Main character Yolanda "Yo" Garcia has written a book that turns out to be immensely popular, which greatly
embarrasses her family, since they see Yo's characters as simple depictions of themselves--at their least appealing.
In retaliation, her friends and members of her family take their turns to describe anecdotally what Yo is really
like. Through the words of others, from the daughter of a maid who once worked for the Garcias, to Yo's mother and
father, the true character of Yolanda Garcia emerges and turns out to be far from either good or bad--in fact, she
is quite human, in the best sense of the word. I liked Yo because she seemed like she could be any one of us,
especially those of us who sometimes see ourselves as future writers.
My classification: Lighthearted, but not very short, so save this for a weekend, a full day of reading, or a couple of days during a tough week when you know you'll want something to feel good about at the end of the day.
UC Berkeley: Main Stack PS3551.L845 Y6 1997 or Moffitt PS3551.L845 Y6 1997b
On the way home for lunch one day I stopped at a small bookstore looking to find something pleasant to read
while munching. I found this short book and it is every bit as delightful as I had hoped my find would be. A
not-very-interesting middle-aged English couple come home from the opera one night to find that someone has robbed
their flat, not just of the valuables but of everything, right down to the toilet paper roll and its holder.
They have lived comfortably in this flat for thirty years, and now that it is completely bereft, they have a
decision to make: try to rebuild, or start over? Their responses take them in new and interesting directions.
Classification: Since this book is so short it is easily readable in an afternoon (I finished it in an hour, during lunch), and if you haven't too much else to do that afternoon you will happily spend the rest of it chewing over the events in the story. It is an easy book to get lost in, but not so long that you will have trouble finding your way out again. I highly recommend it. It is a pleasure... when finished you sigh deeply and smile at the world, and suppress an urge to go back to the beginning and read it all over again.
UC Berkeley: Main Stack PR6052.E5 C57 2001
This is the second book of Butler's that I've read, after Parable of the Sower (see below). If
possible, it is even more terrifying. The story is common enough to anyone acquainted with science fiction: a
modern black woman is called back in time again and again to save the life of a white Southern plantation owner; if
he dies without fathering a certain child, her ancestor, she will never come to exist. The actual telling, however,
is much more wrenching and dramatic than this summary. I can't even comprehend what kind of complex genius makes
Butler able to describe slavery in such realistic, emotional detail. I have read the major slave narratives all
students of American history have to read, and a decent amount of the analysis that has grown up around them, but
somehow this book makes it scarier, more understandable, and more believeable than any of those documents ever did.
(One of my professors, an Americanist, Jennifer Spear, must have agreed, because it was she who recommended this
book to our class.) It also delves deeply into the nature of human relationships, the complicated web that binds us
Classification: First of all, if you are at all interested in southern American slavery or slave networks, read this book. It is a revelation. Even if you don't consider yourself particularly interested in this subject, though, it's a spellbinding read. I recommend for this book much what I recommend for Parable of the Sower: You'll have to read this all at once, because it sucks you in too much to let you put it down. Read it in a well lighted place, where you feel safe. And if you have a significant other, for heaven's sake make sure that person is next to you. !
I do not own this book, so get it at UC Berkeley: Moffitt PS3552.U827.K5 1988
I bought this book for an English class I ended up dropping ("The Contemporary Novel"), but I kept the book
because it sounded so intriguing. Ever since I read it I have been recommending this to everyone, including my
summer geography instructor. It is set in Los Angeles in 2015, imagining that the worst impulses of humanity and
the worst effects of human actions have taken place. The heroine's parents have tried to raise her sheltered from
the horrors of this new world, but she is a strong realist who as she grows older refuses to remain sheltered. When
her parents' nightmares come true, she is left alone and now has no choice but to put into action whatever plans she
has been formulating on her own. An amazing story.
My classification: This will make you think, and it may also scare you. Don't read it at night, because even if you don't get scared it may confund your brain. Keep someone you trust around, and keep all the lights on, because this book really sucks you in.
