Saturday, November 14, 2015

A House of My Own: Stories from My Life

Title:  A House of My Own:  Stories From My Life
Author:  Sandra Cisneros
Publication Information:  Alfred A. Knopf. 2015. 400 pages.
ISBN:  038535133X / 978-0385351331

Book Source:  I read this book as this month's selection for my local book club.

Opening Sentence:  "A long time ago, which was yesterday, I could tell time by the typeface on my manuscripts."

Favorite Quote:  "I believe books are medicine. A library is a medicine cabinet. What can heal one person may not work at all for somebody else. You know when something is healing you, just as you know when something isn't."

I was introduced to Sandra Cisneros work through The House on Mango Street. This book is and is not similar in structure. Both take a vignette approach to telling a story. The House on Mango Street tells a fictional but somewhat auto-biographical tale through Esperanza, a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago. The vignettes are short as is the book overall, but through it emerges a complete picture of a girl, a family, and a neighborhood.

This book is more disparate and disjointed. It is a collection of previously written works - essays, articles, poetry, speeches, and letters pulled together to create a "jigsaw autobiography." The topics range from personal stories to tributes to responses to criticism to social commentary. Expecting more of an autobiography, the book is frustrating at times because no attempt is made to pull the pieces together into a whole - to assemble the image out of the jigsaw pieces if you will.

However, that frustration disappears as soon as I let go of the expectation of an entire image. With the expectation gone, I can appreciate the individual pieces for what they are. At that point, Sandra Cisneros' writing pulls me in. As is true of any collection, some pieces speak more to me than others. Some make me laugh, and some make me cry. Some touch my heart and tell my story, and some I quickly skim through.

The one jarring note through the book is the introductions to each piece. I understand they are necessary to provide context for how and when the piece was written. They are even set apart by font and color.   Perhaps, the objective of the introductions is to create a whole out of the pieces, but I don't really get that sense. The pragmatic descriptions are so very different in style from the pieces themselves that they pull me out of the "story" such as it is. They are also a constant reminder that the book is based on work already published elsewhere; it's not new but repackaged. I would have preferred for these references perhaps to be in an appendix such that I could seek them out by choice.

The introduction does specify that the book is structured "to arrange the stories in the sequence I wrote them." Again, I end up reading the book as individual, stand alone pieces without a sense of cohesion or chronology. So, the organization does not really impact my ultimate experience with the book.

I read books in print and in e-book formats.  Often times, the format does not influence how I feel about the book. For this one, it does. I read this book in hardcover, and it is a beautiful book. The size is about 5 inches by 8 inches, but the book feels really heavy for its size. It is presented on art book paper, which is lovely to the touch. The book includes full color photographs. For me, all of these add to the enjoyment of the book, something I would not have felt with the book in a different format.

For all its disparate notes, the book does end on a note of homecoming and of having found home. It has the sense of an ending but also a beginning. I am glad to have gone along on the journey and look forward to what might be next.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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