In this time of tech-induced attention-deficit-disorder, in which distraction is censorship, reading books for pleasure is both a powerful antidote and a tiny commitment to the coming revolution.
Maybe I go too far?
And yet, a few books over the last few weeks have given me so much…well, if not deep and democratic thoughtfulness, then an opportunity for the kind of far-ranging meditative rumination that makes life meaningful. If you also require an unTwitter, consider taking a tour of the following titles.
First, head west to L.A., where IQ (Joe Ide) is set. It’s a detective story featuring the kind of Sherlockian genius who is erratic and cold but also earnest and redeemable. It hits some familiar urban-mystery beats, but its South-Central-L.A. backdrop is so playful and poignant, and the idiosyncratic detective is so over the top and understated, that it exceeds the category.
Next up, travel to rainy Dublin, where Conversations with Friends (Sally Rooney) unfurls. It was a critical darling of late 2017, and though I almost hated the emo-reanimating, aggressively first-person narrator, I felt like I got her (which…?). The book’s inability to conceive of a woman in her late-30s as anything but completely irrelevant (sorry, ladies) is (mostly) offset by an interestingly indirect, unresolved depiction of marriage.
Now go back (way back) to the 1970s Midwest of Everything I Never Told You (Celeste Ng). Everyone loves Little Fires Everywhere, but Ng’s first book about a disconnected interracial family is affecting. I spent the first half arching my brows at the pat characters and adherence to the plot’s pattern. I spent the last half crying my eyes out. And it wasn’t just because I was sad. It was because—what’s the cliché?—the world is so beautiful and life is so short.
End your tour in France with How to Behave in a Crowd (Camille Bordas). Isadore, the protagonist-narrator, is an empathetic 11-year-old kid brother of five genius older siblings. His anthropological view of his family, and his tendency to engage rather than alienate make him a delightful narrative companion. Also delightful: This is Bordas’s first book in English, and the slight disruption in the English-language rendering of the French family is very charming.
These books took me places, but mostly by offering a respite from the hot takes and Twitter feed that regularly ignite the flames on the side of my face. I wouldn’t call them escapist, though—or I would, but what they allowed me to escape was my own tiny sphere of tech-abetted interiority. My new problem is that the only book left on my bedside table is Behave. Help! Which books have helped you log off, mute all, and carry on?
English PhD, former arts administrator, obsessive cook, native East Coaster, and mom to two rabblerousers.
English PhD, former high school teacher, obsessive organizer, native Midwesterner, and mom to three troublemakers.