I sat on the king bed at the Best Western Mountain View in East Ellijay, Georgia, the night before the Double Tap 50K race at Fort Mountain State Park in the Cohutta Mountains.
I expected much more pages being about running, training, exercise and the judgment people reserve for fat people doing sports. Which is kind of sloppy of me, because it says right there in the title: a memoir. And no person came out of the womb with running shoes on.
So, after my initial lack of excitement about learning about this woman I’ve never heard before and didn’t know why I should have, I kind of got over it. I’m interested in what she had to say about her (long distance) runs, we’ll take the rest as it comes.
With Mirna Valerio being a fat collection of minorities in contemporary USA, there’s so much more to her stories about running and exercising than the regular blood, sweet, and tears (although they do show up). This might make you a bit impatient about the next story about a trial run, but it also shows you that nothing happens in a vacuum; not even exercising and sports.
So, for that, you could read this memoir. And, honestly, there’s definitely different kinds of motivation in it. You just have to work a bit harder for it. If not – there’s plenty of ‘regular’ running stories to be found.
A Beautiful Work in Progress; A Memoir, Mirna Valerio, Grand Harbor Press 2017
In the dusky haze of evening a ruddy-cheeked newsboy strode along Fifth Avenue proclaiming the future.
Remember The Rules of Magic? I’ve got a similar book-from-the-nineties-feeling with this one. Or maybe it’s just the nineties that make me remember the nineties? This story doesn’t even play out in the nineties, so we might never know. On to witches!
This is New York in the nineteenth century, which certainly was part of the appeal for me as well, and luckily for me does Ami McKay spend time on giving the city room in her story as well. It’s enough of another world from the New York city we know (through media and fiction), that a magical element seems to fit almost right in.
The three main characters are quite charming as well, even though I would have enjoyed learning more about the older two. There’s also something to say about how the author decides to completely commit to magic instead of keeping the implication and illusion of it, but it doesn’t sour the story of the three women. All in all, like the book mentioned in the first paragraph – none of this is mind-blowing and groundbreaking – but it is sweet and easily enjoyable.
Witches of New York, Ami McKay, Alfred A. Knopf 2016
I must leave this city today and come to you.
I typed and deleted the start of this blog for about four times. It’s an impressive story, a frustrating one, not a happy one but a hopeful one? Here’s me scoring high on cliché bingo.
So, okay. Stay with Me is about a Nigerian couple that can’t conceive and because offspring is very important, is offered (‘offered’) a second wife to make sure offspring does happen. But this is liking saying Lord of the Rings is about some rings, there’s much more to it.
It’s not just a slice of life, it’s a slice of culture. It’s for everyone who isn’t familiar with Nigeria and Nigerians, a look behind the scenes. Yes, we all have relationships and romances, but how, why, and in what way? What sacrifices are desired (by the partners, their families, their surroundings), and who are you if you’re not parents of a child/children?
I was warned beforehand that the subject could get pretty heavy, and there have been times I cursed out outdated ideas and the people still clinging to them. But as an anthropological view, as a psychological view, and to freaking root for Yejide.. this story has a strong pull.
Stay with Me, Ayobami Adebayo, Alfred A. Knopf 2017
I understand why this is quite award-friendly. I also understand why it didn’t win a lot. With these vague comments out of the way, let’s get to the story.
Lee Israel is an author that writes biographies not a lot of people – and definitely not her agent – care about. Instead of trying to find a job that will make her enough money to take care of her bills and sick cat, Israel digs in and tries to continue with making money from her writing. She’s complimented on completely disappearing behind the person’s voice she writes a biography about so that’s what she does: disappear. With her research and writing skills, she starts a very profitable business of embezzling letters from dead celebrities. With her lack of people skills and restraint … let’s just go with ‘it doesn’t end well for many people involved’.
The entire movie looks and feels a bit grubby, stubborn and unwilling to get out of the rut Lee Israel put it in. Israel herself isn’t a likeable character, but she isn’t exactly unlikable either. That’s probably largely due to neither Melissa McCarthy and the writing worrying about showing her ugliness. This is a sad creature, and her friend/fellow criminal isn’t much better off. Maybe you don’t completely root for them, but the ending will leave you tender.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? Fox Searchlight Pictures 2018
My story begins on a sweltering August night, in a place I will never set eyes upon.
Adoption isn’t an easy subject, but the historical story line of Before We Were Yours shows at the very least how it definitely shouldn’t be handled.
There are two story tellers in this novel about an “orphanage” that basically stole children from poor people and sold them to rich families. One is the girl and her siblings that go through it, the other connected to her through different generations. This element sometimes makes it a little bit Lifetime-ish, although her motivations for discovering more are at first more political than personal. ie the sob story starts later into the story.
Weaved in between these two is a romance that isn’t quite necessary, but not horribly done either. I feel like the subject is what elevates this novel from being just another one of the paperbacks your gran reads and pushes upon you because it’s “so exciting”. It’s an easy, accessible read, but the horror of the “orphanage” and the reality on which its based, is what gives the story its pull.
Before We Were Yours, Lisa Wingate, Penguin Random House LLC 2017
It was late in the spring when I noticed that a girl was following me, nearly the end of May, a month that means perhaps or might be.
