So, I told y’all about how I went to the library and got my entire life. Well, I’ve managed to zip through quite a few of those books this month, and I’m a happy reading camper. My method in the library is to walk the eyes of the fiction section and just look for things that catch my eye. Titles, authors, photos, descriptions…I’ll read pretty much anything that jumps out at me. I love doing this because I feel like it makes the library visit, and my life, more exciting. I went in with a clean slate, not knowing where the day or aisles would take me, and sometimes I leave and jump into a not-too-distant-future, a wealthy Bombay neighborhood, ancient China, a suburb of Chicago, 19th Century London streets—really, anywhere. What could be more amazing? I’ve discovered so many wonderful books and authors on these library missionary trips in my life, and I can’t even describe how happy I was to make my first-time-in-a-long-time trip to the library earlier this month. Let me tell you a bit about where I went.
Ancient China. One of the first things I grabbed was The Empress of the Bright Moon by Weina Dai Randel. When I read the description and saw that it was a sequel to The Moon in the Palace, I grabbed that too. These books follow a woman, Mei, born in ancient China to a nobleman and sent to be a concubine to the emperor at a young age. The writing of these two books varies; in some places it’s sharp and in some places, it’s muddled. But the characters are interesting and the story is compelling. Many aspects of the story are foreseeable, but some do creep up on you—this is usually because of an aspect of Chinese culture that you may be unfamiliar with. That’s the real reason I loved this story so much. Remember when Memoirs of a Geisha took the reading world by storm? I’m convinced that was moreso because it was a long gaze into a time and place with which the vast majority of readers were unfamiliar, but one that was both alluring and intoxicating. Same with these books. Icing on the cake? They are based on the life of a real woman, who was the only female ruler of Ancient China. That’s almost better than Mulan. Almost.
Modern India. My next stop was a trip to modern India to get acquainted with the friend foursome, Laleh, Kavita, Nishta, and Armaiti, as they deal with the news of Armaiti’s terminal condition. The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar is interesting not just because you get to see a snippet of Indian life, but also because you get to explore layers of that life that are not generally considered on the Western side. Hindu and Muslim relations, for example. Communist protests of students in the 70s. Homosexuality. More than just a Bollywood plot here. I don’t know if I would go so far as calling the writing great, but it was certainly thoughtful, elevated, and deliberate. The characters as well. I definitely recommend this one for the places, the people, and most of all, the humanity of it.
19th Century London. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde -by Robert Louis Stevenson was my first “white man” book of the year. Remember I told you that I wasn’t opposed to reading anything by a white male, I just wasn’t seeking it out. Well, my library strategy is less about seeking than it is finding, and when I saw this classic on the shelf, I figured now was as good a time as any to actually read it. It was incredibly short, and I must say, actually pretty interesting. As the introductory essay explores, this story is much different from the various manifestations of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that have evolved in popular culture over the last many decades. The writing was what writing was during that period, and the story is what everyone knows the story to be, but the underlying theme explored is an interesting one. Unlike the pop culture Dr. Jekyll, the one that Stevenson originally created was not obsessed with the experiment, but rather, infatuated with the possibility of indulging in his vices with no guilt or hindrances. Donald Tru….I mean Mr. Hyde is what happens when we don’t control our worst impulses.
Early 20th Century Dominican Republic. This one wasn’t a library take, but rather a book that my cousin loaned to me while we were on our way to Bali. Yes, I left the US to head to Bali with a book about the DR. World traveler on another level, ya heard? Anywho, I read The Autobiography of My Mother: A Novel by Jamaica Kincaid, which was somehow my first time reading her. The book was incredibly interesting because the central character is compelling but not endearing and the writing is stark but not great and the story is engaging but not eventful and most of all the novel follows a life but is obsessed only with death. It’s one of those books that you probably have to read more than once in order to truly decide how you feel about it, but you know for sure that the author has done something unique that will make you think for as long as you can stand trying to work it out in your mind.
I haven’t left the DMV this month, but I have traveled far and wide and it was pretty amazing. When I was little, I used to hike up to the library with a little wagon in tow so that I could carry back my take more easily. The books have changed, but I haven’t…thank God.