The Tiger’s Wife

I’ve been meaning to join an official book club for a while now, because obviously I love discussing books, and Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife is the book that has finally made me pull the trigger on that.

In other words, this is a novel I need to talk through – from the unique structure to the heavy symbolism to genre blending and cultural influences… I just have so many questions. And while some readers might find it frustrating to leave a book with questions unanswered, I personally love being asked to think critically about the various meanings hidden throughout a story.

And though I think it is certainly possible to read too much into “hidden meanings” and symbolism, Obreht’s novel blends just the right amount of clarity and ambiguity. The narrative follows three distinct, yet related stories, two of which read like local legends or fables with hints of magical realism, cultural influence, and regional history, and which shed light on the third strand of the narrative about the death of the protagonist’s grandfather.

Serendipitously, I saw that an Instagram influencer I enjoy, @fictionmatters, selected this as her July book club pick. I’ll be joining in on the discussion and may just have to come back for a part 2 to this book review! 😀

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Get the book from an independent bookstore or publisher.

Join the Fiction Matters Patreon to become part of the book club. The Tiger’s Wife is her July pick!

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James Baldwin, “Go Tell It On The Mountain”

Having only read If Beale Street Could Talk, I’ve been eager to get to more of Baldwin’s work for a long time, and was excited to pull Go Tell It On The Mountain off the shelf. And while I have to admit that while I found Beale Street a bit more riveting of a narrative, the thematic complexity of Go Tell It On The Mountain is unmatched.

One could spend hours and hours unpacking the racial, gendered, and religious power dynamics that play out between characters in this novel – it’s the kind of book that makes you want a class or a reading group to discuss it with, the kind that prompts me to look up podcasts and articles that analyze it.

And the fact that this is a semi-autobiographical novel makes it even more troubling, painful, and powerful. The fact that it was Baldwin’s first novel makes it even more impressive.

Finally, I want to mention that although, as I’ve mentioned earlier, this wasn’t quite as spell-binding as Beale Street (I found it a little slow at times), I also want to mention that this narrative develops in a way that is really unexpected and yet, realistic. With Go Tell It On The Mountain, Baldwin once again uses his craft to offer an insightful perspective of race, religion, gender, sexuality, and class in America.

Get the book through a local or independent publisher, HERE.

“Our Souls at Night”, Refreshing & Lovely

After a few epic, dense reads, I was looking for a story that would be a little lighter – something with a high entertainment factor. I took a recommendation from my mother with Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf. And I got everything I was looking for and more.

This story is not only full of surprises. First of all, the two central characters are elderly, which, I realized as I was reading, almost never happens. And of course, if older characters do appear in literature, it’s usually only to fulfill some kind of trope or stereotype… the sage, the senile or incapacitated, the cranky old hermit… Gandalf, Grandpa Joe, Scrooge. In this story, Kent Haruf rejects those stereotypes and gives dignity, agency, and voice too a segment of society that is too often denied all three.

Secondly, while the narrative and themes in this story feel straightforward – quite simply, two lonely people coming together and throwing social expectations out the window – Haruf ultimately does a fantastic job of making that narrative and the core themes of the story extremely complicated. So not only did I get a quick, entertaining read, but I actually found myself thinking really deeply about age, love, friendship, loneliness, social expectations, parenting, and so many other topics and themes of this simple, lovely story.

Related Links:

Ready to read it? Get the book from a local, independent bookstore or publisher HERE.

Turns out there is a 2017 film adaptation of the book, staring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. It has an 88% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Not too shabby. I might have to give it a watch. Did you see it? What did you think?

Lastly, I couldn’t help but wonder about some other books that put a positive spin on age. Here’s a few things I found:

Book Review: The Overstory

It’s been a while since my last post, and that’s partially because The Overstory by Richard Powers is a long and dense – though also beautiful – novel, much like the trees that inspire it’s plot and characters (and partially the result of Spring’s arrival, pulling me away from books, into my garden).

As someone who spends a lot of time in nature, I would have told you (before reading this novel), that I had a deep appreciation for trees and a really progressive view regarding conservationism. But now I know my appreciation for trees is a sapling compared to the Giant Sequoia that Richard Powers has presented to us with this novel (albeit a sapling that has grown immensely due to reading this book).

