Friday, June 29, 2012

Some other reading ideas for incoming college freshmen

This is a post I am doing mostly for fun. I saw Book Riot's post on "A Summer Reading List for College Freshmen," and I figured I could add a few things. I also figured I could take some things out and save incoming freshmen some pain and grief. The basic premise of the post that what's important is the kind of books you read is right on. But maybe some other choices may be in order, at least in my humble opinion. In other words, if someone asked this librarian what to recommend to incoming college freshmen, what would I recommend? Well, glad you asked. I am going to use the same categories that the author over there used. Go read the original post, then you can come back.

  • One of Shakespeare's plays. Yes, you will be reading Shakespeare at some point in college, so do yourself a favor and pick some up. Titus Andronicus is good. I would have suggested Coriolanus. There is a nice new adaptation with Ralph Fiennes, so you still get the whole dynamic of being able to talk about a film adaptation. Other options may include Othello (not that obscure, and if you read it in school, pass on) and Henry V (this is just a favorite of mine. Plus there are various adaptations of this play including one by Laurence Olivier and another by Kenneth Brannagh).
  • The biography of a historical figure. The author goes American on this category. So, I will do the same. I will admit that biography is not a big reading interest for me, but I do read some. I would maybe suggest something like Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City. This book teaches you some American history, you get the story of Henry Ford, and you get some Latin American history in the process. You also get some lessons on American imperialism, nation building, and hubris, topics that are actually pretty relevant today. I will do you one better and add one more. I would also suggest Lost Kingdom: The Last Queen, the Sugar Kings, and America's First Imperial Adventure. This is a biography and history of the last monarch of Hawaii up to the moment when the U.S. annexes the island. It would cover you in terms of it being about a topic that may be somewhat obscure in American history (let's be honest, outside of Hawaii, how many "average" Americans know this story in any detail?). Plus, in a way, it could be history outside the U.S. (the next category) since Hawaii was an independent nation before the U.S. took it over. And again, this book also has lessons for today.
  • One book about a historical event or a period in history. Ok, they went outside the U.S., so shall we. One suggestion that comes to mind is Romeo Dallaire's Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda. However, it is a bit of a heavy book. Or you can pick one of Joe Sacco's graphic novels such as Safe Area Gorazde, about the war in Bosnia. 
  • One "classic" novel (pre-1910). I will admit that after graduate school, I had enough of the classics. But if you must, Ms. Neace's suggestions work. I would have added Stoker's Dracula. I would have skipped Dickens, since odds are good you already had it inflicted to you in school, most likely Great Expectations. That is more than enough to get a feel for Dickens. You may want to try The Picture of Dorian Gray to fill this category. Besides, you may have to read other Oscar Wilde works, so this will give you a start.
  • One "modern" classic (post-1910). Pedro Paramo is a very good suggestion. I had to read it in high school (in Spanish), but I have come to appreciate it a bit better over time. You could also give Gabriel Garcia Marquez a try. One Hundred Years of Solitude is considered his magnum opus. However, you can still get a good taste of this author if you pick up one or two of his short fiction collections, especially earlier ones. Many of these stories take place in Macondo, the fictional setting of the novel, so you can get a small taste that might encourage you to seek out the novel. As for Faulkner, which Ms. Neace suggests, I guess any is good. I personally do not recommend Faulkner (in fact, I hate it), but odds are good you may have to read at least one. So pick one up now and get a head start. For my money, go with the Latin Americans. Heck, here you can add cool people like Borges, Vargas Llosa, Fuentes, so on. Read those folks and skip the usual white guy. Oh, and before anyone says anything, if you want women, Isabel Allende (her earlier works) is a good bet.
  • One dystopian novel. By now, I think this is a genre that is starting to get saturated, especially in YA dystopias, and not in a good way. If you have not read the usual suspects: Bradbury, Huxley, and Orwell, you should, so pick them up. Maybe instead of Rand's Anthem, you might consider Zamyatin's We or Burgess' A Clockwork Orange (if you have not done so already). 
  • One young adult novel. I would suggest The House of the Scorpion for this category. By the way, this could also be your dystopian novel, but we are going YA here.
  • Something political (ideally a book that represents an opposing viewpoint). This is kind of tricky here. I would rather go with something that explains a bit about the current political climate and maybe helps you think instead of just picking a conservative book because you happen to be liberal or viceversa. Having said that, exposing yourself to opposing views once in a while is a good idea, if for no other reason than to know what your enemy/rival thinks. At any rate, for this I would recommend Deer Hunting with Jesus.
  • A graphic novel. Oh dear, where do I start? If you have not read Watchmen, or the only thing you know is the movie, you owe it to yourself to pick up the actual graphic novel. Yes, Maus is sort of a given, so if you have not picked it up, do it now. After those, if we stay "literary" (i.e. no comic books, heroes in tights and such), I would recommend Fun Home and/or American Born Chinese. If you want less "literary," the American Vampire series is one to pick up. I could go on with this, but you just need one for now. 
So those are my suggestions if I had to do this little RA exercise. What would my four readers add or take out? Feel free to comment. For instance, I saw in the comments over there that you could suggest poetry. There are a lot of choices for poetry. Short fiction collections? Other things?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Booknote: Gay in America

