Reading


Last week also found me indulging in a novel by Meg Wolitzer – The Interestings. I didn’t like it quite as much as The Female Persuasion, but well, I’ve never disliked anything by Wolitzer. I read a fair number of books that challenge me, that make me work as a reader ( I see you Fever Dream and The Supernatural Enhancements). Wolitzer doesn’t really make you work, she just lets you get completely wrapped up in the characters. Admittedly, many of her characters are young-ish white women, who I find it pretty easy to relate to, so maybe this isn’t true for everyone.

The Interestings is the story of a group of friends who meet at a sleep-away art camp as teens and the novel follows them into their fifties. The main(ish) character is Jules, who comes from a middle class family and comes to camp for the first time right after her dad has died. She discovers she likes acting, and does try to make a go of it as a career for awhile as an adult. We also meet Ash and Goodman, wealthy twins from NYC, Ash is always praised by her parents and writes and directs plays, Goodman is always dismissed as lazy by his parents. Then there’s Jonah who is the son of a fairly famous folk singer (think Mary Chapin Carpenter maybe) and who is himself very talented at singing and playing the guitar but actively chooses not to make his living that way. And Ethan, also from a lower/middle class background, with amazing talent as an animator. Another character Cathy is technically part of The Interestings, as they christen themselves, but falls out of the friendship group after something traumatic happens. We start with their first summer together, and follow them for decades, slipping back and forth in time a bit.

The central themes of the book are really about, what does it take to ‘make it,’ why is it that some of these teens go on to be really famous for their talent, while others simply transition to other things? It isn’t just talent. But also, that magical time in your teens and twenties when you form these intense friendships. Jules’ husband argues with her on this point:

[W]hat was so great about this place wasn’t this place. … This camp is a perfectly fine place, Jules, but there are a lot of other places like it, or at least there used to be. And if you’d gone to another one, you would have met an entirely different group of people and become friends with them. That’s just the way it is. yeah, you were lucky you got to come here when you did. But what was most exciting about it when you were here was the fact that you were young. That was the best part.

Jules disagrees, but I kind of agreed. Places feel special, but ultimately what was special was the fact that you were young and everything was so new. This isn’t to say I would trade the experiences or the friends I actually have, but certainly, I think some of the power of our relationship is because we formed those relationships at this specific time in our lives.

Of course, I also really identified with Jules because she loses her dad so young, and because I have the same feeling that she described often, I don’t know what my Mom would have thought or loved, she didn’t know me as an adult:

Warren Jacobson was so rarely thought of by her as “Dad.” He was “my father” or, even more often, “my father who died when I was fifteen.” It was better to keep him at a distance, and when her mother said [Dad would have loved to be here at your wedding] in the tavern, Jules had no idea of what he would have loved. He’d never known her as a grown woman, only as a somewhat out-of-synch girl with ridiculous hair. .. It was too sad to think about him today of all days, when she was joining her life with the life of a man who was vowing to stay beside her over the years.

Ah Meg Wolitzer, you twist the heartstrings, but I love it.

Currently reading: Men We Reap

 

I’ve read a bunch of books lately, so hopefully I will get it together to write them up a  bit – first up, A People’s Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers. This is, as the title suggests, twenty-five short stories which are speculative fiction (sci-fi, fantasy, etc.) dealing mostly with the future of the United States. I started out really liking it, read all the stories pretty quickly, but looking back only a few really stand out for me. The book as a whole is extremely motivated by Donald Trump, which I kind of get, but after I while I felt like, look The Handmaid’s Tale already exists and is great, I don’t know how many more of those type of stories I need to read. Trump is mentioned in the intro as having motivated the editor to collect the stories, mentioned by name in at least one story, and hovers over many others. And honestly, I wish some of the writers had been a little more creative.

Although, the first story, which seemed very tied to the current state of the country was one of my favorites. “The Bookstore at the End of America” is a sort of play on the library that’s in both Canada and the United States, it has an entrance in the United States and one in California which has broken away. The owner tries to use books and the store as a bridge between the two countries, but hostilities over water break out during the story and both US citizens and Californians find themselves together sheltering in the bookstore:

What were the chances that the First and Last Page would could continue to exist much longer, especially with one foot in either country? How would they know if tonight was just another skirmish or the beginning of a proper war, something that could carry on for months and reduce both countries to fine ash? … all Molly heard was the slow, sustained breathing of people inside a cocoon of books.

