Posts Tagged ‘Isabel Allende’

When I sat down a few days ago to catch up on my favorite book blogs I realized how much I miss this book blogging world.  I miss reading reviews, chatting with fellow book lovers, and planning and writing my own reviews and bookish thoughts.  I miss having a tiny corner of my life separate from work and school.  At first I was a little caught-off guard by this feeling, and then I felt a little sad, because unfortunately this is just the beginning. 

Sigh.  Drat being a responsible adult.

I want to apologize for my absence here, my delayed (or completely lack of) comments on your blogs, and all current and future whining about the intrusion of my thesis and work on my book blogging life.  I’m a little bundle of stress these days, but I’m trying really hard not to inflict that on anyone.  (I think I would be a little more successful at that if I moved to Antarctica.  But I hear it’s kinda cold there.)

Even though work, school and being sick (yes, I’ve been sick, too, which is just not fair, if you ask me) have kept me from blogging, I’ve managed to squeeze in quite a bit of “fun” reading.  (Mostly because I read while at work, but don’t tell on me!)  I don’t really have a review in me right now, so here’s a brief recap of some recent reads:

I did read one more Isabel Allende book last month – Daughter of Fortune.  Most of the novel takes place in California during the Gold Rush, and it was interesting to read an Allende novel about a time and place I’m familiar with.  She is such a vivid writer, though, that even if I wasn’t a native Californian I would still have felt like I was there.  I’ve never been to Chile, and yet after reading House of the Spirits I feel like I have.

Hmmm, what else . . . I finished up the Stieg Larsson Millennium series a few weeks ago.  Not the all-time greatest books I’ve ever read, but still very good.  A coworker loaned me Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen last week, and I feel a little ho-hum about it.  I’ve definitely read better memoirs (A Girl Named Zippy comes to mind; wow, do I love that book!). 

I’ve had a good reading streak since then: I finished Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman last night and lovedlovedloved it.  When I have available time and brain space I’m definitely going to review it here.  (In the meantime, check out Jenny’s review.  Wonderful.)  I’m on a mini Diana Wynne Jones kick, too.  I read Charmed Life the other day (good times, big fun) and am in the middle of Dogsbody, which is just fantastic.  I’m also in the middle of Among the Shadows by L. M. Montgomery, (recommended by Chandra), because frankly I could not resist reading a collection of spooky stories written by the author of Anne of Green Gables.

And on a totally unrelated note, autumn is finally getting rolling here, which just thrills me to pieces.  The leaves are blowing everywhere, there’s a chill in the air . . . I would be totally okay with it staying like this until spring 🙂

What are you up to?  Any great reads?  How’s autumn treating you?

P.S. In more unrelated news, I just discovered that Gail Carriger (author of Soulless, which I reviewed back in July) quoted my review on her blog!  A real, live author quoted me!  Wow.  I’m getting all giddy and starry-eyed over here.

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I promised a full report on the National Book Festival, so here it is!  I’m still rather exhausted from yesterday’s adventure, so forgive me if I ramble a bit.

The day got off to a rough start.  I thought it would take me three hours to drive to the Vienna/Fairfax Metro station (Google confirmed this, by the way) but it actually took me four.  And then the Metro ride into D.C. took 50 minutes instead of 30.  Fortunately I had given myself lots of extra time to get to the festival, so instead of being an hour and twenty minutes late I was only thirty minutes late.  Thus I managed to catch the last twenty-five minutes of Isabel Allende’s presentation.  (I am so glad she got fifty-five minutes to speak.  Most presenters only had thirty minutes.)

My first impression of Allende?  Her voice didn’t match the voice I had for her in my head.  I don’t know why this threw me off, (what did I expect? the voice in my head doesn’t have a Chilean accent), but it took me a few minutes to get past this and actually listen to what she was saying.  She said a lot of things I had read in My Invented Country and The Sum of Our Days, especially once we got to the Q&A (people ask some really unoriginal questions during those things).  Someone asked her what she’s currently reading (finally! an interesting question!) and she said she was reading Things I’ve Been Silent About by Azar Nafisi.  Nafisi was one of the highlights of last year’s festival, so this answer thrilled me to pieces.  Allende mentioned, too, her discomfort with her work being labelled as “Latin American literature” because such distinctions lead to being excluded from the canon of Literature (she actually said this much better than I just did).  I agree with her.  That exclusion is one of the pitfalls of genre labels.

After she spoke I joined the throngs of people waiting in her book signing line.  Last year I brought several books by several different people to be signed, but this year I decided I did not want to a) spend most of the day in line or b) carry around lots of books all day, so the only book I brought was My Invented Country.  The line was really long, and by the time I actually got my book signed the festival volunteers were really rushing us all through, so I barely had time to squeak out “thank you” when she signed it.  While that was a little disappointing, I did enjoy the hour of line-bonding with my fellow Allende fans that preceded the signing, even though by the end I was sunburned and sweating profusely.

