by Rose Owens*
For 2017, I wanted to return to the magical feeling of diving into a book, escaping the world at the moment, and learning about this new realm as well as something about myself. I wanted to get back to reading. I have been an avid reader since childhood, but had fallen out of any regular patterns due to working in the food service industry (and retail at large) for the past fifteen years. I initially shot for twenty-five books, and managed to read twenty-nine (missing finishing the thirtieth by a day!). It was a wonderful and enriching experience, and one that I am re-creating in 2018; still gunning for twenty-five books, but here's hoping I break my 2017 record!
What follows is a small sampling of books read during 2017. An additional note: I created a thematic goal within my goal, one which seemed prescient: to only read female/female-identifying authors, which turned out wonderfully and only had a couple hiccups. Please enjoy!
|by Martha Slavin|
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
This debut novel by Gyasi was getting a great deal of good press for some time, but I stumbled upon it as a member of a book club called Page Views, sponsored by the de Young Museum and the Legion of Honor. It was presented in connection with a show at the de Young called "Revelations: Art from the African American South." The art show alone is astounding and heart-breaking (and up until April 2018, go see it!), and plays with the idea of memory and identity formation, among many other things. Homegoing was a perfect fit, as it is a truly radical piece of work that moves back and forth between the life stories of fourteen different characters as their various families move around Africa and emigrate to the United States. It's riveting and Gyasi does an amazing job at keeping the reader fully immersed in the story. You feel as though you are walking alongside each character, sharing their pains and joys. There's surprise and magic, romance and sorrow, and above all Gyasi works (as have the other two authors I will mention here) to broaden the reader's worldview. This is not for complacent readers, but will force you to ask very real questions of yourself and how you negotiate with other people's experiences. It's a real commitment, but isn't that why we read? To learn and change for the better, to evolve and celebrate the dynamism of the world? You will not regret picking up this very worthy tome.
|by Martha Slavin|
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Truth be told, it took me a long time to get to this book because it had been so lauded for so many years. Perhaps it's the contrarian in me, but sometimes I am put off by books that EVERYONE says are great. Perhaps it's from reading said books and being disappointed that I wasn't as enraptured as I was supposed to be. Whatever the case for my putting it off, I decided I was going to read The Handmaid's Tale this year for multiple reasons: a) it fit my theme of female authors, b) the dystopian world which scarily mirrors our own, and c) I wanted to get ahead of the (then) upcoming television series based on the novel. However, I found once diving into its pages that this was more than just a case of getting ahead of the story. Atwood tells a startlingly recognizable tale, full of heart and hate, and with a protagonist who you can fully see. Offred is not an easy person to connect with, which I value. sometimes, one gets tired of endlessly relatable leads. We are pushed into uncomfortable zones, asked repeatedly if we would do the same, and realizing that no matter what, you cannot know what your reactions and response would be unless you are actually in that moment. I was very much enthralled by this book and soon became one of those talking head testimonials that I scoffed at for so many years. P.S. the show, while not slavishly devoted to the mother text, does some interesting things with the piece. Check both out!
|by Martha Slavin|
I had long admired Roxane Gay for her unabashed proclamations about pop culture (if you haven't yet, do yourself a favor and read her piece about going to see "Magic Mike XXL"; it's celebratory and fun and not what you would expect about a movie that many have labeled "a frivolous chick flick"). So it was with excitement that I dove into this book of her essays, which run the gamut from pop culture to politics to sexuality to...Scrabble? It's a truly engrossing read that will keep you questioning your intake of gender role and racial representation, which is something we could always use, but especially during these days of #MeToo and terrifyingly inhumane proclamations regarding immigrants and people of color. Next up on my "hanging with Roxane" list is her memoir Hunger, which dives into discussions about body and self-image, and is another topic always worth diving into to tease apart common-held stereotypes regarding appearances. You go, Roxane, you go!
Check out Rose's list of 29, almost completed, 30 good reads. Click on the Book Lists page at the top of this post.
I'm attending the California Letters conference this week, so I asked Rose Owens to contribute this post. Thank you for reading and please let her know your response to her post by leaving a comment!