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The Recommendations Book Tag

I’ve been tagged by Naty and Eline, more than enough motivation to jump on board after enjoying Ally’s (original!) post for this tag! If you haven’t checked out their wonderful recommendations yet be sure to do so, they’ve highlighted some fantastic titles and this tag is a great way to find new books or perhaps re-prioritize what’s already on your TBR. 😉 I haven’t done any tags or recommendation posts in a while so I’m going to use this chance to round up some recent faves from within the last few months of my reading that I need to talk about more!

Rules:

  • Tag Ally @ Ally Writes Things so she can see your recommendations!
  • Give at least one recommendation for each of the prompts below
  • If you don’t have a recommendation, talk about a book you want to read
  • Tag some friends!

And now for the books!

A Book About Friendship

Outlawed

Outlawed by Anna North. This isn’t necessarily a book *about* friendship, but it does prominently feature a great group of friends, many of whom are LGBTQ+ characters and all of whom are ostracized from their reimagined 1800s Western society. It’s a fun romp that’s a bit over the top, but if a band of feminist & LGBTQ+ outlaws dressing as cowboys and running heists in the name of creating a sanctuary for the oppressed sounds at all your type, you may want to give this one a try!

A Translated Book

Hurricane Season

Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor, translated from the original Spanish by Sophie Hughes. Set in an impoverished Mexican village brimming with local tensions and long-lived superstitions, this little literary novel packs a big punch as it unravels, character by character, the truth of the Witch’s death. A string of flawed and unreliable narrators demonstrate the ripple effects of trauma and suspicion; though this is a book focused on darkness, brutality, and things gone wrong, it never loses sight of its characters’ humanity.

A Diverse Romance

One to Watch

One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London. Okay, the MC here is a straight white woman and if you caught my review a couple of months ago you may recall I hesitate to even call this book a romance, but hear me out. This story follows a plus-size influencer who agrees to star as the lead on a Bachelorette-style reality dating show. Though personally I’d categorize reality dating TV as something akin to a sport, there is some romance involved, and altogether I’d say the cast is fairly diverse, from skin color to age, sexuality, and body type, and one of the prominent bachelors is even a great single dad to a non-binary kid. It’s a quick read with a fun multi-media sort of format and plenty of sweet scenes, while also directly tackling representation issues in mainstream television.

A Fast-Paced Book

Interior Chinatown

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu. From the outside this may look like an ordinary novel, but inside it is formatted like a screenplay and it reads like a dream. The style befits the main character’s tendency to view his Asian-American life as though it is a movie in which he is perpetually cast as Generic Asian Man behind white and Black stars. He longs to be upgraded to the role of Kung Fu Man, but over the course of the novel gradually realizes that even this goal is a limited box reflective of ingrained Asian racism in America. It was nearly a one-sitting read for me, loads of fun and also incredibly thought-provoking.

A Nonfiction Other Than a Memoir

Made in China: A Prisoner, an SOS Letter, and the Hidden Cost of America's Cheap Goods

Made in China by Amelia Pang. Speaking of China, I just read this absolutely heart-wrenching investigative journalism book about the state of forced labor in modern China, and though I have to caution you about the extremely dark content I cannot recommend reading up on this topic highly enough, especially for first-world consumers whose purchasing habits help drive the system. Lives are literally counting on buyers making smart, conscientious purchases and holding brands accountable for their sourcing of goods. I can’t deny this is a bleak read, but it’s also an important, life-changing one.

An Underrated Memoir

Notes on a Silencing

Notes on a Silencing by Lacy Crawford. Despite its excellent cover and some great early hype, I’ve seen very few readers in my feed picking up this book, and I hope that will change. This is one of the strongest #MeToo books I’ve ever read, ranking right up there with Chanel Miller’s Know My Name; it follows Crawford through her boarding school days, during which she was raped by two upperclassmen boys, and the long years afterward when her school refused to take her claim seriously, made her a target among her peers, and took deliberate steps to stifle her legal case. Crawford also engages with the language we tend to use or avoid around trauma in a particularly interesting and useful way.

A Book With Fewer Than 10,000 Ratings on Goodreads

The Butchers' Blessing

The Butchers’ Blessing by Ruth Gilligan. This mysterious, Irish-set historical fiction novel chronicles the last year that the Butchers travel the countryside practicing their trade, a fateful time for Irish cattle as a bout of BSE (mad cow disease) heightens tensions to a near-panic. It’s a book full of such thoughtfully-drawn characters and of such thematic depth, a sad but beautiful exploration of the conflict between folkloric/traditional beliefs and the pressure to move as a nation into the modern world. It’s actually got less than 1,000 ratings on GR, which is woeful for such a brilliant work.

A Book With An LGBTQ+ Protagonist

Girl Made of Stars

Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake. YA titles appear pretty rarely on my blog these days, but there are some real gems in the category even for adult readers who prefer heavier themes, and this is one of them. It features a bisexual MC who must confront a trauma from her past in order to move forward with her non-binary girlfriend, all while caught in the middle of a scandal that hits very close to home- her twin brother has been accused of rape by his girlfriend, and while our protagonist loves her brother she also trusts her friend not to lie about him in this way. It’s a sticky situation that examines trauma and victim blaming with care and nuance, appropriate for readers YA and up.

A Book By A Trans or Non-binary Author

The Death of Vivek Oji

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi. Emezi seems to be a popular answer for this prompt already, but they’re a favorite author of mine that I can’t refrain from mentioning here and I’ve not seen this book specifically listed yet, so I’ll add it to the ring. Vivek Oji is a heartfelt look at sexual discovery and prejudice in Nigeria, focusing on the devastating death of a character whose true identity was known only to a few close friends. This is a sad, beautiful character study with plenty of commercial appeal.

A Book With More Than 500 Pages

Legendborn (Legendborn, #1)

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn. Another great YA recommendation, and a fantasy one at that! This one just makes the cut at 501 pages (according to Goodreads; I don’t have a physical copy on hand at the moment to check accuracy but I’m glad- this book’s worth the mention!). Following a Black teen through her first months on a North Carolinian college campus, this modern continuation of King Arthur lore dips into an intricate world with some fun magic, all while exploring deep grief and challenging racism throughout the college’s history- especially within (but not limited to) the secret society that keeps Arthur’s legend alive.

A Short Story Collection

Lot: Stories

Lot by Bryan Washington. I don’t read a lot of story collections, but this one was a standout. Each piece in this set takes place in Houston, particularly focusing on marginalized characters and communities. They’re immensely sharp and compulsively readable, and (if I remember the ratio correctly) every other story is a linked piece following a recurring protagonist through various stages of his young gay life. As a whole the collection is a wonderful microcosm both specific to its setting and indicative much more broadly of modern life in the margins.

A Book You Want Everyone to Read

Real Life

Real Life by Brandon Taylor. I’m putting this out there even though its style (reminiscent of Sally Rooney’s) will likely make it a bit of a hit-or-miss read for many; it was such a hit for me though- my favorite read of 2020!- that I’m still hoping for more readers to pick it up. This gutting little character study of a gay Black man’s struggle with racism (even among his friend group) in grad school takes place over one fraught weekend as our protagonist considers dropping out of his program just to escape it. It’s a quiet read, but it’s got teeth, and I just cannot recommend it highly enough.

