Mindfulness has a stellar reputation these days — well deserved, but sometimes you don’t actually want to be where you are (more mindfully). What you do want is a good escape, a good laugh, a good cry or just a good story. You want something that makes you want to keep reading and that helps you return to your world refreshed. Today’s article features six current reads that promise to be powerful or delightful enough to pull you out of where you are and return you back in a different frame of mind.
The book I’m most excited to read this spring is Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West, just released this month and already receiving terrific reviews. “[L]ike all of his books it’s a love story. Set in a world being irrevocably transformed by migration, the tale follows a young couple in an unnamed country as their city collapses around them and they are forced to join a wave of migrants fleeing for their lives,” writes John Freeman at Lithub. Their method of travel is — to say the least — unconventional (think Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad). Hamid gives a wonderful interview at The New Yorker that further explains the narrative arc of the story:
In the case of Nadia and Saeed, the violence around them accelerates and intensifies their relationship. They meet, they’re intrigued by each other, they come closer, and then suddenly they are bound together, very early in their relationship, in a time of great turmoil. They begin to act almost like they are married, because all around them the world has become so devastating. What happens when the violence ceases, though, is another matter.
“The thing I admire most about Hamid’s writing is his insistence that humanity does not end in times of conflict — if anything, it thrives. Nadia and Saeed’s story is a testament to that,” writes Lindsay Lynch at Musing, which sealed the deal for me. Exit West seems like it will be a compelling tale of love, journey and loss for our times. If it’s even half as wonderful as his funny, brilliant, tragic How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, it promises to be one of the best books of the year.
The other book I’m most excited to read this month is All Grown Up, by Jami Attenberg, because — as with Exit West — I loved an earlier work by the author (The Middlesteins) and the wonderful advance reports. As described by Kirkus Review:
Deeply perceptive and dryly hilarious, Attenberg’s latest novel follows Andrea Bern: on the cusp of 40, single, child-free by choice, and reasonably content, she’s living a life that still, even now, bucks societal conventions. But without the benchmarks of “grown up” success — an engagement, a husband, a baby — Andrea is left to navigate her own shifting understanding of adulthood …
Structured as a series of addictive vignettes — they fly by if you let them, though they deserve to be savored — the novel is a study not only of Andrea, but of her entire ecosystem: her gorgeous, earthy best friend whose perfect marriage maybe isn’t; her much younger co-worker; her friend, the broke artist, who is also her ex-boyfriend and sometimes her current one. And above all, her brother and his wife, whose marriage, once a living affirmation of the possibility of love, is now crumbling under the pressure of their terminally ill child.
Wry, sharp, and profoundly kind; a necessary pleasure.
Or, as described by Elle in its “25 Most Anticipated Books by Women for 2017” list, “It’s very much in the tradition of Attenberg’s other novels: smart, heartfelt, and really freakin’ funny.”
Now, for the four books I am actually in the middle of reading and can heartily recommend. I’ve put each one in a category, and one might appeal to you!
Do You Want to Build A Snowman?
Swing Time, by Zadie Smith, tells the story of two girls who have the fraught relationship you sometimes find between sisters or very close friends. They’re growing up on the wrong side of the tracks in 1970s London, brown girls both, where they meet in a dance class sponsored by the local community center. One girl grows up to be a crackpot ballerina, the other the personal assistant to a megastar who could only be Madonna by another name. Why read this book? It’s a meditation on female friendship, mothers, class, race — but mostly, so far, it’s just a good story, beautifully written.
Killing Me Softly
Peter Swanson’s new psychological thriller, Her Every Fear, pulled me in hard and hasn’t lightened its grip. Kate Priddy is a young Brit living in London who agrees to swap apartments with her distant cousin in Boston for six months. The cousin says he needs to be in London for a temporary work assignment, and Kate is delighted to have the chance to take some design courses in America. She’s only just arrived when things start to get complicated. A young woman in the adjacent apartment has been murdered, and Kate begins to wonder about the nature of her cousin’s relationship with the victim. The more she learns, the more she fears what happened before her arrival — and what might happen next. Kate is utterly believable as a young woman who is living in America for the first time and trying to figure out basic cultural differences, which allows Swanson to be slyly humorous. I’m dying to find out what happens next!
It’s a Thriller Night
Scary and terrible things happen in the night. Fevers spike, children die, the ghosts come out. In George Saunders’ eagerly anticipated new novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, Lincoln visits the crypt where his 11-year-old son Willie has recently been buried. There he finds him, in the “Bardo,” the shadowy world (in Tibetan Buddhism) between one life and the next. Neither Lincoln nor his ghost of a son can let go, surrounded by a chorus of whispering ghosts also caught in the Bardo, themselves reflecting on their lives and loves. Lincoln in the Bardo is not written as a traditional novel. It includes a collage of snippets from actual historical sources, and the format of whispering ghostly voices is a bit strange and hard to get used to. It reminds me of reading Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall — there’s an initial barrier to entry in the language and format, but then once you’re immersed and in the flow, it’s quite rewarding. This novel is generating lots of buzz right now.
It’s About Nothing
Transit, by Rachel Cusk, is the second in an anticipated trilogy that began with Outline, selected as one of the New York Times’ 10 Best Books of 2015 — which I think we could all agree is a pretty strong start . If Outline is about adjusting to motherhood, Transit is about adjusting to divorce (kind of, in both cases). Neither book has much of a plot, but each one has a lot to say in a very distinctive voice. Transit follows the narrator to London, where she has moved with her two sons. The story glides from one interaction to the next … the narrator’s conversation with a former boyfriend, then her contractor, her awful neighbors, a couple of authors at a panel discussion … Why in the world does one care? Really, nothing happens. But there’s something about Cusk’s voice that is intriguing, almost spellbinding. She’s figuring out herself and her life through her conversations. Many of the conversations are so semi-awful that you can’t look away. You just have to keep reading!
And that, at the end of the day, is all that counts. Read, escape, return to where you were — refreshed. (Repeat!)
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