The Sellout // Paul Beatty

The Sellout had me thinking (and laughing) from the first page.  I originally wanted to read this one because I was seeking something somewhat political with sarcastic undertones, and The Sellout definitely fits that description.  The prologue absolutely sucked me in, and though I found the rest of the book lacking that sort of charm, The Sellout, with all its absurdities, held my attention from page to page.


From the back cover:

Born in the “Agrarian Ghetto” of Dickens- on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles- the narrator of The Sellout spent his childhood as the subject in racially charged psychological studies, and has since resigned himself to the fate of lower-middle-class Californians.  Raised by a single father, a controversial sociologist, he is told that his father’s work will lead to a memoir that will solve their financial woes.  But when his father is killed in a police shoot-out, he realizes there never was a memoir.  All that’s left is the bill for a drive-thru funeral.

Fueled by this deceit and the general disrepair of his hometown, the narrator sets out to right another wrong: Dickens has literally been removed from the map to save California further embarrassment.  Enlisting the help of the town’s most famous resident- the last surviving Little Rascal, Hominy Jenkins- he initiates the most outrageous action conceivable: reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school, which lands him in front of the Supreme Court.

The work of a comic genius at the top of his game, The Sellout questions almost every received notion about American society.  It is a powerful novel of vital import and an outrageous and outrageously entertaining indictment of our time.


“That’s the problem with history, we like to think it’s a book- that we can turn the page and move the fuck on.  But history isn’t the paper it’s printed on.  It’s memory, and memory is time, emotions, and song.  History is the things that stay with you.”

-Paul Beatty, The Sellout


With The Sellout, Paul Beatty manages to comment on an abundance of inequalities African Americans have faced in the last few centuries, including everything from slavery and segregation to modern-day police brutality, with the book still feeling politically current and very much a novel for the time.  Despite winning the U.K.’s 2016 Booker Prize (with Beatty being the first American to do so since the rule change in 2013), The Sellout feels strictly American, with the potential to become one of the defining works of the decade, if not next to Fitzgerald and Melville as a Great American Novel.

Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of The Sellout is its overwhelmingly unique narration style: first person from the point-of-view of an unnamed narrator referred to as “Me.”  This style made for a very personal reading experience, because I could put myself directly into the shoes of the narrator, but it also feels very universal, because most readers could find a sense of themselves in “Me,” perhaps as Beatty intended.


“Be it ancient Rome or modern-day America, you’re either citizen or slave.  Lion or Jew.  Guilty or innocent.  Comfortable or uncomfortable.”

-Paul Beatty, The Sellout


A mesmerizing reflection on the current state of America, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout is a must-read.  With The Sellout, Beatty creates a novel both humorous and enlightening, both light in tone and serious in subject matter, perfect for readers seeking a funny, thought-provoking, somewhat-political novel.

Further reading: “Our Thing: An Interview with Paul Beatty” by Chris Jackson, The Paris Review.

Find this book on Goodreads.

On My Nightstand: November 2018

November never fails to be a stressful month.  Despite a nice, long Thanksgiving weekend, there’s always plenty of studying to do and papers to write.  Nonetheless, I’m really hoping to get some reading done this month.  Technically, I’ve put myself on a book-buying ban until I finish up all of my unread books, but as evident from my crowded nightstand, the ban has not been very successful thus far.  I did win my copy of Goodbye, Vitamin in a giveaway from Picador and @oliviasview (back in August!), and I received a complimentary copy of Everything Under from Graywolf Press (thank you!), but otherwise, I purchased the rest of this stack.  The ban was going very well until I earned a $20 gift card at work, and of course I work at a bookstore so I had to treat myself… it just so happens that I spent a little bit more than the gift card’s worth!  Without further ado, here are all the books I acquired last month that are currently on my nightstand, waiting to be read.

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

Goodbye, Vitamin is one of those books that I’ve been wanting to read for forever and just haven’t gotten around to yet.  It’s a novel not necessarily about Alzheimer’s, more like featuring Alzheimer’s, but written with a light, humorous tone.  If anything, I’m interested to see how Khong accomplishes such a feat.

