The Carrying by Ada Limón
This collection of poetry was unexpected for me. It felt as though I reached for it at the right time, having let it rest on my bookshelves for months with no reasoning other than it hadn’t called to me yet. But just before mother’s day this year, I reached for it. And I found myself devouring these words that felt both personal and collective; as though some were taken straight from my own heart and soul and others were written to show me what other versions of life can be. Limón’s writing is equal parts blunt and tender. A few favorites of mine are, “The Leash”, “The Raincoat” which I handwrote and sent to my mom for Mother’s Day, and “On a Pink Moon” ft. the incredible opening line: “I take out my anger / And lay its shadow // On the stone I rolled / Over what broke me.” like, are you fking kidding me? I don’t want to give away too much, but there are so many “oh shit” moments that I know this is a collection I’ll return to throughout my days.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
I followed that incredible collection with a book I’d first seen on the thrift store shelf, then saw on many awards lists, had a quick conversation with a friend who was reading and loving it, and then finally maybe 2 months later got around to picking it up. At the risk of being a complete cliché, after picking it up, I had a very difficult time putting it back down. Reduced to its bare bones, the description of “a four generation Korean family saga” draws a broad but accurate brushstroke on what’s to come from Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko.
Our story begins with a young Korean girl who finds herself involved with an older Japanese businessman. As a result, a child is conceived at which point Sunja learns her lover has a wife and family in Japan. Unwilling to involve herself any further with him, she ends up marrying a sickly traveling pastor whose life she saved when he stopped by the boardinghouse she lives and works in. Throughout the next several hundred pages, it feels as though you as the reader are watching a can’t-look-away-from historical tv show you have the pleasure of creating in your own mind. Lee’s writing is magnetic. She weaves sentences seamlessly to draw you in and then bluntly drops a truth unbeknownst to even the other characters in the novel and your jaws on the floor.
This is a story of struggle and triumph, of love and friendship. Each character pulls back the curtain to reveal different ways to show loyalty and love to those you care about most. At 480 pages, it can feel a bit daunting to approach which is probably why I let it live in my TBR pile for months before reaching for it. But the plot flows so rapidly and the narrative voice jumps amongst the different characters, guaranteeing to maintain your interest in where these character’s choices will lead them in life.
Siege & Storm by Leigh Bardugo
In trying to get back into the habit of using my library card, I picked up the second book in Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone trilogy, Siege and Storm. After watching the first season of the tv adaptation on Netflix, I read the first book last month expecting to be kind of board but maybe entertained enough to get me back into YA fantasy, one of the genre’s that got me hooked on phonics way back in the beginning. I do have to admit, I am a bit confused as to how they’re plotting the show because it seems as though they may be weaving a different POV from the same Grishaverse (the shared world amongst a few books created by Leigh Bardugo) but to be honest I’ve only read the first two of the Shadow and Bone Trilogy and therefore know nothing about the plot or characters of her other books of which I know there are at least a few. BUT I DIGRESS (already copyrighted as the title of my potential memoir and/or standup comedy special just FYI).
Book two of this trilogy did not disappoint. Just as I felt with the first, this pacing of Seige and Storm had me desperate to know what was going to happen next. Without giving anything away, my crush on Mal definitely wavers a bit in this one. While I understand and appreciate the strong female protagonist leading to it mostly being told from Alina’s point of view, it also leads to frustrating miscommunications as well as inherently places a limit on what we as the reader are privy to. It’s easy to see how sci-fi/fantasy novels lend themselves so easily to fanfiction. Limiting the content of each character’s mind to just one leaves all the rest of the characters internal worlds as fodder to continue the story or revisit a scene through a different lens.
Unfortunately, the small price to pay for using the library is that when I went back for book 3 it was signed out, so I’ll check again next week and put in a request if I need to. I really feel like this review went downhill when I ended it with the process of checking out library books, but lemme just throw in real quick note that this is one of those longer books with short chapters that trick you into reading more, faster. Love that for our reading momentum!
Outline by Rachel Cusk
I started seeing Rachel Cusk’s work show up on some “Hot Girl Bookstagrams” last summer and was one of the vouyers who had no idea how prolific her writing was. Not to say that I assumed she’d only just come on the scene because it was the first time I’d heard of her, but more so that I was astounded when I realized that rather than the expected few published books, she had ten works of fiction and 5 works of non-fiction, amongst who knows how many other literary pieces published in magazines and anthologies and wherever else interesting writing is collected and published.
I went into Outline having been drawn in by the sparse cover art and the idea that I had no concept of what the book was about at all. I knew nothing of her writing or what people thought about it and that was exciting to me. I’ve found myself googling reviews of books immediately after I’ve finished them to figure out how to talk about them and I realized that’s not going to help me find a voice to talk about books in the way I want to. All of that is to say that this book is not everyone’s cup of tea and that is just a fraction of the reason I’m so drawn to it.
In describing the book to my dentist who asked what I was reading as her instruments made my gums bleed, it sounded as though I was purposefully selling the book short. Having only been about 1/4 of the way through it at the time, I said it was plotless and essentially followed a female writer around Greece as she spends some time there for a business trip. My dentist seemed disappointed and said, “I usually just read non-fiction” which sent my mind into a tailspin because I forget that not everyone chooses to live in made up realities at every opportunity, but once again, I digress.
What I liked most about Cusk’s writing style is her use of dialogue as plot. Rather than cluttering up her page with quotation marks and descriptor words of who said what to whom, she’ll just include it in the internal monologue of our protagonist, Faye, seamlessly weaving it in while managing to avoid the breathless pace of a run-on sentence. It reminded me of Virginia Woolf’s style of stream of consciousness internalized narration, except she pulls that internal world right out into the actions of those around her. If none of this makes sense, all I can suggest is giving this novel a go and seeing if it makes sense then? Like I said, similar to when Napoleon Dynamite came out in my 5th year of grade school, Outline feels like a few will love it, a few will hate it, but most people just don’t get it, and that’s so friggen okay, because that’s art!
Outline (2014) is book one of a trilogy following the British author and mother, Faye, followed by In Transit (2016), and Kudos (2018). It feels like such a treat to have found a new author with such an interesting style and to have so much of her left to read – a dream !!
Ending this May book roundup with a cutie little thrift store haul. A few books on the craft, a few chapter books for the littles in my life, and a few current scores that I can’t believe I get for free – I’m lookin at you Broken Monsters. Endlessly lucky to get to spend my free time with books, taking in all that I can to one day be able to write in a way that gives me the same feeling I get from reading others’ words.
As always, thank you so much for taking some time to read my thoughts on some silly little books I read in the month of May.