My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh Review

Title: My Year of Rest and Relaxation
Author: Ottessa Moshfegh
Genre: Contemporary
Blurb: Our narrator should be happy, shouldn’t she? She’s young, thin, pretty, a recent Columbia graduate, works an easy job at a hip art gallery, lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan paid for, like the rest of her needs, by her inheritance. But there is a dark and vacuous hole in her heart, and it isn’t just the loss of her parents, or the way her Wall Street boyfriend treats her, or her sadomasochistic relationship with her best friend, Reva. It’s the year 2000 in a city aglitter with wealth and possibility; what could be so terribly wrong?

My Year of Rest and Relaxation is a powerful answer to that question. Through the story of a year spent under the influence of a truly mad combination of drugs designed to heal our heroine from her alienation from this world, Moshfegh shows us how reasonable, even necessary, alienation can be. Both tender and blackly funny, merciless and compassionate, it is a showcase for the gifts of one of our major writers working at the height of her powers.

Me: I've seen this incredible cover everywhere, and finally decided to see what the hype was about. Definitely nothing like I expected, but not too groundbreaking or even really that interesting. 

The Girls by Emma Cline Review

Title: The Girls
Author: Emma Cline
Genre: Historical Fiction
Blurb: Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.

Me: One distinctive change from this summer has been that I've started to actively read more adult contemporary fiction, a genre that I mostly avoided unless books were critically acclaimed. It's been really nice, keeping me reading not just for education but for fun, and has also shown me some general flaws of popular "literary" or adult fiction. The Girls was one of those, where I found myself extremely interested in the story yet not entirely compelled by the writing, not intoxicated by the world of the book. 

Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin Review

Title: Giovanni's Room
Author: James Baldwin
Genre: Fiction

Blurb: Baldwin's haunting and controversial second novel is his most sustained treatment of sexuality, and a classic of gay literature. In a 1950s Paris swarming with expatriates and characterized by dangerous liaisons and hidden violence, an American finds himself unable to repress his impulses, despite his determination to live the conventional life he envisions for himself. After meeting and proposing to a young woman, he falls into a lengthy affair with an Italian bartender and is confounded and tortured by his sexual identity as he oscillates between the two.

Examining the mystery of love and passion in an intensely imagined narrative, Baldwin creates a moving and complex story of death and desire that is revelatory in its insight. 

Me: I haven't read such beautiful fiction in a while. Baldwin's command of language is just absolutely mind-blowing, and creates the most stunning atmosphere of Paris, all the while capturing some of the most complex facets of love and desire with such clarity. 

Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong Review

Title: Minor Feelings
Author: Cathy Park Hong
Genre: Nonfiction

Blurb: Poet and essayist Cathy Park Hong blends memoir, cultural criticism, and history to expose the truth of racialized consciousness in America. Binding these essays together is Hong's theory of "minor feelings." As the daughter of Korean immigrants, Cathy Park Hong grew up steeped in shame, suspicion, and melancholy. She would later understand that these "minor feelings" occur when American optimism contradicts your own reality—when you believe the lies you're told about your own racial identity.

Hong uses her own story as a portal into a deeper examination of racial consciousness in America today. This book traces her relationship to the English language, to shame and depression, to poetry and artmaking, and to family and female friendship in a search to both uncover and speak the truth.

Me: The greatest reading surprise of this summer has been just the incredible Asian American literature I have read. These books are, quite literally, the books I've been waiting for my entire life. Throughout my reading experience, there have been many books that have put into words feelings that I couldn't fully understand before. But none of them have made me feel as real and as seen as this one. 

Severance by Ling Ma Review

Title: Severance
Author: Ling Ma
Blurb: Candace Chen, a millennial drone self-sequestered in a Manhattan office tower, is devoted to routine. So she barely notices when a plague of biblical proportions sweeps New York. Then Shen Fever spreads. Families flee. Companies halt operations. The subways squeak to a halt. Soon entirely alone, still unfevered, she photographs the eerie, abandoned city as the anonymous blogger NY Ghost.

Candace won’t be able to make it on her own forever, though. Enter a group of survivors, led by the power-hungry IT tech Bob. They’re traveling to a place called the Facility, where, Bob promises, they will have everything they need to start society anew. But Candace is carrying a secret she knows Bob will exploit. Should she escape from her rescuers?

A send-up and takedown of the rituals, routines, and missed opportunities of contemporary life, Ling Ma’s Severance is a quirky coming-of-adulthood tale and satire.

Me: Eerily relevant and beautifully poignant, Severance was one I absolutely tore through. Such an incredible exploration of what we value in our contemporary world and what we need to be aware of going forward. 

The Hours by Michael Cunningham Review

Title: The Hours
Author: Michael Cunningham
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Blurb: In 1920s London, Virginia Woolf is fighting against her rebellious spirit as she attempts to make a start on her new novel. A young wife and mother, broiling in a suburb of 1940s Los Angeles, yearns to escape and read her precious copy of Mrs Dalloway. And Clarissa Vaughan steps out of her smart Greenwich village apartment in 1990s New York to buy flowers for a party she is hosting for a dying friend.

The Hours recasts the classic story of Woolf's Mrs Dalloway in a startling new light. Moving effortlessly across the decades and between England and America, this exquisite novel intertwines the worlds of three unforgettable women.

Me: After reading Mrs. Dalloway for the second time and being even more blown away, I decided to pick up The Hours and see how Cunningham's interpretation/inspiration from the book would be. For what initially seemed like a glorified fanfiction, it was the closest to a real homage to Woolf I think anyone could have written. But nothing comes close to the real thing.

The Anti-Racist Bookshelf

This past week, I've been thinking a lot of what I can do to contribute to not only this current moment, but also to combat racism and anti-Black violence in my daily life. It's such a crucial and significant topic that I want to make sure I'm doing the most I can, while not overstepping any boundaries when it comes to performative activism/insufficient allyship. 

One thing I've seen circulating a lot is lists of books to read to educate ourselves on racism and its pervasive effects in our country and our world. I still truly believe that literature and stories can be one of the greatest catalysts for change, where we take a moment to really understand someone else. For me personally, literature was fundamental in my understanding of racism/police brutality/inequity in our society, and I want to do what I can so others can learn from these incredible books too. 

So without further ado, books for an anti-racist bookshelf.