10 Scary Reads for the Season

The last couple of months have been quite hectic, but since it was a scary book that got me out of my reading slump and it’s that time of the year again, I thought I’d make the time to list the 10 books that have scared me the most, in case you’re up for a thrill in Halloween.

Ghost Story, Peter Straub

This is my most recent scary read and I devoured it in like two days. It is a real page turner that manages to keep the tension for almost 500 pages.

In this book you”ll find more than ghosts, but the really scary thing is the guilt that chases the main characters since they made a tragic mistake in their youth. The novel is set in a small town in New England, so you’ll get all that small town folklore, too.

Pet Sematary, Stephen King

This book gave me nightmares for a week and I had to read it in two takes. A family moves to a small town in Maine and in the woods behind their house there’s a pet cemetery (misspelled “sematary” in the sign). When their cat dies and they bury him there, they discover that what is buried there tends to come back, but not as you would expect…

Dracula, Bram Stoker

I guess this one goes without saying. It really still creeps me out and I just love the epistolary format! Gave me nightmares the first time I read it and Coppola’s movie with Gary Oldman still does.

Mysteries of Winterthurn, Joyce Carol Oates

This one is not exactly horror or terror, but has elements of both. It is really a detective story in the style of Sherlock Holmes, but with much darker and disturbing mysteries in which the detective will only discover the depths of human evil and hypocrisy.

The Accursed, Joyce Carol Oates

More creepy Oates. This novel is a fantastic satire, but also a disturbing novel set in Princeton in 1905, when a “curse” came upon the town. This curse seems to begin when a young member of the wealthiest family in town, the Slates, is abducted by a demonic lover. Disturbing and yet fun!

Things We Lost in the Fire, Mariana Enríquez

This collection of short stories by the Argentine writer Mariana Enriquez is one the most haunting books I’ve ever read. It is haunting because its terror comes from the mundane yet horrific and violent everyday events in Latin America: women who set themselves on fire to protest violence, a nine-year-old serial killer, government violence and also haunted houses and ghosts. Beware, readers.

The Turn of the Screw, Henry James

Another classic! Or maybe the classic. A young woman gets a job as the governess of two young siblings in a very big mansion in the countryside. When the children start acting weird and the help tell her stories about her predecessors, the governess will start questioning the strange happenings in the house and her own sanity. Really one of the best books I’ve ever read.

The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson

The best haunted-house book, period. An investigator gathers four people to spend a summer at Hill House to see if they can gather paranormal evidence. The house is supposed to be pretty much haunted, but what causes terror in the reader is the toll that the supernatural events have on the psyche of the characters rather than the events themselves, which are described rather vaguely.

Ghost Stories, M.R. James

Classic ghost stories! The best book to spend a nigh by the fireplace. M.R. James stories are full of old-fashioned ghosts, remote settings and cursed objects.

Night Shift, Stephen King

This is a collection of short stories that have only one thing in common: they’re creepy. This is one of my favourite King books, specially because of the stories “Jerusalem’s Lot” and “Children of the Corn”.

Also, I am currently being creeped out by Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot. It’s been a while since I read anything about vampires, so I’m quite excited. What are you guys reading? Are there any books you reread for Halloween?

Back to blogging

The past week has proven everything can change in the blink of an eye. In less than five days I’ve had to close my coffee shop, cancel all traveling plans and postpone indefinitely a publishing workshop I’d been working on with several independent publishing houses. On the other hand, an academic article I wrote in university has been accepted for publication in an important American journal, and another piece of writing will be featured in an independent travel magazine. So it’s not all bad, really.

I figured, since I can’t really work from home, I might dedicate my time to things I had lately neglected: writing, reading and my blog. I am currently writing a review of The Goldfinch, which is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. I also recently finished Anne of Green Gables and started with John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. I believe the quarantine can be an opportunity to rearrange our priorities, even if that sounds and is a quite privileged approach. As an introvert I can confess my social routine hasn’t been altered much.

Since I might be spending a lot of time online, I’d love to know what are you guys reading and which books and tv series you recommend (I’m currently watching Vikings). Much love to all, let’s make the best of these hard times.

Best Reads of 2019

February has not only arrived but almost left and yet this is my first post of 2020. 2019 was a difficult yet beautiful year. I got my degree and opened a coffee shop in my hometown, a project that began with my family’s support and has been getting bigger and bigger… so much that we now moved to a bigger space and, thanks to my boyfriend’s help, are organizing book clubs, live music nights and movie projections.

