134 Big Little Lies

biglittleliesby 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.

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130 The Nix

nixby 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.

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125 Men Explain Things to Me

solnitby 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.

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123 Beasts of No Nation

beastsby 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.

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122 The Mothers

mothersby 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.

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121 The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution

dofiby Richard Beeman, ed., 2012

You may wonder why I’m reading this. How can you not know the D of I and the Constitution? you might ask. Sure, I took AP Government like any good high schooler and I’m bound to have studied these documents then, but that was nearly 20 years ago and I’ll be damned if I remember anything other than who my teacher was and who I used to pass notes to. As Richard Beeman notes in his introduction to this first book in the lovely Penguin Civics Classics series, “There is…[a] large body of evidence suggesting that Americans’ knowledge of their history and of the way in which their institutions have worked over the course of history is embarrassingly meager.” And, really, I’m just trying not to be one of those Americans. I had a conversation with a friend recently where I relayed an ignorant comment I’d heard in regards to The Underground Railroad.  The reviewer in question erroneously believed the literal railroad, as depicted in the book, to be true and I wondered how someone could lack that basic understanding of American history. “The question is,” my friend said, “how responsible are we, as people of color, to seek out and educate the ignorant?”

“Is it our responsibility to educate? Or is it their responsibility to seek education?” I countered. “After high school, is not the onus on the individual to educate themselves?”

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120 Everything I Never Told You

everythingby Celeste Ng, 2014

If there’s one thing I hate, it’s when a book or a movie screams out, “This is important! Important subjects discussed here!” I thought this in particular about the movie Crash which, for all its good intent, wanted to ensure the audience knew that this was a movie about Race and subsequently beat us over the head with it. It’s much rarer when a story can tackle these big ticket items with grace and subtlety, simultaneously acknowledging their presence while not tiring the audience with its cries. Yet, this is exactly what Everything I Never Told You does, in beautiful prose, in a story just sad enough to feel true.

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