July 2020 Book Review: Dying, time travelling, animals talking, creepy exchanges

As far as my series of book review is concerned, I left you on March 2020 when I talked about books written by women. I guarantee you that your Kindle junkie is still tap-tapping that rectangle thing. However, I got caught up with old stuff, new stuff, sharp stuff that had beaten the hell out of me these past few months. I’ll allow myself an ample time to feature the novels I pored over someday–hopefully before the year ends.

On July I entered book clubs and got out of them. Found one reading companion but I was left behind. We’re supposed to read Sunita Puri’s memoir, but the thing with the act of reading is I still go on with or without somebody.

Less about me and more about the books: unlike the thematic tradition that I observed previously, these groups are a diverse set of genres. There’s one nonfiction about death, a young adult book about dealing with grief, a speculative fiction that walked me through a difficult time in US history, and two pretty graphic books.

That Good Night: Life and Medicine in the Eleventh Hour by Sunita Puri

“We all have our suffering. Whether you can use yours to connect to the suffering of another is a separate matter entirely.” —That Good Night by Sunita Puri

There is more to be learned from the experience of a palliative care specialist Sunita Puri in allowing her patients a comfortable exit and a goodbye they deserve. In this uncertain times brought by COVID-19, this memoir is greatly recommended for us to consider looking at life and death in a generative outlook. 

Aside from her endearing portrayal of a doctor’s life and her patient’s dignity, she also lifts sacred teachings in Bhagavad Gita and Joan Didion’s quotes to guide her from talking about things we are uncomfortable talking about.

It will never not effect a lasting impact on me when she narrates a time she touched both her dying patient and her own pulse, and felt that it was difficult for her to recognize which she was touching, for both pulses had matched in their ebb and flow.

The way she likens life as “infinity in a seashell,” a “temporary gift,” and her assurance that death does not erase a life makes me want to be comfortable of my potentially infirm body, which I admit to be something I have to gracefully embrace. 

Rating: 🐈🐈🐈🐈/5 cats

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carole Rifka Brunt

“You never get it, do you? You never get who people are to you.” —Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Little teens may have no sufficient grasp of the real happenings in the world, but they love unconditionally. I guess that’s how young people process grief as June clings on to her uncle Finn until his death due to AIDS complications on the onset of the said epidemic, and learns to accept and love Finn’s partner despite her family’s prohibition. Love can be embarrassing sometimes but it’s blind to prejudices and reputation, and that’s what this pretty novel has portrayed.

June is made an outcast of the novel with her fixation on Mozart and the medieval times and her fascination of the woods to show her connection to her uncle and people infected by HIV/AIDS who, in the time the novel was set (and arguably, until now), were also outcasts themselves.

This could be the mother of the YA book/period novel I read on April, Abdi Nazemian’s Like A Love Story, which portrays the confusion, injustices, the dire conditions, and the flicker of hope that people with HIV/AIDS had experienced in 80’s. 

Brunt’s novel takes it further as she layers the narrative with familial issues, grief, first love, and growing old in a problematic society. As an advocate, I am drawn to the power of this novel with some learning that one’s illness is also a collective struggle, and even with the breakthroughs on HIV research, much is still to be initiated to educate all people about how they maintain dignity to people living with chronic diseases.

Rating: 🐈🐈🐈🐈/5 cats 

Kindred by Octavia Butler

“That’s history. It happened whether it offends you or not.” —Kindred by Octavia Butler

It starts with a brutal scene of an amputated arm which frightened me. 

Among the limited range of speculative fiction I have read (Neil Gaiman, Dean Alfar, that’s all), Kindred is a story I both revelled in and embraced—with all its astounding manipulation of time and space and a retelling of slave history in America. Butler integrates time traveling as a sci-fi convention and opts a first-person point-of-view that we encounter on memoirs which is similar to the slave narratives by Douglass. We are put close to the experiences of Dana, who may have been liberated (on paper) from racial segregation and slavery, but are subjected to be around her slave ancestors to realize that she still struggles with white supremacy and sexism in 70s America.

I am ashamed to share that the slave narratives that our American Literature Course allowed were mostly written by whites, far removed from the lived experience of the blacks and further reinforce the stereotypes that hamper us on understanding the history (I am talking about Uncle Tom’s Cabin and To Kill A Mockingbird). Butler utilizes the trope of a “mammy” or a black servant, the subservient-Black-saving-the-white, and so on to subvert the problematic lines fed to us. It uncovers sexual violence against the Blacks, a historical fact hidden to us (this is to say I am indicating a trigger warning on the scathing depiction of rape and molestation). 

Finally, Butler puts Kevin, a white male, vis-a-vis his wife, Dana for us to witness his complicity and the unequal treatment between races and sexes. This dimension for me is one of the most striking part: How can you reconcile the fact that the person you married came from the genealogy of oppression? Is there any way they could do to help?

Further questions came through me while reading: Is past the present? What happens if we are devoid of/deliberately avoid our painful history?  And in the present times, considering that Dana says this to Kevin, “I never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slavery,” in what ways are we maintaining the divide of races and classifications of persons?

Rating: 🐈🐈🐈🐈/5 cats

The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy

Buy this book here.

It’s vile to hate this cute book, so I am giving this 2.5 stars: 2 for the illustrations and .5 for the letters.

In a span of 15 minutes you’re able to walk through the misadventures and pontifications of the boy’s friends. This would be effective if you take each page as a greeting card or a cat poster but only with the aforementioned animals. I sure loved the pieces of wisdom on self-respect, unity, fellowship, but combining these grand themes of life makes the narrative convoluted (for a lack of a better term).

Then again the preface permits you to read it any way you want—you may start in the middle, or read it backwards. It’s just not for me.

I will say this again: I love the artwork part of it.

I am still going to recommend this to you if you need distraction. What’s another 15 minutes to attempt to reflect on the world we live in?

Rating: 🐈🐈.5/5 cats

Griffin and Sabine (#1) by Nick Bantock

Get the book here.

A quite interesting epistolary tale, but it started creepy to me. Who in the right mind would send you intrusive thoughts, and why would you reply to it? It welcomes a lot of speculation: Is Griffin just talking to himself? Is Sabine a real person? Is this a critique on the colonial project of the West?

I would have appreciated this more if I bought a physical book of this as it’s more an art product with the letters and postcards you can pull out from it. If I have a chance I would read its sequel as it ended on a cliffhanger.

Rating: 🐈🐈🐈/5 cats

PS: Thanks for reaching this part. The month of August marks the #BuwanNgMgaAkdangPinoy, which encourages us to read books written by Filipino authors. I already promised myself a list of Filipino books, but I still want to hear more from you. Do you have any recommendations?

PPS: More bookish things on my Instagram and Goodreads account.

PPPS: I recently launched a Tinyletter Account called Against the Undertow. I’d love to give you words that may be too rough to post on this blog, too wordy for my tweets, or too incriminating for any platform. I’m talking about diary entries, drafts, songs and memes I’d strongly recommend, and any intimations. See you there

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