On My Nightstand: August 2018

As a full-time student, I rarely have time for reading during the fall and spring semesters, so I always try to read as much as possible during the summer.  My unread pile is endlessly growing so I’m really trying to hold back when it comes to buying books, but I was lucky enough to come across hardcovers of The Sport of Kings, Moonglow, and Commonwealth for just five bucks each, and I just couldn’t refuse!  Here are all the books I got in July that I’m hoping to get to this month before classes start up again.

The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan

This one is absolutely massive, but with its hefty size comes even more praise.  It was shortlisted for the 2017 Women’s Prize and a finalist for the Pulitzer the same year, but I hadn’t really heard of it until a few months ago when I was caught up in all the Women’s Prize talk.  It’s an American epic seemingly about horse-racing, but really about racism, power, and justice, and it’s my favorite type of book: a chunker that follows multiple perspectives over a period of time.

Moonglow by Michael Chabon

I haven’t read any Chabon (yet!), but I’ve been dying to read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay since I got it back in January.  It’s categorized as literary fiction but it’s based on stories Chabon’s grandfather told him while on his deathbed, so I’ve heard it reads like a memoir, which I love.  This seems like the kind of book you’d want to lose yourself in on a snuggly December morning, so I think I might hold off for a while, or at least until I get around to Kavalier and Clay.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

I’ve been meaning to read Patchett’s latest since it came out two years ago, when I read the first chapter and was immediately sucked in.  The opening sentence hooked me: “The christening party took a turn when Albert Cousins arrived with gin.”  How could you not want to read further?

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

I have to be honest, I wasn’t planning on reading The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock.  As I followed along with the 2018 Women’s Prize, for which this book was shortlisted, I read a lot of reviews but was never intrigued enough to want to pick it up myself, especially since I’m not crazy about historical fiction.  Then I came across an ARC at work and I couldn’t walk away without it!  It reminds me of The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, which I checked out of the library ages ago and didn’t end up finishing, so hopefully I’ll have better luck with The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock.

Tonight I’m Someone Else by Chelsea Hodson

Every time I read an excerpt from Tonight I’m Someone Else, I’m absolutely blown away.  I’ve watched so many livestreams of her readings on Instagram (thanks @belletrist!), and heard enough praise from Emma Roberts that I finally caved and bought myself a copy.  Also, I’m interning for Hodson’s agent this summer, which means this was basically a work expense (or, at least that’s what I told myself).  I’m planning on losing myself in Tonight I’m Someone Else while traveling to New York later this month, and I couldn’t be more thrilled!

Have you read any of these titles?  What reads are you planning on getting to this month?  Let me know!

xx,
Hannah

My Love-Hate Relationship with Literary Awards

I’ve enjoyed following along with literary awards and book prizes since I first ventured into young adult fiction and learned about the Printz Award.  I’d read a few books that had either won or been honored, like Looking for Alaska by John Green and Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, and I enjoyed those so I sought out more Printz-recognized reads.  I read I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, which remain my two favorite young adult books to this day.  Even the few young adult books I’ve read as a college student have been Printz honorees, like We Are Okay by Nina LaCour and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.  That’s not to say I haven’t read my fair share of YA books unrelated to the Printz, but I always viewed the award as providing me a great list of novels to choose from.  Today, as a nineteen year old who doesn’t read much YA anymore, I view the Printz winner as the young adult book that I absolutely must read this year- if I’m only going to read one, it should be that one.

As I started to move into reading adult fiction, I noticed that almost all of the books recommended to me had been recognized by a different set of awards: the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the Man Booker Prize, the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and the National Book Award for Fiction.  Naturally, I started to follow along with these awards, and the longer I followed them, the more I thought about them: their importance, their meaning, etc.  I generally love literary awards, because they’re fun and they’re a great way to discover new books, but, like anything else, they certainly have their con’s.

I love the excitement, the conversation, and the discovery.

