New Year, New Goal, New Books, Same Me

HI FRIENDS, Happy New Year + 62 days! I hope your January and February was wonderful. Mine felt insanely busy (classic) and I have been missing the sun like crazy lately, but otherwise no complaints. As I mentioned in my last post, I’m trying to read 75 books in 2018. This year, I’m also aiming to blog more consistently; instead of posting four times a year (timed to the end of the seasons), I’m going to try and update you with reviews every two months (hence this post at the end of February). I’m excited! Last year, I struggled a bit with keeping my posts to a reasonable length, while also fully covering all the books I read.

One more note about my reviews this year: I’m bringing back the quotes! When I first started this blog (as a young lass with waaay too much time on her hands), I used to include my favorite quote(s) from the books I reviewed. I miss being able to quickly pull up passages I loved from the books I read in any given year, so they’re coming back. As always: thank you for taking the time to read this blog. I know there’s a lot of content out there, it means so much that you’re spending time on mine.

book #1: new people by danzy senna

I kicked 2018 off with a book that I kept seeing everywhere in 2017. New People is my first Danzy Senna read, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I did know that she’s celebrated for the incisive and complex commentary on race in her books. I will also admit that it wasn’t immediately clear to me that this novel was supposed to be satirical, but it was (or, kind of was). I still enjoyed it a lot. The book follows Maria, an adopted, biracial main character who’s starting her life with her college boyfriend, Khalil. They live together in Brooklyn and are planning their Martha’s Vineyard wedding. Khalil works in tech and Maria is in school, working on a dissertation about the Jonestown massacre. The couple is also the subject of a documentary entitled “New People,” about a new era of interracial couples. Maria becomes infatuated with a poet to the point of nearly destroying her relationship. Beyond that, I don’t want to give too much away, because part of the joy of reading this novel was observing Maria’s puzzling and often shocking behavior. I will say that this is one of those rare books that I wish I had read more about before picking it up. It was complicated and interesting and made me think of racial identities in ways I never have.

When there is a gap—between your face and your race, between the baby and the mother, between your body and yourself—you are expected, everywhere you go, to explain the gap.”

—(I’m the worst and don’t know what page this quote is on…)

book #2: from here to eternity: traveling the world to find the good death by caitlin doughty

This was a fascinating look at the culture of death in America and around the world. Mortician Caitlin Doughty delves into death and the way that it has been treated throughout history and in various cultures in a very accessible way. She meets with Eco-friendly groups who are researching and developing human body composting. She travels to Indonesia and meets with a family who has been living with their mummified grandfather’s corpse for two years, which was fascinating. She also goes to the only open-air pyre in America (in Colorado) and discusses the local resistance they have met in trying to fulfill some people’s literal dying wish. Death is my biggest fear, so I wasn’t sure I would love this book, but it was surprisingly funny and a quick read. A fascinating look at death culture that may convince you to question the extremely expensive and rushed funeral home method that is most common in America.

We avoid the death that surrounds us at our own peril, missing its beauty and its lessons. Death avoidance is not an individual failing; it’s a cultural one.”

—page 234

book #3: sing, unburied, sing by jesmyn ward

I get wary about books that I’ve been hearing about nonstop, but I thought Sing, Unburied, Sing more than lived up, which was a relief. The story revolves around family. Jojo is a main (and the best) character who’s newly 13 at the start of the story. He idolizes Pop, his tough but fiercly loving black grandfather; he doesn’t understand Leonie, his black, erratic, harsh mother; he doesn’t respect Michael, his white, imprisoned father. This is one of those stories that has a pretty straightforward plot (Michael, is being released from jail and Leonie gathers up Jojo and his baby sister, Kayla, to drive north to the prison and pick him up) but it’s about so much more than that main plot. It’ll be hard to do it justice, but I loved this book so much. Every single character was deeply complicated and flawed, but each had redeeming qualities, or at least elicited sympathy in the rationality (or emotional reasoning) behind their actions. There are elements of magical realism, especially toward the end, so I can understand how that ending might be jarring. I loved it and highly recommend. Also, just a sidenote: the way that Ward portrayed the relationship between Jojo and his baby sister Kayla included some of the most touching writing I have read in a long time, especially her depictions of their physical contact and closeness. Those passages left me slack-jawed and in awe.

Sorrow is food swallowed too quickly, caught in the throat, making it nearly impossible to breathe.”

—(again, not sure of the page # but it’s a Leonie quote)

book #4: there are more beautiful things than beyoncé by morgan parker

This was an absolutely beautiful, small book of poetry that I didn’t ever want to end. The collection explores black American womanhood through the lens of pop culture, and it was fascinating to read. It’s both political and intensely personal, and discusses feminism and how we consume it as a culture and through the media. I’m terrible at reviewing poetry because I’m not a frequent poetry-consumer, but I do know that I loved this collection and think everyone should read it.

I cannot believe / in how successful / and how alone I have been / today.”

