Santiago & Mantel

I read two books last week, well, one and a half — Almost a Woman by Esmeralda Santiago (one) and Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel (half, I’m still halfheartedly at it but in constant danger of never finishing). If I renew a library book 2 times without having a valid reason for the delay, like travel or sickness, um then it’s probably a gone case. It’s like trying to be 25 when you clearly are not (not that I’ve ever done this). I haven’t returned it yet even though I can hardly bring myself to read it because I refuse to admit that there is a Tudor novel out there that does not have me captivated enough to finish in an evening.

I’m usually principally against an award winning book. I’m not sure if they really are good books or just lucky enough to be victims of “celebrity mob mentality”. I think one critic who may or may not have gotten the premise/story of the book completely praises it enough to hide her own embarrassment and the literary world follows along. The actual wonderful books don’t win awards, they win an audience. All IMO, of course.

This Hilary Mantel novel is just riding on the award wagon of Wolf Hall, I think (which by the way another of my friends who’s reading for her book club can’t get into either). The first 50 pages or so of Bring Up The Bodies are fantastically slow paced and filled with historical throwbacks that a Tudor newbie will find very hard to follow. By the middle of the book the pace picks up a bit but even so I found no personal investment in the characters or their stories. Unless you read to impress someone or have recklessly signed up for a book club you’re regretting or, like me, are hell bent on proving no Tudor novel is beyond you, I’d give this one a pass.

Esmeralda Santiago, on the other hand, is more my kind of author. Honest, engaging writing that tells a simple story without unnecessary insinuations is what thrills me. If I’m going to use all my brain power for casual reading then I may as well tackle the classics. Almost a Woman follows Santiago’s life from When I was Puerto Rican to her adulthood. It’s a brutally honest look into what it’s like being a poor minority young girl in a big city, trying to bridge the gap between who she is and who she wants to be. Dreams that she dreams within a closed, hispanic household and that she needs to fulfill amidst the blancos of the outer world. I think anyone who’s experienced life within two cultures, and all that it involves, will identify with this memoir.

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