This is the reason I haven’t been reading and writing as much, but I wouldn’t dare to complain. I read just a few books last year but they were important and marked me in many different ways —this year seems to be following the same pattern, for I have read only two books and they’ve made a big impression on me—. All of this is just an excuse to post about the books I liked best in 2019. It is also some sort of reopening of my blog, for I’ll be back posting reviews and whatever I find myself musing about. Thank you for reading and for making me part of such a beautiful community as this.

Travels with Charley in Search of America, John Steinbeck

“I was born lost and I take no pleasure in being found”

Mysteries of Winterthurn, Joyce Carol Oates

East of Eden, John Steinbeck

“All great and precious things are lonely”

Shirley, Charlotte Brontë

The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith

The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton

The Secret History, Donna Tartt

Romantic Outlaws, Charlotte Gordon

A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Rebecca Solnit

H is for Hawk, Helen McDonald

Rediscovering My Hometown

When I was in kindergarten, the local government of León, my hometown in Mexico, bought the land my school was on and we had to leave. Staff and students helped move everything from blackboards to chairs to the new premises which were, as it seemed to me at the time, in the middle of nowhere. I spent less than a year in the “old school”, and many years waiting for the workers to finish building whatever it would become.

In 2010 they finally finished and inaugurated a gigantic area dedicated to culture and arts. It is called the Cultural Forum and it’s composed of a huge library, a museum, and a theatre. The whole place is gorgeous and one of the only things I feel has changed for the better here. The gardens are usually quiet and well-kept, the museum has a wide variety of expositions and the theatre, oh boy, the theatre.

The Bicentennial Theatre, for that is its name, is a very unique place. Very modern in its looks, it can hold up to 1,500 spectators. Its acoustic is one of the best in the world and the best in Latin America. I often think it’s funny that such a wonderful architectural wonder is here, in León, for it surpasses the country’s most famous cultural enclosure, the National Auditorium in Mexico City. It is a well-kept secret, perhaps. Many kinds of performances take place here, mainly operas. In the four years that I lived in Mexico City, I still came back to several operas and concerts, the most memorable being a performance by Diana Damrau (she sang two songs from My Fair Lady and it doesn’t really get much better than that).

Today, after several months, I took a walk to work instead of taking the car, and I passed the Forum. Few things have changed, if only it seems prettier now. A few people were basking in the sun, a few others sitting under a tree. There’s a new section to the gardens where many statues by national artist stand, watched by a stern-looking guard. I still think it funny that such a place stands like an oasis between the busy city centre and a soccer stadium.

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First Book Tag Ever

I’m very excited to be posting my first book tag ever! I think it’s a perfect excuse to share some books I love even if they’re not very recent reads (basically I just want to rant about books). My friend DianaHerself tagged me and I’m happy to oblige. The theme: Avatar, The Last Airbender. So here we go:

Katara and Sokka: Best Sibling Relationship

I’ll have to go with Aaron and Caleb Trask from East of Eden* by John Steinbeck. I have such a crush on this book, I think I have talked about it to every person I’ve seen this year.

Yue: Favourite Star-crossed Lovers

This is really hard. I really have a thing for 19th-century romances, so I’ll go with Caroline Helstone and Robert Moore from Shirley* by Charlotte Brontë. Shirley is such a wonderful novel and, even when it focuses more than her other works on social and political issues—especially the position of women—, it has such a passionate and lively set of characters. Their circumstances are very unfortunate and they’re kind of stubborn too, hence the star-crossed tag.

Bloodbending: A Book With an Unsettling Concept

The most unsettling thing I have read in a while has to be Mysteries of Winterthurn* by Joyce Carol Oates. Before that, I read The Accursed*, which was also very creepy, but her writing is just mesmerising. Winterthurn is composed of three short stories, three different cases that Xavier, our hero, comes across in the village of Winterthurn. They all have a hint of the supernatural and are not really solved in the end. Instead, very disturbing possibilities are suggested. I can’t really say more without spoiling it, but if you’re into mystery, modern gothic and creepy stuff, look no further.

Toph: A Character Whose Strength Is Surprising

Scarlett O’Hara from Gone With the Wind* came to mind immediately! I know she’s kind of unpopular, but she is undeniably strong and brave, even when her motivations might not be entirely selfless. I mean, she survived widowhood and poverty, the loss of her parents, unrequited love, took care of an entire plantation, started a business, shot a man, married three times, etc. Remarkable achievements, all because “burdens are for shoulders strong enough to carry them”.