It sounds cheesy, but awards are exciting!  Most awards release a longlist and a shortlist before announcing the winner, so it’s fun to follow along with the “countdown” and see if my favorite makes it to the “next round.”  Awards create a lot of buzz and get everyone talking about the books they feature.  I see a lot of bloggers and YouTubers reading the entire longlist/shortlist and sharing reviews on each one, and a lot of them like to share their predictions as well, either predictions for who will make it on the longlist, or their prediction for who will win.  In this sense, they are also a great way to discover books, especially through awards for specific categories like PEN America’s Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction.  I love to watch the National Book Foundation’s annual 5 Under 35, which showcases five exceptional debut novelists under the age of 35.  I’ve found a lot of my favorite books through awards.  There’s nothing better than a list!

I hate the subjectivity and the lack of diversity.

Though I only have two dislikes regarding book prizes, they’re big ones.  The first, that they are very subjective as there are different judges every year, so the winner could be different depending on that year’s judging panel.  Not only that, but the judges could have ulterior motives, like picking a winner that benefits a friend/publisher/agent other than picking the best book.  I think I would appreciate the validity of an award-winner more if I knew the same people were picking it year after year.  My second issue is that literary prizes, like most awards, lack diversity, in this case diversity between race, sex, and class.  Historically, wealthy white men have won or been longlisted for more awards than any other group, especially with the Man Booker, and though this has started to change in the past few years, it’s still a huge issue.  (This is part of the reason I’m such a huge fan of the Women’s Prize, which was founded in direct opposition of the sexist Man Booker, and only honors writers who identify as women.)

What do you think about literary awards?  What do you like/dislike about them?  What are your favorites to follow along with?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

xx,
Hannah

On My Nightstand: July 2018

July is going to be a pretty busy month for me.  I still have five ARCs to read that come out within the next two months;  I’m also starting my summer internship, which will involve a heavy amount of reading, while still working whatever hours I can grab at my part-time bookselling job.  Long story short, this month’s Nightstand is looking pretty sparse, perhaps in amount but (hopefully) not in value.

There There by Tommy Orange

There There is probably the most buzzed-about books of the summer, and there’s nothing like a little buzz to get me to snatch a copy!  I was fortunate enough to receive a physical ARC through my bookselling job, and I need to get around to it soon.  There aren’t many Native American titles that come to mind other than Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, but hopefully Orange’s There There will remedy that.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

I’ve had my eye on Lincoln for a while, and when it won the Man Booker my interest in it was pretty much cemented.  Plus, Saunders is coming to my hometown next year, so let’s hope I can get to it before then.  I’m not sure how I’m going to like it, as it sounds pretty experimental, but I’ve heard a lot of glowing reviews and I find the topic of Abraham Lincoln fascinating, so I’m nothing if not curious.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Similarly to Saunders, Ward is also coming to my hometown next year to talk about her highly praised book, Sing, Unburied, Sing.  I’m a sucker for award winners and this novel has certainly been around the circuit, even earning Ward her second (!!) National Book Award for Fiction.  It doesn’t sound like my usual cup of tea, but I read the first chapter in a bookshop and was sucked in immediately!  I’m looking forward to getting back to it.

What books are you planning on reading in July?  Any thoughts on these titles?  Let me know in the comments!

xx,
Hannah

The Heart’s Invisible Furies // John Boyne

I finally did it- I read the book that was everyone’s favorite last year.  And guess what?  I loved every word!  I honestly couldn’t get enough of The Heart’s Invisible Furies.  It was such a roller coaster of emotions; it made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me smile, and it broke my heart, all while becoming my favorite read of the year so far.  I’m always cautious reading crazy-hyped books, but I’m happy I finally caved because this one did not disappoint!


From the back cover:

Cyril Avery is not a real Avery- or at least that’s what his adoptive parents tell him.  And he never will be.  But if he isn’t a real Avery, then who is he?  Born out of wedlock to a teenage girl cast out from her rural Irish community and adopted by a well-to-do if eccentric Dublin couple via the intervention of a hunchbacked Redemptorist nun, Cyril is adrift in the world, anchored only tenuously by his heartfelt friendship with the infinitely more glamorous and dangerous Julian Woodbead.  At the mercy of fortune and coincidence, he will spend a lifetime coming to know himself and where he came from- and over his many years will struggle to discover an identity, a home, a country, and much more.


