The Guardian’s 100 Best Books of the 21st Century | reaction

Last week the Guardian posted a list of the Top 100 Books of the 21st Century, which, as lists like this are wont to do, has sparked quite a bit of debate on Twitter and booktube and in the comments section of the article.  I find stuff like this fun and terribly interesting, so I’ve been enjoying all of the heated discussions so far.

Kamil @ WhatKamilReads on booktube made a video about this list, breaking it into four categories: books he was happy to see on the list, surprises that he wasn’t happy to see, going through the top 10 one at time, and then listing what he thinks was missing from the list.  I loved watched this and it inspired me to use Kamil’s format to make my own reaction post, so, here we go.  (Also, Eric Karl Anderson has a great discussion video about the list here!)

I do just want to say right off the bat that I take all of these ‘best books’ lists with a massive grain of salt; quantifying ‘the best’ literature just isn’t possible and I think that in general people can get a little too worked up about something that’s ultimately so inconsequential.  So I am writing this post in the spirit of having fun: I’m not doing this in order to discern what Objectively Belongs on a list like this and what Objectively Does Not… these are just my very subjective opinions about these 100 books, of which I have read 16.

Happy to see on the list:

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara: I know you’re all sick of me talking about this book, so I’ll keep it short: I understand why this inspires so much ire in some readers, but it remains one of the most sensational books I have ever read.  Thrilled about its inclusion on here, even if I think it should be higher than 96.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin: One of the big surprises and delights for me was the inclusion of genre fiction on this list; so many lists like this all too readily dismiss the literary merit and cultural impact of genre fiction, so seeing a groundbreaking author like N.K. Jemisin get the credit she deserves on this list was excellent.  Even if I do still need to finish this series.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones: Another huge surprise, not least of all because Tokarczuk’s novel Flights is the one that’s made a much bigger splash in the English-speaking world with its 2018 Man Booker International win.  I haven’t read Flights, but I thought Drive Your Plow was terrific.

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker: Another huge surprise to see this one over the oft-compared (and in my opinion inferior) Circe by Madeline Miller.  ‘Feminist mythology’ has become quite the publishing trend in the last few years, and The Silence of the Girls remains the best novel I have read from this subcategory.

Women & Power by Mary Beard: The inclusion of nonfiction on this list is interesting as well.  Women & Power is essentially one of those ‘feminism 101’ books, but I can’t help but to favor this one over other comparable titles I’ve read like We Should All Be Feminists, because Beard’s approach to writing these essays through the lens of a classicist added a spin that made this collection really speak to my own tastes as a reader.

Human Chain by Seamus Heaney: This was fortuitous as I only read this poetry collection a few months ago, but it instantly became an all-time favorite of the genre.  You can read one of the poems that most struck me from this collection here.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel: Another huge surprise and a huge delight; I read this after falling in love with its musical adaptation, and Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir did not even begin to disappoint.  This book is a great gateway into graphic novels (or memoirs), as Bechdel’s prose itself is the star of this book, I think.

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson: One of the best memoirs I’ve read in recent years, The Argonauts is frank and raw and candid and all of those overused adjectives.  But even if the adjectives are done to death, this book is so singular.

Normal People by Sally Rooney: It’s inferior to her debut Conversations With Friends, in my opinion, but the cultural stamp that Sally Rooney has left on contemporary literary fiction cannot be ignored, and I am thrilled to see her recognized on here.

Surprises I’m not happy to see on the list:

Compared to the list of books I’m happy about, this list is much shorter!

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry: What’s the opposite of a problematic fave – something that you think is so objectively good that you feel problematic for not loving it?  That’s how I feel about this book.  On the one hand I’m not unhappy to see this queer epic on the list… and on the other hand I hated the experience of reading this book too much to fully get on board here.

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin: I’ve only read a few books by Toibin and I think he is an excellent writer, but I remain unimpressed by Brooklyn, his rather by-the-book Irish immigration saga.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon: I’ve read this twice: once in high school (loved it) and once many years later for a book club (hated it).  I understand why this is a bestseller but I don’t think it goes deep enough into anything to really achieve what it’s trying to do.

There are other books like Gone Girl on the list that made me go ‘… really, that one?’  But I haven’t read Gone Girl so I don’t feel like I’m in a place to pass judgement.  Similarly, with something like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, my gut reaction was ‘… really?’ but of course, it’s hard to argue that book’s cultural impact (and ditto Gone Girl, to be honest), so maybe my inner literary snob should quiet down.  Especially as The Guardian was curiously vague about their criteria for this list: are we being literal about the word ‘best,’ or are we interpreting ‘best’ as ‘most influential’?

The top 10:

Spoiler alert: I have read one (1).

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: I haven’t been a fan of Ngozi Adichie’s nonfiction, but I have been wanting to give her fiction a shot.  All I have to say about this one is that I’m shocked that it’s this title and not Americanah.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell: I’ve read one Mitchell – Black Swan Green – which I loved, but which I fully understand is the least David Mitchell-y of his books, so I probably shouldn’t use it as an indicator of what his fiction is normally like.  I would like to read more from him, though, and I’m not surprised to see this here.

Autumn by Ali Smith: A surprise, and a welcome one!  I adore Ali Smith, but I have not yet read anything from her seasonal quartet.  I’m sure I will love it though.  I would have put How to be Both on this list, but I obviously can’t speak to how it compares to Autumn; I’m sure Autumn does more to capture the zeitgeist, which does seem to be one of the rubrics in lists like this.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates: Speaking of the zeitgeist; I have not yet read this (I know, it is a shame) but I am very happy to see a book that discusses blackness in the U.S. make the top 10.

