Let me be Frank with you, by Richard Ford

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As I am writing this, I am trying to decide whether I want to finish this book or not…

let-me-be-frank-with-you-richard-fordThis was a book club pick, probably based on the fact that Richard Ford was the Princess of Asturias (Spain) award-winning for literature in 2016, but this particular book is a collection of short stories in which the main character, Frank Bascombe, is the character of three previous novels that, needless to say, I haven’t read. So I think this is not the most appropriate choice to start reading Ford.

Now regarding the stories (the book contains four short stories), Ford uses Frank Bascombe as an instrument to explain how it is to be American; and this has a good side and a bad side for a foreign reader. First the bad, which is basically the amount of references to situations or places that I can’t understand because I don’t share the author’s culture on this regard: I don’t know if he is being critic, sarcastic or funny when he addresses a certain neighborhood or town because it is assumed that the reader knows what he is talking about. And I have no idea; I didn’t get many of the points he tried to make. I don’t want to blame Ford entirely, for I am sure that some of the unseen references are plain ignorance of my part, but the cultural gap is there too.

However, what I did understand made me think I was reading a great book on American life. The two stories I read were basically an internal monologue of Bascombe, with no action, and through this character he addresses interesting issues like being black in a white neighborhood, how to be politically correct without being overwhelmed about being politically correct, or the problem with the American soldiers returning from Iraq to find that the idea of themselves and the country they were fighting for was just wrong. Bascombe is amusing because he is unable to act as a normal person, but I got to like the man – I agreed with him most of the time.

Well, maybe I have convinced myself a little towards finishing Let me be Frank with you, but what I am sure of is that I want to try another novel of Richard Ford. Perhaps Canada

Have you ever experienced this cultural gap with a book? I think it could be solved with a proper work of the translator explaining the things the reader has not knowledge of. It might be tricky because, as I said, I assume the reader’s ignorance plays its part, but not entirely impossible.

Let me be Frank with you
Richard Ford
Bloomsbury Publishing
240 pages

2016: a year in books

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So another year has passed and it’s time to review my bookish statistics – I love to do this every year!

2016-a-year-in-books

In 2016 I read 65 books, just enough to finish my GoodReads challenge! Of those 65 books:

  • 31 were written by women and 34 were written by men.
  • 12 were “my own damn books”, meaning books I owned before 2016 started.
  • 12 books were written by Spanish authors.
  • I read 14 books in English.
  • I listened to 16 audiobooks (all of them in English too).
  • 5 were ebooks.
  • I read 24 books borrowed from the library, thanks to the book club, but also because I’ve been browsing the library in search for short books to complete the challenge – I’ve discovered a handful of authors I want to read more of!

I will include more categories this year, such as author’s nationality, year of publication and fiction/non-fiction books, to make it more complete.

I’m really pleased with the amount of books I’ve read, and with the quality too: I think that we, as readers, know ourselves better every year so we chose reads we know we’ll enjoy. I have only read three books that I didn’t like or did not finished: one was a gift, another was a book club pick, and the other was my own choice.

Among the best of the year, I want to share with you the following:

best-books-2016

I have read the two novels of Anna Hope this year, and I enjoyed both, but I fell deeply for the characters in The ballroom.

Never let me go was an unexpected favorite in my list: a sad story of love and friendship with a premise so hard to assume.

Jodi Picoult is an author that always brings up ethical and moral issues, and in The storyteller she asks if a sweet old man should be forgiven from the crimes he comitted in the past.

Daybreak is a book written as a diary in which a woman has an affair with a man, and it’s so well narrated that one just can’t believe it hasn’t been written by the protagonist, but by a man!

Life after life made me think that what we call “right” or “the best for us” sometimes brings unhappiness.

And finally, The fireman was a thriller that made me realize that I should read more books of this genre, because I have such a good time with them!

*****

Hope this new year 2017 brings you wonderful reads.

Happy New Year!

When opening the letter box: Reasons to write letters

reasons-to-write-letters

Some time ago I wrote about my small collection of typewriters (here), and the fact is that the machines themselves have made me began to write more letters to friends, a hobby that I’m particularly enjoying lately. I don’t know if it’s part of this new trend of liking things of the past –hats, beards, spending less time online, etc.– but I find myself constantly seeing people on social networks writing on paper, either on journals, planners and, of course, writing letters to pen pals, and it’s making me be part of the trend.

