Hello hello we’re gonna keep it nice and snappy today because as it turns out I am still living at war with my sinuses.
First of all though, I am happy to report that both Booksmart and Always Be My Maybe were absolute delights and you should definitely see them! ADDITIONALLY, there’s a show I’ve really been enjoying over the last couple months called The Other Two and it’s HILARIOUS and all of the episodes are free and easily accessible [in a non-shady way!] for the next two weeks here! The premise is basically “what if a 13 year old Justin Bieber had had two 30-something siblings” and it’s a fantastically good time.
Just a heads-up before we get into the books: both of the books this week deal with pretty heavy topics, including suicide and sexual assault so please take care of yourself as needed!
A Tale for the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki
[TW: suicide, sexual assault]
The story is told in two narratives: a diary by a teenage Japanese girl named Nao [pun definitely intended by the author] and a Japanese-Canadian woman named Ruth who finds the diary when it washes up on a local beach about ten years later, along with a watch and some letters written in French. The reader follows both Nao’s writing and Ruth’s reading of the diary as they both grapple with the nature of time, connection, and narrative. I personally found the Ruth side of the narrative more interesting (even though it wouldn’t exist without Nao’s side)–I frequently find child and teenage characters written for adult audiences…grating? And I’m not sure why! Just something in the tone doesn’t quite click for me.
But that being said, the book is very well written and I enjoyed spending time with the questions about time and the relationship between reader and narrative. As I mentioned at the start, there’s a lot of focus in the book on suicide–Nao’s father repeatedly attempts and Nao considers it herself. There are also a few references to and a couple instances of sexual assault.
Women Talking – Miriam Toews
[TW: sexual assault, suicidal ideation]
This has been ALL OVER Book Twitter and the general book world since before it came out, hailed as a “#MeToo novel,” and pretty universally praised for its lyrical imagery and characterization and thoughtful meditations on questions of trauma, power, and forgiveness. It’s speculative fiction based on real events–in a conservative Mennonite colony in Bolivia during the years 2005 and 2009 women and girls would frequently wake up in the morning after having been drugged and violated. The [male] leadership dismissed this as dreams, imagination, or spiritual punishment, until it was finally discovered that a group of men from the colony were the perpetrators. The men are arrested, but colony leadership is determined to post bail and bring them back to the community. Toews–who grew up Mennonite–imagines what a conversation between the women of the community might be like as they deliberate whether to do nothing, stay and fight, or leave the community altogether.
As you can probably tell, the content is pretty heavy, but Toews writing style takes a gentle touch, focusing primarily on the discussion between the women (and the one man they’ve allowed in to record their conversation). It’s also a fairly short book, focused on a close timeline and effectively building tension within that timeline. There were sections that felt a bit too abstract for me, especially the ones that took place mostly within the narrator’s head, but I know I’ll be ruminating on the arguments of this book for a long time.
Alright, peace out, appreciate your unclogged sinuses, and watch The Other Two! And remember that this month’s Pop Culture Pen Pals comes out this month so check your inboxes and spam filters.