Exit West // Mohsin Hamid

One word continues to come to mind when trying to describe Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West, and that word is quiet.  Silent.  Subdued.  Subtle.  Its storytelling is understated, but I also found it to be very underwhelming.  I could not have received more recommendations for Exit West, and I enjoyed it, but it didn’t quite live up to the hype.  While I read this book, I kept hearing a voice in the back of my head saying, “You should be loving this… why aren’t you loving this?” and while trying to summarize my thoughts, I definitely struggled with not writing a rave review.  Maybe I shouldn’t have waited so long to read it, or maybe I’m going through a reading slump, but Exit West just didn’t do much for me.


From the jacket:

In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet- sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed.  They embark on a furtive love affair, and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city.  When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors- doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price.  As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice.  Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through…

Exit West follows these remarkable characters as they emerge into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past, to the very sense of who they are.  Profoundly intimate and powerfully inventive, it tells an unforgettable story of love, loyalty, and courage that is both completely of our time and for all time.


“We are all migrants through time.”

-Mohsin Hamid, Exit West


Exit West is not a “flowery” book by any means, but that’s because it doesn’t need to be.  The story is enough in and of itself.  Hamid writes long, sprawling sentences full of clear, simple language, and there’s beauty in that simplicity.  I picked up Exit West amidst my study of Romantic poetry for class, so Hamid’s style was a breath of fresh air compared to Wordsworth and Coleridge!

The biggest part of Exit West was the magical realism.  I absolutely loved the concept of the doors… but I was not too keen on the execution.  I think Hamid didn’t fully commit to the magic doors concept like he needed to; it seemed like it was an idea he quickly introduced and threw around a little bit without really utilizing it.  (Also, not going to lie, the doors reminded me a bit too much of Monsters, Inc., and I was glad to see Barry thought so too, yet his opinion on it was a bit more extreme than mine!)


“To love is to enter into the inevitability of one day not being able to protect what is most valuable to you.”

-Mohsin Hamid, Exit West


Overall, I have mixed feelings on Exit West.  It was underwhelming to say the least.  I enjoyed it; I didn’t love it but certainly didn’t hate it, and I’m sure that I’ll pick it up again at some point when I feel clear of any hype or pressure surrounding it.

You can find this book on Goodreads and Amazon.

Freshwater // Akwaeke Emezi

Thank you to Grove Atlantic and Netgalley for an early review copy of Freshwater by Awkaeke Emezi, which will publish February 13, 2018.  All thoughts are my own.


From the publisher:

Ada has always been unusual.  As an infant in Southern Nigeria, she is a source of deep concern to her family.  Her parents successfully prayed her into existence, but something must have gone terribly awry, as the young Ada becomes a troubled child, prone to violent fits of anger and grief.  But Ada turns out to be more than just volatile.  Born “with one foot on the other side,” she begins to develop separate selves.  When Ada travels to America for college, a traumatic event crystallizes the selves into something more powerful.  As Ada fades into the background of her own mind and these alters- now protective, now hedonistic- move into control, Ada’s life spirals in a dangerous direction.


Akwaeke Emezi’s debut Freshwater is one of the most talked-about books of the year so far, and with good reason.  It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read before- unique and refreshing, powerful and profound, with vivid imagery and so so so many good lines.  (I can’t even begin to count how many gorgeous quotes I underlined!)  Emezi is an immensely talented writer; she certainly knows how to style a story and keep its audience captivated.

Freshwater has a distinct narration style, told from both the individual and the collective “we.”  Each narrator is somewhat unreliable, yet Emezi still makes you feel for them and understand their motives.  I’m not going to lie, I was a bit confused by the narration at various points throughout the novel, so if you’re thinking about reading Freshwater, I’d recommend checking out this Twitter thread first, wherein Emezi explains the basic concepts of Nigerian mythology and the ogbanje.

Overall, I found Freshwater to be an eye-opening and thought-provoking tale.  I can’t even begin to explain what this book made me feel.  It’s so original, so authentic, so deserving to be read.  Do you ever read a book that just sort of quietly resonates with you, that blows your mind and makes you sick at the same time?  I think any review I attempt to write just won’t do this book enough justice, so I’ll keep it short and sweet.

If you choose any book to read this month, make it Freshwater.  It’ll blow you away.

