What I’ve Been Reading During Winter Break

Hello everyone!

I hope you all are staying warm and taking care of yourselves in the midst of the cold and national politics. While I’m currently bracing myself for a return to the Minnesota weather, I’m trying to fit in as much reading before the spring semester as possible, along with trying to keep track of all the great books I’ve devoured in the past few weeks. So, without further ado, here is some of what I’ve been reading since classes ended:

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

This was the first book I dove into after flying home from Minnesota for the holidays, finally done with exams and papers and trying to remember how to read for fun again. Black Leopard, Red Wolf is the first in a new trilogy from Man Booker Prize-winner Marlon James, and even if I hadn’t already wanted to read it after reading the synopsis, the cover would have been enough to draw me in. Set in a masterfully built fantasy world based on Africa and African kingdoms such as Songhai and Kush after the fall of the Roman Empire, the book is told from the point of view of Tracker, a mercenary hired to find a mysterious young boy. However, the reader is informed from the outset that by the end of the years-long search, the child is dead. While it took me a few chapters to orient myself and truly feel that the plot had begun, James’ world building and prose are both fantastic, and I was fascinated by how he constructed the many cities and kingdoms through which Tracker travels. Tracker’s narration, told in his distinctive voice, only makes it harder to put down. While the book has considerably more violence and gore than I usually read (including several scenes that reference sexual assault), I am excited to see what the next book holds. (This interview is a great look at the book’s origins, as well.)

Strong Female Protagonist (Book One & Book Two) by Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag

I initially began reading Strong Female Protagonist online ages ago, but unfortunately lost track of it, despite how good it is. This means that I was thrilled when a friend lent me the first two physical books over the break and I was able to devour all of it at once. Strong Female Protagonist is undoubtedly one of the most interesting and striking superhero stories I’ve ever read/watched, centering around a young woman–Allison Green–who eventually quit heroing to attend college and learn about different modes of making the world better. What follows is an intriguing look into ethics and philosophies surrounding saving the world, told through a host of engaging characters that I adored. Molly Ostertag’s art is fantastic, as well, and I would honestly die for the power couple that is Feral and Paladin.

Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith

Danez Smith’s second poetry collection Don’t Call Us Dead is one of those books that I want to write about but consistently end up staring at the blinking cursor instead. Clocking in at a slim 82 pages, Smith’s poems are the kind that stay in my head long after I’ve closed the covers, their urgency and craft impossible to ignore. Smith writes truthfully and at times defiantly about the dangers faced by Black men, particularly queer Black men, and their bodies. Shifting from police violence to AIDS and back again, here metaphors and allusions to gods and pigs mingle with lines that are as stark as the black words on the page: “i tried, white people. i tried to love you, but you spent my brother’s funeral making plans for brunch, talking too loud next to his bones.” These poems contain anger and pain, but also tenderness, a love for boys such as those in “summer, somewhere,” where “paradise is a world where everything/is sanctuary & nothing is a gun.” Don’t Call Us Dead is the kind of book that often feels beyond review. Instead, it leaves me wanting to simply press it into the hands of everyone I meet.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

I adored Celeste Ng’s debut novel Everything I Never Told You, but it took me an embarrassingly long time to finally read her bestselling follow-up, Little Fires Everywhere. Set in the minutely planned community of Shaker Heights, Ohio, the book centers around two very different families who find themselves on opposite sides of a local custody battle, in which a white couple seeks to adopt a Chinese-American baby. However, this book is so much more than its summary–Ng’s methodical development of her characters and the lyrical prose with which she reveals their past and present makes the novel feel almost like an in-depth character study of both the families and their larger community. At times as suspenseful as a thriller, Ng’s writing never rushes, but rather lingers beautifully within each character and moment. Just as the character of Pearl is described as lingering in “the gray spaces,” so too does the book, in a way that made me feel like I had to lay in bed thinking about it for hours after I finished it.

