Top Books for June
With summer (and beach reading!) right around the corner, it’s time to: Do some yoga on the beach with tips from Instagram sensation Rachel Brathen, partake in some light reading that ponders deep moral questions with The 100 and Uncanny X-Force, and take a cinematic look at shifting identities in Dana Spiotta’s latest.
Niree: International Instagram sensation Rachel Brathen (aka @yoga_girl) has inspired millions of fans with her playful asanas and impressive arm balances since 2010. Just as with her feed, Brathen's first book Yoga Girl displays beautifully shot photos of difficult poses in exotic locales. But also like her feed, it's not necessarily the photo, but the caption, that truly resonates. Over the years, Brathen has laid herself bare to the world, writing at length about her struggles, fears, and triumphs. Similarly, Yoga Girl is full of her endless wisdom, honesty, and humor as she guides fans through love and loss, vinyasa flows and smoothie recipes. In her signature anecdotal style, Brathen unveils in Yoga Girl what it truly means to live the #yogaeverydamnday life.
Ashley: Complex ethical questions, sweet teen romances, and tense life-or-death suspense make Kass Morgan’s The 100 an addicting read. The titular 100 are all teenaged convicts slated for execution in a dying space colony carrying the last remnants of humanity. Colony leaders decide to send these 100 (supposed) criminals to Earth to gather data on whether the planet is still too toxic for life or fit to be recolonized.
The story shifts between the past and present of four characters—Clarke, Wells, and Bellamy, all sent to Earth and locked in a love triangle, as well as Glass, who escapes from the drop ship headed for Earth before it takes off. While all the mysteries about past crimes and Lord of the Flies-esque dilemmas faced by those on Earth are riveting, it’s Glass’ insights about life in space—the subtle scariness of the ship slowly failing and the rigid social class structure of the colony—that makes the story unique. Fans of the TV adaptation of The 100 will find plenty of differences in the book to provide a whole new dystopian perspective.
Innocents and Others
Alex: Dana Spiotta’s most recent novel focuses on a friendship between two women similar in their generalities and remarkably different in their particulars. Both children of Los Angeles, both transplants to New York, and both successful filmmakers, it’s no surprise that Meadow and Carrie are best friends. Until you consider all the ways their personalities and tastes differ—while Meadow focuses on art house cinema verité and probing documentaries, Carrie excels in creating the kinds of commercially successful comedies that take some of the “guilty” out of “pleasure.” As you might imagine, from here the novel explores philosophical questions about the nature of art—whether art for art’s sake is honesty or pretension, whether the manipulation inherent in the documentarian’s perspective renders such highbrow films as shallow as a rom-com.
For all the introspection, though, the book is a pure pleasure to read. Its insights about love and the lifelong friendship at its core are just as perceptive as its more cerebral contemplations. Which is one of the ironies of the book—with a novel that wouldn’t be out of place on the beach or in a museum café, Spiotta’s made the balance between artistry and commercial appeal look easy.
Uncanny X-Force: The Apocalypse Solution
Dave: Rick Remender’s work on Uncanny X-Force represents the best writing in comics since Chris Claremont’s run on Uncanny X-Men. In his first arc, “The Apocalypse Solution,” Remender uses the backdrop of superpowers and hard science fiction to explore the serious moral quandaries of premeditated murder and the ethics of serving “the greater good,” as Wolverine and X-Force embark on their first mission: kill Apocalypse, one of the most powerful villains in the Marvel universe.
The catch? When X-Force tracks down the villain in question, they find that he has been reincarnated as a child. They’re forced to decide whether or not to kill the child, even though they know he will grow up to—possibly—destroy the world.
Aside from Remender’s insidious plotting, what really stands out in Uncanny X-Force is the use of character. It would be easy to center all growth and interaction on Wolverine—arguably the most popular character in modern comics—but Remender strikes the perfect balance between fan service and subtle, honest character development. The comic gives equal care and attention to each of its main characters, a quality that makes Uncanny X-Force one of the best written comics of all time.
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