The Overstory follows nine primary characters across several decades, as their stories come together as a result of their relationship to trees and forests. In a Between the Covers podcast featuring Richard Powers, he articulated how the narrative reflects the structural components of a tree: various roots coming together for a common cause, only to diverge later on and drop seeds that may or may not lead to future stories. The nerd in me can’t get over that, though in hindsight it seems obvious (I couldn’t see the forest for the trees, I guess).

But I will also say, that while this story is worth the time and effort required to get through it, it’s definitely a long commitment and, at times, slower than the rave reviews led me to believe. However, despite those slower parts, I found myself understanding trees and conservation so differently as a result of this story. And, for me, any story that can fundamentally change the way I look at the world is invaluable.

Ready to read this one? Get the book from an independent bookstore HERE.

Love. By Toni Morrison. Love. Love. Love.

I have never read a novel by Toni Morrison that wasn’t worth raving about. And yet, I have found that my favorites are not the same ones that get all the hype. Most of us have read, or at least heard of, The Bluest Eye and Beloved. But my favorites have tended to be Morrison’s lesser-known works, including Sula and Song of Solomon.

And Love falls in the latter category. Though not her most popular work, this might be one of Morrison’s best, in my humble opinion. On the surface, this is the story of a friendship between two women that has eroded over decades, but of course it is so much more than that. This novel really highlights the complex, unexpected, and shifting nature of love – of love between friends, between siblings, between lovers and spouses, between parents and children. And it’s about the impacts these relationships have on a community over time.

But what really amazes me about this novel is Toni Morrison’s incredible skill with subtly. Because when I’ve talked with others about this novel, the words “hate” and “anger” come far up far more frequently than “love” or “joy.” But without spoiling anything in the story, the final chapter starts to peel back the ways in which, throughout the entire novel, Morrison has been writing about love with great intention, subtlety, and scrutiny.

I am left thinking of all kinds of love, the way it changes over time, the power it has to hurt or heal. And what is more beautiful and memorable than a book that leaves you thinking about love?

Eager to read this one? Get the book from an independent bookshop HERE.

Review: Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo turned up on my radar when I started seeing posts about the book on Instagram with a variety of covers. I soon learned that the book has been translated into more than a dozen languages, sold millions of copies in South Korea (where it was first written and published), and even inspired a film of the same title.

And if that wasn’t enough to pique my interest, I also learned that the book did a lot to fuel the struggle for gender equality and the #metoo movement in South Korea. The story of Kim Jiyoung depicts the pervasive, incessant discrimination against women in South Korea in the home, workplace, and public spheres, and the negative impacts that discrimination has on one woman’s self-worth and mental health. Needless to say, I think the issues touched on in this novel are important, complex, and timely.

However, if I’m being honest, I wasn’t as swept up in Kim Jiyoung’s story as I expected to be – after all, her life is rather mundane, and that’s a big part of the point Cho Nam-Joo is making in this story. But at the same time, I couldn’t ignore that Kim Jiyoung was hard to feel close to as a reader, and at times the writing in this story feels almost clinical (not to give away the twist at the ending. 🙂 But there’s a lot here to unpack, so I have to ask: did you read this one? What did you make of it?

How Much Of These Hills Is Gold

The answer: One. Hundred. Percent.

I have had How Much of These Hills is Gold on my TBR list for months, and I’m kicking myself now for putting it off even that long. I think C Pam Zhang does an incredible job in this novel of developing both characters and plot.

If you’ve read a few of my other reviews, you’ve probably noticed a pattern: I love books that subtly touch on very important, complex themes or topics. Themes like family, love, race, gender, and the American dream – all of which play a part in this stunning story of one immigrant family’s struggle during the California gold rush.

And if it wasn’t enough to write a gripping story with fascinating characters, C Pam Zhang also blew me away with the elegance of her prose, which dips at time into being borderline poetry. Basically, no matter what you’re looking for in a novel (craft, a good story, memorable characters, etc.) you’ll find it in this incredible book.

Fran Lebowitz: Essays vs. Docuseries

I didn’t know of Fran Lebowitz until recently, when I watched the docuseries Pretend It’s A City on Netflix. Several friends recommended this series to me, thinking I would love it, and they were so right. The series is really just a collection of conversations with writer Fran Lebowitz, who is hysterically funny, mostly on the topic of New York City.

