The most popular books can make me a bit weary before I read them. I don’t have the best track record, you see. Normal People, which dominated the first half of 2020 both in written word and on TV, left me depressed and confused. Last year, I dived into three critically acclaimed novels — Queenie, Tell Me Lies, and The Female Persuasion — that, while I didn’t dislike them, left me unfulfilled. Even when I read The Overstory, which I rated four flames, I didn’t see quite what the critics did. Then I have books like City of Girls, the kind that completely enrapture me but some have called boring and bland.
Why can’t I connect with literature that means so much to critics and fans alike? Is this a me problem or a them problem?
So I did wonder if Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half would live up to all the hype. This one will surely be on all of the “Best of 2020” lists and win many awards (if it hasn’t already) because it’s already received so much praise since releasing in June. Given that I’d read her debut novel, The Mothers, and completely loved it, I had confidence that this wasn’t just a book I’d obsess over. This would also be a novel that the U.S. — with its systemic racism and struggle with identity — desperately needed and needed ASAP.
Thankfully, Bennett washed away any and all doubts about it living up to the hype. And I can’t wait to see it on all those lists and with all of those nominations at the end of this year.
Let me start by saying diversity and literature go hand in hand.
- Diversity is the foundation to learn new perspectives from literature.
- Literature proves the value and necessity of diversity.
We are coming full circle here, people.
Diversity wasn’t really part of my upbringing, though. I grew up in a mostly white community and knew very few people who looked or lived differently than I did. I don’t even remember talking to a person of color until high school. Even then, my school was mostly white kids. On top of that, I barely knew any non-Christians or non-straight people. I definitely didn’t know anyone from the trans community.
That changed a bit when I went to college. I was definitely one of those people, though, who had one or two black friends and thought that made me an ally and not racist. I would even say that out loud. “Oh she’s my black friend.” And I shamefully remember commenting once that one of these women didn’t “act black.” I’m embarrassed now to write that and of my 20-year-old self, and I feel immense guilt.
Thank God for growth, for New York, and for literature.
Nobody can argue that many aspects of 2017 were piles of flaming garbage. That doesn’t mean literature failed us though. I read 24 books* this year. While there’s never enough time for all the wonderful writing in the world and while I wish I had read more, I am more than satisfied with the books I chose this year. Therefore, to the Big Little Literature library: You got ranked.
*This number does not count Zadie Smith’s Swing Time and Aravind Adiga’s Selection Day, which I just could not finish.
I can’t exactly describe when it happened, but at some point in the past 12 months, books sort of became my life blood. I’ve loved reading as long as I can remember. There was the first story, Dick and Jane, that I read in preschool, and I firmly remember my mom telling my kindergarten teacher that I’d already finished multiple books halfway through the school year. My teacher was ecstatic upon hearing this news, and even though I was proud of the triumph they exuded, I didn’t think it was all that exciting. Reading was a part of my life. It was that simple.
Dick and Jane–my first book!
Next came Little Golden Books, which I devoured, and then I had my “Ah ha!” moment with Harry Potter. (I don’t think I need to explain this. I mean, I was the kid who played Harry Potter at recess and fought with her brother about who got to read the newest book first and what the reading increments were.)
From there I discovered the 50 state books that my elementary school library owned. Around this same time I also read nearly every Bailey School Kids book (any and all fans HAVE to check out this list), and all of this resulted in me completing more book reports than any other child in Mrs. Wrigley’s third grade class. Children’s fiction shortly gave way to my Nicholas Sparks phase. This preceded an intense fascination with chick lit, which still exists by the way, and Emily Giffin, my favorite author. And during my college days, I discovered my love for historical fiction, still my favorite genre.