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman: I tried to read this series as a child and never made it very far.  Not my thing.  But I’m sure it fully earned its place here.

Austerlitz by WG Sebald, translated by Anthea Bell: This is the title and author off the top 10 that I know the least about, so I’m afraid I don’t have much to say here.  Should I read this?

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro: My favorite book of all time.  So.  I approve.

Secondhand Time by Svetlana Alexievich, translated by Bela Shayvich: I am dying to read literally anything by Svetlana Alexievitch, but my local bookstore never has her.  (I should probably start looking elsewhere.)  But I’m happy to see her on here; as a Nobel Prize winner you can’t really argue her significance.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson: I’ll be honest – none of Marilynne Robinson’s books appeal to me at a glance.  But I’ve heard so many brilliant things that I should probably bite the bullet one of these days.  I’m sure it’s a very real possibility that I will end up loving her.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel: And another one that I feel a bit guilty for not having read!  I’m not at all surprised to see this here but a little surprised to see it take the coveted spot, especially over Never Let Me Go, but everyone who loves this book simply raves about Mantel’s skill.  I’m intrigued.

What’s missing:

Translated literature: this is one of the elephants in the room that I keep seeing discussed – obviously when you call your list the ‘best books of the 21st century,’ claiming that 86 of them are from English-speaking countries is… pretty bold.  But of course, I’m not sure we could really expect much else from a UK publication.  That said, there are some huge omissions of the translated lit variety: The Vegetarian and Human Acts by Han Kang, Flights by Olga Tokarczuk, Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (even if I did not personally like this one).

Booker winners: given that the Booker’s tagline is ‘finest fiction,’ you’d think it would have zeroed in on a few more of the ‘best’ books of the 21st century, yes?  Some shocking omissions for me were Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, Milkman by Anna Burns, A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James, Life of Pi by Yan Martel, and The Sea by John Banville (though I have not read the latter three).

Other: just a few more that I might have included.

I’m not going to go through these one by one.  But they’re good books.

So, that’s that.  What did you guys think of the Guardian list?  How many have you read off it?  Do you enjoy lists like this?  What notably omissions would your own list have included?  Let’s chat!

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Hannah and I have too many ARCs: an emergency readathon

Hannah and I are always lamenting how many unread ARCs we have, so we finally decided to put our money where our mouth is and actually, you know, read some of them.  So we are doing a two-person readathon for the first 2 weeks of September, where we read only ARCs in that time.  I say it’s a two-person readathon, but feel free to join us!  This isn’t going to be a big affair with prompts and hashtags and all that good stuff.  The only prompt is to read your damn ARCs already.  But if this endeavor inspires you, please do join in, we’d love to hear from you.

So, what will I be reading?  No clue.  So I am just going to tell you all of the ARCs I have.  Please don’t judge me too unkindly.

Links are included to Book Depository for each of these titles, in case you’d like to grab a copy or read more about them.

Frontlist

Backlist

The only book I can tell you with 100% certainty that I will be reading for this readathon (assuming it arrives in the mail on time) is Liar.  Two I’ve started reading since starting this post are We, The Survivors, and Isolde and I’ll probably finish them before September so there’s really no point in including them here but I’m doing it anyway.

Otherwise, who knows.  Tell me what to read!  If a particular book gets mentioned a lot in the comments, or if someone makes a particularly compelling case, I’ll definitely be more inclined to prioritize that one.  I do know that I want to tackle a bit of backlist, so I may try to focus my attention there, but I haven’t decided yet.

Which ARCs do you have that you’re behind on reading?  Anything from this list that catches your eye?  Let’s chat!

Book of the Month TBR

I’ve been subscribed to Book of the Month since… the end of 2016, I think? and I’ve been slowly breaking up with them for the past year or so.  Even though I skip most months I have yet to pull the trigger and cancel my subscription, but I think it’s going to happen very soon.  I’ve become increasingly frustrated with them over the years: their selection is appealing to me less and less (I feel like there was a lot more literary fiction when I joined than there is now), subscription price has gone up, the physical quality of their books has gone down, and they now charge you for the month if you forget to click ‘skip’ which is frankly ridiculous and a really insidious way to hold subscribers hostage for longer than they’re interested.

But I do still have a fondness for BOTM; it’s the only book subscription service I’ve ever used, and I enjoy the simplicity of it (I like watching unboxings but all the swag in OwlCrate and whatnot stresses me out; if I could have a subscription that did literary fiction and tea, maybe with the occasional mug, I would be very happy).  And waking up on the first of every month and looking at the selection will never not give me a thrill (except now they announce it randomly like two and a half days beforehand so there’s always a bit of a panic when I realize the list has been up for a few days and I’ve been wasting time by not selecting anything, but I digress).

I realize that most posts that specifically talk about a service tend to be more positive than this, so I realize this hasn’t been the best opening for BOTM-enthusiasts, but I just wanted to be honest about my experiences, which have ultimately been mixed over the years.  I’d love to hear from you if you also subscribe to BOTM, whether you have the same frustrations that I do or whether you’re still happy with what they provide.

I’ve purchased 28 books through Book of the Month over the years, and of those, I’ve read 19.  That leaves 9 that are still on my TBR.  I wanted to take a look at those now to hopefully inspire myself to pick these up sooner rather than later.

Going chronologically from publication date, with summaries from Goodreads in italics and my own thoughts below:

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Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Jason Dessen is walking home through the chilly Chicago streets one night, looking forward to a quiet evening in front of the fireplace with his wife, Daniela, and their son, Charlie—when his reality shatters.