You can find this book on Goodreads and Amazon.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Being a Minimalist Bookworm

The term “minimalist bookworm” sounds contradictory, I know.  Book lovers these days seem to be defined by the content of their bookcases- the more books we see, the more well-read we assume a person is.  I struggle with this, because as much as I dream about having a library of my own someday, I personally feel overwhelmed by too much stuff, so having a huge collection of novels isn’t exactly my ideal.  I think that’s why I was initially drawn to a more minimalist lifestyle (also because I adore tiny houses!).  The Minimalism Movement has been on trend for a few years now, and I’ve been striving to be more minimalist, so I thought I’d share some things I’ve learned on my way.

DO keep books you’ll reread.

It’s only natural that you’ll want to revisit some of the books you’ve already read, and it’s hard to justify getting rid of something you’ll eventually come back to.  Keep your favorite books, the ones that interest you, the ones you’ll want to return to someday.

DON’T hang on to books you’ve owned for years but still haven’t read.

If you’ve owned A Game of Thrones since the first season premiered but you still haven’t gotten around to it, I think it’s safe to say you won’t be reading it any time soon!  We all read at different paces, but consider setting an amount of time, anywhere from eight months to five years, after which you will get rid of books you haven’t read yet.

DO save books that have meaning to you.

Still own that battered copy of Charlotte’s Web that your mom used to read to you as a child?  Did you purchase a book as a souvenir of your trip abroad?  These are the ones you might want to save, and that’s okay.  I actually regret donating some of my favorite childhood books, so hang on to sentimental books unless you’re positive you no longer want them.

DON’T own more than one edition of the same book

Of course, there are some exceptions to this one; for example, I own a paperback copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and I also own the illustrated edition.  I can’t imagine getting rid of one or the other.  However, I think having ten editions of Pride and Prejudice might be a bit extensive (#sorrynotsorry).  You just have to determine what’s right for you.

DO utilize the library.

One of my favorite things about the library is there’s no pressure to like every book you read.  Often, when I buy a book, I feel the need to enjoy it because I’ve spent my hard-earned money on it, but at the library, I’ll pick up just about anything, and if I don’t like I’ll return it, no guilt necessary.  The library is a great resource for quick readers especially, and (bonus!) it’s free, so you really can’t go wrong!

DON’T purchase books just because they’re popular or trendy.

It’s okay, we’ve all done it, but buying a book, especially one you don’t think you’ll like, just because it’s all over Instagram, is probably not the best idea.  Eventually the popularity will fade and you’ll be stuck with a book you don’t actually want to read!  And if you’re not sure whether or not you want to read it, try waiting a few months after the hype has died down and see how you feel about it then.

DO try ebooks and/or audiobooks.

Ebooks and audiobooks are great for saving physical shelf space, and (bonus!) they’re often cheaper than paperbacks or hardcovers.  However, if you don’t like reading in either format, don’t force it: reading should be an enjoyable experience, not a frustrating one.

DON’T buy books without reading an excerpt.

For me, the writing style is one of the most important qualities of a book; if I don’t like the writing, chances are I won’t enjoy the story or the characters.  That’s why I always like to read an excerpt or chapter sample of a novel before I purchase it.

DO try a book-buying ban.

Set yourself a period of time in which you refrain from buying any books, and see how it goes.  Not only are bans great for stopping the intake of new books, but they also allow you to get around to the books you own but haven’t read yet.  It’s a win-win!

DON’T let yourself feel stressed or discouraged.

You might notice it’s difficult to strip your shelves at first, and that’s okay!  It’s not for everybody, but don’t let your feelings keep you from making the change.  It’s definitely easiest to do a little bit each day rather than all at once.  Personally, I’ve found that making the strides to be a minimalist bookworm has been challenging but absolutely worth it!

If you’re interested in reading more on minimalism and books, I’d recommend checking out Why I Love to (and Will Always) Buy Books by Cait Flanders, who went through a two-year shopping ban while paying off debt, or 12 Helpful, Practical Steps to Unclutter Your Book Collection by Joshua Becker, a longtime minimalist of ten years (and counting).

Do you have any other tips for anyone seeking to be more minimalist?  Have you tried any of these tips yourself?  Let’s chat in the comments!

xx,
Hannah

Call Me Zebra // Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi

Thank you to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Netgalley for an early review copy of Call Me Zebra by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi, which will publish February 6, 2018.  All thoughts are my own.


From the publisher:

Zebra is the last in a line of anarchists, atheists, and autodidacts.  When war came, her family didn’t fight; they took refuge in books.  Now alone and in exile, Zebra leaves New York for Barcelona, retracing the journey she and her father made from Iran to the United States years ago.

