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"The thing is, you keep existing, whether you have a plan to do so or not," says Romy Hall, the central character followed in Rachel Kushner's The Mars Room, as she serves a double life sentence for killing her stalker. I was blown away by this trip beyond the walls of mass incarceration; expecting only to find a cold, grim reality (which I did), but also found real warmth and humor in the individual lives depicted. Humanity. It is love and it is pain, and you will find equal parts in abundance-- it will warm you as you're chilled by the ironic (and horrific) circumstances of the people in this book. The best book I've read this year.
There are those books you love so much, and so immediately, they take the words out of your own mind; replacing your words with theirs, in varying degrees of forever. I loved this book very much, unconsciously attaching myself to Achilles and Patroclus, their love, lives and thoughts. Reading Song of Achilles is a rush, a swell, a cacaphonous pulse that ends in you, the reader, weeping. Ready yourself, for you will be changed.
It's big, I know, but that's a good thing! NK Jemisin takes us to a glorious world where gods and humans impact each other deeply, and the consequences of actions take thousands of years to resolve, if they ever do at all. I spent a solid week of vacation completely blissed out in this world Jemisin created, it's beautiful, complicated, expansive, sensual, and completely unique. This tome is a wonder and a treat and I loved every page.
Art! Literature! Ghosts! Half fiction, half essay, Ali Smith's Artful cracked my mind open with its' observations of loss, art, and general beauty in the world (not to mention EVERYTHING ELSE that's in here). This book and I went places together, pausing to consider nearly everything (or so it seems to me now) along the way. Open you mind! Read Ali Smith!
I first read Muriel Rukeyser's "Book of the Dead" in a college creative writing class, we were learning about how flexible the poetic medium can be and Rukeyser's poetic nonfiction, building a narrative of beauty and desolation using official court transcripts from the Hawk's Nest Tunnel Disaster, stayed with me. Shortly put, the Hawk's Nest Tunnel Disaster (1930-1935) was the greatest industrial catastrophe in American history, causing an estimated 700-1000 migrant worker deaths by silicosis in an effort to divert a portion of the New River under a mountain through a 3-mile tunnel. In this new edition, which includes an excellent introduction by Catherine Venable Moore (I recommend reading it as the intro, and after you've finished the book), the power of history and poetry attempt to unveil and make known a truth that has been overgrown with time and prejudice. "Knowledge is power", as they say, and Book of the Dead pulses with it as a haunted beacon of truth, a pinprick of light shining through the shrouded history of our country.
What do you do when everything you thought to be true and real is put into question? Sarah Perry explores this question in "The Essex Serpent." In the 1890s, when medicine, science, religion, evolution, and urban development are starkly polarizing the public and informing new ideologies, Cora Seaborne, an amateur naturalist moves to Essex on a mission to track down the fabled Essex serpent. According to local legend, the Essex serpent is a monster that brings dread, doom, and death upon the Essex community, but Cora believes it to be could be a living fossil, and attempts to catch a glimpse of it on the shores. Cora finds herself in a place that exists just on the horizon of myth and reality, culminating of loud instances of mystery, morality, romance, beauty, and pain. This book absolutely captivated me. Dive in, it awaits.
I can't recommend a better book to complement this absurd political, economic, international, and social reality we are all collectively (and singularly) experiencing. Ali Smith's second installment in her seasonal quartet is (mostly) set over the Christmas holiday in Cornwall, where we are the silent fourth wall facing a beautifully dysfunctional family. Winter plays with the ghosts of self, dispersed throughout the dimension of time, and collects the truly unbelievable, yet real (so real) human consciousness into a story. Smith's writing is weighted equally with the horrible and the miraculous, in a harmony of now--everything that's ever been is now, right now.
Clemantine Wamariya's memoir, The Girl Who Smiled Beads, is one that will take root within your chest, and educate your empathetic center to the life of a six-year-old girl, and her twelve-year-old sister, who are displaced by the Rwandan civil war. Between 1996 and 2002 Wamariya and her big sister, Claire have one steadfast and deeply felt goal-- to survive. And they do, living in overcrowded refugee camps, walking/busing/boating through seven countries and their armed borders, grappling with dysentery and starvation, until they are granted asylum in the United States. Wamariya shows us who she is; a daughter torn from her parents, a sibling bonded to her sister for life, an aunt with an immense love and protection of her nieces and nephew, a student furthering her understanding of herself and the world, and a dichotomous human, healing from the trauma of her early life.
