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.