The Best Place for Books

I don’t buy books . . . well, not usually, anyway. Occasionally I will purchase an e-book edition of a currently “hot” title because I can’t wait to read it, and it’s less expensive to buy the electronic version (though e-books, like most things, have increased in price over the years). Most books I read are borrowed from the library. As someone with a long career in libraries, I support my local library by using it. Unfortunately if I’m eager to read a new popular title, I either have to wait for it to decrease in popularity and become more available, or get on a waiting list. I don’t have the patience to sit on a waiting list; I want to read a book when I want to read it, not when the library tells me it’s my turn. So sometimes, if I don’t go ahead and buy the book–and I usually don’t–I put the title on my own personal to-read list and wait until a later date when it becomes more readily available at the library.

Sometimes I visit my local bookstore to browse and buy bargains, books reduced in price to six dollars or less. I have found some real jewels that way (e.g.The Mango Bride by Marivi Soliven and Waking Up in the Land of Glitter by Kathy Cano-Murillo). But my latest visit yielded no precious finds. I was disappointed by the lack of significant bargain books. My husband commented that this could be a sign of an improved economy. In other words, the bookstore might be doing better business and hence doesn’t have to sell as many items at a bargain price. That’s good for the bookstore, I guess, but too bad for me.

Though I enjoy browsing and occasionally buying at the bookstore, there is no better place than the library to find the kind of books I especially like to read: novels by authors of color. The bookstore is sorely lacking in fiction by diverse authors. For those novels, I rely on the library.

A Summary of My 2016 Reads

In 2016 I honored my pledge to read 52 books, one for each week of the year. It’s not a pledge I will repeat for 2017. While I certainly enjoyed most of the reads, I found myself finishing books I would ordinarily have tossed aside because of boring plots or poor writing. I continued to read such books because I didn’t want to lose the time invested toward attaining my goal. Not a good reason to spend hours with a story that isn’t satisfying! In 2017 I’ll choose my reads carefully and set aside any that I don’t want to finish, for whatever reason, because I won’t set a numerical goal.

At the end of the year, Goodreads provided a summary of the books I read: The shortest was Chicana Falsa by Michele Serros, the longest was Night Film by Marisha Pessl, and the highest rated title (on Goodreads) was Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, which was also one of my favorites of 2016.

Here are some of my own stats based on my 2016 reads:

–I read 15 books by Latino authors

–11 are written by males

–1 is by an African-American author, 4 by Asian authors

–10 are mysteries

–4 would be considered chick lit

–2 are considered classic fiction

–seven are nonfiction

–two are sci-fi and two are westerns

Nothing about this summary surprises me, but I am disappointed to realize I only read one book by an African-American. That will be the only reading goal I will set for 2017: read more books by African-American authors.

The Year’s Favorites

I reached my goal to read fifty-two books for the fifty-two weeks of the year. Hooray! Here is a list of my five favorites, in no particular order:

Being Mortal by Atal Gawande

This is a hard-hitting, detailed look at death and dying, how it affects the sufferer of illness and frailties of old age. It’s a topic most of us would prefer to avoid, but Gawande underlines the reasons we shouldn’t.

Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez

A grim story of racial tensions in Texas of the 1930s, but one I couldn’t put down.

Chicana Falsa by Michele Serros

I relate to the late Michele Serros and her writings about Mexican-American cultural identity.

My Antonia by Willa Cather

A tale of the immigrant experience at the turn of the 19th century in Nebraska. It is still relevant to today’s society.

A House of My Own by Sandra Cisneros

There is no other writer like Cisneros. This memoir is written with heart, humor, and poetic sensibility.

Happy New Year, and may it bring you many happy reading experiences.

 

Change of Habit

Brave New World (Aldous Huxley) is a classic science-fiction novel that has been made into a film more than once. Also, a future adaptation is planned as a scripted series for the SyFy Channel, which I look forward to watching one day. I love sci-fi movies and TV shows but don’t read much in the genre. That might be because often the plot and science seem to predominate over characterization in sci-fi stories, at least in those few that I’ve read, including Stranger in a Strange Land (Robert Heinlein) and Black Moon (Kenneth Calhoun), just to name a couple. Of course there are exceptions such as Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series and Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games series, which are both rich in character as well as plot.

Brave New World impressed me because it has an interesting plot plus some solid characters with depth. Though written in the 1930s, it is relevant to today’s reader because of its theme of government vs. individualism. Just a couple of weeks ago I read another sci-fi title, Parable of the Sower (Octavia Butler). Again, this is a novel with strong characters and a story relevant to our current day. It tells of a world that has crumbled under the effects of global warming.

