Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Chronicle of a Last Summer

In Chronicle of a Last Summer, her debut novel, Yasmine El Rashidi explores three volatile periods of Egyptian history through the eyes of a single narrator who lived with her mother in the same Cairo apartment between 1984 and 2014.   The novel is divided into distinct sections recalling the young woman’s recollections of the events of the summers of 1984, 1998, and 2014.  Unfortunately, for both the narrator and for the country of Egypt, the more things changed, the more they remained the same.

In 1984, our narrator is still a little girl basking in the attention of her family and those in the neighborhood impressed by the stature of the lifestyle her businessman father is able to provide his family.  She is a confident child, one who feels secure about her place in Egyptian society, but she is smart enough to know that she does not understand everything about the world she lives in – and that the best way to learn the truth about that world is to listen quietly to the adult conversations surrounding her.  Why, for instance, does her father remain in Geneva on business for so long, and more importantly, why does the rest of the family talk about him as if he may never return to his Cairo apartment?

By 1998, the little girl is a university film student well aware that one of the truths of Egyptian society is that some of its citizens suddenly disappear, with only the luckiest of them ever to be seen again.  But even those lucky ones come home physically and mentally scarred by the experience, mere shadows of the people they were when they went missing.  In the meantime, her own father remains “in Geneva” on business, and the narrator has to be careful that the actions of her radical cousin and uncle do not convince the government that it is time she take a “business trip” of her own.

Yasmine El Rashidi
And then it is 2014, and the narrator’s Baba (father) is back.  He will never return to the family home (a place more and more in danger of collapsing from neglect), but his return to public life gives the narrator the chance to spend time with the man she only knows through family stories and a few vague, early childhood memories of her own.  Soon enough, another “revolution” behind them, the people of Egypt are faced with the reality that only the names of those in charge change, and that life for the rest of them is something to be endured until the Egyptian political cycle completes itself again.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Safe House: A Documentary on the Decline of Public Libraries in the U.K.

Stephen Fry on U.K. Libraries
When I lived in London in the nineties, one of the things that most disappointed me was the city's public libraries.  Being a bit of an Anglophile, I probably expected way too much from a country that more or less shaped my understanding and appreciation of literature, so maybe they were not as bad as the impression they made on me then.  But when I compared them to the libraries in and around Houston, they invariably suffered in the comparison, so to me they were almost without exception disappointing. 

And now, shockingly, I see that they are probably worse today than I remember them to be when I was a regular patron at two locations back then (the libraries in Richmond and Uxbridge).  I lived in the rather upscale area of Richmond/Twickenham and worked in the more industrial area of Uxbridge, and that meant that Richmond was my week-end library and Uxbridge my lunchtime library.

All that said, this trailer publicizing a new documentary called "The Safe House" on the decline of public libraries in the U.K. leaves me rather sad.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Thursday 1:17 P.M.

At first, fans of time travel novels and short stories might not know what to make of Michael Landweber’s Thursday 1:17 P.M.  After all, the novel’s narrator/hero (a teenager whom everyone calls Duck) moves neither forward nor backward in time during the entire novel.  Duck would, in fact, be perfectly happy if he could simply figure out how to get time started again, because right now he is the only thing moving in a world in which every other living thing and machine is frozen solid at 1:17 on the worst Thursday afternoon of his life.

How bad a day is Duck having?  Well, consider this: minutes earlier, he walked away from his mother’s deathbed; his father is institutionalized; and Duck has just stepped directly into the path of the speeding car that is destined to smash him into pieces.  But suddenly the clock stops ticking, and Duck finds himself staring into the eyes of the driver who is about to crush him.  So he simply steps away from the intersection. 

Thus begins one of the strangest coming-of-age novels a reader is ever likely to encounter.  Duck will be eighteen years old tomorrow – but will tomorrow ever get here, or is Duck destined to remain forever a seventeen-year-old boy grieving the loss of his mother?

Michael Landweber
Survival proves to be surprisingly easy in a world in which everything is literally frozen in in the instant during which time stopped.  Washington D.C. grocery stores are filled with food and drink that never spoils; the temperature never varies; shelter is available everywhere Duck turns (if he can just figure out when it is time to get some sleep); and everything in the nearby shopping mall is his for the taking.  All around him, people are frozen in the act of walking, falling, fighting, or making love.  Everyone but Duck is waiting for the next tick of the clock to determine their fate.  Now what?

