52 Books in 2013 Challenge: April Update

Due to some personal reasons, April has been a less than great month for me, so the catch-up I was hoping for didn’t quite happen and I only managed 3 books, meaning I’m still behind target.  But here’s hoping with the beautiful weather I’m more inspired to read a little more now and get up to date with the challenge.  Here’s what I managed in April…

Book 11: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

thingfallapartThis was the first time I’d read this book, despite having heard about it many times during my short stint on a literature-based degree, and as often happens when an author dies I decided that it was time to finally get acquainted with of his works.  When Chinua Achebe died in March of this year, this title was mentioned in every obituary and article about the writer, so I managed to find my copy (unread, pristine condition, what a treat) and figured I’d give it a shot.
Once I’d got my head around the names – which at times are very similar or there are characters with the same name, or one character with two different names, or two characters from different villages with the same name – I was able to enjoy the book more.  Much of the dialogue features stories or proverbs told by the elder characters to give depth and perspective on the current situations of the plot.  The main story is about a man named Okonkwo, who builds up his own life and wealth to rid himself of his lazy father’s legacy, and becomes a well respected leader in his village, so much so that when a boy (Ikemefuna) is sent from another village as a prisoner, he is left in Okonkwo’s care who treats him like a son.  Ikemefuna’s fate is sealed, and without giving too much away, Okonkwo acts against the advice of one of the village elders and it seems that from this point on, Okonkwo suffers from a string of bad luck which results in him being exiled for 7 years.  If this isn’t enough to get him down, Okonwko finds that when he returns, Christian missionaries have arrived and set up churches, converted many of the locals and instituted their own legal system, courts and all.
I was annoyed at myself for having left it so long before reading this.  It was simple, yet profoundly moving – I was aware of the Christians’ history of moving in to places and enforcing their beliefs on others, but it was enlightening to read about it from the other (essentially more important) perspective, and in such a poetic and powerful way.

Book 12: I Am America (And So Can You!) by Stephen Colbert

i_am_americaHow do I explain this book to somebody who has no idea about Stephen Colbert?  Answer: I don’t.  I invite them to read the book (or, as I did, listen to it) and just bask in the satirical genius of Stephen Colbert.

I’ve followed The Daily Show and The Colbert Report for many years now, and while I’m currently suffering from alternating paralysis and red hot searing pain due to the return of the embarrassingly unfunny ‘10 O’Clock Live’ on Channel 4, I can ease my pain by watching *actually funny* satire done right by indulging in some Daily Show or Colbert Report episodes.  And if you can’t be bothered to get into the shows, then I’d highly recommend any of the books published off the back of these shows – ‘I Am America (And So Can You!)’ is a great place to start.

Now, I listened to the audiobook version, and as I haven’t read the hardback edition, I can’t comment on that.  All I can say about the audio version is that it made me laugh out loud a few times on the bus and walking down the street – my favourite part in particular was when Stephen talks about how humans are meant to dominate animals, and punctuates each point with a story about how he has to basically wait hand and foot on his elderly, sickly dog.  Colbert’s whole routine is that he is this deluded right-wing pundit, explaining to Americans how things used to be and how they should be now.  It’s very over the top, which makes it even funnier when you think that some of the things he says are actually indicative of some extreme right-wing views.

Just get it and listen to it, or read it if you must.  It’s HILARIOUS.
Book 13: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Of-Mice-and-Men-(Penguin-Modern-Classics)I picked this for three reasons:

1) It’s super short, so I can get my numbers up
2) The girl I’m tutoring is studying it for her GCSEs (in two years, talk about eager!)
3) It’s just an outstanding novel.

I first read this many years ago – shortly after my brother read it for school, I took an interest in it and read it at school in the library, and I think that I must have not fully taken it all in, because reading it again this time around was just a wonderful experience, and I’m hoping I can pass on some of my enthusiasm for the novel to my student.

Steinbeck’s crisp, to-the-point language and clear, lasting descriptive passages make the story come to life in a way that lets you see the characters for who they are, bringing their flaws to the forefront even if they’re meant to be the likeable one.  The story of two workers, traveling across the country doing field work in the hope to one day raise the money to settle down on a ranch of their own is both uplifting and tragic; strength and fragility play off one another in this book, and in less than 150 pages Steinbeck has you rooting for the doomed pair and breaks your heart without melodrama.  If you haven’t read it – it’ll take you perhaps 2 hours to do so, you owe it to yourself to read this book.


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