All this time at home has given me ample opportunity to think in the past year — probably to my detriment. One thing I can’t help thinking about it is how much I’d love to move to another country — literally any country — to avoid the racism, xenophobia, and ultra-conservative viewpoints in the U.S. I know running away doesn’t fix problems; it just puts them further at bay. And deep down, I know no country is perfect, and every place has its own set of issues. It’s just been so upsetting to see how much our country has reversed in the last five years that it’s easy to think the grass is always greener.
That idea came to me while reading A Burning but probably not for the reason you’d expect. This contemporary fiction book, which takes place in India, certainly demonstrates that no place is perfect. But it made me wonder what someone in another country might think of America, especially after the year we’ve had. I can’t imagine it’s anything too positive. Furthermore, by viewing the parallels with a country we often deem inferior (hell, we deem every country inferior), I was reminded that the ideals the U.S. loves to cling to are shadowed in hypocrisy. I doubt that was author Megha Majumdar’s intention, but it certainly struck a chord, which all great books do.
I have two favorite literary qualities I seek when I read a book or article: voice and characterization. You’ve read many a post where I either praise a book for having one of these qualities (here’s one for voice and another for characterization), and you’ve certainly seen me complain about the lack of them on more than one occasion.
Voice not only keeps you engaged in a book, but it also allows you to better understand the characters, making it an integral part of characterization, which is such an important quality. Without it, readers cannot fully see who these people are and why and how that motivates their actions. When a book has strong voice and characterization, and its main characters’ experiences completely differ from your own, that’s when empathy, understanding, and — most importantly — change occur.
That was the experience I had with The Kiss Quotient, whose main character, Stella, has Asperger syndrome. Not only was this book funny and sweet, but author Helen Hoang’s portrayal of Stella was so strong that I found myself in awe of the social struggles that someone with Asperger’s endures, which I had only ever experienced from a very far distance before this book. Stella’s story — and the author’s too — is one I’ve never personally witnessed, and I’ve never read about it in a fictional setting either. Hoang puts you face to face with it. By placing me directly inside Stella’s mind, which enhanced the book’s voice, I could feel everything she felt every single day — no matter how difficult.
No judgment on yet another Swift-inspired book review title. I can’t help who influences me!
OK, so thrillers and mysteries don’t find themselves on Big Little Literature that often. I can’t provide an explanation for this other than I usually get swept up in other genres. So I was looking forward to something different with my latest read, My Sister, the Serial Killer.
Despite what the title says, I didn’t get any thriller or mystery vibes — though a lot of readers and critics certainly did. Yes, there are some murders, and there is tension about the culprit being caught. But this novel, with themes of abuse, family, and loyalty, doesn’t remind me of any other book I’ve read in those genres. In fact, it’s completely different than any book I’ve read.
It’s funny and dark and has just the right amount of f**ked-upness. Do I feel weird saying I appreciated how refreshing this book was? Even if the “refreshment” stems from a serial killer and a sister who takes care of the body? Ehhh I never professed normalcy.
Yes, all three Jasmine Guillory books have T.Swift lyrics in their review title. I can’t help it these two women absolutely kill it in their respective careers.
And when I say Guillory is killing it, I mean it; she may just be sliding her way into my favorite author slot. I can say that confidently after reading three of her five novels. I knew I’d found a stellar author after reading The Proposalin 2019, and recently reading her debut, The Wedding Date, confirmed it for me. I loved it so much that I instantly threw away by #tbr list to divulge into Guillory’s next chronological novel, The Wedding Party.
I read two Guillory books in less than two weeks, and it may have been the two best literary weeks of 2020. The Wedding Party didn’t quite top her previous two books I’d read, but I still enjoyed every moment of it. And Guillory once again gave me everything I loved in her previous work: realistic characters with depth, diversity, entertainment, wit, and a whole lot of love — both literally and euphemistically.
I owe chick lit an apology. Too often this year, I’ve used the genre as a clutch and as an escape. Read something sad? Life and the world are blowing up? No worries; let’s check in with chick lit for a pick-me-up. It will surely turn things around. How did one of my favorite genres become my sidepiece when the going got tough?
Such an amazing genre deserves better, so to end 2020, I decided to make chick lit my main squeeze, starting with Paris for One. By the time I finished it, I knew I had to continue on my Tour de Fun with these light-hearted and entertaining novels by turning to one of the best in the genre: Jasmine Guillory.
I first met Guillory’s writing in the summer of 2019 with her five-flame second book, The Proposal, which is actually the second of five very loosely connected books that Guillory has written. The Proposal was so much fun, made me laugh, and made my mouth salivate with all of its delicious food scenes. Not to mention the characters and their arcs had some serious depth and dealt with real-life issues rather than just romantic clichés. Oh, and it’s full of diversity. If it sounds like Guillory’s books have it all, that’s because they do, which was proven once again in her debut, The Wedding Date. And yes, somehow things got even spicier with this one.
