What an incredible month of reading! I whined about not having enough five-star reads in January and this month I found five five-star reads, some of which made it to my favorites list. With the exception of the one, each book perfectly suited what I needed at that moment. So many of them inspired my own writing in a month when I really needed some motivation to keep fighting the fight in the hope my work can be half as good someday!
Back Talk - Danielle Lazarin
At this point in time, I can confidently say Back Talk by Danielle Lazarin is my favorite collection of short stories. She has beautifully depicted everyday women, from teens to mothers and in between, dealing with the complexities of relationships, desire, and emotion. A number of them harbor a quiet fury and I'm simply amazed at the way Lazarin can illustrate such relatable but complicated feelings. Empathetic yet honest, these stories are for and about women and the quiet, powerful moments of our lives.
The Portable Veblen - Elizabeth McKenzie
What an utterly delightful and highly underrated book. You could call this a romantic comedy, but with so much cleverness and sharp wit underscoring a funny tale that masks more serious and relatable themes of dysfunctional families, how we cope with our pasts, and how on earth we develop healthy relationships in the future. I initially checked this book out from the library but had to buy my own copy after reading only three pages because I was itching to underline all over the place. McKenzie's writing is so sharp, so playful, so insightful that I had to slow down and savor every sentence. I truly loved this book and know I will return to it again and again, both to enjoy these characters and their story as well as to learn from her craft.
Their Eyes Were Watching God - Zora Neale Hurston
What a beautiful, witty, thoughtful, heartbreaking book. From the start, I was hooked and curious about Janie's life thanks to all of the comical gossiping townsfolk. Hurston tells her story with heart, humor, and gorgeous imagery. I grew so attached to this main character and cheered her on as she tried to find herself and happiness as a black woman in the south in the 1930s. This certainly won't be the last time I join Janie on her path to self-discovery. I highly recommend the audiobook narrated by Ruby Dee who made it feel like an entire theater production. Regardless, this is an incredible book that everyone should read.
Freshwater - Akwaeke Emezi
This gorgeous, haunting, poetic debut explores identity, spirituality, mental health, survival, and the body in such a stylistically unique and profound way that will stick with me for a long time. The audiobook was beautifully performed by Akwaeke Emezi herself which I couldn't stop listening to after I began. I feel this is one of those instances where the audiobook enhances the reading experience.
A Selfie As Big As The Ritz - Lara Williams
What a clever, clever book. Throughout this month I've struggled a bit with my writing yet every time I picked up this book I felt so inspired. Williams writes with such wit and subtle humor and isn't afraid to push boundaries. I found many of these rather short stories to be relatable as they're mostly centered around millennial women just trying to find themselves and their way in the world amidst dating, heartbreak, crumbling dream, and unreachable expectations. But these stories aren't as depressing as I'm making them sound, I promise. They are just so clever and I know I'll be turning back to this book again and again when I need some quick inspiration or jolt of courage to break the rules a bit.
This Will Be My Undoing - Morgan Jerkins
I'm just going to leave this quote here and say that you should read this blindingly honest yet powerfully tender book of essays. "One-sided feminism is dead. This book is not about all women, but it is meant for all women, and men, and those who do not adhere to the gender binary. It is for you. You. Our blackness doesn't distance us from other women; however it does distinguish us, and this requires further understanding. At the same time, my story is not a one-size-fits-all take about black womanhood. This is not your resolution but the continuation of your education, or maybe the beginning. We deserve to be the center; our expansive stories are worthy of being magnified for all their ugliness, beauty, mundaneness, and grandeur. I will not baby you. Instead, I will force you to keep your eyes on me and, in turn, us, and see the seams of everyday life that you have been privileged to ignore but that have wrecked us."
Pachinko - Min Jin Lee
I love historical fiction for the way it can teach about events and encourage empathy for groups of people across time. I learned so much from this book about the relationship between Japan and Korea as well as the struggles of Koreans living in Japan from WWII to the present day. But I think I'm in the minority for not loving this book. In general, epics aren't my favorite (I mean, I'm a short story lover), but this book received so much acclaim I couldn't resist giving it a go. I liked it and see why others have raved about it, but I didn't love it as much as I wanted to. Such large periods of time passed throughout this book with characters appearing and disappearing that I had a hard time getting attached to anyone. The writing often felt clinical and detached to pack in all of the necessary information and huge events were often snuck in at the end of chapters, making it feel rushed or used for shock factor. I felt that maybe if more care had been given to depict these big events, I might have been more attached to these characters. But Like I said, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it, especially to those who love historical fiction and epics.
The Assistants - Camille Perri
Sometimes you need a good, light girly novel to help you forget a bad day and this book is exactly what the doctor ordered. You know what I'm talking about. An adorable love interest, funny and borderline-obnoxious friendships, loads of pop culture references, heavily veiled feminism, a ridiculous plot we've all fantasized about, and tidy, happy endings. If this book isn't made into a fun romantic comedy starring someone like Reese Witherspoon or whoever the latest romcom ladies are, it will be quite the waste. Next time you need a quick weekend pick-me-up read that will make you smile and forget your problems for just a second (or give you ideas about embezzling enough money to solve all of your problems), pick this one up.
Force of Nature - Jane Harper
I got hooked on this sequel to well-done Australian mystery. I managed to read most of this during Olympic commercial breaks, something I'm not usually good at. While at times cliche and predictable with some details that were a little too convenient, I enjoyed this followup. I love how she created settings that act as dark characters; intense, spooky, and integral to the story. While I didn't like it as much as the Dry and the allure of Aaron Falk faded some, I do look forward to more of her work and I'm interested to see what setting she'll use next.
The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance - Elna Baker
I first heard Elna Baker on This American Life where she shared a story about being Mormon and single and overweight in NYC. Despite admitting to being a pathological liar, her stories were painfully honest and so relatable, particularly her struggles with her faith and trying to navigate two different worlds, neither of which feel fully hers. She hit every emotion on the spectrum for me and the reading experience felt as cathartic as a good long talk and cry with a close friend. At times the writing wasn't fabulous, some of her statements problematic, and jokes sometimes felt flat, but I really enjoyed this book and had a completely unexpected reading experience.
No One Belongs Here More Than You - Miranda July
I uh... did not like this collection. This is one of those rare moments where I can easily separate the writing from the stories and say the writing was great, maybe even excellent, but I disliked the characters and narrative. And it made me sad that her possibly excellent writing was used on stories I never want to read again. At first, I enjoyed her unusual imagination and way with words, but each story continued to feature depressing, lonely women with strange sexual fantasies. It almost felt like she tried to write as many stories under this theme that she could. It didn't feel empowering or thoughtful. It just felt sad and weird. I craved some variety and eventually the moments where I paused in amazement at her clever imagery just made me depressed that I could not like this book. I should say that maybe had I read each one as individual pieces without tying together her other work, I may have enjoyed her stories more.