Florida by Lauren Groff

While I’m only about a third of the way through Lauren Groff’s new short story collection, Florida has already reminded me of why I love Groff’s prose so much in the first place. Each story is eerie without being supernatural, embracing the strangeness and uncertainties that emerge in everyday lives with a sort of psychological urgency that leaves me on the edge of my seat. She writes about sisters, a lonely boy, and, often, a troubled mother, among a host of other characters. I am endlessly impressed by the ability of her writing to describe sensations and images in ways that are both surprising and cunningly accurate. The first story, “Ghosts and Empties,” is a particular favorite: “Window after window nears, freezes with its blue fog of television light or its couple hunched over a supper of pizza, holds as I pass, then slides into the forgotten. I think of the way water gathers as it slips down an icicle’s length, pauses to build its glossy drop, becomes too fat to hang on, plummets down.”

That’s all for me today–it’s time to fit in some more reading before I have to start packing. Have a great rest of your Sunday, and keep warm!

Nora

Get in Trouble

Oh my goodness gracious, it’s a blog post! After quite the unofficial hiatus! But now that Get in TroubleAP exams are done, sleep is more than just a figment of my imagination, and I am somehow a rising senior in high school (how did that happen again??), it’s high time that hiatus came to an end. And what better way to start than with Get in Trouble, Kelly Link’s amazing latest short story collection?

The onslaught of work and exams and the subsequent retreat into a cave of sleep and general vegetation meant that it took me far longer than it should have to finish this book–but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy it immensely. Picked up while browsing a bookstore and flipped open to a random story, I eventually found myself crouched next to a bookshelf, already starting to wonder how I was going to pull myself out of it. But, alas, it was too late.

(Please note: This is most definitely a very adult book, and does include instances of self-harm and attempted suicide.)

Link’s stories are incredibly hard to sum up neatly, largely because each of them is different, encompassing everything from superheroes to ghosts to abandoned theme parks based on The Wizard of Oz. There’s “I Can See Right Through You,” about an aging movie star and Ouija boards, or “The New Boyfriend,” about teenage friendship with possibly-possessed boyfriend dolls thrown in. There are tales of parallel universes, pocket universes, strange and inexplicable happenings that send shivers up your spine while also keeping you helplessly engrossed. The weirdness abounds, and the result is utterly fantastic.

This weirdness is exactly one of the reasons that I adored this collection so much. I’m loathe to tell anyone too much about the specific stories, not only because I’m not at all sure that I could do them justice, but also because figuring out what on earth is going on is a good part of the fun. I found myself constantly marveling at Link’s ability to take the mundane and everyday and make them anything but, incorporating the magical and supernatural in a way that felt not only incredibly enticing but also seamless. The stories blend the normal and the abnormal wonderfully, creating a sort of magical realism that doesn’t feel real at all. Rather, it feels like a bit of a dream world, almost there but not quite, a fantasy but also not. And almost every story left me wanting more, wanting to know what happened next, or just to see more of the worlds Link created. And the magic makes it seem not too unbelievable that the book may be literally calling your name.

However, despite all these differences, a constant throughout each and every story was Link’s writing, which only made it harder to put the book down. Her words have a certain cadence and voice that lasts throughout the collection, not giving away too much at a time, but rather drawing the reader in through a gradual reveal of the worlds she’s created. She paints her characters, not necessarily concretely, but in a way that gives the reader insight into their inner thoughts and only makes them want to know more. Her characters are just as complex and varied as the stories themselves, and watching them interact with each other, love and hate and friendship and all, only made the book more enjoyable.

Another thing that completely captivated me while reading was the atmosphere Link created for her stories, especially through the settings. The way she describes the worlds of her characters, whether they be in the Keys or a New York City hotel or a wild countryside in the summer, only make the stories more real, painting their surroundings in vivid color. I especially loved the descriptions in “The Summer People,” which made the gardens of roses and beds of laurel of the characters’ home feel so real it was almost as if I could touch them.

Much of the book feels like a heady mixture of the strange and fantastic and eerie, a rabbit hole to fall into right from the first page. Link makes the normal abnormal and vice versa, and her writing perfectly conveys the otherworldly-ness of the stories, drawing the reader in until they can’t escape. While some of the stories did take things to a darker or more disturbing level than I expected, it is nevertheless the kind of book that makes you want to stay up late reading under the covers for hours, until the very last page is turned. Down into the rabbit hole we go.

And on that note, I shall take my leave. >bows< I hope to return soon though! Hope you all have had a great May, and have a great Memorial Day weekend!

–Nora

Bookish Quote of the Day: “They’re making each other realer the longer they look at each other, and isn’t that what love should be? Isn’t that what love should do?” —Get In Trouble by Kelly Link