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Odysseus lives on forever both in the content and namesake of his tale, The Odyssey. Achilles, Hector, Agamemnon: all of these men did not cease to be remembered when their stories ended either. So why did the women of the Trojan war fade away?
"War is not a sport, to be decided in a quick bout on a strip of contested land. It is a web which stretches out to the furthest parts of the world, drawing everyone into itself."
The Trojan war came about by request of Mother Earth, amplified by goddesses, and justified through mortals by the kidnapping of Helen of Troy. Women are the beginning, middle, and end of this bloodshed and Natalie Haynes gives us their stories and these pages so their voices may live on as their male counterparts do.
This was the bitterness that had rooted in me upon Clara's birth, the trauma that was only soothed by the expression of the anger. A bruise I had to keep pressing on, no matter the pain, because otherwise it would be gone, it would be swallowed, and without it, who would I be?
What is it to be a stranger in your own body? Your own home? Your own mind? Are we ever truly at home in these places? What if, like the main character of this novel, there is a ghost upstairs? This tale follows Megan Weiler as she spirals deeper into the life, death, and afterlife of children's author Margaret Wise Brown and her lover Michael Strange. By spiraling into their lives; however, Megan loses touch with her own. Not only is her body an unfamiliar host after giving birth, so are her thoughts and actions. This story writes of anger, fear, and legacy with all of their tenderness and unexpected twists. Through Megan's mind into Margaret's and Michael's, we are forced to ask ourselves about the places and people we call home and why it is that we find comfort there.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.
An illustrated version of the beloved Robert Frost poem. His gliding nature imagery and glittering stanzas place the reader on horseback, travelling home from a cold day, enticed by the hearths of others. If only Frost could narrate every seemingly mundane moment of our world, bringing them to a visceral reality.
Peer through the smoke filled eyes of a medievalist crematorium employee and the dirty, tragic, touching work of funerary services. Our world places a deafening silence about the logistics and reality of death. It is a hushed topic, only reserved for those directly experiencing the end. Why is this? How do we remove the taboo? By reading such memoirs, we might change our present by furthering the examination of the common future. I recommend this book to readers ranging from the curious and the science lovers to the story collectors. We humans share more than just a common end of life, but middle and beginning, as taught in these pages.
Nothing like a novel examining reality versus non-reality as one of my favorite reads of 2020. Part adventure, part political examination, part crude humor, and part heartbreaking, this novel is wholly deserving of being gobbled up, even if it is 400 years old. One of my biggest takeaways from this work are the layers through which stories, and therefore life, is understood. Language, translations, pre-conceptions, humor, and the author themselves all shape the way a novel is given to us and works through us, living in our memory. From the games that Miguel de Cervantes plays with his readers, beginning with the Preface itself, to Edith Grossman's beautiful translation, we are immersed into the middle of the Spanish Inquisition and the life of Don Quixote who has seemingly gone mad from the amount of chivalrous stories he has consumed. Or has he?
Picking up the story without missing a beat from the end of the first novel, The Story of a New Name whisks us through the devastations and triumphs of the lively cast of characters from the Neopolitan neighborhood. We are not eased into the coming of age of Elena or Lila, but bluntly, even violently, told of it. The distance that grows and seeps between the two young women is not only geographical, but moral, academic, sexual, and emotional. While the kinship of Lila and Elena still drives the story, it is often these vastly different life experiences that leads them back to eachother. On a personal level, I find myself in a very real sense relating to these characters more and more. The ages of the characters in this second installation more closely reflect my own age and, due to this, my empathy and fear for them feels more visceral. The imposter syndromes, rash behaviors, and even cruelties of the girls are not unfamiliar in my own life. Just as seeming universal experiences of girls were presented in the first novel, this second novel amplifies the anxieties, revelations, and drives within young women. And to think this is only halfway through the Neopolitan quartet.
"Mostly the water is unconcerned with beauty. Mostly it rages and beats the cliffs till they crumble, plunging unwary creatures to their deaths. The water eats at the posts of the docks, bends that wood to its knees. The water does not reflect. It is itself, and it spreads to the horizon"(247).
