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?
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
One of my first memories with my sister occurred when I was around five years old. I kicked her in the face because I wanted to know what a black eye looked like. Anger had nothing to do with it. I was notoriously the question-asker of the family after all, and my curiosity simply got the best of me.
As you can probably imagine, my parents — and my sister who is four years older — were not very happy with me. I don’t remember what my punishment was, but I insisted it wasn’t personal. Fortunately, Erin hasn’t held a grudge against me, and even though I spent a lot of my youth being jealous of my crazy smart and talented older sister (that’s not why I kicked her!), we’ve become close friends. She inspires me every day.
My close sisterly bond is one reason why I wanted to read Before We Were Yours. This incredibly tragic story about sisters who are separated and try to find their way back to each other is well-written and different from the plot of most novels. And it reminds you of the importance of family, especially of the sister who forgives you for any hurt and harm you may have caused in the past.