Adventures in Reading

Fiction: Days of Awe by Achy Obejas, 2001

Revolutions happen, I’m convinced, because intuition tells us we’re meant for a greater world. If this one were good enough, we’d settle, happy as hens, and never rise up. But we know better: We feel the urge, ardent and fallible as it may be, for a kind of continual transcendence” (italics from the original text).

Alejandro San Jose was born the day Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba and her family, like many others, left the country. And in Achy Obejas’ Days of Awe we experience Alejandro’s struggle to comprehend her family, her past, her culture, and herself as a cubana. The story covers a somewhat vague period of time in Alejandro’s adult life as she travels back and forth from Cuba and in and out of relationships.

The second book for my Lambda Challenge and, well really, just wow. Days of Awe is beautifully written and Obejas Some of my favorite passages were Obejas’ explanations of the Spanish language such as American’s use of the verb love versus the Cuban use of the verbs querer, amar, and gustar. Days of Awe explores a gamut of complexities from imperialism to Cuba’s revolution, Judaism and Catholocism, as well as thematic issues of secrecy. Obejas’s latest book Ruins is due out March of 2009.

Conclusion: Keeper.

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Bookends: School Days

Did I ever get around to mentioning that classes started? I have another round of Spanish (and have been appreciating Out of the Blue’s posts on Spanish learning tools) and am also taking a course on writing center theory into practice. Both courses are keeping me quite busy, which unfortunately distracts me from reading. Every now and then I walk by my growing TBR stack (now with two new ARCs) and I cringe. I’m tempted to dismember it, but there are so many books on it that I want to read!

I’ve also started a second job, which was interesting (and rather amusing) because during the application process I had to sign a terrorist exclusion page to ensure my future employers that I am not a terrorist. So readers be assured that I checked “no” in all of the appropriate boxes and Adventures in Reading continues to be ran by a terrorist-free personage.

P.S. I am waiting with great anticipation for the 2008 Best American Short Stories edited by Salman Rushdie.

Nonfiction: How I Learned English edited by Tom Miller

“To tell you the truth, the hardest thing about coming to this country wasn’t the winter everyone warned me about—it was the language… For the longest time I thought Americans must be smarter than us Latins—because how else could they speak such a difficult language. After a while, it struck me the other way. Given the choice of languages, only a fool would choose to speak English on purpose.” – from ¡Yo! by Julia Alvarez

As part of my efforts to learn Spanish, I’ve been exploring a variety of Spanish related materials. How I Learned English is a collection of 55 essays written by Latinos ranging from professional baseball players to union men, admired authors to politicians and their experience with learning the English language. Each of these essays, as the title may have given away, is the writer’s story of learning English. The stories are sad, inspiring, and funny.

However, I confess I chose to read the book to broaden my perspective on language acquisition tools. Though the majority of the writers found themselves in a situation where they had to learn a foreign language, that didn’t slow me down from picking up different language learning techniques. Some ideas to add to my repertoire: Spanish speaking television series or telenovelas like La Fea Mas Bella (a.k.a. the original Ugly Betty), magazines in foreign languages, thinking out tasks in foreign languages, recording myself speaking in Spanish to work on pronunciation, and allotting myself a daily amount of Spanish words to acquire.

How I Learned English is a great book for people wanting to learn any language – it’s not exclusive to English or Spanish. It provides an interesting perspective of immigrants and the passion and failures that come attached to the new experience of a foreign language. Frank McCourt, famed Irish author of Angela’s Ashes, wrote the afterword and says “Politics aside, you can only admire the millions who came here and are still coming, who climb the highest mountain of all-the English language.”

Conclusion: Returned to library.

Nonfiction: The Sum of Our Days by Isabel Allende

“In the second week of December, 1992, almost as soon as the rain let up, we went as a family to scatter your ashes, Paula, following the instructions you had left in a letter written long before you fell ill.”

Perhaps the most interesting part of The Sum of Our Days by Isabel Allende is actually the narrative style of the autobiography: all 301 pages are written as if it were a letter to her dead daughter Paula. In small experience with autobiographies, they are often written as interviews (e.g. Barbara Walter’s) or tabloids. Allende, however, has infused The Sum of Our Days with the same polish and passion her fictional works receive.