I have always loved to send cards in Christmas and birthdays, or postcards when I am on holidays, and I have also received this discontinuous mail from other people, especially from my friends of my University years and the book bloggers I’ve got to know from all over my country, and now from abroad as well. It has slowly turned now into a habit: I write letters often, and the big difference is that I expect – and I usually get – a response from my correspondents. I love it!

So here I am, talking to the hidden correspondent you have inside, encouraging him to take a piece of paper and tell a friend how was your day, or just picking a card to say you were thinking of them.

Five reasons to write more letters

1. Letters make the person who receives them happy. Imagine: you are waking up today and, in another part of the world (why not?), someone’s day has been brightened thanks to you. And you don’t even have to write an eight-page letter; it’s fine if you begin by sending a greeting card or a postcard. Isn’t that awesome?

2. It is a way to disconnect. Not only do you have to write letters away from the computer or TV, disconnecting from the online world, but it also makes you stay away of the daily routine and stress as well.

The act of writing a letter requires calm and concentration, so you mentally spare a length of time in your schedule to devote to writing, thinking about the recipient and what you want to tell them. It is so intimate that I also like to light a candle and maybe listen to music while writing; I usually write my letters on Sunday evenings as a way to relax before starting the next week.

3. It improves your language skills. This is very different from writing an email because you have to actually think what you want to say before writing it down, or you’ll have to cross out half of your letter (no no no!).

My best friend confessed that she first writes a draft and then the real letter, to make sure she doesn’t make mistakes; that’s how elusive our self-confidence has become! Here is where I see the real value of sitting down, thinking about what you want to say and how, saying it in your head, and finally writing it on paper: it is a process that requires effort, like some kind of training and, with time, words began to flow in your head and it becomes easier.

If you think about it, as adults we only write things down on paper and without drafts when we take exams of some sort, if we take them, so our brains have lost some of their languages abilities since school/university, and it’s up to us bring them back again.

Needless to say, when you write letters in another language your language skills improve as well and, believe me, this sometimes is kind of a painful process, but totally worth it!

4. It is a creative activity. The act of writing itself is creative, but the culture around letter writing has evolved profoundly, as I have the opportunity of see every day on social networks.

  • There are people who put special effort in choosing their stationery and use their best calligraphy in order to write long letters that are a joy to behold (like Lizzelle’s letters).
  • Other people have transferred the art of scrapbooking to their letters, creating a totally new concept of mail: they don’t send letters, but create cards, books and other paper inventions to put together with their letters. Take a glimpse of this video (among thousands).
  • Finally, decorating envelopes has become a mandatory task in order to send cute mail, and there is also a wide range of examples, so to pick just one, look at this.

I am a newbie in this burst of creativity around the letter writing community, so what I try to do is copy the masters, try this washi-tape or that calligraphy, see if a typed letter looks good in this kind of paper, etc. I’m not any good, but I enjoy trying! (you can see some of my attempts on my Instagram)

5. It helps you to let go of the addiction to immediacy, because there is no room for rush when it comes to write a letter. There are unwritten rules about the maximum amount of time to wait for a reply to an email, whatsapp, tweet, etc., and in none of them is acceptable to delay your response more than a few hours.

That doesn’t work with letters. There are simply no rules: for a start, you don’t even know when your recipient receives the letter and, second, you don’t expect them to leave whatever they are doing and write you back right after reading it. Letters take time, time to reach their destinations and time to be created; and you want for your correspondent to find a serene moment to sit down, think about you, and devote herself to communicate with you. Because this, my dear, is the beauty and comfort of correspondence: when two people who are far away keep their appreciation for each other alive in the distance and time.

*****

So tell me, do you write letters? If not, do you feel more inspired to do so now?

Sweetness

I have no books to review, so let me tell you what happened today…

empty-benches

I attend to an activity for adults where, recently, a girl with Down syndrome is attending too. I guess her mother couldn’t schedule another hour for her, because she is very young (about 13 years old) and should be in school. Anyway, she is now in class with us – me and other women above 50 years old – but we hardly see her because the instructors make her do different exercises than what we do, so we only see each other at the beginning and the end of the class.

Thanks to my job, I have been in contact with other boys and girls with Down syndrome and I see everybody talks to them as if they are little kids, but that’s difficult to me because I have what I think is a disability to interact with children: I never know what to say, and I certainly can’t speak with that “voice” people use to talk to them, so I end up speaking in my normal tone and I simply ask questions in order to find something in common.