The Tales of Ba Sing Se: Best Short Story/Poetry Collection

Tough. For short story, I’ll go with Bestiario* by Julio Cortázar. For poetry, I’ll choose The Wasteland and Other Poems* by T.S. Eliot. Both are all-time favourites.

Koshi Warrior: Best Warrior Character

There are so many options! I’ll choose Lyra Belacqua from the His Dark Materials saga. She’s just awesome and I can’t wait for the second part of The Book of Dust* to come out.

Zuko: Best Redemption Arc/Redemption Arc That Should Have Happened

This might sound cliché but I have to say Raskolnikov from Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment*! I still cry when I think of the Bible scene between Sonya and Raskolnikov. Ivan Ilych also came to mind, what is it with Russians and redemption?

Iroh: Wisest Character

I was tempted to say Dumbledore, but I think I’ll choose a more recent read: Katie Nolan from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn* by Betty Smith. I finished this one recently and am still heartbroken. Will post about it soon.

Azula: Best Downfall

Emma Bovary (Madame Bovary*) obviously.

Appa: Favourite Fictional Animal

Hedwig!! Still not over this.

Aang: Purest Cinnamon Roll

Dawsey Adams from The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society*. The whole book is a sweet, warm cinnamon roll but Dawsey, oh God.

Avatar State: A Stubborn Character/A Character That Struggles With Letting Go

Laurie from One Day in December*. You gotta be stubborn to spend a year looking for a stranger you saw briefly at a bus stop. It all goes to show stubbornness might work magic.

I tag whoever wants to do it! Don’t forget to tag me so I can read your answers.

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*Disclaimer: If you do buy any of the books via these links, I will receive a commission. This does not affect the price of the books whatsoever.

What I Read: May

May is finally over! Does anyone else feel like it dragged on forever? It was a very productive month for me, but I have big plans for June: reading challenges, trips and other projects. I’m really not sad May it’s over, but here’s to the books I read in it.

The Thorn Birds* by Colleen McCullough

Started the month strong with these thick, beautiful novel about a family who moves to the Australian Outback at the beginnings of the 20th century. More hype about it can be found here, but long story short, it’s a family saga full of forbidden passions, natural dangers, great characters and a sexy priest. I must say I’m not a fan of McCullough’s style, but boy can she come up with a good plot.

Finding North* by George Michelsen Foy

Another one towards my goal to read more nonfiction. This book was really interesting! It tells of a man’s efforts to recreate a fatal trip one of his ancestors did in the 19th century. Meanwhile, he also explains a lot of things about the importance of navigation, from how our brains manage to perceive and recognise spaces to a historical account of how we’ve managed to survive in the wilderness/the sea. I did not love this one, but I found it really interesting. More about it here.

Ojos de Papel Volando* by María Luisa Mendoza

This was a recommendation by a friend and I really liked it! I’m only surprised I hadn’t heard about María Luisa Mendoza (not once!) in any of my university courses (I studied Latin American Literature). This is a collection of short stories focused on remembering, on reliving experiences through memory, it has a Proustian vibe that I really liked. It is a lovely book with major references to Guanajuato, the state in which both the author and I were born. A must-read for anyone interested in Mexican contemporary literature.

Of Mice and Men* by John Steinbeck

Awesomeness! Can’t believe I hadn’t read this also, just wow. More about it here.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn* by Betty Smith

Another book I couldn’t put down! This book made me cry so many times. It is the story of Francie Nolan, a girl born in Brooklyn at the beginning of the 20th century. Francie’s family is really poor, her father is an alcoholic and her mother works as a cleaning lady to support the whole family. They just go through a lot, and yet the book is always gracious and elegant, even sassy at times. I’m writing a review about it and I’ll post it soon. I honestly think it became one of my favourite novels.

In a Sunburned Country* by Bill Bryson

More nonfiction! I just love Bill Bryson, he’s so witty and funny and I think it would be awesome to have a conversation with him in real life. I fell in love with him his writing after reading A Walk in the Woods and later read Notes from a Small Island, which I also enjoyed but not that much. Well, In a Sunburned Country is really cool. It’s a travel book about Australia (yes, I’m currently obsessed with Australia but I have a reason 🤞🏼) and I just think no one could approach the many dangers—spiders, snakes, poisonous jellyfish and arm-devouring sharks— of the country in such a funny way. Recommended for any travel lit reader.

