I read A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara and loved it, but more I needed to talk about it.
In a year where writing a book has put the squeeze on my social life, I had few opportunities to discuss the novel. I took to solving this problem through digital means.
I sent out a few emails, but the dedicated readers in my life hadn’t yet read A Little Life, so I went on offensive by gifting a few copies. I posted tweets about the book to fish around for conversation. I identified and emailed soft targets, like the luring message I sent to my Donna Tartt-loving friend, “almost like The Goldfinch as far as epic reads go.”
While I waited for my book seeding to take, I posted a photo of the book cover on Instagram that got an immediate reaction: “It’s the best book I’ve ever read,” said one. “My heart was in my throat the whole time,” said another.
My agent and I started pecking out messages about the novel on our phones. To her, reading the book felt like an addiction. She questioned such impossible success in a group of friends, which prompted a conversation about the first part of the novel. To me, the set up felt like it was of the Manhattan ensemble genre, a distant cousin to The Age of Innocence or an episode of Friends. The brilliance lay in how Yanagihara set that tone and twisted it.
One of the copies I’d planted under the guise of a birthday gift gave back in a big way. My friend, who lives in Colorado, finished the book and emailed right away. We sent reviews from The New York Times, The Atlantic, and The New Yorker back and forth. We broke down each one. Was it the great gay novel? Maybe and maybe not, though there was no doubt that Yanagihara wrote across difference in a way that was refreshing and modern. In the next moment we compared the book to Great Expectations and Bleak House. “I keep thinking of Jane Eyre,” she wrote. “It’s the best kind of old-fashioned melodrama.”
At that point, a friend’s husband sent a message. He wondered if the book was any easier to read than it was to love someone who was reading it? I wrote back: “No.” That was the only brief conversation I had about the book.
A writer who lives in the U.K. posted on Facebook that she had read an early copy and needed to talk. I dove right in. We had both read about how Yanagihara had been encouraged to make cuts. We agreed that her refusal and the epic size was one of its strengths. The psychological insight held the kind of truth that could only be found in fiction. And there was a lack of context, the story ignores politics and the characters are consumed by themselves. Was that an American perspective, I asked? Was there too much abuse, she wondered? We both typed long messages and never came to any conclusion, which is very satisfying in itself.
Word about the book spread and I had more and more of these conversations.
As I come to the end of the year, I realize that A Little Life has played a huge part in maintaining my link to the outside world. Yanagihara’s novel has fueled conversations across four social networks, five countries, and countless years of friendship. That’s more than enough to count as my book of the year.
More from A Year in Reading 2015
Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005
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The motherlode: The Millions’ Books and Reviews
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