Anyway, everybody in the class seems to talk to this girl like she is a little kid as well, trying to tease her a little (in the good way), and I just smile to her, say hello and talk very little about what I would say to whoever else. She is not very talkative and, as I told you, we don’t see her very much.

But today, as we were arranging our stuff to go home (she is the fastest of all), she came to where I was and said me goodbye. She said, “Isa, goodbye.” Only to me. She even made my name hers, since people there call me Isabel. This girl made me feel so special and appreciated that lightened my day, and I thought that perhaps you would like to hear this little story.

It’s so simple to touch another heart…

The ballroom, by Anna Hope

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I received this book from Netgalley

the-ballroom-anna-hopeIn 1911, a young woman called Ella is confined in a mental asylum against her will. In her first moments there she tries to escape and catches the attention of John, another inmate who is working in the fields around the institution. But Ella’s attempt to flee doesn’t succeed and soon she finds herself getting used to the routines and the people of the asylum.

Charles, one of the doctors of the institution, is a frustrated musician who, in an attempt to bring his job and his calling together, is studying the effect that music has on the mentally ill people under his care, gathering the women in a music room during some hours of the day, and assembling a dance for the men and the women together every Friday evening in a magnificent ballroom inside the building – the only moment men and women are allowed to interact with each other. Charles’ revolutionary method seems to go very well, supplying the doctor with enough evidence to support that mental illness can be cured – the doctor wants to present his conclusions against the Eugenics movement, whose supporters think of castrating men with these mental conditions as the solution to the spreading of illness and poverty.

high-royds-asylumThe asylum where the book is set really existed.
Source.

As the previous novel of Anna Hope, I was hooked on the atmosphere of the book. Ella’s point of view is of a weak woman, scared of this new place where people are “crazy”, but secretly brave enough to try to find her way out. John’s chapters are more masculine and apathetic; he is always working outside in the fields whereas the women are always doing chores inside the building. But from his first meeting with Ella, the seed of freedom begins to grow, so he tries to bring little treasures from the outside world for Ella, taking risks to write and send her letters, and feeling like his old self again. On the other hand, Charles’ chapters talk about the way other people see the institution and how dangerous was to be considered “different” in that time, taking into account the healing methods in mental asylums.

This is probably the best novel I have read this year; from the story of impossible love between these two characters whose destiny are in others’ hands, to how easily one might confuse madness and sanity and who has the right to decide if you must be freed or locked in; I felt the author has created a wonderful story on the basis of mental health.

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The ballroom
Anna Hope
Published by Random House
320 pages

Memoirs, tales and short stories: mini-reviews from October’16 Readathon

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As I told you, I chose short books for the Readathon, and that was the best idea I ever had: I read five books during the event! And, this is remarkable, all of them were interesting and enjoyable reads. This was a surprise because I just browsed the library and borrowed books based entirely on their number of pages, without any further information about them but the synopsis on the back cover.

I read almost all of them in Spanish, but I have seen they have also been translated into English, so I am free to recommend them here on my blog  🙂

Bitter Herbs: The Vivid Memories of a Fugitive Jewish Girl in Nazi Occupied Holland (Marga Minco)

bitter-herbs-marga-mincoThis is a memoir of the author, and I think it is considered a classic in some Northern European countries, like The diary of Anne Frank.

The story starts when the German soldiers enter Marga’s town and, when she asks her father if they are going to deport the Jews, like they were doing in Germany, he says that ‘Something like that could never happen here‘. Her family didn’t want to leave the country and none of them survived except Marga.

It is a terrible story, of course, but the author doesn’t put any sentimentalism on the text; she just gives us her memories as facts for us to cover the passages with the fear and pain Marga must have felt in her youth.

Book on Goodreads.

The blue fox (Sjón)

the-blue-fox-sjonThis is a short tale set in the middle of the Nineteenth Century in Iceland. I thought I was going to read a story of men against nature, but I was very wrong.

The story starts with a priest chasing a fox for its fur but, as they move towards the mountains through the snow, the narration is interrupted to tell us what has happened those days in the village. There has been a death, and thanks to the preparations for her funeral, we are going to know the story of a girl who was “different”.

This is that kind of book you don’t want to talk about so much, for the prospective readers to discover the story by themselves. It is thought-provoking, sad and beautiful.

Book on Goodreads.

