“Reading! Now!” I find myself barking, again, at my pandemic-weary 16 year old, waking them up from yet another nap. “Book!” reminding them about their assigned Accelerated Reader book, the due-in-three-days book, the didn’t-you-miss-the-last-deadline book. “Now!” I nag, “Reading!” as I find them once again distracted by a screen, seeking solace in digital art projects and YouTube fandoms. I feel the pang of parental guilt as I weigh my child’s mental health against their academic success, wondering how to fulfill educational obligations while preserving that sense of refuge and joy and self-discovery reading has always given me.
Books led me through childhood like Irene’s grandmother’s invisible thread, invited me to carve adolescent wombs of transformation like Sam Gribley’s tree. They promised an ever-present Hobbit-hole to return to as my partner and I peregrinated across the country, each time roosting further from our childhood homes. In the years of a beer, a book, and a baby-at-the-breast, reading was my Ooloi, finding and fixing the broken places in my soul’s DNA, fortifying my breastmilk with more than mere nutrients and calories and antibodies, wrapping myself and my offspring in a web of well-being that connected us to each other and the ends of the universe.
Whether it is an effective parenting approach, “Reading! Now!” is expedient, and I don’t think I’ll be able to kick the habit. But perhaps I can include myself in the imperative. And you, dear reader! Let us detach ourselves from Moira Rose’s “cauldron of self absorption” and instead pick up that volume we’ve meant to start reading–now.
“‘Join our fun virtual book club!'” recalls Literary Reflections Editor, Kimberly Lee. “The school my fifteen-year-old attends started a book group for parents this past year to keep families connected. I was hesitant to add another zoom-based commitment to my schedule, but now I’m glad I did, one reason being that it brought V.E. Schwab’s The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue to my attention. Beginning in 1698 and spanning several centuries, this epic work pulls the reader in, spellbound, to the magical tale Schwab weaves. As a young girl, Adeline LaRue lives a simple country life, punctuated only by the wonders and excitement she experiences when traveling with her father to other cities, where he markets his woodworking masterpieces. The trips cease when Addie is sixteen and her parents reveal their plan to marry her off to a man she barely knows, confining her to a predictable life of obligation. Out of desperation, Addie runs off before the wedding, hoping the gods will rescue her. She calls on them without taking heed of the advice from the town’s wise and mysterious sage: ‘Never pray to the gods that answer after dark.’ When a seductive, otherworldly stranger offers her an extraordinary existence on certain conditions, she takes the bait. Addie soon discovers a difficult caveat to the deal and must learn to navigate the practicalities of living while trying to develop meaningful, lasting relationships. We follow Addie on her adventures—and her uncanny influence on major works of art over the centuries—all the way to the day she meets someone new, someone who might just change her destiny. Schwab’s engaging characters and exquisite details make for a haunting tale with universal themes, including the various manifestations of love and the nature of a person’s legacy.”
“One of the advantages of social media,” writes Senior Editor Christina Consolino, “is the increased exposure to information, ideas, and authors I might have never encountered before. One such author is Ronni Robinson, whose debut memoir, Out of the Pantry: A Disordered Eating Journey, released in 2020. Robinson takes on a deeply personal subject in this memoir—her complicated relationship with food—and cracks it wide open, revealing the hard truths of overeating and compulsive eating. Robinson plants the reader right into her story, opening with a prologue that recounts an episode in her adult life and well into her recovery journey, a moment when she allowed ‘a mere object—food—to control [her] thoughts and [her] life.’ Then, Robinson takes us back in time to third grade and writes about ‘a shimmer of happiness’ that ‘seemed to float down while eating’ cookies. The book follows young Robinson as she moves through adolescence, as she turns to food for comfort, as she hears the silent message that food sent her: ‘I am here for you and always will be.’ Sadly, that food can’t help her when she chooses to date and eventually marry her first husband, who is both manipulative and controlling. As honest and authentic as Out of the Pantry is with respect to disordered eating and emotional abuse, it’s also a genuine look at healthy, uplifting relationships with others and yourself. Despite her years of struggle, Robinson meets her second husband, Efrem, who helps guide and support her in her quest to heal, giving her confidence to trust herself. At the end of the book, Robinson tells readers that before her recovery, highly emotional moments would have been ‘fully justifiable reasons for turning to food to cope and comfort myself. Now, I turn to myself. I’m all I need.’ The book speaks of resilience and hope and gives readers a sense that they, too, can overcome their own personal obstacles.”
“Two of my favorite recent reads made me recall a moment in college when my philosophy professor asked us to prove we were alive,” shares Profiles and Reviews Editorial Assistant, Lolita Pierce. “Most students pointed to what makes us human, as though perception of self provides proof of life. This variation on the thought experiment posed by Rene Descartes echos in Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro and The Employees by Olga Ravn (currently shortlisted for the 2021 International Booker Prize). The artificially intelligent beings in these books — artificial friends in Klara and artificial co-workers in Employees — ask ‘am I human?’
“Klara is one of the many Artificial Friends in a store that sells companions for lonely children. Uniquely observant, Klara bonds with a sick young girl named Josie. Through Klara’s eyes we are privy to a surreal, near-future landscape where the world is deeply divided into ‘lifted’ and ‘unlifted’ children. ‘Unlifted’ children have fewer opportunities, but ‘lifted’ children run the risk that their bodies cannot handle genetic modification. Despite lifting and losing Josie’s sister, Josie’s mother (known by Klara as “the Mother”) takes that risk again. While officially tasked with perpetuating friendship, Klara is also tasked by the Mother to imitate Josie so that Klara might ‘continue Josie’ after her death. Though Klara knows that she could ‘learn Josie’ she also knows, ‘however hard I tried, I believe now there would have remained something beyond my reach.’ Learning Josie’s heart, Klara learns, involves ‘rooms within rooms’ and there would ‘always be others you’d not yet entered.’ But Klara, a robot capable of perceiving and responding to human emotion and need, ultimately becomes the embodiment of empathy, one of the highest states of humanity.
“The Six-Thousand Ship in The Employees carries human and humanoid employees working in space. They are a harmonious crew until objects brought aboard make the born and unborn co-workers desire things that are far-away reminders of Earth, and foreign longings for the humanoids: cold snow on the tongue, children, the smell of wet soil, the taste of bananas with whipped cream, the sky. But snow is now alkaline, children are holograms and soil is as long gone as Earth. There is no sky. The objects remind the employees of things like sex, sadness and love, things that cause low performance, melancholy and death on the job. So a committee decides to interview the crew and the novel consists of their statements. At times, the humans and humanoids are indiscernible, even when asking: ‘what would it mean for me to know that I was not living?’ As the humans hurtle toward extinction and the humanoids toward life without them, both contemplate their own creation: ‘I’m living. No matter what you say. I’m never going to believe otherwise.’ By blurring the distinctions between humans and humanoids, Ravn asks us to question the supremacy of human experience. Can we prove life while living inside it? Questioning life, and humanity, involves a thought experiment that implicates us all.”
By Olga Ravn
Lolli, 2020; 133 pp.; £12.99Buy Book