There were many, many stories about plotting revolution after things have gone bad, for example “Our Aim is Not to Die” was all about a non-binary person living in surveillance state where one can’t be different in any way and the state monitors us all via social media and the internet of things.  I think N.K. Jemisin was the most creative, although I don’t really see her predictions coming true, she had the government creating sort of dragons via bio engineering and then using them against minority populations.

I also really enjoyed “Now Wait for this Week” maybe because it was not exactly about America or a prediction about the future. Instead it was a sort of Groundhog Day type story (or Russian Doll if you’re into that new Netflix special). One of the characters was stuck in the same week that juts kept repeating.  And it turned out to be kind of a surprising way to talk about #MeToo.

I think if you like science fiction at all, and I do, although not as much as some people, this collection is a great roadmap to find more sci-fi/fantasy novels to try because this really is a great collection of authors.

Currently reading: The House of Broken Angels

Last week I read There, There, by Tommy Orange, and listen to the marriage, by John Jay Osborn. And I can’t say that I loved either of them although both are well-written books that I would still recommend depending on what you’re looking for in a book.

I wanted to love There, There, and really it is a phenomenal book, it’s just also a very sad and unsatisfying book. I rarely think I should have read a book faster, but I had some trouble keeping track of all the characters and their relationships with each other and maybe you should just read this in like 1-2 sittings (as noted on the book jacket, this novel is “relentlessly paced” so I think you could pretty easily get through it in a day if you happen to have the leisure time). Essentially, this is the story of twelve Native Americans each attending the Big Oakland Powwow for various reasons (some are there to commit crimes, some to seek redemption, some to connect with their culture). We get lots of back story on most of the characters, which was really fascinating. I found the stories of Jacquie Redfeather and her half-sister Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield particularly fascinating — their story opens with them taking part as children in the Native American occupation of Alcatraz, which I knew pretty much nothing about. I found the ending of the novel unsatisfying, and I think anyone who likes things wrapped up in bows at the end of a book will as well — several characters are very much left hanging.

I also couldn’t help thinking about The Book Thief while reading the Prologue, which painful sets out the genocide committed by white settlers against Native Americans, another sort of holocaust.

listen to the marriage is a very different novel — whereas There, There ranges through decades and around the lives of twelve people, listen to the marriage is a sort of bottle novel. Almost everything in the entire novel happens via conversation inside the marriage counselor’s office. This is the story of Gretchen, Steve, and their marriage counselor Sandy, and how the three of them attempt to rebuild Gretchen and Steve’s marriage. This is another book that can’t be put down: there’s almost a sense that you’re trapped in the room with the three of them for the duration of the novel. Osborn (who wrote The Paper Chase!) kind of bashes you over the head with this concept, which I didn’t think was totally necessary:

“You and me, our story?” Gretchen said. “It’s what is going on right now, in this room. This is where it happens. This is what counts. If you’re not here, in the room, you don’t count.”

But at the same time, I did enjoy this book and thought it was a really interesting picture of marriage and counseling.

Currently reading: Still The Interestings, Men We Reap, and A People’s Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers (didn’t get much reading done this weekend sadly).

I think I’m kind of late to the party on this one since it’s already been made into a movie and apparently the movie came out like…six years ago?? Can one spoil a book that came out 13 years ago and has been around as a movie for more than 5?

Anyway, the book thief is a YA novel set before/during WWII in Hitler’s Germany, outside Munich. The characters are pretty much all German, which is interesting — I feel like maybe it’s the books I’ve read, but there seem to be SO MANY books about the brave and faultless British during WWII, but not so many about average Germans. Not that WWII is like, hurting for books written about it. But, it was interesting to see the story from the point of view of two tweens/teens in Germany who are sort of old enough to understand a bit of what’s going on, but young enough to not have much say.