Ironically, it a world in which time has frozen, Duck has nothing but time on his hands, time to think about his past, time to miss his parents and his friends, and time to figure out what he would do differently if only the rest of the world would catch up with him again.  But in order to do any of these things, first he has to figure out a way to get time flowing.  Can a boy really come-of-age in a world in which he lives entirely alone, or is his situation akin to the tree that falls in the forest when no one is around to hear it hit the ground? 

You’ll have to read Thursday 1:17 P.M. to find out.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

Saturday, May 21, 2016

You Can Have It All (Rolling in the Deep parody)

This song parody was apparently used to promote the New York State Reading Association conference held in Syracuse in 2012.  Based on a song called "Rolling in the Deep" by Adele, this version is called "If You Love to Read" and features real-life English teacher Sarah Ada in place of Adele. 

Everything about this video makes me smile, but I especially love the lyrics and Sarah's voice.  Readers, "you can have it all if you like to read."

For comparison purposes (and mainly to illustrate just how clever and well done this video is) I'm including the original Adele video on which it's based: 

Friday, May 20, 2016

In Other Words

Jhumpa Lahiri, it seems, has always been suspended between very different cultures.  The daughter of Indians from West Bengal who had migrated to England, Lahiri moved with her family to the United States at the age of two and grew up in Kingston, Rhode Island.  Although the family spoke Bengali at home and her mother made sure that she understood her cultural heritage, Lahiri could not help but consider herself to be American.  English may not have been her first language, but even as a little girl she often found herself asked by strangers to ensure that her parents understood the finer points of any conversation they were engaged in because her parents spoke with heavy Indian accents and her English was flawlessly spoken (a presumption that still irritates Lahiri to this day).

Lahiri’s debut short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies, was published in 1999 and has been followed by a second story collection and two well-received novels.  In Other Words may be only her fifth book, but Lahiri’s writing awards are already numerous, including an O. Henry Award, a PEN/Hemingway Award, a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a National Humanities Medal. 

And then she fell hopelessly in love with the Italian language she had before only flirted with from afar.  So taken with the sound and construction of Italian that she and her family relocated to Rome so that she could completely immerse herself in it, Lahiri decided even to write in no other language.  In Other Words is the result of that decision.  The author, understanding the limitations of writing in a language as foreign to her as Italian is, did not even trust herself to interpret the work back into English for fear of being tempted into “improving” the English version (the book was translated instead by Ann Golstein, an experienced translator who has worked with, among others, Primo Levi and Elena Ferrante).  As she puts it, Lahiri is “a writer who doesn’t belong completely to any language.”

Jhumpa Lahiri
In Other Words – which is part autobiography, part memoir – includes both the original Italian version (the left-hand pages) and the translated English version (the right-hand pages) of Lahiri’s manuscript.  The 233-page book is comprised of an “author’s note,” twenty-three short reflections on her relationship to language and self-identity, and an “afterword.”  Lahiri tells the reader that because she wrote In Other Words in Italian it is inherently different from her earlier work.  “The themes, ultimately, are unchanged: identity, alienation, belonging.  But the wrapping, the contents, the body and soul are transfigured,” she tells us.  

In the end, though, despite all that she has achieved in her study of Italian, Lahiri feels a little “insecure” and “embarrassed” by what her efforts have produced.  She realizes now that for her, Italian will always be a work-in-progress and that she will always remain a foreigner to the language.  But it has been three years since she has read or written much in any language other than Italian, and Lahiri believes that this has led her to a new “creative path” that she would have otherwise never have found.

All in all, not bad for “a writer who doesn’t belong completely to any language.”

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

East Jesus

Chris Manno
Genre: Contemporary Literary Fiction
Publisher: White Bird Publications
Date of Publication: March 8, 2016
Number of Pages: 314
Scroll down for Giveaway!