Award-winning choreographer Bill T Jones liked this book enough to quote its line 'God is change' in a post-performance talk at UC Berkeley.
UCB: Main Stack PS3552.U827 P37 2000 or Moffitt PS3552.U827 P37 2000
I sought out this novel after a recommendation in Real Simple magazine. The author creates a lovely,
touching story about the mysterious girl depicted in one of Vermeer's paintings (see it here). This book works on many
levels. First, it is a sweet and enjoyable story. Second, it is set in a time and place with which most of us are
unfamiliar: the city of Delft, Holland, in the seventeenth century; everyday details and locations are described
with such simplicity and clarity that you leave the book feeling that you now know this place quite well. Third,
you will learn a great deal about Vermeer, not just his life story but also little things to look for in his work.
As he is generally considered one of the great masters of painting, if not THE master, it is useful to have such an
introduction. The main character, Griet, begins with no art training but with an excellent eye, and as she learns
more about painting, so do you, the reader, and Vermeer's paintings become much more personal and
Classification: This is a peaceful, pensive book that does well with a comfortable reading spot and some sunshine, but would probably bring a touch of gentle beauty to any situation. :) Ideally, however, get cozy before picking it up, because I think it deserves more than a rushed reading or a noisy location. To find out more, or for more information about the paintings mentioned (after you've read the book), check this website.
UCB: Main Stack PS3553.H4367 G57 1999
This fairly short novel circulates around a boy living in Chinatown who is rather unfortunately named Donald
Duk. Partly because of his name, Donald dislikes his Chinese heritage and seeks to distance himself from it as much
as possible. However, when Chinese New Year draws near, and his best friend, who is not Chinese, comes to spend a
week with the Duk family in order to celebrate the New Year and learn more about Chinese culture, Donald is forced
to re-examine exactly what it is he dislikes while being simultaneously stuffed into a situation that is possibly
more Chinese than anything else he could experience. This book is sometimes very odd, but I must agree with one
reviewer who said it was worth it if only for the complete lack of stereotypes.
Classification: Like I said, this book can be odd. It's still worth reading, but if you suspect you will also find it odd, don't be reading it on the bus or in a noisy place. You won't be able to get into the story.
I do not own. UCB: Main Stack PS3553.H4897 D6 1991 or Moffitt PS3553.H4897 D6 1991
I have always thought that someone should write a book depicting early human life in a believeable way. I had no
idea it had already been done, and more breathtakingly than I could have ever conceived. Gift of Stones is
set during the Stone Age, in a coastal village whose wealth and well-being come from the inhabitants' ability to
shape stone into tools. One boy of this village, an orphan, is brutally wounded and disabled at a young age,
thereby rendering him unfit for stonework for the rest of his life. He wanders the coastline, tasting what the
world outside his village has to offer, coming back to his community as a gifted storyteller with fantastic tales of
what lies beyond.
Classification: The pace of this story is simultaneously slow and rapid, allowing room for the quirks of storytelling but still describing events of great urgency and adventure. It manages to be thoughtful and even gentle, but unflinching, in telling of both beauty and violence. This book is the greatest paean to the storyteller's art I have ever encountered, and may well be the most evocative story I have ever read. In reading it, I would allow ample time to finish it (it's not long) in one sitting, so you can fully immerse yourself in its world. It takes a little while to feel yourself move so far back in time, but the transition is natural--and amazing.
UCB: Main Stack PR6053.R228.G541 1988 or Moffitt PR6053.R228.G54 1988
I bought this book while writing my senior thesis, because it sounded interesting and because I thought Fong-Torres's recollections of life in a Chinatown restaurant family might yield some insights for my paper. After finding that his Chinatown was Oakland, not San Francisco, and that even his father's restaurant career took place after my time period, I put the book on my "to-read" shelf and didn't look at it again until today, when I was eating dinner and wanted something to read. Now I've stayed up past my bedtime to finish it. I'd become disillusioned with Chinese American memoirs previously because they all started to sound the same, but this book is evidence that it's possible to treat the subject of growing up both Chinese and American in a fresh and very individual way while retaining that spirit of candid reflection that makes autobiographies so endearing and moving.
