“Sing, Unburied, Sing,” Jesmyn Ward

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Let the record show that I—Kristin of Lit She Wrote—have, for the first time ever, finished an advanced reader copy before the book’s release date! Please, hold your applause. I’m no hero. Everyone calm down.

In all seriousness, there’s a reason that this notoriously slow reader got through Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward: it’s incredible. The story follows 13-year-old Jojo and his troubled, often absent mother Leonie as they travel across Mississippi to pick up Jojo’s father, Michael, after his release from prison. Jojo’s relationship with his mother is strained, perhaps beyond repair, largely due to Leonie’s substance abuse and distracting infatuation with Michael. Jojo and his toddler sister Kayla find refuge in the care of their stoic grandfather, River, and healer grandmother, Philomène. Continue reading

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“Hunger,” Roxane Gay

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This is, without question, the most anticipated book I’ve discussed on Lit She Wrote. Historically, many of my choices have been books that have already been established in fiction and nonfiction circles. I work in a bookstore, so it takes a lot to get me excited about new release Tuesday, and even more to convince my bank account to buy anything in hardcover.

Roxane Gay has the unique ability to do both. Hunger is a memoir of Gay’s experience having what she calls an unruly body in a world that will show it no mercy. I tore through the first 75 percent of this book rapidly; I could barely put it down. At that point, however, I forced myself to slow down. Why? Because I didn’t want this book, in which I was seeing so much of my own experience, to end. Continue reading

“Milk and Honey,” Rupi Kaur

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This is the first time I’ve written about an extremely topical book here. The book has been on the NYT best sellers list for several weeks, and as a bookseller I got to witness it suddenly skyrocketing. Women were coming into the store to request it. Others were reserving copies online. In my time working at the bookstore, I hadn’t seen many poetry books become popular. This one, for a while, was out of stock in our warehouse. So, naturally, when I saw we’d finally gotten a few copies in store, I was quick to buy it for myself. I’m a lover of poetry, particularly modern poetry, and one that was being linked to other feminist poets and authors was sure to appeal to me.

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“Are You My Mother?” Alison Bechdel

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Familial relationships are complicated. There’s no sugarcoating it. A childhood in a tense environment can spell lifelong trauma.

In Are You My Mother?, Alison Bechdel chronicles her relationship with her mother throughout her life. The memoir is framed by the works of psychoanalyst David Winnicott, whose theories on the true and false self and transitional objects Bechdel found particularly relatable.

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“Americanah,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Literature is at its best when it moves you. A good novel will elicit an emotional response of some kind. A great novel reaches out and slaps you in the face. It might be depictions of harsh reality, or emotionally charged character behavior. But it nevertheless needs to not only reach you, but also affect you.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie possessed this quality in droves.

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“The Glass Castle,” Jeannette Walls

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The first chapter begins mundanely enough. An adult Jeannette Walls, sitting in the backseat of a taxi in NYC, catches sight of her mother rooting through a dumpster. The mother and daughter meet up for a meal, and Walls asks her mother what she needs. Her mother recoils, accusing Walls of having lost her priorities. On the next page, Walls is three years old and on fire.

The Glass Castle is a fiercely detailed memoir about her nomadic upbringing with free-spirited and often reckless parents. What struck me immediately was the way her experiences show the dark side of being free-spirited, the toll it can take, especially when children are involved. The idea of living on the road, or constantly relocating is heavily romanticized making it easy to forget the many downsides.

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“Fun Home,” Alison Bechdel

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My introduction to this book was gradual. First, a friend started sending me songs from the musical. They were of course great, but I don’t think my brain made the connection that the musical was based on a memoir. The first time the book itself was recommended to me was during a coffee date with friends. At some point, conversation meandered to books, which was odd but refreshing. We all enjoyed reading, but our friendships each pre-dated us being Adults Who ReadTM, and books weren’t a typical topic of conversation for us. That being said, the recommendation slipped my mind, and by the time I picked it up, I’d forgotten it was ever mentioned to me. Either way, I’m glad it made its way onto my bookshelf.

Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home is a graphic memoir dealing with her struggle with her sexual identity, her father’s hidden identity, and his death. Continue reading

“To Kill a Mockingbird,” Harper Lee

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Let me just start by saying: I cannot believe this was not in my high school’s English curriculum.

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is a poignant coming-of-age story set in a town torn apart by discrimination, racism, and dangerous ignorance.

I’m glad I read it now. Its relevance today is both striking and disappointing—mainly because it’s a 55-year-old book about racism and bigotry still rings true. So much of the ignorance found in the people of Maycomb is still seen in people young and old today. I’d have hoped for more progress in that time. There have been steps, for sure. But the malicious mindset still exists. I’m getting carried away. Anyway.

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