“Storytelling is fundamental to human beings.”
Lisa Lucas wrote this line in a recent piece for TIME about how books are anything but dead; yes, they are alive more than ever. Although I give credit where credit is due, this declaration from Lucas, the executive director of the National Book Foundation, is far from novel (no pun intended).
Of course storytelling is an innate part of being a human. It’s why our parents tell us stories before we go to bed. It’s why we dream at night. It’s why we listen to music and why we crave the songs’ backstories. It’s why we give speeches to honor and celebrate people at parties, weddings, funerals, etc. It’s definitely why, as Lucas argued, books are not dead. It’s also why we need them to continue to flourish.
That’s right. I said continue. As in books already are flourishing.
I mean, look how cute I was.
You know those annoying movies and TV shows: the ones where no words have to be spoken or facial gestures have to be made, not even one little eyebrow kink or twitch of the lips. It’s just one glance between two people, and it says it all.
Well, it’s supposed to tell all, but as a viewer and a realist, you’re calling the bluff. To us, it’s a straight-up poker face.
I kept coming back to this ineffective visual while reading Rebecca Serle’s The Dinner List. Too much of this book contains those unspoken moments that must mean something to the characters but leave us outsiders blinded. A lot is left unsaid and poorly hinted at in the book until it quickly comes to an end. It’s as if we’re expected to read the characters’ minds and predict what’s coming without any type of foreshadowing. There’s something to be said about a book in which you can literally read through the lines. You can’t do that with The Dinner List, and even though it’s been praised by celebs and friends alike, it frustrated me more than thrilled.
My feminist awakening wasn’t spurred by some emotional moment that shook my whole being. Rather, my awakening happened in the driveway of my parents’ house as I lounged in a lawn chair reading The Scarlet Letter. My 17-year-old self was nearing the end of the book when I had my ah-ha moment. The injustice of Hester Prynne’s plight sickened me, but the way she endured and owned her predicament empowered me. I even texted the guy I was sort-of-but-not-really seeing at the time and essentially said “I GET IT NOW.” (I think he wrote back “lol” as one high school boy does.)
The main character in The Female Persuasion happened upon her feminist awakening in a much bigger, more significant way: after she was sexually assaulted at a fraternity party her freshman year of college. In the midst of the #metoo movement, Meg Wolitzer’s most recent novel speaks to a society that also needs to be roused awake. It’s calculated and necessary; the only downfall is the book doesn’t carry the spunk and power needed to really make its mark. Where her novel soars with meaning and relevance, it lacks in poignancy. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite do the topic justice.
My family weighs heavily the ability to tell a story. If you lack it, there will be judgment. Just ask my sister, who unfortunately has been made fun of countless times over the years for her infamous stories of “Remember that one time with that one person?” Sorry, sis, but I had to. Thankfully, she’s improved, which confirms there’s hope for even the worst storytellers.
This high standard my family shares stays intact when I read and review books. I can sniff out a poor storyteller within a few pages, and a great one introduces him or herself right away.
It was pretty obvious after reading the prologue of Michelle Obama’s 2018 memoir, which has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 10 out of 10 weeks (sittin’ pretty at the top too I might add), that Obama was no phony. She’s not a famous person who found pages with her name on them simply because of that name. No, Michelle Obama was born to write and to tell stories. The Steffens clan would hold these abilities in high regard. I know I do.
- What: There There
- Who: Tommy Orange
- Pages: 290, hard cover
- Genre: Contemporary fiction
- Published: 2018
- The lit: of 5 flames
Wow. Some books just hit you where your emotions run deep. Some books bring unspoken conflict right into your hands. Some books make you question everything around you. And some books make you say “Wow.” There There is all of those, right from the beginning.
Read 10 pages of this powerful novel, and you’ll understand why it was on the best-of-2018 lists from Barack Obama, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly, Esquire, Thrillist, Time … you get my point. It’s easy to scoff a little at some of these lists. Reviewers (cough *me*) don’t know everything, and they’ve let readers down before (see here). But There There and its genius author, Tommy Orange, deserve every bit of prestige and attention they garnered in 2018. Orange’s heartbreaking story about Native American identity and experience is just that good.
I’m a little behind on New Year’s resolutions, but I needed time to really think about what I wanted of 2019 and of myself. I still don’t really have that answer, but I do know one thing that I want to define the year: books. To read a plethora of books and to share my thoughts about them with all of you.
Oh and travel. A lot of traveling. So that’s two things I want from this year.
You could say those have become annual resolutions for me. In 2019, though, I yearn to do more. I want to expand my literary presence and stray a bit from my normal genres. I want to tap into the titles that make my family and friends come alive. I want to know authors whose passions and backgrounds might differ from my own.
Here, I present to you my 2019 reading resolutions.
Just a few recent adds to my bookshelf.
This year contained many ups and many downs, so it’s hard to say how I really feel about 2018. One thing I am positive about though is that this year was full of fantastic reads. Twenty-six books fell into my hands these past 365 days, and it’s time I share with my loyal readers the definitive ranking of every book I read this year. Now let’s get down to business!