That was it! I did not read that many books (Goodreads kindly reminds me that I’m 7 books behind my reading goal, thanks) but I enjoyed everything I read! Now I’m back to some fantasy with A Discovery of Witches and have ordered The Secret History* by Donna Tartt as my first book for the Penguin Reading Challenge. You can subscribe for the challenge here! What are you guys reading? Any thoughts about the books in this list?

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*Disclaimer: If you buy any of the books mentioned through the link provided, I will receive a commission. This does not affect the price of the items whatsoever!

“Trouble with mice is you always kill’em”: Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men

In 1937, John Steinbeck published what would be considered by many his finest novel, Of Mice and Men*. It is a book, I hear, that appears in many basic courses of American Literature. It is also an introduction to Steinbeck’s California and its many injustices, its changing landscapes, burning suns and many struggles at the beginnings of the 20th century. Also, it is only a hundred pages long and composed mainly of dialogue.

It was only this year that I was introduced to Mr Steinbeck’s work. I read Travels with Charley in Search of America* in January, then East of Eden* in February and The Grapes of Wrath* in March. Needless to say, I am fascinated with Steinbeck and very surprised about the fact that I didn’t read him for any of my university modules, not even for North American Literature. But I am trying to repair the damage here, so Of Mice and Men seemed like the obvious choice. What can I even say about this book? It is heartbreaking in a way only Steinbeck could achieve, masterful in its narrative and its characters, engrossing and gripping, somewhat of a punch in the gut. It seems to be a more mature work than both East of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath even though it was published before both (and even though East of Eden will always be my favourite).

“As happens sometimes, a moment settled and hovered and remained for much more than a moment. And sound stopped and movement stopped for much, much more than a moment.” 

John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men

I know this is a very common high school read, so I probably won’t spoil anything here. Basically, it is the story of two friends: George, who is small and cunning, and Lennie, who is big, strong and has an undescribed mental disability. George takes care of Lennie, but Lennie’s strenght often gets them both in trouble because he’s not aware of it. Lennie also has a characteristic trait: he loves to pet soft animals, such as mice, but he often kills them involuntarily.

When we meet them, George has found a new job for the two of them at a ranch close to Salinas. The ranch is okay and Lennie is even promised a puppy, but things get complicated when the son of the ranch owner, Curley, picks at Lennie. In addition to this, his wife is always flirting with the ranch labourers. Anyway, George has a plan for him and Lennie, whose only relative died and left him in charge of George: if they can handle a season of work, then they’ll have enough money to buy their own piece of land. The topic of lower classes looking for a piece of land in the still unexploited California and the relations drawn between the state and the Promised Land is common throughout Steinbeck’s work, the impossible achievement of the American Dream:

“Just like heaven. Ever’body wants a little piece of lan’. I read plenty of books out here. Nobody never gets to heaven, and nobody gets no land. It’s just in their head. They’re all the time talkin’ about it, but it’s jus’ in their head.” 

This small book is really perfect, every word seems to be in place, every dialogue has a cadence and rhythm that brings the world of ranch labourers to life in just a couple of pages. Every character exhilarates life and a rich personality of which we learn through other characters and a few, scant lines of description.

What is probably more interesting about the book is its structure, that of Matryoshka dolls: events repeat themselves in different layers, over and over. For example, when Lennie kills a mouse at the beginning for petting it too hard, you kind of expect this will happen with the ranch puppies, and later when Curley’s wife mentions she has really soft hair, well, you see what is coming. Another story that repeats itself is that of the dog, although here the circle is broken by choice (a very important topic in Steinbeck, too: free will). Candy, the oldest labourer, can’t bring himself to shoot his own dog, his companion for so long, and other labourer does it for him. Candy can’t get over this and regrets not having done it himself, “I oughtta of shot that dog myself, George. I shouldn’t oughtta of let no stranger shoot my dog.” Shooting a friend or let strangers do it is a choice George faces later, in the tragic ending of the novel. Also, the plot of the novel is advanced by hints continually, which is why there is so much tension in it. Of Mice and Men is read compulsively like a thriller, you really get a sense of what is going to happen, yet you have to keep reading.

The theme of the novel reminded me of East of Eden for its appraisal of free will and choice. There is always a search for the motivations of people in Steinbeck’s works, a try to understand the meanness and evil that we’re capable of, but there is often a flicker of light—friendship, love, sacrifice— found at the heart of the smallest acts.

