Introduce Yourself! BBAW Day 1

When two of my favorite book bloggers on the internetz co-host an event, I HAVE to be a part of it!

Day-OneIntroduce-yourself

So here’s what you’re supposed to do on Day 1: Introduce yourself by telling us about five books that represent you as a person or your interests/lifestyle.

Let’s start with the newest one in this list—The Wee Free Men which I got around to reading after Ana’s heartfelt review of The Shepherd’s Crown, the last one in the Tiffany Aching series (The Wee Free Men is the first).

Why am I choosing this book? Because in Pratchett, and in Pratchett’s portrayal of Tiffany Aching, I have found a kindred spirit. Like I said in my review of The Wee Free Men: The Wee Free Men struck a deep and resonant chord with me. Its nine-year old protagonist reminded me of the girl I used to be though Tiffany Aching is WAAAYYYYYYY MORE smarter, and MUCH more put together than I ever was at her age! Even more, I felt this sense of familiarity that is hard to put words to. It was as if the nebulous mist that I carry around in my head had suddenly coalesced into words, and shapes, and forms! In Pratchett, I feel like I have found a kindred spirit.

the wee free men terry pratchettAlso, BOOKS! AREN’T THEY GIRNORMOUSLY AWESOME?!! I’m not a nine-year-old. Nor do I live on the chalks. Or have an army of tiny, blue tattooed fairies all around me. BUT oh, there is this sense of RECOGNITION, this feeling of the very depths of my soul being reflected in what Terry Pratchett writes that takes my breath away. (Did you notice how I carefully refrained from mentioning how I’m NOT a witch like Tiffany Aching is?)

Second is one of my favorite books of poetry by my favorite translator-poets of all time, Daniel Ladinsky: Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West. Ladinsky is famous for his translations, or non-translations according to many, of one of the greatest Sufi poets of all times, Hafiz. I’ve been reading his work for more than ten years now, and if Pratchett’s writings is my soul’s translation in prose, then Hafiz and Ladinsky are probably its poetic version. Here’s my favoritest of all Hafiz-Ladinsky collaborations:

Even
after
all this time
the sun never says to the earth,

“You owe me.”

Look
what happens
with a love like that—

it lights up the whole
world.

The next one has to be Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. See, I’m the kind of person who thinks that life lies in the details of our day to day existence. I love celebrating the “big events” that mark our lives and ratcheting up words in their favor but what I love even more is finding the poetry in the everyday stuff of our lives. It just seems a tad stupid to me to leave happy feelings for only the “occasions.” The occasions matter of course but what about the morning sunlight, and the afternoon teas, and the quiet conversations and the deep breaths and that sort of stuff? Emily St. John Mandel agrees (Or so I think anyway!). And that is why I’m choosing Station Eleven as the third book that I think says something about me.

love poems from god daniel ladinskyFourth is The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. I’m choosing this one because the tension that it depicts between Gogol and his parents struck very close to home for me. It’s not that Gogol doesn’t love his parents, nor that his parents don’t love Gogol, just that. . . there’s a weight of expectations, a lot of it stemming from the cultural milieu that is India, that puts them at cross-purposes with one another. Lahiri really captured the experience of generations of Indian parents and children in her book.

Fifth is not a book, but a poet, Mary Oliver. . . What do I say about her that is coherent and weaves together all my love for not only the images she paints but also the words that she paints them with? To say that she writes about nature would be to paint an incomplete picture. She talks about moments in time and often those moments feature oaks, and fishes, and herons, and “wild geese, high in the clean blue air.” But that’s not it. It’s what she does with those snapshots, mixing them up with her own essential self, that makes her poetry what it is. My current favorite from her is not even about nature. It’s just a four-liner that I often chant to myself:

Things take the time they take,
Don’t worry.
How many roads did Saint Augustine follow
Before he became Saint Augustine?

I also want to mention Walt Whitman though it’s only recently that I have started reading Leaves of Grass. I wish I could end every sentence that I write in relation to him with an exclamation point—such is Whitman’s exuberance and vigor. His vision and the all-encompassing largeness of it, and the generosity with which he proclaims from his poetic pulpit amaze and enthrall me each time that I dip in and out of his words.

