Family Reads: Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of A Fist by Sunil Yapa

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Born out of a desire to get a family of book lovers to connect more over what they’re reading, Family Reads is an occasional feature where my mom, dad or sister and I read and discuss a book.

Why we chose Sunil Yapa’s Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of Your Fist

Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of Your Fist

Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist had been on Ash’s shelf for awhile. She had purchased it on the strong recommendation of a close friend. When I asked her what book she would like to do for Family Reads, she told me she was about to start reading this one. It was also on my TBR (I had seen some good reviews from other bloggers), so our interests converged nicely.

On a rainy, cold day in November, young Victor–a boyish, scrappy world traveler who’s run away from home–sets out to sell marijuana to the 50,000 anti-globalization protestors gathered in the streets. It quickly becomes clear that the throng determined to shut the city down–from environmentalists to teamsters to anarchists–are testing the patience of the police, and what started as a peaceful protest is threatening to erupt into violence.

Over the course of one life-altering afternoon, the lives of seven people will change forever: foremost among them police chief Bishop, the estranged father Victor hasn’t seen in three years, two protestors struggling to stay true to their non-violent principles as the day descends into chaos, two police officers in the street, and the coolly elegant financial minister from Sri Lanka whose life, as well as his country’s fate, hinges on getting through the angry crowd, out of jail, and to his meeting with the president of the United States.

Our Discussion

You’ll get more out of this discussion if you’ve already read the book (minor spoilers ahead).

We both gave this book ★★★★. Ash commented that she felt it wasn’t often I gave a book she picked four stars. (Though when we looked back at the five previous Family Reads we had done, we realized AnnihilationHouse of Leaves and A Monster Calls were all stand out reads for both of us. Ash had picked all of those books.)

We were pleasantly surprised to find the story told from multiple viewpoints, as we weren’t expecting that. We had thought the story was going to primarily be about reconciliation between Victor and his father via the protests. That was not at all where the story went. The narration through many different perspectives made the story more interesting than we had anticipated.

We both liked the narrative style. From the very first page, the prose keeps a nice rhythm which kept us turning the pages. There were a lot of lines in the book that felt very descriptive – one line ‘zingers’, things you wouldn’t normally say to describe a person but that work nicely in a novel. For example, this line about one of the police officers – “The last time Park hugged someone was at a funeral” – gives you a clue into his personality. That was when I started to think something might be off about this guy. The line that got Ash thinking something wasn’t right with Park was when he was estimating how many cops would die that day. I found the police officer characters pretty infuriating. Even Julia seemed a little weird, not in the ideal mindset for a police officer.

Our discussion evolved from the police officers to the rest of the cast of characters. We concluded that everyone was kind of strange except Victor. They all had some sort of skeleton in their closet. Bishop was a somewhat complicated character. There was a bit about how he stood in a grocery store for hours that made me think “This is a guy who needs some help”, a guy who probably shouldn’t be Chief of Police. We couldn’t decided if he actually liked his son. Charles was a favourite character of ours. He thought he could make a difference for his country but he gets trapped by everyone’s opinions. Charles’ story added another layer to the book. It wasn’t just about some kid and his dad, not just about why people protest, but also about globalization and the grand picture. We felt there are two aspects to this book: the personal story of the characters and the bigger story of globalization.

Regarding the ending – it was pretty ambiguous?? We weren’t too sure. I tend to read endings too quickly. Ash thought that Victor had a near death experience. I don’t generally like ambiguous conclusions; I’m too plain and straightforward for that sort of thing. We also didn’t find the epilogue very satisfying. Ash wondered how separate epilogues are from the main story. I feel they’re like a PS, a bonus to the main story line.

Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a FistFinally, we both liked the cover and found it highly appealing – that swirly motion, the bright colours, the strong font. We also liked the hardcover design, but we discovered that neither of us likes yellow on a book cover.

 Final Thoughts

Read Diverse 2017
This review counts towards the Read Diverse 2017 challenge.

This book is the first literary/fiction novel Ash and I have read for Family Reads. We both enjoyed it more than we expected, despite our loose familiarity with protest movements and our uncertain grasp of the conclusion.  Have you read Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of A Fist?  What did you think of it?
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Diversity Spotlight Thursday #4

Diversity Spotlight Thursday
Hosted by Aimal @ Bookshelves and Paperbacks

Read and Enjoyed: The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutsie

The Abyss Surrounds UsFor Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. She’s been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the genetically-engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas’s first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas’s dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water.

There’s no time to mourn. Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup, make sure he imprints on her ship, and, when the time comes, teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea.

Goodreads | While The Abyss Surrounds Us didn’t have the vivid world building that I was hoping for, I’d recommend it for the human relationships. I expected Santa Elena to be Cas’s love interest (which may have been a bit Stockholm syndrome-y), but that role goes to another female crew member. I liked how Cas’s crush develops subtly and naturally. There is also some interesting exploration of us vs. them mentalities (good guys vs bad guys, rich people vs poor people). As far as I can tell, this is not an own voices novel (please let me know if you can confirm otherwise).

Released but Not Yet Read: One Half From the East by Nadia Hashimi

One Half from the EastObayda’s family is in need of some good fortune. Her father lost one of his legs in a bomb explosion, forcing the family to move from their home city of Kabul to a small village, where life is very different and Obayda’s father almost never leaves his room. One day, Obayda’s aunt has an idea to bring the family luck—dress Obayda, the youngest of her sisters, as a boy, a bacha posh. Now Obayda is Obayd. Life in this in-between place is confusing, but once Obayda meets another bacha posh, everything changes. The two of them can explore the village on their own, climbing trees, playing sports, and more. But their transformation won’t last forever—unless the two best friends can figure out a way to make it stick and make their newfound freedoms endure.