Classification: This is a very quick read, but has a lot of poignant sadness to it, especially toward the end, so keep that in mind while reading. It's an especially beautiful work if Chinese American issues resonate with you, but you don't have to actually be Chinese American to get something out of this book. If you're at all interested in the history of the nineteen-sixties and seventies in the Bay Area, or in the history of rock and roll, this book provides a fascinating firsthand account into both of those experiences. Or, even if you just like personal histories, this will appeal to you on that count.
UCB: Main Stack E184.C5.F65 1994
I just finished this book, a complex and time-consuming work chronicling the lives of the five members of one modern
Midwestern family. Although the roughly five and a half hundred pages cannot be rushed, they are incredibly
rewarding, penetrating your thoughts and your understanding of our world more deeply than perhaps any other book
you've ever read. Some of my other favorite books are well loved because they are so timeless, but this one is
refreshing and amazingly astute in its relevance. The characters could be people we know, or even ourselves, in any
past, present or future incarnation. I have a hard time putting into words exactly what I feel about this book,
because its threads are so closely and intricately woven that it seems impossible to pick out any one as an example
All I can say is Franzen is brilliant. His book brings me a much greater sympathy for the world and the people
around me, and also for myself.
I believe this book has been receiving a lot of positive attention lately, from the New York Times book
review and others, so I was astoundingly fortunate to find it completely new, in hardback, at the university
library's bookstore (open 11-2 only, Monday through Thursday), for $9.50!
My classification: Like I said, this is slow going, but it's also easy to put down and pick up again. I don't mean this as an insult. It does well with time to digest, because it comes at you with all the complexities of life itself and sometimes you just need to pause. I read about half of it last week and then just left it for a while, and came back to it again a few days ago. Unlike many of the books I recommend, I don't think there's a big problem in reading this book in a busy place or with other people around. In fact it might be nice to have someone around with whom you can share your thoughts. If you find the first few pages jarringly contemporary (they're not weird contemporary, just, well, they've got a style, let's say), don't worry, that's completely temporary and by the time you start to know the characters the narrative form becomes something to which we are accustomed. Read this book if you want something you can really sink your teeth into. It's substantial both in size and in quality. An additional perk I really like is that one of the main characters is a professional chef...
UCB: Main stacks OR Morrison room: PS3556.R352.C67 2001
This is an amazing book, both in plot and in language. On the surface it is a simple coming-of-age story of a young
girl named Eliza, a social and familial outcast/misfit, who suddenly enjoys the attention of all those around her
when she wins the district spelling bee. Eventually, the events set in motion by her success lead to deeper and
more surprising discoveries, not just by Eliza but also by the other members of her family. Each person struggles
in his or her own way to find the essential meaning of life and proof of the existence of God (this is my
interpretation; the book is both all about and not at all about religion). Partly because of the spelling bees,
language is very much a central character, and it takes on an astounding mystical significance. There is also some
truly mind-blowing imagery in this book; how could there not be when the characters are attempting to glimpse
eternity? I recommend this very highly and cannot wait until Myla Goldberg produces another work.
Classification: This novel covers a lot of ground, ranging from the complete mundaneness of school life, to the incomprehensible beauty of true perfection. There's a lot more of the school stuff at the beginning, and it's very funny and apt and enjoyable. Later on it gets very deep and if you want to really take in what you're reading, you have to slow the pace and read where no one will bother you. In the end the book takes a longer time than it would seem, but the experience is transcendental.
UCB: Main Stack PS3557.O35819.B44 2000
This is a 'kid's book'; that is, it was not intended for adults, but it is nevertheless an intelligently written and
completely engaging work by a husband and wife writing together. I very much sympathize with the main character,
Rachel Green, who loves classical music and has interesting, intellectual, artistic parents in a small town in
Wisconsin where most people aren't interested in (or don't know about) such things. Here's a snippet:
Mr Gilbert [the history teacher] coached football, and if you didn't play sports, you were nobody in his book. Usually, history class consisted of people taking turns reading newspaper articles aloud, and they'd wind up talking about spring training or the breakup of some Hollywood romance.Remind you of high school at all? Poor Rachel!