It starts with a man in a mask kidnapping him at gunpoint, for reasons Jason can’t begin to fathom—what would anyone want with an ordinary physics professor?—and grows even more terrifying from there, as Jason’s abductor injects him with some unknown drug and watches while he loses consciousness.

When Jason awakes, he’s in a lab, strapped to a gurney—and a man he’s never seen before is cheerily telling him “welcome back!”

Jason soon learns that in this world he’s woken up to, his house is not his house. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born.

And someone is hunting him.

This is a textbook case of ‘the hype made me do it’.  Science fiction really isn’t my thing, but I feel like I’ve heard nothing but good things about this book, enough that I ended up adding this as an extra to one of my boxes a while back.  I still haven’t gotten around to picking it up (obviously), but I do still have FOMO about this one and want to pick it up before the end of the year.

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As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner

In 1918, Philadelphia was a city teeming with promise. Even as its young men went off to fight in the Great War, there were opportunities for a fresh start on its cobblestone streets. Into this bustling town, came Pauline Bright and her husband, filled with hope that they could now give their three daughters–Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa–a chance at a better life.

But just months after they arrive, the Spanish Flu reaches the shores of America. As the pandemic claims more than twelve thousand victims in their adopted city, they find their lives left with a world that looks nothing like the one they knew. But even as they lose loved ones, they take in a baby orphaned by the disease who becomes their single source of hope. Amidst the tragedy and challenges, they learn what they cannot live without–and what they are willing to do about it.

I actually remember vividly that none of the selections appealed to me the month I chose this, but I had just been in the mood to buy a book.  So, here we are.  Of this entire list, this is the one that I’m most likely to unhaul without reading it, but the completionist in me shudders at the thought.  We’ll see.  If you loved this, convince me to read it!

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Still Lives by Maria Hummel

Kim Lord is an avant-garde figure, feminist icon, and agent provocateur in the L.A. art scene. Her groundbreaking new exhibition Still Lives is comprised of self-portraits depicting herself as famous, murdered women—the Black Dahlia, Chandra Levy, Nicole Brown Simpson, among many others—and the works are as compelling as they are disturbing, implicating a culture that is too accustomed to violence against women.

As the city’s richest art patrons pour into the Rocque Museum’s opening night, all the staff, including editor Maggie Richter, hope the event will be enough to save the historic institution’s flailing finances. Except Kim Lord never shows up to her own gala. Fear mounts as the hours and days drag on and Lord remains missing. Suspicion falls on the up-and-coming gallerist Greg Shaw Ferguson, who happens to be Maggie’s ex. A rogue’s gallery of eccentric art world figures could also have motive for the act, and as Maggie gets drawn into her own investigation of Lord’s disappearance, she’ll come to suspect all of those closest to her.

I have heard… almost nothing positive about this book, but the combination of feminism and art history in its blurb convinced me that it was something I was going to love.  I don’t remain quite as convinced at this point, but I do want to read this as Hummel is a local (Vermont) author.

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Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

Willa Knox has always prided herself on being the embodiment of responsibility for her family. Which is why it’s so unnerving that she’s arrived at middle age with nothing to show for her hard work and dedication but a stack of unpaid bills and an inherited brick home in Vineland, New Jersey, that is literally falling apart. The magazine where she worked has folded, and the college where her husband had tenure has closed. The dilapidated house is also home to her ailing and cantankerous Greek father-in-law and her two grown children: her stubborn, free-spirited daughter, Tig, and her dutiful debt-ridden, ivy educated son, Zeke, who has arrived with his unplanned baby in the wake of a life-shattering development.

In an act of desperation, Willa begins to investigate the history of her home, hoping that the local historical preservation society might take an interest and provide funding for its direly needed repairs. Through her research into Vineland’s past and its creation as a Utopian community, she discovers a kindred spirit from the 1880s, Thatcher Greenwood.

A science teacher with a lifelong passion for honest investigation, Thatcher finds himself under siege in his community for telling the truth: his employer forbids him to speak of the exciting new theory recently published by Charles Darwin. Thatcher’s friendships with a brilliant woman scientist and a renegade newspaper editor draw him into a vendetta with the town’s most powerful men. At home, his new wife and status-conscious mother-in-law bristle at the risk of scandal, and dismiss his financial worries and the news that their elegant house is structurally unsound.

It would be a stretch to say that I’m a massive Kingsolver fan since I’ve only ever read The Poisonwood Bible, but I did really love that.  I actually only picked this up because I was convinced that it was going to be a strong contender for the Women’s Prize longlist: obviously that did not happen.  Unsheltered has been polarizing, but I remain curious about it.

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The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Alicia Berenson’s life is seemingly perfect. A famous painter married to an in-demand fashion photographer, she lives in a grand house with big windows overlooking a park in one of London’s most desirable areas. One evening her husband Gabriel returns home late from a fashion shoot, and Alicia shoots him five times in the face, and then never speaks another word.

Alicia’s refusal to talk, or give any kind of explanation, turns a domestic tragedy into something far grander, a mystery that captures the public imagination and casts Alicia into notoriety. The price of her art skyrockets, and she, the silent patient, is hidden away from the tabloids and spotlight at the Grove, a secure forensic unit in North London.

Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist who has waited a long time for the opportunity to work with Alicia. His determination to get her to talk and unravel the mystery of why she shot her husband takes him down a twisting path into his own motivations—a search for the truth that threatens to consume him….