Goodreads | My sister brought this book home from a HarperCollins event. The setting caught my eye. Not own voices – Hashimi was born and raised in America to first-generation Afghani immigrants. Her website states she was “surrounded by a large family of aunts, uncles and cousins, keeping the Afghan culture an integral part of their daily lives”.

Not Yet Released: Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi

Beasts Made of NightIn the walled city of Kos, corrupt mages can magically call forth sin from a sinner in the form of sin-beasts – lethal creatures spawned from feelings of guilt.

Taj is the most talented of the aki, young sin-eaters indentured by the mages to slay the sin-beasts. But Taj’s livelihood comes at a terrible cost. When he kills a sin-beast, a tattoo of the beast appears on his skin while the guilt of committing the sin appears on his mind. Most aki are driven mad by the process, but 17-year-old Taj is cocky and desperate to provide for his family.

When Taj is called to eat a sin of a royal, he’s suddenly thrust into the center of a dark conspiracy to destroy Kos. Now Taj must fight to save the princess that he loves – and his own life.

Goodreads | Look at the cover! Then read that description! Are you sold on this one now? 😛 This debut comes from a Black American author.

What books would you select for Diversity Spotlight Thursday? Leave a link in the comment if you’ve already written about it!
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Read Diverse 2017
This post counts towards the Read Diverse 2017 reviewing challenge!

Understanding The American Right in Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild

Strangers in Their Own LandFormat/Source: Hardcover/Library
Published: August 2016
Publisher: New Press
Length: 351 pages
Genre: Non-fiction
Rating: ★★★★½
Goodreads Indigo | IndieBound Wordery

I read Strangers in Their Own Land in June. I haven’t been able to stop talking about it. When I first heard of this book, I immediately put it on hold at the library. I once thought the beliefs and convictions of the American far right were beyond my understanding. How could I ever understand how someone could hold values so severely divergent from my own? In Strangers in Their Own Land,  Arlie Russell Hochschild undertakes the important task of “truly listen[ing] to the other side in order to understand why they believe – and feel – the way they do”. Through Hochschild’s book, I have come to an understanding of how someone might hold the beliefs of the far right.

One friend of mine commented that they didn’t want to read this book because they didn’t want to empathize too closely with the actions the right. I don’t believe that would be an effect of reading Strangers in Their Own Land. My experience was that I could now understand the perspective and logic of the right, if not perfectly then at least to a better degree than before I read this book. I still think most of their fundamental beliefs are significantly flawed. For example, a few people spoke about their need to elect an anti-abortion candidate over one who was pro-environmental protection (even though they wanted the environment better protected) because God would judge them over the abortion issue and not the environment issue. I will likely never understand how someone can put their personal religion ahead of the rights of their fellow human beings. Yet I can now see how those feelings would influence their political actions.

Other aspects of their beliefs I do have a clearer understanding of. I have some small sympathy there because, from my perspective, these beliefs stem from misunderstanding, ignorance and fear. (If only we could facilitate better communication between the left and the right…) Hochschild crafts what she calls a ‘deep story’ halfway through the book. This is a story that “removes judgement [and] fact to tell us how things feel” (135). She writes in second person to share the experience of a Tea Party member. This narrative in the middle of the book helps put her research into perspective. Tea Partiers are emotional, feeling people, just like anyone else, and this story shows how they came to feel what they feel in today’s world.

Hochschild explores how Tea Partiers believe that liberals want them to feel bad for everyone who is ‘behind them in line’, when they feel “downtrodden themselves and want only to look ‘up’ to the elite” (219). They see people who receive social benefits as receiving a leg up, as jumping ahead in line when they don’t deserve to. One person is quoted as saying, “People think we’re not good people if we don’t feel sorry for blacks and immigrants and Syrian refugees. But I am a good person and I don’t feel sorry for them.” Well. :/ There’s the fundamental difference. I believe in acknowledging privilege and trying to make the world a better place for those who aren’t as lucky as me. It’s not exactly about feeling sorry for someone, yet that’s what the right wing is hearing from the left wing.  Through Hochschild’s exploration of various social, religious, and community factors, I see now how someone might come to such right wing beliefs.

There are a lot more quotes I could use to exemplify how worked up I got while reading this book. I would shake the book and scream internally, “How can you think that?!” While I may have asked that question before, it becomes almost even more frustrating to ask that question when you can see the logic and emotions behind their beliefs, and you can see where the thread of their beliefs gets pulled away from your own. Yet that’s why this is such a good read – it took me into the minds of people I would never be able to comprehend otherwise.

The Bottom Line:

For those of us on the left who want to understand why the right wing is right wing, Strangers in Their Own Land makes for an invaluable read.

Further Reading:

  • Book webpage
  • Interview @ Democracy Now
  • Review by Lory @ Emerald City Book Review
  • Review by Susanne @ Goodreads
  • Review by Ralph Benko @ Forbes (a right-wing perspective – very interesting if you’ve read the book)
  • Review by Jason DeParle @ The New York Times

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Bookcase Tour

Inspired by Kate @ Parchment Girl’s post, “A Photographic Tour of My Bookshelves

In just a week, I will start packing up my books for a long-distance move. While struggling with the decision of which books might be okay to leave behind at my parent’s, I decided that I should take some photos of the way my bookcase looks today. (I have a number of photos of my bookcase over the years…I’m nostalgic for that sort of thing.) I loved Kate’s tour of her bookshelves and thought now would be perfect timing for me to do the same.

And that’s my bookcase! I do store some books on a shelf out in the hallway. They are books that I don’t love as much as these 😛 But the majority of my books are featured in these photos. I try to only buy books that I know will be lasting favourites, or books that I want to support financially.

Do you have a bookcase or two or seven? Do you have a particular system for organizing your shelves?

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