Lord help me through 2017. I set my Goodreads “Reading Challenge” to 70 books. Fingers crossed that I make it. I swear the worst part of being an adult is the inability to sit down and make a decent dent in the Leaning Tower of Pisa I call my TBR pile. Alas, poor post-grads such as myself are obligated to make a living wage in order to pay off that nasty student loan debt…
I have, nonetheless, given myself an ambitious TBR list for the month of January, and I’m praying that the literature gods, wherever they may be, will give me the time and stamina to power through this list. (I’m eyeing The Romanovs with undisguised trepidation.)
Drawn from an eclectic smattering of my favorite genres, I’ve curated a list that I hope will satisfy all the reading needs I neglected in 2016:
We the Animals, Justin Torres
Synopsis: An exquisite, blistering debut novel.
Three brothers tear their way through childhood — smashing tomatoes all over each other, building kites from trash, hiding out when their parents do battle, tiptoeing around the house as their mother sleeps off her graveyard shift. Paps and Ma are from Brooklyn — he’s Puerto Rican, she’s white — and their love is a serious, dangerous thing that makes and unmakes a family many times.
Life in this family is fierce and absorbing, full of chaos and heartbreak and the euphoria of belonging completely to one another. From the intense familial unity felt by a child to the profound alienation he endures as he begins to see the world, this beautiful novel reinvents the coming-of-age story in a way that is sly and punch-in-the-stomach powerful.
Written in magical language with unforgettable images, this is a stunning exploration of the viscerally charged landscape of growing up, how deeply we are formed by our earliest bonds, and how we are ultimately propelled at escape velocity toward our futures.
Thoughts: I delved into this beautiful little novel a few days ago, and it’s a lot to take in. I find myself reading two or three chapters at a time and putting it down; its richness can be overpowering at times, but beautiful in a brutal way. Most books on my TBR list have been there for months, but I came across this one a couple weeks ago while perusing a Buzzfeed list about essential Latino authors. Justin Torres‘ We The Animals jumped out at me for its depiction of young boys who are both Puerto Rican and white. The same as me.
The Red Parts, Maggie Nelson
Synopsis: One day in March 1969, twenty-three- year-old Jane Mixer was on her way home to tell her parents she was getting married. She had arranged for a ride through the campus bulletin board at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where she was one of a handful of pioneering women students at the law school. Her body was found the following morning just inside the gates of a small cemetery fourteen miles away, shot twice in the head and strangled. Six other young women were murdered around the same time, and it was assumed they had all been victims of alleged serial killer John Collins, who was convicted of one of these crimes not long after. Jane Mixer’s death was long considered to be one of the infamous Michigan Murders, as they had come to be known. But officially, Jane’s murder remained unsolved, and Maggie Nelson grew up haunted by the possibility that the killer of her mother’s sister was still at large.
Thoughts: How good does this sound? I’ve been on the lookout for a good crime novel, but I’ve heard that Maggie Nelson‘s The Red Parts transcends the typical investigative crime story in such a way that it’s one of the most powerful books that’s been published in the last few years. Needless to say, I’m excited to sink my teeth into this one.
The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson
Synopsis: Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts is a genre-bending memoir, a work of “autotheory” offering fresh, fierce, and timely thinking about desire, identity, and the limitations and possibilities of love and language. At its center is a romance: the story of the author’s relationship with the artist Harry Dodge. This story, which includes Nelson’s account of falling in love with Dodge, who is fluidly gendered, as well as her journey to and through a pregnancy, offers a firsthand account of the complexities and joys of (queer) family-making.
Thoughts: I know you’re probably thinking I’m obsessed with Nelson, and you might be right, but I discovered her work over the summer, and I think it’s only right to read these books back-to-back. Her genre-bending work fascinates me and encapsulates everything I love about literature.
The Romanovs: 1613-1918, Simon Sebag-Montefiore
Synopsis: The Romanovs were the most successful dynasty of modern times, ruling a sixth of the world’s surface for three centuries. How did one family turn a war-ruined principality into the world’s greatest empire? And how did they lose it all?
