Book Review | The Other Me by Sarah Zachrich Jeng

Book Review | The Other Me by Sarah Zachrich Jeng

Kelly walks through a door on her twenty-ninth birthday and finds herself in another life. A moderately-successful Chicago-based artist, she suddenly finds herself married and living the suburbs. The problem is, she has all the memories of both lives coalescing in her mind, and no idea about how she got there.

‘The possibility of my entire history ceasing to exist, of it never having existed, induces a dreamlike horror that stops up my throat. I can’t speak.’

She remembers, for example, that she loves her husband, Eric. She knows the name of her nieces and nephews that do not exist in her ‘real’ life. She knows the contents of all the cupboards in her suburban kitchen. But at the same time, she has the memories of her Chicago life – her best friend, Linnea. Her cat and roommates. Her beloved art studio. Experiencing, understandably, a profound sense of disorientation, she bolts to Chicago when Eric has gone to work, desperate to retrace her steps and find any traces of the life that was once hers. It’s a slow burn mystery, and I was intrigued to see how it would play out within the confines of the genre.

‘What I’m searching for is some emotional connection to the life I find myself living. But even with my entire history laid out in front of me, I’m unable to feel that it’s mine.’

The narrative gets even more interesting when the two timelines appear to begin to bleed into one another – Kelly’s tattoos begin to appear on her arms, before fading immediately. Photos disappear and reappear on the walls. And there’s a general unease about Eric, too. He seems almost too perfect – and those of us acquainted with a thriller know that can only mean one thing.

It’s a great concept, and compelling reading for the first 60% or so. I haven’t read anything with this premise, so to me, at least, it felt like a refreshing take on a manipulative relationship. My main problem was that it was sort of sci-fi, sort of thriller – without accomplishing either entirely effectively. Taking on a sci-fi concept, like this, requires real finesse. I’ve never read anything that falls into the science-fiction without the science category (though if this is a well-established genre, I stand corrected!) and to me the light-touch on how the time travel actually worked just left too many plot holes for me to truly buy in to the concept.

This may not be a deal breaker for other readers, and this book certainly had its merits. I just wish there was a little more of an investment in the details for the world-building and central premise to be fully and effectively executed.

With thanks to Berkley Books for the advanced copy. The Other Me will be published on August 10th, 2021.

Han Kang - Human Acts Book Review

Book Review | Human Acts by Han Kang

It’s 1980, and a country has turned against its people. In Gwangju, South Korea, Dong-ho staffs the municipal gymnasium, tending to the bodies of the dead. “Apparently all the dead will be brought here from now on,” he is told. “They say there’s no room left in the morgues.” A brutal crackdown in response to a call for democracy, where hundreds (or thousands – a disputed figure in the history books) are massacred. Some of them, like Dong-ho, are children. Dong-ho is only fifteen, and he peers into the faces of the dead, desperately searching for his friend Jeong-dae.

‘Why would you sing the national anthem for people who’d been killed by soldiers? […] As though it wasn’t the nation itself that had murdered them.’

What follows are vignettes from those who play a part in Dong-ho’s story, charting the reverberating effects of brutality as the decades wane on – from 1980 to the 2010s. It’s at times excruciating to read, but you also can’t look away. In a particularly difficult-to-read chapter, Jeong-dae is a corpse, rotting on a pile. If you’ve read Han Kang’s critically acclaimed (Booker International-winning) The Vegetarian, you’ll know she doesn’t shy away from gut-wrenching, visceral corporality.

‘When they threw a straw sack over the body of the man at the very top, the tower of bodies was transformed into the corpse of some enormous, fantastical beast, its dozens of legs splayed out beneath it.’

But what awaits those imprisoned is almost a fate worse than death; they are met with incessant torture and near-starvation. It’s unthinkable: that this is not ancient history and that a military inflicted such violence against its own people. Later chapters chart the course of an editor grappling with censorship, a mother grieving the loss of her son – before a full circle to Han Kang’s first person narration, as she explains her personal connection to this horrifying piece of history.

It’s sparingly told, but brutally so. There is an understated lyricism in Han Kang’s prose – and Deborah Smith’s translation – where the effects of traumatic experiences linger on the body – and on the means we have to express our trauma.  

‘Gasping for breath in these interstices, tiny islands among language charred out of existence.’

‘The interrogation room of that summer was knitted into our muscle memory, lodged inside our bodies.’

