The Week in Books #96

1/14 ✅

The week in books. New stack! I started a new pile this week, then immediately took a detour to another stack of books for Black History Month. Reading ADHD haha. I put together a bundle of books by Black authors that have been on my TBR and am going to try to get through as many as I can this month.

1. My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh. As I was reading this I felt like a year of sleeping is something I could really get behind. Get me some Infermiterol! I really enjoyed this novel. The narrator loads herself up on pharmaceuticals (some of which, like the Infermiterol, are fictitious) with the help of a truly terrible therapist and endeavours to sleep away a year of her life. She begins taking the Infermiterol and discovers that it causes a three day blackout during which she actually doesn’t sleep but carries about her daily life and, if anything, is even more active than usual, only she remembers nothing. Loved it.

From one of our boldest, most celebrated new literary voices, a novel about a young woman’s efforts to duck the ills of the world by embarking on an extended hibernation with the help of one of the worst psychiatrists in the annals of literature and the battery of medicines she prescribes.

Our narrator should be happy, shouldn’t she? She’s young, thin, pretty, a recent Columbia graduate, works an easy job at a hip art gallery, lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan paid for, like the rest of her needs, by her inheritance. But there is a dark and vacuous hole in her heart, and it isn’t just the loss of her parents, or the way her Wall Street boyfriend treats her, or her sadomasochistic relationship with her best friend, Reva. It’s the year 2000 in a city aglitter with wealth and possibility; what could be so terribly wrong?

My Year of Rest and Relaxation is a powerful answer to that question. Through the story of a year spent under the influence of a truly mad combination of drugs designed to heal our heroine from her alienation from this world, Moshfegh shows us how reasonable, even necessary, alienation can be. Both tender and blackly funny, merciless and compassionate, it is a showcase for the gifts of one of our major writers working at the height of her powers.

Penguin Randomhouse

2. Astra by Cedar Bowers. There’s an endorsement on the back of this book from the author of North of Normal (which I read last week) and once I got reading it was immediately obvious that Astra had lots in common with Cea Sunrise’s unconventional upbringing. What makes this book stand out is that it is about Astra but all the chapters are told from someone else’s perspective, so we see Astra through the eyes of the people around her before we actually get into her head (the final chapter). It really fleshed out the idea that you exist as a different person in the head of everyone you have ever met, and that many versions of the “you” people hold on to are inaccurate, outdated and/or misaligned with the person you see yourself to be. We never really get to know Astra, only other peoples opinions of her. This is a pretty fabulous book.

What if you could see yourself as others see you? Astra is a beguiling debut novel that reveals the different faces of one woman, as seen through the eyes of ten people over a lifetime. Longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and named a Best Book of the Year by the Globe and Mail, Winnipeg Free Press, and CBC Books.

Born and raised on a remote British Columbia commune, Astra Brine has long struggled to find her way in the world, her life becoming a study of the thin line between dependence and love, need and desire. Over the years, as her path intersects with others—sometimes briefly, but always intensely—she will encounter people who, by turns, want to rescue, control, become, and escape her, revealing difficult yet shining truths about who they are and what they yearn for.

There is the childhood playmate who comes to fear Astra’s unpredictable ways. The stranger who rescues her from homelessness, and then has to wrestle with his own demons. The mother who hires Astra as a live-in nanny even as her own marriage goes off the rails.

The man who takes a leap of faith and marries her.

Even as Astra herself remains the elusive yet compelling axis around which these narratives turn, her story reminds us of the profound impact that a woman can have on those around her, and the power struggles at play in all our relationships, no matter how intimate. A beautifully constructed and revelatory novel, Astra explores what we’re willing to give and receive from others, and how well we ever really know the people we love the most.

Penguin Randomhouse
Taking a reading detour for Black History Month

3. Broken Glass by Alain Mabanckou. Alain is an author born in the Republic of Congo. I had absolutely no idea what was happening for the first couple chapters, mostly because the writing is one long run on sentence… no periods at all! It was a bit jarring at first but once I got my footing I started to really enjoy the writing style, and the further I got in the story the more things made sense. Broken Glass is the narrator and writer of the stories told to him by the other patrons of the bar he frequents. There were many hilarious passages in this book that had me laughing out loud. I wasn’t sure what to make of this at first but by the end I was glad I gave it a chance.

Alain Mabanckou’s riotous new novel centers on the patrons of a run-down bar in the Congo. In a country that appears to have forgotten the importance of remembering, a former schoolteacher and bar regular nicknamed Broken Glass has been elected to record their stories for posterity. But Broken Glass fails spectacularly at staying out of trouble as one denizen after another wants to rewrite history in an attempt at making sure his portrayal will properly reflect their exciting and dynamic lives. Despondent over this apparent triumph of self-delusion over self-awareness, Broken Glass drowns his sorrows in red wine and riffs on the great books of Africa and the West. Brimming with life, death, and literary allusions, Broken Glass is Mabanckou’s finest novel – a mocking satire of the dangers of artistic integrity.

Amazon

4. The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris. Zakiya is an American author from Connecticut. This book has been all over the place lately so I got myself a copy a few months back and finally dug into it. Nella is an assistant at Wagner Books, and the only Black employee, where she dreams of being promoted to editor. One day Wagner hires Hazel, another Black woman, and places her in the cubicle beside Nella. They become friends but then things start to get strange when a mysterious note is left on Nella’s desk. I was sucked into this story right away and really blasted through it. I was also quite surprised by the direction it took towards the end! Super readable and very smart.

Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. Fed up with the isolation and microaggressions, she’s thrilled when Harlem-born and bred Hazel starts working in the cubicle beside hers. They’ve only just started comparing natural hair care regimens, though, when a string of uncomfortable events elevates Hazel to Office Darling, and Nella is left in the dust.

Then the notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk: LEAVE WAGNER. NOW.

It’s hard to believe Hazel is behind these hostile messages. But as Nella starts to spiral and obsess over the sinister forces at play, she soon realizes that there’s a lot more at stake than just her career.

A whip-smart and dynamic thriller and sly social commentary that is perfect for anyone who has ever felt manipulated, threatened, or overlooked in the workplace, The Other Black Girl will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last twist.

Simon and Schuster

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