- What: Beloved
- Who: Toni Morrison
- Pages: 324, soft cover
- Genre: Classic literature
- Published: 1987
- The lit: 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.
I had a conversation a few weeks ago with a coworker about the memories books create — how it doesn’t matter how long it’s been, you still remember the exact feeling a book gave you and the exact spot you were when you read it.
It doesn’t happen with everything I pick up, but it did with Colson’s Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. I barely put down this moving and creative novel the minute I picked it up, and I’ll never forget how I could barely move from the bed in my Brooklyn apartment in the few days it took to read it. I remember being so incredibly in awe of such magic, triumph and heartbreak. And in my subconscious, I think the feelings that book evoked helped inspire Big Little Literature.
Because of these strong feelings, I was a bit skeptical to read Whitehead’s latest The Nickel Boys. I mean, there’s just no way anything can compare, right? Well, his 2019 novel brings the same emotions and power, and I finished this one in a matter of hours (as I descended into Denver accompanied by some devoted speed-reading because no way was I waiting to finish it until I got to my hotel). The verdict is in, and let’s just say it gave The Underground Railroad a very good run for its money.
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.
- What: Pachinko
- Who: Min Jin Lee
- Pages: 496, soft cover
- Genre: Historical fiction
- Published: 2017
- The lit: of 5 flame
Last week, I published a critique about the classic work/business book, which appears to be everywhere these days, including recs in way too many work emails. I know people seek these to learn, but the last book I read is a prime example of how literature can teach you things about the world that formal education never could. And from that comes the cultural awareness we need to better ourselves.
How many business books can do that?
Pachinko not only taught me about historical events that I’d never heard of, but it also illustrated how we are our own worst enemy: Humans all around the world can deeply hurt entire groups of people, and our most hurtful nature seeps out in the face of those who are different. It’s these struggles and how we overcome them that shape our cultures and relationships with others. If you’re wondering if a book can really illustrate all of that, I understand your skepticism. However, this novel, which had been on my list since it came out two years ago, really does have the power and pain to do it all.
Over the summer, one of the executives at my company wrote a blog post on our internal site about her summer reading and podcasts. Now, this is a woman I truly respect and sort of want to be (read: 100% envy). But her post made me unbelievably sad.
Apparently she only reads work/business/management books (and Educated, which I fully approve). You know the kind: the ones that tell you how to be a better leader, how to build character, why lean is the new black, blah … blah … blah.
The post got even sadder when employees started responding about how inspirational her summer reading list was and sharing their own boring-book faves. If these are their inspiration and summer reading, we have some problems.
Spotted outside my CTO’s office.
There’s no sense in beating around the bush here: I am one big wuss. I don’t mean physically (though I did go to the emergency room so early on with appendicitis that the doctors had a tough time diagnosing it). I’m talking anything and everything related to the horror scaries.
I refuse to watch scary movies or TV shows. If it has an inkling of creep, just count me out. I made the mistake of watching Paranormal Activity in theaters (younger Beth was more easily influenced by men), and I had nightmares for days. When I made the mistake of watching the sequel one year later, I vowed to never allow myself to be exposed to such fear ever again.
Except maybe in books.
It’s true: I do enjoy some mystery when I read, which is why I vowed to read more thrillers this year. Maybe it’s easier to put up a wall between a book’s fiction and that of the silver screen. Because I have to imagine it in my mind, maybe I envision something less scary. Who knows with this brain, but I do know I was excited to pick up Ruth Ware’s new book, The Turn of the Key (shout out to Lauren Murphy for this borrow). With this book though, Ware made me so intensely scared while also forcing me to turn each page with shaky hands that it made me love and fear the genre all at the same time. Let’s just say this was a bit of a mind f***.
- What: Revolutionary
- Who: Alex Myers
- Pages: 307, soft cover
- Genre: Historical fiction
- Published: 2014
- The lit: of 5 flame
I came across Revolutionary thanks to my friend Katie (a fellow cat lover) who sent me the following text after an invitation to an event:
“I figured Revolutionary history, novels, and wine might me up your alley.”
It didn’t matter what this was regarding. I was going to be interested no matter what. Katie had found that the New-York Historical Society was hosting an event with author Alex Myers who wrote a novel about Revolutionary War veteran Deborah Samson. You read that right; indeed, the name Deborah and Revolutionary War were in the same sentence.
I had actually heard about Deborah Samson a few years ago after a visit to Philadelphia and was intrigued by the woman who masqueraded as a man to fight for our nation’s freedom. I always imagined her as someone who fought for women’s right and to break down walls. The event with Myers, though, was about transgender identity. Sure, my original assumptions about this patriot still applied, but was there another story here? Something I had never considered before? I was about to find out.
Yes, that is my very own tricorn.