Gods, I wish that this would be mandatory reading for male teenagers. Okay, any teenager. Why? Because it hits home with several hammers the fact of diet culture and how women are viewed in society. I know, but so many still don’t, and it’s best to get them as young as possible.
Is this is an activist story? Is showing reality activist? Protagonist Plum is fat, and have been working almost her entire year to not be it. She’s not living, she’s functioning until she can live as a skinny person, a normal person. Things are changed around when someone reaches out to her.
Simultaneously, violence acts against male rapists and abusers happens. People are confused, shocked, motivated, because whenever do men get what’s coming for them? Maybe a few trigger warnings are at place here: Sarai Walker doesn’t avoid descriptions of said acts.
The comedy tag is mostly for the laughing in disbelief you might do. Because yes, they’re right, and yes, it’s really this stupid. Or maybe you just have to laugh to prevent from getting angry for the entire time of reading it. You wouldn’t want to be considered unfuckable, after all.
Dietland, Sarai Walker, Houghton Mifflin Company 2015
Marsh is not swamp.
Subconsciously I picked out two books about protagonists who are – by their surroundings – viewed as dangerously different. This one plays out in the (recent) past, but both Kya and Evan suffer from living in a small town.
Kya’s family is very, very poor, living in the marshes (or on the edge of it) and there’s not enough happiness around for anyone. Her family members leave her, and she falls back onto her familiar surroundings instead of the judgmental villagers.
This goes on for years, and might have gone on longer – Kya turning into something of a Tarzan, except with gulls and other birds – if a murder mystery wasn’t added to the equation. And what happens when disaster strikes? People look at the stranger.
This isn’t as greasy and damp as Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, but Owens does create a colourful, sometimes feverish world in which every human is a misfit – except for Kya. Yes, there could be more background about certain things, and the murder mystery is tied up not completely satisfying, but it’s a book with a feeling. And quite a few ornithology lessons.
Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens, G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2018
I watched from the window as the boys tumbled out of the brick schoolhouse across the field from us.
This story sometimes feels a bit too much like those introductions to subjects in school books, but is enticing enough to not be bothered by that.
It’s a short story as well: I checked twice if I didn’t happen to download just the first book, or even an incomplete version (I’m so sorry library, it’s me that has the mistrust, not you that deserve it). In 166 pages Amal’s story is told.
She is a young teenager that lives in a small Pakistani village and dreams of becoming a teacher. Her entire life is turned upside down when she says no to a (blackmailing) landlord, moving her from future potential teacher to indentured servant.
This story is inspired by Malala Yousafzai, and as mentioned before, sometimes it shows. Through hardship this young girl learns things and acquires a new view of the world. For that second part (unless you come from a small Pakistani village as well), you should have a look at the novella.
Amal Unbound, Aisha Saeed, Penguin Books 2018
I was running along the Upper Blandford Road this morning, watching the little islands emerge from the morning mist, when I came upon a fisherman stacking lobster traps by his shed.
Truth again turns out to be stranger than fiction in this story that might make you repeatedly check if it really isn’t a dramatised/fictionalised version of events. That also means that pretty much everything I will put down here could be considered as spoilers, but at the same time you could look up the author and possibly learn the entire story without ever opening the book. Hm.
During a big part of her childhood, Pauline, her mother and her brother are on the run. She’s told why in her early twenties, but that doesn’t exactly put a halt to the running. There’s two large twists (do you call it twists when it happens in real life?) in this story, and Dakin writes with the right amount of insecurity (is it me, is this really happening?) to – as a reader – keep doubting things as well, even when rationale starts popping up.
This way it continues to feel like a slightly laughable and surreal story, instead of paint-by-numbers memoir of someone growing up in seventies Canada. The Mounties don’t even show up until the end.
So, you could read this one for several reasons. If you like memoirs, if you like truth-is-stranger-than-fiction, if you like a detective element without any detectives involved, if you want a slice of life view of seventies Canada.
Run, Hide, Repeat: A Memoir of a Fugitive Childhood, Pauline Dakin, Viking 2017
Whenever I woke up, night or day, I’d shuffle through the bright marble foyer of my building and go up the block and around the corner where there was a bodega that never closed.
This novel is an one woman on the ledge balancing act. The ledge here being ‘Is she terribly annoying or horribly sad?’. If it would have been a male protagonist, I would have given up on the book, but it’s not very often that women are allowed to be all of the above.
So what’s going on? The main character decides to sleep a year away, aided by a bucket load of medicine freely provided from possibly the worst psychiatrist in recent history. She seemingly has it all (money, looks), but none of it seem to satisfy or fill her in any way. There’s an ugly relationship with a so called friend, a permanent neglect from a man, orphan-hood. Basically, there’s no positivity and very little light in this life.
So, why read it? Because women can be absolute trash/go through periods of being absolute trash as well, and it’s not shown often enough. Because it’s an almost surreal trip through someone’s mind, and when there’s someone around living through worse things than you do, it definitely lights up your situation. Because it’s just kind of weird in an enthralling way, and that doesn’t happen (to me) often enough.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Ottessa Moshfegh, Penguin Press 2018