Given that my recent sci-fi reads have been satisfying, I might reconsider my opinion of the genre and sample more in the future.

YA?

I enjoy a good YA novel now and then. These books are usually easy reading with fast-paced stories. But I was somewhat surprised with Out of Darkness, a YA novel by Ashley Hope Perez. The writing is sophisticated, the pace–at least initially-is slow, and the story is tragic, dealing with serious issues of racism and child abuse. It seems to me the only feature that qualifies it as a young adult story is the age of the protagonist. She is a teenager, and so is her love interest. Based on this book, I have to assume that young adult readers are more sophisticated than during my teen years. Look at Suzanne Collins’s popular series, The Hunger Games, with its dark, dystopian setting. YA books are often read by adults as well. In the past couple of years I have read Echo, by Pam Munoz Ryan, It’s Not About the Accent by Barbara Caridad Ferrer, Survive the Night by Danielle Vega, and Honey Blonde Chica by Michele Serros. Most of these books deal with heavy topics (for example, Japanese internment during WWII, date rape). Out of Darkness is a shockingly stark look at racism during a particular period of US history. Does that mean it’s too harsh for a young adult reader? Not in my opinion. Indeed, it is an eye opener.

Characters

Author Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon is one of my favorite fictional characters; but after reading Boar Island, her latest, I’ve come to realize that perhaps Anna is fading into the background in these books. Maybe Barr has explored the character as much as she could, and now a happy Anna is simply not the compelling heroine she once was. Anna has resolved her issues with alcohol and overcome the severe depression she suffered after her young husband’s death. A happy character doesn’t necessarily make such an interesting read.

I love character-driven fiction. I recently got to thinking about fictional characters I’ve met this year that made stories so much better because of their individual quirkiness, temperament, or sense of pathos. Following is a list of such characters, in no particular order.

Lauren Oya Olamina (Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler): A young woman who through her strength of character leads a group of survivors in dystopian California to seek a better life.

Mike and Frankie Flannery (Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan): Two orphans who suffer such hardships that Mike can no longer bring himself to hope. Yet Frankie’s sweetness and optimism remain intact.

Juniper Song (the star of Steph Cha’s mysteries): A young private eye who is older than her years. Similar to early Anna Pigeon, she struggles with loss and alcohol.

Ana FaNelli (Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll): Ani’s air of sophisticated snobbishness masks a painful past.

Frey and McGray (private detectives in Oscar Muriel’s mystery series): These guys make a funny, entertaining pair, a bromance. Frey comes off as too prissy for the kind of work he does, but paired with the wild and crazy Scot, McGray, the team works.

Shirley (Shirley by Susan Scarf Merrell) Though she’s in a novel, Shirley is not fictional. The character is the fascinating real-life writer, Shirley Jackson. Merrell brings her back to life with stark realism.

Antonia (My Antonia by Willa Cather): A woman who epitomizes the immigrant experience, yet she is no stereotype.

 

I Love Libraries

Tuesday night I had a wonderful experience presenting and signing my books at the East Los Angeles Library, where I worked as a librarian for ten years. Of course it was rewarding to sell and sign copies of my book; but even more rewarding was the opportunity to speak about my passion for libraries. My second book, Silence, Please, is partly set in a library, where the three main characters work. The primary reason I selected such a setting was to present an accurate picture of how libraries and librarians work. The characters are not stereotypes, and the work situations they encounter are based in reality.

However, rather than focus my talk on the book, I stressed the importance of libraries in our society, and how they depend on local politics and the support of the community for their successful operation. I also told the story of how I learned to read in the library where my siblings would take me after school when I was in the first grade. Back then, I was having a tough time keeping up with the other kids in class because their reading skills were already in place. Having skipped kindergarten, I barely knew my ABCs. My siblings read to me in the children’s department of the library, and that’s where I learned to read. I love libraries for introducing me to the books I love.

Now . . . about books . . . The past week I read Michael Nava’s City of Palaces, which is a historical novel set in Mexico City. I love the exquisite language the author employs to describe the city and lives of the people in pre-revolutionary Mexico. I respect writers of historical fiction for the research they must do to bring an era to life for their readers. Nava also raises interesting points about race and racial conflict in the Mexico of that period. I highly recommend his book to anyone seeking to learn more about Mexico’s history. It is the first of a planned series of four volumes.