I adore interconnected stories, and the characters of The Heart’s Invisible Furies are so twined together that it actually boggled my mind.  The story begins as Cyril is an unborn baby still in his mother’s womb, and then it continues to follow Cyril throughout his life until he is seventy years old, with chapters peeping in every seven years.  Cyril is surrounded by the same cast of characters for the entirety of the book: his adoptive parents Charles and Maude Avery, his best friend Julian, Julian’s sister Alice, and many more.  In each chapter, Cyril crosses paths with his birth mother, and eventually they grow to have a friendship though neither of them know of their true relation to each other.  Each of their interactions felt like a little tease, and Boyne really got me rooting for them to figure it out!  The story built until their final reconciliation, in which everything finally came full circle.  I’ve never read a more satisfying ending!


“A line came into my mind, something that Hannah Arendt once said about the poet Auden: that life had manifested the heart’s invisible furies on his face.”

-John Boyne, The Heart’s Invisible Furies


The Heart’s Invisible Furies has a unique narration style; seventy-year-old Cyril narrates the entirety of the story, so reading his younger self was interesting because it came from a wiser, older point of view instead of a naive, adolescent one.  Boyne writes with a unique sense of humor and witty dialogue that made me actually laugh out loud at times.  It’s the kind of dry(ish) humor that not everyone likes or understands, and I think a lot of what made me love this book is that I clicked with Boyne’s sense of humor.  It did take me a second to get used to his style, but once I got into it I absolutely flew through the book.  I read the second half in just a day or two.


“If there is one thing I’ve learned in more than seven decades of life, it’s that the world is a completely fucked-up place.  You never know what’s around the corner and it’s often something unpleasant.”

-John Boyne, The Heart’s Invisible Furies


If you haven’t yet read The Heart’s Invisible Furies, I would strongly recommend that you jump on the bandwagon.  It’s an emotional coming-of-age story with brilliantly intertwined characters that you’ll want to hug when you finish.  You won’t be disappointed!

You can find this book on Goodreads and Amazon.

Reading More Women Accidentally on Purpose

This year is almost halfway over, and yet I’ve only read one (!!!) book by a male writer: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid.  Of course, this doesn’t count the assigned reading for my British literature class this past semester, which represented the sexist literary canon of the nineteenth century.  I did buy some books by men, but I haven’t picked up any of them because a book by a female author always piqued my interest more!  Even all of the advanced copies I’ve requested have been written by women, with two exceptions: A Terrible Country by Keith Gessen and Ohio by Stephen Markley.  But the best part is the fact that it’s purely accidental; I didn’t plan on focusing on reading women writers this year, it just happened!

It’s difficult to capture why my reading has changed this way.  In high school, I adored young adult writers like Sarah Dessen, Morgan Matson, Stephanie Perkins, Jennifer E. Smith, etc., but I enjoyed John Green just the same.  My tastes definitely catered to the women writers but never intentionally.  (I think the majority of authors in the young adult genre are women, but that’s a story for a different day.)  As I matured into reading fiction and literary fiction, I started with Celeste Ng, Donna Tartt, and Hanya Yanagihara (some of the heaviest hitters, I know).  I also read Anthony Doerr and Nathan Hill, but my excitement for new books was mostly for those written by women.  I picked up Michael Chabon, George Saunders, and others for the immense praise and recognition their novels received, but I’m not sure I would’ve been that excited for them had they not been so revered by my bookish friends.  And I certainly wasn’t excited before their releases, like the dozen or so early copies I’ve requested by women writers so far this year.