In a recent #grateful post, I wrote how virtual book events have been a true joy in a year full of crap. One of those events featured author Yaa Gyasi. I previously didn’t know much about her new novel, Transcendent Kingdom, but I had read her debut, Homegoing. If her previous work indicated anything, her latest would surely impress me. Somehow her spoken word at that event transcended just as powerfully as her written word, and I was captivated for the full hour. Also, I’d love for her voice to narrate my life. (Sorry, Morgan Freeman.) I couldn’t wait for Transcendent Kingdom to show up at my apartment.
Gyasi definitely didn’t let me down and even stepped up her already-impressive literary game with her sophomore publication. It’s hard to put down this novel, and Gyasi will get the best of your emotions. (Fair warning: It’s emotionally tough to read.) She deserves every ounce of praise she’s earned for her second book. In a year full of garbage fires, this is the type of flame we actually need and should be grateful for.
Mental health seems to be an increasingly common theme in literature. Amen. In fact, books are part of the reason why I started analyzing my own mental health and recognizing that I needed to take better care of it. I recently opened up about starting therapy back in May, and I really believe that reading about so many book characters’ experiences with therapy and about their struggles influenced me to seek help too.
Sometimes books about mental health struggles can intensify your own though. It’s not that they’re bad, but when you’re feeling sad, reading about someone else’s sadness — though making you realize you’re not alone — makes you spiral. That’s what happened recently when I read the profound novel, A Little Life. While it was both beautiful and tragic, the latter quality seemed to take over my own feelings.
So was I ready to pick up another novel dedicated to the same topic (not to mention just weeks before the election during a pandemic)? Fortunately, The Existence of Amy didn’t give me those negative thoughts and feelings. Rather, I felt a kinship with the main character — even if her experiences were completely different than my own — and I felt a rush of emotion for those closest to me who have helped me along the way. I didn’t finish this book feeling anxious and sad; I left it feeling hopeful and grateful.
I’ve talked several times about not growing up with people who looked, lived, or believed differently than I did, and that lack of diversity influenced my life. When it comes to family, though, it doesn’t matter where you grow up or how you’re raised; we can all relate to having familial disputes.
If there were ever a year for family disagreements, 2020 would smoke the competition. With a heated election, a pandemic, and racial conversations heightening all of the emotions, there are bound to be intense disagreements among family. I’ve definitely experienced my fair share in recent months.
So I was interested that varying viewpoints and morals between a daughter and her family served the focal point for Amulya Malladi’s The Mango Season. Traveling to a new country and reading about a culture completely different than my own made it that much more dynamic.
Let’s be frank: There’s a lot of shit in the world today. And 2020 alone is the largest dumpster fire imaginable. So with all the sadness, injustice, hypocrisy, and frustration in the world, I try to find joy wherever possible.
Let me be frank again. There isn’t an ounce of joy in A Little Life. So was this the greatest book for me to be reading or the smartest choice right now when I’ve consciously tried to avoid depressing books in this terrible year? No, no it was not.
But was it a good book? Definitely. It was beautiful and moving and insightful and heartbreaking and possessed all the qualities that make great literature so powerful. And yes, I am glad I read this book and so thankful for my coworker in Germany (yes, Germany — what a saint) who bought this book for me after our many, many discussions about how much he loved it.
Seriously, though, I could have done without 800+ pages of sadness.
Since we were sprightly little teenagers, my cousin Kaitlyn Wibbenmeyer and I have bonded over our shared love of books. And in particular, we’ve been fond of (re: obsessed) with one author in particular: Emily Giffin. So I knew when Giffin’s latest novel, The Lies That Bind, was released early this year, Kaitlyn and I would have to discuss. And boy, did we have a lot to say.
In the latest episode of The Biblio Files, Kaitlyn and I chat about Giffin’s amazing and relatable characters; how she brought 9/11 into her fictional tale in such a sensitive yet powerful way; and how her writing has matured and improved over the years. (Yes, somehow it’s possible to keep getting better when you are already so good.) We even make the claim that The Lies That Bind has set a new Giffin standard. And yes, we fangirled … hard. We left our love for Emily Giffin on this recording, and we are not afraid to admit it.
(We’re currently accepting applications for the EG fan club as we speak.)
Listen to our conversation about The Lies That Bind on your preferred podcast platform. Don’t forget to share and subscribe and to also visit Anchor where you can become a supporter of The Biblio Files. Enjoy!