by George Saunders, 2017
narrated by the author, Nick Offerman, David Sedaris, and 163 others*
I don’t say this lightly, but Lincoln in the Bardo is unlike any book I’ve ever read. Turning the notion of the historical novel on its head, Saunders builds on the recorded fact of the death of Abraham Lincoln’s son Willie and the bereaved father’s visit to his son’s tomb. It is this unique combination of fact and fiction that makes this story so different from any other musings on not just life after death, but that space in between life and death. It is impossible to not have heard about this book, as it has won much praise and is this year’s Booker Prize winner, yet I was not at all prepared for what I encountered in these pages.
by Colson Whitehead, 2016
After languishing at nearly number 500 on the waitlist, The Underground Railroad finally came in at the library! Anyone who reads any sort of books is likely to have heard of this blessed-by-Oprah, National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize winner and I was experiencing an acute case of FOMO with this one. The only question I had was, would it live up to the hype?
Roots: The Saga of an American Family (Alex Haley, 1976) is, I would venture to say, one of the best and most influential books I’ve read. I’ve never seen the miniseries, so I came to the book with only the vaguest knowledge that it was about slavery and the genealogy of Haley’s family back to its African roots. It is at times harrowing, hopeful, nostalgic, longing, powerful, and unforgettable. It is one of the most difficult books I’ve read, not just because it clocks in at 728 pages, but because it contains some of the most graphic scenes of torture I’ve ever come across. It is not for the faint of heart and I found myself, on multiple occasions, trying to suppress my emotion while reading it on the el. But for all the history it contains, much of it we would like to wipe from our collective American memory, it is worth the effort.