Hi from Isles Bun and Coffee (best scones in Minneapolis). I also had a cinnamon bun, but I ate it before I took this picture.
I was initially skeptical about this book...I don't know anything about celebrity imprints, besides the fact that they likely encourage TV/ movie/ social media fans to read. A Place for Us is the first book released by Sarah Jessica Parker's new imprint for Penguin Random House, SJP for Hogarth. Basically, Sarah Jessica Parker "acquires and curates works of fiction that reflect her own taste as a reader," then publishes under this imprint. Seems like a desperate attempt to get TV lovers to buy/read books...but I digress. The Washington Post published a glowing review of Mirza's debut, so I decided to grab it.
Verdict: this book is STUNNING. Mirza was entirely unknown prior to the publication of A Place of Us. She is a 26-year-old graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her debut follows several generations of a Muslim family living in California. This (almost) 400 page novel chronicles childhood, adolescence, marriage, parenting, and death. Mirza welcomes readers into the lives of each person in the household and illuminates every tie binding the family together and, eventually, pushing them apart. By the time I finished the book, I felt like a part of this loving, complicated, and pained family. Highly recommend! I will look closely at what SJP for Hogarth churns out in the future.
Iweala’s second book, Speak No Evil, is deeply upsetting. I don’t know how else to describe it. This is a very, very dark read. I’ve seen mixed reviews on goodreads, but there were enough positive reviews that I decided to buy a copy. I’m glad I did, but WOW this book is sad. This was at the level of Ayobami Adebayo sad.
Iweala follows a Nigerian American teen, Niru, who is bound for Harvard in the fall. Niru’s best friend, Meredith, lives a relatively charmed existence as the child of two white, Washington insiders. When Niru reveals to his best friend that he is gay, she carelessly downloads Tinder and Grindr on his phone. In less than a week, Niru’s conservative, Nigerian father finds the phone and opens the apps. His father’s anger is immediate and unforgiving: he buys two flights to Nigeria to get Niru “fixed.” The book only gets increasingly sad.
I have a few criticisms here, mostly related to the novel’s format and character development. The story is split into two sections, one from Niru’s point of view and one from Meredith’s point of view. I’m not sure this set up completely worked here. The sections seem to be carelessly connected. I wonder if there’s a better way to tell this story. Lastly, the characters were not as developed as they could have been. I wish that I had more of a grasp on the personalities of Meredith and Niru. OJ, Niru’s older brother, is mentioned hundreds of times but we don’t meet him until one scene at the end of the book. I’m not really sure why he was included in the book at all.
This is definitely worth a read. That being said, I can’t drop this nagging feeling that Speak No Evil had the potential to be better than it is.
Hi from Bowdoin! This is the first advanced read copy that I’ve read / reviewed, so that’s thrilling. How to Love a Jamaican will be released July 24. Because I just finished Lauren Groff’s new collection of short stories, I was hesitant to jump right into another short story collection. I’m glad I did. Alexia Arthurs is impressive. She moved from Jamaica to New York when she was twelve and then graduated from Hunter College. Most recently, she attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and plans to be a visiting professor there in Fall 2018. Arthurs’ first book is a collection of short stories about Jamaican immigrants and their families back on the island. We meet a Jamaican runner on scholarship at a Midwestern university who struggles with depression, a student at NYU whose light skinned friend understands little about her experience as a Jamaican in New York, and a high school girl sent to live with her Jamaican grandmother after she is caught hooking up with a white boy. These stories are thoughtful, varied, and interesting. Highly recommend. I look forward to Arthurs’ next collection of stories.
While it's true that my children were endlessly fascinating, two petri dishes growing human cultures, being a mother never had been, and all that seemed assigned by gender I would not do because it felt insulting. I would not buy clothes, I would not make dinner, I would not keep schedules, I would not make playdates, never ever. I would hug them as long as they wanted to be hugged but that was just being human.
Barack Obama listed Lauren Groff's Fates and Furies as the best book of 2015. This month, Groff built on her extraordinary success with the release of her new collection of short stories, Florida. I'm up in Hancock Point and finally got my hands on a copy of these gorgeous and haunting stories. I am a big fan of Fates and Furies, so I had high hopes for this collection. I was not disappointed.
