Category Archives: Bestseller

The Children’s Bible: Also for atheists

Lydia Millet’s The Children’s Bible hits a little close. The novel follows a rag-tag group of children after environmental catastrophes – flood! – destroy their homes. Having to keep themselves, and their drug-stupor parents, alive they hole up and quarantine themselves, scratching out a new existence after society collapses.

Though it may be painful to read because of its indictment of our collective inaction on global warming, and the profound arrogance of having children amid such certain devastation, it is nevertheless, very, very good.

I grew up in the United and Anglican churches before quitting God and becoming a Unitarian (I feel compelled to offer that not all Unitarians are atheists. #joinus). But even if I hadn’t spent formative years hearing Biblical stories, the Biblical references and adaptations are drawn from the biggest and brightest of stories (Eden, Noah’s ark, the 10 commandments, the birth of Jesus, Revelations, etc) so anyone who has watched The Simpsons should have enough of a command of the allusions to appreciate the plot. That said, Millet does well to make these moments smooth and uses well timed diction to remind the reader that a Biblical Moment is happening.

Aside from mirroring these Biblical scenes I’m not sure the ‘point’ of having the plot follow that of the Bible. I guess because we are in End Times now? Or maybe to remind us that there is no God, or if there is, it’s a God who has opted for a non-interventionist approach, and it falls to us to make change. Okay, yeah, that seems a plausible reason.

The best part of the book is its argument for art and literature. It’s suggestion that we bundles of molecules, we who are destined to reunite with the water and mountains (poisoned though they may be by our garbage) find purpose and solace in writing. And of course reading.

After writing out my Christmas cards most of which began and ended with WHAT A YEAR, I’m very happy to recommend this book as a sort of 2020 solace. Like it admits and takes as its premise that everything is shit, and that there is no ‘but’ to that sentence. So you may as well read.

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Filed under Bestseller, Erin's Favourite Books, Fiction, New York Times Notable, Prize Winner

The Vanishing Half

Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half has a LONG waitlist at the library, and so when I found it on the ‘Seven Day Quick Reads’ shelf I scooped it up (knowing, as I did, that I would be accruing serious fines as the likelihood of me finishing it in seven days was… poor. Given I was still reading A Little Life. Alas. The library deserves my money. ANYWAY.). Long waitlist, no doubt, because the book tops many of the top recommendations for 2020 novels and hits the right notes for a bestseller: family saga, race and identity in America, rich people, good writing. And I fault no one for recommending it, and no one for seeking it out and reading it.

You can feel the ‘but’ coming, can’t you?

But. The novel takes it’s ‘point’ and makes it just too didactic for this reader’s enjoyment. Like if you took a Bernenstain Bear’s picture book that has a literal moral on the front page and made it into well written literary fiction. Just as preschoolers can smell the moral a mile away and find the badgering about sharing or politeness or bullying (or more recently, environmentalism) to be off-putting, the way this novel continues to circle, draw arrows, reinforce in bold its message that identity is created and identity is performative and well, it gets to be a bit distracting.

So right – the plot: twins are born in Mallard, an African-American town premised on its preference for light skin. In their teenage years they run away and separate: one twin, Stella, goes on to live her life ‘passing’ as a white woman, the other, Desiree, returns to Mallard to raise her darkest-dark skinned daughter, Jude. Jude meets Stella’s daughter, Kennedy. The history and present of the family collapses, collides, secrets and ‘truths’ threaten and reveal. [Oh and Jude falls in love with a trans man, Reese, whose addition to the story reads as entirely about driving home for the reader the gaps and tensions between who we are, how we are ‘read’ by the world, how we perform and the meaning our bodies create and signify – and of course the material consequences of how others read us.] And the book does make that clear. That as much as Stella has the option of passing, Jude would not, that the idea that all identity is performative runs up against the way the world reads us, not ever simply or only how we wish to be seen or valued.

So yes. I do think there’s enough of interest her to make this a book well worth reading, and certainly an excellent selection for a book club. Just not a book you’ll read without feeling (at a few points) like maybe it was written to be taught in high school or undergraduate classes. Or a book club!

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Filed under American literature, Bestseller, Book Club, Fiction

Big Summer: Uhhhhh. I’m Failing at Instagram

So I have an Instagram account where I post pictures of my kids and follow my friends from grad school. I sort of thought of it as a virtual photo album not fully realizing it’s a whole world of commerce and connection and posturing. Okay, so I do know that I sometimes make my kids do extra cute things for the likes, but I didn’t realize you could monetize that and I know, I know, Luddite, etc. Tbh (to be honest – for you, mum), I don’t know how to use a filter, or how people add the sparkling things like lips and hearts, and I don’t really care to learn. Except if maybe it would make me millions of dollars like the ‘influencers’ in Jennifer Weiner’s Big Summer do. Maybe I could be a mom influencer? I have many ideas for cute snacks that I… never execute.

But really, this book is both a total waste of your time to read because it’s silly and hilariously over-the-top, and also the exact sort of summer candy that will make your beach vacation a blast because of course you are going on a beach vacation because you are fancy and can do just that.

The novel starts out as a somewhat serious exploration of female friendship, online culture and body acceptance. It then takes a radical pivot (in the sense I didn’t see it coming at all) to murder mystery and romance. (Like the kind of romance where you squirm a little because there are A Lot of Details and you weren’t prepared for that kind of reading right now.) And the rest of the novel is something of a whodunnit mixed with a splashy polished fancy rich things catalogue. Like it was almost impossible to stop thinking about how the book was setting itself up to be adapted for HBO.

SOOOO. What? Do you read it? I don’t know. It’s so silly. Even while it’s trying to be Serious and Important with its themes of bullying and fat acceptance. But maybe silly is exactly what we all need right now. Maybe. You tell me! You never do, but still. Maybe if I was a better #influencer you would…

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Filed under Bestseller, Book I'll Forget I Read, Fiction

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes: Totally fun.

I was a big fan of the Hunger Games Trilogy (uhhh. don’t follow that link. turns out I read the trilogy but was too busy to post beyond saying I read it and liked it). But I’ve always been a skeptic of the prequel that seems only to be written to capitalize on a giant market demanding more of the series. Because (obvs) these books tend to be bad and obvious about their effort to rake in some more money (think: all the appendages to the Harry Potter franchise).

Happy was the day, then, that I picked up Suzanne Collins’ The Ballad on Songbirds and Snakes on the recommendation of David Plotz from my most favourite Slate Political Gabfest podcast. He was right! It’s a totally fun read. If you’re in to child murder? Okay, no. But it’s fun in that the world of the Hunger Games quickly comes alive in a fully developed and independent plot, with interesting questions to explore: how do atrocities (like a game about child murder) come to be accepted (and celebrated) by a general public? to what extent are individuals (in this case the eventual President Snow) crafted by circumstance or by choice?

I particularly liked the way the book unsettled expectations for the plot arc. I was expecting it to climax with the annual hunger games, but the games serve only as a pivot point to take the reader into a second build-up of character development and tension.

If I had one complaint it would be that the ending read as rushed and not entirely consistent. Without giving too much away the erstwhile romance takes a dramatic turn, and I’ll claim it was my fault, but I didn’t see the ending coming At. All. and as a consequence found it read like it wanted to get to a particular conclusion but didn’t have the logic (or perhaps the patience?) to bring the reader to that point.

So if you liked the Hunger Games by all means read this one. If you haven’t read that trilogy yet… what are you still doing reading this? xo

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Filed under Bestseller, Fiction