- 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.
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.
- What: Supper Club
- Who: Lara Williams
- Pages: 292, hard cover
- Genre: Contemporary fiction
- Published: 2019
- The lit: of 5 flames
Next to reading, food is my favorite hobby. Now, I’m sure you’re wondering, “Food? That’s not an activity.” I assure you it is. Food, as a hobby, comprises cooking, baking, eating, trying new restaurants and dishes, eating, reading about decadent meals, looking at food blogs and Pinterest recipes for hours on end, scoping out the best places to eat while you’re traveling, and then eating some more.
Yes, I love food, and I love it as a hobby.
I was looking forward to indulging in a book recommended to me by How Not to Die Alone author, Richard Roper, that incorporates this favored activity of mine: Supper Club by Lara Williams. Women getting together to eat and talk about food sounds like my kind of party. But while I certainly read some mouth-watering descriptions of food, this party fell flat for me. Maybe food and fiction just don’t mesh that well.
I don’t know if I’ve ever been disillusioned by the idea of the American Dream. I never really thought the U.S. of A was the absolute best place to live in the world and that, by being within its borders, my life had infinite possibilities. And the idea of buying a home with a picket fence — something often connected to the American Dream — surely has never been at the top of my priority list.
I have, though, been obsessed with finding that dream job. As a teenager and in college, I fully expected to work my ass off in my 20s in a dream industry to lead me to the ultimate dream job. My life would be fulfilled and have meaning. I’m no longer obsessed with this idea. Now, I fully believe in the dream of loving every second of your life and the very place you call home.
To me, the ideals of the American Dream and that of the dream job are very similar — the latter being the more-modern version of the former. And it’s these concepts that form Imbolo Mbue’s Behold the Dreamers, a story of immigrants who put their full hope and faith into the American system only to be crushed by its many injustices. It’s distressing and heartbreaking and will make you question the validity behind your values. Yeah. It’s a lot.
I’ve always proclaimed one of the best things about literature is its ability to tell hidden or disgraced stories and to open our eyes to dark corners of the world. It saddens me — though I’m grateful it happened — that literature taught me about the AIDS crisis of the ’80s. Shouldn’t I have learned more about this growing up and in school? Honestly, my ignorance as a 27-year-old astonishes me.
Did I fully understand the power and effects of this catastrophe in the 80s? How it ripped through a community and denounced a way of life all over again? How it took us five steps back on our way toward social justice? How the scars of those it affected live prominently for the rest of their lives?
I never understood any of this until Tell the Wolves I’m Home came into my life. It was reinforced and explained through different perspectives with The Great Believers just a few weeks ago. As a kid, my history classes either conveniently glazed over this time in American history, or the school year conveniently ended before we made it this far in America’s story. Fortunately, we have authors, such as Carol Rifka Brunt and Rebecca Makkai, who refuse to let these tragedies go untold.
- What: Ask Again, Yes
- Who: Mary Beth Keane
- Pages: 390, hard cover
- Genre: Contemporary fiction and family drama
- Published: 2019
- The lit: of 5 flames
I’m no stranger to suburban families with more than enough drama to keep them busy. No, not my family. (We’re actually very rural and very boring.)
No, I mean the families that race into my life via the novels that tell their story. I didn’t really know suburban turmoil was a genre I loved (or that it was even a genre) until my latest read, Ask Again, Yes. From this novel, I learned I have a strong tendency to pick up books that relay familial drama and read them at lightening speed. These types of books absolutely enthrall me. There is something so appealing about the simplicity of everyday people’s lives and the fact that everyone and every family has some story to tell; we just might not see it on the surface. And those backgrounds speak volumes about who we are as individuals, how we interact with others, and the decisions we make. Not to mention we can all relate to them.
If you look through my library, you’ll see quite a few novels with this theme. Commonwealth, the best of the best, ignited my life in 2017, and Little Fires Everywhere did the same thing last year. I guess Ask Again, Yes won this year for heartbreaking and compelling family drama. I take that back: I know it has won.
If I’m being honest, I didn’t fully understand white privilege until a couple of months ago. I’m ashamed of this. I knew it existed, and that it had been a part of my life as much as any other white person’s, but I didn’t really get it. It’s important to admit ignorance and more importantly to overcome it.
I was running on a hot, humid July day and listening to Armchair Expert, a fantastic podcast with Dax Shepard, when it happened. He was interviewing one of my favorite humans — and one of the most woke — Sophia Bush, the genius who gave the world Brooke Davis. As she explained that white privilege is not meant to diminish anybody’s suffering but rather to illustrate that suffering as a white person has never been the result of the color of our skin, it clicked for me.
It is so blatantly clear that white privilege exists.
And it’s this theme, along with feminism, humor, and mental health, that brings us Queenie, a 2019 novel that author Richard Roper recommended to me. This book is the epitome of intersectionality (don’t worry: I had to Google that term too) and all sorts of sociological terms rolled up into a few hundred pages, but author, Candice Carty-Williams, injects plenty of laughs into it as well. That means we should have a compelling novel on our hands. Unfortunately, I only felt connected and drawn to half of this book, leaving me confused about my feelings. Carty-Williams tackles a lot of topics and their complex relationships with one another in Queenie, and it’s certainly a book we need in 2019. But is it the novel that fully delivers on it’s worth? I’m not sure.