The most popular books can make me a bit weary before I read them. I don’t have the best track record, you see. Normal People, which dominated the first half of 2020 both in written word and on TV, left me depressed and confused. Last year, I dived into three critically acclaimed novels — Queenie, Tell Me Lies, and The Female Persuasion — that, while I didn’t dislike them, left me unfulfilled. Even when I read The Overstory, which I rated four flames, I didn’t see quite what the critics did. Then I have books like City of Girls, the kind that completely enrapture me but some have called boring and bland.
Why can’t I connect with literature that means so much to critics and fans alike? Is this a me problem or a them problem?
So I did wonder if Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half would live up to all the hype. This one will surely be on all of the “Best of 2020” lists and win many awards (if it hasn’t already) because it’s already received so much praise since releasing in June. Given that I’d read her debut novel, The Mothers, and completely loved it, I had confidence that this wasn’t just a book I’d obsess over. This would also be a novel that the U.S. — with its systemic racism and struggle with identity — desperately needed and needed ASAP.
Thankfully, Bennett washed away any and all doubts about it living up to the hype. And I can’t wait to see it on all those lists and with all of those nominations at the end of this year.
- What: Normal People
- Who: Sally Rooney
- Pages: 273, hard cover
- Genre: Contemporary fiction
- Published: 2018
- The lit: of 5 flames
Quite a few friends have sent me books during COVID-19’s social distancing mandate. For that, I’m eternally grateful. Normal People was one of those books. (Layne Coffman, you’re a gem.)
You can’t really escape this book in 2020. It’s everywhere, including on Hulu. And in the past six months, a few friends have recommended this book to me, especially now that there’s a miniseries of it. So after receiving the book in the mail, I decided to hop on the bandwagon.
I may have fallen off though. It’s true that I couldn’t put down this book while I read it; it had an intoxicating grip on me. However, this wasn’t enough to eclipse the confusion and aloofness I felt (nor my frustration at an immense grammatical transgression). I also think part of the reason I wanted to keep going was to obtain some kind of clarity. Sadly, that never happened. In that way, maybe I was just another lost character wanting some normalcy and happiness.
Let’s call it how it is. 2020 has been a garbage fire. Phase 1 of COVID preceded a phase 2 of COVID that’s grounded in people basically giving zero f***s anymore. Mix this with an unbearable allergy season. Furthermore, our president is more delusional than ever. And sparked by several recorded incidents of police brutality, social tensions are at an all-time high (or maybe we’re just watching and listening now), which begs the question: Are race relations worsening?
The Black community has always faced prejudice and discrimination in America. They’ve been treated as “others” or less than, and white people as a collective have continually refused to listen and evaluate the role they play in our racist, white supremacist society. The murder of George Floyd seems to be changing the tide: The fog is finally being lifted, the curtain being pushed back on this country’s true history and present reality for people of color.
White people seem more willing to educate themselves on this — myself included. With that comes a bevy of anti-racism literature, most of which has been around for years but is now in the spotlight. This brings me to White Fragility, a book that, although written by a white woman, provides a telling perspective on why it is so difficult for white people to discuss race — which contributes to why white supremacy has reigned for so long in the “western” world — while also providing examples and guidance to challenge it.
- What: Three-Fifths
- Who: John Vercher
- Pages: 240
- Genres: Contemporary fiction and crime
- Published: 2019
- The lit: of 5 flames
Winter 1995. Pittsburgh. A hate crime occurs and intense arguments ensue over race relations. Racist undertones permeate conversations between any two people of different races, and a young man with a mixed identity is afraid to be himself and live his truth.
June 2020. We have a global pandemic that has everyone at home and unable to avoid current events. Because of that, nobody can ignore or deny the atrocious and racially motivated death of George Floyd. It sparks protests and conversations about race and white supremacy (both explicit and implicit forms), and it ignites hate crimes and defensive attitudes from white people about racial disparity and inequality in America.