Finally, who is the protagonist of the novel? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one since I’m still thinking about it. Even though I think the main theme is friendship—the relationship between George and Lennie—, I believe the main character is George. They are both unlucky, tragic characters: Lennie seems doomed to kill everything he loves, and George seems doomed to have all his plans ruined by his friendship to Lennie, he promised his dying aunt he would take care of him. But George does have a choice, and he chooses to stay with Lennie over and over again, even if it costs him his jobs. It’s a heartbreaking piece of literature, definitely one that I’ll be thinking about for a while.

Have you read it? What did you think of it? If not, I couldn’t recommend the book more! I just finished another American classic I loved, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn* by Betty Smith.

Right now I’m stepping away from heartbreak for a while and enjoying In a Sunburned Country* by Bill Bryson.

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*Disclaimer: If you do buy any of these titles from the links, I receive a commission from Amazon. This does not affect the price of the books anyhow.

An Inbred Wanderlust: Finding North by George Michelsen Foy

I can’t remember when was the last time I “ran out” of reading material.  I have always had a pile of books I haven’t read somewhere at hand, it just gives me peace to know there’s something to look forward to. I usually have at least three books I really want to read, and there’s a lot of research, conversations, Goodreads browsing and recommendations that influence my tbr pile, so when I buy a book it’s usually a title I’ve had in mind for a while. But a few times a year I’ll go crazy and buy a few titles I have never heard about, I just let them find me. This was the case of George Michelsen Foy’s Finding North: How Navigation Makes Us Human. 

I saw this book at Chapters, Ottawa and I just had to buy it. Partly because lately I am obsessesed with travel writing, and partly because the cover is so beautiful. So I bought it with no other reference, and for four months it just accumulated dust on my nightstand. But now I finally got to reading it, and it was a pleasant surprise.

The book is part memoir, part a rollicking reflection on the very intimate link between navigation and humanity. The book begins thus: “‘Where’ is the primal question, rather than ‘when’, ‘how’, or ‘who’ because for any animal, figuring out where to move in defense or attack relative to the forces around has always been the first step to survival. From the start, staying alive has depended on navigation, the art of figurin g out our position and in what direction to travel”. And Michelsen goes beyond that affirmation, he even visits a neuroscientist that explains to him the fragile yet indispensable links between memory and the ability of locating oneself in a certain space, and how that happens in the human brain.

The book is not, however, just a collection of fun facts about navigation, there’s a story guiding the plot. Michelsen teaches creative writing at NYU, and the hero’s journey is easily discernible along the book. His concern with navigation goes beyond simple curiosity, he’s obessesed with maritime navigation and sailing because his Nordic ancestors were in the trade before emigrating to America. One of his ancestors was the captain of a vessel called the Stavanger Paquet, which sank in a journey from Stavanger, Norway, to Hamburg, Germany. After the incident, every other member of the Michelsen family who ventured into the sea met a similar fate, so the family abandoned their trade.

And it’s this family curse, a legend that has passed from generation to generation of Michelsens, that obsesses our hero. Michelsen feels particularly attracted to navigation and ships since he was a boy growing up in Cape Code. What dazzles him is that “navigation of the kind my ancestor practised was not just a skill but the roughest of magics: a spell cast in the face of mystery and fear against the near certainty of loss”. In explaining his obsession, Michelsen strikes a feeling every traveller has felt before, the need to go places, an innate wanderlust that prevents people from staying where they are in search for who knows what: even if the seas are believed to be plagued by krakens and monsters, they have to sail. This innate wanderlust, a nomadic instinct is what Steinbeck called “the urge to be someplace else“, a charming urge which has motivated thousands of pages in literature.

Sadly, part of the charm and danger of traveling, of navigating, has been lost recently because of technology. We know now that Google Maps actually makes us worst at navigating, and Michelsen not only criticises and explains this, but takes direct action against it. That’s where things get interesting, for we would not have a hero without a task.

The plot of the book is basically Michelsen trying to recreate the trip which took his ancestor’s life, that is, in as much as possible the same conditions: a similar ship, no modern technology, in a trip from Cape Cod to Maine. In preparing for the trip and actually setting out to it, Michelsen reflects on various topics related to navigation: the biology behind it, old methods of celestial navigation, history and family history. He’s constantly trying to understand what lies behind the human need for travelling and how it may have transformed now that we are so dependable on GPS technology.

