Showing posts with label junot diaz. Show all posts
Showing posts with label junot diaz. Show all posts

Monday, December 3, 2012

November 2012 In Review

Small Fry demands turkey satisfaction.

November...was crazy.  Reading wise, it was great.  I liked pretty much every book I read (felt a little lukewarm about 1-2, but overall, I'd say I at least liked them).  Some months aren't always like that.  Back in July or so, I felt like I was reading NOTHING but bad books.  Luckily that was before the blog was born, so you did not need to share in my misery.  :)

Just to add a little spice to my monthly wrap-ups, I've decided to name my favorite, and least favorite, book read each month.  Which is really hard this particular month, given that none of my books were very low on the rating scale!  Sooooo:

November 2012 Favorite: This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
November 2012 Least Favorite: Landing by Emma Donoghue

With that, let's review the rest of my reading month.

I read and reviewed 7 books (click links for my reviews):
Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama
Being Santa Claus by Sal Lizard with Jonathan Lane
This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
The Light of Amsterdam by David Park
Landing by Emma Donoghue
Deadline by Mira Grant
A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle

I also posted 2 mini reviews of past reads:
Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
In The Woods by Tana French

And I posted 4 new Small Fry Saturdays!
Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell
Peekaboo Kisses by Barney Saltzberg
Pajama Time! by Sandra Boynton
I'm A T.Rex! by Dennis Shealy

In the midst of all this, I shared deep thoughts about self-published novels, tried to find ways to read without ignoring my husband, talked about my hotly-anticipated 2013 releases, and hosted another giveaway.

Nowadays, I am gearing up for the Christmas season in a big way.  Luckily, I am nearly done with shopping, so now I can concentrate on kissing under the mistletoe and keeping my toddler out of the tree.  :)  And of course, MORE READING!

Do you have any favorite Christmas-themed reads?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wondrous Words Wednesday (6)

Word Nerd Time!

Wondrous Words Wednesday is hosted by BermudaOnion each week. It's an opportunity to share new words you've encountered in your reading, or highlight words that you particularly enjoy.

Here are three of my favorites new-to-me words from some of my recent reads. All definitions from

1. leachate. "Me and my pathetic little crew hiked over to Morgan Creek and swam around in water stinking of leachate from the landfill..." (from This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz)

a solution resulting from leaching, as of soluble constituents from soil, landfill, etc., by downward percolating groundwater.

2. fulgurating. "Dead now a year and sometimes you still feel a fulgurating sadness over it.. ." (from This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz)

sharp and piercing.

3. vaunted. "And all our vaunted innocence/Has withered in this endless frost" (from Feed by Mira Grant)
praised boastfully or excessively.

What are your new words this week?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wondrous Words Wednesday (5)

Word Nerd Time!

Wondrous Words Wednesday is hosted by BermudaOnion each week. It's an opportunity to share new words you've encountered in your reading, or highlight words that you particularly enjoy.

Here are three of my favorites new-to-me words from some of my recent reads. All definitions from

1. cenotaph. "Thousands of gravestones and cenotaphs on both sides." (from This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz)

a sepulchral monument erected in memory of a deceased person whose body is buried elsewhere.

2. pulchritude. "...but unlike your average hood hottie Pura seemed not to know what to do with her fineness, was sincerely lost in all the pulchritude ." (from This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz)

physical beauty; comeliness.

3. tropism. "The human tropism toward illusionary time-saving devices has been the topic of a lot of studies since the Risinig." (from Feed by Mira Grant)
an orientation of an organism to an external stimulus, as light, especially by growth rather than by movement.

What are your new words this week?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Book Review: This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

Title: This Is How You Lose Her
Author: Junot Diaz
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Publication Date: September 11, 2012
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Plot Summary from Goodreads :

On a beach in the Dominican Republic, a doomed relationship flounders. In the heat of a hospital laundry room in New Jersey, a woman does her lover’s washing and thinks about his wife. In Boston, a man buys his love child, his only son, a first baseball bat and glove. At the heart of these stories is the irrepressible, irresistible Yunior, a young hardhead whose longing for love is equaled only by his recklessness--and by the extraordinary women he loves and loses: artistic Alma; the aging Miss Lora; Magdalena, who thinks all Dominican men are cheaters; and the love of his life, whose heartbreak ultimately becomes his own. In prose that is endlessly energetic, inventive, tender, and funny, the stories in This Is How You Lose Her lay bare the infinite longing and inevitable weakness of the human heart. They remind us that passion always triumphs over experience, and that “the half-life of love is forever.”

My Review:

At its core, This Is How You Lose Her is a book about love.  But it's not a happy, squishy, feel-good love story.  No--the book is actually a series of short stories, dealing with the messy, deceitful, and heartbreaking consequences that can come from love gone awry.  Central to most of the stories is Yunior, who (if you read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao) you may remember as Oscar's sister's boyfriend in Diaz's last novel.  Yunior was the narrator for part of that novel as well, but in this story, his history is fleshed out much more.  I like how Diaz created that sense of continuity between the two books.

Yunior is an interesting character.  Yes, he is a cheater--and a pretty consistent one, at that.  But he's also constantly regretful of his transgressions.  So throughout the novel, you're left wondering--why?  Why does he continue to break the hearts of others, especially when his heart often ends up broken as well?  Is it an example learned from his father, who ran off so long ago?  Or from his brother, who brazenly jumps from woman to woman with hardly a second thought?  Or is it entrenched in his culture (as one girlfriend, Magda, seems to think)--did he learn to behave this way from his Dominican upbringing?  Obviously, none of these things end up providing a clear answer to the question, but they all came together to provide a illustrative backdrop for the details of Yunior's life.

