December is one of the busiest months of the year for many of us. Between the cooking, shopping, and visiting with friends and family it can be a stressful time. With all that going on, it becomes even more important to take a time out and relax. We at WPL are reading as voraciously as ever, and have found some real gems this month. Below you’ll see what books we have been reading this month. Maybe they will even help inspire a gift idea for that special someone. Another good place to find gift ideas (or books for yourself) was the recently posted list of best book lists from 2014 (available here). If that doesn’t help, stay tuned. Soon we will be sharing our favourite reads from the year.
Rob: Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff
Detroit is an interesting place. The magnificent skyline gives way to crumbling buildings, and life goes on beneath. What struck me most about LeDuff’s book is how well he captured the human experience of living in the Motor City. While stories about bankruptcies, taxation rates, corruption, and funding can give way to intense political debates, Detroit displays brilliantly what it’s like to live your life in the shell of what was once the Paris of the Mid-West. It’s evident from the outset that the author deeply cares about his city and its people. LeDuff explains key events in the city’s history through the lens of the human experience. Rather than a dry chronological recap, the book allows you to live the experience.
Detroit is filled with fascinating tidbits about how everyone from the homeless through to those in power experienced and created their city. An American Autopsy is divided into smaller stories woven together. It demonstrates the problems and lays bare the roots of the issues. Rife with stories from his own family, the debates around important policy issues are given a different light when presented in the way LeDuff has managed. You can experience the growing of the city from the Great Migration through to its collapse. The people and events chronicled inside give insight into how problems became so severe, and how people in the city live on in spite of everything. This is a fantastic book.
Angela: I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
This Young Adult novel really moved me in a way I haven’t by reading a book in a long time. I had never heard about the work of Jandy Nelson before, but I started hearing really excellent reviews about I’ll Give You the Sun. When I heard that readers of John Green and Rainbow Rowell would enjoy this book, I knew I would have to give it a try. And boy am I glad that I did! Nelson’s writing style is so different, it was beautiful and poetic, and filled with stunning metaphors. This might prove difficult to read in other novels, and bother me as a way of story-telling, but that was not the case here. In fact, it just made the words on the pages striking, and the love story all that more passionate and realistic.
I’ll Give You the Sun is essentially a story about twins Jude and Noah, who are featured in alternating chapters in the book. Jude’s story takes place in the present day, after both her and her brother suffer a devastating tragedy. Noah’s story is three years in the past, and revolves around family dynamics and their zeal for the arts. I’ll share one of my favourite quotes from the novel that wonderfully sums up just how poignant Nelson’s writing can be. “Meeting your soul mate is like walking into a house you’ve been in before – you will recognize the furniture, the pictures on the wall, the books on the shelves, the contents of drawers: You could find your way around in the dark if you had to.” Hopefully some other readers can enjoy this book just as much as I have!
Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things follows Peter, a priest who answers the calling of a lifetime: the chance to be a missionary to an extraterrestrial race on the distant planet Oasis. The caveat to this amazing opportunity is that he must leave behind his wife, Bea. A large portion of the novel involves Peter and Bea’s exchanges using a type of intergalactic e-mail. These “epistles” start out innocently with Peter sharing the wonders of the alien world and its seemingly friendly native population. However, these exchanges soon turn horrific as Bea begins to describe a series of disasters devastating the Earth. Countries are destroyed and governments collapse. A galaxy away from the dangers his wife is experiencing, Peter is faced by his own impotence to save her and experiences the ultimate questioning of his faith.
There are plenty of plot points explored along the way: an enigmatic corporation, a former linguist on the alien planet gone AWOL, and the tragic fate of a pet cat all play a part in the novel’s proceedings. However, the main focus is on the otherworldly distance separating Bea and Peter as their world, both figuratively and literally, collapses. Compelling, witty, and emotional, The Book of Strange New Things earns its place among the greats of science fiction. Like the best writers of this genre (Vonnegut, Le Guin, early Ballard), Faber creates a story that is utterly more human than alien.
Michael: Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
I selected “Kill My Mother” by Jules Feiffer to read based on the fact that it was on the New York Times hardcover graphic novels bestseller list. Yet, compared to other acclaimed works, I found this one not warranting the hype. To begin with, I found the highly stylized images and text to be beautiful, but also weary after a time. The loose lines and monochrome, washed-out style left me at times wondering what – or more importantly, who – was in the panel. The lettering as well was styled in such a way as to make reading the whole novel in one sitting quite the chore. Beyond the aesthetics of the work, the story itself wasn’t entirely engaging; however, I did find that it ended better than expected. If you’re a fan of noir fiction (and admittedly, I am not), you may like the gritty nature of the unfolding layers of this story, or the fact that it hits nearly every trope in the genre. I don’t regret reading it, and I’m glad I have read it, but it’s not something I can see myself re-reading or buying.
Kate: An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine
I picked up this book after reading a glowing review onthe Kirkus* webite (available here). The novel tells the story of Aaliya Sohbi a 72-year-old unmarried and childless woman living alone Beirut. Her story is not a happy one but it’s bittersweet since she is a deeply intelligent woman who relishes reading and translating and lives a rich inner life. Flashing back to her past her life comes into focus and it becomes clear that her isolation is the cost — and one particular scene in which she defends her apartment from her own family brings this struggle into sharp focus — of a level of freedom that few women of her age enjoy. I found her translations, and the rituals surrounding them, fascinating and heartbreaking. It’s a beautiful and dense book and, even though it’s barely over 300 pages, I found that I needed to take my time with it.
Mae: A Bit of Difference by Sefi Atta & The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Titilola Alexandrah Shoneyin
These are two stories considering the imperative some women feel to start a family. One follows a modern Londoner in her dealings with co-workers, friends and family. The other employs multiple viewpoints and reads like a folktale. Ignorance, bitterness and deceit displayed by some of the characters can make for unsettling reading.
And that is what WPL read this month! Thank you for reading. I hope you have some very happy holidays, and we wish you all the best in 2015!