Han Kang is ingenious with perspective, slipping between first, second, and third person perspective. The second-person chapters lend a particularly galling sense of immediacy to the narrative. The devastation is unfurling in real time, and we are a very real part of it.

It feels important to read books like these, to remember the inhumanity we are capable of, but also the humanity. To know that these things happen, decade after decade, all over the world. There are three reasons to tell these stories, one of the characters tells us. ‘Testimony. Meaning. Memory.’

CW/TW for torture, sexual violence

Book Review | Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory by Raphael Bob-Waksberg

Book Review | Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory by Raphael Bob-Waksberg

This collection of short stories – simultaneously full of caustic humour and emotional devastation – is very clever. And I don’t mean clever in a trying-to-be-clever way, in a way that’s itching after English-student dissection and critic bamboozlement and literary prizes. Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s debut is highly attuned to the intricacies of love, in all of its many incarnations, and plays with surreal and off-beat turns of plot and genre.

Like in any collection, there are stories that worked better than others. I admire Bob-Waksberg’s playing with form, from rhyming couplet long-form poems to lists, but the ones that worked best for me were a little more traditional in their approach. In ‘A Most Blessed and Auspicious Occasion,’ a couple take on wedding planning in a short story that manages to satirize the wedding industry in an alternative universe where how many goats to slaughter during the ceremony to how long the wailing chorus should lament to how much to spend on a promise egg are the central preoccupations of everyone around them. Bob-Waksberg manages simultaneously to issue a critique of capitalism and tradition, all while being laugh-out-loud funny.

In a story that felt very much like a short film, ‘Missed Connection – m4w’ shows a man falling in love with a woman he sits across from on the Brooklyn Q train, ‘in that stupid way where you completely make up a fictional version of the person you’re looking at and fall in love with that person.’ Whilst working up the courage to say something to her, the years melt into decades, and still they ride the train back and forth on the same line – neither ever summoning the strength to speak.

‘For months we sat on the train saying nothing. We survived on bags of Skittles sold to us by kids raising money for their basketball teams. We must have heard a million mariachi bands, had our faces nearly kicked in by a hundred thousand break-dancers. I gave money to the panhandlers until I ran out of singles. When the train went aboveground I’d get text messages and voice mails (“Where are you? What happened? Are you okay?”) until my phone battery ran out.’

There is such an intense and yet understated lyricism to the way these stories cut open affairs of the heart, in both romantic and familial love. In ‘You Want To Know What Plays Are Like?’, a sister goes to her playwright brother’s opening night, only to discover the play is an excavation of their childhood which doesn’t portray her in the most flattering light. The second-person narration (which Bob-Waksberg does so well) describes her feeling like ‘The Museum of You is now open for business, every piece of you hung up on a wall, laid bare on a table, harshly lit and awkwardly described.’ He’s economical with words, and yet they perfectly encapsulate our deepest vulnerabilities.

‘…There remains one place more than any other you know you can never return to. You know where it is and you go out of your way to not see it, to not be reminded of the thing that happened there. It’s too much, this place. It would swallow you whole, this void, this pit, this unassuming two-story brownstone in Carroll Gardens that houses the one-bedroom apartment a much younger you and the man now listed in your phone as “DO NOT CALL HIM” were ever so foolish as to refer to as “home.”’

There are more I could talk about – ‘Rufus’, narrated from the perspective of a dog trying to communicate with his owner. ‘The Serial Monogamist’s Guide to Important New York City Landmarks,’ where too many places in the city bring back memories of failed relationships, ‘tragic victims of your fickle heart’. ‘Move across the country,’ a quietly devastating exploration of running away from Sadness, personified. But this is not a necessarily pessimistic excavation of love. In its propulsive and gut-wrenching way, it feels honest and unflinching and, ultimately, kind of hopeful. Dare I call it one of the most brilliant short story collections I’ve ever read?

‘And when the morning comes, our love like bugs will scatter in the light.’

4.5*

Six Degrees of Separation | Douglas Stuart to Zakiya Dalila Harris

Six Degrees of Separation is hosted by Kate. Each month, everyone starts with the same book and we see where our links take us. This month’s starting book is Booker-prize-winning Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart, which sets the tone for the rest of this list – brace yourself for a heavy one…

I’ve not yet read Shuggie Bain, partly because I am working up the emotional strength to do so. It’s the story of a young boy growing up on a council estate in 80’s Glasgow in a dysfunctional family. I’ve just seen that Roxane Gay compared it to A Little Life, one of my top 10 books of all time, so now I have to read it.