Naturally, after enjoying the series so much, I was keen to look at some of Lebowitz’s writing, and so I picked up The Fran Lebowitz Reader, which is comprised of her two published books: Metropolitan Life and Social Studies. Both are collections of short, humorous, non-fiction essays, and one thing I really enjoyed was the brevity of these short pieces – I could easily fit short reads on short breaks from work or during Hulu commercials.

And yet, I have to admit that I didn’t find Lebowitz’s short essays quite as entertaining as her interviews. Of course, Pretend It’s A City was filmed many years after the publication of Lebowitz’s books, so perhaps her humor or viewpoints had changed or matured in a way that appeals to me. But for me, The Fran Lebowitz Reader came off slightly more silly and perhaps slightly less cynical than Pretend It’s A City. That said, there are certainly a few comic gems in the written collection, and both the docuseries and the book proved to be, for me at least, an entertaining and close depiction of life in New York City.

Review: The Year of Magical Thinking

Joan Didion’s National Book Award-winning memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, is a book about loss, grief, and Didion’s slow return to a new “normal” after the death of her husband. It is not a book about gratitude.

But a state of deep gratitude is exactly the “magical thinking” that this book led me to. Because I have simply never experienced the kind of loss or grief that Didion is dealing with in these pages, and I have never been more aware or grateful for that. I can’t pretend to understand or identify, but I can certainly appreciate the vulnerability that Didion shares, and the comfort her story has brought to thousands of readers.

Because of my , I must admit that parts of this book failed to truly resonate with me. At times, even, I felt like Didion was bordering on repetitive or off-topic. But Didion makes it clear that this is part of the point. That is, Didion’s “year of magical thinking” is really a year of not being able to think clearly – at least not in the way that she did prior to her husband’s death. And, Didion seems to say, that’s okay. Grieving, she explains, is nothing like what we’re taught to expect.

I hope it is a very long, long time before I need to read these memoirs again, before I need the comfort and solidarity that they offer. But I am filled with gratitude, knowing that this book will be there when I do, because I know I’ll turn to it then and find Didion’s wisdom as timeless and perceptive as so many others have.

The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger

I’ve known the name Holden Caulfield – known him to be the protagonist and unreliable narrative of The Catcher in the Ryefor years and years. It’s one of the books that my professors in college would reference without hesitance, sure that everyone had read at some point.

Only somehow, I hadn’t. Until now (and I’ll add here that my husband was so shocked I hadn’t read this classic that he went out and got it for me).

Within the first few pages, I realized how many assumptions I had already formed about this book. And in fact, the ways that the novel actually ruptures those assumptions is precisely what made it so interesting to me. (and boy, was it interesting). So, for this book review, I wanted to call out my own assumptions and the ways that J.D Salinger ruptures them.

First, I knew Holden Caulfield to be considered an “unreliable narrator” but I never guessed that he would be so aware his own capricious nature. But in fact, he’s very self-aware. He says himself that he’s a liar, and that his mood can change suddenly. But because he himself acknowledges his inability control these changes, the reader finds themselves sympathizing with Holden, rather than blaming or resenting him.

Second, I expected a story about a young man, but what Holden Caulfield really offers us is the story of a generation. The truth is, not a whole lot happens in the plot of this narrative. No spoilers here, but suffice it to say that it’s not always clear what Holden is looking for, what he needs, or what he wants. But I think that’s the point: he doesn’t know, and perhaps many of his generation didn’t know. Amidst the abundance that characterized America post WW2, Holden’s outlook and mindset seems to directly challenge the notions of the American dream as perpetuated by Hollywood and the general society.

Finally, I expected this “great American classic” to employ the formal, dated language that we (too often) associate with classics. But there is none of that here. In fact, I would argue that Salinger breaks every “rule” we’ve ever been taught in our English classes about what makes “good writing.” Holden’s language is extremely repetitive, often crass or low-brow, and sometimes downright ridiculous. And yet, that same language feels authentic and familiar in a way that (it seems) a piece of “classic literature” rarely is. I can only imagine that, especially for young readers, this would be incredibly illuminating in terms of what “good writing” is, and what a “good story” embodies.

Through Holden’s story and voice, Salinger showed readers that, in fact, the American novel didn’t have to look or sound like anything we’d seen before. And maybe, just maybe, it could even look and sound like us.

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