This year has been rough. Between politics and the environment, I find it hard to slip into the fictional world of a novel, usually my favorite escape. Lately, I will read a couple of chapters, and although the writing is good, the story is fresh, I can’t make myself engage.
So 2017, has kind of been the year of not reading.
Nevertheless, a few excellent books have broken through. Some are old favorites, revisited as I try to make sense of these trying times, but others are new reads that snagged my frayed attention.
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison is my favorite novel of all time and I reread it each year as I prepare for the holidays. There is no malaise quite like a black bourgeois blues. I like to follow it up with Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, the first novel I ever loved. While Morrison diagnoses the rot at the center of upwardly mobile patriarchal family life, Mildred D. Taylor lets you remember what it is to be a little girl who just loves her daddy. Margaret Wilkerson Sexton’s debut, A Kind of Freedom, a family story set in New Orleans, is really good, too.
I was in a nerd-fight with a friend and we read Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. In my view, they are different takes on the same Big Question: how do we treat those whom we have arbitrarily marked different? In Never Let Me Go, the outcasts are cloned human beings and Fowler chooses to excavate the not-so-fine line between humans and apes. My friend, who preferred the Fowler novel, accused me of preferring Ishiguro because his characters live in a posh English boarding school while Fowler’s people live in Bloomington, Ind., and go to IU. I did concede that challenging the person/animal divide is more ambitious than interrogating person-on-person unkindness. I was similarly intrigued by Richard Powers’s new one, The Overstory—check for it in April.
White Houses is the best novel in my galley stack. Nobody writes love like Amy Bloom. In this book, the lovers are Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok. It’s a heart-healer and a heart-breaker. It will be released just in time for Valentine’s Day. Speaking of Mrs. Roosevelt, The Firebrand and the First Lady by Patricia Bell Scott tells the story of Pauli Murray, another friend of Eleanor, and a great unsung hero of the civil rights movement, another “hidden figure.”
I also found myself nibbling at short story collections. I especially loved What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Arimah, Five Carat Soul by James McBride (I adored the story about the zoo!) Get in Trouble by the ever-brilliant Kelly Link blew my mind. Looking to the future, I adored Renee Simms‘s forthcoming Meet Behind Mars. In memory of James Allen McPherson I revisited his ground breaking collection, Elbow Room.
Apparently, I read way more books this year than I thought.
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