In the past two years, I’ve kind of fallen off the horse in terms of reviewing books. I’ve kept reading and commenting (as evidenced by my Goodreads), but reviewing, especially on this blog, takes a bit more effort than I would like during the school year. Even though I’ve gotten back into reviewing some of my quarantine reads, I’m still way behind, so I thought this week’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt would be the perfect way to give a shout-out to some of my favorite reads from the past few years.
FICTION & PLAYS
If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio
So I technically did review this one, but for some reason I never did a full-length review?? Which is a shame, because it’s a fantastic book in the vein of The Secret History, about a murder that happens within a close-knit group of friends on a college campus. At this point, I don’t remember much about this one, so I’m hoping to re-read it and eventually review in detail!
The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater
I’ve decided that Stiefvater is the master of storytelling. The way she tells this story–so ethereal and haunting and funny–is unique. The way she builds the characters–slowly, stealthily, without sacrificing any plot or any humor–is unparalleled. Her plotting–steady yet bouncing from thread to thread like a ping-pong ball–is simply incredible. Every time I re-read The Dream Thieves, I am filled with new appreciation for Stiefvater as a writer and for Gansey, Ronan, Adam, Maura, The Gray Man, and Blue as characters. No book is perfect, but this one is pretty close.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Celeste Ng’s writing is always beautiful. I love that she focuses on Asian-American experiences and stories, and particularly loved the intergenerational aspect of this book: it alternates between telling the stories of a white woman and Chinese-American man who married in the 1960s, and their children, who grow up perpetually “different,” in the 1980s. Ng brilliantly interweaves the present with the past to tell a haunting story of the impacts of sexism and racism on a mixed-race family.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee
This one was just… weird. Enjoyable, but so, so weird. I’ve never reviewed this one simply because I wouldn’t know what to say. It’s impossible to summarize: two couples sharing a drink in the middle of the night and playing some bizarre mind games. Just… read it. I don’t think there’s any other way to communicate what happens.
No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre
No Exit was particularly interesting because it’s essentially the premise of the TV show The Good Place. I remember being so interested in The Good Place‘s theory of the afterlife, but to discover it basically laid out here, and knowing how much TGP relies on Sartre and other philosophers, kind of makes the TV show seem like one big rip-off. I think No Exit explores the idea of the afterlife much more poignantly and concisely than does TGP.
MEMOIRS & ESSAYS
Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino
This is half-memoir, half-essay collection, and covers everything from feminism to the Internet to reality TV. Anything that has to do with self-conception, really. Tolentino’s essays on womanhood, feminism, and her own crooked path to reporting resonated strongly with me. Her discussion of literary heroines, the Internet, commercial feminism, and her final essay, on marriage were like nothing else I’d seen in literature. Unfortunately, for every essay in this book that I seemed to connect with, there was another that I found rather boring, despite the beautiful prose.
Here Is New York by E.B. White
I was given this book for my nineteenth birthday, when I was living in New York City for college (my last year, unfortunately, will be completed remotely). E.B. White is an incredibly gifted writer; although he wrote this book in the 1930s, he is still able to perfectly capture the ever-changing nature of New York. Of course, it is not a perfect reflection of New York in 2020 (no pandemics in the 1930s), but as he writes in the author’s note, “it is the reader’s, not the author’s, duty to bring New York down to date; and I trust it will prove less a duty than a pleasure.”
The March Trilogy by John Lewis
Although this is a trilogy, I’m counting it as a single book. Beautifully illustrated by Nate Powell, this graphic novel memoir is a beautiful memory of Congressman Lewis’s life, told in his own words. It is a humbling read, especially given his recent passing and the rollback of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. I would recommend this to anyone looking to learn more about the Civil Rights Movement and the state of America today.
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
I’ll admit I was skeptical of Noah when he first started hosting The Daily Show in 2014, but he’s since become of my favorite comics, and one of the people I look to to make sense of the world today. His book reads like his show: it’s funny, it’s touching, and it eloquently uses humor to unpack larger issues of race and class in South Africa and in America.
The Lonely City by Olivia Laing
I really, really want to post my full review of this one day. Laing traces the lives of four artists and their art and lives’ relationship to loneliness, including Edward Hopper and Andy Warhol. It was a fantastic read for me back in 2019, when I was, like Laing, a passing resident of New York City, the metropolis in which all of these artists lived at least part of their lives. While Laing doesn’t find a solution to the problem of loneliness, she does take the stigma away from discussing the subject. She paints loneliness as a wholly human experience, one that is painful both physically and mentally, but which can yield the most beautiful of results in terms of art.