Tagging some more people whose recommendations I’d love to see: Eleanor, Ellen, Karissa, Laura, Lou, Melanie, Stargazer, Stephen, and anyone else who wants to join! Please link or let me know if you try this tag so I can check out your answers!

The Literary Elephant

Last 10 Books book tag

More book tag fun! This one looks like a great way to talk about books but also some general reading habits, which I’m always curious about but somehow don’t end up discussing here very often. Thanks very much to Katie who kindly tagged me– her posts are always great discussion starters, including her answers for this tag, so be sure to stop by her post and chat if you haven’t already!

And now, on to the prompts!

Last Book I Gave Up On:

Gerald's Game

Gerald’s Game by Stephen King

I actually don’t DNF permanently, but I do occasionally start reading a book that I know I don’t have time to finish or quickly discover I am not in the mood for, and shelve it for a later date. I used to do this more often, but the most recent one, Gerald’s Game, I think has been shelved for about 18 months; none within the last year. I’m on a quest to read all of King’s fiction, and am curious about this one because I think it’ll be more psychologically-focused, which I tend to like more from him than heavier sci-fi. I own a copy and am still interested, I just had another deadline at the time and set it aside after two chapters, always intending to pick it back up.

Last Book I Re-Read:

That Summer

Last Summer by Sarah Dessen

In recent years I haven’t been rereading much, but I used to do it all the time and would like to do more of it again in the future. I have a bad memory for plot and detail- I typically only remember how much I liked or disliked a book- so rediscovering favorites can be quite fun. Last fall I picked up an old Sarah Dessen novel I used to love (not this one) and it was such a quick, nostalgic, and enjoyable experience that I decided to reread all of Dessen’s books, also picking up the three I’d never read at all. The last one I read was Dessen’s first release, That Summer, which is kind of awful and turned me off the project for a little while, but I’m aiming to get back to her books in February and rank them all when I’m finished.

Last Book I Bought:

The Removed

The Removed by Brandon Hobson

I’m trying (as I often do, as many of us surely often do) to get my physical TBR under control in the new year by purchasing fewer books. This rarely (okay, never) works out for me in the end but I’m strong in January. I have acquired a few exciting titles from friends, but the only books I’ve actually bought came in my BOTM box at the start of the month, and the one I chose as my January selection was Hobson’s The Removed, an Indigenous contemporary (possibly literary?) book about Native life, grief, and a bit of magic. I’m so looking forward to it and was hoping to fit it in before the end of the month, but even if that doesn’t quite happen it’s still high on my priority list.

Last Book I Said I Read But Didn’t:

Sense and Sensibility

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

I don’t think I’ve ever done this exactly, although if someone is talking to me about a classic or very popular book about which I’m fairly informed on the plot/themes anyway, I have been known to let the conversation continue without clarifying that I haven’t actually read the book, so maybe that counts? It’s pretty rare that I’m in this situation so the best I can give here is a guess- it might have been Sense and Sensibility, which I had seen the film for several times but just read for the first time last year. I’ve read most of Austen’s other novels so I don’t mind getting into discussions about her work, but Sense and Sensibility does tend to come up pretty often when Austen is involved and for a long time it was a gap in my reading.

Last Book I Wrote in the Margins Of:

Gutshot

Gutshot by Amelia Gray

I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve written in any book margins, and most of those times were related to college paper assignments. But I also did it once last year in this short story collection to help me keep track of the many stories here (they’re flash fiction length, so there’s a lot packed in). I was buddy reading the book and planning to have a discussion with my buddy reader at the end, and margin notes happened to be most convenient at the time, so I caved to the temptation. It’s a book that I own, and I wrote in pencil, because I wouldn’t mark up a borrowed copy and prefer mine to look clean, though there’s nothing wrong with marginalia. I think it’s a practice that can be put to good use, though it’s not one I tend to use. Typically I use post-it tabs while reading, to mark quotes and make small notes.

Last Book That I Had Signed:

Real Life

Real Life by Brandon Taylor

I live very rurally and haven’t been able to go to any book signings or author events since my college days, but I do occasionally buy pre-signed books, and this is one of those. I bought two signed books on my trip to New York last year, Lily King’s Writers and Lovers which I picked up from The Strand and Taylor’s Real Life from Books Are Magic. I am actually not certain at this point which one of those two was technically the last; we went to The Strand twice. But this is the one I’ve already read and loved, so it’s the one I’m featuring.

Last Book I Lost:

Julius Caesar

Julius Casesar by William Shakespeare

I’ve never misplaced a book or left one behind somewhere I couldn’t get it back, but I’ve loaned out a few that have never been returned. A few I know are still with my friends and may (probably, hopefully) come back to me at some point, but I’ve completely lost touch with the friend who borrowed my copy of Julius Casesar nine years ago so I’m not expecting ever to see this one again. It’s one of my favorites among the Shakespeare plays I’ve read so far, but obviously it’s been a while since I’ve read it, so at some point I’d like to get a new copy and read it again.

Last Book I Had to Replace:

The Mercies

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

I’ve not read any books to tatters, so I’m using ‘replaced’ here to mean ‘returned to the library and then was desperate to have a copy of my own on hand.’ In this case I bought as a gift for a friend a popular 2020 release I thought she’d love (Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age) and then at the last minute panicked that she might already have it and I still wanted to be able to give her a book, so I bought The Mercies as a backup gift. Both had been library reads for me that I really liked and could see myself rereading and/or loaning out, so I figured I’d just keep whichever one I didn’t gift. This was the one I really wanted and luckily my friend didn’t yet have Such a Fun Age and really wanted that one, so it worked out perfectly.

Last Book I Argued Over:

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr

I don’t argue about books often; if you have a different opinion about me on a book, that is your right. Reading is subjective, and I believe we all bring our own life experiences to the table every time we pick up a book, so we’re never all going to agree and we just need to accept that. The exception for me has been school- I will argue over a book in a classroom debate. Two specific instances have been memorable; the last of those instances featured The Shallows, which I don’t remember a lot about beyond the argument. Essentially, another student believed that since the invention of the internet we’ve been moving toward becoming a totally paperless society and thus it was inevitable and beneficial that our brains would change to process text differently. I believed that there was value in keeping at least some information in hard copies and retaining the knowledge of how to use those texts, in preparation for the what-ifs if nothing else. She was very loud (“No, there’s no need for paper”) and I’m typically a confrontation avoider, but others who agreed with me were keeping quiet and I could see the teacher marking down participation points, so I felt like I had to make my stand. (My other intense book argument was over Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, in which a classmate tried to argue that there was no place for an unreliable narrator in literature. I was more comfortable in that class and like unreliable narrators so that one I jumped into voluntarily.)

Last Book You Couldn’t Find:

Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

I’m going to take this very literally- I was looking at my shelves a few weeks back and realized Lincoln in the Bardo wasn’t where I thought it should be. I don’t have enough shelf space so I have to organize first by size, and then as much as I can within that frame I tend to group things by their contents. By genre, sure, but also within that every book ideally has something specific in common with the one next to it. This process is complicated by the fact that I don’t separate my read from unread books (I do not want to be confronted by my physical TBR in that way) and don’t like to know much about books before I read them, so I don’t always know where the unread books should go within my system. As I read them, I shuffle them around to where they’ll fit best. I usually keep this one (currently unread) near Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad (the connection being history + magic) but it somehow turned up next to Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch instead. I’ve read neither so I can’t say for sure that there’s no connection between them, but I must not have put it there intentionally because I can’t think of one!