Twenty-five years is the only thing marking the difference between present day and the fictional tale told in John Vercher’s debut novel, Three-Fifths. Sadly, inequality still exists to the same degree today as it did 25 years ago, and white supremacy, hate crimes, and racist remarks aren’t just fictionalized. Vercher’s story could have happened in 1995, and we certainly know it still happens today. The only difference, as Van Jones remarks in the Netflix documentary, 13th, is that today these offenses can be filmed on phones. It makes you question if we as a society and as individuals have grown at all in 25 years. It’s hard to see how.
With everything happening in the world right now, it’s important that we don’t forget an important celebration: Pride Month!
June has to be the most loving and colorful month of the year. That’s because for 30 days we celebrate that love is love regardless of gender or sexual orientation. And it occurs in June, so that we can remember and celebrate the Stonewall riots that happened 51 years ago, giving rise to equality for the LGBTQ+ community.
Despite those riots and the progress that they catalyzed, it would be misleading and ignorant to assume the LGBTQ+ community can love and live the same way straight, cisgender people can. Narrow-mindedness runs rampant in the world, including in our own backyards with a president who doesn’t govern for all people. In addition to outright discriminations, social constructs still make it difficult for people to come out and love freely.
That’s why we need books like Red, White & Royal Blue, a 2019 novel that throws all harmful conventions out the window and asks what some will definitely perceive as a radical question: What if an immediate member of the first family were gay?
If you read this book and did not root for Alex Claremont-Diaz and Prince Henry, please leave this blog or challenge yourself to understand why their relationship is the fictional tale we need to make all love equal.
Happy Pride Month!
Source: Vanity Fair
- What: Such a Fun Age
- Who: Kiley Reid
- Pages: 305, hard cover
- Genres: Contemporary fiction
- Published: 2019
- The lit: of 5 flames
One of the greatest gifts that The Biblio Files has given me is the light it has shed on my own microaggressions — how my own whiteness leaves me completely ignorant sometimes. And it’s truly a gift because it forces me to see where I can grow and improve even if it’s hard to accept.
There have been many editing sessions where I cringe at something I say. I never intend disrespect, and sometimes it’s really just nerves; however, I recognize that intent and meaning are two different things. And sometimes it’s the way I say something. I have, for example, a nervous laugh that usually accompanies something uncomfortable. In a recent episode, I deleted about 10 seconds of a conversation about catcalling because I was laughing about being catcalled while leaving the gym. When this happened, I didn’t find it funny at all, and I still don’t today. So why do I laugh at something so terrible?
Because I’m human, not perfect, and far from woke. Hearing yourself after you say something is the greatest way to recognize your flaws (that whole hindsight thing), and boy, am I observing and trying to rectify mine.
Microagressions, intersectionality, being “woke” in the 21st century, and ignorance all play key roles in Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age, a 2019 novel that’s getting all the rage. It could not come at a more perfect time — for me and for the entire world.
Oh how I love to be swept away by a book. I love to feel the emotions of the characters, and I love exclaiming exasperation by their actions that cause as much harm to me as to them. I yearn to wander down the same streets they do, especially when that’s in a foreign land, and feel as if I’m peeking around the same corners as they. And there’s nothing like texting a friend constantly with the WTFs and the OMGs while the book is sweeping me away.
All of these things occurred while I read The Shadow of the Wind. The emotions that were felt during these 487 pages were immense and numerous, and the number of “what the f*%$” texts increased significantly as I neared the end.
The recipient of those texts, my friend Sabrina, had recently read this novel and had recommended it. She sold me with the following message after she finished it herself:
“And Shadow of the Wind is AMAZING! Love, loss, friendship, trust, Barcelona.”
“Need I say more?”
Actually, no, no you do not because that sounds darn right fascinating. Fortunately for me, this book had been sitting on my bookshelf for three years since Kyle and I moved in together (he also approved). And with that, I was transported to Spain in the 1940s, and I gladly didn’t return to the present for a splendid — albeit anxiety-ridden — two weeks.
