This is a premise that’s inspired many a booktube video over the years, but I got the idea to do this post in particular when I was watching Lala’s recent video about reading the highest rated books on her TBR. After I watched that I decided to go through my own Goodreads TBR and sort it by average ratings, and then I thought it would be fun to make a post to show you guys the results of that search.
Note that I’m only going to include books that were published prior to 2019. Summaries are from Goodreads.
The 5 Highest
Becoming by Michelle Obama – 4.67
“In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African-American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments.”
This one isn’t a huge surprise; I’ve heard that if you love Michelle Obama you’re going to love this book, and if you don’t love Michelle Obama you probably aren’t going to pick it up in the first place. I was planning on listening to this on audio before realizing the audiobook is 18 hours long (I have audiobook commitment issues), but I do have the hardcover and should probably pick this up at some point. I will say, I’m not terribly enthusiastic about it for some reason? I mean, I don’t love political memoirs, so that is probably the reason. But I do love Michelle Obama, so I do want to read this. At some point.
War Music: An Account of Homer’s Iliad by Christopher Logue – 4.61
“Logue’s account of Homer’s Iliad is a radical reimagining and reconfiguration of Homer’s tale of warfare, human folly, and the power of the gods in language and verse that is emphatically modern and “possessed of a very terrible beauty” (Slate). Illness prevented him from bringing his version of the Iliad to completion, but enough survives in notebooks and letters to assemble a compilation that includes the previously published volumes War Music, Kings, The Husbands, All Day Permanent Red, and Cold Calls, along with previously unpublished material, in one final illuminating volume arranged by his friend and fellow poet Christopher Reid. The result, War Music, comes as near as possible to representing the poet’s complete vision and confirms what his admirers have long known: that “Logue’s Homer is likely to endure as one of the great long poems of the twentieth century” (The Times Literary Supplement)”
Now this is what we’re talking about: I think this is part translation, part adaptation of Homer’s Iliad, and it sounds very experimental. This kind of thing is very, very much up my alley. I also have a copy of this and I really need to make time to read it.
The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels in America by Isaac Butler – 4.58
“Now, on the 25th anniversary of that Broadway premiere, Isaac Butler and Dan Kois offer the definitive account of Angels in America in the most fitting way possible: through oral history, nearly 200 voices in vibrant conversation and debate. The intimate storytelling of actors (including Streep, Parker, Jeffrey Wright, and Nathan Lane), directors, producers, and Kushner himself reveals the turmoil of the play’s birth-a hard-won miracle in the face of artistic roadblocks, technical disasters, and disputes both legal and creative. And historians and critics help to situate the play in the arc of American culture, from the staunch activism of the AIDS crisis through civil-rights triumphs to our current era, whose politics are a dark echo of the Reagan ’80s. The World Only Spins Forward is both a rollicking theater saga and an uplifting testament to one of the great works of American art of the past century, from its gritty San Francisco premiere to the starry revival that electrified London in 2017.”
I am a massive fan of Tony Kushner’s play Angels in America, which I think is one of the best pieces of theatre from the 20th century, so reading about its behind the scenes history sounds like a fun time to me.
Sons of Achilles by Nabila Lovelace – 4.56
“Sons of Achilles questions what it means to be in and of a linage of violence. In this collection, Nabila Lovelace attempts to examine the liminal space between violence and intimacy. From the mythical characters that depict and pass down a progeny of violence through their canonization, to the witnessing of violence, Lovelace interrogates the ways violence enters and inhabits a life.”
I don’t remember where I first heard about this poetry collection but I was undoubtedly drawn to it because of the title. It sounds absolutely brilliant, and I’d like to get my hands on a copy at some point.
Indecent by Paula Vogel – 4.55
“When Sholem Asch wrote God of Vengeance in 1907, he didn’t imagine the height of controversy the play would eventually reach. Performing at first in Yiddish and German, the play’s subject matter wasn’t deemed contentious until it was produced in English, when the American audiences were scandalized by the onstage depiction of an amorous affair between two women. Paula Vogel’s newest work traces the trajectory of the show’s success through its tour in Europe to its abrupt and explosive demise on Broadway in 1923—including the arrest of the entire production’s cast and crew.”
I missed the recent Broadway production of this play, sadly, but hopefully I’ll catch it in Boston this April. I’ve heard that this is absolutely gut-wrenching and I have no doubt that I will love it.
The 5 Lowest
Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li – 3.10
“The Beijing Duck House in Rockville, Maryland, is not only a beloved go-to setting for hunger pangs and celebrations; it is its own world, inhabited by waiters and kitchen staff who have been fighting, loving, and aging within its walls for decades. When disaster strikes, this working family’s controlled chaos is set loose, forcing each character to confront the conflicts that fast-paced restaurant life has kept at bay. Owner Jimmy Han hopes to leave his late father’s homespun establishment for a fancier one. Jimmy’s older brother, Johnny, and Johnny’s daughter, Annie, ache to return to a time before a father’s absence and a teenager’s silence pushed them apart. Nan and Ah-Jack, longtime Duck House employees, are tempted to turn their thirty-year friendship into something else, even as Nan’s son, Pat, struggles to stay out of trouble. And when Pat and Annie, caught in a mix of youthful lust and boredom, find themselves in a dangerous game that implicates them in the Duck House tragedy, their families must decide how much they are willing to sacrifice to help their children.”
