All Our Names: Oh wow, this book. I bought it in a train station on the way to New York City this spring and somehow it got lost in the shuffle until the weekend; what a lucky find! Dinaw Mengestu is an Ethiopian-born author now teaching at Georgetown University, and I believe this is his third or fourth novel. He gives us two narrators, Isaac and Helen, who come from different worlds and connect with each other and us to share their stories of identity and dislocation in the American Midwest and war-torn Uganda. Both voices are textured and compelling, and the structure of the book is organic but beautifully structured. I felt so immersed in these two very different worlds and lives, and I can’t wait to read his other novels.
Euphoria: I have a new hero now, and her name is Margaret Mead, the legendary anthropologist at the heart of Lily King’s sensuous and powerful novel, and also at the sharp point of a passionate love triangle in the book itself. I didn’t know much about Mead before reading this book, and now I want to know more about a figure who was both intellectually and romantically adventurous, a pioneer in her field and in what it meant at that historical moment to be a female scholar and risk-taker. Again, so excited to read more of King’s work.
The tenth of December: Stories: One of my dearest friends has been telling me for a few years that I needed to read George Saunders and how brilliant he was, so when I saw a hardback edition of this collection on a bargain books table, I snapped it up and have been so grateful I did. Saunders’ work is amazing, so lucid and sharp and empathetic, with “The Semplica Girl Diaries” being the real stand-out for me and a story I’m considering teaching with my juniors this fall. Saunders’ work is a reminder of how incisive and powerful short fiction can be, and I’m thrilled to dive into his other works.
Speaking of short fiction, on a recommendation from a fellow teacher, I read “Sonny’s Blues” today and if you’re looking for a story to break your heart wide open, this is it.