And that’s the tag! Some of these I didn’t think I would have an answer for, so I’m happy to see that I’ve come up with a book for every question without taking too much liberty with the intent of the prompts. Looking back at the covers, this seems like quite an eclectic mix. And it’s gotten me thinking about my reading habits- I really should learn to let myself DNF… Anything here in my answers you relate to?

I’m tagging: Diana, Eleanor, Fatma, Laura, Marija, Rennie, Stephen, and anyone else who wants to join in! No pressure of course, but please link back here if you decide to try the tag because I’d love to see your answers! 🙂

The Literary Elephant

Could Do Better book tag

Something juicier than reviews today- I’ve been tagged to share some covers that could be better by Marija, who is the reigning queen of Judging Books By Their Covers content! At least two of her choices in this tag were the first titles that came to mind for me as well, so be sure to check out her spot-on answers! And for more Could Do Better cover fun, you can check out this youtube video filmed by the creator herself: CJ Reads.

And as an added challenge, I’m going to try to find books for each of these prompts that I’ve read and rated highly (4 or 5 stars), because while I do believe we can get useful information about whether or not we’ll like a book based on its cover appearance, sometimes a perfectly adequate and lovable book falls victim to subpar cover art and I want to focus on a few of those books today. So without further ado, the prompts:

Say it Don’t Spray it: cover with the most offensive use of type

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak

Something that I tend to dislike in title appearance is when the words are broken up so that the reader has to assemble it. I also do not like curved titles (and these curves are not uniform- why?!) or people on book covers in general (but that’s another matter). It’s got black AND white typeface but they’re close to the same size so the eye (my eye, at least) doesn’t know where to go. This title is also using the most obnoxiously boring font imaginable (it’s ranking right up there with comic sans for me). Furthermore, why are we highlighting the eye with that title placement? If this face is supposed to represent the MC… well, she’s dead, so a staring eye makes no sense, and the fact that the eye is YELLOW is making it impossible to ignore whatever weird orange washing is going on with the photo. An artful title might have gone some way toward making this cover more palatable, but alas.

She’s Serving Reese’s Book Club: cover with the most commercial book club energy

Actress

Actress by Anne Enright

When I think of book club covers, I think of images that are pretty in perhaps too obvious a way; often they seem to have contrasting colors, sort of abstract or symbolic images, something that maybe looks nice enough but really doesn’t give any hints as to what the book’s about. So, Actress. The only image we get here is half of a head, presumably the actress in question. Her red hair provides the color contrast with the green background, her expression is maybe supposed to entice us, but ultimately it doesn’t give us anything the title isn’t doing already (and again, people on covers just don’t work for me. They interfere with whatever image I might create in my own head of the characters). And then, that nebulous green background. What is that. My best guess is blurry background trees, like in portrait mode. It’s a nice enough color, but why are blurry trees 90% of the cover image? Just for the sake of the jewel-toned cover catching the most possible eyes on the shelf.

Yes Girl, Give Us Nothing!: cover with seemingly no energy put into it

Ninth House (Alex Stern, #1)

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

I actually really like this monochrome color scheme and have no beef with the font. But this cover gives us… nothing. A line between the title and the author’s name, and that generic YA book snake that has starred on so many covers it really deserves a proper name at this point. It is our pet, whether we like it or not. Admittedly it’s been at least half a year since I read this, but are there even any snakes in the book? There’s so much worldbuilding going on in Ninth House, with magic and secret societies and ghosts, and the dismantling of Harvard traditions is pretty enticing in itself; the design team really missed an opportunity in putting literally ANYTHING interesting on this cover. And sadly, as the first book in a series, I suspect that there will be some attempt at matching going on with future volumes so it’s especially disappointing knowing we’re doomed to more of this nothingness in the future, as well.

A Face Only a Mother Could Love: a cover that is so hideous, but the book is so good, you can’t help but keep it around

Her Body and Other Parties

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Perhaps a controversial opinion? This cover just does not work for me, but I want it to! It’s so close! And yet, for over a year I had this book on my shelf and could not even tell what the cover image was- I thought it was a floating red party dress, a bit disheveled, with a green snake coiled around it. What? It’s actually the musculature of a neck, with a green ribbon. I get it now. But it took me three stories beyond the green ribbon one in the book for me to figure it out! Probably I’m just dumb, but even knowing what it is, the skinniness of the green ribbon looks snakelike and repulsive to me, I’m sorry. Why is it not wider. Why is it floating. Why does the musculature just end at the collar, where are the shoulders. Why is the title divided into individual words and why is it directly on top of the only imagery we’re given. I don’t know. But I loved these stories, so it’s here to stay.

Take One Thing Off Before Leaving the House: cover that could use one less element

The Bass Rock

The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld

This is another one that I want to love. I like the color scheme a lot, and the cutouts in the black background. The face is striking, and I want to make an exception for it in my strict ‘no people on covers’ stance. Even the animals, fine. Except all together, it’s too much. The title and author hardly even seem to fit, like they’re an afterthought, and it bothers me that the background scenery is continuous in all of the cutouts but the people and animals don’t extend past individual cutouts. I get how that fits with the premise of the book, with so many lives layered on top of this one unchanging place, but it doesn’t work visually for me as well as it works thematically. I keep thinking the girl is just a head with a whale tail and the fox is growling at her and the rest of the whale (or shark? I believe there’s only a whale in the book but the image looks shark-like to me) is just flying through the air, disembodied. There’s just too much going on to really appeal.

Hypebeast: cover that is clearly going for all the trends at the same time

Mexican Gothic

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate this one. But it just screams “I want to be popular!” It’s got florals. It’s got print. It’s got a person, in that recently popular way where some part of the face is obscured or out of frame. It’s got a vintage dress. It’s got contrasting colors, managing to be simultaneously dark and bright. It’s got a blurb right on the front so you can be reassured that people are loving this one. It mentions more of the author’s work under her name, to draw you in with another title you might’ve heard of and maybe even already enjoyed. It just really doesn’t want to be overlooked! And it hasn’t been, evidenced by that “New York Times Bestseller” line stamped proudly across the middle, so clearly adhering to cover trends works. Apparently we really are that easy to please.

My Bonus: No Explanation Necessary!

Because I’ve run out of prompts before bad covers, here are a few extras I’ve disliked in the last year (including some with lower personal ratings) that I think speak for themselves, for your viewing displeasure!

Redhead by the Side of the Road
Call Down the Hawk (Dreamer Trilogy, #1)
Midnight Sun (Twilight, #5)
Mother Daughter Widow Wife
Red at the Bone
A Crime in the Neighborhood

Tagging: anyone who wants to participate! I’ve got another book tag coming up soon so I’ll leave this one open-ended, but if you decide to join in the cover-judging fun please link back to my post so I can see the covers you’ve hated!

And just a reminder that this is all in fun and completely subjective; if you’ve loved covers I’ve mentioned disliking here, it’s totally your right to do so and I’ve got no complaint against it. Let me know below if you agree or disagree about any of these covers!

