Photo: I had intended to take a picture of the stack of books I picked up at the bookstore last time I was there. My new boss went to some book conference and came back with a TON of advance readers copies and told us all to get reading. These three I actually purchased: one for Well-Read Black Girl Book Club, one for my own writing, and one because of my personal connection to The Dark Crystal. I have to say, if you’re a reader, make friends with your local independent bookstore. You’ll never, ever be without books.
Summertime is funny because my normally quiet nerd friends, who are totally reading throughout the year, often decide to get really loud and aggressive about what they are reading and why. There is also always someone re-reading Harry Potter for the 20th time who has to quote everything and wear their potter glasses and scarf in their profile picture. (I…haven’t read any of the Harry Potter books, nor seen the movies. Shocking, I know.) Anyway, what I’m trying to say is, everyone is reading and talking about it.
Seeing as I took 15,000 steps today at camp and am currently feeling every single one of them from my sore feet to my aching back, I thought I’d take a moment to write about my favorite reads so far this summer. I hope you’ll share what you’re reading. There is so much reading time left, you know!
The Lesson, debut novel by Cadwell Turnbull
I love a good sci-fi and I especially love sci-fi with aliens. Cadwell Turnbull’s The Lesson, is a book that has aliens in it, but it’s really a book about us. That’s why I loved it when I read it a few months ago. I’ve been holding onto the ARC tightly, just waiting to meet Cadwell in person so that he can sign it and I can be happy forever and ever amen.
The Lesson is set in the Virgin Islands, complete with the accents, the heat, the food, the view, and the history. The Ynaa, an advanced alien race, has made contact and seems to be here to help, but not here for bullshit. The relationship with the people of earth, especially the people of the Islands, is one that is intriguing enough to keep the pages turning, and truthful enough that you can’t help but wonder a bit about yourself and all the folk we share our world (and our history) with. The novel tells a story that moves forward and backward in time, and absolutely sent me to a whole ‘nother place. It’s a fantastic read for anyone who loves the genre and wants a sneak peak of awesomeness to come. Also, fun fact, Cadwell is the best and you should follow him on Twitter.
Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin
I will say that I am not the biggest fan of romance novels. Matter of fact, the store’s book club recently chose a romance novel by a famous author of color… a book that’s getting turned into a TV movie or something… and anyway, it was awful. Terrible. We all laughed and cackled and just could not even.
So when I saw this book on the shelf, billing itself a Pride and Prejudice with a modern Muslim angle, I rolled my eyes so hard. I took it just to get in the habit of reading beyond my favorite genres. Besides, I’m trying to champion the authors of color on the shelves of our little bookstore. I was given a real gift with this book, because it showed me that a romance novel can have real stakes and actual substance.
Set in Canada and following two practicing Muslims from India, this book is an examination of love and religion in the context of our times. Family expectations intermix with personal ideals, hopes and dreams clash with realities of life. Cultures, chosen and born-into, set context for every action in the book. There is a universality that transcends religion and country here, but it sings because those things are so prominently in it. It’s a perfect read for anyone who wants that feel-good aura that romance books give, but also the weighty substance of a literary read. It’s also a wonderful departure from reading about white women and white men falling in love, or the strong Christian overtones that other such books have. It’s also not a book you have to hide from the kids. It ain’t about the sex. It’s about the substance. Uzma is also wonderful and you should follow her on Twitter. I can’t wait to read more of her work!
Where’d you go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
I’m putting this here as a bit of an honorable mention. I didn’t love this book as much as I loved The Lesson or Ayesha, but I am putting it here because it’s turning into a movie, so it’s always nice to read the book first. I am also putting it here because I really did enjoying reading it. I just have critique that I won’t put here.
Bernadette is rich white woman in the suburbs. She’s real rich, not like my neighbors around here who are middling-rich. Her husband is a VP at Microsoft. She’s real rich. So what does that mean? It means she is ridiculous and everyone else in her life is pretty ridiculous. That ridiculousness has real consequences for everyone involved in her life. I mean, the book presents very interesting reasons for all the ridiculousness, of course, and there is plenty of empathy that can be shored up and doled out for each of the characters in the book. I’m being flippant because I can be (and, frankly, it’s the tone of the book).
It all unfolds in a series of letters and emails, which is an interesting way for a reader to experience a main character and the cast all around her. I recommend this for a summer read because the stakes are presented as high but are, really, not. Not really. And the read is pretty quick. There will be moments when things cut a little close to home, but mostly these are people you don’t know and only care about because of the context of the book. And that’s enough sometimes, you know?
I’m reading the ARC for Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay and cannot put it down. It’s set in LA during the 90’s and now, and I love how deftly Steph moves between time and between families. That book doesn’t come out until the Fall, but look out for it at the bookstore. I also just read Jacqueline Woodson’s upcoming book Red at the Bone and it left me breathless. It echoes in a way that August Wilson’s Fences echoes… it’s haunted me since I put it down a few days ago. I can’t wait to get it in the hands of either of my book clubs!
So, Dear Reader? What are you reading? And if you’re not reading anything, when are you heading to the library or the bookstore? Make time for this. It is never a bad idea.
I’ll see you Friday for Quiet Thoughts.