While we were back in Kansas for January and February I managed to read quite a few books, not to mention countless magazines. At first I wasn’t sure I would be able to focus on something with my full attention, what with my mind going a million directions and constantly being distracted by the many goings on of the hospital. But, as it turns out, waiting in the hospital or hotel or airport provides ample time to check out an exhaustive list of books.
I’m still working on reading 40 new books this year and I’ve got a pretty good start on the goal. I’ll need to pick up the pace a bit here, but I’m happy to give it a go. All in the name of research… I decided to compile all the books in one post as opposed to writing about each separately. Here goes!
1. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie–According to the New York Times, “‘Americanah’ examines blackness in America, Nigeria and Britain, but it’s also a steady-handed dissection of the universal human experience — a platitude made fresh by the accuracy of Adichie’s observations.” It’s a powerful book about race, class, wealth, and a reckoning within oneself. Ifemelu’s and Obinze’s journeys explore and critique what it means to be both a resident and an outsider. The prose is beautiful and eloquent, yet biting and excoriating at turns. Adiche manages to critique society without alienating herself from it. Her book stayed with me long after I finished it and I’d highly recommend it.
2. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann– Wendy MacLeod for NPR writes, “If at first I feared that McCann’s prismatic approach to New York would be dutifully multicultural, I came away dazzled by his ability to capture the voices of uptown and downtown: the prostitutes, immigrants, socialites and aspiring artists. Although we complain about the ongoing gentrification of New York City, McCann reminds us that in 1974, the deteriorating, bankrupt city was a difficult place to live.” McCann captures the lives of a seemingly random group of people a single day in 1974, the day Phillippe Petit tightrope walked between the World Trade Center buildings (a real-life event you can learn more about through the incredible documentary Man on Wire). Let the Great World Spin is a meditative novel exploring our interconnectedness and our simultaneous solitude. It’s a haunting book that left me restless and a little anxious. I would definitely recommend it.
3. I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron– I’m positive I’m not the target demographic for this essay collection, but I’d heard so much about it over the years that I couldn’t help picking up the slim book at the bookstore while we were home. Unfortunately, even if I had waited 30 years to read it I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it much more. It felt overly whiny and critical. What could have been read as self-deprecating, I perceived as pretentious bordering on obnoxious. I just didn’t enjoy it to be frank. I know it’s a seminal work for female memoirs and essays, but I can’t get on board.
4. Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed–I LOVED this book. Strayed is candid and compassionate as an advice columnist for The Rumpus, yet never condescending to her readers. She was revealed as the source behind the Dear Sugar column long after people submitted their queries, and reading a collection of some of the more inspiring correspondence letters was engaging and illuminating to the universal human experience. Anna Holmes for the New York Times says, “It’s backbreaking, no doubt: not just the work of writing, but the taking of complete strangers’ very real yet muddled pain, untying the knots and threads of their anguish and then doling out little, lovely pieces of yourself to them. The book’s disclosures — on the part of both the writer and her correspondents — is ultimately courageous and engaging stuff.” Oh, please read this book. I gave my copy to a friend because I couldn’t stand to not share it, but I’m picking up another for myself. I know this is a book I’ll turn to again and again throughout my life.
5. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan–Things were getting a bit heavy at the hospital and I needed something light. Crazy Rich Asians delivers with a dramatic and cheeky–not to mention deliciously gossipy–story about the astronomically wealthy sect in Singapore and China. Its absurdity and humor were just what I needed to pass some stressful time in the hospital and I imagine it’s a great read for the beach or any kind of travel.
6. She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb–Dolores Price is an unforgettable narrator. She’s snarky, critical, and totally batshit. The novel is over 20 years old, but the coming-of-age story is both timeless and relatable. I definitely got a sense of The Catcher in the Rye, but also of grand sweeping epic novels. It’s a true bildungsroman told through a sarcastic, heartbreaking lens. It was the third selection for Oprah’s Book Club (an obviously prestigious honor : ); according to the selection committee, “Through one thousand and one television nights, Dolores feeds herself the fantasies of melodramas and sitcoms and tries to understand the many faces of love and betrayal…What follows — obesity, sexual ambiguity, self-delusion, and madness — is the precursor to a radiant rebirth. It is not without labor pains, this new awakening.” The novel is disturbing and upsetting at parts, and I was often left feeling distressed by Dolores’ behaviors. But she is a redeeming character and you can’t help but root for her and cheer her on. It’s not for everyone, but for those looking for a passionate and challenging coming-of-age story I would definitely recommend it.
7. Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan–When New York Post journalist Susannah Cahalan was 24 she started having inexplicable seizures, mood swings and paranoid episodes. What was initially misdiagnosed as alcohol withdrawal soon developed into a full-blown mental meltdown. For a full month Cahalan “went mad” and completely blacked out from all her experiences, including recovery from invasive brain surgery. This memoir is a fascinating look at brain chemistry and the body’s capacity to attack itself. Cahalan’s family’s perseverance and commitment to her literally saved her life, and she is able to tell the story of her month of madness with bravery and composure. This book is as engrossing for its science and research as its compelling narrative.
8. We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas–If forced to make a comparison, I would suggest that We Are Not Ourselves is like Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections without the pervasive thread of black comedy. And while comparisons may not be fully apt here considering that the book as already been deemed a “masterwork” and “instant classic” by its own right, a nod in the direction of Franzen isn’t a bad way to go in my extremely humble opinion. The novel explores several generations of an Irish-American immigrant family in New York. When Eileen Leary’s projected ideas American domestic bliss fail to live up to the promise she expected she must find a way to reconcile her dreams with her reality. It’s an absorbing tale of commitment and family and American ideology. I loved it–though it’s certainly not upbeat–and I would recommend it fully.
9. The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty– This was an airport purchase along the same vein as Crazy Rich Asians. I was looking for something a little more tame and not as literarily-minded as some of the other intense books I’d been reading. Again, not super upbeat, but a dramatic and insistent story. Cecelia finds a letter written by her husband that is not to be read until after his death. Except she reads it well before he dies and it changes everything. There’s a lot of heartbreak and pain in the book, but it’s well written and engaging. Pick it up if you’re looking for a page-turner.
So, we’ve made some progress! What are you reading? Any good recommendations?