Recent Reads: Oct. & Nov. '18

Hey jungle cats!

Artwork by    Andrea Pippins

Artwork by Andrea Pippins

As you know, I recently got a library card and, as a result, I’ve visited at least once per month. I always request 10-15 books at a time and walk out with a giant pile in my arms, looking like a (sexy & well-read) madwoman. Earlier this month, I called an Uber to get me from the library, and when he saw my pile of books, he blatantly asked me why I didn’t just bring a bag. I was like, “Okay, good point…” ha!

In the months of October and November, I read 12 books, which pushed me above and beyond my 2018 GoodReads challenge and generally had me feeling like a badass. So far this month (December ‘18), I’ve already read My Sister, the Serial Killer and Citizen: An American Lyric. In the process of reading They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, Fast Food Nation and You Are Here. Have you read any of those titles? What did you think?

On the back burner (aka the giant pile on my nightstand), I’ve got The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, and Bloodchild and Other Stories. Currently in the process of requesting many more books (Kafka on the Shore for a re-read, as well as Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, Zone One, and Heads of the Colored People.) Of course, always open to suggestions and building up my GoodReads “Want To Read” list.

Reviews of all of October and November’s reads are below. Enjoy!

Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves by Glory Edim | 4/5
This anthology is balm for any well-read black girl’s soul. Poets, novelists, essayists and playwrights join together to reflect on when they discovered the power of writing, the first times they saw themselves reflected on the pages of a book or in a film, and the beauty of black womanhood. I resonated with so many of these essays and drew inspiration from each, often re-reading passages and writing them down in my journal. There are also inserts in-between each section of the collection, which recommended must-read books, poems, and plays; even more exciting, the anthology also contains a list of all media referenced within the various essays, which allows you to do even more of a deep dive on your own. I’m so happy that Glory created Well Read Black Girl and this anthology — it is much needed.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones | 4.5/5

After a 2-month long stint on my library’s waiting list, I finally got my hands on An American Marriage, a novel that was featured on Obama’s summer reading list, as well as in Oprah’s Book Club. An American Marriage tells the story of two newlyweds, Celestial and Roy, whose future is abruptly interrupted when Roy is imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. While Roy serves multiple years in prison, Celestial’s fledgling art career takes off, and the couple must examine and work through their understandings of love, commitment, justice, and black womanhood/masculinity. There were many moments while reading that I found myself viscerally reacting to what I read— I frequently long-sighed, shook my head, and furrowed my eyebrows in frustration. The novel challenged my own understandings of loyalty/commitment, love, and what remaining steadfast and grounded amidst turmoil does & doesn’t look like. Highly recommended!

The Southern Reach TrilogyAnnihilation (5/5) // Authority (3/5) // Acceptance (3/5) — by Jeff VanderMeer

Earlier this year, I watched the film adaptation of Annihilation and was deeply drawn to its unprecedented premise, eeriness and lack of resolution. The plot centers on Area X, an uninhabited area affected by an anomalous (and perhaps alien) phenomenon, which causes it to everything inside of it to mutate, duplicate and/or hybridize with other species, and ultimately self destruct. Thus the government sends in an expedition — the 12th — to investigate and return with evidence and samples of the phenomenon; yet we learn that few members of past expeditions have returned alive. The 12th expedition team is entirely comprised of women — a biologist, a psychologist, an anthropologist and a surveyor — which was an interesting plot point that I enjoyed and appreciated.

Though Annihilation the novel is, in many ways, extremely different from the movie (the film only utilized about 10% of the book’s plot) I loved it even more for entirely new and different reasons. In the novel, we learn more about the biologist and the many ways in which she’s an unreliable narrator, as well as about the landscape’s disquietude (the most eerie element, in my opinion!) and the backstory of the previous expeditions. I loved most that the questions posed in Annihilation simply led to more questions, which led to more questions, and that the novel left its readers to think on their own, rather than feeding us every answer.

Truthfully, I wish I had stopped at Annihilation — it’s strong enough to stand alone as a great novel. Instead, searching for answers, I read the final two books of the trilogy, Authority and Acceptance and, while both were interesting in their own ways, the books began to feel as though VanderMeer was making up the plot as he went along. By the end of the trilogy, I’m not sure that he even knew the answers to all of the questions he dredged up.

How to Love a Jamaican: Stories by Alexia Arthurs | 2.5/5

I was so disappointed by this book, y’all, which was such a bummer because I really wanted to love it. How to Love a Jamaican is Arthurs’ debut short story collection, which centers on the lives of Jamaican immigrants, families, and communities. Unfortunately, less than two months after I read it, I can’t remember the full plot of a single story. Most of this collection fell flat for me — Arthurs’ characters felt one-dimensional and lacked well-constructed character development; most endings felt rushed and the stories didn’t flow the way I’d hoped. As much as I could appreciate the topics that she tackles — loss, mother-daughter relationships, sexuality/queerness — something fell short for me again and again, story after story. After reading the book, I texted a (Jamaican) girlfriend frantically, thinking I was being too critical/perhaps certain cultural references were going over my head, but she agreed that she was “also very underwhelmed.” Oh well.

Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami | 3.5/5

Murakami has always been one of my favorite authors — though recently, I’ve become slightly irritated by his reliance on the same old repetitive motifs — and so I wanted to give his most recent novel, Killing Commendatore, a go. In the novel, a 30-something year old unnamed painter, recently left by his wife, finds himself living in the secluded mountain home of the famous Japanese painter, Tomohiko Amada. When he discovers a never-before-seen painting in Amada’s attic, things begin to go awry and a series of mysterious events begins.

As always, I love the surrealism of Murakami’s novels — in some ways, it feels as though the reader is dreaming; everything is completely normal except for one or two small elements, which signify that it’s a dream. That off-kilter feeling and the unsureness of knowing what is “real” versus unreal, is what makes Murakami’s work so special. Of course, if reading Murakami for the first time, I always recommend Kafka on the Shore, but Killing Commendatore was a great read & I’d recommend reading it, especially on a long flight or commute.

This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America by Morgan Jenkins | 4.5/5

Prior to reading This Will Be My Undoing, a collection of non-fiction essays, I somehow hadn’t heard of Morgan Jenkins. After reading her debut work, I’m so grateful that I found her, as she’s a force to be reckoned with. In this collection of essays, Jenkins frankly examines her own experiences in order to better explore race, class, gender, history and pop culture in America. Her essays are strikingly honest; at some points, she explicitly admits to her own points of prejudice and downfall — engaging in colorism/classicism as a child/young adult; finding comfort in looking down on others — in order to better describe how and why her thinking and actions have changed. I also love that she writes for an audience of black women; she powerfully centers black women’s experiences and doesn’t spend time acknowledging or explaining to the white gaze. This would’ve been a 5-star read for me if it hadn’t been for Jenkin’s seemingly naive passages about Japan; unfortunately, she seems to exoticize Japan in a way that feels ironic, especially after her own arguments against exoticizing black women. Regardless, I’d highly recommend this read to all.

After the Quake by Haruki Murakami | 4/5

In After the Quake, each of Murakami’s short stories take place directly after the devastation of the 1995 Kobe earthquake, an event which made Japan “brutally aware of the fragility of its daily existence.” This is Murakami at his strongest; each vignette is poignant and hauntingly dream-like. Even the stories which reference the earthquake peripherally have an emotive and tender undercurrent, forcing the reader to confront the greater realities of life, loss and catastrophe.

Severance by Ling Ma | 4.5/5

Severance was, by far, one of my favorite reads of all of October & November. A post-apocalyptic satire, we follow the story of Candace Chen, a first-generation Chinese American, millennial, and “worker drone.” With both of her parent deceased and little connection with her extended family, Candace spends her days working in a sequestered Manhattan office, hanging out with her boyfriend in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and commuting. She doesn’t even break her routine when Shen Fever — a spore-borne illness/plague, which causes the affected to repeat the same rote tasks over and over again until they die (are you sensing the satire?) — wipes out all of NYC and beyond. Only when NYC becomes entirely deserted and inhabitable does Candace leave, running into a small group of survivors with their own bizarre dynamic.

The book flashes between Candace’s life before and after Shen Fever and we’re able to learn more about her relationship with her parents, her experiences as a first-generation American, her relationship with her partner, and many more scenes that speak to greater themes in current-day America. I really hope that this book is made into a film; I think it would be a great adaptation!

Rosewater (The Wormwood Trilogy) by Tade Thompson | 3.5/5

Despite trying for an hour, I couldn’t come up with a description of Rosewater that accurately summarized it’s unique premise. Thankfully, this review from Amazon captures it perfectly: “In the near future, an alien object has appeared outside of Lagos, Nigeria—an alien dome blocks out entry and creates the mystery of what’s held inside, as a shantytown springs up around it. At different intervals, the dome opens just enough to emit “healing” powers which manifest in strange and inhuman ways, creating small groups of misshapen but “cured” individuals. It’s also created the sensitives, those with a kind of telepathic power which allows them to manipulate or read the minds of others or to tap into the xenosphere, a shared consciousness dream-world. People continued to flock to that shantytown until it became Rosewater, a gritty but booming city here in the late 2060s.”

Rosewater is a highly original sci-fi story that centers on black & Nigerian characters (!!) and moves forward and backwards through time seamlessly. Ostensibly a novel about Earth’s first contact with an alien entity, Rosewater in fact examines the human aptitude for change, what it means to be human and offers a view of the world and future that actually includes black and brown bodies. I greatly enjoyed the read, but learned my lesson from The Southern Reach Trilogy and will not be reading the other two books of this trilogy; I’m super happy with how the first novel ended and so I’ll leave it at that.

The Wife by Meg Wolitzer | 5/5

Whew — this book blew me away! Wolitzer’s frank, sharp and biting commentary on marriage, sacrifice, womanhood and the concept of choice made this a novel that I just couldn’t put down. The Wife is the story of the marriage between Joe Castleman, famous novelist, and his wife, Joan Castleman; the novel opens with Joe & Joan on a flight to Finland, where Joe will receive The Helsinki Prize, and ultimately, where Joan will tell him she wants a divorce. Penetrating and frank, The Wife had so many passages that I highlighted and wrote down — a must-read! (And now I need to see the film!)

As always, feel free to keep up with me on GoodReads! xx