by Viet Thanh Nguyen, 2015
Man, I really wanted to enjoy this book. There is a certain disappointment in picking up a much lauded book only to find yourself struggling through it every step of the way. In this case, I wasn’t necessarily disappointed in the book – I was disappointed in myself. I’m certain The Sympathizer contains a fair amount of genius within its pages, but, either because I did not have sufficient background knowledge of the Vietnam War, thus exposing my own ignorance, or because I could not follow the stream-of-consciousness narrative, calling into question my English Master’s degree, I clawed my way through every page. You guys…this book made me feel dumb.
by Octavia E. Butler, 1976
Patternmaster is first on my Year of Octavia challenge! It is important to note that while these books are now published in chronological order according to the story’s timeline, I will be reading them according to publication date, which I believe is the way a series should always be read. It is also worth noting that there were originally five books in this series, but one – Survivor – appears to be indefinitely out of print. So, I will forge ahead with what I have available to me, and this brings me to start with the concluding book in this series’ chronology.
by Naomi Alderman, 2016
If women were the dominant force in society, the world would be a much more peaceful, compassionate place, right? Well, according to Naomi Alderman…not so much. The Power imagines exactly what would happen in this scenario by granting women the gift of physical superiority. While men, in general, are still bigger and more physically imposing than women, girls and young women have discovered an electric spark that emanates from their hands and allows them to control, subdue, and even kill others. It is no longer women who have to travel in packs, fearing what might reach out for them in the night, but men who tremble at the thought of being randomly assaulted. Some might say dudes had it coming, but I’m not entirely convinced of the righteousness of this world.
by Jesmyn Ward, 2011
I’ve heard much praise bandied about for this National Book Award-winning novel, so I was excited to finally get my hands on it. Alas, sometimes award winners leave you nodding in complete agreement with the book’s judged greatness, and sometimes award winners leave you wondering if, perhaps, you just don’t understand what makes a book great. Sadly, it was the latter for me with Salvage the Bones, and while I can see glimpses of greatness in it, overall this book just wasn’t my style.
by Peter Balakian, 2015
Um, well, I guess I don’t understand poetry after all. Having read a couple of collections of poetry in the past year, I started to think that perhaps it was my assumption that I didn’t understand poetry that was holding me back and not an actual inability to understand poetry. Even if I didn’t fully comprehend everything about those two collections, I was not deterred, as I kept in mind the fact that I don’t grasp everything in every book I read and that has never stopped me from reading more. This isn’t to say that I’ve run up against one difficult collection of poetry and I’m now throwing in the towel, but this Pulitzer Prize-winner certainly had me scratching my head and questioning my ability to recognize when something is good and when it is not.
by David Grossman, 2014
translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen
It’s a one-man show and you’re not sure what you want a refund for most: your money or your time. This is the feeling throughout most of A Horse Walks into a Bar, but instead of it being an unfortunate result of the story, the emotion is completely intentional. This is the tale of washed up comedian Dov Greenstein and his latest act – an ascent to the stage and a last-ditch effort to reconcile the events of his life. He has purposely invited judge and childhood friend Avishai Lazar (our narrator) to witness the events of his undoing and, while the act is at times frustrating and painful to watch, Dov’s – and Grossman’s – plans become clear in the end. This is not just a comedic act, but a reckoning of a life.
by Toni Morrison, 2015
The great thing about reading an author’s entire body of work is that you get to see their progression from debut to, in this case, award-winning novel. The less fortunate thing is that you sometimes witness the decline of their work. Such is the case with Toni Morrison, as her most recent novel is a mere shadow of the gut-wrenching pieces she published earlier in her career. It is not a bad novel – I would not categorize anything of hers as bad – but the subtlety and nuance of books like Sula and Paradise are not present here.