I’ve read some stonkingly good books this year. Here are some of the ones that made it to five stars on my Goodreads account (a privilege reserved for, usually, zero to maybe three books a year), or would have made it to 4.5 stars if Goodreads allowed it, which, Goodreads, whyyyy would you not?
Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng (published 2014, paperback 2015)
This has been a critically acclaimed book and a commercial success, and deservedly so. It’s subtle and heartbreaking – if you love dysfunctional families and books that explore the complexities of psychology and relationships and being an outsider, this one’s for you. “Lydia is dead,” it begins. “But they don’t know that yet.” The writing is so moving and perceptive, and we had a fabulous discussion about it at book club. One of our members wondered out loud if the author had been a therapist – that’s the level of intricate insight into the human soul that this book displays. And it will keep you turning pages. Pack it for the beach, as long as you don’t mind something slightly (okay, more than slightly) melancholy with your sand and sunbathing.
The Walls Around Us, by Nova Ren Suma (published 2015)
Don’t believe them when they tell you this is YA. Or at least, don’t make all the assumptions that at least some of you (and sometimes I) make about YA. Yes, it features teenagers, but if we’re adults, we’ve been teenagers, so why wouldn’t we be able to empathise with teenage narrators? This book is beautifully written, and it’s weird and spooky in the best way. There is ballet (which is how it hooked me) and there are possible ghosts and there is murder and there is prison and there are girls who are meaner (hopefully) than anyone you went to school with. This was unputdownable. There was less ballet than I was hoping for, but what it lacked in that it made up for in every other way. Read read read. Maybe don’t give it to your sweet and innocent ballet-dancing teenage daughter? But read it yourself. And give it to you all rival dance moms as some kind of subliminal warning. Okay. Maybe I’m getting carried away.
Tiny Beautiful Things, by Cheryl Strayed (published 2012)
This is another one I’d kept hearing about, mostly from Rebecca Schinsky on the BookRiot podcast, who always mentions this on the twice-yearly recommendation shows they do, as a great potential gift for so many people. Cheryl Strayed is now famous for her book Wild, though I will always think fondly of her as one of the first people I read in the first semester of the first year on my MFA, in nonfiction workshop. I learned from her, or started to at least, about getting several different essays, from different angles and with different emphases, out of the same basic material from your life. So when I do this now, I inevitably think of her. But I digress.
Before she was known as the author of Wild, Cheryl Strayed was the anonymous Dear Sugar on The Rumpus website – an agony aunt of sorts, if agony aunts were endowed with ruthless compassion, profound honesty, and excellent prose. Tiny Beautiful Things is a collection of these columns. I know: you’re skeptical. So was I. But after I listened to her new podcast, which she shares with Steve Almond, I decided to give it a go. No regrets! It is moving and eloquent, and never predictable. Rebecca Schinsky is right! (I don’t know why I ever doubted her.) There is something in this book for everyone.
I listened to this one on Audio. Cheryl reads it herself, and it’s wonderful. It’s also practical if you like your audiobooks in chunks just big enough to cover your walk to the Metro, your four stops on the Red Line, and then your very short walk to the dance studio. (Yes, there may be a theme to this post, too.) But, be warned: if, like me, you use audiobooks for commutes and in otherwise public places, you might have to get good at biting your lower lip or the inside of your cheek to stem the inevitable flow of tears: for me, it was the very first and the very last letter that were most dangerous.
But that’s not all! These books were great too. I’ll tell you about them next week.