The main character, Liesel, is the book thief and the novel opens with her being taken to live with foster parents because her parents are communists and although it is never stated, it is clear that the German state has decided her parents don’t get to have their kids any more because of their views. Liesel’s father has already been gone a long time. Tragedy strikes on the train ride to her foster home, which seems only right in any novel about the Holocaust – death was simply everywhere during that period.

Speaking of death, the novel is in fact narrated by Death, which is an interesting choice that sort of let’s the novel be both first and third person — we know what’s going on in everyone’s head, but we also get the angst from Death first hand. Yeah, Death is pretty angsty in this novel.

I hesitate to give away too much of the plot of the novel, honestly I read it in about a day a half, so you can definitely get through it pretty quickly. It’s really just a coming of age story about Liesel learning to deal with all the loss in her life. I felt like, maybe because it’s a YA novel, it sort bashes you over the head with the central idea — the power of words. Liesel learns to read over the course of the novel, and as one might expect she steals a number of books, and words change her life, but words are also how Hitler changed the world.

I didn’t LOVE this book, although maybe because it came highly recommended to me, my expectations were too high? It certainly is a fast read, not exactly a fun one (set during WWII in Hitler’s Germany will do that…) although not exactly not a fun one?

I’ve also finished Listen to the Marriage and There, There, so those posts are coming.

Currently reading: The Interestings, Men We Reap, and A People’s Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers

I did finish a few more books in February (not on pace to read 100 this year, but 7 in February wasn’t bad), but I’ve been bad about updating here. Perhaps because I didn’t really love any of them (strong endorsement to keep reading, I know!).

I did finally finish Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter by Ben Goldfarb. Unless you really love nature writing, you can probably skip this one. Unlike Spineless, there isn’t too much memoir here, the book is certainly based on his trips around the country and the UK meeting people working to help beavers, but it’s not his story. Really, the whole book reads like a series of articles profiling various “Beaver Believers” and telling you about their work.

Also, SPOILER, I did not find much in here about the surprising or secret life of beavers. I kind of assume that was the sexy subtitle that was supposed to just grab people’s attention? Beavers are pretty much what you thought they were – great engineers, with a tendency for some destruction that is displeasing to many in populated areas. I did learn about the importance of beavers — they are a keystone species, because their dams help store water and create healthy streams, their presence can both assist with droughts and support many other species.

I found the historical parts towards the beginning the most interesting, although rather depressing since it’s all about you know, people killing a ton of beavers so they could make warm hats. I will say I learned that beaver hats did not look at all the way I thought they might — people used beaver because of how dense their fur is and how well it keeps in warmth, they didn’t walk around with like a giant beaver on their heads. This makes much more sense, but still an impressive number of beavers were killed.

Current reading: Keep and eye out for discussion of Book Thief coming soon — still finishing up There, There. Not sure what’s up after that… I have quite a few stacks :/

So I really meant to be focusing on The Morning News Tournament of Books short list… but I already have so many other books on my ‘to read’ list, that hasn’t totally been happening. I did just get There, There out of the library which is both highly recommended by many and a tournament book, so there’s that. And I have The Mars Room on my shelf and I really want to read it… But it’s starting to seem unlikely that I will read all or most of the books before the tournament starts (although I have finished 6 of 18).

Anyway, instead last week I read Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney. This initially went on my list in January after I read The New Yorker’s profile of Rooney and they just made her work sound amazing. Reflecting, I did like this book and I would recommend it to others, although I will say it took me a few tries to get into it. I think I picked it up three times and the first two made it through about twenty pages, and then ready pretty much the rest of the book in one sitting.

The novel tells the story of Frances, a college student in Dublin who is also a talented writer and sort of enmeshed in the literary scene in Dublin. Her former girlfriend/current best friend Bobbi is also a student in Dublin and they perform Frances’ poems together. This leads them to meet Melissa who photographs them, writes a profile of them, and becomes sort of an older friend. This isn’t exactly a coming of age story, and honestly I’m not completely sure Frances really changes much at all, but the prior drama of the novel comes from her relationship with Melissa’s husband, Nick. There’s also lots of other drama for Frances, parent drama, health scares, her relationship with Bobbi.