Books are Zebra’s only companions- until she meets Ludo.  Their connection is magnetic; their time together fraught.  Zebra overwhelms him with her complex literary theories, her concern with death, and her obsession with history.  He thinks she’s unhinged; she thinks he’s pedantic.  Neither are wrong; neither can let the other go.  They push and pull their way across the Mediterranean, wondering with each turn if their love, or lust, can free Zebra from her past.
 
An adventure tale, a love story, and a paean to the power of language and literature starring a heroine as quirky as Don Quixote, as introspective as Virginia Woolf, as whip-smart as Miranda July, and as spirited as Frances Ha, Call Me Zebra will establish Van der Vliet Oloomi as an author “on the verge of developing a whole new literature movement” (Bustle)


I tried.  I really, really did.  But I just couldn’t do it.

When I saw Call Me Zebra on The Millions’ Great First-Half of 2018 Book Preview, I thought it sounded amazing.  A romance in a European city with a main character who loves literature?  Check, check, and check.  However, this book ended up being extremely disappointing and I stopped reading around a quarter of the way through, which says a lot because I generally like to stick it out and finish every book I read.

I think the main problem for me was how disconnected I felt from the narrative.  Van der Vliet Oloomi’s writing style was enough to give me a headache, simply because I found it so difficult to decipher the complicated language she used.  And the thing is, it wasn’t complicated in a beautiful way, like reading eighteenth century literature, but it was complex in the way that it seemed like she was trying too hard to make it sound introspective and quotable, and it came out disorganized and confusing.

Overall, I don’t have much to say other than Call Me Zebra just wasn’t for me.  It’s categorized as “absurdist fiction” in the likes of Camus, Kafka, Vonnegut, etc., so if you’re interested in works by those authors, I’d suggest picking up Van der Vliet Oloomi’s Call Me Zebra.  Perhaps I am just not a fan of the genre.

You can find this book on Goodreads and Amazon.

Self-Portrait with Boy // Rachel Lyon

Thank you to Scribner, Simon and Schuster, and Netgalley for an early review copy of Self-Portrait with Boy by Rachel Lyon, which will publish February 6, 2018.  All thoughts are my own.


From the publisher:

Lu Rile is a relentlessly focused young photographer struggling to make ends meet.  Working three jobs, responsible for her aging father, and worrying that the crumbling warehouse she lives in is being sold to developers, she is at a point of desperation.  One day, in the background of a self-portrait, Lu accidentally captures on film a boy falling past her window to his death.  The photograph turns out to be startlingly gorgeous, the best work of art she’s ever made.  It’s an image that could change her life…if she lets it.

But the decision to show the photograph is not easy.  The boy is her neighbors’ son, and the tragedy brings all the building’s residents together.  It especially unites Lu with his beautiful grieving mother, Kate.  As the two forge an intense bond based on sympathy, loneliness, and budding attraction, Lu feels increasingly unsettled and guilty, torn between equally fierce desires: to use the photograph to advance her career, and to protect a woman she has come to love.

Set in early 90s Brooklyn on the brink of gentrification, Self-Portrait with Boy is a provocative commentary about the emotional dues that must be paid on the road to success, a powerful exploration of the complex terrain of female friendship, and a brilliant debut from novelist Rachel Lyon.


I have to be honest, I didn’t exactly know what I was getting into with Self-Portrait with Boy.  I was initially drawn in by the stunning cover, and I’ve been craving an artistic read since I read I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson a few years ago, so I thought I’d give it a whirl.

One of the things I appreciated most about this novel was the characters.  None of them were exactly likable, and Lu was probably the biggest anti-heroine I’ve ever read, but I became invested in each character and their relationships.  They felt remarkably real; even Lu’s loft came across as a character of its own.  For me, the best kind of story is that in which the atmosphere feels essential, and Self-Portrait with Boy is definitely one of those tales.

It was difficult to adjust to the quotation-less dialogue, but once I got past it I was able to immerse myself into the story and fully enjoy it, if “enjoy” is the right word.  Self-Portrait with Boy was slow moving at first, but it eventually picked up at full speed and I found myself flying through it.

What really worked for me was the supernatural element.  Lu is haunted by the ghost of the falling boy as she struggles to decide what to do with her self-portrait, either destroy it or find a place for it in a gallery; I believed this haunting to be a manifestation of her guilt, having grown close to the boy’s mother, Kate.  It was a nice addition to the story, reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Macbeth or Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart.

All in all, Rachel Lyon’s debut, Self-Portrait with Boy, makes her a powerful voice to look out for.

You can find this book on Goodreads and Amazon.

