Last Week’s Reading: April 9-15

Honor’s Knight, by Rachel Bach: A solid follow-up to the very entertaining Fortune’s Pawn, which I talked about last week.

Outline, by Rachel Cusk: I enjoyed this unusual novel, which focuses on characterization over plot. The narrator, an English woman teaching a writing course during a hot Athens summer, reveals little about herself directly, instead recounting a series of conversations with friends, students, and acquaintances. Bit by bit, as her interlocutors reveal the details of their histories and surroundings, we piece together the narrator’s own character and experiences–just enough for an outline. The old dictum in writing is to show, not tell, but this book is almost all telling (and stylized; the conversations are unusually detailed and tend to lack context), but somehow Ms. Cusk has found a way to show the emotional truth of her narrator’s life. Outline won’t appeal to all readers, but I recommend it to anyone looking for a thoughtful, slow-paced reading experience.

The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin: Baldwin’s prose is so good—it just moves the reader along effortlessly, like a swift current. The Fire Next Time reminded me of how I felt reading Baldwin’s earlier Notes of a Native Son and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, and though much has changed since The Fire Next Time‘s publication, much, alas, has not. It’s still essential reading on race in the United States.

6 thoughts on “Last Week’s Reading: April 9-15

  1. I have a copy of Outline out from the library and might actually start it today. I’m eager to see what all the fuss is about Rachel Cusk, and hope that I don’t feel alienated by her style. Will you read the other books in the trilogy, do you think (Transit is out, and another is in the works)?

    I have never read anything by James Baldwin. That seems like an unforgivable gap in my knowledge.

  2. Outline’s a funny one, isn’t it? I finished it feeling admiration, if not any emotion even remotely warmer than that. Stylistically it’s interesting and probably fairly significant, and it’s so rare for an author to be willing to give up a reader’s love (and “identification with” their protagonist).

  3. I didn’t ever finish Outline – I enjoyed it while reading, but once I put it down I didn’t care enough about it to pick it back up again. This seems to be a book that can go either way with readers. But when I see people who love it, I feel like I must have been missing something!

  4. I was about to comment how apparently I’m the only one who didn’t like Outline. But then I read your comment section haha. Glad you enjoyed it, though. I plan on reading some Baldwin later this year (Giovanni’s Room).

    Also, what the hell … you’re throwing out the color coordination ALREADY?

  5. I read The Fire Next Time for the first time this year, too! James Baldwin is just such an extraordinary writer. I’m not madly fond of his fiction, but I’ve been blown away by basically every one of his essays I’ve ever read.

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