Today, Mr Gilbert called on Rachel, and she read an article from the New York Times about the exiled Dalai Lama, who had given a speech at the UN in New York. A boy behind her said, 'Dolly who? Dolly Parton?' and everyone laughed, including Mr Gilbert.
The article was long, and halfway through, when she glanced up, she saw Carol [her best friend... sort of] smiling uncomfortably at her. When she finished, Mr Gilbert said, 'Huhnn, the New York Times. Pret-ty fancy. Anyone have something a little more local? Something we regular folks could relate to? Anybody following the Brewers this week?'
Any personal memoir written by someone who grew up in a family of twelve children would be interesting enough, but
James McBride's story is complicated (and made more interesting) by the issue of race: his father is dead, his
mother appears to be white, and all the kids are black. While he was growing up, James often asked his mother about
her background, but she bluntly refused to answer all questions, and instead told him to 'Educate yourself or you'll
be a nobody!' From the introduction:
As a boy, I never knew where my mother was from--where she was born, who her parents were. When I asked she'd say, 'God made me.' When I asked if she was white, she'd say, 'I'm light-skinned,' and changed the subject. She raised twelve black children and sent us all to college and in most cases graduate school. Her children became doctors, professors, chemists, teachers--yet none of us even knew her maiden name until we were grown. It took me fourteen years to unearth her remarkable story--the daughter of an Orthodox Jewish rabbi, she married a black man in 1942--and she revealed it more as a favor to me than out of any desire to revisit her past.In finally hearing the story of his mother's life, James begins at last to understand the complex events and decisions that make him who he is.
"They seek him here/They seek him there/Those Frenchies seek him everywhere. Is he from Heaven, or from
Hell?/That demned, elusive Scarlet Pimpernel!" Ever since my sister saw the movie and walked around quoting these
lines (or the movie's version of them) in a dandified English accent, she has wanted to read the book, which she did
this summer, with such enthusiasm that she made me read it as well. At which time I fell in love with it also.
This novel looks frighteningly like a very boring old thing but was not really written all that long ago, and
contains practically all the elements necessary to a thoroughly enjoyable read: swashbuckling adventure, dramatic
intrigue, a very siighhhhhh romance... A wonderful old-fashioned story.
Classification: Don't judge a book by its cover, if you wind up with the same turnoff edition we had. This book is suitable for reading anytime, unless you're in a mood to poke at a lack of political correctness and feminist viewpoint.
I do not own this book. UCB: Moffitt PR6029.R25 S28 1992
EXCITING! You can also read the full text of the book online, here.
The Changelings is a very powerful, richly written book, about fighting back against prejudice. In a general
sense, the story focuses on a white (primarily Jewish) community which is determined to repel the entry of black
residents into their neighborhood. We meet some of the people involved and find out just how deep their prejudices
go, and what these prejudices say about the people who hold them. On a more focused level, the novel concerns two
twelve-year-old girls, one white and one black, as they attempt to make sense of the world around them. The normal
difficulties of growing up and trying to find their places in the world are painfully intertwined with the larger
racial struggle, and Judith and Clara deal with both in a courageous and moving way, rejecting their parents' way of
life while accepting their parents as people (something many of us are still struggling with!). One of the biggest
reasons I liked this book was that none of the characters in it, particularly not the main characters, came across
as ordinary or stereotypical. Judith and Clara are tough tomboys, leaders of gangs, smokers and fighters. And
while the others around them are not such unusual figures--a sensitive invalid, a rebellious son, a dreamy and
hopeful single woman, etc--they are depicted in such a realistic and uncompromising way that they are always
believeable; no one is idealized or sentimentalized. The plot is so complex and richly layered that I know I'm not
doing it justice here. And I am amazed that this book, written in the fifties, is still so relevant and
Classification: The book is electrifying, but not all the way through; I have to admit that for the first seventy or so pages I was a little bored and I thought this was just going to be a so-so book. The definitely dated typesetting and cover do not help at all (I believe there's only one edition, so there's no escape for you!). It is not a long book, but it seems long because it is so complex and because the beginning is so slow and the print so unappealingly old-looking. Mainly, I would not recommend reading this right before going to sleep, although it is a nice evening read (maybe early evening?). First, if you are sleepy, the slow-moving first part will be extra dull. And third, the ending is not conducive to restfulness, which is why I am now up at two fifteen am writing this review! Another thing: I always find that I would rather be alone to read books that really move me, so if that's also the case for you, make sure no one else is around. Once you start to get to know the characters, once you get past the development, things really start moving and you will be entirely engrossed. A stunningly crafted and very, very powerful work.