Paula, Allende’s first autobiography (which I have not read), covers what easily is scene as the more interesting aspects of Allende’s life: her parents, life in Chile, escaping Pinochet, her first marriage and raising her children, moving to the U.S.A. and marrying the love of her life, and finally the death of her oldest child Paula. In contrast, The Sum of Our Days more or less is a collection of retrospective essays on Allende’s “tribe” or family and their growth, heartbreaks, and enjoyments.

Though this second book is more home based and family centered, it’s passionately written with inflections of Allende’s political and metaphysical beliefs. The collection covers estrangement, karma, travel, sexuality, and so much more. I confess that I now have a new appreciation for Allende (Dare I say I even have a bit of a crush on her?) and her novels.

Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende

So I’ve done it again: I have a growing stack of books I keep intended to write up but forget so the stack keeps getting larger. Even with the amount of studying and preparation I’ve been doing for my classes, I have still been reading fairly steadily.

Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende is my second book by Allende. After my disappointment with Inés of My Soul, I did not get around to picking up another book until nearly a year later. Daughter of Fortune is the story of Eliza, an orphaned Chilean taken in by British aristocrats in the colony of Valparaíso. She is seen very much as a daughter by the spinster sister Rose, who takes periodic interest in the child and the rest of Eliza’s youth is spent with Mama Fresia in the kitchen. Once Eliza hits puberty Rose takes a great interest into grooming Eliza into a proper young woman so the orphan can make a good and prominent match. That is, until Eliza falls in love with Joaquín, is impregnated, and hides a stowaway to track him through the California wilderness he left her for in search of gold.

Daughter of Fortune also is a book of class status and escaping one’s birth. Allende explores this with Rose, but also with the defiant and unsettled city of San Francisco compared to the strict and reserved culture of Chile. In this environment Allende also guides Eliza through racism, interracial relationships, and sexual exploration. Daughter of Fortune explores the power and lust of first love as well as how love can effect someone. In some ways, I found this novel very similar to Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Marquez, but admit that I am quite partial to Allende’s retelling of such themes of love.

Other opinions: Katrina’s Reads, Fizzy Thoughts.

The Rosetta Stone: Spanish (Latin American)
June 17, 2008, 9:06 am
Filed under: thoughtful | Tags: ,

Granted, Adventures in Reading really has nothing to do with foreign languages but when I was attempting (attempting being the keyword) to find various opinions out there on the Rosetta Stone I did not have a lot of luck. Sure, Amazon sports some reviews but reading them everyone just seemed a little too satisfied. Not that I think there is some crazy Rosetta Stone conspiracy sweeping the net, but really, this is a program that is so perfect there is no criticism?

So I purchased it.


And it wasn’t for me. The one outstanding thing I can say about Rosetta Stone is if you purchase it directly from then online you can return the program within six months for a full refund with no hassling. I got the program and I used it quite diligently, but I found it designed for someone who has never, ever experienced a foreign language or has a distant past experience. As someone currently between classes it really was not any help at all. However, before I suggest this to beginners I do have a friend who tried Rosetta Stone with no previous experience in the language and found it really difficult understanding abstract terms of language like saying the book is here or the book is there.

I have found the Speak in a Week program, a copy of Cisneros House on Mango Street in Spanish, some Spanish music, and the odd Spanish film to be as much if not more help than the Rosetta Stone. If you want language immersion you can get it for a lot less than the $300 or so price tag that accompanies Rosetta Stone. But if you do have the $300+ to spend I suggest trying to find a local Spanish course.

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June 6, 2008, 6:48 pm
Filed under: thoughtful | Tags: , , , ,

I had some disappointing news the other afternoon that the bookstore I work at is cutting back hours and quite a few people working full time went to part time hours. Myself included. Thus, for better or worse, I have started seeking new employment. I’ve yet to decide whether I would completely leave the bookstore or continue to work a few hours a week. If I did leave I would definitely miss the store and the people.

I am trying to be positive as I can about this though. I never intended on staying permanently at the store, and this is perhaps the nudge I needed to get me to explore a new job path. A different job could mean better pay and I do graduate at the end of the year. Additionally, I have been researching and considering joining the Peace Corps, and I have mostly decided to submit an application by the end of August. I have a summer course in Spanish sneaking around the corner as well, and as I am not under any too immediate financial worries the extra free time can be used for some much needed Spanish review.