This is my review as I posted it on my GoodReads list. I would like to add that a friend of mine made the remark wondering why it only covered men. What, no women? I would like to think that either this book author or someone else would do a similar book for Lesbians in America. It is probably due. But for now, I think it is a powerful thing to have a book such as this so that men, both gay and straight, can see these men as they are: men and human beings. I think this is an important book, and thus I am sharing my review hoping others will consider reading it as well.

Gay in AmericaGay in America by Scott Pasfield
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This will go on my list as one of the best books I have read for 2012. Some reasons:

*Excellent photography. Pasfield catches the men in various angles and poses. The quality of the photos is very good. Part of the pleasure in browsing this book is seeing the subtle details and elements that Pasfield can capture.

*The stories. Gay men in the U.S. (and yes, when the title says "America," it's the "usual" meaning of the U.S.) are a very diverse set of people. Some of the stories are happy. Some are sad. All will move you in one way or another. I don't think two stories were "alike," and yet there are certain universal elements present. There is also an underlying sense of humanity, of compassion, of overcoming adversity, of inspiration. The best thing I can say for this is that this is a book that must be placed in the hands of more young men. For the young gay men, this book presents role models, both positive and negative, and it certainly shows that there are men out there like them. For straight men, so they can see that gay men are just like any other men.

*The men featured. The men represent a broad range of Americana so to speak. From cowboys to farmers, from hobos to successful entrepreneurs, from artists to scholars, these are men who strive to live good lives. Some struggle with being gay more than others. Some have found acceptance, and others are still seeking it. Some may fit stereotypes, and others defy or even break the stereotypes. And some just are. Some are liberal, a few are conservative (something I found curious given this country's notorious conservative hate of gays and lesbians, but in this case, I think I could at least empathize and see their point. The disdain that couple said they got from liberals is just as bad. It should not be that way).

We get to travel around the United States from coast to coast to read these stories. Some stories are long, and some are short. Some men are single, or in couples, or even a triad or two. The point is you can can't place them in a single box labeled "gay men." It does not work that way, and that may well be the best lesson of this book.

I think every library in this country, public and academic, needs to have a copy of this book. It certainly fits with GLBTQ studies, but it also goes with art and photography collections, and I would even tag it as a book about "Americana."

