I received an advance copy This Will Be My Undoing a couple of months ago, but then life happened and I didn’t get a chance to dive in until the week it went on sale. Unbeknownst to me, at the same time, there was a bit of a storm brewing on Twitter over some of the book’s excerpts.
The book is a collection of essays about the author’s experiences living as a black woman in America. The first chapter is the thing that seems to be getting everyone up in arms. Jerkins, seeing all the popular white cheerleaders around her and wanting to attain that status, admits to wanting to be white when she was growing up. Fine, but then she goes on a cringe-worthy confession of the — shall we say, uncharitable — thoughts she had towards an early bully of hers. In her mind back then, the bully was the wrong kind of black girl, whereas Jerkins was a light-skinned, smart, go-getting, educated, wannabe-white black girl:
Kristin Lavransdatter is actually three novels — The Wreath (1920), The Wife (1921), and The Cross (1922) — compiled into one massive book. I bought the Penguin Classics deluxe edition a few years ago, back when I read Gunnar’s Daughter and had traveled to Norway and was still on a Viking high. To my low-key chagrin, the book was not another thrilling, over-the-top epic about Vikings. On my shelves it sat for the next three years until the 45-hour-long audiobook version was released (about the same amount of time it would take, I’d estimated, to finish a king-sized quilt I’d been working on for months). It was perfect timing.
The trilogy follows its title character from girlhood to old age in fourteenth-century Norway. It’s a period in the Middle Ages when the last vestiges of paganism have given way to Catholicism. As the eldest daughter of Lavrans, a privileged and well-respected landowner, Kristin is well-liked by her community. Lavrans, whose sons all died in infancy, dotes on his girls, especially Kristin. When she reaches a marriageable age, she’s promised to Simon Darre but begs her father to let her spend a year in a convent first. Ironically, it’s there that she becomes a scandalous woman; she meets the love of her life, Erlend Nikolausson and promises herself to him no matter the cost.
Choosing my non-fiction favorites of 2017 was hard, y’all. I had a difficult time narrowing it down to ten, and then picking my favorite top three was damn near impossible. It was just a really fantastic nonfiction year! My top three (I think?) are listed first, and everything else is listed in alphabetical order.
You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie (2017)
Alexie’s mother, Lillian, died in 2015 at the age of 78; he wrote 78 essays and 78 poems to work through his complicated grief. It’s beautiful and devastating (Alexie actually stopped mid-book tour for his own mental health and will not be doing readings from this book anymore). I read it in one long sitting.
The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore (2017)
Young women in New Jersey and Illinois went to work in watch factories, painting a radium on watch faces to help with the war effort. To get a fine enough point on their paintbrush, they were instructed to put the brush tips between their lips. They were informed that the radium was safe; in fact, it was one of the healthiest things to handle. Then they began dying in horrifying, disfiguring ways.
Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat (2007)
At the age of four, Danticat was left in the care of her aunt and uncle in Haiti while her parents immigrated to New York City. They sent for her when she was twelve, so she came of age in a foreign land. Back in Haiti there was dangerous political unrest, and her father kept urging his brother to join them in the States. What happened when he finally did left the family shattered.
I’m usually set to go with my year in review posts on January 1, but I have been BUSY lately. I’m trying my hardest to finish a king-sized quilt in time to enter it into my first ever quilt show (and of course I’m doing everything at the last minute…though in my defense, this thing has been a work in progress since June). My apologies for the late start!
I had a pretty good year in reading in 2017, though I must admit I was more partial to my nonfiction reading. Still, there were definitely some standouts. In an unlikely twist of events, two westerns won my heart in 2017. The first three books listed are my favorites of the year; everything else is listed in alphabetical order:
The Son by Philipp Meyer (2013)
Spanning three generations, The Son is a Texas-sized story about the rise of the McCullough family. The earliest generation battled Comanches and Mexicans to keep their ranch, while the last generation in the book battled environmentalists and fellow oil tycoons to hold on to their vast fortunes. I listened to it on audiobook, which gave me the added delight of listening to Will Patton and Kate Mulgrew narrate some of the story. It’s a gorgeous book.
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (2015)
Civilization has long since collapsed, and the world is on the verge of ending again. Essun, a woman with secret abilities that are feared by all, is now just trying to pick up the pieces of her life. Her husband has murdered her son and kidnapped her daughter, so she’s on a quest to find them. It’s a really smart, mesmerizing book to lose yourself in.
News of the World by Paulette Jiles (2016)
Captain Kidd is hired to take a young orphan girl from Wichita Falls to her surviving relatives San Antonio; she was recently rescued from captivity with the Kiowa Indians and doesn’t understand her old life anymore. They’re an odd pair who form a unique bond along the way. It’s a quiet but entertaining book that was a finalist for the National Book Award.
Yesterday, Book Riot released the list for their 2018 Read Harder Challenge. In 2016, I began giving feminist recommendations for each task, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
As usual, some of the tasks were trickier to figure out than others. And like last year, you’ll find that a lot of the titles overlap with multiple tasks, but I listed different titles and authors for all tasks. Happy reading!
Task 1: A book published posthumously
- Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
- Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
- The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan
- Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky
- Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston
Task 2: A book of true crime
- American Fire by Monica Hesse
- The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
- Mrs. Sherlock Holmes by Brad Ricca
- Murder in Matera by Helene Stapinski
- The Hot One by Carolyn Murnick