For another gritty novel set in 80’s Scotland, my mind goes to Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting (a bestselling novel before it was made into the film starring Ewan McGregor). It’s about a group of heroin addicts and those on the fringe of society, and it’s compelling and horrifying and darkly funny. It’s also written in Scottish dialect, which leads me to…

A Clockwork Orange – the only other book that I can recall reading that is written in dialect. The opening line – for those who haven’t read it – contains the sentence ‘we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry.’ Anthony Burgess’s masterpiece – first published in the 60s – is a nightmarish vision of a future with a violent gang of boys, led by ringleader Alex, perpetuating ‘ultra-violence’. Not for everyone, it’s nevertheless a linguistic tour-de-force.

I once switched on the TV when the film adaptation of A Clockwork Orange was about to begin, and as the opening credits rolled, I turned it off. I’d read the book, and the thought of seeing the violence on the page depicted to the screen was too much for me. And I felt exactly the same about The Handmaid’s Tale watching Margaret Atwood’s dysoptian and intensely misogynistic world on the screen – having read the classic novel – was just not how I wanted to spend an evening, so I gave the TV adaptation a pass.

In an attempt to shift gears away from the brutally hard-hitting, Margaret Atwood won last year’s Booker Prize in conjunction with the phenomenal Bernadine Evaristo, for her polyphonic and expansive novel Girl, Woman, Other. If you’ve not read that one yet – bring it to the top of your TBR! It’s a true achievement.

Finally, although there are 1001 books with ‘girl’ in the title that I could have picked from for this connection, in the spirit of uplifting new publishing and shining a spotlight on institutional racism is Zakiya Dalila Harris’s The Other Black Girl. It’s a biting social commentary about race in contemporary America, and will be published this summer.

Thanks for reading my April Six Degrees!

The Panic Years by Nell Frizzell - Book Review

Book Review | The Panic Years by Nell Frizzell

Reading Nell Frizzell’s debut is like sitting with your best friend over a large glass of red wine and having life laid bare. It’s a raw, emotional, funny and candid look at our late twenties into our thirties and early forties – so today’s millennial women – and it gives a name to this otherwise nameless period. ‘Unlike childhood, adolescence, menopause, or the midlife crisis,’ Frizzell writes, ‘we have no common term for the tumult of time, hormones, social pressure, and maternal hunger that smacks into many women like a train at the end of their twenties and early thirties.’

This book made me feel seen. It commits to page the ways that likely many millennial women* have felt – or will feel – at some point in their lives. Unlike men, who aren’t bound to their fertility in quite the same way, women are conditioned to listen to the tick of their biological clock and make a decision that will forever shape their lives. It’s not a choice that can be made in isolation – at Frizzell says, it becomes ‘the baseline to everything.’ It’s a choice that you have to make ‘now, before your body takes the choice away from you.’

This is a deeply personal account from Frizzell about her navigation of the panic years, through disastrous dates to a determined resolve to live a baby-free life to the max and relocate to Berlin. Frizzell is a journalist, and there’s a journalistic flair and refreshing honesty to the way she blends the sacred and profane. These are heavy topics, doubtless, but written in an accessible way that combines a perfect balance of facts and figures with the personal anecdote.

‘Our biology hasn’t caught up with our politics’

Reproductive rights is, of course, a key feminist issue, and Frizzell addresses the myriad ways in which our biology disadvantages us – from the woeful and shocking lack of research into the effects of the contraceptive pill to the politics around going on maternity leave while you’ve only got your feet on a low rung of a very tall ladder – and how on earth you’ll be able to continue to climb it after a year off work (if you’re lucky enough to live in Europe) combined with the utter exhaustion of being a primary caregiver.

She talks openly about how it feels to have members of your friendship group procreate. Interestingly, she links the feelings of anxiety over one’s own reproductive plans in relation to their friends having babies as a necessary biproduct of life under capitalism, where we are conditioned to view the allocation of resources as competition. Illogical as it may be, a sea full of happy pregnant friends may have you sweating as to the statistical probability of your own healthy pregnancy.

