Happy midweek everyone! Wow. We are already halfway through the week. I hope your week is doing well.

As it is midweek, it is time for a fresh WWW Wednesday update, my first this year. WWW Wednesday is a bookish meme originally hosted by SAM@TAKING ON A WORLD OF WORDS. The mechanics for WWW Wednesday are quite simple, you just have to answer three questions:

  1. What are you currently reading?
  2. What have you finished reading?
  3. What will you read next?

What are you currently reading?

And so my reading catch-up on 2022 book releases continues. I am currently reading Isabel Cañas’ The Hacienda. I can’t recall the circumstances that made me want to read her novel although it was just last year. I have never heard of the Mexican American writer nor have I read any of her works before. But I guess the main culprit, as always, was my curiosity. One of the first things that caught my attention about the book was its cover. It reminded me of the image I have of Manderley – yes, the famed home in Daphne du Maurier’s classic Rebecca – at least a Mexican version of it. Sure enough, the story did echo some elements of the literary classic. A work of another Mexican writer also came to mind, Silvia Moreno Garcia’s Mexican Gothic. I just started reading the book and the Gothic images are already starting to occupy my imagination. I will share more of my impressions in this week’s First Impression Friday Update.

What have you finished reading?

The past week, by far, has been my most productive reading week this year as I managed to complete three books. The first of these three books was Cleyvis Natera’s Neruda on the Park. Like in the case of Cañas, I barely had any iota about who Natera was when I first encountered her last year while searching for second-quarter releases. The book immediately grabbed my attention because of its title. I am quite familiar with Neruda, of course; the Chilean poet won the Nobel Prize in Literature. It didn’t take much convincing for me to give Natera’s prose a chance.

Neruda on the Park was the debut novel of the Dominican writer; Natera was born in the Dominican Republic and later on migrated to the United States when she was ten. The book is also in line with my goal of reading at least ten works of Latin American writers this year. At the heart of the story are a mother and daughter tandem. The matriarch, Eusebia, grew up in her native Dominican Republic but was forced to move to the United States to join her husband, Vladimir. By the time she migrated, the couple already had a daughter, Luz. They would integrate into a (fictional) Dominican neighborhood called Nothar Park. Luz would then become a corporate lawyer at the age of 29, only to find herself fired from her job. Luz’s conundrum was one of the strands that make up the strand. The other strand involved the gentrification of Nothar Park which was envisioned by developers to be a model community of the future. That was when Eusebia decided to intercede. Somehow, I find the novel a very typical work that has become the trademark of Latin American writers who grew up in the United States. It did have strong points. Good and interesting but not great. It held enough to occupy my imagination.

The second book I finished in the past seven days was Jabari Asim’s Yonder, another writer who I am quite unfamiliar with. Had it not been a fellow book reader, I might not have even thought about obtaining a copy of the book. But hey, I did albeit having no iota about what the book was about; I trusted my friend’s recommendation. While I have been meaning to get around the book during the previous year, other books got in the way and Yonder was left to gather dust on my bookshelf. This 2022 reading catch-up has allowed me to finally delve into a book I have been looking forward to.

Asim, I have learned, has been a prolific writer and Yonder was his third novel. He also wrote short stories, poetry, and children’s stories. Anyway, when I started reading Yonder, I had no expectations of it. But once I opened the first pages of the book, I was slowly sucked in. The novel transported me to the slavery era Deep South; the history of the Deep South interweaves with slavery. The setting was a plantation, Placid Hall, owned by Randolph “Cannonball” Greene. Greene also owned two other plantations, Pleasant Grove and Two Forks. The novel’s main voices, however, were William, Margaret, Cato, and Pandora. Each of the four main characters gave their accounts of how they were plucked forcefully from their homeland by Thieves and sold to Greene; the group would refer to themselves as the “Stolens”. The story reminded me of Robert Jones Jr.’s The Prophets immediately when I started reading it. I did like Yonder better, however. A review of the book I read also highlighted the parallels between this book and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s The Water Dancer. While I haven’t read Coates’s debut novel, Yonder was the image of it I had in my mind. Maybe I really should consider reading The Water Dancer.

Unlike the three writers above, Candice Carty-Williams was a name that rang a bell to me. Her debut novel, Queenie, was pretty ubiquitous a couple of years ago. I keep reading positive feedback on the book. However, the book would get buried at the back of my mind until a couple of years later when I encountered Carty-Williams again, but through her latest novel. Through an online bookseller, I came across People Person. Curious about the British writer’s prose, I obtained the book. I did originally plan to read the book last year believing Carty-Williams was American. My bad. I then pushed it down my reading list as I was in the midst of an American literature journey during that time.

There were two lenses through which to study the book’s title. The first one is the literal people person, the amiable type who easily melds into his environment. This was Cyril Pennington, a bus driver and a Casanova of some sort. His charms worked on four different women with whom he would father five children: Nikisha, Danny, Dimple, Lizzie, and Prynce. His four children, however, did not know of each other’s existence until Cyril decided to be a good father for one day, basically kidnapping all his children and introducing them to each other. It was an awkward situation, to say the least. The siblings would then forget about each other until an emergency would bring them back together, albeit not by their choice. This situation would, however, bond them together. While the plot, at times, felt implausible, I was amused by how Carty-Williams explored family dynamics. The book grappled with some timely and seminal subjects, such as the frailties of our online lives, identity, and sexuality. Oh yeah. The second layer of a people person, as would be revealed in the concluding pages of the book, pertains to an individual who has a keen understanding of those around her/him.

Wow. I am drawing closer to my 1,000th novel! I just realized that The Hacienda is my 998th novel. This means that Jennifer Egan’s latest novel, The Candy House would be my 999th novel. Whew. Anyway, The Candy House made it to my reading list early last year while I was searching for books to include in my 2022 Most Anticipated Releases list. I wasn’t even aware that the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer was releasing new work. I knew of Egan because of A Visit From the Goon Squad, a book I was apprehensive about reading because I thought it was a collection of short stories. Learning that The Candy House was its sequel made me read the novel last year. It was, well, an interesting work of postmodern fiction. This then makes me look forward to The Candy House.

One novel down and it will finally be my reckoning with James Joyce and his mammoth of a work, Ulysses. Ulysses was originally part of my 2017 Top 20 Reading List. I even started reading the revered classic. However, it tested both my patience and imagination. It barely made sense despite my trying to research more about the story. Midway through the book, I did something I have rarely done, DNFing a book; I DNFed a book once previously but I read the book a couple of years later, hence, Ulysses is currently the only book that I did not finish. I then resolved to read Ulysses later on, before settling to making it my 1,000th novel. So yes, daunted I still maybe but the day has come for me to go head-to-head with one of the most difficult books in the world.

However, before reading the novel, I plan to read Joyce’s Dubliners first. It is a collection of short stories, hence, it will not be considered my 1,000th novel; besides, I have already breached 1,000 books read a little not too long ago. I am hoping for Dubliners to be my primer into the complex (I assume it would be) prose of the Irish writer. Dubliners would also be a rarity. It will become just the second short story collection I read, after Nick Joaquin’s The Woman Who Had Two Navels and Tales of the Tropical Gothic, a book I read back in 2019. I am hoping that I will be able to fathom and appreciate Ulysses this time around.

That’s it for this week’s WWW Wednesday. I hope you are all doing great. Happy reading and always stay safe! Happy Wednesday again!