Were books your first true love? This Valentine’s Day, we recommend cuddling up with: Patricia Highsmith’s controversial and romantic novel-turned-Oscar-nominated movie, the new paranormal YA romance from Kiera Cass, an introspective look at identity politics and motherhood, and a washed-up wizard caught up in hilarious havoc.
Freya: It might be a cliché to read a love story in February, but Carol is far from the typical romance novel. At the time of its first publication, the story of Therese Belivet and Carol Aird—two women falling in love in 1950s New York City—was both controversial in its subject matter and unprecedented in its non-stereotypical portrayal of homosexuality. Therese, a 19-year-old struggling set designer temping as a shop girl, falls in love with Carol, an older suburban housewife in the midst of divorce and a child custody battle. Author Patricia Highsmith masterfully portrays the magnetism between them upon their first meeting—their eyes lock across a crowded room, and from then on, their fate seems sealed. This story has higher stakes than just unrequited love and broken hearts; by pursuing one another in midcentury America, they stand to lose everything. Carol is a deeply felt, deeply romantic piece of fiction, and the novel makes for required reading before seeing the Oscar-nominated film adaptation.
Angela: As we anxiously await the release of the next book in The Selection series, Kiera Cass has released this standalone novel to tide us over (#sorrynotsorry). Focused on themes like love and loyalty between mothers, daughters, sisters, and lovers, The Siren follows Kahlen, a girl who is turned into a siren after she nearly drowns while on a family trip. In exchange, she is forced to serve the Ocean for 100 years with her other siren sisters, luring humans to their death. With only 20 years left before she’s freed, Kahlen comes across a human, Akinli, with whom she falls in love—and who tests everything Kahlen has learned and done. This beautiful twist on siren mythology and The Little Mermaid will make you wish that The Siren was the start of a series.
Alex P.: The Argonauts somehow escaped my reading list in 2015, only to reclaim a space early this year after its flurry of nods in “Best of” lists and a nomination for an NBCC Award. Straddling criticism and memoir, Maggie Nelson explores the most cerebral aspects of identity politics and our evolving—and occasionally contradictory—relationship to motherhood with startlingly personal insights. At one point she notes, “writing has always felt more clarifying than creative to me;” She has a gift for making abstract philosophical concerns feel immediate and essential, tying everything from psychology to art to the physical experiences of child rearing together in succinct, insightful paragraphs. The Argonauts is a powerful exploration of what it means to live in a perpetual state of becoming, without ever fully arriving.
The Color of Magic
Ashley: This first volume in the expansive Discworld series may be short, but its many hilarious jabs at epic fantasy tropes pack a punch. Even if you’ve only lightly dabbled in fantasy with hits like Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings, it’s easy to understand most of the satirical jokes in this tale about a failed wizard who’s recruited as a tour guide for an obscenely rich tourist looking for adventure. The charm of The Color of Magic comes both from its zany characters (including a delightful portrayal of Death) parodying well-worn fantasy archetypes, and the lore of the world, which contains a laugh-out-loud Big Bang theory within the first few pages. While The Color of Magic may not be considered the late Terry Pratchett’s finest work, it is the gateway into his most beloved series. On the heels of the last Discworld book’s release, now’s the perfect time to jump in and see what the hullabaloo is all about.
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