On My Nightstand: January 2018

So many books, so little time!  Here’s a look at some of my upcoming reads, which are currently sitting on my nightstand, demanding to be devoured.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Hamid’s Exit West was one of the most talked-about books last year, so it’s about time I read it!  I’m currently two chapters in and I’m finding it hard to put this one down.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

Smith’s newest, Swing Time, has been on my radar since it was first announced, though I have to admit I’m a bit skeptical because it’ll be my first Zadie and I’ve heard it’s not her best.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

The Mothers is probably the book I’m most excited about on this list!  Not only is the cover absolutely stunning, but so is Bennett’s prose.

The Girls by Emma Cline

The Girls was the book of the summer in 2016, and for some reason I never got around to it.  I’m still looking forward to this Manson-esque coming-of-age story that Random House reportedly acquired in a seven-figure, multi-book deal (quite a feat for a debut novelist).

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Goon Squad is one that I really don’t know too much about other than it won a Pulitzer, but the publication of Egan’s newest release, Manhattan Beach, has gotten me curious about Goon Squad.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

Kavalier and Clay will be my first Chabon, and it’s an absolute behemoth, but it’s his most popular and I’ve heard it’s a good one to start with.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Groff’s Fates and Furies seems like the quintessential love-it-or-hate-it book, but I’m hoping my own reading experience is the former!

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

Beatty won the 2016 Man Booker Prize with The Sellout, so it’s been on my to-read list for a while.  As with Goon Squad, I know virtually nothing about it, so I’m anxious to pick it up.

Have you read any of these books?  Which one do you think I should read first?  Let’s chat in the comments!

xx,
Hannah

Everything Here is Beautiful // Mira T. Lee

Thank you to Pamela Dorman Books, Penguin Viking, and Netgalley for an early review copy of Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee, which will publish January 16, 2018.  All thoughts are my own.


From the publisher:

Two sisters- Miranda, the older, responsible one, always her younger sister’s protector; Lucia, the headstrong, unpredictable one, whose impulses are huge and, often, life changing.  When their mother dies and Lucia starts hearing voices, it is Miranda who must find a way to reach her sister.  But Lucia impetuously plows ahead, marrying a bighearted, older man only to leave him, suddenly, to have a baby with a young Latino immigrant.  She moves her new family from the States to Ecuador and back again, but the bitter constant is that she is, in fact, mentally ill.  Lucia lives life on a grand scale, until, inevitably, she crashes to earth.
 
Miranda leaves her own self-contained life in Switzerland to rescue her sister again- but only Lucia can decide whether she wants to be saved.  The bonds of sisterly devotion stretch across oceans- but what does it take to break them?
 
Told in alternating points of view, Everything Here Is Beautiful is, at its heart, the story of a young woman’s quest to find fulfillment and a life unconstrained by her illness.  But it’s also an unforgettable, gut-wrenching story of the sacrifices we make to truly love someone- and when loyalty to one’s self must prevail over all.


Everything Here is Beautiful is simply a beautiful book, inside and out.  Mira T. Lee writes with a style reminiscent of Celeste Ng and Hanya Yanagihara; she clearly knows how to craft a story.  The book is told from multiple points of view, including the two sisters, Miranda and Lucia, as well as Lucia’s husband Yonah and later her boyfriend Manuel.  Lee changes her writing style according to the character- she jumps from short, abrupt sentences, to long, flowery ones.  She even changes between first and third person at several points during the novel, which is a pet peeve of mine and normally seems too stylistic, but here it’s smooth and successful.

At its heart, Everything Here is Beautiful is about the sisterhood between Miranda, the hardworking and reliable older sister, who is seven years senior to her younger counterpart Lucia, the energetic, enigmatic one of the pair.  Miranda has always acted as Lucia’s caretaker, from their immigration to America to their mother’s death to Lucia’s battle with mental illness; Miranda feels haunted by the promise she made to her mother before she died, that she would always look after her baby sister.  In a way, Lucia almost resents Miranda for this, and the seemingly perfect life she has with her husband in Switzerland.  It’s a complicated relationship, both heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time.

Mira T. Lee’s debut novel Everything Here is Beautiful is eye-opening, introspective, and moving.  The portrayal of Lucia’s illness, a complicated combination of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and manic disorder, is alarmingly accurate, and Lee handles mental illness as a real health problem without being too preachy.  The themes of sisterhood and mental illness lie at the forefront of the story, but Everything Here is Beautiful is also about immigration and the struggle to obtain a green card in America.  With these major themes, Lee packs a lot into one novel, but it never seems like too much.

Mira T. Lee is definitely an author to look out for, as Everything Here is Beautiful might just make my 2018 favorites list!

You can find this book on Goodreads and Amazon.