by Sandra Cisneros, 2002
I know I’ve said it before, that sweeping, multi-generational narratives is an odd literary niche to love, but it’s one I can’t get enough of. From Roots to The House of the Spirits to Middlesex and now Caramelo, I’m a huge fan of novels that delve into the past to reveal both cultural and personal identities. Told by Celaya “Lala” Reyes, the youngest of the Reyes clan, Caramelo explores the meanings of family, motherhood, fatherhood, pride, and love, as well as what it means to be a Mexican, an American, and something in between. It is a beautifully written story that I loved reading.
by Carter G. Woodson, 1933
Carter G. Woodson is one of those names I’ve heard bandied about for quite some time, thanks largely in part to the fact that one of the three huge regional libraries in Chicago is named for the writer. As such, I’ve always had him in my mind as someone I ought to read, but, as is often the case, I never got around to it. With the Read Harder Challenge’s task to read a book published between 1900-1950, this 1933 tome jumped to the forefront. It’s a fairly short book, coming in at around 100 pages, but it’s packed with some interesting ideas regarding education and race that not only were applicable to its time, but continue to be relevant today.
by Liane Moriarty, 2014
You know, as much as I complain about having read popular books because they tend to end up being not so great, every once in awhile I read an immensely popular book, simply for the fact that it’s popular, and I’m rewarded. Well, in this case it’s more that I wanted to watch the HBO adaptation with Alexander Skarsgard, but hey, the motive isn’t important. What’s important is that I expected to read a trashy, poorly written book with a predictable plot and instead found a captivating mystery with sharp commentary on parenthood and suburban life. I guess you can be popular and smart after all.
by Nathan Hill, 2016
I am not sure what I expected of The Nix, but wow, was this more than I ever thought it could be. This is a prime example of exactly the sort of multi-generational, multi-viewpoint story I love. What starts as the story of mediocre Samuel Andresen-Anderson and his unfulfilling life as a would-be-author-cum-teacher becomes the sweeping tale of Samuel’s mother, her college compatriots, his grandfather, the neighbors Samuel grew up with, and the friends he makes in an online role-playing game. It’s been awhile since I’ve felt utterly absorbed by a story, eager to get back to it at every possible chance, but that is exactly how I felt about The Nix.
by Rebecca Solnit, 2014
Ah, mansplaining. Who among us hasn’t suffered to listen to a man tell us what we already know? In my case, it’s most often come from those telling me how to run my business when they have no knowledge of said business and no idea why I’ve made some of the very valid decisions I’ve made (like, what you are insisting I do is, in fact, illegal in this state). Mansplaining is not new, but the term gained quite the life after the publication of the essay that bears the same name as this book. What starts as a humorous anecdote of Solnit being schooled on a book that she wrote turns into a much needed examination of women’s silencing. And before you’re quick to jump to the defense, Solnit readily admits that [hashtag] not all men are like this. I know not all men are like this too, but I’ll be damned if not all women have been affected by some of the behavior she discusses in this essay collection.
by Uzodinma Iweala, 2005
Some books exist to give insight into another part of the world. Some books exist to give insight into another culture. Some books exist to give insight into another way of life. Beasts of No Nation exists for all three, but mostly it exists to tell the horrifying story of a young boy caught up in the middle of a war.
by Brit Bennett, 2016
Nadia Turner is just seventeen when she becomes pregnant with 21-year-old Luke Turner’s child. As the son of the town pastor, Luke has kept their relationship a secret and it’s only when the pregnancy arises that he must confess his sins to his parents. Nadia is on the verge of leaving Oceanside, CA, where she lives with her father, the two of them alone after her mother’s suicide. Determined not to let anything keep her from fulfilling her dreams, Nadia takes the only route she feels is available to her and terminates the pregnancy. These are not spoilers, as these events occur in the very opening pages of the book, but they are the impetus of Bennett’s astute exploration of motherhood in the pages that follow.