by Ali Smith, 2017
Winter is the second book in Ali Smith’s Seasonal Quartet, and I excitedly picked up my hold from the library the same week it was published. Following the same style of writing as Autumn, Winter is a meandering tale that ponders the meaning of familial connections and art. In her 70s, Sophia is mildly disconcerted to see a head floating about and following her throughout her house. She is a prim sort of woman, taking pride in her otherwise perfect vision and her standing as a “Corinthian account holder” at her bank. Things start to unravel when the head will simply not go away and a Christmas dinner forces Sophia to confront her feelings about long-estranged members of her family.
by Madeleine L’Engle, 1973
narrated by Jennifer Ehle
This is the book that taught me the word “mitochondria”!
In this second installment of the Time Quintet, we find Meg Murry worried about her younger brother Charles Wallace. He’s being bullied at school over his intelligence and his penchant for speaking about complex subjects like an adult. At home, Charles Wallace is seeing dragons in their back yard, and he and Meg discover some unusual feathers. Meanwhile, Charles Wallace appears to be getting sicker and sicker, suffering from some sort of malady that affects his breathing. Their microbiologist mother believes it may be a disorder of his mitochondria and their farandolae. Later, Meg teams up with Calvin O’Keefe, and the two engage in a cosmic battle involving good and evil and a Fantastic Voyage-like journey inside Charles Wallace to save his life.
by Celeste Ng, 2017
I loved Everything I Never Told You, so I was supremely excited to get my hands on Celeste Ng’s second novel. Like her debut, Little Fires Everywhere focuses on suburban life, both the promise that it holds and the prison that it can become. Elena Richardson has a seemingly idyllic life with her husband Bill in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Bill is a successful attorney, Elena is a respected local journalist, and their four high school-aged children – Lexie, Trip, Moody, and Izzy – complete this portrait of a perfect American family. Well, except for Izzy who, at the beginning of the novel, has set fires in each of the bedrooms of the Richardson home. Izzy has always been Mrs. Richardson’s greatest struggle and she will be her ultimate undoing.
by Paul Kalanithi, 2016
There has been an enormous amount of press surrounding neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi’s memoir of his terminal cancer diagnosis at the age of thirty-six. Making the press even more poignant is the knowledge that the book was published after Kalanithi’s death. This wasn’t a memoir from someone writing years later, who looked death in the face and vowed to beat it. This was from a person who looked death in the face and did the only thing they could: accepted it. It’s not by any means an easy topic to grapple with, but Kalanithi’s clear, direct writing renders this difficult journey one that should not be missed.
by Madeleine L’Engle, 1962
narrated by Hope Davis
It’s been quite some years since I read A Wrinkle in Time. I read the entire Time Quartet when I was young and I remember loving it. With the movie version of the first installment fast approaching, it seems a good time to back and see if the book was every bit as good as I originally thought it to be. The verdict? Different from what I remember, but still a wonderful read.
by Toni Morrison, 1992
To round out my Year of Toni Morrison, I thought I would dip into one of her nonfiction books. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination is a compilation of three lectures on, you guessed it, whiteness in literature. This is a topic I’ve often pondered myself, as you can walk into any bookstore and find an “African-American” or “Hispanic” or “Asian” section, but there is no “White” section. While finding a “White” books section would be, no doubt, horrifying, the truth is that it does not exist because white is considered to be the default and every other race or ethnicity is positioned as the other. “African-American” is a demographic, not a genre, and yet we treat these authors – and readers – as if it were. “Until very recently, and regardless of the race of the author, the readers of virtually all of American fiction have been positioned as white,” she writes. “I am interested to know what that assumption has meant to the literary imagination.” Me too, Ms. Morrison. Me too.
by Agatha Christie, 1939
Way back when I was in high school, I went through a period where I didn’t read. Well, it’s not that I didn’t read at all, because I read for school, but I didn’t know what to read for fun. This is ironic because I discovered some of my most favorite books when I was in high school, yet no one told me that contemporary or classic fiction were actual genres that one could pursue. Both of my parents tend toward genres that I do not – my father toward the political/military fiction or nonfiction and my mother toward easy romances or giant historical fictions along the lines of James Michener – so, try as they might, they weren’t much help in recommending books to me at that age. I remember one of them suggested that I try Agatha Christie’s books, but after reading one and finding it boring, I relegated her, and the entire mystery genre – to the pile of disliked authors. Lo these many years later, I’ve decided to give her another chance.