I read part of this book while I was sick, and had a formative and intense fever dream about it. I woke up confused about where (and when) I was, and deeply concerned about the fate of one of Min Jin Lee's characters. In Pachinko, Lee sweeps us along with a family of Korean immigrants living in pre- and post-war Japan. Lee shows us a community whose history is rooted in stark racism, and stems, as generations pass, into a liminal void of Other; not quite outsider, not quite native. Here is a story of a family endeavoring to keep itself together. Lee writes with palpable emotion and beauty. This is a novel in a class all its' own.
Calling all lovers of fantasy! Tamora Pierce has given us something new! I've been a longtime fan of Pierce's books, and this new series does not disappoint! We follow a young mage, Arram Draper, as he studies at the imperial University of Carthak, with his two close friends, Varice and Ozorne. Pierce is unparalleled in her craft, setting relatable and compelling coming-of-age stories against a vivd and wonderful fantasy world. I ate this book up! Can't wait for the next one!
If you're looking for something to remind you of the beauty in the world, read this! The first time I read Kitchen was after a good friend recommended it with, "this is the perfect thing to read if you're going through any sort of big change," and it truly was. This sweet little book (it's actually two novellas) follows a young woman, Mikage, and the mother and son she stays with after her grandmother passes away. Yoshimoto captures a grief that is serenely beautiful, and adds a gentle quirkiness that will settle itself comfortably inside you. This is a truly special book, definitely the best recommendation I've ever gotten.
Hermione Hoby’s debut novel up close is beautifully chaotic. Back up to the entire picture and it is a shimmering, reflective surface that allows us to see what we, and the world, are made up of. Set in New York City in the hazy summer of 2012, Kate, newly arrived from England and seeking a change in perspective, meets Inez, a magnetic and anarchistic beauty, then randomly, Inez’s father, Bill, a stagnant yet successful has-been author. As they move through the summer tangled in each others’ lives, Hoby plays with elements of narcissism, maturity, isolation, and love, with a depth and understanding that is wholly human. This is a novel that hums with the irony and incredulity of life; a mirror-pond of the human spectacle.
The best science fiction stretches our ingrained concepts of humanity and civilization into a series of questions that entrance and electrify its' readers both by the nature of the questions, and by the contextual reality the author has created. Annalee Newitz shows her mastery of the genre with Autonomous, posing questions relating to ai, consciousness, and ownership, against the backdrop of Earth in 2144; where patent property law rules social order, and indentured people and bots are the new lower class. Autonomous follows Jack, a drug pirate desperately trying to fix a deadly mistake she made while racing against agents Eliasz (a temperamental military agent) and Paladin ( a newly conscious, indentured military bot). The story unravels as it progresses, revisiting Jack's past to illustrate the evolution of her ideology, and showing a unique relationship blooming between Paladin and Eliasz. Newitz forces you to empathize with every character, while pondering the implications of each one of their choices. Autonomous is a true masterpiece.
This book has its’ own center of gravity; one that reaches out and draws you closer into its orbit. Of course, after reading it I understand why it has such a strong pull; in this fervently personal study of pedophilia in two families (one of which is her own), Alexandria Marzano-Leznevich has entombed a gristly contradiction of family love and physical destruction. That feat doesn’t just lie silently on a table, it hovers above it and beckons to be shared with others. I was shaken, distraught, unsettled, and moved by The Fact of a Body. It might drown you, but will ultimately draw the water from your lungs and make you breathe anew.
I can state with absolute confidence that I have truly, never laughed as much while reading a book before. Lockwood is an utter singularity, tangling ferocious humor together with bizarre and biting anecdotes of her life. Lockwood drops you into her memoir amidst her and her husband Jason's, forced move back in with her parents. Her parents are anomalies; her father is a Catholic priest, married to her mother, the wife of a Catholic priest. Lockwood, as the product of a strikingly unique upbringing, provides a stunning, witty, and tearfully funny narrative of her life thus far. Pristdaddy is remarkable.
