Recent Reads: July—November

I know, I know — it's been a minute. A long minute. Okay, maybe 5 long ass months. But listen, in that time span I left NYC, took a 2-week road trip down South, moved to Atlanta (and then twice more within Atlanta), started a new job, adopted a dog, and got engaged. So y'all will just have to give me a pass.

Anyway, I'm definitely not hitting my 50 books/year goal, so I'll just have to try again in 2018! I got a library card this weekend (finally!) so I can't wait to get reading. The (very few) books I read in all that time are below!

 
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The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen | 5/5

I think I say this at least once per book review, but WOW, I really wish I had read this with a book club. This is the second book I've read by Viet Thanh Nguyen and all of his work is incredibly well-written and immersive. In The Sympathizer, we follow the narrator's story - he is a half-French, half Vietnamese communist double agent & army captain, who comes to America after the Fall of Saigon, and while building a new life, secretly reports back to his communist superiors in Vietnam. Personally, I didn't (/still don't) know much about the Vietnam War - I actually can't remember ever having been taught about it in history class - and so this book was a way to learn about the dark corners of U.S./Vietnamese history. The novel explores identity, nationalism, and racism, all while the narrator struggles to come to terms with his own participation in the violence that took place in both Vietnam and America. 

 
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Hunger, Roxane Gay | 5/5

Hunger is a memoir of trauma, food, self-image, and the process of healing and taking care of yourself. It challenges our understandings and beliefs about weight, bodies, and how people navigate through the world in their bodies. As Roxane writes, "People see bodies like mine and make their assumptions. They think they know the why of my body. They do not. This is not a story of triumph, but this is a story that demands to be told and deserves to be heard." Her writing is heartbreaking, tender, poignant, and commanding. A must-read.

 
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We Are Never Meeting In Real Life, Samantha Irby | 2/5

Before reading We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, I had never heard of Samantha Irby, her blog (bitches gotta eat), or her other books. I picked up this book solely because it received rave reviews, and one of my favorite authors, Roxane Gay, wrote: "Cracked my heart all the way open...As close to perfect as an essay collection can get." So I figured I'd give it a shot. But I unfortunately found that I really didn't like it.

It was difficult for me to finish this book. Irby's writing style and humor is cynical, self deprecating, and dark. And while there were definitely some great moments, for the most part, our senses of humor just don't align. Throughout the collection of essays, Irby touches on heavy topics such as poverty, disability, mental health, racism, alcoholism, and fatphobia, and uses her own life and experiences to open her audience's eyes to the fuckery of the world. But in many moments, I felt as though her humor distracted from the gravity of what she was saying. You know those people who are telling you something super sad, but they throw in a self deprecating joke because they feel awkward talking about their feelings? That's how this whole collection of essays felt to me.

 
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Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn Ward | 4.5/5

Only a few weeks after I finished Sing, Unburied, Sing I went to see Jesmyn Ward speak at the New Orleans Book festival. She was wearing an oversized sweater with ruffled sleeves and jet black leggings, and her face was kind and soft. The softness surprised me. Sing, Unburied, Sing is a painful and deeply stirring read, and it seemed to contrast the books dark underbelly.

On its surface, Sing, Unburied, Sing is about Leonie, a drug-addicted mother, who takes her children, Jojo and Kayla, to pick up their father from Parchman — one of the most brutal and cruel prisons in Mississippi. Yet parallel to this journey is a story of ghosts, unresolved trauma, and dark histories. The past often bleeds into the present, and Ward lyrically weaves a story about reconciling with the past, open wounds and the dead.

During her talk, Jesmyn said she wrote the book because she couldn’t get the character Jojo out of her head. At the book signing afterward, I asked her, “Do your characters speak to/haunt you the way Given does Leonie?” Jesmyn furrowed her brow. “No one has ever asked me that before. I…you know, I really have to think about that one.” I loved the fact that she didn’t have an immediate answer — I think it was the best response I could’ve received.

I’ve been going back and forth on the book’s rating and right now, I think I’ll stick with a 4.5 out of 5, solely because I think parts of the ending were confusing and could’ve been edited down. Otherwise, one of the most phenomenal books I’ve read this year.

 
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What We Lose, Zinzi Clemmons | 3.5/5

I read What We Lose in September and gave it a 4/5 on GoodReads, but only two months later, the majority of the book escapes me, which I think is telling. In short, Clemmons writes an autobiographical novel that walks us through her emotions and healing process after she experienced her most painful loss — the death of her mother to breast cancer. Her relationship to her mother is clearly powerful and unique, and I found that the book really resonated with me for that reason. I feel incredibly close to my Mama and our relationship is rivaled by no other, so I can't imagine losing her/what that would feel like. Clemmons plays with form and style — some of which I think hits the mark, while other parts completely miss it — and I like that she took that risk.

The Night Guest, Fiona McFarlane | 3.5/5

I borrowed this book from the library (i.e., why I wasn't able to take a photo of the cover) without knowing anything about it, and it ended up being a really fun read. In short, we follow the story of Ruth, an elderly, widowed woman who lives in an isolated beach house on the outskirts of town. One day a stranger, Frida, arrives at her door; she is supposedly a care worker sent by the government. Ruth lets her in. The story is told solely from Ruth's perspective, and as strange things begin to happen around the house, the reader cannot tell whether Ruth is an unreliable narrator and more senile than we initially thought, or whether Frida is more or less than she appears. The book absolutely had my heart racing, and in some ways, it made me feel really sad/scared about aging. I'd definitely recommend the read!

The Girls, Emma Cline | 3.5/5

I picked up this book from the library because I was looking for a quick, easy, and entertaining read. The novel is the imaginative retelling of the Charles Manson case, and follows Evie Boyd, a 14-year old girl, who falls-in with the cult and becomes infatuated with one of the other girls in it, Suzanne. I found the read to be interesting, easy, and entertaining, which was exactly what I was looking for. While I thought Cline did a great job of describing the thought process/psyche of young girls, it didn't move me in any particular way. I think it'd be a great book to bring along on a beach trip or vacation.

As always, I'm open to book recommendations! I'm currently reading You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero (yes - still reading this one; I swear I get through 10 pages/month), Five-Carat Soul by James McBride (so good!!), and I'm soon to start Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward & If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin.

What are you reading?

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