Two blog posts in one week–what?? I’m hoping to keep up with the Nonfiction November topics throughout the month, but first I thought I’d recap October. And it is worth it, with THREE five-star reads this month (the first three below). I also have to mention that my little Hermione Granger and Big Bad Wolf/princess (one for preschool, one for trick-or-treating) were adorable and had a sugar-filled blast. Hope you all did as well!
Onto the recap:
When 16-year-old Starr is witness to a police officer shooting her unarmed best friend, she is torn between staying silent and speaking out. Starr lives in two worlds: the world of her affluent private school and that of her black neighborhood that is rocked by the shooting. The case quickly makes national headlines and as tensions rise, Starr feels the pull to tell her side of the story and refute attacks on her friend's character, even as she faces intimidation from police and local gangs. This powerful novel inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement delves into the shootings of unarmed black people by police officers, the lack of justice in the aftermath, and white privilege. It is not just for a YA audience but is a must-read for everyone. One of the best of 2017. More info →
The community of Shaker Heights is meticulously planned and picture-perfect, and the Richardson family is much the same. When their new tenants--mysterious, free-spirited artist Mia and her daughter, Pearl--move into town, the four Richardson children are enamored of both, and Pearl of them. As the families becomes more entwined, complications arise when the two mothers, Elena and Mia, find themselves on opposite sides of an adoption case. Elena suspects Mia is not all that she seems and starts digging into her past, rocking the worlds of Mia and Pearl and her own children. Little Fires Everywhere is a study in the characters--their flaws, pasts, dreams, regrets, and fears--and how all of these hidden things affect their relationships and what happens next. Well-written and perfect for anyone looking for a simmering, emotional read. More info →
Homegoing is an epic generational novel following the family lines of two half-sisters born in Ghana 300 years ago: one is married off to an English slave trader while the other is sold into slavery. Each chapter follows a new descendant of the women, illustrating how events and injustices of the past reverberate through the lives and struggles of future generations. An astonishing, emotional novel that deftly answers the question of how the descendants of slaves continue to be oppressed by the institution of slavery, Jim Crow, and systemic racism, even 150 years after abolition. One of my best reads of 2017. More info →
Janice Kaplan spent a year focusing on gratitude in her own life and talking to experts about the ways that gratitude affects our lives. In all areas of life--family, career, health, and even grief--gratitude has a measurable effect on our well-being, our relationships, and our overall happiness. Daily conscious efforts to be grateful can actually change the neural connections in our brains and retrain the ways that we automatically respond to negative situations. This book made me more conscious of my own responses and the ways that I can build gratitude into my own thoughts and actions. More info →
(Also see how I’m trying to work gratitude into my daily life after reading this book.)
The Power was my September 2017 Book of the Month selection, and it's garnered a lot of buzz for being a feminist dystopia in the vein of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. The world is turned on its head when teen girls suddenly find that they are able to produce electricity from a strip of muscle on their collarbones. They can awaken this power in older women as well, and women, now having the physical upper hand, quickly seize the power and authority held by men. An intriguing premise, well-executed in many ways--especially when Alderman is subtle about the ways that physical dominance affects the behaviors of those being dominated (men in the book, women in real life)--but the role switches felt like a stretch in other ways. I would have enjoyed the perspective of some women who were not trying to seize power, start a religious movement, or be part of the revolution, but the everyday characters who also would have been affected by the power were absent from this story. Enjoyable for the speculative premise, but not a must-read. More info →
I picked this book up looking for a lighter read and it fit the bill. Rebecca Winter is a 60-year old photographer, still famous but no longer sought-after, who moves to a rural town in an attempt to save money by renting her Manhattan apartment. She feels lost until she begins spending time with a local roofer, twenty years her junior, and finds a photography project in the mysterious crosses and mementos scattered through the woods. This didn't blow me away, but Quindlen is always a solid choice for excellent prose and depth of feeling. (Every Last One is my favorite of hers.) More info →
I picked this up knowing nothing about it, but was drawn in by the promise of a tour through my beloved Dublin. The book didn't disappoint on that front, but the story left me feeling conflicted. While the book jacket describes Vivian as whimsical and free-spirited (and she is in many ways), this felt more like a heartbreaking look into the mind of someone struggling with the effects of an abusive childhood and mental illness. Uncomfortable encounters and increasingly poor hygiene amp up the cringes as the book progresses, even as a friendship is presented as a possible beacon of light. While this had its amusing moments and some sharp observations from a unique mind, I ultimately found it unsatisfying. More info →
I’m reading Between the World and Me and The Swerve: How the World Became Modern.
If I’m not too tempted by fiction, I’ll probably pick up Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar. I do expect my library hold of Caroline: Little House, Revisited to come in soon, and I know I won’t be able to resist diving into a Little House on the Prairie retelling focusing on Caroline Ingalls.
Book of the Month Selections
For November’s Book of the Month, I chose Louise Erdrich’s Future Home of the Living God, another feminist dystopia that I’m hoping is more satisfying than The Power. I also added Fierce Kingdom, which I’ve heard is an unputdownable thriller about a mother and her young son, set over three hours in a zoo.
In honor of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Nobel Prize win, I watched Never Let Me Go on Netflix. I read the book years ago (the only one of his that I’ve read) and it’s stuck with me. I didn’t even realize there was a movie until I happened across it on Netflix. What I like about Ishiguro’s take on a dystopian near-future is how the global implications of what is happening are only hinted at. The story stays at the micro-level by following just a few people who are most directly affected by the scientific advances that lead to global moral compromises. I won’t spoil it further–what’s happening is revealed pretty quickly in the movie, but I seem to remember it taking a while to come to light in the book.
My husband and I also joined the rest of the world in watching Game of Thrones. I read the first book at the end of last year, knowing I someday wanted to watch the show. I’m not sure I’ll continue reading the books, but the show is pretty good. We’re just starting the second season.
I’ve also been watching some other favorites: Parenthood on Netflix, and the new seasons of This is Us and Grey’s Anatomy.
Happy Nonfiction November!