View all my reviews

Friday, June 22, 2012

Guardian's Top 100 Books of All Time, or Another Reading Meme

I saw this initially at CW Blogs Here. So, naturally, since I am a sucker for book lists, especially those made by pretentious news publications, I had to see how many I have read. I will highlight in bold the ones I have read. Any additional snark is mine:

The list:

1984 by George Orwell, England, (1903-1950)
A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen, Norway (1828-1906)
A Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert, France, (1821-1880) (I have read Flaubert, but not this one).
Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner, United States, (1897-1962) (I have read Faulkner, but not this particular book).
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, United States, (1835-1910)
The Aeneid by Virgil, Italy, (70-19 BC)
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, Russia, (1828-1910)
Beloved by Toni Morrison, United States, (b. 1931)
Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Doblin, Germany, (1878-1957)
Blindness by Jose Saramago, Portugal, (1922-2010) (This was one I hated. Odds are good I will not be reading Saramago again any time soon).
The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa, Portugal, (1888-1935)
The Book of Job, Israel. (600-400 BC)
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor M Dostoyevsky, Russia, (1821-1881)
Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann, Germany, (1875-1955)
Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, England, (1340-1400)
The Castle by Franz Kafka, Bohemia, (1883-1924)
Children of Gebelawi by Naguib Mahfouz, Egypt, (b. 1911)
Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges, Argentina, (1899-1986)
Complete Poems by Giacomo Leopardi, Italy, (1798-1837)
The Complete Stories by Franz Kafka, Bohemia, (1883-1924)
The Complete Tales by Edgar Allan Poe, United States, (1809-1849)
Confessions of Zeno by Italo Svevo, Italy, (1861-1928)
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor M Dostoyevsky, Russia, (1821-1881)
Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol, Russia, (1809-1852)
The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories by Leo Tolstoy, Russia, (1828-1910)
Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio, Italy, (1313-1375)
The Devil to Pay in the Backlands by Joao Guimaraes Rosa, Brazil, (1880-1967)
Diary of a Madman and Other Stories by Lu Xun, China, (1881-1936)
The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, Italy, (1265-1321)
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Spain, (1547-1616) (In the Baroque Spanish, mind you, and in high school).
Essays by Michel de Montaigne, France, (1533-1592) (I have read some of his essays, but never the whole book).
Fairy Tales and Stories by Hans Christian Andersen, Denmark, (1805-1875)
Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Germany, (1749-1832)
Gargantua and Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais, France, (1495-1553)
Gilgamesh Mesopotamia, (c 1800 BC)
The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing, England, (b.1919)
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, England, (1812-1870) (I have likely mentioned this before, but after having to teach it to high school freshmen, I have come to loathe this book. Dickens is also on my list of authors I am not reading again anytime soon).
Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, Ireland, (1667-1745)
Gypsy Ballads by Federico Garcia Lorca, Spain, (1898-1936) (I have read Lorca, but not this particular book).
Hamlet by William Shakespeare, England, (1564-1616)
History by Elsa Morante, Italy, (1918-1985)
Hunger by Knut Hamsun, Norway, (1859-1952)
The Idiot by Fyodor M Dostoyevsky, Russia, (1821-1881)
The Iliad by Homer, Greece, (c 700 BC)
Independent People by Halldor K Laxness, Iceland, (1902-1998)
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, United States, (1914-1994)
Jacques the Fatalist and His Master by Denis Diderot, France, (1713-1784)
Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Celine, France, (1894-1961)
King Lear by William Shakespeare, England, (1564-1616)
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, United States, (1819-1892)
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne, Ireland, (1713-1768)
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Russia/United States, (1899-1977)
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colombia, (b. 1928)
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, France, (1821-1880)
The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann, Germany, (1875-1955)
Mahabharata, India, (c 500 BC)
The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil, Austria, (1880-1942)
The Mathnawi by Jalal ad-din Rumi, Afghanistan, (1207-1273)
Medea by Euripides, Greece, (c 480-406 BC)
Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar, France, (1903-1987)
Metamorphoses by Ovid, Italy, (c 43 BC)
Middlemarch by George Eliot, England, (1819-1880)
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, India/Britain, (b. 1947)
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, United States, (1819-1891)
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, England, (1882-1941) (I have read Virginia Woolf, just not this book)
Njaals Saga, Iceland, (c 1300)
Nostromo by Joseph Conrad, England,(1857-1924)
The Odyssey by Homer, Greece, (c 700 BC)
Oedipus the King Sophocles, Greece, (496-406 BC)
Old Goriot by Honore de Balzac, France, (1799-1850)
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, United States, (1899-1961)
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colombia, (b. 1928)
The Orchard by Sheikh Musharrif ud-din Sadi, Iran, (c 1200-1292)
Othello by William Shakespeare, England, (1564-1616)
Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo, Mexico, (1918-1986)
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, Sweden, (1907-2002)
Poems by Paul Celan, Romania/France, (1920-1970)
The Possessed by Fyodor M Dostoyevsky, Russia, (1821-1881)
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, England, (1775-1817)
The Ramayana by Valmiki, India, (c 300 BC)
The Recognition of Sakuntala by Kalidasa, India, (c. 400)
The Red and the Black by Stendhal, France, (1783-1842)
Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust, France, (1871-1922)
Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih, Sudan, (b. 1929)
Selected Stories by Anton P Chekhov, Russia, (1860-1904)
Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence, England, (1885-1930)
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, United States, (1897-1962) (Again, read the author, but not this one book).
The Sound of the Mountain by Yasunari Kawabata, Japan, (1899-1972)
The Stranger by Albert Camus, France, (1913-1960)
The Tale of Genji by Shikibu Murasaki, Japan, (c 1000)
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, Nigeria, (b. 1930) (I read Arrow of God by Achebe instead).
Thousand and One Nights, India/Iran/Iraq/Egypt, (700-1500)
The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass, Germany, (b.1927)
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, England, (1882-1941)
The Trial by Franz Kafka, Bohemia, (1883-1924)
Trilogy: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett, Ireland, (1906-1989)
Ulysses by James Joyce, Ireland, (1882-1941)
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Russia, (1828-1910)
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, England, (1818-1848)
Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis, Greece, (1883-1957)

