I have found myself reading quite a few debut novels lately.
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
I'm kind of in love with this book right now. A Nigerian woman has multiple gods living inside her (some Ibo spirits, Jesus, etc.) and they sometimes take her over and sometimes fight each other and sometimes just comment on human affairs. It's not going to end well for the woman, that much is clear, but I'm really into this.
Mikhail and Margarita by Julie Lekstrom Himes
It's a take on Mikhail Bulgakov and the censors in Soviet Russia. I just read The Master and Margarita during October, so I've enjoyed all the little parallels that crop up.
Pretend I'm Dead by Jen Beagin
(finished last month)
This felt a little unfinished, but it was good. A "finding your way in the world" novel with just enough weirdos to make it interesting.
The Strange Case of the Alchemists Daughter by Theodora Goss (finished last month)
Dr. Jekyll's daughter teams up with Sherlock Holmes, and the daughter of Dr. Moreau, and Frankenstein's female monster, and some others to solve crimes. This was ... a lot. I kind of lost my patience in the climactic fight scene, so I struggled to the finish.
The Pisces by Melissa Broder
(finished last month)
I've enjoyed Broder's poetry and essays, but this one wasn't quite as captivating. A woman suffers a breakup and house-sits for her sister in California where she falls in love with a merman. Broder is frank and sex-focused and a little bizarre. Interesting book.
There is something exciting about discovering a new author, and getting in early on their career. I follow a few early career awards (The Whiting Award, The Locus Award for First SF/F Novel, The Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, etc.) where I found a lot of the books above.
What have you been reading? Any up and coming authors on your lists?
Book Club! - This month the WGOM book club is doing The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. Thanks to eschapp for setting that up.
This month I read Flights by Olga Tokarczuk, which won the Man Booker International Award for translated literature. It was really interesting, it made me hold a lot of ideas and themes in my head at the same time. There wasn't much overreaching narrative, but there were lots of vignettes that very clearly fit together with themes of travel, observation and preservation, and the futility of the human desire to keep things familiar and the same. I enjoyed it, although if you're looking for a "great story", this is probably not your book.
I also loved Not Hereby Hieu Minh Nguyen. The poems had absence and hurt, but with an enormous amount of tenderness that made them great to read. It reminded me of Slow Lightning by Eduardo Corral (another favorite - Corral just announced he's got a second book coming out, I'll definitely be buying that sight unseen).
I don't often reread books these days. There are just so many others I want to read, so I tend not to revisit even books I liked very much.
Last week while on vacation, I finished a book during a day trip to lovely Houston, Minnesota, and I was kicking myself for not having my next book along. While watching my boys play with their cousin at a lovely playground, it occurred to me that I'd really enjoyed the book I just finished, and perhaps I could try reading it again while I sat in the shade.
Convenience Store Woman is a fascinating little read by Japanese novelist Sayaka Murata, and I first heard about it from this article in the New York Times. The main character, Keiko, has had a part-time job at a konbini for the past eighteen years and has never had a romantic relationship, and these two things make her decidedly not normal according to her parents, her younger sister, and her peers. She relishes her defined role at the convenience store; within that environment (unlike the rest of the world), she knows exactly what is expected of her.
The prose is simple and easy to follow, and Keiko is an enjoyable enigma. As Katy Waldman wrote in the New Yorker, "For the most part, her manner is that of a friendly alien scientist, but, at times, she swerves toward the psychopathic."
What does it all mean? What exactly is the novel a commentary on? Would a Japanese reader interpret it differently than an American reader? I don't know, but I'm at the halfway point of my second read, and I'm enjoying picking up on little bits I'd overlooked the first time through.
One of the things I love about travel is that it reminds me how big and how varied the world really is. I don't expect I'll ever travel as much as I wish I could, but at least reading books set in other places makes a pretty good consolation prize.
The book I really want to get my hands on this summer is set in Japan: Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata. A single article about it in the New York Times was enough to pique my interest.
I'd also like to find a book that covers some New Orleans history. Spending a few days there made me well aware of just how little of the region's history I know. One of the most striking things I saw there was an empty pedestal. It was only when I consulted a map and saw the name "Lee Circle" did I realize what had been there. I'd known in the abstract about statues being removed last year, but somehow it felt different when the evidence of it was right there in front of me.
So . . . what are your favorite books set in places far from your home? And more generally, what have you been reading?
Spooky was spookily on the ball with today's CoC topic. I have read a few decent books recently, but nothing I absolutely love. And I'm ready for one of those books--a summer read that sucks me in and compels me to sneak in a few pages anywhere I can. I have a distinct memory of taking the peperoncino to the playground one summer day a couple years ago so he could play with some trucks in a sandbox while I perched on the side with Sweetbitter in hand. (A prize to anyone who can dig up the LTE where I talked about that book; the search function is failing me.)
Have you read anything lately that you loved? That you hated? That you found maddeningly mediocre?
It's the end of the semester, so now I have some free time and I can really get after it and read some books.
I recently tried to quantify all the translated books I've read, and they pretty much fell into three categories: European, Latin American, and Murakami.* But there were no African writers and very few Asian writers (not even African writers writing in European languages).
This past month I listened to Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag - translated from Kannada (spoken in India) - it was a very short, but very well constructed family drama, with an undercurrent of violence.
And this month I'm picking up Beyond the Rice Fields by Naivo. This is the first Malagasy novel that has ever been translated into English. Madagascar is already so strange and interesting, so I'm excited to see what the book is like.
So I've been expanding my reading in that direction, what have you all been reading?
* one notable exception was Han Kang's The Vegetarian (from S. Korea)- which is hallucinogenically great.
Minutes ago, I finished reading The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir by Kao Kalia Yang. Near the book's end, Kalia's grandmother dies*, and I cried my way through the chapter. It occurs to me that I was fortunate to finish the book alone on my couch and not while riding the bus.
I don't believe that a book's ability to make a person cry is any way correlated to its literary merit. However, in this case the book is quite good by any measure.
What's the last book that made you cry?
*not a spoiler, she's an old woman and we're all going to die
I have fond memories of my mom reading chapter books to me when I was young. We went through all the Little House on the Prairie books* at a pace of one chapter per night, with me curled up next to her in bed. I also recall a summer car trip when she read Johnny Tremain out loud. I don't know that I even particularly liked the story of Johnny Tremain, but I know I loved being read to.
When I had children of my own, I was ready to follow my mother's example. Starting when the jalapeño was around 4, I tried reading him chapter books, but they just didn't hold his interest. There's certainly no shortage of picture books in the world, so it's not as if we were wanting for reading material! Still, I've been delighted that recently he's been taking more of an interest in chapter books. In the past few months, we've read and loved Armstrong & Charlie by Steven B. Frank, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, and The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian's Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman.
Do you have memories of a parent or other adult reading aloud to you--or reading a particular book to your child? And what have you been reading lately?
*I am certain she pointed out at least some of the problematic content related to Indians, though I think at the time a lot of that went completely over my head.