Thursday, February 15, 2018

When You Reach Me

When You Reach Me --  or as my daughter and I called it What's the name of that book again? -- is a delightful children's novel and Newberry medal winner by Rebecca Stead.

My 9-year old reader doesn't typically take my recommendations, and this was no exception. But when she got sick I read this to her and we both really enjoyed it.

Stead's book is different for modern children's literature  in that it takes place in the late 70s in New York City with a plot that in part centers on the mother's acceptance as a contestant on the $20,000 Pyramid. In fact, because of the $20,000 Pyramid theme my daughter and watched a YouTube episode of the show (an episode with David Letterman as the celebrity guest) to help her understand what the author was talking about (such as the speed round and winner's circle). The chapters have topics like you'd see in the game show so we pretended that each chapter was one of these challenges (example chapter title is "Things That Open" and I'd say "Jar of Peanut Butter, Car Door, House Door, Backpack).

The book was really enjoyable to read aloud and has a mysterious plot (mystery notes) as well as some pre-teen angst ("why is that boy no longer talking to me" and changing interpersonal relationships), and with super short chapters it led itself well to bed time reading where you could decide how long you were going to read and not get stuck in the middle of a chapter.

The book's main character, Miranda, loves the book A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, and if my daughter took my recommendations I'd use that as a jumping spot to get her to read that one (on her own), but that's probably not so promising.

This book has a lot of heart and sweetness and is the perfect book for a girl my daughter's age -- hitting them right on the edge of more independence, more emotion and a time where an understated female hero navigating family and friendship is delightful.

Part of the 2018 reading series for 12 books in 2018.

Monday, February 05, 2018

The Return: Fathers, Sons and The Land in Between

I recently finished reading the Pulitzer Prize (Biography/Autobiography) winning book The Return by Hisham Matar.

Matar's story is remarkable, namely because while he has spent much of his time in the western world -- including his birth, having been born in New York when his father was a part of Libyan delegation to the UN -- his life centered on volatile Libran country under the regime of Muammar Gaddafi. What is more, his father Jaballa Matar with deep political roots was not an allie to this regime and the young Matar and family were exiles of privledge. Matar's seem so foreign and incredible, stories of family members on the lookout constantly for fear of the worst.

In 1990, as a young man, Matar's father was kidnapped by the Egyptian Secret Policy. For all the intrigue of the period of Matar's life up to this point, this book really focuses on the years after the kidnap, especially those in the final days of Gaddafi regime.

Matar's book is only semi-linear, with pieces of his story and his quest to understand his father's fate as the central thread in the story.

In reading this book, some sections were quite powerful, while others were a little bit challenging to get through. In many ways, a disappointment of mine was that while Matar's father was kidnapped I felt like he wardened off his narrative from understanding the people that were in his life through the journey, namely his mother and wife Diana. I was left curious wondering, who are these ladies? How did his mother bare these times? in this regard, my favorite passages were the limited glimpses into his mother's act of waiting in the early days of his kidnap including the video taping of soccer matches he was missing on television.

Yet, the central focus of this book is Matar and his personal reckoning with his father's imprisonment.

There is one paragraph in this book, that I really feel sums up the ethos of this book that in my opinion in the central thesis of this text.

"The country that separates fathers and sons has disoriented many travelers. It is very easy to get lost here. Telemachus, Edgar, Hamlet, and countless other sons, their private dramas ticking away in the silent hours, have sailed so far out into the uncertain distance between past and present that they seem to drift. They are men, like all men, who have come into the world through another man, a sponsor, opening the gate and, if they are lucky, doing so gently, perhaps with a reassuring smile and an encouraging nudge on the shoulder. And the fathers themselves must have known, having once themselves been sons, that the ghostly presence of their hand will remain throughout the years, to the end of time, and that no matter what burdens are laid on that shoulder or the number of losses a lover plants there, perhaps knowingly driven by the secret wish to erase the claim of another, the shoulder will remain forever faithful, remembering that good man's hand that had ushered him into the world. To be a man is to be part of this chain of gratitude and remembering, of blame and forgetting, of surrender and rebellion, until a son's gaze is made so wounded and keen that, on looking back, he sees nothing but shadows. With every passing day the father journeys further into his night, deeper into the fog, leaving behind remnants of himself and the monumental yet obvious fact, at once frustrating and merciful -- for how else is the son to continue living if he must not also forget -- that no matter how hard we try we can never entirely know our fathers."  
 --The Return, Hisham Matar (first paragraph of Chapter 6, "Poems")

This book is one of the books in my 2018 goal of reading 12 books in 2018.