9 Books I’ve Read Since the Last Book Report

20 Feb

Two things I do in random and unpredictable spurts: read and blog. So, if you want something that’ll really keep you on your toes, just try and figure out when the hell I’ll blog about the things I’ve read. Here’s a not-all-that-well-thought-out rundown of the last 9 books I’ve read:

Gerard_Dou_-_Old_Woman_Reading_a_Book

Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie — I’ve been a fan of Adichie’s writing since college, and really, really looked forward to her first full-length novel in awhile. And, for the most part, this one was worth the wait. Americanah splits its time between America and Nigeria, and it’s not always clear which is more comfortable for the author or her characters. Where Adichie focuses her attention on the peculiarities of experiencing a new nation for the first time as an immigrant from Nigeria, the writing is sharp and the observations are as funny as they are true. But the clarity of wit loses its focus in the middle section of the book, where critical views of liberal whites feel like watered-down tellings of jokes from White Teeth, and in the final section, which takes place in Nigeria and feels a bit like a Nollywood production of The Notebook. All that said–I’d read Adichie’s second-string writing anyday, and think you should read this one, too.

Behold the Dreamers, Imbolo Mbue — While we’re talking about West African immigrants, let’s chat about this guy. I am, of course, biased to any book by and about Cameroonians in America, but I can say with certainty that this book is enjoyable even without a serving of fufu on the side. Behold the Dreamers follows a Cameroonian family living in New York City just before the financial meltdown of 2008. There are immigration status struggles, examinations of what it means to live the American Dream, and a variety of representations of the choices one family makes to integrate into American society while maintaining the parts of Cameroon dear to them. Despite those big topics, Behold the Dreamers manages to stay just this side of “really heavy” and is about the closest I’ll ever get to a beach read.

My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout — For the love of all things holy, just go buy this book and read it. I resisted reading it based on the been-there-done-that gist alone: a woman is hospitalized in Manhattan, her mother comes to visit from a small town, family secrets come tumbling out. What I found, though, was a sparse novel that could carry the full weight of family dysfunction, unfulfilled dreams, and the ever-shifting line between love and resentment between two people who know everything about one another’s past and nothing about each other’s present. I LOVED THIS BOOK and I hope you do, too.

Hot Milk, Deborah Levy — This is a book to be experienced, not described. It’s ostensibly about a young woman whose mother’s chronic pain have brought them to a revered homeopathic clinic in the south of Spain, but it becomes more surreal as it picks up steam. Levy manages to transfer the task of sorting through symptoms from character to reader — are the mother’s reported ailments real? are the slights perceived by her daughter actual insults? did anything I just read in the last chapter really happen? You’ll have to read it to find out.

Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn Ward — oh, my my my my my. This book was everything. The story largely centers around JoJo, a 13 year-old boy who shoulders the burden of an inadequate mother, as he navigates the complicated terrain of a family both broken and reborn by death and loss. I cried more than once while reading this novel– the juxtaposition of the tender relationship between JoJo and his grandfather and the beyond-his-years observations JoJo makes about his own parents pack a one-two punch that had me all in every ONE of my damn feelings. But don’t take my word for it– Obama loved it, too!

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The Mothers, Brit Bennett — Hm. There are a LOT of things I liked about this book, and the rest of the world loved everything about every line of every page of this book. I am glad I read this story of young love, familial duty, and the struggle to heal scars left by one with the other, but the pacing felt uneven and there are moments where the narrative ties up in ways that feel more cloying than inevitable. I’d recommend it, but if I had it to do over again, I probably wouldn’t have racked up $20 of late fees for it.

Nutshell, Ian McEwan — I had been meaning to read something by Ian McEwan since 2006, and it was the one-line description of this book that finally sealed the deal: a soon-to-be-born fetus overhears his mother and her lover plotting to kill his father. It sounds like a gimmick, but the the pre-natal narrator doesn’t get in the way of stellar storytelling and attention to character detail… though I did have a hard time not reading the whole thing in the voice of Stewie from Family Guy.

The Nix, Nathan Hill — this is an epic.friggin.tome that somehow manages to address the lifelong impact of an absent mother, the challenges of healing dysfunctional family dynamics, annoying millennials, and America’s increasing insistence on self-indulgence. There’s a lot of stories within this book, and I liked some a lot more than others — but even the ones I didn’t like as much didn’t stop be from lugging this 600-page clunker around. And that’s a real endorsement, if you ask me.

Another Brooklyn, Jacqueline Woodson — a slim little novel about growing up, friendship, and the things that go unsaid. Great book that unfolds secret by secret, this would be perfect to read in tandem with a teenager (or a whole class of them).

 

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