Haaa, we meet again. I already know that I’m going to be reading this in the next couple of months because I’m reading the entire Women’s Prize longlist, and I knew that it had a low average rating, but I don’t think I expected to see it on this list. But here we are. I don’t know, you guys, I’ve heard a couple of positive things but the vast majority of reviews that I’ve seen for this book have been lukewarm at best… so we’ll see!
Come With Me by Helen Schulman – 3.08
“Amy Reed works part-time as a PR person for a tech start-up, run by her college roommate’s nineteen-year-old son, in Palo Alto, California. Donny is a baby genius, a junior at Stanford in his spare time. His play for fortune is an algorithm that may allow people access to their “multiverses”—all the planes on which their alternative life choices can be played out simultaneously—to see how the decisions they’ve made have shaped their lives. Donny wants Amy to be his guinea pig. And even as she questions Donny’s theories and motives, Amy finds herself unable to resist the lure of the road(s) not taken. Who would she be if she had made different choices, loved different people? Where would she be now? Amy’s husband, Dan—an unemployed, perhaps unemployable, print journalist—accepts a dare of his own, accompanying a seductive, award-winning photographer named Maryam on a trip to Fukushima, the Japanese city devastated by tsunami and meltdown. Collaborating with Maryam, Dan feels a renewed sense of excitement and possibility he hasn’t felt with his wife in a long time. But when crisis hits at home, the extent of Dan’s betrayal is exposed and, as Amy contemplates alternative lives, the couple must confront whether the distances between them in the here and now are irreconcilable.”
I received a finished copy of this book from the publisher, and when I first received it the book had something like a 2.0 rating on Goodreads, which I assumed was down to a couple of negative ARC reviews, but half a year later the rating doesn’t seem to have improved that much. I may just pass on my copy to someone else. I honestly can’t even follow what’s going on in this summary, it sounds like there may be too much happening and none of it is sufficiently developed, I’m not sure.
The Gathering by Anne Enright – 3.06
“Anne Enright is a dazzling writer of international stature and one of Ireland’s most singular voices. Now she delivers The Gathering, a moving, evocative portrait of a large Irish family and a shot of fresh blood into the Irish literary tradition, combining the lyricism of the old with the shock of the new. The nine surviving children of the Hegarty clan are gathering in Dublin for the wake of their wayward brother, Liam, drowned in the sea. His sister, Veronica, collects the body and keeps the dead man company, guarding the secret she shares with him—something that happened in their grandmother’s house in the winter of 1968. As Enright traces the line of betrayal and redemption through three generations her distinctive intelligence twists the world a fraction and gives it back to us in a new and unforgettable light. The Gathering is a daring, witty, and insightful family epic, clarified through Anne Enright’s unblinking eye. It is a novel about love and disappointment, about how memories warp and secrets fester, and how fate is written in the body, not in the stars.”
I get the impression that this might be one of those books that people dislike because they go into it expecting a thriller and then it isn’t really a thriller…? At any rate, it’s Irish, it won the Booker, and I own a copy, so I will definitely be giving this one a try.
The Shades by Evgenia Citkowitz – 2.98
“A year has passed since Catherine and Michael Hall lost their teenage daughter in a car accident, leaving them and their sixteen-year-old son, Rowan, reeling in the aftermath of the tragedy. After Rowan escapes to boarding school, Catherine withdraws from her life as a successful London gallerist to Hamdean, an apartment in a Georgian country manor, where she and Michael had hoped to spend their retirement. When a beguiling young woman, Keira, appears at the house claiming to have once lived there, Catherine is reanimated by the promise of a meaningful connection. However, their relationship soon shifts to one of forbidding uncertainty as the mysteries of the past collide with the truth of the present.”
This is partially on my TBR because the cover is a stunner, and partially because I think that summary sounds genius. The average rating does concern me a little, but I think my curiosity is going to win out with this one.
Little Constructions by Anna Burns – 2.66
“At the centre of Anna Burns’s startling new novel lies the Doe clan, a closely knit family of criminals and victims whose internal conflicts and convoluted relationships propel this simultaneously funny and terrifying story. Bound together by love and loyalty, fear and secrets, the Does and other inhabitants of Tiptoe Floorboard make up an unforgettable cast of characters. In a voice that is by turns chilling and wickedly funny, the narrator documents their struggle to make and maintain connections with each other, and – weaving back and forth in time – examines what transpires when unspeakable realities, long pushed from consciousness, begin to break through.”
And, ironically, the book in this entire post that I’m probably the most excited for is the one with the lowest rating. However, in this case the average rating does not scare me, because I know Anna Burns’ work is not for everyone. From those who adored Milkman and went back to read her backlist I get the impression that Milkman is probably her most accomplished novel, though No Bones and Little Constructions are still good. So, I’ll definitely be giving them both a try, and hopefully will be able to contribute to this book’s rating getting a tiny bit higher.
So, that’s that! Have you guys read any of these books, and if so does your rating fall above or below the average? Let me know which books I should prioritize off this list!
(NB I’ve scheduled this post and am in New York for another couple of days, so I’ll probably be late in replying to comments.)