variety of interesting characters, three different adventures all rolled into one, and it was entertaining!

I don’t know if I’ll like other books by David Drake, but I now know that he can tell a story without going for the usual tropes and cliches that one tends to find in this genre. If I come across another of his books, I’ll likely give it a try.

Have you read any of Drake’s books? Which one should I read next?

Book Time Travel — March

It’s time to go back in time and see what I was reading in years past during the month of March, where they good books? or not so good? Let’s take a look!

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Two excellent books by Asian-American women authors.

2017 — The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

I remember noticing this book from a list of books that President Obama recommended. A few weeks later I found it at the thrift store and it just seemed like fate that I should read that book at the time.

It’s a beautiful book that portrays the different ways that a woman is a woman, one shaped by her culture, by her obstacles, by her family. It portrays the strength of women, our intelligence, and the way that we face our past. The book is also beautifully written, Maxine has this ethereal writing style that just creeps into your mind and evokes images that will haunt you for a while after. If the imagery is strong that’s only because those are the feelings that the women in her stories have, feelings that I found very familiar.

I believe this book helped me discover new sides of myself, and which came at a point in my life when I was ready to explore them.

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Books + Tea = Joy

2016 –The Love That Split The World by Emily Henry

This was a book I got in an Owlcrate box and I found myself happily attracted to the cover. When I read it I was really divided as to if I liked it or not, thinking back I know I did enjoy the story but do remember being confused with some of the writing choices made while trying to portray time travel and parallel dimensions. (Any book that attempts time travel is bound to be confusing right?) I think what this book left me, two years later, is the sense of the inevitability of accepting the things that have already happened. Especially the ending of the book is just so emotional and I was very much attached to the characters so I do also remember thinking about the books for days after finishing it.

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Since I lack a 2015 book, here’s a picture I took that month while stuck in traffic in Mexico City. 

2015 — I didn’t read anything in the month of March of 2015! And that was because I was preparing for a big exam for my PhD program. That exam was scary so I worked on it very hard and I passed! You could say I was reading for my exam but somehow I don’t think that’d be as interesting hahaha. My reading habits definitely picked up after the exam happened in April so I suspect that these posts will get a bit more interesting after that point. We shall see!


Anyways, I’m starting to think that these posts might point to certain books that I could probably donate to the library or something… In that sense, The Love That Split The World, although it has a beautiful cover, shall be put in a pile for donation.

Do you donate books after you read them if you decide that you will not read them again? This is the first time I really feel like donating a book without purposely looking for books to donate. One thing is for sure, it’ll help create space in my bookcase! 😉

Book vs Movie — Annihilation

Hi all!

In this episode of Book vs Movie I’ll be talking about Annihilation, written by Jeff Vandermeer, and the big screen counterpart. I won’t be giving too many details because both the book and the movie are incredibly hard to explain. But, you’ll get it if you’ve read the book and/or seen the film.

Jeff Vandermeer is called the “King of Weird Fiction” since his works lie something between speculative fiction, fantasy, and horror. His most famous works are the Southern Reach Trilogy, and Annihilation is the first installment of this trilogy. This trilogy focuses on an expedition to a place called Area X, a place in the United States, where nature has taken over. Scientists are sending people into this area to investigate, but either they don’t come back or if they come back they die of cancer not many weeks later.

Screen Shot 2018-03-03 at 21.11.25Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

The book is definitely very strange. It evokes a mood reminiscent of gothic literature at times, at others it’s more like a stream of consciousness that leaves you at best dizzy or at worst sleepy. It’s a book that reminded me of the frog in the pot of water, one that doesn’t realize it’s in trouble until it’s actually almost dead and there’s no way out. This book creeps up on you just like that, eventually you realize that there’s no turning back and you just have to keep on reading, even if no clear answers are offered in the end.

“Some questions will ruin you if you are denied the answer long enough”

So the book might not be the most enjoyable but it was definitely thought provoking. We follow four scientists who are never given names besides their specialties: Anthropologist, Surveyor, Psychologist, and Biologist. There’s a theme of the beauty and the power of nature, which rebels agains the humans after enduring the pollution, deforestation, and other abuses that it has endured for so long. The book doesn’t give a reason for Area X really, there’s no explanation of the origin, but there are some clues when the Biologist has flashbacks to her childhood, as she studies a microenvironment that thrives in the midst of the urban city. Also as she goes out of her way to find these small patches of nature in other parts of the city. The vision that the Biologist brings to the world is very important in the book and is the anchor that kept me reading.

