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Book Club Books

This is the longest period of time I’ve gone without blogging. Life has been very busy lately, and I’ve had little time even to write the draft of my next novel. So far, I have written 180 pages. Still a ways to go. Anyway, last time I blogged, I said I would recommend books that I think would make good subjects for book club discussions. Here is the list:

There There by Tommy Orange. A heartbreaking look at Native American society and the long-term effects of oppression and loss.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. A historical novel about Koreans exiled in Japan after World War II.The reality of living as if a stranger in one’s own land is explored.

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza. Like Pachinko, this book explores the theme of living as if a stranger in one’s own land (this time, in the United States).

Less by Andrew Sean Greer. The hero travels the world to put off facing the fact he is an aging (50) gay man who is losing his appeal (or so he believes). Funny and self-deprecating.

Eleanor Oliphant is Comfortably Fine by Gail Honeyman. A highly unusual young woman deals with the challenges of everyday life.

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The Politics of Book Club Discussions

I recently hosted our monthly book club meeting where we discussed the young adult novel I’d suggested, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, by Erika Sanchez. I’ve read the book twice and found it funny, entertaining, and relevant, in terms of dealing with serious teen issues. Plus, I was able to relate to the Mexican American cultural aspects that it depicts. During our discussion, I got the impression the others weren’t crazy about the book, and they especially disliked the main character.

In the three years that I’ve been an active member of this group, I have sometimes been surprised at the reactions the others have had to the books that we’ve read. A couple of times, I have disliked the books we’ve read, while the others have enjoyed them. We usually do have a consensus one way or the other though. But if I’m outnumbered, I try to defend my position as diplomatically as possible. I would never come right out and say I disliked a book. That could cause hurt feelings. I have also made a point of reading each book cover-to-cover, even those that I disliked. I think it’s only fair to do that, unless you find you simply can’t get through a book you particularly loathe. I haven’t hated any book that much.

Though I hosted the book club at one of the library’s I managed years ago, that was part of my job, not my personal life. Being in the group that I’m in now has been an enjoyable social experience for me. It’s interesting to see the types of books the women choose to read and, of course, to participate in the discussion we share. On the downside, I’ve now read several books I didn’t want to read, and a couple I truly didn’t like. On the plus side, I have loved some books I otherwise might never have read.

Next month, I will blog about titles I think would make good choices for book club discussions.

How I Read a Book

Every time I pick up a book to read, I go through a particular routine. First, I must read the book jacket, including the blurbs on the back, the summary of the plot, and the author’s bio. If there is a photo of the author, I like to check that out, too. Of course, I also examine the cover’s artwork and how it might depict or represent the book I’m about to read. Then, if there is an introduction or a foreword, I will be sure to read it.  After following this routine, I’m ready to start reading the book.

Why do I practice this routine before reading any book? I really don’t know for sure, I can only speculate. Maybe it’s because I want to savor what I am, I hope, about to enjoy. Or maybe it’s simply a habit I can’t break.

Lately, I’ve encountered a problem with plot summaries on book jackets: spoilers! Why would the publisher allow that? I’ve come to dislike movie previews for that very reason; the preview often gives away too much of the plot. Likewise with book jacket plot summaries. Also, the foreword to a  book I recently read contained a spoiler! What’s going on here? I think this is shoddy, sloppy marketing. I love books. I love reading. I don’t appreciate it when my enjoyment of a story is partly ruined by poor marketing techniques.

The Importance of Reading to Your Children

I woke up at 2 a.m. this morning with an upset stomach. Something I ate last night didn’t agree with me. I spent a few hours in discomfort and then stayed in bed into the late morning to get some much-needed rest.