One story that stuck out for me was "Otravida, Otravez", which centers on a woman who is the mistress to a Dominican man (unrelated to Yunior, as far as I could tell).  The man's wife lives back in the DR, while he is in the US working and setting up a life with this other woman.  It's the only story without a direct relation to Yunior's life, but I think it serves to broaden the book's perspective--giving a female point of view, and a look at the other side of an unfaithful relationship.  It caught me off guard at first, but this is the story that made me realize this is not a book about Yunior, but a book that is trying to encompass larger themes about love and loss.

But the best part about these stories?  Yunior's voice.  Remember when I went to that Junot Diaz reading last month?  I mentioned that Diaz had everybody cracking up as he read from the "Alma" chapter--his voice is raw, humorous, and distinctively Dominican in flavor.  That carries throughout the entire book, and makes it stand out from any other story collection I've read.  It made me wish I could hire the guy to sit in my living room and read me the whole thing.  Diaz writes with his Dominican background at the forefront, and he does it like a master.  (But, a note to the other blanquitas out there, like myself: you better have Google Translator handy so you can figure out some of the Spanish phrases!  Ha.)

This is one of those books that's short on length, but big on contemplation.  You'll read it quickly but spend a lot of time mulling it over afterwards.  Great collection of stories, but I'd still probably recommend reading Oscar Wao first--just so you can get introduced to Yunior there before finding out his whole story here.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Junot Diaz reading!

I am really getting lucky with the author events around here lately.  First Dennis Lehane, now Junot Diaz.  Honestly, the last time I saw an author talk in person was in middle school, when Caroline B. Cooney came to talk with my class.  It was cool, but I was definitely too young to appreciate it.  Apparently I had to wait 16 years for my next chance!

When I found out Diaz was coming to the area, I was psyched.  You've probably heared of his Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel, The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao.  I read it a few years ago, and it really is great.  Unique format, memorable characters, and a captivating blend of contemporary fiction with historical fiction. 

He has been making the rounds at the book festivals lately with his new short story collection, This Is How You Lose Her, and I was sad that I missed his appearance at the Brooklyn Book Festival a few weeks ago.  But, lo and behold, he arrives in Albany for an appearance with the New York State Writer's Institute.  The event was hosted at the University at Albany, and free to the public.

The reading was supposed to be held in a small assembly hall, but when I arrived 20 minutes early, no one was there.  Mystified, I waited a few minutes, until someone told me it had been moved to the ballroom down the hall.  The place was PACKED!  I'd say about 50/50 split between people who came from off campus, and faculty/staff/students of the university.  It was especially wonderful to see all the students (especially Dominican students) there to support Diaz and get inspired in their own writing.  At one point, he mentioned that there were no Dominican speakers that ever came to campus when he was a student at Rutgers, and he was hopeful that the Dominican students in the audience would be the future Dominican speakers at college campuses around the country.

Diaz started by taking some audience questions.  He is such an engaging speaker!  First of all, he's very genuine.  If you go to a Diaz event, be ready for a lot of f-bombs...but he doesn't speak that way to get a rise out of you.  You can tell he's just being himself up there.  At one point, he said that at a past event, a woman came up to him furious about the language he had used.  And that made him think about the fact that "most of us spend our lives learning to wear masks...we all wear dozens at any one time."  But "it's hard to speak through masks...and this is as close as I come to being who the hell I am in front of 200 strangers."
Diaz took a lot of questions about the writing process, his inspiration, and how his cultural background influences his status as a bestselling author.  Here's a few quotes from the evening:

On writing about personal life events:
"I do my best work when I'm ice cold...I need 20 years distance from something before I can write it."
"I like to write consequences...the fire doesn't interest me--but how does the fire change you?"

On self-doubt regarding his writing career:
"The only certainty about art is doubt.  This is the greatest faith-based initiative on the need to keep your faith in a future you will never meet."
"If you want your audience to make your art, you are doomed.  When no one cares, that's when you can play."
"In a culture that wants you to dance, it takes courage to stand still."

On advice for aspiring writers:
"Writers hold out the dream that there's some shortcut to being successful...that's why there's thousands of books about it.  But they are message of consolation."
"The answer to 'how do I become X' is, you f***in' do it." (I loved this quote!)

While talking about This Is How You Lose Her:
"The pain suddenly stopped, and then I knew it was done." (It took him 16 years to complete it!)
"My definition of a full life is, do you put more love back into the world than what you take out?"

After the Q+A, Diaz moved on to the reading.  He read the chapter entitled "Alma", from This Is How You Lose Her.  By the end, I wanted to pay him to come home and read me the rest of the book.  His narration of his writing is that spectacular.  It was a short chapter, but I (and the rest of the audience) spent most of it laughing.

Afterwards, he did a very informal book signing (essentially stood next to the stage while everyone with a book flooded him for signatures).  He had announced earlier that he was in a huge hurry and unfortunately had to leave quickly after the event; however, while he did sign the books fast, he was also extremely gracious, giving many of the attendees hugs and handshakes before they left.  I got my copy of Oscar Wao signed...woohoo!
Overall, fantastic evening!  I am even more eager to read Diaz's new book now, after hearing him speak. 
Has anyone else been to a Junot Diaz event lately?  I know he's been all over the place promoting this book.
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