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The movie adaptation of Annihilation was directed by Alex Garland, who has been mostly recognized for his achievements in screenplay writing and his film Ex Machina.

Unlike the book, the film starts out by explaining the origin of Area X: a meteor. This immediately takes out the possibility of the changes in Area X being caused by nature reacting to human acts. Additionally, the characters are given names and our Biologist isn’t an expert in the transition of one microenvironment to another, she’s a cell biologist, specialized in cancer. The film focuses on an alien world that’s come and started interacting with ours in ways we can’t quite understand. There film is not only creepy, it’s outright gory, with bodies opened up and things crawling inside them. The film achieves the wonder of this alien world though, the beauty and the power in ways that the book lacked. The film is well paced even if it felt like they forced the expected Hollywood-esque plot as an attempt to make it less psychological and more explicit. There’s a heavy reliance on the Biologist’s, I mean Lena’s, life before the expedition, her life with her husband, even an affair! What does that have to do with Area X?

But honestly? I did enjoy both the book and the movie for different reasons. I loved the psychological thriller part of the book and I loved the visuals of the film. You could say that I loved the depth of the book while the film simply reflected the beautiful cover that made me buy the book. The plots of the book and the film are not very compatible so they can’t be compared. But they do complement each other.

Final verdict: It’s a tie! They even out because a bit more than half of the book was just boring, and only until the end did I get hit with all the complex themes and social commentary that Vandermeer was going for. Then the film was great visually but completely lacked depth of characters and plot that the book provided. The film had beautiful moments (and beautiful deaths!) all the way through which the book lacked.

What do you think? Which version of Annihilation did you like best?

PS. The next Book vs Movie that I’ll review is a movie that comes out at the end of this month, can you guess which one it is?

 

 

February Book Bites

February was a slow reading month, but I did enjoy the three books I got to read! There were some pretty memorable bites as well. Lets take a look:

IMG_20180301_201140692.jpgFirst I read An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon. This book is a science fiction novel that I acquired through the Page Habit subscription box for the month of October of last year. Solomon takes us on a trip on the HSS Matilda, a spaceship that has been traveling towards the Promised Land. People have left their world to go on this ship because their planet was dying. Now, they are separated by class and gender and are trying to survive the trip to this Promised Land when things start to go wrong. You can read a full review here.

  • Favorite Bite:

“Chemicals plus chemicals makes magic” — Aster

  • Perspective Rating: 9/10 I loved that we got a very original point of view, even if at times I didn’t fully connect with it I believe that it’s very valuable.
  • Emotional Rating: 5/10 I really wish I could have connected with the main character more. But every time that there was an emotional scene, she would change the topic. Even though I understand that it’s her own personality, for me it was very frustrating.
  • Bites Rating: 7/10 It had some great and poetic parts, but it wasn’t as much as it could have been.
  • Overall Rating: 7/10 I really enjoyed this book, but it left me wanting more from the other character’s points of view. I will look for more books from Rivers Solomon for sure.

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I stayed on the science fiction track and read Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer. When I bought this book it was purely because of the cover but when I learned that it involved women scientists going into a strange place called Area X, I was even more intrigued. The story is actually slower than I expected, told from the point of view of the Biologist, who is also an unreliable narrator. It’s very slow for the first 100 pages or so and then it picks up near the end. I’m working on a post where I compare the novel to the movie adaptation so that should be posted in the next few days.

  • Favorite Bite:

    “We were neither what we had been nor what we would become once we reached our destination” — The Biologist

  • Perspective Rating: 7/10 It’s hard with this one because even though it is an interesting perspective, of a scientist who looks at things very pragmatically, there was little depth. I wanted to be able to go deeper into some of her insights but that was masked by the way that the story was told.
  • Emotional Rating: 6/10 It was very hard to empathize with the main character when she was so dull and unreliable most of the time. Near the end things got better in this sense but it was still lacking for me.
  • Bites Rating: 4/10 There were some pretty passages but not very often.
  • Overall Rating: 5.66/10 Yikes! I’m telling you that it was slow! That was my main issue, even though the psychological thriller is there, it got boring so that wasn’t good. I am still curious about the next installment of the trilogy so I’ll probably read that if I come across it.

IMG_20180301_201108753.jpgFinally I read Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett, another installment of the Discworld series. This was such a great book! It’s a take on Macbeth from the point of view of the witches, and it references quite a few other Shakespeare plays. This one is a tad more bloody than others, as well as more cheeky at times. The characters we follow are Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat. Pratchett manages a very clever novel full of interesting characters, from a violent cat to Death itself, and Hwel, a dwarf with all the inspiration to write plays like no one has seen before. Simply fantastic.