For some reason, this brief illness called to mind the many times I was sick when I was a child. I wasn’t a healthy kid. I suffered from asthma. If I caught a cold, it would often lead to breathing problems and then days of recovery and missed classes. These are not good childhood memories. However, there was a little upside to these sick days. You see, on the days when I wasn’t so sick that I couldn’t concentrate, Mom would read to me, usually from a book of fairy tales. Mom really wasn’t much of a reader herself, but she understood the importance of reading to her children. We had no color television,computers, tablets, or other technological goodies  that today’s kids enjoy. By reading, Mom kept me entertained and quiet. If my little brother happened to be sick at the same time, we’d sit together and listen to her read. Mom didn’t have much education–she had to quit school after the seventh grade–so she sometimes mispronounced the words she read. (For years, I thought Rapunzel was pronounced Rapoonzula.)

When I learned to read, I gobbled up as many books as I could get my hands on, one after the other. It’s no surprise I chose to become a librarian, and now I’m a writer. My siblings all went to college and became working professionals. One of my brothers has written books and articles in his field of work.

Mom influenced her children to understand the value of reading for forwarding one’s position in life, but also as a source of enjoyment. Thank you, Mom.

What’s in a Name?

Book titles are important. I have often selected a novel to read, attracted by its title alone. Most recently, I came across the novel My Sister the Serial Killer, which caught my interest and made me laugh. Of course I read the book, but it didn’t live up to my expectations. Yes, it was funny, like the title, but not as funny as I’d hoped. Still, I did read the book.

Some other novels I’ve read because of their titles include:

The Other Wife (Michael Robotham)–I couldn’t resist a story of bigamy.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter (Erika Sanchez)–exactly what it says it is.

Insomnia (Stephen King)–what can I say, I’m an insomniac.

It’s Not About the Accent (Caridad Ferrer)–what I expected, a story about Latina culture, is what I got.

When I started writing novels, my primary concern, of course, was developing a good plot. I didn’t begin to think about the title of my first novel until I was halfway done with the first draft. I initially chose the title, Tranquila, which sums up the state of confident happiness that the protagonist is trying to reach. One of my beta readers advised me to change the title, because it might be bypassed by English-language readers who could assume it’s a book in Spanish. I finally settled on the title, My Doormat Days, because it’s the coming-of-age story of a mousy young woman seeking to become more self-confident. It’s also a title that hints at the humor in the book. My most recent novel is titled White Mexican, about a young Mexican American woman struggling with her racial identity.

Each time I mention the titles of these novels in conversation, the reaction is positive. The titles draw attention and interest, which every author hopes will encourage people to read the book.

What I read: 2018

My annual review of the books I read in the previous year always turns up at least a couple of surprises for me. Here is the breakdown:

Total # of books read: 39

34 Fiction     5 Non-fiction

2 Young Adult    2 Childrens

22 by female authors and 17 by male authors

6 Mystery, 4 Science Fiction, 2 Romance, 5 Historical Fiction

6 by Asian American authors, 5 by African Americans, 7 by Latino Americans

I’m surprised by how many books on this list are by male authors, but I’m glad to see I’ve broadened my scope. I’m also surprised that I still read some genre fiction. I read many more mysteries and romances when I was younger, but lost some interest in those “formula” books over the years. Though I’ve never had an interest in science fiction, I have started reading more of it after viewing a DVD course on this genre last year. It’s a genre I plan to explore further in 2019. Happy Reading in 2019!

 

My Favorite 2018 Reads

Here is a list, in no particular order, of my five favorite reads (all novels) of 2018 (up to now, anyway–the year isn’t quite over yet):

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn. I could have read this book in 24 hours except I had to take time to eat and sleep. Unputdownable suspense thriller.

The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea. I laughed out loud often, and I smiled at the bittersweet finale of this saga of a family living near the US/Mexico borderline.

Kindred by Octavia Butler. A powerful depiction of slavery and its continuing aftereffect on modern American society (even though the present day in the book is 1976, it could just as easily be today).

The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera. A very good coming-of-age YA novel that focuses on the importance of appreciating the person you are and where you come from.

The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez. Yes, it’s a children’s book, but I think most readers would enjoy this story about learning to be comfortable in your own skin.