The Week in Books #54

Done! ✅

Another week of books! Another stack complete. This one took just over a month to read, plus I read two others that weren’t on the stack (Rupi Kaur’s Home Body and Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid) to make 14 over about five weeks. Stand outs were definitely The Great Believers and Ragged Company. Least favourites were Beyond Black and The Salt Roads, I suppose, though none of these books was really a bad read. I noticed this week that Barack Obama named The Glass Hotel as one of his favourite books of 2020, and he also endorsed The Underground Railroad as “Terrific.” So, I read the same books as Obama, just sayin’ 😛

1. Where the Line Bleeds by Jesmyn Ward. This was my third book by Jesmyn Ward but actually the first novel she wrote. It was pretty slow moving with some action at the end, but overall a bit too meandering for me. At one point around the 2/3 mark I told Justin I was struggling to finish and he asked why I didn’t just stop reading it if I didn’t like it, but I feel like I need to finish a book once I have started so I can see the author’s whole vision for the story, haha. I need to know how it ends! As it turns out most of the big events in this story happen near the end so right after I vowed to keep going it picked up, more proof that a reader should never give up on a book I guess. Not my favourite of hers but still contained some lovely passages like this one: “After the rain fell away in fits, after it eased up and the worst of it withdrew out over the gulf like a woman gathering her coat and leaving a room, Christophe drove them home.”

Joshua and Christophe are twins, raised by a blind grandmother and a large extended family in rural Bois Sauvage, on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast. They’ve just finished high school and need to find jobs, but after Katrina, it’s not easy. Joshua gets work on the docks, but Christophe’s not so lucky and starts to sell drugs. Christophe’s downward spiral is accelerated first by crack, then by the reappearance of the twins’ parents: Cille, who left for a better job, and Sandman, a dangerous addict. Sandman taunts Christophe, eventually provoking a shocking confrontation that will ultimately damn or save both twins.

Where the Line Bleeds takes place over the course of a single, life-changing summer. It is a delicate and closely observed portrait of fraternal love and strife, of the relentless grind of poverty, of the toll of addiction on a family, and of the bonds that can sustain or torment us. Bois Sauvage, based on Ward’s own hometown, is a character in its own right, as stiflingly hot and as rich with history as it is bereft of opportunity. Ward’s “lushly descriptive prose…and her prodigious talent and fearless portrayal of a world too often overlooked” (Essence) make this novel an essential addition to her incredible body of work.

Simon and Schuster

2. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. I’ve read a few books about the slave/plantation experience this year (Washington Black, Conjure Women, The Book of Negroes, The Water Dancer, The Salt Roads) and now The Underground Railroad has been added to that list. They all had their strengths but the thing that stood out to me about Railroad was that Whitehead depicted the railroad as a literal Underground Railroad that slaves could travel on. I had to stop and find out if this was a fictitious embellishment because for a moment I was like It was an ACTUAL RAILROAD? It was not, but I liked the addition of this element none-the-less because I liked imagining the secret underground stations hidden under trap doors in the floors of allies. Well written and very engaging.

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned—Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.

In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

Like the protagonist of Gulliver’s Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey—hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre–Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.

A small book haul this week, just four titles: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, The Measure of my Powers by Jackie Kai Ellis, The Need by Helen Philips, and City of Veils by Zoe Ferraris. I found these in a LFL on the island 🙏🏼

This week I start on The Subtweet, first in a new stack of books I’ve been looking forward to for a while! Happy reading 🖤

On deck!

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