The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

2016 Reading List #39: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, by Ayana Mathis

Sometimes the best answer to a lazy day is spending it in bed with a good book.

Welcome to my Tuesday.

After returning last night from a 4-day trip to visit friends in Nebraska and thirteen-hours in the car, I think it was fair to enjoy a quiet day in. Everyone needs a little time to recover.

I started The Twelve Tribes of Hattie while we were on vacation, but I’d hardly made any progress in my reading. Today, though, I read 240 pages and finished this multi-generational tale.

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is a bit difficult to categorize—it’s a novel, but in some ways it reads more like a short story cycle. Hattie Shepherd is at the novel’s center, but each chapter focuses on one of her eleven children. The book spans 55 years in the life of Hattie’s family, offering limited glimpses into each of her children across time.

I appreciated the simplicity of Mathis’s novel. Because of the book’s style, we really do only get small glimpses into these characters’ lives, which is sometimes unsettling, but also bring an air of authenticity to the reading experience. These are not necessarily extraordinary moments in their lives, but moments of clarity or growth. I wished to know more about some of them before the novel’s end, but I think Mathis’s decision to remain a bit ambiguous maintains the book’s realistic qualities.

Since I sped through The Twelve Tribes of Hattie so quickly today, I’m a bit unsure where to turn next in my reading ventures. Here’s to many more quiet days spent with good books.

Tiny Beautiful Things

2016 Reading List #38: Tiny Beautiful Things, by Cheryl Strayed

My dear friend and roommate Ryan gave me Tiny Beautiful Things for my graduation this May after having read it himself recently and loving it. That’s about as much knowledge as I had of the book before reading it (apart from what I know about Cheryl Strayed already), but I’m so incredibly glad I did.

Tiny Beautiful Things is a collection of Strayed’s responses from her Dear Sugar advice column for The Rumpus, an online literary community. Though I tend to stay far away from books or websites that proclaim “lifestyle advice” (because I’m an adult woman and capable of deciding how to live my own damn life, thanks), Strayed’s advice in these columns is unbelievably wise and thoughtful.

The letters are heartbreaking, challenging, and incredibly deep. Each one is worth treasuring. Strayed never belittles her advice-seekers, but she also doesn’t hide from honest and difficult questions and answers. She takes on issues of infidelity, mourning, parenting, friendship, religion, and sexuality with equal parts bravery and compassion. I loved every word of it.

Tiny Beautiful Things will undeniably be a go-to gift I’ll share with friends and family in the future, and a book I imagine I’ll return to many times in life. If you’re looking for an idea of what this book includes, here are a few of my favorite excerpts:

“That place of true healing is a fierce place. It’s a giant place. It’s a place of monstrous beauty and endless dark and glimmering light. And you have to work really, really, really hard to get there, but you can do it.”

“Let whatever mysterious starlight that guided you this far guide you onward into whatever crazy beauty awaits.”

“Let yourself be gutted. Let it open you. Start there.”

“Nobody’s going to do your life for you. You have to do it yourself, whether you’re rich or poor, out of money or raking it in, the beneficiary of ridiculous fortune or terrible injustice. And you have to do it no matter what is true. No matter what is hard. No matter what unjust, sad, sucky things have befallen you. Self-pity is a dead-end road. You make the choice to drive down it. It’s up to you to decide to stay parked there or to turn around and drive out.”

“It’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do. And you’re going to bawl your head off doing it. But I promise you it will be okay. Your tears will be born of grief, but also of relief. You will be better for them. They will make you harder, softer, cleaner, dirtier. Free. A glorious something else awaits.”

“Forgiveness doesn’t just sit there like a pretty boy in a bar. Forgiveness is the old fat guy you have to haul up the hill. You have to say I am forgiven again and again until it becomes the story you believe about yourself.”

“We are here to build the house. It’s our work, our job, the most important gig of all: to make a place that belongs to us, a structure composed of our own moral code.”

“We live and have experiences and leave people we love and get left by them. People we thought would be with us forever aren’t and people we didn’t know would come into our lives do. Our work here is to keep faith with that, to put it in the box and wait. To trust that someday we will know what it means, so that when the ordinary miraculous is revealed to us we will be there…grateful for the smallest things.”

“Say thank you.”

Luckiest Girl Aliv

2016 Reading List #34: Luckiest Girl Alive, by Jessica Knoll

I didn’t know much about Luckiest Girl Alive until this past March, when author Jessica Knoll made headlines for revealing that the sexual assault in this novel is based on an experience she had as a high school student (you can read Knoll’s moving essay from Lenny here).

To be honest, I’m always very wary of reading current bestsellers, so I was slow to approach this novel. I’ve been let down many times by what Entertainment Weekly recommends (though, to be fair, they’re the reason I read Gone Girl, but that’s an exception). But when I had a gift card to spend, I decided to give this book a try. Thankfully, this was a worthwhile reading experience.

Luckiest Girl Alive is the story of 28-year-old TifAni FaNelli, a woman hell bent on working her way toward a WASPy life in New York City. She’s soon to be married, has a good job working for a women’s magazine, and does her best to erase her lower class life by dropping the “Tif”from her first name.

Ani is a character who can be hard to love, but the past trauma in her life makes her harsh personality more understandable. The book alternates between chapters in the present and chapters that tell the story of 14-year-old Ani, when she lives through some major life-changing events. We know Ani is somewhat infamous and preparing to star in a documentary, though the event the documentary covers is left ambiguous for most of the novel.

There are bits of Knoll’s writing that irked me (though I think that’s really the fault of a lazy editor), and sometimes the plot is a bit too 0n-the-nose, but I think Knoll is incredibly brave for sharing bits of her own story.