Of course, it’s important to mention I have absolutely nothing against male writers, or any kind of writer in that case.  I’m currently reading The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne and I’m absolutely loving it.  To me, the writing and the story are the most important aspects of a book.  However, I also think it’s time to support every type of writer imaginable, no matter the gender, race, religion, sexuality, etc.  Because wouldn’t it be boring if every book we read was by a straight white man?  If we don’t support diverse authors, then we’ve got multiple problems on our hands: (1) that literature is valued by how white a person is, (2) that not every reader will be able to identify with a book, and (3) that writers will see only white men succeeding in the book world, and they’ll stop writing if they don’t fit that description.

All of this brings to mind the #ReadMoreWomen campaign by Electric Lit, which aims to diversify our reading lists and start a conversation on our white-male ideals on literature.  It mentions the sexism behind The New York Times’ “By the Book” column, which, if you aren’t familiar, is basically a series of mini interviews with writers.  Most of the writers featured are men, but lately they’ve been trying to up their game and include more women (which is something you really shouldn’t have to work that hard to do…).  Recently, I read Lauren Groff’s By the Book, and I think her thoughts perfectly sum up the importance behind reading both male and female writers.  Groff says,

“When male writers list books they love or have been influenced by- as in this very column, week after week- why does it almost always seem as though they have only read one or two women in their lives?  It can’t be because men are inherently better writers than their female counterparts . . . And it isn’t because male writers are bad people.  We know they’re not bad people.  In fact, we love them.  We love them because we have read them.  Something invisible and pernicious seems to be preventing even good literary men from either reaching for books with women’s names on the spines, or from summoning women’s books to mind when asked to list their influences.  I wonder what such a thing could possibly be.”

I’ll leave it at that.

What books have you read by women lately?  Have you noticed any changes to your reading tastes?  Let’s chat!

xx,
Hannah

The Female Persuasion // Meg Wolitzer

After Meg Wolitzer’s 2013 novel The Interestings became one of my favorite books of last year (I was a little late to the game), I was eager to pick up her newest, The Female Persuasion, when it released last month.  Inspiring and compulsively-readable, The Female Persuasion is truly a book for its time, showcasing life as a woman in the modern world and exploring the many facets of feminism that exist today.


“I sometimes think that the most effective people in the world are introverts who taught themselves to be extroverts.”

-Meg Wolitzer, The Female Persuasion


From the jacket:

Greer Kadetsky is a college freshman when she meets the woman who will change her life.  Faith Frank, dazzingly persuassive and elegant at sixty-three, has been a pillar of the women’s movement for decades, a figure who inspires others.  Hearing Faith speak for the first time, in a crowded campus chapel, Greer feels her inner world light up.  She and Cory, her high school boyfriend, have both been hardworking and ambitious, jokingly referred to as “twin rocket ships,” headed up and up and up.  Yet for so long Greer has been full of longing, in search of a purpose she can’t quite name.  And then, astonishingly, Faith invites her to make something out of her new sense of awakening.  Over time, Faith leads Greer along the most exciting and rewarding path of her life, as it wings toward and away from her meant-to-be love story with Cory, and the future she’d always imagined.  As Cory’s path, too, is altered in ways that feel beyond his control, both of them are asked to reckon with what they really want.  What does it mean to be powerful?  How do people measure their impact upon the world, and upon one another?  Does all of this look different for men than it does for women?

With humor, wisdom, and profound intelligence, Meg Wolitzer weaves insights about power and influence, ego and loyalty, womanhood and ambition into a moving story that looks at the romantic ideals we pursue deep into adulthood: ideals relating not just to whom we want to be with, but who we want to be.  At its heart, The Female Persuasion is about the select figures and experiences that shape our lives.  It’s about the people who guide and the people who follow- and how those roles evolve over time.  And it acknowledges the flame we all want to believe is flickering inside of us, waiting to be seen and fanned by the right person at the right time.


