Saturday Reading – 2018 Wrap-up and a Review

Saturday Reading – 2018 Wrap-up and a Review

8 Incredible books I read this year:

  • The Friend, by Sigrid Nunez
  • Treeborne, by Caleb Johnson
  • Sycamore, by Bryn Chancellor
  • News of the World, by Paulette Jiles
  • Brass, by Xhenet Aliu
  • Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent
  • The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel

Reading is my Sport:

41 books
11,936 pages
20 books by women
10 books by people of color

Book I recommended most:

Sycamore, by Bryn Chancellor.
This was a great, engrossing read both for its suspenseful plot and its intricately drawn characters. I loved Jess the same way I love my students; I wanted her to have an amazing and full life. Her self-discovery was just beginning and she was a truly interesting individual. What happens to Jess creates ripples throughout her town in sadly beautiful ways. The book this most reminded me of was The Weight of Blood, by Laura McHugh (also a great read).

I recommended this to a dear student with the requirement that she HATE Paul as much as I did. The cool thing is that she then recommended to a junior in my AP class, who chose it for her independent reading book. It’s like I’m a book grandma!!

Book that was recommended to me:

So Much Blue, by Percival Everett

My friend / former teacher, Trisha, sent this to me about a year ago, and I found it really cool. She and I both love art and artists, and I found it creepy, cool, confusing to spend time inside the mind of an artist for a while.

Review: The Friend, by Sigrid Nunez

CW: Suicide, loss

This is really a magnificent little book — like a diary of grief, filled with a curious writer’s encyclopedia entries of writers, suicides, dogs, and loves. The narrator is erudite, yet relatable in her little life that gets filled with outsize grief, and her little apartment that gets filled with an outsize dog. The story goes that her friend, a famous writer, commits suicide and unexpectedly leaves the care of his dog Apollo, a harlequin Great Dane, to her. She’s also a writer, and she starts to come undone, especially by the question of whether writing is a way of coping with grief or whether writing cannot possibly heal you and will in fact drive you to torture. I’m not sure she answers that question, but she does provide hope in a very real way for a grief that feels startlingly accurate to the actual experience of grief.

I don’t want to give away too much, but I will say that the penultimate chapter, in which Nunez or the narrator (unclear which!) provides a belated purported narrative frame for the story she’s telling, astounded me. It was really, really well done. And it upgraded my rating from four stars to five. What a masterful turn of craft from Sigrid Nunez. I very much want to read more of her work.

 

9 Books I want to read in 2019

  • Fruit of the Drunken Tree, by Ingrid Rojas Contreras
  • Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel (for once in my life I think I’ll attempt to read a sequel immediately after I read the first book??)
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
  • The Midnight Cool, by Lydia Peele
  • Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee
  • Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng
  • The Steady Running of the Hour, by Justin Go
  • The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas
  • Virgil Wander, by Leif Enger

 

What are some incredible books you read in 2018? What are your reading goals for this year? Anyone want to gush about these titles with me? Comment below!! 

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A Foray into the Gothic

When I was in 6th grade, my team (the ravens) did a focused project on a certain epic poem by Edgar Allen Poe (can you guess?). I loved the way Poe evoked a dark and dreary mood and evinced such mystery and gloom with the croak of the raven. Since then, I have periodically pondered weak and weary over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten gothic literature.
This March I decided to delve back into the gothic, and as soon as I made that decision, the Northeast conjured up a leviathan storm to knock down trees and winds to shake my entire house. So it seems I made the right choice. I’m construing gothic rather broadly– although I love the classic tale of a twisted family and a haunted house on a hill, I am also interested in contemporary lit that borrows mood and magic from Romantic predecessors.

Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

Nine years ago, I read Wuthering Heights in my high school English class, and I stubbornly loved it despite the criticisms of my classmates. This novel, written shortly before Emily Bronte died young,  is a triumph of dark Romanticism. A Byronic, mercurial, gypsy-like man. Catherine, his everlasting love, who is poisoned by fits of extreme emotion and who is as wild as the winds over the moors. Oh yes, the moors of Yorkshire, maybe the most mood-inducing setting ever conceived. And of course the narrative structure of an outsider who visits and must unravel the tragic, disturbing history of an old noble family. I love it for its ambience, for its overblown emotionality (I AM HEATHCLIFF!! says Cathy), and its deliciously slowly unwinding plot.

So Much Blue – Percival Everett

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgThis novel about an artist with a troubled past has a few beautifully updated hallmarks of gothic literature. The story is told in present, 10 years ago, and 30 years ago, in the introspective and troubled voice of the artist. It has clear echoes of The Portrait of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde): a secret painting that the artist wishes to conceal from everyone in his life, which is not a portrait but a giant canvas covered in blue shades. As the artist deals with modern struggles– addiction, marital infidelity, teenage daughters, he uses this hidden masterwork as a mirror for his inner angst.

Two Men – Elizabeth Stoddard

Elizabeth Stoddard was the subject of a research project with which I assisted one my professors in college. She was a queen of snark, as evidenced by the tone she takes in her letters, and was a woman who was determined to lead an unconventional intellectual life, despite the constraints of her society. Her three novels are all fascinating, with complex character development and hidden dramas. Two Men focuses on a blended family and the contrasting personalities and power struggles of its members. The title should hint that Stoddard is interested in the inner workings of men’s hearts and minds– as am I.

The Power – Naomi Alderman

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org This novel has gotten buzzy recently– women develop a strange dark power to control the world? Sign me the fuck up. I don’t know if this novel will qualify as gothic, but I have an inkling it will match well as I think about emotional power, the role of the supernatural, and the imbalances of gendered power (so present in Wuthering Heights!). Thanks to my friend Bridget for buying me the book! I really look forward into diving into this one next.

What’s next? I have some more gothic-inspired titles on my list, so I’ll happily send a second post your way in another week or so. Do you have suggestions for me? Do you want to quibble about the definition of literary gothic? I’d love to hear from you!
I am an affiliate with IndieBound, and if you choose to purchase the books I mention by clicking on the book covers, I may earn a teeny tiny commission 🙂

2018 Reading Goals

 

4-yr-old Nora     the author, age 4, in front of her mother’s bookshelf

 

First, last year’s count (my students, amazed at how much I read, made me do this):
I read 52 books
I read 13,373 pages
My shortest book: Tremble, by C.D. Wright (60 pages)
My longest book: The Summer Before the War, by Helen Simonson (481 pages)

Favorite books of 2017:
The Book of Unknown Americans, by Cristina Henriquez
Ways to Disappear, by Idra Novey
Tornado Weather, by Deborah E. Kennedy

 

This year I have a few interlocking goals:
1. Read 60 books
2. Choose authors of color for 25% of my fiction reading.
3. Read at least 50% women authors
4. Each month, read one book about pedagogy or the teaching profession.

What are your reading goals this year?