The Literary Elephant

Mid-Year Book Freak-Out Tag 4.0

Black lives matter! If you haven’t yet, check out this post where I’ve rounded up and explained a number of ways to help the organization and movement, or just go straight here to do your part.

The Mid-Year Freak-Out is one of my favorite tags to do every year, but with everything going on lately I almost forgot about it. I could really use a dose of bookish excitement right about now, so thanks to those who’ve posted this one already, and here is my contribution! (And, in case you’re curious, links to my previous iterations of this tag: 3.0, 2.0, and the original.) If you haven’t already posted or been tagged… consider this your call to participate! 🙂

 

Best Book You’ve Read in 2020 SO FAR

reallife

Real Life by Brandon Taylor. This may be a biased answer because I finished this book very recently, but it just pulled me in from page one and never let me go, and I’m confident I’ll be thinking about this book for the rest of the year.

Best Sequel

allsystemsred

This is a cheat answer because I haven’t actually read ANY sequels yet this year, which is odd! Instead I’m going with a first-in-series book that I loved, which I expect I’ll love the sequels to as well when I get to them (which I should do soon!); I’m talking about All Systems Red by Martha Wells.

New Release You Haven’t Read Yet But Really Want To

theglasshotel

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel. I loved Station Eleven and ordered the author’s newest novel immediately, but shamefully I haven’t picked it up yet! I can’t wait much longer, I’m still dying to read this one.

Most Anticipated Release for the Second Half of the Year

The Death of Vivek Oji

This is tough because (as always) there are a lot of anticipated releases on my radar, but this year in particular a handful of favorite authors have new books coming up, which complicates the choice. But the one on my mind at the moment is The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi, perhaps because I just read their 2019 YA release and loved it! I cannot wait for this next adult novel, coming in August!

Biggest Disappointment

acrimeintheneighborhood

A Crime in the Neighborhood by Suzanne Berne, primarily because I had such high hopes for it as a previous Women’s Prize winner. (Not to be confused with my least favorite read of the year so far, which is an award that has to go to Edna O’Brien’s Girl this time around!)

Biggest Surprise

trustexercise

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi. It won the National Book Award for Fiction last year, which was the final motivating factor I needed to pick it up. The entire first half of the novel was a bit of a slog for me, so imagine my surprise when the twist of perspective in the second half turned this around to such an extent that it ended up being a 5-star read for me in the end!

Favorite New Author

hamnet

Maggie O’Farrell. I read Hamnet as part of the Women’s Prize longlist, and even though many of her readers say this isn’t her strongest work I had such a good time reading it. I’m so looking forward to checking out more of her books!

Newest Fictional Crush

ninthhouse

I don’t really crush on characters, but I do love great relationships on the page. I think my favorite so far this year is the Darlington/Alex/Dawes combo from Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House, who are, at the end of the first book, an entirely platonic group… But Bardugo is great at slow-burn romances (I will never get over Kaz and Inej) and I’m really hoping for something to develop here. I don’t even have a preference for which way it goes, any budding relationship here is bound to be fantastic. My review for this book coming soon.

Newest Favorite Character

queenie

Queenie, from Candice Carty-Williams’s Queenie. This may come as a surprise after writing a 3-star review for the book, but what prevented it from being a flawless read for me was not the main character, who I found fierce and resilient and unapologetic. Queenie might not have it all together, but she’s a delight to read. I would 100% pick up a sequel (although I don’t think this story line needs one).

Book That Made You Cry

mydarkvanessa

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell. Oh my god, this book. It’s incredible, but I found this SO painful to read (it focuses on sexual assault of a minor by a teacher) and had to set it aside often to regroup because it was hitting so hard. My review will be coming soon.

Book That Made You Happy

redwhiteandroyalblue

Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston is such a fun romp. Both the main relationship AND the alternative political landscape warmed my heart. I can’t wait to read McQuiston’s next book.

Favorite Book-to-Film Adaptation

senseandsensibility

Sense and Sensibility, based on the book by Jane Austen. I haven’t been watching many movies so I had a small list to choose from here, but I’ve always loved this film adaptation (from 1995). Earlier this year I read the book for the first time and rewatched the movie, which was just as much of a success as usual. The book, actually, is perhaps my least favorite Austen novel (so far- I still have Mansfield Park left to read), but I think the film really goes above and beyond.

Favorite Post This Year

NYC_brooklynbridge2

As always, I love posting prize content and series wrap-ups, and I’ve been getting so excited every month to share another round of my 2020 Genre Spotlight series, but for now I have to go with my Vacation + Book Haul post from my trip to New York earlier this year. To be honest it was a rather hasty round-up of pictures and book synopses and the beginnings of pandemic fear, but at this point it feels like a reminder of a whole different era, and I need to be able to remember some good times to get through the dark ones.

Most Beautiful Book You’ve Bought (or Read) This Year

disappearingearth

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips. It may look simple, but blue and purple are my colors. I love that the landscape builds the gradient and that the lettering is crisp and cool. I love how bright it is. And this is one of the rare occasions where the people on the cover add rather than detract from the artwork for me. Those two little girl shapes get me all kinds of sad. In a good way?

A Book You Want to Read By the End of the Year

Half of a Yellow Sun

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. I’m hoping to read this one over the summer actually, because it’s one of the previous Women’s Prize winners that might affect my vote in the Winner of the Winners competition! I’ve recently ordered a copy that’s on its way and the deadline for the vote is November, so I’m hoping this will be the one that breaks the trend of my not reading whatever book I name for this prompt… So far I’m 1/4, and that’s not counting my similarly bad turnout for “new release you haven’t red yet but really want to.”

 

Tell me about a book you’re freaking out about this year!

 

The Literary Elephant

My Life in Books Tag (2019)

I’ve been seeing this tag around  (for more fun check out these recent posts from Rachel, Laura, Naty, and Callum) and I love the idea of it! It’s a fun way to look back at what we’ve read this year, with a bit of humor mixed in.

The rules are simple: Using only books you have read this year, answer these questions. Try not to repeat a book title.

In high school I was: Full Dark, No Stars

People might be surprised by: The Silent Companions

I will never be: Early Riser – or The Killer Across the Table, I hope

My fantasy job is: Mostly Hero

At the end of a long day I need: A Room of One’s Own

I hate: Suspicious Minds

I Wish I had: The Lottery – would also accept Mr Salary

My family reunions are: A Storm of Swords

At a party you’d find me with: The Dreamers

I’ve never been to: The City of Brass – but since I live rurally, I HAVE been to The Farm, The Far Field, and The Country Funeral

A happy day includes: Women Talking

Motto I live by: Come Rain or Come Shine – or on less optimistic days, Lock Every Door

On my bucket list is: The Odyssey

In my next life, I want to have: The Time Machine

 

(Obviously these answers are somewhat in jest, but just in case anyone’s worried, I was melodramatic in high school and there is no violence at my family reunions! We may not always agree but we are almost always polite.)

Tagging: anyone who wants to participate!

