April was a pretty good month – I celebrated my birthday and our wedding anniversary and I did a fair amount of reading. I have one month left with my job, and then I’m free to read all day instead of teach! I’m excited for that, but for now I’m just trying to keep up with at least a book a week.
Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
I read this with the English book club I lead at a local library! I took over the book club for a friend and it was exciting to discuss books with non-native speakers. I even get paid to choose the books and lead the discussion every week, so that’s a nice bonus! I chose this sci-fi that doesn’t read like a sci-fi for the first book of the year and I think it lent itself nicely to our discussions. I’d seen the movie before so I knew basically what the plot was and who the characters were, but the book did a much better job of developing the characters and giving me a sense for how each character felt.
I really love Ishiguro’s writing style. His prose flows nicely and captures one’s attention fully, engrossing the reader while taking them on a journey. A lot of the book club members, all native Korean, also enjoyed the book and the topics it presents. A lot of them had never seen the movie and were entirely shocked at the events that transpired. I’d definitely recommend this one and I think it should be taught in schools.
Exit West – Mohsin Hamid
I listened to this on audio on my bus ride to work and it only took a few trips to and from work to finish. I had heard a lot of good things about it and had seen the cover art everywhere on must-read book lists, so I was excited to be a part of the hype. The audio version was read by the author, who had a nice voice that was easy to listen to. I loved the opening and the first few chapters of the book, and was excited by the way it set up the plot. I hadn’t ever read a synopsis, so I went in not knowing what to expect.
However, I was kind of disappointed by the middle and ending, as the story veered into random side stories every so often, which really confused me. Some of the side stories were interesting, but others were boring and I wished I could have skipped them. The story was about a war-torn city and two lovers who fled and dealt with their new lives. However, I don’t think the character development was all there, and I wish the side stories had been omitted in favor of more about the main characters. It wasn’t a bad read, I just loved the beginning and didn’t love the ending.
At Home in the World – Tsh Oxenreider
This is a non-fiction travel memoir about a family of five who traveled the world for a year, starting in China and ending in Europe. The family visited over 10 countries and stayed quite a while in many of them. The book is written by the mother, Tsh, who does an amazing job at describing what adventures they got up to, how everyone felt, and how she grew as a person. The family stayed in long-term rentals here and there, occasionally staying with friends, and I loved reading about each new location. They snorkeled at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and spent a month on a working olive oil farm in France. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, and they had a lot of uncomfortable nights as well. The three kids all grew up over the course of the year and I really got a sense of what it must be like traveling with kids.
Down and Out in Paris and London – George Orwell
I admit, I’ve probably never read an entire Orwell. I know we read Animal Farm in high school, and while I would probably love its symbolism now, I absolutely hated it as a high schooler. I thought it was boring and I think my school curriculum should have replaced it with this book. This book was an absolute gem. I’d never heard of it until recently, and it immediately stood out as something I might like. I think it was cheap on the Kindle store, so I bought it right away.
The book is cited as a memoir but others say it’s somewhat fictional. I choose to believe that it’s a little more embellished than not, but Orwell did, in fact, live in Paris and London for a while in probably similar conditions as he does in the book. It was published in 1933 and is a very realistic account of what was Paris and London to those who are destitute. The book is about how Orwell loses his job as an English tutor, forcing him to give up the room he had been renting. He lives on less than 5 francs a day for most of the time after this, and he meets other homeless who comically and endearingly try and fail to help him get back on his feet.
He ends up working at a restaurant, and then another, and eventually he moves to London for a job, only to find that the job won’t be available for another month, so he again lives on pennies, meeting interesting people along the way. Again, I wish this book had been required reading in high school. It’s an absolutely realistic view of what it must have been like being homeless and broke in the 1930s, and most of it is probably similar to today. There were so many amazing quotes that I highlighted when reading this, but here’s just one:
Yet if one looks closely one sees that there is no essential difference between a beggar’s livelihood and that of numberless respectable people. Beggars do not work, it is said; but, then, what is work? […] An accountant works by adding up figures. A beggar works by standing out of doors in all weathers and getting varicose veins, chronic bronchitis, etc. It is a trade like any other; quite useless, of course—but, then, many reputable trades are quite useless. […] He seldom extracts more than a bare living from the community, and, what should justify him according to our ethical ideas, he pays for it over and over in suffering. I do not think there is anything about a beggar that sets him in a different class from other people, or gives most modern men the right to despise him.
I’d strongly implore everyone to read this book. It’s a cool look back on how Paris and London were in the 30s and what people thought and how it was to work in a kitchen or a hotel. It’s also full of old English slang and he even has a dictionary for some of it, wishing that people would write down lists of slang by year in order to compare it in the future! What an amazingly witty, talented, and hysterical guy he must have been. I smiled or laughed while reading most of this, just because I loved the way he wrote so much. For more info on the background of the book, go here.