So first of all, we’re halfway through 2017 and I’m currently reading my 59th book of the year. I feel like I’ve been reading less this year than last, but so far apparently I’ve read more?? (I’m not done with it yet, so I can’t count it for this quarter, but book number 59 is On the Move: A Life, Oliver Sacks’ memoir, and it’s delightful!)
Second: it’s time for this quarter’s book post!
It rarely happens that I’m able to pick just one clear favorite, because I like so many books, but this time I’ve got one:
VERY TOP BOOK:
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
This book floored me. For the beautiful, subtle prose that fairly slips by – I’d read half the book almost before I’d realized it. For the deep, emotional place it hit me – I want to call it an allegory for the current real-world refugee crisis, because it is, but to say that also sells it so very short. If I call it that, you might think it’s overtly political (it’s not; it’s a love story, among many other things). You might thing it’s a sad, tough, weary tale of people in abject poverty, people very different from us, “other” people that those of us who are Western-first-world readers will sympathize with but maybe also struggle to relate to, but it’s not that at all – and that’s just one of many things I found so brilliant about the book. It’s a story of two young urbanites, going about life with their smartphones and their jobs and all, until their city gets overtaken by war. Like anyone’s city might get overtaken by war. It hit me so emotionally in part because – though the protagonists’ homeland is carefully never specified – I couldn’t help thinking of a Syrian friend of mine who was in Berlin as a highly qualified student…until circumstances back home changed and all of a sudden he was in Berlin as a refugee. That can happen to anyone. This is not about Muslims or third world countries or however else it’s easy to “other” refugees. It’s about people, trying to get on with the daily business of being people to each other. But I’m still selling this wrong, because it’s not a book about war. It’s a magical realism book (a bit). It’s a slightly-sci-fi book set in a near-future world, with a surprisingly optimistic view of humanity offering up both the worst and the best of itself. It’s stunningly encompassing, for a slim little book of little over 200 pages, and yet very specific, a story of two people trying to hold their love together against the odds, and it walks that balance incredibly well. Mohsin Hamid IS BRILLIANT in other words.
MORE TOP BOOKS:
Uprooted by Naomi Novik – Ooh, this was so creative; I went around telling people about it for days. What great and unusual world-building/magic-building.
Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Marvelous, thoughtful new book from Adichie; I found this one went a lot deeper than her “We Should All Be Feminists.” To me, “We Should All Be Feminists” felt like a 101 book, something to hand to someone who hasn’t thought at all about feminism and equality, whereas “Dear Ijeawele” is for someone who says, yes, everyone should be equal, now how do we do better at that?
Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina – Excellent YA author at the intersection of coming of age/navigating cultural identities/confronting violence/having a romance (but that’s not at all the main plot)/also friendships, family, and a lot more. I need to read Meg Medina’s also-highly-recommended “Burn Baby Burn” posthaste. (Audiobook narrator of “Yaqui Delgado”: also excellent.)
The Best Man by Richard Peck – Auuuuuugh, so charming. Archer has four great role models in his life: his dad, uncle, grandfather and a student teacher. Archer is a good-hearted kid but not always quick on the uptake. Such as: “Our teacher read us ‘And Tango Makes Three’…which is how we found out about chinstrap penguins.” But once he finally figures out that one of the important men in his life is gay, Archer decides to play a role in making sure his latest relationship goes right.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson – Moving verse memoir from an important children’s/YA author about her own young childhood, especially the role of stories in her life.
Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E. K. Johnston – I’m going to go ahead and call this book important, for the way it tells the story of a girl recovering from a sexual assault, her determination to chart her own course, make her own decisions, and define herself as more than a victim.
Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West – Laugh-out-loud funny, hard-hitting and sometimes heartbreaking; part memoir and part social critique about misogyny, fat-shaming and the ways that people so often treat each other (read: treat women) abominably on the internet.
The Pickup by Nadine Gordimer – A quiet but thoughtful novel about how two people can be having the same conversation yet not talking about the same thing at all; at least, that was one way I read it.
If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo – One of the few YA novels about a trans protagonist that’s actually written by a trans author, so I would recommend it for that alone – but also charming, sweet, overall very hopeful but also realistic about the obstacles trans kids face. Features an adorable romance, a supportive family and a main character who struggles but also gets the help she needs, so despite some melodrama and not-sugar-coated references to the bad stuff, I’d feel good about handing this to my students. Again, I listened to the audiobook of this and the narrator was particularly excellent.
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeannette Winterson – Fascinating memoir that I don’t even know how to describe… An indescribably harsh childhood, an escape through books, a coming out… But all of it is told in such beautiful writing, and reflected on so thoughtfully that sometimes I had to stop and take in a paragraph for a while before I could go on.
UnSlut: A Diary and a Memoir by Emily Lindin – In sixth grade, Lindin was branded a “slut” because of one afternoon when she let her boyfriend put his hand down her pants. For the rest of middle school, everything she did – and everything that others did to her – was viewed through the lens that since she was “slut,” she must have been asking for it. Years later, Lindin found her middle school diaries and published this combination diary/memoir, with all the diary entries preserved as they were, but also annotated in the margins with the benefit of adult hindsight. It’s fascinating and very, very illuminating.