—page 50

book #5: the martian chronicles by ray bradbury

I love Ray Bradbury and I loved this collection. The Martian Chronicles is beautifully told, featuring loosely-related short stories about mankind’s journey from Earth to Mars. The chapter progression was in sequential order, sometimes jumping forward by a few months, other times a few years. Each story existed in the same universe, but very few characters reappeared (at least in more than just name) in the later chapters. Some chapters were three lines long, some were 20 pages. I felt sympathy for aliens, as their home planet was eventually taken over after the repeated intrusion of humans. I also somehow felt bad for the humans, even while they continually worked to colonize Mars with no regard for its original inhabitants. It’s so, so well-done, and evokes the most beautiful imagery. Bradbury has a genius for near-immediate character development, and the only negative part for me was knowing that once a chapter ended, so would my relationship with that character. Read this book, you won’t regret it.

It’s like I felt each spring when I was very young, passing the graveyard and weeping for them because they were dead and it didn’t seem fair, on nights as soft as that, that I was alive, I was guilty of living. And now here, tonight, I feel they have taken me from the graveyard and let me go above the town just once more to see what it is like to be living, to be a town and a people, before they slam the black door on me again.”

—page 155

book #6: the immortalists by chloe benjamin

Another book about death! Clearly, 2018 is about conquering my fears. I thought The Immortalists was an incredibly well-done book with a fascinating premise that had me thinking about it for days after finishing. It begins with four young siblings in New York City, heading downtown in search of a woman they’d only heard rumors about. Supposedly, they heard, she can tell you the date that you will die. So they meet her and they all receive their dates of death. The story then follows each sibling from there, as they leave New York and continue to live their lives, always carrying the knowledge of that meeting with them. I won’t give anything away, but I could not stop reading this book. It raised so many huge questions – from nature vs. nurture to the quality of life vs. the length of life, even fate vs. free will – which is why I think it’s stayed with me so long. The ending did leave me feeling a little disappointed, for reasons I can’t explain without giving away spoilers, so I won’t… Read it and then let’s discuss.

They spend two years like this. Simon makes the coffee, Robert makes the bed. Everything is new until it isn’t anymore.”

—page 84

book #7: far from the tree by robin benway

I REALLY, REALLY LOVED THIS BOOK. If you enjoy books that make you cry in public – and sometimes sob – then you’ll love this one. Even though a lot of the premise of the book is revealed right on the first few pages, I don’t want to give anything away because I remember the complete joy of being so totally shocked and sucked in when I first opened it. It’s so, so well done and I loved Robin Benway’s writing style. The story starts with a main character, Grace, who decides that she’s ready to meet her biological mother only to find out that she has other half-siblings, living less than an hour away. She meets her younger sister, Maya, and her older brother, Joaquin at exactly the right moment in each of their lives. I can’t express how much I loved this book, and I feel like I could cry just thinking about it now. It’s really fantastic and important, and I’m so happy it exists. Everyone should read it. Sorry this review is just gushing and no real information about the book, but it touches on themes of family, both biological and chosen, adoption, and home.

The older she got, the more human her parents seemed, and that was one of the scariest things in the world. She missed being little, when they were the all-knowing gods of her world, but at the same time, seeing them as human made it easier to see herself that way, too.”

—page 268

book #8: big little lies by liane moriarty

Big Little Lies was my first encounter with Liane Moriarty, and it was a treat. I couldn’t stop bringing it up randomly to people, and I think everyone who had read it regretted telling me that shortly after, when they realized they would be trapped in conversation with me for at least 10 minutes. I didn’t know much at all about the premise, which made it all the more  gripping. Pretty much immediately, you find out that a character dies at an elementary school fundraising event. The book then jumps back six months before the event, and all the complex and drama-fueled relationships are introduced and developed. Throughout the story, there are brief asides in the form of an interview with various community members and parents at the school. It’s so gossipy and delicious, and I thought it very cleverly revealed the shocking secrets that nearly every character was hiding. Plus, through the skillfully placed interviews, pretty much every character is both a murder suspect and a victim suspect at one point. Will definitely read more by Liane.

It was just so very surprising that the good-looking, worried man who had just offered her a cup of tea, and was right now working at his computer down the hallway, and who would come running if she called him, and who loved her with all of his strange heart, would in all probability one day kill her.”

—page 344

book #9: little fires everywhere by Celeste Ng

This was my first Celeste Ng and I cannot wait to read Everything I Never Told You as soon as humanly possible. I loved her writing, and her completely effortless transition from character voice to character voice is one of the most impressive and skillful things I’ve read. This book is about a mother and daughter, Mia and Pearl, who have spent most of Pearl’s life moving from city to city. They settle in Shaker, Ohio, in a rental house owned by the Richardson family. Mia and Pearl’s arrival into this family’s life (and vice versa) ends up changing everyone’s lives in enormous ways. LFE is about small actions with enormous consequences, about the complicated nature of family, about what it means to live the “right” life and do the “right” thing. Two small things: I felt this book started off a little slow, but in hindsight that may have been intentional. I read this for book club and had 50 pages left to read prior to our meeting, so the twist ending was ruined for me. This was totally my fault, but it did take away slightly from my finishing the novel. Still, I loved it and Celeste Ng has found a loyal reader in me. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

‘It bothers you, doesn’t it?’ Mia said suddenly. ‘I think you can’t imagine. Why anyone would choose a different life from the one you’ve got. Why anyone might want something other than a big house with a big lawn, a fancy car, a job in an office. Why anyone would choose anything different than what you’d choose.’”

—page 318

So! Those are the books and authors who helped me kick off 2018. I’m about three books behind schedule at this point, but I think I’ll be able to catch up, the year is young. Wish me luck. ◊

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