Category Archives: Reading Books

Roqué’s Sunday Book Review: The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris

August 1, 2021

Culture and Society / Reading Books / Roque Recommends

When I read a description of the book The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris, I was intrigued by its premise and placed a hold on a digital copy from my library once I found out that one was available. Its story is set at the end of the US Civil War and the beginnings of the Reconstruction era when the north followed through on its pledge to do the work to end slavery in the southern states. To be honest, I find stories from this era to be difficult to read because of how terribly slaves were treated. It is unfathomable that the white people of that time believed so completely in their superiority that they treated other human beings so horribly. This era is one of the most shameful in human history. Nonetheless, I read it anyway because I cannot turn down the power and the sense of possibility of what a good book can give.

This harrowing tale centers around a small white family living on a large swath of inherited land that borders several plantations that are worked by slaves. Two black brothers, who were slaves owned by a local and particularly cruel land baron, left one of these neighboring plantations as freed men. Their lives become intricately intertwined with this small white family, for better or worse. Embedded within all of the ensuing complexity is an illicit romantic affair between two white men and former soldiers who secretly meet deep in the woods to spend time together.

This is a good book. Its steady pacing and complex characters drive its plot to places that are unsettling to experience but necessary. It offers a case study in the ways by which racism can decimate any sense of human decency and compassion and a primer on what it means to care for others in times of immense struggle and sorrow.

Is it a lighthearted, easy, and fun book to read?


But it is a book that has a lot of depth and layers, in which actions and consequences are at odds with what is just and fair. It takes the bonds between parent and child, friend and friend, brother and brother, lover and lover, individual and community, and husband and wife into situations in which they become strained and gutted. Up until the final page, we find out which bonds survive.

This is one of those books I hope everyone gets a chance to read for the important example it gives of how racism breeds nothing but destruction. There are plenty of fun and lighthearted books available to read, but it takes a book like this one to see a much bigger and broader view of the world—a panoramic vista that shows us what we need to see.


Roqué’s Sunday Book Review: Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

July 18, 2021

Culture and Society / Reading Books / Roque Recommends

Writer Kazuo Ishiguro is as accomplished as an author can get. As a winner of the Nobel Prize in literature (among several accolades), he has written novels such as The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go that have resonated with audiences all over the world.  Each novel submerges the reader completely into the mind and sensibilities of its characters. Ishiguro’s writing is self-assured and crystalline in its delivery and style.  In his new novel just released this year entitled Klara and the Sun, Ishiguro is in mighty, top form.

The story of this novel takes places somewhere in the not-too-distant future. Ishiguro incrementally unravels what this future world looks like, and it is striking to see how believable he makes it all feel. Klara, the titular character, is a robot—one that was designed to act as a companion and confidante for children and teenagers. She is an incredibly sensitive and highly sophisticated piece of machinery that can engage with humans in, well, very human-like ways. 

Klara conveys empathy by remembering every nuance of behavior that she observes around her. She aggregates all of the data she compiles to inform how she interacts with the child who keeps her. Internally, she actively questions all she sees and any contradictions she comes across. Her mission is to support the child and his/her wellbeing as completely as possible. The sun and its solar energy are her power sources, and as such, she is a robust and efficient machine that can run itself for as along as possible.

This premise alone is fascinating, but the story itself is incredibly well-crafted. I found myself sighing at the end, which I will not give away here. What Ishiguro offers up in this book is an analysis of the shortcomings of humanity, despite its blistering ambition and technical powers. 

If you are looking for an absorbing book that is as tenderhearted as it is disturbing, this book may be right up your alley. Ishiguro, once again, schools the rest of us over how it’s done. He builds depth and complexity out of subtlety and nuance. What appears to be a gentle slap to the face is actually a tight-fisted, forceful punch to the gut.  You won’t know what it you.  

This book is masterful indeed. 


Roqué’s Sunday Book Review: The Art of Simple Living by Shunmyo Masuno

July 11, 2021

Culture and Society / Reading Books / Roque Recommends

I keep stumbling upon books written by Zen monks. I keep purchasing them, and then I keep them nearby for quick reference when I need them. I do not know how or when I started to need the perspectives of Zen monks. This is where I have arrived in my life, and quite honestly, I am supremely happy about it.

The Art of Simple Living by Shunmyo Masuno was published in 2019—on the eve a global, life-altering pandemic. How could anyone have known how prescient a book like this would be? As Covid-19 aggressively descended upon the masses, we all had to scale back the pomp and circumstance of our lives in order to be safe, thereby imposing upon ourselves the mentality of simpler living like staying home, shopping less (and online), severely limiting social interactions with people outside of one’s household, avoiding large crowds, and so on.

I cannot imagine that this book’s author would have wanted the world to accept simple living in this forced and unsettling way. Luckily, we, as any and all readers, have the ability and choice to accept a book purely for what it offers, regardless of the circumstances of the world it was thrust into.

At 399 pages, Masuno has written a guidebook on how to cultivate a simple and more stress-free life. He addresses daily practicalities like how to arrange one’s home as well as mental health and personal self-care. This book is ambitious in its scope but elemental in its presentation and design. It provides 100 techniques that virtually anyone from any walk of life can implement immediately. Each technique comes with an adorable little illustration and takes up two to three pages.

Here are the polka-dot pros:

  • Steeped in Zen Principles and Japanese Culture
    Each morsel of sage wisdom in this book references Zen practices and longstanding Japanese cultural sensibilities. The result is a tender and gentle portrait of a way of life that has been molded together across generations of people. This is not some stuffy academic tomb nor is it cheerful self-help fluffery. One gets the sense that there is great richness here.
  • Gentle Tone and Quirky Storytelling
    Masuno is more of a teacher in this book than someone simply doling out advice. His writing is clear and focused and uses simple examples to support each technique.
  • Reader-friendly design and structure
    You can open this book at any random page and find something useful to read. While it is formatted in a linear way and is divide in three distinct sections, it’s content can be received in any order that the reader see’s fit. Start at the end and work your way toward the beginning. Read one random passage per day. Or simply read the book in a traditional, sequential way. The book’s simplicity allows for much versatility.

Regardless of the forced simplicity that Covid-19 has imposed upon us, there are actually numerous benefits to living a simple life, particularly when we allow ourselves the choice and preference to pursue it. This book is useful at any age and with all genders and ethnicities. Its underlying goal connects to a worthwhile need—to live a meaningful, uncomplicated life. All 100 techniques may not apply to every reader, but that does not seem to be the point of it all.

Every ready has something to gain by reading this little, quiet gem, along with the power to use its wisdom in whatever manner feels best. With subtlety and nuance, Masuno hands us this power completely.