Books! Let’s just talk for a second about how books are pulling heroic weight right now. I’m using them in so many ways: To dive into other lives. To escape. To shape my comprehension of things I don’t understand. To feel like I’m part of the larger world even in quarantine. To discover new ideas that excite me. And – let’s be honest here – to feel the exhilaration of thinking, “I disagree!” and then doing the work to figure out why and what that might mean.
Thank you, authors. I heart you so much right now.
Here are some quick thoughts on books I’ve finished recently:
Forest Dark & Great House by Nicole Krauss – these are re-reads. Her writing is just so weird and marvelous. I go over the pages again and again, thinking, “Wait, they let you do this?” She takes so many chances in her novels. Parts are so blatantly autobiographical she’s almost daring reviewers to call her on it. But she puts those parts up against something wholly other – an older Jewish man rethinking the choices of his life, or a dead Chilean poet who somehow haunts the owners of a giant desk – and gives the book shape you follow blindly, trying to keep up. These aren’t beach reads – they’re enjoyable puzzles.
It’s Not All Downhill From Here by Terry McMillan – Oh how I love the author of Waiting to Exhale! Rich characters facing serious situations, but the story is buoyed along by McMillan’s trademark wisdom & humor. In this, her latest, she tackles aging, widowhood, addiction, and death of a friend and yet still somehow had me filled with hope on every page. That’s a gift. This one is totally a beach read, but I read it on the couch and can vouch for that, too.
Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington – I’m pretty ignorant about all but the basics about the Civil War and American life immediately thereafter, and this was my first step towards rectifying that. This is Washington’s account of his transition from slavery to freedom, and it’s a page turner. My favorite part is how clearly he lays out his philosophies about overcoming the scourge of racial prejudice. I gained as much from how he thought as I did from the ideas themselves. And his navigation of different audiences – North & South, Black & White – is awe-inspiring. One of my top books this year for so many reasons.
The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois – Not everyone agreed with Booker T. Washington’s methodology for attaining the fullness of Black American citizenship. Du Bois was one of his most direct critics, and so I jumped into this book (particularly the chapter directly addressing Mr. Washington) to absorb this perspective. In our world today where critique is so often rapid-fire and disparaging, it was great to see this discourse between two men looking at the same problem and imaging different solutions.
What Should I Do With My Life? by Po Bronson – Another re-read. This book came out of a series of interviews he did with people all over the country who were in transition and figuring out their next steps. It’s a marvelous exploration of different ways to shape a life, face challenges, build (or disentangle from) relationships, and move forward. More than anything else, Bronson’s writing here reminds me to be curious. I love it. You will too.
Why Do I Love These People? by Po Bronson – his follow up book on family. Surprise: I hated it. His writing is still fantastic. And there are a few stories that leave you feeling good about the human condition. But most of them share a grim theme of one heroic family member who sacrifices everything to maintain relationship with a parent/sibling/child who only ever takes. I kept putting it down because it was all so disappointing.
Thick by Tressie McMillan Cottom – This collection of essays flat-out raises the bar for what writing can be and do. McMillan Cottom is so smart that her brutal honesty comes at you like a gift. And then she follows it with hope and humor…and more multi-layered candor. Fantastic read, especially for writers/bloggers/anyone who uses words on a page to communicate. This is a master class.