I have been reading so many good books lately! I am excited to share them all with you today. The reviews I wrote initially were too long, so I cut them down for the sake of this roundup post. I’m going to share my longer reviews on Instagram over the coming days/weeks. You can follow me @findingithaka. I’d love to connect with you on Instagram if you’re on there!
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TW: suicide attempt
Do ever think back and wonder if you had made a different choice, how your life would turn out? I’m not talking about a regret, just a wonder?
This book explores these ideas and questions with the character of Nora. She tries to kill herself, but instead ends up in the Midnight Library, a sort of limbo between life and death. There are an infinite number of books, each holding the story of the different directions her life could have gone.
She opens many of the books to see what her life would have been like if she had made different decisions. Each time she opens up a new book, she is transported into a new life. She finds out what would have happened if she had stayed with that guy, if she had been a rock star, if she had been an olympic medalist, if she had owned a winery…
There are some weird things in this book that don’t totally make sense, but I think you kind of just have to go with it for the sake of the book. I also was surprised that there was not as much character development as I thought there would be. Nora wasn’t the most intriguing or interesting character, but I loved the plot. I loved seeing all of the different directions her life could have taken if she had made big or small decisions differently. It was a cool thought experiment and I loved all of the ideas that the book brought up.
Wow, what a story. In the 1700s in a small village in France, Addie LaRue is about to be married. Having no interest in getting married and wanting to be completely free from anyone and anything, she makes a deal with a god, the darkness, who she calls Luc.
In exchange for her freedom, Luc makes her completely forgettable. Her parents don’t remember her. Whenever someone is out of sight of her for even a second, they forget her. She can’t hold down a job or have her own place to live so she has to steal and find new places to live constantly. Luc also gives her immortality for as long as she wants it. Whenever she has had enough, she can summon Luc, and he will take her soul.
The book goes back and forth between her life in the 1700s to 2014 in NYC.
I was completely enthralled in this story. It is a long novel – about 450 pages – and it moves slowly. I didn’t want the book to end or to read it too fast because I wanted to enjoy every bit of it. I loved seeing Addie grow and move through the world from the 1700s to 2014. She lives through wars and makes her make on the world in her own way. Despite having to work every day to get food and to find a place to sleep at night, she finds beauty in everyday things. She never stops exploring, living, learning, and loving.
Roxane Gay wrote that this book is “a must-read for anyone who wants to deepen their feminist thinking,” and I absolutely agree.
Centering on Black feminism and Black womanhood, this book deals with complex ideas, nuance, and topics that might make you uncomfortable. Yet it is an extremely accessible read. Cooper discusses her own journey to and with feminism, and the ways that Black women helped her navigate her understanding of feminism. She analyzes the ways in which Black women are often “asked to choose between your race and your gender.” She talks about her mother and grandmother and the impossible decisions they were faced with. She talks about the men in their lives.
She talks about religion and the role it played in her understanding of what is means to be a Black feminist. She writes about Sandra Bland and the women who started the Black Lives Matter movement. She writes about respectability politics and the Obamas. She writes about her childhood and college career.
She rightfully calls out white women for the role they played in Trump’s election. She analyzes systemic racism and white fear. This is just a little bit of what you will find in this book. There is so much in this book and I highly recommend it.
This book comes with a lot of trigger warnings: violence, murder, drugs, prison, the war on drugs.
At 15, Michael Alexander Allen was arrested for attempted carjacking. The man in the car was able to lunge at Michael, get the gun, and shoot Michael in the neck. Because of California’s three strikes law and other robberies he committed, this 15-year old boy was tried as an adult and served 11 years of a 13 year sentence.
Three years later after he got out of prison, he was found dead – shot in a parked car.
Danielle Allen is his cousin, a political theorist, and professor at Harvard. This book is part grieving her cousin, part critique of the war on drugs and the criminal justice system. She tries to decipher how this happened and why.
Although cousins, Danielle grew up very differently than Michael, who grew up in South Central LA. She talks about their family, the times she visited Michael in prison, the joy and relief his entire family felt when he was finally released, and the lengths she went to to help him get his life back on track. Her close conversations with Michael and her inclusion of the family photos and essays that Michael wrote while in prison create an extremely intimate portrait of their family and this boy who became a man in prison.
She wonders if she did enough to help him, what more she could have done. But she also is extremely critical of a criminal justice system that put a 15-year-old boy in jail for 11 years for an attempted carjacking. She explains in great detail the laws and policies that led to this.
This book is a painful, open, and honest look not only at a family’s tragedy, but of an American tragedy. This book, while difficult to read, is extremely important.
Askaripour wrote Black Buck drawing on his own experiences. It’s satire – a mock-self-help book about how to survive as a Black salesman in a toxic racist work environment.
The novel follows a young Black man named Darren who lives in Bed-Stuy with his mom and manages a Starbucks. But one day at Starbucks, he meets Rhett, the CEO of a tech startup called Sumwun. Rhett hires Darren to be a salesman.
Darren is the only Black person working at Sumwun. Everyone at Sumwun thinks that they are woke. But in addition to navigating his new role, he has to navigate this subtly – and not so subtly – racist environment.
From here, Darren and the novel sort of spiral out of control. In order to get more perspective on this novel, I read an interview he gave with BK Reader, which you can read here, in which he says:
“ But what feels like the biggest win to me is when people who I wrote this book for, especially Black people, write me and say I ate up your book and I saw myself reflected in it.”
I’m hesitant to be critical of this book because it is based on the author’s own experience and not written for me. I know how important it is for me to stay in my lane. There is no doubt that the character of Darren goes too far. He puts others in extreme danger without any remorse and doesn’t care about anyone, including his own mother. It’s hard to read and downright hard to believe that anyone would do all of these things. He might not care for anyone but himself, but he also puts himself into dangerous situations. He has no self-awareness and no redemption and I wish that he did. I didn’t really see a reason for a lot of the terrible things he did.
“There’s a cost of going along to get along,” Askaripour explained. “It’s the cost of your spirit. It’s the cost of your self-respect. It’s the cost of feeling like an authentic person. It takes a tremendous mental and spiritual toll to sleep at night knowing that you just pandered to other people for no other reason than to make them comfortable at the cost of yourself.”
I think that satire is meant to push boundaries and make you uncomfortable, and this book does that. So how far is too far? If you have read it, I’d love to know your thoughts.
– Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters (thank you, Steph, for recommending last month!)
– The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah (I’m a sucker for her)