I wish someone were waiting for me somewhere (Anna Gavalda)

i-wish-someone-were-waiting-for-me-somewhereThis is a collection of short stories and, even though it is not a genre of my liking, I have to recommend it, because most of the stories are shocking, affecting the reader in one way or another.

What they have in common is the impact of one single event that, in less than a minute, changes everything. Apart from this, there are different genres, characters, situations, etc.

I specially liked three of them: a humorous story about two rich boys who take their father’s car without permission; one about a female veterinarian who has trouble making herself a place in a small village; and one about a salesman whose life has been destroyed by himself alone.

Book on Goodreads.

Getting ready for October’16 #Readathon!

I have been planning this event all week, and I want to share with you part of the fun.

This year I’m not reading as much as I used to mainly because my Law studies prevent me from having free time (to say the least). At the beginning of the week I saw on GoodReads that I am nine books behind my goal, so I began browsing my bookshelves and my local library in search of very short books (no more than 100 pages) in order to cheat try and save the challenge. So that is basically what I plan to do in the Readathon.

Preparations

Well, first things first: the food!

apple-pie

I made an apple pie as my main source of calories for the Readathon lol, and I also went to the cake shop to buy some chocolate muffins (because an apple pie is too much healthy, right? haha).

Don’t worry about my feeding, for I also bought some real food in the supermarket that is going to be cooked tomorrow morning (the Readahon starts at 2 pm here in Spain, so I have plenty of time for housework).

libraryRegarding books, today after work I made the last trip to the library and I got five short books on several genres (memoirs, tales, short-stories, etc.) all by European authors, translated into Spanish. I also bought a book a month ago (The totally geeky guide to The princess bride) with the Readathon in mind.

I’m also listening to an audiobook (Law of success, by Napoleon Hill), and tomorrow I’ll take it with me for my walks and errands.

Goals

books-for-the-readathon

As I told, I have been reading some short books this week so I started being 9 books behind schedule and now I’m 6 behind. And my pile of books has this six books so… I want to read them all and be on track again!

In the past readathons I only read an average of 300 pages because I got stuck on social media and all the wonderful mini-challenges, but one can dream, right? Besides, this time I will be reading primarily in Spanish so I think I’ll go faster.

Anyway, all I want is to have fun.

See you tomorrow on twitter and Instagram!  ❤

The lost diaries of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, by Sarah Bates

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I received this book thanks to Virtual Authors Book Tours

the-lost-diaries-of-elizabeth-cady-stanton-sarah-bates

The lost diaries of Elizabeth Cady Stanton is a work of fiction based on the early life of this historical figure, Elizabeth Cady Stanton: her family background, her education, and her willingness of being equal as any men from an early age; all of which is presented in small chapters narrating some events, followed by the possible entry that could have been written in this girl’s diary.

Elizabeth was born in a wealthy family and was exposed to the law, and the inequality of it regarding men and women rights, thanks to her father, the judge Daniel Cady. She liked, from an early age, to take part in the lessons and discussions that her father assembled at home with his students and, being Mr. Cady an abolitionist, she took some of his ideas as her own.

She fought hard to get an education further than what was expected for a girl like her, and she always presented herself like an equal to the men she encountered on parties and other social gatherings, trying to make points in conversations that were not supposed to be suitable for women. This behaviour, perhaps, didn’t make her a good match at the eyes of the prospective husbands of her time, but it certainly gave her the opportunity to choose a husband whose ideals match her own, as finally happened.

I found the book interesting – a great portrait of the time and personal background of this woman, addressing all the important events in her life, such as her academic awards, the death of her older brother, her approach about the abolition of slavery, a setback caused by the influence of the Revival meetings when she was a student, her forbidden love for her brother-in-law, etc. However, I have to say that sometimes the narration appeared as a mere description of events, lacking the emotional display needed in some scenes (to my liking, at least). Besides, the opening of the book introduces Elizabeth in her sixties, about to give a lecture, and then goes back to her childhood until the last chapter, when I had forgotten all about the lecture and the characters involved in the first chapter, which was kind of a shock because I didn’t remember what was happening and why now one of the characters was upset.

But, in summary, I have to say that I really enjoyed knowing about this historical figure. The book fulfills its role as an introduction of the early years of Elizabeth and how she became the strong-minded woman who fought for women rights and the abolitionist movement later in life.

