Here are three novels I recently loved, plus the next book on my list…
Matrix by Lauren Groff (September 2021)
I finally picked up this bestseller — about an orphaned teenager who is kicked out of royal court and put in charge of a dark, cold, muddy abbey in England — after readers raved about it in the comments section. “I don’t know how to adequately recommend Matrix,” wrote Kate. “Not a single line is spoken by a man, it depicts the most beautiful female loves and friendships, and the women are all amazing. I read it in almost one sitting; it’s now tattooed on my soul.” The premise may sound dense, but the wild, poetic novel is a surprisingly funny page turner.
Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (October 2020)
Multiple friends devoured this Booker Prize-winning novel last year, but I worried that the themes — addiction, infidelity, violence — were too dark for a pandemic winter. Nevertheless, I cracked it this year and could not put it down. Shuggie is a tenderhearted boy whose world orbits around his alcoholic mother, Agnes, living in public housing outside Glasgow, Scotland. The writing is so vivid that you feel like you’re standing right there as his taxi-driving father sleeps around, his mother sets fire to the curtains, and he grapples with his sexuality (while neighbors gossip that he’s “no right”). What an exquisite, heartbreaking debut. I hugged the book when it ended.
Joan Is Okay by Weike Wang (January 2022)
I was lucky enough to get my hands on a review copy of this novel, which follows a workaholic Chinese-American doctor in New York as she navigates a busy hospital, the death of her father, her striving older brother, her increasingly needy mother and (in the last couple chapters) a global pandemic. The quirky protagonist reminded me of some people in my family, who don’t always “get” social norms but are fully themselves, and you love them all the more for it. She also explores her experience as a first-generation daughter of Chinese parents: “For years, I was the designated telephone picker-upper and, if it was junk, the polite hanger-upper. Deepen your voice, my mother said, answer yes to your father’s name or mine…I hated all of my tasks of course… though with time, what I hated more was seeing my parents get bullied, for no real reason except the obvious.” Wang’s debut novel — Chemistry — won eight gazillion awards, and I won’t be surprised if this one does, too.
And next up: The Boy Kings of Texas by Domingo Martinez (July 2012)
I learned about this gritty memoir — about a Mexican-American boy growing up in a Texan border town — while listening to the author read a chapter on This American Life. In the excerpt, a young Martinez rides shotgun in his mom’s car, while his dad tries to cross the border with a truckload of marijuana. His writing is funny, frank and illuminating, and I can’t wait to read the whole book.
What have you been reading lately? Please share below… and here are a bunch of books we’ve loved over the years, in case you’re looking for ideas!
(Photo by Studio Firma/Stocksy.)