y’alllllllll! I’ve been talking for awhile about Pop Culture Pen Pals, the newsletter Hannah Evans and I have been working on together, and our very first issue went out this weekend and FRIENDS! IT’S SO, SO GOOD. Writing it was so fun, reading Hannah’s section was a delight, and sharing it with others has been so invigorating. I’m linking here to our first issue (and tbh I’ll probably do this every month), and if you like it you can have it in your inbox every month!! (seriously I have reread it SO MANY TIMES, both during editing and after and I have loved it every time.)
White Teeth – Zadie Smith
At the root of this story are two men, Samad Iqbal and Archie Jones. Having met as soldiers near the end of the Second World War, the story starts 30 years after that, at the beginning of Samad and Archie’s marriages and the rest of the novel tracks the closeness of their families over the next 20ish years. Every character Smith creates is alive and specific, all informed by Smith’s wit and observational power.
Another thing Smith is great at is b a c k s t o r y. Like, so much backstory. Like, if the protagonists pass someone on the street who says two words to them, you’re gonna get at least five pages of their personal history. Honestly, it’s an amount of backstory that’s a little overwhelming to me, but for this story it is thematically relevant. I preferred the sections in which the primary characters were all together and interacting — Smith also writes incredible dialogue — rather than the many pages when they were off in their own worlds, but something the story comes back to over and over is that history and context, especially when it comes to race and class, are inescapably relevant and behind every interaction between two or more people are centuries of that context. Ultimately, the depth of the backstory did bog me down a bit (I remember feeling similarly about another Smith book, NW) but she’s such an amazing writer that I want to immerse myself in her writing, so I may try some of her nonfiction next.
(tw: the book starts off with an attempted suicide)
Year of Yes – Shonda Rhimes
My not-so-secret-secret is that I have never gotten into Grey’s Anatomy. Despite my longtime love for Sandra Oh, from Princess Diaries to Killing Eve, the show is sooooo long, and I’m not really into tearjerker TV, but if there was ANYthing that could make me watch it, it would be reading Shonda Rhimes, its creator and showrunner. Her voice is hilarious and moving and insightful and I could have read a much, much longer version of this book just to spend more time with her. This particular book walks the line between self-help and memoir, specifically detailing a time in Rhimes’ life when she made a commitment to herself to “say yes to everything that scares [her]” in an effort to find a way out of an unhappy place.
Although I usually veer away from self-help-type books, especially those in the “CHOOSE happiness” vein, Rhimes is refreshingly candid about the ways in which her life differs from most of her readers. Most of us aren’t trying to build the courage to appear on Jimmy Kimmel or give a speech at Dartmouth, but Rhimes never comes off as out of touch. Part of that is Rhimes’ conversational style, but part is her own stated goal of being transparent about the impossibility of “having it all” and the ways professional success can often cloak personal dissatisfaction. She goes in-depth singing the praises of her daughters’ nanny and the support of her close-knit group of family and friends, as well as the professional collaborators that push and inspire her (I DARE YOU to read her sections about Sandra Oh without feeling emotional). I hope she writes more books in the future, because she is truly a treasure. (Plus, her website, Shondaland, is one of my favorite places to read online writing, and following them on Twitter will expose you to so many great pieces and writers [and book recommendations!])
*note: I had some mixed feelings about the chapter regarding her changing relationship to her body — I appreciated the conclusion she came to, and want to respect the validity of her personal journey, but some of the language she uses may be triggering to some folks who have or do struggle with eating disorders and I want to be mindful of that.
**happier note: though I had been meaning to read this book for awhile, I got a little push from The Stacks, a book podcast that I’ve been enjoying lately. The structure of the podcast is unique in that the host, Traci Thomas, invites each guest on for two episodes: one where they talk about books in general and one “book club” episode where they discuss a specific book chosen ahead of time and announced via their instagram and blog ahead of time. It’s a lot of fun and I highly recommend it, especially if you’re someone who really loves their nonfiction.
One more thing before we go! On SuperBowl Sunday, I recused myself from watching, partly because of these VERY GOOD REASONS, via the always-excellent Hannah:
um but also just because it bores me.
Anyway, instead, I went with some friends to two movies in one day (always an experience I enjoy). The first one, Serenity, was hot garbage that I want everyone to watch because it’s fcking wild and so stupid but also hilarious in how terrible it is. (I linked to imdb instead of youtube here because honestly if you go see this, see it with as few expectations as possible, because otherwise you might break your brain trying to compare it to whatever you think it’s going to be.) The second one was Can You Ever Forgive Me? which was ACTUALLY good and deserves many, many awards.