Finding North is a curious book. It is uneven, gripping at times, exasperating and even boring at times. Michelsen introduces himself as a very likeable character—that is perhaps what I found annoying in the book— and tries to use a personal plot—his quest to recreate his ancestor’s trip— to unite a series of topics and interviews that seem not to be related. While everything is about navigation, there are parts that work more like independent essays but are forced into the general plot, so that might prove anticlimactic at times.

Apart from that, I really enjoyed the book. When I bought it I thought I could learn some things about navigation, and I was not disappointed, there are plenty of facts and interesting data in the book, along with a Selected Bibliography at the end. It is obviously a very well-researched book, one that raises important questions about our current relationship with technology, and that moreover seeks to answer from personal experience the old question of why we travel. If you’re into travel writing, I’m sure Finding North will prove a delightful experience. You can get it from Amazon here*.

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“The Best is Only Bought at the Cost of Great Pain”: Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds

Where to even start with this novel. The first time I heard of The Thorn Birds was because my aunt tried to make me watch the 80’s TV series some years ago. I remember nothing, I think I slept through it. However, I recently found a wonderful list on Goodreads about awesome novels that are 800+ pages, and The Thorn Birds was there among Gone With the Wind, which I adore, and Lonesome Dove, which I recently had the pleasure of reading. So I decided to give The Thorn Birds a chance (did I mention it was like $6 dollars on Amazon*?). I honestly love long books, I love the feeling of having a story to go to every night.

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The Thorn Birds is a family saga set in the Australian Outback. It focuses mainly on Meggie Cleary, the only daughter of Fiona and Paddy Cleary, who is a poor farm labourer in New Zealand. Fiona, Fee, belonged to an aristocratic family and Paddy ran away from Ireland after killing a man, and their lives in New Zealand are far from easy. Every member of the Cleary family has to work from dusk until dawn just to make ends meet.

So After Paddy receives an invitation from his older and estranged sister, Mary Carson, to live (and work for her) in her immense state, Drogheda, in Australia, they are much relieved. But the Australian Outback turns out to be an inhospitable land that brings even more challenges to the Clearys. There they try to start over and are helped by the Catholic priest of the area, Father Ralph, another Irish immigrant. But tension arises when Father Ralph and Meggie get too close and Aunt Mary gets jealous. Also, there are dust storms, droughts, unbearable heat waves and freezing winters, as well as problems among the other Cleary children, so things are quite tough. Of course, Meggie starts developing feelings for Father Ralph, who is ridiculously handsome, and he, in turn, starts to fall for her.

The book dwells on many themes across almost 700 pages, among them the feelings of nationality and patriotism between Irish expats in New Zealand and Australia, the situation of women at the beginnings of the 20th century (the novel is set between 1915 and 1969), the senseless rules and monetary motivations of the Catholic Church and, of course, forbidden love by different prejudices: economic status, race, nationality, religion (or religious vows). It is actually a very sad, very tragic story in which everything seems to be against the Clearys. The title, in fact, comes from the myth of a type of bird which spends its life looking for a thorn tree and, finding it, impales itself upon it to sing for the first and last time a song that is beautiful beyond description, “for the best is only bought at the cost of great pain… or so says the legend”. Whether the fate of the characters is indeed great and worth all the toil and pain they go through is for the reader to decide.

What else to say? I enjoyed this book immensely. The introduction of characters, the narrative voice changing from their perspective to an outer, warning voice that foretells tragedy—and which you do not want to listen to—, enthralling descriptions of landscapes and storms, short passages that bring to life the day-to-day of the life in the New Zealand farm or the paddocks in Drogheda… it all adds up to a majestic story, a book that no doubt has marked thousands of readers. This is the kind of book where you become thoroughly invested in the fate of the characters, I found myself laughing, crying, gasping, unable to put the book down. Now that I have finished it I have sucha a clear image of the setting, the plains, the paddocks, the kangaroos and sheep. I just love when a book gives you that.

The story is divided into seven parts, each one focusing on a different character and period of time. There are many, many characters, and each one of them is brought to life with detail and genuineness. There are no cartoons even amongst the less important characters, each of them is given motivation and, love them or hate them, a personal story. I think that is the major achievement of the novel.

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After doing some research I found that this book was quite the hit in its time (it was published in 1977), but it is not very popular now. Comparing it to similar books, say family sagas set in a historical period, such as Gone With the Wind or A Hundred Years of Solitude, I can see why The Thorn Birds has not aged as well. There are certain parts of the book that had me thinking, this really was written for an 80s audience. Especially the whole sexy-yet-tormented-priest thing. There are a few passages that feel like Colleen McCullough went out of her way to make the Meggie-Ralph affair spicier than it would be fitting considering the general tone of the novel. But hey, it did get made into an 80s tv series.

