If you’re doing this whole “reading” thing right, there should ideally be a shortlist of books that changed your mind/blew your mind/expanded your mind, whether on specific subjects or just in general. They don’t have to be the greatest books ever written, or even particularly literary or influential (though it’s always nice if they are). They’re just the ones you read in the right place at the right time in your life, or in history. They’re the ones you consciously or unconsciously absorbed into your worldview. A shortlist book is one you finish and then think about, constantly at first and then on and off for years, or even decades, afterwards.
My shortlist for books about racism, and specifically slavery, is particularly short, mostly because I’m an asshole who spent at least 50% of her formative years reading Stephen King and Sookie Stackhouse novels (no regrets though, no regrets). Many of the books on that list I’ve only read in the past few years—The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Homegoing, Americanah—and this month I added a new one: Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. Continue reading
I decided to try it at an airport, because… I was already drinking a bloody, you know? Anyway I loved it, practically inhaled it, and passed it on to a friend. She was looking for a pick-me-up, had been into the hard stuff lately. Pretty soon I found another friend who liked it, and a week later, a third confessed: She’d needed it, needed the break from reality.
In a world being redefined by xenophobia and authoritarianism, reviewing books has seemed, well, frivolous of late. I read Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler last month, but was distracted by Trump before I could start a review draft. I tore through Han Kang’s The Vegetarian a week ago, but got sidelined by protests before jotting down any notes. I inhaled Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10 on Saturday, but a murder mystery at sea seems silly when staring down an IRL humanitarian crisis. And don’t even get me started on George Washington’s biography—the man once graciously returned a lost dog to a British general, in the middle of a war. Donald Trump’s broadsides feel pettier than usual after even a few pages with the original founding father.
Still, reading a book—preferably one set in a time/place/galaxy far, far, away—can be a welcome reprieve these days, and I really went into T.C. Boyle’s The Terranauts expecting to forget, for at least a few hours, about the particular brand of America we find ourselves in at the moment. I suppose, in some sense, the book did accomplish that: For a few beautiful hours, I disliked the characters in this novel almost as much as I dislike a certain newly minted leader of the free world. Continue reading
Slavery. Racism. Urbanism. Disease. While 2016 may not have been a banner year for liberal democracy in the world at large, it should definitely go down as a woke time in book publishing.
For dedicated bibliophiles, the low thrum of literary FOMO that bubbles up around May has by mid-December evolved into a full-fledged panic. Every week brings a new “best books of the year” list, each one littered with titles you haven’t even heard of, let alone read. Any nascent new-year confidence is supplanted by fears of intellectual inadequacy or—unthinkable in this age of success micro-steps and wellness lifehacks—unproductiveness.
Take a breath; I’ve got you covered. By combining 36 different qualitative “best books” lists by everyone from the New York Times to The Telegraph to a smattering of celebrities (full list of lists here), I’ve created the Ultimate Authoritative Unimpeachable Top 20 Books of 2016. Here they are: Continue reading
The fact that His Bloody Project is (mostly) fictional is either the most or least important thing you could know about it, depending on how much you care.
Framed as a memoir written by an accused murderer, coupled with court transcripts and another associated documents related to the crime, HBP—down to its faux-bloody-fingerprinted cover—wants very badly to sell itself as a true-crime adventure, an In Cold Blood for fans of 1800s homicides committed in remote and sparsely populated Scottish enclaves. That the book is in fact a epistolary novel marauding as truth makes it all the more ambitious and, like its main character, all the more tricky to pin down.
Said main character is Roddy Macrae, who opens his lawyer-prescribed written statement, i.e. the book, with a fairly direct confession:
“My life has been short and of little consequences, and I have no wish to absolve myself of responsibility for the deeds which I have lately committed. [My advocate] has instructed me to set out, with as much clarity as possible, the circumstances surrounding the murder of Lachlan Mackenzie and the others, and this I will do to the best of my ability….I shall begin by saying that I carried out these acts with the sole purpose of delivering my father from the tribulations he has lately suffered.”
It’s a good time to read a gripping book: The weather is getting colder, the days are getting shorter, and it’ll be hard to maintain a decent library when climate change puts us all underwater. So here are a few page-turners that got me through the past week. Continue reading