This is the intimate story of twenty tsars and tsarinas, some touched by genius, some by madness, but all inspired by holy autocracy and imperial ambition. Simon Sebag Montefiore’s gripping chronicle reveals their secret world of unlimited power and ruthless empire-building, overshadowed by palace conspiracy, family rivalries, sexual decadence and wild extravagance, with a global cast of adventurers, courtesans, revolutionaries and poets, from Ivan the Terrible to Tolstoy and Pushkin, to Bismarck, Lincoln, Queen Victoria and Lenin.
Thoughts: A 600+ page history of Russia’s Romanov dynasty…am I crazy. No. I hardly read any history texts in 2016, and it’s about time I caught up. Simon Sebag-Montefiore‘s book screams winter to me. Because who wouldn’t want to read about murderous, sex-crazed, power hungry despots during the coldest months of the year?
The Fortune Hunter, Daisy Goodwin
Synopsis: In 1875, Sisi, the Empress of Austria is the woman that every man desires and every woman envies.
Beautiful, athletic and intelligent, Sisi has everything – except happiness. Bored with the stultifying etiquette of the Hapsburg Court and her dutiful but unexciting husband, Franz Joseph, Sisi comes to England to hunt. She comes looking for excitement and she finds it in the dashing form of Captain Bay Middleton, the only man in Europe who can outride her. Ten years younger than her and engaged to the rich and devoted Charlotte, Bay has everything to lose by falling for a woman who can never be his. But Bay and the Empress are as reckless as each other, and their mutual attraction is a force that cannot be denied.
Thoughts: Daisy Goodwin‘s writing is attractive to me in a way that seems unlikely. No matter the time of year, or what kind of mood I’m in, her books always draw me in. After reading An American Heiress and Victoria, I trust her to write a good (very British) story.
The Mortifications, Derek Palacio
Synopsis: In 1980, a rural Cuban family is torn apart during the Mariel Boatlift. Uxbal Encarnación—father, husband, political insurgent—refuses to leave behind the revolutionary ideals and lush tomato farms of his sun-soaked homeland. His wife Soledad takes young Isabel and Ulises hostage and flees with them to America, leaving behind Uxbal for the promise of a better life. But instead of settling with fellow Cuban immigrants in Miami’s familiar heat, Soledad pushes further north into the stark, wintry landscape of Hartford, Connecticut. There, in the long shadow of their estranged patriarch, now just a distant memory, the exiled mother, and her children begin a process of growth and transformation.
Thoughts: In college, I became keenly interested in Latin American history, in large part because it’s my own family’s history. But the history of Cuba and its expat community in the United States holds a particular fascination for me. Expat literature, in particular, is often laden with the pain of diaspora and the long-lasting difficulties that come with being forced to leave one’s island.
The Guineveres, Sarah Domet
Synopsis: Vere, Gwen, Ginny, and Win come to The Sisters of the Supreme Adoration by different paths, delivered into the rigorous and austere care of Sister Fran. Each has their own complicated, heartbreaking story that they safeguard. But together they are the all powerful and confident The Guineveres, bound by the extraordinary coincidence of their names and girded against the indignities of their plain, sequestered lives. Together, they learn about God, history, and, despite the nuns’ protestations, sex. They learn about the saints whose revival stories of faith and pain are threaded through their own. But above all, they plot their futures, when they can leave the convent and finally find a true home. But when four comatose soldiers, casualties of the War looming outside, arrive at the convent, The Guineveres’ friendship is tested in ways they could never have foreseen.
Thoughts: I read a description of this book and learned it was compared to Jeffrey Eugenides‘ Virgin Suicides, which is one of my favorite books. I knew I had to read it asap, so I’m putting it at the top of my TBR list for the year.
Have you read any of the books on this list?!
Tell us which books you’re most looking forward to reading in the comments below!
Be sure to keep up with the Paperback Paris Team’s monthly TBRs!