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney

I am *dying* to read Sally Rooney, and patiently awaiting the U.S. publication of her sophomore effort, Normal People, so of course I am eager to read Conversations with Friends as well.  Everyone, or at least everyone in my literary circle, seems to love this novel and I have a good feeling I’ll agree.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Murakami has come highly recommended to me for years now, and the recent release of his latest, Killing Commendatore, has re-sparked my interest in the Murakami canon.  Wind-Up Bird seems to be one of his more popular titles, with many Murakami fans naming it as their favorite.  I fell in love after the first few pages, and I’m eager to return to it.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Surprise surprise, another Murakami.  I’m planning on starting with Norwegian Wood, because I’ve heard it’s a nice introduction to Murakami, especially for fans of more realistic fiction.  This one made him somewhat of a superstar in Japan, much to his dismay.  Norwegian Wood has been described as a tragic love story, and how accurate that is I’m not sure, but it sounds like my cup of tea.

Everything Under by Daisy Johnson

Everything Under was just shortlisted for the Booker, making Daisy Johnson the youngest author to ever make the list, and with her debut novel.  So you could say I am very curious to see what all the fuss is about.  Everything Under is a re-imagining of the Oedipus myth, which in and of itself is enough to catch my attention.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

The Neopolitan Novels have been on my radar for years now, since the last book came out in 2015, and with the HBO adaptation coming out this month, I finally feel the pressure to crack open the first novel in Ferrante’s four-book series.  I’ll admit I’m afraid to start My Brilliant Friend while class is still in session because I’ve heard once you start reading the series, it’s impossible to stop, so it may have to wait until December, but I’m ecstatic to catch some Ferrante fever.

What books have you been excited about recently?  Anything on this list you’d recommend I read first?  Let me know!

xx,
Hannah

Tonight I’m Someone Else // Chelsea Hodson

Essay collections are having a bit of moment right now, and Tonight I’m Someone Else is no exception.  I dipped in and out of Hodson’s collection over the course of two months, carrying it around with me everywhere, wanting to absorb every word.  More often than not, I hate finishing books, mostly for the pressure to lose myself in a new book afterwards, so I prolonged finishing Tonight I’m Someone Else simply because I enjoyed it so immensely and I didn’t want to say goodbye.  Nonfiction, specifically essays, can feel so personal, and Chelsea Hodson succeeds in delivering an emotional, thought-provoking collection full of intriguing anecdotes as well as insightful social commentary.


From the back cover:

From graffiti gangs and Grand Theft Auto to sugar daddies, Schopenhauer, and a deadly game of Russian roulette, in these essays, Chelsea Hodson probes her own desires to examine where the physical and the proprietary collide.  She asks what our privacy, our intimacy, and our own bodies are worth in the increasingly digital world of liking, linking, and sharing.

Starting with her own work experience, which ranges from the mundane to the bizarre- including fashion modeling and working on a NASA Mars mission- Hodson expands outward, looking at the ways in which the human will submits, whether in the marketplace or in a relationship.  Both tender and jarring, this collection is relevant to anyone who’s ever searched for what the self is worth.

Hodson’s accumulation within each piece is purposeful, and her prose vivid, clear, and sometimes even shocking as she explores the wonderful and strange forms of desire.  This is a fresh, poetic debut from an exciting, emerging voice that asks, “How much can a body endure?”  And the resounding answer: “Almost everything.”


“For our high-school graduation party, our school hired a hypnotist.  My best friend volunteered herself, went onstage, and fell asleep, and then he had her dancing and singing Backstreet Boys songs.  When she woke up again, she walked back to her seat, and I tried to tell her what she’d done while she was out, but she said she was awake the whole time.  It was easier to just do what he wanted me to do, she said, and I knew what she meant.”

-Chelsea Hodson,  “The End of Longing,” Tonight I’m Someone Else


It’s difficult to describe Tonight I’m Someone Else.  Essentially, it’s about finding yourself, about who you are versus who you want to be, and about being unhappy with your life, but it’s also about young love and relationships and making tough decisions.  The collection, as a whole, covers a wide variety of topics and themes, but the essays still feel very connected with one another.  While reading, I almost felt like I was directly inside Hodson’s head; she writes very formally, and Tonight I’m Someone Else is very conscious of its language and structure, and yet often times it reads like a diary (albeit that of a very talented writer).

All in all, Tonight I’m Someone Else was an enthralling read, and though it didn’t blow me away, it rekindled my love for nonfiction and essay collections.  I’ll be waiting patiently for Hodson’s next release.

Find this book on Goodreads.

Current Reads: October 22, 2018

Remember when I used to read one book at a time?  Ha, me neither.  We’re officially halfway through the semester, and I’m always reading at least four books at time (two or three if I’m lucky, but more often than not it’s five).  Right now, I’m switching between Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward, The Sellout by Paul Beatty, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon.