This book made me feel pretty old. It’s been a while since college and well, I really was never like this. Not that Frances is entirely this free-spirited character, if anything she feels very real because she’s struggling to deal with the responsibilities and stresses of becoming an adult. I didn’t exactly identify with her, but I started to really like her. Her musings which fill the book are sometimes a bit over the top, but seemed sort of correct to me in terms of portraying a twenty year old:

Was I kind to others? It was hard to nail down an answer. I worried that if I did turn out to have a personality, it would be one of the unkind ones. Did I only worry about this question because as a woman I felt required to put the needs of others before my own? Was “kindness” just another term for submission in the face of the conflict? These were the kind of things I wrote about in my diary as a teenager: as a feminist I have the right not to love anyone.

When I first finished the book, I wasn’t sure if I liked it, and even now I find the ending a bit dissatisfying. There’s a moment when things have happened and it sort of feels like the end, old relationships have fallen apart, the sadness has been dealt with, new relationships have formed. But the book doesn’t end there, it goes just a little further to leave you in a place where you suddenly feel like you’re back in the middle of a story, and you’re wondering what’s next for Frances. I know a lot of people need books that tie every single thing up in a bow. I definitely fight not to be that person because I feel like those books don’t challenge you as a reader. But if you know you’re that kind of person, you might not love this book. Otherwise, this is actually a pretty light read.

Currently reading: Kind of slogging through Eager: The Surprising Secret Life of Beavers and just started The Book Thief (although There, There or The Mars Room might end up getting finished first).

So I was actually totally lying last week when I said I hadn’t read any of the Morning News Tournament of Books 2019 books other than Washington Black and The Golden State… I think this slipped my mind because when I looked at the shortlist, none of the books I LOVED last year were on it. I’ve actually already read Call Me Zebra, The Overstory, and The Parking Lot Attendant. So, as it happens Census, by Jesse Ball, is the sixth book I’ve read from the short list, which I actually feel pretty good about. Am I going to get the other 12 read before the tournament starts? Um. Unlikely…

Okay, so. Census is a really interesting book. It’s a really different book. It’s a really weird book. Sometimes this totally works for me, see Fever Dream and Supernatural Enhancements. This didn’t really work for me. Somehow it took me forever to read, but I also feel like I wasn’t that into it so I definitely missed things. I think you really have to be willing to read this book slowly, and to be willing to read a book that will give you no answers.

Summarizing Census is rather difficult. But essentially, the plot is that a father is dying and he’s decided that the thing to do is join the census and travel with his son, who has Down Syndrome, conducting the census. But, the world that they are traveling in doesn’t exactly seem to be our world, it’s hard to say if it’s post apocalyptic or if it’s just different. But this guy isn’t like a US census worker. What he is, is never fully explained. The census is described a bit more, here’s a piece:

Not, where were your parents born – but, what is the meaning of a national boundary? When your parents crossed such a thing to come here – how did it change them? Why did they do it? Who were those people who left the place that they came from – fearful, hopeful, full of a joy long since extinguished, perhaps replaced with fresh joy, perhaps not – who were they, and how, in all the wild mystery of the earth and its citizens, could they  have come to be the people now crushed by age, waiting fitfully in the waters of death’s first sleep?

So… yeah. Not what I was thinking when I heard the dad conducts the census.

At the start of the book there’s a note from Ball that he had a younger brother with Down Syndrome who he loved, and who passed away, and he always wanted to write a book about him. Rather than write a typically book (ie, a grief memoir), he decided to write a “hollow” book (as he puts it) with his brother at the center. I like grief memoirs for the most part, I identify with grief memoirs, and so that’s probably my favorite thing about this book. But, to me the book did feel a bit hollow, and nothing really filled it up. There’s no world building here.

Some of the book is beautiful and thought provoking (okay most of it probably is, if you’re really willing to sit with this book):

As we drove that night, I told my son about the loneliness that sometimes afflicts people who are alone. Meanwhile, I explained, some other people are just as alone, but never become lonely. How can that be?

