People from My Neighbourhood by Hiromi Kawakami

People from My Neighbourhood was the perfect book to get me out of my slump. It’s a collection of micro-fiction, with each story only three pages. I read a few stories a day until I reached the end of the book. The format is in-a-reading-slump, have-no-time-to-read, and have-a-short-attention-span friendly. The physical book is so small, too, that it’s no problem taking it around.

The stories were always told in the second person. The narrator was the same throughout the book, so there was some consistency to the characters and the stories. Well, as consistent as neighborhood tales go—some of the stories were hearsay. The characters all lived in the same universe—neighborhood—so the stories, while independent, were interconnected.

I loved the neighborhood vibe of the whole collection. Since there were numerous stories, I was able to get to know the neighbors through the stories, and I could imagine myself being in the neighborhood as well. I’m hoping to find more books like this in the future!

The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers

Finally⁠—a Dave Eggers book I like better than The Circle, The Monk of Mokha is a biography of Mokhtar Alkhanshali that chronicles the experiences of a Yemeni-American and his obsession with coffee. Mokhtar’s story is inspiring⁠—in today’s practical world, it’s hard to take risks to follow one’s passion, but some people do it anyway.

The story was well-written, but the narration style was dry and objective. (This seems to be common across Eggers’s works.) The characters felt two dimensional. I couldn’t connect with them. I felt like I was reading a very well-crafted transcript of events. I wanted to feel emotions; I wanted to root for the characters, but I felt distant to them.

Of course, it all boils down to preference. Dave Eggers is a great writer, and his works raise awareness about human rights and political issues. (To come to think of it, his writing voice seems to be more objective than some journalists’ works, but I guess it’s hard to always be impartial nowadays.) For this reason, I think his books are worth reading, but I’ll probably stick to his non-fiction from now on.

The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood

When I think of The Robber Bride, two concepts come to mind: feminism and identity. The story is unlike any I’ve read before. It follows three women, Tony, Charis, and Roz, all of whom have bad history with a man-eater, Zenia. Each Zenia experience is different per person, but it always ends in tragedy. Zenia is a giant question mark to me—is it feminist of her to have used her sexuality for personal gain, or is it not feminist of her to have manipulated and hurt fellow women for her own gain?

Among the three injured women, my favorite character is Roz. She strikes me as someone with a sense of humor and a positive disposition despite all her bad experiences. I like her strong personality—she is a woman in power—and I felt angry for her that she chose to tone things down for the sake of insecure men in her life. Unfortunately, this still happens today—women are oft told not to be too loud or rough because it will turn men off. … But why can’t men accept women as they are? Why can’t women reap the benefits of their successful ventures?

The other thing that came to mind as I read is why people choose to change their names. Charis’s story makes it clear why new names and identities should be respected—and why it isn’t nice to deadname people. While Charis is not my favorite character, I do respect that she had the strength to create a new life for herself despite her traumatic childhood. But Zenia tramples on all of that and insists on calling Charis Karen, and you know Zenia is up to no good.

Here’s to hoping no one ever has a Zenia enter their lives.