I’m going to see Jesmyn Ward speak next month, so I’ve picked up Sing, Unburied, Sing, the topic of her discussion, in the hopes of finishing it before the event.  I’m only a few pages in, but I’m really struggling to grasp onto the story.  Lately, I’ve been spoiled by books that have drawn me in from the first page, and though I am enjoying Ward’s lyrical, poetic prose, Sing, Unburied, Sing is lacking otherwise.  During the semester, many of the books I read for class are overly poetic and thematic; when I find time to read outside of class, I crave fiction that is drowning in character and plot, and Sing, Unburied, Sing is certainly not- which isn’t a bad thing per say, just not what I’m looking for right now.

I’m also reading The Sellout by Paul Beatty, having started it because I wanted something short and punchy and political, especially after the Kavanaugh hearings.  I’ve always loved satirical work, and the sort of dark, deadpan humor that comes with it; this book has me laughing one minute and lost in thought the next.  So far, The Sellout has defied all of my expectations.  I’ve been flying through it fifty pages at a time while also trying to savor every word, which is proving to be more and more difficult with every page.

For class, I’m reading The Great Gatsby (again) and Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-timeGatsby is one of my favorite classics; I read it for the first time as a junior in high school, so it is interesting for me to read it years later, from a different perspective.  However, it’s my first time reading The Curious Incident, and it’s absolutely breaking my heart- an incredibly tender story featuring a show-stopping main character.  The Curious Incident is well-loved by many readers, and it’s easy to understand why.  (In the process of reading this in public, not one but two strangers stopped to tell me what a good book it was.)  Reading for class is often hit or miss with me, but these two are the kind of books I’m happy to be forced to read and over-analyze.

What are you currently reading?

xx,
Hannah

One Year

One year ago today, I started Hannah and Her Books on a complete whim.  I’d been toying around with the idea of starting a book blog for a while.  I had a “booklr” the summer between my freshmen and sophomore years of high school, but that only lasted a few months before I grew tired of re-blogging and re-posting.  Then, at the beginning of my senior year, I opened up a WordPress for the first time, reviewing Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (my favorite novel to this day) and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt before deleting the blog permanently.  Though I loved being a part of the online book community, I felt too much pressure to commit to a regular blogging schedule, especially during the college application season.

Now, I’ve been running this blog for exactly a year, and I’m proud of the commitment I’ve made, but mostly I’m just happy to be here and thankful to all of the bookish friends I’ve made.  I like to think of this blog as my little reading journal, as a place where I can document my reading experiences while giving myself the freedom to get a little personal sometimes.  When I look back to the person I was a year ago, it’s interesting to see the ways in which I’ve changed (and stayed the same) since then, and especially how that’s affected my reading.  Starting this blog just a few weeks after starting college, and beginning to study English literature analytically, has been so formative for my reading experience.  Not only that, but I truly love interacting with everyone in this community.  It’s crazy to have my own piece of this insane online book world.  Thank you to everyone who has followed me on this journey and made me feel so welcome; here’s to another great year!

xx,
Hannah

Mohsin Hamid: October 3, 2018

Mohsin Hamid, the author of Exit West, came to my hometown last week for a book discussion and signing.  When I first read the book back in February, I enjoyed it but I wasn’t the biggest fan; I felt like it was missing something.  However, after hearing Hamid speak about Exit West, his latest novel, I developed a greater appreciation for the work and the way in which it deals with such difficult topics like immigration and first love.

Hamid began the night by speaking about his childhood and the identity crisis he faced growing up.  He was born in Pakistan and spoke Urdu before he was one year old.  When Hamid was around three years old, he moved to California where his father attended Stanford graduate school.  Living in the grad school housing, Hamid was surrounded by children of all different nationalities, yet he was essentially censured for speaking “funny,” as he didn’t know English yet.  After a neighbor criticized him for speaking Urdu, Hamid did not speak for a month, and afterward, he only spoke American English.  A few years later, his family moved back to Pakistan, and he had to relearn Urdu, which he had no memory of despite it being his first language.  Though English was Hamid’s second language, he acknowledged it as his best, as the language he writes in.

This identity crisis allowed Hamid to understand how difficult it is to “categorize” people.  Even still, we place so much emphasis on defining someone by clunky terms like black or white, gay or straight, Muslim or Christian.  Hamid shared his belief that the only thing that matters is love- who we love, what we love, and how we express our love.

