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.
The first time I watched Tiffany Haddish on TV, she was telling a story about how an old guy died while she grinded on him at a bar mitzvah. Then of course I heard the story about her taking Will and Jada Pinkett Smith on a Groupon swamp tour. From there, I read about the $4,000 white Alexander McQueen dress that she insisted on wearing at the Girls Trip premiere, SNL, the Oscars, and, most recently, the MVT Movie & TV Awards. Haddish and her antics have been everywhere the past two years, and I wanted more.
Then I came across her memoir The Last Black Unicorn. You know how I feel about memoirs. This time was different.
Haddish’s standup comedy special famously proclaims, “She ready!” Me too, girl, me too.
Because I’m a New York transplant, I naturally gravitate toward the books that highlight the trials and tribulations of this overwhelming place (see Still Me, The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street, The Futures, and about a million others I haven’t reviewed yet). Stephanie Danler‘s Sweetbitter fit that mold, which is why I added it to my bookshelf in 2017.
This storyline makes for great TV too, and on May 6, Starz premiered a six-episode Sweetbitter based on a screenplay written by Danler who also worked as an executive producer. Brad Pitt’s production company, Plan B, coproduced the series.
It would be a shame if Big Little Literature let this opportunity pass; therefore, it’s time for Sweetbitter to go toe to toe: book versus TV show.
Give me some historical fiction, a strong heroine, and some Italia, and, really, nothing can go wrong. Am I right? Or am I right?
Although being in Italy this past February was the best nine days of my life, it had some consequences: a serious post-vacation funk. Yes, my vacation to this beautiful country was so fabulous that it left me feeling depressed that I ever left. My friend Dana knew the cure.
Thank goodness she brought Sarah Dunant’s 2003 hit, The Birth of Venus, into my life three months after returning to the States. I might still be in a post-Italy funk (honestly, it’ll never end), but this novel allowed me to indulge in a few of my favorite things. Now that’s amore.