(I’m sorry.  I’m sure you don’t want to read about my sweat.  But it was really, really hot yesterday, and only the presence of great authors and great books kept me from getting really cranky.  Last year the weather was the exact opposite: cool, with showers here and there . . . exactly what it’s like RIGHT NOW.  Seriously.  It’s 61 degrees out.  Why is it 61 degrees now?  Why couldn’t it have been 61 degrees yesterday?  Or at least not 90?  I’m trying, rather unsuccessfully, not to be completely peeved about this.)

Norton Juster

Once my book was signed I dashed over to hear Norton Juster (The Phantom Tollbooth author) speak.  As soon as I saw him, I thought, “Yep, that’s totally the guy who wrote The Phantom Tollbooth.”  Something about him, maybe that mischievous twinkle in his eye, just fits the book.  He was witty and quirky and a delight to listen to.  When he finished I grabbed lunch, rehydrated myself, and then returned to the tent to hear Marilyn Nelson and Timothy Basil Ering.  (Aren’t you glad you’re getting a play-by-play of my entire day??)

I had never heard of Marilyn Nelson, but I knew Timothy Basil Ering from The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone (haven’t read it? read it!) and as the illustrator of The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo.  Marilyn Nelson wasn’t the most dynamic speaker in the world, but Timothy Ering, on the other hand . . . I now completely love him.  He recently illustrated Marilyn’s picture book Snook Alone and clearly loved everything about it: its prose, the experience illustrating it, everything.  He was so obviously thrilled and honored to be at the National Book Festival and in the presence of people who love his work.  Listening to him speak was the unexpected delight of the day, and I’m so glad I had the chance to hear him.

see? very unfortunate cover

Immediately following Marilyn and Timothy was Mem Fox.  Before yesterday my only experience with Mem was her book Reading Magic, which, in spite of the fact that it looks like a cheesy self-help book, is actually a great book about the importance of reading aloud to children.  (I’m embarrassed to admit that I had never read any of her thirty-something children’s books, but that is going to change soon.)  Anyway, she was a hoot and a half.  Like Timothy Ering, she was totally enthusiastic about being there and it was infectious.  She read three of her books aloud and did a phenomenal job.  She read with expression, interjected little comments, made faces . . . oh, I loved it.  I wish I could carry her around in my pocket.  She was just that wonderful.  I’m totally buying her latest book for my niece.

After Mem Fox, I took a brief break from the children’s tent to hear E. O. Wilson, renowned ecologist, biologist and champion of small creatures (he’s a big fan of ants).  He just published his first work of fiction, Anthill: A Novel.  While I am normally leery of Blatant Message Books – and that’s what this sounds like – I’m adding this to my TBR anyway because, well, it’s E. O. Wilson.  The man is brilliant. 

Then I was down to just three more presenters: Rosemary Wells (author and illustrator of the Max and Ruby books, Noisy Nora, etc.), Judith Viorst (author of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, etc.) and Jerry Pinkney (author and illustrator of The Lion and the Mouse, etc.).

Rosemary Wells was a bit of a let-down.  She got a little political, and quite a few people left while she was speaking.  Judith Viorst, on the other hand, was really funny.  She told stories about her kids and grandkids (and, much to his embarrassment, pointed out the real Alexander, who’s now grown with three kids).  She read the first part of her latest book, Lulu and the Brontosaurus, (illustrated by Lane Smith! yay!), which I now need to go find because I need to know what happens to Lulu.

Jerry Pinkney was just as wonderful as he was last year.  He spoke in a conversational tone and was obviously thrilled to be sharing his latest book.  I seriously love that man.  I had planned on telling him how much my students last year loved The Lion and the Mouse but I completely chickened out.  Maybe someday.

Okay, I’ll stop rambling now 🙂  Overall it was a good day!

P. S.  Today’s my nine month blogiversary!  I may actually make it to the one year mark!  Wow.

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. . . I will be at the National Book Festival!!  And I just found out that Isabel Allende is presenting at 10:00, right when the festival starts!  Oh, wow, I’m so giddy I don’t even care that I’m going to have to get up really, really early Saturday morning.  (Really, really early.)  Keep your fingers crossed that I don’t have any transportation issues (with my car, Hedwig, or the Metro).  I’ll be back with a full report (translation: brag fest) when I return!

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My Invented Country
by Isabel Allende
Perennial, 2003
Source: personal copy

I moved to Virginia four years ago, making it the third state I’d lived in since I graduated from high school.  Thanks to my transient existence my definition of “home” had become somewhat vague.  I had yet to come up with a satisfactory answer to the “So, where are you from?” question; even though I had lived there until I left for college, to say simply, “California” seemed dismissive of the places I’d lived in the meantime.  That this part of my identity remained nebulous didn’t bother me very much; it was just who I was.

Then, ten months later, a young man opened fire on the Virginia Tech campus, killing thirty-three people including himself.  Beneath the crushing weight of shock and grief an unsought answer shone with absolute clarity: here.  My home is here.

