Tournament of Books - Days 1 and 2 - Jen's Take
You all may be well aware that I (Jen) am low-key obsessed with The Morning News Tournament of Books. I love to read as many of the books on the shortlist ahead of time as I can; I love to read the judgments throughout March (much refreshing happens until they're finally published each day!); and I love to see how my predictions fare compared to everyone else.
This year, I've decided to share my OWN reviews from instagram and my picks. I'm just going to put my opinions out there. I'd love to know what you're thinking, too, so share your opinions with us on social media.
Day 1 (March 9) -The Testaments vs. Saudade
Margaret Atwood's The Testaments - It took me a while to get to Margaret Atwood's The Testaments because I wanted to make sure I was "caught up" first. I've read The Handmaid's Tale a couple of times (the last time was a while ago!), and Kirk and I have been watching the series on Hulu. I was excited when I heard the announcement of this new book, but also a little scared. It's so easy for a much-anticipated book NOT to live up to expectations. The Testaments is fine. It certainly doesn't reach, for me, the heights of my favorite works by Atwood: The Blind Assassin and Alias, Grace and the MaddAdam trilogy . . . and The Handmaid's Tale. This newest novel does some interesting work with characters who appear in the worlds of the first novel and of the show (I think that revealing identities here would be a spoiler because Atwood keeps those under wraps for a while). There was no point, though, that shocked me or made me gasp or made me stop and really think, which is what I think Atwood does best. So, if you're a big fan of the Handmaid's universe, I'd recommend reading this one. Otherwise, there are better places to start with her oeuvre.
Suneeta Peres da Costa's Saudade - This is the one book on the shortlist that I just couldn't get to. So that makes my decision easy, I guess?
My Pick - The Testaments
I chose this one ONLY because I haven't read Saudade.
Day 2 (March 10) - Normal People vs. Fleishman Is in Trouble
Sally Rooney's Normal People - Wow. This book is positively brilliant. It was one of my Book of the Month picks for April 2019, and despite Grace Atwood's commentary that "At its core, it’s about love—but don’t mistake it for a romance," I was somehow expecting something more conventional. Instead, this is a raw, ugly/beautiful depiction of a friendship and love story that spans years. Connell and Marianne's relationship progresses through each character's moments of weakness and exploitation, instances when they totally understand the other and times when they couldn't be farther apart. It's both heartbreaking and hopeful in its portrayal of what two people can mean for each other and in the ways they can both push the other toward greatness and hold each other back. I was so pleasantly surprised by this one, which does everything--including writing that is beautiful down to the sentence level--I could have hoped.
Taffy Brodesser-Akner's Fleishman Is in Trouble - Taffy Brodesser-Akner's Fleishman Is in Trouble (thanks, Sara, for the loan!) is a thought-provoking, challenging, slippery book. Just a warning: to discuss this book, I'm going to talk about its whole arc. These aren't spoilers, exactly, but if you want a completely fresh read, stop reading now! This book reminded me of a funnier, less dramatic, more real Fates and Furies, the Lauren Groff book that builds the gendered perspective of one spouse and then pulls the rug from under the reader to shift to the alternate view within the marriage. In Fleishman Is in Trouble, we are completely immersed in the point of view of Toby Fleishman, a man in his forties who is at the end of a separation and experiencing unparalleled--for him--sexual freedom. Fleishman and his wife Rachel, the parents of two children (Hannah and Solly), have been driven apart (from his perspective) by her ambition, her obsession with achieving an upper-class lifestyle, and her unwillingness to be an equal partner in parenting their children. As we come to understand Toby, we feel every moment of freedom, and of sadness, that comes with the end of his marriage. But there's a sort of distance that develops as we realize that his story is being told by one of his college friends, Libby. This revelation is gradual, and because she inserts herself into the narrative so infrequently, it's easy to forget that she's there, between Toby and the reader. Libby has never liked Rachel, so Toby's antipathy toward his wife, which grows after she leaves the children with him for one, then two, then three weeks without any contact, finds its mirror in Libby's telling of the story. And then, in third part, Libby sees Rachel, And everything changes. It's not that Toby was lying or completely false. It's just that, when you empathize with someone, her perspective begins to make sense. We see Libby see Toby's viewpoint as less definite, watch her realize that Rachel isn't the one-sided villain that Toby has described. And then we see Libby start to apply this new lens to her own life and marriage. This book is, I think, really brilliant in its understanding of life and marriage, of how we can be swept away by the mundane while yearning for something bigger. Each of us has a view of ourselves shaped, in part, by youth, and it can be hard to realize that others no longer see us as the twenty-year-old college students with life ahead of us. I'll be thinking about this one for a while. (Also, it's not a read alike, but I think Camille Pagán's I'm Fine and Neither Are You would be a great companion read, along with--of course--Lauren Groff's Fates and Furies.)
My Pick - Normal People
So, in looking back, my review of Fleishman Is in Trouble is much stronger, but I think that's just evidence that my brain was FULLY engaged. Normal People, in contrast, hit my brain as well, but it hit my emotions harder. It's the one that stuck with me more, and it's the one that convinced me I need to read EVERYTHING else by Sally Rooney. (To be fair, I'll probably read everything by Brodesser-Akner, too, but it's a less pressing need.)
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