You know those annoying movies and TV shows: the ones where no words have to be spoken or facial gestures have to be made, not even one little eyebrow kink or twitch of the lips. It’s just one glance between two people, and it says it all.
Well, it’s supposed to tell all, but as a viewer and a realist, you’re calling the bluff. To us, it’s a straight-up poker face.
I kept coming back to this ineffective visual while reading Rebecca Serle’s The Dinner List. Too much of this book contains those unspoken moments that must mean something to the characters but leave us outsiders blinded. A lot is left unsaid and poorly hinted at in the book until it quickly comes to an end. It’s as if we’re expected to read the characters’ minds and predict what’s coming without any type of foreshadowing. There’s something to be said about a book in which you can literally read through the lines. You can’t do that with The Dinner List, and even though it’s been praised by celebs and friends alike, it frustrated me more than thrilled.
My feminist awakening wasn’t spurred by some emotional moment that shook my whole being. Rather, my awakening happened in the driveway of my parents’ house as I lounged in a lawn chair reading The Scarlet Letter. My 17-year-old self was nearing the end of the book when I had my ah-ha moment. The injustice of Hester Prynne’s plight sickened me, but the way she endured and owned her predicament empowered me. I even texted the guy I was sort-of-but-not-really seeing at the time and essentially said “I GET IT NOW.” (I think he wrote back “lol” as one high school boy does.)
The main character in The Female Persuasion happened upon her feminist awakening in a much bigger, more significant way: after she was sexually assaulted at a fraternity party her freshman year of college. In the midst of the #metoo movement, Meg Wolitzer’s most recent novel speaks to a society that also needs to be roused awake. It’s calculated and necessary; the only downfall is the book doesn’t carry the spunk and power needed to really make its mark. Where her novel soars with meaning and relevance, it lacks in poignancy. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite do the topic justice.
- What: There There
- Who: Tommy Orange
- Pages: 290, hard cover
- Genre: Contemporary fiction
- Published: 2018
- The lit: of 5 flames
Wow. Some books just hit you where your emotions run deep. Some books bring unspoken conflict right into your hands. Some books make you question everything around you. And some books make you say “Wow.” There There is all of those, right from the beginning.
Read 10 pages of this powerful novel, and you’ll understand why it was on the best-of-2018 lists from Barack Obama, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly, Esquire, Thrillist, Time … you get my point. It’s easy to scoff a little at some of these lists. Reviewers (cough *me*) don’t know everything, and they’ve let readers down before (see here). But There There and its genius author, Tommy Orange, deserve every bit of prestige and attention they garnered in 2018. Orange’s heartbreaking story about Native American identity and experience is just that good.
I’m a little behind on New Year’s resolutions, but I needed time to really think about what I wanted of 2019 and of myself. I still don’t really have that answer, but I do know one thing that I want to define the year: books. To read a plethora of books and to share my thoughts about them with all of you.
Oh and travel. A lot of traveling. So that’s two things I want from this year.
You could say those have become annual resolutions for me. In 2019, though, I yearn to do more. I want to expand my literary presence and stray a bit from my normal genres. I want to tap into the titles that make my family and friends come alive. I want to know authors whose passions and backgrounds might differ from my own.
Here, I present to you my 2019 reading resolutions.
Just a few recent adds to my bookshelf.
This year contained many ups and many downs, so it’s hard to say how I really feel about 2018. One thing I am positive about though is that this year was full of fantastic reads. Twenty-six books fell into my hands these past 365 days, and it’s time I share with my loyal readers the definitive ranking of every book I read this year. Now let’s get down to business!
Schools mandate history classes with the justification that they help prevent mistakes that became the downfalls of previous generations and eras. Don’t adults owe society the same proactive mindset as the prominent decision-makers? In a world as politically charged as ours in 2018, history couldn’t be more important, and fiction gives it the most interesting depiction. Literature not only reminds us of past tragedy but also of how to build from the rubble.
I’ve read a lot of World War II fiction, and that’s because this time period gives us some of the most intriguing, confusing, emotional, and heartbreaking stories of human existence. The hatred that was spread and also the love and kindness that were borne from this pain are incredibly relevant today. Books like Jessica Shattuck’s 2017 smash, The Women in the Castle, are of course tragic, beautiful, and complete page-turners, but they are also critical if we ever want to better our society and avoid repeating our darkest days.
- What: Warlight
- Who: Michael Ondaatje
- Pages: 285, hard cover
- Genre: Historical fiction
- Published: 2018
- The lit: of 5 flames
Everybody loves a good plot twist, myself included. In my review of Rich People Problems, in fact, I praised author Kevin Kwan for his ability to keep you guessing with one curveball after the next, which ensured the book was never dull (among other wonderful qualities). In retrospect, clues had been leading up to these revelations since book one, and nothing felt out of place.
I can’t quite say the same thing about Michael Ondaatje’s 2018 hit, Warlight. What saddens me about this conclusion is that I loved this book up to the ending. Ondaatje’s writing is beautiful and poetic, and it evokes the exact sadness and curiosity the characters feel. Ondaatje paints a mystery yearning to be told. But when he finally reveals the secrets, he does so with a twist too far out of left field that leaves you with a bad impression. Warlight, though exquisite, couldn’t quite close the deal, which is why I can’t quite give it more than three flames.