Most of these stories take place in Florida and include restless women who feel deeply ambivalent about motherhood. In "Midnight Zone," Groff follows a family of four on a camping trip. When Dad is called away from the trip to deal with a work crisis, Mom is left on her own to navigate the complex and lonely terrain of parenting. In order to quiet her young sons, she "stupefies them with calories:" pancakes slathered thick with butter, eggs sprinkled with shredded cheddar, hot cocoa with inches of whipped cream and marshmallows. She realizes too late that these foods only give the boys extra energy. In "Yport," a mother from Florida takes her young sons to France to study Guy de Maupassant. They stay in a small village where, yet again, the mother bribes her children with calories (this is a bit of a theme here--I love it): "She orders a salted caramel crepe for dessert. At home they eat sugar only on holiday or in emergencies-- she knows it is a poison; it can make you fat and crazy and eventually lose all your memories when you're old; she has boys, she's not dumb, she knows that sad obsolescence will more than likely be her fate, as girls are the ones who change your diapers when you've lost control of your bodily functions, and no son wants to wet-wipe his mother's vulva, but she wants her boys to love France and she isn't above bribery."
Aspects of these stories border on the surreal: a wandering panther, swamp dwelling alligators, menacing snakes, formidable storms, and ghostly children. Groff shows readers a dreadful side of Florida rarely seen by tourists. I'm glad that I read this. Count me as a fan. I'm eagerly awaiting her next book.
The Book of Essie surprised me. I liked it a lot. Today is the novel’s formal release date (thanks BOTM for making this a June pick). Weir’s second novel is about Esther Anne Hicks, the youngest child on the reality TV show “Six for Hicks.” Essie’s father is an Evangelical pastor with six children. At the age of 17, Essie tells her family that she’s pregnant. Her parents, hoping to seamlessly incorporate Essie’s pregnancy into the popular TV series, arrange a marriage for their daughter. Later in the book, Essie reveals devastating information about her pregnancy that will shake the foundations of the entire Hicks family. I don’t like reality TV. At all. That being said, I found this book (which is mostly about reality TV) fascinating.
I have a few complaints regarding the way certain characters are fleshed out. Also, I would have written parts of the friendship between Essie and Roarke differently (authentic affection grows too quickly given that the courtship is entirely staged). Roarke is gay and not physically interested in Essie. It is abundantly clear that Essie and Roarke are not actually in love. Weir's writing made me second guess this too often though. Roarke has frequent thoughts about Essie's physical beauty and often seems genuinely thrilled to spend his life with her. This staged relationship felt too real at points. I kept wondering if Roarke was actually physically interested in Essie...I don't think Weir intended this and I found this aspect of the novel frustrating.
Even with the above shortcomings, this is a very interesting book. I've never read anything like it. In my excitement after finishing The Book of Essie, I went on Amazon to order Weir's first book. Shortly thereafter, I realized it’s a memoir about the (very) sick kids she treated at Boston Children’s Hospital during her pediatric residency (Meghan Weir is an accomplished doctor). I’m going to pass on her first book, just because it sounds altogether heartbreaking. I'll gladly read her next novel though.
I realized that was how heartbreak occurred. Your heart wants something, but reality resists it. Death is inert and heavy, and it has no relation to your heart's desires.
Zinzi Clemmons was working on her MFA at Columbia when she got the news: her mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Over the next year, she cared for her mother while writing portions of What We Lose, her debut novel. The book is based on the author’s own experience caring for her mother after the cancer diagnosis. Like Zinzi, the main character, Thandi, was raised by a South African mother and an African American father. She spends summers in South Africa with her mother’s family and tries to understand the political landscape of post-apartheid Johannesburg. While this book poses weighty questions about race/ gender/ wealth in both Johannesburg and Philadelphia, the writing most importantly focuses on the experience of losing a parent. What We Lose is not written in any sort of traditional narrative. It is composed of paragraph length reflections, sentence long declarations (there is one page that just says "Sex is kicking death in the ass while singing"), photos, hastily drawn graphs, and news clippings. The story is not linear— after writing the book, Zinzi separated the different sections and rearranged them. The book jumps from year to year with little warning. Though this style sometimes irritates me, Zinzi does everything right here.
I love this book. You can read it in a day or two. Be prepared with tissues.
I wanted this to be better.
Today is Carleton's 144th graduation. I’m hiding out, writing reviews at Blue Monday because it's raining. If you don’t have time to read this blog post, the summary is that Us Against You (Beartown #2) is not as good as Beartown. 85% of Goodreads users gave Us Against You 4 or 5 stars, but I'm stubbornly sticking with 3 stars for this sequel.
Backman’s novels, translated from the original Swedish and published in forty countries, have soared in popularity since the release of his last novel, Beartown. For the past few months, I've been awaiting the release of the English version of Us Against You in American bookstores. It came out last week and I don’t find it compelling.
