My own novel came out this summer, and between edits, launch preparations, book tour, and all the near-nervous breakdowns that come with sending a book out into the world, I didn’t read as much as I’d hoped. But what I did end up reading was pretty great.
Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena was not only one of the best books I read all year, it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. I’d heard a lot about it before I finally picked it up, and I was worried it wouldn’t live up to the hype. But it so did. Beautifully written and beautifully constructed, with little twists that loop around and reappear and connect in immensely satisfying ways — and probably the most hopeful book you’ll find about a modern-day war. It’s a book I sank into as a reader, and a book I know I’ll come back to study as a writer.
I’d also put off reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie until I had time to dig into it, and I was not disappointed. It’s bitingly, bracingly funny and one of the smartest novels on race and culture out there. I laughed out loud while reading it on a plane, and ended up having a long, in-depth conversation about books and racism and identity with the person in the next seat as a result. There’s no higher praise: a smart, funny book that sparks serious conversation.
Lily King’s Euphoria was also an airplane one-gulp read: I started it on a flight to visit my mother, and finished just as the plane landed — it was that mesmerizing. As soon as I got to my mother’s, I handed her the book and said, “You would really love this. Read it.” She did, and was so involved that when I left two days later, she insisted on keeping the book. (I’m still trying to get it back.)
Yet another book I wolfed down: Kate Racculia’s Bellweather Rhapsody. Part murder mystery, part coming-of-age story, it’s darkly funny yet tender and heartwarming. And anyone who remembers the ’90s will revel in the spot-on references to the era of Discmans, Smashing Pumpkins, and plaid flannel shirts.
Several years ago, my sister gave me Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novel American Born Chinese. I’m not sure why I didn’t read it on the spot — it’s right in my wheelhouse — but that meant I got to “discover” it this year. Somehow it manages to be both a (painfully) funny look at the life of an ABC teen, a retelling of the Monkey King story, and a meditation on self-acceptance, all at the same time. I can’t wait to dive into Yang’s other work.
Finally, lest it sound like my year was all Serious Reading, one more book I thoroughly enjoyed: Bunmi Laditan’s The Honest Toddler: A Child’s Guide to Parenting. I’ve been a fan of the Honest Toddler Twitter feed ever since my son entered that delightful phase.
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