I think Ali Smith might be made of magic. This book moves; it dances to the arc of characters' recollected memories, it glides over penned autumn winds, it rises and falls with sleep-filled breaths. Autumn tells the story of two friends, Elisabeth and George, who form a singularly special friendship when elementary-aged Elisabeth and her mother move in next door to George, an old (in his eighties) musician, full of passion for art from the sixties. In her typical non-linear style, Smith narrates a fifty-year chunk of time in Britain, focusing especially on the juxtaposition of the then (empowered artists, hope-filled futures), and the now (horrifying nationalism, self-imposed isolation). Smith will leave you clinging to the last page.
You will open this book like any other, but it will open you too, drawing out dormant tears of your own that have collected in a pool in the middle of your chest. Yuknavitch is a glimmering rarity- a woman who's life has been etched into water- and she treads through her past as it trickles through these pages. She writes of her abusive childhood, swimming triumphs, sorrowful early adulthood, alcoholic relationships, and sexual presence with a beauty that held me in its' radiance for days. The ebb and swell of this memoir is a wonder. It will leave you changed; gently, quietly, but powerfully.
Michael McCarthy saturates this collection of nature essays with evocative and compelling prose that made me close my eyes and recall my own childhood memories of nature. As a child, McCarthy fell in love with the natural world that surrounded his home in Liverpool; the estuaries, fields, birds, butterflies, and moths. McCarthy uses these formative experiences to argue for the importance and preservation of nature. Amidst his lyrical joy, McCarthy details the environmental destruction he's witnessed in the last fify years. Beautifull written, his message of desperation is clear, " Love what we have, protect it absolutely."
This space opera drew me in so fully that I found myself sneaking extra passages in whenever I had a spare moment. Corey has written a future in which humanity has colonized the solar system, with extensive civilaizations on Mars, Earth, and the Asteroid Belt. Leviathan Wakes follows a detective from the Asteroid Belt obsessed with finding a missing woman, and a newly appointed captain from earth, who's fate has been unluckily tied together with some of the dark secrets of the Universe. If you're looking for an epic adventure to get lost in, suit up! This is the one.
When was the last time you read something that took on another dimension? In Ali Smith's "How to be Both," the story; characters, plot and world described, interact with each other in a way that allows the reader to conceptualize the story as shapes that materialize and solidify as the book unfolds. The book has two parts; George is a 16-year-old living in modern day Cambridge and has just lost her mother. Francesco is a Renaissance painter in the 1460's, who is remarkably talented and a bit of a social outsider. Smith draws the stories of both their lives into a beautiful and harmonious web that subverts the expectation that storytelling has to be lineal. Highly recommend!
This book has rendered me almost speechless. I immediately fell into the story; El Akkad's writing is electric and thirst-quenching, and the narrative itself pulls you along with it until you are no longer able to differentiate your own thoughts from those of the narrator. Set in the future, near the end of the 21st century, American War tells the story of the second American civil war, through the life and experiences of Sarat Chestnut, a woman who comes of age within that divisive and violent climate. El Akkad crafts a story that is horrifically terrifying, heart wrenching, and lovely. This is a timely novel that has the potential to instill within its' audience a sense of foresight and understanding that we're all desperate for.
This book satisfies so much, It's fun, epic, nerdy, and perfect for eighties buffs. Set in 2044, when the world has standardized a globally accessible virtual reality to spend much of its' collective time, a teenager named Wade Watts attempts to win an ultimate prize within the virtual reality. It's a classic coming of age story set within a creative and striking environment, and it's an easily enjoyable read.
Every time I come across a Banana Yoshimoto book, I scoop it up and read eagerly. When I've finished, I'm left feeling like my mind is cleaner and tidier. Moshi Moshi is another Yoshimoto gem-- her writing is quietly significant and filled with peaceful beauty. The story focuses on Yoshie, a woman who recently lost her father to a violent murder-suicide. In the wake of this immense loss, Yoshie and her mother move to a new neighborhood in Tokyo and are revived bit by bit, by their dynamic new community. As with all great reads, this book has settled inside me for good, and I'm better because of it.
