authorbookreviews

Second Person Singular

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I met Sayed Kashua once. A friend of a friend, we were introduced after a screening of Write Down-I am an Arab, a documentary about a renowned Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. I found him intimidating. Kashua, not Darwish. His mood that day can easily be explained by the timing of our meeting—we’d just come out of the discussion about the film and the life of Mahmoud Darwish, and inevitably, the conversation had turned to the life and status of Arab Israelis. My friend Mira Award (who’d adapted Darwish’s poetry to her original music for this project) and Sayed Kashua (who himself is an Israeli Arab journalist and novelist, writing primarily in Hebrew) were poised and polite in the face of some rather ignorant questions, but when it was over and we all headed over the a nearby bar somewhere around NYU, Sayed was visibly shaken and annoyed. By way of context, he had apparently recently moved to the United States with his family, vowing never to return to Israel. He spoke very fast, mostly in Arabic and Hebrew (neither one of which I speak), and I remember feeling very intimidated. He smoked a lot and left before anyone else did. I was relieved! Needless to say, I didn’t even think to mention that I am a writer—a title I still feel insecure about throwing around by way of a self-descriptor. Now, half a decade older, I realize what a wasted opportunity this meeting was! Not because I regret not making a “contact” in Mr. Kashua, but because, had I been braver and not allowed myself to become so easily flustered, I could’ve learned something from such an accomplished author! I’ve been kicking myself and wanting to read Sayed’s novels ever since.

I proposed reading Second Person Singular to my Facebook Book Club, MR. BOOK CLUB, but it lost to American Like Me. I, of course, knew that, win or lose, I was going to finally read this novel, and I have to say, I am glad that I did. I am embarrassed to admit that this is the first work of fiction I’ve read that was written by an Israeli Arab. I’ve read literature by Jewish Israelis leaning to the left of the local political spectrum, of course, but obviously that is not the same thing.

I must say, I don’t remember the last time I felt like I truly learned something from a novel. For example, I had no idea about the friction between Israeli Arabs from the Galilee vs those from the “triangle,” the Christian and Muslim Arabs etc. The way I see it, underneath it all, this book is about insecurity. On all levels—personal, cultural, political. No wonder I can relate! The writing is crystal clear, despite the translation from Hebrew, and truly pulls you in. On the whole, this is a fascinating and rewarding read and I highly recommend it.


Six Months in Books

Summer is a busy time around my house. What used to be my writing hours are no longer mine at all. Summer is a competitive time for a writer (who doesn't want to be read at the beach?!), but if you're writer who's also a parent, summer is also a tough time on the production end. I'm working on my upcoming novel-Good Morning, Bellingham. It's about half way there. This will be a multiple POV psychological thriller and I'm unreasonably giddy about it. I like to push myself to experiment with different genres and can't wait to share it with the world, but it'll be a little while before I'll be able to announce a release date. Why? See above! Still, a stout believer in routine and maintaining muscle memory, I try to write something every day just to keep the muse happy. Sometimes, it's only a long-winded e-mail, but it's summer so it counts! Again, see above! Summer sucks! This Six Months in Books update is a writing exercise of sorts. Plus, everybody looks for book recommendations in the summer. Two birds? Here we go...

January through June 2018

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson

3-stars

This book fell into my lap (or rather, my car's Bluetooth) at the most opportune time-my father had just passed away after five and a half months of torture that is pancreatic cancer. Though we knew from day one that prognosis wasn't optimistic in the least, his actual death came fast: Tuesday, I am driving him to see his oncologist about canceling his treatment in favor of in-home hospice, and Saturday morning he is gone. Left behind was hospice equipment that had barely had the time to be delivered, a boatload of medications, and a lifetime (at least an American one) of acquired junk. Clothes and shoes never worn, countless loose post-its with unidentified phone numbers, and three sheds of cables and screws. Torn between grief and practicality, we cleaned fast. So needless to say, when I came across a title with the words Death and Cleaning in it, it caught my attention. 

I was expecting a how-to, which, luckily, this wasn't. Now that I think about it, how could Ms. Magnusson tell me what to get rid of and what to keep? She didn't try and I thank her. These decisions are tremendously personal. For me, this book served as a gentle kick in the butt to start downsizing now. Hopefully I'll have enough time to do a decent enough job of it before it's my time so as not to leave my mess for my loved ones to deal with. All in all, this was an interesting perspective to read and it did inspire a change in my life. Recommend!

Read more about my thoughts on the book here: https://www.marinaraydun.com/blog/2018/2/26/death-cleaning

Train Girl by Kristina Rienzi

4-stars

I received this short story free of charge as a token of thanks from the author for joining her mailing list. Which is a neat idea, I admit. I, too, must come up with a tangible reward for signing up for my mailing list. Somebody please remind me to do this!

I actually interviewed Kristina back in February of this year. You can read our interview here: https://www.marinaraydun.com/blog/2018/2/5/author-interview-series-kristina-rienzi. The story is incredibly short and is a real page turner. Which, of course, means I swallowed it in one sitting (yes, I read this one instead of listening to it!). It was suspenseful and engaging and the ending was a twist I was not expecting. Recommend!

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

5-stars

I could not, would not put this down (or turn it off). I got this recommendation on a facebook book group and it was so totally worth it. I listened every chance I got! Even if it meant five minutes at a time, I had to listen. Behind Closed Doors truly kept me on the edge of my seat. I was able to visualize everything so clearly, the writing is that crystal clear. Highly recommend! 

The Breakdown by B.A. Paris

5-stars

Having loved Behind Closed Doors so much, I had to see what else B.A. Paris had to offer. The Breakdown did not disappoint.  Definitely recommend. I will be reading more B.A. Paris books in the near future, I'm sure!

The Girl Before by JP Delaney

4-stars

A sucker for anything British, I do have a bias for books set across the pond. Now that I listen to books, the fact that they are narrated with a British accent is an added bonus. I don't remember now how I came across this title but it was an engaging one. The suspense was executed well and the ending was a bit of a surprise. All in all, a fascinating read.

The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani

3-stars

I'm sorry to say, but this was a total disappointment for me. The book is a winner of a very prestigious award and I feel a bit like a jackass for finding it overrated. It goes for profound, grappling with some serious societal issues, but winds up stretched very thin and superficial. I just did not like it, although I read it very fast (and at the beach). I have a separate entry about this one. Read it here: https://www.marinaraydun.com/blog/2018/4/9/the-next-gone-girl

After Anna by Lisa Scottoline

5-stars

A reader at a street fair recommended this book to me. I won't lie-the whole thing did remind me of a quintessential Lifetime movie but it did hold my attention. The twist wasn't entirely unexpected, but the execution was entertaining. 

You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld

5-stars

Short stories are my jam! I find it such an intriguing and difficult genre. Putting out a compilation of short stories is on my bucket list. It's an ambitious dream. It's collections like this one that make it seem so intimidating because, oh my G-d, these stories right here are just sheer brilliance. So poignant and nuanced. So relatable. If you like short stories, please do yourself a favor and check out this book. One of my favorites!

The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy

5-stars

This was the one "the new Gone Girl" book that did not disappoint. Good suspense, yes, but it also delved into some real struggles that new mothers face. Highly recommend.

Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking

3.5-stars

There are many Little Books out there nowadays. I was afraid this one was going to be a preachy book about finding your happiness. I don't do those. I'm one of those rare few people out there who did not like Eat, Pray, Love. But no, this wound up reading like a funny scholarly paper with a bit of statistics and anthropology. It was fun. I now want to learn how to ride a bike and light some candles.