She Would Be King, by Wayétu Moore
Yes, we’re 20 years late, but my husband and I have discovered The Sopranos. It’s taken a while (I mean, in digital-streaming, binge-watching parlance) for us to get to where we are – Season 5 – but it’s been an enjoyable ride so far. I’m still not sure that The Sopranos can top my all-time favorite show, The Americans, but that’s ok…not much can. (Sigh, I still miss it, and no, this is not the first time I’ve tied in a blog post to a television series.)
In a recent sub-sub-(sub)-plot, “Paulie Walnuts” – one of Tony Soprano’s underlings – moves his mother into a nursing home. Like many tight-knit communities, the Newark Italian-American community – particularly for those in their 80s, as Paulie’s mother is – demonstrates certain unwritten code as well as sneaky and pernicious ways of simultaneously projecting an air of inclusivity and deftly boxing out those who “lose” at the game of community hierarchy.
The major publications have already released their “best of” book lists for the year. But nope, at A Lifely Read, I like to push it to the very, very end. Major newspapers/magazines/websites have a reason for pushing their lists a bit early: No new books are being released at the end of the year and publishers want people to buy books for the holidays. (Did you see the article about printing issues that “derailed” holiday book sales?)
Set your goals on a post-it next to your two phones and old-school adding machine. (STOCK IMAGE, duh!)
People often create reading challenges for a New Year, so I’m going to frame my Best Books of 2018 List according to the 12 months of the year. These aren’t necessarily the months that I read the books, but you’ll see why I’m slotting them in. Second caveat: Unlike official “best of” books lists, these are not just books published in 2018…I just happened to read them this year. My blog, my rules, okay?
The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas and An American Childhood, by Annie Dillard
“The setting of our urgent lives is an intricate maze whose blind corridors we learn one by one—village street, ocean vessel, forested slope—without remembering how or where they connect in space.” – Annie Dillard, An American Childhood
“To me, it’s so weird to have a gate around a neighborhood. Seriously, are they trying to keep people out or keep people in? If somebody puts a gate around Garden Heights, it’ll be a little bit of both.” – Starr, in The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
What is childhood but a map of what’s considered normal? Children are born knowing and internalizing their surroundings, starting with (hopefully) a parent’s arms, moving on to rooms in their homes and then expanding to the streets outdoors. It’s how it goes: Healthy children start exploring, wondering – and then crawling, toddling, zipping away, using the maps (both literal and emotional) that are at their feet.
Thank you, Google Maps, for transporting me back to my childhood.
The house I lived in until I was 12 was in a neighborhood with twisty roads and lots of hills. Or at least I think so; I haven’t truly seen it in over 25 years except for maybe two quick drive-throughs. I imagine if I were to go back now, it would feel easy to navigate, but even at age 12, it felt very labyrinth-like. One day when I was about 5, I went “jogging” with my mom. I decided I had had enough – because 5-year-olds and jogging with adults don’t usually go hand-in-hand – so she agreed that at SE 18th Street, we could part ways because that would be just one turn and about 10 houses away. And it was 1981, so of course. (Side note: SE 18th Street is also a steep-ish hill that my brother and I later decided to ride down while sitting on his skateboard. All was well until a surprised driver at the bottom of the hill nearly hit us and then trailed us home to yell at us in our driveway. AH, MEMORIES!)
Sometimes I think of this blog as my own personal book club. I pick a book, read it, and then discuss it with – myself. That’s the writing part. What happens next, though, is I’ll receive a text from a friend who’s read a post and continue the “conversation” or someone will comment online about some aspect of a post with an interesting thought. So perhaps this blog is, in fact, kind of a “real life book club.” Readers and I “meet” outside of a regular gathering, but the jumping off point for discussion is – hey ho – right here. (Ironically, the very first thing I posted here was entitled Alone With My Books?)
If this is what you want your book club to be, I can’t help you. ALTHOUGH, if these women are discussing books while dancing, I applaud their multitasking.
I’ve been in book clubs off and on since my early 20s, and I don’t mean to be a spoil sport, but I’m generally not a fan of the ones I’ve been in where people don’t actually read the book. I know, I know, that is the ultimate mommy/girls night out shtick: “No one ever reads the book! LOLOLOLOLOL….Pass the wine!” Call me a glutton for punishment (or maybe just antisocial), but if we’re meeting because of a book, let’s, I dunno, discuss it. We can go out for drinks or coffee to chat another time. (Maybe this is why I liked Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine so much. #superserious #superliteral)
The Only Story, by Julian Barnes
There are three nearby coffee shops I frequent to get some work done. I like them all equally for different reasons – one has superior coffee, one has a nice array of breakfast sandwiches, and one seems to have a lot of moms and/or grandparents with toddlers. One of the above also has a group from a community organization that meets often. They are kind of loud and judgmental – and I love it and I hate it. I love it because it’s entertaining and I just can’t turn away (even though it looks like I’m just tapping away at my laptop). I hate it because they are just. so. damn. smug.
Me surreptitiously listening to the other table.
Here are some recent conversation topics (some details changed to protect the loud): Why do people think New Englanders think they’re so superior? We are not! (Followed by conversation that points to: Yes, they think Massachusetts residents are superior.) Group leader’s detailed description of his family in a non-New England state and his siblings’ beliefs. (Cue uproarious laughter.) Discussion about teenagers and poor food choices. (Followed by a description of group leader’s self-righteous child-and-food philosophy, which is interesting because I can’t imagine this young guy has teenagers. Oh, just you wait!)