There is a lot of this type of musing. Some of it made me muse, some of it made me think WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON IN THIS BOOK??? So… basically if you like books that challenge you, books that are essentially the opposite of everything you find in typical book, you might like this one. I think I failed at reading Census. But part of me feels like it was very much me and not the book’s fault. At the same time, I won’t be recommending this to anyone.

I also read the exact opposite this week, Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions. Which, being a historical sort of mystery novel (nothing that mysterious ever happens, but I guess crimes get solved), has a plot which completely lets you in. It’s the third book in Amy Stewart’s Constance Kopp series, which I have written about before.

Currently reading: Conversations with Friends.

This past week I read two memoirs, both of which cover very specific periods of the author’s life — in Glynnis Macnicol’s No One Tells You This we hear about Macinol’s early forties as she creates her own way to be a woman alone and okay with it and in Peter Sagal’s The Incomplete Book of Running we hear mostly about Sagal’s rebirth as a runner in his 40’s as he was getting divorced.

I enjoyed both, and although there was sadness in The Incomplete Book of Running it was a nice counterbalance to No One Tells You This, which I found quite sad. Now, don’t get me wrong, Macnicol’s book is very powerful as well — about how we live in this moment where for the first time really women have choices and can choose to be alone and childless and not be say, doomed to be eaten by their cat. That’s not the life Macnicol lives and she is not at all worried about being eaten by her cat. BUT. Her mother dies, of Parkinson’s, but of a variant of Parkinson’s that presents very strongly with dementia. And that hits me hard. Usually when I read about other people struggling with losing family members to dementia, I don’t relate all that much. My Mom was very young, I was very young, and her illness while interminable while it was happening, moved very very quickly and took her in only four years. But crappily for both of us, Macnicol’s mother’s illness had a lot of similarities, and well, it seems like we just really saw the illness in similar ways. That made this a very sad book for me, even if I was bookmarking every page like, SHE GETS IT.

So most people I think will read this as an interesting and powerful story of new options that are open to women. Macnicol takes us through the years where she started figuring this out:

I reveled in the fact that I was being jetted away on someone else’s dime and that I’d finally reached the point in my life where my career, and to some degree, financial has aligned to produce the life I’d fantasized about, though I couldn’t help but lament the fact that I was likely going to be doing it alone. All my other halves now had their own other halves to travel with or young kids who made travel difficult. Just as my life was catapulting me into some great beyond, theirs were tying them down to routines and caregiving – decades of both. … I had to be prepared to have adventures alone.

I loved her take down of, you’re going to regret not getting married, not having a kid, etc:

I wasn’t going to have a baby as an insurance policy against some future remorse I couldn’t yet imagine. I had more respect for myself than that. The truth was, no one knows what they’re missing in the end. You can only live your own life, and do your best with the outcome when you roll the dice.

This is sort of the crux of her book — no choices are bad. The power of this book is in telling the story of a woman choosing differently, and realizing there are different paths for women than have ever truly been available before. Although she is very honest about the emotional labor that is expected of a woman, and how sometimes when you don’t hit your own milestones, it can feel difficult to keep showing up for others again and again. But not because she’s bitter, or because she wants what they have, so much as because, when you have a baby, people know what to do and how to act (sort of…). But when you’re just sinking for some other reason, it can be hard to ask for help, and there’s no automatic jumping in of your friends as there can be for other life events.

Additionally, Macnicol isn’t anti-kid, and her story shows just how much kids and caregiving can be a part of your life, even if you don’t choose wife/mom — I loved her description of her nephew:

Babies are like that. They appear, tear themselves a hole in the world, and somehow it becomes immediately impossible to remember a time when that space did not exist.

If you read and enjoyed Rebecca Traister’s All The Single Ladies, this feels very much like a companion book to that to me.

Peter Sagal’s book is perhaps not as funny as you’d expect if you’re only familiar with him from the NPR news quiz Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me. But I happened to catch him talking about this book on RadioTimes (yeah… I listen to a lot of NPR and I read The New Yorker, I am very much that person…) and it was a great interview, so I found this book at my library.

There’s a fair amount of sadness in the book because of Sagal’s divorce (“Instead of a ‘conscious uncoupling’ it was turning into a brush war”), his honestly about his depression and body image issues, and the fact that he was about a 100 yards away when the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon in 2013. All that said, Sagal doesn’t want to force you to look at his pain, he kind of wants to make you laugh. So this somehow is not that intense of a book.