When my dad and I recorded an episode for The Biblio Files after we both read Friday Night Lights, we discussed the validity of it being a social commentary rather than just a sports book. Dad didn’t agree with this statement the first time I said it a few months before. At that time, he and my sister had laughed at my conclusion. When we discussed on the podcast, though, he finally saw the light.
It was so intuitive to me that Friday Night Lights said more than just what plays the boys were running, what down it was, and how many yards they had to go. But I’ve always felt that way. To me, sports go beyond the competition. This is one reason why I love them so much and have for 28 years. Sports possess a power that exceeds far beyond their initial purpose. They speak volumes about the time period and location in which a particular game is occurring; the relations between the competitors; the importance of teamwork, selflessness, and trust; and the unbelievable things our bodies and hearts can achieve.
Still don’t believe me after reading FNL and my review of it and listening to The Biblio Files episode on it, all three of which I know you’ve done? Then please pick up The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. You surely will see my point after reading it.
This book, which follows a rowing team from the University of Washington in the 1930s, proves that the finer points of sports have thousands of parallels with real life. And just like in real life, sometimes the underdog wins — making victory that much sweeter.
Working in finance has made me slightly obsessed with the global financial crisis that started in 2008. How the hell did things get so messed up, and how did this world become so broken? Reading financial documents every year for more than four years allowed me to better understand the ins and outs of the industry and the domino effect that culminated in the crisis.
Even more so, I’m fascinated by the people who seriously lacked morals while possessing immense greed. My curiosity with the matter has led me to read many books that take place during this time, including most recently The Widow of Wall Street. According to the book’s backstory, the author, Randy Susan Meyers, has the same questions as I do.
In this current climate, though, I also needed some fun, intoxicating chick lit (perhaps of the Emily Giffin variety). My preceding read filled me with hopelessness, and I needed a change that surely The Widow of Wall Street would give me. Welp, let’s just say the novel depressed me far more than I had imagined. That’s not a bad thing by any means, and Meyers certainly piqued my interest, especially toward the end. Her writing, though, possessed incongruent pacing and unfulfilling descriptions, which didn’t do justice to the narrative. This left me not quite fulfilled and still, well, kind of sad.
I learned a ton in journalism school that I often sprinkle into my blog posts — much more than the curriculum promised. For example, I finally recognized why, as a kid, I always asked the million questions that annoyed my family. I was and always will be a curious person, which is a direct reflection of my passion for school and learning. I’m grateful to have realized it’s possible to make a career focused on asking questions and discovery.
Another realization I had that wasn’t directly taught in lectures or in textbooks but by my professors through on-the-job training is that writing and reporting without bias is impossible. No matter how hard we try, our experiences always find a way to creep into the things we feel and by extension what we say and write. Even the profession itself has bias. If you’re a journalist, that means you care about people, storytelling, and the truth. Those feelings catalyze bias too.
This is basically a long way for me to get to my main point here: Bias reflects our opinions of and experiences with books too. I’d wanted to read Here Comes the Sun for quite some time. I mean, look at that cover. It’s gorgeous — though don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s a sunny read. It tells stories of disenfranchised and disadvantaged yet strong women living in a world most of us could never imagine. It’s a book to which someone like me — a former journalist, a curious cat, and a storyteller — would be drawn.
But if we are constantly being influenced by our surroundings, then my initial opinions of this book stemmed from the four walls of my apartment and constant news reports of the COVID-19 pandemic, which coincided with my start to this book. My emotions have been on the most intense and terrifying roller coaster, and every time I picked up this novel, its hopelessness engulfed me. At times, I thought about not finishing it. Once I realized, though, that my personal experience in the present was affecting my experience with the novel, I could appreciate it for all it was professing: This world has suffering so great and people have to make choices so tough that they can’t be comprehended.