Welcome to Smugglivus 2017! Throughout this month, we will have guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2017, looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2018, and more.
Today’s Smugglivus guest is Jenny Hamilton, blogger, reader, podcaster at Reading the End
Please give it up for Jenny, everybody!
Five Books I Read in 2017 about Nice People Trying Their Best (and One Where Everyone’s a Monster)
In a year where the world has been so much on fire that California has been literally on fire, I’ve been on the hunt for books that make me feel comfortable and happy—not as easy a search as you might imagine! I’ve always been fond of books where the characters are good and kind, but particularly in a year that sees me calling my congresspeople at least once a week to beg for the lives of the poor and sick and female. As we leave this hideous year behind and welcome in a new one that will hopefully PLEASE DEAR GOD be better, here are five books I read this year that prioritize kindness and connection.
Insomniac City, Bill Hayes
Bill Hayes was the partner of neurologist Oliver Sacks, and Insomniac City is a love letter to him and to the city of New York. Does the city of New York need more love letters? Eh, maybe not. But Hayes has the knack of writing about who and what he loves in a way that does not elide strangeness or flaws on one side, or fight shy of genuine emotion on the other. His memories of Oliver Sacks, and his recollections of the many different sides he has seen of New York City, are suffused with ineffable tenderness.
Umami, Laia Jufresa, translated by Sophie Hughes
Why did Umami not win all the prizes? The literary world is a puzzlement. (Dot dot dot I am now being told it won several of the prizes and I shouldn’t be so greedy.) This novel from Mexican author Laia Jufresa tells the story of a neighborhood whose houses are named after the four recognized tastes (plus umami). The community has been marked by two losses: the landlord’s wife Noelia, who died of cancer, and the youngest daughter of the family in the Sweet house, Luz. Umami is the story of how they manage. It is sad, and lovely.
Thorn, Intisar Khanani
Admittedly you may wish to hold off on Thorn until it is republished in its entire glory by Harper Teen in 2019. On the other hand, that is a long time from now, and the night is dark and full of terrors. Thorn is a retelling of the Grimm fairy tale “The Goose Girl,” and like all of Khanani’s books, it offers characters who always, always try to choose light, no matter how dark their worlds seem. Khanani’s typically brilliant with her worldbuilding, and she manages to make plot sense out of fairy tale logic—no mean feat!
Mars Evacuees, Sophia McDougall
Tell me you don’t want to read a book that was rejected by early publishers for featuring too many girls in space. Only joking, it is impossible that you could tell me that! Girls in space are the queens of the world! Mars Evacuees is about a girl called Alice whose mother is a fighter pilot attempting to repel the aliens that have invaded earth. Alice’s mum’s bravery means that Alice gets priority evacuation from Earth to Mars, which is being terraformed to permit human residence there. All well and good, until the grown-ups all disappear from base one day, and Alice and her friends are left to fend for themselves with nobody but a goldfish-shaped robot to help them. It’s all about friendship and communication (and a little bit of alien sex ed).
When Dimple Met Rishi, Sandhya Menon
Has enough ink been spilled yet on the charms of When Dimple Met Rishi? It’s the romcom everyone’s heart seemed to have been yearning for this year. Dimple’s a passionate web developer; Rishi’s a family man–wannabe. The inestimable value of a tough, angry heroine who’s passionate about her career and a gentle, courteous hero who wants a family and values integrity and kindness really can’t be overstated.
White Tears, Hari Kunzru
Nobody in White Tears is trying their best. Everybody is terrible. It’s still probably the best book I read this year. White Tears is about two white guys who record a bluesy song in Union Square, mess around with the audio, and make it sound like a vintage blues recording by a black artist they’ve made up. The next thing they know, that made-up artist has become a violent ghost haunting their lives. To describe White Tears as bananas is to do it no justice, but there is no word in the English language that adequately describes the wildness of this ride, so bananas will have to do.
For 2018, I wish you all a houseful of books about kindness. I wish that they may inspire all of us to keep choosing kindness even when choosing selfishness is easier.