We asked everyone in the office to talk about their favorite books from last month. Take a look at our favorite reads from January, and let us know in the comments which books you’ll be adding to your to-read list. From sci-fi to mystery, there’s something for everyone here!
Page count: 216
Genre: Science Fiction
Publish date: 2020
I knew I wanted to read The Seep after seeing a post the author wrote for the Powell’s Books Blog called “In Praise of Attentiveness, Not Apocalypse: Imagining Freely with Chana Porter.” The apocalypse is an idea that’s been looming heavily on the horizon lately, but in both her blog post and her novel, Porter asks us to imagine not the end of the world, but a changed world—even, against all odds, a better world. In The Seep, benevolent aliens merge with humanity, leading to the peaceful collapse of capitalism and the end of many of our world’s worst problems. People are free to pursue their passions, feel their connection with all life, and even take on totally different forms—leading, inevitably, to a whole new set of problems.
Our heroine, fifty-year-old artist/doctor Trina FastHorse Goldberg-Oneka, worries that she’s stuck in the past, when life was a struggle and that struggle had meaning. When her wife decides to start her life over by becoming a baby again, Trina descends into an alcoholic depression and embarks on a psychedelic journey to confront both the aliens and her heartbreak—and, ultimately, to discover what makes life worth living in utopia. I found the resolution to her journey profoundly moving (and the inclusion of a talking bear, a hallucinatory talk show sequence, and a David Bowie song didn’t hurt).
Page count: 261
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publish date: 2014
I read Marilynne Robinson’s Lila, the third in the series that begins with Gilead and Home, very slowly, savoring it over the course of a long and looping week. In her The New York Times review for Lila, Michiko Kakutani compares its effect to “the stark poetry of Edward Hopper or Andrew Wyeth.” This feels right to me: while the sentences themselves are textured in a nearly painterly way—jagged and soft both, like tall grasses or dry corn stalks—the body of the novel is suffused with the open space characteristic of close loneliness and detailed thought. Its structure is interior and deeply moral, marked by grace and forgiveness as carried by the characters themselves and the keen attention Robinson gives them. At its core, Lila addresses the power of love and care to expand not only one’s person but also one’s thinking: it argues that when we love and allow ourselves to be loved, we commit to a lifelong conversation that (if we’re lucky) will change our souls.
Page count: 320
Publish date: 2009
This January, I read The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, a novel exploring the relationships among various people living in Prague in the 1960s, after the Soviet Union’s occupation of Prague. Though the political situation shapes the characters’ lives, the novel focuses mostly on their relationships with each other. The central question Kundera asks is, What is the best way to live? Is it being “light” and free, flitting from place to place, or is it being “heavy,” weighed down by the responsibilities of family and work? Each character grapples with this question in their own unique way.
Kundera’s prose is beautiful, and his philosophical opinions are simply stated but profoundly meaningful. He depicts each character with a tone of forgiveness and sympathy despite their flaws, their lies, and their betrayals of one another. Though much of the novel focuses on the characters’ sadness and fears, it is never overly depressing and always maintains an air of hope. I cannot recommend this novel enough. It has quickly launched itself into my top five books.
—Anna, Editing Intern
Page count: 285
Publish date: 2017
This month I read Jesmyn Ward’s 2017 novel, Sing, Unburied, Sing. Set in modern-day Mississippi, it paints a stunning and oftentimes brutal picture of how racism, poverty, incarceration, and drug use impact thirteen-year-old protagonist Jojo and his family. Ward deftly weaves together the past and present through a rotating cast of narrators—both living and dead. The plot of the novel revolves around an impromptu family road trip: Jojo and his younger sister, Kayla, accompany their emotionally distant mother, Leonie, in picking up Leonie’s boyfriend from Parchman prison. The ensuing journey is filled with tragic revelations on both a personal and historical level, with the different narrators confronting issues such as racial prejudice in the legal system and the cycles of poverty and abuse. However, despite its often dark—and tragically timely—subjects, Sing, Unburied, Sing is suffused with affection for its setting and characters. Even selfish and abusive Leonie is portrayed with a level of care and complexity that prevents her from being the villain she might have been in less capable hands. Instead, Ward weaves everything together with threads of hope, healing, and a vibrant sense of magical realism that allows Jojo to confront the violence of the past without succumbing to it.
—Marissa, Editing Intern
Page count: 415
Publish date: 2014
When Amy Dunn disappears on the day of her fifth wedding anniversary, a trail of evidence indicates her husband, Nick, may be the one to blame. The investigation into Amy’s disappearance unveils dark, deep cracks in a seemingly perfect marriage. As Nick tries to prove his innocence, readers are left to question: What really happened to Amy?
I have been obsessively indulging in Gillian Flynn works since December. Starting with Dark Places, I went on to quickly consume Sharp Objects and, finally, Gone Girl. Gone Girl is my favorite work Gillian Flynn has published to date. I think what I love the most about reading Flynn’s novels is the way she crafts the anti-heroine. Her female characters are flawed, often unreliable, yet extremely relatable. Amy Dunn is one of the most memorable fictional characters I’ve ever read and her “Cool Girl” monologue is EVERYTHING. If you want a thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat, this is it! I highly recommend it.
—Savannah, Social Media Manager