So I’ve been away for a while. I hadn’t written anything because all of my brain capacity was concentrating on finishing my Master’s thesis. After that, my writing was focused on my new job, which is very exciting, but I am trying to get on a writing schedule that works for me. This includes the things I write for YouTube, for this blog, and for my other writing projects.
It’s not hard to make a schedule. The difficult part is sticking to it because who’s going to hold me accountable? Me?
Well, that’s the plan.
In the meantime, I have been reading. This year has been a good reading year. I constantly rotate between paperback books, e-books and audiobooks to keep it interesting, and there are some incredible books I’ve come across in the last months, so I thought I’d share them here.
Without further ado, let’s talk about some books I’ve loved recently.
Thick: And Other Essays, by Tressie McMillan Cottom
“Smart is only a construct of correspondence, between one’s abilities, one’s environment, and one’s moment in history.”
I knew I would like this book from the moment I saw it because I love the writer. Dr Tressie McMillan Cottom is a sociologist and professor, an opinion columnist, and a brilliant writer and thinker.
I have followed her and her work for a while now. I’ve read her newsletters both on independent platforms and on the New York Times. She’s currently the only reason I’m still subscribed to that paper, actually. I love reading her opinion columns, and, for those who prefer to listen, she hosts a podcast with another favorite of mine, Roxane Gay. She also frequents Roxane’s main podcast, The Roxane Gay Agenda.
So I knew I was going to like the book. What I didn’t know (and I should have expected it, to be honest) was how much I would love it and how much it would make me think. That’s the thing I love most about everything Dr Tressie writes. She always makes me think.
Thick: And Other Essays is, as you might already suspect, a book of essays about everything from beauty as a cultural capital, body image, black womanhood, to political upheaval and the notion of progress, and to her own experiences as a Southern Black woman in academia.
I listened to the audiobook read by the author herself, and I immediately thought I’d need to get the paperback edition to read it again. It’s good, it’s smart, it’s honest, and it’s one of those books I suspect I will keep returning to over the years.
Children of the Land, by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo
This book is a memoir of author and poet Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, who crossed the border from Mexico to the United States with his family when he was a child and lived undocumented for many years in the U.S.
This book is a history of complex family relations, of state violence, migration, masculinity, fear, and finding yourself between two worlds, between having to remain invisible, because visibility is dangerous, and finding your voice.
“When I came undocumented to the U.S., I crossed into a threshold of invisibility. Every act of living became an act of trying to remain visible. I was negotiating a simultaneous absence and presence that was begun by the act of my displacement: I am trying to dissect the moment of my erasure.”
When Marcelo was a teenager, his father was deported. His family was torn apart and what was already complicated turned worse, not just for the economic reasons, but for the pain and complex situation of missing and learning to be without a person with whom you had and still have a difficult relationship.
This is a deep, personal story of migration and violence. The violence that forces a person to leave their home in search of a better life, the violence that they face when crossing the border, and the violence that they are subjected to by a country that does not want them and that treats them as criminals just for existing.
I wish I could write more about this book, but the only thing I can say is that everyone should read it. It’s sad, raw, and beautifully written. You can see that Marcelo is a poet just by how he paints every scene, every situation, and every emotion.
The Only Story, by Julian Barnes
Most of us have only one story to tell. I don’t mean that only one thing happens to us in our lives: there are countless events, which we turn into countless stories. But there’s only one that matters, only one finally worth telling.
The Only Story is a novel written by Julian Barnes, who is a contemporary writer of postmodernism. Postmodernism is about unreliable narrators who self-reflect during their narration, postmodern literature plays with different genres and writing styles, it goes back and forth between things that happened, things that didn’t happen, and things that could have happened. I suppose that’s why I enjoy reading postmodern literature. It feels like I’m having a conversation with someone whose mind is always running, always changing, always jumping around.
At the beginning of the novel, Paul, the protagonist, asks us a question: “Would you rather love the more, and suffer the more; or love the less, and suffer the less?” He then tells us about how most of us have only one story to tell, and this story is his. The book is divided in three parts, each describing a different stage in his story and told from a different perspective.
The first part, told in the first person, narrates the early days of love and excitement. Paul is nineteen and bored, and he meets Susan, who is 48, unhappily married, and has two daughters. She’s funny and charming and completely different to what he is used to. So, naturally, he falls in love. The taboo of his relationship is invigorating to him, he is proud of what they are and how they don’t care about other people’s approval. There is only one thing Paul cares about and that is Susan. Nothing else matters.
And first love always happens in the overwhelming first person. How can it not? Also, in the overwhelming present tense. It takes us time to realize that there are other persons, and other tenses.
The second part, told in the second-person, is about the first years after making the choice to love someone you’re not supposed to. Paul and Susan have a life together and have isolated themselves from anyone who did not approve. However, things are not what Paul expected. She is still unhappy, if not even unhappier, and drinking a lot, and there is nothing he can do about it, though that doesn’t stop him from trying. Paul reflects on what it means to be completely devoted to someone who may not feel the same way, and most of the chapter is him talking to himself about his expectations, his plans, and how his decision has turned out.
“You realize that tough love is also tough on the lover.”
The third part, told in the third-person, is what happened later in life. It is sad and painful, and by the end I was bawling. The Only Story is about choices and expectations, and about how those choices shape and change us.