Now Reading: February 2019
Literary Mama staff have been busy readers this month and we’ve picked five of our favorites for you to add to your reading list.
Managing Editor Hope Donovan Rider shares these two new versions of a classic: “I am an avid Jane Austen devotee, and I am always game for a good retelling, so it is with pleasure that I recently found two new adaptations of Pride and Prejudice. The first, Pride by Ibi Zoboi, sets the tale in modern Brooklyn, where the Haitian-Dominican Benitz sisters face familial expectations, gentrification, and of course, the handsome and rich new neighbors—this time brothers Ainsley and Darius Darcy. Through the eyes of Zuri, the Elizabeth of this version, we see the same class distinctions that Austen skewers in terms of money and the privilege it brings, while adding the extra dimension of race and the impact of gentrification on neighborhoods and relationships. The second retelling is Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal. This version is transposed to modern day Pakistan, where the expectations for marriage, wealth, and propriety are strikingly similar to England in Austen’s time. Encouraged to make a good match by their loving but single-minded mother, the Binat sisters must navigate their way to happiness through a heavily patriarchal society that only values a woman if she marries well. Their efforts are hampered by old scandals and a lack of fortune. Both retellings deftly weave the original story into new settings, highlighting the ways people and society have and have not changed in the centuries since Austen first wrote Pride and Prejudice, while retaining the liveliness and wit of the original.”
Jamie Sumner, Reviews Editor, recommends this gem: “I came upon Samira Ahmed’s Love, Hate and Other Filters by accident. It wasn’t recommended to me. I didn’t read a review about it. I didn’t see it on Goodreads. I happened to be passing by the new fiction section in my local library and it caught my eye. And I am so glad it did. This book is both light and heavy. Light, because the protagonist is so funny and feisty. Maya is an Indian-American 17-year-old who plans to move to New York and be a filmmaker. This is in direct opposition to her parents’ wishes. She rebels against their matchmaking, secretly applies to NYU, and works in a bookstore. But there is another layer here—the story of a radical, a terrorist who commits an act so heinous that the ripple effect reaches Maya’s small community and throws her relatively normal teenage world into chaos. This novel is a story of fear and hope, bigotry and love. And Maya will capture your heart with her honesty and bravery.”
Profiles Editor, Kelsey Madges, was inspired by this book: “It isn’t often that I finish a book and am immediately overcome with the impulse to write to the author and tell her how much her work touched me, but that is the exact response I had to Laurie Frankel’s This Is How It Always Is. Frankel tells the story of a loving couple with five boys—that is until the youngest child begins to express the fact that he is really a girl. A cross-country move enables the family to begin again, with four boys and a girl, figuring the fresh start will allow their youngest child to be true to herself. What unfolds is a complex story of competing desires and the all-too-familiar parental struggle to do the right thing for the children when it seems there are so many ways to go wrong. Passage after passage of this novel stopped me in my tracks with wisdom about parenting and about writing, as the father in the story is an aspiring novelist. I adored the way Frankel’s characters discuss the paradox of parenting, ‘You never know. You only guess. This is how it always is. You have to make these huge decisions on behalf of your kid, this tiny human whose fate and future is entirely in your hands, who trusts you to know what’s good and right and then be able to make it happen. You never have enough information. You never get to see the future.’ Exactly. While I am not parenting a trans child, I could not get over how true this story felt. This is How it Always Is is a novel that will water the seeds of compassion into the hearts of its readers.”
Juli Anna Herndon, Poetry Editor, takes us in a different direction with her recommendation: “I live in New England, and when the freezing, grey weather hits in February, I can’t keep from burying myself in books about plants. This year, I have been reading the incredible Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer and it has me completely enchanted. Braiding Sweetgrass is in the lineage of A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and other works of poetic natural history which are as wild and personal as they are informative. Kimmerer is a Potawatomi botanist, academic, and mother, and this collection of essays is about the ways in which scientific and indigenous knowledge systems complement and support each other. In the light of climate change and the destruction of wilderness, she advocates for a reciprocal relationship between humans and the non-human inhabitants of the earth, one which is healing and mutually supportive. She also elucidates the idea of the natural world as a gift economy, which honors relationships and plenty over profit and scarcity. This doesn’t read like philosophy or a manifesto though; she makes her ideas plain through her accounts of the plants she loves. Kimmerer’s scientific understanding of the natural world in these essays is greatly enhanced by her poetic and spiritual sensibilities, making this collection at once informative and luscious. Woven through all of these essays is a richly wrought thread of personal narrative. Kimmerer’s accounts of motherhood and, in particular, the experience of her youngest daughter leaving home are impossible to read without tearing up. This book has easily made it to my list of favorites, and I can’t wait to share it with so many people in my life!”
Which books have inspired you to want to buy a copy for all of your friends? We’d love to hear in the comments or tweet us @LiteraryMama. You can also follow us on Instagram @Literary_Mama and Goodreads for more recommendations.