So, how did I do? I have read 33 books on the list, and at least  a few unlisted works from other authors listed. Not bad for a stuffy list of "classics." The Latin American stuff, with the exception of Garcia Marquez and Borges, I read mostly during my high school days. Other stuff I read in college or graduate school. The religious texts I read back when I had a set of holy writings from various religious traditions (long gone now since I had to weed my personal collection for a move), so I got to read various things that way.

Anyhow, there it is. If any of my four readers try this, feel free to comment and let me know. Any books you liked? Or hated? Or that you would like to read down the road? I know there are some here I want to read, and a few I personally do not give a hoot about.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Reading about the reading life, June 15, 2011

Here are the items about the reading life for this week that I have found interesting. I hope maybe my four readers will find some of them interesting as well. I will note that I am featuring some items in Spanish this week. In the end, it's all good.

  •  Book Riot reviews the site Underground New York Public Library. The site in question is a Tumblr blog that looks at what people read on their commute. How often do you find yourself trying to find out what is that one book that guy is reading sitting across from you in a subway, bus, etc.? I know I have done it. I will be adding it to my own Tumblr blog to follow. 
  • Via the Arabic Literature (in English) blog, here is a piece on book censorship in Kuwait. In a curious way, this is kind of like a "day in the life" kind of writing where you get to see a bit of how the book censor actually thinks. I think it is worth a look. I also feel that some of that censor's attitudes are alive and well in the U.S., even if we do not have "official" censors (on the other hand, we have plenty of unofficial ones).
  • From the PBS Newshour, a Q&A conversation with Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa. The writer speaks on the importance of literature. Video and transcript are available. I always enjoy listening to writers speak about their craft. Vargas Llosa is certainly one of the authors I wish I could meet during a dinner, or at least over coffee. My reading experience of Vargas Llosa has been mixed; I have enjoyed some of Vargas Llosa's works such as Pantaleón y las visitadoras and La fiesta del chivo. But I just could not get into such as La ciudad y los perros and Los cuadernos de don Rigoberto. By the way, while I do read his works in Spanish, the works I have mentioned are available in English translation. As my mother once told me, even great writers get a miss once in a while. However, he does remain a writer I am willing to read and explore. A hat tip to the Literary Saloon.
And finally, some items from the Papeles Perdidos blog, out of El Pais (Spain) newspaper: