Books: Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights

Salman Rushdie’s Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights

The one thing this book has succeeded at is making me appreciate my ArtHum education. There are so many references to canonical Western art pieces, and it’s fun to recognize these references and recognize the way the ideas and themes of the novel interact with the themes of the paintings. Or perhaps that’s my semi-liberal arts education speaking. But I have no doubt that without that liberal arts learnedness, I would not have enjoyed the novel.

I feel really conflicted about this work because the concepts and ideas and themes are really interesting, but the actual execution makes reading at times tedious and boring. You’d think that with so many cultural references, ranging from modern-day superhero to Ivy League education artwork, the reading would be more interesting. But it’s not. The ideas are: Rushdie always ties Indian culture into his writing, and we get a really great mash-up of cultures in East meets West and how that all ties into historical and global racism, discrimination, and bigotry. But the characters are hard to connect with and the writing, though at times poetic and lyrical, could also be very tedious to get through. Sometimes I felt like Rushdie’s goal was to make every paragraph the same long length, and sometimes I straight up fell asleep while reading.

But the ideas, the ideas are so great! We get this really interesting fairytale backstory of jinnia/fairy princess and mortal human man. The fantastical jinn have an Arabic/Islamic origin, but their fairytale world is pretty similar to the fairies/faeries/fae that contemporary urban fantasy is so fond of, and Rushdie ties their interactions with our world into Western canon–Greek gods, European monsters, and the like.

Goya’s “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters” pretty much sets the framework for the whole novel, where the sleep of reason–unreason–appears to be religion, which creates the grounds for discrimination and bigotry, and the doing of misdeeds all in the name of religion. The novel seems to criticize religion, calling reason an absence of religion and the only way to finding peace and equality, but in the end, it becomes clear that perhaps the prevalence of reason and absence of unreason isn’t all great either. Because even though the “sleep of reason” might bring forth monsters, it is also in sleep that we dream and have a source of creativity.

Conceptually great but emotionally lacking, Rushdie’s novel was mostly an exercise in seeing how much I really learned from my classes in school. I’m glad I can say I learned something, and was able to recognize several references to Goya’s “Saturn Devouring His Son,” which allowed me to actually enjoy parts of the novel so I didn’t have to unhappily trudge through the flood of words.


Books: Modern Romance

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

I love what Aziz Ansari does in the entertainment industry, especially with his show Master of None. He’s a funny guy, and Modern Romance is very much a textual version of a comedy or talk show. That doesn’t always work in its favor: sometimes the humor works, but often the humor falls flat and seems tangential and forced, especially in this textual format. I probably would have enjoyed this book more if it were in podcast form, narrated by Ansari.

In Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari explores what romance and relationships have become in our modern world of social media, technology, and increased gender equality. This has the potential to be pretty interesting, but unfortunately a lot of the ideas and themes were already familiar to me. Perhaps it’s because a lot of the themes are repeated in his show, Master of None, which I just watched, or because I am the generation that is growing up in this world of online dating, Tinder, and social media. To someone who has not grown up in this world, perhaps this book offers some groundbreaking insights, but to me, it’s just life. To some extent, I have either personally experienced, or have friends who have experienced pretty much every aspect of modern relationships that are discussed in Modern Romance. Relationships and relationship theory are things that I often think about or talk about with friends. To some extent, that makes the content of Modern Romance more relatable, but also makes it a bit boring.

That being said, I appreciate the way Ansari ties in sociological/psychological studies on decision-making and gambling into talking about relationships and love–it’s all just human nature, isn’t it?–as well as his international research and inclusion of personal anecdotes. Modern Romance is a personal exploration that expanded into the wider world, and being able to tie everything back to Ansari’s personal curiosity and personal romantic experiences makes the reading experience more enjoyable, and also makes up for the over-familiar content and occasionally flat humor.

Books: The Winner’s Kiss

The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

What a fantastic finish to a great trilogy. I had some issues with Book 2 of this series, but The Winner’s Kiss has the best of what made The Winner’s Curse great, and brings so much more.

The Winner’s Kiss picks up where Book 2 left off, with our heroine Kestrel in prison, her memory slowly slipping away, and Arin fighting a desperate war to reclaim his kingdom from the Valorians. The plot, with its intrigue, trickery, and strategy, is the reason why I started reading, since I had to know how the story ended, but I was surprised by how much this final novel is driven by characters and relationships, perhaps even more than it is driven by the plot.

Kestrel has always had a pride and arrogance that can make her unlikable and appear self-centered. In The Winner’s Kiss, she loses that, and loses herself, and though she becomes physically weaker, she also becomes mentally stronger as she rediscovers and remembers who she was. The Winner’s Kiss is about Kestrel and Arin’s rediscovery and rebuilding of their relationship, the uncertainty of trust and love and emotions. But the central relationship here is not the romantic one between Kestrel and Arin, it is the complex relationship between Kestrel and her father, and that is the relationship that steals the show.

Marie Rutkoski writes emotion really well. I could feel the tension, hurt, sorrow, relief, heartbreak, and uncertainty. The tenuous and fragile bond of trust between Kestrel and Arin made my heart hurt. But where these emotions really come through is in Kestrel’s reflections on her relationship with her father. She seeks his approval and love, yet has also been hurt and betrayed by him. She respects him, but also thinks she hates him. She wants to hurt him the way he has hurt her, but she also can’t deny that some part of her still loves him and still seeks his attention. What I found most heartbreaking about this relationship is that Kestrel’s betrayal was discovered when her father was trying to bridge a gap between them, and in his own way, make amends.

Perhaps I connect with this part of the novel so deeply because it reminds me of my own relationship with my father. It resonates with me, but it is also written and explored so well. Most of the relationships in this novel are about family: what it means to have family, and what it means to be family. There is a good amount of romance and strategizing, action, trickery, and drama. But family and father-daughter relationships are what has turned this trilogy from being just another light fantasy romance to something that is deeper.

The author’s acknowledgements afterword makes it clear that this novel was researched, and I really respect that. I have always felt that people look down on the YA genre–even people who read it scorn these novels as not “real” books at times. But I think Rutkoski’s research into topics that are relevant to her story elevate the novel and prove that YA novels aren’t just fantasies spun out of the author’s imagination. I mean, they are, but they also can contain deeper and more meaningful messages and material.

I have been disappointed by so many YA trilogies lately, and have dropped so many of them because of second books that weren’t quite up to par, but I am so glad I stuck with this one. The story, characters, and writing have grown so much throughout the series, and make their exit in an extremely memorable finale.