Books I read in February, Reviews

by Joanne von Spanien

The Mosquito Coast, Paul Theroux, 1981, 384 pages: A lovely story about a family with a half-mad inventor father, who takes his wife and children on a crazy misadventure in the jungles of Central America in an attempt to create his own self-sufficient civilization. It ends in horrific disaster, but is a nice ride.

The Seven Story Mountain, Thomas Merton, 1948, 498 pages: The autobiography of a Christian Trappist monk. The mystic, religious part is very pre-Vatican-II, and in that sense is a little dated, ethnocentric, narrow-minded, whatever. But it is a nice story and, all things considered, Thomas Merton was way ahead of his time. He went on to write about many Eastern mystics and spiritual systems (see below)

The way of Chuang Tzu, Thomas Merton, 1965, 160 pages: A collection of translations from the Dao De Ching and other Eastern texts. Considering the year it was published and the fact that a Christian monk edited it, it’s very impressive, though there’s much better stuff out there today.

A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth L. Ozeki, 2013, 433 pages: A lovely story about Japan, told through the diary of a 14-year-old girl named Nao. Her original purpose being to relate the life story of her 104-year-old Zen monk great grandmother. A friend of mine told me later that she thought the ending was a bit Deus ex machina, maybe. But the whole story leading up to it is very interesting, especially for those who are curious about Japanese culture. This book even has footnotes and Appendices, yay!

The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie, 1988, 578 pages: Does this even need an introduction? This time I listened to the audiobook, all 24 hours of it, and boy was it a treat. I think I’m still reading in that grandfatherly British narrator voice in the English classes I teach. Anyway, this book is about so much, culture, immigration, religion, different colliding worldviews. Might be my favorite novel.

A Dragon Apparent, Norman Lewis, 1951, 334 pages: About the author’s travels through “Indochina”. It’s quite dated, but really sheds light on that post WWII era. Learned a lot of things about Southeast Asia and their colonial history.

Redefining Realness, Janet Mock 2014, 289  pages: So, as a gender fluid person who’s looking at hormones to partially transition I feel like I ought to have found this inspiring and enlightening. I didn’t. Told in the completely unliterary, flat way most bestsellers are. I’m sure there are plenty of people who can connect to Janet’s story, and for what it’s worth I admire her bravery. But really, there’s much better transgender literature out there.

The Good Wine, Bruno Barnhart, 2008, 537 pages: A wonderful mystic look at the Gospel of John. For those who are interested in esoteric Christianity or Biblical scholarship this is a GREAT book. It leaves no part of the gospel untouched. I read this after several mystic authors I had read cited it. The best book on the New Testament I have ever read.

Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami, 2011, 448 pages: Involves a cursed fifteen-year-old who runs away from home prophesied, like Oedipus the king, to murder his father and sleep with his mother and sister, a mentally retarded man who can talk to cats, a psychopath who kills cats in an Aztec-esque cardioectomy(??) to make a magic flute no one can see, a gay trans man who’s an expert in ancient Greek literature and philosophy. As always there’s a lot of references to classical music and Western literature in general. Murakami has such a beautiful fucked-up mind. The world is such a better place for it!

The Inhabited Woman, Gioconda Belli, 2004, 414 pages: It’s a very Latin American novel. Very political, very leftist. Understandable for a part of the world that’s suffered dictator after dictator. The story is good though, once I got over the political part. It’s nice to hear all this from a woman’s perspective.

Unimagine Me (Desimagíname), The Metaphor Girl (La Chica Metáfora), 115 pages: Unabashed poems and microfiction/autobiographical vignettes that walk the fine line ‘twixt literature and smut. Is there some sort of rule about that? It’s only literary till you describe five orgasms, then it becomes erotica. By a local Madrid author and poet. (Also, the title’s translation is mine). It was nice to hear about different places in this city written about.

P.S. My favorite title in here might have been “Us and a coffee” … just so fuckin’ Spanish!


… only 11. I need to read more and sleep less.