I will own this book someday! UCB: Moffitt PS3537.E3514.C46 1985
This is Ying's favorite book. If you don't know Ying, I do, and if it is her favorite book that means you should
read it too. It is one of my favorites as well. It's a big thing to say about one novel, but I do believe this one
contains all the beauty, compassion, wisdom, love and truth of the world within its pages, as much as one book can
anyway. I suppose some would say the Bible does this as well, but without trying to say which is better, I must
point out that this one is not full of 'begat's. It is a beautiful book, tragic and nostalgic and very very funny,
just like real life. If you want to know what it is about, the bare facts tell very little: It is the coming-of-age
story of a girl named Francie, set in the poor sections of Brooklyn around 1910. I wish there were some more
effective way of telling people to read this. It is a rare treasure, truly.
Classification: This is good reading anytime, because it does not contain too much of any one kind of feeling or writing. It might take a while because it is not a short book, but--and I hope I can say this without sounding lonely--it will be a friend to you while you read.
UCB: Main Stack PS3537.M2895 T7 1943
I think it is with good reason that this novel is far lesser known than Betty Smith's first book (see above); this
one is shorter and doesn't hold as much of life's meaning in it. On the other hand, it is just as well and truly
written, and in some ways it spoke to me more than the other one did, probably because its setting is more similar
to my own life. The two main characters, Annie and Carl, are eighteen and twenty respectively, and the events of
the novel take place on a college campus or in the town surrounding it. Annie and Carl have just gotten married
against their parents' wishes and are finding out that marriage and all it entails are a lot more difficult than
they thought it would be. I'm not so sure about Carl, but I liked Annie's character a lot and really sympathized
with her. She is naive and inexperienced, but also intelligent, optimistic and tremendously strong.
Classification: Like many other good books, this one sucked me in and prevented me from studying (I lterally told myself in the middle of each chapter that this would be the last, and at the end of each I just had to keep going), although not right away: I started the book last night and was able to put it down after a few chapters, but once I started reading today there was no hope. It is loving and inspiring and uplifting, and for these reasons is probably excellent for reading right before you need to start doing anything (cooking, studying, going to a party) since it will give you the energy to do it. But I don't think you should read it while other people might want to talk to you. There isn't much room for sociability in the reading. Also, it will effectively quash any interest you might have in getting married while still in college, at least for the time being. :)
UCB: The Berkeley library doesn't have this book! I do, though, so if you want it, talk to me. :)
If you haven't already heard about Maus, the two-volume work is what we would generally call a graphic novel, or long comic book, about the author's father's experiences during the Holocaust. This was enough to get me to want to read it, but it doesn't do justice to what an astoundingly original work this is.
