Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Some Books To Alleviate Holiday Boredom And Dread

For me, inactivity often induces existential angst and the feeling of the pointlessness of life. So I don't do well with blah holidays like New Year's Day, when people tend to laze around eating and watching sports and everything is closed. Maybe you're a bit this way yourself. If so, here are some books you could read -- my favorite novels and memoirs from the last year or two. All highly recommended!

Don't forget: if you want to support alternatives to the dystopian future where Amazon controls the world's reading material, you can always buy these from Barnes and Noble or Indigo.

Rakesh Satyal, Blue Boy
This novel tells the story of a kid named Kiran, of Indian descent, growing up in Ohio, who wants to wear makeup, hang out with girls, and possibly have sex with boys. Not surprisingly, Kiran struggles to find a way to fit in to his world. Funny and sad, but mostly funny.

Paul Beatty, The Sellout
It's almost impossible to describe The Sellout, as people have been discovering since it won the Man Booker prize and all kinds of other things. It's a satirical commentary on modern culture and modern America and modern race relations, told through some very .. unlikely plot elements, like a black hero who gets in trouble for trying to bring back segregation and slavery. Hilarious and biting.

Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer
The "sympathizer" in question is a a half-French, half-Vietnamese communist double agent at the end of the Vietnam War, who travels to the US ostensibly alongside US-supporting Vietnamese but secretly reporting back to his communist allies in Vietnam. I don't usually read the Q and Y type things at the end of books, but I did with this one, and the author said this one brilliant and fascinating thing. Usually, he said, books about colonized places written for the west fall into this trap of explaining the culture of the colonized place to the imperialist listener; this serves to flatten and misrepresent it. By having his narrator travel to the US and report back, he was able to fill his book with the opposite: explanations of US culture to outsiders. An amazing book.

Paul Murray, The Mark and the Void
About modern banking and everything else wrong with the world. We've already covered it in detail.

Riad Sattouf, Arab of the Future
Graphic memoir by an author who is half French and half Syrian, about growing up in Libya, Syria, and France, but also about the terrifying helplessness of childhood no matter what is going on.

Trevor Noah, Born a Crime
This memoir by the host of The Daily Show was so much better and more interesting than I thought it would be. Noah grew up in South Africa as a mixed race kid when it was literally illegal for people of different races to have sex and children. The book is about life under apartheid, complicated family relations, and being an awkward teenager. Also, it explains many things you probably didn't know, like why people sometimes name their kids "Hilter" in South Africa. Funny and sad, in equal measure. There is also violence, including domestic violence, so be careful to read this in the proper frame of mind.

Tarquin Hall, The Vish Puri detective series

If you're looking for something lighter and less serious than the other books listed, check out this serious about an Indian crime-solving detective. These books are entertaining and also contain many small interesting details about Indian food, politics, culture, corruption, family life, spirituality, language, history ... you name it. I had assumed the author was Indian, and when I discovered that he's a guy of British and American ancestry who grew up in the UK I was surprised, and honestly a bit disturbed -- it just seems different when this kind of culture commentary comes from an outsider. But Tarquin Hall lives in Delhi, and is married to an Indian woman, and the end of this interview at least suggests his novels are popular with readers in India.

Happy New Year, everyone!


Janet Vickers said...

An important book to read before finding ourselves in a pit of brutality: The Art of Power, Thich Nhat Hanh. Infinite Power, Janet Vickers (so I'm self promoting) :)

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