I'm a fiction reader, mostly, but whatever I'm reading, I always pay attention to words and language -- that sentence or paragraph that hypnotizes you and makes you read it over and over again and write it down, the metaphor that fits like a bolt sliding into place or the image that makes your gut or heart respond "Yes." I also like fiction that is innovative structurally like "Cloud Atlas" by David Mitchell and "I, The Divine: A Novel in First Chapters" by Rabih Alameddine.
In terms of non-fiction, I appreciate social criticism that is particularly lyrical and that takes a refreshingly atypical angle on things. I am also intrigued by what I call "thing biographies," or cultural histories of things.
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This book absorbed me completely: an era I knew almost nothing about (1350-1450), a story everyone thinks they’ve heard (Joan of Arc’s), and Yolande of Eragon, an overlooked yet powerful woman who had a huge impact on both the era and on the story of Joan of Arc. Yolande was the mother-in-law of Charles, the dauphin, but she managed estates, claimed territory, orchestrated politically-beneficial matches, and generally held power for her family, in addition to recognizing Joan as someone who might mobilize the troops for France. It’s got lineages and battles and shifting loyalties for fans of Game of Thrones. It’s got women of influence whose stories have been overlooked or mythologized or rewritten for anyone who enjoyed Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra: A Life. It’s got inspiration both divine and charismatic, redemption, the clearing of names, corruption, and of course, the burning-at-stake that we’ve all heard about.
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Our narrator is having an affair with someone famous, and in order to protect the paramour's identity, she creates 4 other identities through which to tell her story. Imagine 4 flashlights, each a different color, shining inward to the central circle of our story. They combine to create a whitish light - "clever lies which secretly say the truth" - but there are still shades of hue and shadow. Browning offers commentaries on Fame, Culture, and Identity, and how those influence Love. He...moreOur narrator is having an affair with someone famous, and in order to protect the paramour's identity, she creates 4 other identities through which to tell her story. Imagine 4 flashlights, each a different color, shining inward to the central circle of our story. They combine to create a whitish light - "clever lies which secretly say the truth" - but there are still shades of hue and shadow. Browning offers commentaries on Fame, Culture, and Identity, and how those influence Love. Her deft passion and playfulness coupled with intellectual, psychological, and cultural analysis reminds me of Jeanette Winterson.
I picked up this book because David Mitchell mentioned it while I was interviewing him, and turns out it’s a pretty good lens through which to view David’s own work. It’s almost as though it articulates a project that Hesse began and Mitchell continues. Hesse imagines a world where cultural values essentially died and then were reborn (far in the future) as the Glass Bead Game, an “act of mental synthesis through which the spiritual values of all ages are perceived as simultaneously present and vitally alive.” The story follows the rise and fall of Joseph Knecht, the Magister Ludi, a particularly influential Master of the Game. Really good as a follow up to Cloud Atlas.
This book, unlike many you’ll encounter, forces you (by its form and by its content) to inhabit its world. From the first page, there will be parts you don’t understand. But you must trust Carson to lead you, for she is a guide like none you’ve ever met. All you have to know is that she had a brother. He disappeared, then reappeared, then was gone forever. Let the rest of this book wash over you.
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I don’t really know how to explain it, but the images in this book, and more specifically the colors, speak to me at a visceral level. Like a Rothko painting, there is some inexplicable emotional punch that comes from the color itself on each page, its depth and complexity and flow. Like Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, RADIOACTIVE is one of those fabulous hybrids that forces its reader to grapple with the amazing and horrible implications of scientific discovery. Redniss has you rooting for Marie Curie, rah rah, a female scientist accomplishing amazing things, but she also demonstrates the conflict that the Curies felt as they gained knowledge of the potential danger of their discoveries, both for themselves and for the future of humanity. Throughout the narrative, she weaves stories about the future effects of radiation — Hiroshima, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl — and of course the horrors that are still unfolding in Japan as I write.
Skloot deftly weaves 3 compelling story lines — the life of Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman in Baltimore who died of cervical cancer in the 1950s, the life of the cells that were taken without her knowledge and became the most ubiquitous cells in medical research, and the lives of her children. It is a story of race, class, medicine, exploitation, generosity, and growth. The scene in the lab with Zakariyya, Deborah, and Rebecca is stunning, breathtaking, heartbreaking, redemptive, and as Deborah suggested, miraculous. It is narrative nonfiction at its finest.
This is one of those books that makes you marvel at the possibilities of the graphic medium, and of books in general. Often, when I read graphic novels, they feel like short stories, and not simply because you can read one in an evening. But this one feels like a novel, a really well-written novel, with character development and motifs and memories and so many great layers of complexity. It is visually stunning, and so much of the mood/emotion is conveyed simply by the images and colors and line quality. This book does many things that a great novel does, and several things that a purely verbal novel cannot do. And I say BOOK over and over again because you cannot possibly have an experience like this in a digital format.
This narrative ripples like water. It reminds me of Anne Carson. Blue as color. Blue as philosophy. Blue as depression and as Eros. It is raw, this book. And thoughtful. And lyrical. The last two pages are phenomenal, but you can’t just skip to them - they are a culmination.
This is a post-apocalyptic zombie novel that is unequivocally influenced by William Faulkner, from its style to its themes to plot points and many names. Beautiful prose and zombies? Believe it.
This stunning world history is nearly inexplicable. It is not linear in the slightest. Nor is it objective. Rather, it starts at a point and radiates outward in all directions. Reading these small, lyrical vignettes is like watching life form, cell by cell, civilization by civilization, with sparks of wonder melding with flashes of horror. If you've never read Galeano, please, I beg you, start now.
Bechdel uses what she calls the "detritus of life" to propel along the best graphic novel I've ever read and perhaps the best memoir as well. Visually stunning, rife with literary references, and honest in looking back at the idiosyncrasies, neuroses, and charm that was growing up in the Fun Home (their name for the family-owned funeral parlor). If you've ever soul-searched or had a conflict with your family, you must read this book.
I haven't read this book. Yet. But I've read the table of contents twice, and it's amazing. The editors have completely redefined the literary canon by choosing to include what they did. Yes, literature affects literature. But so does music. And film. And politics. And so do earthquakes and skyscrapers and Superman. READ THIS BOOK!
In this extremely accessible and far from dry (in many senses of the word) cultural history, Joshua Zeitz captures the zeitgeist of the 20s, an era where liberty was measured more in material things than in personal rights. Each section is framed with anecdotes about influential characters and institutions like F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, the formation of The New Yorker, fashion phenom Coco Chanel, and silver screen stars Louise Brooks and Clara Bow. Whether portraying the flapper phenomenon through the lens of sexuality, feminism, race, or popular culture, Zeitz has given us a complete and compelling read.