Quoyle — pathetic, depressed, and loyal to a fault — lives in the United States and quietly suffers the indignities of being married to Petal, an openly promiscuous woman with no regard for anyone but herself. He is basically a single father, caring for their two bratty daughters whenever Petal goes gallivanting off with her latest lover.
The book has its share of over-the-top episodes, and Petal meets an untimely death early on that serves as the catalyst for the rest of the book. He loses his job at the newspaper and his father also dies around this time; with nothing left to hold on to, Quoyle is left floundering in his grief. Along comes Aunt Agnis, his father’s sister, and convinces him to move with her to their ancestral home in Newfoundland.
The house hasn’t been lived in for ages and is crumbling from disuse. Quoyle has a job at The Gammy Bird, the local paper, but has no easy way of getting to work without a boat. Even if he does get a boat, he can’t swim. It’s freezing. It’s windy. It will be a while before their house is livable. Have they made a huge mistake?
Where the Light Gets In by Kimberly Williams-Paisley
Publisher/Year: Blackstone Audio, 2016
Narrator: Kimberly Williams-Paisley
Length: 5 hours, 26 minutes
Source: Personal copy
What it is: A memoir about Kimberly Williams-Paisley’s complicated relationship with her mother, Linda, who was diagnosed with an early-onset rare form of dementia called Primary Progressive Aphasia in 2014.
Why I read it: I know Williams-Paisley as an actress, but I also follow her on Instagram just to see what she’s reading — it turns out we have very similar tastes in literary fiction! I love memoirs and this one seemed interesting. I was curious to see what kind of book she’d write (also: she strikes me as the type of celebrity who could believably write their own book rather than have it ghostwritten).
What I thought: This is a sad and illuminating memoir. In a relatively short period of time, Linda went from securing million-dollar donations for large foundations to being unable to speak and needing full-time care. Self-conscious at first, the family finally (and with Linda’s consent) decided to be honest with people about what was happening. Williams-Paisley is blunt about her anger and grief over seeing her mother’s decline, though she’s also honest about how she’s somewhat removed from the situation, living out of state with her own family. Much of the day-to-day caregiving fell to her father, who took on the role to the point of burnout in order to keep Linda at home — rather than an assisted living facility — for as long as possible. The book ends with the family in kind of a weird limbo: Linda’s dementia is progressive, but she’s also gone past all of the markers for life-expectancy with this disease. It’s uncharted territory for them.
Red Clocks by Leni Zumas
Publisher/Year: Little, Brown and Company, 2018
Source: Personal copy
What it is: Told from five different perspectives in two different timelines, the book is a modern-day dystopia in which abortion and IVF treatments have been outlawed in the United States and a personhood amendment has been passed, granting more rights to embryos than the people carrying them. Single would-be parents hoping to adopt are also out of luck, as only married couples are now allowed to apply.
Why I read it: Reproductive rights + feminist dystopia = my name written all over it. I also loooooove the cover.
What I thought: I’ve seen a lot of references to The Handmaid’s Tale regarding this book, but though it has similar themes regarding reproductive rights, it’s not quite an accurate comparison. The concept of this book is, in many ways, more terrifying because it’s the current political climate taken to its natural conclusion (ex: some states really do keep trying to pass personhood amendments). But while I wanted to love the book, I’m really sad to say that I did not. I’ve read countless books with rotating narrators and shifting chronologies, but the timelines and perspectives in this book were confusing. It took me about half the book to really figure out what was going on. Save for a handful of truly stellar sections, the story took too long to coalesce into something meaningful. I can appreciate the experimental structure, but I don’t think the payoff was worth the effort, especially in the first half.
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.
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