Because this wasn’t just a tabloid story or a distant tragedy or a reason to debate gun laws.  He murdered our own that day.  Even after the headlines moved on our wounded still lay in hospitals, we were still trying to figure out how to breathe again, how to mend the irreparable damage in our hearts.  He had ripped the sun out of the sky and it didn’t seem as though we would ever get it back.

Months later I read My Invented Country.  Just a few pages into the introduction I came to this passage:

Until only a short time ago, if someone had asked me where I’m from, I would have answered, without much thought, Nowhere; or, Latin America; or, maybe, In my heart I’m Chilean.  Today, however, I say I’m an American, not simply because that’s what my passport verifies, or because that word includes all of America from north to south, or because my husband, my son, my grandchildren, most of my friends, my books, and my home are in northern California; but because a terrorist attack destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center, and starting with that instant, many things have changed.  We can’t be neutral in moments of crisis. (xi)

It was like reading my own heart.  I read, and reread, those lines over and over, comforted that someone else in the world knew exactly how I felt.  Calling Virginia home is not a matter of disloyalty; I am not seeking to hurt those friends and family back West or deny the huge part of myself that is, and always will be, Californian and everything else.  However.  We can’t be neutral in times of crisis.  I never could have kept my heart from breaking that day, never could have turned away from the community I loved.

Allende closes with, “This book has helped me understand that I am not obligated to make a decision: I can have one foot in Chile and another here, that’s why we have planes . . . For the moment California is my home and Chile is the land of my nostalgia.  My heart isn’t divided, it has merely grown larger” (197).

This book helped me understand the exact same thing, and for that I am grateful.  Thank you, Allende.

Other reviews:

A Striped Armchair
Shelf Love
things mean a lot

Did you write a review?  Let me know and I’ll add it to the list!

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The House of the Spirits
by Isabel Allende
Bantam Books, 1982
Source: personal copy

It’s only fitting that I kick off Isabel Allende month with her first work, (and the first Allende novel I’ve ever read), The House of the Spirits.  This is the third time I’ve read the book.  My aunt and uncle gave it to me for Christmas when I was 13 (and I read it shortly after that), and then I read it again four and half years ago when I went on a mini Isabel Allende kick.  In reading it for the third time I’ve discovered why my 13 year old self didn’t quite know what to make of the book.

Esteban Trueba is a character I would dearly love to hate.  Many times I do, like when he’s raping the women of Tres Marías or when he hits Clara so hard he knocks out her teeth.  I despise his violent, explosive temper, his politics, his views on women and the lower class, his behavior toward his children and everyone else he disagrees with. 

There are a hundred reasons to completely loathe Esteban Trueba, but Allende writes his character in such a way that makes this impossible.  It’s not that she presents him in a sympathetic light, it’s more that she writes him simply as he is, including every facet of his being, every minute of his life.  By the end of the novel I knew him as well as I know myself; he was a living, breathing human being and I simply could not hate him.

Small wonder, then, that 13 year old Emily did not know what to do with this book.  It’s probably the first book I read that presented the characters, all of them, so realistically and thoroughly that they elicited a myriad of complicated reactions from the reader.  What an incredible writer.

Next stop on the Isabel Allende tour: My Invented Country.

Other reviews:

Shelf Love

Did you write a review?  Let me know and I’ll add it to the list!

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As I mentioned before, the wonderful and amazing Isabel Allende will be at the National Book Festival in Washington, DC on September 25. I am thrilled to pieces. I am, perhaps, a little too thrilled, for when I gushed to my mother about getting to see Isabel Allende in September, she responded matter-of-factly, “You’re going to get arrested, aren’t you.” Even though I told her I most certainly was not going to get arrested, I don’t think she was convinced. (Publishing this post probably isn’t going to help my case any.)

Anyway. In honor of Isabel Allende’s upcoming visit to the National Book Festival I do officially declare* September to be Isabel Allende Month. During this month, I may do a little more gushing here and there, post reviews about some of her books, gush a little more, get nervous about seeing her, read lots, gush a little more . . . I’m not one of those Super Bloggers who posts on a daily basis, though, so I can’t guarantee a specific number of reviews or anything uber-organized. I will pop in and out the way I usually do. But with more gushing.

You can join me if you want! If you want to write a guest post about one of her books (or just about her; I’ll let you gush, too, if you want) I will happily publish it. (You don’t have to be a blogger to write a guest post, so don’t let that stop you.) Or you can publish something on your own blog and I’ll throw a link your way. Or you can just read her books. Or you can sit back and snicker about me behind your hand. (It would be rude, but you could do it.) Leave me a comment below or send me an email ( if you’d like to write a guest post.

Hurray for Isabel Allende Month!

*I totally get why people blog. It’s such a power trip! I mean, where else can you Officially Declare Something and have it feel real and true because it’s been published on the Internet? I may Officially Declare Things more often.

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