In the summer of 1969, a small town in west Texas prepares to send one of their finest young men off to fight a faraway, controversial war. A parallel battle of domestic violence erupts at home as a younger generation struggles to reconcile older notions of right and wrong and even fractured family ties with the inevitable price that the fighting demands. 
Much like today's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Vietnam war is little understood by those left behind, but the lessons of strength, commitment and duty are timeless, then and now. East Jesus, the story of that national struggle today as well as back in 1969, is a plangent, soulful journey lived through the eyes of a wide-ranging, colorful array of characters, with a conclusion readers will never forget.
There's more.  "East Jesus," said one editor, "is a message of hope for our children." Too often, teenagers who've survived a young lifetime of domestic violence believe "this is the hell I was born into, this is the hell I must accept for life." East Jesus turns that notion on its ear: though there's a price to pay, there's a better way that rises above the violence.
The novel is peopled by strong characters, particularly women, in a salt-of-the-earth, small town, west Texas community. The price of a far away, unpopular war always comes due in small town America, then (set in 1969) as well as now (Iraq and Afghanistan). But the lesson of hope, sacrifice and redemption is timeless.
To read East Jesus is to live that story, to transcend the fighting at home and abroad, and to embrace the hope and faith in what's right above all else.
Experience East Jesus, live the story--you'll never forget it.


In East Jesus, a new novel that atmospherically reminds of Larry McMurtry's The Last Picture Show, Chris Manno tells one of those all too common coming-of-age stories from hell that make you cringe when you hear them.  The one he tells us here takes place way out somewhere past East Jesus, in a little town more properly known as Conroy, Texas.  Conroy is one of those self-contained and isolated little communities where sometimes it it is hard to tell one day from another and where time seems to stand still.

Travis, who attends the local high school and hits the town's same one or two hot spots with his buddies every weekend, lives in a small trailer with his mother, his trucker father, his aunt, and his sister Bean, a little girl who despite her inability to speak is one of the most charismatic characters readers are likely to encounter again any time soon.  Travis's problem, though, is not the size of the trailer or the town he lives in: it's Jesse, his father.  Jesse is not the kind of man who would ever cut a son of his any slack - and he has the fists and the ruthlessness to make Travis pay dearly anytime he fails to please his old man.

Conroy is a typical West Texas town of its day.  People there still believe that America will always win her wars, and they are proud to see their sons go to battle on the country's behalf.  But things are changing so drastically by 1969 that even the patriotic citizens of Conroy are wondering whether their government can be trusted with something as precious as the lives of their sons.  Travis decides that for him the answer to that question is a most definite "no."  But small towns like Conroy do share a number of natural blessings - although, to be sure, some of those blessings, like the one where everyone in town knows pretty much everything about everyone else in town, are mixed blessings at best.  On the one hand, that makes for a nice, multi-generational support group for Travis when it comes to dealing with his father's threats; on the other, it means that Jesse knows pretty much everything Travis gets up to - and intends to make him pay the price accordingly.

East Jesus is one of those books that can come out of nowhere to surprise you with the punch it packs.  Coming of age is harder for some than for others, and it's hardest of all for boys like Travis with fathers who see their sons' maturation more as a personal threat than a passing of the torch to the next generation.  As Travis put it to himself late one night when he spotted a shooting star overhead, "...even a star wish seemed too lame to mend Shirl's broken heart, save Buster's lost brother, protect the Bean, stop the Heart O'Darkness, mangle Lester in a flaming wreck, and still have enough power left to get me and Buster laid."

No, it will take more than wishing on a star to fix all of Travis's problems. Travis, though, is up to the challenge - something his old man is about to learn the hard way.

Chris Manno matriculated from Springfield, Virginia and graduated from VMI in 1977 with a degree in English. He was commissioned in the Air Force and after completing flight training, spent seven years as a squadron pilot in the Pacific at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa and Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. He was hired by American Airlines as a pilot in 1985 and was promoted to captain in 1991. He flies today as a Boeing 737 captain on routes all over North America and the Caribbean. He earned a doctorate in residence at Texas Christian University and currently teaches writing at Texas Wesleyan University in addition to flying a full schedule at American Airlines. He lives in Fort Worth.
Each winner gets an author signed copy of East Jesus PLUS 
a free download of Chris's cartoon book #RudeLateNightCartoons 
  May 10 - May 19, 2016
5/10   Texas Book Lover  – Guest Post #1
5/11   Missus Gonzo  – Review

5/12   Country Girl Bookaholic  – Promo

5/13   Forgotten Winds  -- Review

5/14   StoreyBook Reviews     – Excerpt      

5/15   A Novel Reality            – Author Interview #1     

5/16   Book Chase      – Review      

5/17   All for the Love of the Word     – Guest Post #2     

5/18   My Book Fix Blog – Author Interview #2                                      

5/19   Hall Ways BlogReview

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