 

The Literary Elephant

 

The Translated Literature Book Tag

Diana created this excellent tag post a couple of months ago and I immediately made a mental note to try it at some point! Then Callum helped me out by tagging me shortly after! To be honest, I’ve been putting this off a few weeks because I know my list of translated readings is not very substantial yet, and I’ve recently become more invested in trying to turn that around- but my life is so busy right now that I know I won’t be able to pick up all of the great translated titles on my TBR immediately just to do justice to this tag, so I’m going to try the tag now, and make a note to myself to return to it in a year or so and see how my answers have changed! These look like such interesting and versatile prompts that could be filled with so many different titles every time you try it (including some you haven’t read yet), and I think it’s important to any reader’s world perspective to keep picking up translated lit from countries and languages other than your own, so I don’t mind promoting a tag like this twice! I highly recommend checking out both Diana’s and Callum’s posts, and searching for others who’ve posted this tag as well, if you’re looking for some great translation recommendations!

And here’s my contribution:

1 – A translated novel you would recommend to everyone:

25489025Here are two, from the same author: The Vegetarian, and/or Human Acts by Han Kang, translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith. I recommend them cautiously because they’re both experimental in style and deal with very difficult subject matter, but I think for anyone who is interested in learning about other cultures or pieces of world history these novels are absolutely worth the challenge. The Vegetarian, on the surface, is about a Korean woman who decides she will no longer eat meat; her family and friends cannot accept her decision. Thematically, I’d say it’s a more universal look at how society judges a choice that’s uncommon or hard to understand in cultural context. 30091914Human Acts depicts a student uprising in 1980s Korea and its tragic aftermath. Thematically, it’s an exploration of the cruelty and vulnerability inherent in human nature. Both are brilliant, eye-opening, gut-wrenching books, and I’m eager to read more from Kang!

2 – A recently read “old” translated novel you enjoyed:

22054577I’m going with the very old, and very classic, The Iliad and The Odyssey. Though I had to read big excerpts from both books for high school and college classes and was already fully familiar with the plot and themes of both, I only read The Iliad in full for the first time last summer, and The Odyssey this past winter. I liked the characters, plot, and story arc of the former better, but found the latter much more engaging and immediately entertaining to read. Though I appreciated both, I do not recommend this translation (by Samuel Butler, from the Greek); it resorts to prose rather than trying for anything close to Homer’s epic poems, and generally sticks to such a literal translation that any artistic flare is quite lost. I’m planning to try other editions of both at some point.

3 – A translated book you could not get into:

165035I don’t think this is a bad series at all, but I have to go with The Emigrants (and the entire Settlers series) by Vilhelm Moberg, translated from the Swedish by Gustaf Lannestock. The only reason I was able to stay invested in this series is that the story of a Swedish farming family emigrating to the US in the mid-1800s and establishing a new family farm in the American Midwest is also a chapter of my own family history. Even with that connection, I really struggled to stick with the writing style, which I found rather dry, and the characters themselves are not the most engaging. It was fascinating to me to see some of the challenges faced by Swedish emigrants, but there’s really not a lot of plot here and I can’t imagine anyone without a Swedish farming background finding this series very readable.

4 – Your most anticipated translated novel release:

42983724Technically this book is already released now, but I’m still anticipating reading it: Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones (and longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize earlier this year). I’ve been so eager to get my hands on a copy of this strange little mystery ever since I first heard that brilliant title- I had the first hold in at my library before the official US release date, but it took so long for the library to get the book into circulation that I just got it recently. It’s either going to be my next or second-next read, and I can’t wait to see about this reclusive woman and her dying neighbors! (Could there be a more perfect time of year for this content?)

5 – A “foregin-language” author you would love to read more of:

21411194. sy475 I read my first novel by Haruki Murakami earlier this year: Norwegian Wood, translated from the Japanese by Jay Rubin. I thought the writing was excellent and the story of love, loss, and grief quite moving, and I know Murakami’s other works tend a bit more toward the magical, which sounds potentially wonderful. After finishing this first book, I immediately added The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle to my TBR, and have also since picked up a copy of After Dark from a convenient secondhand shop. I’m sure I’ll want to read more as well, but I’m looking forward to continuing with these two next!

6 – A translated novel which you consider to be better than the film:

I’m not sure I can answer this one properly. I don’t watch a ton of films in general, and can’t at the moment think of a single translated novel I’ve even seen an adaptation for! Perhaps I’d say that The Iliad is a better book than Troy is as a movie, but I actually thought Troy was a very interesting adaptation, though not perfect.

7 – A translated “philosophical” book you recommend:

36436073. sx318 I actually don’t like reading philosophy very much, but I did appreciate Albert Camus’s Create Dangerously, translated from the French by Justin O’Brien. Perhaps I appreciate it even more in retrospect than I did while reading- a common trend for me with philosophy (I appreciate the logic of it, but struggle with the circular nature and myriad loopholes). I think I’ll need to reread this one at some point because I think I can take more from it if I put more time into focusing on all of its points, but I do remember fondly some of Camus’s arguments about how and why we create art, and the need to fight for one’s freedoms, even the freedoms we’ve already won. There are three little speeches in this small volume, all worth the read.

8 – A translated fiction book that has been on your TBR for far too long:

2429135I think The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland, is the translated novel that’s been on my TBR the longest. I started reading it in 2012, but I picked it up right before I graduated from high school, and didn’t get far enough into the story to be excited about picking it back up that summer… so I never did. Since I own a copy, and am too stubborn to admit defeat, I’ll definitely try again at some point; I am currently more interested in reading this book because it’s firmly in my mind as an “unfinished project” than because I am excited about the story. In fact, I don’t remember anything about the story. Seven years is a long time to pause a book.

9 – A popular translated fiction book you have not read:

36739755. sx318 One novel I’m interested in that I see mentioned quite often and can’t believe I haven’t gotten around to reading yet is Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman, translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takamori. This is such a short book (just over 150 pages!) and focuses on one woman’s sense of identity and non-conformity. In theory, it sounds like something I would adore, and even if not, it would be nice to finally be able to weigh in on a title it seems like everyone but I have read!

10 – A translated fiction book you have heard a lot about and would like to find more about or read:

37004370Specifically, I’m going to mention The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa here, translated from the Japanese (I didn’t realize there would be so many authors from Japan on this list!) by Stephen Snyder. This is a brand new (to the US at least) dystopian release in which the “memory police” can make anything disappear; the MC is trying to save her editor and career. This one’s been getting some buzz lately and I would love to jump on board, partially because I’m very interested in this author in general; I have several of Ogawa’s books on my TBR now and still haven’t read a single one- an issue I certainly need to remedy!

 

Since I’ve done a few tags this month and have already tagged quite a few friends, I’m not going to list anyone specific to continue this tag- but I really hope that anyone who sees it and reads translated fiction will decide to take part! I love finding translation recs through these posts. 🙂

Have you read any of these books? What’s your favorite translated novel of all time?

 

The Literary Elephant

Choose the Year Book Tag

I was tagged by the wonderful Laura Frey for this Choose the Year post! She’s got more info on the Booktube side of this tag on her post, and focuses on the books from 2000, so for more popular books from years past, check out her post and links!

