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This amazing debut novel will leave you with permanent impressions on what family can be as Lillian Li excels in character creation, particularly that of older generations. I found myself in disbelief that someone so young could encapsulate the wisdom of relationships aged forty years so well without having lived them. More than this, however, is the representation of dual-cultured people, particularly immigrants and the inner and outer conflicts they experience in the juxtaposition of their home and assimilated cultures. This incredibly important element, and what I believe to be the marker of the next great American novel, is portrayed so well in Li’s three generations of characters. My first read of the year, Number One Chinese Restaurant stands to be one of the best.
It never occurred to me that the rich white girls who were my classmates at NYU were people. In this beautiful, twisted, homage to New York, Ottessa Moshfegh showed me their humanity. Lie the main character, I read this book, losing 50, 75, 100 pages, completely absorbed into Moshfegh's world. This story is real, death, mental illness, prescription drug abuse, irresponsible psychiatry, but also strikes me as very surreal - as though the readers, too, are in a drug induced haze - stumbling through NYC with less than occasional lucidity, trying not to give away that you're high, and everything's normal. Hey... that was just weed right? Except it's not and it wasn't.
"What I mean by 'their happiness' is living a life untouched as much as possible by the knowledge that we are really, all of us, alone."
"No matter what, I want to continue living with the awareness that I will die. Without that, I am not alive."
"With a cold, now is the hardest time. Maybe even harder than dying. But this is probably as bad as it can get. You might come to fear the next time you get a cold.; it will be as bad as this, but if you just hold steady, it won't be. For the rest of your life. That's how it works. You could take the negative view and live in fear, will it happen again? But it won't hurt so much if you accept it as part of life."
Very reminiscent of Her Body and Other Parties, Groff excels in character creation in these stories. The protagonists of these stories are all women, all unapologetically nontraditional, unpleasant, flawed. We need more of that. Representation isn't just in flawless Rey, Elizabeth Bennett, Nancy Drew, Scarlett O Hara, Mary Sue female heroes. There is a magic in the truths of Groffs surreal worlds - all in the backdrop of hot, humid, insect and reptil, swampland, Florida - a perfect metaphor for unlikable, imperfect, but so very real, women.
In the introduction to these stories, Chabon relates a story of an esteemed author (unnamed but I think it's Knausgaard) who offes him advice - "You can have kids or be a great writer, but not both." In response, twenty years later, comes 'Pops', an endearing tribute to fatherhood and love above all else. Pops is what happens when a parent respects their children as people, when they know what to do when their child has anxiety, when a parent approaches the situation with love - even if if they don't know what to do. Every story is an expose on the charms and importance of transparency in parenthood. Every story had so much value in terms of this, but also managed to involve some greater theme as well, belonging, censorship, responsibility, male toxicity, etc. Michael Chabon is a genius, a great parent, AND a great writer.
Published nearly sixty years after Hurston's death, this lost book is more than just the life story of one of the last slaves in America. This is a history of black literature in the 1930's, of the historicization and ownership of black folklore, and the importance of language in delivering a culture, in understanding. It is about the 'greatest cultural wealth on the continent' What makes this work so special is the focus, not on the life of the freed slave, but rather the focus of their life before - memories of Africa, as much as the perspective of Hurston and now, her editors. Required reading.
Electric Arches reinstituted my love for poetry. This work is so 'real'. So imbued with culture, structurally and personally interesting. I didn't know I needed an ode to Erykah Badu, to Prince, but I did. Even though this poetry isn't 'for' me, it feels like it is. But this isn't to say, this is just pop-culture. Eve Ewings sings some of the most impressionably relatable, beautiful, beautiful, scenes I've read in a while. And honestly, when was the last time you read something about black girlhood? Read. Black. Women.
Part of two weeks of dedicated poetry events here, for me, this was the stand out work. Such a loved, talented member of the writing community here, Faizullah shines as she weaves together how one experiences life as a Middle Eastern person, as a woman in this country and the parallels that exist with Middle Eastern culture and trauma. And this is the heart of the work - trauma. The work takes its namesake from a forgotten document, detailed by a Frontline reporter as a 'Register of Eliminated Villages,' 397 Kurdish eliminated villages in Northern Iraq with no other documentation than a single sheet of yellow legal pad. Faizullah gives life to these lost villages, lost people, by identifying them as illuminated, worth knowing, in need of mourning and recognized identity.
A beautiful, genius, haunting folk tale horror mystery - so full of depth, developed cold scenery and perfect characters. Sarah Perry knows mystery and how to shape the perfect sort of mental thriller of the unseen, the unexplainable. Past all of this, the magic of this book as such a rewarding horror mystery, is in Perry’s storytelling genius regarding the persistence of guilt. When the reader turns out the lights the night after reading this book, they too will fear the lady in black, the black birds, the unexplained shadow, and contemplate exactly their sin that brings the Melmoth.
(Not a part of the review, but the day after I read this book three of the largest crows I’ve ever seen (I’ve never seen crows near my house before) were sunning themselves on my frontyard. If that’s not an omen I don’t know what is.)
Dark noir, grungey, wet, often cruel pastoral England - Fiona Mosley makes you an eleven year old girl beating the shit out of four older rich boys (who started it) on a cold rocky beach - the entire time, fearing the darkening tones of where this is headed. Faulkner-like storytelling, unforgiving and beautiful, the real weight of this novel lies in its imagery.