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The lost diaries of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, by Sarah Bates
420 pages
Book on Amazon
Book on Goodreads
Follow the tour

Sarah Bates’ website

Summer thrillers 2016 (#MiniReviews)

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Summer is definitely a time for reading thrillers. I enjoy sitting down in the coolest room at home and turn pages like crazy, oblivious to the heat outside, trying to make the summer pass a little faster too…

Here is a quick summary of what I have read lately on this genre.

I am Pilgrim, by Terry Hayes

i-am-pilgrim-terry-hayesDo you like books on Islamic terrorism? Neither do I, and that’s why you have to read this book! The author turns a subject I actually dislike into a story I was hooked on from beginning to end. That is something, don’t you think?

The book follows the advances of the ultimate terrorist on his master plan to destroy the western culture – a plan which has been carefully designed throughout his entire life and admits no failure – and his nemesis: an American secret agent, the best among the best. The action mixed with the protagonists’ backgrounds makes this book fascinating. I was so tense and edgy while reading it that, in a way, it was a relief when it finished. One never knows if it’s going to end well or not.

5/5 stars

Method 15/33, by Shannon Kirk

method-15-33-shannon-kirkThis is a story of a pregnant teenager that has been kidnapped, but she is an exceptionally gifted child, and her captors are the ones who should be scared, for she plans to make them pay.

This story is pure entertainment and the main character, being so different from a normal sixteen-year-old girl, together with the peculiar personality of one of the agents that are trying to find her, make you have a great time. Nevertheless, I expected a different momentum in the story, and the epilogue was too long for my liking, and that’s the reason it doesn’t have many stars.

3/5 stars

Girl on the train, by Paula Hawkins

girl-on-the-train-paula-hawkinsEverybody knows this one already!

Yes, I was hooked on at the beginning. Yes, I enjoyed it. BUT I read a book at the beginning of the year written by the French Pierre Lemaitre that had the same plot twist and was so superior to Girl on the train in many aspects, that I couldn’t avoid comparison between the two. And Hawkin’s book loses.

I’m sorry, I expected more excitement.

3/5 stars

Buxton Spice, by Oonya Kempadoo (a #diverseathon book)

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When I signed in on Twitter after the exams I saw everybody talking about a discussion generated on BookTube that crystallized in a “diverse-a-thon”, meaning a week for reading “diverse” books and learn intentionally about other cultures, religions, races, sexual orientations, etc., through your reads. I didn’t have to look so far, for I had already a book from the library set in Guyana that fitted perfectly for the purpose of the event.

buxton-spice-oonya-kempadooBuxton Spice is a coming-of-age story narrated by a pre-teen girl in a fictional village of this Caribbean country, surrounded by an atmosphere of political change and ethnical disturbances that makes the discovery of her new sexual nature even more disturbing.

I think that the main goal of the book is to describe how girls’ sexuality is developed within this community, with Lula and her friends as guides. At the beginning of the narration the girls’ approach towards sex is an amusing one; it’s something they witness on a daily basis so, even though they don’t understand it completely, they joke and play games about it. However, Lula’s encounter with one of the village’s boys, make her actually feel it, and that changes her.

The discovery of sexuality is the theme of the book, and I have to say that sometimes it is overwhelmingly so; it’s an environment in which sex is everywhere and young girls want to be part of it too because they are somehow exposed and expected to be so, but they are still so misinformed and naïve, trying to make sense of their new sensations. So if you, as a reader, have any prejudice towards this subject on books, this may not be of your liking.

Anyway, I am glad I have read the book because the author makes you take part in this community, which is so different from what I have experienced; and I am embarrassed to say that I didn’t even know where Guyana was in the map – such is the size of my ignorance, which was sorted out thanks to this story. However, there were aspects of the novel that didn’t like that much. For example, the narration sometimes is focused on describing certain characters and, therefore, lacking action and making the read slow and, when there are actually events happening, you don’t feel them connected. Besides, and that is my own handicap to blame, the language used in the book is that of the dialect or the accent of the people of this country, and I really had trouble in understanding some of the conversations.

Nevertheless, Buxton Spice is an interesting read with a subject not wide spread through literature in a country where most of us haven’t read books set in, and those are points to take into account when looking for diverse reads, aren’t they?

rakin3Did you participate in the diverseathon? Do you have any recommendations?

Buxton Spice
Oonya Kempadoo
Published by Phoenix (UK and Canada)
Paperback, 184 pages