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Classes wrapped up last week and I am so thankful for the successful completion of another semester. Three down, one more to go (plus my summer capstone). I can't believe that by this time next year I will hold a master's degree! This past semester has been the most challenging thus far, but I still feel incredibly lucky to study such an interesting, interdisciplinary field. Now I am looking forward to unwinding with a few good books over the holiday break.
Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg
My Rating: 3 out of 5  

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I did manage to complete a novel in between all the academic readings, papers and project reports I had to do for my classes. Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg is a historical fiction novel based on the real life of Mazie Phillips Gordon. Known as the “Queen of the Bowery,” Mazie ran a movie theater in New York City during the Great Depression. During the day she worked in the theater ticket booth she dubbed "the cage" and at night she would walk the streets--alone--passing out money and bars of soap to the homeless bums who had given up on life. She became famous for her compassion and generosity, and was even featured in a 1940 article in The New Yorker. But Mazie wasn't the epitome of sainthood that most of us think of today. In her fictionalized account, she's a strong-willed, flirty, tough-talking, boozy woman with a zest for life and a deep love for the streets. As flawed and self-indulgent as Mazie's personality is, she is also deeply loyal and often (resentfully) sacrifices her own desires to fulfill obligations to her family. Her story is told from multiple perspectives in the form of interviews with people who knew her (or had heard stories about her) and in excerpts from her diary, which she received as a present on her 10th birthday. I especially liked reading the diary pages because I always find it interesting to learn what thoughts and events a person finds worthy of recording about their own life, even if they are fictional.

Another reason I liked this choppy, time-jumping format, was that it made it easy for me to put down the novel as things got busy during the semester without losing track of the story when I picked it back up days (or sometimes weeks) later. Indeed, the pacing of the story felt kind of slow to me and I probably would have gotten bored with the novel if I had tried to read it continuously. One complaint I had about the story structure was that the part of Mazie's life that I found the most interesting--her concern for the city's bums--didn't occur until the last third of the novel! Instead, fictionalized family drama and romantic connections fill the contents of the first two thirds of the story. Admittedly, I found the evolution of Mazie's family relationships as well as her friendship with a Catholic nun intriguing, but there were also too many amorous encounters for my comfort. Fortunately, the descriptions weren't overly explicit or pornographic but they certainly pushed the story beyond my literary tolerance. Nevertheless, I'd say that "Saint Mazie" is a solid read about a fascinating woman and her crazy family. I liked Mazie's independence and strength, especially for a woman of her time, and how she inspired hope in her community by treating bums like human beings and equals.

And now for my Fall/Winter Reading Challenge: I'm going to start off with a novel that a friend recommended, The Assistants by Camille Perri. I've just read the first chapter and I'm hooked. This reading challenge will run through my school's winter break so I have until the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday (January 16th) to finish 6 books.

UPDATE: I decided to extend the deadline to the end of January.

As always, your book suggestions are welcome. Share your reading suggestions with me on Facebook or Twitter @KeishaLBrown! I also invite you to create your own reading challenge. Just pick a book (or quantity of books), a deadline, and get to reading!

CHALLENGE: Read 5 books in 6 weeks (December, January)
DEADLINE: January 31, 2017
BOOK #1: The Assistants by Camille Perri

You can check out my previous Reading Challenges here.