Having lived in Pakistan, California, New York, and London, Hamid stressed migration as both a global and a personal experience.  He emphasized that “we are all migrants through time,” a quote from his novel Exit West, that everyone comes from somewhere, and that no one is native to a place.  Hamid spoke personally about his experiences moving around from country to country, saying that if he had to choose a central “home,” he wouldn’t fit in anywhere, and he wouldn’t know where to choose.  Though he was born in Pakistan, he spent much of his early childhood in the United States, and eventually moved on to school in England, all very formative periods in his life.

Beyond a physical migration from place to place, Hamid also mentioned a sort of figurative migration, through technology.  He claimed that collectively, we have become obsessed with sending our consciousness from place to place online.  In this sense, the infamous doors of Exit West, said by many to be a magical realism device, can also be thought of metaphorically.  Hamid himself compared the doors to our cell phone screens, both ominous black rectangles leading to someplace new and different.  Hearing him speak about Exit West in this way was eye-opening, and now I see the book in a whole new light.

The last thing Hamid spoke about, and perhaps the concept that will stay with me the most, is what happens when we read.  We sit alone with our thoughts, lost in our own mind, and yet we are sitting with the author’s thoughts as well… and so who are we in that moment?  Are we truly ourselves, or are we some type of hybrid, a mixture of our thoughts and the author’s?  Hamid definitely left me with a lot to think about.

What did you think of Exit West?  How would you define migration?  Let’s chat!

xx,
Hannah

Pachinko // Min Jin Lee

It’s been a while since I’ve truly been obsessed with a book.  Once I started reading Pachinko, I couldn’t stop- I even got up half an hour early every day so that I could fit in some reading time before my day began!  It’s just that good, and most readers seem to agree: beyond it’s 4.3 rating on Goodreads, it was named one of the ten best books of the year by the New York Times among being a National Book Award finalist.

In a nutshell, Pachinko follows four generations of a Korean family in Japan through the twentieth century as they face various dilemmas ranging from complicated romance to life-or-death situations.  Written in plain but elegant prose, Pachinko both entertains and educates the reader, heavily discussing the Japanese-Korean conflict with an emphasis on the Korean diaspora and identity crisis.  Personally, I learned a lot I didn’t know about the Korean culture as well as the underground world of pachinko parlors.


“Learn everything.  Fill your mind with knowledge- it’s the only kind of power no one can take away from you.”

-Min Jin Lee, Pachinko


From the back cover:

History is seldom kind.  In Min Jin Lee’s bestselling, magisterial epic, four generations of a poor, proud immigrant family fight to control their destinies, exiled from a homeland they never knew.

In the early 1900s, teenaged Sunja, the adored daughter of a crippled fisherman, falls for a wealthy stranger at the seashore near her home in Korea.  He promises her the world, but when she discovers she is pregnant- and that her lover is married- she refuses to be bought.  Instead, she accepts an offer of marriage from a gentle, sickly minister passing through on his way to Japan.  But her decision to abandon her home and to reject her son’s powerful father sets off a dramatic saga that will echo down through the generations.

Richly told and profoundly moving, Pachinko is a story of love, sacrifice, ambition, and loyalty.  From the bustling street markets to the halls of Japan’s finest universities to the pachinko parlors of the criminal underworld, Lee’s complex and passionate characters- strong, stubborn women, devoted sisters and sons, fathers shaken by moral crisis- survive and thrive against the indifferent arc of history.


“Living everyday in the presence of those who refuse to acknowledge your humanity takes great courage.”

-Min Jin Lee, Pachinko


Though Pachinko follows four generations, much of the plot relies heavily on Sunja’s initial plight, as she gets pregnant out of wedlock to a wealthy man with a wife and children in Japan.  Sunja ends up marrying a sickly minister in order to give her unborn son a proper name, and they begin a family of their own as she falls in love with him.  Sunja has two sons, one from each man, and from there the novel focuses on the boys and their relationships with their respective fathers.  In that regard, Pachinko focuses on fatherhood, the issue of nature versus nurture, and what it means to be a father.

Initially Pachinko took the time to explain everything in detail, but as the story moved along, the pacing steadily increased, and as time progressed faster, more and more characters were introduced.  Structurally and pacing-wise, Pachinko struggled, but I fell in love with the story and the characters.  Much like The Heart’s Invisible Furies, another well-loved, character-driven tome, Pachinko was a very emotional read.  I felt sucked into the story, so much so that I was undeniably sad when it ended.  Pachinko is a gem, so deserving of its recognition, and by far one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Find this book on Goodreads.