I have a rule that I don’t read thrillers written by men (I find that poorly written female protagonists and using sexual assault as a plot point both occur much less frequently in female-authored thrillers; yes, I’m aware this is a generalization, sue me), but I’m breaking that rule twice in this list.  Further down it’s a favorite author who I discovered before I implemented my female-author-only thriller rule, and here’s in because this book sounds absolutely marvelous.  It’s a loose retelling of Euripides’ Alcestis, a play and a story that I adore, so I am very curious to see how Michaelides has interpreted it here.

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The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo

When 11-year-old Ren’s master dies, he makes one last request of his Chinese houseboy: that Ren find his severed finger, lost years ago in an accident, and reunite it with his body. Ren has 49 days, or else his master’s soul will roam the earth, unable to rest in peace.

Ji Lin always wanted to be a doctor, but as a girl in 1930s Malaysia, apprentice dressmaker is a more suitable occupation. Secretly, though, Ji Lin also moonlights as a dancehall girl to help pay off her beloved mother’s Mahjong debts. One night, Ji Lin’s dance partner leaves her with a gruesome souvenir: a severed finger. Convinced the finger is bad luck, Ji Lin enlists the help of her erstwhile stepbrother to return it to its rightful owner.

As the 49 days tick down, and a prowling tiger wreaks havoc on the town, Ji Lin and Ren’s lives intertwine in ways they could never have imagined. Propulsive and lushly written, The Night Tiger explores colonialism and independence, ancient superstition and modern ambition, sibling rivalry and first love. Braided through with Chinese folklore and a tantalizing mystery, this novel is a page-turner of the highest order.

Historical fiction set in East Asia is one of my favorite things to read, and I don’t think I’ve read anything set in Malaysia before.  The magical realism element… makes me a bit nervous, but I ultimately decided to bite the bullet and give this one a try, since I just find the premise so intriguing.

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The Flight Portfolio by Julie Orringer

In 1940, Varian Fry—a Harvard-educated American journalist—traveled to Marseille carrying three thousand dollars and a list of imperiled artists and writers he hoped to rescue within a few weeks. Instead, he ended up staying in France for thirteen months, working under the veil of a legitimate relief organization to procure false documents, amass emergency funds, and set up an underground railroad that led over the Pyrenees, into Spain, and finally to Lisbon, where the refugees embarked for safer ports. Among his many clients were Hannah Arendt, Franz Werfel, André Breton, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, and Marc Chagall.

My biggest interest outside of the bookish world is art history, so I was never going to be able to resist this premise.  World War II fatigue aside, I think this sounds incredible, and I’ve heard some really amazing things about it.  I’m a bit intimidated by the length, but I shouldn’t be!

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Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

Based on years of immersive reporting, and told with astonishing frankness and immediacy, Three Women is a groundbreaking portrait of erotic longing in today’s America, exposing the fragility, complexity, and inequality of female desire with unprecedented depth and emotional power. It is both a feat of journalism and a triumph of storytelling, brimming with nuance and empathy, that introduces us to three unforgettable women—and one remarkable writer—whose experiences remind us that we are not alone.

I barely know what this is about but I think I’ve been told to read it four times this week alone.  Alright, I give in!

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Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

No visitors. No nights spent away from the apartment. No disturbing the other residents, all of whom are rich or famous or both. These are the only rules for Jules Larsen’s new job as an apartment sitter at the Bartholomew, one of Manhattan’s most high-profile and mysterious buildings. Recently heartbroken and just plain broke, Jules is taken in by the splendor of her surroundings and accepts the terms, ready to leave her past life behind.

As she gets to know the residents and staff of the Bartholomew, Jules finds herself drawn to fellow apartment sitter Ingrid, who comfortingly, disturbingly reminds her of the sister she lost eight years ago. When Ingrid confides that the Bartholomew is not what it seems and the dark history hidden beneath its gleaming facade is starting to frighten her, Jules brushes it off as a harmless ghost story . . . until the next day, when Ingrid disappears.

Searching for the truth about Ingrid’s disappearance, Jules digs deeper into the Bartholomew’s dark past and into the secrets kept within its walls. Her discovery that Ingrid is not the first apartment sitter to go missing at the Bartholomew pits Jules against the clock as she races to unmask a killer, expose the building’s hidden past, and escape the Bartholomew before her temporary status becomes permanent.

I haven’t even read the summary that I just copied and pasted here but in my opinion Riley Sager is one of the best thriller writers working today.  Final Girls is arguably my favorite-ever thriller, and though I wasn’t quite as enamored with The Last Time I Lied overall, I couldn’t put it down and I thought the final twist was all kinds of brilliant.  So regardless of what this newest offering is actually about, I cannot wait to dive into it.


So, that’s that!  Have you read any of these books, and if so, which would you recommend that I pick up straight away?  If you haven’t, are you interested in any?  And have you ever subscribed to Book of the Month, and what are your thoughts on their subscription service?  Do you have other [adult lit] book subscription services you’d recommend?  Let me know all your thoughts!

Women in Translation Month 2019 TBR

In case you’re unfamiliar with Women in Translation Month, or #WITmonth, this Twitter account is a good place to start.  But it’s pretty self explanatory: in the month of August, should you feel inclined, you can challenge yourself to read books by women (or nonbinary folk) which were initially written in a language other than English.  These can either be books written or translated by a woman, or both, and you can read one or ten or twenty or however many you like.  I wrote a little recommendations post last year that you can check out, and this year I thought I’d share my TBR with you guys.

I can already tell you this TBR is overly ambitious, but I want to give myself a lot of options, so here we are.  Linking all of these to Book Depository in case you’d like to pick up any for yourself.

 

I’ve been going a little NYRB classics crazy in my recent hauls, and I’ve been saving all of these for this month.

White Walls by Tatyana Tolstaya, translated from the Russian by Jamey Gambell and Antonina W. Bouis

This is a short story collection that I’ve had on my TBR for about a year (I THINK this was recommended to me by Ren but correct me if I’m wrong?!) but I only picked up a copy recently.  The amount of Russian lit I’ve read is painfully lacking (I actually think the only translated Russian book I’ve ever read is War and Peace) so I’m looking forward to expanding my repertoire a little bit.

The Door by Magda Szabo, translated from the Hungarian by Lex Rix

I put this on my latest 5 star reads prediction list without knowing much about it; sometimes you’ve just gotta go off a vibe.  Plus, introduction by Ali Smith!  Yes please.

Love in a Fallen City by Eileen Chang, translated from the Chinese by Karen S. Kingsbury and Eileen Chang, &
Little Reunions by Eileen Chang, translated from the Chinese by Weizhen Pan and Martin Merz

I’ve never read Eileen Chang before but I know Claire loves her and that’s good enough for me!  I’m almost certain I’ll start with Love in a Fallen City, but I picked up Little Reunions recently so I wanted to include it as an option here in case I’m up for both.

Notes of a Crocodile by Qiu Miaojin, translated from the Chinese by Bonnie Huie

I feel like this is a bit of a modern cult classic that I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about.  I think it has to do with queer students in Taiwan; that’s all I need to know, really.

 

Valerie (or The Faculty of Dreams in the UK) by Sara Stridsberg, translated from the Swedish by Deborah Bragan-Turner

This is the only ARC I’ve got on this list.  I didn’t read any of the Man Booker International longlist this year (though I will be picking up Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk in a couple of days, which I’m not including in this post as I have to finish it before August), but The Faculty of Dreams, or now Valerie in the US, is the one whose premise excited me the most off that list.  And I have heard nothing but good things.

Purge by Sofi Oksanen, translated from the Finnish by Lola Rogers

This was another one of my 5 star read predictions; and again, I know next to nothing about it.  That’s my favorite way to go into books, as I’m sure you can tell by now.

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa, translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder

Ogawa’s collection Revenge was as close to perfection as I think I’ve ever read in a short story collection.  So I’m interested in seeing how her writing works for me in a longer format.

Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays by Christa Wolf, translated from the German by Jan van Heurk

This has been on my TBR for literally years.  Hannah has given it the coveted title of her favorite book, I adored Wolf’s Medea, I put this on my 2019 Backlist TBR (which I am kind of failing at – or at least, I’m behind by 2.5 books at this point).  Anyway, all things considered, I just need to read this immediately.  I mean, it’s a novel about Cassandra.  And then four essays.  There is nothing that could go wrong here.


I am almost certainly not going to finish, or even start, all of these books.  And I might end up reading a couple of other non-WIT things (I know I’m going to be seduced by the Booker longlist, but after my frustrating experience with the Women’s Prize this year I’m going to try to resist, so I can save some of my literary prize stamina for next year’s WP).  But this is a selection of titles that I am very, very excited about at this point.  We’ve got Russian, Hungarian, Chinese, Swedish, Finnish, Japanese, and German language books on this list and that’s a variety that excites me very much indeed.

What’s your favorite book by a woman in translation?  Are you planning on taking part in #WITmonth, and what are you looking forward to reading?  And have you read any of these books?  Come chat with me in the comments!  And if you’ve done your own TBR or recommendations posts for #WITmonth, feel free to link them here so I can check them out.

some of my favorite book blogs | part 2

Nearly a year ago I made a post where I listed 10 of my favorite book bloggers – I figured it was time for an update!  All of my recommendations in my last post still stand – all of those blogs are still active and I’d highly recommend checking them out.  But now for some new blood!

Requisite disclaimer about how I follow 500+ blogs on here and this is by no means a comprehensive list – if I follow your blog and regularly interact with you I promise I adore your blog as well and you will probably show up in part 3.  But lists that go much higher than 10 start to get boring so I’m keeping it concise.

Now, the list, alphabetically:

Ally @ Ally Writes Things: I love everything about Ally’s blog: concise reviews, interesting discussion posts (this one about cancel culture is a standout), and an abundance of tags and memes.  I think Ally and I mostly have a pretty similar taste, but even where we don’t overlap I always love reading her thoughts.  She’s also the sweetest person with the cutest horse.

Aurora Librialis: It’s probably no secret that my favorite posts, both to read and write, are book reviews, and most of my favorite blogs are review-heavy.  But I’ve loved Aurora’s blog for ages, and a few months back she mentioned that she doesn’t write book reviews, and I remember thinking ‘wait, you don’t?!  Oh, right, I guess you don’t.’  That’s how thorough her lists and wrap ups are: I never feel like her posts are wanting for anything, either information or analysis.  And her taste is refreshingly diverse: her lists will include everything from the latest YA release to rather dense literary fiction, all in the same post.  I love the range!

Books and Bao: Because there are only so many hours in the day to devote to blogging, as a rule I don’t subscribe to any blogs that aren’t hosted on WordPress since I rely pretty heavily on the WordPress Reader to stay updated.  But I have to make an exception for Will and Jess, the annoyingly cute couple behind Books and Bao: their blog is a hybrid of books and travel and culture – all great things! – and the books they review are refreshingly international.  Their blog has a wealth of info on translated lit, and I would highly recommend checking them out.

Cathy @ 746 Books: If I ever go bankrupt from all the books I buy, I swear Cathy’s blog will singlehandedly be responsible.  As the queen of (Northern) Irish lit around here, Cathy’s reading taste overlaps considerably with my own, but even though I own a truly ridiculous amount of yet unread Irish lit, I’m still learning about new and fascinating titles every time Cathy posts.  But if Irish lit doesn’t interest you, never fear, there’s plenty of other content on Cathy’s blog, the concept of which (realizing she owned 746 unread books and deciding to read them all before expanding her collection) she’s stuck to admirably.  Realizing I hadn’t included in Cathy in my first post (I don’t think I’d followed her at that point, but I think I’ve since made up for lost time!) actually prompted me to write this one.  Follow her!

Laura Frey @ Reading in Bed: Laura’s arguably a bit more active on booktube (which I also love!), but I think she does a really excellent job splitting her content between there and her blog, which is always a joy to read.  Laura mostly reads literary fiction and classics, and in particular has a passion for Canadian lit, which I’m sorry to say I haven’t actually read very much of, so I do love that I can count on Laura to keep me up to date with what’s going on in the world of Canadian publishing.  Plus, you can always count on her to be brutally honest in her assessments, and I mean that as the highest compliment.

Laura Tisdall: I feel like I’ve been following Laura for quite some time but we didn’t really start interacting until recently – and I am so glad for it!  When I started reading Laura’s blog more closely I realized how similar our taste was (both inside and outside of the wonderful world of literary prizes), and as fun as disagreement can be, it’s always nice to talk books with someone who often comes to very similar conclusions about the books you both read.  And aside from all that, she writes some of the most intelligent reviews on this website.

Michael @ Inexhaustible Invitations: Speaking of intelligent reviews, Michael’s tend to be rather brilliant.  He’s another one where we see eye to eye more often than not, but even when we don’t I find his analyses fascinating and astute.  (Plus, I love the sleek black and white aesthetic of his blog – busy headers/backgrounds are a big pet peeve of mine because I am apparently 80 years old.)

Naty @ Naty’s Bookshelf: Naty is one of the sweetest people I have had the pleasure of getting to know through book blogging, and I can’t recommend her blog highly enough.  She reads a pretty big range, everything from literary fiction to YA to SFF, and recently I had the pleasure of chatting with her while we both read through the Women’s Prize longlist.  Even though our assessments didn’t always align (she’s #teamCirce, I’m #teamSilence, somehow our friendship has survived), she always presents her opinions so thoughtfully that it’s a joy to read them.

Rebecca Foster @ Bookish Beck: As an active freelance reviewer, Rebecca writes at the quality you’d expect, covering a refreshingly massive range of literature on her blog.  I’m constantly reading about new releases I haven’t even heard of on Rebecca’s blog, which isn’t always great for my TBR, but I could read her thoughts on books for days, she’s always so smart and perceptive.

Ren @ What’s Nonfiction?: In theory I shouldn’t have a whole lot of bookish common ground with Ren, as she exclusively reads nonfiction and I read about 85% fiction, but some of the most stimulating conversations I’ve had on here have been with her.  The interesting thing about both of our blogs is that I think we value very similar elements in the books we read, even if the books themselves rarely overlap, so if you like my blog but wish I read more nonfiction, or if you’re interested in nonfiction at all, I can’t recommend What’s Nonfiction? highly enough for intelligent, thorough, well-argued reviews.  And that’s not to mention that Ren is a ridiculously kind person who is always up for some thorough discussions in the comments section (my favorite!).

So that’s that – go follow them all, and then let me know who some of your favorite book bloggers are!  Bonus points if anyone can name a brilliant adult/literary fiction blogger I don’t already follow.

ARCs I need to read #4

You can see my first installments of this series here, but this is pretty self-explanatory: I talk about the ARCs I need to read!  As always I’m very behind, so I’m only including the ARCs whose publication dates haven’t come and gone.

42179785We Went to the Woods by Caite Dolan-Leach
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: July 2, 2019
Received from: Netgalley
Why I requested it: I absolutely adored Dolan-Leach’s debut Dead Letters which I think suffered from ‘marketed as a thriller when it’s a literary character study’ syndrome, hence the uniform low ratings.  So the similarly low (3.23, yikes) Goodreads rating for her sophomore novel doesn’t really turn me off – I thought Dead Letters had some of the smartest writing I’ve ever read, and I’m eager to read more of her prose.
Goodreads summary: “Certain that society is on the verge of economic and environmental collapse, five disillusioned twenty-somethings make a bold decision: They gather in upstate New York to transform an abandoned farm, once the site of a turn-of-the-century socialist commune, into an idyllic self-sustaining compound called the Homestead.

Louisa spearheads the project, as her wealthy family owns the plot of land. Beau is the second to commit; as mysterious and sexy as he is charismatic, he torments Louisa with his nightly disappearances and his other relationships. Chloe, a dreamy musician, is naturally able to attract anyone to her–which inevitably results in conflict. Jack, the most sensible and cerebral of the group, is the only one with any practical farm experience. Mack, the last to join, believes it’s her calling to write their story–but she is not the most objective narrator, and inevitably complicates their increasingly tangled narrative. Initially exhilarated by restoring the rustic dwellings, planting a garden, and learning the secrets of fermentation, the group is soon divided by slights, intense romantic and sexual relationships, jealousies, and suspicions. And as winter settles in, their experiment begins to feel not only misguided, but deeply isolating and dangerous.”

You can pre-order a copy of We Went to the Woods here on Book Depository.

EDIT: ★★★★☆ | review

40796015Stubborn Archivist by Yara Rodrigues-Fowler
Publisher: Mariner Books
Publication date: July 16, 2019
Received from: Physical ARC from publisher
Why I requested it: ‘Young woman finding her way in the world’ is a formula that pretty much always works for me – and I believe Rebecca recommended this one!
Goodreads summary: “In Stubborn Archivist, a young British Brazilian woman from South London navigates growing up between two cultures and into a fuller understanding of her body, relying on signposts such as history, family conversation, and the eyes of the women who have shaped her—her mother, grandmother, and aunt. Our stubborn archivist takes us through first love and loss, losing and finding home, trauma and healing, and various awakenings of sexuality and identity. Shot through the novel are the narrator’s trips to Brazil, sometimes alone, often with family, where she accesses a different side of herself—one, she begins to realize, that is as much of who she is as anything else.”

You can pre-order a copy of Stubborn Archivist here on Book Depository.

EDIT: ★★★★☆ | review

42850426Valerie (The Faculty of Dreams) by Sara Stridsberg
Publisher: FSG
Publication date: August 6, 2019
Received from: Netgalley
Why I requested it: This was longlisted for the Man Booker International, and the impression I’ve gotten from a lot of people is that its exclusion from the shortlist was a snub.  It sounds amazing, plus, that cover!
Goodreads summary: “In April 1988, Valerie Solanas—the writer, radical feminist, and would-be assassin of Andy Warhol—was discovered dead at fifty-two in her hotel room, in a grimy corner of San Francisco, alone, penniless, and surrounded by the typed pages of her last writings.

In Valerie, Sara Stridsberg revisits the hotel room where Solanas died; the courtroom where she was tried and convicted of attempting to murder Andy Warhol; the Georgia wastelands where she spent her childhood, where she was repeatedly raped by her father and beaten by her alcoholic grandfather; and the mental hospitals where she was shut away. Through imagined conversations and monologues, reminiscences and rantings, Stridsberg reconstructs this most intriguing and enigmatic of women, articulating the thoughts and fears that she struggled to express in life and giving a powerful, heartbreaking voice to the writer of the infamous SCUM Manifesto.”

You can pick up a copy of The Faculty of Dreams (UK edition) here on Book Depository.

42201663A Keeper by Graham Norton
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication date: August 16, 2019
Received from: Netgalley
Why I requested it: I don’t even know.  I really didn’t like Norton’s debut Holding.  But you know me, I can’t resist anything Irish, even if it’s a crime novel written by a talk-show host.
Goodreads summary: “When Elizabeth Keane returns to Ireland after her mother’s death, she’s focused only on saying goodbye to that dark and dismal part of her life. Her childhood home is packed solid with useless junk, her mother’s presence already fading. But within this mess, she discovers a small stash of letters—and ultimately, the truth.

Forty years earlier, a young woman stumbles from a remote stone house, the night quiet except for the constant wind that encircles her as she hurries deeper into the darkness away from the cliffs and the sea. She has no sense of where she is going, only that she must keep on. ”

You can pick up a copy of A Keeper (UK edition) here on Book Depository.

42388020Devotion by Madeline Stevens
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication date: August 13, 2019
Received from: Netgalley
Why I requested it: The cover caught my eye and then I liked the sound of the summary.  I actually started reading this one but I’m hesitant to add it to my currently reading shelf because I can’t decide if I want to commit or not right this moment… I think it has potential, though.
Goodreads summary: “Ella is flat broke: wasting away on bodega coffee, barely making rent, seducing the occasional strange man who might buy her dinner. Unexpectedly, an Upper East Side couple named Lonnie and James rescue her from her empty bank account, offering her a job as a nanny and ushering her into their moneyed world. Ella’s days are now spent tending to the baby in their elegant brownstone or on extravagant excursions with the family. Both women are just twenty-six—but unlike Ella, Lonnie has a doting husband and son, unmistakable artistic talent, and old family money.

Ella is mesmerized by Lonnie’s girlish affection and disregard for the normal boundaries of friendship and marriage. Convinced there must be a secret behind Lonnie’s seemingly effortless life, Ella begins sifting through her belongings, meticulously cataloguing lipstick tubes and baby teeth and scraps of writing. All the while, Ella’s resentment grows, but so does an inexplicable and dizzying attraction. Soon she will be immersed so deeply in her cravings—for Lonnie’s lifestyle, her attention, her lovers—that she may never come up for air.”

You can pre-order a copy of Devotion here on Book Depository.

EDIT: ★★★★☆ | review

43208989The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea
Publisher: Harper
Publication date: September 3, 2019
Received from: Netgalley
Why I requested it: My ‘similar to Burial Rites‘ alarm started blaring when I read this summary and I can’t resist anything that may be even the slightest bit similar to that book.  I love Iceland as a setting and I love literary mysteries, so I have really high hopes for this.
Goodreads summary: “Rósa has always dreamed of living a simple life alongside her Mamma in their remote village in Iceland, where she prays to the Christian God aloud during the day, whispering enchantments to the old gods alone at night. But after her father dies abruptly and her Mamma becomes ill, Rósa marries herself off to a visiting trader in exchange for a dowry, despite rumors of mysterious circumstances surrounding his first wife’s death.

Rósa follows her new husband, Jón, across the treacherous countryside to his remote home near the sea. There Jón works the field during the day, expecting Rósa to maintain their house in his absence with the deference of a good Christian wife. What Rósa did not anticipate was the fierce loneliness she would feel in her new home, where Jón forbids her from interacting with the locals in the nearby settlement and barely speaks to her himself.

