This blog loves Jojo Moyes. She first captured my attention four years ago when she created the great Louisa Clark in Me Before You. Three books and one movie later thanks to this lovely character and her series, and I was convinced that anything Moyes wrote would be my type of novel.
Her latest, The Giver of Stars, steers from her traditional style in all ways except one: strong female characters. Moyes’ 2019 novel gives us not one but an entire group of powerful women who go after what they want. But what about all the other ways, including the cover art, this novel varies from the Moyes’ literature that made her so popular? When authors stray from what defines them, it’s certainly a risk. Did the risk pay off in this instance?
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.
- What: The Dutch House
- Who: Ann Patchett
- Pages: 337, hard cover
- Genres: Historical fiction and family drama
- Published: 2019
- The lit: of 5 flame
Some writers are so subtle in their greatness that it can be tough to describe why you like their writing and novels so much. After I read Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth three years ago, I knew it was my favorite book, but I couldn’t initially pinpoint why. And isn’t that a sign of a great writer? We want their abilities to work so well together that you can’t separate them piece by piece. We want them to create a conglomeration of greatness and to close the book saying, “Ahh now that’s a good one.”
Ann Patchett has done that again with her latest novel, The Dutch House.
This one didn’t take long for me to finish reading because I enjoyed it so much — just like Commonwealth. The difference between this one and the first book she gifted to me? This time I analyzed the crap out of her writing, so I can tell you — my faithful fans — why I love Patchett’s novels so much. Trust me: You’ll want to read the total fangirling that’s about to hit this page.
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 flame
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.
- 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.