There are books for certain weather, workloads and moods. There are books that satisfy our need for a high body count, or for the tilling of the land. We need to escape, sometimes, from the news and from scrolling social media feeds. We escape to Three Pines or Port William or Baltimore. What a gift! There are so many reasons to read and so many ways that books can reset and refresh us.
I have needed that in 2018.
In between my favourites (old and new), there are a few novels that I read this year that have been a different kind of gift. Not so much an escape, more an invitation.
I have muttered at the radio a lot in 2018. I have wondered at the certainty expressed on placards and in memes. How could I ever fit all my complicated thoughts and conflicting emotions on a topic on to a placard? How could I ever have the certainty to wave it in the air? These 3 novels, however, have invited me into the kind of issues I sometimes want to escape from.
These novels have simultaneously calmed me down and got under my skin. I think this is because instead of headlines and soundbites they offer story. Deep, wide, nuanced story. We don’t have to align ourselves with a slogan after all, we can read many more words than that.
Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
Is it better not knowing the ugly truth, and pretending it doesn’t exist? Or is it better to confront it, even though the knowledge may be a weight you carry around forever?
I hadn’t read any Jodi Picoult books for a few years and had forgotten how well she tackles controversial issues in a nuanced manner. She thoroughly educates herself on her subject matter and then puts a very human face on it through her novels, giving voice to both sides. Small Great Things was recommended to me by my friend Tory and explores prejudice, race and justice. In trademark Picoult style – ordinary lives intersect in this novel which is written from the point of view of a black nurse, a skinhead father and a well-intended white lawyer (who would never consider herself racist). It is a powerful and provocative book and it encouraged me to pick up a few more Picoult books this year. Her latest novel, A Spark of Light, which centres around an abortion clinic, is on my TBR list for 2019. I really appreciated her conversation with Jen Hatmaker about it on this podcast.
Beartown by Fredrik Backman
The first thing that happens in a conflict is that we choose a side, because that’s easier than trying to hold two thoughts in our heads at the same time. The second thing that happens is that we seek out facts that confirm what we want to believe – comforting facts, ones that permit life to go on as normal. The third is that we dehumanize our enemy.
On the surface this is a story about ice-hockey, although it is much more than that. This book is a very different style to Backman’s other books, which are uplifting and quirky. There are many characters and dimensions to the story which make it slow to get into, but which work powerfully in the end. The subject matter is difficult (trigger warning), but timely and necessary. The injustice that surrounds what unfolds feels both unbelievable, yet sadly, believable. I found myself thinking about this story for a long time afterwards and am looking forward to reading the sequel Us Against You.
This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
Our first concern is his happiness of course; but not just today.
Because it wasn’t that simple was it? Raising children was the longest of long games.
This is the story of an endearing family navigating hard questions that turn into even harder ones. The title of the book comes from the idea that parents often make huge decisions about their kids that feel like guesses. In this sense the book helps us relate to a situation that many of us have no experience of. Yet the decisions faced by Rosie and Penn feel truly impossible, with far-reaching consequences. The book gives such insight into the struggles faced by this family. It lets us eavesdrop on the conversations in the kitchen between 2 parents as they go around in circles trying to decide on behalf of their child. It captures the depths of their fear and their love.
I think, perhaps, before we ever take a ‘position’ on an issue, we should eavesdrop on these kinds of conversations. A book that can capture them is truly a gift.
What about you? What books are you grateful to have read in 2018?
(All Amazon links are affiliate links which means I get a few pennies from your purchase, at no extra cost to you!)