It was only during the last century or so that any outsider truly set out to record the culture and traditions of native Greenlanders. The person who gets (and deserves) most of the credit is Knud Rasmussen, who was determined to record as many oral histories, songs, and stories as he could; he and his polar exploration team set out during the early 1900s and, over the course of seven different expeditions, made their way across Greenland and over to Alaska. His notes and journals are now treasured sources that researchers utilize to this day.
From 1993 to 1999, Gretel Ehrlich traveled solo to Greenland, traveling paths few outsiders ever take, oftentimes traveling the same lonely paths that Rasmussen and his crew took. She was there so long that she got to experience the country during every season, from the sunless days to the sun-filled nights. She traveled by dogsled with experienced hunters, tagging along for hunts — everything from seals to polar bears — and experienced the same threats they did: falling through thin ice, snowblindess, hunger, blizzards. Like Rasmussen, she collected people’s stories and recorded their modern-day struggles.
Stacy Schiff’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography has been sitting on my shelves for the better part of a decade now. I picked up a battered used copy ages ago, dipped into a few pages, loved it…and then put it aside because life. Now, having finally returned to it, it’s been one of the bookish highlights of my summer.
Véra and Vladimir Nabokov’s relationship is legendary. Though Vladimir had dalliances with other women and was undoubtedly a difficult person to live with, the two seemed destined to be together: both were intellectual giants — Véra supposedly read War and Peace at age 3; Vladimir at age 6 — were multilingual and worldly, and were even born with the same neurological phenomenon of synesthesia. Vladimir was poised for greatness early on, and Véra understood and accepted that her role was to do everything to make that happen.
A belated heads up, but FYI: I wrote about Jean Guerrero’s debut for Bitch Media last Friday. Check it out here.
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.
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: