wrap up: May 2019

Happy Colin Farrell’s Birthday, everyone!  Another month, another reading wrap up:

  1. Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong ★★★★★ | review
  2. Good And Mad by Rebecca Traister ★★★★★ | review
  3. A Natural by Ross Raisin ★★★★☆ | review
  4. Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott ★★☆☆☆ | review
  5. So Sad Today by Melissa Broder ★★★★☆ | review
  6. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong ★★★★★ | review to come
  7. Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton ★★☆☆☆ | review
  8. Tell Them of Battles, Kings & Elephants by Mathias Énard ★★★★★ | review
  9. Spy Princess by Shrabani Basu ★★★☆☆ | mini review (read for work)
  10. The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero by William Kalush and Larry Sloman ★★★☆☆ | mini review (read for work)
  11. Forest Bathing by Qing Li ★★★☆☆ | no review (read for work)

Favorite: Tell Them of Battles, Kings & Elephants by Mathias Énard
Honorable mention: Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister
Least favorite: Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott

MAY TOTAL: 11
YEARLY TOTAL: 56

Other posts from this month:

Life updates:

I’m still settling into the new job and trying to find the optimal work/life/blogging balance, so again, apologies for falling behind on here, but I’m working on it!  Not having as much free time has also forced me to think about my blog content and the kind of posts I want to be writing, other than my book reviews which will always be my staple, so ironically enough I’m actually more inspired than ever regarding my blog content, I just need to carve out the time to sit down and write.

The reason my On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous review is being held up is that it’s actually a commissioned review, my very first!  You’ll be able to read my piece in mid-June, so apologies for the wait to everyone who’s been asking for my thoughts on that book.  Spoiler alert: it was good!

Also, this probably won’t be of any interest to anyone but oh well: after two straight months of car troubles, I am very excited to announce that this afternoon I am picking up my brand new car.  This is the first new car I’ve ever bought and excited is honestly an understatement.  I feel like I haven’t gone a single month without some car problem or other in the last decade, so I’m very excited to have a clean slate on the car-repair front.

Currently reading: The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See (lol, I’m working on it), The Granta Book of the Irish Short Story edited by Anne Enright, The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang (it’s good!), The Fire Starters by Jan Carson (it’s marvelous!).

What was the best book you read in May?  Comment and let me know!

P.S. Follow me!  @ Twitter | Goodreads | Instagram | Letterboxd

Women’s Prize 2019 Shortlist Review & Winner Prediction

Alright friends, it’s almost that time of year… the 2019 Women’s Prize winner will be announced on June 5, which is a week from today, so it’s time for my shortlist review.

Round up of my Women’s Prize coverage thus far:

Shortlist ranked from what I’d least to most like to see win:

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6. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Does it deserve to win?  No.  This is a hard-hitting yet woefully underdeveloped book whose impact is neutered by its unwieldy pace and execution. It has some great ideas and occasional moments of brilliance, but I’d solidly rank it in last place on this list while evaluating what each of these books is trying to achieve, and whether or not they succeed.
Will it win?  Probably not, and I blame the Oprah sticker.  How commercial is too commercial to win a literary prize?  I’d guess that this level of commercial is where the line is drawn. But who knows.

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5. Ordinary People by Diana Evans

Does it deserve to win?  No.  This is one of those books that I really enjoyed and appreciated while I was reading it, but, I’ll be honest: it’s ended up being one of the most forgettable things I’ve read all year.
Will it win?  No. I just don’t think this book makes enough of an impact.

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4. Circe by Madeline Miller

Does it deserve to win?  Who knows.  If you ask me, no; if you ask most other people who’ve read it, yes.  This book fell short for me but I understand its merits.
Will it win?  It certainly might. It’s an undeniable feminist achievement, and Miller would be the first author to win the Women’s Prize twice, which would be noteworthy.

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3. My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Does it deserve to win?  Good question. This is an incredibly short book, and while it achieves a lot in its short word count it also leaves the reader wanting a bit more.
Will it win?  I think it has a very good chance.  It’s stylish, topical, and more ‘fresh’ than any of the other frontrunners on this list: An American Marriage has Oprah, Milkman has the Booker, Circe has worldwide bestselling acclaim, My Sister has room to make a splash right here.

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2. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

Does it deserve to win? See, this is tricky. Where I thinks this excels as a Greek mythology retelling, it arguably fails as a feminist retelling, which, no, isn’t a Women’s Prize winner requirement, but it’s hard not to judge women-centric Greek myth retellings through an explicitly feminist lens when you have a prize specifically for books by women.  The bottom line here is Achilles: while I understood and respected the inclusion of his POV and its necessity to the story Barker was telling, many, many readers have taken issue with the few chapters we see through his eyes, ultimately arguing ‘if this book is about reclaiming women’s voices, why are we hearing from a man at all.’  I think ‘reclaiming women’s voices’ is a bit of a simplification of what Barker was trying to achieve in this retelling, and a simplification of how deeply entwined Briseis’s story is with Achilles’s, but I do understand the criticism and I think it’s what may ultimately hinder this one from taking home the prize.
Will it win?  But, I do think it’s a possibility.  Pat Barker has had an illustrious career and won the Man Booker in the past, but has never won the Women’s Prize.

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1. Milkman by Anna Burns

Does it deserve to win?  Yes, yes, unequivocally, yes.  This is one of the strongest books to come out of 2018, one of the most daring and fiercely original books we’ve seen in years, and it deserves all of the accolades.
Will it win?  … I don’t know.  If it weren’t for its Booker win, this would be a no-brainer, but a book has never in the past won both the Booker and the Women’s Prize.  It would be a historic first, but would the Women’s Prize judges just feel like they’re piggybacking off its recent success?

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Winner prediction: My Sister, The Serial Killer. I think it’s a strong candidate that examines themes that the prize has always valued – the delicate line between upholding and subverting gender roles, primarily – and it’s arguably the most original choice on this not terribly original list.

Which book would you guys like to see win, and which do you think will take home the prize? Comment and let me know!

Women’s Prize 2019 Longlist Reflections

I was hoping to finish the longlist and get this post up before the shortlist announcement, but that didn’t end up being in the cards, so here we are – hopefully better late than never?

Women's Prize for Fiction Longlist 2019, photographed by Sam Hol
Photo from Women’s Prize website.

If you missed my shortlist reaction post (spoiler alert: I’m not happy) you can check that out here.  But if you’d like to hear some more in depth thoughts on the longlist, read on…

So I finally finished reading the longlist this week, and here’s my star rating breakdown for the entire list, with links to my reviews:

★★★★★ (6)

Milkman
Ghost Wall
The Pisces
Normal People
The Silence of the Girls
Freshwater

★★★★☆ (2)

My Sister the Serial Killer
Ordinary People

★★★☆☆ (4)

Lost Children Archive
Bottled Goods
Circe
An American Marriage

★★☆☆☆ (4)

Remembered
Swan Song
Praise Song for the Butterflies
Number One Chinese Restaurant

Average star rating: 3.63 

This really was a list of halves for me: half of the list I really enjoyed, half I felt strongly ‘meh’ about.  Half I read before the longlist announcement, half I read after.  And I think that’s why I’m feeling largely underwhelmed: not only was the half of the list that I read before the longlist announcement far superior in mind (you can see that breakdown here), but even though I enjoyed so many of these books individually, a solid half of the list felt a bit like a waste of my time.  And naturally I didn’t expect to love everything, that’s just statistically impossible, but I did hope to find a few gems that I wouldn’t have picked up in a hundred years if it weren’t for reading this list.

Because that’s the thing – the books I expected to like, I ended up liking (with a couple of exceptions – looking at you, Remembered).  The books I expected to dislike, I ended up disliking.  Nothing really challenged me or took me outside my comfort zone only to reward me for my efforts, which tends to be my favorite kind of bookish discovery while reading prize lists.  So I think that’s ultimately what I feel like I’m missing; that one book that made this self-imposed project worth the effort.  Because all of those books in my 5 star category I had already read before this list was announced.

So, I don’t know.  Am I disappointed that I read the longlist?  Not particularly, especially as I had a very fun Women’s Prize group chat that gave me some interesting discussion fodder as well as a place to air my grievances when it was taking me 2 months to get through Swan Song.  But was I hoping to get something more from this whole endeavor?  Sadly, yes.

But the other thing I wanted to talk about was the actual content of the longlist.  As a lot of people have pointed out, one of the noteworthy things about this list is how many of the books have a ‘partner,’ so let’s run through that:

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Circe & The Silence of the Girls: very literal Greek mythology retellings that take a traditionally male dominated story and reframe it through a feminist lens.

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Circe & The Silence of the Girls & Swan Song: feminist retellings in a broader sense, reclaiming women’s voices.

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Milkman & Bottled Goods: women under surveillance living under strict governmental regimes.

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Remembered & Praise Song for the Butterflies: slavery and rape in historical fiction that are underscored by a note of resilience.

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An American Marriage & Ordinary People & Normal People: relationships crumbling under the strain of contemporary life and the inability to communicate with one’s partner.

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The Pisces & Freshwater: incisive commentary on womanhood and a revitalization of their respective genres (romance and bildungsroman) by introducing a theme of magic.

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Lost Children Archive & Ghost Wall: children and parents, the relationship between the individual and society, commentary on how the past has shaped the present.

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Ghost Wall & My Sister, The Serial Killer: short and punchy novellas with commentary on gender roles.

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Number One Chinese Restaurant & Remembered: family sagas.

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Circe, The Silence of the Girls, Freshwater, Remembered, Praise Song for the Butterflies, An American Marriage: Books about Big Issues: rape, slavery, immigration, incarceration, etc.

The reason I’m bringing up the content and all the overlap is because I’m always curious about what exactly goes into the decision to put a book on a longlist: how much are these books being evaluated in isolation, and how much are they being judged collectively?  Because it seems significant that with a few exceptions, these books only have one lone thematic partner: was Washington Black left off because they felt they’d already ticked the slavery box; was Everything Under left off because they felt they couldn’t have three watery magical realism books?  Was Severance left off because futuristic zombie dystopia would have been too much of an oddball compared to the rest?

After reading all of these books, I’m left with the impression that this year’s longlist feels a bit too curated.  I feel like the judges had certain salient themes in mind that they wanted to see represented on the list, and weren’t willing to stretch too far outside those parameters.  Of course, this could all be coincidental, maybe the judges truly believe that these 16 books are the ‘best’ books by women published in the last year.  I just… find that doubtful.

I think the bottom line is that when I saw the shortlist, I saw a few daring choices on there – Freshwater, The Pisces, Bottled Goods – and erroneously concluded that it was going to be a daring list, which I think is partially why I’m disappointed that it ended up feeling so safe.  ‘Safe’ is a word I kept coming back to while talking about the shortlist, but after finally finishing the longlist, it seems relevant here too.

So that’s it from me – please do let me know your thoughts on the longlist, shortlist, or any and all things Women’s Prize.  I’ll post my winner prediction closer to the winner announcement!

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!

Women’s Prize 2019 Shortlist Reaction

Well… it’s here.

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In case you missed it, the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019 shortlist:

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Milkman by Anna Burns
Ordinary People by Diana Evans
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Circe by Madeline Miller

My friend Chelsea was visiting this weekend, which naturally meant she was subjected to a lot of my last minute excitement about the Women’s Prize in the hours leading up to the shortlist announcement. At one point she asked me what my nightmare shortlist would look like, and I had to think about that one for a minute, but since I only really didn’t get on with three of the books (Chinese Restaurant, Swan Song, and Praise Song) I erroneously declared that unless all three of those made it, I’d probably be happy with anything.

Well, none of those three made it, and I am livid. In fact, two of my absolute favorites (Milkman and The Silence of the Girls) made it, and I am livid.  My average star rating for these six books is 4 stars, and I hate this shortlist.

Because it’s not about these six titles on their own; for the most part these are good, competent, entertaining books – it’s about the shortlist as a whole.  And the impression I’m getting from this list is that the judges aren’t particularly interested in daring, innovative fiction; they care more about marketability and crowd-pleasing.

And here’s where I have to clarify that I’m not saying this out of literary snobbery; I’m not suggesting that the most accessible titles can’t also be great, enjoyable books. But the aim of the Women’s Prize is ostensibly to award ‘the best’ novel written by a woman in the past year. And no, true objectivity is never going to be possible, and we could have a whole conversation about that.  In fact, I think this is the reason why I’m rarely incensed by longlists, even ones that don’t inspire me; taking a list of 200+ eligible books and whittling it down to the ten or fifteen ‘best’ is such a fool’s errand that I’m always more interested in seeing the judges work with the list them come up with than I am about lamenting notable exclusions.  In fact, my general excitement about this particular longlist is well-documented here.  Yes, there are exceptions, but I think that for the most part, the judges came up with a remarkably solid group of sixteen books.  It’s what they did with that list that I’m trying to wrap my head around.

I remain unconvinced that the sheer amount of breadth and depth navigated in Ghost Wall, Freshwater, The Pisces, Normal People, and Lost Children Archive is reflected in any of the titles that made the shortlist, with the one exception of Milkman, the impact of whose inclusion is neutered through no fault of its own, but because it already won the 2018 Man Booker Prize. 

I also remain unconvinced that the bold, nuanced, elegant, thoughtful explorations of a number of relevant themes in any of the aforementioned books are worth sacrificing for the sake of two Greek myth retellings and two depictions of crumbling marriages.  Because that’s the elephant in the room with this shortlist: the baffling repetition.  Circe and The Silence of the Girls both attempt to reclaim the voice of an overlooked woman from Greek mythology, retreading their familiar stories through a feminist lens.  An American Marriage and Ordinary People both tell the stories of ill-fated married couples navigating racial injustice and patriarchal oppression, trying and failing to save their relationships that are crumbling due to both internal and external factors.  In both cases, the two books accomplish the same thing.  Which is why I don’t understand how the judges can pit them against each other and not evaluate their strengths and weaknesses against one another in a way that isn’t afforded with the more apples and oranges pairs on this longlist (how do you compare the sprawling, satirical romp that is Swan Song to the brief and magical Bottled Goods?)  But with these four books, the judges had the advantage of their inherent structural similarities to allow them to compare and contrast.  Ordinary People is better than An American Marriage The Silence of the Girls is better than Circe.  That’s just my opinion, of course, and I know many people disagree.  But if I were on that panel, I would have made my case for the former of each pair advancing and not the latter.

But the aim of this post isn’t really to whine about my faves being excluded, though that’s naturally going to be a part of it, but it more comes down to a question that Elle raised in her incensed and eloquent reaction post.  What exactly is the point of any of this?  As we’ve established, ‘the best’ book by a woman is a somewhat unattainable ideal, but shouldn’t the judges at least try to strive for that?  We don’t need a panel of judges to choose the most sellable, most widely appealing book; we have Goodreads and Oprah and the New York Times for that.  I want a panel of judges to show me a shortlist of books published this year that each has done what no other book has managed to do, and the inclusion of two sets of eerily similar titles undermines that entirely.

Anyway, you all know how much I love Milkman – it was my book of the year in 2018 – but because of its Man Booker win, there were four titles that I would have preferred to have won the Women’s Prize for the increased exposure: The Pisces, Freshwater, Normal People, or, in my opinion, the most baffling exclusion and my own personal winner, Ghost Wall.

But I guess at this point I’m back to rooting for Milkman.

What do you guys think of the shortlist?  I know I just tore it apart, but if you love it, please don’t be afraid to tell me!  Literary prizes are hardly life and death, much as I may forget that at times.  I’ve seen a few positive reaction posts that I’ve loved – it’ll take more than one shitty shortlist to kill my enthusiasm for this prize.

wrap up: April 2019

  1. Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li ★★☆☆☆ | review
  2. Where Reasons End by Yiyun Li ★★★★☆ | review
  3. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett ★★★★☆ | mini review
  4. Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli ★★★☆☆ | review
  5. Medusa by Pat Barker ★★★★★ | mini review
  6. Praise Song for the Butterflies by Bernice L. McFadden ★★☆☆☆ | review
  7. Maus by Art Spiegelman ★★★★★ | review
  8. The Missing Years by Lexie Elliott ★★★☆☆ | review
  9. Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn ★★★☆☆ | review
  10. Lie With Me by Philippe Besson, translated by Molly Ringwald ★★★★☆ | review

Favorite: Maus by Art Spiegelman
Honorable mention: Lie With Me by Philippe Besson
Least favorite: Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li

Medusa is a short story published in The New Yorker, which I’m only including in this wrap up because I added it on Goodreads to share some interest over there, and I want my numbers to match.  You can read it here.

APRIL TOTAL: 10
YEARLY TOTAL: 46

Other posts from this month:

Life updates:

Well, for once there’s a kind of big one… I got a new job!  The company I’d been working for since 2013 went out of business in February and I was hired mid-April as an editorial assistant for a local (but also kind of low-key very well known) publisher and I am so thrilled about it.  I was already working in publishing, but I really hadn’t been expecting to find a position like this without having to relocate, so it was just a wonderful case of the timing working out perfectly.  It’s been a bit of an adjustment though, which is why I haven’t been posting as regularly; for the past year I’ve been working from home which obviously allowed me ample blogging time, and having to write posts in the evening is exhausting as I’m sure most of you know.  But I’m going to try to get back into the swing of my reading life in May, not least of all because I’m still looking for the the 5 star novel that’s been eluding me all year.

Also, unrelated, but my friend Chelsea also visited for a weekend and got me a VERY COOL belated birthday gift: she had Sally Rooney (my queen) sign a book for me!

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So, that was neat.

Currently reading: The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See, Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott, Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister (audio), A Natural by Ross Raisin.

What was the best book you read in April?  Comment and let me know!

P.S. Follow me!  @ Twitter | Goodreads | Instagram | Letterboxd

The Highest and Lowest Rated Books on my TBR

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)