Siblings set off to bury their father's rotting body in the Gold-Rush American West. The children attempt to live with and bury their past, so that they might have a future. Their present, however, is filled with folklore, hardship, anti-Asian American racism, and a thirst for home. This novel seems the love child of Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, and As I Lay Dying told through a young girl. Zhang's writing beckons the reader to chase the siblings through the chapters, often, leaving room for our imagination within the layers of this tale. The world of this story is searching for nuggets of gold, the words themselves lend nuggets of truth just as precious.
The first of the Neopolitan Novels quartet electrifies the reader into Elena and Lila's lives. Post war Naples comes alive in all of its grit and violence through the eyes of two girls who, through these pages, become dazzling young women. Lila and Elena's friendship and bond lies at the center of this book, sometimes so forceful it's dangerous. Their triumphs and tragedies as women feel universal, ranging from dealing with class and poverty, the concept of beauty, intelligence, academia, and the male gaze. This book's pseudonymous author Elena Ferrante, along with the English language translator Ann Goldstein, have created a book so brilliant, the reader often feels dazed, as though from looking directly at the sun for too long.
During these turbulent times, I have found relief in these pages. Its dense prose transports us out of our reality and into the story’s. You can tell right away that this author is a poet because of the vignettes he spins within the story with language. “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” is a coming of age novel that carries the weight of the past, present, and future. Please consider reading this novel as a way to find peace during these times, as well as to open a dialogue between the yesterday and today.
"You are your best thing, Sethe. You are."
Through her beautiful prose, Toni Morrison spins a story about race, womanhood, love, trauma, and recovery in her novel "Beloved." This work changes perspectives from past to present telling the tale of Sethe, a former slave, and her journey to freedom both in the sense of abolition and from the past. "Beloved" is ideal for those interested in multi-faceted stories with descriptive telling.
Fall into the rhythm of the Beat Poets. Half memoir, half examination of the world around him, Allen Ginsberg gives us the poem "Howl." The pace of this book is almost like a roller coaster, becoming faster and faster racing towards the conclusion. Let this poem into your life.
"Things will go as they will; and there is no need to hurry to meet them."
Although written in the shadow of World War I, nuances from these stories can still be seen in 2020. Good versus evil, the power of temptation, and the bonds that tie humans together shine from these pages time and time again. Yes, the movies are great, but the trilogy is very special in its written form. I was lucky enough to visit Oxford, England in 2018 and was able to stop by J.R.R Tolkien and his wife's grave. On their tombstone is inscribed a small dragon and the terms "Beren" and "Luthien" are carved under both names. Stories from Tolkien's world were powerful enough to be marked on his resting place, this is why we continue to read them.
This novel has been rotating within my top three favorite pieces since I read it. I remember checking it out from the library, reading it, and being so intrigued I went and renewed so I could read it again right away. Donna Tartt tells her story with such density and almost gothic suspense. "The Secret History" follows a group of classics students who tread the line between good and unspeakable evil. I recommend reading "The Secret History" before venturing to read Donna Tartt's Pulitzer Prize winning, and now movie, "The Goldfinch." For readers who enjoy suspense, a discussion of ethics, and dense prose, add "The Secret History" to your bookshelf.
I chose "The Golden Notebook" by Doris Lessing as my 2019 notable book of the year. The story is written via four notebooks: black, red, yellow, and blue. All work together to form this complex, thought provoking, and at times disturbing novel. Doris Lessing explores early feminism, class relations, race, and sexuality throughout this tale. In the conclusion, she and her romantic partner slide into madness and a "golden notebook." For readers who enjoy examining real life issues through fiction, give this a read. For readers who feel that their own stories are complex and confusing, reading this will give you solace and representation.
When reading "Double Teenage" by Joni Murphy, one comes upon details so casually mentioned, it feels as though the reader remembered them from within themselves. These repeated, minute ideas build and build until the end of the story, which does not offer a resolution. Following the lives of two girls, Celine and Julie, "Double Teenage" is a coming of age novel written with truth. The awkwardness, shame, guilt, love, and heartbreak that is learning and growing. This story is about transformation and from beginning to end, it flies by.
