Wednesday, April 25, 2012

World Lit Wednesdays

I'm one of those people who need structure and guidelines in order to function. My little black notebook is chock full of To-Do lists (and To-Read lists!), agendas and deadlines and on those rare occasions when I misplace the notebook or forget to bring it along I'm pretty much an aimless, freaked-out mess. SO, in order to encourage regular blogging I am going to try to give myself a strict schedule of themes. I'll throw in additional book reviews and commentary as needed, but I'm hopeful that the schedule will help guide my reflections a bit more!

With no further ado, I bring you....

World Lit Wednesdays!

My graduate work focused primarily on West African diasporic lit so I consider myself fairly well-read in contemporary African and Afro-Caribbean fiction, but digging deeply into that area meant that I tended to neglect other areas. I'm going to try to remedy that by dedicating my Wednesday book reviews and commentary to explorations of fiction, poetry and criticism from writing cultures outside of my usual haunts.

As a starting point I plan to use the novels shortlisted for the 2012 Commonwealth Writer's Prize. I'm having a hard time locating many of the books, but I managed to have three special ordered for me by my local bookstore so I should have them on hand in the near future. While I'm waiting for those book to arrive, however, I thought I would use today's post to talk about one of my new favorite obsessions: the poetry of Vera Pavlova!

Pavlova is one of Russia's most celebrated contemporary poets, but she was completely new to me when I stumbled across one of her poems on (of all places) Pinterest last week. She has published 15 collections of poetry in her native Russian, as well at one each in French, Dutch and English, and to date they have been translated into twenty-one other languages. Her 2010 English language collection, If There Is Something to Desire, is stunning in its deceptive simplicity and physicality. Short, sweet and wryly wise, the poems I came across actually gave me a jolt-- forced me to sit up sharply in my chair and utter a puzzled/illuminated "huh" of surprise. I'm not usually a big fan of poetry-- I prefer the explication and exploration of lyrical prose-- but I found myself copying poem after poem of Pavlova's into my notebook and quoting snippets of them to myself as I went about my day.

Tomorrow is National Poem in Your Pocket Day and I plan to carry copies of these two texts around in my pockets to share and distribute.

"He marked the page with a match"

He marked the page with a match
and fell asleep in mid-kiss,
while I, a queen bee
in a disturbed hive, stay up and buzz:
half a kingdom for a honey drop,
half a lifetime for a tender word!
His face, half turned.
Half past midnight. Half past one


"Writing down verses"

Writing down verses I got
a paper cut on my palm.
The cut extended my life line
by nearly one-fourth."

Next week's WLW will be The Wandering Falcon by Pakistani writer Jamil Ahmad

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday-- Favorite Characters

When I fell off the blogging wagon, one of the things I missed most was the excitement of logging on Tuesday mornings and discovering the Top Ten theme of the week. Top Ten Tuesdays (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) has always been a favorite meme of mine because you can learn so very much about fellow bloggers in such a short period of time. I really do believe that 'you are what you read,' so the Top Ten lists are basically a series of snapshots or windows into other people's reading lives. It's so voyeuristic, I love it :)

This week's theme is:
Top Ten All Time Favorite Literary Characters (whoa....)

Talk about an open-ended prompt! I'll probably spend the rest of the day going "oh WAIT! I forgot so-and-so!" and "How could I have possibly left who-si-whatsit out of my list?!" but for the time being, here's the list I've come up with. 

In no particular order:

1. Ada(h) Price from The Poisonwood Bible: Poisonwood was probably the first book that I ever fell head over heels in love with, and a large part of that appeal was the quirky, sarcastic, and illuminating voice of Adah. I'd never come across a character like her before, and I'm not sure that I've met another one yet. The child-Adah of the first couple of sections is so dark and fraught with insecurity and resentment over her role in the family, and yet at the same time she is the one character who consistently finds beauty in her surroundings and seeks out new perspectives and interpretations for "obvious" facts. Obsessed with rhythm and parallelism, the chapters in her voice manage to be incredibly poetic and playful while dwelling on the darker side of love and family.

2. Ida Scott from Another Country: James Baldwin is one of my literary ( /political/social/just-about-everything) heroes. I'm haunted by a number of his books and characters (Hall Montana from Just Above My Head could easily have made this list as well), but Another Country was my first Baldwin and will probably always have a special place in my heart. As the sister of talented but tragically troubled jazz musician Rufus, Ida carries a lot of emotional baggage relating to her race, gender and class and the role those "identities" play in relation to others living and working in Harlem. It's a heavy and highly introspective book, but Ida carries more than her share of the tension with grace, passion, and unwavering determination. Despite her very human failings, Ida is probably one of the strongest female characters I've come across.

3. Jo March from Little Women: This is kind of self-explanatory. I don't know many American girls (much less bookish, somewhat tomboy-ish ones) who read Little Women without identifying with the harum-skarum Josephine. Years later, I'm still mad that she didn't end up with Laurie...

