Last Week’s Reading: March 5 – 11

The Wanderers, by Meg Howrey: I’ll post a longer review of this book soon, so for now I’ll just say that I loved it. The hook: three astronauts undertake a long-term simulated mission to Mars, and both they and the loved ones they leave behind struggle with isolation and epiphanies during their experience.

Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid: What a lovely novel. Exit West has that graceful fluidity that seems effortless but of course isn’t effortless at all, but the result of a writer’s very hard work. It’s about Saeed and Nadia, two young people falling in love as their city falls apart, destroyed in the conflict between government forces and militants. The pair begin to hear rumors of doors not between rooms, but between countries—doors that have been appearing all over the world. Soon migration doesn’t require a passport, but merely steps through an (unguarded door); the trouble becomes what to do once you find yourself on a beach in Greece, or a mansion in London, or a mountainside in California. As Nadia and Saeed navigate through strange new worlds, Mr. Hamid breaks up their narrative with vignettes of other migrants, giving a global feel to an otherwise intimate narrative. Beautiful writing and a timely tale. Highly recommended.

Baptism of Desire, by Louise Erdrich: I enjoyed this 1989 collection, Ms. Erdrich’s second, just as much as her first (Jacklight). The first group of poems plays with Catholic imagery and theology, while the second section includes narrative poems about various characters (like Mary Kroger, the butcher’s wife). The third section, my favorite, is a long poem, “Hydra,” about both the mythological figure and pregnancy. The prose tale of “Potchikoo’s Life After Death” makes up the fourth section (I don’t think I’ve seen a story in a short collection like this before, but I enjoyed it thoroughly). Poems about marriage, domestic life, and the natural world close this strong collection. You can read Baptism of Desire‘s first poem, “Fooling God,” at the Poetry Foundation.

What are you reading these days?

17 thoughts on “Last Week’s Reading: March 5 – 11

  1. *sigh* I feel like I missed the point of Exit West… I didn’t enjoy it much at all and, for such an emotive topic, I felt weirdly detached from the story (much like the narrator…). Everyone who has read his previous books says he is highly experimental with style and every book by him is different – I wouldn’t rule out future books but this one didn’t thrill me.

  2. I’ve not read anything by Hamid before, but I have a copy of The Reluctant Fundamentalist in a box in America. I haven’t been able to work out quite how this new book mixes realism and magic realism. I guess it worked for you!

  3. Fooling God means so much to me about my own experience in religion and being female. Thanks for sharing this poem, I’ll definitely be picking up Baptism of Desire to explore some more.

  4. I love these mini-reviews. I really need to do more of them. They’re quite helpful. Like a little literary snack.

    I hadn’t heard a word about Exit West before last week, and now it’s all I’m seeing on Twitter. Haven’t heard a bad word about it.

    I’m getting a bit of a hankering for some poetry, Caroline. I’m having some trouble finishing novel-length reads these days. Any recent recommendations other than the Erdrich you have here?

    • Thanks Rick! I find these shorter reviews are low-key and give me more time for, you know, the reading.

      Poetry, let’s see. Can’t go wrong with Natasha Trethewey, and there’s the new Anne Carson, which I’m slowly making my way through (v. weird, in that Carson kind of way). Last year I read Blood Dazzler by Patricia Smith and loved it. Other 2016 favorites: Bestiary by Donika Kelly and Blackacre by Monica Youn (with a long poem based on Milton’s Sonnet 19–totally amazing).

      Also, on the novel side, have you read The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin? Might be just the SF/F you need to kickstart your reading. I devoured it and loved it so much I bought the sequel as an e-book (which I NEVER do) because I couldn’t wait to read it.

      • Jemisin is one of those others I’ve had on my to-read list for years, but for whatever reason I haven’t read her yet. I own two of her novels. Fifth Season got nothing but great press. I should just dive in. I don’t take your recommendation lightly!

        And thanks for the poetry thoughts. I’ve heard of Blackacre before, but have heard wildly different takes on it. Seems very love-it-or-hate-it. But it’s based on Milton … it’s gotta be terrific, right?

  5. What a lovely description of Exit West. I tried to read that author’s previous book and didn’t really get on with it, so maybe this one will be better for me. Did you see Louise Erdrich has a new book out this fall? It looks excellent. Right up my alley.

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