It’s graphic at times – sometimes there’s a little too much candour, but perhaps I’m just squeamish (I am). But there’s something so refreshing in the messiness of it all. I’ve also never read anything that really gives voice and validation to these decisions. Rather than brushing off motherhood as existing in some removed feminine realm of the domestic, as it has been for so much of history, Frizzell champions these decisions and experiences as pretty much the crux of humanity:

‘Everybody is the product of some woman’s pregnancy and birth; the possibility and reality of having a baby is as important, as interesting, and as worthy of our attention as anything created, experienced, or believed by humanity.’

I read it in two days. And I’m buying for all fellow millennial women in my life.

*Women/nonbinary/trans

Book Review | The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Jeannette Walls’ first memory is sustaining third-degree burns as she attempted to boil hot dogs on the stove – at age three. Raised – and ‘raised’ is being generous to her parents – by eccentric nonconformists Rex and Rose Mary, Jeannette and her three siblings have a pretty astonishing story to tell.

It’s astonishing because I’ve never read a memoir quite like it. It is so harrowing and dark, and yet told with a levity and a compassion that makes it easier to read that it would otherwise be.

Rex and Rose Mary determine that their family will live a nomadic lifestyle, ‘doing the skedaddle’ when things go south, and pitching up in another American small-town nowhere. Rex is a habitual drunk and chain smoker, and Rose Mary is trained as a teacher but prefers to spend her days pursuing her art. Neither accept a penny of charity or government assistance, and both are some of the most astoundingly narcissist characters – people – I’ve ever read about. They live in abject poverty and the children are frequently hungry, dumpster-diving for discarded items, and eating cat food more than once. Putting food on the table is not the top priority for Rex and Rose Mary, and they can’t quite understand how they got to be lumped with such a responsibility.

‘‘…I was hungry.’

Mom gave me a startled look. I’d broken one of our unspoken rules: we were always supposed to pretend our life was one long, and incredibly fun, adventure.’

There are truly horrifying anecdotes – their ramshackle house in Phoenix, AZ has no air conditioning, so in the summer they would leave all the windows and doors open at night. The young Jeannette wakes up one night to find herself being molested by a paedophile who has broken in. But the anecdote takes on a somewhat magical feel when Jeannette and her brother Brian go paedophile hunting in the middle of the night, two children on a mission for vengeance. This is the astonishing (sorry for overusing this adjective, but it fits) way in which many of these stories are told – particularly for the young Jeannette, there is no blame, derision or hatred of her parents for the way they left the children wide open to danger; only an acceptance that they had to fend for themselves, and would become stronger and more resilient in the process.

‘When Dad wasn’t telling us about all the amazing things he had already done, he was telling us about the wondrous things he was going to do. Like build the Glass Castle.’

But it’s not simply enough to paint these parents as neglectful monsters (although with the facts on paper, it’s hard to argue anything else). Jeannette speaks with particular fondness of her father, who, one Christmas, takes them all out to look at the night sky in order to pick a star as their gift. Jeannette is particularly close to her dad, his ‘mountain goat’ who swears he’ll never let her down, even as he does – time and time again. Despite frequently going hungry, wearing holey clothes and with no safe space to do her schoolwork, Jeannette excels academically. One night she accepts a ride home from a stranger, who asks her about her future plans. Pre-teen Jeannette regales her career ambitions to the silent stranger. ‘For the daughter of the town drunk,’ he says, ‘you sure got big plans.’

As Jeannette and her siblings grow older, the shine starts to fade and they begin to realise that the way they live is not the way that normal people – happy people – live. The last quarter of the memoir recounts her life as she moves away and begins life on her own terms. I wished that this part of the book gave us a little more in the way of introspection on what had happened in her childhood, especially with the distance of time and geography to provide the space to reflect. There were many moments in the novel that took on a romanticized sheen, which was deeply unsettling. But as I reflect, I don’t think any of us can deny someone their story, and the way in which they choose to tell it – even if all evidence points to an uncomfortable truth: that this was a terrible, deeply dysfunctional childhood, and Jeannette was lucky to make it out alive. I’ll say it just one more time: astonishingly told. This one will stay with me for a long time.

Top Ten Tuesday | Books on my Spring TBR

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018.

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is a TBR, and I always feel a little nervous committing to paper what’s on my immediate TBR – it’s a bit of a moveable feast. But in the spirit of shouting about some exciting-sounding books, here we go. (Abbreviated blurbs pulled from Goodreads).