So yes, that’s it from me. I would love to know what five books you think speak to who you are. And of course if you’re participating in BBAW, do leave a link to your own post!

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

I love stories which read like a love song dedicated to the everydayness of our lives. There’s something about that amplification of the extraordinariness in the ordinary—details that we take for granted, details that our gaze barely manages to register—that speaks to me in a way that nothing else can. I’m also a sucker for stories that focus on the indomitability of the human spirit, no matter the odds. Station Eleven is basically woven out of the warp and weft of these two strands, and so it’s no surprise that I really, really liked it.

A deadly, fast-acting flu wipes out 99% of the world’s population right at the start of the story. It’s a testimony to Mandel’s writing that the build-up to this inevitable, fast-approaching doom though devoid of any panicked scenes of chaos still manages to be completely chilling:

The conversation in Spanish went on in the nearby darkness. The shops still shone on the horizon; there was still no breeze. It was morning in New York City. She imagined Clark hanging up the receiver in his office in Manhattan. This was during the final month of the era when it was possible to press a series of buttons on a telephone and speak with someone on the far side of the earth.

Civilization as we know it is “brutally interrupted,” and is reduced to a barebones version of itself. Time flows back and the world becomes what it used to be before technology and industrialization convened to shape it in its currently recognizable form.

station eleven emily st john mandelWoven through this narrative of a residual humanity—that one would assume would be focused on survival rather than going about brazenly proclaiming “Because survival is insufficient”—is the portrait of lives before the fall. The fulcrum of these lives is an aging actor, Arthur Leander, who dies of a heart-attack in the very first pages of the book. The crossing over of these lives—their interconnectedness—and the way Arthur Leander himself is at the center of all these connections is one of my favorite parts about this book. (And for the record, I guessed correctly—the very first time I might add—the identity of the prophet).

The moving in and out of the pre-fall world and the post-fall world made reading Station Eleven a dreamlike experience. The act of looking at the current world through Mandel’s post apocalyptic lens, and the immediacy of this post apocalyptic world—just 20 years from an unknown current date—lent a poignancy to the story which wasn’t necessarily sad but was more akin to suddenly finding yourself becoming a spectator in your own life, and feeling like you’ve become a sort of voyeur even though you once knew everything intimately.

You walk into a room and flip a switch and the room fills with light. You leave your garbage in bags on the curb, and a truck comes and transports it to some invisible place. When you’re in danger, you call for the police. Hot water pours from faucets. Lift a receiver or press a button on a telephone, and you can speak to anyone. All of the information in the world is on the Internet, and the Internet is all around you, drifting through the air like pollen on a summer breeze. There is money, slips of paper that can be traded for anything: houses, boats, perfect teeth.

I don’t think I got attached to any specific character in the story but the writing and the wanting-to-know-how-it-all-comes-together was compelling enough to keep me reading.

[The following section might be slightly spoiler-y so just wanted to insert this here]

One last aspect that I want to mention was the way that the prophet’s character was portrayed towards the end. It would have been very easy to cast him as a raving lunatic who should be destroyed at all costs. That Mandel gives him a very understated backstory, and that the words “We long only to go home . . . We dream of sunlight, we dream of walking on earth” are central to the scene, and that these words come from the “Station Eleven” comic made me like Station Eleven a little bit more.

End of could-be spoilery-y section

I’ll end with another bit that spoke to me:

Toronto was falling silent. Every morning the quiet was deeper, the perpetual hum of the city fading away.

. . .

On silent afternoons in his brother’s apartment, Jeevan found himself thinking about how human the city is, how human everything is. We bemoaned the impersonality of the modern world, but that was a lie, it seemed to him; it had never been impersonal at all. There had always been a massive delicate infrastructure of people, all of them working unnoticed around, and when people stop going to work, the entire operation grinds to a halt. No one delivers fuel to the gas stations or the airports. Cars are stranded. Airplanes cannot fly. Trucks remain at their points of origin. Food never reaches the cities; grocery stores close. Businesses are locked and then looted. No one comes to work at the power plants or the substations, no one removes fallen trees from electrical lines.