The Books of October

There are not many books of October. It’s hav­ing been eat­en alive (as was my brain) by the events sur­round­ing Jim’s knee replacement.

Books that I read:

A House of My Own — Sandra Cisneros (2015)

I read this in bits while wait­ing around in the hos­pi­tal and in the first few days after we got home. It was a good choice. Most of these pieces are the pref­aces (to her own and oth­er books), lec­tures, and oth­er small pub­li­ca­tions that she has amassed over the years. Many of them touch on the ques­tions of what is home and how do we build one and what does mean to have or not to have a home. Home is con­sid­ered as a phys­i­cal space, as well as a set of emo­tion­al con­nec­tions, and the intel­lec­tu­al foun­da­tion of our work.
In one piece she is remem­ber­ing and mourn­ing the love­ly home of a friend in Sarajevo. It’s a dia­tribe against war in the form of a touch­ing mem­o­ry of and nos­tal­gia for a friend­ship and the place that evokes that friend­ship. Others are med­i­ta­tions on var­i­ous authors and artists that have been impor­tant to her work and its devel­op­ment. And some are straight biography.
* With a cou­ple of miss­es this col­lec­tion is worth tak­ing some time to dip into. *

The House on Mango Street — Sandra Cisneros (1991)

Cisneros’ first and most famous book. I read it when it was pub­lished but I haven’t seen it in years. It was men­tioned to me by a fel­low poet as being an exam­ple of mul­ti­ple prose poetry/narrative/short-short sto­ry bits wrapped up to make a nov­el. A plan that could prof­itably be used by some of my own work. So this began as a study, but I had for­got­ten how heart-felt the book is. It is a book of ado­les­cence, a time that fea­tures so many choic­es and twists and turns of per­son­al­i­ty. Cisneros man­ages to locate in each char­ac­ter and vignette the ele­ments that are com­mon to all of us.
* trans­gres­sive at pub­li­ca­tion, still insightful *

The Nix — Nathan Hill (2016)

A mon­ster of a book — run­ning more than 600 pages in print. There are so many plot threads that it’s as if the author thought he’d nev­er get anoth­er chance to tell a sto­ry and so he told all the sto­ries in one book. It starts with the pro­tag­o­nist moth­er aban­don­ing the fam­i­ly. The les­son that Faye leaves Samuel with as she departs his life at the age of 11 is that the things that you love the most will hurt you the most.
Sadly, I found the adult Samuel who nar­rates the book, (a stalled writer and failed col­lege pro­fes­sor with a com­put­er gam­ing prob­lem) dull as hell. Even the reap­pear­ance of his moth­er does­n’t make Samuel inter­est­ing. The sto­ry that he tells of his ado­les­cence and first love, a per­fect pic­ture of how bro­ken peo­ple infect oth­er peo­ple, is affect­ing. And the sto­ry of his moth­er’s ear­ly life, the secret that she keeps and then leaves Samuel and his father for is like­wise engaging.
But I can’t bring myself to say that I love the whole thing. I would have loved many parts of it as a much short­er sto­ries or a series of novel­las or some­thing that did­n’t sprawl all over the place with a pro­tag­o­nist that I just could­n’t quite sym­pa­thize with.
Several review­ers have called the book satir­i­cal. Well, maybe there are a cou­ple of bits are meant to be satire. The pla­gia­riz­ing stu­dent whose schem­ing plagues Samuel and even­tu­al­ly leads to his fir­ing might be satir­i­cal but it’s not clever enough for me to give a damn.
In the end I can only say — if you have patience you should read The Nix for Faye’s sto­ry and the rela­tion­ship between Samuel and his child­hood friend Bishop (twin broth­er to Samuel’s first love Bethany who remains his ide­al and gets a messy part lat­er in the nov­el) If you’re not feel­ing patient wait per­haps for Mr. Hill’s sec­ond nov­el which like­ly won’t be quite so packed with every damned thing that he could think of.
* all this and the kitchen sink *