In the vein of The Interestings, the book follows a handful of characters: Greer Kadetsky, a shy college student who blossoms into a young feminist role model; Zee Eisenstat, longtime activist, lesbian, and Greer’s college best friend, who has long been betrayed by the women in her life; Cory Pinto, Greer’s high school sweetheart who takes over his mother’s roles as caretaker and housekeeper after the tragic dispensation of his family; and finally Faith Frank, the famous feminist who offers Greer a job straight out of college and mentors her into becoming the woman she is through their work at Faith’s women’s foundation.

Though the novel tells the story of these four characters, there is a heavy focus on Greer, and she is, in a sense, the main character, especially in the beginning of the novel.  She was by far my favorite character, simply because we share so many qualities.  Like me, Greer is quiet and introspective, but as she progresses through college she becomes bolder and less afraid to share her opinion.  I haven’t read many college-age narratives so I enjoyed reading about Greer’s life as a college freshman particularly because I just finished my freshman year!  Furthermore, Greer moves to New York after college, and that’s exactly what I want to do!  Recognizing myself in the main character definitely made this novel a page-turner for me.


“If the twenty-first century taught you anything, it was that your words belonged to everyone, even if they actually didn’t.”

-Meg Wolitzer, The Female Persuasion


The Female Persuasion is the perfect book to lose yourself in.  It’s an easy read, not necessarily a beach read but more like a book club read, in which there’s plenty to discuss and most readers will find something they like.  It’s dialogue-heavy with simple readable prose, but the insights Wolitzer provides are what makes it such a powerful read.  The Female Persuasion will definitely stay with me for a long time.

You can find this book on Goodreads and Amazon.

Junot Díaz: April 20, 2018

On Friday, April 20th, I had the amazing opportunity to attend a discussion and book signing for Junot Díaz!  The event was put together by the Just Buffalo Literary Center as part of their BABEL series, in which they bring world-renowned and award-winning writers to Buffalo.  Past seasons have included Isabel Allende, Salman Rushdie, Zadie Smith, Amy Tan, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Marlon James, and Toni Morrison.  Not many writers come to Buffalo, so I was especially excited to attend my first BABEL event.

Díaz began by speaking about immigration, specifically the many traumas an immigrant in the United States faces.  He continued with a discussion on gratitude while addressing his frustration with the, “If you don’t like it, go back to your own country” trope.  Díaz shared that Americans expect immigrants to be grateful, but it is really the Americans who need to be grateful because they are the ones who benefit from an immigrant’s hardships.

Next, Díaz answered some questions from the audience.  On the subject of writing, Díaz claimed, “I don’t seek answers, I seek the next question,” and when asked if he considered The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao to be magical realism, Díaz said no, it was not his intention, and, perhaps in a nod to Gabriel García Márquez, said people only think that because of the “z” in his name!

When asked what it is like to teach creative writing at M.I.T., a highly technical school, Díaz responded, rather bluntly, “It’s like being an artist in America.”  He continued by saying that M.I.T., like the majority of America, values making money over making art.  This thought certainly got a chuckle from the audience members, who ranged from young, beanie-clad hipsters to classy older folks seeking literary enlightenment.

All of these wonderful thoughts aside, the sentiment that will perhaps stay with me the most is when Díaz was asked about the use of Spanish/Spanglish in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which some readers found frustrating.  He said, “We only understand fifteen percent of what we hear, and that’s in our own f***ing language…”  He expressed that it’s alright if you don’t understand everything in his book, because some parts will go over your head but other parts will resonate with you.  As a reader, it can be upsetting when I don’t fully comprehend an idea an author presents in their work, so Díaz’s statement was well-said and comforting.

Later, after the lecture and discussion, I waited in line (for more than an hour!) to meet Díaz and get my book signed.  In person, he was kind and down-to-earth, not to mention hilarious.  He said our handwriting as similar, because our H’s look like K’s, and he said my parents must be so proud of me for being in school.

It was my first time meeting an author and having a book signed, and I loved every minute of it!  I am especially excited for next season, when Mohsin Hamid, Jesmyn Ward, Min Jin Lee, and George Saunders will each have their own night!

xx,
Hannah