Apart from that I have no complaints, this book is a story told with mastery and diligence, it has a set of the kind of characters that seem more real than actual people. It has been a pleasure to go home to it every night and I am actually sorry it’s over. But life moves on and I have bought myself another thick book to fill the void, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which I fear will not mend the damage left by The Thorn Birds.

What are you guys reading? Have you read The Thorn Birds?

 

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What I Read: April

April is gone! We are almost halfway through 2019 already. Even though I am way behind in my reading challenge, I had the chance to read some memorable stories.

Shirley by Charlotte Brontë

I just love Charlotte Brontë. I have read Jane Eyre many times and Villette twice, they’re just wonderful novels. So the next step was Shirley… and it’s awesome! It is a very different novel to Jane Eyre or Villette, it’s way more chill for one thing, there’s less drama going on and yet there is something quietly strong in it that I am not really able to point out. Shirley tells the story of two very different girls who come to be friends in Yorkshire: Caroline and Shirely. While Caroline is shy and contemplative, she is passionate and courageous; whereas Shirley is a charming extrovert liked by everyone. The situation of women is, as with other novels by Charlotte, the main theme of the novel, and I believe this book is a much more meditated and reflected work of sociology, where religion, politics, nationality and gender play an important part. I can’t praise Charlotte Brontë enough, while the first chapter or so might seem a bit too much, once our two protagonists are introduced the novel just sets off. You can get the book here.*

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

While I enjoyed this book, I also found the last part disappointing. I am, however, looking forward to reading more things by Kristin Hannah. On this one, a family in crisis moves to Alaska in hopes of beginning again, but boy do things go wrong. If you’re looking for drama this is it, you can get it here.*

One Day in December by Josie Silver

This book is the perfect companion for a cosy night in. It’s not really christamassy although the story starts and finishes in December… it’s just cosy. And awkaward and very fun. I just love how Josie Silver writes dialogues. Basically, Laurie falls in love with a guy at the bus stop and does everything to find him. She does not, but a year after she finds out he’s her best friends new boyfriend. I’m honestly just waiting for the movie about it to come out, it’s the perfect rom-com. Get it here!

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

I bough this one after seeing a review by a friend on Goodreads, and honestly I had never heard of this guy before, so thanks Goodreads. This is a very, very long book. And yet it doesn’t feel like it. It’s Western done right: lots of cowboys and bandits and prostitutes, but they’re not diluted, stereotypical characters, they’re the type of characters that feel more real than people. There’s love, loss, hate, friendship and literally everything else in this book, all in the small texan town of Lonesome Dove. Find this beautiful edition here.*

I am starting May with The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough and I am absolutely loving it! There’s something so comforting in long books, and this one is so carefully narrated, taking its time with each character. It’s just lovely, I’m enjoying it so much.

Have you read any of these? What are you currently reading?

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Earth Week Essentials

On Monday we celebrated Earth Day. As amazed and grateful as I am to our planet, I could not help but feel both guilty and even a bit hopeless on Monday. The day marks the fight for environmentalism that begun almost 50 years ago, and seeing how much worse we are now than in the seventies is certainly discouraging.

However most things seem impossible when we compare our individual actions against the global picture. No matter how hard it is, we must believe that using a reusable water bottle, not smoking, reducing our consumption of read meat and other seemingly unimportant actions actually matter and make a difference. Our individual habits are not enough to stop climate change, but they are necessary to put pressure on the big corporatives and governments who are really, for lack or a better word, fucking everything up.

When I feel powerless against these monsters of consumerism and the thoughtlessness of still a huge part of the population, I go to books. This post is about books that I consider important in our day and age, some are about environmental fighters that were both awesome writers and actually put their money where their mouth was, some are more about our understanding of nature and the environment.

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey

Edward Abbey spent his life as an activist for the environment, denouncing the toll that Western culture had on the natural world and protecting the American National Parks as a ranger. In this book, he tells his story as park ranger in Utah. Apart telling of his encounters with wild animals, rocks and the inifite skies while living in a small bus, he also reflects on the links between cultural progress and environmental deterioration, the relationships between humankind and animals and other similar topics. Abbey is deeply critical and strongly opinionated, most of the times holding an “all or nothing” perspective on preservation-related topics. It’s hard to keep up with him, but this book is eye-opening, combining harsh truths with beautifully fresh descriptions of nature.

