So this has been a year when sitting down to write book reviews has not been my strong suit. According to Goodreads, I’ve read 47 books and that may actually be missing one or two; however, I don’t think I’m going to make it to a half Cannonball this year.
So, here are some books that I read this fall that I thought were worth mentioning, even if I didn’t give them full reviews at the time.
American Like Me-Reflections on Life Between Cultures: America Ferrera
I didn’t think there was much that could make me like America Ferrera more but this book did it. It’s a collection of short memoir pieces beginning with Ferrera’s own, exploring what it’s like to grow up in the United States moving “between cultures.”
There were essays by people I knew like Roxane Gay, Randall Park, Lin Manuel Miranda, and Kal Penn and pieces by people I want to learn more about like Martin Sensmeier and Tanaya Winder.
Reading this book felt like a giant raised finger to this new world order and that made me love it all the more.
Becoming: Michelle Obama
I got this book when it first came out in 2018 but put off reading it until last August when it was the selection for my book club. Obama is an effective if not incredible writer and her story is inspiring and well told. I appreciated her honesty at so many points in the memoir, whether it was talking about her workaholic tendencies as a high school and college student or contrasting her more button downed style with her husband’s.
For much of the second half of the book, I just wanted to run out in the street and howl Trevor Noah-style, “Obamaaaaaa!” Her descriptions of how seriously she and Barack Obama took their time in the White House and the thoughtful way they approached their roles made my heart hurt. Also, after reading this memoir, you not only know that Michelle Obama will never run for president but you understand why.
Lab Girl: Hope Jahren
If you had told me before I read this memoir, that a book about the life of a scientist who is passionate about trees would be a page-turner for me, I would have laughed. However, Hope Jahren’s memoir really pulled me in with her vividly beautiful writing style and fascinating reflections on both the lives of trees and the life of a female scientist fighting her way through the very male world of scientific research.
So Big: Edna Ferber
If it wasn’t for my book club, I don’t know if I ever would have discovered this author, though once I learned about her, the connections were everywhere. For much of the first half of the 20th century, Edna Ferber wrote novels, short stories, and plays—many of which were made into Broadway and Hollywood hits like Show Boat and Giant. While living in New York, she occasionally joined the Algonquin Round Table and had a running feud with the critic, Alexander Wolcott.
So Big was Ferber’s 4th novel and she won the Pulitzer Prize for it in 1924. Though written a little less than 100 years ago, this novel felt surprisingly contemporary. It tells the story of Selina Peake, whose adventurous life with her gambler father takes a complicated turn when she is nineteen and her father is shot and killed in a Chicago gambling house. Selina goes out into a rural community south of the city to work as a schoolteacher but within a year, she is married to a local farmer and pregnant with a son, the “so big” of the title.
Selina is smart, creative, and hardworking and sees ways to turn her husband’s struggling farm around but her suggestions are ignored and times are tough. It isn’t until her husband dies suddenly, that Selina is able to take control and work towards a successful life. The irony of the novel is that though she works hard and sacrifices much to give her son the best of everything, he does not live up to the destiny she tries to give him.
They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us: Hanif Abdurraquib
Hanif Abdurraquib is a new author to me as well but I’m now on board to read anything he creates in whatever form it takes. This book of essays explores race, class, and music—sometimes all at the same time—and more times than I could count, I finished a piece and felt my eyes prickle with tears. The writing is just that damm good whether Abdurraquib is explaining the appeal of Carly Rae Jepson, describing the magic of Prince’s 2007 Superbowl appearance, or the importance of Barack Obama inviting rappers into the White House. He is often not speaking to me directly and often speaking of issues I cannot fully understand, but what I do know is that it is very important that I listen.