Mary Gaitskill's new collection of essays allows you to wander, quite freely, around her head. Gaitskill has distilled her best, quirkiest, most compelling essays from the last twenty (plus) years into one volume. There's a little bit of everything in here -memoir, literary and art criticism, political editorials, music reviews- and Gaitskill has infused it all with her subjectie wisdom and incomparable observations. The passion Gaitskill feels for her subjects is tangible, resulting in a wonderful and invigorating read.
I try to spend some time with one of Tamora Pierce's books about once a year, because I love them, and because her books make me feel as excited and wonder-filled as I did when I first read them. In this one, Daine, left with only her pony Cloud, after her village is destroyed by bandits, manages to get a job with Onua, a horse trader, as they both work to bring a herd to the Capital City. Daine has a serious knack with animals-- it's wild magic, a gift that allows her to converse with animals. Pierce connects her readers to her fantastical worlds by depicting characters who are respectful of nature and each other, and who stay with you long after you finish the last page. This is a book that will help reconnect you with that kid who used to read for hours, and loved to get lost in a good story.
Jacques Pepin taught me how to cook! I was, for a period of my life, obsessed with watching reruns of his shows on youtube. There's a particular video of him showing the most efficient way to mince garlic, and I'd watch with awe and study his technique. All this to say that this wonderful and brilliant chef has collected all of his favorite, accessible recipes for chicken ad vegetables into this sweet little book. Oh! And he painted all of the illustrations himself. I know I'll be making staples from this book for years to come.
Even after sitting with this book, and thinking about it for quite a while, I still don't quite know what to say, other than that fiction (and scifi/fantasy) exist to give us books like this. The Fifth Season follows three narrators who are each on their own journey, both emotional and physical, while the world around them, a place called The Stillness, threatens to end. Jemisin ties the narrators' stories together with a surpirsing twist that adds dimension and meaning to a story that will probably make you want to start the next book immediately.
I think this is a great book to read if you're feeling a little lonely or a little sad. If you've never read Anne of Green Gables, you're in for a wonder. Anne, a feisty, opinionated, and imaginative child is sort of accidentally adopted by Marilla and Matthew-- a pair of elderly siblings that need help managing their farm on Prince Edward Island. The three of them grow to become this beautifully special family, full of admiration and affection for one another, and Montgomery's writing is heart-clutchingly wonderful. Like I said, and excellent choice if you're feeling a little blue, or if you just want a dose of goodness.
In Ling Ma's Severance, Candace Chen is one of the sole human survivors left after an epidemic flattens the human population. We follow her through the near past, working in a comfortable but soul-less corporate job in Times Square trying to fill in the emptiness left behind by both of her parents' deaths, and through the present, traveling with other survivors as they try to comprehend and make reason out of their own survival. Severance plays though Candace's life, hovering over the murkiness of her parents' immigrant experiences and the familial obligations they are both bound to and let fray. By focusing on the Before (infinitely ripe with life) and the After (quiet, still and lonely with jagged endings), Ling Ma captures what it might feel like to observe the leftovers of the world, while living with a deep understanding that you yourself are left over too. I didn't know what to do with this book in the best possible way.
I recently revisited this series from my youth, and it was TRULY even better than I remembered. In this first book, Lyra Belacqua, a child raised by academics in Oxford, races head first into an adventure that spans universes, and changes, or arguably, fulfills, the course of her life. Pullman shows us the abslute horrors a human mind can create when guided by institutions that rely on blind faith, and alternately, the beauty of decisions made when informed by logic and love. I urge you to read this book (and then the other two!) if you have not already.
Charlie Jane Anders combines elements of fantasy and science fiction to create a glitteringly cautionary world that serves as the backdrop of this dystopic and imaginative book. "All the Birds in the Sky" focuses on the lives of Patricia and Laurence, two brilliant child-outcasts who bond over their inability to make friends in primary school. They fall out of touch while still young, and unexpectedly meet back up as twenty-somethings living in San Francisco. From there, the fate of human civilization impendingly seems to be tied to their lives and connectedness. I found this book to be unobtrusively captivating, and it is especially worth it if you're looking for a strange, enjoyable distraction.