Reparative Reading and Recent Reads, Vol. 2
Literature is curative. I've said it before, and I will say it again because it's true. It allows you to escape from the everyday world, but it makes it so you do so while simultaneously immersing yourself in even more humanity. It allows you to see through different eyes and to consider new perspectives. It allows you to travel and to know the unknowable. Before you realize, your momentary escape has taught you something new.
Late last year, I wrote about the reparative nature of reading contemporary fiction. I thought that might be a one time piece, but I ought to have known better – after all that wasn't the first time I'd broached the topic and I certainly haven't stopped turning to contemporary fiction every chance I get. Time and time again, reading has cured me. It's allowed me to escape from whatever it is – deep anxiety, academic stress, burn out, or even an afternoon's boredom – and to refresh my mind. So, I think it's only right to turn "Reparative Reading" into an occasional series.
Just as I did last autumn, I've repeatedly turned to contemporary fiction this spring to take breaks from working on my thesis. Anxiety worsened as submission drew nearer, and in my free time, I needed to turn away from the turn of the century and to our present day. (A questionable move considering the current state of affairs.)
I've already talked about one of my important reads this spring – Meg Wolitzer's The Female Persuasion – but here are a few more books I've enjoyed lately. Each of these is deeply rooted in the current day, so while they're refreshing each in their own way, they won't fill you with guilt for escaping from the real world either.
- The Ensemble, Aja Gable
The Ensemble follows a quartet of musicians over twenty years as they reach different levels of failure and success, dipping in and out of different perspectives and beautifully weaving all of the personal stories together into a harmonious whole. The novel filled the gap left behind by Mozart in the Jungle's cancellation and I can guarantee that it can do the same for you, even though the two have very little do with each other beyond taking place in the classical music world and being really exciting to follow. The Ensemble is original and unique, and I'm sure it will stay with me for a long time.
- What We Lose, Zinzi Clemmons
A spectacular debut novel, What We Lose is a bildungsroman about loss. Loosely based on the author's experience of caring for her mother as she was dying for cancer, the novel focuses on Thandi, a biracial and binational girl who comes of age while juggling her American upbringing with the influence of her mother's family in South Africa. It's a stunning, haunting read that deals with illness, death, and identity in a refreshingly honest and creatively communicative way. Definitely a favorite read of the year.
- Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng
I talked about Celeste Ng's new novel, Little Fires Everywhere, in my last Reparative Reading post. It was my favorite book of 2017 and no doubt you've heard about it from the rest of the world, if not from me. I've been following Ng on Twitter since then, and I quickly turned to her first novel when I needed a break after finishing the first draft of my thesis. Everything I Never Told You was everything I needed it to be and possibly spoke to me more than Little Fires Everywhere in its explicit focus on multiculturalism and even on academia. Focusing on one biracial family in the 1970s, the novel delves into the disappearance and death of its eldest daughter while providing a stunning look into family dynamics and cultural prejudice. It too is a haunting, deeply human read, and I highly recommend it for our current cultural climate.
- You Think It, I'll Say It, Curtis Sittenfeld
You Think It, I'll Say It is definitely the "lightest" read on this list, but it's still very much a piece of its time, touching repeatedly on politics and sexuality (including a short story positively focused on bisexuality). I devoured each of the stories in the collection, and I described it to Lee as giving off "Nora Ephron vibes" for our current times. I heartily recommend it if you want to get back into reading after a slump or are looking for something pleasant to read without totally disconnecting from the world.
- Florida, Lauren Groff
Another short story collection, Florida is my current read. I read Lauren Groff's Fates and Furies last summer, and like everyone who's ever read it, I was blown away. Florida has many of the same qualities – it's dark, staunchly honest, and beautifully constructed. Each of the short stories has marked me so far, and I'm looking forward to those I have yet to read.
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