- What: To Kill a Mockingbird
- Who: Harper Lee
- Pages: 376, small soft cover
- Genres: Classic literature
- Published: 1960
- The lit: of 5 flames
To Kill a Mockingbird is the first book reviewed in a new Big Little Literature series, Storied, a personal initiative to read the greatest books in American literature.
PBS’ The Great American Read had me regretting never experiencing so many magical pieces of American literature. One of those was not only so far ahead of its time but is also — and sadly — still relevant in today’s society. To Kill a Mockingbird took me back to being eight years old, the same age as its main character, Scout, and on a deeper level, it was a reminder that we still have a long way to go in accepting others and being more loving. It also proved that genuine souls are around us everywhere we go. They’re just too humble to announce it.
You know the ole saying, “[Insert model name] could make a potato sack look good.” The same thing applies to literature. The oddest and most boring plots can be sexy if they’re accompanied by solid writing. The opposite is also true though, and the sexiest ideas can come across as “meh” when coupled with inadequate writing.
That’s where Michelle Miller’s mix of Silicon Valley and Wall Street has a problem. The Underwriting has a certain seduction that powers you to the finish (despite a painfully slow start) because there is so much talk (as well as the act and thinking) of sex, as well as a lot of cash money. But something’s amiss. The writing lacks vigor that’s a disappointment to a rather interesting and original plot and some provocative topics.
We all know wine gets better with age. Emily Giffin’s following that mantra. Don’t get me wrong, the OG, Something Borrowed, still ranks high on my list of Giffin greats, but there’s no denying that her writing has become more skilled — and her themes deeper — over time. Her newest novel, All We Ever Wanted, illustrates that point, and it’s something she echoed in a Q&A on June 26 to celebrate the release of her new book (also the place where I committed some massive fangirling while meeting her).
In her latest, Giffin tackles the most pressing matters that families face in today’s world. By broaching issues such as rape, sexual assault, social media, technology, etc., she demonstrates that they’re all related and can exacerbate one another. All We Ever Wanted gives us a world where everyone carefully documents their lives through a lens, aka 2018, and where that can have detrimental consequences.
You know that horrible question that comes up during ice breakers, “Tell us something people would be surprised to know about you.”
Dammit, Brenda, I don’t know. My life is not that interesting.
Well, two years ago I finally figured out my answer: I like war. Not in the gruesome way. More like I have an affinity for war themes in pop culture. The Patriot, Saving Private Ryan, Lone Survivor, Glory, Top Gun (OK, maybe this last one is a stretch). I love them all. Now maybe this won’t surprise many people, but let’s consider my love for rom coms and chick lit. There’s a sharp contrast there. When you think about how much I love nonfiction, it starts to click a bit.
Now let’s combine that passion for my obsession with colonial America and the Revolutionary War. Every year in the days leading up to my country’s birthday, I pray The Patriot will be on TV, as well as PBS’ Liberty’s Kids series (don’t judge; it’s an excellent show). Anything and everything that has to do with the Revolutionary War and our country’s independence has me jumping for joy.
- What: Exit West
- Who: Mohsin Hamid
- Pages: 231, softcover
- Genre: Contemporary fiction
- Published: 2017
- The lit: of 5 flames
Killing me softly is exactly what Mohsin Hamid does with his lyrical novel, Exit West. He’s created existential poetry as his words reach down to the core of human emotion and make you experience exactly what the characters are feeling: anxiety, stress, and the overwhelming sense that you’re just going through the motions.
Raw human emotion.
That’s what he evokes.
He gives it to us in an imaginary world that doesn’t seem too far away from the one we’re already living. It’s filled with violence and terror, prompting people to seek refuge elsewhere. Sound familiar? In Hamid’s world, though, he gives us a little bit of hope that we can all find a new place to call home, even if that place is filled with trepidation and its own set of challenges.
There’s a scene near the beginning of Crazy Rich Asians when middle-class Rachel Chu walks into the family palace of her boyfriend, Nick Young. It’s her first experience with the supremely rich, and she’s presented with a silver bowl filled with water and rose petals:
“For your refreshment, miss,” [the servant] said.
“Do I drink this?” Rachel whispered to Nick.
“No, no, it’s for washing your hands,” Nick instructed.
Two minutes later she’s taken aback by two stuffed native Singaporean tigers in the lobby. My parents also have stuffed game in their “entryway” … theirs just have white tails and antlers.
This is only the beginning of the lux that pours out of Kevin Kwan’s 2013 novel, Crazy Rich Asians. Kwan’s writing matches the extravagance of these Singaporean lifestyles without a lick of kitsch. If it feels over the top, that’s only because it’s in sync with the characters it describes. With all this opulence comes even more antics, drama, and insecurities (I hear ya, Biggie), but all of this proves to be hilarious, voyeuristic, and a thrill to read.
Sean Combs has greatly influenced American culture: He taught us it’s cool to change your name about five times, he was the ultimate Bad Boy, he gave us Danity Kane for goodness sake. Most importantly, he proudly professed the importance of voting. While his “Vote or Die!” campaign was intended for politics, there’s no reason we can’t use it for choosing America’s greatest read.
This summer PBS has premiered an eight-part series, The Great American Read, which will determine the great U.S. of A.’s favorite literary tale. The program promotes literacy across the country (yay!!) while touching on individual stories of literary impact.
This is clearly an opportunity to invoke Diddy’s mantra, except the consequences for not participating aren’t quite so severe.