  • Favorite Bite:

    “It is true that words have power, and one of the things they are able to do is get out of someone’s mouth before the speaker has the chance to stop them” –Wyrd Sisters

  • Perspective Rating: 8/10 Pratchett has the ability to place you in someone else’s shoes without you really realizing that it’s happening. Here we get a few different perspectives on the aspect of destiny and fate. It’s inspiring and eye opening while making you laugh at life for a bit
  • Emotional Rating: 7/10 I didn’t connect too much to the characters but when Death showed up I was just over the moon! I also love Greebo, the cat, and Hwel, a writer who really is a slave to the words.
  • Bites Rating: 8/10 It had many great quotations, but not all over the book.
  • Overall Rating: 7.66 Another great Discworld installment, I can’t wait for the next one! 😀

One thing that these three books had in common was the nature of, well, nature. Nature as a sentient being that can revolt on the humans when they decide to ignore it completely. Nature as a group of beings that evolve so that they can survive the harm being done to them by humans. Or lack of Nature and the effect that it has on humans. Each of these books teaches us to appreciate and take care of all living beings, be they animal, plant, or human. I loved these books for this message and for how they all seemed to group together to make that message seem even louder.

And so, even though this month was a tad slow, it was still a good month of reading. I am still reading Equiano: The African but I am taking my time because it deserves to be read a bit more closely. I am learning so many things about slavery and the world in the 1700s! Hopefully by next month I’ll be able to include it in the wrap up. I’m also still reading The Goldfinch with the book club and that will also be done by next month’s wrap up.

I read 3 books, didn’t buy any books, so I’m down to 100 books left in my TBR! XD

How did your reading go in February? What was your favorite book of the month?

Book Buying Ban Update & Lessons Learned

As you might know, I’ve started the year with a book buying ban, which is going okay so far. I only bought one book last month, which was for a book club I really wanted to be a part of. In this post I’ll tell you a few of the challenges I’ve found, the ways I’ve been able to resist buying books even while going into bookstores, and some unexpected thinking about my reading habits, why I read, and how this has affected my reading beliefs.

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The view from the second floor of one of our favorite thrift stores

Challenge #1. Thrift stores.

My family and I love going to thrift stores, we say we are just going to browse but it really is to find things like clothes or stuffed animals or even kitchen stuff that is barely used for a great price. For me though, it’s all about the books. It’s a family outing and, when I decided on the book buying ban, I didn’t realize how it would affect these weekend activities. So, the first time this year that we went to Goodwill, one of our usual spots, I realized that it wouldn’t be as easy as I thought.

All thrift stores have at least one full bookcase full of books, and usually, my feet just go on automatic and take me to these sections. So before I knew it I was standing in front of the bookcases at Goodwill and realized the big mistake I was making! O.O… I stood there, staring at the books and simply fled to another area of the store! Of course, my mind kept me wondering… Are there new books? Was that Stephen King book I spotted last time still there? Not only that but I also realized that it was something of a ritual, I would go to the bookshelves, start from right to left and simply browse them and fix the books where needed (books were upside down, series that were separated…why do people do that?!).

I knew that I didn’t want to stay home in future trips and so I decided to go back to the bookshelves, do my little ritual, and be happy to at least visit the books. If I ended up seeing a book I really wanted I simply said “Not right now, sorry book”, and moved on. It’s not as easy as it sounds but I felt incredibly accomplished when I walked out of that store with my hands free of books (And I did buy some shoes I actually needed!).

Challenge #2. Online deals.

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So I’m a member of a few book selling websites (Barnes and Noble, Half Price Books, Amazon, Kindle, etc) and of course they send me information about deals and coupons and buy two paperbacks get one free, etc. Which usually don’t grab my attention because I prefer (1000X) to go to the physical stores and buy books there. However, now I find that I actually click on the deal and browse the books online!

Again, I use the same ritual of “Not right now, sorry book” when I really can’t help myself and I click on stuff. I do avoid clicking on Amazon deals because of that handy-dandy One-click purchase button they have… XD

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My sister’s book haul! (I’ll definitely read these but at the end of the year I hope)

Challenge #3. My sister.

Now, I love my sister, there’s no denying that. She loves books as well, and as she’s grown older (she’s 15 now), she’s definitely more independent with her reading and will, on occasion, buy her own books.

