Monday, January 11, 2010

A Misanthrope’s Guide to Lunch Break Books

You might remember that one of my goals for 2010 is to read 100 books. Reading that much is important to me because it is one of the main ways I fit magic into any spare moment of my day: while eating my Cheerios and Kashi; drying my hair; waiting for dinner to cook; eating in the dreaded office break room.

I thought I’d share with you what was first out of the gate. I’m going to skip the synopsis. If you’re interested, you can find that here. Click on the book on my bookshelf to see details and other people’s reviews.

The Education of a British Protected Child

Chinua Achebe

I’m typically not a fan of essays. They can be insightful, but they can also ramble and list toward the sentimental, especially if they are taken from speeches. Perhaps these essays approach my peeves when Achebe knows his audience personally, at least better than he knows the general reader, but they include the reality rendering insights that made me love his novels. Let’s face it, I’ll read anything he writes.

While the essays are compiled around themes, they can stand alone. It is a great book to have on hand if you only have a few minutes to read and you want something that will stretch your world. On a misanthropic note, it is also good to keep the coworkers away during lunch. They think you’re an intellectual.

The Illustrated Man

Ray Bradbury

Ray and I have a turbulent relationship. I love him, and then I’ll hurl him across the room. The Illustrated Man maintains our status quo. There was a story I simply skipped. I’m sure its message would be apparent if I gave it a chance, but I cannot get past the overbearing influence of a 1950s white male. Some stories make me laugh out loud. If you have a bent for theology in science fiction (which I’m convinced beats those snotty old German boys any day), go for “The Fire Balloons.” You’ve probably read some of these stories in your freshman English lit courses, but give them a try in a ratty Bantam paperback and not a high school anthology. If nothing else, it keeps the coworkers away at lunch. They think you’re one of those scary sci-fi geeks.

Milagros, Girl from Away

Meg Medina

I purchased Milagros months ago when I heard the author speak. Meg is vivacious, hysterically funny, and gives crystalline observations about life and fiction. I thought if Meg conveys any of herself into the book, it is something I want to read. The good news is she did. The bad news is Milagros lacks Meg’s spunk.

Milagros is juvenile fiction. That isn’t an insult. It is marketed for children. Like all children’s books, it tackles “adult” issues but can mix them with magical realism. Many of my favorite books fall under this category. Sometimes Meg nails the blend of mystical and mundane; other times it can be a bit jarring.

It is a brilliant debut novel, but I hope her future books will eliminate the generalizations and tone down the overt personifications. Her biggest strength is the use of metaphor and simile: “Whispers. Gossip. Humiliating family stories. All of these scraped and rattled behind Milagros, fastened miserably to her like noisy tin cans on a string.” Read it, even if it is only to make your coworkers think you have arrested development.

Curl up this week with a nice cup of tea or hot chocolate and a bit of hand held magic.

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