One thing that always bothers me about the more well-known horrors of history is that we keep hearing about them, and thus become somewhat inured to their significance. We read The Diary of Anne Frank in eighth grade, watched the movie, and visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. And for most of us that completed our education in Nazi atrocities, which would serve ever after to symbolize in our minds the worst of human nature. We are shocked and horrified, but we can't afford to re-experience that strength of emotion all the time, so we put such horrors out of our minds while we go about the rest of our daily lives. Maus brought all that stupefied shock back to me in a whole new way. The graphic format puts a whole new slant on the Holocaust and somehow, through its black-and-white cartoon images, makes it all seem much more real than it ever did. Perhaps because the author is also learning this story from someone else, he channels the same emotions we have into his telling of the story, which makes it that much more complex and stunning to us the readers. I think everyone should read Maus, not just because it is so beautiful (and horrible), but also just to remind us how incredibly fortunate we are to be able to live every day as we do.
Classification: This is such an absorbing book it becomes a short read, though there's a huge amount of human emotion packed into these pages. Find a place where you can read undisturbed by other people who are just doing their usual thing, because it's hard to deal with the ordinary world when you're reading about babies being killed and people betraying their friends. But don't be entirely alone; Maus holds the potential to deeply depress you, and you might want to have close at hand some means to draw you out of the book every now and then when it gets to be too much.
I have a feeling I'll want to reread this book often. When I get some extra cash I'll buy the set, it's that powerful.
I don't own yet! UCB: MAIN D810.J4.S6431 1986 for volume one;
MAIN D804.3.S66 1991 for volume two;
There seems to also be a computer version at the Media Center (on-site use only) at AVMC COMPU/D 318
By the way, you may also want to check out Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything Is Illuminated while you're at it. It's a wonderful book in its own right (I read it a while ago but never had the chance to write a review about it, and now someone else has my copy) and also contains some very powerful perspectives on the Holocaust.
Flipped is a teen romantic comedy about a girl named Juli and a boy named Bryce who have known each other since they were kids. Juli's been in love with Bryce since the first time she saw him, but Bryce has always been weirded out by her free-spiritedness. By the time they get to eighth grade, Bryce is opening up to Juli's true value, while Juli begins to wonder if Bryce is really worth it.
The story is great, but it's got more to recommend it than just plot. The chapters are told alternately by Bryce and Juli, and hearing their separate experiences and perspectives lends suspense, clarification, and humor. The sense of neighborhood and location are as good as that of The Lovely Bones. The characters (and not just the main two) are as complex as life, and the ending is realistic, not fairytale. All in all, the story makes sense. It could happen. It probably has happened. Like I always say, children's and teen books are completely underrated. This is a wonderful book.
Classification: This should be good to read anywhere, anytime. And if for some reason the thought of reading a non-adult book makes you nervous, the cover's clean, appealing design makes the book suitable for reading in public. ;b
As an "adolescent novel" this book will probably never make it into the UCB library, but it's probably easy to find at any public library. But I now own it, because Al didn't like it/didn't get it so she said I could have her copy! :D
Reviewed 13 May 2004.
I picked up this book from the same class I got the Butler one from. It is a beautifully written work, with the artistic blend of fantasy and realistic fiction I have always liked so much in other books. First paragraphs:
It was Napoleon who had such a passion for chicken that he kept his chefs working around the clock. What a kitchen that was, with birds in every state of undress; some still cold and slung over hooks, some turning slowly on the spit, but most in wasted piles because the Emperor was busy.Despite the dead birds, the novel focuses upon two very interesting people, Henri and Villanelle, first explaining from the point of view of each what passion truly is, then throwing the two together to see if they can together create something like their ideal.
Odd to be so governed by an appetite.
Unexpectedly appealing book about a woman who thinks her life is perfect, only to discover that her fiancÚ
(her high school sweetheart) is also engaged to two other women at the same time. With her life thus upturned, she
needs to start seriously thinking about what to do with her life; since she has been planning to marry the same man
since age seventeen, what will she do with all those dreams he now no longer deserves to be part of?
Classification: Start this when you feel like reading what I call "stupid books," things you can read and laugh at without having to think much at all. By the time you realize this actually deals with some quite serious issues, it will be too late to put it down! And when you are finished, it will have redeemed itself in a way truly stupid books never manage.
I do not own this. UCB: Morrison Rm PS3623.I85 M4 2002