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Of course Thoreau. Among his many works I chose Walden because it’s for me the most optimistic. Here Thoreau dwells, along many essays, on different topics, from the economy to the creatures of the forest. Just like Abbey, Thoreau is deeply critical of both government and society, but he is also marvelously lucid when depicting Walden, the forest where he went when he “wanted to live deliberately”.

Wilderness Essays by John Muir

Muir is also a big name for naturalism. I loved this book because the deep love he felt for the mountains and their creatures oozes from every page. Muir’s writing is more technical though, constantly dwelling on describing rock formations and vegetation, but that is part of the fun.

Man in the Landscape by Paul Shepard

This book is very important to understand how our perception of nature has actually changed it, mostly for the worst. This is a theory book, I guess a light version of what is said here could be A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. This book offers a historical account of how humans have regarded nature through the centuries.

One’s Man Wilderness by Sam Keith

In 1968, Richard Proenneke set out to build a wooden cabin and live from the elements in Twin Lakes, Alaska. In this book, Sam Keith revisits his journal from the time and includes different accounts of what Proenneke did and what motivated him to do it. This book is a mix between Into the Wild and Walden, a proof that it’s still possible to find our links to the wilderness and live without doing so much harm to other species.

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolber

This one won the Pulitzer Prize and I am still in process of reading it. It’s super interesting and massively worrying. Here, the author explains the five massive extinctions that have taken place in our planet, and sets the ground to argue that we are about to live the sixth, which could only be compared to the one that killed dinosaurs thousands of years ago. This book could sound discouraging, but sometimes we need a good shake to motivate us.

Have you read any of these? These books have and are still helping me to educate myself on environmental and preservation issues, topics I’m honestly quite new at.

In other news, I’m still reading, and very much enjoying, Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. Some things can’t be rushed, specially books that are almost 1000 pages long.

In defense of chick-lit

I recently finished reading One Day in December by Josie Silver. I can honestly say it was a very funny and heartwarming read — I even stayed up until 3.00 am one night cuz I just had to finish it. It is, however, not the kind of book people feel “proud” to have read, it’s the kind of book I wouldn’t have admitted to like back when I wanted to sound cultured and pedantic in college because, well, it’s chick lit.

I find that most people who use the tag “chick lit” do so dismissively, especially so in academic circles—one thing I definitely do not miss about college—. While most “chick lit” is actually terrible, the truth is that with around 1 million books being published every year, there’s bound to be terrible ones in every genre. All this to say, I really enjoy chick-lit! I love it when it’s well written and has round characters and makes you smile while reading it. Let’s not forget Jane Austen was the chick lit queen of her day (not that anyone past or present can compare to her tho). Anyway, One Day in December was a nice change amidst nonfiction and tragic reads. So, here are four chick lit titles you might need in your life:

Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

What if Elizabeth Benett lived in modern London and swore like a sailor? I love the movie and can quote the dialogues entirely, and the book is just as funny. The book is written as a diary, and it’s the kind of writing that has you laughing out loud in public. Humor is the most important part of the book, and it has so many different kinds of it: obscene, circumstancial, ironic.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

This one is composed of narrative parts, letters, emails, phone receipts, etc. A family in crisis goes in a cruise to Antarctica and Bernadette, the mom, disappears. I guess you could call this book a funny thriller. Although it’s a very light read, Semple manages to convey the pressure that communities have on women by depicting the life of a well-to-do family in suburban Seattle.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Boy did I enjoy this. I think I read it in two days. Highlight of the book: Lou! Now that’s an awesome character. It saddens me to say, however, that I couldn’t even finish After You, I didn’t like it at all. (I bought Paris for One also by Jojo Moyes but haven’t got to read it, is it any good?)

One Day in December by Josie Silver

This book is actually very problematic: Laurie, 23, falls in love with a stranger at a bustop and spends a year looking for him. She finds him when her best friend, Sarah, introduces him as her boyfriend, Jack. There’s no possible good outcome for this story, but you still read it through because the characters (especially Laurie and Sarah) are well built and keep the story interesting. It’s a very funny book about friendships and missing chances.

Now I am reading Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, because who can resist western sagas of 800+ pages, am I right? Very exciting so far! But the complete opposite of the books in this list. Do you have any chick lit favourites? (Recommendations, please!)