A Year in Reading: Bich Minh Nguyen

December 8, 2016 | 2 books mentioned 1 2 min read

coverThis year a group of friends and I started a book club because we wanted to talk about Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet. It so happened that we also love karaoke, so we became a karaoke book club: we talk about writing and desire and friendship and then we go and sing our hearts out. This pairing works beautifully and maybe it’s because we want to be in a moment, like Ferrante Fever. I’ve been thinking about how much immersion matters, how I’m reading for what books can make me feel, especially a particular collusion of sadness and rage, sparked by longing. This takes many forms: rawness, interiority, yelling, even silence. It has to do with characters working against histories and structures that often seem impossible to break.

Elena Ferrante’s Elena and Lila are trying to figure out their own selves, at times creative and wild, within harsh patriarchal and provincial structures.

covercovercoverPeter Ho Davies’s The Fortunes gives us a part of American history that’s often overlooked: the Asian-American experience through the building of the transcontinental railroad, early Hollywood, and more. The rage here, like the prose, is transcendent.

Rabih Alameddine’s The Angel of History pushes against the tide of forgetting, against the smoothing over of the past, against moving on. Death and Satan argue over a man’s soul and every page is a reckoning.

Brit Bennett’s The Mothers is gorgeous, suffused with sorrow and the weight of obligation and time, as it considers what might and will happen to a young ambitious woman.

And with all of this rage and sorrow and longing, there is laughter in these books. Maybe it’s what we need to do right now as part of taking care of ourselves: we listen, learn, rave, and cry, and then we laugh (which is to sing) because we have to, somehow, get through what we’re going through.

More from A Year in Reading 2016

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Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

, who also goes by Beth, is the author of the memoir Stealing Buddha’s Dinner, which received the PEN/Jerard Award, the novel Short Girls, which received an American Book Award, and most recently the novel Pioneer Girl. She directs the MFA in Writing Program at the University of San Francisco.

One comment:

  1. Really, I only read The Millions at the end of year to enjoy the A Year in Reading. Why only then?

    Re-read this short essay by BICH MINH NGUYEN and you will see that it is a review but so much more. She writes from the mind but also from the heart. It is about great writing and passionate feelings– those feelings found in the writing and in the readers.

    Thank you Beth. Wish I could be in a karaoke book club. jb

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