However, as she tells me about all these new books she bought (that I actually also want to read!) I feel that urge to go and buy books myself! I didn’t realize that my impulse to buy books was this strong! So my sister bought some books the other day and they were sitting there, brand new and unopened (except for the one she was reading). And what did I do? Well, after battling between going out the door to buy books or opening my computer to buy more books, I ended up going to my own bookcase and looking at my unread books.

Overall I think that the rush of buying a new book is the result of the need to add new stories and perspectives to my collection of books. But I’ve realized that I can go into the dangerous territory of buying books simply for the act of buying them and having them in my hands. It’s not bad to collect things, but I want my library to be meaningful to me and to whoever will look at it decades later. I realized that I don’t want to simply collect books, I want to read my books, especially those that I have had for a while and to discover why I got them in the first place.

There are so many books out there, as there are stars, but I can’t discover them all if I rush through them. I must take my time and enjoy them one at a time and realize their meaning and context in our world today.

So in many ways this Book Buying Ban has helped me realize some aspects of what I want out of my reading, it’s helped me be more thoughtful about what I read, and in some ways it’s made me read a bit more slowly. I don’t feel like I’m pressured to read fast because there are so many books out there and I want to get to them all, I simply have to read whatever I’m reading now because I want to read that book and that’s it!

Another effect of this ban has affected my Instagram profile… I don’t post as much as before, but whatever I post about is a bit more thought out. I don’t have any book hauls and I mostly post about the books I’m currently reading or am excited to read next. I’m not super concerned about this though because I realized that I enjoy the deeper conversations that might arise from these posts more than the superficial aspect of a cool photo (not saying that that isn’t also awesome, I still love taking simple and beautiful photographs, but it’s good to focus on deeper discussions as well). I still want to find a balance on the posts I make for Instagram so that’s a work in progress.

These challenges have become opportunities to learn about myself and my reading. I’ll keep running away from new books until July or until I read 50 books, whichever comes first (I’m on books 8, 9, and 10 right now). And I’ll keep enjoying each book I read to the fullest without too much pressure of all the books out there.

What do you think? How does your book buying habits affect your reading? Do you feel the pressure of “all the books out there” like I do?

Book Review — An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon was a book that challenged me for the better. I got to see through the eyes of a woman who lives in a society that treats people like objects and who is missing the knowledge of her family history. She feels like she is missing something but she doesn’t dwell on it since there are no clear and quantifiable answers.

“A part of each person lay in their past, in their parentage and grandparentage, and if that history was missing, were said people incomplete?
–Aster

As part of the lack of history that she feels, she seeks knowledge of her surroundings, she immerses herself in studying the world around her, from growing plants to synthesizing chemicals to aid her in her work as a healer. She’s a crucial part of her community, going around and healing those who don’t have access to doctors, but soon all that will change when she gets some clear information on what led to her mother’s death.

“Chemicals plus chemicals makes magic”
— Aster

Although this book is a science fiction novel, it was not what I expected, it’s not just a voyage in space. It is a novel that gives an immensely important voice to social and cultural issues that are not represented in many forms of media, from film to books and everything in between. Among these issues is gender. In Matilda, the ship that carries what’s left of humanity through space, people live in different levels depending on their social status, skin color, and gender. It is explained that humanity has developed a third gender “they”, which was a result of a hormonal condition that made it so that people of this gender didn’t fit biologically into male or female.

“…said Flick as she–he–no, they–shook the starjar. Aster regretted her error.”

The third gender uses the “they” pronoun and it’s the first time that I even read a book where this pronoun is implemented. Such a book can be very powerful for people who use this pronoun and for those who don’t know or don’t understand why or how to use it.

The world that Solomon creates in this book is slowly built up through Aster’s eyes. At first this was frustrating to me because I wanted a clear picture right away, but I learned to be patient and see things as Aster did. Aster only sees specific details that are important to her. It was frustrating to have a very meaningful and emotional encounter happening and have Aster focus on a seemingly trivial thing that leads to the sudden end of that encounter. This is actually very important because not everyone sees the world in the same way, some may only pay attention to the details and others may focus on the bigger picture. This book taught me to be open to the way that others see the world, even if at times it can be hard and frustrating to stop and see a situation from the other person’s point of view to realize that we might both want the same thing and that it will just take a bit of understanding from both parties to reach the objective.

This book really did leave me thinking, it was really well written and it gave me something that no other book has given me: a perspective that was very difficult to connect to, but which taught me how to be understanding of those who don’t express themselves the same way that I do.

What’s a book that you’ve read that had a difficult perspective but which was valuable and worth reading?