Guest post by Whitney Gronski-Buffa
I love and dread when people tell me about books they’re reading.
I love it because it tells me so much about people’s interests. I love being surprised at who’s secretly into sci-fi outer space murder mysteries, and who’s a history nerd. I love adding to my own ever-growing list of books to read.
I also dread adding to that list. If your grandma has a sweatshirt embroidered with “So many books, so little time…” please let her know that I’d like to buy it from her as a testament to one of my staunchest beliefs.
Do you feel the way I do? If so, here’s a catalog of the recent/current reads sitting beside my bed right now. Sorry/you’re welcome.
NOW: Too Much And Not The Mood, by Durga Chew-Bose
I wrote a good email recently, and a co-worker said, “That was really nice how you put that. You should’ve been a writer.” I was one for a minute! No one remembers now. But when I was a writer — a reporter, even — I longed to be the kind of writer Durga Chew-Bose is.
“My best ideas outrun me. That’s why I write.” I’m about 11 pages into “Too Much and Not The Mood.” This line appears early, and it swept me up immediately. Chew-Bose’s writing is frank and simple, but it creates the same sense of intimacy you’d feel when catching up with a friend and sharing your wildest secret ideas over coffee. Is that a weird thing to say about a book? Is that crappy writing? Is THAT? I don’t know. I’m loving this so much so far that I’m suddenly very insecure about writing anything about it because I can’t do it justice. I can’t wait to keep reading.
LAST: Little Bee, by Chris Cleave
Little Bee was published almost 10 years ago. I remember people talking about it then, that it charted on best-sellers lists, but I didn’t know the plot. I picked it up on vacation for about $3 in a used bookstore, and I figured it would be a light vacation read to propel me home to the in-progress books waiting for me at home, forgotten on my nightstand in the haste of packing.
This was not a light vacation read. This book is about immigration and deportation; white privilege and naivete; about mental illness, infidelity, and the resilience of children who undergo trauma.
Little Bee so neatly fits into the cultural landscape and conversation we’re having today. If you missed it when everyone was reading it a few years back, now is the time to pick it up. Plot and timeliness aside, the writing and narrative structure are compelling. Prepare to sleep in the next day because you’ll be up all night turning pages.
ALSO: Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond
This was the book I left on my bedside table, dog-eared and about three-quarters finished. ‘Evicted’ takes a deep-dive look at poverty and eviction in America, using Milwaukee as its sample city. It dissects the interplay of trauma, addiction, race and racism in the relationships between landlords and their tenants.
What’s unique about this book is how Desmond uses narrative storytelling to paint a vivid picture of the challenges his subjects face, but he still infuses his work with the facts, figures and research needed to illustrate the full spectre of the rental housing landscape they (and others like them) are navigating.
The narratives are heavily annotated, leading the reader to the back of the book for more context so the story itself isn’t jarringly interrupted by the inclusion of a study proving the point. If a subject is discussing race-based housing discrimination, the reader will follow a footnote to the back of the book, where Desmond includes a study supporting their claim. It’s a fascinating way to lighten a heavy journalistic book.
NEXT: Parable of the Talents, by Octavia Butler
Around the beginning of the year, I tweeted out a request for book suggestions. A friend pointed me toward this series by Octavia Butler and the timing was perfect. I read the first book, Parable of the Sower, and finished in about a week. (I have a kid and a demanding job. That’s record-setting speed for me.)
Parable of the Sower is the beginning of the story of an empathic teenage girl who’s family and neighbors are fighting to preserve their walled community while the world outside their gates descends into dystopian chaos. I won’t go further with plot description, but there’s a lot of themes that might feel familiar in, uh, our current “situation.”
I’m putting Parable of the Talents in my cart next because not knowing what comes next has been nagging at me.
What are you reading this summer?
Whitney Gronski-Buffa is a freelance reporter and stay-at-home mom. You can follow her on Twitter @whitneymae.