Animal by Lisa Taddeo

Animal is a depiction of female rage at its rawest, and a visceral exploration of the fallout from a male-dominated society. With writing that scorches and mesmerizes, Taddeo illustrates one woman’s exhilarating transformation from prey into predator.”

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World byElif Shafak

“Our brains stay active for ten minutes after our heart stops beating. For Leila, each minute brings with it a new memory. Most importantly, each memory reminds Leila of the five friends she met along the way – friends who are now desperately trying to find her…”

Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason

“This novel is about a woman called Martha. She knows there is something wrong with her but she doesn’t know what it is. Her husband Patrick thinks she is fine. He says everyone has something, the thing is just to keep going.”

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

“Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Hers is a story of triumph against all odds, but also a tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that despite its profound flaws gave her the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms.”

Someone who will love you in all your damaged glory by Raphael Bob-Waksberg

“From the creator and executive producer of the beloved and universally acclaimed television series BoJack Horseman, a fabulously off-beat collection of short stories about love — the best and worst thing in the universe.”

Human Acts by Han Kang

“An award-winning, controversial bestseller, Human Acts is a timeless, pointillist portrait of an historic event with reverberations still being felt today, by turns tracing the harsh reality of oppression and the resounding, extraordinary poetry of humanity.”

Kinder than Solitude by Yiyun Li

“A breathtaking page-turner, Kinder Than Solitude resonates with provocative observations about human nature and the virtues of loyalty. In mesmerizing prose, and with profound philosophical insight, Yiyun Li unfolds this remarkable story, even as she explores the impact of personality and the past on the shape of a person’s present and future.”

Four Hundred Souls by Ibram X. Kendi

“An epoch-defining history of African America, the first to appear in a generation, Four Hundred Souls is a chronological account of four hundred years of Black America as told by ninety of America’s leading Black writers.”

Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis

“In Word Freak, Stefan Fatsis introduces readers to those few, exploring the underground world of colorful characters for which the Scrabble game is life. More than a book about hardcore Scrabble players, Word Freak is also an examination of notions of brilliance, memory, language, competition, and the mind that celebrates the uncanny creative powers in us all.”

Insatiable by Daisy Buchanan

Insatiable is about women and desire – lust, longing and the need to be loved. It is a story about being unable to tell whether you are running towards your future or simply running away from your past. The result is at once tender and sad, funny and hopeful.”

What’s coming up on your Spring TBR? Have you read any of the above? Thanks for stopping by!

Book Review | The Divines by Ellie Eaton

Isn’t it funny how our schooldays can haunt us, years – decades – after they’re gone? For Josephine, her time at elite English boarding school, St John the Divine, is a shadow she can’t shake. Even now, living in L.A. and married to an ‘overwhelmingly decent man’, her time as a ‘Divine’ remains an unspoken history. Through a dual narrative, we return to those heady days of nineties’ girlhood at St John, as Josephine – known to her schoolfriends as Joe – slowly unpacks and unravels the fateful events that came to pass.

There is gulf of privilege that separates the Divines in their ‘ivory tower’ and the townies, residents of the local area, for whom the school is both loathed and derided and also an essential source of employment. The townies see the Divines as a ‘stuck-up, supercilious bunch of trust funders’, completely oblivious to the real ways of the world. So when Joe half-accidentally befriends a townie, Lauren, neither of them really know how to behave around each other. Lauren’s world – alcoholic father, mother with a long-term illness, and having to work two jobs alongside school to help out with the bills – is an alien existence to Joe, who’s mocked by Lauren’s family for her plummy speech and affected manners.

With astute psychological insight, Eaton lays bare the female teenage experience in an unflinching way. She captures the awkwardness of teenagerhood so well, the utterly unbearable feeling of inhabiting a changing body, the unease of being in your own skin. She pores over the oscillating dynamics of female friendship, the pain of being ostracised from a group, the desperation to fit in. Selfhood is constantly malleable, the way the girls are perceived and perceive each other. Eaton describes Joe as ‘self-obsessed, too caught up in my own narrative to care about anyone but myself’ – and has there ever been a more accurate description of teenagerhood?