Seclusion from the outside world isn’t the only troubling aspect of her new life—Rósa is also forbidden from going into Jón’s. When Rósa begins to hear strange noises from upstairs, she turns to the local woman in an attempt to find solace. But the villager’s words are even more troubling—confirming many of the rumors about Jón’s first wife, Anna, including that he buried her body alone in the middle of the night.”

You can pick up a copy of The Glass Woman (UK edition) here on Book Depository.

42036538Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: September 10, 2019
Received from: A friend.
Why I requested it: ………… I don’t know guys, I’m nervous about this one, but my friend told me to read it and I am obedient.
Goodreads summary: “Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth unveils a solar system of swordplay, cut-throat politics, and lesbian necromancers. Her characters leap off the page, as skillfully animated as necromantic skeletons. The result is a heart-pounding epic science fantasy.

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will be become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.”

You can pre-order a copy of Gideon the Ninth here on Book Depository.

42980951The Sacrament by Olaf Olafsson
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication date: December 3, 2019
Received from: Netgalley
Why I requested it: Iceland!  Mysterious death!  I have predictable tastes!  I hadn’t known when I requested this that Olafsson is a businessman responsible for creating PlayStation – I tend to be wary when celebrities try their hand at novel writing (even though there are two examples of that in this list, shh), but I don’t know, I still hope it’ll be an entertaining read.
Goodreads summary: “Author of RESTORATION and ONE STATION AWAY Olaf Olafsson’s THE SACRAMENT, the story of a nun sent to investigate explosive allegations of misconduct at a Catholic school in Iceland, the mysterious death of the headmaster that takes place during her time there, and her return to the scene of the crime two decades later, a trip that brings the past back in surprising ways, revealing the faulty nature of memory and threatening to expose long-buried secrets.”

You can pre-order a copy of The Sacrament here on Book Depository.

So, that’s that!  Have you guys read any of these?  And which ARCs do you have that you’re most looking forward to?  Comment and let me know!

5 Star Read Predictions: Update & Round 3

A full YEAR AGO I posted round 2 of my 5 star read predictions, so I’ll forgive you if you don’t remember me making this post, but basically: the idea is to choose five books that you imagine you’ll rate 5 stars, and after you’ve read them you come back and let everyone know how you did.  Clearly it took me a while to read these five books, but we got there in the end:

How to be Both by Ali Smith ★★★★☆ | review
A Natural by Ross Raisin ★★★★☆ | review
The Quiet American by Graham Greene ★★★★☆ | review
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid ★★★★★ | review
I’ll Be Right There by Kyung-Sook Shin ★★☆☆☆ | review

Technically only 1/5, so… not my best work, but I did solidly enjoy 4/5 of these books.  How to be Both was a brilliant introduction to Ali Smith for me that was held back from its well-earned 5 stars only because of a nagging pedestrian complaint about the (intentionally) weird portrayal of Renaissance Italy that irritated me too much as someone with a degree in Italian studies, but anyway, make no mistake, this book is genius; A Natural was a kind of mixed bag that I ultimately really appreciated, and The Quiet American was a ridiculously good modern classic about love and war.  The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is just as good as everyone says, thankfully, since I only added that one to my 5-star predictions due to word of mouth praise, as the summary hadn’t really appealed to me.  Sadly I’ll Be Right There was a bit of a dud for me, taking a subject that could have easily been poignant and muting its impact with dull storytelling.

So, the reason I’m doing this challenge again, despite how long it took last time, is that I have been having a ridiculously uninspired reading year.  And I’m not even stingy with my 5 stars – I know some people reserve those for life-changing books, but I tend to give out 5 stars quite liberally, so the fact that I’ve barely given anything (fictional) 5 stars all year is a little disheartening.  So, I need to really hone in on books that I’m sure I’m going to love.

ROUND 3:

 

 

Country by Michael Hughes: An Iliad retelling set in Northern Ireland????  I mean…. if I don’t love this book I won’t even know who I am anymore.

The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor: I just LOVE the summary of this one: “The Gault family leads a life of privilege in early 1920s Ireland, but the threat of arson leads nine-year-old Lucy’s parents to leave Ireland for England, her mother’s home. Lucy cannot bear the thought of leaving Lahardane, their country house with its beautiful land and nearby beach, and a dog she has befriended. On the day before they are due to leave, Lucy runs away, hoping to convince her parents to stay, but instead she sets off a series of tragic misunderstandings that affect all of the inhabitants of Lahardane and the perpetrators of the failed arson attack for the rest of their lives.”  Yes yes yes.

The Door by Magda Szabo: This is a translated modern classic that I think has to do with friendship between two women?  And one is the other’s housekeeper?  Maybe?  I don’t know, but I saw this NYRB edition with an introduction by Ali Smith at my bookstore and I had to grab it.  I just have a gut feeling I’ll like this.

Villette by Charlotte Brontë: Claire said I will probably love this and I trust her.  It was already high on my TBR – I’m a big Jane Eyre fan and Villette seems like it’s going to be somehow less accessible but more interesting?  I’m very excited about this at any rate.

Purge by Sofi Oksanen: Another one that I know very little about – I think it has something to do with sex trafficking, and… female friendship, again?  I’m not sure.  This one is another gut feeling that I feel like I need to pursue.

I’m challenging Hannah, Naty, and Sarah to take part in this challenge, though you are welcome to pass of course, and anyone else who thinks this will be fun.  And if you’re not doing this challenge, let me know in the comments which book you haven’t read yet that you’re convinced will be 5 stars for you!