In Just Kids, we are able to peer into Patti Smith's fascinating life. Full of art, love, adventure, and loss, this memoir takes the reader into the alternative scene of New York during the 60's and 70's. Patti's relationship and life experiences with late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe is a central theme to this story. This novel gives a voice to Patti Smith's journey to finding her own voice. Her writing talent is as capturing as her singing voice.
This story is meaningful to me on a very personal level. Jeannette Walls was/ is able to overcome truly challenging personal and familial obstacles. Her resilience and abilities to adapt and conquer her hindrances is explored through this memoir. This novel follows her family's vagabond existence. From barren deserts to coal mining country and from abuse to recovery, readers follow Jeannette Walls from childhood to adulthood. This memoir offers hope to those who have felt their childhood circumstances lie outside of what is talked about in public. Walls gives representation to those whose stories are often swept under the rug.
If Simone de Beauvoir and Jack Kerouac had a literature baby, it would be this collection of stories. One aspect of this book that I admire is that de Beauvoir did not originally have the intention of writing a book about her four month journey across the United States. This collection was compiled after her adventures via diary entries, letters, and other informal notes. To see de Beauvoir's grand intellect experience American culture, in all its kitschy glory, keeps the reader hooked. Imagine one of the greatest early feminists and existentialist philosophers sitting in a cafe, examining the Americans around her. A personal account of de Beauvoir is nothing like any of her other written works and it is wonderful. In these pages, step back in time to the perspective of a French philosopher experiencing Post-War America.
An elegy to the limits of humankind. Through class and race exploration, Carson McCullers weaves this masterpiece between narrators. Each with a unique narrative, readers grow and learn and suffer alongside these characters. Their troubles find their way to the ears of a deaf man, who serves as a receptor for the trials of their lives. As many in this novel are able to change and move forward, many others are not. For an in-depth inspection of the complexity of humanity, consider this novel.
"You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves."
One of Mary Oliver's most famous poems "Wild Geese" made its debut via this collection. Said poem truly never fails to reach into my body and rip out my soul, in the most beautiful way possible. Please, please consider allowing the poem to also rip out your soul, or at least inspire it.
I read this book of poetry in one sitting. Darwish blends the visceral landscape of his homeland to the memories and associations with it. Later in his life, Mahmoud Darwish lived in exile from his homeland of Palestine and survived each day with heart-breaking longing for his home. Speaking as a voice for the silenced, Darwish reminds us the horrors and realities of war and violence. Reading this collection, however, can also bring the reader a sense of peace. Allow yourself to step into the perspective of others, surrounded by the nature of a home that was taken away.
Elena Ferrante's third Neopolitan Novel has the womanly existence, familial stressors, and trauma of the first two books, but is taken up a notch. Now more than ever, the actions and lives of Lila and Lena have political ramifications. The female gaze so integral to the story is often turned outward onto the world surrounding these two women, before once again peering inward at the inner workings of their lives. In sickness and in health, till death do they part are Lila's and Lena's story knotted together, especially seen in this novel. The political, social, feminist, and familial reality of post-war Naples inches ever closer to the stories of these two women, like the tide coming in. Hopefully, their swimming skills are strong enough to handle these waves.
For fans of Angela's Ashes, this Booker Prize winning novel follows the story of Shuggie Bain and his mother Agnes and her triumphs and tragedies with alcohol. Shuggie, in growing up and finding his own self, sexuality, and understanding of the world, is pulled deeper and deeper into the trenches of his mother's past and present. This story is about what happens when we lose ourselves both to substances and to other people. When we forget to live for ourselves and must live through others. Add this story to your shelf.
The palpable tension of this novel seems to mirror how the last year or two of pandemic life has gone. The story follows a family renting a vacation home when suddenly comes a knock on the door and the couple claiming to be the homeowners inform the family of a disaster back in the city. Stuck in the proximity of the vacation home and flung from relaxation to disaster, the family tries to understand what could be happening outside of their bubble. Is it safer to be ignorant of a potential danger, or do larger social demands still exist in disaster mode? Reading this story in the height of a global pandemic is almost like watching a movie and realizing how similiar it is to your own life. This novel was highly recommended to me and I in turn highly recommend it.