It’s told with the haze of 90s nostalgia, but it’s a nostalgia intermingled with a growing sense of foreboding, of dread. We know that a terrible, tragic event occurred at the school – an event that has haunted Joe throughout her life. And yet despite this, she draws us a picture that feels so real, and the nostalgia so poignant –

‘…the camaraderie of school life. The sensation of having my knee tickled, my hair stroked, the weight of an arm linked through my own. The complete indifference to the outside world. The jokes, the rumours, the secrets.’

We come to find that there is a dissonance between past and present, between fiction and reality. Josephine’s attempt to reconcile her version of events with what happened on those fateful days takes her back to St John – the school has long since been dissolved and buildings turned into flats, a dentist’s office – for a reunion. She hopes to gain some kind of closure, self-composure, and the ability to finally put the events of that fateful year to bed.

‘What am I supposed to tell him? That, since becoming a mother, I exist in a state of perpetual unease. That the world seems to me overwhelmingly dangerous and chaotic. How of all the multitudinous threats posed to him and the baby—earthquakes, rising sea levels, drunk drivers, melanomas, pandemics, zealots with semiautomatics—it’s something else I’m most afraid of. The past, slowly coiling around us, the snake in the crib.’

It’s completely absorbing, a slow-burn piece of literary fiction that grapples with the nature of memory, history, and selfhood. It’s also beautifully written in suspenseful, taut prose. While the ending might not be to everyone’s taste, I felt it worked perfectly within the context of the novel and its nuanced, complex narrative. Highly recommended.

Pairings of fiction and non-fiction books

So, I initially wanted to participate in this as part of non-fiction November, but life happened – five months later, here I am! I really enjoyed reading other readers’ pairings last year, and I love the concept.

Meng Jing, ‘Little Gods’ and Mei Fong, ‘One Child’

Mei Fong’s One Child – subtitled ‘The Story of China’s Most Radical Experiment’ blew me away. Mei Fong offers a nuanced and striking examination of the (in)famous one-child policy in China, the world’s largest experiment in social engineering. She dissects the long-reaching, and sometimes surprising, human impact of this policy and how it has shaped families and relationships for generations to come. And the fact that Meng Jin’s protagonist of Little Gods, Liya, is an only child – though not as a direct result of the one-child policy – shapes her life and the way she connects with her heritage. Having been raised in the U.S., Liya returns to China after the death of her mother, anxious to trace the fragile threads of her family history and with no known living relatives. In doing so, she weaves through and dissects contemporary Chinese history in a poetic, insightful and moving way. Both are must-reads for anyone with an interest in modern China.

Lauren Oyler, ‘Fake Accounts’ and Jia Tolentino, ‘Trick Mirror’

Now, I wouldn’t usually give a 3-star read more airtime than what it took to read and review. But Fake Accounts is hot off the press and has drawn plenty of praise, and just because it did dazzle me doesn’t mean it doesn’t have something to say. It’s a fictional mediation, via our unnamed protagonist, on the lives we construct for ourselves online, the nature of selfhood and of performance and power, from a woman who’s just found out her boyfriend is secretly running a popular conspiracy theorist Instagram account. Jia Tolentino’s incredibly articulate essay collection Trick Mirror addresses many of these same themes – in one memorable chapter ‘Always Be Optimizing’, she explores the modern condition through the vehicle of a chopped salad – a chopped salad the embodiment of the way that our attention can be directed away from having to focus on the consumption of nutrients and instead to the consumption of data, of content, as we answer emails or scroll Facebook or buy things on Amazon. Compelling stuff, and both searing accounts of the modern condition.

Yaa Gyasi, ‘Homegoing’ and Ta Nehisi-Coates, ‘Between the World and Me’

I feel like I have waxed lyrical about both of these before, but for good reason. Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing is a sweeping and devastating novel, transporting us from 18th century Ghana to just before the turn of the millennium in the United States. It charts the descendants of two sisters, one who is enslaved and brought to the U.S., the other who remains in Ghana. It’s an ambitious and moving examination of the ripple effects of history and racism. Between the World and Me (which should be required reading for the planet, as per the iconic Toni Morrison), is written as a letter Coates addresses to his son. He eloquently examines how the pernicious nature of systemic racism is woven into the fabric of American society. And while his experience as a Black man in America is different from his father’s, and different from his son’s, who has grown up under a Black president, there is a long, long way to go before Black lives in America are valued equally. If you loved Yaa Gyasi’s debut, make sure Ta Nehisi-Coates is next on your TBR.

Thanks for visiting! Are there any fiction/non-fiction pairings you would recommend?