Top Reads for March
As the days become longer, spend less time hibernating and more time reading with these books: The latest from Valeria Luiselli, a Game of Thrones prequel story, sick-lit’s latest big blockbuster, and a dystopian where winters are now essentially Ice Ages.
Lost Children Archive
Alex: At one point in Valeria Luiselli’s extraordinary new novel, her narrator takes the piss out of the pretentious opinions she overhears at a book club:
“The bewildering consensus among them seems to be that the value of the novel they are discussing is that it is not a novel. That it is fiction but also it is not.”
It’s hard to imagine that Luiselli didn’t write this in part to spite her own reviewers, who — though they may well laud the writing, the characterization, the plotting — are inevitably going to focus on the all-too-real sociopolitical meat of this novel: its portrait of the current refugee crisis at the Mexico-America border. And, even more so, the portrait of Americans consuming news of the crisis as they go about their daily lives, live out their smaller personal crises. This is a story of a family on the brink of falling apart as they traverse a nation at war with its own values. It’s the story of a woman who wants to document the experiences of children who fled war and violence, only to be kept in cages — children who have lost the chance to be children. This is some weighty stuff.
But the novel doesn’t feel heavy. It’s filled with moments of levity and tenderness, as the narrator notices the weird joys and entertaining nonsense of parenting, as she and her husband find beauty in the quotidian sounds of life, as their family drives through the majestic beauty and cringeworthy kitsch of America. It’s an unflinching reflection of our world as it is, even as it employs fiction’s ability to transport and entertain. Ultimately I find — this, despite my fears of falling into the reviewer trap — that a large part of the value of this novel is not that it is fiction but also not, but that it is fiction and also truth.
Fire & Blood
Andrew: Game of Thrones Season 8 (the final one!) premieres on April 14th, but how are you staying sane until then? Personally, I’m reading Fire & Blood, George R.R. Martin’s history of the Targaryen reign in Westeros.
It’s way more readable than you’d expect from what’s basically a 700-page history text! Martin imbues every line with his trademark character and dry humor, and it helps that Fire & Blood is written in-character as a Maester, much like The World of Ice & Fire, another book that’s well worth the time of any Game of Thrones fan.
If you want to learn more about Aegon the Conqueror, the Dance of Dragons, Aegon III (also known as “The Boy King”), and so much more that’s only alluded to in the Game of Thrones series and show, this is the book for you.
Five Feet Apart
Ashley: As disturbing as it may seem, “sick-lit” (a subgenre of YA about debilitating illnesses and suicide) is having a vibrant moment in the spotlight these days thanks to adaptations of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon, and Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. (These examples are all worthy of their cultural cachet, in my opinion.) Five Feet Apart, about two teens who have cystic fibrosis (a disorder that affects the lungs and digestive tracks) falling in love with each other (CFers can’t get too close to each other due to the increased risk of infection), is the latest to receive the movie adaptation treatment. (You see what I did there? I know, groan.)
Stella (played by Haley Lu Richardson) follows all the rules, makes extensive to-do lists, and hopes for new lungs to replace her rapidly failing ones. Will (played by Cole Sprouse) is a rebel who wants to experience life outside of a hospital’s walls, even if that means he’ll die much sooner. Sure, maybe you’ve seen this story on an episode of Grey’s Anatomy before, but who doesn’t love a good episode of Grey’s Anatomy? (I’ve watched the first 14 seasons of Grey’s. I cry almost constantly.) Five Feet Apart is a worthy addition to the popular sick-lit subgenre.
Marissa: Early Riser is a romping mystery set against the backdrop of a wintry wasteland. It’s set in an alternate reality in which the winters are mini Ice Ages, most people hibernate through the season, and order is kept by the solitary Winter Consuls, laws unto themselves. Charlie Worthing leaps at the chance to escape his dreary life and join the Winter Consuls, and is immediately thrown into an investigation of viral dreaming, that seems to be driving the dreamers mad, and eventually killing them. It’s the Wild West of winter, and Charlie has to face not only the cold and deadly dreams, but braindead walkers who never quite woke up, a tenuous truce with raiding winter outlaws, and the mysterious, perhaps imaginary boogie monsters of the winter. Reminiscent of a Coen brothers movie or Douglas Adams, Jasper Fforde’s Early Riser was a book I couldn’t put down and never wanted to end. It’s fast-paced, fun, and thoroughly satisfying.