I am a runner, and so I enjoyed reading about Sagal’s love of running, and I related to some of what he says (but not all, despite not being a 50 year old man, I am much slower than he is, I do not think I will ever run a sub-5 hour marathon let alone a 3:09):

By the time I got to mile 22 … I would have quit happily, except that if I ever wanted to finish a marathon, I’d have to run twenty-two miles allover again and that seemed far more painful than the measly four miles I had to limp through now. … [At the finish line] I said to myself something I did not expect to hear myself say, something that became a hinge between my former life and my present, and led to, among many, many other things, the writing of this book.

“I wonder if I could do that faster.”

I totally relate to wanting to give up at mile 22 of a marathon, but I didn’t finish and decide to do another. I finished and decided half-marathons were great and you can finish them, take a nap, and feel fine! But, I did end up running my one and only marathon because I finished a half-marathon and thought, huh, I could do more.

I think a lot of people,sadly, will also relate to Sagal’s feeling about his body, although I love how he can make it sort of funny:

“If you’ve ever been fat, you will either be fat for the rest of your life or you will worry about being fat for the rest of your life.” I came across those words in the manuscript of the place Fighting International Fat, by Jonathan Reynolds, a pretty obscure place to find the underlying thesis of your waking life … That casual observation struck me then and now with the profound power of its obvious truth, much like Kafka’s observation: “The meaning of life is that it ends.” But of course, Kafka did not add that once you’re dead, you won’t gain weight. Which is a comfort to me, sometimes.

This is pretty much the tone of the whole book, walk up to a serious subject, poke it with a stick, and get out with a laugh. But maybe if that’s the way to be honest about how you feel, that’s the way to do it. The book doesn’t feel raw and honest quite the same way as Macnicol’s does, but well, they are rather different people.

Currently reading: Salvage the Bones and The Interestings (yeah, going back a few years to read more by Wolitzer and Ward).

January has been rather slow-going so far — but, last week I read Barbara Kingsolver’s latest, Unsheltered and also the second in a series, Lady Copy Makes Trouble by Amy Stewart. I stumbled upon this series at Powell’s, and bought the first book there (Girl Waits With Gun).  I think I actually liked the second book even better, nothing too intense here, a well-written but fun book with likable characters, I read it in a day.

The series is based on the real life of Constance Kopp, who really was the first female deputy sheriff in New Jersey. This second novel is all about Kopp searching for a man after accidentally allowing him to escape. These novels aren’t going to win the Pulitzer, but they are good fun. I’m going to grab books 3 and 4 as soon as I can, everyone needs something to get them through January, February, and March.

Kingsolver’s Unsheltered was a bit more depressing — it’s the story of two families, in the present we find Willa, her husband, two adult children, grandson, and ailing father-in-law all stuck living in a house that’s falling apart in Vineland, NJ, and in the past (1880’s) we find Thatcher, his young wife, and her mother and sister similarly living in a house falling apart in Vineland, NJ. The novel switches back and forth each chapter, and the two stories parallel each other, while Willa also is learning about Thatcher and his neighbor Mary Treat (who really was a 19th century biologist!). Yes, there are a lot of plays on what it means to be “unsheltered” literally and in terms of having an open mind in this novel — the most obvious being that both main characters are literally watching their shelters falling down around them.

Willa and her family are casualties of the financial crisis — she’s a freelance journalist (ie, her publication folded) and her husband is a college professor who had tenure, but his college closed due to bankruptcy, robbing them of all the security they had. Much of Willa’s story involves just her taking care of her family, but she starts to learn about Treat and Thatcher because she’s trying to get a historic grant to save her house.

Thatcher is a newly married science teacher who is quite taken with Darwin and wants to teach his students about science via real life exposure. No one in Vineland really likes this idea, because many of them cannot bear the idea that Darwin is right. It’s pretty depressing how little this debate has actually progressed in about 140 years:

You and I are not like other people … We perceive infinite nature as a fascination, not as a threat to our sovereignty. But if that sense of unity in all life is not already lodged in a person’s psyche, I’m not certain it can ever be taught.