Reese Witherspoon’s production company bought the film rights to the novel before it was even published, and I think the story will work well on screen. I’d also like to throw out a suggestion and say Shiri Appleby of Lifetime’s UnREAL should be cast in the lead role. Just an idea.

Now I’m turning back to Tess of the D’Urbervilles more permanently and trying to keep myself from getting distracted by other reading projects. Wish me luck!

Sidney Chambers

2016 Reading List #33: Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death, by James Runcie

Last week I spent some Amazon and Barnes and Noble gift cards I’d been holding on to for a while, and I’d say my reading habit has been happily indulged because of it.

Though I’m still working through Thomas Hardy’s classic Tess of the D’Urbervilles, I’m not rushing through it, and having a handful of new reading project arrive on the doorstep was too exciting a prospect to wait for.

Of these new treasures, I started with (and unintentionally sped through) Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death, the first book in the Grantchester mysteries series upon which the television series is based. My mom and I recently watched and loved the first two seasons of the TV adaptation, so I thought I’d give the books a try as well.

Luckily, the book series packs the same enjoyable punch as the TV series. This novel explores six different (but interwoven) mysteries through the eyes of Canon Sidney Chambers, an Anglican priest with a knack for crime-solving. Generally, the TV adaptation follows the book accurately, though some of the mysteries are reimagined and the supporting characters are made more dynamic on screen.

The Shadow of Death offers everything you can hope for from a British crime novel: jealousy, intrigue, a love triangle, jazz clubs, and a sweet puppy named Dickens. It was an incredibly quick read, and one that left me excited to continue through the series.

If you’re interested, give the TV series a try! It’s available on Amazon Prime (and James Norton is sure to keep your interest) and the perfect solution to a rainy summer day.

A View from the Bridge

2016 Reading List #32: A View From the Bridge, by Arthur Miller

I guess I’m unofficially reading Miller’s plays in threes.

I’m now 6 plays into his collected total of 18, and most of the “greatest hits” are those I’ve read thus far. A View From the Bridge is a play I’ve only known because the title is familiar, so I was glad to delve in.

Though it wasn’t intentional, I finished the play in 2 sittings, largely because I found the story quite compelling (and unsettling). A View From the Bridge is notably different from many of Miller’s other works because it features a narrator talking for the perspective of someone who knows the course of events in the story, so he warns readers of the turmoil to follow.

The play centers on a working class family in Brooklyn who harbor their Italian relatives as illegal immigrants. Eddie Carbone, the leading man, is very protective of his 18-year-old niece, Catherine, who starts to fall for one of the men staying with them. Miller’s ability to portray generational family tension is on full display here, particularly as questions of love and loyalty arise. The play’s sordid story kept me engaged from start to tragic finish.

Another bit of intrigue with this play is that the most recent adaptation just won a Tony for Best Revival of a Play at last weekend’s ceremony, and I’m very interested in the production. Luckily, the National Theatre’s broadcast of the play will be available sometime later this year, so I’ll do my best to see it.

Now that I’ve knocked out another 3 plays, I’m turning to Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles to conquer another thing on my goals for the year. Happy reading!

The Crucible

2016 Reading List #31: The Crucible, by Arthur Miller

This marked my third time reading Arthur Miller’s classic The Crucible, but I was no less struck by its weight this time than during any of my previous reading experiences.

The Crucible is largely famous because Miller used its setting during the Salem witch trials to parallel his feelings about the House Un-American Activities Committee during the Red Scare. The thing I find most striking about the play is Miller’s ability to make the tension and frustration so palpable. Though I know what the expect of the plot, I am equally enraged by it on every reading, which I think speaks to Miller’s mastery as a playwright.

Since I’m slowly making my way through Arthur Miller’s collected plays this year, I was especially struck to see the thematic similarities between The Crucible and An Enemy of the People, Miller’s adaptation of Ibsen’s work that chronologically precedes The Crucible. Both plays take on the importance of truth in the face of an antagonistic community. Miller really knows how to tap into the power of a fearful community, particularly when they choose to point the finger at a common enemy.

The Handmaid's Tale

2016 Reading List #28: The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

I’ve just realized I’ve been a bit neglectful in my blogging habits—the last time I posted a  book review was for Voyager, the 24th book I’ve read in 2016, though yesterday I finished reading my 32nd book of the year. Time to catch up, I suppose.

Here’s my quick and dirty version of filling in the blanks, though I’m not writing a review of every book I’ve read. Sometimes I have a hard time articulating my thoughts or feel like I don’t have anything blog-worthy to say, so that’s where the gaps come from (to see my full reading list for the year, you can always look at the 2016 Reading List on my blog).

My reading of The Handmaid’s Tale was kind of a product of my feeling like I’ve missed out on some of the essential books of being an English student. I know this is Atwood’s best-known work and a staple of women’s literature, so I decided to pick it up and run with it.

The Handmaid’s Tale fits perfectly with other famous dystopian novels like 1984—we enter a world where women are seen strictly as childbearing devices and little more. Atwood’s narration through the perspective of one such woman is what makes the novel compelling; our heroine remembers what life used to be and longs for a return to her family.

Apart from feeling like this was just one of those novels a person must know in the pursuit of being well read, I was also compelled by the upcoming Hulu adaptation of the novel starring Elisabeth Moss. As this is a novel that is largely told internally through thought, I’m interested in seeing it take visual form.

Though I wouldn’t call The Handmaid’s Tale one of my favorite novels, I certainly respect it and clearly see how it earned its place in the literary canon.