An empty shell, lifeless, with no burrowed crustacean - constantly chipping brightly colored pain on urban things 'not made to last'.
"Two tartan scarves, a dark green fleece and thick purple walking socks pulled over jean, fawn jodhpurs..."
"Trees with bark set hard, like scraped Kavri gum... green mosses and ivies... flood lit gymkhane..."
"Tales of green men peering from thickets with foliate faces and legs of gnarled timber."
"Don't get me wrong" she said. "I like to read too. But I don't tell anyone. People who read are hiders. They hide who they are. People who hide don't always like who they are."
"Do you hide who you are?"
"Sometimes. Do you?"
Resisting temptation to book a flight to the Mediterranean in June - I thought I had escaped this book unscathed when I reached the last page. I didn't.
Grotesque, unflinching, Carmen Maria Machado gives words to things I don't know that I wanted words to. Capturing the female experience better than any I've read, I felt represented and normative, albeit, sick to my stomach. Must read, especially for survivors - but give yourself time with it and space from it. If every man read this book the world would be a much better place.
"And this was perhaps the first time in my life that death occurred to me as a reality. I thought of people before me who had looked down at the river and gone to sleep beneath it... But the silence of the evening, as I wandered home, had nothing to do with that storm, that far off boy. I simply wondered about the dead because their days had ended and I did not know how I would get through mine."
Baldwin reminds us of all the things that make Queer love difficult - Shame - notedly, and of the fights fought before us and the ones we fought ourselves.
Debunking the thought train of de facto segregation in the 20th century and today, Richard Rothstein gives a comprehensive yet readable list of precisely the legislative, de jure, acts of government which segregated America and continue to do so today. Rothstein reminds us not to forget the incredible and very real history of written legal racism in this country and the dangers that come with ignoring our judicial and legislative mistakes. Must read if you haven't already been assigned it.
Winning the Pulitzer this year, this work is a gripping portrayal of Gaddafi's tyranny and daily life, under autocracy and after. This book will not only teach you about Libya, crisis, and war but is also an incredibly eloquent memoir from the point of view of the Telemachus-like son of a former Libyan diplomat/ political dissident. One of the best books of the year.
Why do people vote against their own interests? Sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild provides an enlightening and human ethnography - investigating the bayou and its rural, poor, white, inhabitatants and ultimately questioning how polarization in the US reachd the tipping point it's at today. There were a dozen versions of this work published this year and this serves as one of the best, definitely the most academic and readable.
Part memoir - part historical bookmark, 'Reading Lolita in Tehran' tells the story of the extraordinary Azar Nafisi as she experiences the 1979 Islamic Revolution, its effects on women, academia, and Iranian culture. Working as a professor at a liberal university, Nafisi chronicles the before, during, and after of the revolution through banned western texts she gives to her students. Equally great for its historic aspects as well as feminist dialogue, this work is a fantastic, accessible starting point for those interested in learning more about Iranian history and overall a necessity to any feminist book list.
An exploration into patterns and creativity of thought, this autobiography is one of the best and most eloquent diary like works I've had the pleasure of reading. Amy Tan, here, feels immensely relatable, speaking of and giving words to thoughts we've all had, but from the perspective of a living classic author. Incredibly down to earth and refreshing.
An essential voice of progressive politics and legal rhetoric, this memoir serves as a helpful collection of the life and works of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, providing a history and a very human backdrop. RBG's experience with the ERA and as a Supreme Court justice is an invaluable first that serves to be so very inspiring to an entire generation of women to follow her.
A historic primary account turned graphic novel - this telling of the Civil Rights Movement provides an invaluable first hand perspective from those at the heart of it. The decision to create a graphic novel makes this work so accessible but without ever sacrificing quality. One of the best graphic novels in recent years.
In this collection of short stories, T.C. Boyle successfully throws his readers head first into Kafka-esque worlds, each more absurd than the last- and yet disturbingly normal. Boyle's characters often, very similarly, attempt to cope with these non-sensical and suddenly paranormal worlds with exceptional realness, coated with self-absorption and humorous under-reaction. These are stories I've thought about weeks after reading - with new realizations. Always a fan of T.C. Boyle, The Relive Box and Other Stories does not disappoint.
With its campy, surrealistic, sci-fi world, Nightvale initially reminds one of Douglas' Hitchhiker's Guide. The clever and often silly narration style provides an amusing tone familiar to fans of the podcast but still manages to stay accessible to newcomes to Nightvale, without every seeming redundant. Definitely recommend to readers seeking a fun yet pertinently satirical adventure into what may well be one of the great sci-fi universes of the 21st century.
Eloquent, young, inspiring, and emphatic, Sarah McBride provides a uniquely political and incredibly human perspective on what it means to be transgender. Additionally, this memoir serves almost as much an lgbtq legislative history through McBride’s role as the first transgender person to work in the White House. McBride does not shy away from the ugly sides of transitioning and manages to paint an incredibly real image of what coming out and merely exiting as a trans person means, effortlessly detailing the little things like legal paperwork for name changes, police / bureaucratic behavior, and weird social situations that trans people know all too well. There is such a magic in being represented that makes Sarah’s work so special and reminds you that we are living this history now. Definitely recommend to young people and older generations alike.