Beartown is interesting in its unflinching descriptions of the interplay between elite, men’s athletics and sexual assault in a small town. It read like a narrative version of Krakauer’s Missoula. Us Against You is a very different type of book. Dramatic and action-packed, the sequel is a total page turner (not in a way I appreciate). The plot is reliant on absurdly dramatic events (shootings, fires, fights, suicides, car crashes, and implausibly intense hockey games). There are too many story lines here, reducing the importance of each sub plot, and every event is concocted for dramatic purpose. To be honest, reading this felt like watching a violent, TV drama that practically begs you to tune in next week. Another car crash, another fire, another fight, another death, more gun shots. Can this end yet?
Backman’s frequent attempts at philosophical reflection also bug me. In Beartown, I actually enjoyed his philosophical meanderings. For some reason, these attempts seem juvenile and forced in Us Against You. The Washington Post calls Backman’s attempts at philosophical discussion “clumsy." I agree wholeheartedly. There are too many passages that read like a third grade philosophy lesson: “Life is a weird thing. We spend all our time trying to manage different aspects of it, yet we are largely shaped by aspects of it we cannot control.” Yikes.
If you loved Beartown #1, go ahead and read this for updates on the lives of Amat, Benji, Maya, and Ana. Perhaps these lovable characters are the only reason to keep up with the series. I wouldn't go out of my way to recommend this.
Best book i've read this year.
I had no idea what I was getting into when I started this. Adebayo’s debut is spectacular. She studied with Adichie and Margaret Atwood (and you can tell). The experience of reading this was a blur for me because I essentially cried the entire time (had to stop reading during lunch at work because I couldn’t keep myself together). Stay With Me was released in July 2017 (alongside heaps of glowing reviews), but I didn't get a copy of it until last week. S/O to the folks at Magers and Quinn for recommending it. I appreciate all of you!
This is a story about marriage, motherhood, unspeakable loss, and what it’s like to find happiness late in life. After four years of marriage, Yejide and her husband Akin are unable to have children. Akin’s mother pressures him into taking another wife in hopes that a younger woman will successfully conceive. Repulsed by her family’s polygamous tradition, Yejide decides that the only way to truly save her marriage is to get pregnant. After years of trying, she does. Upon the birth of the child, Yejide and Akin realize that (1) a child cannot save a sick marriage, and (2) love cannot save a sick child.
All three of Yejide’s children suffer from sickle cell disease (SCD). Adebayo has personal experience with this: though she doesn’t have SCD, she carries the gene (1/4 Nigerians carry at least one sickle cell gene—if she marries a carrier, their biological children will have 50% chance of inheriting SCD). In a fascinating interview with the Guardian, Adebayo explains that she often pops the question ("Are you a carrier?") on a first date: “When you meet someone, one of the first questions on your mind is: are they a carrier? These days, it is one of the first things I ask. And if someone is a carrier, I wouldn’t consider a serious relationship. That’s what I mean—it is a life defining issue for us. It shapes how we see the world.”
I don’t want to write much more in fear of spoiling things, but please know that my review doesn’t come close to conveying the heart of this book. There’s not much that Adebayo doesn’t touch on here. Please read this and talk about it with me? I have a lot of feelings.
As Sherlock Holmes famously said, 'When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.'
Hello from Modist Brewing. I will preface this review with the fact that this Fruit Punch Milkshake IPA from Modist is stellar. The book was really good. But this beer is stellar.
I learned a lot reading this. I knew nothing about the "Reign of Terror" in Oklahoma. In the 19th century, the United States government forced a Midwestern Native American tribe to move from Kansas to land in present day Oklahoma. Shortly thereafter, members of this tribe became some of the richest people in the world. They held mineral rights to Osage County in Oklahoma, which was rich with oil reserves. In 1923, the Osage Nation brought in $30 million for the year.
How did white America react to the Osage Nation’s newfound wealth? Well, first they married members of the Osage tribe. Then, they slowly poisoned their husbands and wives. Upon the death of their spouses, they inherited the Osage oil fortune. Hundreds of members of the Osage Nation died as white Americans married them, murdered them, and then inherited their fortunes. The methods of murder were disturbing, to say the least. In one situation, the white husband of an Osage woman requested that doctors treat his wife’s diabetes with injections of poison instead of insulin.
This book is terrifying and relatively dense in parts, but worth wading through to get at the heart of this shameful time in our history. Please comment if you've read this! Would love to discuss it.