Storied: Angel of my Nightmare

  • What: Beloved
  • Who: Toni Morrison
  • Pages: 324, soft cover
  • Genre: Classic literature
  • Published: 1987
  • The lit: 1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px of 5 flame

Do you ever wonder if you have a problem when you don’t like something that others love? When I hear a person doesn’t like Lady Gaga, I assume something doesn’t tick correctly. But do they ponder this too? They must.

I feel this way every now and then with books that have been elevated to immediate cultural superiority; usually, this happens with the classics, and I think, “Why does this influence and touch everyone but me? Am I dark inside?”

And these are exactly the feelings I had while reading the legend Toni Morrison’s Beloved. For so long, I waited to feel the power and connection that so many readers before me had felt. After a while, though, I just waited anxiously for it to be over even if I did enjoy it more toward the conclusion. Beloved has been etched into American literature and culture for all time — and even won the Pulitzer Price for Fiction — but for this reader, the book did not live up to its expectations.

Beloved

Continue reading

Storied: Dark and All Too Quiet

When bright-eyed 18-year-old me started journalism school in 2010, I had zero idea of what kind of magazine journalist I wanted to be. I never really envisioned what writing for a magazine actually looked like. It could have been sports, travel, or anything, though for the world’s sake, probably not makeup or fashion; it didn’t matter as long as I was writing.

Then I took my advanced writing capstone with a truly talented professor and writer (thanks for everything, Dr. Hinnant!), and I realized my future belonged to long-form, which I didn’t even know was a thing until the first day of that class. I became enthralled by the works of Jennifer Gonnerman, Tom Junod, Anne Fadiman, and Robert Sanchez (#humblebrag: I actually interned at the same magazine as the latter). I didn’t just admire them; I wanted to be them.

OK fast forward six years, and that clearly didn’t happen. I’ve never forgotten the impact it had — and still continues to have — on my life though. I still love reading long-form and still appreciate all the time and effort that goes into turning real-life events into the most-fascinating stories about the human experience. It’s why I can now add one more name to that list above: Truman Capote.

In Cold Blood sits on a certain pedestal and rightfully so. Capote clearly defines everything I love about long-form in this book: the details, the emotions, the power to force us into uncomfortable but necessary gray areas, and *swoon* the storytelling. His craft is unmatched, and it’s no wonder that this book is often considered quintessential long-form journalism — even if its journalistic integrity has been called into question a time or two.

In Cold Blood

Source: Kyle Magee.

Continue reading

Storied: My Cooled Desire

  • What: Fahrenheit 451
  • Who: Ray Bradbury
  • Pages: 158, soft cover
  • Genres: Classic literature and science fiction
  • Published: 1953
  • The lit: 1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px of 5 flames

You know that feeling when one of your favorite singers comes out with an album that you so desperately want to love, but you’re just like … no … ? You keep listening in the hope that it’ll spark some kind of desire, make the head bop just a smidgen to the left, but after five tries, still … no … ? That’s how I felt about Justin Timberlake’s Man of the Woods (I fought with myself over it!), and that same feeling emerged with Fahrenheit 451.

I’ve been immensely disappointed in myself for never reading it in my 26 years. It’s not just a classic, but it says so much about literature and society. I had convinced myself (and the world had convinced me) that I would fall in love with this remarkable book when I finally got around to it.

Until I didn’t fall in love. I fooled myself into thinking my enjoyment would commence once I started understanding it a bit more. The truth is it took far too long to really be “in the know,” and even after that happened, I realized this book did very little for me. Bradbury’s classic sci-fi novel earned an extra flame for its message, but ooh ooh I was not on fire with this one.

Fahrenheit 451

Continue reading

Storied: (Un)Fortunate Son

  • What: The Forever War
  • Who: Joe Haldeman
  • Pages: 365, soft cover
  • Genres: Science fiction; classic literature
  • Published: 1974
  • The lit: 1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px of 5 flames

I’ve always said sci-fi wasn’t really my “thing.” I don’t gravitate toward it at the library. I don’t look for the best sci-fi lists. I just click with other genres better. Enter the picture: Kyle, my partner of three years (whaaat?) and a huge sci-fi nerd. When we started dating, he was reading a gargantuan from Stephen King about a virus that wipes out the world.

Yeah. Not quite my thing.

But it is Kyle’s. Apocalyptic warfare? Intense technological enhancements? Human-erasing bugs? That’s him. I’ve read exactly one sci-fi novel in our time together (Station Eleven1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px). So it was only natural that when I closed the cover on Eleanor Oliphant a few weeks ago while sitting next to BF that he suggested I read one of his favorite sci-fi novels: The Forever War. I relented, but he reminded me how I always say I’m going to read one of his books and don’t (truth) and convinced me that the story’s undertones of the Vietnam War, in which the author served, would captivate me.

Ugh he knows me so well.

Fine. For BF, I will read sci-fi. The things you do for love.

The Forever War

Amid Kyle’s massive sci-fi collection.

Continue reading

Storied: O, Brother, Where Art Thou?

  • What: To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Who: Harper Lee
  • Pages: 376, small soft cover
  • Genre: Classic literature
  • Published: 1960
  • The lit: 1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px 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.

To Kill a Mockingbird

Continue reading

Storied: I Too Lived

  • What: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
  • Who: Betty Smith
  • Pages: 493
  • Genre: Classic literature
  • Subgenre: Coming of age
  • Published: 1943
  • The lit: 1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px of 5 flames

Every New Yorker has his or her favorite neighborhood spots. While living in my first Brooklyn apartment, mine was the grilled cheese place that opened the same year. Erin had a knack for finding cute little coffee shops as well as a love for the Brooklyn Museum a few blocks away. Jamie’s was Ample Hills, named for Walt Whitman’s words. And we all reveled in the days we ate at Tom’s without an hour wait. It’s these places that we recall in our memories.

Francie Nolan had those places too. In early 1900s Brooklyn, it was McGarrity’s saloon, where her father fed his addiction. There was the shabby yet charming house that the Nolans falsely used as their address so Francie could transfer schools. Carney’s junk shop was where she and her brother, Neely, would lug their knickknacks to earn a penny. And of course there’s the library whose librarian didn’t look at Francie her entire childhood.

These places are remembered because they’re where we grew up; we all have them. It’s this connection of coming of age, as well as strong characters and a touching theme, that earned A Tree Grows in Brooklyn four flames.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Continue reading