After considering a few different years that were significant to me, I’m choosing to follow the “year you were born” trend and focus on popular books (according to Goodreads) from 1994. If you want to try this tag or are jut curious about he books from the year you were born, you can use this link to search popular titles by year on Goodreads:

http://www.goodreads.com/book/popular_by_date/xxxx

The tag prompts:

  1. Choose a year and say why.
  2. Which books published in that year have you read, or if none, heard of.
  3. Are there any books published in that year that sound interesting and would you read them now?
  4. Most obscure sounding book?
  5. Strangest book cover

I’m going with 1994 because obviously I wasn’t reading in that year, so it’s interesting to me to see which titles I’ve been drawn to over the last 25 years. I’m just going to scroll down the list in order of popularity and mention where I stand with each title. Numbers correspond to their rank in the Goodreads list, and titles are linked to their Goodreads pages.

One for the Money (Stephanie Plum, #1)1. One for the Money by Janet Evanovich. This was probably the first adult mystery book I ever read, very early in high school, and at that time I was absolutely obsessed with this series. I binged all of the books that were out at the time with a bestie- I think No. 16 was brand new and she bought the hardback with bonus stickers. Looks like No. 26 is coming out later this year, but after trying to catch up in college I realized this was no longer my reading taste and quit several volumes ago. It’s a trashy series (in a fun way) but I remember the first book having the best plot; I actually just bought a copy for nostalgic purposes, and am looking forward to a hilarious reread!

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle2. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. This one is on my TBR. I just read my first Murakami novel earlier this year (Norwegian Wood) and loved it- I was planning to pick this one up next just because I know it’s one of his best-known titles, but I found a cheap copy of After Dark at a secondhand bookshop that I’m now planning on picking up next. I don’t remember anything about the synopsis of this one but I like reading that way.

3861873. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. Another on my TBR. I came across this title a couple of years ago when I was trying to complete a reading challenge that required reading a book from the year I was born, and this is the one I was planning to go with until I accidentally read another title that I didn’t realize fit the prompt… This is a true crime novel set in Savannah, Georgia.

400245. The Alienist by Caleb Carr. This is the title I accidentally read for that reading challenge. I hadn’t heard of it until BOTM featured it as an extra and I decided on a whim to give it a go. It’ a historical fiction mystery following an early psychologist (before the term was coined) trying to solve the crimes of mutilated child bodies found in New York. I remember some of the gritty details but didn’t fully get on with the writing style and structure of the novel, if I remember correctly. I’ll link my review here, but the tl;dr is a 3-star rating and a series I didn’t bother continuing.

438938187. Insomnia by Stephen King. I haven’t read this one yet, but I’ve read a lot of Stephen King and am slowly making my way through his entire list of publications. This one doesn’t seem to be a big crowd favorite but the synopsis does look interesting to me- a man who can’t sleep starts to see things around town and he’s not sure whether they’re hallucinations or not. It’s set in Derry, Maine, a fictional town Stephen King uses a lot and likes to cross-reference throughout his novels, which is a fun feature. This is one of his heftier titles though; this edition from my own shelf clocks in at over 900 pages.

8. Walk Two Moons 53496by Sharon Creech. This is a middle grade book I read when I was 13, at the same age as the main character. I remember that, and I remember really liking the story at that time, but to be honest I really don’t remember anything about it now and the synopsis is not ringing any bells. I did read Bloomability by the same author a year or two later, so it must have made a good impression.

31843110. A Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela. This is just an “I’ve heard of it” book. I’ve never been big on reading nonfiction about history or politics so even though I’ve seen this one around and know it has a great reputation I’ve never had it on my TBR. But this year has sparked a renewed interest in nonfiction for me, so who knows, anything could happen.

1254313. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. This is a nonfiction book that I had to read an excerpt from in a college writing class, and have always meant to read the rest of. I just realized it wasn’t actually on my Goodreads TBR but it’s been on my mental list. Frightening to think that my 700+ title Goodreads TBR is not actually exhaustive…

22760318. Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel. Another that I’ve heard of. This is a nonfiction/memoir about mental health among America’s youth. I’ve been on the fence about this one for a long time because it sounds very interesting, especially now that I’m more open-minded about nonfiction, but I also wonder if it’s a bit dated at this point? If anyone’s read this, please advise.

853577115. The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson. I LOVED this book as a kid. It’s one of those underrated Harry Potter / Narnia type books with a secret magical world that most people don’t know about. I think I read this one before the HP or Narnia series and those have stuck with me more over the years, but I reread this one several times and still have my copy in reasonable condition for posterity.

7059131185. Cristallisation Secréte by Yoko Ogawa. This is neat: the original Japanese edition of Ogawa’s very recently translated The Memory Police came out in 1994! I’ve not yet read any of Ogawa’s work, but a couple of her titles (including the English translation of this one) are on my TBR, and more are on my radar. This one’s about a world in which “memory police” can make things disappear, and one novelist at the center of the story hides her editor in an attempt to preserve literature. The Memory Police was just longlisted for the National Book Award’s translated lit category!

Those are all of the books that I’ve specifically read or been meaning to read from the 1994 list. I could go on with a few more children’s books I’ve possibly read and plenty of titles I’ve at least heard of, but I’m sure we all have better things to do with our time and I think I’ve already covered a decent mix.

So, the most obscure sounding book:58372

I think “obscure” is a matter of perspective, but here’s an interesting one. Whatever by Michael Houellebecq, translated by Paul Hammond, looks like a French novel about a thirty year-old man who writes weird animal stories. “A painfully realistic portrayal of the vanishing freedom of a world governed by science and by the empty rituals of daily life.” Maybe I should’ve saved this one for the strangest book cover prompt, but I’ll dive in again…

14288…And find this gem! (Can you tell that I find animal covers strange in general??)

Piercing by Ryu Murakami, translated by Ralph McCarthy, is apparently a “pulsating psycho-thriller.” I have actually heard good things about this author, but that’s definitely not a cover I would feel inclined to pick up. I’m not even sure what the red fibers in the top right are supposed to be? My gut reaction says blood, but if so that’s the strangest image of blood I’ve ever seen.

Quick disclaimer: I realize I picked foreign authors for both the strange and obscure prompts, which should in no way indicate that I think of foreign authors as strange and obscure… I’m judging based purely on the covers, brief synopses, and placement on the Goodreads list, not the content or quality of the books!

Tagging:

Kristen, Karissa, and Elysa. If this tag looks as fun to you as it did to me, I’d be excited to see some bookish highlights from a year of your choosing! If you’re not tagged and want to participate, please do!

 

The Literary Elephant

 

Liebster Award

Many thanks to Elysa for tagging me for this award! As a fellow wide-variety reader, I have a lot of fun seeing all the different genres/styles/titles she picks up and the tags she tries, and am excited to be nominated for this one!

liebsteraward

Post info from The Global Aussie:

“The Liebster Award is an award that exists only on the internet and is given to bloggers by other bloggers. The earliest case of the award goes as far back as 2011. Liebster in German means sweetest, kindest, nicest, dearest, beloved, lovely, kind, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, and welcome.

The award is a way to be discovered but also to connect and support the blogging community. A great idea in promoting your own blog and others. Originally it was given out to blogs with less than 2000 readers but this has slowly lowed as the reward has gained popularity. It is now only 200 readers or less. It’s really an arbitrary number. If you like helping other blogs out go ahead and do it regardless of its size. If you are returning, the submission for the award can be found here.