4. Oy from The Dark Tower Series: To be fair, I love just about all of the characters from the first four books of the series (it gets a bit too Stephen King-y for me after Wolves of Calla). Roland, Susannah, Eddie, Jake, even the Man in Black, fabulous characters! And don't even get me started on the wonderfullness of Cuthbert Allgood, Alain Johnson, Susan Delgado and the rest of the crew in Wizard and Glass! But I have a soft-spot for the "billy-bumbler" (dog/raccoon/thing) and his loyal, self-less dedication to Jake and the ka-tet community. I thought about naming my dog after him, but she's a girl dog and Oy sounds a bit too much like 'Boy' 

5. Radcliffe Emerson from the Amelia Peabody Series (particularly Crocodile on the Sandbank and Curse of the Pharaohs): This is a blast-from-the-past favorite whom I haven't come across since Middle School (gasp!) but whose adventures have stuck with me. Emerson is one part Byronic hero, one part Indiana Jones, and about 9 parts hysterical. He's an opinionated, cranky archeologist with a well-hidden romantic side. I seriously need to find copies of this series for a re-read-apolooza.

6. Speaking of Byronic heroes... M. Paul Emmanuel from Villette: I guess I have a thing for fiery-tempered, unpredictable male romantic leads with tortured pasts. M. Paul can be a real jerk, but every once in a while you have a break in the clouds and his deeply sweet and emotional side peeks out. I think I'd fall in love with him myself once I got over hating him for the damage he'd do to my pride.

7. Bean from the Ender's Game Series: I wasn't actually wild about little Bean in the original Ender's Game, but when I finally came across the companion book Ender's Shadow I was a goner. Bean has snark and ego to spare, but at the same time he's a hugely vulnerable character. I alternate between rolling my eyes at his hubris, and wanting to hug him for his pain.

8. Katniss Everdeen from Hunger Games:  I was reluctant to add Katniss because the Hunger Games really don't rank in my list of favorite books ever, but at the same time I love what Katniss has done to the image of the female protagonist in contemporary YA lit. She's no shirking violet who screams and faints and hides between her big bad male companion and I love that. She's one of the first main-stream female superheroes who isn't dressed in skin-tight leather so she gets major props for that.

9. Kambili from Purple Hibiscus: Kambili is a great young protagonist wrestling with issues of post-colonialism, gender, and modernity in contemporary Nigeria, but I'm adding her here mostly because she's the embodiment of one of my favorite author-philosophies ever-- Chimamanda Adichie's "Dangers of a Single Story." If you've never seen Adichie's TED talk on the subject, GO! Watch It NOW!!

10. Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice: Cause it wouldn't be a favorites list without her.

Ok. that's Ten. Now let the second guessing begin!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Oh right...My Blog

This has been a year of frustrating changes for me, and when the latest upheaval hit in mid-December I admit that I threw my hands up in resignation and abandoned all sorts of projects that used to help keep me grounded. Things are slowly falling back into place now so I'm trying to dust myself off and return to normal. I'm going to make a concerted effort to be an active blogging presence-- especially since bookish conversations are no longer part of my professional life (more on that later!)-- but I think the content of this blog will change a bit. I am (and will always be!) a reader, so reviewing and debating recent reads will obviously be a big part of my online project, but I also want to use this space more self-reflexively and creatively. We'll see what shape those agendas take over time...

Major changes in my life:

I FINISHED my thesis and am now a card-carrying (or diploma hanging) member of the literary academy.

Despite the aforementioned credentials, I struggled to find a teaching position and became a bit desperate, applying to any job posting that had the word "education" mentioned anywhere in it.

Eventually I interviewed and was offered an administrative position at an absolutely fabulous international school in Washington DC. It's not the geographic area I was hoping for, and there is extremely limited contact with students (fuss fuss!) but I feel passionately about the school's philosophy and mission. Now if only they'd let me start a book club or something...

Thanks to the job, I moved (again!). It was my third relocation in 3 months-- all of which were consisted of me jamming everything I owned into my tiny Beetle convertible and then desperately stalking craigslist for minor additions like, oh I don't know..a BED! I still don't have any tables or a bedroom dresser, but the apartment is slowly coming together :) I will admit that despite the fact that my car is absolutely tiny, I did manage to fit three boxes of books in the back seat, and my second purchased piece of furniture (after the bed..) was a bookcase :)

I don't know many people in this city, so I'm trying to come up with bookish ways to weasel my way into a social life. Book clubs, literary happy hours, volunteering at ESOL classes, and-- my particular favorite activity at the moment-- World Book Night!! I have a copies of Ender's Game stashed all over the place-- my office, apartment, purse, gym bag, etc.-- ready to hand out whenever somebody I meet looks like they could use a good dose of fiction. I gave away 10 to strangers waiting for the bus this morning and plan to hang out in the metro station this afternoon to distribute a couple dozen more. LOVE IT!!

That's all for now, but I hope to be back soon with some content that's less newsy and more booksy!