Today I am heading back to DC after an extra stolen week in Kentucky with my family when James flew back to the East Coast last weekend. Even though my graduate school schedule doesn’t have the rigid hours of a lot of jobs, I still feel like vacation is ending and it is back to reality when I drive back to DC. For me, reality means reading lots of books and writing many pages. At least, hopefully many pages…. because I hear that writing a dissertation might be just a tad harder when there is a snuggly newborn in the house.
I don’t really get to read books during the semester. I mean, I read Books, Literature, Tomes of Ideas, but not books. I will spend a lot of the next couple months getting real friendly with Le Rouge et le Noir and Madame Bovary (Julien and Emma- you all were born for each other, and in my dissertation, I shall unite you at last!), but that will probably be the extent of my reading. I plow through audiobooks as I slave along to my Fitbit, but that’s not the same. There is a special magic of curling up with a book — one from which you expect nothing more than the pleasure of losing yourself for hours. My mom knows this, so every year she gives me one of my favorite Christmas gifts: a stack of wrapped library books that I request in advance, gleefully unwrap, devour in a binge of antisocial pajama-wearing on the couch, and then leave for her to return upon my departure.
And so, should you need some fluffy reading recommendations, here is Christmas by the books:
Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel. This book was EVERY SINGLE THING I WANTED IN A BOOK. A flu that wipes out the earth’s population in one fell swoop! A Shakespeare troupe trying to keep art alive 20 years after civilization falls! A non-linear plot! Beautiful prose! Random dogs of significance! Definitely my top recommendation from this break’s book fest.
Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter. In general, I trust NPR on all things. But my trust is now shattered, because this book was reviewed on “Fresh Air” and the review was glowing- gushing even – only for the book to be pretty bad. I made myself finish it, and it was kind of a waste. Should have used that time to enjoy my parents’ cable and watch reruns of America’s Next Top Model. But then again, I read it right after Station Eleven, so the bar was impossibly high.
We Were Liars, E. Lockhart. My takeaway from this book: there is nothing scarier than rich kids who don’t have enough chores in the summer. Give them a lawn to mow, some neighbor kids to babysit, and the world would be a better place. But, I also devoured this book in one sitting, which says that it was nothing if not fascinating. Not sure I liked it, but I was fully engaged.
We Are Called to Rise, Laura McBride. So many emotions about this book. I tend to like the every-chapter-is-a-different-narrator-and-they-will-all-converge-at-the-end thing, so I appreciated it. The ending was beautiful and emotional, and I am a sucker for anything with small children who have to act more mature than they are because the adults in their lives have screwed up royally.
A God in Ruins, Kate Atkinson. Mostly I was eager to read this because I LOVED Life After Life (from last year’s book binge), and I just wanted more Ursula Todd in my life. It was good, with a destabalizing twist at the end that left me thinking, and well written. Not the magic of Life After Life, but a noble companion novel and beautiful in its own rite. I’m also a sucker for author’s notes that reveal some truth about how the author views fiction, literature, and reality, and Atkinson delivered, which made me love the whole thing more. (For instance, and for the record, I think The Fault in Our Stars would have been just a bland book with little to distinguish it from Lurlene McDaniel’s numerous novels about dying kids finding love if it wasn’t for the Q&A with the author that came in my addition.)
The Opposite of Loneliness, Marina Keegan. I mostly wanted to read this because I was fascinated with Keegan’s story, her tragic death days after graduating from Yale, and the posthumous publication of the essays and stories she had written during undergrad. They are beautifully written, but also especially poignant and thought provoking from a young girl, who writes with the honesty of a young girl, but with an extra dose of wisdom and talent. The short stories were all depressing, proving that it is far harder to write a positive and still worthwhile one than it is to crank out a disturbing one (I’m looking at you Flannery O’Connor), but the essays were wonderful.
“I used to think printing things made them permanent, but that seems so silly now. Everything will be destroyed no matter how hard we work to create it. The idea terrifies me. I want tiny permanents. I want gigantic permanents! I want what I think and who I am captured in an anthology of indulgence I can comfortably tuck into a shelf in some labyrinthine library.” -Marina Keegan
Have you all read any of these? What are you reading now? I’m keeping a list for next year’s Christmas binge… and it’s never to early to start adding the good ones!