People may be persuaded of small things … But most people refuse to be moved on the larger ones. An earth millions of years old appalls them, when they always have seen it otherwise. A humanity derived from the plain stuff of earth frightens them even more. Rather than look at evidence they would shut themselves up in a pumpkin shell like Peter Piper’s wife.

I read this book slowly because I found so much of it to be so sad (if compelling), I could see someone else reading it as hopeful (to be unsheltered is “to stand in the clear light of day”) but for me, it was very sad and identified with so much of it — Willa’s mother dies before the book opens (“When someone mattered like that, you didn’t lose her at death. You lost her as you kept living”), another death occurs in the opening chapter, and another character dies after needing significant heavy caretaking (which also strikes a painful chord for me), and global climate change is also a rather heavy character in the book (there’s a sort of analogy being made between people refusing to credit Darwin and people refusing to credit climate change).

So, well I would say, I enjoyed reading this book and I’m glad I read it (I do love Barbara Kingsolver, her book The Poisonwood Bible meant so much to me when I read it the first time, I was young and it was so interesting to read this book that challenged some of what I’d been taught, it made me think differently), I probably won’t be giving it to anyone for Christmas this year.

Currently reading: No One Tells You This and still Cutting for Stone (+200 pages in…400 pages to go).

The last book of 2018 was How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin, bringing the 2018 total to 106 books read. This is belated because I kept thinking I would finish another book and write about them both, but well, this week I mostly spent catching up on all the issues of The New Yorker that I’ve been carrying around forever (I’m currently only reading 2 issues of The New Yorker!).  Also, I’m always suggesting books to my mother-in-law so for Christmas she returned the favor and gave me 4 of her favorite books. We’ll see how it turns out, but the first one is a 650 page novel… So that’s taking some time.

Briefly, I will say that I recommend How Long ‘Til Black Future Month if you enjoy sci-fi, fantasy, or magical realism at all. It’s a great short story collection that really runs the gambit between other world sci-fi, fantasy (think dragons), and alternative history. My favorite was a bit of steam-punk alternate history (“The Effluent Engine”) — what if Haiti had been able to stay a free country after a slave revolt, and they’d been able to build a stable country? Also, everyone travels by dirigible and women can do stuff. It’s also a wonderful book because there really is sadly a huge dearth of black characters in sci-fi and fantasy generally. That’s changing, but I think it’s pretty much all thanks to Jemisin…

And now I want to also briefly recommend my favorites from my 2018 reading:

1. The Power – Naomi Alderman
2. Manhattan Beach – Jennifer Egan
3. Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng
4. How to Stop Time – Matt Haig
5. Sing Unburied Sing – Jesmyn Ward
6. Fever Dreams – Samanta Schweblin (this book is terrifying, but I can’t leave it off the list)
7. The Animators – Kayla Rae Whitaker
8. When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir – Asha Bandele and Patrisse Khan-Cullors (again, not on here because I enjoyed it per se, but one of the more powerful books I read this year)
9. The Idiot – Elif Batuman
10. The Female Persuasion – Meg Wolitzer
11. You Think It I’ll Say It – Curtis Sittenfeld
12. Everything Here Is Beautiful – Mira T. Lee
13. Happiness – Aminatta Forna
14. An American Marriage – Tayari Jones
15. The Friend – Sigrid Nunez
16. The Fifth Season – N.K. Jemisin
17. The Supernatural Enhancements – Edgar Cantero (looking back, I just really enjoyed the format of this book, not everyone will)
18. Dear Mrs. Bird – AJ Pearce
19. She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Power, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity – Carl Zimmer (Fascinating)
20. Let Me Tell You -Shirley Jackson

I held myself to only 20 (I was going for 10, but couldn’t whittle this down further…), so really I recommend almost every book I read this year. A lot of these are on the list because I just enjoyed reading them so much, some because the power of the book demands it (Fever Dreams, I’m looking at you), some because they really taught me something.

What were your best reads of 2018? What are you looking forward to in 2019?

Currently Reading: Unsheltered and Cutting For Stone

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