Rules:

  • Say thank you to the person who has nominated you for the Award.
  • Answer the 11 questions the person has asked you
  • Nominate 11 people
  • Ask the people who you have nominated 11 questions

(A note on the rules: I’ve been looking around the blogosphere at this award and have found several different suggestions for number of questions to ask/answer and people to tag, so if you want to participate but 11 seems daunting, choosing another number seems perfectly acceptable!)

My Answers to Elysa’s Questions:

  1. What is your favorite book genre? – I am a firm believer in the theory that if a book is written well, it doesn’t matter what genre it’s in; a good book is a good book. If I had to take a guess, I think I’ve read more literary fiction than any other genre this year, but sci-fi and thrillers probably aren’t far behind, and I’ve been very interested in nonfiction in recent months as well!
  2. Do you prefer watching TV shows or movies? – Definitely TV shows. I love the theater experience, but content-wise I really prefer the character development and world-building that comes with a longer series.
  3. What is your favorite food? – Popcorn. It’s maybe not the food that excites me the most, but it’s the one thing I can eat anytime, anywhere, and never get tired of.
  4. What’s one thing on your bucket list? – To become a published author. This is probably more of an achievement goal than something you just go and do, which is what I think of as typical bucket-listing, but it’s been so firmly on my mind lately that nothing else is really calling to me at the moment. I’m actually sitting on a complete manuscript that I can’t stop fiddling with, and I need to just take the plunge and try to run with it!
  5. What’s a book genre you don’t like to read? – Again, a good book is a good book. But historical fiction has been trending downward for me in recent years, so maybe that one at the moment.
  6. Tea, coffee, or neither? –  If I’m going to a coffee shop with a friend and have to choose, I pick tea, but as a rule water is my favorite beverage.
  7. Do you have pets? Bonus points for pictures! – Yes! I’m currently living in rural Iowa, and have quite a few outdoor cats, a couple of indoor cats, and a few that were born indoors mid-winter just for safety and now think they should be allowed to go in and out whenever they fell like it, lol. Here are the current kittens (Maggie, Frida, and Georgie) and the indoor cats (Patchy and Matchy- the only way to tell them apart as kittens was by their face markings and the nicknames stuck).
  8. Have you ever traveled outside your home country? Where’d you go? – Not really, sadly. I’d love to travel basically everywhere when I can afford it, but so far the farthest I’ve been is a trip to the Bahamas with my parents when I was 3, which I hardly remember. I have done some exploring within the continental US though, and loved those trips!
  9. Where’s your favorite place to read? – In bed, on the couch, on a chair- anywhere I can sit quietly and comfortably. I get absorbed very easily and then don’t really notice my surroundings, so I’m not too picky.
  10. How many bookshelves do you own? – Only two at the moment, and it’s not nearly enough. I’m also using the top shelf of my desk (practically stacked up to the ceiling) and an old TV stand, and an old set of kitchen cabinets that’s been pulled off the wall (on a farm you don’t throw away anything that’s still functional), and saving up to move somewhere I can have a proper book room with plenty of shelf space. I’m basically doing the starving artist thing while I try to figure out what I’m doing with my career, so it’s a weird situation all around.
  11. Do you come from a family of readers, or are you the lone wolf of your pack? – Lone wolf, more or less. My mom reads a bit, but only for entertainment; we don’t have a lot of content or opinion overlap. I think my brothers could count on one hand the number of books they’ve ever finished between them, and I’m not sure my dad has ever read an entire novel. My family encouraged me to read as a kid, the way you encourage a kid to eat fruits and vegetables; I think they were all pretty shocked that I took it so seriously!

 

Tagging:

  1. Diana
  2. Ren
  3. Hannah
  4. Donna
  5. Portia
  6. Melanie
  7. Sarah
  8. Rachel
  9. Naty
  10. Hannah
  11. Callum

(If you’ve already done this award tag or don’t like the questions, no pressure! On the other hand, if you’re not tagged but do like the questions, feel free to participate! Be sure to link back so I can see your answers! 🙂 )

My Questions to you:

  1. What’s a book you LOVED but have never reread?
  2. Is there a genre (or subgenre) you tried recently and realized you’ve been missing out on and/or should read more often?
  3. How often do you visit your local library?
  4. What are your most and least favorite things (one each) about where you live?
  5. Is there a book you want to read eventually, just to say you’ve read it?
  6. What’s the best weather for an afternoon of reading?
  7. What book are you most anticipating with a far out publication date (or no date announced yet)?
  8. Buddy reads or readathons, and why?
  9. If you had to write/blog under a pseudonym, what would you pick?
  10. Would you feel satisfied or disappointed to actually reach the end of your TBR?
  11. Pet pictures! Or a picture of your favorite real-life creature from anywhere in the world.

 

And that’s a wrap! Thanks again to Elysa!

 

The Literary Elephant

The Literary Fiction Book Tag

I was tagged by Rachel for this one, and all of her answers are so spot-on that I highly recommend checking out her post if you’re looking for more lit fic recommendations and haven’t seen it yet! I’m also going to mention that Jasmine’s Reads is the creator for this post, so if you’re looking for a booktube version of the tag to check out, Jasmine’s original post is excellent, and a great place to start!

On to the prompts! (I’m trying not to repeat titles I’ve already seen used in order to spread the love more widely, which means some of my favorites have sadly been excluded. But even so, every book named here was a 4 or 5 star read for me that I highly recommend!)

1 – How do you define literary fiction?

agirlisahalfformedthing

This is, admittedly, a very slippery term to define, and seems to differ from reader to reader. For me, the main difference (while also acknowledging plenty of overlap in the middle) is that genre fiction is more focused on providing entertainment where literary fiction is more focused on testing the boundaries of its form by experimenting with language, structure, and style. Which isn’t to say that genre fiction doesn’t try new things and use meaningful themes that can be just as groundbreaking and impactful, or that lit fic isn’t entertaining; what I mean is that genre fiction is more constrained, aiming to reach a specific goal (to solve a mystery, to bring two lovers together, to explore a scientific hypothetical, etc.) using a repeatable formula, where literary fiction tends to wander off the known paths in favor of exploring the state of human nature or the world at large. I do not think literary fiction belittles genre fiction, but I do think both types approach their stories in different ways. Literary fiction is playful and experimental in a way that shows it is as aware of the fact that it is a book as that it is a story.

2 – Name a literary fiction novel with a brilliant character study

freshwater

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi is a book about a Nigerian person whose body houses several different spirits (ogbanje); though each of these is a separate entity with its own desires and motivations, the book as a whole is an exploration of identity and madness, of defining the self when none of the modern labels seem to fit. It’s both a very specific look at one character’s conflicting sense of self (with one foot solidly in Igbo culture), and a broader reminder that some identifiers- like gender, sexuality, and mental disorders- don’t always apply neatly.

3 – Name a literary fiction novel that has experimental or unique writing

womentalking

Women Talking by Miriam Toews is a short work of fiction inspired by a real (awful) event- the women of a Menonite colony have been subdued and raped by the men that are their husbands, brothers, and neighbors. What’s interesting about the writing is that several colony women have gathered to decide how to respond to their attackers, and the entire book is comprised of the recorded minutes of their meeting. Though some readers are put off by the fact that the women are unable to write and must thus employ one of the colony men for this task, I think his opinionated account and seemingly random tangents muddying the record further display the level of helplessness these women are dealing with and must overcome if they want their situation to change.

