April 9, 2019

More marginalia on more books

I’ve been reading a few books recently, so here are some notes I scribbled in my virtual margins as I read them:

The Boat People, Sharon Bala

There are many books that bring me to tears, but few have brought me to rage and sorrow like Ms. Bala’s novel about the plight of refugees being detained, away from their families, because of the political machinations of a governing party that hates everyone that doesn’t look like them. It’s clear that this book was written during our last political regime, and it’s clear that the book has a point of view; it’s a point of view that I not only agree with, but believe strongly. Those that seek to dehumanize us because of our differences need to be removed from power and have no place in making decisions about the lives of others.

The Friend, Sigrid Nunez

I struggled reading The Friend, not just because it is a novel framed by suicide and loss, but because it is a novel so focused on how writing and reading frame our capacity to cope with grief, and with the tumult of the world around us. There is a beauty to the way Ms. Nunez speaks of various kinds of friendships” here—with mentors, with colleagues, with students, with the ex-wives of ex-lovers, with the titular friend, the dog Apollo—but there is also an incisive questioning about the nature of life, and its worth in living. This can be discomfiting if you are grappling with those questions yourself; this rumination on friends and grief and life itself is much heavier than its story, and its short length, will indicated.

Happiness, Aminatta Forna

There are foxes in our backyard. I have only seen one once, but have seen their tracks in the snow or the frost, and occasionally in the wet spring mud. Prior to reading Ms. Forna’s novel, I had never thought about the interior lives of these foxes and how they experience the world, but now I can’t stop thinking about them. Happiness is ostensibly a novel about connections between people and the impacts of trauma, but really, it is a novel about being in touch with the living world around us, and how so much delight can be found when we commune with the urban natural environment.

The Uninhabitable Earth, David Wallace-Wells

If you’re looking for good news, or for a concrete way to get us out of this climate change crisis we find ourselves in, this book is not that. Yes, it does outline what needs to be done to fix the problem, but it also acknowledges that we are far too late to fix it all. We have f**ked up, and now we have to pay for the damage we have done. According to Mr. Wallace-Wells, that damage is extensive, and the consequences are dire; if anything, reading this will scare you about the future, but in a way that still holds out a very slim glimmer of hope. It’s hopeful in its direness, and it the stark honesty of the miserable reality that awaits us feels almost galvanizing. The Uninhabitable Earth reminds us that yes, we’ve really screwed up, but if we want to save what we can, it’s time for us to get to work.

The Poet X, Elizabeth Acevedo

It is rare that I encounter any book with a character that shares the same name as my brother. It is even rarer that the character not only has his name, but shares the way he looks, and his mannerisms. I could see my young brother in Ms. Acevedo’s novel-in-verse, and I could see my young self in the pursuit of slam excellence, and I could see my friends and everyone I knew in high school in every part of this book. The Poet X is not just a beautiful poem to growing up and coming of age, but an ode to the diversity of experience we don’t see often enough on the page.

→ Marginalia