“Shrill” by Lindy West
I am writing this two weeks after the 2016 presidential election, and in case you don’t remember what that was like, because things have gotten either better or worse—the world feels concussed.
When a writer writes with such clarity, such precision, such honesty I hesitate to add my own feeble words into the mix. All I can say is: read this book. There is not a subject she will shy away from. In fact, she runs head long into each and every subject she takes on including being fat, abortion, her marriage, career, trolls, the internet, death. Each chapter is an artful dance with and dissection of topics that need to come out of the shadows. West shines a light on each one with humor, truth and (to take a phrase from the back jacket copy) “vulnerability and vicious charm.”
I underlined SO many lines but here is just one on the significance of the title:
“‘Shrill’ is a gendered insult; calling a man ‘shrill’ makes as much sense as calling a smell ‘tall.’ To be shrill is to reach above your station; to abandon your duty to soothe and please; in short, to be heard.”
“His Favorites” novel by Kate Walbert
This is not a story I have told before.
Looking back on her girlhood, Jo shares the incident that sent her life and that of her family into a complete different trajectory. She end ups needing to escape her hometown after the tragedy that she caused so she enrolls in a prestigious boarding school. Looking for freedom from that tragedy, for a second chance she tries to navigate this new life the best she can. There are cliques and roommates and the hierarchy of classmates as well as a teacher who grooms selected girls, his favorites, by first inviting them into his coveted Modern Lit class.
Reading this in this new era of #MeToo reiterates the need for such movement. This slim but powerful novel explores boundaries, time, memory as well as the narrative choices used to be able to tell the story at all. As Jo says, “Someone once told me that memory is just another draft of a story.”
And this is one of the most beautifully written and satisfying endings of a novel I have ever read.
A description of a golf course (and an exquisite bit of foreshadowing) I love:
“Only sounds of nature and maintenance, dark expanses of expertly mowed grass and hills, sand traps banked against shorn greens with ramrod-straight flags dead in the no-breeze and still water. The all of it designed for entrapment.”
“When Breath Becomes Air” a memoir by Paul Kalanithi
I flipped through the CT scan images, the diagnosis obvious: the lungs were matted with innumerable tumors, the spine deformed, a full lobe of the liver obliterated. Cancer.
This book has been on my radar for quite a while. I just love the title. There’s a simple beauty and grace to the words and that same beauty and grace made illuminated the entire book. Despite the heaviness of the topic (cancer, death) there was a lightness to his story. It helped that not only was Kalanithi a neurosurgeon and neuroscientist but hr also studied literature and turned back to literature as a doctor looking for guidance soon the human condition, on loving and dying. His compassion, curiosity and exquisite observation of self and the world around him made him a beautiful writer.
I close the book with sadness. Sadness at the loss of such light in the world but so grateful that he used his precious time to write his story, to share it with us, to illuminate this dance between life and death. But I also closed the book with a sense of peace. He made dying just the tiniest bit less terrifying to me because he lived his life so fully and with such depth.
A sentence I love:
I had come to see language as an almost supernatural force, existing between people, bringing our brains, shielded in centimeter-thick souls, into communion.
“Becoming” by Michelle Obama
I spent much of my childhood listening to the sound of striving.
I’ve bought several books that have emerged from these political times and this is the first one I’ve finished, reading it cover to cover, not wanting it to end.
I admit, I was sightly nervous before I began reading it. I’ve admired her immensely for so long and I didn’t want to judge her writing but I also wanted it to not suck. One of my pet peeve is shoddy writing by celebrities.
Well, I needn’t have worried. She is a beautiful writer. She writes of her life and experience with depth and grace. I have several friends who are listening to her read the audio version, and honestly, it felt like she she was sitting next to me, talking like girlfriends. She is fierce and compassionate, intelligent and funny. I admired how she mined her life, looking for the threads that wove together to allow her to become who she was meant to be.
But it is not only about she became Michelle Obama. It is how we each have the ability to rise up and become who we are meant to be.It is about how how our country is still in the midst of becoming who we are meant to be.
A passage I love:
“Becoming requires equal parts patience and rigor. Becoming is never giving up on the idea that there’s more growing to be done.”
“Hazards of Time Travel” a novel by Joyce Carol Oates
They would not have come for me, naively I drew their attention to me.
In a not too distant future, Ariadne pushes the boundaries imposed on the citizens of NAS (Reconstituted North American States). A valedictorian speech brings unwanted attention by those in charge and the consequences are swift and severe. She is transported back to 1950’s Wisconsin to complete four years of college. Ripped from her family, her friends, her time in history, she is left to manage a life alone. It could’ve been worse. She could’v been deleted. Given strict instructions to not travel far from her epicenter and not to get intimate with anyone else from this time, Ariadne, now going by the name Mary Ellen tries to forge a life in this completely different world than the one she knows. What she knows of this one she learned from history books and stories from her parents. When a professor catches her attention, Ariadne is convinced he is an Exile, like her. A relationship is forbidden, but her loneliness is deep and raw. In a love story that looks ahead as well as back in time, JCO has created a mesmerizing world that is really two worlds reflect that who we were, who we are and who we become.
A passage I love:
I felt like a soft, winged thing, a moth that has been batted out of the air. Not hard enough to break its wings, but hard enough to knock it stunned to earth, and the wings slow-moving, wounded and mute in wonderment.