4 – Name a literary fiction novel with an interesting structure

fromalowandquietsea

From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan is one example of a structure trend that I particularly enjoy- the narrative is divided into three sections that each follow a different character. Their stories at first seem completely unrelated, and it isn’t until the final closing section of the novel that one action aligns the three men and intertwines their fates. Until that moment, the novel feels like a set of distinct vignettes or short stories, each interesting in their own right but so much stronger when woven together as a whole.

5 – Name a literary fiction novel that explores social themes

lostchildrenarchive

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli is a current Booker Prize nominee and former Women’s Prize nominee that highlights the conflict of immigration and nativism, and the current problem at the US southern border. This book also has an interesting structure and writing style, but what stood out to me most was its exploration of indigenousness both historically and as a crucial ingredient in today’s political climate.

6 – Name a literary fiction novel that explores the human condition

humanacts2

Human Acts by Han Kang is a hard-hitting novel about the 1980 uprising in Gwangju (South Korea). Though it describes some of the specific hardships (death, torture, and imprisonment, to name a few) suffered by the working class at this time, the book’s thematic focus is on the cruelty and vulnerability of human nature. Though the narrative arc follows the affects and aftereffects of one eventful month in one certain place, Kang’s speculations about humanity apply with much wider scope.

7 – Name a brilliant literary-hybrid genre novel

(I’m going to follow Rachel’s lead here and list a few, because I love these hybrids and it’s hard to choose.)

There’s Severance by Ling Ma, an apocolyptic (sci-fi) literary blend that features zombies and a running commentary on the perils of following the herd; it’s a satire on the mind-numbing routine of rote work and the pursuit of money over one’s dreams.

There’s also The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, a fantasy literary blend that alternates between an intergalactic plot full of revenge and assassins, and a tragic family saga full of ruination and death. The wildly different pieces of this story shouldn’t work together, but somehow they do- seamlessly. Ultimately it’s a tale of heartbreak and loss, and the unknowing ways we hurt the ones we love.

Then there’s The Need by Helen Phillips, a horror literary blend in which one frightening supernatural element (it’s best not to know specifics in advance) leads our main character into a spiral of uncertainty about who she is, what she will do to protect her family, where to draw the line between her self and her role as a mother. It’s an excellent dive into how much a parent can or can’t endure, and what we see when we look into our own souls.

 

8 – What genre do you wish was mixed with literary fiction more?

This is tough, because I like so many genres that I would really read any literary/genre mix. But I suppose I especially enjoy the dark and bizarre, so anything frightening, otherworldly, or just plain weird is something I want to see a literary version of. So… horror? Sci-fi? Fantasy?

Tagging:

Katie, Portia, and Diana. (No pressure, of course, but I’d love to see your answers if you decide to try the tag!) Also tagging anyone who hasn’t been tagged yet and wants to jump on board! Please link back if you do, so I can see your fave lit fic books! 🙂

 

The Literary Elephant

 

Soul Ripping Romance Tag

I am skipping Top of the TBR this week because I only had three books to talk about today anyway, and more importantly because there’s an Amazon protest going on until the 16th and I don’t want to log into Goodreads (which is Amazon-based) in the meantime.

Which means this is the perfect time for a tag- and thanks to the kind and wonderful Naty (who nominated me for this one; check out her post here!), I have the perfect tag in mind!

“It feels intellectually unserious to concern himself with fictional people marrying one another. But there it is: literature moves him.” -Sally Rooney, Normal People 

The Rules

  • Thank the person who tagged you and create a pingback to the original author – Nel at Reactionary Tales.
  • Share at least 5 (but more are welcome) romances that tugged your heart strings. They can be from books, movies, TV shows, manga; anything you can think of! They can be examples of sad tears, angry tears, happy tears or a combination of all three.
  • Nominate 5 (or more) people to share their emotional traumas
  • (Note: Try not to spoil the story for your readers in case they would like to check out these romances on their own)

The Romances

  1. crookedkingdomLeigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows. Romance-driven fantasies don’t often work for me, but when the romance is a background detail I tend to love it. Romance is definitely not the Point of Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology, and for that reason I think the relationships feel so much stronger. There’s also the fact that they’re friendship-based, which is excellent. I particularly love the way Kaz and Inej skirt around each other (though Jesper and Wylan are also adorable and Nina and Matthias are clearly meant for each other). I desperately want Kanej to have an honest conversation about their feelings, but I do not want the eventual third book in this series cheapening the romance with too much wish fulfillment. *fingers crossed for subtle greatness*
  2. theblindassassinMargaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin. I use this book in tags as often as I can, because though the pace is a bit slow the payoff was huge for me, (and it fits so many prompts!). It’s a genre-bending novel by one of my favorite writers, part family saga, part fantasy- and completely, utterly tragic. The chapters switch in and out of a mysterious ongoing affair throughout most of the novel, but the heart-wrenching love story comes in a bit later. It all fits together so incredibly, I doubt I’ll ever forget this one.
  3.  Margaret Mitchell’s gonewiththewindGone With the Wind. This was one of the first classics I ever read, and I was young enough at the time that reading it opened doors for me, so it holds a special place of honor in my reading life. This is another tragic romance, in my opinion. Scarlet O’Hara was the first unlikable character that I ever really appreciated. She’s so set on having what (and whom) everyone else seems to want that she can’t see what’s in front of her, which might be a better match. Her love life was always destined to go awry because dissatisfaction with her lot (even when everything is grand) is her modus operandi, and frankly, that’s why I found her choices so compelling.
  4. conversationswithfriendsSally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends. Naty already used Normal People, so I have to go with Rooney’s other novel because I can’t refrain from including one! The relationships in Rooney’s books are just brilliant- awkward, difficult, somewhat inappropriate, and completely captivating. Though Normal People resonated with me more, Conversations with Friends was delightful to read. It gave me a lot of anxiety because as usual the characters repeatedly make poor decisions without learning from them, but the intensity of emotion that Rooney manages to invoke- all kinds of emotion- is only further proof of her skill.
  5. Sarah Dessen’s The Truth About Forever. thetruthaboutforeverI figured that with this being a romance tag, I should at least pick one book that’s an actual romance novel. Here is a YA contemporary romance that I first fell in love with at age 12, and reread (for the first time in a long time) in 2017 only to fall in love with it all over again. Sarah Dessen is one of my most nostalgic tween/teen authors, and I was so relieved to discover upon the reread that I enjoy her work just as much as an adult. The Wish Catering crew in this novel is probably my favorite fictional friend group of all time, the romance is a slow-burn built on honesty, and underneath the banter are heavier themes like handling grief, finding a self-identity separate from what others expect of you, and refraining from judging others because there’s always more to them than you see on the surface. I am not a YA contemporary romance reader anymore. But I will 10/10 read this again and love it just as much.

The Tags

I’ve tagged a bunch of specific people in my last few tag posts, so I’m going to open it up in this one instead, to whoever wants to participate. If you’ve read this far and your heart has ever stirred for fictional characters, consider yourself tagged!

What’s your favorite romance of all time?

 

The Literary Elephant